Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Center for Higher Education

I have found a thoughtful website focused on higher education:  the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. It is located in North Carolina.  I look at their website.  You might like it too:

Here are a couple of snippets from their website:

"All too often, universities allow teaching to become shallow and trendy, failing to challenge students intellectually and disparaging traditional principles of justice, ethics, and liberal education. Students know little about the history of their country or the institutions that led to this nation’s prosperity and liberty."

"To address these and other problems, the Pope Center conducts studies in areas such as governance, curriculum, financing, access, accountability, faculty research, and administrative policies."


Sunday, June 09, 2013

About the Common Core Curriculum

There are a couple of good articles in today's New York Times (Sunday June 9, 2013) about the Common Core curriculum, the new national curriculum.

Who’s Minding the Schools? by ANDREW HACKER and CLAUDIA DREIFUS is on page one of the Sunday Review Section:

This is a quote from the article:
Already, almost one-quarter of young Americans do not finish high school. ... What does the Common Core offer these students?

The answer is simple. “College and career skills are the same,” Ken Wagner, New York State’s associate commissioner of education for curriculum, assessment and educational technology, told us. The presumption is that the kind of “critical thinking” taught in classrooms — and tested by the Common Core — improves job performance, whether it’s driving a bus or performing neurosurgery. But Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, calls the Common Core a “one-size-fits-all pathway governed by abstract academic content.”

In sum, the Common Core takes as its model schools from which most students go on to selective colleges. Is this really a level playing field? Or has the game been so prearranged that many, if not most, of the players will fail? 

This is an excellent point.  What worries me is how this national curriculum is pushed down to the states from up high.  It is as though America is ruled by a secret government, and Common Core another decision from the Secret Government that we are expected to accept without question.

Mr. Hacker and Ms Dreifus write, "For all its impact, the Common Core is essentially an invisible empire. It doesn’t have a public office, a board of directors or a salaried staff. Its Web site lists neither a postal address nor a telephone number."

This reminds me of Kafka's Castle.  It is not good for America to become Kafkaesque.

The second article in today's New York Times is No Learning Without Feeling by CLAIRE NEEDELL HOLLANDER

The article needs editing.  I recommend skipping the first three paragraphs and starting with the thesis statement for the essay (beginning the fourth paragraph):  "Agreement on the skills American schoolchildren need to learn to read and write is much easier to arrive at than agreement on what they should read and write."

The critical point she raises is, "The Common Core remains neutral on the question of whether ... students should read Shakespeare, Salinger or a Ford owner’s manual, so long as the text remains “complex.”"

Her conclusion is, "It is time to align our education system with college demands by opening a real discussion about what teens should read in middle school and high school."

You can skip her closing paragraph.  It is a return to the theme of the first three paragraphs.

Living in Texas, one of the few states to reject the Common Core tests, which lead to the Common Core curriculum, I perk up when I see a liberal paper like the New York Times question the Common Core.

A single national curriculum is what we call in engineering a "single point of failure."  A single national curriculum is a singularly bad idea.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Education Advocacy Groups in Texas

The New York Times ran an article about education advocacy groups in Texas.  It is helpful to have an idea of who is doing what.  The article is Advocacy Group Wields Charter-Policy Power by Morgan Smith, Sunday, May 12, 2013 (pages 23A and 23B in the paper).  The article is about money, people, and politics. I won't summarize the article, but I will list a few facts from the article.

The group "Texans for Education Reform" will spend at least $645,000 in lobbying contracts this year.  Florence Shapiro, the Plano Republican who was once leader of the Senate Education Committee, is a paid consultant to "Texans for Education Reform."

The group "Raise Your Hand" reports spending an estimated minimum of $350,000 on a lobbying team that includes former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.   The  chief executive of "Raise Your Hand" is David Anthony, who joined in 2010 after serving as the superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks school district for seven years.

I do not know what to make of this, but it is interesting to see the money and the people involved in education. There is no doubt that money is a major factor in 21st century education.


Here is a link to the article:

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Constructivism in Math Education

America is flat on its butt when it comes to mathematics education.  One reason for our collective failure is a poor attitude towards math.  As an example, consider a news story on the CBS Morning Show, March 3, 2013, about a new museum devoted to math.  The article begins by immediately calling math an unpopular subject, a painful subject, and says, "Not only do most of us not like it; we're also not very good at it."  A political scientist, Andrew Hacker, became famous when the New York Times published his editorial, Is Algebra Necessary? on July 28, 2012.  How can we excel in math when we denigrate and disparage it?

All too often people who dislike mathematics are force to teach math.  My son had a middle school math teacher who avoided teaching math for the whole first week of school.  My son was concerned and I made inquiries.  I discovered his math teacher used to be a social studies teacher.  Obviously she avoided teaching math because she did not want to teach math, but she was stuck with it.

Then you have people who don't like math but are stuck teaching math teachers.  People who think math is painful try to create a method of instruction they believe will make math a pain-free subject.  We now come to the other major reason America fails in mathematics education.  We refuse to use methods that work because we are wedded to failed methods, like Constructivism, which holds that "the primary role of teaching is not to lecture, explain, or otherwise attempt to 'transfer' mathematical knowledge..."

Constructivism is more commonly called Discovery Learning, where children are asked to discover on their own how mathematics works.  Plano, Texas, public schools use discovery learning and the result is a very healthy tutoring industry.  Plano teachers are told by administrators that they are supposed to be "a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage," so parents have to pay for tutors.

Half way through the school year my son's freshman English teacher finally hands back a marked paper.  There is no explanation of why the teacher does not like some sentences, but at least they are marked.  My son came to me, pointed to the first marked sentence and tells me that no one he knows can explain to him what is wrong with the sentence.  That is so sad, picturing a class of students begging for instruction from people they know.  That is discovery learning in Plano ISD, making the kids beg for help because the district does not believe in instruction.  Fortunately, I know about writing and could help my son.

South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Finland all excel in mathematics.  Home-schoolers in America use books and programs called "the Singapore Method" because they have the freedom to choose what works.  It is time our schools abandoned failed methods, like Discovery Learning and Connected Math, and copy methods that work. 

I  hope and pray that when the Plano ISD eventually gets a new Superintendent that we get a person that believes in teaching, believes in instruction, and believes in the acquisition of skills.  We need a Superintendent who can rip out the cancer of Discovery Learning and Connected Math and provide the children of Plano with the instruction they deserve.

We are having an election in Plano for the school board.  Now is your chance to ask candidates if they believe in the Discovery Method of teaching.  Just remember, football coaches instruct their teams because they want victory.  If we want victory in mathematics, we should want instruction for our children.  It is time to get rid of Discovery Learning and Connected Math.