Thursday, October 25, 2018

Update, Part 2

Yesterday's post garnered some interest from friends and former colleagues, so I'll write a bit more. In the past 24 hours, my beloved wife and I have received some photos from our daughter who is now vacationing in Curacao, off the coast of South America (the only continent, other than Antarctica, that I've never been to). Joyce works hard, and I'm glad she's getting the chance for a break.

In addition, yesterday afternoon I was leaving for the dry cleaners when I noticed a package left by our back gate: my son Matthew has bought me a new laptop to replace the one we have been unable to fix. This might sound innocuous, but at a time when too many 26-year-olds are still living with their parents who continue to support them, to have the support flowing in the other direction in our family (at least until I can increase the income coming from my new business) is a welcome, if uncomfortable and a bit guilt-inducing, relief.

Third, Facebook today prompted me to befriend Linghao Kong, a former student of mine who has now started at Columbia. This brings me back to the subject of my tutoring Ryan's classmates for the last few years. To the best of my knowledge, they have done uniformly well. Lucy was kind enough to pay for our dinner when we visited her dorm at Berkeley last month; she has started well there. Janice, now at UCLA, studied with me a bit longer than either of the two above, so I count her scores with those of Seong Su Park (UC Irvine -- and all of these students were accepted into their preferred majors, and are starting with sophomore status) and Ryan among my first graduating class, whose average ACT score, 34, was higher than that of the highest scoring institution in the United States, Hunter College High School, whose average is 32.6. I write this in spite of the fact that I don't give much attention to either the ACT or the SAT, instead focusing my instruction on the Advanced Placement level that actually qualifies students for the free college for all that Senator Sanders is promoting based on the Scandinavian model, without seeming to understand the much higher standards that students in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and similar northern European nations must meet in order to qualify for public funding of higher education through the master's degree level. I want to bring that system to the United States, and am still trying to find leaders willing to listen in case they actually want to learn how such results are being achieved with American students.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Readers may be interested to know of some updates in my life and that of my family, so here goes, after three years:

My son Ryan having "graduated" (I don't like using that term for completing secondary schooling, but that's the usage in the United States, so let's move on) from Woodbridge High School in June and having successfully started, on his 18th birthday, as a sophomore at UC Riverside (a disappointing outcome for us, but nonetheless he seems happy),  I have given up any immediate plans to start a school; but given the success my former students are having, with many more currently on the way to similar outcomes, I decided that any new business I start should build on current successes. Therefore my new plan is to begin One World Education Centre here in Irvine, with the possibility of its growing into One World College and One World School later, if we continue to attract more like the many promising gymnasiasts who have recently requested my teaching.

My daughter Joyce graduated from Drexel Medical School in 2017, and is a doctor in residency in Newark, Deleware.

My son Matthew has graduated from UC San Diego with a double major in Computer Science and Psychology, and is a software developer with Intuit (and already making more money than I ever have!).

Ryan, 18, is a sophomore in Mechanical Engineering at UC Riverside. I was very proud of him when he passed his Cambridge Admissions test in San Luis Obispo, and was invited to interview at Robinson College in Cambridge, England last December; but because Irvine, California could not come up with the advanced calculus-based physics tutoring he needed in either its much-ballyhooed unified school district or its community college or its university, in spite of his having achieved a 5 in Calculus BC during the 11th grade, Cambridge's in-person written exam proved too tough for him; and combined with my poor income from the past several years, rendered his application for its admission unsuccessful, and therefore he is now at what we only intended to be his safety school, from which he may wish to transfer to Berkeley engineering in a couple of years.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The School Choice Families Should be Making

The internet is a marvellous invention for educators, since it empowers readers linked to it to compare practices and structures established around the world with those available in their local communities. In the case of American educators and families, the results can be humbling. Those who read comparative education, as I have done, arguably obsessively, quickly come to realize what poor value the American people have been receiving from the traditional system established in this country, in particular from its almost indefensible high schools.

I just read a story in today's Sacramento Bee about parents in the western area of that city wanting alternatives to their established local district alternatives. Such a desire is justified. Even in Irvine, better reputed in education than most communities in California, I have found our local high schools wanting. The alternative I advocate is a lyceum, a generally European model of upper secondary school that should be adapted to fit our American context. My current vision for an international lyceum model (which has been long evolving) to be introduced to the United States would have private secondary school pupils accelerate, after six years of state-governed primary education, in middle schools (which should be chartered, as true alternatives to the state middle schools that are already similarly obsessed with all those children who have fallen behind) managed like those in east Asia so as to prepare for private lyceum admission exams: such practices give teens real incentives to study, unlike the customs in the United States, which are to give children so many chances that the opportunities on offer are generally spurned by young people grown overly comfortable in their inherited prosperity. Those succeeding on such admission exams (likely the top half or so of scorers, which is the proportion accepted in the high achieving Finnish system, which includes such lyceum admission conditions) will have a plausible likelihood of preparing, in the three years of the lyceum's upper secondary education, to matriculate into university colleges with three-year bachelor's degree programmes, thus netting families investing in a top lyceum's education approximately $130,000, which accounts for both the approximately $50,000 price a fourth year of top university college education would have cost the families of such "seniors" and the approximately $80,000 such graduates can expect to make in that 22nd year of their lives. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Next Steps for a New Education Policy

The most important news in the education world today is not the U.S. team winning the International Mathematics Olympiad, in spite of its headline status in Real Clear Education, a continually useful website where, along with Alexander Russo's likewise invaluable (to me) This Week in Education, I start my weekdays by reading the morning news; it's the continued progress of the opt-out movement, which started in the managerial east of this country, in New York and New Jersey, with largely middle class European-American (I hate the word "white" because of its racist history -- more on that, perhaps, another time) mothers objecting to what their local schools had become under the influence of education reformers like Secretary Duncan and then-New York state schools commissioner John King, but which has now spread across the country to blue states like Washington and Oregon, along with purple states in between like Colorado and New Mexico.

Politico has a new article out today, which I accessed through Real Clear Education, that aptly summarizes the state of education policy play in the United States; for in spite of isolated glimmers of hope such as our young mathematicians' triumph, the trend lines in U.S. education have been discouraging for about eight years now, approximately dateable from the time (see Class Warfare 178 -- "Money Meets Data") when Bill Gates finished reading Tom Kane's Hamilton Project policy paper and decided that rotating out bad teachers -- Jack Welch's personnel policy on steroids, applied to the entire U.S. teaching corps -- was what was needed to accelerate educational reform in the United States. That approach is now in flames, headed for a crash landing, as a conference committee begins attempting to reconcile two competing bills, the Student Success Act and the Every Child Achieves Act, passed by the House and the Senate respectively this month, in sincere though misguided attempts to "fix" No Child Left Behind", that law that has failed to prevent millions of American children from falling behind their peers, and that has led the United States as a whole to fall further behind the world's educational leaders during the seven years the Obama administration has been in office. So the time for a new education policy for the United States, and in particular for Democrats, has clearly arrived.

The opt-out movement presents Democrats with a choice: either stick with the failed social policy of George W. Bush, which depended upon nationalizing the fake "Texas miracle" as a cheap means of equalizing opportunity in America by reforming public schools only; or see the expiring future of the path erroneously (although the error wasn't obvious at the time) chosen by President-Elect Obama in late 2008 to back what is now status quo education reform and choose another path, one that presents freedom of educational choice to all families, not just rich ones -- the path of education reform that was gaining momentum, before Bill Gates read Tom Kane's paper.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Common Core Mathematics Will Damage the Competitive Position of the United States

I was an early supporter of the Common Core, and signed a public statement of support for the standards on behalf of One World Secondary School some time in 2010, if I recall correctly. The basic concept is right: we live in an increasingly mobile society, and my international experience (I taught overseas for seven years, and have visited 23 countries) has made me keenly aware of the differences in educational attainment between Americans and other people. This has motivated my long struggle to start an international secondary school for my son and for as many students who want to be educated like him as I can find.

A consequence of this long (and still ongoing) attempt to start an international school for everyone has been extensive study of the world's educational systems, including their mathematical standards. Really top level standards can be easily accessed through the website of APEC, the awkwardly named Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, and its human resource development group wiki.

I am sorry to say that I have withdrawn support for the Common Core, largely because of the lack of international competitiveness of its mathematical standards. Common Core mathematics will leave American students roughly three years behind their Chinese, and two years behind the other leading Asian mathematics students, who are increasingly arriving on American shores to take the SAT, a test whose mathematics are laughably easy (they really laugh at them; I have tutored many such students over the years) compared with what they have studied during their secondary school careers. And the problem is getting worse, as an article I've just read today from the Pioneer Institute makes clear; and it will likely lead to the dumbing down of the SAT, a test already terribly inferior to the university entrance examinations most of the rest of the developed world's students study for, with malignant consequences for the future of the U.S. voting public and its engineers, in particular.

A parent I work with who is concerned about her son's future prompted me to write something on this topic. I wish I had something more encouraging to say to her. My only message to her, and to other parents like her who are worried about their children's future, is to find a way, if at all possible, to withdraw your children from their state schools, enter private education to the extent you can afford to (but check out their mathematics curriculum, which may be no better), and press for vouchers to help you afford this better alternative (like One World Secondary College!), at least until the Common Core mathematics standards are withdrawn for revision; and don't listen to any reactionary siren songs favouring a return to some imaginary good old days: those have never existed, in American secondary education, and our children need to be prepared for a competitive future, not for some fantasyland of the past, nor for an unreachable No Child Left Behind national state that at present is cut off from the realities of the other 95 percent of the people who inhabit our planet.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In Today's World, Geography is More Important than History

This is the follow-up post I promised to write in my last, a review of Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error.

I like history. I read history books (occasionally) in my free time, and I include the subject in my (mostly English) teaching. But in The New History of the World, which I rely upon as one source for a general overview, author J. M. Roberts argues that the pace of change has increased since the Neolithic era and that that increase continues, and this is something we can feel almost daily, rendering the lessons of history steadily more remote.

Last year two important new education books appeared at almost the same time, Amanda Ripley's the smartest kids in the world and Professor Ravitch's Reign of Error. I wanted to read both, have now completed both, am glad I read both, since they both make valuable points -- but at the time I was unsure of which to read first. I ultimately chose to read Ms. Ripley's book first, largely because my career in international and domestic education has led me to conclude that, in today's world, geography is more important than history -- that is, knowing more about the way the world is today is more important than knowing how one's country was yesterday; and a corollary of this is that being able to see where today's American education stands in relation to that overseas is more important than understanding how it compares today with what it was in the past. Finishing both books has confirmed me in that opinion. Professor Ravitch does not ignore international educational data, but the value of Ms. Ripley's work continues to shine, for example in a new Slate article published today.

I agree with Professor Ravitch's opinion that American K-12 education has gotten worse in recent decades, especially because of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind. I also agree with those who believe the Common Core standards are better than those state standards that were taught to in the previous decade. But unless American educators know that, for all the ballyhoo accompanying the Common Core, once implemented their students will still be 2-3 years behind their peers in east Asia in mathematics, or understand that pursuing the strategy of Wendy Kopp's followers to prepare all children for college in spite of the enormous financial and opportunity costs involved, which Marc Tucker's commendable blog post in Education Week yesterday, which highlights vocational education in Switzerland, which like Singapore, which has a still better education system, only prepares 20-30% of any cohort for tertiary education but ends up with a better educated, more employable population -- until Americans get out of their limited domestic box and are aware of these real options that are being successfully implemented overseas now, our nation will continue to blunder down fruitless reform paths while other countries leave our young in the dust, an outcome surely no one in America's education debates wants.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Diane Ravitch's Most Important Point in "Reign of Error"

This post should be read as a companion to one I wrote in review of Amanda Ripley's the smartest kids in the world: both books appeared at almost the same time last year, and I was torn as to which to read first. I believe I read them in the right order, a point I will return to in my next post.

I believe Professor Ravitch's most important point in Reign of Error, which I think a better book than its predecessor, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, since this offers positive solutions rather than merely the insightful criticisms of her previous book, is found on page 310, where she discusses out-of-state contributions to school board races across the country:

"It is a troubling pattern that raises questions about who is bundling the money and why it is sent to certain races. It is not illegal to give campaign contributions to races in other districts and states, but local and state school board races should be determined by those who live in those districts and states, not by the organized power of big donors.
     "The issue for the future is whether a small number of very wealthy entrepreneurs, corporations, and individuals will be able to purchase education policy in this nation".

This is precisely on point. A fascinating expose last weekend in The Washington Post revealed how Bill Gates apparently purchased education policy in the form of support for a common core of standards throughout the majority of the states in this country in just two years, in at least one case before they had even been written. Not that this was some evil plot to get rich, an absurd charge, or was otherwise ill-intended; but the extra political access available to the world's richest man, a genuine philanthropist but also one without a record of solid returns on his educational investments made so far (although I continue to be thankful for his support in our attempt to turn around Locke High School in 2007) -- a man able to convene 80 senators to hear a speech on education he gave in March -- should trouble anyone who reveres America's democratic traditions, including Professor Ravitch.

Barack Obama was the first candidate to turn down public financing of a presidential campaign, and the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court has made a bad trend worse. American democracy has morphed into plutocracy. This should trouble all who care about America's civic traditions, and in this respect Diane Ravitch speaks clearly and forcefully for a dwindling breed of Americans who (adapting the words of President Kennedy) ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country.