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 October 08, 2015 17:08 GMT


WASHINGTON (AP) -- While the minutes from the Federal Reserve's regular policy meetings can be a ho-hum affair, the mood is different this time.

In September, the Fed decided to hold off raising interest rates citing concerns about the global economy. That decision caught many people off guard. Investors are going to be looking for any clues as to whether the Fed will do the same this month, or even in December.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Volkswagen's top U.S. executive apologized today as the emissions-rigging scandal engulfing the world's largest automaker deepened.

Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn made the apology as he testified before a House subcommittee.

Calling his company's admission "deeply troubling," Horn said, "We have broken the trust of our customers, dealerships, and employees, as well as the public and regulators."

Even so, Horn distanced himself from the company's behavior, saying he felt personally deceived by actions he said were taken by unknown individuals.

Lawmakers were skeptical of the explanation from Horn, who testified that three unidentified employees had been suspended since the EPA announced Sept. 18 that VW rigged its diesel cars to bypass U.S. emissions standards for clean air.


DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors is telling owners of some SUVs not to use their windshield wipers because an electrical short could cause the wiper motor to catch fire.

The company is recalling nearly 32,000 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia SUVs from the 2016 model to fix the problem.

Only 6,400 were sold and the rest are being held at dealerships until they are repaired. Most are in North America.

GM says if weather stops owners from taking their SUVs to dealers, it will pick up the vehicles for service. It also will arrange rental cars if parts aren't available.

The problem was discovered when a wiper motor overheated at a factory near Lansing, Michigan, where the SUVs are made.

The company says no fires have happened outside the plant.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- More flights are arriving on time but consumer complaints about the airlines have nearly doubled.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday that the nation's leading carriers posted an on-time rate of 80.3 percent in August. That's better than July and the previous August.

Delta Air Lines has the best on-time rate, while Spirit Airlines has the worst.

Consumers filed 1,450 complaints with the government against the airlines. That's up from 773 a year earlier. Spirit and Frontier Airlines had the highest complaint rates. Those airlines advertise low fares but charge more fees than most other carriers.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The risk of fire is prompting federal officials to back a proposed ban on rechargeable battery shipments on passenger airlines.

An FAA official says "the risk is immediate and urgent." The FAA cites research showing the batteries can cause explosions and fires capable of destroying a plane.

The proposed ban is on cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries on passenger airlines.

Billions of the lithium-ion batteries are used to power consumer electronics ranging from cellphones and laptops to power tools and toothbrushes. Tens of thousands of batteries are often shipped on a single plane.

FAA tests show even a small number of overheating batteries will emit gases that can cause explosions and fires that can't be prevented by current aircraft fire suppression systems.


NEW YORK (AP) -- Sometimes "liking" something just isn't enough.

And sometimes typing out a thoughtful comment about how you feel about someone's Facebook post isn't an option.

To fill that gap, Facebook is introducing Reactions. Instead of the "dislike" button many Facebook users have been clamoring for, the Menlo Park, California-based social network is testing out buttons that represent the emotions of love, yay, ha ha, wow, angry and sad.

Chris Cox, Facebook's chief product officer, says in a post that the new buttons address the spirit of the request for a "dislike" button, but in a broader way.

Facebook is testing Reactions in Ireland and Spain, with the hope of eventually rolling them out globally soon.

Washington Times