Re: [asa] science education: Spitting in the eye of mainstream education

From: Merv Bitikofer <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Tue Jun 02 2009 - 20:44:12 EDT

I'm sorry I've been absent from the conversation ---and will probably
need to continue to be for a while with the mixture of things on my
plate at the moment.

I'm not ignoring your replies, Bill, and I think I've understood your
major points although you obviously go deeper than I do with some of
this philosophy. Unlike Cameron I haven't even read Heidegger at all,
and in fact had to look him up to see who he was. So that is why I have
been lightly lurking and not been deeply engaged with your insights ---a
lack of my philosophical depth with this author and other tasks pulling
at me this week. I will try to monitor your continued insights as I can.

--Merv

Bill Powers wrote:
> I tend to like what they are doing. I think its a bad idea to teach for the
> test. But a good idea to stress basics.
>
> I am unhappy with what I've seen of my children's high school education.
> I believe there is too much emphasis on trying to scratch the surface on
> everything, and exploring nothing in any great depth. There's too much
> emphasis on the memorization of facts and definitions and not enough on
> principles and their application.
>
> I guess we need to ask what is the purpose of most the courses taught in high
> school. If the student doesn't go to college, what is the intended goal. If
> they do what is that goal.
>
> My view is that most subjects at a high school level and even college level
> can be learned on your own in fairly short order, should you desire to, and
> have learned the skills required to learn, examine, organize, and think
> independently. That's what I would teach. I would require the teaching of
> logic, plane geometry (the proof kind), and critical thinking. I am glad to
> say that my children's high school requires far more writing than I was
> required in the 50's and early 60's. I don't know if this is common. My
> high school was a special science school. We took math, science, and
> engineering, with no time for foreign language.
>
> bill
>
> "Alexanian, Moorad" <alexanian@uncw.edu> said:
>
>
>> http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-charter31-2009may31,0,7064053.story
>>
>> Spitting in the eye of mainstream education
>> Three no-frills charter schools in Oakland mock liberal orthodoxy, teach
>>
> strictly to the test -- and produce some of the state's top scores.
>
>> By Mitchell Landsberg
>>
>> May 31, 2009
>>
>> Reporting from Oakland Not many schools in California recruit teachers
>>
> with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe
> in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal
> zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."
>
>> That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American
>>
> Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of
> mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in
> the hardscrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of
> television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal
> that it can seem like a parody.
>
>> School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing
>>
> teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the
> same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and
> those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote
> the school's website.
>
>> Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary
>>
> procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official
> was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys' restroom as
> punishment.
>
>> Conservatives, including columnist George Will, adore the American Indian
>>
> schools, which they see as models of a "new paternalism" that could close the
> gap between the haves and have-nots in American education. Not surprisingly,
> many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy
> that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the
> demagoguery of tolerance."
>
>> It would be easy to dismiss American Indian as one of the nuttier offshoots
>>
> of the fast-growing charter school movement, which allows schools to receive
> public funding but operate outside of day-to-day district oversight. But the
> schools command attention for one very simple reason: By standard measures,
> they are among the very best in California.
>
>> The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California
>>
> schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized
> test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for
> middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income
> students, it is around 650.
>
>> The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply
>>
> as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings
> -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and
> American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.
>
>> Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle
>>
> schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serves mostly
> underprivileged children.
>
>> At American Indian, the largest ethnic group is Asian, followed by Latinos
>>
> and African Americans. Some of the schools' critics contend that high-scoring
> Asian Americans are driving the test scores, but blacks and Latinos do
> roughly as well -- in fact, better on some tests.
>
>> That makes American Indian a rarity in American education, defying the
>>
> axiom that poor black and Latino children will lag behind others in school.
>
>> First graduates
>>
>> On Tuesday, American Indian's high school will graduate its first senior
>>
> class. All 18 students plan to attend college in the fall, 10 at various UC
> campuses, one at MIT and one at Cornell.
>
>> "They really should be the model for public education in the state of
>>
> California," said Debra England of the Koret Foundation, a Bay Area group
> that has given more than $100,000 in grants to American Indian. "What I will
> never understand is why the world is not beating a path to their door to
> benchmark them, learn from them and replicate what they are doing."
>
>> So what are they doing?
>>
>> The short answer is that American Indian attracts academically motivated
>>
> students, relentlessly (and unapologetically) teaches to the test, wrings
> more seat time out of every school day, hires smart young teachers, demands
> near-perfect attendance, piles on the homework, refuses to promote struggling
> students to the next grade and keeps discipline so tight that there are no
> distractions or disruptions. Summer school is required.
>
>> Back to basics, squared.
>>
>> There is no secret to any of this. Portions of the American Indian model
>>
> resemble methods used by the KIPP charter schools or, for that matter, urban
> parochial schools.
>
>> "What we're doing is so easy," said Ben Chavis, the man who created the
>>
> school's success and personifies its ethos, especially in its more outrageous
> manifestations. (One example: He tends to call all nonwhite students,
> including African Americans, "darkies.") Although he retired in 2007, Chavis
> remains a presence at the school.
>
>> A Lumbee Indian who grew up poor in North Carolina and later struck it rich
>>
> in real estate, Chavis took over American Indian in 2000, four years after it
> was founded with a Native American theme.
>
>> He began by firing most of the school's staff and shucking the Native
>>
> American cultural content ("basket weaving," he scoffed). "You think the Jews
> and the Chinese are dumb enough to ask the public school to teach them their
> culture?" he asks -- a typical Chavis question, delivered with eyes wide and
> voice pitched high in comic outrage. There is no basket weaving at American
> Indian now -- and little else that won't directly affect standardized test
> scores. "I don't see it as teaching to the test," said Carey Blakely, a
> former teacher at the school who is writing a book about it. "I see it as,
> there are certain skills and knowledge that you're supposed to impart to your
> students, and the test measures whether your students have acquired those
> skills and that knowledge."
>
>> In Lindsay Zika's eighth-grade classroom, the day begins precisely at 8:30,
>>
> when, without prompting, her students recite the American Indian credo:
>
>> "The Family," they chant. "We are a family at AIPHS."
>>
>> "The Goal: We are always working for academic and social excellence.
>>
>> "The Faith: We will prosper by focusing and working toward our goals.
>>
>> "The Journey: We will go forward, continue working and remember we will
>>
> always be part of the AIPHS family."
>
>> They recite this in a slightly robotic monotone. With barely a pause, they
>>
> shift to the school's mission statement, which is twice as long and includes
> the promise that American Indian will develop students to be "productive
> members in a free market capitalist society."
>
>> To the test
>>
>> Another day begins.
>>
>> Zika starts with some comments about a recent history project, "Civil War
>>
> for Dummies," in which the students wrote primers on the Civil War.
>
>> "These are very well done," she tells the class. "They're fabulous to read
>>
> . . and they show that you guys understand the Civil War incredibly well."
>
>> She moves to spelling. The students, seated in old-fashioned lift-top desks
>>
> in tight rows, pull out work sheets. Zika selects a shy girl, Alexandria Lai,
> to lead a drill in which she says a word and others spell it.
>
>> Zika is dressed in business attire: black glasses, black skirt, black wool
>>
> overcoat, her blond hair in a ponytail. She is the quintessential American
> Indian teacher: young (26), well-educated (Notre Dame, Oxford), self-
> confident, mature. A product of Oakland Catholic schools, she is warm yet
> reserved, with an underlying sternness. "I think kids want structure," she
> says. "They want strict teachers."
>
>> By eighth grade, discipline is not really an issue. Classes are
>>
> preternaturally quiet and focused. Visitors may be startled to notice that
> students do not so much as glance at them. They have been told to keep their
> attention on their work. They do as they are told.
>
>> Students who misbehave in the slightest must stay for an hour after school;
>>
> if they misbehave again in the same week, they have more after-school
> detention plus four hours of Saturday detention.
>
>> Under Chavis, the school also relied on humiliation to keep students in
>>
> line, ridiculing miscreants and sometimes forcing them to wear embarrassing
> signs. When one boy was caught stealing, Chavis shaved his head in front of
> the entire school. (The boy, Jeremy Shiv, now a straight-A student at
> American Indian High, considers what Chavis did "pretty cruel.")
>
>> A framed poster in a hallway quotes Chavis: "You do outstanding things here
>>
> and you'll be treated outstanding. You act like a fool and you'll be treated
> like one."
>
>> That concept isn't dead at American Indian, but it has been toned down.
>>
>> All American Indian students have 90 minutes of English and 90 minutes of
>>
> math a day.
>
>> The grammar lesson today focuses on appositives, nouns that modify other
>>
> nouns. Student Isa Bey is asked to write an example on the board.
>
>> "The extreme abolitionist John Smith was hung after a brutal revolt," he
>>
> writes.
>
>> Zika smiles. "Historically, there's a problem," she says. "Grammatically,
>>
> it's correct." Chagrined, Isa erases "Smith" and writes "Brown."
>
>> "I like that he's connecting it historically," Zika tells the class, "but
>>
> let's get it correct."
>
>> At 10:05 a.m., the students switch to math. The move takes about 10
>>
> seconds.
>
>> American Indian's administrators believe that one of the secrets to success
>>
> in middle school is having one instructor teach all subjects except physical
> education. The goal is to have that teacher stay with the same children all
> three years -- a policy that seems to be more theory than reality, given high
> teacher turnover.
>
>> Time saver
>>
>> The idea is that students will form a deep bond with the teacher and gain
>>
> class time by having no passing periods. "We really see things in terms of
> minutes," said principal Janet Roberts, who took over from Chavis.
>
>> Five minutes per passing period might not sound like much, but over the
>>
> course of a year, American Indian saves the equivalent of more than a week's
> worth of instruction.
>
>> Math class begins with a warmup exercise to get students thinking
>>
> numerically. Then the class goes over the previous night's homework and moves
> to new material.
>
>> All students at American Indian take Algebra 1 in eighth grade, and the
>>
> school prides itself on its math achievement. Last year, every eighth grader
> scored "proficient" or better on California's state algebra test. Statewide,
> only half the eighth graders even took algebra and fewer than half of those
> scored "proficient" or better.
>
>> Today's lesson is Chapter 14: probability.
>>
>> "What is probability?" Zika begins. "Rebecca?"
>>
>> "The chance you have of getting something," Rebecca says.
>>
>> "Yeah," Zika says. "This is an important skill in life."
>>
>> Zika displays a confidence in math that is rare for someone who majored in
>>
> political science. "I like teaching math the best," she says.
>
>> They move on to factorials, and before long, Zika has the students doing
>>
> rapid-fire exercises in which she gives them a number and they figure out its
> factorial on a whiteboard and hold it up for her to see. (A factorial is the
> product of all positive integers less than or equal to a given number.) The
> students are generally correct and seem enthralled.
>
>> One of the most common questions about charter schools is whether they
>>
> "cherry pick" the best students and most motivated families.
>
>> Charters are required to take all applicants -- or, if they have more
>>
> students than seats, to hold a lottery. American Indian has never done this
> and was denied a charter to open a new school last fall in part because
> school district officials said administrators were "unable to describe" the
> selection process.
>
>> Roberts and Chavis say they have never had more applicants than seats, so
>>
> they never held a lottery. They also say that they attract a representative
> sample of students from local elementary schools.
>
>> But Ron Smith, the principal of nearby Laurel Elementary, who sent both of
>>
> his own children to American Indian, says that's not the case for students
> from his school.
>
>> Of those who go from Laurel to American Indian, "I'd say 70% are
>>
> academically strong, and 30% are a cross-section. . . . They have kids who I
> know could go anyplace in the state and succeed."
>
>> The school could not provide its students' elementary school test scores,
>>
> so it is hard to say if they were above average. Roberts did provide three
> years of middle school scores for all students who entered American Indian in
> 2004 (with names removed for privacy), showing their progress in math and
> English from sixth to eighth grade. Of the 51 students who entered American
> Indian's middle school that year, only six scored lower than "proficient" in
> both math and English at the end of sixth grade.
>
>> It's impossible to tell whether the students were academically strong at
>>
> the start of sixth grade or were brought up to grade level by the rigors of a
> year at American Indian.
>
>> Of the six who scored below "proficient," three left the school and the
>>
> remaining three showed some progress by the end of eighth grade.
>
>> It isn't clear why the students left. American Indian insists that it has
>>
> never expelled a child but says some leave because their families move or
> decide the school is a poor fit. Of the 51 students who made it through their
> first year, 39 finished.
>
>> "They've had a reputation among the local public schools as being very
>>
> interested in kind of recruiting kids who are going to do well, and getting
> rid of kids who won't," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland
> Education Assn., the teachers union. Both Chavis and Roberts strongly deny
> this and say their method works with all children. "Give me the worst middle
> school in America and let us run it," said Chavis. "I guarantee it will
> improve."
>
>> When math ends at 11:40, Zika switches to science. With no lab equipment
>>
> and an emphasis on textbook learning, it is hard to imagine that American
> Indian will turn out the next Darwin or Edison. The students have brought in
> paper towel tubes and, after a discussion of the American space program, Zika
> leads the class outside, where they have about five minutes for a rare
> experiment: making rockets. It doesn't go well. With so little time, the
> experiment more or less fizzles, and then it's lunch. Zika admits it was a
> mistake; the next day, she'll have the students discuss what went wrong and
> try again.
>
>> After lunch, it's history (Reconstruction and its legacy), and then
>>
> preparation for a philosophical debate. "Isa, how do you know you're really
> sitting here? How do you know you're not a brain in a dish hooked up to a
> machine?" Zika asks.
>
>> "I am because I think I am," pipes up Terae Collins, paraphrasing
>>
> Descartes.
>
>> This is as fun as it gets.
>>
>> At 2:10, the students have P.E. -- running and calisthenics. No games.
>>
>> The class returns at 2:50 for some last-minute homework instructions.
>>
> School ends at 3. Most stay and do homework until 4 -- just because they can.
>
>> A face appears at the door. It is De-Zhon Grace, a boy who was in Zika's
>>
> class until Barack Obama was inaugurated as president.
>
>> Until then, De-Zhon and his mother had been fairly happy with American
>>
> Indian. "I'm a single mom, and I'm trying to raise an African American young
> man, and I'm very serious about his education," said Chaka Grace.
>
>> But on Jan. 20, De-Zhon stayed home to watch the inauguration with his
>>
> extended family. And that crossed a line for Roberts, who believes that
> nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get in the way of class. According to
> De-Zhon's mother, Roberts said the boy would receive extra work as punishment
> and that she might rescind his recommendation to a private high school.
>
>> That, said Grace, "took it to another level for me. . . . I felt that was
>>
> evil." She pulled her son out of the school.
>
>> De-Zhon, a neatly dressed, well-spoken boy who came back for a visit,
>>
> conceded that he misses American Indian.
>
>> "I miss my class; I miss my teacher," he said.
>>
>> There are no televisions at American Indian -- no computers in the
>>
> classrooms, either -- so there was no way for students to watch the
> inauguration. But Roberts wants to be clear: They wouldn't have been allowed
> to watch it anyway.
>
>> "It's not part of our curriculum," she said.
>>
>> Love it or hate it, it's the American Indian way.
>>
>> mitchell.landsberg @latimes.com
>>
>>
>> If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at
>>
> latimes.com/archives.
>
>> TMS Reprints
>> Article licensing and reprint options
>>
>>
>> Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times
>>
>>
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>>
>
>
>
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Received on Tue Jun 2 20:44:42 2009

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