Sunday, November 26, 2006

School daze

Malcolm is preparing for the builders to arrive. This has meant some heavy tidying, clearing, filing, shredding and putting away. This has somewhat cut into his reading, thinking and pontificating. It also means—be prepared!—a build-up of unvented spleen.

He animadverts, in passing, to the topic of schooling (significantly, Malcolm usually distinguishes between "education" (good) and "schooling" (err .... he's ambiguous about that).

For instance, the New York Times Magazine (which goes out with the Saturday instalment of the weekend paperfest) is discussing "Still Left Behind", the apparent failings of the Bush régime's attempt at "Education, education, education". Paul Tough's extended essay is available on line, and is well worth the study. At the very least, Sunday idlers may readily get up to speed through's summary:
President Bush originally pledged to eliminate the achievement gap between white and minority students by 2014, but results have been mixed. Test scores indicate a drop in eighth-grade reading proficiency from 2002 to 2005. Fourth-grade math scores are up, but minority students still fall short of their white counterparts. Academics have tackled the question of causes—one team of child psychologists believes parental communication styles affect language development—while educators look for solutions. One approach, coined by the Knowlege Is Power Program schools, is called "Slant." Teachers train students to "sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes."
Malcolm believes "Slant" amounts to "sit down, shut up, and tune in". So much for "interactive learning" or whatever "progressive model" is in vogue this week.

In reality, as the full NYT article makes clear, the "No Child Left Behind" program is based on a whole series of continuing deceptions and self-deceptions by the Bushies. The biggest of these is that the attainment gap between rich and poor (which in the broadest terms, US and UK alike also means the cultural, ethnic and racial divides) can be eliminated—and all by 2014! Here comes the cruncher:
In 2002, when No Child Left Behind went into effect, 13 percent of the nation’s black eighth-grade students were “proficient” in reading, the assessment’s standard measure of grade-level competence. By 2005 (the latest data), that number had dropped to 12 percent. (Reading proficiency among white eighth-grade students dropped to 39 percent, from 41 percent.) The gap between economic classes isn’t disappearing, either: in 2002, 17 percent of poor eighth-grade students (measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunches) were proficient in reading; in 2005, that number fell to 15 percent.
The "experts" (in this case, "Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, child psychologists at the University of Kansas, who in 1995 published the results of an intensive research project on language acquisition") have come up with an analysis that any teacher with an ounce of wit could have described:
  1. bourgeois kids get talked to more than their less-privileged contemporaries, so
  2. they therefore acquire language skills faster and earlier; and
  3. this is what is generally called "intelligence".
In passing, Malcolm notes how his generation grew up listening to the radio (where, famously, the pictures are better), and therefore on the receiving end of everything from the Goons and Gruntfuttock to The Brains Trust. Any of that involves a steep learning curve and a broad imagination: Malcolm now wonders just how much of Julian and Sandy's polari he truly understood. A quick round of appreciation, then, for BBC7—an enlightened DfES would make it part of the "literacy strategy".

However, at least the British (i.e. the Labour Government's continuing) attempt at combating the social divide in learning is not so corrupt as that in the US. Tough's peroration is damning. Watch this:
Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.
And it gets worse:
The most malignant element of the original law was that it required all states to achieve proficiency but then allowed each state to define proficiency for itself. It took state governments a couple of years to realize just what that meant, but now they have caught on ... At the head of this pack right now is Mississippi, which has declared 89 percent of its fourth-grade students to be proficient readers, the highest percentage in the nation, while in fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that only 18 percent of Mississippi fourth graders know how to read at an appropriate level — the second-lowest score of any state. In the past year, Arizona, Maryland, Ohio, North Dakota and Idaho all followed Mississippi’s lead and slashed their standards in order to allow themselves to label uneducated students educated. The federal government has permitted these maneuvers ...
It seems there are things worse than OFSTED.

While on the topic of "schooling", Malcolm also managed a brief fulmination on the superficiality of the (usually more sensible) Ham and High's Broadway (i.e. Muswell Hill) edition. Two stories about schoolkids being disruptive prompted this "Comment":
Rather than telling students off, there needs to be more of a focus on re-educating them about their anti-social behaviour. By working with them, aqnd not against them, it is possible to show young people that their behaviour is wrong.
But teachers also need to take responsibility for the problem and identify the bullies before they strike. A visible presence on the streets as well as in the school is the only way to ensure students behave.
This is piffle, and dangerous: we are dealing here with youths who have reached the age of discretion and responsiblity. It is not a question of "re-education", but of active enforcement: such offenders know the difference between right and wrong. It is for general society to invoke sanctions. These events took place in a locality infested with CCTV in every public and retail space. Teachers do not have "responsibility" or any authority in such situations: indeed, a teacher foolish enough go from "visible presence on the streets" to active involvement (which is the logical corollary) would exacerbate matters, even be put at personal and professional risk.

The two different issues that Malcolm addressed here are at opposite ends of the scale of polity. They share common elements:
  1. There are executive agencies who must actively enforce the end, not merely mouthily will the deed.
  2. When the mood music you've requested isn't working, don't just shoot the pianist.
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