Friday, December 7, 2012

Trying to Teach the Fine Arts: pursuing heartbreak?


Unlike non-fine arts fields, such as math or chemistry for example, the value of music, dance, painting, literature and the other arts is heavily intrinsic. In and of themselves they are intensely worthwhile, but are less so as means to other ends.

Non-artistic fields, such as mathematics or engineering have intrinsic value too. For some, a well-solved equation is just as beautiful as a well-danced pas-de-du. But that is not the only reason, perhaps not even the principle reason, they have value. They readily serve as a means to other ends. Even if one has no intrinsic interest in algebra, for instance, it is still useful for solving a variety of problems. So are chemistry, physics or auto mechanics.

Clearly, students taking non-fine arts subjects have two reasons to learn:
the subject is intrinsically interesting; or

the skills learned offer practical advantages.
Those teaching any of the fine arts cannot rely on extrinsic practical advantages for motivation. That's why teaching them can become an all or nothing affair. Let's say one is teaching the Magic Flute. What practical advantages, what leverage, does it offer if one remains unmoved by its intrinsic beauty?

This situation can prove deadly for the teacher. Imagine, for example, a musician whofinds the only way she can make a reasonable living and stick to what she loves is to become a music teacher. After investing in a Ph.D., she lands a teaching job at St. Mediocritus College teaching Music Appreciation 101. Semester after semester, year after year, she tries to share what she loves with sections of horny frat boys and preening coeds whose only reason for enrolling in her course is that fine arts is required for graduation.

She tries and tries to engage their intrinsic interest by playing particularly glorious music. In spite of the music's wondrous beauty, however, most of the class remains unmoved. Some are even annoyed because of the earnestness of the teacher's efforts. About all she can get out of them is, “Will this stuff be on the test?”

Finally our teacher gives up trying to convey the majesty and wonder that makes her love music. To spare herself the pain and fury that accompanies casting pearls before swine she starts just going through the motions. The students, knowing this drill, cooperate by pretending to learn. When the semester ends and the Chair reviews our defeated professor's course evaluations, he is pleased to discover that the student's think she has finally hit the mark.

It's especially hard to teach the fine arts.

For other observations concerning motivation for learning, see http://www.newfoundations.com/Carpenter/ProblemSolutions.html

-- GKC

Monday, August 13, 2012

More Baloney From Arne Duncan: this time about schools and an alleged lack of skilled workers

In a May 2012 speech Arne Duncan claimed that: "America's economic recovery is stymied by a lack of skilled workers. Today, something like three million American jobs are unfilled. In fact, I talked this morning with a group of small business owners. Their biggest concern is a lack of talent for them to hire. We in education have to take that challenge very, very seriously."

Is that really what U.S. educators should be concerned about? Let's do a reality check. In the first place these complaining small business owners might be able to find the talent they want if the wages they offer are competitive. Then there is a far more basic issue that becomes crystal clear as soon as we look at a particular skilled job like computer programming. This technical specialty used to be a bright spot in the employment market. There were lots of jobs. Now American programmers are being laid off. But not because they don't have needed skills or can't do the job. No, they are being pink slipped because U.S. employers now are permitted to import much cheaper help from third world places such as India.

Skilled labor is being imported from India and causing Americans to lose their jobs? Yes, believe it or not, a U.S. government program, pushed through Congress by corporate lobbyists to ease a bogus shortage of domestic programmers, is causing skilled Americans to be pink slipped. "Patriotic" businesses like Bank of America are replacing them with cheap help brought in on work permits. (Bank of America isn't completely heartless, though. They're not terminating their American talent immediately. They get to train their foreign replacements first — or lose their severance package if they refuse.)

So, while hand-wringing politicians like Arne point an accusing finger at America's schools for not training specialists, Congress has been busy enabling the firing of American specialists in favor of imported third worlders.

And let's not forget outsourcing. Previously, only back-office business processes were being outsourced to foreign lands. Now knowledge processes also are being moved offshore by "American" multinational corporations who have as much patriotism as mosquitoes have conscience. And not only has Congress been indifferent to this outsourcing, it actually has made it more profitable.

Pray tell Arne, what is the point of preparing kids for jobs that will end up in the hands of cheap imported labor or be off-shored? You've got it all wrong. U.S. schools should not be preparing kids to be knowledge workers. There are lots of bright, highly skilled people in the third world who are eager to do that work a whole lot cheaper. U.S. schools should be preparing kids to be home health aids, truck drivers, security guards, retail clerks and the like, because these sorts of jobs will soon be the only ones left for Americans.

In a top-down era of rubrics, standards, and bureaucracy, and in an unprecedented atmosphere of teacher-bashing, NEW EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS will offer independent and alternative voices. Get a complimentary copy here. http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why We Need Second Rate Teacher Education



U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asserts that many, if not most, of the nation's teacher preparation programs are second-rate. He says that they attract inferior students and weak faculty. Plus he charges that colleges and universities use them as "cash cows," bleeding off the revenues they generate.

But at the same time Mr. Duncan makes these charges, he praises alternative quickie routes into teaching. Of course logic demands that if teacher education lacks rigor, it should  be made tougher. Yet Mr. Duncan has been doing the exact opposite. In addition to pushing quick and easy routes into teaching, he has even classifies interns as "highly qualified teachers" under No Child Left Behind. Surely this is the first time in history that rank beginners have been classified as experts. One is reminded of Orwell's 1984 where love is hate and war is peace.


 If Duncan really wanted to fix teacher preparation he would declare war on weak state teacher certification requirement, denounce easy routes into teaching and publicly denounce colleges that treat teacher education as a cash cow. Then he would demand the abolition of undergraduate teacher certification programs in favor of  professional graduate schools of education modeled on the training required by real professions.

 Sadly, given the present benefits of being a teacher, it remains necessary to continue making entry into the occupation cheap and easy. No one in their right mind would pay higher costs only to end up underpaid, under-appreciated and scape-goated by purile politicians. This is why, at least when it comes to teacher preparation, Duncan will just keep tinkering around the edges.

For more on this go to: http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Tinkering.html

And to get a complimentary copy of a new hard hitting education journal that pulls no punches go to: http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html

Monday, August 6, 2012

Public School Prayer: Politics and Reality

Ever since the 1963 Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory recitation of the Lord's Prayer and compulsory Bible reading in public schools, religious activists have been trying to sneak imposed religion back in.

In Virginia and Maryland, for instance, politicians have been trying to legislate "protection" for prayer in public schools. And you can bet they aren't doing this to protect the right of Muslim school children to get out their prayer rugs in class and worship Allah in the classroom.

The Religious Right typically traces what they perceive as the accelerating moral depravity of the nation back to this Supreme Court decision. They apparently think that compelling kids to recite the Lord's Prayer (which most of them could not recite correctly, by the way) appeases God and promotes right moral conduct. Now, they charge, our kids lack this moral compass and Satan and his demons are running wild amongst them.

In the good old days before the High Court's ban I was a Pennsylvania public school teacher. As such I was required to lead the kids in the Lord's Prayer AND read them ten verses from the Bible "without comment." Since I was none too enthusiastic about forcing the Bible on non-Christians and doubters, my favorite verses were those endless "begats" from Genesis. (The kids sometimes asked "What's a begat?" To which I would reply, "Sorry, I am not permitted to comment.")

Did I notice a fall-off in the kid's behavior after the High Court ban? Of course not, and no one else without an overactive imagination did either. The whole exercise of required religion, in public school or out, is not about reality or even genuine religiosity. It's about power — the ability to impose one's will on others. And that's what these Christian fundamentalists really want to do. They want to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us. Of course, they have every right to believe what they will. But when they seek to end that same tolerance for others, it is they who become intolerable.

To preview a hard-hitting new education journal, click this link http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html
We invite outside-the-box critiques and nonstandard suggestions, ranging from opinion pieces to scholarly articles, for this online refereed journal of ideas and dialogue.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Pushing Religion in Public Schools: the hidden payoffs

Despite the First Amendment, powerful sectarian lobbies in Washington continue to push for teaching creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes. They also insist on the restoration of classroom devotions, prayer in school, the teaching of "Christian nation" propaganda in history classes, book bannings and school vouchers.

What's behind these combative initiatives? Clearly, these true believers want all of these things, and more. But that's not the end of the story. The clever among them also are in pursuit of the hidden payoffs that result just from conducting these fights.

What are these payoffs? Well, for one thing conflicts of this nature heighten the sense of "us" versus "them," sharpening both internal and external boundaries. Half-hearted commitment is no longer acceptable. The cause is rendered in sharp blacks and whites. One is either on God's side or in league with the powers and principalities of darkness.

Public school versus old-time religion conflicts also revitalize the protesting group's traditions, norms and values. Moreover, they heighten the value of group membership. Is "old time religion" losing its appeal? Create a stink by demanding that teachers grant equal time to intelligent design. Are old-time religious traditions losing their vitality? Get into a fight over preserving the high school football team's pre-game prayer. Are church members sleeping in on Sunday morning? Start a fight with the school board about those Harry Potter books in the library — they encourage children to consort with demons, you know.

Local fights such as these also have other payoffs. They inform movement leaders if bigger fights, statewide ones for instance, might be winnable. Plus they provide very useful intelligence about the reliability of individual group members and the power of possible internal challengers. When the Reverend notices that Brother Brown is suspiciously unenthusiastic about demanding equal time for creation science and seems to be developing a following, for instance, it alerts the Reverend that Brown must be "dealt with."

Ten there is the most vital payoff to be gleaned from vs Godless public school fights: the collection plate gets fuller. When the "Reverend," or some other quasi-religous right wing rabble rouser, can make followers fearful for the souls of their children, they can be relied upon to open their wallets wider.

In sum, there is a lot more to fights about allegedly devilish library books, creation "science," classroom devotions and the like, than meets the eye. When the Religious Right launches another of their many anti-public school offensives the objective is not just to impose their faith on other people. The more clever among them also anticipate all the payoffs that will be born of the conflic,t whether or not God's own actually win the day.
_____________
In a top-down era of rubrics, standards, and bureaucracy, and in an unprecedented atmosphere of teacher-bashing, NEW EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS offers independent and alternative voices. We invite outside-the-box critiques and nonstandard suggestions, ranging from opinion pieces to scholarly articles, for an online refereed journal of ideas and dialogue. For a free complimentary copy click here: http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is NRC's Report on Testing Untrustworthy?

No Child Left Behind's emphasis on high stakes testing raises questions about how trustworthy such tests really are. In a new education journal — the first issue of which was just released — an expert named Richard Phelps details why he thinks the National Research Council's report on testing should not be relied upon to give us the answer.

Phelps maintains that his own ten year long examination of over 3,000 different research projects on testing clearly reveals that the NRC's report is biased and ignores a century of research on standardized testing and accountability.

Check out Phelp's article in a complimentary issue of the new journal and see what you think.

Should We Always Affirm Diversity?

Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic. Yet her bold prescription for public education is based on a false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and will support tolerance.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She advocates "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? She says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

But the values of other cultures are sometimes completely at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that dominates Saudi Arabia. These chaps divide the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their version of the Sunni school of Islam — and bad guy unbelievers whose beliefs must be suppressed or, preferably, eliminated.

Think this is an exaggeration? Well the Saudi's themselves don't think so. In 2004 a Saudi royal study group found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' Embarrassed when in enlightened company, Saudi education authorities promised to extirpate this intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed recent Saudi religion texts they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Well let's imagine her teaching in Saudi Arabia. And lets further imagine that as she does so she not only accepts and respects other religious points of view, but makes them a basis for learning and teaching. What do you think her fate would be? But before you decide consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher who merely suggested Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.)

Since Professor Nieto doubled down on this Saudi teacher's minor league tolerance, it seems reasonable to conclude that she would suffer a far worse fate. Would she still "affirm diversity" when her own neck was on the chopping block?


Then there is the little matter of cultures defining themselves in part by their hatred for and aggression against others. Shall we affirm a culture that hates homosexuals and sometimes puts them to death? How about cultures that condone selling one's daughters into prostitution, throwing battery acid in the face of girls who want to go to school, sexually mutilating baby girls with dirty razor blades, cutting girls out of wills and otherwise inflicting them with second rate legal standing? Then there is the Iranian couple caught in unapproved copulation. They were sentenced to death, buried to their necks and stoned to death by eager participants. Shall we affirm that sort of diversity?


For a complimentary copy of a new hard-hitting education journal click here.http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Federal School Officials Persist in Meddling

The Obama administration is quietly abandoning No Child Left Behind by granting states waivers from numerous aspects of the law. For example, six additional states—Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina and the District of Columbia, were approved for waivers, bringing the approved total of applicants to 33. And still more are in the works.

Those who abhor NCLB may view its death by waiver as grounds for celebration. But that is overly optimistic. While Arne Duncan and company are quietly dumping some of NCLB's more preposterous requirements well before the law's 2014 drop-dead-date, they are not backing off from their more general stance of officiously telling state and local school people what to do.

Therein lies the problem. Federal school officials are neither wise enough, nor well-informed enough to take this stance. Confined to the Olympian heights of our nation's capital, these politicians and bureaucrats are so far removed from local realities that their persistent meddling provides little but comic relief. Nevertheless, like the party apparatchiks who crafted the former Soviet Union's ridiculously optimistic Five Year Plans, they persist in imposing still more "reforms."

Most of these new impositions will disintegrate into farce in the face of day-to-day realities. But before they do they will distract and dismay thousands of competent educators. The only good this federal tinkering is really likely to accomplish is keeping state school officials too busy to develop "reforms" of their own.

Meanwhile the best government money can buy will persist in allowing, even creating, the social and economic conditions that breed school failure like garbage breeds rats.

For a complimentary copy of a new hard-hitting education journal click here.
lhttp://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NewEduFdnsv1n1Announce.html

Friday, July 27, 2012

Home Foreclosures and Failure in School

A study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, using data submitted from 38 medical centers around the country, found that Rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies have contributed to an increase in child abuse.



The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "Every 1 percent increase in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for physical abuse and a 5 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for traumatic brain injuries suspected to be caused by child abuse."

No doubt these same rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies are also linked to an increased number of kids failing to learn in school. But who in power is interested in researching such questions? Instead of facts, educational policy is based on political feel-good fantasies like No Child Left Behind.

Check out http://www.newfoundations.com/PolEdReform/PolEdRef.html for a complimentary copy of a new, hard-hitting education journal.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Public Schools Can't Teach Critical Thinking

Google "mission statement" plus "critical thinking" and you get thousands of hits. That's because most school districts claim that teaching kids to think critically is one of their key missions.

Is it really? I don't think so. The prime, if unacknowledged, directive for any school district is to reflect the beliefs and commitments of the preponderance of the community. How can it be otherwise when our public schools are run by locally elected boards? So whatever else a school superintendent might chose to do, he or she had better not countenance the teaching of anything that critically examines broadly accepted community values.

Let's take religious values, for example. Public schools aren't supposed to favor any religion — although many of them quietly do. But the Supreme Court certainly did not ban public schools from critically, but neutrally, examining religious issues.

Now imagine a public school curriculum which includes a consideration of whether we can reconcile the co-existence of evil - particularly the physical suffering of innocents - with that of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Such a consideration would certainly count as critical thinking. But the school superintendent who countenances it had better have other career options.

Patriotism provides a second example. Suppose we invite high schoolers to think critically about the nation's "fallen warriors." They might be asked, for example, were those men and women killed in the second Iraq war really authentic heroes or just tragic victims of a colossal blunder? Considering this question would certainly involve critical thinking. But imagine the white hot reaction of local "patriots." With a little luck an inquiry such as this might even get "fair and balanced" coverage on Fox News.

The bottom line is that no locally elected board of education is going to countenance a seriously critical examination of any values that are cherished by significantly vocal elements within the community. And that, my friend, is that.

Would you like a complimentary copy of a new ed journal that considers issues such as this? If so, click on this link.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Charter School Gravy Train



As the November elections approach, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have jumped aboard the charter school train. They both promise ever more of them. 
Charter schools are already a very big business. More than $12  billion is spent on them annually.  The trouble is a lot of larcenous people are wetting their  beaks in this vast lake of public money. Consider that  there are   about six thousand charter schools in the  United States. Yet a Googlsearch for charter school fraudyieldan astonishing  2,890,000 hitsCharteschool corruptiontriggers another 1,850,000, and charter  school  scandals results in 1,060,000 more.
Maybe it will be worth the inevitable increase in fraud and corruption to gain the advantages charter schools offer. But research reveals that consistently superior academic results will not be one of them. Sure,  some  charters get  better results than  some  traditional public schoolsat  least  as measured by standardized tests.  But some  tradtional  public  schools  test  better than  some charter schools  too.  And when we compare overall test  results for both  type  schools, there is no clear-cut winner.10 So whatever advantages the increase in charter schools  offers,  do not count on improved learning being one of them.
What, then, can we count on as charter schools proliferate? Well, if the past is prologue (and in this case it almost certainly is) we can count on a proportional increase in public corruption and cronyism and a brighter future for unemployed relatives of wellpositioned politicians, assorted bunko artists, flim-flam men, confidence tricksters, and  defrocked storefront preachers. 


For more on this in a free download of the New Foundations of Education Journal click here

http://www.newfoundations.com/NEFpubs/NEFv1n1.pdf








Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No Child Left Behind: solemn but never serious

No Child Left Behind seems to be quietly fading away. Since Congress cannot, or will not, reform this reform, President Obama is killing it off with waivers. Do this and that and we'll let you sidetrack NCLB.

I, for one, am not surprised. I never took NCLB seriously. The very name of the act indicates a preposterous goal. Given the resources available to schools and all the non-school factors that impact educational success, achieving this goal would require altering the whole of American society.

No Child Left Behind indeed. Such a goal is plainly preposterous. How, then, was it arrived at? The late Paul Goodman noted that Americans are solemn about schooling but seldom serious. And there isn't a better example of that than this preposterously ambitious "reform."

Imagine applying a similarly ridiculous goal to something we take seriously — let's say professional baseball. No Team Left Behind. We all know that to be successful in baseball requires a delicate balance of defensive and offensive capabilities. We also know that putting such a balance together requires resources. To get a first-rate pitcher you either need a ton of money or you have to trade a first-rate something else. Trying to get a twenty game winner by trading your utility infielder would get you laughed out of the game. Baseball is serious business.

Politicians dabbling in school reform, on the other hand, settle for merely being solemn. They hatch plans so simplistic it is embarrassing to rebut them. Let's remember some previous solemn "educational reform"goals. For example, that the United States must lead the world in science and mathematics education by the turn of the century? Well here we are twelve years after that due date and nothing of that sort has happened. Instead, the whole imperative was quietly shelved in favor of leaving not one single child behind. Why? Because no one was seriously committed to gaining this preeminence to begin with. It was just political theater.

No Child Left Behind is like that. The enormously complex tasks required to even approach this ridiculously ambitious goal were never even laid out. Worse, the prodigious resources required were not even been brought up for serious discussion.

Is this an exaggeration? Consider that NCLB requires that all teachers be "highly qualified." But actually achieving that goal required major, and expensive, changes that none of these solemn politicians were prepared to back. So, by time of the Obama administration, this solemn goal had turned into a laughable farce as thousands of teacher interns, rank beginners mind you, were placed in that category. Beginners as "highly qualified." What could be less serious?

In the fulness of time NCLB will be gathering dust with all the many other solemn, but not serious, reforms of yesteryear. But because of the disruption it has spawned, this particular bit of political theater will have so disassembled public schooling that, like Humpty Dumpty, we will never be able to put it together again.

For a more detailed consideration see www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Serious.html

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nieto's Affirming Diversity is Nonsense

Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic. Yet her prescription for public education is based on a false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and will support the tolerance required for Nieto's prescription to work.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She advocates "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? She says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

But the values of other cultures can be completely at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that dominates Saudi Arabia. These chaps divide the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their version of the Sunni school of Islam, of course — and bad guy unbelievers whose beliefs must be suppressed or, preferably, eliminated.

Think this is an exaggeration? Well the Saudi's themselves don't think so. In 2004 a Saudi royal study group found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' Embarrassed when in enlightened company, Saudi education authorities promised to extirpate this intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed recent Saudi religion texts they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Well let's consider how enthusiastically she wants to affirm it by imagining her teaching in Saudi Arabia. And lets further imagine that as she does so she not only accepts and respects other religious points of view, but makes them a basis for learning and teaching. What do you think her fate would be? But before answering consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher who merely suggested Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.)

Since Professor Nieto doubled down on this Saudi teacher's minor league tolerance, it seems reasonable to conclude that she would suffer a worse fate. How enthusiastically would she accept and respect Saudi culture then?

There is also the matter of gender. Even though Professor Nieto is a woman, her prescription for America's schools blithely ignores the fact that many cultures are profoundly misogynistic. The consequences are female infanticide, genital mutilation, selling daughters into prostitution, wife beating, honor killings, leaving widows out of wills, excluding girls from school, counting a woman's court testimony as having half the value of a man's, and so forth. These and similar unenlightened behaviors, such as stoning homosexuals or hating whomever is on your tribe's shit list, all are rooted in culture. Yet Professor Nieto recommends that we not only unselectively accept and respect cultural differences, but use them as a basis for learning and teaching.

One can imagine the ludicrous consequences of such a policy. "Look class, Conner is spitting on Maureen and trying to kill her! That's because he is a Catholic from Ulster and Maureen's parents are Ulster Protestants. This must be unpleasant for Maureen, but she and the rest of us must accept and respect the fact that in Conner's culture she needs killing."

That this dreamy nonsense is considered an educational classic offers sad commentary on the state of the art.

For more on the limits of multiculturalism see: www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Multiculturalism.html

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Problems with Teacher Accountability

Teacher "accountability" is the latest thing among politicians of both stripes. Democrat or Republican they both want to insure teachers are held accountable. But held accountable for what?

No doubt teachers should be held accountable for their technical skill, subject matter knowledge, effort, fairness, personal integrity and helpfulness. But holding them accountable for student outcomes as measured by high stakes test results is far more problematic.

That is because teachers typically do not control all, or, in some cases, even most, of the things that influence these test scores. Teachers do not control the effort students put into learning, for instance. Sure, a skilled teacher can increase the motivation of some students and hopefully, as a result, increase their effort. But even the most skillful teacher cannot motivate every student to do his or her best — or even just try. This is especially true if one teaches in a school that serves a community torn apart by violence, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, dysfunctional families, etc. Even the most skillful teaching cannot reach kids who are sufficiently scared, angry, impoverished, malnourished, high, drunk, neglected, or abused to care about school.

Teachers do not control the general school climate not the amount of backing they get from central administration and the building principal when it comes to maintaining the discipline necessary for learning.Teachers do not control the overall physical condition of the school nor the degree of clerical support they receive. Teachers do not control the amount of time they are required to spend on non-instructional tasks; nor do they control how fairly students with instruction disrupting problems are distributed. Teachers often do not control which teaching materials are chosen nor the fairness with which they are parceled out. Teachers typically do not control the equity of room assignments with some getting stuck in classrooms that are ovens while others are in freezers.

Most important of all, teachers cannot control the quality of parenting kids go home to. Are those parents supportive of the teacher's efforts? That is up to the parent(s.) Do they read to their kids, teach them their letters, numbers and colors when they are young? That is up to the parent? Do they even try to set a good example for their youngsters? That is up to the parent.

O.K., you say, but can't all these things be dealt with by only comparing the results achieved by teachers of the same grade in the same school? No, because no two classes are the same. But what about comparing these teachers over several years? Won't that deal with this problem? No it won't. Suppose, for example, 7th grade teacher A gets an unfair share of students with problems because 7th grade teacher B is friends with the secretary who makes up the class rosters. This favoritism could last for many years. Would it be fair to compare their student test scores? Suppose the school secretary does not like first grade teacher A, but is buddies with first grade teacher B? MIght that not determine who gets supplies and photocopying? Suppose the principal does not give teacher A what she needs because she is old and unattractive, while being overly generous with teacher B because she is the young and hot? These sorts of things can also last for years.

The plain fact is that before we decide to hold teachers accountable, we first have to determine what they can fairly be held accountable for. We also have to consider increasing their control over key variables that influence teaching outcomes. But most of our politicians prefer skipping those sticky steps. They just want to hold these overpaid public servants feet to the fire, hoping all the while that no one carefully considers how fair or wise that might be.

To consider other aspects relating to the evaluation of teachers see http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Delegitimating.html


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Why Teaching the FIne Arts Can Be Heartbreaking


Unlike non-fine arts fields, such as math or chemistry for example, the value of music, dance, painting, literature and the other arts is heavily intrinsic. In and of themselves they are intensely worthwhile, but are less so as means to other ends.

Non-artistic fields, such as mathematics or engineering have intrinsic value too. For some, a well-solved equation is just as beautiful as a well-danced pas-de-du. But that is not the only reason, perhaps not even the principle reason, they have value. They readily serve as a means to other ends. Even if one has no intrinsic interest in algebra, for instance, it is still useful for solving a variety of problems. So are chemistry, physics or auto mechanics.

Clearly, students taking non fine arts subjects have two reasons to learn:

• the subject is intrinsically interesting,

• the skills learned offer practical advantages.

Those teaching any of the fine arts cannot rely on extrinsic practical advantages for motivation. That's why teaching them can become an all or nothing affair. Let's say one is teaching the Magic Flute. What practical advantages, what leverage, does it offer if one remains unmoved by its intrinsic beauty?

This situation can prove deadly for the teacher. Imagine, for example, a musician whofinds the only way she can make a reasonable living and stick to what she loves is to become a music teacher. After investing in a Ph.D., she lands a teaching job at St. Mediocritus College teaching Music Appreciation 101. Semester after semester, year after year, she tries to share what she loves with sections of horny frat boys and preening coeds whose only reason for enrolling in her course is that fine arts is required for graduation.

She tries and tries to engage their intrinsic interest by playing particularly glorious music. In spite of the music's wondrous beauty, however, most of the class remains unmoved. Some are even annoyed because of the earnestness of the teacher's efforts. About all she can get out of them is, “Will this stuff be on the test?”

Finally our teacher gives up trying to convey the majesty and wonder that makes her love music. To spare herself the pain and fury that accompanies casting pearls before swine she starts just going through the motions. The students, knowing this drill, cooperate by pretending to learn. When the semester ends and the Chair reviews our defeated professor's course evaluations, he is pleased to discover that the student's think she has finally hit the mark.

It's especially hard to teach the fine arts.

For other observations concerning motivation for learning, see http://www.newfoundations.com/Carpenter/ProblemSolutions.html



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Teacher Job Satisfaction at All-Time Low


Years of dumping on teachers and blaming them for outcomes that typically are beyond their control have taken their toll. Teacher job satisfaction is the lowest it's been since the Reagan years.
The 28th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, found that 44 percent of teachers are "very satisfied" with their jobs. That's down from 59 percent in 2009. The last time job satisfaction dipped this low was in 1989 — wich was the final year of Ronald Reagan's teacher-bashing Presidency. Worse still, 29 percent of teachers say they are likely to leave the teaching profession within the next five year. That's up from 17 percent in 2009.
Simpletons compare superior standardized test scores from nations such as Finland with weak kneed American. scores and blame the deficit on US teachers. They never bother to compare Finland's superior social environment with that of the US. Yet when this is done unhappy comparison is striking.
Another reason U.S. teachers leave the profession is that that they often are only casually committed to begin with. The entry price is so low that casually committed candidates make it all the way through. In Finland only the best and brightest are selected for training and then it takes years of graduate study to qualify. Here you're in if you can wet a hole in the snow.
For more on U.S. teacher preparation see www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/HeyBuddy.html