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>Culture wars continue in Australia – the arts under attack

>In an age when governments around the world are pump-priming their economies in a vain attempt to prove Keynes was right by splurging money on all sorts of failing businesses in order to avoid recession there is one group of rent-seeking non-producers who would normally expect to be the beneficiary of government largesse that has been conspicuously overlooked – the arts community.

The Yartz community, as it is commonly referred to here in Australia, has been a festering parasite on the wallets of Australian taxpayers for years.

As Andrew Bolt pointed out:

Film Finance Corporation boss Brian Rosen spends $70 million a year of taxpayers’ money on Australian films which barely get watched.

As well as How Baz blew our $80 million and Why only .1 per cent of our films make money.

Now comes a new blow for the Yartz community – arts subjects are being ‘ignored’ in the national curriculum currently being put together and the precious luvvies are up in arms – so they’ve created a lobby group to pressure the government into including the arts in the curriculum.

The Federal Government’s new national curriculum for schools is focused on the basics of education: English, maths, science, history, geography and languages.

The fact is that standards in the above subjects have fallen dramatically in the last couple of decades. One has to applaud the government for taking action.

But a new lobby group says the visual arts, drama, dance and music should also be included.

That’s right. We’ll watch movies, go to the theatre and generally dance and sing our way out of recession, as well as guarantee the future health of the nation.

The National Advocates for Arts Education (NAAE) is calling on the Federal Government to include the arts in the work of the National Curriculum Board and Early Years Learning Framework.

Ausdance’s Julie Dyson, who is a member of the NAAE, says sidelining subjects such as art and drama deprives students of essential skills for the 21st century.

Who knew that performance art was an essential skill for the 21st century? What about mime? Or yodeling? The mind boggles.

“If they’re not flagged in the national curriculum they don’t seem to have the weight and the credibility given to them by decision makers,” she said.

By ‘decision makers’ she means the general public.

“The arts contribute to literacy and numeracy in all sorts of ways that have been well researched and proven, so they have an instrumental effect on the curriculum, but they also have an intrinsic value in promoting innovation and creativity.”

I don’t know about you but my experience is that the more arty-farty the person the lower their literacy and numeracy skills are.

Both sides of the political divide claimed victory when the Senate passed the $28 billion funding bill, which included the national curriculum, on the final parliamentary sitting day of the year.

But Ms Dyson says after a meeting with politicians and arts advisors in Canberra, the group was told that subjects such as music, visual art, dance and drama would not be considered among the first two phases of the new curriculum.

“We were told fairly definitely by a number of political sources that although they might eventually appear in the national curriculum, this was certainly not on the immediate agenda,” she said.

The NAAE is planning a campaign to raise awareness about arts education, but the chair of the National Curriculum Board, Professor Barry McGaw, says the arts are still considered a key learning area in state and territory curricula, and therefore their status as an important part of a rounded education is assured.

He says it will be up to the new body, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, which came into effect on January 1, to decide what subjects will be introduced and when.

“That authority has as its policy body the ministerial council, which is the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers, and if they collectively decide that they want to have more subjects come in, then they will come in,” Professor McGaw said.

But Ms Dyson says while she is confident the arts will eventually be included, any delay is a concern.

“We’re very anxious that they get to it pretty quickly, at least that they flag them in the planning process as something that is going to be part of the national curriculum down the track,” she said.

If dancing, singing, miming, acting, yodeling, writing or painting could lower CO2 emissions then the Yartz would be swimming in money.

There are a couple of comments at the ABC site that nicely sum up both sides of the argument.

From Merlin 23:

Hi G,

I have seven kids so I think I am pretty well placed to answer your query.

1. If any of my kids showed either an aptitude and/or preference for any of the arts then I would support them whole heartedly. The difference is I would fund thier support and not expect the government to do it for me. At the same time would educate them to be realistic about their aspirations.
2. This is not an argument about the arts being superfluous (although I admit my initial post may have given that impression). Its about priorities. As Dragon correctly pointed out there are not that many vacancies for artists at the moment. So like or not this comes down to the fundamentals of supply and demand.
3. I believe being honest with your kids about the realities of life is one of most important lessons that you can teach your kids. Prioritising arts funding at the expense of the basics – particularly given the global nature of the economic crisis simply does not make sense.

and from G:

1. I’m sorry, I don’t understand why you believe arts should be supported only by the individual – Do you believe that it is only the individual artist that benefits from the products of art? Is it not the case that the entire of humanity, for untold centuries, can benefit from art?
2. As I responded to dragon, the apparent dearth of vacancies has more to do with the availability of artists. An arts culture will not develop where there are no artists. You are confusing cause and effect.
3. The current economic situation is expected to be short term, i.e. a few years. Your children’s education now will affect them, and the rest of the country, for the rest of their lives. Which priority are you choosing?

The fundamental difference between them is not that the arts do not have a place in, or impact on, culture but that it should be government funded.

‘G’ makes one of the great comments of all time – “…the apparent dearth of vacancies has more to do with the availability of artists. An arts culture will not develop where there are no artists.”

There are not enough artists?

Seriously?

So let’s do a short thought experiment.

Let’s go to one extreme and imagine the result if the government funded anyone who wanted to be an artist and paid them a wage of, say, the average wage in Australia. How many school leavers would choose to be ‘artists’?

Tick tock, tick tock.

Obviously not everyone can be an artist even if the government is pissing taxpayer money up against the wall paying for it.

So who in the government then chooses how many extra leeches society needs hanging off it?

Was Monet government funded?

How about van Gogh?

Or Picasso?

Here’s one that was to show that they exist, and a great one at that – Sergei Eisenstein.

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein (January 23, 1898 – February 11, 1948) was a revolutionary Soviet Russian film director and film theorist noted in particular for his silent films Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October, as well as historical epics Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. His work vastly influenced early film makers owing to his innovative use of and writings about montage.

That it was a murderous dictatorship that paid Eisenstein a salary is probably lost on the general Yartzie.

When John Howard was in charge he copped the blame for the Culture Warriors making no progress.

Now that it’s Labor in power it must come as a shock to the system to be so comprehensively excluded.

(Nothing Follows)


Categories: Australia, Education

>Security guards to watch over Grade 1 BBQ

December 9, 2008 Leave a comment

>What the heck?

Is there some chance of too much red cordial leading to a new video series Six Year Olds Run Amok?

Security guards have been hired to watch over a grade 1 barbecue at a primary school in Melbourne’s outer north-east.

Radio 3AW has reported that a letter from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development confirmed the presence of security guards at the end-of-year gathering for the group, which would largely be six year olds.

The Age contacted the school and was told the principal would make an announcement this morning. The Department of Education was also unavailable to provide immediate comment.

What can the excuse be for this?

‘Protecting’ the kids?

If so then from whom?

It will be interesting to see what twaddle is trotted out to justify such an outrageous waste of money.


UPDATE:

Hurstbridge Primary School principal Jan Shrimpton today confirmed the security, saying it was necessary due to the “actions of a small number of parents”.

In a statement issued to The Age, Ms Shrimpton said the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development was taking “every step” to ensure a healthy and safe workplace for school staff.

“This includes the provision of security services during the school day and at a number of school events, as determined by me,” she said.

“I want to stress that this is not about students’ behaviour but about the actions of a small number of parents.”

The school would not comment further as to what the actions were.

“As principal of this excellent school, I will not tolerate any threat to the health and safety of my staff or any disruption to students,” Ms Shrimpton said.

“A safe teaching and learning environment is absolutely necessary, and working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, I intend to ensure that the school provides that.”

This sounds like complete BS to me.

If parents had made threats against teachers, for example, then the police should be involved.

If the BBQ creates an environment in which AVOs may be breached then ditto.

What are the security guards going to do, anyway?

Fight off cranky parents?

What if it’s the mothers that are angry?

There is more to this that principal Shrimpton is letting on.

(Nothing Follows)

Categories: Australia, Education, Stupidity

>No more giving an "F" in school

December 7, 2008 2 comments

>Is the point of ‘no child left behind’ to eliminate failure for children or to give them the tools with which to succeed?

Another school in the United States, this time Grand Rapids, Michigan, has chosen to eliminate “F” as a grade and instead give students an “H” – for Held – and the opportunity to retake tests or resubmit homework in order to avoid failure.

I sometimes wonder whether teachers’ reluctance to give a failing grade is more about helping children’s self esteem or teachers’.

Not giving an “F” in circumstances where it is merited can only serve to improve a school’s academic result, which may well be the point of the policy given the increasing pressure schools in many countries are coming under to get their results back to the level that used to be achieved before the left took over the education system.

For more students nationwide, the grading alphabet ends at “D,” as school districts eliminate policies that allow children to be given failing marks.

At public schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., high school students will no longer receive “F”s but instead will earn the letter “H” when their work falls woefully short.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor told ABCNews.com that the “H” stands for “held,” and is a system designed to give students a second chance on work that was not up to par.

“I never see anyone doing anything but punishing kids,” said Taylor. “If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I’m going to err on the side of opportunity.”

What will kids learn from this policy? That failure has no consequences.

Schools claim to be preparing students for the ‘real world’ by including in their curriculum such nonsense as cooking (or ‘food tech’, as I’ve heard it called), textiles (aka the ability to darn your own socks), stage design and even surfing etc.

In what ‘real world’ does failure not have a consequence? Haven’t paid your rent on time? No worries, pay it in a couple of weeks. Sales figures at 10% of target? No worries, you’re still a sales star.

There’s no such place.

Students in Taylor’s district can choose to retake the course, do extra work online or decide on a different remedial action with their teacher.

But if the work has not been rectified within 12 weeks, Taylor said the student will still receive a failing grade.

12 weeks! What are the chances that the so-called remedial action worked out by failure-shy teachers will provide soft solutions that ensure students ‘pass’?

At one Boston area middle school, a policy known as “Zeros Aren’t Permitted” gives students who do not complete their homework on time an opportunity during school hours to finish so that they do not fail the assignment.

During school hours? These people are away with the fairies.

The school principal explained that the policy was implemented in hopes of preventing “students from failing homework assignments and slipping through the cracks of the education system.”

They’re not ‘slipping through the cracks’, they’re being placed into the crack and positively banged through by hopeless self esteem policies.

But school administrators, child psychologists and even parents disagree over whether the controversial policy in school grading may actually be detrimental to children in the long run.

Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, believes that schools that veer away from giving children the grades they have earned – even when it’s a zero or an “F” – aren’t doing anyone any good.

“Children aren’t going to gain from ambiguous information regarding their grades,” said Kazdin.

“The fact is children are failing yet we don’t want to call it that,” said Kazdin. “It’s this whole notion that everyone’s a winner and everyone gets a trophy.”

Kazdin argues that children are perceptive enough that they will eventually realize they aren’t doing well in school whether teachers give them “F”s or not, and that hiding their true level of achievement will only confuse them further.

“The task is to change the reality, not the labeling of it,” he said.

Providing detailed feedback on what children can do to improve their grades is imperative, said Kazdin. While students may feel initially feel demoralized when they receive a failing grade, Kazdin said that by providing them with specific ways to improve their class standing they will eventually benefit from the traditional grading system.

That’s exactly correct. I have been tutoring some of my friends’ kids in mathematics, which seems to be a skill lost on the younger generation. After each session I give them a score and explain why they got, for example, 2/10. After about three months they have a series of scores that are generally increasing and, critically, when I ask them to grade themselves after each session they are able to get close to what I give them because they now have a way of measuring their own performance. One of them has gone from getting Cs and Ds to scoring 17/17 on one test and 80% on another, much to the surprise of his teacher (and mine, too, I must admit).

But the director of programs for the National Parent Teacher Association, Sherri Johnson, maintains that as more research emerges about the different ways children learn, the grading system needs to be tweaked accordingly.

“Research shows that children develop and learn at different paces and in different ways,” said Johnson.

“Schools have to move toward more of a portfolio process in measuring progress and learning,” she said. “A student may get an ‘A’ but that report card should also show where there are opportunities for improvement.”

Johnson said that with the nation’s drop out rate hovering around 30 percent, schools should be doing whatever they can to prevent students from getting so discouraged that they give up on their education.

“By the time many students get to high school some have probably experienced so much failure on paper that they ask themselves, ‘what’s the point?'” said Johnson.
“For kids to see an ‘F’ on their work is deflating,” she said.

Oh, boo bloody hoo. Isn’t it also deflating for teachers to give an F, as per my previous comment? This stuff does not help.

But mom Alison Rhodes says that a little disappointment may not be so bad for the generation that has become accustomed to an “everyone is a winner” lifestyle.

“I think we’re setting these kids up for failure and unrealistic exercitations because there is a consequence for not trying your best,” said Rhodes, who is also known as TV’s “Safety Mom.” “You can’t slack off and still expect to win.”

“[A system where] there are no zeros or ‘F’s is coddling them and sending them the wrong message,” she said. “A dose of reality and tough love is what they need.”

Good stuff, Alison.

You should become a teacher.

(Nothing Follows)


Categories: Education, United States

>Education and the upper 50% IQ

July 25, 2008 2 comments

>Charles Murray continues his look at why educational outcomes are not what society expects.

As I mentioned yesterday, how many politicians are going to take on the reality of IQ’s effect on education when they can take the easier opyion of tax and spend instead?

Many people are of the belief that smaller class sizes equals better outcomes. This may be true in certain circumstances but worldwide research shows that class size is a low predictor of educational outcome for a student. Teacher quality is the strongest predictor, as demonstrated by countries like Finland, which has large class sizes and teachers for whom it is mandatory to have a masters degree.

Smaller class size is pushed heavily be education unions, as it results in more teachers. The real effect is to lower teaching standards, as there are more salaries to be paid to teachers out of a bucket that does not increase proportionally in size.

The other interesting thing to note is that IQ tests given to 8 year olds – adjusted for age etc – have a 75%-80% success rate at predicting high school outcomes, which supports the argument that Charles Murray makes:

The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today’s simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.

Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one’s inability to recognize one’s own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college–enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because “vocational training” is second class. “College” is first class.

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living–and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today’s college campuses–probably a majority of them–are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide. Once there, they create a demand for practical courses, taught at an intellectual level that can be handled by someone with a mildly above-average IQ and/or mild motivation. The nation’s colleges try to accommodate these new demands. But most of the practical specialties do not really require four years of training, and the best way to teach those specialties is not through a residential institution with the staff and infrastructure of a college. It amounts to a system that tries to turn out televisions on an assembly line that also makes pottery. It can be done, but it’s ridiculously inefficient.

Government policy contributes to the problem by making college scholarships and loans too easy to get, but its role is ancillary. The demand for college is market-driven, because a college degree does, in fact, open up access to jobs that are closed to people without one. The fault lies in the false premium that our culture has put on a college degree.

For a few occupations, a college degree still certifies a qualification. For example, employers appropriately treat a bachelor’s degree in engineering as a requirement for hiring engineers. But a bachelor’s degree in a field such as sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies nothing. It is a screening device for employers. The college you got into says a lot about your ability, and that you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything. There are better, faster and more efficient ways for young people to acquire credentials to provide to employers.

The good news is that market-driven systems eventually adapt to reality, and signs of change are visible. One glimpse of the future is offered by the nation’s two-year colleges. They are more honest than the four-year institutions about what their students want and provide courses that meet their needs more explicitly. Their time frame gives them a big advantage–two years is about right for learning many technical specialties, while four years is unnecessarily long.

Advances in technology are making the brick-and-mortar facility increasingly irrelevant. Research resources on the Internet will soon make the college library unnecessary. Lecture courses taught by first-rate professors are already available on CDs and DVDs for many subjects, and online methods to make courses interactive between professors and students are evolving. Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. These and other developments are all still near the bottom of steep growth curves. The cost of effective training will fall for everyone who is willing to give up the trappings of a campus. As the cost of college continues to rise, the choice to give up those trappings will become easier.

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason–the list goes on and on–is difficult, and it is a seller’s market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman’s job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

Even if forgoing college becomes economically attractive, the social cachet of a college degree remains. That will erode only when large numbers of high-status, high-income people do not have a college degree and don’t care. The information technology industry is in the process of creating that class, with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as exemplars. It will expand for the most natural of reasons: A college education need be no more important for many high-tech occupations than it is for NBA basketball players or cabinetmakers. Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you are a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript. The ability to present an employer with evidence that you are good at something, without benefit of a college degree, will continue to increase, and so will the number of skills to which that evidence can be attached. Every time that happens, the false premium attached to the college degree will diminish.

Most students find college life to be lots of fun (apart from the boring classroom stuff), and that alone will keep the four-year institution overstocked for a long time. But, rightly understood, college is appropriate for a small minority of young adults–perhaps even a minority of the people who have IQs high enough that they could do college-level work if they wished. People who go to college are not better or worse people than anyone else; they are merely different in certain interests and abilities. That is the way college should be seen. There is reason to hope that eventually it will be.

(Nothing Follows)

Categories: Education, United States

>Education and the lower 50% IQ

July 24, 2008 1 comment

>While Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute correctly notes societal issues caused by low IQ it’s probably fair to say that political-correctness and the assumption that more education will create better outcomes are too difficult to overcome in order to achieve benefits for society.

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment–you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education’s role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation’s future.

Today’s simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

Now take the girl sitting across the aisle who is getting an F. She is at the 20th percentile of intelligence, which means she has an IQ of 88. If the grading is honest, it may not be possible to do more than give her an E for effort. Even if she is taught to read every bit as well as her intelligence permits, she still will be able to comprehend only simple written material. It is a good thing that she becomes functionally literate, and it will have an effect on the range of jobs she can hold. But still she will be confined to jobs that require minimal reading skills. She is just not smart enough to do more than that.

How about raising intelligence? It would be nice if we knew how, but we do not. It has been shown that some intensive interventions temporarily raise IQ scores by amounts ranging up to seven or eight points. Investigated psychometrically, these increases are a mix of test effects and increases in the underlying general factor of intellectual ability–“g.” In any case, the increases fade to insignificance within a few years after the intervention. Richard Herrnstein and I reviewed the technical literature on this topic in “The Bell Curve” (1994), and studies since then have told the same story.

There is no reason to believe that raising intelligence significantly and permanently is a current policy option, no matter how much money we are willing to spend. Nor can we look for much help from the Flynn Effect, the rise in IQ scores that has been observed internationally for several decades. Only a portion of that rise represents an increase in g, and recent studies indicate that the rise has stopped in advanced nations.

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP’s “basic achievement” score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP’s basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP’s definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder–the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution (education of the gifted is another story), the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of “The Bell Curve.”

This is not to say that American public schools cannot be improved. Many of them, especially in large cities, are dreadful. But even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence.

To say that even a perfect education system is not going to make much difference in the performance of children in the lower half of the distribution understandably grates. But the easy retorts do not work. It’s no use coming up with the example of a child who was getting Ds in school, met an inspiring teacher, and went on to become an astrophysicist. That is an underachievement story, not the story of someone at the 49th percentile of intelligence. It’s no use to cite the differences in test scores between public schools and private ones–for students in the bottom half of the distribution, the differences are real but modest. It’s no use to say that IQ scores can be wrong. I am not talking about scores on specific tests, but about a student’s underlying intellectual ability, g, whether or not it has been measured with a test. And it’s no use to say that there’s no such thing as g.

While concepts such as “emotional intelligence” and “multiple intelligences” have their uses, a century of psychometric evidence has been augmented over the last decade by a growing body of neuroscientific evidence. Like it or not, g exists, is grounded in the architecture and neural functioning of the brain, and is the raw material for academic performance. If you do not have a lot of g when you enter kindergarten, you are never going to have a lot of it. No change in the educational system will change that hard fact.

That says nothing about the quality of the lives that should be open to everyone across the range of ability. I am among the most emphatic of those who think that the importance of IQ in living a good life is vastly overrated. My point is just this: It is true that many social and economic problems are disproportionately found among people with little education, but the culprit for their educational deficit is often low intelligence. Refusing to come to grips with that reality has produced policies that have been ineffectual at best and damaging at worst.

(Nothing Follows)

Categories: Education, United States

>White teacher sacked for grading black students correctly

>In Australia we do not have the same issue that the US faces in terms of artificially raising one group’s (be it race, sex, religion etc) education scores in order to achieve politically correct outcomes.

We’re much cleverer.

What we do is pass everyone regardless of whether they can read or write or do basic arithmetic.

The education system then trumpets its success. Teachers’ unions give themselves a pat on the back. The self esteem movement basks in the knowledge that no child’s feelings were hurt by having it pointed out that they’re as dumb as a stick.

It’s all wonderful. Until these kids get into the real world. And then Charlie Sykes’ 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School kick in.

A white teacher who graded black students on their real ability has been sacked from his school in the US. Does anyone think that his departure, and presumed replacement with someone with lower marking standards, will help students?

Who is to blame when students fail? If many students fail — a majority even — does that demonstrate faculty incompetence, or could it point to a problem with standards?

These are the questions at the center of a dispute that cost Steven D. Aird his job teaching biology at Norfolk State University. Today is his last day of work, but on his way out, he has started to tell his story — one that he suggests points to large educational problems at the university and in society. The university isn’t talking publicly about his case, but because Aird has released numerous documents prepared by the university about his performance — including the key negative tenure decisions by administrators — it is clear that he was denied tenure for one reason: failing too many students. The university documents portray Aird as unwilling to compromise to pass more students.

A subtext of the discussion is that Norfolk State is a historically black university with a mission that includes educating many students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The university suggests that Aird — who is white — has failed to embrace the mission of educating those who aren’t well prepared. But Aird — who had backing from his department and has some very loyal students as well — maintains that the university is hurting the very students it says it wants to help. Aird believes most of his students could succeed, but have no incentive to work as hard as they need to when the administration makes clear they can pass regardless.

“Show me how lowering the bar has ever helped anyone,” Aird said in an interview. Continuing the metaphor, he said that officials at Norfolk State have the attitude of “a track coach who tells the team ‘I really want to win this season but I really like you guys, so you can decide whether to come to practice and when.’ ” Such a team wouldn’t win, Aird said, and a university based on such a principle would not be helping its students.

Sharon R. Hoggard, a spokeswoman for Norfolk State, said that she could not comment at all on Aird’s case. But she did say this, generally, on the issues raised by Aird: “Something is wrong when you cannot impart your knowledge onto students. We are a university of opportunity, so we take students who are underprepared, but we have a history of whipping them into shape. That’s our niche.”

The question raised by Aird and his defenders is whether Norfolk State is succeeding and whether policies about who passes and who fails have an impact. According to U.S. Education Department data, only 12 percent of Norfolk State students graduate in four years, and only 30 percent graduate in six years.

Aird points to a Catch-22 that he said hinders professors’ ability to help students. Because so many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and never received a good high school education, they are already behind, he said, and attendance is essential. Norfolk State would appear to endorse this point of view, and official university policy states that a student who doesn’t attend at least 80 percent of class sessions may be failed.

The problem, Aird said, is that very few Norfolk State students meet even that standard. In the classes for which he was criticized by the dean for his grading — classes in which he awarded D’s or F’s to about 90 percent of students — Aird has attendance records indicating that the average student attended class only 66 percent of the time. Based on such a figure, he said, “the expected mean grade would have been an F,” and yet he was denied tenure for giving such grades.

Other professors at Norfolk State, generally requesting anonymity, confirmed that following the 80 percent attendance rule would result frequently in failing a substantial share — in many cases a majority — of their students. Professors said attendance rates are considerably lower than at many institutions — although most institutions serve students with better preparation.

One reason that this does not happen (outside Aird’s classes) is that many professors at Norfolk State say that there is a clear expectation from administrators — in particular from Dean Sandra J. DeLoatch, the dean whose recommendation turned the tide against Aird’s tenure bid — that 70 percent of students should pass.

Aird said that figure was repeatedly made clear to him and he resisted it. Others back his claim privately. For the record, Joseph C. Hall, a chemistry professor at president of the Faculty Senate, said that DeLoatch “encouraged” professors to pass at least 70 percent of students in each course, regardless of performance. Hall said that there is never a direct order given, but that one isn’t really needed.

“When you are in a meeting and an administrator says our goal is to try to get above 70 percent, then that indirectly says that’s what you are going to try to do,” he said. (Hoggard, the university spokeswoman, said that it was untrue that there was any quota for passing students.)

Hall agreed that both attendance and preparation are problems for many students at Norfolk State. He said that he generally fails between 20 and 35 percent of students, and has not been criticized by his dean. But Hall has tenure and the highest failure rate he can remember in one of his classes was 45 percent.

Dean DeLoatch’s report on Aird’s tenure bid may be the best source of information on how the administration views the pass rate issue. The report from the dean said that Aird met the standards for tenure in service and research, and noted that he took teaching seriously, using his own student evaluations on top of the university’s. The detailed evaluations Aird does for his courses, turned over in summary form for this article, suggest a professor who is seen as a tough grader (too tough by some), but who wins fairly universal praise for his excitement about science, for being willing to meet students after class to help them, and providing extra help.

DeLoatch’s review finds similarly. Of Aird, she wrote, based on student reviews: “He is respectful and fair to students, adhered to the syllabus, demonstrated that he found the material interesting, was available to students outside of class, etc.”

What she faulted him for, entirely, was failing students. The review listed various courses, with remarks such as: “At the end of Spring 2004, 22 students remained in Dr. Aird’s CHM 100 class. One student earned a grade of ‘B’ and all others, approximately 95 percent, earned grades between ‘D’ and ‘F.’” Or: “At the end of Fall 2005, 38 students remained in Dr. Aird’s BIO 100 class. Four students earned a grade of ‘C-’ or better and 34, approximately 89 percent, received D’s and F’s.”

These class records resulted in the reason cited for tenure denial: “the core problem of the overwhelming failure of the vast majority of the students he teaches, especially since the students who enroll in the classes of Dr. Aird’s supporters achieve a greater level of success than Dr. Aird’s students.”

DeLoatch also rejected the relevance of 16 letters in Aird’s portfolio from students who praised him as a teacher. The students, some of whom are now in medical or graduate school or who have gone on to win research awards, talked about his extra efforts on their behalf, how he had been a mentor, and so forth. DeLoatch named each student in the review, and noted their high grade point averages and various successes. Some of the students writing on his behalf received grades as low as C, although others received higher grades.

But although DeLoatch held Aird responsible for his failures, she wrote that he did not deserve any credit for his success stories and these students, by virtue of their strong academic performance, shouldn’t influence the tenure decision. “With the exception of one of these students, it appears that all have either excelled or are presently performing well at NSU. Given their records, it is likely that that would be the case no matter who their advisors or teachers were.”

Aird stressed that he does not believe Norfolk State should try to become an elite college. He said he believes that only about 20 percent of the students who enroll truly can’t do the work. He believes another 20 percent are ready from the start. Of the middle 60 percent, he said that when the university tells them that substandard work and frequent class skipping are OK, these students are doomed to fail his courses (and not to learn what they need from other professors).

“I think most of the students have the intellectual capacity to succeed, but they have been so poorly trained, and given all the wrong messages by the university,” he said.

The problem at Norfolk State, he said, isn’t his low grades, but the way the university lowers expectations. He noted that in the dean’s negative review of his tenure bid, nowhere did she cite specific students who should have received higher grades, or subject matter that shouldn’t have been in his courses or on his tests. The emphasis is simply on passing students, he said.

“If everyone here would tell students that ‘you are either going to work or get out,’ they would work, and they would blossom,” he said. “We’ve got to present a united front — high academic standards in all classes across the institution. Some students will bail, and we can’t help those, but the ones who stay will realize that they aren’t going to be given a diploma for nothing, and that their diploma means something.”

Reaction in Norfolk has been mixed. After The Virginian-Pilot wrote about the case last week, it received numerous online comments — some calling Aird a hero, others saying he was denigrating the university.

Faculty leaders have a range of views about Aird’s case. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, an associate professor of history and secretary of the Faculty Senate, led a grievance committee that found Aird’s first tenure review was flawed and that ordered a second review. Newby-Alexander said that the problems Aird has raised about preparedness are real. She said that she fails about 20 percent of her students on average, some for just not showing up and others for not doing the work at appropriate levels.

“He’s not the first to raise the issue of preparedness. This is a national problem that a lot of faculty have been raising throughout the country,” she said.

In addition, while she has not experienced being told that she must pass a greater percentage of students, she said she was troubled by the implication that someone could be denied tenure for making sincere analyses of the grades he thought students deserved. Even if presidents or vice presidents would prefer different grades, she said that it “smacks of an issue of academic freedom” to punish a professor for giving low grades.

Hall, the head of the Faculty Senate, asked if Aird has been treated fairly or unfairly, said: “My father used to say that no matter how long you cook a pancake it still has two sides.”

Along those lines, he said that it was important to see the responsibility for getting students to acceptable levels of knowledge as a team process, not something that falls only on students or only on professors. “Every faculty member has to decide how they are going to take a group of students and bring them up to a particular standard. Some faculty members feel that ultimately the responsibility of having students come up to that standard is the university’s, and the university should bring students up. It’s a very complicated issue.”

For his part, Hall said that “one of the things I have been objecting to is administrators trying to constantly tell you the responsibility for student success is only the faculty member’s responsibility. It really isn’t. Success is four-pronged — the student, the university administration, parents, and the faculty.”

Added Hall: “A faculty member can’t make a student come to class. A faculty member can’t spend all of his or her time teaching students how to study. A faculty member teaching chemistry can’t deal with some of the social problems these students have, and that the students are working 30-40 hours a week. There are a lot of things that are not in the control of the faculty member.”

But at the same time, he added that “whenever you have 80-90 percent of your students failing, politically that’s going to cause some administrators to begin to question what’s going on.”

Jonathan Knight, who handles academic freedom issues for the American Association of University Professors, said that he has no problem per se with administrators asking questions about such a high failure rate. “It is not improper for an administration to be concerned about it,” he said.

But he cautioned against automatic assumptions. He said the questions to be asked are why so many students are failing, what is being done to help students succeed, what is taking place in the classroom, and so forth.

While Knight did not see academic freedom issues related to asking such questions, he said he would be concerned about orders to pass certain percentages of students. “Professors obviously should have the right to determine what grades the students should have,” he said.

Aird — who is applying for teaching jobs — acted on such a belief and stuck to it. While administrators have noted that they urged him to change his ways, his defenders note that he was always clear with his students about his belief in high standards. In a letter he sent to students at the beginning of last January’s semester, he wrote: “You can only develop skills and self-confidence when your professors maintain appropriately rigorous standards in the classroom and insist that you attain appropriate competencies. You cannot genuinely succeed if your professors pander to you. You will simply fail at the next stage in life, where the cost of failure is much greater.”

Today, Steve Aird is packing up his office.

Categories: Education, United States

>Macquarie University conscripts ‘volunteers’

>In the Jesus Wept category comes the following article in The Australian on what the Left is now foisting on Australian universities:

ALL students at a leading university will have to undertake volunteer work and study subjects from the arts and sciences under an overhaul of its curriculum designed to provide a broader education and more socially aware graduates.

I’m going to suggest that by ‘broader education and socially aware graduates’ it means indoctrinating those students that miss out on the wildly left wing views of liberal arts professors – science, maths etc students – with anti-capitalist, global warming, lefty feel good hooha that is completely useless to actually doing a professional job professionally.

In a first for an Australian university, Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz today will announce a partnership with Australia Volunteers International (AVI) that will create a mini peace corps, giving undergraduate students the opportunity to do volunteer work overseas.

Would you care to hazard a guess as to whether AVI has a political leaning (which it shouldn’t) and, if so, which way that lean is?

Called the Global Futures Program, it will develop programs with local communities throughout Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Some form of community work will be compulsory for all undergraduate students at Macquarie under the new curriculum, to start in 2010.

Compulsory? To give your labour and expertise away for free? You might be OK with that but it seems a bit strange that a compulsory activity is supported by an apparently volunteer organisation. Isn’t philanthropy all about volunteering? Coerced philanthropy seems a bit of an oxymoron.

In addition, the university will require all undergraduate students to study subjects from the humanities, social sciences and sciences so that arts students must take science subjects and science students must take arts subjects.

I’ll make a prediction. Arts students – being as dumb as dog droppings in matters scientific (that’s why they vastly outnumber science students in their belief in global warming) – will last a semester or two, kick up a stink and have the requirement dropped. Science students – having higher IQs than their dopey arts cousins – will work hard and struggle through the arts subjects but still pass. In this way they will not learn the lesson that the university is trying to indoctrinate but instead discover the totalitarian, coercive nature of the liberal arts establishment and the left in general.

The university, in northern Sydney, had also considered making the learning of a foreign language compulsory but it was not feasible at this stage.

What language? Is the selection of the language going to compulsory also? What about Pidgin English? Or Icelandic? What about SMS? That seems to be all the rage these days.

Professor Schwartz told The Australian that the new curriculum was based on three themes of place, planet and participation, and was designed to provide students with a broader education than one geared solely to a vocation and getting a job.

What happened to the three themes of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic? How does place, planet and participation help someone doing a computing studies degree? Answer: not at all.

“Universities are more than just narrow vocational schools; they have the opportunity to change the world, to shape society and shape democracy,” he said. “It’s about education for life, not just for a job.

So compulsory activity somehow shapes democracy? Universities would like to think they shape society but in spite of a massive onslaught against conservative ideas over the last 50 years the population still votes pretty much 50-50 right-left.

“We’re trying to infuse the institution with more than just a utilitarian vocational mission as one that also makes difference to a more democratic and inclusive society.”

That’s another point. Always beware leftists who use the term ‘democratic’. It tends to be the last thing they have in mind.

Professor Schwartz said the new curriculum developed the university’s commitment to social inclusion and equity, and fitted in with programs already in place at the university, such as MULTILIT, a remedial literacy program being used in Queensland’s Cape York, and the Teach for Australia scheme. Macquarie University, in partnership with Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute, is developing the Teach for Australia program.

Ah, social inclusion and equity. Now it’s coming out. Left wing drivel of the type that has seen aboriginal society completely collapse over the last 30 years. Let’s have more of that, shall we?

It is based on similar schemes in the US and Britain to recruit the brightest graduates to teach for a short time in disadvantaged schools before they start their professional careers.

Recruit? I thought it was compulsory. Don’t they mean ‘conscript’?

Macquarie’s focus on a broader education follows the restructure at Melbourne University, called the Melbourne Model and based on US college degrees, which offers six broad undergraduate degrees followed by a graduate professional degree in specialist areas such as law or medicine.

Macquarie University arts student Jen Purcell, 22, has travelled to India twice as a volunteer to teach in schools in Rajasthan, the first time while still at high school, with World Vision.

In 2006, Ms Purcell returned to India of her own volition and lived in the slums alongside the children she taught.

“I cried for the first week. Every day I had to go back to a house with no electricity and limited water,” she said.

“It was just so awful. To have to stay for another six or seven weeks, I thought I can’t do it because it’s nothing that I’m used to. But it was the best time of my life, even the bad bits.”

Ms Purcell said the experience had changed the course of her life and she had returned to change her major from ancient history and was now looking to work in international aid and education.

But even for students who would continue with their original choice of profession, Ms Purcell thought all students would benefit from such an experience.

“In the increasingly globalised world that we live in, that ability to understand other cultures is a huge advantage for graduates.”

I have lived all over the world including in impoverished countries in Asia and Africa. My view is that the government should pay for a gap year for all Australians after they’ve finished year 12 and before they go on to university in which they live in Calcutta or Albania or Nepal or Sudan just so they can get a look at the real world and see how lucky we are here.

Thanks to Ker-plunkian, Kevin, for bringing the article to my attention.

(Nothing Follows)

Categories: Australia, Education