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.

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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 31, 2014 17:47 GMT

CONSUMER SENTIMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers expect better economic growth and rising incomes in the coming months, pushing a measure of confidence to a seven-year high in October.

The University of Michigan says that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 86.9 from 84.6 in September. That's the highest since July 2007, five months before the Great Recession began. Still, the index regularly topped 90 before the downturn.

Richard Curtin, the survey's chief economist, says that almost six in ten of the respondents said the economy has improved recently, the highest proportion in more than 10 years.

The measure is the second this week to show consumer confidence has reached the highest level since the recession. Greater confidence and more hiring could lead to faster spending and healthier economic growth.

CONSUMER SPENDING

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer spending fell in September, the first decline since January, as shoppers took a breather after a big spending spree in August. Income growth posted the slowest gain this year.

The Commerce Department says consumer spending dropped 0.2 percent in September. Income edged up 0.2 percent in September, the smallest monthly gain since a flat reading last December.

The spending decline followed a big 0.5 percent increase in August. In September demand fell for durable goods such as autos and for nondurable goods, a drop that partially reflected falling prices for gasoline.

Spending is closely watched because it accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. Economists believe September will be a temporary pause as continued hiring gains pushing up spending and the overall economy in coming months.

GASOLINE PRICES

NEW YORK (AP) -- The average price of gasoline in the U.S. hit $3 a gallon Friday, and should soon drop below the benchmark for the first time since December 2010.

The price at the pump fell 33 cents in October, thanks mainly to plunging oil prices, according to AAA.

Many exuberant drivers have taken to social media to post pictures of gas station signs with prices of $2.99 or lower. Drivers in South Carolina and Tennessee are paying the lowest prices, with an average of $2.75 a gallon.

Drivers in New York are paying the most in the continental U.S., at an average of $3.37. That's still 22 cents cheaper than a year ago.

Gasoline is cheaper than milk again. In September the national average price of milk was $3.73 per gallon.

EARNS-BIG OIL

NEW YORK (AP) -- Falling oil prices hardly seem to be bothering the two biggest U.S. oil companies, but things could get tougher in the coming months.

Exxon and Chevron leaned on strong performances from their refining operations to increase profits in the third quarter despite plummeting global oil prices.

The global price of oil fell 18 percent from the beginning of the quarter to the end, and it cost both companies. Revenue slipped at Exxon by 4 percent and at Chevron by 8 percent.

But low oil and natural gas prices make for low raw material costs -- and higher profit -- for refining and chemical operations, which turn oil and gas into fuels and chemicals. Profit at Exxon's refining and chemicals operations rose 38 percent compared with a year earlier, and Chevron's profit from its so-called downstream operations more than tripled.

Those results helped Exxon's overall earning rise 3 percent in the quarter to $8.07 billion. Chevron's earnings rose 13 percent to $5.59 billion.

NISSAN-AIR BAG RECALL

DETROIT (AP) -- Nissan says it's recalling more than 1,800 Infiniti SUVs in the U.S. for an air bag problem that could send shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

The recall covers the QX56 SUVs from 2013 and the QX80s from 2014. The company says inflators made by Takata Corp. were built with an incorrect outer baffle part. That can cause pressure to build up, and the inflators can rupture if driver's side air bags are deployed.

Nissan has no reports of injuries from the problem. It was discovered after General Motors recalled 33,000 Cruze compact cars for the same problem in June. The Infiniti recall is part of a larger global recall of 260,000 Nissans announced last week.

Takata says the recall is separate from another one affecting 8 million vehicles in the U.S.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Inflation has crept higher in the 18 countries that use the euro but the rise to 0.4 percent in the year to October is unlikely to offer much relief to the European Central Bank as it tries to boost a weak economy.

The official figure released Friday was up from 0.3 percent the month before.

The European Central Bank is under pressure to give the eurozone another dose of stimulus measures in coming months because inflation is so low and growth so weak. There are fears the eurozone could even fall into outright deflation, a crippling downward price spiral.

Core inflation, a key measure because it excludes volatile food and energy prices, fell to 0.7 percent from 0.8 percent.

The bank's goal is to keep inflation just below 2 percent.

BRITAIN-RBS

LONDON (AP) -- Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority-owned by the U.K. government, has set aside 400 million pounds ($639 million) to cover potential fines arising from international investigations into alleged manipulation of foreign currency trading.

The total represents over half the 780 million pounds the bank earmarked for "conduct and litigation costs" in third-quarter earnings released Friday.

The results show the bank, which was bailed out by the government during the 2008 financial crisis, swung back to profit during the July-September period. Its net income of 896 million pounds follows an 828 million-pound loss last year.

CEO Ross McEwan says the bank knows it has "a long list of conduct and litigation issues to deal with and much, much more to do to restore our customers' trust in us."

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