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Monday, December 31, 2007

Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2007; A01

Berkeley's on YouTube. American University's hoping to get on iTunes. George Mason professors have created an online research tool, a virtual filing cabinet for scholars. And with a few clicks on Yale's Web site, anyone can watch one of the school's most popular philosophy professors sitting cross-legged on his desk, talking about death.

Studying on YouTube won't get you a college degree, but many universities are using technology to offer online classes and open up archives. Sure, some schools have been charging for distance-learning classes for a long time, but this is different: These classes are free. At a time when many top schools are expensive and difficult to get into, some say it's a return to the broader mission of higher education: to offer knowledge to everyone.

And tens of millions are reaching for it.
For schools, the courses can bring benefits, luring applicants, spreading the university's name, impressing donors, keeping alumni engaged. Virginia Tech, for example, offers some online classes free to its graduates.

As the technology evolves, the classes are becoming far more engaging to a broader public. (Think a class on "Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Solutions Using R and Bioconductor" sounds a little dry? Try reading the lecture notes, alone, on a computer screen.) With better, faster technology such as video, what once was bare-bones and hard-core -- lecture notes aimed at grad students and colleagues -- is now more ambitious and far more accessible.

With video, you can watch Shelly Kagan, the well-known Yale philosopher, asking students about existence and what makes someone's life worthwhile.

"If death is the end, is death bad?"
The focus is sharp enough to see the sticks of chalk at the blackboard, the laces on his Converse All-Stars. You can watch his black eyebrows fly up and down as he makes points. You can see which books are on the syllabus and get the assignments online.

Just don't ask him to grade the papers.
* * *
Some professors try this on their own, on a small scale. Schools are feeling their way, experimenting with different technologies; some use Utah State University's eduCommons on the Web; some post to free sites such as YouTube and the Apple university site iTunes U. Other schools have plunged right in: MIT has 1,800 classes online, virtually the entire curriculum free and open to all.

"The idea was to have a broad impact on education worldwide and make a statement at a time when many schools were launching for-profit distance-learning ventures," Steve Carson of MIT OpenCourseWare said, "trying to redefine the role of the institution in the digital age."

MIT is working with more than 150 other colleges and universities interested in open classes, Carson said, and more than 5,000 classes are online at an international site.

Less than a week into Yale's video launch of seven introductory courses, Kagan had gotten enthusiastic, inquisitive e-mail messages from people who had watched his classes. He had started to wonder whether it was just the first sign of a deluge of armchair philosophers trying to reach him.

It is, after all, out there. For anyone.
About 35 million people have tried MIT's online courses, Carson said. The biggest surprise has been that almost half who use the site aren't students or teachers but people just curious to learn.

"Wow now I can go to an Ivy League college . . . for free," someone wrote in the comments section of one of Berkeley's YouTube videos.

"UC Berkeley isn't Ivy League," someone else wrote, but whatever. There it is on YouTube, the third lecture of Chemistry 3B, Electronic Spectroscopy, just as it was taught at Berkeley.

The first lecture of Berkeley's Physics 10, on atoms and heat, was watched almost 115,000 times in its first four months online.

The second lecture has been reached only about 8,100 times.
And people have watched Beaker from the Muppets singing (or beeping?) "Feelings" more than 2 million times over the past year and a half.

MIT gets e-mail messages all the time from such people as Kunle Adejumo, a student in Nigeria. He would print out pages from a metallurgical engineering class online and bring them to his classmates to supplement what they were learning. They kept asking for more. Finally he downloaded the entire course, printed it and brought it in. The class burst into applause.

* * *
Johns Hopkins professors have posted lecture notes from public health courses on their Web site, available to anyone. George Mason's open online research tool and archive Zotero aims to get scholars around the world to share their research. At American, "the university is still trying to figure out, like any university, its way in a technologically and legally changed environment," said Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, director of general education.

"There are intellectual property issues to be worked out here," Jackson said. "There are, frankly, revenue things to be worked out here. There are cultural considerations: What kinds of things are appropriate to what audiences?"

Many school officials have concerns about intellectual property issues -- what's okay to talk about or show in a classroom with a small group might not be appropriate for mass broadcast -- and about ongoing costs. MIT spends $4 million a year and keeps updating, adding video and, recently, a portal for high school students and teachers.

Professors have another set of worries. At Yale, psychology professor Paul Bloom's first thought after agreeing to let his class be filmed was, "Oh, God, this is a terrible mistake."

He wondered whether he would teach differently, inhibited by the camera. He imagined careless comments being immortalized forever or random snippets winding up who knows where.

Some professors worried that students would just sleep in and catch the lecture on a laptop another time. (Jackson makes classroom discussions a big chunk of the final grade to head that off.)

It couldn't replace the real thing, many professors said -- especially not for seminars, in which the discussion and the papers are so important. Students can't earn credit. And yet, Bloom said, he didn't want to say no when he was asked to do it. "I'm very much behind it for moral reasons. . . . There are a lot of people who won't have a chance to go to Yale and won't have a chance to go to university. . . . [But] anyone with access to a computer can hear these brilliant lectures on physics or ethics or the Old Testament."

It's not a solution, he said, to the inequities in education.
But it's a step.
"It's part of this movement in higher education to open up," George Mason professor Dan Cohen said, "to share the products of our research, to be here for the public good."

Besides, Jackson said: "The thing any academic most wants is for people to read their stuff, listen to what they're saying."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Is the U.S. High School Graduation Rate Worse Than We Thought?

By Stephen J. Dubner
That’s the assertion made by James Heckman and Paul LaFontaine in a new working paper called “The American High School Graduation Rate: Trends and Levels.”

Here is their abstract:

    This paper uses multiple data sources and a unified methodology to estimate the trends and levels of the U.S. high school graduation rate. Correcting for important biases that plague previous calculations, we establish that (a) the true high school graduation rate is substantially lower than the official rate issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics; (b) it has been declining over the past 40 years; (c) majority/minority graduation rate differentials are substantial and have not converged over the past 35 years; (d) the decline in high school graduation rates occurs among native populations and is not solely a consequence of increasing proportions of immigrants and minorities in American society; (e) the decline in high school graduation explains part of the recent slowdown in college attendance; and (f) the pattern of the decline of high school graduation rates by gender helps to explain the recent increase in male-female college attendance gaps.

The National Center for Educational Statistics typically states that the U.S. graduation rate is 88 percent, and that the black/white gap has virtually disappeared. But Heckman and LaFontaine argue that the actual graduation rate is in fact considerably lower, and that the black/white gap hasn’t gone anywhere: “In fact,” they write, “we find no evidence of convergence in minority-majority graduation rates over the past 35 years.”

The only people I can think of for whom this paper represents good news are:
1. People who work in the G.E.D. business.
2. Whites who are eager for minorities to remain educationally diminished.
3. Immigrants who can find good work because of a lack of educated natives.
4. Anyone in the education field who wants to improve things using good, hard data rather than suppositions, opinions, and prayers.

South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative

As the calendar winds down for 2007, here's an important event you ought to put on your radar screen for 2008 -- and then, before the S.C. General Assembly reconvenes on January 15th, remind your state Senator and House member about your expectations for a meaningful increase in our state's cigarette tax and for the 100% tobacco-smoke-free indoor workplace to become a reality in your home county in 2008!!!

Dum Spiro Spero,
Dave Keely

South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative
440 Knox Abbott Drive, Suite 102

Cayce, South Carolina 29033
(800) 274-1893

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Does This Analysis of Test Scores Make Any Sense?

By Ian Ayres
Here’s the latest guest post from Yale economist and law professor Ian Ayres. Here are Ayres’s past posts and here is a recent discussion of standardized tests.

A recent article in the Times trumpeted the results of a report that had just been released by the Educational Testing Service (E.T.S.).

The E.T.S. researchers used four variables that are beyond the control of schools: the percentage of children living with one parent; the percentage of eighth graders absent from school at least three times a month; the percentage of children age 5 or younger whose parents read to them daily; and the percentage of eighth graders who watch five or more hours of TV a day. Using just those four variables, the researchers were able to predict each state’s results on the federal eighth-grade reading test with impressive accuracy.

“Together, these four factors account for about two-thirds of the large differences among states,” the report said. In other words, the states that had the lowest test scores tended to be those that had the highest percentages of children from single-parent families, eighth graders watching lots of TV and eighth graders absent a lot, and the lowest percentages of young children being read to regularly, regardless of what was going on in their schools.

The article fairly portrays the text of the study, which concludes:

    In statistical terms, these four factors account for two-thirds of the differences in the actual scores (r squared = .66). That is a very strong association. (emphasis added).

The last sentence is odd. Normally, I’d look at the statistical significance of the individual factors if I were going to judge the strength of the association. The report’s phrasing suggests a strong association between the reading score outcome and all four of the underlying factors. But what you would not learn unless you dug into the appendix is that only 3 of the 4 factors were statistically significant.

It turns out that the impact of the “percentage of children under age 18 in a state who live with one parent” (labeled in the table as “onepar”) is neither large nor statistically different from zero. A one standard deviation increase in the percentage of single-parent kids only reduces the predicted reading score by only about half a point (while a one-standard deviation increase in heavy TV watchers reduces the predicted reading score by 3.3 points).

Moreover, this marginal effect by traditional standards is not statistically significant. The estimated negative impact of single-parent families may simply be a byproduct of chance (the T value indicates that the estimated negative coefficient of -0.0656 is only about four-tenths of a standard deviation away from zero - so we can’t reject in this data the possibility that the true impact of one-parent families on reading test scores is positive).

When I reran the same regression but dropped the “onepar” variable, the adjusted r-squared increased slightly. (You can download an Excel file with the full results and data here). That’s right: a three-factor regression does an even better job at explaining the reading score data.

We shouldn’t put very much weight on this regression. Instead of analyzing data on individual students, the report focused on aggregate state data that suppresses by averaging a great deal of the real variation of interest. The 4-factor regression only concerns 50 state data points. There may be other evidence in other studies that children of one parent families have poorer educational outcomes, but there is not a strong association between the two variables in this particular regression data.

The Pros and Cons of Rewards

I know we've talked about how rewards affect student motivation many times before, but this article in the American Educator approaches the question "should learning be its own reward?" from the perspective of cognitive science. It is probably the most comprehensive article about using rewards to motivate students I've read so far, so if this is something you're interested in, I highly recommend that you check it out. Here's an excerpt:

    Concrete rewards can motivate students to attend class, to behave well, or to produce better work. But if you are not careful in choosing what you reward, they can prompt students to produce shoddy work--and worse, they can cause students to actually like school subjects less. The important guidelines are these: Don't use rewards unless you have to, use rewards for a specific reason, and use them for a limited time.

He goes on to address the question from three different angles: Is a rewards system immoral? Does it condition kids to have unrealistic expectations? And does it actually decrease motivation?

What he talks about reminds me of my experiences teaching a study skills class in college. It was a 10-week course, taught by peer instructors, that all students on academic probation were required to take in order to stay in school. Each week I, and a fellow peer instructor, went over a different skill that could help the students improve their grades--time management, goal setting, etc. Sometimes the lessons were pretty dry, so we decided to reward our class with treats at the end of the day if they paid attention and participated in discussion. What we found was that our students came to expect the reward, and if it wasn't promised to them at the beginning of class, they were much less likely to take the class seriously. And these were college students! By the end of the course, I wished we had never started rewarding them in the first place.


Should Learning Be Its Own Reward?
How does the mind workand especially how does it learn? Teachers' instructional decisions are based on a mix of theories learned in teacher education, trial and error, craft knowledge, and gut instinct. Such gut knowledge often serves us well, but is there anything sturdier to rely on?

Cognitive science is an interdisciplinary field of researchers from psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, philosophy, computer science, and anthropology who seek to understand the mind. In this regular American Educator column, we consider findings from this field that are strong and clear enough to merit classroom application.

By Daniel T. Willingham

Question: In recent months, there's been a big uproar about students being paid to take standardized testsand being paid even more if they do well. Can cognitive science shed any light on this debate? Is it harmful to students to reward them like this? What about more typical rewards like a piece of candy or five extra minutes of recess?

There has been much debate recently about boosting standardized test scores by paying students. Here are a few examples that I read about in the news. In Coshocton, Ohio, third- and sixth-graders are being paid up to $20 for earning high scores on standardized tests. In New York City, fourth-grade students will receive $5 for each standardized test they take throughout the year, and up to $25 for each perfect score. Seventh-graders will get twice those amounts. In Tucson, Ariz., high school juniors selected from low-income areas will be paid up to $25 each week for attendance. These and similar programs affect just a tiny fraction of students nationwide. But rewarding students with things like small gifts, extra recess time, stickers, certificates, class parties and the like is actually pretty common. Most teachers have the option of distributing rewards in the classroom, and many do. For example, in a recent survey of young adults, 70 percent said that their elementary school teachers had used candy as a reward (Davis, Winsler, and Middleton, 2006).

So whether or not your district offers cash rewards for standardized test scores or attendance, you've probably wondered if rewarding your students for their classwork is a good idea. Some authors promise doom if a teacher rewards students, with the predicted negative effects ranging from unmotivated pupils to a teacher's moral bankruptcy (e.g., Kohn, 1993). Others counter that rewards are harmless or even helpful (e.g., Cameron, Banko, and Pierce, 2001; Chance, 1993). Where does the truth lie? In the middle. There is some merit to the arguments on both sides. Concrete rewards can motivate students to attend class, to behave well, or to produce better work. But if you are not careful in choosing what you reward, they can prompt students to produce shoddy workand worse, they can cause students to actually like school subjects less. The important guidelines are these: Don't use rewards unless you have to, use rewards for a specific reason, and use them for a limited time. Let's take a look at the research behind these guidelines.

Do Rewards Work?
Rewarding students is, from one perspective, an obvious idea. People do things because they find them rewarding, the reasoning goes, so if students don't find school naturally rewarding (that is, interesting and fun), make it rewarding by offering them something they do like, be it cash or candy.

In this simple sense, rewards usually work. If you offer students an appealing reward, the targeted behavior will generally increase (for reviews, see O'Leary and Drabman, 1971; Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 1999). Teachers typically use rewards like candy, stickers, small prizes, or extra recess time. They use them to encourage student behaviors such as completing assignments, producing good work, and so on. In one example (Hendy, Williams, and Camise, 2005) first-, second-, and fourth-graders were observed in the school cafeteria to see how often they ate fruits and vegetables. Once this baseline measure was taken, they were rewarded for eating one or the other. Students received a token for each day that they ate the assigned food, and tokens could be redeemed for small prizes at the end of the week. Not surprisingly, students ate more of what they were rewarded for eating.

But things don't always go so smoothly. If you mistakenly offer a reward that students don't care for, you'll see little result. Or, if you reward the wrong behavior, you'll see a result you don't care for. When I was in fourth grade, my class was offered a small prize for each book we read. Many of us quickly developed a love for short books with large print, certainly not the teacher's intent. In the same way, if you reward people to come up with ideas, but don't stipulate that they must be good ideas, people will generate lots of ideas in order to gain lots of rewards, but the ideas may not be especially good (Ward, Kogan, and Pankove, 1972). It's often possible to correct mistakes such as these. Unappealing rewards can be replaced by valued rewards. The target behavior can be changed. My fourth-grade teacher stipulated that books had to be grade-appropriate and of some minimum length.

Because rewards are generally effective, people's objection to them in the classroom is seldom that they won't work. The op-ed newspaper articles I have seen about the student payment plans described above don't claim that you can't get students to go to school by paying them (e.g., Carlton, 2007; Schwartz, 2007). They raise other objections.

The common arguments against rewards fall into three categories. Let me state each one in rather extreme terms to give you the idea, and then I'll consider the merits of each in more detail. The first objection is that using rewards is immoral. You might toss your dog a treat when he shakes hands, but that is no way to treat children. Classrooms should be a caring community in which students help one another, not a circus in which the teacher serves as ringmaster. The second objection is that offering rewards is unrealistic. Rewards can't last forever, so what happens when they stop? Those who make this argument think it's better to help students appreciate the subtle, but real rewards that the world offers for things like hard work and politeness. After all, adults don't expect that someone will toss them a candy bar every time they listen politely, push their chair under a table, or complete a report on time. The third objection is that offering rewards can actually decrease motivation. Cognitive science has found that this is true, but only under certain conditions. For example, if you initially enjoy reading and I reward you for each book you finish, the rewards will make you like reading less. Below, I'll explain how and why that happens. Let's consider each of these arguments in turn.

Are Rewards Immoral?
Don't rewards control students? Aren't rewards dehumanizing? Wouldn't it be better to create a classroom atmosphere in which students wanted to learn, rather than one in which they reluctantly slogged through assignments, doing the minimal work they thought would still earn the promised reward? Cognitive science cannot answer moral questions. They are outside its purview. But cognitive science can provide some factual background that may help teachers as they consider these questions.

It is absolutely the case that trying to control students is destructive to their motivation and their performance. People like autonomy, and using rewards to control people definitely reduces motivation. Even if the task is one students generally like, if they sense that you're trying to coerce them, they will be less likely to do it (e.g., Ryan, Mims, and Koestner, 1983). It is worth pointing out, however, that rewards themselves are not inherently controlling. If students are truly offered a choicedo this and get a reward, don't do it and get no rewardthen the student maintains control. Within behavioral science, it is accepted that rewards themselves are coercive if they are excessive (e.g., National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1978). In other words, if I offer you $200 to take a brief survey, it's hard to know that you're freely choosing to take the survey.

Rewards in classrooms are typically not excessive, and so are not, themselves, controlling. Rather, rewards might be an occasion for control if the teacher makes it quite clear that the student is expected to do the required work and collect his or her reward. That is, the teacher uses social coercion. So too, we've all known people we would call "manipulative," and those people seldom manipulate us via rewards. They use social means. In sum, the caution against controlling students is well-founded, but rewards are not inherently controlling.

Are rewards dehumanizing? Again, it seems to me that the answer depends on how the student construes the reward. If a teacher dangles stickers before students like fish before a seal, most observers will likely wince. But if a teacher emphasizes that rewards are a gesture of appreciation for a job well done, that probably would not appear dehumanizing to most observers.1 Even so, rather than offer rewards, shouldn't teachers create classrooms in which students love learning? It is difficult not to respond to this objection by saying "Well, duh." I can't imagine there are many teachers who would rather give out candy than have a classroom full of students who are naturally interested and eager to learn. The question to ask is not "Why would you use rewards instead of making the material interesting?" Rather, it is "After you've wracked your brain for a way to make the material interesting for students and you still can't do it, then what?" Sanctimonious advice on the evils of rewards won't get chronically failing students to have one more go at learning to read. I think it unwise to discourage teachers from using any techniques in the absolute; rather, teachers need to know what research says about the benefits and drawbacks of the techniques, so that they can draw their own conclusions about whether and when to use them. Considering the merits of the two other objections will get us further into that research.

What Happens When Rewards Stop?
This objection is easy to appreciate. If I'm working math problems because you're paying me, what's going to happen once you stop paying me? Your intuition probably tells you that I will stop doing problems, and you're right. In the fruits and vegetables study described earlier, students stopped eating fruits and vegetables soon after the reward program stopped.

Although it might seem obvious that this would happen, psychologists initially thought that there was a way around this problem. Many studies were conducted during the 1960s using token economies. A token economy is a system by which rewards are administered in an effort to change behavior. There are many variants but the basic idea is that every time the student exhibits a targeted behavior (e.g., gets ready to work quickly in the morning), he or she gets a token (e.g., a plastic chip). Students accumulate tokens and later trade them for rewards (e.g., small prizes). Token economies have some positive effects, and have been used not only in classrooms, but in clinical settings (e.g., Dickerson, Tenhula, and Green-Paden, 2005).

When the idea of a token economy was developed, the plan was that the rewards would be phased out. Once the desired behavior was occurring frequently, you would not give the reward every time, but give it randomly, averaging 75 percent of the time, then 50 percent of the time, and so on. Thus, the student would slowly learn to do the behavior without the external reward. That works with animals, but normally not with humans. Once the rewards stop, people go back to behaving as they did before (Kazdin, 1982; O'Leary and Drabman, 1971).2

Well, one might counter, it may be true that students won't spontaneously work math problems once we stop rewarding them, but at least they will have worked more than they otherwise would have! Unfortunately, there is another, more insidious consequence of rewards that we need to consider: Under certain circumstances, they can actually decrease motivation.

How Can Rewards Decrease Motivation?
The previous section made it sound like rewards boost desired behavior so long as they are present, and when they are removed behavior falls back to where it started. That's true sometimes, but not always. If the task is one that students like, rewards will, as usual, make it more likely they'll do the task. But after the rewards stop, students will actually perform the previously likable task less than they did when rewards were first offered.

A classic study on this phenomenon (Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett, 1973) provides a good illustration. Children (aged 3 to 5 years old) were surreptitiously observed in a classroom with lots of different activities available. The experimenters noted how much time each child spent drawing with markers. The markers were then unavailable to students for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, students were broken into three groups. Each student in the first group was taken to a separate room and was told that he or she could win an attractive "Good Player" certificate by drawing a picture with the markers. Each was eager to get the certificate and drew a picture. One-by-one, students in a second group were also brought to a separate room, encouraged to draw, and then given a certificate, but the certificate came as a surprise; when they started drawing, they didn't know that they would get the certificate. A third group of students served as a control group. They had been observed in the first session, but didn't draw or get a certificate in this second session. After another delay of about two weeks, the markers again appeared in the classroom, and experimenters observed how much children used them. The students in the first groupthose who were promised the certificate for drawingused the markers about half as much as students in the other two groups. Promising and then giving a reward made children like the markers less. But giving the reward as a surprise (as with the second group of students) had no effect.

This has been replicated scores of times with students of different ages, using different types of rewards, and in realistic classroom situations (see Deci et al., 1999 for a review). What is going on? How can getting a reward reduce your motivation to do something? The answer lies in the students' interpretation of why they chose to use the markers. For students who either didn't get a reward or who didn't expect a reward, it's obvious that they weren't drawing for the sake of the reward; they drew pictures because they liked drawing. But for the children who were promised a reward, the reason is less clear. A student might not remember that he drew because he wanted to draw, but rather he remembered really wanting the certificate. So when the markers were available again but no certificate was promised, the student may well have thought "I drew because I wanted that certificate; why should I draw now for nothing?"

The analogy to the classroom is clear. Teachers seek to create lifelong learners. We don't just want children to read, we want children to learn to love reading. So if, in an effort to get children to read more, we promise to reward them for doing so, we might actually make them like reading less! They will read more in order to get the pizza party or the stickers, but once the teacher is no longer there to give out the rewards, the student will say "Why should I read? I'm not getting anything for it."

The key factor to keep in mind is that rewards only decrease motivation for tasks that students initially like. If the task is dull, motivation might drop back down to its original level once the rewards stop, but it will not drop below its original level. Why does the appeal of the task make a difference? As I mentioned, rewards hurt motivation because of the way students construe the situation: "I drew with markers in order to get a certificate," instead of "I drew with markers because I like to draw with markers." But if the task is dull, students won't make that mistaken interpretation. They never liked the task in the first place. That hypothesis has been confirmed in a number of studies showing that once the reward is no longer being offered, having received a reward in the past harms the motivation for an interesting task, but not for a dull task (e.g., Daniel and Esser, 1980; Loveland and Olley, 1979; Newman and Layton, 1984).

This finding might make one wonder whether rewards, in the form of grades, are behind students' lack of interest in schoolwork; by issuing grades, we're making students like school less (Kohn, 1993). It is true that students like school less and less as they get older. But it is wise to remember that motivation is a product of many factors. Researchers often distinguish between extrinsic motivators (e.g., concrete rewards or grades that are external to you) and intrinsic motivators (things that are internal to you such as your interest in a task). The effect described above can be succinctly summarized: Extrinsic rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation. We would thus expect that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation would be negatively correlated. That is, if you work mostly for the sake of getting good grades and other rewards, then you aren't very intrinsically motivated, and if you are highly intrinsically motivated, that must mean you don't care much about rewards. That's true to some extent, but the relationship is far from perfect. College students whose intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have been measured usually show a modest negative correlation, around -.253(Lepper, Corpus, and Iyengar, 2005). This seems reasonable since motivation is actually pretty complexwe rarely do things for just one reason.

What Makes Rewards More or Less Effective?
If you decide to use rewards in the classroom, how can you maximize the chances that they will work? Three principles are especially important. Rewards should be desirable, certain, and prompt.

The importance of desirability is obvious. People will work for rewards that appeal to them, and will work less hard or not at all for rewards that are not appealing.4That is self-evident, and teachers likely know which rewards would appeal to their students and which would mean little to them.

Less obvious is the importance of the certainty of a reward, by which I mean the probability that a student will get a reward if he or she attempts to do the target behavior. What if you've set a target that seems too difficult to the student, and he won't even try? Or what if the target seems achievable to the student, he makes an attempt and does his best, but still fails? Either reduces the likelihood that the student will try again. Both problems can be avoided if the reward is contingent on the student trying his best, and not on what he achieves. But that has its drawbacks, as well. It means that you must make a judgment call as to whether he tried his best. (And you must make that judgment separately for each student.) It is all too likely that some students will have an inflated view of their efforts, and your differing assessment will lead to mistrust. Ideally, the teacher will select specific behaviors for each student as targets, with the target titrated to each student's current level of ability.

A corollary of rewards being desirable is that they be prompt. A reward that is delayed has less appeal than the same reward delivered immediately. For example, suppose I gave you this choice: "You can have $10 tomorrow, or $10 a week from tomorrow." You'd take the $10 tomorrow, right? Rewards have more "oomph"that is, more power to motivatewhen you are going to get them soon. That's why, when my wife calls me from the grocery store, it's easy for me to say "Don't buy ice cream. I'm trying to lose weight." But when I'm at home it's difficult for me to resist ice cream that's in the freezer. In the first situation, I'm denying myself ice cream sometime in the distant future, but in the second I would be denying myself ice cream right at that moment. The promise of ice cream two minutes from now has higher value for me than the promise of ice cream hours from now.

It is possible to measure how much more desirable a reward is when given sooner rather than later. In one type of experiment, subjects participate in an auction and offer sealed bids for money that will be delivered to them later. Thus, each subject might be asked "What is the maximum you would pay right now for a reward of $10, to be delivered tomorrow?"5Subjects are asked to make bids for a variety of rewards to be delivered at delays varying from one to 30 days. Then, researchers use subjects' bids to derive a relationship between the amount of time that the reward is delayed and how much people value the delayed reward. Subjects typically show a steep drop off in how much they value the rewardwith a one-day delay, $20 is worth about $18 to most subjects, and with a one-week delay, the value is more like $15 (e.g., Kirby, 1997). In other words, there is a significant cost to the reward value for even a brief delay. Other studies show that the cost is greater for elementary school students than college students (e.g., Green, Fry and Myerson, 1994). That finding probably matches your intuition: As we get older, we get better at delaying gratification. Distant rewards become more similar to immediate rewards.

In this section I've summarized data showing that rewards should be desirable, certain, and prompt if they are to be effective. These three factors provide some insight into the extrinsic (but non-tangible) rewards that almost all schools offer: grades and graduation. Grades are not as rewarding as we might guess because they are seldom administered right after the required behavior (studying), and the reward of a diploma is, of course, even more distant. Then too, low-achieving students likely perceive these rewards as highly uncertain. That is, hard work does not guarantee that they will receive the reward.

Putting It All Together: Are Rewards Worth It?
When all is said and done, are rewards worth it? I liken using rewards to taking out a loan. You get an immediate benefit, but you know that you will eventually have to pay up, with interest. As with loans, I suggest three guidelines to the use of rewards: 1) try to find an alternative; 2) use them for a specific reason, not as a general strategy; and 3) plan for the ending.

Try to find an alternative.
It is very difficult to implement rewards without incurring some cost. If the reward system is the same for all class members, it won't work as well as an individualized approach and you will likely reward some students for tasks they already like. If you tailor the rewards to individual students, you vastly increase your workload, and you increase the risk of students perceiving the program as unfair.

The size of the costs to motivation, although real, should not be overstated. As mentioned earlier, there are many contributors to motivation, and putting a smiley sticker on a spelling test will probably not rank high among them. Still, why incur the cost at all, if an alternative is available? The obvious alternative is to make the material intrinsically interesting. Indeed, if you follow that precept, you will never offer an extrinsic reward for an intrinsically interesting task, which is when the trouble with motivation really starts.
It is also worth considering whether student motivation is the real reason you use rewards. Do you put stickers on test papers in the hopes that students will work harder to earn them, or just for a bit of fun, a colorful diversion? Do you throw a class pizza party to motivate students, or to increase the class's sense of community? You might still distribute stickers and throw the party, but not make them explicitly contingent on performance beforehand. Announce to the class that they have done such a good job on the most recent unit that a party seems in order. Thus, the party is still an acknowledgement of good work and still might contribute to a positive class atmosphere, but it is not offered as a reward contingent on performance.

Use rewards for a specific reason.
A wise investor understands that taking out a loan, although it incurs a cost, might be strategic in the long run. So too, although a rewards program may incur some cost to motivation, there are times when the cost might be worth it. One example is when students must learn or practice a task that is rather dull, but that, once mastered, leads to opportunities for greater interest and motivation. For example, learning the times tables might be dull, but if students can get over that hump of boredom, they are ready to take on more interesting work. Rewards might also be useful when a student has lost confidence in himself to the point that he is no longer willing to try. If he'll attempt academic work to gain a desirable extrinsic reward and succeeds, his perception of himself and his abilities may change from self-doubt to recognition that he is capable of academic work (Greene and Lepper, 1974). Thereafter, the student may be motivated by his sense of accomplishment and his expectation that he will continue to do well.
Use rewards for a limited time.

No one wants to live with chronic debt, and no one should make rewards a long-term habit. Although the cost of using rewards may not be large, that cost likely increases as rewards are used for a longer time. In addition, there would seem to be an advantage to the program having a natural ending point. For example, students are rewarded for learning their times tables, and once they are learned, the rewards end. The advantage is that any decrease in motivation might stick to the task. In other words, students will think "times tables are boring, and we need to be rewarded to learn them" rather than "math is boring, and we need to be rewarded to learn it." In addition, if students are told at the start of the program when it will end, there may be fewer complaints when the goodies are no longer available.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Zipporah Little on Straight Talk

Hear Zipporah Little talk about District Three's new Mentoring program on the Dec. 14 Straight Talk.  Click this link to listen.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Evolution debate looms

Posted on Sun, Dec. 23, 2007
Education panel likely to address issue over biology textbooks
The debate over how to teach the origin of species in public high schools
could resurface in January, when the S.C. Board of Education meets.

The divided state panel withheld its endorsement of two biology textbooks
earlier this month, when board member Charles W. McKinney pointed to dozens
of questions raised in critiques by Horace D. Skipper, a retired Clemson
University professor.

"I have concerns about some of the things in those books," McKinney said.

Two years ago, the 17-member state school board wrestled with updating
instructional standards that high school biology teachers follow when
teaching evolution.

State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, successfully lobbied for revisions to
include the term "critically analyze," linked to a movement to elevate
instruction about creationism and "intelligent design" to the status of

That modification of the state's widely acclaimed biology standards prompted
criticism from national experts.

Fair's campaign angered many high school educators, including those who
consider themselves devoutly religious but objected to being told to mix
lessons about beliefs with science.

College professors, including some of Skipper's Clemson colleagues,
supported their high school counterparts.

Among the state school board's responsibilities is identifying relevant
teaching material for South Carolina's 1,100 public schools and updating a
list of options from which they can choose textbooks.


Next month's vote on the two biology books is whether they should be added
to that list. Schools are not obligated to use them, however.

(A state Department of Education official said late Friday the publisher of
one of the books, which would have been used by a limited number of Advanced
Placement classes, requested it be removed from consideration.)

Skipper said he reviewed the books when they were placed in a local library
as part of the state Department of Education's policy of seeking public

He takes issue with passages about evolution in a biology textbook by
Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine.

A weed science researcher, Skipper challenged the book's characterizations
of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as being the foundation for all
lessons about life, including survival of the fittest.

"Where (Miller) talks about the origins of life and evolution stuff - I didn't
see where they had the scientific support that I think public schools need
in a textbook," Skipper said.

Textbook author Miller is a veteran of the creationism-intelligent
design-evolution furor.

His testimony in a highly publicized federal trial dealt a blow to
proponents of teaching biology lessons inspired by the Bible. Parents in
Dover, Pa., successfully sued their school board to block it from using a
book in science classes asserting a grand "designer" might be responsible
for life on earth.

Miller received word about Skipper's critique of his text a day prior to
this month's state school board meeting and compiled a lengthy response.

"Those are the typical sorts of questions and objections one gets from
creationists," Miller said of Skipper's criticisms. He said "the concerns
and objections to the treatment of evolution in our textbook ... are without
scientific merit."

Skipper was unfazed by Miller's response.

"I critiqued it as a scientist," he said. "If I raised issues that have
ruffled feathers, that may be their problem, not mine."


Miller plans to attend the Jan. 9 state board meeting.

"What I want to do is show up ... and let the board know I really care about
their questions," Miller said. "It's important to me that they have that
book available.

"I'm not asking the board to buy our book. What I'm asking them is 'Let the
marketplace work' and let people be able to pick from all books available."

Roughly 100 S.C. public high schools use the sixth edition of the
Miller-Levine textbook, including every high school in Lexington County.

State Education Department officials say the Miller-Levine book is among the
nation's best-selling textbooks.

Rob Dillon, a College of Charleston biology professor who leads an
organization known as South Carolinians for Science Education, called
Skipper's challenge of the Miller book "just terrible."

"Those critiques cannot be the basis for public policy decisions of any
sort," Dillon said. "They are religiously motivated."

Skipper rejects any suggestion he advocates teaching creationism in lieu of
evolution, but adds "if you're going to teach historical science, that would
be an alternative."

"If we're going to have good, honest truth taught to our students, they need
to be taught about weaknesses or gaps in these theories," Skipper said.

Reach Robinson at (803) 771-8482.

Teacher Migration Common

By Rina Palta, December 23, 2007 at 6:41 pm

SAN FRANCISCO - When Douglas Rich walked into his first classroom 11 years
ago, he says it was "like something out of the movies." Kids were throwing
paper airplanes, running around the room. "One had jumped up and was hanging
from the doorway," he says. "It was funny."

He lasted six years at Sanchez Elementary, a predominantly minority,
predominately poor school with lousy test scores in San Francisco's Castro
district. The only one of nine new teachers to stay that long, he too
moved-to second grade at Alamo Elementary, a high-performing, primarily
white and Asian public school in the Richmond.

"It's not the kids, it's everything else," says Rich. "Like one poor first
grader was found locked in a men's bathroom in a city park at 10 at night
while his father was dealing drugs. They lack the basic things that we
consider fundamental," like parent support, health care, and a safe home, he
says, "it's too much for one person to take."

Many, apparently, share his sentiment. As if it were a rule in the San
Francisco Unified School District, experienced teachers migrate to the
academically best-performing schools with the fewest poor, Latino, and
African American students.

Currently, teachers at Sanchez have an average of 5.4 years of experience in
the district, whereas at Alamo Elementary, they have 16.3. The district
average for all teachers is 12 years.

This trend in teacher migration is national, and some Federal lawmakers are
calling for Congress to address the unequal distribution of experienced
teachers in any new version of No Child Left Behind. They say it should be
among the factors measured to compare schools.

At present, the legislation measures "comparable" services between high- and
low-poverty schools by denying Federal funds to districts until they
distribute per pupil expenditures evenly across the district. Teacher
salary, which is primarily based on a teacher's level of experience and
education, is currently excluded in the services that are compared. The
salary difference is left out of per pupil spending measurements.

A 2005 report by EdTrust-West, a nonprofit educational research and advocacy
group, calculated that nationally, spending within the same district could
differ by as much as $3,200 per student because of differences in teacher
salary. Sanchez Elementary, which already receives extra funding, would
require an additional $92,009 a year to catch up with more affluent schools
in the district, they said.

To address this "hidden spending gap," Rep. George Miller (D-Ca), chairman
of the House Education and Labor Committee, has written a draft of No Child
Left Behind that includes teacher salary in the measured services. Districts
would have to compensate schools with less experienced teachers. Schools
could use the new money to retain experienced teachers or for bonuses to
attract a higher caliber of teacher.

"Of course I want more experienced teachers," says Katerina Palomares,
principal of Cleveland Elementary in the Excelsior, which has six new
teachers this year, three of them new to the profession. "We have turnover
every year," she says, "It's stressful trying to find a good fit for the
community and students."

Cleveland tops EdTrust's list of San Francisco elementary schools needing
compensation, with an estimated $151,490. "I don't know if more money would
make a positive impact," says Palomares.

Teacher retention is "about creating an environment where teachers feel like
they're making an impact with children," says Raymond Isola, principal of
Sanchez Elementary, who's written academic papers on school disaffection,
"When we're talking about a community like this, there are incredible needs
and less access to services." Over the eight years he's been at the school,
Isola says, he's worked to create a support network between teachers and
make sure that they're roles are clearly defined. "So if mental health
services are needed, they're there. If a kid doesn't have health insurance,
we have a nurse," he says, "It's important that the teacher know they're not
working alone."

Rich thinks it took him four or five years to become a really good teacher.
"I didn't learn too much from my prep program at SF State," he says,
"certainly not the rocket science of actually teaching someone to read or
write." He's not sure, however, that more money is a way to attract
experienced teachers or improve struggling schools. At Sanchez, he says,
"they got tons of money. Reduced and free lunch, a free nurse, literacy
coach. It was all put to good use. But there's a lot that's out of your
control. It's just so hard."

Seated in Alamo's library, waiting to take yet another certification test,
Rich's passion flares when describing his commitment to diagnosing and
treating dyslexia, something he's certified to do. "I'd go back [to a school
like Sanchez] as a reading specialist or learning pathologist," he says,
"but absolutely not back in the classroom. There's only a certain amount of
energy we're allotted each day."

Colleges and Universities that Offer Free Courses Online

In recent years, many universities and colleges have decided to make course
materials, including lectures, tests, notes and readings, available for free
on the Internet. These schools, which include world-class institutions like
MIT and UC-Berkeley, are hoping that people around the world will take
advantage of the incredible opportunity for learning.

List of the Most Respected Free Online Schools

A handful of world-class universities and colleges have decided to offer
free courses, assignments, and lectures via the World Wide Web, using a
variety of means that include streaming video, podcasts, and downloadable
lecture notes. Some of the most respected of these schools include:

a.. University of California at Berkeley
b.. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
c.. Tufts University
d.. Stanford University
e.. Yale University
f.. University of Notre Dame
g.. Carnegie Mellon University
h.. University of Washington
i.. Johns Hopkins University
j.. New York University
k.. Berklee College of Music
l.. Vanderbilt University
m.. Gresham College
n.. Open University (United Kingdom)
o.. Utah Valley State College
p.. Utah State University

Using Free University Resources

To start using the free university resources in the list above, go to the
school's website, scroll through the list of available courses and lectures,
make your selection, and download. Keep in mind that you might need to
acquire some new programs, such as iPod or MediaPlayer software, to take
full advantage of all course materials.

A few schools, such as the University of Washington, require you to register
using an email address, but most demand no registration or login at all. Of
course, you won't get any university credit for taking courses, and you also
won't have any access to professors or fellow students.

Pros and Cons of Free Universities

There are a few other drawbacks to free universities, as one might expect.
Many courses include reading lists filled with books that are not available
for free -- meaning you have to go out and buy them if you want to take full
advantage of the course. And some 'courses' are just six or ten web pages of
easy-to-read text followed by a multiple-choice quiz. This hardly compares
with a full semester of in-depth readings, classroom discussions and
all-night study sessions.

Still, many course offerings are surprisingly comprehensive, including
dozens of hours of audio lectures, supplemental movies, interactive quizzes
and self-directed assignments. For example, UC-Berkeley archives each
lecture for courses as diverse as General Astronomy, Heidegger and Human
Emotion, and then makes them available as podcasts.

Judgment Call: How Good Are Free Online Courses?

Some schools have assembled a formidable online arsenal of learning. Other
schools' online offerings are barely worth the time.

Ultimately, what each student gets out of free online learning depends on
his or her investment into the process. Free classes aren't substitutes for
a real university education, but the best schools' offerings might just help
you build the core knowledge you've always wanted in a certain subject.
Purchase the recommended reading books, complete the assignments and take
the interactive tests seriously, and you might find that you've actually,
well...learned something.

And, really, isn't that what it's all about?

10 Universities Offering Free Science Courses Online

Some of the world's most prestigious universities now offer free science
courses online. Read on to find out where you can find these courses and to
learn what you can get out of each.

1. MIT OpenCourseWare (

a.. Biology Courses
b.. Chemistry Courses
c.. Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science Courses

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has hundreds of
undergraduate and graduate science courses available online for free. Both
the biology program and the chemistry program at MIT are ranked among the
top three biological science graduate programs in the nation. Each free
course is led by a competent instructor and includes lectures, assignments
and exams.

2. Carnegie Mellon University (

a.. Biology Course
b.. Chemistry Course
c.. Physics Course

Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative provides a wide variety of openly
available and completely free online science courses and course material.
Videos, text, tutors, virtual lab activities and interactive exercises allow
you to take entire courses in an online format.

3. University of California, Berkeley (

a.. General Biology Course
b.. General Astronomy Course
c.. Introduction to Physics Course

UC Berkeley first launched an audio podcast program in 2006. The school now
provides nearly 100 full courses that are completely free. Science offerings
include courses in biology, chemistry, physics, animal behavior and
astronomy. Lectures are recorded in mp3 and real media video.

4. Tufts OpenCourseWare (

a.. Agricultural Science and Policy Course
b.. Introduction to Modern Physics Course
c.. Physics for Humanists Course

Tufts University also makes their world-renowned courses available through
an OpenCourseWare program. Science offerings include everything from physics
to microbiology. Courses can be viewed in slides or PDF format.

5. University of Southern Queensland (

a.. General Science Course

The University of Southern Queensland in Australia offers a free general
science course as part of the USQ Tertiary Preparation Program (TPP). The
course includes study modules, reading lists, assignments and online tests
and examinations.

6. Utah State University (

a.. Quantum Mechanics Course
b.. Cultural Anthropology Course

The Utah State University Physics and Anthropology Departments publish free
science courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. The instructor led
courses include downloadable lecture notes, homework and more.

7. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (

a.. Population Science Courses
b.. Environmental Health and Science Courses

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's OpenCourseWare project
offers access to the school's most popular graduate level health and science
courses. All courses are free of charge and include lecture materials,
reading lists and more.

8. University of Tokyo (

a.. Molecular Computing Course
b.. Science of Matter Course

The University of Tokyo offers a number of free science courses online
through their OpenCourseWare program. Courses are led by an instructor and
include lecture notes, assignments and various materials in a PDF format.

9. Open University (

a.. Gene Manipulation in Plants Course
b.. Superconductivity Course
c.. Maths for Science Course

Britain's Open University offers an extensive collection of free science
courses, with an emphasis on science and nature. Most courses are at the
introductory or intermediate level. Course materials include both text and
multimedia elements.

10. Delft University of Technology (

a.. Applied Physics Courses

The Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands first began providing
free courses online in 2007. The school has since expanded their offerings
to include courses in applied physics, biomedical engineering and civil
engineering. Course materials lectures, reports and exams.

8 Colleges and Universities Offering Free Accounting Courses Online

Looking to gain or expand your knowledge of accounting? Here's a list of
colleges and universities that offer free, high quality accounting courses

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (

a.. Introduction to Financial and Managerial Accounting Course
b.. Financial Accounting
c.. Taxes and Business Strategy

The MIT OpenCourseWare project makes graduate level accounting courses from
the MIT Sloan School of Management available to everyone. Online courses
consist of PDF lecture notes, reading lists and in some cases, quizzes and
examinations. No registration is required.

2. Open University of the UK (

a.. Introduction to the Context of Accounting
b.. Influences on Accounting Regulation Course
c.. Investment Risk

Britain's Open University is dedicated to providing a high quality
university education that is free for everyone. There are several accounting
courses offered through the project. All are comprehensive and easily
accessible from the site. No registration is required.

3. Carnegie Mellon University (

a.. Micro Economics Course

Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative provides everyone with
free access to online course books used in Carnegie Mellon's Micro Economics
course. Course books include text, graphing applets, tests, computer tutors
and virtual online experiments. Registration is not required, but is
recommended if you want to save your work as you progress through the

4. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (

a.. Accounting Courses

Kutztown University's Small Business Development Center offers four
different free accounting courses online. Courses range from intermediate to
advanced and include audio stream, high end graphics and interactive case
studies. Registration is required, but there is no charge.

5. University of Alaska - College of Business and Public Policy

a.. Accounting 201: Principles of Financial Accounting

Dr. Fred Barbee's Principles of Financial Accounting Course is an
introduction to financial accounting concepts and principles. The course is
free for everyone and includes access to homework assignments, practice
exams, PowerPoint slides, learning games and other course materials. No
registration is required.

6. University of California- Irvine (

a.. Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning Course

The University of California-Irvine offers one free course that may be of
interest to aspiring accountants who want to learn the basics of financial
planning. The comprehensive text-based course is accessible through the
school's website. No registration is required.

7. Gresham College (

a.. Financial Institutions, Regulation and Compliance
b.. 1,000 Years of Mathematics
c.. A Single Global Financial Market

Britain's Gresham College is well known for the free public lectures the
school's professors give in London. Thousands of these lectures are now
available online in streaming audio and video. RealPlayer is necessary to
play most of the free accounting lectures. Registration is not required.

8. Wikibooks (

a.. Introduction to Accountancy
b.. Principles of Accounting
c.. Double Entry

Wikibooks isn't a traditional university per se, but it is an educational
resource worth checking out. The Wikimedia community has a huge textbook
collection that is free to everyone. The accountancy collection is a great
place for beginners to start. No registration is required.

Universities With the Best Free Online Courses

No tuition money? No problem! There are many top universities that offer
free courses online. This list ranks some of the best free university
courses for people who want to enhance personal knowledge or advance in
their current field.

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (

a.. Free MIT Courses Online

If you are looking for a wide range of free courses online, MIT is your best
option. There are more than 1,800 free courses offered through the school's
OpenCourseWare project. Courses are in audio, video and text format and can
be translated into a number of different languages. People from all over the
world use OpenCourseWare and 96 percent of visitors say they would recommend
the site to someone else.

2. Open University (

a.. Free Open University Courses Online

The Open University is the UK's largest academic institution. The school's
OpenLearn website gives everyone free access to undergraduate and graduate
level course materials from The Open University. Courses cover a broad range
of topics, such as arts and history, business, education, IT and computing,
mathematics and statistics, science, health and technology.

3. Carnegie Mellon University (

a.. Free Carnegie Mellon Courses Online

Carnegie Mellon University offers a huge collection of free online courses
and course materials through a program known as the Open Learning
Initiative. OLI courses are set up to allow anyone at the introductory
college level to learn about a particular subject without the help of a
formal instructor. Course options include, but are not limited to,
statistics, biology, chemistry, economics, French and physics.

4. Tufts University (

a.. Free Tufts University Courses Online

Like MIT, Tufts University has OpenCourseWare that is free to everyone.
Courses are sorted by school (School of Medicine, School of Arts and
Sciences, etc.) and include lecture notes, assignments and other
supplementary materials.

5. Stanford (

a.. Stanford Courses on iTunes U

Stanford University, one of the world's leading academic institutions, has
joined forces with iTunes U to provide access to Stanford courses, lectures,
interviews and more. Courses can be downloaded and played on your iPod, PC,
or Mac and can also be burned to a CD. If you don't have iTunes, you can
download it here for free.

6. University of California, Berkeley (

a.. Free UC Berkley Courses Online

UC Berkley has been offering live and on-demand webcasts of select courses
since 2001. There are now hundreds of current and archived UC Berkley
courses available as podcasts and webcasts. Courses cover a wide range of
subjects, including biology, astronomy, chemistry, computer programming,
engineering, psychology, legal studies and philosophy.

7. Utah State University (

a.. Free Utah State University Courses Online

Utah State University also provides access to an oleo of free online
courses. Study options include everything from Latin and anthropology to
physics and theatre arts. The text based courses are comprehensive and can
be downloaded as a zip file or viewed directly on the site.

8. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (

a.. Free Kutztown University Courses Online

Kutztown University's Small Business Development Center offers the largest
collection of free business and entrepreneurial courses available on the
web. Course topics include accounting, finance, government, business law,
marketing and sales. Interactive case studies, comprehensive text, slides,
graphics and streaming audio all help to demonstrate the concepts presented
in each course.

9. University of Southern Queensland (

a.. Free USQ Courses Online

The University of Southern Queensland in Australia provides free access to a
number of different courses through their OpenCourseWare initiative. Courses
from each of the five faculties are available and cover a broad range of
topics, including communication, technology, science, career planning,
teaching and multimedia creation.

10. University of California, Irvine (

a.. Free UC Irvine Courses Online

UC Irvine recently joined the OCW Consortium to begin providing free
university level courses online. Right now, there are only a handful of
options to choose from, but the list is growing. Current courses cover
topics like capital markets, financial planning, human resources and
e-marketing. Course materials typically include syllabi, lecture notes,
assignments and exams.


Texas Appleseed has released our new report, Texas' School-to-Prison
Pipeline: Dropout to Incarceration: The Impact of School Discipline and Zero
Tolerance. This report--the first in a multi-year project examining the
complex school to prison pipeline issues -- discusses the connection between
disciplinary referrals and dropout rates, a dynamic that creates a pipeline
into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.

Major findings include:

a.. High recidivism and dropout rates underscore the failure of
Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs.
b.. Where a child attends school is the greater predictor of the
likelihood of a student receiving a disciplinary referral.
c.. African American students are significantly overrepresented in schools'
discretionary disciplinary decisions compared to their percentage in the
overall student population.
d.. Special education students are significantly overrepresented in
discretionary disciplinary referrals compared to their percentage in the
overall school population.

The report also discusses proven methods of approaching school discipline
issues so that schools remain safe and students stay in school and keep
learning. It includes a section on Best Practices outlining a model that has
been tested in Texas and in other states, with results that clearly show its
effectiveness. It highlights the importance of Texas school districts
utilizing research-based strategies to improve student behavior, reduce
school dropouts, and help curb the growth of Texas' prison system.
Statistics clearly show that not only do DAEPs, as they are presently
administrated, fail to make mainstream schools safer places for Texas youth
to learn, but they also open gateways to even greater social issues at the
state level. Texas Appleseed recommends increased parental involvement,
improved TEA monitoring and higher DAEP requisites as possible keys to
solving the behavior management issues faced within Texas schools.

To read more about the School-to-Prison Pipeline project, please click here.

Texas' School-to-Prison Pipeline: Dropout to Incarceration: The Impact of
School Discipline and Zero Tolerance Report:

Executive Summary
Full Report

What Should Be Done About Standardized Tests?

A Freakonomics Quorum
By Stephen J. Dubner

What should be done about the quality and quantity of standardized testing
in U.S. schools? We touched on the subject in Freakonomics, but only insofar
as the introduction of high-stakes testing altered the incentives at play -
including the incentives for some teachers, who were found to cheat in order
to cover up the poor performance of their students (which, obviously, also
indicates the poor performance of the teachers).

Personally, I used to love taking standardized tests. To me, they
represented the big ballgame that you spent all season preparing for,
practicing for; they were easily my strongest incentive for paying attention
during the school year. I realize, however, that this may not be a common
view. Tests have increasingly come to be seen as a ritualized burden that
encourages rote learning at the expense of good thinking.

So what should be done? We gathered a group of testing afficionados - W.
James Popham, Robert Zemsky, Thomas Toch, Monty Neill, and Gaston Caperton -
and put to them the following questions:

Should there be less standardized testing in the current school system, or
more? Should all schools, including colleges, institute exit exams?

Here are their responses. Many thanks to all of them for their
participation. I have to admit, I never saw the parallel between tests and
French fries before, but now that I've seen it, I won't soon forget it.

W. James Popham, author of The Truth About Testing: An Educator's Call to
Action and America's Failing Schools:

Standardized tests have much in common with French fries. Both of them
differ in composition as well as quality. French fries are available in
numerous incarnations, including straight, curly, skins-on, skins-off, and,
in recent years, with sweet potatoes. Regarding quality, of course, the
taste of French fries can range substantially - from sublime to soggy. It's
really the same with standardized tests.

Certain standardized tests (called achievement tests) are intended to show
us what skills or knowledge students have mastered. Other standardized tests
(called aptitude tests) are designed to predict how well test-takers will
perform in future settings, such as when they get to college. Some
standardized tests are designed to differentiate among test-takers so we can
say that Kevin scored at the 82nd percentile, while Melanie's performance
puts her at the 96th percentile. Some standardized tests are supposed to let
us know how well a particular group of students, such as those in a given
school, have been taught. But, just as is true with French fries,
standardized tests can vary dramatically in their quality. Some standardized
tests perform their measurement mission marvelously; others do a dismal job
of it.

Thus, if we're asked whether there should be more or fewer standardized
tests in our school system, the only defensible answer is, "It depends." It
depends on whether the right kinds of tests are being used and whether those
tests are good ones. Given the kinds and caliber of the standardized tests
currently being used in our schools, I come down on the "less" side of the
argument. But that's chiefly because the wrong sorts of standardized tests
are frequently being used. Take the No Child Left Behind Act, for instance,
a federal accountability law requiring scads of standardized tests to be
used in evaluating schools. Do you know that almost all of the standardized
tests now being employed to judge school quality are unable to distinguish
between well taught and badly taught students?

We surely don't need more of those sorts of misleading tests. But we
definitely do need more standardized tests that are sufficiently sensitive
to instructional quality, so we can accurately tell which schools are truly
successful and which ones aren't. Standardized tests can be written that
accurately measure a school's instructional effectiveness, yet also
stimulate teachers to do a better job of teaching.

Turning to the exit-exam question, all schools - kindergarten through
college - should employ exit exams allowing us to determine what students
have actually learned. We owe it to our students to make sure that they've
been properly taught. But when I hear, as I recently have, of a proposal for
colleges to start using end-of-course tests as exit exams, I become
altogether apprehensive. I was a college professor for more than 30 years,
and I assure you that most professors know no more about making exit exams
than they do about making French fries.

Robert Zemsky, professor and chair of the Learning Alliance at the
University of Pennsylvania, and former member of the Spellings Commission:

Discussing testing is roughly akin to planning a visit to the dentist - it's
all about remembered pain. No one really likes to be tested. And yet
high-stakes testing - already a key element in the reform of primary and
secondary education - has become a standard feature of the "let's reform
higher education" industry.

Testing raises a host of problematic questions. Who is being tested: the
student, or the teacher? What is being tested: what the student knows, or
what the student has learned? Should the tests focus on specific knowledge -
like the ability to read a complex text or solve a standard physics
problem - or should the test focus on more general attributes, like creative
thinking and problem solving? Can a test in which the test-taker - that is,
the student - does not have a direct stake in the outcome actually command
the test-taker to do his or her very best?

Then there are the questions of what to do with the results. I have
actually sat through an extended discussion of how we could use regression
analysis to parse out the contribution different teachers made to a group of
students' performance on a set of standardized tests. The answer was, yes it
was possible, and could in fact be used to award merit pay increases. But
nobody left the room feeling very comfortable that there would be any gain
in what we knew made for good teaching.

What we know - and what makes those of us in higher education particularly
leery of generalized tests designed to capture how well an institution
teaches attributes like creating thinking and problem solving - is that the
best predictor of how well a group of college students will do on such a
test is how well they did on the SAT or the ACT. Those instruments may not
be perfect, or even good at identifying scholastic aptitudes, but boy are
they good at telling us who the best test-takers are.

Thomas Toch, co-director of Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think

There's a lot of standardized testing in public education. Elementary,
middle, and high school students are taking some 56 million reading, math,
and science tests this year just to comply with the demands of the No Child
Left Behind Act, and many states and school systems layer a lot of other
standardized tests on top of that.

This testing is valuable. Without it, parents, taxpayers, and policymakers
would have a tough time knowing how well schools were performing. That was
the case prior to the advent of the "standards movement" in public education
in the 1990s, when states began setting standards, testing students, and
publicizing the results. Students could fall through the cracks, and many
did, but educators didn't have strong incentives to help them because
without tests that measured students' performance against clear standards,
there was no way of holding teachers and principals accountable for their
students' success.

NCLB took the standards movement to its logical next step, requiring
standards and testing systems in every state, and creating consequences for
schools that failed to make adequate progress with specific groups of
students that public schools hadn't educated very well in the past - the
poor, students of color, English language learners, and the disabled. That
has been the law's most valuable contribution.

But we need much better tests. For a variety of reasons, including the
need to produce vast numbers of tests quickly and cheaply, the majority of
today's state-level standardized tests are multiple-choice measures of
mostly low-level skills, such as the recalling of facts in a reading
passage. They largely sidestep higher-level skills, such as having students
compare and contrast two reading passages, and the open-ended questions that
are best suited to measuring such skills. Roughly half of the nation's
students are taking tests under NCLB that are completely free of open-ended

This presents a problem, because when tests are high-stakes events, as
they are under NCLB (teachers and principals can eventually lose their jobs
if their students flunk NCLB tests for several consecutive years), educators
have a strong incentive to "teach to the test." In this case, that means
teaching low level skills at the expense of the more demanding material that
everyone says students need to master in today's complicated world.

Exit exams, which students must pass to graduate, make sense. "Social
promotion," or advancing unprepared students, has been commonplace in
schools and colleges for a long time.

But such tests pose tough questions. Two-thirds of the nation's public
high school students currently must pass exit exams in reading and math in
order to graduate. But the majority of the tests measure ninth- or
tenth-grade-level basic skills; passing them doesn't mean students are ready
for the workplace, much less prepared for college. Yet many state lawmakers
have been wary of setting the bar higher for fear of large numbers of
students failing.

But is it fair to give students what amounts to a counterfeit passport to
college or work? And do such tests spur high school teachers and principals
to aim high with their students? To both questions, the answer is, "No." In
most states today, high school exit tests serve the same role as the
standardized tests mandated by NCLB: they try to jack up the floor of
student achievement in the nation's schools. The best high school exit tests
would be end-of-course exams akin to the "comprehensive" exams that many
colleges and universities require students to pass in their majors before
graduation - tests, that is, that would raise the ceiling of student

Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest:

The No Child Left Behind law has had one clear accomplishment: it has
given a black eye to education policies based on the overuse of standardized

NCLB's testing mandates have flooded American classrooms with millions of
additional tests. At the same time, the rate of learning improvement has
actually slowed, according to the National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP).

A mounting pile of surveys and reports document the negative consequences
of testing overuse and abuse, as well as growing public opposition to the
test-and-punish approach. For more evidence, just listen to the roars of
approval when any of the presidential candidates criticizes the law. No
wonder more than 140 national education, civil rights, religious,
disability, parenting, and civic groups have called for its comprehensive

Having long tracked the misuse and abuse of such tests, FairTest predicted
a range of negative consequences from NCLB. Most have now been documented by
independent researchers. The problems are compounded by high school
graduation tests, and by pressure to score high on college admissions exams.

High-stakes testing has narrowed and dumbed down curricula; eliminated
time spent on untested subjects like social studies, art, and even recess;
turned classrooms into little more than test preparation centers; reduced
high school graduation rates; and driven good teachers from the profession.
Those are all reasons why FairTest and other experts advocate a sharp
reduction in public school standardized testing and a halt to exit exams.

One-size-fits-all testing schemes make even less sense for colleges and
universities. How could one exam ever accurately assess the learning of
students majoring in subjects as diverse as art history, biomedical
engineering, and political science?

As such, the politicians blindly mandating such exams are the ones outside
the mainstream, not assessment reformers like us. Indeed, the testing
industry's own standards state that no single exam should be used as the
sole or primary criterion to make high-stakes educational decisions such as
promotion, retention, graduation, college admission, or scholarship awards.

There are better ways to assess student learning. Classroom-based
information, such as grades, provides richer evidence of performance. High
school grade point average is a better predictor of college success than
either the SAT or the ACT.

The nation does need better assessments and more training for educators to
get the most out of them. FairTest has long promoted high-quality,
classroom-based assessments that can be used to improve student learning and
teaching. We also support the more than 760 colleges that do not require
admissions test scores for many or all of their applicants.

High quality assessment is an educational necessity. But high-stakes
standardized tests harm educational quality and promote inequity.

Gaston Caperton, president of The College Board:

The quantity of testing is less important than the quality of testing.
This is where the SAT excels. In an era of rampant grade inflation, the SAT
offers students the most level playing field available to demonstrate their
knowledge of core material. The SAT, in combination with the grade point
average, provides students, parents and admissions counselors with the best
predictor of academic success in college.

As for the question about exit exams, I think they largely exist already
in the form of final exams in various subject areas, both in high school and
in college. The SAT is unique in that it provides a focused look back at a
student's accomplishments in high school while offering a glimpse into that
student's potential in a college environment.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Steve Smith in concert

The Jazz Discovery Music Festival is pleased to announce that since   Steve Smith*s Jazz Legacy was unable to perform at the festival last   year due to the weather conditions in New York, they have agreed to   appear as the featured artist again this year. The date will be   Saturday, March 1st and the concert will also feature the Winthrop   University Jazz Ensemble with guest artists Joe Eckert, Lou Fischer, and   Mike Steinel. Online ticket sales will begin Monday, January 4th. For   additional information, artist bios, or to order tickets online, please   visit our website at 

Mark Yost
Associate Director of Bands
Northwestern High School
Rock Hill, South Carolina

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No good reason to have state Education Board

Posted on Tue, Dec. 18, 2007
THE INITIAL REACTION to the State Board of Education’s decision to elect a home-schooling mom as its next chairwoman at times has bordered on hysteria.

We admit we have some concerns about the selection of someone who supports vouchers and campaigned so actively against the election of the education superintendent with whom the board should work closely. But while the way Kristin Maguire has chosen to educate her own children does raise questions about her commitment to public education, that alone should not disqualify her from the position.

Ms. Maguire is by all accounts a smart, hard-working member of the board. And just as parents and non-parents alike pay taxes to support a public education system for the benefit of the entire state, rather than anyone’s particular children, state education policy is about how the public provides that education, not about whether individuals choose to avail themselves of it.

Still, Ms. Maguire’s election reminds us of a question that doesn’t get asked nearly as often as it should: Why, exactly, is it that we have a State Board of Education?

The controversy over South Carolina’s status as the only state in line to have a home-schooling chairwoman isn’t the board’s first. It was also in the spotlight when:

Board member Henry Jordan attracted international ignominy by countering objections to posting the Ten Commandments in public schools by saying, “screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims.”

Local legislators appointed to the board Ron Wilson, who was on the Anti-Defamation League’s and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s watch lists for, among other things, selling books to home-schoolers that espoused the view that Jews are trying to take over the world; and working to purge heritage buffs from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, indicating that he preferred that the group become a political movement backing white separatist views.

In fact, it’s hard to recall a time when the board has made news over anything related to education policy.
That might be because the board too often attracts would-be politicians who aren’t quite ready for prime-time. Or simply because there’s not much reason to pay attention to the board when it comes to education policy, which is set primarily by the General Assembly and the state superintendent of education.

There probably was a time when having a State Board of Education made sense, a time before the state Education Department had a staff of professionals who could more efficiently and effectively perform the board’s duties. It is these professionals who craft the policies and regulations that govern our state’s day-to-day operations, under the direction of the Legislature and the superintendent. Although Ms. Maguire was appointed by Gov. Mark Sanford, the other 16 board members were appointed by the same legislators who send over the orders it carries out, which makes the board at best a redundancy.

These occasional flare-ups that thrust the board into an unflattering spotlight aren’t the reason we need to question our 19th-century education governance system, but they should focus our attention on the issue.

To the extent that the board serves a purpose, it’s to diffuse the accountability of the elected education superintendent who in turn diffuses the accountability of the elected governor. And those are bad things. Even if we never let the governor appoint the superintendent (and we should), we at least should eliminate the board, and make education policy a bit more accountable to the public.

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