Monthly Archives: March 2012


Hello, my faithful readers (all four of you).

Recently my writing time has been pretty well swamped with other things. I’ve moved into a new research group, and I’ve been going through some tough times (emotionally, not financially) and writing about it a lot. I’m going to take an official “week off” here and attempt to return next week with some material built up.

Requests for specific topics are welcome.


Public to Private

Today I’m giving you a link to another blog:

It’s a post from a public school teacher who decided to leave and become a private school teacher. It positively drips with frustration, and shows how the implementation of “value added” approaches is driving some good teachers out of teaching.

Gap Years

I got this link from one of my old students. It’s not about gap years, but it made me think of the topic anyway.

I don’t know that many folks who actually took the step of taking a gap year. I know a handful who went off to follow employment for a few years (hired through an internship before they received their Bachelors degree), but I don’t know anyone off the top of my head who successfully took a year off after high school.

I’ve heard quite a few students in my short time say that they didn’t know if they were ready for college. The usual reason, when you dig down some, is that they don’t feel like adults yet. They see college students (often their older friends) as being much more mature and worldly, and don’t see themselves as being up to snuff. Some students have other reasons, like wanting to save up money for college, but that’s less common. Most of the ones I’ve talked to don’t feel ready on an emotional level.

It’s weird for me to think of “not emotionally ready” as a reason to avoid going to college. When I think of what you need in order to handle the Peace Corps, living on your own, traveling through foreign countries, or doing the other things that people talk about for gap years, emotional maturity is absolutely key. Living away from your parents in a stressful environment demands maturity. College just plain isn’t as stressful and doesn’t demand as much maturity. While college freshmen are, yes, more worldly than high school seniors, they generally aren’t considered to be paragons of maturity on the grand scale of things.

(No offense.)

However, I do have to admit: if you’re looking to gain that maturity, to grow up a lot in a short time, being on your own is a hell of a way to do it. Doing for others for an entire year, halfway around the world in the Peace Corps, or across the country in City Year, is something that can can really make an impact on your life. Being in the working world and having to pay your own bills, cook your own dinner, and make it to work every morning is a fairly practical way to learn about what adults do.

Experiences that demand something from us have a strange way of creating it within us.

AP Changes Afoot

Some good news (in my mind) for the AP curriculum:

For someone like me, who is not a huge fan of AP courses in general, this is a good change. More focus on research, and exams with optional parts so that teachers can Voltron a class together without worrying about screwing over their students when they skip a topic. Naturally, I’d like to see a bigger and faster change than a few schools having a three-year pilot program.

This also reminds me that I should do a more thorough post about the IB curriculum some day.


In case you haven’t heard about what’s going on out in San Bernadino County…

First this happened:

Then this happened:

And then this happened:

And hopefully we’ll hear more about it soon. I would love to see this sort of thing happen, because it shows an interest and involvement in the education of one’s children.

Sadly I suspect that the truth may never really come out about what happened here. I have a love-hate relationship with any sort of union, and I find it all too easy to believe that someone really did try to browbeat people into rescinding their signatures.

Homeschooling posts

I ran into this link today (thanks to Joanne Jacobs). There’s a great set of links to homeschooling anecdotes, just scroll down past the Harry Potter references.

I’m still hoping to write a big post all about homeschooling some day. I haven’t put in the research time on it yet; hopefully this will give me some extra motivation.

Corporate Education

(As a counterpoint to the Business Education post I had a while ago…)

Hey there, Educational Institutions. It’s us, Major Corporations. A few of us got together for a bull session, and decided we wanted to bring you to the table and talk some business. Short version, we want a change, and we’re willing to put something on the table for it. Let us set the scene.

We’ve hired a lot of your graduates in the past. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. And part of that is just how things go. Bad fits, mismatched expectations, people who really want to do something else at a different company, those things happen. It’s life.

But some of the problems are bigger. We hire these kids – we shouldn’t call them kids, they’re 21 plus – we hire these college graduates, and within a week it’s obvious they’re going to need training. A lot of training. We put them on a project and…

  • They aren’t professional.
  • They have no teamwork. Can’t lead, can’t follow.
  • They lack initiative – they don’t know how to start a project themselves.
  • They can’t communicate. Can’t write, can’t present.

What’s more, everything they do, it’s like they’ve barely seen it before. It’s, “Oh yeah, I did that once… I can’t remember how, though…” We’d rather have someone with half the number of skills and twice the polish, you know? And so we spend more time finding people with those skills, because every couple hours we spend on hiring, throwing out people without those skills, can save us months of expensive on-the-job and off-the-job training. And let’s face it, no business wants to train people any more.

So we’d like a change.

Here’s the deal. On your end, you cut back on the number of different things you’re trying to jam into the day, and teach your kids the things we talked about above instead – communication, initiative, teamwork, professionalism. Give them the skills we’re really looking for. We want people who can write well, think carefully, and work together.

We know as well as you that there are only so many hours in the day, so many days in a year. Less in the school year. We respect that fact. And we know that you’d really like to teach less stuff and hit the important points. We know that you genuinely do care about preparing people for the Real World, and we, as the Real World for so many people, want that too. So let’s do what we both want to do: get some people with better Real World skills and less random facts crammed into their heads.

We know this is a big ask here. It’s going to take a lot of work to redesign so many courses, even if it’s something you want to do already. So here’s the payoff:

In return for your work, we give your students extra consideration in hiring for the next twenty years. We bump them up the list just because they graduated from your school.

And look, if you don’t want to be part of this, you can walk away from the table, no harm, no foul. Not everyone wants to work for us, and we respect folks who want to go into the military, the peace corps, or teaching. But here in Major Corporation land, we’ll be looking for the graduates of the schools who sign up with this. Think about the recruitment possibilities. Think about internships, co-ops, joint research… new facilities? Who knows?

What do you say?

Call us.


More on Gradelessness

I got this link from a friend recently. It’s the expanded version of an article in Educational Leadership entitled “The Case Against Grades”.

As doing away with grades is something I also believe in, I wanted to pass it along.

More on Open-Internet Tests

The other day I posted about wanting to design a course with open-internet tests (like open-book tests). Naturally, I found out that I’m not the first person to come up with this:

The notes down near the bottom about the Danish language exam are particularly interesting – seeing this happen at a country-wide level is very encouraging.

Here’s another one, from someone who has taken this approach and is reevaluating their choice (not necessarily negatively):

There’s some good analysis in that post about how students approach such exams, which I think is more broadly applicable.

Finally (just because I don’t want to give more than three links in a post), here’s one more, from a less technical field:

This is where I think things have a real potential to take off. A good history class should be all about analyzing history rather than regurgitating it; so I am told by every history teacher and major I’ve ever met. Access to the internet should allow students to find quotes and dates to augment their arguments. If they cut-and-paste, it’ll be brutally obvious. The student responses are also worth reading.

If I ever end up in a teaching position again (and I’m applying for some as we speak, at the college level), I’ll be pushing hard to design and implement this type of course. Networked devices are too ubiquitous these days for us not to take advantage of them, and they will never get less widespread than they are now. As much as I hesitate to predict the future, I think this is the start of something big.

Be Careful What You Ask For…

I’ve seen a lot of articles recently on Virginia’s removal of state science tests, and on the House education committee’s upcoming debate about standardized science tests. Links are below.

It almost makes me want to shake people and shout: Do not keep asking for standardized science tests! You might get them! With all the teachers trying to get out from under the thumb of “teaching to the state tests,” with overpacked curricula aimed at overpacked exams given too often, please, please, please, think before you demand yet more testing. People are reacting to the removal of standardized testing as if it were dangerous; it is not. It is freeing.

I realize that people are doing this because they want to make science a priority. Me too. I can see the point that people make about how schools are getting focused around tests to the extent that anything not tested will not be taught. I get where they see that. I do not get giving into it. Demanding that science have its own standardized test locks us into a painful and joyless system. Let’s find another way, one that doesn’t suck the remaining life and spirit out of a beautiful discipline that taught us how to cure disease and sent us to the stars.