Nine-year-olds who use calculators can't compute on their own, concludes an analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores by Tom Loveless of the Brown Center on Education Policy.

CER Newswire  notes: In subtraction, students scored 89.2 percent with calculators and 59.7 without; in multiplication, 87.9 percent with calculators and 42.5 without; and in division, 77.1 percent with and 48.3 without.

Letting students use calculators on tests of computation skills makes the tests worthless, Loveless concluded.

Universal Trig

Starting with the class of 2014, all California students would have to take the college-prep classes required by the state's public universities, according to a bill just introduced. The A-G classes, as they're called, include advanced algebra and trigonometry. Yet the state had to postpone its graduation exam because so many students lack basic math skills. Many students enter high school with elementary reading and math skills. They can't pass real algebra, geometry and trig or real college-prep English classes. I don't think that's going to change in 10 years. Not for every student.

It would be more honest to let students choose between a real college-prep track and a vocational track with real-world standards. The latter would prepare students to take community college courses to improve their job skills. Many students who aren't motivated by college would work to qualify for a decent job.

'They Don't Know How to Study'

From a professor of accounting who wishes to remain nameless:

We have very few male accounting majors any more because the boys in public school are generally not taught the self-discipline necessary to study difficult material. They are given meds, and not made to behave, concentrate or study. When they get to college they don't know how to study or even why it is important. The number of female accounting majors, like females in med school, is rising dramatically.

...As for us, we have a serious overemphasis on student evaluations so that if we try to make them work, achieve a higher level necessary to become competent in their major, they give us bad evaluations (evaluations are typically tied to grades, and who has the least amount of work for the highest grade). Since we cannot lose our jobs, we end up at university also letting them slide. They pitch screaming fits if you try to make them work, running to administrators who, like those in K-12, side with the student/parent against the faculty member.

Two of the major qualifying exams in accounting, the CPA and CMA, have just dumbed down their tests. The kids can't pass them anymore. They are not motivated to learn what it takes. What happens when the med/law/engineering schools have to do this?

You'd think tenure would make it possible for professors to stand up to their students, but I guess the squeaky wheel gets the A. It's gotten worse in the last 12 to 15 years, says the prof, who's been teaching for 20 years.

Inflated A's

Grade inflation  on college campuses may be driven by much laxer rules on dropping courses. Students who fear getting a GPA-lowering C can drop the class at the last minute at most colleges.

Stuart Rojstaczer, a geology professor at Duke, charts the trends. He blames the consumer culture in higher education for grade inflation, which rebounded in the 1980s.

Students are paying more for a product every year, and increasingly they want and get the reward of a good grade for their purchase. In this culture, professors are not only compelled to grade easier, but also to water down course content. Both intellectual rigor and grading standards have weakened.

My daughter tells me her Stanford classmates expect an A for average work; B is the new D.

Schools Without Bullies

Five years after the Columbine massacre, legislators are trying to prevent school violence by banning discrimination against transgender students. That misses the real problem, writes Kay Hymowitz in the LA Times.

What legislators don't seem to grasp is that kids bully — and turn, in some cases, to more serious forms of violence — not because they are prejudiced in any familiar adult sense but because they are crude, Darwinian creatures trying to stake out territory and proclaim their dominance.

A UCLA study published in the December issue of Pediatrics found that bullies are usually "cool" kids "high in social status." These are kids who reinforce their social power by lording over their peers who are for whatever reason perceived as weak or vulnerable.

...In order to deal with bullying, harassment and violence, educators have to smash the peer-driven hierarchy that sets the tone in most middle and high schools. Schools without bullies — and though rare, there are such things — are places where dynamic principals build a supportive but serious community whose norms are set by adults.

A community where norms are set by adults. Yes!

Zero Tolerance for Nutter Butter

This is extra nutty: A sixth grade boy in South Orange, N.J. has been suspended from school for allegedly threatening to expose his teacher to a peanut butter cookie. His teacher is highly allergic to peanuts. From the Associated Press:

Loubert Gabriel said his son, 12-year-old Jules, had been kept out of class since April 2, after a girl in his social studies class at South Orange Middle School told the teacher that Jules had made the threat.

The father said Jules was carrying a snack packet of Nutter Butter cookies and did make a comment about having "something dangerous" but never said he had a weapon.

A hearing is not scheduled till May 13, which means the Nutter Butter Kid will miss at least six weeks of school.

Letters

Chris Carson of Prince Frederick, Md., writes:

I thinks it's laughable that some colleges offer massages, dogs to cuddle and counseling for people who stress out when they get a C. No wonder colleges cost so bloody much per year: They have to feed the dogs and pay the masseuse! Who's going to do that for the students in the real world when the boss chews them out? Maybe I can get a job teaching "Real World 101" at these same colleges.

Leona Waters of Hazlehurst, Ga., writes:

When I first started college, we all understood that college was hard work. Stressful work.  Expensive work. Only those who were truly dedicated to the task of getting a college education would have it. 

I do not believe that we are doing college students a favor by pampering them with massages to relieve their stress and puppies to cuddle so they can concentrate during exams. College is tough. It has to be because it is designed to prepare you for a world that is even tougher. If someone cannot handle the stress involved in completing college level courses, how can they be expected to handle the stress of a career that requires the college level diploma?

It is bad enough that we are pampering kids through high school so that they are not prepared for college (or anything else for that matter) when they graduate. It is utterly ridiculous to pamper them through college and then expect them to perform adequately in the real world.

There comes a time in life when you have to realize that this is a tough world and only the tough make it. At some point you have to cowboy-up and work.

Arlene Meyer of Tampa, Fla., writes:

I'm an Asian mother of a 6 and a half year-old aspiring astronaut. I was raised in a country where education is highly valued. When I moved to the States in high school, I was amazed at the American students' indifference toward studying hard and getting excellent grades and actually learning the stuff. They settled for mediocrity and apathy, and had a negative attitude towards the few students who excelled.

And, even in state colleges, students don't devote enough time to study and actually learn what is being taught. It is always the Asian students who know their arithmetic when it comes to calculations.

American education is not all that bad. I came here to get a good education (I majored in international business). It's just that American kids don't have the drive, the motivation and the aspiration to reach their best -- partly because their parents are not involved in their education.

I am on my way to homeschooling my son. He already gets A's in science and math in a private school, but I'm afraid he's going to be negatively influenced by other children whose parents don't give a damn if their kids are learning or not. When you have a kid who's aspiring to be his best, you can't settle for mediocrity.

Gary Coates of Raleigh, N.C. writes:

Somehow we need to make our children understand that our public school system is a wonderful gift that has been bought and paid for by the people in our community. There is a real opportunity for each child to learn, if he or she is motivated. The motivation must start at home. 

When I was a child (I'm 62), the public school system was as respected as the church. If you misbehaved in school, you could count on a well deserved dose of corporal punishment when you got home. You were a reflection on your family, and your behavior in public was viewed as a way of judging the character of your parents. Not embarrassing my mother was an important part of my self-discipline.

Al Frick writes:

Your section on "Holes in the K-16 Pipeline" highlights the results of years of building self-esteem instead of educating our kids. We have kids who have high expectations. Of course someone forgot to tell them that no matter how much they think of themselves, no matter how confident they are in their skills, they have to have skills in order to succeed in life.

Michael Baker of Barnwell, S.C. writes:

As an elementary school student 25 years ago, I left the public school system for private education. I didn't do it for the academics, or the discipline at the small school I attended. I did it because my family refused to bow to the social engineering that was rampant in California schools at the time.

Roll forward to 2004. The same crowd is now running, and ruining, our nation’s colleges. Instead of concentrating on personal and academic excellence, these technocrats are trying to make us a more accepting and diversified people. All in the name of social justice. No wonder we can't find qualified and committed Americans for civic and private duties.

Keith S. Bares writes:

Those attending Harvard are not getting admitted because their parents are making $80,000 a year. They most likely share their parent’s intelligence and strong work ethic, which allows the parents to earn higher incomes and the children to get into Harvard. 

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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