Friday, August 5, 2011

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Conservatives Need Not Apply

When home, private, parochial, and public schooling is completed, the next step is college. So, parents, before you commit your kids and your money to an institution of higher learning, know what you are paying for.

In the late 1990s the mayor of Milwaukee, John Norquist, made a moderately sound observation in an innocent remark. He said, “You could go Yeshiva University and become a rabbi. You could go to a theological seminary and become a Catholic priest. Or you could go to the University of Wisconsin and become a communist.”

Humor aside, it will probably come as no surprise that university faculty are generally left of center. What may be surprising is how far left they are and in what numbers. On college campuses today, there are multifarious views, opinions, and dogma abounding. However, the diversity of ideas is somewhat one sided. There is plenty of room for diverse ideas as long as those ideas embrace a liberal philosophy.

The extent of the liberalism on college campuses was discussed in a couple of recently published articles. Writing for the “e-zine” (, David Horowitz exposed the lie that college campuses are bastions of intellectual diversity. Karl Zinsmeister, writing in the September, 2002 issue of American Enterprise ( echoes Mr. Horowitz’s observations.

Both writers drew upon a 2001 survey of college faculties conducted by Frank Lutz Research for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The survey was designed to determine the political affiliation (and ideology) of university faculty members.

The method of determining this information involved student volunteers. The students went through public voter registration records and cross referenced them with faculty rosters. Understandably, some faculty members were not counted in the survey because they were not registered (perhaps because their ideologies would not permit them the luxury of this patriotic responsibility). For example, of the hundreds of faculty members at UC Berkley, only 66 were found by the study to have registered. The results were divided into two categories. Faculty members who were registered with the Democratic, Green, or the Working Families Party were classified as Liberal. Those registered with the Republican or the libertarian parties were classified as Conservative. The results of the survey reveal objective evidence of the ideologies prevalent on college campuses today.

Are universities today the incubators of diversity, pursuing the principles and ideals of fee inquiry and academic freedom? Read on. A sampling of 11 of the universities in the study revealed that of 1156 faculty members registered, a shocking 92% (1069) claimed liberal party affiliation. The remaining 8% (87 individuals thinly distributed among 11 universities) were of a conservative party affiliation. The academic departments represented in the survey included Economics, Political Science, Sociology, History, Women’s Studies, Journalism, and English. Of the 11 universities in the sample, the percentage of liberals ranged from a high of 97% at both Cornell and UCLA to a low of 86% at Penn State and the University of Texas at Austin. On the other hand, the percentage of conservatives was lowest at both Cornell and UCLA at 3% and highest at Penn State and Austin at 14%.

What, then, are the implications of a liberal majority on college campuses?

Teaching: Universities with a liberal focus, says Robert Locke writing in (sic), “serve as a vast training and recruitment system for the hardcore liberal activist class.” These universities expose students to leftist ideologies, make extreme radical ideas seem normal, and make students “accept political correctness when it is imposed on them later in life.” Liberal professors profess liberal dogma and personal agendas. The first to point out inequities, liberals will shut out anything that threatens them. They promote fairness as long as ideas and opportunities counter to theirs are not permitted. To them, fairness means liberals only. Rather than being sanctuaries of “diversity,” universities have become cesspools of far left views, opinions, and extreme liberal philosophies.

The Young America’s Foundation has recently completed its “Dirty Dozen” list of politically correct courses offered by some of the nation’s most distinguished universities. For example, Brown University offers a course called “Seeing Queerly.” “Who is Black?” is offered at Harvard. The University of Minnesota has “Language and Sexual Diversity” as a course offering. Other courses on the list include “Black Feminism, Geography of Inequality, Cultural History of Rap, Ecofeminism, and Black Marxism.” One Harvard professor, Noel Ignatiev, openly advocates, in the name of racial tolerance, the abolition of the white race.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz teaches a course called “The Sexuality of Terrorism” at Cal State. She tells her students that American bomber pilots are routinely shown pornographic videos prior to missions. She further tells them that “in (Bush’s) administration are some of the most documented terrorists on the face of the Earth.” In this same course, Dunbar-Ortiz advocates that we (the U.S.) “would be better off if the feminist values (were) part of the patriarchal system.”

Young people, marinating for four or five years in these kinds of ideas, graduate as raised fist, banner carrying, slogan spouting ideologues who perpetuate the insanity and become the next generation of fanatical faculty with even more harebrained ideas.

Hiring: In the name of diversity, individuals with radical views were invited into the universities. Once in, Horowitz explains, they “excluded peers whom they perceived as obstacles to their politicized academic agendas.” The hiring doors were slammed shut behind them. Hiring practices and policies that had invited them into the inner sanctum of academia were ignored. The process of “ideological conformity” and the promulgation of “overt political agendas” became standard operating procedure. University faculty search committees are now discouraged from selecting candidates who do not share or espouse a liberal philosophy. The new unwritten hiring policies, that blatantly violate tradition and the law, serve to dissuade conservative candidates from pursuing academic careers. Thus, there has been created a poverty of conservative ideas and viewpoints on college campuses today. The traditions of intellectual diversity and free inquiry that characterized the university campuses a generation ago have been altered to reflect the agenda of a radical oligarchy.

Take for example the fine print included at the bottom of a recent position posting from Indiana University: “The university actively encourages applications and nominations of women, persons of color, applicants with disabilities and members of other underrepresented groups.” This message, or variations of it, are included with all university faculty position announcements regardless of the institution. It is bolstered by affirmative action legislation and has the weight of law behind it. As the number of conservative professors continues to decline through attrition, the term “liberal education” is taking on a whole new meaning.

What Can Parents Do? To counter the liberal threat to higher education and the survival of the culture, responsible parents must begin early to instill sound moral judgment and values in their children. It is not intrusive, it is a parental obligation to be on top of every aspect of a child’s life, especially when it comes to schooling. Just as when they were in grade school, it is important to know what is going on at the university. When it is time to send the kids off to college, know who the teachers are at the schools your kids have chosen. Do your homework. Find out what courses are required. Read course syllabi. Furthermore, internet searches will turn up the work of most professors by name.

When Johnny or Janey come home on break from college, it is vital to talk about what they are learning. Ask about how the professors are shaping the opinions of their students. Ask about the content of the classes and the ideas that are discussed. Encourage them to explore other points of view and not to blindly accept the academic jargon of the professors simply because they are in front of the class. Remind them that most professors have little or no real world experience, but operate from a purely theoretical standpoint.

Furthermore, in a capitalist economy, the same economy that is so despised by the liberal university elite, money talks. Parents refusing to allow their children to attend a university because of an overwhelming liberal faculty bias will have a profound effect upon university administration and subsequently upon faculty composition. The threat to a university’s cash flow will impact the future of the liberal agenda on college campuses.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Myth of Self-Esteem

MYTH: Good feelings flow from good works, it stands to reason, therefore, that good works will naturally flow from good feelings. If children are made to feel good about themselves, they will work harder, learn more, and treat others with more respect and dignity.

Self-esteem is an idea that was introduced into the schools for the purpose, we were told, of creating positive self concepts within children so that they will be more productive, willing to try new things, and be less afraid of failing. However, the results of the self-esteem movement have not produced the results that were promised. In the name of good intentions, teachers, parents, psychologists, and others have attempted to reverse a growing pattern of falling test scores, and increasing adolescent emotional and behavioral problems by making children feel good about themselves.

At first glance, the idea of creating self-esteem in children has merit. And indeed, self-esteem, as it was originally conceived nearly four decades ago, was based on sound logic. Its founding precept states that self-esteem is a result of good performance. The knowledge that one has done a good job on a given task creates confidence (self-esteem) within the individual with regard to similar tasks. If the individual has developed confidence with regard to the task, the level of performance will improve as will the level of confidence with the completion of each successful task. In other words, good feelings flow from good works.

However, certain liberal groups have mistaken the order of events that naturally flow from good performance and have reinterpreted them in an effort to bring about rapid change. These groups believe that if good feelings are the result of good works that it stands to reason that good works will naturally flow from good feelings. Create the good feelings first and avoid the disappointments and failures encountered during the confidence building curve.

The major difference between the two concepts is that the first is “earned” self-esteem while the second is “forced” self-esteem. Earned self-esteem is a process of building confidence over time based on successful achievements. The goal of forced self-esteem is to first make children feel good about themselves so that they will perform at higher levels of achievement without the investment of time and energy. Sounds good.

Well meaning teachers, the perennial tools of the left, are more than willing to apply the convoluted logic of forced self-esteem. This is not an indictment against all teachers. All teachers do not engage in or believe in the self-esteem movement as it is being implemented in the schools. It just happens that many teachers have liberal leanings and feel obligated to follow the liberal line. Under pressure from courts, politicians, parents, and school administrators to improve outcomes, some teachers will lock onto almost any process that promises academic improvement.

Only dedicated liberals believe they can circumvent the natural order of things with impunity. Forced self-esteem is a seductive idea that seems to make sense from a liberal perspective. With little practical research to support its claims, promoters of forced self-esteem introduced it into the schools. The results of the self-esteem movement are a generation of children with artificially inflated self-concepts based on no actual achievements, and continued downward trends in both test scores and behavior.

One of the basic foundational elements of the self-esteem movement requires that children be insulated and protected from disappointment and failure in any form. Wrong answers in a class discussion and poor performance on tests or projects are viewed as negatives that adversely effect the fragile psyches of young children. They are detrimental to the development of high self-esteem so they are never acknowledged as such. Children never feel the sting of failure. Good feelings must never be impacted by any disappointment.

Teacher advocates of self-esteem honestly believe that saying “No” to a child will prevent or impede the child’s self-esteem. Children are encouraged to respond to questions with any answer, to write without regard to spelling, punctuation, or grammar, to perform without regard to effort. Wrong answers are never acknowledged but are as enthusiastically accepted as are correct answers. One performance is not acknowledged over any other, but all performances are equally rewarded in an effort to create good feelings. To prevent the disappointment of allowing a child to make a mistake, teachers do all the work, answer all the questions, and praise all the children for the wonderful jobs they all did. Even expecting children to comply to certain behavioral expectations is tantamount to child abuse and not conducive to the development of high self-esteem. Children must be permitted to express themselves as they desire no matter how outrageous that may be. The promoters of self-esteem expect teachers to accept any answer, any effort, any behavior. No child is wrong. Remember, good performance flows from good feelings.

The flaw in this plan is that while the children are developing a strong sense of self, they are also learning that any effort, any answer, any performance is acceptable. Because of the emphasis on feeling good, children develop shortened attention spans since they have never been taught to vest themselves in the learning process. Why should they? When any effort is rewarded, there is not much sense in putting forth more than minimal effort. Learning is simply not a priority over feeling good. These kids have high self-esteem, but low ability. Their self-esteem is based on empty performance and minimal effort. But at least they feel good about it.

Can the recent eruption of school violence be traced to the self-esteem movement? It may not be such a stretch. Evidence has been presented that indicates that high self-esteem may have serious psychological consequences. One of the original guiding principles of self-esteem held that low self-esteem was responsible for violence and criminal activity. Those who held low self opinions of themselves often engaged in antisocial conduct in an effort to offset their lack of confidence in themselves. This view of cause and effect was widely accepted and contributed to the argument in favor of introducing self-esteem curricula into the schools. If children can be taught to feel good about themselves, so the argument went, they will be less likely to engage in violent or antisocial behavior.

Recently, however, this idea has come under scrutiny by some who are beginning to question the continued decline in test scores and increased violence in the schools. In an article published in The Psychological Review, researchers Roy F. Baumeister, Joseph A. Boden, and Laura Smart found that individuals who react violently in certain situations do not suffer from low self-esteem, but have instead, inflated opinions of themselves. In short, they have high self-esteem. The researchers theorized that violence is a compensatory reaction to perceived threats to the individuals’ egotism. The requirement to verify the truth about their actual abilities gives way to the need to protect their self-esteem. They defend their forced self-esteem with violence if necessary. This applies to school yard bullies as well as school house terrorists. The possibility of school violence increases when children are fed a steady diet of self importance without substance; when they are indulged and allowed to express themselves in ever more outrageous ways without criticism for years. Their self-esteem is high, but their judgment, self-control, responsibility, and empathy for others are nonexistent.

As would be expected, self-esteem is not limited only to academics. The doctrine has spilled over into extracurricular activities. From no-score athletic events to no-cut chearleading competitions, children are protected form the disappointment of losing. Non-participation in any competitive activity from student art exhibits to music competition is encouraged because competitions create winners, and where there are winners, there are also losers. Children must not be exposed to the stigma of losing. In other words, they must be protected from the horrors of reality.

An entire industry devoted to marketing this mind numbing concept has sprung up. There are commercially available self-esteem curricula for sale to schools. A search of the Internet will turn up scores of sites dedicated to the sale and promotion of self-esteem products such as books, posters, and T-shirts. According to one sales pitch from a leading self-esteem web site, “There is no greater reward than to teach someone to feel good about himself/herself.” As a teacher, this writer has always believed that the reward was in teaching people how to do something that they could not do before, or to lead students to a discovery of knowledge previously unknown. This belief has caused cries of outrage among some colleagues, but I digress.

Self-esteem attempts to level the playing field by making every one equally inefficient. Teachers should recognize that every child is good at something. They should work at helping each child discover his or her individual potential. It should not be the job of the schools to turn out legions of egotistical nit wits with minimal abilities good only to serve as interchangeable cogs for some imagined utopian machine. As long as teachers, and parents continue to accept the psycho babble of the left, programs like forced self-esteem will remain to infest the curricula of the schools, and stifle our children’s intellectual promise.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

High Stakes Testing: Are They Valid Indicators Of Learning?

MYTH: Testing is a valid and reliable indicator of learning. Schools should focus only on results of standardized testing. An emphasis on testing will ensure a higher standard of learning for the children.

Benjamin Franklin once said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That is exactly what we are seeing in the schools today on many levels. If throwing money at a problem does not solve the problem, policy makers invariably believe that throwing more money at it will make it better. If regulations prove ineffective, the prevailing approach is to add more regulations. Schools are held hostage by a group of radicals that came of age in the 1960s and refuse to abandon their favorite issues even when evidence overwhelmingly proves these ideas to be clunkers. Insanity.

When SAT and ACT scores began to decline in the 1960s, policy makers (note: not educators) grew concerned and felt that something should be done. By the 1970s there was a school reform movement that advocated minimum competency testing for high school graduation. A set of standards was defined that represented the basic educational requirements necessary for minimum functional participation in the society. Tests were promptly designed and administered. By the early 1980s, the flaws in this approach began to emerge. It appeared that minimum competency was dumbing down the curriculum. For students, as long as only the minimums were required for graduation, there was not much sense in learning more than was needed. Nor was there a need for teachers to teach more than was required by the tests.

In 1983, National Commission on Education released A Nation At Risk. The report recommended an end to minimum competency testing and called for tougher standards. It was generally perceived that American education was failing and that the U.S. would loose its preeminent global position. Citing loses in international test scores and deteriorating conditions in the schools, the Commission provoked hysteria among the public. It effectively argued that states should implement high standards, improved curricula, and tough assessments, and hold schools accountable for meeting the standards. Thus was born the testing movement that preoccupies educators and the schools today.

Daniel Koretz of the Harvard Graduate School of Education says that “tests are cheap and very powerful and have an aura of objectivity.” Testing seems like a good idea. But along with testing comes a plethora of predicaments and problems. Not satisfied with merely imposing standardized tests on the schools, policy makers and other special interest groups (not educators) added “incentives” to the mix. In the typical seems-to-make-sense ideology of the left, it was claimed that incentives for learning and sanctions for poor performance would improve the schools.

With the addition of incentives and sanctions standardized testing has evolved into high-stakes testing with punishments imposed at a rate two to three times that of rewards. Forty-five states hold schools accountable for poor performance. Twenty-seven use ranking or rating systems. Sixteen can fire teachers and administrators, while 14 states have the authority to take over schools that fail to perform. Eleven states can revoke a school’s accreditation. In contrast, only 22 states offer incentives to top performing schools.

Teachers and schools have long been viewed as ineffective, if not completely incompetent, by the general public. This view has been promoted by progressive types who would use the schools to advance their agenda. These same progressives have tampered with the schools for the last several decades and have had a serious impact upon educational policy. They have created the very problems that they now point out as weaknesses and failures. For these groups there is a desperate need to draw attention away from their shortcomings as pedagogical experts. The punitive aspects associated with high stakes testing appear to offer these groups a certain satisfaction. The sanctions are intended to force the schools and teachers to improve or else. The testing movement is a way for the liberals to hold schools accountable for declining academic outcomes.

In New York, for example, the State Board of Regents, made up of politicians and business leaders, resolved that the schools were failing badly. They determined that the only way to improve the schools was to improve the test scores. So they passed legislation that mandated high stakes testing. The results were dismal. To prepare students for the test, the curriculum was altered to be more in line with the tests, and daily drills were begun. During this time, failure and dropout rates increased while there was a noted increase (22%) in the number of “special education” diplomas. As a means to disguise the dropout rates, students were placed in General Education Development (GED) programs.

As these dismal results were reported to the board of regents, their response was to add more layers of requirements. Still, the damage continued. Despite the fact that none of the regents ever had any teaching experience, they determined that they knew the best way to improve education.

In 1999, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) stated that “high stakes tests often fail to assess accurately students’ knowledge, understanding, and capability. Raising test scores does not improve education.” The problem is that high stakes testing forces schools to teach to the tests. When schools are forced to focus on testing, memorization of facts are emphasized over the development of problem solving, critical and analytical thinking skills. With pressure to show positive results, schools, administrators, and teachers tend to narrow their focus as they sink into survival mode.

High stakes standardized testing has not proved to be a valid indicator of learning. This form of testing only proves that students can be trained to select answers from a list. On reading tests, for example, drill and practice tests have succeeded in raising the passing rate of students on reading tests, but many of the same students are unable to apply those skills to actual reading. In the middle grades, teachers have reported that students who pass reading tests have grown accustomed to responding to the short passages on the tests and have difficulty with lengthier reading assignments. Furthermore, some students are unable to apply reading skills to other academic areas, despite success with reading tests. Is it any wonder that scores continue to rise while minimum abilities of graduates decline?

As for the tests themselves, cheating and manipulation is not uncommon. Editor in Chief of The American Enterprise, Karl Zinsmeister, writes of one school on Staten Island. When parents complained, “the Board of Education’s Office of Special Investigations uncovered wide spread cheating at School 5, but not by sneaky students. The school’s principal (had) altered answer sheets.”

In Birmingham, Alabama, 522 low performing high school students were expelled shortly before a district wide SAT test was scheduled. Susan Ohanian, a Senior Fellow at the Vermont Society for the Study of Education, said of the Birmingham 522, “the easiest way to raise the scores is to make sure the bottom students don’t take the test.” Could it have been mere coincidence that the Birmingham schools superintendent was given a bonus when test scores went up?

A study by Arizona State University was conducted to determine if testing indicated any transference of knowledge “beyond what was required to perform on...high-stakes test(s).” In light of increasing test scores, the findings revealed that “there is little support in these data that such increases are anything but the result of test preparation.” The study also found that “high-stakes testing programs have unintended consequences such as a narrowing of the curriculum, heavy use of drill as the method of instruction, increased student drop-out rates, teachers and schools cheating on the exams, and teachers’ defection from the profession.”

The NCTE also stated that “high stakes testing often harms students’ daily experience of learning, displaces more thoughtful and creative curriculum, diminishes the emotional well-being of educators and children and unfairly damages the life-chances of members of vulnerable groups.” In short, standardized, high stakes testing is not working.

As authors of the ASU study, Audry Amrein and David Berliner, stated, “the harder teachers work to directly prepare students for a high-stakes test, the less likely the test will be valid for the purposes it was intended.” Public Education today is like a vast Rube Goldberg machine: all bells, whistles, and moving parts. It appears to be accomplishing something, but the end product is disproportionate to the amount of energy and resources expended.

The sad irony of high stakes testing is that there is a group intimately involved with education that is rarely, if ever, consulted regarding school improvement issues. Yet, this group almost always receives the blame when the innovative programs fail to deliver as promised. This group? It is the teachers. The teachers provide a convenient scapegoat for the progressives that seek to manipulate the schools. But, it is not the teachers who are to blame. Forty years of liberal manipulation is the real cause of declining academic outcomes. High stakes testing is merely the current hysteria promoted by the left.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Outcome Based Education: Another Name for Creeping Socialism

MYTH: The establishment of predetermined educational outcomes will improve test scores and more children will have access to academic success.

At the turn of the last century, Harvard professor George Santayana wrote: “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”

In pre WW II Germany, Adolph Hitler made sweeping changes to the educational system for the purpose of restructuring German society. Inspired by Soviet revolutionaries, his goal was a National Socialist state in which its citizens complied with specific expectations. To accomplish this, he introduced a system of instruction that de-emphasized academic knowledge in favor of attitudinal outcomes. In his own words, Hitler said, “The People’s State must reconstruct our system of general instruction in such a way that it will embrace only what is essential” (Mein Kampf, Vol. II, Chap. 2). He succeeded in establishing a state curriculum through legal maneuvers, laws, and intimidation. Gradually, even private and parochial schools were pressured into compliance or faced the loss of government subsidies and tax concessions. Before the start of hostilities, every institution of learning in Germany was in compliance with the state curriculum creating a population of happily complacent and compliant worker drones.
Seven decades later, we are seeing history repeat itself. One of the more popular educational fads to darken the hallways of American schools in recent years is that known as outcome based education (OBE). The similarities between OBE and Hitler’s National Socialist curriculum are disturbing. Like Hitler’s curriculum, the ultimate goal of OBE is the total reconstruction of the educational system and eventually the reengineering of society.
OBE is another in a continuing series of experimental educational schemes that have been inaugurated without proven research data to back up their vague promises and outright lies. It is new age psychobabble and junk science. But unlike other flawed educational experiments, OBE has the weight of law to enforce its total implementation.
OBE is one of those knee-jerk responses intended to correct perceived problems with the schools: falling test scores, increasing violence, and prevailing apathy toward education in general. OBE was not developed by teachers. It was introduced by a radical group of liberal psychologists, sociologists, and politicians for the purpose, we were told, of saving our ailing educational system. This group included the father of OBE, ex-Harvard professor William Spady, management consultant Charles Schwahn, and psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser. With Workforce 2000, authored by Arnold Packer of Johns Hopkins University, and the National Education Association’s (NEA) Ten Cardinal Principals as a blueprint for the Federal Goals 2000, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, pushed through legislation that set the stage for what is being called “a train wreck in slow motion.”
Outcome based education, as it is enthusiastically promoted by its liberal supporters, “is simply the establishment of expected goals or outcomes for different levels of elementary-secondary education, and a commitment to ensuring that every student achieves at least those minimum proficiencies before being allowed to graduate.” Now, if this sounds good, it’s supposed to. OBE is actually a broad based, legislatively mandated program designed to dumb down the curriculum in schools so that everyone achieves the same level of “mastery.”
Our traditional system of education has been academically oriented, with teacher directed instruction. Based on a curriculum rich in content, students acquire “core knowledge” then are tested to determine their ability to formulate conclusions or judgments based on that knowledge. On the other hand, OBE represents a shift away from the traditional educational system in which content and core knowledge are emphasized, to one which emphasizes attitudes and beliefs.
With OBE there is a tremendous potential to influence students with a politically correct set of doctrines. We are already seeing an increased emphasis on radical issues such as global citizenship, environmentalism, humanism, self-esteem, and human sexuality at the expense of core subjects such as math science, history, and writing. Hitler had a similar idea when he said, “The subject of our historical teaching must be curtailed.” When we see schools today refusing to teach about our founding fathers on the pretext that to do so will offend someone, are we witnessing a move to Hitlerian revisionist history?
In some school districts currently, an average of only 41% of the school day is devoted to core subjects. The other 59% is made up of a smorgasbord of values based course offerings. These new courses are designed to increase student awareness, teach tolerance, instill self-esteem, and resolve conflicts. They teach values clarification, moral reasoning, gender and lifestyle issues, and other high sounding new age mumbo jumbo topics.
OBE has a deceptive way of showing improvement over results of the traditional system: it simply lowers the standards and relies on ambiguous assessment methods. The outcomes are values based and require the student to demonstrate attitudes, behaviors, and feelings, but not knowledge or judgment. Competition is discouraged. Group participation and team building take precedence over intellectual development of the individual. Brighter students are held to the same level of mastery as their less academically blessed classmates. They wait while less scholarly students attempt mastery of the material forcing the brighter students to comply with the lowered standards.
Just as Hitler used legal tactics to impose his curriculum, OBE has legislation in place that will impose its insidiousness on our schools. The well known Federal Goals 2000 established a mandatory curriculum for schools and proposals for eliminating local control of schools. Public Law 103-382, passed in 1994, set aside $8 billion for schools to use to implement OBE. The federal Education Act H.R. 6 allows for the elimination of laws which may interfere with OBE implementation. Under this legislation, schools will be forced to implement OBE or face the loss of federal funding, or worse, takeover by the government.
And just as Hitler pressured private and parochial schools to comply, our government is bringing privates and parochials into the sinister web of OBE. The much touted government vouchers are cunning devices to reduce the efficacy of private and parochial schools. By promising high expectation/low income parents the opportunity to send their children to these options to public schools, the government is laying the ground work for the elimination of these alternatives as we have come to know them. Federal law requires that once an institution of learning accepts government funding it must comply with government educational standards. This means that once vouchers are issued, OBE will begin to infest private and parochial schools as well. Shortly after that, the last bastion of parental control, home schooling, will be outlawed.
It doesn’t take a social scientist to see the danger in outcome based education. The dumbing down of the curriculum, emphasis on attitudinal outcomes, self-esteem, alternative assessments, etc. will produce a nation of happily complacent and compliant worker drones. Creativity will disappear and individual initiative will become a foot note in the revisionist history books. Even a cursory examination of it will show that OBE has socialism written all over it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Reading Is Fundamental

MYTH: Children learn to talk by being exposed to a language-rich environment. Therefore, they will learn to read by simply being exposed to a reading-rich environment without need for much reading instruction.

The ability to read defines literacy, and a literate populace is essential to a free, informed society. With that in mind, the founding purpose of schools in America over 300 years ago was to teach children to read. For over 250 years, our schools pursued that foundational purpose with noticeable success. Unfortunately, schools today seem no longer to be following their founding precepts. Reading scores are plummeting despite huge amounts of effort and resources being expended in an effort to reverse the trend.

It is difficult to ignore the diminishing reading abilities of today’s students with facts such as these: In California, a study conducted among 374 Sacramento first and second graders found them at the 23rd percentile on a nationally administered standardized reading test. Newsweek recently reported that none of the fourth grade students in ten of 22 Camden, NJ, elementary schools passed the state’s reading proficiency test. Nationally, 40% of fourth graders lack basic skills in reading, and the number is somewhat higher for high school students. Reading below the basic level means that these students demonstrate “little or no mastery of the knowledge necessary to perform work at each grade level” (National Assessment of Educational Progress).
The culprit behind this disaster is a reading instruction philosophy called “whole language.” It is one of the educational reforms, like the infamous “new math,” that inundated public schools in the 1970s and 80s. However, unlike new math this one is still around. Whole language advocates enthusiastically promoted the concept as a method of improving reading skills among all children regardless of social or economic background or cognitive ability.

Whole language is really nothing new. The debate over the effectiveness of phonics (how letters sound) and any other trendy reading instruction format (that emphasizes whole words and stories, but not the sounds letters make) has been going on for decades. “Why Johnny Can’t Read” was published in 1955. It was an attempt to bring attention to the damaging effects of the method of reading instruction that was prevalent at the time. Back then, a method similar to whole language was competing with phonics and was known as “look-say” and “sight reading.” The difference now is that whole language has the weight of “research” behind it to make it appear effective. The fact is that, like most educational reforms, there is little or no evidence to support its claims of success. There is, however, a mass of evidence that proves the opposite.
So what is whole language? Whole language advocates believe that children can learn to read in much the same way they learn to speak. If children learn to talk by being exposed to a language-rich environment, it follows that they will learn to read by being exposed to a reading-rich environment without need for much instruction. The whole language teacher is primarily a facilitator overseeing students in a non-threatening (read that non-correcting, non-teaching) atmosphere.

Children in whole language programs memorize a few dozen frequently used words and assume context by pictures on the page. They are taught to guess rather than sound out unfamiliar words. They are never criticized for mistakes, but encouraged to take chances. They are taught to skip words they don’t know (skipping strategies) and to substitute or predict words that seem to fit the context. When writing, whole language children use “invented” spelling, punctuation, and grammar without fear of being marked wrong. “Invented spelling has always gotten, and still gets, dismal long-term results,” writes Myrna McCulloch, founder of the nonprofit literacy corporation The Riggs Institute, “because it programs the young mind with the wrong information which is not easily erased.” The priority is not literacy, but self esteem.
Together, cognitive psychologist Frank Smith and University of Arizona professor Ken Goodman, developed the theories behind whole language in the late 1960s. They conducted research which essentially consisted of listening to people read aloud. Apparently Prof. Goodman could not believe that the human brain was capable of processing visual symbols into sounds as rapidly as was being demonstrated. He reasoned that the readers were guessing words in sequence based on context and were not relying on spelling. He further reasoned that if the ability to guess could be improved and reliance on individual letters de-emphasized that reading ability would improve. It was Smith who concluded that reading was acquired in the same way as the spoken word and should be taught in as natural a way as possible.

However, if Goodman and Smith were serious researchers, they would have found that readers do fixate on every letter in a text. They would have also learned that each letter is unconsciously sounded out with incredible speed. McCulloch says, “Comprehension ‘happens’ because (readers) analyze, think, deduce, and create as they move through...integrated steps to mastery of their language. Once decoding is automatic, the mind ‘frees’ for full comprehension.”
Unfortunately, the theories developed by Goodman and Smith have given academic validity to the old look-say and sight reading methods. And like most trendy educational reforms, they have been inaugurated with much fan fare and hollow promises, but very little evidence of effectiveness. When asked if research studies from other disciplines supported his findings, Professor Goodman could not identify any. “There is no know research to support their theory,” says McCulloch.

By the 1980s, whole language was well established in teachers colleges. And there has been no lessening of its influence in the years since. In university teacher training programs, young teacher candidates, eager to learn the procedures of their trade, enthusiastically absorb lessons taught by liberal professors. These professors have little or no real world experience. They are either the developers (like Goodman, and thus have a vested interest in the promotion of these twisted ideas), or are disciples of Age of Aquarius instructional methods. Because these methods have been buttressed with a sequence of activities, it is easy to pass them off as effective, meaningful, and serious. The professors further back up their claims of success with new age double speak, false statistics, and outright lies.

Eager, young teachers in training learn methods that appear to be sound pedagogical procedures because of their logical sequence of activities. They are told how wonderfully effective these methods are. And, with newly acquired skills and undergraduate degrees, the new teachers unsuspectingly go forth into the schools to spread the infection yet further. These unsuspecting novices, taught to believe that what they do is effective because their university instructors told them so, go through the motions of teaching children to read. When they don’t get it, the kids are classified as ADHD, dyslexic, or are branded as developmentally disabled, and the teachers unions scream for more money to expand the programs. The whole language crowd would never admit to its part in the stupification of America’s children. Instead they point trembling, tear stained fingers at social, economic, or racial factors as reasons for unacceptable outcomes. The irony is that these are the very factors that whole language was intended to transcend.
The fact is, phonics works, whole language doesn’t. Whole language relies heavily on context and visual cues making it a pictographic form of reading, which is completely antithetical for use with an auditory form. “Phonics by definition is first auditory as is training in phonemic awareness,” writes McCulloch. “Children...must articulate the sounds (of letters); that means not with key word or pictures. Sounds go with symbols or the letters which stand for the sounds on paper. The English alphabet is a sounds/symbol system. It is not a pictographic system.”

This debate begs the question, “Why can’t Johnny read?” Well, the answer is, “Because, while they were teaching him to feel good about himself, no one taught Johnny how to read.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Class Size Reduction: The Next Great Leap...Backward

MYTH: Student-teacher ratios in today’s classrooms are too high. Students are short changed and do not receive appropriate teacher attention. As a result, children are not able to reach their true academic potential. Smaller classes would result in better student-teacher interaction, children would receive the attention they deserve, and test scores would increase.

Since the mid-1960s, student achievement and test scores have been steadily declining while discipline problems have increased. One option to reverse these trends is to reduce the size of classes. Common sense dictates that large classes increase teacher work loads and stress, limit the amount and quality of individual attention that teachers can provide students, breeds unfavorable student behaviors, and diminishes the academic potential of students. On the other hand, smaller classes result in increased student-teacher interaction, reduced teacher work load and stress, better classroom management, fewer discipline problems, and improved student achievement.

This idea has captured the attention of the National Education Association. The NEA has promoted this concept tirelessly to school districts throughout the land with varying degrees of success. Arguing in favor of the "common-sense attractiveness" of the idea, class size reduction (CSR) promises to be an uncomplicated way to increase educational efficacy. The NEA recommends an optimal student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1. To achieve this goal would require an initial hiring of only 100,000 new teachers. Therefore, the solution to declining test scores, academic achievement, and discipline problems is to simply hire more teachers.
Sounds like a good plan.

Now, before you set your hair on fire and run screaming to your local school board demanding that they hire more teachers, let’s take a closer look at class size reduction.
In the 1950s, the national average student-teacher ratio was 30 to 1. By the 1990s, the student-teacher ratio had fallen to 19 to 1. This is a decline in the ratio of 37%.
From the late 60s to the late 90s, spending on public education increased 61% more than inflation. Over the same period, achievement and test scores declined. From the mid-60s through the 90s, the average SAT scores fell by 58 points. Despite a reduction in average class size, and increased spending on education, both promoted as essential to educational improvement, scholastic achievement plummeted.

Educationists love to compare U.S. students with students in other countries. International test scores are consistently higher than equivalent U.S. scores. Yet, class size does not appear to be a significant factor in nations with larger average class sizes. For example, Korean classes average 49 students while in Japan, the average is 36. Both countries trounce U.S. students on test scores.

Is there any evidence that smaller classes actually produce the results promised? In 1985, Tennessee began a controlled experiment called "Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio" (STAR). The STAR program was planned to provide "scientific evidence on the effects of class size reduction." The goal of the program was to reduce the ratio to 15 to 1 (based on the same vague research used by the NEA that pointed to that ratio as significant).

About the only significant finding of the STAR project was that the relationship between smaller class size and improved achievement was in kindergarten or first grade. Subsequent improvement did not follow in grades beyond K-1. If the theory was sound, it should have shown continued improvement in each successive grade level. Achievement gains, therefore, in grades K-1 were not, in and of themselves, the direct result of smaller class size, but reflected a "one-time acquisition of social and learning behaviors subsequent years."

Sixteen Austin, Texas schools participated in a CSR program in the 1980s. Each school was given $300,000 each year over a five year period to be used to reduce the student-teacher ratio. At the end of the five year period, only two schools were able to demonstrate any significant improvement. And those two schools, unlike the other 14, had invested heavily in "intensive teacher training, and rigorous academic standards," in addition to CSR.

In 1993, Nevada’s "Class Size Evaluation Study" found that "achievement levels remained about the same when small classes were compared with larger classes."

Between 1995 and 1997, Wisconsin initiated a CSR experiment called "Student Achievement Guarantee in Education" (SAGE). In contrast to Tennessee’s STAR program, SAGE went beyond CSR, but had as its goal the same 15 to 1 ratio. In the SAGE program, other factors introduced were "a revised, rigorous academic curriculum, professional development, and accountability initiatives," to name a few. Achievement gains were realized under the SAGE program. However, because of the other variables, "one cannot assume that any increases in student learning are due to class size reduction alone."

Accumulated evidence not withstanding, the state of California in 1996, mandated class size reduction for grades kindergarten through third grade. An appropriation of $1.5 billion was dangled out there as an incentive to schools to reduce the state wide student-teacher ratio to 20 to 1. California’s plan resulted in an immediately perceived teacher shortage. To fill the vacancies created by the plan, districts were forced to hire inexperienced, sometimes unqualified teachers or lose out on a portion of the Sacramento Cash Cow. Though the ratio was reduced, the quality of instruction was reduced as well, negating any possible academic gains realized from CSR.

Some major findings did come out of the various CSR experiments, studies, and programs. One was that small classes only at the kindergarten and first grade levels appear to be beneficial to initiating higher academic potential. Small classes beyond that tend not to demonstrate a linear progression of improvement beyond those levels. Another significant finding appears to be that of (gasp!) teacher quality.

Over 1100 studies focusing on class size and academic achievement have failed to find any significant relationship between the two. Yet, despite a dearth of evidence to support their claims regarding the benefits of class-size reduction, the NEA continues to pound the CSR drum.
There are other factors relative to class size reduction that the NEA would rather not disclose in its zeal to swell the ranks of teachers. Staff salaries can represent up to 80% of a typical school district’s budget. Staff includes all paid employees of a district: teachers, aides, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, etc. If teachers represent about two-thirds of a district’s paid staff, an increase of 50% in the number of certified teachers would increase to only 85.7% of total budget allocations for teacher salaries.

That doesn’t sound like much of an increase. And, indeed, in this situation those promoting CSR would say that staff salary allocations would represent a modest increase of only 5.7%. In truth, the actual increase translates to 40% more than the previous budget with no corresponding increase in non-teaching, support, and physical plant budgetary considerations. Toss in the cost of more classroom space to handle the increased number of classes and the 40% number begins to skyrocket. Consider also additional curricular materials, books, supplies, and staff training, maintenance of the new classrooms, more custodians, more food service, more utilities (heating, cooling, etc.), and the 40% increase seems like a bargain. The figure of 85.7% of the new school budget allocated for staff salaries is for a budget at least 40% higher, and in all likelihood much higher, than before.

Where does that money come from? Certainly not the NEA. It comes from tax payers in form of higher property taxes. Funds not received from this source come from increased income taxes that are redistributed through the U.S. Department of Education in form of incentives to schools. Case in point: the unworkable No Child Left Behind Act offers billions to cash strapped schools if they hop on the NCLB band wagon. (FYI: the Department of Education was elevated to Cabinet level in 1979 by Jimmy Carter as a pay back to the NEA for its endorsement of him in the 1976 election. Is there an NEA/DOE connection? Well, as they say, that’s a wholenuther story.) Either way, the taxpayer is compelled to fork it over with little or no return on the "investment."

Teaching today has become little more than containment and baby sitting. This is due in large part to frightened, easily intimidated administrators who routinely sacrifice teachers on the alter of self-preservation. They cave when faced with unreasonable demands of special interest groups. In the absence of good leadership and administrative support, teaching becomes an exercise in futility. Administrators reluctant to allow classroom teachers to perform as per their job descriptions, or are unwilling to support faculty with discipline matters, send a message to students that learning is not meaningful. If teachers can’t teach because of poor support or training, class size is irrelevant.

In summary, class size has been shown to be an insignificant factor in improving academic achievement. It appears, however, that the emphasis should be placed on (are you ready?) teaching. Instead of tossing money down the CSR rat hole, it would be better spent on ongoing staff training. Equally important is administrative support of faculty. This can be accomplished with no increase in capital expenditures.

So, the NEA is desperately seeking 100,000 new teachers in the name of class size reduction. But if class size is not a factor in academic proficiency, what, then, is the fuss all about? The answer is that smaller classes mean more teachers. More teachers mean more money and more political clout. In the end, the NEA gets what it wants: smaller classes, and more teachers (especially more teachers). In fact, the only group that benefits from this stratagem is the NEA.