Things to Read - Four Interesting Article on Education (SOLs, College, and Unschooling)

Because we all need something to read after we finish pouring freezing water on ourselves . . .

1. (Cheating the SOLS) - The New Yorker published this excellent article on the cheating scandal in Georgia, which questions the reasonableness of federally mandated metrics.

"Waller told Pitts that the targets—set by the district’s Department of Research, Planning, and Accountability—were unrealistic. It took a quarter of the year just to gain students’ trust. Two students, he said, were raped in the neighborhood that year. Others lived alone, with neither parent at home, or were on the verge of being placed in juvenile detention. When a student was arrested for stealing cars, Waller went to court and asked the judge not to send him to jail. Waller told me, “The administration wanted to move kids out of poverty—I do believe that. But test scores could not be the only means.” When Waller expressed his concerns, Pitts reiterated that Hall accepted no excuses, and told him, “The way principals keep their jobs in Atlanta is they make targets.”

. . . .

There have been accounts of widespread cheating in dozens of cities, including Philadelphia, Toledo, El Paso, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, and St. Louis. According to a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office, forty states detected instances of cheating by educators in the previous two years. But Atlanta is one of the few districts in which educators have been subpoenaed. “It’s hard to find anyone in the system who wants to look under the rock and see what’s there,” Jennifer Jennings, a sociology professor at N.Y.U. who studies standardized tests, said. She noted that even in Texas, whose reform model inspired No Child Left Behind, scholars doubted whether students had progressed as rapidly as the data suggested—administrators exempted low-performing students from taking the test and underreported dropouts. Jennings worries that one consequence of cheating and other forms of gaming the system is that it interferes with the “policy-feedback loop,” the conclusions we draw about student learning and the narratives we tell about reform. Given what happened in Texas, she said, the cheating in Atlanta “should have been very easy to anticipate.”

. . . .

After more than two thousand interviews, the investigators concluded that forty-four schools had cheated and that a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation has infested the district, allowing cheating—at all levels—to go unchecked for years.” They wrote that data had been “used as an abusive and cruel weapon to embarrass and punish.” Several teachers had been told that they had a choice: either make targets or be placed on a Performance Development Plan, which was often a precursor to termination. At one elementary school, during a faculty meeting, a principal forced a teacher whose students had tested poorly to crawl under the table.

2. (Ivy League Problems) - William Deresiewicz's uneven article "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" received a lot of attention. I found some of his arguments rather weak, but still he makes some important points.

"The truth is that the meritocracy was never more than partial. Visit any elite campus across our great nation, and you can thrill to the heart-warming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. Kids at schools like Stanford think that their environment is diverse if one comes from Missouri and another from Pakistan, or if one plays the cello and the other lacrosse. Never mind that all of their parents are doctors or bankers.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few exceptions, but that is all they are. In fact, the group that is most disadvantaged by our current admissions policies are working-class and rural whites, who are hardly present on selective campuses at all. The only way to think these places are diverse is if that’s all you’ve ever seen."

3. (What College Can't Do) - Joshua Rothman published a fantastic response to Deresiewicz's publication above.

"It’s hardly the case, of course, that élite colleges can’t be improved; they can. (Deresiewicz’s essay closes with many good suggestions: give up legacy admissions, put a limit on the number of extracurriculars an applicant can list, stop caring about U.S. News & World Report.) But it is to say that college can be improved only in certain ways. Much of the conversation around the “crisis in higher education,” especially around the cost of college, is important and useful. But it’s needlessly complicated by what amounts to nostalgia for a premodern university. Colleges aren’t monasteries. They can’t give their students spiritual sustenance; they can’t provide an escape from modernity. And they shouldn’t be faulted, or punished, for that.

4. (Unschooling) - And, finally, Ben Hewitt wrote for Outside magazine about raising "unschooled" children.

"[A]as soon as we liberated ourselves from a concept of what our son’s education should look like, we were able to observe how he learned best. And what we saw was that the moment we stopped compelling Fin to sit and draw or paint or write was the moment he began doing these things on his own. It was the moment he began carving staves of wood into beautiful bows and constructing complex toys from materials on hand: an excavator that not only rotated, but also featured an extendable boom; a popgun fashioned from copper pipe, shaved corks, and a whittled-down dowel; even a sawmill with a rotating wooden “blade.”

In other words, the moment we quit trying to teach our son anything was the moment he started really learning."

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