Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn is Right: It’s Time to Abandon “Gifted and Talented” Label

August 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s Retire the “Gifted and Talented” Label“, Michael Horn’s recent post in the Christensen Institute Newsletter, had a special resonance with me. Mr. Horn argues against the label because it is inextricably linked to the tests used to identify students who are “gifted and talented” and those tests, in turn, are inextricably linked to the grouping of students in age-based cohorts that fail to take the differences in rates of intellectual maturity. But my personal experience tells me there are at least two more reasons to abandon the label.

In 1957 I was in 4th grade at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having moved to that city when my father was transferred by DuPont. I recall being amazed that the math topics offered that year were identical to the math topics I covered a year earlier in Pennsylvania. I also recall one news event that fall that captured the imagination of the nation: the USSR’s launching of Sputnik. One of the immediate responses to the launch was passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, an act that included millions of dollars for science education and an act that sought to identify the best and brightest students to help the US win the Space Race that was launched when Sputnik orbited the earth.

At the end of 5th grade, I was identified as one of the “best and brightest” students in Oklahoma and placed in a special program with several of my peers. I am certain my “excellence” in math classes helped in my identification as one of the “best and brightest”, an “excellence” that had more to do with Oklahoma’s lagging curriculum standards than my aptitude. I also am certain that my test scores helped as well, for I have always done well on the tests that stand as a proxy for “intelligence”.  For my 6th grade year in Oklahoma, our group was assigned what would come to be called “inter-disciplinary units” instead of traditional subject-matter classes, working on projects instead of worksheets. It was by far the best year I experienced in my entire K-12 schooling. The teachers and interns worked with us closely and provided individual tutoring and counseling and my classmates were all engaged and committed to learning. We were taunted by others in school on occasion, but once we got on the athletic fields at recess our status as “gifted and talented” students didn’t matter, only our ability to kick a soccer ball (incredibly we couldn’t play football at recess!) and pitch, catch, and hit a baseball.

A year later, my father was transferred back to Pennsylvania and because of the timing of our arrival and the fact that I was “from Oklahoma”, I was placed in the second highest cohort of 60-70 students in the homogeneous groupings in junior high school. I was no longer “gifted and talented”. Instead, I was among the 80% of students at South Junior High Schoo who were identified as UN-gifted and UN-talented. From that day forward I understood the preposterousness of classifying students based on test scores or “academic performance”, for despite the fact that I earned high grades and scored high on tests in 7th grade, there was no room for me in the classrooms in the highest performing cohort and so I was relegated to the second tier for the balance of my secondary education… that is until I qualified to take calculus in 12th grade making it impossible for me to “fit” into second tier classes elsewhere.

I tell this anecdote because it reinforces two adverse elements of identifying “gifted and talented” students. First, when a small group of students is segregated as being “gifted and talented” it simultaneously identifies those NOT identified as “UN-gifted and UN-talented” as my experience with “second tier” students in Pennsylvania demonstrated to me. The teachers who worked with our group in Junior High School constantly told us explicitly and implicitly that most of us in the class “were not college material” and that we needed to work hard if we ever hoped to go on for more education. I know my friends in the top division heard a different and far more positive message from their teachers. Secondly, any isolation of “gifted and talented” students necessarily excludes students who are moving from school-to-school or region-to-region. How many students are affected by this? According to an Education Week article by Sarah Sparks from 2016, 6.5 million students per year! And that same article included this finding:

High churn in schools not only can hurt the students who leave, but also those who remain enrolled. A 2014 report by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in Georgia found schools with higher concentrations of mobile students had higher percentages of students with disabilities and fewer students in gifted education programs.

In a report on student mobility by the National Academy of Sciences, Chester Hartman, the research director for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, noted that high-poverty urban schools can have more than half of their students turn over within a single school year.

“It’s chaos,” he said in the 2010 report. “It makes all the reforms—smaller classes, better-trained teachers, better facilities—irrelevant.

Not only does the identification of “gifted and talented” students penalize “late bloomers”, it also penalizes students attending schools with high levels of transience and stigmatizes all the UN-gifted and UN-talented students who are NOT identified. Michael Horn is right: it is time to retire the “gifted and talented” label for once and for all and begin to identify the unique gifts and talents of all the children.


A 1970 Humanities and Technology Major Reacts to Russ Douthat’s Column on the Death of Humanities

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Russ Douthat’s NYTimes column today, “Oh, the Humanities“, did not afford a comment opportunity… so I am using this post to capture my reaction to the column, which I found to be generally thoughtful and— because I agreed with it’s take on the underlying causes for the demise of humanities as a discipline– accurate.

Using a 1946 poem by W.H. Auden as the framework for his analysis of the decline in the number of Humanities majors in almost every college, Douthat concludes that “Apollonians”, that is technocrats, have won out over the “sons of Hermes”, the artists and musicians. Why is this so? Dothan concludes that in addition to adopting ultra-radical positions on political issues, in an effort to make their discipline seem more analytic (i.e. technical), the humanities professors adopted “a pseudoscientific mantle” that seemed to add “rigor and precision” to their work. Here’s the paragraph that captures his thinking:

In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection.

The column resonated with me as one who majored in “Humanities and Technology”, a B.S. degree my alma mater Drexel Institute of Technology “invented” in the late 1960s in order to become Drexel University. At that time, the Humanities teachers emphasized the power of poetry and the importance of clear writing and consciously rejected any efforts to inject “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work. Those of us who gravitated to this new major were drawn to it because we rejected the ideas that underpinned the emerging technocracy and wanted to see a more just and equitable world.

Douthat concludes his column asserting that all will be well and humanities will be restored to the “sons of Hermes” instead of the “children of Apollo”:

(A) hopeful road map to humanism’s recovery might include: First, a return of serious academic interest in the possible (I would say likely) truth of religious claims. Second, a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.

I, for one, think it will be restored more rapidly if, like my professors in the late 1960s, the humanities professors focus on the beauty of the arts and avoid injecting “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work.

Open mindedness Essential for Democracy and Capitalism but Under-emphasized in test-driven schools

June 30, 2018 1 comment

Looking for an Alternative to the Mother of All Standardized Tests, the SAT? Try GPA!

June 25, 2018 Comments off

When it comes to standardized testing, no test has a better reputation for fairness and equity than the SAT. Yet, as Diane Ravitch reported in a recent blog post:

There is an emerging consensus among researchers that high school grade point average is a better predictor of success in college than scores on the SAT or ACT.

Many colleges assign greater weight to the SAT because it presumably predicts how well student from an obscure high school will do in a competitive environment better than any other metric. But if the predictive value of the SAT is vanishingly small and the value of the GPA is higher, it begs the question of why parents spend millions of dollars per year to upgrade their child’s score on the standardized test.

Hopefully studies like the ones completed by Education Northwest, one of 10 regional educational laboratories that do applied research to improve academic outcomes for students, will get the attention of college admissions officers, guidance counselors, high school teachers and administrators, and— most importantly–= parents and the use of standardized tests as an entry into college will become a thing of the past. More likely, though, is the probability that the last ones to learn about this reality will be the politicians who see standardized tests like the SATs as an objective means of assessing “performance” and knowledge” which means students will continue to be subjected to multiple choice tests for the foreseeable future.

Betsy DeVos’s Message to Bilked College Students: Caveat Emptor

June 13, 2018 Comments off

As noted in earlier posts, the USDOE under Betsy DeVos’ leadership seems ready, willing, and capable of throwing those students who enrolled in fraudulent degree programs under the bus in the name of the free market. Evidence of this reality was presented earlier this week when Ms. DeVos reinstated the so-called “watchdog” agency that accredited bogus educational enterprises. As reported in an article by Erica Green in yesterday’s NYTimes, Ms. DeVos used a flimsy bureaucratic procedural argument to distance herself from the decision to reinstate the formerly discredited “watchdog” group, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or Acics. As Ms. Green reported, this agency was stripped of its power in the waning months of the Obama administration:

Acics was stripped of its powers in December 2016 amid the collapse of two for-profit university chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, where students were encouraged to take on debt based on false promises, including jobs after graduation. The accrediting body was held responsible for allowing the schools to employ predatory recruitment practices.

The scandal rocked the for-profit college industry, which became a target of the Obama administration. And taxpayers are still covering the fallout as the DeVos Education Department manages more than 100,000 applications for debt relief totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. On Monday, a judge in San Francisco was set to hear arguments that the department should grant full loan relief to Corinthian students. On Wednesday, an Indianapolis court is set to approve a $1.5 billion settlementfor aggrieved ITT students.

But, according to her spokesperson, Ms. DeVos is powerless in this case because of a procedural snafu in the Obama administration’s decision to suspend Acics:

Education Department officials said that despite the March report (which condemned Acics), Ms. DeVos was obligated to reinstate Acics as an accrediting body for colleges and universities because of a federal court order that had faulted the process the Obama-era department had used to terminate its recognition. A federal judge sent the decision back to Ms. DeVos for reconsideration.

“The secretary did not make the determination to reinstate Acics,” Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This department can’t operate on or enforce a decision that was found invalid by the court.”

Many critics strongly disagree with this assertion:

Advocates say that Ms. DeVos is using the court order as a convenient excuse.

They note that the judge did not vacate the 2016 decision, and that Ms. DeVos was not compelled to reinstate Acics. The report provides the most up-to-date evaluation of the organization, which still oversees dozens of colleges. In March, Acics was accused by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, of accrediting “visa mills,” used by foreign students to come to the United States with minimal scrutiny.

“This report makes clear that Acics is a wholly unfit and unreliable evaluator of higher-education institutions,” said Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former Obama Education Department official. “Betsy DeVos may be content with ignoring the overwhelming outside consensus on Acics’s performance, but she cannot deny the expert opinions of her own staff.”

If this was the only time Ms. DeVos saw fit to overlook experts it might be possible to accept her decision. But like her predecessors, she has ignored evidence that VAM is invalid, that test-and-punish reforms have not improved public education, and that equitable funding is needed to close the performance gap between students attending affluent schools and those attending poverty-wracked schools. In this case, Ms. DeVos appears to be acting in the best interest of for-profit diploma mills that issue worthless degrees. It may just be coincidental that the man who appointed her led such an enterprise.

An Obvious Solution to the Elite NYC High School Dilemma: Add More of Them! The Impediment? $$$$

June 11, 2018 Comments off

A recent City and State article by Tom Allon and Rafeal Espinal offers an obvious solution to the problem posed by having 30,000 applicants seeking placement in NYC’s so called “elite high schools”: Open more of them! Mr. Allon and Mr. Espinal open their article describing the problem:

Every year around 30,000 8th graders take the SHSAT, the high-stakes entrance exam for New York City’s eight coveted specialized high schools.

In March, 25,000 ambitious teenagers get the disappointing news that they will not be offered admission to any of those schools.

Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial plan to increase the paltry number of African-American and Latino students in the specialized schools has been met with much criticism, particularly from the city’s growing Asian-American community. Currently, the majority of students at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech are of Asian descent. At Stuyvesant 73 percent of the student body is Asian-American, compared to 1 percent African-American and 3 percent Latino. The citywide public school mix is much different: 26 percent African-American, 40 percent Latino and only 16 percent Asian-American.

In the zero-sum game of balancing the racial demographics at these schools, a win for one group results in a loss for another.

There solution is an obvious one. Add “…more educational jewels to the crown in the public high school system” by expanding the number of seats available! This solution would have the effect of increasing the buyer of opportunities for bright and motivated students to enroll in academically challenging programs without watering down the content and without compromising the application process.

If every child who took the test and completed the application process was assured admission to a rigorous program who would lose? The obvious answer is those who pay taxes for schools and those who believe that “choice” and “competition” are a pre-requisite for quality. Clearly the cost/pupil would increase for the 25,000 students now left out in the cold, but if the marginal cost/pupil was $1,000 the $25,000,000 increase would be pocket change for a district with a budget of $24,000,000,000 and when that cost is spread over the tax base it would be relatively inconsequential. The benefits, on the other hand, would be huge.

And Mr. Allon and Mr. Espinal offer the experience of the expansion of Bard’s High School Early College program as evidence that such an expansion would not water down the academics if more students were admitted. There are clearly more than 5,000 students who would benefit from an “elite” education…. and it’s clearly time to move forward with an expansion plan instead of perpetuating the zero-sum mentality that adds needless stress to the lives of thousands of NYC households.


NYT’s David Leonardt Continues to Promote “Failing Public Schools” Meme, Misses Opportunity to Support Free College for All

May 26, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes David Leonardt’s column described “A New Dropout Crisis“: the accelerating rate of dropouts in college. How bad is the problem?

About a decade ago, the number of college dropouts exceeded the number of K-12 dropouts, and the two have continued to move in opposite directions since then. And if you focus only on high-school dropouts — excluding people, many of whom are immigrants, who dropped out earlier and never reached high school — there are now about twice as many college dropouts as high-school dropouts.

And why is this happening? Here’s Leonardt’s synopsis:

There are multiple causes of the college-dropout boom. K-12 schools certainly deserve a substantial amount of blame, because they produce too many ill-prepared students. But colleges — and policymakers — deserve a lot of blame, as well. For years, higher education paid far too little attention to results. That’s starting to change, as Tina Rosenberg has described in several Times Op-Eds, but there is still an enormous amount of work to do.

Alas, Mr. Leonardt overlooks the source of the highest dropout rates: for profit colleges! As Christina Cauterucci wrote in Slate in September 2017, these colleges prey on the most vulnerable population– single moms and first generation students who struggled in high school– promising them high paying jobs if they take out student loans and attend their school. The promise is far too often hollow and baseless. Ms. Cauterucci offers these sad results:

The average six-year graduation rate among for-profit colleges is 23 percent, compared to 59 percent at public institutions and 66 percent at private nonprofit schools. And because for-profit degrees usually cost far more than comparable degrees from community colleges and public universities, students who attend for-profit schools are more likely to have to take out loans to afford their education. They are also far more likely to default on those loans than those who attended nonprofit or public institutions, in part because the economic benefits conferred upon those with other college degrees don’t transfer to graduates from for-profit schools.

59% and 66% rates are problematic to be sure, but 23% is scandalous… but unsurprising given that for-profit colleges are not competitive in who they accept which means that students with weak academic backgrounds can enroll with impunity.

If post-secondary schooling was free to all, it would greatly benefit PK-16 systems because publicly funded institutions could create seamless mechanisms that would allow students to proceed at a rate of speed that matches the mastery of the content. Instead of setting an arbitrary benchmark of 12 years to master the material needed to enter post-secondary schools they could provide course offerings that would prepare students for the rigors of college and thus lower the drop out rate.

But… if post-secondary schooling was free to all it would require higher taxes, eliminate the “opportunity” for profiteers to capitalize on the neediest students, and “expand the government”… all of which are deemed to be bad from the perspective of too many of our political leaders… and, sadly, our voters….