I can’t believe people take this idea seriously

One of the absolute worst ideas I have ever heard in regard to education has to be Maine governor Paul LePage’s idea to add a 5th year to high school so students can earn their Associate degrees.  He mentioned it during the campaign season but had gone silent on it since. I was hopeful he had abandoned the thought. It’s just awful:

  • High school teachers are not qualified to teach college level courses
  • Associate degrees typically take 2 years to get
  • High schools are not accredited institutions (I feel bad for the students that will get laughed at when they attempt to transfer their credits to real colleges and universities.)
  • This insults everyone who has a legitimate Associate degree

Unfortunately, it looks like people are still taking this stuff seriously, including the local newspaper:

A high school diploma is not enough for today’s job market, and current school programs work well for many students but still leave too many behind. Too often, students finish high school without the skills they need to get a good job or make the transition to college-level work.

Making it easier for more people to move from high school to college will not only improve their economic prospects, but everyone’s. It’s still an interesting idea and well worth pursuing.

Except this is not college-level work. There is not a single teacher in the state of Maine – or anywhere else – that is qualified to teach at the college level except in cases of special instruction and other, relatively rare exceptions – or when they are also professors. A sociology teacher at a high school cannot teach a sociology course at the college level. A high school biology teacher cannot teach me about genetics under any formal requirements. The same goes for all the major subjects. Until colleges start offering gym courses, high school teachers need to stay in their own buildings, teaching at their own level.

This is just the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I’m not saying that because LePage is a Republican and generally a bad governor. I’m saying it because it’s so ridiculous and demonstrates an extreme poverty of understanding of the differences between high schools and colleges. If this dolt wants to subsidize real college degrees, earned at real colleges, then great. Do it. Or if he wants to trim many of the useless classes high school students have to take so that they can more easily be sent to classes at universities and community colleges, then great. Do it. But if he wants to add a 5th year of high school without accounting for the quality of instruction, the new class space needed, the space needed for the added students – the high school in my city already has taken on 7th and 8th graders in addition to the other students – or why he believes it’s okay to give away two year degrees to under-taught students in a hugely compressed time frame, then no. That’s awful and Paul LePage needs to keep his face away from anything to do with education. He obviously has no idea what he’s doing and he hasn’t bothered to think through this idea in the least.

Unfettered stupidity

Connecticut authorities are prosecuting a homeless woman for using a false address to send her son to the “wrong” district:

McDowell is a homeless single mother from Bridgeport who used to work in food services, is now at the center of one of the very few false address cases in the Norwalk, CT, school district that is being handled in criminal court–rather than between the parent and school. Authorities are accusing McDowell of enrolling her 5-year-old son in nearby Norwalk schools by using the address of a friend. (Her friend has also been evicted from public housing for letting McDowell use her address.)

McDowell says she stayed in a Norwalk homeless shelter sometimes–but she didn’t register there, which would have made her son eligible to attend the school.

This whole case is inane. First, this isn’t even the way this sort of issue is typically handled. It’s a school-to-parent concern. Second, it all seems to be fucking resolved anyway – the kid is out of the district. Third, let’s get down to the real issue here. This is about separating the poor from the wealthy. And by those code words I really mean this is about separating minorities from whites:

The blog DropOut Nation notes that the Norwalk schools are better than those in Bridgeport, where McDowell’s last address was; the case thereby raises larger questions about why poorer families often must send their kids to poorly performing schools, in part because local tax revenues make up so much of school funding.

The only difference between this racist horseshit and the racist horseshit in North Carolina recently is that the Tea Party finally isn’t involved. The woman is being viciously prosecuted, threatened with huge fines and prison time, and none of it makes any sense. Aside from not even having an address in the first place, she actually did live in a shelter within the school district. Does an incorrect address really justify all this bluster and bullshit?

Our failing schools

It isn’t possible to list and discuss every single problem public schools in America face today. It would probably even be unwieldy to discuss just a small percentage. But there are some big issues that need to be tackled.

Researchers found that only 28 percent of biology teachers consistently follow the recommendations of the National Research Council to describe straightforwardly the evidence for evolution and explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology. At the other extreme, 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism, and spend at least an hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.

This presents an obvious issue: teachers aren’t telling students a fundamental truth about the world. That’s more than a shame and we need to correct it. First, fire every single biology teacher that professes creationism to students. Second, give the teachers that are too timid or ill-prepared on the topic better tools. (I don’t know why a biology teacher should be ill-prepared to teach something so basic to an entire field, but here we are.) There are plenty of computer programs, textbooks, popular books, videos, documentaries, etc out there that can bring evolution to life for students.

But there is a deeper issue here. We have national standards for education that just aren’t being implemented. Sometimes it’s because the standard is only recommended, other times it’s because of bad teachers, and still other times it’s because of conflicting local standards. I know how popular it is to claim that local governments should be putting forth their own ideas on education, but it isn’t that black and white. There are necessary levels students need to be obtaining in order to be prepared for higher education. When local governments are given too much power, we often see lower standards.

That’s no good.

There is an expectation on the higher education level that students often are not meeting. This either slows down introductory courses or forces students to take sub-100 level classes in order to catch up. It’s a waste of money and time. Part of the solution has to be better implementation of national standards. This is what colleges and universities across the country need. It is at that level that the tempo is being set; we need to force our primary and secondary schools to meet that challenge.

And if anyone wants local control, by all means, draft proposals that require students to exceed far beyond anything our national standards might demand.

The original study can be found here. Thanks to Nancy H for the links.

Young voters, education, and tuning out the GOP

There is an article up at the pro-conservative FrumForum which talks about how the GOP did extremely well during last week’s elections among general voters, but when it comes to well-educated young people, they failed horribly.

The blue line is the trend for Tompkins county (see link for chart; Cornell University is in Tompkins County). Again, a negative score implies that Republicans do better than they do nationally, a positive score that the Democrats to better. In 1960 – admittedly an odd year – Nixon beat Kennedy by 33 points in what was nationally a tied election. In 2008 Obama beat McCain by 42 points, 35 points more than the national average. The trend is not quite linear – apart from the 1960 election, there is a relatively flat trend between 1964 and 1980 – on average, Republicans do a little bit better than Democrats relatively. Then there is a new level between 1984 and 2000, where Democrats are up by 20 points compared to the national average. Finally, there is a jump in the last two elections, with Democrats up around 35 points. This implies a swing of 40 points from the 1970s – and a whopping 68 points from 1960.

And even this second chart (see link) understates the Republican problem with top students.

It isn’t any surprise that the GOP does poorly with young students. There’s a social and economic disconnect. Students tend to be more socially tolerant of others than the GOP in general. The GOP’s base is made in large part of an older generation that didn’t need higher education at the rate required today, so there is an education gap there that negatively impacts things such as women’s rights and civil rights for gays. This older generation then further negatively impacts the things that matter to young voters by voting in favor of social programs which are in need of fiscal retooling; a lack of retooling is fine for now, but will become an issue later – when these older voters are mostly dead. (The U.S. really needs a version of the Australian law which says everyone must vote or face a fine.)

But it isn’t just that the GOP absolutely does not serve the financial interests of young people (or most people who aren’t wildly wealthy, but I digress). It’s also that well-educated young people care about, well, education. In this area, the GOP unarguably fails. A second FrumForum article gets to the heart of the matter.

Let me advance another hypothesis. Today’s top students are motivated less by enthusiasm for Democrats and much more by revulsion from Republicans. It’s not the students who have changed so much. It’s the Republicans.

Under Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, Republicans championed science and knowledge. But over the past 30 years, national Republicans have formed an intensifying alliance with religious conservatives more skeptical of science and knowledge. I don’t know whether discarding evolution goes against common sense; but I’m pretty sure it goes against most Ivy League-educated senses.

To advance this alliance, national Republicans have derided elite universities as dangerous and hostile places.

This anti-intelligence movement among Republicans is long-standing. I think part of it stems from the emphasis the party placed on social values in recent years, especially throughout the 90’s. A lot of the concern there was fair, even if wrong-headed. But there was a hidden correlation among those with more socially liberal (i.e., fair and equal) values; some of what brings one to certain social values also brings one to more liberal economic policies. Given the unfortunate nature of politics, we often find ourselves arguing the polemic even though we may have plenty of common ground. This can lead to an us-vs-them mentality which in turn polarizes the political atmosphere. Now we have Republicans, resting on the shoulders of those who came to power over socially conservative values, who are also forced into other positions, including economic hostility towards science and education. And of course, there is the real hostility that exists among religious conservative who rightly recognize the threat science and education pose to their pre-conceived notions; it isn’t just politics now – much of the power of the GOP is locked up in the hands of those who really are anti-science and anti-education. (To be fair, I’ll grant that they are only generally anti-education in practice; idealistically I think most everyone is pro-education.)

And even though they didn’t win in every instance, now we have those annoying Teabaggers promoting anti-intelligence views.

via Why Evolution Is True

Libby Mitchell would be great for education

In deep contrast to creationist Paul LePage, Libby Mitchell would be excellent for education in Maine.

Mitchell said Maine schools need to emphasize science curriculum more.

“(We) need to make sure they get it and know that there’s a future for them,” she said. “Maine has a school of math and science, which has been very successful, but all of our curriculum needs to focus on that.”

Whereas LePage and the Republican party are hostile towards science, Mitchell recognizes its crucial importance to the future of the state. She knows that in areas of conservation and new technology (especially for clean energy) it’s going to take a lot of quality education. Maine, just like every single place in the entire world, needs a strong core of people who have highly specialized scientific knowledge.

Mitchell also knows that the answer isn’t to just give away degrees – which is precisely what LePage has suggested we do. It’s obvious to anyone remotely intelligent that the biggest obstacle to students gaining the knowledge they need to get high quality jobs is money: people can’t afford to go to college. Mitchell, seeing this overwhelmingly obvious fact, has a solution.

Maine has far too few citizens with a college degree: only 37% of Maine citizens aged 25 to 64 hold a college degree compared with the New England average of 47%. Creating a public/private partnership for a matching grant program to guarantee tuition for the first year at the university system, community colleges, or Maine Maritime Academy will expand access to higher education and degree completion. This will also help lifelong learners by giving people looking to make job transitions help in getting the education and re-training they need.

Rather than make it easier for people to gain degrees, Mitchell is going to make it easier for people to gain knowledge. If you’re a Maine citizen and you don’t want your degree to mean less and less because absolutely everyone can get one for virtually nothing, vote Libby Mitchell.

LePage would be awful for education

Creationist Republican candidate for Maine governor Paul LePage has some terrible ideas on education. Last week he made this risible suggestion:

“Our program is going to offer high school students a choice — you can go four years at high school and get a diploma or go five years and get an (associate’s) degree,” he said. “We’re going to raise the standard for education in the state of Maine. We need to get our best and brightest out there and educated at the lowest possible cost.”

If I may – lol.

Right. Let’s just give away associate’s degrees. I mean, compressing two years worth of courses – most of which need to be taught by those with specialized, esoteric knowledge (not high school teachers) – into one year would totally raise the standard for education in the state of Maine. Or when a Maine high school student goes to take his terrible high school associate’s degree to an actual college or university and he asks if he can get credit towards a bachelor’s, he’s going to find that he suffered an extra year of low-level schooling for nothing. That’s because every other school in the nation (and I would hope even post-secondary schools in Maine) are going to laugh at that useless piece of paper.

LePage obviously hasn’t thought any of this through, unfortunately. But on the bright side, his lack of foresight and of general intelligence helps to explain why he’s now saying something different and superfluous.

LePage said the state needs to toughen its educational standards.

“We want to give our students an option — four years, you get a diploma or you can earn your associate’s degree with collaboration between the community college system and the University of Maine system,” he said. “It’s going to be tough; the kids are going to have to work harder.”

…wwwwhat? Community colleges and the UMaine system do work together – accredited schools tend to do that. Under LePage’s first plan from just a week ago (which I guess he has abandoned?), these two systems would have to lose a lot of credibility to work with high schools to just give away associate’s degrees. But right now it is perfectly possible to gain an associate’s degree at a community college which holds water when transferred into the UMaine system; the systems are already intertwined.

I highly doubt LePage actually thinks before he says anything.

Stop with the apologies

I recently visited the National Zoo in Washington D.C. It was somewhat late in the day so animal activity was down a bit, but it was still pretty interesting. The golden lion tamarin was by far the best animal in the park for me; what’s more, it was featured in quite a few exhibits (as well as the Balitmore Aquarium, for some reason). But there was one huge pitfall: Apology for exhibiting evolution.

Upon entering the Think Tank I expected to see a few apes, hopefully an Orangutan. I did see those things, but I also saw a decent sized section devoted to human evolution (with a primary focus on tool use). The problem was what amounted to an apology for a branch of science. A sign at the entry warned visitors that they may be offended by what they are about to see.

So? Who cares if people are offended? It isn’t the job of the zoo, especially a publically funded one, to apologize to people who have yet to gain a grasp on evolution. If they find it offensive, then that’s just too bad. No organization wishing to present scientific information to the public (and the zoo, other than this instance, does a fine job) should (essentially) be apologizing for that information. What a few yahoos think does not change the truth value of anything in science.