Kaplan and the outsourcing of education

Saw this when it first came out and it came to mind as a result of a discussion in another thread.

One year as a Kaplan Coach in the public schools

The failure of schools serving low-income students has been a windfall for the testing industry. Title I funds earmarked for test tutoring increased by 45 percent during the first four years of NCLB, from $1.75 billion in 2001 to $2.55 billion in 2005. With the ever growing stream of funding flowing through the nation’s schools, the number of supplemental-service providers nationwide has exploded. In New York City, the number of providers approved by the state’s department of education jumped from forty-seven in 2002–2003, the first full school year of NCLB, to 202 today. To capitalize on these new revenue opportunities, Kaplan has acquired Achieva, a provider of online course materials to schools, and SpellRead, a national “reading-intervention” company. In 2003, Kaplan hired former N.Y.C. Chancellor of Education Harold Levy as an executive vice president and general counsel, and in 2006 relocated its headquarters for Kaplan K12, the division of the company that works in schools, from Midtown Manhattan to luxury offices downtown. According to Crain’s, the company made the move “to be closer to the New York City Department of Education.”

During the previous period, their teacher, a Ms. Geraldino, allowed me to lead the lecture portion of the SAT prep but interjected occasionally to remind students of a recent lesson on factoring polynomials and of the importance of showing their work. At one moment, she stopped me entirely and separated the students into small groups so that they could illustrate the steps they had taken to arrive at their answers. Under the constraints of Kaplan’s routines of repetition and direct application, I tried to add pace to the lesson, and Ms. Geraldino and I proceeded to teach in different directions, offering students conflicting messages. Near the end of class, I announced to the students, “It’s not about the work you show. It’s about getting the right answer.” Ms. Geraldino, whose room was papered with complex algebraic equations, winced visibly.

Cool article.

I agree. I never understood math. I was always taught all these things I had to memorize and these steps I had to go through to get to the answer. I just wanted a way to get to the answer as quickly as possible.

There are many ways to teach math. The USA uses the dumbshit approach.

It’s hilariously depressing. The market will save us, all right…

Low level algebra is the educational equivalent of You Have To Burn The Rope. It’s trivially easy to find the answers, even for brain dead apes like yourself.

That’s why the focus is on methods, not solutions. You functionally illiterate gremlin.

Public schools and private entities funded by the Fed are “the market”?

Jeesh. Next time throw in LOLbertarian for a real kick.

At the risk of starting a dogpile, no, the dumbshit is the guy yelling “The important thing is the answer”. Aeon’s right, the important thing is the method. If you’re just teaching for a test, sure, all you care is for the right answer. If you’re trying to give someone life skills, like being able to determine, for a simple interest rate, the total dollar amount of a purchase, well, teaching for a test doesn’t really work.

Ron Paul, bitches! ;)

As important as the methods are, I think it’s more important that students actually truly understand what they’re doing and why. The kind of stuff I learned in algebra was crammed for the test, and forgotten a few months later. There was never any joy of learning – largely because of how the teachers taught. I had a similar experience in Calc the first course I took. It wasn’t until I got a really inspiring teacher in college that I really got the whole “math is beautiful” thing.

I guess a parallel would be teaching english not through reading and writing, but just through memorizing vocabulary. It’s important, but it’s only a small part of the picture.

Your interest rate example is interesting – I don’t think I ever got any application nearly that practical in algebra. :(

That’s why the focus is on methods, not solutions. You functionally illiterate gremlin.

This insult doesn’t really apply to Dirt. He’s dumb. But he can read. Or at least, he’s never given us any reason to believe he can’t.

If Dirt was taught in such a manner that “all those steps” seemed like pointless busywork, then it’s likely he wasn’t taught correctly. I saw a lot of this brain-dead form of teaching when I went to college in the Midwest in my chemical engineering classes… they gave us problems that had to be solved a particular (retarded) way, when I could just look at the problem & give the answer w/out their methods. There was no purpose to the teachings other than to make you follow the methods that the teacher understood.

Fortunately, in high school, (thankfully not in the Midwest) I had good math teachers. They taught us principles, and then gave us problems that weren’t “trivially easy” to find. We actually had to use the methods given to us. We saw the point of them. They were useful. Granted, we didn’t really understand why we should care about the damn x, but at least we were getting useful tools to find the answer.

It sounds like Dirt’s experience was more like my Midwestern experience. How unfortunate.

I’m of the opinion that math, of all the primary school subjects, is one that you must have good teachers of from the beginning. Not just people that understand algebra, trig, calc, etc, but ones that can teach them to other people. A bad teacher can fuck you up for life.

That…(and I mean no offense to you) I find that horrifying. I’m by no means an old man, but I have textbooks that have word problems that have 'you are paying x% on y amount on a car. Determine the final cost of the car". You didn’t have those kind of word problems?

Yeah, I am a little shocked by the idea that one could get through maths and never see anything about annuities and compound interest. Word problems are also a very important type of questions, as they are the link between the more complex forms of mathematics and reality.

There’s a huge benefit for teachers when students show all their work. Two students may come to the same wrong answer, but the first student shows that all their steps were correct except for one missed part of one step, while the second may have used the completely wrong approach. I’m sure it’s very valuable for teachers to be able to tell how well each student is doing, and without seeing the steps taken there’s no way to tell.

I’m not at all surprised the teacher wanted to see the work and the test prep guy just wanted the right answer.

Yeah, we would usually get 3/4 marks for correct working with a calculator miskey at the end. Working was stressed as the most important. It didn’t have to be the method used in the books, so long as it was clear and logical.

Kaplan is a great company. It is pretty much understood that every student studying for their CPA will either go through the Kaplan or Becker CPA prep course. It’s not cheap either, but many companies willingly pay for the service in order to help rising accountants pass quickly.

Yes, Kaplan is very efficient in what it does. My gf was taking its courses to prepare for GRA in Berkley. I’ve got my degrees a while ago but out of curiosity I’ve spent some time playing with Kaplan’s tests and lessons. They were very focused and efficient.

My overall impression was that Kaplan’s courses don’t really care that much about teaching you things, but they are very good in preparing you for whatever exam you are trying to prepare for.

Erm, about half the article talks about why Kaplan gets these contracts - No Child Left Behind pretty much prescribes private testing outfits as “the solution” for underperforming schools, which fits in with the general privitazation-gone-wild approach of “give money to a private entity that says they’ll fix the problem and just assume it’ll work because they’re private.” This is then followed by penny-ante corruption as a funnel of cash goes to the private contractor without anything getting any better, or any real oversight, or even really adjusting course to see if things go better, other than “let’s have more tests.”

It’s not like piles of testing done by the government would make these shit schools any better, either, apparently, judging by the results testing has elsewhere; crap schools don’t have problems solvable by testing. Outsourcing the whole thing is a depressing novelty, though.

Right, I don’t think anyone is disputing that they are good at their jobs. The problem arises when their methods for test taking supplant the regular curriculum, particularly in struggling schools trying to meet NCLB standards. That does raise the broader question of exactly what standardized testing is valid for, that is, what it actually measures as the key variable between students who succeed and those who don’t. I think it’s obvious that there’s a correlation between well educated students and doing well on these tests, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to warrant basing our entire academic future around it. Using Kaplan to bridge the gap between achievers is a case in point of having entirely the wrong emphasis as a result of NCLB, and I have little respect for profiteering in this field. It’s not like they can’t offer a useful service in a certain, limited capacity. But they are officially part of the problem, now.

You mean I can’t just walk into the car dealership and ask them for the lowest monthly payment possible on that new SUV?

Sure you can. What are the terms we’re talking about?

You mean it’s a shitty company which exists solely to subvert the purpose of standardized testing and allow less knowledgeable candidates cram facts for just long enough and just well enough to skim through? Because that’s what it sounds like from your description. “Teaching to the test” is anathema to good teaching.