Some of the News Fit to Print
NEXT STEPS TOWARD ACHIEVING EQUITY IN EDUCATION
Linda Darling-Hammond and Michael Honda write in The Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet blog: It is no secret that U.S. educational outcomes have fallen behind those of many other nations, in large part because of the yawning achievement gap between rich and poor students. This achievement gap is more appropriately understood as an opportunity gap, fed both by our growing poverty rates for children — now by far the highest in the industrialized world — and by unequal educational resources across schools. Unfortunately, current federal policy focuses on identifying teacher deficits, rather than building up a vibrant, highly qualified and competent teaching corps. To build up an effective teaching workforce, therefore, it is clear that teacher preparation — even more than evaluation — may matter most for meeting the 21st century learning needs.
TEACHER JOB SATISFACTION HITS 25-YEAR LOW
A new survey paints a troubling portrait of the American educator: Teacher job satisfaction has hit its lowest point in a quarter of a century, and 75 percent of principals believe their jobs have become too complex. The findings are part of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for School Leadership. Conducted annually since 1984, the survey polled representative sampling of 1,000 teachers and 500 principals in K-12 schools across the country. Only 39 percent of teachers described themselves as very satisfied with their jobs on the latest survey. That's a 23-percentage point plummet since 2008, and a drop of five percentage points just over the past year. Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block. Stress levels are also up, with half of all teachers describing themselves as under great stress several days per week, compared with a third of teachers in 1985. The article is in The Atlantic.
GIVING COGNITION A BAD NAME
Mike Rose blogs in the NEPC: Cognition traditionally refers to a wide and rich range of mental processes, from memory and attention, to comprehending and using language, to solving a difficult problem in physics or choreography or living with someone. But over the last few decades cognition has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, cognition in education policy has increasingly come to mean the skills measured by standardized tests of reading and mathematics. And as economists have gotten more involved in education, they’ve needed quantative measures of cognitive ability and academic achievement for their analytical models, so they’ve used I.Q. or other standardized test scores (like the Armed Forces Qualification Test or AFQT) as a proxy for intelligence or achievement. From the Latincognoscere, to come to know, or cogito erqo sum, I think therefore I am, we’ve devolved to a few digits on the AFQT. As if that were not enough, there is now emerging on a number of fronts – nicely summarized in Paul Tough’s new book How Children Succeed – a belief that our nation’s educational focus on cognition has been misguided. Rather than focusing our energies on the academic curriculum – or on academic intervention programs for the poor – we need to turn our attention to the development of qualities of character or personality like perseverance, self-monitoring, and flexibility. As much or more than the cognitive, the argument goes, it is these qualities that account for success in school and life. The importance of qualities like perseverance and flexibility are indisputable, but what concerns me is that the advocates for character accept without question the reductive notion of cognition that runs through our education policies, and by accepting it further affirm it.
ABOUT HIGHER ED
YOUR MASSIVELY OPEN OFFLINE COLLEGE IS BROKEN
Clay Shirky writes in The Awl: Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges went up 72% last decade, even as the market value of a bachelor's degree fell by 15%. The value of that degree remains high in relative terms, but only because people with bachelor's degrees have seen their incomes shrink less over the last few years than people who don't have them. "Give us tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life so you can suffer less than your peers" isn't much of a proposition. More like a ransom note, really. This is the background to the entire conversation around higher education: Things that can’t last don’t. This is why MOOCs matter. Not because distance learning is some big new thing or because online lectures are a solution to all our problems, but because they’ve come along at a time when students and parents are willing to ask themselves, "Isn’t there some other way to do this?" MOOCs are a lightning strike on a rotten tree. Most stories have focused on the lightning, on MOOCs as the flashy new thing. I want to talk about the tree.
ONLINE COURSES COULD WIDEN ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AMONG STUDENTS
Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but a new study suggests that such courses could also widen achievement gaps among students in different demographic groups. The study, which is described in a working paper titled “Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas,” was conducted by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. The researchers examined 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community- and technical-college students in Washington State. They found that students in demographic groups whose members typically struggle in traditional classrooms are finding their troubles exacerbated in online courses. The study found that all students who take more online courses, no matter the demographic, are less likely to attain a degree. However, some groups—including black students, male students, younger students, and students with lower grade-point averages—are particularly susceptible to this pattern. The post is in The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog.