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Great Links Curriculum for Tuesday, November 18

If you aren’t already following me on Twitter, you ought to start. I link to and comment on education stories ’round the clock.

And if you’re new to Twitter or aren’t sure how to get started, check out TwiTip’s 10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners. Give it a whirl!

Now for the Great Links… and some real stinkers that also deserve attention.

Via EIA, Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Rheetwo peas in a pod? Believe it or not, yes. I suppose even Sullivan gets to be sensible every once in a while. Blind squirrel, broken clock, etc. etc.

There aren’t too many men teaching K-12, reports Eduflack. In MA, fewer than 25% of K-12 teachers are men. And it’s everywhere, too – in April 2007 I wrote a post about male elementary teachers in NY dropping to 9%, a 40-year low. Some folks like MenTeach have been trying to raise awareness for a while now. Check them out and subscribe.

Ted Tedesco of Woodbury, Vermont is a hero. He’s worked to restore the Pledge of Allegiance in that small school district. The admins’ solution to his request is ridiculous, but at least everyone sees it. That, and a generation of kids in Woodbury knows how important it is to defend their country and their culture. As I wrote in the comments of the Core Knowledge post:

“A few months ago I attended a reunion banquet for a tiny, rural high school that closed shop during the consolidation efforts of the 1950s. Their meeting included the Pledge of Allegiance. When the Pledge came up in the agenda, all of the ~100 in attendance rose – and some with great difficulty, as they were in their 80s and 90s – to recite it.”

You know where I stand on this issue, and there’s a reason why I call the Green Mountain State “The People’s Republic of Vermont.” [Sorry, Jessie.]

Across the pond, here’s why I like the Tories. They’ve got a plan to re-introduce a bit of rigor to GCSEs and A-levels. The GCSEs in particular have been gutted – remember this physics teacher begging the government via petition to return mathematical rigor to secondary physics?

“Hot Boys”? I’d prefer that EdSector’s Quick and the Ed bloggers had a bit more self-respect. I already have trouble taking them seriously – these post titles don’t help.

Schools suing bloggers? You betcha. PRO on HCPS links to a libel case against an unhappy parent. Well, if “libel” means “a school district seething when held accountable by the public.” Guess who won? [UPDATE: PRO on HCPS gives us a better link for schools suing bloggers.]

Litigation is expensive when you’re trying to fire a teacher, administrator or school employee. In nearby Utica, NY, Craig Fehlhaber’s hearings have cost the Utica City Schools $250,000 – and counting. If Fehlhaber wins, the district will likely have to reimburse his attorney’s fees as well. We went through the same process in Cooperstown several years ago. If you ever wondered why schools tend not to dismiss bad employees, now you’ve got one reason.

Dave at ‘Friends of Dave’ – a very sharp blog, subscribe with all deliberate speed – highlights some recent irony in California. The California Association of School Business Officers have a conference at which they’ll discuss our tough economic times and how their districts can cope. And that conference is at a hotel/spa/golf course in Newport Beach. Dave has a sensible take on it all, but c’mon, CASBO. He says, “It is a bit ironic that the people who are typically the ones telling their co-workers that they can’t have an extra ream of paper are the ones having a really nice time at a Hotel and Spa on the beach.” Agreed.

Victory in Iraq Day – November 22, 2008. ZombieTime has declared 11/22/08 VI Day and I’m with him 100%. Read his post to see why it’s appropriate to declare VI Day and you’ll see why I support it, too.

“Building a GREAT teaching workforce,” described by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba. Saba/ABCTE sing the praises – rightly – of a new report on the effectiveness of alternative certification programs.

Free Video Lecture on China, India and the 21st Century Global Economy

global economy

There’s a lot going around re: the 21st century global economy – part myth, part truth, part sense, part insanity. I’ve written several times on the film Two Million Minutes and responded to a few articles about education and the global economy.

The Teaching Company just sent the following bulletin which offers a free video lecture about China, India and the 21st century economy. My experience with TTC has been excellent, and their free lectures are top quality. I’d recommend them to anyone.

There is substantial interest in the future of the global economy because of the rising influence of rapidly growing countries like China and India. As a thank you for being our customer, here is a specially commissioned video lecture on the future of the global economy: Will China and India Dominate the 21st-Century Global Economy? delivered by award-winning Professor Lee Branstetter of Carnegie Mellon University.

Economists predict that China and India are set to dominate the 21st-century global economy and become the new engines that drive economic growth. But how will this transition affect the standing of the United States within the global economy? What are some of the challenges that the United States will face in adjusting to the rise of these Asian economies? What are the opportunities for American growth and prosperity in this situation?

View this free video lecture between now and September 29, 2008, to discover what startling effects the rapid growth of these two countries may have on the economic future of the United States.

Will China and India Dominate the 21st-Century Global Economy? is delivered by Professor Lee Branstetter of Carnegie Mellon University. An Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Professor Branstetter received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His teaching skills have earned him the Thomas Mayer Distinguished Teaching Award and a Harvard University Certification for Teaching Excellence. Professor Branstetter’s award-winning research has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

Feel free to send the link to this free video lecture to family or friends who might enjoy it—it is free for them as well.


Brandon C. Hidalgo, CEO
The Teaching Company

We Don’t Value Academics Enough to Teach Math and Science Properly

math nerd

The title of this post is what it really boils down to – but there’s more to the story than apathy.

In “How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science,” Peter Wood argues that our dependence on foreign STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] students, including Bill Gates’ 2008 call for the extension of H-1B visas to these graduates, shows how poorly the United States develops its own STEMmies. Actually, we don’t develop too many – we just cross our fingers and hope that kids have their priorities straight and the resources they need:

“Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. [...]

“It [contemporary American education] begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as “whole persons” — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren’t among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who “feel good” about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.”

That isn’t terribly conducive to the study of science, math and its brethren. If you needed one line to sum up Wood’s argument, here it is:

“The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences.”

At PhiBetaCons, Mr. Leef beat me to a point Wood didn’t make:

“I think that a significant part of this problem is that to do science you need to be good at math. Sadly, as this recent NCTQ study found, math is often poorly taught in elementary schools because many of the teachers are weak in math themselves and ill-prepared to teach it.”

Not only are they ill-prepared to teach it, they don’t know it in the first place.

Elementary school teachers have a tenuous grasp of the most basic mathematics – and that isn’t an understatement.

Our elementary teachers score about 521 [out of 800] on the Quantitative section of the GRE, a subset of the test that examines algebra, geometry and basic statistical reasoning skills. A score of 520 is not only well below the national mean of 584; it’s around the 31st percentile of all test-takers. In other words, 7 out of 10 test-takers with undergraduate degrees score better on a basic math skills test than elementary teachers en route to graduate school [pages 13 and 18, available for download, 4.1mb Adobe PDF].

Our high school teachers fare little better. They pull in at 576 – about the 42nd percentile of all test-takers.

And these aren’t just statistics, they’re personified in communities everywhere. When I was in high school, I chose not to take AP Calculus because the teacher was such a useless dolt – he just plain didn’t know math [he still teaches at my alma mater, so if he's reading this, Hi!]. I waited and took calculus with the engineering students in my first semester of college.

K-12 teachers don’t know much about even the most foundational mathematics. That our schools don’t cultivate students interested in STEM careers shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Quick Hits: A Teacher By Any Other Name, Innumerate Intellectuals and Cheap E-Mail Archiving Software


From The Homeroom, the LA Times’ Southern CA Schools blog: The misnomer that is ‘teacher.’

One thing that education blogosphere is wonderful at is saying something and meaning nothing. Take, for example, this re-definition of ‘teacher’:

The problem with the label that educators have cornered themselves into is that it doesn’t provide a clear picture of what a teacher does. New teachers, student teachers and still developing teachers can teach until they are blue in the face and –- if they aren’t engaging their students –- not actually have a class of young people learning anything.

As a result, much of the beginning of the year, my classroom interaction with students is such that I try to make it clear to my students that we are a community of learners, committed toward common thematic and academic objectives. As such, I am aiding these students in their quest toward literacy and content proficiency.

Perhaps instead of framing the job as a “teacher” a new phrase would be more appropriate. I’m happy to hear your proposals. For now, I think I’ll try out “Learning Practitioner.”

… or you could stick with the unpretentious “teacher,” which works just fine. Relax, do your job, and the professional respect follows.

From “The Innumeracy of Intellectuals.”

Professor Orzel, who blogs at Uncertain Principles, has a remarkable ability to restrain himself:

Ignorance of math can even be a source of a perverse sort of pride— the bit of the blog post that reminded me of this is a call-back to an earlier post in which he relates his troubles with math, and how he exploited a loophole in his college rules to graduate without passing algebra. To me that anecdote reads as more proud than shameful— less “I’m not good at math” and more “I’m clever enough to circumvent the rules.”

It’s not entirely without shame, of course.

Not without shame, indeed.

When I was in a Ph.D. program in the social sciences, I was floored by the innumeracy of my peers [and, at times, professors]. If I were a dean or provost, I’d expect that those to whom I awarded a doctorate would have a command of 10th grade math.

… and I’d be sorely disappointed.

From the Freedom of Information Committee Blog: “Cheap e-mail archiving software eliminates technical barriers to access.”

In some states – like New York and Florida – e-mail communications between public employees/servants are in the public domain. You can FOIL them because you’re entitled to them.

And if you ever request this information, you’ll likely get two reactions:

1. “What?” After which you explain that the information is public, and that you’d appreciate it in a timely fashion pursuant to the regulations in your State;

2. “What?” Followed by a litany of excuses, one of which is usually, “… but that’s too hard/costly to be practical.”

Sorry, public employees, but Waterford Technologies just eliminated your reliance on #2. For $99, a public institution can have unlimited licenses for e-mail archiving software.

#1, however, will still present itself nearly every time – such is life.

Fisking on Global Education: Washington Post Jay-in-the-Box Edition

wind it... wind it... POP!

If your message fails, blame the medium – or otherwise go for semantics over substance.

That’s a fair charge for Jay Mathews’ latest WaPo-whine titled “Why I Am A TV Loser.”

You’ll remember that Mr. Mathews debated Two Million Minutes’ Executive Producer Bob Compton about a month ago. And if you’ve forgotten, or missed it the first time around, here’s a recap:

It’s apparently taken Mathews a good six weeks to get up the courage to seethe publicly.

There are two major issues here. The first is about his latest piece; the second is about the global economy/education. I think we’ve got to look at these one at a time.

From Mathews’ opening line, you’d think that he’d been shouted down by Malik Shabazz:

“Don’t ever go on CNBC to debate Bob Compton, one of America’s most energetic prophets of doom, without careful preparation and a willingness to be rude.”

One of the things that initially interested me in Compton’s film was that he wasn’t a “prophet of doom.” He and his associates don’t wear sandwich signs warning that the end is nigh, or that our traffic signs will be in Hindi in 10 years if we don’t shape up. Two Million Minutes is a sensible, realistic look at how we approach education in comparison to India and China. Reality, though, doesn’t get in Mathews’ way:

“I appeared with Compton on Erin Burnett’s show “Street Signs” in early June. He killed me. I thought we would have a scholarly discussion of American public schools. Were they, as Compton argues, losing out to the rising Indian and Chinese schools or were they, as I had written, needing help but unlikely to cause a collapse of the U.S. economy? I got a few words in occasionally, but Compton — whose enthusiasm I applaud, don’t get me wrong — interrupted, sideswiped and left me looking like I was incapable of completing a sentence.”

The tendentious implication that Compton’s contribution wasn’t “scholarly” aside, Mathews appears to have gotten his own television appearance wrong. Mathews was, however, “killed,” partly by his own sputtering ineptitude, partly by Compton’s spirited argument.

And really, Jay, if that interview was the harshest, most rude encounter you’ve had in your 37 years at the Post, you’ve had a Hell of a gentle journalistic career.

99.99%+ of Washington Post readers haven’t – and won’t – see the interview in question. They’ve got to take him at his distorted word. You, dear reader, can watch the video and judge for yourself.

Mathews attempts to re-frame the debate for his unknowing readers. It was Compton’s “enthusiasm,” not evidence; it was his fascist, tour-de-force aggression, not the swift rebuttal of Mathews’ useless arguments. Again, watch and draw your own conclusion.

“That was, of course, exactly what he was supposed to do. It was cable TV, for goodness sake. Discussions there are supposed to be fast and loud. Compton tells me he thought he was being aggressive, not rude. That’s not the way my mother would see it, but I agree with Bob. I just wasn’t ready.”

The debate was your standard splitscreen talking-head matchup with the occasional full shot. But this was CNBC, and Erin Burnett isn’t Jerry Springer [though a love triangle or paternity test would have been that unexpected cherry on top].

Mathews got beat because, as he said so gently about himself, he “wasn’t ready.” And though Mathews’ mother would apparently scowl at the treatment of her little boy, I think mine would’ve found his drubbing a fairly unremarkable result considering the mismatch [my mother tends to value the substance over semantics].

Thankfully, the whining stops:

“I interviewed Compton and responded to his film twice, in a Feb. 11 column and in a piece in the spring issue of the Wilson Quarterly. I confessed I, too, was distressed to see, in his film, Carmel High’s Brittany Brechbuhl watching “Grey’s Anatomy” on television with her friends while they were allegedly doing their math homework.”

Since we’re all being honest here, I should disclose that I’m watching re-runs of “Charmed” as I allegedly write this.

“Many economists argued, I said, that our social, political and economic freedoms, not our education system, make us more productive and creative than other countries. I said Compton, an admittedly mediocre student at James Madison High School in Vienna and Principia College in Elsah, Ill., exemplifies the point. His energy and imagination found the room they needed to prosper in this country which, I said, “gives even B and C students more chances than A students in China and India have.”"

This is the second time, curiously, that Mathews has mentioned Compton’s academic “mediocr[ity]” without referencing Mr. Compton’s Harvard Business School pedigree.

“”I tried to say this on CNBC, too. But Compton cut me off, saying I obviously didn’t know what was going on in Asia because I have never been to India and haven’t visited China (where I was once The Post correspondent) since 1989.”"

This is a terribly important point, and it’s one I held off from writing about the last time I fisked Mathews because I was fairly certain he’d give me another opportunity.

It isn’t always necessary to engage in something or to witness something firsthand in order to know it. If either of those two were requirements for knowledge, we’d have no way to study history, or a host of other disciplines, with any degree of certainty.

I can’t get in Bob’s head, but I assume that he was suggesting that Mathews visit India and China because his information was, in Bob’s assessment, inaccurate. If your information isn’t solid, the most efficient way to acquire better information is to go get it yourself. This is why our most earnest politicians visit Iraq and Afghanistan to meet with our military commanders [and it's also why other politicians posture with these visits].

“Vivek Wadhwa, a high-tech entrepreneur teaching at Duke University, has shared with me some of his research, and his occasional e-mail exchanges with Compton. Wadhwa, like Compton, is a successful businessman with a first-hand grasp of the difficulties American companies have finding engineering talent. He tells both sides, supporting Compton on some points and criticizing him on others.”

Mr.  Wadhwa appeared in Two Million Minutes and has written recently about global education. In May, he wrote “US Schools: Not That Bad.” If I could fund it independently, I’d invite Mr. Wadhwa to do a speaking tour in upstate New York where he told taxpayers burdened by ever-rising school taxes [oddly enough, in the face of decreasing enrollments] that they should relax because, after all, their local schools aren’t “that bad.”

BusinessWeek couldn’t get enough of Mr. Wadhwa; they published his piece, “What the US Can Learn From Indian R&D” just this week. Its implications for this debate are clear, but there is one facet directly related to public education: Wadhwa’s latest article sweeps so broadly that it reminds me of those gigantic brooms a custodian uses to clean an entire hallway in one pass.

“What is happening in India and China is that private companies, not public school systems, are doing the training that is producing the technical elite building those economies, Wadhwa said. If U.S. corporate leaders such as Bill Gates, he said, are worried about losing to competing nations, they should do more as executives to train their own workforce. “All they are doing now is to blame our teachers and put the burden on our children,” he said.”

This is partly accurate – private companies in India and China are making up for the public school’s shortcomings [we'll get to the truth about that next time]. It also misses the point; we aren’t just concerned with our economic success, as we may be able to shore that up privately as Wadhwa claims. We have to be concerned with bleeding anywhere from $7k to $25k in per pupil expenditure – a significant factor in local taxes in some areas – and seeing little benefit for students or their communities.

Wadhwa is wrong, though. Some of us blame principals as well.

“I hope I am in better shape if Compton and I have a rematch.”

Doubt it.

“But whatever the outcome, it won’t mean much. I encourage scholars and journalists living China and India to further examine those economies and education systems and give us something more than two-week-visit impressions.”

Touche, Mr. Mathews.

“Personally, I think prosperity in other parts of the world is good news. It means happier people with more choices. It may even mean more freedom and less war. Compton and I agree that would be a good thing.”

I hasten to point out that the German higher education model was excellent; that’s why we modeled our universities after theirs. Despite this, Germany was the aggressor in two World Wars that left about 90 million dead.

If one wasn’t sure why I had to split this up into two posts, there you go – what started as a whine and a moan ended up as a third-rate college admissions essay about how better education will end war.

We’ll handle that other issue – the arguments re: Indian and Chinese businesses and how they cope with the education of their hires – next time.

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