Archive for ‘learning’

July 23, 2014

Sarah Lawrence College will rate itself on the value it provides students

by Grace

Sarah Lawrence College has developed a way to assess the value it offers its students.

… The faculty came up with six abilities they think every Sarah Lawrence graduate should have….

  1. Ability to think analytically about the material.
  2. Ability to express ideas effectively through written communication.
  3. Ability to exchange ideas effectively through oral communication.
  4. Ability to bring innovation to the work.
  5. Ability to envisage and carry through a project independently, with appropriate guidance.
  6. Ability to accept and act on critique to improve work.

These measures serve as an antidote to the Obama administration’s upcoming rating system, which will measure things like cost, graduation rates, and salaries of graduates.  Obama’s new system has generated controversy, particularly since poor scores could mean the loss of federal financial aid.

Sarah Lawrence developed a “web-based assessment platform, designed to measure student performance against these critical abilities”.  Advisors meet regularly with students to evaluate their progress.

20140718.COCSarahLawrenceCriticalAbilities
Students can learn if they’re getting “their money’s worth”.

That’s a different measure of the value of an education than, say, student loan debt or earnings after graduation — the sorts of things the Obama administration is considering as part of its ratings plan. Students and parents are right to ask if they’re getting their money’s worth, says the college’s president, Karen Lawrence. After financial aid, the average cost of a Sarah Lawrence education is almost $43,000 a year.

“People are worried about cost,” Lawrence says. “We understand that.”

And they’re worried about getting jobs after graduation. But she says the abilities that the new assessment measures—critical thinking and innovation and collaboration—are the same ones employers say they’re looking for.

I have a feeling every Sarah Lawrence graduate will be rated highly.

The idea behind Sarah Lawrence’s assessment is laudable, but I must say I’m a bit skeptical about the way they measure student performance.  Shouldn’t they have an objective third party doing the assessment?

———

Amy Scott, “What do students actually learn in college?”, Marketplace, April 22, 2014.

July 10, 2014

The rise and fall of sentence diagramming

by Grace

The sentence diagramming method once popular in American public schools was developed in the 1870s.

20140708.COCSentenceDiagramGeneric1

For a long time, sentence diagramming flourished throughout the American school system, and, despite being condemned as a useless waste of time in the 1970s, it still persists in many schools. Indeed, it spread well beyond the USA, and so a very similar system is taught in many European countries (though not, alas, in the United Kingdom). For example, schools in the Czech Republic teach sentence diagramming so successfully that researchers are investigating the possibility of including school children’s analyses in a working tree-bank of analyzed sentences.

I learned sentence diagramming when I attended Catholic elementary school, but I doubt any local schools are using it today.

Besides teaching grammar in a fun way (at least for some), diagramming sentences may offer the benefit of teaching how to pull clarity from the chaos”.

What Diagramming Teaches Us

When Joseph R. Mallon Jr. bumps up against a complex problem, he thinks back to a lesson he learned in high school from the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

The Philadelphia-area school’s Catholic nuns taught him the art of diagramming a sentence. Once all the parts of speech lined up, Mallon pulled clarity from the chaos. It’s a process he uses today to tackle tough issues as chief executive and chairman of Measurement Specialties Inc.

“Sit down quietly. Take (the issue) apart into its component parts. Make sure all the components fit together well. They’ve got to be well chosen, fit together and make sense. There are few (business) problems that can’t be solved that way, as dire as it might seem,” Mallon said. “Sentence diagramming is one of the best analytical techniques I ever learned.”

Investor’s Business Daily
17 October 2000

An online parser applied to one of my sentences generated this diagram:

20140708.COCSentenceDiagram1A

Even with my foggy understanding, I can see how diagramming helps in learning parts of speech and syntax.  The online tool is interactive, and provides parts of speech terminology for every word in the sentence.  It makes some mistakes, but it looks like a neat tool to use for reviewing sentence structure.  Unfortunately it does not accept pasted text.

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Richard Hudson, “A Brief History of Diagramming Sentences”, Slate, January 2, 2014.

July 4, 2014

Executive function skills suffer when kids are over-scheduled

by Grace

The more time children spend in structured, parent-guided activities, the worse their ability to work productively towards self-directed goals.

Unsupervised playtime may benefit the development of executive function.

Unscheduled, unsupervised, playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children. It is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health. The value of free play,  daydreamingrisk-taking, and independent discovery have been much in the news this year, and a new study by psychologists at the University of Colorado reveals just how important these activities are in the development of children’s executive functioning.

Executive function is a broad term for cognitive skills such as organization, long-term planning, self-regulation, task initiation, and the ability to switch between activities. It is a vital part of school preparedness and has long been accepted as a powerful predictor of academic performance and other positive life outcomes such as health and wealth. The focus of this study is “self-directed executive function,” or the ability to generate personal goals and determine how to achieve them on a practical level. The power of self-direction is an underrated and invaluable skill that allows students to act productively in order to achieve their own goals.

This may help explain the recent rise in diagnosed ADHD cases.  The structured lives of our children — including play dates, day care, and summer camp — is quite different from the mostly unscheduled days of youngsters growing up even 20 years ago.  Could it be that they’re missing out on an important developmental process?

Starting at about age seven or eight I spent lots of time unsupervised by adults, although there were usually older kids around.  During the summer I kept busy riding my bike, going to the library, playing with Barbie dolls, swimming at the neighborhood pool, hanging out with friends, watching TV, and doing other similar self-directed activities.

Ann Althouse had a similar childhood.

When I was a kid, virtually all time not spent in school or sleeping and eating was free play time. Nobody ever spoke of “executive function” or projected developmental improvements of any kind….

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Jessica Lahey, “Why Free Play Is the Best Summer School”, The Atlantic, June 20, 2014.

June 27, 2014

Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college

by Grace

Even in one of the most prosperous and highly educated counties in the United States, less than half of high school graduates are ready for college.

Only 48% of Westchester County high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  This measure is based on students scoring “at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam”.

For my local high school, located in Westchester County, 64% of graduates are considered college ready.  This is a school district that spends about $25,000 per student each year and enjoys a student/teacher ratio of 14:1.

Using AP participation figures, US News determined that my local high school has a College Readiness Index of 44.5

On a national basis “SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’”, so it appears this problem is not limited to high schools near me.

Are these college readiness numbers surprising?  Should they be higher, given the resources being devoted to education?  Or is it unrealistic to expect higher percentages of college-ready high school graduates, even in some of the most affluent areas of the country?

Some possible reasons for the low number of high school graduates who are prepared to do college-level work:

  1. The measures are flawed and do not give an accurate representation.
  2. Teaching and/or curriculum is mediocre, or worse.
  3. Schools do no place sufficient focus on academic goals, specifically on preparing students for college.
  4. We’re not spending enough on education.
  5. The money we spend on education is used inefficiently.
  6. No matter the demographics and despite how much a school tries, a certain percentage of high school graduates will never be ready for college work.
  7. “Kids these days.”
  8. Parents are not doing enough to support their children’s education.

I dismiss the first reason listed, having some familiarity with the New York State tests used to measure college readiness.  A high school student on the college-prep track should definitely be able to meet the scores required.  These tests are notoriously easy and/or graded on a very forgiving curve.

Achievement levels do not correlate closely with money spent on education, so I cannot see #4 being an important reason.

The rest of the listed reasons probably play some role in creating the disappointingly low college-readiness figures.  In theory, schools have the most control over remedying reasons 2, 3, and 5.  In practice, most experiments innovations that schools implement only seem to make things worse.

———

Gary Stern and Dwight Worley, “Local high school grads not up to more ambitious state goals”, The Journal News, June 23, 2014.

Graduation Rate Data – June 23, 2014, New York State Education Department

June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000″.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”

———

Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.

June 19, 2014

Quick ways to get training for a ‘livable wage’ job

by Grace

What are some relatively short (2-6 months) courses i can take to become certified in something that provides a livable wage?

A Reddit poster asked this question, and here are the top responses as of June 17.

  1. Welding.
  2. Hairstylist / Massage therapy, nail tech, aesthetician. / Culinary degree.
  3. CPR instructor
  4. forklift operator
  5. GCODE, etc
  6. TEFL certificate
  7. Phlebotomy
  8. deal table games like blackjack and roulette
  9. driving semi trucks
  10. HVAC-R

Not all these suggestions may sound appealing, but some of them do seem worthy of further exploration.  In looking at comments on the TEFL certificate idea, it appears that a college degree is almost always a prerequisite.

Related to suggestion #5 is the newly announced NanoDegree.

A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job

Udacity-AT&T ‘NanoDegree’ Offers an Entry-Level Approach to College

This week, AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, announced something meant to be very small: the “NanoDegree.”

At first blush, it doesn’t appear like much. For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.

This is another quick way to qualify for a “livable wage”.

… offering a narrow set of skills that can be clearly applied to a job, providing learners with a bite-size chunk of knowledge and an immediate motivation to acquire it.

It may not offer all the advantages of a liberal arts education, but it could offer a plausible path to young men and women who may not have the time, money or skill to make it through a four-year or even a two-year degree.

AT&T will accept the NanoDegree as a credential for entry-level jobs (and is hoping to persuade other companies to accept it, too) and has reserved 100 internship slots for its graduates. Udacity is also creating NanoDegrees with other companies.

The hardest part is finding the motivation and persistence to follow through.  All these options require a motivated person willing to put in the hours needed to obtain the skills and certification.  The short time span is an advantage here, certainly compared to the four-plus years needed for a bachelor’s degree.

Another challenge is to avoid taking on crippling student loan debt, so students must be careful about choosing schools that offer a good value.

Related:  “Should we go back to more vocational high school options?” (Cost of College)

———

Eduardo Porter, “A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job”, New York Times, June  17, 2014.

June 16, 2014

Obama takes a dig at the humanities

by Grace

President Obama jokes that you can BS your way through humanities courses.

And the thing about the humanities was, you could kind of talk your way through classes, which you couldn’t do in math and science, right?”

However, there may be a huge grain of truth in the president’s joke.  That’s why it was funny, or maybe not so funny.

The problem with a liberal arts degree is that ‘rigor has weakened’

… the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market….

The problem is employers have found liberal arts graduates ‘didn’t learn much in school’.

… Many liberal-arts graduates, even from the best schools, aren’t getting jobs in large part because they didn’t learn much in school. They can’t write or speak well or intelligently analyze what they read.

You can “kind of talk your way through” many classes, but not usually STEM classes.

In contrast to liberal arts studies, many STEM and similar vocational majors that focus on teaching specific content have not watered down their curriculum.

Related:  “The growing distinction between ‘meaningful’ and ‘worthless” college degrees” (Cost of College)

———

“Obama Derides Humanities Majors”, Washington Free Beacon, June 10, 2014 .

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June 12, 2014

Hochman Method prepares students for college by teaching how ‘to think and write clearly’

by Grace

Want Students to Succeed in College? Teach Them to Write in K-12

A new nonprofit has the potential to profoundly improve educational outcomes —including college completion— for low-income students. Called The Writing Revolution, the organization exists for one simple and powerful purpose: to teach K-12 children to think and write clearly.

Teaching kids to write seems like a universal goal of our educational system. Yet it is not being met. Millions of students are graduating from high school lacking this fundamental skill.

In fact, 3 out of 4 U.S. high school seniors cannot write coherent sentences or paragraphs, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). More specifically, NAEP results show that only 24 percent of 12th graders demonstrate “the ability to accomplish the communicative purpose of their writing.”

The fact that 76 percent of our high school seniors cannot effectively communicate in writing is inextricably linked to our nation’s abysmally low college readiness and completion rates.

The Writing Revolution is based on a method of writing instruction developed for learning-disabled students by Judith Hochman.

A “consistent and structured” approach

Hochman had a strong hunch that the same things that made her method so effective for learning-disabled students could also help students from lower-income families. Both groups often lack the rich linguistic skills needed to inform their written expression. As such, both groups can benefit immensely from consistent and structured exposure to the building blocks of language use.

Sentence composition is at the core of the Hochman Method of writing instruction.

… students learn that what words they use matter, and so does the order in which they use them.  With enough practice, virtually every student who uses Hochman’s method gets better at turning words into meaningful sentences. Students then learn to use conjunctions and clauses to expand those sentences and make them more information-rich.

Over time students learn to combine these information-rich sentences into paragraphs, and their paragraphs into essays.  In that process, students learn to recognize what information is most salient to an argument, to take effective notes on what they hear and read, and to create complex outlines of their ideas.  The Hochman Method enables students to constantly hone skills that are extremely relevant to academic success in K-12 and in college classrooms.

The program is being piloted in four Washington DC public schools, with initial reports calling it a transformative process.

I believe most students from all levels of income and ability could benefit from a  “consistent and structured” approach like the Hochman Method, particularly after having observed “so many approaches used and so much time wasted in our public schools’ writing curriculum”,

Related:

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Jennifer Wheary, “Want Students to Succeed in College? Teach Them to Write in K-12″, SparkAction, June 2, 2014.

May 16, 2014

Mindfulness may be better than medication in treating ADHD

by Grace

Mindfulness, typically practiced through meditation, may be better than medication in overcoming the adverse effects of ADHD.

Medication does not offer long-term benefits for ADHD, but mindfulness does.

In a large study published last year in The Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers reported that while most young people with A.D.H.D. benefit from medications in the first year, these effects generally wane by the third year, if not sooner.

“There are no long-term, lasting benefits from taking A.D.H.D. medications,” said James M. Swanson, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of the study. “But mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in A.D.H.D.”

Strengthening cognitive control may help in treating ADHD.

What is cognitive control?

Depending on which scientist is speaking, cognitive control may be defined as the delay of gratification, impulse management, emotional self-regulation or self-control, the suppression of irrelevant thoughts, and paying attention or learning readiness.

Level of cognitive control typically changes over a person’s lifetime.

Cognitive control increases from about 4 to 12 years old, then plateaus … Teenagers find it difficult to suppress their impulses, as any parent knows.

But impulsivity peaks around age 16 … and in their 20s most people achieve adult levels of cognitive control. Among healthy adults, it begins to wane noticeably in the 70s or 80s, often manifesting as an inability to remember names or words, because of distractions that the mind once would have suppressed.

What is mindfulness …

…  mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.

… and how does it help in sustaining attention?

Mindfulness seems to flex the brain circuitry for sustaining attention, an indicator of cognitive control …

… appeared to strengthen the neural circuitry for keeping attention on a chosen point of focus.

Meditation is a cognitive control exercise that enhances “the ability to self-regulate your internal distractions,” …

Video games that mimic these effects are being studied, with promising results.

Are you skeptical?

Stephen Hinshaw, a specialist in developmental psychopathology at the University of California, Berkeley, said the time was ripe to explore the utility of nondrug interventions like mindfulness.

Dr. Swanson agreed. “I was a skeptic until I saw the data,” he said, “and the findings are promising.”

My own experimentation with meditation convinced me that it offers a way of improving focus and attention.  Now the question is, how do you convince a 14-year old to meditate?

Related:  Quick Links – The ‘science’ of psychiatry (Cost of College)

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Daniel Goleman May, “Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits”, New York Times, May 12, 2014.

May 8, 2014

Measuring the political slant of U.S. newspapers

by Grace

In most cases, a newspaper’s political slant is determined by the market it serves.

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective.

Perhaps this conclusion is obvious to most people, but it does run counter to the idea that media owners “try to mold the population to their own brand of politics”.  In fact, most owners run their newspapers like a business, attempting to “maximize profit by giving customers what they want”.

This was the finding of University of Chicago business professors Mathew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, who studied over 400 daily newspapers to learn more about what drives media slant.  This conclusion was based only “on regional papers, ignoring the few with national scope, like The Times”.

The first part of their analysis measured the political slant of each paper in two ways.

1.  Language-based objective measurement:

Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro went to the Congressional Record and used a computer algorithm to find phrases that were particularly associated with the rhetoric of politicians of the two major political parties. They found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to use phrases like “minimum wage,” “oil and gas companies” and “wildlife refuge.” Republicans more often referred to “tax relief,” “private property rights” and “economic growth.” While Democrats were more likely to mention Rosa Parks, Republicans were more likely to mention the Grand Ole Opry.

With specific phrases associated with political stands, the researchers then analyzed newspaper articles from 2005 to determine which papers leaned left and which leaned right. (They looked only at news articles and excluded opinion columns.) That is, they computed an objective, if imperfect, measure of political slant based on the choice of language.

2.  Reader-submitted subjective measurement:

The authors also used reader surveys of the newspapers’ political orientations, collected from media website Mondo Times.

A plot of this data shows how various newspapers align along the spectrum of political orientation.

LANGUAGE-BASED AND READER-SUBMITTED RATINGS OF NEWSPAPER SLANT

20140505.COCNewspapersSlantB1Trim

FIGURE 1.—Language-based and reader-submitted ratings of slant. The slant index (y axis) is shown against the average Mondo Times user rating of newspaper conservativeness (x axis), which ranges from 1 (liberal) to 5 (conservative). Included are all papers rated by at least two users onMondo Times, with at least 25,000 mentions of our 1000 phrases in 2005. The line is predicted slant from an OLS regression of slant on Mondo Times rating. The correlation coefficient is 0.40 (p = 0_0114).

The few checkpoints for newspapers with which I’m familiar lead me to have confidence in the general accuracy of this chart.  A full-size copy of the chart is on page 47 of the research article linked below.

According to a recent survey, 28% of  journalists identify as Democrats, while 7% call themselves Republicans.

———

N. Gregory Mankiw, “Media Slant: A Question of Cause and Effect”, The New York Times, May 3, 2014.

Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, “What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from U.S Daily Newspapers”, Econometrica, Vol. 78, No. 1 (January, 2010), 35–71.

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