All kinds of minds: Mel Levine

Last night, I was struggling to remember the name of an educator I had come across a couple of years ago. He was stressing the need for a pluralistic approach in teaching children, something that our one-size-fits-all approach to academic proficiency seems to entirely ignore–except in the special education arena.

In one of those small miracles of coincidence, NPR ran a story on Dr Mel Levine this morning.

Throughout the country this Institute is working to provide parents with the best assessment techniques and to train classroom teachers to help kids with learning differences. We strive to ensure that children receive the individualized education that will help them enhance their innate strengths and overcome difficulties they may have encountered in school.

Dr Levine’s work raises a serious question for those of us interested in the definition of “proficiency” for the purposes of standardized testing in our public schools. More to come….

Advice for high school students

“Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. Nearly all textbooks are bad.”

In What You’ll Wish You’d Known Paul Graham offers sound advice to high school students. Here’s a sample. (via /.)

It’s dangerous to design your life around getting into college, because the people you have to impress to get into college are not a very discerning audience. At most colleges, it’s not the professors who decide whether you get in, but admissions officers, and they are nowhere near as smart. They’re the NCOs of the intellectual world. They can’t tell how smart you are. The mere existence of prep schools is proof of that.

Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don’t just do what they tell you, and don’t just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it’s pretty sweet. You’re done at 3 o’clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you’re there.

One of the most dangerous illusions you get from school is the idea that doing great things requires a lot of discipline. Most subjects are taught in such a boring way that it’s only by discipline that you can flog yourself through them. So I was surprised when, early in college, I read a quote by Wittgenstein saying that he had no self-discipline and had never been able to deny himself anything, not even a cup of coffee.

A key ingredient in many projects, almost a project on its own, is to find good books. Most books are bad. Nearly all textbooks are bad. [9] So don’t assume a subject is to be learned from whatever book on it happens to be closest. You have to search actively for the tiny number of good books.

[9] Even college textbooks are bad. When you get to college, you’ll find that (with a few stellar exceptions) the textbooks are not written by the leading scholars in the field they describe. Writing college textbooks is unpleasant work, done mostly by people who need the money. It’s unpleasant because the publishers exert so much control, and there are few things worse than close supervision by someone who doesn’t understand what you’re doing. This phenomenon is apparently even worse in the production of high school textbooks.

Budget follies: round one

From the Governor’s new budget proposal:

Total 2005-06 Proposition 98 support for K-12 education will increase 6 percent over the revised 2004 Budget Act level, as adjusted for changes in local revenues, average daily attendance growth (ADA), and forecasted economic factors.

You’d almost think we were looking at an increase in funding for next year, but as Nanette Asimov, writing in the Chron, tells us,

Because the proposed increases cover only cost-of- living adjustments and new enrollment, school districts with declining enrollment — which encompass half the state’s students — won’t see much of the new money.

CUSD, as we all know by now, is one of those districts with declining enrollment.

The January budget proposal is only the first shot in the budget wars; we’re not likely to know the final outcome for another six months or more. But it’s not a promising start.

Merit Pay: Gerstner, Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum links to an article by Lou Gerstner on the merits of merit pay for teachers.

I don’t entirely buy Drum’s contention that principals don’t know enough about teachers to adequately evaluate them. Or rather, I’m convinced that, under the right circumstances (in particular a manageable number of teachers), a good principal has a very good idea of what her teachers are doing.

Of course this assumes good principals and small schools, but there are reasons enough, merit pay aside, to insist on both of these.

Gerstner:

Even an imperfect system would be far better than the current single-salary schedule. And while we reward the best, we need to empower principals to lead, making sure they have the proper authority to hire and fire teachers. And as far as competition goes, since when is a little healthy effort to be the best at improving reading or math scores such a bad thing?

I frankly doubt that we’ll see a useful proposal from Arnold, given California’s budget constraints and his apparent intention to hold down education spending. But it could lead to a useful discussion.

BBC: Small-class pupils ‘do no better’

New British research suggests that there “is no evidence that children in smaller primary classes do better in maths or English”.

Via Sam Smith, who points out that small schools, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.

Yet California continues to fund class-size reduction to the tune of over a billion dollars per year while ignoring the benefits of smaller schools. California’s modest goals–classes of 20 students in grades K-3–may help account for its very limited success with CSR, but greater reductions (research suggests that 12-15 is a better target) would be correspondingly more expensive, as would expanding the program to higher grades.

Experimenting with WordPress

I’ve been playing with assorted weblog software, including iBlog and assorted flavors of Blosxom. I’m not really thrilled with any of them, but so far WordPress looks promising.

WordPress is implemented in PHP, and uses MySQL as its back end. Initial configuration was simple, assuming that one has straightforward access to the required PHP and MySQL facilities.