Monday Reading List: Competency-Based Education, Student Press Freedoms, and LET US KEEP SCIENCE

Lillian Mongeau of The Hechinger Report looks at how some schools in Maine are changing what it means to make educational progress:

The law requires that by 2021, students graduating from Maine high schools must show they have mastered specific skills to earn a high school diploma. Maine is the first state to pass such a law, though the idea of valuing skills over credits is increasingly popular around the country. “Maine is the pioneer,” said Chris Sturgis, co-founder of CompetencyWorks, a national organization that advocates for the approach in K-12 schools. This year’s nearly 13,500 eighth graders will be the first students required to meet the changed requirements, which are being phased in gradually. By 2021, schools must offer diplomas based students reaching proficiency in the four core academic subject areas: English, math, science and social studies. By 2025, four additional subject areas will be included: a second language, the arts, health and physical education.

Until further notice, I will file this idea under "great in theory, wait-and-see in practice." The current regime, wherein both content and time are rigidly standardized, delivers pitiful results for many students. I'm eager to see how this plays out in Maine, and if it delivers measurable gains, I will be the first person in line at the parade. 

Madeline Will of Education Week looks at a new effort to offer student journalists more rigorous legal protections:

The New Voices movement, led by the Washington-based nonprofit Student Press Law Center, started with a law passed in North Dakota in 2015. Last year, such laws were victorious in Illinois and Maryland but failed in a handful of other states, including Michigan and Missouri. In addition to the newly signed law in Vermont, legislation has passed this year in Nevada, and bills are moving through the legislatures in New Jersey and Rhode Island. Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said bills are also on the runway in New York and Wisconsin, and once again in Michigan, Missouri, Washington, Texas and Indiana for next year's legislative sessions ... In some states, the bills have garnered opposition from administrator groups, school lobbyists, or state school boards, who fear that the legislation could lead to unchecked, irresponsible student journalism.

That last point sounds like a frivolous concern; the only time I hear school boards and administrators complain about the quality of student journalism is when their own weaknesses or malpractices are the subject of that reporting. More than ever, we need to prepare young people to tell the truth about a complicated world. Facts matters.

In other news, Erica Green of The New York Times looks at Betsy DeVos's educational background:

Public neighborhood schools — the vast majority of schools in this country — were hardly present in the billionaire’s childhood or adult life. Critics say this lopsided exposure fueled Ms. DeVos’s staunch support of privately run, publicly funded charter schools and voucher programs that allow families to take tax dollars from the public education system to private schools ... Ms. DeVos has maintained that she is “agnostic” about the type of schools that parents choose for their children.

First of all, if you're not following Erica Green's reporting, you should be, because she has done an admirable job of covering the DeVos administration in a way that is both pointed and fair. Second, public money should not be used to support private religious institutions, no matter how academically strong those institutions are. If you're so committed to social justice that you want to run schools for vulnerable kids, you should do that, but in a secular way that doesn't exclude people of other faith backgrounds.

In the meantime, as Katie Worth of Frontline reports, folks are trying to pin-down DeVos's beliefs about climate change:

Four Democratic senators are sharply criticizing a conservative think tank’s efforts to bring climate change skepticism into the nation’s public schools as “industry funded” and “possibly fraudulent” and demanding to know whether federal education officials have been in contact with the group ... The senators asked DeVos whether any Education Department officials have had contact with individuals associated with the Heartland Institute “on climate, science, or science education issues,” and whether any informational resources put out by the department have been created in collaboration with Heartland ... Heartland is perhaps best known for its position as a leader in the movement to reject the scientific consensus on global warming.

It's possible to believe the scientific consensus on climate change, yet maintain opposition to enacting government measures aimed at curbing the phenomenon. Maybe you believe that such measures will be harmful to certain industries, or that the likelihood of successful intervention is low. Those are short-sighted, morally questionable positions, but if you have a pecuniary interest in industries like oil, coal, and gas, you stand to benefit from perpetuating their profitability as long as possible. If that's what you think, you should make those arguments.

What troubles me more than maintaining those honest, yet disagreeable, positions is the systematic attempt to undermine science. Those efforts are contributing to the erosion of a common basis for understanding the world in which we live. It's pre-enlightenment, return-to-the-middle-ages style bullshit. If you don't give a shit if climate change happens, just say that. Don't throw the rest of us into a second round of the Dark Ages on the back of your selfish, ignorant beliefs.

Oh yeah ... have a great week :)