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Separate cooperative and basic skills education

News Herald – Juliann Talkington


Cooperative learning first gained traction as an instructional method in the 1970s and was widely implemented in K-12 classrooms by the 1990s. It is based on the premise that collaborative participation creates an enhanced learning experience. Proponents of this teaching strategy site improved student communication, heightened oral skill development, more advanced learning, and enhanced student responsibility.

Cooperative learning, however, is not without challenges. One of the biggest obstacles to effective cooperative learning is a negative group dynamic. Conflicts between individuals can reduce a group’s ability to work together and problems are magnified when members are too immature to adequately resolve conflicts. To make matters more challenging, personality mismatches can stall learning even when no overt conflicts are present. In addition, assertive students often move into leadership roles even when they are not best suited to direct a project.

Beyond personality issues, cooperative learning can also result in uneven workloads. When this type of learning is working efficiently, students support and inspire one another. Everyone has a similar workload and everyone learns. In many instances, however, more advanced students take over projects rather than spending extra time to help struggling students. In addition, unmotivated students often rely on more conscientious team members to complete required work. The result is not only an uneven workload but also uneven learning that leaves struggling students behind, permits lazy students to slide by, and allows more advanced students to stagnate.

Also, student evaluations for group assignments are challenging. It is often impossible to evaluate group members individually. This can result in all group members receiving the same grade regardless of how much they participated and contributed. In addition to artificially high or low marks, it is difficult to determine gaps in student understanding. This proficiency issue is particularly problematic in subjects like math, science, grammar, and writing where learning is cumulative.

It is not that the skills associated with cooperative learning are not important, but that the academic classroom may not be the best place to teach these skills. Instead of compromising basic learning in science, language arts, math, history, and foreign language we should consider using electives for collaborative activities. In addition, we should give students credit for sports, theater, makerspace (cooperative technical and art gatherings), and other group activities that occur after school hours. This approach would provide kids with an opportunity to build both basic educational and soft skills that are critical for success later in life.

OECD Report Examines Differences Between Boys, Girls

Education News – Kristin Decarr

“A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has examined gender differences in education, particularly discussing underperformance among boys, a lack of self confidence in girls, and influences that stem from family life, school, and society. The report, “The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence,” attempts to uncover the reason why 15-year-old boys are typically more likely than girls to not become proficient in reading, math, and science, as well as why 15-year-old girls, who are high-achieving in other areas, are unable to do so in the areas of math, science, and problem-solving in comparison to underachieving boys.”(more)

Advocating for high-achievers

Thomas B. Fordham Institute – Brandon Wright

“Thanks to No Child Left Behind and its antecedents, American education has focused in recent decades on ensuring that all children, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, attain a minimum level of academic achievement. Yet our focus on the performance of students “below the bar” has been accompanied by a neglect of girls and boys who have already cleared it, and especially those who soar over it. While it’s true that “federal rulemaking must not inhibit the ability of states to continue to focus on the lowest-performing students,” as the group Chiefs for Change has stated, our high-performing students deserve an education that meets their needs, and maximizes their potential. Far too few of them, especially the poor and minority children among them, are getting that kind of education today.”(more)

Ed Department proposes to report accurate grad rates for low-income students

The Hechinger Report – Sarah Butrymowicz

“The federal government has proposed to start publishing accurate college graduation rates, by institution, for low-income college and university students who receive Pell Grants. The proposal, based on recommendations from a technical review panel, would change how graduation rates are reported for all students, and is intended to make these figures more accurate than the system being used now, which tracks only graduation rates for college students starting as freshmen who attend school full time. Advocates say this overlooks the increasing number of students who transfer from one campus to another, and of older, part-time, continuing, and other nontraditional students enrolling in higher education. And independent reviews, including by The Hechinger Report, have found that the resulting statistics are inaccurate.”(more)

Schools of Choice

Education Next – Martin R. West

“The study for which James S. Coleman is best known today makes no mention of private education. The 1966 “Equality of Educational Opportunity” (EEO) study—better known as the Coleman Report—focused exclusively on the distribution of resources and student achievement in America’s public schools. But the report’s ink was barely dry before Coleman injected the issue of school choice into the discussion. “The public educational system is a monopoly,” he wrote in 1967, offering choice only to “those who [can] afford to buy education outside the public schools” and thereby amplifying the influence of family background on student achievement. Later, he amended that observation, noting that the opportunity to choose one’s residence permits school choice within the public sector as well. But in reality, only the middle class and the affluent can fully exercise that choice, he pointed out.”(more)

New Center for American Progress Report: Tougher Standards Strengthen Student Achievement

The 74 Million – Eric A. Hanushek

“New research from the Center for American Progress finds that low-income students in states with strong standards and accountability policies made greater gains on federal tests. The research comes just as the federal government has partially backed away from such policies, bowing to a growing backlash against testing and the Common Core standards. The new report by Ulrich Boser and Catherine Brown of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress examines scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), comparing NAEP gains to states’ actions in adopting tougher standards, assessments, and accountability systems. Specifically, the researchers looked at the quality of each state’s academic standards, whether state tests are aligned to those standards, and whether stakes — such as sanctions and rewards for low- and high-performing schools, respectively — are attached to those tests. They then used a statistical technique which revealed states with better scores on measures of standards, assessment, and accountability saw larger NAEP gains in eighth grade reading and fourth grade math.”(more)