September 30, 2004

Hummingbird hands

Sorry for the non-bloggage. All my spare time has been spent scrubbing down my house, raking leaves, and dressing the cats in little bowties in honor of the impending visit by my parents tomorrow. That'll be the first time they find out about the ring. Gonna be quite a visit.

It's also my birthday tomorrow, and in honor of it one of my coworkers brought in nuclear-strength three-layer brownies today. The three layers are (1) rich fudge brownies (2) thick buttercream icing and (3) dark chocolate. My fingers are trembling so bad from all the sugar (the recipe calls for four cups) that I'm finding it difficult to type. Seriously.

Bloggage will resume once life, and my pancreas, calm down.

Update: Devoted Reader Independent George says:

So wait - you told us before you told your parents? Aww, shucks. I bet they won't be happy to hear that, though...

You know, I didn't think about this until I read his comment, then I realized - I told you guys before I told anyone. Seriously. I didn't tell everyone at work until Monday, and then I was so busy at work that I didn't email all my friends until Wednesday! And no one in my family knows yet!

So all of my Devoted Readers were the first to know. It's telling that while I was able to wait to tell about this, I simply could not wait to blog it.

Update #2: Not only did the cats completely reject the bowtie idea, but my older, more jaded cat looks distinctly unimpressed by the ring:

alice_ring_2.jpg

Posted by kswygert at 02:14 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 27, 2004

Let's all hold hands and sing!

In an email, Devoted Reader and fine edublogger Daryl Cobranchi said, "You've got to see this." And he was right:

Bob Dylan they ain't, but the musicians featured on "No Child Left Behind? Bring Back The Joy" bring just as much passion and protest to what they view as an abomination of the 21st century: federal education policy. No Child Left Behind Songs.

The recently released folk album features 15 songs by professional folk singers, educators and children's choirs. What makes them unique is the subject matter. Lyrics urge support for schools, less emphasis on standardized tests, and freedom for teachers to teach and students to learn.

"I believe in what I call reform, but this [federal policies] isn't reform," says Cap Lee, a retired Milwaukee educator and the inspiration behind the album. "This is damage...

Inspiration for the album struck when Lee was visiting an alternative school in Birmingham, Ala., with other educators, parents, musicians and authors.

"Cutting out recess? It's insanity," Lee says. "It doesn't make any sense. It's
like telling a teacher they can't have a break or a superintendent that they can't go to a conference. So what did they do in the '50s and '60s down in Birmingham? They sang. We thought, 'Why don't we do the same thing to protest [judgments of school quality] on a single standardized test?' Music is a great form of communication."

For now, let's leave aside the condescension, arrogance, and historical ignorance that is required to equate - with a straight face - a folk album protesting school reform with marchers (who were denied the rights to vote, work, or be treated equally by the law) getting battered by fire hoses and attacked by police dogs. Let's just skip over that nasty stuff and appreciate these fine, fine, lyrics:

Track No. 6, "Test the Kids" (to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It"):

No Child Left Behind says test the kids/While teachers are maligned, test the kids
If the CEOs are liars, put the kids' feet to the fire/Shouting "Vouchers, we desire!" test the kids.
If your schools they are crumbling, test the kids/And Congress it is bumbling test the kids.
Business wants more competition and public school demolition/It's a hunting expedition, test the kids.

I don't care if that sounds good while sung. It doesn't even make sense. Is it supposed to be anti-voucher? Pro-crumbling schools? Against making judgments about bad teachers and bad teaching? Against any sort of competition in schools? But that can't be right, given that the proceeds go to an alternative school, the World Of Opportunity. Of course, it's not really a surprise that Susan Ohanian is involved with this, because she's a proud "test resister" who happily quotes anti-testing "experts" like Monty Neill on her website.

I suppose it's no surprise in general that the hippies who have refused to grow up have latched on to opposing NCLB, opposing vouchers, and opposing school choice. But I think they might find it surprising how many minority families disagree with them. I'm all for alternative schools, but I also believe that it's just as silly to insist that true education can't happen in conjuction with testing as to claim that testing, in and of itself, will improve education.

Posted by kswygert at 08:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Education/testing round-up

Yes, I'm officially distracted from just about everything but The One Ring to Rule Him All (heh), but here are a few tidbits from the news and blogs of late:

-----

Tereza Heinz Kerry speaks out on education (and check out that scary pic):

In terms of education, Heinz Kerry blasted Bush's No Child Left Behind reform measure as an unfunded mandate that has increased bureaucracy. Schools have been hampered rather than helped by its mandatory assessments, she said, and some extracurricular activities are falling by the wayside as schools teach to the tests.

"Tests should be a measure that is enabling, not disabling," Heinz Kerry said. "Tests that are a trap are sinful."

"Sinful"? I thought President Bush was supposed to be the religious fanatic. Elizabeth Edwards says testing is nice and cheap, though. Maybe the idea of something that doesn't cost a lot is what gets Heinz-Kerry's gander up?

-----

Freeven of Mental Hiccups wants to cut out the middleman and pay parents for their kids' high test scores:

What if we said to a parent, “We’ll give you $1000 if your kid does well on the NAEP test; we’ll give you $2000 if he does great?” I have to believe that an extra grand or two would motivate a parent to make sure his kid does his homework and shows up for school on time and ready to learn. I have to believe that parent would be in the face of teachers and administrators who don’t do their jobs. I have to believe that such a program would be especially motivating to poor, minority, and single parents, who need the that extra money and whose kids typically perform poorly.

So, who thinks that the type of people who blow a gasket over the idea of giving teachers merit pay would go nuclear over this idea? Me, for one.

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If you feel like subscribing to Time (or already have a password), they've just published an article about how schools might be leaving gifted students behind by not allowing them to skip ahead.

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Are science and grammar obsolete, inscrutable, and of no use to today's kids? Well, schools are certainly acting like it. Erin O'Connor is now teaching high school instead of college students; here are her observations about the grammar skills of her young charges (link via Joanne Jacobs):

My colleague and I distributed the worksheet as an informal diagnostic, a way of gauging just where on the grammar curve our students are. What we discovered did not surprise us particularly...Most high school students these days are not on the grammar curve at all. The parts of speech are largely mysterious to them; the rules of punctuation and agreement are likewise unfamiliar. Semi-colons, colons, and dashes do not come into play in their writing because they do not know what they are for. Sentence fragments abound because many do not know that a sentence requires a subject and a verb, nor can they tell reliably when something is a subject and when something is a verb. Forget about objects and indirect objects, simple and compound sentences, subordinate clauses and participial phrases: such terminology is Greek to the vast majority of them.

Don't get me wrong. Kids today are as smart, creative, and sharp as ever. Their grammar deficit is not their fault. They can't be blamed for what they were never taught. It's increasingly unfashionable to emphasize grammar and the rules of syntax in school, the reasons ranging from the hang-loose notion that the rules of usage are confining and binding and irrelevant anyway since language is a living, breathing thing, to the feel-good notion that grammar is boring and mind-numbing and kids will be turned off to reading and writing forever if they have to learn it.

Erin isn't exaggerating here, and she's also not incorrect to call this type of education wrong-headed:

What I've found is that kids--and the adults they become--dislike not being able to tell whether what they have written is written correctly, that they recognize on a fundamental level that they have been done a collective disservice by their teachers, and that they are quite eager to learn a skill they know to be crucial to their ability to function effectively as adults in this world.

And if "educators" don't respond to that, Bob the Angry Flower is happy to show them the errors of their ways.

Meanwhile, Samizdata links to an article by a professor who believes that science is the new Latin, and is just as hated and useless as its predecessor. The comments on both sites suggest that the real problem is with science as it is taught today, and I agree. While most will not find arcane scientific facts any more useful to their adult lives than the declension of Latin verbs, it is absurd to claim that the mental discipline that results from learning the scientific method, rules of grammar, and any foreign language, is not essential to genuine education.

-----

Ontario's current Education Minister is upset with the former Minister, who doesn't think much of the current plans to "revamp" the standardized testing system:

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy lashed out at his Conservative predecessor Saturday, demanding she "apologize'' for her criticism of a proposal to revamp standardized testing in Ontario. Elizabeth Witmer made the comments in published reports Saturday, accusing the Liberal government of trying to lower the province's education standards by redesigning the tests...

"I think that it would be civil of her to apologize,'' Kennedy added, noting that all seven members of the Education Quality and Accountability Office, the provincial testing body, were appointed by Witmer and her Conservative colleagues. "She (Witmer) really might want to consider apologizing to her appointees on that board,'' Kennedy said, adding he can't understand why Witmer is "lashing out'' at her own appointees.

"This is their decision making and I believe they felt they were doing it in good faith as she asked them to.''

So what's all this about? Testing time will be cut in half for a number of exams, and Whitmer - who supposedly orchestrated this change - claims this results in a lowering of standards.

-----

Finally, one elementary school in Florida is calling in the SWAT team - in a good way.

Posted by kswygert at 04:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 26, 2004

Symptoms: Euphoria, and a strange urge to go buy Brides magazine

I've been trying to blog this afternoon, but I keep getting distracted. I kept seeing this glint out of the corner of my eye, down near my keyboard. When I finally looked down at my hands, I noticed that I'd developed an odd, sparkly growth on the fourth finger of my left hand. I thought I'd snap a quick photo if it with my camera phone and post it on here, on the off chance that some of my more Devoted Readers might recognize it and give me some medical advice:


ring1.jpg

(To answer the first three questions I bet people will ask:

1. No, we haven't set a date
2. Yes, these packages are far too cheesy
and
3. YES, we plan to have one of these at the reception.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:25 PM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Vibrating socks and "adjusted" SAT scores

Caveon's biweekly Cheating In The News newsletter is up. One link explains why everyone drives badly in France and why the unemployment rate is so high - because every one is spending time and money on James Bond-ian schemes to get around the driver's license exam. I bet the new Texas A&M Aggie Honor System Council would have those vibrating socks confiscated in a heartbeat.

And speaking of cheating, some school do it too; University of South Florida officials have resigned after hiding low test scores of incoming freshmen.

Two top University of South Florida admissions officials resigned after a university investigation showed they ordered below-average entrance exam scores by USF freshmen dropped from reports filed with the state. One of the officials involved said Thursday that USF was following the lead of other state universities and that top school administrators knew about the adjustments.

The deletions involved scores on either the SAT or ACT for about 900 students admitted in summer and fall 2004, according to an internal audit. The deletions came in reports filed with the state Department of Education, the audit states...

Standardized test scores are important to both students and the schools they attend. They are a key factor in determining admission and reflect a school's academic quality...

School auditors noticed that deleted test scores all fell below the university's fall 2003 freshman average of 1084 on the SAT and 26 on the American College Test. USF's average SAT score trailed the University of Florida, where the average for fall 2003 was 1290, Florida State University (1210) and the University of Central Florida (1174).

University spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon said school officials were looking into whether the deletions inflated USF's average test scores and, if so, by how much.

One of those officials insists that USF did nothing wrong, or even out of the ordinary:

Until summer 2003, if a student admitted to USF took the SAT or the ACT more than once, the school reported to state education officials the score received on each sitting, [Dewey Holleman, 41, director of undergraduate admissions]
said. In summer 2003, admissions officials learned other state universities weren't playing by the same rules, Holleman said. Some reported the highest scores to the state and excluded the lower ones, he said.

USF adopted the same practice, which Holleman said is not misleading because only the highest score is used in deciding to admit a student.

"No admissions decisions were affected, and the average [university] SAT score was correct,'' he said.

Admissions officials weren't trying to fool the state, because the state education department already receives the results of all the standardized tests Florida high school students take, he said.

I doubt that last point gets USF off the hook; the matter of whether the state has the scores doesn't affect whether, or how, USF was supposed to report them.

Posted by kswygert at 02:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 23, 2004

They're such angels when they're sleeping

I love having a camera phone, so that I can snap candid photos, like this one of my "kitten" (14 pounds) happily dreaming away:

happypippin.jpg

Posted by kswygert at 09:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

When parents try sometimes, they just might find, kids get what they need

Joanne Jacobs rightfully rolls her eyes at the idea of parents needing support groups in order to say no to their kids. The cause of this eyerolling is an MSNBC article that suggests parents these days have no clue about how to rear responsible, non-materialistic children:

Eloise Goldman struggled to hold the line. She knew it was ridiculous to spend $250 on a mini iPod for her 9-year-old son Ben. The price tag wasn't the biggest issue for Goldman, a publicist, and her fund-raiser husband, Jon. It was the idea of buying such an extravagant gadget for a kid who still hasn't mastered long division. If she gave in, how would Ben ever learn that you can't always get what you want? Goldman knew there was a good chance the iPod would soon be lost or abandoned, just like Ben's toy-of-choice from last year, a bright blue drum set that now sits forlornly in the basement of their suburban New York home. But Ben nagged and pestered and insisted that "everyone has one." Goldman began to weaken. Ben's a good kid, she reasoned; she wanted him to have what the other kids had. After doing a neighborhood-mom check and finding that Ben's peers were indeed wired for sound, Goldman caved—but not without one last attempt to salvage some lesson about limits. She offered her son a deal. We give you an iPod, you forfeit your birthday party. "Done," he said. Then, without missing a beat: "Now what about getting me my own Apple G4?"

Oookay. The electronic gadgets, by the way, are not the issue here. After all, it's normal for children to want things that members of their peer group have, and it's not ridiculous in this day and age for children to want their own computers. What's appalling here is the idea that the parents seem to be held hostage to their 9-year-old's idea of what is acceptable for him to have. The party-iPod bargain seems born less of ingenuity than of desperation on the mother's part.

One could argue, as does MSNBC, that there are more materialistic goods targeted to kids these days, and that it's more difficult than ever to keep a kid who is a gadget/clothing/accessories "have-not" from noticing how much other kids seem to have. But the theory behind rearing healthy kids really hasn't changed, and the expert statements quoted here shouldn't seem new to responsible parents:

While it's certainly true that affluent parents can raise happy and well-adjusted children, the struggle to set limits has never been tougher. Saying no is harder when you can afford to say yes. But the stakes have also never been higher. Recent studies of adults who were overindulged as children paint a discouraging picture of their future. Kids who've been given too much too soon grow up to be adults who have difficulty coping with life's disappointments. They have a distorted sense of entitlement that gets in the way of success both in the workplace and in relationships.

Psychologists say parents who overindulge their kids may actually be setting them up to be more vulnerable to future anxiety and depression. "The risk of overindulgence is self-centeredness and self-absorption, and that's a mental-health risk," says William Damon, director of the Stanford University Center on Adolescence. "You sit around feeling anxious all the time instead of figuring out what you can do to make a difference in the world."

This is human nature. This is also something good parents have known for almost as long as there have been kids to rear. But today, parents apparently feel the need to band together just to learn to say "no" to their kids:

This generation of parents has always been driven to give their kids every advantage, from Mommy & Me swim classes all the way to that thick envelope from an elite college. But despite their good intentions, too many find themselves raising "wanting machines" who respond like Pavlovian dogs to the marketing behemoth that's aimed right at them. Even getting what they want doesn't satisfy some kids — they only want more. Now, a growing number of psychologists, educators and parents think it's time to stop the madness and start teaching kids about what's really important — values like hard work, delayed gratification, honesty and compassion. In a few communities, parents have begun to take action by banding together to enforce limits and rules so that no one has to feel guilty for denying her 6-year-old a $300 Nokia cell phone with all the latest bells and whistles. "It's almost like parents have lost their parenting skills," says Marsha Moritz, 54, who helped found the Parent Engagement Network, a support group in Boulder, Colo.

Joanne's response?

The parents need a support group? What wimps!

When my daughter said, "I want" too much, her father would sing, "You can't always get what you want" till she begged him to stop. I just made it clear that nagging, whining and sulking never would be effective strategies. Keep asking and what you get is a mean, crabby mother.

One of the best child-rearing skills is the ability to act crabbier, crazier, and more annoying than a whiny kid. The image of Joanne's daughter being driven mad by a father warbling old Rolling Stones tunes is just hysterical - not to mention effective.

Posted by kswygert at 07:43 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When homeschoolers attack

The Muskegon County (Michigan) school district, along with local fire and rescue agencies, implemented their new emergency response plan this week:

Terrorists will strike a busload of students in the Whitehall area on Tuesday [September 21], killing more than a half-dozen and sending dozens more to hospitals. It's not a crystal ball that allows such a disaster to be foreseen. It's all in the plans -- disaster preparedness plans, that is.

The disaster won't be real, but it will look real, and the participants -- including students, emergency room personnel and firefighters -- will act as if it's real.

The exercise, one that is becoming familiar in the post 9/11 era, is part of attempts by emergency responders and Muskegon County school districts to prepare for the worst. The exercise, which will involve the aftermath of a supposed explosion on a school bus at 9:30 a.m. at Durham and Holton-Whitehall roads in Whitehall Township, is being funded by homeland security grants awarded to several area school districts and Muskegon County.

Local school district transportation directors instigated the exercise because they wanted to test their abilities to respond to emergencies, said Tom Spoelman, transportation consultant for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District.

Sounds good, right? Nothing like a drill to make sure all the agencies are prepared, right? Sure - but there's the one little issue of the fictional terrorist group that the school invented for the purpose of the drill:

The exercise will simulate an attack by a fictitious radical group called Wackos Against Schools and Education who believe everyone should be homeschooled. Under the scenario, a bomb is placed on the bus and is detonated while the bus is traveling on Durham, causing the bus to land on its side and fill with smoke.

Emphasis mine. I realize this is not one of the more important elements of the exercise, and the school district should be commended for undertaking such a drill (which seems like it was a useful exercise). But I can't help but think that the fake terrorist group was designed to be one to which, they assumed, no one would take offense (which means any particular religion, sex, or political party was out). They were searching for a group they assumed no one would defend.

So they made up a group of radical homeschoolers who care enough about their kids to homeschool them - but are willing to threaten the lives of kids who attend public schools. Sheesh. I'm sure the Muskegon County school district officials aren't offended by that - but the Devoted Reader who sent this my way sure was. And so was his homeschooled daughter.

And so is Michelle Malkin, who has a roundup of links that includes a homeschooling blogger who received an "apology" from the school, lists of angry emails sent to the school district, and the statements from two Muskegon school officials:

As educators, we believe that the first and most important teacher is the parent, whether in home schools, public schools, or non-public schools. We all work together to ensure a safe and secure environment for our children to live and grow.

We sincerely regret offending home school educators. We believe that all parents are educators and do important work at home with their children.

In this day and age of political correctness, it is probably true that the school district could not have named any group without creating a firestorm (including, sad to say, white supremacists or Islamic terrorists, both of whom have attacked American citizens in the past). But in that case, why define the group at all? The focus was, as it should have been, on the rescue mission itself; the school could have given the fictional terrorist group a meaningless acronym for a name, and left it at that.

I guess I should just be thankful they didn't go the Columbine-mythology route and assemble a group of fictional, organized, murderous goths.

Posted by kswygert at 06:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 22, 2004

Insane, but in a good way

Tuesday, October 5th. Animal Planet. I am so there.

Austin Stevens: Snakemaster

Nothing will stop Austin Stevens from trying to get that perfect photo. In Austin Stevens: Snakemaster, camera-bearing Austin wades through swamps and into deep caves teeming with bats, scorpions and spiders; he zooms along dusty trails in Australia's outback on a dirt bike; and he braves perilous white-water rapids and waterfalls. And the danger doesn't stop there! Once he reaches his goal he must face venemous snakes, avoid their lightning-fast strikes, and set up for the perfect picture. With several clicks, Austin's photographs capture the beauty and diversity of these adaptable reptiles. Each episode features a new snake, a new adventure, a new photo op.

Check out the show's trailer where he dives (without thinking) off a three-story boat to grab an anaconda in the Amazon. Wow. And the most I've ever done is knock a small child aside so that I could be the first to hold a baby alligator during the last leg of a swamp tour.

Thanks to Devoted Reader Mike D. for the link.

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When "an educational dream" doesn't have much to show for education

An op-ed in the Seattle Times says schools shouldn't be judged on test scores alone:

From the inside, Seattle's Orca elementary feels like an educational dream.
The school has energized parents, a passionate staff and a racially and economically mixed student body. It's popular, with waiting lists to get into kindergarten and first, second and third grades.

And the classrooms are creative and alive...

From the outside, though, something looks wrong at the South End alternative school. According to the state's bellwether standardized test, Orca is one of the worst schools in the Puget Sound region. Last year, only two of 37 Orca fourth-graders passed all three sections of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). The school was last among Seattle's 70 elementary schools in writing and near the bottom in reading and math.

Predictably, the author then goes on to say it's "insane" to judge Orca by WASL scores. But is it really? The school may be popular, especially with parents who consider racial and economic diversity a selling point for a school. But if the teachers are doing such a great job, why are the kids not doing well on basic-skills tests?

It is troubling that Orca kids do so poorly on the tests. As Principal Ben Ostrom says, it raises the question of whether all students get enough "rigorous academic challenges."

But standardized tests don't work equally everywhere. One example: When Orca kids take in-class tests, sometimes they can choose to take them verbally instead of in writing. You can't do that with the WASL.

Well, no, you can't, because writing is one of the skills measured on the WASL. Why should we assume that a student who chooses to take tests orally (as one of my readers points out, the word "verbally" is incorrect here for making a distinction between written and spoken responses) is in fact learning what they need to know when it comes to writing? Why should we assume that it's perfectly okay for students to be tested in whatever manner they choose? If they learn better that way, fine, but they might be handicapped later on if they haven't learned to write well. And that's why Washington State tests that particular skills. And it explains why Orca is dead last in that area.

I'm sure the WASL isn't perfect. But to judge from the sample test items, it also isn't anything that should be throwing eager and educated young minds for a loop. If Orca's fourth-graders can't read an article about grey whales and write down two details from the article, there's a problem, and the blanket statement "standardized tests don't work equally everywhere" just doesn't cut it.

And neither does a bad attitude:

Last year, five fourth-graders boycotted [the WASL]. As 19-year Orca teacher Liz Neuman said:

"I could give a rip about the WASL. We can teach to this test, but then how much of what makes this school great will be left when we're done?"

Something tells me Ms. Neuman's insistence that learning to read stories, and write details about them, has nothing to do with a great education is part of the problem.

Posted by kswygert at 03:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Public school teachers exercising choice

Are public school teachers more likely than the general public to send their kids to private schools? The Washington Times says yes:

More than 25 percent of public school teachers in Washington and Baltimore send their children to private schools, a new study reports.

Nationwide, public school teachers are almost twice as likely as other parents to choose private schools for their own children, the study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found. More than 1 in 5 public school teachers said their children attend private schools.

In Washington (28 percent), Baltimore (35 percent) and 16 other major cities, the figure is more than 1 in 4. In some cities, nearly half of the children of public school teachers have abandoned public schools.

In Philadelphia, where 30.9% of all parents choose private schooling, 43.8% of local public school teachers do so.

Some of these teachers, I'm sure, have special needs children who can benefit more from private schools. And while teachers at the low end of income are more likely than all families to use private schools, teachers at the high end of income are less likely to use private schools.

But one conclusion to be drawn from this is that public school teachers are as well-aware, if not more so, than the general public of the differences in quality between public and private schools as one goes up and down the income ladder. I don't really see these results as damning to teachers; I see these results as yet more data supporting parental choice in the school system. These conclusions certainly don't support the educational status quo which states all parents, including low-income ones, should be satisfied with government-run public schools. If the teachers aren't, there's no reason parents should be.

What's more, when teachers DO start to prefer public schools, it just might be because there are more choices in that area:

The report says the school choice movement has begun competitively forcing public school improvement, particularly in cities like Milwaukee, called "a hotbed of school reform," where 29.4 percent of public school teachers sent their children to private schools, the study finds.

"Narrow the search to teachers making less than $42,000 and the percentage enrolling their children in private schools drops to 10 percent. Because Milwaukee is a hotbed of school reform, it's possible that teachers making less than $42,000 are beginning to favor the public school system."

"If so, it might be evidence that choice is having the intended effect of spurring improvements in public education there. Or perhaps the emergence of [public school] charters has provided another free option to lower-income teachers who might otherwise choose private schooling."

An interesting note: 11 of the 21 schools for which teachers are less likely to send kids to private schools than the general public are in the South. But of the 29 schools where teachers are more likely, only 7 are in the South. It could be just a trick of the sample surveyed, but also might support the idea that the South has more functional urban public schools (or just fewer private schools from which to choose).

Also - hmmm:

Michael Pons, spokesman for the National Education Association, the 2.7-million-member public school union, declined a request for comment on the study's findings. The American Federation of Teachers also declined to comment.

Posted by kswygert at 11:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2004

Non-testing roundup

A list of the stuff, other than work, that has been distracting me from blogging.

1. Amphigory cosmetics and jewelry - I absolutely love these guys. Not only are they two of the nicest people I've ever corresponded with, but (a) their makeup is top-notch (pale skin? no problem!), (b) their jewelry selection is stunning, and wonderfully categorized (Crosses, Creatures, The Graveyard, Magickal Symbols, and Miscellaneous), and (c) portions of sales from many items benefit the Great Cats of Indiana Foundation, a rescue organization near them that has lions, tigers, cougers, etc.

2. Allahpundit - One of the better, funnier political pundits out there, who has been extensively covering RatherGate. I love the fact that his blogroll is divided into Great Satans, Little Satans, and (for female bloggers), Satans That Make Allah Feel A Little Funny In The Pants.

Other blogs to which I am now addicted: Just One Minute, The Kerry Spot, Captain's Quarters, Powerline, and Polipundit. And this is one of the best descriptions I've ever read of the power of the blogosphere.

3. Wide-eyed op-eds by new college students about how gosh-dang different college is from high school. This one from the Montana Standard takes the cake for sheer gee-whillikers-ness. You mean you can go to the bathroom whenever you want in college? Really?

There are also strident guidelines from university learning centers, "joke" lists that are pretty accurate, no-nonsense lists that are funnier than the joke lists due to extreme understatements ("Distractions can be numerous because or [sic] opportunities to become involved in non-academic activities."), and other assorted chatty lists of useful advice.

Bottom line: If you're a college freshman, and you haven't yet figured out that you have to take responsibility for your education, well, you can't say you weren't warned.

4. Kingsnake.com. All reptiles, all the time. Great list of herp breeders and supplies. And the t-shirts aren't bad, either (though I can't find a current link to them). I thought I had posted a photo of my dearly-departed Arizona Mountain King, Tiago, to these forums, but his photo is actually on the About.Com exotic pets gallery pages.

5. SomethingAwful.com. Obnoxious, extremely-non-PC humor. This diatribe against anti-Republican protestors splits my side every time I read it.

6. The latest US Census Bureau statistics (yes, I know I'm a geek). Not only are the reports insanely detailed missives on topics you've never thought about in your entire life (vehicle use surveys from Montana, anyone?), but there's a wealth of information there for anyone who likes to debate political issues and their impact on society.

Posted by kswygert at 11:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 20, 2004

Making over the goths

Right now, Fox is showing an episode of "Renovate My Family" that is a very odd, low-rent version of the Munsters. You remember - they had the one normal teenager? Well, this is a family with a goth mom, goth mom's perpetual fiance, two goth kids - and one normal little blonde teenybopper. And the normal teen supposedly wrote to Fox to get them to remake her mom, get her mom to marry her fiance, and knock the house down and rebuild it.

My boyfriend thinks it's all staged, and I have to agree. The "goth" decorations in the house are all Halloween decorations from Spencer's, and crap like that. I know a lot of adult goths, and adult goths do NOT dress their house up like "every day is Halloween" (even though that's a great song). Adult goths have spent a tad bit more money on their surroundings, or they've personalized their house with their own artwork and sculptures, or they collect gothy stuff (like Halloween Barbies) and display them in nice china cabinets like any other collector. Real adult goths do not buy every skull sold at the mall and hang them from the chandeliers for everyday decorations. That's for teenagers.

The decor that is being presented to us as "weird" and "fearsome," I could put together for $50 over eBay. Nu-uh. The coffin in the den (which doubled, supposedly, as the normal teen's bedroom) had a paper freakin' skeleton in it, for pete's sake. NO self-respecting adult goth clutters their home with that crap, except when throwing Halloween parties. This is an example of a good goth decorating scheme - it's not prepackaged, and it's definitely unique (note: her bedroom is pink). My bedroom has angel sconces, purple walls, purple velvet everywhere - and no skulls. My dining-room is dragon-themed - but no skulls.

Hmph. Talk about reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Second, we're supposed to believe the mom will marry her fiance just because the show's host say so, and in the time and manner chosen by the hosts? Right. The family can pack everything they want to save in two hours, and leave everything else behind, potentially to be thrown away? Right. And a team of workers will rebuild a house from scratch in one week? Right. The mom will stop being goth, even though she's a musician who works from home, and doesn't need another look? Right.

The more I watch it, the more I'm convinced they took a normal-ish family and staged the whole decor-goth thing. The better to play into stereotypes about how goths (a) think it's all about skulls and coffins and (b) really want to be "normal," if someone would just help them change.

Update: On the other hand, they just showed the family after their makeovers, and they all look so uncomfortable in their new hairdos/makeup/outfits that maybe it is for real. Certainly, any goth I know would look that awkward if you separated them from their black eyeliner (okay, some of the stereotypes are true). I'm still not buying the paper skeletons, though.

Update #2: Okay, the house is pretty dang spiffy. I love the iguana reptariums, for one thing (although I would have felt weird about someone else handling my reptile). It's my dream to have some nice ones built that are comfy for snakes, yet beautiful to display. The Japanese bedroom is lovely, and the master bathroom looks like something a real goth would design.

But those pimped-out cars? Oh, honey, no. If the skulls went in the trash, those tricked-out hubcabs should go right in with 'em.

Posted by kswygert at 09:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Scary student threatens to bomb school

A plot to bomb an Michigan high school was foiled by the alert daughter of a local university police officer who specializes in "cyber crimes":

Authorities credited Celia McGinty of Moscow, Idaho, with foiling a plot to bomb Chippewa Valley High School outside Detroit.

Police said a search of 17-year-old Andrew Osantowski's home last week turned up instructions for making a bomb and videotapes of him with assault weapons. Osantowski was arrested Thursday; his father and a family friend also were charged.

McGinty met Osantowski online in a music chat room three weeks ago. She said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the boy — who started at Chippewa Valley High School on Aug. 31 — was very specific about how he would take revenge on teachers and schoolmates.

"He told me where he had his weapons," she said. "He gave me his name and address. Who would do that?"

Osantowski has been jailed on more than $1 million bond on 10 felony charges, including threatening an act of terrorism, and could face up to 20 years in prison. A judge entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Police said Osantowski told McGinty about plans for violent revenge at the school, including plans to kill a police liaison officer, and she alerted her father, George, who heads the cyber crime unit for the Washington State University police.

"She realized when the conversation turned bad, it was time to pass that information on," George McGinty said.

Besides the bomb instructions and videotapes, police Friday displayed other items they said were found in the home, including weapons and ammunition, Nazi flags and books about white supremacy and Adolf Hitler.

Marvin Osantowski, 52, the boy's father, was charged with concealing stolen firearms and pleaded not guilty. Bond was set at $500,000.

Sounds like it could have been a disaster waiting to happen, if the boy was serious (and not just a disaffected little bigot shooting off his mouth to a girl). The school has some suggested comments for parents on their site:

What Parents Can Say To Their Child(ren):

You might tell your child the following:

• The student involved in this threatening situation attended your high school for only 10 days. He was a recent transfer from a school outside our district.

• The student who made these threats is in police custody.

• No students or staff members were in danger at any time because of this situation.

• Your high school was thoroughly examined and no dangerous materials or weapons were found.

• The school has always been safe, and it is even more so now.

• Talk to your school counselor or school social worker, if you have any worries or concerns. They are ready to help.

Boy, the school is (understandably) keeping the kid at arm's length. Why was he transferred from the other school? And why would he want to bomb a school he'd been at for only 10 days? He certainly wouldn't have had a lot of time to dislike the people there. Maybe the fact that he was relatively unknown is what is freaking people out. Well, that, and the Nazi flag, and the bomb plans, and the threats, and the ammo.

Posted by kswygert at 08:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A toast, to our alma mater!

Hee hee hee. What is it with the Southwest and bizarre school-related news? If it's not tortillas at graduation, it's shot glasses at homecoming:

Officials at Rio Grande High School [NM] aren't getting a buzz from the school's homecoming memento. Nearly 100 shot glasses etched with "Dreams Will Come True 2004" were handed out in advance of the celebration last week — until the principal got word of it.

"It's not an appropriate message to send out," Principal Al Sanchez said Thursday after putting a stop to the giveaway. "We'll never do that again."

School activities director James Chavez took the blame — saying the cheapest glass was a $1.32 shot glass. He said he thought they could be used to hold candles or toothpicks, not alcohol.

"We emphasized this is not for drinking," Chavez said.

Uh huh. For toothpicks. Because we all know how teenage kids like to ride around and...collect toothpicks. What do the Homecoming King and Queen win? Matching flasks? For toting around mineral water, I'm sure.

Posted by kswygert at 08:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The ugly truth (or dare) about campus "hazing"

Prisoner # 1 : "What're you in for?"
Prisoner # 2 : "A riotous game of Truth or Dare."
Prisoner # 1 : (backs away slowly...)

Police are investigating reports of hazing involving several senior girls at St. Paul's School. The incidents allegedly involved groups in two dormitories at the private boarding school last weekend. Dean of Students Douglas J. Dickson said he learned about the incidents this week and reported them to police. He said the school also will investigate and consider disciplinary consequences for the young women involved.

"We're extremely disappointed in what's happened here at our school," Dickson said. Dickson said the school is offering counseling to all the girls involved.

School officials would not say what students had done that was considered hazing. They did say the behavior did not involve physical contact or physical harm.

Emphasis mine. What were these brutal actions that necessitated police involvement and counseling? You guessed it - Truth or Dare:

The Union Leader reported that multiple unnamed sources indicated the hazing was directed at about a dozen new girls and involved at least partial nudity in one of the two dormitories involved. The newspaper also reported the hazing in the second dormitory allegedly involved a "truth-or-dare" game with questions about sexual experiences.

Ooookay. Did I mention that I played Truth or Dare in slumber parties in sixth grade? I was a shy creature then and would have preferred other games, but come on. I was playing by choice. What's more, anyone can make something up for the "Truth" part, the extroverts can perform the "Dares," and everybody's happy.

And this is a crime?

Hazing is a crime in New Hampshire and is defined as any coercion or intimidation presented as a condition of initiation into a group and that might cause students to hurt themselves physically or psychologically.

I'm trying to decide who's more immature here - the girls who decided that it was good idea to play Truth or Dare, or the ones who need counseling because of it. I mean, come on, folks. There's no need for hazing that leaves somebody missing a limb, and outright bullying should be reported, but were these girls forced to play Truth or Dare? If so, how? What's to stop a normal 18-year-old girl from getting up, saying "good night," and retiring to her dorm room? This wasn't even a sorority hazing, from the information given; just a bunch of girls sitting around being goofy. And now facing criminal charges.

This keeps up, in 20 years college students won't even speak to each other.

Update: In my rash of blogging, and rush to judgment, yesterday, I screwed up; this is a boarding high school, not a private college. Doh! That makes the whole situation more understandable - but the fact that the girls in question do not seem to have been in a sorority, and don't seem to have been participating in any sort of organized hazing, yet were still prosecuted under an anti-hazing law, still bothers me.

Update #2 : A reader who apparently knows one of the victims in question says "As a friend of one of the girls who was the object of this little game...When someone forces anything down another person's throut, causing them to choke, cutting off their ability to breathe, it's not a game." The article notes that school officials specifically stated no physical contact occurred, which would suggest that somebody isn't being honest here.

Perhaps the what-seemed-like-an-overreaction on the part of school officials to the hazing - and the mention of counseling - should have tipped us off to the possibilty that a lot more occurred here than a simple game of Truth or Dare.

Update #3: Although I'm swamped with work, I have to spend a bit more time on this; there seems to be enough interest in this story to warrant further investigation.

This article gives a tad more detail about what happened:

The seniors woke the new girls up in the middle of the night, forcing them to simulate oral sex with bananas and answer sexually explicit questions, the employee said. St. Paul's determined the hazing was more severe in one of the dorms, Kittredge II, where five of the senior girls lived, than the other dorm, Ford...

None of the parents of the five girls who were suspended for a term wanted to talk about the incident.

Seniors arrived at St. Paul's on Sept. 9, and new students arrived the next day. The hazing occurred at some point over the weekend, before the other students arrived. St. Paul's started classes on Monday, Sept. 13.

The hazing has prompted a flurry of e-mails on the school's alumni Yahoo newsgroup, where alums have debated whether hazing occurred in their eras and asked whether having mixed-grade dorms contributed to the problem.

Isolated incidents of hazing have occurred at St. Paul's before, according to Dickson, and the school has handled other hazing cases like it has handled this one.

Interestingly, though, the hazing is now being denied, at least by some alleged victims:

At least some of the freshmen girls whom St. Paul's School officials say were hazed told the dean of students they were willing participants in a nighttime initiation activity. In a letter written to the dean before 15 seniors were suspended or the incident was reported to the police, freshmen from the Ford dormitory said they did not think anything bad had happened.

"We thought this night was a great way to get to know the seniors, as our leaders, and don't think that anything should have been done differently," the letter read. "Please take the fact that all of us decided to participate and did it comfortably into your disciplinary decision."

Last week, the school suspended 10 seniors from Ford for two weeks and five from another dorm, Kittredge II, for a term. St. Paul's found the seniors woke the new girls in the middle of the night and forced them to answer sexually explicit questions and simulate oral sex with bananas, according to an employee of the school who asked not to be named.

In their letter, the Ford freshmen relayed their version of the night, saying they had voluntarily gone with the seniors to the dorm basement, were given nicknames and played a truth-telling game called "Never have I ever."

"We were given candy and had a choice of whipped cream and a banana and a devil dog," the freshmen wrote. "Again, all of the new students wanted to participate and eat their food, meaning that no one was forced." The letter was signed Third Formers of Ford House, making it unclear whether all or just some of the freshmen wrote it.

The parents of one of the suspended students also deny hazing:

“If what my daughter did is hazing, then they have an epidemic of hazing on campus,” said Hilary Mullarkey of Long Island, N.Y., adding she knew of seniors in at least three other girls’ dorms who participated in similar behavior at the elite, Concord boarding school.

Dean of students Douglas J. Dickson denied the accusations. “We have no reports of any other hazing at the school. If we had reports of hazing, we would pursue it and we would act in the same way,” Dickson said.

Mullarkey and her husband, Robert, said no sexually explicit questions were asked of new Ford house students. But the Mullarkeys agreed what allegedly occurred in another dorm, Kittredge II, was hazing. They claim their daughter’s dorm was “painted with a Kit II brush” and claim the school unfairly singled out Ford house for punishment.

So now, some parents are talking. And their claims are consistent with the Concord Monitor's report that the hazing was "more severe" in Kit II than in Ford.

So what really happened? Who knows? Some freshmen apparently didn't have a problem with the hazing, but at least one must have complained for the school officials to discover the situation. It's possible that most or all the freshmen willingly went along with a situation that ended up being more traumatic than they had bargained for.

The school seems willing to stand its ground on the suspensions. Be interesting to see if more parents start talking; either we'll see a new rash of complaints, or another group of parents defending the hazers, or both.

Update # 4: Be sure to read the comments - N2P is showing up on the first page of Google for a search on "St Paul's School hazing," and two sets of parents have commented to counter the official claims. The Champlaign Channel has more on the parents - and students - who deny that hazing took place, and now parents are reporting that the college plans of the suspended seniors may be affected:

A tradition for welcoming new girls at St. Paul's School that got out of hand this month may have long-term consequences for the 15 senior girls suspended for hazing. "Our children's reputation and records have been permanently marred and their college hopes destroyed," reads a statement from parents including Hilary Mullarkey, whose daughter has been suspended for two weeks and must write a letter of apology.

She said she is one of several parents of seniors at the Ford House dormitory who believe school officials overreacted when they labeled events there hazing, contacted police and suspended the seniors involved...

Brenda Nordlund, the mother of a freshman, said her daughter described the events as fun. Nordlund's daughter does not live in Ford House or the other dormitory implicated in the hazing. "She had a great night that night," Nordlund said. "It was a welcoming party." Nordlund said she trusts school officials to handle anything inappropriate at other dormitories.

Mullarkey said that at her daughter's dorm, seniors gave the new students lewd nicknames that rhymed with their names. She said school officials also told her the Ford seniors disobeyed orders when they woke up the younger students that night.

At the Kittredge II dorm, some senior girls allegedly were topless and wearing war paint when they woke the new students, and later allegedly asked them to simulate oral sex on bananas.

The Kittredge seniors were suspended through the end of the term. No one affiliated with Kittredge II could be reached for comment for this story, but several former students agree events there went too far.

Sounds like the "tarred with the Kit II brush" theory is holding up.

Posted by kswygert at 04:45 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Leave No Secretary (of Education) Behind

There's an interesting detail to this apparent snubbing of US Secretary of Education Rod Paige:

The Ohio NAACP withdrew its invitation to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, an outspoken critic of the group's national leadership, to speak at its weekend convention. Paige, who was initially invited three weeks ago to discuss the No Child Left Behind program, was cut from the program at the request of the national NAACP, Ohio NAACP President Sybil Edwards-McNabb said Thursday.

The snub is the latest salvo in a feud between President Bush's administration and the civil rights group and is likely to cause a stir at the Ohio chapter's 74th annual convention that opens here today.

Edwards-McNabb said national NAACP leaders told her there was an "imbalance" in her slate of convention speakers. She said she had invited Bush and Sen. John Kerry. Bush agreed to send Paige, she said, but Kerry did not respond.

Emphasis mine, and so what? That's Kerry's loss. Leaving aside the rudeness of disinviting someone to an event of this magnitude, why would it be "unbalanced" to have a representative of President Bush there if his challenger was not there? The programs implemented by the Bush administration have a wide-reaching effect on every schoolchild today, and these programs deserve discussion by those who have had a hand in implementing them - no matter who Bush's challenger is. Just because "the opposition" wasn't there to give their side doesn't mean that Paige wouldn't have been a very appropriate speaker. Certainly, there's plenty he could have discussed that doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics.

But wait, it gets better:

Asked about the role of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is scheduled to speak today, she said Sharpton was a guest of the local NAACP, not a surrogate for Kerry. But Ohio Democrats had a different understanding. Sharpton is "speaking as a representative of the Kerry campaign," said Brendon Cull, spokesman for the Democratic Coordinated Campaign in Ohio. John White, spokesman for the national NAACP, said Thursday he was unaware that Edwards-McNabb had been directed to cut Paige from the lineup.

So, Sharpton is essentially being allowed to speak, with no concern for "balance." And the previous clashes between Paige and the NAACP don't make this situation look any less like a last-minute, high-profile snub:

The war of words between the Bush administration and NAACP has worsened this year. Bush passed on the group's national convention in July after attacks by NAACP leaders Julian Bond and Kweisi Mfume on Bush's programs, especially No Child Left Behind.

The same month, Paige responded in the Wall Street Journal to criticism from NAACP leaders that black conservatives like himself were "puppets" of white people. Paige wrote that Bond and Mfume had betrayed their "organization's own origins."

And now they disinvite him. Shabby. Certain observers aren't afraid to connect the dots:

Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said the NAACP's move will backfire.

"It would have been a small blip on the radar screen and now it will be a big story," Bennett said. "The NAACP is supposed to be nonpartisan, but because Rod Paige is George Bush's secretary of education, they disinvite him. Isn't that ludicrous? Democrats can't tolerate any diversity in the Republican Party at all."

Posted by kswygert at 04:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Putting pressure on the schools

In New Mexico, a school principal is fretting about the fact that his students didn't make the AYP (adequate yearly progress) targets this year:

Gonzales Elementary Principal Michael Lee knows exactly why his school didn't make "adequate yearly progress" this year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act: The fourth-graders didn't learn how to use rulers and measure quantities.

It is particularly painful to him, because his daughter was among the fourth-graders who took the test used to rate the school, and he thinks they're an exceptionally bright bunch of kids.

Dude. Fourth-grade is not too early to learn to use a ruler. It pains me to see these educators who insist that their students are smart - but just haven't gotten around to learning some basic facts and skills. If they really are that smart, heck, they should be converting inches to centimeters by now.

Still, Lee knows what his school has to do: Make sure this year's fourth-graders learn how to measure. Gonzales began a Cooking with Kids program this year, so the teaspoons and measuring cups they'll use in that program should help.

Well, that's something, but surely they could learn about measuring devices in math class as well, right? The article in general is good, but there are a few testing criticisms thrown in that, well, don't add up:

Sewing also sees problems with regard to students whose first language isn't English. Under the law, students have to start taking the standardized test in English three years after they enter the United States. Sewing said research shows language development takes five to seven years. "It's frustrating for these kids," she said. "It makes them feel like a failure."

"I would ask the adults out there, 'If you moved to China and lived there for three years, would it be fair to measure your education and your skills in Chinese?' " Sewing added.

If the entire time that I was in China, I was enrolled in a program that, for eight hours a day, was supposed to immerse me in Chinese and teach me the Chinese language, then yes, it would be fair. I might need a different standard than a native speaker - I can see the argument for that - but it's not unfair to test me to see if I'm where I should be after three years.

Gonzales Elementary's Lee said he'd rather "be sucker-punched" than repeat the experience of hearing his school had failed to meet AYP. "What we have to do at Gonzales is make darn sure we're teaching the standards. And because this test is based on standards, that should be easy."

"The pressure is going to build. And if principals and teachers are feeling pressure, then you can be sure that kids are feeling pressure. I have to wonder if this is the kind of world we want to bring them up in?"

If I had a fourth-grade daughter, and the choice was rearing her in (a) a stress-free environment, or (b) an environment with some stress in which she learned how to use a ruler, I know which one I'd pick.

Meanwhile, over in Boston, the educators insist that the "failing" labels are wrong:

...For the first time, a district could land on the federal watch list if just a single category of students fell below federal standards. Educators attributed the ballooning list to that new provision, which isolated the performance of groups including Hispanics, blacks, special education students, and low-income students...

Daniel Mayer, a school administrator in Maynard, where special education and low-income students fell short of federal standards, criticized the watch list as a punitive scare tactic.

"To me, it's sort of like the terrorist alerts that the federal government puts out and says, 'Everybody watch out, there's terrorists out there," he said. "No Child Left Behind is trying to motivate people from fear rather than well-thought-out initiatives."

So is it better for schools not to know if one group is doing more poorly than another? Is it better for parents not to know this? Mayer is apparently of the belief that any shortcoming within a school shouldn't be made public. But others don't agree:

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has studied how states comply with the federal law, said bringing shortcomings to light is likely to spur progress.

"The real question is, is it better to know or not to know" how groups of students are doing, he said. "I think there is a growing public awareness it's better to know."

Posted by kswygert at 02:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

When "progressive education" means retaining the status quo

Joanne Jacobs uncovered a brilliantly idiotic op-ed about how our children are too important to risk experimenting with, when "experimenting" is defined as "changing the public school system to something that might work better":

The NAEP data adds to the growing body of evidence that charter-school students do not outperform comparable students in regular public schools and should raise serious questions about continuing to employ charters as a sanction under the No Child Left Behind Act. More importantly in Washington, it should give us pause as we consider whether to approve or reject Referendum 55, on the November ballot, that would establish charter schools in this state.

Proponents of charter schools around the nation are crying foul. They claim that it's too early to compare charter schools to public schools. They claim that the American Federation of Teachers has an agenda. Data like this spurs debate. As it should. Without it, charter-school supporters can avoid serious discussion and continue to insist that charter schools are the solution to the problem.

...while charter-school supporters point to other studies and anecdotal information to show that charter schools can work, vying studies don't demonstrate who is right and who is wrong. They simply demonstrate that the possibility for success of children in charter schools is an unknown. Our children's education is too important to try experiments to see what works best.

Emphases mine. Leaving aside the fact that the authors, Darlene Flynn and James M. Welsh, don't cite too many of the "vying studies" to support their arguments that charter schools cannot work, I find the whole "we can't take chances" approach bizarre. I mean, wasn't the whole theory of "progressive education" that infested public schools in the 1970's built on the assumption that schools should take chances and come up with a Brave New World of education, one that freed children from the horrors of - gasp! - rote memorization? Aren't educrats supposed to be the ones that oppose the status quo, with its accountability measures, adherence to objective standards, test scores, and all those other pesky old-fashioned measures of education?'

But when a truly innovative concept appears, why, it's batten down the hatches! We must protect The Children from "the unknown." Sheesh.

Brian Micklethwait rightly pokes the educrats in their fearful bellies:

...there are a lot of public sector schools where parents would love it if the outcome was an "unknown", instead of the all-too-known that they are instead stuck with.

I think I know what these authors were trying to say with this amazing sentence, but the words they actually used show, I think, how out of touch they must surely be with lots of parents. They've said things like this to their friends and co-educrats so often, to such warm applause, that they truly didn't realise what they'd put. When they talk or write about "experiments", they, and their usual audiences and readerships, see evil right wing monsters inflicting cruel tortures on furry white animals and chucking defenceless kids off an experimental cliff. But lots of others will simply see them turning their backs on the obvious way (experiments) to make progress and to add to the store of human knowledge, in this case to the knowledge of how best to impart knowledge to the next generation.

Emphasis mine, again. It's obvious to us that the "progressive" educators of the past are now the ones most afraid of real progress.

Posted by kswygert at 01:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Learning by example

Given the reader email I receive, I believe that there are plenty of parents out there who, given the chance, would like to slam a pesky educrat or two up against a wall.

However, doing so in the name of anti-bullying is a bit, well, paradoxical:

A woman has been charged with slamming into an assistant principal at a middle school open house, the third time in several years that a mother has been accused of assaulting Anchorage School District staff.

Deborah Meister, 46, is charged with misdemeanor assault for the incident Tuesday night at Central Middle School. Police said she apparently was upset about the school's anti-bullying policies...

The assault took place in the school multipurpose room, where parents had gathered to hear from principal Johanna Naylor before meeting their children's teachers. After Naylor spoke, assistant principal Mario Toro talked about behavioral and attendance guidelines, said district spokesman Roger Fiedler.

Toro reminded parents that policy handbooks were sent home with students. He mentioned that all Central students go through anti-harrassment and anti-bullying talks.

Parents were told they were free to meet with their children's teachers and Naylor spotted Meister in the back of the room waving her arms. Naylor motioned her forward, Fiedler said.

"As the woman came up, she was saying something to the effect of, 'Why didn't you talk more about anti-bullying at the school?'" Fiedler said.

Police said that Toro stepped in front of Naylor as Meister approached. Meister then said, "So what would you do if I did this?" and slammed into Toro, police said. "It was her full body hitting hard against his chest and shoulders," Fiedler said. "It was very sudden."

What, is she the parent of a bully who wants her child to have more opportunities to show off his technique? Sheesh.

Posted by kswygert at 01:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The civics classes are coming! The civics classes are coming!

My Devoted Reader Reginleif is in a grumpy mood over this Boston Globe editorial, which celebrates the efforts of educational groups to bring back civics education. Sounds good, right?

REMEMBER CIVICS class? Too many people don't, and that's why national groups working to make democracy and citizenship riveting parts of the kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum deserve a rousing blast of John Philip Sousa -- with flags. The newest effort, started in March, is the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, which last month gave grants of $150,000 each to six states to make civics a priority.

"We want to revive the ideal," said David Skaggs, a former Democratic congressman from Colorado, in a recent interview. He is founder and director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship in Washington, which is overseeing the school program.

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the initiative seeks to turn civics education into a statewide effort that includes coalitions of politicians, judges, business people, and community leaders as well as teachers. The idea is to go beyond how a bill becomes a law and to inspire students with the power a citizen holds in democratic society.

Skaggs wants to get young people to be as passionate about voting as many of them are about recycling, which, he noted, "has instilled in people the idea that every can matters." He asks, "Why haven't we instilled the kind of civic faith in people that tells them every vote matters?"

Here's Reginleif's commentary:

Wouldn't be so bad on the face of it, but the express reason given in the editorial is that people have become "too" anti-government, and they're hoping for a renaissance of statist indoctrination.

I didn't quite read that into the article. Of course, the part about Americans being too anti-government is explicitly stated:

But civics -- which was a priority after World War II -- is no longer embraced by an America that has developed an ornery anti-government streak.

Tam Taylor, press officer of the 40-year-old Center for Civic Education -- a Calabasas, Calif., group that has led the movement for a better-informed citizenry -- noted that the Vietnam War protests, followed by the Watergate scandals and the cultural revolution, soured the public on civic involvement. The national focus on science and math after the launching of Sputnik also stole attention from civics -- and those disciplines still eclipse Democracy 101.

Haven't Americans always had an "ornery anti-government streak"? I'd be willing to bet that civics education was given more weight back before the 1960's, but I find it hard to believe that (a) we don't teach civics any more because we focus too much on math and science, or (b) civics is somehow more important now than ever to kids who are all-too-often lacking the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to support themselves, much less enter government service.

What's more, I believe the decline in civics education goes hand-in-hand with a decline in the general standards of education. Certainly, some public schools have spent the last 30 years urging their children to "find themselves" and have prized "deep thinking and creativity" over hard facts, which doesn't necessarily inspire a student to enter politics any more than a scientific or mathematical field. The problem isn't limited to civics, in other words.

I don't have a problem with a re-emergence of civics in the classroom. In fact, I think it could produce more students who are informed, yet ornery anti-government types (like Reginleif), as opposed to the uninformed "rebels" we see marching in the streets everywhere nowadays. Good civics education, to me, isn't so much about accepting governmental interference as it about gaining an understanding of how the system works, so that it may be changed in effective and positive ways.

Posted by kswygert at 01:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Cato conference on a marketplace of educational choices

The fine folks at the Cato Institute asked me if I would post a link to their upcoming conference, "Creating a True Marketplace in Education." The event, which is free, looks interesting:

...when it comes to American elementary and secondary education, there is no free market; government dictates where children will go to school, when they will go, what they will learn, and how much money will be spent. It's a lifeless system that produces poor academic achievement and widespread disaffection rather than a diverse array of effective educational options. So how do we go from the status quo to an alternative that thrives on the dynamism of the market? What are the essential requirements for such a system? Where can we find market-based education already at work?

Lisa Snell is on one of the panels; she runs the website Education Weak, which is worth reading, and not updated nearly enough (I know, I know - pot, meet kettle).

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

Mind the Gap! (in Minnesota)

There's much test-score fretting in the North Star state:

Minnesota students are traditionally among the nation's top performers on key standardized tests. Unfortunately, the statewide averages mask an embarrassing reality. Students of color consistently score far below their white classmates.

This disparity in academic performance between groups of students is known as the achievement gap. It's a national problem. But Minnesota's gap is particularly wide.

A recent report from the Education Trust, Inc., highlighted the issue. Minnesota eighth graders ranked first in the nation in math on the 2003 National Assessment for Educational Progress. The average score among the state's white students (291) topped the list. The average score for African American students in Minnesota (251) ranked 22nd among the 50 states. Only Wisconsin had a wider gap between white and black scores.

I can't find the report on the Ed Trust site, although there's a lot of other good information on there. I particularly liked this article entitled "Good Teaching Matters," although that's another "duh" statement as far as I'm concerned.

But I digress:

The low test scores are a point of frustration to some; a source of anger for others. The Rev. Randolph Staten of the Minnesota Coalition of Black Churches says state officials have failed to adequately address the educational disparities.

"We wonder why it is with so many of our children being destroyed we have not declared an emergency in the state of Minnesota," Staten said.

Achievement gaps are often attributed to income level and home environment. Low-income families often have few educational resources at home. Recent immigrants don't always have the English language skills needed to keep pace in school. Some experts also point to low classroom expectations, peer pressure and teacher quality as key factors.

Nice to see that the tests aren't vilified here. And few reporters will touch upon the hot button of peer pressure and testing, even though at least one study suggests that peer pressure is more highly related to test score performance than is family income. It's more PC to blame the tests than to blame the negative peer pressure and low expectations that abound in poor schools.

Anyway, I tried to find out more about what's being discussed, and done, in Minnesota. (Note to self: Avoid future Google searches using "Minnesota score gap" as keywords, since this produces an avalanche of Packers articles.)

I found some 2003 NAEP data which suggests that the gap between fourth-grade boys and girls is increasing in reading; on the other hand, the black-white gap decreased slightly in fourth-grade math. Eighth-grade gaps between black and white students did not appear significantly changed from the previous year - which is good, because they're wide in both math and reading. If anyone knows of other articles that examine the Minnesota gap, let me know.

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

Stating the obvious when it comes to education

From the FortWayne.com site comes an article entitled, "Parents influence student success: Schools’ ISTEP scores tend to rise with close family support," to which I can only say: Duh.

...in the end, what happens in the classroom is only part of what will determine a student’s success. Much of how successful a child’s academic career is is determined by how involved their parents are in their education, educators say.

“A family’s attitude about school is directly related to a child’s success in school,” said Barbara Roberts, who works with the preschool programs at Fort Wayne Community Schools’ Title I schools. Title I schools receive federal money to help support students living in poverty.

“All the studies have shown that children whose parents are involved in their education in some way, they do better in school,” Roberts said.

Please tell me this is not actually news to any parents, or teachers, out there.

...being involved in the PTA isn’t all there is to being involved in a child’s education, said Joyce Epstein, director of the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She founded the National Network of Partnership Schools to support schools in strengthening parent involvement.

“In the old days if you just did a study of youngsters in school, you analyzed were the parents involved; lo and behold, the students who were most successful had the parents who were involved in school,” Epstein said.

Schools thought if they could get their PTA groups larger, it would boost their students’ success, but there is more to helping their children than volunteering, Epstein said. Parents also need to know how to help their children learn at home.

Again: duh. Perhaps this is only being reported as "news" because we've reached the point where parents figure the teachers will do ALL the work, and the parent needs only attend a PTA conference or two. If that much.

I don't mean to discredit Epstein's work - she sounds like she's doing a bang-up job. It's just rather sad that it needs to be done.

...Schools with high poverty rates face the challenges of less educated parents who may not feel comfortable in a school building or may not have the time to volunteer because they are working long hours.

Epstein said those schools can use social activities to make the parents feel comfortable as a stepping stone to bringing parents into the school for academic support programs.

“We don’t want people to stop having a good newsletter or picnics,” she said. “(Further) activities may focus on families linking with children at home or on homework. Some things may be that families are gaining information through seminars or workshops or a session on how to support your children in testing. It becomes a much more comprehensive part of school work in general.”

If she's successfully explaining to parents the importance of helping their kids prepare for testing, she's doing the work of the angels.

Posted by kswygert at 12:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Worries about the new SAT and "that essay" unfounded

There's a new "new SAT" article making the rounds. Let's examine it, shall we?

The SAT is undergoing significant changes in 2005, including the elimination of those dreaded analogies...

Hey, I liked those!

...and the addition of a Writing section that includes an equally dreaded 25-minute essay...

Students who plan on attending college should NOT be afraid of having to write a short essay in 25 minutes. This is hardly setting the standard too high.

The changes are:

_The Verbal section will be renamed Critical Reading. Analogies will be eliminated. Short reading passages will be added.

_Quantitative comparisons will be eliminated from the Math section. Questions based on Algebra II skills will be added.

_A Writing section will be added, with questions on error identification, sentence improvement and paragraph improvement, plus a 25-minute essay. The writing test replaces the SAT II writing test previously taken by students applying to selective schools.

The revisions to the exam, the first in 10 years, make the test "better reflect what students are actually doing in classrooms," says Kristin Carnahan, associate director of public affairs for the College Board, the organization that designs and administers both the SAT and PSAT.

Though that might seem an obvious idea, it was not always the stated goal of the SAT. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the College Board widely touted the SAT as a measure of students' innate ability, and sections such as antonyms (eliminated in 1994) and those tricky analogies - brain teasers that were not directly related to schoolwork - were prized for that very reason.

But times changed. Students started studying lists of difficult words, and companies like the Princeton Review, which launched in 1981, began offering SAT-prep classes, all of which put the concept of the SAT as a pure measure of intellectual ability in question.

At the same time, some observers began saying cultural bias in questions' wording hurt the scores of minorities.

Not a bad timeline. Actually, the article in general is very good, and even-handed. The only "critics say" line is above, where it's actually appropriate. The reporter spends a lot of time on the topic that is most nerve-wracking - "that essay":

As for that essay - it will be read by two graders in a process that has been followed for years by the College Board in grading its SAT II writing test. Furthermore, the essay counts for only one-third of the Writing grade.

College Board representatives say the company conducted trials of the new test at 650 schools and found that a score of 600 on the old verbal test was equivalent to a score of 600 on the new critical reading test. Likewise, the scores from the old math test translated to equivalent scores on the new math test.

Of course, the Writing section is new and does change the balance of the test. Each student will now receive two language-related scores, which could concern some students who are significantly stronger in math than in language skills, such as students whose native language is not English.

Brian O'Reilly, executive director of SAT Information and Services, says, however, their research shows the addition of the writing test will be a boon for most English-as-a-second-language students.

"ESL students do not do as well on a writing test as non-ESL students, but with a writing test, that disadvantage is considerably less than with a reading test," O'Reilly explained.

And there's this tidbit, Lauren Schneider: "To some extent, it should help one group that right now scores lower than another group, that is women vs. men," O'Reilly said. "Women tend to do better on a writing test than men."

The bottom line on the new test, though, is that the vast majority of students will get a score that is comparable to what they would have received on the old test.

So students should relax.

Posted by kswygert at 12:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An interesting testing dilemma

Jason Karlawish, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wonders if a standardized test would be useful in judging who is competent to vote in elections. Needless to say, this has some folks in a tizzy:

When should people with Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairments lose the right to vote? A new report suggests it's when they can't pass a standardized competency test.

A panel of doctors and attorneys, which floated the proposal this month, cautions that mental illness itself isn't good enough of a reason to deny access to the voting booth. But the caveat hasn't quieted critics who say a test spells trouble.

"Their proposed solution is misguided and would result in disaster," said Jennifer Mathis, senior staff attorney with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington D.C. "It essentially invites a new generation of Jim Crow practice."

The recommendations appear in a commentary in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Jason Karlawish, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said the panel decided to tackle the issue of voting rights for the mentally ill -- especially those suffering from senility -- after reading online posts from caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. The caregivers were discussing the 2000 presidential election and the voting habits -- if any -- of the people they cared for.

"Reading those postings got us interested in wanting to look at the ethical, legal and social issues of voting by those with cognitive impairment," Karlawish said.

On the one hand, it appears that some caregivers illegally cast the votes of people with cognitive difficulties, he said. (Assisting people with voting is legal; actually voting for them is not).

At the same time, many state laws disenfranchise people if they're under guardianship, or considered "insane."

In the report, the panel supported the use of a standard set down by a Maine court, which threw out a law that banned voting by mentally ill people under guardianship. The standard "is objective and it gets to the heart of the matter," Karlawish said. "Do you understand what is voting, do you understand the nature and effect of voting, and can you make a choice?"

A test to answer the questions would make sense in situations when someone is being put under guardianship, Karlawish said. Tests could also be appropriate in places such as nursing homes, he added.

Dr. Karlawish is active in research in geriatrics, aging, bioethics and Alzheimer's, so I'm betting his heart is in the right place. He - rightfully, I think - sees testing as a way to avoid wholesale bans, such as the one in Maine which grouped all "mentally ill" voters into one category (one wonders how they defined that group). I wasn't able to find the test in question here, although on other websites related to his research, I found information on other cognitive exams that he's recommended. He's a pro-psychometrics guy, from everything I can tell.

And what's the opposition's argument? The one lawyer quoted above resorts to hyperbole instead of reason - but then presents some sounder ideas:

Mathis, the legal advocate for the mentally ill, doesn't like the idea of a test, especially if it's administered by nursing home staff members. (The report suggests that election officials could take on the role.) "This type of test is extremely subjective, and it's fraught with the potential for abuse," she said.

A better approach, she said, would be to bring up the issue of voting competence during hearings to determine whether someone should be placed guardianship because of mental illness.

Agreed. No one other than disinterested and well-trained parties, such as psychometricians and clinical psychologists, should administer and score the exam. And certainly hearings would be a suitable place to discuss voting competence - although there's no reason that objective measures couldn't be introduced, and weighed, at such proceedings.

Posted by kswygert at 12:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Parents, students, and the TAKS

In the Lone Star State, parents are getting their hands dirty by taking on TAKS tutoring duty:

Learning the skills to master the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test does not have to begin and end with the classroom. Parents can play a major role in how successful their children are with the test by practicing at home, and the Ector County Independent School District Family Education Center is trying to help.

A mother of three, Myna Houghton, took advantage of one opportunity at Zavala Elementary’s Simply Science event. There the Family Education Center showed parents how they can create mini-science lessons at home.

“We came because of the science experiments. My son wanted to see more of what it was about,” Houghton said. “But I’m sure I’ll get a couple hints on how to do science at home.” In one experiment, Houghton and other parents who attended the science workshop learned that a drop of dishwashing soap could send a paper boat across a pan of water. The point was to show how the soap disrupted the water molecules and caused the boat to move.

Barbara Villaloboz, ECISD parent involvement specialist, said the education center wants parents to encourage their children to ask questions and to reason...Villaloboz said parents can help their children to do well on the test by teaching them how to read labels on products and asking questions about the weather and grass.

A useful message to send to parents. However, others are ready to give up, claiming the test is too difficult - at least when used as an exit exam:

A revised scoring plan designed to boost passing rates on the new high school graduation test was pitched Thursday by State Board of Education members worried about the possibility of massive failures on the exam.

The proposal, outlined to board members Thursday, would allow students to pass the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills by averaging their scores from the four areas of the test – English, math, science and social studies. It has not been scheduled for formal action.

That would allow students to offset a failing score in one area with high scores in one or more of the other subjects so they could pass the exam.
Not all the board members liked this proposal, though. The Class of 2005 will be the first to be required to pass the new exit exam for graduation. They have five chances to pass, and if this composite plan is approved, Students take the test in spring of their junior year and have five chances to pass before the end of their senior year. Yet some are concerned about passing rates - and increased standards:

Results published this week by the Texas Education Agency indicate that 78 percent of high school seniors have passed after two rounds of the exam. That leaves almost 50,000 students who haven't passed. They have three more opportunities in their senior year. Students have done best on the social studies section, with 98 percent passing.

By ethnic group, the overall passing rates are 87 percent for white students, 68 percent for Hispanics and 66 percent for black students.

Some people are concerned that failure rates – particularly among minority and low-income students – may jump as the exam's passing standard is increased. This year's seniors had to correctly answer fewer than half the questions to pass the test.

Juniors this school year will have to get more answers correct to pass, and the cutoff score will increase again for juniors in the 2005-06 school year. The test replaced by the TAKS was much easier, measuring only eighth-grade skills.

So people are concerned that 12th-graders now need to display above-8th-grade skills. Hmm. Take a look at the new exam for yourself - here are the exit exams for the English, math, science, and social studies.

The 98% passing rate on social studies intrigues me. The Spring 2004 results are decent, with 85-87% passing overall on the other three components. and the Social Studies rate is high acros the board. Is the passing standard set lower for the social studies segment? Is the passing rate on English lower than social studies because the English portion has a writing exam? Interesting.

BTW, kudos to Texas for the testing site, which is easy to navigate, easy to read, and stuffed with information about all of the state exams.

Posted by kswygert at 12:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2004

When life interferes with blogging

No, I'm not dead. But thanks for asking!

Seriously, I'm up to my armpits in work, and that's not going to change over the next couple of months. What free time I have is spent eating, sleeping, and surfing the non-testing news on the web. Like most of the rest of you, I too have been constantly clicking through news/blog links to see what gets destroyed first - Alabama's coastline or Dan Rather's credibility.

I hate to say it, but it looks like N2P is going to have to go weekly, rather than daily, for a little while. Weekends are probably going to be my only chances to catch up, and hopefully I can squeeze a week's worth of material in for those days. For those of you who used N2P to kill time at work (and I know you're out there), here's a list of sites that are entertaining time-wasters, one and all:

Defamer, FuggingItUp, and AwfulPlasticSurgery - The best way to feel good about yourself is to observe how badly celebrities act, dress, and surgically "enhance" themselves when their handlers aren't around.

Movie Review Query Engine and Rotten Tomatoes - I'm an obsessive movie review fan and these sites allow you to read tons of review on any movie you choose. The MRQE site in particular is easy to use, and has reviews on obscure/old movies as well.

Crimelibrary, The Worldwide Serial Killer Homepage, Cult Killers, and Violent Kids - Because a day without a juicy forensic interview of a serial killer is like a day without sunshine.

If you've got money to burn, these are very cute bags (I ordered a couple in purple), this is a GREAT shoe store (kudos to the Devoted Reader who told me about it), and this site can handle all your dragon-related needs. If you'd rather laugh at the spendthrifts than part with cash yourself, there's always Who Would Buy That?

Favorite kitty-related site: MeanKitty.com. Be sure to read the descriptions in the galleries. This cat is apparently my Alice's twin sister in spirit. Heck, if you feel like admiring photos of my kitties too, admire away.

Check back this weekend for more news!

Posted by kswygert at 03:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 10, 2004

Cheating news roundup

Caveon's weekly roundup of cheating news contains this delicious story on something that drives me absolutely NUTS on almost any online forum or journal I join - the tendency for the younger set to be, er, "creative" with spelling and abbreviations:

A recent feature story noted that many teachers fear new technology is leading to rampant academic dishonesty.

Kids blatantly copy and paste book reports off the Web. They use instant messaging to share their homework answers with friends. They even use camera phones to transmit images of tests to others who will take the test in a later class period.

At the risk of sounding like boring old parents, you're just cheating yourselves when you do that — not a great idea, when you think about the long-term consequences to your academic record.

Maybe even worse, teachers are noticing a new kind of illiteracy generated by an addiction to text messaging and e-mail laziness: Kids turn in reports with no capitalization and no punctuation and misspellings and runonsentences and littered with lingo that makes teachers go, like, 'huh?'

That will just lead to report cards that make your parents go, like, :-(

Is text messaging a gateway to illiteracy in the same fashion that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs? Maybe. Once you get addicted to writing "u r gr8!", it's hard to go back...

And at UA, students who aren't busy perfecting tortilla tosses are instead perfecting ways to cheat in business classes:

According to the Code of Academic Integrity Summary Report, released by the Dean of Students Office, 68 cases of academic violations by students enrolled in the Eller College of Management were reported during the 2003-2004 academic year. Thirty-three of those cases were initiated by Eller College faculty members. This is a dramatic increase from the previous academic year.

While most officials would be upset to see a rise in reporting of cases of academic dishonesty from their college, Paul Melendez, the Eller College undergraduate programs adviser, says he thinks this is evidence that "E-tegrity" initiative is working.

Well, that's one way to put a positive spin on things.

In other cheating news, I'm sure absolutely no one will be surprised to hear that Paris Hilton, who is a bad example of humanity in just about every sense of the word, cheated her way through school:

During an appearance on MTV show Total Request Live, the socialite confessed she cheated on all her exams when she was in high school, a course of action she now disapproves of.

She said, "I was really bad in high school. I cheated on every test, which is really bad kids, because then you don't learn anything. I'm really mad that I cheated and didn't do my homework because now I don't know some of that stuff, so study."

Words of wisdom from the...not-so-wise, I suppose.

And more cheaters whom you really, really don't want to cheat:

Harrisburg city officials said they got a tip last week some [police] cadets may have had access to test questions before taking exams. The city contacted HACC where 49 cadets are enrolled in the 16-week training course.

"The allegation involves a small part of the 49 member class," Early said.

The city is already conducting its own investigation.

To paraphrase Paris - police cadets, cheating is "really bad, kids, because then you don't learn anything." Like, say, the issue of Miranda rights, and which direction to point the gun?

Posted by kswygert at 01:55 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Testing news roundup

Like many others in the blogosphere, I've been following the forged documents story. Astounding. Absolutely astounding. The power of the blogosphere has been decisively demonstrated (and by bloggers that I love - like Powerline and LGF - no less). Now, all I want is for the idiotic forger to try again, perhaps with a document "proving" that Bush is dumb because he got low scores on the computerized GRE back in 1974. Then I get to jump in and be the next SuperHero Blogger Putting The Big Media In Its Place.

Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Anyway, here's a roundup of testing news from this week:

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A recent study by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard found that charter school students in Massachusetts were performing better on reading and math state standardized tests. More information can be found here. The same caveats apply for interpretation of the results - it's far too soon to conclude that charter schools raise scores. It's also interesting to see the charter school opponents trot out the same old objections. Such as "Opponents of charter schools argue that the schools siphon off public dollars and top students from regular public schools. " As though the parents who pay those public dollars and raise those top kids don't deserve to have a say in how that money is spent, and where their kids are educated.

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A computer mixup sends California students to class without their STAR scores. ETS made a boo-boo with the zip codes, and now district officials are frantically trying to route scores to where they need to be.

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The NY Daily News supports Mayor Bloomberg's decision to end social promotion for fifth-graders. Current fifth-graders have until April - and $20 million allocated dollars - to learn enough to score higher than Level 1 on the state's standardized exams.

Money quote: "Bloomberg and Klein were vilified by many last year when they adopted a similar program for third-graders. Then the kids got into the swing of it, parents pitched in and test scores rose. Forty-one percent of the children who attended summer school made the grade, compared with just 19% the year before. The fifth-graders now will have the same chance, and there's every indication that with a full year's help, they'll do even better. "

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All the hurricanes of late may be helping little Floridians learn their alphabet (and how to tape windows), but the weather patterns are wreaking havoc on test schedules. Some administrators are asking for FCAT scores not to count towards funding this year, not least because some teachers are homeless and some classrooms still don't have roofs.

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Fellow blogger Stephan Sharkansky (Sharkblog) gets press as an opponent of Seattle's Families and Education Levy. No, he's not anti-family, nor anti-education; he's just anti-spending-money-with-no-accountability:

For Sharkansky, one of the most outspoken levy critics, the primary concern is the lack of regular, thorough program evaluations that demonstrate how the levy money was used and how it improved student achievement. Sharkansky said he has pored over pages of public records, including the levy's 2003 progress report, and thinks there is little data to show whether levy money was spent effectively.

"All the previous programs had 'measurable outcomes,' but they were so loose as to be largely meaningless," he said. He cited one example from the 2003 levy progress report: the Community Action Camp, a three-week summer program for high-schoolers that trains students to be "social activists" and places them in a weeklong internship with local community organizations.

Looking at the evaluation, he notes that the program's main achievements were that "67 percent felt that the project gave them a useful role in the community" and that "100 percent of the students involved showed increased leadership skills."

"What does that mean?" he said. "That doesn't say much."

Shark also got his own op-ed in the Seattle PI, here. Best comment: "Even as city leaders acknowledge they've done a poor job of managing the past 14 years of levy proceeds, they expect Seattle families to give them 69 percent more money in exchange for only vague promises that they'll somehow do a better job this time."

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The Texas A&M Battalion sticks its neck out for sexually-segregated classrooms:

The bottom line is the same: Separate the girls from the boys.

...Dr. Leonard Sax, a Maryland physician and psychologist, found in a study that girls tend to learn in a quiet and slower paced environment and liked to be called by their first names whereas boys like things energetic, fast paced and prefer to be called by their last names.

This is a nationwide trend re-appearing with the number of single-sex public schools increasing from four to 140 over the last eight years, according to Sax. And the trend keeps growing. CNN reported at least 10 single-sex schools were to open this fall in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina.

This trend has such a positive impact on public schools that the U.S. Department of Education is looking to change parts of Title IX, the law that bars sex discrimination.

It seems to me that the same arguments used against homeschooling - that such students do not get exposed to the same material as in "real" schools, and also become "undersocialized" - get used in arguments against single-sex classes. As though education that in any form separates students from the "mainstream" will leave them deaf, dumb, and socially maladjusted.

Posted by kswygert at 01:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 09, 2004

Thinking outside the bun

The University of Arizona - Where the weather is hot, the livin' is easy, and parents attending commencement exercises will be frisked at the door for contraband tortillas:

There will be no universitywide commencement ceremony for undergraduates at the UA this December, over the strong objection of student and alumni groups. UA Student Body President Alistair Chapman said he believes the underlying motivation is tortillas, which - when spinning through the air at commencement - have confounded the administration and drawn protesters in recent years.

Instead, graduating seniors will receive their diplomas at convocations hosted by their individual colleges, University of Arizona officials formally announced Wednesday. The UA conferred about 3,700 degrees last December, and about half of the recipients attended the campuswide ceremony...

UA President Peter Likins, who made the final decision, could not be reached for comment...Likins had warned in May 2003 that he would consider canceling the campuswide commencement if tortillas continue to be tossed.

"Unless our peculiar practice of throwing tortillas ceases, we may be obliged to cancel future all-university commencement ceremonies, leaving our graduation celebrations to the individual colleges," Likins wrote.

The tortillas continued to fly. But Chapman said a video from the May 2004 commencement showed most of the tortillas were thrown from the audience. He said he believes security at the doors, similar to that at basketball games, would eliminate that problem and is needed anyway for a crowd of 14,000.

Emphasis mine. I can't think of any way to interpret that, other than, if they held one campus-wide commencement ceremony, the rent-a-cops would be forced to shake people down in search of...tortillas. So perhaps it's best to hold smaller ceremonies.

Posted by kswygert at 07:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Bloomberg marches on

Apparently, all the hullaballoo over ending social promotion for third-graders wasn't too much for NYC Mayor Bloomberg - he's aiming at fifth-graders as well:

Following up on his plan to end social promotion for third graders, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday that he will seek to extend the policy to all fifth graders beginning this school year. The plan could affect as many as 12,500 fifth graders each year who have marginal standardized test scores but are promoted to sixth grade anyway.

"This can't continue. I won't let it," Bloomberg told a group of parents, teachers and principals at Brooklyn Technology High School. "We can't solve every problem that the middle grades pose. But we can, and we will, begin to take aggressive steps to ensure that students come into the middle grades academically prepared."

The mayor repeated that a decent education was a civil right for students, and said, "shame on us if we don't have the courage to stand up for them."

Courage is what it will take, as his opponents will most likely redouble their efforts and drag out the same arguments about the "unfairness" of all this.

Posted by kswygert at 11:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Creating healthy bodies and healthy minds

Testing gets blamed for the rise in childhood obesity in this article:

Just an extra hour of exercise a week could significantly cut obesity among young overweight girls, according to a study that researchers say could lead to major changes in the way schools fight obesity.

The study -- the largest look yet at obesity among young children -- did not show the same results for boys, possibly because they generally get more exercise than girls.

Still, Dr. Rebecca Unger, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the findings show the important role schools can play to prevent obesity and its health ramifications...

In the past decade, many schools have scaled back recess time or physical education classes to provide more time to prepare students for testing programs that are a key part of school-funding formulas, said Dr. Vincent Ferrandino, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

"Many of those schools that made those choices to cut back on PE classes now realize that was not a good decision in regards to their students' health," said Ferrandino.

Is that really what's driving a lack of interest in PE? Or could another cause here be the schools so devoted to "non-violence" and non-competitiveness that they forbid students from touching one another, or from playing any sort of sports that one can "win"? Certainly, a kid could come away from PC PE class thinking that the best thing to do is sit around quietly. If we're going to help these kids shed pounds, we've got to stop freaking out every time they skin their knees or get upset at missing a goal.

I agree with the researchers that banning fatty foods from school is a good idea, though it won't be easy, given that students have come to think of sweet snacks as a right, not a privilege.

Posted by kswygert at 11:33 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

When the safety features on school buses don't include the driver

Whatever happened to the demerit system, having bus monitors to assist school bus drivers, and assigning the rowdiest routes to the burliest, most competent drivers? Baltimore is facing some tough criticism as an out-of-control bus makes the news:

Old Court Middle School pupils aboard a bus were so rowdy Tuesday that the driver apparently was not aware that a boy had fallen out the rear emergency door, police and school officials said yesterday.

The boy was identified as Sedrick Alexander Bailey, 11, a seventh-grader who lives in the 7800 block of Kenbridge Road in the Windsor Mill area of Baltimore County. He remained in the critical care unit of Sinai Hospital last night and was listed in serious condition, a hospital spokesman said.

Luckily for the boy, there were some adults nearby who were paying attention:

County police spokesman Bill Toohey said that after the bus passed Sedrick's usual stop, another child opened the back door and encouraged the boy to jump out. Police and school officials were investigating whether Sedrick then accidentally fell, jumped or was pushed.

Rudy Seunarine, 43, who lives at Coronado and Kenbridge, said he was in his driveway when he saw Sedrick lying on his back in the street, with the bus traveling on, its emergency door open.

Seunarine said he slipped Sedrick's white notebook under the boy's injured head for support while calling 911 on a cell phone.

"He was in bad shape," the neighbor said. "He was crying. He was in shock. ... He told me he was pushed, but it's up in the air still."

The punchline here, such as it is, is that the driver remained clueless about what happened until the school, alerted by police, contacted him (didn't he notice his rear door was open? there is an alarm for that sort of thing). The reason given is all the confusion and shouting on the bus (did he not notice what they were shouting?). Oh, and the bus driver is 81 years old - not to bring up ageism here, but it's certainly possible that the age factor had something to do with this.

Posted by kswygert at 11:23 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Reorganizing Chicago

Chicago is in the midst of a huge public school overhaul called Renaissance 2010, and one important aspect of it involves the closing of underenrolled schools. The first day of school brought a lawsuit by homeless advocates, who claim that the plan of closing-and-tranferring violates the city's "promise to provide educational stability to homeless children."

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless filed a lawsuit against the district Tuesday--the first day of school--alleging that the district has broken its promise to provide educational stability to homeless children.

The lawsuit stems from a class-action case that was filed in 1992 and settled in 2000. The new lawsuit, set for a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court next Tuesday, seeks to halt any future school closings in this "sudden, unlawful, unreasonable and precipitous plan."

The first wave of closings came in June, when the district decided to close 10 underenrolled schools and transfer 4,000 students. The lawsuit estimated that at least 160 homeless students protected by the 2000 agreement were displaced by this first round of closings...

While the lawsuit focuses on the upheaval of homeless kids, other opponents of Renaissance 2010 said they welcome any strategy that could delay or derail the plan.

And why would that be? After all, the goal of the Renaissance reform plan is to improve public education in Chicago for all students. This Chicago Tribune editorial is most enthusiastic about the ambitious plan:

Our commitment from Day One has been to every child in every school in Chicago, and that starts with those students who most need our help and support in these schools. We have both an educational and a moral obligation to take dramatic action on behalf of children in chronically low-performing schools, and that's why Renaissance 2010 is so important.

Under Renaissance 2010, in the next six years we will open at least 100 new elementary and high schools by transforming low- enrollment and low-performing elementary schools and by breaking up large underperforming high schools into new small high schools. These schools will be housed primarily in existing buildings, so this is not about building schools from the ground up.

About two-thirds of these new schools will be run independently as charter or contract schools, using outside partners with cutting-edge educational approaches. The other third will be run by the Chicago Public Schools. Most of the new schools will be small schools limited to about 500 students, and most will be neighborhood schools, created to serve primarily children from the surrounding communities.

The Trib's also reporting that the first day of school went off with few hitches:

Ten new schools opened this year, including three charter schools and four small schools-within-a-school. A contract school called Chicago Academy High School opened in the Austin High schoolhouse, taking in 9th graders as the struggling high school begins its transformation into several smaller schools.

Perspectives Charter School, a successful model that district officials hope to replicate around the city as part of Renaissance 2010, moved to a new building, a quirky $4 million, triangular structure at State Street and Archer Avenue.

For the first time, Perspectives students will have access to a reference library and will no longer have to share lockers or squeeze through crowded hallways.

"Now we have a big school," said Brittany Patterson, 17. "We came from a warehouse to a trailer to now this. I love it."

So do the homeless advocates have a legitimate gripe? Or are they missing Chicago's point, which is that forcing homeless kids to transfer is still better than keeping them - and everyone else - locked in underperforming schools?

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 08, 2004

The three L's: Lipstick, liner, and lashes

This Guardian (UK) article about marketing beauty, and sex, to 10-year-old girls is rather frightening, not least because the beauty biz would like to see the market invade the schools:

Earlier this year the Association of Teachers and Lecturers called for age restrictions on magazines such as Bliss, Sugar and Cosmo girl on the basis that they were "full of explicit sexual content" and "glamorise promiscuity".

When Mad About Boys, a glossy magazine aimed at nine- to 12-year-old girls, was launched in 2001, MPs warned that it portrayed them as sex objects, gave tips on makeup and encouraged them to diet...

The Mintel survey acknowledges such concerns but points out there are commercial opportunities. "Cosmetic manufacturers must be ever mindful of the fine line they tread between encouraging children to look and behave like adults and promoting their products as being good, clean fun," said Claire Hatcher, one of the firm's senior consumer analysts...

Retailing toiletries to teenagers has suffered neglect, the report adds. "Makeup, in particular, is often an impulse purchase, so placing teen brands in unusual locations such as in vending machines in schools, cinemas and bowling alleys may persuade consumers into buying something they had not previously considered."

Emphasis mine. The British teachers' unions react, unsurprisingly and appropriately, with horror:

Many schools already discourage pupils from wearing makeup and some ban cosmetics. The two main teaching unions reacted with disbelief to the suggestion of installing vending machines in schools.

Chris Keates, the acting general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "It's an extraordinary idea for anyone to come up with. Do people want to lose the focus of what school is about? Pupils should not be thinking about whether they have an opportunity to use cosmetics."

A spokesman for the NUT said: "Pupils have always tried to get around bans. But the purpose of school is education of the child not an opportunity to increase their sex appeal."

Exactly. According to the survey cited, "63% of seven to 10-year-olds wear lipstick, more than two in five eye shadow or eyeliner, and almost one in four mascara." We can assume (I hope) that some of this is play-time makeup, with little girls rooting through Mommy's stash to have fun with red lipstick. But to allow, or encourage, kids this young to wear makeup in public - especially to school - sends a very bad message. Girls that young shouldn't view makeup as anything other fantasy stuff to be limited to one's home. And while cosmetics are more appropriate for older girls, perhaps even in school, allowing them to buy it on the premises sends the message that it's not only acceptable, but somewhat required, and teenagers can do without that message.

(I realize that I may sound like I'm contradicting myself, as evidenced by a post I made last week where I defended the rights of goth middle-schoolers to wear black nail polish. But I have no problem with, say, schools banning nail polish for all eighth-graders, on the grounds that such sexual attractions are not yet acceptable. What I have a problem with is schools allowing the girls to wear red, but not black, nail polish, on the grounds that red polish for young girls is healthy while black, somehow, is not.)

Posted by kswygert at 09:54 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 07, 2004

A new kind of high school in Houston

Working full time? Need to learn English? Not yet ready for college? Under 21? Houston may have a high school for you:

Seventeen-year-old immigrant Antonio Cruz works the overnight shift as a janitor to help support his family, leaving little time for a traditional high school schedule. He's the kind of person Houston school officials hope to lure to a proposed new campus that would offer flexible schedules, accelerated credit programs and yearlong schooling.

"Many of these students walk into our high schools and know little or no English," interim Houston superintendent Abe Saavedra said Tuesday at Lee High School, where students from 70 countries speak 42 languages. "Immigrant students need more support than conventional schools can provide."

The school, which goes to a vote of the Houston Independent School District's board Thursday, would offer weekend classes, customized instruction and "whatever we have to do to make sure these kids graduate," Saavedra said...

The school would open in 2005 to about 125 students, eventually growing to about 250, Saavedra said. The concept could be expanded to at least three other areas of the district, which has about 12,000 immigrant students.

Posted by kswygert at 04:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A sad day for campuses

A strange set of links from Drudge this morning - a roster of college students either committing suicide, or found dead. Six NYU students have apparently committed suicide since Sept. 7 of last year, although at least one case followed the use of "hallucogenic mushrooms."

But it was a bad week for dorms and frat houses, too, as college students expired at Princeton, McGill, Michigan, and Colorado State. It doesn't sound like foul play is suspected in any of these, but neither have the causes of death been identified.

This may be no more than the usual number of college students who die at the beginning of school years, but tragic nonetheless.

Posted by kswygert at 04:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This dance is brought to you by the letter "D"

Teachers in some California school districts have a tough road ahead - but I think it's the right one:

Teaching first grade has its challenges. The young students aren't used to sitting in their seats in their classroom for the day. They have short attention spans. They like to chew on pencils. So imagine what it's like to teach a first-grade class where more than half of the students show up for the first day of the new school year understanding little or no English, under state law demanding that lessons be taught solely in English.

That's the case this month for dozens of first-grade classes throughout the Oceanside Unified School District, where up to 90 percent of students at some elementary campuses can't speak or understand very much English.

"Teachers do have an incredible challenge ahead of them during the first few weeks of school," said Mission Elementary Principal Randi Gibson, whose school has roughly 65 percent of its students enrolled in programs for those learning English as a second language.

That's tough. I couldn't do that job. But somebody has to. If the kids aren't going to start learning English in first grade, when will they learn it? An absolute necessity here, of course, are teachers who are willing to do what it takes, even dance:

Ultimately, the job is left up to teachers such as Berlinda Cordova-Weir, who said she sometimes feels like a dancing clown in front of her first-grade class of mostly beginner-English students at Mission Elementary.

In her class of 20 children, 16 of them are labeled English Language Learners, meaning that most of them only understand Spanish. Although Cordova-Weir is bilingual, she is required by state law banning bilingual education to give lessons in English and can only speak in Spanish to clarify instructions for those who would otherwise be lost in the lessons.

"I'm just acting out a lot of the things I am saying to them," she said. "I look like a clown sometimes, but it's how I can get to them."

Educators call this acting out of words a "Total Physical Response," which helps students tie body movements and gestures to vocabulary words and actions. It's one way Cordova-Weir connects to students. Other ways include using many pictures to teach a single concept.

In her class Thursday morning, the fourth day of school, students sat on a small carpet at the front of the room while Cordova-Weir went over "d" sounds in words by holding up pictures of dogs, dimes and other objects that begin with "d."

She interrupted her lesson a few times to explain the activity in Spanish to individual students. When students were asked to sit at their desks to practice writing the same letter in uppercase and lowercase, several of them spoke Spanish to one another.

That's fine. If it takes dancing - excuse me, "Total Physical Response" - to get the point across, that's what it takes. It sounds like she's doing a great job, and again - somebody has to take responsibility to do this job for these kids. These types of numbers suggest that the training for first-grade teachers, especially those in districts with high percentages of non-English-speakers, should be a bit more rigorous.

Posted by kswygert at 01:13 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

He's not one to talk about low verbal SAT scores

I can only hope that the principal of Monroe Area Comprehensive High School is misquoted in this article about using the SAT to assess educational progress in Georgia:

While Walton’s system-wide Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores showed a drop-off from the previous year in most instances, local officials are questioning the state’s use of the SAT as a barometer for education.

System-wide, the 327 juniors and seniors who took the 2004 test averaged a 931 total score, 56 points lower than the state average and 18 points lower than last year’s system results. On the verbal portion of the test, Walton students scored a 463, 31 points below the state average and 16 points lower than last year’s results. On the math portion, Walton students scored a 468, 25 points below the state average and two points below last year’s results.

Officials partially attribute the drop in scores to more students taking the test in 2004.

Statistics dictate that the more folks that take the test, the more you’re closer you’re going to get your mean score,” said Dr. Jimmy Stokes, principal of Monroe Area Comprehensive High School.

Whaa? What? Even if you try to figure out where some words must have been accidentally inserted, that doesn't make sense. Yes, if more lower-ability students took the test, the mean might drop. If a larger number of students who might not otherwise be considering college took the test, that might do it. But it could happen that more students whose abilities range from high to low were added this year, and they aren't going to shift the mean that much. "Statistics dictate," my ass.

Stokes follows this mush-mouth comment with one that is crystal clear, and wrong.

The mean score for the SAT is 800, Stokes said.

The top possible score per section is 800. The national mean for 2004 on the two sections combined is 1049. Reporter Joe Dennis should learn to use Google.

And the Monroe Area Comprehensive High School should find a better spokesperson. Especially when the article immediately follows his claim with an example of a system which has an increase in SAT-takers and an increase in mean score:

Monroe Area saw a 19 percent jump in the number of students who took the SAT. Despite the jump, the school actually saw its math test scores improve, from 447 in 2003 to 452 in 2004. It’s verbal score dropped from 466 in 2003 to 445 in 2004 for a total score of 897.

That would be "its," not "it's." Grrr.

The article also includes this interesting, and unchallenged, statement:

While the state places a heavy emphasis on students taking the SAT for college admission, the Walton system is starting to promote the ACT to its juniors and seniors.

“The SAT is not for everyone,” said Dr. Karen Rutter, technology and career coordinator for Walton County Schools. “The ACT is geared more towards what you know, but unfortunately Georgia has pigeon-holed everyone into taking the SAT.”

And, the SAT is about....who you know? Yes, it's true that the ACT differs from the SAT, and the ACT is most definitely based on what kids know:

The ACT is curriculum-based. The ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. Instead, the questions on the ACT are directly related to what students have learned in high school courses in English, mathematics, and science. Because the ACT tests are based on what is taught in the high school curriculum, students are generally more comfortable with the ACT than they are with traditional aptitude tests or tests with narrower content.

But the correlation between ACT composite and combined SAT scores has been found to be a cool .92, which is very high for the social sciences. This suggests that (a) the SAT and ACT are tapping into the same skills, and (b) it is unlikely that there are vast numbers of kids who bomb the SAT but would do just fine on the ACT.

Luckily for this school district, someone with sense is employed there :

Superintendent Dr. Tim Lull said the way the educational system is set up in the state doesn’t adequately prepare students for the SAT. “If the push in Georgia is going to be the SAT, then the state has to modify its testing and curriculum,” Lull said.

Lull noted that the Georgia Department of Education uses state-produced tests throughout the year — such as the Criterion Referenced Competency Test and the Georgia High School Graduation Test — to track student progress, but then emphasizes the results of the SAT, a nationally standardized test. “You can’t hold kids to the state standard and then expect them to hold to a national standard,” he said.

He has a point. If the state cares about SAT scores, then it should focus on those skills. It's not a given that the CRCT and GHSGT measure the same skills as the SAT/ACT. It would certainly provide some criterion validity evidence for those tests if they did, though; if in fact large numbers of students are passing the GHSGT but bombing the SAT, that's something for the admins to think about.

Posted by kswygert at 01:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2004

When being the target of bullies really stinks

Didn't really get the chance to scan the news today (chances are everyone was talking about Zell Miller instead of tests), and hopefully I'll be posting a bit more this weekend. But before I go, I just have to link to this news article, which raised my eyebrows practically off my forehead:

A pair of Taunton High School jocks got dumped from the varsity football team yesterday when administrators busted them for urinating on the freshman squad's equipment. The duo soiled shoulder pads, jerseys and cleats, and even defecated on the locker room floor, during the Friday afternoon stunt, Superintendent Donald Cleary said.

"I've got to assume they were trying to send a message,'' he said.

I've got to assume they teach Mastery of Understatement at Superintendent School. It is possible to make a comment that is SO understated that it makes the speaker seem a bit dense, you know.

Apparently, the pranksters topped it all off with Gatorade "to make it look like more urine than there was,'' Cleary said. Both students, identified as sophomore and junior members of the varsity team, received a four-day suspension from school. They'll also split the cost of cleaning the locker room and replacing the tainted equipment, Cleary said.

"Obviously people are learning difficult lessons,'' he said.

Again, the understatement. Of two high-schoolers learning a lesson that most parents would have drilled into their three-year-olds. You do not relieve yourself on other people's property! Why does a high school superintendent consider this to be a DIFFICULT lesson for his charges to learn?

Practice was canceled Monday as the school's headmaster and athletic director pressed each varsity player for answers. School officials initially considered suspending the team's season if the culprits wouldn't come forward, Cleary said.

The school opted not to involve police. "We felt we could do it more efficiently and quickly,'' Cleary said.

Plus they knew that police would either laugh in their faces, or call in the EPA and get the entire locker room declared a public health hazard.

Christine Fagan, 52, who has sons on both the varsity and freshman football teams, said neither son was laughing when they found out their season might be jeopardized. "I had two sad, sad faces come out of my car,'' Fagan said. "It's a real downer for them.''

Why sad? Why not angry at the idiots who pulled this stupid stunt? My guess is the really sad faces were those who had to transport the whole stinking mess of equipment to the cleaners, not to mention the parents of the adorable little pee-peers and poo-pooers (who should be sent to their rooms until they turn 21 or learn to control their bodily functions in public, whichever comes first).

Posted by kswygert at 03:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 01, 2004

A tragedy in Russia

Every parent's nightmare just came true in Russia:

Chechen terrorists (male and female) have seized school #895 in Beslan, North Osetia. They are holding 600 students, parents and teachers. They demand the release of 27 terrorists who were recently arrested in a raid in Ingushetia. Terrorists have mined the area around the school, and reportedly the female terrorists are wearing suicide belts. Terrorists have announced, via a loudspeaker, that they will kill 20 students for each terrorist killed by the police. They have also made the students stand in order to prevent the police from shooting at the windows. About the school. School #895 has a capacity of 895 students and 59 teachers.

Today was the first day of school for these kids. The blogger at Logic & Sanity is fluent in Russian and is translating the wires every 15 minutes or so (more here on Yahoo). Shots and fires have been reported from inside the school.

I was going to say that hanging's too good for these scum, but now that I think about it, tar-and-feathering, draw-and-quartering, and the guillotine is too good for 'em, too. Nothing I've read so far leads me to be optimistic. One of the commenters on LGF has an apt statement about the event:

The face of evil. Look well upon it, world. Stop making excuses for it and start dealing with it as it deserves.

Update: I was right to be pessimistic. Now I'm just enraged.

Posted by kswygert at 12:07 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Getting exercised over Goths

My boyfriend couldn't wait to send me this entry from the Blabbermouth.net topic board on goth gear being banned from a Wichita middle school. Pull out your hip boots and let's go wading in the muck:

Students at Wilbur Middle School who like the Goth look will have to rethink their clothing this year. Principal Cherie Crain announced last week that the black lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish and hair dye of the so-called Goth style, can't be combined with all-black clothing anymore.

Crain said the students dressing in so-called Goth style had become a distraction, and some younger students were intimidated. She also said she has had a rule banning clothing or accessories that define a group of students in the Wilbur rule book for at least 15 years.

"Anything disruptive to school is a no-no, too," Crain said. "And this is definitely a disruption."

"Clothing or accessories that define a group of students"? Could you be a little more vague? Does this mean the preppy kids have to make sure they don't all wear their new polo shirts on the same day? Are the cheerleaders forbidden from wearing their uniforms on Fridays? Do all the pro football team supporters have to make sure not to all wear their jerseys at once?

I mean, get real. If weird hair color and black nail polish is out, it's out, but don't make gang assumptions about the goth kids for - horrors! - wanting to dress just like their friends. And isn't "disruptive" in the eye of the beholder? Does this mean that cropped t-shirts and low-rise pants are out too?

In this case, the accessories like studded metal bracelets, the black makeup and graphic T-shirts advertising heavy metal bands are the biggest concern, Crain said.

In past years, only two or three kids among Wilbur's 1,000 students dressed Goth, and Crain said she let that slide. But when school started last week, about a dozen kids had adopted the Goth look.

"We just want everybody to feel comfortable at school," Crain said.

A dozen. Out of one thousand. That's only a little over one-tenth of one percent. And Crain thinks this is a problem?

Debbie McKenna, who supervises the district's safe and drug-free schools programs, said wearing Goth clothing can be a warning sign of other problems. Teachers are trained to check if students who wear such clothes have withdrawn from other students and if they're using drugs.

Oh, how caring. Are teachers trained to look for signs of drug use in students who aren't wearing black? Are teachers aware that experts in the field of teenage violence do not consider the impact of Black Sabbath or The Matrix to be meaningful influences on such behavior? Are they aware that violent sociopaths like the Columbine killers are not in the least bit typical of your average goth?

The bottom line is that a kid who is violent could look like Marilyn Manson, Justin Timberlake - or nobody in particular. For the school to focus this sort of attention on the dozen kids wearing black, all of whom are probably budding poets or art majors, is a waste of resources.

I understand that these looks might seem extreme for middle-schoolers. But if the school is truly displeased, then it needs to implement a dress code or uniform that's across the board. If you and your friends can't dress alike in black or wear your Lamb of God t-shirts, but the preppy crowd can all dress alike in polos and wear their Dave Matthews t-shirts, that's simply unfair.

Yes, goth kids can be moody, troublesome, and immature. But while disturbed kids may be drawn to the occult, it's ludicrous to say that every kid who shops at Hot Topic is disturbed (if so, that's an awful lot of disturbance). I consider myself a well-informed amateur on the topic of goth kids and violence, and have yet to see a single instance of a murderous goth kid who didn't have a family history of mental illness, poverty, abuse, neglect, and all-around bad parenting. In other words, the pathology underlying the behavior of disturbed goth kids isn't all that different from disturbed non-goths; they just choose a different wardrobe. The schools would do well to ignore the trendiness of the mall-goth crowd (or set less-judgmental dress code limits), and instead focus their therapeutic energies on the kids who are problematic in a non-black-nail-polish way (starting fights, showing signs of drug use, showing major fluctuations in their academic work, etc.).

Update: I've been unable to access my blog all day, and thus haven't been able to correct my error - 12 is indeed a bit over one percent (which I had actually typed the first time around), not a bit over one-tenth of one percent (which I typed from lack of coffee.) Plus, I have to say I LOVE the Dell goth/preppy commercial (free reg required), not least because (a) I started dressing goth in college myself, (b) I own a Dell, and (c) I used to own a pet python (although mine was much smaller than the one in the commercial).

Posted by kswygert at 11:19 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Where in the bill of rights is a free college education guaranteed?

Students who oppose the military were among the collection of whackos, moonbats, and unemployed "activists" protesting the Republican National Convention this week, and their exploits are lovingly detailed in this article on EdWeek:

Now 17 years old, Ms. Gordon-Loebl, a Manhattan public school student, is a more seasoned activist, but no less strong-willed. On Aug. 29, the day before the Republican National Convention opened, the high school senior-to-be joined tens of thousands of protesters in a march that took them through the heart of Manhattan past Madison Square Garden, the site of the GOP gathering...

Many of the student-protestors vented anger over a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act, the sweeping federal education initiative Mr. Bush signed into law in 2002, that requires schools to give military recruiters greater access to students' personal information and makes it more difficult for districts to bar the recruiters from high school campuses. Those policies, at a time when the United States is immersed in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, seemed to galvanize many of the activists...

"A school's a place for knowledge, a place to learn, not necessarily what to think but how to think," said Ms. Gordon-Loebl, wearing sunglasses over her close-cropped hair. "To have militaristic propaganda, to have the government recruiting for combat, for war, for violence, is wrong. ...A lot of people say well, it's so easy to turn down a military recruiter. But a lot of people really don't have other options. They're recruiting people to go die for them. It's not [students'] cause."

I can't say I believe Ms. Gordon-Loebl has learned much about "how to think," not if she's merely parroting the standard bumper-sticker slogan that "War is wrong." She also obviously doesn't think much of other students' rights to choose their own causes and make their own decisions.

Numerous students pointed out that the maximum Pell Grant award has remained stagnant under the Bush administration (at $4,050 a year), and they predicted that rising tuition costs will force them to take out more loans, work more off-campus jobs, and eventually graduate with larger debt.

"The Bush administration has not been friendly to college students, and students in general," said Ashwini Hardikar, 19, who attends the University of Michigan. "Higher education should be a right, not a privilege. Overwhelmingly, it's the privileged classes that have access."

Ah, there's the classic "it's a right, not a privilege!" argument, which translates to "Give me more of your money now!" Hardikar could benefit from a few economics classes at U Mich, where hopefully they will convey the fact that someone has to pay tax money for all those grants and loans, and that working one's way through college has traditionally been thought of admirable, not pitiable.

But hey, there is one kid in the crowd with some sense - and he's from New Jersey, to boot:

Not all students in Manhattan that day were keen on the protesters' message. Michael Garson, 16, caught a glimpse of the protestors not long after he and his family exited their train, having just arrived from Marlboro, N.J. He blamed the activists for taxing security forces that were already burdened with the week's security concerns.

As the New Jersey student saw it, the protestors' worries about education issues were overblown. Students still had every right to turn down military recruiters' overtures, he said, despite what the activists claimed; and when it comes to paying for college, there was no reason the federal government's obligations needed to grow.

Posted by kswygert at 10:52 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When the SAT is just perfect

There's nothing like a group of students doing well to change testing criticism to testing praise, as evidenced by this article that's just chock-full of educators singing the praises of the SAT:

Ohio's class of 2004 achieved scores 30 and 24 points above the national average on the verbal and math Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs), according to results released today by the College Board's Advanced Placement Program. Ohio students had an average score of 538 on the verbal test, compared to the national average of 508. They also averaged 542 on the math test, compared to 518 nationally...

The SAT results demonstrate that Ohio students continue to outperform the national average on national tests, including the American College Testing entrance and placement exam and the National Assessment of Educational Progress...

"It's encouraging that Ohio students are continuing to increase their state test scores and stay above average on national tests," said Susan Tave Zelman, superintendent of public instruction. "Ohio's educational system is working. These improvements are a trend we expect to see as new assessments are aligned to the state's academic content standards"...

"Today's students need higher order thinking skills to compete in a 21st century global economy," Zelman said. "Challenging academic standards and coursework will prepare all of our students for success in college and careers."

Why, there's not a "Critics say" line in sight. Imagine that. From now on, if I see anyone bashing the SAT as measuring nothing but "test-taking skills," I'll just send them along to Zelman, and she'll take care of 'em.

And do a Google search for "national SAT scores" to read all the latest articles about schools that are either celebrating or fretting over their comparisons to the SAT and ACT averages. However, none of the articles link to the College Board site that has a plethora of SAT information - for shame, mainstream reporters.

Posted by kswygert at 10:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The "free" schools that we all pay for

Blogger Dave Huber boggles at this cornucopia of the Obvious & the Inane, otherwise known as the resolutions passed by the National Education Association. Dave's already done the heavy lifting here, so I'll just list some of his better quotes (NEA resolutions are in italics, Dave's replies in bold):

Resolution B-15: Discriminatory Academic Tracking. The NEA believes that the use of academic tracking based on socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, or gender must be eliminated in all public school settings.

There's an inherent contradiction in this resolution. "Academic tracking" is based on just that -- academics. I know of no tracking system which is based on that which the NEA proposes. That would be highly illegal anyway. Can you imagine an honors-level student being told "Well, son, you're an outstanding academic student but your dad only makes $18,000 a year. So, you'll have to attend the low-SES class"? It just doesn't happen!

On the other hand (and this is what I believe the NEA is actually referring to), if academic tracking results in classes that are "identifiable" by SES, ethnicity, race, etc., that's a completely different matter and subject to debate.

Resolution B-19: Education of Refugee and Undocumented Children and Children of Undocumented Immigrants. The NEA believes that, regardless of the immigration status of students or their parents, every student has a right to free public education..."

Don't you hate it when people dub something "public" as "free"? In terms of public education, it's hardly free -- we all pay for it, usually through property taxes.

Resolution H-3: The Right to Vote. The NEA further supports voter education programs and uniform registration requirements without restrictive residency provisions.

Those nasty residency provisions. After all, why not allow someone to be registered in more than one state/region, and perhaps even vote more than once in a given election?

Resolution B-40: Physical Education. Physical education programs ... should be cooperative in nature, and culturally sensitive..."

Can't have competitive games now, can we? (How can you avoid it? By having no winners?) And what the hell is "culturally sensitive" phys. ed.?

Ask the dean of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education, Dave. I'm sure he could tell you.

Posted by kswygert at 10:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack
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