Thursday Thought: Beginnings

Schiller in a letter to Goethe, February 5th, 1796:
I always think it better, whenever possible, not to begin at the beginning, as it is always the most difficult part.
Found in the Introduction to Numbers by K. Lamotke (Springer-Verlag, 1991).


Grade Inflation and Corporatized College

Ed Burmila has an incisive piece on how "college run as a business" inevitably promotes grade inflation and the other ills we deal with daily:
When grades are inflated, everyone appears to win. Students are happy for obvious reasons. Administrators are happy that students are staying enrolled. Teachers are happy their already hefty workloads aren’t being increased further. Yet the collective outcome — contra econ 101 — is suboptimal.

As the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded rises, employers can demand additional credentials (which universities are only too happy to offer at eye-watering prices). The only ones who benefit are those who can afford to distinguish themselves from the pack of three-point-something GPAs by buying costly elite credentials.



California State Ends Remediation

At the start of the month, the chancellor of California State pushed the button on the "nuclear option", ending all requirements for remedial-level skills in math and English in their college system. Much like CUNY, they are promising a doubling in graduation rates (from 20% to 40%).
Cal State plans to drop placement exams in math and English as well as the noncredit remedial courses that more than 25,000 freshmen have been required to take each fall — a radical move away from the way public universities traditionally support students who come to college less prepared than their peers.

In an executive order issued late Wednesday, Chancellor Timothy P. White directed the nation’s largest public university system to revamp its approach to remedial education and assess new freshmen for college readiness and course placement by using high school grades, ACT and SAT scores, previous classroom performance and other measures that administrators say provide a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of students’ knowledge.

Cal State will no longer make those students who may need extra help take the standardized entry-level mathematics (ELM) exam and the English placement test (EPT).

LA Times.


NY State backs off from Common Core

NY State is backing away from implementing the Common Core Learning Standards. Of course, the direction they're going is to make standards easier. Keep in mind: The great majority of NY state high school graduates cannot pass 6th-grade reading or arithmetic tests; and within the last decade, NY had the 3rd-lowest GED math success rates, above only Mississippi and Washington, DC.

As reported by NYSUT on the newly-named "Next Generation Learning Standards":
Committees went standard-by-standard, grade-by-grade. Some learning standards were thrown out; others were merged; some standards were moved to different grade levels... an Early Learning Standards Task Force with 30 educators and parents issued a set of pre-K–2 recommendations, such as incorporating "play" as an instructional strategy... To provide more time for students to develop deep levels of understanding of math content, the review committees suggested major grade movements in statistics and probability at the middle level and in algebra at the high school level. Some changes are semantic. For example, the new standard calls for "exploring" a concept without the expectation of mastering the concept at that grade level.



The empty promise of school choice

Charter school outcomes are, on average, worse the public school outcomes. Some people may be surprised by this -- but likely only if they are in the flock of the American free-market ideology. Fredrik deBoer, who researches academic assessment at CUNY, writes on how little sense this makes on his blog The ANOVA:
There are no specific pedagogical mechanisms that are tied to the doctrine of choice. There’s no secret book titled “Actually Good Pedagogy” that only charter schools get to buy. There is no experimental approach to learning long division that is only employed in private schools. Your average child moving from one type of school to another might find that their social world has changed, that their commute is easier, or that they like the cafeteria food better. But there is no consistent differences in how charter school teachers teach, no fundamental difference in approach between public and private. When people ask me why the results from some atypical charter success story fail to scale up in places like Detroit or Chicago or Nashville, I often say “because ‘charter school’ is not a meaningful experimental condition.”... What the designation “charter school” shares broadly is only the ability to fire teachers with impunity, that’s all. And that could only possibly work to improve outcomes, again, in a world where teachers control student outcomes in a straightforward and uncomplicated way. They don’t.