Friday, May 27, 2011

Increase class size while improving student achievement - it can be done

Eric Hanushek writes that if schools were allowed to lay off teachers based on effectiveness instead of based on LIFO (seniority rules mandated by New York State) they would be able to save money by increasing class sizes while improving student achievement levels.  Maybe it IS true that schools can "do more with less" and that a "leaner school system might just be a better one".
The economic downturn across the country has a lot of people talking about class size reduction. By and large, people are saying bigger classes would be a calamity for public schools. These discussions, while ever-tinged by politics, ignore both basic facts and research evidence....
This situation has led to hysterical news media coverage about enormous classes and testimonials about how it has simply become impossible to teach with so many students in one class. It has also prompted the class size reduction lobbyists to quote back their evidence with the twist of how this is the worst thing that could happen to schools....
But increasing class size means that some current teachers must be laid off, and here the schools have an advantage. They know how effective their teachers are, so they are not forced to lay off an average teacher. They can in fact lay off below average teachers.
When budget shortfalls necessitate reductions in force, laying off the weakest teachers would lead to dramatic improvements in student achievement. As I have described elsewhere, replacing the worst 5-8 percent of our teachers with average teachers would be expected to move student outcomes near to if not at the top of the international league tables for math and science performance. And this would have enormous benefits for the U.S. economy and for the students who now have greater skills when they enter the labor force.
But wouldn't the increased class sizes offset any gains? In simplest terms, no. The evidence has been rehashed many times. The latest Brookings study, for example, concludes once again that the small class size increases from the current fiscal pressures would be virtually undetectable. Part of the confusion over the outcomes arises from the unwillingness or inability of schools to make decisions based on the effectiveness of teachers. By applying last in, first out rules (LIFO for short) to any dismissals, schools almost completely eliminate the chance to improve the learning for our children. When you use seniority as the determining factor in layoffs, you let some of your best teachers go. And, because their salaries are lowest, you have to lay off a greater number of new teachers (as opposed to more senior teachers).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where will "credential inflation" take us?

...large numbers of college students are studying little and learning almost nothing of lasting benefit...
Although large numbers of college graduates are perilously weak in basic skills, there continues to be a significant earnings disparity between graduates and non-graduates.  George Leef  points out that job opportunities for non-credentialed employees have been dramatically diminishing over the years.
Many firms now require that applicants have college degrees, even for work that calls for nothing more than basic trainability.
But how's that working out for employers?  "Credential inflation" means the human resources receptionist must have a college degree, whether it's in communications, marketing or any other number of majors that typically maintain painfully low standards for graduation.  Companies are paying a premium for a credential that in many cases is providing relatively little value.

With the much ballyhooed "education bubble" upon us, causing the cost of a college education to reach stratospheric heights, will employers began a shift to bypass the standard credentials that have been devalued by higher education's focus on social rather than academic learning?  Will they attempt to find new ways to judge potential workers?  While I'm not predicting this will happen soon, I can envision a future where motivated, intelligent young people will be able to take advantage of online learning and other affordable options to gain credentials that will attract attention from innovative companies.  Companies may find that bypassing the inflated credentialing system can be a good way to shake things up as they attempt to survive and even thrive in our changing economy.

Salman Khan's words come to mind.
To the point about replacing universities, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.  But I think it’s an interesting idea and to think about that you have to realize that a university is about two things - it’s a credential and it’s learning.  I think Khan Academy is going to be able to really change how the learning part is done in a pretty significant way.  The credentialing part, getting your degree from Stanford or Harvard, that’ll probably be there for a little while.  I think if you fast forward ten years from now I mean it’s not going g to happen overnight   I mean this is social change happening. 10 years, 20 years, I think an employer would rather see your log from a site like Khan Academy where it doesn’t just get a 3.2 GPA in psychology it gets what you did , when you did it, how well you did it, how well were you able to help your peers, how consistently did you work,  wow, this guy worked 3 hours every day for 20 years on this stuff, this is a persistent kind of guy that I want working for me and we’ll be able to give people that type of analytics.  I think that can be a more powerful transcript than just a high level degree right now.
Found at Instapundit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Phonics skills chart from Scholastic

According to this chart from Scholastic, phonics skills are typically learned up until 6th grade, with many of the basics mastered by 3rd grade.
Not sure what kind of phonics activities you should start with? Confused about the levels of phonics instruction? Fuzzy on how to tell when a student has mastered a phonics task? Check out the chart below, created with the guidance of phonics expert Wiley Blevins.
Task Competency
Approximate Age of Mastery
Child can recognize letters by name.
Child can point to an "A" and call it an "A."
Child can recognize a few letters by sound.
Child can point to a "P" and say that it makes the sound /p/.
Child can recognize rhyming sounds and alliterations in simple words.
Adult asks child to name a word that sounds like "cat." Child says, "hat."
Child can identify when the first letter sound of a word is different from the first letter sound of another word.
Adult shows a picture of a sock, a sun, and a boat and asks which picture name begins with a different sound. Child says, "boat"
Child can blend simple word parts together to form a word. Child can also distinguish a lower-case letter from an upper-case letter.
Adult says /k/ /at/ and asks the child what word has been spelled. Child says, "cat."
Child can blend individual letter sounds together to form a word.
Kindergarten/ First Grade
Adult asks the child what word is made when these sounds are put together —/k/ /a/ /t/. Child responds, "cat."
Child can segment, or separate, a word sound by sound.
First Grade (Mid – to – late)
Adult asks the child what sounds make up the word "cat." Child responds, "/k/ /a/ /t/."
Child understands how changing letters in a word changes the sounds and the meaning.
First Grade
(Mid – to – late)
Child spells '"cat" and when asked is able to change the "c" to another letter to make a new word such as "bat."
Child can sound out one-syllable words with short and long vowel spellings.
First Grade
(Mid – to – late)
Child can sound out the words map, rain, and bean.
Child can sound out multisyllabic words.
Grades 3–6
Child can sound out the words sometimes, everything, customer, pilot, and remember.
Child can use prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots to sound out and define new words.
Grades 3–6
Child can sound out the words unhappy, repeating, telephone, and autograph.

It appears that certain groups of children especially benefit from explicit phonics instruction.  Some students, such as highly intelligent children with no learning disabilities may do fine without phonics lessons.  While there are some benefits that everyone can gain from phonics, it is probably not a critical curriculum component for many early readers.
TeacherVisionResearch has shown that systematic, explicit phonics instruction results in better growth in children's ability to comprehend what they read than non-systematic or no phonics instruction (Report of the National Reading Panel, 2000). Although many students (approximately 50%) will learn to read despite the instructional method employed, the other half who struggle will require systematic, explicit phonics instruction if they are to become successful readers.
"Programs including systematic instruction on letter-to-sound correspondences lead to higher achievement in both word recognition and spelling, at least in the early grades and especially for slower or economically disadvantaged students" (Adams, 1990).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

College educated people 'more likely to get married and stay married'

Washington PostResearchers increasingly are finding a connection between marriage and education. In 2009, 31 percent of brides had a college degree, up from 21 percent in 1996.
Marriage has become a much more selective institution in today’s society,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. “People who are college-educated, more affluent or more religious are more likely to get married and stay married. People who are not are less likely to get married in the first place, and if they do marry, they’re more likely to divorce.”
The Marriage Project has found that people without a college degree are three times as likely to divorce in the first 10 years as those with a college degree. 

Of course, we knew this.  But this scenario does seem to have the makings of an increasingly divided society.

Monday, May 23, 2011

In reducing merit aid, Brandeis University is also improving yield

It is always in a university's best interest to improve its yield rate, defined as the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll.  A high yield rate not only makes for a more efficient admissions process, it also indirectly helps a college's ranking.  Although the USNWR rankings do not measure yield directly, they do factor in acceptance rate, which is inversely proportional to yield.  The more students accept a school's offer, the fewer offers it has to extend.  Acceptance rates are important and widely used in judging a school's selectivity.

From the Brandeis student newspaper:
According to Vice President of Enrollment Keenyn McFarlane, the number of merit scholarships offered to students has been gradually reduced in recent years and will be further reduced for the Class of 2015. The further reductions are due to the fact that many students offered merit aid in recent years declined attend the University.
According to McFarlane, the reduction of merit-based aid has been "ongoing" for "several years." McFarlane said that after reviewing the incoming class each year, the administrators in Enrollment found that they were more "effective" in being able to fund students when money was given in the form of need-based financial aid rather than merit scholarships since the number of students who received merit-based aid and matriculated into Brandeis has declined by 78 percent since 2006. McFarlane said the University also has a higher yield rate of matriculation when need-based aid is given rather than merit scholarships. The number of merit aid offered to accepted students has declined by 16 percent since 2006....
McFarlane said that giving money in the form of financial aid need rather than merit scholarships would be more in line with the "social justice philosophy" of Brandeis. "We want to be giving out money to those who need it," he said....
Additionally, McFarlane also said that he does not believe that the elimination of merit scholarships will affect the competitiveness of students applying to and attending Brandeis. McFarlane said that although the number of students with merit scholarships has declined, the performance of accepted students has not. According to statistics from the Office of Enrollment, the average SAT scores of students accepted in to Brandeis has remained near 1400 on a 1600 scale. The average SAT scores of students who have matriculated have remained in the mid-1300s.