July 27, 2005

Crazy behavior, insane teacher?

Oh, pu-leeze.

A middle-school reading teacher whose sexual liaisons with a 14-year-old student made tabloid headlines broke off plea negotiations with prosecutors and will claim insanity at a December trial, her attorney said today.

Debra Lafave, 24, was under such emotional stress that she didn't know right from wrong when she had sex with a 14-year-old student numerous times in June 2004, attorney John Fitzgibbons said after a brief court hearing. A Dec. 5 trial date was set.

Recently married, in good health, with no kids - yet somehow there was enough stress in her life to make her commit statuatory rape with one of her students? Multiple times? And hide it well while she was doing it? Mmm-hmm. Sure. Her ex-husband believes she's not the woman he married, but I believe he feels she's guilty of deception and idiocy, not insanity.

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

La Carnival

Jenny D's got the latest Carnival of Education up, and it's a beaut. Don't miss Tall, Dark, and Mysterious's post on what kids should learn in high school math. It's an eye-opener, not least because it's appalling to realize just how little math students are learning in high school these days.

What's more, if any touchy-feely educators see her post, she'll probably get rude letters explaining just why it's not appropriate to force students to actually memorize the times tables. All those "basic skills" and "rote memorization" are just deadly to the prized "higher-order thinking skills," don't you know.

Posted by kswygert at 09:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

More testing at charter schools

Charter school parents in Ohio aren't going to be able to avoid getting bit by the testing bug:

At a time of growing concern around the country about the academic accountability of charter schools, Ohio has mandated a new regime of testing solely for those schools that may force the shutdown of repeated low performers.

Under a new state law, Ohio charter schools that meet certain criteria will have to give an extra set of standardized tests at the start and end of each school year, in addition to the regular state assessments given in all public schools.

A subset of those charter schools that miss state-prescribed goals for academic growth for three years in a row must close, under new requirements incorporated into the state budget signed into law late last month. No regular, district-run public schools are subject to the new testing requirements.

Odd. What are these new tests supposed to assess that the state tests aren't measuring? And if charter schools have to show high performance on these exams, why aren't all schools required to do so? The tests will be norm-referenced to boot, so the tests won't show how students do in relation to a standard, but how they do in relation to a large group of examinees.

Posted by kswygert at 09:30 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 26, 2005

Hey, where are the edublogs?

Forbes.com has a new Best of the Web directory up. While they should be commended for creating a Blog directory, they completely ignore the category of edublogs. Given that their Education section has a link to homeschooling sites, this seems an odd omission; certainly parents who homeschool are an impressive presence on the blogging front.

Videogames blogs get a mention, but we don't? Sheesh!

Hat tip: Michelle Malkin.

Posted by kswygert at 06:59 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

The educationalists discuss the problem of louts

The Education Wonks link to an upcoming discussion of discipline in British schools:

Tony Blair has been floating new ideas in a bid combat loutish behaviour in England's schools. Ahead of a meeting with educationalists on Wednesday, the prime minister suggested that children who are suspended from school take part in community service.

In a letter to Sir Alan Steer, head of a taskforce on pupil behaviour, Blair says that suspensions are "a crucial sanction for head teachers" but they should be made more of a punishment.

"Should we legally require suspended students to stay at home, accompanied by a parent, rather than allowing them freely to cause a nuisance on the streets or in shopping centres?" he wrote.

Ministers believe school discipline is essential if standards are to be raised and the wider problem of anti-social behaviour is to be brought under control.

The government also wants to see parents taking more control and responsibility for the behaviour of their children.

The trick, of course, is in how to do that. The EWs note that this would require the UK to do something that the US has so far shown great reluctance to do, which is to require that parents and students show as much accountability as teachers and schools:

We've stated the obvious before, and we will keep on stating it: The establishment of a safe, secure, nurturing, and orderly learning environment for all children is an absolutely essential component of any meaningful educational reform.

Parents and students must also be held accountable for "doing their part" if the our nation's public schools are to have any chance of accomplishing President Bush's goal of "Leaving no child behind."

It should be noted that some schools have had great success with being as tough on parents as they are on problem students.

Posted by kswygert at 06:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I earned my college money by passing a test

The merit pay discussion takes on a weird twist:

A San Joaquin Valley teacher hopes money will motivate California students to improve their standardized test scores.

Jo Aldrich-Fallert of Porterville will soon start gathering signatures for an initiative that would give $1,000 to parents of children who score at the proficient level or higher on all sections of the California Standards Test. She says she wants to reward families who have made education a priority in their homes.

If the idea proves to be a successful motivator, the state could end up paying out more than $1 billion to families of students who do well on the test.

Critics of the idea say doing well in school should be its own reward. They also worry about the cost at a time when the state is strapped for money.

Seeing as how money doesn't grow on trees, I agree with the critics here. I hope this idea gets more publicity, though, just for the amusing debates it will generate. If we're willing to pay parents, but not teachers, more money for higher test scores, aren't we admitting that parents have more to do with a student's academic achievement than the teachers? Isn't that support for homeschooling? And what about the fabulous, motivated parents whose children get stuck with turkeys for teachers? They'll miss out on the dough because a hapless educator undid all the hard work of tutoring and motivation that was done at home. If this amount of money was on the line, wouldn't parents be even more observant - and critical - of bad teaching and bad schools?

Like I say, amusing.

Posted by kswygert at 06:42 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 25, 2005

Starting early

Higher standards for kindergarten classes has some parents working harder at home:

Like many children of the ’80s, Emily Martin remembers kindergarten mainly as a time of play and singalongs. Lessons on cooperation and sharing were the order of the day...

However, today’s kindergartners have less time for make-believe and learning to play well with others. And these tots won’t be caught napping...The increased academic demands present a challenge to parents of soon-to-be kindergartners. Martin already has seen the accelerated curriculum her two older children — Cal Jarrett, 10, and Destiny Dennis, 8 — encountered at Woodruff Elementary School’s full-day kindergarten program in Little Rock. And she wants her youngest child, Marcus Dennis, 5, an incoming kindergartner at Woodruff, to be ready — especially for the Iowa test.

"I have worked with Marcus on sitting down and discipline and self-control because it’s not just playing anymore," Martin said.

I don't think this is a bad thing. You read about teachers complaining that parents fail to teach the basics at home; you read about schools forced to expel children for discipline behaviors at younger and younger ages. I think it's a good thing if everyone realizes that kids should be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

...the first years of school can be critical, educators say. Recent studies on the brain have linked early exposure to language and music to future success in school. A 1990 study by Johns Hopkins University education researchers James McPartland and Robert Slavin found that a poor child who attends a school composed largely of other poor children has almost zero chance of graduating from high school if the child isn’t reading at grade level by the third grade and has been retained a grade.

"Kindergarten is really the foundation," said Kim Douglas, a teacher at Seventh Street Elementary School in North Little Rock and the district’s teacher of the year for the 2004-05 school year. "If they can do well in kindergarten, they can do well in the rest of their education." Douglas expects her students, most of whom live in low-income households, to be able to read when they graduate from kindergarten...

To help with this goal, the Arkansas Department of Education has created a handy-dandy checklist to help parents prepare their kids for kindergarten.

Posted by kswygert at 08:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This would make the AERA conference a whole lot more fun

It's about time - the edu-jargon drinking game:

...here is a list of 24 jargony words to drink by. Special thanks to all of those who played along, and to all those who will hoist a few henceforth. The rules are simple: Each time you hear one of these often-used words from the education world, take a swig of whatever makes you happy...

My favorites: "Differentiated instruction," "Self-directed learning" and "Higher order thinking." My only complaint is the title of the Eduwonk's post. Blenders are for amateurs.

Posted by kswygert at 08:37 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The head custodian tells parents what to do

I came home after a hellish day of work, plugged into the Internet, checked Joanne Jacob's site, and just about knocked my jaw out of alignment when it dropped open after I read this smarmy, condescending, arrogant article by NEA member - and elementary school head custodian - Dave Arnold:

There's nothing like having the right person with the right experience, skills and tools to accomplish a specific task. Certain jobs are best left to the pros, such as, formal education. There are few homeowners who can tackle every aspect of home repair. A few of us might know carpentry, plumbing and, let’s say, cementing. Others may know about electrical work, tiling and roofing. But hardly anyone can do it all...

So, why would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children? You would think that they might leave this -- the shaping of their children’s minds, careers, and futures -- to trained professionals. That is, to those who have worked steadily at their profession for 10, 20, 30 years! Teachers!

Well, we have to believe him - he used multiple exclamation points! Doesn't that make him right? Especially when he flat-out states that parents have absolutely no idea how difficult teaching can be (um, haven't they already realized how hard child-rearing is?), and they're creating social misfits by not allowing for proper socialization (because, as we all know, homeschooling parents never let their kids leave the house).

Oh, and he's quick to remind parents that pulling their kids out of the public school system - either for homeschooling or private school - is "not the best way to fight the laws that govern our education system." That's funny, I thought boycotts were not only beloved by those who champion the government schools, but a pretty damn effective, nonviolent, and legal way to make one's viewpoint known. I guess Dave would have advised those protesting Rosa Park's treatment to keep riding the buses, no matter what.

Yeesh.

Natalie Narxus posts a lovely, nasty letter written to Dave Arnold by homeschooling parent Dominick Cancilla. She also quotes Dave's reply, in which he makes it clear that (a) his strong and principled stance against homeschooling seems to be based solely on his extremely limited experience with it and (b) he's incapable of recognizing sarcasm:

I deeply appreciate hearing from you and receiving your fantastic comments and compliments concerning my article on the fallacies of home schooling. As you likely gathered from my article, it is a subject that is truly a thorn in my side.

I'm acquainted with a couple that have adopted two very cute and fairly inelleligent [sic] little boys, but they are turning them into social misfits by not allowing them to attend public school. The only friends they have are home schooled as well and social misfits also. They spend the great majority of their lives within the confines of their own home being home schooled so their lives won't be corrupted by the evils of this world. Perhaps their lives won't be corrupted, but it is primarily because these poor children aren't being allowed to have a life.

That's it. He doesn't mention any research on homeschooling, doesn't even give evidence for why he's decided these kids are social misfits. Just says what it shame it is that their only friends (there could be dozens of them, for all we know) are also homeschooled.

Woody's Woundup goes for a full-bore fisking which is worth a read.

Posted by kswygert at 08:31 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

It's all grist for the testing mill

It's an ironic world we live in:

UNCG professor Svi Shapiro has written articles critical of standardized testing. Now, he's become part of the test. One of four prompts used for June's essay section of the newly revamped SAT was adapted from Shapiro's writing.

"I became the test instead of criticizing the test," said Shapiro, who has taught at UNCG for about 20 years. "It is ironic."

Shapiro learned that an adaptation of his work had been used on the test while giving a lecture at the Governor's School of North Carolina. The prompt asked test takers to explore whether schools should help students "understand moral choices and social issues." "I was surprised, to say the least," Shapiro said. But he said the question captured the essence of his criticism of standardized testing...

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

No more pencils, no more books...

School's out for summer - unfortunately for some kids:

For the first time in years, only kindergarten, fourth- and sixth-grade students who need additional help with reading and math can attend summer school. [New London, CT] students in other elementary and middle school grades who may have benefited from summertime classes, either by catching up on subjects they struggled with or enriching their education with additional classes, do not have any options for summer school through the public school system.

"That's a quiet tragedy in New London that we aren't able to afford a full summer school that would impact a wide range of students instead of a select few," Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christopher Clouet said.

The select few are those students who scored "below basic" on the Connecticut Mastery Test and kindergarteners identified by their teachers as needing help with early literacy skills.

One big problem is that some middle school students who might have been forced to attend summer school may have just been promoted to high school.

Posted by kswygert at 12:56 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sending the wrong message

Wizbang notes that gangbangers in Boston have used a marketing approach to scare the public into keeping quiet. Now that their "Stop Snitching" t-shirts have gone public, I think their plan is about to backfire.

A teenage City Hall day-care worker who wore a gangbanger "Stop Snitching'' T-shirt to work yesterday has the district attorney seeing red and Hub officials vowing to re-educate its summer employees. "We've had too many cases in this city in recent years that go unsolved because people are unwilling to cooperate,'' said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley. "This is the type of wardrobe I'd recommend employees in City Hall or anywhere in society stop wearing.''

The teenager is a summer hire working at the city-run day-care center. He was spotted with the controversial T-shirt while accompanying his little charges on a trip to the New England Aquarium.

In Boston last year, the mother of one gang member accused of gunning down 10-year-old Trina Persad made "Stop Snitching'' T-shirts for spectators to wear at her son's trial. Authorities have said they consider the shirts a gang intimidation tactic.

No kidding. Talk about trying to instill some seriously warped values into your child.

Posted by kswygert at 12:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 21, 2005

UC vs. the PSAT - Another state

Missouri still wants students to take the PSAT:

High school students who want to get a National Merit Scholarship through MU won’t have to worry about the university following the actions of the University of California System. The six-campus California system announced July 13 that it will redirect funding for the National Merit Scholarship program to other merit-based scholarships. The shift in funding will begin with freshmen entering the system in the fall of 2006...

Steven Osterlind, a professor of education at MU who studies standardized testing, said he’s not surprised by the University of California’s decision. “They’ve been talking about it for quite some time,” he said.

Osterlind said the California system stopped sponsoring the scholarships because the PSAT doesn’t produce the number of minority students that the California system wanted.

Wow. And I thought I was being blunt on this topic.

Posted by kswygert at 08:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

UC vs. the PSAT - another opinion

Op-Ed writers at UVA's Cavalier Daily aren't impressed about the recent UC decision to do away with National Merit scholarships:

It's difficult to overstate the influence of the University of California system. Several years ago, criticism of the SAT prompted the College Board, the company which develops and markets the SAT, to completely redesign the test. At that time, the university President, Richard Atkinson, complained that the test was "perceived by many as unfair, and … can have a devastating impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of young students."

As everyone knows, rarely is any test given in high school that isn't perceived as unfair by those students who do poorly. But Atkinson seems to think that no one should have to take a test that might make him feel bad. Even more ridiculous is the main reason behind California's rejection of the SAT and now the PSAT – the accusation that these tests are racist.

Of all the possible flaws a standardized test might have, racism is not one of them. Many critics offer "cultural bias" as an excuse for the poor performance of many minorities, but more National Merit Scholarship money in California went to Asian students than to white students. Few have accused the test of having an Asian bias.

Heh. Funny how Asian students keep getting left out of discussions of "biased" tests.

...the number of minority students who receive an academic merit scholarship shouldn't matter. The only factor that should count is the academic and personal strength of the recipients. Granted, standardized test scores are not the only way to judge merit, and California's officials are now talking about pursuing a "broader definition of merit." This would be fine if it were merit that the University of California were really trying to gauge. But it's hard to believe, after the uproar over the race of National Merit Scholars, that any new definition of "merit" will ignore a person's race, as it should.

Leave it to college students to be so blunt. Good for them.

Posted by kswygert at 08:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Raise test scores, make more money

Talk about your merit pay:

Indianapolis Public Schools may be among the first in Indiana to link their superintendent's pay to student success, but a growing number of urban districts across the country already have been taking that approach. School boards in Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver and Illinois have all negotiated contracts with their top administrators based on meeting tough academic goals.

The Palm Beach County, Fla., superintendent can earn a 15 percent bonus on his annual $155,279 salary if test scores dramatically improve, suspensions drop and graduation rates go up.

That's...a lot to hang on one person, especially a person who isn't in the classroom. On the other hand, if he actually has the power to change things, well, this is a pretty good opportunity to do so.

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

The Indoor Generation

I'm as pro-technology as the next person, but this doesn't strike me as a change for the better:

The fundamental nature of American childhood has changed in a single generation. The unstructured outdoor childhood — days of pick-up baseball games, treehouses and "be home for dinner" — has all but vanished.

Today, childhood is spent mostly indoors, watching television, playing video games and working the Internet. When children do go outside, it tends to be for scheduled events — soccer camp or a fishing derby — held under the watch of adults...

The shift to an indoor childhood has accelerated in the past decade, with huge declines in spontaneous outdoor activities such as bike riding, swimming and touch football, according to separate studies by the National Sporting Goods Association, a trade group, and American Sports Data, a research firm. Bike riding alone is down 31% since 1995.

A child is six times more likely to play a video game on a typical day than to ride a bike, according to surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the CDC. Dakota Howell says his favorite video game —Tony Hawk's Pro Skater— is more fun than actual skateboarding.

In the more rural areas where my nieces and nephews are growing up, the lure of the cell phone and the Internet only occasionally outweighs the desire for four-wheeling, overnight camping in the woods, fishing on the lake, etc. But even I've noticed how much more time they spend indoors - or interacting with electronic gadgets - than I did as a kid. And, at least where they live, the issue isn't safety.

Also, I wonder if the constant push on students, from college age on down, to be aware of the "environment" and to vote/act ecologically will have much effect on kids who are going through school without experiencing much of that environment. Perhaps the class of 2015 won't be quite so concerned about global warming and rainforests.

Posted by kswygert at 02:33 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

A psychometrician's worst nightmare

Normally, when I read an newspaper article about a student who's been struggling with a standardized test and keeps coming in just under the wire, I'm pretty unemotional. Yes, that sucks, but a cutscore's a cutscore. While the setting of the cutscore is a delicate process, there will always be someone who just missed out no matter how it's set, and I'm usually willing to defend the process against that unlucky fellow who's just a point or two too low.

But I really don't want this guy mad at me:

All that stands between Garry Williams and a spot on the University of Kentucky's football team is a point on a standardized test. And it makes Williams downright mad. Not necessarily mad about the test or the NCAA's entrance requirements that call for student-athletes to achieve a minimum grade-point average and test score. Just ticked that he's not playing football at UK.

Williams could be entering his sophomore season at UK and likely competing for a starting job on the Wildcats' offensive line. Based on the billing he earned as a first-team All-State performer at Seneca High School, Williams might even be a returning starter.

But the NCAA no longer allows "partial qualifiers" -- athletes who meet only one of the two minimums for grade-point average and standardized test score...

The article emphasizes that neither Williams nor his father used this opportunity to bash the test (in this case, the ACT), which is admirable. But Williams is mad, and who could blame him? Who's to say what might happen should he get more and more frustrated with the studying, and then one day happen to (gulp!) meet a psychometrician in the street?

Full disclosure, Williams - I don't work for ACT. Now put down the barbell. Please?

Knowing how badly he's needed only adds to the frustration...Garry Williams Sr. said. "To be honest, he's ready to strap on the pads and hit somebody."

Aaaaaah!

Posted by kswygert at 06:23 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Kitty round-up

Life's going to be insane - and blogging will be light - for the next couple of days. Here are some kitties to hold you over:

Shelter kitty #1: "What big eyes I have? The better to mesmerize you with."

kitty1.jpg

Shelter kitty #2: "Why yes, I DO look down on you little people. Why do you ask?"

kitty2.jpg

A word to the wise: Don't expect to live once you've done this to your cat (be sure to click on the photo).

Finally, when the daily news gets too stressful, be sure to visit The Daily Kitten.

Posted by kswygert at 08:48 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

"A vision of resistance" against standardized tests

Education experts tell the teachers what they want to hear:

Educators can combat trends that threaten creative teaching, a Seattle preschool expert said Monday during an opening session of a regional education conference in Liberty. “We can stand really strong. We can plant our feet,” Ann Pelo told about 90 early education and primary school teachers attending the Connecting Learning Communities Conference at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church...

Pelo urged audience members to “create a vision of resistance” against the assessment and standardized-test movement that is strong in education today, especially in the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Is it just me, or do phrases like “create a vision of resistance” seem astonishingly vague and meaningless?

Assessment goals are not necessarily incompatible with imaginative teaching, she said.

Well, that much makes sense, at least.

She told audience members about the time she let her students let their imaginations run wild after they discovered a smelly, cluttered spot underneath a heating grate in the school. The students decided it smelled because a skunk was in there. Pelo asked them to think about how it could have gotten in there. The children also wrote notes to the skunk asking it questions.

This unplanned unit — which Pelo termed an “ordinary moment that held all these extraordinary possibilities” — allowed the students to use skills like writing and logic.

I know we're talking about elementary school kids here, but - writing notes to a skunk? Why not write notes to the principal asking him to get a maintenance man down there and figure out what's going on? And were these notes graded in any way? How 'bout a lesson on skunk biology? Heck, how 'bout a lesson in the local ecology, just to make sure skunks actually exist in their neck of the woods?

Attendees like Gay Gardner embraced Pelo’s message. “I like the idea of just following the children,” said Gardner, an infant and toddler teacher with Head Start in Kansas City. “It’s not about being wrong, it’s not about being right.”

Even for toddlers, I disagree.

Posted by kswygert at 08:39 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A national look at state graduation rates

The US DOE plans to publish high school graduation rates for each state using a common metric:

The department will calculate each state’s graduation rate based on the number of high school graduates in a given year divided by the average of the number of students who entered the 8th grade five years earlier, the 9th grade four years earlier, and the 10th grade three years earlier. The so-called “averaged freshman graduation rate” will be published alongside the graduation rates that states report under the federal No Child Left Behind Act...

States have come under increasing criticism in recent years for publishing graduation rates that are misleading and not comparable across states. Some states, for example, calculate their graduation figures based on the percentage of seniors who earn their diplomas by the end of the school year—a measure that ignores students who drop out before reaching the 12th grade.

I'm sure there will be squabbling about the metric chosen by the Feds, especially in those states where the published rate goes down. At the very least, though, we'll be comparing apples to apples now.

Posted by kswygert at 08:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

Defining failure away

A group of British teachers have discovered a way to keep all students from failing:

The word "fail" should be banned from use in classrooms and replaced with the phrase "deferred success" to avoid demoralising pupils, a group of teachers has proposed. Members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) argue that telling pupils they have failed can put them off learning for life.

A spokesman for the group said it wanted to avoid labelling children. "We recognise that children do not necessarily achieve success first time," he said. "But I recognise that we can't just strike a word from the dictionary," he said.

You just know they really do want to strike that word from the dictionary, don't you?

This is related to the self-esteem tangent I went on, earlier; these teachers are utterly unable to conceive of children whose self-esteem might lie in non-academic pursuits. They're also unable to comprehend how children might understand that a "fail" grade in a course doesn't mean they're failures overall. These teachers are horrified of the word "fail" because they believe the self-esteem of a student will be - nay, should be - defined by academic labels; they believe that what they say to a student will trump all other sources of self-esteem.

What arrogance.

Update: Joanne, as always, summarizes things perfectly: "Some British teachers want to ban the word "fail" in classrooms, replacing it with 'deferred success'...How, um, deferred do they think their students are?"

That's right up there with the Fark commenter who suggested that being turned down for a job should be called "deferred employment."

Posted by kswygert at 10:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The way to save is to behave

The British government plans to give kids money to be used only in acceptable venues:

Controversial plans to pay teenagers not to be yobs will be introduced across the country after a trial in the West, it was announced yesterday. Children from poor families will get up to £12 a month in pocket money from the Government to spend on sports or cultural activities, or even high street shops. But they risk being stripped of the cash if they get mixed up in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Critics are likely to accuse Ministers of rewarding teenagers simply for behaving well, something they should do anyway. But the Government has been hugely impressed by a project run by Splash-Wiltshire which pioneered the use of discount cards, and believes it helps crackdown on yob culture.

The charity distributes £10 discount cards to vulnerable and poor teenagers which can be used to pay for activities ranging from adventure sports to drama.

It sounds more like a coupon than cash, but if the purpose is to get kids into the sports or drama culture, shouldn't they be sure to give these cards to kids who are at the highest risk; i.e., those who do have criminal problems? I mean, if we want to give those kids another option, why take away that option once the kid gets into trouble?

And what if the kids aren't interested in the coupons, because the lure of being a "yob" is too exciting? Hope the government has another trick up its sleeve.

Posted by kswygert at 04:51 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Schools and self-esteem

The Ebonics debate continues on the web, and Dangerous Dan's post opens with a general discussion of self-esteem:

One of the worst concepts of modern education is that it is the responsibility of schools to maximize their charges’ self-esteem. A youngster’s self-esteem is seen as all-important and so curriculum and policy get centered around it. Receiving an ‘F’ would be too harsh and detrimental to Johnny’s well-being, so he will get an ‘incomplete’ instead. Though Suzy’s work is inadequate and below average, she will get a B. Bobby can’t spell, but the teacher will coo at him about what a good effort he’s putting in, even if he’s putting in no effort at all.

Personally, I don’t give a damn about students’ self-esteem. The purpose of school isn’t to make one feel good about himself, it’s to educate him. I suppose self-esteem has a bearing insofar as the student shouldn’t be humiliated or purposely degraded, but no efforts should be made to falsely increase it either...You now have teenagers and young adults entering the work force and they’re shocked at just how little employers care about their individuality or self-perception and how preoccupied said employers are with their knowledge and performance.

I agree wholeheartedly, because this has been my experience teaching college classes. I would see the same phenomenon over and over again - a student would struggle, I would meet them after class, we would work on the material, the student would not improve, and then I would suggest that perhaps they drop the class and try again next year, and I would suggest that if they thought statistics was so hard, perhaps they should switch majors.

And then I would have to console them, because they would act convinced that I thought they were a bad, or stupid person for failing this course. And I always thought, where is this coming from? They don't love stats. They're free to leave, blow off the class, take the F, and switch their major to Art so it wouldn't matter (I basically did the same thing, in reverse). They're young adults who have hundreds of choices. Why do they care what the teacher thinks about them so much?

A-ha. They care because all this focus on self-esteem in schools may have created students who only think well of themselves when their teacher approves of what they do, and they're stunned when they meet one who is blunt and doesn't coddle them. Admittedly, my evidence is anecdotal, but it seems reasonable to assume that if the teacher spends all day saying nice things solely to boost self-esteem, then when that stream of compliments goes away, the shaky sense of self-worth might, too.

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Real toy guns, imaginary policies

We knew this day was coming - schools are now enforcing zero-tolerance policies that are not only idiotic, but don't actually exist:

Two fourteen year old students at Farb Middle School in the San Diego Unified School District were arrested yesterday for possession of a toy Airsoft gun...

This expulsion attempt will occur despite possession of imitation weapons being classified as an offense punishable only by suspension in the school's discipline policy. By contrast the district policy for suspension doesn't deal with imitation weapons at all. In order to be expelled according to district policy a student would not only have to posses an actual weapon but would also have to use it.

So here we have a school district that had two students arrested for a legal activity and is expected to expel them for something they don't classify as an offense...They are enforcing a zero tolerance weapons policy that does not even exist.

ZI has links to back up his statement. Apparently the officials involved assume that parents don't know how to use Google.

Posted by kswygert at 08:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 18, 2005

Ebonics rears its head (again)

As the UC system drops the PSAT/NMSQT like a hot potato, due to the performance of minority students, the San Bernardino school district floats the idea that the self-esteem of black children is dependent not on their academic achievements, but on their cultural identity, which means schools should affirm Ebonics. You may remember this controversy from 1997; now, it's back.

Incorporating Ebonics into a new school policy that targets black students, the lowest-achieving group in the San Bernardino City Unified School District, may provide students a more well-rounded curriculum, said a local sociologist.

The goal of the district's policy is to improve black students' academic performance by keeping them interested in school. Compared with other racial groups in the district, black students go to college the least and have the most dropouts and suspensions...

Mary Texeira, a sociology professor at Cal State San Bernardino, commended the San Bernardino Board of Education for approving the policy in June. Texeira suggested that including Ebonics in the program would be beneficial for students. Ebonics, a dialect of American English that is spoken by many blacks throughout the country, was recognized as a separate language in 1996 by the Oakland school board.

If Ebonics is all that's keeping them interested, what's going to happen when they enter the real world, where Ebonics won't be the accepted form of communication?

Len Cooper, who is coordinating the pilot program at the two city schools, said San Bernardino district officials do not plan to incorporate Ebonics into the program. "Because Ebonics can have a negative stigma, we're not focusing on that,' Cooper said. "We are affirming and recognizing Ebonics through supplemental reading books (for students).'

Emphasis mine. Imagine, if you will, any other controversial program or movement, for which a coordinator can say that negative stigma can be "ignored," while the idea that generates such stigma still deserves to be "affirmed." Scientology, neo-Nazism, flat-earth "science" - all of those things have a negative stigma, too, and no reporter with half a brain would let a coordinator get away with a "but we're avoiding the stigma by bringing it in through the back door" attitude. They shouldn't be doing so here, either.

As for the sociologist quoted in the article, she reveals herself to be veritable font of lunacy:

Texeira urged people not be quick to judge the new program as socially exclusive. She said people need to be open to the program. "Everybody has prejudices, but we must all learn to control that behavior,' Texeira said. She said a child's self confidence is tied to his or her cultural identity.

She compared the low performance of black students to starvation. "How can you be angry when you feed a family of starving children?'

1. If my self-esteem is tied to my cultural identity, don't I have to immerse myself in that culture? Won't I be thinking highly of myself because of my culture? Wouldn't it necessarily follow that I don't think as highly of other cultures? And won't my self-esteem be threatened by people who are not of that culture, or don't value that culture? This is a recipe for prejudice.

2. Any sociologist who dares refer to the problem of underfed children in the US at the same time that she is defending Ebonics as a path to self-esteem and educational achievement for black children should be laughed out of town, if not tarred and feathered first.

If you think my response is rough, you should see some of the other posts out there. That one's a satire, but it's ugly nonetheless - and you know that others along the same lines won't be meant to be funny. Bear To The Right comments, while ReidBlog notes that this program's only chance of actually being useful is if it is teaching educators to help children switch from Ebonics to English, as though they are second language learners. I found other research online that defends the acceptance of Ebonics in schools, but the gist of it seems to be, "Well, teaching them English won't solve all their problems anyway." True, but it doesn't follow from this that insisting English be spoken in schools will hurt minority children. An attitude such as "Why worry about Ebonics when schools don't have enough textbooks?" is missing the point.

Regardless, while the optimism about Ebonics merely being considered a second language is nice, I think bloggers like Reidblog should reread all that hooha quoted above about self-esteem and cultural identity. That doesn't sound like motivation for immersing children into English classes and away from Ebonics as soon as possible. Joanne notes this as well:

Ebonics is back in San Bernardino County, which is trying to raise the achievement of black students by...Well, it's not clear from the story what they're doing, but it seems to come down to the same old esteem boosting that's done nothing to help students in the past...

You'd think that would mean teaching English to these foreign language speakers, but apparently not...

Instead, Students Accumulating New Knowledge Optimizing Future Accomplishment Initiative (sankofa is a Ghanaian word that means remembering the past) will celebrate students' racial identity. The role of Ebonics is murky...An example would come in handy.

Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, teachers will receive training on black culture and customs. District curriculum will now include information on the historical, cultural and social impact of blacks in society. Although the program is aimed at black students, other students can choose to participate.

So the role of blacks in American society is going to be taught as a separate course, not an integral part of American history.

Remembering the past is all very well. Why not remember the failure rate of race-conscious school programs?

A good question.


Update: LaShawn Barber is not impressed. Ramblings Journal sounds beside himself. Resurrection Song believes this is a way to make black students feel like they're not really part of America. And Michelle predicts a Bill Cosby meltdown.

Posted by kswygert at 10:40 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

UC vs. the PSAT

I have to admit, there's nothing in this article that is inaccurate:

Six University of California chancellors unanimously decided on Wednesday to end their campuses' participation in the National Merit Scholarship Program, a move they believe will result in a fairer evaluation of all students for other merit-based scholarships and a more level playing field on which underrepresented and low-income students can compete.

Starting in fall 2006, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz will redirect the money once provided for National Merit Scholarships to fund other merit-based scholarships such as the Regents Scholarship Program and the campus-based Chancellor's Scholarship Programs...

The decision was made following a recommendation by the Academic Council of the UC, challenging the use of the PSAT as the preliminary eliminator of students, rather than part of a comprehensive evaluation of all PSAT participants...

"This decision in no way indicates that we don't value academic merit at the University of California. The issue is how academic merit is defined," said UC Provost MRC Greenwood, the highest ranking academic officer in the UC system.

They're absolutely right, and perfectly free to redefine academic merit. Given the concerns they've listed about the PSAT, it's obvious that their definition of academic merit is related to ethnicity, because they've decided it's "unfair" of the PSAT to "discriminate" against minorities. I assume at this point they are going to tweak their definition of academic merit until they obtain what they consider to be the appropriate number of underrepresented applicants, and they are going to have to do so using methods that don't produce a score gap.

Oh sure, I'm putting it way more bluntly than they ever would, but this is what UC is doing. They're also perfectly free to do it, and perfectly free to produce research supporting their claim that high school grades, and not test scores, predict performance in the UC system. Let's hope they do, because their dislike of the PSAT is so out of proportion to the amount of money involved that it's hard not to assume they're just making a meaningless stand to impress the anti-testing crowd. I wouldn't be so suspicious if UC officials were making more substantive criticisms of the NMSQT system (such as the type I've made before), instead of just harping on how it's unfair of us to expect certain underrepresented folks to do well on tests.

(Find previous PSAT-related articles here.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:29 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The gap narrows

More good news from the elementary schools:

Black and Hispanic students are catching up with their white counterparts in reading and math at the elementary-school level, but there has been little closing of that achievement gap in higher grades, according to a study released yesterday.

The Bush administration cited the data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as evidence that its educational revisions are working. But the independent body that administers the tests urged caution, saying that many of the gains could have come from changes made before the 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The NAEP study of long-term educational trends showed a significant improvement among white, black and Hispanic 9-year-olds in the 2003-2004 school year in math and reading, compared with results from five years earlier. But blacks and Hispanics made greater gains than whites in both subjects.

Posted by kswygert at 05:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Harry Potter mania

This weekend, at least, the reading stats were up (good thing that NAEP reading survey took place before this latest installment went on sale):

The sixth installment of the Harry Potter series is getting high marks from Muggle kids across the region, with many having digested the 652-page tome in a single weekend.

"It was the best beginning of any book I've ever read," raved 10-year-old Nathan Kastner of Rockville, sounding like a mini Roger Ebert. "The beginning was so interesting and unexpected. It really leaves you wondering what's going to happen next"...

The first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," released in 1998, became a publishing phenomenon. And just as the characters have grown throughout the series -- in the last installment, Harry was a sometimes surly 15-year-old prone to bouts of self-pity -- so too have its readers. Indeed, many of the Washington area fans interviewed yesterday said they continue to see themselves in the characters of Harry, Ron and Hermione, who are now dealing with tougher classes and more complicated relationships.

At Woodley Gardens in Rockville, where five area swim teams gathered yesterday for the annual B Relay Carnival, copies of "Half-Blood Prince" were everywhere. Even a few parents were spied sneaking peeks at the book between events.

I have been informed, by colleagues of mine here at work who are mothers, and thus are watching their budgets more carefully than I, that I am expected to bring the book in for lending ASAP. Good thing I finished it this weekend. I liked it - but it's definitely different, and I understand why there are some seriously negative reviews on Amazon.com.

Posted by kswygert at 05:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The ultimate focus groups speaks out on high school

So much for the theory that today's teenagers are overworked:

A large majority of high school students say their class work is not very difficult, and almost two-thirds say they would work harder if courses were more demanding or interesting, according to an online nationwide survey of teenagers conducted by the National Governors Association.

The survey, being released on Saturday by the association, also found that fewer than two-thirds believe that their school had done a good job challenging them academically or preparing them for college. About the same number of students said their senior year would be more meaningful if they could take courses related to the jobs they wanted or if some of their courses could be counted toward college credit.

Taken together, the electronic responses of 10,378 teenagers painted a somber picture of how students rate the effectiveness of their schools in preparing them for the future.

Educators are quoted as being surprised, but I'm not. Sure, today's high-schoolers are fed up with all the testing, but they can tell when tests - and the curriculum - are dumbed down. They've heard all the horror stories about remedial coursework in college. They know how difficult it can be to find a good job. And they're worried.

Posted by kswygert at 04:55 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

NY targets the seventh-graders

The New York DOE is aiming to stop social promotion for seventh-graders:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday that, like third and fifth-graders, seventh-graders will now have to pass citywide standardized reading and math tests to move on to the next grade.

Students who fail either or both of the exams can go to summer school and retake them. If they still don't pass, there's also an appeals process that may allow them to move on to the next grade.

“We’re not going to put any of our students on that trajectory to failure any longer,” said Bloomberg. “Improving students’ performance in the seventh grade will strengthen their possibilities of getting into the high schools they want, and it will give them a foundation in the fundamentals of reading, writing and math that they will need for success in eighth grade, in high school, and most importantly, in life.”

Astonishingly, there's nary an unsupported "Critics say..." comment countering Bloomberg's plan in the entire article, but I'm sure that's just an oversight. Future articles are sure to contain such arguments, in which critics claim that it's far more damaging for a child to repeat seventh grade than to be promoted to high school while practically illiterate.

That much said, there's certainly an argument to be made that retention should not be made on the basis of a single exam. However, multiple retakes, summer school, and a appeals process are available.

Posted by kswygert at 12:46 PM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

The new ABC's (amphetamines, barbituates, cocaine...)

Does this sound like something that should be taught in nursery schools?

CHILDREN under five are to be schooled in the dangers of drugs in a bid to "drug-proof" Scotland's youngest generation, The Scotsman can reveal. Infants will be introduced to the issue of illegal drugs while at nursery schools, and day centres for the first time.

Nursery teachers will begin training on the use of educational packages for children early next year, under an initiative led by Scotland Against Drugs (SAD). The move follows the successful introduction of drugs education in primary schools in recent years.

Specific educational packages are likely to include concepts of "good" and "bad" medicine and also from whom it is safe to take medicine. Details about specific controlled drugs will not be taught.

Childcare staff will be taught how to deal with children whose parents are drug users.

Um, how will the staff know whose parents are drug users? Does the method include training children how to detect drug use in their parents? How likely is it that the definitions of "good" and "bad" drugs are subtly and properly defined, given that these definitions are being taught to kids still learning their ABC's?

Most importantly, is there research to suggest that learning about "good" and "bad" medication as a five-year-old will prevent later drug use? The Scotland Against Drugs website is down, but I found one online quote from the SAD gang which suggests that they're not so much interested in what the research actually shows as what the public perception of such research is. Which makes me wonder if their "scare 'em while they're young" approach actually has any research to back it up.

Posted by kswygert at 12:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 17, 2005

A Starbucks Frappucino with a shot of espresso at 11:30 pm is always a good thing

Guess where I was at 12:01 am on Saturday morning?

hp.jpg

Yes, I know, I'm a dork. A dork who is only about 3/4 of the way through the book.

Posted by kswygert at 01:13 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 15, 2005

Elementary school students are cracking the books

Younger kids are reading better:

Credit Harry Potter, higher standards or tough-as-nails elementary school teachers, but a new federal report says the typical 9-year-old in the USA now reads more each day than a 17-year-old. The difference shows: Statistics released Thursday show that 9-year-olds' reading skills have risen since 1971, and the biggest jump has come in the past five years.

Reading skills of high schoolers have actually dipped since 1999 and are essentially unchanged in a generation. The results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a congressionally mandated standardized test. They show that 17-year-olds' skills actually declined in both math and reading, while the scores of younger students improved in both. Math scores for 13-year-olds rose sharply, but their reading scores didn't.

Part of the reason for the 9-year-olds' advances might be tucked into a survey released along with the scores. It shows that 25% of elementary schoolers now read more than 20 pages a day in school and for homework, nearly double the percentage of 1984.

Meanwhile, 17-year-olds' reading habits have barely budged. Only 23% of high schoolers read 20 pages or more a day, up from 21% in 1984.

Good Lord. It's hard to be happy for the 9-year-olds when you realize that older teens, despite the recent explosion of young adult literature, are barely cracking the books. The older kids could be putting down ridiculous numbers on the NAEP, which doesn't directly affect them, but the overall picture is still pretty sad.

I'd be interested in a longitudinal analysis of this kind of data. Will the current 9-year-olds continue to do well as they age? Or is there something still flawed in the system that will cause their performance to drop off as they reach the higher grades?

Posted by kswygert at 07:40 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

On the plus side, I hear the Moulin Rouge has an opening

Oh, man, I don't even know where to start with this clown.

A young Russian man who dressed in women’s clothes to sit an exam for his sister was caught after his oversize bust gave him away, Interfax news agency reported.

The youth’s “unusually prominent female features”, and heavy make-up drew security guards’ attention and they stopped him sitting the paper, Yasen Zasursky, dean of Moscow State University’s journalism faculty, told the agency. A thorough check revealed that the girl was in fact a young man trying to pose as a girl to pass the exam for his sister. The dean said that security were especially suspicious because the applicant’s breasts were of “incomparable proportions”.

They thought that cheat notes could be hidden inside her clothing. However, it turned out that the breasts were fake. The young man was barred from the entry exam and his sister was also struck off the university entrant list for cheating.

Thoughts:
1. There must not be a lot of breast implant surgeries at Moscow State, not if having breasts of "incomparable proportions" is enough to warrant suspicion.
2. Moscow State has a journalism program?
3. How dumb do you have to be to dress in drag to cheat on an exam, and get caught because you made your fake breasts too big? Does anyone else find it creepy that this clown pumped his "breasts" up because that what he thought his sister's chest looked like?
4. "Heavy makeup" also aroused suspicion? Just how bad did this guy look? Has he ever actually seen a real woman? Other than his sister, I mean?
5. The sister is obviously none too bright either, not only because she needed her brother to sit for her exam, but also because she apparently let him walk out the door looking like a cross between Dolly Parton and Tammy Faye Bakker.
6. There's GOT to be a photo on the Net soon. If anyone finds it, send it to me. (Is there a Russian equivalent of The Smoking Gun?)

Posted by kswygert at 08:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Goths roaming the streets of NYC

A friend of mine just sent along a NYTimes multimedia feature entitled, "Tribes of New York: The Goth Girls." This caught his eye, because this is how I refer to my gang of girlfriends. Except for the black-dyed hair, I've certainly dressed up like some of these girls before (although the more extreme stuff I've worn only for Dracula's Balls.) I'd say my style, and that of my local friends, tend much more towards Comfy Goth (black Converse sneakers with spiders painted on them) or RomantiGoth (nix on the facial piercings, dreadlocks, extensions, and uncomfortable bondage gear). The NYT got the background/intro music right, I'll say that, and every goth girl I know - myself included - got into it for the music, just as one girl is quoted as saying in this piece.

(My friend couldn't resist this comment when sending me the link - "Have you been to the NY Times web site today? I know you wouldn’t normally read such a liberal rag, and that you probably stick to “objective” sources like Fox news, but today there’s a multimedia piece..." Heh. I read the NYTimes often. True, it's often for the express purpose of finding an education piece that I can fisk, but I do read it.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:19 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

If I were a shoe, I'd be a Doc Marten boot, the better to kick some sense into these people

How sad is it that affluent American students feel the need to attend a camp to learn how to write a simple essay? Don't their schools teach them anything?

If 15-year-old Anna Zvagelskaya were a shoe, she writes, she would be pink, with a very pointy toe, a flared heel, straps and a diamond buckle.

It's five months before the application deadline at most elite colleges, and a year and five months before Ms. Zvagelskaya's application is due at Harvard, her top choice. But on a summer day here at Tufts University, the San Francisco high-school junior and a dozen other teenagers are enrolled in a two-week college-application camp, spending two hours a day in class -- and hours more each night -- crafting the essays that they hope will vault them to the head of the college queue.

"There are so many kids with perfect grades out there," says Ms. Zvagelskaya, who frets over "a few B's" on her transcript. "Your essay gives you an extra push, a chance to shine"...

All this is happening because the competition to get into elite schools is getting ferocious. Colleges are expecting 2.1 million new high-school graduates to enroll this fall -- 300,000 more than just eight years ago. The most prestigious colleges haven't added many extra seats to meet demand, though.

Ah, that's it. These students aren't writing simple, well-crafted essays; they're writing artsy, confabulated crap in an attempt to avoid having to suffer the ignominy of a state school. Sheesh.

Such self-promotion is possible because few colleges ask direct questions in their essay prompts. The University of Chicago, which prides itself on being an exception, is asking this year's applicants for their observations on "the power of string." The university offers string cheese and Theseus's escape route from Labyrinth as possible places to start. Chicago's admissions dean, Theodore O'Neill, says the school is really asking "how does this person handle ideas?"

Does Chicago really want students who have to pay Kaplan to teach them "how to handle ideas"?

Other critics worry that expensive essay coaching gives rich kids yet another advantage over poor kids. Responds Mr. Hughes, the writing coach: "We're addressing the demands that have been put out there by the universities. It's easy for the [admissions] deans to frown on it, but it's part of a process they helped create."

Critics, fear not. One could argue that if even the rich kids have to attend a ritzy camp to learn how to write an essay comparing themselves to a shoe, then they don't have much of an intellectual advantage over the poor kids, do they? Sounds like everybody was equally failed by their high school writing classes.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:50 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A hands-on approach to learning chemistry

One Chicago teacher imparts a real-life lesson in how to use the chemical reactions in fire to gain good grades:

A chemistry teacher who was at least three months behind on her car payments gave passing grades to two failing students who stole and burned her car so she could collect insurance money, a fire investigator said. Aldine Senior High School teacher Tramesha Lashon Fox, 32, was charged with insurance fraud and arson, and the two students were charged with arson.

Roger Luna, 18, and Darwin Arias, 17, had been failing Fox's class up to their final exam. But Arias received a 90 and Luna an 80, grades high enough for them to pass the semester, said senior fire investigator Dustin Deutsch of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office.

I'm amazed Fox hasn't argued that this was merely an independent-study chemistry project gone awry. Then again, she may be saving that for her day in court.

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

The seriousness of testing

Alfred Orsini spots a link between the "fat" society of the US and the unwillingness to get behind tests with real bite to them:

China is a country that promises to change the economic face of the globe in the years ahead. It has an incredibly lean, mean education machine. American policymakers, seeing embarrassing data such as the poor showing of U.S. students on recent international assessments in science and math, say they want to prepare our children to meet the global competition posed by countries like China.

If the No Child Left Behind law is meant to do that—to help us compete with countries that have used big tests for a long time to scientifically weed and stratify their citizens—the plan will fail. This is not just because of the problems inherent in creating and enacting such tests, but also because of the differing social, economic, and cultural contexts that surround such tests...

U.S. business leaders, in their urgent push to whip American education into line, may be among the few in our country who are truly aware of how things are outside the United States. They have a concrete motivation to be aware: money...But if my perspective from China is valid, then a more general “leaning” of America may have to happen before big tests are widely tolerated by U.S. students and their families.

For now, we Americans can make all the tests we want. Kids will never be “lean and hungry” in a fat society. Big, consequential tests run up against a lot of obstacles in America. One of them is fundamental—what the historian Richard Hofstadter labeled in his influential book as Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Others include the distraction posed by the cultural excesses that assault American kids every day and the fact that U.S. students know there is a college in America for just about anyone who can pay for it. But beyond such problems, I wonder if American kids sometimes don’t care about study because they sense that many adults don’t care about them—about the life of their minds and the enrichment of their souls.

On the one hand, I can understand why some critics claim that the US is test-obsessed; certainly, those on the front lines of education see it that way. On the other hand, how many of those tests have serious consquences attached? And by "serious," I don't mean "You'll have to go to Penn State instead of Harvard." The great hue and cry from the educrats over the fact that now, for the first time ever, schools are forced to justify their funding by showing student improvement suggests that Orsini is onto something with his theory. Americans are far more enamored of the idea of second chances and alternate pathways than they are of tests with truly high stakes.

Posted by kswygert at 11:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

When uno plus dos equals tres

Math isn't always a universal language:

While math has long been regarded as a universal language because of its foundation in numbers, the subject poses nearly as many hurdles for students with limited English as lessons that rely more heavily on reading, many educators say.

That issue has gained renewed attention under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires schools and districts to test students annually in both reading and math in grades 3-8 and one in high school and make yearly progress in those subjects.

In addition, the law requires schools and districts to report separately the scores of English-language learners, a provision that many observers say has brought new scrutiny to the needs of that population.

One way to help would be to get rid of overly-wordy math items that depend as much on understanding of esoteric English terms as they do on understanding mathematical concepts. Do any of my more mathematically-focused readers out there have insights on math education for non-native English speakers?

Posted by kswygert at 11:23 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

Wrangling over the TAKS alternate tests

I have to admit, I haven't been following closely the battle to exempt special education students from federal testing in Texas. Last year, only 1% were allowed to be exempt from the TAKS; Texas then battled to raise that to 3% this year. Nine percent were actually given an alternate exam two years ago, which has led some editorialists to insist than more than 9% of Texas's students are disabled, while other experts insist that 9% is way too high.

Almost one in ten seems a very high number to me, too, but I'm not a special education expert. I don't know how they decided on that number, given that the guidelines state that if the TAKS is an appropriate measure for a special education student, no alternate test should be given.

If anyone out there has any interesting links on the topic that they'd like to share, send 'em my way.

Posted by kswygert at 04:24 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Stepping out of the rat race

Although the Education Wonks aren't sure if they'd recommend this, I heartily agree with the idea of taking a year off:

Many college admissions officers support the idea. While cautioning that a "gap year" between high school and college isn't for everyone -- and that just goofing off isn't worthwhile -- they say many students who take one return more confident and self-aware...

Still, the popularity of gap years appears to be increasing only modestly if at all. Most of a dozen or so colleges contacted in the last week said the number of students who defer admission is relatively small, and flat year to year or even declining as an overall percentage...

But experts say that as the admissions process gets more stressful, the case for a gap year gets stronger. Colleges generally encourage the practice -- as long as students who have committed to one school don't use the extra year to apply elsewhere. Since the 1970s, Harvard has used the letter it sends to admitted applicants to advise them to consider a gap year. Some, like Sarah Lawrence, have sent similar letters after realizing more students than they expected planned to show up in the fall.

I think the gap year is a great idea, for several reasons:

1. Students arrive at college somewhat more mature, and often more removed from the petty high-school drama that can fuel freshmen-year bad behavior.
2. If students use the time to work from home, they get to experience the "full-time job" while still having a safety net.
3. Students who take the opportunity to travel will arrive at college much more worldly-wise, and with some great stories to boot.
4. Students who know they want to go to college will really be ready after a year's wait.
5. When else in life is it possible to take a year off and be relatively sure that you'll end up better than when you started off?

My year off (actually 18 months) was in between undergrad and grad school, but in that time I worked several jobs (some in my chosen field), lived away from home for six months, and got married. I had tolerant parents, who were fine with my working part-time and living at home while being a punky chick who kept night-owl hours (I used to go out at midnight, meet my stepfather for breakfast in the city, then go home and sleep). And I was lucky enough to find part-time work in data entry and statistics tutoring at USC that allowed me to gain experience, make decent money, and still live at home. I had ample time to study for the GREs and my applications looked better to boot.

There was no question that I was going to go to school when I did, and I felt much more prepared for it. Thus, I was amazed at how many of my fellow grad students were amazed that I took time off in between; just like in the CNN article, it was obviously the "thing to do" to rush right to grad school right after undergrad. They never considered doing otherwise. If your life's dream is to get your Ph.D. by the time you're 25, a year off won't work, but otherwise I heartily recommend it. I wish I'd done it before undergrad as well.

Posted by kswygert at 03:34 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When success in English is a problem

From the Interested Participant comes a fascinating tale of teachers complaining about high test scores, and superintendents claiming that it's all about the money:

Thousands of Arizona students struggling to learn English are about to lose extra help because a new state test shows they can read and write in English, though educators fear many of them really can't. In some districts, students are passing a new state test that says they are proficient in English at nearly double the rate of last year. But educators say the test is just easier and these kids aren't likely to pass regular classes without help.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the criticism comes because some school districts don't want to lose the extra money, about $350 per English-language learner. He said some schools have kept students designated as English-language learners for years because it means more money.

What a mess. Certainly, though, if the teachers are correct in their suspicions about the test, the results should be pretty much immediately apparent; a doubling of the overall pass rate is certainly cause for concern. However, I'm not sure if they're comparing apples to apples here:

Arizona school districts used to have the choice of one of four language tests, but the federal government now requires states to select one test for consistency. Arizona chose a Harcourt Assessment test, along with several other states...

"We're very concerned," said Cindy Segotta-Jones, director of language acquisition for Cartwright Elementary School District in Phoenix. She said about 2,200 Cartwright students passed the language test, nearly double the usual rate.

But on what test was the baseline set? If 1100 students passed last year, was that over all four tests? If so, is it possible that the other tests were too hard, and this one is closer to being just right? There's no way to tell from this information, of course, but it would help if I knew the pass rate on this exam from last year vs. this year. Now that everyone is using the same, it will be possible to compare results between schools in way that wasn't feasible before.

Sal Gabaldon, a language acquisition specialist for the Tucson Unified School District, said the new test is far different from previous ones used in Tucson schools.

The previous test used in Tucson required students to pass all three parts - reading, writing and oral - to be declared proficient in English, he said. The new test uses a composite score so it's possible that a somewhat lower score in writing could be offset by a higher oral score.

Becuase the previous test was triply conjunctive, one could argue that it was more difficult to pass, even if the individual items were the same difficulty as on this exam. However, is it a bad thing if the test isn't conjunctive? I'm not a content specialist in the area of English proficiency, so I don't know (a) how possible it is to get wildly different scores in the areas of reading, writing, and speaking, or (b) whether having wildly differing scores is predictive of disaster. Is it highly unlikely that a student will be a disaster in one area and great in another? If a student is good enough to pass in any one of the three areas, will they have a decent chance at succeeding later on without additional remediative help? I'd have to know all of those things before I could judge whether the test is useful for this purpose.

Tucson's teachers apparently think these results presage disaster, but Interested Participant wonders if some of that is hurt feelings from having control over exam choice taken away.

Posted by kswygert at 12:11 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Bucking the mainstream

Tucked inside a long essay on the challenges of getting a kid into college these days, I noticed these interesting snippets:

Although originally devised as alternatives, counselors now tell students to take both the SAT and the ACT and submit the score of the one they do best on. These tests are in addition to at least three SAT II “achievement” tests and, of course, a battery of Advanced Placement exams for those rigorous courses they are counseled to take. Pile on top of these the now de rigueur SAT and ACT review courses — at, not incidentally, anywhere from $700 to $3,000 a pop.

Emphasis mine. Why is test prep now de rigueur, I wonder? I consider the ACT and SAT to be solid but not overly-challenging exams. Why isn't it de rigueur for parents to question why their kid is frightened of math and verbal items after 10 or 11 years in the public school system? Why isn't it de rigueur to wonder why test prep is even necessary?

And in this case, it wasn't.

Our son, a motivated student with top grades and a challenging academic program, is a very good, but not spectacular, standardized test-taker. Friends with children at other schools told us that kids had to have 1500 SAT’s to be in the admissions hunt at top-echelon colleges...even if it meant going to a lesser member of the “nifty 50” group of colleges, our son eschewed review courses on the grounds that he already had a heavy schedule and would rather read some good books than spend hours taking boring SAT or ACT prep classes. Obviously, we had done something right in his education, but we were definitely out of the mainstream.

He opted not to take the SAT at all, and ended up scoring in the 99th percentile on the ACT after doing some test prep at home on his own. This he was proud of, because, as he said, he isn’t a wiz at standardized tests, and he didn’t take an expensive prep course. I suppose it was a kind of reverse snobbery (“anyone can do well if they take a prep course, but I did it on my own”) and a real sign of the times in the selective college admissions world.

Kudos to this family for ignoring what's "de rigueur." The entire article is definitely worth a read.

Posted by kswygert at 08:52 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 11, 2005

Between the (book) covers

I'm torn here, between sympathizing with the parents and suggesting they thank heavens their kids are reading anything at all:

Although few parents would object to their teens reading during the summer, more might object to the content in some of this summer’s books for teens. Issues such as teen sex and drug use are often addressed in coming-of-age literature, but some worry that new novels are not only more graphic, but make such behavior more glamorous.

An example is “Rainbow Party” by Paul Ruditis, which has created a stir among librarians and booksellers. The book is about a group of teens who plan an oral sex party. Discussion of the book has focused on whether its merit as a warning against such behaviors outweighs its graphic content.

Barbara Wakefield, the children services manager for Cleveland County Library system, said racy books for young adults would probably not end up in the library...

As reading for teens becomes more controversial, some groups are calling for libraries to label graphic books similarly to how records with explicit content are labeled.

Ms. Wakefield said a labeling system might be helpful.

Perhaps parents now have a harder time keeping such things straight, because the "young adult" sections of the bookstores have gotten humongous. I've never seen so many books targeted at teenagers. It's hard to believe that our pool of good authors has suddenly increased tenfold, so my guess is that a lot of the books are the type of useless fiction that adults get stuck with in airport bookstores. Some of the fiction may indeed be more smutty than adults remember.

Regardless, my sympathies with the parents are tempered by the memory of how pissed I was at the age of six when my sister's best friend took her copy of Carrie away from me. I ended up getting the book back, and loving it too.

Posted by kswygert at 04:24 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Clothes make the teacher

Newsday notes that some schools are now cracking down on revealing clothing - worn by teachers:

In some districts, teachers can get dressed down for wearing skimpy tops, short skirts, flip flops, jeans, T-shirts, spandex or baseball caps. Spaghetti is fine in the cafeteria, but shirts supported by spaghetti straps are not welcome in the classroom.

District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., for example, prohibits sexually provocative items. That includes clothing that exposes "cleavage, private parts, the midriff or undergarments," district rules say.

In Georgia's Miller County, skirts must reach the knee. Elsewhere in the state, hair curlers are disallowed in Harris County and male teachers in Talbot County must wear ties two or three times a week.

"There's an impression that teachers are dressing more and more -- well, the good term for it would be 'relaxed,'" said Bill Scharffe, director of bylaws and policy services for the Michigan Association of School Boards. "Another term for it would be 'sloppy.'"

If you were hoping for a slew of quotes in which teachers welcome this sort of regulation, so that others might understand the importance of their profession, think again. While several teachers are indeed quoted as saying they do like to "dress up" (that is, dress like other working professionals) because they feel the kids take them more seriously, we also have comments like the following:

Regulating dress is touchy, teachers say.

Teachers may view policies that get too specific as restrictive and demeaning. And what to do about broad policies that are enforced inconsistently? What works for a physics teacher may not fit a kindergarten teacher who sits with students on the floor...

Why is being told not to bare your midriff demeaning? And what in that dress code prevents a teacher from wearing something that makes it comfortable to sit on the floor?

"What's too short? What's too long? What's too provocative? What's too revealing?" said Jacqueline Oglesby, a representative for the Alabama Education Association, which worries about unfair enforcement of a dress code. "Everyone has their own definition. And besides, this is supposed to be about the education of children, not tattoos or holes in your tongue."

What a stunning lack of judgment on the part of Oglesby, who has apparently taken the "everything is equally good" mantra from education schools and tried to apply it to the professional academic world. I assume she believes these sorts of statement dignify her profession; on the contrary, it suggests that she honestly doesn't see any difference between the professional demeanor of a woman covered in tattoos, baring cleavage and belly, and one wearing comfortable, modest attire.

Posted by kswygert at 07:35 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Getting tough

Talk about getting back to basics:

The elementary school with the top student test scores in the state, located in Tarpon Springs, uses a strict approach. Parents must be involved. Students must behave. If parents and students don't play by the rules at Tarpon Springs Fundamental School, children can be transferred out. The school led the state this year in test scores...Its performance - 100 percent of its kids made the highest scores in writing - makes many schools drool with jealousy.

Now, Hillsborough County public school educators plan to duplicate some elements of the school's unique approach this fall at three elementary schools being converted to fundamental academies. The elementary schools - Just, Potter and Booker T. Washington - are all in poor neighborhoods...

But based on early plans, parents should not expect the Hillsborough version of fundamental schools to be a mirror image of those in Pinellas County. Hillsborough's fundamental schools will be organized and run much differently than those in the neighboring county.

In Pinellas, the rules at fundamental schools are more strict, and children who do not follow them are moved elsewhere. But in Hillsborough, the rules will not be so explicit...

The article refers to the proposed Hillsborough rules as "squishy," but I don't know if I agree. I do find it interesting that it is explicitly stated that schools should have the right to transfer problematic children. Indeed, this is cited as one of the primary reasons for why the Pinellas system works.

Tarpon Springs Fundamental School is described in more detail here. The school policies are here. Note that while the weapons policy is saner than most (i.e., it's got to be a gun, or look just like one, to be considered a weapon), there's zero tolerance for bad behavior, missed homework, and trashy clothes (even parents must adhere to the dress code when on school grounds).

Posted by kswygert at 07:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 10, 2005

Your child's only "reality show" should be his real life

A new study reveals that some parents are crazy enough to let eight-year-olds have their own TVs:

The July issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine reports that third-graders with TVs in their bedrooms did worse on tests in school than those without them. In the study, which comes on top of studies that have shown excessive TV viewing to be detrimental to children’s mental and physical health, children with televisions in their bedrooms consistently scored lowest on standardized tests, and children who had computers but no TVs consistently scored the highest.

The lead author, Dr. Dina L.G. Borzekowski of Johns Hopkins, said the problem didn’t appear to be television viewing per se but rather something about the way (and extent to which) children watch TV when they have complete control over it.

Dr. Borzekowski told The New York Times that the findings pointed to a simple, and obvious, course of action. “It is a physical object,” she said. “And it is a pretty straightforward thing to unplug the television set and remove it physically from the children’s bedroom.”

The effort can be reduced even farther by not putting a TV into an eight-year-old's room in the first place. The article concludes by noting that removing the child's TV might "make some parents uncomfortable." Not the parents I grew up with.

However, I doubt TV is really the causal factor here. Certainly, one could argue that perhaps people with this many TVs to go around are not poverty-stricken and are doing good by their kids in other ways. I, however, would argue that parents who are okay with putting the boob tube in their child's room are perhaps not the most attentive parents, and such lack of attentiveness could be related to low test scores as well. I wonder if the TV isn't the cause, but is, like low test scores, a by-product of parents who don't mind their kids watching MTV rather than doing supervised homework.

Posted by kswygert at 11:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Unhappy with MEAP results

In Michigan, sliding MEAP scores are scaring officials, who believe the state's chances of attracting more high-tech companies are in jeopardy:

...a shrinking percentage of high school students are exceeding the state's requirements in math and science. Results from Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests for the class of 2005, released this month, give the state a clearer picture of the challenge it faces in its effort to attract high-tech businesses with a better-educated work force...

Over the past six years, the percentage of high school students scoring well below what the state considers failing on standardized math tests grew from about 20 percent to 29 percent, which translates into almost 32,000 students in the class of 2005. In science, it grew from 20 to 26 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of students scoring well above state standards fell from 22 percent to 9 percent in math and from 7 percent to 5 percent in science.

Testing experts and school officials caution that there could be many reasons for the trend in math and science other than students' skills getting worse. They say more kids are taking the test to meet federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the law, schools must test 95 percent of their students. These students, who previously may have avoided the test because they felt they wouldn't do well, could be bringing down scores, they say.

Certainly, an influx of underqualified examinees can reduce the percentages - but I'd be interesting in knowing if the raw numbers have changed. If the actual number of students scoring at proficient has stayed the same while the percentage dropped, that would be evidence of the more-underqualified-examinees theory. However, if the number of students who are doing well is dropping along with the percentages, then something else is happening here.

I wouldn't feel comfortable assuming that the numbers above were signs of random, meaningless fluctuation. Either the examinee population is changing, the tests aren't equated very well, or it's some combination of the two (perhaps along with other factors).

Posted by kswygert at 11:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Popping the (multiple-choice) question

Heh.

A law student was so bored with his final year paper that he stood up in the middle of the exam and asked his girlfriend to marry him.

Student Edin Smailovic, 29, requested permission to address the rest of the students during an economic law exam at Bijelo Polje University in Montenegro. Examiners gave their permission believing he had a query regarding the paper that was also of importance to the rest of the group.

But after approaching the front of the room he got down on one knee and asked his 26-year-old girlfriend, Edita Bikic, who was also sitting the exam, to marry him.

She said yes.

Had I been teaching when this happened, I don't know that I could have done much; the student could have argued that my syllabus didn't explicitly prevent marriage proposals during exams. I would have been a bit miffed to keep hearing about how "bored" the student was by the exam, though.

Posted by kswygert at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

Back again

Made it back from the conference fine; now I'm just a tad worried about a couple of British psychometricians I know, and about friends who were planning to travel to the UK next week. I hope that none of you are waiting by the phone to hear if any of your British friends are okay.

The uglier elements of society seem to be in force this week; I'm currently being massively hammered by spam, and MT Blacklist is crashing, possibly due to this very issue. Comments and trackbacks are disabled for the time being.

Update: Everything's operational again.

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

July 01, 2005

What's Dutch for "'til we meet again"?

Tomorrow I catch a flight to Amsterdam to attend the International Meeting of the Psychometric Society. The Palm Pilot is charged, the shampoo is packed, my pashmina and Bucky pillow are in my carry-on - I think I'm almost ready.

Actually, I'm completely ready, except for, you know, the talk I'm supposed to give next Tuesday. That's still taking shape. As in, I'll probably be doing frantic revisions on the laptop Monday night. No matter - IMPS is a fairly laid-back conference, and research that's "in progress" is always welcome. I'm hoping to get some helpful feedback during the talk.

Anyway, I'll be back home next Thursday. May you all have a joyous and food/flag/fireworks-filled 4th of July.

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Posted by kswygert at 08:34 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A second chance

Interesting headline: "Irving ISD hires chastened principal."

The Irving school district has hired a former Dallas principal who was disciplined after tens of thousands of dollars in student-activity funds disappeared from her high school.

Former Molina High principal Linda Lujan-Kimm wasn't accused of wrongdoing but was demoted in 2003 after the money was reported missing. An office manager, who resigned before the Dallas school district investigated, was responsible for managing the funds...

At least $45,000 may have been taken from Molina High. Under Dallas district policy, principals are ultimately responsible for overseeing the management of activity funds. Ms. Lujan-Kimm said she informed Dallas district officials about the missing money. Following a DISD investigation, she was reassigned to a position of lesser responsibility. Her most recent Dallas job was secondary ESL program coordinator.

In her application to Mr. Singley, Ms. Lujan-Kimm cited her accomplishments at Molina High, including improvements on standardized test scores and increases in the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses and taking AP exams. She was a finalist for the district's principal of the year award.

If she wasn't the one responsible, and was the one willing to blow the whistle, I wonder why she was demoted at all?

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

You're supposed to wear your heart on your sleeve, mom

It's always heartwarming to see a mother make sacrifices so that her child can enjoy a good education... isn't it?

For $10,000, Kari Smith has gone ahead and had her forehead tattooed with the Web address of a gambling site. Bountiful [sic], 30, who sold her unusual advertising space on eBay, said the money will give her 11-year-old son a private education, which she believes he needs after falling behind in school.

"For the all the sacrifices everyone makes, this is a very small one," she said. "It's a small sacrifice to build a better future for my son," she said.

Lee has the photo, and this comment:

What a moron. Hopefully sending her son to private school will help him get into college, where he can get a good enough education to get a good enough job making a good enough salary so that his moron mother can have major plastic surgery to remove that s--t from her forehead.
Posted by kswygert at 10:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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