An OB/GYN writes to George Will about college rape
Dear Mr. Will,
I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria.
I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly I found my hands pinned behind my back and a forearm crushing my neck and for a few minutes I found it hard to breathe. I was 22, far from home, scared, and shocked and so at some point I just stopped kicking and let him finish. Sound familiar? For several weeks I didn’t even think about it as a rape because that was easier than admitting the truth. Again, sound familiar?
(Source: Dear Mr. Will, I read your recent column on the “supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. sexual assault” and am somewhat taken aback by your claim that forcing colleges to take a tougher stand on sexual assault somehow translates into a modern version of The Crucible that replaces witchcraft with rape hysteria. I was specifically moved to write to you because the rape scenario that you describe somewhat incredulously is not unfamiliar to me. Not because I’ve heard it in many different iterations (I have sadly done many rape kits), but because it was not unlike my own rape. The lead up was slightly different, but I too was raped by someone I knew and did not emerge with any obvious physical evidence that a crime had been committed. I tried to push him away, I said “No!” and “Get off” multiple times,” but he was much stronger and suddenly I found my hands pinned behind my back and a forearm crushing my neck and for a few minutes I found it hard to breathe. I was 22, far from home, scared, and shocked and so at some point I just stopped kicking and let him finish. Sound familiar)
The Gifted Debate
Should public schools offer separate programs for “gifted” students? asks The New York Times on its Room for Debate blog. Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed write that New York City’s gifted and talented (G&T) programs have long exacerbated socioeconomic and racial segregation within schools. Instead of providing segregated tracks, they write, schools should take a school-wide approach to gifted education, incorporating identified students into mixed-ability classrooms.
Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute strongly favors segregation by ability, arguing that it puts future innovators at risk to hope that overburdened classroom teachers can offer the teaching and learning environments gifted children need through “differentiation.”
Economist Darrick Hamilton writes that tracking students by ability is self-fulfilling, and locks students into hierarchical groups; particularly pernicious is so-called ability-group sorting across and within schools that is largely defined by race and class position at birth. Economist Bruce Sacerdote feels that data, theory, and decades of experience show that tracking can have a big payoff, since high-ability students benefit most from high-ability peers. Wholesale elimination of G&T programs or specialized high schools could have serious consequences for bright but not wealthy students
(Source: The New York Times)
Does STEM work?
Several recent studies question the efficacy of STEM-focused schools, writes Holly Yettick for Education Week. A report in The Journal of Educational Research indicated that students in STEM schools in North Carolina were significantly more likely to take core, advanced, and vocational-technical STEM courses than peers in other schools; however, in Florida, STEM students took vocational-technical STEM courses at higher rates, but took core and advanced STEM courses at the same rate as peers in non-STEM schools.
Students in STEM-focused schools in both Florida and North Carolina were no more likely to perform well on state math exams between 2006 and 2008. Another report in the same journal looked specifically at STEM-focused elementary and middle schools, finding results mixed. Transferring to STEM magnets didn’t change achievement trajectories; students performed at the same levels as peers who transferred to non-STEM schools in the same district. Still another study examined math, biology, chemistry, and physics course-taking and exam results for 70,000 students attending both selective and nonselective public STEM high schools in New York City.
The STEM schools appeared at first glance to have higher scores and STEM course-taking rates than other high schools, but once researchers accounted for demographics and prior test scores, most STEM-school advantages disappeared, suggesting they were disproportionately attracting higher-achieving students interested in STEM.
Those Finns: Schools and Technology
With little education technology in the classroom, Finnish students have repeatedly outperformed American students on international tests, writes Caitlin Emma for Politico.com. The country uses innovative teaching strategies in the classroom — just generally without incorporating technology. Finnish students, even those in the most modern schools, aren’t playing the latest learning games in the classroom. Even upper secondary students who receive laptops from their school leave their computers at home unless instructed otherwise — which doesn’t happen often.
According to the latest PISA results and a study conducted by the European Commission, there’s roughly one computer per five Finnish students in schools. In the U.S., that ratio is almost one to one (but the breakdown across individual rural, urban, and suburban districts depends on a district’s financial resources). At grade eight, Finnish students’ reported use of school computers is the lowest in the European Union, with only 27 percent saying they use computers at least once a week. That said, Finland is also due for a new set of education standards, and part of that effort means likely boosting the role of technology in the classroom. Perhaps ironically, Finland hopes to become more economically competitive, pinning hopes on its students to become future technological innovators.
Teacher performance laws, across the country
An increasing number of states are mandating that teacher performance be considered in employment decisions, including tenure and layoffs, according to a 50-state policy review of teacher-tenure laws by the Education Commission of the States.
Three states — Florida, Kansas, and North Carolina — have attempted to eliminate tenure or are phasing it out. Florida and Idaho fit this category in 2011, but Idaho voters have since repealed that state’s law eliminating tenure. Sixteen states require the results of teacher performance evaluations be used in decisions about tenure or non-probationary status, versus 10 in 2011. Seven states have laws returning tenured or non-probationary teachers to probationary status if they receive ineffective ratings. Arizona and Louisiana have joined this group since 2011, and Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, and Tennessee already had such laws. Eleven states require districts to consider performance in deciding which teachers to lay off when declining enrollments or economic factors necessitate reductions in force. Georgia, Louisiana, and Maine are the most recent states making performance a primary consideration.
In addition, Washington added this requirement in law effective 2015-16. Ten states explicitly prohibit the use of tenure or seniority as a primary factor in making lay-off decisions: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia. In 2012, only five states had such prohibitions in law.
“Using test scores to evaluate teachers will create more problems than it will solve. Excellent teachers will be erroneously labeled as incompetent, while poor teachers may get a pass. Students will not benefit.”
Looking not at behavior, but what triggers it
An artfully devised curriculum means little to a student whose mind is fixed on last night's shooting outside or violent fight between parents, writes Laura Pappano in The Harvard Education Letter. Years of research reveal the prevalence of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) in the United States — more than 68 percent of children have experienced a traumatic event by age 16 — with higher ACE scores correlating to health, education, and social problems. Federal data show 686,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, the most recent information.
A growing interest in “trauma-sensitive” schools has educators checking raised voices, discarding detention slips, and looking not at bad behavior but what triggered it, Pappano reports. In trauma-sensitive schools, staff let traumatized students exit class mid-lesson if they feel overwhelmed, or change “automatic thoughts” when confronting a student acting out. A number of available resources urge weaving trauma-sensitive thinking into school culture and staff training, tapping mental health experts, teaching in ways that make students feel safe, and building nonacademic relationships and rules that reflect the role of trauma in misbehavior. In an era of high-pressure performance, sensitivity and leeway feels counterintuitive, but giving students flexibility lets them stay engaged.
The problem with ‘grit’
The “new character education” has thousands of administrators, teachers, and parents convinced that qualities such as perseverance, discipline, and self-control trump IQ in determining academic success, writes Jeffrey Aaron Snyder for The New Republic. Yet Snyder finds major problems with this premise. First, we don’t know how to teach character. We have an increasingly cogent “science of character,” but no “science of teaching character.”
Many so-called desirable traits may be largely inherited and resistant to educational intervention. We already know, for instance, that grit is strongly correlated with “conscientiousness,” which psychologists view as stable and hereditary. The second problem is that the new character education unwittingly promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point-of-view, completely untethered from values and ethics. It takes grit and self-control to be a successful heart surgeon, but the same could be said of a suicide bomber.Bernie Madoff was, by most accounts, extremely hard-working, charming, and wildly optimistic.
The third and final problem is that the new character education limits the purpose of education to preparation for college and career. This is admirable given that for too long, black and Hispanic students, especially those living in poverty, have not been perceived as “college material.” But is it is wise?
Falling short on our egalitarian system
In the national mythology, few ideas are more revered than education’s power to overcome entrenched inequality, writes Eduardo Porter in The New York Times. While often falling short of the ideal, the United States at one time aimed to provide universal, comprehensive education, an egalitarian system to put elite European systems to shame — but no longer.
Not only do American standards trail those of other industrial countries, but we have a persistent gulf in results between rich and poor. Only one in 20 children from the most disadvantaged quarter of the population manages to excel at school. Americans may protest this reflects the United States’ more heterogeneous population and greater income inequality, but the truth, noted by the O.E.C.D., is that “socioeconomic disadvantage translates more directly into poor educational performance in the United States than in many other countries.”
The way schools are funded — mainly through local real estate taxes — creates a built-in advantage for schools in rich communities, where they hire the best teachers, build the best labs, and buy the best computers, and where the wealthy surround their children with the children of other wealthy people. Closing disparities in education requires addressing school funding, teacher quality, and teacher salaries, and truly implementing common standards. As long as the performance gap remains so wide, education cannot level the playing field of opportunity.
(Source: The New York Times)