There are growing concerns about an out-of-control college athletic environment. Most of them center upon the enormous sums of money involved and the impact that these sums are having on common sense.
At the same time, many feel these sums of money, made from the sweat and efforts of young amateurs, have these institutions taking unfair advantage of their scholarship athletes. Some folks would contend that it is time to even pay these youngsters while they are toiling on the fields or in the gyms.
Bruce Smith has an idea that would actually provide the scholarship athlete a fair return on their services. After all, those 85 football players at Auburn and Oregon certainly created an awful lot of revenue for their universities.
Smith notes that the term student-athlete is a classic oxymoron. He quotes Charles Clotfelter (Is Sports in Your Mission Statement?) who had the audacity to suggest that for many colleges, sports might be “a core function of these universities” and that today several hundred American universities “are members in good standing of the commercial entertainment industry.”
But instead of attacking the current institution for what appears to be blatant hypocrisy, Smith offers a unique solution to one of the current problems, the fact that the demands of playing a college sport generally leaves precious little time for these young men and women to do what they are attending higher education for in the first place, to be a student.
For example, college football teams are theoretically limited in how much time a coach can demand of players, that 20-hour limitation (which excludes the time to travel to games) is by no means a realistic measure of the time commitment. A recent NCAA survey revealed that football players devoted more than 40 hours a week to practicing, playing, and training. Most agree that such a time commitment and level of effort is necessary for these individuals to be successful on their respective playing field.
As Smith notes, playing a college sport is the equivalent of a full time workweek for the average adult. But of course, there is that other lingering issue for these individuals, taking courses.
If one of these athletes were to take a full academic load of 15 credits, that athlete is supposed to expect a minimum of two hours of work outside of class for each one in. In tougher subjects, the expectation is often three to one. So a full course load theoretically translates to a minimum of 45 hours, or another typical workweek.
Smith asks simply, “Under such conditions, how crisply can anyone attack a problem set of nasty-looking differential equations?” But instead of criticizing the system, he states simply “what we ask of them strikes me as too much—or, at least, too much at once.”
He further notes that few of these athletes will have the ability to turn their game into a professional career yet they likely do not have the time to “take advantage of the array of opportunities college campuses offer them to develop both intellectual talents and leadership skills.”
Given that scenario, Smith suggests that universities “offer every scholarship athlete a voucher that would be redeemable for up to five years of free education and living expenses at the university that signs him or her to play a sport.” The number of free years would directly correlate to how many years the athlete was involved in the athletic program.
But instead of the athlete having to use it during his or her playing days at the school, Smith proposes that the voucher be good for a lifetime. In addition, Smith proposes that these scholarship athletes be able to also take courses tuition-free during their time they are playing their respective sport. Those courses would have no bearing on the lifetime voucher that has been promised.
In this way, those who have given their all to their university athletic program but do not make it to the professional level would actually be guaranteed the opportunity to get a full-fledged college experience even if it came after their playing days came to an end.
But even more radical, and the reason the proposal will go nowhere, is Smith’s idea that these athletes be allowed to take as few courses as they desire during their competitive season. During such time, Smith wants it to be the choice of the individual whether to be “either a student or an athlete, or a little of both.”
This of course comes up against the current notion that all athletes must carry a minimum number of credits to be eligible to play each season. But then again, while taking and passing courses is required, there are no specific requirements by the NCAA as to what rigor these classes must contain. Therefore it is no surprise that the vast majority of students playing college athletics are not earning a degree in engineering or computer science (the Wall Street Journal could not find a single college football player majoring in Physics).
It also sounds a bit like you would be paying players, at least providing an in-kind form of wages. But of course, that is precisely what the current system does; it just limits the in-kind remuneration (free tuition and room and board) to the years of athletic eligibility.
The idea would be extremely costly, but then again there appears to be little holding back the expenses currently being accumulated by big-time college programs. More importantly, it would provide athletes real additional flexibility and vastly increase each individual’s chance of succeeding.
It would of course also do one other thing according to Smith – it would put an end to the use of that oxymoron, the term student-athlete. And for that reason it deserves firm consideration – with a little tweaking regarding the expectations around taking courses while in season, the voucher option would finally give these athletes the return on their time and effort they truly deserve.
January 13, 2011 No Comments
Have you been wondering if the latest Fockers movie is something your youngster should see?
Thinking about a Wii or Kinect Box so as to get your child out from behind the computer and up and moving?
Or have you been wondering just what steps you should be taking to ensure your child is safe online?
Better yet, have you wondered why Doritos, Oreo’s and M&Ms have such significant levels of brand equity among 8-12-year-olds?
Today, our children spend more time interacting with digital media than they do with their own families. They also spend more time daily with digital media than they spend in school.
But thankfully, parents as well as educators have an excellent resource to assess all things digital: Common Sense Media.
Under the leadership of CEO and founder James Steyer, Common Sense Media seeks to provide trustworthy information that can help families make educated decisions regarding the media their children will consume.
First and foremost, Common Sense Media recognizes that our children are smitten by all the digital opportunities being provided today. Therefore, the organization’s core beliefs set aside any notion of censorship and replace it with sound advice that allows for effective decision-making.
Among their ten belief statements, two in particular make clear the philosophical stance from which the organization operates:
- We believe in teaching our kids to be savvy, respectful and responsible media interpreters, creators, and communicators. We can’t cover their eyes but we can teach them to see.
- We believe that the price for free and open media is a bit of extra homework for families. Parents need to know about the media their kids use and need to teach responsible, ethical behavior as well as manage overall media use.
On the web site families will find links to exemplars: Best Movies, Best Video Games, Best Apps, Best Websites, Best TV, Best Books, and Best Music. In addition to those best lists, the site offers parents interested in a particular movie, game, web site, book, or television that did not make the best lists hundreds of additional reviews on the site.
As but one example as to the insight available, video game reviews feature a 1-5 rating system on each of the following basic categories: ease of play, educational value, online interaction and role models. Furthermore, parents will find a second set of basic assessments on items that frequently cause concern: messages provided, level of violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking, drugs, & smoking.
In addition, parents will find Common Sense Media’s suggested age for which the game is appropriate and one of three overall basic ratings: on, iffy, or off. But also included on the site is feedback from users, parents, educators, and of course, kids.
For parents wanting to promote a more active lifestyle, the site offers a number of links to games that help everyone in the family stay active. Recommendations are set forth for the new hands-free active gaming with Microsoft’s Kinect as well as Best PlayStation Move Games, Best Wii Games, and Best Wii Balance Board Games.
A multitude of other resources are available and grouped by grade level, topic, and type of digital media. Once registered parents can participate in community based discussions regarding a topic or question of their own concern.
In addition to helping provide parents insight about specific digital products, the site offers a number of educational related links. The idea is to help provide resources for both parents and educators around the issue of new media.
Thus parents will find a number of instructional videos on such topics as Tuning Out Junk Food Ads, Setting TV Time Limits, Talking About Advertising, Cartoon Violence, Setting Internet Filters, All About Avatars, Staying Safe Online, Checking Browser History and The Truth About “Sexting.” Links to additional resources for educators can be found on the site including grade level appropriate learning materials to help provide youngsters digital lessons in Safety and Security, Digital Citizenship and Research and Info Literacy.
If there is a question to be had regarding media and children, Common Sense Media addresses it or provides visitors a forum space to seek an answer.
January 6, 2011 1 Comment
For the past 50 years we have seen a focus on the need to improve high school graduation rates. During the majority of that period, post-secondary education received a pass.
Simply stated, there was a perception that American higher education represented the best the world had to offer. That perception was greatly enhanced by the volume of foreign students seeking the opportunity to be educated here.
But over the last ten years we have seen a push towards holding higher education accountable for its product. In one of those areas, graduation rates, it is clear that American Universities are falling short, abysmally so.
College Graduation Rates
Here are the attention-getting numbers courtesy of the Department of Education (pdf) based on data collected through 2008:
At public colleges and universities only 29.0% of students graduate in the traditional four-year time frame. Even when the Historically Black Colleges are factored out, the rate climbs only to 30.3%.
Of course, the timeframe most used to discuss graduation rates is the six-year window. This timeframe appears to be used because here graduation rates pick up substantially. At public schools the percentage of students that graduate within six years nearly doubles to 54.7%.
Given even more time, the percentage of students who graduate does increase to 58.3% if we measure the period over 8 years. This minimal increase is dismal when weighed against the cost of two additional years of college.
One might think those more expensive private, non-profit schools would have significantly better numbers. They do in fact have better numbers but given their overall selectivity the rates continue to be extremely disappointing.
Over the four-year timeframe, we see that private schools graduate 50.4% of their students, a number that nearly mirrors the six-year of public institutions. But in this sector, an additional 2 years yields just a 14.2% increase in the grad rate and an additional 4 years yields only a total rate of 66.4%. Here again, once one moves beyond six years, very few additional students finish.
Where the numbers really disintegrate is when we move to the for-profit industry. Like public colleges and universities, the for-profits struggle to graduate their students in the four-year timeframe as only 26.8% earn their sheepskin in four years. While most would insist that for-profits are geared towards part-time, working students, the study looks only at those individuals who started as full time students.
But whereas public schools see a massive bump when the time period is extended to six years, for profits see very little gain. Just 33.9% earn a diploma in six years and 37.7% when given eight years.
If we move from percentages to simple assessments we find the following:
If you take any three students attending a public college, you can expect that two of the three will not earn that diploma in the four-year period. Furthermore, just one of every two students will graduate in six years. Even at private colleges, roughly one of every two students fails to earn his or her diploma in four years.
And unlike American high schools, every one of these institutions has some form of entrance criteria and application process. In fact, the highly selective private sector college admission criteria fly in the face of these final graduation statistics.
College is a very expensive proposition for students and the costs associated with attending school are multiplied by every year of attendance. But the multiplication is astronomical for those who spend exorbitant sums of money and time only to come up empty when it comes to earning a diploma.
Some insist that college graduation rate data is not really that meaningful. After all, in America we want to provide every one opportunities and that is what colleges are doing, providing options. Under such a view, it is the students themselves and not the schools that are to blame for these poor results.
Of course, once upon a time that was the line given by public schools. Today, the federal government insists that schools educate all students or face sanctions under the No Child Left Behind Act.
It seems only right that colleges and universities be held to a similar standard, especially those schools that have entrance criteria and admissions policies that limit student access to their programs.
December 27, 2010 5 Comments
We have noted previously the need for modern schools to begin to include media literacy in their respective curricula. It is a subject of growing importance as we move into a world where savvy business and advertising professionals consistently seek to take advantage of an undereducated and naïve public citizenry.
Two recent reports reveal how media is impacting our lives. The first involves a recent survey by Harris Interactive called the Youth EquiTrends Study. The second involves a poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org, based at the University of Maryland, and Knowledge Networks on the recent election and the disappointing level of misinformed voters.
The Harris Interactive survey consisted of polling more than five thousand 8- to 24-year-olds last August. The researchers sought to identify what has been dubbed “brand equity” amongst our young people.
Brand equity is a term used to express a brand’s overall strength based upon three factors: familiarity, quality, and purchase consideration. To get at the youngster’s view of specific product names, those polled were asked to rate between 98 and 125 popular brands of goods. The research sample was drawn online for 13- to 24-year-olds and by way of parents for 8- to 12-year-olds.
The 8- to 12-year-old top ten went like this:
1. Nintendo Wii
5. Disney Channel
7. Nintendo DS
9. Toys R Us
10. Cartoon Network
It was somewhat nice to see Nintendo holding the top spot since the Wii incorporates exercise into the gaming experience. But in an era where children are suffering from premature obesity so much is revealed by what we see in slots 2, 3, 4 and 8.
And while television appears prominently in the top ten, no mention is made of the one television program, Sesame Street, that might mix the viewing pleasure with some learning.
If we move on to 13- to 17-year-olds the level of junk food and the extreme calorie intake moves just a tad further:
1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
7. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
On the positive site, there is a noteworthy drop here in television-related items and the move towards media that is at least interactive (Google and Microsoft).
Finally for the oldest group , 18- to 24-year-olds, we see some modest changes:
9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
It is clearly nice to see those food items fall down and off the list. But this list speaks volumes for educators especially given the brand familiarity of Google and Facebook to this age group. Those wanting to implement these tools in the education setting clearly have a captive audience that is already familiar with their use.
Of course, this also conjures up that age-old challenge for educators: distractibility. While these tools can be put to use in the learning environment, their ability to be utilized so easily in an off-task manner continues to leave educators concerned about their implementation.
Finally, if ages are not broken out we see the following list:
3. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
8. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate
Uninformed Public Voter
The second report on the impact of media and the need to be aware of its effects parallels one of our more recent concerns regarding uniformed voters. The World Public Opinion poll reported that 9 in 10 voters indicated they had encountered information they believed was misleading or false during the 2010 election. The report further noted that 56% of respondents indicated they thought this had occurred frequently with a nearly like number (54%) believing this misinformation was more frequent than usual.
But the most interesting development was that voters in total had in fact been misinformed on some very basic issues but did not realize they were unaware of the truth. For example, though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created somewhere between 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Perhaps most astonishingly, 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.
As but one more example, though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform would increase the deficit.
Because misinformed viewers actually reported watching different news channels, the failure to be properly informed could not be attributable to one specific news source. Perhaps most importantly, those who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed.
But the report did reveal a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue. The report also noted that those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to be misled.
Some examples with direct quotes from the study:
Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points).
As for the final nail in the Fox coffin, the effect was not deemed a function of partisan bias. Even those Fox watchers who voted Democratic were more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch that specific network.
In our world today, we are bombarded with imagery designed to sell us on specific products. Our media consumption involves exposure via two traditional outlets, television and print media, as well as all the new forms that accompany the explosion of technology and the Internet.
It is important for all of us to understand that those candy makers and the folks at Doritos know how to get their message across. As we move towards epidemic levels of obesity in our country, it is imperative we look at the messages being provided to children on a daily basis.
But we adults are just as easily manipulated. How else could those who watch a certain network that calls itself “fair and balanced” not realize they are not receiving factually accurate information.
Collectively, the two studies reveal the importance of being able to realistically and properly assess brands. The results are alarming.
First, and foremost, we can clearly see that the ability to assess is not something the general public can do. And that of course leads to the ultimate issue, that brand equity transfers over time into brand loyalty.
December 19, 2010 1 Comment
Over the past month we are witness once again to the incredibly myopic view of our citizenry as well as that of our elected officials. We as a country are stuck in a collective rut, allowing ourselves to be swayed by the best sound bites reproduced over and over again on the cable news networks, the best Republican bites and worst Democratic offerings replicated repeatedly on Fox, the reverse on MSNBC.
Back in 2005, James McGann took a look at one of the places our ideas come from, the concept of a “think-tank.” McGann noted the famous quote offered by Bill Baroody Sr. of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
“The competition of ideas is fundamental to a free society.”
I could not agree more.
While reviewing this notion, McGann suggests that conservative think-tanks were created to “develop an alternative set of ideas …. intended to challenge the liberal orthodoxy that dominated policy debates in Washington and on college campuses throughout the United States. McGann notes that these institutions initially were able to achieve “their objective through thoughtful and independent analysis of policy issues.”
Since that time however, McGann sees think-tank agendas mirroring the emerging partisanship in Washington. Instead of looking at ideas with a healthy independent skepticism, McGann notes that these tanks are developing specific bents and simply leaning left or right ideologically depending on their affiliation.
Meanwhile, that partisanship has further devolved into two rather simplistic viewpoints: one – that the majority of think-tanks in the US are on college campuses and thus controlled by the liberal elite to promote their liberal agenda contrasted with the second – that conservatives have such deep pockets that they are simply spending their way towards the promotion of their conservative agenda.
Such simplistic and one-sided explanations miss the big picture. They also enable the partisan merchants of fear on both sides to raise huge sums of money while providing a smokescreen for the shortcomings of their analysis.
Most importantly, McGann summarized seven environmental forces impacting the ability of think-tanks to provide independent analysis and advice. All sound terribly familiar to this concerned citizen.
· the development of partisan politics
· the growth of liberal and conservative advocacy groups
· the restrictive funding policies of donors
· the growth of specialised think-tanks
· the narrow and short-term orientation of congress and the White House
· the tyranny of myopic academic disciplines
· the growth of 24/7 cable news networks.
With that as a backdrop, we turn to one undisputed fact, that our nation’s economy continues to struggle. Unemployment rates remain an enormous issue despite the fact that our country is showing some signs of emerging from its collective funk.
Amidst that backdrop, we are hearing about a negotiated tax plan out of the White House, brokered with Republicans, one that President Obama is touting as a necessary step to ensuring that our economy does not slip backwards in the near future. The contrasting debate points feature the traditional Republican talking points regarding the need to reduce taxes and government spending against the Democratic talking points on protecting governmental programs that provide key safety nets for our citizens.
What we are witnessing represents some of the worst elements of McGann’s think tank analysis. In particular, we are seeing once again the immediate short-term orientation of both congress and the White House. This despite the recent election where many of the winning candidates ran on a platform of the importance of reducing the soaring national deficit.
I for one, would prefer a deeper discussion, one I thought our President would be able to bring forward. I voted for Obama believing he had the intellectual and leadership capacity to bring about policy that would move our country forward long term.
Here I turn to the white paper (pdf) of Larry M. Bartels of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Bartels points us first to a theme that is beyond dispute currently: the growing economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots in America.
Bartels notes that over the past thirty years that we have seen economic inequality grow substantially in the United States. He cites several measures of this discrepancy including the Gini coefficient. Bartels notes that this measure reveals an almost 25 percent growth between 1970 and 2000.
For those not enamored with this quotient, Bartels turns to another measure, the income share of the richest five percent of U.S. households. Here the number increased by more than one-third between 1980 and 2000.
Bartels revised this paper in 2004 so it does not discuss the most recent developments. However, the consensus is that there has been only a widening of this discrepancy over the last decade.
Of course, the most important question should be: is this discrepancy meaningful? There is a certain morality that one would question but we will skip that debate and turn simply to the economic one.
Are the tax cut policies espoused by Republicans and now also being reinforced by the White House good for our economy or do they primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans?
At the heart of the debate is yet another fundamental fact: our economy is driven primarily by consumer spending. So when it comes to a stronger economy, Bartels provides some very interesting data regarding our election priorities.
Over time, Bartels notes that have been real “consistent differences in patterns of real pre-tax income growth under Democratic and Republican presidents in the post-war U.S.” Here is what Bartels found:
- Democratic presidents have produced slightly more income growth for poor families than for rich families, resulting in a modest decrease in overall inequality.
- Republican presidents have produced a great deal more income growth for rich families than for poor families, resulting in a substantial increase in inequality.
- Families at the 95th percentile of the income distribution have experienced identical income growth under Democratic and Republican presidents.
- Those at the 20th percentile have experienced more than four times as much income growth under Democrats as they have under Republicans.
But if we focus on two issues that appear to be most relevant right now, Bartels found that the basis for these differences are attributable to partisan differences in two areas:
- Unemployment, which has been 30 percent lower on average under Democratic presidents,
- And GDP growth, which has been 30 percent higher on average under Democratic presidents.
It is these two factors that have also had the strongest impact on income growth at the bottom of the income distribution.
For this reader, these two elements are in significant contrast to the prevailing sound bite that dominated our recent election: tax and spend liberals are bad for the American economy. It also stands in remarkable contrast to Obama’s separation over the last month from his base towards the need for tax cuts to spur the economy.
But even more importantly, it is a clear indication that we have not elected anyone, our president included, who is ready to tackle big ideas. Instead, we have as McGann noted, a cycle that perpetuates short-term interests of all, politicians and the public alike.
Like many Americans, I will benefit personally from the negotiated tax plan. But also, like most Americans, I am disappointed with a president who was elected based on a collective belief that we might actually find ourselves focused on producing a future for our children and our country.
But as disappointed as I am with our President, I am more disappointed that people seem to be so easily manipulated. I am also wondering when we as Americans will once again insist that we have a government that is by and for the people.
The current tax policy debate reinforces that our government is unable to provide us the requisite leadership in these enormously challenging times.
And that we citizens are either too distracted or uncaring to hold these people accountable.
December 13, 2010 2 Comments
With each passing year, we enter new worlds when it comes to understanding inhibitors to learning. As but one example, back in the mid-1970’s when this educator was going through his teaching program, the concept of stereotype threat had not even been conceived of.
But there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that stereotype threat is not only real, there may be ways to actually address the issue. Of course, teachers cannot tackle an issue unless they have an understanding of what the concept entails.
But then again, many of the teaching fundamentals already employed by educators of our youngest students may actually be critical to addressing this new found learning inhibitor.
To get a quick definition of stereotype threat, we head on over to Wikipedia where we find this very direct synopsis:
Stereotype threat is when a person who belongs to a group that has a negative stereotype attached to it subconsciously conforms to the negative stereotype by performing a task to a lesser degree than they would otherwise.
The site offers this simple example:
Black people have the “less intelligent” stereotype attached to them, so a black person might perform poorly on an IQ test. If said person was either unaware of the stereotype or knew the stereotype to be wrong (stereotype threat is not present) then they would perform better.
Another way of thinking about the idea is to think about the traditional stereotypes associated with a specific subgroup: about a female student focusing on traits associated with being a female or of an African-American focusing on traits associated with being an African-American.
Wikipedia goes on to note that the typical issue found in education is one where a subgroup performs poorly because of the prevailing stereotype. It could be the case of poor standardized test performances by blacks on the SAT. Another typical subgroup performance issue involves young women in either mathematics or science.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado reveals that the issue of stereotype threat in the sciences is very real for young women. The study also reveals that educators can take some very simple steps to help reduce the impact of stereotype threat in the classroom.
In the case of the Colorado research, it appears that two simple 15-minute writing exercises administered early on in the semester boosted the scores of female students in an introductory physics class. Perhaps even more amazingly, the writing exercises had nothing to do with physics and everything to do with making these young women more comfortable with being women even while they were in the science setting.
For their writing assignments, the students were asked to write about things that mattered to them: things like relationships with family and friends. It appears that those young women who were allowed to hone in on things they care about provided additional affirmation that then helped them perform better on the science tasks when they were presented with them.
At Slate Magazine, Amanda Schaffer has dissected the results of the experiment featuring 399 undergrads in a calculus-based physics class. Some students were randomly assigned to write about two or three items from a list that included “learning and gaining knowledge,” “belonging to a social group,” “athletic ability,” “relationships with family and friends,” and “sense of humor.” These individuals were then asked to reflect on why these things mattered to them.
The second set of students was provided the same list of values. In an amazing twist, these students were asked to select the values on the list that were least important to them but to explain why these values might be important to other people.
The writing assignment came early when students were theoretically feeling the most apprehension about the course: the first week of school and then the week before the first midterm.
The results of this activity were amazing. Schaffer explains that most of the women who “received C’s in the class were in the group that had written on values they cared about least” while most of the “women who received B’s had written on what they cared about most.”
In contrast, there was no effect for the women who were receiving A’s or for the men in the class irrespective of grades. Later on in the course, those women who had affirmed their own values also “scored higher on a standardized exam of key physics concepts, taken at the end of the term.”
The theory being suggested is that those students who were able to write about the things they cared about felt some additional comfort early on in the class. The assignment may have reduced some of the anxiety associated with stereotype threat and thus allowed the students to relax and let their true intellect come through.
The key of course is that each positive development helps build confidence over the course of a semester. A slightly better performance on test one leads to greater motivation and thus leads some to work harder. That work then transcends to understanding of the material that then leads to greater confidence and even further motivation. As Schaffer states, “it’s easy to imagine such a virtuous cycle.”
Praise and Success
We have written previously about the importance of praise in the learning process for our youngest learners. But it seems that we should rethink how important this concept is with older students as well.
From this latest study, we see that how students feel about themselves in a particular classroom setting is critical. Therefore, finding ways to help students feel comfortable in a classroom setting is critical to helping them believe in themselves.
Lastly, there does appear to be an exceedingly virtuous cycle, one where comfort and belief in oneself leads to additional levels of success that can in turn further a student’s motivation and effort level. And when it comes to learning, it is the work ethic of students that matters most.
Ironically, the steps teachers can take to address any and all of these characteristics appear to be similar in scope to what educators must do to address the issue of stereotype threat. The key is finding age-appropriate methods for doing so.
December 7, 2010 No Comments
The first step towards merit pay is to begin paying teachers according to what research has already proven to be critical.
Research indicates that the two most effective correlates of higher student achievement are the value a family places on education and the quality of instruction that children receive.
In simple terms, students from homes that value education are very successful in school even when they receive average or below average instruction. But at the same time, the positive impact associated with quality instruction can be dramatic with the effect most notable for minority children and those from less affluent families.
Moving forward, it is essential that education place greater emphasis on teacher effectiveness. Doing so will require an entirely new approach to paying teachers.
As states and local communities grapple with funding shortfalls, negotiating teacher contracts will have to be a place that government officials and school board officials look to determine bang for buck. With as much as 80% of a school district’s expenses being attributed to total salaries, pay for those working in education has to be carefully examined.
The push for merit pay is now on though most teachers in the trenches still do not readily accept it. But at a minimum, any move towards pay for performance should begin by addressing current payment practices that are inconsistent with research.
Those outside the field of education can’t quite understand why every fifth year teacher in a school district earns the same pay as every other fifth year teacher irrespective of responsibilities and assignment. But that is standard operating procedure in most school districts.
It is true whether or not a person teaches at the elementary or secondary level. It is true regardless of teaching assignment and responsibilities at each level. An elementary classroom teacher responsible for all of each student’s academic subject instruction receives the same pay as the elementary art, music or physical education teacher.
Likewise every high school teacher, whether it is in English, math, science or physical education, receives the same pay and does so despite the number of different preparations he or she may face, the number of students they are assigned, and the amount of grading that must take place outside the classroom. Perhaps even more astonishingly, a teacher certified to teach multiple subject areas receives no additional pay despite his or her ability to provide flexibility in teaching assignments.
Instead, pay differentials are based on just two fundamental elements. First a set of salary scales is created and a teacher moves along the scale as he or she gains teaching experience. In most cases, a second year teacher earns more than a first year, a third year teacher more than a second, etc., though in a few cases these scales are paired, first and second year teachers earning one salary, third and fourth another, or some variation.
Second, multiple salary scales are created with different base pay and increments for further study. Most schools have a pay scale for teachers with 30 credits beyond a bachelor’s, another scale for the attainment of a master’s degree, and even higher scales for those having furthered those academic credentials by attaining a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) or doctorate, etc. One final bonus payment has been negotiated in many districts for those teachers holding national board certification.
Rethinking the General Master’s Degree
When America is considered as a whole, school systems pay an additional $8.6 billion in wages to those teachers holding a master’s degree. However, a decade of research has demonstrated that this money is for the most part poorly spent.
In a recent speech at an American Enterprise Institute forum, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, essentially called the idea of rewarding teachers for a achieving a masters degree a waste of taxpayer money. The reason is that there is little evidence to show that a teacher holding a master’s degree significantly impacts the achievement of his or her students over that of a teacher with just a bachelor’s degree.
In addition, the concept of a 15 or 20-year step contract whereby a teacher gains additional pay for each year of experience is not necessarily associated with teacher effectiveness. Data reflects improved teacher effectiveness can be substantial over the first few years but that in most cases there is a plateau effect that varies from teacher to teacher.
But these two ways of paying teachers are so ingrained that most people consider them almost untouchable. Billionaire Bill Gates, a man who has given a great deal of his accumulated fortune to grants to improve education calls the discussion of changing teacher pay is analogous to kicking a beehive. Others have said the idea of changing teacher pay is as controversial and unpopular as cutting chocolate milk from the school cafeteria menu.
The Need for a Revamped System
While the system demands changes, it is important to note that teacher effectiveness is correlated in certain instances with these basic elements already in place. Specific aspects do correlate with teacher certification, academic credentials, and experience. Current research reveals:
Traditional certification is a worthy concept especially when discussing a teacher delivering specific subject matter. Traditional certification programs require successful completion of a university-based teacher preparation program that meets state specifications and the passing of a state licensure examination.
Most importantly, certification in the particular subject or subjects being taught correlates with student success especially at the middle and high school levels. Studies have found that subject-area certification in mathematics for secondary teachers is associated with higher student performance in the subject and that students in an English class are better off being taught by a teacher who is certified in English.
Those schools paying additional funds for teachers who have earned National Board Certification appear to have taken a positive step. Research indicates that students taught by National Board Certified teachers do score higher on standardized tests of reading and mathematics when compared to students of similar ability that are taught by teachers who are not Board certified. But at the same time, National Board-certified teachers tend to disproportionately teach more advantaged students, assignments that could account for the additional success of board certified teachers.
In addition to certification in the field that he or she teaches, a degree in the subject being taught also matters. Simply stated, teachers must have a deep understanding of the subject matter they are assigned to teach and thus must have a degree in the subjects assigned.
It is interesting to note this is the one area where an advanced degree does in fact matter. In other words, earning an advanced degree in the specific subject area does correlate with increases in student achievement while a general master’s degree does not.
What seems to matter is the intellectual capacity of the individual including strong SAT or ACT scores along with a sound academic record at a selective college.
Two other key criteria include scores on the teacher assessment exams, whether it is the Praxis or other standardized test and some basic classroom teaching experience. Data reflects that students of teachers with four or more years of experience demonstrate greater achievement.
Some Basic Changes
As part of a move towards hiring the best and the brightest, it is time that school boards eliminate the lock step pay concept and replace it with a flexible approach. For example, the data clearly indicates that school districts need the flexibility to pay new teachers varying salaries based upon specific levels of academic achievement on nationalized tests, their college transcripts and the scores attained on the state required assessment. Boards need to be able to take concrete steps to find qualified teachers for the specialty subjects.
Likewise, simple step schedules must also be eliminated that provide pay differentials for advanced degrees and additional certifications unless such credentials are associated with greater student achievement. That means teachers with different assignments could see varied pay depending on that assignment as well as the credentials they have earned.
Lastly, contracts must begin to reflect the workload assigned to an individual teacher. Simply stated, not all teaching positions carry the same workload. It is time that pay differentials based on the responsibilities associated with a specific position are established that are dependent on number of students assigned, number of subjects to prepare for, and corresponding correcting time spent outside the school day.
November 29, 2010 3 Comments
It just might be time for K-12 education to make video games a fundamental part of the curricula.
Everywhere we turn these days we hear the same thing.
Our students need things we don’t teach and that our school structures do not allow for a focus on learning and thus all too often sustain the current social hierarchy. Some would insist that our schools are crushing every ounce of creativity from our young (see accompanying video).
In her article on “The Things We Don’t Teach,” Jenifer Fox quotes extensively from the publication “Tough Choices or Tough Times (pdf),” a document calling for the development of youngsters who are creative and innovative. The report further stresses the need for developing adaptable and cooperative workers who will be “constantly organizing and reorganizing in a never-ending array of teams.”
Fox hammers the current school culture:
“In an age when most jobs require intuitive decision-making, where more mental activities replace physical ones, traditional instruction and assessment is ineffective (i.e. the teacher demonstrates how to do something and the student who repeats the performance best receives a high grade). In the 21st century workplace, a new premium is placed on creative problem solving, teamwork and collaboration. Our schools will “bridge” students into the workforce when they begin to focus on developing student strengths and teach students how to bring those strengths to the teams they work on.
Using Video Games to Teach
We have noted on many occasions that one of the most intriguing options for the future of education is the use of video games to teach higher order thinking skills. We have offered our Eleven Video Games to Unlock Your Inner Genious as well as a suggestion as to how gaming behavior could be used to instruct students on the all-important scientific method.
To date we have read little about public K-12 education doing anything in the way of organizing their curricula around this idea and/or implementing the concept in the classroom in a meaningful way. But as always, higher education appears to be the first to grasp the idea and is at least seeing the option as a viable elective.
University of Florida students in the honors program now have just such an option. The video game “StarCraft” is used to teach critical thinking, problem solving and resource management skills in the online course IDS2935, “21st Century Skills in StarCraft.” Nate Poling, the UF doctoral student teaching the class, told news reporters that the game is a tool and a resource, that the game is an anchor in the same way that other courses might use a textbook to reinforce specific concepts. Poling believes that ultimately games can be a great teaching tool and cites his early infatuation with the popular Apple “Oregon Trail” option often made available to students during free time in elementary school.
For those unfamiliar with the game, “StarCraft” is a strategy game in which as many as eight players can compete online. Poling selected the game because it reinforces lessons related to balancing resources and the managing of risks, two skills important to anyone starting a business.
As homework the students are required to play the game for as many as two hours each week. Ironically, grading comes from typical educational formats – students must keep a log, write papers and do a final presentation.
It’s just that everything centers upon the game: the log documents student attempts to play the game while the papers focus on the decisions students made while playing. But the one way that contrasts with traditional educational practices is that grading will not be correlated with student skills playing the game.
Of course, if one peruses the Internet, the web is loaded with specific references to this very course with the vast majority offering a “you must be kidding” tone. While the gaming community attempts to keep a straight face even as they use the story as a selling point, independent sites seem to focus on the “ha ha” concept, the proverbial, I too want to earn a bachelor’s degree in Starcraft.
But we have heard tell that the University of California at Berkeley began using “StarCraft” in the classroom last year while the puzzle video game “Portal” is among required material this fall for freshmen at Wabash College in Indiana.
Video Games as an Assessment Tool
It will no doubt take some time for the skeptics to be won over but it is interesting to note that the concept of stealth assessments is taking hold and here again video games could offer a key component to making the concept work. Stealth assessment recognizes that complications from test anxiety can make it difficult to capture specific abilities. In addition, traditional testing formats can’t help but bring in outside factors based on students existing knowledge or lack of specific knowledge in regards to a topic.
So as educators and independent assessors seek ways to measure skills like critical thinking, creativity, and persistence, new ways of testing those traits are developing. One such way is to allow students to immerse themselves in a fun activity and then watch how they behave.
Allowing a small group to play a video game reduces test anxiety even as it creates a setting where an observer can watch students interacting as they solve a complex task. Researchers insist that a lot of important stuff happens when individuals play video games.
Because every aspect of what transpires allows an educator to observe how students process specific tasks, such an option is being considered a possible method for assessing an individual’s higher order thinking skill level as well as a person’s ability to function as part of a team.
This of course represents yet another step in the video game evolution – in the earlier arena discussed the game is used to supplement classroom instruction and thus help develop higher order thinking skills. In the second instance of stealth assessments, video games are utilized as a method for assessing what a student has acquired for skills.
The result is that video games could actually form that final critical educational bridge, the one that blurs the distinction between learning and assessment.
Time Has Come
In sum total, it is clear that at this time our schools are falling short in regards to developing the next generation of creative thinkers. No doubt, the time has come for new and innovative teaching options be explored.
But the radical nature of using video games as teaching and assessment tools doesn’t appear likely to fly in public education where the traditionalists are convinced that education involving video games has to be devoid of rigor.
So it will likely fall on some entrepreneur convincing some board to allow a new charter school to be created that focuses on developing 21st century skills. Imagine a school where reading, writing and arithmetic are integrated with technology, the world wide web and video gaming.
Of course, some basic skills will never change – the ability to read and write and think logically all remain important elements in any school. But at the same time, our future is dependent on developing yet another set of core skills centered upon the world wide web: the ability to research, think creatively and collaboratively problem solve.
The first set of entrepreneurs who can redesign schools around this theme and then contrast it with the limitations of traditional educational formats are going to make themselves a whole lot of money.
Because I have no doubt that video games and virtual worlds represent the future of learning.
November 21, 2010 No Comments
New site provides financial literacy curricula for parents, students, and educators.
Our sister site GoCollege has given a great deal of attention to the current student loan crisis. The problem is actually a very simple one, easy access to loans has led naïve students to borrow significant sums of money as they pursue their college degree.
The problem is that too many students are borrowing far too much and thus are literally mortgaging their entire future. I recently highlighted my concerns with what is happening in my own state where students are leaving the state university with some of the highest average debt levels in the country.
Unfortunately, financial literacy is not a typical topic generally taught in public schools. Thus, educating children about money and the concept of using credit in a healthy manner still falls upon parents. In essence, this is a subject where every family must employ the home-schooling concept.
Great Free Resource
Fortunately for parents there is one free resource they can turn to help with the much needed education. FoolProofMe, an interactive online financial literacy program geared to teenagers and young adults, is receiving a lot of attention nationally and justifiably so.
Will deHoo, a native of the Netherlands, is the founder of FoolProof. One very appealing element is the fact that the site/program is not affiliated with any bank or institution that is trying to further promote its brand name to kids.
FoolProof’s “modular” programs are highly interactive, featuring music, videos, and dozens of young people from all across the globe discussing financial subjects. The fundamental premise is we all hate looking like a fool but that lots of adults and most businesses make a lot of money by making fools of young people.
While the message is great, perhaps most importantly, all of the videos feature kids and young adults explaining why young people need to become financially literate. The program features discussions on virtually all of the most pertinent elements for kids today: impulse spending, predatory lending practices, the impact of a bad credit score on getting a job, etc. There is also FoolProof’s Top 10 Teen Money Myths which feature some much needed media literacy whereby students become aware that not all advertisements are true or that all loan companies are the same.
They offer a video called “Sucker Punch” where a college-age student talks about how credit card companies attempt to draw in young people even as they charge these individuals higher interest rates because of their youthfulness. It should be required viewing for any young adult about to have access to their first credit card.
And as one person still insisting that building a personal budget is essential, it is nice to see that FoolProof provides students a program that allows them to track and monitor their own spending.
In light of this country’s recent credit debacle, financial literacy is a must for all citizens but particularly so for our young people. Any program that focuses on disciplined spending habits and making one’s money go further offers great teaching points for those about to head out on their own.
As we noted earlier, parents might want to think of this in terms of homeschooling their child using the site as a resource. But the site is set up for three different sets of user groups: teachers and educators, parents and grandparents, and college students.
To access the interactive tools, users must create an account so as to be able to access the web-based tools. If teens are using the site, the suggestion is to have parents create the account but for college students Foolproof encourages these young adults to create their own account.
Ultimately, being smart with one’s money is no doubt one of the greatest lessons we can pass along to our kids. FoolProof appears to offer children, parents and even teachers who might want to institute such lessons in their classroom a wonderful free resource.
November 7, 2010 2 Comments
In my home state of Maine, a great deal of the recent election debate has been spent on one troubling national statistic. In its most recent set of rankings for the Best States For Business And Careers, Forbes.com ranked Maine 50th out of the 50 states.
The gubernatorial candidates had a field day while those in the Republican party seeking to regain stature in a Democratic controlled state played the I told you so card time and again. Not too surprisingly, our current Maine leadership simply asserted that Forbes had to be wrong with its assessment.
But while this business data saw much airtime, an equally troubling national ranking saw little in the way of real discussion. I am talking about the Project on Student Debt’s recent tabulation of the debt load status of the class of 2009.
Maine Student Debt
The State of Maine placed third highest overall with students graduating from four-year schools with an average debt load of $29,143. A full 65% of graduates left school with some debt level, a percentage that placed the state 12th.
Perhaps even more disappointing was the fact that two Maine Colleges made the national list as the worst for student debt. In what is likely a surprise for many, both schools making the list are public institutions.
Topping the debt load was Maine Maritime Academy where graduates left school with an average debt load of $39,237. That is more than 60% above the national average of $24,000 per student. Furthermore, nearly three out of every four graduates (73%) graduated with some form of debt.
Two other private Maine colleges, Husson and St. Joseph’s, also posted significant average debt levels: $33,010 and $36,071 respectively. Worse yet, seven out of every eight graduates (88 percent at Husson and 87 percent at St. Joseph’s) left with some debt level. As bad as these numbers are, neither school had the misfortune of making the Project of Student Debt’s list of high debt private institutions nationally.
But, the real kicker for me, was the second public school making the national debt list, the University of Maine in Orono. The land grant institution also made the Project on Student Debt’s list producing an astounding average of $30,824.
I say astounding as most would think that UMO, as the government supported state university, would be the best place for students of limited means to go. But with 77% of graduates leaving with some form of debt and a debt level 25 percent above the national average, UMaine is simply not affordable for students.
In contrast, Maine’s three elite, liberal arts schools, Bates, Bowdoin and Colby could boast averages lower than the national number despite these schools being among the most expensive to attend. Bates posted the lowest average debt of the three at $17,954 for 2009 graduates. Bowdoin finished with $18,382 and Colby $21,697. As for those leaving with some form of debt, 38 percent of Bates grads, 45 percent of Bowdoin and 41 percent of Colby students left with payments looming.
Northeast Does Poorly
A bit of consolation for some Mainers is that our New Hampshire neighbors actually fared worse. Average student debt for the graduates stood at $29,443 putting the Granite State second overall. Adding to the bad news, 72% of students graduating from New Hampshire Colleges had some form of debt, a percentage that placed the state fifth overall.
But schools throughout the northeast reported disappointing results. Vermont came in at number 5 with $27,786 while Rhode Island placed 8th at $26,573.
According to the Project on Student Debt, the increased debt load of students in the Northeast can be attributed to a couple of factors. First, both private and public four-year colleges in the Northeast have higher than average tuition rates.
Second, the report notes that a larger than average share of students in the Northeast attend private nonprofit four-year colleges instead of public. The result of these two factors, both controllable factors for students, produce higher average debt loads for students in this region of the country.
The bottom line is that students are partly to blame for this troubling result.
While much election time was focused on the business data, higher education is critical to every state’s business future. In fact, it is interesting to note that three of the New England states with the highest student debt loads, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine, placed 45th, 49th and 50th respectively in the Forbes ratings. Of course, it is tough to get any career started when you begin with significant levels of debt.
The consensus it that higher education plays the most important role when it comes to preparing students for the jobs of the 21st century. But that role will become limited if students cannot afford to attend.
Simply stated, Maine needs to do better by its children, beginning with its flagship university. With debt levels exceeding the national average at all public and private institutions by more than 20%, elected officials must take a good hard look at what is going on at the University of Maine at Orono.
In fact, the overall debt level coupled with the appalling data from UMO may ultimately be more important for the future of our state than the current abysmal business rating received from Forbes.com.
October 31, 2010 1 Comment