Good Reads

A few from the past few days:

In The Times a look at the complicated issue of when kids should (and can) start kindergarten. And a poignant Michael Winerip column about a winner of the Scholastic Art and Writing Award.

In The Washington Post Kris Amundson takes on Virginia’s tiered diploma system – and highlights some new data on higher standards for diplomas and equity.  A lot of states have these issues so the general themes apply more broadly.

And in the WaPo Jay Mathews looks at honors courses. Again broader implications than just the local issue he’s discussing.  At a minimum, a good policy would be requiring informed consent from parents, after making them aware of the data on outcomes, before kids are placed in the lower-track classes.  In other words make the college-prep curriculum the default one and require an opt-out.

15 Responses to “Good Reads”

  1. Stuart Buck Says:

    http://papers.nber.org/papers/w17085

    The Long-Run Impacts of Early Childhood Education: Evidence From a Failed Policy Experiment
    Philip DeCicca, Justin D. Smith
    NBER Working Paper No. 17085
    Issued in May 2011
    NBER Program(s): ED
    We investigate short and long-term effects of early childhood education using variation created by a unique policy experiment in British Columbia, Canada. Our findings imply starting Kindergarten one year late substantially reduces the probability of repeating the third grade, and meaningfully increases in tenth grade math and reading scores. Effects are highest for low income students and males. Estimates suggest that entering kindergarten early may have a detrimental effect on future outcomes.

  2. Attorney DC Says:

    Does anyone else think that Jay Mathews is crazy to suggest that Fairfax County Public Schools (one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the country) eliminate all “basic” courses, so that ALL Fairfax County high school students could take ONLY either honors or AP classes in all subjects in high school? It’s obvious Jay has never been a teacher (especially a teacher in such a diverse district) or he would never have suggested this impractical idea.

  3. Cal Says:

    Of course other people think he’s crazy. The comments section is full of people (including me) telling him he’s crazy.

  4. Attorney DC Says:

    Cal: Good to know I’m not the only one… I posted a comment or two on the WaPo website as well. It just seems to me that people who aren’t teachers (and have never been teachers) often have trouble visualizing what actually goes on in a school, and therefore have a tendency to make impractical policy recommendations.

  5. Michael Says:

    The ideal age to start school is six years . Kids need the early years to just mess around and gain certain skills before the more regimented education system starts moulding them

  6. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    What Stuart Buck said has been known for a long time, and yet we keep ignoring it. Also, Finland has practically wiped out all reading problems by delaying formal instruction until age seven. As a reading specialist I know that almost everyone has the mental capacity to learn to read by age seven but many struggle before then, sometimes experiencing profound feelings of failure. Some of these reading “failures” are only four years old.

    In the meantime, as others have suggested, many educated parents are keeping their children at home or in preschool until they are six years old, while the children of the poor get deadly dull reading drill in kindergarten when some are only 4 years old. It’s a crime. As I’ve said before, we are in a “stupid” period in American education and one can only hope that it will end soon.

    In my opinion, all this is happening because the people making the decisions are not the people with knowledge of how children learn.

  7. Chris Smyr Says:

    “Crazy” is an interesting word to use to describe Jay’s arguments, when really much of what he wrote wasn’t actually responded to by anyone in his comment thread (or here, for that matter). The issue regarding whether certain students are/will ever be ready for honors-level coursework is the same one that can be asked for the non-honors track, as well. It raises the question of what expectations should be held for non-AP students (and even how differentiation is, itself, differentiated between the two tracks), and folks implicitly answer that question when they attack Jay’s perspective. Whether or not we decide that “college-prep curricula” ought to be a part of this set of expectations doesn’t change the fact that such coursework is indeed becoming more and more important in competing for good-paying jobs. I think it’s certainly valid to discuss whether or not it’s best to continue holding lower expectations — that are less aligned with the growing expectations of the job market — in exchange for more kids meeting said expectations.

    *****

    Linda:

    Your “resolve not to post on this blog” lasted a full day. Congrats.

    eduwonk com/2011/05/stem-roots-and-strategy.html#comment-221078

  8. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I forgot.

  9. Cal Says:

    “It raises the question of what expectations should be held for non-AP students”

    No, it doesn’t.

  10. Chris Smyr Says:

    Ah yes, another thoughtful reply, Cal

  11. Cal Says:

    Deeply thoughtful, of course. You want to reframe the issue. It’s what you always do.

    Jay advocated putting everyone in honors. He advocated this because he feels it’s better for all kids to be “challenged”.

    People told him that putting everyone in honors is a terrible, “crazy” idea, because many students are manifestly incapable of doing honors work.

    That’s entirely responsive. But you don’t want to talk about capability, because you’re a one-trick pony. So you try to reframe the debate to one of expectations. So you say that Attorney and I describe Jay’s arguments as “crazy”. But we didn’t. We clearly said that Jay’s *recommendation* was crazy. You didn’t want to discuss his recommendation, but his reasons, so you ignored that.

    But expectations and capability aren’t at all the same thing, and recommendations and reasons are entirely separate aspects of a debate. Now, maybe you don’t understand this, or maybe you’re just dishonest enough to ignore it. In either case, you are again trying to change the debate by misrepresenting it.

  12. Attorney DC Says:

    Cal: Thanks for responding to Chris’ post. I stand by my opinion that it’s a highly impractical (dare I say ‘crazy’?) idea to enroll all students in honors classes. In the real world, since all students in the huge school district of Fairfax County are not going to be able to do honors work (either due to lack of background knowledge, lack of skill or simply lack of effort), this will simply turn “honors” classes into “general” classes. What’s the point?

  13. Chris Smyr Says:

    Cal:

    I’m going to respond line-by-line to your response, as I did last time. You are likely going to whine about this, as you did last time:

    ***”"Deeply thoughtful, of course.”

    No, not at all. A three word response to flatly disagree is not thoughtful at all. It’s boring and useless. What you followed-up with was slightly better.

    ***”You want to reframe the issue. It’s what you always do.”

    This seems to imply you were able to show how I reframed the issue before, yet you are/were unable to do this. In fact, you gave up and resorted to childish name-calling, instead, greatly humoring Phillip, which ought to have been a big wake-up call to you to grow up and finish the discussion.

    Looking back, you did the same thing that you’ve done here: stubbornly disagree without bothering to explain your thoughts.

    www eduwonk.com/2011/04/weekend-reading-8.html#comment-220160

    ***”Jay advocated putting everyone in honors. He advocated this because he feels it’s better for all kids to be “challenged”.”

    There’s a bit more to what he argued…

    ***”People told him that putting everyone in honors is a terrible, “crazy” idea, because many students are manifestly incapable of doing honors work.”

    This is an example of what I wrote above, that this answers the question of what are reasonable expectations to be had. You are asserting that many students are incapable of doing honors work. We can ask this question of the basic classes, as well, and think about which students are deemed incapable of doing rigorous work there that is aligned to the many state standards. I don’t doubt there are also many. What I challenge is the idea that we should then simply lower the expectations such that we accommodate what we think they are capable of doing. It’s also worthy to question our assumptions of their abilities, and weigh the options regarding if it’s best to expect less or more and differentiate accordingly.

    Where people also failed to respond is to his other points about a college-prep curricula becoming increasingly necessary to land a good job later on. If the current goals are not aligned with this reality, what good is it if students can meet them? In a reply to a couple commenters about ability levels not matching honors-level requirements, he asked what could we do instead to get the kids into more rigorous classes, but there’s not many answers.

    ***”But you don’t want to talk about capability, because you’re a one-trick pony. So you try to reframe the debate to one of expectations”

    I referenced both expectations and capabilities, and how we gauge the latter and how we ought to set the former. Go ahead and re-read what I wrote, unless your short attention span forbids it.

    ***”So you say that Attorney and I describe Jay’s arguments as “crazy”. But we didn’t. We clearly said that Jay’s *recommendation* was crazy.”

    Notwithstanding the fact that it is hilarious that you are trying to distinguish between his “arguments” and his “recommendation”, you both very well did call the man crazy.

    ***”But expectations and capability aren’t at all the same thing”

    I never said they were. Is this the part where I bloviate about how you can’t read? Oh wait, that’s your line.

    ________

    Attorney DC:

    “this will simply turn “honors” classes into “general” classes. What’s the point?”

    I believe Jay’s point was that combining the two would set the bar higher for the general classes, making them more in line with the education students ought to be getting before graduating. So, no, it wouldn’t necessarily turn honors into general ed.

  14. Dick Says:

    Shouldn’t it be possible to recalibrate general ed classes to prepare kids for a rigorousness high school curriculum (meaning college or career prep), without combining them with honors classes?

  15. Chris Smyr Says:

    ^ that could work, but in what way would it be structured differently from the honors track?

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