The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy
except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.

Edward Gibbon,
quoted in the preface to the
Feynman Lectures on Physics

’Tis the good reader that makes the good book.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reports and Books

Reports and Books

2011 College-Bound Seniors Total Group Profile Report

The Condition of [American] Education
National Center for Educational Statistics,
Institute of Education Sciences,
[U.S.] Department of Education

National Mathematics Advisory Panel

National Mathematics Advisory Panel Releases Final Report

On March 13, 2008,
the National Mathematics Advisory Panel presented its Final Report
to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education.
Copies of these ground-breaking reports,
rich with information for
parents, teachers, policy makers, the research community, and others,
are provided here.

[For the New York Times article on this report,
click here.]

[The following passage is from the Foreword, page x, of Serge Lang’s
A First Course in Calculus, Fifth Edition,
published in 1986.
Some emphasis is added.]

Deficient high school training is responsible for
many of the difficulties experienced at the college level.

These difficulties are not so much due to
the problem of understanding calculus
as to
the inability to handle elementary algebra.
A large group of students cannot automatically
give the expansion for expressions like

(a + b)2,   (a - b)2,   or   (a + b)(a - b).

The answers should be memorized like the multiplication table.
[Emphasis in the original!]
To memorize by rote such basic formulas
is not incompatible with learning general principles.
It is complementary.

[Note that Lang taught at Yale from 1972 until his retirement in 2005.]



Debate Grows as Colleges Slip in Graduations
by Alan Finder
New York Times, 2006-09-15

When a research group started tracking
what happens to Chicago’s public school graduates after they enter college,
it came upon a startling and dispiriting finding:
the graduation rates at two of the city’s four-year public universities
were among the worst in the country.

At Northeastern Illinois University,
a tidy commuter campus on the North Side of Chicago,
only 17 percent of students who enroll as full-time freshmen
graduate within six years,
according to data collected by the federal Department of Education.
At Chicago State University on the South Side,
the overall graduation rate is 16 percent.

As dismal as those rates seem, the universities are not unique.
About 50 colleges across the country
have a six-year graduation rate below 20 percent,
according to the Education Trust, a nonprofit research group.
Many of the institutions serve low-income and minority students.

Such numbers have prompted a fierce debate here —
and in national education circles — about
who is to blame for the results,
whether they are acceptable for nontraditional students, and
how universities should be held accountable
if the vast majority of students do not graduate.

“If you’re accepting a child into your institution,
don’t you have the responsibility to make sure they graduate?”

asked Melissa Roderick,
the co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research,
which produced the study.

[Answer: Certainly not.
You have the responsibility to give the individual the opportunity to succeed,
but not to remove his individual responsibility
to make the best use of the opportunity.
Roderick is articulating a liberal fallacy.]

In Many Classrooms, ‘Honors’ in Name Only
As High Schools Offer More Advanced Courses,
Educators Fear Content Doesn’t Always Earn the Label

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post, 2006-09-19

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

In an American education system full of plans for better high schools,
more and more courses have impressive labels,
such as “honors,” “advanced,” “college prep” and “Advanced Placement.”
But many researchers and educators say
the teaching often does not match the title.

“A company selling an orange-colored beverage under the label ‘orange juice’
can get in legal trouble if the beverage contains little or no actual juice,”
said a February report from the National Center for Educational Accountability,
based in Austin.
“But there are no consequences for giving credit for Algebra 2
to students who have learned little algebra.”

Grade inflation is a well-known issue.
Many critics of public schools contend that
students nowadays get better grades for less achievement than they used to.
Experts also worry about
courses that promise mastery in a subject but fail to follow through.
Call it course-label inflation.

The educational accountability center's researchers,
Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian,
found course-label inflation particularly harmful
to low-income and minority students.
They said
60 percent of low-income students,
65 percent of African American students and
57 percent of Hispanic students
who had received course credit for geometry or algebra 2 in Texas
failed a state exam covering material from geometry and algebra 1.
By contrast, the failure rates for
non-low-income and white students were 36 and 32 percent,

Taking Science to School:
Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8

By National Academy of Science Board of Science Education, et al.

An news article about this report is:
Report Calls for Improvement in K-8 Science Education
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post, 2006-09-22

Political Backlash Builds Over High-Stakes Testing
Public Support Wanes for Tests Seen as Punitive
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post, 2006-10-23

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

LAUDERHILL, Fla. -- School exams may be detested by students everywhere, but in this state at the forefront of the testing and accountability movement in the United States, the backlash against them has become far broader, and politically potent.

The role of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, has become central to the race to succeed Gov. Jeb Bush (R), with polls showing a growing discontent over the exams, which he has championed and which are used to determine many aspects of the school system, including teacher pay, budgets and who flunks third grade.

Republican Charlie Crist is offering to push forward with the testing regime, but Democrat Jim Davis has condemned what he calls its “punitive” nature, arguing that exam pressures have transformed schools into “dreary test-taking factories.”

“Couple years ago one of my sons brought this quiz home,
and the first question was ‘What does the FCAT stand for?’ ”
Davis told a meeting of clergy here Saturday.
“I won’t repeat to you what I said
because I used words I’m teaching my boys not to use. . . .
We’re going to stop using the FCAT to
punish children, teachers and schools.”


In Florida, as many as 14 percent of 200,000 public school third-graders in some years have been held back, most for failing to make an adequate score on the reading test.
“We have third-grade children who have been retained so many times they are wearing brassieres in the third grade,” said Florida state Sen. Frederica Wilson, one of the leaders of the anti-testing movement here.


In Texas, a survey drafted by two polling firms, one Democratic and one Republican, and paid for by the Texas State Teachers Association, indicated that 56 percent of voters thought there was too much emphasis on state testing in their schools.

A national poll by a pro-testing group, the Teaching Commission, showed that 52 percent of respondents thought that standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement; 35 percent thought they do.

“Our kids should be leading the world, and they’re not going to get there by filling in little ovals all day long,” Chris Bell, the Democratic challenger for Texas governor, says in a television ad.


At first, Wilson said, opposition was considered a “minority issue” because many of the students being held back in third grade or denied diplomas were African American or Hispanic. But with children in many schools taking on more homework and rote drills, she said, enough parents have complained that the candidates “could see that the FCAT was devastating Florida families.”

A Conflict on Integrity Surfaces
Gallaudet Is Roiled by Charges That
Academic Standards Have Been Compromised

By Mary Pat Flaherty and Susan Kinzie
Washington Post, 2006-11-09

[An excerpt from the story (emphasis is added):]

As Gallaudet searches for its next president, the university is wrestling with divisions that go beyond the recent protests, with faculty and staff charging that some administrators have compromised academic standards and jeopardized the institution's integrity and performance.

Faculty members were asked by administrators to change grades of several failing students, according to internal documents and interviews. Faculty reports to the board of trustees have warned that the university is admitting students with very low academic skills without giving professors the necessary training and resources to help them.

“There are some students
who cannot multiply 4 x 4 and come up with 16
without a calculator,”

and others
who cannot read English well enough to comprehend a basic news story,
faculty members reported to the board last year.

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics
by Tamar Lewin
New York Times, 2006-11-14

For the second time in a generation,
education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.

The changes are being driven by
  • students’ lagging performance on international tests and
  • mathematicians’ warnings that
    more than a decade of so-called reform math—critics call it fuzzy math—
    has crippled students
    with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization
    in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.


“There’s increasing understanding that
the math situation in the United States is a complete disaster,”
[said R. James Milgram, a math professor at Stanford University.]


The frenzy has been prompted in part by the growing awareness that,
at a time of increasing globalization,
the math skills of children in the United States simply do not measure up:
American eighth-graders lag far behind
those from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere
on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study,
an international test.


“In Asian cultures,”
[Virginia Warfield] added,
“the assumption is that everyone learns mathematics,
and of course, parents will help with mathematics.”


In part, the math wars have grown out of a struggle between
  • professional mathematicians,
    who say too many American students never master basic math skills, and
  • math educators,
    who say children who construct their own problem-solving strategies retain their math skills better than those who just memorize the algorithm that produces the correct answer.

Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing?
Fueled by Technology,
Nation's Attempt to Create a Level Playing Field Has Had a Rocky History
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post, 2006-11-15

Most Students in Big Cities Lag Badly in Basic Science
by Diana Jean Schemo,
New York Times, 2006-11-16

At least half of eighth graders tested in science failed to demonstrate even a basic understanding of the subject in 9 of 10 major cities, and fourth graders, the only other group tested, fared little better, according to results released here Wednesday.

The outcome of those tests, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the nation’s report card, showed that student performance in urban public schools was not only poor but also far short of science scores in the nation as a whole.

Half or a little more of the eighth-grade students in Charlotte, San Diego and Boston lacked a basic grasp of science.

In six of the other cities — New York, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Atlanta — the share of eighth graders without that knowledge was even higher, ranging from about three-fifths in New York to about four-fifths in Atlanta. By comparison, the corresponding share for the nation as a whole was 43 percent.

Among the 10 cities, only in Austin were the eighth graders who lacked a basic understanding in the minority, and just barely there.

“It’s a national disgrace,”
said Rodger W. Bybee, director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study,
which develops and evaluates science curriculums and promotes the teaching of science.
“We as a nation should be able to do better than that.”

[Comment by KHarbaugh:
Don’t blame the nation;
blame the students and the culture from which they come.
Asian-Americans have historically been subject to discrimination too,
and have sometimes had to hurdle language barriars as well,
but that hasn’t held them back.
Let’s acknowledge it:
Asian-Americans have outstanding genetics, or culture, or both.]

Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races
New York Times, 2006-11-20

When President Bush signed his sweeping education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

Those Who Pass Classes But Fail Tests Cry Foul
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post, 2006-11-21

A Snapshot of the State of U.S. Education
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post, 2006-11-21

What It Takes to Make a Student
New York Times Magazine, 2006-11-26

[The wonder is that it took a research project
for these educators and journalists to figure this out.
The white elite has know all this for generations;
that is why they raise their children that way.
The interesting question is:
Why did white elite families know to raise their children in this adaptive way,
while the vast majority of black families do/did not?
Are successful white child-raising methods genetically determined
or learned through experience, and passed down culturally?

Don’t hold your breath for the PC scum that runs America’s universities
to permit their researchers to try and answer that question
(or even to hire very many people who would want to answer it).
The PC crowd (you know who I’m talking about) would never permit that.]

Local Schools to Study Whether Math -- Topics = Better Instruction
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post, 2006-12-05

Advocates of new math and old math, back-to-basics math and "fuzzy" math might be shelving their differences to collectively focus on what many consider a more pressing problem: too much math.

Maryland math leaders meet today -- and D.C. math educators gather tomorrow -- to discuss Curriculum Focal Points, a new document from the influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics that could profoundly influence math instruction in the region and nationwide.

It says the typical state math curriculum runs a mile wide and an inch deep, resulting in students being introduced to too many concepts but mastering too few, and urges educators to slim down those lessons.

Expert Panel Proposes
Far-Reaching Redesign of the American Education System

New York Times, 2006-12-15

Warning that Americans
face a grave risk of losing their prosperity and high quality of life
to better educated workers overseas,
a panel [New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce]
of education, labor and other public policy experts yesterday proposed
a far-reaching redesign of the United States education system
that would include having
schools operated by independent contractors and
giving states, rather than local districts, control over school financing.


The commission’s report, released at a news conference in Washington,
rethinks American schooling from top to bottom,
going beyond the achievement goals of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind,
and farther than many initiatives being pursued by the Bush administration
or by experimental state and local school authorities.
Among other things, the report proposes
starting school for most children at age 3, and
requiring all students to pass board exams to graduate from high school,
which for many would end after 10th grade. [!]
Students could then go to a community or technical college,
or spend two years preparing for selective colleges and universities.

“We have run out the string
on a whole series of initiatives that were viewed as hopeful,”
said Lewis H. Spence, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services and a member of the panel.
“This puts a whole new set of ideas on the table.”


Grade 12 Reading and Mathematics Report Now Available
Part of “The Nation’s Report Card
from the National Assessment of Educational Progress

Grades Rise, but Reading Skills Do Not
New York Times, 2007-02-23

Test Scores at Odds With Rising High School Grades
By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post, 2007-02-23

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

High school seniors
are performing worse overall on some national tests
than they did in the previous decade,
even though they are receiving significantly higher grades
and taking what seem to be more rigorous courses,

according to government data released yesterday.

The mismatch between stronger transcripts
weak test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,
often called the nation’s report card,
resonated in the Washington area and elsewhere.
Some seized upon the findings as evidence of
grade inflation and the dumbing-down of courses.

About 35 percent of 12th-graders tested in 2005
scored proficient or better in reading
the lowest percentage since the test was launched in 1992,
the new data showed.
less than a quarter of seniors scored at least proficient
on a new version of the math test;

officials called those results disappointing
but said they could not be compared to past scores.
In addition, a previous report found that
18 percent of seniors in 2005 scored at least proficient in science,
down from 21 percent in 1996.

At the same time,
the average high school grade-point average rose
from 2.68 in 1990 (about a B-minus)
to 2.98 in 2005 (about a B),

according to a study of transcripts from graduating seniors.
The study also found that the percentage of graduating seniors
who completed a standard or mid-level course of study
rose from 35 to 58 percent in that time;
meanwhile, the percentage who took the highest-level curriculum doubled,
to 10 percent.

“The core problem is that
course titles don’t really signal what is taught in the course and
grades don’t signal what a kid has learned,”

said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust,
a D.C.-based nonprofit group that supports No Child Left Behind.
She added hyperbolically,
“What we’re going to end up with is the high school valedictorian
who can’t write three paragraphs.”


The potential for grade and course-title inflation
is not confined to low-performing schools.
Julie Greenberg,
a math teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring,
said she was under such pressure to raise grades that
she used to keep two sets of books in her statistics class:
one for the grades students deserved
one for the grades that appeared on report cards.

“If a teacher were to really grade students on their true level of mastery,
there would be such extraordinary levels of failure
that it would not be tolerated,

so most teachers don’t do that,”

she said.

At a news conference yesterday near Capitol Hill,
education experts expressed concern that
white and Asian students continue to score consistently higher than
black and Hispanic students
in all subjects.
They also said
the overall discrepancy between the test scores and transcripts
deserves close examination.
Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board,
which oversaw the exams and the transcript study,
called the gap “very suspicious.”

“For all of our talk of the achievement gap amongst subgroups of students,
a larger problem may be an instructional gap or a rigor gap,”
said David W. Gordon,
superintendent of Sacramento County schools in California.
“There’s a disconnect between
what we want and expect our 12th-grade students to know and do
what our schools are actually delivering through instruction in the classroom.”

To Be AP, Courses Must Pass Muster
Teachers Required To Submit to Audit
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post, 2007-03-25

States Found to Vary Widely on Education
New York Times, 2007-06-08

Academic standards vary so drastically from state to state that
a fourth grader judged proficient in reading in Mississippi or Tennessee
would fall far short of that mark in Massachusetts and South Carolina,
the United States Department of Education said yesterday in a report that,
for the first time, measured the extent of the differences.


Young Americans Are Leaning Left, New Poll Finds
New York Times, 2007-06-27

[An excerpt:]

Young Americans are more likely than the general public to favor
a government-run universal health care insurance system,
an open-door policy on immigration and
the legalization of gay marriage,
according to a New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll.
The poll also found that they are more likely to say
the war in Iraq is heading to a successful conclusion.


More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say
they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008.
They share with the public at large a negative view of President Bush,
who has a 28 percent approval rating with this group,
and of the Republican Party.
They hold a markedly more positive view of Democrats
than they do of Republicans.

[Is this any wonder?
Their teachers are overwhelmingly of the hard left.
The teachers unions, the NEA and the AFT,
are entirely part of the Democratic Party.
And the teachers themselves are also overwhelmingly of the left.
As the twig is bent, so shall it grow.

One has to wonder about their support for the Iraq war, though.
I think this is due, not only to the absence of the draft,
but also due to the lack of a real, wide-spread, peace movement in America.
The American churches are shamefully silent on this subject.
Some of them seem so wrapped up in promoting homosexuality
that they totally ignore the peacemaking role they could, and should, play now,
as they did in the Vietnam era.]


Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success
New York Times, 2008-01-01

[All these stories that boys are now falling behind girls
make me wonder:
How is it that boys used to do so well?
Are teachers now only valuing what girls are good at,
while devaluing all that boys are good at?

Here is an excerpt from the article:]

With girls outperforming boys these days in high school and college,
educators have been sparring over
whether there is a crisis in the education of boys.
Some suggest the need for more single-sex schools,
more male role models or new teaching techniques.
Others are experimenting with physical changes in classrooms
that encourage boys to move around,
rather than trying to anchor them to their seats.

But as they debate,
high-priced tutors and college counselors have jumped into the fray
by charging as much as $100 an hour and up
to bring boys to heel. [!!!]

The tutors say their main focus is organizational skills
because boys seem generally
to have more difficulty getting organized and multitasking
than girls do.

And so private counselors in places as diverse as
Chicago, New York City, Sarasota, Fla., and Bennington, Vt.,
who guide juniors and seniors in applying to college,
have devised elaborate systems —
from color-coded, four-month calendars that mark dozens of deadlines
to file boxes that students must take to each session.


Some educators think the tutors are on the right track,
whether or not there is science to back them up.
“The guys just don’t seem to develop the skills that involve organization
as early,”
said Judith Kleinfeld,
a psychology professor at the University of Alaska
and founder of the Boys Project,
a coalition of researchers, educators and parents
to address boys’ problems.

Mrs. Goldberg, Ms. Homayoun and other private tutors
say boys must learn not only how to organize,
but also how to manage their time and even how to study.

[Gee, how did all those patriarchal men of yore
ever accomplish anything without the help of all these women?

I must admit,
it seems to me that the pre-feminist world was getting along quite nicely,
thank you.
You can make changes to optimize various subcomponents of the system,
like for some women,
but putting the system as a whole in far worse shape.
That’s called suboptimization,
and it is almost certain that is what feminism has produced.]

Math Suggests College Frenzy Will Soon Ease
New York Times, 2008-03-09

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

Projections show that by next year or the year after,
the annual number of high school graduates in the United States
will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb.
The number is then expected to decline until about 2015.
Most universities
expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity,
with most students probably finding it easier to get into college.


The demographic changes include
sharp geographic, social and economic variations.
Experts anticipate, for example,
a decline in affluent high school graduates,
and an increase in poor and working-class ones.

[Isn’t feminism wonderful?]

Population Shift Sends Universities Scrambling
Applicant Pool Forecast To Shrink and Diversify
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post, 2008-03-10

[The Washington Post’s version of the article above.]

Report Urges Changes in Teaching Math
New York Times, 2008-03-14

[A news article about this report
from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.]

Diploma to Nowhere
Strong American Schools, 2008-09-15

High school seniors return to school this fall confident that
their course loads are challenging enough
to prepare them for the rigor of college study.
They are wrong.
Strong American Schools Chairman Roy Romer
today unveiled Diploma to Nowhere,
a study which highlights the fact that
many college freshmen need to take remedial classes to relearn skills
they should have been taught before graduation.

The study also reveals that remediation
affects students of all income and ethnicities
and the psychological impact that remediation has on these students.

According to the unprecedented analysis in Diploma to Nowhere,
remediation in public institutions costs roughly $2.5 billion every year
to provide students with the content and skills
that high schools failed to provide them.


[Does it not seem surprising that as of today, 2008-09-19,
neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post
has seen fit to mention this in their news coverage?]

The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY)

Cross-Cultural Analysis of
Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving
by Titu Andreescu, Joseph A. Gallian, Jonathan M. Kane, and Janet E. Mertz
Notices of the American Mathematical Society, October 2008

[This cites the The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY).]

Math Skills Suffer in U.S., Study Finds
New York Times, 2008-10-10

The United States
is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys,
especially among those who could excel at the highest levels,
a new study asserts,
and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants
or the daughters of immigrants
from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education
Our best universities have forgotten
that the reason they exist is to make minds,
not careers

By William Deresiewicz
The American Scholar, 2008 Summer

The Test Passes, Colleges Fail
New York Times Op-Ed, 2008-11-18

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

FOR some years now,
many elite American colleges have been
downgrading the role of standardized tests like the SAT
in deciding which applicants are admitted,
or have even discarded their use altogether.
While some institutions justify this move
primarily as a way to enroll a more diverse group of students,
an increasing number claim that
the SAT is a poor predictor of academic success in college,
especially compared with high school grade-point averages.

Are they correct?


So, here is the question:
do SATs predict graduation rates
more accurately than
high school grade-point averages?


[B]y comparing graduation rates
at SUNY campuses that raised the SAT admissions bar
with those that didn’t,
we have a controlled experiment of sorts that can fairly conclusively tell us
whether SAT scores were accurate predictors
of whether a student would get a degree.

The short answer is: yes, they were.


Demeaning the SAT has become fashionable at campuses across the country.
But college administrators who really seek to understand the value of the test
based on good empirical evidence
[Do such exist?
Or are they all ideologues of political correctness?]

would do well to learn from the varied experiences of
New York’s state university campuses.

Peter D. Salins is a professor of political science
at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Should the Obama Generation Drop Out?
New York Times Op-Ed, 2008-12-28

[Its beginning; emphasis is added.]

BARACK OBAMA has two attractive ideas for improving post-secondary education —
expanding the use of community colleges and tuition tax credits —
but he needs to hitch them to a broader platform.
As president, Mr. Obama should use his bully pulpit to
undermine the bachelor’s degree as a job qualification.
Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject:
“It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job,
not where you learned to do it.”

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years
works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money.
It works fine for
top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics.
But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics.
They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well.
That almost always means education beyond high school,
but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune.
It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.


Is It Time to Retrain B-Schools?
New York Times, 2009-03-15

JOHN Thain has one. So do Richard Fuld, Stanley O’Neal and Vikram Pandit.
For that matter, so does John Paulson, the hedge fund kingpin.

Yes, all five have fat bank accounts, even now,
and all have made their share of headlines.
But these current and former giants of finance also are all card-carrying M.B.A.’s.

The master’s of business administration,
a gateway credential throughout corporate America,
is especially coveted on Wall Street;
in recent years, top business schools have routinely sent
more than 40 percent of their graduates into the world of finance.

But with the economy in disarray and so many financial firms in free fall,
analysts, and even educators themselves,
are wondering if the way business students are taught
may have contributed to the most serious economic crisis in decades.

“It is so obvious that something big has failed,”
said Ángel Cabrera,
dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.
“We can look the other way, but come on.
The C.E.O.’s of those companies, those are people we used to brag about.
We cannot say, ‘Well, it wasn’t our fault’
when there is such a systemic, widespread failure of leadership.”


Slow the Preschool Bandwagon
By Chester E. Finn Jr.
Washington Post Op-Ed, 2009-05-15

President Obama has pledged to spend $10 billion more a year on “zero to five” education, and his 2010 budget makes a $2 billion “down payment” on that commitment. (Billions more are already in the “stimulus” package.) Any number of congressional leaders want more preschool, as do dozens of governors. Not to mention the National Education Association and the megabucks Pew Charitable Trusts, which is underwriting national and state-level advocacy campaigns on behalf of universal pre-kindergarten. At least three states are already on board.

Underlying all this activity and interest is the proposition that government -- state and federal -- should pay for at least a year of preschool for every American 4-year-old. One rationale is to boost overall educational achievement. Another is to close school-readiness gaps between the haves and have-nots.

Almost nobody is against it. Yet everybody should pause before embracing it.

For all its surface appeal, universal preschool is an unwise use of tax dollars. In a time of ballooning deficits, expansion of preschool programs would use large sums on behalf of families that don’t need this subsidy while not providing nearly enough help to the smaller number of children who need it most. It fails to overhaul expensive but woefully ineffectual efforts such as Head Start. And it dumps 5-year-olds, ready or not, into public-school classrooms that today are unable even to make and sustain their own achievement gains, much less to capitalize on any advances these youngsters bring from preschool. (Part of the energy behind universal pre-K is school systems -- and teachers unions -- maneuvering to expand their own mandates, revenue and membership rolls.)

Versions of universal preschool are underway in Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia, with participation rates for 4-year-olds between 60 and 70 percent. If advocates have their way, dozens of states will expand their more limited pre-K offerings -- typically aimed at poor or disabled youngsters -- to include all 4-year-olds and, soon after, 3-year-olds, in government-funded programs that most often are run by public school systems. Washington will kick in billions to help.

Yet this campaign rests on four myths:

-- Everybody needs it. In fact, about 85 percent of 4-year-olds already take part in preschool or child care outside their homes, paid for with a mix of public and private dollars. And fewer than 20 percent of 5-year-olds are seriously unready for the cognitive challenges of kindergarten in the No Child Left Behind era.

-- Preschool is educationally effective. On the contrary, while a few tiny, costly programs targeting very poor children have shown some lasting positive effects, the overwhelming majority of studies show that most pre-K programs have little to no educational impact (particularly on middle-class kids) and/or have effects that fade within the first few years of school.

-- Existing programs are shoddy. Quality control is indeed patchy, and some operators do a lousy job. But experts, leaders and providers in the field of early-childhood education cannot agree on how to define and judge quality. Most often, antiquated measures of spending, staff credentials and adult-child ratios -- i.e., “input” gauges -- are used, rather than appraising the kindergarten-readiness of these programs’ graduates or sending qualified observers to crouch in classrooms to assess the quality of teacher-child interactions.

-- Head Start is terrific but doesn’t serve enough kids. If only. This iconic, much-loved federal program, now costing more than $7 billion annually, has spent four decades denying that it’s an education program, refusing to embrace a pre-K curriculum and being staffed by people -- now a major interest group -- many of whom are themselves ill-educated (and ill-paid). Though its statute pays lip service to “school readiness,” Congress has forbidden Head Start to use readiness measures to evaluate program effectiveness.

Instead of launching vast new pre-K programs for all, policymakers would better serve American children by focusing on three genuine problems:

-- Delivering intensive, targeted education services -- preferably starting at birth and including parents as well as children -- to the relative handful of children (one or two of every 10 babies) who would truly be unready to succeed in school without heavy-duty interventions. Most are children of poor, young, single mothers, often of color, who themselves have little education.

-- Redeploying pre-K funds and revamping existing programs, beginning with Head Start, to emphasize the cognitive side of kindergarten preparation (e.g., pre-literacy skills such as letters, sounds and shapes) and judging the effectiveness of such programs by the readiness of their graduates.

-- Beefing up school-reform efforts so that the classrooms poor children enter have high standards, knowledgeable teachers, coherent curriculums and the ability to tailor instruction to children’s readiness levels -- and to cumulate gains from year to year rather than dissipate and squander them.

Done right, preschool programs can help America address its urgent education challenges. But today’s push for universalism gets it almost entirely wrong.

Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education,
is most recently the author of “Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut.”
He is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution
and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

National Academic Standards: The First Test
New York Times, 2009-09-22

Contributions by
* Michael Goldstein, charter school founder
* Margaret Crocco and Anand Marri, Teachers College
* Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform
* Robert S. Siegler, professor of cognitive psychology
* Neal P. McCluskey, Cato Institute
* Ernest Morrell, professor of urban schooling

The first official draft of proposed national educational standards was released on Monday, a joint project of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The curriculum guidelines detail math and English skills that all students should have by the end of high school. Forty-eight states (Texas and Alaska are the holdouts) have signed on to the effort, called the Common Core Standards Initiative, to write the standards. This is one step on a long road: there is a 30-day comment period, and then the panel convened by the governors association will work on grade-by-grade standards from kindergarten onward.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the new proposal? What are the obstacles to adopting common curriculum standards? Should this be a national goal, or should education reform efforts be directed elsewhere?


Hispanic Immigrants’ Children Fall Behind Peers Early, Study Finds
New York Times, 2009-10-21


The children of Hispanic immigrants tend to be born healthy and start life on an intellectual par with other American children, but by the age of 2 they begin to lag in linguistic and cognitive skills, a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, shows.

The study highlights a paradox that has bedeviled educators and Hispanic families for some time. By and large, mothers from Latin American countries take care of their health during their pregnancies and give birth to robust children, but those children fall behind their peers in mental development by the time they reach grade school, and the gap tends to widen as they get older.



HHS ... Submits Impact Study on 2002-2003 Head Start Programs
Department of Health and Human Services, 2010-01-13


A Congressionally-mandated study on
the impact of the 2002-2003 Head Start program
was submitted to Congress on January 13, 2010.
The study measured
the cognitive and social/emotional development, health status and behavior
of approximately five thousand 3 and 4 year olds
who were randomly assigned to either a control group
or a group that had access to a Head Start program.


The study showed that at the end of one program year,
access to Head Start positively influenced children’s school readiness.
When measured again at the end of kindergarten and first grade, however,
the Head Start children and the control group children
were at the same level on many of the measures studied.


How to ruin a child: Too much esteem, too little sleep
By George F. Will
Washington Post Op-Ed, 2010-03-04

Memo to that Massachusetts school where children in physical education classes jump rope without using ropes: Get some ropes. And you -- you are about 85 percent of all parents -- who are constantly telling your children how intelligent they are: Do your children a favor and pipe down.

These are nuggets from NutureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It is another book to torment modern parents who are determined to bring to bear on their offspring the accumulated science of child-rearing. Modern parents want to nurture so skillfully that Mother Nature will gasp in admiration at the marvels their parenting produces from the soft clay of children.

Those Massachusetts children are jumping rope without ropes because of a self-esteem obsession. The assumption is that thinking highly of oneself is a prerequisite for high achievement. That is why some children’s soccer teams stopped counting goals (think of the damaged psyches of children who rarely scored) and shower trophies on everyone. No child at that Massachusetts school suffers damaged self-esteem by tripping on the jump rope.

But the theory that praise, self-esteem and accomplishment increase in tandem is false. Children incessantly praised for their intelligence (often by parents who are really praising themselves) often underrate the importance of effort. Children who open their lunchboxes and find mothers’ handwritten notes telling them how amazingly bright they are tend to falter when they encounter academic difficulties. Also, Bronson and Merryman say that overpraised children are prone to cheating because they have not developed strategies for coping with failure.

“We put our children in high-pressure environments,” Bronson and Merryman write, “seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments.” But children excessively praised for their intelligence become risk-adverse in order to preserve their reputations. Instead, Bronson and Merryman say, praise effort (“I like how you keep trying”): It is a variable children can control.


The cost of small class size
By Eva Moskowitz
Washington Post Op-Ed, 2011-03-28

That class size should be small is revered like an article of faith
in this country. Its adherents include parents, education groups, politicians
and, of course, the unions whose ranks it swells.
In many states it is even required by law,
which has lead to millions of dollars in fines against schools in Florida
and a lawsuit against New York City by its teachers union.

small class size is neither a guarantor nor a prerequisite
of educational excellence.

The worst public elementary school in Manhattan,
16 percent of whose students read at grade level,
has an average class size of 21;
PS 130, one of the city’s best, has an average class size of 30.
Small class size is one factor in academic success.
The question, then, is
whether the educational benefits of class-size reduction justify the costs.


[She doesn’t mention it in this piece,
but other articles have pointed out that Japan and other Asian nations,
with exceedingly high levels of achievement,
also generally have much larger class sizes than is now typical in America.
Why are they so educationally successful?
Several reasons, of course, most of which the PC thought and speech police
carefully guard against mentioning.
Some of those reasons:
Frankly, racial superiority.
(Come on, you left-wing PC clowns.
Get your head out of your you-know-what.)
A culture that both values and requires hard work for school.
(Consider, for example Amy Chua’s recent eye-opening book,
The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.)]


Learning That Works
By Joe Klein
Time, 2012-05-14


Vocational education used to be where you sent the dumb kids
or the supposed misfits who weren’t suited for classroom learning.
It began to fall out of fashion about 40 years ago,
in part because it became a civil rights issue:
voc-ed was seen as a form of segregation,
a convenient dumping ground for minority kids in Northern cities.
“That was a real problem,”
former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein told me.
“And the voc-ed programs were pretty awful.
They weren’t training the kids for specific jobs or for certified skills.
It really was a waste of time and money.”

the education establishment’s response to the voc-ed problem
only made things worse.
Over time,
it morphed into the theology that every child should go to college
(a four-year liberal-arts college at that)
and therefore every child should be required
to pursue a college-prep course in high school.
The results have been awful.
High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment.
And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work.
The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school
is a stratospheric 33%.
The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal:
four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them,
and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%.
“College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,”
says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University.
“But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
less than a quarter of new job openings
will require a bachelor of arts degree.
We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.”
the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics--
the people who actually keep the place running.

In Arizona and more than a few other states, that is beginning to change.
Indeed, the old notion of vocational education has been stood on its head.
It’s now called career and technical education (CTE),
and it has become a pathway that
even some college-bound advanced-placement students are pursuing.
About 27% of the students in Arizona opt for the tech-ed path,
and they are more likely to score higher on the state’s aptitude tests,
graduate from high school and go on to higher education than those who don’t.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Sally Downey,
superintendent of the spectacular East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz.,
98.5% of whose students graduate from high school.
“It’s just finding something they like and teaching it to them with rigor.”
Actually, it’s a bit more than that:
it’s developing training programs
that lead to jobs or recognized certification,
often in partnership with local businesses.
Auto shop at East Valley, for example,
looks a lot different from the old jalopy
that kids in my high school used to work on.
There are 40 late-model cars and the latest in diagnostic equipment,
donated by Phoenix auto dealers, who are desperate for trained technicians.
“If you can master the computer-science and electronic components,”
Downey says,
“you can make over $100,000 a year as an auto mechanic.”


It’s time to drop the college-for-all crusade
By Robert J. Samuelson
Washington Post, 2012-05-28

The college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness.
Time to ditch it.
Like the crusade to make all Americans homeowners,
it’s now doing more harm than good.
It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II,

even though higher education’s expansion also ranks as
one of America’s great postwar triumphs.

Consider. In 1940, fewer than 5 percent of Americans had a college degree. Going to college was “a privilege reserved for the brightest or the most affluent” high-school graduates, wrote Diane Ravitch in her history of U.S. education, “The Troubled Crusade.” No more. At last count, roughly 40 percent of Americans had some sort of college degree: about 30 percent a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; the rest associate degrees from community colleges.

Starting with the GI Bill in 1944, governments at all levels promoted college. From 1947 to 1980, enrollments jumped from 2.3 million to 12.1 million. In the 1940s, private colleges and universities accounted for about half. By the 1980s, state schools — offering heavily subsidized tuitions — represented nearly four-fifths. Aside from a democratic impulse, the surge reflected “the shift in the occupational structure to professional, technical, clerical and managerial work,” noted Ravitch. The economy demanded higher skills; college led to better-paying jobs.

College became the ticket to the middle class, the be-all-and-end-all of K-12 education. If you didn’t go to college, you’d failed. Improving “access” — having more students go to college — drove public policy.

We overdid it. The obsessive faith in college has backfired.

For starters, we’ve dumbed down college. The easiest way to enroll and retain more students is to lower requirements. Even so, dropout rates are high; at four-year schools, fewer than 60 percent of freshmen graduate within six years. Many others aren’t learning much.

In a recent book, “Academically Adrift,” sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that 45 percent of college students hadn’t significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills after two years; after four years, the proportion was still 36 percent. Their study was based on a test taken by 2,400 students at 24 schools requiring them to synthesize and evaluate a block of facts. The authors blame the poor results on lax academic standards. Surveyed, one-third of the same students said that they studied alone five or fewer hours a week; half said they had no course the prior semester requiring 20 pages of writing.

Still, most of these students finished college, though many are debt-ridden. Persistence counts. The larger — and overlooked — consequence of the college obsession is to undermine high schools. The primacy of the college-prep track marginalizes millions of students for whom it’s disconnected from “real life” and unrelated to their needs. School bores and bothers them. Teaching them is hard, because they’re not motivated. But they also make teaching the rest harder. Their disaffection and periodic disruptions drain teachers’ time and energy. The climate for learning is poisoned.

That’s why college-for-all has been a major blunder. One size doesn’t fit all, as sociologist James Rosenbaum of Northwestern University has argued. The need is to motivate the unmotivated. One way is to forge closer ties between high school and jobs. Yet, vocational education is de-emphasized and disparaged. Apprenticeship programs combining classroom and on-the-job training — programs successful in Europe — are sparse. In 2008, about 480,000 workers were apprentices, or 0.3 percent of the U.S. labor force, reports economist Robert Lerman of American University. Though not for everyone, more apprenticeships could help some students.

The rap against employment-oriented schooling is that it traps the poor and minorities in low-paying, dead-end jobs. Actually, an unrealistic expectation of college often traps them into low-paying, dead-end jobs — or no job. Learning styles differ. “Apprenticeship in other countries does a better job of engaging students,” says Lerman. “We want to diversify the routes to rewarding careers.” Downplaying these programs denies some students the pride and self-confidence of mastering difficult technical skills, while also fostering labor shortages.

There’s much worrying these days that some countries (examples: South Korea, Norway, Japan) have higher college­attendance rates, including post-secondary school technical training, than we do. This anxiety is misplaced. Most jobs — 69 percent in 2010, estimates the Labor Department — don’t require a post-high-school degree. They’re truck drivers, store clerks, some technicians. On paper, we’re turning out enough college graduates to meet our needs.

The real concern is the quality of graduates at all levels. The fixation on college-going, justified in the early postwar decades, stigmatizes those who don’t go to college and minimizes their needs for more vocational skills. It cheapens the value of a college degree and spawns the delusion that only the degree — not the skills and knowledge behind it — matters. We need to rethink.


Major Changes in SAT Announced by College Board
New York Times, 2014-03-06

Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, eliminating obligatory essays, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong and cutting obscure vocabulary words.


The changes coming to the exam are extensive: The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary words will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, such as “empirical” and “synthesis.” The math questions, now scattered widely across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections. The new exam will be available on paper and computer, and the scoring will revert to the old 1600 scale, with a top score of 800 on math and what will now be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score.


Mr. Coleman, who came to the College Board in 2012, announced his plans to revise the SAT a year ago. He has spoken from the start about his dissatisfaction with the essay test added to the SAT in 2005, his desire to make the test mesh more closely with what students should be doing in high school, and his hopes of making a dent in the intense coaching and tutoring that give affluent students an advantage on the test and often turn junior year into a test-prep marathon.

“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” he said in a speech Wednesday in which he announced the changes. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.”


But beyond the particulars, Mr. Coleman emphasized that the three-hour exam — 3 hours and 50 minutes with the essay — had been redesigned with an eye to reinforce the skills and evidence-based thinking students should be learning in high school, and move away from a need for test-taking tricks and strategies. Sometimes, students will be asked not just to select the right answer, but to justify it by choosing the quote from a text that provides the best supporting evidence for their answer.
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The revised essay, in particular, will shift in that direction. Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones. Going forward, though, students will get a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.

The text will be different on each exam, but the essay task will remain constant. The required essay never caught on with most college admissions officers. Few figure the score into the admission decision. And many used the essay only occasionally, as a raw writing sample to help detect how much parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished the essay submitted with the application.



If you thought Arne Duncan was controversial, meet his successor
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post, 2015-10-02

Now that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has decided to step down in December, the U.S. Department of Education will be headed by John King. And if you thought Duncan was controversial, meet his successor.

King was the New York State education commissioner, taking over in 2011 and announcing in December 2014 that he was leaving to become Duncan’s No. 2, a job officially titled “Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education,” according to the Education Department’s biography. King can run the department without being officially nominated as education secretary.

Duncan himself is leaving amid strong discontent from all sides of the political spectrum with his tenure, during which he became the most powerful education secretary in U.S. history. He backed school reforms, including the Common Core State Standards and standardized test-based accountability for teachers, which became increasingly unpopular in states across the country. Last year, the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, called on him to resign. And Congress is now considering legislation to rewrite No Child Left Behind that would sharply reduce the federal power Duncan wielded, a direct result of Duncan’s tenure.

King was just as embattled, if not more, in New York as education commission for some of the same reasons as Duncan — and there were numerous calls for his resignation as well. By the time he resigned, he had lost the confidence of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) (although King was appointed by the New York State Regents).

King led a series of school reforms that included a new teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores that critics say is nonsensical (for example, art teachers are evaluated by student math test scores) and the implementation of the Common Core standards, and aligned Pearson-designed standardized tests. King’s oversight of all of this was considered such a disaster that Cuomo last year wrote in a letter to top state education officials that “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start.”


As Graduation Rates Rise, Experts Fear Diplomas Come Up Short
New York Times, 2015-12-27

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A sign in a classroom here at Berea High School, northwest of downtown in the largest urban district in the state, sends this powerful message: “Failure Is Not an Option. You Will Pass. You Will Learn. You Will Succeed.”

By one measure, Berea, with more than 1,000 pupils, is helping more students succeed than ever: The graduation rate, below 65 percent just four years ago, has jumped to more than 80 percent.

But that does not necessarily mean that all of Berea’s graduates, many of whom come from poor families, are ready for college — or even for the working world. According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the students demonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.

It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.


Few question that in today’s economy, finishing high school is vital, given that the availability of jobs for those without a diploma has dwindled. The Obama administration has hailed the rising graduation rate, saying schools are expanding opportunities for students to succeed. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that the national graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest on record.

But “the goal is not just high school graduation,” Arne Duncan, the departing secretary of education, said in a telephone interview. “The goal is being truly college and career ready.”

The most recent evaluation of 12th graders on a national test of reading and math found that fewer than 40 percent were ready for college level work. College remediation and dropout rates remain stubbornly high, particularly at two-year institutions, where fewer than a third who enroll complete a degree even within three years.

In South Carolina, even with a statewide high school graduation rate of 80.3 percent, some business leaders worry that not enough students have the abilities they need for higher-skilled jobs at Boeing, Volvo and BMW, which have built plants here in recent years. What is more, they say, students need to be able to collaborate and communicate effectively, skills they say high schools do not always teach.

“If you look at what a graduation diploma guarantees today,” said Pamela P. Lackey, the president of AT&T South Carolina, “the issue is we have a system of education that prepares them for a different type of work than we have as a reality today.”