Archives for category: International

Robert Berkman, who has been teaching math for thirty years, takes issue with the article by Elizabeth Green in the New York Times magazine called Why Americans Stink at Math. While he has great admiration for Green’s writing skills, he thinks she is an American who is not good at math.

He writes:

“The first place where Green goes wrong is when she cites “national test results” about mathematics achievement in the U.S.. First, I wonder which “test results” Green is referencing here (you have to be suspicious when, in the days of the omnipresent interweb, a link is not included to the data supporting this point.) It may be significant that 2/3 of all 4th and 8th graders are not “proficient” in math, but again, this is a national standard, not an international standard, so this only points to the fact that U.S. children are not achieving according to some standard that was created where, in some dark cave where Dick Cheney and his family reside?

“Green goes on to state that half the 4th and 8th graders taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress could not read a thermometer, or that 3/4 of the test takers could not translate a simple word problem into an algebraic expression. Note that this is the National Assessment of Educational Progress – it doesn’t say anything about whether U.S. children are better or worse than anybody else around the globe; for all we know, 7/8 of the children in Helsinki and 11/13 of the children in Ibaraki couldn’t successfully answer these questions either. Look, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, but even I know these numbers are insignificant without a context.”

If I may interject my view, NAEP proficient is a very high standard of academic proficiency, not a benchmark for what all students should know. Michelle Rhee constantly makes this mistake. It is like complaining that not all students are A students.

Berkman then chastises Green for comparing Massachusetts, a state, with Shanghai, a city (which excludes a significant number of students from the tests because their parents are migrants).

I confess I am tired of the constant barrage of articles and books about how terrible the U.S. is and how our public schools are the reason that we fail at this, that, or everything. I think this is a wonderful country, and I hope that one day soon we can take control back from the oligarchs that want to turn our children into standardized widgets (but not their own).

I like Elizabeth Green. I have known her for several years. I hope her next book will celebrate the success of American public schools in accepting all children and unleashing the genius of our best thinkers and creators, despite the contempt of the uber-rich and the war on the teaching profession. There is a reason that teachers say they work “in the trenches.” It’s time to celebrate their perseverance in the face of budget cuts and stupid federal policy.

Read this fascinating article in Slate by Ray Fisman, an economist at the Columbia Business School.

In the early 1990s, the Swedish government fell for Milton Friedman’s ideas about school choice. More students in Sweden go to privately-run and for-profit schools than any other developed nation in the world. “Swedish school reforms did incorporate the essential features of the voucher system advocated by Friedman. The hope was that schools would have clear financial incentives to provide a better education and could be more responsive to customer (i.e., parental) needs and wants when freed from the burden imposed by a centralized bureaucracy. And the Swedish market for education was open to all, meaning any entrepreneur, whether motivated by religious beliefs, social concern, or the almighty dollar, could launch a school as long as he could maintain its accreditation and attract “paying” customers.”

For a time, things looked promising. But no more.

“Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden, where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. What’s caused the recent crisis in Swedish education? Researchers and policy analysts are increasingly pointing the finger at many of the choice-oriented reforms that are being championed as the way forward for American schools. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more accountability and discipline to American schools would be a bad thing, it does hint at the many headaches that can come from trying to do so by aggressively introducing marketlike competition to education.”

He concludes, quoting a charter founder:

“Maybe the overall message is, as Norman Atkins of Relay GSE put it to me, “there are no panaceas” in public education. We tend to look for the silver bullet—whether it’s the glories of the market or the techno-utopian aspirations of education technology—when in fact improving educational outcomes is a hard, messy, complicated process. It’s a lesson that Swedish parents and students have learned all too well: Simply opening the floodgates to more education entrepreneurs doesn’t disrupt education. It’s just plain disruptive.”

When American teacher Tim Walker got a job as a teacher in Finland, he learned a lot about its successful schools. For one thing, students get a recess every hour for 15 minutes. They spend 45 minutes in class, then run out to the playground for a 15-minute break.

At first, he bought this was unnecessary so he gave two consecutive classes. He had some very grumpy students who did not understand why they lost their customary recess. Now he realizes that the frequent breaks make his students better focused.

Meanwhile, American policymakers want longer school days, and they don’t mind eliminating recess altogether. Curious contrast.

Corporate education reformers often say that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. Michelle Rhee said that often, but seven years after she took charge of the D.C. Public schools (and was replaced by her deputy Kaya Henderson), D.C. remains one of the nation’s lowest-scoring districts.

Arne Duncan has often called poverty an excuse. Wendy Kopp and Bill Gates have said that if “we” fix schools first, poverty will take care of itself.

The rest of us are waiting for proof of this claim. One consequence of believing that corporate education reform cures poverty is that none of the 1% feels it necessary to do anything to reduce poverty. Just test more often, adopt Common Core, fire teachers whose students don’t get high test scores, close schools with low scores, and open many more charters.

None of this reduces poverty. But it makes the 1% feel righteous without raising their taxes.

A comment by a reader on this subject, with one correction. The U.S. is #1 in child poverty among advanced nations, not #2. Romania is not an advanced nation; its economic development was repressed by decades of Communist dictatorship.

The reader writes:

“I think it is very difficult to sustain the argument that the US does as much to promote child well-being as many other advanced nations. Most measures as indicated by this report (http://www.oecd.org/els/family/43570328.pdf) don’t appear to be in the US’ favor:

“High overall levels of child well-being are achieved by the Netherlands and Sweden and low levels by the United States and the United Kingdom. Even at the top performing end, both the Netherlands and Sweden have a dimension along which performance is at best only adequate (material well-being for the Netherlands and Family relationships for Sweden). At the bottom, both the United States and the United Kingdom perform worse than the median country on all dimensions.”

“Furthermore, the US’ relative child poverty rate (defined as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median) is extremely high when compared to other developed countries: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/15/map-how-35-countries-compare-on-child-poverty-the-u-s-is-ranked-34th/

“Just looking at how we stack up with Australia and Canada should be illustrative given our similar income levels, immigration rates (actually higher in those nations), and shared cultural heritage.”

Phil Cullen writes The Treehorn Express in Australia. He regularly reports on that nation’s slavish copying of the worst American ideas, especially testing and accountability. The Australian national testing program is called NAPLAN.

FELLOW EDUCATORS : Please send this along to people in schools as extensively as you can. Those who already do…..thanks from Treehorn and the other kids.

The Treehorn Express

http://treehornexpress.wordpress.com

Teacher Proofing

USA has a penchant for branding and packaging things as neatly as possible. As far as schooling is concerned, a canny money-hungry educator can extract bits from the regular school curriculum, invent a catchy vogue-word to describe what-ever-it-is that needs attention, then wrap the contents up and peddle it to the gullible. Bingo! Legs 11 ! Holidays at Waikiki. If it cannot be wrapped up, it is branded and sold in bulk…. as ‘Models’….. by sweet-talking peddlers at conferences and seminars;…. and cocktail parties..

This comes as little surprise when it is a fact of life that schooling in America is owned and dominated by well-heeled corporate plutocrats., whose political influence in the other three English-speaking GERM countries is becoming as extensive as it is in the old US of A. The teacher-proofing edubusiness is big time and is exercised in many forms. Its enormity and influence is far, far more extensive than the ordinary Michael Dundee Aussie would believe.

Sage educators in the UK and in NZ don’t usually do this. Despite the heavy hand of neoconservatism that all countries share, they have always tended to treat teaching as a noble profession that actually pupils [aka teaches] children according to each child’s frame of reference. The child is the package. The teacher’s role in the act of teaching and evaluating and moving ahead is total. Unsubstantiated, untested, unprofessional, gimmicky quackery stops at the classroom door of their lively learning centres, where the child is treated as the centre of the universe and its performance is judged by its interest in learning. Diagnosis and evaluation is part of each activity. A school’s reputation is based on the way it treats children. If parents want to know about the best school around, they go to a reliable source…..the shopping centre…get the real deal……certainly not to unreliable, crooked test results, used by the unwitty for comparative purposes..

Of the four English-speaking, politically-controlled education systems – the GERM countries – Australia religiously follows what the USA does; no matter what… blindly as a rule. It’s all high stakes data-laden emotion-free performance-testing stuff which Americans love. Aussie unemotional, couldn’t-care-less, morally corrupt testucators now use it without second thought. Bugger the feelings of kids. Obediently, we followed the ‘Kleinist Model’ holus-bolus, called it NAPLAN, and continue to maintain its demonic philosophies with the sternest controls possible…. Iraq-like.

How many of us teachers have tried and become enthused – for a while – by some such package, only to find that the package takes over the teaching? Precious school time is devoted to completion times and corrections while our own professional judgement and modes of evaluating take a back seat? In ancient times, I was an SRA structured reading and IMP specialist. Mea culpa. I hope such indiscretions are forgivable.

How often have we been seduced by brand names for special movements and innovations; and have crossed swords with colleagues until things settled down and the next craze came along? We have discoursed about…. open and traditional…. phonics and whole-word….new maths and maths…persuasive and traditional…..child-centred and subject centred….composite and multi-aged….charter and mainstream…..education and testucation….child-based and didactic….?

There is a new list on the way from up-above…..data-driven instruction, blended learning, differential learning, closing the achievement and talent gap, student-centric instruction, yap, yap. Makes one ever wonder what ever happened to classroom teaching as a descriptor?

In America it is said: “Schools nationwide continue to adopt student-centric instructional models that use data to empower teachers and engage learners. Data-driven instruction has moved beyond the education-buzzword sphere to educators’ daily lexicon.” So, Kleinism aka Naplanism is now permanently embedded in many of that nation’s schools…..more so in ours. The article continues : “In this ASCD Smartbrief Special Report, we provide a round-up of news about recent trends in data-driven instruction, blended learning and stories about how some schools are preparing the next generation of data scientists.” Getting everybody ready to be rocket scientists! Thinkers and learners?

Read this? ……some schools in Utah have lengthened the school day from six-and-a-half hours to eight to cope with data collection and marking. There is a national lobby for longer school hours. “The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL) is dedicated to expanding learning time to improve student achievement and enable a well-rounded education. Through research, public policy and technical assistance, we support national, state and local initiatives that add significantly more school time for academic and enrichment opportunities to help children meet the demands of the 21st century.” [Using didactic instruction for eight hours per day shouldn’t be very exhausting, compared to three or four hours of serious teaching, should it? Good idea?]

Whatever happened to test-free composite-strategy teaching ? [That’s a new vogue word that I just invented to keep up with the Yanks]

The sorts of initiatives that we have imported [e.g. charter schools] and embedded in the data-laden environment of NAPLAN and its hellfire cobbers are a serious threat to our future. Such restrictions to serious school learning will continue (“The whippings will continue until morale increases” policy. ) in Australia while we continue to adopt the American mind-set. Schools in Australia are not run by teachers any more, but by remote control.

Political control of national testing programs is the most successful method of isolating teachers from effective teaching known to mankind; and that kind of conditioning suits the package-deal spirit of teacher-proofing.

Coercion always induces low level acceptance of a profession as a profession, so the outcome is that better teachers are quitting; neophytes with potential don’t last long; and better-quality applicants don’t want to join the profession because of our leaders’ grossly unprofessional attitude to children and their teachers. Make no mistake. This is a critical issue.

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City makes this point following an America of the future conference: “The level of despondency within the profession is too high for our future to be safe. A fairly dispiriting conversation, to be sure, but the response to the host’s penultimate question left me feeling downright sad at first, and, then, upon reflection, a bit confused. Replying to the query ‘Do you think the quality of teaching will decline in the years to come?’ each panellist explained her sense that the profession and, thus, the state of education were in decline. To paraphrase the veteran teacher of the group, ‘I’ve encountered many great teachers in my years in the profession, but it’s getting harder and harder for these folks to hold on. At the same time, it’s getting more difficult to attract new people into teaching.’ Listening to that assessment about a core element —the core element?— of our public education system, how can you not become despondent?”

With the teacher-proofing of Australian schools based on the American MODEL, how can we not feel even more despondent down under? Let’s bring the child back into the equation, get rid of the rubbish and start TEACHING. {PLEASE NOTE. Those teachers who fly in the face of the coercion and teach without reliance on data…..please hang in there. The kids need you.}
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
If you wish to receive The Treehorn Express direct, please contact me.
cphilcullen@bigpond.com

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Phil Cullen {…..kids and their teachers first} 41 Cominan Avenue Banora Point 2486 Australia 07 5524 6443 0407865999 cphilcullen@bigpond.com
http://primaryschooling.net/ http://kelleyandcullen.net/ http://qldpriaryprincipals.wordpress.com

Chinese students live (and sometimes die) for their test scores.

 

Here is a portrayal of the “insanely stressful” examination system that rules the lives of all Chinese students.

 

This is the system that American policymakers like Arne Duncan hope to import to the United States.

 

This is the dream of “tiger moms” like Amy Chua and Michelle Rhee, to subject children to higher and higher stakes until they think of nothing other than their test scores.

 

Sorry, guys, but your dream is not the American dream. The American dream is one where everyone has a fair chance to realize their ambitions, whatever they may be–not just test scores, but in sports, music, or some other endeavor. The American dream celebrates those who tinker, who create, who improvise, who invent new ideas while “messing around” with stuff that interests them. This is the dream that made this country great, not a one-size-fits=all examination hell that ranks kids according to the whims of the testing industry.

 

This is what happens when your life depends on one test on one day:

 

Nearly 9.8 million Chinese high school students took the National College Entrance Exam, called gaokao, on June 7 and 8.

 

 

The emphasis on a two-day test has sparked criticism from some educators because of the incredible amount of pressure it places on students leading up to just one test. Gaokao has also been linked to China’s rising suicide rate because of mounted pressure and poor test results.

 

Hengshui High School, the highest achieving secondary school in gaokao over the last 14 years, has these as its two mottos: “Life is not a rehearsal, because you won’t have the chance to live it all over again,” and “If you haven’t died from hard work, just work harder.” At Hengshui, students study from 5:30 a.m. to 9:50 p.m., cannot have cell phones and are allowed just one day of vacation every month. Cameras are placed in each classroom to monitor students for laziness. These types of tactics are increasingly common at what many are calling gaokao-sweatshops — schools that exclusively prepare students for gaokao.

 

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/24-stunning-photos-of-chinas-college-entrance-exams-2014-6#ixzz350Jb4if3

 

Up until now, we thought that American higher education was the best in the world. That’s why students come from all over the world to attend our colleges and universities.

But wait! There is an OECD test that shows our college graduates don’t know much. That supposedly proves we need more tests, more regulation, motte evaluations.

Peter Greene shows how crazy this is.

Samuel Abrams, a researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, was named a knight by the Finnish government.

“The honor was bestowed before family, friends, and colleagues in recognition of Abrams’s advancement of the understanding of Finnish education in the United States. Abrams has conducted a vast amount of research on Nordic as well as American education systems. Much of this research will appear in his book “The Children Must Play: Education, Business, and Conflict,” to be published by Harvard University Press in 2015.”

Sam Abrams taught for many years at Beacon High School in Néw York City.

“When asked about a specific trend or issue as a key factor in the success of Finnish education, Abrams brought up two things: the well-rounded curriculum of the Finnish educational system and the professionalization of teaching. In contrast to the American curriculum, Abrams said, the Finnish curriculum for students in grades one through nine comprises a lot of arts, crafts, music, and play while consisting of no standardized testing. Abrams said the Finnish approach thereby not only makes school more enticing for children but also cultivates significant collaborative skills and provides natural, hands-on opportunities for learning math and science. According to Abrams, this philosophy, combined with a nutritious hot school lunch, which is free for all students, makes Finnish schooling so effective.”

Abrams advised the Finns not to worry about PISA scores but to continue to do what was best for children.

Dr. Iris Rotberg of George Washington University writes that international tests have been fraught with methodological problems for fifty years. None of the problems have been addressed or corrected, yet today the international tests such as PISA are driving educational policy in dozens of nations, all competing for higher test scores.

Rotberg writes:

“The methodological critiques of international test-score comparisons began shortly after the comparisons were first administered 50 years ago, and they have continued. Methodological critiques of research are not unusual, but this situation is quite extraordinary for several reasons. First, the critiques of the international test-score comparisons are extensive and address virtually every aspect of the studies—sampling, measurement, and interpretation. Second, the studies continue to be administered, with few of the critiques addressed, but with continued participation of a large number of countries and other jurisdictions. These massive data collection efforts have been conducted 13 times in the past 18 years. The results of the most recent study, the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), were released in December 2013, only a year after the release of the other two major comparisons, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.-a, n.d.-b, n.d.-c). Third, despite the critiques, the studies have had a large impact on political rhetoric, public opinion, and public policies in countries throughout the world. This commentary focuses on PISA, the most recent international comparison released. Although the three international comparisons differ in some respects, the basic methodological problems described here are inherent in international test-score comparisons more generally.”

She adds:

“The international test-score rankings are almost universally interpreted by countries as an indication of the quality of their schools, despite the extensive methodological problems that make it virtually impossible to draw causal relationships between test scores and school quality. We are taking tenuous results and applying them in a questionable way. Even if the rankings were sound, a causal leap from test-score rankings to school quality would be unwarranted given the wide range of other factors that influence the rankings, such as the differences among countries in poverty rates, income distribution, immigration rates, social support services, and the extent to which children participate in academic programs and cram courses outside of school. And beyond all of these variables, there remains the basic question of whether a test score is a fair representation of the complexity and quality of a country’s entire education system. It has proven to be virtually impossible to unravel the cumulative effects of all the uncontrolled variables and then make valid interpretations of the implications of the test-score rankings.”

The international horse race, she says, has led to policies of dubious merit.

And she concludes:

“PISA’s own findings support a transition to studies of individual countries. They show that the proportion of variance in student achievement accounted for by socioeconomic status and other differences within member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is nine times greater than the proportion accounted for by differences among OECD countries (OECD, 2010)—a finding that has been obscured by the emphasis on test-score rankings and largely ignored in the public dialogue. It is consistent with a research approach that focuses on problem areas within countries rather than on test-score competitions among countries. It also offers an opportunity to take Einstein’s advice and focus on issues that count, and count only what can be counted. After 50 years of test-score rankings, it’s worth a try.”

Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke recently to Citizens for Public Schools in Massachusetts.

His topic: what can Massachusetts learn from “Finnish Lessons”?

It is worth watching. Pasi is always a wonderful speaker, and he is a leader in the international fight to resist test-mania and privatization and to protect education and children.

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