Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Education (page 1 / 2)

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild

Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild →

Unschooling is the opposite of everything you know about what school should look like. It's unstructured. It's giving children "self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests".

I read this article this morning and it really resonated with me. Ben Hewitt writes about his experiences unschooling his two sons. This part, about trust and responsibility, echoes what I want for my own daughters and what I've seen from them.

Our sons are not entirely self-taught; we understand the limits of the young mind and its still-developing capacity for judgment. None of these responsibilities were granted at an arbitrary, age-based marker, but rather as the natural outgrowth of their evolving skills and maturity. We have noticed, however, that the more responsibility we give our sons, the more they assume. The more we trust them, the more trustworthy they become. This may sound patronizingly obvious, yet I cannot help but notice the starring role that institutionalized education—with its inherent risk aversion—plays in expunging these qualities.

Then he talks about whether or not unschooling, the complete lack of traditional structure, will cripple his children for future "normal" careers.

Which brings us to the inevitable issue of what will become of my boys. Of course, I cannot answer in full, because their childhoods are still unfolding.

But not infrequently I field questions from parents who seem skeptical that my sons will be exposed to particular fields of study or potential career paths. The assumption seems to be that by educating our children at home and letting them pursue their own interests, we are limiting their choices and perhaps even depriving them. The only honest answer is, Of course we are. But then, that’s true of every choice a parent makes: no matter what we choose for our children, we are by default not choosing something else.

That, that right there, struck a chord. As an amateur economist-in-training, I've been learning over and over that every choice I make means that I've also chosen not to follow a different course, or a hundred different courses. There is no way to prepare our children for everything. They will, inevitably, be unprepared for many things in life. All we can do is make the best choices we can and prepare them for a life of learning and exploration, rather than settling for a few short years of imprisonment and drudgery.

This is what I want for my sons: freedom. Not just physical freedom, but intellectual and emotional freedom from the formulaic learning that prevails in our schools. I want for them the freedom to immerse themselves in the fields and forest that surround our home, to wander aimlessly or with purpose. I want for them the freedom to develop at whatever pace is etched into their DNA, not the pace dictated by an institution looking to meet the benchmarks that will in part determine its funding. I want them to be free to love learning for its own sake, the way that all children love learning for its own sake when it is not forced on them or attached to reward. I want them to remain free of social pressures to look, act, or think any way but that which feels most natural to them.

I want for them the freedom to be children. And no one can teach them how to do that.

I still haven't made the choice to unschool our children. But Mr. Hewitt has pushed me further in that direction than I've ever been before.

Consider the Milwaukee Evidence in Debate on Voucher Expansion

Consider the Milwaukee Evidence in Debate on Voucher Expansion →

Wisconsin's School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) recently finished a 5-year study of the effectiveness of Milwaukee's voucher program.

After five years, the SCDP team found:

Statistically significant gains for voucher users in reading compared to matched Milwaukee Public School (MPS) pupils (with the important caveat that the introduction of program wide WKCE testing in the final year of the evaluation could be responsible for some of the gains);

  • Statistically similar impacts on math test scores for matched MPS and MPCP users;
  • A modest positive impact on public school tests scores as more private schools participated in the MPCP;
  • Statewide taxpayer savings, though not in Milwaukee;
  • Higher graduation rates for voucher users compared to MPS;
  • Higher rates of four-year college enrollment for voucher users;
  • Evidence that closed schools in both MPS and the MPCP were the lower performers;
  • High levels of parental satisfaction;
  • No impact on housing prices or racial integration;
  • High rates of school switching;
  • Wide variation in achievement levels between schools.

So what are the practical lessons from the SCDP for other communities considering vouchers? Don’t expect the introduction of a voucher program to sizably increase test scores across the board for voucher users, or students in public schools. It’s safe to expect no negative impact on test scores, but any gains will likely be substantively small. So if the primary consideration in a community is raising test scores, a voucher program like Milwaukee’s may not be wise.

However, if you are a community struggling with high school graduation rates, particularly for low-income pupils (like Madison and Green Bay), a Milwaukee style voucher program could be a viable strategy to raise attainment.

I think this evidence justifies expanding the voucher program state wide. I'd love to see that happen.

Gunman killed at Sullivan Central (TN)

Gunman killed at Sullivan Central (TN) →

I just recently came across this 2010 story, about a would-be school shooter. He was stopped before anyone was hurt because he was quickly met by an armed response. The School Resource Officer was able to keep him in a standoff, until the Sheriff's officers arrived. Without that initial armed response, this could have been another deadly school shooting.

“He pulled out his gun and started pointing it at people,” Thacker said.

Cowan trained a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol at Riden’s face [the principal], said Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson. Carolyn Gudger, the school resource officer, drew her gun, then shielded the principal’s body with her own.

Riden fled and Gudger inched back into the school, leading Cowan through the scattered pastel chairs in the empty cafeteria. It was a tactical move, meant to lure the gunman into a more contained place, Anderson said.

This entry was tagged. Guns

Child-Phobic Teacher Sues School District

Child-Phobic Teacher Sues School District →

For once, I'm literally at a loss for words. How did this woman choose teaching as a career? Isn't "I can teach anyone above the age of 15 but I can't be responsible for my actions if I see a younger child" a bit of an interview killer?

A former teacher is suing the Cincinnati school district, saying she was discriminated against because of her rare phobia: a fear of young children. Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, who had been teaching high school Spanish and French since 1976, said that when she was transferred to the district’s middle school in 2009, the children set off her phobia, causing her blood pressure to soar and forcing her to retire. Ms. Waltherr-Willard said that her phobia falls under the federal American with Disabilities Act and that the transfer violated the law.

This entry was tagged. Children

Open Letter to the Oregon (WI) School Board

This was written Friday, just a few hours after I learned about the Newtown shooting.

Members of the Oregon School Board,

On a day like today, I feel very reassured that Netherwood Knoll Elementary is a gun-free zone. I feel reassured every time I think about the fact that my kindergarten aged daughter is perfectly safe from law-abiding people. She will never have to worry that someone who reads and obeys the “No Guns” sign will ever bring a gun to campus.

I wonder, though, how safe she is from people who aren’t law abiding? How safe is she, if someone decides to break the law by committing murder? How does that sign protect her then? In that moment, a gunman will walk into the school full of confidence. He’ll be confident that none of the school staff have the means to stop him. He’ll be confident that none of the teachers have the means to stop him. He’ll be confident that the classrooms are a perfect killing field for him. He’ll be confident that none of the classrooms are a potential threat to him.

Laws creating gun free schools have turned schools into killing fields for every psychopath who wants to get on the evening news. You’ve taken responsibility for my daughter but you’ve ensured that no one around her has the means to defend her or the means to stop evil doers that would threaten her.

Is there any one at Netherwood Knoll Elementary that is capable of committing violence in defense of the defenseless? Or are you going to continue to claim that the weapon is the real problem? By systematically disarming every individual in the school, you allow a lone murderer with a lone weapon to become the most powerful man in the school. That is immoral.

I beg of you. Reconsider your stance on guns in schools. Let the Oregon School District be full of schools that the evil are afraid to enter. Let our students come to school, secure in the knowledge that their teachers and staff are fully capable of protecting them, whether it’s from ice on the sidewalks or gunmen in the halls. Don’t allow NKE to be a shooting gallery of the defenseless any longer.

This entry was tagged. Guns

We Don't Need to Hire More Teachers (The School Staffing Surge)

We Don't Need to Hire More Teachers (The School Staffing Surge) →

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice points out that America's education struggles have nothing to do with not hiring enough teachers. Contra to President Obama and Mr. Romney, we do not need to hire more teachers.

Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

... Compared to other nations’ schools, U.S. public schools devote significantly higher fractions of their operating budgets to non-teaching personnel—and lower portions to teachers. Meanwhile, the U.S. is one of the highest spending nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) when it comes to K-12 education.

... There is no evidence in the aggregate that the increase in public school staffing caused student achievement to improve. In a shocking finding, economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman and his co-author, Paul LaFontaine, found that public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970. Thus, as staffing was rising dramatically in public schools, graduation rates were not.

In addition, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend exam for 17-year-old students in public schools have not increased during the time period studied. Between 1992 and 2008, public schools’ NAEP reading scores fell slightly while scores in mathematics were stagnant. After the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of non-teaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline.

As more adults gain employment in public schools, there is no evidence their numbers are leading to improved academic outcomes for students. And this increase in staffing has a significant opportunity cost. If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as the growth in students and if the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year. This $37.2 billion in annual recurring savings could be used:

  • to raise every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year;
  • to more than double taxpayer funding for early childhood education;
  • to provide property tax relief;
  • to lessen fiscal stress on state and local governments;
  • to give families of each child in poverty more than $2,600 in cash per child;
  • to give each child in poverty a voucher worth more than $2,600 to attend the private school of his or her parents’ choice;
  • or to support a combination of the above or for some other worthy purpose.

Schools absolutely need to stop hiring so many administrators. The growth in administrators, compared to the growth in students, is obscene. And, we probably need to focus more on what our teachers are teaching and how they're teaching and stop pretending that the solution is always more teachers.

This entry was tagged. Spending

Pell Grants and College Tuition

Pell Grants and College Tuition →

It looks like Pell grants are subsidies for universities rather than being a true aid for needy students.

For private universities, though, increases in Pell grants appear to be matched nearly one for one by increases in list (and net) tuition. Results for out-of- state tuition for public universities are similar to those for private universities, suggesting that they behave more like private ones in setting out-of-state tuition.

My Dream School-Information System

My Dream School-Information System →

Reading this blog post, I learned about GreatSchools, a rating site for both public and private schools. It's a very cool resource and illustrates just what would be possible in a truly free educational market. Just imagine if you could search all of the schools in your area and then send each of your children to the one that's the best match for him/her, with complete freedom to choose.

Here's Bill Jackson talking about one of the features that he'd like to be able to add to the site.

3. School program and curriculum

I want to know all about the school's curriculum and programs. We've got this down pretty well in our next-generation school profile launching this month in select cities. For example, check out St. Joan Antida High School, a private girls-only high school in Milwaukee that accepts vouchers. You can see tons of details here.

Another way to get insight: photos and videos that shed light on unique features of schools. For an example, see this video linked from the GreatSchools profile of Amy Beverland Elementary School in Indianapolis.

In the future, I'd like to get parent and student reviews that provide insight into the quality of programs at middle and high schools. In addition to learning whether the school has a band, we could learn about how meaningful that band is to students and families.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Top grads want to teach. Why don't they get hired?

Top grads want to teach. Why don't they get hired? →

Here's another indication that unions are hurting education.

The awkward fact is that teaching in America has become a quasi blue-collar profession mostly shunned by top college graduates. The countries with the best education systems recruit from top graduates. What about our top graduates? A good barometer is Teach for America (TFA), which in 2011 drew nearly 48,000 applicants for 5,200 teaching positions. Those applicants included 12% of the seniors at Ivy League schools.

Here's the question that never gets asked: What happens to the 43,000 top graduates who wanted to teach but didn't get an offer from TFA? Nearly all seek other careers.

For the best and brightest college graduates in this country, jobs offered by regular school districts lack prestige. Their accountability-free practices give the best teachers no way to stand out. These young TFA applicants rose to the top of their high schools classes and won admittance to the top tier colleges. They want a shot at shining on the job as well.

School Choice in the Long Run

School Choice in the Long Run →

Adam Ozimek looks at two recent school choice studies and comes to a very interesting conclusion.

Furthermore, this type of evolutionary progress will be hard for studies that compare the performance of any existing schools to capture. New schools will have a lot of learning to do, and the best schools will evolve to be the best over time as they learn what works best and how to best serve local populations and labor markets. But by the time this evolution has produced it’s biggest gains the system will be closer to competitive equilibrium, where [one] would expect the public schools that survive to perform as well as the private schools that survive. At no point in this process will comparing charters or private schools and public schools reflect the largest gains of school choice. At some points you would expect zero difference.

This entry was tagged. Research Vouchers

The Apprentice - Reinventing American Manufacturing

The Apprentice - Reinventing American Manufacturing →

But the education system is not powerless in the face of high unemployment—as long as employers are partners. What’s clear is that there are a few, relatively small sectors of the economy in which there are real shortages of trained workers. Some of those sectors require an advanced degree or very high-level skills, such as in engineering or computer programming. But not all of them do. One of these sectors is mid-skill manufacturing. There is a shortage of machinists who can operate the new, computer-programmed, robotic assembly lines that build cars, turbines, generators, steel and iron plumbing products, armaments, and shipping and packing equipment. There may be as many as 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs of this type, but compared with their European counterparts, American companies have shown little willingness to invest in training workers to fill these positions.

At last a small group of employers are importing the Northern European apprenticeship model to the United States. These programs combine classroom learning, typically at community colleges, with paid worksite training, and guarantee successful graduates a job.

Very interesting.

This entry was tagged. Jobs

Parents: How Much College Do You Owe Your Kids?

Parents: How Much College Do You Owe Your Kids? →

Legere said his daughter felt an expensive school was a given. Instead, he was pushing for her to attend a state school close by, the University of Buffalo, maybe, which cost only $17,000. Though he could afford the higher tuition, he gave her a choice: He’d pay the full cost of a state school, but if she attended the costlier college she’d have to take out loans.

Legere, a businessman, sat his daughter down and ran the numbers. He explained she would need to take out about $30,000 in loans a year. He estimated that paying a total of $120,000 in loans for 10 years at 4 percent interest would cost her $1,200 a month, or the first $9.00 an hour from her salary for 10 years.

"It's like buying a new car, driving it into a river at the end of the year, and having nothing to show for it," Legere recalls saying. "I told her it would be fiscally irresponsible of me to let her assume that debt." The day after that conversation, the young woman texted her mother: Please send a deposit to the University of Buffalo.

Contrast this bit of budgetary wisdom with President Obama's campaign pledge: "No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don't have the money". President Obama's campaign peddles the myth that a more expensive education is a better education. His desire doesn't reduce the cost of college. It just makes other people pay for it, on the theory that you're entitled to have anything you want.

Khan Academy ponders what it can teach the higher education establishment

Khan Academy ponders what it can teach the higher education establishment →

Using math and computer science concepts decidedly more advanced than most of those in Khan’s video library, the Khan engineers have trained the website’s exercise platform how to predict, with startling accuracy, how likely it is that a student will correctly answer the next practice problem -- and whether that student will be able to solve the same type of problem a week, two weeks, and a month later.

An interesting look at how the Khan Academy is trying to use their platform to predict how well someone actually knows a concept, instead of just knowing how well that person did on one test or drill.

In the future, they'd like to be able to create a whole new credentialing system—a way for employers to know what a candidate really knows instead of just knowing what school a candidate went to and what the candidate might know.

This entry was tagged. Innovation

On Teachers and Others

On Teachers and Others →

In judging teachers' claims, we might compare their lives with the lives of, say, farmers or welders or interstate truckers.

Victor Davis Hanson compares his experiences as a farmer and as a teacher.

This entry was tagged. Unions

Zero-Tolerance in Denver

Zero-Tolerance in Denver →

An 11-year old boy was hauled off to jail, after following his therapists instructions — even though school officials agreed he wasn't a threat. I'm strongly considering homeschooling because of stories like this.

This entry was not tagged.

Of Course It’s about the Money

Of Course It’s about the Money →

Christian Schneider provides a run-down of the way that the teachers' union goes after the money, in ways large and small. Remember, unions always help their members by limiting competition for jobs and by fighting anything that might hurt the worst teachers.

This entry was tagged. Unions

More on Schools and Socialization

More on Schools and Socialization →

More on schools and socialization from David Henderson. This time he relates some nasty bullying that he was subjected to and the bullying values that he learned from his teachers. Institutional schools (whether public or private) aren't always a good place for children and teens to be.

This entry was not tagged.

Education Before Public Schools

Did you know that before British and U.S. governments created public schools, parents still placed a high value on education? That children got a better education each passing year? That schools were cheaper? That 95% of teenagers were literate? That teenagers were more literate without public schools than they are now, with them? Truth.

I recently discovered a fascinating article on The Spread of Education Before Compulsion: Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century from the Freeman.

A few, choice, excerpts. First, the experience in Britain.

Contrary to popular belief, the supply of schooling in Britain between 1800 and 1840 was relatively substantial prior to any government intervention, although it depended almost completely on private funds. At this time, moreover, the largest contributors to education revenues were working parents and the second largest was the Church. Of course, there was less education per child than today, just as there was less of everything else, because the national income was so much smaller. I have calculated, nevertheless, that the percentage of the net national income spent on day-schooling of children of all ages in England in 1833 was approximately 1 percent. By 1920, when schooling had become "free" and compulsory by special statute, the proportion had fallen to 0.7 percent.

The evidence also shows that working parents were purchasing increasing amounts of education for their children as their incomes were rising from 1818 onwards, and this, to repeat, at a time before education was "free" and compulsory by statute. Compulsion came in 1880, and state schooling did not become free until 1891.

... It is not surprising that with such evidence of literacy growth of young people, the levels had become even more substantial by 1870. On my calculations for 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit to difficulties with writing and spelling.

Second, the experience in the U.S.

Sheldon Richman quotes data showing that from 1650 to 1795, American male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent. Between 1800 and 1840 literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. In the South the rate grew from about 55 percent to 81 percent. Richman also quotes evidence indicating that literacy in Massachusetts was 98 percent on the eve of legislated compulsion and is about 91 percent today.

Finally, Carl F. Kaestle observes: "The best generalization possible is that New York, like other American towns of the Revolutionary period, had a high literacy rate relative to other places in the world, and that literacy did not depend primarily upon the schools."

And, the conclusion.

If, on the other hand, the term "universal" is intended more loosely to mean something like, "most," "nearly everybody," or "over 90 percent," then we lack firm evidence to show that education was not already universal prior to intervention. The eventual establishment, meanwhile, of laws to provide a schooling that was both compulsory and free, was accompanied by major increases in costs. These included not only unprecedented expenses of growing bureaucracy but also the substantial costs of reduced liberty of families eventually caught in a choice-restricted monopoly system serving the interests not of the demanders but of the rent-seeking suppliers. Both sides of the Atlantic, meanwhile, shared this same fate.

We educated our children before we had universal, "free", public schools. We educated our children before the rise of strong national and state teachers' unions. We could have it again.