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Sunday at the Movies (New Orleans)

May 24, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:27 AM

Every cloud has a silver lining.

School Choice in all its wonderful combinations and permutations

May 23, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:40 AM

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX co-founder of Pay-Pal and Tesla Motors, among other things, has started a small boutique private school for his own children. more  "Musk says in the interview that Ad Astra, which is a year old, currently has 14 kids and will increase to 20 in September. His grand vision for the school involves removing grade levels, so there's no distinction between students in 1st grade and 3rd. Musk is [opposed to] 'making all the children go through the same grade at the same time, like an assembly line,' he says in the interview."

This sounds like exactly the sort of school many left-wing parents would like to send their children to, but of course most left-wing parents think all parents should send their kids to their neighbourhood government school. Perhaps Doug would weigh in on this dilemma?

In the meantime, while Ad Astra doesn't sound like the kind of school I would have chosen for my own children, isn't it wonderful that Elon Musk can choose it for his own children - and also wonderful that the rest of us can watch the school;s progress and gauge whether it is successful!

Hello? Are You There?

May 22, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:26 AM

A new study suggests that there is an easy no-cost way to raise students' test scores, and that is to ban cell phones from class. The gain wasn't huge, but it was equivalent to lengthening the school year by five days.

It is possible that surgical teams would have to be deployed in order to separate some students from their phones, but most students would probably survive the surgery and be the better for it in the end.

What are Ontario teachers striking about?

May 21, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:14 AM

Feeling is running high in Ontario because of the teacher strikes, and so here is an opinion piece representing one side of the controversy. Readers are of course more than welcome to weigh in with the other side.

Politics makes strange bedfellows

May 20, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:45 AM

It has always been puzzling to me why my support of school choice consigns me to the political right. After all, I don't belong t there when it comes to many other issues. And it seems to me that my desire to give disadvantaged children a fair shot at life should fall into the lefty side of the political spectrum. But, surprisingly, traditionally the political left has been opposed to school choice.

However, this may be changing in the US, as per this report. Apparently more and more American left-wing politicians are listening to their consciences, as opposed to their party whips, and are embracing school vouchers. 

Only in the US, you say? Pity!

New Lamps for Old

May 19, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:56 AM

Today, an excerpt from Daisy Christodoulou's Seven Myths about Education. I have chosen for today's lesson the myth that "The Twenty-first Century Fundamentally Changes Everything".

"It is of course true that the skills often defined as being twenty-first century are very important. Problem-solving, creative thinking, critical thinking and relating to people are all incredibly important skills. There is not one skill listed above that I would cavil at. But there is nothing uniquely twenty-first century about them. Mycenaean Greek craftsmen had to work with others, adapt and innovate. It is quite patronising to suggest that no one before the year 2000 every needed to think critically, solve problems, communicate, collaborate, create, innovate or read. Human beings have been doing most of these things for quite a long time.....

"To the extent that [the concept of twenty-first century education] says that creativity and problem-solving are important, it is merely banal; to the extent that it says such skills are unique to the twenty-first century, it is false but harmless; to the extent that it proposes certain ways of achieving these aims, it is actually pernicious. That is because, very often, the movement for twenty-first century skills is a codeword for removing knowledge from the curriculum, and removing knowledge from the curriculum will ensure that pupils do not develop twenty-first century skills.

"Of course, one way the twenty-first century really is different from other eras is in the incredible power of technology. But this difference, while real, tends to lead on to two more education fallacies. First, it tells us that advances in technology remove the need for pupils to memorise anything: that is, you can always just Google it. I show why this is false in Chapter 4. Second, it is used to support the idea that traditional bodies of knowledge are outmoded.

"There is just so much knowledge nowadays, and it is changing all the time, so there is no point learning any of it to begin with....The video Shift Happens tells us that 1.5 exabytes of unique new information are generated each year, and that the amount of new technical information is doubling each year. It then concludes that this flow of new information means that for students starting a four-year college or technical degree, half of what they learn in their first year will be outdated by their third year of study. This is simply not true. Of course people make new discoveries all the time, but a lot of those new discoveries do not disprove or supersede previous ones; in fact, they are more likely to build on previous discoveries and require intimate knowledge of them. The fundamental foundations of most disciplines are rarely, if ever, completely disapproved....

"The scientific and technological innovators who make the headlines tend to be quite young. But behind the headlines, the median age for the first scientific discovery has been increasing steadily over the decades. That is because to make a scientific breakthrough, first of all you have to reach the frontiers of knowledge in your discipline. As scientific knowledge has advanced over the decades, that frontier has got further and further away, which means that it takes researchers more and more time to reach it. What this should show us is that making a new scientific discovery requires an intimate understanding of what has gone before. In Newton's famous words, scientific giants are standing on the shoulders of others.....

"The guilty secret of the twenty-first century skills advocates is that it is their ideas which are rather old hat and outdated. Diane Ravitch notes how, at the beginning of the twentieth century, many educators wanted to throw away traditional knowledge and embrace twentieth century skills. There is little difference between what Martin Johnson calls a twenty-first century approach to teaching and what John Dewey was advocating at the dawn of the twentieth....

"The most depressing thing about all of this, therefore, is that old ideas that are thoroughly discredited are being warmed over and presented as being at the cutting edge. And it is particularly ironic that, as we will see in the next chapter, the actual cutting-edge science is telling us to do the complete opposite of what most of the twenty-first century skills advocates want."

Why Johnny Doesn’t Understand What He Reads

May 18, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:21 AM

These days, there are all kinds of disorders available for kids who are struggling with reading - for example, auditory processing disorder, attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, poor visual memory disorder, intermittent hearing loss, and now there's specific reading comprehension disability

A recent reading research study, however, suggests that the term is a misnomer. Although it is undoubtedly true that some children have severe comprehension problems, according to the study "the term specific reading comprehension disability is a misnomer: Individuals with problems in reading comprehension that are not attributable to poor word recognition have comprehension problems that are general to language comprehension rather than specific to reading."

The study recommends that children with reading comprehension problems should be given intensive phonics teaching, along with interventions that address deficits "in oral language like vocabulary, semantics, and syntactic understanding (i.e., grammar)".  H/T CT

Sunday at the Movies (Most Likely to Succeed)

May 17, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:42 AM

This is the trailer for an educational documentary called Most Likely to Succeed about breaking away from our current straitjacket of big box schools and bells and lock-step progress.

What did President Obama really really mean to say?

May 16, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:15 AM

On Thursday, our blog was about President Obama's criticism of people who send their children to private schools, even though he attended a private school himself and he is sending his two daughters to a private school. Apparently, other people noticed this "inconsistency" and so a spokesman appeared on Morning Joe to try to explain it away. Here's Jay Greene's report.

It's a little hard to understand what the spokesman is saying, but it seems likely that he is explaining that what President Obama really meant to say was that we still aren't spending enough on public schools. (If this is what President Obama meant, it's a bit surprising that he didn't just come out and say it - it's a fairly simple concept - but let that rest.) In any case, Jay Greene points out that there is no evidence that more money is what ails public schools, and we too addressed this point in a recent blog.

Perhaps a second Obama spokesman needs to appear on Morning Joe to explain the first spokesman's explanation.

The trouble with teacher training and remuneration

May 15, 2015 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:58 AM

There have been a couple of terrific columns lately in the National Post by the head of Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby Ontario.  First column.  Second column

The first column basically deals with the problems with teacher training in Canada, although it covers lots of other interesting ground as well. The second column proposes some solutions:  require teachers to have degrees in the subjects they teach; fast-track people with degrees in engineering, business, skilled trades to teacher certification; change the way we pay teachers; invest heavily in upgrading training and incentives for higher degrees; and find ways to keep good teachers from going into administration.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

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