Mike Kueber's Blog

July 2, 2012

Education for the 21st Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 3:28 am
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For those with a moderate interest in education policy, this week’s Time magazine contained a highly readable article on a guy who may do for education what Bill Gates did for computers. 

Salman Khan is a former hedge-fund manager who, on a lark, got involved in on-line tutoring and through the power of YouTube has become an internet sensation.  Khan is developing a wide assortment of educational innovations, and his biggest is the so-called Flipped Classroom.  In this classroom, students are exposed to education material at home at night, on-line.  Then during the day at school, they do exercises and received personalized tutoring from a teacher.  The Flipped Classroom differs from traditional classrooms where the teacher delivers the education material in the classroom and then at night, the students do exercises and homework.  Some wit has said that Khan has the teacher shift from being “the sage on a stage” to being a “guide on the side.”    

All of this sounds promising.

June 19, 2012

Aphorism of the week #14 – throwing good money after bad

Filed under: Education — Mike Kueber @ 9:24 pm
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Today’s edition of the San Antonio Express-News headlined an article about a proposed increase in the city’s sale tax.  As I was reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about the aphorism, “throwing good money after bad.” 

According to the E-N article, the sales tax in San Antonio is 8 1/8%, and the state will, upon the request of a city’s voters, collect an additional 1/8% sales tax for city projects.  San Antonio is preparing to ask its voters to request the additional tax, which will be used to provide pre-k schooling to 4,000 four-year-old children in San Antonio.

A blue-ribbon task force studied a variety of educational initiatives for over a year and ultimately chose the pre-k program over programs that aimed to reduce the number of dropouts or increase college enrollment, and that makes sense to me.  “A stitch in time saves nine.” 

The article indicates that San Antonio has 20,000 four-year olds, and 16,000 are already eligible for a pre-k program.  Furthermore, 12,000 of those kids (75% of the eligibles) are already enrolled in federal government’s Head Start or a similar state-funded program.  Thus, San Antonio’s new initiative will have an objective of providing pre-k schooling to the other 4,000 eligibles (25%).

My problem with the proposed initiative is that there is no solid evidence that pre-k schooling works; instead the cheerleading article says the following – “high-quality prekindergarten programs have been shown to effect (sic) everything from high school completion rates to the likelihood that participants will develop a smoking habit.”  What does a high-quality pre-k program have to with San Antonio?  If our early-education efforts that are applied to 75% of the eligible kids are failing, why should we spend $29 million a year extending those efforts to the remaining 25%? 

I recently blogged about the difference between fair and objective reporting.  The Express-News article’s author Josh Baugh apparently doesn’t bother with either.  Fair reporting means to give both sides the opportunity to make their case, and apparently Baugh felt the anti-tax case could be fully articulated in less than half of a sentence – “Derided by some as taxpayer-funded baby-sitting….”  By contrast, Baugh supported the pro-tax case with multiple experts and reports. 

Objective reporting means using neutral language and not conveying your personal feelings.  While using “derided” in connection with the anti-tax case, Baugh uses the following words and phrases in his pro-tax case – blue-ribbon, strengthen the city’s workforce, centers of excellence, dramatic, significant change, significant economic impact.

Baugh used a similar technique in reporting on the task force’s decision to ratify Mayor Castro’s mandate that the money should go to a single program – “… with one caveat from Castro: a focus on a single initiative rather than attempting to spread the money to programs in a patchwork fashion.”  The decision to go with a single initiative was apparently such a no-brainer that any discussion of any alternatives was unnecessary.  After all, who would prefer a patchwork when we can simply double down on something that is already not working?

July 1, 2011

Testing in American schools

More than a year ago, I posted an entry in my blog about the issue of testing in American schools.  Most of the entry focused on information that
I had gleaned from a book by Diane Ravitch, one of the leading American experts on educational policy (although she seems to lurch from one extreme to the other).

Today, one of my favorite columnists, David Brooks from the NY Times, columnized that Ravitch has become a strident union ideologue whose
firm opposition to testing is misguided.  Brooks suggests that testing isn’t the problem, but rather the problem is that weak schools over-emphasize testing.  His solution isn’t to eliminate testing, but rather to reform or kill weak schools.

Brooks’ column reflects his thoughtful steadiness while Ravitch continues to sound like an advocate, not an intellectual.