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Archives for Education (page 2 / 2)

What's wrong with "cherry picking"?

Yowza. This is Jerry Pournelle on education and "cherry picking".

On education, the usual critique of charter schools is that they are guilty of "cherry picking" which is to say, they accept only students who want to learn something and are willing to be disciplined. Thus an academically accomplished charter school in DC was not allowed. Cherry picking is supposed to be a bad thing? As opposed to the current practice of making those who would like to learn in DC go to a school that accepts those who do not want to learn and refuse to be disciplined? And this from people who are supposed to be liberal? It seems to me a very good way to keep the blacks in their place. Make them go to lousy schools filled with disorder while you send yours to schools that have discipline, and then on to Harvard. Is that the goal of liberalism? To keep the blacks down? Because I think of no better way to accomplish that goal than what is happening in DC. Tons of money spent on truly horrible schools that no one who could possibly escape them would go to? Would anyone who had in mind the good of black children in DC permit the current school system there to exist for ten minutes more?

The money is spent, and the results are known, and nothing is to be done. Yet under the Constitution the Congress is responsible. One presumes that both parties intend the results obtained since neither party makes any attempt to do anything about it.

That's the best response to the cherry picking argument that I've seen yet.

The D.C. Choice Program Saved Money

Spreading Freedom and Saving Money: The Fiscal Impact of the D.C. Voucher Program

In August 2004 the first ever federally funded school voucher program began in Washington, D.C. Eligible students could attend a private school of their choice in the District of Columbia. Each participant received up to $7,500 for school tuition, fees, and transportation. In addition, the D.C. Public School System (DCPS) and D.C. charter school system each received $13 million in federal grants to improve their programs.

This study examines the fiscal impact of the voucher program on DCPS and the District of Columbia. The program is currently funded by the federal government and creates a net inflow of funds to both the District and DCPS. This study also examines the fiscal impact of the program under several proposed changes to the law. Those scenarios include funding the program locally, making it universally available to all D.C. public school students, and expanding capacity by including regional private schools.

Our findings include the following:

  • The current program saves the city nearly $8 million, mostly because it is federally funded and includes a federal grant to public schools.
  • If federal grant subsidies were withdrawn and the program were locally funded, the city would still save $258,402 due to the greater efficiency of school choice.
  • A locally funded universal program would maximize the economic benefits of school choice, saving $3 million.
  • The process by which both DCPS and its schools are funded is not conducive to efficiency or excellence. The voucher program currently allows the central administration to retain an even higher share of overall funding than it did previously, leaving the management of reduced expenditures predominately at the school level. A universal school choice program could help to put a larger share of resources into the hands of schools.

Full Text (PDF, 763 KB)

Working Their Way Through School

Meet some high school students that are working their way through school:

Almost every weekday, 14-year-old Tiffany Adams rises before 6 a.m. in the Newark, New Jersey, home she shares with her grandmother and sisters. She dons her school uniform and catches two New Jersey Transit buses across the city, arriving at Christ the King Preparatory School, a Catholic high school that opened in September 2007, at 8. Most days she goes to the standard ninth-grade classes: algebra, Spanish, Western Civ. By all accounts, she excels at them. She is ranked first in her class. Her favorite subject is math, she says, "because it challenges me."

But five school days a month, Adams skips the uniform and dons business attire. On those days, after a morning assembly, she bypasses the classrooms and hops instead into a van bound for Essex County College. There Adams works in the human resources department from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. or so, scheduling résumé appointments, doing clerical work, and generally keeping the place functioning. Far from being a distraction, this opportunity to work while going to school is what drew Adams to Christ the King in the first place. "I thought it would be a good school for me to learn about business," she says. "I would like to be an entrepreneur."

Few teenagers are so concretely focused on their future careers. But Adams' attitude is not unusual for the 89 freshmen at Christ the King Prep, part of a recently formed national network of Catholic schools that combine school and work. In the process, these "Cristo Rey" (Spanish for "Christ the King") schools have stumbled on a new business model for private urban education -- one that asks students like Adams to largely pay their own way.

At the 19 schools in the network (three new ones are opening this fall in Brooklyn, Detroit, and the west side of Chicago), four-student teams share entry-level clerical jobs at area employers. In exchange, these companies pay the schools $20,000 to $30,000 for each team. The subsidy of $5,000 to $7,500 per student keeps tuition low enough (usually around $2,500) that a prep school education becomes feasible for poor families.

This business model was born of necessity. But as the Cristo Rey Network has discovered in the 12 years since the first school opened in Chicago, the benefits go beyond financial sustainability. Introducing inner-city children to corporate America shows them the jobs they can have if they study hard and go to college. And that's what the vast majority of Cristo Rey's predominantly Hispanic and African-American graduates do.

Once these students have a chance to work, employers love them:

But soon employers were calling to compliment the Jesuits on the most eager temps they’d ever seen. "No one quite expected that the kids could perform to the level they were performing in the work world," Thielman says. "We found tremendous talent and tremendous potential among young people in that neighborhood."

These programs also appear to do a fantastic job of preparing students for college:

These start-ups are all committed to enrolling only low-income kids; network-wide, 72 percent of students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. The schools are also committed to sending the vast majority of their graduates to college; of the 318 students who graduated from Cristo Rey Network schools in 2007, 316 were accepted to a two- or four-year college. That’s better than 99 percent. (Nationwide, just 67 percent of students who graduate from high school start college shortly thereafter, and in big cities that figure can be much lower. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley held a press conference last spring to boast that the Chicago public schools had sent almost half of the class of 2007 to two- or four-year colleges.)

And these schools aren't cherry-picking the smart students either:

Many of Christ the King's 89 students arrived unprepared for high school work. James Cochran, a social studies teacher, assigned an essay about ancient Mesopotamia around the third week of school. "I got kids who gave me Wikipedia articles printed out," he says. "They didn't make any effort to conceal the fact that it was a Wikipedia article. It's not like they were plagiarizing and trying to hide it. They just thought that was how you did a report." They didn't understand that they were supposed to generate original thoughts and analysis. "They didn’t know how to think," Cochran says. "I had to teach them how to think." By April, though, his ninth-graders were debating whether Emperor Augustus was better for Rome than the previous republican set-up. (Interestingly, most thought he was.)

This article really gets me excited. (Please do read the entire thing.) It's new. It's creative. It's innovative. Most importantly -- it works. This is change from the old ideas of the past. More please. Much more.

This entry was tagged. Good News Innovation

Parents Want School Choice

It surprises me that more parents don't vote for more school choice. Under the current system, your kids go to school wherever the school board says they go to school -- parents have very little say in the matter. Parents in Madison were reminded of that last night.

The pleas of an emotional audience were not enough to dissuade the Madison School Board from approving a new boundary plan for elementary and middle schools in the Memorial High School attendance area.

The board voted unanimously at its meeting Monday night to give a green light to Plan F, which moves more than 400 students at five elementaries. Boundary changes are necessary in anticipation of a new school now under construction on the far west side. The school will open next fall.

The majority of parents testifying at a public hearing session that lasted for more than two hours objected to the part of the plan that moves 64 students from the neighborhoods around WISC-TV/Channel 3 from Chavez Elementary to Falk Elementary.

Parents argued that the plan was hastily drawn and poorly communicated and that their neighborhood and children have been involved in more moves over the last 10 years than others have.

In addition, many parents expressed concerns about the move to Falk, which currently has an enrollment of 66 percent low-income students.

Other changes that drew fire from unhappy parents who live in the Hawk's Landing area near the new elementary school included the board's unanimous decision to send students from the new school to Toki Middle School instead of Jefferson Middle School as originally planned.

School Board member Lawrie Kobza explained that it's important for the board to try to keep capacity levels up in schools closer to the core of the city to allow for growth at the edges of the community.

The school board does what it wants, according to its all-knowing master plan. The parents are free to either pound sand in frustration or move to a new neighborhood. A voucher or tax credit system would allow parents to choose which school their children attend, without having to fight the School Board or buy a house.

This entry was tagged. Vouchers

Rethinking School

My opinion on American education is simple: it's outdated. We haven't changed the way we've done school in over 100 years. Society, technology, and knowledge have all changed considerably during that time. I think it's time that we took education apart, reexamined it closely, and figured out how to educate a new generation of children. We should use everything we've learned in the past 100 years about the science of education, about science itself, and about the value of technology to rethink how we teach.

Of course, that's made more difficult by attitudes likes these.

Hot classrooms, some infested with wasps; sections of the three-level school unreachable by elevator; a roof in need of replacing.

Some look at the Primary Center here -- built in 1918 -- and see a deteriorating school building that is expensive to maintain. Others see an irreplaceable example of Wisconsin Prairie School architecture that should be preserved.

The building is a community asset -- whether it is used as village offices, a community space or housing, said Kurt Nowka, a Mount Horeb resident who describes himself as a preservationist. "People have come to Mount Horeb because of (its) character."

One of the teachers, at least, has some common sense.

"My thought is that it is not an appropriate place to teach," said Colleen Mize, who has taught first and second graders at the Primary Center for about six years. "It's so old, it's hard to keep up."

She also points to deteriorating carpet, classroom temperatures that can stay in the 90s and wasps in some of the classrooms.

"Research shows that children do better in an environment that is nicer," Mize said. "I just think something needs to be done. I don't care what they do, but I don't think it's a proper place to house little children."

She's absolutely right. But as long as people who have no stake in education -- preservationists, for instance, can wield political power over a school, who cares about the children? They should be honored to be learning in such a historic location!

When I said, above, that "it's time that we took education apart" what I really meant was that "it's time that we let education entrepreneurs take education apart". No referendum or school board will ever come up with the right way to teach children. But entrepreneurs might. A more market oriented school system would allow parents to pick and choose where their children attend school, how they're taught, and who their teachers are.

Wouldn't that be better than leaving the decision up to Kurt Nowka?

This entry was tagged. Wisconsin

It's Time to Teach from Scripts

Various teaching methods intrigue me. What makes a good teacher or a bad teacher? What makes a kid learn or sleep through class? How can we best prepare the next generation to face an increasingly complex world?

I tend to largely agree with Alex Tabarrok: Heroes are not Replicable.

You know the plot. Young, idealistic teacher goes to inner-city high school. Said idealistic teacher is shocked by students who don't know the basics and who are too preoccupied with the burdens of violence, poverty and indifference to want to learn. But the hero perseveres and at great personal sacrifice wins over the students using innovative teaching methods and heart. The kids go on to win the state spelling/chess/mathematics championship. c.f. Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds etc.

We are supposed to be uplifted by these stories but they depress me. If it takes a hero to save an inner city school then there is no hope. Heroes are not replicable.

He talks about an instruction method called "Direct Instruction" (overview from the Washington Times or a slightly more technical overview) that was tested in a research study from 1967 through 1995. The study cost $1 billion and involved more than 20,000 students. It was judged to be a huge success, more so than any other method studied. The other methods are popular ones in use today, including the Learning Center Model, Open Education Model, and Self Esteem model. DI trounced all of them.

There's a catch though. DI involved giving teachers a script and having them follow it. Apparently, teachers don't take kindly to the suggestion that they'd do better following a script than they would following their own initiative. So, nothing much has come of DI yet.

What I found more interesting, however, was the comment section at Marginal Revolution. I saw three broad themes: 1) you should fire all of the econ profs at GMU and teach economics this way, 2) how boring: rote instruction from a script, 3) I did a scripted training class at work and it was worthless.

I find #1 and #3 interesting, because the entire method is about teaching young children. Why anyone would think that that automatically applies to teaching adults is beyond me. I'm intrigued by the idea of DI, but I'd need a lot of convincing to use it as a method for college or corporate instruction.

I find #2 interesting because the more technical overview specifically states:

In poorly designed phonics programs, young children are expected to sit through hours of dull repetition. This is unfortunate, since it is possible to turn drill into a highly engaging, exciting group activity through the use of Direct Instruction.

It appears that most of the commentors didn't really read through the material -- either that or they reject the entire idea without even seeing what the scripts look like. Neither option speaks well of their intelligence.

Given how utterly failed most of America's big-city public schools are, I think a switch to DI could hardly make things worse. Isn't it worth a shot?

UPDATE: In fact, the reaction in the Marginal Revolution comments section reminds me of this post from Scott Adams and The Dilbert Blog. Might these commentors be suffering from cognitive dissonance?

This entry was tagged. Children Innovation

Random Thoughts on Education

Maverick Leads Charge for Charter Schools - New York Times

Steve Barr, a major organizer of charter schools, has been waging what often seems like a guerrilla war for control of this city's chronically failing high schools.

In just seven years, Mr. Barr's Green Dot Public Schools organization has founded 10 charter high schools and has won approval to open 10 more. Now, in his most aggressive challenge to the public school system, he is fighting to seize control of Locke Senior High, a gang-ridden school in Watts known as one of the city's worst. A 15-year-old girl was killed by gunfire there in 2005.

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city's teachers union by welcoming organized labor "” in contrast to other charter operators "” and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools.

Three years ago, Mr. Barr negotiated with district officials about overhauling Jefferson High School, a dropout factory in downtown Los Angeles. When the talks bogged down, Mr. Barr concluded he needed clout.

Green Dot organized a parents union, and its members, buttonholing neighbors in supermarkets and churches, collected 10,000 signatures endorsing Jefferson's division into several smaller charter schools.

Mr. Barr marched from Jefferson High with nearly 1,000 parents to deliver the petition to district headquarters. The authorities refused to relinquish Jefferson, but the school board approved five new charters, which Green Dot inaugurated last fall, all near Jefferson and drawing students from it.

Kudos to Steve Barr for waging this war. I wish him nothing but success as he fights the entrenched education bureaucracy. I just wish it wasn't necessary to fight these battles in order for parents to have control of their children's education.

Fight Song at Ozarks: Work Hard and Avoid Debt - New York Times

The Times has a nice write-up of College of the Ozarks.

Like many undergraduates, students at the College of the Ozarks here work their way through school, though they often do such unconventional campus jobs as milking cows at dawn in the college's barns and baking fruit breads for sale to donors.

But what is truly different about Hard Work U. "” as the college styles itself "” is that all 1,345 students must work 15 hours per week to pay off the entire cost of tuition "” $15,900 per year. If they work summers, as one-third are doing this summer, they pay off their $4,400 room and board as well. Work study is not an option as it is at most campuses; it is the college's raison d'être.

This is a college that is philosophically opposed to students starting careers with an Ozark mountain of debt "” 95 percent graduate debt free "” and it believes that students who put sweat equity into their education value it more.

Unfortunately, they can't quite lose the New York snobbery.

Colleges like Columbia pay high salaries to attract top scholars and offer students a smorgasbord of electives as well as amenities like Olympic-scale gyms. College of the Ozarks is run on a lean staff -- it has only four deans -- and pays full professors under $70,000 a year for teaching more hours per semester, 12. English majors can avail themselves of a bare-bones survey course like 20th-century British literature but not of a course just in James Joyce.

Horrors -- students are deprived of the opportunity to study James Joyce for an entire semester. Maybe I'm just a philistine, but I don't imagine many people outside of New York City would find that troublesome.

Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universities - New York Times

Starting this fall, juniors and seniors pursuing an undergraduate major in the business school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will pay $500 more each semester than classmates. The University of Nebraska last year began charging engineering students a $40 premium for each hour of class credit.

And Arizona State University this fall will phase in for upperclassmen in the journalism school a $250 per semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

This makes sense to me. Some degrees offer a higher return on investment than others -- in the form of higher starting salaries, more opportunities, or more networking. Why shouldn't students pay more to access more valuable opportunities? Surprisingly, not everyone agrees with me.

"There was a time, not that long ago, 10 to 15 years ago, that the vast majority of the cost of education at public universities was borne by the state, and that was why tuition was so low," he said. "That was based on the premise that the education of an individual is a public good, that individuals go out and become schoolteachers and businessmen and doctors and lawyers, that makes society better. That's no longer the perception."

I have just one response: College of the Ozarks. Treating the "education of an individual" as a public good is a decent idea. But why not run public universities more like College of the Ozarks? Why try to make them taxpayer subsidized versions of the elite private universities? Providing education as a public good does not automatically require a state to provide full weight rooms, olympic size swimming pools, palatial dorms, and all of the other amenities to which students are starting to become addicted.

This entry was not tagged.

Well Treated Undergrads Prosper

That's not the title of this New York Times article but perhaps it should be.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, opened for business in a former cow pasture not far from downtown just 40 years ago. Still in its infancy as universities go, U.M.B.C. is less well known than Maryland's venerable flagship campus at College Park or the blue-blooded giant Johns Hopkins. But the upstart campus in the pasture is rocking the house when it comes to the increasingly critical mission of turning American college students into scientists.

The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on.

The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines. Indeed, according to Science, 86 percent of the Meyerhoff participants have graduated with science or engineering degrees. Nearly 9 in 10 of those graduates went on to graduate or professional programs, with a significant number earning M.D.'s or Ph.D's, or both.

This is quite different from the approach of most universities. A significant number of professors in my undergraduate classes treated the undergrads as though they were nothing more than a distraction from the real business of research and teaching graduate classes. I heard from many graduate students that the graduate classes were both far more interesting and far more competently taught.

U.M.B.C. is taking an entirely different approach: treat undergraduates as though they actually have the capability to learn and succeed. Not surprisingly, it's working. Fully 77% of their students end up in a graduate program. Maybe if America's colleges expected (and demanded) more of America's undergraduates we wouldn't have such a tough time turning out scientists and engineers.

This entry was not tagged.

Death by Ink

Mark Twain once advised people to "never start a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel". It's a lesson that the New York State United Teachers union might do well to learn. On January 13, John Stossel hosted an ABC special called Stupid in America. In it, he focused on public schools, private schools, educational vouchers, and other forms of school choice. He was critical of the union for their role in protecting bad teachers, at the expense of students. The union didn't react well to the criticism. Unfortunately for them, Stossel buys ink by the barrel.

Ever since Stupid in America aired, Stossel has been writing weekly columns about school choice and the teachers' union. The first six columns (Myth: Schools don't have enough money, Trapped in the wrong government school, Learning to read in South Carolina, Time for choice and competition, Union bosses get in the way of common sense, and Unions fight to protect the nightmare) recap the content of his ABC special. His most recent columns (The teachers unions are mad at me and Time to teach) are a direct response to the attacks he's received from the union.

I don't think this is a war that the unions can win. John can keep writing columns about school choice indefinitely. With each new column, he can print more facts and figures about the problems and inefficiencies of the union. The more they attack, the more damage John can do to them. The damage may be exponential as well. In his most recent column, he tells how the union chanted "Teach, John, teach!" outside of his door. They wanted him to go into a public school and teach for a week. It's an offer that Stossel has accepted. Will the union actually follow through or was it all a bluff? Either way, I'm not sure it will come out looking any better than it already has.

This entry was tagged. Vouchers

Sex Week!

Thank goodness for modern news media or we followers of the Christ would not be aware of this sort of thing: it's Sex Week, everybody!

At least, it is at Yale University, where students have coordinated one heck of an "educational event": a sex-themed week including stripping classes and a lingerie show in order to-and I quote Dain Lewis, its director here-"reconcile these issues in their own lives".

"I can justify to my mom every decision that's been made [about Sex Week]," Lewis says in his defense (Justify it to mine, Dain...).

Believe it or not, the FOXNews.com's Fox & Friends video clip on this story is absolutely worth watching. Even the panel of reporters assigned to interview Mr. Lewis can't take this guy seriously and start breaking out laughing about halfway through Lewis's speech. It's a wonderfully refreshing reaction to this kind of "Ivy League" (heh) caca, sure to put a smile on your face.

OK; I'm going back to studying now.

UPDATE (from Joe): I dug up a direct link to the video itself.

This entry was tagged. Ethics