education

Education Emergency: Our Children (and US) at Risk

This is a guest post by John Droz, jr.

As an independent physicist I’ve spent 40± years on environmental advocacy, and energy education. In the later part of this journey I’ve become increasingly distressed about what is happening in our education system.

After speaking out about this several times, in 2013 I was asked to put on a presentation to the US House Science, Space and Technology Committee, as well as to the North Carolina Legislators. The unabridged version of both of those talks is online at ScienceUnderAssault.info.

Since then, most of what I’ve seen indicates that the situation is getting worse, rather than remedied. This is a summary of key education parts that need to be immediately addressed. Hopefully it will encourage citizens to get more involved with rectifying this extraordinarily important matter.

1 – We can not effectively fix anything until we are on the same page. I believe that the place to start here, is that we need to fully agree on the overall objective of the education system. Exactly what is the product we expect to get at the end of a laborious 12+ year assembly line?

In my view, the number one criteria for determining whether the educational system has been a success or not is: do these graduates have the ability and inclination to do Critical Thinking?

Google founder Vint Cerf says that there is no more important skill to teach than Critical Thinking. He calls it the one tool we have to defend ourselves from the onslaught of misinformation we are saturated with today. He argues that Critical Thinking would enable citizens to be more thoughtful about what information they accept, then process, and then use. That skill is a major benefit in literally every aspect of life.

My experience is that while the education system gives lip-service to Critical Thinking, when the rubber-meets-the-road, it’s not really happening. An easy test is to ask any college or high school student today what they think about global warming. Do they provide a thoughtful, thorough analysis — or simply regurgitate propaganda?

My first recommendation is that this be adopted by every state education department, every local school board, every academic institution, etc:

It is our obligation to produce critically thinking graduates.”

2 – I’m a zealous defender of my profession, Science. Most people are not aware of it, but Science is under a ferocious attack, worldwide. The reason is that individuals and organizations promoting political agendas, or their own economic interests, are acutely aware that real Science is not their friend — as it will expose them for what they are.

Those self-serving parties realize that even though most citizens have faith in Science, very few actually understand what Science is. So they take advantage of that discrepancy, by purposefully making false Science claims. They are fully aware that only a small number of people will understand the fraud — and even fewer will say anything public about it.

From what I’ve seen, the most egregious assaults on Science are taking place in such newbie science branches such as Environmental Science, Earth Science, Ecology, etc.

This campaign is being supported by slick internet video “science” series like Crash Course, Bozeman Science, etc. Listen carefully to the Crash Course founder explaining why they made over 200 education videos. He says “We don’t really have a coherent answer.” SAY WHAT?! I call these QVC Science, as (IMO) they are effectively polished sales pitches.

Propagandizing Science starts in our local schools. The good news is that the solution is also there — and is entirely under our control (see #3).

Recommendation number two is that I’m advocating that every state education department, every local school board, every academic institution, formally adopt and implement this standard:

Science education will be apolitical.”

3 -In my countrywide travels and correspondences I’ve heard from many parents of students. Quite a few have complained about various matters going on in their district. I asked them what response they got when they expressed their concerns to the teacher, principal, school board or superintendent? Most said essentially the same thing: they were reluctant to speak out for fear of retribution to their child. What a wonderful system.

The remaining citizens are those with no school children. Those people understandably believe that the school system is being held accountable by those with the most at stake: parents of current children. But no! My wife and I are in the second group. We were warned that because we had no kids in the system, that defenders of the status quo would instead attack us personally if we spoke up publicly about the secondary school system. We’d be accused of being anti-superintendent, anti-school board, anti-teacher, and/or anti-children.

It seems rather hypocritical that school districts who pride themselves for enforcing a “no tolerance” bullying policy between students, would actually tolerate intimidation of citizens who have the temerity to speak up about school system improvements…

Most people (including us) would like the federal government to stay out of the education business. Additionally we would also prefer that the state have minimal involvement in the education process. We want the ability to locally decide what is best for our children and our community.

We rarely hear about the flip side to this freedom: responsibility. If we want to control things ourselves, for our interests, then that means that there has to be real community involvement which includes unfettered and unpenalized inputs from parents and citizens.

So my third suggestion is that every state education department and school district officially adopt the following position for their interfaces with parents and the public (prominently putting it on their websites, letterhead, etc):

Please tell us how we can do a better job!

When inputs from the public are received the choice is very simple. The recipients can be genuinely appreciative that citizens take the time to make constructive suggestions to improve student education — or they can circle the wagons, and defend the status quo. Ironically, it’s the later action that necessitates more higher level intervention…

Whether you have children in the education system or not, is irrelevant. The future of our country, is literally at stake here. We all are going to sink or swim based on whether we have an effective education system. Please carefully investigate what is happening in your community.

John Droz, jr has a website dealing with renewable energy: http://wiseenergy.org/

Free Speech and Tender Feelings

The Arizona Daily Independent recently published an article about certain students at Northern Arizona University who feel put upon by the powers that be. According to the article these students feel that the university administration has failed “to provide security and the proper resources for its most vulnerable students, has encouraged the racial tokenization of students and faculty, has encouraged the NAU Police Department to interfere with student activism, has allowed those involved in student activism to be harassed by University employees, and has allowed these students’ reputation to be slandered by other students and faculty members.” Read more

I don’t know if the students have a legitimate gripe or not, but the article brings to mind three recent editorials on free speech:

Useful idiots gone wild” by Robert Weissberg:

Race-related protests on American college campuses are spreading faster than head lice at a daycare center. Though each disturbance has its own idiosyncrasies, all include demands that the university recruit more black faculty and students, forcefully “re-educate” all students and faculty to expel lingering anti-black racism and then do whatever is necessary to make the campus a warm, caring and, most of all, a safe space for communities of color.

Far more is involved here than howling for school president’s head or cancelling a mid-term exam to permit traumatized students time to heal. The ruckus is entirely about pushing the university leftward, and these immature campus social justice warriors are what Lenin called useful idiots. All the nattering about diversity and dialogue is a subterfuge; these hypersensitive snowflakes and fellow traveler thugs are just the ground troops in a much larger ideological war. Read full post

The Death of Free Speech” by Ben Shapiro:

Four in 10 young Americans have no idea what America is. That’s the takeaway from a new Pew Research poll showing that 40 percent of Americans aged 18-34 say that the government should be able to prevent people from making “statements that are offensive to minority groups.” This same group of young people has granted broad awareness to the culture of “microaggression” — unintended slights taken as grave insults by their victims; they’ve also called for “trigger warnings,” alerts that certain communications may dredge up unpleasant past memories or ideas. With such ghoulish cruelties haunting the most privileged generation in human history, naturally we’d want to toss out the bedrock of Western civilization: The right to debate, to express unpopular opinions. We wouldn’t want to offend. Unless, of course, we do. Read full post.

Free Speech” by Walter Williams:
Recent events at the University of Missouri, Yale University and some other colleges demonstrate an ongoing ignorance and/or contempt for the principles of free speech. So let’s examine some of those principles by asking: What is the true test of one’s commitment to free speech?

Contrary to the widespread belief of tyrants among college students, professors and administrators, the true test of one’s commitment to free speech does not come when one permits people to be free to express those ideas that he finds acceptable. The true test of one’s commitment to free speech comes when he permits others to say those things that he finds deeply offensive. In a word, free speech is absolute, or nearly so.

Liberty requires bravery. To truly support free speech, one has to accept that some people will say and publish things he finds deeply offensive. Similarly, to be for freedom of association, one has to accept that some people will associate in ways that he finds deeply offensive, such as associating or not associating on the basis of race, sex or religion.

I am all too afraid that most of my fellow Americans are hostile to the principle of liberty in general. Most people want liberty for themselves. I want more than that. I want liberty for me and liberty for my fellow man. Read full post

There are times when real discrimination requires action, and there are times when freedom requires that you develop a thick skin. The trick is learning the difference.

Sell more Arizona State Trust Land to help fund schools

One of the issues in the current governor’s race is the fact that Arizona owes about $300 million to the state’s schools. Where will that money come from? One possible source is the sale of some State Trust Land. When Arizona was organized as a territory and then a state, the federal government ceded land to be held in trust by Arizona for the specific purpose of funding education. Money is derived from outright sales and from leases for grazing, timber cutting, and mineral exploration. If a mine is developed on Trust land, the State receives production royalties.

There are now over 9 million acres of land in the Trust. While much of that land is rural, some of it is in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and would be very valuable for development, and thus command a high sale price. See parcel viewer here. The screen shot below shows some of the Trust land available in the Phoenix area in blue.

 Phoenix area trust land

State Trust Land must be sold at public auction to the highest bidder. History shows that when a Trust land parcel is valued for development, the winning bid is nearly twice its appraised value.

For some background on State Trust Land, here is a short history from the State Land Department.

“The Territory of Arizona was established on February 24, 1863, by an Act of Congress. This Act granted sections 16 and 36 of each township for the benefit of the Common Schools. Endowment of public lands for educational purposes was a practice established by the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. Congress quickly recognized the value of the land and the importance of public schools to a developing nation.

“The State Enabling Act, passed on June 20, 1910, allowed the Territory of Arizona to prepare for statehood. In addition to the previously designated sections of land, the Enabling Act assigned sections 2 and 32 of each township to be held in trust for the Common Schools. The needs of other public institutions were considered by Congress, and through the Enabling Act, more than two million additional acres were allocated for their use.

“In addition, a 1929 Act authorized an additional 50,000 acres for the Miners’ Hospital Trust. An 1881 Act had already granted the Territory of Arizona about 60,000 acres for the University of Arizona Trust. The total acreage was about 10,900,000. Today, State Trust Land is apportioned among 14 beneficiaries.”

If the sections of land mentioned above were not available for some reason, the State was allowed to choose other federal land in lieu of the designated sections.

The beneficiaries of income derived from Trust land are as follows:

 Trust land beneficiaries

By selling State Trust Land that is within or close to urban areas, the State could make up much of its $300 million educational deficit.

UPDATE:

I have been informed by a friend and former employee of the State Land Department that proceeds from land sales cannot be disbursed directly to schools. He wrote: “To operate as you suggest would require an amendment to the state constitution on an issue that would require the prior approval of the Federal government. The proceeds from the sale of Trust land can not be disbursed directly but must be placed in the Permanent Fund managed by the state treasurer.” Only money earned as interest from the Permanent Fund can be disbursed.

However, money gained from leases can be directly disbursed. He wrote: “These days the largest segment of money going directly to the schools is from mineral revenues, both surface rent and production royalties. If an organization wanted to expand school revenues, the most productive thing would be to expand mineral development.”

The dark side of Common Core Standards for education

Common core standards are the new federal framework for education in American schools. The aim is said to be proper preparation of students for college and life. You can read glowing, but somewhat vague, reports at many places, for instance, the National Governors Association here, and the Arizona Department of Education here. As always, the carrot is money.

However, there are those, especially conservatives, who are not thrilled with the new standards. Their arguments fall into three main categories: States rights, privacy, and a content which seems to “dumb down” the education of our children.

Columnist Michelle Malkin has written a three-part series on Common Core, see here, here, and here, with some reactions from teachers here. She writes, “For decades, collectivist agitators in our schools have chipped away at academic excellence in the name of fairness, diversity and social justice. Progressive reformers denounced Western civilization requirements, the Founding Fathers and the Great Books as racist. They attacked traditional grammar classes as irrelevant in modern life. They deemed ability grouping of students (tracking) bad for self-esteem. They replaced time-tested rote techniques and standard algorithms with fuzzy math, inventive spelling and multi-cultural claptrap.”

According to an article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, much of the drafting of the standards was done in secret with little input from teachers. The standards continue and worsen some of the bad things in the No Child Let Behind program such as pushing into lower grades the things kids are supposed to be able to do and know. “Once, schools gave youngsters a chance to learn how to read according to their own development. Now, a child who still can’t read by the end of first grade is in deep trouble from which it can be hard to emerge.” “Telling teachers that they must teach certain things to each child in a specific grade ignores this notion of individual development.” “Another concern about the new standards is that they are only for math and English. The emphasis on those subjects in No Child Left Behind’s assessment scheme led to a dangerous narrowing of curriculum in public schools; the arts disappeared in many systems, science and history and physical education took a back seat too.”

States Rights:

“In practice, Common Core’s dubious ‘college- and career’-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.” – Malkin.

The standards were developed on the federal level with no input from states.  I could not find any cost analysis of the program.

Privacy:

The Department of Education is gathering information on, aside from test scores, student’s nicknames, religion, political affiliation, address, extracurricular activities,and bus stop times.

“In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rewrote federal privacy laws to let it share a child’s academic record with virtually anyone, and states have begun combining typical student records of test scores and discipline history with highly personal information such as medical records and psychological evaluations. Nine states are compiling such information, which includes addresses and Social Security numbers, into a giant private database called inBloom.” – Heartland Institute. What does this database have to do with education?

A “Department of Education report on its data-mining plans contemplates the use of creepy student-monitoring techniques such as ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’ and ‘using cameras to judge facial expressions, an electronic seat that judges posture, a pressure-sensitive computer mouse and a biometric wrap on kids’ wrists.’” –Heartland Institute.

I found a federal Department of Education publication called “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.” That report says in part, “The test score accountability movement and conventional educational approaches tend to focus on intellectual aspects of success, such as content knowledge…There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the ‘noncognitive’ factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success.”

Sounds like the brave new world of education is not so much about gaining knowledge, but more about how we feel about what we know.

To me, this sounds very creepy and Orwellian, akin to Communist brainwashing.

Content:

“In practice, Common Core evades transparency by peddling shoddy curricular material authored by anonymous committees. It promotes faddish experiments masquerading as world-class math and reading goals. Instead of raising expectations, Common Core is a Trojan horse for lowering them.” – Malkin

“The curriculum should not be the coverage of content, but rather the discovery of content,” said one Common Core spokeswoman of the system. That means “the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has little or no more value than the phone book in Common Core.” Common Core de-emphasizes great literary works and will no longer challenge students to digest and dissect them.

“English professor Mary Grabar describes Common Core training exercises that tell teachers ‘to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all texts to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA’s Recommended Levels of Insulation.” – Malkin.

“Stanford University professor James Milgram, the only mathematician on the validation panel, concluded that the Common Core math scheme would place American students two years behind their peers in other high-achieving countries. In protest, Milgram refused to sign off on the standards. He’s not alone.” – Malkin.

“Traditional literature is under fire. Moral relativism is increasingly the norm. ‘Standards’ is Orwell-speak for subjectivity and lowest common denominator pedagogy.” – Malkin.

Apparently, history is not part of the Common Core curriculum. So far, Common Core has furnished standards only for mathematics and language arts. “Focusing on just two subjects threatens to narrow the curriculum, while dodging essential reading threatens to hollow it out.” “The truth about national standards explains the need to evade serious scrutiny. Despite claims about needing national standards to compete in the world economy, or all countries that outperform us having national standards, the research reveals that, all else equal, countries with national standards do no better than those without. It also reveals that the freer the education system, the better.” – Cato Institute. The Common Core Standards were developed within a web of deception according to Cato.

The Heritage Foundation comments on English and language:

Why do Common Core’s architects believe that reading more nonfiction and “informational” texts in English classes (and in other high school classes) will improve students’ college readiness?

Their belief seems to be based on what they see as the logical implication of the fact that college students read more informational than literary texts. However, there is absolutely no empirical research to suggest that college readiness is promoted by informational or nonfiction reading in high school English classes (or in mathematics and science classes).

In fact, the history of the secondary English curriculum in 20th-century America suggests that the decline in readiness for college reading stems in large part from an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum from the 1960s onward. This decline has been propelled by the fragmentation of the year-long English course into semester electives, the conversion of junior high schools into middle schools, and the assignment of easier, shorter, and contemporary texts—often in the name of multiculturalism.

A diminished emphasis on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and historically significant literary works before graduation. It also prevents students from acquiring a rich understanding and use of the English language. Perhaps of greatest concern, it may lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking.

Read the full article here.

Heritage Foundation comments on the math standards:

As more details emerge about the content and quality of the Common Core national standards backed by federal funding and the Obama Administration, questions about the coherence, international competitiveness, and the college readiness level of the standards also loom. Many experts conclude that the math standards are vague and incoherent. Writing in Education Week, curriculum expert Grant Wiggins notes:

…the mathematics components of the Common Core State Standards Initiative are a bitter disappointment. In terms of their limited vision of math education, the pedestrian framework chosen to organize the standards, and the incoherent nature of the standards for mathematical practice in particular, I don’t see how these take us forward in any way.

Wiggins isn’t alone in his skepticism. A recent Education Next article cites concerns from Professor William McCallum, one of the three authors of Common Core’s math standards, who has said that “overall standards wouldn’t be very high” and “not up to the standards of other nations.”

Read the full article here.

Finally, there is no proof that Common Core Standards actually work. The Arizona Independent opines: “Here is the sad reality: most people do not know about Common Core. Teachers, parents, students, administration and even state lawmakers are largely in the dark on the matter. Why? Because state executives accepted the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top’ funds without question. Part of receiving the Race to the Top funds required the implementation of Common Core which circumvented the proper debate that should have gone through the public and the state legislature.”

 

How to cheat on your college term papers and dissertations

I don’t know if this is for real, but I happened upon a website called: http://www.unemployedprofessors.com/ thanks to Statistician William Briggs (see his article here).

The unemployed professors’ motto is “So you can play while we make your papers go away.”

Here’s the deal: for a fee they will write an original paper (so you don’t have to worry about plagiarism-checking software). They apparently don’t guarantee a good grade however: “When you submit an order and make payment, you are purchasing a custom-written essay for your own non-commercial usage. All custom essays are written by freelance writers who, upon payment, transfer all rights, ownership, and copyright claims regarding the product to you. It is important to remember that essays are non-refundable and do not come with an expressed or implied warranty.”

Sadly, cheating is not confined to college. The Arizona Daily Star had a recent story about allegations that teachers in the Sunnyside School District in Tucson “directed first- and second-graders to cheat during benchmark testing.”

Is this what our society has come to? Is our current college education system a charade? What are the students going to do when they get out into the real world?