Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Force-fed constructivism

In the latest issue of Education Next, Sol Stern describes the tyrannical reign of the B&K regime in NYC. Teachers are being indoctrinated at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to become mindless robots forced to implement whacko educational theories:

As the video opens, Klein announces, “This CD will walk you through the research upon which we based our decisions regarding our program choices.” The implication is that the city’s search for the “best practices” was intellectually serious. Not so. Otherwise, this instructional guide would not be dominated by the pedagogical principles of a radical education guru from Australia named Brian Cambourne, who believes that teachers ought to encourage their students to achieve a “literacy for social equity and social justice.”

Professor Cambourne says he came to his theories when he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated competence at challenging tasks in the real adult world, including poker. This led to the brainstorm that children learn better in natural settings with a minimum amount of adult help. So important does Joel Klein’s education department deem Cambourne’s theories to be that it instructs all city teachers to go through a checklist to make sure their classroom practices meet the down-under education professor’s “Conditions for Learning.” Which of four scenarios most accurately describes how your classroom is set up? teachers are asked. If the teacher can claim “a variety of center-based activities, for purposeful learning using different strategies, and for students to flow as needed,” she can pat herself on the back. But if her classroom is set up “for lecture with rows facing forward,” she must immediately change her practice.

You might ask whether there’s any evidence for such pedagogy. It’s “weak to nonexistent,” according to Reid Lyon, former head of all reading research at the National Institutes of Health. “The philosophical and romantic notion that children learn to read naturally and through incidental exposure to print and literature has no scientific merit whatsoever.”

That hasn’t deterred Chancellor Klein in the least. Constructivist pedagogical guidelines are forced on classroom teachers in weekly “professional development” sessions that are closer to a military boot camp than any serious inquiry into the best classroom practices. No dissent is allowed. Teachers are given lists of “nonnegotiables,” a strange and embarrassing concept for any education enterprise. Thus students must not be sitting in rows. Teachers are forbidden to stand at the head of the class and do “chalk and talk” at the blackboard. There must be a “workshop” (students working in groups) in every single reading period. Teachers are also provided with classroom maps indicating the exact location of the teacher’s desk, the students’ writing stations, and exactly how much of the wall space should be set aside for posting student work. Also nonnegotiable is that every elementary school classroom must have a rug.
Educationists pay lip service to "critical thinking" but any critical thought gets you denounced:

Is it surprising then that Chancellor Klein is facing a revolt from teachers like 13-year veteran Jackie Bennett, from a Staten Island high school? Ms. Bennett’s problem is that she believes it’s not a sin to bring her knowledge of great literature to her students, even if she occasionally lectures. After all, Bennett has a master’s in English literature from Columbia University, exactly the kind of academic attainment we supposedly want more of from our teachers.

“DOE administrators talk about balance,” Ms. Bennett recently wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times.

"What they really want is all-group, all the time. What’s more, the message is clear: when we visit your classes and the kids are not in groups, you have one strike against you.

My recent experience at staff development is illustrative of just how clear that message is intended to be. After spending the morning working with my colleagues on a small group activity that entailed busywork that did nothing to further our development as teachers, we returned to a whole-class discussion to briefly assess what we had learned. I raised my hand and asked if there was any research tying group work to better test scores. The answer was no.

My behavior was reported to the Local Instructional Superintendent, and two days later, my assistant principal asked me to forgo attendance at the remaining meetings. I had, it seems, been kicked out of staff development. Had I made a ruckus? No. But I had asked uncomfortable questions. I had thought critically. Though the City’s Department of Education gives lip service to teaching kids to think critically, it is clear they want those critical thinking skills taught by drones."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Crayola curriculum redux

The reading wars between whole languagists and phonics advocates are given considerable attention. But there may be another big reason for poor reading results, especially among the disadvantaged: coloring and more coloring from now until Doomsday is crowding out reading and other instruction. This is the conclusion reached by Mike Schmoker after observing this phenomenon in classroom after classroom:

The ‘Crayola Curriculum’
By Mike Schmoker
Education Week

We may have the reading crisis all wrong. It may have far less to do with the "reading wars" than we presumed. I am convinced that the following explanation is, without doubt, the least recognized but most salient explanation for why there is a reading gap between rich and poor, for why so many kids reach upper-elementary and middle school with less than even minimal ability to read and make sense of text. The explanation is both simple and shocking. But the evidence for it is compelling. Best of all, this explanation holds out enormous hope for dramatic, near-term improvements at every level of education.

A couple of years ago, I found myself touring a school that had received an international award for excellence in staff development. Roaming from class to class—on what was clearly a "showcase day"—I went from being puzzled to astonished by what I saw.

Two things were terribly wrong: One, a majority of students were sitting in small, unsupervised groups, barely, if at all, engaged in what were supposedly learning activities. Many of the children were chatting. Second, but more important, was that the activities themselves seemed to bear no relation whatsoever to reading, the presumed subject being taught at the time. After seeing this pattern in several classes, I finally asked my host what kinds of gains had been made in this award-winning but high-poverty school. I was regretfully informed that there had been no gains, what with the hardships these children faced at home and in their neighborhoods.


After a few such tours, I became more convinced that something was truly awry, something more profound than the debates that perennially rage about such matters as phonics vs. whole language. After touring about 50 classrooms in several schools in several states—always with others from that same school or district—I became doubly convinced. I am now up to about 300 classrooms, and the pattern still holds.

What is actually going on during these early-grade reading periods? A number of things, but the activity that overwhelmed all legitimate literacy activities may surprise you. Students were not reading, they weren't writing about what they had read, they weren't learning the alphabet or its corresponding sounds; they weren't learning words or sentences or how to read short texts.

They were coloring. Coloring on a scale unimaginable to us before these classroom tours. The crayons were ever-present. Sometimes, students were cutting or building things out of paper (which they had colored) or just talking quietly while sitting at "activity centers" that were presumably for the purpose of promoting reading and writing skills. These centers, too, were ubiquitous, and a great source of pride to many teachers and administrators. They were great for classroom management—and patently, tragically counterproductive.
None of this is really surprising since non-instruction and hands-on activities are major components of the dominant progressive/constructivist ed ideology.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Content-free "standards"

Kevin Killion of the magnificent illinoisloop site combed through the Illinois Science Standards and made a list of words that are NOT in these so-called "standards". It's all about process. Knowledge is out. This is how constructivism is institutionalized:

The Illinois State Board of Education would have you believe that our official state standards for science education are tough and demanding.

But what could possibly be the point of a science standard that doesn't even mention "mammals", "machine", "electronics", "acid", "radiation", "reptile", "dinosaur", "evolution", "pollution", "oxygen", "organ", "muscle", "brain", "lung", "heart", "smell", "taste", "touch", "skin", "fat", "sugar", "salt", "volcano", "geology", "meteorology", "astronomy", "eclipse", "sunrise" or "sunset"?

Read the entire list at illinoisloop

I have taken the trouble to look at the Illinois Learning Standards for Science. It's pathetic! There is no there there.

The "standards" turn out to be three goals for science education covering the whole gamut from "early elementary" to "late high school." These goals are:




I clicked on the goals to see if any factual knowledge is specified for individual grades. Not at all. No specific grades, no specific knowledge. Instead there is a verb salad of things to do, all in the constructivist mold. It's all about collecting and recording data, constructing charts, identifying a design problem, assessing results, reporting test design, building a prototype, developing a plan, design and procedure, formulating a hypothesis and so on.

Under understanding concepts each item starts with a verb. It's compare, identify, describe, explain, demonstrate ad nauseam.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to learn that the situation is similar in most other states.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Constructivists' secret weapon

I was perusing illinoisloop, one of the most spectacular sites on the Internet devoted to exposing educational lunacy, and came across this delicious tidbit:

o A New York Times article ( Fuzzy Answers: The New, Flexible Math Meets Parental Rebellion) includes this wonderfully delicious look at a Chicago school where Math Trailblazers was used:

The Daniel Boone School, in West Ridge, a tidy working class part of Chicago brightened by magnolia trees and the babushkas of Russian grandmothers, has been a laboratory for the development of TIMS Math Trailblazers, a constructivist program created by the University of Illinois. Math scores have risen since the program was put into effect. The principal, Paul Zavitkovsky, credits the program, but does not rule out increased attention to math, teacher training and collaboration.

In fifth grade the other day, Mila Kell, a Russian immigrant, taught a crisp lesson in probability, improvising riffs on the probability that the sun would rise in the morning and that she would fly to the moon. The class was enchanted.

Mrs. Kell said she loved the freedom and creativity of the new math. But on her desk was a secret weapon: a stack of worksheets -- the antithesis of constructivist math -- pages of classic problems in long division, the addition of fractions and reducing the sum of fractions to its simplest terms.
I suspect this pollution of fuzzy math goes on quite a bit. Teachers might sneak in real math, parents may do real math with their kids (on the kitchen table if necessary) or hire tutors.

Of course, if pupils fed fuzzy stuff test well on real math tests, credit will be given to the fuzzies.

Intelligent Falling Theory

Theory of gravity under attack.

TOPEKA, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Schnoz-based learning

At first I thought I was witnessing another instance of Prof. Plum's delicious satirical streak:

As advertised, a NEW (improved) learning style has been added to the ever-growing list (of things that don’t exist)


* Learns best though the sense of smell and taste [Yeah, lots of kids learn calculus this way. It’s called schnoz-based learning.]
* Smells have a special significance [Is there ANYone for whom this isn’t true?]
* Associates a particular smell with specific past memories [Is there anyone who doesn’t?]
* Is frequently able to identify smells [Is there anyone who CAN’T?]
* Finds that smells add to learning [This is precise! “Finds”… And what exactly do smells add? Smell is pretty much all I can see, or smell.]

I guess this means that teachers who feel obliged to “adapt instruction to each child’s learning styles,” will be shoving things up their students’ noses or letting them taste the pages.

“Look, boys and girls. This is the letter m. It says mmmm. Smell it?”

“Now. let’s examine the Declaration of Independence. All you olfactory learners lick the text a few times to get the flavor of the argument.”
Now I am realizing the modality folks are hurling another stink bomb and are quite serious about schnoz-based learning.

But there is an antidote. Cognitive science is coming to the rescue of the cognitively challenged.

The latest issue of American Educator has an extraordinary article by cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham called Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? that throws cold water on one of the educationists favorite fads:

What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality. All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality. In this column, I will describe some of the research on matching modality strength to the modality of instruction. I will also address why the idea of tailoring instruction to a student’s best modality is so enduring—despite substantial evidence that it is wrong. [Emphasis added]
The "content’s best modality!" That is so commonsensical, and yet must be regarded as a revolutionary insight in today's ed climate. Let's hope this important article drives a stake through the heart of the "learning styles" craze.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rolling in dough

Today's NYT has a report on the fastastic sums of money poured into the school system by foundations.

According to the Foundation Center, which tracks and analyzes foundation giving, large foundations gave $1.23 billion in grants to elementary and secondary schools in 2003, the latest year for which data is available. That same year, higher education grants totaled $1.12 billion. It was a sharp turnaround from five years earlier, when K-12 grants were about $620 million, compared with $1.07 billion for higher education.

But it is not only the size of the grants that has changed. The nature of the philanthropy has undergone a profound shift.

"A lot of the old philanthropy was devoted to helping schools do what they were already doing," said Richard Lee Colvin, director of the Hechinger Institute at Teachers College at Columbia University. "The new group is saying, 'Let's try something different.' It's a lot of young, active entrepreneurial people - Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, Dell, Milken - who want to change the schools, who want to use their money to support specific school reforms."
My unsolicited advice to the superrich foundations: Don't pour money into existing school systems. Create your own quality schools. You have a wonderful model you can follow in the Core Knowledge program.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Research on math instruction

This could be a hopeful sign that what was done for reading instruction at the fed level will now be done for math instruction.

Science Magazine reports on a new federal research initiative:

As assistant secretary for vocational and adult education at the Department of Education (ED), Sclafani is championing a $120 million initiative in secondary school mathematics that is built in part on money shifted from the same NSF directorate that funded the Houston grant. The initiative, included in President George W. Bush's 2006 budget request for ED now pending in Congress, will give preference to studies that test the effectiveness of educational interventions in the same way that medical researchers prove the efficacy of a drug. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of new approaches to teaching math, Sclafani says, will help school officials know what works, and they can then scale up the most promising new curricula and teaching methods. "Randomized studies are the only way to establish a causal link between educational practice and student performance," she says.
It's also encouraging that the EHR division of NSF might have less tax money to do damage to math instruction. NSF-EHR is the chief tax-financed promoter of fuzzy math.

The proposed math initiative at ED would be a competitive grants program to prepare students to take Algebra I, a gateway course for the study of higher mathematics and the sciences. Applicants will be encouraged to use RCTs and quasi-experimental designs to measure whether the reform works, Sclafani says. The initiative comes at the same time the Administration has requested a $107 million cut in NSF's $840 million Education and Human Resources (EHR) directorate. The cuts include a phasing out of NSF's portion of the $240 million Math/Science Partnership program...
See here for more on NSF-EHR's role in promoting fuzzy math.

David Klein, a math professor at California State University Northridge, has identified NSF-EHR as the institution that has done the most damage to math education:

The principal funding source of fuzzy math for the past decade has been the federal government by way of the Education and Human Resources (EHR) division of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The EHR is the directorate within the NSF that funds K-12 education projects. No single institution in the United States has caused more damage to the mathematical education of children than this low-profile bureaucratic unit of the National Science Foundation. The damage that the EHR has caused, and continues to cause, contrasts sharply with the NSF's overall admirable and important role in supporting fundamental scientific research.

Celebrating academic excellence

High schools are not all dismal. They can be places of extraordinary achievement.

It’s refreshing that not only athletes get all the attention. Students who write exemplary history essays have a place to get recognized and published -- in The Concord Review. The Concord Review believes “that the pursuit of academic excellence in secondary schools should be given the same attention as the pursuit of excellence in extracurricular activities…” What a great departure from the jock culture!

The result is a wide range of essays on historical topics as this selection of sample essays indicates.

Here you can learn about the devastating influenza epidemic of 1918, Kerensky and Kornilov, and Spanish fascism among many other topics.

I was particularly intrigued by AN INQUIRY INTO THE DEMISE OF THE TEMPLARS by Michelle Mann

Here are the opening lines:

Circa 1310, 113 knights, belonging to one of the most
powerful military religious Orders of the 12th and 13th centuries,
were slowly burned at the stake in Paris. Others were put to the
torch in Lorraine and Normandy.1 The Knights Templar were
charged with heresy, sodomy, denunciation of Christ, having vows
which put the benefit of the Order before morality, cat and idol
worship, and other various sins. Those who were not burned were
sentenced to life in prison,2 or during England’s more lenient
trials, life in a monastery.3

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Intelligent design

The New Republic (subscription required) has come out with a huge article written by a University of Chicago professor debunking Intelligent Design. A must read for those who don't want to see science overrun by superstition.

ID supporters try to get mileage out of the ambiguity of "theory" arising from the different conceptions of "theory" by laypeople and scientists.

This excerpt should shed some light on the scientific meaning of "theory":

Intelligent design, or ID, is the latest pseudoscientific incarnation of religious creationism, cleverly crafted by a new group of enthusiasts to circumvent recent legal restrictions. ID comes in two parts. The first is a simple critique of evolutionary theory, to the effect that Darwinism, as an explanation of the origin, the development, and the diversity of life, is fatally flawed. The second is the assertion that the major features of life are best understood as the result of creation by a supernatural intelligent designer. To understand ID, then, we must first understand modern evolutionary theory (often called "neo-Darwinism" to take into account post-Darwinian modifications).

It is important to realize at the outset that evolution is not "just a theory." It is, again, a theory and a fact. Although non-scientists often equate "theory" with "hunch" or "wild guess," the Oxford English Dictionary defines a scientific theory as "a scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts." In science, a theory is a convincing explanation for a diversity of data from nature. Thus scientists speak of "atomic theory" and "gravitational theory" as explanations for the properties of matter and the mutual attraction of physical bodies. It makes as little sense to doubt the factuality of evolution as to doubt the factuality of gravity.

Postmodern obscurantism and the call for multiple perspectives in education are making it easier for creeds like ID to succeed, as I teasingly tried to tell another blogger.

Teaching multiple perspectives is now all the rage in edland.
Multiple perspectives puts you on the cutting edge of
multicultural education. Besides, real science is so terribly
Eurocentric and marginalizes non-dominant groups.

See for yourself what the cutting edge has to say:

The curriculum of the mainstream is Eurocentric and male-centric. It fully ignores the experiences, voices, contributions, and perspectives of non-dominant individuals and groups in all subject areas. All educational materials including textbooks, films, and other teaching and learning tools present information in a purely Eurocentric, male-centric format. This stage is harmful for both students who identify with mainstream culture as well as individuals from non-dominant groups. It has negative consequences for the former because, according to Banks (1993) it:

Bush, to his credit, finds no evidence of intelligent design in schools, reports ScrappleFace:

(2005-08-04) -- Entering the debate over the teaching of origins for the first time, President George Bush today said he sees "no evidence of intelligent design in America's public schools."

"A lot folks claim that the public school system is irreducibly complex, so there must have been an intelligent designer," said Mr. Bush, "But I believe our public schools advance by mutation and random chance. They have evolved into an unwieldy beast with an insatiable appetite."

The president, a professed Christian, said his only hope for a better future in American education rests on his faith in "the survival of the fittest."

Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs

Ed PhD

What it takes to write a dissertation in education and become an ed professor.
The case of Paul Gorski..


Racial and Gender Identity Development in White Male
Multicultural Educators and Facilitators:
Toward Individual Processes of Self-development

by Paul Gorski
University of Virginia
April 1998

© Copyright by
Paul C. Gorski
All Rights Reserved
May 1998




I am a white male multicultural awareness facilitator.

As such, I facilitate activities and discussions focused on

multicultural issues and identifiers including race,

ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class,

ability status, and religion. In these forums, I request

that individuals describe from their personal experience

what it means to be "female," "Jewish," "Latino," or other

identification descriptors. It is through facilitating the

exchange of these experiences and perspectives and

advocating for the introspective process of exploring them

that I work to build an atmosphere conducive to

introspection, self-development, and increased awareness of

a discussion's participants.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Rogues and rugs

It must be fun to be teaching under the dreadful Bloomberg & Klein regime in NYC. I can't figure out what so-called "balanced literacy" (another name for whole language) has to do with sitting cross-legged on rugs and limiting lessons to five minutes.

From the New York Times (By the Script by Sewell Chan):

In many New York City public schools, children sit cross-legged on rugs. Desks must be arranged into clusters of students with varying abilities, not in rows. A ''word wall'' serves as a vocabulary reference. Lessons last five minutes.

All of the above are elements of the city's ''balanced literacy'' curriculum, and it has newly minted college graduates, bursting with ideas about shaping young lives, complaining about a disconnect.

''It's not up to you what to teach every day,'' says Christian A. Ledesma, 25, who has taught for three years at Public School 9 in the Bronx, in second and fourth grades. He joined Teach for America in 2002, a year before the introduction of the curriculum, and earned his master's degree in elementary education through evening classes at Pace University. There, he learned about backward design, which emphasizes teaching with the end result -- knowledge of state reading or math standards -- in mind.

But in his classroom, he was not designing anything; instead, he was following the balanced literacy script. In a 90-minute period, actual imparting of knowledge was restricted to a lesson as short as five minutes. Then pupils broke into small groups for independent guided work, and reconvened to share their efforts. School administrators made unannounced visits to ensure that teachers were using their rugs and abiding by the ''flow of the day'' schedule posted in each classroom.

To avoid being caught if they did not follow the schedules, some teachers began ''actually training their kids to switch subjects on command,'' Mr. Ledesma says. ''They can be doing a reading lesson, and if somebody walks through the door, all of a sudden they're doing the writing lesson.''

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Carnival time

Entries for the 27th edition of The Carnival Of Education are due TONIGHT (Tuesday) by 10:00 PM. (Eastern) 7:00 (Pacific). Send all submissions to owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net.

I hope owlshome doesn't scare away anybody.

From Diane Ravitch's Items Deleted from a Doomed Fourth-Grade Reading Test

No More Owls
The passage about owls was like a children’s encyclopedia entry. It described how their keen eyesight and hearing enabled them to hunt at night for rodents. When I saw that this passage was rejected, I imagined that it was because of the violence associated with hunting (although that’s how the owl survives). I was wrong. The passage was rejected because a Native-American member of the bias committee said that owls are taboo for the Navajos. Consequently, the entire committee agreed that the passage should be dropped. The test publisher added a notation that the owl is associated with death in some other cultures and should not be mentioned anymore, neither in texts nor in illustrations.

Here is a classic problem presented by today’s bias and sensitivity review process. If any cultural group attributes negative connotations to anything, or considers it taboo or offensive, then that topic will not be referred to, represented, described, or illustrated on tests. But owls exist. They are real birds. They are not creatures of the imagination. Nevertheless, to avoid giving offense, the tests will pretend that owls don’t exist. Owls are to be deleted and never again mentioned to the highly vulnerable and sensitive American schoolchild.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Expunging utopians

In its review of Diane Ravitch’s The Language Police, the yale review of books describes how many words have taken on a different meaning after what it perceives as an “educational revolution.”

So it is with the word “bias”:

Now “bias” is used to mean the appearance of any idea or term that references a specific aspect of a non-utopian society in any educational material. Under this bloated definition, anything that could potentially offend anyone must be excised from textbooks and standardized tests.
Anything that is particular and distinctive could thus be regarded as offensive. Only blandness will do. Have the expungers considered that some people might find blandness offensive?

This zeal to expunge “bias” from textbooks and tests sometimes has hilarious, if bizarre, results.

In these excerpts in American Educator, Diane Ravitch relates how the most unlikely topics were considered offensive by a bias and sensitivity review panel and excised from a reading test. For example, in what amounts to a falsification of history, the panel “rejected a passage about patchwork quilting by women on the western frontier in the mid-19th century.” Social classes could not be shown to exist in ancient Egypt, owls had to vanish (offensive and frightening to some). A black girl could not be portrayed as weak in math even though another black girl aced it.

In another passage, a blind man could not be portrayed as having overcome incredible odds. It turns out that blindness cannot be regarded as a disability:

The Blind Mountain Climber

One of the stranger recommendations of the bias and sensitivity panel involved a true story about a heroic young blind man who hiked to the top of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. The story described the dangers of hiking up an icy mountain trail, especially for a blind person. The panel voted 12-11 to eliminate this inspiring story. First, the majority maintained that the story contained "regional bias" because it was about hiking and mountain climbing, which favors students who live in regions where those activities are common. Second, they rejected the passage because it suggested that people who are blind are somehow at a disadvantage compared to people who have normal sight--that they are "worse off" and have a more difficult time facing dangers than those who are not blind.

"Regional bias," in this instance, means that children should not be expected to read or comprehend stories set in unfamiliar terrain. A story that happened in a desert would be "biased" against children who have never lived in a desert, and a story set in a tropical climate would be biased against those who have never lived in a tropical climate. Consider the impoverishment of imagination that flows from such assumptions: No reading passage on a test may have a specific geographical setting; every event must occur in a generic locale. Under these assumptions, no child should be expected to understand a story set in a locale other than the one that he or she currently lives in or in a locale that has no distinguishing characteristics.

Even more peculiar is the assumption by the panel’s majority that it is demeaning to applaud a blind person for overcoming daunting obstacles, like climbing a steep, icy mountain trail. It is not unreasonable, I believe, to consider blindness to be a handicap for a person facing physical danger. By definition, people who are blind cannot see as much or as well as people who have sight. Is it not more difficult to cope with dangerous situations when one cannot see? Yet, perversely, the bias and sensitivity panel concluded that this story celebrating a blind athlete’s achievements and his heroism was biased against people who are blind. Blindness, apparently, should be treated as just another personal attribute, like the color of one’s hair or one’s height. In the new meaning of bias, it is considered biased to acknowledge that lack of sight is a disability.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Competition works

Proving that discovery learning can sometimes work, a school district discovers the role of schools to lure back pupils. In a sane educational world, teaching at least how to read, write and do math would be taken for granted. Of course, discovering science, history, geography and foreign languages would also be desirable.

In an ed world in which educational lunacy is the dominant mode, such a development must be celebrated as big news.

WEST PHOENIX - The Cartwright Elementary School District was once considered one of the fastest-growing areas in west Phoenix.

But the district seems to have peaked at about 20,000. The challenge now, administrators say, is to retain that enrollment number despite competition from charter, parochial or other public schools outfitted with special magnet or traditional programs.

To help do that, the district has started a new traditional school at Palm Lane Elementary. The Pride Program, as it's called, is designed for 96 sixth-graders. It will focus on the basic instructions of reading, writing and math, and students should expect a challenge, said Principal Richard Mauran.


Friday, August 05, 2005

Engaging hands-on learning activities

A potentially helpful provision in NCLB is government-funded after-school tutoring. But how much real learning can take place if tutoring becomes more fun and games? I've tutored middle grades math and saw that students can made progress when they put in the effort and try to understand math concepts and work out problems with explanations, modeling and guidance provided by the teacher/tutor as needed. In other words, engagement with the subject matter.

I saw this ad for tutors that makes me worry that constructivism is once again rearing its ugly head in an area that could otherwise be an alternative to the usual practices.

Brain Hurricane is an approved Supplemental Educational Service (SES) provider. We are looking to hire instructors to tutor small groups (5 students at a time) of students in an after-school program. Tutors would go to a school during after-school hours and spend two hours per day working with a group.

Our tutoring program uses fun and engaging hands-on learning activities. Students enjoy working with their hands, interacting with teammates, and learning important math and reading skills in a way that is very different from the normal school day.
Constructivists believe that students learn by "working with their hands". For some subjects like math they must also be working with their brains. Not all academic subject matter is reducible to working with one's hands. For example, can you learn history solely through "fun and engaging hands-on learning activities" or would you have to pick up a book at some time?

See here for more on the hands-on mania. and here for a superb article on trivial activities.