Fix Features

education

MOOCs, or “Massive Open Online Courses,” promise to forever change the way students receive higher education, taking the classroom into the virtual world. Many top universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have launched MOOC programs in the last few years via online platforms such as EdX and Coursera.

Christianity Today reports that Regent University has become the latest institution to join the MOOC movement, launching a new website called LUXVERA:

This week, Regent University released its own MOOC platform, LUXVERA, featuring free college courses as well as a series of “GREAT Talks.”

“A Christian MOOC can deliver thoughtful and free content to unlimited numbers of people. LUXVERA is elegant, engaging and designed to provide an accessible and extremely affordable education with excellent academic content,” said Gerson Moreno-Riaño, dean for Regent’s College of Arts & Sciences (CAS), and director of the university’s MOOC strategy. “Christian higher education has the power to transform and LUXVERA is the means by which Regent and the entire Christian community can give hope for a better life that includes a great education that molds the mind, heart and our actions.”

First on the docket for Regent’s MOOC platform is a course titled “Who is Jesus?” developed by Corné Bekker, chair of the Department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry at Regent. The “GREAT Talks” lectures will feature Christian leaders like Regent’s CEO Pat Robertson; Paul Bonicelli, executive vice president of Regent and former George W. Bush appointee; and Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice…

Read more.

(Image: amysphere.flickr)

{ 3 comments }

Teach for America, if you are a college student or a recent grad, particularly at a wealthy, elite college, chances are you’ve considered it as a post graduate career option.

The premise of TFA is laudable–You take a bunch of well-educated, mostly upper class kids from elite schools, put them in a summer-long teacher boot camp of sorts, and send them off to teach in the nation’s worst schools and most impoverished neighborhoods. If you are about to graduate and you don’t know what to do with your life–there could be worse things to do with your life.

But a recent article at Salon has gained a lot of attention by highlighting some of the shortcomings of the popular program. Catherine Michna writes:

For the past nine years, I’ve been an instructor, a Ph.D. student, adjunct professor, and post-doctoral fellow in humanities departments at several different universities. During this time, many students have asked me to write recommendations for Teach for America. My students generally have little to no experience or training as teachers, but they are lured by TFA’s promises that they can help close the education gap for children in low-income communities. For humanities majors, TFA is a clear path to a job that both pays a living wage and provides a stepping stone to leadership positions in a cause of national importance.

I understand why my students find so much hope in TFA. I empathize with them. In fact, I’m a former Teach for America corps member myself. But unless they are education majors—and most of them aren’t—I no longer write Teach for America letters of recommendation for my students. I urge my higher-ed colleagues to do the same…

Every year, TFA installs thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds, the majority of whom are from economically and culturally privileged backgrounds, into disadvantaged public schools. They are given a class of their own after only five to six weeks of training and a scant number of hours co-teaching summer school (in a different city, frequently in a different subject, and with students in a different age group than the one they end up teaching in the fall). College and university faculty allow these well-meaning young people to become pawns in a massive game to deprofessionalize teaching. TFA may look good on their resumés and allow them to attain social capital for their bright futures in consulting firms, law schools, and graduate schools. But in exchange for this social capital, our students have to take part in essentially privatizing public schools.

The simple fact is that students who apply to TFA are not trained to be teachers. So by refusing to write TFA letters of recommendation, we’re merely telling our students that we can’t recommend them for a job they’re not qualified for. An increasing amount of research shows that TFA recruits perform at best no better, and often worse, than their trained and certified counterparts. What’s more, they tend to leave after just a few years in the classroom. Would a biology professor write a recommendation to medical school for an English major who’s never taken any core science courses? That would be strange. It would be even stranger if the professor knew the English major was just going into medicine for a few years, as a way to boost his resume, before ultimately going on to a career in public relations…

Michna’s article has made the rounds online, seemingly striking a chord with those who are critical of TFA for one reason or another. But while I do think there are problems with TFA–sending inexperienced teachers, even bright and idealistic ones, into the most troubled public school classrooms in the country is bound to be less than 100% successful–I don’t think the problems Mincha points to are all that legitimate.

At the root of her complaints about TFA is the idea that “deprofessionalizing” teaching is something we ought to avoid. Her premise is that it takes an education degree to be able to teach. That is a notion that I find highly implausible. And she even admits so much in her article when she says TFA students perform “at best no better, and often worse” than “trained and certified counterparts.” But if that’s true it must also be true that certified teachers often perform “at best no better” than TFA teachers–not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Since TFA sends students to the worst schools in America–often urban jungles full of poverty, gangs, drug abuse, high dropout rates, illegitimacy, and so forth–it would be remarkable indeed to find that TFA members were single-handedly turning these schools into havens of sterling educational achievement. Rather, I think the proper question to ask is this: If our nation’s teacher training programs are so good, then why do we have so many miserably failing schools to begin with?

TFA isn’t a perfect program, by any means. And I had classmates who dropped out because they were not prepared to enter the war zone of a troubled urban school. and Michna’s criticism that TFA students usually bail on teaching after a couple of years is a fair one. Most grads I know who went into TFA viewed it merely as a temporary stepping stone to law school, or business school–a nice way to pad your resume with the glimmer of compassion and activism. But I do know one classmate who, several years on, is still teaching–quite happily and effectively by the way.

If TFA were overwhelmingly and indisputably effective that would be a real indictment of professional education schools. As it stands, I think TFA is an imperfect but–overall–beneficial program that seeks to solve a very difficult problem: the acute shortage of teachers in our nation’s worst schools. Fact is, the “certified professionals” are usually the first to transfer out of those schools in favor of wealthy, well-behaved classrooms in the suburbs. TFA students, in other words, are doing a job that the so-called “professionals” are apparently unwilling to do. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a teacher shortage in those schools. So how then is it fair to point out that rather obvious fact that not all TFA teachers do that difficult job so well as they, and we, would hope? At least they’re trying.

And if some TFA participants view it as mere resume padding, that takes nothing away from the thousands of others who do enter the program with a sense of altruism, and a sincere hope to make a difference in the lives of troubled students attending troubled schools. If Michna wants to defend her belief in the worth of professional education schools, fine. But until such time as America’s professional education schools step up to solve the ever-worsening problem of urban educational underachievement–the problem TFA is designed to address–Michna’s underlying claim, that TFA is doing more harm than good, isn’t going to carry much weight.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

Like The College Fix on Facebook. / Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden

{ 0 comments }

Students were forced to participate in an “educational” reenactment of life as a slave during a class field trip, the details will leave you speechless.

Two parents have filed human rights complaints against a Connecticut school district over a controversial slave reenactment that students took part in on a class trip last year.

Sandra and James Baker of Farmington, Conn., learned that their daughter participated in a four-day class trip to the Nature’s Classroom program in Charlton, Mass., during which camp instructors had students act the part of slaves.

The students reportedly had to pretend to be on a “slave ship” and that their instructors were their masters. They also pretended to pick cotton.

The Bakers’ daughter was allegedly told that if she were to run, “they would whip me until I bled on the floor and then either cut my Achilles so I couldn’t run again or hang me,” WFSB-TV reports.

The children were also apparently called the “n-word” and chased through the woods…

Read more at The Blaze.

WFSB 3 Connecticut

{ 1 comment }

Children removed from home due to illegal homeschooling – Is this a headline we could be reading someday in America? Could the government one day raid homes and remove children from loving parents, simply because those parents refused to enroll their children in government schools? It’s not inconceivable. In fact, it’s already a reality Germany.

The Federalist, a new conservative online political magazine, is running a disturbing story today about a German family who lost their children simply because they dared to homeschool them:

It was 8:00 in the morning on August 29, 2013 in the quiet village of Darmstadt, Germany. Inside the Wunderlich home, Dirk and Petra and their four children—ages 7 to 14—bustled about their morning routine of breakfast, chores, and lessons. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Then the doorbell rang again. Urgently.

Dirk and Petra exchanged anxious glances. As Dirk went to the window, his heart sank. Official-looking vehicles had descended on Darmstadt, and a team of 20 armed police officers, special agents, and government officials was pouring into the street. “We need to speak with you!” barked an officer through the door. When Dirk tried to ask a few questions, he immediately saw three policemen preparing a battering ram to break down the door. He quickly opened it, and the SWAT team swarmed inside, shoving Dirk into a chair and announcing that they had an order to remove all four children.

WunderlichFamily4-300x192A short time later, the cars drove away with the Wunderlichs’ children inside. Dirk and Petra hadn’t even been given a chance to hug them goodbye. “It’s too late for that,” an officer growled as he elbowed Petra away from her frightened 14-year-old daughter. A neighbor stood watching nearby, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Dirk and Petra Wunderlich lost their children simply for the crime of home schooling. Families like the Wunderlichs believe the government’s prescribed curriculum undermines their Christian worldview. For them, educating their children at home in accordance with their religious beliefs is a matter of conscience.

A Nazi-era law, still in force today, mandates that all German children attend a school teaching the state curriculum.

If this raid on the Wunderlich home is uncomfortably reminiscent of Germany’s fascist past, that’s not accidental. A Nazi-era law, still in force today, mandates that all German children attend a school teaching the state curriculum…

The rights of parents to raise their children and oversee their education are sacred. And a story like this one is a sobering reminder that this right is not some thing we can take for granted.

As a homeschooling parent myself, this story is particularly troubling to read.

After all, we live in an age in which the government can, for the first time ever, force you (under Obamacare) to go purchase a product (health insurance), or else face legal repercussions. If the government now has that kind of power over our lives, then it’s not hard to imagine the political left arguing that all children ought to be corralled into government schools under force of law.

We have a “health insurance mandate,” why not a “public education mandate?”

Believe me, there are more than a few leftists in Washington D.C. who would happily pull the lever in favor of such a law.

Meanwhile, God help those kids in the Wunderlich family. It’s hard to imagine a more callous exercise of government power than to break up a loving family in order to ensure “the philosophical homogeneity” of society.

There’s much more to this story, including the Obama administration’s troubling assertion in a related case that homeschooling is “not a fundamental right.” For details, please go read the full story at The Federalist.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

Like The College Fix on Facebook. / Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden

{ 1 comment }

Ballotpedia.org has launched a new webpage that makes it easier for voters around the country to keep track of their local school board members.

The new School Boards section of Ballotpedia includes a national map with state-by-state information on school board elections, news, budgets, and other data, covering the 1,000 largest school districts in the country.

This information may make it easier for parents and tax-payers to stay better informed about school board elections and ultimately hold school board members accountable for their voting records.

Click here to check out the site.

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook  /  Twitter: @CollegeFix

{ 0 comments }

Paul E. Peterson, a professor of government at Harvard, writes in the Wall Street Journal:

No Child Left Behind, which began in 2002, focused on the low performance of African-American and Hispanic students. It required that all students, no matter their race or ethnicity, reach proficiency by 2014. Since minority students had the longest road to travel, schools placed special emphasis on their instruction, and measured the quality of their instruction by ascertaining their performance on standardized tests…

After winning the presidency, Mr. Obama halted enforcement of most of No Child’s key provisions and offered waivers to states that signed up for more lenient rules devised by the Education Department. So far, waivers have been granted to 40 states…

During the Clinton-Bush era (1999 to 2008), white 9-year-olds gained 11 points in math, African-American student performance rose by 13 points and Hispanic student performance leaped by 21 points. In reading, the gains by white 9-year-olds went up seven points, black performance jumped by 18 points and Hispanic student achievement climbed 14 points.

Those remarkable gains came to an end after the Obama administration took charge. Between 2008-12, gains by African-Americans at age 9 were just two points in each subject, while Hispanics gained one point in reading and nothing in math. Whites gained one point in reading and two points in math…

Read the full op-ed here.

What do you think? Did Obama make a mistake when he began to dismantle No Child Left Behind?

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook  /  Twitter: @CollegeFix

{ 2 comments }