June 30, 2005

The plight of the good C- student

Board members in Enfield, CT, are depressed about the idea of exit exams:

Members of the Board of Education don't want to base high school graduation requirements on test scores, but they have no choice in the matter. State law mandates that school systems craft graduation standards beginning in 2006 based in part on the results of the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, a test given annually to high school sophomores. In response, the school board Tuesday discussed revisions to the current graduation policy that would make high school graduation contingent on meeting testing requirements...

Currently, a student must earn a minimum of 22 credits and maintain at least a C-minus average to graduate. Roger Jones, school board member, expressed dismay about changing the policy.

"It's just not right," Jones said. "You've got a poor kid who works hard, a good C-student, and they're just not good test takers, and it winds up they can't get a diploma."

Does the CAPT measure what Jones' think high-school graduates should know? Perhaps not. But if it does, then any student who doesn't pass the exam shouldn't get a diploma. Otherwise, students will receive CT high school diplomas based on effort, not achievement.

The draft policy, which received a first reading Tuesday, includes several opportunities for students to meet the testing requirements. According to the draft policy, students would receive diplomas if they demonstrate proficiency in math and in either reading or writing by scoring a 3 or higher on the CAPT -- or scoring at least 430 on the math and verbal sections of the SAT.

They also could meet the graduation standards by scoring an 18 or higher on the reading and math sections of the ACT, a standardized test similar to the SAT. Students who are unable to achieve the minimum scores on the CAPT or SAT will have the opportunity to take proficiency tests developed by the school system in math and reading.

In other words, the district will bend over backwards to help any kid who struggles with the CAPT. But please note that minimum SAT scores given above identify students who are in the 23rd and 21st percentiles, respectively - and if they can't manage that, they get to take yet another test designed by the school system.

If the district has any faith in tests at all, at some point, they'll have to admit that grade inflation can produce students with C- averages who really don't know enough to earn a high-school diploma. If they're not willing to deny any of those "good C-" students a diploma, then they shouldn't bother with the tests at all.

By the way, we're not talking about large numbers of kids who can't pass the testing gauntlet:

Assistant Superintendent Anthony Torre said the school system has been tracking testing performances for incoming seniors.

He said parents of students who have not yet met the requirements have been notified. Torre said only nine students at Fermi High School have yet to achieve a required score on one of the testing options. He did not have figures for Enfield High School.

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June 29, 2005

A limited tolerance for zeroes

Despite the recent Praxis flap, it's apparent that at least some teachers understand mathematical concepts like averages:

Some teachers, aware of the devastating effects that one zero can have on a student’s final grade and recognizing the string of perfect scores necessary to negate it, have simply stopped logging zeros. Instead, at some schools, the lowest score students can receive is as high as 50 or 60 – even if they don’t turn in assignments.

The practice challenges a long-held philosophy that if you don’t do the work, you don’t get the grade.

In an article for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan , Douglas Reeves wrote that a zero for work that is not turned in is punished much more severely than work “that is done wretchedly and is worth a D.”

And Reeves' problem with that is? Certainly, a student might have a valid reason for not turning in an assignment, and teachers should have the freedom to extend deadlines. But to simply blow off an assignment shows contempt for the teacher and the class, and students should suffer the consequences. What's more, if a struggling student knows that the difference between (a) ignoring an assignment and (b) struggling with the assignment and failing at it is a mere 10 points or so, why do the assignment at all?

And speaking of math, note that a school board member had to provide a specific example so everyone could understand the concept that averages are affected by outliers:

Virginia Beach School Board member Emma L. Davis offered this example: Consider trying to find the average temperature over five days and recording 85, 82, 83 and 86, then forgetting a day and recording 0. The average temperature would be 67, a figure that does not accurately show the weather from that week.

If those temperatures were grades, a student would fail after consistently earning B’s and C’s.

Pardon my French, but no s--t. But if there are only five assignments in a semester or school year, and a student completely blows off one of them (or 20%, for those math-challenged folks), one could argue that the student deserves to fail the class. If I blew off one-fifth of what my boss asked me to do, I'd be looking for a new job pretty soon. Yes, some students will forget to turn things in, and teachers should be prepared to deal with that in a non-punitive way (constant reminders, stretching deadlines a tad, etc.) But a student who just doesn't bother to turn something in? Stamp a big ol' red zero in the grade book and move on.

I agree that, in the example above, the grade of 67 above is not necessarily a good estimator of the student's overall ability, if we assume that the zero assignment was not missed due to lack of understanding. However, we often hear that it's important for teachers to be able to grade the effort of students in the class, and when it comes to students who don't make an effort, I wholeheartedly agree with the zero approach.

Posted by kswygert at 03:50 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Rest in Peace

Lawrence Simon, who organized the famous Carnival of the Cats and has made his pet kitties famous through catcams, has suffered a grievous loss. One of his kitties, the majestic and tyrannical Edloe, recently passed away. Condolences can be made here.

I don't even want to think about the day when I lose one of my cats.

Posted by kswygert at 02:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

My day

If anyone wonders why I've been posting up a storm today, it's because I was worked from home. My skin, which is more sensitive to slights than a Kerry-voting PETA supporter, reacted badly to the sunscreen I slathered on it Sunday. A neck-to-ankles rash didn't keep me home from work yesterday, but I was so uncomfortable in my turtleneck and long sleeves that I figured I'd work from home today and let my skin recover. Thank God for Caladryl.

In addition to the multitude of posts, I had to finish up my talk for the upcoming International Meeting of the Psychometric Society in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Practice talk is tomorow, real talk is next Tuesday at 4 pm (Tilburg time), and I'm fretting away. (The title of my talk is, "A hierarchical linear model approach for modeling item response times on a large-scale certification exam,” should you care).

Staying home today, I reverted to my old graduate schools ways, which was to procrastinate madly through housework. So, in addition to the blogging and the presentation, I washed eight loads of clothes, de-cat-haired the sofas and the rugs, vacuumed the whole house, and cleaned the bathroom. Boy, this place was a sty - and it will revert to styhood by the time I return from my trip, but I suppose that can't be helped. To plagiarize Dave Barry, my fiance, like most men, doesn't notice dirt until it forms clumps large enough to support plant life.

Posted by kswygert at 08:39 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

A stampede of new scholars in Harlem

City Journal notes that a cohort from one Harlem charter school is ready - and well-prepared - for the trials and tribulations of middle-school:

Seventy-three kids who entered Sisulu-Walker as kindergarteners in 1999 left as newly minted fifth-grade graduates last week. The school has now educated part of New York’s first small generation of elementary charter-school kids. And the kids have done well...

A full 90 percent of those fifth-graders could read at or above grade level this year. By contrast, only 69 percent of the fifth-graders who attended the regular public schools citywide did as well. In math, 77 percent of Sisulu-Walker’s kids scored well, compared with 54 percent of regular public-school kids.

Sisulu is a public school, but not one run by the city. Each New York charter school receives about 70 percent of the public funding that a traditional public school gets. Each school must rent its own space; Sisulu’s kids learn in makeshift classrooms owned by a neighborhood church. Sisulu-Walker chose its inaugural kindergarteners through a citywide lottery, from several hundred five-year-olds whose families had applied. Nearly 90 percent of the kids are poor.

What has Sisulu done that works so well for these kids? According to the NYC Charter School guide, they use the Core Knowledge program. Note here that third- to fifth-graders cover pre-algebra, optics, elements of music, art of the Renaissance, Shakespeare, and Greek and Roman mythology. Not too shabby.

Since we've had a few math-related posts of late, here's what's covered in CK's third-grade math:

Recognize fractions to one-tenth
Identify numerator and denominator
Write mixed numbers
Recognize equivalent fractions (for example, 1/2 = 3/6)
Compare fractions with like denominators using the signs <, >, and =

Identify lines as horizontal, vertical, perpendicular, parallel
Polygons: recognize vertex; identify sides as line segments; identify pentagon, hexagon, and octagon
Identify angles: right angle; four right angles in a square or rectangle
Compute area in square inches and square centimeters

I won't be snarky here and overlap this curriculum with what's required to pass the Praxis I exam. That would just be too mean.

Posted by kswygert at 08:13 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

"If Ms. Grundy has 7 bottles of vodka and makes 10 screwdrivers per hour..."

I understand teaching elementary school is a tough task, but can't teachers be expected to keep the sozzlement to a minimum on the job?

A primary school teacher kept a stash of 200 BOTTLES of alcohol in her classroom cupboard. Barbara Edwards, 50, nipped into the store for swigs during lessons and fell asleep at her desk during lunch hour.

Her classroom stank of drink, but she only admitted to a problem when her hoard of brandy, wine and Bacardi was found.

Guess what? She most likely gets her job back once her doctor says she's over the drinking problem. Isn't that great? Wouldn't you want your kids in her care for seven hours a day? I forsee some wicked math word problems in her future. And just how big is that cupboard of hers?

Posted by kswygert at 05:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

How many students actually graduate?

Jay Mathews discusses the dishonorable (but long-standing) practice of fudging the numbers:

Many states are finding creative ways to misinterpret the rules for reporting their statistics so that their school children seem to be doing wonderfully even though that often is not the case.

This is the latest version of a game that has been popular since Alexander Hamilton and James Madison created the federal system as a playground for generations of political mischief makers like themselves...

Now there is a new report on how states are hiding their feeble high school graduation rates under thick glops of statistical nonsense. It is "Getting Honest About Grad Rates: How States Play the Numbers and Students Lose," by Daria Hall of the Education Trust, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., that works for higher academic achievement, particularly for low-income and minority children. The report is available on the Education Trust website.

No Child Left Behind tries to encourage high schools to improve their graduation rates, but unlike its test score improvement provisions, it does not threaten much action if they don't. It turns out this is like telling all the thieves in the neighborhood that you have turned off your burglar alarm. No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 because many states ignored similar rules in the 1990s that had no muscle behind them. That is happening again with graduation rates, Hall said.

The report is here. It makes for eye-opening reading, especially when you realize that some states don't count pre-senior-year dropouts when calculating graduation rates, and other states don't report graduation rates at all.

Posted by kswygert at 05:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

When a parent goes too far

It's bad enough when kids cheat on the NY Regents exams; it's worse when parents - who happen to be school administrators - are willing to help their kids do so:

Long Island school officials say they caught a sophomore cheating on a Regents examination last week and were quickly able to trace the cribbed answers - written on his hand - to the student's father, an assistant superintendent in charge of exams and answer sheets in another district.

The alleged scheme was disclosed yesterday when the father, Isben Jeudy, 40, of East Northport, was charged with official misconduct in First District Court of Nassau County, in Hempstead. He pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.

How many things are wrong with this picture? First off, the father's willingness to help his son cheat is not only sending the wrong message, but is also an admission that he doesn't think his son has what it takes to pass the exam. Next, the father jeopardized his own career to do so. Finally, the exam form that father was in charge of is now suspect - if he gave answers to his kid, maybe he (or his kid) gave them to other students as well.

Update: The Education Wonks, for whom this topic hits close to home, are asking the right questions:

One question that needs to be asked is this: Why would the answers to such a high-stakes assessment be in the unsupervised custody of any school site or district administrator? Common sense would seem to indicate that those who would have an inherent interest in an examination (such as school site/district administrators) should never be in the possession of test answers....

Considering the high-stakes nature of these examinations, security should be a priority...This whole sad episode (and possibly others that have gone unreported) should have been avoided.

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American expectations in public education

The results of ETS's recent bipartisan survey on American opinions about high schools are in. The executive summary highlights some pretty low numbers:

Few (11%) Americans say that schools are working well enough today (the same proportion who said that this was the case four years ago) and they continue to be divided between those who say that we should make minor changes to public schools but basically keep them as is (39%) and those who say that schools need major changes (30%) or a complete overhaul (18%). The desire to improve education leads to strong majority support for a wide range of reform...

Given that NCLB has been in effect for the past four years, it's interesting to see that the proportion who believe the schools are working well has stayed low. It would also be interesting to know if the group who thought schools needed major changes four years ago believe that NCLB has been a helpful change.

I also found this part fascinating:

Most (55%) Americans say that all students, teachers, and schools should be held to the same performance standard even if many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds; once more, endorsing a fundamental precept of NCLB. Only one-quarter (26%) of teachers agree.

Instead, 60% of teachers say that students enter school with different backgrounds and levels of academic preparation, and we should not expect teachers working with disadvantaged students to have their students reach the same performance level as teachers working in more affluent schools.

Sampling information is contained in the Power Point presentation.

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Parents battle new math program in CT

The "math wars" continue, this time in Connecticut:

In one [content area] however, Simsbury shares dismal scores with most of the state. Strand 25, known as Integrated Understandings: Mathematical Applications, is consistently the lowest-scoring strand for a large percentage of the state's public schools. In fact, only 17 percent of eighth grade students tested in 2004 achieved mastery level. In Simsbury, that number has fluctuated between 26 and 32 percent since 2000.

So, while Simsbury students are among the state's best when it comes to arithmetic and mathematical operations, they're floundering when applying those skills and demonstrating understanding.

In part to improve those scores, the Simsbury school system has implemented a new math curriculum that eschews traditional teaching methods in favor of a discovery-based program. Rather than simply memorizing facts, formulas and specific operations, students will acquire a working knowledge of math. By deconstructing how a concept works, students will learn to think mathematically.

That program would be Investigations in Number, Data and Space. From the website:

Activity-based investigations encourage students to think creatively, develop their own problem-solving strategies, and work cooperatively. Students write, draw, and talk about math as well as use manipulatives, calculators, and computers.

In other words, "Wheee! What's important is that we make math fun and that we make sure no one gets to sit alone and work on those hard problems by themselves!"

Some parents are, as am I, underwhelmed by this program:

Some Simsbury parents have taken issue with the new program. They say it has lowered grade-level expectations and that there is a decreased emphasis on fundamentals, such as multiplication tables, long division and fractions. Research can be found both supporting and refuting those claims.

A parent-formed website opposing the program can be found here. They link to Mathematically Correct and Bas Braam's collections of the content reviews for this program. Many of the reviews, such as this one for the fifth-grade component, are quite scary:

This program does not teach the standard algorithm for multiplication. If students already know this algorithm, they will still be required to develop other strategies. If they do not know the standard algorithm, the text does not direct them to learn it...

In summary, the instruction in multiplication of whole numbers is not learned from a text and thus is highly dependent upon teacher supervision. While the objective is to get students to devise methods that make sense to them, there is little regularity to any particular approach. The number of practice items is very limited, as is the level of difficulty of the products...

This program received the lowest rating of Mathematical Depth of the fifth-grade programs in this review. The strongest presentation it offers is in the case of multiplication and division of whole numbers. However, these suffer from several drawbacks. The instruction is not learned from a text and is thus highly dependent upon teacher direction. At the same time, the emphasis on having students to devise their own methods leaves open the possibility that the students will not achieve any regular and reliable approaches...

Given the recent Praxis flap, and the fact that education schools are apparently turning out graduates who are lost without calculators, who wouldn't be worried to learn that this new program depends heavily on the teacher's understanding of math?

(Hat tip: NYC Hold.)

Posted by kswygert at 09:51 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

Do clothes make the student?

The Education Wonks describe a tale of school uniforms that worked.

It was in response to the high-level of violent gang activity that the California elementary school district in which I teach adopted a policy of "mandatory" student uniforms back in 1997...In fairly rapid fashion, the governing board...adopted a "student uniform policy." The policy was implemented during the 98-99 school year.

On the first day of school, our junior high campus was a "sea of blue bottoms and white tops." We teachers noticed an immediate (and positive) difference in overall student attitudes and behavior...Even though in California parents can "opt-out" of any uniform policy, a surprising number of our district's parents choose not to do so...

For us, student uniforms worked. There was a significant reduction in the amount of gang-related violence in our district's middle and junior high schools.

Was the addition of a school uniform the only change that was made at the time to combat later gang violence, I wonder?

As the Education Wonks note, some disctricts are having to worry about combating gang recruiting at the elementary school level. That, to me, suggests problems that might not be fixed with a bit of fabric.

(Via Joanne.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Put down the bong and step away from the computer

The Baltimore Chronicle publishes a long, long, meandering and bizarre slumgullion of conspiracy theories and ignorant statements and calls it a commentary. I just have to note that this particular member of the "reality-based community" doesn't fail in his required anti-testing-propaganda duties:

No Child Left Behind has left teachers behind, as they have little recourse but to teach their students to succeed on a standardized test, which represents a very shallow educational goal. It leaves little room for nurturing innate curiosity and fostering independent thinking...

Which is presumably what Baltimore's teachers were doing before NCLB came along - you know, when all that innate curiousity was being so nurtured that Baltimore's students were doing so well on all those other measures of academic achievement.

And while we're at it, I'd like to offer $100 to the first person who can produce solid evidence (research in peer-reviewed journals, that sort of thing) showing either (a) that independent thought and curiosity are skills that cannot be taught in conjunction with the basic skills that tests measure, or (b) that measures of independent thought/curiosity are more predictive of adult success than are standardized test scores.

Oh, sure, I'm beating a dead horse, but it never fails to amaze me, the power these testing opponents ascribe to tests. Just one class on basic skills and one day filling in bubbles, and poof! There goes all that innate curiosity of yours!

Posted by kswygert at 11:31 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Looking for the best schools

The Dallas News reports that affluent black parents are voting with their feet and moving into school districts that promise the best education:

In some school districts where black affluence has increased so has poverty, raising new challenges for schools and questions for families. Do they stay and try to improve the public schools? Or do they use their financial resources to transfer their children into academically superior schools?...

The parents who are interviewed did indeed transfer their kids, but the article points out that black kids can suffer from the "too much too soon" affluenza just like white kids, which, along with the lack of support for education in black popular culture, can be a double whammy. Thus, the recipe for success for black parents doesn't seem to be just about finding the right schools, but also in trying to combat the low expectations that society has for black students.

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mama don't let your babies grow up to sing folk songs

Quick, what's the scariest monster you can think of? A vampire? A zombie? A werewolf?

Me, I think of over-earnest old hippies writing drippy songs for little kids who get picked on in school:

New York City...seems to prefer, in these post-Giuliani years, to be an avatar of positive reinforcement...Over the course of the next year, the Department of Education will introduce into all of its elementary and middle schools “Operation Respect: Don’t Laugh at Me,” an intensive curriculum in character development. The program, which is the brainchild and heart’s desire of Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul & Mary, aims to combat bullying by emphasizing the moral lessons of folk music.

“Don’t Laugh at Me” (or dlam) was born when Yarrow—a veteran of the civil-rights, gender-equality, nucleardisarmament, peace, and Amtrak-subsidization movements—heard a country ballad of that name at the Kerrville Folk Festival, in the summer of 1999. Moved to tears by its swelling harmonies and first-person testaments to the effects of ridicule—“I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek / A little girl who never smiles ’cause I’ve got braces on my teeth”—he decided to incorporate the tune into Peter, Paul & Mary’s repertoire.

At a gig with the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the group played the song. “The principals gave a tremendous response to it, and said, ‘We need this in our schools,’ ” Chic Dambach, Operation Respect’s president and C.E.O., said the other day. “And Peter, being the activist and the organizer that he is, said, ‘You won’t just have a song but a whole program.’ ” dlam is now used in at least twelve thousand American schools and camps.

Be sure to check out the assignments, as we learn how Magic Markers are useful for teaching people to “explore creating agreements around behaviors." Oh, if there are any parents of 14-year-old daughters among my Devoted Readers - be sure to let me know how you'd feel knowing that a man who was convicted of this in 1970 was designing these sorts of "educational" programs.

(Hat tip: Ace of Spades.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:03 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The new math means no math for Virginia teachers

Several Devoted Readers have sent in the news that the Virginia Board of Education is phasing out the Praxis I licensure exam for teachers. There is a new exam for these teachers that apparently doesn't contain any of the tricky math that was on the Praxis I:

Praxis I is a basic reading and math skills test that has been a hurdle for some teachers--especially the math portion.

Starting Jan. 1, the state will require teachers to take a new test for licensure. It will eliminate the math material of the Praxis I. Instead, it will require teachers to analyze readings, write an essay, interpret tables and graphs, and demonstrate knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, all "on a college level," said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

The Washington Post claims that VA teachers will now have to be more "literate and proficient in the subjects they teach," but those who don't intend to be teaching math need not worry about a standardized math test:

Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, said she pushed for a new literacy test when she testified before a Virginia panel examining licensure requirements. Research has shown that the ability to read and speak effectively is the most reliable predictor of future success in the classroom, she said...

The Virginia board claims that the this new test actually represents an increase in standards, which makes me wonder - if the pass rate drops dramatically from the Praxis I rates, will Virginia stick by the new exam?

The Cranky Professor is skeptical:

What's not at all clear from the article is what the 'Instead, they will have to pass a new "literacy and communications skills" exam that will be introduced in January' is. Will it be a product of the ETS people, like Praxis? Will it be home-grown, in which case I dread the first 3 or 4 years of results and controversies.

I took the Praxis I a long time ago, by the way, and it really IS at the 8th-10th grade level (I was half-heartedly pursuing certification to teach high school Latin). If people can't pass it (the Post's anecdote has a PE teacher passing on her 6th attempt) they probably aren't capable of figuring their own grades.

Why is no one asking why so many teachers - who are, after all, college graduates - are having so much trouble with basic math skills? The Praxis I math test has only 40 items and takes only an hour - but calculators are not permitted. The sample items mentioned in the ETS link are not tricky, and most of them, quite frankly, could be done in one's head, or with a bit of pencil scribbling.

Do English and music and PE teachers need to know this much math? Not necessarily. I just find it fascinating that schools of education are apparently churning out college graduates who can't do this.

Update: This can't not be related to the observed dumbing-down and politicization of math instruction in schools. Joanne's comments on this article are not to be missed.

Also, Right on the Left Coast has much more to say.. He also quotes the excellent book Innumeracy on the astounding phenomena of how people who would be ashamed to admit they can't read have no problem admitting that they don't understand basic math. It's all about being a "people person" instead of a cold, impersonal number cruncher, don't you know.

Update #2: As always, Joanne cuts right to the point:

Thirty-five years out of high school, I can do these problems in my head. It's hard to believe there are people smart enough to teach who can't pass a basic math test. How are they going to average students' grades?

Why does Joanne assume that these math-phobic teachers will be assigning objective, numerically-based grades? My guess is anyone this terrified of Praxis math items will be giving "holistic" and subjective letter grades.

That's much more "personal" and "caring" than those nasty ol' averages, you know.

Posted by kswygert at 01:35 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Speaking the language

The International Herald Tribune covers the problem of teaching assistants who aren't fluent in spoken English:

With a steep rise in the number of foreign graduate students in the past two decades in the United States, undergraduates at large research universities often are in classes and laboratories run by graduate teaching assistants whose mastery of English is less than complete. The issue is found especially in subjects like engineering, where 50 percent of graduate students are foreign born, and math and the physical sciences, where 41 percent of graduate students are foreign born, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, an association of 450 schools. The issue has spawned legislation in at least 22 states requiring universities to make sure that teachers are proficient in spoken English.

Not surprisingly, the undergrads themselves come under fire for being too "insular" and "lazy" to learn to understand foreign accents. However, it's nice to see that most of the educators quoted understand that it's in everyone's best interest to increase the spoken English fluency of foreign graduate students.

Posted by kswygert at 01:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Sunday of Metal

Yesterday - the Sounds of the Underground tour at Festival Pier in Philly. Dave and I had a great time:


I was representin' for Slayer, thank you very much:


Good show, although we left a bit early (after Opeth). I finally got to see Gwar for the first time (no, I didn't stand up front!).

Posted by kswygert at 10:05 AM | Comments (51) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

All can walk, but not all can do the work

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a fairly critical article about a San Ysidro middle school that is allowing every eighth-grader to walk in the graduation ceremony - even those who flunked:

Today, San Ysidro Middle School will recognize 516 eighth-graders in a ceremony to promote them to high school, regardless of whether they passed middle school. More than a fourth of them did not. In today's ceremony, 143 students who either flunked classes, didn't earn at least a 2.0 grade-point average, or missed too many days of school will march alongside those who did everything required of them.

Several teachers at the school have protested in staff meetings that students who don't make the grade shouldn't walk in the ceremony. To them, it's a matter of holding students accountable.

"If you don't earn it, you stay home," San Ysidro Middle counselor Rosemarie Ponce said.

The principal, however, notes that all are walking because not one teacher actually filed the paperwork to hold back a student:

Part of Flores' rationale in allowing all comers into the ceremony is that they're all being promoted and leaving the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade San Ysidro School District. No teacher at San Ysidro Middle has filed paperwork to hold back a single student.

Needless to say, the high school teachers awaiting these "graduates" are not happy:

Whether they walk in today's ceremony or not, all 516 students are going to high school next year. And the problem is much worse than the promotion statistics indicate. How many students met promotion criteria and how many walk in the ceremony are irrelevant statistics to Hector Espinoza, principal of San Ysidro High, where today's ceremony will take place. They'll all be his students next year.

He just wants to know whether they're ready for ninth grade. He sent a team of teachers out to test middle school students, and they reported back to him that 70 percent of the incoming freshman class at San Ysidro High is not at grade level.

Emphasis mine. The article reports that while retention at the earlier grades may be helpful, retention at the eighth-grade level allegedly does more harm than good. It may increase the drop-out rate, but it's hard to see why promoting a student who is struggling to ninth grade does much for the drop-out rate, either.

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June 24, 2005

Adding my data

If you blog, be sure to check out MIT's survey of bloggers and blogs by clicking on the image below.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

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June 23, 2005

A question of need

A University of California panel has voted to recommend that UC stop participating in - as in, funding - the National Merit Scholarship program. One reason given was concern over the PSAT's validity for the purpose, and UC is within reason to question that validity. No standardized test is beyond that sort of questioning. But I believe the heart of the matter is here:

Faculty members had also raised concerns about the fairness of the program's selection process, which has tended to choose more whites, Asians and upper-income students.

Of UC's National Merit Scholars last year, only 3 percent were black, Latino or Native American, and less than one-fifth came from families making less than $40,000, said Michael Brown, the head of UC's systemwide faculty admissions policy committee.

Notice that they've now defined "fair" not as a system that might identify the most-qualified or most-able (assuming the test were appropriate), but a system that makes sure the ethnic and SES composition of the winning group is pleasing to the committee. Whatever that might be.

Some experts yesterday applauded the UC vote.

"I'm not fond of merit-based scholarships," said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

"I don't think they produce much public benefit," he said, noting that many of the upper-income students that benefit from the scholarships already have the means to afford college.

I certainly don't know how many National Merit scholars are upper-income. I find it odd, however, that Callan would use the "public benefit" argument to reject merit-based scholarships. Isn't he saying that it's better to award scholarships who those who want to go to college, but might not be qualified, instead of to those who are qualified to go but are just above the lowest-income-level? Does it really benefit people, colleges, or society more to make sure only that the poorest have a way in?

Full disclosure - I was a National Merit Scholar, and my family fell squarely into that not-poor-enough-for-needs-but-not-rich-enough-to-pay-full-tuition category. Presumably that's the category that UC, and those who think like Callan, would like to write off.

To give the article credit, it addresses this issue:

Redd speculated that even if UC drops the National Merit program, other schools are unlikely to do so because of the accelerated competition to attract top students and the program's popularity among middle-and upper-income families who have trouble qualifying for need-based aid...

Some incoming college students said yesterday they would oppose a move by UC to discontinue participation in the program.

"I would be disappointed if UC stopped paying the scholarships because I've seen a lot of people stuck in the middle class who cannot get need-based scholarships and cannot find enough merit-based scholarships to go to college," said Liz Krow-Lucal, a National Merit scholar who will be studying biology at UC San Diego in the fall.

Disappointed, indeed, to disover that UC, unlike most of the real world, seems unwilling to reward those who have achieved something.

Posted by kswygert at 05:21 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A student speaks up in praise of testing

An amusing (because it's positive) editorial on testing from the Arizona college newspaper:

They say the tests are ruining the educational landscape -- that they're causing students to study for nothing else...Many want to see them eliminated. These opponents point to statistics like the amount of money people spend on preparation, $310 million a year by one count, as signs that the standardized-test mania has gone too far and that a return to the core values of education is warranted.

However, such logic fails to understand the purpose that they serve. Simply put, standardized tests serve one vital function – as providers of a means of comparison to admissions panels.

What makes them so valuable? Why can't admissions panels look at more important factors? Factors like grades, letters of recommendation, and extra-curricular activities? That's where the standardized part comes in. Without standardized tests, there is no way to compare students across the country. With GPA, for example, there's no way to tell whether the 3.6 from Northwestern is more impressive than the 3.6 from Virginia.

So standardized tests are good because they're standardized. But rather than complain, UA students should cheer this opportunity as they approach grad school rather than boo it. It's hard enough competing with students from big name schools like MIT and Princeton. With the GRE/MCAT/LSAT/GMAT to level the playing field, students can show that they're just as sharp as the Ivy-League trained type.

In fact, that's why tests of these kinds were developed. With all the anti-testing commentary in the press, it's easy to forget that. What's more, it's always driven me crazy that opponents produce the over-inflated and unproven expensive test prep course as evidence (somehow) that the tests themselves are a problem.

Cute photo of the author, by the way.

Also, this is the nth article I've seen that references the book, "Freakonomics," so I'm going to have to break down and buy a copy.

Posted by kswygert at 11:58 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Another Day, Another Carnival

The latest Carnival of Education is up at Jenny D's site. Despite my programming a reminder into my Palm Pilot, I always seem to miss the deadline for submitting to the Carnival each week. Luckily, Jenny added a post of mine on her own.

The latest Carnival of the Cats is at Blog d'Elisson. Forgot to submit anything for that, too.

Hopefully I'll never appear on the Carnival of the Clueless, nor on the Carnival of Classiness.

Posted by kswygert at 04:56 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A question of history

A brilliant editorial in the LATimes by Dr. David Gelernter is in part about Senator Dick Durbin's recent idiotic remarks (The Sundries Shack has a great timeline of events), but the take-away message is a plea for better history education in our schools:

Not knowing history is worse than ignorance of math, literature or almost anything else. Ignorance of history is undermining Western society's ability to talk straight and think straight. Parents must attack the problem by teaching their own children the facts. Only fools would rely on the schools.

My son told me about a high school event that (at first) I didn't understand. A girl in his English class praised the Vietnam War-era draft dodgers: "If I'd lived at that time and been drafted," she said, "I would've gone to Canada too." I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn't understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines...

To forget your own history is (literally) to forget your identity. By teaching ideology instead of facts, our schools are erasing the nation's collective memory.

Dr. David Gelernteris a well-respected Yale professor (of computer science), author, contributing editor (for The Weekly Standard), columnist, and scientist who has experience in criticizing politicians who don't understand their economics or teachers who view history as something to be revised and reviled. A Republican who proudly defends Western culture - and often wonders aloud why public schools should be allowed to exist - he's a voice that ought to be listened to by eduators and parents.

Regardless, something tells me Durbin's hysterical, ignorant remarks will be latched upon by those with little or no understanding of the historical meanings of the words "Nazi" and "gulag," while Gelernter's reasoned pleas will be ignored. And if the media really did start agreeing that history lessons ought to be improved, my guess is that everything currently wrong with history classes would be blamed on NCLB (all that testing of other subjects leaves no time for history, you know).

Posted by kswygert at 02:05 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

A dangerous testing situation

Good Lord.

Two charter school administrators have been suspended for 10 days each without pay following a 13-year-old girl's claim that she was raped by a boy during a state proficiency test in March. Dayton Academy Principal Emory Wyckoff should have called police as required by state law, said Adam Tucker, a spokesman for New York City-based Edison Schools, which manages the school.

Wyckoff's suspension will begin in July. Assistant Principal Aundray Brooks also was suspended. Brooks was supervising the state-mandated standardized test but left the room to deal with a noisy situation in the hallway. The girl told police that a 14-year-old schoolmate attacked her during that time. Brooks will begin his suspension Friday. Both administrators have received letters outlining the reprimands and the rationale behind it, Tucker said.

Any administrator who doesn't call police for such a situation should be looking for work. And how long was the room free of adult supervision? Weren't there any other kids in the room? Why didn't someone else step in to help? The claim is bizarre - this is something that shouldn't have been possible.

Posted by kswygert at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Kayak Kid takes on the Ohio exam

Hoo-boy. A smart Ohio student, John Wood, takes a very public stance against an exit exam:

My high school graduation took place during the Memorial Day weekend. However, despite being ranked sixth in my class, I did not cross the stage that day, and my dad, our high school principal, did not give me a diploma. I did not drop out at the last minute, and I was not expelled. I didn’t graduate because I refused to take the Ohio Proficiency Tests.

I did this because I believe these high-stakes tests (which are required for graduation) are biased, irrelevant, and completely unnecessary.

For whom? Irrelevant for those who are ranked sixth in their class and have a principal for a father to boot? Unnecessary for those who won't have much trouble grabbing a GED and some online time to air their anti-testing views?

The bias of the tests is demonstrated by Ohio’s own statistics. They show consistently that schools with high numbers of low-income and/or minority students score lower on state tests. It is argued (in defense of testing) that this is not the tests’ fault, that the scores are only a reflection of the deeper socioeconomic injustices. This is very likely true. What makes the tests biased is the fact that the state does little or nothing to compensate for the differences that the students experience outside the classroom. In fact, the state only worsens the situation with its funding system. Ohio’s archaic school funding system underfunds schools in poorer areas because it is based on property taxes. The way we fund our schools has been declared unconstitutional four times, and yet the state legislature refuses to fix the problem.

Tests that measure what we intend them to measure - in this case, academic performance - are not biased. Critics have quite the tendency to stretch the definition of the word "bias" into anything they see as "not quite fair," and that's what John is doing here. What is happening here is "differential impact," which is something else altogether (see here for a previous discussion). What John is fighting against here is the right of the state to use a test that has differential impact - a test showing that students whose parents don't contribute much financially towards education tend not to do so well. He obviously doesn't believe that parents should have a choice in deciding where their property tax money goes. He should label his fight as such, rather than erroneously tossing around words like "bias."

The irrelevance of these tests is also demonstrated by state statistics—in this case, the lack of them. In 13 years of testing, Ohio has failed to conduct any studies linking scores on the proficiency tests to college-acceptance rates, college grades, income levels, incarceration rates, dropout rates, scores on military-recruiting tests, or any other similar statistic.

If true, this proves only that Ohio has failed to produce data showing the relevance of the exams. It does not prove that the tests are irrelevant. What's more, if the purpose of the exam is to show that a student has learned what they need to know in high school, then we would not expect the test to be any more predictive of variables such as income, incarceration, or college grades than we would expect high school performance to be. If achieving a high-school diploma is not highly correlated to college grades, there's no reason to expect the test scores to correlate with those grades - but that's not proof the test is irrelevant.

More important, a system already exists for determining when students are ready to graduate. The ongoing assessment by teachers who spend hours with the students is more than sufficient for determining when they are ready to graduate.

If it weren't for grade inflation, social promotion, widely-varying standards among teachers, and the fact that teachers nowadays are unlikely to flunk the vast numbers of students who deserve it, he might have a point here.

in southeastern Ohio, alternative assessments are alive and kicking. At my school, Federal Hocking High School, in Stewart, Ohio, every senior has to complete a senior project (I built a kayak), compile a graduation portfolio, and defend his or her work in front of a panel of teachers in order to graduate. These types of performance assessments are much more individualized and authentic, and are certainly difficult, something I can attest to, having completed them myself.

(1) The key word here is is "individualized," which can translate to, "Almost impossible to use to compare students over time, students within schools, or schools to one another." Good for some students, bad for seeing whether large groups of students are improving.
(2) Does John have data showing that kayak-building skills are highly positively related to college grades or income? No? Then why does he claim the Ohio tests are irrelevant based on the lack of that same information?
(3) A kayak? In Ohio? The point was?

Note that John is already signed up to attend college this fall, and his voice - in the form of a well-written article - has now been heard publicly. He obviously has not been disadvantaged by this situation, either from the exam itself or his failure to take it. Does he really believe, I wonder, that kids who enter high school still struggling with reading and basic math would benefit as much as he did from a kayak-building experience in place of a basic skills exam?

Update: I forgot to mention that this week's EdWeek has a forum set up to discuss this article. Be sure to leave a comment.

Update #2: Excellent discussion by Quincy, including a link to Joanne's comments about the heartbreak of discovering in college that you aren't quite as great as you thought you were in high school.

Posted by kswygert at 10:21 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Oddball roundup

Devoted Reader Reginleif uncovered a hysterical exchange over school lunches on a community message board. The discussion starts when a mother asks if it's legal for her to deliver a fresh lunch to her child's school at lunchtime every day, and it's obvious she's not prepared to deal with any questions about her method. (And before you ask - no, the kid doesn't have any life-threatening food allergies.)

Early school bells: The Evil Plan of the Morning People. Slate suggests that letting your cranky night owl teen catch a few more z's is more important than making her get up early for breakfast.

No more skirts! In a desperate attempt to deal with what must be a rash of micro-minis, one British junior high school has decreed that all students will wear full-length trousers as part of their uniforms. Now, if only they'd done something about those ridiculously short shorts I had to wear in gym class, back in 1982.

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

June 21, 2005

Turning winners into losers

In my first-ever fiance-submitted link (thanks, Dave!) we have a tale of two youth baseball teams in Ohio.

No one misbehaved. No one broke any rules. But after only a few games, the Columbus Stars have been kicked out of a recreational youth baseball league in Canal Winchester.

The players, ages 11 and 12, were deemed too good.

On May 9, the Stars beat the Red Sox, 18-0. Two weeks later, the Stars also beat World Harvest, 13-0. But the biggest blowout occurred on May 27, when the Stars defeated Sugar Grove II, 24-0. Sugar Grove I lost to the Stars the next day, 10-2.

"After hearing and seeing the scores from that group, I called up the league office and said, ‘No way are we going to play them,’ " said Terry Morris, who coaches one of three teams from Bloom-Carroll schools in Fairfield County. "I wasn’t going to subject my players to that." Other teams started complaining. And canceling. The Stars were pulled from the league schedule. The team appealed to the league’s commissioner, Joe Bernowski, to no avail.

Though I'm surprised to admit it, I can sort of see the point to all this. The Stars clearly are too good to be on this schedule. It's not likely that all the best players would come from one zip code and assemble under a great coach, but it's not impossible, either. If it appears that every other team will get trashed, perhaps the Stars should be playing the older boys.

On the other hand, at what point does parental concern for self-esteem trump the rights of children to play? The Stars have won every game so far, but what if they'd lost one? Or two? What if only one game had been a blowout? Does kicking them out of the league now encourage parents to complain in a future situation which seems less cut-and-dried? Will parents now rush to boot out any team that seems just a tad too over-qualified? And note that it is in fact the parents being quoted here as the complainers.

Posted by kswygert at 04:18 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

When the best seat on the bus is empty

Earlier this week, I noted an upswing in school-bus-related violence. Many readers mentioned that adult chaperones might help. But a link from Illuminaria suggests that schools might not have much luck finding volunteer chaperones when they can't even manage to find drivers.

Wanted: Drivers to transport dozens of often-unruly students to school on a 38-foot bus through congested suburban traffic.

Requirements: Extensive training, criminal background checks and physical exams. Sincere affection for young people is strongly preferred, even when they're misbehaving.

Starting salary: $13,920.

Add noisy working conditions to the job description, and it's not surprising that many school districts are having a tough time hiring bus drivers...

Megan Williams, a mother of four, thinks potential bus drivers don't want to put up with disrespectful children, for which she blames parents.

"I am part of the problem. I have four boys. They are the kind that don't sit still and say, 'Yes, ma'am, no, ma'am,"' Williams said. "I drive my van with my four kids in it and that's enough. I can't imagine a bus full of them."

It seems no one wants the responsibility of a bunch of other parents' children - especially when, as it seems these days, parents no longer teach manners at home.

Posted by kswygert at 02:40 PM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

But were there hanging chads?

Reader S. notes that administrator's penchants for cheating have extended beyond tests to student elections (and no, we're not talking about the movie Election here):

His opponent was known throughout school as "the perfect kid," Scott Dubnoff said. Smart. Athletic. Popular. Even Dubnoff liked Dave Dobrosky. But Dubnoff had thrown his hat in the ring for student government president of Mountain Lakes High School, and he planned to win.

The votes were cast, but who won for sure is now a matter of dispute. School administrators say Dubnoff lost, but they can't prove it because the ballots were thrown away. Dubnoff says he won and insists he can prove it -- because his father dug the ballots out of the school's trash bin.

Hoo-boy. Sounds like the educrats didn't appreciate Dubnoff's sense of humor:

Dubnoff said he knew that to defeat his opponent, he would have to be creative. Instead of delivering a standard, straightforward speech -- the kind he expected from his competitor -- he would be different.

"Different" meant walking on stage in a generalissimo-style uniform, flanked by two friends dressed as Secret Service agents, and riding the joke for all it was worth. "The spirit of our collective mass has made it known that I am the Chosen One, the manifest of our destiny here in Mountain Lakes," said Dubnoff, who often goes by "Mitch." "Under me, the Mitch Coalition will march into the dawning of a new era: A utopia where homework, tests and punctuality are henceforth irrelevant."

He made his classmates promises -- some sincere, others intentionally ludicrous..."I was up against the best guy," Dubnoff said. "I wanted it to be big and I wanted it to be funny and I wanted people to talk about it."

The school has since made Dubnoff and Dobrosky co-presidents, which sounds like an admission that someone fudged the numbers, or that the school admins can't count.

Posted by kswygert at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portfolios in NY?

The portfolio option arises again, this time as an alternative to the Regents exam ($ubscrip required):

One of the items still on the table in this final week of the legislative session in Albany is a bill that would direct the state education commissioner to come up with an alternative to the Regents exams required for a high school diploma in New York...

The bill has already passed the state Senate and is now before the assembly, where the speaker, Sheldon Silver, can either pass it or kill it. Our friends in the education policy community...are hoping the speaker will kill the bill, seeing it as a departure from the measurement, accountability, and standards that are essential to quality education. The New York Times and the Daily News are in agreement on the point.

I can't find this story anywhere else (the blurb from Google quoted a line about portfolios), and, unfortunately, that's all I can get without subscribing. Anyone out there got a subcription?

Update: A sharp-eyed reader found a more informative article from back when the bill had just passed the Senate:

Supporters say it's better than the state's current one-size-fits-all system of testing. Opponents, including state Education Commissioner Richard Mills, fear the measure could cripple their decade-long effort to use the Regents exams as a way of raising academic standards across the state...

One of the bill's sponsors, Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, who heads the senate's Education Committee, said the measure stems from what he views as an unwillingness by Mills and the board to compromise on having all students take the exams. "It's their way or the highway," said Saland.

But Mills says setting up a system of portfolios would be too costly and difficult to police. "The bill would create an unworkable system," predicted an Education Department memo to lawmakers. "It would be virtually impossible to monitor all schools closely enough to ensure that schools followed the curriculum and assigned all projects, and that an A in one school equaled an A, not a C, in another school."

When it comes to school accountability, what exactly is wrong with "their way or the highway?" And Mills hits the nail on the head with his concern about the un-standardized nature of portfolio projects.

Update #2: The Instructivist has more, and links to a NYT editorial which is, astonishingly, crictical of the bill:

Before they jeopardize education reform, legislators should revisit a disturbing report issued a few years ago by a panel of education experts that evaluated the portfolio assessments used by the schools in the New York Performance Standard Consortium, a politically influential education group. The panel could find no evidence to support the claim that the consortium's schools were conforming to the state's learning standards or measuring student progress in any meaningful way.
Posted by kswygert at 09:50 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

A little "creative" bookkeeping

We keep hearing about how awful all these mandatory standardized tests are for today's youth. Why, then, are most of the episodes of cheating we hear about based on adult misbehavior? Are the teachers really cheating the most? Some say yes - depending on how broadly we define "cheating:"

Last week, Esther Jones, the principal of Santa Ana's Saddleback High School, circulated a memo asking teachers to reassess the failing grades of 98 students in hopes of helping the school meet the federal No Child Left Behind Act's standards. The note read, "please review your records for these students and determine if they would merit a grade of 'D' instead of a failure."

Sadly, this isn't surprising. Instead it unfortunately reaffirms an increasingly common practice: from graduation rates to test scores to violence stats, schools across the country are painting a false picture of their performance.

Take Wesley Elementary in Houston. From 1994 to 2003, Wesley won national accolades for teaching low-income students how to read and was featured in an "Oprah" segment on schools that "defy the odds."

It turned out that Wesley wasn't defying the odds at all; the school was cheating. The Dallas Morning News found...severe statistical anomalies in nearly 400 Texas schools.

If schools don't want to cheat on the tests, they get rid of poor students. Oak Ridge High School in Florida boosted its test scores after purging its attendance rolls of 126 low-performing students...

Misrepresenting the dropout rate is another common way to make a school's performance look better than it is. The New York Times described an egregious example. Jerroll Tyler was severely truant from Houston's Sharpstown High School. When he showed up to take a math exam required for graduation, he was told he was no longer enrolled. And he never returned.

Funnily enough, for every case of misbehavior like this that's uncovered, the testing critics rush to blame the tests. They say that all of these cheaters are just hapless teachers/administrators with their backs to the wall, forced to fudge the numbers. I say every instance of this behavior is evidence that real, standardized, objective evidence of student performance is necessary. These sorts of crimes are proof that too many in the education world are willing to resort to fakery to make their students look better, and if it weren't for these tests, we'd be willing to believe them when they claimed the K-12 system was working just fine.

Posted by kswygert at 02:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Gives new meaning to the complaint, "My brain is full."

Big brains = High IQ's?

People with bigger brains are smarter than their smaller-brained counterparts, according to a study conducted by a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher published in the journal “Intelligence.”

The study, published on line June 16, could settle a long-standing scientific debate about the relationship between brain size and intelligence. Ever since German anatomist and physiologist Frederick Tiedmann wrote in 1836 that there exists “an indisputable connection between the size of the brain and the mental energy displayed by the individual man,” scientists have been searching for biological evidence to prove his claim.

“For all age and sex groups, it is now very clear that brain volume and intelligence are related,” said lead researcher Michael A. McDaniel, Ph.D...McDaniel, a professor in management in VCU’s School of Business, found that, on average, intelligence increases with increasing brain volume. Intelligence was measured with standardized intelligence tests, which have important consequences on peoples' lives, such as where they’ll go to college or what kind of job they get. Critics have called the tests inaccurate or irrelevant to the real world, he said.

“But when intelligence is correlated with a biological reality such as brain volume, it becomes harder to argue that human intelligence can’t be measured or that the scores do not reflect something meaningful,” said McDaniel.

Yes, but what I - an admitted pinhead - want to know is, can bigger brains exist in smaller heads?

Posted by kswygert at 02:08 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 18, 2005

KU students go public about public embarassment

If you're a flunking student at the University of Kansas who's in danger of losing scholarship money, well, at least you know you're not alone:

More than 100 students who failed their classes at the University of Kansas last semester found out who shared their misfortune. The school's Office of Student Financial Aid sent an e-mail to 119 students Monday notifying them that they were in jeopardy of having their aid revoked.

But the names of the students were included on the e-mail address list - meaning everyone who got the e-mail could see the names of all the other recipients.

"It was a completely inadvertent, unintentional mistake," university spokesman Todd Cohen said Thursday. "It was our error, our mistake and we deeply regret it."

Time for the university to hire someone who understands Outlook. And students, look on the bright side - this will make contacting everyone regarding participation in the class-action lawsuit that much easier.

Posted by kswygert at 08:18 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005

Down for the count

On Tuesday, I mentioned that I was sick with what I thought was a minor sinus infection. I made it to work on Wednesday, then struggled to get home as my fever shot up and I felt worse and worse. Luckily, I'd already made an appointment with my doctor for Thursday morning.

The diagnoses: Sinusitic, bronchitis, AND an inner ear infection (that explains the non-stop dizziness). The cure: Several days of huddling on the couch, watching daytime TV (as IQ points dribble out my tender ears), guzzling cough syrup with codeine, gulping antibiotics and Tylenol, and just generally feeling sorry for myself. My mom calls about every three hours to check on me, so everyone else is spared my whining (except for you guys, right now).

Bloggage will resume when the room stops spinning.

Posted by kswygert at 09:07 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

The perils of teaching the process

College professor Robert over at brightMystery has an enthralling exchange of emails all centered around a certain hapless, and flunking, student:

Let's call this student "Pat". Pat was in my calculus class; Pat was a nice person, easy to talk to and we enjoyed a good rapport personally. But Pat was not doing well in the course, and Pat's visits to office hours showed me why. If I told Pat what to do on a problem, Pat could do it most of the time with a little prompting. But in terms of working problems alone, Pat would get hopelessly stuck every time...So the problem wasn't Pat's skill with the material so much -- the processing skill was the problem.

Accordingly, when Pat would ask me a question such as, "Can you tell me how to do problem 7?", I would say: Let's start by asking the right questions. What are you being asked to do in this problem? What information is given to you in the problem statement? And what do you know from the course, your reading, or your work on other exercises that will help get you to the goal? I made it a point to NEVER give Pat explicit help on content unless it was a last resort...

Sounds like an excellent calculus teacher, right? One-on-one tutoring with emphasis on the process, not just memorizing facts; many college profs wouldn't have gone this far. Despite this, Pat didn't do well as the course progressed, and sent an email with his interpretation of his poor grades:

Pat sent me an email just after midterms that said something like: I now understand why I am not doing well in your class. My learning style is such that you have to show me exactly what to do, or else I can't do it. But you always answer my questions with more questions, which isn't showing me exactly what to do. So from now on, please show me exactly what to do first, and then I should be able to do it.

I would have had trouble controlling my blood pressure at that point, and would have been unable to resist - though Robert did - sending an reply taking a few hard swats at Pat with a clue bat. But it gets better. Pat's mom starts sending emails accusing the professor of ignoring poor Pat and his "disability":

...I know [Pat] tried to explain to you that when [Pat] asks questions [Pat] needs answers not another question. We had [Pat] tested at [a local university] in January through the suggestion of [an academic counselor at my college]. During this testing we found out [Pat] has a learning disability. [Pat] does better with visual explanations then being asked another question. [Pat] needs to see how to physically work a problem so he can comprehend it....

I know this takes up more of your time but all people learn differently. This was one of the reasons we choose a small college because of the special attention a student gets. I would appreciate it if when [Pat] asks a question if you could show [Pat] how to do it and explain it then answer it with another question.

The ensuing emails are highly entertaining, not least because Robert has extensive experience in tutoring students with disabilities. Read it all. Can I just say that Robert has much more self-control than I do? And can I also say that the blogosphere is a godsend for those who have to deal with this kind of nonsense?

Posted by kswygert at 04:50 PM | Comments (242) | TrackBack

College protestors act like idiots

I agree with John Hawkins that the level to which college protestors will stoop is pretty low. So much for the days when we would expect college students to act like grown (but young) men and women.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to his alma mater turned into an exercise in perseverance when virtually his every word was accompanied by catcalls, howls and piercing whistles from the crowd.

Schwarzenegger's face appeared to redden during his 15-minute commencement address Tuesday to 600 graduates at Santa Monica College, but he ignored the shouting as he recalled his days as a student and, later, his work as a bodybuilder and actor.

"Always go all out and overcome your fears," he told the graduates. "Work, work, work. Study, study, study."

Inside the stadium, the drone from hundreds of rowdy protesters threatened to drown out the governor's voice at times. Many in the crowd erupted in boos when a police officer pulled down a banner criticizing the estimated $45 million cost of the Nov. 8 special election that Schwarzenegger proposed Monday.

Captain Ed shows no mercy:

...what are they protesting? The fact that Arnold has called a special election for a direct democratic vote on issues that the legislature has refused to address, including the chronic reapportionment problem that has almost crippled California democracy for decades. While the costs of such an election should be considered and debated as to its necessity, calling for more democracy hardly qualifies as such a disaster that it excuses opponents from acting like idiots and ruining the evening for 600 college graduates.

The Left has no sense of proportion, especially in California, where they have behaved like the spoiled children most of them are for many years now. Last night's spectacle of disruption and rude behavior is just the latest example of the thoughtlessness and reflexive self-indulgence that typifies Leftist activities in the Golden State and elsewhere.

Captain Ed is assuming all the loudmouths were lefties; probably not a bad assumption, but I don't even care if that's true. What bothers me is that public manners have devolved to the point where young men and women attending a rite of passage as momentous as a college graduation can act like children.

Posted by kswygert at 04:14 PM | Comments (3)

A book of wisdom

I'll definitely be pre-ordering this book:


EDUCATION MYTHS What Special-Interest Groups Want YOU to BELIEVE About our SCHOOLS– AND WHY IT ISN'T SO

By Jay P.Greene
Foreword by James Q. Wilson

How can we fix our floundering public schools? The conventional wisdom says that schools need a lot more money, that poor and immigrant children can't do as well as most other American kids, that high-stakes tests just produce "teaching to the test," and that vouchers do little to help students while undermining our democracy. But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong?

In this book, Jay P. Greene examines eighteen widely held beliefs about American education, and finds that they just aren't true. In addition to myths about class size and teacher pay, he debunks common views about special education ("special ed. programs burden public schools"); certification "certified or more experienced teachers are more effective"); graduation ("nearly all students graduate from high school"); draining ("choice harms public schools"); segregation ("private schools are more racially segregated"); and a host of other hotly debated issues.

Posted by kswygert at 02:31 PM | Comments (2)

Does the kid deserve punishment, or Pepto-Bismol?

Eeeww. It's gross, but is it battery?

A high school student who vomited on his Spanish teacher has been charged with battery against a school official. The misdemeanor charge was filed Monday against the Olathe Northwest High School student. The 17-year-old was charged as a juvenile and his name was not released.

Prosecutors said the vomiting was intentional, and the teacher, David Young, called the act "outrageous." "I think a message is being sent by both the school district and the district attorney that this behavior will not be tolerated," Young said.

Guess what the ol' technicolor yawn is being blamed on?

The student's father said his son told him he did not mean to throw up on the teacher but had been made uncontrollably ill by the stress of final exams.

Bad enough exams get the blame for cheating, tears, etc.; now they're getting blamed for assualt with a deadly spew as well.

The father said the district expelled his son and recommended he enroll in an alternative school in the fall.

They have special alternative schools in Kansas for students who are weak of stomach? Who knew? And is zero tolerance for hurling really in the rulebooks?

Posted by kswygert at 11:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Taking their time

A balanced article about exit exams in Alaska contains this odd quote:

This is the second year the exit exam has tripped some seniors' walk down the graduation aisle. Students in Alaska started taking the exam six years ago. But passing all three portions has only been a requirement for graduation for two years. Students first take the exam in the spring of their sophomore year. There are no time limits, and they may re-take it as many times as necessary in order to pass. It is administered twice a year.

In April, some schools reported students taking more than 10 hours to complete the exit exam. Palmer High School principal Wolfgang Winter said at the time that he saw the lengthy test times as a measure of how seriously students were taking them.

Emphases mine. Are you kidding me? Does Winter seriously think that it's a good sign that some students took more than 10 hours to complete an exit exam? I've been all over the web and can't find the item count, but it's hard to imagine that the math and readings sections contain more than 100 items each, tops, or that the writing section contains more than a handful of prompts. Those marathons sounds more like a cry for help to me.

On a related topic, Alaska's DOE website has a nifty list of the exit exams across all the states that use them.

Posted by kswygert at 10:51 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Struggling with algebra

A hullabaloo in Georgia over the dismal algebra end-of-course exam results:

More than two-thirds of the DeKalb County school system's eighth-graders failed the state's End of Course Test in Algebra I, according to preliminary results. The End of Course Test counts for 15 percent of students' final grades in the course. Teachers issued failing grades to 21 percent of all eighth-graders. This was the first year district policy required all eighth-graders to take high school algebra, a move the board approved in 2003 to beef up math instruction in all grades.

Officials reviewed first-semester grades and anticipated a high failure rate. Originally, the policy called for eighth-graders to earn credit toward graduation. But the school board is expected to approve a policy change in July. Parents will get to choose whether their child gets a credit toward graduation, known as a Carnegie Unit, or a middle school credit that does not show up on the transcript college admissions officers see...

For many, it would jeopardize their chances for a lottery-funded HOPE scholarship. Other issues cited by board members: This year's eighth-graders did not have the foundation starting in kindergarten for algebra, and some teachers were not adequately trained to teach algebra.

All pertinent issues. The officials were wise to antipate a poor showing. The question is whether results will improve in the future.

Posted by kswygert at 10:38 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

No good seat on the bus

The Washington Post describes in perfect detail why I hated riding the bus:

Every day, 440,000 school buses ferry 18 million children to and from schools and activities across the United States. Accidents, seat belts and safe crossings generally are the matters parents worry about. But experts say sexual assaults on school buses, one of the fastest-growing forms of school violence, seldom register as a safety concern.

Although many school systems don't identify bus assaults independently of all school violence, administrators, teachers and bus drivers say the nature and frequency of the attacks are increasing, and at younger ages. The incident involving the Germantown girl was one of four alleged sexual assaults on Montgomery County's school buses this school year; the alleged attackers in Virginia were as young as 8.

As a middle-schooler, I took it for granted that harassment was an unavoidable part of the bus-ride experience. As an adult, I realize there's no reason this should be the case - and examples such as the ones described in this article should be a warning sign to school districts.

Posted by kswygert at 09:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Giving an A for effort?

Jay Mathews addresses the thorny issue of whether teachers should give students credit who struggle, but don't quite get it:

Like most American teachers, Will Crawford includes credit for effort when he fills out the report cards of his government and history students at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County. "Grades from assignments indirectly measure effort," he said. "I tell students that as long as they keep up with projects and homework and make an honest effort on tests and quizzes, they won't fail," he said. Six miles away at West Potomac High School in the same school district, chemistry and physics teacher Stephen Rezendes rejects that approach because he believes it sends the wrong message to students, and is against district policy.

"Rewarding effort and not achievement is not helping the student," he said. "It's basically assuming they can't achieve."

I admit I'm torn on the issue. On the one hand, I agree with Rezendes that effort without achievement should not be praised. For one thing, when a student struggles mightily, yet doesn't master the material, that suggests the teacher, the student, or both are doing something wrong. that should be a warning sign, not an opportunity for a higher grade. Such effort should be rewarded only with suggestions for focusing one's energies in a more effective way.

On the other hand, I benefitted mightily from the "A for effort" theory when I took gym, although perhaps that class is an exception. (Some folks have athletic ability, and some - like me - really don't.) And when I taught statistics at the college level, I found myself rewarding those who put in the extra effort. Not big rewards, mind you, but rewards nonetheless - fairly easy extra credit homework assignments, points for attendance, and so on.

Then again, I found effort and achievement to be highly correlated. Those students who worked hard did better; the ones who got bad grades from me were almost without exception those who didn't seem to give a damn. I did have one student who turned in every homework, attended every class, came early for extra help, and yet still turfed on all the exams. There was no way for me to soften the blow of flunking him, and flunk him I did (he had the grace to apologize for his poor performance on the final). As a student, he was certainly more enjoyable to have around that those who habitually came late or ignored assignments, but I suppose the fact that I flunked him shows that deep down, I do believe effort in and of itself is not necessarily deserving of reward.

Posted by kswygert at 09:30 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Bits and pieces

A couple of quick links, before I crawl back into bed and whimper, my sinuses ravaged by the recent onslaught of pollen and the sudden 30-degree change in average temperature outside...

From today's Onion sidebar: "PETA Complains As Revised SAT Tested On Chimpanzees" (thanks, Mike M).


Devoted Reader Tracy A. notes that the AJC previously published a criticism-free article on the state exams; her theory is that this explains the subsequent article in which non-substantive criticism was shoehorned in. I think she's right.

Anyone ever hear of the Waldorf schools? This article is thought-provoking. The school philosophy sounds about as hippie and touchy-feely as one can get. I would think it'd be difficult to catch students up in later grades after they fall behind early on.

A cheating scandal unfolds in Louisiana. Obligatory quote about how there's too much pressure on teachers these days is included. I'd just like to say that I'd love to be in a field where, if I was caught breaking the rules, the newspapers would rush to make excuses for me.

The Nyquil is kicking in. Goodnight.

Update:Awww. In my allergic misery, I have company:



Posted by kswygert at 07:33 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

How 'bout, "The Elementary School From Another Universe"?

The Education Intelligence Agency tweaks the self-important twits of the Berkeley Unified School District:

On June 22, the school board of the Berkeley Unified School District will vote on whether to change the name of Jefferson Elementary School to Sequoia Elementary. "Debate over the name of the school has continued for more than two years after several teachers, including an African American mother of three former Jefferson students, said Jefferson's name offended them," reported the San Francisco Chronicle...

The people most involved with the school should be able to name it whatever they want, and it is on this basis that the school board will probably approve the name change. What is more disturbing is how uninformed the "people's collective sorrow" is – and I don't mean about Thomas Jefferson.

For a group so grimly determined to be outraged, one wonders why they chose to live in a city named Berkeley. The city was named after the philosopher and Anglican bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753), who purchased and worked slaves on his Rhode Island plantation.

Read on - it gets better. Human Events Online was on this story months ago; it would interesting to see if anyone voting in favor of the name change could list any of Jefferson's accomplishments mentioned by HEOnline. If this craze for doing away with names in such a knee-jerk, uninformed manner catches on anywhere outside Berzerkeley, the students of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, VA, had better watch out.

Posted by kswygert at 08:25 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

The teaching of a difficult subject

The Education Wonks note a new "Philadelphia Experiment" in social studies class:

City high school students will be required to take a class in African and African American history to graduate, a move that education experts believe is unique in the nation.

The requirement in the 185,000-student district, which is about two-thirds black, begins with September's freshman class, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday.

The yearlong course covers subjects including classical African civilizations, civil rights and black nationalism, said Gregory Thornton, the district's chief academic officer. The other social studies requirements are American history, geography and world history.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has more. The textbook for the course is The African-American Odyssey, by Darlene Hine. The reviews are few; anyone out there got an opinion on it?

The potential for good with a course like this is immense, as is the potential for harm, because's there's a right and a wrong way to do this. On the one hand, this type of class could indeed inspire some students who weren't previously history buffs to become more interested in the topic. Africa is indeed "the forgotten continent" in a lot of ways, and I don't think a student of any color would be disadvantaged by understanding more of what has happened there. Certainly, African-American students would benefit greatly from their home culture being treated in depth, rather than squeezed into February lessons each year.

On the other hand, topics like "black nationalism" are notoriously touchy, especially if the discussion veers off from history class to current events. It also seems like it would be impossible to adequately teach African history without covering hot-button topics such as slavery, communism, and extremist religions - all of which are in force today on that continent. Will teachers present a critical, balanced approach that focuses on the ills of Africa along with its triumphs?

My concern with a course like this is that it might depend on, if you'll pardon the term, a "whitewashing" of current events, and that it might stick only to those topics that make students "feel good" about African culture and contributions. Such a sanitized or biased approach would do all of Philly's students a disservice.

Posted by kswygert at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This textbook has been brought to you by Fruit of the Loom

On the one hand, we have claims that K-12 textbooks are far too heavy, bulky, and wordy (though the debate rages on the best way to assuage the issue). On the other hand, college textbooks apparently have so much free real estate that advertisers are moving in:

The first thing Tamy Zubyk sees when she wakes up and peels the curtains back in her Ryerson University dormitory room is the sea of flashing, dazzling billboards that pepper Toronto's downtown skyline. From then on, the 21-year-old says she spends the rest of her day being targeted by ads in subways, on storefronts — even in the women's washrooms at Ryerson, which feature ads alongside hand dryers and on the inside of the toilet stall doors. The classroom is one of the few advertising-free zones for Zubyk and Canada's other 785,000 university and college students.

Perhaps not for long.

For the past several months, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., one of the country's largest publishers of university textbooks, has been quietly trying to coax companies into buying advertising space in their texts.

The Gadfly's take: "Gadfly sees infinite potential in this innovation. A Big Mac next to Marx's Communist Manifesto could inform students of the ills of capitalism—think of the irony!"

My take - Wow, McGraw-Hill has developed a way to make college student ignore even more of the information in their textbooks.

Posted by kswygert at 03:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A tie by any other name

Maryland high school senior Thomas Benya found himself short one diploma for allegedly being short a tie at graduation. His argument - that a bolo tie is a tie:

High-school officials are withholding Thomas Benya's diploma because he wore a bolo tie under his graduation gown. Benya, 17, said he prefers the string bolo ties over traditional knotted ties to reflect his Native American heritage.

But officials from Maurice J. McDonough High School in suburban Washington, D.C., said they warned him that a bolo violated the dress code for the event, held Wednesday for about 250 students.

The bolo "was not considered by staff to be a tie," said Katie O'Malley-Simpson, a school spokeswoman. "We have many opportunities throughout the year to express cultural heritage. But we don't do that at graduation."

At the risk of sounding like a snotty East Coast chick, I though bolo ties went out with the 80's. Apparently they're still high-fashion in some parts of the world, and then there's the "cultural heritage" issue. Frankly, I think a school should be free to set as strict a dress code as they desire for graduation, and also quite frankly, they should be glad their first "dress code vs. cultural expression" clash wasn't over something more, er, colorful.

The politicians are on the case, as Montana governor Brian Schweitzer is in high dudgeon over the whole affair:

A Charles County high school's decision to deny a diploma to a senior who wore a bolo tie to graduation didn't offend just the student and his family. Montana's governor is mighty annoyed, too.

"To have some high school say that a bolo tie is not a tie is an outrage," said Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), who called The Washington Post yesterday after reading an article about 17-year-old Thomas Benya.

"In Montana and anyplace in Indian country, a bolo tie is dressed up. A tie is a tie," Gov. Brian Schweitzer says. "In Montana and anyplace in Indian country, a bolo tie is dressed up," he said. "A tie is a tie."

Posted by kswygert at 03:25 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Assessments in context

The Kalamazoo Gazette has good advice for parents:

* Look at the scores in context with the child's grades, especially if they are inconsistent. A child who tests well but has mediocre grades may be bored in class and need more academic challenge. A child who has strong grades but poor test results may suffer from test anxiety. "In each case, you need to ask about what's going on," said Standish.

* Look at the scores in context with the child's progress in previous years. Parents need to raise concerns if a child's scores are significantly different than previous years.

* Understand that bombing one round of assessment tests may simply indicate that the child was having a bad day. It's much more significant if several different tests during the school year reflect similar results...

* Know the differences between the tests. Michigan school districts specifically align their curriculum to the MEAP..."It's very fair to ask questions of the principal or teacher" about how the curriculum lines up with the test, Clay said.

I'd substitute "essential" for "very fair" in that last sentence, but otherwise I agree.

Posted by kswygert at 03:09 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Be sure to blame the tests

I'm confused. When droves of students fail a particular test, why is the default headline one that criticizes the test, rather than the students' knowledge?

If this year's results are any indication, some struggling students may want to dust off their textbooks this summer.

Almost one-third of [Georgia's] eighth-graders failed the math portion of the [Criterion Referenced Competency Test] and another 17 percent flunked the reading portion. About a quarter of the students failed the science portion and another 20 percent failed the Language Arts section of the exam.

"Nobody is kidding themselves," said Dana Tofig, spokesman for the state Department of Education. "The eighth grade scores were not where anyone wanted them to be."

What's the next quote the reporter dug up? Three guesses, and the first two don't count.

A similar poor showing by eighth-graders next year could put thousands of students at risk of being held back from high school. And lackluster performance in the test also could drive needy pupils away from the school system, said Merchuria Chase Williams, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

"It's a high-stakes test. And to us, it's a high-stakes test at its worst," Williams said. "One single test is used to determine whether or not a child has learned when, in fact, a teacher's evaluation is not even taken into consideration."

Quite frankly, when a teacher fails to teach students well, why should we care about their evaluation? Let's look at sample items from the math portion, failed by approximately 33% of Georgia's eighth-graders, shall we?

See anything there that seems horribly unfair or ambiguous? See any reason to suggest that students who fail this portion are somehow ready for high school math? No? Let examine the sample items for language arts. See anything too bizarre or tricky for 13-year-olds?

It is odd that there seems to be a dip in results here; last year's results were more promising for eighth-graders, while this year's results are better for the lower grades. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggest the middle school curriculum is squarely to blame.

Regardless, is it too much to ask for articles about standardized tests to include substantive criticisms of those tests, given that at least some criticism seems to be required? Something other than, "This is high stakes and we don't like that"?

Posted by kswygert at 03:02 PM | Comments (5)

Having an impact

Betsy's Page catches a telling comment in Thomas Friedman's NYTimes article about Williams College, which asks graduating seniors to name the high school teachers that had the greatest impact on their lives. Betsy noted this quote:

When she got the call from Williams saying she had won, [nominated Highland Park High School teacher] Ms. Loris recalled, "I just kept saying, 'Wow.' " A teacher for 23 years, now nearing retirement, she added, "I just found it very affirming in a Zenlike way," an acknowledgement "that my days have value, my life has had some worth. Public school teachers don't get that very often," especially with No Child Left Behind restrictions, which now require teachers to teach to the tests, and push out the window "all those things that really spark kids imaginations" - like art and music.

Betsy is outraged:

What a gratuitous slap for Ms. Loris and then for Thomas Friedman to include. Come on, teachers at Highland Park High School aren't losing their classes in art and music for NCLB preparation classes. If you check out HPHS's test scores, they're doing just fine for the great majority of their students. However, the groups that aren't passing Illinois's required 11th grade standardized test are the economically disadvantaged, disabled, and Hispanic students. Would Ms. Loris object to money spent to help those students achieve more in reading, writing, and math? The fact that this school has a teacher in international relations is some indication that NCLB has not forced this school to make draconian cutbacks. Plus, I object to the idea that art and music are the only things that "really spark kids imaginiations." I think that reading books can also spark those imaginations and, if kids have low reading skills, not only will they miss out on that spark to their imaginations, but they'll be held back in school and in work for the rest of their lives.

I can't improve on that, except to say than anyone laboring under the twin delusions that (a) all that matters about education is that it fires one's "imagination", and (b) subjects like reading and math can't possibly excite that imagination, shouldn't be in the field of education.

Posted by kswygert at 02:49 PM | Comments (2)

Ignore my test scores, look at my plant photos

Another day, another demand that we stop measuring academic abilities in school and start assessing the "whole" child:

Every year, millions of children in California are required to take a standardized test known as the STAR test. I am dreading the thought of taking this test in the spring and I know I’m not the only student who feels this way...

The results of a STAR test do not measure the most important traits of a student. For instance, they don’t reveal anything about the child’s moral development. Is the student happy, compassionate or kind? Does the student enjoy learning and school?

Note: The author here claims that the most important traits of a student are not academic achievement. Instead, that is outranked by enjoyment of learning, and happiness. Pop quiz: Who do you think will be happier as an adult, in the real word - the student who learned to be "happy" in school, or the student who developed a solid foundation in reading, math, science, etc?

For that matter, why is the author assuming these are mutually exclusive? Wouldn't it be fun to produce research showing that the students who learn the most in school and do the best on standardized tests are also the ones who are happiest and have the most love of learning? I'm not saying I know that's so; I'm saying it would be fun to poke at the anti-testing folks with those kinds of correlational results.

One alternative to the STAR test is called portfolio assessment. This is where the teacher and student work together to collect samples of work throughout the school year. These samples are kept in a "portfolio" or large folder. The teacher uses the portfolio during conferences with parents and the student, and the teacher reviews the work in the portfolio to check student progress.

Portfolios are time-consuming, and I thought teachers were always harried and pressed for time. Bias is an issue - what if your teacher doesn't like you, or like kids like you? How can this be compared across different classrooms, never mind different schools? What if the teacher's feedback is subpar, so that the assessments don't improve over time? What if this year's teacher is an easy grader, and next year's teacher is not?

Last year, my teacher did a project with the class called Reflections/Connections. This project was a good way of showing individual student progress. My teacher asked each child to complete a different assignment for each subject. We could choose to create an art project, a piece of writing, make a video or invent some other way to fulfill the requirement. For instance, I planted a garden, photographed the growth of the plants and created a scrapbook of all my photos along with notes about each plant for science. I thought it was interesting to see the different ways each kid expressed him/herself. This project revealed much more about our individuality.

Isn't that precious. As we all know, individuality is the most important thing. Did this author learn the scientific names for plants? Did she do a valid research study to see which plants grew the tallest, and why? Did she write a summary that demonstrated her understanding of the science involved? If she did, did every other kid in his class do as well? Or was individuality and effort the only thing graded here?

Please note: I know the author is a sixth-grader. For a kid that age, she writes well. And I know that class projects like this can be informative as well as fun. I am not so much ragging on the budding botanist as I am on the Santa Cruz Sentinel staff, who apparently believe it is newsworthy that a student enjoys planting a garden more than taking a standardized test.

Posted by kswygert at 11:00 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Hitting a plateau?

I found this San Jose Mercury News editorial fascinating, in large part because of the alleged critics' worries:

...the state standardized test scores in many of the 23 schools in the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District have continued to rise over the past two years. Of the five schools citywide receiving this year's achievement award from Mayor Ron Gonzales for most-improved test results, four are in Alum Rock.

Their progress is a tribute to teachers' perseverance and ability to stay focused on literacy and the state learning standards. It also helps that the district, despite changes at the top, has not changed its curriculum...

Several factors may have contributed to Alum Rock's improvement. The district has deployed at least one literacy coach in every school. It also uses the phonics-heavy Open Court reading textbook, which many districts don't like because it is scripted and gives teachers less control over lessons. The worry is that students will make strides, then stall at a plateau. But that hasn't turned out to be true at two of the mayor's award winners...

My thoughts, when I read something like this:

1. Why is giving teachers more control over lessons considered more important that using an effective reading lesson?
2. Why is making strides, then reaching a plateau, a worry for a school district that was barely even making strides before?
3. If students have a solid foundation in basic reading, why is there even a worry about a "plateau"? Technically, doesn't everyone "plateau" at some level of reading, beyond which they don't comprehend the material? Do critics of phonics really believe that students with a solid grasp of the alphabet and the method by which English words are constructed will suddenly just stop dead at three-letter words?

Posted by kswygert at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 09, 2005

Pressing the right buttons

A clever kid finds a way to use a "clever" calculator:

Texas Instruments is replacing thousands of calculators issued to students in Virginia after a sixth-grader discovered that pressing a certain two keys converts decimals into fractions. That would have given students an unfair advantage on Virginia's standardized tests, which require youngsters to know how to make such conversions with pencil and paper.

At the request of the state education department two years ago, Texas Instruments had disabled the decimal-to-fraction key and left it blank on calculators intended for middle school students.

But in January, Dakota Brown, a 12-year-old at Carver Middle School in suburban Richmond's Chesterfield County, figured out that by pressing two other keys on his state-approved TI-30 Xa SE VA, he could change decimals into fractions anyway...

Calls to the boy's school and his parents to arrange an interview with the youngster were not immediately returned. But Chesterfield County school officials held a low-key ceremony to honor him, and Texas Instruments sent him a graphing calculator, "which he loved," said Lois Williams, the state administrator in charge of middle-school math.

Perhaps Dakota's looking at a possible future in the testing and QA departments at Texas Instruments. After all, no one there caught this.

(Hat tip: Mike Z.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:16 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Addressing the reading problem

Indiana high schools work on test scores by getting to the root of the matter - reading comprehension:

Organizers of the Adolescent Literacy Conference hope to provide new ideas and recommit teachers to boosting students' basic skills. The three-day summit ends today at Southport Sixth Grade Academy in Perry Township.

While Indiana students' reading skills rate slightly above national averages, many teachers say they have only begun to address a persistent literacy lag. In 2003, the most recent year available, a third of Indiana students rated below a basic level on the Grade 4 reading test of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In Grade 8, 23 percent were below the basic level...

If students have difficulty with reading comprehension, it affects their performance on all subjects on standardized tests, from reading to math, several educators said.

One of the issues is the problem of boys, and teachers are wracking their brains for books that boys will enjoy. Might I suggest (and I'm not the only one to do so) a complete turn away from the modern young adult sob stories, and a return to non-fiction, or science, or the heroic young adult's literature of the past?

Posted by kswygert at 12:48 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Florida schools improve

Florida improves but the carping continues:

Despite tougher standards and the first-time inclusion of disabled students, Florida's schools generally maintained their state-assigned grades in reports released by Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday.

Bush also announced a potentially dramatic change in how the state's schools are judged by the federal No Child Left Behind act. The changes could mean that more than 60 percent of Florida schools may avoid federal retribution for failing to show improvement compared with only 23 percent last year.

The state grades are given after analyzing a number of measurements, including FCAT scores and the improvement of each student as he or she moves from grade to grade.

Bush said "the good news continues" and portrayed the grades as an ongoing step toward rectifying a public school system neglected for years.

The good news is immediately followed by criticism:

Democrats repeated their attacks on the grading system, saying they rely too much on the FCAT and ignore the needs of individual students in a diverse state. House Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale said school grades fail to acknowledge that the state's teachers' pay, average class size and graduation rates still rank near the bottom of the 50 states.

"It is one thing to declare success and another to truly achieve it," Smith said. "Unfortunately, the system adopted by the governor and Republicans is one that bases a child's lifetime of education on a standardized test on a single day; a horrible way to grade Florida's educational system."

Okay, suggest a better assessment to use for grading the educational system. But remember, the assessment has to be cheap (for a cash-strapped system), reliable (since there are high-stakes decisions being made), objective (to avoid possibility of biases) and standardized (so that schools can be compared to one another.)

I'm waiting, Mr. Smith.

Posted by kswygert at 12:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Millennials face the music

The class of 2005 faces - surprise! - some very different issues than did their parents:

...as Jessie prepared to graduate this month from Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wis., her parents are pinching themselves. Jessie - yearbook editor, volleyball captain, National Honor Society member, radio station intern, community service club coordinator and actress _has made them proud. After a trip to Appalachia this summer to repair houses for the poor, she'll start at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she vows to "do something to make the world better."

Make the world better? What happened to "Whatever," the Generation X anthem of the 1990s? Or "turn on, tune in, drop out" a 1960s standard? Jessie is part of a new generation, born after 1980, known to some demographers as "the Millennials." They are the largest, most diverse and most techno-savvy generation in American history...

With their emphasis on teamwork, achievement, modesty and respect for authority, today's high school graduates bear little resemblance to their more nihilistic Gen-X siblings and even less to their self-indulgent baby boomer parents, academics and sociologists say...

Indeed, studies show that today's high school graduates are less violent and less inclined to risky behavior than their parents were at the same age...Still, today's teenagers have a host of endemic problems. The number of children with obesity has tripled since 1980. Today's kids are more prone to asthma, attention deficit disorder and depression...Under intense pressure from their parents to succeed and faced with a new, more competitive world economy, today's high school graduates are feeling stress, some of it debilitating. Cheating is on the rise. So are casual sexual encounters...

Related to this are the "helicopter parent," syndrome (when parents hover over kids to the point of writing their college entrance essays) and the "self-esteem" movement in which competition is eliminated and narcissism is fostered.

Are kids today really under that much more pressure? Certainly, they have the additional pressure of virtually unlimited choice of what they want to with their lives; having 100 options is more stressful than having one or two. There's also what I consider to be almost relentless popular-culture pressure in which casual sex, slutty clothing, constant drug use, and rampant materialism are applauded while academic achievement, modesty, and self-discipline are derided.

Perhaps parents today could best take pressure of their kids by making sure the phrase, "You can be anything you want to be," is followed by, "But you better be prepared to work hard for it" and "Turn off the TV!"

Posted by kswygert at 12:31 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 08, 2005

What minority parents want

Some radical educators in NYC might be surprised to learn that the groups they supposedly speak for don't agree with them:

Last week, a group called the New York Collective of Radical Educators staged a protest against standardized testing. Responding to recent reports about substantial gains for fourth-graders on citywide reading and writing examinations, the group argued that the improved scores reflect "drill-and-kill" test-preparation activities rather than real learning. Worst of all, protesters maintained, the entire testing enterprise discriminates against racial minorities. For blacks and Hispanics especially, they said, standardized tests inhibit academic achievement and increase the dropout rate.

The only problem is, blacks and Hispanics don't see it that way.

Over the past decade, public opinion surveys have demonstrated overwhelming support among racial minorities for high-stakes testing. In a 2003 study by the Pew Hispanic Center, for example, three-quarters of Latinos said that standardized tests "should be used to determine whether students are promoted or can graduate"...Likewise, African-Americans favor high-stakes tests by large margins. To be sure, activist groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have criticized NCLB and state graduation exams. But the black rank and file tell another story.

Read it all. While it is true that both sides could be correct on some points, it is rare to see the minority parent pro-testing attitudes mentioned in the debate on race and testing. Unfortunately, I could see an anti-testing activist reading this article and taking away the message that they should redouble their efforts to convince parents that all tests are somehow racist.

The author of the article above, Jonathan Zimmerman, also wrote Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools. NYCore, the group he mentions, lists their talking points here; you won't be surprised to learn that they don't believe in letting parents support local schools with their property tax money, white men aren't exactly welcome in their organization, and military recruiters are the evil embodiment of US "imperialism."

Posted by kswygert at 05:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 07, 2005

Clothes makes the (sales)man

The Farkers were right to slap the "Obvious" tag on this one - goth chicks don't get hired at A&F, and preppy girls aren't welcome to work at Hot Topic:

It turns out what your mother always tells you is true: People judge you by your looks. Just ask Shannon Nichols, a senior at Livermore's Granada High School. Nichols, 18, recently tested that theory when she was applying for jobs...

[Shannon and a friend] got the idea after reading about a lawsuit successfully brought by employees against youthwear retailer Abercrombie & Fitch for trying to make its employees project a certain image. They decided to apply for jobs at the company's Pleasanton store.

Since Abercrombie would probably jump at the chance to hire the preppy-looking Nichols, she decided to test their tolerance for someone dressed as a goth. She sprayed her sandy brown hair black, layered on the heavy black eyeliner, added a fake lip ring and bared her jeweled navel...

...[but] Nichols experienced a [negative] response from store employees, who basically made it clear: Don't let the door hit you on your gothic backside on your way out.

"I waited in line to ask the cashier if I could fill out an application, and she tried to not even acknowledge I was there," Nichols says. "When it was my turn, she actually turned to the man behind me and asked if she could help him. He told her that I was first."

My initial reaction was, Shannon looks great as a goth. Those stupid short, flared pants are flattering to few figures, but she pulls it off, and the dark hair looks great. Let me be the first to say she should keep that look.

Seriously, though, A&F got sued because they wanted their employees to project a certain image? Are you kidding me? That's what stores like that are all about. No one is forced to work there, and no one is forced to wear their overpriced preppy clothes. Please. A&F is selling an image. Hot Topic is selling an image. Stores should be free to require employees to project that image. How is that different from perfectly legal dress codes in other organizations?

Posted by kswygert at 05:57 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Leaving a (bad) lasting legacy

Cactus Shadows (where could it be but Arizona?) High School Social Studies Teacher L. Mark Sweeney, recognized for his intellect and his teaching skills, spoke at the 2005 graduation ceremony. By all accounts, Sweeney's speech was excellent.

Too bad it wasn't really his.

Last Wednesday, a CSHS graduate, who did not wish to be identified, stopped by the Sonoran News with a document he said “might be of interest” to the paper. Typed across the top in big, bold type was, “The Dean of Plagiarism Brings You ...” The following line contained the title: “Look at the view ...” The next line, which was crossed out, read, “Anna Quindlen’s Villanova Commencement Address, 1999,” was followed by, “L. Mark Sweeney’s Cactus Shadows High School Graduation Address, 2005.”

Sonoran News Sportswriter Pete Mohr attended the graduation ceremony. He even took notes during Sweeney’s address. And, the notes Mohr took during Sweeney’s address were verbatim from Quindlen’s 1999 Villanova Commencement Address...After asking Mohr if Sweeney’s graduation address was the same as Quindlen’s Villanova address, [the anonymous graduate ] bee-lined down to CSHS to see if he could get a copy of Sweeney’s address from CSHS Principal Gaye Leo...

During his conversation with [Sonoran News Publisher/Editor Don] Sorchych, Sweeney said Leo told him Sonoran News had a copy of the speech. Sweeney explained that his sister found the commencement address a long time ago and sent it to him and he just filed it away. Sweeney said he recently located the file, made a few changes and while he admitted he gave no attribution, Sweeney cited he didn’t know who penned the piece.

A rather cursory Google internet search, using, “Look at the view. You’ll never be disappointed,” yields a plethora of results revealing Quindlen’s name as the author of the 1999 Villanova Commencement Address.

Ooopsie. Isn't it interesting how Google trips up so many sneaky folks these days?

(Hat tip: Michael B.)

Posted by kswygert at 02:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A house full of cats is a noisy house in any country

Cutest. Website. Ever.

The sound of a French bee, a cheerful "beeee-eeeep!," is the greeting at bzzzpeek.com, a Web site devoted to onomatopoeia. For anyone who does not know what onomatopoeia is, bzzzzpeek.com will gladly demonstrate. In fact, that's pretty much all the site does.

Onomatopoetic words, "buzz," "beep" and "moo," for instance, mimic the action or object they represent. They are, in theory, international, part of a lingua franca. Cows after all, don't moo differently in Spain than in Japan, do they? And all donkeys hee-haw, don't they?

You have 29 chances to find out to what degree this is not so.

I share an office with someone, so I had to put on headphones to try out the site. It's hysterical. I never knew my oldest cat was Italian. And Japanese snakes apparently have vocal cords. They have sounds for other objects, too, and if your kid wants to put his/her renditions on the site, the submission process is straightforward.

Also, if you start playing a sound bite and then click on another one, it will start playing while the previous one is still going. Clicking on all the cats in rapid succession made me feel like I was filling food bowls at a very exotic intake center.

Posted by kswygert at 01:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Celebrity scholarships

I should have known this was next in the list of "reality" TV shows:

Tonight at 8, ABC will show the first of six installments of "The Scholar," in which 10 high school seniors pursue a scholarship worth as much as $240,000 by outsmarting, out-talking and out-preening one another before a panel of actual college admissions officers. That sum is intended to cover tuition, room and board at an Ivy League or comparable institution for four years, as well as incidentals like books and travel.

There is plenty of tension - in tonight's episode one boy, on the brink of tears, says he cannot bear to inform his immigrant parents that he has just lost an early round of the competition. Still, nobody on "The Scholar" loses: at the least, each contestant will walk away with a $20,000 scholarship. (The grand prize is being supplied by an education foundation created by Eli Broad, a California billionaire; the rest of the money has been given by Wal-Mart.)

The standardized testing hurdle had to be passed first, but other factors came into play (probably selected to make for the most compelling television):

In a parallel to the actual college admissions process - the program was taped in January, before most knew where they had been accepted - each had to write an essay, supply grades and test scores and submit to extensive interviews. To assess how camera-ready they were, each was also required to provide a tape.

The 10 finalists were selected from among about 5,000 applicants recruited through Web sites or their guidance counselors. That rate of acceptance - about 0.2 percent - is far lower than that of Harvard, which was 9 percent this year.

The competing students have diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as life experience. Most were able to demonstrate at least some financial need, and each was able to point to an obstacle that he or she had overcome, whether it was scoliolosis (Melissa, from Tarzana, Calif.), the dangerous streets of Oakland, Calif., (Max) or racism (Gerald, of Commerce, Tex.)

The most profound obstacle that I had to overcome as an early adult was...stage fright. Guess that wouldn't have made me a very good contestant for the show, eh?

Update:TVGasm's coverage is thoughtful:

Anyway, one of the warm and fuzzy elements of the show is that no one actually gets eliminated. Instead, the students are simply not chosen -- a gracious and appropriate route to take, I guess. Similarly, the occasionally soporific "scholarship committee" opts not to instigate conflict but instead provoke thoughtful responses...

My only real problem with the show is that after taking all this time and care to create as nurturing an environment as possible for a reality competition, the most important challenges seem to come down to rote memorization routines. Having students match dates to historical events is an antiquated testing prototype to say the least. Answering quiz-show trivia about authors and their book titles is similarly undemonstrative of actual intellect. There doesn't seem to be an emphasis on abstract thinking (at least not yet), and in this way, The Scholar truly exposes its reality show foundation.

Posted by kswygert at 01:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

I just offed Grandma - does that get me 5% extra on my score?

Devoted Reader Jim sends along a tip which he calls "tailor-made for N2P." It's filed under the "Can't Possibly Be True" section of "News of the Weird," and I can see why.

Official guidelines issued in May by Britain's Joint Council on Qualifications, directed to agencies that administer high school and junior-high standardized tests, call for students to receive extra points on the test if they have experienced pre-exam stress due to selected circumstances: death of a parent or close relative (up to 5 percent extra), death of other relative (up to 4 percent), death of pet (2 percent if on exam day, 1 percent if the day before), witnessing a distressing event on exam day (up to 3 percent), just-broken arm or leg (up to 3 percent), headache (1 percent).

The JCQ site, which is rather precious in a British sort of way, has a page listing the various documents of official guidelines. I couldn't find anything related to this on there, nor could I find it in the press releases. Of course, I haven't had time to wade through everything.

If true, however, the JCQ has just handed students a loophole the size of Lake Michigan. They might as well give everyone 1% off the top, to ward off the deluge of headache claims. And if they're really interested in cutting students a break, I'd say a 5% gimme isn't quite enough for someone who became an orphan two days before the exam.

But then there's "witnessing a distressing event on exam day." The heck? Distress, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so the JCQ will be hard-pressed to prove that something really didn't distress examinees. For example, this morning, driving to work, I saw a woman wearing skin-tight denim shorts who should not have been wearing anything skin-tight, denim, or short. The vision was that of a normal-sized female torso perched across a blue-jeaned billboard. I'd swear on a Bible that that sight was distressing. If the shorts had had writing on the bum, even more so.

Posted by kswygert at 10:04 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Bush vs. Kerry: The Yale Years

An amusing political and educational commentary from the Boston Globe:

During last year's presidential campaign, John F. Kerry was the candidate often portrayed as intellectual and complex, while George W. Bush was the populist who mangled his sentences. But newly released records show that Bush and Kerry had a virtually identical grade average at Yale University four decades ago.

In 1999, The New Yorker published a transcript indicating that Bush had received a cumulative score of 77 for his first three years at Yale and a roughly similar average under a non-numerical rating system during his senior year.

Kerry, who graduated two years before Bush, got a cumulative 76 for his four years, according to a transcript that Kerry sent to the Navy when he was applying for officer training school. He received four D's in his freshman year out of 10 courses, but improved his average in later years...

I always thought those who criticized Bush as a dumb "C" student were being ridiculous (especially now, it seems, if they voted for Kerry). It is amusing, though, to note that French class is where Kerry got one of his highest scores. And this comment further underscores the silliness of judging someone by their grades in the 1960's:

Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale history professor who taught both Kerry and Bush, said in a telephone interview that he vividly remembers Kerry as a student during the 1964-1965 school year, when Kerry would have been a junior. However, Smith said he doesn't have a specific memory about Bush.

Based on what Smith recalls teaching that year, Kerry scored a 71 and 79 in two of Smith's courses. When Smith was told those scores, he responded: ''Uh, oh. I thought he was good student. Those aren't very good grades." To put the grades in perspective, Smith said that he had a well-earned reputation for being tough, and noted that such grades would probably be about 10 points higher in a similar class today because of the impact of what he called ''grade inflation."

Somehow, I doubt the description of Bush as a "B" student would help MoveOn.Org raise much money.

Posted by kswygert at 09:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2005

Betraying their trust

I think this professor can just write off his student evaluations this year:

A community college professor has been charged with using his students' names and Social Security numbers to obtain department store credit cards. Bradley Neil Slosberg, 49, of Winter Haven, was arrested Friday on charges of criminal use of personal identification and scheming to defraud, the Polk County Sheriff's Office said.

Slosberg and his girlfriend, Deborah Hafner, stole the identities of at least three of the students from his anatomy and physiology class at Polk Community College, sheriff's office spokeswoman Carrie Rodgers said.

I never would have worred about this when I was a student, nor would I ever have thought of it when I was an adjunct. Yet another example of stupidity going hand in hand with poor ethics: if he were going to take this big a risk, I'd say applying for a Visa and immediately buying something big he could sell for some serious cash (or a one-way ticket to France) would have been smarter. Instead, it seems he seriously violated his students' trust in order to obtain a card from the likes of Sears.

Posted by kswygert at 03:18 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Google can't do everything

Yet another thing to blame on Bill Gates:

It's never been easier for kids to get their fingertips on a keyboard or to cruise cyberspace. Statistics Canada reports three out of four households with school-aged children regularly access the Internet, and a growing number of users are turning to high-speed connections. Our schools now have about a million computers, 93 per cent of which are online...

Yet [...] the evidence is mounting that our obsessive use of information technology is dumbing us down, adults as well as kids. While they can be engaging and resourceful tools for learning -- if used in moderation -- computers and the Internet can also distract kids from homework, encourage superficial and uncritical thinking, replace face-to-face interaction between students and teachers, and lead to compulsive behaviour.

Anyone want to volunteer to email this article to Jackie Goldberg?

I've always thought that access to computers and the web, in and of itself, doesn't improve education. Sure, some math and stat stuff becomes more fun, and online research is often easier on the feet and the eyes. Basic computer usage can also be considered a part of literacy in this technological age. But kids who aren't motivated and don't have the basic skills aren't going to magically become geniuses just because their teacher puts everything online.

University of Munich economists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann analyzed the results of the OECD's PISA international standardized tests. Not only did they tap into a massive subject pool -- 174,000 15-year-olds in reading, 97,000 each in math and science from 31 countries (including Canada) -- but they were also able, because participants filled out extensively detailed surveys, to control for other possible outside influences, something remarkably few studies do. Their results, which are only now starting to make waves among pedagogy experts, confirm what many parents have long intuited: the sheer ubiquity of information technology is getting in the way of learning. Once household income and the wealth of a school's resources are taken out of the equation, teens with the greatest access to computers and the Internet at home and school earn the lowest test scores.

This suggests teens are perfectly willing to use the Internet as an alternative to TV, with much the same educational results.

Posted by kswygert at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

Conservative vs. liberals in public schools

N2P Devoted Gadfly Brian H. sent along a link to an article about the conservative activists' drive for more balanced K-12 education:

...An aggrieved faction of conservative high school students and parents appears eager to take up the cause:

• ProtestWarrior.com has equipped 160 high school chapters and about 100 individual students with materials to publicize, for instance, whenever a teacher "tries to shove his ideology down someone's throat."

• A group known as Christian Copts of California has distributed 5,000 booklets in Florida and California this year denouncing a seventh-grade world history section as an "attempt to engrave Islam in the minds of ... children."

• Parents and Students for Academic Freedom formed in August 2004 to give parents a forum to address "the one-sided teaching and partisan indoctrination in our nation's secondary schools." The group urges school boards and legislatures to adopt the same speech-restricting principles that its parent organization (Students for Academic Freedom) urges at the college level...

Some observers envision liberal and conservative families lining up in pursuit of separate educations. Because ideological policing of the classroom may prove impossible, support could grow for vouchers for values-driven education, says Michelle Easton, president of the conservative Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute in Herndon, Va.

Support could increase for homeschooling as well - in fact, it already is.

Posted by kswygert at 12:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sleepwalking through school

Groggy teens + early school openings = low test scores?

A new study found that teenagers lose nearly two hours of sleep each night during the school week. That sleep loss may be due to adolescents' increasingly busy schedules. Or it may be because their circadian rhythms -- biological clocks -- seem to be set to a later schedule than younger children or adults. This makes it harder for teens to get to sleep early...

"We found that there is much less sleep during school days. Teens lose about 10 hours of sleep per week, and on weekends they sleep more," said study co-author Margarita Dubocovich, a professor of molecular pharmacology, biological chemistry, psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dubocovich said that later school start times might help improve academic performance.

This makes me wonder why the big admissions tests - LSAT, SAT, GMAT, etc. - have traditionally started so early in the morning. Was the theory that 8 am was when most young adults would be sharpest? Was the test considered less stressful if you got it out of the way early in the day? Was that the easist time to reserve locations and find proctors? Or was it just assumed that the tests should begin at the same time that school/work usually does?

Posted by kswygert at 10:47 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Homeschooling isn't a new idea

Former lefty Keith Thompson has his own blog, and one post is a delightful interview with a homeschooling parent:

...several Marin homeschool parents said they scratched their heads in wonder when they read a recent essay (New York Times, May 15) by University of Chicago professor Mark Lilla, citing the “separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement” as an ominous sign for the culture, along with “fascination with the ‘end times,’ the belief in personal (and self-serving) miracles, the ignorance of basic science and history, the demonization of popular culture, the censoring of textbooks.”

The anonymous homeschooling mom I spoke to says she doesn’t recognize the movement she’s part of in Lilla’s account. “Kids have been homeschooled for centuries, for goodness sake. It’s public education that’s the relative newcomer. I’m close friends with several conservative Christian homeschooling families, as well as with homeschooling families that voted for John Kerry and Ralph Nader. We don’t argue politics and we don’t fight culture wars. We talk about what’s best for our kids. If that makes us weird, then maybe we’re hitchhiking in the wrong galaxy.”

Posted by kswygert at 10:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 03, 2005

Smart kid, caring parents, bad decisions

Wizbang! reviews a Boston Globe article about a Massachusetts valedictorian who can't afford to attend any Massachusetts universities. Sounds like a real sob story - until you read further and realize that Juliano Foleiss is an illegal alien, and is thus not eligible for in-state tuition. His parents came here five years ago on tourist visas, and have stayed illegally ever since.

Wizbang!'s response is pretty pointed:

The Glob story makes this seem like a great tragedy, but refuses to point the finger of blame squarely where it belongs: on the Foleisses. They chose to come here under false pretenses, lying about their intention and filing false documents with the government. They broke the law even before they came to the United States, and have been breaking it on a day-by-day basis ever since.

Juliano, I'm sorry that you feel you're being punished for nothing -- or for your parent's actions. But every day since you turned 18 (the article doesn't specify his age, but I'm presuming he's 18 now) that you haven't turned yourself in as an illegal alien, you've perpetuated their initial crime...

And one more question, Juliano: let's presume that you did qualify for in-state tuition and went to a Massachusetts college. Once you get your degree, what will you do with it? As an illegal alien, you can't work legally in the United States. Do you want the US to forgive you your illegal status, or are you asking the taxpayers of Massachusetts to subsidize your education so you can go back home to Brazil and work there?

I recently posted about my local high school, who is also getting squeezed with students who are illegal immigrants. It was just a matter of time before a high-profile illegal emerged as a valedictorian, I suppose.

Posted by kswygert at 08:05 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 02, 2005

Robbing the smart to pay the dull

It Comes In Pints? discusses a Californian school brouhaha where, once again, standards are modified because people just don't like the "diversity" that is produced by them:

Davis schools are making strides toward being a little more like everyone else. Davis still identified 26 percent of its students as gifted this year, more than three times the state average. But this year's total is a far cry from the 35 percent of students identified last year.

The issue is a contentious one in the college town. Concern that African Americans and Latinos were being disproportionately excluded from the school district's gifted and talented education program, known as GATE, drove the Davis school board to alter the program's admission requirements two years ago...

Tinkering with the district's identification procedure yielded a lower number this year, but in preliminary data presented to the school board May 5, the original problem seemed to have reappeared: Whites and Asians were once again much more likely to be identified as gifted than were African Americans and Latinos.

That prompted three of the five school board members to say they had serious reservations with, at minimum, the basic test the district was using.

ICIP? mentions the phrase, "soft bigotry of low expectations," and I think that phrase is completely appropriate here. Note that the school board members are not quoted as having serious reservations about the quality of education that minority students were receiving at Davis schools, nor about the quality of home life or culture that could be affecting those students negatively, or about anything else that might be the cause of the racial disparities on the GATE admissions assessments. The school board members are not stopping to ask themselves if they really understand why Asian students are six times as likely to be identified as ready to enter a gifted program as Latino students.

Nay, it's all about the admissions assessment and the resulting racial balance, and what the board members are saying here it is more important to admit certain minority students under lower standards than it is to inspire all students to meet higher standards. The trustees are upset that an objective admissions process reveals an achievement gap that they'd like to hide, but one trustee, I believe, lets the cat out of the bag with her comment:

Martha West, another trustee, said she would like to see most GATE classes eliminated and the money used for those programs spent on improving the quality of instruction in all classes.

Tell me this: If students from every ethnic group were equally qualifying for gifted classes, and it was really only a biased admissions process that produced disparities, would trustees be so nervous about the quality of instruction in regular classes that they'd suggest taking money away from the gifted to help the average? Methinks Ms. West has suspicions as to why certain groups aren't doing as well as others, and she knows just how much worse certain groups are doing, too.

Posted by kswygert at 03:26 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

There's a pot of controversy at the end of this rainbow

Young adult literature takes a turn for the smutty:

A battle could be brewing in the book stacks over a new novel about teens and oral sex. Rainbow Party, aimed at the teen market (ages 14 and up), has some booksellers and librarians wondering whether author Paul Ruditis sensationalizes the subject — and, more significantly, whether they should carry it on their shelves...

Rainbow Party (Simon & Schuster, $8.99) is about a group of teens who plan an oral-sex party at which each of the girls wears a different color of lipstick. Ruditis says the book was never meant to sensationalize sex parties. "We just wanted to present an issue kids are dealing with," he says..
Suzanne Kelly, a buyer for the Chester County Book and Music Co. in West Chester, Pa., which will stock a limited number of Rainbow, agrees. She says the book's message that oral sex "really is sex" and that teens can contract STDs through such sexual practices far outweigh the controversial story line.

"I can't imagine anyone reading this book and saying, 'Hey, what a great idea. Let's send out invitations,' " Ruditis says...

Something tells me Ruditis doesn't know a lot of teenagers. Not surprisingly, conservative columnists are appalled:

...In the end, the kids in the book abandon plans for the event and news of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases rocks their school. But the front cover and book marketing emphasize titillation over education, overpowering any redeeming value the book might have. Indeed, according to Publisher's Weekly, the bound galleys sent to booksellers carried the provocative tagline, "don't you want to know what really goes down?"...

[Author Ruditis said]...I raised questions in my book and I hope that parents and children or teachers and students can open a topic of conversation through it. Rainbow parties are such an interesting topic. It's such a childlike way to look at such an adult subject with rainbow colors."

Teenage group orgies are "an interesting topic?" Is Ruditis out of his mind? We can only pray Simon & Schuster keeps him away from the preschool "Rubbadubbers" books.

Ace of Spades notes the "cautionary-tale" cover for smut has been around for some time:

The whole idea of a "cautionary tale" is just ass. In the fifties, there were dirty-ish magazines featuring names like Teenage Confidential and the like that would be all about good girls going bad and taking barbituates and having lots of sex and then having an epiphany or some tragedy that convinced them that they had chosen the wrong path.

But, obviously, no one was reading those stories for the obligatory moral point cynically packed in to the last two pages. They were reading for the barbituates and the sex.This is so well-known and so obvious I'm surprised this guy even attempts this spin.

Editors in Pajamas has the most concise response:

Like Malkin says, "You can't make this stuff up." Home schooling it is.

The customer reviews on Amazon aren't too great, but the thoughtful comments from some who have actually read the book lead me to think that perhaps parents should be reading this.

Posted by kswygert at 08:39 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Vandalism done right

Montpelier High's (VT) pranksters are budding Michaelangelos:

This year's senior prank has left a mark on Montpelier High School that school officials don't plan to erase. The class of 2005 painted a large celestial mural on a ceiling in the main lobby of the school during the holiday weekend, Principal Peter Evans said.

Evans said when he returned to school on Tuesday, he looked up at the mural and thought it was an art class project. He soon learned that it was the senior prank, a tradition that usually has a more troublesome impact on the school. About 170 ceiling tiles were painted, he said.

"In this position we try to figure out how to deal with a case of vandalism that's really quite beautiful," Evans said.

Found this photo in the Fark comments link; it really does look nice.


Wonder if any of the Montpelier Pranksters are headed to MIT?

Posted by kswygert at 08:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

Hopefully he got some mouthwash along with the candy

What kind of teacher do you get when you combine low levels of maturity, ethics, and decision-making with some interesting creative impulses?

A Carroll County mother is accusing one of the teachers at her son's elementary school of having inappropriate physical contact with her son, having him lick the teacher's toes in exchange for candy. The mother says she discovered what happened on Friday, when she saw a note, bearing the teacher's name in the signature, written in her 10-year-old son’s school yearbook.

“I saw a note from a teacher, saying, ‘Good luck next year. Don't lick anyone else's toes. You're silly. Love, Mrs. Kilpatrick,’” said Denise Strozier, the student’s mother. “So, I'm, like, okay. What is this about licking somebody's toes?” She says her son, a student at Temple Elementary School, then described inappropriate physical contact this past February with teacher Jody Kilpatrick in front of a dozen other children.

“He said that [the teacher] says, ‘Well, everybody else has candy. And if you lick my toes, you can have some candy,’ And I said, ‘Are you sure that's what you [heard?]’” Strozier said. “He said, ‘Yes, ma'am, all my friends were there and I licked her toes, and I got candy’”...

Strozier called the principal to complain, and she said the initial response from the school was simply to offer Strozier and her son a replacement yearbook, but only if she returned the one with the teacher's writing in it. Strozier said the teacher apologized to her over the phone, but the mother wants the teacher fired.

I'm posting this icky tale solely for the benefit of my fiance, who has the complete opposite of a foot fetish. He's never gone near my toes. If you put a gun to his head and ordered him to lick anyone's toes - even Carmen Electra's - I'd be a widow at a young, young age.

Posted by kswygert at 05:09 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Coddling today's youth

Christina Hoff Sommers is a favorite author of mine; her article in USA Today is a prime example of why:

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even "frightening" for a young person...

...Are schoolchildren really so upset by corrections in primary red? Why have teachers become so careful?

It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile hothouse flowers who require protection from even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure. The new solicitude goes far beyond blacklisting red pens. Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings...

Lest you think she's exaggerating, don't miss the recommendation from one Phys Ed expert that kids juggle scarves instead of tennis balls. Equally funny is the early ed professor who notes that we should probably expect little humans to be at least as mentally sturdy as rodents:

Is the kind of overprotectiveness these educators counsel really such a bad thing? Sooner or later, children will face stressful situations, disappointments and threats to their self-esteem. Why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible? The answer is that children need challenge, excitement and competition to flourish. To treat them as combustible bundles of frayed nerves does them no favors.

Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota, has done careful studies on playground dynamics. I asked him what he thought of the national movement against games such as tag and dodge ball: "It is ridiculous. Even squirrels play chase"...

The good intentions or dedication of the self-esteem educators and Scout leaders are not in question. But their common sense is. With few exceptions, the nation's children are mentally and emotionally sound. They relish the challenge of high expectations. They can cope with red pens, tug of war and dodge ball. They can handle being "It."

I don't know if I can go with her as far as dodgeball, but I agree with everything else she said.

Posted by kswygert at 04:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When the tests are automatically to blame

Note the subheader of this article: "Standardized testing and other education demands choke fun out of school reading, some experts say." Then look in vain for any evidence whatsoever in the article supporting the argument that standardized testing is the major cause of declining enjoyment of reading for high school students:

Sherre Sachar comes from a book-loving family. Her father, Louis, is an award-winning author, and the graduating senior thinks that settling down with a good book should be one of life's great joys. But as she prepares to leave high school and head to Cornell University in the fall, she is tired of reading.

The extensive required reading in her high school classes in Austin, Texas--including Advanced Placement English literature, in which she flew from one classic writing to another--left her with no time to pick up books she thought would be fun. And she was frustrated by teachers who offered either too little help in understanding the complex texts or conducted tortured efforts to wring symbolism out of every word.

"I haven't read a book for pleasure in about three years," said Sachar, 18. "If I do, it's in the summer, and I might only get through one book because I'm so sick of trying to read. It's not fun anymore."

Allowing students some choice in what they read and helping them understand the content is a difficult balance to strike for today's teachers, educators say.

With high-stakes standardized testing driving curricula and teachers increasingly required to use scripted lesson plans, what is getting lost for many teachers is the freedom to allow students to explore books of their choosing--and the time to explore the meaning, the educators say.

How is it that Sachar's teachers are described as either clueless of the complexities of books or too focused on esoteric details, yet it's tests that get the blame? Even teachers who are following guidelines, or who of aware of the content on state exams, should be able to - especially in an AP class - convey the material in such a way that is thorough yet not mind-numbing. I don't doubt that some teachers out there are teaching to the exams, but to me that's a result of bad teaching, not bad tests.

The focus of this article seems to be that students should be allowed to choose their own books for classes. I don't remember that being the norm before NCLB came along, and it's hard to understand why tests are getting the blame for that now.

And note this segment:

In advanced classes, teachers often rush through tomes and require students to read year-round. Over one Christmas break, Sachar had to read two hefty novels, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Midnight's Children." Summer had its mandatory reading too, and her father, author of the Newbery Medal-winning "Holes," said her experience left him thinking that "sometimes the top schools confuse quantity with quality."

Assuming Sachar's Austin-based high school is in the Austin Unified District, Christmas break lasted from December 17, 2004, to January 3, 2005. One Hundred Years of Solitude is 464 pages, Midnight's Children is 552 pages. Are we to understand that the tests in Texas really require AP students to read a thousand pages of adult prose in two weeks? If that's really the case, it's ridiculous - but I don't see any evidence that testing, rather than poor curriculum choices or plain old bad scheduling, is the culprit here.

Posted by kswygert at 03:41 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Separating wheat from chaff just got that much harder

Class rank sounds like such a simple metric - until you have to create it, or suffer under it:

With pressure coming from students and parents, administrators at many prestigious schools contend that doing away with class rank will help relieve competition within the school--and, paradoxically, help students better compete for spots at the best colleges, which want only top-ranked applicants.

But though some college admissions directors support the move to dump rankings, others worry that they will lose one last check against grade inflation as A's and B's become ubiquitous.

Indeed, some B-average students will graduate in the bottom half of the Stevenson senior class. Every student in the top half--including Dieckelman, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison--has at least a 3.37 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale, a so-called weighted system that gives students extra points for the most demanding classes.

Stevenson students put so much importance on class rank that some manipulate their schedules to take classes most likely to boost their standing.

That intense competition has helped fuel the movement away from class rankings. The numbers also can become meaningless, some administrators argue, as a fraction of a decimal can separate top-ranked students. Others contend it's unfair because a 3.0 GPA at a school such as New Trier can leave a student in the bottom of the class, but at the top at a less competitive school.

I agree that at a high-ranked school, class rank isn't that informative when competitive students are separated by decimal places. Of course, there are objective measures that cut across schools, but some schools are getting rid of those as well:

At Ohio State University, which gets up to 20,000 applications a year, admissions officials say losing class rank makes it more difficult to evaluate students at a time when there is also a cry to de-emphasize standardized test scores.
Posted by kswygert at 03:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Toeing the invisible line

EducatioNation has a lengthy, aggrieved discussion of recent Oregon madness; the University of Oregon was considering a "five-year diversity plan" for faculty, which would have included an assessment in "cultural competency" in tenure judgments. Given that the diversification plan specifically mentioned race and gender, my guess is that professors who specialized in dead white male culture - or those who wanted to ignore culture altogether in the pursuit of teaching pure knowledge - would find themselves at a disadvantage.

Read it all. The post begins with an ominous poem by Yeats (you can probably guess which one) and ends with a quote from the The Gulag Archipelago. No one can accuse the EducatioNation folks of snoozing during literature classes.

The draft of the plan can be found here. Inside Higher Ed notes that some professors were listed on the draft without their permission, and the responding open letter to the U of O president is here.

Some of the stated assumptions underlying the diversity plan are particularly galling (assumptions are in bold, my responses in regular font):

Racism and other forms of discrimination continue to exist and must be
challenged at the institutional and individual level.
If it must be challenged at the institutional level, that suggests that they're claiming it still exists at the institutional level, a hard thing to believe after years of AA. What's more, it's a little scary that the university considers it an institutional charge to eradicate all individual racism.

Inclusiveness is essential. Individuals can learn to appreciate and value
differences. Personal commitment and resources are necessary to create
and sustain an environment that fosters a culture of diversity
. Of course individuals can learn to value differences; I just doubt that focusing constantly on differences such as race and gender are the best way to support this.

Developing the cultural competence of individuals is essential to evolving
the kind of community described in our vision statement and to
improving quality of our educational experiences thereby reducing
disparities for all.
What kind of disparities are we talking about here? That institutional racism mentioned above? Or differences in GPA or career paths? It's hard to believe that focusing on "cultural competence" of professors will help close the achievement gap.

Cultural sensitivity and knowledge are necessary but not sufficient for
individuals to behave in a culturally competent way. What gets
rewarded gets done.
Funny, when we try to use that as a defense for NCLB, or for teacher merit pay, or any other system that recognizes good work over bad work, we hear that it's not fair to use the carrot-on-a-stick method to improve education.

Intellectual ability is not a function of race, ethnicity, or class. Academic
achievement is influenced by access to resources and opportunities and
disparities are related to race, ethnicity, and class
. If race/ethnicity/class are not related to intellectual ability, why should we focus on those variables?

I particularly like this one math professor's take on the topic of diversity:

Faculty members responded forcefully to the draft’s notion that a group be formed to evaluate “cultural competence” with regard to new hires and research funding. “Who do you think you are?” Boris Botvinnik, a math professor, asked. “You would like to tell us what to do in terms of research in mathematics? We’d like to have a nice atmosphere of diversity on campus. We hire the best people available, and this is the only way to keep the level of the department high.”
Posted by kswygert at 11:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack