This week’s Education News Round-Up discusses important changes in the New York City Public school system, the current state of STEM education and a very special opportunity given to Chicago public school students.
This Monday, the students of Chicago’s Frederick Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center attended a guest lecture by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union. With the help of an interpreter, he recounted the climate of the Cold War and spoke about the current state of international relations. “Today we often see a failure of responsibility — moral responsibility, political responsibly. We need to learn to live in this global world, to manage the events of the global world.”
Mr. Gorbachev spoke as part of a series of panel discussions that opened the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which was held for the first time in the United States from April 23 to 25. “We’re not starting with some large opening ceremony at some large hall,” said last year’s interim head of Chicago Public Schools, Terry Mazany, “we’re starting at the public schools with serious dialogue between the peace laureates and students. We’re bringing a student voice to the conversation.” Former South African President F.W. de Klerk (who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela) spoke in another Chicago school.
Bushwick Community High School in Brooklyn is a safe haven for at-risk teenagers in one of the most high-needs areas in New York City. The school accepts students who have dropped out, been in trouble with the law, are homeless or have fewer than 10 of the 44 required credits to graduate. For many, it is a last resort, and it becomes their home. “Where would I be without this school family? I would be in jail. I would be dead,” one of the school’s current teachers and former students, Iran Rosario said. “Friends tell you what you want to hear; family tells you what you need to hear. They did that for me, and saved my life.”
But this Thursday, Bushwick Community High School faces a vote by the Panel for Education Policy that could potentially see its principal and half its staff laid off. This school has come under scrutiny by the Bloomberg administration for its failure to meet the standards of achievement determined by standardized tests. Supporters of the school argue that the faculty looks at the whole student, as opposed to their grades, and that voting to close will remove a powerfully positive force from the Bushwick community.
A recent study determined certain computer programs are as effective at grading essays on standardized tests as humans. While many of these programs are still a long time away from becoming the norm, educators are realizing the potential. A human essay grader can grade 30 essays in one hour; a computerized essay grader can grade 16,000 in two seconds. They check essays for word count, sentence length, sentence fragments and the sophistication of the vocabulary.
Nonetheless, the director of writing at MIT, Les Perlman, says there is a lot these programs do not consider. After writing two essays, a nonsensical one that totaled 716 words and received a score of 6, and a well-argued 567-word essay that received a 5, Mr. Perlman concluded two things: 1. The program cannot score the quality of an argument, simply its mechanics; and 2. it cannot tell the truth. “[The programs] don’t care if you say the War of 1812 started in 1945,” he said.
Interactive Educational Systems Design, Inc. and STEM Market Impact, LLC released their third annual report on the current state of the STEM market. STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is an area of education receiving special attention as educators try preparing students to enter a workforce dominated by companies in these industries. The report details more than 700 unmet needs identified by a thousand administrators, educators and STEM leaders. It discusses how these unmet needs present opportunities for companies that wish to work with educators to strengthen their programs. The survey also follows the progress of classrooms across the country that have integrated technology into their learning, as well as the status of the Bring your Own Device (BOYD) efforts that encourage students to bring their own computers to class.
Despite criticism of his administration’s aggressive closing of underperforming schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has just announced that 54 new schools will be opening across New York City in the fall of 2012. Twenty-four of these will be charter schools, and 30 of them will be regular public schools. New schools often occupy the spaces of old schools, and since he took office in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has closed 140 schools while opening 589 new ones. Nevertheless, opponents of this policy say that 140 is too many, and point to the fact that almost 40 percent of closed schools were created by the mayor. They say that closing schools endangers special-needs students, English Language Learners and students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.