Monday, December 24, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Over at Heritage, long-time educational reformer Sandra Stotsky assails the new, nationalized "Common Core" standards as undermining the integrity of the English curriculum:
Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?Stotsky makes the point that education isn't just about processing information; it's about increasing the subtlety and complexity of thinking.
Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).
In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.
From about the 1900s—the beginning of uniform college entrance requirements via the college boards—until the 1960s, a challenging, literature-heavy English curriculum was understood to be precisely what pre-college students needed. Nonetheless, undeterred by the lack of evidence to support their sales pitch, Common Core’s architects divided all of the ELA reading standards into two groups: 10 standards for informational reading and nine for literary reading at every grade level.
This misplaced stress on informational texts (no matter how much is literary nonfiction) reflects the limited expertise of Common Core’s architects and sponsoring organizations in curriculum and in teachers’ training....
A diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation. It also prevents students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language. Perhaps of greatest concern, it may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.
Indeed, it is more than likely that college readiness will decrease when secondary English teachers begin to reduce the study of complex literary texts and literary traditions in order to prioritize informational or nonfiction texts. This is because, as ACT (a college entrance exam) found, complexity is laden with literary features: It involves characters, literary devices, tone, ambiguity, elaboration, structure, intricate language, and unclear intentions. By reducing literary study, Common Core decreases students’ opportunity to develop the analytical thinking once developed in just an elite group by the vocabulary, structure, style, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony in classic literary texts.
Posted by Fred Bauer at 12:55 AM
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Kevin Carey argues against the credit hour as a measure of college student learning:
A main reason the scandal persists is that our system is built around the strange idea of the “credit hour,” a unit of academic time that does little to measure student learning. The credit hour originated around the turn of the 20th century, when the industrialist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie moved to create a pension system for college professors. (It’s now known as TIAA-CREF.) Pensions were reserved for professors who worked full time, which ended up being defined as a minimum of 12 hours of classroom teaching per week in a standard 15-week semester.But colleges were left to judge the quality of credit hours by affixing grades to courses, and the quality of colleges themselves would be judged by — well, there was the rub. Colleges didn’t want to be judged by anyone other than themselves, and remarkably, the government went along with it. Yes, colleges are held accountable by nonprofit accrediting organizations — but those are, in turn, run by other colleges. When asked, Western Oklahoma’s accreditor said it had never heard of the school’s three-credits-in-10-days scheme and would look into it. But the next scheduled accreditation review isn’t until 2017.The lack of meaningful academic standards in higher education drags down the entire system. Grade inflation, even (or especially) at the most elite institutions, is rampant. A landmark book published last year, “Academically Adrift,” found that many students at traditional colleges showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing, and spent their time socializing, working or wasting time instead of studying. (And that’s not even considering the problem of low graduation rates.)...But the most promising solution would be to replace the anachronistic credit hour with common standards for what college students actually need to know and to be able to do. There are many routes to doing this. In the arts and sciences, scholarly associations could define and update what it means to be proficient in a field. So could professional organizations and employers in vocational and technical fields.
Carey's argument, one numerous "progressives" are also advancing, could open the door for some kind of centralized definition of what a college education would mean. For his part, Walter Russell Mead welcomes our new national standardized testing overlords.
There are perhaps some good reasons, though, why conservatives should be skeptical about a further standardization of college-level curricula.
Posted by Fred Bauer at 1:00 AM
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Harry Reid pledges to force through changes on the filibuster:
Keeping with his post-election pledge to reform the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday proffered that changes to the rules of the upper chamber will be made, leaving it up to Republicans if they would like to participate.
"There are discussions going on now [over filibuster reform], but I want to tell everybody here. I'm happy I've had a number of Republicans come to me, a few Democrats,” Reid told reporters Tuesday at his weekly press availability. “We're going to change the rules. We cannot continue in this way. I hope we can get something that the Republicans will work with us on.”
“But it won't be a handshake,” he added. “We tried that last time. It didn't work.”
Asked to confirm if his comments meant that the rules would change and Republicans can choose to be a part of that change if they want, the Nevada Democrat responded, “That's right. Yup."
Posted by Fred Bauer at 11:52 PM