Give the horse its head

Updated: Friday, December 13, 2013
Give the horse its head story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - There's lots of hand-wringing over the past week after the latest international student assessments found the American team sliding into nothing better than average.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says that while it's not good news, there's no reason to believe we can't do better.


It might be as simple as letting our horses have their heads.

So the old equestrian theory goes: you're out riding your horse on a foggy night in the moors and you become hopelessly lost. So you release the reigns, letting the horse have its head, and the horse finds its way out of the maze and heads for home.

There's no reason to think the teachers we have aren't the very horses we need.

For a decade now, as many teachers will tell you, they've been saddled, first by President Bush's "No Child Left Behind," followed by President Obama's "Race to the Top." And I use the word 'saddled' on purpose, because they have grown weary of teaching to accommodate tests.

Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers says the years of top-down, test-based schooling—which has resulted in the hyper-testing of students, the sanctioning of teachers, and the closing of schools—has failed us.

The numbers from the Program of International Student Achievement are indeed sobering.

510,000 15-year-olds from 65 countries get tested every three years.

In the most recent go-round,  the American students  were 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading. Average.

The students from Shanghai won in every category, but the rankings are suspect because testers weren't given access to students in poorer sections of the city or the country.

But the United States is loaded with students from poor families—and poor students, almost across the board, do not fare as well as students from wealthier families. But, overall, rich kids didn't do that well either.

Nonetheless, it's too soon to throw our hands up in despair. Maybe we are behind. But, make no mistake, we have good kids. We have smart kids. And we have good teachers. We have smart teachers.

Its time to give them their heads—to let them own their own classroom, let them be active participants in setting standards and shaping curriculum, and give them the time and money for continuous professional development.

The concept of a common core curriculum  is gaining momentum across the country, and it seems like a good idea. Essentially, by teaching and learning from set materials tied to their grade and age levels, kids across the country would develop similar academic skills.

Here's what the New York Times said in an editorial a few days ago: a lot of classes are taught by teachers who have no particular interest in what they're teaching.

And by using outdated textbooks and worn out curriculum, students wind up convinced that math and science are for nerds only, and as a result fall even further behind.

That just doesn't seem to me to be an overwhelming thing to fix. In fact, how can we continue asking teachers to teach what doesn't turn them on? What sense does it make? How can they make what they teach exciting and enticing?

And how can we blame students for becoming confused and turning their backs?

These are fixable things.

We should be looking closely at the highest-performing nations, take what they do well, and do it better here.

We've already got the horses. Lets use them. Lets give them their heads.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on November 27, 2015 08:32 GMT


UNDATED (AP) --The Super Bowl of shopping has had an early start again this year, but most of the action is expected today.

Early numbers aren't out yet on how many shoppers headed to stores on Thanksgiving, but it's estimated that more than three times the number of people will venture out to shop on the day after the holiday known as Black Friday.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expected about 30 million to shop on Thanksgiving, compared with 99.7 million on Black Friday. A total of about 135.8 million people will be shopping during the full four-day weekend, compared with 133.7 million last year. And the retail association expects sales overall for November and December to rise 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion compared with the same period last year.

But people may not be in the mood to shop much this year. Unemployment has settled into a healthy 5 percent rate, but shoppers still grapple with stagnant wages that are not keeping pace with rising daily costs like rent. And years later, they still insist on the deep discounts they got used to retailers offering during the recession.


Japan's jobless rate at 20-year low; consumer spending drops

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's jobless rate fell to a 20-year low in October, but consumer spending and incomes also edged lower as the tight labor market failed to spur significant increases in wages.

The government reported Friday that unemployment in the world's No. 3 economy dipped to 3.1 percent in October, compared with a rate of 3.4 percent in September.

Consumer spending, meanwhile, fell 2.4 percent from the same month a year earlier, while average incomes fell 0.9 percent.

Japan's inflation rate also was lower in October, with core inflation excluding volatile food prices down 0.1 percent for the third month in a row.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a 3 percent increase in the minimum wage to accelerate inflation by raising consumer demand through higher incomes.


MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia plans to retaliate against Turkey for the downing of a warplane by imposing sanctions, cutting economic ties and scrapping major investment projects.

Since the plane was shot down Tuesday in disputed circumstances on the Syria-Turkey border, Russia has restricted tourism, left Turkish trucks stranded at the border and announced the confiscation of large quantities of Turkish food imports.

On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (dih-MEE'-tree med-VYEH'-dyev) ordered his government to draft sanctions against Turkey within the next two days.

The sanctions are to include restrictions on deliveries of food and other products as well as labor and services.

Russia is the largest destination for Turkey's exports, and the two countries are bound by plans for a new gas pipeline and strong trade in food and tourism.

Overall, the nosedive in relations threatens billions of dollars of international trade.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- A weaker global economy -- and a slowdown in China -- will likely dampen some of the growth in air travel over the next two decades.

The International Air Transport Association says the number of airline passengers is expected to double to 7 billion by 2034. That figure marks a decrease from a prior forecast of passengers totaling 7.4 billion in 2034, reflecting lower economic growth in China that will likely reduce demand for travel and potentially limit airplane orders for manufacturers Boeing and Airbus.

Despite the lower forecast, China is expected to add 758 million new passengers for a total of 1.2 billion flyers. Those gains would likely mean that China surpasses the United States as the world's largest passenger market by 2029.

Washington Times