"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, August 6, 2012

Are Our Children Failing Math and Science?

Why are our children failing in Math and Science? This is the question that a Scientific American article, Building a Better Science Teacher (login required)
In recent years a mounting stack of research has shown that a good teacher is the single most important variable in boosting student achievement in every subject. A good teacher trumps such factors as socioeconomic status, class size, curriculum design and parents' educational levels. Stanford University's Eric Hanushek showed that students of highly effective teachers make about three times the academic gains of those with less talented teachers, regardless of the students' demographics. That is exactly the trouble with math and science education: there are too few teachers like Bellucci. The teacher dropout rate is high, and the education system rewards the teachers it has for the wrong reasons.
David Berliner, on the other hand, provides research which proves that a good teacher is the greatest in-school factor, but no matter how good the teacher is, out of school factors still account for a greater impact on a child's achievement.

Susan Ohanian deconstructs the article and reminds us that the author, Pat Wingert, was the co-author of the Newsweek piece, Why We Must Fire Failing Teachers in 2010. In that article Wengert and her co-author wrote,
The relative decline of American education at the elementary- and high-school levels has long been a national embarrassment as well as a threat to the nation's future. Once upon a time, American students tested better than any other students in the world. Now, ranked against European schoolchildren, America does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations.
Diane Ravitch tells us, however,
the US was never first on international tests. When the first test was given in 1964 (a test of math), our students came in 11th out of 12.
It seems that Wengert's phrase once upon a time is indicative of a fairly tale, after all.

Newsweek continued,
For much of this time—roughly the last half century—professional educators believed that if they could only find the right pedagogy, the right method of instruction, all would be well. They tried New Math, open classrooms, Whole Language—but nothing seemed to achieve significant or lasting improvements.
Jim Horn at Schools Matter, responded...
Sadly, the group of educational antiquarians who have been in charge of national ed policy for the past 30 years continue to ignore the failure of their own failed and repeatedly failed test and punish policies that have turned American schools toward penal pedagogy as a solution to low test scores that are getting worse as poverty gets worse. The canaries in this deepening and empty mineshaft of the reform schoolers are, of course, the children, the poorest and the most vulnerable.
Newsweek went on...
It is difficult to dislodge the educational establishment. In New Orleans, a hurricane was required: Since Katrina, New Orleans has made more educational progress than any other city, largely because the public-school system was wiped out. Using nonunion charter schools, New Orleans has been able to measure teacher performance in ways that the teachers' unions have long and bitterly resisted.
The method used to "measure teacher performance" is undoubtedly using student test scores and/or VAM to evaluate teachers. We have discussed frequently how student test scores are an invalid measure of teacher effectiveness. Fair, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting had this to say...
Many of these ideas are the subject of intense debate–research on charter schools has generally not shown substantial improvement over conventional public schooling, for example. Experts and advocates disagree with the notion that New Orleans is a success story. But Newsweek presents little debate–sticking with the right-leaning narrative version of "school reform" that is primarily about bashing teachers.
[Interestingly enough, the Scientific American article discussed teacher education, and said,
Whereas TNTP—like Teach for America—gets criticized by advocates of teacher colleges for their condensed training schedule, alternative programs that recruit people with deep content knowledge are an essential piece of the STEM solution, Daly says. "If you don't offer alternative certification, will anyone volunteer to do this?" he asks. "I would argue that the answer is no—no one will take on midcareer financial hardship when they have a mortgage and a family to go back to school to become a teacher. The number interested in doing that is zero."
The author also emphasized the high turnover rate with beginning teachers. I am especially taken by the phrase, "no one will take on midcareer financial hardship." Going back to school to learn to be an educator isn't worth the money when "anyone" can do it.]

Stephen Krashen has written a letter in response to Scientific American...it was published by Susan Ohanian. There is no indication that it was published by Scientific American. Dr. Krashen wrote,
Scientific American thinks that high science standards are the reason some states do better than others on science tests (Can the US get an ‘A’ in Science? August 2012). There is no evidence this is so. The two top states, in science, as mentioned by Scientific American, are Massachusetts and Minnesota. They also rank near the bottom of the country in percentage of children living in poverty.

Study after study has shown that children who come from high-poverty families do poorly on standardized tests, and the factors related to poverty, insufficient food quality and quantity, lack of health care, and lack of access to books, have been shown to be strongly related to student achievement.

American children from middle class families who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on standardized tests, including math and science. Our mediocre overall scores are because of our unacceptably high level of poverty: 23% of our children live in poverty, which ranks us 34th out of 35 economically advanced countries.

The problem is poverty, not lack of high standards.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Notes and sources:

Massachusetts has only 14% child poverty, Minnesota, 15%.

Child poverty in the US, individual states: National Kids Count Program: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/acrossstates/Rankings.aspx?ind=43

Children from high poverty families:

Berliner, D.C. (2006). Our impoverished view of educational reform. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 949–995.

Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential;

Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.

— Stephen Krashen
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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