What American Exchange Students Say is Wrong With U.S. Schools

I stumbled across (metaphorically speaking, but literally in an internet sense) this piece of research.  An education reporter looks at what American exchange students say is wrong with US schools, based on their own experiences abroad, and breaks it down to three general items:

  1. The work is harder in schools in top performing countries
  2. Sports are just a hobby in most other countries
  3. Culturally, in top performing countries, students see and appreciate the importance of education to their futures

Here is a link to the original article on another blog.

If you read my earlier post on Finland, most of this boils down to #9 on the Finnish list of reasons for success.

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A big week for standardized test reductions for Colorado students

This week has been a big week for reducing the number of hours of standardized testing for our students in Colorado.

First, Governor Hickenlooper signed HB 1323 which, at a high level, contains the following provisions:

  • Reduces K-3rd grade reading and literacy tests
  • Keeps 9th grade PARCC English and Math tests as-is
  • Replaces 10th grade PARCC tests with a shorter college prep test
  • Eliminates 11th & 12th grade PARCC tests entirely
  • Continues the state mandated ACT test for 11th graders
  • Allows for paper and pencil testing options, to be determined by each school, not by parents or districts (this is bigger than it sounds because many schools are burdened by the cost of technology to allow students to take online tests)
  • Allows parents and educators to opt-out of testing; however, educators, schools, and districts will face consequences through accreditation and performance reviews if participation drops significantly (unclear how this is defined)
  • Creates a pilot program for districts to develop their own tests, pending both state and federal approval
  • Requires districts to disclose the amount of time dedicated to testing and to classify it as federal, state, or locally required

In all, the reduction in testing time is expected to be modest, but people on both sides of the aisle generally agree that it’s a step in the right direction.

In addition to the signing of HB 1323, the second big announcement this week came from the governing board of PARCC which stated that beginning next year, both the English and Math PARCC tests will be reduced by 30 and 60 minutes, respectfully, for each grade level in which they are given.

Taken together, these changes will make a measurable, positive impact on our students and teachers next year, giving the opportunity for more classroom time for education vs. testing while continuing to hold districts accountable for student performance improvements.

Red Wine Basic Flavor Profiles & Information “101”

One of the most vexing things about wine, other than trying not to spend money on bottles you won’t enjoy, is simply understanding how it can enhance a meal by pairing the right wine with the right food.  Pairing has some rules, but nowadays, is also largely subjective to the majority of people.

Like many things wine, it simply comes down to what you like.  For example, I enjoy the flavors of Red Zinfandel more than just about any other wine, particularly if it has some black pepper hints to it.  I will go out of my way to pair Red Zin with more dishes that most experts would recommend, but I don’t tend to take it to an extreme – like pairing it with a light fish.  Some people do, though, and enjoy both the wine and the fish perfectly well.  As I said before, it’s just a matter of what you like.

Wine Enthusiast pulled together a good, short article on red wine basics covering the flavor profiles and background information on the most common red wine varietals.  From this, you can decide where you want to spend your money and what varietals you are most likely to enjoy.  It’s a good primer and reference point.  If you don’t know what to pair a dish with, at least pick a wine you will likely enjoy and you’ll probably be happy with the choice.

Colorado State BOE Leaves Graduation Requirements in Place

On Thursday, the state Board of Education rejected a proposal to change the state graduation requirements adopted in 2013.  This is the first set of consistent requirements applicable to the entire state and go into effect with the class of 2021.

The proposed revisions included eliminating science and social studies as graduation requirements.  The logic was alignment with college admissions requirements, which do not typically include science and social studies.

In my volunteer work with Jeffco Public Schools, the ~65 community leaders who helped develop the vision of the model student were very vocal about the importance of these subjects.  Furthermore, it is the writer’s opinion that eliminating these subjects as requirements would be doing our students a terrible disservice.

The state BOE should be well aware that most students do NOT go on to college and that we need to prepare our students for many different paths upon graduation.  Elimination of these subjects should not be done on the basis of college admissions, since that affects the minority of our student population.  It is only this minority of students who would have the opportunity to pick up these subjects in college.  What about the majority of graduates?

Although this and other changes were rejected by the state BOE, it was not for concern about watering down graduation requirements, rather, it was for concern by rural districts about the investment costs of the alternatives being proposed.

It is unfortunate that the state BOE is willing to eliminate two important subjects from graduation requirements.  The state BOE has said that although the revisions were rejected this time, the discussion is not yet done.  Here’s hoping that future discussion will not result in elimination of these subjects from our graduation requirements.  We should be setting the bar higher, not lower.

For the full article, follow this link.

A list of top tier colleges with free or reduced tuition for middle income families

This article was recently written by Bloomberg.  The impetus for their publication was Stanford’s announcement that families making <$125k/year will not have to pay tuition.  Stanford also considers net assets, but Bloomberg neglects to mention that.

Some private schools have, for a very long time, subsidized tuition for students; however, the list of schools and the degree to which the subsidies are given is accelerating.  (Perhaps because the cost of tuition has been skyrocketing over the last decade, far outpacing inflation.)  This is nothing but good news for the poor and middle classes, particularly when you see amazing students like these from refugee families who presumably could not afford full tuition.

In addition to the list Bloomberg published, there are many, many other schools doing the same thing through various means.  As personal experience has taught my family, the best way to find them is through research.  Many hours spent on the internet will pay off if you are willing to invest it.

Everyone should have the chance to pursue their dream, whether it’s college or otherwise.  Reducing the cost of tuition is making that dream a bit more accessible for some.

Earth Friendly Sustainable Wine Production

Recently, I held an “Earth Friendly Wine Tasting” at my house.  My goal was to explore only wines produced in a sustainable manner.  As I dove into the research, I found that there are many approaches to sustainable wine production, and many of those overlap.

The U.S. government, the EU, and many other countries regulate the use of the term “organic,” (all differently, of course) but most other terms have no legal definitions and may or may not be associated with private certifications. Here are the major sustainable wine-making processes:

  • Sustainable wine making is a general term referring to both natural and human resources, involving environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. It requires small, realistic, and measurable steps as defined in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Many sustainable farmers will grow organically or biodynamically, but it’s not required. They will also tend to focus on energy and water conservation.
  • Natural winemaking is a style of winemaking that can be applied to any wine. It is loosely defined as using native yeasts in the fermentation process and minimal or no sulfur dioxide in the winemaking process. It would not be as strict as organic and may or may not involve the use of organic or biodynamic grapes.
  • LIVE is an acronym meaning Low Input Viticulture and Enology. This name refers to the practice of reducing the amount of raw materials (inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, water, chemicals, fuel, etc.) used in vineyard and winery production. It requires wineries to follow specific practices in their ongoing operations.
  • Organic: There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites.
  • Biodynamic winemaking stems from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner in 1924. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his spiritual/practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic the wine-grower must use the nine biodynamic preparations described by Steiner.

That is what I learned about the most common approaches to sustainable wine production.  The most undefined one is, of course, “natural”.  To help with describing that in much more detail, here is a good article from Vino in Love in which the author has described natural wine production and furthermore takes the reader on one experience trying natural wines.  It’s a fun read and makes me want to explore more.

Colorado lawmakers are almost to a compromise bill to reduce student testing

As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, the vast majority of people agree that our students are over tested.  The good news is that according to a Denver Post article published today, our lawmakers have almost achieved a compromise to push through a testing reduction bill.  Some of the key attributes of the bill include:

  • Allowing districts to create their own alternatives to PARCC, subject to state Department of Education approval
  • Retaining mandatory testing of 9th graders in math & English
  • Allowing the state Board of Education to replace PARCC in the future with an assessment developed by one of the school districts
  • Streamlining testing for younger students
  • Eliminating state tests for 12th graders
  • Replacing PARCC English and math tests in the 10th grade with a shorter test called ACT Aspire focused specifically on ACT prep and readiness

Lastly, the bill also requires districts to develop and publish the procedures for students to opt out of state standardized tests, with no penalty to the students.  Unfortunately, because the House Education Committee killed a bill last week which would have “held harmless” teachers and districts from opt outs, it appears that both teachers and districts will be penalized should students choose to do so.  This is a gross oversight which needs to be addressed by our lawmakers.  It is unfair to our teachers and to our school districts.

To read the full Denver Post article, click here.