2010 July 21 Wednesday
National Curriculum Next Great Hope In Education

Yet another magic bullet.

Less than two months after the nationís governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.

Education is a field that moves from great hope to new great hope. Each great hope is a dud. But deluded hope springs eternal. The great money hope is still alive against all evidence. $22k per student didn't help Newark New Jersey schools. But more money is an attractive solution for those who work in schools because it means higher salaries. So I expect continued promotion of that particular hope.

Testing combined with carrots and sticks was the great hope of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fantasy of George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy. With meager improvements to show for it the bloom is coming off that rose. So time to move on to the next delusion. National education standards takes a bow as the next contestant

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are dangling cash for playing the national curriculum game.

The developers considered standards in other countries, along with almost one hundred thousand public comments.

One way the Education Department is trying to persuade states is with money. States are competing to share in almost three and a half billion dollars as part of a school reform competition. They will earn extra points in the Race to the Top if they approve the standards by August second.

The NCLB fantasy was already a source of pressure for a more consistent curriculum as schools increasingly taught to the tests that their states used to check the learning progress of kids.

The desperation of our elites to raise NAM academic performance produces casualties. I'm thinking the national curriculum is a step in the direction of national performance measurements for teachers that will likely raise the casualty rate. More teachers will be fired for failing to raise student performance. The people in academia and the press who enforce the taboos and mythology of our era can't accept any explanation of student performance differences that rests on differences in ability. So the scramble to find other targets to blame will inevitably target teachers and school administrators since they are the most obvious alternatives to blame.

Update: OneSTDV points me to a report on how higher educational spending does not improve outcomes. Hence the drive to fire lots of teachers. If more money won't help then measuring teacher performance (not student performance) in order to fire low performing teachers is the next step. No mention is made of the innate abilities of the students these teachers are failing to teach. That's beyond the pale. So the teachers have got to be sacrificed on the altar of our national liberal secular religion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 July 21 09:57 PM  Education


Comments
Just a guy said at July 22, 2010 4:07 AM:

I'm not sure why I'm bothering given your compulsive need to discuss everything in terms of natural ability/race, but here goes:

In (good) curricula research, what people discuss are normalized learning gains. That's how much a curriculum improves (or depresses) a student's scores on a conceptual test compared to a normal curriculum. This is measured with pre- and post- tests so that each individual's scores can be ascertained and judged based on where they are when they enter (or leave) a class.

And there are curricula that increase learning gains significantly compared to traditional curricula. This is especially the case in physics, where a lot of great research has been done by physicists using experimental models of curricula changes. I encourage you to read about some of these: 1 (pages 34-37), 2, 3, and 4.

Now, admittedly, physics is way ahead of many disciplines by having exceptional research designs investigating better ways to teach physics concepts. But what is most interesting is that these reformed curricula have been adopted and the results have been _replicated_ at different institutions, with different professors and demographics. And replication of learning gain increases across institutions is pretty impressive if you think about it.

In summary, there is strong research that some reforms do make a difference. If you take a look at some of the articles above, I think you might reconsider some of your opinions about educational research as well.

James Bowery said at July 22, 2010 6:07 AM:

Festinger and Schultz did a study to test the hypothesis that environment matters in education. They divided a randomly selected population of students into 2 groups:

Both groups were put through identical curricula with the exception that, unlike the control group, the experimental group of students was given an environmental treatment of, prior to any presentation of other curricular, a loaded .357 Magnum placed against the side of the right temple of each student, the trigger pulled and verification that brains were splatttered on the opposing wall. If no brains were found splattered on the wall, the student was removed from the experimental group.

Festinger and Schultz, applying a two-tailed chi-squared test, were able to determine that Randall Parker is a Nazi, with a p less than .0001.

Dave Gore said at July 22, 2010 8:55 AM:

A national curriculum is a different matter from national testing. Teachers' unions will not allow definitive student testing that allows assignment of blame that might fall on teachers.

Keepin' It Real said at July 22, 2010 2:06 PM:

"I'm not sure why I'm bothering given your compulsive need to discuss everything in terms of natural ability/race, but here goes..."

$44,000 per student in Newark. That'll solve the problem! However, please note, blacks and hispanics have no interest in anything academic.

Mthson said at July 22, 2010 2:41 PM:

Just A Guy,

Better curricula design can improve student outcomes, but there will nonetheless always be a gap between kids who naturally don't like to read and kids who naturally like to read. You can see this even between siblings.

It's not the kids' fault, and that's why people with a conscience support the advancement of genetics.

Randall Parker said at July 22, 2010 6:44 PM:

Just A Guy,

Show me a curriculum and teaching style that closes the inter-racial performance gaps without lowering the performance of the higher performing races.

I bring up the issues of race and natural ability because our nation educational policy is now centered around closing the inter-racial gap. NCLB and a national curriculum are both motivated by poor NAM test scores. One can't talk about educational policy without talking about race.

So far nothing has brought the NAMs up to the level of whites or East Asians or South Asians in America.

I looked at your links. They did not tout success at getting low performers all operating near the level of top performers. I didn't see signs of educational miracles. They appear to have been studying college physics majors, not exactly average students.

Toadal said at July 22, 2010 9:57 PM:

No one has mentioned a major factor that indicates academic success in the Left's education theories, parental income. If parental income were a major contributor to academic success we should have witnessed a dramatic increases in academic achievement over the past 25 years in wealthy Middle Eastern oil producing countries, unfortunately, no evidence has turned up. Here are the measured average IQ and GDP of a few representative oil producing countries.

IQ Country GDP (Nominal)
=== ======= ============
78 Qatar $68,871
86 Kuwait $57,482
83 UAE $46,857
83 Saudi Arabia $23,701

For example, Qatar, because of its oil wealth, has the highest GDP per capita in the world. The country's Supreme Education Council serves as a model for other emirates. The average class size is in public school system is 21.6 from grades 7-11 and 19.7 for grade 12. Class size for many private schools are ~10 or 11 pupils.

Yet, after having purchased a first class, credentialed, and certified education system and having had it in place for more than a generation, Qatar had a combined PISA science literacy score of 349, second from the bottom.

These countries are known for having an expatriate non-citizen class that is sometimes five times the size of the citizenry. The expatriate class consists of many lowly paid manual laborers, but also technologists, educators, and administrators who basically manage the country, since the natives are incapable of doing so. On average, the citizenry is as thick and plentiful as the rocks sitting everywhere as a result of the region's 2.5" annual rainfall.

Steve Sailer said at July 22, 2010 11:19 PM:

Everybody will have to buy new textbooks, so it will stimulate the economy!

CamelCaseRob said at July 23, 2010 6:02 AM:

I think the current "Progessive" answer is to stop testing. No tests means no gap!

blue said at July 23, 2010 7:51 AM:

"The buildings are from the space age; the people are from the stone age."
--conversational comment made by a Turkish diplomat who had been stationed in Kuwait

OneSTDV said at July 23, 2010 10:32 AM:

One of my all time favorite charts:

http://www.heritage.org/static/reportimages/796DF8C7C231CFFE366308277E88CF57.gif

From this very good article:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2008/09/Does-Spending-More-on-Education-Improve-Academic-Achievement

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2010 7:00 PM:

Toadal,

Great observation. Yes, the oil-rich countries ought to be producing academic geniuses if money made such a big difference. Yet the Middle East remains a desert not just physically but intellectually as well.

neocon impersonator said at July 23, 2010 8:36 PM:

Randall, this is where a neocon steps in and tells you that oil-rich countries remain backward because of Islam and Sharia law.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2010 11:25 PM:

neocon impersonator,

And lack of democracy. If we could just invade them all and install democracy then all would be well. Democracies never fight each other. Democracy is the universal balm. If the whole world lived in a democracy then this would instantly lead to a cure for cancer.

I would argue that Islam is just a dumb religion because its believers are so dumb.

Deckin said at July 23, 2010 11:29 PM:

To back up Randall's response to Just a Guy:

JAG: But what is most interesting is that these reformed curricula have been adopted and the results have been _replicated_ at different institutions, with different professors and demographics. And replication of learning gain increases across institutions is pretty impressive if you think about it.

Me: Why then don't you cite some studies demonstrating this claim, especially as regards different demographics? Do you mean to claim that there are studies that show that either these vaunted 'tutorials' or other methods can take students from the lowest performing demographics in physics and bring them up to par with Whites and East Asians? Please. If any such evidence existed, I think we'd have all heard about it by now. As Randall notes, all those studies show is that there are methods for taking bright students (those willing to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics--hardly the norm) and getting more out of them than we have been able to do previously. Well, duh! Of course there are better means of teaching. What you've committed is a massive ignoratio elenchii. The point of all of this, as Randall notes, is the achievement gap, the achievement gap, the achievement gap. 20 minutes at any educational institution in the U.S. is enough to demonstrate that this is the only issue in education at the moment. I frankly expected more of a physicist.

nick said at July 24, 2010 2:13 PM:

These new measures may not close "the gap" but perhaps they may have the side-effect of raising everyone's demonstrated ability.

no i don't said at July 25, 2010 11:17 AM:

Hmmmm...

Back to basics would do some good.

Pencil, notebook and teachers who teach objectively, comes to mind.

Free higher public education also comes to mind, as it should be any government's duty to provide.

And maybe also limits on the highly lucrative amounts of money private universities charge. REAL merit based scholarships - and not the usual "financial aid" which ammounts only to future toxic debt. A university is supposed to be an honorable and democratic institution. The right of those in silk diapers has nothing to do with democracy.

sg said at July 26, 2010 7:57 AM:

National Curriculum?

What, they don't want diversity?

Having a bunch of different curriculums is diversity.

How can that be bad?

I thought diversity was a strength?

STFU said at July 26, 2010 6:13 PM:

"Free higher public education also comes to mind, as it should be any government's duty to provide."

Your ed is you and your family's problem. So is paying for it. Of course, I encourage people like you to generously give their own money to put others through school instead of whining for mo' gubbmint handouts. Remember, a mind is a terrible thing to waste!

Cornelius Troost said at July 27, 2010 5:15 PM:

JAG is supremely naive to discuss new ways of teaching physics as if this proves something revolutionary for education in general. It doesn't. Iam a retired professor of science education who has taught all sciences in high school as well as "methods" courses at UCLA and Brock University in Ontario, Canada.Physics teaching has always posed a unique problem because in America it was normal for only 6 per cent of secondary students to take physics. Chemistry usually drew about 30 per cent and biology, because it can be taught as rote memory, over 90 per cent.

I would like to have a dime for every "revolutionary" text in physics aimed at this unique "gap." I can assure you that many dozens were written by often highly creative physicists but none remade physics into good pop entertainment leading to general physics literacy.Long ago-around 1949- Ann Roe, the wife of George Gaylord Simpson, the Harvard zoologist, designed a study that today would get her ostracized. She created an IQ test specifically for bright scientists. It was so difficult that educated non-scientists would fail it miserably.The test, however, allowed her to identify subtle differences among various kinds of scientists. Theoretical physicists and mathematicians are smarter than all others. They are so bright that their mean IQ is about 160. Chemists are somewhat lower but still higher than biologists, who are in turn much smarter than sociologists and psychologists. Social scientists, including economists, come in last.

Mr. Parker is perfectly correct to doubt the fantasies of our socialist descendents of the Sixties generation.

no i don't said at July 31, 2010 4:24 PM:

"Your ed is you and your family's problem. So is paying for it."

So you mean the U.S. should do away with free high, middle and elementary schools? 'Cause according to you, "your ed is you and your family's problem?" ha, ha, ha, ha

The problem STFU is that you were one of those "fortunate" ones who could afford higher education, so you can only think that it's right that only a few have that privilege. While in fact it should be any government's duty to provide free education in all its levels.

Unless you belong to the yuppie royalty, I got news for you STFU: You paid too much for that overpriced education that got you nowhere, which is sitting in this blog wanting to listen to your own echo reinforce your own opinions. Meanwhile continue dreaming of the day when you -and thousands of other kids- finally pay that financial aid debt that will go on for 20 more years...


Just a guy said at August 1, 2010 6:45 PM:

> Randall said:
> Show me a curriculum and teaching style that closes the inter-racial
> performance gaps without lowering the performance of the higher performing races.

Actually, from that first link: "Students in the top third of their classes gained the most from the SCALE-UP experience in improving their conceptual understanding..." These curricula typically have the highest performing students perform even better in terms of normalized gains (in other words, they get the most benefit). These curricula are typically not designed to close the achievement gap, but to get the most out of each student.

> I bring up the issues of race and natural ability because our nation
> educational policy is now centered around closing the inter-racial gap.
> NCLB and a national curriculum are both motivated by poor NAM test
> scores. One can't talk about educational policy without talking about race.

> So far nothing has brought the NAMs up to the level of whites or East Asians
> or South Asians in America.

Normalized learning gains are based on where a student starts. If a student starts from a higher point, then that advantage is taken into account. Getting all students up to a single standard isn't the goal of these curricula or the goal of a physics teacher. The point of the reformed curriculum is to get each student to do better than they would have in a normal curriculum.

> I looked at your links. They did not tout success at getting low
> performers all operating near the level of top performers. I didn't
> see signs of educational miracles.

From the second link: "In the 3 years we have been working with SCALE-UP classes, we have seen the
following improvements compared with students in the regular lecture classes: Improved performance (2-4x the gain) on nationally-normed concept tests (see Table 2) and conceptual exam problems..."

Is 2-4x the gain miraculous? No, but it is impressive.

> They appear to have been studying college physics majors, not
> exactly average students.

Yep, the studies I linked to are regarding college bound students taking physics (although these techniques have been implemented in high school classrooms as well). You're right that these aren't typical students (you'd think that by me mentioning physics, that was obvious). But by studying ways students learn physics and their typical misconceptions, and changing the way physics is taught based on their findings, they've developed some curricula that do show improved understanding and retention.

> Deckin said:
> Why then don't you cite some studies demonstrating this claim,
> especially as regards different demographics?

I didn't bother, but you can take a look at 1 or 2.

> Do you mean to claim that there are studies that show that either
> these vaunted 'tutorials' or other methods can take students from
> the lowest performing demographics in physics and bring them up to
> par with Whites and East Asians? Please. If any such evidence
> existed, I think we'd have all heard about it by now.

Well, I truly doubt you'd have heard about it since I doubt you pay attention to the physics education research literature. In any case, normalized learning gains are focused on getting the most out of each student. You can focus on racial performance, but that's not useful from a teaching perspective. What a good teacher wants is to get the most they can out of each individual.

> As Randall notes, all those studies show is that there are
> methods for taking bright students (those willing to pursue
> an undergraduate degree in physics--hardly the norm) and getting
> more out of them than we have been able to do previously.
> Well, duh! Of course there are better means of teaching. What
> you've committed is a massive ignoratio elenchii. The point
> of all of this, as Randall notes, is the achievement gap, the
> achievement gap, the achievement gap. 20 minutes at any
> educational institution in the U.S. is enough to demonstrate
> that this is the only issue in education at the moment. I
> frankly expected more of a physicist.

Actually, the curricula studies have been implemented not just for physics majors, but life science majors taking physics, high school classes, etc. But in any case, I'll accept your premise that poorer students rarely take physics. As to your point on the achievement gap, what I'm arguing is that curricula design changes do not have to be tied to minimizing the achievement gap. In physics, they aren't. They're directly tied to improving learning. Indeed, as I mentioned above, the top students typically improve the most in the reformed curricula. Perhaps you consider that irrelevant (ignoratio elenchii), but given that Randall intimated in his original post that curricula changes were tied to the achievement gap alone, I thought making the case that they aren't necessarily was entirely relevant.

> Cornelius Troost said:
>
> JAG is supremely naive to discuss new ways of teaching physics
> as if this proves something revolutionary for education in general.
> It doesn't. I would like to have a dime for every "revolutionary"
> text in physics aimed at this unique "gap." ... Theoretical
> physicists and mathematicians are smarter than all others. They
> are so bright that their mean IQ is about 160. Chemists are somewhat
> lower but still higher than biologists, who are in turn much
> smarter than sociologists and psychologists. Social scientists,
> including economists, come in last.

*sigh*, I said nothing revolutionary. Changes in curricula can improve learning, and there is quite a bit of evidence in physics that it does. That's a basic idea.

> Mthson said:
>
> Better curricula design can improve student outcomes, but there
> will nonetheless always be a gap between kids who naturally don't
> like to read and kids who naturally like to read. You can see this
> even between siblings.
>
> It's not the kids' fault, and that's why people with a conscience
> support the advancement of genetics.

Thank you Mthson, your comment is completely legitimate. In the end, I'm not arguing against natural differences or genetic explorations into them. I just don't think they're actionable and it's a misplaced obsession. If general statistics say some groups achieve better, so what? Will a university or classroom teacher not teach those people physics or some other subject because of their heritage?

In the end, the teacher will still have to teach who is there.

Focusing on improved teaching methods to help students learn faster and retain better is a good goal of a curriculum.


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