Online curriculum adoption warrants scrutiny

School districts across the country are purchasing online programs too hastily, with predictable results (“Schools Drop an Online Curriculum After Teacher, Parent Complaints,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 23).  The Acellus Learning Accelerator at two-thirds of Hawaii schools covering 80,000 students is a case in point.

As long as schools are allowed to choose their own online content, the risk of incorrect or inappropriate material will always remain.  That was certainly the case with Acellus. It charged $100 per student for six courses.  That compares with competitors charging $300 to $400 a course.  As a result, districts too eagerly decided to use its curriculum.

It’s understandable why districts moved so rapidly. They were under intense pressure due to Covid-19.  As a result, they lacked the time and resources to adequately review material.  But they are now paying a steep price.  Public schools in this country have been criticized for the way they adopt textbooks. Yet until a better way is found to speed up the process, I say better safe than sorry.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Gifted deserve greater support

The U.S. is the only industrialized country that continues to neglect gifted children “The (Gifted) Kids Are All Right,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19).  One of the reasons is the widespread belief that they are socially and emotionally vulnerable  if they are allowed to skip grades. Yet two studies show that is not so.  Early academic acceleration did not result in later maladjustment.

But even more important in my opinion is the myth that gifted students need no extra help in reaching their full potential.  That’s a serious mistake since they are precisely the ones who possess the wherewithal to solve the nation’s greatest problems.  None of our competitors abroad pay so little attention to their brightest students.

Instead, we persist in devoting almost all our resources to underperforming students.  It’s not that they don’t need our help, but I submit that we are undermining one of our greatest assets.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Pure meritocracy at few schools

When the subject is pure meritocracy in admissions, Asian students continue to dominate (“Teachers at Stuyvesant High School revolt amid softened academic policy,” New York Post).  Two institutions stand out in this regard: Stuyvesant High School and the California Institute of Technology.

New York City’s most prestigious high school is Stuyvesant High school, where admission is strictly based on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.  As a result, Asians constitute 73 percent of the student body.  At Cal Tech, where admission is based solely on test scores and grades, they make up 40 percent of undergraduate enrollment.

Despite both schools’ world-class reputation, pressure is building to diversify their student bodies.  I maintain that the way to do so is not to lower standards for admission but to improve the quality of education all races receive.  It seems that reformers are determined to dilute excellence in the name of ideology.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

New subjectivity in college admissions

The pandemic has resulted in about 400 more schools eliminating the SAT for admission and placing greater emphasis on grades and recommendations (“College Admissions in a Covid Year: SATs Are Out, Personal Stories Are In,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 18).  Those are the only two possibilities left because extracurricular activities and attendance at college fairs have also been curtailed.

This situation means that applicants who can present compelling personal stories will have a decided edge.  Their experiences can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.  But by their very nature, such accounts are totally subjective.  How can admission officers decide whose story is worthier than another?  Recommendations are virtually worthless because they come from only those people applicants know will give them highest praise.

Higher education is undergoing far-reaching changes that I think will permanently change the landscape.  I hope that more and more high school seniors will rethink whether a four-year degree is worth the time, effort and cost. 

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Suing schools over Covid-19 liability

School districts providing in-person instruction run the risk of being sued if they haven’t met their duty to follow a “standard of care” (“Schools May Get Sued Over Covid-19. Seven Things to Know About Managing That Risk,” Education Week, Sept. 9). The trouble is that standard may be different by the time the suit gets to a jury. 

Plaintiffs, however, will have a tough time proving causation.  That’s especially so with Covid-19 because so much is still not known about its transmission.  Recommendations keep shifting, which means that what seems in line with guidelines today can be seen as negligence tomorrow. Liability waivers may not be enforceable because K-12 attendance is compulsory, while fields trips and sports are voluntary.

The best way for districts to avoid being sued is to be in regular contact with local health officials to be sure they are up to date on the latest recommendations. But even if they are, they can only hope their general liability insurance does not exclude claims from Covid-19.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Catholic schools closings are a great loss

For generations, Catholic schools provided a quality education at an affordable price for countless children.  That’s why the permanent shuttering of some 150 parochial schools nationwide is so troubling (“Scores of Catholic Schools Won’t Be Reopening. Ever,” The New York Times, Sept. 6).

As I wrote in a letter to the editor that was published in The New York Times on Sept. 12, Catholic schools appeal to many non-Catholic families because they emphasize discipline and civility.  Other private schools do the same, but the tuition they charge is too high for low-income families.

The Catholic school curriculum is rooted in knowledge, eschewing the fads that characterize traditional public schools.  I’m referring now to the current fashion for teachers to be a “guide on the side, instead of a sage on the stage.”  Teachers exist primarily to communicate information. 

The success of Catholic schools to educate Black students even though their teachers are White refutes the claim that Black students learn best only when their teachers are Black.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

Suspensions are indispensable in schools

New York State Senator Jessica Ramos says that school suspensions “criminalize” children and should themselves be suspended (“This year, suspend suspensions: New York needs a radically different approach to school discipline,” New York Daily News, Sept. 8). She argues that they “traumatize families.”

I wonder if Ramos would change her mind if she spent a week in some of the worst schools in the state.  I say that because disruptive students deprive students who want to learn of the opportunity to do so.  Yet she says not a word about their rights.  All Ramos cares about is the alleged harm suspensions cause.

I’m aware that restorative justice can sometimes be effective in correcting unwanted behavior.  But the evidence is mixed since that approach has been adopted.  In the final analysis, we cannot allow a handful of students to hold other students hostage in order to spare miscreants the punishment they deserve.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

College students’ delicate state of mind

When a USC business professor used a Chinese-language example in his communications class that sounded like a racial slur, Black students complained that their mental health was damaged (“Controversy over USC professor’s use of Chinese word that sounds like racial slur in English,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 5).  As a result, he was forced to “take a short-term pause” from teaching the course.

I wonder what’s going to happen to these students when they hear other words after graduation that offend them for one reason or another.  It mattered little that nearly 100 USC alumni, most of whom are Chinese, came to the defense of the professor. The dean of the Marshall School of Business couldn’t apologize enough for the professor’s sin.

Freedom of speech in academia no longer exists.  It was once the only place in this country where words and ideas could be expressed without fear of punishment and censure. Woe to the professor who uses the synonym for stingy.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

No free speech for high school teachers

When a ninth-grade English teacher at El Camino Charter High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District wore a T-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” in bold letters across the front, she found herself in hot water (“L.A. teacher flees home amid threats after wearing ‘I can’t breathe’ T-shirt to online class,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 28). 

What followed is deeply disturbing.  One parent complained, sharing a screenshot of the teacher on social media.  Death threats soon followed, forcing the teacher and her daughter to flee from her home.  Hundreds of teachers in the district wore Black Lives Matter shirts to class in support.  The school’s administration did not come to her aid.

The question is whether teachers are permitted to express their personal opinions about issues of public interest in class.  What public school teachers express outside of class is a different story.  When I was teaching in the LAUSD, the policy was clear: Teachers were supposed to present both sides of controversial issues.  Whether wearing a T-shirt with any slogan violates that policy remains for the courts to decide.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

No white privilege at Cal Tech

Almost all colleges and universities today engage in affirmative action, which the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger is permissible as long as it is “narrowly tailored” (“How Yale Became the Latest Target in the Plot to Kill Affirmative Action,” The Nation, Aug. 24).  Whether they strictly adhere to that requirement, however, is another story.  Only one school has refused to jettison pure meritocracy.

The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena enrolls only the most academically advanced students regardless of their race, athletic ability or legacy status. As a result, Asians constitute an overwhelming proportion of its student body.  It’s not that Cal Tech doesn’t try to recruit and nurture underrepresented minorities.  On the contrary, it tries very hard to do so, but it won’t bend its standards.  The school is interested only in intellectual merit and passion for learning.

Cal Tech has paid a price for its refusal to cave in to pressure in the form of its relatively low alumni-giving rate.  But various government, corporate and individuals have more than made up for that in its per-student financial resource picture, which exceeds all the Ivies.  Cal Tech is a reminder that colleges and universities can flourish when they stick to the reason they exist in the first place.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)