Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alabama Squabble Stalls BP Spill Reimbursement

Alabama school districts are bracing for a cut in state aid, as the governor and attorney general clash over the best way for Alabama to quickly get reimbursements from a $20 billion fund set up by the White House and BP to compensate victims of the energy company’s massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

In August, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, filed an initial $148 million claim with BP to help restore revenue that the state says was lost because of the spill. Tourists who typically visit Alabama’s beaches in droves over the summer stayed away this year, leading to a significant drop in sales tax revenue, the governor’s office contends.

Most of that money—$112 million—would have gone to the state’s Education Trust Fund, Gov. Riley said in a statement.

Complicating matters, the state’s attorney general, Troy King, also a Republican, filed a lawsuit Aug. 12 seeking damages, although he has not specified an amount. BP will not pay on Alabama’s claim because of the pending legal action, said Ray Melick, a spokesman for BP.

Now, Gov. Riley says he has no choice but to cut state aid to school districts by 2 percent.

“One man made a brash, reckless decision to sue BP while the state was still working to recover lost tax revenue from the company,” Gov. Riley said in a statement released Sept. 16, explaining his decision. “He did it without consulting me or local officials on our coast. No other state’s attorney general has sued BP at this time, and King’s lawsuit stopped our ability to recover these tax dollars before the end of this fiscal year.

“BP can’t escape blame either,” the governor said. “As the admitted responsible party, the company should live up to its commitments, even though the lawsuit stands in the way.”

BP had already paid Alabama $77 million to reimburse the state for clean-up efforts and other activities to respond to the oil leak that started after an April 20 explosion on an off-shore oil rig, and Gov. Riley was confident that BP would pay the claim based on conversations with the company’s leaders, said Todd Stacy, a spokesman for the governor. The lawsuit has slowed down that process, he added.

Mr. King said that he took action, because, in his view, BP has not followed through on its promise to provide quick reimbursements to individuals and businesses.

“BP’s promise to put the Gulf back the way they found it rings hollow to the tens of thousands of individuals and businesses who are still waiting for their claims to be paid,” Mr. King said in a statement. “In fact, it is precisely because of BP’s record of not living up to their commitments that I sued them.”

He appealed directly to BP to pay the state’s claim, contrasting his approach to Gov. Riley’s.

“Governor Riley has chosen to negotiate with you from a position of weakness,” Mr. King said in a statement, directed at BP. “The governor seems unable to see beyond the end of the few months left in his term and has approached you as a panhandler begging for crumbs. … I have chosen an approach of strength. If you will not pay Alabama what it owes, a court will force you to do so.”

District Difficulties

School districts in Alabama are also asking BP for reimbursement dollars. For instance, the Baldwin County Public Schools system filed a claim for $4.3 million, to make up for a loss in local sales tax revenue, said Terry Wilhite, a spokesman for the 28,3000-student district, located in the Gulf Coast region.

“The BP oil spill essentially wiped out our summer revenue,” Mr. Wilhite said. The district, which has a budget of $268 million, is slated to lose an additional $2 million because of the impending cuts. “We are hit from two sides, the state-funding side, but also the local-funding side,” he said.

It’s unclear what impact the lawsuit will have on the district’s efforts to recoup revenue, he added.

Before the spill, the district had already reduced its budget by more than $65 million and laid off more than 800 employees. And Baldwin County has nearly drained its rainy day fund, which had $20 million in it about a year ago, and is now down to $3 million.

Losing revenue because of the spill “added insult to injury,” Mr. Wilhite said.

Merit Pay Found to Have Little Effect on Achievement

The most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement—results released today that are certain to set off a firestorm of debate.

Nearly 300 middle school mathematics teachers in Nashville, Tenn., voluntarily took part in the Project on Incentives in Teaching, a three-year randomized experiment conducted by researchers affiliated with the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University. It was designed to study the hypothesis that a large monetary incentive would cause teachers to seek ways to be more effective and boost student scores as a result.

But it yielded only two small positive findings, limited to 5th graders in the second and third year of the experiment. No effects were seen for students in grades 6-8 in any year of study.

At the same time, however, participating teachers did not report finding the pay program’s goals for students out of reach or its impact on school culture damaging, two concerns that have been among those voiced by opponents of performance pay.

The implementation of the pay program “did not set off significant negative reactions of the kind that have attended the introduction of merit pay elsewhere,” the study’s authors write. “But neither did it yield consistent and lasting gains in test scores. It simply did not do much of anything.”

The findings arrive in a highly charged teacher-quality policy environment, in which many states and districts, with support from the Obama administration, are overhauling current practices for preparing, evaluating, and compensating teachers.

And they come at a particularly inopportune time for the U.S. Department of Education, which is scheduled to announce a fresh slate of grantees this month under a federal program designed to seed merit-pay programs for teachers and principals.

Union Cooperation

The study, known as POINT for the Project on Incentives in Teaching, was designed by the researchers, with the input of the 76,000-student school district and the support of the local teachers’ union affiliate and the Tennessee Education Association. Matthew G. Springer, the director of the Nashville-based center, cited the unions’ cooperation as a crucial factor in the study’s successful implementation.

The executive director of the Tennessee Education Association said the reputation of the researchers played an important role in the union’s decision to sign on. “We thought it was a chance to work with researchers whose processes and reputation we trust, and they were coming at this question with no particular ideology,” said Al Mance. “We said, ‘OK, this is something we really want to know. We won’t have a better opportunity than this.’ ”

The program was instituted in Nashville between 2006-07 and 2008-09 and covered 296 middle school math teachers in grades 5-8.

Participating teachers, all volunteers, were assigned to either a treatment group eligible to receive significant pay bonuses or a control group earning normal wages. Those in the treatment group were rewarded with bonuses between $5,000 and $15,000 based on whether their students’ achievement rose by a specified amount over the course of a year. The gains were calculated using a value-added methodology designed to filter out other aspects that could have influenced the scores.

The teachers were also randomized in clusters, so that there was at least one treatment and one control teacher in every middle school. And the program contained no quotas, so all teachers whose students performed at the specified targets earned the additional pay.

Over the course of the study, attrition reduced the number of participating teachers to only 148, and researchers carefully tracked that pattern over time to make sure it did not change the equivalence of the two groups in such a way as to skew the results. Only one teacher withdrew from the study; most of the attrition occurred because teachers were reassigned or left the district.

On average, students taught by the teachers taking part in the program did not make larger academic gains than those taught by teachers in the normal wage group.The sole exception was in grade 5 in the second and third years of study.

Related Blog

In those years, the incentive pay was linked to statistically significant increases in student scores—an increase, the report states, equal to between a third and a half year of learning. But the effect did not appear to persist.

“By the end of 6th grade,” the study states, “it does not matter whether a student had a treatment teacher in grade 5.”

The researchers performed a number of tests to try to make sense of the grade 5 findings, including to see whether there was evidence of a reallocation of time from other subjects to math, or cheating on the exams. But none of them turned up any firm explanation.

“It really is puzzling,” said Mr. Springer. “It just raises questions about what’s different about 5th grade and what factors played a role. Was it student development? The curriculum? Teaching or classroom structures?”

In interviews, scholars who study performance-based pay and teacher incentives and who were familiar with the POINT findings but not involved in the experiment, widely praised its rigorous design.

“It’s a really well-designed study, and it’s really important because a lot of the debate about performance pay has been evidence-free,” said Steven N. Glazerman, a principal researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, a Princeton, N.J.-based evaluation firm.

The existing empirical research literature on incentive pay has been limited in scope, size, and relevance. Much of the experimental research concerns programs in other countries.

What’s more, many of the existing performance-pay programs studied in the United States award far smaller bonuses, and scholars have questioned whether those amounts were enough to affect a change in teacher behavior.

But the POINT findings, said some researchers and advocates, appear to put to rest the idea that incentive pay in and of itself is enough to spur better teacher performance.

“A lot of the discussion about performance pay is based on a faulty assumption that the reason we don’t have higher test scores is that teachers are shirking their responsibilities,” said Helen F. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University in Durham, N.C., about the findings.

Ms. Ladd added, however, that she was “a little surprised” that the findings were not more mixed. She anticipated that teachers might work even harder over the short term to win bonuses. But that supposition was not borne out by the study.

Mr. Mance of the Tennessee Education Association said the study confirms what many teachers and unions have long believed: that teachers are already hardworking. For this study to show positive results, he said, “you’d have to have teachers who were saving their best strategies for an opportunity to get paid for them, and that is an absurd proposition.”

Researchers cautioned, however, that the Nashville experiment does not provide answers to many other questions about incentive pay. For instance, it wasn’t designed to test the hypotheses that pay incentives might serve as a draw to a different population of teacher-candidates or as an incentive for other candidates to stay in the profession—thus potentially changing the quality of the teacher workforce.

“I personally believe that the biggest role of incentives has to do with selection of who enters and who stays in teaching—how incentives change the teaching corps through entrance and exits,” said Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of economics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “The study has nothing to say about this.”

And because the study looks at an incentive program strictly as pay, it remains unclear how far the findings can be extrapolated to incentives with more features, such as professional development, differentiated roles, or a new teacher-evaluation system.Many well-known incentive-pay models, including Denver’s ProComp system and the popular Teacher Advancement Program, sponsored by the Santa Monica, Calif.-based National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, contain such elements.

ver the use of test scores as a measure of student learning and teacher effectiveness remains a top concern for teachers. Surveys of participants for POINT found that a majority generally supported higher pay for teachers whose students made achievement gains. Yet in 2009, about 85 percent said they felt the test-based criteria for determining effectiveness were too narrow.

That lack of buy-in, the study’s authors postulated, might have contributed to the finding of no differences in how the control and treatment groups affected instruction.

Inopportune Moment

From a policy perspective, performance pay has experienced a type of renaissance over the past six years, following the introduction in 2004 of the ProComp and in 2006 of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, or TIF, a program established under the administration of President George W. Bush to seed performance-pay systems.

Since 2008, the Obama administration has embraced TIF and has put its own stamp on performance pay through the Race to the Top competition, which encouraged states to institute new systems for evaluating teachers and for using the results of those evaluations to inform pay decisions.

“While this is a good study, it only looked at the narrow question of whether more pay motivates teachers to try harder,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education said in an e-mail. “What we are trying to do is change the culture of teaching by giving all educators the feedback they need to get better while rewarding and incentivizing the best to teach in high need schools and hard-to-staff subjects.”

The effects of the report on that policy agenda are not clear, but in the short run at least, proponents of merit pay are likely to steer clear of replicating the features of the Nashville program.

“Anyone about to implement a performance-based pay system will want to pay very close attention to this study, to learn from the POINT program’s successes, but especially its shortcomings,” said Mr. Glazerman of Mathematica. “These groups bear a heavy burden to figure out how their own programs can demonstrate a greater impact than what we’ve seen so far.”

“I think most people today agree that the existing compensation structure for teachers is broken, but we don’t know what a better way is,” added Mr. Springer of the Vanderbilt center. “This experiment is one step in the right direction in terms of building our knowledge base, but we need to continue to build that base and test other program designs.”

And How They Could Undermine School Reform

The quest for the perfect pay-for-performance plan has been the holy grail of management experts for decades. So it is no surprise that as education reformers want principals to act more like CEOs and to boost teacher performance, they are turning to pay incentives—for schools, principals, and individual teachers—as the panacea for turning around school performance.

If industry is any guide, the bid to use incentive pay to improve education and teacher performance is illusive at best. To the extent that individualized incentives undermine team-based collaboration, they could create more problems than they solve.

The pressure to offer educators pay incentives grows out of the powerful influence of corporate-management ideas on education. However, contrary to popular belief, there is virtually no evidence that pay is a driver of long-term good performance in industry. Indeed, some of the most respected business practitioners and thinkers oppose individualized incentives. The cultural resonance of differentiated pay, which conjures conflicting images of obscene Wall Street bonus checks and lofty notions of individual accountability, and the havoc that many incentive schemes have wreaked in industry suggest that the issue deserves closer scrutiny.

The key assumption behind pay for performance is that money motivates individuals to work harder and better. CEOs, in particular, have invested the paycheck with almost magical powers to manipulate performance, arguing that individuals respond to external incentives and that money is the best motivator. Even multimillionaire bankers respond to incentive pay—not because the extra money necessarily makes a difference, so the argument goes, but because it is a way to “keep score.”

If industry is any guide, the bid to use incentive pay to improve education and teacher performance is illusive at best.

Yet, the pay-for-performance mantra runs counter to the thinking of some outlier companies—most famously Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry's—whose pay philosophies reflect skepticism about the efficacy of individualized incentives. Proponents also are tone deaf to the cultural differences that may make a compensation system that works for, say, GE or Bertelsmann a disaster at PS 6.

Decades ago, Frederick Herzberg, whose 1968 treatise against incentive pay, "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?," was the most-requested Harvard Business School article for decades, explained why money doesn’t motivate in the long term. Money, he argued, is a "hygiene factor": Not enough of it causes distress, but money alone has little to do with job satisfaction or performance. Not surprisingly, companies are perpetually dissatisfied with their incentive systems, which leads to constant tinkering and more business for compensation consultants.

The biggest problem with incentive pay is that it is inevitably seen as unfair. Evaluation systems linked to single metrics, like test scores, are easily gamed—consider states that have dumbed down tests. More-nuanced approaches that include multiple measures, such as graduation and attendance rates, are often seen as too subjective. (While group incentives are more successful, they are not as popular.)

The best that can be said for individualized incentives is that within some highly competitive organizations such as securities firms or companies like GE, they foster a culture of competitiveness that is considered important to the organizational DNA and independent of fairness or efficacy.

Yet, individualized incentive pay, even at the most successful companies, is usually a failure. Years ago, for example, IBM, even as it was marketing its employee-hiring and -training expertise, instituted a forced-ranking scheme that required all supervisors to identify and reward the "top" 10 percent of its employees and to give the "bottom" 10 percent a failing grade and just three months to improve their performance or be fired. It was no coincidence that the system was instituted during an economic downturn, and was widely seen as a way to get rid of employees without violating the company's no-layoff pledge. (IBM's bell curve violated—as it usually does—basic statistical rules: Bell curves only work when they are applied to large random samples—not to relatively small, carefully selected groups of employees.) Some IBM supervisors got around the problem by creating a "designated dummy" system, by which employees took turns getting a low ranking during performance reviews. Following an employee revolt, Big Blue eventually modified its forced-ranking system, but remained wedded to individualized pay and rankings.

More recently, as IBM has become a player in the open-source-software movement, the company is once again confronting the contradictions between its pay philosophy and the need to develop a flatter, more collaborative management style. Today, scores of IBM software engineers spend most of their time working on open-source software, precisely because the open-source world, a self-organized system still dominated by thousands of volunteers, produces higher-quality software than the private sector. Think Mozilla's Firefox Web browser vs. Microsoft's Explorer. The no-hierarchy, all-meritocracy culture of open source violates every assumption about the link between pay and performance: In open source, software developers collaborate without any monetary compensation at all; the incentives are purely reputational.

Individualized pay incentives also run counter to the logic of a systems approach to organizations. According to this view, a well-run school or company will have a much narrower range of performance among its employees than will a poorly run organization. That is because the hiring and management processes in a well-run school will attract and foster—via teamwork and training—high-caliber teachers. Conversely, poor management—and poor hiring and training processes—will produce less consistency among teachers. But throwing money at teachers in low-performing schools will not fix a broken system. Moreover, argued W. Edwards Deming, a leading proponent of systems thinking, merit pay "nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics."

Ironically, outside the compensation arena, the systems approach is gathering followers. Teachers, classrooms, and schools are being viewed, less and less, as self-contained entities, but rather as interlinked actors. Professional development is seen as a systemwide endeavor, with teachers learning from each other and from outside experts. As digital technology plays an ever-greater role in school curricula and infrastructure, it creates unprecedented opportunities for sharing lesson plans and expertise, and for linking kids and teachers to each other and to outside experts.

To the extent that individualized incentives undermine team-based collaboration, they could create more problems than they solve.

Systems thinkers know that it is the employees closest to a process—in a nuclear-power plant, the maintenance worker who knows that trace amounts of rust can be a harbinger of systemic failure; in the classroom, a teacher who knows from experience the texts that resonate with students and those that don't—who are best able to spot problems early and to identify possible solutions. But capturing that local knowledge is a big management challenge. It requires employees who are unafraid to identify problems and who have been trained to problem-solve and to translate their knowledge and experience to useful organizational purposes.

Good teachers and principals know this. At Global Tech Prep in Harlem, which is part of New York City's innovation zone, one of the star teachers is David Baiz, age 27, who was rated unsatisfactory at his previous job at a troubled South Bronx school. A little mentoring by a veteran colleague who brought him to Global Tech helped Baiz reach his potential. Today, visitors flock to see his math classes. Baiz also has won Global Tech thousands of dollars in grants.

Under the rigid evaluation and incentive schemes now being instituted at tough-minded school districts, Baiz would probably never have survived, because the principal who rated him "unsatisfactory" had neither the insight nor the inclination to mentor him. At Global Tech, a collaborative culture fostered by the principal and the assistant-principal-in-training—Baiz's former colleague—made all the difference, not pay incentives.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Educational Propaganda

Recently, students across the country took the Advanced Placement English Literature exam. This three hour test, which grants college credit to qualifying students, is the culmination of a year of intense study and preparation in a high level class. On this year’s exam, students were asked to write an essay in response to the following quote: "Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted."

While exile as a theme is a good launching point for an essay, the College Board used the topic to launch an apparent political agenda by identifying the author of the quote as “Palestinian American literary theorist and cultural critic Edward Said.”

Quoting Edward Said, a man who has infamously been photographed throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, isn’t the issue. It isn’t even quoting a Palestinian, per se. What is problematic is the linking of a Palestinian with a quote about “exile.” It creates a sympathetic image of exiled Palestinians without any qualifications. It assumes one side in a longstanding conflict. After spending a year studying the nuances in language and writing, most of my students did not miss this inference.

Many of them had a fundamental problem with the question. As a teacher, I had a serious problem with it.

Political propaganda is something my students will certainly get used to, particularly as they head off to college campuses in the fall. But it has no place on a high-stakes exam that is supposed to be standardized. Not when they’ve worked hard all year studying literature and language.

They were blindsided and left with a choice: agree with the quote about Palestinian exile and write an essay, or disagree with the supposition that the Palestinians were torn from their “true home” and possibly throw their chances at a high score.

There isn’t anything “standardized” about that.

The College Board is particularly sensitive to language. This prompt could not have come out of nowhere. Politically motivated and particularly disturbing hn its inclusion on the exam, it is a manipulation of facts and as such, it is a manipulation of education. In essence, this educational measure was a forced indoctrination of the College Board’s political beliefs.

I voiced my concern to the College Board and was told that they had not received any complaints. I called two more times and received the same reply. A Facebook group of close to 700 members has voiced its concerns. An article was written about this issue in a Jewish newspaper, The Forward, but still the College Board claims that they know nothing about the “problem.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. They are simply following the higher academia pied pipers down the path of bias and partiality. Literature and Composition: Reading, Writing, and Thinking, the Bedford St. Martin Press anthology just completed for the AP Literature course, contains two poems by Palestinians. Not one Israeli poet or author is quoted. Not even as an alternate view to Mahmoud Darwish’s “Identity Card”.

The College Board is notoriously politically correct. In fact, their dedication to being PC has gotten them in trouble over the years. But this time, they have chosen sides in a controversy that has offended a large portion of their testing audience. They have drawn lines, not in the sands of higher academia, but in the sandboxes of impressionable high school students.

Many in the academic world have pooh-poohed the controversy and called the protesting students overly sensitive or even racist. Interestingly, the same day as the exam, students in Brandies University were dismayed to learn that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was asked to give the commencement address. The student newspaper came out against the choice on the grounds that Oren is “a divisive and inappropriate choice” because “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a hotly contested political issue, one that inspires students with serious positions on the topic to fervently defend and promote their views.

I find it remarkable that University students cannot handle political controversy, but high school students are expected to “get over it.” Moreover, they are forced to actually agree with a statement they dispute, from a man who is so controversial that even his status as a Palestinian is questionable.

As an AP teacher, I have respectfully told my school that I am not comfortable teaching a course that has a clear political agenda. My students would be better served taking a literature course at their local university and graduating with actual college credit rather than relying on a politically biased exam to test their skills.

And while they will get their fair share of propaganda on campuses, at least the manipulationwill be blatant. There will be opportunity to debate.

What Students Need To Know To Thrive In College

Personal qualities that support academic success

Students who have the following personal qualities are much more likely to thrive in college.

  • Self-awareness and self-acceptance
  • Proactivity as opposed to reactivity
  • Perseverance
  • Skill in setting short and long-range goals
  • Use of effective support systems
  • Strong emotional coping strategies

Understanding a student’s rights in college

Individuals with special learning needs are guaranteed special supports in elementary and high school by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, in college, no such guaranteed protections exist. Therefore, students need to work congenially with colleges to obtain reasonable accommodations that will facilitate their success.

It is best to have psychological and/or educational testing that was completed less than 3 years before applying to college because colleges usually demand recent testing to support a petition for accommodations.

Students will need to inform the college of their educational needs by registering with the office on campus that is in charge of reviewing and granting accommodations. This office goes by names such as Disabled Student Support Services or Office of Special Services.

Typical “reasonable accommodations” that colleges may decide to grant include:

  • Extra time to take tests
  • Providing a note taker
  • Taking tests in a separate room
  • Test read orally to the student and/or the student’s answers transcribed or typed
  • Use of tape recorder to record lectures
  • Tutoring services (some colleges have tutoring geared for students with special needs, however, most colleges have tutoring available to all students—check both sources)
  • Taking a reduced class load
  • Requesting “full-time” status for purposes of qualifying for health insurance when taking a reduced course load

Instructors and professors have the power to make decisions that can help students be more successful. The following are some modifications a student may be able to negotiate on a case-by-case basis:

  • Obtaining the instructor’s permission to modify an assignment or getting extra time to complete the assignment
  • Asking for advice about selecting classes or instructors
  • Asking the instructor to award an incomplete rather than an “F”—but be aware of the college policy in regard to “clearing” the “I”

Action steps a student should take to build a solid college support network:

  • Think through what kind of support you’d like to have from your parents and friends and express your needs before you go to college
  • Think about the kind of academic support you’ll need (for example, will you need tutoring) and make plans to set this up
  • Don’t suffer in silence—speak out, reach out when you need to
  • Get professional, trained help when you need it: tutors, doctors, etc.

Self-advocacy steps

Successful students understand themselves well. They know their strengths and they have developed ways to minimize the effects of their weaknesses. They also have a clear idea of their short-range and long-term goals, and are committed to meeting these goals.

These self-advocacy steps will help students obtain the supports they need, not only from others but from themselves as well!

  • Have a clear plan to graduate in a certain time frame and set your schedule to realistically accomplish this plan
  • Logically plan the kind of support you need to give to yourself!
  • Meet with your teachers regularly
  • Don’t wait until things get bad to see you need a different approach; if it isn’t working—try another approach
  • Pause, think and reflect before diving in—avoid the “Opps! and regret”
  • Remember: resistance and avoidance stunt maturity; meet challenges had on and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • Evaluate and think through setbacks—they are the teachers of success!
  • Success is a consistent mindset that says “I can do this, I will do this!”
  • Everything goes better when you get enough sleep and eat more healthy foods
  • Plan ahead on how to manage stress, loneliness, and change
  • Seek balance in all things—academics, relationships, pursuit of interests, career development, spiritual growth
  • Seek out stabilizing forces (people, classes, work experiences, living arrangements, etc.)
  • As soon as you identify a problem surfacing in a class, figure out how to remove it from your path
  • Make better time estimates; after you figure out how long you think it will take you to do what you need to do, multiply that by as least 150%
  • Keep your long-term, personal goals front and center in your mind, guiding you through the tough times!
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines and achieving your goals!

Study Skills

Students who master study skills and use their strengths to learn succeed in college. Try these tips:

  • Set up a realistic study schedule and keep to it!!!! Don’t let spontaneity ruin your completion of college
  • Frequently review and critique your study approaches to find what is working and emphasize that
  • Don’t put off the “boring” or unpleasant tasks; doing so will leave you unprepared and can destroy your grade; find a way to see the value it brings to you as a person or as a professional
  • Take frequent, short breaks when your attention fades
  • Keep a calendar and an assignment book; record all due dates, test and quiz dates, etc. and schedule study/work sessions by backward planning
  • Work with classmates who are strong students and stay on track
  • While reading, stop frequently to retell the main idea and details in your own words
  • As you read, take notes, jot down questions and related ideas, and make mental pictures of the material to increase your comprehension and retention
  • Read the material before you go to the lecture; bring notes or an outline and fill in added material as you listen
  • Ask for clarification in class if you miss details; increase your concentration during difficult listening situati

A Tale of Two Movies About American Education--Which One Can You Trust?

wo years ago producer Robert Compton put out 2 Million Minutes. a documentary about high school students in China, India and the US. The basic idea was that the foreign kids master their subjects, sacrifice to excel, and will out-produce us forever. Meanwhile, the American kids are lazy, never pushed to achieve real mastery, coddled by constant praise and inflated grades, more concerned with sports and dating.

Now along comes another American producer with a movie called A Race to Nowhere (you’ll see a discussion in the item below this one). I went to the website and looked at the trailer. Let me summarize the message from these people: American school kids are worked to death; this effort is mindless and soul-numbing; our culture is obsessed with tests, grades, performance, and standards, but this approach doesn’t work, as our kids end up ignorant and empty.

These visions are contradictory with each other. So we have to ask, what the heck is going on here?? Who is telling the truth??

Let’s note, first, that for the past 10 years the Education Establishment has been squealing steadily about No Child Left Behind. I’ve seen it in my local paper, month after month, year after year. Somebody is always complaining about teaching to the test, drill and kill, rote memorization, and the death of creativity in the schools. The wailing is so relentless, so repetitive, you just know it’s orchestrated. At least, that’s how I feel. (And “Race To Nowhere” seems to be part of that wailing. )

I just don’t trust any of it. Here’s why: ever since 1930 the Education Establishment was trying to purge academic content from the schools. The buzzwords by 1950 were “life-adjustment” and “real needs.” Translation: schools should be dumb and dumber. That’s the DNA in our Education Establishment. They don’t like facts, knowledge, basics, memorization, or mastery.

Here’s the whole nutty thing in one phrase: our educators--I mean the people at Teachers College, etc.--are very enthusiastic about social engineering but, in truth, ANTI-education. They are also deceitful. I suspect they try to manufacture evidence for their position by making schools more chaotic and oppressive than they need to be.

The first trick in the book, from the earliest grades forward, is NOT to teach foundational knowledge. Things that 100 years ago every sixth-grader knew are simply not taught. Ignorance is cumulative and galloping. By the time these kids get to high school, they have no background for learning science, history or anything else. How can you teach American history to children who don’t know the names of oceans, mountains, states and countries?

The second biggest trick in the book is to scorn and discredit memorization. Keep those heads empty. If there is anything in there, make sure it’s multicultural mush.

Finally, you’ve got whole classrooms full of teenagers who hardly know anything. Then you give them these complex, bottomless assignments such as compare Chinese and Roman culture in the year 100 A.D. What? These kids don’t know the name of the longest river in the United States and you want them to do what? Just think how frantic, overworked, stressed out, and hopeless these children will appear. Methinks it’s all theater. (Even if they write such a report, the knowledge learned will be fragmented and incoherent.)

Another favorite gimmick is to start the school day early, say at 7:30, which means that kids are getting out of bed around 6:00. They’re always going to be sleepy and cranky. Then some schools close at 1:30 creating a big problem for parents and under-utilizing the buildings. Again, no logic but plenty of melodrama.

The Education Establishment can say, oh, these poor kids, they work so hard!!! But we know that when these kids get to college, half of them need remedial education.

Final piece of the puzzle: I suspect that the much-hailed “Race To The Top“ is really a gimmick whereby the government throws money at the states until each one gives up any attempt at objective testing or standards. Authentic Assessment is code for not much assessment at all. 2 Million Minutes is the movie to trust.

Differences between Internet and Paper based TOEFL Test

TOEFL test is undeniably the world's most popular English Language test. It is conducted at over 45000 administration site across 165 countries. The test so far has been taken by about 25 million students so far. The TOEFL is now conducted globally in two formats Internet Based Test (IBT) and Paper Based Test (PBT). It is very important to know the difference between the two tests in terms of pattern, structure and benefits according to individual applicant. StudyPlaces bring you a detailed comparison of the two tests to help you understand TOEFL better and shorten the distance between you and your dream college. Read on...

IBT is four hour long and PBT in 3 hour long. IBT requires integrated tasks and note taking while PBT does not require any of it. While listening, reading and writing are common to both the tests, IBT has speaking as the fourth section and PBT has Structure which is majorly based on grammar.

Due to their different structure, there is also a difference in the time duration of both the tests. While IBT is for four hours, the duration of paper based test is only 3 hours. Following is a section wise comparison for IBT and PBT tests:


The Internet Based TOEFL exam can consist of 3 to 5 passages of around 700 words each. Each passage contains 12-14 questions often based on comparison, contrast and cause & effect. The Paper Based Test or PBT is always made up of 5 passages from academic texts which are around 250-350 words long. The ideal time for reading section IBT is 60-100 minutes and the score scale of section is from 0-30. While the ideal time for paper based text is around 55 minutes and the score scale is between 31 and 67.


The listening section in TOEFL IBT is made up of 4-6 lectures (some with classroom discussion) and each lecture is 3-5 minutes long with 6 questions. For PBT, there are 3-4 mini talks, each one around 60-90 seconds and with 3-5 questions. In the next phase of IBT there are 2-3 conversations of about 3 minutes and 5 questions each. While in PBT, there are 2-3 extended conversations of 60-90 seconds and 3-5 questions again. PBT has another set of questions. These are about 30-40 dialogues followed by 1 question each dialogue. The duration of these dialogues is not more than 15 seconds each. The time for IBT should be between 60 to 90 minutes and it has a score scale of 0-30. While the time for PBT should be around 30-40 minutes with a score scale of 31-68.


As we mentioned before, there is no speaking section in Paper Based TOEFL. In IBT, there are Six tasks is speaking section. 2 of these are independent where candidate has to express an opinion on a familiar topic. The other 4 are integrated tasks where candidate is expected to speak on basis of what is read and heard. The candidate gets about 30 seconds to prepare and 1 minute to respond for each task. The total time allotted is 20 minutes. The score of speaking section in IBT is on a scale of 0-4 which is converted to a 0-30 score scale.


In writing section of PBT, there is only one independent task (Test of Written English) to be 'written' in 30 minutes. In IBT, there are two tasks, one integrated (write on basis of what is read and heard) and one independent ( support and opinion on a topic). The time allotted is 20 and 30 minutes respectively. The score scale of 0-5 is converted into ratings of 0-30 score scale.


While grammar is evaluated in speaking and writing sections, there is no separate grammar section in Internet Based Test. In the Paper Based Test, there are a total of 40 questions to be done in 25 minutes and the score scale is between 31 and 68.


The total score of IBT exam is from 0-120 and the total score of PBT exam is from 310-677. The IBT version scores on the fact that in it, a candidate gets performance feedback for each skill in the test taker report, which is missing in PBT.

Acquainted these facts about IBT and PBT, we hope now you are in a better and more informed state to prepare and appear for TOEFL.