November 26, 2003

Thanksgiving Roundup

Howdy, folks. I'm going to get out of here early today, so I'm going to post just a few entries for you to chew on, then I'll be back sometime on Monday or Tuesday.


Wendy McElroy's got the roundup on the appalling prevalence of zero-tolerance policies in school, which she believes is related to society's willingness to charge ever-younger kids as adults for crimes such as murder and sexual molestation.


Stuart Buck, of The Buck Stops Here, takes issue with a chirpy, optimistic statement by a kindergarten teacher at his son's school. The teacher claimed that "today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives." Stuart's response?

That can't possibly be true. For one thing, there is no meaningful way to measure the total sum of the knowledge that our grandparents learned in their entire lives. And just think about it: Do you really think that our grandparents learned less about the world in 70 or 80 years than today's high-schooler does in 4? Have you met any current high-schoolers? Do they really seem more knowledgable than their grandparents about anything beyond computers and cell phones and Eminem?


The NEA is apparently goading Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski to sue the Bush administration over the "hoax" that is the No Child Left Behind Act.

The National Education Association has been looking since July for a state to sue the Bush administration, arguing that the law requires sweeping changes in schools without paying for them. No state has signed on, despite widespread complaints by educators that the law requires too much of schools.

Kulongoski criticized the law as "a hoax" in a speech to Oregon school board members earlier this month. But his spokeswoman, Mary Ellen Glynn, said Tuesday he hasn't decided whether to go to court...

The Oregon Education Association, the NEA affiliate in Oregon, has urged the governor to take up the cause, said Mark Toledo, the group's general counsel.

But some fear that suing the Bush administration could backfire on Oregon.

Any Oregonian readers out there got an opinion about this?


Sarah Lawrence College will no longer require the SAT. Hey, if it's not right for your school - and your school is willing to spend lots of time on each application - then don't use it. Larger universities, though, will almost certainly continue to retain the test as a way of winnowing down the massive number of applications they receive each year.


Joan Ryan, in her argument for smaller schools, makes an insightful comment about the balance that is needed between teaching and testing:

I understand and even support the rationale for spending money on standardized testing: We have to measure students' knowledge so we can know which schools are working and which aren't. But with limited resources, the priority ought to be creating small schools and training teachers. If so many of our children are starving academically, doesn't it make more sense to put our money first into feeding them, then into weighing them?

Testing is not the be-all end-all of education, nor should it be. The problem is, it isn't until test scores are produced that some schools can be convinced they need to change.


Jay Mathews of the Washington Post summarizes a list of "wild ideas" for simplifying the college admissions process. Cliff Sojgren is the author of the ideas, which include requiring high schools to provide enough information so that grades can be compared for students from different schools, eliminating the entrance essay, and only using SAT/ACT scores when they are average or above.

I have to disagree with Sojgren's idea that low SATs should be ignored. Certainly other factors can come into play, but what if, for example, a group of students with high grades but low SAT scores all come from one school? That information could be part of the factors used to judge how inflated the grades are from that school. And Sojgren's plan to rate schools will come under just as much fire from those who cry racism/classism as the SATs do now. If the A's given by teachers with advanced degrees are "worth more" in this new admissions process, you know that any school with a high percentage of teachers without advanced degrees is going to cry racism if those teachers are minorities, or classism if those teachers live in a poor neighborhood.

But it's food for thought, nevertheless. And speaking of food, well, I've got to finish up work so that I can drive 11 hours tomorrow to get some really good food.

Ah, Southern Thanksgivings. I hope yours is as blessed and stuffed with love and calories as mine will be.


Posted by kswygert at 11:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 25, 2003

More diversity with less exclusion?

The Washington Post reports on the "affirmative reaction" of colleges to the dismantling of race-based AA and quota systems. The article, which describes the methods colleges are using to be more in line with the recent Supreme Court ruling, grabs your attention with the very first line:

As one of only 192 blacks who scored higher than 1450 on the SAT this year, Alice Abrokwa is being wooed by some of the nation's most elite colleges.

Yes, you read that right. Out of the 2 million total examinees, fewer than 200 black examinees had stellar combined scores. It is not surprising that colleges would like to woo Alice with outreach programs and full scholarships. However, while the article says that such efforts might be derailed by the recent ruling, someone with a 1450 is going to be recruited regardless of race. Why not have schools appreciate Alice for a quality over which she had some control?

Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Virginia-based Center for Equal Opportunity, which lodged complaints about the University of Michigan's affirmative-action policies, described the [race-based] Amherst [outreach] program as "flatly illegal" because it is racially exclusive. He said Amherst's decision to open the program to disadvantaged whites next year was "a step in the right direction" but warned that it could still "raise problems" if there were "differing admission requirements based on skin color."

A ban on such programs, say Amherst administrators, would lead to a "resegregation" of U.S. campuses, particularly at small liberal arts colleges. The past two decades have witnessed a doubling in the number of minority students attending college, from 2 million to 4.3 million. Despite these gains, only 40 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics attend college, compared with 46 percent of whites, according to data collected by the American Council on Education.

Yes, but how many of those minority students go on to graduate? How many are actually better off than they would have been had they chosen less prestigious colleges, or even no college at all immediately after high school? The ACE press release that contained the previous statistic gives college graduation rates for overall, Asian, black, Hispanic, and Native American students, but not white students (if this article is to be believed, the percentage of whites graduating is 20 points higher than the percentage of minority students graduating). The ACE release also notes high school graduation rates (76% for blacks, 59% for Hispanics) which suggest that AA at the college level, even if done right, can only do so much.

So, back to those select minority students:

The competition is particularly ferocious for blacks and Hispanics with SAT scores that put them on par with the most talented white students. According to the College Board, only 1,877 black students (about 1.5 percent of blacks who take the tests) scored higher than 1300 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT in 2003. Only 72 scored higher than 1500.

Among the overall student population, 148,024 (about 10 percent of test takers) scored higher than 1300, and 13,897 earned scores higher than 1500.

"Most of these students don't realize that they are being fought over," said Joy St. John, an Amherst admissions officer who specializes in minority outreach, gazing over a room of 70 or so black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian students whose SAT scores ranged from the low 1100s to above 1500. "They are modest, and they don't know the options that are out there."

Man, they must be living in a bubble. Any kid who has an SAT score of greater than 1300 who doesn't know that he or she is most likely good college material is definitely attending a school with a poor guidance counselor. And again, I ask, why should it be considered inviting for Amherst to tell these kids that their race (which they have no control over) is as important to the college as their SAT score (which they do) in admissions?

One high-scorer remarks at the end of the article, "It's nice to feel wanted." I agree. Hopefully some of these smart kids will learn to distinguish between schools that want bright students of all colors, and schools that want minorities simply to "increase the diversity" of campuses for their oh-so-culturally-deprived white peers.

Oh yeah, John of Discriminations has already covered this ground:

One of the most amusing parts of the article was its subhead: “After Rulings, Recruiters Take a More Inclusive Approach to Diversity.” This head at least seems to recognize what the body does not, which is that pre-ruling “diversity,” i.e., “diversity” left unregulated, had some exclusionary tendencies.

Posted by kswygert at 02:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Breaking down barriers to become doctors

The New York Times has a fascinating article on the increasing number of medical students with disabilities:

"The human body fascinates me, but my greatest strength as a doctor is patient contact," said [legally-blind fourth-year med student] Mr. Lawler, who is rarely without his guide dog, Burke. "Yes, my knowledge is good, but I also bring empathy to the bedside. I've been treated by doctors who didn't really listen to me or said things like, `You're not planning on having children are you?' So I take my time with patients and try and really listen and thoroughly explain things."

In the past, students with physical disabilities were rarely accepted to medical school, and they rarely completed it. But now Mr. Lawler joins a growing number of students with disabilities who are thriving in medical school. Though no statistics document how many of these students are attending medical school or how many disabled doctors are practicing, experts in the field note that laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 allowed disabled students access to every level of education and helped propel the current increase in medical students...

At least one doctor believes that it is those in the medical profession itself who are responsible for creating barriers against disabled students who don't exude the "perfect health" image:

"Doctors are the least comfortable and often the least knowledgeable about disability issues," said Dr. Julie Madorsky, 58, who practiced from 1969 to 1995. She had childhood polio and was the prototype for the character Dr. Kerry Weaver, the attending physician who walks with the aid of a crutch on the television series "E.R."

Dr. Madorsky said: "There's a concept that it's `them' and `us.' The idea that someone can enter medicine with a physical disability is counterintuitive. It goes against the notion that doctors are healthy and perfect and able-bodied and patients are not."

Are disabled doctors more likely to be incompetent doctors? The malpractice insurance underwriters don't think so:

The disabilities legislation may have had other influences as well. No studies have looked at malpractice and whether disabled doctors and medical students are at higher risk. But, according to the Physician Insurers Association of America, a trade association of medical malpractice insurance companies, there is no difference in underwriting medical liability policies for doctors who are disabled and those who are not.

Posted by kswygert at 02:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

You can take it with you....

...All your parents' appliances, to college, that is:

As students take more appliances and gadgets to school, colleges are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade electrical systems. The costs are often recouped by increasing room rates...

''What's happening today on college campuses is as we renovate buildings we are having to double or triple the electrical service to student rooms,'' [WSU director of residence services Dan] Bertsos said. ''Instead of having five or 10 amps to a room, you've got 20 or 30.''....

The average freshman at Miami University takes 18 appliances to campus, according to a March survey by the school. As part of a $7 million renovation of one dorm, Ogden Hall, the university spent $212,548 in 2000 to add building substations, electrical distribution panels and electrical outlets...

''Kids used to come to college with an AM radio and an electric razor. Now they arrive with every electronic device there is,'' said [TCU's] Roger Fisher, director of residential services. ''They come to campus in a U-Haul, and Dad follows in a Suburban"...

But some officials say higher energy costs, campus expansions, lighting and the addition of computer labs and other energy-eating facilities are more to blame for increased power demand than student appliances. And upgrading electrical systems in new and renovated dorms is often required by law under newer, more demanding building safety codes.

Andrew Matthews, of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said many dorms were built in the 1950s and 1960s and don't have the electrical capacity for power-dependent students.

I'm still angry (and sweaty) about the fact that, as late as 1986, there were un-airconditioned dorms at the University of (Sweltering, Humid, Sticky) South Carolina. And yep, I was in one of 'em. In case you were ever wondering what could be worse than a hangover, that would be a hangover when you're stuck in a shoebox of an "historic" dorm room with no AC when it's 105 degrees outside with the humidity index. Bleargh.

(Via the Cranky Professor.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:36 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thank God for California

It used to be, while I was living in South or North Carolina, that any discussion of the state's test scores was ended with, "Thank God for Mississippi." The southern states are known for being bottom-feeders when it comes to overall test scores, especially when the performance of poor children is examined.

Well, now SC and NC can say, "Thank God for California":

It has often been comforting for education watchers to ascribe such gaps to California's high level of poverty among minority students. But the NAEP data don't support that old saw. Other states have poor children in large numbers, and if NAEP is an indicator, they do much better by them than we do.

California's average reading scores for students who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches were the lowest of any state in the nation, at both fourth and eighth grade. Sixty-seven percent of California's poor fourth-graders scored "below basic" in reading (meaning they could not even demonstrate "partial mastery" of the subject matter for their grade level). In New York, 49 percent scored "below basic"; in Texas 52 percent; Florida, 51 percent. In eighth-grade math, the percentage of California poor children scoring "below basic" was 62; only Alabama and Mississippi had more low-scoring students.

It's a sad day when Californians can look at test scores and say, "thank God for Alabama and Mississippi."

(Found via Education Weak.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Setting the bar for ESL students

While growing numbers of students who learn English as their first language at home are under the gun to pass tests of English/Language Arts/Reading, the bar for English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students may be set so low that "children who are learning English...[in some states]...could leave high school without being taught to read or write the language":

While the No Child Left Behind Act has a detailed formula for bringing students to proficiency on state reading and mathematics tests by the 2013-14 school year, it's much less precise on states' goals for English-language learners.

Under the law, states for the first time must set "annual measurable achievement objectives"—or AMAOs—for how English-language learners are progressing toward learning English. States must also show that they are meeting those goals...

U.S. Department of Education officials acknowledge that some of the goals states have set are weak, but for the time being, the officials say, they're not rejecting any of the goals because of a lack of rigor.

How weak? Well, the "most ambitious" plan belongs to Michigan, which hopes to bring 95% of students from just-starting-to-learn-English to full proficiency in four years. However, "full proficiency" here is defined as a C student in mainstream classes; e.g., the kid who doesn't need English-language support but is not necessarily a good reader.

Other "less ambitious" programs includes Minnesota's, which aims to have, within 10 years, only 12% of students who have been in English-language programs for six or more years to be fully proficient in English. What's Minnesota doing that they can't teach a kid how to read, write, and speak English in six years? Perhaps I'm unaware of how difficult this is - several states apparently informed the government of "research [showing that] it takes five to seven years for students to learn English." I don't know anything about the research, I'll admit, but that seems like an amazingly long time for kids to learn English as a second language.

Posted by kswygert at 01:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Trials and Tribulations on the TAKS

WOAI in Texas reports that more than half of San Antonio's 11th-graders flunked the new TAKS, which replaces the TAAS. They won't be disadvantaged this year, but next year high school students will have to pass this exam to graduate.

WOAI responded by hiring four adults - "a city councilman, a former judge, a DJ and a school board president" - to take the TAKS, so we could all see how well they did. The judge and the school board president had actually taken the TAAS before and declared the TAKS to be noticeably more difficult:

Jamie of Mix 96.1 says she was on the honor roll, in AP classes throughout school and in the National Honors Society. She was a lot of talk before the test, but when she turned down the volume she sounded more like this: "I forgot what these little numbers meant."

That's also what happened with city councilman Roger Flores. He was quoted during the test as saying, "When you start to think about vertices and vortexes, then I start to lose it.

This is the second sitting for NISD board president Bobby Blount and former judge Cyndi Krier. They took the TAAS test for news 4 WOAI four years ago, and passed with flying colors.

The results? The DJ flunked the math portion; the councilman flunked both math and English. The school board member passed both sections, while the judge ended up flunking math while making a near-perfect score on English.

How did the DJ interpret her flunking math score?

Jamie says it is. "Kids did you hear me? You don't need to learn math like me. You can still be successful and do bad on math."

WOAI disagrees:

But what you can't do is get a diploma without passing the test. Educators say they saw the same kind of failure rates and complaints when they introduced the TAAS test. By the time it was retired, those teachers say, the TAAS test was considered too easy. The idea is that bigger challenges create brighter students.

Here are the statewide 11th-grade results, in case you're interested.

If I read the table heading correctly, what's listed are students grouped into (1) those who met a standard that was set at two standard errors of measurement (SEMs) below the panel's recommendation, (2) those who met the standard that was 1 SEM lower, (3) those who met the panel recommendation, and (4) those with a "Commended Performance" that is presumably somewhere above the panel recommendation.

Take a look at the first line, for all 11th-grade students on the math portion (ignoring the spring field test results). The numbers are 68%, 55%, 44%, and 6%. Working backwards, this means that:

Only 6% scored in the "Commended" category, whatever that is.

A total of 44% scored at the panel recommendation or above, which means that, had the cutpoint been set there, 53% would have failed.

A total of 68% passed at a cutpoint set two SEMs below the panel marker, which means that a whopping 32% of all examinees are more than two standard errors of measurement below the cutpoint. Those students aren't just failing - they're failing miserably, because they're not within the 95% error range (based on the reliability of the test). Thus, that 32% is far enough away from the panel recommendation that it's highly unlikely they would pass upon retesting (assuming no change in true ability).

The English scores look even more bimodal; when you go from at panel cutpoint to 2 SEMs below, you only get an increase from 61% to 69% of the students. This means, essentially, that around 60% are passing easily, around 30% are failing miserably, and there's relatively few students - only 10% of examinees - in between.

Update: Here's an article from Education Week that criticizes the TAAS in comparison with Texas' NAEP scores. The writer does not seem optimistic about the usefulness of the TAKS, either.

Posted by kswygert at 09:36 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 24, 2003

Frosty the Snowperson of An Indistinguishable Gender

Those of you who are parents will appreciate this (if you live in Skokie, IL, you'll really appreciate it). Michele of A Small Victory puts out the word that she's running a contest to see who can best envision a politically-correct holiday season. Right now, commenters are competing to see who can best mangle lyrics to holiday songs (though she apparently did that contest last year).

I kinda like this one:

You don't need to watch out
You can cry all the time
Keep a permanent pout
I'm tellin' you why

Santa Claus is a performance-neutral giver.

And I love how this segment from "Walking Through A Winter Wonderland" is modified for the feminists in the audience:

In the meadow we can build a snowperson,
Then pretend that he or she is a member of the clergy from the religion of your choice or, if you prefer, a justice of the peace.

He or she'll say: Are you married?
We'll say: No person,
Because marriage is a paternalistic construct
Designed to suppress women

Someone just jumped in in the comments to say that his tax dollars shouldn't have to support any religious expression in schools, so I expect the thread to take a more combative tone.

Posted by kswygert at 07:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Should professors lower grades for poor attendance?

A defiant student wants to know why some college professors take points off for low attendance: refusal to attend class does not excuse policies that subvert the value of learning and education, emphasizing attendance instead.

Professors who implement attendance policies often argue, “If this were a job, and you failed to show up, you would be fired.” There is, however, one big difference between going to work versus going to class.

A job pays for my service, but I pay my professors for their services. I spend plenty of money on my education, and my choice to fully take advantage of the expense is exactly that — my choice.

When evaluating superior standardized test scores, such as what one might make on the SAT and ACT, admissions officers don’t ask whether students attended prep courses before the exam. Obviously, a high score denotes that a test taker knows the material.

The writer, one Chris Piper of UT-Arlington, then answers his own question:

I truly believe most professors want their students to score well, which is why they implement attendance policies. I am touched by the sentiment. But if missing class leads to poor results by traditional grading methods — tests, quizzes, projects, etc. — then so be it. The student body could use some winnowing out.

I think this is exactly why most professors ask that students come to class. Even the ones who should be "winnowed out" have, like Chris, paid tuition, and so I imagine most professors want to emphasize that their scholarly material will be inadequately understood by those students who skip lectures. So they tell the students, if you want your money's worth, come to class, and then they back it up with attendance policies, pop quizzes, and so on.

Given that pop quizzes would penalize an absent student as much as an attendance policy would, it's hard to see why Chris supports that method, unless he is convinced that his professors don't work hard enough. I give lots of pop quizzes in my statistics courses because they do provide useful feedback, and because I don't take points off for poor attendance. But then, I don't have to; anyone who skips a lot of stats lectures is most likely not going to do well, pop quizzes aside.

Posted by kswygert at 11:11 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Does high stakes testing make teachers cheat?

The Harvard Crimson reports on a new study that concludes that "teachers and school officials cheat in administering standardized tests in a minimum of 4 to 5 percent of elementary school classrooms." Although the headline blares that "High stakes tests lead to cheating," the conclusion is probably not what testing opponents hoped for:

The authors, Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy Brian A. Jacob and University of Chicago Professor Steven D. Levitt, concluded that local policies attributing more weight to standardized testing made it more likely that teachers would cheat...

Economics Professor Caroline M. Hoxby ’88, who specializes in education, said that it was important to remember that the study’s conclusions were based on inferences. Neither of the researchers actually observed teachers tinkering with tests.

But even with that limitation, Hoxby said the study adds critical information about the current emphasis on high stakes testing. “Before this relatively new era, people just didn’t worry about cheating,” she said.

Jacob said he hoped the study would lead to changes in the current standardized testing system.

“In the future, we hope to try to prevent this kind of behavior by having external monitors, as well as by performing random audits, to discourage these kinds of acts from reoccurring.”

In other words, we notice cheating more now because tests carry more weight, and while the raising of stakes might cause some teachers to cheat, that increased prevalence isn't necessarily an indictment of the tests, or the stakes. This merely suggests that stakes were raised, but the corresponding security controls were not; in any such situation, I'd think you'd see more cheating. Dr. Jacob's conclusion is correct; how do we institute security measures to prevent this from happening in the future?

Here are abstracts for Levitt's recent papers on catching cheating teachers and the prevalence of cheating teachers. Some of you may recognize Levitt's name; that's because he's been mentioned here before, as the Chicago professor who's figured out new ways to detect cheating behavior. Apparently the Chicago public schools provide quite a rich dataset for detecting such behavior.

Posted by kswygert at 10:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saving education from "the breaking point"

I caught the tail-end of this Fox News special, Breaking Point: The Education Crisis in America. I came in at the "Teacher's unions are greedy/ No, they're not!" part of the program, in which pithy quotes from AFT and NEA representatives were interlaced with equally-pithy quotes from pissed-off parents and anti-union activists.

Most of what I saw focused on Rafe Esquith, a truly remarkable educator who has labored in the run-down, recent-immigrant, English-as-a-second-language neighborhoods of Los Angeles for 18 years. He teaches at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School and his efforts at producing well-rounded students, in the classic liberal arts tradition, have been amazingly productive:

Beginning his day at 6:30 a.m., Esquith tutors students in math, history and the classics. Lunches and recesses are devoted to music lessons, for Esquith insists that his students take up an instrument. After school, Esquith coaches volleyball, teaches computer use and offers additional tutoring.

As a result of his work, Esquith’s students consistently score in the top 5 to 10 percent nationally in standardized tests, and his math team has gone undefeated for the past five years. Many have made it past Hobart Boulevard and moved onto college and law school.

The Fox News special revealed a man who absolutely lives for his students, who basically has no life outside of his job (in a good way), and who spurs his current students on with a display of Ivy League college banners on his classroom walls; each Princeton or Yale or Harvard banner has engraved plaques beside it listing each of his former students who have made it through those doors.

Rafe has been feted, awarded, and knighted for his teaching skills. His standards are high, and his slogan is, "There are no shortcuts." His fifth-graders read Steinbeck and Shakespeare and learn to become good readers, and good people. One exercise that Fox showed involved a treasure hunt to parallel the class's study of Treasure Island; the teams had to solve math problems and remember important dates just to figure out what the clues were. Rafe noted that, if at the end of the hunt, the winning team shared their treasures with the losing teams, he'd done his job right.

Of course, he was asked about testing, and his reply was just what I expected. He uses tests as feedback to let him know how his kids are doing, but he doesn't want testing to be the be-all end-all of education. And he's right. He sees each student as an individual, but he also doesn't allow any "individualism" to interfere with education. This moral was conveyed very nicely in the story of one former student, a young Hispanic male (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten). On camera, Rafe admits to telling this kid to shape up or ship out, in a way that clearly favored blunt truth and high expectations over any concern for the student's "cultural expectations" or "self-esteem." The kid got his act together, and is now on a full scholarship at the exclusive Brentwood school, where he was just elected class president.

There may have been no one else in that student's life to set such high standards for him, or to tell him that, at some point, he had to take responsibility for his work and his life. Luckily for that kid, and for many other kids, Rafe gets that point across, every day, in his classroom.

Posted by kswygert at 10:08 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Bright student, dim teacher

Devoted Reader Mike recently sent along an amusing (in a black humor, how-stupid-can-people-be? sort of way) article about a bright seventh-grade student at an Ohio school who supposedly "invented" a new math process. I was going to comment on the story myself, and then I realized that Mike had included in the email his own comments, which said exactly what I was going to say.

So here's the article in italics, with Mike's comments interspersed in regular font:

Killie Rick found a new solution to subtraction problems involving whole numbers and fractions. She used the concept of negative numbers in a way that has never been done before, as far as her seventh-grade teacher has been able to ascertain.

Emphasis on the "as far as her 7th-grade teacher knows".

This was the problem: 8 2/5 - 5 3/5 = ?

Now all teachers know that you're supposed to do "5 time 8 is 40, plus 2 is 42, write down 42/5, then 5 times 5 ......." and eventually you get to 2 4/5.

Killie Rick realized that the symbol "8 2/5" really means "8 + 2/5", so then she did

8 2/5 - 5 3/5 = 3 -1/5 = 2 + 5/5 - 1/5 = 2 4/5

"I've never seen anybody do this, said Colin McCabe, Killies teacher. It simplifies it by taking out three steps (to find a solution). I went home and tried to find fault with it, but I couldn't. I got online and did research, and I talked to friends of mine from college, and I can't find anybody who's seen this."

Tried to find fault with it? Sheesh. Somebody ought to tell him about:

(a + b) - (c + d) = (a - c) + (b - d).

And that 3 1/2 really means 3 + 1/2.

But there's more. This is the part that makes me want to throw something across the room:

"I think a lot of credit should go to the teacher, said Anne Steck, the schools principal. I know lots of math teachers who would've looked at Killie's work and just said it was wrong."


What he said. The realization that neither this seventh-grade math teacher nor any of his college buddies knows about this technique is appalling. But for the principal to give credit to the teacher for not marking a correct answer as wrong is appalling and incredibly insulting to the little girl who figured it out for herself. Not to mention completely egotistical; do they really think that no one has ever used negative numbers in this way?

It is true that, when one looks online, almost every K-12 "dealing with mixed numbers" lesson plan mentions only the least common denominator, convert-to-improper-fractions method. Some of them do so clearly, others do not; this page uses a method so jumbled and jargon-ladled that I have no idea what they're trying to teach. But, this page mentions the borrowing technique the girl used at the end when she converted 3 -1/5 = 2 + 5/5 - 1/5. And this page, at the very end, mentions the method the girl used when she subtracted the two whole numbers and then the two fractions, and then converted them to positive numbers (although the page doesn't summarize it as a concise formula as Mike did, above).

So, at the very least, with only five minutes of Googling, I've manage to disprove the idea that "no one" has ever used negative numbers in this fashion. Guess the teacher above is as bad at web searching as he is at understanding improper fractions.

Update: *Sigh.* In case I did not make it crystal clear above, I found this story appalling because (a) the teacher only knew one way to solve the problem, which is one less than one of his students, (b) a competent math teacher would not have had to do research to validate this method, thus, (c) the student should not have to share any of the credit with the teacher for this. I'm appalled that the school is sharing any of the glory, when (a) this teacher is demonstrably incapable of teaching alternate methods, and (b) the little girl figured it out all by herself.

I thought the little girl should have gotten all the credit, not just some of it. My Google search was not to take credit away from the student, but to point out that her teacher obviously doesn't understand seventh-grade mathematics very well.

Sheesh. My first piece of hate mail, and the writer completely misconstrued what I wrote (and called me a lot of nasty names to boot).

Posted by kswygert at 09:47 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Monday, Monday....

Sorry for the non-bloggage on Friday. My body wasn't discovered until late that day, when my boss noticed that the piles of paperwork, SAS printouts, and committee meeting notes in my office were in fact stacked on top of my seemingly-lifeless form, as I lay on the floor prone, completely enervated by an ongoing battle against a nascent sinus infection. I think it was the sneezing, and the resulting flutter of printer paper in the room, that helped him realize I was still salvageable.

Despite a lot of sleep over the weekend and my arsenal of Tylenol sinus products (I have a friend who works for J&J and can get everything for me discount), the sinus infection is still in the ring. Therefore, although (a) I intend to get some posts up this week and (b) I expect them to be timely/accurate/incisive, I can make no guarantees about any of this. I should probably just aim for writing something that doesn't sound like it comes from a deranged chimpanzee.

Posted by kswygert at 08:44 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 20, 2003

A rant about Ritalin and other things

One of the more outspoken bloggers around, Mrs. Du Toit, has a rather lengthy rant on an abusive classroom "point" system for special education students, the dangers of Ritalin, and her dislike for the public school system in general. Agree with her or not, she certainly sparks some interesting debate (so interesting that she disabled the comments after 81 accumulated).

Mrs. Du Toit posts this warning on her front page: "This website contains GRAPHIC language. If you are offended by blunt speech, please leave immediately. Thank you." I advise you to take the warning seriously.

If you do read the post, though, be sure to read the comments, too. One comment in particular, I absolutely love, because it addresses the "lack of socialization" comments that homeschooling parents are often bombarded with:

Great Post Mrs. Dutoit. My wife and I are going to homeschool our daughters, now 3 and 2. Her mother is against it. "Tough shit", I believe is what I said to my mother-in-law. (I actually have a great relationship with her, and can say such things). I cut the debate off when she said "But what about socialization?". My answer: "I smoked my first joint because of "socialization". How bout you?"

Posted by kswygert at 02:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Students first, or athletes?

The NCAA has come up with yet another new set of rules (their fourth in two decades) to try to ensure that student athletes have more chances to succeed academically in college (and graduate on time). The problem is, the rules seem to contradict one another, in such a way that poorly-qualified athletes have more a chance to be admitted, and more of a chance to earn degrees in dishonest or laughably-easy ways:

These [new] rules, supporters say, will have teeth: The Division I governing board of school presidents is expected to pass legislation in April to strip scholarships or the chance to play in the postseason from teams whose athletes consistently fail to progress toward a degree. About 44% of Division I men's basketball players earn degrees within six years of entering college...

...the critics say, by raising the stakes for a sports program's academic failings, the changes might increase the likelihood that athletes and their colleges will cut corners academically to keep players eligible. That concern is exacerbated by the NCAA's decision to simultaneously lower academic standards athletes must meet to play as freshmen, so that even athletes with the absolute minimum SAT score can be eligible if their high school grade-point average is high enough...

They're not exaggerating with the "absolute minimum" comment. Since the earlier 1980's, the NCAA has been trying to enforce scholastic requirements for freshmen athletes. The problem is that those requirements always included SAT/ACT scores, for the same reasons that colleges use those tests; i.e., to help compare candidates from diverse high schools. But the race card got played - these tests allegedly "unfairly" discriminate against black and Latino athletes - so, as of October 2002, freshmen with SAT scores as low as 400 cabn play so long as they have a "correspondingly high grade-point average" in a certain number of high school courses.

Yes, that's a combined score of 400 (on the current two-part SAT). In other words, a potential athlete can be allowed to play with the lowest-possible Verbal and Math score on the SAT. This leads to several uncomfortable questions. Why on earth should these kids be admitted to college at all? Why are there even instances - and you know there will be - of kids having acceptably-high GPAs along with SAT scores this low? What does that say about the type of high schools from which these colleges are recruiting? And given that fraud has already occurred, what makes them think that tougher graduation rules but looser SAT requirements won't combine to create even more instances of cheating?

Academic fraud already has surfaced at several well-known NCAA schools. During the latter portion of the 2002-03 basketball season alone, it was revealed that:

• St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., had a player with a welding certificate from a junior college rather than the associate's degree needed to transfer to a Division I school.

• A University of Georgia assistant basketball coach who taught a class on basketball coaching gave passing grades to a top player who didn't attend the class.

• Fresno State players, under the previous coach, had course work done by a team statistician.

And those aren't the only problems:

• By punishing colleges whose athletes fail to progress toward a degree, the new rules might discourage athletes from challenging themselves academically, accelerating the clustering of players in a relative handful of friendly majors that vary from school to school.

• The toughened eligibility rules are expected to make it harder for junior college athletes to meet the requirements to play as juniors at Division I colleges. That likely would make Division I coaches less willing to recruit players from community colleges.

• Expansive and expensive new academic-support services and facilities for athletes — expected to increase aggressively as colleges scramble to help athletes navigate the new rules — will raise the cost of big-time sports and might further distance athletes from other students on campus.

At least one athletic director is asking the right question: University of Mississippi athletics director Pete Boone put it: "There seemed to be a rush for public relations purposes to come up with an academic reform package. But what does it really mean if more kids get degrees but they are in basket weaving?"

Posted by kswygert at 12:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The fight over school choice in DC

According to Carrie Lucas of the Independent Women's Forum, the soon-to-be-voted-on Washington, DC, "omnibus bill" on education currently contains a bill on a school-choice program, which would offer low-income Washington parents scholarships worth up to $7,500. Problem is, the teachers unions are fighting it tooth-and-nail, and the members of Congress - many of whom don't live in DC - might be willing to let it slip out:

Despite spending $12,000 per pupil — the highest per-child expenditure in the nation — the Washington, D.C., public-school system is in perpetual crisis. The nation's capital boasts the lowest score on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a national standardized test. Many schools are unsafe and crumbling.

[DC mom] Tracy knows the frustrations felt not only by parents, but also by the students who receive worthless educations. She describes one D.C. graduate she knows who was forced to enroll in GED classes after high school because he lacked the basic language skills required to advance in the workplace.

...the D.C. school-choice provision should be a slam-dunk in Congress. Unfortunately, the program is in a precarious position because it directly benefits only those families living in the District. Even members of Congress who believe that D.C. parents deserve more options and who support the concept of school choice are being tempted to let this provision slip. These members are understandably anxious to go home to their own families and districts, not stay and fight for a program that doesn't affect their constituents. The teachers' unions — who view all plans that allow students to escape from government-run schools as a threat to their monopoly, and ultimately, to their paychecks — will oppose any omnibus bill that includes D.C. choice.

To be eligible for the scholarships, a four-person household would need to make less than $35,000 a year, which means they're families who can't afford to move where the schools are better. And the waiting lists for charter schools are long.

More about the plan can be seen here.

Posted by kswygert at 12:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Teachers and students, behaving badly

Let's see, in the "I-can-behave-outrageously-and-still-keep-my-paycheck" category, we now have, in addition to Goose Creek Principal McCrakin and FDR High Assistant Principal Knoll, North Carolina science teacher Jeff Ferguson, who decided to demonstrate the body's ability to neutralize acids in milk by making his students drink it until they vomited. Sure, participation was voluntary, and only five of the 42 students actually threw up, but still. Joanne Jacobs calls it "an educational experience for all, especially for the teacher, who's been suspended." With pay, I might add.

Of course, students aren't always angels themselves. In New Zealand, one enterprising female bully set up a website that invited and encouraged other students to leave nasty messages about another girl at her school. Allegedly the result of a "schoolyard spat," the website quickly became evidence of some very ugly behavior:

[A newspaper] said the website's home page contained "foul comments" about the victim, and included a guest book filled with similar comments from fellow students as well as threats to "bomb" her computer with viruses.

Liz Butterfield, director of the Internet Safety Group, told the paper it was one of New Zealand's nastiest examples of the developing phenomenon of "cyber bullying".

She said while it was becoming increasingly common for children to abuse each other through mobile texting and email, she had not previously heard of someone devoting a website to such attacks and encouraging others to join in. "I think it's the nastiest kind of thing that you could throw at somebody," she said. "I would call it at the very high end of bullying."

There's yet another entry in the "If-I-fake-a-hate-crime, I-help-validate-real-crimes!" category as well. A Northwestern University student has been charged with felony disorderly conduct after it was determined that he faked racist graffiti and a knife attack (free subscrip required):

Jaime Alexander "Xander" Saide, 19, told his story to hundreds of Northwestern students at a campus rally against discrimination...Saide had told police that on Nov. 4 he found anti-Hispanic slurs including the word "die" written on a wall and a poster near his room in Chapin Residential College. On Nov. 8, he told police, a man grabbed him from behind and put a knife to his throat as he walked to his dormitory after visiting friends. He said the man whispered an anti-Hispanic epithet in his ear before running off...

Police questioned Saide's story from the beginning, Kaminski said...

Police declined to discuss the circumstances of Saide's alleged admission [that the stories were fake]. On Tuesday, Saide was released after posting $300 bail, officials said...

Tuesday's edition of the campus newspaper, the Daily Northwestern, includes an essay that Saide wrote in which he described himself as the son of an interracial couple who thought he would escape discrimination because of his light skin and green eyes. Student editors said they learned of his arrest after the essay was published...

Alexander Rabbit Magalli, 18, a freshman, said Saide had good intentions, "but it was the wrong way to go about it. ... I hope this doesn't hurt the cause."

Unfortunately for Magalli, every such incident does hurt the cause. The more fake racial crimes that occur, the more willing people will be to dismiss or suspect the real ones.

And then there's this unnamed 15-year-old in North Carolina who, to let his therapist tell it, has just been exploring his fantasies, and is "merely a big talker, with a low chance of hurting himself or others." (Free subscrip required to access the story.) Nevertheless, he's been in juvenile detention since October 22nd, and has just been released to his parent's custody (under what is essentially house arrest). He's also banned from going to his school - indeed, from approaching any school.

Another victim of a draconian zero-tolerance policy? Well, perhaps not:

Last month police said they uncovered a plot to explode homemade napalm at Concord High and on school buses while they were investigating an unrelated and unfounded bomb threat.

Police searched the boy and his home. They said they found detailed maps of the school, notes about where to place bombs and burn marks where the boy had tested chemicals.

Police also said they found what the boy had labeled a "corpse list" naming more than 20 people, including himself, whom police say the boy intended to hurt.

The psychologist saw no problem with this:

"Kids who don't have a lot of confidence sometimes become interested in fringe subjects: war paraphernalia, explosives," Sultan responded. "In a 30-year-old it would strike me as unusual, but not at his age."

What about the "corpse list" and notes about where to plant the bombs at school? Is that also not unusual for a 15-year-old?

Posted by kswygert at 11:28 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 19, 2003

High costs, low educational value

One of my favorite writers, Wendy McElroy, has a very informative article up about the high prices of some low-value college curricula.

Before they send their children onto a college campus in North America, parents should read two new reports...

The first study, Death of the Liberal Arts?, was released last month by the Independent Women's Forum. Melana Zyla Vickers examined the curricula of the top 10 liberal arts colleges as ranked by the authoritative U.S. News and World Report. She concluded, "Even at the best ... freshmen can't obtain a sound education in history, literature and other fundamentals of civilization."

Some of the knowledge freshmen will not find includes a course on Shakespeare at Bowdoin, any overview of American history at Amherst and an overview of any literary period at Swarthmore. Meanwhile, freshmen at William College can explore such esoteric areas as an English course on "man's desire ... to take, order, idealize and copy nature's bounty while humanizing, plundering and destroying the environment" even though there is no comprehensive course in history...

Yet the cost for a freshman to graduate from one of the "top ten" could run as high as $120,000.

A second report issued by the College Board, a non-profit schools association, Trends in College Pricing 2003, states, "college tuition and fees increased an average of $579 at four-year public institutions, $1,114 at four-year private institutions, and $231 at two-year public institutions" in 2002.

What's more, one researcher estimates that half the money going to public universities comes from taxpayers, and a lot of that money appears to be going into non-academic projects (water slides and indoor batting cages, anyone?).

What does Ms. McElroy suggest? Privatization.

There is an obvious solution: Return to a curriculum in which knowledge is valued more than political correctness.

University academics will resist an attempt to make them accountable to those who pay their salaries. One solution: Remove obstacles to accountability, such as tenure. At the same time, privatize as much of the university system as possible so that it becomes responsive to "clients" -- that is, to the parents and students who purchase and consume its services.

If clients value political correctness or water parks, then they can pay the cost both in lower academic standards and spiraling tuition. Meanwhile, those who value knowledge and skill can enjoy the comparatively modest, stripped-down tuition it would cost to acquire them.

Posted by kswygert at 04:32 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

2 + 2 = No!

Aptos High School in the Pajaro Valley (Santa Cruz, CA) has said bye-bye to an "innovative" math program that left its participants flunking the California standardized assessment in big whopping numbers:

Known as the Interactive Mathematics Program, the nationally recognized curriculum is a sharp departure from conventional math education and has earned the praise of instructors at Aptos High School.

Yet, Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Mary Anne Mays said last year's IMP participants at Aptos High scored below the basic level on state standardized tests and has called for the program's end. On Wednesday, she drafted a letter canceling IMP at all schools in the district.

What's the Interactive Mathematics Program? Why, Mathematically Correct already has the scoop on it, in a 2002 literature review which concludes that IMP is best for students who do not plan to attend college or who plan to major in non-math subjects. It "lacks the depth of study for students who will study math in college" and "is not a college prep math curriculum."

Unsurprisingly, though, the supporters of IMP claim that those nasty tests just don't gauge how good a job this allegedly-shallow program does at helping kids understand math:

Many math teachers like Claudia Ayers said that alternative programs like IMP can't be gauged by standardized tests. "Standardized testing pulls in a very narrow curricular direction - just back to the basics and math facts - whereas IMP and the reform programs pull towards conceptual understanding," she said. "Authentic learning pulls in one direction and standardized testing pulls in the opposite."

Because, as we all know, mathematics is a subject in which conceptual understanding has absolutely no relation to the understanding of basic factual information. "Authentic learning" of mathematical concepts can in fact take place in the absence of, or prior to, the learning of basic-level mathematical concepts and functions.


Does Ms. Ayers understand the basic mathematical concept of percentages? She must not, if she's so eager and willing to ignore these results:

....According to recently released test results, of the 140 students who participated in IMP in 2003, 95 percent scored below or far below basic. In 2002, 100 percent scored below basic. This year's IMP 2 students did only slightly better with 87 percent scoring far below basic, while 85 percent of the IMP 3 students scored poorly.

Conventional students at Aptos High also did better on the 2003 SAT test, averaging 42 points higher that those who participated in the IMP program.

Apparently, part of IMP's "innovative" technique is that it does away with the old, fuddy-duddy tradition of teaching mathematical concepts in sequence (algebra followed by trigonometry followed by calculus). Instead, students learn "non-linear" segments which "fuse" each curriculum together and are, in their first year, allegedly introduce to all the ideas within the entire mathematical field.

Because, as we all know, mathematic concepts do not build on one another, and calculus concepts can be successfully introduced to students who do not have a firm understanding of algebra.


I assume the state standardized test referred to in this article is the California Standards Test; here's the Algebra blueprint. Here's the summary Mathematics Exam. Skip to page 7 of this document for all of the Mathematics standards. The highest possible scaled score is 600. To score below basic, a student must receive a scaled score of less than 299.

It gets worse. Thanks to all this non-linearity, students in IMP don't actually get credit for finishing an algebra course until they've completed four years of IMP. Unfortunately for them, the state's test is set up in a way that assumes tenth-graders have mastered not only algebra but geometry.

But the brave IMP supporters forge on, completely unconcerned by the fact that their program is completely out of alignment with state standards and test content, and by the fact that the tests indicate that IMP students are not mastering basic math content at any level:

Still, teachers like Melville and Ayers remains undeterred. "This is what we're dealing with: 'How do we withstand the pressure of politicians and administrators who don't understand the meaninglessness of the numbers and would rather focus on (test scores) than authentic learning?'" Ayers said. "That is the crux of determining how to deal with people who are not on the same page as we are."

I believe Melville and Ayers are profoundly qualified to speak about the "meaninglessness" of numbers, given the quality of the math instruction they provide.

Posted by kswygert at 11:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Voucher concerns and FCAT standards in Florida

Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne spoke to members of the state Board of Education about the "embarrassing revelations" concerning the state's voucher system:

"There are things I'm not proud of that we've missed," Education Commissioner Jim Horne told members of the state Board of Education. "If you don't believe it's managed real well, the blame is with me," he said. "We will make sure these programs are more effective."...

More than 24,000 Florida schoolchildren participate in one of the state's three voucher programs. The majority, about 11,500, are in the newest program - the Corporate Tax Credit program for low-income children. A small number of high-profile problems have prompted critics to complain the state isn't keeping a tight enough rein on the programs.

A scholarship funding organization in Ocala, for example, is now under criminal investigation. Law enforcement is trying to discover what happened to $168,000 that was supposed to be spent on vouchers for low-income children but disappeared. In July, voucher funding was cut off to an Islamic school in Tampa. The school was co-founded by Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor alleged to have terrorist ties...

Horne has proposed a package of changes that would tighten controls over the programs. But board member Bill Proctor said he is concerned the reforms don't go far enough. For instance, Proctor wants students who use vouchers at private schools to take the FCAT so their academic progress can be evaluated.

And speaking of the FCAT, Florida's BOE has decided not to raise FCAT standards this year:

A divided Florida Board of Education decided Tuesday to leave the standards where they are for now, despite a state rule that calls for adjustments this year. The lone dissenting vote was board member Charles Garcia, who called Tuesday's vote "the low point of my tenure on the board."...

The naysayers worried about the effect raising standards could have on morale, and were also concerned that they had not seen enough data showing the effect of using the FCAT as a promotion tool. I completely understand their desire to know more about the effects, but I wonder if they're just waiting to see how many of the 42,000 third-graders who originally flunked the FCAT will have passed it by the spring of next year.

There will be some changes, however:

Next school year, all students - including those with disabilities and limited English skills - will be included in the school grade calculations. Those changes are expected to lower grades for many schools, but a state study shows that 38 percent of Florida's D and F-rated schools would actually benefit from the change. Only 20 percent of A and B-rated schools would benefit.

The state standard for the writing test will be raised from 3.0 (on a scale from 1 to 6) to a 3.5 next school year. The standard will be raised to 4.0. in 2006-07. A 4.0 is the average writing score right now.

Also in 2006-07, science will be added to the school grading mix.

Parents in Florida also won't have access to test forms:

Florida's high-stakes exam that determines whether students graduate from high school or are promoted from the third grade will remain confidential, a state appellate court ruled Thursday [November 6th].

In a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the judges determined that the questions from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test would remain secret, unlike the test scores that are released to students and parents...

Gov. Jeb Bush praised the decision, saying it upheld the state Department of Education's long-standing policy of keeping tests confidential. If the tests had to be released each year, the governor and DOE officials said it would have driven up the costs of the exam by forcing the state to revise it annually...

State officials said although the test booklets aren't released, parents get diagnostic reports and their children are offered remedial help if they struggle. They also said the FCAT was no different than other scholastic tests, such as the SAT or ACT, where only test scores and not the tests themselves are released...

Actually, the 1980 "Truth-in-Testing" bill gave examinees in New York the right to see SAT test forms; a 1982 study concluded that examinees who saw their test forms and then retook the SAT did not show a significant change in performance. Other organizations also release most or all of their test forms - the LSAC, for example, releases three out of the four LSATs it administers each year.

Nevertheless, releasing FCAT items would indeed drive the costs of the test up, and substantially more time and effort would be required to construct new tests that are properly developed and equated each year.

Posted by kswygert at 10:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Effective project-based learning

The Dr. Michael Conti School (aka School 5) in New Jersey offers "a visual assault to the senses, unending in its variety and creativity." It also offers a curriculum in which projects are not just busywork, and basic skills are conveyed in an innovative fashion:

There are the maps made of candy, marshmallows and pebbles. Down the hall, miniature paper lockers are flapping open and shut, the product of a math exercise assigned to a group of seventh-graders.

Perhaps no display is more fetching than the efforts of the pre-kindergarten students to answer the question, "Who are the people in our neighborhood?" On the first floor of this three-story schoolhouse on Merseles Street, the pre-kindergartners have erected a pizzeria complete with a fake, but delicious-looking pizza, and a bodega with shelves stocked with Goya beans, rice and crackers.

The point all of this unleashed creativity isn't to educate the next generation of set designers. The goal is to teach core curriculum subjects like mathematics and English in a way that fascinates, challenges and engages the students, school officials said...

Test results for the 800-student, 68-teacher institution have been impressive.

For four years in a row, the school's eighth-graders have led all other schools in the district in their passing percent of standardized math tests. Last year, 97.3 percent of School 5's eighth-graders passed the language arts section of the standardized test, and 87 percent passed the math exam. Among fourth-graders, 92.5 percent scored proficient or better on the language arts test, as did 83 percent on the math exam...

[Principal] Ramos said the project-based learning process begins with a "driving question" - What is a rain forest? How does color shape our world? Who are the people in our neighborhood?

From this starting point, students are asked to do research, surveys, draw graphs and maps, write out their conclusions, make a video about their findings - with teachers all the while making sure that core curriculum skills in math and English and other subjects are taught and digested.

Posted by kswygert at 10:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2003

Historical offensiveness

Joanne Jacobs reports, via Tongue Tied, that two Florida 11th-graders are in counseling because their teacher read a racial slur aloud from a book entitled, A Land Remembered, described as "a fictional account of Florida’s history as seen through the eyes of one family."

The parents of the traumatized students have hired a civil rights attorney and they may sue the school. According to the AP, the two students (who were in separate classes) were upset when the word was read aloud to them. One student alleges that white students snickered (why didn't the teacher say something to them?), and another student alleges that his teacher sent him to the office after he objected to the term (why didn't the teacher deal with that in a more appropriate fashion?).

Joanne, as always, cuts right to the heart of the issue: "I wondered why an 11th grade teacher is reading aloud in class. Can't the students read for themselves?"

Posted by kswygert at 06:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sharper than a serpent's tooth

Sometimes I revise and revise and revise my posts in the fear that perhaps I am being too unkind to those who make truly dumb statements. It's not a question of avoiding charges of libel; it's that I was reared not to use ugly names, and always to be polite to others, even when I disagree with them. Still, sometimes I feel I am too harsh when writing about those who assume that all tests are biased, that poor children deserve lower standards, or that schools should be designed around faddish educational ideologies instead of actual education.

But then I read Melanie Phillips' Diary and I don't feel I'm being too harsh at all.

For those of you unfamiliar with her, start here. She's a well-known and controversial British journalist and author. She also runs, on her Diary, a series called "Dunce's Corner." Consider her comments on this entry, in which she objects to the lack of foreign language education in British schools:

Our education system is simply disintegrating. The government's plan to drop foreign languages from the compulsory school curriculum at age 14 has already resulted in some 60% of comprehensive schools dropping compulsory language learning. Many bright children are dropping languages, but as ever the main casualties are the poor...

...government ministers are complicit in this betrayal, saying that the change 'simply acknowledges that some teenagers would prefer to focus on vocational subjects and helps avoid turning them off schooling. Oh, please. This is tantamount to saying that poor children are too stupid to learn a foreign language...

What a betrayal of children. What a condescending, philistine, vandalising government.

No matter how hard I've come down on people, I don't think I've ever used three derogatory adjectives at once. And check out this post on the "depressing vindication" of those, like Phillips, who complain about the dumbed-down nature of British education:

Depressing vindication for people like myself who have argued -- in the teeth of ridicule and outright denial from virtually the entire education establishment -- that education standards have dropped through the floor, that public examinations have been dumbed down and that the universities are having to spend much of their degree courses on remedial work. Lo and behold, now the Chief Inspector of Schools has confirmed that this is indeed all too true.

So now, multiple-choice exam questions are to be replaced by essays, to try to repair the catastophic situation where university students cannot any more sustain an argument...If one is trying to explain why our society now apears so gullible in the face of systematic lies and propaganda, it is because being taught to think has long been out of fashion in what we laughably call our education system.

And a professor of education really comes in for a beating when he seems to be "blaming the victim":

Typical nonsense from Ted Wragg, the education professor, who has been sufficiently moved by the Diane Abbott furore to inflict upon us yet more of his crackpot theories about education. As usual, he says the reason so many inner city schools are so dire is because their children are poor. 'If the fundamental problems of poverty are not addressed, educational initiatives alone will not achieve much', he says.

Pinning the blame for educational underachievement on poverty is tantamount to blaming the poor for their own failure...

Don't miss the comments on this last one. Phillip's Diary is relatively new, but I'll be checking in regularly for her Dunce's Corner segments.

Posted by kswygert at 06:47 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Test scores not adding up in Georgia

Online Athens reports that school officials in Clarke County (GA) are concerned about sagging - and conflicting - math scores among students enrolled in middle and high school:

The Clarke County school board got a snapshot look at district math achievement during its regular monthly meeting Thursday - a chart of standardized test results that showed only 47 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the benchmark math score on the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test given in the spring. A year earlier, 57 percent had met or exceeded the benchmark as seventh-graders, and 58 percent had done so as sixth-graders in 2001.

In a similar drop, 56 percent of sixth-graders met or exceeded the achievement benchmark on the spring CRCT. Last year, 62 percent of the same class met or exceeded the benchmark as fifth-graders...

Definitely not good news. For some reason, the same cohort that is moving through the county's schools is becoming less likely to meet grade-related benchmarks as they proceed.

Administrators believe the downward trend in test scores through middle school is a symptom of the same lack of math comprehension that leaves many high-school freshmen floundering in algebra class - which they must have to graduate. The struggle for many students has been a concern of some school board members in the past, and Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools have begun offering pre-algebra and Algebra I classes as year-long classes, rather than semester-long, in one attempt to help students.

You mean these high schools were teaching Algebra I within a semester, instead of using an entire year for that? Why the rush, unless what they're calling "pre-algebra" is just part of Algebra I? And move forward three years, and things get more interesting, as passing rates on the high school exit exam rapidly increase:

Math scores skyrocket between eighth-grade CRCTs and the Georgia High School Graduation Test given in the junior year of high school...Superintendent Lewis Holloway told school board members that part of the reason scores jump on the high-school test is because many of the students who have struggled academically have begun dropping out by that point and therefore aren't taking the test. The test also is not very rigorous and is being revamped by the state, school board member Denise Mewborn pointed out.

Well, here are the online content descriptions for every grade for the math CRCTs. Skip to page 69 to peruse the eighth-grade content. The content appears fairly extensive and includes geometric and algebraic concepts. Sample items may be found here; the items seem pretty straightforward.

And here are the content descriptions for the math portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test. The Geometry and Algebra constructs being measured do not seem to be any more rigorous than those listed for the Grade 8 CRCT.

Here's the student guide from the DOE. Notice that an item which requires a student to calculate the following is listed as having a high cognitive level:

6. "One gallon of paint will cover 800 square feet. How many gallons of paint are needed to cover a wall that is 8 feet high and 200 feet long?"

Why is this considered to be one of the more difficult items on the exam? Because it requires test takers to "know how to find the area of a rectangle and to know when finding the area will help solve a problem."

I think Ms. Mewborn might have a point about the rigors of the exit exam. From my admittedly-cursory examination, it appears that the graduation exam is not much more difficult than the eighth-grade exam, and this could definitely explain the contradictory scores. Students who are failing in math in eighth grade either drop out or have almost three more years to master the eighth-grade material before taking the exit exam.

Posted by kswygert at 05:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Reality show format "fizzles" for administrators

I invite you to read, without comment (I'm laughing too hard to write), the tragedy that ensues when college administrators try far, far too hard to be hip:

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - A creative idea to make meetings between University of Iowa officials and students more fun quickly changed directions when jazzy nicknames chosen for top administrators were found to have undesirable multiple meanings.

The goal was to make Thursday night meetings between students and President David Skorton and Phillip Jones, vice president of student services, more interesting. The administrators and student government leaders came up with the idea of a reality show format. Nicknames were chosen for Skorton, who was called Pizzle, and Jones, known as Dizzle.

The names were meant to be a funny spinoff of the concept used by rapper Snoop Dogg, who creates words by adding an "izzle" ending to words. Skorton and Jones appeared at Thursday's meeting in hockey jerseys with the letters P and D on their chests, respectively.

By Friday, however, university officials were grabbing for their dictionaries to confirm rumors that the nicknames had other meanings. It turns out that pizzle is a term sometimes used to refer to a bull's sex organs and that dizzle - according to one dictionary on urban slang - refers to an alcoholic redneck.

"That's why we won't be emphasizing Pizzle and Dizzle anymore," said university spokesman Steve Parrott. "It'll just be P and D."

Jones said he was confident that no one intended to choose nicknames that would offend anyone. "I don't think the students meant to be offensive," he said. "They were trying to use contemporary terms that would attract the attention of other students."

Jones, 63, suggested that he and Skorton, 54, "have to do a better job of trying to keep up with the culture of today's youth."

Posted by kswygert at 04:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Silly me

Earlier today, I posted about an anti-voucher article that I mistakenly/carelessly/idiotically thought was recent. Turns out that though I disagreed with most of it, the article must have been effective; Prop 38 in California, which would have provided vouchers for private school tuition, was roundly defeated. In 2000. Thanks to the reader who so tactfully pointed this out to me.

I was going to keep up some of my posting, but realized that since I was using post-2000 sources to make some of my points, it was a lost cause, so I removed the entire thing. That's what I get for getting so caught up in the moment that I miss an important point (i.e., that I was beating a dead horse). I don't often post about vouchers, so I should have done my research more thoroughly.

Posted by kswygert at 04:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

VP stabs self, blames student, keeps paycheck

You know, it's hard to imagine how a school official could do more damage to student morale than the trigger-happy Principal McCrakin of Goose Creek, SC.

But I must admit, a vice principal who stabs himself in a school bathroom, and then allows police to claim that a student was the attacker, sure fits the bill:

An assistant principal who was thought to be the victim of a stabbing allegedly inflicted the wounds on himself, and then lied about it, authorities said. Clinton Knoll, 35, of Ulster County, was arrested Monday, two weeks after he was found bleeding in a bathroom at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School.

The incident prompted a day-long lockdown and drew resources from three police agencies. Knoll was charged with falsely reporting an incident and knowingly making a false statement, both misdemeanors...

At a press conference the day of the stabbing, [Hyde Park Police Chief James]McKenna said he believed the attack came ''from the student body.'' Monday, he denied making that statement and said police did not limit their search to the student body...

Parent Felicia Ritters blasted authorities for implying a student may have been responsible for the stabbing. ''They came right out with a statement in the paper saying they suspected it was a student,'' she said...

Knoll was charged at 11:53 a.m. Monday, after he had come to Hyde Park Police headquarters to answer more questions about the incident. He was arraigned and sent to Dutchess County Jail, where bail was set at $1,000. He is due back in court Thursday.

At his arraignment, Knoll was ordered by a judge not to make contact with school officials or go to the school grounds. He was suspended with pay from the Hyde Park school district.

Gee, suspension with pay? No zero tolerance for school officials who bring sharp objects onto school property, I see; no zero tolerance for those who lie about self-inflicted wounds as well.

Posted by kswygert at 04:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The benefits of West Virginia

Now here's a doozy of an op-ed in the New York Post by well-known education researchers Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster. Despite the well-known stereotypes of New Yorkers as sophisticated and unprejudiced, and West Virginians as uneducated, racist hicks, it seems that black teenagers in WV stand a much better of graduating high school, and of being prepared for college, than do their peers in NY:

First, West Virginia high schools are far more likely than their New York counterparts to keep black students in school all the way through graduation.

The graduation rate for black students in New York is a dismal 47 percent, below even the disappointing national average of 51 percent. This is an ongoing problem in New York - its black graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 51 percent. Meanwhile, the graduation rate for black students in West Virginia is a comparatively heartening 70 percent.

That difference translates into thousands of black students with brighter prospects and higher earnings... students leaving West Virginia high schools are not just more likely than their New York peers to get that door-opening diploma. They're also more likely to have the academic abilities necessary to go on to college.

There are three things a student must have before he can even apply to a four-year college. First, he needs a high school diploma. Second, he needs to have taken the right courses - math, English, and so on...Finally, he needs to demonstrate basic literacy.

By these three criteria, we estimate that only 16 percent of all black students in New York leave high school meeting the bare minimum requirements to apply to four-year colleges...By contrast, 31 percent of all black students leave West Virginia schools ready for college - just about twice as many as in New York.

What do Greene and Forster conclude is the reason behind these differences? They believe the differences are related to the theories listed in Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom's new book, "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning" (see here and here for previous posts about the book):

The Thernstroms don't look specifically at New York and West Virginia, but it isn't hard to guess how their findings might apply. There are definitely a lot of people in New York always willing to make excuses for black student failure. The data seem to indicate that West Virginia is holding its black students to a higher standard, and with outstanding results.

Hrm. Is this the case? Well, here's Dr. Greene's report on graduation rates across the 50 states. Here's the table with the numbers by state. Note that the numbers for white students are identical for West Virginia and New York, yet there's this discrepancy for black students. That certainly suggests that whatever has gone wrong with the NY system is affecting black students more often than whites (there's a gap between white and black students in WV as well, but it's not as large).

Other such within state gaps are also apparent:

Illinois: white grad. rate = 89%; black grad. rate = 57%
Iowa: white grad. rate = 95%; black grad. rate = 57%
Kansas: white grad. rate = 80%; black grad. rate = 54%
Minnesota: white grad. rate = 87%; black grad. rate = 43%
Nebraska: white grad. rate = 90%; black grad. rate = 53%
Oregon: white grad. rate = 70%; black grad. rate = 49%

And so forth. Within the paper, Dr. Greene makes this statement:

The gap between white and minority graduation rates is alarmingly large. Indeed, the lowest state graduation rates for white students are close to the highest rates for African-American and Latino students. In some of the states the disparity between white and minority graduation rates is exceptionally high. For example, Wisconsin has the largest difference between its graduation rates for white and African-American students, with 92% of whites graduating compared to 40% of African-Americans...

Interestingly, all four of these states [Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska] are predominantly rural, white states with concentrated, smaller minority and urban populations. This may reveal that the problem of low graduation rates is really an urban problem.

Thus, Dr. Greene may have chosen the NY vs. WV comparison because of the likelihood that our cultural stereotypes are most evident for those (plus, they published this in an NYC paper), but I'm curious as to why he did not point out in the NY Post article that the cause of the difference might be related to NYC's urban areas. Perhaps the researchers have concluded that the Thernstrom's theories still apply in this case (because urban schools are more likely to make "excuses".)

Posted by kswygert at 01:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

Does "VP" stand for "Vapidly Pious"?

A little bird forwarded me a truly unbelievable letter from one Rebecca McBride DiLiddo, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The link is here, if you've a subscription; if not, just read on to enjoy the experience of witnessing something quite boneheaded:

How to Make the SAT 'Truly Colorblind'

To the Editor:

I agree with Jay Rosner that the SAT score gap between whites and minorities reflects bias in the test ("Researchers Charge Racial Bias on the SAT," October 10). As a scientist, I find it intuitively obvious that the SAT must have some inherent bias. The scores simply do not do what they are said to do: accurately predict performance in college for all groups. ...

That's funny, I thought scientists relied on data, not intuition. What on earth makes it "intuitively obvious" that the SAT must have "inherent" bias, and why should we take the word of a scientist who presents no data to back her claim?

What's more, I've already taken apart Mr. Rosner's ridiculous claims that only items which favor white test-takers make it onto the SAT. I won't repeat those arguments here; I'll just note that Ms. DiLiddo's complaint that the SAT doesn't "accurately predict performance in college for all groups" demonstrates as profound a lack of understanding of testing and predictive validity as Mr. Rosner showed for test bias and construction.

How do I know this? The key is Ms. DiLiddo's use of the word "accurate" in this context. Those who understand testing do not talk of an absolute "accuracy;" they speak of validity, which takes several forms. I assume by "accuracy" Ms. DiLiddo means predictive validity, which is never perfect or absolute with this type of measurement in the real world. One measure of predictive validity for the SAT is its correlation with variables such as first-year college GPA; any positive relationship between the two gives you an idea of how much of GPA variability coincides with SAT score variability, and the square of the correlation is the percent of variability in GPA explained by the SAT score. This relationship does indeed vary for different subgroups and different colleges; unfortunately for Ms. DiLiddo, that variability does nothing to prove her point.

For example, if we want to talk data, what we find is that the SAT tends to overpredict non-Asian minority college performance; removing the SAT in those cases could result in fewer such students being admitted. High school GPA also tends to follow the same patterns for ethnic groups as the SAT, so removing the test and just using grades probably wouldn't change anything. I suppose the theory is that grades are "inherently" biased, too?

It's not that there aren't valid criticisms of the SAT to be made. At least one article suggests that the SAT II is more useful in prediction of college grades for University of California freshmen than the SAT I (but yet another article suggests that the SAT and SAT II produce freshman classes of similar performance and quality). Has Ms. DiLiddo ever seen any real data showing the predictive validity of the SAT and SAT II? Or is she content with her "intuition" about the test's "accuracy"?

Jay Rosner gives us an easy way to fix the problem. Simply use the information that the Educational Testing Service already has to develop a truly colorblind test. Use a mix of questions that includes a certain number on which whites do well and an equal number on which minorities do well, and questions on which each subset does poorly. Each group would be equally advantaged and disadvantaged.

Unfortunately for Ms. DiLiddo, this paragraph demonstrates that she knows very little about test bias and measurement error. Tests are not constructed so that there are equal numbers of items that disfavor each group, nor should they be. Items that are biased in this way are measuring something other than the intended construct, and these types of items are not, and never should be, included on tests such as the SAT. Ms. DiLiddo's definition of "colorblind" here is completely perverted; a test in which each item measures some extraneous construct that is correlated with skin color is as far from "colorblind" a test as one can get.

We all know why that won't happen. The SAT is not about creating a level
playing field. It is about maintaining the advantage of an empowered class. To maintain such an advantage in an age of affirmative action, it is essential to find a way to make it look like all groups receive equal treatment while allowing the empowered class to maintain its edge. ...

Yep, that's why the Asians score so well on the math section (and have a higher mean on the Verbal section than women overall). It's because we are determined to make them "the empowered class" in America. That's how those Asians maintain their "edge" in these days when colleges such as the University of Michigan award more points to "under-represented minorities" than to applicants with perfect SAT scores (at least, Michigan used to do this; now they'll have to stop, or just be more secretive). Yep, this is all about keeping those Asians on top.

It is particularly important to expose discrimination in cases where it hides behind the facade of equal treatment. It is time for the ETS to admit the bias of the SAT, fix it, and allow academia to get down to the task of fulfilling its promise to provide equal opportunity to all students.

This statement is as uninformed and unenlightened as it is insulting to the dozens of psychometricians, test developers, and researchers who work for the College Board (not ETS) and who ensure that biased items do not go onto the SAT.

Rebecca McBride DiLiddo
Interim Associate Vice President of Institutional Research and Assessment
Fitchburg State College
Fitchburg, Mass.

Hmm, it's Associate Vice President, is it? Let's see, that leaves us with only three options:

(1) Ms. DiLiddo doesn't have a college degree or attended a college that didn't require a standardized test, thus avoiding the demonic, ruling-class-empowering minions of the College Board,
(2) Ms. DiLiddo did just fine on her SATs, thus benefiting from the "biased" system that she now despises, or
(3) Ms. DiLiddo did poorly on her SATs - but that didn't stop her from becoming "empowered" enough to be Interim Associate VP, did it?

Actually, (1) can be disproven because Ms. DiLiddo received her PhD only two years ago, which is surprisingly recent for someone in her position (and this means she probably did well on the evil GRE as well as the evil SAT).

Looking further through Google, we see that Ms. DiLiddo (or someone with her exact same name and affiliation) is listed as a member of a "think" tank, despite having shown here evidence of rather unenlightened scientific thinking. Her name is also associated (under a different college affiliation) with a few scientific works...on botany and plant biology. Yes, that's exactly the field in which I'd expect to find an expert in the "inherent" biases of standardized educational testing; one who can see right through the devious conspiracies of test developers and who knows that all tests should be constructed so that each test item contains biases based on skin color.

If this is too much sarcasm for you, I apologize. It's just truly mind-boggling (and blood-pressure-increasing) to see this sort of completely uninformed material written by those who should know better, and published by those who should know better (unless the Chronicle figured, as would I, that Ms. DiLiddo's own statements are the most damning thing one can print about her).

Posted by kswygert at 08:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Fill in the bubbles about your beloved

You know, I never knew there was even one popular marriage suitability inventory out there, let alone three of them. As Slate reports, one of the inventories, FOCCUS, has become so popular within the Catholic Church that it is used in two-thirds of dioceses these days:

It might seem strange that the church, which historically encouraged couples to marry to prevent premarital sex, now urges them to take a critical look at their prospective union. Based on answers from the quiz, some priests and lay counselors actively discourage some couples from marrying. Yet FOCCUS is not a religious tool; its questions are stripped of any judgment, and its facilitators are instructed not to use it as a forum to preach or punish...

Despite its sometimes provocative content, the quiz itself looks like any standardized test. Using a No. 2 pencil, each respondent scribbles in a bubble marked "Agree," "Disagree," or "Uncertain" for 156 questions that fall under 19 categories. These include financial issues, sexuality issues, and lifestyle expectations. The results, scored by computer, show the couple's percentage of coinciding attitudes. Taken six months or more before the wedding date, FOCCUS prompts anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of its respondents to postpone or even scrap their weddings.

You can see 10 sample items here. These items alone would be grist for a heavy discussion mill between almost any two betrothed people, I bet. Some of these topics - kids, religion, in-laws - are definitely "dealbreakers." And despite the concerns of some priests that FOCCUS is prejudiced by the current popular culture, there is some evidence to suggest that the inventory has predictive validity (the most important kind for this sort of judgment-making):

The quiz's predictions appear to be accurate: According to a 1995 study (by an independent research group at Purdue University), FOCCUS was 80 percent correct at predicting couples' satisfaction by their five-year anniversary. In fact, it has proven so successful at launching happy marriages—and thwarting train wrecks—that it has been adopted by more than two-thirds of the nation's dioceses. What's more, it's now taken by more non-Catholics than Catholics. Of the three major pre-marriage questionnaires, FOCCUS is the most widely used, offered by more than 500 Protestant churches as well as non-Christian and secular counselors...

Yet even fans of FOCCUS agree it doesn't guarantee marital bliss. For one thing, couples inventories only spot potential conflicts; they don't solve them. According to some experts, "learnable relationship skills," such as the ability to communicate or argue effectively, are what determine if a marriage will survive.

For the most part, however, Catholic and secular counselors call FOCCUS a breakthrough. At Rutgers University's National Marriage Project, a secular policy think tank, director David Popenoe praises couples inventories in general for preventing bad marriages and for getting couples accustomed to soliciting outside help...

Posted by kswygert at 05:24 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

The nightmare of school violence and "zero tolerance"

Finally, the NYTimes weighs in with the big picture on the zero-tolerance madness currently sweeping our schools, using data mainly from Connecticut as an example. It's a huge, three-page article that examines the current state of the public school system, in which kids "are being kicked out of school like never before":

In [Connecticut's] school systems, zero tolerance has become more than a catch phrase...It is the way schools now do business, an almost unyielding policy that has been living up to its name.

As a result, students are being kicked out of schools like never before. The number of suspensions jumped about 90 percent from 1998-1999 to 2000-2001. In the 2000-2001 school year, 90,559 children were suspended from school around the state, up from 57,626 two years earlier...

Even kindergarteners haven't been spared. For that grade alone, the rate of suspensions/expulsions almost doubled over a two-year period, to 901 for the 2002-2003 school year, from 463 in 2001-2002, according to figures provided by Jeanne Milstein, the state's child advocate. She said they were suspended and expelled for such things as fighting, defiance, and temper tantrums. "I would have been suspended from kindergarten," she said.

Yeeks! Who decided that kindergarteners needed to be suspended? Is the Connecticut version of a four-year-old really that violent?

Some researchers, child advocacy groups and parents blame the increase on the fallout from the zero-tolerance policies that swept the country during the Reagan-Bush years and became entrenched after the Columbine shootings in 1999...In Newington, for example, the high school began a policy about five years ago to not only automatically suspend students caught fighting at the high school, but also have them arrested and charged with breach of peace.

Given that some parents whose kids were suspended for trumped-up crimes have reported hearing nothing but mutters about "Columbine" from their school officials, I'd say this conjectured relationship has some merit.'s not just urban schools that are struggling with discipline. New Fairfield schools have had more expulsions in the first couple of months of this school year than in any of the five full years that Dr. Kathleen Matusiak has been superintendent.

"A lot of the issues have to do with bringing weapons - box cutters, knives - to school, not necessarily with an intention to hurt," Dr. Matusiak said. "Some have involved alcohol and drugs, poor judgment. We have clearly articulated conduct codes that don't tolerate those things in our schools. Our schools are for teaching and learning."

It's that little "not necessarily with an intention to hurt" that is one reason for all the headaches. Kicking out honor students for having steak knives in their car is based on the assumption that any kid with any object that may reasonably considered a weapon is planning to hurt someone; otherwise, there's no reason to punish them for it.

Zero tolerance first appeared as the name of a 1986 program that impounded boats carrying drugs. In 1994, the Gun-Free Schools Act became law and called for a student to be expelled for one full year for carrying a firearm to school. Schools broadened the policy, using the same severe disciplinary measures for varying degrees of behavior.

That "broadening" is another reason for the headaches. Guns became knives became pencil sharpeners. At this point, a kid wanting to scare someone might as well bring a gun; at some schools, that won't result in any worse a punishment than having Grandpa's fish knife accidently left in one's car.

So are schools just overreating, or are kids really getting more violent? A Connecticut-based task force reports suggest that both things are happening in tandem; the same report suggest that zero tolerance policies don't seem to be fixing the problem:

"On the other hand, educators have indicated that they are experiencing increasing frequency and severity of disruptive behaviors among students," the report said. "The task force believes the emerging pattern in Connecticut public schools increasing use of suspension and expulsion as mainstays of our disciplinary response to behavior problems should be reversed."

One success story is mentioned, of one principal who helped a school move away from zero tolerance, and towards zero expulsions:

Steve Edwards became principal of East Hartford High School in 1992, after the school's administrators had embraced zero tolerance and suspension numbers were high.

A student brought a gun to school soon after Mr. Edwards arrived, and he was promptly expelled. Not long after, another student was found with a small pocket knife in his pocket...The Board of Education expelled him, too. Mr. Edwards disagreed with the second punishment, deeming it too extreme for the offense.

"The young man who had the gun had extensive history, the other kid had a couple of detentions. But they both received the same punishment," said Mr. Edwards, who left the high school last year to become vice president of the National Crime Prevention Council. "There was no flexibility, no taking into account the history of the child. So we took a different approach after that."

The approach changed so drastically that in the final eight years of Mr. Edwards' 10-year tenure at the school, not one child was expelled from East Hartford High School, he said. Counseling, a vocation component or volunteer work in the community, and a continuance of the education of the child, somewhere in the school if not in the classroom, contributed to the decrease, he said.

Meanwhile, though, some teachers are still afraid for their lives, and claim that lowering the standards of behavior, especially for inner-city kids, does no one any good:

The state determined in a report this year that there were no "persistently dangerous schools" operating in Connecticut, but talk to Hartford teachers. They disagreed.

"We've had so many staff injured," said Tim Murphy, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers. "We have seen a tremendous effort to reduce the numbers of suspensions and dropouts, but at what expense? We're facing a very hostile environment, and we are very exposed here."

"Every instance of bullying is supposed to be reported," Mr. Murphy said. "It's widespread, invasive in this school system. But the Hartford schools are telling us there were only three cases of bullying in the whole system last year. Are you kidding me?" He laughed bitterly. "There is a kind of belief that you have to tolerate a lesser standard of behavior now, for inner-city kids especially. We object to that strenuously."

How has the system developed so that a "weapon" owned by a kid with "no intention to harm" results in suspension, while a teacher actually being assaulted doesn't result in a report of an attack? Have we created a system that traps only the one-time miscreants while letting the chronic problem children slide through?

Doctors report that more kids are being sent to the ER because the administrators simply don't know what to do with them. Will this result in better treatment for problems? No one knows, but it certainly seems that zero tolerance policies, no matter how good their intention, are not the answer to reducing school violence.

Posted by kswygert at 12:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Advice for charter schools

Five Florida schools are gearing up to become that state's first charter school system, and charter school expert and author Dr. Joe Nathan offered advice, and warnings:

Nathan said the schools will need to publicize their activities in the community to help familiarize residents with the charter school concept and gain their trust. Another key is to involve parents more in school events and share facilities with local groups, he said.

...He said charter schools thrive because they invert the traditional district hierarchy and make the schools, rather than the administration, the priority. "You've got to give teachers a chance to think, and plan and dream," Nathan said. "It's doable. It's not a dream, it's a reality."

...he also said there "is nothing about a charter school that guarantees success. It's an idea and opportunity, not a guarantee."

Nathan said the schools will have to pace themselves while planning their operations and exercise good bookkeeping. He also cautioned against becoming too focused on standardized test results and not emphasizing school principles with students.

Posted by kswygert at 12:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Failing schools and "teacher flight"

When schools fail, experienced teachers may hunt for greener pastures. But what does this mean for the students left behind?

After four years at Elsinore Elementary School [CA], second grade teacher Michael Haas decided he had enough, he said. Enough of low test scores, enough of being scrutinized by district and state officials, enough of the endless staff meetings to strategize for improvement.

Haas recently transferred out of the underachieving school, where more than 50 percent of the students are "English-learners" ---- students whose primary language is something other than English and aren't yet proficient in English ---- and began his new third-grade teaching position at Cottonwood Canyon Elementary, which opened last year.

That school is in a new housing development in the more affluent eastern end of Lake Elsinore. Most of the students there are white and only 3.6 percent of them are classified by the state as English-learners.

How is it that Mr. Haas has the opportunity to do this? Because seniority, and not quality, determines which teachers can get first crack at transferring to new schools. So now, not only are the failing schools more likely to get unexperienced teachers, the experienced ones are more likely to leave. And all this is going on while parents have the option to transfer their kids out as well...

Some of those transfers have come even as the district struggles to address possible state sanctions at three underachieving schools that have lost teachers to new schools in the past year...The state recently required those schools to offer parents the option of enrolling their children at other district schools and to provide transportation to those students...

Since the district opened Cottonwood Canyon Elementary School last year, three of Elsinore Elementary's 33-member staff have transferred to the new school, McCarthy said. Another 10 teachers have left for other district schools. All but one transferred to schools with significantly lower concentrations of English-learners.

Posted by kswygert at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Coordinated teaching reason for MEAP rise

An "integrated curriculum" and "teaching of thinking skills" are being cited as the reason for the rise in recent MEAP scores:

Michigan Education Assessment Program test results released last month showed gains in many districts in elementary math, social studies and science scores...

Peggy Moyer, principal of Hilton Elementary in Brighton, said teachers at her school coordinate lessons in math, science, social studies and reading around common topics.

"When we studied whales, we had books in the classrooms on whales, and in your social studies you learned about their habitat," Moyer said. "Even your math project might be about whales. If there isn't a connection made, there's no value. If they can see what they are doing in math connects to social studies and reading, there is value."

One school in particular, the Cheney Academy of Math and Science, saw tremendous gains on the MEAP:

Teresa Wilson, principal of Willow Run's Cheney Academy of Math and Science, said that in addition to coordinating curriculum at a particular grade level, teachers at her building align lessons from grade to grade and communicate clearly with each other about students' progress from year to year. Also, the school has a multi-age format, enabling teachers to have the same students for three years in a row.

Teachers at Cheney also try to teach students how to think, Wilson said. "My teachers are teaching big concepts and teaching deeply," she said...

The percentage of fifth-graders passing the science portion of the MEAP rose from 48 percent in 2002 to 100 percent in 2003...Only 7 percent of fifth-graders at Cheney passed the social studies test in 2002, but 63 percent passed it in 2003.

This suggests the students were starting off with moderate science knowledge and almost no social studies knowledge before entering the Cheney environment, doesn't it? The students at Cheney believe the constant feedback about where they need improvement helps, although the "bagel breaks" they get on test days are certainly popular, too.

Posted by kswygert at 12:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Happy parents of homeschooled kids

More than 29,000 families choose to homeschool in North Carolina, and according to this article, they're happy with their decisions to do so:

A gray schoolhouse sits on three acres of land in Bethel. It's located next to a plot of corn, and a gravel road with chickens scurrying around it leads to the door. In the enclosed back yard are a swing set and a trampoline. Six horses graze outside of the fence.

This isn't D.H. Conley High School. It isn't Wellcome Middle School. It's the home school of Dawn Tyson. Tyson has been home schooling her children, Travis, 16, and Natalie, 10, for eight years...

Horses, trampolines...sounds like heaven to me.

More and more people across North Carolina have chosen to set up home school classrooms for their children, according to the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education. Since the 1996-97 school year, the number of students who are home schooled in North Carolina has increased by more than 18,000.

Growing dissatisfaction with public education is contributing to the trend, home school advocates and parents said. Families believe they can teach their children better, provide a safer, more nurturing atmosphere, create a stronger family unit and allow children to practice religious beliefs more freely.

So far, the test scores back up at the least the "teaching better" part, although nature certainly can't be separated from nurture here (it may just be smarter parents with smarter kids who choose to homeschool):

According to North Carolinians for Home Education, a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for home schooling, the state's home-educated high schoolers scored 10.5 percent above the national average on the ACT this year. The home school students achieved an average composite score of 23 on the college admissions test, ahead of the national average of 20.8 on a 36-point scale.

Statistics show that the education home schoolers receive is at least on par with public education, said Gary Dunn, psychology manager at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

Homeschooling parents also feel they have a better chance of keeping their kids away from negative social influences:

Although apprehensive about the possible results, Dawn is glad her children are not exposed to the social environment she believes exists in public schools.

Home school parents have to consider the prospect of children missing out on social opportunities offered to children by traditional school life: football games, dances, clubs and graduation ceremonies.

No studies have been conducted on the social consequences of home schooling, Dunn said. But anecdotal evidence suggests there are no negative consequences as long as parents create other social opportunities.

You know, I have to wonder just why there is this monolithic idea in public education that every kid must attend football games and dances in order to be properly "socialized." I mean, for a geek such as myself, homeschooling would have been a dream come true in middle school, when I was being picked on every day for being "different." Was the realization that some kids can really be power-hungry, cruel, and obnoxious (without getting caught) the "socialization" I was supposed to receive?

C'mon. While there are legitimate concerns about homeschooling, I believe the "socialization" factor to be the least valid, especially for kids who are smart or "different". See the quotation about homes being "a safer, more nurturing atmosphere" above.

Update: Here's yet another happy homeschooling story, this one in Kansas. This same newsletter reports on the national upswing in homeschooling.

Posted by kswygert at 12:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

No relief for "failing" schools

One example of a kink in the NCLB Act: Schools are receiving failing grades simply because not enough students take the test. The problem is that some kids count in multiple categories, so one kid missing the exam can cause problems all over:

It was no surprise to Clarke County educators when district high schools didn't meet achievement standards for the 2002-03 school year - nor when they had plenty of company from high schools around Georgia. The state's refusal of an appeal for an exemption is a bit more disheartening, however.

Neither Cedar Shoals nor Clarke Central high school fell short on academic achievement - instead, they failed to meet standards because not enough 11th-grade students took the graduation tests used to measure achievement...

Because there was no time to get many students on track to take the tests last spring, Clarke County appealed for an exemption on the 2002-03 scores. Not only were special-education students unlikely to have taken the test, but many juniors haven't been taking it right away, preferring to wait for a later test date so they feel more prepared. Those students, too, will have to be encouraged to take the test at the right time so they'll be counted in the participation rate.

That appeal has been denied. State administrators pointed out that special-education students weren't the only group that didn't meet the participation standard, Smith said.

But that's problematic because the special-education students who didn't take the tests also count in other categories. A student who is African-American, poor and receives special-education services, for instance, would be counted not just in the special-education subgroup, but in the ''black'' subgroup and in the ''socioeconomic status'' subgroup. He also would be counted in the ''all students'' category for that school.

That means that single student would reduce participation levels in four categories if he didn't take the graduation test, not just in the special-education category.

Clarke County administrators are still hopeful that concern about the problem -which is nationwide, not just in Georgia - will lead the federal government to take action.

Posted by kswygert at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More information on the new SAT

Via the Cornell Daily Sun:

The addition of a third 800 point section will be the biggest change to the test -- which will bring the total possible score on the SAT to 2400 points, up from the current 1600. The new writing section will include multiple-choice questions about grammar and word usage as well as an essay. The essay topic will require students to take a position on a given issue and to support their arguments with examples. The essay will occupy about 25 minutes of the test and most likely will be the first task students have to tackle. The multiple-choice questions will test a student's ability to identify errors and make corrections to sentences...

C. William Heffner, a college counselor at Ithaca High School, said the new test "could be a benefit to students. The SATs are more accurately reflecting what colleges need to know, what high schools are teaching." He explained that Ithaca High School does not offer any standardized test preparation as part of its curriculum but he claims that the school has a challenging curriculum, which prepares students well for exams like the SAT.

Heffner believes the addition of the writing section may scare away students who do not need a writing test for college admissions. "Students might look more favorably on the ACT," he said, referring to another standardized test that is popular outside of the Northeast.

"Writing an essay scares people," he said, adding that most students probably would prefer a multiple-choice format.

If students who consider themselves to be college material are scared of writing essays under a time limit, well, whose fault is that? Here's a related article from the Technician Online that does not support the use of the SAT, but still urges NC schools to develop their own writing requirements in order to improve the quality of the incoming freshman class:

Critics have long charged that the SAT is riddled with problems. Some students do not test well or panic in a timed, standardized test situation, they argue. Others say that test-taking prep programs that are often expensive or inaccessible to all make the test biased against minorities or the lower class.

But until a better alternative comes along, N.C. State and other schools should not eliminate standardized requirements completely. Instead, they should reexamine their emphasis and explore adding their own writing component...

Instead of placing high emphasis on the SAT writing test, NCSU should consider requiring its own writing requirement as a simple evaluation of writing ability and as an opportunity for students to share part of their lives that is not evident or clear from a simple transcript.

In other words, even if schools do not agree with the timed, standardized writing assessments on the new SAT, it would be foolish to leave out any requirement of writing skill assessment, no matter how "scary" folks find it to be.

Update: And here's yet another article on the difference between the old SAT and the new, which - oddly enough - claims that "some think too much is being made of the SAT changes." GMToday obviously doesn't believe that, or they wouldn't have printed this.

Posted by kswygert at 12:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Giving praise to some but not to all

When the goal is to increase test scores, is it wrong to single out those who do well on tests for praise?

When it comes to taking a standardized test of any sort, who wouldn’t balk? For some, it’s the sea of empty ovals bobbing before their eyes that make them bite their fingernails. For others, it’s that they love the math portion of the test but loathe the English part. And for still others, it’s the stress of nailing that final score.

In any case, any teenage survivor of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam will tell you that taking the test requires a marathon effort of concentration and long-term learning. Every Pennsylvania student in fifth, eighth and 11th grade is assessed in reading and math, and students in sixth, ninth and 11th grades are assessed in writing.

But clearly teens are not sweating out the results alone. School administrators and teachers have a vested interest in their district’s scores...

The critical factor here is motivation. Concerned administrators, parents and teachers are attempting to focus the students on the seriousness of the test...

The answer has been to build a better carrot rather than carry a bigger stick. Some schools provide special breakfasts on the days of the exam. Others celebrate the results with pizza parties or may give students special benefits like a better parking spot for the year.

But eyebrows were raised when officials at the Spring Grove Area Senior High School started indicating some students’ PSSA scores in the graduation program last spring. While the program only noted those students who achieved either an advanced or proficient level on the tests, those who scored at the basic or below basic levels weren’t too difficult to figure out.

Administrators believed that celebrating those individuals with the highest scores recognized the results of hard work and skills. Students, however, believe the practice needlessly embarrasses those without high scores on the day of their graduation. Students, teachers and administrators plan to meet this month to see if this all should change before the next graduation.

You know, I received a special award on the day of my high school graduation; an award that only four members of my graduating class received. I would have been rather upset if my school officials had chosen the option of not praising the four of us at the graduation ceremony, under the assumption that the remaining 436 members of the class, easily identified as not receiving the award, would have been embarrassed.

I mean, come on. If schools want students to take the exam seriously, then why not let the ones who do well take glory in the results? Removing the test score designations from the graduation booklet gives the clear message that the school is less concerned about praising those who achieve than about protecting those who don't. If that's the case, why should a student care about the test?

Posted by kswygert at 12:00 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 15, 2003

Taking The War On Drugs to a whole new level

Devoted Reader Reginleif brought to my attention the sad tale of the 14-year-old student whose tendency to fall asleep in algebra class brought him some negative attention. It seems his "boring" algebra teacher took offense to her snoozing student and called the school police force in so that she could accuse this student of abusing drugs:

So my son fell asleep in alegba class today. Apparently, it's the third time this year he's done that, in that specific class. He's had no other trouble in school so far. He is not a disciplineary problem. Other teachers like him...

But he fell asleep in algebra class today. It is a class he hates and a teacher that he finds, in his words, "boring." It's the only teacher he describes in these glowing terms.

The teacher, apparently, extends the same love and affection for my son. For the infraction of falling asleep in her class, she has used the Full Extent of the Laws of the State of New Jersey.

She called the principal. She called the cop assigned to the school. She said that his falling asleep was "just cause" to use the state law against my son, as she suspected that surely, this sleep was caused by drug abuse.

Yes, drugs.

Ginny, the boy's mother, then goes on to point out that her son is learning disabled, is seated in the back of the room, and is most likely bored by and has trouble concentrating on the material. In a followup posting, she notes that her son gets 8 hours of sleep a night, and despite his diagnoses of ADHD and LD, algebra is the only class in which he falls asleep, and he's still earning a good grade in it:

Despite having so much stacked against him: a learning disability, teachers that he feels uncomfortable with and a class that he finds tedious, the boy is getting either an A or a B in this specific class. He finds it difficult to concentrate as a matter of course for his particular learning disability. When combined with the sheer monotony of the subject matter and teachers seem less than supportive, my son manages to pass the class and the only problem that we seem to have is that this particular teacher lulls him to sleep once a month.

In response to this problem, My son is accused of drug abuse and is suspended for a day. I have to take my son to the hospital and have him urinate on command and be examined for track marks on the back of his knees while a doctor tells him not to worry about this incident being in his record, even Presidents Clinton and Bush managed to become leaders of our great country after having used illegal drugs. What kind of statement is that for a physician to tell a child?

I'd be enraged, too. It's very hard for me to believe that, in one of the "good schools" in New Jersey, there is an algebra teacher who has neither the insight to wonder if her teaching style could be more engaging, nor the compassion to ask a dozing student if he's feeling okay, or if he needs to go see the school nurse. The fact that this teacher brought down the full extent of the law and the damning charge of drug abuse in response to a sleepy kid suggests to me that this teacher is incompetent and well aware of it (as evidenced by the teacher's hypersensitivity and hostility).

Ginny is writing a letter to the school superintendent about the incident. You can leave comments to her at both of the postings linked above; I would urge you to do so if you've ever had to deal with school officials for these kinds of incidents before and you can give some advice.

Posted by kswygert at 12:16 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

November 14, 2003

Faking racism in San Francisco

Not "hate crimes," not even "hoaxes," but instead, "a way to bring racial issues on campus to the forefront of the university":

A recent police report issued by the SF State University Police provides new information in the alleged hate crimes on campus. According to the report, racial epithets written on the doors of two African-American students were not the product of racism, but rather a way to bring racial issues on campus to the forefront of the university.

The first incident occured when the words “Black Bitches” was scrawled across the door of a fifth floor Village at Centennial Hall apartment on Sept. 14 or 15. Student Allison Jackson filed a report with the University Police claiming that her neighbor was a possible suspect in the vandalism...

Due to an ongoing and escalating feud with her roommates, Jackson wrote the words in an attempt to get relocated to another room. According to the report, when told she was a suspect, she explained why she did it.

“I was requesting a roommate move, and I was given that advice that in order for the roommate move to be taken seriously, things needed to occur … issues needed to occur, and that if I really wanted, I could go ahead and pursue those issues, so the issue was basically that I wanted a roommate change.”

A similar seemingly unrelated incident occured in Mary Park Hall. After a supposed hate crime involving a watermelon in early September did not receive enough attention by campus authorities, freshman Leah Miller decided to write the word 'NIGG' on fellow resident Brandi Parr’s door on or around Sept. 20, according to a police report. Then she wrote a note bearing the same slur and claimed to her residential adviser that it was slipped under her door.

Miller said she was pressured into doing this by an older student, who claimed that she “had” to do it in order for the University to recognize racism in the community and that things like this had been done before.

“Granted I was wrong and it was stupid of me, there’s no excuse,” Miller told [X]press. “I’m mad at myself that I let someone coerce me into doing this, but it’s been a big learning experience.”

So this is how they help contribute to "awareness" of racism, by fanning the flames with fake hate crimes? By this logic, those of us women who want the police to take accusations of rape more seriously should all go to the police at once and file fake sexual assault charges against men we know, no matter the effect on the lives of the accused or the reaction of the general public. How appalling.

At least Miller acknowledges that she understands what she did wrong; Jackson has given no indication that she now knows racial threat hoaxes are not an acceptable response to disagreeing with one's roommates.

Posted by kswygert at 03:48 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The testing backlash, and how to deal with it

Is there a NCLB/testing backlash, and if so, what can we do about it? Professor Rebecca Zwick takes on this weighty topic in this article as part of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education's "Crosstalk." She manages to lend a sympathetic ear to those who are frustrated with testing, but she notes that only a tiny minority of educators, parents, and students oppose all tests on general principle. Many specific changes to the tests have been proposed, and she outlines the three changes that she believes would make the testing process less painful, and more accepted:

1. Opportunities must be provided for school personnel, students, parents and the community at large to become more informed about state and federal testing mandates. In a statewide survey conducted after the CAHSEE had been administered for two successive years, high school principals were asked to estimate the percentage of students and parents who were familiar with the exam. On average, the principals estimated that only 51 percent of students and 17 percent of parents "know what knowledge and skills are covered by the exam." And indeed, only 58 percent of the 47 principals surveyed, and 63 percent of the sample of 159 teachers, said that they themselves were familiar with the exam content.

Nor is the public well-informed about federal assessment requirements... Because of this information gap, these testing programs are often viewed as incomprehensible requirements imposed from on high...

2. The tests that are selected or developed must be well designed for the task at hand and must be skillfully administered and scored. Tests are often discussed as though they are interchangeable, but like any other product, a test may be of good or poor quality. And even if an exam has been competently developed, it may not be well-suited to a particular purpose...

It is the joint responsibility of state officials and testing companies to assure that contracts provide enough time, resources and technical expertise to allow the development of high-quality tests, administration procedures, and scoring methods.

3. Government-mandated tests must be seen as part of a genuine, adequately funded school improvement effort, rather than a reason for punitive action against students, teachers and administrators. Increasingly, tests are used as the sole criterion in determining which students get promoted or graduate-a violation of professional testing standards-or which teachers or school systems receive a bonus...

Many students and school personnel regard this reliance on a single test score for major decisions as a form of double jeopardy: Students who attend schools with inadequate resources and facilities, and are therefore already suffering an educational disadvantage, are less likely to be well-prepared for the tests...

In summary, government-imposed testing programs would meet with greater acceptance if there were better communication and better tests. Also, the public would be more enthusiastic if tests were seen as tools within a well-funded good-faith effort to improve education.

Well said. She's addressed several points that I've made at various times, only she does so more elegantly (and with more data to back up her statements).

Posted by kswygert at 03:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A snitty take on NCLB

The Nation, the legendary publication of the left-wing's "snits and quarrels," as P.J. O'Rourke once put it, is acting postively ultra-snitty about standardized testing and the NCLB act. I don't have time to answer every "criticism" (most of which are acts of name-calling and outrageous hyberbole), but I do have to point out a few choice lines, so that you can see what passes for "valid criticism" of education reform from the far left:

It's true that in the past, schools could hide poor performance of, say, special-ed students by averaging it in with that of excellent students. Pulling out the subgroups creates what is called transparency. And that's fine, as far as it goes. But under NCLB, transparency is transmuted into school-bashing. In the words of the North Carolina State Board of Education, "A school's making AYP is an all or nothing prospect. A school will either have 'Yes' or 'No' in this field." One of Palo Alto's top high schools received a scarlet letter because some students skipped the test to study for AP exams.

In other words, transparency is okay, except when it's not. Pulling out subgroups is okay, until schools get slammed on the results. Quite a bit of equivocation here.

And remember, this is all based on how some squirrely kids perform on a standardized test that neither the public nor the educators have a right to examine. In some states a teacher is subject to reprimand or dismissal if she even glances at it. Or tries to comfort a child sobbing over the test.

"Squirrely"? Is that a real word? Is it supposed to be a blanket slam of all US students? What states have standardized exams that no educators ever see; which state withholds all exam results from the public? Can the author here give us a reason that teachers should be allowed to "glance at" live test forms before they are administered? Does he really think we believe teachers have been fired for trying to comfort students who are upset?

States must come up with a plan for achieving 100 percent proficiency by 2013-14, so they set up a grid: Oregon is typical, promising 40 percent proficiency in English/Language Arts in 2002-03, jumping to 60 percent by 2007-08, 80 percent by 2011-12 and 100 percent by 2013-14. Note that they're putting off the utterly fantastic gains until the last years. Maybe they're counting on NCLB's self-destructing by then.

Actually, as Jay Mathews already pointed out, the revision of those targets do not imply the "self-destruction" of the NCLB. What's more, when targets were previously set lower, schools didn't respond. That "100%" is supposed to spur schools on, but NCLB will most likely be modified once schools realize that just aiming to educate 60% or 70% or 80% of their charges is no longer acceptable.

A July press release from the Business Roundtable quotes Joseph Tucci, chairman of the Roundtable's Education and the Workforce Task Force: "You can't manage what you don't measure. No executive can run a business without accurate, granular data that explains what's working and what's not. Our school systems should be no different." Keep those 8-year-old widgets rolling along the conveyor belt! But man does not live by granular data alone. Neither should children, though everywhere music, art and recess are being cut--to make room for more test prep.

Ah, yes, the classic argument that students are dehumanized simply by being measured, and that testing must necessarily replace all other forms of discernment. Never mind that students who can't read at a basic level might not grasp the finer points of art history. Never mind that humans have been measured, evaluated, judged, poked, and prodded for at least the last couple of thousand years, and somehow we still have souls. The valid argument that some of these tests might not be accurate, or reliable, or informative, is here discarded in favor of the idiotic argument that human beings cannot be tested without their humanity being destroyed.

What does that make psychometricians like me, I wonder? God, or the Devil?

Posted by kswygert at 03:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

When the 99th percentile isn't good enough

Here's a darling little overachiever. Jeffrey Lin, of Plano, TX, earned a perfect score on the ACT but "only" a 1440 on the SAT. This "low" score bothered him, so he took the test again.

Now he has perfect scores on both exams:

Lin retook the [SAT] in October, feeling more relaxed and confident about his answers.

"I've had a lot of studying for the SAT as a foundation and after the perfect score on the ACT I figured the pressure was off," he said. "At the beginning, especially in the verbal section, it seemed easier than before. But after the first two hours of looking at the test it all starts to looks the same."

But something was different this time because when he went online to check his score, he couldn't believe what he saw. "I was very surprised. I had to check it a couple of times to make sure. I thought it was a sample score," he said. "I called my parents and my mom didn't believe me at first. I told her I got a perfect score and she thought it was a mean joke."...

Plano West Principal Phil Saviano said he's never seen anything like it..."In over 30 years in the PISD, I've never heard of anyone scoring perfect on both tests. Others I've talked to can't remember it ever happening either."

The novelty of his accomplishment is sure to cause a double take when college admissions officers look at his application.

Note: The article lists Lin's perfect ACT score as a 30, which must be a typo; the top score on the ACT is a 36.

Posted by kswygert at 02:55 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The 2003 NAEP scores are out

The 2003 scores for NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress, pronounced "nape") have just been released. This exam is often referred to as a "national exam" or "the nation's report card" because it is the only exam taken by students in all 50 states. Scores are not disclosed at the individual student or school level, but scores are reported for the nation, for states, and for specific populations of students. The performance scales are created so that students in different areas can be compared to one another, and test takers can be compared within test sections across years. An overview of the exam may be found here.

Here's the official statement by the group that produces and scores NAEP, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB, pronounced "nag-bee"). Thanks to the 2003 results, NAGB is now optimistic about math performance; less so about reading:

Since the year 2000, the last time the NAEP mathematics assessment was given, the students at the bottom have made the greatest improvement. The largest gains have been achieved by fourth grade students in the lowest 10 percent or the lowest quarter of the test score distribution. The lower-scoring students in the 8th grade also have made substantial improvements.

In just three years, the proportion of black fourth graders reaching the Basic achievement level in mathematics rose from 36 to 54 percent nationwide. Among Hispanic students, whose number has increased enormously, the proportion reaching Basic in fourth grade math rose from 42 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2003.

The overall picture is encouraging because not only did the lower-scoring groups improve, but higher-scoring students made gains too, although at a somewhat slower rate.

Test takers in various ethnic groups are the "subgroup populations" to which I referred, above, and these results are indeed encouraging.

In reading, unfortunately, the situation is less clear. This year, 2003, is the first time that a subject has been tested by NAEP two years in a row. It is unrealistic to expect dramatic changes in one year—particularly for the large groups of students in a state or in the nation on which NAEP reports. And the 2003 reading assessment shows very little change from 2002.

It is important that the gains made in fourth grade reading from 1998 and 2000 to 2002 have been sustained. And here again the greatest improvements were made at the lower end of the test score distribution and among black and Hispanic students, whose performance historically has lagged.

The situation recently in 8th grade reading is less positive. Even though there was some gain in 8th grade reading achievement from 1992 to 1998, the overall performance has been essentially flat over the past five years.

As Joanne Jacobs notes, a student's math performance may be more affected by the school's curriculum, while reading performance may still be so dependent on the literary and cultural influences in a student's home that it's more difficult for schools to help them improve in that area.

For example, you can see all of the 2003 Reading scores for fourth-graders here. Note that it's good news for the Sunshine State - the increased emphasis on reading skills seems to be paying off for their fourth-graders. The percentage of Florida's fourth graders who are performing at or above proficient reading levels made a significant jump from 27 percent to 32 percent. No other state made a jump that high (Massachusetts, unfortunately, posted a significant decline, although that state's percentage of At or Above Proficient fourth-grade readers (40%, down from 47% last year) is still higher than in Florida.) Connecticut has the highest percentage of fourth-graders in this group (43%), while a dismal 10% of Washington DC youth meet this standard.

If you're interested in the mathematics performance, here are bar graphs showing each state's results for fourth grade and eighth grade. Connecticut, the high scorer on fourth-grade reading, also has the best numbers in both grades on math; 32% of all fourth-graders, and 34% of all eighth-graders, scored at or above the Proficient level.
If you live in Washington DC, though, be prepared to be depressed when you look at these math scores.

Some things to remember about NAEP:

* NAEP test takers are chosen to be representative samples of students in certain grades or at certain ages in public and nonpublic schools in the United States. Thus, not every student will take the NAEP.

* Federal law requires that all states receiving Title I funds must participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at fourth and eighth grades. Similarly, school districts that receive Title I funds and are selected for the NAEP sample are also required to participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments at fourth and eighth grades. For everyone else, participation is voluntary, and identifying student information is never disclosed.

* Currently, NAEP reports data only on those samples for which accommodations for disabled test takers were allowed.

* If you're interested in other areas that NAEP assesses, they've got plenty of publications.

* Want newspaper articles about NAEP reports in other states? Here you go: Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Posted by kswygert at 01:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 13, 2003

The new and enhanced California exit exam

The Queen of Edubloggers pointedly instructs us to remember that a new and easier California exit exam shouldn't be referred to as a "dumbed-down" test. We should stop and consider those feelings of those sensitive educator officials before ridiculing the fact that the more difficult math and English question have been dropped from the exam:

The state Board of Education voted yesterday to remove some of the more difficult math and English questions on the California High School Exit Exam. The questions will be replaced with those that measure more basic skills, board members said.

"I don't think we're dumbing down the test in any way," said board member Carol S. Katzman.

Oh no, removing difficult items in no way affects the difficulty of the test. It in no way makes it easier for the less-able students to pass. It merely enhances the self-esteem of those that take it, and in California, isn't self-esteem everything?

The changes were made after careful review, she said, and will test what the high school exam aims to measure: how well students are mastering basic concepts of math and English.

Actually, it measures whether high school students in California can demonstrate, over eight attempts, that they've mastered between 55% and 60% of the sixth- to ninth-grade material now on the exam. But I think Ms. Katzman's way of phrasing it is so much more polite.

English questions will be pared, deleting a requirement that students write a bibliography of reference materials, develop research questions and methods to "elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources" and having students demonstrate proper manuscript formats, such as title page, spacing and margins.

All those who condemn "teaching to the test" can contemplate the fact that California's teachers will no longer be held accountable for teaching students how to do research, or to understand how papers should be titled and formatted.

So, why did California decide to "enhance" the exit exam in this way?

...a report...found about 20 percent of the class of 2004 would fail the test's math portion and not graduate. The report stated that about half of students who aren't fluent in English and three-quarters of special education students wouldn't be eligible for diplomas because of poor test performance.

In other words, making sure students receive diplomas is more important than teaching them basic math skills, or making sure that they become fluent in English during high school. I'm willing to give the special education students a pass here, but the schools really have no excuse for the fact that California's non-special-ed students are not ready for a test of skills this basic.

And if students continue to flunk, what then? Will further "enhancements" be required?

Posted by kswygert at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The phantom geometry student

Devoted Reader Mike sends along this great story, which Joanne Jacobs also noted:

Fourteen-year-old Lauren Lee recently got some great news in a progress report sent home from Sherwood High School in Montgomery County [Maryland]. The freshman got an "A" in a tough honors-level geometry course.

Not bad, thought Lauren's mother, Lauren Asbury, especially considering that her daughter never attended the school. "She doesn't go to Sherwood," explained Mrs. Asbury. "She goes to Good Counsel High School."

And you guys thought Blair Hornstine was the master of getting good grades in classes that she never attended.

Lauren, who lives in Olney, has never attended Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, but that hasn't stopped teachers she's never met from giving her high marks. Two of the four teachers at Sherwood whose classes Lauren never attended gave her A's anyway, according to the Sept. 26 progress report school officials recently mailed home.

"It was kind of funny at first," Mrs. Asbury said. "But then it's really scary when you think about it. I mean, if they thought my daughter was really going to school there, then why didn't anybody call me?"

I agree; it would freak me out as well. What's also bothersome is that Sherwood's administrators aren't returning Ms. Asbury's phone calls, although the school's automated system is still pinging her phone to inform the Asbury's of "upcoming school events and other information. "

"I've called the school," Mrs. Asbury said, "because I want to make sure no truant officers start coming after us."

I don't think she's overreacting. The school has her address, phone number, and is convinced that her daughter is supposed to be there. If a school can send a grade to a student who never attended a class, surely they can send a truant officer after the child if her "attendence" starts to slip!

Posted by kswygert at 09:44 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Special accommodations and time limits on the SAT

Hey, John of Discriminations has been blogging up a storm this week, and he ran across the recent NYTimes article on the accommodated testing flagging controversy, which he mentioned in passing in another discussion of a GRE peculiarity (I left comments on that topic, if you're interested).

Anyway, if you'd like to read more about the concept of flagging accommodated scores, and the controversy surrounding the College Board's decision to stop flagging on the SAT, you can go read three of my earlier posts:

Tilting the SAT playing field

Woo woo! Two new SAT

Why did I get my hopes up?

So what's in this latest NYT article?

Last year, when the College Board announced that as of this fall it would no longer flag the SAT scores of students with disabilities who took the test with extended time, educators expected a flood of requests from savvy parents eager to secure every advantage for their children.

Ok, I'll admit that I predicted that, too, and in this posting, I noted that while the percentage of SAT-takers has increased only 18% since 1987, the percent of those requesting accommodations has increased by more than 300%, as shown by the graphs accompanying this article.

Apparently, though, the expected flood ran up against a well-built dam:

From July 1 to Sept. 30 this year, the board received 17,920 requests for extended time and other accommodations, a 10 percent decline from the 19,970 filed in the same period last year.

At the same time, the board has been turning down more requests for accommodations — and the number of appeals from such rejections have more than tripled — in part because of a new requirement that students seeking extra time must generally have a diagnosis and a plan for accommodations in school at least four months before taking the SAT.

So, ETS put sensible procedures in place to turn away those who might be trying to game the system, and as news of that has trickled out, the requests for accommodations has declined. Interesting. In case you were wondering, those 17,920 requests equal somewhere around 1.7% of the SAT-taking population

The board also compiled a list of 142 schools — 43 private and 99 public — where an unusually high proportion of students use accommodations and asked them for further documentation of the disabilities. While those schools represent less than 1 percent of the nation's high schools, they account for 24 percent of all accommodations nationwide.

Faced with such scrutiny, many of the schools that had asked for the most accommodations have pulled back substantially on their requests.

I bet they have. What a smart use of data exploration that was. While some of these schools may have legitimately attracted a larger number of disabled students, I'm sure there were some in there that were taking advantage of the system. Not surprisingly, though, the cries that the College Board is now "too restrictive" has begun.

About 2 percent of the two million students who take the SAT receive accommodations for their disabilities, the majority of them students with learning disabilities who are allowed extra time. The percentage has more than doubled since 1990, amid a troubling inequity: Affluent students are far more likely than poor ones to have documented disabilities and therefore to receive accommodations.

Indeed, some refer to the greatly-increasing learning disability diagnoses as "boutique diagnoses," for which rich familes go "diagnosis shopping."

Historically, the College Board has relied largely on the recommendations of individual schools in granting testing accommodations. In most public school districts, the process is well-defined...The situation is far murkier in private schools, where, typically, parents who believe their child would do better with extra time go to a private evaluator and come back with a report recommending extended time on tests, a report that is usually accepted.

"We have high-powered, savvy parents, and if they come in with a $3,000 evaluation, dead set on getting extra time, it's very difficult to turn them down," said a learning specialist at one selective New York City private school. "I think the College Board's doing the right thing, and helping us not buckle to parental pressure. But right now we're seeing a lot of freaked-out parents."

Just think about those "high-powered" parents who are so eager to have their kids labeled as disabled. These parents have $3000 to spend, and yet they can't manage to find tutors for their kids so that they can learn to take the SAT under normal timing conditions? Am I alone in finding it odd that in one generation, we have swung from the label of "disabled" being a stigma to that same label being something that is seen as desirable, and sought after? Do these parents really have so little respect for the test that they're willing to essentially help their kids cheat? Or are they so desperate to think of their kids as "special" that any means of setting them apart from the general population will do?

At a College Board forum on accommodations in Manhattan, a California educational consultant said on Monday that parents often had trouble accepting that even if an evaluation concluded that their child could benefit from extra testing time, that was not a diagnosis of a learning disability.

"Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and the fact that someone could benefit from extra time does not mean that they need extra time to level the playing field," said the consultant, Jane McClure.

Gooooood point. Miriam Freedman suggested that one way to level the playing field might be to increase the time limit for all the test takers, simply because most high-stakes exams are somewhat speeded, and many non-disabled test takers could benefit from extra time. Indeed, the NYT story notes that some educators believe that all SAT-takers should have the option of choosing extra time, or that the test should essentially be untimed.

The problem with that choice option is that everyone will choose the most amount of time possible, so that effectively sets a new time limit. A very lengthy time limit - or none at all - can create financial and administrative nightmares. Testing costs go up when seat times lengthen (if testing locations charge for their use), so we could move from a situation in which disability disagnoses are too expensive to a situation in which testing costs become prohibitive. This could also make test scheduling more problematic, and once the time limit expands, the College Board goes from speededness concerns to fatigue effect concerns. Oh, and the new test would need to undergo rigorous reliability and validity analyses because it cannot be assumed that items pretested under one time limit, and administered under another, will remain the same in terms of discrimination, difficulty, and predictive validity. The SAT administered under double time, or no time limit, is a new test, and much data would be needed before colleges could use it to predict first-year performance.

And speaking of validity analyses, those who think the SAT timing should be expanded for everyone are making two assumptions that may very well be incorrect. The first assumption is that increasing the time for everyone would "level the playing field." Problem is, there's no research to show that only students with true LDs would benefit, while others would not, and logically, it makes sense to conclude, as Jane McClure does above, that some non-LD students will benefit from extra time. It is not unreasonable to imagine a situation in which students with true LDs will be more likely to have lower scores on an untimed test, because the non-LD students will have leaped ahead of them due to their ability to benefit more from the extra time.

The second assumption that extended-time proponents are making is that all parents and disability advocates really want a level SAT playing field. No matter how generous a time limit might be, there will always be someone who will ask for more, because there will always be those who want preferential treatment for themselves or their children, as opposed to equal treatment for everyone. If extending the time limit for all in fact widened the score gap between LD students and non-LD students, a lot of people would be furious; there would be no way then to remove the "stigma" of that lower score.

Posted by kswygert at 08:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The zero tolerance quagmire, Part II

Over the past week, I've noticed the phrase "education quagmire" popping up everywhere. Apparently, the term in its current usage was born on November 9th at the National Review blog, The Corner:


An educator in Michigan e-mails:

I love this line I heard today from a Vet who spoke at our school assembly.

He talked about the "...educational quagmire and political correctness..." of the institutions that no longer teach about military valor and honor.

Educational quagmire...wonder how the liberals would feel if conservatives started using that tagline?

Glenn Reynolds is apparently delighted with the term and has used it no less than six times since November 9th (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Joanne Jacobs has picked up on the term as well (although she merely notes its spread, and does not use it herself).

Let me be the first (perhaps) to respectfully disagree with Ms. Lopez and her correspondent, as well as Professor Reynolds, about the use of this phrase for describing the current problematic state of K-12 public schools. The reason this term was suggested to someone at NRO is because, I'm sure, the anti-war left-wing crowd has delighted in referring to the War in Iraq as a "quagmire," almost since the beginning. Dick Gephardt, for example, specifically used the term way back in July. The implication is that President Bush began an unwinnable war for all the wrong reasons, and now our servicemen and women are suffering (and dying) in vain. Many pro-war and/or conservative commenters have written with scorn and ridicule about the rush of left-wingers (and Europeans) to use this phrase; some big names in media were forced to admit their quagmire predictions were wrong way back in May.

I'm not here to debate whether Iraq is a quagmire, but I do believe the term quagmire has become synonomous with "An unwinnable and unworthy Republican/George Bush war," so the use of the term "education quagmire" doesn't suggest what the folks at NRO think it does. If anything, I would not be at all surprised to see the anti-testing, anti-accountability, anti-Bush crowd define the No Child Left Behind Act as the "education quagmire," and I'm sure they'd feel justified in doing so. Let me explain.

The current state of education is somewhat muddied and controversial because all of the NCLB requirements are relatively new; they are confusing, difficult to understand (sometimes), and difficult to fulfill (often). Special education programs in particular are feeling very frustrated, Head Start teachers believe that the new tests for their little charges are not useful, and many schools complain that the new testing and school grading methods are not appropriate, or do not accurately reflect the quality of the schools.

Regardless of the validity of the complaints listed above, they all came about because President Bush is waging what I think is a worthy and winnable "war" against a concept of "education" that doesn't include facts, or basic skills, or core knowledge. For us who support NCLB to suggest that we are in an "education quagmire" is to suggest that the "war" currently being fought against those who so ruined public education in the first place is unwinnable, and unworthy, and not worth the sacrifices it has required.

On the other hand, the term "zero tolerance quagmire" is accurate and does hit the anti-education educrats where they live. The current state of zero tolerance policies, and the horror stories that accompany them, do represent a quagmire resulting from the "war" that educrats are waging upon politically-incorrect behavior, the constitutional rights of their students, and common sense and good judgment in general.

Thus, the term "zero-tolerance quagmire" is more appropriate, and that's the term I'll be using (no offense to the Instaman and NRO). It's nitpicky, I know, but that's the way I am.

Update: Don't miss Jay Mathews' review of the "myths," and the realities, of the NCLB Act.

Posted by kswygert at 01:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The zero tolerance quagmire, Part 1

Is it just me, or do school administrators actually seem to be competing to find the most inane and unfair reasons for booting kids off campus?

In addition to the recent cases of Wesley Juhl and Angela Scatudo, who face punishment because of personal weblogs, we now have the sad case of Wisconsin high school student Sashwat Singh, whose off-color rhymes - performed off school grounds - have resulted in a five-day suspension; expulsion is still a possibility. It seems the honor student recorded a rap CD that the Brookfield Central High principal doesn't much like:

Over the course of three months, Sashwat Singh wrote and recorded a 32-minute, 14-track rap compact disc featuring rants that made reference to illegal drug use and explicit sexual acts. He denigrates classmates, his mother and his high school. One track is a rap he used when campaigning to be class treasurer.

School administrators called the disc, which includes a song about the principal, Mark Cerutti, and conditions at the school, "gross disobedience or misconduct," an offense on par with making a bomb threat, bringing guns to school and arson...

Let's restate that, for emphasis. A personal musical recording with vulgar and obnoxious lyrics is as threatening to school safety as bringing guns to school or burning the schoolhouse down. I find that hard to believe, and I bet some Columbine parents would be much happier today had Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold done nothing worse than make an anti-Columbine CD.

Sashwat Singh insisted the lyrics weren't meant as a threat, but "just random words that rhymed. I didn't think I had done anything wrong."...

Cerutti said that he first became aware of Sashwat Singh's CD on Oct. 29, and that he was suspended later that day. Matt Gibson, the Elmbrook School District superintendent, said he was "fact-finding to determine whether or not to move it toward expulsion...

Singh's suspension may mark the first time a high school student in Wisconsin has been removed from school for a song he'd written, said Ken Cole, the executive director of the Madison-based Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Cole said a threat couched in music made outside school "isn't a matter of all in good sport or fun. If some incident occurs a month from now, someone will say, 'You knew back then.' We have to treat every incident very seriously"...

Emphasis on that phrase mine, because in this context, that phrase means schools cannot use any personal judgment to decide whether to punish an honors student, who takes AP classes and is a member of the school's band and choir, when that student has the motivation and technological savvy needed to record an album entirely on his home computer. The fact that Singh is smart, took school seriously, and apparently had no background of violence of criminal behavior is of no consequence. The most important thing is to ensure that students are forbidden, 24 hours a day, from expressing thoughts that anyone in the academic environment might find unsettling or distasteful, regardless of the student doing the thinking and the context in which that thinking is expressed.

That is what taking each incident "very seriously" means these days. Joanne Jacobs agrees with the "police state" description given to this school, and so do I.

Dan Macallair, the executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, said the suspension is indicative of a national trend toward zero tolerance in schools. "We're punishing kids for things that we adults never would have been punished for when we were that age," he said. "If we try to criminalize every comment that adolescents made, all our kids would be locked up."

Believe me, the educrats are working on that. Way down in Florida, sixteen-year-old Ryan Richter has been expelled based on a stick-figure drawing that another student found threatening:

Richter, a LaBelle High School sophomore, sketched a figure shooting another figure. He did the sketch in a recent geometry class and passed it along to a friend and thought nothing else of it. The classroom doodling, however, got him suspended for a week and as of Monday’s disciplinary hearing, got him kicked out of LaBelle High and recommended for a 45-day stint in Hendry County’s alternative high school...

A student told school authorities that Richter said the dead stick figure was a direct reference to someone and the pony-tailed shooter was a depiction of himself, according to Richter’s account of Monday’s meeting. Richter, who wears his black hair in a pony tail, said the stick-figure shooter wasn’t him and the victim wasn’t anyone at his school.

That must have been one damn fine stick-figure drawing if school officials believe that it's 100% accurate in representing Richter and his "victim," dontcha think?

The school principal referred all calls to Superintendent Thomas Conner. Conner said he can’t comment on the case directly because it’s a confidential student matter. But he did say school officials take threats of violence seriously.

Using the definition of "seriously" that I outlined above, in which actions are removed from context, inflated beyond all belief, and used to apply punitive sanctions to students who are in no other way a threat, yes, I'd say officials are taking this "seriously."

Richter’s artwork does have a violent bent, his parents said. He likes to draw a cartoon character he calls “Little Paranoid Happy Dude,” whose personality can snap from happy-go-lucky to raging mad. But the elder Richter and Ross don’t think their son has problems. They say he’s a driven young man who wants to be an architect and finish high school early so he can start college...

[Nearby] Lee County’s zero tolerance rules are similarly strict, according to a review of the district’s student code of conduct. Punishments for fights, threats or weapons violations range from detention to suspension to expulsion, depending on the seriousness of the offense.

I suppose now that cartoon violence will now be added to the list of forbidden activities, if it hasn't been already. After all, Florida is the same state in which honors student Lindsay Brown was forbidden from attending graduation in 2001 because a steak knife was found in her car. She spent nine hours in a jail cell before that decision was made, by the way.

Update: Here's John Hawkins of RightWingNews, whose attitude is, "Hey if school officials want to be afraid of stick figures, HERE's a good one for 'em."

As John puts it so well: "Viva la stick figure violence! Up with freedom of expression, down with fussbudgets!"

Posted by kswygert at 01:01 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003

Get your Democrat education "plans" right here!

Feel like voting Democrat next year? Via Joanne Jacobs, here are the official positions on education by the nine leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A few bullet points:

* Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman all supported NCLB originally; Senator Lieberman was instrumental in helping construct it.

* NCLB does not, however, seem to be very popular among the candidates as a whole (surprise, surprise).

* General Wesley Clark produced some impressive blather on why we can't use test scores to see how well students are performing:

Schools aren't businesses. Schools are institutions of public service. Their job--their product--is not measured in terms of revenues gained. It's measured in terms of young lives whose potential can be realized. And you don't measure that either in terms of popularity of the school, or in terms of the standardized test scores in the school. You measure it child-by-child, in the interaction of the child with the teacher, the parent with the teacher, and the child in a larger environment later on in life.

In other words, it doesn't matter if the parents prefer the school, or if the objective scores show that children at the school all learned a core curriculum. What matters is that the school prides itself on how teachers "interact" with parents and students, and it's apparently up to the school, rather than the parents, to decide what each child's potential is.

If you want to improve schools, you've got to go inside the processes that make a school great. You've got to look at the teachers, their qualifications, their motivation, what it is that gives a teacher satisfaction, what it is a teacher wants to do in a classroom. We've got to empower teachers.

I have no quarrel with his opinion that teachers are what can make a school great. I'm just amazed that this statement of General Clark's is followed by a criticism of the current NCLB-supporting Bush government, which is desperately trying to provide guidance to teachers whose "motivation" and "satisfaction" do nothing to actually educate their young charges. I'm all for supporting teachers, but at what point did we decide that teachers are the one who are supposed to be satisfied with educational outcomes, rather than their students, or the parents?

* Howard Dean is quite the nanny-state supporter, and vehemently opposes NCLB, but has "yet to roll out any detailed proposals for education."

* Sen. Edwards wants to make the first year of college free for all students. Those of you who are better versed in economics than I can write him letters explaining how making goods and services artificially "free" often makes them scarce, if not worthless. He's also anti-teachers-union, because he wants bad teachers to be tossed more quickly, and free college tuition for teachers who agree to serve in high-needs schools (despite what union rules might say on the subject).

* Rep. Dick Gephardt wants it all. Affirmative action in college. Smaller classes. A ROTC-like program that gets education students out of student loans based on a five-year teaching requirement (um, what about the rest of us?). Oh, and teaching reform that doesn't affect current tenure rules. Yeah, right.

* And then there's The Reverend Al Sharpton, who just wants us all to have a moment of silence in school so that kids can pray. Sen. Edwards can use that time to pray no one from the teachers' unions ever gets ahold of him.

Posted by kswygert at 06:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tensions over school choice in Michigan

Since 1996, Michigan has allowed districts to accept students from outside their boundaries. Parents who felt their child's school was failing them have accepted the transfer offers in increasing numbers each year; 6,200 students tranferred in the school year this program began, and that number rose to 33,506 by 2001-02. Some school districts willingly accept kids because they value "diversity", others because they need the money (their school districts don't have enough youngsters in the local population). In order to protect kids who might have poor academic or disciplinary records due mainly to bad schools, the transfer school districts are forbidden by law from checking into students' disciplinary records and previous academic performance.

Some parents are very happy about this; others, less so. For example, students who were enrolled in predominately-black Wayne County schools were given the choice to transfer to other schools. Some of the school accepting transfer students are in predominantly-white Oakland County. Now, bubbling resentments over choice rules and regulations, apparent racism, and the value of "diversity" are brewing in one apparently foul stew:

A storm swelled all year in the Madison School District, one of only two in south Oakland that accepts Wayne County schools of choice students. Unflattering depictions of "Wayne County kids" were tossed around at Board of Education meetings by parents angry the district's borders opened wider than its neighbors'. The rest closed ranks at the county line.

Every time a parent said "they're" ruining the district, some cringed, because Wayne County sounded like a code word for black. Oakland County is predominantly white; the segment of Wayne County bordering the region is mostly African-American.

It doesn't take a genius to do the math and pinpoint ethnic diversity as one of the most controversial aspects of schools of choice, according to Kurt Metzger, a Pleasant Ridge resident and researcher at Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies...

Diversity is a side effect of schools of choice, embraced by some, battled by others, and impossible to ignore. South Oakland districts get more diverse every year whether or not they accept Wayne County students.

Tension is showing in some districts, where parents, staff and students complain that choice kids bring down test scores, cause fights, form gangs and sexually harass local girls.

That's a pretty wide range of complaints. I'm sure some kids are rotten apples, but why is the animosity not being directed towards the school administrators, who presumably can monitor disruptive behavior on school grounds? Is the problem here with certain "Wayne County kids", or is it really that the parents think the school officials are not doing anything to ensure that those kids learn to play by the rules?

"A lot of people seem to see it as a negative, that these 'others' are coming to our district," said Stephanie Hall, public relations director for Ferndale schools. "The euphemisms we hear are that we are going to dumb down the curriculum. We hear a lot of reference to 'those' kids."...

Some question whether the protests are really about schools of choice or if they're objections to filling local schools with people of other races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some of these parents might be nervous about having "different" kids in their schools, but if, for example, kids are indeed being allowed to form gangs in schools, I can see why some parents might think that's a negative. Do these parents feel that transfer students are immune from criticism? Do they feel pressure to allow bad behavior in the name of "diversity"? And why are the previously gang-free schools allowing that behavior on campus?

Minority population skyrocketed in most local districts the last 10 years, posting huge increases in Berkley - 337 percent, almost 95 percent in Ferndale, 161 percent in Lamphere, 182 percent in Royal Oak, and Madison, struggling most openly with diversity issues, had a 2,733 percent hike. Those numbers do not include the influx of Albanian, Chaldean and other ethnic groups that aren't tracked by the Michigan Department of Education, but are more visible than ever in classrooms and hallways.

Yup, that's not a small change. Not surprising that there's some hue and cry about it. And there do seem to be some obvious and quantifiable negative effects on school districts because of the transfer students:

Madison held a special meeting in September where parents argued vigorously against opening to Wayne County kids and brainstormed alternative ways to raise money without schools of choice, which now provides about 20 percent of its annual budget. Madison used the influx to nearly demolish a $4 million deficit in the last seven years, but it's not worth it to many parents, who bitterly complain about the turn their district has taken in recent years.

School officials haven't been able to track it, but some are convinced droves of in-district kids are leaving largely because of schools of choice...

...schools of choice forced Madison to add remedial tutoring to teachers' work. The district funds hall monitors and extra security because of problems that came with choice, she added.

So how do these concerns stack up against parents who see schools like Madison as lifesavers for their struggling kids?

Kirk and Shirley Box of Detroit, who drive their 11th-grade daughter to Madison High School every day, acknowledge they've heard about problems coming from schools of choice kids. They say their daughter is thriving in ways she never did in her own dilapidated district.

"She's doing good in the classes and everything," Kirk Box said. "I think that they should keep it open. They've been voicing that they've been having some problem with schools of choice (students) coming in, but that shouldn't stop them."

Interestingly, though, the Boxs think that only "the cream of the crop," and not the troublemakers, should be allowed to take advantage of the school choice program (currently, that's not allowable under Michigan law), not least because the good choice kids are tarred with the same brush as the bad:

"My daughter has had some problems with schools of choice kids," Box said. "She says that it really makes it hard on her. It's not all the schools of choice children, but some make it bad for all of them."

So what's the reality, and what's myth?

Kimball High School in Royal Oak tracks the number of suspensions it hands out. Rumors run rampant about "gangs" of Middle Eastern and black kids harassing in-district students, and several fights between teens of different ethnicities were noted by students, but choice and non-choice kids run neck-and-neck every year where misbehavior is concerned, administrators say.

Okay, that's one way to examine it - but have misbehaviors increased overall since school choice began? Do they continue to increase when new students arrive? It's one thing to show that the non-choice kids (we need a better term for them) are fighting as much as the choice kids, but if the overall level of fighting in the school has risen, well, that doesn't exactly dispel the notion that the choice kids might be a bad influence.

Other school districts also say there's no problem; some have the high standardized test scores to back up at least the claim that choice students haven't hurt schools academically. At some schools, the extra funding from choice students have allowed a vast expansion of the curriculum. But will all this "diversity" have lasting effect, or will we just see another round of "white flight"? It sounds like at least some schools are doing what they can to convince parents that choice students don't necessarily negatively affect a school, and parents have every right to ask for that assurance.

If any of you Michigan parents write in with your experiences, please let me know in your emails if I have your permission to quote your letters.

Posted by kswygert at 06:01 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Zero tolerance and bad police procedure

It never fails. If I had been here to post over the last three days, the testing/school/zero tolerance news would have been drier than dust. Because I left town, there were all sort of salacious developments. Luckily for all of us, people like Joanne Jacobs and Daryl Cobranchi were around to take up the slack.

For starters, Joanne has all the updates on the outrageous "drug raid" in Goose Creek, SC. As she reports, guns were drawn even before the police entered the school, and some kids were patted down and questioned about money in their wallets by the principal (free registration is required to read the article). Be sure to read the comments on Joanne's posting, especially the long one left by enraged reader Bob King (edited here for space reasons):

The cops apparently took a control-freak principal's WORD as to what the surveillance tapes meant and committed a full-out, consciously terrifying raid on a school, and [another commenter said] that the fact they were raiding for drugs justifies the fact that they did a drug raid in the most consciously intimidating and terrifying way imaginable?...

Here's a clue for you; while the school is "in loco parentus" and as such somewhat exempt, that's due to delegation of parential rights, and that which is delegated is subject to review. It's not an inherent right given to a school to excercise on a whim, nor is it a licence to violate natural rights, much less endanger the lives of children that delegation is intended to protect...

Yes, IF there is a reasonable appreciation that there ARE drugs AND those drugs are being dealt by dealers who are actually ARMED with something more lethal than a #2 pencil, THEN it might be reasonable to do that, IF THE BUILDING WASN'T UNDER COMPLETE SURVEILLANCE to record for posterity what kind of jackbooted IDIOTS are in charge of the freaking raid!...

My NRA training told me to never draw a weapon unless I was prepared to put a slug right in the center of mass RIGHT THAT SECOND. I was taught to PRESUME a drawn weapon to be a deadly threat, and to respond IMMEDIATELY to such a threat by putting two in the chest and one in the head.

Then they went back to the idea that you never, ever even TOUCH the butt of your gun unless it's your intention to ventilate someone if they so much as twitch.

What he said. Why would any kid want to return to a school in which it is patently obvious that the principal thinks of him as a criminal first, and a student second? I know if my principal was willing to approve armed raids on obviously-sketchy evidence, I'd be too afraid to walk back into the building.

Joanne's wrapups are always good - "The Ody brothers are black, like 70 of 107 students searched at the majority white school. The ACLU is investigating. It's going to be lawsuit time in Goose Creek, South Carolina."

(Update: Backcountry Conservative has more.)

Joanne and Daryl also posted on the newest "crime" in Zero Tolerance Land - the Crime of Posting Inappropriate Information on One's Private Weblog:

"Kill Alaina!"

The throwaway comment about an irritating friend is one that former Valley High School senior Wesley Juhl wishes he had never recorded in his blog, a personal Web site he used to chronicle daily life.

At the end of September, a month after he first posted it on his personal computer while in the privacy of his home, Juhl found himself sitting in the dean's office facing disciplinary action.

That journal statement, and another that included a vulgar comment about a teacher, earned Juhl an in-school suspension and a required parent conference. The disciplinary action also brought to light the fact that Juhl did not have a current zone variance to attend Valley. As a result, Juhl was sent to Chaparral High School, which is the school zone he resides in.

Juhl, 18, is still wondering what authority allowed the Clark County School District to punish him. His journal was not a school assignment and was not posted using a school computer or a school message board...

Juhl wasn't the only Valley student who landed in hot water because of comments recorded in a personal online journal. His friend, Valley senior Angie Scaduto, was called to the dean's office at the same time Juhl was.

She was questioned about one of her journal entries, which began: "I almost killed everyone today."

The entry went on to explain all the things that had gone wrong that day, she said, and wasn't a threat against anyone. She also was asked about things she'd written about her mother and the fact that she'd said she'd taken cold medicine during lunch one day at school.

"I kept asking, `What does this have to do with school?' " Scaduto said. "They never answered my question. I was completely shocked about it. They were my personal private thoughts and I was getting picked on for them."

Let's recap, shall we, before we go any further? These were personal postings on personal weblogs that these two students posted outside of school time, which had nothing to do with his school assignments and did not make use of school-owned hardware or software. Were the comments in bad taste? Yes, although any adult with IQ higher than that of mayonnaise knows that the phrase "I'd like to kill so-and-so" is often said with no murderous intent whatsoever. Did these postings to the Internet make Juhl and Scatudo's thoughts no longer as "private" as they believed? Yes. Does the fact that they attend a public school give that school the right to completely rescind their First Amendment Rights? Apparently so.

For some reason, this school, and some of the commenters on Joanne's blog, see nothing wrong with the idea of school administrators trolling the Internet for their students' weblogs, apparently in the hopes of finding even one tiny little phrase that offends their sensibilities. The concept that students might express rude or thoughtless phrases is apparently no longer acceptable regardless of whether the student is at school. That's absolutely appalling.

One of Joanne's commenters went with the "public decency" argument:

Should a student really be able to post vulgarities about a teacher in a public place with no fear of retribution from the school? Should you not be held responsible for what you do in public place (and what place is more public than the Internet?) when that reflects on the school?

It's like a kid saying "Hey, I can say or do anything I want over here about you in a very public manner, and YOU CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!" Like it or not, once that gets around, it can be disruptive to a school environment.

In other words, students don't have First Amendment rights, a student's behavior may be judged and/or punished by the school 24-7, and any student's expression is essentially owned by and reflective of the school.

Does no one see the slippery slope this creates? Today, we say that saying, "I'd like to kill this person" on your weblog justifies intervention and punishment, solely because of incidents like Columbine. So what thoughts will be unacceptable tomorrow? "I don't like my gay classmates"? "I hate my parents"? "I hope we invade every Muslim country in the Mideast"? Is there no space left whatsoever for students to remain unjudged by the terrified and terrorizing PC crowd?

I mean, I'm all for school discipline, but I do indeed believe that a kid can go out in public away from school and express their non-PC thoughts, and the school should not be able to do a damn thing about it.

Again, Joanne's summary is far more concise: "If students are making death threats or planning to start an antihistamine ring operating out of the girls' restroom, call the cops. (Preferably not the Goose Creek commando squad.) If teen-agers are rude, profane or "inappropriate" on their own time, it's none of the school's business."

Posted by kswygert at 05:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 09, 2003

Shameful police behavior in South Carolina

OK, I said I wasn't going to blog, but this story of the armed raid on a school full of surprised (and unarmed kids) is huge, and it takes place in my home state:

After complaints from parents and students, police in Goose Creek, South Carolina, defended their decision Friday to send a team of officers, some with guns drawn, into a high school earlier this week for a drug raid that turned up no drugs...

Stratford High School students described Wednesday's incident as frightening.

"They would go put a gun up to them, push them against the wall, take their book bags and search them," Aaron Sims, 14, told CNN affiliate WCSC. "They just came up and got my friend, not even saying anything or what was going to happen. ... I was scared."

Why did the police need their guns? Evidently, they suspected that drugs would be in evidence in the school, not weapons. Why do police officers need guns to find drugs on 14-year-olds in a school building? That's just crazy.

Police monitored video from school surveillance cameras for several days and "observed consistent, organized drug activity," he said. "Students were posing as lookouts and concealing themselves from the cameras."

When the principal saw more of the same suspicious activity on the school surveillance video, he asked for the officers to respond, Aarons said.

On Wednesday, 14 officers went to the school "and assumed strategic positions," he said.

Within 30 seconds, officers had moved to "safely secure the 107 students who were in that hallway," Aarons said. "During that time some of the officers did unholster in a down-ready position, so that they would be able to respond if the situation became violent."

Again, why were SWAT-team tactics necessary in a school full of juveniles who are suspected of dealing drugs, rather than using weapons? Was there really any reason to assume that this would become violent? Wouldn't an undercover operation have worked as well? Or a simple search with drug dogs but no weapons?

Anytime narcotics and money are involved he said there is "the reasonable assumption that weapons will be involved. ... Our primary concern was the safety of the students (and) everyone else involved."

Is that assumption really reasonable inside a school building full of juveniles, when the tapes apparently showed no weapons activity?

Instapundit's got the story covered. One of the Great Man's readers, Michael Graham, had first-hand knowledge of the principal who called in the cops:

HELLO STUDENTS, AND WELCOME TO STALAG 13: Actually, it's an insult to Col. Klink and the gang to compare them with the goose-stepping George McCrackin of Stratford (S.C.) High. That's the school where the local jackboots kicked in the doors, drew their guns and threw a bunch of school kids onto the ground in a futile search for a few ounces of pot...all on videotape...

I know George McCrackin from my days at WSC in Charleston, SC. He became part of the Michael Graham Experience when he started kicking straight-A students out of school because their shirts weren't tucked in. No, I'm not exaggerating. He felt it was vital for maintaining discipline to keep all shirttails out of public view...

So when I saw the video on CNN of the gun-wielding goons terrorizing school kids, my first thought was of ol' George. Sure enough...

My favorite part of the story is Commandant McCrackin in his officer monitoring the 48 (!) surveillance cameras and signaling the police on when to move in. I can picture him sitting there, fingering his super-spy decoder ring and rehearsing the phrase “suspect in sight!”...

Michael's pretty pissed about the police force's use of weapons, as well as that aforementioned attitude that it was "reasonable" to assume that these kids would be armed:

The Goose Creek Police defend their dangerous stupidity by claiming to have monitored drug activity for four days using the school's "Big Brother" camera system. OK, if you really did see drug deals going down...why didn't you arrest the DRUGGIES, Officer Fife? The schools already violate every notion of citizenship by regularly conducting warrant-less, probable cause-less, random searches of the schools. The kids spend more time in front of surveillance cameras than women on peep-show websites. And still, for the jackboots of run the government schools, it's not enough.

Meanwhile, over at Samizdata, this is all grist for the "Beware the State" mill:

I am sorry, but some square headed jerks in a blue shirts start waving guns around a bunch of children who are just going about their business at school, and it is reported that parents are "questioning the wisdom of police tactics"? Questioning the wisdom of police tactics?...

I would be looking for some heads-on-spikes if a child of mine was subjected to that sort of treatment. How this incident has not resulted in angry mobs in the streets throwing rocks is beyond me. What does it take to really piss these people off?

So... attention all parents in Goose Creek: are you starting to have second thoughts about the wisdom of entrusting your children to state 'care' yet? Unbelievable.

Be sure to read the comments on that post, too. Very informative.

Posted by kswygert at 04:45 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 07, 2003

And I'm off.... Washington DC for a conference. I won't be back in town until next Wednesday, and will probably need until Friday to catch up on my work. Hence, a week-long blogging sabbatical is likely. I might get the chance to post some this Sunday, but I can't guarantee it.

Everyone enjoy your week! If you really need something interesting to read while you goof off at work, you can try:

(1) The best movie reviewer you've never heard of - Alexandra DuPont.

(2) The Chicago Boyz, which I always assumed was a hip-hop site, is in fact run by a group of contributors who post on economics, politics, technology, and rock&roll. The title pays homage to a group of pundits and economists from the University of Chicago.

(3) UrbanDictionary.Com - Define your slang!

(4) I'm a little late, but you can still enjoy the madness of ExtremePumpkins.Com. My favorite is the Conjoined Twins.

(5) I agree with every word of this column. Every one. I'm going to send this to my single female friends who are still constantly dating "princes" who quickly turn into frogs. They've got it wrong-way-round.

(6) Finally, here's a group who thinks they know how to create High Schools That Work. Take a look and let me know what you think.


Posted by kswygert at 01:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Seattle School Board "loony-toons"

Stefan Sharkansky of SharkBlog is trying to keep his hopes up about the new Seattle School Board members, but it's not easy:

The Seattle School Board has been captured by the loony-toons slate of Sally Soriano, Brita Butler-Wall, Darlene Flynn and Irene Stewart.

Three moderate incumbents, Nancy Waldman, Steve Brown and Barbara Schlag Peterson, were ousted, due to (understandable) frustration with poor student test scores, district financial problems, the forced resignation of a troubled superintendent and the failure to hire a new permanent superintendent.

But I have little confidence that the four new board members will steer the schools in a positive direction. Three of the four (Butler-Wall, Flynn and Stewart) were endorsed by the local teacher's union...Two of the new board members (Soriano and Butler-Wall) were endorsed by the Green Party, whose goal is to

transform pre-K-20 education in Seattle in alignment with all 10 Key Values
of the Green Party of Seattle
, through research, education, and advocacy

I've seen campaign statements from three of the four new board members (Soriano, Flynn and Butler-Wall) blaming problems of minority achievement on "institutional racism" (here, here and here)

Oooh, that's not good. These board members also oppose standardized testing; I'll give those of you who are utterly astonished about that a moment to pull yourselves together. Soriano, in fact, thinks the test score gap can be fixed by "embedding the curriculum with awareness of racism, sexism and classism." Appalling.

And what the heck is "pre-K-20" education? Does Seattle assume that its public school system is so ineffective that kids will need to stay in it until they're almost old enough to legally drink? It's interesting, too, that these board members, who so oppose school accountability, have the stamp of approval from the Green Party, which demands police force accountability and corporate accountability. So, it's important to make sure that policemen aren't abusing their powers, but it's not important to make sure that your kid's teacher isn't an idiot?

The Shark goes on:

Butler-Wall wants to solve the "institutional racism" problem by using Ebonics as the language of instruction...

eeEEEw. That'll definitely "embed" more "awareness of racism" into classrooms, once white kids discover that black kids aren't expected to learn standard English. I don't think that's the kind of "awareness" that these board members want, though.

Both Soriano and Butler-Wall propose eliminating the high-stakes WASL test, because the use of WASL scores to label racial blocs of students as failures also constituted institutional racism and/or because it reinforces the public's perceptions about the 'failure' of our schools.

Ahh hah hah hah! What sort of Magical Thinking Class does a school board member have to take in order to believe that removing a test which shows how schools are failing will actually affect whether the schools are failing? Hey, this means if I throw my scale out the window, I can remove the "public perception" that I've gained 20 pounds in the last two years. Yeah, that's the ticket!


Butler-Wall's priorities also include eliminating chocolate milk from school vending machines, restricting high-school students' contacts with military recruiters, and rejecting both the accountability of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the federal funds that come with it.

These four new School Board members will still be in office when my son starts Kindergarten in four years. I hope that between now and then the new board members will moderate their extremism and focus on finding practical solutions to real problems...

Wow. Stefan is MUCH more optimistic than I would be in this situation.

Posted by kswygert at 11:38 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The UC SAT flap, continued

I've recently posted a few times on the SAT score controversies currently swirling around some of the University of California campuses; in particular, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego have come under fire. The UC president, Robert Dynes, has publicly defended their admissions program, which let low-SAT-scorers in through "comprehensive review."

All week, I've been itching to post on the updates to the news that vastly-underqualified students were admitted to these challenging universities. The main update was the recent LATimes article that insists that race was not a factor in the admission of low-scoring students. Well, John of Discriminations doesn't agree with the LATimes conclusion, and he did a great job of dissecting the article this week. Such a great job, in fact, that Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles took notice. Kudos to John for the mention!

Anyway, here's John's post:

Despite the length of this article — over 2200 words — neither the numbers nor the differential rate of admission to Berkeley and UCLA for low-scoring minorities is given. Thus we are told that Berkeley admitted “low-scoring blacks and Latinos at twice the rate of Asians and whites with similar scores” and also that Berkeley accepted “only 8% of all low-scoring applicants” (emphasis added). We are pointedly not told what the admission rates were for low-scoring whites and Asians or for blacks and Hispanics, nor the absolute numbers.

When critics of race preferences argue that high standards and thus relatively fewer minority admissions to Berkeley and UCLA are not discriminatory because minorities are able to attend other, less selective campuses of the University of California system, they are often called racist. Now the Los Angeles Times argues that, despite highly disproportionate admissions of low-scoring blacks and Hispanics over similarly low-scoring whites and Asians at Berkeley and UCLA, there is no discrimination because in the UC system as a whole low-scorers from all groups are accepted at about the same rate.

Nice try.

Here's what Kaus had to say (scroll down to the second posting for November 5th):

I actually don't understand the entire basis of the LAT story. Does it tell us anything important if one ethnic group with low scores is admitted at a higher rate than another group with low scores? Doesn't the rate depend on the number of low-SAT applicants, which could vary for all sorts of reasons?

Suppose, for example, that members of ethnic group A know that if they have low SAT scores they are unlikely to get in. Since the combination of SAT scores and G.P.A. normally required to ensure admission is published on the Web, those whose scores are low just won't bother to apply...Now suppose many members of ethnic group B know that they have a credible claim of having overcome race discrimination--and that this might get them in under the university's "comprehensive review" policy, in which overcoming hardship can outweigh low SAT scores. These group B students are likely to apply in very large numbers even if they have low SATs. As a result, their rate of acceptance may be no higher than those of the few low-SAT applicants from group A. But that rate doesn't tell us much about whether or not university officials are bending over too far to admit applicants from Group B.

In fact, although the Times doesn't discuss it, the paper's own data shows that low-SAT "underrepresented minorities" (primarily blacks and Latinos) do apply to UC in relatively great numbers--so many that, whatever the success rates, 65% of the students actually admitted to Berkeley and UCLA with low SATs are "underrepresented minorities." Even at Riverside, the least selective UC campus, 49% of low-SAT admissions are "underrepresented minorities." How does this show that, as the Times says, "UC admissions did not appear to be racially biased" or that the the "comprehensive review" program isn't a backdoor scheme of racial preferences? It doesn't.

Kaus then says that if ignoring the SAT in favor of "comprehensive review" results in the admission of worthier applicants, he's all for it, but he points out something I've mentioned before - if the UC system is downplaying the SAT because it allegedly doesn't predict success in college, then they'd better be prepared to show us that the comprehensive review process does.

Kaus also mentions this Oakland Tribune article, which does a good job of crunching the numbers:

According to an analysis by this newspaper, 90 percent of the 332 students admitted to Berkeley in fall 2002 with SAT scores 1000 or below were minorities. In 2001, 89 percent of the 388 students with low scores were minorities...

In fact, both UC San Diego and UCLA -- the UC system's two other most selective campuses -- last week reported they had also admitted a small percentage of students with low test scores. UC President Robert Dynes has said he will convene a study group to review the admissions process.

Berkeley officials said SAT test scores alone are not a good indicator of who will succeed and who will fail at the university...

Altogether now - is there any proof that comprehensive review is a better indicator?

None of the students has left Berkeley due to academic deficiency, officials said.

Okay, so at least they're trying to support it, although this isn't enough. I want to see how long it takes those students to graduate, what GPA they have when they graduate, what majors they're enrolled in, and how they do in the GRE. In other words, I want to see the type of data that the College Board routinely rolls out in support of the SAT. additional look at data provided by UC headquarters shows that most of the low-scoring students are minority. In 2002, 63 -- or 19 percent -- of the students were black and 149 -- or 45 percent -- were Latino. Those are minority groups that are underrepresented at UC Berkeley and other UC campuses. Another 83 students (25 percent) were Asian, 5 (1.5 percent) were Native American and 23 (7 percent) were white. Another 9 students were categorized as "other."

In 2001, 66 -- or 17 percent -- of students admitted with scores below 1000 were black and 170 -- 44 percent -- were Latino. Asian students numbered 110 (28 percent); 25 students (6 percent) were white and 17 students (4 percent) were "other" or didn't provide the data.

Supporters of comprehensive review insist that this doesn't mean they're doing an end run around Proposition 209. The data suggest otherwise.

Others say no one should be surprised that minorities score poorly on the SAT -- and those scores alone don't mean a student is underqualified for the university.

A report released Friday by the San Francisco-based Equal Justice Society refutes Moores' analysis. A bevy of research indicates that socioeconomic status is closely correlated to SAT scores.

"With every $10,000 increase in family income, there is a lock-step increase in SAT scores," said the Equal Justice report, which was prepared by a coalition of Berkeley faculty, civil rights and education groups.

Two things fascinate me about this type of research:

(1) These anti-testing groups don't seem to notice that SES is also correlated with many indicators of academic achievement. Thus, the argument for not using the SAT could be extended to not using grades, not using AP test scores, not using AP class enrollment, not using number of years of math courses, etc. Why stop at opposing tests? Why not insist (as some do) that kids from poor backgrounds can't be expected to do well on any measures of academic achievement?

(2) The correlation of SES with SAT scores tells us absolutely nothing about whether the SAT is measuring something real. In fact, in our capitalistic society, it would be very odd if SAT didn't correlate with SES. The fact is that kids who come from wealthy homes are more likely to have had access to tutoring and better schools; are more likely to come from homes with educated parents; are more likely to have spent time around books and libraries and enriched environments. Thus, the SAT, which is related to SES, is telling us that kids who grow up around more money learn more, and do better academically as a whole. The faltering K-12 public system is complicit in this, because kids from poor backgrounds often get stuck in the worst schools, with the teachers most willing to lower standards and make excuses.

I agree that this sucks, and in some sense it is not fair that some kids get the shaft economically. However, this reality does not lead logically to the conclusion that colleges should feel obligated to pass over kids from wealthy homes, who are well-prepared for college, in favor of kids who just never had the opportunity. There is no indication that "leveling the playing field" in this respect is actually giving more opportunity to worthier candidates. There's no data to show that it make sense to admit students with poor grades and low SAT scores, under the assumption that these students will automatically flourish in a challenging college environment.

How colleges have reached the point of justifying the admission of students who didn't really accomplish anything in high school, simply on the basis of the fact that those students didn't have the same economic opportunities as other, more accomplished students, is beyond me. It's as though these policies are determined to punish some kids for having had more opportunities than others, and downplay the very real accomplishments of kids who took full advantage of their parents' generosity.

Posted by kswygert at 10:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 06, 2003

Alternative schooling

Recently, I received an email from a reader who declined to comment on any of my specific posts, but wondered why I thought that public schools had improved with the recent advent of standardized tests. It was this reader's opinion that the testing had, if anything, made schools worse, because teachers were "teaching to the test" at the expense of real education, which to this reader meant critical thinking, independent thinking, and problem solving among other things. This reader also thought that many schools currently force kids to learn in time with the slowest of the group, so that the brightest kids were bored or unfulfilled.

For starters, I certainly hope that I never gave the impression on here that I think testing in and of itself will improve teaching, or fix a bad school. Testing is only a measurement gauge, neither inherently bad nor good. Right now, most tests used in K-12 schools do measure very basic and objective skills, but tests need not by definition be that narrow. Certainly, tests can measure problem-solving abilities and independent thinking (and "teaching to the test" is not a bad thing if it's a good test.)

I do think testing is one of the necessary components to fixing a bad school, though, and I think there are many more bad public schools today than people realize. Testing certainly can be used in the wrong way, and if schools just test more often without modifying teaching or curricula in order to improve education, then teachers and students will just get frustrated. But tests used well can indeed help bring all students up to better performance, and there's some evidence now that previously-failing schools have improved.

I'm not surprised to find that some of my readers dislike the tests because they believe their kids are bored by them, or because they believe the teaching is now dumbed down in order to help the slower kids on the tests. In some places, I'm sure this is the case. This frustration has arisen because the current political climate mandates that schools focus on their worst performers, and that schools be graded according to how all their students do, rather than how the best students do. Does this mean that some schools have been forced to neglect the brighter students in favor of the slower ones? I'm sure it has.

My correspondent then pointed me towards a website for the Cedarwood Sudsbury School. The website makes the place sound like heaven, and for some kids, I'm sure it is. This school for 5-to-18-year-olds is all about "self-initiated learning" in a "democratic environment" that is "diverse." Their educational program focuses on self-knowledge, communication, social, and entrepreneurial skills, and creativity. Do they focus on the basics, the core curriculum? On literacy and elementary mathematics, yes; the rest is dismissed as not essential to a successful life, "an almost random selection from a large universe of useful and interesting information." This school makes it clear that they do not believe that pushing kids to learn algebra or history will actually help kids succeed in life.

For some kids, though, this kind of school would be hell. Some kids flourish in schools that focus on discipline, facts, structured learning, and lots of testing. Some kids are never going to be exposed even to basic literacy at home, and a school that can cram as much knowledge into them as possible is what is going to help those kids succeed in life. The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools, also called "no-excuses" schools, are one example. These schools are all about goal, leadership, discipline, rigorous learning schedules - and testing, testing, testing. The students at these schools are the demographic that too many "educators" have given up on, or are too hasty to make excuses for. The kids at KIPP schools give lie to the declaration that test scores measure only SES.

Maybe the problem with many public schools now is that they're trying to be both creative and demanding, both "self-initiated" and on task. They have no choice - they don't want all their bright kids to leave for better schools, but they are forced by law to bring the slower kids up to speed. Public schools are now trying to be all things for all kids, and I don't think they're doing too well.

Some kids would do great in that Cedarwood School, because they're bright kids with lots of motivation who feel trapped in public school. But some kids would do nothing in Cedarwood except goof off, fall behind, and feel frustrated because there's no one showing them exactly what to do. Some kids need that, some don't, and it's not necessarily related to intelligence. I know that I've always done better in structured learning environments than in open ones.

If nothing else, my reader's email strengthens my belief that school choice, charter schools, and the ability of parents to send their kids to schools that are targeted to their childrens' needs are essential for the future. The era of the one-room school house has been long-gone; the days of one public school for all may be coming to an end as well.

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Math in the news

Want to know what's going on in the math world? You better be reading Mathematically Correct's "Hot Topics." For example, there's the recent Hoover Institution's article on California's new crisis. No, not the budget - algebra:

Recent reports have stressed the importance of algebra in middle school; students who succeed in algebra usually do better in the rest of school and in their careers than those who do not. Well-intentioned school administrators often hope that early enrollment in algebra will reduce the achievement gap attributed to race or family income. Hence enrollments in middle-school courses called "Algebra" have increased. But judging from results on objective statewide tests, many middle-school students are not learning the subject, even those with passing grades.

The strongest predictor of failure to learn algebra is not race or income; it is a lack of adequate academic preparation. The problem begins before students get to their first algebra class. Many school districts have watered down the content of pre-algebra courses, removing important but difficult material...

No district in California is more guilty of misguided placement strategies than the San Diego City Schools. The results are disastrous. Failing to learn algebra in eighth grade results in large numbers of students repeating algebra in ninth grade, even though success is not ensured the second time around.

I wasn't aware that algebra mastery was correlated with success in other classes. I admit I hated the stuff until I got the hang of it, although I never really "liked" math until I took calculus in college. Had I not been forced to struggle through Algebra I and II in high school, though, I would not have been ready for the good stuff in college.

Regardless, while algebra in eighth grade is a worthy goal, students won't have a chance unless they master mathematical concepts in the earlier grades. Much better to have a rigorous eighth-grade pre-algebra course than to push students into algebra before they are prepared, thus ensuring that they will dislike and fear the subject even more the second time around.

Mathematically Correct also has a link to the group NYC HOLD on Mathematics; one of the site authors is Bas Braams, to whom I permalinked long ago.

Anyway, HOLD stands for Honest Open Logical Debate, and the group was formed to address the "mediocre" math education in the US today, as well as the recent math reform efforts taking place in NYC. Their links provide a wealth of information; I confess to having had no idea that an education committee meeting on mathematics education was taking place in NYC this week. You can read two letters from HOLD founders Elizabeth Carson and Bas Braams, addressed to Ms. Eva Moskowitz, NYC Council Committee on Education Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on this site; Bas, in particular, doesn't mince words:

This email is intended as written testimony in connection with the education committee meeting on mathematics education, today, Wednesday November 5, 2003...This testimony will be brief and will rely heavily on previous contributions, referenced here, which may all be found on the NYC HOLD Web site...

[Re: The mandated K-5 mathematics curriculum, Everyday Mathematics]
My conclusion based on careful review of Everyday Mathematics for grades 3-5 and other reviews for earlier grades is that the Chancellor has mandated a bad program. The program requires massive supplementation from the start in order to avoid complete failure. Indeed, the Chancellor has selected with Everyday Mathematics also a supplementary program, Math Steps, but this just highlights the absurdity of the original choice.

There are fine textbooks available, but Everyday Mathematics is not among them. I doubt that a single curriculum should have been mandated across all schools, and would have been more sympathetic to a policy that relies on clear grade by grade standards from which is derived a limited choice of supported textbooks. In that case, the textbooks that were selected in California based on their very clear mathematics standards would be the first to consider. I remark that Everyday Mathematics was twice rejected in the California textbook adoption process.

Posted by kswygert at 08:59 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Discriminations take on AA

John Rosenberg of Discriminations discusses a crucial topic for college admissions: Are those of us who oppose affirmative action under the obligation to come up with something better?

He first made this post:

Still, it is a fact -- a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless -- that a large number of decent people like Bill Cosby view all critics of racial preference as uncaring racists. This is no doubt caused in part, perhaps in large part, because that charge is repeated so often that after a while many assume it must be true. We, in turn, become bitterly defensive and reply in kind that the accusers are dumb or unprincipled, or both. This is not good.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we -- and here I am really thinking primarily of myself, since I am a prime example -- talk mainly about principles while they emphasize people. Think about it: anyone who opposes preferential admissions is saying that a large number of the minority students at selective universities -- actual, live people sitting in the audience if this argument is being presented in person on campus -- don't deserve to be there. Of course we come across as mean and uncaring.

I don't have a solution to this problem. Since we are honestly convinced that the principle of equal treatment is of fundamental importance we are not going to abandon it, nor should we. But we should probably do more than we have to demonstrate why that principle is so important, why it is not simply an abstraction, why abandoning it has its own terrible human costs.

Given that I'm a psychometrician, the "racist" label doesn't scare me that much. Some people apply it so broadly to everyone with my degree that it's hard to take it seriously after a while, although I still consider to be an insulting and inaccurate label. But John raises a very good point. I've often used this blog to criticize affirmative action policies, especially ones that involve lowered standards or quote systems. But if I oppose AA, does that mean that I must come up with some system other than equal standards for all?

One of John's commenters replied thus:

think the problem that anti-Affirmative Action folk need to address (and I consider myself a firm fence-sitter on the issue), is that it is not enough to JUST be against affirmative action. You need an alternative.

One might say, for example, "I am against affirmative action, but I am in favor of devoting whatever resources are necessary to guarantee that every needy person has sufficient resources to succeed by increasing all education funding, social services, and EEOC enforcement budgets." However, most politicians you find who are against affirmative action also tend to be against increased government spending.

So, if I'm an open-minded member of the NAACP and I say, "Blacks are underperforming. Affirmative action is helping to make up for that. If you want to get rid of it, what are you going to do to help black people succeed?" it is not enough to just say, "I want everyone to be treated equally." You are essentially acknowledging the problem, but not suggesting a solution that will actually improve it.

At this point, though, John wonders why it's not enough just to say " I want everyone to be treated equally." The issue is not about solutions to problems, but on agreeing what the problem really is:

My correspondent regards affirmative action as a solution to the problem of blacks “underperforming.”... Affirmative action, however, does nothing to solve that problem. All it does is to reduce the use of performance as a criterion for entry to college, occupations, etc., but the underperformance continues unabated...

But affirmative action is a solution to another problem: “underrepresentation.” If one believes that rights inhere in groups, not individuals, and that groups have a right to receive benefits (admission, hiring, appointments, whatever) in proportion to their numbers, then affirmative action is clearly and closely related to achieving that goal...

Which brings us to the question of demonstrating that critics of preferences “actually care.” All too often, in my view, the only evidence of “caring” that is acceptable is a willingness to spend more money. I certainly do not claim to speak for other critics of preferences, but for myself I can say, without fear of successful contradiction (as Sen. Sam Ervin used to say), that I would enthusiastically support greater spending on closing the performance gap if I thought the spending had a reasonable chance of some success.

Indeed, since I am convinced that double standards do much more harm than good, even or especially to the temporary beneficiaries, I believe that opposition to such double standards is itself proof of “caring.”

Bingo. The reason that people like John and I don't come up with some other method of "correcting" the "underrepresentation" is that we don't think that particular groups have the right to demand equitable representation on college campuses. We don't think that anyone should get extra points towards college admissions based on race.

We do think that college applicants should be academically prepared, and many current AA policies tend to admit applicants who are not prepared solely because of those applicants' contribution to campus "diversity;" hence, our opposition. But that opposition is not uncaring; we merely want students to go to colleges that are best for them, instead of going to colleges that are too challenging. Why is it racist, or uncaring, to want to prevent AA-admit students from enrolling in colleges from which they will flunk out in two years, while the college gets to bask in the glory of its "diversity"?

Our society owes black children nothing more or less than it owes all children, which is a good solid education. The prevalence of AA at the college level is, I think, an indicator that our society is failing in this regard, but it is not a solution to that failure. It merely points out that our public school system is doing such a poor job of educating black youth that some colleges have come full-circle from the ideals of integration, and now admit students based on race more than on accomplishments.

My "alternative" to AA is to remove the need for it, and that cannot be done until the K-12 educational system is held accountable for the students who pass through it.

Posted by kswygert at 03:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More hysteria over early graduation in Florida

About two months ago, I posted about my mystified reaction to critics who felt that students in Florida shouldn't be allowed to graduate a year early from high school after earning 18 credits instead of 24. The original Yahoo document about the new law is no longer active, but I quoted a bit from it, and I pointed out that those who worried about these kids missing out on such life-altering events as their senior proms were being ridiculous.

The original purpose of the suggested change in the law was to reduce overcrowding (by 2015, classes must be capped at 25 students), and to allow smart kids to start college - or life - year early if they chose. I was surprised at the critical response to this practical idea. A couple of my more cynical readers figured that schools wanted to keep the good kids in as long as possible to keep test scores up.

Well, Michael of Highered Education has the most recent news on this flap. Believe it or not, some critics still dithering on about the perils of graduating early:

In the Big Bend area, relatively few students are taking advantage of a new option that allows high-school students to graduate in three years. And some school administrators say they're glad about the low numbers.

"If I was a high-school counselor, I would not advise the average student to do it," said David Miller, superintendent of Wakulla County Schools.

Well, duh. It's not intended for the average student. It's intended for a student who does enough with 18 credits to get into college, or who has a job waiting on them, or who wants to pursue a military career, or what have you. It's not something to pushed on every student - but the option should certainly be there.

Miller said a local employer told him that the new law - which allows students to graduate with 18 credits instead of 24 - would mean some graduates would be less mature and less prepared for the real world.

What, you mean as opposed to how prepared they are now? According to this article, when Florida's seniors took the 10th-grade FCAT in 2003 as a practice run for next year (when the test will be required for graduation), 75% of them failed the Reading portion, and 61% failed the Math. I mean, that might be an argument for keeping kids in for many more years, but to suggest that Florida's seniors are getting a lot of crucial information down in that last year is ridiculous. These test scores suggest that a lot of 'em are only learning two years' worth of material in four.

The alternative was created to help meet a state constitutional requirement to reduce class sizes. Classes will be capped at 25 students in high schools by 2010. Students who choose that path aren't required to take physical education, a fine/practical art course and a life-management class.

Dude, if I had had a chance to get out of PE and something as touchy-feely as a "life-management class" in high school, I would have left in three years for sure, and to heck with the senior prom.

Naysayers contend students will miss out on electives that contribute to a well-rounded education and the opportunity to take additional academic courses, such as advanced-placement classes. They're also concerned that graduates won't be emotionally ready for college or work.

Why do these naysayers not understand that any kid who understands the importance of AP exams and who wants to get into a competitive college will stay in school? These kids aren't going to miss out on anything unless they choose to, and no kid is going to bypass an AP class if he thinks he'll need it. But some kids won't need that, and it's hard to believe that the 12th year is somehow crucial for the development of a kid who has already been admitted to community college, or plans to be a mechanic or a plumber, or who wants to take over the family store.

Merry Ortega, executive director of secondary schools for Leon County, said she personally wouldn't encourage students to graduate with six fewer credits. Not only will students miss some academic opportunities, they'll also miss social experiences, she said.

"It's for the very focused student who knows exactly what they want to do with their life and using the 18-credit option is the best way to get there," Ortega said.

As we all know, everyone has extremely positive social experiences in high school, right? I mean, come on. This option is a lifesaver for kids who don't like the cliqueish, often-brutal nature of high school society, who are smart enough to get out early, who are motivated and who do have a plan. These kids don't need condescending lectures about the important "social" experiences they'll be missing, as though high school juniors are still uncivilized apes.

Here's Michael's take on it, by the way:

These worries strike me as yet another manifestation of that mindset that says all children must be raised the same, that while we leave no child behind, we must also not let any child get too far ahead. It's the mindset I ran into when I was working at a public school teaching fifth graders about Shakespeare, reading through a play with them. They were getting most of it, working through the language with eagerness and a little skill. But their teachers complained to the Principal that it was inappropriate for them to be reading such advanced material when all of their peers were still struggling with Henry Huggins & Ramona Quimby.

Worrying about kids' maturity like this also betrays an assumption that somehow the public school experience itself helps "mature" kids...So lighten up. When you're kid is 17, they will be 17 no matter whether they are in high school or college or Kazakhstan. The time will pass for them, and they will have a year's worth of experiences to draw on. The only thing to ensure is that the year is not spent mindlessly in front of a Playstation.

Posted by kswygert at 03:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bondage in the heartland

Who knew attending Iowa State could be so exciting?

Iowa State University student leaders voted 21-9 Wednesday to grant funds to a student organization that teaches about bondage and other sexual fetishes.

The Government of the Student Body gave $94 to the group, called Cuffs. Leaders of Cuffs said they requested the money to promote the group and try to increase attendance at its meetings. Duane Long Jr., an ISU senior and Cuffs' president, said receiving the money was a big step. "Receiving the money is a triumph for diversity," he said.

Mike Banasiak, GSB president, said Cuffs met the standards for receiving money from GSB. "The way GSB works is that as a recognized student organization . . . if they meet certain criteria, we have to consider them for funding," he said. "They meet the criteria."

Tony Luken, speaker of the GSB Senate, acknowledged some personal qualms about Cuffs but said the organization did deserve funding. "They're a registered student organization, and any registered student organization can request funds from GSB," he said.

Dontcha love that nod to "diversity"? Duane Long certainly has his educrat speak down; by his definition, refusing to fund a "registered student organization" that is devoted to alternative sexual practices would be a blow against "diversity." Lord knows, we can't have that.

Of course, if one goes to examine Iowa State's political student groups, there is one Republican/conservative group out of a total of thirteen; I suppose that counts as "diversity."

Posted by kswygert at 02:54 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Mixed MEAP results mean less free money

Fewer Michigan seniors will be earning state college scholarships this year, due to a dip in MEAP scores on reading, writing, and math:

The mixed results meant only 51 percent of 2003 high school graduates earned $2,500 scholarships, compared to 54 percent of 2002 graduates. Students automatically qualify if they pass the reading, writing, math and science tests, but also can qualify in other ways.

Problem is, the aggregate scores were released late, and the school districts were frustrated.

Individually, students learned whether they won scholarships by early September, but aggregate scores weren't distributed in time to help school districts improve lesson plans because of delays caused by technical problems with the testing contractor, said Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education....

The release of scores was met with a mix of disbelief and frustration at school administration offices, some of which said they had yet to see the scores. Others claimed they were in the process of making corrections.

"This was an odd day for the state to release them," said Diane Blain, a spokeswoman for the 13,000-student Chippewa Valley Schools, which scored near state averages. "It was the deadline for schools (to offer corrections) on the scores. So you had some people trying to get online to make changes, and others trying to read their scores and the Web site was tied up."

Previous posting on MEAP-related headaches can be found here, here, and here.

Posted by kswygert at 11:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

NCLB not just dangerous, but "deadly"

This past week, I deconstructed an essay by a professor of education whose defeatist, anti-capitalist article essentially concluded that public schools should not be expected to educate all children; indeed, that until the world is made perfect, we can't expect public schools to do much of anything at all. The author cited Alfie Kohn, who is, as one of my commenters pointed out:

"...against competition -- but not just competition in schools. When you read Kohn's work, it sounds like it was written in the 1930s. He talks about "wasteful competition" in the economy, too. You know -- if only companies didn't have to advertise, if only they would all work together in the marketplace so there would be no winners or losers, etc."

Well, Alfie's brilliant - and practical! - ideas are back in evidence in yet another essay whining about the prevalence of testing and the "deadly effects" of the NCLB Act:

Author Alfie Kohn isn't a fan of standardized tests.

That much was evident during his presentation Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's School of Education Okray Colloquium. Dubbed "The Deadly Effects of 'Tougher Standards," Kohn's lecture ripped into the federal No Child Left Behind legislation..

"This is a system designed to make sure that all children will never succeed," Kohn said. "When they talk about rigorous testing and raising the bar, they mean ensuring failure for many of the students."

And, as Alfie does not want you to notice, that ensuring failure is something for which the schools should be held accountable. After all, if it is a given that children cannot do better when standards are raised, that suggests that something is so inherently wrong with the public school system that changes must be made. However, his conclusion is simply that we just shouldn't raise standards.

Teachers and parents shouldn't be concerned about raising standardized test scores, anyway, he said. The learning that matters isn't necessarily measured by standardized tests, he said.

He says blithely, providing no explanation and no data. Given that most if not all NCLB-related exams measure reading, writing, and arithmetic, I am assuming that he believes that these skills do not matter. I am also assuming that he believes that it isn't a national shame that so many of our public schoolchildren have not shown mastery of these core skills at a basic level. No, no, he's got a whole other universe of "learning" that "matters" defined in his head, one that somehow bypasses the need for learning to read.

"Standardized tests are an exquisitely accurate measure of the size of the houses near your schools," he said. "The tests stink. They measure what matters least..."

No, they're not an "exquisitely accurate" measure of house size; only someone unfamiliar with test reliability and standard errors of measurement would use this hyperbole, even to drive a point home. Yes, test results are similar to grades in that SES is related to a child's academic standing. That doesn't mean, however, as Alfie wants you to conlude, that children from poor backgrounds cannot achieve, nor that they cannot be expected to achieve. This does not mean that a child's educational attainment is beyond their control, nor beyond the school's control. If this were the case, then no child would have climbed from poverty, no child would have been the first in her family to go to college, no child would have done better than his parents.

Children have been able to do this in the past because the public schools they attended believed they could do it. Alfie wants to give schools a reason to give up on these kids. Despicable.

Leah Tappa, 22, president of the Association for the Education of Young Children, said "teachers are being held a little more accountable" even though they may not be at fault for students who don't do well on the standardized tests.

Oh, now that's exquisite. Here's a teacher celebrating an anti-achievement ideology that frees teachers from the requirement of having to prove they can do the one thing they've been hired to do; i.e., educate children. Ms. Tappa, I don't know if your desire to avoid accountability comes from an addled ideology or lack of self-esteem, but let me assure you, if you are standing in front of a room of small children in order to teach them the alphabet, it is indeed you who hold the power. You are their link to the world of literacy and if your charges come from poor background, then your efforts are even more important.

And ultimately you are accountable for how well they do; otherwise, why are you there?

Posted by kswygert at 11:36 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 05, 2003

Another comment about the new SAT

Michael of The Calico Cat blog - which has nothing to do with cats - wonders why a new SAT has been developed. As far as he's concerned, there was nothing wrong with the old one:

I take a break from writing about oil to write about the SAT. As you may be aware, the SAT was the subject of a cover article from Time magazine two weeks ago (yes, I know I'm a little late on this, but better late than never)...

Click here for my take on the aforementioned Time article.

It seems to me that the old SAT was working just fine, why do we need a new one? Of course there does seem to be a lot of people out there who dislike the SAT, but their reasons have never seemed very easy to fathom...

With the SAT being an important part of college admission, it shouldn't come as a surprise that upscale private schools are aiming to help their students do better on it. But surely the same will apply to the new SAT. So what's the point of changing it?

We need standardized testing, otherwise there would be no way to compare students from different high schools...Without standardized tests, elite colleges would wind up only taking students from elite high schools that they were familiar with, and students from high schools that were unfamiliar to the elite colleges would be at a severe disadvantage. Thanks to the SAT, a kid at a mediocre public high school can demonstrate that he's as equally qualified as a kid at a private prep school...

Many psychometricians have made this point. Few reporters have listened.

The new SAT will look less like an IQ test and more like a regular high school test. But there's no evidence that this will make the test more useful for selecting college students...

It's not as if people with high SAT scores and no other qualifications are sneaking undeservedly into Harvard and Yale. In fact, the opposite is true. A kid with a high SAT score but nothing else going for him (no extra-curricular activities and mediocre high school grades) will probably be rejected by Harvard and Yale.

I made that very same point in a response to an article a couple of weeks ago. Yet, the myth persists that people with rotten grades nonetheless get admitted to elite schools in huge numbers just because of high standardized test scores.

I find the graded essay to be the most worrisome part of the new SAT. Essays are much more difficult to grade than multiple choice questions. The cost of grading the SAT will increase, and the reliability will decrease. And college bound kids, instead of spending countless hours practicing analogies, will spend countless hours learning how to write in a way that the SAT graders will appreciate.

Dude. Thank you for repeating what I have said many a time. Of course, some might argue that kids learning to write in ways SAT graders will appreciate is an improvement over the current situation, but never mind. It's nice to see someone else point out the pitfalls of performance assessments.

Kids who want to do well on the new SAT will have to spend countless hours learning the "correct" way to write an SAT essay. I suspect that kids at non-college prep oriented high schools will be at a bigger disadvantage on the new SAT than on the old SAT. And the Time article suggests the same thing.

Those kids are currently at a disadvantage now anyway, because those kids are already less likely to learn how to write, period. At least now there will be more impetus for change in low-performing high schools that hope to send more kids to college. At least the new SAT sends the message that writing skills are important, and as I said before, I don't think it's by definition a bad thing that the SAT requirements might change what gets taught in schools.

Michael speculates that all of this is to try to help close the achievement gap, and he doesn't believe it will work. I said before that the new SAT might introduce more noise into the measurement, and might widen the score gap to boot. Will schools still be willing to stand behind the test if that's what happens?

Posted by kswygert at 03:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"Teaching" kids about homelessness

Blogger Interested Participant casts a cold eye over a high-school program to teach kids "increased awareness of homelessness":

Juniors and seniors at Roger Bacon High School will build their own Shantytown on Friday out of cardboard boxes at the school.

The cardboard town will open for the fourth consecutive year at 6 p.m. and will be torn down at 8 a.m. Saturday. Students will sleep in boxes with only the clothes on their back to increase awareness of homeless people and issues they face.

Presentations will be made by Betty Kelo, a resident of the Drop In Center, and Steve Sunderland of the Peace Village. There will be candlelight prayer vigils, a soup kitchen and a performance by the Bucket Boyz.

This reminds me of a rant by (I think) P.J. O'Rourke, in which he said he didn't understand why people felt they had to sleep in a box to understand that being homeless can be uncomfortable and upsetting. He also didn't get why that "understanding" had anything to do with actually alleviating the problems of homeless people.

I tend to agree; working in a soup kitchen is a helpful act, while sleeping in a cardboard box just to "experience" homelessness is not. This type of faux "experiencing" is as condescending as it is useless.

Interested Participant had some questions:

One other aspect of the "awareness program" needs to be addressed. Will their force-fed "awareness" include knowledge concerning the demographics of homeless people? Will they be told that homeless figures are customarily unverifiable and therefore consistently exaggerated? Will they be told that the greatest proportion of homeless people are substance abusers that eschew rehabilitation? I strongly suspect that these high school students will be inculcated with a "selective liberal awareness."

I say there's nothing wrong with teaching kids to have compassion for those less fortunate, but bypass the silly "experiencing" tasks and give them the facts, so that they can decide whether they want to spend their time working in soup kitchens or drug rehab centers.

Update: As Joanne Jacobs notes, this craze for "experiencing" or "feeling" over knowing doesn't stop with social causes; dig this high school history class that is all about "feeling" what it's like to be at war:

Social studies teachers across the country routinely try to teach their students "what things were like" at particular times and places in history. Many such lessons, however, are a waste of time. The Detroit News, for example, recently praised a teacher who built a life-size replica of a World War I trench with his students to help give them " a realistic feeling of being a [Word War I] soldier." Sixteen-year-old Jessica Harbin, faithfully parroting the party line, told the News that once students see the trench, "there will be a great impact in their understanding and knowledge of war." No word on whether rats, mud, influenza, dead bodies, and post-war mental problems are part of the lesson.

Um, yeah. All it takes is to see a life-size trench to really "impact" one's "understanding and knowledge of war." Why do I have the feeling that the "knowledge" the teacher was trying to convey was "War is bad," or "War is never necessary"?

Funny, but I always thought that an educated person was one who did not have to personally experience homelessness in order to research methods of reducing it, or one who did not have to fight in a war to understand the complicated, dangerous, and sometimes necessary nature of it. We seem to have made a 180 in public education; now "education" means you have "felt" something about a topic, rather than thought about it, or learned facts about it.

What's worse, these faux "experiences," which are not meant to generate anything except vaguely-focused emotional reactions, are probably not doing even that. You want kids to "understand" or "experience" war? Then take them to Auschwitz, or Pearl Harbor, or Ground Zero. I mean, if we're going to "teach" history by evoking emotion, let's at least unleash the real thing on them.

Posted by kswygert at 02:49 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Learning languages helps increase brainpower

A new trend: Second languages being taught in elementary schools.

For years, European and Asian children have been learning foreign languages at ages much earlier than their American counterparts, with some countries even requiring mandatory classes in grade school...

American families have recently been catching up, however. More public schools are offering languages in elementary grades, and parents are enrolling younger children in foreign language programmes, both public and private...

The trend has "been growing and growing," said Harriet Barnett, an educational consultant with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Numerous studies over the last few decades have shown that learning languages at young ages can stimulate brain development, making it easier to learn additional languages and other subjects. A 1996 position paper by the National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages, for example, acknowledged research that suggests early study of a language may help raise standardized test scores and improve cognitive skills.

That's not surprising. I always thought it was odd, given that most bilingual kids have no problem with learning two languages at home, that public schools didn't introduce formal education in a second language until high school. Even at that delayed point, it helps; I know my two years of Latin in high school greatly expanded my English vocabulary. But I would have loved the opportunity to be exposed to Latin or German earlier than I was.

Right on cue, here's an article which describes another "trend" - schools cutting back on foreign language programs due to the focus on basic skills:

After a decade of expansion of arts and foreign-language programs, particularly in elementary schools, many educators are warning that the subjects are in danger of being edged out of the curriculum as districts spend more time on reading, mathematics, and science.

From New York to Washington state, administrators have proposed cutbacks to other subjects as they struggle to meet the demands of state accountability programs and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Low-performing schools, observers say, are feeling the greatest pressure to spend more time building students' basic skills in order to raise test scores.

Emphasis mine. I can empathize with educators who would like to introduce second-languages in low-performing schools, but if they aren't teaching kids to read English effectively, would those second-language classes have helped?

Are schools really cutting out these arts and foreign language courses? The report cited in this article is based "primarily on anecdotal evidence from the field." However, it's not surprising that schools in trouble are focusing most on the subjects for which they have to report test scores. Low-performing schools thus have a choice - find a way to fund language and arts programs that give students a boost in the heavily-tested subjects as well, or temporarily cut the programs until everyone is up to speed in reading and writing.

Posted by kswygert at 01:23 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Teacher's "practical joke" causes panic

Well, it's nice to know the zero-tolerance policies apply to everybody in school:

A 42-year-old first-grade teacher at Washington-Reid Elementary School wrote a note claiming there was a bomb in the building, Prince William County police said Tuesday. The note was intended as a practical joke, police said, but Elizabeth Schuette, of Montclair, was charged with threatening to bomb.

The teacher was caught on video leaving the note near the school's front entrance Monday, said Detective Dennis Mangan and schools Superintendent Edward Kelly.

The note said: "There's a bomb in the school today," according to police.

Police said the note was left for another teacher, who was expected to be the next person in the door. Instead, it was found by a school employee about 7 a.m., and buses were diverted to John Pattie Elementary School. Everyone in Washington-Reid was evacuated.

The teacher is now on "administrative leave"; despite the videos, she has not yet been found guilty of anything. The administrators also allege that Shuette was one of the best teachers in school, which leaves me to ponder a few things:

(1) How good a teacher could she be, when she doesn't understand just how dumb it is to place a phony bomb threat as a "joke"?
(2) How bad must the other teachers in school be, when they are presumably less capable than she?
(3) What should we conclude about that "other teacher" for whom the note was intended? Was that other person the kind of teacher who would find a situation like Columbine hilarious, for example?
(4) What evidence, exactly, is the school waiting on in order to fire Shuette? An admission of ill-intent? Corroborating evidence? She was caught on video, for heaven's sakes (yet more evidence of her lack of "higher-order thinking skills).

Posted by kswygert at 01:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 04, 2003

No punishment where punishment is due

I had previously avoiding blogging this story, simply because I thought it was so appalling:

The Dallas Independent School District is investigating two students caught having oral sex in the middle of a classroom full of other students and an adult monitor.

District officials say a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were performing the sex act in the back of a science laboratory at Robert T. Hill middle school. Four witnesses say the girl was performing the act on the boy.

Donny Claxton with the DISD said the teacher was in a meeting, and the adult monitor on duty was apparently unaware of what was going on in the science class. Claxton said the fact that the students were having sex while under supervision of school personnel is very disturbing.

I think I'd have chosen a more extreme word than "disturbing," and a more extreme modifier than "very." This version of the story contains an even worse quote from Claxton:

"It's even more disturbing in society that a 12-year-old youngster is cognizant of such activity," [Claxton] said. "The fact that it happened in a classroom while an adult was present is almost inexcusable."

As Best of the Web puts it, "Almost? One wonders if there is anything that our public schools would consider just plain unacceptable." What on earth made Claxton put that word "almost" in there at the last minute? What was the reason for hedging his statements about an act this heinous?

As I said, I wasn't going to blog the story. But then today there's this follow-up:

Two students at a Dallas middle school won't face charges for engaging in a sex act during a science class recently.

Police tell the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that October 28th act between the 12-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy at Robert T. Hill Middle School was consensual. They also say the children's parents have asked that no charges be filed.

The adult who was monitoring the class when the act happened is reportedly on administrative leave.

School officials say the two students have been disciplined but won't comment on the nature of the discipline.

Apparently, this school doesn't have a set of those notorious zero-tolerance policies for minor offenses. You know, the policies that require expulsion when a 14-year-old commits the non-crime of writing in a private journal about a dream that involves violence , or that require criminal charges be filed when a 16-year-old shares his inhaler because he believes someone else's life is in danger.

Why isn't this school publicizing the punishment that these promiscuous students are receiving? Does the school have something to hide? Do the school administrators feel at least partially at fault? (They should.) I assume the parents want no charges filed because they want to protect the privacy of their children, but I bet the school has less compassionate motives in refusing to admit what disciplinary steps they've taken. My guess is that they have no idea of how to deal with this.

And "administrative leave"? Get real. That "adult monitor" should be fired.

Posted by kswygert at 02:05 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Should schools focus on increasing test scores, or decreasing bullying?

Is our nation's drive for testing-related accountability really squeezing public school budgets to the point where necessary programs are being cut in response? Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post thinks so:

Derrick Shaver admits that he used to be a bully. At his suburban elementary school near Denver, the fourth-grader would call classmates ugly names, and he lost friends as a consequence. Then a new school program taught other kids how to tell him to stop. The 9-year-old said he got the message...

The program was started two years ago at Vivian Elementary School in Lakewood, Colo., about 12 miles from the site of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School. It engages every child and adult in an effort to instill respect for others: Students are taught that bullying is not acceptable; that bystanders should get involved; and, contrary to what they might think, bullies are not cool...

But at a time when these concerns are rising, the ability of many schools to respond is being hampered, according to researchers...state and local budget cuts, along with heightened emphasis on raising standardized test scores, are squeezing out anti-bullying efforts -- particularly the time-consuming programs that appear to work the best.

Since President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative became law last year, "schools and districts are under a lot of pressure to make those [test] scores go up," said Janice Sellers, principal of Quincy Elementary School in Topeka, Kan. "We have to decide what we are going to work on. Unfortunately, those kinds of issues, like bullying, are getting a back seat."

Some of those who take issue with the removal of programs such as the anti-bullying efforts say that teachers simply cannot teach effectively if the environment is not "peaceful"; in other words, trying to make test scores go up while kids are punching one another is impossible. Other educators claim that perhaps bullying is not more prevalent, just more noticed. Some claim that tough discipline codes are all that is needed; others believe that recent discipline codes tend to be too tough (i.e., zero-tolerance).

One success story of an anti-bullying program is related:

Marty Gies learned that lesson in the early 1990s. He had been principal of Ross Elementary School in Topeka for less than a month when a second-grade girl was thrown to the ground by six schoolmates and sexually assaulted. Gies said he soon realized that the attack was not isolated but part of a pattern of bullying that led some kids to stay home because they didn't feel safe.

Gies sought help from [researcher Stuart] Twemlow, and over time they implemented a comprehensive plan to change the school's climate. Not only were interventions worked out with students identified as bullies and victims, but the spectators -- kids who watched bullies at work and did nothing to stop them -- were also involved in the program, along with every adult at the school.

Academic achievement went up, and suspensions plummeted, said Gies, who moved to another elementary school three years ago and implemented a version of the anti-bullying program to fit that group of children.

"You need to teach kids respect," he said. "And you need to teach everybody that they are part of the solution. If you are in class and something is happening and you are letting it happen, you are just as much of a problem as the person doing it."

I agree. The schools that need to combat bullying the most are often the schools that need to improve education the most as well; hence the financial crunch. When things are as bad as they were at Principal Gies' school ("bullying" is too mild a term for what happened to that second-grade girl), it's obvious that trying to teach kids to read has to at least temporarily take a back seat to teaching them that assaulting each another is not acceptable. It will be necessary for such schools to find ways to allocate funds efficiently so that administrators and teachers can both teach appropriate behavior and reading skills.

Gies' also makes the very relevant point that schools do need to set a firm example by teaching everyone - students and teachers alike - that they are responsible for the safeness of schools. Students should not feel as though discipline is merely imposed upon them; they should realize that they have the power themselves to create a safer environment.

Posted by kswygert at 11:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Show me the money (trail)

Students in Hamilton County, Tennessee are just now making up ground they lost, test-score-wise, in the late 1990's. Author and lecturer Dr. Don Drennon-Gala wonders where all the money earmarked for education has been going:

In essence, the students have not recovered to the original test scores, therefore any increase is considered a movement toward the original scores. When the students are scoring 1 to 2 points above the original scores, then we will have something to celebrate. Until then, we have observed five years of failure that has cost an additional $60 to $70 million dollars in taxpayer’s hard earned money.

Recently, a few schools came off of the State probation list. We still have more than 4 schools on the list. So, where is the achievement? We still have more schools on the State list than we did in 1998...

If we were to do a simple correlation study, we would see an inverse relationship between money and school performance. What this means is that the more money poured into this education system the worse the student performs.

Considering this dilemma, why would we entertain providing more money to the public schools? Why would the School Board advocate more money when the present amount of money has failed to provide any improvements?

Dr. Drennon-Gala then references this article by Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C. Mr. Jennings provides seven questions to ask about education reform, and points out that testing and accountability alone will not improve education:

These are the questions we all ought to ask about test-based reform:
• To teachers: Are you receiving what you need to effectively teach the subjects you are assigned to teach?
• To principals and school superintendents: Are kids who are not doing well being given extra time and attention so they can improve?
• To business leaders: Are you willing to support efforts to provide schools with sufficient funds to enable teachers and students to reach higher goals?
• To School board members: Are you ensuring stable leadership in the schools and efficient management of the funds entrusted to you for the education of our children?
• To elected leaders: Are you providing the schools what they need to meet the higher demands of new academic standards and tests?
• To parents: Are you taking responsibility for your children’s education by keeping contact with the school and holding your children accountable for academic work?
• To all citizens: Are all of us doing enough to help in the education of the next generation? Are we willing to support bond issues and higher taxes if they help the schools? Do we show respect to teachers and appreciation to them for what they are doing?

Dr. Drennon-Gala believes that "efficient management of the funds" provided in Tennessee is not present, and thus the discrepancy between huge amounts of funds pouring in, and tiny test score increases coming out:

The problem is the majority of the school board members and the Superintendent. Who else can be blamed for this fiscal dilemma? These people are responsible, and the “buck stops” with them.

Posted by kswygert at 10:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 03, 2003

Forcing "diversity" on students

Those of you who are Devoted Readers might remember seeing the name Chetly Zarko (it's rather memorable) here a few months back; he was the one who noticed that the U of Michigan seemed to be covering up survey results that didn't conform to the college "diversity" mantra. He's written more about it here, if you're interested.

Anyway, Chetly recently linked to this bizarre story on his website. I thought I'd seen some pretty obnoxious examples of forced "diversity" and social engineering before, but this Californian (where else?) principal takes the cake:

Almost every year, Principal Eric Hartwig hatches a new plan to help students at the ultra-diverse Menlo-Atherton High School mix and mingle a little more.

But it's harder than it might seem to bring together the teens from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

After his first year as principal, Hartwig closed the campus, meaning students could no longer leave during lunch.

``Kids with cars -- the wealthier kids -- tended to be the kids who left,'' Hartwig said. As the Atherton, Portola Valley and Menlo Park teens drove off, they left behind opportunities to become acquainted with their less-affluent classmates from East Palo Alto, eastern Menlo Park and Redwood City.

Since then, privileged students have been eating lunch in and around their cars. So this year, the principal closed the parking lot.

Some students say Hartwig's eight-year effort to integrate the campus is succeeding, at least incrementally. But when pressure isn't applied, the teens tend to self-segregate in the courtyard and in classes that lack seating charts.

``It's complicated,'' Hartwig said. ``We're trying to change a social institution. It doesn't happen overnight.''

Wow. I'm just....stunned by Principal Hartwig's condescension, and pretentiousness, and his overwhelming desire to direct and control the most tiny of student freedoms. In other areas, he appears to have created a success story. The school apparently does a great deal to make all students feel comfortable, and their academic improvement record speaks for itself.

But students should be allowed to decide who their friends are, and who their lunchmates are. That is NOT "self-segregation" - it's called freedom of assembly. Notice that the principal did not say anything about encouraging the less-affluent kids to go off at lunchtime with their richer classmates. It's obvious that he assumes that it's the wealthier kids who are in need of "diversity" in their private lives; thus he restricts their lives at this one point in their day where there's no seating chart.

Why? Because he assumes that teenagers have no right to choose their own friends? Because he views his underprivileged students as tokens to provide "diversity" for all those affluent kids? Because he assumes that the rich kids must be racist, elitist snots who will stereotype every minority unless they are forced to associate with them? Because he assumes his students are not smart enough to know why they've been restricted to the building during lunchtime? Because controlling every aspect of a student's life is expected of principals these days?

I can't think of any other reason that a principal would so matter-of-factly perform such an arrogant act. It's not compassionate, it's not thoughtful, it's not promoting affection between students - in fact, it's probably creating resentment. I know I'd resent it if I thought that a principal was using my free lunch time to create his own little perfectly-integrated world. It's obvious that Hartwig wants the campus climate to change, but some aspects of teenage society cannot be forced. For all his good works, can't he have at least a little bit of faith in his students; can't he just let them eat where they want, and assume that some diverse friendships will indeed form on their own?

Chetly thinks that seating charts during lunch are soon to come at this school. I think he might be right.

Posted by kswygert at 08:34 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Where educrats come from

Via Joanne Jacobs, here's a doozy of a research paper that questions the "wisdom" being taught at graduate schools of education today. I'll skip right to the good stuff in the Conclusions section:

Based upon our sampling of the coursework requirements in some of the most highly regarded schools of education, we doubt that most schools of education are doing an adequate job conveying essential knowledge and skills to prospective teachers. The foundation and methods courses we reviewed suggested that faculty at most of these schools are too often trying to teach an ideology to teachers – that traditional knowledge is repressive in its very nature – without offering any substantial readings that question the educational implications of this view.

Instead of focusing on how teachers can best prepare students to learn in the current real world environment of performance-based assessment and content-rich curricula, many of the Schools of Education we reviewed teach a profound suspicion for that world. This surely presents the risk of producing only confusion, resentment, and, too often, an early exit from the teaching profession. At their best, there is important work being done in some of the programs that we reviewed. The presence of clear national standards in mathematics has clearly helped to shape the teaching of mathematics methods courses, although too often those courses lack rigor in their own assessments. To a lesser degree, the national movement towards the teaching of phonics in reading has had some impact on the reading preparation programs...

In particular, student teaching has to be much more rigorously focused on assessments of effectiveness: what did the children learn, and how can the teacher give evidence of that learning? Professors at Schools of Education are not watching their students teach in schools, even on videotape: how in such circumstances can they offer effective and useful instruction on how to teach better?...

The Schools of Education we reviewed are neither preparing teachers adequately to use the concrete findings of the best research in education, nor are they providing their students with a thoughtful and academically rich background in the fundamentals of what it means to be an outstanding educator...

All emphases mine. And don't miss the comments on Joanne's site. There's quite a lively debate going on there. In particular, one Andy Freeman seems to be fighting several people at once, using both hands and one of his feet - and he's doing quite well at it.

Posted by kswygert at 05:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In a perfect world, there's no need for accountability

From Charleston (WV), here's a personal essay in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, written by a professor of education who questions the usefulness of standardized tests, accountability, and education in general:

Few who have written on the subject [of standardized testing and school accountability] question the assumption that high-stakes testing equals true reform.

Really? I see people questioning it all the time. If anything, the media often seems inclined towards the assumption that standardized tests are flawed, biased, unfair, or unnecessary. If few writers had anything negative to say about testing, I never would have begun this blog.

House Speaker Bob Kiss, in fact, wrote that “Democratic lawmakers and educators agree wholeheartedly” with the conceptual foundation of the No Child Left Behind act. Perhaps he associates with educators with whom I am unacquainted. Many of my colleagues and graduate students, teachers and administrators themselves question the wisdom of substituting “standards-based accountability” for genuine educational improvement.

How many of her colleagues and graduate students have been able to show why standards-based accountability cannot go hand-in-hand with genuine educational improvement? Is there any reason to assume that it cannot? And notice that parents are not mentioned here among those who might be questioning the wisdom of accountability. I don't think it's a coincidence that they were left out of this discussion by the author.

First, as the Gazette’s Oct. 12 editorial recognizes, it is nonacademic factors that best explain the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared.

Education Week reports that a study of math results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that a combination of four factors accounted for 89 percent of the differences in state scores — number of parents living in a child’s home, parents’ educational background, type of community where students live, and poverty rates.

Analyses of state tests have found comparable results. Those findings are no surprise to educators, who are familiar with more than 30 years of research confirming the data.

The author presents this as an argument against standards, but couldn't it also be read as an argument against education itself? If 89 percent of the variance between schools is explainable by the background factors, why educate children at all? Doesn't the reliance on this statistic suggest that a child's educational attainment is all-but-predetermined at birth? It seems odd that a professor of education would use this statistic.

I've been all over the Education Week and NAEP websites, and I can't find any reference to a study showing that those demographic variables explain such a huge amount of variance. Regardless, these alleged results only apply to the math portion of the NAEP norm-referenced exam. What about the reading portion, or all the other areas of the exam?

What's more, some would argue that it is bad schooling that has kept children in bondage to those "non-academic" factors not under their control. As E.D. Hirsch puts it, the children from poor backgrounds are more dependent on the quality of their schooling than the children from more privileged backgrounds. To say that children cannot be helped simply because their parents did not go to college is to abdicate any responsibility to help those children who need it the most.

Second, norm-referenced tests were never meant to evaluate the quality of either teaching or learning.

The Stanford Achievement Test, which West Virginia used through the past year, is designed so that only about half the test-takers will respond correctly to most items.

The primary objective of these tests, as researcher and author Alfie Kohn points out, is “to rank, not to rate; to spread out the scores, not to gauge the quality of a given student or school.” To use them in that fashion is not only unfair, but dangerous, particularly in light of the sanctions which can be leveled when a student or school fails to perform “up to standard.”

Here, I have to say that while I believe NAEP is a useful mechanism for comparing schools, one can certainly argue that schools should be measured with the use of criterion-referenced tests instead of norm-referenced tests (for more discussion of these types of tests, click here). However, until everyone in the nation can agree on what those criteria are, there's no way to compare schools across the nation to one another without using the norm-referenced exams that are taken by students in every state.

It's a bit of a dilemma, but it is by no means proof that tests such as NAEP cannot be used to compare performance across schools. It just means that to come up with a system of accountability that is standards-based requires that we develop those standards, and that hasn't yet been accomplished.

Speaker Kiss and others were quite specific on this matter in a Jan. 6 column, noting that the Legislature’s understanding of “accountability” involves “a system of sanctions and rewards.” Sanctions and rewards, however, are not opposite concepts. They are, in fact, quite similar.

One leads students and schools to ask what will happen if they don’t perform; the other, what they’ll get if they do. Like the proverbial carrot and stick, both elicit only temporary compliance, and neither encourages what’s surely a more appropriate question: Is there any real learning going on here?

Is there any reason to assume that there is not? Rewards and sanctions are used to teach children a great deal in their early years, and such methods do not cheapen the learning. Life itself involves sanctions and rewards, but simply because a reward is offered for good academic performance does not imply that the performance is artificial, and just for the sake of the reward.

It isn’t standards that are in short supply here. It’s common sense.

Many advocates of high-stakes testing have not merely ignored but contemptuously dismissed the relevance of the points raised above. Explanations about the impact of socioeconomic status or the failure of standardized tests to measure genuine student learning are written off as “excuses.” This is both disingenuous and thoughtless, and, like any other attempt to diminish the relevance of circumstances, ultimately serves the interests of those fortunate enough not to face them.

I disagree. The assumption being made by the author here is that people who think that poor children can scale great academic heights, despite having the SES deck stacked against them, are not only unrealistic, but elitist to boot. Why assume that all those in favor of standards-based accountability are "fortunate enough" not to face the circumstances? Some of those most in favor of accountability are called "parents," and they do indeed face the circumstances, mainly when confronted with schools who believe that a low level of performance is all that can be expected of children from a certain demographic.

It can be argued that high-stakes tests have precisely the opposite effect their advocates claim. The movement driven by what Kiss described as “an aggressive measurement and accountability system” essentially lowers meaningful expectations. Schools are encouraged to use a one-dimensional tool to measure student achievement.

That's because such one-dimensional tools are often the most reliable and most useful for accountability. That doesn't limit schools to teaching in a one-dimensional sense, however.

Growing disparities among our children are not so much neutralized by public schools as they are reflected in them. Until we insist on more equitable funding for schools, on decent salaries, and on more support for social services designed to help those in need; until we can ensure decent housing and access to adequate health care; and until we establish job opportunities for those who have none, performance standards for large numbers of children will be inaccessible and immaterial. And our schools, as Geoffrey Rips notes, “as the last large mediating institutions in our society, will continue to mediate inequity.”

Ah, so that's is what all this bleating is about. The author is just angry that these demographic differences exist in the first place. So, to recap, this professor - of education, mind you - is declaring public schools to be absolutely useless at educating any students who comes from a poor background, such schools being completely at the mercy of the raw material with which they are working (i.e., the students). It will be only when everyone is born equal, and there's an unlimited amount of money to give to those who don't have any, and we can guarantee jobs for everyone, that we can reasonably expect schools to leave no children behind.

In other words, when cradle-to-grave socialism is successfully instituted in the US, or when pigs fly. Whichever comes first.

Posted by kswygert at 03:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

One approach to the new SAT in SC

Hilton Head Island (SC) schools are gearing up to help their students perform well on the new SAT. The article is chock-full of useful information for parents:

Because of the wide-reaching effect of the change, Hilton Head High School already is preparing students for the new format of the test...All teachers are including a reading or writing activity in each class everyday...Teachers select activities that are based on the content of the class...All students also have access to a computerized independent study program called "Skills Tutor"...

Aretha Rhone-Bush, principal of the new Bluffton High School that will open in 2004, said the school's curriculum review team already is planning how the school will help students do well on the new SAT and other standardized tests.

The biggest change in the SAT is the addition of the writing section, she said. Because lot of people in this country don't write well, the addition of a writing component is a "move in the right direction," she said.

The curriculum team is planning a structured approach to improving students' math, English and higher-order thinking skills, Rhone-Bush said. On Fridays, all math and English classes will participate in activities to improve critical thinking skills, reading comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and oral and written expression, she said.

These skills are the basis for all student learning and for any standardized test, she said...

The new section will contain multiple-choice questions and an essay. According to information on the College Board's Web site, it will test students' grammar, usage and word-choice skills.

The verbal section will be renamed the critical reading section. It no longer will include analogies. Instead, it will add short reading passages. The test will continue to have long reading passages.

The math section will continue to cover geometry and algebra I and will add skills students learn in algebra II.

Because of the revisions, the students' test-taking time will increase about 30 minutes to three hours and 35 minutes. And with the increase in time will come an increase in the fees students will pay to take the test. Students now pay $28.50 and that will increase by $10 to $12 with the new version...

Students who can't afford the test fee can apply for a waiver...

Posted by kswygert at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cheaters never win - in Illinois

Last Thursday, it was reported that a professor from the University of Chicago had been hired to analyze the fluctuating test scores from Illinois's School District 189. This district encompasses poverty-stricken East St. Louis, and the professor, one Dr. Steven Levitt, has developed statistical methods that uncover cheating behavior.

It was Dr. Levitt's methods that were used to uncover a rash of teachers who were cheating in Chicago last year (lucky for Dr. Levitt that all these rich datasets were available, eh?). State panel member Richard Mark is sure that something fishy is happening with Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) scores in East St. Louis as well. Dr. Levitt is not charging for his services, which involves the assessment of large spikes in test scores followed by a leveling off, or even a decline, in scores after the effect of cheating disappears.

And what do you know? Today, we read that Younge Middle School in East St. Louis, which posted a big jump in test scores last year, tested only 69% of the school's eligible students that year (NCLB requires that 95% of each subgroup be tested). Those excluded were, apparently, primarily Younge's special education students:

Younge Middle School students posted some of District 189's highest standardized test scores last spring after dozens of special education students were kept from taking the test.

Superintendent Nate Anderson acknowledged Principal Terrence Curry was wrong to exclude the special education students from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. It also is a breach of federal law...

Interviews with Younge students and their parents...indicate nearly 100 Younge special education students failed to take the ISAT in April. Meanwhile, a similar number of special education students in grades six through eight were barred from taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills last week.

Principal Curry earns over $70,000 a year, and it's not yet been decided what, if any, punishment he will recieve. Dr. Levitt is still scheduled to examine the rest of the scores in the area, but it doesn't take a U of Chicago egghead to figure out where the problem lies at Younge Middle School.

Posted by kswygert at 02:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

By the way....

I had a great Halloween - got dressed up, gave away a ton of candy, had seven close friends over for a little party.

Some folks didn't have as good a time. This guy, for example, decided to visit the tourist trap known as Salem (MA) on Halloween and got stabbed for his troubles. And then there's this fool, who vandalized a woman's house after his trick-or-treating son allegedly failed to recieve candy from her. Um, Pops, it's the kids who are supposed to "trick" when they don't get "treated."

Finally, this saucy student decided to go to school dressed as "Safe Sex." The Osceola High (FL) administrators took umbrage at her condom-covered t-shirt, and the fact that said condoms were being distributed to other students, and suspended offending student Lanessa Riobe for three days.

This is my favorite part of the article:

To Lanessa Riobe, who said she's never been in trouble at school before, wearing a T-shirt that advocates safe sex is no different from wearing one that says "I love Jesus" or "I love Satan."

Is she implying that students at her high school have been spotted with both of these t-shirts on? And does she not understand that a t-shirt which says "Practice safe sex" is a wee bit different from a t-shirt that is essentially a free condom vending machine?

Posted by kswygert at 12:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Two for the price of one

Twelve-year-old Mason Kisner of Rio Rancho (NM) says he was just taking advantage of a misprogrammed Pepsi-Cola machine that gave him two sodas for the price of one. The school claims Mason "manipulated" the machine from the outside (an act that Pepsi-Cola claims is impossible) and gave him an in-school suspension for being a thief. The incident is allegedly the "talk of the town" in Rio Rancho.

My advice is, move to Rio Rancho right now. I mean, if the school has a spot in the suspension classroom for kids who get two cans of soda for the price of one, and the town has no more pressing topic for talk radio and local news broadcasts than these types of shenanigans, I'd say it sounds like a pretty safe (if somewhat slow-paced) place to live.

Update: Hold on a minute. Best of the Web points out that Rio Rancho High School is the very same school where a teacher brandished a gun - and yet was still offered a teaching contract, pending outcome of his trial - while one student was suspended for having a one-inch penknife, and another was jailed for five days for having a hunting knife in his car.

In other words, Rio Rancho seems to be Ground Zero for Zero-Tolerance Idiocy. I foresee Lawsuit # 3 being filed against the school in the near future...

Posted by kswygert at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The good and bad sides of school report cards

An overview of school accountability, from MaineToday.Com:

Maine eductors...have long fought the practice of grading schools based on student performance. When the Maine Educational Assessment - the state's standardized test - was established in the mid-1980s, state officials promised that the data would not be used "like a basketball score in the paper"...

School "report cards," though, are common in other states. Long before the federal No Child Left Behind Act arrived...many states were giving parents information on school performance. Some experts warn that unless Maine educators embrace public accountability, the state's schools are in danger of falling behind.

"It has become a way we do business in education in most places," said Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, one of the groups that pushed for No Child Left Behind. "Maine is one of the last states to move in this direction."

For schools to be accountable and for reform to occur, the public must have a way to evaluate the performance of schools, proponents say.

For schools that do poorly, lists that grade school performance - like the ones released by Maine's education department last month - give principals the leverage to prod teachers to do things differently, and for politicians to provide more money, they say. High-performing schools provide examples of teaching methods that work best.

Moreover, they say, the data must be given to the public, not just to administrators for examination in the privacy of their offices.

"We need to be able to tell how our schools are doing," said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, which has been ranking schools since 1997. "This is important information that holds schools accountable for student performance."

Kentucky, which has moved from the bottom of national rankings to somewhere in the middle, gives cash to schools that do well; schools that do poorly get more teacher training.

Posted by kswygert at 10:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Let's hear it for the parents!

Where does test success begin? At home, according to the Stevens Point Journal (WI):

Brenda Roth plans to ensure that her 9-year-old daughter, Taylor, gets a good night's sleep Monday so she's at her best when it's time to darken the ovals on the standardized test forms Tuesday.

Then again, Roth said that's business as usual at their house - even on school days that don't include the high-stakes standardized testing. "For any school day, it's important for them to have a good night's sleep and a good breakfast," she said. "It helps them think clearer."

As fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students throughout the state prepare to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations, educators are urging parents to do their part to help them succeed...

The article also provides tips for parents:

* Try to avoid scheduling appointments that would cause the child to miss school during test dates.

* Read, read, read. Research shows that the more your child reads, the better he will do on the tests.

* Ensure your child gets a good night's sleep and a good breakfast, but they should be doing that anyway.

* Don't be over-anxious. Don't put too much pressure on the child.

That last part is key. Many anti-testing activists who complain about the negative effects of test anxiety are in fact doing much to perpetuate that test anxiety, by convincing parents that their kid will never get a fair shake. A parent's positive, supporting, and encouraging attitude can make all the difference.

Posted by kswygert at 10:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Busy busy busy

There's no way on God's green earth that I'll get to blog much today; things are too busy around here. Lots of interesting articles out there, though; I'll link to as many as I can, but with more concise commentary than I usually manage.


The decision to implement a campus-wide standardized exam at SUNY is drawing even more fire. In June, the SUNY Board of Trustees in June voted for these assessments, but campus faculty senates on 14 campuses have passed resolutions opposing them.

The proposed assessment is intended to "measure student achievement in math, communication, critical thinking, information management, and understanding of methods scientists and social scientists use to explore phenomena." Critics say this exam is a waste of limited funds.


Will issues with the flawed MEAP process in Michigan lead to a big revision in the test? Some superintendents say the MEAP isn't a good fit for NCLB because its standards are too tough. Could a national standardized test be the answer?


Florida thinks it has found a solution to the delayed-scores problem that plagued the MEAP - computers will be used to score FCAT essays. Not surprisingly, one critic calls this a "nightmare" of "speculative technology"; such critics are apparently unaware that this technology has been one of the most thoroughly-researched topics in testing over the past few years. ETS has one of the more well-known essay raters, e-rater®, but other testing companies have been busily developing their own. Of course, things can still go wrong with computerized essay scoring, but enough has gone right so far that it's premature to label this a disaster in the making.

However, computerized (or online) testing is not easy, nor is it cheap, and it may be the inevitable security or scheduling or cost issues that makes an online FCAT unworkable. I doubt the computerized essay scoring segment of the assessment would be the real stumbling block.


Some parents in Berkeley (CA) are unhappy with recent test scores at Rosa Parks Elementary School. All the other schools in Berkeley are meeting standards, but this is the fourth year that Rosa Parks has failed to do so. The district must now create a plan to overhaul the school, which is moving further away from the state target scores while other schools move closer.

In response, the parents claim that the school is not failing their children, but the standardized testing program is. Much of what the parents have to say, though, contradicts any theory that the test is the problem:

“The community is very motivated here,” said Cathy Duenas, the mother of a fifth grader, who said she was more concerned about the tests themselves than the student’s performances. She echoed several parents who expressed concerns about a district-wide trend toward larger class size, citing her son’s math class, which has one teacher for 37 students.

And this is a criticism of the If the school isn't providing adequate education, then the school, which also did not begin its required English tutoring program until February of this year, is to blame.

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack