Articles Posted in Education

I look so hard for these on-line. Annoying, North Carolina has some that you can’t print out. So you can put them on line but you take off the print function. I would love to see the meeting where that was decided.

Anyway, I discovered today that the great state of Maine really saves the day. Here are a ton of tests that they have that go back to 2005.

They value in these tests, in my opinion, is that they mimic the kind of testing that these kids are going to see for the rest of their lives.  People eschew standardized tests because they do not represent what they want the world to be.  Fair enough.  I agree.  But the biggest tests our kids are ever going to take is the SAT and any graduate school entry tests (MCAT, LSAT, GMAT) they need to take. These standardized tests are just a ramp up to these tests.  It certainly is the not the most fair system.  But it the system we have and we have to have a children ready to face the challenges these tests bring.

There has been a lot of debate of late about whether college is for everyone. Robert Samuelson, a noted economist, wrote a editorial in the Washington Post a few weeks ago arguing that the ” college-for-all crusade” is one of those utopia dreams that should come to an end for the good of the U.S. economy.

I agree with this premise: there is little economic utility in trying to get every student to go to college. But I think Samuelson fails to fully appreciate that there is more to life than economics. If a student tries two years of college and fails, he is likely to make less money over the course of his life than if he had gone to, let’s say, trade school. Okay. But is he a better and happier person for the experience? In 2012, we seem to funnel everything through economics. Isn’t there more to life than just money? Couldn’t we at least talk about it?

Anyway, MSN Money put out today a list of the 11 worst public universities by graduation rate. In spite of my little speech above, schools have to give students some chance of success. If kids are just taking out loans and not being properly supported in the path to graduation, that is no opportunity at all.

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If you read the popular books on success, almost all of the authors refer back to Carol Dweck’s work. She is clearly a titan researcher so when I found out she had written her own book, “Mindset“, I was giddy. Why not get it straight from the horse’s mouth?

Her premise is that intelligence is not fixed but eminently teachable. If you don’t believe this, if you have the wrong “mindset”, it creates a self fulfilling prophecy and, worse, it makes you stop challenging yourself because you don’t think effort helps. Moreover, a limiting mindset causes lack of fulfillment, depression and a host of other aliments. It all makes a ton of sense.

Unfortunately, for buyers of the book, I’ve told you virtually everything you need to know. She never really takes the book anywhere else beyond repeat the premise 1,000 different ways. Worse still, Dweck weaves in a bunch of silly anecdotes and contrived narratives:

  • John McEnroe was basically a failure. He was one of the best tennis players in the history of the world and is the best commentator in tennis (at least arguably). This we know. Yet someone her narrative is paints him as a failure. I’m left with the question, if mindset is so important and his was so awful, how did he become great? That question gets lost in the “he saw awful” leitmotif.
  • Michael Jordan’s success was in part due to his great humility. Michael Jordan? Seriously? Have you read anything about Michael Jordan or did your research include watching 1,000 Nike commercials
  • She tells this story about how she caught this big fly fish after a fishing lesson and two men her were there assumed her much too evolved husband would feel ashamed to have been beaten by a woman because they too felt ashamed. About catching a fish? The chances this was not just her interpretation at a joke? Close to zero. The whole thing just seemed out of touch.

And this is all just in the first few chapters. For such a serious researcher, Dweck frequently refers to studies but never actually provides any citation.

I feel bad beating down such an obviously brilliant researcher. But I went in with the presumption that this was going to be a good book and left it feeling like I had wasted my money. But that does not detract from Dweck’s important message about mindset. I would just rather read Gladwell interpreting Dweck then reading Dweck herself.

For a different point of view, read this review.

Effort to Teach Kids Practical Financial Skills

What is the biggest criticism of our schools today? Okay… that is too big of a bear to tackle… what is one of the biggest criticisms about our schools today? The failure to teach real life skills you need to be successful not only in a job but in life. (I’ll go out on a limb and say this is historically the biggest criticism of law schools.)

Richmond public schools in Virginia are trying to help bridge the gap between learning and the real world, partnering with New Generations Federal Credit Union to give students real world financial experience. The theory? Students will learn while working at the bank how to deal with their own finances as an adult.

Virginia high school students are expected to take it a step further. Virginia schools require incoming freshman to pass economics and personal finance in order to graduate.

Will this be effective? I don’t know. The one thing people miss is that schools don’t fail to prepare you for the real world because they are stupid. It is just real hard to provide a facsimile of the real world that has the verisimilitude to be effective. But I love the idea. We need to keep trying new innovative things to get students ready for real life. Most ideas will fail but the keepers are… keepers.

Here’s is an article on the effort in Richmond.

Some people are moved by love, beauty, and justice. Some people are moved by money. If you are the latter, this post is for you. According to a new study, “Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?” by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, our inability to compete in education with the rest of the developed world may be costing us a trillion dollars a year.

A trillion. I know with all of the numbers being tossed around in our budgetary debacles, a trillion seems like the new billion. One trillion one dollar bills would go about 94 million miles which is further away than the sun.

U.S. students, this study found, fall behind 31 countries in math proficiency and behind 16 countries in reading proficiency. We seem to be beating most of Europe in reading. Then, again, pick up a newspaper. The European economy has bigger problems than we do. Maybe this is not a coincidence.

The reading does scare me more than the math. There is no question that math is important. But the U.S. is still churning out great mathematicians. I think it is more important to have great mathematicians than to raise median averages. Most of us know enough math to do our jobs.

But reading is a different story. Many more people need to be able to read, understand and comprehend. We need students with developed logical reasoning skills.

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Historically, there has not been a lot of honest assessment about the quality of our school teachers in Maryland. It is too sensitive, too subjective, etc.
But times are changing. Why? Because kids in too many other countries – China comes to mind – are outperforming us by whopping margins. To make meaningful change, we have to do things that are hard. Being honest – brutally honest – is just plain hard.

With that intro, the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked a random sample of three colleges in each state. The lucky Maryland winners were Mount St. Mary’s University, Salisbury University, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Actually, UMBC comes out looking pretty good, getting a “good” ranking. Mount St. Mary’s? Salisbury? Not so well. They were ranked “poor” in training their teachers.

Honesty is tough. This report is part of a much larger study that most colleges renounced even before the first report came out. No one wants to be judged and we don’t want to judge. One byproduct is that it indirectly maligns the good teachers that come out of these schools. But if you think these schools and principals and school officials who hire teachers are not paying attention to this report, I think you are kidding yourself.

The Baltimore Sun publishes this story, using a positive spin with the title “UMBC gets high marks for student teacher training programs.” Potential headlines such as “Don’t let your kid get taught by someone from Mount Saint Mary’s or Salisbury” or “Bad teacher alert” were apparently rejected.

I think most people would say that UMBC is a better school – statistically speaking – than Mount Saint Mary’s or Salisbury. (If you dispute this, you or your kid graduated from there.) That’s no knock by the way on either school. Steve Bisciotti and Frank Perdue graduated from Salisbury and Mount Saint Mary’s produced a number of smart people (that, admittedly, I have never heard of).

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What is the capital of South Sudan? I was excited to teach my kids this week the birth of a new country, South Sudan. The capital is Juda. Tonight, we are going to try to handwrite in on our maps the border between Sudan and South Sudan. (Hopefully, with a new border comes a new era of peace for the Sudanese people and that South Sudan has their own George Washington.)

Don’t get wedded to Juda, though. South Sudan is searching for a new capital because they do not believe Juda is the best city in the long haul to be the capital of the country. So when you teach Juda as the captial of South Sudan, make sure you let your kids know that it comes with an asterisk of “could be changed soon.”

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Oklahoma State University released a study echoing my theme of the educational power of the iPad.

The context of this study was college students. The gist of the study is that the iPad is a powerful weapon for learning. The one thing that surprised me in the study is that it seems that the e-Reader was not as popular with students as I would have expected.

Here’s a statistic that is hard to believe: 93% of eight graders cannot correctly identify the three branches of government. But these are the stats provided by the 2010 National Assessment of Education Program test. The apples do not far from the tree. Adults struggle too.

Surveys show that fewer than half of U.S. adults can name the three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial. But I suspect if you are reading this blog you already know that. I really believe that the key to teaching history in a meaningful way is to get the dates, geography and facts down. I know the modern approach is kids should be immersed in rich stories that history provides instead of getting bogged down in the dates and places. But the rich stories don’t matter much without context. If you understand what was going on in the world in 1775, Paul Revere’s ride becomes a lot more interesting.