Barb Oakley, Science Pimp
My good friend, engineering prof Barb Oakley, doesn't dress like a typical pimp -- no huge shades indoors, no diamond insets on her teeth spelling out "Newton." But, she gets invited to come to Washington to be one every year -- a pimp for teaching science and math, but not in the way kids can learn it best. She blogs on Psychology Today:
I'm expected to join a small legion of volunteers to beg my senators and representatives to spend tax money on a program called the Math and Science Partnerships. This program is supposed to help improve how math and science is taught in this country. What could be wrong with that?
...Narrow intellectual gatekeeping is omnipresent in academia. Want to know why the government wastes hundreds of millions of dollars on math and science programs that never seem to improve the test scores of American students? Part of the reason for this is that today's K-12 educators--unlike educators in other high-scoring countries of the world--refuse to acknowledge evidence that memorization plays an important role in mastering mathematics. Any proposed program that supports memorization is deemed to be against "creativity" by today's intellectual gatekeepers in K-12 education, including those behind the Math and Science Partnerships. As one NSF program director told me: "We hear about success stories with practice and repetition-based programs like Kumon Mathematics. But I'll be frank with you--you'll never get anything like that funded. We don't believe in it." Instead the intellectual leadership in education encourages enormously expensive pimping programs that put America even further behind the international learning curve.
This echoes the fight against English immersion -- shown to be the best way for Hispanic, non-English-speaking kids to get ahead -- that another friend of mine, Heather Mac Donald, writes about on City Journal:
The Oceanside school district, on the Pacific coast north of San Diego, became the emblem for the new English immersion. Superintendent Kenneth Noonan, a former bilingual teacher himself and cofounder of the California Association of Bilingual Education, had opposed Prop. 227, but once it passed, he determined that Oceanside would follow the law to the letter. He applied the criteria for granting bilingual waivers strictly and ended up creating no Spanish-taught classes. He then sat back with considerable trepidation and waited. "Trained bilingual teachers started calling me," he says. "'You've got to see what's happening down here,' they said. I thought: 'I guess it's true, the sky has fallen.' " But when Noonan visited their classrooms, he found that these new converts to immersion were "glowing with a sense of success."
The first four months were difficult, Noonan recalls, but then the students took off. Second-grade test scores in reading rose nearly 100 percent in two years--with the average student moving from California's 13th percentile to its 24th--after staying flat for years. These accomplishments didn't stop protesters from holding candlelight vigils outside the Oceanside school board's offices and from filing federal and state civil rights complaints challenging the district's strict waiver policies. Those complaints were eventually rejected.
...And the transformation in the classroom has to be seen to be believed. It is extraordinary, for example, to observe elementary school teachers in Santa Ana, once a bastion of bilingual education, talking to their young Hispanic students exclusively in English about the Great Wall of China. It is just as extraordinary to see those students eagerly raising their hands to read English workbooks aloud in class. The main sign that the students are not native English speakers is an occasional reminder about past-tense formation or the pronunciation of word endings, but plenty of English-only speakers in the state need such assistance, too. Schools are not universally following the time frame set out in Prop. 227: a year of separate instruction in English followed by integration with English-only students. In some schools, English learners remain cloistered for a longer period. But regardless of classroom composition, English learners are being taught "overwhelmingly in English," which is the most important goal of 227.
Self-esteem seems fine. "I didn't know how to speak English in first grade," says a husky fourth-grade boy at Adams Elementary School in Santa Ana. "I just figured out at the end of the year and talked all English." The boy's classmates, who are sitting next to him at a picnic table under a pepper tree for lunch, jostle to get in on the interview. They are fluent in schoolyard insults. "He's a special ed!" one boy says of another. "I am not a special ed, you liar!" retorts the target. The fifth-grade girls at a table nearby complain that the boys are lazy. A slender girl has recently arrived from Mexico. Her translator for that day, a tiny blue-eyed girl named Lily, drapes her arm lovingly around the new immigrant and will sit next to her in all their classes, explaining what the teacher is saying. The pair and their fellow pupils amble back into the school after lunch, any signs of psychological distress well concealed. No one reports unhappiness at speaking English in class; on the contrary, they brag that it's easy.