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American Education on the Decline – so Goes the Nation

January 20, 2014 1 comment

Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.

All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.

Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their  knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

Education as Our National Currency

July 4, 2012 2 comments

What do Taiwan, South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel and Japan have in common with each other?

They have no oil, diamonds, gold, or other valuable natural resources. As the Bible tells us Moses led his people through the desert for 40 years to bring them to the only piece of real estate in the Middle East that has no oil.  The foreign countries with the most companies listed on the NASDAQ are Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore, none of which can live off natural resources.

Now what does this have to do with education?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an interesting study which maps the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Every two years PISA tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries and at the same time they correlate the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country.  How well do your high school kids do in science compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?

The results indicated there is “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA exams for the O.E.C.D. “This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment.” Oil, diamonds, gold and student success and achievement don’t mix.

The latest PISA results reveal that students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources. Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are Middle East states with few natural resources, scored better. Also lagging in recent PISA scores were students in many of the resource-rich countries of Latin America; Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Africa was not tested.

What these numbers say is that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. Schleicher states, “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.” Societies addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose their important  basic instincts, habits and incentives for academic success.

Schleicher further concludes, “in countries with little in the way of natural resources — Finland, Singapore or Japan — education has strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education. … Every parent and child in these countries knows that skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them, so they build a whole culture and education system around it.” Teachers are held in high regard and are not unionized, parents are very involved and participate in their local schools, and children are expected to excel, no excuses accepted.

Knowledge and skills have become the global currency in this century. It is currency we can’t print. It begins with parents in the home who are determined their children will have every opportunity they can avail themselves to in order to succeed. This knowledge currency is propagated by highly effective teachers who are turned loose to innovate in their classrooms, free from administrators, unions, and regulations. It carries on with committed students who developed habits and a strong desire to learn aided by the guidance of their parents and teachers.

This is the only currency, an educated, competitive population, that will renew itself when all the oil wells, diamond mines and gold are gone from the ground.

Education; Teachers want Family Involvement with Student Behavior

February 28, 2012 5 comments

Many teachers across the country complain about the loss of learning in public school classrooms due to undisciplined children who come from dysfunctional homes. Their parents are children who have children, are usually single parents, and uninterested in the upbringing of their hapless children. The greater percentages are minorities and they are poor. These parents send their children to school and expect teachers to control them because they cannot or will not. You do not have to be rich to teach children acceptable behavior and respect for their elders and peers.

Alternatively, parents who do care send their children to our public schools where they sit in these disruptive classrooms waiting to be educated by teachers who are continually distracted by a minority of disruptive students. Teachers can no longer overtly discipline these out-of- control children due to current laws and politically correct rules and regulations.

Teachers need HELP! They need it from their principals, their unions, their parents, and society in general. We must allow teachers to teach in classrooms where order prevails and respect for authority is the law.

A.L. Lannie and B.L. McCurdy wrote a book in 2007, “Preventing Disruptive Behavior in the Urban Classroom: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Student and Teacher Behavior”. They verified that classroom disruptions are associated with lower student achievement for the offending student, as well as for that student’s classmates. In the “Schools and Staffing Survey”, conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, public and private school teachers were asked if student misbehavior, student tardiness, and class cutting interfered with their teaching. During the 2007–2008 school year, 34% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching, and 32% reported that student tardiness and class cutting interfered with their teaching. A greater percentage of public school teachers than private school teachers reported that student misbehavior (36% vs. 21%) and student tardiness and class cutting (33% vs. 18%) interfered with their teaching. For example, among the states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of teachers who reported that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching ranged from 59% of teachers in the District of Columbia to 29% of teachers in Pennsylvania. This is a serious problem not only for teachers but for children whose parents care and take the time to parent and teach values.

McGraw-Hill Education and the Kellogg Institute at the National Center for Developmental Education have published that, “…63 percent of students at two-year colleges and 40 percent at four-year institutions are in need of remediation nationally, and statistics show that those who take remedial courses are more likely to drop out”. Who is responsible for this great American tragedy – the Parents or the Teachers?

All are to blame for shirking their responsibilities to a generation of children who are competing in a world where India, China and other third world countries are churning out highly skilled innovative students. Will American children be the order takers for the educated, disciplined, respectful, cultured, innovators whose parents take parenting as a serious responsibility in this century?

Parents need to send disciplined children to school and teachers need to be prepared to teach them the skills they go there to learn.

Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

Education; Teacher Cheaters in Pennsylvania!

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I have a friend who is a teacher. She told me after reading my prior post on the Atlanta Teacher Cheaters, “Teachers shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Too much is expected of them. They have too much on their plate.” Stunning!

Why are we making excuses for teachers who are unable to educate their students without cheating them and stealing their futures? Who do the teacher unions speak for in this appalling 11 year intellectual theft?

The New York Times reported on July 31 that Pennsylvania joined the many states whose teachers are involved in a massive teacher cheating scandal involving 89 schools, 28 of which are located in Philadelphia, whose inner city children are mostly black. If, like Atlanta, this has been going on since 2000, think of the drastic, mind numbing consequences for these students who have been allowed to cheat and actually were assisted by the teachers in their cheating!

This is 2011. This cheating began in 2000 and eleven years later these students, who were robbed of their future by these teachers, have been out of school for 6 years. Where are they now? What are they doing? Where do they live? What glorious dreams do they have? Who stands for them?

Let’s look at Teacher Cheaters from the perspective of the student. Let’s call him Nate. He is a minority student in the Atlanta or Philadelphia school system and in the eighth grade. When he entered the eighth grade he was not performing at his grade level. It is the end of the year and he is being tested by his teachers to see if they brought him to grade level or above. He is too young to understand the terrible consequences for his future if he is passed on without certain scholastic proficiencies. At this time in his life he does not think of his future. He does what his teacher directs him to do and if the teacher teaches him how to cheat that is what he learns how to do well. He cannot read nor do mathematical skills at his grade level, but he does become proficient in cheating as taught to him by his Teacher Cheaters.

Nate is passed from one grade level to another with the assistance of the Teacher Cheaters and he graduates with a diploma, which he can barely read. Or worse, he may have dropped out of school. Nate needs a job because he is now 18 years old. His parents have given him the boot and told him to support himself. He can’t read well; he can barely do the most basic math skills; and his spoken language is unintelligible or filled with the most deplorable grammatical speech patterns, which condemn him to a life of poverty, crime or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. It was told to me once, “The spoken language is what determines your class, prosperity and success in life.” This subtle influence that plays upon the ear is as true as the sun rising in the morning.

Nate is doomed. He never had a chance. His Teacher Cheaters got their bonuses, promotions, and Federal Funding for 11 years as Nate struggled to make sense of his time in their prison.

Never before have teachers had so many reasons to cheat. Student scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure. If the Teacher Cheaters were doing what they were hired to do there would be no reasons to cheat. Is this broad based scandal foreshadowing the wholesale incompetency of teachers, administrators, and unions? Are they covering up this horrible crime against the youth of our nation? If they are doing what they are paid to do there would be no reasons to cheat.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their crime against Nate, teachers are finger pointing towards a host of others, which I find irresponsible, time consuming, and unproductive! When they cheat a student they cheat the entire country. I am so happy I home schooled our sons. They are now very successful young men who can read, speak articulately, and add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.”

 Buddhist proverb

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