Thursday, October 30, 2008

Altered States - Evolving Readers

The effect of the internet is being observed by researchers who are beginning to understand that the assimilation of large volumes of information is changing the way people operate.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article questioning whether browsing the internet is reading called Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? by Motoko Rich.
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.

Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor at the University of Michigan who led the study, said novel reading was similar to what schools demand already. But on the Internet, she said, students are developing new reading skills that are neither taught nor evaluated in school.

One early study showed that giving home Internet access to low-income students appeared to improve standardized reading test scores and school grades. “These were kids who would typically not be reading in their free time,” said Linda A. Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State who led the research. “Once they’re on the Internet, they’re reading.”

Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading.

“The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?” said Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. “The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment. Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with it.”

Some scientists worry that the fractured experience typical of the Internet could rob developing readers of crucial skills. “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive neuroscientist at Yale who has studied brain scans of children reading.

But This Is Reading Too

Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.

“It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”
And in a newer article Reuters investigates whether something new is happening. In an article called Is surfing the Internet altering your brain? by Belinda Goldsmith we get more clues,
Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.

But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.

Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.

"We're seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills," Small told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"They will know when the best response to an email or Instant Message is to talk rather than sit and continue to email."

In his newly released fourth book "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," Small looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information.

Small, the director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA, said the brain was very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought by technology.

He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.

"The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others," said Small.

"We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is an advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution."
So the next question is why are our public schools so technically inept?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The End of Independent Schools?

Forbes Magazine has an interesting article by Maurna R. Desmond called The Coming College Bubble?

I believe it is a harbinger of the fate many secondary independent schools will also face. Public education will be confronting a financial crisis very soon.

From the article:
Home builders and banks aren't the only ones facing economic headwinds these days. America's undercapitalized independent colleges are staring at a spiral of major threats to solvency as penny-pinching students and parents consider cheaper options, and funding sources dry up. As a result, they could be the next bubble industry to pop.

The crush is coming fast. According to a September 2008 study by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, of the 504 member institutions surveyed, one-third said the credit crunch had hurt enrollment, and about a fifth of respondents said they had fewer returning students than expected. Roughly the same number said they had a smaller incoming freshman class than expected.

But while head counts slide, needs rise. Demand for student aid is up, but charitable donations from foundations and individuals will fall during a downturn. Ditto for investment returns. And thanks to tanking tax revenue, federal aid may take a hit, too. Taken together, many independent institutions start to look vulnerable. "They are financially precarious for sure," says Sandy Baum, a Skidmore College economist and senior policy analyst at the College Board.

"Country Club" Closed?

The crunch will be particularly bitter for the institutions that drained coffers to build "country club colleges" complete with luxury dormitories, spas and top of the line sports complexes to lure choice students, hoping that a sharper crowd would lead to more accretive diplomas, entering a profitable cycle of more successful alumni and increased donations.

Many had little choice. "If a college decides we're not going to have fancy dorms or build a shiny new gym, students are not going to that college," says Baum. "People are not choosing the lowest price college, and that's a consumer issue, not a public policy problem."

Adds William Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin: "The market is choosing quality regardless of incremental costs."

Blowing Bubbles

This is at a price. College tuition has increased by more than three times the rate of inflation for the last 20 years, despite U.S. wages flat-lining since 2000. The average tuition at a private four-year institution grew 6.6% year-over-year in 2007 to $23,712, according to the College Board. This is pricey in itself, but when you add in all the luxe living expenses, the total bill touches $50,000 a year at the high end.

To the chagrin of financial advisers, students are increasingly turning to higher interest private loans to meet the burgeoning college bill. Private loans made up 24% of total education loans in 2006-07, up from 6% a decade ago. In 2008, students secured $20 billion in private loans--amounting to roughly a fifth of total undergraduate borrowings for the year. Taxpayers pony up, too, chipping in an average $4,000 per student through government loans and grants to private institutions, which usually come up with $3,720 in aid (often in the form of discounted tuitions) as well.

It's a scenario familiar to anyone who watched the housing bubble blow. "We are at a trend line that cannot be sustained," says Matt Snowling, an analyst at Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, who covers the student loan industry. "Tuition must go down, or there will be limited demand at high-priced private schools."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 'Lost' Kerouac/Burroughs Novel Surfaces

George Kimball writing in the Boston Phoenix documents the long, strange journey of a book co-authored by William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

Kimball's article is a delicious read all unto itself as he illuminates the history of the authors and main characters as well as a back-story that has kept this book from being published for decades.

English teachers studying the Beat genre will welcome this peek into the earliest writings and adventures of America's literary giants.

From the article,
More artifact than art
That a tale so fascinating to the press might also lend itself to dramatic adaptation occurred to many. In his introduction to Hippos, Grauerholz notes that, over the years, recognizable aspects of the Carr-Kammerer killing have cropped up “in novels and memoirs . . . by Chandler Brossard, William Gaddis, Alan Harrington, John Clellon Holmes, Anatole Broyard, Howard Mitcham, and even James Baldwin.”

Ginsberg, in a school project, was the first of the inner circle to attempt a fictional treatment, but when word of The Bloodsong, Ginsberg’s work-in-progress for a Columbia creative-writing class, reached the university administration, the future poet was summoned to the dean’s office and threatened with expulsion lest he further damage Columbia’s already-sullied reputation with his “smutty” novel.

Ginsberg dutifully discontinued his project, and Kerouac and Burroughs commenced writing And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks shortly thereafter. (The title was a touch of quintessentially Burroughsian whimsy, appropriated from a radio broadcast describing a circus fire.) The two alternated chapters in a curious format that led to a sometimes-bewildering three levels of authorship.

The chapters are pseudonymously narrated by “Will Dennison” (the Burroughs narrator) and “Mike Ryko” (the Kerouac narrator), and when the book made the rounds of publishing houses in 1945, the author credits read “by William Lee and John Kerouac” — the same bylines that would grace the first published work of each, Burroughs’s Junky (1953) and Kerouac’s earlier conventional mainstream novel The Town and the City (1950). Not until they followed Ginsberg’s Howl with their own respective signature works, Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959), did they become Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

The publishing world reacted with sublime indifference to the Hippos manuscript, which after numerous rejections was eventually stowed away under a floorboard in the home of Kerouac’s mother, and the unread book assumed a certain legendary underground cachet. (I had heard about it even before Kerouac’s death, and that was 40 years ago.)

An excerpt from the book can be found here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Test Score Derivatives and Property Values

At the last Board of Education meeting we received a set of SAT test score figures dutifully compared to similar other schools and EO Smith did better than in the previous year. so we dutifully and ritualistically examined this number and that number and genuinely gleaned some pride in the student's relative success.

Of course the minute you try to come to a conclusion about what all the numbers might be telling us, we're warned there isn't enough data to actually do anything with so basically the scores are pretty much worthless accept as a form of town vs town reading, writing, and math handicap metric for those who might be betting on such comparisons.

A year earlier, when scores were received that were much lower, I suggested that we not pay too much attention to the scores as they would fluctuate up and down from no real pedagogical phenomenon other than a different group of kids taking the test.

But when scores go down, the reaction was not so ho hum. The response is more like, "But our housing prices are tied to these scores!"

Ah, the good old days when housing prices were mythologically coupled to test scores of the shiny students living in those artificially priced homes.

Those days are gone thanks to the Wall St meltdown. Some of the high-stakes of testing are gone now. Homeowners can get off the asses of students to get ever-higher test scores for the sake of leveraging the worth of a home to the next impossibly extravagant magnitude of worth.

You see, schools bought into this fantasy as much as anyone. Our curriculum includes courses that examine stock market issues because we wanted our students to be able to navigate the financial reality of the day.

But we weren't alone. Colleges, universities, and high schools all over America studied this stuff. And you know what? For all the study, nobody asked the critical questions that could have averted the disaster to come.

Isn't it funny that the one thing most worth learning - critical thinking - has been sanitized out of the system so that the system could delude itself into a state of sudden fiscal self-immolation.

We need to open schools back up to thinkers, bullies, gifted teachers, imperfect students, rebels, poor boys, bastards, knuckleheads, teachers who offend our taste, people who don't share our values, kids who want to be left alone, kids who get socially promoted, kids who can't read, or write, or do math but who make the kid next to them wonder what the hell they might be thinking.

Critical thinking doesn't come as cheaply as real estate these days. It comes as a tension between the complacent and the outrageous. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Important Social Skills Study

Yesterday the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released an interesting press release detailing a new study on the link between schools that encourage social skills along with academic achievement.
Ten years after graduation, high-school students who had been rated as conscientious and cooperative by their teachers were earning more than classmates who had similar test scores but fewer social skills, said a new University of Illinois study.

The study's findings challenge the idea that racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment and earnings can be narrowed solely by emphasizing cognitive skills, said Christy Lleras, a University of Illinois assistant professor of human and community development.

"It's important to note that good schools do more than teach reading, writing, and math. They socialize students and provide the kinds of learning opportunities that help them to become good citizens and to be successful in the labor market," she said.

"Unless we address the differences in school climates and curriculum that foster good work habits and other social skills, we're doing a huge disservice to low-income kids who may be entering the labor market right after high school, especially in our increasingly service-oriented economy," Lleras added.

She cited responses to employer surveys that stress the need for workers who can get along well with each other and get along well with the public.

The U of I study analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, which followed a diverse group of 11,000 tenth graders for 10 years, tracking not only their scores on standard achievement tests but teacher appraisals of such qualities as the students' work habits, their ability to relate well to peers, and their participation in extracurricular activities, a proxy for the ability to interact well with both students and adults.

The teachers' assessments were then compared with the students' self-reported educational attainments and earnings 10 years after high-school graduation.

Even after controlling for students' achievement test scores, family socioeconomic status, and educational attainment, Lleras found that such social skills as conscientiousness, cooperativeness, and motivation were as important as test scores for success in the workplace.

"You could argue that the reason these behaviors matter is that kids who display them are more likely to obtain a college degree and in turn have higher earnings. Certainly that is part of it, but even after I controlled for educational attainment, there were still significant effects," she said.

To measure conscientiousness, the researcher ranked teacher responses to such questions as: Does this student usually work hard for good grades? How often does the student complete homework assignments? How often is this student tardy to class?

To measure cooperativeness and sociability, she ranked teacher assessments of how well a student related to other students. Teachers were also asked to rank a student's motivation or passivity.

Participation in sports and school organizations also had strong effects on a student's future educational and occupational success.

"For African American and Hispanic students only, participation in fine arts led to significantly better earnings compared to whites. This suggests that different activities teach kids different kinds of skills and learned behaviors," she said.

Lleras also emphasized the importance of improving school quality.

"Low-income and racial minority students continue to be concentrated in lower-quality schools with fewer opportunities for extracurricular participation, larger class sizes, and lower teacher quality, all factors that are correlated with poorer school-related attitudes and behavior," she said.

"If the few resources that low-performing schools have are used solely for testing and preparing students for tests, which is what many schools are doing to meet the requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind, these schools will continue to face challenges," she said.

"My findings show that the most successful students are those who have not only high achievement test scores but also the kinds of social skills and behaviors that are highly rewarded by employers in the workplace," she said.
As you can see, some very interesting conclusions can be extrapolated from this research.

the importance of sports, arts, individualized instruction, and the continuing cancer of NCLB are all worthwhile discussions.

Pumping the Stomach of McEducation

Last Night's debate reminded me of what a certifiable mess the McCain Republicans are on education.

From the New York Times transcript:

MCCAIN: Well, sure. I'm sure you're aware, Senator Obama, -snip-

Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it.


And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children -- precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we'll find and we'll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we'll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.

OMG! McCain is off his nut on this one. NCLB is a failure by every definition of the word.

And this idea that a woman who happens to have delivered a downs child is somehow magically qualified to speak to the issues is insane as believing that Palin is a Russian diplomat by virtue of proximity to a geographic border.

The Republicans are frankly embarrassments to intelligent people.

But the McCain statement that was absolutely over the top was this one:
MCCAIN: We need to encourage programs such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which -- or have the certification that some are required in some states.
How does serving in the military qualify someone to walk into a classroom and teach?

Troops To Teachers currently trains Troops to become teachers but doesn't waive the state certification requirements.

How safe would Americans feel if GI Joe took over a classroom with a post-traumatic stress condition and no teacher training? It seems to me that McCain's recommendation here is foolhardy and reckless at face value.

And, btw, Obama's answers were only slightly better. The nation needs bold education reform and revamping and both candidates are redecorating the bulletin boards.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Aren't Public Schools This Sophisticated?

In this video, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh shows the learning environment that Bonobo apes have enjoyed a considerable learning curve with. She may be creating the next learning gap in education. That is between our kids and intelligent animals. By the time special interests get through with this... oh, well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

I'm betting that all the John Holt advocates will smile. If only those bonobos didn't spend so much time playing video games...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just Making It Up

Being unemployed allows me to listen to the news on television in the background.

For all of the values-based sermons we get from politicians, this political season is awash in one lie after another, apologies for the lying, and then a resumption of the same lies. A recent study whose link I have long lost explained that once a lie is assimilated into the brain, it's difficult to dislodge.

Ergo, a tsunami of political lies that stick so well that the conversations we hear pundits discussing sound like a lost Lewis Carroll novel.

Likewise, on CNBC today I listened to one clueless commentator after another fabricate a future that is possible but improbable. Early in the day the market rose and the commentators declared that we "avoided a depression". By noon, they even questioned the depth of a looming recession. Late in the day, they decided the recession would be a correction.

On occasion an expert would talk about inflationary holocausts which seemed to make the commentators heads explode. Won't shopping solve that? When do we shop again? Is it safe NOW? (As if the utter dissolution of capitalism were a video game in which you just get up after dying and jump back into the market after a week of false regret).

By the end of day trading, after a $250 Billion dollar infusion of cash, the market closed down approx 70 points. Go figure. Maybe it means the recession will be not so mild as thought at 4 p.m.

I guess we so often worry that students copy the good work of others, we fail to realize the fabulism required to function in a society lying its way though life. Science and reason have long succumbed to just making it all up.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Education, H-1B Fraud, and Taxes

Computerworld (hat tip: Slashdot) reports on a new study that finally sheds light on the problems of H-1B work visas for foreign workers. The report asserts significant problems and fraud.

As I sit here after months of unemployment, this is not news to myself or others in the software industry. Our career throats have been getting slit for the last ten years and nobody, NOBODY gives a care.

But for what its worth this report validates the concern that many of us have been warning of.

First, H-1B workers often have questionable educational credentials whereas American college graduates are routinely denigrated for their quite legitimate achievements. By undercutting the hard work of legitimately qualified American workers, corporations have managed to undermine both public education and the funding of education.

The combination of creating an uneven playing field tilted toward inexpensive foreign labor and the deflation of wages for those who've paid taxes all their lives to provide the business infrastructures and opportunities that exist for business, corporations are imploding the American Dream of the ability of Americans to make a decent living.

Here's a selection from the Computerworld article by Patrick Thibodeau:
An internal report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examining the H-1B visa program has found evidence of forged documents and fake degrees, and even "shell" companies giving addresses of fake locations.

The USCIS report, released Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), indicates that serious violations of the H-1B program by employers are so common that one in five visas are affected by either fraud or "technical violations." This means that potentially thousands of employers may be violating the rules, some willfully.

Employers didn't pay prevailing wages in some cases and benched employees when there wasn't work, while some employees worked at jobs that differed from what the application claimed they would be doing.


The report's authors wrote that their confidence in their findings is 95%, and that the results represent a "significant vulnerability."

"USCIS is making procedural changes, which will be described in a forthcoming document," the report concluded.

Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and co-author of Outsourcing America, said he was stunned by the size of the problem.

"It is clear that oversight, including an auditing function, are desperately needed to clean up the corruption," Hira said. "But we shouldn't forget that the major problems with the H-1B program are caused by massive loopholes that allow firms to legally pay below-market wages and displace and undercut American workers. Those wouldn't show up in this investigation because they are entirely legal and wouldn't be considered fraudulent or a violation."

Zombies Sighting at The Department of Education

At our last Board of Education meeting one of the handouts and discussions involved the evaluation of teachers. The form the Board received is full of the cover-your-ass rhetoric that the State requires. But my question was whether or not what we were evaluating made any sense today. In 2008, the technical expertise of teachers is far more sophisticated than we might expect in 2000. Yet nobody rewards this stuff and where would qualified evaluation personnel come from?

As I write this I cringe. I can well imagine the education machine ready and eager to create another self-serving, perpetual bureaucracy machine of certifications, laws, amendments and holding the taxpayer hostage to their new demands.

But the question is legitimate. So I looked around for an answer on the Connecticut State Department of Education's website. What I found could pass for a Halloween Haunted House prank.

On the page called Promising Practices in Connecticut Schools a few links are offered. Clicking on any of them is like entering a time warp. I could not find anything more recent than 2001 and many of the "promising programs" had come and gone without a whimper.

The splash page asks, "Why reinvent the wheel?" when what it really should ask is what the Department of Education gets paid for when it can go into an eight year coma without any accountability for their failure to do their jobs.

Oh, wait, they're touring the state selling bad ideas - my apologies. After all, they are doing something. Something stupid but something nonetheless.

I have advocated the wholesale dismissal of this Department for years and no one takes me seriously. I can only imagine they think that funding a brain-dead and flat-lining organization with millions of wasted dollars is appropriate. They must imagine the contribution a civic exercise like giving blood.

It's time to pull the plug. These fools pontificate about education yet are as out of touch with reality so as to be character actors in "Life on Mars".

But their web page is also indicative of the intellectual collapse that has swallowed Wall St. and threatens to swallow us all. By looking for technology best practices you will be directed to an empty page. The Department of Education is clueless as the bankers, financial services sectors, and spreadsheet gurus who precipitated the meltdown.

CT must choose to teach and know, listen and learn. This crisis is not about facts but about the absence of regulation and critical tolerance in CT. By homogenizing education practice into sing-song testing we are creating an environment of cognitive regulatory captivity in which no thinking or questioning is allowed.

When we finally evaluate teachers, school boards need the autonomy to insist their districts schools are judged on a local demand for quality instead of a federal demand for the conformity of lemmings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Education Depression

The shenanigans playing out on Wall St.are playing havoc with more than just money, retirements, and the viability of unbridled capitalism. The market chaos has touched off a series of unfortunate events that will effect schools everywhere.

First, education is funded by local property values. And now that the real estate bubble has burst so has the artificial house of cards that dictated the quality of local schools. The game that is played in Connecticut was that school quality was used as a real estate value metric for housing. Richer community schools scored the highest scores on the ever-friendly high stakes tests administered in public schools.

The game is fairly air-tight. The communities, schools, administrations, parents, and tax-paying bystanders all wittingly understood the rules by which the social pecking order was maintained.

But now that property and mortgage values are being questioned, the game and the rules will change.

As State budgets become strained from years of feather-bedded state employee retirement benefits, school budgets will be mercilessly slashed and recalculated. Local communities will become ever more responsible for the crushing cost and obligations of decades of bad and expensive education legislation.

This coming tsunami of educational destruction will offer a rare opportunity for educators to re-evaluate and correct the pedagogy of school testing.

In an article in Edutopia called Reinventing the Big Test: The Challenge of Authentic Assessment, Grace Rubenstein argues;
Cold, hard numbers have a way of seeming authoritative, but accountability tests are not the infallible and insightful report cards we (and our state governments) imagine them to be. The educational assessment tests states use today have two fundamental flaws: They encourage the sort of mind-numbing drill-and-kill teaching educators (and students) despise, and, just as important, they don't tell us much about the quality of student learning.

"We are totally for accountability, but we've got the wrong metrics," says John Bransford, a professor of education at Seattle's University of Washington who studies learning and designs assessments. "These tests are the biggest bottleneck to education reform."
Hobbled by History

Jennifer Simone, a fifth-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School, in Edgewood, Maryland, is acutely aware of the limitations of standardized tests. Her curriculum must emphasize subjects for which the state accountability test measures proficiency -- math, reading, and science. Social studies? Though the subject is on her master schedule, if there is a shortened school day, it gets dropped.

Moreover, Simone says, the test scores don't truly reflect her students' abilities and are too vague to help her pinpoint individual needs. She longs for an assessment that relies on more than just written problems, that could capture the more diverse skills visible in her classroom and valued in the workplace, such as artistic talent, computer savvy, and the know-how to diagnose and fix problems with mechanical devices. Simone asks, "If we differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all the learners, why aren't we differentiating the test?"

The fraud of standardized testing today is not that it is cost-effective nor that it in fact demonstrates proficiencies but rather that they plausibly deny any change to the status quo of teaching as lecturing.

Authors Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg wrote a book called, Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track in which they explain the problem.
Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.

In most schools, memorization is mistaken for learning. Most of what is remembered is remembered only for a short time, but then is quickly forgotten. (How many remember how to take a square root or ever have a need to?) Furthermore, even young children are aware of the fact that most of what is expected of them in school can better be done by computers, recording machines, cameras, and so on. They are treated as poor surrogates for such machines and instruments. Why should children -- or adults, for that matter -- be asked to do something computers and related equipment can do much better than they can? Why doesn't education focus on what humans can do better than the machines and instruments they create?

When those who have taught others are asked who in the classes learned most, virtually all of them say, "The teacher." It is apparent to those who have taught that teaching is a better way to learn than being taught. Teaching enables the teacher to discover what one thinks about the subject being taught. Schools are upside down: Students should be teaching and faculty learning.

In the end it will be the devaluation of property and the revaluation of citizens that changes schools. Children may matter yet again. It's not a certainty but the glimmer of hope is there. The rubble of Wall St. may make the rebuilding of public education a necessity and we must embrace the task with an open mind toward building a future instead of recreating the past.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Poverty and Education

In Iowa, the conversation of the link between poverty and education is a public one. In CT, we still insist on that the political red herring of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has veracity.

While we genuflect to the fraudulent science of NCLB, real children continue to suffer and public education remains in the dark ages of high-stress testing and get-tough political rhetoric.

Maybe we can learn from Iowa some self-evident truths. From Best reform in education? End poverty by Richard Doak:
You can't concentrate in school if you hurt. Or if you're hungry. Or abused. Or worried about your parents being evicted. Or if your parents are druggies who take the Ritalin that was prescribed for you. Or if your older sister entertains gentlemen callers in the next room all night. Or if your mom has a new live-in boyfriend every few months. Or if your job-losing parents keep moving you from school to school with long truancies in between. Or if you don't know where you'll be sleeping tonight because your dad's in prison and you get shuffled from one relative to another, and no one really wants you.

Any teacher in Iowa can tell stories that both tug at the heart and stir anger. Such stories are probably more common, in large and small schools alike, than Iowans would like to believe.

What's remarkable is not that the stories are commonplace - anyone who knows a teacher has heard them - but that they are heard so little in the public discussion about education.

As another school year is set to begin, the focus is once again not on the kids themselves. It's all about test scores, teacher quality and education standards. This year features a national advertising campaign from Strong American Schools, partly financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The campaign notes that schools in most other industrial countries outperform American schools. It advocates higher standards, more time in school and better teachers. The Register's editorial page has been urging higher, uniform standards for Iowa, too.

All well and good, but once again the discussion studiously avoids the elephant in the room.

Student achievement in this country is never going to significantly improve until attention is directed to the root causes of low achievement: failing families in a low-wage economy.

Sure, teaching can get better and schools can adapt their methods to help low achievers. Individually, caring teachers do what they can to overcome poor parenting, but they have the children only a few hours a day. The larger influence is at home.

If fundamental improvement is going to occur, it must happen primarily outside the classroom.