Thursday, December 29, 2005

Free Web Software Tools

Here's a Free HTML editor that offers a graphic interface called First Page 2006 3 A very nice tool for creating school papers, web pages, and whatnot.

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My EO Smith Men's basketball stats

Last week, all three EO Smith teams won hard-earned contests against rival Windham teams.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that these statistics will never be completely up to date or comprehensive and as a result I’m dropping tracking team numbers. But eclectic and incomplete as these individual player numbers are here they come anyway…

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number.
The team after three meets is:

#34 Freshmen ((18 + 8 + 2 + 10) - 6) /3 = 10
#22 Freshmen ((18 + 8 + 1 + 4) - 3) /2 = 09
#44 JV ((13 + 3 + 1 + 2) – 3)/2 = 08
#40 JV (5 + 3 + 0 + 0) - 0 = 08
#34 Varsity ((14 + 2 + 1 + 5) - 3)/3 = 06
#15 Freshmen ((11 + 2 + 3 + 5) - 2)/3 = 06

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after three meets is:

#15 Freshman .722 13/18
#20 Varsity .720 18/25
#40 JV .692 9/13
#22 Freshmen .657 23/35
#22 Varsity .600 12/20
#23 JV .600 3/5

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Modesty and Sacrifice

This year's Women's dance team's oufits are more modest than last year's and I, for one am grateful for that [and I'm fairly certain other parents feel similarly]. I'm not a prude but in my fifties I have anxieties about skimpy outfits on teenagers performing in public. This year's outfits make it easier to just enjoy the dance routines without feeling a little discomfort that someone might think I'm staring when I'm really spacing out.

And I don't think it's a bad thing for the boys to use their imaginations more. Mysterious forces like charm, personality, humor, and good nature advance and many of those qualitities are a far better metric for boy/girl attractions than just over-exposed looks.

At the last basketball game, however, a particularly loud spectator made an ass of himself screaming one inane chant after another [and I have my days as well]. He paid his ticket and everyone has a right... I went home with a headache.

But no matter how libertarians may argue that "you have a right to speak as long as...", I was offended when this spectator began yelling "More! More!" like a drunken sailor pounding the bar at Hooters as the dance team was leaving. I hope that whoever his friends are might gently remind this fellow where he is and how young these kids are. It ain't right.

And I want to also talk briefly about intimacies. The Bush administration has sanitized the war they're waging. Boys and girls of all nationalities are losing their lives senselessly every day. The killers all justify the deed in the name of their god.

As citizens we have to be sure to give our kids rich opportunities to dance with each other. In times of war these kids know and need to understand that war will claim some of their classmates. These are times when tenderness and kindness need to be the daily practice.

When Representative Murtha speaks about meeting soldiers who return so disfigured that their children are horrified to look at dad we need to remind ourselves of how beautiful each and every kid and parent is. Every silly love these kids experience is better than never feeling that emotion.

Peace on earth - everyday is a good day to practice that. You elected me to speak truth to power. I'm speaking it to you - you're the power. John Lennon said it best, "War is over --IF YOU WANT IT."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

EO Smith Basketball Game 2 series

The EO Smith Varsity and JVs won their games against South Windsor. The Freshmen lost.

I only have stats for the Varsity and Freshmen to update.

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number. In game 2, all Varsity players got a bonus Disruption point for unbelievable defensive effort in the final quarter.

The team after two meets is:

#34 Freshmen ((11 + 3 + 2 + 4) - 0) /2 = 10
#23 JV (7 + 0 + 2 + 0) - 1 = 08*
#22 Freshmen ((10 + 4 + 1 + 3) - 2) /2 = 08
#34 Varsity ((9 + 1 + 1 + 2) - 2)/2 = 5.5
#15 Freshmen ((6 + 1 + 2 + 3) - 1)/2 = 5.5
#44 JV (4 + 2 + 0 + 1) - 2 = 05*

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after two meets is:

#22 Varsity .916 11/12
#20 Varsity .642 9/14
#15 Freshman .636 7/11
#20 Freshmen .625 5/8
#34 Varsity .600 6/10
#44 JV .600 3/5

Otherwise, here's the shooting percentage leaders;

Varsity .400 34/85
JVs .400 16/40
Freshmen .351 33/91

Free Throw Shooting percentage;

Varsity .692 27/39
Freshmen .382 13/34
JVs .000 00/04

Ron-Ron Number by team;

Freshmen (111 - 29)/2 = 41
JVs 47 - 21 = 26
Varsity (69 - 21)/2 = 24

Bron-Bron offensive efficiency by team;

Varsity .517 44/85
JVs .475 19/40
Freshmen .451 42/91

Shame on Simmons

I just got word saying that "Rob Simmons broke his word and voted in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as well as substantial cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and other important programs."

He's all about -cough- "helping people", especially helping insiders help themselves [to our national treasures].

I suspect CABE will be sending him a certificate of appreciation any day now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jodi Rell and Taxpayer's millions in the toilet!

Yeah, that last post gives you a taste of the effectiveness of CABE -shudder-. Here's another whopper. CABE's The Journal reports that "one of the goals of then Lieutenant Governor Rell's technology initiatives was to build a statewide network linking schools, universities and libraries together."

Oh, that ain't all. CABE "has recommended, that there be adequate annual operating funding to maintain, support, and operate the State Education network and that there be sufficient content on the network to provide every school and library with comprehensive and beneficial information."

Really. Let's ask Ms. Rell what this costed the taxpayers, the article says, "after four years and millions of dollars spent". That's right folks, MILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT!

Um, I hate to sound like a Monty Python rerun but did Jodi work for the Redundant Department of Redundancy when the State was spending MILLIONS OF [Taxpayer] DOLLARS to build something that sounds an awful lot like the internet but not as good?

In fact, CABE's suggestion for this thing is that we now find something to do with it. Huh? Why in god's name would we spend another penny on this?

Rell should be impeached long before we spend another dime on something like this. It's an outrage and an insult to people's intelligence that good money be flushed after bad.

Maybe, Rell never heard of the internet (CABE's Journal waxes poetic about the need to keep up technologically yet their publication is hardcopy only!). Or maybe her vision was a MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR copy of this freebie, SchoolTool.

I won't be voting for more of this any time soon.

Please, SOMEBODY, ANYBODY tell me the State didn't outsource the work. Lie to me if you have to.

CABE; Whose side are these guys on, anyway?

CABE is the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Inc. I just received their December issue of The Journal, their newsletter. If these articles are representative of the state of education in Connecticut, man are we in trouble!

Connecticut desperately needs an advocacy organization to truly promote the needs of citizens for education. I'm depressed reading this stuff.

There's a short blurb about the outcome of the Schaeffer v. Weast ruling that is perfunctory. BOE members who want a truer synopsis can read it here.

The Journal also listed The State Department of Education's "legislative agenda". The DOE obviously has too much time on their hands and is way overfunded because this cauldron of steamy stuff needs rethinking to say the least.
  • Redirection of use of school facilities
    They want some state grant money returned "to the state" if an educational facility is closed. My thought is, NO. Let's offer the taxpayers of that region a tax rebate or redirect the funds into an educational trust fund that can be applied to emergency situations. The state doesn't need any more money to waste.

  • Turn-key school construction projects
    Here they're saying new school facilities must (D'OH) have an architectural review and meet school space standards! Geezus, is the State brain-dead that in the year 2006 we'll be debating the issue of building schools that meet school space standards. Because if space is the issue I think they might as well debate the size of outdoor Porto-potties as well.

  • Limitation of change orders
    The state wants to limit to 5% "the amount of a change order". Basically, as written, this is meaningless since it doesn't limit the volume of change orders. What's needed is a rigorous walkthrough of orders in the first place and any nonsense better be caught early. Is that asking too much?

  • Reporting on the condition of school facilities
    This is about envoronmental concerns in schools. The article says "It is proposed to extend the reporting requirement [on long-term school plans and indoor air quality] to two years." Oh.
    Well it would be nice if the State EPA would check the quality of air on the school grounds as well and get this expense off the backs of school budgets. And in the age of concerns about pandemics, I would like to see an environmental SWAT team investigating any and all instances of potential flu outbreak hot spots.

  • Reading programs for priority school district students
    Too little information to comment on this.

  • Bullying Policies
    The State wants teachers to become the misbehavior police "to include bullying on a school bus and outside of the school setting". Like schools don't have enough to do already. They forgot to include bullying while day-dreaming. Just what schools need more paperwork and bureaucracy.

  • Special Education
    The State wants to dump Connecticut's protections to comply to the Schaeffer v. Weast ruling. This would be a rollback of superior legal coverage for parents of speciual education children.
    This is a stealthy, unnecessary manuever that lowers Connecticut's standards. parents need to let their State representatives know what they think about this.

  • Energy Efficient School building design
    Thirty years after Jimmy Carter... I'm speechless.

I'm joining the Policy Committee

...and I'm starting with a blank piece of paper. It's nice and clean. It's a great policy - short, sweet, portable.

I guess if I'm going to have to think about policy I had better start with suggestions from successful industry. Here's some of what Google's CEO has for Ten Golden Rules;

Hire by committee. Virtually every person who interviews at Google talks to at least half-a-dozen interviewers, drawn from both management and potential colleagues. Everyone's opinion counts, making the hiring process more fair and pushing standards higher. Yes, it takes longer, but we think it's worth it. If you hire great people and involve them intensively in the hiring process, you'll get more great people. We started building this positive feedback loop when the company was founded, and it has had a huge payoff.
Uh, oh - everybody's opinion counts! That's not the way things work in Bushworld. This No Child Left Behind (NCLB) stuff is all about soviet style central committee control of education by the state and feds. The first policy note I have is to work to eliminate NCLB.
* Cater to their every need. As Drucker says, the goal is to "strip away everything that gets in their way." We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses—just about anything a hardworking engineer might want. Let's face it: programmers want to program, they don't want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.
Teachers are knowledge workers. So are students. Lots of Americans used to be and still are. EO provides lots of first-class stuff. The students earning money give great car washes, they commute a lot... My thought is that teachers want to help every student reach their individual learning goals not usher them into social engineering experiments that turn them into automa-test-takers. I keep hearing that tests get in the way of learning and burn out the kids from caring. NCLB must go!

But I'm going to add something here. Everybody must be fed. I'm sick of reading that Connecticut is skimping on kids getting a decent breakfast in school programs that should be caring for these kids. This is not necessarily a Region 19 issue but the voters better start chasing the State around to feed the kids. Hungry kids make life harder on teachers and parents.

And while I'm ranting, what ever happened to employer subsidized lunches? These guys are making way too much to say we can't afford feeding employees more economical meals.

* Pack them in. Almost every project at Google is a team project, and teams have to communicate. The best way to make communication easy is to put team members within a few feet of each other. The result is that virtually everyone at Google shares an office. This way, when a programmer needs to confer with a colleague, there is immediate access: no telephone tag, no e-mail delay, no waiting for a reply. Of course, there are many conference rooms that people can use for detailed discussion so that they don't disturb their office mates. Even the CEO shared an office at Google for several months after he arrived. Sitting next to a knowledgeable employee was an incredibly effective educational experience.
Check. The school is packed all right and the teachers I've met are very knowledgable and involved. My nice white sheet of paper is still mostly empty. This policy stuff is a snap.

* Make coordination easy. Because all members of a team are within a few feet of one another, it is relatively easy to coordinate projects. In addition to physical proximity, each Googler e-mails a snippet once a week to his work group describing what he has done in the last week. This gives everyone an easy way to track what everyone else is up to, making it much easier to monitor progress and synchronize work flow.
You know, a lot of teachers are doing this already. It's better than testing because we know exactly what kind of progress is being made by our kid. This isn't a policy thing, this is just good parent-teacher-student communication.

* Eat your own dog food. Google workers use the company's tools intensively. The most obvious tool is the Web, with an internal Web page for virtually every project and every task. They are all indexed and available to project participants on an as-needed basis. We also make extensive use of other information-management tools, some of which are eventually rolled out as products. For example, one of the reasons for Gmail's success is that it was beta tested within the company for many months. The use of e-mail is critical within the organization, so Gmail had to be tuned to satisfy the needs of some of our most demanding customers—our knowledge workers.
Now I've got something to work with. Before I was on the BOE a teacher mentioned that the State and NCLB tests didn't have feedback loops that allowed teachers and test administrators to talk back and comment on the appropriateness of the tests. I'm thinking maybe we need to change the government policy on this.

Let's open-source these tests so that the profit motive isn't driving education. Let teachers pick and choose and design tests that make sense. Let's get the edu-business lobbyists out of our lives and save time and money by getting the middlemen and middle bureaucrats out of our lives.

Policy Note; let's deal our own hand when it comes to educational materials and metrics.

* Encourage creativity. Google engineers can spend up to 20 percent of their time on a project of their choice. There is, of course, an approval process and some oversight, but basically we want to allow creative people to be creative. One of our not-so-secret weapons is our ideas mailing list: a companywide suggestion box where people can post ideas ranging from parking procedures to the next killer app. The software allows for everyone to comment on and rate ideas, permitting the best ideas to percolate to the top.
I like this! Letting students and teachers choose their own goals - think outside the NCLB borg - it's wild its radical - policy suggestion #3.

* Strive to reach consensus. Modern corporate mythology has the unique decision maker as hero. We adhere to the view that the "many are smarter than the few," and solicit a broad base of views before reaching any decision. At Google, the role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions. Building a consensus sometimes takes longer, but always produces a more committed team and better decisions
So maybe building kids who know how to negotiate, assimilate, and co-operate is a goal we should strive for. Is there a policy that can help this?

* Don't be evil. Much has been written about Google's slogan, but we really try to live by it, particularly in the ranks of management. As in every organization, people are passionate about their views. But nobody throws chairs at Google, unlike management practices used at some other well-known technology companies. We foster to create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, not a company full of yes men.
Man, this has got to be on page one of the policy manual, Don't be evil. What if voters practiced this? Politicians? Government Education Departments? Hmmm. I like it.

* Data drive decisions. At Google, almost every decision is based on quantitative analysis. We've built systems to manage information, not only on the Internet at large, but also internally. We have dozens of analysts who plow through the data, analyze performance metrics and plot trends to keep us as up to date as possible. We have a raft of online "dashboards" for every business we work in that provide up-to-the-minute snapshots of where we are.
I've been very impressed with this administration's attention to detail. Principal Delereto's data is a monthly analysis of one aspect of educational activity at EO or another.

* Communicate effectively. Every Friday we have an all-hands assembly with announcements, introductions and questions and answers. (Oh, yes, and some food and drink.) This allows management to stay in touch with what our knowledge workers are thinking and vice versa. Google has remarkably broad dissemination of information within the organization and remarkably few serious leaks. Contrary to what some might think, we believe it is the first fact that causes the second: a trusted work force is a loyal work force.

That's what this blog is about. We're going to work together to make things better if we can.

I'm guessing there's more to policy than this so I'll get back to you after our first meeting.

Learning Software Tools - Java, Web

Software development techniques and languages for too long have been monopolized by insiders. If you're a Java student here are two useful downloads.

You and your child can freely download rich, industrial strength tools to learn with. You'll need a computer with a few gigabytes of disk space for everything but most newer home computers will suffice.

The Java Software Development Kit (J2SE 5.0) is available as a separate bundle here. Just download the separate bundle and follow the easy instructions. It will install itself on your machine so that you can use it to compile Java code into your own programs.

Next, get a copy of Eclipse, an open source Java Interactive Development (IDE) tool. This too will download and install itself by simply following the easy instructions.

(NoteToMyself: Finish this masterlist, add link to tutorials)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Free MP3/Podcast sites

This list will be updated from time to time. Use the leftmost permanent menu link to check it.

Here's my masterlist of legally free music sites. The caveat here is that these are largely new bands, songwriters, and who-not who may not necessarily be tasteful or sensitive to your cultural hot buttons. On the other hand, many songs found on these sites are topical, excellent, and very worthwhile. The blurbs explain the genres. Sample at your own risk but to the degree that these sites can guarantee; everything available is legal.

Soundclick Artists offering wonderful free music

Pitchfork Media from Northampton, MA

InSound from New York City

Rhino Podcasts - Rhino music samplers

Worthwhile Free General Software

This list will get updated from time to time and is a hot link on the permanent menu to the left. My masterlist of recommendations (use your own judgement, please) -

OpenOffice - a free office suite supported by SUN engineers and others

Firefox - some say this is the best browser available

AVG - anti-virus or AVAST

Google - Google offers a rich set of Software tools many of which I use and recommend highly

GIMP - an open source image processing program - A free image processing program from the Washington State University (heavy duty Windows OS required).

A free 3-D solid shapes modeler; SketchUp.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

EOSmith Basketball

The EO Smith teams (all three) lost their games to Maloney High. Oh, well.

One of my habits is to keep statistics of details and I want to introduce two categories that I will call the Ron-Ron team and another called the Bron-Bron team. These are strictly my own invention and they exist to celebrate the best defensive and offensive players to date on the three teams.

Now, I have two sons who play who may or may not show up on these teams from time to time. If they do it will be because they earned it (I'm a diehard basketball guy who plays with numbers no matter how they fall). Invent your own statistical categories if these don't work for you. And, finally, my stats are not perfect but I try hard.

Here we go.

The Ron-Ron team represents the lock-down defensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. The calculation is this;

((Rebounds + Steals + Blocked Shots + Disruptive Plays) minus (Bad Passes + Turnovers)) divided by the number of games. This is my Ron-Ron number.

The team after one meet is:

#34 Freshmen (7 + 2 + 2 + 4) - 0 = 15
#15 Freshmen (4 + 1 + 1 + 3) - 0 = 09
#23 JV (7 + 0 + 2 + 0) - 1 = 08
#44 JV (4 + 2 + 0 + 1) - 2 = 05
#22 Freshmen (2 + 2 + 1 + 1) - 1 = 05
#42 Freshmen (3 + 2 + 0 + 0) - 0 = 05

The Bron-Bron team represents the most efficient offensive squad up to the latest game I have stats for. These are the guys who put the ball in the hands of a shooter who makes the shot. The calculation is this;

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 5 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

The team after one meet is:

#44 JV .600 3/5
#22 Varsity .571 4/7
#31 JV .571 4/7
#20 Varsity .500 4/8
#23 JV .500 2/4
#20 Freshmen .500 3/6
#12 Freshmen .500 3/6

Otherwise, here's the shooting percentage leaders;

JVs .400 16/40
Varsity .342 15/43
Freshmen .327 17/52

Free Throw Shooting percentage;

Varsity .666 12/18
Freshmen .333 05/15
JVs .000 00/04

Ron-Ron Number by team;

Freshmen 61 - 15 = 46
JVs 47 - 21 = 26
Varsity 27 - 15 = 12

Bron-Bron offensive efficiency by team;

JVs .475 19/40
Freshmen .423 22/52
Varsity .418 18/43

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Woody Allen and Motivation

From the article; "Woody Allen, New York’s auteur remakes himself–again" by Suzy Hansen

“I’m not intellectual,” Mr. Allen told The Observer. “I’m the guy that you see at home with the beer watching the Knicks on television, or the football game. I’m not sitting up in bed with my Kierkegaard or reading Dostoyevsky.”

For a moment, all those messy, sexy women in his films—who never seem to be able to choose a profession but always want “to write,” who read e.e. cummings when they’re told to by their more sophisticated lovers, who fall in love with Woody Allen because he’s their teacher—seemed less silly. In fact, he’s not unfamiliar with the inferiority complex. “I found myself—I don’t know why—attracted to what I guess you would call these kind of uncommercial-looking women,” he said of his teenage self. “They all were highly literate. They knew poetry and classical music and opera and novels and philosophy. And I was a major illiterate, and I couldn’t hold my own with those women at all. For the first time in my life I had genuine motivation toward education.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

BOE meeting topics

Last Tuesday was the first BOE meeting I attended since election to the Board. Despite the election of new officers and a fairly clean slate, we addressed many issues.

  1. Dianne Kaplan deVries, Ed. D represented the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding and outlined who the organization was (a 501(c)3 nonprofit) and their goal of reforming educational funding in Connecticut. The Board chose to continue the dialogue rather than take an immediate position on aligning with this group.

    While her presentation was certainly spirited, my primary concern with the concept is that the State's richest communities already receive the lowest state education funding and our perennially poorest communities get the greatest funding. Given this already 'unequal' funding the schools academically perform in inverse proportion to state funding (the big city schools routinely struggle and southwest Connecticut schools do well).

    The paradox is inescapable. If fairness is re-legislated as averaging out funding across the state, wealthy communities will get more funding despite no crying need for it and cities who have the crying need will likely lose funds. That is, unless educational funding is suddenly increased dramatically, small town Connecticut will still not receive any relief - (let's not kid ourselves here - in New York such 'reform' resulted in massive cuts in educational funding - see; here).

    Personally, I also didn't like the obfuscation of the word 'Justice' - tax reform is tax reform but this is a minor thing compared to an issue such as segregated schools.

    Apartheid education, rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States. Hypersegregated inner-city schools--in which one finds no more than five or ten white children, at the very most, within a student population of as many as 3,000--are the norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today.
    - Jonathan Kozol
    (We'll come back to this issue soon.)

  2. We also discussed improving reading comprehension and aptitude. I had been thinking about an idea for some time that was warming received as a suggestion that should be tried. That is, the development and digital warehousing of podcasts of reading material and study guides used here in Region 19. Advanced students with good voices can read aloud and record MP3 study guides that students can use to help them read their assigned work. This will help those needing help without looking like they're studying and the digital tutor volunteers can get community service credits for their goodwill efforts.

  3. EO Smith's Principal, Mr. DeLoreto presented a number of topics, one of which was the fact that the school library was reducing its dependence on hardbound material and increasingly leveraging online digital resources - a great idea that broadens the pool of resources while reduces the cost of purchase and storage of temporal materials. [After the meeting, Mr. Silva noted that many school librarians are already [in]formally meeting to proliferate this idea across the district.]

  4. Mr. DeLoreto also took some pride in the fact that our class sizes are reasonable.
    I happen to think this is important information for parents for two reasons; 1. smaller class sizes are usually a metric indicating a better learning environment and 2. it means our teaching staff is not overwhelmed (and there's still way too much paperwork and nonsense coming from the outside for my taste).

  5. The cost of busing jumped out as quite an expense. [We'll revisit this as well].
An issue that I'll return to soon will be the rethinking of compulsory education, the re-invention of the high school curriculum as a stream of consciousness rather than a series of inoculations, and the integration of educational activity into our communities.

The $100 Laptop has arrived

MIT has developed an inexpensive laptop that will revolutionize learning in the third world. In future blog entries, let's talk about how this may help EO students develop learning relationships with the rest of the world.

From the article;

Digital magic for millions: Will cheap laptops create active learners or “green box” slaves? by Tran Le Thuy, posted December 9, 2005

TUNIS, Tunisia – Justin Mupinda hurried up to the crowded stall at the Tunis World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). “I want to see this device with my own eyes,” he said. He was among the thousands at WSIS who were curious about what was fast emerging as the biggest technology story of the event — a laptop that costs only $100.

The laptop — hailed by its developers as a technological breakthrough — was proudly displayed at the UN Development Program stand, with the slogan “One laptop per child.”

“I like it,” said Mupinda, a Zimbabwean IT expert and country coordinator for WorldLink, an organization campaigning to bring a million personal computers to schools in Africa. “It’s a good start toward getting more youths using ICTs” (individual computer terminals).

Mupinda’s enthusiasm is shared by many people eager to bridge the digital divide between poor and rich countries. “Our university has 25,000 students and it would be wonderful if all of them could have laptops to access the Internet,” said Alain Capo Chichi, manager of Cerco, an education project in Benin.

In Tunis, journalists covering the launch of the $100 laptop, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), frequently used the word “magic” in their questions about the device. And indeed, to many it seemed nothing short of magical. Not only is the green-cased notebook-size laptop incredibly cheap, it also has wireless connectivity and a hand crank allowing it to operate without electricity.

In the article one question that comes up is where will the content come from? The question sounds like a great opportunity for Region 19 students to begin thinking about how they might develop simple programs to teach foreign students subject matter of interest.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Spending on Education Worth It?

From a recent article on Education from the New York Times, new studies suggest both the individual being educated is better off (the more disadvanaged reaping the biggest relative gains)AND each of us benefit as well.

This sounds like the kind of trend analysis that citizen's who vote on education budgets need to hear more about. But the article is really about the cost of education - is the benefit worth the investment?

Here are two snippets worth noting:

Economic View
What's the Return on Education?
Published: December 11, 2005

Start with what economists are confident about: the payoff to individuals. By measuring the relationship between the number of years of schooling and income earned in the job market, economists think that they have a good idea of what it's worth.

Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton, says the evidence suggests that, up to a point, an additional year of schooling is likely to raise an individual's earnings about 10 percent.

For someone earning the national median household income of $42,000, an extra year of training could provide an additional $4,200 a year. Over the span of a career, that could easily add up to $30,000 or $40,000 of present value. If the year's education costs less than that, there is a net gain.

The payoff, of course, varies by individual. Another year of education will not have the same benefit for everyone. And school resources matter as well. According to studies by Professor Krueger and others, class size, teacher quality and school size can make a difference in the outcome. They have found that the effect of better schools is most pronounced for disadvantaged students.


Today, more Americans attend college than ever before, but the rest of the world is catching up. The once-large educational gap between the United States and other countries is closing - making it increasingly important to understand what education is really worth to a nation.

If economists are right, it is not just part of the cost of maintaining a functioning democracy, but a source of wealth creation for all. That means that investing in the education of every American is in everyone's self-interest.

Still, we're a long way from being able to judge the right level of spending on education - and how to achieve it. With a college degree more important than ever, the cost of higher education is rising steeply, creating growing stress for many American families. With more study, researchers may be able to identify ways of reducing costs while increasing the payoff from education.

Taking our cue from Socrates, the first step may be to recognize what we don't know.

Teaching Young Artists to Think About Art

Art critics are navel gazing these days. This New York Times book review asks where Art criticism has gone and where, in its absence, has Art gone.

The author wonders aloud if Art and artists have lost their way. In the context of high school art these questions are worth posing. Yes, young artists learn technique and experiment with medium. But what should they be thinking about? And who is their audience?

This article in many ways laments the extremist elements of art that have taken hold over the past thirty years or so - the masochism, shock, celebrity, and disenfranchisement of it all. When I see young adults tattooed, pierced, and desperate for attention, I cannot help but feel that these are artistic visions inspired by false prophets. The artistic community should not have to debase itself to get or deserve attention.

From the article [bolded text emphasis is mine]:

At the conclusion of "Art Since 1900," the four authors hold a round table, and their prognosis is equally dismal. Art, they believe, has become little more than "commodity production, investment portfolio and entertainment." Everything, they say, is turning into kitsch. But just as the formalist Michael Fried linked arms with the antiformalist Harold Rosenberg in their antagonism to contemporary art, so the oppositionalist October editors, with their objections to art's frivolousness and their insistence on the centrality of modernism, sound like no one so much as the traditionalist Hilton Kramer.

A single theme or complaint unites these otherwise disparate voices. Rosenberg lamented modern art's "anything goes" attitude. Ruhrberg writes that "in painting today, anything goes." By the early 70's, according to the authors of "Art Since 1900," "it seemed, as the song had put it, 'anything goes.' " Kramer has said: "With the eruption of the Pop Art movement, an element of demystification came into the art world, an element of cynicism, an element of . . . 'anything goes.' " If there is a presiding spirit over the art of recent decades, it is not Jackson Pollock, and not Andy Warhol. It is Cole Porter.

But how can art criticism cope with an ethos of anything goes? In an environment of perfect freedom, what is there left for a critic to criticize? For critics at newspapers and magazines, who astutely discuss current shows and exhibits, this is less of a problem than it is for writers who stake out theoretical positions. Some, like the writers for October, have turned to politics, interpreting art in terms of Marxism, or feminism, or gay activism or old-fashioned anti-Americanism (while the writers around The New Criterion have reacted to this leftist tendency with their own conservatism). Or they have found refuge in the higher realms of French and German philosophy, usually producing jargon-ridden criticism that is incomprehensible to anyone without a Ph.D. in European theory. We live at a moment when artists have been asking the kinds of questions children ask - What is art? What is it good for? - and critics have for the most part been giving answers not even an adult can understand. "Mommy, why have we come all this way to see pictures of soup cans?" "It's Andy Warhol, sweetheart, and he's wielding a sharp, insinuating heuristic chisel to pry at the faultlines and lay bare the sedimented faces of his surround. "

Mainly, however, critics who have not retreated into monasteries have often retreated in another way, according to the art historian James Elkins. They have, he says in his brief but heartily polemical book, "What Happened to Art Criticism?," given up being critics. They are expert at describing and evoking recent work, placing it in historical context, drawing stylistic and intellectual links among artists. But, with a few exceptions, they do not judge. A Columbia University survey of 230 art critics conducted in 2002 found that making evaluations ranked at the bottom of their list of priorities. Elkins calls this retreat from judgment "one of the most significant changes in the art world in the previous century." He writes that critics have become "voiceless," "ghostly," "unmoored." Art criticism, Elkins says, is in "worldwide crisis."

Worse yet, IMO, is an American public equally voiceless, ghostly, and unmoored who are incapable of making art part of the surroundng community. We too often settle for big city museums to intellectually insulate art from the public where no man, woman, or child can ask, "Why is this art? Why is this important? What does it mean?"

Maybe we need it as much as we need it. And maybe in a politically polarized society, it is the tie that binds.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Are High School Proms Decadent?

There seems to be a growing debate about an American institution, The Senior Prom. Certain Long Island High Schools are canceling the events claiming moral grounds for doing so. Or are young adults being denied yet another right of passage into adulthood that prevents them from ever discovering responsibility, joy, and farewell to their teens?

From the article;

"I think there is a general desire to bring religious values into public life, and these actions against the prom seem like signs of that," said John Farina, a researcher at Georgetown University who studies the intersection of religion and culture. "To some extent, it reflects the influence of John Paul II - his willingness to confront and resist the dominant culture. As a teacher, I wish more educators had that kind of backbone."

An opposing view was expressed by George M. Kapalka, a professor of psychological counseling at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

Resisting unacceptable behavior and banning it, he said, represent two different spirits in education. "This is just another example of the 'just say no' policy, which has failed miserably wherever it's been applied," Professor Kapalka said. "It would be better to start the conversation with kids about values earlier than to wait until senior year and ban the prom."


William J. Doherty, a professor of family studies at the University of Minnesota and author of "Take Back Your Kids," a study about overscheduled children, said in a phone interview that prom excesses like those cited by Brother Hoagland and Father Williams were typical of what he calls "consumer-driven parenting."

"We have parents heavily involved in orchestrating their children's experience because of this notion that experiences can be purchased," Dr. Doherty said. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, he said, he knew of one mother who did not want her daughter to go on a senior class trip to Cancun, but would not forbid it. "Her comment was 'how sad' it would be if her daughter was the only one at her lunch table to miss that experience.

"It's not that a whole generation of parents is crazy," Dr. Doherty said. "It's that there is a subset of parents who are crazy - and the rest don't want their kids to miss out."

Prom night may never replace abortion on the front line of the culture wars, but in small increments, the issue of prom night does seem to be forcing itself onto the agenda generally described as family values.

It seems to me that students and guidance counselors need to have a conversation about what the behavioral boundaries are in thinking about the senior prom so that students have a clear understanding of responsible behavior. Such conversations may pre-empt, to the degree possible, the isolated irreponsible event that could bring this issue to the forefront in shame or injury.

To summarize the article; material excess, drugs, and sexual behavior are all topics students need to talk about, understand the consequences of, and come to terms with on an individual basis. Parents and the school are not thought or behavior police who can magicallty prevent irreversible harmful activities. The community of students at EO need to support each other in defining and exercising right from wrong.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't be afraid to re-invent the wheel...

Here's a new invention that features robots taking advantage of square wheels. That's right, square wheels. It may become useful in applications such as Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) in nanotechnology.

Here's a description of the device:

The first prototype consisted of a car with 4 square wheels, in the general configuration of a typical car, with all 4 wheels mechanically connected together so they must all turn in unison. Furthermore, the rotational orientation of the wheels are sequentially off-set from one wheel to the next by 22.5° (¼ of 90°), moving around the vehicle in a CW or CCW direction as viewed from above.

“The weight shifting that propels the car is facilitated by a weight offset laterally from the center of the car that is moved in a rotational manner around the center of the car”, says inventor Jason Winckler of Global Composites. “The rotation is provided by a driven shaft extending vertically from the center of the car, with a lateral arm and off-set weight. As the shaft rotates, the weigh shifts in a circular manner around the car”.

“The shifting weight sequentially drives each wheel that is under the weight to sit flat on the ground, thus moving the other wheels in a rotational manner, and the car in a linear direction; reversing the direction of the rotating weight, reverses the direction of the car. There are also several methods for steering the car that are under development” says Steven Winckler, President of Global Composites.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Some thoughts on EOSmith's newspaper The Oracle

I had an opportunity to take a look at the latest issue of the school paper, The Oracle and have a small wishlist based on what I read.

It would be interesting to collect all the student book reviews and have a copy available at all Region19 libraries so that students could reference each other's favorite reading material. A good way to share interests and a very nice way for Middle School students to read ahead if they're advanced readers.

Although theater reviews are fine, I wish I could download a movie version or an iPod condensed version - maybe with some rehersal bloppers.

The paper might be better served in an HTML format that allows for links to author biography pages and so on.

Yearbooks are now being ordered but it might be interesting to bundle a DVD or CD with all the papers that came out over the four years of the graduating class's tenure along with MP3's of the school band performances, sports highlights, and so on.

What do you think might be worthwhile?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Free MP3 site

One of my favorite sites for finding contemporary music of all kinds (and plenty of international bands) is Pitchfork Media. They offer bands an opprtunity to get exposed in one of the nation's best music news web sites.

Now, I have to warn everyone - your mileage will vary with anything I recommend (it's a very mixed bag of pot luck genres). Our family votes whether to keep songs going on our jukebox player with Mom having the final edit. Our boys are guided and expected to make intelligent decisions without too much interference with their own developing tastes.

In any case, an inexpensive way to sample and enjoy new bands - click the title.

Participate in Matters of Life and Death - Cindy Sheehan visit.

The UConn Progressive Student Alliance has invited Cindy Sheehan to speak tomorrow, Monday, Dec. 5 at 7 pm (students admitted at 6:15, general public at 6:30). She will appear at the Student Union Theater at UConn.

Anyone in the Region 19 community who is interested should make an honest effort to attend. This is an opportunity to participate in something Jerzy Kosinski calls 'being there'. Students will someday look back at Cindy much the way Rosa Parks has been celebrated as a single human voice who changed the world.

Region19 needs to make her visit warm and appreciative.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

An Open Source Dictionary from Merriam-Webster

For english language lovers, here's an opportunity to add new words to the dictionary and define them. For young people who speak inventively this a very interesting place to lookup slang and specialized hybrid words and even contribute to their definition.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For the record


I thought it would be fun to compare my picture before serving four years as a Region19 BOE member and after.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Free Browser: Firefox 1.5 is out

Highly recommended. Go get the latest copy. It's as good as it gets for browsing.

Human activity levels dictated by genetics?

Here's an article about a study of the degree of activity a person exercises. It suggests a genetic predisposition that may be so hard-wired as to make it very difficult to change. Something for parents and teachers to think about before assuming someone hasn't tried enough. Click the link to read the whole press release.

OHSU Study Reveals Each Persons' Activity Level Appears Intrinsic, Possibly Tied To Genetics (November 14, 2005)

Research helps explain why active people will likely remain active and why couch potatoes will likely remain couch potatoes

WASHINGTON, DC - Research conducted by scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University reveals that a person's level of activity is likely an intrinsic property of that individual. This means personal decisions to become more active for the purpose of losing weight may take more of a conscious effort than traditionally thought for certain people. The research is being presented during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12-16. It is one of the largest and most respected meetings of neuroscientists in the world.

"Previous research has revealed that increased physical activity can decrease the risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, respiratory disease, metabolic diseases like diabetes, anxiety, depression, breast cancer and colon cancer," said Elinor Sullivan, an OHSU graduate student conducting research at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. "Based on the wealth of benefits provided by regular exercise, doctors have often recommended that patients increase their level of physical activity. However, currently the factors that regulate an individual's average daily activity level, and the brain systems involved in regulating activity are not well understood. It is likely that these factors affect how easy it is for individuals to substantially increase activity through voluntarily exercise, and whether some people can more easily increase their activity than others."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

BOE Orientation

Tonight Superintendent Bruce Silva held an orientation meeting for all new Board of Education members. Principal Lou DeLoreto joined us as well.

Briefly, I asked about changing the system of weighed voting to one person - one vote. This census-based algorithm is dictated by State Statute not by the school board. Personally I find it insulting and although I've been reassured that weighed voting rarely swings a vote one way or another I think that it contributes to a degree of cynicism about local representation that is corrosive. I plan to speak to every state politician that will listen to eliminate this statute. Until this is changed, we'll have to hold our noses and live with it.

I asked about the possibility of increasing the number of student (non-voting) Board of Education members from one to three where one student from each town would be a representative. This is within the power of the Board and I'll work through the appropriate channels to have this added to a coming agenda.

I also asked about the possibility of holding at least one BOE meeting in Ashford and Willington. My feeling is that both towns deserve an opportunity to share real face time with the Board and to simply offer elderly and local citizens a good faith chance to participate. This is another candidate agenda item I will work to address.

I suggested that BOE agenda items allow for some public participation time. Today the public can only speak at the end of a meeting - something I found oppressive when attending as a public citizen. In a discussion, I learned that the BOE has NO true obligation to offer any public discussion time. The Region 19 Board almost always does but along the tradition lines of offering time at the end of the meeting. My thought is that we need to experiment a little with this over time.

Everything I've heard from both Bruce and Lou over the past four months leads me to believe that Region 19 is very well run and thoughtful and caring toward our kids. I want to make sure everyone hears that.

When I was running I listened to various complains and suburban legends about EO Smith and I'm still listening. I have every intention of reporting back to you in this blog the closest thing to truth I can find about these issues.

As many of you know, the issue of fair opportunity is much discussed. Today Bruce and Lou made it clear in no uncertain terms that every student in the building is just another individual. The town that student comes from has zero bearing on their treatment by teachers, coaches, administrators, and so on to the degree that something like that can be observed.

I believe them, the citizens from Ashford should consider this true and any tall story to the contrary just another tall story until you receive a memo stating otherwise.

States abstain from federal sex ed money

I wonder if CT accepts federal sex education dollars? If it does what's the obligation involved and where's the money go?

From the article;

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
States abstain from federal sex ed money
Maine has stepped out of the collection line of states getting federal money to help subsidize sex education, joining California and Pennsylvania in saying, “No, thanks.”
Citing a potential conflict with a 2002 state law that mandates teaching teenagers everything from self-restraint to contraception, Maine declined about $160,000 in federal money for fiscal 2006.
Maine would have had to pitch in about $120,000 had it accepted the federal money, and it would have had to focus sex education programs financed by the money on abstinence exclusively.
- click on the title to read the article

Monday, November 28, 2005

Society's new whipping group; kids and parents

In a meandering article called Kids Gone Wild, talk show host Judith Warner pushes every hot button issue on the minds of talk radio Americans.

  • nearly 70 percent of Americans said they believed that people are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that children are among the worst offenders
  • Children have always been considered, basically, savages
  • what seems to have changed recently, according to childrearing experts, is parental behavior
  • The pressure to do well is up. The demand to do good is down, way down, particularly if it's the kind of do-gooding that doesn't show up on a college application
  • Once upon a time, parenting was largely about training children to take their proper place in their community, which, in large measure, meant learning to play by the rules and cooperate
  • Rude behavior, particularly toward adults, was something for which children had to be chastised, even punished. That has also now changed
  • Parenting today is also largely about training children to compete - in school and on the soccer field - and the kinds of attributes they need to be competitive are precisely those that help break down society's civility
  • "We're insane about achievement," he said. "Schoolwork is up 50 percent since 1981, and we're so obsessed with our kids getting into the right school, getting the right grades, we let a lot of things slide. Kids don't do chores at home anymore because there isn't time."
  • Educators feel helpless... -snip- More than half said they ended up being soft on discipline "because they can't count on parents or schools to support them."
  • "Parents are out of control," he said. "We always want to blame the kids, but if there's something wrong with their incivility, it's the way their parents model for them."
  • "These kids are so extremely stressed from the academic load they're carrying and how cloistered they are and how they have to live under the watchful eye of their parents," Dr. Mogel said. "They have no kid space."
  • Stop blaming the children, they said. Stop focusing on the surface level of behavior and start curing instead the social, educational and parental ills that feed it.
  • and on and on
Yes, Warner's article is a litany of reasons society needs to be upset with children, parents, laws that protect children, teachers and adults, and so on. The fact that most of complaints and remedies in the article are self-contradictory is of no consequence - Warner is not writing to solve problems, she writing to aggravate the sleeping American lynch mob.

A corollary talk media screed is that American itself is uncivil these days. On CSpan you can hear one politician after another lamenting the good old days when you could just bash liberals, the poor, welfare moms, feminists, unemployed black men, flouride in drinking water, atheists, the ACLU, Democratic budget surpluses, and extended drum solos.

What's missing in all these arguments, of course, is a whole truth. After all, there's a little bit of truth in all these complaints. And the talk media has trained American kids to point the finger at schools, schools to point the finger at parents, and parents point to society, and society to kids. Everybody is a loser in this chase your favorite boogeyman game.

It keeps everybody complaining about everybody else instead of the truly rude. And it villifies our children in ways that justify a return to a military draft that exposes these kids to extermination. Already, military recruiting is targeting children as young as fifteen years old to enlist in programs that obligate them to military service after graduation from high school and military training during high school summers.

I want the talk media to discuss that issue. And while they're at it, here's what I think is rude;

  • A government controlled exclusively by one party who acheived that power with lies, theft, subversion, dirty tricks, and -gasp- 30 years of RUDE media behavior toward anyone who disageed with them (I wonder if there's a connection there?)
  • An American public so gullable that every new lie that's uttered by the ruling party becomes a trance-like mantra (Why wouldn't kids respect their dazed elders?)
  • A two-party political system in which the ruling party treats the national treasure like a slush fund for every greedy, whimsical, or demented expenditure imaginable (these so-called 'rude' kids are being handed the bill - is it any wonder little Johnny and Jane America aren't smiling?)
  • A set of government bureaucracies who are accountable to no one yet dictate expensive mandates to local communities who cannot afford their -cough- visions
  • A national Education department that complains about national student math scores yet mandates the comparison of incongruous student test results and declares those results 'proof' of failing schools (these 'rude' kids and teachers know they're being used as social engineering guinea pigs). In the (sigh!) old days this was called bad math or "it don't add up".
  • The intellectual pestilence of religious fanaticism here and abroad
  • The uneasy quenching of thirst at a restaurant away from home knowing that environmental protection is an oxymoron these days (kids teeth are rotting because the flouride's gone but who knows what is being poured into those bottomless cups of cola)
  • The bashing of ghetto youth for using slang while thousands of unintelligible foreigners are insourced to replace American workers
  • The promotion of incompetent individuals to positions of national importance based on cronyism, political kick-back, mutually assured complicity, and other unscrupulous activity
  • and so on

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Free Computer Anti-Virus Software

In an article called "Two More Ways to Fight Viruses, for Free" in the Washington Post, Sunday, November 27, 2005; Page F07, Rob Pegoraro reviews two freeware anti-virus products.

You are welcome to use your own judgement about these things but I present the information to let everyone know that it's there. For anyone on a budget it probably makes sense to give it a try.

Selections from the article;


For several years, two Czech software developers have offered free versions of their anti-virus programs to home users. These no-charge downloads don't offer every feature provided by McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., the two security developers whose programs come pre-installed on most Windows PCs. But when put to the same tests as software from the Big Two, they did the job almost as well and with less fuss.

Both of these freebies -- Avast 4 Home Edition, from Prague's Alwil Software, and AVG Free Edition, from Brno-based Grisoft Inc. -- can be installed only on home computers that aren't put to any business or commercial use. (Income from sales to businesses and organizations covers the cost of this exercise in Internet charity.)

These two programs share a few welcome traits. Both are relatively small downloads -- almost 10 megabytes for Avast, just under 15 for AVG -- that tout compatibility with systems as old as Windows 95. And both automatically download updates every day and allow quick manual updates.

AVG's interface is in general far cleaner than Avast's, putting all the relevant controls and status indicators in one window.

Neither program's screening was quite as far-reaching as that offered by competitors -- for example, Avast and AVG allowed me to preview a .zip archive containing a virus using Windows XP's Compressed Files tool, while Symantec and McAfee's software denied all access to that .zip file.

Also, neither Avast nor AVG will stop spyware that you choose to download and install on your own -- each pronounced a freebie, spyware-riddled download as safe. So you'll still need a separate anti-spyware utility such as Microsoft's free Anti-Spyware for Windows 2000 and XP.

But if you define an anti-virus utility's job as ensuring that no virus sent your way can run on your computer (as opposed to also ensuring that no virus can even land on your computer), these two programs were just as capable as their pricier competitors. And while I've gotten more reader reports than I can count of PCs immobilized by malfunctioning Symantec and McAfee software, I've yet to hear of such trouble with Avast or AVG.

Whichever virus scanner you use, make sure you keep one other active -- the one that came pre-installed at birth: your brain.

Even the most rigorously updated security software can miss a just-created program that hasn't been entered into virus databases, but any reasonably aware human should still be able to spot a con job when it arrives.

Be as skeptical and smart about strange files as you would any other strange solicitation, and you won't have to rely on somebody else's software as your only line of defense.

The urls are AVG and Avast.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Quality Control, Growing Teachers, and Xenophobia

A most interesting New York Times Editorial post on improving education. Well worth clicking on the link for the full text. Here's an appetizer;

Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools

Published: November 21, 2005


The No Child Left Behind Act, passed four years ago, was supposed to put this problem on the national agenda. Instead, the country has gotten bogged down in a squabble about a part of the law that requires annual testing in the early grades to ensure that the states are closing the achievement gap. The testing debate heated up last month when national math and reading scores showed dismal performance across the board.

Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad - especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

Americans tend to roll their eyes when researchers raise the Japanese comparison. The most common response is that Japanese culture is "nothing like ours." Nevertheless, the Japanese system has features that could be fruitfully imitated here, as the education reformers James Stigler and James Hiebert pointed out in their book "The Teaching Gap," published in 1999.

The book has spawned growing interest in the Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as "lesson study," allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom.

The lesson-study groups focus on refining methods that improve student understanding. In doing so, the groups go step by step, laying out successful strategies for teaching specific lessons. This reflects the Japanese view that successful teaching is the product of intensive teacher development and self-scrutiny. In America, by contrast, novice teachers are often presumed competent on Day One. They have few opportunities in their careers to watch successful colleagues in action. We also tend to believe that educational change would happen overnight - if only we could find the right formula. This often leaves us prey to fads that put schools on the wrong track.

There are two other things that set this country apart from its high-performing peers abroad. One is the American sense that teaching is a skill that people come by naturally. We also have a curriculum that varies widely by region. The countries that are leaving us behind in math and science decide at the national level what students should learn and when. The schools are typically overseen by ministries of education that spend a great deal of time on what might be called educational quality control.


Faced with lagging test scores and pressure from the federal government, some school officials have embraced the dangerous but all-too-common view that millions of children are incapable of high-level learning. This would be seen as heresy in Japan. But it is fundamental to the American system, which was designed in the 19th century to provide rigorous education for only about a fifth of the students, while channeling the rest into farm and factory jobs that no longer exist.

The United States will need a radically different mind set to catch up with high-performing competitors. For starters we will need to focus as never before on the process through which teachers are taught to teach. We will also need to drop the arrogance and xenophobia that have blinded us to successful models developed abroad.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Basic Cable TV station changes

Is anyone else upset that CSPAN2, paid for by tax dollars has been removed from basic cable TV access by Charter Communications? It's as though we're subsidizing extended cable viewers with a presumably publicly funded channel that nobody can get to without paying extra.

It's like a poll tax for citizens. I complained to Charter and finally reached a 'supervisor' who said that the towns in the area chose to drop CSPAN2. I have my doubts.

The FCC phone number is 1-888-Call FCC if you're interested into why cable companies can get away with this double billing of the taxpayer.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Furthermore, call a moratorium on NCLB

The double-talk coming out of the Education Department in Washington amounts to this, No Child Left Behind is not working correctly so they're tinkering.

In business, if I sell the customer a ticket to NY and the train arrives in Boston instead that means something is very wrong. I don't know of too many businesses that then turn around and charge the customer again for a ticket from Boston to New York and get away with it (and we might wind up in Montreal!).

Today, NCLB is passing the cost of this flawed mandate AND THE TINKERING onto every one of us. We are being asked to pay over and over for more nonsensical and empirically failing policy.

Our kids are being jerked around. Our schools and teachers are being jerked around. Hard working parents are stressed and stretched to all kinds of crazy limits to get their children into the right programs and Washington wants to play cop because some idiot in Washington gave them a badge.

What's more. In admitting that it isn't working, are they assuming responsibility for the wrongful harm they've done to schools, administrators and teachers caught in this educational quagmire? IMO, somebody should look into it.

And, before more damage is done, this program should be sent to a corner for a timeout until somebody figures out what should be measured and what to do with those results. Today we are condemning schools and ram-rodding expensive educational program changes based on psuedo-science.

Our teachers know better what our students need and the local community knows as well. The inside the beltwaty crowd should experiment on their own kids, not ours.

Pull the plug on the federal Education Department

Margaret Spellings and her cohorts are at it again. They've managed to subvert the No Child Left Behind act into a draconian witch-hunt complete with good guys and bad guys - measuring the wrong stuff, itimidating and bullying parents, schools and taxpayers with ever more ridiculous demands and tweaks, and so on. Let's start making it clear to every politician you meet to pull the plug. Enough with this costly nonsense.

States redefine student progress
Education Department to allow changes in performance measurement

Friday, November 18, 2005; Posted: 10:06 a.m. EST (15:06 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tinkering again with enforcement of the No Child Left Behind education law, the government plans to let some states fundamentally change how they measure yearly student progress.

In an experiment that's been months in the making, up to 10 states will be allowed to measure not just how students are performing, but how that performance is changing over time.

Currently, schools are judged based only on how today's students compare to last year's students in math and reading -- such as fourth-graders in 2005 versus fourth-graders in 2004.

Many state leaders don't like the current system of comparing two different years of kids because it doesn't recognize changes in the population or growth by individual students.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was announcing the "growth model" policy on Friday to a gathering of state school chiefs in Richmond, Virginia, The Associated Press learned.

In the fine print of the article is buried the fact that all this new data will cost taxpayers a fortune and IMHO is worthless.

I want to introduce a growth formula to Ms Spellings - Grow goodwill in education by going away. The pocketbooks of taxpayers will grow when you go and we will all thank you and, if it makes the parting quicker, we'll give you a plaque.

The Education Department should be retired immediately. It is a hoax and a failure that continues to cost money and disseminate unwanted mandates, policy tinkering, and plain stupidity across the countryside.

Shut it down.

Not your parent's Shakespeare

I wonder what parents and teachers will make of this.

It could be the future of Shakespeare.

Dot mobile, a British mobile phone service aimed at students, says it plans to condense classic works of literature into SMS text messages. The company claims the service will be a valuable resource for studying for exams.

Academic purists will be horrified. Hamlet's famous query, "To be or not to be, that is the question," becomes "2b? Nt2b? ???"

John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" begins "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." ("The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.")

Some may dismiss the summaries as cheat notes for the attention-deficit generation, but John Sutherland, a University College London English professor who consulted on the project, said they could act as a useful memory aid.

"The educational opportunities it offers are immense," said Sutherland, who chaired the judging panel for this year's Booker Prize for fiction.

Sutherland said the compressed nature of text messages allowed them to "fillet out the important elements in a plot."

Got Ideas?

Here's a union that is using internet technology to find the best new ideas that will improve the country:

We're looking for fresh, new ideas for a better America. Do you have a common-sense idea that will improve the day-to-day lives of everyday Americans? Or an opinion on how working families can succeed in the new global economy?

You have until December 5, 2005, to submit your idea and to weigh in. A panel of judges will select the top 21 ideas. All of America will be able to vote on the finalists, and on February 1, one person will win $100,000—runners up receive $50,000 each.

This is a nice opportunity for teachers at EO Smith as well as the elementary and middle schools to have a creative, brainstorming class and submit their best ideas.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Saving Money: Black Friday sneak peeks

This New York Times article (Shop-Till-You-Drop Specials, Revealed Here First) gives everyone an opportunity to identify money-saving deals on the Friday after Thanksgiving by using some online resources. For parents with children of any age, these sites can save you time and money.

There are now at least three Web sites dedicated to digging up Black Friday sales secrets, creating a fierce competition to post the ads first. It is so heated, in fact, that all three sites stamp the circulars with bright electronic watermarks to discourage rivals from stealing a scoop.

The renegade sites, whose popularity is growing, highlight how much the Web is shifting the balance of power in retailing from companies to consumers. Big national chains used to control discounts carefully, and shoppers were lucky to stumble into a sale at a store or receive an e-mail message promising free shipping. Today, however, online forums encourage strangers to exchange hard-to-find online coupon codes, and they offer instructions on how to combine rebates with one-day sales to cut retail prices in half.

Go here, here, or here. Good luck.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ashford Democrats send the State a message

At the recent Democratic Town Committee meeting, State House Representative Mike Cardin updated the committee on legislative news from the State Capitol - emminent domain, identity theft, and more. However, the conversation soon turned to job creation and tax relief for small towns.

A recent Face the State program discussed CT's economy in unflattering terms.

...a new study warns that other states are growing much faster, and Connecticut is losing ground, in many key areas that affect business development and job creation.

The legislature should pay urgent heed to this discussion. The issue of tax relief for small town Connecticut is not far behind in importance.

Massachsetts is facing a similar situation and here is what Romney recently suggested,

Underlining the challenge, Romney said leaders of one technology firm in Massachusetts anticipated that 90 percent of its skilled labor would be in Asia in 10 years. He also pointed to statistics that show the United States graduating only 4,400 mathematics and science PhDs each year compared with 24,900 math and science PhDs for greater Asia.

"China and India have a population a multiple of ours. They have natural resources. There is no reason they can't emerge as the superpower. The only way we can preserve that role for ourselves is through innovation. It's erroneous that we do high-level work here and send low-level work abroad. When our market is no longer the largest market in the world, the idea that we're going to be innovating and they're going to be copying is erroneous," Romney said.

In response to the looming crisis, Romney pointed to some specific problems and proposed some remedies. He said we must close the educational achievement gap between racial groups in the United States. "The education gap is the civil rights issue of our age." He also said all U.S. students must raise their standing compared with students in other industrialized countries. According to one study, U. S. students rank 25th out of 41 industrial nations. "Fewer and fewer are performing at the top level," he said.

He suggested paying teachers a $5,000 bonus for teaching Advanced Placement courses, as well as giving the top third of teachers a $5,000 bonus. He also suggested a bonus for teachers that teach in troubled school districts. Romney also favored giving secondary school students laptop computers.

He pointed to some educational achievements in Massachusetts, where fourth graders ranked first in the country in math and English. He also noted that Massachusetts students ranking in the top fourth of their class can attend state institutions tuition-free under a scholarship program he supported.

"I want to make sure that Massachusetts remains competitive." Speaking of the nation, he said, "I want the center of technology and innovation to remain here. I am overwhelmingly optimistic about our ability to rise to the occasion."

Connecticut needs to wake up.

I also want to thank Mike for sending a warm congratulations letter on my election to Region 19. I hope not to let anyone down.

About that Special Education Ruling...

A few days ago, the Supreme Court ruled that it is the parents and not the school district that has the burden of proof that a student's Individualized Education Plan is inadequate.

A New York Times article (Special Education Ruling's Effects Unclear by Elissa Gootman,
published: November 17, 2005) instructs us what it means to states;

Essentially, states fall into three categories on disputes over individualized education plans. One group includes Texas, Virginia and Maryland, where the Supreme Court upheld what has been in practice. The second group includes New Jersey and New York, where the burden of proof shifts to the parents. In the third group, states including Alabama and Connecticut have regulations or statutes that place the burden of proof on school districts.

It goes on to talk about Connecticut specifically;

In Connecticut, because of a regulation placing the burden of proof on school districts, officials say they expect virtually no changes because of the Supreme Court ruling.

"We think that as of right now, unless the federal government tells us otherwise, we can continue to do as we have done with our system," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. "We believe that our regulation embodies a valid state policy that articulates our belief that school boards are in a better position to muster the facts and expertise in any contest with ordinary parents."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Barack Obama talks about raising daughters

In this overlooked address to the National Women's Law Center, we are reminded about some unspoken issues that go hand in hand with education. Here's a couple of brief quotes. Click the title for the original text.

The social contract between Americans and their government - the bargain that says if you're willing to work hard for your country then your country will make it easier for you to get ahead and raise a family - was made for a time when most women stayed home with the kids and most workers stayed with one company for their entire lives.

But even though this time is long past - even though the vast majority of women with children today are working, including single mothers - we still have social policies designed around the old model of the male breadwinner.

And so women still earn 76% of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. They make up 71% of all Medicaid beneficiaries, and a full two-thirds of all the Americans who lost their health care this year. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. When their children become sick and are sent home from school, many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.

In short, when it comes to making your way in a twenty-first century economy, our daughters still do not have the same opportunities as our sons.

The Administration's answer to this would only exacerbate the problem for women. The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.

But for the single mom who's already making less than her male counterpart - the mom who had to go without a paycheck for three months when her daughter was born, who's now facing skyrocketing child care costs and an employer who doesn't provide health care coverage for part-time work - for this mom, getting a few hundred bucks off the next tax bill won't solve the problem, will it?

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the women who lose their jobs when they have to care for a sick child - life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity

And so if we're serious about this opportunity, if we truly value families and don't think it's right to penalize parenting, then we need to start acting like it. We need to update the social contract in this country to include the realities faced by working women.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jimmy Carter on local autonomy and fiscal responsibility:

If you read only one editorial piece this week make it the LA Times pice by Jimmy Carter. He speaks eloquently for all of us who are concerned with the health and choices our country is making.

This isn't the real America
By Jimmy Carter

"IN RECENT YEARS, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.

Also endangered are our historic commitments to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility."

Carter goes on to mention national issues but this is a clarion call to regional activists and administrators to begin investigating ways to restore local control away from a federal administration gone mad.

We need no more federal education mandates.

The same politicians who lost the war on poverty and drugs, who botched education reform, fiscal responsibility, FEMA and Homeland Security and so on need to shut up and get out of the driver's seat or hand everyone a travel sickness bag. We've seen and heard enough to know we can do better locally. They should have never been promoted and they are an embarassment to children who are taught to depend on government for fair and effective policy.

We all know they won't willfully go away so it is the responsibility of students, teachers, parents, and citizens to remind them of what we expect and we should settle for nothing less than the finest example of democacy, justice, and hope we can offer each other and the world as a nation.

If kids and parents are going to be deafened by lectures from politicians about accountability and responsibility then turnabout is fair play.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Tech-tonic Report, what do you think?

Here's a report that discusses technology in the lives of children. It is dedicated to the memory of Fred Rodgers and Neil Postman and is good reading.

Click the title to read it. These are the three points it talks about:

"1. Our children face a daunting technological frontier of irreversible changes in human biology and the world's ecology. They need a radically different kind of technology education to make wise choices in such a future.

2. Children's lives are increasingly filled with screen time rather than real time with nature, caring adults, the arts, and hands-on work and play. Yet only real relationships, not virtual ones, will inspire and prepare them to protect the Earth and all that lives on it.

3. There is scant evidence of long-term benefits—and growing indications of harm—from the high-tech life style and education aggressively promoted by government and business. It is time for concerted citizen action to reclaim childhood for children."

Saving Money: OpenOffice software

OpenOffice is an industry strength software office suite of tools that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics tool and more. It is free for agreeing to the licensing terms.

Click on the title of this post to go there. For families who cannot afford expensive vendor packages or who have reservatons about the investment, this is the way to go. Microsoft Word products can easily be imported. I use this at home.

An especially nice feature is that you can export PDF documents that are far less prone to have embedded virues. One of my pet peeves has always been that I am leery of opening Microsoft Word email attachments from institutional sources (like school) because they can be infected (giving me headaches). PDF attachments carry far less risk.

I would like to see all Region 19 schools give this package a fair evaluation and consider a wholesale migration away from the costly vendor software the schools now pay for to this standard.

Free training videos are available at;

Today, there is considerable impetus by industry to move in this direction;


"OpenDocument format gathers steam
By Martin LaMonica, CNET
Published on ZDNet News: November 10, 2005, 4:00 AM PT

Big guns in the software industry are massing behind OpenDocument as government customers show more interest in alternatives to Microsoft's desktop software.

IBM and Sun Microsystems convened a meeting in Armonk, N.Y., on Friday to discuss how to boost adoption of the standardized document format for office applications. The ODF Summit brought together representatives from a handful of industry groups and from at least 13 technology companies, including Oracle, Google and Novell.

That stepped-up commitment from major companies comes amid signs that states are showing interest in OpenDocument. Massachusetts in September decided to standardize on OpenDocument for some state agencies.

James Gallt, the associate director for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said Wednesday that there are a number of other state agencies are exploring the use of the document format standard.

"It's more grassroots, starting small and working its way through individual states and agencies," Gallt said, but did not specify which governments were looking into it.

Those state customers are seeking alternatives to Microsoft Office, while the technology providers are looking to loosen Microsoft's grip on the desktop marketplace, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk. Those factors are what are fueling the growing momentum for OpenDocument, he said."

The article goes on to present some pros and cons for making such a move.

America's Being Left Behind

In a New York Times article titled: Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge? by Timothy L. O'Brien published: onNovember 13, 2005, we are being warned about what is happening to our country as a result of the current administration of this country.


"A COMMITTEE of leading scientists, corporate executives and educators oversaw the drafting of the report, entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." To spur American innovation, it recommends enhanced math and science education in grade school and high school, a more hospitable environment for scientific research and training at the college and graduate levels, an increase in federal funds for basic scientific research and a mix of tax incentives and other measures to foster high-paying jobs in groundbreaking industries. The report cites China and India among a number of economically promising countries that may be poised to usurp America's leadership in innovation and job growth.

"For the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did," the report said. "We owe our current prosperity, security and good health to the investments of past generations, and we are obliged to renew those commitments.""

This is important information. Technology leadership is often measured in just a matter of weeks or months. This concern about the threats that China, India, and other even less friendly countries pose is very real in the software community that I work in and software is just one field of many in danger.

The article goes on to say,

"Mr. Flemings said that private and public capital was not being adequately funneled to the kinds of projects and people that foster invention. The study of science is not valued in enough homes, he observed, and science education in grade school and high school is sorely lacking.

But quantitative goals, he said, are not enough. Singapore posts high national scores in mathematics, he said, but does not have a reputation for churning out new inventions. In fact, he added, researchers from Singapore have studied school systems in America to try to glean the source of something ineffable and not really quantifiable: creativity.

"In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive modern society," a report sponsored by the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program said last year. "Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be perceived as an act of rebellion against the status quo.""

Let's emphasize something important here. For all the phony rhetoric about American education falling behind the rest of the world, we find out over and over that that hasn't been true. The rest of the world is very good at administering perfunctory education but they look this way to figure out why it isn't working.

We know why. We have got to take back the education system from those who would turn our kids into test-taking-automotons and return it to the individual development of our children.

Instead of a Boston Tea Party, let's send these unnecessary tests to FEMA until they fill in the New Orleans low land. We have got to celebrate Yankee ingenuity all over again. This is not a time to politely debate nonsensical arguments, it's a time to free the schools of unnecessary testing and fraudulent school accountability exercises - it is killing the country.

[All bolded text is due to my editorial emphasis. The original article has none.]