August 31, 2005

There's nothing ''nerdy'' about mathematics

This Dave Barry column is 12 years old, but it's not exactly outdated:

Seriously, young people, I have some important back-to-school advice for you, and I can boil it down to four simple words: "Study Your Mathematics.''

I say this in light of a recent alarming Associated Press story stating that three out of every four high-school students -- nearly 50 percent -- leave school without an adequate understanding of mathematics. Frankly, I am not surprised. ''How,'' I am constantly asking myself, "can we expect today's young people to understand mathematics when so many of them can't even point their baseball caps in the right direction?''...

A shocking number of you young people are unable to solve even basic math problems, such as the following:

A customer walks into a fast-food restaurant, orders two hamburgers costing $2 apiece, then hands you a $5 bill. How much change should you give him?

a. $2

b. $3

c. None, because the question doesn't say you WORK there. You could just take the money and run away.

The correct answer, of course, is that you should give the customer:

d. Whatever the computerized cash register says, even if it's $154,789.62.

Are we sure he didn't write this column yesterday?

(Via Joanne.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:11 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack


The latest Carnival of Education is up. Don't miss Polski3's link to What Top Teachers Want for Students.

Also via the EdWonks, there's a lively discussion going on about the recent Georgia initiative to get all schoolchildren to read 25 books a year. It's amazing just how many commenters believe that number is ridiculously high.

Posted by kswygert at 01:07 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Technology to the rescue

A long and informative article about the rise of technological inventions to meet the need of disabled examinees. There's also a nice discussion of the pitfalls inherent when technological modifications could cause a test to be measuring something other than its intended construct.

Posted by kswygert at 12:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

He's blinding them with science

Researcher and political scientist Jon Miller has concluded that the majority of Americans "don't have a clue" when it comes to science:

Over the last three decades, Dr. Miller has regularly surveyed his fellow citizens for clients as diverse as the National Science Foundation, European government agencies and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. People who track Americans' attitudes toward science routinely cite his deep knowledge and long track record... Dr. Miller's data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

At one time, this kind of ignorance may not have meant much for the nation's public life. Dr. Miller, who has delved into 18th-century records of New England town meetings, said that back then, it was enough "if you knew where the bridge should be built, if you knew where the fence should be built"...No more. "Acid rain, nuclear power, infectious diseases - the world is a little different," he said.

One thing that hasn't changed is the attitude of some of the know-nothings; when Miller speaks on the radio about his findings, he always receives postcards from fundamentalists who say they are praying for him.

[Miller] had firsthand experience with local school issues in the 1980's, when he was a young father living in DeKalb, Ill., and teaching at Northern Illinois University. The local school board was considering closing his children's school, and he attended some board meetings to get an idea of members' reasoning. It turned out they were spending far more time on issues like the cost of football tickets than they were on the budget and other classroom matters. "It was shocking," he said.

It continues today. Note this article from the LA Times about how a proposed NCLB extension to high school students is destined to fail:

"High school reform is really hard," said Susan Traiman, director of education for the Business Roundtable, an organization of corporate leaders who recently issued a call to improve the nation's high schools. "The experience in the reform movement is that it takes hold most easily in elementary school."

The reasons are myriad. For one thing, said Tom Loveless, an education specialist at the Brookings Institution, bolstering academic standards would clash with the social, athletic and other elements of high school that are important to many students and their parents. It's "a cultural thing," he said.

"Kids in high school want to spend time on sports, and there's a huge percentage who work part time," Loveless said. Given that most parents seem to want their children's high school years to be filled with proms and football games and socializing, he added, "I don't see any groundswell of support" for extending No Child Left Behind to high schools.

Emphases mine. If we've redefined high school as the time when it's more important to attend football games and proms than gain hard knowledge, no wonder only a quarter of Americans grasp the basics of science.

Posted by kswygert at 12:52 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

SAT class of 2005

SAT scores for the class of 2005 are available:

The high school class of 2005 earned the highest-ever marks on the math portion of the SAT, a modest change that continues the steady 25-year trend of improvement on the country's most popular standardized college entrance exam. Significant gaps between racial groups remain, however, and officials said they are troubled by the comparative lack of progress in scores on the test's verbal section.

Last year's seniors averaged 520 out of a possible 800 on the math portion, 2 points higher than the class of 2004. Average scores on the verbal section were unchanged at 508, according to results released Tuesday by the College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the SAT.

A teaser for the new SAT scores:

The College Board also released its first glimpse of data on the new version of the SAT, which features a writing section with an essay, and which members of the class of 2006 began taking last spring. Those students appeared to find the new section the hardest, with average scores of 516, compared to 519 in critical reading (the new name for verbal) and 537 in math.

CNN claims this is the highest math level in 32 years. Interestingly, this was also the highest percentage (46) of high school graduates ever taking the exam and highest percentage (35) of minorities ever taking it. One could argue that perhaps an increased number of ESL students taking the exam led to stagnant verbal scores - but that doesn't explain the higher math scores.

(Via PoliPundit.)

Posted by kswygert at 03:17 PM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Mouthing off

This has to be a joke:

A secondary school is to allow pupils to swear at teachers - as long as they don't do so more than five times in a lesson. A running tally of how many times the f-word has been used will be kept on the board. If a class goes over the limit, they will be 'spoken' to at the end of the lesson. The astonishing policy, which the school says will improve the behaviour of pupils, was condemned by parents' groups and MPs yesterday. They warned it would backfire.

Parents were advised of the plan, which comes into effect when term starts next week, in a letter from the Weavers School in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
Assistant headmaster Richard White said the policy was aimed at 15 and 16-year-olds in two classes which are considered troublesome.

"Within each lesson the teacher will initially tolerate (although not condone) the use of the f-word (or derivatives) five times and these will be tallied on the board so all students can see the running score," he wrote in the letter. "Over this number the class will be spoken to by the teacher at the end of the lesson."

I'd list everything wrong with this idea, but I don't have all night.

1. Kids are competitive. The daily contest to see whose name gets up on the board first will be just that - a contest.
2. Now, in addition to teaching, teachers will be required to withstand a barrage of curses from students, and will be able to do nothing except stop and write the student's name on the board.
3. If saying the f-word four times carries no punishment, how exactly is that not condoning it?
4. Test item: If there are 30 students in the class, and the class lasts for 60 minutes, and each student can say the f-word four times without getting in trouble, how many times will the f-word be spoken each minute, on average?

I'm not counting here the number of f-bombs the teachers will be dropping by the end of the day, as they are forced to deal with this idiot policy. Quadruple-tolerance for awful behavior is as bad as zero-tolerance for harmless behavior.

Note the lovely rewards for those who do "behave":

...[the school] also plans to send 'praise postcards' to the parents of children who do not swear and who turn up on time for lessons

Oh wow. So now getting to class on time and not sounding like a fishmonger is praise-worthy. That's funny; at least that much was expected of me in school. What's more, since when has a teenager ever behaved just so that that their parents would receive an award?

Note that the newspaper's debate item of the day is:

Should children be removed from parents who are loving but 'not clever enough' to raise them?

How about let's talk about students being removed from the influences of principals who are "not clever enough" to understand the implications of this policy? I think Ace is right; they're getting rid of bad behavior by defining it away.

Posted by kswygert at 07:04 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Open thread for email list

Anyone who would like their email added to my email notification list can either (a) add it in the comments to this post, or (b) send me an email at kimberly at kimberlyswygert dot com. I've never used the email notification tool on MT before, but I think you might like it.

Posted by kswygert at 01:38 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


If I have any readers in Louisiana and Mississippi, I hope you're okay.

Michelle Malkin has a roundup of online news related to the hurricane. The American Red Cross has a form set up for donations. On Fark, one commenter gives sensible advice:

A few notes from a Red Cross veteran:

Please don't try to drive to Louisiana "just to help out". It's a very sweet idea, but for at least the first few weeks, disaster management is a huge logistical clusterfark without random people showing up. You are much more likely to end up a victim yourself than you are to save/assist somebody. Donate money instead!

Alternatively, sign up with your local Red Cross, church, or community group as a volunteer. You'll recieve training in a necessary field (disaster assessment, family services, shelter management) as well as food money and local housing. Don't worry--relief operations will probably be going on to a greater or lesser extent for a year. You're not gonna miss it if you take the time to sign up. My last posting was for six weeks.

Also, don't think of this as a good time to donate last year's clothes or a huge box of random cleaning supplies. I worked at a logistics center and we would recieve boxes of this stuff from churches. Once again, it's a nice sentiment, but your old sheets, batteries, canned peas, and winter coats (it's summer! in the South!) basically just sit on a shelf in some warehouse until the operation closes down and we throw them away. Seriously, the most helpful thing you can do is give money, even if it feels cheap.

A cash donation means we can buy as many cots, first aid kits, cleaning kits, teddy bears, etc. as we need. It also means the stuff we buy is organized, professionally packed, and clearly marked so we can count it. It doesn't matter what you gave if it can't be counted! Cleaning stuff that isn't professionally packed is also a hazard to warehouse workers.

Thanks for the help everyone and good luck.

Posted by kswygert at 01:08 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The send-off isn't getting cheaper

Parents, get out those credit cards:

...Now these big retailers are tapping into a spending spree that has blossomed into the fastest growing season in retailing for many stores. Back-to-school shopping for college students has surged past Halloween as the second biggest period on the calendar behind the Christmas holidays for chains that sell general merchandise.

...per capita back-to-school spending for a college freshmen soared to $1,151.68 this year, almost double the total back-to-school budget for families with K-12 children. Contrary to conventional wisdom, spending doesn't trail off among sophomores, juniors or seniors.

...Students will spend about $5.6-billion on apparel and shoes this year. About $750-million of that will be lavished on collegiate logo merchandise. At USF that ranges from a $19.95 USF lava lamp in school colors to a $9 green and gold wig to this year's new school spirit-wear that for the fist time carries a Big East Conference logo...

The other big growth area is $3.6-bilion on home furnishings that students use to deck out drab dorm rooms...Parents of a few students hire professional movers to lug in entire bedroom vanity sets from home. Many more glam up their living areas on the cheap with such items as shower curtains, wall paint and throw rugs. One Mallory Hall room looks like a Parisian street scene. Another uses animal print bedspreads and a wall mural to create a jungle look. Others are done up in the latest trendy color combinations for dorm decor - hot pink and lime or pink, brown and powder blue.

The parent quoted in the article spent over $5000 to get her college sophomore into his first apartment. I paid less than that as a down payment for my first house. $3500 for bedroom furniture? For a 19-year-old whose recreational hobbies might very well be beer pong and toga parties? Sheesh.

However, it's fun to look at the Urban Outfitters website and realize that that 1970's era kitchen table, couch, and bedroom furniture that my parents sent me off to graduate school with are now in style. At UNC, I had health insurance, a new laptop, a car that ran, and a full apartment's worth of mustard yellow and avacado green furniture - what more does a student need?

Posted by kswygert at 09:35 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

August 25, 2005

Another song and dance about the SAT

Do cheesy songs help raise SAT scores? (Free registration required.)

Renee Mazer is trying to help high school students get into good colleges — by teaching them silly songs and cheesy poems.

Mazer is the creator of "Not Too Scary Vocabulary!: For the SAT and Other Standardized Tests and Success in Life," a boxed set of CDs (or audio tapes) aimed at beefing up students' semantic skills. Using playful mnemonic devices and slang-studded stories, the discs teach hundreds of words that often appear on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. By presenting the words in a manner that's easy to absorb and remember, Mazer said, she can help raise students' scores on the verbal section of the SAT. And that can help turn a hapless Ivy League reject into an ebullient Harvard freshman.

What's Mazer's secret? She's never dull.

I'll say, considering that one of the poems talks about emotions involved with "getting to first base."

Posted by kswygert at 09:21 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Raising test scores with a (cinnamon) twist

If you feed them, they will improve:

A pilot program intended to ensure every child has the chance to eat a free and nutritious breakfast is being offered this year to students at Morris Elementary School in Rialto. The program is based on research that shows proper nutrition can positively influence academic achievement, Rialto Unified School District officials said.

The free breakfast program paid for by reimbursable state and federal funds is being offered initially at Morris, but if successful, will be expanded to other school sites, said Syeda Jafri, district spokeswoman.

"We offered free breakfast during standardized testing at our schools during last year,' said Sharon Flores, director of nutrition services for the district. "What we found was that the free breakfast reduced tardies and that we had less students in the nurses' offices with stomach aches.'

This part, though, makes me think teachers will be driven nuts:

"The food is served in the classroom right when class starts so it's a family-type environment,' Flores said.

Which means teachers will have to monitor table manners and clean up all that jelly off the desks afterwards.

Posted by kswygert at 09:17 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Art of being a Barbie doll

Mattel is jumping on the "kids-don't-get-enough-exposure-to-the-arts-these-days" bandwagon (emphases mine):

Aug. 29 - Sept. 5, 2005 issue - Who said Lindsay Lohan couldn't get any smaller? The teen starlet's new doll, part of Mattel's My Scene line, is now arriving in a slinky red-carpet gown. Also sold separately: a limo, a dressing room and an ... animated DVD?

Girls used to be able to get a doll's backstory from the back of its box. But that's changing, as more retailers release straight-to-video productions that help introduce new characters—and sell more dolls...

Parents might see the movies as underhanded advertising. But Mattel, which has sold nearly 27 million Barbie films worldwide since 2001, doesn't agree. "Kids see through that," says Rob Hudnut, vice president of entertainment development. "We're trying to fill a void in the education system in teaching kids about the arts."

Uh-huh. If Mattell wants to sell DVDs along with dolls, more power to them. But to claim this is somehow "teaching kids about the arts" is pretty absurd.

Posted by kswygert at 09:13 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 24, 2005

A love of tests

A thoughtful and quirky look at the testing craze, from a young (class of '98) reporter:

...I just took last year’s standardized English Language-Arts Test for the 11th grade - which anyone can sample at the state Department of Education’s Web site and which the state uses to monitor its districts’ progress - and while I scored well (a 95 percent, thank you very much), there were only 38 questions, nine of which were devoted to understanding a car rental agreement and the instructions of a food processor. Only one great literary work was examined - “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne - and there were scant vocabulary questions, which, maybe, is a good thing.

...I can say that my foray into the world of standardized testing didn’t exactly fill me with the overwhelming confidence that the results of these tests will mean anything significant. Sure, the state will use them to decide which school districts are doing their job and how to parcel out an increasingly limited chunk of resources, but is it more than just a numbers game?

In speaking with the district’s curriculum director, Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti, about the county’s California High School Exit Exam and Standardized Testing and Reporting results, which were released last week, it occurred to me that the above question doesn’t simply have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

Chapin-Pinotti said that California schools tend to get a bad rap on the national stage when the test results come out, because what’s not factored in is that the state employs some of the strictest standards in the country. “The state set the bar very high and we’re not backing down,” Chapin-Pinotti said.

Reporter Raheem Hosseini goes on to discuss the Connecticut lawsuit before wondering why we care so much:

So what is it about tests we all love so much (and don’t kid yourself, we’re obsessed with them)? I think it has something to do with the simplicity of being able to quantify an amorphous concept such as intelligence. Color in a few bubbles, feed your sheet into the Scantron machine and find out how smart you are. And the strange thing is that even after high school and college and after having taken hundreds of scholastic tests through roughly 20 years of school, we’re not done with them.

There are employee evaluations and credit assessments and loan applications and - even weirder - the tests we actually choose to take in our spare time: crossword puzzles, jumbles, online IQ and personality tests. It never stops.

But is it really so bad for people to crave a little disposable evaluation? Maybe what they’re really craving is intellectual stimulation. Heck, even Tommy Lee is back in school.

Posted by kswygert at 03:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Corporal punishment down under

Why is a small Christian school in New Zealand in the news? Because its principal distributed a manual on how to properly smack one's child:

Carey College gave guidelines to parents outlining how to smack their children on the buttocks with their hand or a rod in what it calls an expression of love - responsible parenting in the child's best interests. The pamphlet was sent out after steps were taken in parliament last month to ban smacking in New Zealand.

The Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro says it is irresponsible and misguided for a school to send out the pamphlet. But, Carey College principal Michael Drake says the school has always supported parents right to smack their children and has sent the information to parents in response to the anti-smacking bill.

I assume that their smacking is our spanking (it just sounds funnier their way). Do I think the pamphlet is silly? Well, if the pamphlet is chock-full of parenting advice - including how to control your kids without smacking - then the whole thing doesn't seem quite so silly. The whole anti-smacking thing is a topic du jour in New Zealand; the bill would repeal the section of the Crimes Act that allows parents to claim "reasonable force" if they are charged with assualt. It's a nice thought, but it's hard to understand just how the bill would have any force behind it without physical evidence or witnesses, and it's easy to understand how the bill could be used to erode parental rights and responsibilities.

The pamphlet that was distributed is in direct opposition to the bill:

Principal Michael Drake says it aims to help people understand smacking is completely different from abuse. He says the school wants to encourage a proper evaluation of the anti-smacking bill currently before Parliament. He says the bill does not have the support of ordinary New Zealand parents, who practice smacking and do so in a loving and safe way.

However, the advice has raised the hackles of those seeking to outlaw the practice. Green MP Sue Bradford, who is behind the anti-smacking bill in Parliament, has described the pamphlet as outrageous and slightly perverse.

Michael Drake says the school has always supported parents' rights to smack and he is amazed a politician, in a democracy, is criticising the school simply because it disagrees with her. He says what is needed is open debate on the topic, without emotive name-calling.

Good luck with that. Methinks this is a topic so emotionally charged for some that the debate is almost guaranteed to include accusations that those who oppose the bill are all abusive parents.

Posted by kswygert at 12:04 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wheels are turning

Those school buses don't run on air, you know:

In an informal survey of school business managers by the Association of School Business Officials International, 62 percent said rising fuel prices were hurting their districts. The business officers have varied strategies to keep budgets in line: ordering more central pickups of students, expanding conservation, experimenting with other fuels.

"I think everybody, first and foremost, is trying to find ways to buy cheaper gas," said Michael Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. Most buses use diesel fuel, which has jumped about a dollar a gallon since last year. School districts now pay an average of $2.25 to $2.40 a gallon.

To offset the costs, districts are stripping money from classrooms, trimming bus routes, cutting field trips, and raiding cash reserves. Some are considering charging fees for bus service or asking children to walk longer distances to school.

Why not let private companies take over? Only 2 trips a day means they can lower the cost to each rider, and they can probably afford security for each bus so that students can ride in peace. Students could pay a pittance for bus fare just like they pay a pittance for school lunches now. I don't know if there are any companies out there that would already have the infrastructure for this, but it's a thought.

Posted by kswygert at 10:53 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Studying in the US shouldn't be dangerous

I had no idea this was a problem:

The U.S. Department of State has proposed a new rule that aims to help prevent sexual abuse of foreign youths in high school student-exchange programs by increasing the screening requirements for adults who interact with such students.

The proposed amendments to regulations for high school exchange programs would require criminal-background checks of all adults who work with the programs. The program sponsors would also have to run the names of all adults in the households of host families through sex-offender registries kept by the states where the students would live while in the United States. The programs would be required to report allegations of sexual misconduct both to the State Department and to local law-enforcement agencies.

Sounds like a good idea.

Posted by kswygert at 10:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

School bells

Schools are starting! Right on the Left Coast is tired:

I have two Algebra I classes, mostly freshmen...I'm lucky to teach at a school with a pretty good student population. But dang, sometimes it seems like no one ever taught many of these students about "inside voices".

I got a call during 6th period today. My son, on his first day at his new school, fell on the bars (or something boyish like that) and bloodied his nose, bit a small hole in his tongue, and loosened a tooth. Our secretary put his school's secretary though to talk to me and she asked what they should do with him. "Is he bleeding right now?" "No." "Then send him back to class." I'm such a father!

While the Education Wonks, as always, have a point to make:

Since the 1960s, our school has offered every 7th grader a semester course in the fine arts. After our full-time (and first-year) art teacher resigned her post in favor of a better-paying job over on the coast, an administrative decision was made to "close out" the position in favor of hiring of another remedial math teacher.

As we work in a school that serves a mostly lower socio-economic clientele, I'm saddened to see this happen. For many of our pupils, the school's art program was their first (and sometimes only) exposure to the fine arts...

Both the drama and music teachers will now have mixed teaching assignments: three classes of remedial English each day with only two periods of drama and music. Rumor has it that next year both the drama and music programs will be ended.

Interestingly, no administrators have ever been laid-off in the 14 years that I have been employed by our district.


Posted by kswygert at 06:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Battling the NEA

SpunkyHomeSchooler points the way to a new blog, Wake Up the NEA. The blog is so new that they haven't got many posts up yet, but they link this article as a summary of what they're all about:

The federal and state governments continue to pour more and more money into education with pathetic results. When are politicians (and parents, for that matter) going to wake up to the fact that the education establishment is shirking its primary duty of promoting the education – as opposed to the social transformation – of our children? Is it any wonder more parents are turning to homeschooling and private schools?

There are still many, many outstanding public school teachers who do a superb job at educating despite the obstacles, distractions and interfering political agendas of the education establishment. But it is no thanks to the NEA, and the more that word gets out the better for the students and the cause of education.

Posted by kswygert at 06:33 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Review is on the way

Finally got my (free!) copy of Jay P. Greene's newest, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About our Schools– And Why It Isn't So. Expect a review shortly.

Posted by kswygert at 06:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Trading one acronym for another

The Chicago public schools are abandoning the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or ITBS, in favor of a revised Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, or ISAT:

It's welcome news for both Chicago teachers and students who had to spend hours of preparation for the tests and lost precious class time for other lessons. Now, the public schools will be able to focus on one high-stakes test, the revamped Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, which has become an important measure of Chicago schools' performance under the No Child Left Behind law. "It's fabulous," Nobel School Principal Mirna Diaz Ortiz says. "I'm very happy that we're going to be measured by one test and not have to take two tests"...

In addition to the ISAT, there will be another new test, but it will not put the same burden on students and teachers that the Iowa test did. It will not be used to determine promotion. The Stanford Learning First measures students' strengths and weaknesses in reading. It will provide a diagnostic tool for teachers to see where their students need help. It will be offered three times a year through 40- minute exams and will cover the same kind of material that is in the ISATs. It won't require extensive preparation.

The Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) measures individual student achievement relative to the Illinois Learning Standards. The ITBS, on the other hand, gives results in relation to an Iowa norm, or a national norm. This means that promotional judgments will be made for scores based on comparisons within Illinois, not for the nation as a whole. This sounds consistent with NCLB regulations.

Interactive ISAT samples can be found here. I'd like to be objective, but I note that the eighth-grade Reading sample is a reading passage written by James Thurber, one of my all-time favorite authors. I started reading him about that time, too. So I'm predisposed to like this exam.

This Chicago Tribune article has more info:

The Iowas, used in Chicago since 1972, will be replaced with three short reading assessments that officials believe will prove more valuable in gauging the progress of individual students. Called Stanford Learning First, the new 40-minute exams will be given in October, January and May and will test the same kind of material covered by the new ISATs...Officials said they still expect to use the historic data as a basis for comparison by creating a new formula that can equate the results of the old Iowas with the new Stanfords.

This can work, if the new Stanford exams have the same content as the old Iowa exams. Seems like this is a new, low-stakes way to test reading, with the scores being equated back to the high-stakes ITBS.

The test change also will trigger changes in the district's controversial retention policy, the details of which will be announced in October. The get-tough retention policy was created in 1997 when Daley declared an end to social promotion and started requiring students to meet minimum test standards in reading and math.

The policy has been softened over the years. Now the district only considers reading scores and bars schools from retaining students twice in the same grade regardless of how low they score on the tests. Last year, about a third of the 24,000 students required to attend summer school because of low Iowa scores had to repeat a grade.

The article also mentions that the ISAT-based promotion decisions will be based on the ISAT portion that is scored in comparison to national norms. Interesting.

If any of you have experience with the ISATs, or have information that hasn't made it into the Chicago papers, let me know.

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

Don't get fired up

In New Jersey, they'll be puffing no more:

New Jersey allows smoking in bars, restaurants and some office buildings. But it has taken a step to limit smoking with a ban on lighting up in all college and university dormitories in the state, signed into law on Monday by Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey.

Saying the law would improve the safety of all students, Mr. Codey said smoking in dormitories was the second leading cause of fire injuries on campuses. During the signing at Drew University in Madison, where Mr. Codey's oldest son, Kevin, is a junior, the governor said the law was the most comprehensive academic ban in the country...

This is the second step in recent years to make dormitories safer. A fire at Seton Hall University in South Orange in 2000 killed three freshmen and prompted legislation to install sprinkler systems in all of the state's dormitories. The authorities said the fire started when several students ignited a paper banner in a lounge.

The horrific Seton Hall incident turned out to be arson, not an accident, but if the sprinkler systems are just now getting up to date, I suppose it's not a bad idea for cigarettes to be verboten.

Posted by kswygert at 09:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Replacing the bad apples

In Washington, DC, it's out with the old, in with the new:

Forty-four D.C. public schools -- about a third of the schools in the system -- will have a new principal when classes start next week, Superintendent Clifford B. Janey announced yesterday.

School officials said the turnover is unprecedented and reflects a high number of retirements and an effort to weed out principals who were not performing adequately. Janey had said in April that 25 percent to 40 percent of the system's principals were not up to par...

In the recruitment of principals, Meria J. Carstarphen, the system's chief accountability officer, said she and her staff were deliberate in finding the school best suited for each candidate. She said they also sought to assemble a team that could help principals at 81 schools identified as "in need of improvement" for failing to make academic benchmarks two or three consecutive years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Of course the union that represents D.C. principals has filed grievances on behalf of a few of those who are now looking for work. That's to be expected, but I have higher hopes for DC now.

Posted by kswygert at 09:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

College follies

Joanne notes that in the UK, the A-levels have become inflated and thus aren't as useful in college admissions, whereas in the US, a high school diploma is becoming less useful in gauging who's ready for college:

Only about half of this year's high school graduates have the reading skills they need to succeed in college, and even fewer are prepared for college-level science and math courses, according to a yearly report from ACT, which produces one of the nation's leading college admissions tests.

The report, based on scores of the 2005 high school graduates who took the exam, some 1.2 million students in all, also found that fewer than one in four met the college-readiness benchmarks in all four subjects tested: reading comprehension, English, math and science.

"It is very likely that hundreds of thousands of students will have a disconnect between their plans for college and the cold reality of their readiness for college," Richard L. Ferguson, chief executive of ACT, said in an online news conference yesterday.

Indeed. And don't miss the NYSun's review of the undercover professor and her experience as a freshman at "AnyU":

Although AnyU isn't a recognized top-tier school, the author seems to be genuinely surprised at the lack of intellectual interest and ambition displayed by the students. In a passage in the book about overheard dormitory conversations, she writes: "Although my time sample is very limited, I never once overheard what I would term a political or philosophical discussion."

The most popular class by far was a course on sexuality, taught by a "rock star" professor who laced his lectures with "taboo words." The author describes how students were assigned to interview each other in off-campus locations about their sex lives. (Those discussions provoked one of the three instances in which the author voluntarily disclosed her identity to her classmates.)

For the students, the biggest draw to the ivory towers, she found, was "college culture," which encompasses fun, friendships, partying, life experiences, and late-night talks. It's not exactly the message a university administration wants to send out...

...[But] despite "the rhetoric of student culture," she writes, students are not only studying less, they are also spending less time socializing than students a generation ago. The reason why, she offers, is that they're too busy holding wage-paying jobs...

Posted by kswygert at 08:56 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Lions and tigers and test scores, oh my!

Do you think your child would go crazy if you helped him get ready for school and standardized tests by reading books about school and standardized tests?

That first day is especially exciting for a child entering school for the first time. Here are some suggestions to help you have a good school year with all of your friends as well as some of mine...

FOURTH-GRADE FUSS, by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Andy Hammond, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 8-12.

The students in Mrs. Schraalenburgh's fourth-grade class know that this year they take the statewide standardized test in April. In October, the other fourth-grade classes are already practicing. Mrs. Schraalenburgh reassures the class not to worry, they will be ready. She doesn't want to spend all the class time getting ready because there are too many other things one needs to learn in fourth grade. Julio and his classmates who appeared in Class Clown are back again. This book will make a good read-aloud not only for fourth grade but also for third-graders who participate in the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Hurwitz points out that we all take tests throughout life'including driving tests and medical tests. Maybe this will help put students at ease about test taking.

I'm trying to decide if this would be helpful, or just too much like real life to be enjoyable.

Posted by kswygert at 06:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Lending a too-helping hand

What happens to teachers who help their students cheat? Well, in at least one California case, the result was a new job:

The Vista Unified School District has reprimanded and transferred a teacher at Mission Meadows Elementary School after a district investigation found that the teacher provided improper help to students and caused "irregularities" on state standardized tests, according to a letter district officials sent to the state...

...the district said that its investigation into a teacher's handling of the 2005 Standardized Testing and Reporting exam or STAR test found:

* The teacher admitted to having multiplication tables hanging on the wall during the math portion of the standardized test.
* In response to a specific allegation, the teacher said a misunderstanding may have led to one student's perception that she reviewed the standardized test and had students change their answers. The teacher said she reviewed each test to ensure that answers were filled in and that there were no stray marks.
* However, eight out of 17 students interviewed individually about the math portion of the STAR test said they were told which answers to correct when the teacher reviewed the tests.

The district's investigation concluded that testing irregularities did occur on the STAR tests...

The letter said the district reprimanded the teacher by placing her on administrative leave for the last two weeks of the school year that ended in June. The district also transferred the teacher from Mission Meadows to another school for this 2005-06 school year. Cowles declined to name the teacher or where she was transferred to, and said he had no comment on any personnel matters.

At least one parent is unhappy with the way the situation has been handled, in part because she didn't hear the outcome until she read about it in the papers.

Posted by kswygert at 06:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NCLB under fire

Connecticut has filed a federal lawsuit over NCLB:

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford against federal Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, asks a judge to declare that state and local funds cannot be used to meet the goals of the law.

"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states. Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education," said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do _ with no new money to do them."

The lawsuit raises the stakes in a fight between states and the Bush administration over the law, and experts say legislatures across the country will be watching the case carefully. Experts expect that states could vote to join the lawsuit or file their own.

The suit's chief claim focuses on a clause in the 2001 law that says states and districts will not have to spend their own money to meet its requirements.

This isn't the first place this is happening:

The state is not the first entity to sue in response to No Child Left Behind. The National Education Association, a national teacher's union, filed a lawsuit last spring on behalf of local districts and 10 state union chapters, including Connecticut...

In Utah, the state legislature passed a measure defying the federal law, and it was signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman on May 2. The law gives state educational standards priority over the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

One local Republican paper notes that, "According to a recent report, every state except Alabama, Delaware and New York is fighting the law in some way."

Update:Blogs for Bush, on the right, say they've debunked Connecticut's claims before. And Folkbum, on the left, asks some good questions.

Update #2: Whoa, just found out that the Connecticut Department of Education linked N2P. That's kinda cool.

Posted by kswygert at 06:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An epidemic of pregnancy


This may seem impossible to you, but it’s true. Sixty-five — again, 65 — of Timken High School’s 490 girl students are pregnant. That’s a number confirmed by Principal Kim Redmond, whose staff, in less than a week, will inherit a problem it had no part in causing.

Whose fault is it that more than 13 percent of Timken’s girls are with child? Some would say fault-finding isn’t a fruitful exercise, but in this case, it’s critical. Suspects range from movies, TV and video games to lazy parents and lax discipline. Only one thing is sure: Schools don’t impregnate children.

“This has gotten to horrible proportions,” said Redmond. “I wish I knew the answer to why it’s happening.”

She’s not the only one who should wonder. McKinley High’s numbers aren’t rosy, either, and its culture is just as ripe for trouble. I recall a day there last spring, while waiting for an English class to let out, that a roomful of kids lauded a boy, no more than 16 or 17, for having become a “dad” the night before. A paper on the kid’s desk suggested he might struggle to spell that word.

Teenage pregnancy is a strong predictor of adult poverty; at least one study confirms that teenagers who become pregnant average two years fewer of education.

At, one Timken student defends the school, saying that it has a bad reputation only because of the "wanna-be rapper, gangsters, and the all american-sports players." And now, because of the girls who have chosen early sexual activity and parenthood over education.

Update: A provocative link, via Instapundit, suggests the girls getting pregnant are the normal ones, and perhaps the system should be restructured so that teenage pregnancy isn't a guarantee of dropping out of school and low-income jobs:

It's time someone praised and defended reckless teenage girls and young women who behave badly, dress provocatively, engage in risky sex, and get pregnant. They are the normal ones. The rest of us are the deviants. They are behaving in the most natural way. The rest of us are mutants...

...A woman's body is at its fertility peak between the ages of 17 and 23. So when young women advertise or flaunt their sexuality they are being driven by a force far stronger than the Judeo-Christian ethic. They are driven by the power of peak fertility and a million years of evolutionary biology. Nature has programmed them for pregnancy, genetic diversity and keeping the species going. A big job...

...A healthier society would allow women to have children earlier than they do now. At 32, no matter what people want to believe, the reproductive system is far less robust than it was 10 years earlier. Our aim should be to have children born into a culture where there is plenty of support for child care in addition to the mother, thus liberating mothers to more fully exploit the possibilities that advanced society can offer them.

As I said, provocative.

Posted by kswygert at 06:25 AM | Comments (365) | TrackBack

August 22, 2005

Breathing easy

No bloggage today; work is hectic.

I also - finally - hope to get my health issues under control. I've just been diagnosed with asthma, which explains quite a few of the problems I've been having. I'll start treatments this week, so I hope to have more energy for the blog, not to mention the rest of my life.

I'm sure I'll still be hyperventilating in the future when I read about Alfie Kohn and his ilk off on another rampage against testing, but it'll be due only to disbelief, not to disease.

Posted by kswygert at 11:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Struggling with English

Are high school exit exams "fair" for students with limited English skills?

Overall, states with exit exams are in dilemma -- they've been challenged to hold all children to the same standards, but in doing so, they may withhold diplomas from many kids with limited English. Almost all states with exit exams implicitly require students to know English to graduate, but high schools often find immigrant students are just getting started...

Many high school teachers are not trained to help students with minimal English, which means those children do not receive high quality instruction, said Deborah Short, director of language education and academic development at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

"Do we want a lot of high school students who don't have diplomas -- and therefore have a lot of limited opportunities after high school -- because they are still acquiring English?" she said. "We need more of a policy on what to do with these children."

Actually, the question should be, would we rather have a lot of students with no diplomas because of poor English skills, or would we rather have lots of employers and admissions officers discover that the diploma no longer guarantees its bearer can speak English?

Graduation exams disproportionately affect limited-English students: 87 percent of them will have to pass a test to graduate in coming years, compared to about 72 percent of all U.S. public school students. Most students learning English as a second language live in gateway states for immigrants that have exit exams, mainly California, Texas and New York.

Something tells me that isn't a coincidence. Isn't it possible that these states were quickest to implement the exams because they're trying to prevent turning out high school graduates who are struggling with English?

I agree this is a problem, and if the numbers of limited-English students continue to increase in public high schools, educators are going to be forced to make some tough choices. I just find it worrisome that the debate seems to center on whether the tests are fair to students, rather than whether the awarding of diplomas to students who can't speak English is fair to society.

Posted by kswygert at 07:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The latest carnival has arrived

Ticklish Ears (great blog name!) has the latest update of the Carnival of Education. I'm having a hard time picking out my favorite post for this carnival. It's a toss-up among:

1. The Kentucky school that is - *whew!* - NOT banning mullets,
2. The parent whose behavior should have led to combat pay for teachers, and
3. The math problem that teaches kids that men are tactless.

Posted by kswygert at 10:05 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

Mouthing off in school

Students have always picked up some colorful language at school. What seems to have changed is that teachers no longer always correct them for it:

Parents send their children to school expecting them to come home with newfound knowledge of math, science and grammar, but sometimes they're taken aback when their children come home using profanity as well.

It's a common problem, as students are growing up in a cursing culture, says Jim O'Connor, a public relations professional who founded the Cuss Control Academy in Lake Forest, Ill., to help people curb the habit. Children pick up expletives from any number of sources, including television, movies and music. But new social settings, including school, also can be a culprit, he says.

O'Connor says he has talked to many teachers and some say they have given up trying to clean up language used in their classrooms, while others demand, "not in my classroom."

It's very hard for me to imagine a classroom in which teachers allow cursing to go unpunished. If you can't stop that, how could you manage to stop even worse behavior?

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 PM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

The Equation from the Black Lagoon

One wonders why Hollywood screenwriters try so hard to come up with more and bigger and scarier monsters each year, when the scariest creature of all is right under our noses.

In an AP-AOL News poll as students head back to school, almost four in 10 adults surveyed said they hated math in school, a widespread disdain that complicates efforts today to catch up with Asian and European students. Twice as many people said they hated math as said that about any other subject.

Some people like Stewart Fletcher, a homemaker from Suwannee, Ga., are fairly good at math but never learned to like it. "It was cold and calculating," she said. "There was no gray, it was black and white."

Ooh, evil. Black, cold, calculating...Like Dracula, only you have to work long division by hand while he sucks your blood.

The key to making children interested in math is to capture their imaginations at a young age, said Dianne Peterson, a fifth grade math teacher from Merritt Island, Fla. While she must spend part of her class time with basic tasks like multiplication tables and fractions, she tries to make it fun.

"I do a lot with music with them," Peterson said. "I've got some CDs that go over the facts. Some of it is rap and some of it is jazzy songs."

Does she have them learn songs that diss their previous teachers? Because if she has to teach them their multiplication tables in the fifth grade, somebody wasn't doing their job.

The poll results are here, should you choose to peruse them. Me, I can't understand why more people didn't select Phys Ed as the most-hated course. They must have had way more flattering uniforms than my high school offered.

Posted by kswygert at 09:10 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Doing good doesn't require looking good

While Alexander Russo suggests that perhaps education reformers aren't generally the best-looking bunch in the world, I say beauty is as beauty does.

Which, to me, means one ugly but sincere reformer pushing for higher standards and better education is worth ten Wonkettes.

(I just want to say to the Education Wonks that I bet they're even better looking in person.)

Posted by kswygert at 08:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The clueless, and those who teach them

Blogger Tall, Dark, and Mysterious has far, far more patience than I. Her description of the hurdles required to get EI benefits in British Columbia is painful just to read, never mind actually deal with. And if the folks on the 1-800 "help" lines weren't clueless enough, TD&M has her students to remind her that while some people drink from the fountain of knowledge, others merely gargle:

The student I’m tutoring, explaining why he didn’t do the last five questions of the homework, each of which defined a new term, and then required students to investigate how it applied to a few given functions: "These questions seem like they should have been in the lesson, not the homework. It seems like they’re trying to teach me something new."
Posted by kswygert at 08:38 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

How not to rear a sweet sixteen-year-old

I must be getting old and grumpy, because this, to me, does not sound like fun, or outrageous, or even interesting. It just makes me - the girl who lived for MTV at age 14 - swear I'd never let a kid of mine watch that channel. only takes a few moments of the second season premiere of MTV's reality show "My Super Sweet 16" to see at least one of the spoils of having a lot of dough.

"I'm a diva, I'm a star," says Sophie, a plump 15-year-old at the center of the episode. "A lot of people will see beauty, because I'm blessed." After watching, though, it's easy to see she's more misguided and overindulged than blessed...

This is not an in-depth look by any means at a girl growing up, but rather a well-done series about teen excess...The blessed part is, of course, because her mother is willing to bankroll $180,000 for a party to honor Miss All That.

Note: $180,000 for a party celebrating, essentially, the fact that her daughter managed to make it to age 16. Even if doctors had said the child wouldn't live to see age 17, this is a bit much.

Luckily, some parents have had the good sense to rear kids that watch these obnoxious shows in order to point and laugh, rather than sigh and emulate. Witness the forum chatterbugs at TV Without Pity, most of whom note that they wouldn't be able to decide who to slap first - the spoiled brat Sophie, or her thoughtless mother who mistakes lavish parties for decent childrearing.

Posted by kswygert at 08:15 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Here's some information about that (rotten) NCLB

I wonder, is it because of the heat that even neutral, informative articles about NCLB are getting negative spin?

Is something rotten with No Child Left Behind?

EAST BAY - Most have probably heard of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but when it comes to understanding what it all means, many of us feel like we're the ones who've been "left behind." The actual law is around 1000 pages (There's no need for that kind of torture). We've broken it down to the bare bones.

The No Child Left Behind Act is designed to guarantee that all students are being educated. With this act, it's not enough for children to "skate by." All children are expected to be proficient by 2014. NCLB marks a major increase in the level of accountability required of schools. NCLB itself is new, as of 2001, but the idea isn't. The history goes back to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education when the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools were unconstitutional. NCLB builds on this concept of equal education by breaking children into subgroups based on ethnicity and socioeconomic factors. This makes it almost impossible for any group to fall through the cracks just because a school's overall score is high. NCLB is actually part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. When it was time to look at ESEA again in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act was added.

Here are the basics goals...

Etc, etc. There are parental guidelines, links, some pros and very mild cons, and a quote from one delightfully clueless parent. But one question is left unanswered - what the heck is the deal with that headline?

Posted by kswygert at 04:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Making the best of an underfunded situation

I get the feeling, when I read this article, that its author really, really wants us to conclude that NCLB has ruined education. Try as I might, I just don't see it that way.

...[The students' energy and spirit is] what has helped make Rail Road Flat Elementary, despite its size, poverty, and social isolation, a state nominee last year for “national model of excellence” status, based on the school’s recent history of high standardized test scores.

But as becomes apparent in a lapse like the previous week’s, it’s only strong discipline that keeps that energy channeled. Discipline and the kind of teach-to-the-test learning that’s become endemic in the era of No Child Left Behind. Such rote learning often gets frowned upon in the schools of better-educated, more affluent communities. Here, though, in a 549-person town named for a type of mule-drawn rail-and-mining-cart arrangement that’s been obsolete for a hundred years, “whatever works” is clearly working.

I wonder why the author sounds so surprised.

By the time the 8 a.m. bell rings, all of Youngblood’s students have filed into his middle-trailer classroom—the one with a homemade plastic label on the door admonishing THINK THINK THINK. Inside, they’re already hard at work checking their algebra homework answers. Then it’s on to in-class problems, which Youngblood runs through with the drive of a drill instructor, and tonight’s homework: percentages, rates of speed, calculating the surface area of a cube, and the algebraic order of operations. After that, it’s language hour, with assignments in spelling and vocabulary. Next come exercises on compound sentences and similes, followed hard by a spelling test.

Even at recess, students can occasionally be seen sitting cross-legged by themselves, hitting the books in a quiet corner of the blacktop. From the beginning of the school year until the end, it’s a relentless, hard-hitting rhythm that doesn’t perceptibly slacken, even after the California Standards Tests are over. Don’t look here, in other words, for strategies to engage students—the students had better be engaged, or there are consequences ready and waiting. “There’s nothing entertaining about it,” Youngblood says. “It’s a grind, really. We come in, and we work all day.” His modus operandi and his theory of teaching are identical: “Just plow ahead.”

Why is it assumed that this method is incapable of engaging students? Is is the assumption that children can't handle challenges? That they can't possibly learn unless teachers make it entertaining? That they're incapable of understanding that all this rote memorization comes first and the good stuff comes later? This "plowing ahead" policy is consistent with the classical education method of filling up the heads of students with facts first, then teaching them how to argue and communicate those facts (i.e., "think critically) much later. Am I the only one here who thinks it's not a bad thing that these students are hitting the books at recess?

The real issue here, of course, is money. The school doesn't have a large tax base, and recieves less money than before from the government because it's doing so well on the state exams. There are fewer assemblies now - but did they really need 15 in nine months, before? Field trips are down, and what's there is funded by teachers and the students.

The funding issues are a problem, but I can't help but feel that by pounding the basic skills into the kids while they're still young, Rail Road Flat Elementary School's teachers are in fact doing more to ensure the future success of their young charges than if they had the cash for all the extras.

Posted by kswygert at 01:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 15, 2005

As always, experts save the day

I'm trying to figure out why tests get all the blame for childhood anxieties when we have parents like this:

Haley Califano is a pretty normal 5-year-old. She likes coloring books and the Hula Hoop. But her mother, Christine, was concerned that with kindergarten fast approaching, learning her ABCs was throwing Haley for a loop.

"It wasn't that she had any kind of limitations," Christine Califano says, "It was that she really wasn't interested, and she needed to be motivated a little more."

So she took Haley for private tutoring at the Sylvan Learning Center in Huntington, L.I. "It is unfortunate that you have to do all this preparation for kindergarten, but you really do," Califano says...

Lesson learned: Mom will not try to motivate you herself, but she'll be glad to pay someone else hundreds of dollars to do so.

If you wonder why Christine Califano doesn't teach what Haley needs to know, believe it or not, Haley said it was easier for her learning from her teachers. Experts also say that's sometimes the case because teachers are trained to teach and parents just aren't.

Wow. I guess all those homeschooling parents are just completely missing the boat. What would we do without those experts to tell us that we're incapable of teaching our children?

Kudos to Joanne Jacobs for the link and the phrase, "star anecdote" to describe poor Haley.

Posted by kswygert at 07:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cheating news roundup

Test security expert Professor Greg Cizek has submitted his report on test security to the Texas Education Agency, and it's definitely worth a read. I've had the pleasure of meeting Greg in person, and I can't recommend his work enough.

Caveon's Cheating in the News has been updated as well. Apparently, some Russians have learned from the errors of their peers and are presumably stuffing their shirts less enthusiastically.

Posted by kswygert at 06:54 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The tests, they eat your brain

Apparently, test anxiety is now considered brain damage.

Knowing that, students and parents alike take stock in what standardized tests mean and ponder their pros and cons...Specialists contend there’s scientific proof that standardized tests, and really all tests, can cause damage to the brain.

WHAT specialists? In what area? All possible tests? Are you kidding me? Some reporter thought this was a claim that could be dropped without any citation or support into an article about testing? Do they really think the readers will believe this nonsense?

I googled this topic for quite a while and came up with nothing but links to the standardized tests that are used to assess the extent of brain damage. Perhaps our specialists - or the reporter - are confused.

But there’s another possible side effect to standardized tests, according to one psychologist, that might undermine a child’s ability to learn.

"The byproduct of years of testing has caused students to believe that good grades are more important than understanding — that high scores rather than the cultivation of the mind is the purpose of schooling," said Nicky Hayes, editor of the journal Foundations of Psychology.

Is his point here that grades are independent of understanding? Because when it comes to grade inflation, I might believe him. But I'd like to know what his evidence is for the argument that high test scores are somehow not only uncorrelated with, but a block against, the cultivation of the mind.

Others say the education system relies more than ever on standardized tests that compare students to one another as the dominant assessment instrument.

This tendency has forced teachers at all grade levels to "orient students to performance goals and comparative standards of excellence instead of internal mastery goals," says Scott Paris, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

Translation: We don't like tests with their objective standards for all kids, because it was much easier to teach students when all we had to do was get them to meet their own goals, as opposed to society's. I suppose "literacy" is something Paris would consider one of those evil "comparative standards of excellence."

The emphasis on external goals, Paris suggests, creates an unhealthy classroom scenario in which "standardized tests provoke considerable anxiety among students that seems to increase with their age and experience."

Really? Are students dropping out in droves rather than take tests or meet standards of any kind? Are they having panic attacks en masse? And if they were, wouldn't the fact that "experts" like Paris are trying to convince them that they are incapable of rising to the challenge of "external goals" have something to do with that lack of fortitude? Isn't his argument here that American students can't be expected to meet goals that push them beyond their specific comfort zone? That seems like quite an insult.

Update: Wow, that's a whole lotta brain damage.

Posted by kswygert at 06:42 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Mini-vacation, here I come

Ya'll enjoy the next few days of summer; Number 2 Pencil has a little weekend hiatus coming up and will resume on Monday.

If you hear screaming, that'll be me, in the front car of this.

Update: Woo. HOO. It was a bit difficult to keep our eyes open when traveling at 128 miles per hour, but the ride came to an almost complete stop at the crest of the 458-foot hill. The view from there was, as you can imagine, spectacular - and the sheer drop from there wasn't bad, either. It was worth the looong wait to sit in the front car.

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

Learning the rules of the road

One of the testing criticisms I often see is the claim that standardized tests can't tell you everything about a student's achievement:

Naysayers to the testing format say it reflects not what a student has grasped conceptually about a subject, but how well they take tests. These critics, most often teachers, point out that each student processes learning differently - some are better able to express verbally or in essay form their depth of knowledge on a subject...

"Think of the driving test," said San Luis Obispo High School's English department chair, Ivan Simon. "If you just looked at how well someone answered the written part of the driver's test, then you'd assume the skill of the driver was represented by only that score. But that person wouldn't necessarily be a good driver."

It is true that the performance-based exam of driving skills tells you much more than the written exam, because the skill being measured is wholly performance. However, one could argue that someone who knows how to turn the key and step on the gas is not a good driver if they cannot read road signs or haven't memorized any of the rules of the road. Someone who passes the written exam is not necessarily a good driver, but we can argue that someone who flunks the written exams is necessarily a bad driver. Both components of the exam are important. The ability to understand signs could be folded into the performance assessment (and often is a part of it), but the reason for the written exam parallels the reason for many standardized multiple-choice assessments - it's a way to very quickly sample a broad domain and make a cheap, reliable assessment in order to flag those who just aren't getting it.

Many standardardized exams are, in fact, minimum competency exams, and the best precision is not in separating the brilliant from the good, but the terrible from everybody else. Simon's criticism that multiple-choice exams often don't tell the whole picture is correct. However, the critics gloss over that these exams can tell you quite a bit about how students have mastered basic skills.

And, as one principal points out, the basic skills are important:

We provide teachers with examples of multiple choice questions, but it's not the sole focus of the curriculum," said [Will Jones, principal of San Luis Obispo High School]. "The state releases sample questions, roughly 20 percent of the test, and if teachers want to use those questions they can, and they do, just like they do for advance placement tests. The misperception is that we spend all our time just teaching to the test and somehow the STAR exam is consuming education, but the truth is there are all kinds of assessments and we prepare kids for all of those as well."

Jones said he believes good students will always excel regardless of test format. "If a student is capable of writing a good essay and answering short questions, then they will have success on the test," said Jones.

This is something that few testing critics are willing to admit. From what I can tell, the evidence that there are hordes of little geniuses out there who routinely flunk exams yet learn brilliantly through non-traditional methods is anecdotal, at best. The testing critics are right when they say that there are skills we aren't measuring with the one-size-fits-all exams, but I say they're missing the boat when they insist that students who can't master basic material are somehow ready for advanced performance assessments.

Posted by kswygert at 02:00 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

That salary will buy a lot of Marlboros and phone calls

Now this is the kind of paid vacation plan I'd like:

The summer of 2005 has been an embarrassing one at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. First, the university came under fire when it was revealed that Paul W. Barrows, the vice chancellor for student affairs who quit last year, did so because he had had an affair with a graduate student. That Barrows stayed on the university’s payroll infuriated legislators, and focused attention on how the university treats employees who get into trouble.

Now some lawmakers have shifted their attention to professors — three of whom remain employees even though they are either in jail or headed there.

On Friday, Roberto Coronado, a professor of physiology at Madison, was sentenced to eight years in prison after he entered a plea of no contest on three felony counts of repeated sexual contact with a child. While the university is seeking to dismiss Coronado, he is appealing that decision and remains an employee, even though his incarceration prevents him from being on campus.

Because he has unused vacation time, he is currently receiving his salary — $137,641 — and will continue to do so until he uses up his vacation time, at which point he will be on an unpaid leave, pending the outcome of his appeals of his dismissal.

A plan that pays off even if the reason I'm not at work is because I can't get past the warden? Must be nice.

Posted by kswygert at 01:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

Felinically Incorrect

My mom just loooooves to yank my chain by sending me these kinds of jokes:

Little Nancy was in the garden filling in a hole when her neighbor peered over the fence.

Interested in what the little girl was up to, he politely asked, "What are you up to there, Nancy?"

"My goldfish died," replied Nancy tearfully, without looking up, "and I've just buried him."

The neighbor was concerned, "That's an awfully big hole for a goldfish, isn't it?"

Nancy patted down the last heap of earth and then replied, "That's because he's inside your stupid cat."

Posted by kswygert at 08:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

No more lectures, no more books...

Is it just me, or does this seem worrisome?

VIDALIA, La. - Concordia Parish teachers spent Tuesday learning how they are going to teach this year. Pre-written lesson plans, firm dates for units and mostly hands-on learning are the major changes a new comprehensive curriculum will bring to the district.

In keeping with the state's decision to require a standardized curriculum statewide, a committee of local teachers and administrators worked over the summer to write the model curriculum...The district's comprehensive curriculum must align with the state's model curriculum.

Ferriday Junior High teacher Angel White worked on a committee from June 13 to July 29 to rewrite the social studies curriculum. "There's more cooperative learning," she said. "Less teacher direction. The students are responsible for doing their work. There's not a lot of lecturing"...

"It's going to be fabulous," Vidalia Lower teacher Lori Beth Edwards said. "We know exactly what we have to do and when we have to do it. I like it because it's not textbooks. The kids hated (textbook learning) and I hated that."

Hmmm. Does anyone else find it odd to see teachers celebrating the fact that they'll have little input about what they teach this year, and rejoicing about having no more hated textbooks? The teachers quoted feel this method will increase test scores. For their students' sake, I hope they're right.

Click here and then follow the links to check out the standardized curriculum. For the heck of it, I clicked on 5th-grade math. Hmmm. Seven weeks spent on whole number review? Sample activities like the following?

Discuss with students what determines whether an exact answer or an estimate is appropriate for a given situation. Use the following as examples that require either an estimated or exact answer: · An estimate is all that is needed when a friend asks you for the temperature or you want to know about how long a bus trip takes. · An exact number is needed when you want to determine the number of meteorologists that work for a TV station, or you want to find out how many scheduled stops a bus will make.

Have each student go on the Internet or look in a newspaper for numbers in news stories. Ask students to find three numbers that are exact and three numbers that are estimates and copy the full sentences about the numbers. Have them work together in groups to write a problem that can be answered with an estimate and a problem that requires an exact answer. Ask a volunteer from each group to write the group’s two problems on the chalkboard and have the rest of the class solve the problems and discuss the results.

I've never taught math at this level, so I'll ask you - does this seem useful, or like a waste of time? And what, exactly, is the groupwork element supposed to add to this?

Posted by kswygert at 08:02 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Open to all, sort of

Parents in tony Santa Clara are feverishly competing for spots in the city's well-regarded local schools, in the hopes of starting their children off on the right path.

And I do mean start, because we're talking about kindergarten.

When school starts in a few weeks, a chosen few will triumphantly enter Silicon Valley's top-ranked schools.

And then they'll start kindergarten.

Some of California's highest-achieving public schools have a policy of "open enrollment,'' which ostensibly welcomes students from all across each district. But as unwary parents in Santa Clara and Cupertino are finding out, it can be extremely difficult to get their children in. That's because a huge share of kindergarten spots at the most coveted schools go to siblings of students already enrolled. The rest have to take their chances in a lottery.

In some cases, those chances aren't so good. At Santa Clara Unified's Millikin Elementary, one of two schools in the state with perfect standardized test scores, only 4 percent of the spots for this fall went to kids in the lottery.

Why does Millikin Elementary sound familiar? Oh yeah, that's because . That's the I've posted on it before. That's the high-ranking elementary school that values discipline, order, and mission statements that actually mean something useful.

(Are well-to-do parents in affluent, high-tech areas fervently competing to get their kids into schools that value "free expression," ban "rote memorization," and consider testing abusive to children? Just asking.)

Anyway, the school defend the sibling policy on the grounds that it would inconvenient for parents to have kids in different schools. Which makes sense, but it does leave some parents - especially those with only one kid - wondering why Millikin claims to have much of an open enrollment.

Posted by kswygert at 07:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Raising standards, lowering admissions

Florida's state university system is already feeling the heat for tightening its standards:

The State University System of Florida admitted fewer black students this year over last, preliminary numbers show, reports Inside Higher Education...The number of black applicants admitted to any institution in the state system decreased 4.5 percent, or 421 students, this May compared to last May. Bill Edmonds, spokesman for Florida Board of Education, noted that actual enrollment numbers won’t be known until September.

At Florida State University, the number of black students admitted through the end of May compared to last May decreased 10.6 percent, or by 150 students. Jon Barnhill, director of admissions and records, said in light of tight state funding, Florida State is trying to limit growth. The institution has changed admission standards by not admitting students whose standardized test scores showed a need for remedial classes. The admissions change, Barnhill said, is the reason for the decline at Florida State.

This is a fairly neutral article, as is the longer Inside Higher Ed version, and the next question reporters should be asking is, how does this change affect students of every ethnic group, and why is it doing so? However, I'm not optimistic that the press will go down that meaningful path.

Posted by kswygert at 07:46 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Getting to history

History teacher Polski3 lets loose with a long rant about why history education is suffering today, beginning with the following:

...highly regarded historian, David McCullough cited the negative impact of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative on teaching of history, because of NCLB's emphasis on language arts and math. McCullough also noted that too many "history teachers" in US public schools were NOT history majors, they majored in "education" and did not necessarily communicate a "love of history" to their students. He complained that textbooks were boring the kids to death and turning them off to history due to most history textbooks being written in a dry, data heavy format instead of a "narrative format.

I find much of what Mr. McCullough says to be true. However, I believe there are other factors in students lack of interest in the subject of history. I find that for most of the students entering my classroom in seventh grade, they have had very little exposure to history in their elementary school years...Trying to get the kids to score higher on their math and language arts tests is more important than including history...This is also largely due to mandates from our district office. YOU TEACHERS better bring up those damn test scores, or else!

Could these things be related? Yes, NCLB has so far put the focus on reading and mathematics. But if, as David McCullough claims, many history teachers have in fact no training in history, isn't it possible that other teachers have no training in reading and mathematics, either? Because it's very difficult for me to understand why schools now have to work SO HARD to teach basic skills. Could it be that students are failing to learn history because there's little time available for it, and that's because not only the history teachers are poorly-trained in their subject matter?

There's a reason NCLB focused on math and reading first. And if schools and teachers are having to literally give up everything else just to teach the 3R's, then something's wrong, and it's not necessarily with NCLB.

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

Dressing the part - of what?

The most excellent Carnival of Education is up. One post, by a concerned mama, hit home because I, too, have noticed just how sleazy very young girls are encouraged to dress.

Now, things are different, espeically for the little girls. Have you looked closely at the little girls' department lately? It looks like a training school for prostitutes Britney Spears wannabees.

Lingerie, size 6x, with a 'back to school' sign on it.

When did 'toy' lipstick become bright red and start lasting all day? Why would a six-year-old child need to carry a purse to school? Why is there makeup in it? Why does she know how to use it? There are clothes in the little girls' department that nobody would buy except Brooke Shields' mother in "Pretty Baby." Except. . . somebody's mother IS buying them, and probably thinking "doesn't she look pretty" in them...Tiny little girls, wearing makeup and boobless versions of adult slinkwear. What kind of mother dresses her child like a bimbo?

The comments suggest that Mama's experience is not unique.

Posted by kswygert at 07:32 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Free the Kutztown 13!

In nearby Kutztown, PA, 13 students are charged with digital trespassing:

They're being called the Kutztown 13 — a group of high schoolers charged with felonies for bypassing security with school-issued laptops, downloading forbidden Internet goodies and using monitoring software to spy on district administrators.

The students, their families and outraged supporters say authorities are overreacting, punishing the kids not for any heinous behavior — no malicious acts are alleged — but rather because they outsmarted the district's technology workers.

The Kutztown Area School District begs to differ. It says it reported the students to police only after detentions, suspensions and other punishments failed to deter them from breaking school rules governing computer usage...

The trouble began last fall after the district issued some 600 Apple iBook laptops to every student at the high school about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The computers were loaded with a filtering program that limited Internet access. They also had software that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens.

But those barriers proved easily surmountable: The administrative password that allowed students to reconfigure computers and obtain unrestricted Internet access was easy to obtain. A shortened version of the school's street address, the password was taped to the backs of the computers...The administrative password on some laptops was subsequently changed but some students got hold of that one, too, and decrypted it with a password-cracking program they found on the Internet.

Anyone who tapes their password to the back of a computer deserves to be bypassed, and that goes for schools, too. Why did the school spend thousands of dollars to buy 600 Apple laptops and, apparently, not one dime on an IT person who would have understood how to keep the computers encrypted? This could have been much worse. What if one of the laptops had been stolen by someone who could have used to it do much worse things than download chat programs?

Regardless of the punishment for this crime, I hope the school has learned a valuable lesson here.

(Via Wizbang!)

Posted by kswygert at 07:20 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Misspelling Artist returns

Some of you might remember the ridiculous story of The Artist Who Couldn't Spell that was featured here last fall. In short, one California town who hired an artist - who was a former schoolteacher - to paint a mural discovered that while bright colors were included, correct spelling were optional. In fact, the artist in question demanded $6000 more to re-do the mural with the correct spellings of such relative unknowns as Einstein. If you haven't read the full story, I urge you to click on the link above.

Anyway, guess what? She got her six grand:

Make that “Shakespeare.” Miami artist Maria Alquilar, much maligned for 11 misspellings that popped up in the educational mural she designed for the Livermore public library last year, spent today under the hot sun correcting her mistakes. In addition to fixing the bard’s name, she changed “Eistein” to “Einstein,” “Gaugan” to “Gauguin” and more.

But Alquilar, who at first claimed artistic license and said she wasn’t going to return to fix the faux pas because people were being too mean about it, was giving no media interviews as she worked under a broad-brimmed straw hat and blue tent. She sliced and diced the tiles with power tools, protected from the public by a barrier.

She wagged her finger at a television cameraman and threatened to throw a rock at a print photographer.

“No pictures of me!” she yelled. “If I’m in it, I’m going to sue you.”

What a lovely person. At the original cost of $46,000, the mural was clearly overpriced, but at least now kids won't be confused about who "Gaugan" was.

(Via Instapundit.)

Posted by kswygert at 12:23 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 09, 2005

Drinks from the Dark Side

I like to think of myself as a discerning goth.

Not one who's going to be taken in by ridiculous ad campaigns or schlock disguised as cool stuff. I don't buy my clothes at Hot Topic, I don't wear fishnet gloves in the middle of the day, and I don't follow the latest trends that are being foisted upon the darkside crowd.

But then I discovered what a vodka-and-cranberry looks like made with Blavod, the black vodka:


Isn't that cool? I don't care if I'm now Ms. Cheesy Goth for buying black vodka. I like the way it looks - and it tastes pretty good, too.

Posted by kswygert at 06:13 PM | Comments (5)

I believe this is what we'd call "life skills"

How could I have missed this groundbreaking educational article from the Onion?

A Department of Labor report released Monday finds that America's high schools are not sufficiently preparing emerging dropouts for the demands of unemployment. In a letter introducing the report, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao explained that schools routinely fail to impart dropouts with the critical lying- and sitting-around skills they need to thrive in today's jobless market.

"Our public high schools place too much focus on preparing kids for professional careers," Chao said. "This waste of resources leaves our dropouts, the majority of whom have no chance of ever finding a job, wholly unprepared to sleep till 1 p.m., or watch daytime television while eating ramen noodles out of an upturned Frisbee."

According to the study, America's weakest academic performers also drop out of high school without ever having learned to steal beer money from their housemates' change jars or wash their hair with bar soap.

Or without having learned that napkins, toilet paper, and cleaning products need not be bought when the local McDonald's offers all of these household goods for free. Of course, I had to make it the point of being a broke-ass graduate student before I learned all that.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings defended the nation's public-school system. "Educators do a lot to ensure that the most hopeless students slip through the cracks," Spellings said. "Arbitrary rules, irregularly enforced discipline, and pointless paperwork are just the first things that come to mind."

She added: "Easy grading encourages students to be sloppy and late handing in homework—a skill that makes future deadbeats very competitive in stonewalling landlords and bill collectors."

Thanks to all who sent this in - and if you see any humorless, whining articles in response, let me know.

Posted by kswygert at 05:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

There's a new blog on the loose - "Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias.", Matthew Sheffield and Greg Sheffield, to launch the NewsBusters blog to provide immediate exposure of liberal media bias, insightful analysis, constructive criticism and timely corrections to news media reporting.

Taking advantage of the MRC's thorough and ongoing tracking of liberal media bias, including a wealth of documentation and an archive of newscast video dating back 18 years, we aim to have NewsBusters play a leading role in blog media criticism by becoming the clearinghouse for all evidence of liberal media bias by joining to this formidable information store the contributions of already-established netizens as well as those who want to join in the web revolution.

They've asked me to participate. Certainly, there's evidence of biased educational reporting out there, and I'll probably cross-post over there if I fisk a reporter whose opposition to NCLB seems to depend more on Bush Derangement Syndrome than legitimate educational theory.

Posted by kswygert at 05:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Who's meeting what standard?

Devoted Reader Lori M sent a provocative column my way:

Tens of thousands of parents of schoolchildren and hundreds of thousands of other taxpayers learned from media reports last week that "the majority of Texas school districts and campuses in 2005 earned the rating of 'Academically Acceptable.'" Most of the moms, dads and school-tax payers breathed a sigh of relief and shrugged off the "bad" news that a small percentage of districts and campuses "received the lowest rating of 'Academically Unacceptable'"...

To "earn" a rating of "Academically Acceptable" on the 2005 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, the students in a school district or at an individual campus had to achieve ...

In reading and English language arts, a passing rate of 50 percent.
In writing ... 50 percent.
In social studies ... 50 percent.
In math ... 35 percent.
In science ... 25 percent.

In case the educational horror of those numbers didn't sink in ...
If half of the youngsters in a district or on a campus failed tests in reading, writing and social studies ... and 65 percent failed arithmetic ... and 75 percent failed science — the Texas education establishment deemed that district/campus "Academically Acceptable"!

Lori comments: "I guess I'm part of that old-fashioned school of thought that believes that a passing grade consisted of mastering the majority (at least 65%) of the material. Looks like it's sufficient to learn 25-50%!"

What's happening here? A disconnect between how we, the educational consumers, think of "passing," and how Texas is ranking schools, which is with a minimum-competency standard. "Acceptable" here is not defined in the same way that we'd consider "acceptable" to be in an academic course.

The author isn't exaggerating when he quotes the low percentages above; those come straight out of the state's 2005 Accountability Manual. You can skip right to this table for the good stuff. Yes, it's true that this year, a school for which 26% of the students meet the standard in Science is acceptable in that content area. This is also the first year the Science standard was set at what the advisory panel actually recommended, as opposed to one (2004) or two (2003) SEMs beow it.

To interpret these numbers, you really have to have some idea of what the standards are, so that you know if a school in which only 26% meet those standards is a travesty, or just plain mediocre. You also have to realize that while the state set those standards very low, that doesn't necessarily mean most schools are squeaking in just over the bar. The 10th grade Science results, for instance, show that 54% of the overall student body in Texas met the standard. The raw score conversion table for that exam shows that a raw score of 34 out of 55 converts to the lowest possible passing score, and according to this document, that means a student would have to answer 62% of the items correctly to meet the standard. That's pretty much in line with what most people think of as a passing score.

I don't mean to suggest that parents don't have a right to wonder why the standards for Acceptable schools aren't set higher. And, given that we don't know how difficult the science items are, for example, we don't know how meaningful that 62%-correct standard is. But it might help in this debate to be sure to separate the standard for the exam from the standard for the schools.

Posted by kswygert at 05:35 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Motivation vs. ability

Joanne Jacobs points out that our students may not be dumb - they just might not care:

You could conclude from these exams that American high-schoolers are ill-taught and ill-prepared for the competitive global economy. But what if you look at these tests like a capitalist rather than an educator? Nothing is at stake for kids when they take the international exams and the NAEP. Students don't even learn how they scored. And that probably affects their performance. American teenagers, in other words, may not be stupid. It could be that when they have nothing to gain (or lose), they're lazy...

The dubiousness of these test results becomes clear when you compare them to the results of tests that actually do matter for teenagers: high-school exit exams and college boards...

Alexander Russo, for one, is suspicious of such a neat-and-easy conclusion:

if things are better now in secondary education than they were before, shouldn't kids today still outscore kids from 30 years ago? They were unmotivated to perform on the NAEP then. They're unmotivated now. They know more now, according to Starr. But the scores aren't much different.

And what about elementary school NAEP scores, which are on the rise? If motivation is all, then shouldn't they stay flat?

Now I'm no economist or behavior expert, but it seems to me that if high school kids were actually learning more in school than they had before, the NAEP scores would show at least part of that change.

I'll play Devil's Advocate - could it be possible that kids know more, but care even less? After all, we're constantly told that kids are over-tested and are sick of exams, and perhaps there's truth to that. Could it be that years ago, even though kids knew the NAEP didn't count, they were more motivated, or less burnt-out?

I have no doubt motivation plays some part in test scores, which is one reason that I keep griping at states to stand behind the stakes for their exit exams. But I don't think the explanation is as easy as saying that our kids don't really care. Presumably, they care when they get to college, and yet the rise in remedial coursework and grade inflation belies the notion that today's students, as a group, have what it takes.

Update: Chris Correa notes:

...some research suggests high school students don’t perform significantly better on these tests when they feel more concerned in their own performance. For example, when researchers offered up to $10 per correct question on the TIMSS test, the paid participants did not perform significantly better than the control group. Students did report increased motivation when they were earning an average of $100 for their performance, but this did not make them any smarter.

High school students seem to do about as well as they can on the test, even when they don’t have anything to gain from it.

Excellent point, Chris.

Posted by kswygert at 04:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Doing homework at the minimum wage

The award for Best Blog Post Headline of the Week goes to the Eduwonks:

Do You Want Pi's With That?

A tasty Associated Press story was picked up by a bunch of major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronice, and Boston Globe.

"Students working at some McDonald's restaurants around the country are getting paid whether they are flipping burgers or flipping through textbooks. At Kathy and Jerry Olinik's two restaurants about 55 miles west of Detroit, high school and college students will be allowed to stay on the clock for an extra hour before or after their shifts this fall, as long as they spend the time doing schoolwork."

McDonald's isn't the only company instituting these programs. It's possible the program could be a useful recruitment tool as well. For the parents in the audience - would you rather your kid worked fewer hours, or worked more hours while getting paid for time spent on the job doing homework?

Posted by kswygert at 04:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bad ideas all around

Apparently polygamy and fraud go together, at least when it comes to allocating school funds:

Arizona officials already have seized a truckload of records, computers and other material in a criminal investigation of the school district serving an isolated polygamist community in northwestern Arizona. Now, the state is preparing to take over the district itself...

That came after the district missed deadlines to file budget reports to the state and ran out of money, leaving teachers unpaid for several months last year. The paychecks resumed after an insurer began to cover the district's IOUs...The district is located in Colorado City, Ariz., where a polygamist sect - the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - controls the town and the schools...

...There are indications the district's money has been misdirected, with district facilities and equipment used for personal gain...there also are allegations that adults filled out standardized test forms last spring.

Misusing the funds sound like it was the last straw for the Arizona government.

Posted by kswygert at 03:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

MADD about alcohol at home

The Washington Post notes that parents who are realistic about their kids drinking - but absolutely don't want them driving - are still considered a target by MADD:

When they learned that their son planned to celebrate the prom with a booze bash at a beach 40 miles away, William and Patricia Anderson instead threw a supervised party for him and his friends at their home. They served alcohol, but William Anderson stationed himself at the party's entrance and collected keys from every teen who showed. No one who came to the party could leave until the next morning.

For this the Andersons found themselves arrested and charged with supplying alcohol to minors. The case ignited a fiery debate that eventually spilled onto the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving oddly decided to make an example of William Anderson, a man who probably did more to keep drunk teens off the road that night than most Providence-area parents.

The scariest part of this article?

The Virginia case mentioned above is troubling for another reason: The cops raided that home without a search warrant. This is becoming more and more common in jurisdictions with particularly militant approaches to underage drinking. A prosecutor in Wisconsin popularized the practice in the late 1990s when he authorized deputies to enter private residences without warrants, "by force, if necessary," when there was the slightest suspicion of underage drinking. For such "innovative" approaches, Paul Bucher won plaudits from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which awarded him a place in the "Prosecutors as Partners" honor roll on the MADD Web site.

Why is MADD going after parties where car keys are confiscated?

Posted by kswygert at 03:54 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 05, 2005

Driving kids away from books

One English teacher gives his theory of how schools are destroying their students' love of reading:

Faced with declining literacy and the ever-growing distractions of the electronic media, faced with the fact that - Harry Potter fans aside - so few kids curl up with a book and read for pleasure anymore, what do we teachers do? We saddle students with textbooks that would turn off even the most passionate reader.

Just before the school year ended in June, my colleagues in the English department at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and central office administrators discussed which textbook to adopt for the 9th- and 10th-grade World Literature course for next year.

Of the four texts that the state approved, the choices came down to two: the Elements of Literature: World Literature from Holt, Rinehart and Winston and The Language of Literature: World Literature from McDougal Littell.

The problems with these two tomes are similar to the problems with high school textbooks in most subjects..for all their bulk, the textbooks are feather-weight intellectually...

Take the McDougal Littell text that we finally adopted for 9th- and 10th-graders. It starts off with a unit titled "Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Hebrew Literature," followed by sections on the literature of Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient China and Japan. Then comes "Persian and Arabic Literature" and "West African Oral Literature" - and that's only the first third of the book. There are still more than 800 pages to plough through, but it's the same drill - short excerpts from long works - a little Dante here, a little Goethe there and two whole pages dedicated to Shakespeare's plays. One even has a picture of a poster from the film Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes kissing Gwyneth Paltrow...

Both books are full of obtrusive directions, comments, questions and pictures that would hinder even the attentive readers from becoming absorbed in the readings. Both also "are not reader-friendly. There is no narrative coherence that a student can follow and get excited about. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that," says T.C. Williams reading specialist Chris Gutierrez, who teaches a course in reading strategies at Shenandoah University in Virginia. For kids who get books and reading opportunities only at school, these types of textbooks will drive them away from reading - perhaps for life.

The tests come in for some bashing, too, but it's good bashing; author Patrick Welsh notes that no school should have to buy 1500-page textbooks to teach kids to pass minimum-competency exams. Not when good books - not textbooks - are in abundance.

Posted by kswygert at 05:34 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The types of teachers

The Eduwonks note that cliques - and stereotypes - are just as prevalent among teachers as among students, as noted by Mr. AB:

...All this time did afford me the chance to spy on my fellow teachers and I’ve decided that teachers in professional development trainings can be categorized into the following 10 types...

Dumb David – David just doesn’t get it. You don’t understand how someone so slow can keep up with students. You feel bad for judging a colleague’s intelligence but geeeez. Dumb David’s come in two species: introverted (only revealing their confusion during group work) and extroverted (heralding their misunderstandings with loud and awkwardly timed questions.)..

Talking Terry – Terry loves to talk. In participative trainings, she’s that one, with her hand constantly in the air and with a suggestion or anecdote to follow every point. Non-participative trainings drive her wild, she whispers constantly and explodes with pent-up loudness during breaks.

Spot on. Mr. AB, who is a third-generation teacher, also has some sharp advice for any educator who is leading a professional development training session for teachers:

...We want to learn like we are in law school or grad school. That means no gimmicks, no games, no group work, and no, absolutely no, teacher-voice. If you could end that sentence with "Boys and girls," don't say it. Do not play chimes or a recorder to get my attention, do not make me sing, and do not make me sit on the floor. I teach elementary school, that does not mean I am in it! Only God, not the County Office of Education, can revert teachers to being children.

Good stuff. What is it about touchy-feely types and their love of sitting on floors, anyway? Is that somehow supposed to be more authentic, more emotional, more true to our childish roots? For someone with previous neck injuries such as me, it's just excruciating.

Posted by kswygert at 10:12 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

A problem of generalizability

A testing critic makes a common mistake when criticizing the SAT:

Bates [College] has kept a running record of student performance. What they've learned from their "don't ask, don't tell" policy is that there hasn't been a dime's worth of difference between the grade point averages or the graduation rates of those who did and those who didn't disclose their SAT scores...Bates doesn't just suffer no ill effects from ignoring standardized test scores. The college enjoys a more diverse and therefore more interesting student body.

Isn't the assumption here that students who don't disclose their scores differ from those who do? Why make that assumption? Sure, it seems reasonable that those who include their scores are proud of them, but those who choose not to are not necessarily the lowest performers.

If standardized test scores have little or no predictive power for college performance, you can bet they have even less predictive power for performance in life. Why, then, are we so willing to use them to beat up on kids, teachers and schools, and let life-changing decisions hinge on them?

Because the data on the SAT from Bates College does not generalize to the population at large. Bates is a tiny, private liberal arts college that has fewer than 2000 students. It's not surprising that Bates manages to select students each year who are well-suited to this specific college environment, regardless of SAT score. With one faculty member for every 10 students, I'd be surprised if every student who was admitted didn't do well.

The usefulness of the SAT can vary widely across colleges; those who choose not to use the test in admissions are those that have found it doesn't work for them. This doesn't mean it doesn't work for everyone, and testing critics like this often ignore research showing that the SAT does work for some schools. It's absurd to conclude that the SAT is useless for a state university with 50,000 students just because it isn't helpful for Bates.

As for the part about tests being used to "beat up" on kids...sheesh. Talk about defining abuse down.

Posted by kswygert at 09:56 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

The "F" in "FCAT" stands for...

It's fitting that a very funny - and pertinent - commentary on today's testing craze should come from Dave Barry:

Here's a multiple-choice test: When should the school year start?

A. Sometime around Sept. 1, when most of the United States of America has started school for many decades.
B. On Aug. 8 -- also known as ''smack dab in the middle of summer'' -- when the average Florida classroom is roughly the same temperature as a pizza oven.

If you answered ''A,'' you are correct. If you answered ''B,'' you are an official of Miami-Dade or Broward public schools. These officials have decided that our children need to start school on Monday, when children from normal places are vacationing with their families, or attending summer camp, or lying on the sofa picking their noses and playing video games, which is what God clearly intended early August to be used for.

Among the children who will be trudging into Miami-Dade schools on Monday is my 5-year-old daughter, who enters kindergarten this year. When my wife told me the date our daughter would start school, my fifth question was: "Why?''

(My first four questions, in order, were: ''Aug. 8?'' ''Did you say Aug. 8?'' ''You mean, like, the eighth day of AUGUST?'' "Are they INSANE??'')

I found out that the reason for the extremely early start of the school year is -- as you veteran parents already know -- the FCATs. FCAT is an acronym standing for "(Very bad word) Comprehensive Assessment Test"...

The FCATs have come to dominate public education in Florida. At one time, the purpose of the public schools, at least theoretically, was to educate children; now it is to produce higher FCAT scores, by whatever means necessary. If school officials believed that ingesting lizard meat improved FCAT performance, the cafeterias would be serving gecko nuggets.

Life would be more entertaining if all education reporting was in this style.

Posted by kswygert at 09:46 AM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

August 04, 2005

In education, there might be one best way for all

In the American Educator column of the AFT newsletter, a cognitive psychologists summarizes some surprising research on learning styles:

Question: What does cognitive science tell us about the existence of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners and the best way to teach them?

Answer: The idea that people may differ in their ability to learn new material depending on its modality—that is, whether the child hears it, sees it, or touches it—has been tested for over 100 years. And the idea that these differences might prove useful in the classroom has been around for at least 40 years.

What cognitive science has taught us is that children do differ in their abilities with different modalities, but teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his educational achievement. What does matter is whether the child is taught in the content’s best modality. All students learn more when content drives the choice of modality. In this column, I will describe some of the research on matching modality strength to the modality of instruction. I will also address why the idea of tailoring instruction to a student’s best modality is so enduring—despite substantial evidence that it is wrong.

Emphasis mine. Thus, if a school believes in teaching students mathematics through songs and artwork, it would be nice if they backed this up with research indicating whether these are effective methods of conveying mathematical knowledge.

Because the vast majority of educational content is stored in terms of meaning and does not rely on visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory, it is not surprising that researchers have found very little support for the idea that offering instruction in a child’s best modality will have a positive effect on his learning...Although it is technically true that the theory hasn’t been (and will never be) disproved, we can say that the possible effects of matching instructional modality to a student’s modality strength have been extensively studied and have yielded no positive evidence. If there was an effect of any consequence, it is extremely likely that we would know it by now.

Read it all.

Posted by kswygert at 04:46 PM | Comments (5)

Putting a halt to the Dance of the Lemons

Put the Kids First is a proposed initiative for California schools that would make it easier to fire bad teachers:

...the idea of reducing teachers' job protections is popular with many principals and parents concerned about the difficulty of removing poor-performing instructors...

Under state law, school districts can dismiss teachers during their first two years on the job without providing any reason. After two years in the classroom, teachers earn the more protective "permanent status." Before dismissing a permanent-status teacher, district officials must meticulously document poor performance over time, formally declare the intention to dismiss the teacher and then give the instructor 90 days to improve.

Schwarzenegger's measure — known as the Put the Kids First Act — would authorize school districts to dismiss teachers summarily during the first five years. The initiative also would simplify the process for dismissing teachers with permanent status, allowing district officials to fire a teacher after two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations without declaring their intentions in advance or waiting 90 days.

The teachers' unions, unsurprisingly, oppose this, claiming it fosters a "phenomenon of anger" against teachers. Not as much as the horror stories of bad or inept teachers do. And the Education Wonks wonder when we're going to start getting rid of bad administrators as well.

Posted by kswygert at 09:24 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

August 03, 2005

A rampage with a joystick

In this day and age, when educators everywhere are loudly proclaiming that bullying is evil, unacceptable, and most politically incorrect, you almost have to admire Rockstar Games (creators of the infamous Grand Theft Auto) for having the stones to create a new video game called, well, Bully.

SKINHEAD thug wins a bloody playground fight with a classmate, before hunting down a teacher as his next victim. This is Bully. A new video game that's been called the sickest ever, a sadistic orgy of violence where you win points for being the most vicious yob in a reform school.

News of the game's release comes as research suggests that playing violent video games makes youngsters more aggressive.

Or maybe not. While the game - which I sincerely hope is rated M for Mature - may be cathartic for those adults out of school who wish to indulge in a bit of electronic revenge, you have to wonder what the effect might be on any kid whose parent lets them spend lots of unsupervised time in video game carnage.

Notice the "parental responsibility" part I slipped in there.

Posted by kswygert at 07:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 01, 2005

A teacher tells it like it is

Blogger Ms. Smlph - who I adore at first sight due to her description of the Praxis as "frighteningly easy" - offers an insider's view of teacher certification coursework:

When it came time for me to start my second and last certification-required course, Reading in the Content Areas, there was only one "university" offering the class. This "university" is one that I have long suspected to be a REALLY CRAPPY school...

The instructor of this course...was a kindergarten teacher who had never taught the course before. She used the same assignments as the teacher before her, sometimes not even bothering to change the dates from the previous semester...We had weekly assignments, due on Fridays, that consisted of regurgitating information from the textbook. The on-line grade-book we could access showed that, week after week, the class average on these assignments was 100%. Clearly, if the instructor was reading our responses at all, she was not holding us to very high standards...

Going into the final, I still had 100% in the class. When I heard that, like the midterm, this exam would be open-book, I was confident that I could do fairly well. When the instructor told us it would consist of 25 multiple choice questions (this was the FINAL, people!), I became even more sure of myself. Then...I saw the test. Many of the questions contained obvious typos. Some of the questions had vaguely tricky answers, like this one:

Why should teachers allow students time to think?
a. Being given more time makes students think.
b. being given more time enables students to answer
questions better.
c. It is the polite thing to do.
d. It ensures quick answers.

I was a little torn between a and b. Eventually, I chose b because nothing, not wait-time, not a miracle can MAKE anyone do anything. Tricky questions like these aren't the type of trick questions that I can respect. Rather, they're the type that requires the test-taker to attempt to guess what the test-writer might have been thinking. Of course, I will never understand what my instructor was thinking with this next question:

What educational practices contribute to the students diversity in secondary classrooms?

a. More students entering school from poverty-level homes
b. Immigration
c. Cultural change
d. All of the above

Since when are immigration, cultural change, and poverty EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES????? I chose d because a, b, and c all contribute to diversity, but I hated myself for even having to answer it.

As any intelligent person who is interested in education, not ideology, should be. Also, let me take the opportunity to deem the two items she cites above as the The Worst Test Items In The History Of Testing.

As for this part of one of her rants, I just wish it fit on a bumper sticker:

I have always been of the opinion that, if someone is going to be my instructor, get up in front of me and lecture - or "teach" me over the Internet - that instructor SHOULD KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT WHAT SHE'S TEACHING!!! Does this woman have a single shred of a conscience? Did she not feel bad that she was collecting a paycheck for teaching us nothing?

I wish more teachers believed in the importance of knowing a great deal about the subject matter.

(via Joanne)

Posted by kswygert at 07:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The decline and fall of discipline in British schools

Back in March of this year, London Telegraph reporter Julie Henry noted that schools were being overrun by students who were taught no manners, discipline, or polite behavior by parents. I have the feeling that the comments of the Government's Chief Inspector of Schools were provocative - and extreme - enough to inspire Julie to go undercover and see what she could find.

And boy, were her eyes opened. One article on the documentary that was produced notes:

On returning to teaching after a 30-year absence, a supply teacher using the pseudonym Sylvia Thomas secretly filmed shocking examples of lessons ruined by large numbers of pupils over a three-month period. The documentary shows children aged from 12 to 15 completely ignoring her and other staff while they shout, scream, fight, swear and wander around the classroom at will. In one scene a full-scale fight breaks out and a 6ft tall boy is seen wielding a rubber truncheon, as the terrified teacher calls for help. In another, pupils throw books, pens and balls of paper across the room for a full 15 minutes as the teacher protests, before they declare that they "don't give a shit". In yet more disturbing scenes, a boy in a computer class is filmed accessing hard-core porn sites and then protesting his innocence, saying "I just typed in 'anal', miss".

An email circulating on the Bill Evers list cites another Telegraph article that I can't find online (this might be a transcript of part of the documentary), and what it includes is just as shocking:

What struck me very early on was that poor, even outrageous indiscipline -children leaping across tables or wandering around brandishing fire extinguishers - had become acceptable. At one school, I was calmly advised by a female colleague to lock the classroom door while I was teaching, to "protect" myself and my class from the marauding groups in the corridors. The look of surprise on my face did not seem to register with her.

Time and again I would be surprised, and shocked, and eventually deeply
saddened by what I saw in the state school system. A combination of
classroom disorder, endless supply teachers, conscientious but jaded staff
and school managers who seemed prepared to pretend that all was well had
created a situation that was a million miles away from the Government
rhetoric of rising standards.

Kudos to Ms. Henry for all of her articles, which chronicle the decline of discipline in many (but not all) British schools, and for pointing out that zero-tolerance brutality by teachers doesn't seem to be a feasible solution, either:

St Aloysius Roman Catholic College for boys in Islington, north London, should have been a showcase for New Labour, with a rise last year of 19 per cent in the number of pupils gaining five A* to C grades...At this school, the behaviour balance seems to have gone to the other extreme, under the Government's banner of "zero-tolerance". Staff called pupils "total scum" after an incident of vandalism, and shouted at them to "bugger off, go home, we don't want you".
Posted by kswygert at 07:32 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Jettisoning the GMAT

Business Week Online details the building - but quiet - opposition to the GMAT for executive MBA program admissions:

In the last few years, scores of B-schools -- including such top-ranked institutions as University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management -- have quietly abandoned the GMAT as a requirement for EMBA programs. Some now waive the test on a case-by-case basis; others have cut it from their admissions criteria altogether.

That development -- the subject of a raging debate inside the closed-door world of B-schools -- comes at a time when EMBA programs and applications to them are on the rise...

It's the nature of the EMBA itself that makes this a contentious issue. A weekend degree offered to upper-level managers but otherwise identical to its MBA counterpart, such programs draw students with an average age of 37 and 14 years of business experience. For that reason alone, advocates of the waiver argue, the GMAT is not a valid test of the applicant's strengths...

Some schools claim that EMBA applicants may need only a refresher course in quantitative skills, while other universities claim that work skills are so unstandardized that EMBA programs will be in danger of taking in students who can't do the work.

Posted by kswygert at 07:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Looking ugly in Texas

The school ratings are out in Texas, and things aren't looking good:

Sixty-one districts, including 19 regular districts and 42 charter school operators, were labeled academically unacceptable, the lowest of the state's school accountability ratings. That compares with 24 districts that got the lowest rating last year.

The number of individual schools with the bottom ranking also increased, from 95 last year to 364 this year. Schools can appeal the ratings. Certain sanctions and interventions are taken against campuses receiving the academically unacceptable rating. Exemplary districts and campuses, those with the state's highest rating, declined in number.

Stricter standards were given as one reason for the results:

The main causes for schools and districts receiving the academically unacceptable rating...were students' math and science test performances and a new TAKS-aligned exam for special education students given for the first time.
Posted by kswygert at 07:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Obesity is not the main problem here

The Philadelphia school district is trying to figure out a way to get local students to eat more healthily:

When a Philadelphia school district recently slimmed down its lunch offerings and banned sodas from vending machines, educators hoped the moves would help stem the tide of childhood obesity. But as school officials continued to see an overweight student body, they began to suspect that the real culprit behind the children's weight problems was lurking beyond school walls.

A survey of 600 Philadelphia students found that more than 50 percent of them stop at corner stores on the walk to or from school, spending an average of $2 each day...

School officials find a challenge in providing a solution. While it's easier to regulate the foods kids are served at school, it is much more difficult to keep them away from the corner store. In fact, some nutritionists say it's impossible. Instead, the schools have set up mock corner stores, teaching students how to make healthier choices. Students who put that knowledge to work are rewarded with school supplies and raffle tickets.

I found this link via Big Fat Blog, whose commenters are often well-spoken on the topic of promoting health at any size. Two commenters, though, went off on rants that I thought were particularly amusing:

...when the fat police start going after School District of Philadelphia, I start getting pissed. The district is 80% indigent, about 85% minority (well above if we take out the magnet and Center City schools), and performing below basic skills level in all areas. I feel this edge of latent racism/classism every time I read about the district in the national news. I fail to see why concentrating on obesity has any importance when some of these kids can't read, when some of them live without heat in the middle of February, when I've been to welfare houses that have roaches crawling on the walls and the children alike and that don't have a single piece of furniture...

Well said. Another commenter goes to the point even more bluntly:

Another thing about that little "mock store" -- I'd rather see them teaching kids HOW TO COUNT CHANGE than "how to make healthy choices."

I have had a number of jobs in which I was responsible for hiring cashiers -- and let me tell ya -- I DID keep stats on that, and 80% of the applicants FOR CASHIER POSITIONS did NOT know how to count back change for a $2.29 purchase, even after being SHOWN an example of how to do it correctly...

If they couldn't do it the first time, I SHOWED the applicant HOW to do it, and then gave them another similar question. 80% of APPLICANTS FOR A CASHIER JOB *STILL* could not do it correctly even after being shown how.

That is a skill they SHOULD be teaching in school (at a little "mock store" or HOWEVER...) -- not how to make "healthy food choices" (GRRR).

Both commenters have a point. When students from Philly schools are struggling so hard to master basic skills, was it really a good use of time and resources to call in Penn's mapping experts to figure out how many pizzerias and cheese-steak shops are near the schools?

Posted by kswygert at 07:08 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack