Give the horse its head

Updated: Thursday, December 12 2013, 07:46 PM EST
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.
Give the horse its head
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Last Update on April 17, 2014 17:08 GMT

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits last week rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000. Jobless claims continue to be near pre-recession levels despite the slight increase.

The Labor Department says that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell 4,750 to 312,000. That is the lowest four-week average since October 2007, just two months before the Great Recession started. The average has fallen by 53,500 applications over the past 12 months.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The current level of claims suggests that employers are holding on their workers with the expectation of stronger economic growth ahead.

Employers added 192,000 jobs in March and 197,000 in February, the Labor Department reported. Hiring has picked up after a slowdown caused by severe winter weather.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week for the second straight week as the spring home-buying season begins.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 4.27 percent from 4.34 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage eased to 3.33 percent from 3.38 percent.

Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows about a year ago.

Many analysts have been expecting an improving economy to lift the housing market, which has been recovering over the past two years. But housing has struggled to maintain momentum. Rising home prices and higher mortgage rates have held back some potential home buyers. Others have had trouble qualifying for mortgages.

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Investment bank Goldman Sachs says its first-quarter earnings fell as fixed income trading slumped.

The bank earned $1.9 billion in the quarter, down 11 percent from the same period a year earlier when it made $2.2 billion.

The earnings were equivalent to $4.02 a share. Analysts polled by FactSet had predicted earnings of $3.49 a share.

Revenue totaled $9.3 billion, down 8 percent from a year earlier, when the bank generated revenue of $10.1 billion. The latest quarterly revenue beat analysts' expectations of $8.7 billion.

Goldman's stock rose $2.78, or 1.8 percent, to $160 in pre-market trading.

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NEW YORK (AP) -- PepsiCo reports a stronger-than-expected first-quarter profit as the company slashed costs and sold more snacks around the world.

The company, which makes Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Tropicana, says global snack volume rose 2 percent while beverages were even from a year ago.

In its closely watched North American beverage unit, PepsiCo Inc. says volume was even. Growth in other drinks offset a 1 percent decline in sodas.

For the quarter, the company earned $1.22 billion, or 79 cents per share. Not including one-time items, it earned 83 cents per share, above the 75 cents per share Wall Street expected.

A year ago, it earned $1.08 billion, or 69 cents per share.

Revenue edged up to $12.62 billion, higher than the $12.39 billion analysts expected.

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -- Toy maker Mattel says weak sales of Barbie and markdowns to clear out excess inventory left over from a sluggish holiday season led to an unexpected first-quarter loss.

Toy makers are facing a weak environment globally due to the uncertain economy and popularity of electronic gadgets.

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The nation's second-largest discounter first dabbled with subscriptions last September, trying to win over haggard parents with 150 baby care products.

That program has been expanded more than tenfold this week to nearly 1,600 items across a much wider array of consumer goods. Everything from beauty products and pet supplies, to home office supplies like printer ink, are now available through subscription.

Target, based in Minneapolis, is playing catch up in the subscription arena, which has exploded as companies test consumer appetites for almost every niche, from socks to razors, to clothing and entertainment.

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