Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Helpful jargon

England is abuzz with something called "personalised education" as shown in this BBC account. It looks similar to what's known here as differentiated instruction. As is usually the case in edland, these innovations are couched in inpenetrable jargon. One can never be sure of what one is dealing with:

There is a very tricky question which is bothering many people involved in schools today, namely: "What is personalised education?"

The question is important because "personalisation" is the current buzzword in the Department for Education and in schools.

Last October, the Prime Minister said the government's school reforms would lead to "personalised lessons" for pupils. The then Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly (my, how fast they change!) characterised the reforms as being about "personalisation and choice".

So, everyone is talking about it. It will eventually affect every child in a school. All teachers will have to learn how to teach it. But what does it mean?

Ask professional educators and you might get an answer like this: "Personalised learning is about learner-managed and co-constructed learning -- the shift from dependency to independence and interdependency -- and invitational learning and assessment."

I took this from a website dedicated to personalised education. If you can make sense of it, you are a much better person than me.

It also talked about the "re-integration of learning, life and community", making use of "catalogue and natural versions of curriculum and assessment" and "de-coupling of age-stage progressions".

That clears it up.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Up is down

One of the panel members of Bush's new National Mathematics Advisory Panel enters another dimension:

A very short story by Vern Williams

One night I walked into the 4 3/8 dimension and actually believed the following:

We should write about math but never do math.
Correcting students' papers using red ink is a threat to children's self esteem and that red pens should be banned from all public schools.
Howard Gardner was right about his multiple intelligence theory (I think that he claims about nine at the moment) and that schools should value bodily-kinesthetic ability and the intelligence of self as much as mathematical and linguistic ability.
The war on intellectual excellence is a great thing. It will make us all equal.
Teachers Unions are actually concerned about students.
Advanced courses and gifted programs should be banned because they are elitist and unfair. Since everyone is gifted in their own way (see Howard Gardner), why have special gifted programs?
There are no bored students in US public schools.
We can teach thinking even when there is no content to think about.
We should treat members of politically protected minority groups as victims.
We should never view our students as individuals but as members of racial and ethnic groups.
We should buy into the latest educational fad even if it's based on political correctness and has nothing to do with learning or common sense.
There is no money wasted on administration, specialists, and useless programs. In fact, we should have more of each.
I should join the NCTM.
I should join the NEA.
I should feel guilty because I teach smart kids.
I should feel really guilty because I enjoy teaching smart kids.

I finally woke up in a cold sweat from this nightmare and asked myself does anyone actually believe those things?
The answer is a resounding yes. Unfortunately the people who believe them are running our school systems and colleges of education.

I do my very best to shield my students from the effects of educational fads, political correctness and anti-intellectualism that we experience every day in public schools.

Small schools malaise

Somehow I have the feeling that academics isn't high up on the agenda of this new small school, despite its lip service. This is a pattern with a lot of these new small schools. Their motto should be: Anything but academics.

The Green School is a New Century High School opening in September 2006 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.

Our mission is to foster community values in sustainability; specifically self, relationships, community and society, while preparing students for Regents exams, college and careers.

Our School themes: Sustainability • Real-World Learning • Student Voice • Careers that Make a Difference

Strong applicants for a teaching position will demonstrate the following abilities to: • Link subject area curricula to the school’s themes and incorporate discussion of current events, hands-on experiences in the community, and meaningful connection to students’ interests and lives. • Create project-based curricula and use performance-based assessment. • Use inquiry-based approach to teach interdisciplinary classes. • Teach an advisory class that includes community building, identity development, reflective writing, and interest exploration. • Work collaboratively with other teachers to design curricula and assessments, and to support each other in improving teaching practices. • Involve students in decision making about topics of classes and electives, and support students in independent projects. • Work to develop internship opportunities for students around the theme of sustainability. • Design and teach curricula to heterogeneous classes including English language learners, special needs students, and accelerated students, together. • Will participate in developing and implementing new ideas into the school or “wearing more than one hat” (this is key in small schools). • Help plan and participate in field trips of various duration. • Develop curricula that uses the resources of NYC and gets students to apply their learning in real-world settings.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Febrile in Seattle

The Seattle Public Schools system has adopted a set of definitions dripping with far-left wackiness that purport to identify various forms of "racism". "Racism" itself (without a modifying adjective) apparently cannot be perpetrated by groups which in the view of the Seattle Public Schools have "relatively little social power," identified as "Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians." This would seem to exempt a sizable chunk of the population (known in the PC vernacular as "people of color") from being capable of committing this hideous crime. One would have thought that "racism" (without the adjectives) is a state of mind. Apparently it is an activity:
The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.
The next entry is on "individual racism." Just when I thought that individuals of all colorations are capable of "racism" after all, it turns out that, besides "telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet," the miscreant must believe in the "inherent superiority of whites." So, unless members of "targeted racial groups" perversely believe in such superiority, they are off the hook once again:

Individual Racism:
The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can occur at both an unconscious and conscious level, and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites.
But perhaps matters are even more weirdly complex than that. Perhaps members of "targeted racial groups" cannot be individuals at all, for we learn under "cultural racism" that the emphasis on "individualism" is also "racist". Since "targeted racial groups" cannot be "racist," they thus cannot hold "racist" beliefs such as a belief in the individual. Following this dizzying Seattle Public Schools logic, "targeted racial groups" might not exist as individuals at all:

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
Another revelation is that planning ahead (what these educationists call "having a future time orientation") is apparently also "racist". Now, believing that planning ahead is a function of pigmentation strikes me as truly racist. But these educationists are probably too dim-witted to realize this.

It should be noted that these dogmas have been far-left fare for a long time. They are not recent creations of Seattle schools. The inspiration listed as a source is Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 1197 eds. Adams, Bell & Griffin. Still, it is astonishing that a tax-financed, public entity would adopt a lunatic fringe creed as its guiding policy. An incidental benefit is that it becomes a little clearer what the proponents of "social justice" have in mind.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nutty judge

The Los Angeles Times reports that a California judge thinks it is unfair to ask high school graduates to know some 8th grade math and ninth- and 10th-grade English since some went to lousy schools:

A California judge struck down the state's controversial high school exit exam Friday, potentially clearing the way for thousands of seniors who have failed the test to graduate with their class next month.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.
Even answering little more than half the questions on the test is an onerous requirement:

This year's 12th-graders were the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section of eighth-grade math and another of ninth- and 10th-grade English. Students are required to answer little more than half of the questions correctly and can take the test multiple times. Students with learning disabilities were exempted from the test.
The judge's insistence on giving ignorant students a diploma confuses symbolism and substance. What good is a diploma if it does not stand for something? And how much are students helped if educational failure is shoved under the rug?