Two Great New Articles About Education Standards

An article just posted in the new City Journal exposes the problem of lowered expectations in No Child Left Behind’s obsession with “proficiency.”  I worry that students now graduate high school thinking that that word denotes some amazing accomplishment, not realizing that it only indicates bare minimum competence.  The law of unintended consequences at work, but no big surprise.

But NCLB’s accountability system led to another distortion, this one harming top students. Because the law emphasized mere “proficiency,” rewarding schools for getting their students to achieve that fairly low standard, teachers and administrators had an incentive to boost the test scores of their lowest-performing students but no incentive to improve instruction for their brightest.

And the Wall Street Journal looks at lowered expectations via legally mandated “accommodations” for a slew of self-perceived “disabilities.”  Great article, but I wish they’d also mentioned ADHD.

Schools are required to extend “reasonable accommodations” for students with documented disabilities—including psychological ones—to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

But there’s hand-wringing among university administrators and faculty about how to support college students with mental health issues while making sure young adults progress academically. One of the goals of college, after all, is to prepare students for the working world. And not every boss may be OK with a blown deadline for a critical client report, no matter the reason. Professors also want to make sure they’re being fair to all students.

I’ve been carping on things like these for years.  Our public schools have been neutered to the point of system-wide impotence largely thanks to policies like the ones analyzed above.  I’m overjoyed that people are talking about them, though.

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Conference Theme?

I’m looking for a big theme to this General Conference, and I’m wondering if it’s our duty to stand as visible, public representatives of Christ and His church.  That seemed to be the thrust of President Monson’s remarks in the priesthood session last night, President Eyring this morning, and Elder Ballard this morning (and, to a degree, President Monson again this morning). 

Full disclosure: I missed most of the first two Saturday sessions. 

It was interesting to see how the two talks by President Monson that I’ve seen this weekend were not only remarkably similar (resist the tide of declining moral standards in Western societies), but each was introduced with a reference to a newspaper article he’d read recently: in the priesthood session, it was from the New York Times; this morning, it was from the Wall Street Journal.  President Monson appears to do some seriously bipartisan news reading.

Five Recent Articles on Literacy

It seems that as technology becomes an ever-increasing mainstay in more areas of our lives, the effect on our already-faltering literacy has been similarly stark, and it becomes a continually obsessive interest of written commentary.  Or maybe I’ve just been paying more attention over time. 

Here are a few things that seem especially relevant from recent weeks, which have caught my eye:

Thomas Spence, writing in the Wall Street Journal, about fixing the huge gap in literacy between girls and boys:

The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time “plugged in” than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys’ attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?

Dr. Robert Weis, a psychology professor at Denison University, confirmed this suspicion in a randomized controlled trial of the effect of video games on academic ability. Boys with video games at home, he found, spend more time playing them than reading, and their academic performance suffers substantially. Hard to believe, isn’t it, but Science has spoken.

Lindsay Johns, in Prospect Magazine, on why black students should be taught the Western Canon, as opposed to focusing on “diversity literature:”

Dead white men, the pillars of the western canon, remain supremely relevant to black people in the 21st century, because their concerns are universal. At its best, the canon elucidates the eternal truths at the heart of the human condition. It addresses our common humanity, irrespective of our melanin quotient. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens—all male, all very white and all undeniably very dead. But would anyone be so foolish as to deny their enduring importance? Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Boccacio’s Decameron or Pico’s Oration On The Dignity of Man are as germane to black people as they are to white. There is no apartheid in the philosophical musings of Cicero, no racial segregation in the cosmic grandeur of Dante and no ethnic oppression in the amorous sonnets of Shakespeare. These works can, if given the chance, speak as much to Leroy in Peckham or Shaniqua in the South Bronx as they can to Quentin in the home counties.

[Incidentally, in my experience, multicultural books aren’t promoted by actual minorities as much as they are by white teachers who are trying to “help” minorities.]

Carlin Romano, in The Chronicle of High Education, bemoans the detrimental effect on college reading assignments and literary scholarship by having a generation of students now entirely raised on digital technology:

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On Effective Education: Why Don’t Students Like School?

385371841I read this fantastic book review this week in the Wall Street Journal (courtesy of a link from Arts & Letters Daily–let’s give credit where credit’s due).  Daniel Willingham’s new book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, gives the perspective of a cognitive scientist reviewing the research on the psychology of education.  Among his assertions (as reflected in the book review) are:

  • “When we confront a task that requires us to exert mental effort, it is critical that the task be just difficult enough to hold our interest but not so difficult that we give up in frustration….The challenge, for the teacher, is to design lessons and exercises that will maximize interest and attention and thus make students like school at least a bit more.”
  • On drilling: “research shows that practice not only makes a skill perfect but also makes it permanent, automatic and transferable to new situations, enabling more complex work that relies on the basics.”
  • “He advocates teaching old-fashioned content as the best path to improving a student’s reading comprehension and critical thinking.”
  • And my favorite part, on multiple intelligences: “No one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference. . . . Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn….At some point, no amount of dancing will help you learn more algebra.”

I added a comment to the WSJ article commending this book for deflating the vacuous trends of politically correct schooling today.  My professional development classes and meetings drive me bonkers.

 

This book isn’t in the local library system’s inventory yet; better put in an order.