It's been a while since I've blogged about the Core Knowledge Foundation in particular and the importance of a rich vocabulary and fund of general knowledge in general. So here's a short exposition on why knowledge still matters in the age of Google, as well as an brief explanation of how the Core Knowledge Sequence (free for download) can close the opportunity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children.
SCHOOL FOR THOUGHT
This graph is a bit hard to understand, but it is actually a stunning argument against the "socio-economic status is destiny" folks.
Although you're probably thinking that RSD stands for Right-Hand Drive or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, in fact here it stands for Recovery School District - a special state-wide school district in Louisiana with the goal of transforming the state's worst underperforming public schools. Most of the RSD schools are in New Orleans, but there are also a few schools in the poorer parts of the state, including East Baton Rouge.
In any case, RSD students have now almost closed the gap between themselves and the state average, even though the percentage of economically-disadvantaged RSD students has increased from 84% in 2004-2005 to 92% in 2014-2015. more
So it does appear that it is after all possible to use educational tools to help poor students and that governments do not have to spend gobs of money and employ armies of social workers before poor students can be rendered educable.
In fact, the primary method used by the Recovery School District is school choice - mainly lots of charter schools - which generaate no additional costs to taxpayers whatsoever.
I'm currently reading Weapons of Mass Instruction: A schoolteacher's journey through the dark world of compulsory schooling by John Taylor Gatto. Mr. Gatto posits that the real function of modern school systems is to render the population manageable, and that compulsory schooling, with its "bulk-process, psychological" methods - for example teaching children reflexive obedience - robs most children of their inborn resourcefulness and spunk. Mr. Gatto basically advocates very minimal schooling - teaching kids to read, write, and add up, a process that ought to take maybe one year - and then turning them loose.
As proof, he discusses a number of self-made individuals - for example, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Danica Patrick (car racing), Nick Schulman poker), Diablo Cody (screenplay), Sir Richard Branson (Virgin), Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA), Charles Webb (The Graduate film), Thomas Edison, George Bernard Shaw, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Margaret Mead, Craig Venter (map of the human genome), Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, Ted Turner, William Faulkner, Warren Avis, Paul Orfalea (Kinko's), Shawn Fanning (Napster), Lew Wasserman (Hollywood), Ernest Hemingway,, Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), John Mackey (Whole Foods), Kip Tindell (Container Store), and the list goes on and on.
To give you a flavour of Mr. Gatto's writing, here is the section on Sir Richard Branson.
"High school dropout, Sir Richard Branson, thinks the important lesson of his life happened at the age of four. It was a London walk-about, as he tells of it in his autobiography, and tells once again in The New Yorker ((May 2007). It happened this way: four-year-old Richard was on a drive with mother Eve in the London suburb of Shamley Green, miles from home, in an area where Richard had never been. Eve pulled over and asked him whether he thought he could find his way home from where they were.
"He said yes, whereupon she told him to get out and do so then. 'Mother was determined to make us independent,' he told the magazine. By age twelve he was making hundred-mile round-trip bike rides alone to the beach at Bournemouth. After a brief go at high school, Branson dropped out, never spending a day in college. At nineteen, his first successful business was launched. Virgin Airlines, his music business, and many others were in the near future, as was his announcement that he would contruct a private space vehicle. On July 29, 2008, a picture of Branson, mother Eve, and his completed rocket appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world. Some 250 seats for the maiden voyage were all snapped up at $200,000 a piece.
"Is four too young to become involved in serious business? Tiger Woods was sinking putts on the Mike Douglas television show at age two, so I tend to doubt it."
This article in this week's Economist outlines the problems faced by the governments in developing countries when they try to provide universal schooling - incompetent or absentee or ghost teachers, powerful teachers' unions, demand that outstrips supply, and more. Into this void have come private schools - not perfect but tons better than most government schools - for which parents pay as little as $1 a week. Because $1 is a very significant portion of their total income, however, these parents choose their children's schools judiciously and monitor them carefully, and they certainly don't keep sending their kids to a private school unless they are satisfied with its service.
Naturally, educationists and politicians deplore these private schools - never mind that the children are better off. The article concludes as follows.
"Governments should therefore be asking not how to discourage private education, but how to boost it. Ideally, they would subsidise private schools, preferably through a voucher which parents could spend at the school of their choice and top up; they would regulate schools to ensure quality; they would run public exams to help parents make informed choices. But governments that cannot run decent public schools may not be able to do these things well; and doing them badly may be worse than not doing them at all. Such governments would do better to hand parents cash and leave schools alone. Where public exams are corrupt, donors and NGOs should consider offering reliable tests that will help parents make well-informed choices and thus drive up standards. The growth of private schools is a manifestation of the healthiest of instincts: parents’ desire to do the best for their children. Governments that are too disorganised or corrupt to foster this trend should get out of the way."
H/T TB, MB
Ontario is unusual in that its Catholic schools are fully funded by the government. According to the provincial tests, year after year the students in the Catholic public schools significantly outperform the students in the non-Catholic public schools - and by a large margin. This article explains how the Catholic public schools add more value.
But the politics of envy are hard at work in Ontario, and government policy makers are doing their best to dilute the distinctiveness of the Catholic schools (see, for example, the new sex curriculum). There is even a campaign to merge the Catholic school boards with the province's other school boards, thereby totally eliminating the Catholic difference. It would, of course, make more sense to eliminate the non-Catholic schools and make all the schools Catholic (and maybe throw in some other religions), but oh well.
In the short term, desperate Ontario parents would be well advised to baptize their children into the Catholic faith and send them to a Catholic public school if they can't manage to send their kids to a private school or homeschool. In the long term, Ontario parents would be well advised to support the provision of more school choices, not fewer.
If you have relaxed your vigilance regarding your kids' school because you live in an affluent neighbourhood and the school's test scores are pretty good, you should read this article. As the article explains, a much better way to get a handle on your school's service is to look at how much value it is adding to its students' learning - an indicator that the article terms "median growth percentile".
"The basic principle behind median growth percentile is this: Students come into their schools at vastly different performance levels, which are often totally outside schools’ control. What schools do have significant control over is how much progress their students make over the course of a year."
As the article demonstrates, there are schools with ostensibly good test scores that should be raising their students' scores much more, and vice versa. Unfortunately, in Ontario there is no way to measure added value (because no baseline is ever established), but one seat-of-the-pants measurement is to look at the differential between language arts and math performance. Because language arts test scores are more influenced by non-school factors, it's a red flag to see a school with much better language arts test scores than math scores.
Written by a native English speaker with two years of French immersion (going into grade 3).... H/T ES
This clip shows that good charter schools can, in addition to benefiting their own students, be game-changers for students in conventional schools as well.