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The Education Community Can’t Read or Research

Cardiff Giant, 19th Century Hoax

The education community has been swindled, hoodwinked, bamboozled – and what it says about the education debate’s commitment to truth is damning.

The Hoax

On July 29, Alexander Russo published a post on his This Week in Education blog called “Television: “Classroom Intervention” Appears This Fall.” It detailed A&E’s announcement that a reality show would debut this September exposing professional interventions for struggling teachers.

News Flash: There’s no show. It’s fake. And the ed community swallowed it right up.

Claus from publicschoolinsights.org was the first to bite:

“This could be very good, or it could be very bad. Depends on who’s creating the intervention, I guess.

Teachers TV in the UK offers an example of how it could work–though in 15-minute segments”

I was surprised that an ed commentary regular took the bait despite the post being listed under the category of “Made-Up News” – that detail went by the wayside. So did the lack of a link, perhaps to a page on A&E’s site, that would have more fully described the show’s premise and goals. That didn’t matter to Claus (and surely many other readers who didn’t bother to comment), who took it as gospel – despite being unverified – and went on with the day.

I chimed in, laying a foundation for my post-to-be and hoping to encourage contributions from others (which didn’t happen):

“From reading teacher-to-teacher discussions on blogs, chats, and events like the weekly Twitter #edchat, I had the impression that all teachers were motivated, future-thinking “lifelong learners” – along with most of their colleagues.

That A&E has rounded up a few teachers in need of improvement will be a difficult reality for many of the education cult leaders to deny.”

Then I posted.

The Natives Are Restless – and Bad at Research

Much is made about “digital natives” – the generation who grew up with broadband internet, fast computers, iPods, iPhones, iEverything – and their ability to multi-task, conduct in-depth research and create media. Some, like Mark Bauerlein in “The Dumbest Generation,” have ripped holes in theories that digital natives use these tools to increase their knowledge and productivity at a faster clip than non-natives. Others have more generally criticized the natives as familiar with technology, but sloppy with its use.

Study after study confirms that students fail to examine information found on the internet, follow up appropriate links/citations, or read beyond the first hit in Google. What the education community omits is that they – teachers, administrators, scholars, professors, policy wonks – are, for the most part, as careless as students when it comes to reading and researching online.

Studies Show…

Emily Alpert, an excellent education writer (and there aren’t many) from San Diego, Tweeted a link to a ReadWriteWeb piece about this problem. From “So-Called “Digital Natives” Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows”:

“A new study coming out of Northwestern University, discovered that college students have a decided lack of Web savvy, especially when it comes to search engines and the ability to determine the credibility of search results. Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.”

They give it a quick read and moved on without thinking twice:

“During the study, one of the researchers asked a study participant, “What is this website?” The student answered, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”

That exchange sums up the overall results from this study: many students trusted in rankings above all else. In fact, a quarter of the students, when assigned information-seeking tasks, said they chose a website because – and only because – it was the first search result.

Only 10% of the students made mention of the site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks. However, in reviewing the screen-capture footage of those respondents, the researchers found that even in this supposedly savvy minority, none actually followed through to verify the identification or qualifications of the site’s authors.”

For the millionth time, kids are sloppy with internet research (though they’re slightly more skeptical when it comes to Wikipedia).

I decided to mix the findings in these articles with the response to Russo’s post to see how closely the ed community actually reads the information it discusses. That night I wrote a post called “Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense.” The first part of the post opined on the A&E show and the questions it raises in the context of a seminal problem in public education: that the ed community doesn’t always get the relationship between the forest and the trees.

And readers gobbled it up. Stephen Downes was the first to comment. He thinly criticized my claim to read a lot of ed content, explained that he disagrees with the entire post “point for point,” and that he “won’t bother with the point by point refutation,” case closed. Had he clicked the link to Russo’s original piece – or Googled, or bothered to verify any of it in any way – he would have seen that the content was fake. Instead, indignation and automatic disagreement took priority to informed debate.

Swing and a miss, Mr. Downes. It was an eephus, not a fastball.

Stephen’s response came within 15 minutes of my post. I wanted to encourage him, and anyone reading the post/comment debate after him, to take another look. I replied:

“I know you follow a tremendous number of sources – your RSS feed compilation is more extensive than any I’ve ever seen in education.

As always, you and everyone else can take my word for it, disregard it completely or behave somewhere in between (which is probably best). Then we can discuss the differences and see what’s true and what isn’t.”

I gently pushed for a re-examination – including undermining my own credibility in a subtle way – but that didn’t happen. It rarely happens in the online education debates; instead, folks tend to  go-go-go, pushing their agenda – no homework, smaller class sizes, charter school expansion, etc. – with blinders on. But occasionally, someone takes the time to do all that research, fact-finding and verification they spend their careers  preaching to the digital natives.

At least he (and the friends/colleagues I personally linked my post to) and the other readers aren’t alone: Russo’s hoax grew tiny little legs. On Joanne Jacobs’ site, “Teaching Badly on TV” got a couple comments.

Kim Caise, Our Hero: She Trusted, But Verified

In the Northwestern study (Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content, available at the International Journal of Communication), 0 out of 102 did what we’d consider complete research, despite students  (presumably) trying to do their best. I started writing this piece when my post, “Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense” hit 102 views. 1 out of those 102 – Kim Caise, who writes about education technology – followed up what she’d read and commented:

“As I visited the website you mentioned regarding the upcoming ‘Classroom Intervention’ show. The category for the post is ‘made up news’ and some of the other posts in that category by the author indicate the posts were fake and actually made up. Seeing that there isn’t any discussion or mention of the show on A&E’s website, I tend to believe that this show is actually made up as well.”

Here’s what Kim did:

  • She read the text closely and with a bit of skepticism;
  • Followed the link to Alexander Russo’s original entry to reference it with my post;
  • Read Russo’s entry, including the category titles, which she followed to place his original “Intervention” post in context;
  • Researched A&E’s website (and probably Google as a whole) to verify;
  • Put together the available evidence to form a conclusion (in this case, that some of us were full of it)
  • Notified the community and added to the debate by leaving a descriptive comment.

In short, Ms. Caise did exactly what the ed community preaches to digital natives, while the balance of readers dropped the ball.

To Lie or Not to Lie

Once I took a class that was filled with the types  those concerned about the quality of higher education lament: mindless neo-hippies, illogical diversophiles (whose lives, paradoxically, are anything but diverse), professional protesters (who seldom grasped either side of an issue) and the well-meaning smart kids who’d encountered too few good teachers. Most had tunnel vision with regard to most complex social/political issues, so when I had an opportunity to read something to the class, I chose a short letter about the lynching of Zachariah Walker.

I edited the letter to make it anonymous in terms of time, place and demographics, though it was clear that a black man had been lynched for killing a white man. I asked a few questions at the end that gauged what the class thought about the letter. They expressed with confidence that it was about a black man being lynched in the deep South in the 19th century and that the letter-writer was a black man, too. Had to be, said one, because no one else could have understood the complexities of the issue – what happened, why, what it said about the community – the way a black person could.

Walker was lynched in Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911 – both details were tiny surprises to the other students. And the letter was written by a white reverend. It was the first time I’d seen a number of people have that blank, 5-second “I’ve just realized that I’ve totally misunderstood this issue to the detriment of myself and others” look.

After the class I talked with the professor – with whom I talked frequently, so we were candid and friendly – about my bait’n'switch. I thought it was harmless and perhaps would push a student to a stark realization about how they process, usually without enough consideration, complex issues. She thought that it was a mistake and that in terms of teaching strategy, creating skepticism might have negative consequences down the road.

I’ve never made up my mind on this issue (which is a good discussion for another post, probably on another site). I see the merits of both sides, but I’ve leaned slightly – very, very slightly – toward the position that a refresher on skepticism is a valuable thing when it’s infrequent and about something significant.

Significant, like students, teachers, and the rest of the education community not knowing how to read or research properly.

What Can We Do?

This is not a scientifically rigorous study. It’s not longitudinal and it’s not exhaustive. It is, in my opinion, representative of the sloppy – and downright lazy – approaches to the education debate that we see in too many comment threads and too many back-and-forth arguments.

And what’s worse is that it exposes the lack of commitment the ed community has to ensuring serious debate and the pursuit of truth.

The moral of the story is that progressive debate in education – and any other field – requires a bit of care. It’s hard and it’s time-consuming, but professional responsibility dictates that we do it.

We aren’t perfect. For example, the original Tweeted article cited University of Chicago students as subjects rather than University of Illinois – Chicago students and I re-Tweeted it without catching the error. Mistakes happen. But if teachers, administrators and policymakers are going to maintain credibility and engage in productive debate, they need to practice what they preach.

Trust, but verify.

Teacher Interventions, Education Policy and Common Sense

There are some indisputable laws in our natural world – If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band, for example. One such law chiseled into granite over the last few decades is that if there’s one sector that doesn’t understand that relationship between the forest and the trees, it’s American public education.

I follow thousands of teachers, policy players, politicians and other interested parties on blogs (~600 subscriptions), newsletters, discussion groups and social media (namely Twitter). I don’t have to pore over mountains of commentary or content to compile a convincing list of proof; here’s a rundown exposing the blindness and general mark-missing – sometimes deliberate, sometimes not, and sometimes by simply not showing up – that came from 10 minutes of reading.

Teacher Interventions

Alexander Russo notifies us that A&E will introduce this fall a show called “Classroom Intervention” in which struggling, underperforming teachers are smacked with professional reality – namely that they struggle and underperform. Their work will be analyzed and presented to them with strategies/mechanisms to improve performance. I commented:

“From reading teacher-to-teacher discussions on blogs, chats, and events like the weekly Twitter #edchat, I had the impression that all teachers were motivated, future-thinking “lifelong learners” – along with most of their colleagues.

That A&E has rounded up a few teachers in need of improvement will be a difficult reality for many of the education cult leaders to deny.”

I poked around the internet and there’s remarkably little discussion of this show. As I said, it flies in the face of so much discussion I witness – hop on to hashtags.org and search for #edchat. Rhetoric, ego-boosting and back-patting rules the day – every day.

There’s a place for encouragement, but this show raises many fundamental questions about education in 2010:

  • Why are these teachers ill-equipped to teach effectively?
  • Did they go through a teacher training program at the undergraduate level? What faults in teacher education led them to underperform in the classroom?
  • If they were certified to teach by a state, how is it that they enter the classroom without the basic skills they need to succeed? Is the certification process that flawed? If so, how can it be improved?
  • Why is it necessary for A&E to do interventions when colleges, certification bodies and day-to-day administrators – from their department heads to principals to superintendents to school boards – are already in place to monitor, serve and improve teaching?

We know the answers to some of these – and there are many more basic questions. The point is that these are significant issues that aren’t being discussed by the education sector.

Bridging the Gap Between… Something

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute calls attention to the current divide between education research, policy-making and implementation:

“Bridging the divide between education research and education policy can be difficult, but we came one step closer this week when we co-hosted the first Emerging Education Policy Scholars program with the American Enterprise Institute. The program aims to cultivate emerging talent in the education policy sector.”

Yes, it’s difficult – and mostly because our public education players have failed to address seminal issues that lead to the difficulties.

The summit for budding ed policy scholars purports:

  • To enlarge the pool of talent and ideas from which the education-policy arena currently draws;
  • To introduce scholars to key players in the education policy arena; and
  • To increase understanding of how the worlds of policy and practice intersect with scholarly research in education and related fields.

TBF and AEI, for all their good works, shows their fundamental misunderstanding of the problem in the very first sentence: Enlarging the pool of talent is less important than recruiting more talented people. It’s not that all education policy folks are dolts – they aren’t, especially at those two outfits – but the goal doesn’t address education’s inability to attract high-level talent. Applicants to education-related fields are in the bottom quartile for GRE scores as reported by ETS. Do we really need more of the same – stocking the pond with third-rate fish? – or do we need to find out why the whoppers are choosing engineering and physics instead of education policy, and then find out how to change that pattern?

Aside from the quality over quantity issue, we need to call this what it is: A networking event poorly disguised as an analytical conference. Young folks in the D.C. area will get to shake hands with Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess and attend the all-important “cocktail hour”:

“The event will also allow ample time—during discussion sessions, meals, and a cocktail hour—for scholars to build professional connections and share research and ideas.”

Think the cocktail hour isn’t important to policy wonks? In April, I was at an education event in New York City in which a young gentleman stood up to ask a panelist to give him “talking points for cocktail parties” re: school reform.

That’s the education policy culture we’ve got, folks.

46,000 Hours of “Poker Face”

And, on the ground, we’ve got higher ed’s librarians re-writing and lip-synching Lady Gaga songs. There are quite a few students, employees and faculty in this video – I stopped counting at 16 – who I’d love to introduce to the kids on my block. 93% of them qualify for free/reduced lunch and only ~30% of the elementary school’s 5th graders read with any degree of proficiency (~100% are proficient in Gaga).

The librarians can’t be blamed for 638,000 people having watched and laughed through their goofy video (which includes a witty Boolean line), though the opportunity cost of it all could have been considered – roughly 46,000 hours have been spent just watching the thing. And that’s the rub – On Our Minds at Scholastic asks:

“There are librarians, future librarians, shelves stacked high with books…and Lady Gaga! What’s not to love??”

My answer: 46,000 wasted hours within and without the ed community while kids struggle with the basics – the basics those in the video have likely committed themselves to, at least in theory, improving. Harsh, but true.

“No, Really!”

Over at The Educated Reporter, Linda Perlstein advises that we spice up the summer by focusing on the insignificant:

“No, really! One of my favorite pieces to write on the ed beat was about an odd policy on the books of the Montgomery County Public Schools, encouraging teachers to mix up alphabetical order so as to not discriminate against the Z kids. The article took only an afternoon to report and write, and would have been even shorter and sweeter were it not for the Metro editor’s superfluous insistence that I include an expert comment and find out—on deadline, natch—whether every other D.C.-area had such a policy on the books. I got more feedback on that piece than anything else I wrote all month.

Maybe you too should look for some archaic or offbeat policies on the books of your school system, if you can’t figure out anything better to do before pitchers and catchers report.”

I commented on the piece:

“As a guy, I’ve been a “T” all my life. In most of my elementary school years, we lined up for lunch alphabetically. This meant that in a period ~40 minutes, I spent 10-15 minutes in line and had the balance to eat. Those at the front of the line didn’t have to wait for their meals or eat them on a deadline. Hungry 8-year old alphabet cellar dwellers appreciate switching it up now and then.

That it’s policy is the part worth noting. We’ve got such an absence of common sense that we need it to be explicit policy to appear at all – and that’s troubling.”

Believe it or not, Montgomery County Schools has bigger fish to fry – nearly a quarter of the County’s Hispanic students don’t graduate, for example. (In fairness, perhaps it’s an alphabetical discrimination issue?)

At ParentHood.org, Wondermom3 opines on the issue:

“Wondermom3: I always dismiss my kiddos to lunch by who is sitting criss-cross applesauce, but what do I know? LOL.”

LOL, indeed.

Education as a House

If those involved in public education were instead building and developing a household, we’d have the #edchat, ed school and teacher back-patter folks discussing issues like, “What is a house anyway?” while ignoring their inability to produce heads of household who can ensure that the thing actually functions.

We’d have think-tanks talking about how best to build the house while paying too little mind to who’s in the construction crew and too much mind to holding impressive neighborhood barbecues.

We’d have the media specialists giggling over drapes, carpeting and design accessories while the roof leaks, the basement is flooded and the foundation crumbles.

And we’d have the journalists – our home inspectors and code enforcers in this analogy – musing about all the goings-on while dodging the charging 800lb gorillas that lay waste to the neighborhood.

We’ve got some basic questions that need answers.

The Ugly Truth About the New Jersey Student Walkout: No Sense, No Debate

The scene depicted at the right is an old one, but a segment of New Jersey’s student population wants you to think that it’s from April, 2010 – and that Governor Chris Christie is wielding the hose.

Today, students in New Jersey public schools walked out of class to protest budget cuts:

Civil Rights Protest, Hose

Thousands of New Jersey high school students walked out of class Tuesday to protest budget cuts, a statewide event organized through text messages and social networking websites.

The anatomy of a protest was on full display at Englewood’s Dwight Morrow High School. It started with a small group of students who tested the waters Tuesday morning.

“Education should always be the first priority,” said junior Amber Diaz.

I’d argue that insisting on reform, which includes the defeat of bloated, unsustainable fiscal plans and the failing systems that perpetuate them, isn’t making education a lesser priority, but that argument tends to get lost when the NJEA and “for the children!” are on the other side.

What’s remarkable here is the truth behind this walkout: that not only was it misguided, but that its supporters – including the event’s organizer Michelle Ryan Lauto – aren’t all that interested in figuring out any real solutions to New Jersey’s education problems.

Derrell Bradford, Executive Director of Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) is an education reform warrior. I’m no shrinking violet, but he’s the best. If I had a child and could choose one person on the national education scene to advocate for him, I’d choose Bradford. He live-Tweeted the walkout in Newark with some salient observations:

– Students in Newark protesting budget cuts…not the terrible caliber of education they receive. Let’s get our eye on the ball folks.

– @ByronArnao Better than my view. Newark has 9 of the worst high schools in NJ. I wonder which one these kids go to http://twitpic.com/1ivmu8

– Newark student walkout just rolled past my window. Appx 40% of kids here fail exit exam…in one of America’s most expensive districts.

– Newark students protest budget cuts. Newark pays less than 10% of its school costs and has 20% of the state’s worst schools.

– Wonder if more seat time would be preferable to rallying for schools that are draining the life from our kids. Stop defending failure.

I agree with Bradford; the walkout misses the point. The protest doesn’t take into account that there are reforms that result in responsible budgeting and, believe it or not, better educational outcomes for students. One could also assume that eliminating instructional time – especially in Newark, which does an abysmal job of educating too many of its youth in even the most fundamental areas – doesn’t help achievement. Eventually Bradford got on with his day:

– At a school in Jersey City with kids learning, and not protesting. Imagine that. #edreform #njea

Amen, brother.

I took the policy discussion to Twitter myself; I was told by one New Jersey teacher that the walkout was a ‘good way to learn about the 60′s’ and by an NJ administrator that it was an ‘authentic edu experience.’

Reasons #13,984 and #13,985 why I didn’t go to ed school, but I digress.

So what of the protest’s organizer, Michelle Ryan Lauto, and her commitment to finding the best solution to a difficult problem? Mashable tells us how it went down:

“According to students who took part in the protest, it was largely organized via social networking efforts — texts, MySpace and, of course, the original Facebook Event. Lauto has been tweeting about the walkout all day, expressing her joy at the turnout and excitement about the barrage of interview requests she has received from the media. In fact, we’re currently waiting on comment from Lauto, who — last she e-mailed us — was preparing to meet a camera crew at her house.”

May God bless Lauto; the media already has.

Surely a graduate of an NJ public school, and now a college freshman, with the initiative to create a massive Facebook campaign resulting in the removal of thousands of students from class would be interested in open, intellectually honest debate about education – and her Tweets proved it:

– LONG day. I am so proud of everyone. All you courageous protesters show so much promise and hope for the future. Always speak your mind.

I disagree with Michelle’s protest, but I’m on board with “Always speak your mind.” We need to discuss solutions to New Jersey’s problems now more than ever, and there are quite a few problems and solutions to consider in this mess. I Tweeted her:

– @Michelle_Ryan  Since you’ve Tweeted “Always speak your mind,” I will – the NJ student walkout you organized was disgraceful. #njea #edreform

And that’s when this darling of political discourse – of civil disobedience, of courage, of ‘fight the power’ no matter how illogical or misguided – showed how committed she was to open debate:

Yipes. She’s learned a lot about political advocacy in less than a year at Pace; only engage on your terms, and if it doesn’t follow your narrative, shut’em up. Or run for the hills, whatever.

Such is the intellectual depth behind her protest – that standard youthful mantra, ‘I believe what I want to believe, I won’t be bothered by any arguments against it, and gosh-darnit, we’re entitled to whatever we want, NOW!’

Now, of course, Michelle is famous – a budding Alinskyite [actually, as an article said, an actress] who’s shown Governor Chris Christie the power of New Jersey’s youth. She gushed all day about interviews with CBS, the New York Times, CBS Radio, NJN, Associated Press… she’s a pro.

I’d paste those messages, but our darling Michelle has gone from blocking me to blocking everyone – she’s protected her Tweets. Sorry, folks!

Is she interested in any real dialogue about education reform in New Jersey? Not a chance. If your narrative doesn’t match hers, she doesn’t want any part of it. Something tells me a few thousand kids in New Jersey shared that philosophy today – and that the NJEA loved every minute of it.

After all, these are the same folks who think that New Jersey is about to be ruled by the next Pol Pot, that “A–hole” is spelled “C-H-R-I-S-T-I-E” and that you should “never trust a fat f—.”

They also just used thousands of New Jersey schoolkids, whether Michelle Ryan Lauto and her teenage hordes realize it or not.

Early College High Schools and Accelerated Students

National Journal’s education debate topic for last week was whether ‘Early College’ high school models – those that allow students to earn college credits, 2-year degrees or graduate early – are a positive development in education reform. It wasn’t much of a debate; pretty much everyone agreed that acceleration is a good thing.

And like so many other education reforms, we get more rhetoric than real action. Or, when we do get action, it’s dripping with social/political ideology rather than supporting a real commitment to education.

I weighed in and I’ve pasted my submission below – I’m interested in your thoughts. I pointed out that our Superintendents don’t seem to realize they’re in charge, government rhetoric doesn’t match well with evidence and there’s a lot more talking than action in this game.


So far, we’ve had school, government and business leaders agree that high school students ready for college work should be allowed – even encouraged and supported systematically – to do college work. We all seem to agree that such changes, whether on premises or in partnerships with external institutions, will be efficient for students, progressive for education and potentially cheaper for taxpayers. That this is noteworthy, and a viable topic for debate, illustrates the immaturity of our reform efforts and silently exposes a few high, broad hurdles faced by education reformers. One is reminded of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Ents, the thoughtful, learned shepherds of the forest who spent a full day of deliberation that amounted only to a lengthy exchange of greetings. After 3 days, they marched into action. Will the education reformers follow suit?

Superintendent Quon’s succinct conclusion – “So why wouldn’t we do this?” which refers to the Early College High School initiative and those combinations of secondary/post-secondary curricula like it – exposes a cleft in what seems to be armor of benevolent, common sense policy. We’ve got several giving it a thumbs up, but hardly anyone has actually done it. Superintendent Quon, for one, presides over an 18,000-student district that, to my knowledge, has not committed to such a model despite admitting it’s old hat in California. [His district has, however, committed to combating teacher retention problems by improving workplace ergonomics (PDF, pg. 3)]

Like Mr. Peha, I saw as a student a handful of motivated, capable peers pursuing college-level coursework that our rural district didn’t offer. I also lived down the street from Boston’s acclaimed MATCH school, a remarkable example cited by Mr. Lomax, during its formative years and saw it transform students into college-bound aspiring scholars who carried themselves with pride and a sense of purpose. Now I see kids embracing challenging distance-learning opportunities offered by post-secondary institutions before those same students are allowed to get behind a steering wheel.

But the reality in Superintendent Quon’s Cupertino is the same as the reality everywhere else – laying the groundwork for reform, and especially implementing it properly, is a slow, complex process. Opportunities for advanced coursework such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs have been around for decades. In the push to optimize the high school experience and bridge it with the college level, the AP program is an Eephus pitch waiting to be knocked out of the park. And in an embarrassingly high number of districts, administrators and school boards are still crowded in the dugout debating which bat to use.

Others still, despite solid evidence, aren’t even sure a baseball bat is the right tool. Professor Kirp is sensible to call for solid research, something of which we can’t have enough. And President Obama has famously committed to evidence-based decision making – presumably making use of good research to make policy decisions, a marriage of the academic and political – on many occasions. The rub is that such evidence loses luster when in the calloused hands of our nation’s elected sausage-makers. We’ve witnessed the coffer of the Head Start program swell through Representative Kildee’s Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act (2008′s Public Law 110-134) despite ever-mounting evidence of its inefficacy, including the quiet suppression of a Department of Health and Human Services study (PDF) showing Head Start’s glaring inefficiency and long-term inadequacy [Data collection complete, 2006; study shelved until 2010]. We need not look so far in the past to find ideology trumping evidence; just this week the Senate voted 55-42 against a measure that would re-open Washington, D.C.’s outstanding, and above all, successful, voucher program. The moral here: Rep. Kildee gets a grade of A from the National Education Association and 100% from the Association For Supervision and Curriculum Development; we get higher taxes and real education reform at a pace that would gobsmack a snail.

The ‘Early College’ model is promising in NY, CA, TX and twenty or so other states; AP/IB programs are accelerating large numbers of students; distance learning is bringing college to high schoolers’ desktops and schools like MATCH are executing properly that vision of public education that so many of us have had for decades. The question isn’t so much whether we think these ideas are good, but whether we’re willing to support their expansion with action and money – two terribly scarce resources. Mr. Vander Ark stated courageously, “Every student should graduate from high school having experienced college success” – and yes, in this ideology-driven sector it takes courage to commit to reform for low-income, first-generation college-goers, students of color and kids whose parents make $200,000/year – and he is right.

The Ents have finished saying, “Good morning.” Now it’s time to see whether they’ll march.

Of Interest….
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“I Don’t Want to Ruin My GPA”

Last week we found out via EdSector’s Chad Aldeman that the SAT/ACT are useless. The GPA, he says, as he clings to the coattails of the new book Crossing the Finish Line, is the best predictor of “college success.”

I pointed out in that writeup that “college success” being defined as “obtaining a degree” is problematic, as measuring whether someone has managed to leap over an abysmally-low bar doesn’t tell us much. But it’s the best we can do, said Aldeman:

“Matthew, you’re right that we can’t measure “college success” much better than “obtaining a degree.” That’s unfortunate, but you have to remember that almost all previous studies have defined “success” as “first-year college grades” or “one-year retention rate.” Surely you’d agree that success is closer to graduation than it is to those interim measures.”

Yes, it’s closer. And a foot is nearer to being a mile than an inch is, but they’re both awfully far.

I’m pleased that Aldeman has admitted that he and Education Sector can’t conceive of success in education as being more than showing up and paying the bill for 4 years. It certainly saves some of us a lot of work. But he’s wrong about what’s unfortunate. The unfortunate part is the inability to look at history – that longitudinal study of people, which includes their education and its purpose – and see in its richness something of more value than a degree.

I had the temerity to challenge Aldeman’s claim that GPA mattered all that much as an indicator of academic talent. I find that GPA is often a measure of one’s ability to function within a higher ed system as weak as a public high school from which they came – not what they know.

Aldeman spins the criticism because the truth is too damning:

“By mocking perseverance–which I tend to think is a pretty important trait for just about everything in life–you’re also shifting the discussion away from college admissions policies to college quality in general.”

Perseverance isn’t to be mocked – and an honest reading of my comment to Aldeman can’t suggest otherwise. But we should recognize what perseverance shows and what it doesn’t.

For example, one’s ability to persevere, and a GPA that reflects it, doesn’t necessarily show us that one can do basic algebra. 90% CUNY students dropped the ball on a recent measure of skills:

“During their first math class at one of CUNY’s four-year colleges, 90% of 200 students tested couldn’t solve a simple algebra problem, the report by the CUNY Council of Math Chairs found. Only a third could convert a fraction into a decimal.”

John Jay College sophomore Ahmed Elshafaie, 19, who graduated from Long Island City High School, said he avoids math classes.

“I don’t want to ruin my GPA,” he said. “High school standards were really low.”

What can the quantitative section of the SAT tell us? That a student can convert a fraction to a decimal, for one, and that they’ve got a handle on basic algebra.

What does a GPA and high school diploma hide? That for 13 years, Ahmed got shorted on math instruction. That as a 19 year old college freshman, Ahmed can’t do the most basic 9th grade math, which is not only at the heart of every academic discipline utilizing any numbers, but is also required to understand compound interest on his credit card bill. That Ahmed’s professors will be burdened by getting his skills up to speed at the expense of teaching him a class’s main content.

… and that he’s shut out of studying any math in college because he was never prepared for it.

Ahmed sounds like a decent kid – he’s more honest about his academic preparation, and the prospects it affords, than the folks at EdSector. I’m sure he’ll persevere, too, and earn a degree from CUNY. He just won’t be able to convert a fraction to a decimal, despite his likely 3.0 high school GPA matching up with his obtaining a degree.

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