Tag Archives: high school

Why Common Core Standards Are Likely To Fail

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I
argued yesterday that the Common
Core State Standards Initiative
(CCSSI) is both necessary and a good
thing–but I must add that it just can’t work now.

It has the potential
to transform American K-12 education, but the plain fact is that it is destined
to fail because current teacher education programs neither prepare nor equip
grade school and high school teachers to teach the Standards.

 

Whether students
learn–and what they learn–depends largely upon what happens inside the
classroom as they and their teachers interact over the curriculum. “Skillful
teaching,” write Deborah
Loewenberg Ball and Francesca Forzani
, “can make the difference
between students being at the top of the class or the bottom, completing high
school or dropping out.”

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Common Core Standards Can Save Us

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It’s no secret that
most high school graduates are unprepared for college. Every year, 1.7 million first-year
college students are enrolled in remedial classes at a cost of about $3 billion
annually, the Associated
Press
recently reported. Scores on the 2011 ACT
college entrance exam
showed that only 1 in 4 high school graduates
was ready for the first year of college.

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Two Commencement Talks That Got Attention

David McCullough and Fareed Zakaria.jpgThe Boston Globe recently reported that the journalist Fareed Zakaria delivered very similar if not identical addresses this commencement season at Harvard and at Duke. Zakaria was perfectly within his rights to imitate himself on the podiums of higher learning. He did nothing wrong. The article reporting his “sin” was intended, however opaquely, to rap him across the knuckles for lack of consideration that even if his speech was not unique for each occasion, his audience was. And there is the rub. In his defense, Zakaria noted that “These are students from two very similar institutions graduating within two weeks of each other. I don’t see how I could have come up with two completely different speeches without giving one group a second-rate talk. I’d rather come up with the same important message I think they need to hear.”

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Shorten the “Experience”? No Way

Recently, colleges have been floating three-year bachelor’s degrees to undergraduates.  Many students enter with AP credits and a need to reduce tuition costs, so why not concentrate their studies and head into the real world a year sooner?   The university, too, would benefit.  As a story in the Los Angeles Times last year put it: 

“A proposal unveiled last month involved greater use of summer school and possibly streamlining requirements for some majors.  Proponents estimate that if 5% to 10% of UC undergraduates finished their degrees one term earlier than they do now, the university could educate 2,000 to 4,000.”
 
Buildings wouldn’t sit empty all summer long, students wouldn’t waste time and blow off in courses outside their career interests, and more individuals could be served (and charged tuition).  Everybody wins.
 
According to this story in the Washington Post from last week, however, the three-year option hasn’t worked.  Or rather, hardly any students are interested.  Only a “tiny percentage” of the undergraduates at various campuses have signed up for the programs.  The student profiled in the Post piece cite the desire to study abroad and to have a little more college fun before joining the working world. 
 
The Post doesn’t expand on her motives, but they sound typical to me.  It isn’t just because of the tough job market, either.  When we see that average homework time for students adds up to only 12 or 13 hours per week, college amounts to a part-time job for most students.  Most campuses have decent facilities, too, and 20-year-olds get to spend their time in the midst of hundreds and thousands of other 20-year-olds at sporting events and parties.  Why leave?
 
This is, in fact, the outcome of the front-end strategy of colleges.  They do all they can to lure high school seniors to their campuses, highlighting the wonderful and unique “college experience” they offer.  Not many adolescents say to themselves after receiving their admittance letter, “Okay, now let’s see about some programs to reduce the time I’m going to spend there.” 

Shortening High School to Three Years

The state of Indiana has just launched a new program, the brainchild of the state’s Republican governor Mitch Daniels, that will allow high school students to skip their senior year and move straight to college after their junior year if they have completed the core requirements. The money the state would have spent to help subsidize a fourth year of high school–from $6,000 to $8,000 per student, depending on the school district–will instead go directly to the students in the form of college scholarships.

This is good news for the critics of the flaccid secondary education system that prevails in many U.S. public school districts, a system that allows students to finish all their core courses during their junior year. Senior year then becomes the time of the prom, lording it around campus, and “senioritis”: blowing off classes because the seniors’ transcripts are already in the hands of the colleges where they have applied. Nonetheless, the Daniels plan–similar to early-graduation incentives in force in Idaho and being urged in Kentucky–is not universally popular. Many educators, as well as high school students themselves, argue that students shouldn’t be deprived of, well, the fun and prestige of being a senior. (The high schools have an additional interest in not losing the funding that disappears when students choose early college.) “Just because the twelfth grade may not be fully utilized to its potential by many students doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done away with,” Phillip Lovell of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based education-funding advocacy group, told a team of journalists from the Indianapolis Star and the Hechinger education report. High school students told the reporters that they liked the idea of spending twelfth grade taking art classes, playing on athletic teams, and otherwise enjoying themselves. Senior year “is your best year,” one of them said.
 
What is interesting about the negative reaction to three-year high school is that it mirrors the negative reaction to three-year college, an option at several liberal arts colleges around the country that can reduce costs substantially and move students more quickly into professional schools or careers. One institution, Waldorf College in Iowa, began phasing out its three-year program in 2009 because, as an Associated Press reporter wrote, “Most students wanted the full four-year experience–academically, socially, athletically.” A Waldorf spokeswoman explained, “What we’re finding they’re saying is, ‘Why did I want to grow up so fast?'”

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Death to High School English, Thanks to Radicals and Progressives

It’s always amusing to find professors confront the fruits of their ideological views. Ponytailed colleagues who had protested and marched in the grand old 1960s have often shared with me their dismay at the deteriorating writing of students.             

In similar fashion, writing instructor Kim Brooks in a recent Salon column expresses shock and dismay that her students don’t even know how to write a sentence, much less a coherent paper. 
 
Brooks claims that in the 1990s her high-school English classes saved her probably from “hard drugs, or worse, one of those Young Life chapters so popular with my peers.” 
 
Well, there were too many riots and skirmishes going on in my high school to really focus on literature (and I wish there had been an evangelical group like Young Life there way back then), but I carried over my love of reading from elementary school.  It had been a fight to get into school (I had to wait until first grade despite my protestations to my immigrant parents) and I had to wait until second grade when I got my library card before I could have books at home. 
 
 Like many others, I was saved by books, and by elementary school teachers who believed in maintaining order, presenting material objectively, and rewarding individual accomplishment.  Books provided hours of opportunity to escape.

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Advanced Placement Economics: Where Markets Fail and Government Is Perfect

High school students taking advanced placement courses in economics are being shortchanged. In 2010 the College Board and Educational Testing Service (ETS) administered 134,747 Advanced Placement (AP) microeconomics and macroeconomics exams to high school students. A new study systematically reviews the content of AP Economics. AP Economics gives ample attention to market failure, but no attention to government failure. It gives ample attention to Keynesian economics and to the mechanical manipulation of diagrams, but practically no attention to entrepreneurship, innovation, economic freedom, and property rights. In general, AP Economics gives little attention to the economic way of thinking. The study appears in the January 2011 issue of Econ Journal Watch and is authored by Tawni H. Ferrari, James D. Gwartney, and John S. Morton. The authors suggest ways to improve the AP Economics materials. The article is accompanied by a podcast.

In High School? We Have A Med School Spot Reserved For You

Roger Clegg writes on a shocking new University of Massachusetts set-aside program over at Phi Beta Cons:

The Boston Globe reports that the University of Massachusetts is setting up a med-school set-aside program: “Under an initiative set to be finalized today, the state’s only public medical school [i.e., at UMass] will partner with UMass campuses in Boston, Amherst, Lowell, and Dartmouth to create a joint baccalaureate-MD program that would ensure admission for aspiring doctors from underrepresented ethnic and socioeconomic groups. . . . The medical school will set aside 12 slots in its 125-student, first-year class for qualified students from groups underrepresented among Massachusetts doctors. Those groups include African-Americans, Hispanics, certain Southeast Asians, and Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, and other Portuguese speakers. Students of any ethnic background from low-income families or those among the first in their families to attend college would also qualify.”
I won’t make the usual and obvious points about why discrimination on the basis of skin color and national orgin is unfair, divisive, and stupid. All that aside, this seems to me to be almost certainly illegal. To be sure, this isn’t exactly like the race/ethnicity set-aside program that was struck down in Bakke, since here the slots are also (in theory at least) going to be open to applications from members of disfavored racial and ethnic groups, so long as they are low-income or the first in their families to attend college. But this is still a very mechanical use of race, like the point system struck down in Gratz v. Bollinger. And the justification given for the racially discriminatory program by UMass president Jack Wilson is the need for “role models” — which has also been rejected by the Supreme Court (in Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, in 1986).

A Report From Nowhere

A group called Strong American Schools has just issued a report with the provocative title Diploma to Nowhere. The report is a lavishly produced cry of alarm: our high schools are failing. Millions of graduates are tricked into thinking their high school diplomas mean they are “ready for college academics.” But they aren’t. As a result, 1.3 million students end up in college remedial programs that cost between $2.31 to $2.89 billion per year.

That’s alarming all right, but who is “Strong American Schools”? The organization’s website declares that it is “a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, [and] a nonpartisan campaign supported by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promoting sound education policies for all Americans.” But the history of the organization and why it was founded are more elusive. The Gates Foundation issued a press release on April 2007 that throws a little more light on the genesis of Strong American Schools. The organization was apparently founded at that point with $60 million and the goal of injecting a particular version of school reform into the 2008 Presidential election. Strong American Schools’ original project was “ED in ’08” described as “a sweeping public awareness and action campaign that will mobilize the public and presidential candidates around solutions for the country’s education crisis.”

Of course a lot depends on what you think the crisis is. Is it our dependence on a teaching corps that in most states has been through the highly ideological training of schools of education and who bring their confused pedagogy to class? Is it our consumerist culture awash in short-term gratifications against which the schools can barely compete? Is it what Charles Murray calls “educational romanticism” that insists that every child can be “above average” and go to college if provided with the right kind of teaching? Is it perhaps an educational system that is dominated by teachers unions more concerned with their prerogatives than with educating students? Could it be the deterioration of academic standards which the No Child Left Behind initiative singled out as the key factor?

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