Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Education in New York

New York State, faced with years of declining test scores has found an innovative way to brighten the picture (and comply with Bush's No Child Left Behind):

When does 2 + 2 = 5?

When you're taking the state math test.

Despite promises that the exams -- which determine whether students advance to the next grade -- would not be dumbed down this year, students got "partial credit" for wrong answers after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide. Some got credit for no answer at all.

"They were giving credit for blatantly wrong things," said an outraged Brooklyn teacher who was among those hired to score the fourth-grade test.

State education officials had vowed to "strengthen" and "increase the rigor" of both the questions and the scoring when about 1.2 million kids in grades 3 to 8 -- including 450,000 in New York City -- took English exams in April and math exams last month.

But scoring guides obtained by The Post reveal that kids get half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem -- even if they screw up the calculations or leave the answer blank.

Awarding partial credit allows New York to improve its test scores without any actual improvement in student skills of knowledge. It's a clever trick to obscure the underlying reality that no amount of money or resources or brand new teaching techniques have substantial reversed the steady slide in statewide test scores over the past few decades. The leftists who run New York's public schools cannot admit to themselves - and certainly cannot confess to the public - that additional money or new teaching methods won't fix the problem (since that would put them out of a job), so instead, they simply inflate the scores so that it looks like progress is being made, when it isn't.

These questions ask students to show their work. The scoring guidelines, called "holistic rubrics," require that points be given if a kid's attempt at an answer reflects a "partial understanding" of the math concept, "addresses some element of the task correctly," or uses the "appropriate process" to arrive at a wrong solution. Despite flubbing the answer, students can get 1 point on a 2-point problem and 1 or 2 points on a 3-pointer.

The Brooklyn teacher said she and peers who had trained to score the tests were stunned at some instructions.

"Everybody in the room was upset," she said.

The teacher had scored tests with some "controversial questions" for several years, but "this time it was more outrageous," she said. "You feel like you're being forced to cheat."

Scorers joked about giving points to kids who wrote their names, brought a pencil or shared gum.

If this wasn't so tragic, it might be funny. Just another example of a government bureaucracy covering its own posterior with creative cheating.

A year ago, Chancellor Joel Klein boasted that the city was making "dramatic progress" when 82 percent of city students passed the state math test and 69 percent passed in English, up sharply from 2002. And fewer kids have been left back in recent years.

What officials didn't reveal was that the number of points needed to pass proficiency levels has, in most cases, steadily dropped.

The state Board of Regents, which oversees the tests, has postponed the release of results until late July, but let the city Department of Education set its own "promotional cut scores" to decide which kids may be held back. The DOE will release those scores in the next two weeks, a spokesman said.

Unfortunately, what is not discussed - what cannot be discussed - is the real reason New York test scores are declining: the increasing percentage of non-Asian minorities (NAMs) among the public student body. No amount of additional funding, lower teacher-per-student ratios, better resources or teaching methods can change that. The evidence is easily found. Whites and Asians score well on standardized tests; blacks and Latinos do not. In general, schools with largely white or Asian student bodies rank highly; in general, schools with mostly black or Latino student bodies do not.

Making the situation worse (as if that were possible) is the near messianic zeal with which they educational bureaucracy views its role in society. John Derbyshire notes that America's elites have deluded themselves with the idea that everyone has unlimited potential and that it is the job of the government (through the schools) to realize that potential.

If the theory of modern American education is wildly romantic, the practice is a sort of missionary endeavor, in which selfless idealists give their all — including, to judge from one movie portrayal, their marriages — in order to lift up benighted heathens into the saving light of knowledge. When I was a schoolteacher it was a job. You did your best in the prescribed hours, then went home and tackled a bit of gardening. Nowadays you are expected to be Albert Schweitzer.

This missionary ideal has utterly corrupted American education. Where, after all, are the benighted heathens to be found? At the bottom of the ability scale, that’s where. So all our efforts in public education are tilted towards “helping the disadvantaged.” Unintelligent, unmotivated students are showered with resources, while those who will benefit most from teaching are neglected.

That, at any rate, is the missionary ideal. The notion of “giftedness” is blurred and diluted down to nothing (current official ed-theory doctrine is that all students are gifted — I have not made that up) while heroic efforts, and boxcar-loads of cash, are devoted to instilling bookishness in the un-bookish. Often the bookish and the un-bookish are taught together, with malign results for both: The smart kids slumber in slowed-down lessons, while dim ones are academically overwhelmed.

This sort of nonsense has led to the government encouraging tens of thousands of American students to dig themselves into major indebtedness in order to go to college, when they lack the intellectual skills to prosper there, and in turn has led colleges and universities to dumb down their curricula in order to graduate large number of students who had no business being there in the first place.

Meanwhile, New York state, unable to admit either the demographic changes that have caused its test scores to plummet, or the idea that most students aren't college material, now simply resorts to lying about the actual test scores in order to fool the public into thinking that things aren't quite as bad as everyone knows they are.

This is called progress.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Inconvenient Questions

Once upon a time, there was a president of Harvard University who gave a speech in which he pointed out that modern science had found all sorts of biological differences between men and women, some of which translated into different behaviors and capabilities between the sexes. Unfortunately, one of the women in his audience heard his words, cried foul, rallied the forces of the gender studies department, and soon the bad, misogynist university president had been banished from Harvard and all discussion of those nasty sex differences - and the hegemonic patriarchy they supported - had been silenced, and diversity and political correctness reigned unopposed again.

Fortunately, that hasn't been the end of the story. While Larry Summers was silenced, and driven from Harvard (no great loss, since his tenure was marred by other problems), scientists have continued their assault on the assumptions of modern multiculturalist/gender equity dogma. That unassailable results of that research continues to bubble forth and spill out in the inconvenient places, like today's New York Times, where John Tierney references the tribulation of Larry Summers in discussing a bit of politically correct legislation, titled "Fulfilling the potential of women in academic science and engineering, that is currently making its way through congress.

This proposed law, if passed by the Senate, would require the White House science adviser to oversee regular “workshops to enhance gender equity.” At the workshops, to be attended by researchers who receive federal money and by the heads of science and engineering departments at universities, participants would be given before-and-after “attitudinal surveys” and would take part in “interactive discussions or other activities that increase the awareness of the existence of gender bias.”

Ah, yes. More workshops! That's the way American government functions today. Endless workshops where political correctness is hammered into participants and forests are sacrificed by the mega-acre for millions of pages of reports, the contents of which no one will read and aren't worth the effort in any case. The participants of these workshops are capable of creating nothing useful on their own, but with some authority and government money, they can get in the way of genuinely productive people. This is the actual purpose of the workshops.

Tierney understands this.

I’m all in favor of women fulfilling their potential in science, but I feel compelled, at the risk of being shipped off to one of these workshops, to ask a couple of questions:

1) Would it be safe during the “interactive discussions” for someone to mention the new evidence supporting Dr. Summers’s controversial hypothesis about differences in the sexes’ aptitude for math and science?

2) How could these workshops reconcile the “existence of gender bias” with careful studies that show that female scientists fare as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts in receiving academic promotions and research grants?

Oh dear. Mr. Tierney's email account is going to be full of nastiness this week. And his editor's will be full of demands he be fired.

Tierney cites a recent study by Duke researchers that examined the results of standardized tests in math and verbal abilities going back several decades. While boys outperformed girls by a very wide margin in the oldest test data, that gap narrowed significantly about twenty years ago - as efforts to engage girls in science intensified - but then stabilized and have remained constant since.

Since then, however, the math gender gap hasn’t narrowed, despite the continuing programs to encourage girls. The Duke researchers report that there are still four boys for every girl at the extreme right tail of the scores for the SAT math test. The boy-girl ratio has also remained fairly constant, at about three to one, at the right tail of the ACT tests of both math and science reasoning. Among the 19 students who got a perfect score on the ACT science test in the past two decades, 18 were boys.

Meanwhile, the seventh-grade girls outnumbered the boys at the right tail of tests measuring verbal reasoning and writing ability. The Duke researchers report in Intelligence, “Our data clearly show that there are sex differences in cognitive abilities in the extreme right tail, with some favoring males and some favoring females.”

The researchers say it’s impossible to predict how long these math and science gender gaps will last. But given the gaps’ stability for two decades, the researchers conclude, “Thus, sex differences in abilities in the extreme right tail should not be dismissed as no longer part of the explanation for the dearth of women in math-intensive fields of science.”

After adding the usual caveats, Mr. Tierney asks:

But before we accept Congress’s proclamation of bias, before we start re-educating scientists at workshops, it’s worth taking a hard look at the evidence of bias against female scientists. That will be the subject of another column.

The answer, sadly, is: No. You see, Mr. Tierney, feminists and multiculturalists and liberals in general don't want to see the evidence, because their theories are based on intentions, not facts. So they won't even look. And since they scream the loudest, politicians will give more credence to their opinions and factual data every day of the year.

So, there will be more workshops. Endless, meaningless workshops filled with useless drivel, as the country rapidly slides into bankruptcy.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Helen Thomas Discovers the Media's "Third Rail"

Veteran reporter, Helen Thomas, who delighted the mainstream press for years with strident, politically-charged, but occasionally trenchant, questions aimed at Republican and Democrat Press Secretaries, and a steady stream of far-left opinion pieces, finally stepped out of line, criticizing the one group of people who are never to be criticized in the media:

In the video clip, which was filmed on May 27 during a Jewish Heritage Celebration at the White House, an interviewer for the Web site, Rabbi David F. Nesenoff, asked Ms. Thomas, “Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today.” She quickly remarked, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”

When the interviewer asked, “Where should they go?,” she asserted that they “go home” to Poland, Germany, the United States “and everywhere else.”

That was enough to end her career. As soon as the story hit the wires, journalists, politicians and Washington insiders, moving like a herd of deer who have just smelled the wolves approaching, tripped over themselves to denounce Ms. Thomas' comments. Suddenly, the doyenne of the White House Press Corps was just a nutty old bigot.

Ms. Thomas quickly issued the requisite apology, but no level of prostration could save her. Abandoned by her agents, denounced by the White House, she announced her retirement this morning.

If Ms. Thomas has suggested that white people should leave America and return to Europe, no one would have paid attention. But she forgot the rules for a second, and paid the price. It's a good thing no one group of people control the nation's media and that we can hear such a diversity of opinion on important matters.