May 31, 2005

Judging the books by their covers

Does California's legislature think it can improve education by shortening textbooks?

The California Assembly is betting that kids learn more with small books. Lawmakers voted Thursday to ban school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages. The bill, believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, was hailed by supporters as a way to revolutionize education.

Critics lambasted Assembly Bill 756 as silly...But Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, said critics are thinking too narrowly.

Well, yes, you could consider this "revolutionary" in the same way that banning textbooks altogether would be. That is to say, it could have a profound effect, and not necessarily for the better.

So where are all those excess pages going to go? Why, they've become URLs:

AB 756 would force publishers to condense key ideas, basic problems and basic knowledge into 200 pages, then to provide a rich appendix with Web sites where students can go for more information.

Doesn't this assume that every kid in California has free and easy access to a computer? Doesn't this mean that only those kids with the access and the desire will be exposed to that extra knowledge? Why not let kids stay home and have all the classes and textbooks online, while we're at it?

The Mercury News is incredulous:

...Who knew that making a textbook longer than 200 pages was such a bad idea that there needs to be a law against it? Well, 42 Assembly Democrats knew. On Thursday they approved AB 756, a bill by Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, that says: Neither the State Board of Education nor a local school district "may adopt instructional materials that exceed 200 pages in length.'' Textbooks, the bill's supporters argued, should sum up the basics and then refer students to the Internet and to libraries for the rest. Plus, shorter is lighter and cheaper.

Maybe. Their assumption doesn't seem that obvious to us. It seems like something that ought to be decided -- just brainstorming here -- by actually reading each proposed textbook, as opposed to laying down an arbitrary limit.

The bill doesn't jibe with other instructions (some from the Legislature) that textbook publishers have been getting to avoid textbooks that are just dry columns of words. They must be full of pictures and charts. And in each subject, they have to cover the state's comprehensive curriculum requirements. This makes them longer.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call this silly bill "bookburning," but the Claremont Institute is doing so:

Following the Sacbee report, other reports on this bill have referred to its "textbook" restrictions in length, while the bill's text refers more broadly to "instructional materials." Thus, books of American political or historical documents, short stories, poems, or memoirs more than 200 pages in length would be forbidden. The number of books that could not be purchased by the California public schools would be rather impressive: Frederick Douglass's Autobiography, virtually any classic novel one can think of, and any book by Winston Churchill and any other great history.

One of Joanne Jacobs' commenters had this to say about Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, the sponsor of the bill:

Only a teacher in L.A.(like me) who for years watched the inane and harmful Jackie Goldberg poison the LAUSD with her Leftist dogma and idiotic motions...then to be elected to the state Assembly, to continue with her thumbing-the-nose and giving-the-bird to Calif. taxpayers, parents and students....can just smile painfully and wonder why the morons in her district keep reelecting her. Dumbing down the textbooks is just the tip of the iceberg...

What else doesn't Jackie Goldberg like, in addition to long textbooks? "Redskins" as an athletic team name, the Iraq war (which she protested after the Iraqi elections were held), gun safety education in schools, and bills that would prevent minors from getting body piercings without parental consent.

Her statement in the body-piercing article is priceless:

Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, cast the lone "no" vote on the bill. Requiring parental consent takes away one of the more innocuous ways for teens to rebel, she said. The government should not be stepping in to tell children about body piercing, Goldberg said, and lawmakers should be more worried about other issues, such as funding schools.

"It will probably get signed ... and it will sound like we will be protecting kids," she said. "We just get too carried away in telling everyone what to do."

But she has no problem with telling every school in California to limit instructional materials to 200 pages, it seems.

(Via Captain's Quarters.)

Update: Quincy has more over at News, The Universe, and Everything:

Ms. Goldberg’s argument has constructivism written all over it. “No need to learn it, you can always look it up!” The basic problem with this is that doing all that websurfing takes time. The reason textbooks exist in the first place is to collect a lot of useful information in one volume that is readily accessable. It takes but a second to say, “Turn to page 201.” Imagine the time wasted if teachers had to send their kids to the web to download and print their math exercises, rather than simply turning to the page in the book?
Posted by kswygert at 07:15 PM | Comments (84) | TrackBack

Does hitting parents in the wallet help keep kids in school?

One Arizona tribal council wants parents to pay the price for their childrens' truancy - literally:

It's a classic problem. How do you make sure kids get to school on time? One Arizona community says the answer is simple: you charge parents each time a student is late or skips school.

Weary of poor grades and low graduation rates, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation families are being fined if their kids skip school or arrive long after the bell rings.

The tribal council is fining parents $100 a day the first time a child is significantly late or absent. That fine goes up to a maximum of $300 a day for repeat offenders.

Let's hope the council works with parents to help them establish more control over their children. I believe many parents today feel that schools are a big part of undermining their parental influence; it would be extremely frustrating for a parent to feel as though they have no say over what their child learns, but will be hit in the pocketbook if their child doesn't listen.

Posted by kswygert at 04:35 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

No cigar for you!

Lessons learned in school in the 21st century: It's okay to make fun of the president, but heaven help you if anyone thinks your free speech is supportive of smoking.

Posters that depicted President Bush with a Groucho Marx-style mustache and cigar were ordered torn down at a high school after a student complained. Theater students, who had created the posters to advertise a satirical play, countered with new posters with a First Amendment message.

Principal Kenny Lee ordered 100 posters removed from the campus of El Camino Real High School in the Woodland Hills area last week on grounds that they promoted smoking and "endorsing one ideology over another."

"That's our take on the student speech and conduct," Lee said.

Does this mean that Marx Brothers' movies are banned as well?

(Via Joanne Jacobs).

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

Tougher standards do not cause preschool violence

The Education Gadfly scoffs at the notion that violent preschoolers are produced by higher academic standards:

The Times reporter rustled up the requisite couple of experts to lament that pre-schools have become places that replace "block sets and dress-up rooms" with "alphabet drills and quiet desk work." "The notion of standards are [sic] coming down almost to the embryo," grumped one such expert. "We are not allowing normal, creative, interactive play. We are wanting kids to sit down and write their names at 3..."

What's behind that dire development? (Are you still on the edge of your chair?) Nothing other than the federal No Child Left Behind act, which, claims the Times, is a cause of "the push for academic-centered preschooling."

Good grief. If we have learned anything about schooling, it is that young children have the best odds of succeeding there if they arrive having already mastered a host of skills by the time they reach kindergarten. When Bill Bennett, John Cribb, and I wrote The Educated Child a few years back, we strove to itemize those skills and, to our own amazement, the "kindergarten readiness list" occupied four pages...

The United States is sorely overdue for such a focus in all its pre-school programs. But that doesn't mean you should picture tiny tots sitting in big school desks with dictionaries in front of them. Anyone who has witnessed a well put together pre-school knows that cognitive skills can usually be imparted with very little pain via activities that are also fun—not to mention nurturing.

Of course that calls for pre-school teachers who know what they're doing. And it's helped considerably if parents do their part, too. But as a country we'd be far wiser to try to solve those problems than to accept the nonsense of the New York Times and its hand-picked "experts," namely that pre-school should shun intellectual development and cognitive skills. The kids would be better served, too.

Posted by kswygert at 04:08 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The wrong way to show off that little butterfly tattoo

Listen up, angry moms - there's a reason Basic Instinct wasn't filmed in a schoolyard:

Working out a disagreement like a mature adult was not an option for Donna Maria Thomas. The 42-year-old North Carolina mother is accused of exposing herself to her daughter's assistant principal.

Authorities in Raleigh, N.C., say Thomas, 42, had a contentious history with officials at her daughter's high school. On May 17, she picketed the school board's headquarters...

Thomas reportedly saw the high school's assistant principal, Darnell Bethel, arrive for a doctor's appointment across the street and went to confront him. She prevented the man from entering the building and then lifted her dress and exposed her buttocks.

Sughrue said the woman was not wearing any underwear. Bethel reported the incident to authorities and a warrant was issued.

One of the charges was simple assualt. Just how bad was that rear view?

Posted by kswygert at 03:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Revising history

The Farkers today were abuzz over the story that, between 1958 and 1967, Charles Lindbergh fathered seven illegitimate children by three mistresses in Germany. The tale is fascinating, but a particular sarcastic comment caught my eye:

This just seems too ironic for me, because Im remembering a reading passage excerpt on one of my SATs. I don't remember if it was an article, a book, or just simply a debate between two people, but the author claimed that Lindbergh was a hero who wasn't afraid to be "classy". I believe (although it seems I'm vaguely remembering), the author claimed him to be a hero of a generation who wasn't sinful, lustful, etc.(the classical generation) unlike this new generation was. "Lindbergh was a good man, who lived a good life, and he didn't get into any trouble for dumb things these kids were doing now-a-days", this was basically the author's point.

Now of course, I'm laughing my ass off after reading this. Oh, he's "classy" indeed!

If this was in fact on the SAT, perhaps this particular reading passage should be retired from the pool and not used in future practice exams.

Posted by kswygert at 03:43 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Suing to be first

The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the would-be valedictorians are tossing fits - it must be Spring.

...All is not perfect in the lives of Pawel and Joanna Keblinski and their daughter Julia, 17, a Shenendehowa High School senior. She's ranked second in her graduating class at Shenendehowa; they think she should be first.

"There are no words that can express our pain over the fact that our daughter was refused her due right to an honor that she has worked for for four years," the family wrote to district officials.

The Keblinskis believe Julia should be named valedictorian at the area's largest suburban school for scoring a 99.33 cumulative grade point average while completing six Advanced Placement classes, plus honors courses.

But the district recognizes Julia, the treasurer of the math team, as salutatorian of her 640-student class. Her average fell just below that of Ben Plog, a running back on the football team and aspiring physician, who she says didn't take as many accelerated courses.

Shades of Blair Hornstine! The New Yorker has a delightful article detailing the fits, the lawsuits, and the overreactions that transpire each year as graduation nears:

Some schools, responding to the critique that competition has got too bruising, have decided that naming a single valedictorian is part of the reason that today’s students have become so anxious. (Many small private schools came to this conclusion long ago, and never adopted the valedictorian tradition.) An organization called Stressed Out Students, which is headed by Denise Clark Pope, a Stanford education professor, has a list of about twenty-five schools, mostly in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, that have pledged to try to make students and their parents less driven...

A number of schools now call everyone who gets a 4.0 or higher a valedictorian. At Cleveland High School, in the San Fernando Valley, there will be thirty-two valedictorians this year. At Mission San Jose, in Northern California, there will be twenty-three...

The single-valedictorian tradition is also being endangered by lawsuits. In 2003, Brian Delekta, who narrowly missed having the highest G.P.A. in his class, sued his school district, near Port Huron, Michigan, asking that he be credited with an A-plus, instead of an A, for a work-study class that he took at his mother’s law firm. (In addition, Delekta asked for a restraining order on the publication of class rankings.)

Restraining orders! Good grief! Little Brian sure picked up some interesting legal ideas around that firm.

Other valedictorians in the news as of late are Miriam Cattanach, whose school wanted to honor her as top-scoring student but didn't trust her to speak properly about religion, and Abraham Stoklasa, who allegedly threatened his principal and insisted on telling bad jokes in his speech.

Joanne Jacobs notes that controversy isn't avoided even when schools don't have valedictorians. Some people, it seems, can't stand to see any reward/prize/opportunity go to only one worthwhile student.

Posted by kswygert at 03:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Minding the gap

One overwhelming benefit of NCLB is that schools must break down test scores by ethnic groups. The NYT discusses the impact of this regulation:

No Child Left Behind requires schools to bring all students to grade level over the next decade. The law has aroused a backlash from teachers' unions and state lawmakers, who call some of its provisions unreasonable, like one that punishes schools where test scores of disabled students remain lower than other students'. But even critics acknowledge that the requirement that schools release scores categorized by students' race and ethnic group has obliged educators to work harder to narrow the achievement gap.

"I've been very critical of N.C.L.B. on other grounds," said Robert L. Linn, a co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. But he called the law's insistence that test scores be made public by race and ethnic group "one of the things that's been good."

At least 40 states compiled scores by racial and ethnic groups before President Bush signed the law in January 2002. (In New York, scores broken down by ethnicity were first made public in March 2002.) But even though scores were publicly accessible, many schools felt little pressure to close the gap before the law required that they show annual improvement for each category of student, including blacks, Latinos and American Indians, or face sanctions.

The debate rages on as to whether a top-down regulation like NCLB can help fix such a long-standing problem as the achievement gap, but when schools are forced to make such data public, they're likely to do everything within their power to shrink that gap. Some schools are more effective than others:

In the Pascagoula School District in Mississippi, where 43 percent of black sixth graders scored at the proficient level in math last spring, compared with 83 percent of whites, Superintendent Hank M. Bounds recently ordered all 60 or so district administrators, even directors of technology and security, to tutor low-performing students.

For Diana Krebs, the nutrition director, that has meant that after overseeing lunch for 6,000 Pascagoula children each day, she has driven to East Lawn Elementary school to work on arithmetic after school with four fourth-grade girls whose teacher said they needed extra practice.

"It's like helping your children with homework," Ms. Krebs said.

But not all states are focusing on the gap with equal energy, or in ways that will help minority children, said Enrique Aleman Jr., an education professor at the University of Utah, leaving him with what he called "conflicting views" on No Child Left Behind. Until last year he lived in Texas, where he said the law had seemed to turn his son Diego's elementary school into a testing factory.

"My son was bringing home practice tests every day, and that's not real education," Dr. Aleman said. "My view from Texas was that N.C.L.B. was hurting the kids it was supposed to help."

Test, then tutor, then test again. Too many schools are skipping the middle step.

Posted by kswygert at 03:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Working with their hands tied

The headlines blare: "Pa.'s major school privatization try fails." But read just one or two paragraphs in to discover the roots of the problem:

Edison Schools, a for-profit company hired four years ago to run eight of the city's nine schools, is pulling out in June, partly because it has not gotten paid about $4 million in fees.

The decision followed a tumultuous year that began poorly - with book shortages, teacher shortages, and a riot at the high school that led to 28 arrests - and got steadily worse, with Edison at the mercy of local officials when it came to control over the district's finances and getting the information it needed to do its job.

Among other things, it turned out that the district's poor accounting concealed a $35 million budget deficit. District officials said recently that without an immediate loan to pay teachers, the system would have just $9 left in the bank.

"We have not been able to work well together," Edison spokesman Adam Tucker said. "We knew that we were no longer going to be enough of an active agent for positive change."

Could any system work well when students riot, bad teachers can't be dismissed, and local officials mismanage all the cash?

Edison also found itself in a perpetual three-way power struggle with the board and the central administration. The contract did not allow Edison to hire or fire teachers. The company also did not control the district's finances and had limited ability to shift resources to places that needed them. It was not involved in generating the faulty information that hid the system's budget deficit.

Edison's Tucker said the company struggled just to get accurate information from the district on student enrollment.

Edison's experiences in Chester are a sharp contrast to its tenure in Philadelphia. There, the company began work amid regular protests by hundreds of parents and students opposed to privatization. But after a few years, its reviews have been largely positive. Test scores at several schools have risen. Complaints about its ability to operate in a big city have dwindled.

Posted by kswygert at 03:18 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Getting better graduates?

Methinks a few educrats will wince at Jay Mathews' and Marcus Winters' description of pre-NCLB education as a "pigsty:"

The educational establishment hates the push for standards and accountability just as teenagers hate it when parents barge into their rooms. Both prefer to live in the pigsty unencumbered. Both resent being made to clean it up. No wonder. Change is never easy, and real change is often met with kicking and screaming. That's what we're seeing, just as the standards and accountability movement — embodied in No Child Left Behind — is producing results.

Today's high school graduates are more likely to be academically qualified to attend college than those of a decade ago, before the accountability movement took hold. And we can expect to see more progress if No Child Left Behind expands to high schools...

While the high school graduation rate has hardly budged...[since 1991]...the percentage of students who leave high school college-ready has increased by about 9 percentage points since 1991. Thus, schools are graduating about the same percentage of students, but those who graduate are more likely to have taken the courses required to go on to college.

Students are more college-ready because learning expectations and high school graduation requirements are rising. Responding to reformers' concerns, many states increased the difficulty of their curricula and began requiring students to demonstrate mastery of more difficult material before graduating.

Posted by kswygert at 03:15 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

We now know where his brain is located

One enterprising would-be surgeon is described in this article as a "rectal specialist." I agree with the description, as anyone that steals high-stakes test items, only to offer them for relatively low dollars ona public forum like eBay, can be safely said to have his head planted firmly in his...

The American Board of Surgery has revised its testing policies after a doctor who failed a certification exam went back to review his test, wrote down the answers to dozens of questions and then put them up for sale on an Internet auction site. The Philadelphia-based board, which has certified tens of thousands of surgeons nationwide, found out last summer that 86 questions used on its 290-question multiple-choice exam were listed on eBay. Questions used on the exam are rotated from a large pool each year...

Craig Edward Amshel, a rectal specialist out of St. Augustine, Fla., failed the 2002 exam. But, as was the practice at the time, he was later allowed to review his test, alone, at the board's offices in downtown Philadelphia for several hours.

"I was able to take notes very quickly and wrote down about 100 questions with the correct answer," Amshel wrote in an e-mail to a person posing, on the board's behalf, as someone preparing to take the 2004 exam. "Believe me, I was quite thrilled when I took the test last year as some questions were verbatim."

Amshel, who passed the 2003 test, has had his board certification revoked. Last fall, the board sued Amshel in federal court in Philadelphia, alleging copyright infringement and civil theft.

Helpful advice for would-be cheaters: Should you decide to steal items, please note that the value of the items includes the entire cost of developing, proofing, assembling, scoring, and using such items, not only on that particular exam but on future exams. For example, stealing a printed item form that cost over half a million dollars to develop will mean that you could be charged with stealing something worth over half a million dollars. Stealing expensive items and selling them for a paltry couple hundred per item bunch thus reflects an astonishing lack of economic sense to go along with the astonishing lack of intelligence and ethics.

Helpful advice for testing companies: Learn from the ABS's mistake and don't allow examinees to review complete test forms in private - not if you ever plan to use those items again.

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

May 24, 2005

Off for the holidays

I'll be busy getting work done today and tomorrow, and then Thursday we head to South Carolina for the Memorial Day weekend. I'll try to log back on this Friday or so, but no bloggage until then.

Posted by kswygert at 10:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Lifeblogging from IKEA

Spent Sunday at IKEA picking out one of our engagement gifts - a corner hutch for china.

Dave really enjoyed the carts, on which you can skateboard. I'm picking out furnishing and looked over to see this:


Cabinet, before:


Cabinet, after!


Posted by kswygert at 08:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 23, 2005

A new system

Today's Non Sequitur:


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May 21, 2005

Dangerous toys

One mother gets the scare of her life:

A 5-year-old Queens boy arrived home from kindergarten with a little something extra in his backpack - a loaded handgun, police said yesterday. Another kindergartner had given the .45-caliber semiautomatic to little Christian Park at Public School 16 in Corona on Wednesday.

"He said, 'Give it back to me tomorrow,'" Christian told the Daily News. "I put it in the bag."

Christian's mother, 29-year-old Eloisa Marquez, assumed the silver gun was a toy when she spotted it in her youngest son's black backpack. "When I touched it, I realized it was real," she said. Marquez immediately called the school and police, who yesterday arrested the father of the boy who brought the weapon to school.

Tesfari Davis, 25, of Corona, was charged with three counts of criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. His son, also named Tesfari Davis, was given an in-school suspension, officials said.

Tesfari Davis, Sr, deserves to be slapped with much worse charges than that (can we make utter stupidity a felony and bar him from having more kids?). Tesfari Davis, Jr., deserves a new father. And Eloisa Marquez deserves kudos for being attentive enough to go through her kid's backpack and smart enough to notify the school and the police.

Posted by kswygert at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

Comprehensive review at UC-Berkeley

UC-Berkeley says race wasn't a factor in selecting its incoming freshmen class:

Race was not a substantial factor in the admission process for UC Berkeley’s incoming freshman class, said a university-commissioned study released Monday. According to the report by UC Berkeley sociology professor Michael Hout, the selection process relied on academic factors such as grades, standardized test scores and high-school course work rather than race.

The university kept in line with its goal to use comprehensive review, which weighs academic achievement and each applicant’s background, in the admissions process, the report said. “In 2004 comprehensive review worked pretty much as designed,” the report said. “Academic achievement outweighed all other factors in the selection process. Applicants’ grades influenced readers the most.”

...Interest in developing a study of the influence of race in admission harks back to 2003, when UC Regent John Moores questioned whether the university’s admissions decisions were being made efficiently enough. Moores published a report in 2003 which found that nearly 400 students with SAT scores below 1,000 were admitted to the campus, while 641 students with nearly perfect scores were rejected. The results set off a whirlwind of debate about the university’s admission practices.

I will admit to being a skeptic about comprehensive review, and I've wondered why much of the coverage didn't ask some straightforward questions about the theories behind the application process. I'm glad to see that academic achievement was heavily weighted here, and I'll be just as interested to see the graduation rates four years' hence.

If the university uses race in its admissions process, it would be in violation of Proposition 209, a 1996 initiative that bans affirmative action in California, Moore added.

That pesky little legality issue doesn't stop some students from complaining about the lack of AA:

...Yvette Felarca, chairperson of BAMN, a pro-affirmative action student group, said she was not surprised that race was not considered in the admission process. “(The UC) doesn’t go far enough to ensure the enrollment of black and Latino students,” Felarca said. “Test scores are not an objective factor. It is a saturated bias.”

It's interesting to see BAMN described here in such a mild way, as BAMN stands for "By Any Means Necessary." If you think that name means the organization allows for violence, there are some who would agree, and there are others who claim the organization is nothing but a student branch of the ultra-left Revolutionary Worker's League.

BAMN hates standardized tests, unsurprisingly, because they hate rich people, and they've duped themselves into believing that SAT items are somehow written so that only rich white teenagers can understand them. What BAMN really hates are comments like the ones I wrote over a year ago, because BAMN isn't about improving educational opportunities for minorities so much as they are about "redistributing the wealth":

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

You will note that nowhere in BAMN's list of What We Stand For is there anything at all about improving the K-12 system so that minority students will actually be better qualified for college, as opposed to admitted by quota or AA.

Posted by kswygert at 01:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A little bit o' catblogging

The usual shelter work last night. We haven't had too many kittens this spring, but we do have two unnamed siblings right now whom I've nicknamed Smoke and Charcoal:


I don't use flash when I photograph the kitties, but I still get the most precious annoyed looks when I take their photos:


Most of the common room cats were taking advantage of our outside enclosure last night:


Posted by kswygert at 01:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A new type of teachers' union

Will a charter school still be a charter school if its teachers are unionized? The discussion is now underway in the Philadelphia area:

...charter teachers are increasingly opting to form unions because of concerns about pay inequities and job security. This trend already has brought collective bargaining to five of this region's 63 charter schools. And teachers at the Russell Byers Charter School in Center City will vote May 26.

Some charter advocates say union contracts could undermine charter schools' missions. "It will make them more rigid and more bureaucratic," said Terry M. Moe, a Stanford University professor and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution in California..."It will make them more like regular public schools and make it more difficult for them to be innovative and flexible," Moe said.

Union officials say contracts are tailored to individual charters' needs and mission statements. And administrators at unionized charters say it's possible to negotiate contracts that do not erode flexibility or jeopardize those missions.

The trend doesn't seem to be spreading.

Posted by kswygert at 12:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

An ass-inine prank

So, is this a violation of the dress code, or the no-weapons policy?

HOUSTON -- A middle school student in northwest Harris County was punished Wednesday after he was caught trying to moon one of his friends in the school's parking lot. The indecent exposure got Easton Hohensee expelled from Strack Intermediate for one day.

He will also spend the end of the school year in in-school suspension and could spend the first 30 days of the next school year in an alternative school.

You can get "expelled" for just one day? I thought that would just be a "suspension." I think the punishment's a tad overbearing for such a juvenile prank.

A Fark commenter beat me to the title I wanted for this post: "We can all thank Bush for his 'No Child's Behind' education reform policy."

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

A busy Thursday

No bloggage today; I'll be in OracleAS/Discoverer training all day, followed by time with the kitties at the animal shelter. But if you're just dying to read something I've written, a .pdf of my latest publication - a book review that will appear in the Journal of Educational Measurement - can be found here (click on the .pdf file name after you arrive at the webpage). The following legalese applies:

This PDF file may be posted on the Contributing Author's own website for personal or professional use...

This is an electronic version of an article published in the Journal of Educational Measurement: complete citation information for the final version of the paper, as published in the print edition of Journal of Educational Measurement, is available on the Blackwell Synergy online delivery service, accessible via the journal's website at

The Contributing Author may make photocopies of, or distribute via electronic mail or fax, his/her own work for the Contributing Author's own teaching and research purposes provided (a) that such copies are not resold and (b) that reference to the original source of publication and the name of the copyright holder is clearly stated on any copies made of the article.

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May 18, 2005

Fiesty high school girls in the news

One girl causes a ruckus merely by walking across the stage at graduation:

A pregnant student who was banned from graduation at her Roman Catholic high school announced her own name and walked across the stage anyway at the close of the program. Alysha Cosby's decision prompted cheers and applause Tuesday from many of her fellow seniors at St. Jude Educational Institute. But her mother and aunt were escorted out of the church by police after Cosby headed back to her seat.

"I can't believe something like this is happening in 2005," said her mother, Sheila Cosby. "My daughter has been through a lot and I am proud of her. She deserved to walk, and she did"...

The father of Cosby's child, also a senior at the school, was allowed to participate in graduation.

Another girl mouths off against no-drinking rules - and suffers the consequences:

Shawnda Lawson, 18, told The Frederick News-Post earlier this month that she had refused to sign a pledge that she wouldn't drink -- and she told the paper she likes drinking. After the story was published, Lawson said she was told by her principal she was banned from the prom and was an embarrassment to the school.

Her father, Timothy Lawson, told The Associated Press that he doesn't believe Shawnda drinks. And he said the school's principal shouldn't have punished his daughter for something she reportedly said.

And a third girl pisses her boyfriend's mother off something fierce:

For a mother who remembered the senior superlatives in her own high school yearbook hewing to "Most Likely to Succeed" and "Best Smile," the picture came as a surprise to Jacqueline Nobles.

In Boynton Beach High's 2005 yearbook, her son, Robert Richards, is shown with a leash around his neck. Students voting on superlatives — a staple of yearbooks for decades — elected Richards as "Most Whipped" by his girlfriend, using the slang term for a person who is controlled by another in a relationship. The accompanying photo shows Richards, who is black, on a leash held by Melissa Finley, who is white.

Nobles wants the books recalled.

"I know it's supposed to be in fun, but there are people still having trouble with African-Americans' past and this will be offensive," said Nobles, who said the picture reminded her of the poster for the 1970s miniseries Roots, which featured a manacled slave. "This picture, to me, is very distasteful."

You think? Did not one adult leaf through the annual before it went to press? And I don't care if they're smiling, I don't like the photo for, "Most Likely To Be On Jerry Springer," either.

Posted by kswygert at 08:36 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

CNN vs. the tests

Recently, CNN aired a special on NCLB and the current status of testing. I didn't get the chance to see it, but Education Gadfly, who did, wasn't impressed:

While brief moments are devoted to explaining how standards and testing can turn around schools, the many teacher diatribes against NCLB and student woes from standardized testing make it pretty clear where America's most trusted name in news stands. The program insinuates that the problems with the Houston school district miracle/myth will be replicated around the country as a result of NCLB. In describing the cheating that occurred, the blame falls not on cheating teachers but on former superintendent Rod Paige and his "reign of terror." In fact, in true [Michael] Moore fashion, the program seems to suggest a Paige/Bush cabal to fake achievement, win the presidential election, and force testing on the unsuspecting nation.

While there are plenty of sad student tales, missing are the stories of those hurt by the old system or helped by the new one. As Manhattan Institute's Jay Greene notes (the program was basically Greene vs. everyone else), "Any system [will] create some sad outcome for somebody," and while just giving everyone diplomas "might help some students, you would hurt many more. And that kind of system is rotten, and it's produced the stagnation that we've had for the last three decades." More disturbing is that this slanted special is a "Classroom Edition" intended to be shown to students. The internet workbook for teachers (see here) asks such questions as, "What do you think are some possible 'unanticipated' social, political, economic or psychological consequences that could occur as a result of high-stakes testing and mandatory retention?" Not that we're telegraphing our punches, mind you.

I clicked on the internet workbook, and let me assure you, the Gadfly isn't exaggerating. There are 10 "Discussion Questions" listed, and three are about the negative impact of testing and mandatory retentions. One is about alternatives to testing, one is about cheating, one is about why this is called a "battle," and one wants the students' "reactions" to claims about dropout rates. There are three questions (# 2, 9, and 10) that I consider reasonably balanced and not provocative, but as I said, I didn't see the program. Given the Gadfly's review, it sounds like CNN was hoping for negative responses to questions such as, "After watching this program, what questions do you have about NCLB and high stakes testing?"

Posted by kswygert at 08:27 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Closing the loopholes in NJ

New Jersey tightens the standards:

New Jersey students who do not pass a standardized test would have a tougher time getting high school diplomas, but would have more chances to take the exam under a plan unveiled Wednesday by the state Education Department.

Education Commissioner William L. Librera is a longtime critic of the process known as the Special Review Assessment, which allows students to graduate without passing the High School Proficiency Assessment. Now, he wants to phase out that path to graduation. "We think the SRA hurts the very kids it's designed to help," Librera said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "It erodes the meaning and integrity of the high school diploma."

The special process was introduced in the 1980s, mostly for special education students. But it's become more widely used. Nearly 20 percent of New Jersey high school students follow the alternate path to graduation _ including about half in 31 poor, mostly urban school districts that get extra attention and money from the state.

"More than half." That's quite a loophole. That's a loophole that needs to be closed. The spring '04 HSPA results are summarized here. For a point of reference, the overview of the language arts literacy segments are here, and some sample math items are given here.

Sample OE Item

Every Tuesday, at the Dog Deli, the manager gives away free hot dogs and soda. Every sixth customer gets a free soda, and every eighth customer gets a free hot dog. The Dog Deli served 73 customers last Tuesday.

How many free sodas did the Dog Deli give away last Tuesday?
How many hot dogs were given away?
Did any customers receive both a free hot dog and a free soda?
If so, how many customers?
If a soda sells for 99¢ and a hot dog sells for $1.99, how much did the Dog Deli lose in income by giving away these items?

Justify your answers.

Does anyone believe that one in five NJ students can't be expected to pass an exam of this type before graduation, and thus deserve a loophole so big that, as the state itself admits, "It is nearly monitor the conditions in which the SRA is administered"? Justify your answer.

Posted by kswygert at 08:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A hair-raising encounter

First schools harass kids who pass up test items, now they're banning certain hairstyles on test days:

The parents of a Norton fifth-grader demanded an apology after a school principal forced the 10-year-old boy to remove cornrow braids he'd put in his hair to copy his favorite Boston Red Sox pitcher. Zach Schwieger arrived at school Monday sporting a hairstyle modeled on that of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, said his stepfather, Robert Alves. Arroyo no longer sports the braids but they were his trademark during last year's season when the Red Sox won the World Series. Principal Janice Pomerleau demanded that he go to the bathroom immediately and remove his braids, saying it would disrupt classmates as they prepared to take a standardized test. "It if wasn't test day, he would have kept it,'' Pomerleau said. Zach's parents said Norton's Henri A. Yelle School has no written policy banning specific hairstyles and that they would take the matter to court unless Pomerleau admits her mistake.

I don't think this is something worth going to court over - but neither do I think a funky hairstyle interferes with concentration. The hairstyle is butt-ugly, as far as I'm concerned, but I have a hard time believing that chaos would reign and test scores would plummet had the boy been allowed to keep his hair like this.

Posted by kswygert at 07:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Prayer and a sharp pencil will get you through

The impending LSAT drives students to pray - and write earnest, meandering articles in their college newspapers:

I have developed a better understanding of the LSAT through prepping, but I have always wondered what it had to do with law school. Granted, every test that you take for higher education will give some sort of unbelievable explanation of why it is important. But it was quite odd how the real answer to the question hit me because that answer is found in the word used for all big tests such as this: standardized test. Since every test given out each time is equal for each test taker, the results could be incredibly low but they would still test the overall intelligence of that test group. I never thought that the LSAT, the ACT, or the SAT were really beneficial at all to higher education. But, after prepping for this test, I realized that even if I study for 24 hours a day, this test will bring me back to the reality that studying goes only so far and that these tests were not meant to be studied for...

With this thought in mind, I will continue to prep for the June sixth date and pray that all the hard work will pay off. After all, ambition requires motivation.

Reminds me of the old saying, "As long as there are tests in schools, there will be prayer in schools.'

Posted by kswygert at 07:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Tag! You're it!

Tag as a rough-and-ready physical game might be on the wane in schools, but it's flourishing in the blogosphere. The Education Wonks tagged me in the game of "If I could be...."

I get to choose five questions and answer, then tag three other bloggers. The questions:

If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician...If I could be a doctor...If I could be a painter...If I could be a gardener...If I could be a missionary...If I could be a chef...If I could be an architect...If I could be a linguist...If I could be a psychologist...If I could be a librarian...If I could be an athlete...If I could be a lawyer...If I could be an inn-keeper...If I could be a professor...If I could be a writer...If I could be a llama-rider...If I could be a bonnie pirate...If I could be an astronaut...If I could be a world famous blogger...If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...If I could be married to any current famous political figure...

Very amusing, and since I already consider myself a scientist, a psychologist, a writer, and a librarian (I do have a library, 'tho it's a small one), does that make four of the five? No? Okay then.

If I could be an astronaut...I'd live in a space ship forever. I love small spaces, prepackaged food, and the idea of zero gravity. (The concept of having "no weight" is one that appeals to me, for obvious reasons.) Oh, I'd go outside every once in a while to photograph an amazing star formation or two, but on the whole I'd be happy inside my little rocket ship. Landing on a planet would be nice, but the journey's half the fun.

If I could be an athlete...I'd be an expert in Muy Thai, or Thai kickboxing. I used to take classes in that at the Princeton Academy of Martial Arts , and I loved it. Anyone see, Jackass, the Movie? Remember the scene where one guy gets his arse kicked by a girl in about 90 seconds flat? I really, really want to be that girl.

If I could be a doctor...I'd be a veterinarian, not a physician. Let's face it - the malpractice insurance rates are lower, the lawsuits appear less frequently, and the patients are cuter, even when they're sick. Maybe especially when they're sick. Plus, what other medical office functions well when overrun with critters, to the point where the receptionist has to shoo two cats and an iguana off the appointment book just to schedule your next visit? If a physician's office were filled with stray, loitering humans, just hanging around taking up space, things would look weird and out of control; when a vet's office is stuffed with spare animals, hey, that's a sign of a good cat whisperer. I like that.

If I could be a professor...I'd be tucked away in a tiny little provincial-yet-tony liberal arts college, known as the eccentric, geeky Dr. Swygert who teaches Latin and collects pet cats. I'd be a very tough grader but very fair with my students, and I'd do my damndest to get young men and women interested in this "dead language," as they say. I'd wear thick glasses and sensible shoes, yet I'd date the handsome young basketball coach, just to shake up people's expectations. I'd be the oddball who says politically-incorrect things in faculty meetings and drives the liberal student leaders nuts, but every year I'd find one or two like-minded students who saw the beauty of the language, and recognized it as a link to the ancients.

If I could be a llama-rider...I'd have to lose a lot of weight. I could see this llama being smart enough to say, "You think you're riding on MY back, after all those Hershey's Kisses and Nutter Butters? Amstel Light is not a diet drink when you have 10 at a sitting, toots. I'm laying right here and not budging until you get off and that cute little blonde kid gets back on."

Paying it forward: I'm tagging John Rosenberg, Daryl Cobranchi, and the lovely Anchoress.

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

Getting a (bad) early start

Talk about starting off life in the wrong way:

So what if typical 3-year-olds are just out of diapers, still take a daily nap and can't tie their shoes? They are plenty old enough to be expelled, the first national study of expulsion rates in prekindergarten programs has found. In fact, preschool children are three times as likely to be expelled as children in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the new study, by researchers from the Yale Child Study Center.

"No one wants to hear about 3- and 4-year-olds' being expelled from preschool, but it happens rather frequently," said the study's chief author, Walter S. Gilliam.

The descriptive statistics on subgroups will surprise no one, with white girls being the least likely to be expelled, and for-profit preschools being the most likely to toss the troublemakes. And what kinds of trouble could such young kids be making?

The study did not gather information on why the children were expelled. But Dr. Gilliam said a wide range of behavior could lead to expulsion: aggression toward the teacher or other children; actions that violate a zero-tolerance policy, like taking a toy gun to school; or anything that might cause a teacher to worry about injury and liability, like running out of the classroom to the parking lot.

It's a shame that the study didn't collect that information. It would be nice to know how many toddlers get expelled for being aggressive, as opposed to just hyperactive (or having clueless parents that send them in with toy guns).

The Daily News has NYC's local numbers:

One out of every 110 preschoolers is expelled annually from New York classrooms - a rate nearly 18 times higher than the number of older kids booted in grades kindergarten through 12, a study released today found. Hundreds of 3- and 4-year-old pint-size terrors were bounced - from public and private schools alike - for bad behavior ranging from pulling down classmates' pants to slipping water guns into class, according to Yale University researcher Walter Gilliam...

Jean Mandelbaum, director of All Souls preschool on the upper East Side, was shocked to hear so many tots were being expelled. "Every school has a kid that is troubled in some way, but expelling a kid is a harsh thing to do. It's not something we do," said Mandelbaum.

Still, Mandelbaum and other educators said if young students are a danger to their classmates or themselves, they should be removed. "A school is not set up to handle everything," Mandelbaum said. "They are not therapeutic organizations or jails."

(Via Devoted Reader John K.)

Posted by kswygert at 02:56 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Welcome to NYC - here's your test

A NYC middle school follows the letter of the NCLB law, but not without complaint:

The teen was barely off the plane from Colombia when she took one test and then another yesterday at Jamaica's JHS 217. "She just got here," one teacher said to the test proctor as the new student, 14, sat by herself in the library, her pink and white sandals, as well as her blue sparkly nails, as new as her life in Queens. The proctor, Paula Nieto, shrugged. The teen, whose name is being withheld by request, had just taken a 90- minute state test on English proficiency, and after a lunch break, it was time for the eighth-grade math test. "I think it's a little crazy," Nieto said as she handed out the Spanish version of the test. "This girl is scared. Right now, she's nervous."

It may not have been the best welcome, but it was a sign of how test-driven the education system has become nationwide, educators said...

In the old days, principal Jeannette Reed said, the newcomer would have about two weeks to settle down before getting less formal assessments created by 217's teachers to identify her skills and needs. She would have been assigned a "buddy," a Spanish-speaking student mentor, from Colombia, if possible.

And is there any reason that can't still be done? Do we think this student was irreparably harmed by taking a test in her native language? What's so bad about the first day of school being a bit challenging? The system isn't perfect, I agree, but I'm not sure how else to prevent schools from using loopholes to avoid testing low-performing students.

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

A mixed blessing

A columnist for South Carolina's The Common Voice is happy that SC state standardized tests are ranked as challenging, but frustrated that these results are being trumpeted by opponents of school choice:

In the current edition of Education Next, the Hoover Institute lauds states that embrace rigorous academic standards. South Carolina got “straight A’s” for linking its PACT grading scale to a test known as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)...The report was co-written by Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, who praised South Carolina for high standards in testing. He surmised that testing reports can be misleading. “If you have high standards, you are going to have more failing schools. I think South Carolina has high standards"...

Peterson, a school choice advocate, urged readers not to misuse his conclusions in the school choice debate. He specifically stated that he doesn’t want his “article to be read as saying there is no need in South Carolina to have a tuition tax credit.” Enter Mrs. Tenenbaum, South Carolina’s Education Superintendent, who quickly embraced Mr. Peterson’s praise and ignored his plea. She said, “Straight A’s for our rigor demonstrates that South Carolina has risen to the challenge and set demanding proficiency standards.” Then she said the article undermines advocates of a tuition tax credit law that failed to pass the Legislature this year.

I agree with columnist Ralph Bristol that the bad attitude here is, "We are doing better than you thought, so there’s no need for pressure to improve."

Posted by kswygert at 12:44 PM | Comments (48) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Things you didn't know about me

Behold the power of sunscreen - this is how I photograph in daylight, with no flash. (And I will look the same come August, in case you were wondering):


And to continue with a meme that was recently going around the web, here are 10 things you (probably) didn't know about me:

1. Back in the day, my mother was both a prize-winning pianist and a super-fast typist. I've had lessons in neither area, but I type amazingly fast and I bend my fingers up and down and attack the keyboard like I'm playing the piano.
2. Chocolate-covered cherries make me gag.
3. I hate for people to be able to see what books I'm reading, so I always try to hide my book covers when I'm reading in public.
4. I always sit in the back rows of theaters.
5. I cry very easily, especially at emotional movies/TV shows like It's A Wonderful Life or Snoopy, Come Home.
6. I play for blood at Boggle.
7. I will stop the car and jump out to meet someone's puppy on the sidewalk. How most women act around babies, I am around baby animals.
8. I wrecked the first car that I drove four times.
9. My hair has been: red, green, purple, black, white, blonde, yellow, red, orange, and brown. Hey, it's just hair. It'll grow back.
10. I've moved nine times in 13 years. I've actually been through three houses while I've had this one blog. Is it any wonder that I want to stay put for a while?

Posted by kswygert at 08:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

No grade inflation on this scale: State tests measured against NAEP results

Tough state standardized tests - how does your state measure up?

A newly published study...conducted by Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess, editors of the quarterly journal Education Next...compared how fourth and eighth graders performed on state tests compared with the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

State tests are used to rate school performance under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Each state creates its own test and sets the passing score. The result is states with easy tests can appear to be doing well, while those with challenging tests can appear to be doing poorly.

"Some states have risen to the challenge and set demanding proficiency levels for their students, while others have used lower standards to inflate reported performance," the report said. "Not only is the disparity confusing, but, perversely enough, the states with the highest expectations often stand accused of having the most schools said to be in need of improvementeven when their students are doing relatively well."

The top five states in the rankings were South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Wyoming and Massachusetts.

In other words, if a state claims that fewer students are proficient than NAEP scores would indicate, that state gets a higher score for challenging its students; the opposite holds for states whose students do not seem to perform as well on NAEP as on state exams. The full list of 40 states (10 do not have state tests which allowed for NAEP comparisons) is here.

Posted by kswygert at 05:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A free pass on spelling errors

Those of you upset by the new SAT's essay section will be apoplectic when you hear that raters of the longer writing task of an exam for British 14-year-olds will no longer count off for spelling errors:

Examiners marking an English test taken by 600,000 14-year-olds have been told not to deduct marks for incorrect spelling on the main writing paper, worth nearly a third of the overall marks. The rule, issued by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, means that pupils could spell every word wrongly in the most significant piece of writing that they are required to do and yet still receive full marks.

Horrible, yet a tad hyperbolic. Spelling ability is not totally unrelated to other areas of writing ability, so it's unlikely that a student who spells three-letter words wrong will gain high marks for sentence structure, organization, and punctuation. The student who does perfectly except for spelling errors will most likely be that brilliant child whose brain remembers words in an, er, creative sense (yes, Devoted Reader J, I'm talking to you!). My guess is that most papers riddled with spelling errors will be riddled with all kinds of other errors as well.

However, one can argue - as the traditionalists are now doing - that it's dangerous not to grade spelling because it sends the message that spelling isn't important:

The revelation of the "spelling free-for-all" in the hour-long paper has angered traditionalists who say that children should be penalised for poor spelling. Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "Spelling and grammar are essential to good English and important in other subjects. The exam watchdog should be ensuring that proper marks are given for these. Not judging spelling on such an important paper sends the message to teacher and pupils that it does not matter, and that is certainly what employers are finding."

Andrew Cunningham, an English teacher at Charterhouse and a former GCSE examiner, agreed that poor spelling was not being tackled. "This downgrading of spelling does not surprise me. All teachers are having to spend time going over these basics, which should have been sorted out at an earlier age."

Posted by kswygert at 12:37 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A new quota system at the U of Oregon

The University of Oregon's Office of Multicultural Academic Support has some blatantly racist and condescending attitudes about those students they purport to serve:

When senior Stephanie Ramey tried to sign up online for Math 243 Calculus for Business and Social Science for spring term she was denied access and informed she would have to contact the class professor. The professor asked her to contact the Office of Multicultural Academic Support about enrolling in his class.

A staff member at the office said she couldn't register for the class because she doesn't identify as a minority, Ramey said..."I guess I was just really surprised and irritated because I thought I had a right to get into the class too. ... I guess I felt a little bit discriminated against," Ramey said. "For a sophomore math class, I shouldn't have to wait just because I'm white."

Ramey attempted to enroll in one of six University classes this term that reserve the first 10 slots in an 18-student class for minority students, while requiring others who want to get into the class to arrive on the morning of the first day of class and meet with an adviser before being allowed to register for the remaining eight slots...Linda Liu, advising coordinator and academic adviser for OMAS, said the classes are meant to offer a safe haven for minority students and give struggling students a chance to work more closely with professors.

Why is the assumption here that minority students who are smart enough to go to college require a "safe haven" before they can perform the same classwork as other students? Will the next step be that such students require job set-asides so that they can be guaranteed of working in a "safe haven" and relieved of the responsibilities of having to work in the same structure as everyone else?

Greg Vincent, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity, said the University offers a smaller class setting for these "gateway courses" for students who could benefit from them. He said the classes also provide a comforting environment that minority students may not get in other classes. The classes aren't based on a quota, and after the initial 10 spots are filled, the classes are open to everyone, he said.

Why should colleges admit students who need comforting environments? Isn't this no different from saying these students cannot do the same work in the same environment as everyone else? I thought the purpose of college was the challenge, not comfort. How do these types of attitudes differ, fundamentally, from the old racist ideas that minorities were not smart enough to attend college?

I'm not being facetious; I just simply don't understand why it's okay for OMAS to lump together all students of certain races as needing special treatment and allowances, when anyone else would be castigated if they said that such students couldn't succeed without extra help.

(Via Fox News.)

Posted by kswygert at 12:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Love thy neighbor, but don't hug thy classmate

The zero tolerance brigade outdoes itself, once again:

Public displays of affection are against the rules at Sky View Middle School, and 14-year-old Cazz Altomare found that out the hard way. She got detention earlier this year after hugging her boyfriend in the hallway as he headed to lunch and she went to gym class.

Her mother, Leslee Swanson was infuriated by the punishment - in fact, when she went to pick her daughter up from detention, she gave her a good, hard hug. "I'm trying to understand what's wrong with a hug," said Swanson, 42.

But administrators said such policies are standard-issue at middle schools across the country. "Really, all we're trying to do is create an environment that's focused on learning, and learning proper manners is part of that," said Dave Haack, the principal of Cascade Middle School, also in Bend. "This is not us being the romance police." Students only end up with detention after repeated warnings, he said.

Just how wrong does childrearing have to go for children to end up as - *gasp*! - serial huggers?

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

May 15, 2005


Spring has taken its sweet time getting here. Finally, though, 'tis arrived, and both hands are sore from planting astilbe, geraniums, and impatiens.

The impatiens are mixed in with the astilbe, along the side:


The geraniums are out front with what I think are azaleas planted by the previous owners (those of you who have geniune green thumbs are welcome to correct me):


I also finally put some windchimes in the corner; a birdbath has been ordered from and is on its way:


No, it's not a huge garden, but this is about what you get with an 18-foot wide rowhome.

Posted by kswygert at 06:27 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

Jostens salutes the proud hghi shcolo graduates

Jostens has always managed to get the rings correct, as far as I know, but their track record on diplomas doesn't look too good:

Poor spelling could prevent hundreds of high school seniors from getting their diplomas next week - but it's not the students' fault. Officials in Lee County in southwest Florida said some diplomas showed up with misspelled names for students and school board members; at least one degree misspelled "chairman." Some diplomas didn't arrive at all.

School district officials said Jostens, a Minneapolis-based company that leads the market for graduation paraphernalia, is to blame.

The students will still graduate - provided they passed the FCAT - but their diplomas will just have to wait until the company can correct the errors.

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A painful lesson

A biology teacher pushes the limits:

biology class lesson in Gunnison, Utah involving the dissection of a live dog has outraged some parents and students, according to a report. "I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal," Biology teacher Doug Bierregaard said. Biology teacher Doug Bjerregaard, who is a substitute teacher at Gunnison Valley High School, wanted his students to see how the digestive system of a dog worked.

Bjerregaard made arrangements for his students to be a part of a dissection of a dog that was still alive. The dog was still alive, but the teacher said it was sedated before the dissection began.

I disagree with the students who claim there is nothing to be learned from this - but that doesn't necessarily make it humane, or worth doing, or even acceptable.

(Side note: Does anyone but me see the sick humor in the fact that the sidebar item, "WEEK'S MOST POPULAR" photos, is entitled, "Bizarre Items Found In Kids' Stomachs"? It's really hard to believe that's a coincidence.)

Via Education Wonks.

Posted by kswygert at 03:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Mistreating kids and blaming the WASL

School administrators suspend a fourth-grader who balks at a WASL item:

Tyler Stoken is 9 years old and his mother says he's good at taking tests. But when it came to the recent Washington Assessment of Student Learning, one question stumped him. He was asked to write a short essay about a make-believe situation and his principal.

Tyler paraphrases the question saying, "You look out one day at school and see your principal flying by a window. In several paragraphs write what happens next." He's asked, "So why didn't you answer that question?" He says, "I couldn't think of what to write the essay without making fun of the principal."

He refused to answer the question even after his mother was called to the school. Tyler's mother Amy Wolfe says, "And he said he didn't know the answer. He just didn't know what to write. And they were telling me to make him answer the question."

He still didn't, so Tyler was given a 5-day suspension. In the letter that went home to mother, the principal writes, "The fact that Tyler chose to simply refuse to work on the WASL after many reasonable requests is none other than blatant defiance and insubordination."

Amy and her son were shocked. Just then the phone rang. It was the superintendent calling to apologize. "Because I think a mistake was made and over reacting to Tyler's refusal to complete the test," said Aberdeen school superintendent Marty Kay. He says it points to the bigger issue of how much pressure is placed on students and staff to do well in the WASL.

The last I checked, no test in the world required every single examinee to get every answer correct, or even to answer every single item. Refusing to answer one item is not the same thing as refusing to take the test. The school's mistake was appalling, but equally appalling is the "excuse" that the WASL places too much pressure on the staff. This sort of nonsense plays right into the hands of testing critics, as well it should.

This shouldn't turn people against the WASL - it should turn parents against administrators who think badgering kids is the only way to raise WASL scores.

Via Morons.Org.

Posted by kswygert at 03:16 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A provocative answer to an accommodations question

Education Next asks the question, what was the result of ETS dropping the "flags" for accommodated SATS?

When the College Board announced, in the summer of 2002, that it would stop “flagging” the test scores of students who were given special accommodations for the SAT, the gold standard exam for college admission, disability advocates were thrilled. “A triumphant day for millions of people with dyslexia and other disabilities,” exclaimed Thomas Viall, the executive director of the International Dyslexia Association. “With the ‘scarlet letter’ gone, people with disabilities are given the chance to succeed, based on their abilities”...

Indeed, the scarlet letter disappeared in October of 2003, but not everyone was so sanguine about the possible consequences. Miriam Freedman, an attorney specializing in issues of testing, standards, and students with disabilities, expressed the concern of many academics and practitioners (“Disabling the SAT,” Education Next, Fall 2003) that the deflagging decision would drive requests for special accommodations skyward as more students saw an opportunity to secure an advantage without anyone knowing it.

Ms. Freeman was not the only one predicting disaster - but did that disaster come true?

Surprisingly, now that detailed 2004 SAT results have become available, it appears that growth in special accommodations is not the real problem. As Figure 1 shows, dropping the flag did not accelerate the already steep climb in the numbers of test-takers given special accommodation—it appears to have reversed it. What happened?

As it turns out, the College Board, worried about the rush to accommodation, tightened the criteria high-school counselors and other professionals were to apply when granting waivers...

Ah. So the flags were dropped - but the College Board made it much tougher to get the accommodations. Did this change stop the expected surge of non-disabled students seeking fake diagnoses - or is it now the case that only the more well-off students can afford all the doctor visits that are required?

As the criteria for special accommodations permission has tightened, there are clear signs that the social composition of those given such permission has been altered. By abolishing any stigma that might come with a flagged test, while tightening access to special accommodations, the College Board has given new opportunities to the strategic, while leaving behind the less savvy and less financially well-endowed.

There is no statistical smoking gun indicating that the sophisticated are being given special treatment. But the test-score results presented in Figures 2 and 3 should give College Board officials cause for concern.

The test score results show that scores increased for students granted accommodations, and only for those students. What's more, College Board data indicates that examinees who are awarded special accommodations are 84% white, as opposed to 68% for standard examinees. If one wanted to make the argument (as Education Next apparently does) that the wealthier students are now taking advantage of the no-flagging rule to get accommodated tests, these data could certainly be used to support that argument.

What I said in 2003 seems like it applies now, even more so:

Just think about those "high-powered" parents who are so eager to have their kids labeled as disabled. These parents have $3000 to spend, and yet they can't manage to find tutors for their kids so that they can learn to take the SAT under normal timing conditions? Am I alone in finding it odd that in one generation, we have swung from the label of "disabled" being a stigma to that same label being something that is seen as desirable, and sought after? Do these parents really have so little respect for the test that they're willing to essentially help their kids cheat? Or are they so desperate to think of their kids as "special" that any means of setting them apart from the general population will do?
Posted by kswygert at 11:58 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Overhauling teacher pay

The Sacramento Bee compares and contrasts teacher pay programs in California and Colorado:

Here, the teachers union and the school district have completed six years of negotiation, experimentation and study to come up with a salary system unlike any other. It incorporates concepts Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would like to see in California - merit pay for teachers whose students perform well on tests and bonus pay for teachers who work in tough schools - as well as several other ways teachers can earn raises throughout their careers. Yet the differences are stark.

In California, Schwarzenegger's proposals to change the way teachers are paid have cropped up only in the past five months, and have met fierce opposition from the California Teachers Association. In Denver, the system, known as "ProComp," is the result of years of planning and unusual cooperation between the school district and the teachers union.

Denver prides itself on having done this in a "bottom-up" way. But not everyone at the "bottom" agrees that Denver's system is a good one:

Despite the chance for higher pay, some teachers in the 72,500-student district remain opposed. They say the school district is too disorganized to handle the complex task of tracking student performance and linking it to their paychecks. Others call the system unfair to workers in the teachers union whose jobs are not tied to the standardized tests that partly determine the raises - music and art teachers, librarians, nurses, psychologists and speech therapists.
Posted by kswygert at 11:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

FCAT 2005 results are in

After 18% of the seniors in Florida fail the FCAT graduation test, the wits at Fark have renamed it the "Florida Universal Comprehension Test." A large portion of the failers don't seem to be those "high-grades-low-test-score" sob stories that we hear so much about, though:

Figures from the state Education Department show 27,000 of 150,000 seniors have failed to pass at least one of the required exams. About 60 percent of them also lack credits or have grade point averages that are too low for graduation.

Students can retake the FCAT test indefinitely until they pass to earn a diploma. The state also offers remediation and fast-track GED programs.

That leaves about 10,800 students who presumably have the appropriate credits and a high enough GPA, yet still failed at least one of the required exams. This article has slightly different numbers:

At least 15,100 seniors in Florida, including 1,800 in Broward, failed the math or reading FCAT, according to figures released Wednesday by the state Department of Education. Many of the students failed even though the state eliminated the essay part of the reading test, as well as adjusting the reading and math tests to be entirely multiple-choice.

Must be those eeeevil MCQ's. I went to the FDOE website and found the press release, which says that the percent of students not graduating solely due to the FCAT is 7%, down from 9% last year. The percent passing by school district is given here, although these numbers don't agree at all with the 150,000 number given above, so I'm a tad confused. If anyone has a definitive source on the number of those taking this exam and passing, let me know.

Now, how about those third-graders?

More Florida third-graders passed the state's reading test this year, so fewer will face the wrenching news that they could be kept out of fourth grade, according to test results the state released Wednesday. Reading scores improved for the fourth year in a row for third-graders, who by law can be held back if they fail. Sixty-seven percent now read at or above grade level, the highest percentage ever, compared to 57 percent in 2001...

Only 20 percent of the state's third-graders failed the reading section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year, down from 22 percent last year and 29 percent four years ago.

Although more than 40,500 students now face being held back, in the past nearly half of the third-graders who failed FCAT moved to fourth grade anyway. They either passed another state test after a summer "reading camp," showed class work that proved they can read or met some of the state's limited exemptions to the retention law.

Posted by kswygert at 03:23 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Go north, young educator

Are educators swarming to Canada for tips on effective education?

School superintendent Angus McBeath has lost track of how many educators from the United States have hopped a plane north in search of answers.

Folks from "Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Boston, Milwaukee, Atlanta ..." His list goes on.

Administrators, school board members and lawmakers have beaten a well-worn path from U.S. schools to this district on the western plains of Canada. Edmonton Public Schools have won accolades for their unique school choice program and decentralized power structure. And that has educators from Hawaii to Minnesota flocking to Edmonton, hoping to learn the secret of its success. Some have sought advice from the book author who set off the stampede.

Let's see, how many of these rules of success do we think the US teachers' unions and adminstrative educrats will go for? (Emphases mine.)

The district has excelled at customer satisfaction, winning high marks from parents, students and staff by providing a wide range of education options, offering families the freedom to select any school and empowering principals to tailor spending to their schools' specific needs... Meadowlark Christian School, each class spends 10 minutes on a devotion. Students use the time to read scripture or pray...

...The schools in Edmonton are unique, and so are their budgets. The central office doesn't dictate how schools spend their money. Principals decide how many teachers to hire, what training to offer and even whether the school's walls need painting. If they do, the principal can hire district painters or seek a lower price in the private sector...

...Bibles are displayed prominently, and brightly colored alphabet posters teach students that 'A' is for angel, 'B' is for Bible and 'C' is for cross. In her first-grade classroom, Margaret MacDonald recently taught her students how to handle playground conflicts. "If someone pushes you or says something unkind, you can stop and you can say, 'Jesus help me make a good choice,'" she said...

Yeah, we're likely to see changes like that here soon. Debate is still ongoing about the academic effectiveness of such tactics, from critics who say the school's test scores aren't too good, to supporters who note that the schools are doing better than other schools with similar populations.

Posted by kswygert at 12:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

School administrators juggle the numbers

Wizbang has the scoop on mismanaged school funds in Massachusetts:

State Auditor Joe DeNucci issued a scathing report yesterday on the Everett Public Schools that depicts a free-spending superintendent who blew school cash on homecoming, football and questionable consultants with little regard for bidding and other spending laws. The far-reaching 85-page audit - following a Herald report on the troubled school system - reveals a school business office rife with phony bids and other procurement shenanigans, unlicensed teachers in the classroom and a district overseen by a rubber-stamp school committee.

I'm not sure which Boston Herald article is referred to here, but the staff of the BH certainly can't say enough bad things about the school district:

Yesterday Auditor Joe DeNucci's office confirmed in an 87-page report what we have suspected all along - that the administration of the Everett Public Schools is a cesspool.

I'd say "cesspool" is an appropriate word for a school district that spent $59K on $59,000 "lettering football team helmets, data processing, set-up for a homecoming parade and various painting projects" instead of MCAS tutoring. Think that school district didn't need any tutoring? Think again.

Posted by kswygert at 12:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"When I say 'get dressed for school', I mean actually put some clothes on!"

OK, I'm not a parent, but I've been to the mall recently, and I call BS on these complaints:

Midriff-baring shirts, low-rise pants, pajamas and slippers will all be off limits this fall for thousands of student in Modesto. So, what will students wear? Several students that KCRA-TV in Sacramento talked with said they don't know what they will wear when the new dress code rules go into effect because almost everything in their closet does not comply with the dress code. Violating the dress code can draw a suspension.

"I think it is ridiculous. Everywhere you shop, there is nothing to get," said student Ashley Taylor. Student Alexis Thompson said the new school rules will wipe out her current wardrobe. "I will probably have to buy all new clothing for next year. It is going to be hard because pretty much all the stores sell lingerie," Thompson said.

I agree that stores tend to sell tummy-baring pants and shirts, but that's not all they're selling (for example, Delia's, whose clothes I used to fit into, has plenty of adorable stuff that doesn't show that much skin). It's not so much a case of students having nothing to wear as students having nothing of the latest, sexier trends to wear. Sounds like high time for parents to point out that perhaps such trendy wear, if it's bought at all, could be more appropriate for after-school events.

And pajama pants and slippers? Or boxer shorts showing under the pants? To school? Please. I know I sound like the world's most crotchety old fart here, but I would never have gotten away with wearing anything weird or risque in high school just by using the excuse, "Well, that's what's in style now!"

After all, here's at least one promgoer who managed to find an outfit that sounds sophisticated, yet age-appropriate. Oh, okay, yes, it's a guy wearing the black dress in this situation - but I bet he was dressed less skimpily than some of the girls at the same prom.

Posted by kswygert at 07:39 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 11, 2005

How Newsweek chose "the best"

Newsweek has compiled a list of the 1,000 Best High Schools in the US. High schools were selected using only the following ratio:

Newsweek's Best High Schools List uses a ratio, the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken by all students at a school in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors. Although that doesn't tell the whole story about a school, it's one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students' readiness for higher-level work, which is more crucial than ever in the postindustrial age.

Blogger Michael Kantor is incredulous:

Why is this list bogus? Because the sole criterion for ranking schools is the average number of Advanced Placement (AP) test taken per student. The grades on the AP tests don’t even matter! Nor do any other measures of academic achievement obtained by the school’s students. If people ever start taking this list seriously, this will create the obvious incentive for high schools to game the system in ways that do nothing to improve the quality of their education.

Even worse, schools that have competitive admissions are excluded, so genuine top public high schools like Stuyvesant High School (“noted for its many accomplished alumni, its rigorous academics, and for sending the most students to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of any public school in the United States”) are completely ignored.

The staff of the St. Petersburg Times are a tad surprised, too, as one of the schools making the Top Ten, Hillsborough High School, got a D from the state:

The Newsweek list is based on a single factor: the number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. The students don't have to do well on the tests either. It matters only that they take them.

Test scores? No.

Graduation rates? Nope.

Closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities? Forget it.

Critics say the formula is simplistic. For example, a school's rank can actually improve if it has a high dropout rate.

(Via The Volokh Conspiracy.)

Posted by kswygert at 04:19 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

When "unruly" reaches a whole new level

The Boston Globe practices the fine art of understatement, as they note schools are now reserving separate rooms for training "unruly" students:

A first-grader attacked the teacher with scissors. Another flung a chair across the classroom. Several students kicked, cursed, and punched their way into such a frenzy that teachers had to hold them down.

The usual punishments -- trips to the principal's office, parent meetings, and, finally, suspending them from school -- were not working. This year, Lowell teachers took action: They took seven of the school system's most disruptive children, who were also some of its youngest, and put them in a separate classroom where the pupils are taught how to behave.

With a mix of counseling, strict classroom rules, and plenty of adult oversight, the program aims to help the misbehaving pupils without interrupting their classmates' lessons.

The program is commendable, although I'd say the students described above need a lot of help before they could even be described as "unruly." Violent and disturbed sounds more like it.

It's interesting, too, that the program's inception demonstrates that some Boston administrators understand the beneficial aspects of strict classroom rules, yet we constantly hear teachers espouse the need for classrooms with lax or no rules, where students can feel free to "express themselves" at all times. I believe these kinds of teachers have a stunning lack of understanding of human nature, as we can see with the children who express themselves by hurling chairs.

This isn't happening just in Boston, either:

Newton and Worcester have also instituted programs to stop disruptive behavior before students get bigger, stronger, and in more trouble in the upper grades. Most alternative programs are for high school students with discipline problems, but more school systems are searching for ways to help the youngest, said June Million, spokeswoman for the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

No one tracks the figures, but Million said a recent informal survey of 52 schools nationwide found that two-thirds of the schools were starting behavior programs for elementary school pupils or looking for ways to address the problem. The National School Safety Center also has noticed an increase in the number of elementary schools concerned about behavior among the youngest children, said Ronald Stephens, the executive director.

The NSSC's summary of recent studies on school safety can be found here.

(Via Reginleif.)

Update: I've read this post again and decided to make a modification. I agree with the commenters that it doesn't seem to be teachers, especially experienced teachers, who prefer lax discipline, and I apologize to teachers for making this comment.

I should have instead referred to the "progressive" educrats who believe in the "child-centered" education that Bill Evers so neatly skewers in this article.

Posted by kswygert at 01:53 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Teacher resigns over testing law

Devoted Reader Michael S. brought my attention to a story from his local paper:

Eighteen-year veteran Champaign Central High School mathematics teacher Kathleen Smith stunned board members by resigning as a protest, she said, against district and federal policies that force teachers to "teach to the test." During Monday's school board meeting, Smith said she's resigning because she's at odds with current standards in the district and with methods imposed on teachers by George Bush's landmark No Child Left Behind legislation.

"Each year students come to me with different skills, different strengths and different weaknesses," Smith said. "It's always a learning process. They learn about me and I learn about them. Now I find myself constrained by a mentality that says all students will learn the same material at the same pace and prove it by taking the same multiple-choice test within a given time frame. I do not believe a student's understanding of mathematical concepts can be assessed by a multiple-choice test, nor do I believe that such a test is fair for all learners," she said. "I'm resigning because I'm caught in a moral dilemma. "

Fascinating. She decided to resign immediately after Bush was re-elected this past November, but waited to make her announcement at the end of the school year.

Posted by kswygert at 01:41 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

Shaky on social studies in NYC

New York City's eighth-graders aren't distinguishing themselves in social studies:

A stunning 81% of the city's eighth-graders flunked the state's basic social studies exam last year - and the scores have gone down annually since the test debuted in 2001. The troubling spiral was disclosed by Education Department officials yesterday at a hearing on civics and social studies instruction called by the City Council's Education Committee.

"Clearly we have a crisis on our hands," said City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (D-Manhattan), who was chairwoman of the hearing and blasted educrats for having a lack of urgency about how to adequately address the problem. The failure rate for eighth-graders on a test that measures students' knowledge of basic history and government has climbed steadily from 62% in the 2001-02 school year, to 76% in 2002-03 and 81% in 2003-04.

I think the conflicting reasons given for the decline - that teachers are focusing too much on reading, or that students can't read and thus don't understand the items - are priceless. But then, I don't have a child in this public school system.

So what are these basic history and government items like? I think this is the exam they're talking about (let me know if you know otherwise), and here's one of the June 2004 exams. Forty-five MCQ's and a few open-ended items. I found the scoring key, but I don't know the cutscore, so I don't know where the standard is set.

The MCQ's aren't gimmes. They do assume that students have memorized quite a few facts about Native Americans, American history, presidential elections, US geography, and the like. Take the item below, which is well-constructed and crystal clear - but if a student doesn't know the answer, guessing is their only hope:

The Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the principle of

(1) judicial review
(2) separation of powers
(3) habeas corpus
(4) nullification

Are these questions going to be tough for kids who can't read English? Absolutely! Does that mean the test is too tough for NYC eighth-graders, or that they shouldn't be able to read on this level or answer these types of items? I'd say no, but I'm not a content expert in social studies.

Posted by kswygert at 03:16 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Testing with no consequences

An op-ed in the Amarillo Globe News misses the point (annoying free reg required):

Tests don't test how much you really know but rather how much you know about what's on that particular test on the day you take it.

How this could be construed as a critical comment is a mystery to me. Does the author have some other option in mind that, perhaps, measures how much students will know in the future? Is there some magical alternative to tests that shows how much students will know next week? And is there any kind of assessment in the world that measures something other than what's actually on the assessment? Given that the asssessment can be made as broad or narrow as desirable, it seems odd to use this as a criticism.

Teachers must teach to tests or risk lower scores, which will ultimately affect the school's standing and the teacher's job.

Let me get this straight. Teachers must teach their students the material that their employers, the school/district/state, has deemed important, and students must demonstrate that teachers have done their jobs by performing well on exams. Otherwise, the state can conclude that the teachers aren't doing their jobs. Does anyone see a problem with this? Does anyone see why the role of "teacher" should be defined in such a way as to be mutually exclusive of the tasks above?

Some percentage of the student population can express what they know more fully using media other than standard tests; e.g., written essay, oral defense or demonstration.

Of course, some of those methods are so unreliable and difficult to grade properly that one could argue that, unlike with most tests composed of multiple-choice items, some students gain higher scores through these methods purely due to measurement error.

Oddly, the article then moves from the "criticisms" above to the perfectly reasonable argument that testing followed by no corrections, or by doubling inefficient efforts, are not useful. I just find it difficult to understand why the author spends several sentences bashing tests, and then moves to:

...what companies don't talk about, and probably couldn't even if someone asked, is how they use the results of tests to improve their operations. This qualitative distinction separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Those who use test results to highlight the need for action tend to do better than those who use them to punish.

But I thought tests don't actually measure how much you know. If the tests are that flawed, why do we expect that schools who use them to "highlight the need for action" will do better than schools who don't? Was the test-bashing in the first part of the article obligatory for someone seeking his anti-NCLB credentials? Or, like many test-bashers, is this critic merely trying to redefine tests (a la his call to abolish standardized tests in his conclusion) so that schools can use them only for feedback on individual students, and not to do those unhappy comparisons from school to school, or state to state?

Posted by kswygert at 10:04 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Opposing the rules, not the exams

An in-depth article describing Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg Sternberg, and the reasons for her opposition to NCLB:

We've got better things to spend our money on," says Sternberg, explaining why she is opposed to a provision in the federal law that requires states to test students annually, beginning next year. "We won't learn anything new about our schools by giving these extra tests"...

Connecticut officials, like educators in several other states, argue that No Child Left Behind needlessly duplicates many of their own accountability measures, which were put in place long before the federal law and provide ample information about how students are performing...

Federal officials have fired back by accusing Connecticut of tolerating one of the nation's largest "achievement gaps"- the margin between low-performing minority students and high-performing white students. Spellings infuriated Connecticut officials by depicting opponents of No Child Left Behind as "un-American" in an interview for the PBS "NewsHour" program recently.

A Democrat who was named to run the Connecticut Department of Education in 2003, Sternberg says she is not opposed to standardized tests on principle. Indeed, she spent much of her 24-year career in the department developing the Connecticut Mastery Test, one of the oldest school accountability systems in the country. Her complaint is with the frequency of the tests, and how they are used by teachers.

Posted by kswygert at 09:46 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A royal scandal

More allegations about academic dishonesty and Prince Harry:

Prince Harry was a "weak" student at school whose final work for an art examination was completed by a member of staff, a former teacher at his prestigious private school alleged. Sarah Forsyth, who is claiming unfair dismissal by Eton College, also told an employment tribunal that she wrote virtually all the accompanying text for an art project submitted to external examiners by the prince, now 20.

She considered this to be "unethical and probably constituted to cheating", Forsyth -- a former art teacher at the elite school which charges more than 22,000 pounds a year -- said in a statement on Monday.

When the case began in October last year -- it was later adjourned -- Forsyth alleged she had been ordered by a school administrator to help the young royal pass his art exam.

I've blogged about this before. A scoundrel of a student, or a disgruntled dismissed teacher? Or both?

Posted by kswygert at 09:41 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 09, 2005

Too dumb to follow the rules

A University of Delaware student tries the oldie-but-goodie, "Ignorance IS an excuse!" defense:

A University of Delaware student who was suspended after he was caught cheating on a test in a corporate ethics class is suing the school to be reinstated. Frank Tenteromano, a senior, contends in his Chancery Court lawsuit filed last week that he did not know the quiz in the class Seminar in Corporate Governance was, in fact, a quiz.

He claims the class was not told it was a quiz, other students were "collaborating" and that the seminar "by its very nature, encouraged collaboration and discussion," according to the lawsuit.

Neither Tenteromano, who is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., according to a campus directory, nor his attorney, Jason Powell, of Wilmington, could be reached for comment Friday. University officials would not comment. In the school's response to the lawsuit, however, attorneys said it was clear the professor was administering a quiz on March 10.

Tentoramano's choices at this point are to be (A) so corrupt that he cheats on ethics exams, or (B) so dumb that he doesn't realize when an exam IS an exam. He's obviously gone with Plan B.

Before the university judicial system reviewed the matter, Tenteromano "boasted that he 'look(ed) forward to seeing (the University) in court' " in an e-mail, the university said...

While the other student involved received a lesser punishment, Tenteromano had three previous violations of the school's code of conduct, including for alcohol, and had been put on "deferred suspension" until graduation, according to court papers.

Verdict: Corrupt and dumb. What a winning combination.

Posted by kswygert at 08:30 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

The dumbing down of science education

The RightWingNuthouse has a lovely round-up of links relating to the dumbing down of science education in the name of multiculturalism and fundamentalism:

What is going on here? While the goals of the moonbats and idiotarians are different, the motivations behind the meddling in science curricula are similar; to bend science to fit a specific worldview. While it’s pretty easy to make fun of “monkey trials” and attempts to equate tribal shamans with medical doctors, the sad fact is that by fiddling with the way science is taught, our children are the ones who suffer the consequences.

RWN quotes liberally from the appalling Weekly Standard article, "A Textbook Case of Junk Science." There are misrepresentations, omissions, and disproportionate chunks of text...

Affirmative action for women and minorities is similarly pervasive in science textbooks, to absurd effect. Al Roker, the affable black NBC weatherman, is hailed as a great scientist in one book in the Discovery Works series. It is common to find Marie Curie given a picture and half a page of text, but her husband, Pierre, who shared a Nobel Prize with her, relegated to the role of supportive spouse. In the same series, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, is shown next to black scientist Lewis Latimer, who improved the light bulb by adding a carbon filament. Edison's picture is smaller.

Jews have been awarded 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes in science, but readers of Houghton Mifflin's fifth-grade textbooks won't get wind of that. Navajo physicist Fred Begay, however, merits half a page for his study of Navajo medicine. Albert Einstein isn't mentioned. Biologist Clifton Poodry has made no noteworthy scientific discoveries, but he was born on the Tonawanda Seneca Indian reservation, so his picture is shown in Glenco/McGraw-Hill's Life Science (2002), a middle-school biology textbook. The head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, and Nobel Laureates James Watson, Maurice H.F. Wilkins, and Francis Crick aren't named.

...and then there are downright ludicrous falsities:

Several centuries ago, some "very light-skinned" people were shipwrecked on a tropical island. After "many years under the tropical sun," this light-skinned population became "dark-skinned," says Biology: The Study of Life, a high-school textbook published in 1998 by Prentice Hall, an imprint of Pearson Education.

"Downright bizarre," says Nina Jablonski, who holds the Irvine chair of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences. Jablonski, an expert in the evolution of skin color, says it takes at least 15,000 years for skin color to evolve from black to white or vice versa. That sure is "many years." The suggestion that skin color can change in a few generations has no basis in science.

I'm not sure if I agree with RWN's Godwinizing of the argument, in which he suggests that, for example, purging the names of the three men who unlocked the secrets of DNA is remiscent of the Nazi drive to remove Jewish scientists from textbooks (and the world, for that matter). On the other hand, it's hard to understand what possibly could be the motive for leaving the names of those three men out of a biology textbook.

The WS article doesn't mention if the topic of DNA is avoided altogether, which seems impossible, or if the textbook merely jumps into the discussion of DNA without naming the men who made all the work in that area possible, which seems more likely. The textbook writers may have been determined to avoid spending too much time featuring "dead white males," but in the process they'll have helped create a cohort of culturally-illiterate students who will give blank stares when the name Francis Crick is mentioned.

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

It's all Home Depot's fault

I'm convinced that some schools don't have any actual adults running the show:

An 11-year-old boy was arrested this week for carrying ten nails in his pocket at a Rock Hill middle school and charged with carrying an unlawful weapon. Dianne McCray, assistant principal at Rawlinson Road Middle School, asked the child Wednesday what was jingling in his pocket and the student gave her the 3.5" long nails.

A school resource officer arrested him. His father picked him up and he was not taken to the police station. The father said the nails were left in his pocket after a Boy Scout outing. He says it is ridiculous that his son faces an unlawful weapon charge. He says the boy threatened no one.

Yup, you read that right - "arrested." For nails. In his pocket. Bothering no one. Does this school district just have a lot of extra cash lying around that they're hoping someone will sue for?

The school's defense seems to be that perhaps, in one explanation, the boy said they were for self-defense, though they weren't used as such:

The boy offered different explanations of why he had the nails: they were left over from a project 10 days earlier; they were for self defense because a suspicious man was seen in his neighborhood or that he needed the nails for a weekend Boy Scout outing.

His father said the nails were in pants worn on an earlier Boy Scout outing. They "were not to be used as a weapon at school." Lt. Jerry Waldrop of the Rock Hill Police Department said the nails could been used against other students. The boy "did state he had them for protection against a suspicious male in the neighborhood."

I could state that my stapler and pen were for self-protection, too; would that have put me at odds with the ridiculously-broad school rules?

Posted by kswygert at 12:28 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Skipping gym - and graduation

We all know physical education is important for young people. But this important?

Though Isabel Gottlieb is a good student, a trumpet player in the school band and holds varsity letters in three sports, she discovered last fall she was one gym class shy of having enough credits to graduate next month. She asked for a waiver, but the school wouldn't budge, telling her instead she had to drop a class to take gym.

"Why would I drop an AP biology class to take P.E.?" the 18-year-old said. "It's just not on my priority list."

The missing credit wasn't caught by the school last spring when Gottlieb's schedule was set. The class in question is called BEST, or Building Essential Skills for Tomorrow, and is required for all Bow students to graduate. At the Seattle high school Gottlieb attended before moving to Bow before her junior year, gym requirements often were waived for students in varsity sports. But those waivers aren't something Bow High School is willing to accept.

Do I think the school should have denied the diploma because a varsity sports player didn't take PE? No, but Gottlieb knew the rules and decided to do what she felt was best for her. She probably thought the school would eventually bend the rules, but it hasn't. Luckily, her college of choice will admit her with a GED.

Posted by kswygert at 12:19 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The important rules

Mark Goldblatt of NRO proposes an English exit exam:

1) Define the terms "independent clause" and "dependent clause."

2) Find the subject in the following sentence: "Many of my friends drive to school."

3) What are the three principal parts of the verb "to bite"?

4) "Jane has been dating John for two years." Is that sentence written in a present tense or a past tense?

5) "Jane has been dating John for two years." Change that sentence to the corresponding past tense.

6) What three parts of speech can an adverb modify?

7) What is the main use of a semi-colon?

8) "Jane invited John and me." "Jane invited John and I." Which is correct?

9) "He should of told me that I wasn't invited." What's the error in that sentence?

10) "Every person is entitled to their own opinion." What's the error in that sentence?

His amusing take on why such an exam is necessary:

Each question is worth ten points. If you scored below 70, you failed. More to the point, your teachers failed. They've failed you, miserably, for twelve years. Those hundreds of hours spent in classrooms with posters of William Shakespeare and Alice Walker on the walls, those hundreds of hours spent as your teachers prattled on about the joys of creative writing — those hours are worthless, utterly worthless, and you can't have them back. Those A's you received for free-verse poems, those stories you wrote to explore your feelings, those papers returned to you without a single grammatical correction — they're worthless too. You didn't learn what you should have learned, what you needed to learn.

Expect snitty rebuttals from touchy-feely educators to appear soon.

Posted by kswygert at 12:13 PM | Comments (57) | TrackBack

The lifecycles of testing

An amusing and thorough article about the rise and potential fall of standardized tests:

...the consensus is that standardized tests weren't created for such a sweeping, high-stakes purpose. Scores point out a child's strengths and weaknesses, but they don't paint a complete picture, say experts, known as psychometricians.

They cite other problems with high-stakes tests: greater motivation to cheat and the possibility that results will be distorted by overpreparation.

"That's the position of our entire field," said Steve Dunbar, head of Iowa Testing Programs, developer of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, taken by more than 350,000 Georgia kids in grades three, five and eight. "A test is just a snapshot of where that particular kid is on a particular day"..

Experts in the Lindquist Center, where test booklets are stacked high against the walls, expect No Child Left Behind to run its course. They're confident the politically driven pendulum will swing back to a more reasonable view of the value of testing. Dunbar predicts public support will wane because of results that don't seem to make sense — as when a highly regarded school like Cobb County's Walton High gets dinged for not making enough progress, which happened in 2003. (Like many Georgia high schools, Walton did not test 95 percent of its students, as the law requires.)

"The tests," Dunbar said, "will lose credibility."

Until they do, life is sweet for those schooled in test development. Testing companies, academic think tanks, public policy groups and state agencies compete for the great minds in testing, especially those that come out of the University of Iowa.

In fact, I'd say competition is fierce even for the not-so-great minds, as evidenced by the continuing employment of yours truly (heh). On the other hand, pretty much every testing company is understaffed and overworked, which is definitely "unsweet" in many ways.

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

Moving day(s)

Bloggage will be light for the next three days, as I'm in the middle of moving offices. Dang, but I've collected a lot of junk in my current-soon-to-be-former office. I'm such a packrat.

Posted by kswygert at 12:06 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

Tales of disaster

Gee, yesterday I post an article about the new SAT that many commenters disliked, and today I leave my house to discover that someone has smashed my rear-view mirror off the driver's side of my car. Hope those two events aren't related.

Anyhow, thanks to that and other personal disasters, no bloggage today. Everyone enjoy your Cinco de Mayo, and I'll be back tomorrow!

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

May 04, 2005

The "black market" of school choice in PA

I've posted before describing how my local high school is absolutely humongous. Turns out local officials are concerned, and with good reason:

"Over the past five to seven years, for many reasons, our privacy has been invaded by those who want an education in our schools, but do not live in Upper Darby and do not pay taxes in Upper Darby," testified Upper Darby Superintendent Joseph Galli. "This act of deceit must be a crime and it must be treated like a crime through the legal system. We are appealing to you, our legislators, to stiffen the laws and help us enforce them."

Upper Darby serves about 12,400 students, has the largest high school in the state and experiences growth of about 400 students a year, according to Galli. Kochman testified that enrollment jumps in recent years have made six of the district's 12 schools overpopulated...

Illegal students come in three main categories, Galli said: those with fraudulent paper work, those who maintain two residences or who have multiple occupancies, and, lastly, foreign families who stay in the country after their visa expires.

Upper Darby is absolutely stuffed with people - moderate housing prices, decent schools, and low crime rates see to that - so it doesn't surprise me to find out that the schools are stuffed as well. Upper Darby is also as multicultural as they come - the graveyard behind me has Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, Irish, and African headstones - so a foreign family of any kind wouldn't have trouble blending in. UDHS cranks out over 800 graduates a year; how they keep track of just the seniors is beyond me.

Oh ho, there's a comment about test scores in here as well:

Kochman testified that once the district finds out that a student is illegal, the process to disenroll takes months and requires the district to pay costly legal fees. The constant influx of new students who have attended multiple schools also lowers standardized test scores, according to Kochman.

Why would it take months to disenroll someone who doesn't live in that school district? That doesn't seem like something for which the school should have to fight so hard. According to this article, the law is already pretty clear, and it's the assessment part that's troublesome:

State law is clear. Students living with a nonparent are entitled to a free public education where they live if the nonparent is financially responsible for the child, and keeps the child in his or her home permanently, not just during the school year. School boards may demand proof of both, and the resident can be held liable for tuition costs for the time an ineligible child attended classes.

"The greatest challenge is that we as educators are neither trained to do investigative policing of residents, nor should we," said Joseph A. Galli, superintendent of the Upper Darby School District in Delaware County.

Volkman said Susquehanna Twp. has hired, for about $130,000 per year, three retired police officers who visit the homes where the students claim to live.

Posted by kswygert at 08:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Don't forget your карандаш номер 2!

A new revolution in Georgia - the admissions testing revolution:

In the United States, high school juniors are busy attending prep classes and memorizing lists of vocabulary words to prepare for their SAT exams. In post-Soviet Georgia, however, students aren't sure exactly what to do. This Sunday, a selected number of Georgian high school students will be taking a pilot version of a new standardized exam designed to determine which students will be admitted to the country's universities.

The actual exam will be administered in July and will mark a milestone for Georgia. Never before has a standardized national exam been linked to university admissions. Many Georgians are not sure they're going to like the new system.

That proves it - Georgians and Americans are similar! Soon to come - the kvetching, the cynicism, the cries of test bias, and (dare I say it) the ultimate capitalists, aka the test prep companies. Actually, the debate has already arrived, and it sounds remarkably similar to what we see in the US:

In March, hundreds of high school students staged hunger strikes to protest the dismantling of the old system, which had allowed many of them to begin university without taking entrance exams.

But there are also students relieved by the introduction of a new system. "Before, they would try to fail you so that you would have to pay," says 17-year-old Ilia Boss, a recent Tbilisi high school graduate. "Now you have a guarantee that you can get anywhere and study if you have knowledge."

Hunger strikes? Hard to imagine a US teen doing that (or paying a bribe, which is supposedly common). Armed guards will accompany the test forms before and after administrations, which suggests that the stakes are a tad higher in post-Soviet Georgia than here.

(Translation of "Number 2 Pencil" in the title courtesy of this site.)

(Update: "Russian" terms changed to "Georgian.")

Posted by kswygert at 08:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"Everyone's doing it" is not an excuse

I'm trying to figure out exactly what happened here:

Iowa Science test results for a seventh grade class have been invalidated and a teacher has resigned after administrators discovered he quizzed students on materials found in the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. That's according to Tim Hoffman, Adel-DeSoto-Minburn's superintendent.

Hoffman says teacher Gene Zwiefel, who had worked for the district for nearly two decades, resigned last month.

David Frisbie is director of the Iowa City-based Iowa Testing Programs Incorporated, which develops the tests. He said it's not the first time such a situation has happened. He said similar things have occurred at four other Iowa schools. He declined the name the schools.

It seems the teacher gained advance knowledge of the items and was able to coach students on them. If this problem is widespread, that suggests a real security lapse on the part of Iowa Testing Programs. On the other hand, perhaps for this exam, teachers are provided with test materials well ahead of time, and expected to refrain from using the materials in class. This suggests that ITP needs to revise its assumptions about how teachers are using this material.

Posted by kswygert at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Winning the coveted "five spork" award

A high-school student wins the hearts and minds of his fellow classmen by critiquing the tater tots:

A high school senior in Pennsylvania is drawing rave reviews for his role as the school's cafeteria critic. Rick Seltzer publishes his opinions in the school's monthly newspaper, and uses a rating system of up to five "sporks," to rate the cuisine.

Seltzer began writing the reviews as a junior at the urging of classmates, who found his rants about the cafeteria's offerings entertaining. His columns have since become some of the most-read pieces in the school's newspaper.

This part is hysterical:

However, not everyone is a fan. The school's food-service director said she would like the chance to teach him more about how the cafeteria operates.

Translation: She'd like to introduce his head to a metal tray or two. In the real world, food critics are protected by conditions of strict anonymity, but Seltzer is made (luckily) of sterner stuff.

Posted by kswygert at 06:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

How many lite scientists does it take to change a light bulb?

The Telegraph is reporting on the new, better science that British youths will be required to study:

The science that all pupils study from the age of 14 is to focus more on "lifestyles", general knowledge and opinion and less on chemistry, biology and physics, says the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. It published a "revised programme of study" that will govern the content of GCSE from 2006, to "ensure increased choice and flexibility for pupils so that they can study science relevant to the 21st century".

Instead of learning science, pupils will "learn about the way science and scientists work within society". They will "develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others' decisions about lifestyles", the QCA said...

Science content of the curriculum will be kept "lite".

Ken Boston, the QCA chief executive, said: "It is essential that the curriculum keeps pace with the changing world."

If the changing world is one that is scientifically illiterate, I'd say this'll work. I have to say, though, that unlike Ken Boston, I haven't been kept up nights obsessed with the thought that the UK was going down the tubes because its young citizens were too scientific, and not concerned enough with the softer sides of science.

What do you know? Some actual scientists have a problem with this new curriculum:

Rosemary Davies, from Save British Science, welcomed the fact that "communication issues and ethics" were on the curriculum but said: "It could well be seen as a soft option or a waste of time." Pupils might think that "all they have to do for homework is read a newspaper". She said ethical issues might be better taught in personal and social education classes than science lessons.

There's that proper British restraint for you. The Save British Science website is more blunt:

Fed up with low-paid, short-term contracts? Tired by the media portraying scientists as the baddies? Disappointed with the quality of science education? Annoyed by the government expecting more and more, while failing to provide the necessary resources?


And we're campaigning to change it all.

Posted by kswygert at 06:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Are the PATs too easy?

A testing opponent from the Far North battles on:

A long-time opponent of standardized achievement tests recently took his fight to the highest rung of Alberta’s education system, but Wayne Hampton isn’t hopeful that change is forthcoming. Hampton, principal of Lacombe Upper Elementary School, met with Education minister Gene Zwozdesky and several aides in Edmonton on April 15, to discuss the merits of Alberta’s Provincial Achievement Testing program (PATs)--a series of standardized multiple-choice tests given to students in grades 3, 6 and 9. A decision to expand the testing program to Grade 4 remains undecided.

"It’s been a very tough battle," said Hampton, who has long opposed PATs, believing they "stifle creativity and measure what’s easy rather than what’s important." He presented similar views to the Alberta Commission on Learning in 2002 and to numerous educational conferences and gatherings with parents.

"Some believe that assessment is a whole lot more than giving a kid a multiple-choice test," he said.

I agree that assessment can, and probably should, be more than that. And while I don't believe that multiple-choice exams by definition stifle creativity, I give Hampton credit for opposing the test on the grounds that the items are too easy, and not because (as we often see here) some bogus claims that certain types of students cannot possibly understand them.

Here's the website for the PATs . I took a look at the Grade 6 Math items. There are only 80 multiple-choice items, and for 50 of them, examinees can use calculators. The blueprint does not look very difficult at all (though kudos to them for introducing stats at this level).

I have to admit, this part makes me a tad suspicious:

Students who meet the acceptable standard have a positive attitude about mathematics and a sense of personal competence in using mathematics in their daily lives. They demonstrate confidence when using common mathematical procedures and when applying problem-solving strategies in familiar settings.

Is the implication here that students who are at a certain level can be assumed to think positively about math? Or is the deal that (oh, no) getting students to be "positive" about math is a goal of the exam, and is directly measured in some way on the test? Seeing phrases like "positive attitudes" and "confidence" snuck into the actual standards makes me think there's some fluffy "self-esteem" aspect being considered here, with the student's feelings about math being considered as important as their skills.

Hampton may be on to something.

Posted by kswygert at 03:06 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Putting the "boo" in Booberries

I never got gifts like this free with my cereal:

A two-foot snake found its way into a packet of breakfast cereal, it emerged today. Five-year-old Jordan Willett, from Dawley, Shropshire, discovered the live reptile inside his box of Golden Puffs on Bank Holiday Monday. His mother Theresa, who was having breakfast with her son at the time, said she initially thought it was a free gift for children. Describing the incident, the 23-year-old said: “My lad, he went to open his cereal and luckily enough I was behind him because a snake popped out."

For heaven's sakes, it was a corn snake (and for you wits out there, no, that's not because it was a corn-based cereal). They're gentle, non-venomous, and make excellent pets. I have to buy my pet snakes, and pay shipping (which is high) for them. Why don't these sorts of surprises ever go to the people who would appreciate them?


Posted by kswygert at 02:37 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Criticizing the new SAT

The Instaman links to a NYT article that expresses doubts about the SAT's new essay section:

In March, Les Perelman attended a national college writing conference and sat in on a panel on the new SAT writing test. Dr. Perelman is one of the directors of undergraduate writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did doctoral work on testing and develops writing assessments for entering M.I.T. freshmen. He fears that the new 25-minute SAT essay test that started in March - and will be given for the second time on Saturday - is actually teaching high school students terrible writing habits...

In the next weeks, Dr. Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to high schools nationwide to prepare students for the new writing section. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board Web site meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing "anchor" samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.

To be honest, I don't find this surprising. The SAT essay focuses on quality of writing, not quality of facts therein, and one could argue that someone who misstates the date of the first shot of the Civil War, but who can string together 400 words about it, deserves a much higher score than someone who, in 25 minutes, can't manage more than 100 words. Granted, length should not be the only predictor - and examinees should not be able to game the system by scribbling down pure nonsense - but I'm not as horrified by this as Professor Perelman.

Should lengthy prose with wrong facts be the goal of writing courses? Of course not. But the SAT in and of itself does not control how students in the US learn to write, nor should it. The SAT isn't about separating the brilliant from the very good, and its essay, in particular, seems to be geared towards separating out those who can write about something, even if their facts aren't perfect, from those who can't string together complete sentences at all. Colleges are, unfortunately, seeing more and more of those in the second camp, and this is the problem for which the SAT essay was developed.

Scott J. at Inside Highered Ed presents a report by the National Council of Teachers of English that is highly critical of the SAT essay:

The SAT and ACT timed writing tests are “unlikely to improve writing instruction,” and have the potential to “compromise student writers and undermine longstanding efforts to improve writing instruction in the nation’s schools,” according to “The Impact of the SAT and ACT Timed Writing Tests,” a report from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Task Force on SAT and ACT Writing Tests.

The task force’s findings relate to both the new SAT essay and the new essay component of the ACT (which, being optional, is expected to have less of an impact). The report raises serious concerns about the validity of the tests as an indication of writing ability, the impact of the tests on curriculum and classroom instruction, the unintended consequences of the writing tests, and issues of equity.

Given that the essay section was developed because young men and women were graduating from high school with no writing skills whatsover, it's disheartening to see the NCTE latch onto this essay - which has been operational for a grand total of two months - as though it, and it alone, can really bring down writing education in the US. The College Board says as much:

Officials of both the College Board and ACT strongly disputed the assertions of the report.

Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the College Board, said she wouldn’t even call the report representative of the English teachers’ association. She noted that many members of the group are involved in College Board committees related to the SAT and not only support, but have helped to develop, the writing test.

Coletti said that the College Board has never claimed that the writing test is capable of testing skills in creative writing or producing a research paper. But she said that the new writing test is valuable for what it does do — give colleges a way to compare the writing skills of students nationally.

She also rejected the idea that the test will hurt existing writing instruction in high schools. She noted recent studies that suggest that most high schools don’t do a good job of teaching writing. “It’s hard to understand why the task force would fear that this would take time away from high quality writing instruction,” Coletti said. “There’s not that much of it going on.”


The full report is here. It does claim that the writing portion of the exam does not appear to add much in the way of predictive validity for the SAT, but the College Board data on this has not been released. Also, while the NCTE report addresses the SAT 's predictive validity, they do not acknowledge that the predictive power of the SAT can differ widely from university to university, nor do they mention that restriction of range can lower the correlations.

It seems to me, then that the brouhaha about the essay section is no different from the criticisms that swirl around the SAT as a whole. The critics do not want to admit that (a) the essay may be useful even if all it does is separate the horrible from the mediocre, (b) the SAT does not set the standard for education in the US, even though the test is used in college admissions, and (c) the SAT may be highly predictive at one school and not at another. I'd say the jury is still out on the essay section, and I'll be sure to post the College Board's report when the data are made public.

Update: A fellow psychometrician reminded me that what could be going on here is that length is co-occuring with performance, so that those who write well, and more accurately, may also be writing more. All that Dr. Perlman is quoted as saying is that length is correlating highly with score, but that doesn't mean that the quality of the writing is not driving both.

One commenter asks:

How would you address a more usual case, a student who writes an essay filled with factual errors as lengthy as and no better or worse constructed than one who writes one that isn't?

I would hope that the one with fewer factual errors gets a higher score. Nothing presented by Dr. Perlman suggests that this could not happen, only that some factual errors are occuring in even the highest-scoring essays. Judges are asked not to count off for small factual errors, but I would hope judges are asked to count off when what is written is so incorrect so as to not make sense.

Is this a perfect writing test? Of course not, and the fact that it counts for only 25% of the grade of the exam reflects that. But what would a "perfect" writing test be in the context of the SAT? The exam is already under attack for its length. Testing critics already attack every multiple-choice item for alleged cultural bias, which makes both prompt development and grading standards for them tricky. The test score gap is already controversial enough without introducing a segment of the test to measure anything except basic skills. This essay represents a compromise among all of these constraints and the complaints that the SAT has not previously been useful enough in helping colleges determine writing skills.

If the College Board's data suggest that the essay segment adds nothing over and above the MCQ's on the exams, I would hope that the essays would be discontinued. Unlike others I have quoted here, I am willing to say that the jury is still out.

Update #2: On the other hand, as Opinion Journal points out, perhaps the issues with the new SAT essay prove that it is useful at measuring real-world skills:

Perelman's recommendation for students preparing for the SAT: "I would advise writing as long as possible, and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." That's also good advice for those who want to go to work for Dan Rather at CBS's "120 Minutes."

Roger Simon (and his commenters) seems to agree.

Update #3 : I think some of you are misinterpreting my statements above; in particular:

Colleges are, unfortunately, seeing more and more of those in the second camp, and this is the problem for which the SAT essay was developed.

I did not mean to suggest that I think the essay portion of the SAT was designed to actually improve student performance. In fact, I've gone on record many times as saying that testing does not, in and of itself, improve performance. The SAT essay is a response to the UC complaints, and it appears to be a response to the widespread complaints about writing skills. Some of you are far more cynical than I about the College Board's purpose in adding this segment, and that's fine. But please don't rush to interpret a statements like the one above as evidence that I think the SAT will improve writing. I said nothing of the sort.

Posted by kswygert at 11:43 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Charter schools going screwy in St. Louis

It's happened before in public schools; now it's happening in charter schools as well:

A local charter school principal has lost her job after accusations she altered state exams. Cheryl Ray was dismissed from the St. Louis Charter Academy's south campus.

Ray allegedly ordered teachers to return standardized tests to students so they could complete answers they didn't finish in time. Ray's firing comes just one day after a teacher at the school's north campus was charged with assaulting a third grade student. That teacher resigned Monday.

Presumably, this will be more grist for the "tests force people to cheat" mill. The assault charges, however, suggest that the problems at this school run far deeper than the exams:

A 9-year-old student at St. Louis Charter Academy on Linton says Wendell Goins, a teacher at the school, dragged him across a floor and choked him after another student claimed the nine year old was picking on him...Goins' conduct has been addressed before. "His voice is a little loud and we've instructed him to lower his voice when he is talking to the children", says Reverend Solomon Williams, a Board member...

Goins is on administrative leave without pay. As of Monday night he had not turned himself in. His mother, Sandra, a board member at the school, declined to comment.

Note, however, that both Goins and Ray are looking for other work. Would parents have seen such swift justice within the public school system? Doubtful. It remains to be seen if the school's sponsor, University of Missouri-Rolla, will shut the place down; other schools are waiting for similar axes to fall:

A St. Louis charter school will appeal to the state today for what may be its last chance to stay open next year. The Thurgood Marshall Academy has had a rough five years - a board president indicted on felony theft, a principal removed for handcuffing a kindergartner, test scores worse than city schools and, expected this summer, the loss of its sponsor.

Now, the school on Goodfellow Boulevard in St. Louis has another shot. Today, it will ask the state Board of Education to sponsor it and its 1,000 students. Without a sponsor, Thurgood will close before next fall. But Missouri education department officials have told the board not to sponsor the troubled school. Advertisement

"The department has reviewed the Thurgood Marshall Academy's application and finds that it is not in compliance" with state law, state staffers wrote in the recommendation to the board. The school didn't submit a curriculum, a three-year financial plan, or a clear description of academic standards, said Jocelyn Strand, the state's chief of charter schools.

Again - while it's sad to see the schools going so poorly, it's good to see schools shut down, or faculty dismissed, when the performance is not adequate.

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The right to speak up

Two students who were suspended in the '60's for wearing black anti-war armbands to school are now hitting the trail, informing today's students of their constitutional rights:

John and Mary Beth Tinker are back in a classroom in their hometown, once again wearing black armbands and drawing attention to a war. Now in their 50s, the siblings are living symbols of constitutional rights for secondary school students. In 1965, they and a handful of others were suspended for wearing black armbands to their public schools here to protest the Vietnam War. The Tinkers and another student, Christopher Eckhardt, took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1969 they won the landmark ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District that wearing such an armband in school was symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment as long as school was not substantially disrupted.

Alyssa Mowitz, left, and Caitlin Sims speak with John Tinker at Central Academy. He is an activist for peace as well as free-speech rights.
—Photo by Steve Pope“All of us are concerned about the war in Iraq,” Mary Beth tells a group of about 90 middle and high school students at Central Academy, a public magnet school where students take Advanced Placement courses and other specialized offerings.

Her brother is more direct. “We’re in the middle of a war that many, many people think is illegal,” he says about the U.S. military operation in Iraq. He will say several times in four public appearances over two days in Iowa last month that while Saddam Hussein was “a bad guy,” the war is all about controlling resources such as oil.

Let's hope the students learn from this that they have the right to speak out in support of the war as well.

Posted by kswygert at 09:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What's the secret to high-flying education?

The National Center for Educational Accountability is seeking the answer to why some schools do better than others:

Over the past decade, an explosion of data on student performance has generated increasing attempts to identify what have been dubbed high-flying schools and learn from them...But the investigations here in Illinois, and in other states affiliated with the Austin, Texas-based National Center for Educational Accountability’s best-practices studies, stand out on several fronts.

...Rather than drawing on the experiences of a handful of high performers, by the end of this year, the NCEA and its state affiliates will have conducted such case studies in more than 400 schools in 17 states, supported in part by a $1.2 million grant from the Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation....

To probe what sets high-performing schools apart from others, the NCEA has designed a best-practices framework that forms the basis for structured interviews with district administrators, principals, and teachers. Underlying the framework, said Ms. Rutherford, are clear and specific academic goals for students, rooted in state content standards. “That clearly has emerged,” she said, “as the bedrock foundation: this penetrating, deep understanding of what it is children are to know and be able to do and how to connect it across grades.”

Oooh, there's that scary "S" word again - standards. Too many schools avoid them, and fail to learn from the actions of the successful St. Louis Belleville School District:

Clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do are communicated through a grade-by-grade skills continuum that the district updates regularly. District exit tests, given at the end of each year and crafted and refined by committees of classroom teachers, measure whether students are learning those objectives. Any changes in the curriculum flow through a district curriculum committee, which meets monthly and includes representatives from every grade and school.

That sounds about as far from the child-centered, anti-testing, free-flowing, "the teacher is your friend" model as one can get. Which is why it works so well.

This caveat, while realistic, seems pessimistic:

Although most education analysts agree that it’s important to identify and learn from high-performing schools, others caution against concluding that schools alone can close achievement gaps between students of different racial and social backgrounds.

“Some schools do a much better job with disadvantaged children than other schools,” said Richard Rothstein, the author of Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic, and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap. “I think we know a little bit about what their best practices are, and those should be duplicated and imitated.” Still, he added, “too many people are quick to conclude that because some schools do better than others, therefore, schools can close the achievement gap on their own. There’s no evidence for that.”

Where's the evidence that schools shouldn't try everything in their powers to close that gap? Imitating the successful schools might be the most efficient way of doing that.

Posted by kswygert at 09:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Professors gone wild

When tenure is denied, frustrated professors explode - and disrobe:

The scholar was well liked and well published, according to the e-mail that arrived last week, but he was denied tenure in April. And then he lost it. One day on campus, he started shouting expletives about the university administration (some versions of the story have this taking place in a class; others do not). He then moved into a hallway, continuing to shout and removing his clothes, taking leaflets off the walls. At some point, he was subdued by campus security officers...

...while people don’t like to talk about it, professors suffer breakdowns [when denied tenure].

“I’m surprised this kind of things doesn’t happen more often,” said Cary Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a frequent writer about the way academe treats junior faculty members and graduate students. “So much of the system makes people feel utterly powerless,” he said.

Nelson said that he knew of one professor (not at Illinois) who suffered a breakdown after he was denied tenure, and responded in part by stripping naked and climbing into a college building by hauling himself up a wall, holding onto ivy, and climbing in. The professor was eventually able to reverse the decision and to win tenure...

Nelson of Illinois said that the system is sufficiently “crazy” that one can’t help but lose faith in it...In such an environment, he said, it’s not irrational for a tenure candidate to be less than rational. “We badly need more sanity in the tenure process,” he said. “Sometimes the paranoia is merited.”

There are some who would say that creating "more sanity in the tenure process" could best be done by eradicating tenure altogether.

Posted by kswygert at 05:19 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Making a run for it

My fellow Bridezillas and I have been cackling over the Runaway Bride newstory. Myself, I think anyone insane enough to plan a wedding with 14 bridesmaid should be committed on the spot (and I believe the Manolo, he agrees with me), but then, I'm procrastinating the organization of a wedding that will have a mere 22 attendees (including Dave and I). I recently heard that Donald Trump had only 500 guests at his wedding, while the Wilbanks shindig allegedly had planned for at least 100 more than that. Tip: When your guest list is longer than Donald Trump's, it's time for an intervention.

Wizbang has the round-up on the latest media coverage of the crazy wouldn't-be bride and her devoted fiance, who supposedly still wants to marry his little marathon runner (and serial fiancee). Unrepentant Individual sums it up best with a post entitled, "This Ain't Baseball; One Strike Is Enough":

One of my (undisclosed) rules while engaged was that if my wife had ever called off the wedding or given back the ring, that was it. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, I’m right out the door. I’m tremendously thankful I was never in the position where I had to make that choice. But I’ve seen it happen to others.
Posted by kswygert at 12:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sauce for the goose

From the, "They Can Dish It Out But Not Take It" category:

College administrators have been enthusiastic supporters Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues and schools across the nation celebrate “V-Day” (short for Vagina Day) every year. But when the College Republicans at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island rained on the celebrations of V-Day by inaugurating Penis Day and staging a satire called The Penis Monologues, the official reaction was horror. Two participating students, Monique Stuart and Andy Mainiero, have just received sharp letters of reprimand and have been placed on probation by the Office of Judicial Affairs. The costume of the P-Day “mascot” — a friendly looking “penis” named Testaclese, has been confiscated and is under lock and key in the office of the assistant dean of student affairs, John King.

The P-Day satirists are the first to admit that their initiative is tasteless and crude. But they rightly point out that V-Day is far more extreme. They are shocked that the administration has come down hard on their good-natured spoof, when all along it has been completely accommodating to the in-your-face vulgarity of the vagina activists.

As opposed to the brainless, over-emotional, fluffy way in which college women are asked to celebrate their hoo-has, the P-Day fliers were more, er, intellectual:

The campus conservatives artfully (in the college sense of "artful") mimicked the V-Day campaign. They papered the school with flyers that said, “My penis is majestic” and “My penis is hilarious.” The caption on one handout read, “My Penis is studious.” It showed Testaclese reclining on a couch reading Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America.

Hee hee hee. Further proof that college PC warriors have no sense of humor. Meanwhile, Christina Sommers' closing argument, while accurate, certainly makes modern college campuses sound like something out of Bizarro World:

Unhappily, P-Day may be the only effective means of countering V-Day with all its c-fests, graphic lollipops, intrusive questionnaires, outsized effigies of vaginas and its thematic anti-male play. The prospect of public readings from P-Monologues on campuses around the country just might be the reductio ad absurdum that could drive the vagina warriors to the bargaining table.

Thank God my parents sent me to college to learn marketable skills, and not to become a "vagina warrior."

(Via Moonbat Central.)

Posted by kswygert at 12:23 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

The mysteries of standard setting

The standardized testing version of 12 Angry Men is 72 Standard Setters:

About six dozen people whom you have never met sequestered themselves in a suburban motel late last month and decided whether your son and daughter will graduate from high school. Like a jury choosing between guilt and innocence, members of the panel weighed evidence, deliberated in private, agreed on a conclusion and then parted ways.

But instead of determining responsibility for a particular piece of mayhem or murder, these citizens gave their time to decide the grading scale for the new Ohio Graduation Test, which students will have to pass before leaving high school to get a diploma...

The public usually learns of pass-fail scores for state tests - or "cut scores," in education lingo - when those scores first come before the State Board of Education. That will happen next Tuesday, when the committee's recommendations are considered by the 19-member state board. Whatever pass-fail scale the board eventually adopts will be used to score the test that the state's 10th-graders took in March.

But most Ohioans - including most teachers and administrators - have little idea of the process that determines the thin line between passing and failing.

But I'm sure they realize that, as Arizona State University researcher Gene Glass says, once the committee derives the criterion-referenced cutscore, the state gets to "fiddle" with it to get a standard that is politically popular (and yes, this does make it more of a norm-referenced cutscore at that point).

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Driving the talented away

Where you might see a regrettable (but unsystematic) lack of competent teachers, Steven Miller spies a conspiracy:

That teaching, by and large, no longer attracts exceptional applicants, is clear. A recent study by three University of Maryland economists found that the likelihood of highly talented females becoming teachers fell from roughly 20 percent in 1964 to just over 11 percent in 2000...the Educational Testing Service found that those indicating they intended to become teachers score near the bottom among those taking the ETS tests.

So what accounts for the increasing flight of talented women from teaching?...Now, such an approach to the question has been produced by Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby and Australian economist Andrew Leigh. And their important new study strongly suggests that, on this question, the conventional wisdom has been quite wrong.

Economists call it pay “compression” when salary schedules require those with the highest aptitude to earn no more than those with the lowest. Since the 1960s the rise of collective bargaining within education has brought increasing compression to the pay scales of public school teachers.

Moreover, teachers under collective bargaining contracts—here in Nevada and around most of the U.S.—are not compensated according to how well they teach. Instead, school districts are required under their union contracts to compensate teachers according to years on the job and number of (often irrelevant) academic credits. In consequence, teaching in America is the one profession where pay has been essentially decoupled from performance.

And it is this decoupling, say Hoxby and Leigh, which has been the biggest factor, by far, in the flight of high-aptitude women from the field of public-school teaching.

Posted by kswygert at 11:08 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Keeping parents out of sex ed

In Maryland, the Montgomery County Public Schools attempted to pilot a sex-ed program that barred parents from the classroom. It seems they've now reversed course on that controversial decision:

A Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman said yesterday that the district will not bar parents from sitting in on a sex-ed course that begins this week, and that they never intended to. "Parents of kids in those classes will be allowed [in]," said spokesman Brian Edwards, contradicting statements he made days before to The Washington Times. In a phone interview Friday, Mr. Edwards, who has been with the school district since November, said "no" when asked whether parents would be allowed to audit the sex-ed classes.

"When you're talking about a sensitive topic like this, and you're relying on the trust you've built up with your students, it's probably not advisable" to have parents in the class, he told The Times. Yesterday, however, the district's public relations chief reversed field, telling The Times and other local news organizations that parents would be barred only if their behavior was disruptive or disturbing to school operations...

The pilot class begins Thursday at Springbrook, Seneca Valley and Bethesda Chevy-Chase high schools, and White Oak Middle School. The course will begin testing at Tilden and Martin Luther King middle schools later this month. In November, the county school board voted unanimously to approve a tryout of the new curriculum.

The curriculum, which was slightly revised last month, defines one's sexual identity as including sex identity, which is "a person's internal sense of knowing whether he or she is male or female." The instruction also says, "Most experts in the field have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice."

Also, households with same-sex parents are identified among nine types of families. Next to that listing, a new phrase has been inserted as instruction to teachers -- not students. It reads in parentheses: "This should not be interpreted as same-sex marriage."

Leaving aside the topics taught for a moment, why on earth would the school have thought they could get away with barring parents from auditing a sex-ed course, especially considering that the school district's official policy encourages classroom visits?

(Via Powerline.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Homeschooling round-up

Reader Max G. sends along a pair of links from Right Reason. I can't say I've done much reading in "philosophical conservatism," but over at RR they've got things to say about homeschooling. Graeme Hunter praises homeschooling parents for carrying the torch that could save civilization (again), while Roger Scruton believes homeschooling is one link in the chain of moving kids from public to private schools.

Steve Kellmeyer claims that homeschooling is not "a good fit for the modern family," but he's not damning homeschooling - he's damning society for making the modern family sterile and ignorant.

The battle for state regulation of homeshooled education goes on, with Utah passing a bill that gives parents more control over, and privacy about, what they teach.

Are you a homeschooling parent tired of hearing the accusation that your kids can't possibly be "well-socialized"? Finally, some research to back you up.

Posted by kswygert at 10:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Learning to compete

A Denver School Board member is brutally honest:

Charter schools have lured thousands of students from area public schools by offering incentives and recruiting intensively. "We know we won't have any kids if we don't do it," said Kay Frunzi, who runs Denver's Wyatt-Edison Charter School.

Their success has cost district budgets thousands of dollars and forced some principals and school boards to consider how to compete....

School board members and principals are waking up to a market-driven climate, and trying to figure out how to compete. It's critical because in Denver, for example, each student is worth $6,500 in funding to a school. Charters have found niches in the marketplace and have responded to what parents want, said Theresa Pea, a Denver School Board member.

"We (DPS) haven't caught up with that," she said. "We will need to give our principals more training and capacity to handle this. Some of them have never been in the business environment where they have to compete."

Is it any wonder that the charter school movement has caught them off guard? I couldn't find too much on the Wyatt-Edison Charter School online, but they did donate to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Posted by kswygert at 10:25 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack