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ASK Biblitz about Education.

'The newspaper named a few teachers - both stars and laggards - and announced that it would release the approximate rankings for all teachers, along with their names.'

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Do you think the U.S. Race to the Top program will have a healing ripple effect in Canada and beyond?

More about the two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, an often grueling re-gentrification of Canada's dumbed-down public education standards.

I'm concerned that a lack of accountability among Canada's all-powerful teachers' unions - like their U.S. counterparts - is lowering academic standards to such an extent that our children are unable to compete effectively against highly-motivated Asian students here and abroad for hotly-contested places at local universities. I'm afraid that uneducated workers won't find a way to add value to raw resources or command sufficient income to buy the overpriced houses and condos of boomers hoping to retire.

Biblitz replies:
Currently there is no accountability by teachers to Canadian parents or taxpayers. Period. Teachers here, like the U.S., have effectively contracted out of any criticism except in the most extreme circumstances, which may explain why so many sexual predators (see Tom Ellison and B.C.'s Quest scandal) here are somehow able to remain in the profession, sometimes in the same jurisdiction. Hard not to admire U.S. initiatives, including a recent California report to help parents distinguish between truly great teachers and the bottom feeders.


Laudable U.S. efforts to reclaim and improve public education:

The Teachers' Union's Last Stand

How Obama's Race to the Top could revolutionize public education

By Steven Brill
May 23/10

The winners of the Race would be those states that submitted the best blueprints for fulfilling the reform agenda, which includes allowing school districts to take over failing schools, improving curriculum standards and encouraging school innovation (which means, in part, allowing charter schools to flourish). But what the reformers have come to believe matters most is good teachers. "It s all about the talent," Secretary Duncan told me. Thus, the highest number of points - 138 of the 500-point scale that Duncan and his staff created for the Race - would be awarded based on a commitment to eliminate what teachers' union leaders consider the most important protections enjoyed by their members: seniority-based compensation and permanent job security. To win the contest, the states had to present new laws, contracts and data systems making teachers individually responsible for what their students achieve, and demonstrating, for example, that budget-forced teacher layoffs will be based on the quality of the teacher, not simply on seniority. ...(The New York Times Magazine, pgs. 32-47)

Again, not money or class or even language proficiency but teaching is the key to academic achievement

Stand and Deliver

When does holding teachers accountable go too far?

By David Leonhardt
Sept. 5/10

75% of public-school parents say teachers' salaries should be tied to students' achievement.

... Schools generally do not allow parents to see any part of a teacher's past evaluations, for instance. And there is nothing resembling a rigorous, Consumer Reports-like analysis of schools, let alone of individual teachers. For the most part, parents just have to hope for the best.

That, however, may be starting to change. A few months ago, a team of reporters at The Los Angeles Times and an education e conomist set out to create precisely such a consumer guide to education in Los Angeles. The reporters requested and received seven years of students' English and math elementary-school test scores from the school district. The economist then used a statistical technique called value-added analysis to see how much progress students had made, from one year to the next, under different third-through fifth-grade teachers. The variation was striking. Under some of the roughly 6,000 teachers, students made great strides year after year. Under others, often at the same school, students did not. The newspaper named a few teachers - both stars and laggards - and announced that it would release the approximate rankings for all teachers, along with their names.

The articles have caused an electric reaction. The president of the Los Angeles teachers union called for a boycott of the newspaper. But the union has also suggested it is willing to discuss whether such scores can become part of teachers' official evaluations. Meanwhile, more than 1,700 teachers have privately reviewed their scores online, and hundreds have left comments that will accompany them.

It is not difficult to see how such attempts at measurement and accountability may be a part of the future of education. ... (The New York Times Magazine, pgs. 13-14)

Among the findings:
- Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year. There is a substantial gap at year's end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%. The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.
- Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year - a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided. Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.
- Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.
- Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students' academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.
- Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers' effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.
Other studies of the district have found that students' race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective. ...Join the discussion!


No more time-wasting field trips or endless 'green' lectures that have nothing to do with actual science! No more skits in place of essays that reflect a grueling slog in the stacks of the school library! Time to re-set the teaching agenda to ensure the world has adequately trained problem-solvers able to create sufficient wealth to sustain a hungry, lonely planet!

How might Canada improve public education?
The question is whether public education adequately prepares students for the hugely competitive post-secondary positions they seek. Currently, it isn't, and the reason may be bad teaching. More and more, grammar school teachers demand that parents provide the day's spelling, math and reading lessons - after school! Academic standards have slipped so badly that increasingly parents are forced to contract privately for extra help. It's no secret, either, that French Immersion in B.C. has few actual francophone teachers, which may explain why grade 12 Fr. Imm. students may read and write French adequately but few are able to converse at length with a native French speaker. There has also been an excessive reliance on infantilizing coloring projects and group oral presentations even at the high school level - easier to mark, no doubt, but hardly the sort of thing that teaches the skills required for critical thinking and problem-solving. Any thoughts? Blast them along!

Why U.S. post-secondary institutions are world leaders:

The Post-American World

By Fareed Zakaria

Higher education is America's best industry. There are two rankings of universities worldwide. In one of them, a purely quantitative study done by Chinese researchers, eight of the top ten universities in the world are in the United States. In the other, more qualitative one by London's Times Higher Educational Supplement, it's seven. The numbers flatten out somewhat after that. Of the top twenty, seventeen or eleven are in America; of the top fifty, thirty-eight or twenty-one. Still, the basic story does not change. With 5 per cent of the world's population, the United States absolutely dominates higher education, ...

... In India, universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D.s in computer science each year; in America, the figure is 1,000. ...

I went to elementary, middle and high school in Mumbai, at an excellent institution, the Cathedral and John Connon School. Its approach (30 years ago) reflected the teaching methods often described as "Asian," in which the premium is placed on memorization and constant testing. This is actually the old British, and European, pedagogical method, one that now gets described as Asian. I recall memorizing vast quantities of material, regurgitating it for exams, and then promptly forgetting it. When I went to college in the United States, I encountered a different world. While the American system is too lax on rigor and memorization - whether in math or poetry - it is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind, which is what you need to succeed in life. Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.

It is surely this quality that goes some way in explaining why America produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. In America, people are allowed to be bold, challenge authority, fail, and pick themselves up. It's America, not Japan, that produces dozens of Nobel Prize winners. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, until recently Singapore's minister of education, explains the difference between his country's system and America's. "We both have meritocracies," Shanmurgaratnam says. "Yours is a talent meritocracy, ours is an exam meritocracy. We know how to train people to take exams. You know how to use people's talents to the fullest. ..." (-- pgs. 188-193)

The 'rounder' profile: when top marks even at a posh school are not enough

Learning USA

Rising fees and a squeeze on places mean that many pupils are looking across the pond for their higher education.

Janette Wallis investigates.
April 21/10

Concerns over the evenness of the British playing field drive some families to gaze across the pond. Parents of State-educated pupils worry their youngsters won't get a fair crack at the Oxbridge rollercoaster. Private-school parents fear reverse discrimination. 'My daughter, a fluent French speaker who hopes to read modern languages and has a full house of top grades, was recently rejected by an Oxford college,' a prent recently wrote to The Good Schools Guide. 'A boy she knows from a State school, who had achieved considerably lower grades ... was offered a place in the same subject.' ...

American admissions offices value different things. Exam marks are important, but aren't the be-all and end-all. "American universities value 'rounder' profiles, says Lisa Montgomery of Edvice, which coaches parents and pupils through the American application process). Extracurricular activities such as music and sports, leadership positions, volunteer work or running the marathon are crucial. Most British universities, especially the top academic ones, simply don't care.

The arduous process of applying puts off the faint-hearted. American universities ask for one of two tests: the SAT or the ACT. Pupils stateside will prepare for years for these, normally sittting them several times to gain the highest possible score. ... 'For UK-educated students, the SAT is difficult. They're not used to four-hour multiple-choice tests. The timing is tight, and British students find it hard to get used to the idea that you're not necessarily expected to finish.' (according to a representative of Kaplan, which teaches courses on how to write various pre-admission exams. Biblitz used a Kaplan guide to LSAT in the days before actual courses were available on acing the pre-law exam, a doozy, I can tell you, full of logic puzzles that nearly knocked the old socks off. Interestingly, post-law school, it's highly doubtful LSAT test scores would have improved. The test is merely an equalizer, which may have a fleeting effect of sharpening one's reading skills).

College application forms provide their own medieval torture. Many universities will have their own unique form, although some, including Harvard and Yale, accept one similar to UCAS known as the Common Application. Unfortunately, most universities require 'supplements' to that, which means essays. "I understood how arduous and awful the process was because I had spent some high-school time in America," remembers (student) Kaya Ensor. "I knew that the SATs (I took a Kaplan course in London for two weeks) and the applications (I used a college advisor in London) would be costly and time-consuming. The UCAS application system seems a joke in comparison. The Stanford application asked for 12 long essays." (British COUNTRY LIFE, pgs. 24-25)

On the capriciousness of university admissions:

Armageddon in Retrospect

By Kurt Vonnegut

About the Chinese Communists: They are obviously much better at business than we are, and maybe a lot smarter, Communists or not. I mean, look how much better they do in our schools over here. Face it! My son, Mark, a pediatrician, was on the Admissions Committee of the Harvard Medical School a while back, and he said that if they had played the admissions game fairly, half of the entering class would be Asian women. (From At Cloves Hall, Indianapolis, April 27, 2007, p. 24)