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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Business News

Last Update on April 24, 2014 17:31 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits surged 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 329,000 last week, though the gain likely reflected temporary layoffs in the week before Easter.

The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile number, rose 4,750 to 316,750. The four-week average fell two weeks ago to its lowest level since October 2007, two months before the recession began.

Applications can be volatile around Easter, because many school systems temporarily lay off bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other employees during spring break. Some of those workers file for unemployment benefits.

Despite the volatility, applications have generally been declining in recent months, a hopeful sign for the job market. Three weeks ago, applications fell to 301,000, the lowest level in nearly seven years.

DURABLE GOODS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods posted a solid gain for the second straight month in March. A key category that signals business investment plans increased at the fastest pace in four months.

The Commerce Department says that orders for durable goods increased 2.6 percent in March following a 2.1 percent rise in February. Those back-to-back gains followed two big declines in December and January which had raised concerns about possible weakness in manufacturing.

Demand for core capital goods, considered a good guide for business investment plans, rose 2.2 percent in March after a 1.1 percent drop in February. It was the best showing since a 3 percent rise in November.

Manufacturing seems to be recovering after a cold winter disrupted business activity.

JAPAN-US-TRADE

TOKYO (AP) -- Talks between the United States and Japan on a Pacific Rim trade pact have halted for now without any resolution in sight, spoiling plans for a showcase deal during President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo.

Economy minister Akira Amari, Japan's top negotiator, said too many issues remained unresolved and further working-level talks will be needed to reach a market-opening pact as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Amari told reporters Thursday that no end was in sight. He described the negotiations as in a "tough situation."

The two sides had hoped to proclaim a broad agreement or at least significant progress during Obama's visit, which ends Friday.

A Japan-U.S. deal is seen as crucial for talks among the other 10 countries participating in the U.S.-led initiative to move ahead.

EARNS-GENERAL MOTORS

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors says first-quarter profit fell 86 percent as a series of recalls dragged down its earnings.

GM had a net profit of $125 million, the company's worst quarterly performance since it posted a net loss after leaving bankruptcy protection in 2009.

The Detroit automaker says it took a $1.3 billion charge for recalling about 7 million vehicles worldwide. The company also incurred $300 million in restructuring costs, mostly in Europe. And it took a $419 million charge due to a change in the way it values Venezuela's currency.

GM made 6 cents per share, down from 58 cents per share a year ago.

Excluding one-time items, GM made 29 cents per share, far above Wall Street estimates of 3 cents per share.

EARNS-CATERPILLAR

Caterpillar 1Q profit climbs 5 pct, forecast rises

Caterpillar's first-quarter earnings climbed 5 percent and the construction equipment maker raised its 2014 forecast. But the company also says a mining equipment sales slump is still hurting results.

The Peoria, Ill., company says it now expects 2014 earnings of $6.10 per share excluding restructuring costs. That's up from its previous forecast for $5.85 per share.

Analysts expect $5.72 per share, on average.

Caterpillar Inc. says it earned $922 million, or $1.44 per share, in the quarter that ended March 31. That compares to $880 million, or $1.31 per share, last year.

Earnings totaled $1.61 per share, excluding restructuring costs. Total revenue was nearly flat at $13.24 billion.

Analysts forecast earnings of $1.21 per share on $13.09 billion in revenue.

EARNS-UPS

DALLAS (AP) -- First-quarter revenue at UPS slumped 12 percent as winter storms increased costs for the shipping giant and cut into its revenue.

The Atlanta company says the rough start to the year means that full-year earnings will come in at the low end of earlier forecasts.

UPS posted earnings of $911 million, or 98 cents per share, well short of the $1.08 that Wall Street was looking for, and less than the $1.04 billion, or $1.08 per share, it reported a year earlier.

UPS says winter storms reduced operating profit by $200 million as costs rose.

Revenue rose 2.6 percent to $13.78 billion, but that's still shy of the $13.91 billion that analysts had forecast.

EARNS-AIRLINES

DALLAS (AP) -- Even with the turbulence of severe winter storms and stubbornly high fuel prices, many of the major airlines are cruising and their stock prices are soaring.

On Thursday, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines reported record profits for the first quarter, usually the weakest time of year for the airlines. That followed a rousing report from Delta Air Lines a day earlier.

Still stuck on the tarmac: United Airlines. While rivals were making money, United lost another $609 million during the first three months of the year.

The No. 2 airline company behind American, United Continental Holdings Inc. is struggling to make the 2010 merger of United and Continental work. As costs rise, United is taking in less per mile from passengers -- it's not charging fares high enough to cover expenses.

"This quarter's financial performance is well below what we can and should achieve," conceded United Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek. He said the airline is taking steps to fix its operations and service to boost financial results.

VACATION FORECAST

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- The frugality of the Great Recession may be history.

Orbitz senior editor Jeanenne Tornatore (jeh-NEEN' TOR'-nah-tor) says the travel website's survey finds 88 percent of Americans plan real vacations this year. She says "people don't talk staycation anymore," as was popular a few years ago. This year's survey finds "people really getting back out, taking these longer vacations and kind of trading up for some bigger destinations."

Tornatore says Orbitz bookings show the Mexican resort of Cancun as the top destination, but most of the other hot spots for fun-seekers are in the U.S. -- with Las Vegas, Orlando, Seattle and Los Angeles rounding out the top five, and Honolulu ranks tenth.

Average airfares are up about six percent from a year ago, according to Tornatore. She urges vacation travelers to shop around for deals, and use rewards points -- they can save big time.

Tornatore says mid-June through late July is the peak summer vacation period, and you should get airline tickets about 60 days in advance. She says if you're planning your vacation during that busy period, "you really want to book now."

MANDALAY BAY CONVENTION CENTER-EXPANSION

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas is planning a $66 million expansion that will boost its convention center from the seventh-largest to the fifth-largest in America.

Company officials said Thursday that the 350,000 square feet of new exhibit space will help it attract larger trade shows, and will allow events already there to expand.

The convention center will hit 2 million total square feet after the expansion, putting it behind only McCormick Place in Chicago, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo that's also in Las Vegas.

Construction is scheduled to begin late this year and wrap up in January 2016.

Las Vegas hosted 53 of the nation's 250 largest trade shows last year, more than any other U.S. city.

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