April 29, 2005

Is that a burrito in your pocket, or are you pissed off about your math grades?


It wasn’t a gun that caused police to lock down Marshall Junior High School in Clovis. It was a burrito. Police locked the school down after a citizen saw a student walking into school with a long, skinny object wrapped in a white cloth. He thought it was a gun and called police.

Officers searched for the student while the school was on lockdown. But the student came forward first, admitting he had what they were looking for – a two-and-a-half-foot-long burrito. The student had taken the burrito, wrapped in foil and a white cloth, to present in a culinary career class. It was loaded – with meat and beans.

Police called the incident a good exercise for all of the officers who responded to the school. One observer joked that with the right combination of ingredients, the burrito could have been a deadly weapon.

That's not a joke in my household, thanks to my fiance's love for jambalaya, burritos, and spicy chicken wings. And did I mention we have only one bathroom?

Posted by kswygert at 03:22 PM | Comments (287) | TrackBack

Souped-up hogs meet souped-up brains

Eggheads try to convince the public that being super-smart isn't mutually exclusive with being cool:

Avery is an egghead who isn't your stereotypical blockhead. Which explains why Avery, who rides a '59 red-and-white Harley and is blessed with an IQ between 134 and 150 — that's higher than 98 percent of the population — wants to break the notion that hog lovers and intellectuals are mutually exclusive beings.

On Saturday, members of Mensa will square off against easy riders who belong to the Estero River Chapter of ABATE, a motorcycle rights group, in the Ninth Annual Brainers vs. Bikers trivia contest. "It's a cross between 'Jeopardy!' and 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?'" says Avery, the 42-year-old owner of Hurricane Cycle bike shop in San Carlos Park and president of the Southwest Florida Mensa chapter.

Posted by kswygert at 02:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Letting kids skip the exams

The question of boycotting state exams is being posed in New York state:

Ryan Ficano, 10, and his fourth-grade classmates at Center Street Elementary School are scheduled to take a state-mandated math test next week. Ryan, who boycotted the state’s English language arts test in February, hasn’t decided whether to take the test, his mother, Carli Ficano, said Thursday night...

Ficano was one of eight parents who met at the Center Street school to talk with administrators and teachers about required testing and the philosophy of mandated exams. Her discussion with Ryan would include teachers’ favorable and neutral opinions of the tests, she said, and that it would be OK not to take the test this year if he chose.

Center Street's principal has asked parents who oppose the testing to take their concerns to the state legislator instead of allowing their kids to boycott (which could certainly hurt the school standing.)

Posted by kswygert at 02:36 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

What's more important, the teacher or the curriculum?

In Education Week, Anthony Ralston shares his opinions on the real scandal in American mathematics education:

...all the arguments in recent years about curricula and calculators are virtually irrelevant when compared with the single greatest challenge facing American school mathematics: how to do something about the steady decline over the past half-century of the intellectual abilities of those who teach math in our schools...

It is a scandal that so little attention has been paid to attracting better-qualified math teachers to American schools. What can be done?

Instead of all the time and energy spent on arguing about curriculum and related matters, mathematicians and mathematics educators should devote their energies to making the case that those we attract to elementary and secondary mathematics teaching need to be as intellectually able as those attracted to law, medicine, and, yes, the academic world.

Expect some angry replies from education majors soon. Meanwhile, the link to this article was circulated on Bill Evers's listserv, with commentary from Bill: "The author is right that there is a scarcity of qualified math teachers. He is wrong in his attacks on accountability testing and direct instruction (although like anything else these can be done poorly). He should consider targeted boosts in pay scales for science, math, and special ed teachers."

And speaking of such boosts:

"We must treat our teachers like the professionals they are," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings told more than 300 educators and others attending the Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference today in Washington, D.C. "That means we must reward teachers who make real progress closing the achievement gap in the most challenging classrooms"...

To address the problem, President Bush has proposed a new $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund, Spellings said. The fund will provide states with money to reward teachers who take the toughest jobs and achieve real results. Spellings noted that, according to a recent study by the bipartisan Teaching Commission, 76 percent of Americans and 77 percent of public school teachers supported incentive pay.

Posted by kswygert at 02:27 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Support for NCLB

Support for NCLB in the Mercury News:

For five years, California's attempt to fix failing schools was confused and in disarray. But the federal No Child Left Behind Act has a timetable and sanctions that hold the state's feet to the fire, and this has forced California to make a long-overdue change. State officials now have adopted an academically focused school-improvement method that should work to rescue failing schools. The state and its school districts need to persist in this effort.

Authors Bill Evers and Lance Izumi are of the "schools benefit from facing a takeover" mindset, which is anathema to educrats who'd like schools to remain immune to outside criticism, much less dismantling. For an example of such educrats, Martin West and Paul Peterson suggest the NEA ($ubscription required), using a comparison that is sure to make the union see red:

The National Education Association, its affiliates in 10 states, and a ragbag of school districts have just filed a federal lawsuit alleging that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an unfunded mandate. If the NEA's complaints sound hauntingly familiar, it's because Americans have heard them before -- 40 years ago, when Southern segregationists did their best to evade the desegregation requirements of Lyndon Johnson's original law offering federal aid for education.

Then, recalcitrant school districts complained about an unfunded mandate. Then, they objected that the dollars did not cover the full cost of desegregating their schools. Now, resistance comes from those who claim to represent public-school employees. Now, as much as then, the resistance is woefully misguided.


Posted by kswygert at 02:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Learning a lesson about kindergarten topics

Wizbang's got the scoop on an interesting story making the rounds in Massachusetts (and now, the Internet):

For David Parker, the first alarm went off in January, when his 5-year-old son came home from his kindergarten class at Lexington's Joseph Estabrook School with a bag of books promoting diversity. Inside were books about foreign cultures and traditions, along with food recipes. There was also a copy of ''Who's In a Family?" by Robert Skutch, which depicts different kinds of families, including same-sex couples raising children.

The book's contents concerned Parker and prompted him to begin a series of e-mail exchanges with school officials on the subject that culminated in a meeting Wednesday night with Estabrook's principal and district director of instruction. The meeting ended with Parker's arrest after he refused to leave the school, and the Lexington man spent the night in jail.

The charge is trespassing. Wizbang asks the question:

...what I think is the bigger issue is getting ignored. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Parker's beliefs, the fundamental question is this: are his demands that he be notified about what material is being taught to his son about a clearly controversial issue unreasonable? I think not...Right or wrong, he certainly has the right to make his stand.

And I really can't blame the schools too much. For too long, they've taken on more and more of the responsibilities that parents have abrogated over the years. It's understandable that some of them might view those additional obligations as their natural right, and feel that a parent who is intruding into "their" turf is in the wrong.

But the parent isn't. The school is. And they need to wake up to that fact damned fast. They are entrusted with the EDUCATION of our children, not their GUARDIANSHIP. "In loco parentis" is a very limited concept, and in no way should be construed to be superior to parental rights. If they want to override a parent's wishes in regards to a child, they better be ready to go to court -- not simply wave regulations around and call up the cops to back them up.

At this point, Mr. Parker is now forbidden to step foot on school grounds; I certainly hope he withdraws his child from that school system while this injunction is still in order. I'm also interested in seeing whether the school can back up the claim that teaching kindergarteners about alternative lifestyles is both necessary and not dependent on parental permission (as sexuality/sex education classes would be).

It's also interesting to look at this in the context of the kindergarten standards that were discussed earlier this week. Do any of my Devoted Readers think family structures should be a topic of classroom discussion for kids that young?

Posted by kswygert at 02:12 PM | Comments (63) | TrackBack

News of the Weird roundup

If you spend over $1400 on Girl Scout Cookies, it's time to admit you have a problem.

There's a reason that sex crime laws are often broadly written - to catch the offenders who prefer, um, unusual means of sexual contact.

A prank gone wrong. Personally, I don't think it was that bad an idea for a joke. And I think this is a GREAT idea for a joke, although it should be for people who are (a) your very close friends and (b) not employed by a school district.

Some of Salem's witches are all in a tizzy.

Trekkies: The last group that it's okay to smear via stereotype?

Posted by kswygert at 12:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005


Comments are down again, and I'm not sure why. I haven't changed anything in the templates lately. It might just be an issue with Verve.

Update: They seem to be operational now.

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

April 27, 2005

Raising the bar for kindergarteners

What basic skills do kids need when entering kindergarten? And do American youngsters possess those skills?

Despite a national trend that shows more children are attending preschool, it appears that fewer children are starting kindergarten with the basic skills needed to get them off to a good start.

Kindergarten teacher Susan Ginsburg laments the fact that a growing number of pupils entering her class don't know how to write their own names. "And some of them can write the names, but they don't know the letters," said Ginsburg, who teaches at Hall School in Lincolnwood and who has been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years.

"I've seen a downward progression over the last 10 years," Ginsburg said.

The rest of the short article is equally anecdotal, but it's still disheartening to hear teachers explain that maybe parents just don't have the time to spend with their kids anymore. If not when the child needs to learn to read and speak and dress themselves, then when?

This article, on the other hand, suggests parents are becoming too concerned with kindergarten readiness, and that part of the problem could lie in rising standards:

The decision [of when to start kindergarten] is much more complicated these days because of increased academic standards and an innate sense that parents want their child to be able to succeed. Moms and dads must mull factors such as birth month, personality traits and gender in an attempt to make sure their kids are up to the task of the first year of public school.

Being "ready" for kindergarten doesn't constitute what it used to mean, either. Remember the old poem, "All I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten," which espoused simple pleasures like naps, snacks and friendly socialization? Well, that could be changed to "All I ever needed to know I learned in pre-K class, because kindergarten just got tougher." These days, kids are expected to learn how to read, do basic math functions, have decent handwriting and essentially complete what used to be a first-grade curriculum in kindergarten, which makes it all the more critical that kids are ready.

I'm out of my league here, because I know next to nothing about this topic, but there's a whole website devoted to it, with lots of links, articles, and other resources. And I'd love to know what my Devoted Readers think.

Posted by kswygert at 11:26 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Understanding the numbers

There's an abundance of standardized tests these days, and an equal abundance of confusion from test-wise, results-foolish districts that aren't quite sure how to use all that data. A town-gown collaboration aims to correct that, as Boston school district employees and Harvard faculty and students team up to write the book on using assessments wisely:

Data Wise: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessment Results to Improve Teaching and Learning will be published by the Harvard Education Press in November. All royalties from the book will go to the education school to work with the 58,300-student Boston public schools. The book grew out of a yearlong workshop designed to help the district’s teachers and administrators learn ways of making more productive use of student test results and other data.

Experts say the book’s partnership between researchers and educators could help bridge the gaps that exist between testing and instruction...

At the start of the school year, educators often describe feeling overwhelmed by the amount of data and where to dive in...So the workshop and the forthcoming book are structured around an “improvement cycle,” with the tools to use at each step along the way.

While the process might look different in different schools, the cycle helps educators: identify patterns in data; choose key issues to investigate; dig deeper into multiple data sources; agree on a problem and explore its causes; examine current classroom practices; draw up a plan to change those practices; carry out that plan; and then assess the results of those actions.

Posted by kswygert at 11:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

The perils of bad test items

The Education Wonks link to a NYT article summarizing serious problems with standardized test items:

Beware the perils of ambiguity. It is a mantra that is increasingly pertinent to tests in mathematics and science. The two fields might seem immune from imprecision. But in mathematics, for example, today's tests assess more than a student's ability to do "naked computation," as Cathy Seeley, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, puts it. In many places, calculators have rendered meaningless the testing of basic computational tasks. Instead, more questions test students' comprehension in real-world contexts. A triangle is a corner garden bed. A rectangular object intersected by a line is a juice box, with a straw. A sloped line on a graph represents a year's worth of payments to the power company.

With these scenarios come variables, and mathematicians and scientists from British Columbia to Boston spend much time picking apart the questions, particularly in online discussion groups. If students are asked how many seeds can be planted in the surface area of a triangular garden, do you put seeds in the corners where there isn't room for plants to take root? What about relevant considerations like seasonality of utility bills or position of the planets? Multiple-choice questions, with no place to show your work and thinking, make such realities more vexing.

These realities should vex everyone who thinks that a lengthy word problem is always more suitable than a simple computation. Word problems certainly have more face validity, and their champions claim they engage students in a way that straightforward computational items do not. But there's a lot more squiggle room in talking about a triangular flower bed than in talking about a triangle.

Field testing, of the type described below, is crucial:

Once questions are written, they are typically reviewed by multiple groups that include test writers, teachers, editors, statisticians and content specialists. And then most developers test the questions on real students in real exam settings. In field testing, statisticians may discover that most top-scoring students selected answer "d" when answer "c" was deemed correct. What made "d" so appealing to the advanced students? Could a flaw in the question have led them to arrive at an equally correct answer? In most cases, the incongruity is a red flag, prompting developers to discard the question.

Any organization that goes live without field testing, especially those who use innovative items, is asking for trouble. But even field testing doesn't catch everything.

I disagree, though, that the situation is always better when multiple-choice items are removed. Yes, multiple-choice items that are poorly-written can confuse students if there is more than one right answer, or no right answer. But all answers must be scored, and it's quite possible that the time and expense needed to create a scoring rubric to account for all possible answers on an open-ended item is more than what's needed to create and field-test a decent-sized pool of MCQ's.

There's a nice list of pros and cons for various item types here. Note that for every type except multiple-choice, scoring becomes more time-consuming, more challenging, or both.

If you're really interested in writing some good multiple-choice items, you can't do better than this set of guidelines, "Constructing Written Test Questions for the Basic and Clinical Sciences," by Case and Swanson. The booklet is tailored to medical science items, but the techniques could be easily adapted to other fields.

Posted by kswygert at 04:54 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

slamming headfirst into reality

Devoted Reader Terry W sends along a brilliant example of the inflated self-esteem of the college student slamming headfirst into the cold hard reality of real life:

The world of a college journalism intern is not glamorous. It's not exciting, and it isn't fun. It is a true test of skills and stamina, and above all, it makes you wonder if you really want to do what you thought you always wanted to do. Last week, I was flatly rejected by SPIN magazine for a summer internship in New York City...

The rejection e-mail from SPIN also welcomed "questions regarding my decision." Naturally, I was a little more than curious. I was, and am, heartbroken, and like any heartbreak, I needed a reason. I asked politely, and received no response. A week later, I sent another e-mail, asking a little less politely, and a little more aggressively. This time I got an answer.

After telling me the delay in correspondence was because they had "fallen a bit behind in the creation of the next issue," I was told that being "snippy" to a prospective employer was "unbelievably off-putting," even if they had already decided not to give me the job. I went home and cried until I passed out, then woke up and cried some more. Then I thought about what the second rejection e-mail really said...

...being "snippy" and being direct are two very different things. He said he would answer questions, and I took him up on the offer. When he didn't reply, I asked again. I wasn't mean or rude, just to-the-point. If he didn't have time to answer my first question, he wouldn't have time to read any unnecessary formalities. I had a question, and I wanted an answer. That's all.

Don't miss the part where she says she used a "creative" font on her resume so that she'd stand out. Spin is a national magazine that probably gets thousands of applicants for its 2-3 internships each season. Yet this young lady had already set up housekeeping in NYC under the assumption that she and her creative resume were a shoo-in.

I shouldn't mock; I'm sure I was this dumb, once. Thank God I don't have a newspaper article like this to read ten years from now, and cringe.

Posted by kswygert at 12:08 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Coddling the Millennials


Local colleges are rushing to build high-tech classrooms and plush dormitories for a new breed of students who grew up with the Internet and were pampered by parents. Xavier University is planning a new campus quadrangle with high-tech classrooms and a ritzy residence hall to oblige what school officials call the "Baby on Board" generation or the "Millennials" coming of age at the turn of the millennium.

"Their parents posted 'Baby on Board' signs in their cars. They have been protected as children. Their free time was replaced by organized activities and structured programs. They have a high need for achievement and attention," said Xavier spokeswoman Kelly Leon. She said this generation prefers learning from hands-on experience, craves technology-generated education, and feels comfortable working in teams.

"Millennial students do not learn in the traditional ways of 50, 30 or even 10 years ago," said Xavier President Michael Graham. "We need to adapt our campus to their needs and changing times."

"Feels comfortable working in teams", eh? I'm going to have be pretty impressed by their subsequent adult accomplishments to be convinced that this is not just another way of saying that these Millennials are incapable of (a) cracking open real books and (b) pursuing solitary research without having their hands held.

[NKU President James Votruba says] "Today's youngsters have lived with high-technology from video arcades to cell phones, and many have their own computers. At home, most have not shared a bedroom and many have not shared a bathroom. When they come to college, they expect the same creature comforts. That puts pressure on all colleges because there is competition for these students."

Guess what? I hadn't ever shared a bathroom or a bedroom when I went to college, nor had I ever lived without central AC. Did that stop USC from putting me, an Honors College student, into an all-female dorm with hall bathrooms and no AC whatsoever? No, it did not. Did USC assume that I would do the work I was capable of with or without these creature comforts, and that some point I would have to learn to deal with a little adversity anyway? Yes, yes they did. Would I have been laughed out of housing had I gone to them and demanded more upscale surroundings for my spoiled little freshman self? Yes, I would have - and rightfully so. I wasn't there to be pampered.

I thought we were sending kids to college these days so that they could broaden their horizons, and learn something about the outside world, and be in a multicultural environment where they learn how other people think and act and live. But now colleges are spending like crazy to give every incoming freshman a upper-middle-class 90210 environment? What the heck is that?

Some universities have the money to turn every dorm into a miniature Trump Tower, and if the alumni are fine with it, more power to them. There's also nothing wrong with updating the technology for the classroom, especially if the subject matter demands it. But universities should be asking themselves if they want the kinds of students who choose their institution of higher learning based on whether or not they might have to share a bathroom - or a DSL line - for a year or two.

A note to all those Millennials who demand the same private bathrooms and vegetarian meals that they got at home: College dorms are supposed to be yucky for the same reason that your parents aren't supposed to wait on you hand and foot when you're a teen - it's so that you eventually want to grow up and move out and take care of your own precious self. College is something you leave for something better. And unlike at home, you won't get to hang around for years for free if you get hooked on those comfy dorm rooms.

I can't prove that it's the colleges with mystery meat in the dining hall and plenty of scunge in the hall bathrooms that have the highest percentage of students graduating in four years or less, but I have my suspicions.

Posted by kswygert at 07:40 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Who you calling flightless waterfowl?

You hear complaints that people dress too sloppily in airports these days, but look what happens when you put on your shinest tuxedo to fly:

Two traveling penguins from Seaworld in San Diego went through regular airport screening at Denver International Airport recently. Here, Pat and Penny are removed from their carry-on case so they can walk through the metal detector.

(Via Michelle Malkin.)

Posted by kswygert at 07:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Too few teachers spoil the lessons

The Education Intelligence Agency reports that teachers are the majority of education employees in the US - but just barely.

The ranks of the “non-teachers” include every other public school employee: instructional aides, school staff (principals, assistant principals, librarians, school secretaries), other staff (bus drivers, custodians, security personnel, food service workers), district staff (officials, administrators, instruction coordinators) and employees that work at county or state education agencies.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia had fewer teachers than non-teachers in their public education work force in 2001. That’s up from 12 states in 1998 and 7 states in 1995. In 1969-70, the percentage of the workforce who were teachers was 60%. In 2001, it was 50.8%. It is highly likely that today, in 2005, the United States employs more non-teachers than teachers in its public
education system

I've always complained that low academic performance was the result of bad teaching, but now it seems more appropriate to say no teaching. If a school district has more vice-principals, secretaries, and administrators than it does teachers, no wonder the hard work of conveying the 3R's doesn't get done.

Posted by kswygert at 04:58 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

NCLB opinions

The Arizona Capital Times calls them "revolts"...

The first salvos of a long-threatened attack on President Bush’s signature education law now have been launched in what amounts to a grassroots rebellion against the No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act. Simmering frustrations from state and local officials over the 2002 law’s costs, testing requirements and penalties have erupted into open conflict with the Utah Legislature voting April 19 to challenge obedience to the federal law, and the nation’s largest teachers’ union filing suit against the act in federal court April 20. The state of Connecticut is preparing a separate lawsuit seeking full funding of NCLB’s provisions.

Recent efforts by Bush education officials to head off a backlash failed to stop this week’s challenges to the law, which Congress passed with bipartisan support to close education gaps between rich and poor, white and minority students...

...while Chester Finn calls them "tantrums":

Dozens of states are throwing toddler-style tantrums about the rules and expectations of the No Child Left Behind Act - notable among them Connecticut, which plans to sue the federal government on grounds that the law is an "unfunded mandate."

The Bush administration's olive branch is a pledge of a "new, common-sense approach" to compliance and "additional flexibility" on testing and accountability for states that have made progress on NCLB's goal: closing the gap between the academic achievement of poor and minority students and their wealthier, whiter fellow students.

Does this new flexibility mean that adult interests will again trump the needs of children? It's looking that way.

Diane Ravitch looks for the compromise in the Wall Street Journal ($ubscription required), and reminds readers that the reasons underlying the need for the act haven't disappeared:

The critics of NCLB think that it was modeled on education reforms in Texas and that it sprang full-blown from the brow of President Bush. They think they can undermine NCLB if only they can expose shortcomings in Texas's schools. But NCLB is not going away because it is the product of many years of bipartisan demands for changes in the role of the federal government, especially in meeting its responsibilities to poor children...

NCLB will not come up for renewal until 2007. Until then, there will be griping by those who don't like the new federal role in education and those who don't want to see children tested every year. But it seems safe to predict that the next renewal will strengthen the law rather than weaken it. After all, annual testing is hardly a new idea in American education. Not just reading, math and science, but history too is likely to become part of the NCLB mandate for testing.

What is valuable about the law is its insistence that districts measure their progress in helping the children who can't meet state standards. Raising achievement across the board will be hard -- but it is not mission impossible.

Posted by kswygert at 04:53 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sticking to her knitting

Not only do I disgree with this Austin school's zero tolerance policy...

Our yarn -- pun intended -- began Wednesday when Mariel Polter, 12, an all-A student in seventh grade at Kealing Middle School, dragged out her purple plastic knitting needles in class to do some knitting. Mariel had just finished up her TAKS test early. So she figured she'd busy herself and kill some time creatively...

Well, the teacher in Mariel's classroom wasn't laughing...about it, apparently. Because he got on the phone to Mom to tell her that her daughter had brought knitting needles to school. See, the knitting needles were considered potentially dangerous weapons under the school's zero-tolerance policy.

...I think knitting is a skill that should be taught in school and assessed on the TAKS. That way even if you don't learn to read Shakespeare, or balance your checkbook, you can still clothe yourself (and others) in nifty sweaters and shawls.

Posted by kswygert at 04:42 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

I'm just suprised she didn't say, "under your lifestyle"

Reporter Linda Seebach sends this one along for the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" file:

Seventh-grader Bailey Pierce, hand pressed against her heart, was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance when the voice over the intercom said something that stopped her cold. "One nation, under 'your belief system.' "

Bailey said that guidance counselor Margo Lucero substituted the phrase for "under God" while leading the morning pledge at Everitt Middle School on Wednesday...

"It was completely inappropriate," Jefferson County School District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said. "We completely believe any teacher or student has the right to follow their individual conscience, however, when leading children, you adhere to the Pledge of Allegiance."

Lucero said she didn't intend to be offensive but rather wanted to mark the sixth anniversary of the Columbine High School slayings by evoking a sense of tolerance.

What about tolerance for the Pledge as it was originally written? Or about teaching children that, in the US, the "with liberty and justice for all" spirit applies even to those who leave out the "under God" part, so that the Pledge itself doesn't need to be changed to be more "tolerant"?

Update: I stand corrected (so stop filling up my comment section in correcting me, y'all). As originally written, the Pledge did not include the words, "under God." So I fall back on my second argument, that the liberty and justice for all part is still the most important, and introduce a third argument, which is that "your belief system" is just a goofy phrase.

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Drumming up trouble

Another school district misses the point of the First Amendment:

A New Britain High School drum major has enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut after he was disciplined for posting a profanity-laced entry in an online journal. Daniel Gostin, 18, a senior, was stripped of his drum major position, given an in-school suspension and barred from participating in music-related extracurricular activities and performances for the remainder of the year.

Lori Rifkin, an ACLU lawyer who represents Gostin, says the school's actions violate his free-speech rights. In a letter to schools Superintendent Doris Kurtz on Wednesday, she asked that Gostin be reinstated as drum major, his disciplinary record be expunged and that he resume participating in musical activities. The posting "contained no threats nor did it contain any other statements which would interfere with the ability of school administrators to maintain order and discipline at the school," Rifkin wrote.

A teenager rants on a personal webpage about aggravations with the school, and gets punished for it two months after the fact. Unbelievable.

(Via Fark.com.)

Posted by kswygert at 10:31 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

A boon for some, a bust for others

This is a classic example of a school trying to please everyone, and completely devaluing grades in the process:

Two months off and good grades to boot.

That's the bottom line for students in the Crosby-Ironton School District, where classes were interrupted for nearly two months this semester during an ugly 39-day teachers' strike.

Superintendent Linda Lawrie, carrying out her school board's wishes to make the final weeks of the school year run smoothly, told teachers in a memo this month that she "will assume that all students will receive" A's or B's this semester.

By giving everyone the high grades, Superintendent Lawrie has ensured that the grades will be pretty much meaningless. She cites a pretty inflammatory rationale for this decision, too.

The superintendent said she also was concerned that some teachers might penalize students whose parents opposed the union's position on the issues that led to the strike. She said that before the strike, some teachers did just that, giving some students grades lower than what they deserved. She wouldn't say how widespread that was or identify individual cases, but said "We had a lot of parents complain about that."

Not surprisingly, teachers and their representatives hotly deny this.

(Via Devoted Reader Erin.)

Posted by kswygert at 10:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A safety net - or an easy way out?

Kentucky school districts aren't having the best of luck with their secondary GED programs:

Diane Akers, director of pupil personnel, said it became an option this year [to start a secondary GED program] when legislators agreed to allow school districts to offer a secondary GED to try to slow the dropout rate. State standards mandate that students may participate only if they are at least 16 years old, two years behind and achieve a set score on standardized tests to ensure they have the ability to finish the program.

Akers said one problem with the secondary GED was the cost. The district examined two companies that offer a program, both of which had a one-time licensing fee of $5,000, plus fees for each student taking it ranging from $50 to $65...A larger problem, said Akers, is what appears to be a lack of success of students entering the secondary GED program in other districts.

Somerset High School purchased one of the more expensive programs, she said, but it is not going well so far. "They had five students enrolled initially in their program," Akers said. "I spoke to a gentleman that's running the program. ... As of Monday, they had one student still in the program. The student was arrested over the weekend and they're not sure he'll be allowed to come back into the school."

The secondary GED program has had its critics from the start, who say that giving students the option to go right into a GED without being out of school a year doesn't help the students as much as it helps the schools, who don't have to count those students as drop-outs.

Posted by kswygert at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

Patron saint of the kitties

I think this is pretty cool:

When he was a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI often delivered sermons at the German-language church in Campasanto Teutonico near St. Peter's Basilica, but his most heartfelt talks may have been the ones he gave after celebrating Mass.

"I went with him once," said Konrad Baumgartner, the head of the theology department at Regensburg University. "Afterwards, he went into the old cemetery behind the church. It was full of cats, and when he went out, they all ran to him. They knew him and loved him. He stood there, petting some and talking to them, for quite a long time. He visited the cats whenever he visited the church. His love for cats is quite famous."

He now has an email address. Maybe I should send him the Carnival of the Cats links for his web surfing pleasure.

Posted by kswygert at 09:19 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005


The dogwoods are in bloom and the stray cats are overflowing the intake center - it must be springtime.

This is what you see when you open a cage that has four hyper kittens in it:


Spring (that's her moniker) investigates the goods on the counter:


Of course her name is Snowball. What else would it be? Sweet as sugar, deaf as a post.


"This is my summer haircut, thank you. Stop laughing at me!"


Yes, that's a crib.


"What's that? You say I'm beautiful? Tell me something else I don't know."


So far, this kitten's nameless. "Whiskers" comes to mind.


I tried taking some photos of myself with the various kittens. Some photos...


...came out better than others.


Yes, he turned around and got in a nice eyeball lick in that photo.

Posted by kswygert at 07:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

I don't want to hear about it, thank you

Another school confronts a free speech issue - or is it?

Two Winona High School students have found themselves in hot water with school officials. Why? Because after Carrie Rethlefsen attended a performance of the play "The Vagina Monologues" last month, she and Emily Nixon wore buttons to school that read: "I [heart] My Vagina."

School leaders said that the pin is inappropriate and that the discomfort it causes trumps the girls' right to free speech. The girls disagree. And despite repeated threats of suspension and expulsion, Rethlefsen has continued to wear her button.

The girls claim the buttons provoke discussion about women's rights, and are perfectly happy that some boys plan to wear "I Support Your Vagina" buttons, but let's be honest. There are going to be much more racy buttons appearing out there, and it'll be interesting to see how the school deals with this - obviously, not all speech is protected under the First Amendment, and schools can certainly ban pins/t-shirts that discuss body parts.

It'll also be interesting to see whether another situation like this will develop when buttons like, "My Penis is Better Than Your Vagina" and "Shut Up About Your Vagina," inevitably emerge.

Posted by kswygert at 11:26 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

An outrageous offense, part 2

The case of the Columbus high school violence cover-up continues to horrify, although it's not getting nearly enough national attention.

Michelle Malkin has new information about how everyone except the principal is getting away with a slap on the wrist:

The principal is scheduled to be fired, but the assistant vice principals who allegedly participated in the cover-up are getting away with a slap on the wrist: 10-day suspensions and "sensitivity training" courses. Meanwhile, it looks like education dimwits in the area are going to exploit the crime to drum up diversity dollars under the guise of convening a "violence summit."

Meanwhile, it turns out that these despicable "educators" who advised the girl's father not to call the police, lest the news media get hold of this, also failed to summon a nurse to give the girl any sort of first aid. I suppose that, too, would have caused too much additional embarassment for the girl? The administrators of Mifflin High School also apparently didn't even stick around for the cops to arrive.

The school district apparently thinks a training video and extra security is the answer to this problem. I'd suggest the changes start with not hiring corrupt administrators who see a bleeding and dazed victim as a problem to cover up, rather than a student who desperately needs help. There's enough wrong with soon-to-be-ex principal Regina Crenshaw and her underlings that a Blockbusters' full of videos couldn't fix them.

Local talk show host Glenn Beck has been covering the story, and scored a brutal interview with Columbus mayor Michael Coleman. A Clear Voice has the summary, and Mike at Ohio for Blackwell has the audio tape.

One particular lowlight of the interview:

Glenn Beck was finally able to get Michael B. Coleman, the mayor of Columbus, Ohio on the phone today. (After he tried to back out of his promise to call in two days ago.) The conversation was quite interesting and perhaps indicative of why Columbus has such a problem with their school system.

Glenn attempted to talk to Coleman about the school board’s decision to keep the assistant principals on, and Coleman talked about the criminal side of the investigation and said that he was not allowed to reveal anything about it while it was open, but he was sure everything would be taken care of. Glenn kept trying to steer him back to the subject of the school board and their actions towards the assistant principals and Coleman kept insisting that he couldn’t talk about an open police investigation. About the only thing he said about the schools was that they had paid policemen there and that he, the mayor, had no control or influence over what the school board did.

The best part of the interview was when Glenn attempted to ask him a question, “Doesn’t it offend you as a man….” He didn’t get a chance to finish, but I’m assuming the end of that question was something like, “that the schools would allow something like this to happen to a girl and then do nothing to the people who allowed it to go on.” However, he didn’t get a chance because Coleman interrupted him with “Are you attacking my manhood?”

Yeah, Mayor Coleman, this is all about you. The rape victim in your city's schools is just, you know, a tangential part of the case. We should be paying much more attention to your manhood (and how you supposedly send all your kids to private schools). How such an asshat got elected, I'll never know, but let's hope Ohio voters give him the boot as soon as possible.

I still have optimism, but perhaps Maxed Out Mama's thoughts are more accurate:

I'll give you my guess. This boys will not be convicted of any criminal charges. There will not be enough evidence; the testimony (said quietly behind closed doors) will be that the word was that this girl was known for giving blowjobs to boys. Those involved will say they thought she was consenting. Those witnessing it will agree. Not one of all the boys involved said anything to school authorities. Not one. They don't know the difference between right and wrong, consenting and enforced acts. If they haven't participated themselves they have all heard about such acts before.

Nor will there be much support in the community for prosecuting them. I am the child of a public school teacher, and I have heard it all before.

If kids don't learn that sexual activity in certain contexts is flat wrong because it is dangerous, they don't know by instinct.

And they certainly don't learn it when the clueless adminstrators who are supposed to be taking care of their students think of nothing but making themselves look good, or when egotistical mayors can't put themselves and their insecurities aside for two minutes to try and help someone who was wronged.

Posted by kswygert at 07:29 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

A carnival in spring

Life outside the blogosphere is a little rough for me right now, and I totally forgot to submit anything to this week's Carnival of Education. You, on the other hand, should head on over there immediately and check it out. It just keeps getting better.

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

It takes a masters to build a safe bathroom?

I can't believe I wasted those six years getting a Ph.D. in something so dull, so logical, so patriarchal as quantitative psychology, when I could have gone to San Francisco and done a masters degree like this:

M.A. Student Bios/Projects

Bryan Burgess received a B.F.A. from the North Carolina School of the Arts. An activist artist, Bryan’s thesis is an exploration of theater methods used to challenge gender binaries and gender oppression. Bryan’s goal is to develop a theater model that can be used as an organizing tool for cross-identity alliance building. Bryan is currently working with People in Search of Safe Restrooms (PISSR) and the Transgender Law Center on their campaign for safe bathroom access and is the events coordinator for New College’s Activism & Social Change program.

Shauna Jo Gunderson received her B.A. from New College of California majoring in Literature and Women's Studies. Shauna’s areas of interest and inquiry include Latin America; indigenous resistance to imperialism; the invention of a history outside of oppression; Helene Cixous; "political" poetry; and explorations of femininity spacious enough to include masculinity. She is a member of a collective that works on the promotion of Fair Trade flowers, water problems, women's issues, and the indigenous fight against oil development in the Amazon. Shauna currently works for a non-profit that specializes in sex & HIV education.

Heidi Misken received a B.A. from UC Berkeley; she majored in American Studies with a focus on "Race, Gender, & Sexuality in Film." For her New College of California graduate thesis project, Heidi is organizing Fluid, a community for people who don’t fit neatly into the sex, gender, and sexual orientation binaries: www.groups.yahoo.com/group/SFFluid. At the moment, Heidi is heavily involved in developing the SF chapter of Fluid, in working to open Fluid up to folks who don’t fit into conventional categories of race and ethnicity, and in creating academic theory that addresses the fluidity of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity.

When Bryan finds those safe restrooms he's looking for, he'll have to let me know if a masters degree from the New College of California is fit to be anything other than a substitute for toilet paper. After all, NCoC says right on their history page that they're proud to still be alternative after 30 years, even though many other alternative-wannabe schools have "retreated or collapsed" since then. Isn't that a bit like saying, "By God, we're proud to still be selling sardine-flavored ice cream, even though every other company that did so has gone bankrupt!" ?

Matt Rosenberg is suitably impressed by the whole thing.

Posted by kswygert at 01:16 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Statistics term of the day: probabilities

Bet you thought I'd forgotten all about this, didn't you?

Let's talk probabilities, but first, let's talk about why they matter. Probability is a way of connecting populations with samples. Knowing the population distributions gives you some idea of what a sample will look like; if you walk into a room with 10 black cats and 1 white cat, and grab a cat at random, the probability is high that the cat will be black. Probabilities thus form a link between populations and samples, a link that we'll come back later when we're going in the opposite direction. When we grab a cat from a room and it's a white cat, what inference can we make about the population of the room? That's where inferential statistics come in, and it's the probability link between samples and populations that allow us to make such inferences.

We'll save a lot of the heavy stuff for later and just talk about the basic terms today. The probability of a given outcome, in a situation in which more than one outcome is possible, is the fraction:

probability of X = (outcomes that are X) / (total number of possible outcomes)

This fraction or proportion is easy to calculate, and easy to understand. If you roll a fair six-sided die, the probability that it will show a 4 is 1/6, or .16. (Here, 1/6 is the fraction, and .16 is the proportion. To get percentage form, you'd need to multiply .16 by 100 to get 16%. All forms are okay, but the proportion form is most often used.) If there are 8 cats in a room, and only two are black, your probability of one cat at random being non-black is 6/8, or .75. It's also correct to phrase this question as, "What proportion of the cats in the room are non-black?"

Notice that I've been tossing the phrase "at random" in here quite a bit. That's because the formula above depends on the assumption that the die is fair, or that the coin you're tossing is fair, or that you are choosing cats in a random fashion. The formula above assumes that each observation in the population has an equal chance of being chosen, and that if you're taking more than one observation at a time, there's a constant probability of each selection.

If a room has two black cats and 10 white ones, and I choose a cat at random, then the probability of choosing one black is 2/12, or .16. But if all the white cats are being quite loud, and I allow their persistent meows to sway me into choosing them, then the .16 probability won't be accurate, because my choices won't be completely random.

Another thing to consider when sampling is whether or not you are replacing observations in the population. If I reach into a cabinet that has 10 cans of tuna-flavored cat food and 5 cans of chicken-flavored, the probabilities are:

P(randomly choosing one can of tuna) = 10/15 or .67
P(randomly choosing one can of chicken) = 5/15 or .33

But suppose I reach in, select one can, then reach in and select another can. The probability of the second can now depends on what I took out on the first random draw, because I'm now sampling without replacement. If my first can is tuna, there are then 9 tuna and 5 chicken cans remaining, and my probabilities on the next random selection are:

P(randomly choosing one can of tuna) = 9/14 or .64
P(randomly choosing one can of chicken) = 5/14 or .35

The probability of choosing tuna just decreased from before (because we're short one) and the probability of choosing chicken just increased (because the 5 chicken cans are now a larger proportion of the population). However, if I sample with replacement - I select a can, then put it back, then select another can - then the probabilities stay constant.

Posted by kswygert at 01:05 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Some students are more equal than others

I have to agree with Lee on this one - a school that wants to make sure that only certain student groups can wear political/sexual t-shirts is a school that is mightily confused about free speech:

A student-led effort to oppose homophobia at Homewood-Flossmoor High School may have backfired Tuesday when hundreds of students donned shirts with Christian and anti-gay slogans. Student activists who wore shirts emblazoned with the words "gay? fine by me" said they were outnumbered by peers wearing hateful messages and were targeted for harassment...

Students estimated more than 100 students wore anti-homophobia shirts, and more than 200 students wore shirts that listed "Crimes committed against God." The crimes included the elimination of school prayer and separation of church and state, but did not include anything about homosexuality.

Other male students wrote slogans on white T-shirts such as "I hate gay people" and "Gay? Not fine by me (unless you're a lesbian)" and "Gay? More chicks for me," students said.

The school's reaction? Three guesses, and the first two don't count:

Students...claimed teachers were reprimanded for distributing shirts with Christian messages...The event's organizers got permission Tuesday from the student council to recognize the school's gay support group as a club. Club status will allow the group to hold the T-shirt day next year without opposition, Norby said.

Everyone at school needs a lesson on the First Amendment (as it applies to freedom of speech and freedom of religion). Then the school should decide whether to honor everyone's right to their opinion (on a t-shirt), or no one's.

Oh, and they need to assign Animal Farm as required reading, too.

Posted by kswygert at 12:15 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Requiring the pledge

The pendulum swings back: Now students are fighting for the Pledge of Allegiance to be made mandatory once again.

A child of two immigrants is leading a charge in the General Assembly to require our children in state schools to recite the Pledge of Allegiance...Apex [NC] sophomore, Julian Quesada is on a mission, pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that would require students to recite the pledge. "I think it will instill in their minds a sense of national self preservation which I think might be lacking in this country as a whole in the youth of America."

Quesada has no shortage of patriotism. He is a first generation American taught to honor his country from his Costa Rican father and Argentinean mother, Adriana Quesada. "We've always instilled in him, both our boys, you don't take things for granted. This is a privilege to live here."

This fascinating sentence is included: "If the law passes...if the pledge goes against your religious beliefs, the law [will be] structured that those students would have a choice." Which is going to start up the whole "Under God" brouhaha again, but I suppose that's unavoidable.

(Via Dissecting Leftism.)

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Malls: Babysitters for the 21st Century

Now here's an interesting concept (that is most likely a losing battle, too, but oh well):

NASHUA, N.H. (AP) - Every kid knows hanging out with Mom or Dad can be kind of a drag. Kids who want to spend time at the Pheasant Lane Mall on Friday or Saturday nights might not have a choice. In response to recent "disorderly and disruptive" incidents, mall security two weeks ago started distributing fliers outlining the mall's "general code of conduct," according to mall Manager Ginny Szymanski.

From 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, mall security guards now stand outside two entrances to make sure anyone under 16 has a parent or someone over 21 with them....

If kids are found to be disrupting the mall's business, Szymanski said they will be escorted to the command center to call a parent to pick them up.

Am I sympathetic to the kids here? Not really, but it's mainly because I certainly didn't hang out in malls alone while I was under driving age. My parents didn't consider the malls to be a safe or appropriate place for me to hang out without supervision, but many parents do.

Hopefully, those parents will make smarter statements to the press than this mom:

"I feel as though if I want to drop my kids off, I should. They're responsible," said Leann Newcomb of Lowell, Mass., who was shopping Monday with her 15-year-old daughter, Ashley...

Szymanski said the mall doesn't have a gang problem, but that people with certain attire - such as long chains that fall below the knee or studded dog or wrist collars, all of which can be used as weapons, she said - will be asked to remove them. If they don't comply, they will be asked to leave the mall, she said.

Leann Newcomb questioned the rule. "They sell that stuff," said Newcomb. "How are they going to tell the kids after they buy that stuff not to wear it? Isn't that a violation of your constitutional rights?"

Ha ha ha ha! Oh, wait, was she serious? Does she really believe that (a) because she considers her kids to be responsible, she should be allowed to let them roam without supervision anywhere they like, and (b) they have a constitutional right to wear outrageous clothing anywhere they like?


Posted by kswygert at 10:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

A cure for senioritis

The more I hear about this idea, the more I like it - getting rid of senioritis:

Governors in at least nine states are pushing broad-based initiatives to overhaul the senior year of high school. They say the second half of the year in particular wastes students' time and taxpayers' money. "Senioritis" often appears toward the middle of the year, when many students have met graduation requirements and take largely electives...

Among programs already in place:

• In Virginia, seniors can get up to one semester of industry-specific technical training tuition-free.
• In Texas, students in a pilot program at 10 high schools across the state can earn in five years a high school diploma and an associate's degree...
• In North Carolina, the state has increased graduation requirements in English and math...

Anything sounds better than forcing talented students to mark time, or requiring that techie students wait six months before getting started. Some students - I was one - need that entire senior year to mature and do some scholastic exploration, but some will be ready to get the heck out, and should have the chance to do so.

Posted by kswygert at 04:41 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

DePaul: Where only the students can be right

DePaul University is apparently a school in which deans can demand that professors never insist they're right. Adjunct professor Thomas Klocek taught in the university's School of New Learning in relative anonymity, until the day he decided to challenge some pro-Palestinian students (not his) in a short verbal debate that took place outside of class. He quickly found himself asked to cancel his winter 2005 classes and surrender his much-needed health insurance.

You can read more about the story, and the context in which it took place, here, but the part that catches my eye is the reason for Klocek's lawsuit. He was ostensibly disciplined for his conduct (for an alleged "obscene gesture" at said students). But then he recieved a letter from his boss, dean Susanne Dumbleton, that contained these sentences:

“No students anywhere should ever have to be concerned they will be verbally attacked for their religious belief or their ethnicity,” Dumbleton wrote. “No one should ever use the role of teacher to demean the ideas of others or insist on the absoluteness of an opinion, much less press erroneous assertions.”

Emphasis mine. And if you read that second sentence to mean that, under Dumbleton's watch, professors cannot insist that they are right about something, and a student is wrong, you are correct. This is demented "progressive" educrat-speak at its finest. This flagrant violation of Klocek's free speech has lawyers who specialize in First Amendment and free-speech issues itching to attack DePaul with lawsuits, as well it should.

(From LGF, some of whose readers note that emails to the university are going unanswered. I'm just doing my part to spread this appalling story - which is not new, but keeps getting worse - to the blogosphere. Additional coverage at CruxMag, Roger Simon, Friends of Micronesia, FreeRepublic, ChronWatch, Minion of the Great Satan, Students for Academic Freedom, and Solomonia.)

Update: Linda Seebach sends along reams (megapixels?) of coverage from the Rocky Mountain News archived here, here, here, and here.

Posted by kswygert at 04:00 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Paying to get in, paying to get out

Is a graduation fee just another punch with which college and professional students should learn to roll? Or is it extortion?

About 75 St. Louis University students lined the hallway outside of the president’s office this morning to protest a graduation fee they first learned about last week. Students are most upset about being notified just weeks before graduation that they would have to pay the fee in order to get their diplomas. They say the university should have told them months in advance.

The university originally set the fees at $75 for graduating seniors and $100 for medical and law students. But in response to student complaints, administrators reduced the fee on Monday to $50 for everyone.

I remember having to pay a fee to submit my dissertation to the graduate school, which seemed in essence like a graduation fee. But then, I knew the deal well in advance, rather than a couple of weeks before my dissertation was due in.

Posted by kswygert at 03:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

An argument for testing

Op-ed writer Brent Staples says in the NYTimes what I have been saying on this blog for quite some time:

The same civil rights groups that sing hosannas to Brown have been curiously muted - and occasionally even hostile - to No Child Left Behind. But the groups have mainly been missing from the debate...Why are civil rights groups standing on the sidelines instead of fighting to ensure that this law succeeds? The reasons are numerous and complex...

[one of the reasons is the] antitesting argument. Civil rights activists commonly embrace the popular but erroneous view that the reading and math tests associated with No Child Left Behind are culturally biased or unfair to minority children. Paradoxically, those who hold this view are often middle- and upper-class African-Americans who have law degrees and Ph.D.'s, which require rigorous tests and high achievement.

The simple achievement tests required under the law are essential to the objective of closing the education gap. By arguing that these tests are inappropriate and culturally biased, these members of the liberal black elite have unwittingly embraced the worst stereotypes about the poor. They have also given cover to politicians who believe that the achievement gap can never be closed and that minority children can never reach the levels attained by their white, affluent counterparts.

In other words, the claim that tests of basic reading and math skills are biased against all minorities is itself a bigoted and racist argument. For some reason I've never understood, many of those who oppose testing unthinkingly stand behind a notion that the KKK would be proud to claim as their own: that multiple-choice questions are somehow innately impossible for non-white students to solve.

Smarter testing opponents will claim that the test is fine but the use of it is not, or that the differential impact of the test scores is the problem. Sometimes, this argument is correct, but even these critics stop too soon in the logical process. If a graduation exam does in fact have a differential impact for minority students (fewer of them pass, so fewer graduate), one must go beyond the scores and ask why. Too many critics merely suggest removing the tests, as opposing to eradicating the problems that cause minority students to perform poorly. Too many critics assume that everything must be wrong with the tests, and nothing wrong with the teaching.

Posted by kswygert at 03:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Getting it right or wrong

Parents march against the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning):

Shelley Anderson keeps photocopies of her oldest son's test scores from the past six years in a black folder crammed with statistics about the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. "I dislike what this is doing for our children. I think it's setting them up for failure," she said Monday. "It's teaching them to think inside the box. I have three children, and they're distinct individuals."

Anderson brought the black folder with her from Spokane to Olympia, where she took part in a protest against the WASL, which is being given to students across the state this week.

I don't doubt her children are individuals. However, it's hard to understand why requiring fourth-graders to read on this level, or requiring seventh-graders to comprehend math on this level, is "setting them up for failure."

As expected, many of the complaints are that students who do well in classes do poorly on the exam, which leads one to wonder why parents aren't protesting ineffective classroom scholarship or inflated grading schemes. But at least one parent compares the WASL scores to other test scores:

Anderson pointed to the scores of her oldest son, Bill. He failed the math sections of the WASL in fourth and seventh grade but passed the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in sixth and ninth grades with above-average marks.

Bill Anderson, 15, noted that students receive partial credit for following the right procedure in the math section, even if they answer with the wrong number. "It's not set up to test you on what you know; it tests you on how you think," he said.

According to this website, partial credit scoring is indeed used on the ITBS. While that's all well and good, it's wrong to say that partial credit scoring is testing "how you think," while all-or-none scoring is only testing "what you know." If you don't know how to think your way through the problem, you won't know the answer. And if you don't get the right final answer, there's obviously a step missing in your thought processes.

I don't think partial-credit scoring is a bad thing, but it's just plain to silly to say that it's qualitatively different, and better, than right-or-wrong scoring. Partial-credit just makes it easier for the judges to see where someone went wrong (which is why partial-credit scoring is often used in the classroom environment), and it makes it easier for students who don't know how to arrive at the final answer to gain at least some credit for a not-totally-wrong answer, which is why it would be more popular with people who oppose standardized testing.

Posted by kswygert at 09:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Get ready, get set, get naked

An amusing brouhaha at an Illinois high school:

A veteran Oak Forest High School teacher has received a written reprimand for telling students last week they could earn extra credit if they took part in a "Get Naked Day" in his classroom. The comments were an unfortunate, tongue-in-cheek effort by English teacher Bob Burt to get his students interested in an upcoming lesson, Bremen High School District 228 Supt. Richard Mitchell said.

Burt never intended for the students in a senior writing class to get naked but merely wanted them to wear loose-fitting pants and flip-flops as part of a lesson based around the 1989 movie "My Left Foot," Mitchell said. However, he said Burt did not make it clear to the students that his reference to "Get Naked Day" was a joke when he announced it April 6.

At least three boys told their parents that night about Get Naked Day. The parents complained to school officials, saying such sexually suggestive talk had no place in a classroom.

In case you're wondering what getting naked has to do with the movie, "My Left Foot," Burt wanted students to try to write and draw with their feet that day, and needed to have shoes that easily slipped off and pants that easily rolled up. The claim that such an exercise would have any educational value at all sounds pretty dubious to me, as does Burt's alleged past behavior:

Senior Tom McCullagh, one of the students who complained about Burt's remarks, said Burt told the class that "he knows our hormones are raging and we want to see each other naked anyway." Burt also said he would put paper over the windows so no one could see in and that Get Naked Day would be the class' secret, McCullagh said...

Burt has made sexually suggestive comments before in the class, said McCullagh, who acknowledged that he was performing poorly in the course. "Everything we did (in class) basically involved sex or sexual connotations," McCullagh said. "He does it in every class. The 'Get Naked Day' was the final straw."

Posted by kswygert at 09:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

No escaping the violence

Talk about a wake-up call:

The flying chair that knocked out a Cleveland high school administrator on Monday should send alarms throughout the city. When going to class means risking a hospital visit, education stands no chance. And when adults look at chaos and call it order, they undermine the school district's credibility and put more students in jeopardy.

Monday's fracas at South High School that sent an administrator and a student to emergency rooms is only the latest example of uproar in local buildings. As Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett reported on Sunday, Glenville High School suffered an incident of its own last week that bloodied students and teachers and led to the arrests of two teens. Journalists' visits to Collinwood High School, meanwhile, have revealed an institution where students are completely comfortable loitering in hallways when they should be in class.

The Great Schools reviews of South High will litter your screen with popups, but they're still worth reading. Local police and school officials are desperately trying to regain control there, but something tells me that police presence isn't the key:

At South High, however, police say a parent pitched in to injure a student, underlining the desperate need for church and community leaders to play a vocal and visible role in establishing basic standards for behavior.

There you have it, folks. I fear that no amount of police officers - or mayoral initiatives - are going to do much good when parents are willing to beat up on other people's children. Sure, the cops can drag the adult troublemakers away, but with that example, it's hard to see how the younger students can learn how to behave in less violent ways.

Posted by kswygert at 08:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

New information

I've made a few updates to N2P:

1. I've added several blogs (most of which I've been referencing a lot lately) to the "Education Blogs" sidebar.
2. I've added several sites to the "Political and Social Giants" sidebar.
3. I've added some righteous babes to the "Tough Cookies" sidebar.
4. I've added Viking Pundit to my pundit list, and John Ray to my list of bloggers outside the US.
5. I've added a link to my information at the Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem, in which I am a "Large Mammal." Which is not too far from the truth, given all the beer and chocolate that I ingest.

If you happen to have a blog, and you permalink to me, and I haven't permalinked to you, let me know. Devoted Reader Adrian, I know you put a link to your new blog somewhere in my comments, but I can't find it, so leave it here again, if you don't mind.

Posted by kswygert at 07:53 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Still waiting for a song with Kimberly in the lyrics

I'm linking to this small cornucopia of Apollo 13 links and info for one reason, and that's because I'm pathetically grateful for the fact that this movie gave me the chance to hear my last name pronounced on screen. It was the first and probably last time I got to hear it, but darn it, I enjoyed it. Jack Swigert also has to be a relative of mine in some distant fashion, given the rarity of the name.

Update: Gotta love the internet. Reader Ken was quick to point out that Patti Smith's debut album Horses contains the song "Kimberly". You can listen to a snippet of it here.

Posted by kswygert at 05:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

One preschool for all

His push to get more money from smokers has been so successful that actor/director Rob Reiner is going after the limousine liberals (and conservatives) in his quest for universal preschool (link goes to Education Beat's main website; this story is not yet online):

After meeting with legislative leaders to sell his plan for universal preschool last week, actor Rob Reiner is ready to file his initiative for title and summary with the attorney general's office. Sources close to Reiner say the initiative will likely be on the June 2006 ballot. The initiative seeks to raise about $2 billion annually to pay for universal preschool programs for California's pre-kindergartners. To pay for the programs, the initiative will propose a new income tax on couples making more than $800,000 per year, or individuals who make more than $450,000 per year...

Reiner abandoned an earlier preschool initiative that would have boosted the commercial property tax to pay for the new programs. That initiative was co-sponsored by the California Teachers Association, but was tabled before it was ever filed to the AG's office. The CTA is not officially backing the new Reiner proposal as of yet, according to a Reiner spokesman.

My guess is the new initiative goes hand-in-hand with recent studies:

Universal preschool for California's 4-year-olds would bring about $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent, greatly reducing special education needs, juvenile arrests and the number of children held back a grade, a Rand Corp. study concludes. The report released Tuesday also said a high-quality preschool program would create a more qualified, internationally competitive workforce and foster economic growth. Though other studies have explored the benefits of preschool programs for disadvantaged youngsters, the Rand report is the first to provide a detailed cost analysis for universal preschool in California open to all children without regard to income.

I'm of two minds. Universal preschool sounds like something that could be desperately necessary in some impoverished areas. On the other hand, I wonder how much freedom families will have to opt out of the program, should they choose to. I also wonder how much of the ineffective "progressive" educational theories will filter down to this level. Such a program may be cost-effective if it works, but I'd like to hear more about what's actually going to be taught.

Update: Illuminaria's Voice has scads more on the topic:

...it may very well be that the only children who would benefit from universal preschool would be high risk children who currently do not attend preschool. If we use their assumptions on how many children would enroll in the universal preschool, we see that even though the universal preschool plan would mean that twice as many California 4 year olds would be in public preschool (35% to 70%), the overall rate of preschool attendance would only raise from 65% to 80%. Almost 70% of the new children enrolled in public preschools would be low risk children, most of them moved over from private preschools. Only 5.82% of California 4 year olds would be the high risk children not currently enrolled in preschool that the program would help the most. Instead of doubling costs, costs could be increased by 15% in order to make preschool available for more high risk children.

I certainly agree that putting more high risk children who don’t get stimulation and learning at home into preschool would help break the cycle of poverty. But I see no reason, even with this study, to make universal preschool available.

Posted by kswygert at 05:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tough questions to answer

The Anchoress notes a chilling post from parent-blogger CiderPressHill:

Last night when the lad came home, he hoisted himself onto the kitchen counter and said, “Let’s talk"...

“What’s chlamydia?” he asked. With my coffee scoop suspended in mid-air, I turned and looked at him. “This is an academic question, right?”

“Geez yes,” he said. “There’s an outbreak of it in the freshman class. A few of the girls were talking about it.” I explained that chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that both males and females can get. It’s transmitted by sexual intercourse and oral sex. It’s not something that one catches from a sneeze or a cough.

Other things that the 14-year-old girl's at this boy's school were talking about were rape lists:

“Let’s put it this way,” he said, “there are a bunch of freshman girls who have lists. They call them Rape Lists. They have a list of guys on them that they want to give beejays to. It’s like a competition. The more they can cross off the list, the hotter they are.”

And while that was sinking into my brain, he said, “I’m on a couple of those lists.”

“Oh, buddy,” I said. “That’s not good, is it?”

“Not really.”

“What happens when they don’t cross you off their list?”

“I go on their Death List,” he said.

“What does that mean?!”

“I’m dead to them. I’m a nerd. It’s a pressure thing. A lot of guys don’t want everyone to think they’re a sexual nerd.”

The Anchoress, as usual, doesn't mince words:

Why are the girls so out of control?

...if they are watching MTV and VH1 and looking at fashion magazines, or going to the movies, the role-models they’re being exposed to are (I’m sorry, but I have to say it) pigs like Paris Hilton. If they stay up past midnight, they’re watching “Girls Gone Wild” infomericals that make it look like exposing themselves and acting like sluts is the thing to do...

I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think televisions have way too much power, force and sway over our lives, our values and our reason. Turn ‘em off, say I. Then maybe a 14 year old daughter won’t have chlamydia.

Anchoress also notes that the NYTimes insists the the big picture is much more comforting. Being a statistician, I wonder quite a lot about those numbers, and I wonder about self-reported sexual behavior among teenagers. And I wonder just how they were defining "sex" or "virginity" on these surveys. Certainly, it wouldn't be contradictory for there to be a rise in the amount of casual oral sex that teenagers are having (although Brooks seems to think this isn't the case) and an increase in the number of teenagers who still consider themselves to be virgins.

How many of these so-called virgins have chlamydia, I wonder?

Posted by kswygert at 01:07 PM | Comments (67) | TrackBack

Narcissistic and deluded education at its best

FrontPageMagazine has a devastating indictment of a kooky left-wing professor in North Carolina who is proud to teach political un-science:

Here is Christensen's description of her course:

“The events of September 11, 2001, indisputably changed the course of American politics and history. This course is offered so students may examine various events and policies leading to 911. In particular, this course will focus largely on the specific destruction in lower Manhattan and the Pentagon. We will examine the official story and analyze it critically. We will consider alternative explanations of what occurrred (sic) as well..."

“This course is outside the scope of traditional 'political science' in many ways. First it is 'unscientific' in that it relies much on eyewitness accounts and speculation. Secondly, there is not yet a solid literature on the September 11 'attacks' or on the war on terrorism. This literature is emerging, particularly on the latter. Thirdly, this course will rely somewhat extensively on alternative news media accounts and a variety of films and videos in lieu of literature.”

As I said, it's political "unscience," taught by a woman with a website so violently dumb and deluded that a freshman should be ashamed of having it. And why should NC Wesleyan students get credit for surfing the World Socialist website (that would be the "alternative media" Christensen lauds)?

Posted by kswygert at 10:13 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

An inspiring story

The Education Wonks note that Amazon has a photo of Joanne Jacob's upcoming book, due out in December of this year.


We all knew it would be good, but it looks good, too.

Posted by kswygert at 09:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Teaching disabled kids

The EdWonks pointed me towards a new blog, MentorMatters, created by a special education teacher. Check her out for a different perspective on the classroom experience.

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

An exit exam puzzle

Retired USC professor Lorin Anderson wonders about the difficulty of SC's new high school exit exam:

A retired University of South Carolina education professor who specializes in education trends questions whether the minimum score on the exit exam is artificially low. Lorin Anderson points to a 76 percent pass rate in 2004, while the highest percentage of students who passed a now-retired test on the first try was 70.6 percent in 1991. During the 17-year span the old exam was administered, the average number of sophomores who earned a passing score on their first attempt usually fell in a mid-60 percentage range.

“I have reason to doubt the validity of the apparent increase in the passing rate from the old exit exam to the new test,” Anderson said. “There’s something wrong here. It makes no sense"...

Anderson...calls the aversion to disclose the minimum level of performance required to pass the state’s exit exam “the dirty little secret of the testing business.” “I think a fair question to ask is: ‘What percentage of questions do you have to get correct to pass PACT or HSAP?’” Anderson said.

I can understand the state's reluctance to supply this answer, because (a) many testing companies don't disclose cutscores, and (b) it's quite likely that the test isn't scored with a simple number-right total. If item difficulty is also a factor, then an examinee with three hard items correct could end up with a higher score than someone with four easy items correct, and that's very hard to explain to laypeople. On the other hand, it's hard to defend oneself against the accusation that the test has been dumbed down if one isn't willing to release some information about how well someone has to perform to pass.

Posted by kswygert at 09:35 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Leave the cheating principals behind

In Chester, PA, a principal cheats, and the students turn her in:

Jayne Gibbs, a principal and administrator with the for-profit education company Edison Schools, was suspended Thursday after some eighth-graders reported that she had given them the correct answers to questions on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test...

The alleged irregularities on the tests were reported by students at the Edward E. Parry Edison Junior Academy, according to the district's director of assessment, Wayne Emsley. "We were made aware of it by students," Emsley said. "I think that's to their credit. They were uncomfortable with some of the things they were asked to do and they brought it to a staff member's attention."

Posted by kswygert at 09:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Boys vs. Girls

My first reaction to the title of Stanley Kurtz's, "Can We Make Boys And Girls Alike?" is, why on earth would we ever want to? And Kurtz wonders how much damage is being done in this futile quest to erase gender:

...the last 40 years have seen tremendous changes in the social roles of men and women—changes that could never have happened were there not significant flexibility in gender roles. From the standpoint of feminism’s ideal of androgyny, though, the shift is still very partial. Until the link between women and child rearing completely breaks down, neither corporate boardrooms nor Harvard professorships of mathematics will see numerical parity between men and women. In the meantime, in disproportionate numbers, at critical points in their careers, women will continue to choose mothering over professional work.

From either a biological or cultural point of view, then, the feminist project of androgyny is ultimately doomed. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t do harm in the meantime. In America, many boys are slipping behind in school; their sisters are significantly more likely to go on to college. Yet thanks largely to the influence of academic feminists, legal and educational resources still flow disproportionately to supposedly victimized girls. In the end, gender won’t disappear, whatever the mavens of women’s studies hope, but the careers of some bright young men probably will.

Posted by kswygert at 09:24 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

Differences that make all the difference

The Manhattan Institute's spring edition of City Journal is, as always, chock-full of great reads. This month, Kay Hymowitz wonders, "What's Holding Black Kids Back?" Hymowitz covers Bill Cosby's infamous arguments before singling out one in particular:

...why have we been able to make so little headway in improving the life chances of poor black children? One reason towers over all others, and it’s the one Cosby was alluding to, however crudely, in his town-hall meetings: poor black parents rear their children very differently from the way middle-class parents do, and even by the time the kids are four years old, the results are extremely hard to change. Academics and poverty mavens know this to be the case, though they try to soften the harshness of its implications...

But these explanations shy away from the one reason that renders others moot: poor parents raise their kids differently, because they see being parents differently. They are not simply middle-class parents manqué; they have their own culture of child rearing, and—not to mince words—that culture is a recipe for more poverty. Without addressing that fact head-on, not much will ever change...

...poor parents differ in ways that are less predictably the consequences of poverty or the lack of high school diplomas. Researchers find that low-income parents are more likely to spank or hit their children. They talk less to their kids and are more likely to give commands or prohibitions when they do talk: “Put that fork down!” rather than the more soccer-mommish, “Why don’t you give me that fork so that you don’t get hurt?” In general, middle-class parents speak in ways designed to elicit responses from their children, pointing out objects they should notice and asking lots of questions...

There's also a study cited in which researchers discovered that infants and toddlers of educated parents heard nearly three times as many words per hour, on average, as kids from welfare homes, along with an in-depth discussion of the need for parents to be "Missionaries." Read it all (along with Joanne's take on the subject).

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

April 17, 2005

By a sunny window

Perfection of relaxation, from above:


Perfection of relaxation, from the side:


"Excuse me, but some of us are trying to sleep here? So - not to be too blunt about it - would you mind getting that #*(@* camera phone out of my face?"


"Oh, never mind, I can see you're not going away, so I'll just sulk, in a very photogenic manner."


Posted by kswygert at 07:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Does testing cause baldness?

I don't know where to start with this one, from a Boston advice column:

Dear Chatters: LAMBERMOM said her 10-year old daughter began pulling her hair because she was worried about the MCAS. She asked Chatters for advice and support.

ANTI-MCAS MOM: Maybe the problem isn't with your daughter. Maybe it's with the state education leaders thinking they have to scare 10-year-olds into preparing for a test to the extent that kids literally pull their hair out...Believe me, your daughter is not alone in her nervousness and extreme anxiety...

To find out about tens of thousands of other parents who are working to change things so our kids won't have to pull their hair out over the MCAS, go to the MassCARE website, www.caremass.org, and join us. Education reform shouldn't be about giving our children nervous habits they didn't have before.

Nervous habits like literacy and numeracy?

I shouldn't be mean. A 10-year-old who is this nervous is not a good thing. However, I'm not convinced that the mother's first response should be to eradicate anything that is causing this nervousness. This may be the first test her daughter is facing, but it won't be the last. Wouldn't it be more useful to help the daughter prepare for the exams? Talk with her about the anxiety and let her know that it's pretty much a part of everyday life? Perhaps hire a tutor or even (I can't believe I'm saying this) a test prep instructor?

Thanks to Reginleif for the link; she sent it to me with a subject line that read, simply, "Oy." I have to agree.

Posted by kswygert at 12:30 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

School shenanigans in NYC

It's Friday afternoon, and the news is weird:

A Manhattan high-school teacher slept with her student for months and got pregnant with his child — but gave him only a barely passing 65 in social-studies class, according to a bombshell report obtained by The Post. The 18-year-old boy toy from the HS for Health Professions and Human Services shrugged off the grade, but couldn't forgive his teacher, Rhianna Ellis, 25, for reneging on her promise to abort the pregnancy.

The details of the sordid 10-month affair — which included romps at a Queens motel and "one last time" in Ellis' Queens home — were chronicled in a recent letter from Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon to Chancellor Joel Klein.

Lord have mercy. I can understand the boy's low score, though; when did he have time to study? What's more, the high school sounds like Peyton Place:

A guidance counselor at a Manhattan high school is in trouble for having an affair with one of her students, officials said yesterday - the second sex scandal to rock the school this week. Samantha Solomon, 29, was booted from the High School for Health Professions and Human Services after school bosses learned she was having sex with a teenage boy, according to the Education Department.

Here's the Inside Schools page on the school in question. Amusingly, the review says that one downside of the place is that "The principal doesn't seem to know the students." To which I can only say, "Boy, all the other school employees sure do."

Posted by kswygert at 03:23 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

Feed your own kid and mind your own business

Now this is a food fight worth writing about:

The food fight started after the birthday girl came with doughnuts. And then the star student came with Twinkies.

The health-conscious mother had seen enough. She fired off a mass e-mail to the parents of other children in her son's kindergarten class, calling for a truce on these treats, saying they are adding to the national epidemic of child obesity. Meredith Roth said the Millburn School District should put an end to the time-honored practice of bringing in cupcakes or candy to celebrate holidays and birthdays.

Oh my Lord. Talk about pretentious. Even better, she's not a homeowner, but a renter in the neighborhood - and from the sound of it, she's been harping for a while on the whole childhood obesity thing. It's not that it's wrong to want kids to have access to healthier foods, but it sounds like she's going about it in the worst possible way. A pilot program with a grocery store that many parents can't afford to shop at? An email to all the parents in her child's class quoting statistics about overweight NJ kids? Please.

The rest of the parents' response to her? "Stuff it." Preferably with whipped cream.

Posted by kswygert at 07:16 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sending the wrong message

Illuminaria is appalled, and with good reason:

ROME, Georgia (AP) -- A high school is looking for a few good snitches. Using revenue from its candy and soda sales, Model High School plans to pay up to $100 for information about thefts and drug or gun possession on campus.

"It's not that we feel there are any problems here," said Principal Glenn White. "It's a proactive move for getting information that will help deter any sort of illegal activity." Under the new policy, a student would receive $10 for information about a theft on campus, $25 or $50 for information about drug possession, and $100 for information about gun possession or other serious felonies.

So let me get this straight. The school currently doesn't have a problem with guns, drugs, violence, etc. And yet the best way it can think of to spend the money from the soda machine is to encourage students to rat out other students who might have strayed? Illuminaria brings up two very real problems with this scenario:

Have you ever heard of a more awful idea? Police informants undertake a terrible risk of backlash. Is there any reason to think that there would not be any similar risk in setting up an informant program at a school? What happens when some kid gets put in the hospital for informing on some character? It’s not like the kid who gets informed on is necessarily going to jail, they’d still be able to easily retaliate.

In addition, there would most likely be a spate of false allegations that would take up the valuable time and effort of both administrators and students. What does the informant have to lose by making false allegations for revenge or profit?

There's yet another wrinkle to consider. When I was in high school, I would have considered myself honor-bound to report a serious crime. Drug possession I would have (and did) let slide, but I would have told a teacher if someone had had a gun. I would have drawn the line at a situation in which people could hurt someone other than themselves; I would have considered tattle-telling to be on one side of the line, but civic duty to be on the other, and I would have ratted out the kid with the gun out of a sense of responsibility and morality, not a sense of greed.

Adding money to the equation here is sending the message that monetary desire should drive these sorts of decisions, when it absolutely should not, and it also leaves the impression that kids who tell are doing so just to make some extra cash. I would have been furious back in the day had anyone suggested that I made the tough decision to tell on another student for money, and students should be just as furious about the suggestion now.

Update: Linked to Wizbang's 10 Spot trackbacks.

Posted by kswygert at 05:37 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Asking too broad a question

The Eduwonks rightfully tweak the NYT for taking a study with a small, limited sample and running it as research that generalizes to the entire student population:

Ordinarily, when an organization releases a study with the caveat that its sample is "not nationally representative" a national news organization wouldn't then run a big story on it as somehow indicative of a national trend. But not The New York Times when it's education and chance to pop No Child Left Behind in the nose.

This new study, while actually very interesting, is not as negative as the NYT story or headline indicate, and is not nationally representative because about 75 percent of the sample is from just four states. In addition, urban districts are underrepresented as are African-American students (substantially). Also, in 7 of the 23 states that make up the sample, only one or two school districts even participate.

To be fair, the NYT article does note the criticisms of the study, and also notes that the results conflict with other existing research. On the other hand, though, the article is critical of NCLB (even thought it's far too early to see when it works, for whom it works, and why), and focuses heavily on the minority achievement gap, even though the study undersampled urban students.

Posted by kswygert at 12:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Zero tolerance for black lipstick

A Wiccan teenager fights for his right to wear makeup:

A ninth-grade student has accused officials at a Southern California high school of discrimination for suspending him for wearing lipstick and eye makeup. James Herndon, 16, said the five-day suspension imposed Monday by administrators at San Bernardino's Pacific High School was unfair because females are allowed to wear cosmetics on campus.

Herndon says his black lipstick and red eye makeup express the Wiccan religious beliefs he shares with his mother, a priestess in the neo-pagan faith. He contends the suspension violates his constitutional right to free expression.

All I can say is, James ain't got nothin' on me when it comes to the religion of makeup. If devotion to a religion is measured on the amount of makeup one wears, the amount of money that one spends on makeup, and the amount of time that one spends obsessing about makeup, then I am a High Priestess of Sephora and a bishop of blush, who daily worships the liturgy of lipstick, makes an epiclesis to eyeliner, and follows the mysticism of mascara.

Okay, I'm not as bad as Tammy Faye. But I'm pretty close. Addicted to hair color, too; I've gone back to red, which is much closer to my natural shade.

For a much more serious discussion of the James Herndon situation, visit ZeroIntelligence.

Posted by kswygert at 11:41 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

Various and sundry

Man, we need some cheerfulness around here. Okay, I need some cheerfulness. Between work, depressing school violence stories, and tales of NCLB-related lawsuits, I feel like I've been too serious.

Henceforth, a list of links to happy things that I adore that have absolutely nothing to do with standardized testing.

My friend Jennifer's eBay shop. She recently made me a necklace of wooden skull beads and hematite, with a perfume oil vial pendant. Very funky.

The Superficial. Snarky gossip coverage at its best. I also read PageSixSixSix, Pink Is The New Blog, and BritPoppa every day, because a day without news of Britney Spears' impending progeny is like a day without sunshine.

No matter how bad my days are, I can always tell myself, at least I haven't shown up here. My favorite mugshots are grouped under "Fashion." It's criminal justice at work - with commentary!

OM Yoga produces absolutely wonderful CDs for learning yoga at home. I'd love to have a class with Cindy Lee, but the CDs are a great substitute Of course, at home I have to deal with the cats, who wait until I'm in perfect alignment before brushing up against me and knocking me over.

I can't decide - Berry or Black? Help me out here, folks. I like the Green too, but it's out of stock.

My newest obsession: the novels of Raymond Chandler. I've read only The Big Sleep so far, and I loved it. I didn't understand it, but I loved it.

9 Chickweed Lane. An amusing soap opera comic strip, with very strong female characters - and one crazy cat.

For more crazy cats, go to MeanKitty.com. Or just look at Alice, who's been giving me this maniacal look for thirty minutes, as if to say, "Would you get off the #*(@*! computer and get down here and pet me?"


Posted by kswygert at 07:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Overtesting in Maine

Down East they're plum tested out:

After being encouraged in the 1990s to shun standardized tests in measuring student progress, Maine’s teachers now are feeling overwhelmed by a new wave of state and federal student testing requirements.

Maine’s so-called “local assessment” approach to measuring student progress has become so burdensome that Governor John E. Baldacci, Maine Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron and the state’s teachers union have called for delaying assessment-based high school graduation requirements that were supposed to affect this year’s freshmen class...

Further complicating the issue are the federal assessment requirements of the so-called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. NCLB requires public schools nationwide to demonstrate student proficiency in English/language arts, mathematics and science/technology. To that list Maine has added social studies, health and physical education, career preparation, modern and classical languages and visual and performing arts.

Ambitious? Yes. But having to create assessments on the local level while still developing the standards and having to cover material on statewide assessments would be an overwhelming task for just about anyone, and it sounds like that's what Maine's teachers have been doing. To make matters worse, performance on the statewide assessment that is used for NCLB purposes is not good; less than half the state's 11th-graders are meeting standards on reading, and the numbers are worse for the other subjects.

Thus, it's not surprising that Maine may soon be following Connecticut's lead.

Posted by kswygert at 07:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Spellings is taken to task

Connecticut's State Education Commissioner wants an apology from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings:

State Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg is asking U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to apologize for critical comments she made about Connecticut's response to the federal No Child Left Behind law on a television news program last week...

She said Spellings was wrong to say on the NewsHour program that Connecticut is claiming it is not ready to start giving the tests in grades 3, 5, and 7. Sternberg said the state has done the work necessary to prepare for the tests' administration and is one of only five states in the country that are on track to fully implement No Child Left Behind's requirements.

"On a very personal note, I must tell you as a Jewish American whose family was deeply affected by the pogroms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and later by the Holocaust, bigotry is never "soft,'" Sternberg wrote. "Bigotry always has a hard edge. It is simply outrageous that you would accuse me and my associates of "the soft bigotry of low expectations.'"

Spellings' comments came two days after state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his intention to sue the U.S. Department of Education for not giving Connecticut enough funding to implement No Child Left Behind, which he said is illegal and unconstitutional.

A DOE spokeswoman says Spellings' remarks were taken "out of context," but it's hard to think of more than one context for the quote, "[Connecticut is] trying to find a loophole to get out of the law as opposed to attending to the needs of those kids."

Posted by kswygert at 06:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An outrageous offense

Firing's too good for the school administrators in this case:

A 16-year-old disabled girl was punched and forced to engage in videotaped sexual acts with several boys in a high school auditorium as dozens of students watched, according to witnesses. Authorities are investigating and no charges have been filed in the alleged attack last month at Mifflin High School. Four boys suspected of involvement were sent home and have not returned to class.

Also, the principal, Regina Crenshaw, was suspended and will be fired for not calling police, school officials said. And three assistant principals were suspended and will be reassigned to other schools. Crenshaw had no comment Tuesday...School officials found the girl bleeding from the mouth. An assistant principal cautioned the girl's father against calling 911 to avoid media attention, the statements said. The girl's father called police.

The high school (whose mascot is known as, ironically enough, the "Punchers,") has only a 63% graduation rate among non-disabled students, and has the following mission statement:

The Mifflin High School Community is dedicated to the use of available resources to provide quality instructional programs in a safe, clean and orderly environment through which all students will develop to their highest potential, demonstrate mutual respect and prepare for a productive role in our society.

Everyone at and above the level of the AP who told the father not to call the cops should not only be fired, but prevented from ever again working in the educational system. And the principal should not just be fired, but brought up on charges. Ohio law requires that school employees report suspected sexual abuse of students; here we have a known sexual attack that was on school property, and the perpetrators haven't even been charged. Don't tell me this conduct wasn't covered under the "zero tolerance" rules.

I can't tell you how disgusted this makes me. The idea that the APs involved will be assigned to other schools is outrageous. This Columbus Public Schools Directory contains the email addresses and phone numbers of the Columbus School Board members who voted upon the punishments. Be polite - and remember, they did vote unanimously to fire the principal - but do ask them why they thought the APs involved deserved to be given jobs at other schools.

Update: Wizbang has the link to the NYT summary of the story.

Posted by kswygert at 03:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Students Against Drunk Chauffeurs

Ten Miami teenagers took a wild ride to their prom:

Ten Florida teenagers who hired a limousine to give them a safe ride to their prom party instead snatched the keys from the chauffeur after some erratic driving -- and found a bottle of vodka in the driver's seat. The teens said chauffeur Christina Tomacelli, 49, rushed through stop signs, cut off other drivers and even drove on the wrong side of the road, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported Tuesday.

One of the teens used his cell phone to call his father, who urged them to get Tomacelli to pull over. When she stopped, the teens pulled the keys out of the ignition. When police arrived, they found the half-empty bottle of vodka in the driver's seat and arrested Tomacelli on charges of drunk driving and refusing to take a blood-alcohol test, the newspaper reported.

Can you say, "lawsuit?" That limousine company will be lucky to still be in business in 2006.

Posted by kswygert at 03:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The 2400 club

Well, that didn't take long:

When the college entrance exam expanded from two sections to three this year, the mark required for perfection rose from 1600 to 2400. This week, as the 300,000 students who took the first sitting of the new test March 12 began receiving scores, the College Board reported that 107 scored a perfect 800 on each of the three sections -- writing, critical reading and math.

[Austin] Weiss, a 16-year-old junior at Palm Desert High School in California, learned he was one of those students after stumbling out of bed Monday morning. His mother had already retrieved his score online and posted it on the bathroom mirror. "I put in my left contact lens and blinked a couple times and saw a little Post-it note, and it said just one thing: 2400," Weiss said Tuesday.

"I just leaned my head out and screamed at the top of my lungs and said, 'Are you serious?"' She was.

Hee hee hee.

Posted by kswygert at 02:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Tune in, turn on, pass out

Here we see Ohio University students participating in what must be the most lethargic form of "protest" ever invented:

More than 20 Ohio University students, Athens residents and out-of-town visitors sprawled out on sidewalks around campus yesterday, symbolically "dying" to protest the war in Iraq. Except for one minor shouting incident, the protest - organized by social activist group Interact - passed quietly. Individuals lay on the sidewalks in front of College Gate, Howard Hall and the West Portico. At College Gate, Interact members and others read names of deceased American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

"We were looking for a way to visually represent the war in Iraq, something that would really make an impact," said Fiona Mitchell, an Interact member and organizer of the event.

This is genius, to convince college students that lying sprawled out on the sidewalk is meaningful social protest! Why, I saw quite a few of their compatriots participating in a similar fashion at the bar I visited last St. Patrick's Day. Does such protest count if the fake corpse is covered in green Mardi Gras beads?

Then there's this rejoinder to the protesters, published in the same student newspaper:

It's a shame that I'm here in Iraq with the Marines right now and not back at Ohio University completing my senior year and joining in blissful ignorance with the enlightened, war-seasoned protesters who participated in the recent "die-in" at College Gate. It would appear that all the action is back home, but why don't we make sure? That's right, this is an open invitation for you to cut your hair, take a shower, get in shape and come on over! If Michael Moore can shave and lose enough weight to fit into a pair of camouflage utilities, then he can come too!

Read it all (both stories via Best of the Web).

Posted by kswygert at 03:30 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A new use for scratch-and-sniff cards

File this one under, "Yet More Things That Teachers Didn't Have To Worry About 20 Years Ago:"

At least one Illinois lawmaker believes a solution to the meth crisis may be right under our noses...a state lawmaker wants to equip...teachers or daycare workers with a better awareness of the presence of methamphetamines.

"Everybody's probably smelled marijuana or heard it, or smelled it if they were even at a concert. But methamphetamine has a very distinct smell that smells like cat urine." That smell largely comes from the anhydrous ammonia, one of the key components of meth. So Michael McAuliffe has won house approval to provide certain professionals with scratch and sniff cards so they can compare a meth smell with unusual odors they might detect on the clothing, hair, or skin of their students, indicating the child had been exposed to the drug's production or use...

The Illinois Federation of Teachers is looking at the legislation to determine it's application and any liability that could be involved, should one of their members bring a foul smell to the attention of police.

A related article on the meth crisis in Minnesota is here:

Nebraska and Oregon are among the nearly two dozen states that have entrenched meth problems, most of them in the West and Midwest, according to state-by-state advisories the Drug Enforcement Administration released this year...Already in Minnesota, a fifth of addicts who entered drug treatment for meth use last year were younger than 18, according to Carol Falkowski, a researcher at the nonprofit Hazelden Foundation, who tracks the state's drug trends for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Another recent state survey found that about a quarter of girls and a fifth of boys in Minnesota's alternative learning schools had used meth at least once in the last year. Ten percent had used it 10 times or more.

It's just the old fogey in me coming out, but I can't imagine why anyone - even a teenager - would want to do a drug whose negative side effects include:

Hyperactivity and irritability
Visual and auditory hallucinations (hearing "voices")
Suicidal tendencies and aggression
Suspiciousness, severe paranoia
Shortness of breath and increased blood pressure
Cardiac arrhythmia and risk of stroke
Sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Long periods of sleep ("crashing" for 24-48 hours or more)
Prolonged sluggishness, severe depression
Weight loss, malnutrition, anorexia
Itching (illusion that bugs are crawling on the skin)
Welts on the skin
Involuntary body movements
Paranoid delusions
Severe amphetamine induced depression and/or psychosis

Posted by kswygert at 12:01 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Protesting the TAKS

Here are all your littlest testing opponents in one article:

So far, Macario is the only student in Texas whose public boycott against the TAKS tests puts him in immediate danger of not being promoted to the next grade. But he's not alone in his complaints. A handful of bright, outspoken Texas kids, including some from Haltom High School, are protesting what they say is the decline of education since TAKS' arrival in 2002. Grass-roots student protests similar to those in Texas have taken place around the nation.

"I hope they make people listen. I know I am," says Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Rosenberg, a Texas legislator who says learning centers are turning into testing grounds.

I've discussed Macario's situation before, as well as Kimberly Marciniak's opposition. Unlike most school administrators, I don't find the anti-testing t-shirts to be disruptive. But I do feel that students who feel this strongly about the exams should be prepared to suffer all the negative consequences that come from skipping out on them.

I also have to note that all the students who are protesting the exams seem to be good students who are most likely bored by these tests. I wonder if they're really thinking about the positive consequences the exams can have for students who are struggling and stuck in poor schools, who would benefit from a renewed focus on basic skills.

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

Private vs. public schools

A surprising conclusion from some recent research on the impact of public vs. private schooling:

Students do better in private schools, according to common wisdom -- and some well-regarded data now more than two decades old. But a recent study of standardized math scores in more than 1,300 public and private schools says the opposite may be true, according to Sarah and Christopher Lubienski, education professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Public school students from similar social and economic backgrounds tested higher in a national math achievement test than their peers in private schools, the Lubienskis say in an article to be published in the May issue of Phi Delta Kappan, an influential education journal. They also are presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), being held April 11-15 in Montreal.

The research uses fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP scores from 2000. When the private school students are compared as an overall group to the public school students, the private schools have higher math means, but when each group is broken down into one of four SES quartiles, the researchers saw higher means for the public schools within each quartile.

How is that possible, you may ask? Well, I haven't seen their data, but I can easily think of one way this could happen. The situation of getting opposite results when using aggregated vs. disaggregated data has been researched for about 40 years and is known as Simpson's Paradox.

Let's start with the assumption that more of the private school kids are wealthy, and more of the public school kids are poor. Thus, if we had 285 kids from each type of school, the quartile sample sizes might break down as follows:

SES Quartile Public N Private N
High SES 50 100
High-Middle SES 60 75
Low-Middle SES 75 60
Low SES 100 50

What we see here is that we have more of the private school students in the high SES, and many fewer in the lower two SES groups. So let's say that these are the means we see:

SES Quartile Public N Public meanPrivate N Private
High SES 50 96 100 95
High-Middle SES 60 94 75 93
Low-Middle SES 75 90 60 89
Low SES 100 87 50 86

Note that, at each quartile, the public schools do better. But because there are more private school students at the high SES quartiles that have higher mean scores, if I just aggregate across all 285 students in each school group, I end up with a public school mean of 90.84, and a private school mean of 91.63. Thus, at the aggregate level, it looks like private schools do better because private schools have more of the higher performers. The problem here is the disparate sample sizes in the SES groups; the overall picture doesn't reveal that the SES breakdowns within school type are very different.

Even though my example above is just one possible way that the research results could be explained, in general, disaggregating the data are a good idea in this type of analysis. It's also good that the authors caution that this is not a longitudinal study, nor does it tell you what would happen with any particular student who switched schools. It does suggest that the public schools might not be doing as poor a job as some have thought.

(P.S. - If anyone has any idea how to get rid of the gap that's appearing before each table, let me know. I couldn't get rid of it.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:08 AM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

College protestors hit a new low

This is absolutely appalling:

UC Santa Cruz junior Jonathan Perez dressed in a suit and tie Tuesday, hoping to impress company recruiters at the campus job fair. But more than 200 student anti-war protesters got there first, storming the Stevenson Event Center, shouting and banging on windows and demanding that military recruiters in the corner of the room leave.

The noisy sit-in ended after an hour of chaos and tension when military representatives vacated their posts. Student protesters hugged each other happily after administrators allowed them to hand out information on alternatives to military careers and agreed to a meeting to discuss future job fairs.

They're college students, and yet they're thrilled that they were able to deny others the opportunity to learn about military careers by hooting and hollering like a bunch of children. I take this as a tacit admission by them that these students aren't capable of arguing intelligently against the military or the war. This laughable, pretentious letter by a bunch of members of Students Against War doesn't convince me otherwise, because their message boils down to, "We don't care that we inconvenienced people or disrupted the job fair, because our concerns about the military are much more important than the needs or wants of the unlightened masses."

Know-nothing elitism at its finest, folks.

Update: Illuminaria's Voice has much, much more (and a spiffy new design for the site). You have to love a blogger who starts by saying, "I simply cannot express how absolutely disgusting I find this behavior," and then continues on for another good two paragraphs. She also invites readers to email the planners of this ridiculous stunt.

Posted by kswygert at 01:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The color of failure, again

Oh Lord, this silly theory is making the rounds again (I've addressed it previously). Will we ever be free of the ridiculous "educational" idea that the color of an "A" or an "F" matters more than the learning behind them?

At Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Conn., teachers are no longer grading papers in red ink. Parents complained that students get stressed out by red ink. Blue and other colors are now being used. Red has become so symbolic of negativity that some principals and teachers across the country are not touching it.

Joseph Foriska, the principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pa., has instructed his teachers to grade with colors with more "pleasant-feeling tones" so that their instructional messages do not come across as derogatory or demeaning.

Yet the one teacher interviewed at the end of the article says that she uses different colors because her kids are so used to red that they tune it out. So we're supposed to believe that red ink is both horribly traumatic and completely ignorable. Mm-hmm.

For the record, teachers should use whatever ink color they please. Principals should stay out of it. And there's a whole lot of psychic energy being wasted here by educators who should be worrying about much more important topics.

Posted by kswygert at 01:38 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Making motherhood everything

Is a sense of "wonderfulness" and a total focus on the child necessary for child-rearing?

Today's parents are trying to have wonderful relationships with their children. Our foremothers and forefathers were not, realizing that a child required leadership first, and that a parent could not provide proper leadership if the parent's energies were focused primarily on having a "wonderful" relationship with the child...

Today's moms orbit around their children, dedicated to trying to make them happy. Yesterday's moms were at the center of their children's attention, dedicated to teaching them to stand on their own two feet...

Yesterday's parents were attuned to the voice of common sense, which is why they did not complain that raising children was the hardest thing they'd ever done. For today's parents, the voice of common sense has been drowned out by a deluge of psychobabble, which is why so many parents tell me that raising even one child leaves them emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of many a day.

It's not just middle-class moms who make their kids the center of their worlds. For some living in poverty, kids are the only things worth living for:

The teenagers who put motherhood before marriage -- before even high school graduation -- become pregnant not because they lack contraception, access to abortion or even access to jobs, though economic deprivation does play a role. They don't give birth simply for a larger welfare check.

They have children to give meaning, structure, purpose and love to their lives, in the only way they know how. Marriage is revered but rarely attained and largely irrelevant. Men are untrustworthy and more trouble than they're worth. Motherhood is everything.

''These bleak situations create a drive for meaning and identity that a middle-class person can't understand,'' says Edin. 'I didn't understand it until I lived in Camden. We treat teen pregnancy prevention as just handing out condoms. It's not about birth control. It's really about meaning, and we're going to have to deal with that.''

Both articles say marriage should be present - and be meaningful - for childrearing to have the most chance of being successful.

Posted by kswygert at 12:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Back and forth over NCLB

Although Connecticut is the only state currently suing over NCLB, Utah has been making unhappy rumblings as well. The Eduwonks note that some NCLB supporters are rumbling back:

Not so fast. That was the message Wednesday night from minority parents and community leaders who now question Utah's push to relax federal school- and teacher-quality standards...

Others said they resented the state's efforts to downplay, if not abandon, NCLB. They argued that the state system virtually ignores minority students, who have long lagged behind their white and Asian peers on standardized tests. Luciano Martinez said that as a district administrator in Granite School District, he had a difficult time persuading principals to focus resources on their struggling minority students. "I can see why No Child Left Behind came about," he said.

Jenny D. comments as well. However, she's busy this week with the AERA conference, which is indeed the mother of all educational conferences. Many people from my organization are there, but I'm holding on to my travel money for Psychometric Society this July. Holland, here I come!

Posted by kswygert at 12:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Blurring the line

The Education Wonks link to a fascinating Wall Street Journal on the possible obsolescence of middle schools. It seems that keeping kids in a K-8 elementary school might produce higher test scores and better attitudes towards school in general. And Philadelphia is currently in the process of doing away with many of its middle schools:

The School District of Philadelphia is in the midst of a five-year plan to do away with many of its middle schools -- reducing the number to 21 from 36 by 2008 -- and increase the number of K-8s to 137 from the current 61. The district's chief executive, Paul Vallas, says the district was emboldened by research and anecdotes from other school districts that pointed to the benefits of K-8 grade configurations. Particularly troublesome in Philadelphia was the noticeable decline in test scores after students graduated from elementary schools, which mostly went through the fifth grade. "Sixth-grade test scores were always our lowest," Mr. Vallas says.

Now, an analysis of standardized test scores from 2000 to 2003 shows that reading and math scores are consistently higher for eighth-grade students enrolled in some of Philadelphia's new K-8 schools compared with those in traditional middle schools. The average reading score for K-8 students was 1218 in 2003 compared with 1146 for students in middle school. Also, Mr. Vallas says, K-8 schools have higher attendance rates and fewer incidents of student discipline than do their middle-school counterparts.

Some critics believe that this means helpless first-graders will be bullied by older students. But the potential for bullying exists in any school, and I wonder if the bullying aspect is part of the problem for sixth-graders who suddenly find themselves among seventh- and eighth-graders.

Posted by kswygert at 12:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The portrait of Bill Clinton on the front was a dead giveaway

I guess you're never too young to learn that counterfeiting is a serious crime:

A sixth grader and two of his friends were suspended for using phoney dollar bills made on a home computer to buy food in the school cafeteria. On Monday, a cafeteria worker at James Madison Middle School found a dollar bill that didn't look or feel like the real thing. Seattle school district spokesman Patti Spencer said people in the lunch room were told to watch for more counterfeit bills.

An assistant principal called Seattle police the next day after a sixth grader tried to use one of the fake bills to buy beef jerky from the cafeteria.

Results: A three-day suspension. Yes, sixth-graders can be idiots, and this isn't a violent crime, but shouldn't fake money carry as stiff a penalty as having a fake weapon (something expressly forbidden by the Seattle school district)?

Posted by kswygert at 11:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

This year's theme: "Party Like It's 1899"

Good sense on campus in Louisiana? Or a violation of the Fourth Amendment?

Saturday night is Erath High's school prom, something many students have been looking forward to. But before they enter the gymnasium where the celebration is being held, they must pass a very important test, a breathalyzer. And while the theme of the prom is a surprise, the test is not.

School officials will insist that they will just be calling parents, not the police. That's some consolation, I guess, but I'm curious as to what the "drunk/not drunk" standard will be.

Posted by kswygert at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The fallout of PC on campus

Campus speech codes are a menace:

...On one campus or another, speech that is discomforting, embarrassing, flirtatious, gender specific, inappropriate, inconsiderate, harassing, intimidating, offensive, ridiculing or threatens a loss of "self-esteem" is banned by speech codes. Too often, they target student critics of academic bureaucracy...

Ultimately, speech codes are problematic because they vest final authority in the subjectivity of the offended. Whether it is "intentional or unintentional," for example, Brown University bans all "verbal behavior" that may cause "feelings of impotence, anger, or disenfranchisement." The nation's Founders, who did not mind offending British authorities, would have been ill-educated by such constrictions on free speech.

Often it's the university faculty who are supportive of speech codes, but these restrictions on speech - among other things - are leading parents to wonder why they should pay for any of this:

...With faculty and administrations leading the way, political correctness and posturing -- from both the left and right -- is reaching dizzying heights in the land of the ivory tower. And rising right along with it is the frustration of middle-class parents, who are growing increasingly resentful of paying sky-high tuition for colleges they see offering their kids a menu of questionable courses and politically absurd campus climates that detract from the quality of a university education...

A couple of weeks ago, a father called reacting to the fallout from the anti-Israel conference at Duke. He asked me outright whether Duke was anti-Semitic. I jokingly assured him that the school wasn't being run by the Ku Klux Klan. Nevertheless, he decided that if his son really wanted to go there, the boy could find a way to pay the $30,720-a-year tuition himself.

Or, as BaySense puts it, "To the millions of college-shopping parents and students out there: next time you're on a campus tour, why not ask specifically about intellectual diversity? I plan to."

(Via Joanne and Insty.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An edublogger hits the big time

Joanne's book is now on Amazon! I'll be putting in an order soon, and if you're at all interested in charter schools, you should do the same.

Posted by kswygert at 10:30 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Connecticut's challenge

Connecticut sticks its neck out as the first state to file a lawsuit challenging NCLB:

The lawsuit comes after Connecticut exhausted its appeal process to avoid expanding standardized testing to grades three, five and seven. The state has tested students in grades four, six and eight for years with the Connecticut Mastery Test.

State education officials say that they already know minority and poor children don't perform as well as their wealthy, white peers, and that additional tests aren't going to tell them more.

This has been all over the web for a while. Connecticut claims that it already has testing in place to handle the alternate-year assessments, and doesn't have the money necessary to create new ones. Recently, it was announced that schools will have more leeway in testing students with disabilities (a not-universally-popular change), which leaves some to wonder if we're on a troubling slippery slope back to the old days of naccountability:

For decades, states were not held accountable for the billions in federal education dollars they received. So despite the doubling of education spending between 1970 and 2000, student achievement, however measured, remained flat and low. In 2003, nearly 40 percent of our nation's fourth-graders were reading at the "below basic" level. Worse, the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers remained staggeringly large.

These problems persisted even though most states implemented significant education reforms throughout the 1980s and 1990s. NCLB was the federal response, an effort to narrow the achievement gap, provide options to children in failing schools and ensure that future federal funds were well spent...

...there is still enormous work to be done in Maryland. My concern is that the widening anti-NCLB fever could prove contagious and encourage some in our state to buck the spirit or letter of the law...Maryland should reject the contempt for NCLB, now so fashionable elsewhere, and continue to embrace the law's commitment to improved academic achievement for all our children.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is saying the same thing to Connecticut, though in a tad more inflammatory fashion:

In a nationally televised PBS interview, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings threw barbs such as "un-American" and "soft bigotry" while discussing the state's threat to sue the federal government over elements of the 3-year-old law.

She suggested Connecticut's opposition to NCLB, intended to raise education standards nationwide, amounts to tacit acceptance of achievement gaps between white and minority students. "Here they are on the eve of implementation telling us that they can't do it. I think it's regrettable, frankly, when the achievement gap between African-American and Anglo kids in Connecticut is quite large," she said during an interview on "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on Thursday.

"And you know, I think it's un-American — I would call it — for us to take the attitude that African-American children in Connecticut living in inner cities are not going to be able to compete," Spellings said. "That's the notion, the soft bigotry of low expectations, as the president calls it, that No Child Left Behind rejects."

Posted by kswygert at 10:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Homeschooling under the philanthropic radar

Greg Beato ponders why the homeschooling revolution is getting so little attention from some quarters:

...what's at least as striking as the [homeschooling convention's] religious component is how enthusiastic everyone is. The aisles buzz with the energy characteristic of all large gatherings where hitherto unlinked individuals are thrilled to discover that, yes, there are others -- lots of them...

...[almost] everyone...is welcome — including, say, grant makers, former CEOs with a penchant for pedagogical re-engineering, and pretty much anyone else from the world of mainstream education reform. No one like that has shown up, however. Despite homeschooling's increasing popularity—a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 1.1 million students are now being homeschooled in the United States—neither corporate altruists nor philanthropic foundations have shown much interest in it...

Instead, would-be reformers continue to give generously to a public school system they routinely condemn as inefficient, dysfunctional, and hopelessly obsolete...

...The public school system is 90,000 schools strong, 3 million teachers wide, 47 million students deep. So while it's easy enough to demand euthanasia, it's another thing entirely to actually kill the beast.

Posted by kswygert at 10:11 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Starting the rat race young

Do kids need more preparation at the kindergarten level - or is that too much pressure?

Today's kindergarten classrooms are stocked with books sorted by reading level; students keep portfolios of their first attempts at writing; and teachers assign homework in counting, addition and subtraction. The emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic is seen countywide, from San Diego to Poway, and nationwide, from Seattle to Detroit.

As kindergarten evolved from a cocoon for social and emotional development to a rigorous classroom environment, a national debate has emerged: How much should children be expected to learn when they are 4, 5 and 6 years old?

My impulsive response is, "As much as you can possibly cram into their little synapse-rich heads." Some educators quoted in the article say pretty much the same thing, while others worry most about putting too much stress on children this young.

Posted by kswygert at 10:07 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A bad way of raising scores

Sounds like some teachers at Wai'anae Intermediate School don't have faith in their students:

The Department of Education has halted standardized testing at Wai'anae Intermediate School and launched an investigation after learning that eighth-graders apparently were given some test questions and answers in preparation for the high-stakes exams, schools superintendent Pat Hamamoto said yesterday...

Hamamoto said she knows there has been a lot of talk about how difficult the tests are, as well as the possibility they may be too hard. "We know that when tests get rigid and tests get difficult, these things occur, but that doesn't make it acceptable," she said. "It's unacceptable. Cheating in any form on the HSA is unacceptable."

The 2003-04 NCLB state summary shows that 53% of Hawaiian schools did not meet performance targets; percent proficient on reading and math are at 45% and 23%, respectively. Regardless, cheating is unacceptable, and I'm glad to see the superintendent state this so clearly.

Posted by kswygert at 10:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Big and beautiful

As promised, two new inhabitants of the PALS intake center.

Here's sweet and fluffy Holly, although "Hefty" seems a more appropriate name:


And Nunner is giving me bedroom eyes, but that's because he's still a little dazed after surgery:


The weather (despite today's descent back into gloomy rain) has been getting steadily nicer, and the cats are loving it - they can go outdoors via a kitty door built into a window of the intake center.

Posted by kswygert at 08:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Work is hell, part 2

So very, very tired....will be working this weekend... Gah.

Going to head out in a bit to go do the volunteer work, though, so if NOTHING ELSE, darn it, there will be some catbloggage tomorrow.

Posted by kswygert at 03:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 04, 2005

Work is hell....

...and that's all I'll say for now. No bloggage today.

However, you can all pass judgment on my new glasses if you like. You can't really tell from the photo, but they're pink leopard-print Ralph Lauren frames.


Update: Life is still insane, dear readers. I don't expect to be back online until Friday or so.

Posted by kswygert at 02:03 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

The usefulness of edublogs

The Columbia Journalism Review has a lengthy article on NCLB and education reform, and how education reporters are often hampered by a lack of understanding of policy, psychometrics, and the reality of life inside the schools:

...Not surprisingly, these reforms, which have more to do with managing school systems than teaching kids, work best when they operate in a centralized, businesslike manner. Since management systems depend heavily on measuring tools, the standardized test — education’s most popular assessment measure — takes on added importance. All this exacerbates the press’s tendency to rely on official sources, and on the seductive power of the test score as the sole measure of success. To avoid the trap of oversimplification, reporters need a working knowledge of everything from psychometrics to education theory in order to untangle where the numbers end and the truth begins...

...Unfortunately, like No Child Left Behind, the story of social promotion is rarely reported from a student’s or school’s perspective. Even more surprising, stories about the campaign against social promotion barely hint at the raft of research showing that retention in grade does more harm than good. Philadelphia has tried it, as have Baltimore, Houston, Washington, D.C., and New York City (three times), along with about twenty-one other school districts nationwide, all with similar results. Instead of infusing coverage with knowledge of the past, reporters hungry for some excitement on the beat tend to embroider official pronouncements, writing as if the policy is a new idea...

The authors clearly understand that education reporting improves substantially when stories are presented "straight up from local schools, where the voices of teachers and children bring the national policy home to readers," and when reporters dig "behind the data, analyzing their origins and putting a human face on their percentages."

And yet the one word you won't find in this article is "blog."

Nothing about edublogs, blogs by teachers, blogs by parents interested in reform, blogs by parents who are fed up and now homeschooling, even blogs by psychometricians (like me). Nothing about the revolution in education reporting that has resulted from those fed up with biased and uninformed reporting. CJR, there's a whole revolution in education reporting that's right under your nose, and while some newspapers are doing a splendid job of explaining NCLB, the impact of great reporting is greatly enhanced thanks to the edubloggers who link to these articles, like Joanne Jacobs, the Education Wonks, The Education Gadfly, EduWonk, and dozens of others.

Posted by kswygert at 03:24 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack