Education

The tyranny of non-objectivity

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE NEW YORK TIMES is cheering the decision of Mount Holyoke College to stop requiring that students submit their SAT scores for admission, ending what the Times calls "the tyranny of the big test." While conceding that the SAT measures "mental dexterity," the editorial complains that the test does not capture qualities such as "motivation" or what the student "learned in high school.  "The SAT also doesn't measure compassion, speed or good looks. It does, however, measure something more than the ability to suck up to your high school teachers and guidance counselors.  I'd say dropping the SAT is going to have unintended consequences, except the consequences are so blindingly obvious that it's hard to pass them off as unintended. In the absence of an objective national test, Mount Holyoke will have to rely exclusively on high school transcripts, graded papers and letters of recommendation.  So instead of a color-blind, class-blind, looks-blind, personality-blind computer determining a child's entire future (as the anti-testing crowd grandiosely puts it), a student's entire future will be determined by his high school teachers.  Whatever dropping standardized tests is supposed to accomplish, it will double as affirmative action for chipper pep club members from good families with sensible clothes and nice manners. Even parents sometimes play favorites with their own children; teachers often do so blatantly. Eliminating standardized tests may be a great help to the rare smart student who doesn't test well, but it will create new unfairness for the smart student who doesn't play well with his teachers.  To say the SAT doesn't measure motivation is contradicted by the other claim made by SAT opponents that the results are suspect because coaching courses can improve SAT scores. If so, wouldn't taking such a class demonstrate motivation? (As for the alternative class-bias attack, it's not as if preparatory classes are in the price range of the Hope diamond, and old tests are available to anyone.)  In fact, studying for the SAT doesn't help much, anyway. According to a study of SAT preparatory courses conducted by Samuel Messick and Ann Jungeblut, 300 hours of study will lead to an average increase in combined SAT scores of only about 70 points. That's an hour a night for an entire school year plus one month of summer vacation. (For a lousy 70 points, that's motivation.)It's hard to imagine that a student wouldn't be better served by doing an hour's worth of homework every night during high school than taking the most well-regarded and expensive SAT-preparation classes. In addition to making high school teachers the judge and jury of a student's college prospects, Mount Holyoke will continue to rely on "an evaluation scheme that rates high schools in terms of academic rigor.  "Is Mount Holyoke going to send auditors to every high school in the nation each year to determine their comparative "academic rigor"? The only plausible method of comparing the academic rigor of high schools across the nation is, of course, by comparing student scores on the exact same test. The SAT, for example.  More to the heart of the matter, it is plainly nonsense that there is some vast, inscrutable intelligence that is impervious to standardized testing. If intelligent people can't express their intelligence verbally or mathematically, how exactly do we know they're so intelligent?  It is true that some percentage of bright people really do not test well, but most of the time the only thing about "common man's intelligence" that is indubitably true is that it is common. The concept of some ephemeral, elusive nonverbal intelligence simply allows one to impute intelligence to anyone who strikes your fancy.  The SAT was originally conceived of as a way to replace class with merit, to give the smart poor students an equal chance with the Locust Valley Lockjaw set. But now the new elite -- the high SAT-scoring elite -- is trying to make itself hereditary. Accidents do happen and there really is such a thing as regression toward the mean, so the child of two Harvard Law School graduates might only be able to get in to the Kennedy School, which is a fearful comedown in the new class structure.  That's why the last decade has been witness to an amazing uptick in fancy "learning disabilities" (so oddly prevalent among dumb children of the rich). And that's also why there has been a sudden offensive against standardized tests on the basis of the lunatic complaint that the SATs are incapable of calibrating important but completely immeasurable characteristics like "motivation."  Eliminating standardized tests allows the cognitive elite to manipulate the soft stuff in ways the less-often-washed cannot. Mount Holyoke has accomplished nothing more than replacing a tyranny of merit with a tyranny of privilege. 
These are examples of the fuzzy new math problems we are having
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The War on Teens

Copyright © 1999 Nando Media
Copyright © 1999 Scripps McClatchy Western Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (November 22, 1999 4:00 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - You've heard of the war on drugs, the war on crime and the war on terrorism. Get ready for the war on teens.  Spurred by post-Columbine fears of school violence, two federal law enforcement agencies are promoting the use of "behavioral profiling" - a police tactic that attempts to identify, among a group of suspects, those most likely to be the sought-after serial killer or terrorist - for use on students in American schools. Given the depth of the gash that the Columbine High School shootings left on the national psyche, the fears are understandable. But that reaction, which could trample civil liberties and further alienate teens from the adults who run the schools, is perilously overblown.
Next month, 20 schools around the country will begin using Mosaic-2000, a software program developed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a private security firm, to profile students perceived to be troubled. It works like this: School administrators plug in answers to questions about any students who concerns them. Do they have access to guns? Have they made any verbal threats? Have they ever abused dogs or cats? Mosaic-2000 then spits out a number on a scale of 1 to 10, which purports to predict the students' risk for violence. Even if administrators don't know the answers to all the program's questions, Mosaic-2000 will assign the students risk ratings.
Some school officials say they'll use the profiles to help convince parents that their children need counseling or other intervention. But in light of the recent jailing of a Texas middle-schooler who described a violent fantasy in a Halloween essay, it isn't hard to imagine the profiles leading skittish administrators to overreact. Will they be used to decide who gets to go on field trips, or to encourage conformity?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also taken an interest in student profiling, distributing articles warning principals to be wary of a student who "listens to songs that promote violence ... appears to be an average student ... isolated ... dresses sloppily."
In the words of Kevin Dwyer, president of the National Association of School Psychologists: "I mean, excuse me. This is another definition of adolescence."
There's something terribly wrong with the Mosaic-2000 mindset: that if we can just find the right software program and feed it some surface characteristics of teens, it will assemble for us the three-dimensional understanding of them that so eludes us. Software is no substitute for the real conversations that need to take place, day to day, in American high schools (some of which may have grown too big to allow for such closeness). It will forge no bonds of trust or caring between principals and students.
Despite the high-profile shooting incidents of the past few years, the schools are safer now than they have been in a long time. Profiling is a fine technique for FBI manhunts; it is misplaced in American schools.

Stop the stealth attack on parents and schools

 The debate over sex education in Ohio schools is surfacing again this fall like a sequel to a bad R-rated movie. The first question: Will the legislature “unfreeze” money for several radically explicit, condom-based programs intended eventually for Ohio schools? Public pressure from parents and others last spring prompted lawmakers to prohibit the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) from spending more money on training in several controversial sex education programs until there are public hearings and approval by legislators.
Hearing dates are yet to be set, but advocates of the programs, led by the Coalition for Responsible Sex Education (mostly sex educators with grant money, Planned Parenthood supporters, etc.), are quietly lobbying key decision-makers with a letter campaign. People who do not want this brand of sex-ed in Ohio schools should do the same by urging a halt.
The so-called “Programs that Work” from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is aimed at students starting in middle school. They include practice with condoms, dental dams (for oral sex), sexual role playing, erotic alternatives (“outercourse”), homosexuality and more. The tax-funded training workshops for health teachers and community educators teach how to get around “barriers” such as squeamish school boards, teachers and religious groups, and how to neutralize people who object, such as parents (and editorials like this one). Using behind-the-scenes regulatory power of the ODE and Ohio Department of Health, with public money from the federal CDC, selected teachers have been undergoing training for several years. Meanwhile, some of the same people at ODE have been working quietly, without legislative permission, on a statewide model that sets standards for health education in Ohio schools. Sexuality education (labeled “family life education” or other benign names) is tucked into a “comprehensive school health” model that includes dozens of unobjectionable topics. The proposed K-12 model, created by Ohio's departments of education and health, is one part of a massive plan for schools, with millions of dollars offered for “health” — mental, physical, emotional, sexual, you name it. The truth about exactly what's in the CDC sex-ed training programs and development of the proposed model for schools can be found in a report on Comprehensive School Health Education in Ohio Schools, by Ohio School Board member Diana Fessler (below). It's far from the “official” version. In fact, a majority of state board members, who support such programs, rejected Ms. Fessler's report without reading it, keeping it out of the official record. Nonetheless, the report includes explicit descriptions and leads readers to original documents. Most parents favor sex education in schools — but not the radically explicit, value-neutral brand in the CDC's “Programs that Work.” They offer technical advice, choices of contraceptives (including abortion) and lifestyles. The message is that there is no right or wrong, as long as kids “protect” themselves. Abstinence usually is treated as a quaint and naive option among many. It's common to have battles over sex education. But this isn't just a fight over condoms. At stake here are parents' rights to know about and influence what is taught to their children about sexuality. Parents should never be forced to pay for sex-ed that is harmful to children and arrogantly undermines family values.
For now, the training money is awaiting hearings and the legislature's approval. The new state health model is being amended for adoption by the state board of education. It's time for parents and the rest of the public speak up and ask that everything be out in the open.
Be prepared. The advocates argue that if their prescribed sex-ed is not adopted, Ohio will lose millions in health grants.
But elected lawmakers shouldn't take orders from regulators or bureaucrats. Ohio should reject grants that abuse the basic rights of families.
Federal policy, laws and funds — with state support — are being used to establish and justify truckloads of offensive health and social programs, using our public schools as the delivery depots. To detour public protest, federal and state governments are arrogantly disregarding citizens and their elected representatives.
If you want to stop it, or at least get a clear understanding of what your money is buying, let your elected representatives hear from you soon.
Ask them to honor the amendment by state Rep. Jim Jordan, R-West Liberty, to freeze CDC funds and have full public hearings this fall.

Experimenting with children

Here are excerpts from CDC sex education (labeled “Programs that Work”) that the Ohio Department of Education wants to use in middle schools and high schools: • “How to Make Condoms Fun and Pleasurable” — “Activity C: Once you and your partner agree to use condoms, do something positive and fun. Go to the store together. Buy lots of different brands and colors. Plan a special day when you can experiment. Just talking about how you'll use all of those condoms can be a turn-on.” (From “Reducing the Risk: Building Skills to Prevent Pregnancy, STD & HIV,” ETR Associates, 1996.) • Code of silence: Students make verbal contracts to keep everything said or written in the class confidential (from parents, too). If anyone is reluctant, students and instructors should “...work through the disagreements until everyone can reach a level of comfort with the rules (and) ... until all obstacles have been overcome. Rules such as confidentiality are crucial to the success of the program.” (From “Be Proud! Be Responsible,” curriculum manual, Select Media, Inc. 1996). • “Practicing” with condoms: From “Becoming a Responsible Teen: An HIV Risk Reduction Program for Adolescents,” (ETR Associates 1998). Class activity, session 3: Participants are divided into teams , given condoms, a penile model, lubricant, spermicide and paper towels. The script suggests the teacher say: “One at a time, I want each of you to practice the condom application and removal steps (demonstrated by the teacher earlier) ... Your teammates ... are going to act like personal trainers. First, they are going to give you a round of applause and praise what you did right. Then they're going to offer some constructive criticism and make suggestions about what you could do differently to improve your condom skills.” • Neutralizing critics: Day 3 of “Training for Trainers” workshop, Cin cinnati, August 1998: Participants practice “marketing and advocating” for the programs with suggested responses (on video and printed handouts). To the “faith community,” say, “This is a complete program, we can't take condoms out.” Say, “These would supplement your church (youth) programs ... the more we can provide our young people, the better off they will be.” For those disagreeing with the teachings on homosexuality, say, “We present factual information, just as the church/family teaches religious values.” • The goal: Ohio DOE training in these and similar CDC “disease and pregnancy prevention programs” aims to prepare “up to 1,600 adults” to deliver these programs “to more than 2 million school children, plus parents, professionals and other interested adults ... through 612 Ohio school districts.” (Training workshop, Cincinnati, 1998). More information: Ohio Board of Education member Diana Fessler, who represents Butler and Montgomery counties, has prepared a 27-page report, on the web: www.fessler.com