Friday, October 19, 2012

Old Research – I

I prefer calling education reform “parental choice” instead of “school choice” because it’s the schools that have been making all the decisions for many decades now while shunting aside the concerns of parents, often ruthlessly.  Parents receive very little respect, even while the schools insist that they welcome parental involvement.  One of the most ridiculous contradictions of OBE/ Blueprint 2000 was the Educators’ moaning and groaning over the lack of parental involvement and how dysfunctional so many of the parents were – when there we were, hundreds strong, screaming bloody murder against all these horrible “reforms” being shoved down our children’s throats.  The E’s didn’t want our involvement in the form of opinions; they wanted us involved in taking all the blame for our children’s failures. 
If there had been universal parental choice during those dark days of the 90’s when that latest onslaught of “dumbnation” started coming down, we would have been able to nip it in the bud.  When the schools didn’t respond to our concerns, we could’ve taken our kids elsewhere.  (Many of us did, but the alternatives back then were extremely expensive).  And, in fact, if earlier generations of parents hadn’t gradually lost their voices and their choices, they would have been able to prevent the wholesale decline of the American public school system by refusing to have children used as guinea pigs for decades worth of often pointless, repetitive education research.

Research such as the following on student motivation:

“Specified Comment students, regardless of teacher or student differences, all received comments designated in advance for each letter grade, as follows:
                 A. Excellent!  Keep it up.
                 B. Good work.  Keep it up.
                 C. Perhaps try to do still better?
                 D. Let’s bring this up.
                 F.  Let’s raise this grade!
Teachers were instructed to administer the comments ‘rapidly and automatically, trying not even to notice who the students are.” (Foundations of Behavioral Research, pg.46-47).  There were also “Free Comment” and “No Comment” categories included in this experiment which involved 74 different classrooms.  The above was a quote from a paper published in 1958 in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

So an A student who suddenly gets an F gets a robotic response from a teacher who is ignoring who the student is, or no comment at all, in two-thirds of the classes.  How many of these students’ parents were informed that this was going to be happening to their children?  I’m guessing none of them.

Educational researchers will often have an idea (hypothesis) of the results of various experiments to the point of knowing which methods will probably have a positive, neutral or a negative effect on achievement.  They will go ahead and implement the negatively effective method anyway.  In fact, the bigger the difference in the quality of teaching methods the better, because that way they get more significant “experimental variances” – which is how these folks get their jollies. 

“Suppose an investigator tests the relative efficacies of three different methods of teaching a physical education skill.  After teaching three groups of children, each group being taught by a different method, he compares the means of the groups. ….. (bunch of math) … In the methods experiment just described, presumably the methods tend to ‘bias’ the achievement scores one way or another.  This is, of course, the experimenter’s purpose: he wants Method A, say, to increase all the achievement scores of an experimental group.  He may believe that Method B will have no effect of achievement, and that Method C will have a depressing effect.”  (Kerlinger, FBR, 1964, pg. 98)

Mom and Dad tell the gym teacher he/she is teaching the skill incorrectly.  And nothing changes.

Quote from R. Koenker, “Arithmetic Readiness at the Kindergarten Level,” Journal of Educational Psychology, XLII (1948)
“….in an interesting little experiment on arithmetic readiness in the kindergarten child, Koenker manipulated experimental groups by giving them an enriched-numbers and arithmetic-concepts program.  He held his control groups constant or at the same level by not giving them a readiness program, by letting them have the regular kindergarten program ‘without enrichment’.  Statistically speaking, he was trying to increase the between-groups variance.  (He succeeded.)” (FBR, pg 99)

Were parents given the option of having their children participate in the arithmetic readiness program?  Since the readiness program was obviously successful, why don’t all kindergartens have it available?  Even almost ten years after the results of this experiment were published, when I was in kindergarten, we played and learned rules and how to button our coats.  My parents would’ve definitely opted for arithmetic readiness.

There’s a lot more evidence of our school system having lost its bearings because of the influence of research dollars that have been pouring into our schools for many decades now.  They don’t seem to realize that what they’ve been doing is wrong, so their work is in full view in publications and papers and books – work paid for by the American taxpayers.  It’s ours, and we need to start using it to make our own choices for our children.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Meaningless OBE Grading System

Parents should be able to choose grading systems for their children that are clear, understandable and accurately reflect their children’s achievements.

During all the protesting and petition gathering back in the 1990’s, I mentioned to one of Pasco County’s public school administrators, in a social setting, that my children had been negatively affected by the new grading system.  She nodded her head and said she could see how my daughter could be hurt by the change.  I told her it was hurting my son much more, and she seemed very surprised.  She wasn’t surprised that the new report cards were hurting students, just taken aback by which students were being harmed.  This was the first indication I had that the people in charge of my children’s education found it acceptable to cause harm to some children.  Somehow, school personnel had come to believe that some children would be helped by the harming of other children.  This must be how the Educators were able to justify implementing methods and curricula that were proven to not work, at least not work to the benefit of their students.  It didn’t matter that they themselves were the reason the kids from the poorer, and more poorly educated, families were suffering mightily.  And they had nothing but scorn for the middle-class, better educated families who led the charge against the new report cards because of the negative affect it was having on their kids.  They were, after all, calling this paradigm shift “school improvement”, not “student improvement”, and improving the schools meant bringing in more money.

This Educrat’s opinion that it would be my daughter more harmed confirmed what many parents had already begun to observe – it was especially the higher achievers who were losing motivation and the willingness to work hard to do their best.  My daughter, Faith, was a “99er”, meaning she scored in the 99th percentile on her SAT’s (this was before the FCAT), and received all A’s all the time in everything.  She didn’t receive much homework, but she had more assigned to her than her brother who was two years older.  Each of her teachers assured me at the end of every year that they were going to “take very good care” of her, which I took to mean that she would be placed with the best teacher available at the next grade level.  Faith was in 3rd grade when the new report card was adopted and received all E’s.  The 1st marking period of 4th grade, she brought home all S’s.  She wondered what she had done wrong and insisted that she had worked very hard to do her best – which her dad and I already knew.  I set up an appointment with her teacher – with Faith coming as well.

I really liked my daughter’s 4th grade teacher.  He told us that the only reason she received all S’s was because of a new rule stating that E’s could not be given in the first marking period.  There was some vague explanation that it would be “impossible” for a student to do so well after a whole summer off from school.  Talk about low expectations!  I asked did Faith “extend and apply all knowledge new and old”?  He answered “Always.”  I then turned to Faith and made sure she understood that the S’s were because of a new rule and that her teacher knew she deserved E’s on all her work.  Was that OK?  Was it enough for her to know that?  She said yes.  It was this understanding that helped her overcome the damage of the new system, but I’m not sure how much longer her strength of will would have held up – remember, she was 8 years old.

I’m very aware that there are excellent schools, especially at the college level, that have abandoned the ABC grading system for a system more reliant on portfolios of students’ work and projects and written commentary by their professors.  These assessments seem to work best for students who have tested into the schools and who have proven that they have all the foundational knowledge necessary to do well with a very rigorous curriculum.  For the most part, however, when schools do away with marking and grading using the traditional 92%-100 = A, etc., it’s because they are withholding skills and knowledge and are trying to hide the fact that more and more of their students cannot read, have no idea where to place commas, and can’t add even small numbers without using their fingers.  With the second-year change, E no longer meant “Extends and applies all knowledge…”, and with S meaning anything from A to C (and even plunging from A to C!), this was essentially a non-grade system in disguise.  This meaningless report card, in conjunction with OBE/Blueprint 2000’s disdain for direct, explicit instruction, caused a great deal of harm, indeed.