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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Food for Thought - News Roundup

Lots of interesting news stories out there, here are some of them.

Singapore Math on the front page of the NY Times. Guess what? It's what they use at the school Obama's daughters attend.

Singapore math may well be a fad, too, but supporters say it seems to address one of the difficulties in teaching math: all children learn differently. In contrast to the most common math programs in the United States, Singapore math devotes more time to fewer topics, to ensure that children master the material through detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards and bar charts.

Singapore math’s added appeal is that it has largely skirted the math wars of recent decades over whether to teach traditional math or reform math. Indeed, Singapore math has often been described by educators and parents as a more balanced approach between the two, melding old-fashioned algorithms with visual representations and critical thinking.

But school officials caution that Singapore math is not easy or cheap to successfully adopt. Mr. Thomas said that about a dozen schools had started and dropped Singapore math, in some cases because teachers themselves lacked a strong math background and adequate training in the program.

Study Habits from the NY Times Science section.

In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

Learning styles? Old school.

“The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. "We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found. That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Teachers running schools. (Yes, I know this is old but it was in my "save" pile.)

The Newark teachers are part of a growing experiment around the country to allow teachers to step up from the classroom and lead efforts to turn around struggling urban school systems. Brick Avon is one of the first teacher-run schools in the New York region, joining a charter school in Brooklyn started in 2005 by the United Federation of Teachers.

“The question is whether teachers have the patience to do the ‘adminis-trivia,’ ” said Dr. Lytle, a former principal and superintendent in Philadelphia and Trenton.

Redesigning the lunch line, a cool interactive drawing/article.

Here's a shock - not everything is going well at the featured charter schools in Waiting for Superman.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And the cost of its charter schools — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about their utility as a nationwide model.

Dave Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, took issue with the study, noting that most of his schools already had counselors and college-advice programs, and all were expanding to serve kindergarten through grade 12, just like Mr. Canada’s. But KIPP schools do try to stick to the per-student spending of the surrounding district “to demonstrate what schools can do on the money that they have.”

NY Times columnist Ross Douthat weighs in on school choice.

In this fall’s must-see documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” Davis Guggenheim offers a critique of America’s public school bureaucracy that’s manipulative, simplistic and more than a little bit utopian.

This outrage needs to be supplemented, though, with a dose of realism about what education reformers can reasonably hope to accomplish, and what real choice and competition would ultimately involve.

With that in mind, I have a modest proposal: Copies of Frederick Hess’s recent National Affairs essay, “Does School Choice ‘Work’?” should be handed out at every “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” showing, as a sober-minded complement to Guggenheim’s cinematic call to arms.

An education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Hess supports just about every imaginable path to increasing competition in education: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, even for-profit academies.

But he also recognizes that partisans of school choice tend to wildly overpromise — implying that their favored policies could swiftly Lake Wobegonize America, and make every school and student above average. (This is a trap, alas, that “Waiting for ‘Superman’” falls into as well.)

This doesn’t mean that school choice doesn’t work, Hess argues. It just means that the benefits are often more modest and incremental than many reformers want to think. They can be measured in money saved (both charter and private schools usually spend much less per pupil than their public competitors), in improved graduation rates, and in higher parental and student satisfaction. But they don’t always show up in test scores.

3 comments:

John said...

A lengthy review of "Superman" by Diane Ravitch is in the latest New York Review of Books. Here

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985."

Thanks John and thanks Diane Ravitch; most of us didn't turn out so badly.

Anonymous said...

Isn't that a little like congress? Everyone hates congress and Washington politics, but they like their own congressman. People should just stick to assessing their own schools. If they did that, most people would be satisfied. Perhaps that is her point.

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