Category Archives: education

America’s Unlevel Field – NYTimes.com

America’s Unlevel Field – NYTimes.com.

Op-Ed Columnist

America’s Unlevel Field

Last month President Obama gave a speech invoking the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt on behalf of progressive ideals — and Republicans were not happy. Mitt Romney, in particular, insisted that where Roosevelt believed that “government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities,” Mr. Obama believes that “government should create equal outcomes,” that we should have a society where “everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk.”

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Let’s talk for a minute about the actual state of the playing field.

Americans are much more likely than citizens of other nations to believe that they live in a meritocracy. But this self-image is a fantasy: as a report in The Times last week pointed out, America actually stands out as the advanced country in which it matters most who your parents were, the country in which those born on one of society’s lower rungs have the least chance of climbing to the top or even to the middle.

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Read the full article here: The New York Times

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Our Universities: Why Are They Failing? by Anthony Grafton | The New York Review of Books

Our Universities: Why Are They Failing? by Anthony Grafton | The New York Review of Books.

Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?

November 24, 2011

Anthony Grafton

American universities crowd the tops of many world rankings, and though these ratings are basically entertainment for university administrators and alumni, they do reflect certain facts. A number of American universities offer their faculty salaries and working conditions, laboratories and libraries that few institutions elsewhere can match. They spend more not only on their staff, but also on their graduate and undergraduate students, than their peers overseas. Though their fees seem enormous by European or Asian standards, they have worked hard in recent years to keep them from deterring poor students by offering more generous aid for undergraduates and by paying full fees for all doctoral students. At every level of the system, dedicated professors are setting students on fire with enthusiasm for everything from the structure of crystals to the structure of poems.

Yet American universities also attract ferocious criticism, much of it from professors and from journalists who know them well, and that’s entirely reasonable too. Every coin has its other side, every virtue its corresponding vice—and practically every university its festering sores. At the most prestigious medical schools, professors publish the work of paid flacks for pharmaceutical companies under their own names. At many state universities and more than a few private ones, head football and basketball coaches earn millions and their assistants hundreds of thousands for running semiprofessional teams. Few of these teams earn much money for the universities that sponsor them, and some brutally exploit their players.

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What Is College For? – NYTimes.com

What Is College For? – NYTimes.com.

December 14, 2011, 6:30 pm

What Is College For?

Most American college students are wrapping up yet another semester this week. For many of them, and their families, the past months or years in school have likely involved considerable time, commitment, effort and expense. Was it worth it?

Some evidence suggests that it was.  A Pew Research survey this year found that 74 percent of graduates from four-year colleges say that their education was “very useful in helping them grow intellectually.” Sixty-nine percent said that “it was very useful in helping them grow and mature as a person” and 55 percent claimed that “it was very useful in helping prepare them for a job or career.”  Moreover, 86 percent of these graduates think “college has been a good investment for them personally.”

Nonetheless, there is incessant talk about the “failure” of higher education.  (Anthony Grafton at The New York Review of Books provides an excellent survey of recent discussions.)  Much of this has to do with access: it’s too expensive, admissions policies are unfair, the drop-out rate is too high.  There is also dismay at the exploitation of graduate students and part-time faculty members, the over-emphasis on frills such as semi-professional athletics or fancy dorms and student centers, and the proliferation of expensive and unneeded administrators.  As important as they are, these criticisms don’t contradict the Pew Survey’s favorable picture of the fundamental value of students’ core educational experience.

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Online Schools Score Better on Wall Street Than in Classrooms – NYTimes.com

Online Schools Score Better on Wall Street Than in Classrooms – NYTimes.com.

Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.

Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.

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From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model – NYTimes.com

From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model – NYTimes.com.

From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model

Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator and author, had a simple question for the high school seniors he was speaking to one morning last week in Manhattan: “Who here wants to be a teacher?”

Out of a class of 15, two hands went up — one a little reluctantly.

“In my country, that would be 25 percent of people,” Dr. Sahlberg said. “And,” he added, thrusting his hand in the air with enthusiasm, “it would be more like this.”

In his country, Dr. Sahlberg said later in an interview, teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, where he teaches, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized) master’s program for schoolteachers. “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine,” he said.

Dr. Sahlberg puts high-quality teachers at the heart of Finland’s education success story — which, as it happens, has become a personal success story of sorts, part of an American obsession with all things Finnish when it comes to schools.

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The Unaddressed Link Between Poverty and Education – NYTimes.com

The Unaddressed Link Between Poverty and Education – NYTimes.com.

Op-Ed Contributors

Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?

NO one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

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Institutionalized stupidity — GazetteXtra

Institutionalized stupidity — GazetteXtra.

Institutionalized stupidity

By ESTHER CEPEDA   Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011

— What happens when adults live in a world drenched in sexual innuendo, double entendre and sexually provocative media images? Children are inadvertently sexualized and become objects of suspicion.

Case in point: 7-year-old Mark Curran, a Boston first-grader, was recently accused of sexual harassment. He got into trouble for kicking a classmate in the crotch after the classmate allegedly choked him.

Though outside observers might see the incident as a simple case of self-defense, Curran’s mother said that the school told her that it would be treated as sexual harassment due to inappropriate touching. After a school investigation, both boys were transferred to new schools within their district and no charges were filed with the police.

In North Carolina, a 9-year-old student was suspended from school for two days after a substitute teacher overheard him tell a fellow classmate that he thought his regular teacher was “cute.” That’s it, that’s all the kid said.

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Read the full story here: The Janesville Gazette

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The Dwindling Power of a College Degree – NYTimes.com

The Dwindling Power of a College Degree – NYTimes.com.

It’s the Economy

The Dwindling Power of a College Degree

The 2012 presidential election can be seen as offering a choice between two visions of how to return us to this country’s golden age — from roughly 1945 to around 1973 — when working life was most secure for many Americans, particularly white, middle-class men. President Obama said his jobs plan was for people who believed “if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would be rewarded.” Mitt Romney explained his goal was to restore hope for “folks who grew up believing that if they played by the rules . . . they would have the chance to build a good life.” But these days, many workers have lost a near guarantee on a decent wage and benefits — and their careers are likely to have much more volatility (great years; bad years; confusing, mediocre years) than their parents’ ever did. So when did the rules change?

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Read the full story here: The New York Times

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The wondrous database that reveals what books Americans checked out of the library a century ago. – Slate Magazine

The wondrous database that reveals what books Americans checked out of the library a century ago. – Slate Magazine.

This Book Is 119 Years Overdue

The wondrous database that reveals what Americans checked out of the library a century ago.

Like many kids who grew up poor in the American hinterlands during the 19th century, Louis Bloom left few public traces. Born in Muncie, Ind. in 1879, he was the oldest child of a widowed mother who took in lodgers. City surveys, census forms, and his death certificate reveal that he worked in the town’s glass factories as a young man, and died in San Francisco in 1936 a government engineer. Given the family’s poverty, it is striking that all three Bloom brothers, Louis, Rudolph, and Landis (though not their sister Ella) are recorded as graduates of Muncie High School. That’s it. No way to tell how tall he was, what sports he played, the foods he liked, or how he dressed.

In 2011, though, a few hundred additional facts about the young Louis Bloom entered the public record. We now know, for instance, that on Wednesday Feb. 3, 1892, he ascended to the second floor of the Muncie City Building, turned left at the top of the stairs, entered the city library, signed the ledger kept by librarian Kate Wilson, and checked out The Wonders of Electricity. He came back the next day to return it and take out Frank Before Vicksburg; Friday it was Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick; Saturday The North Pole: And Charlie Wilson’s Adventures in Search of It. Sunday, the library was closed; Monday Feb. 8, 1892 (his 13th birthday) he took out James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer; Wednesday he returned for Ben the Luggage Boy (another Alger); Thursday he picked up Goodell’s The American Slave Code in Theory and Practice; and Friday Henry Mayhew’s (charming) biography of the astronomer Ferguson, The Story of the Peasant-Boy Philosopher. Altogether, 291 books checked out under his own name, plus another 28 in early 1895 under his brother Rudolph’s. The only extant piece of Louis’ handwriting is his name in the patron’s ledger. If library records are usually the night sky of cultural history, a dim backdrop to action

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Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) – NYTimes.com

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) – NYTimes.com.

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

LAST FALL, President Obama threw what was billed as the first White House Science Fair, a photo op in the gilt-mirrored State Dining Room. He tested a steering wheel designed by middle schoolers to detect distracted driving and peeked inside a robot that plays soccer. It was meant as an inspirational moment: children, science is fun; work harder.

Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. All the Sputnik-like urgency has put classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade — the pipeline, as they call it — under a microscope. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise.

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.

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