January 31, 2006

Taking a bite out of politics

You know, I really, really tried to resist the urge to report on this story. You know, about the vampire who's running for governor of Minnesota as part the Vampyres, Witches and Pagan party? The one who was promising impalements for terrorists? Whose webpage mentions his devotion to the Dark Lord (no, not Karl Rove)? Who's so obnoxious that even the real vampires and witches are pointing out he's insane and disgusting? Funny as it is, there was just no way I could link this story to an edublog, of all things.

Then I saw that he'd been brought up on charges from Indiana of escape and stalking. The article mentions that part of his platform featured, "an emphasis on education," so I think we can now all agree that this has, officially, become a meaningless phrase.

Oh, and his wife? Recently got fired. From her job as a school bus driver. Apparently the powers-that-be decided she wasn't quite the ideal "role model" for kids. I feel for her, though. She's gotta figure out another way to raise money for bail.

Posted by kswygert at 07:57 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Rising demand, falling supply

One of the more apt headlines I've seen in a while: "Testing industry overwhelmed under NCLB."

The standardized testing industry is "buckling under the weight" of President Bush's education reform plan, with the law's rapidly expanding testing mandates threatening to undermine its high ideals, says a new report out Tuesday from Education Sector, an independent Washington think tank. Only about $20 of the average $8,000-per-pupil spent on education nationally goes to develop tests under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the report finds. That's a small proportion, given the tests' importance, says Thomas Toch, the report's author. Enacted in 2002, NCLB seeks to narrow the gap in basic skills between middle-class and poor students. But the modest spending on testing could pull the rug out, with many states now forced to buy or create hastily developed, low-quality tests that measure only rudimentary skills, Toch says.

Why hastily-developed and low-quality? Because the number of psychometricians available for jobs hasn't even come close to keeping up with the number of jobs, and the demand for testing, out there. They cite a statistic in the article: "52% [of 23 state testing offices] reported that they had had difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified staff for testing-related jobs."

My immediate response was, "Only 52%?" For state testing jobs? Offhand, I don't know of any organization, be it penny-pinching state testing group or high-paying,high-profile testing company, that doesn't have difficulties finding staff and staying staffed.

There is, of course, a plea for more money here, and money can certainly buy better tests, but all the money in the world can't improve the testing scene if there aren't enough psychometricians to go around.

Two years ago, pundits were claiming that we psychos were the equivalent of Arabic-speaking US soldiers - desperately needed, and in short supply. Time, March 2001: "...there is a severe shortage of psychometricians — specialists trained in educational measurement and test design." Civil Rights Project, 2004: "Indeed, nationwide there is a shortage of specialized personnel, especially psychometricians who can devise tests, monitor their validity, and develop the infrastructure needed to support extensive testing (Henriques, 2003; Jorgensen, 2002)."

My grapevine/anecdotal knowledge suggests that the shortage still exists. The National Center for Educational Statistics keeps track of such things. I noted before that, in the year 2000, there were only 13 PhDs awarded in quantitative psychology - out of 44808 total PhDs awarded in the US. How do things look now after a few years of NCLB?

Total PhDs 2002-2003: 46024.
Psychology PhDs: 4831
Quantitative Psychology PhDs: 6.

Oh, well, there's also the three with PhDs in Psychometrics, and this is just only 85% or so of the full sample, and the 2004 NORC Survey of Earned Doctorates shows that out of 4336 Education PhDs with job commitments, a maximum of 7.9% have job classifications that are likely to fall within the testing industry, but...still. The fact remains that I could easily invite all the psychometrics/quantitative psychology PhDs from 2004 over to my house for dinner (or up to my hotel room to raid the minibar during a conference, which I think has happened before).

The desperate shortage of psychometricians appears to be the one point on which NCLB supporters and detractors all agree, yet the situation doesn't appear to be getting any better.

Posted by kswygert at 05:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When X and Y just don't add up

Joanne Jacobs and the LA Times on the sensitive topic of compulsory algebra.

From the Times:

When the Los Angeles Board of Education approved tougher graduation requirements that went into effect in 2003, the intention was to give kids a better education and groom more graduates for college and high-level jobs. For the first time, students had to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry or an equivalent class to earn diplomas.

The policy was born of a worthy goal but has proved disastrous for students unprepared to meet the new demands. In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds. In all, the district that semester handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools the size of Birmingham.

Among those who repeated the class in the spring, nearly three-quarters flunked again.

Joanne notes:

Passing algebra and geometry has been a district requirement since 2003, a state requirement since 2004. The story implies the requirement is just another fad. But the real problem seems to be that students are enrolled again and again in the same classes they failed before. They give up and zone out.

I think we can all agree that when students don't ever learn the basics, they're doomed to failure. Darren points out that:

The real problem isn't that the students can't pass algebra, it's that in some cases they haven't been prepared to pass algebra. Granted, some don't help themselves (like the girl who missed 62 out of 93 days in the semester), but a healthy share of the problem seems, to me, to be this observation[from the Times]:

At Cal State Northridge, the largest supplier of new teachers to Los Angeles Unified, 35% of future elementary school instructors earned Ds or Fs in their first college-level math class last year. Some of these students had already taken remedial classes that reviewed high school algebra and geometry.

Don't be so surprised. And the NEA and CTA want to keep American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence from providing alternative teacher credentialing here in California while keeping our state university programs in tact, focused on fuzzy, and patently irrelevant. Way to go, unions.

If elementary teachers are that shaky in math, their task of preparing students to learn algebra will be that much harder.

Posted by kswygert at 06:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wonder if snowballs are still acceptable?

No more naughty sculptures at Ripon College (WI):

Frosty the Snowman is in. Six-foot penises are out. A new policy at Ripon College, in Wisconsin, decrees that only snow sculptures that are "tasteful" and "reflect the academic mission of the college" will be permitted on the campus. Transgressors will face a $50 fine, plus any dismantling costs. In the case of anonymous sculptors, the charges will be absorbed by the residents of whichever building the offending artwork is closest to.

Reminds me of a Harvard kerfuffle a while back. What is it with college students and obscene snowpeople? At least there's a general rule in place here, instead of a lot of hysterical statements about the patriarchy.

Posted by kswygert at 06:13 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 30, 2006

Experts at cheating

Caveon's Cheating in the News has been updated. Featured is the Wall Street Journal's article on students hiring experts to do their homework.

I finally found a sound bit to go with cheating news - a snippet from Mystery Science Theater 3000's coverage of an old 1950's short on how bad it is to copy test answers from your friends. When the hapless cheater gets caught in this film, Crow, Tom Servo, and Mike sound the alarm as follows.

(Note - I have no idea how to best store sound files to allow people to easily access them online. If you have any tips, let me know).

Posted by kswygert at 08:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Apologies

I apologize for all the problems you guys have been having in trying to post comments and having seemingly-innocuous statements, and common email addresses, blocked by my spam filter. The sheer amount of nasty comment spam that I was getting for a while necessitated that, but I'm gradually removing some of the blunter filters.

Also, I'm just now getting to some of my email backlog; I was busy in training two days last week and getting sick the rest. Sorry if you've had to wait too long for a reply from me.

Posted by kswygert at 07:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Whose fault is it when kids overeat?

Well, you can't accuse them of going after the small targets:

Advocacy groups and parents are suing the Nickelodeon TV network and cereal maker Kellogg Co. in an effort to stop junk food marketing to kids. The plaintiffs are citing a recent report documenting the influence of marketing on what children eat. Ads aimed at kids are mostly for high-calorie, low-nutrition food and drinks, according to the government-chartered Institute of Medicine.

Wakefield, Massachusetts, mother Sherri Carlson said she tries her best to get her three kids to eat healthy foods. "But then they turn on Nickelodeon and see all those enticing junk-food ads," Carlson said. "Adding insult to injury, we enter the grocery store and see our beloved Nick characters plastered on all those junky snacks and cereals."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is involved; not surprisingly, the CSPIScam website is not impressed:

Today the better-living-through-litigation squad at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) held a press conference to announce an audacious new lawsuit against two companies involved with advertising food during children's television programs. At $25 per "violation," CSPI threatened that "the verdict could be in the billions of dollars."

Of course, the actual grounds for the lawsuit are dubious at best. Plaintiff Sherri Carlson charged that "'all those enticing junk-food ads' make her children want to eat 'junky snacks and cereals' instead of 'healthy foods.'" Going out on a limb here, perhaps her kids want these foods not because of ads, but because they're children.

CSPI's lawsuit makes the following three assumptions:

1. Television can't be turned off;
2. Parents have no control over what food they buy; and
3. Parents cannot tell their children to go outside and play.

None of these is true...

Adding to the ridiculousness of CSPI's press conference was Executive Director Michael Jacobson's repeated citation of an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on advertising and children. What Jacobson omitted in his diatribe is the fact that the IOM report doesn't provide any evidence to support his argument.

But don't take our word for it...

No one's saying it's easy to be a parent these days. I doubt Kellogg and Nickleodeon are the reason that kids are getting fatter, yet it sounds like CSPI is trying to make them the reason some lawyers will be getting richer.

(Hat tip: Reginleif.)

Posted by kswygert at 07:39 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Flying the coop to find a better place to roost

The Philadelphia Inquirer tracks the freshman churn:

Call it the freshman churn, the students who bail before sophomore year. Most first-year students stay put, but in every class an antsy minority switches schools, spurred by homesickness, a creepy roommate, social anxiety, geographic shock, or financial or academic concerns. The place is too small, too big, too cold, too remote...

At Drexel University, 20 percent of last year's freshmen did not return for their second year. At Temple University, 16 percent flew the coop. At Lincoln University, about 32 percent transferred, dropped out, or left for another reason. There are valid reasons to switch schools, but unrealistic expectations about college life or a lack of research often lead students to make that decision before they give their institutions a chance, school officials and counselors say.

Now add an increasingly common phenomenon: Many high school seniors get so caught up in the "trophy hunt" - the mania to get into a brand-name college - that they fail to search their hearts and honestly assess what they will need to flourish, admissions authorities say.

I agree entirely that you should switch schools if you feel out of place your freshmen year, even if (as one student did) you realize this on your first day. The "best" schools aren't always the right one. One parent sums it up:

"Friends of ours [who are] parents said, 'I can't believe you didn't make her stay. I can't believe she left so soon,' " Patty Penrose said.

"What would be the point? She wasn't failing me in any way. She was just switching schools."

Posted by kswygert at 05:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Feeling good about doing poorly

SeattlePI.com guest columnist Neal Starkman has found the answer to the exit exam controversy in Washington:

Passing the WASL is proposed to be a requirement for graduating from high school, but students would be able to retake the test -- let's see, at last count, 87 times. Plans are also under way to provide alternatives to the WASL, such as the Way Easier Assessment of Student Learning, the WEASL.

People in favor of the WASL say it's important to set standards or else graduation won't mean anything...Opponents of the WASL say the test is unfair to some students, that it puts too much pressure on them, and that students who fail the test all 88 times will feel bad about themselves...

I have a solution that will satisfy those who think the WASL is the greatest measure since the Stanford-Binet "IQ test" and those who have trouble spelling "IQ." It's a degree for students who fail the WASL. It's the A.G. degree -- Almost Graduated.

Here's how it works: I'm a student who doesn't take tests well, principally because I can't read or write. Or I can take tests well, but for some reason the WASL doesn't measure what I learned all throughout school...I take the WASL and I flunk it. Then I take it again and I flunk it. Then someone reads it to me and mouths the answers, and I flunk it. So what happens to me?

What happens to me is this: I walk alongside my fellow students in the graduation ceremony but instead of a diploma, I get my A.G. degree. It's coiled and beribboned like the other diplomas, but instead of saying, "Congratulations, you've graduated!," it says, "Well, you Almost Graduated. Good luck."

I don't get humiliated, I don't feel bad about myself, and, best of all, I can continue with my life almost as if I graduated. If a business wants to hire me after seeing I have an A.G. degree, well, they deserve me.

Takes care of the "self-esteem" part, I suppose. Be sure to read the comments, too.

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

Paying for the cute

If you, like me, are addicted to CuteOverload, be sure to hit their tip jar - apparently their server's getting overloaded from all the readers! A great thing for any blogger to experience, but expensive nonetheless.

This photo, and caption, made me laugh much louder than I should be considering that I'm at work and am supposed to be writing an article.

Posted by kswygert at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Facing the finish line in Utah

The Utah high school class of 2006 is down to the wire:

This week, about 5,000 Utah high school seniors will have their last chance to pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test.

The class of 2006 is the first to face the consequences of the UBSCT, which was developed to ensure that students are competent in reading, writing and math when they graduate.

To qualify for a high school diploma, each student must successfully pass all sections of the UBSCT or attempt to pass the test three times. Each diploma will note whether the receiving student passed the test.

In other words, if you pass, or if you take the exam three times, you get a diploma. But your diploma will say on it whether you passed the exam. Interesting compromise:

Originally, students who did not complete all sections of the test were to receive an alternative completion diploma.

However, the board heard concerns that graduating with an alternative completion diploma could prevent students from receiving federal funding for college...In January, the board decided to give a full diploma to all students who pass the UBSCT or attempt to take the test three times. Students must also complete their school's citizenship and class requirements. However, every diploma must reflect a student's UBSCT status.

I should note that the exam is called the Utah Basic Skills Competency Exam, which makes it pretty clear that the test isn't supposed to be tough. Nonetheless, the anti-testing hyperbole ran thick last fall:

Dear Class of 2006: You're the first to be held to the state's new high school exit exam. And you look like lab rats. School districts are experimenting on you to learn how to best help students struggling on the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test. Answers will come too late to help you much...

No one really knows what your "basic diploma," "alternative completion diploma" or "certificate of completion" will mean in the real world. They're just waiting to see what happens to you next year...

UBSCT has three parts — reading, writing and math — and you have to pass them all to get a basic diploma. If you don't pass but tried three times, you can get an alternative diploma. Do neither and you'll probably get a certificate of completion. The exam is Utah's only high-stakes test. Your results will follow you for life. You have two more chances to take it: in October and again in February.

Schools hope you'll be prepared.

Funny, I would think it would be "graduating without the ability to read or write at a basic level" that would "follow a student for life." Please note the level of the reading and math items that are presented at the test's website. The schools should be doing much more than hoping students pass this test in large numbers, and it's just sad to hear about parents who are forced to hire tutors to help their child learn to read the instructions on a can of bug spray:

A Salt Lake County mother reports her daughter passed the exam on the fourth try — thanks to extra help never before offered at the neighborhood school...The Salt Lake County mother laments the lack of help available to her daughter until this year. Her family had been paying for private tutoring.

"I think if they want to have a test, they need to prepare the kids way before (their senior year)," the mother said. "She has been depressed this whole fall, and it's her senior year. I've just kind of seen her attitude has gone down, her grades have gone down, and it just makes the kids feel like a failure and that they're left behind. I don't think it's a good thing."

...but I disagree with the testing critics that it would be somehow better for students to receive diplomas (and good grades, apparently) without being asked to demonstrate at least this much knowledge.

Posted by kswygert at 12:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The news about math

Two recent articles make for an interesting juxtaposition.

First, we are all apparently alarmed at the lack of math teachers these days:

The lack of certified science and math teachers is a growing quandary for schools around the nation, particularly those in poor neighborhoods. Lawmakers in Washington are proposing to spend billions over the next several years to encourage more teachers to enter those subject fields. Politicians and business leaders say this isn't just about education — it's about global competition. Competent and engaged teachers are needed to inspire American children to pursue a career in math or science. If it doesn't happen, the United States' role as leader in technology development and scientific research will wither, they say.

On the other hand, the NYTimes reports that public school and private school math scores seem to be about the same, once demographic variables are factored out:

large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data...

"Over all," it said, "demographic differences between students in public and private schools more than account for the relatively high raw scores of private schools. Indeed, after controlling for these differences, the presumably advantageous private school effect disappears, and even reverses in most cases."

This could mean that everyone, and not just poor public schools, are suffering from a lack of math instructors, and not even our kids in private schools are getting enough instruction to compete with international students.

Posted by kswygert at 12:36 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

A return to edublogging

Brash edublogger Mr. Babylon ("Stories from the inside. Shitty High School, Bronx, New York. All names have been changed to protect my ass.") cries during great movie scenes and almost inspires one student to stomp another. Glad to see he's back and blogging.

Posted by kswygert at 12:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The coddled kids enter the workforce

Good Lord almighty.

A Beverly Hills psychiatrist's office is an unlikely triage center for the mash-up of generations in the workforce. But Dr. Charles Sophy is seeing the casualties firsthand. Last year, when a 24-year-old salesman at a car dealership didn't get his yearly bonus because of poor performance, both of his parents showed up at the company's regional headquarters and sat outside the CEO's office, refusing to leave until they got a meeting. "Security had to come and escort them out," Sophy says.

A 22-year-old pharmaceutical employee learned that he was not getting the promotion he had been eyeing. His boss told him he needed to work on his weaknesses first. The Harvard grad had excelled at everything he had ever done, so he was crushed by the news. He told his parents about the performance review, and they were convinced there was some misunderstanding, some way they could fix it, as they'd been able to fix everything before. His mother called the human-resources department the next day. Seventeen times. She left increasingly frustrated messages: "You're purposely ignoring us"; "you fudged the evaluation"; "you have it in for my son." She demanded a mediation session with her, her son, his boss, and HR--and got it. At one point, the 22-year-old reprimanded the HR rep for being "rude to my mom."

The patients on Sophy's couch aren't the twentysomethings dealing with their first taste of failure. Nor are they the "helicopter parents." They're the traumatized bosses, as well as the 47-year-old woman from HR who has been hassled time and again by her youngest workers and their parents.

I can't say I blame them. Soon, employers will be noting in the fine print that any employee over the age of 21 and/or who is making more than minimum wage will be fired if they involve Mummy and Daddy in any workplace issue. Making sure the Millenial Generation "gets heard" is one thing; allowing them to bitch and whine and avoid responsibility is another. I say there's a limit as to what companies should be willing to adapt.

(Via Right on the Left Coast.)

Update: PhotonCourier has tips for managers:

So, if you're interviewing a prospective new employee, you might want to ask a few questions about how the individual has handled criticism or failure in the past. And you might also want to consider some nontraditional sources of employees. Consider, for example, military veterans--especially veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. These people are likely to have had experiences which helped them develop attitudes and meta-skills which will be of great value in your organization, whatever kind of work that organization does...

Can you imagine if an employer asked a prospective worker how they'd handled criticism in the past, and got an astonished reply, "Why, I've never been criticized! That wouldn't have been very helpful for my self-esteem, now would it?"

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

The boys fight back

I was wondering when this day would finally come:

At Milton High School, girls outnumber boys by almost 2 to 1 on the honor roll. In Advanced Placement classes, almost 60 percent of the students are female. It's not that girls are smarter than boys, said Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old senior at the high school. Girls are outperforming boys because the school system favors them, said Anglin, who has filed a federal civil rights complaint contending that his school discriminates against boys.

Among Anglin's allegations: Girls face fewer restrictions from teachers, like being able to wander the hallways without passes, and girls are rewarded for abiding by the rules, while boys' more rebellious ways are punished. Grading on homework, which sometimes includes points for decorating a notebook, also favor girls, according to Anglin's complaint, filed last month with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

No one should get points for decorations outside of art class.

Joanne notes that the teaching field is predominantly female. I think that having more male teachers would help with male students. My guess, though, is that the education programs would have to become a lot more rigorous and a lot less political in order to attract more young men to the teaching profession. I, for one, can't think of any guy who would want to endure a Ph.D. level class that punishes students for stepping over the "lines." (Dr. Helen has more on this topic, too.)

Posted by kswygert at 09:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Skirting the issue

Let's all be thankful the rude "ethnicity" teacher from last week didn't have this guy in his class. Or would that skirt be okay for certain "ethnicities", as a Broncos jersey apparently isn't?

Posted by kswygert at 09:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New GRE set to go live this October

The new GRE grows ever closer:

According to the ETS Web site, the changes will better gauge students' preparation for graduate school by measuring general academic skills with more precision than in the past. A single 30-minute verbal section will be changed to two 40-minute sections. Sections on analogies and antonyms will be removed, while new sentence equivalence questions will be introduced and critical reading sections will be expanded. Quantitative reasoning -- lengthened from one 45-minute section to two 40-minute sections -- will include less geometry and more data interpretation and word problems. The test will be graded on a scale of 120-179, as opposed to the current 200-800 scale.

Some students resent the newer, longer length:

...Sam Penziner '07, who is also planning to attend graduate school, said he thinks the longer exam will measure test-taking stamina rather than skill. "Making the test longer emphasizes factors like endurance and stress that affect performance," Penziner said.

And graduate school doesn't require endurance and good stress-coping strategies?

Posted by kswygert at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Some "tough love" for LA freshmen

As if freshman year wasn't tough enough, now there's a summer "boot camp":

The Los Angeles Unified School District created the academic boot camp, called the Freshman Success Summer Bridge, at eight San Fernando Valley high schools last year for incoming students with low English or math scores. But the program had some limitations. Because participation was voluntary, some students who needed it most did not attend, and others dropped out. For some, six weeks was not enough; for others, the work wasn't challenging...

Students included those who scored "below basic" or lower in English or math on standardized tests. In classes of about 25, they spent half their mornings on math, sometimes using laptop computers, and the other half on reading, writing and developing study skills. Students who completed the program earned 10 credits toward the 60 they need to be promoted to 10th grade.

Interesting that some students with low test scores mastered this material quickly enough to be bored by the end of the six weeks. Does this suggest a poor fit between test and curriculum? Do some students not take the test seriously? Or do they flourish with this individual attention?

Posted by kswygert at 09:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hands down, one of the more silly policies of late

A great muzziness of thought in a British school:

A school in London has banned children from raising their hands in class and teachers from calling on students with their hands raised...

"Some pupils are jiggling so much to attract the teacher's attention that it sometimes looks as if they need the lavatory, then when it is their turn they often don't know the answer. Boys -- and it is usually boys -- are seeking attention, so they put their hands up before they have had time to think about the question."

Buck said the same children often wave their arms in the air, but when teachers try to involve less adventurous pupils by choosing them instead, it leads to feelings of victimization, the Daily Telegraph reported Saturday. To spare embarrassment of the students who do not know the answer, the school has incorporated a "phone a friend" system, allowing one child to nominate another to take the question instead.

1. Why is being called upon by your teacher considered "victimization?"
2. If that's victimization, isn't "phoning a friend" that, too, if you nominate someone you don't like, who is making poor grades, to answer a tough question?
3. Why aren't teachers assumed to have the mental capacity to learn to ignore class clowns (who might raise their hands just to give smartass answers) and ask questions of all students in a way that doesn't embarass anyone too much
4. What if they DO have to visit the lavatory? They can't nominate a friend to take a whiz for them, can they?

Joanne has much more, including a link to an article suggesting that British schoolchildren today are less intelligent than those of previous years.

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

January 24, 2006

Flunking the dress code test

My, but there's an awful lot wrong with this situation:

A 17-year-old high school student said he was humiliated when a teacher made him sit on the floor during a midterm exam in his ethnicity class -- for wearing a Denver Broncos jersey.

The teacher, John Kelly, forced Joshua Vannoy to sit on the floor to take the test on Friday -- two days before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Broncos 34-17 in the AFC Championship game. Kelly also made other students throw crumpled up paper at Vannoy, whom he called a "stinking Denver fan," Vannoy told The Associated Press.

Kelly said Vannoy, a junior at Beaver Area Senior High School, just didn't get the joke. "If he felt uncomfortable, then that's a lesson; that's what (the class) is designed to do," Kelly told The Denver Post. "It was silly fun. I can't believe he was upset."

So, in just a few short words, we've learned (a) that an ethnicity class is designed not to make students more informed, but uncomfortable; (b) that he considered insults and projectiles to be a good joke for him to play on a student; and (c) that "ethnicity" is related to choice of football teams. Hmm.

Posted by kswygert at 07:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 19, 2006

Did they try translating math problems into units of kegs and 40s?

Most succinct headline of the year: "College students lack skills"

Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food.

Those are the sobering findings of a study of literacy on college campuses, the first to target the skills of students as they approach the start of their careers.

More than 50% of students at four-year schools and more than 75% at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

Devoted Reader (and tireless devil's advocate) Brian H. sent this to me with a defence of those hapless college kids - "Have you tried reading a credit card offer?!?!?" I agree, and absolve college students of any shame from failing to understand an offer in which the proposed provider has, as many credit card companies do, buried all the important information in lilliputian font and impenetrable legalese/finanese. Warren Buffett himself couldn't figure out what Bank One really plans to charge you, so we can't expect the coeds to know.

However:

The students did the worst on matters involving math, according to the study. Almost 20% of students pursuing four-year degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station. About 30% of two-year students had only basic math skills.

These depressing results are partially due to the fact that, despite all the progress that women and nerds have made in the world, it's still considered cool - or at least acceptable - to brag about one's lack of math skills and hatred of mathematics. My guess is that the new, "fuzzier" methods of math instruction that require students to reinvent the wheel might also be behind the preponderance of students who can't figure out just how much gas is needed to make those wheels turn.

Posted by kswygert at 05:48 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A new edublogger arrives

A new edublog is on the scene - The Chalkboard. It's hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association, and according to Eduwonk, the blogger is Joe Williams, author of a recent book on public education. I expect he'll have quite a few interesting things to say.

Posted by kswygert at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Brought to you today by the letter...

This week's Carnival of Homeschooling is in fact an alphabet of homeschooling links. An older homeschooling post of mine is featured under "S".

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Odds and ends

Quite a few bits of insanity floating around the edusphere and childrearing world today...

Here's the best "out" I've seen yet for a really difficult and demanding child.

A credit card thief figures out a new plan. But given what all we've heard about teachers' salaries these days, isn't this like stealing from the poor? (Via the Education Wonks.)

Can we make a rule that if your initials are the same as a gang's, you get ownership of those letters?

I suppose this is one way to control fan behavior at games. Depressing that it comes to that, but it certainly seems effective.

Nothing says "excellence" like removing an honor just because a lot of kids strive for it.

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2006

Americans Idolizing themselves

I probably won't get much of a chance to blog over the next couple of days, but there's one thing I just have to get off my chest.

Anyone who thinks that American students suffer from a lack of self-esteem, or thinks that that they need to be built up and told that they are special, or thinks that they need to more coddling and shielding from the rough world outside, should be tied to a chair and forced to watch last night's American Idol premiere over and over again.

I mean, good God. There were stadiums full of teenagers who waited in line for days for their chance to get on TV and in front of a group of tough judges, and the majority of them could. Not. SING. Many of them had no talent whatsoever, but they were not shy about barging into a room and warbling horribly in front of cameras. There were oodles of fascinating mental problems on display in those rooms last night, but low self-esteem wasn't one of them. One young fellow sang like your maiden aunt crossed with a parrot; when he got booted, his granny stormed inside to confront Simon. Another young lassie cursed during her song - seriously, they had to bleep out a lot of the lyrics - and when she was dismissed, she told them they could kiss her white ass. The interviews with those who were rejected involved more bleeping of nasty words than your average episode of COPS.

Anyone watching this premiere would come away convinced that, if any group of teenagers needs a class in lowering self-esteem - or at least in forcing their self-opinion to conform to reality - it would be American teenagers. I also now think that Simon Cowell should be teaching at schools of education.

Posted by kswygert at 08:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Making education harder than it has to be

George Will doesn't mince words:

The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education...

The permeation of ed schools by politics is a consequence of the vacuity of their curricula. Concerning that, read "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach" by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute (available at city-journal.org). Today's teacher-education focus on "professional disposition" is just the latest permutation of what Mac Donald calls the education schools' "immutable dogma," which she calls "Anything But Knowledge."

The dogma has been that primary and secondary education is about "self-actualization" or "finding one's joy" or "social adjustment" or "multicultural sensitivity" or "minority empowerment." But is never about anything as banal as mere knowledge. It is about "constructing one's own knowledge" and "contextualizing knowledge," but never about knowledge of things like biology or history.

Posted by kswygert at 09:03 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 13, 2006

My guess is, the parents who didn't call were speechless

There's GOT to be more to this story:

Freshmen at Brooklyn High School were given an unorthodox homework assignment. They were told to do research about porn. The students were asked to research porn on the internet and list eight facts about the porn industry. They were also told to write down their own personal views about pornography and any experience they may have had, good or bad.

Three parents called the district to complain so the principal, superintendent and health teacher decided it was best to scrap the assignment.

Which is a shame, because we all know that in order to teach health, high school teachers are required to make sure their students know how to find porn on the web, and that they should be prepared to tell adults about their "personal" views and "experiences" in researching such. Being forced to look at things they might not be prepared to see (and probably downloading about 8700 viruses and spyware bots to boot) and tell an adult what they thought about it is so healthy, you know.

Sounds like the teacher isn't even going to lose his/her job, despite the fact that any other adult who wanted to know about a 14-year-old's "experience" with online porn would probably end up facing sex crime charges.

Posted by kswygert at 06:11 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Surprise! You're dropped!

Ah ha ha ha haaah! I know I shouldn't find this funny, but I think it's hysterical.

Like many students, Seth Douglas didn't know what to make of an official UA e-mail sent to him Monday night. The message said some of his classes had been dropped because he had not completed the necessary prerequisites. "I was kind of worried because I'm a senior, and I need my classes to graduate," said Douglas, who is majoring in management information systems...

The message was meant to go out to only 208 Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration students who had failed some fall classes and were not eligible to take certain courses this semester, UA Registrar Michael George said...But because of a technical mix-up, the e-mail was sent to all 21,750 UA students Monday night, said Shane Merritt, director of network and computer support for UA Information Technology.

Expect heavy drinking from traumatized UA students this weekend. Well, even heavier drinking.

Posted by kswygert at 03:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Required viewing

Have you set your VCR/TIVO to record this? I have!

For "Stupid in America," a special report ABC will air Friday, we gave identical tests to high school students in New Jersey and in Belgium. The Belgian kids cleaned the American kids' clocks. The Belgian kids called the American students "stupid." We didn't pick smart kids to test in Europe and dumb kids in the United States. The American students attend an above-average school in New Jersey, and New Jersey's kids have test scores that are above average for America.

The Belgians did better because their schools are better...

This should come as no surprise once you remember that public education in the USA is a government monopoly. Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. Your taxes fund that school regardless of whether it's good or bad. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers. Union-dominated monopolies are even worse.

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

Not giving credit where credit might be due

The University of California system sometimes refuses to give credits for high school classes where textbooks have a Christian viewpoint, and at least one Christian college is fighting mad about that:

The Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, Calif., with 1,300 students, is suing UC for not giving credits for some courses with a "Christian viewpoint" when students apply for university admission. The lawsuit is about theological content in "every major area in high school except for mathematics," says Wendell Bird, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel.

Courses in dispute include history, English, social studies and science. In federal court here, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero could rule soon on the university system's motion to dismiss the high school's claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were infringed. The school has also sued on other grounds, such as that UC has unconstitutionally treated Calvary students unequally compared to other students...

The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second." UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.

Well, for that kind of thing, I see UC's point. If a science textbook explicitly states that science may be a secondary concern for some of the topics, it seems that a university may not want to give a science credit for a course with this textbook as the main source of information.

However, I do see some problems here:

(1) Is UC willing to do the same for other types of schools? Are they willing to deny credit for someone who may have learned world history from the Muslim perspective? And is UC willing to do the same for bad textbooks whose problems don't stem from a religious viewpoint? If not, then this seems more like Christian-bashing, and that's what CCCS is alleging:

The lawsuit against UC alleges that the university accepts courses from other schools taught from a particular viewpoint, such as feminist, African-American or countercultural, so the school can't discriminate against "a viewpoint of religious faith."

(2) Is this the start of a slippery slope, where the next thing is to refuse credit for all courses taught at religious schools, even if the text is acceptable?

(3) What about homeschooled students whose parents focus on Christianity?

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Nothing could be finer...

I wondered why my honey sent me this link to MSN Money's "The 100 Best Values in Public Colleges." He usually doesn't pay attention to anything other than metal-related news on the web.

Then I see that my graduate school alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, is ranked #1.

Top-ranked UNC has kept its price well below average -- charging about $4,600 for in-state tuition and fees in the 2005-06 academic year (and $12,029 per year when you add in room, board and books) -- while providing generous financial assistance. It's the only school in our survey that meets 100% of each student's financial need.

I admit, when I meet folks who own up to being tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in debt just for an undergraduate or masters' degree, I enjoy watching their reactions when I tell them that, by the time I was working just on dissertation hours and had completed my graduate coursework, my tuition and fees each semester was roughly around, oh, $800.

Posted by kswygert at 08:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Judging a district by its scores

University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s education researchers doubt that standardized test scores are the best indicators of school district performance:

The statistical analysis — which will be presented today to the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators — concluded that Arkansas students are achieving slightly better than the nation as a whole. And several Arkansas districts not typically recognized for their academic excellence top the scale of high performers...

“The School Performance Index in Arkansas” takes into account student demographics and the levels of affluence and education in a community. It predicts what student achievement in a school or district should be on the basis of those factors and then compares those projected achievement levels to actual standardized test results.

So, if I understand this, they're predicting how well a school should do based on various demographic and SES levels, and then comparing those predictions to the real test scores. They're concluding that raw test scores shouldn't be used to compare schools, but instead should be adjusted to show how well the school is doing given all these predictor variables, so that schools with students who are predicted to do poorly should not be considered bad schools if they produce mediocre test scores. I'm not sure I agree with that conclusion.

One interesting side finding:

The school analysis, which Greene said could be further refined by the state, showed that school performance on the Iowa Test is “partially” affected by the level of household income, educational attainment of adults, and the percentage of married families in a district. The scores are “substanially affected” by the percentages of black students and students who qualify for reduced meal prices at a school.

In contrast, the study concluded that school performance is not affected by the size of a school or a district or by the amount of money spent in a district.

Gee, wonder why the headline for this article wasn't, "Schools don't need more money to perform better?"

Posted by kswygert at 08:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Home sweet home, week 2

The Carnival of Homeschooling returns - now with more posts than ever! Don't miss Three in the Nest's description of her transformation from homeshooling skeptic to homeschooling mom.

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

Complete this sentence: "Coding is most accurate after ____ cans of Red Bull"

This makes sense; techies tend to be proud of their standardized test scores.

Posted by kswygert at 08:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

Tracking the CAPTive students

A UMass-Amherst research claims the Connecticut Academic Performance Test is extremely predictive of college success - even more so than the SAT:

Stephen Coelen, a researcher from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, tracked 32,653 members of the Class of 1998, comparing how well they did as sophomores on CAPT to how many applied to, enrolled in and did well in college. On every measure, he found the higher the CAPT score, the more students were likely to go to college, avoid remedial courses in college, get higher grade point averages in college and graduate.

When matched against SATs — the College Board exam students take to predict college success, Coelen said both exams helped explain student success in college. Of the two, Coelen said CAPT "was always correct. SAT was not always correct.

Interesting. The "going to college" part could, I think, be affected by the possibility that those who score high on CAPT in 10th grade spend the next couple of years being groomed by teachers for college. If their CAPT scores affect their high school class placement or treatment in any way, then it wouldn't be surprising that CAPT would correlate with college attendence - it would be one of the predictors of it.

Interesting also to see that the CAPT apparently has a high positive correlation with college grades, but given the outcry we hear these days about grade inflation, one wonders if this is really a positive thing about the exam.

Commissioner of Higher Education Valerie Lewis said the study proves the value of CAPT in predicting college success and should be recognized by college admission staffs as a valuable piece of information when they admit students.

Lewis also found it startling that 10 percent of students who score very high on CAPT never show up in college. That means some talent is going untapped and underdeveloped...

I find 10 percent startlingly low We're not being told what "very high" means, nor do we know the shape of the distribution. The study was composed of around 32,000 kids; if "very high" means the top 5% of scorers, we're talking about less than 200 smart kids from Connecticut in that graduating year who passed on college. I would think that family issues, financial issues, health issues, and lifestyle issues would affect that preclude college would affect at least 10 percent, maybe more. These are people, not automatons, and if they were that smart, they may have well decided that they wanted to do something other than pay thousands of dollars a year for additional education.

Posted by kswygert at 05:51 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 10, 2006

The Empire State of Testing

Third- through eighth-graders in New York must now take state standardized exams, and for three of those grades, the tests will determine promotion:

Today, grades three, four and five had a multiple choice test. Tomorrow the same grades will listen to stories, and then write about what they've heard. On Thursday, 4th graders only will be asked to read a passage and then write about it.

This year marks the end of citywide tests and the start of statewide testing for all students in grades three through eight because of the federal law 'No Child Left Behind.' Also this year, state standards are higher.

You can look through the PowerPoint presentation here that gives an overview of the exams. Core curricula in English and Math are also available. A sample exam for Grade 3 looks pretty simple

Posted by kswygert at 06:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A dangerous trip for a young teenager

A troubled 14-year-old probably won't learn a lesson from this:

A 14-year-old Londonderry High School student was near death Friday when school officials discovered her drunk and unresponsive in the woods behind the gymnasium, Superintendent Nathan Greenberg confirmed last night.

Assistant Principal Arthur Psaledas discovered Destiny Foose shortly before 9 a.m., approximately 200 yards behind the school, where she and four friends had apparently gone to drink liquor upon arriving at school that morning, Greenberg said.

“They told us to call family,” the girl’s mother, Lisa Foose, said last night. “We thought she was going to die"...

Lisa Foose said tests revealed her daughter had smoked marijuana, and her blood alcohol content was .387, more than 19 times the legal limit for a minor in the state of New Hampshire. A blood alcohol content of .4 is considered lethal for 50 percent of the adult population. When paramedics responded, the girl’s body temperature was 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which doctors said helped slow the absorption of alcohol, Lisa Foose said.

I agree the security at school should be better...but it hardly seems fair to blame the school for all of this:

Destiny has been suspended several times for alcohol-related incidents this year, her mother said. Foose said she and her husband are looking for an alcohol rehabilitation facility for the 14-year-old. “We don’t feel that even this taught her a lesson,” Foose said. Still, she said administrators should have kept a closer eye on the wooded areas behind the school, where she claims they knew drinking had gone on before.

“If they’re going to this place, why are they not monitoring it, or having some type of security out there if they’re doing it every day,” she said. “And they are doing it every day.”

Greenberg defended administrators, crediting Psaledas with likely saving the girl’s life. Security cameras are located throughout and surrounding the school, but the area where the students were drinking is not visible from school grounds, he said.

"Not visible from school grounds" suggests not being on school grounds, so the school's jurisdiction wouldn't extend that far. If the parents couldn't keep this child from drinking, why would we expect the school to be able to?

Posted by kswygert at 06:32 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The spammers continue

Trackbacks have been temporarily disabled to foil the latest onslaught of spammers. I'll let you know when they're back up. Feel free to shoot me an email or leave in the comments that you've linked to me, and I can always put up a new post with your link in it.

Posted by kswygert at 08:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 09, 2006

Local paper misses chance to demonize goths

Despite two very recent and horrific murders by young men who could be described as "goth", the Herald-Tribune (FL) has a fairly sympathetic article which points out the relative non-violence of the goth scene:

Trouble sometimes brews at Club Heat in Bradenton, a venue law enforcement knows well. But never on Goth night...

"It's one of the friendliest crowds around," bartender Jeremy Hale, 24, said. "It's probably the only night we've never had a fight."

Goth, a little-understood and hard to define subculture, has cropped up on the news and in everyday conversation after six brutal Manatee County murders. Police and neighbors have described the two murder suspects as Gothic. Now, young people in the Gothic community worry they will be stereotyped as loose cannons and potential killers...

Richard Henderson Jr., a 20-year-old Manatee man known to wear black and paint his nails black in a Goth style, is accused of killing his family at their Myakka City home with a metal pipe on Thanksgiving. And on Sunday, Clifford Davis, 19, a black-clad man with gothic tattoos including a sword across his back, killed his mother and grandfather in Bradenton, authorities say...

Elizabeth Bird, a University of South Florida professor who specializes in pop culture, said young people into the Goth subculture might feel alienated from the mainstream, but are not necessarily troubled or dysfunctional. She said being Goth doesn't translate into violence. "Your average sports fan is probably more violent," Bird said. "If a member of a basketball team does something bad, we don't say that's because he's on the basketball team."

Well, actually, some goths would say that. But the point is well taken.

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A new twist on AA

I suppose this is the logical conclusion of quota-based AA policies:

A black police bodyguard who protected the Duchess of Cornwall has won $70,000 compensation after suing Scotland Yard for "over-promoting" him because of political correctness. Sgt Leslie Turner -- the first black personal protection officer to guard the royal family -- will receive the "racial discrimination" payout after reaching an out-of-court settlement with London's Metropolitan Police.

His representatives argued he landed the prestigious job as Camilla's bodyguard only because he was black. It was claimed that as a result of being over-promoted and not receiving proper training and support, Sgt Turner made mistakes which led to him being re-assigned.

Anyone want to take bets on when we see the first lawsuit filed by a US student who flunked out of an Ivy League college and wants payback for being allowed to progress that far?

Posted by kswygert at 05:56 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Education and despair in suburbia

California is not only standing firm on the state standardized exam, but beginning to crack the whip on local elementary schools:

Antelope Valley High School and Wilsona Elementary School are among the first six schools in California to face more serious sanctions because their standardized test scores failed to improve consistently. The two schools each will be visited by a state Department of Education team this month to help state officials decide among four possible sanctions to be imposed, the most draconian of which is closure...

State law requires the state schools superintendent to do at least one of the following:

Require that the school district ensure that 100 percent of the teachers at the school are highly qualified.

Require the school to contract with an outside organization to provide supplemental instruction to high-priority pupils and assign to the school a management team, trustee, or SAIT team with demonstrated success at other state-monitored schools.

Allow parents to apply to the state Board of Education to establish a charter school.

Close the school.

It sounds like everyone involved is still negotiating to avoid sanctions, however.

The Antelope Valley, by the way, was the California suburban wasteland profiled by William Finnegan in his bleak 1998 book, Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country. One book reviewer summarizes the unfriendly educational landscape of the Antelope Valley as seen by Finnegan:

The final section of the book describes the Antelope Valley in Southern California, which underwent a sudden transformation from desert to modern suburbia in the 1980s. By far the largest employer in the area was the Lockheed plant in Palmdale. At that time, a skilled aerospace worker (even without a college degree) could make $60,000 to $80,000 a year.

Then in the 1990s the Southern California economy entered a deep recession because of cutbacks in the aerospace and defense industries. Los Angeles County alone lost more than half a million jobs and USA Today called Palmdale "the foreclosure capital of California." As property values plunged, more blacks and Latinos could afford to buy or rent a house in the valley, and there was a lot of racial friction between the old and newer residents.

Finnegan described the area: "Navigating the teen world of the Antelope Valley felt, at times, like wading through the sucking bogs of my own generation's crash site. Everyone close to my age seemed to have been divorced twice, had their mortgage foreclosed, maxed out their credit cards, lost custody of their kids, or been addicted to drugs or alcohol or gambling or sex or born-again religion."

Here he finds youth involved in neo-Nazi skinhead gangs..

Each area Finnegan visited is very different from the other, but alike in many ways--wracked by structural unemployment and undereducation in public schools...

The primary theme of Finnegan's book was the downward mobility faced by today's teenagers, and the apathetic (except about race) and immature AV teenagers he interviewed were headed pretty quickly towards the bottom rungs. Very few of those that he interviewed cared the least bit about education; those who did were often forced to to walk a gauntlet of gangs and racist thugs in order to stay alive and unharassed at school. Granted, I was sheltered in my rural SC public school, but I don't remember emergency drills such as the “Active Shooter Response Training Scenarios,” mandatory anti-drug classes, and trained gang investigators at my school.

Sounds like things have gotten more frightening since Frank Zappa was a student there. One wonders what an honest solution would be.

Posted by kswygert at 07:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

California stands behind its exit exam

California superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell has held firm, and announced that the only route to a high school diploma is through the state's exit exam:

Seniors who do not pass the California High School Exit Exam this year should be allowed to continue their education, but diplomas will be awarded only to students who pass the test, Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, announced at a Sacramento news conference Friday morning.

Within hours, lawyers who oppose the exam said they will sue the state in the coming weeks to try to lift the exit exam as a requirement for this year's graduating class. O'Connell's announcement followed a three-month review of possible alternatives to the controversial math and English exam that was adopted in 1999 and is a graduation requirement for the classes of 2006 and beyond.

To the disappointment of scholars and advocates who have urged the state to develop another path to graduation for students who fail the test, O'Connell said he believes no alternative exists that would show students have learned material tested on the exam.

"I'm convinced the only way to make sure all our graduates have the critical skills is through passage of the high school exit exam," O'Connell said.

Note that all of O'Connell's options for students who fail them exam involve additional schooling, some of which could be at no cost to the student - and yet the testing opponents are still riled. Seems to me like they aren't really interested in whether students get the opportunity to actually learn the material; they just want students who are in school for 12 years to get a diploma, whether they can pass a test - on sixth through tenth-grade material - or not.

Gonzalez said he will argue that the state cannot impose a single test on all students because it has not provided the same learning opportunities at all schools. Research shows that schools with large numbers of students failing the exam also have the most math and English teachers lacking expertise in those subjects. And he criticized O'Connell's options as being out of touch with reality.

"How many of these kids are going to want to go back for a fifth year of high school so they can take a course to pass the exit exam?" he said. "It's not going to happen."

Gonzales, how many of these kids will have a fair shot at life with a diploma that is meaningless, when they could have spent additional time mastering the skills they need? Talk about being out of touch with reality.

Posted by kswygert at 12:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 06, 2006

The first cheaters of 2006

Caveon's Cheating in The News feature has been updated. I had heard about the GMAT updating of test security measures, and it's about time; neither fingerprints nor digital photographs are unheard of in the testing biz.

Also featured is a story of an ex-teacher who helped a principal become an ex-principal by revealing secret taped converstations about cheating on state exams, and a worrisome tale of would-be nurses who took advantages of items on the Internet.

My question for the day: If you're training your students to respond to test items that aren't even asked, is that still considered "teaching to the test"?

Posted by kswygert at 10:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

TGIAF

It's been a long, tough week - and it's not over yet. All the news is depressing. The miners wrote letters before they died, Ariel Sharon's stroke has already provoked nasty comment from Pat Robertson, and - ugh -American Idol is on the air yet again.

Thus, tomorrow I plan to surf this site, and this site only.

Posted by kswygert at 12:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 05, 2006

It's (not) the Internet, stupid

I was going to say a few things about this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. I was going to mention, for one, that it's really not surprising to find out that today's college students are very aware of their peer group status and their spending power, yet can be astonishingly uninformed when it comes to American history, American government, the hard sciences, the fine arts, and so on. In an age when middle-schoolers whine about too much homework, but make time for sports, fun activities, and shopping at Victoria's Secret on the weekends, I think it's safe to say that we should expect more and more well-dressed dodos to be flooding our college campuses every day.

But everything I was going to say about how this seems to be less a reflection of our Informational Age, than a reflection of the fact-free, self-esteem-is-all-that-matters "progressive" education theories so pervasive in our schools? Dave of Garfield Ridge has already said it, and better than I ever could:

While specifics vary from country to country, you can't tell me that students in Japan aren't just as distracted by their cel phones, or that French students don't also email their friends. Yet by most objective standards of measurement, students in developed nations perform better than American students. Why is that, if not for some explanation that extends beyond technological distractions?...

Self-esteem gurus constantly tell our children that they're unique, and special, and they've earned the right to stand up as equals to their elders. Unfortunately, our educational system-- not to mention America's increasingly brittle social fabric, from the family to the village square-- no longer provides these students with either the tools to acquire, or even the desire to acquire the tools necessary to back up this otherwise healthy skepticism with facts, let alone achieve higher-order reasoning...

Humility is important...it affords us the opportunity to know when we *don't* know what we are talking about. Often, it's less important to know the answer than to know when you don't know the answer, yet few educators-- and fewer parents-- bother to instill this basic lesson in children. And if you don't learn it as a child, you won't learn it as an adult.

Posted by kswygert at 06:55 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Misjudged by a mile

You know, I can't blame today's schoolkids for being confused.

First, they encounter teachers who do everything possible to avoid telling an under-performing child that they are failing, and avoid every possible thing that could be correlated with negative feedback, sometimes going so far as to ban teachers from using red pens to mark papers. After graduation, though, students who enter the real world discover that bosses usually don't shy away from poor performance evaluations or outright firings. In addition, the real world asserts its uncaring attitude by, for example, allowing bridges that were badly built to fall down, even if it makes the builder feel bad. Thus, underachievers tend to discover that such behavior is treated quite differently in real life than in school.

(Update: Think I'm exaggerating the movement to prevent teachers from ever saying anything in a classroom that might hurt a student's feelings? Think again.)

And then there's the situation of the bad kids - you know, like the ones who take Midol, or carry a historical gun replica as part of a school project, or who perform other such outrageous acts. In schools these days, such "crimes" can carry stiff penalties.

But, in the real world, repeated violent sexual assaults on children don't deserve punishment, because, you know, punishment doesn't really work:

Prosecutors argued that confessed child-rapist Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston deserved at least eight years behind bars for repeatedly raping a little girl countless times starting when she was seven. But [Vermont] Judge Edward Cashman disagreed explaining that he no longer believes that punishment works.

"The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn't solve anything. It just corrodes your soul," said Judge Edward Cashman speaking to a packed Burlington courtroom. Most of the on-lookers were related to a young girl who was repeatedly raped by Mark Hulett who was in court to be sentenced.

The sex abuse started when the girl was seven and ended when she was ten. Prosecutors were seeking a sentence of eight to twenty years in prison, in part, as punishment.

The judge gave this guy 60 days in jail. And he's very concerned that the criminal sex offender be given rehabilitation - which the offender can attend while living a free life after he serves his whole two months in jail.

It's not only the victim's family who should be enraged by this. Imagine that you were a high school student in Vermont, and that you were expelled for having a legally-owned, unloaded rifle locked in your car - a situation that was explicitly excluded from punishment in the Gun-Free Schools Act. Or you were the student in NC who faced 30 days in jail just for cursing in front of your teacher. Or you were any student living under insane "zero tolerance" policies. And then you read about this judge's statements.

As I said, not hard to blame the kids for being confused.

(Hat tip to Opinion Journal for the story, to ZeroIntelligence for many of these links, and to the Ace of Spades for his additional outrage. Michelle Malkin, on the other hand, was surprisingly reticent on this topic; my guess is she's too busy hugging her children while explaining that any bad man who comes near them won't live long enough to go in front of a judge.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

F's were invented for a reason

NewOldSchoolTeacher is getting ready to start student teaching. I like her ideas:

So anyway, I'll be teaching seniors. The school has three levels, it seems, for social studies--AP, Honors, and regular. As luck would have it, I got the regulars. Again, as you might guess, the regular kids are more difficult to handle and have far lower achievement levels....

...I think that the school has to have a firm internal structure set up to help these low performers, and all students for that matter. This structure should include, but not be limited to, their primary teachers. I'm talking about tutoring, after-school help with teachers, a strong discipline code rigorously enforced (detention!), counseling support, contact with parents, and maybe just a little love. I mean, we all need a little love, right?

Not me, I'm a heartless robot with a soul of steel. Which is one reason I don't have a problem failing students. If a student is so behind that he/she can't catch up during the year, it is in that student's best interest to repeat and acquire the necessary skills. Likewise, a student who never does his/her work should learn that the consequence to that is failure. In the workplace, not doing work gets you fired. Schools can be more humane. Not doing work means you have to do the work anyway.

Failing a grade can turn someone's life around. Even if the student hates it (or you) at the time, it might be the best thing that ever happened to him/her.

Bingo.

Posted by kswygert at 11:25 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A really big "Kick Me" sign

How, exactly, does this square with anti-bullying initiatives and zero-tolerance for violence in schools? Granted, kicking soccer balls at photos is better than kicking them at the actual teachers...but not by much. And it's no better when the issue is the teaching of proper respect for educators.

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

January 04, 2006

I didn't know the movie "Chinatown" was about Kansas City

Nice to know these Kansas schools have successfully mastered all teaching of English, and can move on to the really hard stuff:

A suburban Kansas City-area school district plans to add Chinese to its curriculum next year, making it the third area school system to teach the language. "We just can't ignore the whole area (East Asia) anymore," said Dan Lumley, director of curriculum and instruction for the Lee's Summit School District. "It's just unfair to the kids."

On the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, the Shawnee Mission and Olathe districts teach the language. According to the education departments in Kansas and Missouri, the only other district to teach Chinese in those states is St. Louis' public schools. The Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia at the University of Kansas is promoting Chinese instruction in Kansas City-area schools. It is arranging for Chinese exchange teachers for the Lee's Summit and Shawnee Mission districts.

Actually, I kid. I think an opportunity to learn Chinese would be wonderful for American schoolchildren. I also think that Chinese methods of instruction might be wonderful for American teachers to see. I'd love to be a fly on the wall the first time that a Chinese teacher hears an educrat insist that memorization, individual work, and failing grades are harmful to students.

Posted by kswygert at 04:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Hand over the cat, and nobody gets hurt

Sometimes, you just really, really want a cat:

Authorities in Texas are baffled over the theft of an adoptable cat from a pet store by two armed men. "It's one of the more bizarre crimes that I've ever heard of," Dallas police spokesman Max Geron said.

Police officials said the men entered the Dallas-area Petco store and walked to the cat's cage. Witnesses said one of the men held his finger to his mouth while the other pulled up his shirt and displayed a gun.

The men took Simon the cat and fled.

The shelter volunteers weren't trained to deal with this sort of situation, because...well, because nobody in their right mind ever thought anyone would involve armed robbery in pet adoptions. I can't say their method of "adoption" would make me feel very reassured about the cat's fate, either. Gruesome images of cats being used to train attack dogs come to mind.

And can I just say that I know several women who would gladly risk taking a bullet for the kitties at their shelters?

Posted by kswygert at 04:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Going out with a, er, um.....

There are lots of things that don't make sense about this tale:

A former Holliston middle school teacher who owned up to fondling and kissing a 17-year-old female student in June will receive his pension if he does not violate the conditions of his probation. Thomas V. Collins, 71, of 20 Kinsley Lane, Mendon, will receive his benefits package from the Massachusetts Teacher Retirement Board because he was not convicted of the crime, said Sean Neilon, the board’s assistant executive director...

Collins in November waived his right to a trial on charges of indecent assault and battery and admitted to sufficient facts before Judge Paul Healy in Framingham District Court. Admitting to sufficient facts is tantamount to a guilty plea. Healy continued the case without a finding for five years, during which time Collins will be on probation. He must undergo a sex-offender evaluation and a psychiatric exam, and seek any recommended treatment...

Police arrested Collins, a former math teacher at Robert Adams Middle School, after, they said, he grabbed and hit a 17-year-old girl’s buttocks and forcibly kissed her. The girl said the incident happened June 21, the last day of the school year, and Collins’ last day of a more than 40-year teaching career.

How, exactly, does one enter a guilty plea and then have the judge decide there were no findings in the case? If the issue is that the charges are without merit, why weren't they dropped? If the charges do have merit and Collins pled guilty, why doesn't that automatically mean a conviction?

And what's a 17-year-old student doing at a middle school?

Posted by kswygert at 11:37 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Overscheduled, overfrazzled, and over here

Joanne Jacobs notes that, as far as some seniors are concerned, AP classes take a backseat to manicures and minimum-wage jobs:

My colleagues and I are fully committed to providing [our 12th-grade students] with a world-class academic education, one that regularly produces large numbers of National Merit Scholars and sends students on to do well in Ivy League colleges.

But we do not look out over classrooms full of enthusiastic, prepared and appreciative students as my daughter does in China...Our schools are failing because of the demands and temptations provided by a mass culture that is the primary educator of most of our young people. Even in our advanced placement courses, we deal with students who don't understand why English teachers expect them to read 400-page novels, write papers carefully or do precise study for rigorous tests. They will tell you that they don't have the time.

They are also expected to work 20 hours a week at Target to pay for their cars, fit in their hair, tanning and nail appointments, babysit their mother's younger children, acquire their own meals, plan for the prom and senior week, respond to their phone and computer messages and listen to everything programmed into their iPods. Further, they need to do all of those things after they have worked three hours a day for their coaches and fit in all of their doctor, dentist and therapy appointments.

And we haven't even gotten to the God-given right each American child has to the pursuit of happiness in the form of playing with their PlayStations, watching videos, taking trips to Starbucks, hanging out and napping.

Interesting, that "God-given right" to have a busy life that we seem to teach our youth about. It's probably not a coincidence that at the same time high school teachers wonder why their students can't sit still and focus on academics, a new syndrome has appeared in elementary school - The Overscheduled Child:

Contemporary children get so much more than basic schooling. Many also participate on one or more teams, have lessons in music, art, foreign language, and are tutored in school subjects. Although each activity may be valuable on its own, in aggregate these commitments leave parents and children frazzled, keep children from developing self-reliance, and hurt families...

This is happening because many contemporary parents see their fundamental job as designing a perfect upbringing for their offspring, from conception to college. A child's success—quantified by "achievements" like speaking early, qualifying for the gifted and talented program or earning admission to an elite university—has become the measure of parental accomplishment. Despite knowing in their hearts that their families are over-scheduled, many parents keep rushing because they fear that cutting back could harm their beloved child's future.

That is why the most competitive adult sport is no longer golf. It is parenting.

I know five-year-olds who have taken more sports classes, seen more plays, had more lavish and expensive birthday parties, and have more scheduled dates with their peer group members than I have, or ever will. They also tend to have lovely playrooms filled with toys, but I wonder when they have time to play with any of them.

Posted by kswygert at 09:57 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Poor schools in a wealthy state

For some schools in California, an increase in "quality" might mean simply fixing the water fountain, or increasing the number of textbooks available:

In 2000, Sweetie Williams and his son Eliezer “Eli” Williams—who graduated from high school last June—became the lead plaintiffs in Williams v. California. In the class action, they charged that the conditions of the school Eli attended in the San Francisco Unified School District were “dismal and unacceptable,” according to a statement the elder Williams wrote in 2004 when the case was settled. Restrooms were dirty, toilets didn’t work, fences were rusty, and many teachers didn’t even assign homework because students didn’t have books to take home with them, he added.

“Every child should have the opportunity to go to a school where they are given the basic materials and facilities that all children need to learn,” Sweetie Williams wrote, summing up the case and describing the reasoning behind the inspections that are now mandatory for hundreds of California schools.

The site visits like the one at Pomona’s Ganesha High, which Sepulveda completed with the help of four other team members, are just part of the detailed process through which officials monitor the physical and academic conditions of the schools targeted in the lawsuit.

Posted by kswygert at 09:49 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2006

Should old job positions be forgot/and never brought to mind?

Happy New Year to everyone (yes, I'm running late)!

I don't know if you all got good news to ring in the new year, but I sure did. I found out right before Christmas that I've been promoted to Senior Psychometrician! Woo-hoo.

Of course, that means less time for the blog...but I'm determined to keep it running, even if I can only put up one or two posts a day. It's frustrating to not have as much time for N2P as I would like, but I've got to focus on what pays the bills.

Posted by kswygert at 07:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Carnival has arrived at home

The day has finally arrived - the first Carnival of Homeschooling. Henry and Janine Cate are the organizers, and they've got tons of links. Not suprisingly, the homeschoolers who refuse to be quiet when others insist their children aren't "socialized" are referred to as the Lion Tamers, and most of them note that socialization can be bad as well as good.

In reading their posts, I realized that while it's trendy for those in the educational establishment to oppose NCLB by claiming that it ignores the "individuality" of each child, those same establishment folks insist that students who recieve very individual socialization via homeschooling are missing out by not being offered the exact same social experiences as those in their class and age group. Interesting how that works, isn't it?

Posted by kswygert at 06:18 PM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Doing well in Montana

Great Falls High School is proud of its seven National Merit semi-finalists - the most in 21 years:

Great Falls High School's class of 2006 has seven National Merit semi-finalists this year — more than it has had in one year for at least 21 years, said Counselor Steve Bennetts. This class's kids have more 4.0s, higher standardized test scores and higher GPAs than classes before and after it, according to the counseling office.

Bennetts calls them "the brightest class to ever graduate from Great Falls High."

And they're more than eggheads. (One National Merit semifinalist admits to nearly flunking a calculus test.) They practice tae kwon do, write novels, sew their own prom dresses (off-white with a burgundy border), downhill ski and ace national exams.

One little complaint of mine - I wish someone was teaching the kids how to express humility without downgrading the exam:

Every class has its smart kids, Bennetts said, but the class of 2006 has more than its share. They work hard, take hard classes and something inside drives them.

"It's a desire to learn," Barlow said.

By and large, the National Merit semi-finalists among them downplay that rank.

"You go in, you sit down, you get lucky on a test one day," Hall said.

No, not really, kid. You made your luck that day. It's admirable that they want to be humble about their accomplishments and not flaunt their awards in front of the kids who didn't do as well, but to suggest that the high scores are the result of pure luck is incorrect.

Posted by kswygert at 12:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More testing in Florida

More testing might be on the way in Florida - and that could be a good thing:

Florida high school students may someday have to take end-of-grade tests in history, literature, biology and other key subjects -- possibly in addition to the FCAT. Members of a state task force on high school reform are suggesting the tests as a way to make sure students are really learning what the state says they are supposed to learn...

New York and Texas already use similar tests, and some Florida school districts have adopted them, too. ''We're looking for something that's going to help students achieve at a higher rate, not looking to multiply the number of tests out there,'' said state education Commissioner John Winn. "But an end-of-course test is a way to have some consistency in proficiency level.''

Posted by kswygert at 12:36 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

When we say "Shush!" we mean it!

I have only one question about the following story:

The West Bloomfield Township Public Library is getting double the complaints it normally receives concerning disruptive children, and now officials want to send a message that the problem won't be tolerated.

The Library Board in December decided to revise the library's long-standing rules of conduct to prohibit inappropriate behavior by children. The revisions include rules on running, gathering socially in a disruptive manner and refusing to follow a staff member's direction or request, said Library Director Clara Bohrer.

"We have found that oftentimes children ages 11 to 15 -- those who are unable to drive -- are being dropped off for many, many hours, and at that age it's really hard for them to be on their best behavior all the time," she said...

Officials typically fielded 10 to 12 complaints per week, mostly after school and in the evenings. But those numbers doubled recently with complaints about children yelling across the room and running around. After warnings have been issued, students can have their library privileges suspended or be evicted.

And that question is: Why didn't the previous rules forbid things like running and ignoring staff requests? Did they not think these things would happen?

Well, perhaps they didn't. Maybe the previous rules were written during a time when children were either more supervised or more likely to follow general etiquette when out in public.

Best sign ever on the related Fark.com thread:

unattended.bmp

Posted by kswygert at 12:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack
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