February 25, 2005

Pinhead alert

Hey, I finally got some new hate mail - and it was in the comment section of a post that had nothing to do with the original post that upset the mailer. Given that they left it in a comment, I figure they want it public, so here it is:

I read an old entry of yours from February 11, 2004 about your stand on the SAT. I am quite angered by what you wrote, but I will try to be civil and tolerant in my response.

I have to say, I truly feel bad for you, because you clearly don't understand the SAT, what it does to children and, how useless it is. Also, the fact that you think it is unbiased is absurd, because it clearly is. A rich, white child who has the money to afford an SAT prep course or tutoring has a clear advantage over a poor child that cannot. As for it being an "aptitude" test (which even ETS has admitted it is not, which is why the SAT no longer stands for "scholastic aptitude test")I know dozens of people that did terribly on the test and have become brilliant doctors, lawyers and what have you. I also know people who aced the test, but now live in penury, and do not have the intelligence to get anywhere in life.

Things such as GPA are much more important in measuring a childs school performance because it is a direct reflection of their school work. SAT tests are a disgustingly unfair way to measure a childs abilities. I don't see how being able to awkwardly interpret a completely irrelevant passage about something such as farmers in Idaho or different ways to cook vegetables can be even mildly considered as an accurate measure of a childs ability to excel in something like biochemistry, or dentistry.

You clearly are someone that is not insightful or considerate to those less fortunate. I suggest that you read this book: "None of the Above: The Truth Behind the SATs" by David Owen. Hopefully it will help you understand this issue. Please keep your mind open, and come to think of people other than yourself.

I suppose I should keep an open enough mind to be swayed by the uncited, anecdotal evidence that the commenter feels is proof that the SAT is completely useless. I also suppose I should do a better job of explaining validity, reliability, correlations, and all those other things that could possibly help people like this commenter understand what test bias really is, and why anecdotes like this don't necessarily have anything to do with it. I could point out that I have said, several times, that I think colleges should be free to cease using the SAT in admissions, because I understand that the test could be useful and valid for predicting college performance in one environment, and not as useful in another. I could also point out that perhaps rich kids might do better on the SAT because they have the advantages in life that allow them to better prepare scholastically in every sense of the word, and that this disparity is not exactly limited to standardized tests.

Or I could just sit here and goggle at the fact that, of all the pro-test posts I've put up over the last three years, what got this pinhead exercised enough to write was an article in which I said virtually nothing. I just noted that the Cornell Sun was defending the SAT. All the pro-SAT comments in the post were quotes from the Sun article. I mean, surely I've said many other things over the years which would piss off the anti-testing hordes more than that. It's like this guy wasn't even trying.

(Hmmm... Did one of you Devoted Readers write me some fake, irrational hate mail just because you knew it would cheer me up to be able to slap it around on the front page? 'Fess up, now! If in fact you did that, I appreciate it. It's a lovely gesture.)

Anyway. As you know, I've had a bad week, and it's Friday. And I have the feeling that this person calling me names, and telling me that I don't have an open enough mind (you mean, like how open this pinhead is to the idea that the SAT could have some use in college admissions?), will not be influenced by any information I give, or arguments that I cite. I have the feeling that this person just wanted a soapbox (for which I'm paying, of course) on which to stand to bitch and moan about how unfair it is that some "children" do better on the SAT than others.

So here's their soapbox. If you want to respond, the comments are open. I won't be back until 12 or so, because I've got a Morbid Angel show to attend.

Update: Hey! The Morbid Angel show was great! Lots of good energy. Dave and I took goofy photos of ourselves with our cell phone cameras (on this one, he looks especially goofy because while I was photographing us with my phone, he was talking to someone else on his phone). Afterwards, we went to our favorite restaurant (the Troc is in Chinatown). It's easy to find - it has lots of aquariums in the front. Not for decoration - it's all entrees.

Posted by kswygert at 05:12 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Ideological blinders at RIC

Joanne Jacobs correctly summarizes the attitudes of the educrats in the social work program at Rhode Island College: "Conform or get out."

A master's student in social work at Rhode Island College failed a course because he refused to lobby the legislature for liberal causes he didn't support, reports FIRE. Bill Felkner took Professor James Ryczek’s fall 2004 “Policy and Organizing” class, which required students to lobby for one of a list of causes, none of which Felkner supported.

The details (at FIRE's website) are atrocious:

Last fall, master’s student Bill Felkner received a failing grade after protesting a professor’s admitted bias in class and after writing an essay in connection with a lobbying assignment that dissented from that professor’s approved perspective. Felkner’s situation comes in the wake of RIC’s attempt to punish a professor for refusing to censor constitutionally protected speech...

Bill Felkner’s trouble with the RIC School of Social Work began in Professor James Ryczek’s fall 2004 “Policy and Organizing” class. When Felkner wrote an e-mail to the professor about what he felt was liberal ideological bias at the school, Professor Ryczek responded, “I revel in my biases,” and added, “I think anyone who consistently holds antithetical views to those that are espoused by the profession might ask themselves whether social work is the profession for them.” Ryczek suggested that if Felkner did not agree with the school’s political philosophy, he should consider leaving or finding another line of work. After Felkner made Ryczek’s comments public, the professor refused to communicate any further with him through e-mail.

RIC’s infringement of Felkner’s rights continued after Ryczek’s e-mail. In class, Ryczek assigned students to form groups to lobby the Rhode Island legislature for social welfare programs from an approved list. If a student could not find a suitable social welfare topic on the list, he or she could also lobby for gay marriage. Felkner did not support any of these programs or issues and asked Ryczek if he could instead lobby against one of them or for the Academic Bill of Rights. This request was refused.

Bill's own words are here:

Don't misunderstand. There are great professors at Rhode Island College, but in the School of Social Work (SSW), even the good ones practice political indoctrination. As one faculty member put it, "The SSW is not committed to balanced presentations, nor should we be." How does this loss of academic freedom affect Rhode Island? Besides robbing us of intellectual diversity that spawns creativity and knowledge, it does tangible damage to our economy and, more important, the poor.

One requirement of graduation is that we lobby the State House on social-justice issues. I selected the Education and Training bill, as it is the core of welfare reform, my career interest.

Welfare programs are employment- or education-focused, further defined by "strict" or "lenient" requirements. Rhode Island has a "lenient, education-focused" model, and the proposed legislation advocates greater leniency. Statistics provided by the school, backing this approach to welfare, seemed persuasive to me at first. However, I found the school's study inadequate, so I looked for more information...

When I told my professor that the research suggests that I advocate for "employment-focused" programs, I was told that this was a "perspective school," and they don't teach that perspective. If I lobby on this bill, I must advocate for the perspective mandated by the school.

Let's draw a straight line: The school teaches the "perspective"; graduates get jobs at the state Department of Human Services and the Poverty Institute; the DHS testifies (using Poverty Institute "research") to the State House on how well programs are doing. How can we blame politicians for developing ineffective programs when they are guided by biased testimony?

And please remember Thomas Wright. He was beaten to death, allegedly by foster parents deemed acceptable by this same "perspective." A girl, pregnant at 16, dropped out of high school, had a second child on welfare, and is now 21. Your taxes paid her to be a proper "role model" for Thomas.

When you look at only one point of view, you never know if you are right or wrong. You just continue to think you are right (until someone gets killed).

Posted by kswygert at 12:07 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Setting some standards for high school

Stephen at Cold Spring Shops wonders if college students can sue high schools for malpractice:

I'm finishing a stack of blue books. There were sufficiently many spelling errors that I posted the following announcement on the class website.

I don't want to deduct points for spelling errors. On the other hand, I expect juniors and seniors to have a basic understanding of the meanings and spellings of simple words.

"There" means "in or at that place."
"Their" is the third-person plural possessive.

"Affect" is a transitive verb.
"Effect," in most circumstances involving economics, is a noun. There is a transitive verb form of "effect," but it leads to cumbersome constructions such as "I expect students to effect improvements in their spelling and punctuation."

A firm that has expenses in excess of revenue "loses" money. The NIU womens' basketball team loses a lot of games. Note that "a lot" are two words. "Loose" is the command to release a pack of dogs. It can also be used as an adjective to describe Paris Hilton.

"To" is a preposition.
"Too" is a conjunction.

Oh, and it's "i before e, except after c." Plurals do not take an apostrophe. Contractions and possessives do. Note in the preceding sentence that both nouns are plurals, hence no apostrophes.

Got that?

Editorial comment: can these students sue their high schools for malpractice?

Stephen's not the only one to think that these kids weren't taught enough in high school (via Joanne Jacobs):

Citing the paltry skills of many high school graduates, the nation's governors are calling for more rigorous standards and harder exams than states have already imposed, often with considerable difficulty.

Despite the zeal for academic standards and exit exams that has swept across states in recent years, a high school diploma does little to ensure that graduates are capable of handling the work awaiting them in college or in the workplace, the National Governors Association said in a report issued yesterday. Graduation requirements remain so universally inadequate that it is possible to earn a diploma anywhere in the nation and still lack the basic skills required by colleges and employers, the governors reported.

Indeed, more than 4 in 10 public high school students who manage to graduate are unprepared for either college courses or anything beyond an entry-level job, the governors reported, requiring billions of dollars in remedial training to endow them with the skills "they should have attained in high school."

Sadly, part of the problem is the objection to any sort of set of objective standards for high school students:

When Mr. Warner looked at the exit exams of 13 other states in 2003...he said that nine of those "that talked tough about high stakes had retreated and pulled back from their consequences." In that light, getting states to adopt an even stricter curriculum than they already have, and then possibly denying diplomas to those who have failed to master it may not be easy.

"The idea of consequences, and sticking to your guns about it, that is still is very controversial," Mr. Warner said.

Sad, but true.

Posted by kswygert at 11:46 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Earning the respect of the testrixes

James Lileks has quite the little test-taker on his hands:

This morning I took Gnat to get screened for school. It’s mandatory. They test the eyes and ears, put the kid through a battery of tests designed to test all sorts of skills. Fill in the blank, name opposites, identify adjectives, repeat patterns, find rhymes, identify alliterations, reconcile Social Security expenditures with income in the out years, etc...

While we waited for the next tester (testress would be a better name, if redundant, since the staff was entirely female) we sat on the floor and read books...Off she went. She came back with a certificate, looking slightly . . . conspicuous and self-conscious.

The testress signaled for the other testrixes to pay heed:

“Perfect score,” she said. “In all the time we have done this, she’s only the second one to get a perfect score.” A round of applause! The expected score for 4 /1/2 year olds is 30 out of 68. She got 68 out of 68. We looked over the results; the testricine explained what they’d done, and how she’d not only got everything right but done so in a snap. And so begins a lifetime of overachievement and self-identification through testing!

Congrats. I feel like I should send flowers.

Posted by kswygert at 08:57 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

It's been a "Plan Nine" kind of day

Bad day.

Really, really, bad day.

If you're reading this blog voluntarily, and you're not leaving nasty messages in the comments, you're being nicer to me than 99% of the people I've had to deal with today.


The snow's awful pretty, though. And I have The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made geared up in the DVD player, and am taking some comfort in the fact that my screwups will probably never be so large, nor so amusing, as to make it into documentary format.

Posted by kswygert at 05:53 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Starting earlier with G&T education

NYC's DOE wants to make some major changes to the city's gifted and talented program, and the skeptics are coming out of the woodwork:

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced last Wednesday that the Department of Education will make sweeping changes to gifted and talented programs for elementary school students beginning in September. In addition to adding several new programs, the DOE will develop a standardized admissions test for kindergarten and first grade students by September 2007 and improve professional development for teachers...

... a number of concerns were raised by parents and teachers in response to the announcement. Foremost were questions about the proposed standardized tests for kindergarten and first grade students. “Any standardized test for a four- or five-year-old is an accident waiting to happen,” said J.R. Nocerino, a Forest Hills parent who has two children in public elementary school. “At four or five, a test can show that a child is gifted and a few years down the road that can change, or vice versa.”

According to the DOE, the admissions test will be developed with the help of experts outside the education department and will measure verbal, nonverbal and spatial skills. Until the test is ready, programs will continue to use existing criteria, which vary from school to school.

I'll be very interested to see what happens with this. The city's planned exam sounds like it could be very similar to one IQ test for young children, the WPPSI-III, which I don't believe is "an accident waiting to happen." These tests can, however, be confusing; this guide is extremely informative and helpful (it's written for parents with learning-disabled kids, but the same material would be helpful for parents of gifted youngsters).

We see again the old argument about how the kids who pull ahead are disadvantaging those left behind:

While many parents are supportive of the gifted and talented concept and want programs to be expanded, others wonder if the term is applied too freely. Because of such programs, they say, a large number of above-average students have been pulled out of neighborhood schools. “If you take all the children who are on the upper end of the spectrum out of their zoned schools, it just makes the zoned schools worse,” said one Flushing parent, who declined to give her name.

A number of teachers also expressed reservations about expanding the programs, if it means that other students will be left behind. “When classes are heterogeneous, it can bring the lower-level students up,” said Lucy Evans, a music teacher at PS 164 in Flushing. “What about the other children? I don’t think the others should be left behind.”

It depends on whether you think the gifted children should be in school for the express purpose of helping the less-gifted. If you don't think that - and you should be entirely free to think that, even in public education - then it's not fair to the gifted students to keep them in a slower classroom.

Posted by kswygert at 02:34 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A commitment to fun!

Oh, isn't this darling. The Scottsdale (AZ) Unified School District has decided to demonstrate its commitment to learning by getting rid of all those stuffy old titles for school employees:

She used to be known as the receptionist. Now she's the Director of First Impressions. Barbara Levine is one of several employees in the Scottsdale Unified School District whose job titles have changed in a sharp departure from the traditional titles that parents grew up using.

National workplace experts say they are unaware of another school district in the United States that has changed its titles so dramatically, and they disagree over whether the new titles, which are designed to reflect the district's commitment to learning, are good. Parents, they say, could become confused over whom to contact if they have a complaint.

Was the school bus late? Blame the "transporter of learners," formerly the bus driver. Got a problem with your school principal? Take it up with the 10-word "executive director for elementary schools and excelling teaching and learning," formerly known as the assistant superintendent of elementary schools.

And of this demonstrates Scottsdale's commitment to learning...how? I'd be more impressed if Scottsdale could prove all their students could spell words like "transporter" and "excelling."

Workplace experts disagree whether the new job titles are a positive step. Liz Ryan, who spent 20 years in human resources and founded WorldWIT, a Web site devoted to women's workplaces issues, calls the new titles "trivial, sad and misguided."

"When you are talking about education, you better be kind of serious, and I don't mean stodgy, but grown-up. 'Director of First Impressions' makes me want to gag," she said.

I suppose it's illegal to ask Liz to marry me, but I still want to. She hits the nail on the head - these new titles don't so much demonstrate a commitment to education as they demonstrate a fear of seeming old, stodgy, grown-up, un-hip, boring, etc.

Ryan said the word "director" implies there is something wrong with being a receptionist. Director also implies that the receptionist supervises many other employees, which isn't usually the case. This may make it hard for the Director of First Impressions to find another receptionist job, she said, because people will get confused by the title on her resume. Common job titles exist for a reason, Ryan said, so people can figure out whom to call when they need help.

Yes, and even though parents haven't complained yet, it's possible that some will be confused by all this. But hey, the employees are happy:

As for Levine, Scottsdale's Director of First Impressions, she loves her new title. "I think it's classy," she recently said while answering the telephone and directing a visitor to the right office. "It sounds so important. Everyone wants to be important."

Sounds like the natural extension of the feel-good "self-esteem" movements so popular in "progressive" education theory.

Update: Link is fixed now (and no, I don't shop at NM!)

Posted by kswygert at 02:23 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

Mistaking criticism for bullying

I haven't blogged much about the brouhaha going on in California with the Governator on one side and the educational establishment on the other. For one thing, I think keeping up with the whole saga would be full-time job in and of itself, with Arnold taking on the sacred Proposition 98 and tackling the thorny issue of merit pay. Not surprisingly, a group of educators have formed to protest the Governor's wide-ranging reforms.

And some of Arnold's critics are sounding pretty whiny:

Could Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (news - web sites) have another "woman problem" on his hands? Schwarzenegger made headlines in recent months by deriding political opponents as "girlie men" and ridiculing a group of nurses at a women's conference. Now, an effort to paint the state's teachers as little more than a balky special interest group has angered many critics, who have begun to question why constituencies dominated by women have been subjected to such tough talk.

"He behaves like an arrogant patriarch with respect to women's occupations," said Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of the California Nurses Association. "Nurses, teachers, home health workers — it's vulgar how he's run roughshod over them. He's arrogant, and he's a bully."

Wow, they're great spokeswomen for female-dominated fields. Are we supposed to conclude from all this that women can't be expected to take tough talk, at any time? Tough talk like the following?

In December, a small group of nurses gathered at a state women's conference to protest Schwarzenegger's decision to side with hospitals and delay changes to the state's nurse-to-patient ratio. With Shriver in the audience, Schwarzenegger responded to the protesters by saying, "The special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts."

Yeah, that's really...evil. And demeaning. Or something. Obviously, women should be expected to cringe and fold when faced with such violent language.

Last week, some 300 nurses and their supporters disrupted a movie premiere in Sacramento, booing Schwarzenegger as he posed with actors Vince Vaughn and The Rock. "A mass movement is developing, and it's fascinating to see women coming together," DeMoro of the nurses union said.

Uh, is it a surprise to DeMoro that women can congregate and protest? Are we supposed to be amazed about this? And are we supposed to be impressed that their "coming together" was nothing more than a public ruckus? Are we supposed to mistake that for an intelligent rebuttal to the Governor's criticisms?

Thank God at least one woman in the article makes an intelligent statement:

"To say that women voters perceive Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bully because he's taking on a reform agenda belittles women," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.

"This is not about any individual profession. It's about exposing organized labor unions who have used their influence and set policies that have created multibillion-dollar deficits both statewide and nationally."

C'mon, ladies. If Sarah Connor had been such a wimp, the Terminator might still be out there terrorizing LA.

Posted by kswygert at 08:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Concerns about cutting

Michelle Malkin expresses concern aboutthe recent popularity of “cutting”:

Have you heard of "cutting?" If you're a parent, you'd better read up. "Cutting" refers to self-mutilation— using knives, razor blades, or even safety pins to deliberately harm one's own body— and it's spreading to a school near you.

Actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci did it. So did Courtney Love and the late Princess Diana. On the Internet, there are scores of websites (with titles such as "Blood Red," "Razor Blade Kisses," and "The Cutting World") featuring "famous self-injurers," photos of teenagers' self-inflicted wounds, and descriptions of their techniques. The destructive practice has been depicted in films targeting young girls and teens (such as Thirteen). There is even a new genre of music — "emo" — associated with promoting the cutting culture.

Mmm, not really. Emo is basically a moody/introspective/whiny (depending on your take on it) outgrowth of punk that keeps the thrashing energy but injects more depression into the lyrics. It’s gotten more popular as of late, I’ll agree, and there’s no denying that emo will be popular with some self-destructive kids. But emo as a whole isn’t that new, and doesn’t “promote” that culture any more than Pink Floyd “promoted” drug use just because a lot of people liked to get high and put on Dark Side of the Moon. An emo listener will engage in cutting behavior only to the extent that the underlying pathology led them to the music in the first place; emo won’t make a healthy kid suddenly pull out the razor blades.

Cutting isn’t really anything new, either, and the seemingly-recent upswing in it may be partly the result of a recent willingness to admit to such behavior. There may be scores of websites that promote such behavior, but there are also a few books written by therapists, and cutters who have recovered, that exist to help those. Cutting, by Steven Levenkron, is one such book. Another, Bright Red Scream, appears to have the best reviews on amazon.com, and it’s six years old. I wouldn't be surprised to see more of these types of books out soon.

I agree with Malkin that it’s sad to see famous actresses “glamourize” such behavior, but there may be a fine line between admitting to something in the hopes that others can learn to avoid it, and promoting it.

Cutting is something I have more than a passing interest in, because it does overlap a great deal with the more dysfunctional aspects of goth culture. Certainly, there are aspects of goth that do promote self-mutilation in this fashion, and that has more than a little to do with the perceived coolness of vampires and the vampiric lifestyle. I'm a supporter of goth culture, and have been goth to some extent since 1988, and even I realize that the tolerance for such behavior in that milieu is not healthy.

I'd be concerned more about the goth promotion of such behavior - and the celebrity interviews where young women talk about the "coolness" of such behavior - than about any link there might be with emo.

Update: Links are fixed now. Also, Malkin has this to say in an update to her original post:

Yes, it's true, emotional, woe-is-me music has been around a long time. But the kind of "emo" music embraced now by young people who cut themselves (Taking Back Sunday is one of the most popular cited; the Apathy Code, which depicts cutting on its album cover and in the lyrics to "No Alarms") is new. And it is cited repeatedly on kids' websites and blogs. Take a cursory look here.

Look, you can mock me for paying attention to this problem, but something very wrong is going on here--for whatever reason you want to believe--and parents have asked me to help get the word out. I hope it helps.

I don't think she deserves mocking for paying attention to the problem, nor for being concerned about the link between cutting and popular culture. When I made my comments about emo above, I did so only to correct what I saw as a misconception of the genre; I didn't expect Michelle to be an expert on emo, nor do I think she's wrong to be concerned about self-mutilation. Unfortunately, it sounds like a lot of people wrote emails just bitching about the emo part, and missing the whole point of her post.

I thought Illuminaria's post on the topic was very intelligent and balanced, while Blind's Eye take on it is exactly what I'd expect a metalhead (like my fiance) to say.

Posted by kswygert at 01:27 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Dashing their spirits, the apology

The Brooklyn teacher whose students sent less-than-encouraging letters to troops in South Korea apologizes:

In a statement issued by the Department of Education, social studies teacher Alex Kunhardt said he regretted offending Pfc. Rob Jacobs. His statement, however, did not address whether he either coached the students or read their missives — which accused soldiers of committing atrocities in Iraq — before mailing them. The DOE, which is sending an apology to Jacobs and his family, declined comment.

"It was never my intention to demean or insult anyone," said Kunhardt..."I never meant for the words of my students to hurt any of our troops. The responsibility for this action is mine alone, and I apologize." Kunhardt mailed letters to Jacobs last month written by 21 of his sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope for an assignment. Nearly half of them derided President Bush or the Iraq war and accused soldiers of crimes such as killing civilians and destroying mosques. Even some of those that praised soldiers for their bravery were laced with divisive political rhetoric and ominous predictions.

Update: The Post prints Letters to the Editor on this topic today, most of which say we shouldn't "censor" the kids, or we should assume that the teacher "brainwashed" the students. But one letter writer who knows her history gets it exactly right:

One irony in this story is that JHS 51 is called "The William Alexander School." It is named after Lord Stirling, a general in Washington's army and hero of the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776 — the turning point in the American Revolution.

At the Old Stone House (the historic house immediately across from the school) Stirling and 400 Maryland and Delaware militia held off the British army — thousands of trained professional soldiers — at the cost of the lives of most of the Americans. If not for their bravery, the British would have trapped Washington's army on Brooklyn Heights, probably ending the American Revolution then and there.

Students should express their opinions — that freedom is part of what the heroes of the Battle of Brooklyn fought for — but they might have done it more appropriately by writing to elected representatives and the press, rather than attacking a soldier.

Nancy Brenner, Manhattan


Posted by kswygert at 09:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The return of sunshine

The weather is sunny and relatively balmy (meaning, not freezing cold). I opened the window in the library, and .02 seconds later, Pippin was there, chattering wildly at the birds outside.


I want birdies! Do you hear me? BIRDIES!


Posted by kswygert at 09:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Letting parents choose, but only if they make the right choice

Babealicious RightWingSparkle thinks that legislators in Lincoln, Nebraska, are trying to engineer their preferred ethnic makeup for local schools:

Dick Eisenhauer is tired of watching white families take their children out of the schools in his Nebraska district and enroll them in smaller, outlying ones where there are virtually no poor or Hispanic students. Like many of Nebraska's school systems, the Lexington district where Eisenhauer is superintendent has seen an influx of Hispanics, largely because of jobs at the meatpacking plants, and an accompanying exodus of white students to public elementary schools just outside town.

And there is nothing Eisenhauer can do about it. Nebraska law allows students to switch schools without giving a reason. "It bothers you when people come into your town and make comments like `You've got lots of Mexican kids,'" Eisenhauer said. "I feel distressed if they would opt out for that reason."

The situation in Lexington and elsewhere in Nebraska has caught the attention of the state Legislature, which is considering a bill to thwart what some say amounts to legal segregation in the schools. The proposal would force the outlying elementary-only schools to merge with larger kindergarten-through-12th-grade districts. That could mean the closing of the smaller schools.

So let me get this straight. In Nebraska, it is completely legal for parents to choose where to send their kids to school. So parents - most white, some not - are exercising that choice and driving their kids further out to suburban elementary schools; schools that, by the way, are completely open to any kids. There's nothing stopping any parent from sending their kids to the suburban schools. In-town schools and suburban schools - all parents have a choice.

But because the results are not politically correct, state legislators want to do away with that choice. There's really no other explanation for it, is there? And what sort of article would this be without inflammatory statements about the parents who are exercising their legal choice?

Cecilia Huerta, director of the state's Mexican-American Commission, said other Nebraska communities with large numbers of Hispanics are likely to have the same situation. "People in Lexington and Schuyler do not want their kids being polluted by Latin Americans and Hispanics," Huerta said. "They think they're not going to get the quality of education if they have a diverse classroom."

Parents are moving their kids because they want them to be in a small school instead of one that is massively overcrowded.

Chris Dvorak, a white parent who has two children who attend a school outside Schuyler, said she sent her children there to avoid overcrowding in town, not to get away from Hispanics. "I would have done the same thing if they were all white kids," Dvorak said.

There are 45 students enrolled at Dvorak's children's school, compared with more than 850 at Schuyler Grade School.

This is the part that galls me the most:

Some senators are afraid the state will face legal challenges if the Legislature does not stop the trend toward separate white and Hispanic schools. "It is unconscionable," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ron Raikes.

What? There is nothing official that is keeping the schools segregated. Any parent who wants to drive their kid to an outlying school can do so. What's the legal challenge here? That it should be illegal for parents to choose when they don't make the "right" choice? What's unconscionable is that legislators think it's their place to put a stop to parents exercising legal school choice just because they don't like the ethnic breakdown that results.

What's more, aren't the inner-city schools now less crowded because the suburban schools are there? What if some Hispanic parents were planning on getting their kids away from the crowding? Shouldn't they have the choice to buy a car and move their kids to a smaller school? Or do their kids exist just to provide feel-good diversity for the white kids?

RWS notes:

What do you think will happen? Private schools will flourish and you will have the exact same situation. Government trying to force parent's hands is just not going to work.

No, but that doesn't mean they won't be dumb enough to try it.

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The stylish way to protest the test


Maeghan Gibson is fed up with the state's standardized test. Focus on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is encroaching on classroom learning, Gibson said. Instead of having high-level discussions, the Haltom High School junior honors student said she spends too much time taking practice tests and filling out work sheets.

So she and a few friends waged a silent protest Monday morning outside the school by handing out pre-sold green T-shirts with slogans including "Walking standardized test score," "I am not in the equation of my education" and "Total Annihilation of Knowledge and Skills."

I want one of those "Walking standardized test score" shirts. And, frankly, students should be free to wear them - even during test time.

The students say their protest was not aimed at Haltom High School, teachers or the Birdville district, but rather at state and national policies that require the standardized test.

"It's turned into a real 'Grab a work sheet, go sit down and you have to know this or you will fail' kind of thing. That's not good for long-term learning, in my opinion," junior Chase Robinson said. "We want our teachers to advance our knowledge, not a test."

And that's commendable. But long-term learning doesn't often happen in the absence of basic skills, which is what these types of tests are intended to measure. It's not surprising that some of the more bored students are fed up with all the tests, but it would be pretty tough to, as one student suggests, create a test that measures only whether a student improves, and not whether they fail.

Posted by kswygert at 09:02 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


In case you're wondering where the blog-burst energy is coming from, I'm stuck at home waiting on various and sundry furnace techs to fix my heat. Typing rapidly is the only thing keeping me from freezing solid at the moment. And posting here is much less expensive than shopping on eBay.

Update: The crotchety, ancient furnace is fixed. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go eat dinner, finish laundry, and soak my snake. He's having trouble shedding in this colder, drier weather.

Posted by kswygert at 03:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

When the SAT doesn't explain it all

John of Discriminations has a thoughtful reply to an unpublished study (excerpted in The Chronicle of Higher Education) about two common criticisms of AA:

[the study] examined longitudinal student data from 28 selective colleges in an attempt to determine whether any evidence supported two of the most common criticisms of race-conscious admissions policies. Those are the "mismatch hypothesis," which holds that such policies result in the admission of students who find themselves in over their heads academically, and the "stereotype-threat hypothesis," which holds that such policies stigmatize all minority students as academically subpar, thereby placing them under a form of psychological pressure that undermines their academic performance.

The authors apparently had at their disposal SAT scores and college GPAs by race for these universities. They deduced AA admissions by the following:

To try to measure how much of a role a particular student's race or ethnicity played in his or her admission, the researchers looked at the difference between that person's SAT score and the average for the entering class. (On average, black students' SAT scores were 131 points below the average for all students at the 28 colleges, while Hispanic students' SAT scores were 76 points below.)

John wonders, and rightfully so, why black and hispanics were compared to the average of the entire class, rather than the average of those who did not receive race-based preferences. That comparison would have provided a much clearer picture of the score gap.

Beyond that, I wonder why the authors made the assumption, as they seem to have done here, that all black and hispanic students who scored below the group SAT mean received race-based preference in admissions. I assume some non-minority students below the mean were also admitted, and it would have been enlightening to see how they did in school.

What's more, it's entirely possible that that admitted students of any race who had low SATs also had good high school GPAs or other indicators suggesting that they might do well in college. SAT and high-school grades are correlated, but not that highly. Wouldn't it have been logical to conclude that at least some of the low-SAT admittees were folks who didn't test well but had stellar extracurriculars and great references, and thus didn't need the race-based preferences? After all, unless everyone below the mean was a minority, we know that some non-minority kids did get in with middling SAT scores and no preferences. And unless every minority student below the SAT mean also had a subpar high school GPA and no references, there's no reason to assume that a student received racial preferences based on skin color and SAT alone.

John is also quite right to wonder at these conclusions:

The study found that those black and Hispanic students who had seemed to get the biggest break in admission actually tended to have slightly higher grade-point averages than other students, and were much less likely than other students to leave college. Their level of satisfaction with college was about the same as that of other students....

Again, we don't know that these students actually did get in because of race-based policies; we only know their SAT scores. And what about students below the SAT mean who didn't receive preferential treatment? That's really the group to whom these students should be compared.

And then we see this:

When all black and Hispanic students at an institution were examined collectively, however, evidence of "stereotype threat" emerged. The more a college used affirmative action, the lower were the grade-point averages of its minority students, and the more likely such students were to leave college and express dissatisfaction with their college experience. The negative correlation between a college's commitment to affirmative action and the grade-point averages of its black and Hispanic students grew stronger the longer the students were in college, suggesting that the effects of "stereotype threat" mounted as the students became more accustomed to the campus culture.

How on earth can the researchers look at this data and conclude that "stereotype threat" must exist, especially when they just said that the minority students they thought benefited from AA had higher GPAs than the average student? The only way they could reach this conclusion is if they assume that the "stereotype threat" hypothesis of AA is true, and rule out any other explanation why students admitted due to racial factors would do poorly.

Here's what I think is going on. In these colleges, some minority students below the SAT mean were admitted due to AA, and some were not. Those who had other strengths not measured by the SAT may have gone on to do okay in school, and that could increase the average of the below-SAT group. But the more a college indulges in AA - that is, the more they admit minority students with subpar SAT scores - the more likely it is they are going to get a group of students who are unprepared for and unhappy with the college environment.

Nothing I can see in these excerpts suggest that the "mismatch" hypothesis must be false, and that the "stereotype threat" hypothesis must be true. Nothing I see here supports the conclusion that AA policies are, as a rule, good for minority students. Statistical quibbling aside, these data are consistent with the idea that race-based admissions policies can be a bad idea, especially if the minority student not only has low SAT scores but doesn't qualify in other academic areas as well.

Posted by kswygert at 03:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The benefits of homeschooling

WriteWingNut vents about the negative portrayals of homeschooler, especially with regards to the aspects of domestic violence and socialization:

One of my biggest pet peeves as a homeschooling mother is the "socialization" myth. Anti-homeschoolers would have everyone believe that our kids are locked in a cramped house all day, forbidden to speak to outsiders. The truth is, the lack of school restraints gives us more opportunity for genuine socialization. Our kids aren't grouped with only those the same age as them, at a desk in a classroom, being told by a teacher, "You're not here to socialize!"...

I can't tell you how many stories I've seen done by the media where they bring some "homeschooler" out of the woodwork who's being charged with child neglect and abuse. Only to find out that they were never really true "homeschoolers" in the first place. Their kids were just truant. There was no homeschooling going on, but they want to throw that label on them to hurt our movement.

I remember sitting around with a group of fellow soccer moms in a middle school for a photo session. One of the moms asked me, "Why doesn't Amanda go here?" Then she said, "Oh...that's right..you homeschool."

Then she went on about how she could never do that, and I told her it wasn't as hard as it seems. She then said in a very disparaging voice, "Well, I send my kid to school for the other kids." And all the moms around her nodded their heads vigorously. My blood was boiling and I calmly waited for a chance to defend myself, but they were talking so much about how important socialization at school was that I could never get a word in edgewise.

I later found out that the mother who instigated the attack on me is married to the county Superintendant of Public Schools here. Figures.

The research is already beginning to appear suggesting that homeschooled parents do just fine in socializing their kids:

Despite a 1999 statement from the National Education Association that, "home schooling cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience," a study released earlier this month shows home-schooled students are actually more socially and academically advanced than their peers.

Patrick Basham, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of the study, said the findings "aren't surprising in intellectual terms, but it does turn the major anecdotal opposition to home schooling - that it produces social retards - on its head."

The study by the Fraser Institute, an independent public policy organization based in Vancouver, Canada, focused on home-schooled students in North America. According to the study's findings, the typical home-schooled child is more mature, friendly, happy, thoughtful, competent, and better socialized than students in public or private schools. They are also less peer dependent and exhibit "significantly higher" self-esteem, according to the study.

But Janet Bass, a representative of The American Federation of Teachers, said it's impossible to compare home schooling with institutional schools.

"They're two totally different environments," she said, adding that there's no comparison to children in school to children "at home with mommy." As long as the right programs are in place, "you'll get good results" no matter what the environment, Bass said.

But wait, I thought the NEA said that homeschooling couldn't possibly cut the mustard. And now the AFT is claiming that we can't compare the two? Really? Why not? The outcome measures are there - test scores, college admissions, even the vaunted "self-esteem" indices - for the assessment. But now, for some reason, we're supposed to believe that we can't possibly draw any conclusions by comparing the two methods. Certainly, the homeschooling group is special, and self-selected - but it's silly to say that no conclusions can be reached.

What's more, the NEA goes on and on about how important parental involvement is in education. Doesn't it make sense, then, to wonder if the ultimate in parental involvement - homeschooling - might have the potential to be the ultimate in educational environments?

And that line about "at home with mommy" is just insulting, if you ask me.

Here's the report, by the way. Choice quote:

There is one overriding lesson for policymakers to learn from this survey of home schooling. As home schooling researcher Isabel Lyman pithily described the American experience: “Home schooling has produced literate students with minimal government interference at a fraction of the cost of any government program” (Lyman, 1998).

I'd say they're learning that lesson, and they're none too happy about it.

Posted by kswygert at 02:36 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Not on the same wavelength

Fascinating article in the LA Times about a town that's riled parents and students alike with some new technologies:

This little Northern California farm town is blissfully unaccustomed to turmoil. But recent weeks dished up a hopper of dissent. It started with a girl who went home from junior high saying she felt like an orange.

Lauren Tatro, 13, told her parents the plain facts. Every student at Brittan Elementary School had to wear a badge the size of an index card with their name, grade, photo — and a tiny radio identification tag. The purpose was to test a new high-tech attendance system. To the eighth-grader, it seemed students had been turned into grocery items on the shelf, slabs of sirloin at the meat counter, fruit in the produce section...

Known as radio frequency identification, RFID for short, the technology has been around for decades. But only lately have big markets blossomed. Radio identification has been embraced by manufacturers and retailers to track inventory, deployed on bridges to automatically collect tolls and used on ranches to cull cattle. The microchips have been injected into pets.

But applying that technology in conjunction with people prompts an outcry from civil libertarians and privacy advocates...Add schoolchildren to the list...

Earnie Graham, principal and superintendent of the one-school district, is a self-described "tech guy." He liked the badge idea because it would streamline the taking of attendance, giving teachers a few minutes more each day to teach and boost accuracy, no small matter given that California school funding is based on how many children attend class each day...

The founders of InCom Corp., the start-up firm marketing the idea, work at local schools or have children who attend them. They formed the firm about a year ago and paid the district $2,500 to test the system during summer school...Impressed, school trustees last October agreed to expand the project. They held a public hearing, but virtually no parents attended. In exchange for allowing it on campus, InCom promised unspecified royalties from future sales.

On Jan. 18, every student at the kindergarten-through-eighth grade school got a badge, though scanners were installed only in seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms. Most of the pupils accepted it at first, but a few griped to their parents.

Mike and Dawn Cantrall, parents of two Brittan students, met with Graham to complain about the badges' having student photos and names, saying the information made them vulnerable to predators. Only then did they learn about the radio tags inside. The family asked that their children be excluded from the test. "Our children are not inventory," the Cantralls said in a letter to the district. They said the monitoring program smacked of Big Brother. They also cited biblical warnings about the mark of the beast...

After a rambunctious Feb. 8 board meeting, InCom opted to turn off the scanners until the board resolved the squabbling. As school let out before last week's board meeting, foes prowled either side of campus with picket signs. "Badges … badges…. We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges," said one.

Emphases all mine. What a classic mess. Parents citing biblical warnings from Revelations, picket signs, parents missing some important public hearings, the concept of using RFID to better track attendance and keep school funding, kids who feel like produce on the shelf - it's all here.

Posted by kswygert at 02:03 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Valedictorians gone bad

Fox News tells us that a high-school valedictorian - who, by the way, moved to Saudi Arabia and joined an al Qaeda cell - was arrested and charged with conspiring to kill President Bush:

An American citizen was charged Tuesday with conspiring to assassinate President Bush and with supporting Al Qaeda. If convicted of all the charges, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, faces a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison...

Abu Ali was born in Houston and later moved to Falls Church, Va., where he was valedictorian of his high school class. He allegedly went on to pursue religious studies in Saudi Arabia in 2000 and federal prosecutors say Abu Ali joined an Al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia in 2001. The alleged Bush plot occurred while he was studying in that country, the indictment says.

How coy of them not to mention what high school he attended, given that they saw fit to tell us he was a valedictorian. Is that, somehow, supposed to be more important than the specifics of his "religious training" in Saudia Arabia? I couldn't find him mentioned in the class list of George Mason High School (the only Falls Church public high school I could find) for graduation years 1997 - 2000, so that doesn't look like the place, unless he's changed his name since graduating. Other schools in the area seem to be primarily Hebrew or Catholic, so those are doubtful.

Anyway, the buzz on the right side of the blogosphere along the lines of "How could someone come out of the educational system in the US and turn out like this?" has already begun.

The Baron, for one, isn't surprised:

Every day, I walk into a building where a picture of Bush is prominently displayed on a staff-member’s door with the caption “American Psycho.” Across the street, a picture of Bush used to grace the post office drop box (for weeks before someone ripped it down) that read “Kill me before I kill some more.” The CD store down the road has posters in the window for CD’s titled “Rock Against Bush.” I often hear people debating whether or not Bush means to kill innocent people. During the innauguration, one man wondered aloud if we would be so lucky as to have Bush catch pneumonia and die after his inauguration speech like William Henry Harrison did.

Update: Boy, was I ever on the wrong track. Abu Ali was a valedictorian all right - at the Islamic Saudi Academy. All the news reports about his top dog academic status, and they couldn't manage to let us know the name of the school?

Update # 2: Philly.com has another name for Abu Ali's alma mater.

Posted by kswygert at 12:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Watch what you say

With reports like this, it's no wonder that we don't see many students blogging about the inanities of their schools:

Yvette Lacobie was steamed at one of her teachers at Bellaire High School. She felt like her Spanish teacher had been picking on her all year, and particularly so on that day. So she did what a lot of teenagers do. She vented to her friends. She went home last November 9 and got on an online chat line called Xanga, used by a lot of Asian-American kids.

In her note she called her teacher a bitch, a fat head, said she hated her, and wrote: "shez now the first person on my to kill list." She wrote it under an alias. About a month later, on December 2, Yvette was called into the principal's office. A copy of her note had been placed in the named teacher's mailbox at school. Yvette admitted writing it.

Four days later, it was official. Yvette's father, Kevin Lacobie, received a notice from assistant principal Dave DeBlasio quoting from the chat-line message and informing him that his daughter was being kicked out of school for making a terroristic threat, a Level IV offense.

It seems another student, one not getting along with Yvette, had printed up a copy of her message, embellished it a bit with a few well-placed capital letters to draw emphasis to the salient points, signed Yvette's name to it and helpfully dropped it off at school.

Yvette was sentenced to 103 days at either the privately operated alternative school CEP (Community Education Partners) or online learning at the Virtual School.

Appalling. Jim of Zero Intelligence has more:

It did not matter that Yvette posed no actual threat to the teacher, had not threatened or intimidated the teacher directly or that the comment had not been made at school but rather at an open public forum [and was doctored before being delivered to the teacher, to boot]. Yvette's cooperation with school authorities and admission of penning the note did not matter either, except to make the administration's kicking her out of school a bit easier.

What's next? Kicking kids out for criticizing what their teachers say in class? For criticizing asinine school rules? What's more, Yvette's parents had more to add to the story in the comments of ZI:

...The particular statute they accused her of, "terroristic threat" (Texas Penal Code 22.07) very clearly requires intent. We reviewed the case with a few criminal attorneys, and they immediately agreed a website posting, without additional evidence (like, say, an actual kill list, or plans, or other violent or threatening behavior), would not pass muster in the courts; probably wouldn't even pass the DA's office. So, the school administration decided to handle in "administratively", with only cursory involvement from the police.

There's a couple of other sordid facts to this story -- like the kid who submitted the anonymous letter was at the time serving probation for a Class C Misdeamonor, so was highly incentivized not to admit harmful intent (least he be hauled back into court and asked to serve something more serious than just community service!), and we had coincidently just a week prior to the incident had filed a grievance against the teacher, who has a past reputation for being vindictive to students who've complained about her behavior. Oops for us!

We presented much of this upon appeals, but unlike the court system, the appeals process in schools is often long on style, short on substance. Sigh. Our daughter wrote something in an immature way, something that we would have immediately corrected her for, and demanded apologies (which she did give to the teacher), but to criminalize it as a threat, is quite a shock. And not the America I was used to as a kid!

Posted by kswygert at 12:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Losing perspective

N2P reader Jim Parsons has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle about the recent TAKS cheating scandals:

Suburban districts like Humble are not exempt from problems. If there is one thing we have learned over the past several years, it is that anything can happen anywhere. We are, however, dedicated to reducing the likelihood of cheating in Humble ISD. But all of the procedures, safeguards and after-the-fact analysis we might employ are not the only keys to preventing test cheating, nor are they the most important.

The most important is perspective, which comes from a proper understanding of the purpose and use of assessment information. Even more important is a district culture that sees testing data as a tool for improvement, and not a final goal.

It is clear that the HISD lost perspective, and its board and top administrators did not understand the proper purpose and use of assessment...

While I support the concept of merit pay for educators, to base a bonus on any single criterion is a mistake. Making that primary criterion the results of the TAKS test proves ignorance of the meaning of test validity and principles of good personnel management.

However, it is not just the money. Texas school districts are under tremendous pressure and unblinking scrutiny by so many people and organizations to improve student performance...

Sometimes it is easy to confuse test scores with learning, just as we often confuse looking good with being good.

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

Bubble sheets and bunny feet

Poptarts and pajamas help kids prepare for standardized tests:

At Sharpsburg Elementary, girls and boys giggled at each other's pajamas and slippers on the way to class Saturday morning. A couple of boys lugged boxes of Pop Tarts and fruit drinks to three classrooms, as about 30 fourth-graders settled into chairs or on sleeping bags and played "Survivor" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

Teachers in pajamas were game show hosts, pulling questions out of pillowcases. The questions were from old Ohio proficiency tests and samples of the exams the students will take next month. Another class practiced for the math test by building geometric shapes with marshmallows and toothpicks.

Who says cribbing for standardized proficiency tests is dull?

Sharpsburg prepares its fourth-graders for next month's high-stakes, statewide tests by playing games on Saturday mornings.

It seems to be working. After three years of Saturday pajama parties, Sharpsburg went from not meeting statewide standards to meeting them all and earning an "excellent" designation last year, said Principal Brad Winterod.

Next up, "Truth or Dare" with math questions.

Posted by kswygert at 10:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bet the laboratory assignment is a doozy

Wasn't this a storyline from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

The Roman Catholic Church is facing a shortage you may not have heard about: qualified exorcists. And so, on Thursday about 100 priests stood, prayed for protection, then sat down to begin an eight-week study of how to distinguish and fight demonic possession. The course at Rome's prestigious Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, represents the first time a Vatican- sanctioned course in exorcism is being offered at this level...

Only a small percentage of those in distress are judged to be in need of an exorcism, and learning how to tell the difference between demonic possession and other psychological or physical traumas is the main goal of the priestly students taking the course at the Regina Apostolorum.

"When you're dealing with a reality like the devil," said 39-year-old Father Clement Machado of Canada, "you can't just learn the theoretical. You need the pragmatic experience…. It's such uncharted territory."

Uncharted territory that they're going to cover in two months. I'm just amazed that public schools take years and years to teach basic skills in the 3 R's, and here the Vatican's figured out a way to teach priests to recognize and deal with demons in only 8 short weeks! Now that's some efficient teaching.

So, who wants to help me develop the multiple-choice end-of-course exam for this class?

Posted by kswygert at 09:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

Dashing their spirits

On the one hand, teachers should be applauded when they assign meaningful writing assignments, such as writing letters to elected officials or military members. On the other hand, when teachers don't bother to teach children what the proper time and place is for positive vs. negative communication, the results can be ugly:

Pfc. Rob Jacobs of New Jersey said he was initially ecstatic to get a package of letters from sixth-graders at JHS 51 in Park Slope last month at his base 10 miles from the North Korea border. That changed when he opened the envelope and found missives strewn with politically charged rhetoric, vicious accusations and demoralizing predictions that only a handful of soldiers would leave the Iraq war alive.

"It's hard enough for soldiers to deal with being away from their families, they don't need to be getting letters like this," Jacobs, 20, said in a phone interview from his base at Camp Casey...

Most of the 21 letters Jacobs provided to The Post mentioned some support for the armed forces, if not the Iraq war, and thanked him for his service. But nine of the students made clear their distaste for the president or the war. The letters were written as a social-studies assignment.

The JHS 51 teacher, Alex Kunhardt, did not return phone calls, but the school principal, Xavier Costello, responded with a statement: "While we would never censor anything that our children write, we sincerely apologize for forwarding letters that were in any way inappropriate to Pfc. Jacobs."

Ah, I see. Educating children to be polite to letters to servicemen, and to avoid rash charges of murder and mayhem in unsolicited written communication, would be "censorship." Got it.

Wizbang is equally unimpressed, and notes that the teacher is obviously guilty of failing to teach geography as well:

Jacobs was stationed in South Korea, far away from Iraq. Even though Jacobs was not in Iraq, why did the teacher allow these letters to be sent? Aren't teachers supposed to be the responsible adults in the classroom, is it too much to ask that the use a little common sense?

Update: Commenter LC ima mommy has the following:

The soldier in the article is my little brother, and my family appreciates you taking the time to write in support of him. There will be a follow up in the Post tomorrow, and my dad will be on Hannity and Colmes to discuss the issue...

The followup is here (thanks, KimJ!):

The city Department of Education, red-faced over Brooklyn sixth-graders who slammed a GI with demoralizing anti-Iraq-war letters as part of a school assignment, will send the 20-year-old private a letter of apology today. Deputy Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, who has a nephew serving in Iraq, plans to personally contact Pfc. Rob Jacobs and his family, said department spokeswoman Michele McManus Higgins...

The GI got the ranting missives last month from pint-sized pen pals at JHS 51 in Park Slope. Filled with political diatribes, the letters — excerpts of which were printed in yesterday's Post — predicted GIs would die by the tens of thousands, accused soldiers of killing Iraqi civilians and bashed President Bush.

Teacher Alex Kunhardt had his students write Jacobs as part of a social-studies assignment. He declined to comment yesterday on whether he read the rants before passing them along, but said he planned to contact Jacobs soon to explain the situation.

In an accompanying letter to Jacobs, Kunhardt had written that the students "come from a variety of backgrounds and political beliefs, but unanimously support the bravery and sacrifice of American soldiers around the world."

"Support" was not the word that came to Jacobs' mind when he read the letters.

The understatement of the year, given the dire predictions and statements in the letters. If one were feeling charitable, one could assume that the teacher didn't read the letters (I suppose that would have been "censorship"), and conclude that the teacher in question is guilty only of failing to teach the students to be kind.

Others are not feeling so charitable today:

What a freaking joke. Are we supposed to believe that no teacher even read these letters before sending them out? They knew damned well what was in there and chose to send the package anyway. The children may have even been coached to write this garbage. It’s disgusting, and it’s more than a little frightening for the future to think that children’s opinions are being shaped by the kind of anti-American nutjobs who can read a letter predicting death and defeat for our troops and see nothing wrong.

Even though I'm in a charitable mood, I find it hard to believe that sixth-graders naturally came by the rants about killing innocent people and only 100 soldiers surviving the war.

Wizbang has a follow-up in which a blogger from the planet Bizarro thinks that all of us outraged by this story are just "Republican attack hamsters" who are picking on poor defenseless sixth-graders. But then he goes on to say:

The kid has an excuse for being stupid---he or she is eleven years old.

It seems to have escaped this blogger's notice that everyone else linking to this story is criticizing the teacher, not the kids, for allowing this to happen, and this "enlightened" blogger is the only one I've seen who calls the kids "stupid." Who, exactly, is picking on the kids, again?

Update #2: One of LGF's commenters notes that the middle school in question, JHS 51 in Park Slope, is a feeder school for the Acorn High School for Social Justice:

The ACORN High School for Social Justice created by a resolution of the Board of Education on June 24, 1999 opened its doors to students for the first time in September of 1999. The school offers an opportunity for students to engage in a comprehensive academic program and to participate in citywide campaigns dealing with issues of social injustice which affect the Bushwick Community and the larger Brooklyn community. ACORN High School for Social Justice's mixture of academic and community involvement helps the students to become lifelong learners.

Fascinatingly, Acorn students show a higher number-per-thousand of the students involved in police department incidents than students at similar schools or city schools, at least for the "non-criminal" incidents. Guess the school does a good job of preparing students to be arrested at protests.

Posted by kswygert at 01:08 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Striking another blow for "economic freedom"

Lawrence University is making the ACT and SAT optional for admission:

Less is more when it comes to the use of standardized tests in college admissions as far as Lawrence University officials are concerned. For students enrolling for the start of the 2006-07 academic year Lawrence will no longer require students to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission consideration college officials announced Friday (2/18).

With its decision Lawrence becomes the only liberal arts college in Wisconsin and the first member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest -- a consortium of 14 academically excellent, independent liberal arts colleges that includes Carleton, Grinnell, Macalester and the University of Chicago -- to adopt a test-optional approach.

"We've basically decided to say 'enough already,'" said Steve Syverson, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence. "The recent introduction of the additional writing segments for both the SAT and ACT has further raised the level of confusion, angst and expense already associated with the admission process."

Hmmm. Confusion, angst, and expense. Let's take those in reverse order:

(1) "Expense" - The old SAT cost $29.50. The new SAT costs $41.50. As always, those who can't afford the test can apply for fee waivers. Is all this complaint about expense because of a measly $12 increase?

Of course not:

According to a Feb. 2, 2005, Business Week article, the most intensive test-preparation programs can cost as much as $1,000, while personal tutors can charge $100 to $400 an hour. The addition of the new writing component, the magazine reported, has produced a major spike in new business for both the established test-preparation companies such as Kaplan and The Princeton Review as well as new players in the market.

In other words, because test prep companies (which have nothing to do with the tests themselves, and which may or may not be any good) are jacking up their prices, the test and admissions process itself can be criticized as "too expensive". Somehow, we're supposed to assume that Lawrence applicants have no choice but to pay the $1000 in test prep fees in order to pass a test of basic high-school level skills. This from a university that charges $32,418 a year in tuition and fees.

(2) "Angst"

While students will still have the option of submitting standardized tests scores, Syverson said Lawrence will continue to use its time-tested standard of "multiple intelligences" when reviewing a student's application for admission.

"Lawrence has traditionally enrolled students that rank among the nation's highest in standardized test scores, but we have found the quality of a student's high school curriculum and the performance within that curriculum is really the best predictor of academic success here. We're seeking intelligent, engaged, motivated students who have personal strengths in creativity and leadership or outstanding talent in areas like music, art, athletics, theater or specific academic disciplines"...

"A test score provides an additional piece of information about a student's potential, but in our opinion, that added tidbit is not commensurate with the financial and emotional costs to students," said Syverson, who has been directing admissions operations at Lawrence since 1983.

Nothing wrong with admitting students based on what seems suitable for the university. However, it's strange to hear a dean brag about the traditionally-high scores for his college, yet in the same breath go on about "multiple intelligences" that don't show up on tests. Likewise, Lawrence is looking for creative, motivated, and energetic leadership types - who can't face the new SAT without suffering an emotional crisis.

(3) "Confusion"

...Studies have shown that higher standardized test scores correlate strongly with higher family income, raising questions about their legitimacy in identifying academic potential.

"The increased emphasis on the tests further disenfranchises students from less-privileged backgrounds, which then interferes with higher education's traditional mission to enhance socioeconomic mobility in America," said Syverson.

For any student not grounded in eduspeak, I'd imagine this would be confusing. For starters, it makes me wonder how a liberal arts college that charges over $32K for tuition and fees is striking a blow for "enhancing socioeconomic mobility" in the US by deciding that applicants need no longer demonstrate their college readiness skills with a $41.50 test. It also makes me wonder how no one at Lawrence understands the nature of correlations nor the concept that perhaps students with wealthier families may in fact be better prepared for college.

For the record, I believe any college should be free to make SAT scores as mandatory, or as optional, for the admissions process as trapeze-swinging ability or fluency in Esperanto. I just get tickled at the ones who are so pretentious about it.

Posted by kswygert at 04:03 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 17, 2005

Raging against the (educrat) machine

Teacher Suburban Decay is on a fine rampage over a recent flyer in Delaware touting the wonderfulness of mixing students of wildly-different abilities in the classroom:

"What would you say about a school where all teachers were given the opportunity to fully teach all students? Where students were not placed in segregated settings because their needs were different than the majority of students?"

Isn't it nice that we're being "given the opportunity?" I love how they put the spin on total inclusion (for the layman, that's leaving special ed students in the regular classroom) - like they've been withholding some kind of privilege. And how about the fact that students are put in "segregated settings" (love the civil rights language, by the way) because they need more intensive help than the regular classroom teacher can provide and not bore the rest of the class that's learning at the expected pace?...

This relatively new knowledge substantiates what many excellent educators have "known" for decades: that allowing for learner differences does not give students unfair advantages - learning is not a win lose situation, but gives teachers the opening to "level the playing field" of education so that all students have the best opportunity to learn."

Okay, so riddle me this: how is a playing field level if I have honors students in with special ed students? I would think that particular playing field could be used for the Moguls course at the next Olympics. And just exactly HOW would one TEACHER with such a class be able to level that playing field? That is an awesome responsibility, and I mean that literally...

Now let's talk about the rest of the statement - in particular about "allowing for learner differences does not give students unfair advantages" because, to be frank, this theory is not advantageous for any learner. To address what they are trying to say, if I allow for the fact that Johnny learns best by listening and that Suzie learns best by seeing visuals, then fine, I'm not giving Johnny or Suzie and unfair advantage when I present the material both ways. What they're talking about, though, is far more radical then just allowing for J & S's learning differences, and they know it. It's not just different "learning styles" they're talking about here - it's learning disabilities. Today's special education students have all kinds of accomodations - moreso than those of regular education students with special accomodation plans. As a relative of people with learning disabilities and veterans of the state's special education program, I wholeheartedly oppose what they're trying to do as not being in the best interest of the children that we serve...

I am so sick of the academic utopians spouting theory from their ivory towers. They should come down into the real world and do more than merely observe a classroom. They should have to teach in the US public school system for at least 10 years before they're allowed to start a PhD in Education...

Nice rant! Amusingly, there was a commenter at SR's page called "No 2 Pencil" who isn't me - but I agreed with what they said.

Posted by kswygert at 03:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When reality and satire overlap

The Onion is a popular publication in my household, namely for its ability to recognize the cruel realities of everyday life, and push them about 10 steps further:

Teach For America, a national program that recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income rural and urban communities, has devoured another ethnic-studies major, 24-year-old Andy Cuellen reported Tuesday...Just one of the 12,000 young people TFA has burned through since 1990, Cuellen was given five weeks of training the summer before he took over a classroom at P.S. 83 in the South Bronx last September.

"I walked into that school actually thinking I could make a difference," said Cuellen, who taught an overflowing class of disadvantaged 8-year-olds. "It was trial by fire. But after five months spent in a stuffy, dark room where the chalkboard fell off the wall every two days, corralling screaming kids into broken desks, I'm burnt to a crisp"...

According to Dartmouth literature, as a member of the ethnic-studies department, Cuellen learned "to empower students of color to move beyond being objects of study toward being subjects of their own social realities, with voices of their own."

Teach For America executive director Theo Anderson called ethnic-studies departments "a prime source of fodder."

"Oh, I'd say we burn through a hundred or so ethnic-studies majors each year," said Anderson, pointing to a series of charts showing the college-major breakdown of TFA corps members. "They tend to last a little longer than women's studies majors and art-therapy students, but Cuellen got mashed to a pulp pretty quickly...

Giggle. Best "quote": "No one can tell you that you can't make a difference. It's something you have to figure out for yourself."

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Posted by kswygert at 02:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Criticizing the tests the correct way

Devoted Reader Daryl sends along this article about the new SAT:

I've been a high school English teacher for 10 years, and if there's one thing I hate worse than the SAT, it's the idea of a new SAT...It's not that I'm against assessing kids. I give my own students eight to 10 assessments each marking period, though my assignments don't look anything like what students encounter on these high-stakes national exams...

The entire "writing" section of this new test is the kind of assessment that most teachers of writing would run away from. First of all, the idea that during the writing of this blitzkrieg essay..."You should take care to develop your point of view, present your ideas logically and clearly, and use language precisely" in under half an hour and under extreme pressure is ridiculous. We're not talking e-mail here. This article of mine you're reading now, for example, took several hours to compose - not to mention the fruitful give and take between the paper's editors and me. That's how real writing gets done...

Second, the slew of multiple-choice questions about grammar that the College Board calls "improving sentences and paragraphs" is not what Shakespeare had in mind when he dipped his quill in the inkwell before sitting down to edit a draft.

From the board's official Prep Booklet, here's the first example of what to expect [each letter is a point at which there is a possible error]:

"The students (a) have discovered that (b) they can address issues more effectively (c) through letter-writing campaigns (d) and not through public demonstrations. (e) No error."

This sentence appears OK to me, even if it is a little clunky. According to the College Board, however, the error occurs at (d) because: "When a comparison is introduced by the adverb 'more,' as in 'more effectively,' the second part of the comparison must be introduced by the conjunction 'than' rather than 'and not.' "

Got that?

But if I were to edit this sentence, I might make a few more changes: "The students discovered that they can address issues more effectively by writing letters than by demonstrating publicly." But, hey, I'd be wrong because this is not the portion of the writing section where I'm allowed to write anything.

What the bulk of the writing section of the new SAT is really measuring is acquired skills in managing style within the realm of standard written English...Students would be better served by consistently reading the commentary section of the local newspaper - and then periodically writing letters to the editor - than by sitting through the painfully boring lesson plans that these changes to the SAT are likely to inspire.

I agree. And all those testing critics out there should be taking notes - THIS is how effective test criticism should be done. No hyperbole. No hysterical rants about how the exams are completely biased or dependent on one's social standing. No childish arguments about how evil it is to hold students to objective standards.

It's completely legitimate to worry about the impact of the new SAT on writing curricula. It makes sense to put the horse before the cart and suggest changes that schools can make to improve writing skills. And portfolios, though expensive and laden with plenty of psychometric challenges, are not a bad idea for writing assessments.

Posted by kswygert at 01:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reaching critical mass in Charlotte

Parents in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg (NC) school district have banded together and created a website:

Welcome to the Dump [Don't Underestimate Mecklenberg Parents] CMS website. The goal of this site is to provide a place for Charlotte Mecklenburg residents to discuss the current state of the CMS school system and ways to improve it. While every discussion may not be positive, it is important that people have a place to voice their concerns and share their experiences. We encourage everyone to participate in the forums and be heard.

This article describes what's cooking with DumpCMS:

A movement to allow North Mecklenburg towns to take control of suburban schools from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district is gaining momentum, a group of parents and students said. The group, based out of Hopewell High School in Huntersville, has launched an effort to petition the state legislature for clearance to form their own school district. CMS leaders have ignored their concerns about overcrowding and safety, the parents said.

Hopewell is a 4-year-old school with 2,200 students. Just across town at North Mecklenburg High, 3,000 students are expected next year, creating the largest public school in the state. "We didn't expect the overcrowding, the trailers in the back, the violence and the lockdowns," said Lisa Blackmon, who moved to the area three years ago from Shelby. She hoped that Hopewell High would be a better school for her teenage daughter.

Blackmon's daughter, who asked that her name be withheld, said she has been threatened by other students and is scared for her safety while at school. "When you move to an area, you should be comfortable with your kids going to school and not feel threatened for their lives," Blackmon said.

Another frustrated parent has launched the Web site DumpCMS.com, calling for a secession from the district. The page designer claims more than 3,000 people visit the site every day...

CMS officials refused to comment on the movement, but a spokesperson said the district is working on addressing the concerns of the North Mecklenburg parents.

Here's the spot where parents can talk about the good, bad, and ugly of CMS. There are also links to articles about the issues and problems with CMS, like this one in indy newspaper Creative Loafing:

To understand what's going on here, you've got to go back to the school system's defeat in the Swann lawsuit[in 1999]. The educrats who run CMS have never gotten over their bitter loss in that case, and for years the resentment simmered at the Education Center. As I've opined before, since they could no longer legally bus kids to achieve racial balance in our schools, they immediately set out to overbuild schools in and around the center of the county while they let suburban ones overflow, setting the stage for the day they'd cap enrollment and begin to force white kids back into schools closer to the center of the county and African-American and Hispanic kids out to the suburbs.

As I correctly predicted last year, the system finally publicly announced it was studying a capping strategy last week.

The educrats genuinely believe that all education problems will be solved if the nirvana of white and minority children sitting next to each other in proper proportion in our schools is achieved. In the meantime, as they spent the last half decade and hundreds of millions of dollars on their stealth plan to desegregate the system, most of the poorest middle and high schools in the system lost 30 percent or more of their teachers year after year while the majority of students in those schools said they didn't feel safe in survey after survey. That left the neediest kids with the least experienced teachers. Though the system still flatly refuses to admit it, school safety and teacher turnover are not only related, but one drives the other.

The Devoted Reader who sent this my way said the issues have gotten little press in the Charlotte Observer so far, but that may change with another lawsuit that's in the works.

Posted by kswygert at 12:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

No snowmen for you!

From Devoted Reader Erica comes this handout on playground safety, given to her daughter by her elementary school's gym teacher. I've removed all the identifying information - what's left is a perfect example of a school district that is afraid to let students do anything imaginative on the playground:


I should write this school and tell them that one of the ways my fiance won my heart was by showing me a trick he perfected in elementary school - a back-flip dismount off a swing. At age 31, he can still do it, which impressed the heck out of me.

Posted by kswygert at 11:54 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

A teacher who knows his (illegal) stuff

In science education, some instructors bore students to tears by teaching dry formula and concepts straight from the textbook, with no experiments to keep things interesting. Other teachers, though, do an excellent job of describing the real-life applications of complicated scientific concepts.

Like this guy.

David Pieski, a teacher at Freedom for two years, used an overhead projector in class to give students detailed instructions in bomb-making, including advising them to use an electric detonator to stay clear from the blast, according to an arrest report.

Authorities said in Pieski's classroom, they found information, including the chemical breakdown, for an explosive predominately used by Middle East suicide bombers.

One student said he set off an explosive device at Hunter's Creek Golf Club on Jan. 6 and videotaped it, according to Pieski's arrest warrant. The videotape shows a fiery explosion, and the voice of a young man shouting an expletive can be heard...

On Feb. 8, sheriff's investigators interviewed Pieski at the school. He told investigators he detonated chemicals in a coffee can by a ball field four times for his students. He said he did this as a chemistry project to show a reaction rate, the arrest report said...

Pieski guided investigators to an unlocked metal cabinet in the back of a classroom, where there was "a can of black powder stored next to other chemicals"...Investigators also found a book marked "Demo," containing information, including the chemical breakdown, about an explosive known to be used by suicide bombers in the Middle East, according to the arrest report. It is unclear if the information was shared with students, the arrest report said...

He was arrested at Cunningham's office Tuesday morning on a charge of possession or discharging of a destructive device and culpable negligence. Pieski, who was booked into the Orange County Jail on Monday afternoon, declined to comment. He was later released from jail on $1,000 bail.

Check out his mug shot. It's like Ryan Seacrest meets scary white supremacist. Ladies, if you're interested, Pieski has plenty of time on his hands now that he's been reassigned to a desk job - and he's still earning his salary!

Posted by kswygert at 11:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

How low can you go?

Devoted Reader and prolific busybody Reginleif sent along a link to a Boston Globe article which describes the horror felt by state Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll when he discovered that - gasp! - raising the MCAS exit exam standard might mean that fewer students will graduate:

Despite pressures from business leaders to set higher standards, state Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll expressed reluctance yesterday to raise the MCAS score that high school students need to graduate, saying that such a move could result in thousands of special-education students failing. Currently, students need only to attain a score of ''needs improvement" to pass the test, but some state education board members and corporate leaders want only those who score ''proficient" to be able to graduate.

But Driscoll said the current passing score is reasonable because ''it's attainable and achievable by a lot of kids." He did not address the possibility that if the passing score were raised, many more minority students, particularly African Americans and Latinos, would also fail to graduate.

Got that? What kids know doesn't matter. What businesses want in their employers doesn't matter. What matters is that Massachusetts sets the standard so that most of their students pass it. Many people believe this exam should be an indicator that students are proficient in high school level skills. Driscoll apparently sees it as a minimum-competency exam, or an indicator that a kid is not entirely uninformed.

Many students who pass the English and math of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System still require remedial courses in those subjects once they're in college...The current standard requires students only to perform at the eighth-grade level.

Driscoll said he agrees that students need to be better prepared, but said he hopes that can be achieved through encouragement and prodding by teachers, parents, and community members, rather than a state-mandated change in the passing score.

I think teachers have had it with the prodding. What's more, why should they encourage their students to aim higher than the bar that the state has deemed sufficient?

Posted by kswygert at 11:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What blogs do

Great op-ed about blogging from Peggy Noonan:

The blogosphere isn't some mindless eruption of wild opinion. That isn't their power. This is their power:

1. They use the tools of journalists (computer, keyboard, a spirit of inquiry, a willingness to ask the question) and of the Internet (Google, LexisNexis) to look for and find facts that have been overlooked, ignored or hidden. They look for the telling quote, the ignored statistic, the data that have been submerged. What they are looking for is information that is true. When they get it they post it and include it in the debate. This is a public service.

2. Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators. They are not, and do not have to be, governed by mainstream thinking...

3. Bloggers have an institutional advantage in terms of technology and form. They can post immediately...

4. Bloggers are also selling the smartest take on a story. They're selling an original insight, a new area of inquiry...

5. And they're doing it free.

Guess now would be a bad time to mention the Amazon tip jar, eh?

Posted by kswygert at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What makes a teacher?

At News, the Universe, and Everything, blogger Quincy is trying to round up ideas for "What is a teacher?" The goal is to compare what he hears from you vs. the ed-school image of what a teacher should be. The project was spurred by a frightening post over at the Instructionist about the growing possibility that political ideologies will be part of teacher assessments.

Go there and comment now.

Posted by kswygert at 11:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Nothing like real life to burst the bubble

USA Today jumps on the "There's artificial self-esteem, and then there's life" bandwagon (via Wizbang):

Andrea Sobel shudders at those oh-so-positive messages aimed at boosting kids' self-esteem. She has heard her fill of "good job" or "great picture" or any of the highly exaggerated claims that parenting experts and educators spouted as the way to bring up well-adjusted children.

Sobel, the mother of 16-year-old twins in Sherman Oaks, Calif., says they could tell "what was real and what was fake," even when very young. "I was tired of going to the sports field and seeing moms say, 'Great job at going up to bat.' It hit me early on that kids could see through inane compliments."

Those often-empty phrases, however, raised a generation. Kids born in the '70s and '80s are now coming of age. The colorful ribbons and shiny trophies they earned just for participating made them feel special. But now, in college and the workplace, observers are watching them crumble a bit at the first blush of criticism.

"I often get students in graduate school doing doctorates who made straight A's all their lives, and the first time they get tough feedback, the kind you need to develop skills," says Deborah Stipek, dean of education at Stanford University. "I have a box of Kleenex in my office because they haven't dealt with it before."

And if the touchy-feely educators had their way, even graduate students wouldn't be getting that feedback now.

Self-esteem became a buzzword more than 20 years ago, fueled by parenting experts, psychologists and educators. Believers suggested that students who hold themselves in high regard are happier and will succeed. That culture was so ingrained in parents that protecting their children from failure became a credo. This feel-good movement was most evident in California, which created a task force to increase self-esteem...

Now, the tides have turned. Schools teach the basics to improve performance on standardized tests, and self-esteem programs have evolved from phony praise to deserved recognition for a job well-done...

Overall, research shows that self-esteem scores have increased with the generations, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who compared studies on self-esteem of 66,000 college kids across the USA from 1968 through 1994...She also has noticed that the undergraduates she teaches tend to have an inflated sense of self.

"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong is not my opinion, it's just bad writing," she says.

What amazes me is that anyone is surprised at this outcome. I've never been able to figure out just how any educator could equate praise for a good job with praise for a bad job, in terms of the impact that it has on self-esteem and performance. Of course these kids now believe that everything is an "opinion." Removing cold hard facts of life is the only way there is to convince every child that they are doing equally well in all areas of life, and all equally-deserving of praise.

I'm also amazed that it's taken this long to see the false-praise syndrome for the child abuse that it is. An adult who needs counseling because they're receiving tough academic feedback for the first time in their lives is an adult who was severely shortchanged by the authority figures of their youth.

Posted by kswygert at 10:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

The way to address the problem

The Hampton Roads (VA) Daily Press does its damndest to fire up readers about recent county report that lays out the cold, hard facts about the achievement gap:

School systems throughout the region should take a clue from the Williamsburg-James City County schools and compile, in one place and in the cold, hard objectivity of numbers, a snapshot of the performance of minority children in their schools. And if they don't, parents and leaders in the black community should speak up and demand such a reporting.

Because you can't solve a problem unless you acknowledge it, become familiar with its scope and nature, and agree on its importance.

And for every school system in the area, the performance of minority students - in this area, that's primarily black students - is a problem. On every measure, they trail white students...But often, the dimensions of the problem in a particular locality are hard to grasp. The data are buried in myriad reports, if they're available at all.

That's what makes the Minority Student Achievement Report issued by the Williamsburg- James City County schools so important. It gathers in one place the information needed to get a handle on the problem. Just the act of doing that is important, for it says that the School Board and administration recognize that the minority gap is a problem and they intend to address it. In many localities, you'd never know that from reading reports or watching the school board in action.

No, you wouldn't. Kudos to the Daily Press for this editorial. Here's the link to the report in question. From an admittedly-cursory glance (I'm getting ready to head out to a show), it doesn't seem to skip the good news, nor skimp on the bad.

Posted by kswygert at 06:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Something doesn't add up at the Times

Oh, this is amusing. It seems Powerline blog is having a bit of fun with the NYTimes and their "correction" section,

We've had a lot of fun at the expense of the New York Times' Corrections section, pointing out how it exposes the lack of basic, high school-level knowledge of history, literature, arithmetic and science on the part of the paper's reporters and editors. Today's Corrections section takes on the mysteries of geometry:

The Keeping Score column in SportsSunday on Jan. 23, about a mathematical formula for projecting the winner of the Super Bowl, misstated the application of the Pythagorean theorem, which the formula resembles. The theorem determines the length of the third side of a right triangle when the length of the two other sides is known; it is not used to determine the sum of the angles in a right triangle.

The Times is still searching for the elusive "formula" that governs the sum of the angles of a triangle.

Remember: These people think they are entitled to exercise power because they're smarter than you!

Yes, the bad, bad puns have already begun:

Acute Problem of the Times: The text provided by the Power Line reader Paul Schlick should be read for it's multiple, um, angles.

Powerline reader Reader Paul Schlick's suggested improved correction: Since our reporters and editors are often 'obtuse' we have an 'acute' problem getting the facts 'right'. Thus we must again do a '180', this time with regard to ... (insert current correction here) While some see as hypocrisy our approach to certain issues from differing 'angles' depending on which 'side' at the moment supports our ideology, we prefer the term 'triangulation.'

Posted by kswygert at 06:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Rationing the goods

Well, harking back to WWII rations is one way to fight childhood obesity:

Children are getting a taste of the frugal 50s as rationing returns - in the local sweet shop. Parents write a daily allowance in the 1950s-style ration books and children get them stamped at Hope and Greenwood in East Dulwich, south-east London. Owner Kitty Hope said the idea was introduced after she was asked to stop selling so many sweets to children.

On this side of the pond, though, we're surrounded by foods for which there just isn't a healthy daily allowance:

When Becky Cleaveland is out with her girlfriends, they all pick at salads except for the petite Atlanta woman. She tackles the "Hamdog." The dish, a specialty of Mulligan's, a suburban bar, is a hot dog wrapped by a beef patty that's deep fried, covered with chili, cheese and onions and served on a hoagie bun. Oh, yeah, it's also topped with a fried egg and two fistfuls of fries.

"The owner says I'm the only girl who can eat a whole one without flinching," Cleaveland said proudly.

When a diner is proud of finishing a dish that could have fed an entire family of Brits during WWII, you know that we've got a ways to go towards tackling the issue of obesity.

...nutritionists have found it's hard to teach an old region new tricks. How can Southerners give up delicious staples fried chicken, fried seafood, fried green tomatoes and cornbread slathered in butter?

One way to do this - the one I followed - is to avoid learning how to prepare these meals, and then move out of the South. If I still lived at home - or if I cooked as well as my sister does - I'd If you can manage to stop eating it for a while, you'll lost your taste for all that fat. The last time I ate a really Southern meal (cornbread, porkchops, fried squash, fried okra, black-eyed peas and rice - all of which were cooked with butter and pork fat), I felt a tad nauseated afterwards.

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

A list of don'ts

Don't let your daughters read Young Miss:

FAIRCHILD Publications pulped 200,000 copies of a special prom issue of YM magazine yesterday after a teen porn Web site address turned up in an ad for prom dresses. The X-rated address appeared by accident in a six-page ad for prom dress maker Studio 17 that ran in YM Your Prom, Mediaweek.com reports. Readers who tried to check out the Studio 17 Web site were instead directed to "The hottest teenage sex club on the 'Net," where the only prom dresses on display are around the girls' ankles.

Don't let your sons marry their sixth-grade teachers:

Mary Kay Letourneau and her former sixth-grade pupil, Vili Fualaau, with whom she had two children, have set the date for their wedding, according to an online bridal registry. Letourneau, 43, and Fualaau, 22, plan to wed April 16, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Monday. Letourneau served 7 1/2 years on a 1997 conviction for raping Fualaau.

Don't let your little ones pick up bags of dirt:

It's a story you saw only on Heartland News. One that generated an incredible response from you. More than a 1,000 of you logged onto our web site to voice your opinion on the Sikeston first grade student disciplined for giving a bag of dirt and grass to a classmate.

Police and school leaders felt it looked like a bag of marijuana. The girl's mother tells Heartland News that her child did not realize the difference between a bag of weed and the illegal kind. But, passing even a fake drug is illegal and had the child been older, she could have been arrested.

Don't let your teenage daughters perform random acts of kindness for neighbors:

The Colorado woman who sued two girls after they made an anonymous, nighttime cookie delivery said she and her family have been the target of hate mail, harassing phone calls and even death threats. "This isn't about cookies," Renea Young told "Good Morning America." "It's not about a couple of girls out spreading cheer. It's about a horrible experience for me and my family."

It all started last summer when Taylor Ostergaard, now 18, and Lindsey Zellitti, now 19, decided to stay home from a dance in order to surprise their neighbors with an anonymous delivery of homemade cookies. But Young, 49 — appearing on "Good Morning America" with her husband, Herb — said she became so terrified when the girls banged on her door at 10:30 p.m. and ran away that she suffered an anxiety attack that sent her to the hospital the next day. Young sued the girls and was awarded about $900 to recoup her medical bills.

Don't send your kids to schools that think "theater instruction" is the way to address schoolroom violence (via Joanne Jacobs):

A desperate Bronx teacher fired off an anonymous letter to the City Council describing hellish conditions at a violent middle school...In her plea for help, the teacher recounted a recent day when she spent an entire 45-minute class trying to gain control of misbehaving kids.

She told the Council a berserk boy "the size of an overweight man" grabbed a large ruler off her desk and ran around the classroom refusing to give it back. He ended up hiding it in his pants "so I could not get it," she said. Another student took off his pants - he was wearing shorts underneath - and "proceeded to apply cream to his arms and legs for the entire period. He also managed to throw a soda bottle across the room three times, just missing me on one of those occasions," she wrote...

...Parents, teachers and students [have] repeatedly complained that city educrats do not know how to deal with out-of-control classrooms. Adding to that perception, school officials announced yesterday that they will combat bullying by creating five days of "interactive theater instruction" for 5,000 kids this month.

Don't assume, if your kid is renting a tux, that it must be for the prom (via Daryl Cobranchi):

Mock gay marriages of 18 students at Silverado High School on Friday drew dozens of angry community and parent protesters to a campus already plagued by controversy. The lunchtime "wedding" ceremonies of six female couples and three male couples in the school's outdoor central gathering area were part of a demonstration by members of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance in support of same-sex marriage and to mark National Freedom to Marry Day today. The day was declared by a gay and non-gay partnership advocating same-sex marriage.

You know, with the weather being so crappy and all, might be best not to let your kid out of the house - or out of your sight - for a while. Like maybe for the next 18 years.

Posted by kswygert at 08:38 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

An educator swoons from lack of diversity

Associate professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education & Information Studies Mitchell J. Chang looks forward to the days when "diversity" returns to UC, now that the bad ol' Ward Connerly is gone:

...Prop. 209...has had an alarming impact on University of California enrollments. Yet the change -- a sharp reduction in the proportion of African American and Latino students admitted and enrolled in the UC system, with the sharpest drops at UC Berkeley and UCLA -- has gone largely unnoticed by California voters...

By having an immediate and sharp negative effect on the flow of African American and Latino students into higher education, Connerly's efforts also dramatically interrupt the educational benefits of diversity that were endorsed by the Supreme Court.

I'm confused. Other documents claim that minority enrollment in the UC system overall is back to where is was the last year AA was in place:

Through outreach efforts, UC officials have worked hard since then to boost the number of such students, which dropped sharply in the first years after the ban. UC regents later voted to remove the prohibition, but the move was mainly symbolic. A statewide initiative, Proposition 209, had been passed in 1996 that bars the use of race, ethnicity and gender in admission or hiring by any public institution. This year, the proportion of underrepresented minorities systemwide stood at 19.8%, up from 19.1% last year, and above the 18.8% recorded in 1997, when race and ethnicity were last considered as a factor.

Across the eight campuses, Latinos represent 15.8% of California students admitted this year, African Americans make up 3.4%, and Native Americans 0.6%. About 37% of admitted freshmen are white and nearly 33% are Asian.

Granted, at UC Berkeley and UCLA, minority numbers are down. But those are the two most popular schools in the system, and turn away three out of every four who apply. Isn't it possible that those who don't attend those two schools do indeed go to other UC campuses? And isn't it possible that they might be making their college choices based on factors other than providing diversity for the college environment?

And of course, there's the obligatory bashing of tests:

Imperfect though affirmative action might be, finding effective solutions to compensate for its absence are not within easy reach. Some common changes are to de-emphasize standardized test scores when judging applicants, to guarantee admissions to students who graduate in a designated top percentage of their high school class and to evaluate more carefully an applicant's personal essay...

Because we wouldn't want to demand that someone attending UCLA on the state's dime be able to handle the SAT, even after the exam has been modified at the request of a former UC president.

This smarmy paragraph from Dr. Chang takes the cake, though:

After the important first step of enrolling larger numbers of underrepresented students, educators must make a commitment to maximize the benefits associated with diversity. This can be achieved by addressing past and present discrimination on campus, developing a more inclusive curriculum, nurturing the academic potential of underrepresented students and providing meaningful co-curricular activities that engage more students on campus so that they can learn to interact freely, wisely and responsibly with one another.

Is it possible to insert more multi-culti eduspeak into one paragraph? These are adults we're talking about here, not childlike robots for a social engineering program. Whatever happened to, "Admit those who can do the work, treat them like adults, challenge them constantly, and get the hell out of their way?" Especially the ones who have more important things to think about than constantly worrying about whether or not they're being discriminated against?

Posted by kswygert at 05:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Another blow against AA

A NYTimes article on affirmative action in law school is sure to result in some heated discussion:

...a recent study published in The Stanford Law Review by Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has found a new way to inflame the debate. In fact, the study has ignited what may be the fiercest dispute over affirmative action since 2003, when the Supreme Court found some forms of it to be constitutional.

Professor Sander's study tests a simple, but startling, thesis: Affirmative action actually depresses the number of black lawyers, because many black students end up attending law schools that are too difficult for them, and perform badly.

If black law students were accepted to lesser law schools under race-blind admissions, Professor Sander writes, they would receive better grades and pass the bar in greater numbers. Even accounting for the many black students who could not attend any law school without affirmative action, the ultimate number of black lawyers would still increase, he concludes.

If this is the first time reporter Adam Liptak has heard of this theory, he isn't reading any edublogs. But we'll take his word for it that this is the first study published which supports this theory, which makes perfect sense to people who oppose the admission of college applicants who are unqualified, for any reason.

His critics generally accept, and sometimes even praise, aspects of his empirical work. He shows three large gaps between black and white students: their academic credentials before entering law school, their grades in law school and their success on bar examinations.

But many critics dispute Professor Sander's assertion that the first gap - in undergraduate grades and L.S.A.T. scores - causes the next two, in law school grades and in rates of passing the bar.

The basic numbers are not in serious dispute.

Using a standard 1,000-point scale to reflect both L.S.A.T. scores and undergraduate grade-point averages, Professor Sander writes, the average black student's score was 130 to 170 points below that of the average white student.

Once at law school, the average black student gets lower grades than white students: 52 percent of black students are in the bottom 10th of their first-year law school classes, while only 8 percent are in the top half. And the grades of black students drop slightly in relative terms from the first year of law school to the third.

Black students are twice as likely as whites to fail to finish law school. Nineteen percent of the black students who started law school in 1991 had failed to graduate five years later; the corresponding figure for whites was 8 percent.

About 88 percent of all law students pass a bar exam on the first attempt; 95 percent pass eventually. For blacks, the corresponding figures are 61 percent and 78 percent.

And how do AA supporters debate these data?

Timothy T. Clydesdale, who teaches sociology at the College of New Jersey, says the law school environment, and not affirmative action, suppresses the grades of some law students.

"Something intrinsic to the structure or process of legal education affects the grades of all minorities," he writes in the fall issue of Law and Social Inquiry.

You've got to be kidding me. All minorities? Men and women? Fair-skinned and dark-skinned? Rich and poor? It's so pervasive that no matter how individual or talented a minority student may be, their grades are automatically lowered? And it's intrinsic in the system which has been churning out lawyers for many, many years?

Isn't this extremely insulting to those minority students who do really well? Doesn't it suggest that it's not that they're bright, they've just found a way to beat the presumably-white "system"?

One interesting twist:

Professor Sander's study may be most vulnerable in its assessment of the top law schools, where the vast majority of law students of all races graduate and pass the bar.

For instance, Richard O. Lempert, a law professor at the University of Michigan, said that the university's law school had found little difference between its black and white students in rates of graduation, in passing the bar or in income afterward. "We think the fact that Michigan is an elite law school has a lot to do with it," he wrote in an e-mail message. "Sander's data, though he barely mentions it, convey essentially the same story. Thus his analysis provides no case for the Harvards, Yales and Columbias of this world to abandon affirmative action."

But the situation may be different at less prestigious schools.

In other words, if you're good enough to get into Harvard, even with AA, you're probably good enough to take advantage of the environment, graduate, and pass the bar. But if you're not-so-good, then a little extra boost based on AA is only keeping you from realizing sooner that maybe a career in law isn't for you.

Adversity.net takes pains to point out Sanders' background:

Professor Richard H. Sander is a lifelong liberal Democrat (he describes himself as a "progressive".) He supported John Kerry for president in the 2004 presidential election. Sander is a former VISTA volunteer. He has sired a biracial child in a previous marriage. He has long been an advocate of hyphenated "racial justice", and has long been a supporter of race-based affirmative action and racial preferences. Sander has marched, worked, protested, and fought for special "remedial" treatment for blacks and other minorities throughout his entire life.

If he were a Republican, would that mean the data that exist don't actually exist? And speaking of Republicans:

Needless to say, the implications of this are breathtaking. If affirmative action hurts its supposed beneficiaries, then it is even more untenable than it already is. And if it is ended for African Americans, it will almost certainly be ended for other races and for women, too.

I found very little on the web so far critical of Sander's data, or his conclusions, though I'm sure that will soon change.

Posted by kswygert at 04:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Job security even for the incompetent

The San Francisco Examiner notes that while schools may be labeled failing for free, firing a bad teacher could cost $70K:

As more and more schools receive "failing" grades under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, districts nationwide are examining if teachers are to blame. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently said undeserving teachers are unfairly receiving the protection of tenure.

Teachers are given tenured status after a two-year probationary period, during which teachers can be terminated with relative ease for poor conduct or classroom performance. After teachers earn tenure status, they are still evaluated and can be terminated, but the process is time-consuming and expensive.

For example, the SFUSD spent $70,000 in administrative time and legal fees to pursue the one recent, uncontested teacher termination, according to district spokeswoman Lorna Ho. Similar termination costs are reported from other cash-strapped school districts, and contested dismissals often double the costs...

Teachers and their unions say this due process is necessary. A survey of 1,300 teachers done by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research organization, found that eight out of 10 teachers felt that without unions, they would be vulnerable to school politics or an abuse of power by their administrators.

However, in the same survey, 36 percent said they believed that "between tenure and documentation requirements, it's too hard for administrators to remove any but the very worst teachers."

Yeah, and there's no feeling so wonderful as knowing that your peers can screw up very, very badly and not be fired.

In The Worm in the Apple, an expose of teacher unions, former Forbes Editor Peter Brimelow quotes an attorney who says that teacher termination hearings in California are “as detailed, as voluminous, and painstaking as the O.J. trial.” Take the case of Juliet Ellery, a San Diego-area high school teacher.

Ms. Ellery refused to answer student questions, demeaned and insulted students, and refused to adhere to lesson plans. Frustrated students circulated a petition to have her dismissed. The district then spent eight years and $300,000 trying to fire Ellery. Although her teaching credential was eventually suspended for one year, Ellery returned to teaching after the suspension. Unsurprisingly, few districts try to fire bad teachers.

There's not only the mean, there's the hopelessly dumb:

The California Basic Education Skills Test (CBEST), required by the state since 1981 for all teachers, is about a 10th grade level test, yet many teachers fail it the first time. They may retake the test as many times as they wish and many fail multiple times. Sara Boyd, an award-winning vice principal of Menlo-Atherton High School, failed the test four times, twice scoring the equivalent of zero in math. A teacher and administrator, whose job included budgeting, she did not know that eight was 10 percent of 80. “That’s about one percent,” she said. Despite Boyd’s four failures, which also included the reading section of the test, the state allowed her to continue as a high-school vice principal. The California Teachers Association (CTA) supported a lawsuit charging that the test was racially biased.

I suppose if you're teaching next door to a Ms. Ellery, or under a Ms. Boyd, you can try to convince the disappointed kids, "But the unions really do have your best interests in heart, kids, I promise!"

Posted by kswygert at 04:22 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Happy Valentine's Day!


If the tulips look a bit tipsy, it's because (a) I just got them, and (b) I've been inviting coworkers to take some for themselves. Once everyone is done picking them over, I'll rearrange them.

Posted by kswygert at 11:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

Will "adult" words be used in this bee?

When our educational system favors preserving "self-esteem" over anything else, is it a surprise that even highly-educated adults are afraid to face spelling bees alone?

"I have nothing to gain. And everything to lose," Brett Barker said with a moan Tuesday afternoon. The assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin Marathon County was contemplating his participation in the Marathon County Literacy Council's Adult Spelling Bee.

The spelling bee will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on March 5 at Wausau East High School. The proceeds from the fund-raiser will be used by the Literacy Council to train more tutors and buy more resource materials to help people across the county learn to read and write...

So Barker knows he's putting his intellectual reputation on the line for a good cause. He also knows that the event is going to be fun. But still, it wouldn't look good for a history professor to go down in the first round with a word such as "colonial." Solsrud said spelling bee organizers understand the risks to the participants, so they softened the traditional competition by allowing teams of three people to compete together and consult with one another.

"Fun is the operative word," Solsrud said...

OK, I'm kidding when I rag on these guys, because I understand that with adults, even if spelling skills are exemplary, memory may not be. Also, the purpose of this is not to win a prize, but raise funds. But am I the only one who thinks this will look awfully weird to those kids who complete in bees without any "consulting" help?

Posted by kswygert at 05:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Attack of the orange marmalades

Currently at the P.A.L.S. intake center where I volunteer:

Figgy is a fiesty young female who likes to play:


Tanner is an FIV+, FELV- male, and is the sweetest lapcat ever:


Go to Petfinder to adopt a cat today!

Posted by kswygert at 05:03 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

And get rid of zero tolerance policies while you're at it

Education News has posted an open letter from the National Association of Scholars on how to improve American high schools. Summaries of the specific recommendations are below, but the whole thing is definitely worth reading.

Recommendation One: Ethos of Academic Achievement
Academic achievement is promoted as the first priority of all high schools, no matter how they are structured or staffed...

Recommendation Two: Diversity of High School Curricula
Wherever possible, and depending on the size of the school district, students and parents are able to have a choice of a discipline-centered or technical career-oriented curriculum, whether housed in independent or adjoining structures...

Recommendation Three: Core Curriculum across all High Schools
There is a core curriculum across all schools to facilitate transfers and college preparation for all. Coursework in each subject is determined by teachers and subject matter experts, not students...

Recommendation Four: Faculty
Teachers of core subjects have academic majors and at least a M.A.T. (if not M.A. or M.S.) degree in the subject they teach...

Recommendation Five: Length of School Day and Year and Diversity of School Size
All high schools have a longer school year and day—closer to the international average...High schools have student bodies of 500 at a minimum, in order to provide the necessary curriculum content and services, and ensure that the school’s curriculum or orientation is not dependent on the leadership and support of a few particular administrators or teachers...

Recomendation Six: Principal/Headmaster
The principal or headmaster has fiscal and managerial autonomy...The principal or headmaster is able to hire the teachers he/she wants.

Recommendation Seven: Provisions for Acceleration and Remediation
Intensive remedial courses in reading and mathematics are available on the premises, based on placement tests for all entering students...Acceleration is allowed and encouraged for those capable of taking more advanced courses in any subject in the high school, with advanced courses beyond what is provided in the normal academic curriculum offered at the high school by instructors from nearby institutions of higher education if needed...

Recommendation Eight: Diversity of Diplomas Available
Diplomas specify focus and/or type of curriculum taken, but all students must pass end of course exams in grades 10 and 11 for core curriculum subjects that are based on state standards...

Notice there is nothing there about "self-esteem," cultural diversity, fostering community, or all the other fluffy ideas that are being pushed to the forefront of education these days. These ideas don't expect all students to learn the same things in the same ways - but the focus must remain on learning nonetheless.

Posted by kswygert at 01:51 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Next, the "Romance Studies" department gets its funding cut

Previously, we've seen attempts on the part of universities to restrict First Amendment rights on campus. Now, at least one state - Oklahoma - might make sex on campus pretty much illegal. What's next - not allowing students to leave their dorms without muzzles, blinders, and bodyguards?

A bill aimed at preventing sexual relationships between college students under 21 years old and instructors has been introduced in the state Senate. Senate Bill 650 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman, seeks to extend the state’s definition of rape to include sexual intercourse between college students under age 21 and instructors at the same college or university.

However, in its current form, the bill’s broad language could also make sexual intercourse between a student and student-employee criminal. The bill states that rape should be further defined as “where the victim is an undergraduate student under 21 years of age attending any college or university in this state or the victim is attending any public or private secondary school in this state, regardless of the person’s age, and engages in sexual intercourse with a person who is an employee of the same college, university or school system unless the two persons were legally married prior to enrollment or employment in such college, university or school.”

The bill does not specify the employee’s minimum age or whether it would be a crime if the employee were also a student.

“The language is a work in progress,” Nichols said. “As it goes through committee, the language will be honed and fine-tuned.”

Let's hope. The victim has to be under 21, but the "criminal" can be any age - even younger. And the "criminal" can be any staff member - including a fellow undergrad who works for the university. And what's defined as "sexual intercourse" here? Are only heterosexuals able to face charges?

Most colleges have rules in place that prohibit sexual relationships between professors and students who are enrolled in the class, and that's really all colleges should try to prohibit. It doesn't bode well that the first draft of this bill is so broad. Why is there such a demand to criminalize sexual contact between people who are over the age of consent? (Well over the age, in Oklahoma.) If you ask me, this is not unrelated to the assault on free speech on campus. The general sense today seems to be that college students are still just kids who need to be kept within very tight constraints.

Stop the Bleating is even more alarmed than I am:

Even worse, the statute could be read to criminalize sex between a twenty year-old student and her husband if, for example, her husband were a teaching assistant and they were married after he became an employee. (Of course in most cases this would involve pre-nuptial violations of the statute. But assume that they're an old-fashioned couple.)

(Via The Volokh Conspiracy.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:43 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A charter school grows in Brooklyn

New charter schools opening in Brooklyn are taking a no-nonsense, back-to-basics approach:

It was the test scores that first got people outside of Connecticut interested in Amistad Academy, a charter school here. In a city where 31 percent of eighth graders achieved mastery on the state reading test in 2003, 81 percent of Amistad's did. In math, 75 percent of Amistad's eighth graders achieved mastery, compared with 19 percent citywide.

New York City officials, who have been trying a variety of ways to shake up the school system, were so impressed with Amistad's success that they invited its organizer to start charter schools in the city. Three kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools are to open in Brooklyn this fall and two more are to open in 2006...

Amistad, which runs from fifth grade to eighth grade, has a student body that is typical of many inner-city schools. The average student enters two grade levels behind where he or she should be. Eighty-four percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and about 97 percent are black or Hispanic.

So, what's the secret? For one thing, the students work long hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., sitting in classes that often last for more than an hour. All stay for after-school activities. In a regular New York City public school, the teachers' contract limits the length of classes, but most charter schools are not subject to the contract.

The curriculum emphasizes basic skills and uses tests every six weeks to determine which students need extra drills. When students are lagging, teachers give them extra help or get their parents involved. If they talk back to a teacher or start a fight, they have to sit at the back of the classroom and are not allowed to speak with other students until their punishment has been served.

The nonunion teaching staff puts in long hours, but teachers said the job is rewarding.

Long hours? Tests every six weeks? Drilling students? Public punishments? Nonunion teachers? Man, if these schools are a success - and I bet they will be - the local educrat community will be having conniptions.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Posted by kswygert at 10:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The question of preparedness

Is a charter school in Arizona being honest in turning away poor performers, or are they illegally "cherry-picking" the best students?

An East Valley charter school required by state law to enroll all students in an equitable manner routinely turns away some applicants based on poor test scores. The Heritage Academy in downtown Mesa has boasted above average standardized test results for many years. But the admissions policy at the seventh- through 12th-grade charter school gives Heritage an advantage over other public schools that accept students "as is," regardless of their academic deficiencies.

"If they come here with third-grade skills, that’s what elementary schools are for," Heritage principal Earl Taylor said. "We would say to that parent, ‘Your child is not ready for our school.’ "

Heritage applicants must provide copies of their latest standardized test scores just for a spot on the school’s waiting list, which is filling up fast for the 2005-06 academic year. The school then administers placement tests in math and English proficiency to all applicants and eliminates any student who tests below the seventh-grade level.

Onnie Shekerjian, a member of the Arizona Board for Charter Schools, said the policy might not be legal. "They cannot cherry-pick the students they have in their schools," she said.

Charter school watchdogs said the screening process at Heritage might be fine at a private school that charges tuition. But charter schools operate in Arizona with public money and must accept special-education students and other applicants in a neutral manner similar to school districts.

Interesting. If it's not legal, it's not legal. On the other hand, why should a school be forced to admit someone to their seventh-grade classroom if the student is performing far below that? It might be legal to let that student in, but is it really helpful to the student to enroll them in classes that are far above their level?

Napoleon Pisano, a member of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said any charter school admissions policy that excludes students who do not speak and write English at a certain grade level discriminates against Arizona’s growing immigrant population that is new to English..."You’re not comparing like commodities if the charter school has a screening process," Pisano said. "It definitely sounds discriminatory."

Why is it discriminatory not to admit a student to a school for which they're not prepared? Wouldn't a better idea be to open up a charter school which specifically targets recent immigrants and those who are performing below grade level?

Posted by kswygert at 10:01 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

When cheap furniture costs an arm and a leg

Is is that hard to find a cheap sofa in England?

Five people are in hospital today after hundreds were crushed as the opening of England's biggest Ikea store turned into a riot. Nine ambulances were sent to the outlet in north London after reports that up to 20 people had suffered heat exhaustion when the opening at midnight descended into chaos. Staff closed the doors after half an hour amid fears the stampede could become a Hillsborough-style crush.

Security guards said they were put "under siege" by customers who attacked them, leaving one guard with a dislocated jaw. The store remains closed and a cleanup operation is under way. Ikea apologised for the chaos and admitted the store was understaffed - but added that some customers "behaved like animals".

For a sofa under $100? Who wants to bet Ikea's going to come under fire for the "animals" remark, too?

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

February 10, 2005

Hell no, we want our Ho-Hos!

Arizona is trying to ban the sale of candy and soda inside schools:

A legislative proposal to ban the sale of candy and sodas inside Arizona schools is in trouble, even though the main sponsors agreed Wednesday to exempt high schools to keep the idea alive. HB2544 only narrowly survived its first test Wednesday after 2 1 /2 hours of debate before the House K-12 Education Committee. At least two lawmakers who voted yes said they don’t like the bill but didn’t want to stop the discussion yet.

Proponents say compelling schools to offer healthier meals and snacks will teach students better eating habits. But the plan has been attacked by soda bottlers, vending machine owners and school groups that depend on funding from snack sales. They’ve been joined by some lawmakers who want to leave planning meals and stocking vending machines to local school boards.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, grudgingly offered to limit their plan to only schools with kindergarten through eighth grade.

"I’m not happy about it. (But) I would rather have at least the younger kids, address the issue for them and do something about the obesity problem for the younger grades, than do nothing at all," Anderson said. "Frankly, that was my choice."

Emphasis mine. It's one thing to argue against this because of the state-vs-local-school-board control issue. But why should soda bottlers and vending machine owners be given a say in this? Let them manufacture something that's not pure sugar if they want to stay in the game.

Posted by kswygert at 03:58 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Bringing parents in

A fascinating WaPo article about the efforts to bridge the gap between American schools and immigrant parents:

Poorly performing schools often blame parents' lack of involvement as the reason many Latino students are not doing well in school. The statistics are alarming. According to the 2000 Census, the dropout rate for Latinos, the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, was 21 percent, nearly three times that for white students and twice that of African American students. As a group, Latino students consistently score below their white and Asian counterparts on standardized tests. By the time they turn 13, the majority of Latino students are performing at least one year below their grade level.

Studies have found that many teachers, many of whom have middle-class backgrounds, think Latino parents don't value education as much as work, and many then lower their expectations for Latino children in classrooms...research has found that active parental involvement not only is a key ingredient in all high-performing schools, but that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the better the children do in school...

"Part of the frustration and the problem is, in most schools in the country, we're still using a 1950s model of parent involvement, when one person in the family was working and another member could more actively participate," says Sue Ferguson, chair of the Fairfax-based National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education.

When it comes to parent involvement, schools run the gamut, she says, from a "partnership school" where parents are viewed as vital partners in children's education, to the "fortress model" that makes it hard for parents to drop in on classes, meet teachers or get information about what's going on inside the school.

"Schools don't realize how important the parents are, because they're not worried about the families, they're worried about the test scores," she says. "If they would only bring in the families to help them with student achievement, they'd probably find their test scores would go way up. It's sort of like the cart before the horse. But it's hard for them to see that, especially when it's not mandatory."

And it's hard for some parents to see that, given that they come from countries where parental interference in school activities was frowned upon. Kudos to school districts that are realizing this and doing more to reach out to parents.

Posted by kswygert at 03:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A controversy that surprises no one

CNN's headline: "High-school testing bill 'faces stiff resistance.'"

No! Really? Imagine that.

President Bush's plan to expand standardized testing in high schools is facing a fight from some of the same leaders in Congress who pushed through his first-term school agenda. Bush wants Congress to require yearly reading and math tests in grades nine through 11, further extending a greater federal role in education...

Congressional education leaders are wary, if not opposed, to the way Bush wants to change high school, as outlined in his new budget proposal. He wants to spend $1.2 billion on high school "interventions," for example, but erase about as much from vocational education. Interventions could include dropout prevention efforts, individual assessments of students and programs to better prepare poor students for college...

The No Child Left Behind law requires schools to show yearly progress among all major groups of students, with the goal of getting all children up to grade level in reading and math. Testing is a cornerstone, and Bush officials says it makes sense to expand it in high school.

Democratic leaders say they have been burned by their first go-round on the education law, which passed with highly touted bipartisan support. Democrats say schools have not received enough money and that Bush's new budget makes it worse by cutting overall spending.

Posted by kswygert at 03:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Q & A with Richard A.

Well, looks like the new SAT has at least one high-profile advocate so far:

Next month, a new version of the SAT rolls out for college-bound students across the country. It incorporates many of the changes suggested by Richard Atkinson, former president of the University of California system. In 2001, Atkinson said the SAT was a poor indicator of student success and threatened to eliminate it as an admissions requirement for UC campuses. Atkinson discussed his views of the new version of the test in a telephone interview from his home in San Diego.

Q: You were instrumental in encouraging changes to the SAT. How do you feel about the new version of the test?

A: I could not be more pleased with the plan the College Board has in place for the new test. It's exactly what I proposed. I wanted to be sure students were expected to write an essay...And in terms of mathematics, instead of just focusing on eighth-grade math, (the new test) is emphasizing eighth-, ninth-and 10th-grade math. The new test is very much in line with what I had in mind.

He'd jolly well better like it, then.

Q: Why is writing an important skill to test?

You have to wonder how Atkinson kept himself from replying, "Why are you, as a journalist, asking me that?" Heroic self-control must be a requirement for the position of college president.

Q: One criticism of the old SAT is that it was biased in favor of students from well-to-do families. Do you think the new test is less biased in that way?

A: I do. ... There is evidence that there will be less difference (in scores) between under-represented minority groups and other groups than there was in the past. Over time it will be clear what students will have to accomplish (on the new test), and that will wash out the differences.

I think what he's trying to say here is that all students better get with the program and learn to write. If so, I support him.

Q: In the past you have said the SAT should be reformed so that it includes fewer sections that rely on coaching for students to excel. Yet test preparation companies say the new SAT is just as easy to coach students for as the old one. Do you think the new SAT is any less "coachable" than the old one?

A:...(With the new SAT), kids who write more are going to do better, and schools that emphasize writing are going to have students who do better. But now that we have emphasized that writing is important on the test, hopefully that will help students (perform well without coaching), especially at schools in poor neighborhoods.

Translation: "Teachers, get to work."

Posted by kswygert at 03:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

This "dad" is not house-trained

This guy gets my Loser of the Week - if not of the year - Award:

A man who allegedly put a 13-year-old girl in a dog kennel for days at a time, hit her, read her diary, and strip searched her, was charged this week with unreasonable restraint of a child.

Eric Bare, 42, of St. Paul, admitted to child protection workers that he did lock the teenager in the kennel on two different occasions, once for three consecutive days, and once for seven consecutive days. Bare said that he "fixed up the kennel nice" and that it was "a suitable temporary living arrangement."

Bare is not the girl's father, but she called him dad, according to charges. The girl's mother, Deborah Lee Cameron, was also charged.

"Unreasonable restraint of a child"? That's it?? There are probably harsher laws about keeping dogs in kennels. Appalling. If the kennel was so damn nice, why didn't he sleep in a few days? In fact, can we ask that any sentence he serve be naked, in that same kennel? Seems only fair.

The Farkers put it best: "Man, this guy would get kicked out of a trailer park for being ugly."

Update: Yes, there are always worse stories, unfortunately.

Posted by kswygert at 01:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

Different country, same landscape

In the three years and change that N2P has been operational, I've come across quite a few stories about American "educators" who care less about imparting knowledge and skills than about making sure their charges come parroting the "correct" political statements. Rarely, though, will those "educators" openly admit to caring more about ideology than about the specifics of their chosen field (this holds more for the K12 environment than in college). It's obvious to the careful observer (and sometimes the not-so-careful), but most classroom activists pay lip service to the more traditional ideals of education.

But in Australia, the president of the NSW English Teachers Association has no qualms about stating that teaching English is not the most important task for those in his field:

In the US it's known as the culture wars; the battle between a liberal-humanist view of education based on the disinterested pursuit of truth and those committed to overthrowing the status quo and turning students into politically correct new age warriors.

The editorial in the latest edition of English in Australia, the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, provides ample evidence that the culture wars have reached our shores and that those seeking to control our schools prefer indoctrination to education.

Wayne Sawyer, the president of the NSW English Teachers Association and chairman of the NSW Board of Studies English Curriculum Committee, bemoans the fact that the Howard Government was re-elected and cites this as evidence that English teachers have failed in their job.

Parents and the general public might be forgiven for thinking that English teachers, instead of teaching students the "right" way to vote, should be more concerned with teaching students to read and write and to value good literature. Not so.

Sawyer asks: "What does it mean for us and our ability to create a questioning, critical generation that those who bought us balaclavaed security guards, alsatians and Patrick's stevedoring could declare themselves the representatives of the workers and be supported by the electorate?...

We knew the truth about Iraq before the election. Did our former students just not care?...Has English failed not only to create critical generations, but also failed to create humane ones?"

Hear that, Devoted Australian Readers (should I happen to have any)? Sawyer deigns to forgive you for your unsophisticated assumption that your child's ability to think and question critically is what matters, as opposed to the conclusions they reach. By God, they did not vote the right way in the past election, so they obviously aren't properly using their critical thinking skills! How could any parent feel proud to have a literate child, well-schooled in classic literature, if the result is - horrors! - another Howard term?

And won't Australian parents be happy to hear that an educator has openly stated that he thinks it's the job of the schools to make children "humane"?

(Via Tim Blair.)

Posted by kswygert at 08:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday catbloggin'

Not sure if there will be much posting today - my insomia has kicked in and I'm home from work, because being a zombie around the office doesn't sound too appealing.

The cats are happy I'm home being a zombie instead. And the weather is springlike enough that Pippin is birdwatching from the library window. I love this position of his - he flattens himself out on the perch and places his front paws on the radiator, making himself a very attentive, yet flat, kitty.



Posted by kswygert at 10:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Visiting the Carnival

Those hard-working Education Wonks have created the first ever Carnival of Education, so go take a look. They've been doing a great job rounding up eduposts weekly for their Extra Credit posts, and now the Carnival showcases a very wide range of posts related to education, testing, and school issues. A great job.

Posted by kswygert at 09:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

Hitting close to home

Next, on America's Most Wanted - "Have you seen these parents?"

Some parents on Detroit’s west side were hauled into court because their children weren't showing up for school. Prosecutors say that they warned the parents first, and now they are taking more extreme measures. The parents were lead away in handcuffs Monday morning, under arrest for failing to appear in 36th District court on the charge of parental school truancy.

Some of the parents claimed that they and their children were innocent, while other parents had explanations.

One arrested mother, who wished to keep her identity concealed, told 7 Action News, "She was out ill. I did write a note. I started keeping a copy for myself, so I had no problems, you know. Here it is, almost 3 years later, and they’re saying I received a letter in the mail that there was an outstanding warrant for my arrest."

Three years later? Out ill how many times? And, uh, keeping a copy for yourself isn't exactly proof that you notified the school.

Parents who turned themselves in Monday not only got a free ride to the Wayne Co. jail, but they saved themselves the embarrassment that other parents will face when they are arrested at home or on their job.

Sylvia Halloyfield is from the District Department of Attendance for Detroit Public Schools. She explained to 7 Action News, "And as we tried to work with them and their families, it is just not sunk in yet that attendance is necessary for improving student achievement." The warning is out that the district is cracking down on children who don’t attend school, and the parents who don’t keep up with the children.

I'm of two minds about this. Certainly, it helps the city to spot parents who keep their kids at home and abuse them, or who send their sons to school and not their daughters, or who just plain don't care if their kids are in school. On the other hand, given the potential for bureaucratic mixup, I fully expect the parents of some hospitalized or homeschooled kids to be in court very soon.

According to developments back in 1999, one reason Detriot schools started targeting truants and their parents was because of funding issues:

Detroit Public Schools, facing the threat of lost funding, is warning parents that if their children do not show up for school next week, attendance officers will make house calls to find out why...The district will receive about $6,000 for every student in attendance on that day.

Detroit Public Schools interim CEO David Adamany was mentioning the jail aspect of it back then, too. Detroit sees the push for basic skills to be connected to the truancy issue - kids who aren't in school can't learn. If people are just now being arrested, parents can't say they weren't warned.

Posted by kswygert at 12:23 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The hard part of educational reform - deciding what works

Devoted Reader Hovav S. sent me a link to a Stanford Report article (an official Stanford University publication) entitled "How Urban High Schoolers Got Math." What both Hovav and I find fascinating is that the word "got" is open to interpretation here:

A group of disadvantaged Bay Area high school students who learned mathematics by discussing open-ended problems in mixed-ability groups outperformed wealthier teenagers placed in tracked, traditional classes, according to a new School of Education study. Their performance on state-mandated tests, however, was less encouraging.

See what I mean? They're outperforming wealthier teenagers on the one hand -but the results aren't showing up on the state exams. So did they really "get" the math? Let's see:

Students from a school called "Railside," a pseudonym for an urban school with a 77 percent Latino, African American and Asian/Pacific Islander population, entered freshman year achieving at significantly lower levels in mathematics than students at the other two Bay Area schools, according to the study's tests. These more affluent schools included "Hilltop," the pseudonym for a rural school with a half white, half Latino population, and "Greendale," a school in a coastal community with an almost all-white student body...

Within two years...Railside students were "significantly outperforming" the students at the other two schools in tests designed by the study. By junior year, 54 percent of Railside students said they enjoyed math "all or most of the time," compared to 29 percent of students at the other schools...

Certainly, it's not a bad thing if students are enjoying math a great deal - that's a worthy achievement for any school.

Keith Devlin, a consulting professor in mathematics, said the study's results do not surprise him. "Good teaching is not just about teaching the tools, but teaching students how to use the tools," he said. "Learning math is about developing our mental capacity to a point [that] when faced with a new problem involving mathematical thinking, we know how to go about solving it. You can't get away from drill, rote and practice, but then you have to develop the skills for using the tools well."

So far, so good...

...the results include a caveat: Although Railside students performed well on the study's tests as well as end-of-year exams administered by the high school district, they fared relatively poorly on the state's standardized tests.

What gives? Jo Boaler, the education professor involved in the study, reaches the pat conclusion that that standardized tests must be biased. Not only is that the easy way out, but it doesn't even make sense. Doesn't wholesale bias against minority students rest on the assumption that those students were deprived of the chance to learn anything having to do with the construct being measured? But here, they're learning math. They like math. The test items don't know the ethnicity or family income of the examinee. Why is bias the chosen explanation, as opposed to the more-believable concept that even though these kids are learning math, there's still more on the tests that they aren't learning?

Of course, to really answer that last question, we'd have to know how the state tests differ from the study tests that show these students doing so well? If that were clarified in the article, then the reader could make his own conclusions. Without that information, the reader is left to wonder whether the study items are any good.

Boaler argues that the state tests gauge English-language comprehension as much as mathematical competency. "The tests use complicated terminology, terms that kids have never heard of and, when you put them into schools like this one with [English] language learners and minority kids, they don't do well," she said. "For example, kids came out of these tests asking, 'What's a soufflé?'"

I agree that items on math tests should stick to measuring math constructs, but it's not unheard of to have English comprehension items in there as well. What's more, why are minority kids not expected to learn this complicated terminology, especially the native students? It's great that they're learning math, but if the tests suggest that they're not learning English, isn't that something we'd want to know?

Bottom line, though, is that keeping English comprehension to a minimum on a math test is preferable.

Brad Osgood, a professor of electrical engineering with a courtesy appointment in education, does not question Boaler's results. However, he added, if the study's findings do not match up with the state's, each party may have to find middle ground. "You need technical skills, there's no doubt about that," he said. "But no curriculum is a replacement for inspired teaching. If this helps teachers get excited, that's a good thing."

Not a bad way to reach a compromise. Certainly better than assuming the state tests are worthless. If the kids are excited and want to study math later on, that's spiffy.

Hovav also mentioned that Boaler's articles are pretty dismissive of standardized tests. She gives examples of her math items, vs. SAT-9 items:

Consider, for example, two of the questions from our assessment, directly assessing the mathematics in the California standards...

1. Here is a rectangle. The sides are 2x + 4 and 6 units. [Image omitted]

a. Find the perimeter of the rectangle. Simplify your answer if possible.
b. Find the area of the rectangle. Simplify your answer if possible
c. Draw and label a rectangle with the same area that you found in part b, but with a different length and width.

2. Solve the following equations:

a) 5x - 3 = 101
b) 3x – 1 = 2x + 5

...By contrast, consider this question from the SAT-9 test for students of the same grade:

'A cable crew had 120 feet of cable left on a 1000-foot spool after wiring 4 identical new homes. If the spool was full before the homes were wired, which equation could be used to find the length of cable (x) used in each home?

F 4x + 120 = 1000
G 4x – 120 = 1000
H 4x = 1000
J 4x –10000 = 120

Now we have something to work with. Boaler's items are clear, straightforward, and require no additional English comprehension outside of mathematical terms. The SAT-9 item does require students to understand the context and know what spools and cables are. I have to say I like Boaler's items better, and I find this amusing, because her items are much more like traditional math items that focus on narrow applications and strict rules. The SAT-9 item, on the other hand, fits much more with the "progressive" math ideology that says all concepts must be displayed in a context to show that students can apply rules in different situations. Of course, for them to be able to do so, all students have to understand the English in the item.

If Boaler's argument is that we should do away with all the frou-frou surrounding math instruction and math items and make sure students are heavily drilled in mathematical concepts, I'm all for it. I agree with her item analysis much more than I agree with her allegations of stereotype threat.

Posted by kswygert at 09:34 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

New blog

Devoted Reader and prolific commenter Adrian has started a blog. The first post is about the 2005 DOE budget, in which Adrian describes himself as "a libertarian temporarily resigned to the fact that eliminating the DoE wholesale isn’t an option." No wonder he was always posting here.

Posted by kswygert at 09:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 07, 2005

A question of intelligence

I've posted before about what a bad idea it is to tie IQ scores to death penalties. Not only is it absurd to rely on one test score in making a life-or-death decision, but it's hard to imagine that there won't be cheating by both inmate and psychologist:

Are the inmates in the 20 states that currently do not have laws against executing the mentally retarded going to clamor for retests, or will their current IQ scores stand? The potential for abuse is astounding here, and I wouldn't want to be the clinician in charge of testing individuals, knowing that a difference of a few points is indeed a matter of life and death.

IQ scores are not absolute, they're not error-free, and they're not invariant within examinees. It certainly would be easy to fake a low score if the alternative is the gas chamber; a judgment of mental retardation based on such data would be fraught with error. What's more, an inmate could genuinely get smarter over time if the prison had a helpful education program - or if his lawyer helped him learn.( For some criminals of deprived backgrounds, prison is the most instructive and structured environment they've ever known.) If that were to happen, which IQ score should be used when assigning punishment? Should an inmate essentially be punished for improving his mind in prison?

It's not a hypothetical question any more, folks:

Three years ago, in the case of a Virginia man named Daryl R. Atkins, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. But Mr. Atkins's recent test scores could eliminate him from that group. His scores have shot up, a defense expert said, thanks to the mental workout his participation in years of litigation gave him. The Supreme Court, which did not decide whether Mr. Atkins was retarded, noted that he scored 59 on an I.Q. test in 1998. The cutoff for retardation in Virginia is 70.

A defense expert who retested Mr. Atkins last year found that his I.Q. was 74. In court here on Thursday, prosecutors said their expert's latest test yielded 76.

Those scores really don't mean anything unless we're given some idea of the variability of those scores in the population and the standard error of measurement (or SEM). How many SEMs away from 70 is 74? How many SEMs separate 59 and 70? What's the reliability of this exam? Heck, the NYT doesn't even find it necessary to identify which IQ test is being used here, although I'd assume it's the WAIS-R (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Revised) or the WAIS-III. The WAIS-III shows a reliability of .96 and an SEM of 2.3; the WAIS-R, a reliability of .97.

(Update: Yes, it was the WAIS-III. Via Chris, who has more, and who catches an error in the NYTimes article.)

The SEM - which is the standard deviation times the square root of one minus the reliability, if you're interested in knowing - can be understood as follows: If an examinee were to take the same IQ test repeatedly, with no change in the level of intelligence, it is possible that some of the resulting observed scores would be higher or lower than the score that precisely reflects the examinee's actual intelligence level (i.e., the true score). The difference between an examinee's true score and his highest or lowest hypothetical score is the SEM. The bigger the SEM, the more the observed scores can vary from the true score, and the less reliable the exam (i.e., the more random error there is in the scores). Thus, the SEM tells us how precise an estimate the IQ observed score is for what we think of as a "true" IQ score (and all psychological test scores are exactly that - estimates).

Atkins' jump of 59 to 74 is far outside the range of what is to be expected by chance (assuming he took the WAIS-III). In a bell-shaped curve, there's a 99% probability that the true score lies within 3 SEMs on either side of the observed score. A score of 74 is over 6.5 SEMs away from 59, which suggests the new score really is due to an increase in intelligence, and not an indication of mere measurement error.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the NYT didn't. Sure, I know that reporters rarely delve into the mysteries of reliability within a news article, but how are readers supposed to understand a topic that revolves around test scores unless they are exposed to the statistical bits and pieces that clarify the results?

Mr. Atkins, a slight, balding 27-year-old in an orange jumpsuit, sat slumped with his chin on his hand as lawyers argued about whether his intelligence was low enough to spare him from execution. In 1996, he and another man abducted Eric Nesbitt, 21, an airman from Langley Air Force Base, forced him to withdraw money from an A.T.M. and then shot him eight times, killing him. He will be one of the first death row inmates to have a jury trial on the question of whether he is retarded. The jury's decision will determine whether his life will be spared...

Prosecutors say that Mr. Atkins has never been retarded and that the recent tests confirm it. "I don't see how a 76 is exculpatory and evidence of mental retardation," Eileen M. Addison, the commonwealth's attorney here, said in court on Thursday. "It needs to be under 70."

Ms. Addison has said that Mr. Atkins's crime also proves that he is not retarded. In an interview last year, she said that his ability to load and work a gun, to recognize an A.T.M. card, to direct Mr. Nesbitt to withdraw money and to identify a remote area for the killing all proved that Mr. Atkins is not retarded.

"I don't believe the truly mentally retarded commit these kinds of crimes," she said last year. She did not respond to recent messages seeking comment.

There's what everyone perceives as the meat of the matter, of course - even if the tests say he is retarded, does it matter, when he's demonstrated both the willingness and the ability to use a gun on an innocent person?

This is the first time I've seen an explicit statement court mental retardation judgments (although they differ from state to state):

... Seven states have passed new laws, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. They have adopted essentially the same definition of mental retardation, requiring defendants to prove three things: that their I.Q. is below 70 or 75, that they lack fundamental social and practical skills, and that both conditions existed before they turned 18.

Mr. Atkins was never tested as a youth, and so the jury will have to consider how to look back using his test scores as a young adult.

Nice of them to specify that the mental retardation has to be demonstrated in adolescence, but anyone not tested during that time gets to take the test as an adult and will be judged on that. Atkins may be at a disadvantage for not having youthful IQ scores. Where are all those testing opponents who are normally featured in the papers, insisting that tests are biased against minorities and indicative of nothing? Where are the critics who usually insist that people cannot be judged by one test score alone? Lord knows, they'd actually be of some use here.

Jurors in Mr. Atkins's case, which will be tried this spring or summer, will probably hear from mental health experts, teachers, family members, classmates and, perhaps, victims of some of the 16 other felonies that Mr. Atkins committed when he was 18 in what Dr. Nelson called a four-month crime spree. He dropped out of high school that year, his third attempt to pass the tenth grade.

Not much there to indicate that Atkins is very smart. There's also little to indicate that he should ever again be released into society.

There is apparently research to suggest that the mentally retarded may be more likely to confess to crimes they did not commit. To me, that suggests making life-in-prison and death penalties contingent on more than confessions, not making them contingent on high IQ scores. Despite the high reliabilities of IQ tests such as the WAIS-III, I still oppose the idea of setting an IQ score standard as a "Get Out of The Chair Free" card. The test was never intended to be used in such situations, and the possibility of cheating, abuse - and thorny questions such as what to do when IQ changes - arise.

Update: A roundup of opinions on Atkins, mostly the original court decision; I'll update with more recent posts as I find them.
Jenny D says this is good news for education, if not for Atkins.
Chris Correa: "...measurement error is a real issue and there is a problem with high-stakes testing in the courtroom."
ThreeDogBlog discusses the aspect of letting the jury decide on Atkins' intelligence level.
Boots And Sabers think we'll soon see an outbreak of mental retardation among defendants.
Gut Rumbles wonders when dumb stopped being a correlate of violent crime and started being a defense.

Posted by kswygert at 03:32 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

At least the ads were entertaining

I'd say the final score of the Super Bowl was what made me cry, but this is really what did it.

On the other hand, Ameriquests' "Don't judge too quickly" ads were hysterical. "Cat Killer" was my favorite, if only because I could see a similar event taking place in my own house.

Posted by kswygert at 11:25 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Dressing left, voting right

A change in the campus environment:

...the Left’s long dominion over the university—the last place on earth that lefty power would break up, conservatives believed—is showing its first signs of weakening. The change isn’t coming from the schools’ faculty lounges and administrative offices, of course. It’s coming from self-organizing right-of-center students and several innovative outside groups working to bypass the academy’s elite gatekeepers...

The bustle reflects a general rightward shift in college students’ views. Back in 1995, reports UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, 66 percent of freshmen wanted the wealthy to pay higher taxes. Today, only 50 percent do. Some 17 percent of students now value taking part in environmental programs, half of 1992’s percentage. Support for abortion stood at two-thirds of students in the early nineties; now it’s just over half. A late-2003 Harvard Institute of Politics study found that college students had moved to the right of the overall population, with 31 percent identifying themselves as Republicans, 27 percent as Democrats, and the rest independent or unaffiliated...

The obligatory "Young Republicans don't fit the sartorial mold anymore" segment follows, but I suppose it's necessary; some people still believe that campus conservatives live only in long skirts, ties, or suits. (Actually, some wear pentagrams and patchouli oil.) Love the comment, though, about how the conservatives do stand out due to their apparent understanding of the uses of the laundromat. They also tend to reject the "get-drunk-and-hook-up" morality that is so pervasive these days.

Posted by kswygert at 11:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Booty is in the eye of the beholder

A high school junior learns the hard way that calling out for "booty" isn't acceptable unless you're a pirate:

A high school TV journalist made a bad booty call on the air. Brad Devlin, a 17-year-old junior, was recapping the girls' soccer team's 8-0 win in his daily sports report for Estero High's closed circuit TV newscast.

The script, approved by the TV production teacher, said the team really kicked some booty. But Devlin, an aspiring broadcaster, then violated the school's no ad-libbing policy by saying: "I love booty." The term "booty" technically means a pirate's treasure, but in slang also refers to a girl's backside or sex.

Devlin was called to the office and suspended for five days for what was "inappropriate comments on live school television broadcast," Assistant Principal Howard Wendland said.

I'd be tempted to file this under "Boys Will Be Boys," especially given the fact that the approved script called for an expression of "kicking booty." One of ZI's commenters notes that this is the same school that kicked an honors students out of graduation ceremonies after a kitchen knife was found in her car. So, if anyone is keeping track, Estero High students will get booted for mentioning booty, or keeping sharp booty around.

Posted by kswygert at 10:48 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Public vs. private gaps

We've all heard about the test score gap (aka, the achievement gap), and Andrew Coulson of the Mackinac Center has a provocative article about how ideology helps the gap persist:

As researchers know all too well, there is still a gulf of more than 220 points between the SAT scores of white and black students, and black children trail their white peers by significant margins on every subject tested by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Many people are likewise aware that Michigan performs even worse in this regard. Across grades and subjects, Michigan’s racial achievement gap on the NAEP is four to nine points larger than the gap nationwide.[1]

But there is one aspect of the achievement gap that is almost universally unknown: how it differs between public and private schools.

Coulson uses NAEP data to reach a conclusion that isn't really surprising:

As the table shows, there is a sizeable achievement gap between black and white fourth-graders in both public and private schools. It is also clear that the private-sector racial achievement gap is narrower at the 12th grade than at the 4th grade in all of the core NAEP subjects. Public schools actually see a larger race gap in both writing and mathematics at the 12th grade than at the fourth.

Averaged across subjects, the public school racial achievement gap is virtually unchanged between fourth and 12th grades. By contrast, the gap in private schools is an average of 27.5 percentage points smaller at the 12th grade than at the fourth.

Note that the achievement gap does not close faster in private schools because white private school students lose ground with respect to white public school students as they move to higher grades. Rather, the gap closes because black private school students have learned at a substantially higher rate than black public school students.

I like his concluding remarks:

So, will the NAACP and other groups avowedly committed to reducing the racial achievement gap act on these findings? Will they compete with one another to discover the best way of bringing nongovernment schooling within reach of all children?

The answer, obviously, is no.


Because while these groups are committed, on some level, to the aims they profess, they are handcuffed by a self-destructive political ideology. Yes, they will say, we should do everything we can to close the racial achievement gap, as long as our efforts stay comfortably within the confines of a state-run education monopoly.

Given the choice between actually narrowing the racial achievement gap and remaining ideologically pure, they will chose ideological purity. Sooner or later, this position must surely crumble under the weight of its own immorality.

Emphasis his. He also notes that the dropout problems with public schools probably give a boost to the public school scores, because the worst 12th-graders aren't there to take NAEP. Yet, the private schools look better.

As for his belief that this position will crumble soon, let's just say I'm not holding my breath for that, any more than I'm holding my breath for the eradication of the racist belief that minority children cannot be expected to do well on standardized tests.

Posted by kswygert at 10:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Comments are back up

Comments are now active, and I posted a whole buncha stuff last night. Go ahead and give me you $.02. For two of you, I've taken the liberty of posting comments that you emailed to me.

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A clothes call

A Massachusetts middle school enacts a dress code as a reaction to girls who come to lunch in bras and sweatpants:

The new dress code at Michael E. Smith Middle School that seeks to limit the amount of skin pupils may bare in class had its genesis last year after some female students fell out of their tops. "We had girls fall out of their shirts in the sixth grade," principal Melodie L. Goodwin said during a recent interview at the school about the code, which takes effect March 21...

The principal said for some reason pupils began wearing much more revealing clothes to school starting last spring, something about which parents may be ignorant because many youngsters leave home with a hooded, zippered top under which they may be wearing a halter top. Pupils also started rolling down their sweat pants at school, revealing the tops of their buttocks, as well as not wearing brassieres or underpants and traipsing around in stiletto heels.

"This year we had a young lady come into the cafeteria with only a bra and sweat pants on," Goodwin said. "Her mom agreed it was very inappropriate."

One would hope. Stiletto heels? Bras without tops? In middle school? Not only is the dress code needed, but so is a good selection of schoolmarm-ish clothes from the bargain bin, to be kept in the principal's office and handed over to any girl foolish enough to think a bra is outerwear.

To help the cause, the school's student council will hold a fashion show in March or April featuring clothes appropriate for the classroom.

Great idea.

The new code bans flip-flops, high heels, hats, caps, bandannas, clothing items that have "obscenities, fighting words, incitement or defamation on them" and clothes that are "sexually suggestive and therefore distracting to learning and inappropriate for school."

The code requires that shorts and skirts reach the fingertips of the person wearing them when the person's arms are at his or her side. No underwear should be showing and spaghetti straps and halter tops are not allowed. All shirts must cover the skin between the bottom of a shirt and the top of a skirt, shorts or pants.

By not limiting free speech, the dress code avoids the possible lawsuits from those who insist on the right to wear sexually-suggestive messages on t-shirts. Between those kinds of lawsuits and the clothing that today's "role models" wear, I feel for any administrator who attempts to impose modesty in the classroom. It's not an easy job.

Posted by kswygert at 06:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

A swat on the behind saves nine

For those who believe in "Spare the rod and spoil the child," but don't happen to have any suitable rods lying around the house, have I got a deal for you:

To raise a child, one needs three invaluable allies: the Bible, the help of an extended family and "biblical-based resources" -- 9-inch-long spanking paddles of blue polyurethane, according to Steve Haymond from Bakersfield, who sells the paddles online for $6.50 apiece.

Twyla Bullock, in Eufaula, Okla., swears by the Rod -- a 22-inch, $5 white nylon whipping stick her husband designed and produced until recently. Named after the biblical "rod of correction," the Rod provides "a faith-based way to discipline children ... and train them as Christians," Bullock explains.

Susan Lawrence, a devout Lutheran from Arlington, Mass., is appalled.

"Christians are supposed to listen to Jesus," Lawrence said, bringing the Rod down with a thump on the seat of her living room futon and looking at the resulting dent with incredulity. "Can you imagine Jesus teaching to use the Rod?"

Corporal punishment has long been an accepted method of child discipline among evangelical and fundamentalist groups, but an increasing number of Christians are raising objections, arguing that advocates of spanking wrongly cite Scripture to justify a practice that should be banned. Lawrence, who peppers her conversation with quotes from the New Testament, says striking children defies the Golden Rule from the Gospel of Matthew: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."

It's not just evangelicals who believe in spanking - an ABC News poll in 2002 found that "two-thirds of the public approve of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure." The new tools being sold appear to be updates of old faithfuls - the "rod" looks like nothing but a plastic version of the thin branch that any of us reared in the country were threatened with at one point or another. And I remember that my middle school was quite well-stocked with thick wooden paddles.

What does appear to be new is this intra-religious war of Christians who believe in spanking vs. Christians who believe that that's not what Jesus would do (and who are most likely embarassed to be lumped in with the evangelical crowd).

While I can understand opposing corporal punishment, I wonder about the people who are trying to get it banned entirely. Does it help a child more to avoid a spanking or two if Mom gets fined or imprisoned for trying it? It may be difficult for some judges to distinguish between corporal punishment and child abuse, but I'd rather they keep trying, instead of criminalizing disciplinary contact.

What's more, what worked very well on me as a child was the threat of a spanking, with the actual event rarely if ever occuring. If such contact was somehow outlawed, these useful threats would become quite hollow; the reason it worked was because I was sure my mom was quite willing to follow up on it. She always combined it with humiliation, too - "Do you want me to pull your pants down and spank you right here in public?" - in such a way that would gall any touchy-feely, self-esteem types - but it was 100% effective.

Best Freeper quotes:

It's like, there aren't enough things around the house that you could hit your kids with ?

Why is it that people with calm, compliant children want to force their parenting methods on people who have more challenging children?

Yup, I have a sister-in-law who...used "time-outs" and verbal disciplinary methods only. Her kids are undiscplined little terrors today, and headed down the path to juvenile delinquency. Another sister-in-law administered "hand-to-butt" chastisement as needed. HER children are great, polite, intelligent kids, who get great grades in school.

A tube sock stuffed with a couple more tube socks is a good attention-getter without being considered 'cruel or unusual'. *THWAP* "When I said 'clean up your mess', I didn't mean three hours from now."

Use corporal punishment, but only do so rarely, else it will lose its effectiveness. Legitimate corporal punishment causes very little physical pain.

Posted by kswygert at 09:27 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Let's hope the Eagles perform better than my blog

Comments are currently farked, and I've no idea why. Last week trackbacks were shut down due to a spammer attack, and this may have the same cause. Thanks to MT Blacklist, I don't see all that much spam, but that doesn't mean a lot of it isn't trying to get in.

I need to get off the computer anyway, because it's kickoff time. Keep trying on the comments, and if there's no improvement in the am I'll check with my hosts.

Posted by kswygert at 06:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Where the real bullies are

What good is all the effort schools invest in teaching kids to be nice and play well together when some of the real bullies are those who pick them up at 3 pm?

Whether it's swearing at principals or barging into class to scold the teacher, Canadian schools say they are seeing a rising tide of Parent Rage. "A growing number of parents seem very comfortable mouthing off at the school secretary, marching in and calling the teacher names — `You f---ing so-and-so' — often in front of the children," said superintendent Rauda Dickinson, who oversees downtown schools for the Toronto District School Board...

"Compared to a few years ago, it's everywhere"...

In a nationwide poll of school violence, the Canadian Teachers' Federation found 59 per cent of principals across the country in 2001 had witnessed at least one parent verbally abuse a teacher that year, and about 23 per cent had seen a parent physically assault or intimidate a teacher, said federation president Terry Price...

Ironically, some of this parent rage is erupting over the new Safe Schools Act:

The Ontario Principals' Council is concerned at the frequency with which parents threaten to sue schools over Ontario's new Safe Schools Act — both the parents of victims and the parents of bullies, said president Doug Acton. "Bullying is a real hot-button issue for parents. They can get angry if their child is disciplined, or angry if their child is bullied and the principal doesn't impose the maximum penalty."

So angry that they....go up to schools and bully the teachers. Or threaten a lawsuit at the drop of a hat, which can essentially be non-violent bullying.

"We have parents spitting, swearing and pushing principals from one end of their office to another in an attempt to intimidate them," said veteran principal Helen Evans of the Toronto School Administrators' Association, which represents principals and vice-principals across the city. "One mother marched into a hall and asked two girls to leave because she said 'By the time I'm finished with that a--hole teacher in there, you won't want to be around,'" Evans said.

When Emily Noble was a principal, a drunken father stomped into her office waving a gun because he was angry his daughter had broken her arm on a school skating trip. When Noble, now president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, asked him to leave he replied "If it happens again, I'll come back and shoot you." Noble had police issue a restraining order.

Gee, what better parent could there be than one who threatens school authorities when his child - as children do - gets harmed when learning to skate? The sad thing is that this guy probably sees himself as Father of the Year for his "protectiveness." Another sad thing is that it's not hard to see why there are discipline problems within schools when the parental examples are this poor.

(Hat tip: Reginleif.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I don't want to hear what they would have done for a Jeep

This sounds like a health hazard to me:

Utah Valley State College students got more than they bargained for at a free car contest—vomit, soiled pants and dehydration was the price to pay for a ’95 Ford Taurus. The “Hold on to the Car” competition, sponsored by the UVSC student government, challenged students to hold onto a car as long as they can; the last one standing would win a used car purchased by the school.

However, participants were not allowed to go to the bathroom or switch hands during the competition.

The contest started at 8 a.m. Wednesday with 44 UVSC students with the will to win. By 2 a.m. on Thursday, students were fading fast, said Shawn Bunderson, a member of the social committee at UVSC.

“Some people were dehydrating, but that only caused more problems,” Bunderson said. “People were throwing-up and peeing their pants.”

EW. And for a 1995 Taurus? Are they that desperate for wheels? My fiance could have sold 'em his, with no bodily fluids required.

Posted by kswygert at 06:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Does anyone even learn about comma splices anymore?

Misuse of the serial comma doesn't exactly get my Irish up, but never you fear, John Rosenberg is on the case:

O.K., I'm sure some of you are asking, what does the serial comma have to do with discrimination? I could be cute and say it reflects discriminating taste, but I won't. I could say that the anarchy of the NYT's punctuation reveals what happens when "rules" are so flexible they aren't rules at all, or if they are they are too confusing to apply consistently, and that, though a bit overblown, would be getting closer to what one's attitude toward the serial comma reveals about other (some would say more important) issues.

Many, perhaps most, critics of rules (or "strict rules," if you prefer) misunderstand them. They see them as the command of Orthodoxy, or at least Authority, and hence believe that freedom demands defiance. They see them as Absolutes, and hence out of time and place in our modern (or, worse, postmodern) pragmatic, relativistic culture. What these critics of rules (and, in fact, of formalism in general) miss is the fact that one of the strongest rationales for having them is, perhaps ironically, purely pragmatic and instrumental: they increase efficiency.

Using the serial comma can never cause confusion. Omitting it, as we have seen, often can. Thus if your "rule" is to omit it, you have to stop and consider whether every series you write is clear. The serial comma rule takes that decision off the table; if you use it for every series, you don't have to consider the clarity question on every one of them. Grammatical rules, in short, are very much like principles: the stronger they are, the more pauses and potential confusions they take off the table.

Grammatical rules which are currently out of favor in our educational system, not least for the reason that teachers can't be bothered to learn them. When I hear of stories like this one - anecdotal, but amusing - I have to wonder if those who oppose the "narrow" teaching of such rules are in favor of plenty of confusion in communication.

Posted by kswygert at 05:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

All the news that's fit to skim

Erin O'Connor of Critical Mass wants to hear your comments about reading and writing in public and private schools, as part of a response to a NYTimes article which calls for better education of teachers:

All this is of course easier said than done, and what's being easily said is also, of course, highly disputable: The editorial's apparent assumption, for example, that ed school ought still to be a gateway to public school teaching really cannot stand as an assumption at this stage of the public debate on education.

Something the article does not not mention--in fairness, because the issue is beyond its particular purview--is how independent schools are confronting the same pressing issues of declining literacy. We center our debates on literacy and education on public schools, and the working assumption there appears to be that the issue only really affects kids in public schools. While it seems clear enough that the most extreme manifestations of the problem are to be found in public schools, it's equally clear that independent schools are affected, too. It's just not that unusual for teachers in these schools to encounter serious deficits in their students, and to find themselves doing a depressing--and sometimes seemingly futile--amount of remediation. I would guess, too, that just like the public schools, these schools struggle at times to find teachers who are capable of doing that remediation.

One very basic reason for this--one of many-is that for more than a generation now, the study of grammar has been out of favor in American schools. Without solid grounding in grammar, a student is never really going to learn to write well. Even more to the point, without a solid grounding in grammar, that student's teachers are not only not going to be able to teach that student to write well, they aren't even going to know when a student cannot write.

Students who don't learn to write in school probably aren't reading as well. Lest you think that the situation is better in college, Joanne Jacobs discovers students planning to write for a living who don't bother to read:

The scene: A college classroom at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The subject: Writing the newspaper column. The question: "Can any of you name a columnist you read -- in a newspaper or magazine or online -- on a regular basis?"

In response: Dead silence.

Slowly, one hand rises. A sports columnist is mentioned. Nobody else in the room hints at any recognition of the sports columnist's name: Anyone?

"My generation is very visually oriented," explains Ryan Schreiber, a U-M Dearborn junior from Dearborn who -- like most in the class -- is majoring in journalism but doesn't read much of it. "My generation grew up watching MTV. We are used to short spurts of words, lots of images...We're used to immediate gratification."

He points out that columns like this one are blocks of text, decorated only with a thumbnail photo and a headline. No dancing images, no colorful pop-ups, no audio. Words on paper. Blah...

In another journalism class down the hall, the instructor annoyed his students. After asking how many read a newspaper regularly -- four or five out of 35 said they did -- he required them to bring a newspaper to class twice a week. "The students don't like it," says Laura Hipshire, one of the journalism students.

These are journalism students, folks. And they can't even be bothered to read newspapers. Yes, yes, I've criticized newspapers in the past, but not because I can't concentrate long enough to read one, or because I don't know that good ones do exist. Why on earth are these kids entering this field if they can't hack reading The Washington Post, never mind writing for it?

Photon Courier's explanation is as good as any.

Posted by kswygert at 05:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Teaching! Now there's a concept

Love the headline of this article: "HISD superintendent intends to improve test scores by teaching content to children. It just might work."

The Houston Independent School District has been giving its pupils an examination overdose, and new Superintendent Abe Saavedra wants to shift the focus from testing to instruction. If Saavedra can tamp down the wasted hours spent on unnecessary tests and on rote drills that teach narrowly to the tests, teachers might find they have time to instill in their charges some useful knowledge and intellectual skills that would come in handy on any test, whether in the classroom or later life.

Teachers have complained for years that principals hound them mercilessly to produce classrooms full of high scorers on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. A principal's bonus rides at least partly on how well the students perform, and so does the reputation of the school. Students at four grade levels are required to pass the TAKS to move to the next grade or graduate. The intense pressure has induced some teachers and administrators to cheat.

Saavedra says he wants to relieve some of that pressure by changing HISD's climate to one that emphasizes teaching.

So Texas is facing a gigantic cheating scandal, and we're supposed to believe that the solution is to stop giving the tests. Oh, and we should allow teachers to return to teaching in such a way that they needn't focus on those narrow basic skills, and to realize that teachers shouldn't be assessed by test scores.

I should note that I don't entirely disagree with these statements. But, given the reasons that the testing was implemented in the first place, forgive me for being skeptical about the motives here. I'd like to see a focus return to real education, yes, but I have a suspicion that "real education" may be interpreted here as touchy-feely, unscientific thinking that can't be measured by any objective outcomes.

Posted by kswygert at 05:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

First homeschooling, now home prepping

Test prep reaches the little ones:

Steve Gold and his son Austin studied an hour every school night for weeks to prepare for the big test. It wasn't a final exam or an SAT.

Austin is a fourth grader in Rockland County. They studied for the New York state assessment test on English Language Arts given this week.

"It was a lot of work. It wasn't easy," Steve Gold said. "But I'm glad that the school put the emphasis on it because I do believe it's going to make test taking easier as they get older."

Welcome to test prep - grade school style.

You can tell this article isn't appearing in the New York Times; if Winerip were reporting this, there would have been tears aplenty by this point in the article. The NY Newsday, however, sticks to the facts:

As standardized tests proliferate at the lower grades, study guides and programs have filled a growing market...The market is expected to expand when standardized tests for grade schoolers become the rule this fall under federal No Child Left Behind legislation...

New York school students take assessment tests beginning in fourth grade math and English Language Arts. In New York, assessments also help schools identify problem areas of specific students and in instruction, though they are not used to decide whether a student advances or is held back.

So is test prep at home even needed?

Good question. I say yes. The parents need reassurance, and the kids need practice. Good test prep books will be able to fill both sets of needs. The critics, of course, say that the test prep must inevitably be coming at the expense of "education," as though learning to read and learning how to take a reading test cannot possibly cover the same constructs.

Some parents won't buy the books, because they'll see their kids don't need them. But these books could be a boon to a parent who is unfamiliar with the tests and/or believes their child needs extra help.

Posted by kswygert at 05:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

But I bet they kept their Lexus in great shape

These people deserve to never again look as happy as they do in these photos:

A Florida couple accused of torturing and starving five of their seven children were taken into custody Friday night in Utah after detectives were able to track their cell phone signals, authorities said.

Capt. Jim Cernich of the Sheriff's Office in Citrus County, Florida, said deputies in San Juan County, Utah, apprehended Linda Dollar, 51, and John Dollar, 58, on a road after recognizing their gold 2000 Lexus sport utility vehicle.

The Dollars face charges in Citrus County, where they lived in Beverly Hills, on one count of aggravated child abuse/torture for all five children.

The accusations include pulling out the children's toenails with pliers and keeping them so malnourished they "looked like pictures from Auschwitz," authorities said.

Seven kids lived with them - seven kids who never left the house:

In the past two years, the Dollars have moved their family to at least three different homes in the Tampa area after living in Tennessee, secluding themselves behind fences and in piney groves. The children were home-schooled and rarely played with neighbors or enjoyed the family's pool.

"Who has seven kids and the kids never go out and play?'' asked Dawn Crescimone, who lived near the family in suburban Tampa two years ago.

The Education Wonks say: "There should be a special type of hell reserved for people/disgusting little creatures that do these kinds of things to children."

Homesteading Today forum: "Here's some background. Linda Dollar's father was a very abusive man. So abusive that her sister committed suicide. Apparently, the cycle was never broken."

Outside the Beltway: "The juxtaposition of their accused deeds and the file photos is rather disturbing." (I'll say.)

Samizdata: "There are two benefits of even the most useless schools. Children meet other children their own age, which is useful if one is not intent on becoming a hermit. Of course there is plenty of unreported abuse that occurs in full view. In some schools abuse is ignored or even inflicted. But most basically of all, a 12 year-old child turning up weighing 35 pounds with burn marks and bruises in rags might be noticed. So having children turn up somewhere where their disappearance or injury will be noticed is a valuable function of schools. Perhaps they need to open twice a month for roll-call and then let them go home?"

Posted by kswygert at 05:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stretching their minds

Expect to see more gloom-n-doom articles on the new SAT as the March 12 unveiling approaches:

The SAT, the test students love to hate, is about to get even more unpopular...

Ledes like this suggest we're dealing with journalists who just don't think about their topics, and rely on stale cliches. Does every kid hate the SAT? Not those who win merit scholarships or gain college entry because of the exam. And why should we assume that an updating of the test means that it's only going to get worse?

The test was reworked to reflect better what students are learning in high school and to address the concerns of some university administrators who see widespread writing deficiencies, according to the College Board, the nonprofit parent company of the SAT.

Longer and more expensive than ever, the three-hour-and-forty-five-minute, $41.50 exam is drawing all sorts of reactions.

If it was reworked for such good reasons, why aren't those in the lede graf? And it costs $41.50 for a family to go to the movies these days - hardly extortionist rates. And it's still under four hours long, which isn't exactly exhausting.

"Now I can't really ask my older sister questions about the test," said Andrew Kitchel, another South Eugene junior registered for the March 12 exam.

Uh, yes, you can, because it's still measuring many of the same attributes. Unless you were hoping Sis would feed you live items, you can still benefit from her experience.

Kaplan has good things to say about the exam, but I still balk at the "my-gosh-four-hours-is-just-too-long" attitude:

Jennifer Karan, national director of SAT testing at Kaplan, says the new test is a big deal...Karan says the test is more challenging, especially for students with weak verbal skills. While the old exam was divided down the middle into verbal and math questions, the new version is roughly two-thirds verbal sections and one-third math.

Some students may balk at the length of the test, she said.

"Most students find 45 minutes a challenge, let alone three hours and 45 minutes," Karan says. "That's a (long) time for a young person to really manage to keep strong focus and concentration."

So now, attending college will require demonstration of (a) good verbal skills and (b) the ability to focus attention for longer than an episode of The Surreal Life. Anyone see a problem with that?

I shouldn't be so hard on the article, or those quoted in it; the information is accurate and useful. I just can't help rolling my eyes at all the "conventional wisdom" that we're supposed to accept when testing is discussed - all students hate tests, students hate to write, students can't be expected to focus, etc.

For a juicer, behind-the-scenes take on the new SAT, go here:

The behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new SAT suggests that there is no single formula for achieving a high score on the writing portion of the test, and that formulaic writing can result in a lower score. At the same time, it is legitimate to wonder whether the eccentric spark of genius will continue to be rewarded when thousands of test-graders across the country try to implement the guidelines established by the experts.

Last I checked, the SAT wasn't meant to reward eccentric genius. It was meant to assess the basic skills necessary for college. I'd like to see at least one of these reporters give me an example of a true genius who deserves to attend college, yet is unable to write in such a way as to get a decent score on the SAT. Unless their genius involves a disdain for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, I don't think they'll be at too much of a disadvantage.

Posted by kswygert at 04:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A lesson with wings, but little weight

An interpretive dance teacher is let loose among innocent schoolchildren:

Berkelely performance artist Patricia Bulitt was ready to give an Oakland elemantary school class an hour that was strictly for the birds. Specifically, it was for the local birds, a tribute to the winged denizens that inhabit nearby watersheds, from stately herons to common pigeons...

The children first listened to a story about a pair of birds, the ill-fated Hector and his mate, Helen, residents of the Lake Merritt watershed. It was a classic Greek tragedy -- Hector got tangled up with carelessly discarded fishing line and perished. The class then used felt-tip pens to write their thoughts on little shirts and dresses from the Goodwill Store.

And then the dancing began. Picking a cloth partner, the children fluttered four at a time as Bulitt recited their written words in a sing-song manner, which was repeated by the kids who were not dancing:

"Dear Hec-tor," sang Bulitt.

"Dear Hec-tor," echoed the class.

"I'm sor-ry."

"I'm sor-ry."

"That you got stuck in the fish-ing line."

"That you got stuck in the fish-ing line."

"When you died."

"When you died."

"From, Ja-cob."

"From, Ja-cob."

The class, initially shy, warmed up quickly and soon nearly everyone was vying for a chance to do a shirt dance...

"To children, the notion of the shirt or dress is like feathers," Bulitt said. "Clothes hold memories, and they can write something down and leave it behind for the birds."

Eric at Classical Values is unimpressed:

...in my local Berkeley Gazette, there's a picture of the artist flapping about in front of the kids -- and a boy in the picture does not appear terribly interested in "environmental performing art." No wonder they have to resort to Ritalin!

I guess I should be glad I don't have kids. Otherwise, I might have to spend my time Googling for stories about "Hector" and "Helen" at Lake Merritt. I found an actual account of the tragedy:

....two white pelicans, Hector and Helen, and seven other half-growns, were brought to the refuge from Pyramid Lake courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Department. The two were picked to remain at the lake through a partial pinioning that kept them from full flight. Although the others eventually flew away, H & H remained behind to delight thousands of people through the years with photographic beauty and comical antics...a noble sacrifice that they seemingly enjoyed. They were fed three pounds of smelt every day, plus scooping up some lake herring on the side, too! Hector became tangled in a rope and drowned in the mid-1980's, but Helen lived on alone for ten years, escorting wild visiting white pelicans around the lake, and she was often courted by a white mute swan that mysteriously appeared off and on.
Captive bird tangled on a rope, huh?

So what's with the the "fish-ing line" line?

I don't know, but the artist also dances with trout. (The latter was a performance for "Culvert Action II" -- a precursor to an ongoing (if economically chaotic) program to "daylight" a creek which runs through downtown Berkeley.) Daylighting creeks is a deadly serious business (and I don't think hunting and fishing is on the agenda)...

...I'm not a little boy. As I've said before, boys prefer toy guns. And I think they'd rather go fishing for trout than dancing with them.

Under the circumstances, who wouldn't need Ritalin?

The school which brought in the performance artist was Montclair Elementary, which seems to have a good reputation - and a strong PTA. API's not bad, either. Let's hope all the fluttering and flapping doesn't get in the way of the real education at the school.

Posted by kswygert at 04:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

Spammers should die

Joanne Jacobs emailed me to let me know her site was down due to an "overload," which most likely means some sort of spam attack; however, it seems to be back up for now. We seem to be undergoing attacks from nasty pornographic spammers; my trackbacks were farked earlier in the week due to this kind of abuse. Anyway, if you try to visit Joanne and she's not in, that would be why.

I plan to be in the house most of this weekend, to avoid the understandably overzealous Eagles fans who will be swarming the roads in Philly in search of beer and chicken wings, so I'll try to catch up on the blogging as well.

Posted by kswygert at 10:22 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

The real crime was that she drove to school that day in an Edsel

A grandmother unburdens her conscience:

GYPSUM, Colo. - An high school graduate has confessed to cheating on an English literature test — 47 years ago. Eagle Valley High School Principal Mark Strakbein said he got a one-page, handwritten letter from a 65-year-old grandmother of five who admitted she and a friend stole the answers to a Shakespeare test in the fall of 1957.

"I know it makes no difference now (after 47 years), except maybe this will keep some student from cheating and help them to be honest — conscience never lets you forget — there is forgiveness with God, and I have that, but I felt I still needed to confess to the school."

Strakbein didn't release the woman's name but said he confirmed she graduated in 1958 from Eagle County High School, which has since been consolidated into Eagle Valley High.

My favorite part is this:

Strakbein said he read the letter aloud to every homeroom class as a lesson in following your conscience.

"You could have heard a pin drop," he said.

It's very sweet, and charitable, of Strakbein to assume that the silence on the part of the teenagers was due to sober reflection. I think it's quite possible, though, that at least some of them were thinking, "She's HOW old? And she still REMEMBERS taking a test on Shakespeare? Man, I don't plan to remember this test NEXT WEEK." And so on.

Posted by kswygert at 07:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Today is one for the record books

Cute. Only in this version, I doubt we'd see too much journalistic bias in the reporting of yards rushed and passes caught. And it's funny to imagine a scenario where the bleeding-heart opponents of NRLB (No Receiver Left Behind) are fighting for the rights of the players to score touchdowns in more subjective and "caring" ways.

Posted by kswygert at 07:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

High-tech cheating

An enterprising young hacker gets nabbed:

A high school student is facing criminal charges for allegedly hooking a device up to a teacher's computer to steal test information to sell to other students, Local 2 reported Tuesday. The student attended Clements High School, 4200 Elkins Dr., in the Fort Bend Independent School District.

Officials said the 16-year-old boy hooked up a keystroke decoder to a teacher's computer and downloaded exams in November. "Sometime in mid-December, we got a tip that this student was selling test exams that had apparently come from a teacher's computer, so that's when the investigation began," said Mary Ann Simpson, with the Fort Bend School District.

The student confessed when he was confronted, officials said.

The keystroke decoder is widely available at computer stores and on the Internet. It records every keystroke in data that can be downloaded later. It attaches between the computer and the keyboard. "It's surprisingly simple -- to the point our police department is now on alert to other district area police departments to make them aware," Simpson said.

Yet another example of students putting more thought and effort into the act of cheating than of studying, although this one had the twist of making a little profit on the side. Wonder if they're going to go after the students who bought those exams as well?

Posted by kswygert at 07:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Barbie's ready to kick some Mujahideen butt

So this is the end product of all those years of sancitimonious liberals refusing to let their children play with anything related to the military or guns (or even learn the word "gun" in school). This is the end product of those folks trying to convince the world that it's child abuse to allow a boy to play with a toy gun or plastic sword. For when these "violent" toys are used in place of a real human being, the sharp-eyed folks at Associated Press are unable to tell the difference. The Command Post has the full timeline of events, and there's a nifty animation here.

The AP deserves every bit of the mocking it's getting right now, especially when many of those debunking this hoax were able to use their own kids' toys to do so. I love it when fact-checkers can say, "Confirmed by my 8-year-old son."

Don't miss the comments from that densely-packed and chaotic center of the universe, Fark:

See!? he's being held hostage by a miniature plastic gun! THAT'S why they don't let you take toy plastic guns on airplanes! And you all laughed at the TSA taking away GI JOE's 2 inch gun....

This is usually when I would send in that giant Samauri guy from the Thundercats. He was always my enforcer.

Closeups reveal the soldier's tattoos identifying him as a member of Mattel division.

They were gonna shoot him with his own gun too.

The stern expression on the hostage had less to do his imminent decapitation and more to do with his having been born blatantly bereft of genitalia.

Do not miss this Top Ten list, either. My favorite:

We have captured Rainbow Brite, and we will hang her as an infidel at dawn.

Can they hang Smurfette as well? She always annoyed me. Such blue trash, wearing those white shoes year-round.

Posted by kswygert at 07:53 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

When a math exam becomes an exercise in basic probability

The New York Post has the goods on the new but not improved Math A Regents exam standard :

High-school students taking the Math A Regents exam this week must correctly answer fewer than one-third of the questions to pass — the lowest benchmark in at least six years — because of a revised grading scale that critics charge is too generous. Students are required to earn just 26 out of a total 84 points — or 31 percent — to reach the minimum passing grade of 55.

To pass with "honors," students only need 34 points — or around 40 percent.

The state Department of Education insists the scoring is just as rigorous as previous exams and consistent with recommendations of the independent panel that devised the test. "There are somewhat more difficult questions on this exam, however, and so students need to get somewhat fewer questions right in order to pass," said state education spokesman Tom Dunn. "Anyone who looks closely at this exam will see that it is not easy."

I disagree (as does the Post), and for one simple reason. We heard a similar argument a while back, in the discussion of the UK maths GCSEs. If you recall, I said then that there might indeed be no problem with a very low passing standard, whereas here, I say there is.

The difference is that, while the UK exam is completely open-ended, the Math A Regents exam contains thirty multiple-choice items (or MCQ's, as we call them) that are worth a total of 60 out of the 84 total points - 71.4% of the exam. If the passing standard is set at a raw score of 26 points, or 13 MCQ's answered correctly. A student can pass this exam by getting 13 MCQ's and no open-ended items right, because all items are combined and scored; the conversion is done only on that final combined number-right score.

Mere guessing, at four options an item, gets a student up to 7.5 items by chance alone. It doesn't matter if the MCQ's are more difficult; no matter how difficult they are, students can still get the right answer by chance alone. So a student need get only an additional 6 items right in order to pass. They can completely bomb the open-ended part and pass. And calculators are allowed. And this represents an increase in the number of MCQ's on the exam compared to 2003. And we haven't even gotten into discussing the generous conversion table.

I'm sure you can guess the reason why the passing standard was lowered, by the way. They've been very concerned in NY over the miserable passing rates on this exam. This solution doesn't exactly address the root causes.

Others who have more math knowledge and understanding of these exams than I have been appalled by Regents math exams in the past. My guess is that they're still appalled. If you haven't visited the NYC Hold website, you should. It's a great read.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Posted by kswygert at 04:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Leave Bad Schools Behind

A tale of one California school in which parents are speaking their minds by moving their kids:

Oak Grove Middle School has low state test scores, and for many parents -- and teachers -- that's all they need to know. It doesn't matter that the Concord school once was honored as a California Distinguished School and has classes for gifted and talented students, a state-of-the-art technology program and even a psychologist on campus to support the kids.

What matters is that widely publicized state test scores and the federal No Child Left Behind Act have labeled the school underperforming, giving parents a reason to leave. Enrollment has dropped from 915 last year to 750, and the parents of another 180 students have requested transfers by the fall. The act also has figured in the loss of 40 teachers in recent years, Principal Lorie O'Brien said.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this why California's accountability program, open enrollment policies, and NCLB were implemented? So that parents could make judgments based on objective criteria and move their kids someplace better if they chose to do so? Why aren't we being asked to be happy here for the at-most 345 students who may now be attending schools better suited for them? Is the assumption here that no school could possibly be better than one with a psychologist on call, test scores be damned?

...The schools fail to meet state and federal accountability standards often because they're struggling to teach low-scoring students who are learning English after immigrating to the United States, said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., an advocacy organization for more effective public schools which has studied the effects of the federal law.

Jennings and other education experts say that as the schools' test scores spiral downward, it's not uncommon for the more educated families to pull their kids out, increasing the percentage of low-scoring students and making it even more difficult to raise the scores. As a result, the schools -- which range from suburban ones such as Oak Grove to urban campuses -- lose per-pupil funding and the benefits of parents with the time and resources to get involved.

Yes, but if schools are having a very difficult time teaching immigrants, doesn't that suggest that something could in fact be wrong with the educational process? Should parents who do care about how their kids are educated be forced to hang around and pick up the slack for those who don't? And isn't it possible that as test scores decline, other issues could arise - like overcrowding and discipline problems - that arealso factors in a parent's decision to pull out?

Bottom line - isn't it perfectly okay for parents to decide that they value test scores over diversity in a school? Or has that been made illegal by the pro-diversity crowd?

"(At) schools that are so labeled, sometimes teachers feel they're being blamed unfairly, and sometimes teachers are looking for ways to leave," Jennings said. "Sometimes the better-educated parents take advantage of the school choice option."

Again, wasn't NCLB supposed to have at least some of this effect? Because some of those teachers who are so labeled are in fact not doing a great job of teaching. And the last time I checked, it wasn't only parents of kids who were doing well who can request transfers. Any parent can request such a transfer, and any kid can benefit from it. Perhaps it's more likely that better-educated parents will request the transfers, but it seems somehow dishonest to present the story in such a way that a less careful reader might conclude that income is somehow a necessary factor in the equation.

Oak Grove has always had a mix of students from blue- and white-collar families who live in Concord and more affluent Walnut Creek. In 1996, the state named it a California Distinguished School for its exemplary teaching and high standards.

Yes, and in 1996 I was still legally married and wearing size 5 jeans. Schools, which tend to be populated with people, can change as people do. What's more, according to the middle school rubric online here, at least some of the factors going into the selection of distinguished schools are as fuzzy as:

Evidence shows how the entire school community is committed to the vision that all students will reach the standards and demonstrates how all students will be ready for high school and for passing the high school exit exam.

If being committed doesn't translate into something that's objectively measurable, how much is the commitment worth to the students?

Back to the original article:

...n the seven years since the first of the state's new test scores -- which the federal law uses to gauge a school's performance -- the school has seen a marked shift in its demographics: The Hispanic population -- which is largely from the Monument Boulevard area in Concord -- has jumped from 27 to 52 percent, while the white population has dropped from 57 to 30 percent, according to the state Department of Education...

Kristy Caldwell's two children, who attend the high-performing Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek, would attend Oak Grove, and that deeply concerns her. "I'm not prejudiced, (but) the school became English-as-a-second-language, " she said. "You would be taking my kids from a great environment to a ghetto environment where they're struggling with other needs ... The test scores at Oak Grove are terrible."

A parent of any race could make the same decision for their kids. Especially when, as the article goes on to say, there are "persistent rumors" that Oak Grove has a problem with fights. Are we supposed to assume that there is absolutely no basis for those rumors? Is a parent whose kid has been beaten up on campus being racist by wanting to move them? Or ignorant in warning them to be careful?

I find it interesting that this article does not explicitly state that any parent can request such a transfer, and that said transfer might be attractive to any parent when a school's demographics have changed so rapidly that "rumors" of violence abound and teachers are forced to teach basic English as well as everything else.

Are parents of children with high test scores making this problem worse by leaving? Yes, when the "problem" is defined as "How do we keep a public school populated when times have changed and scores are down?" However, it's perfectly legitimate for those outside the system to judge with their feet and define the problem as, "How do I best educate my kids?" In which case, the parents are addressing the problem just fine - and in the way that state and federal accountability programs intended.

(via FreeRepublic.)

Posted by kswygert at 03:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack