Parents in New York are joining a growing movement to opt out of high-stakes testing for their children:
In response to the growing criticism, Arne Duncan, the White House’s Education secretary, this month said it was “fascinating” that some of the Common Core’s detractors are “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” There was an uproar among parents and administrators. “Did he really say that?” wrote Long Island superintendent Joseph Rella in an open letter. Duncan later “regretted” his phrasing, but what was most telling about his comment was that it seemed to acknowledge that support for the Common Core is being derailed in part by how it plays into the culture of anxiety often associated with high-stakes testing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4377 words)
Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun takes stock of what’s working, and what’s not, with regard to online university courses:
As Thrun was being praised by Friedman, and pretty much everyone else, for having attracted a stunning number of students–1.6 million to date–he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes, which is fewer than 10%. Not all of those people received a passing grade, either, meaning that for every 100 pupils who enrolled in a free course, something like five actually learned the topic. If this was an education revolution, it was a disturbingly uneven one.
“We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Thrun tells me. “It was a painful moment.” Turns out he doesn’t even like the term MOOC.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 16, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5041 words)
A history of the Texas textbook wars, and questions of whether those seeking to influence changes to textbooks can hold onto their power:
But highly placed stakeholders — ranging from those in publishing to sitting board members — believe the culture warriors are losing the ability to run roughshod over state education. After years of alienating the Legislature, the state board has seen its influence weakened. A changing textbook marketplace has eroded Texas’ clout, and technology is sweeping into the classroom, bringing with it the next generation of learning materials. The statewide reach of the culture warriors is ending.
The biggest test will take place when the state board considers a new high-school biology text next week. Another will follow in the ensuing months, as it takes up a new social studies text. How the state board and publishers respond to Bohlin’s critiques, to his evolutionary “gaps,” will determine whether the innuendo of God lingers in classroom discussions about evolution. It will determine whether the political ideology of an elected board shapes, by omission and addition, the history of America Texas students will learn for years hence.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5072 words)
On "the long-buried history of Nazi-era anatomy" which used corpses of political dissidents and euthanasia victims, and how the work haunts modern science:
Unlike the research of Nazi scientists who became obsessed with racial typing and Aryan superiority, Stieve’s work didn’t end up in the dustbin of history. The tainted origins of this research—along with other studies and education that capitalized on the Nazi supply of human body parts—continue to haunt German and Austrian science, which is only now fully grappling with the implications. Some of the facts, amazingly, are still coming to light. And some German, Austrian, and Polish universities have yet to face up to the likely presence of the remains of Hitler’s victims—their cell and bone and tissue—in university collections that still exist today.
This history matters for its own sake. It also matters for debates that remain unresolved—about how anatomists get bodies and what to do with research that is scientifically valuable but morally disturbing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8426 words)
The writer, who was a K-12 educator for 10 years, on the decline of science education in the classroom and how it's affecting students and the way they view the world:
Sometimes we planted seeds and bulbs in paper cups and left them to sprout on the windowsill, but mostly I didn’t worry about science. I was teaching them to read; I was working on their cultural literacy.
But science is cultural literacy, a fact that became apparent when a friend teaching in the same school told me about getting her fifth graders ready for their statewide science test. Preparation was hurried, last-minute, cursory: their scores would not be held against our Adequate Yearly Progress, after all. My friend, however, did not want her students to feel blindsided by the test, so she had photocopied some handouts and sample questions. “I was trying to explain photosynthesis,” she said, “and one of my kids asked me, ‘How does a plant make their food? Do they use a microwave?’ What do you say to that?”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4498 words)
This week's reading list from Emily Perper includes stories from The Kenyon Review, The Billfold, This Ain't Livin', Forbes, The Washington Blade, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
A story of love, LSD and higher education. Monroe is the author of five books, most recently the memoir, On the Outskirts of Normal.
This is from her sixth book, in progress.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 1, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5101 words)
Entertaining and infuriating exit interview with New York City's mayor, in which Bloomberg defends the rich, criticizes the current mayoral candidates, and trumpets his record across crime, education and quality of life:
"A common theme in the campaign to succeed you has been that you’ve governed primarily for the rich.
"I’m fascinated by these comments—and it is just campaign rhetoric—suggesting that we haven’t done enough for the poor. The truth of the matter is we’ve done a lot more than anybody else has ever done. The average compensation—income—for the bottom 20 percent is higher than in almost every other city. Of course, the average compensation for the top 20 percent is 25 percent higher than the next four cities. But that’s our tax base. If we can find a bunch of billionaires around the world to move here, that would be a godsend, because that’s where the revenue comes to take care of everybody else.
"Who’s paying our taxes? We pay the highest school costs in the country. It comes from the wealthy! We have an $8.5 billion budget for our Police Department. We’re the safest big city in the country—stop me when you get bored with this! Life expectancy is higher here than in the rest of the country—who’s paying for that? We want these people to come here, and it’s not our job to say that they’re over- or underpaid. I might not pay them the same thing if it was my company—maybe I’d pay them more, I don’t know. All I know is from the city’s point of view, we want these people, and why criticize them? Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the Russian billionaires to move here?"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 9, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6130 words)
The writer travels to Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, and talks to the mayor and other residents about they city's social and economic life. Here, he speaks with Dora Seitanidou, a percussionist and university worker in her late 30s:
"'If we become increasingly fascist—and Greek society is becoming increasingly fascist—you have to put the blame not only on the crisis but also on the educational system. The whole system is sick. Until recently everyone wanted to work for the government in Athens, because working for the government meant security, and it also meant you didn’t have to really work—it meant you could just set up a business for yourself on the side. Security is an obsession that was passed down from grandfather to father to son; maybe it can be explained by the fact that here in Thessaloniki, we’re almost all the descendants of refugees.' (Many of the inhabitants of Thessaloniki are the descendants of Greeks who were run out of Turkey.) 'Take my uncle and aunt, for example; they’re not incredibly rich people, but they have five houses. They have the house that they live in, three houses they rent out, and they also have a vacation home. The Greek is obsessed with property because he sees property ownership as security. My uncle and aunt have a son who’s confined to a wheelchair; they think that those houses are going to guarantee his financial security.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5163 words)