Tagged: schools

American Schools vs. the World: expensive, unequal, bad at math!


Joerg Sarbach/AP Photo

More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the Programme for International Student Assessment in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education…

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading and ranks 21st in science and 17th in reading…

On average, 13 percent of students scored at the highest or second highest level on the PISA test, making them “top performers.” Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report…

The U.S. ranks fifth in spending per student. Only Austria, Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. To put this in context: the Slovak Republic, which scores similarly to the U.S., spends $53,000 per student. The U.S. spends $115,000. The PISA report notes that, among OECD countries, “higher expenditure on education is not highly predictive of better mathematics scores in PISA.”

Much like health care, Americans who believe nothing counts better than dollars probably still believe we have the best education in the world – regardless of test results, in spite of diminishing GDP marching downhill in parallel to PISA scores.

In fact, it’s becoming fashionable on a couple of fronts to reject test scores like these. Aside from old-fogies fearful of furriners, the teaching infrastructure from the NEA to bloated bureaucratic structures won’t agree to any streamlining – even if we try to copy the Finnish model placing teachers into the upper pay scale of education and employment.

The grade school I attended had over 600 pupils K-8, 18 teachers, 1 janitor, a school nurse, 1 principal and a secretary. What does the employment roll look like in anything comparable in your town or city?

My school was typical of the several in a medium-sized New England factory town. Last time I checked on Albuquerque, New Mexico, the number of folks on the payroll of the city’s school board was one employee for every student [updated].

Yes, this is one of the easiest hot buttons to push on my brain. Because I received a pretty good education – supplemented by what my family came up with for my sister and me via books they bought and the neighborhood Carnegie library. Over the 9 years of that K-8 school, we had exactly 3 dropouts. And they were considered an anomaly. Ne’er-do-wells who only sat there waiting to be old enough to quit.

RTFA. Not too long for all the details and categories included. Think about it. I hope you get pissed off enough to apply pressure to the sensitive parts of your local politicians.

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Have sports diminished the capabilities of American schools?

In her new book, “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist, tells the story of Tom, a high-school student from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who decides to spend his senior year in Wroclaw, Poland. Poland is a surprising educational success story: in the course of less than a decade, the country raised students’ test scores from significantly below average for the developed world to significantly above it; Polish kids now outscore American kids in math and science, even though Poland spends, on average, less than half as much per student as the United States does. One of the most striking differences between the high school Tom attended in Gettysburg and the one he ends up at in Wroclaw is that the latter has no football team, or, for that matter, teams of any kind.

Sports, Ripley writes, were “the core culture of Gettysburg High.” In Wroclaw, by contrast, if kids wanted to play soccer or basketball after school they had to organize the games themselves. Teachers didn’t double as coaches and the principal certainly never came out to cheer. Thus, “there was no confusion about what school was for—or what mattered to the kids’ life chances…”

I thought about Tom the other day, while I was watching my fourteen-year-old twins play soccer. It was the day before school began, but they had already been going to J.V. soccer practice two hours a day for nearly two weeks. I wondered what would have happened if their math teacher had tried to call them in two weeks before school started to hold two-hour drill sessions. My sons would have been livid, as would every other kid in their class. Perhaps even more significant, I suspect that parents would have complained. What was the math teacher doing, trying to ruin the kids’ summer? And why should they have to make a special trip to the high school so their kids could study trig identities..?

One of the ironies of the situation is that sports reveal what is possible. American kids’ performance on the field shows just how well they can do when expectations are high and they put their minds to it. It’s too bad that their test scores show the same thing.

One of my favorite beefs about the incompetence of American education. Not that sport should be removed. I’m a firm believer in physical education directed towards lifetime sports – of which soccer is one. Tennis, softball, table tennis, cycling, the range is endless. Dedication to the concept is almost non-existent in the United States.

So, schools waste money and time – and even more money on insurance – on sports like football. A self-feeding orgy of satisfaction for alumni who feel their achievements as students [scholars?] are measured in Sunday evening score boxes.

Teacher stalked by ex-husband – so Catholic school fires her!

A San Diego-area teacher was fired because her stalker ex-husband was due to get out of jail soon and could show up at her school, district officials said.

Carie Charlesworth…was let go by the San Diego Roman Catholic diocese because of concerns her former spouse could pose a threat to staff and students at the Holy Trinity School in El Cajon once he was released from San Diego County jail.

Martin Charlesworth was sentenced to jail for domestic abuse and stalking after he went to Holy Trinity in January in violation of a restraining order. The unannounced visit caused a lockdown and brought police to the campus.

The education department of the diocese said in its termination letter that Mr. Charlesworth had a 20-year record of abuse and violence toward women and they did not want to risk a confrontation on school grounds.

Carie Charlesworth told the Los Angeles Times she was stunned at losing her job after 14 years with the diocese and was considering both a lawsuit and a career change. Her ex-husband’s attorney told the newspaper Martin Charlesworth had meant no harm by his January visit and had only wanted to discuss details of their child-custody arrangements.

Surely no one is surprised at what passes for care and concern for women and children by the Roman Catholic Church. Or for that matter – local law enforcement.

Time after time, we learn of wives beaten or murdered by the criminal thug they’ve gotten a restraining order against. The lack of concern, the inability of law enforcement to provide protection, say, comparable to a bank vice-president is common. My disgust with a religion that turns its gold-encrusted back on women’s real needs time and again – just moved up another notch.

The NRA – like all bullies – are always cowards

The gun-lobby goons were at it again.

The National Rifle Association’s security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its “National School Shield” — the gun lobbyists’ plan to get armed guards in public schools — and this time they were packing heat.

About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets.

In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.

The antics gave new meaning to the notion of disarming your critics.

By journalistic custom and D.C. law, of course, reporters don’t carry guns to news conferences — and certainly not when the person at the lectern is the NRA’s Asa Hutchinson, an unremarkable former congressman and Bush administration official whom most reporters couldn’t pick out of a lineup. But the NRA wasn’t going to leave any doubt about its superior firepower

I won’t waste space here on the crap proposal from Hutchinson and the NRA. Sensible people are battling to stay free of the gangster lifestyle they advocate.

Hutchinson, pressed by reporters about the armed goons, said: “You go into a mall, there is security. And so there is security here at the National Press Club.”

A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,” Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. “There’s nothing I’m nervous about.”

The answer you would expect from a bully. The answer you would expect from a coward with 20 bodyguards.

857 empty desks = number of dropouts from American schools every hour of every day

Tourists trying to figure out how to reach the capital’s monuments and museums on Wednesday found something on the National Mall that was not on their maps: 857 student desks arrayed near the Washington Monument.

Each desk represents one of the 857 students who drop out of high school in the United States every single hour, every single school day, according to the College Board, which arranged the display to underline its effort to urge presidential candidates to put education at the top of their to-do lists.

The board had nearly a dozen people, iPads in hand, gathering signatures in nearly 100-degree weather for an online petition that said: “If you want my support, I need to hear more from you about how you plan to fix the problems with education. And not just the same old platitudes. I want to know that you have real, tangible solutions, and that once in office, you’re ready to take serious action. I’ll be watching your acceptance speech at your party’s convention…”

The man responsible for executing the display is Adam Hollander, 38, of New York, executive creative producer for Brand Marketers. “We now live in a very visual culture,” he said, his complexion florid after hours in the sun on Tuesday. “Now, you have to see it to believe it. Everybody hears that 857 number, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you’re able to see it.”

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney, his presumptive Republican opponent, often mention the importance of education, usually in the context of fixing the country’s economy and creating jobs, or of making college more affordable — the subject of a speech by Mr. Obama in January. In a speech in May, Mr. Romney proposed allowing poor and disabled students to use federal money to attend any public, private or online school they choose.

Taxpayer-funded vouchers for parents who want to send their kids to private schools has absolutely nothing to do with improving our public school system.

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Nearly half of Americans haven’t learned anything about science or evolution in the last thirty years

Forty-six percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form at one point within the past 10,000 years, according to a survey released by Gallup on Friday.

That number has remained unchanged for the past 30 years, since 1982, when Gallup first asked the question on creationism versus evolution. Thirty years ago, 44% of the people who responded said they believed that God created humans as we know them today – only a 2-point difference from 2012.

“Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans’ views of the origin of the human species since 1982,” wrote Gallup’s Frank Newport…

The second most common view is that humans evolved with God’s guidance – a view held by 32% of respondents. The view that humans evolved with no guidance from God was held by 15% of respondents…

The numbers also showed a tendency to follow party lines, with nearly 60% of Republicans identifying as creationists, while 41% of Democrats hold the same beliefs…

According to Newport…”It would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution,” writes Newport. “Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief … that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.”

Anyone surprised? Not only has the quality of American education been deteriorating for the past half-century, the starting point for questions like this remains stuck into the availability of science education in the 1930′s.

Young Americans get a mediocre education in science, the arts, reading and math. Not so surprising that they’re still stuck into the cultural cul-de-sac of their parents and grandparents.

Partial junk food ban brings positive results in California

Five years after California started cracking down on junk food in school cafeterias, a new report shows that high school students there consume fewer calories and less fat and sugar at school than students in other states.

…The study found that California high school students consumed on average nearly 160 calories fewer per day than students in other states, the equivalent of cutting out a small bag of potato chips. That difference came largely from reduced calorie consumption at school, and there was no evidence that students were compensating for their limited access to junk food at school by eating more at home.

While a hundred calories here or there may not sound like much, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the United States in the last four decades, and many researchers say that most children and adolescents could avoid significant long-term weight gain by cutting out just 100 to 200 extra calories a day…

California students had the lowest daily intake of calories, fat and, especially, added sugars. And it seemed clear that their eating behaviors at school played a large role. California students got a lower proportion of their daily calories from school foods than students in other states: about 21.5 percent, compared with 28.4 percent among students elsewhere…

Still, California’s students had not suddenly become health nuts. They were still eating junk food — just slightly less of it than their peers in other states. And their vitamin and mineral intake was similar to that of students in other parts of the country.

…Dr. Daniel Taber said…said that schools could take an additional step by replacing some of the junk food being filtered out with healthy options like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Iowa, for example, began requiring in 2010 that at least half of the foods available outside meal plans contain whole grains. Other than that, no state has laws that require whole, unprocessed or fresh foods to be available outside of school lunches for high school students…

Dr. Taber realizes that school-based rules are limited. Students consume about 25 percent of their calories at school. Looking for a magic switch to turn off won’t change the whole problem. The battle for healthy kids is going to require strategies that take the message home.

But, changing the landscape in school – ceded to the junk food trade years ago – is a healthy step forward. These are verifiable results.

Sandra Day O’Connor expands fight to reverse our decline in civics

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court after 191 years, is crusading to reverse what she says is an alarming decline in America’s knowledge of democracy and announced an initiative Wednesday to educate children across the country.

Asserting that democracy is not inherited at birth but rather learned in school, O’Connor founded the educational nonprofit group iCivics in 2009 to secure America’s governance and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.

On Wednesday, O’Connor announced an expansion of that program to include the Boys & Girls Club of America, which has almost 4,000 clubs serving 4.1 million youngsters.

“Many states around the country are no longer teaching or requiring civics education for young people,” said O’Connor, 82. “When I went to school — and that was a long time ago, and I went to school in El Paso, Texas — we had civics almost every year, and in fact, I almost got tired of it.

“But the fact of the matter is that every young person needs to learn how our government works at the national level, at the state level, at the local level and how they can be part of it,” O’Connor said…

O’Connor cited an Annenberg Public Policy Center national survey showing that only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of the U.S. government…

Then she added: “Two-thirds of Americans can name a judge on ‘American Idol,’ and only 15% can name the chief justice of the United States,” who is John Roberts…

As I said the last time I addressed this question: “Justice O’Connor assumes that our political parties actually would welcome an informed citizenship. I can’t imagine why”. We have the added corruption, this year, of Republican and Blue Dog Democrat governors trying to keep citizens from voting.

Bible project touted by Tory education secretary craters when he’s told to raise the money himself!

A plan by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country – each including a personal inscription from him – has run into trouble after government sources reported he has been told to find private funding for the project.

Sources said David Cameron told Gove that while he supported the idea, the education secretary should avoid using taxpayers’ money for it. But Gove has yet to find a private philanthropic sponsor for the enterprise, and some Whitehall sources said he has been told he cannot distribute the book until he does so, leaving thousands of copies in a warehouse abroad…

…But Whitehall sources said Gove was told at the highest levels that it would be wrong to spend nearly £400,000 on the project at a time when the government was in negotiations with teaching unions over cuts to their pension entitlement…Wow! I’m surprised the Tories were that perceptive.

The 400th anniversary of the publication of the Bible was in 2011.

This is the same dweeb who wanted British taxpayers to pop for £60 million for a new yacht for the Queen. Phew.

Dutch Catholic Church failed victims of years of sexual abuse


Wim Deetman
Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions, and church officials failed to adequately address the abuse or help the victims, according to a long-awaited investigation.

The report by an independent commission said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse “to prevent scandals”. The suspected number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions probably lies somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to a summary of the report…

The commission said it received 1,800 complaints of abuse at Catholic schools, seminaries and orphanages and that the institutions suffered from “a failure of oversight”. It then conducted the broader survey of the general population for a more comprehensive analysis of the scale and nature of sexual abuse of minors.

The commission was set up last year under the leadership of former government minister Wim Deetman to investigate allegations of abuse dating from 1945…

The investigation followed allegations of repeated incidents of abuse at one cloister that quickly spread to claims from Catholic institutions across the country, echoing similar scandals around the world.

The commission identified about 800 priests, brothers, pastors or lay people working for the church who had been named in the complaints. About 105 of them were still alive, although it was not known if they remained in church positions, the report said. It identified them as “perpetrators” rather than “offenders”, meaning they had not been proven to have committed a crime.

The Dutch Catholic Church says it will agree to a system of compensation for victims of priests and church staff. No details, yet.

Anyone expect whatever is volunteered will be closer to real compensation than the amounts contained in first offers from other national branches of the Catholic Church?