Rex Murphy is always fun to read, with his mouth-watering prose ("pullulating neologisms for gender"), and in this column he takes on schools' failure to "train the intellect; to acquaint students with and help them appreciate, the glories of the human mind and its finest achievements". Mr. Murphy is particularly interested in the case of Halton school board trustee Alex Johnstone who had never heard of the Auschwitz death camp. One wonders what Mr. Murphy would make of the teacher highlighted in our blog about who pays teachers' salaries. H/T JE
SCHOOL FOR THOUGHT
In a world where most industries have been revolutionized by the introduction of technology (think newspapers, the travel industry, medicine...), it's amazing how impervious the education industry has been to such changes. This video suggests that this is about to end. We'll see.
The Elementary Federation of Teachers of Ontario has forced the cancellation of school breakfast programs in Peel as part of their work-to-rule campaign, and the Toronto Sun is calling on the province's elementary teachers to dump their union leaders. more
Today, I include this weird phone-in teacher clip just for curiosity value, although I guess it does speak to the sense of entitlement displayed by many teachers. H/T CC
Finally, an explanation (from The Onion) as to why - despite our best criticisms - education results in Ontario just keep on getting worse.
PALO ALTO, CA—Explaining that even the most well-meaning criticism can lead to adverse repercussions, a study released Thursday by researchers at Stanford University has found that berating the U.S. education system has only caused it to fall further behind its international peers. “We often feel compelled to point out flaws and shortcomings when we’re trying to help our nation achieve its goals, but our research shows that criticizing a struggling institution like the United States education system actually lowers its confidence and causes it to perform even more poorly,” said the study’s lead author, Julie Ostel, who noted that authorities’ tendency to harp on the country’s substandard math and science skills was correlated with steady declines in math and science test scores. “People might think they’re helping when they highlight the educational deficits of our school systems by comparing them to academic standouts like Finland or South Korea, but it’s just causing our schools to withdraw and come to the conclusion that they’re failures that don’t possess the intellect to do well. Instead, we should focus on what our institutions of learning are doing well, provide them with positive support, and let them know that we care about their future and that we know they can succeed.” Ostel added, however, that each education system is different, and that steady encouragement may not lead to an improvement in American schools, at which point the U.S. should give serious consideration to putting the nation’s 50 million students into trade schools.
Yesterday I wrote about how Alberta's education leaders are driving the provincial school bus off into the la-la land of constructivism. So then I started thinking about why they would do this. I mean, it's not as if they are the only ones - all over the world education leaders are moving in this direction, albeit rarely as impetuously.
So, first we need to establish that there is no research basis for constructivism. A ton of research from a number of domains - for example, neuroscience, cognitive science, pediatrics, and neurology - along with oodles of empirical studies, has converged in favour of teacher-led instruction. There is a solid consensus among mainstream scientists on this point, trust me. Presumably, Alberta's education leaders are aware of this consensus - yet they don't seem to care about it.
So the question is - what is so appealing about constructivism that it tempts education leaders to abandon all common sense and reason, risk the wrath of parents, and precipitate a steep slide in academic achievement?
I can only assume that there is something quite heady about spearheading an innovative and almost mystical initiative. By way of contrast, the approach that parents want and the one that will result in solid academic achievement is pretty pedestrian, in that it involves a lot of repetition, small improvements, hard work, feedback, self-criticism, and the like - not at all sexy. With constructivism, education leaders can feel like the high priests of a new religion, missionaries bringing enlightenment to the great unwashed.
In short, constructivism is much more fun for education leaders than the slog of continuous improvement. You read it here first.
Alberta students used to have by far the highest academic achievement in Canada, but lately they have started to slip in the standings. Apparently the Alberta government is happy with this trend, because now it is mandating a new curriculum that is almost certain to result in an even greater drop. The new curriculum, Inspiring Education, is constructivist in its orientation, and as a result the amount of content in the curriculum is to be reduced to only ten outcomes per grade per year per subject. Gone are cursive writing, most grammar, most geometry, map study, and much more. The new curriculum, which includes prescriptions for how the teachers will teach (discovery learning, use of a lot of technology), is to be imposed on all schools that receive government money, and in Alberta that includes charter, private, and distance schools.
An Alberta group called Parents for Choice in Education has published this paper about the coming changes. The paper outlines some of the problems with the new "curriculum", including the drawbacks to discovery learning, but more importantly questions the propriety of governments imposing a particular pedagogy on teachers and students. It used to be that the word curriculum referred only to the skills and knowledge students were expected to learn - in Alberta, now it will also refer to how they are expected to learn them.
Questions for Further Study: Should teachers' professional judgment be overridden by the provincial government? Do all children learn best the same way? Should parents have a say in the sort of education their children receive?
Our favourite cognitive scientist Dan Willingham has collaborated with a colleague on this informative article about math anxiety - a phenomenon that afflicts as many as half of all students.
The authors begin by explaining how math anxiety reduces performance (by impacting working memory) and then show that the term "math anxiety" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "bad at math". In fact, if math anxiety could be reducted or eliminated, it is very likely that many more students would be "good at math".
A discussion follows regarding the origins of math anxiety and concludes that much of it is established in school in the early grades. The article concludes by outlining some measures that primary teachers could take in order to avoid the development of math anxiety in their young students - things like making sure that their students master fundamental arithmetic skills and ensuring that they (the teachers) themselves are competent and confident about their own math ability as well as their own ability to teach math.
In this clip, Bob Bowdon asks a teachers' union representative whether the union would support a high-quality school whose teachers don't belong to the union.
Back-to-school shopping has always included things like pencil cases and backpacks, but in BC schools are now asking parents to stock the school. more My brother in BC tells me he's expected to supply the school with "reams of photocopy paper, 6 large refill packages of wet wipes and 10 boxes of tissue, 10 white board markers and a ton of the other things".
So the story line from BC schools is that they are underfunded. However, this recent Fraser Institute study shows that per-student funding in BC increased 41% in constant dollars over a recent ten-year period. Clearly, none of this additional money is reaching the classroom or maybe even the school. Instead of meekly accepting the party line about education cutbacks, BC teachers should start a serious money trail hunt.
The thing is - some parents can afford to underwrite their children's school, but for others it's a real financial burden. Public education was instituted for parents who couldn't afford to send their children to a private school. The wheel has turned full circle, and now some parents can't afford to send their children to a public school.