Free Standardized Tests Elementary School

July 3, 2013

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.

11 Worst Colleges: Graduation Rates

June 11, 2012

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.

Continue reading "11 Worst Colleges: Graduation Rates" »

Best Maryland Public High School

May 23, 2012

Maryland placed 23 schools in the top 1000 public schools in the country. Howard County a strong showing, placing three school on the list (Glenelg, Centennial, and Mariott's Ridge). You can find the full list here.

Carol Dweck's "Mindset"

January 13, 2012

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.

Teaching Practical Skills in Schools

October 4, 2011

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.

Educational Defects Cost a Trillion a Year

August 23, 2011

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.

Continue reading "Educational Defects Cost a Trillion a Year" »

UMBC, Salisbury and Mount Saint Mary's Get Report Cards for Training Teachers

July 22, 2011

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).

Continue reading "UMBC, Salisbury and Mount Saint Mary's Get Report Cards for Training Teachers " »

What is the Capital of South Sudan?

July 9, 2011

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."

Continue reading "What is the Capital of South Sudan?" »

The iPad's Educational Utility

May 18, 2011

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.

Our Students Are Failing Civics

May 5, 2011

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.

iPads in Kindergarten

May 4, 2011

Nearly 300 Kindergarten students in Alburn, Maine are getting Apple iPad 2s this fall. School superintendent Tom Morrill calls the iPad what I have called it: a revolution in education.

This is just a plain good thing for these kids. But the Washington Post always feels compelled tomanufacture a debate in an effort to be fair. ("Wait, let's hear the birthers side of the story, too.")So we hear from one Maine mother who is concerned:

I understand you have to keep up with technology, but I think a 5-year-old is a little too young to understand.

Did this come from a mother who has explored the uses of the iPad with children 5 years-old and younger? No. Just some random Alburn, Maine mother with children in fourth grade and high school.

Strangely, this article is mostly naysaying jabs:

1. "But there's no real evidence that technology helps kids learn better, and educators say it's still important for young students to use three-dimensional objects such as blocks or books." My response: what type of evidence do you need? A controlled double blind study? No, no one has even tried to do that yet to my knowledge. But is that the test we are going to use with every teaching technique? In the real world, you test children on the fly. If they are learning with a technique, book, whatever, you roll with it.

2. "[T]oo much of anything can be a bad thing." My response: no kidding. This is pretty obvious. No one is saying put about all books and three dimension objects away and let's focus on just the iPad. They are creating a straw man. I think eating spinach is good for kids. Do we really need to make a special point of saying if all they eat is spinach, that is no longer good?

Is buying these iPads a huge waste of money for this school system? If the don't use them properly, absolutely. As we talked about before, technology alone does not teach kids. But the iPad is an unbelievably incredible weapon to educate children when used properly.

Should You Send Your Kids to Pre-K?

April 27, 2011

I have three kids in Pre-K. It is an article of faith to me that it is a good idea - at least for our kids - and I barely remember my wife and I spending a lot of time debating whether to send our kids to Pre-K. Like most of us, I'm always merrily looking for articles and data that support the wisdom of my thinking.

Today I have New Jersey to thank. New Jersey says it is forking out more than $11,000 a year per child in Pre-K and they are glad they are: the number of kids who repeat first grade has been cut in half in poor districts that offer two years of Pre-K.

Would you get the same data in suburbia? I don't know but I suspect so. What kids really learn is who they are, how they fit in and how they are going to deal with different people and places. We can't teach that to our kids at home.

For differing reasons, a lot of parents are going in the other direction. Fewer and fewer children are getting an early start on their education. States cut nearly $30 million in funding to preschools last year, leaving one-quarter of 4-year-olds enrolled in Pre-K programs. Jim Axelrod found how an investment in early education can pay big dividends.

Educational Value of Word Search Puzzles

April 19, 2011

I had my kids working hard on word search puzzles. Why? Because I was terrible at them and I wanted my kids to be better. So we have spent an inordinate amount of time doing word search puzzles.

Last night my son found a "create your own word search" website which was actually pretty cool. Most interesting were the words he selected for his puzzle. When he got up to leave the computer, I put into Google the term I used in the title of this post: "Educational Value of Word Search Puzzles". The result? A lot of teachers saying word search puzzles have no educational value and are largely useless.

I'm receptive to this argument if for no other reason; I'm terrible at word search puzzles. But I have a more moderate view than most of what I read. I think a part of the problem is that bad teachers favor word search puzzles because they eat time and are a substitute for teaching. So there could be a little confusing the messenger with the message problem. I do think that, like an ISpy game, they help young learners focus on detail. But, there is no doubt, I'm going to be using less word search puzzles in the future.

High School Seniors and Chilling

April 14, 2011

According to a new study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average high school graduate in 2009 earned about three credits more than graduates in 1990. Theoretically, this means that today's students are spending 420 more hours in class.

Based on my observations of high school students in Anne Arundel County, let me say this: hogwash.

Back in the day, you went to high school your senior year just like everyone else. Sure, that meant you took more classes than you actually had to take, but no one figured out that we all had more high school credits than we needed. (We were a little dumb.)

I also think that a lot of good high school students are taking college credits at local community colleges and the classes are very easy for them. So instead of grinding out their senior year getting sharp for college, they have a year to virtually goof off. The kid in me thinks that is very cool. But the kid in me is dying out and the adult in me - the parent in me - thinks it is not the best way to get ready for college.

Laptops Don't Educate

April 13, 2011

A purpose of the Miller & Zois Kids Blog is to talk about harnessing the power of technology to improve our ability to educate our children. A recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank in Antigua & Barbuda underscores that technology alone won't solve the problem.

In Antigua & Barbuda, the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications, Science and Technology (sounds like something out of Orwell's 1984, right?) began a "laptop for every child" initiative. So they went out and... got a lot of laptops. No meaningful benefits were demonstrated. Maybe there were benefits but the study didn't find them.

What is the take home message? Is it that technology is not helping us educate our children? That is one take. As you might suspect, mine is different. I think we need to learn how to harness technology to better educate our children while at the same time figuring out new ways to limit the harmful effects, from teenage texting while driving right on down.

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child

April 12, 2011

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, is a radio show for kids and their parents. The show is on 93.9 in Northampton, Mass. (where we live) and 101.5 in Brattleboro, Vermontbut this is the Internet age, you can get the shows on-line and even pick up the station on an iPhone app. (Have I mentioned lately how bitter I am that I was not born 30 years later?)

Here is what I like about Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child:

  • What this blog is about, in part, is the idea of harnessing technology to improve the education of our children. There are so many crosswinds between educating our children and technology. Ultimately, technology is building up and tearing down our children. So we need to maximize the building up part the best that we can Spare the Rock does this. How many radio shows could you access - on demand no less - for kids just 10 years ago?
  • Spare the Rock is produced by Bill Childs and his 12 year old daughter Ella and his 9 year-old son Liam. This is very cool and you don't need me to explain to you why it is so cool.
  • They Might Be Giants did Spare the Rock's theme song. I love They Might Be Giants (though I never ever liked this one, even in jest).

Shoes for Education

April 12, 2011

Michele Miller, a school principal in Sacramento, is doing what can only be described as a very cool thing: she is selling her shoe collection to raise money to help bridge the gap for budget cuts that are being made at her school. Miller has created Shoes to the Rescue, a website that offers her 350 pairs of shoes for sale.

We have a lot of bad teachers and school administrators that we really have to get rid of to be successful. It is a big story and one on which we cannot afford to lose our focus. But what sadly gets lost in our educational problems is that the majority of people educating our children are absolutely amazing. Michele Miller is awesome but there are tons of quiet heroes everyday in classrooms in America and all over the world.

Kaplan and Federal Money

April 11, 2011

Last week, I wrote about how Maryland was poised to crack down on for profit colleges. I did not realize the extent to which Kaplan Higher Education, which, in addition to the college and grad school prep classes I'm familiar with from back in the day, also has a little empire of for-profit college campuses that grab onto federal money.

Even more interesting is the fact that the real story of Kaplan's crimes was written on Sunday by the Washington Post who owns Kaplan. It is like breaking the story that your dad is guilty of insider trading.

Most of the Washington Post's profits come from Kaplan so the Post is definitely proving again that it puts journalistic integrity first.

New York City Schools Chancellor Steps Down/Gets Fired

April 8, 2011

Raise your hand if you think something is very wrong here. Yesterday, I wrote about Maryland Superintendent of Schools stepping down after a 20 year run. Yesterday, Cathie Black is leaving her post as New York City chancellor. Her tenure? Three months.

This is an "only in New York" thing a recent public opinion poll this week placed her approval rating at 17 percent. Really? What exactly did she do in three months? Did this get her fired? Or was it just an admission by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that he made the wrong call in the first place?

I don't know. But one this is for sure: there is nothing productive about a 3 month tenure in any leadership position in our schools, much less this one.

Michele Somerville, the author of Black Irish, has another take on this debacle on the Huffington Post.

State of Maryland's Educational System

April 7, 2011

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, the longest-serving appointed head of state schools in the country, announced yesterday that she is retiring after 20 years.

Good for her. And she probably did a great job (I'm in no position to access). I don't like parsing the words of someone I don't consider a public official. But this line concerns me a little bit: "I just want more flexibility in my life, and I love leaving on top because I think it's fair to the next person."

There are three parts to this quote. The first is that she wants more flexibility in her life. She's earned that for sure. The second part is that she loves leaving on top.

On top of what? A soldier in Afghanistan fights beyond admirably over the past 8 years. He (or she) leaves to come home today. That soldier deserves medals, benefits, hugs, you name it. But he really can't claim to have gone out on top. His team has not won. Maryland's educational system is not in great shape.

The third part is that she "owes it to the next person" for her to go out on top. I really don't understand what that means exactly.

Again, please don't read this as a slight to Nancy Grasmick. Please read and/or watch this editorial from WBAL. I have a hard time taking editorials from WBAL seriously (next up: WBAL supports good, renounces evil), but these are kind and probably very deserving words. I still think it is dangerous to suggest Maryland's education system is on the top of anything.

Finland's Educational System

April 7, 2011

I read last night a really thought provoking article in Time about the educational system in Finland.

The article calls Finland's system in the title "anti-Tiger" playing off the subject of yesterday's blog post. In a recent study, Finland was second in science literacy, second in reading and third in math, putting them in the same league as educational giants such as South Korea and Singapore.

The educational systems of South Korea and Singapore don't sell well with Americans because they require too much work. Long days, long homework... understandably, not every parent wants to sign their kids up for that struggle. In Finland, the school day is actually shorter than it is here. So what are they doing?

First, let's make sure we realize that we may be retrofitting an answer to a question to which no one knows the answer. This Time article seems, however, to have the answer. Teachers. Here is the metaphor that roped me in: "You don't buy a dog and bark for it. In the U.S., they treat teachers like pizza delivery boys and then do efficiency studies on how well they deliver the pizza."That logic makes a disturbing amount of sense.

There is one caveat. Finland, largely to their credit, is a very egalitarian society. Their test scores underscore this: high average and less outliers at the extremes. But who do you know that really uses math in their jobs? Advanced math is used by less than 20% of working adults (source: something I think I read once). Should we work harder on those 20% and let the rest of us do what we do? Does Finland work hard enough on those 20%?

I'm raising the questions. I don't know the answers but we should be talking about them.

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