In a New York Times op-ed, David L. Kirp tells us something crucial about the successful, if unglamorous, reforms that have taken place in the Union City, NJ school system:
From pre-K to high school, the make-or-break factor is what the Harvard education professor Richard Elmore calls the “instructional core” — the skills of the teacher, the engagement of the students and the rigor of the curriculum. To succeed, students must become thinkers, not just test-takers.
It seems to me that institututional success, when it happens, seems to occur in the convergence of these factors: better teachers, more engaged students, higher expectations embedded within a (well-designed) curriculum. Here’s his take-away:
What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools.
Here’s a smart piece by Kris Olds on the pros and cons of MOOCs, especially in terms of their implementation and potential impact. These are the kinds of details that a writer like Tom Friedman, whatever his virtues, tends to ignore. One crucial caveat should b highlighted:
while Friedman’s article implies a relatively easy Yes or No decision re. going ahead (we are, after all, supposed to be in the middle of a “revolution”) the direct and indirect resource base required to establish and maintain MOOCs is nothing to be sneezed at. For example, it was good to see that he profiled Mitchell Duneier’s Coursera course. What Friedman failed to note was that Princeton is an extraordinarily wealthy private university that has the capacity to provide undoubtedly brilliant and hard working Duneier with sufficient support to run his MOOC, including via designated assistants. Online teaching can scale more easily than in-person teaching, but the creation of the institutional space and support infrastructure to produce a series of quality MOOCs takes time, attention, resources, TLC, and so on. The production process also has to be preceded by the creation of a formal or informal governance pathway, as well as an assessment if your university has the technological and organizational capabilities to coordinate a legitimate MOOCs initiative.
“Efficiency, Productivity, and Quality in Texas Higher Education State Policy”: a Presentation by Dr. Lee Holcombe, 10/11/12Posted: October 5, 2012
I think this will be an important discussion for us as we try to understand higher education policy in this state. Please make every effort to attend.
The Teagle Foundation, a group devoted to improving American undergraduate education, held a convening this June on the question of “What works and what matters in student learning?” The page linked here will take you to the President’s opening address, along with summaries of discussion by Ashley Finley, Senior Director of Assessment & Research at the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and Laura Rosenthal, Professor of English at the University of Maryland.
Lots of interesting stuff here, but I’d like to point readers to the three major strategies, or “promising practices,” included in Finley’s essay, linked here: What-works-for-student-learning-Finley:
1. Develop an Organizational Culture that Makes Student Learning a Priority and Emphasizes Community Building in Support of that Commitment.
2. Enable Learning-Centered Environments that Foster Student Learning
3. Develop Better and more Meaningful Assessments to Understand Student Learning
The report discusses each of these points in more detail, but the takeaway for improved student learning is better community-building, learning environments, and assessments. Take a look.
I can’t say that I agree with Hacker’s position, that freshman algebra courses serve more of a gate-keeping than a preparatory function for high school and college students. (The analogy might be to the Latin-based instruction in the classics, which was once seen as the primary purpose of secondary education)
Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
Part of the reason for my disquiet is the concern I voiced the other day about our excessively short-term focus in our definitions of “use” and “usefulness.” But I think that we have reached a point where either significant educational resources (time, teachers, coursework, practice) will have to be poured into this kind of instruction, or some kind of alternative developed. So I think it worthwhile, even for advocates of freshman algebra instruction, to articulate a convincing account of how it helps students in and beyond school.