The Opposite of Spoiled: The Right Way to Teach Kids About Money

The Opposite of Spoiled:
The Right Way to Teach Kids About Money   

by J.D. Roth

What’s the best way to teach kids about money?

That question has haunted folks for decades — maybe centuries. There are dozens of financial literacy programs in the United States right now, but none of them seems to be effective. Why is that?

I’ve written before about why I think financial literacy education fails. Here’s the short version: Most financial literacy fails because it focuses too much on mechanics — how bonds work, the magic of compound interest — and not enough on behavior. While mechanics are key (they’re the foundation, after all), they’re not the most important aspect of financial success.

Here’s an analogy:

My brothers know how to read and write. They’re smart guys, and they’re both literate. But just because they know how to read and write doesn’t mean they practice those skills. One of my brothers used to proudly declare, “I haven’t read a book since high school.” (Oh, how that hurt my book-loving heart!) Knowing how to read doesn’t make you a reader. And knowing how to save doesn’t make you a saver.

Financial literacy is not the answer. We’ve got to do something more if we want to teach our kids about money.

John Hancock

Recently, I’ve had two great conversations about this topic. The first was with John Hancock, the president of the Portland chapter of Junior Achievement, a non-profit group focused on helping kids learn about money and entrepreneurship. He and I met for coffee last week, and we chatted about his own efforts to improve financial literacy.

Like me, Hancock thinks it’s important to focus less on the “how to” and more on the “why” when it comes to money. He wants to change behavior. His goal isn’t to just educate young people about money, but (as he puts it), “to change habits of the hands and habits of the heart”.

Hancock thinks it’s important to put people into active simulations, such as role-playing. To that end, his group puts on an annual event for kids called Biztown, which lets them experience a simulated city environment. The children take on the roles of various business and professional leaders in an interconnected community, and they learn how to manage their own personal finances. I know several kids who’ve done this program, and they love it. So do their parents. The experience seems to have a positive effect on their attitudes toward money.

The local chapter of Junior Achievement also produces The Money Jar, a weekly podcast about kids and money. (Last autumn, I appeared on an episode of this program to talk about how to build savings.)

I applaud Hancock’s efforts, and hope to work with him in the future to improve financial education in our area.

Ron Lieber

Earlier this week, I had a long phone call with Ron Lieber, who writes the “Your Money” column for the New York Times. He’s currently on sabbatical to write a book called The Opposite of Spoiled, in which he hopes to teach parents how to raise children with financial maturity.

Lieber has some great insights about financial education. “Financial literacy works best when it’s delivered in the moment on an as-needed basis,” he told me.

As an example, he talked about how sixteen- and seventeen-year-old kids make six-figure decisions about education with very little guidance. “The fact that these kids are making major financial decisions in complete ignorance is a crisis,” Lieber said. “We need a financial Americorps to go into high schools and help kids address important questions. Why go to college? Why do different schools cost different amounts? How does financial aid work? What about delaying school for a year or two?”

Lieber agrees that financial literacy efforts have largely been ineffective. He says they should focus on “feelings, behavior, and emotion — all of the things we’ve realized over the past decade that are at the crux of getting money right.” We talked about his book, and about raising children to be financially mature.

“How do children become spoiled?” I asked.

“They’re not born that way,” he said. “We do it to them. Nobody wants to raise a spoiled child, yet it happens all the time.”

One issue is what Lieber calls the “first-generation affluent”. When you were raised poor (or lower middle-class), there’s a real temptation to give your kids the things you never had. You remember what it was like to feel deprived, and you don’t want your children to experience that — even if a little deprivation might be good for them, might build character. (After all, it helped make you who you are, right?) “Kids should, at the very least, have to earn things,” Lieber says.

In writing about spoiled children, Lieber tried to think of what it meant to be the opposite of spoiled. Because the word “spoiled” was originally used to describe food, the opposite is “fresh”, which isn’t a good choice in this case. “When we talk about spoiled children,” Lieber told me, “the opposite qualities are modesty, patience, thrift, generosity, perspective, perseverance, courage, grit, bravery, prudence, and so on.”

“That sounds like the boy scout law,” I said.

Lieber laughed. “Scouting imparts a core set of important values, it’s true.”

“The thing is,” he continued, “you can use money as a central tool to teach kids about every single one of these. Instead of shying away from the topic, what if we put money at the center of family conversations? What if we assumed not that money subverts values but contributes to them? Because it does. This is the path to financial literacy and financial education.”

The Bottom Line

As always happens with these discussion about financial literacy, I don’t have any answers — only complaints. Over the past few months, I’ve chatted with Flexo from Consumerism Commentary. He wants to start a financial literacy non-profit, and I want to help him make that a reality. But neither one of us really knows what that organization will look like and how it will accomplish its objectives.

I’m not sure we need to have the answers right now, though. Maybe it’s enough to simply be asking the questions. I think that’s the first step in finding a way to children become masters of their financial futures.


Advanced Placement classes failing students

Advanced Placement classes failing students

By Stephanie Simon

Taxpayers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to nudge more students into Advanced Placement classes — but a close look at test scores suggests much of the investment has been wasted.

Expanding participation in AP classes has been a bipartisan goal, promoted by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and by Republican governors including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and John Kasich of Ohio. In the last five years, the federal government has spent $275 million to promote the classes and subsidize exam fees for low-income students; states have spent many millions more.

Enrollment in AP classes has soared. But data analyzed by POLITICO shows that the number of kids who bomb the AP exams is growing even more rapidly. The class of 2012, for instance, failed nearly 1.3 million AP exams during their high school careers. That’s a lot of time and money down the drain; research shows that students don’t reap any measurable benefit from AP classes unless they do well enough to pass the $89 end-of-course exam.

In its annual reports, the nonprofit College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement program, emphasizes the positive: The percentage of students who pass at least one AP exam during high school has been rising steadily. Because so many students now take more than one AP class, however, the overall pass rate dropped from 61 percent for the class of 2002 to 57 percent for the class of 2012.

Even more striking: The share of exams that earned the lowest possible score jumped from 14 percent to 22 percent, according to College Board data.

The trend challenges a widespread philosophy that students exposed to higher standards will find a way to meet them. Graded in part by college professors, AP exams provide a fairly objective measure of performance — and the results suggest that when the bar is raised too high, a good number of students trip.

“Well-meaning policy makers encourage Advanced Placement in order to set high expectations,” said Kristin Klopfenstein, an education professor who has studied AP trends and now runs the Education Innovation Institute at the University of Northern Colorado. “But their eagerness for expansion has gotten ahead of the support systems in place for these kids.”

At least a dozen states now give schools incentives to offer AP classes and fill them up with students. One popular tactic: Awarding bonus points for high AP participation in the formulas that determine a school’s state rating. Some states give schools extra funds for textbooks or teacher training if they offer AP. Additional incentives come from popular media rankings of “best high schools,” which often give heavy weight to the percentage of students enrolled in AP classes.

State and federal policy-makers have put special emphasis on enrolling more minority and low-income students, spending heavily to subsidize the exam fees for students who meet income guidelines. But many of those students lack the academic background they need to excel in a college-level course, Klopfenstein said. African-American students in the class of 2012 passed just 27 percent of the AP exams they took; Hispanic students passed 41 percent.

Advanced Placement classes, available in 34 subjects from art history to calculus, are supposed to be taught at a college level. The exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. The College Board considers 3 a passing grade, though fully a third of the universities that grant college credit for AP require a score of 4 or 5. Dartmouth College, questioning the program’s rigor, has announced it will soon stop accepting any AP scores for credit.

Advocates often argue that students benefit from being exposed to the high expectations of an AP class, even if they don’t pass the test.

Yet there’s no proof that’s true.

In fact, taking an AP class does not lead to better grades in college, higher college graduation rates, or any other tangible benefit — unless the student does well enough to pass the AP test, said Trevor Packer, a senior vice president at the College Board.

In the past, the College Board has pointed to studies that found a correlation between taking an AP class, whatever the outcome, and succeeding in college. Yet that research was flawed because it didn’t control for other predictors of college success, such as family income or high-school grades, Packer said. More rigorous studies find benefits only for students who earn at least a 3 on the AP test.

That means, Packer said, that hundreds of thousands of students enrolled in AP may be better served by lower-level classes that focus on building foundational skills. “We have no interest in collecting exam fees ,” he said, “if the kids are not going to benefit.”

Those exam fees, however, continue to roll in. The nonprofit College Board, which also runs the SAT, reported net assets of $609 million at the end of fiscal year 2012, up from $491 million two years earlier.

For decades, the AP division had been a drain on the organization, losing money because the tests are so pricey to grade. But surging volume has changed that; revenues from AP tests now exceed expenses by $20 million to $30 million a year, Packer said. The College Board spends the excess on teacher training, scholarships and test redesigns, he said.

The College Board recommends that schools screen students for AP aptitude by their scores on standardized tests such as the PSAT (which is also administered by the Board).

At some schools, however, it’s become an article of faith that every student can succeed in AP if they’re pushed.

Tom Torkelson, the co-founder and CEO of the IDEA network of charter schools in Texas, says it’s insulting to question whether his students — who are mostly low-income and often speak Spanish at home — can handle AP. Elite private schools expect their students to succeed at that level, he said, and so does he. “We’re trying to create that same culture and expectation in our schools,” he said.

So nearly every IDEA student takes multiple AP classes during both their junior and senior years. That policy has boosted IDEA’s stature as a top-achieving charter network: It recently won $40 million in federal grant money and three of its high schools earned gold medals on U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High Schools” list this spring.

But some teachers at IDEA say they quickly realize they must water down classes that are nominally Advanced Placement to meet students’ needs.

Odell Brown, who taught juniors AP English last school year at IDEA Frontier High School in Brownsville, Tex., said he had to “scaffold” each assignment: He would write a model essay and urge his weaker students to copy it, sentence by sentence, swapping out his phrases for their own wherever possible. In another AP English class, for seniors, the end-of-year vocabulary review featured words more often seen on sixth-grade lists, such as “optimistic,” “irate” and “benevolent.”

Adrian Hernandez, who taught AP U.S. History, said he feared the AP label lulled students to think they were ready for college work, when in truth, so many were so far from that level that his lessons rarely even began to approach true AP rigor. “I worry about what kind of shock they’ll experience their freshman year,” he said.

IDEA students tend to do very well on AP Spanish language and literature exams, but poorly in other subjects, school data show.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is among the most strongest voices pushing states to expand AP access; his Foundation for Excellence in Education writes model bills and provides testimony to support them. (The foundation’s longtime executive director, Patricia Levesque, was also a registered lobbyist for the College Board until earlier this year.) Lately, Bush has been pushing hard to expand online AP classes, provided by an array of public schools and private, for-profit companies.

Bush can point to his state as an AP success story. Nearly 28 percent of students from low-income families in Florida’s class of 2012 passed at least one AP exam, up from 7 percent in 2003, according to the College Board.

But other states have struggled.

College Board data show that while low-income students in Louisiana have been taking more and more AP classes, they rarely pass the exams, and that hasn’t improved much in recent years. The statewide pass rate, for students of all incomes, plunged this year, from 41 percent to 33 percent.

Louisiana Superintendent John White, however, isn’t discouraged. The state has paid to train 1,200 AP teachers in the past two years, which he predicted will raise the quality of instruction. Plus, while the pass rate dropped, AP participation increased so much that Louisiana students earned 1,000 more college credits this year compared to last year. “That is huge for those kids,” White said.

He and others point out, as well, that too many poor students don’t have access to challenging classes. New federal data out this month show that just 38 percent of high-poverty high schools in the U.S. offer AP classes, compared with 71 percent of low-poverty schools.

“We have tended to err on the side of less access to AP classes in the past,” White said. “There’s a value to erring on the side of access for more.”

How Technology Can Stop Cheating

How Technology Can Stop Cheating

by Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell West

The integrity of student assessments has taken major hits in the past year. Former Atlanta School District Superintendent Beverly Hall faces a bevy of criminal charges along with other educators related to falsifying test scores. In Washington, D.C., former Chancellor Michelle Rhee has faced accusations of cheating in her district. A memo sent to district officials described unusually high erasure rates, which often indicates cheating. In Philadelphia, two administrators reportedly admitted to investigators they corrected wrong answers. A USA Today investigation of test scores across the country found 1,610 schools where year-to-year changes in test scores were more than three standard deviations larger than the average statewide gain.

The causes and antidotes for cheating are a subject of intense debate. Some believe there is a direct relationship between the rise of standardized testing and cheating. Accountability policies have pressured educators to raise test scores. The pressure creates incentives for teachers to cheat, according to critics of high-stakes testing.

Accountability advocates, however, argue that tests provide invaluable information. Many recognize greater reliance on quantitative metrics will subject the measure to corruption and distort the processes it is intended to measure. They believe better security for test materials and test proctors will expose cheaters. They also contend that tests which better reflect what students do or do not learn will lessen instances of cheating.

This debate misses the point as standardized testing is a double-edged sword. Testing provides a wealth of data on student performance. However, there is mounting evidence that accountability pressures have incentivized cheating and reliance on standardized tests has lessened their efficacy.

Innovative testing technologies like Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT) represent a way to improve the accuracy of assessment and address cheating concerns. A core advantage of CAT is its potential to refocus learning on instruction. The adaptive nature of CAT can help minimize Campbell’s corruptive pressures and reduce teaching to the test. CAT uses an algorithm to choose test items based on the students strengths and weaknesses. Every student takes a different test when using CAT. This covers a larger domain of knowledge and decreases the number of items tests have in common. Currently educators can look at past fixed form tests to predict which questions are likely to reappear. Teachers may then narrow their teaching to those subjects. Adaptive testing disrupts teaching to the test because tests have fewer items in common.

CAT makes cheating more difficult without costly security measures. Students take the test online making it impossible for teachers to erase incorrect answers. CAT also eliminates inappropriately administered testing accommodations. CAT can provide testing accommodations like text to speech, speech to text, and text magnification. Currently educators provide these services, which creates an avenue for cheating. CAT can also limit cheating from students sharing items. CAT tests have fewer items in common the fixed form tests making it difficult to share questions. The main virtue of CAT is the removal of cheating opportunities without costly security measures or unnecessary surveillance of teachers.

CAT has numerous advantages over paper based tests. CAT tests scores have greater reliability for very weak students and very strong students. Built in testing accommodations increase scoring accuracy for students with disabilities. CAT also costs less to administer and takes less time for students to complete. Adoption of CAT is critical to improving the quality of assessments

The success of CAT will depend on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Two different consortia the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) are in the process of developing the CCSS assessments. PARCC has committed to using fixed form computer based tests while SBAC will use CAT. SBAC has 25 member states and represents about 4 out of 10 American students. Alabama, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia do not belong to a consortium. Several consortium members have considered not adopting the new assessments. PARC has left the option open to add an adaptive supplement to their test.

Too often, debates in education policy devolve to the point where advocates argue past each other. Experts will debate the merits of accountability policies for years to come. Assessment policy involves a series of tradeoffs including the relationship between teacher evaluations and cheating. The debate, though, should not derail improvements to existing systems. CAT is secure, cheap, and accurate, and every student and teacher deserves those benefits.

Joshua Bleiberg is the center coordinator for the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. Darrell West is vice president of Governance Studies and the founding director for the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. West is also the author of Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education.

Right Brain, Left Brain? Scientists Debunk Popular Theory

Right Brain, Left Brain? Scientists Debunk Popular Theory

Maybe you’re “right-brained”: creative, artistic, an open-minded thinker who perceives things in subjective terms. Or perhaps you’re more of a “left-brained” person, where you’re analytical, good at tasks that require attention to detail, and more logically minded.

It turns out, though, that this idea of “brained-ness” might be more of a figure of speech than anything, as researchers have found that these personality traits may not have anything to do with which side of the brain you use more.

Researchers from the University of Utah found with brain imaging that people don’t use the right sides of their brains any more than the left sides of their brains, or vice versa.

“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection,” study researcher Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement.

Anderson and his colleagues, who published their new study in the journal PLOS ONE, looked at brain scans from 1,011 people between ages 7 and 29. All the study participants were part of the International Neuroimaging Data-Sharing Initiative, and they had their brain scans taken with an MRI while their brains were in a resting state for five to 10 minutes.

Researchers looked for something called “lateralization,” which is the idea that certain mental processes occur mainly in either the right or left hemisphere of the brain. They divvied up the brain into 7,000 regions, to see if any brain connections between regions were left-lateralized or right-lateralized.

“Everyone should understand the personality types associated with the terminology ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ and how they relate to him or her personally; however, we just don’t see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people,” study researcher Jared Nielsen, a graduate student in neuroscience at the university, said in the statement. “It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected.”

Why are smart kids more likely to do drugs?

Why are smart kids more likely to do drugs?

By Monica Nickelsburg

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one
of the most important things in my life.” — Steve Jobs

Studies show a correlation between high childhood IQs and getting high

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a relationship exists between intelligence and drug use. Some of the greatest thinkers, artists, and musicians openly used illegal substances. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both admitted to taking LSD in their youth, and Sigmund Freud and Thomas Edison were avid cocaine users.

Now there is mounting scientific evidence of a correlation between genius and getting high as well.

Using data from the 1958 National Child Development Study, researchers published a report last year (PDF) that found children with higher IQs were more likely to use illegal drugs later in life. The study surveyed 17,416 people, expanding on 2011 findings that also indicated that smarter children were significantly more likely than those with lower IQs to use drugs as teens or young adults.

So why do smart kids end up using drugs? James White, the 2011 study’s lead author, believes it has to do with educated decision-making. Research shows that children with higher IQs are more likely to eat well and lead active lifestyles, and less likely to smoke cigarettes — all based on an educated perspective on health. Since people of higher intelligence tend to base their decisions on evidence, White suggests they are inclined to experiment from time to time with drugs because there is limited data on the damaging effects of occasional drug use.

With smoking, the evidence [about its dangers] is overwhelming, whereas when you look at things like cannabis use, since they are more likely to associate with people who are similar to them, they are likely to see that smoking cannabis relatively infrequently doesn’t have huge impact.

The likely mechanism is openness to experience and, I think, it’s also this idea of having an educated view of risk as well. [TIME]

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa posits a different explanation, arguing that it’s the evolutionary impulse toward novelty that leads to drug use. He bases his theory on The Savanna Principle, the psychological theory that it is difficult for the human brain to comprehend and deal with situations that didn’t exist in the ancestral environment. Kanazawa argues that intelligent people thrive in new environments and are more capable of dealing with new situations, which would explain their impulse to interact with new things — in this case, controlled substances. Kanazawa argues the same principle can be used to explain why intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be heavy drinkers.

“The Hypothesis would therefore predict that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to prefer drinking modern alcoholic beverages…than less intelligent individuals, because the substance and the method of consumption are both evolutionarily novel.” [Psychology Today]

A third hypothesis suggests that gifted children simply fit the profile of drug users. Highly intelligent kids tend to suffer more from social isolation and boredom, which can lead them to seek out new experiences and tools to cope with being different.

Turn off cellphones in schools, says Canada’s largest teachers union

   Turn off cellphones in schools, says
      Canada’s largest teachers union

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario passes a non-binding motion to ban cellphones from classrooms out of potential workplace safety concerns.

by Patty Winsa

Cellphones were out, then they were back in, and now they could be out again.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario passed a resolution Friday that cellphones in classrooms should be turned off unless a student gets special permission from a teacher to use one.

Boards like the Toronto public board allowed the phones back into the classroom in 2011 after a total ban four years earlier.

The union, the largest in Canada, representing 76,000 elementary teachers, also passed a second motion, which would require Wi-Fi transmitters in schools to be out in the open and clearly marked as part of a hazard control program that would outline how to reduce exposure to radio waves.

The organization passed the motions in an effort to have radiation from cellphones and Wi-Fi, which both transmit radio waves, recognized as a potential workplace safety issue.

“There is cause for concern for members’ health and safety, especially women,” said Peel public teacher Sandra Wash, who spoke at the meeting, according to a news release.

The motions are non-binding. It’s up to the school boards to set policy for wireless devices.

“It’s the board’s jurisdiction to decide how we deal with cellphones, and certainly we’re seeing increasing enthusiasm from teachers for students to bring their own devices to school for learning purposes,” says Brian Woodland, a spokesman for the Peel public board. By September, all schools in Peel Region will be outfitted with Wi-Fi.

Health Canada has said there is “no convincing scientific evidence that exposure to low-level radiofrequency (RF) energy from Wi-Fi causes adverse health effects in humans,” according to its website. Radio frequency energy levels must meet Health Canada’s exposure guidelines.

Woodland says the Peel board does random testing to ensure the levels in the region’s public schools are within those guidelines.

More Than 25% Of Journalism Grads Wish They’d Chosen Another Career

More Than 25% Of Journalism Grads
Wish They’d Chosen Another Career

A new study has found 28 percent of journalism graduates wish they had chosen another field.

An annual survey of graduates by the University of Georgia’s Grady College said “it seems likely that some graduates would be unhappy with their career choice regardless of which one they had selected”.

One in 20 of the journalism and mass communication graduates indicated that he or she had selected the field without ever intending to go into it.

For 2012 bachelor’s degree recipients, the median salary increased to $32,000.  People who earned master’s degrees had a median salary of $40,000, which was the same as the previous year.

In terms of salaries by region, the midwest had the lowest yearly earning for bachelor’s degree earners with $30,160.  The northeast boasted the highest median salary last year in the same category with $35,000.

Also, survey participants were asked if the journalism education they received was relevant to the needs of the workplace.  Most journalism grads felt their instructors and facilities were up to date.

In 2012, the number of journalism graduates who landed a full-time job roughly six to eight months after graduation increased to 66 percent from 62 percent in 2011.

1912 Eighth-Grade Exam Stumps 21st-Century Test-Takers

1912 Eighth-Grade Exam Stumps 21st-Century Test-Takers

by Cavan Sieczkowski

Are you smarter than an eighth grader? How about an eighth grader who graduated in 1912? A copy of an eighth-grade exam from that year shows test-taking wasn’t so easy for those early-20th-century students.

Bullitt County History Museum, located in Shepherdsville, Ky., received a copy of a 1912 eighth-grade exam drafted for Bullitt County Schools as a donation. The version was a likely master copy given to schools and then amended by teachers, the museum notes.

One hundred years ago, schools in the rural county were scattered far and wide, according to the museum’s website. Students got together once or twice a year to take the “Common Exam.” This test was a big deal, and students were told to prepare properly. Scholarships were provided to some who passed the exam and went on to high school. (It was rare for farm children to be able to continue their education otherwise.)

David Strange, an executive director at the museum, told The Huffington Post the exam was actually given to the museum last year. (We actually wrote about the test in January in celebration of public education’s 100-year anniversary.) However, the 101-year-old test started gaining popularity again when it was picked up by ABC News this weekend and went viral.

“It is funny for us,” Strange told HuffPost. “We are just a rural county. Our website is used to getting a couple hundred hits but we [recently] got 200,000 [hits]. We’ve had it on the web for about a year or so.”

A renewed interest in the quiz might be the difficult challenge of acing it. Some are likely to get stumped on questions that ask students to define the parts of speech; name and give boundaries of the five zones; compare arteries and veins as to function; and name the inventor of the sewing machine.

“It’s quite a challenging test,” Strange said. “I do try to remind everyone it’s a 1912 test and you need to place yourself in that mindset sometimes. I remember having a similar question [as is on the test] when I was in school. I wouldn’t want to take it again.”

He knows multiple people who have tried to take the exam for fun but doesn’t know their final scores.

“Most everybody says they wouldn’t have passed it,” he said.

Click here for a list of answers.


Chicago Requests More Charter Schools After Massive Wave Of Public School Closings

Chicago Requests More Charter Schools
After Massive Wave Of Public School Closings

By Rebecca Klein

Chicago recently shut down 50 of its schools in the largest single wave of public school closures in history. So why is the city now trying to open more charter schools?

Chicago Public Schools on Monday quietly posted a 52-page document asking charter schools to apply to operate in the city starting in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. The document says the district wants charters to open in 11 neighborhoods that have overcrowded schools, although it does not indicate how many charter schools the district would need.

The Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 of the city’s public schools in May after charging that some city schools were being “underutilized” and should consolidate to save resources. In the wake of these closings, critics panned the idea of opening new charter schools.

District spokesperson Keiana Barrett told the Chicago Sun-Times that underutilization is an entirely separate issue from overcrowding.

Public school advocates have long charged that the closing of public schools — and the call for more charter schools — is part of elaborate scheme to privatize education. While charter schools are funded by public money, they are operated by private organizations and are usually not unionized.

“We are not surprised at all by this,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to Chicago public radio outlet WBEZ. “We were called conspiracy theorists, and then here is the absolute proof of what the intentions are. … The district has clearly made a decision that they want to push privatization of our public schools.”

Wendy Katten, an activist who is against school closures, told the Sun-Times that some of the so-called “priority neighborhoods” highlighted by the district as potential charter locations already have schools that the district previously debated closing, although they ultimately remained open.

Some of these priority areas had schools originally on the closing list,” said Katten. She cited the Chicago area of Pilsen as an example and went on to say, “I agree with consulting stakeholders and taxpayers on what kind of schools they want in their community, something this administration has no interest in doing.”

District spokesperson Becky Carroll told WBEZ that “while there were significant population declines in some parts of the city, there were also increases in other parts of the city. … There are many schools that are overcrowded or are facing overcrowding and we need to address that issue as we do any other.”

Public school closings in Chicago have faced opposition on several fronts. In July the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights sent a letter to the United Nations, urging the organization to watch for human rights abuses related to the closings.

A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills: The Case for ‘Argument’ in Education

A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills:
The Case for ‘Argument’ in Education

by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

Researchers have shown that most students today are weak in critical thinking skills. They do poorly on simple logical reasoning tests (Evans, 2002). Only a fraction of graduating high school seniors (6 percent of 12th graders) can make informed, critical judgments about written text (Perie, Grigg, and Donahue, 2005). This problem applies to both reading and writing. Only 15 percent of 12th graders demonstrate the proficiency to write well-organized essays that consisted of clear arguments (Perie et al., 2005).

Critical thinking and argument skills — the abilities to both generate and critique arguments — are crucial elements in decision-making (Byrnes, 1998; Klaczynski, 2004; Halpern 1998). When applied to academic settings, argumentation may promote the long-term understanding and retention of course content (Adriessen, 2006; Nussbaum, 2008a). According to the ancient Greeks, dialogue is the most advanced form of thought (Vygotsky, 1978). Critical thinking and dialogue are often made manifest in the form of argument. Dialectical arguments require an appeal to beliefs and values to make crucial decisions, what Aristotle referred to as endoxa (Walton, Reed, & Macagno, 2008). In all careers, academic classes, and relationships, argument skills can be used to enhance learning when we treat reasoning as a process of argumentation (Kuhn, 1992, 1993), as fundamentally dialogical (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986; Wertsch, 1991), and as metacognitive (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Significant differences in approach have emerged as to how best cultivate the skills necessary to form, present and defend an argument. Differences have emerged as to whether the best practices include the use of computers, writing exercises, metacognitive activities, debates, modeling, or frontal instruction. To many “argument” sounds combative and negative but the use of argument can be constructive and generative.

Epistemological understanding becomes most evident when an individual is confronted with uncertain or controversial knowledge claims (Chandler et al., 1990; King and Kitchener, 1994; Kuhn et al., 2000; Leadbeater and Kuhn, 1989). It is imperative that high school students, of diverse personal, moral and intellectual commitments, become prepared to confront multiple perspectives on unclear and controversial issues when they move on to college and their careers. This is not only important for assuring students are equipped to compete in the marketplace of ideas but also to maximize their own cognitive development more broadly. Longitudinal studies focused on high school students (Schommer et al., 1997) show a positive correlation between educational level and epistemological level. Cross-sectional studies demonstrate that educational experiences influence epistemological development and that it is the quality of education and not age or gender that contributes to different developmental levels of epistemological understanding (Chandler et al., 1990; Leadbeater and Kuhn, 1989). Education is therefore key.

Argument is a more complex and challenging cognitive skill for students than other genres of reading and writing, such as exposition or narration. It is also more challenging for most teachers who may not have the knowledge or experience of working with argumentive reading and writing (Hillocks, 1999, 2010). In addition, most teachers try to avoid conflict when it comes to learning (Powell, Farrar, and Cohen, 1985).

Many teachers have observed that students sitting in classrooms today are bored by the frontal authoritarian model of learning. For years, as a student, I was told to take out my notebook and copy what was written on the board. A curriculum in which they are active participants and engaged in democratic, and cognitively challenging for students works better. In the frontal model, teachers provide the questions and answers. In the argument model, the students provide the questions and the answers while the teachers provide the structure, the facilitation, and the guidance. Students gain the necessary skills to be critical thinkers in a complex society with many different agendas, facts, and perspectives.

Some argue that too much autonomy is given to students in a student-centered environment. But the risk is much greater with frontal lecture education: that our students master content but do not gain the cognitive, moral, and epistemic development necessary to become autonomous critical thinkers. The choice of reading matter for students is also an important factor. Students are unlikely to develop critical thinking skills naturally when their class reading assignments consist only of narrative and explanatory texts, as opposed to argumentative texts (Calfee & Chambliss, 1987).

The goal of an argument curriculum is to enhance the development of the responsible citizens and the pedagogical methodology consists of cultivating argument skills, epistemic development, and moral development. School-based nurturance of this development will lead to students’ autonomous critical thinking and their formation as responsible citizens. We must invest in the education of our youth. They are our future!