No matter how hard you try, you realize there’s a good chance you’re grading some students more harshly than they deserve, and giving others more credit than they deserve. This doesn’t have anything to do with favoritism (a whole other problem), but with human error and weakness. Your temperament and disposition change over the hours or days you spend grading an assignment. In fact, your frame of mind can change in moments for any number of reasons: Five weak essays in a row can put you in a foul mood; fatigue can set in; a too-hot or too-noisy room can set your nerves on edge. Maybe you’re suddenly reminded that you have only 48 hours left to finish clearing out your deceased parent’s apartment. How can any teacher be confident that his or her assessment of student work is always fair and accurate in the face of such vagaries? An essay that earns a B+ at one moment might earn a B- the next day. It shouldn’t be that way, but any honest teacher will admit it’s true.
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Coming in with an average SAT reading score of 496, 2012’s graduating seniors have the dubious distinction of having attained the worst reading score since 1972. (For those test-takers of a certain age and test-taking history, “reading” is actually that part we knew as “verbal.”)
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The U.S. economic recovery has been anemic by almost any standard. But for Americans with just a high school degree or less, it’s been worse than anemic. It’s been non-existent.
This week, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a new report breaking down job growth during and after the Great Recession by education levels. And as it illustrates in the graph above, employment has been essentially flat since January 2010 for adults who never went to college.
Here’s what that translates too: For about 38 percent of working age Americans, there has been absolutely no growth in the job market since it bottomed out more than two years ago. To get a job, you’ve essentially had to hope someone else lost or left theirs.
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With bright pops and trailing screams, hand-built rockets fly toward the sun in graceful (occasionally precarious) arcs. High school students from across the country huddle together anxiously, waiting for their turns to compete in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). The task is not easy: Each rocket has to propel two eggs to an altitude of 800 feet and return them safely to the ground within 43 to 48 seconds. The tension subsides only when competitors hear the faint crack from their rocket at the peak of flight, indicating the parachute has deployed and the cargo has a chance of survival. Some rockets perform exceptionally; others misfire. But with every “three, two, one… launch!” the crowd’s attention grows intensely focused. Rocket launches, however many dozen in a row, do not stop being cool.
It’s a warm but thankfully unhumid day in The Plains, Virginia, about 45 miles west of Washington, D.C. Wesley Carter and Darius Hooker, two high school seniors from Wooddale High School in Memphis, Tennessee, are making final adjustments — compensating for a two-knot breeze and low humidity — to their white 90 centimeter rocket.
“It’s pretty tense right now; I’m just trying to hope everything goes according to plan,” Carter tells me minutes before the launch.
It has taken three years of planning, drafting plans on computer software, and meticulous trial-and-error for these Memphis teens to compete against America’s top 100 model rocketry teams. And they almost didn’t make it to the contest. […]
Carter and Hooker represent a rare success for two struggling systems: They are from one the poorest metropolitan areas in the country, in the one of the worst school systems in the state, but they are pursuing careers in a field that many people their age have discounted. And they are excelling. What counts for their success?
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Meet Ben. He’s a high school senior from a middle class family in Massachusettes who is choosing where to attend college next year. He’s down to two schools: prestigious Boston College, or the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, his state’s top public campus. Even with the generous financial aid package from BC, he would still graduate with a big mound of loans. UMass, meanwhile, would be more than $15,000 a year cheaper.
Which should Ben pick? Prestige or price?
With the cost of higher education climbing every year, and student debt surpassing $1 trillion, more and more young people will have to decide whether to make that trade-off. It begs the question: Does it really pay to go to an elite university, financially speaking? Researchers have been investigating this issue since at least the 1980s. And their findings tend to show that when it comes to future earnings, where you go to college counts.
It’s clear that school leaders and their associations should be speaking up more forcefully about overregulation. If it’s an obstacle to improving schools and to the wise use of scarce resources, they have an obligation to both students and taxpayers to say so. Because of pushback from school leaders in the state, a commission created by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo provided some mandate relief to schools last year, including providing leeway to run buses based on actual ridership and not on the number of eligible students. The Port Washington school district estimated that it would save $2 million a year if it could run fewer but fuller buses, once this one-size fits-all statewide mandate was eliminated.
Reducing bureaucratic requirements for schools is generally a step in the right direction, but maybe part of the solution is to also re-examine our own expectations of what schools should even accomplish in the first place. Asking school leaders to improve instruction, raise standards, and create school climates that are respectful and conducive to learning is reasonable, and sensible regulation here is warranted. But that’s not all we demand; schools are routinely required to advance social improvement missions that often have little or nothing to do with education. Asking schools to take on every do-gooder mission that occurs to us may be going overboard. At what point, it’s fair to ask, have we created a “to do” list that’s so long and convoluted that not even the most committed and savvy school leader can accomplish it?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]