Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dumbing Down the NEA

A very real unintentional consequence of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is emerging and will constitute a crisis in education that may destroy teachers unions in the very near future.

As NCLB coerces all schools to pander to "teaching for tests", more and more teachers are being hired not because they are good teachers but because they are great test drill instructors. These drill instructors are gaining tenure.

As the test paradigm festers in one generation of graduates after another, it is individuality, creativity, humanity, education, and America's competitiveness that is being left behind and brutally sacrificed. The perverse consequence of the NCLB education policies is not only destroying our youth but infiltrating our education system with poor teachers whom the system will be unable to flush. In other words, if NCLB fails there may be no systematic way for public schooling to correct the mistake. Schools will be stuck for generations with one-dimensional, parrot trainers who will remain on the public payroll when the public can no longer afford the mediocrity.

Of course, society could always choose to scrap the entire public school system.

Maybe it's not such a bad idea anyway.

Teacher's unions have helped enable NCLB to take hold with little more than a whimper of protest despite decades of educational models that suggest NCLB is misguided and harmful. They will have no one to blame but themselves as the chickens come home to roost (assuming they can find their way home).

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Free General Software Update

I added Paint.net - A free image processing program from the Washington State University (heavy duty Windows OS required)to the Free General Software compilation.

EO Smith Basketball update

I'm whatcha call 'old school'. I attended New Britain High School from '67 to '70 and New Britain and Pulaski High were statewide basketball powerhouses. More recently I've recruited players from the greater Region 19 area for Nutmeg State games basketball teams from a few years ago.

In the past week I've had the pleasure to watch some of the best high school basketball players in memory go at it. Windham beat EO Thursday in a thriller. And lots of my Nutmeg State players made me proud - I had friends on both sides at three levels.

But last night was a joy.

EO Smith(12-8) played East Hartford (18-1) in the first round of the CCC tournament games. The preface to this game is that East Hartford was led by Doug Wiggins a senior point guard who has committed to attending UConn. In CT high school basketball circles this is considered a BIG DEAL. Wiggins averages 40 points a game and these days that's also a BIG DEAL.

The game was played in East Hartford and EO came in pretty ragged. Anthony Raggi was sore from Thursday's game, Rob Cardinal was suffering from one thing or another, and Tyler McCollum had the mother of all head colds.

To add insult to this assortment of ailments, the game started and the referees called two quick ticky-tacky fouls on Ricky Simonsen who was guarding East Hartford's special talent, Doug Wiggins as if to pre-ordain this game The Doug Wiggins Shoot Around Evening.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the East Hartford coronation, EO Smith took the lead by one, two, or three points and refused to give it up. Wiggins had some flashy passes in the first quarter but East Hartford could not outscore EO.

There's nothing dramatic about Wiggins' stats, he scored his forty points for the game but that's boring and misleading stuff. Oh yeah, he had a very splashy dunk that capped a brief fourth period run for East Hartford when they charged to a five point lead that lasted about, um... a basketball minute.

The stars of the game, were guys who scored 13, 9, and 7. Ricky Simonsen controlled Wiggins game to inconsequential baskets. Ricky scored 13 points and played BIG - scored daggers at the foul line in the fourth period when East Hartford briefly made a run.

And then there's Anthony Raggi. Everybody who plays EO covers this guy like a glove. Anthony is one of the state's best (and wholly underrated point guards). Anthony played an outstanding game - I can't recall a single turnover for either Ricky or Anthony in a blizzard of double and triple coverages. But in the fourth quarter, the teams exchanging baskets in a neck-and-neck procession of tied scores, Anthony broke away to the corner, the pass was perfect, he set and nailed a three pointer that only in a long retrospect was the basket that broke the game open for EO.

Now, when I say 'broke the game open' you may think I'm implying that the floodgates opened. Sorry, no. East Hartford played hard to a tie game and then played hard to the end of overtime. But EO's interior defense just stifled drive after drive by Wiggins. I can't remember a hoop clanging as often from the efforts of one player as I listened to last night. Cardinal, Olander, and McCollum, Best, and Gross did something also no other team in Connecticut could do - they shut Wiggins down. And Wiggins was given opportunity after opportunity by sympathetic refs, teammates and a home crowd. They were all looking for the ice.

Tyler McCollum (dizzy from fighting a cold) provided the ice, sinking a free throw in the final seconds of an overtime that sealed an EO victory. Tyler, another EO senior, is also underrated in state basketball circles.

The final score was EO Smith 59, East Hartford 57. EO has a lot of heroes - coaches and players.

I happen to believe both Simonsen and Raggi are better ballplayers than Wiggins but that's just my druthers. Players who sacrifice their game to the team effort get more points in my book than fat-stat leaders.

The guy who deserves big kudos though is Doug Best. Doug is the prototypical blue-collar, lunch pail baller. He's the guy ever team needs who shows up, does the dirty work of boxing out, rebounding, and confounding the other team, and picking up the garbage points. For many games I have thought EO's big four of Raggi, Simonsen, Cardinal, and McCollum were playing at a very high level of sport, maybe as good as anyone in CT.

Lately, Doug Best has been ratcheting up his game showing up in points (9 last night) and rock solid defensive plays. East Hartford ran into a defensive wall and I'm guessing they are still wondering what happened.

Basketball Vocabulary Word of the Game; hubris

With almost a minute to go at half-time, the East Hartford coach allowed Doug Wiggins to just stand at mid-court and dribble standing still. East Hartford was down by three points and the lesson we were all going to be taught was that THE BIG STAR was going to put on a clinic.

So Anthony Raggi watched him dribble and the whole gym watched him dribble. Wiggins cleared the undersides of his shoes and Anthony didn't bite (he was supposed to rashly try and steal the ball). So Wiggins did it again slower, lifting leg, cleaning shoe bottom. Anthony didn't bite. Seconds slowly ticked away.

Okay, time for the big show. Shoes clean, dribble, dribble. Simonsen joins to double-team, Wiggins shoots...

Now for our elementary basketball vocabulary word of the day; CLANG!

One last thing. The best basketball in the State is being played east of the river. It's a secret. Windham and EO are loaded and reloaded for many years to come.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Kids today...

Yeah, we keep hearing about how badly we need scientists and yet I keep reading wonderful stories like this one that make me think that Washington protests too much. Enjoy.

Science project may benefit world's poor
Glenelg student discovers protein in yogurt that kills diarrhea-causing bacterium
By Karen Nitkin
special to the [Baltimore] sun
Originally published February 22, 2006

"I never thought it would come to this," she said.

Her freshman science teacher, Deano Smith, said Fasano was chatty in class and did not always pay attention. "I had a number of talks with her and her parents about working on focus," he said. That's certainly changed, he noted. "It was a matter of feeding the interest, and she stuck with it."

It all started at the Fasano kitchen table. "I'm sitting in my kitchen eating yogurt," she said, and she happened to notice that the container listed an unusual ingredient - lactobacillus. "So I Googled it," she said, "and I was introduced to what are known as probiotics."

For her freshman science project, she obtained - through her father - dishes of E.coli 042, added varying amounts of yogurt, and chronicled the results. The dish with the most yogurt had the least E.coli, so she was able to say that yogurt kills E.coli.

That was enough to win a top prize at both the school and the county science fair, but it wasn't enough to satisfy her curiosity. In Serena's sophomore year, the goal of her science project was to determine precisely what in the yogurt was killing the E.coli.

At that point, she began working with Dr. James Nataro, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland medical school, and with graduate student Nick Morin, who was familiar with lactobacillus.

"He taught me a lot," Fasano said of Morin. "He's not a doctor, and I kind of liked that. It was comfortable. I would ask him questions, and he would laugh at me. It was more laid-back because we were two students."

By the time of the science fair, she was able to state that the lactobacillus in the yogurt was secreting a substance that was toxic to the E.coli 042.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Refreshing Educational Insight on Teaching Algebra

In today's Courant and article talks about an educational philosophy that the NCLB cancer is trying to stomp out. It's entitled; Johnny's Lessons - How A Tough Kid Found Key To Mystery Of Math: Multiplication - February 19, 2006 by Karin Klein.

Read the whole thing, it will bring tears to your eyes. Ms. Klein was asked to tutor a boy who was failing Algebra. She recalls that experience in responding to the LA Times recent series quoted earlier in this blog. Educational commentary is rarely better stated than in this piece.

"Today's failing high school students, though plagued by more poverty and upheaval than Johnny or I ever knew, bring the same scanty skills to algebra class, according to the Times' series. They never quite grasped multiplication tables, but still they moved on to more complicated math.

Who can focus on the step-by-step logic of peeling back an equation until "x" is bared when it involves arithmetic that comes slow and slippery, always giving a different answer to the same calculation?

Yet in all these decades, the same school structure that failed Johnny goes on, dragging kids through the grades even if they don't master the material from the year before. This especially makes no sense for math, which is almost entirely sequential.

Leaving children back isn't a solution; it simply makes them feel stupid. They learn, like Johnny, to look at the floor. The floor can't embarrass them.

What I learned from Johnny - aside from the fact that greasers could be sweet-natured and very, very smart - is that schools are structured to help administrators feel organized, not to help children learn.

Young children's skills are all over the map, yet we corral them into second grade, third grade and so forth, where everyone moves at one pace in all subjects. Better to group them according to their skills in each subject, without the "grade" labels, and let them move on to the next skill when they have mastered the one they were on. If they're not getting it, give them extra tutoring, but don't push them forward until they're ready. This way, there is no failure - only progress.

It requires a sea change in thinking, but it's not impossible or even all that hard. Back before standardized tests put classes in lockstep, some progressive schools already were using team teaching to do this in math as well as reading and writing."

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My updated Men's basketball stats

Men's latest basketball including Rham and South Windsor since Bloomfield. (I missed some series due to scheduling)

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.
Today the team is:

#34 Varsity ((43 + 9 + 5 + 17) - 6)/9 = 7.6
#34 Freshmen ((39 + 14 + 4 + 19) - 13) /9 = 7.0
#22 Varsity ((29 + 11 + 16 + 22) – 18)/9 = 6.7
#15 Freshmen ((31 + 9 + 5 + 14) - 13)/9 = 5.1
#22 Freshmen ((28 + 12 + 5 + 10) - 12) /9 = 4.78
#20 Varsity ((21 + 11 + 1 + 23) - 14)/9 = 4.67

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 20 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

Today the team is:

#44 JV .697 30/43
#20 Varsity .673 35/52
#35 JV .654 17/26
#22 Varsity .588 40/68
#34 Varsity .582 39/67
#23 Varsity .573 63/110

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Discretion of Coaches

The January issue of CABE's The Journal ran an article called "The Nutmeg Board: Coach violates constitutional right of free speech".

The body of the article written by Thomas B. Mooney, Esq. discusses the fact that schoolextracurricular activities are a privilege not a right and therefore coaches, BOE, and administrators can impose rules that normally would not apply in normal school activities. Unfortunately the article is not available on-line. The hypothetical case concluded that a coach can schedule practices outside a normal school schedule but cannot cut a player in retaliation for complaining.

Buried at the end of the article is a new CT statute about firing coaches that's worth discussing.

"Under newly enacted Connecticut State Statutes ~10-222e, coaches with three or more years of experience in a position have new rights. Such coaches... may be fired only for "moral misconduct or a violation of the rules of the Board of Education". Otherwise they must be notified of their non-renewal within ninety days of the end of the season. Moreover they may appeal termination or non-renewal "in a manner prescribed by the Board of Education. The Board may need such review procedures here." (as in the example provided)

We need to think about what constitutes grounds for non-renewal.

Would it be something as ambiguous as being accused of bad coaching?

Or something as subtle as caving in to the interests of loud parents by promoting their sons and daughters over players who play by the rules, play hard, and earn the right to play?

And what about winning and losing? Are athletes and teams allowed to lose in dignity or can they be publicly humiliated with benchings because the score is embarassing to a coach?

What about coaches who crush the competition even when the outcome is no longer in doubt?

Do screaming coaches ever cross a line?

And what about the sensational stories about coaches getting physically involved with players?

Lots to think about and talk about for the policy committee.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Future enrollment

One of the topics of speculation at the BOE has been what our student enrollment might look like in a few years. State projections imply that EO's student population will shrink significantly.

In a related story, the Hartford Advocate (click link) featured a story by Nathan Conz entitled, Student HousING. In it he describes the buying habit of the ING Real Estate Community Living Fund that is buying up student apartment complexes around UConn campuses.

When all is said and done, ING will own 90 percent of the off-campus housing options within a seven-mile radius of UConn. The complexes will be managed by New England Realty, which currently manages several of the properties. They did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Two notable UConn complexes not purchased were Celeron Square and Carriage House, known for their Spring Weekend parties.

¨The portfolio provides a low-risk investment underpinned by captive demand and limited supply,¨ ING Real Estate Investment Management Australia CEO Hugh Thomson said in a statement.

And it´s that sentiment that concerns some UConn students who live in off-campus housing. What´s stopping ING from raising the rent?

If off-campus rents increase in the area then so will the cost of housing in general.

What all this means to the quality of EO Smith is purely speculative but every indication is that EO will have fewer students possibly from a higher income community.

A by-product of this information is that local communities should probably relax about the potential of over-development. CT's population seems to be shrinking thanks to a vanishing job market and the high cost of living.

This crunch may endanger more than a few programs.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

NCLB Sing-Along

The American Federation of Teachers have the right idea about NCLB. Check out the cartoon at the link. It expresses a sentiment many teachers, parents, administrators, and thoughtful politicians share.

The Good Hypothesis- The blessing of children for moms

This morning's NPR Morning Edition ran this intriguingstory about the credible but yet unproven hypothesis that baby cells linger in the mom and persist to heal the female body in times of need. Fascinating stuff...

Babies' Cells Linger, May Protect Mothers by Robert Krulwich

If fetal cells really are helping moms, I wonder if women who have babies (and abortions and miscarriages) tend to live longer than women who do not conceive. After all, the Conceivers have an extra gang (the more conceptions, the bigger the gang) of helpful cells inside.

Maybe there's some measurable consequence. And if the Good Hypothesis turns out to be true and every child leaves a posse of good soldiers in their mothers, then no matter how crummy we are to our moms, we are, willingly or unwillingly, still doing something nice for her -- on the inside.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Interesting Study on early puberty experiences

As if to re-emphasize the obvious fact that everyone is different, this CNN newswire story examines the social differences early puberty can have young adults. Click the link to read the entire story.

Here's some of the interesting observations:

It is well known that young people who experience puberty early have a higher risk of depression, substance use, disruptive behaviors and various other conditions, yet researchers had not before investigated whether these youth were also more susceptible to victimization.

The current findings are based on data from nearly 7,000, 11- to 15-year-olds from 132 schools across the country.


Overall, teens who experienced puberty early -- who perceived themselves as looking older than most of their peers -- had a much greater risk of being involved in a physical fight, having a knife or gun pulled on them, being jumped or otherwise being victimized than did other teens, Piquero and Haynie report. This was particularly true for boys, they write in this month's Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency.

Yet, among boys who matured early, those with a higher proportion of female friends appeared to be less likely to experience subsequent victimization. A similar association was not found among early-maturing girls, however.

"(It) seems to be a lot like marriage -- females are really good for men," Piquero said. "Women seem to help curtail men's bad experiences."

Girls who hit puberty early, in contrast, tended to have more older friends than did boys who matured early.

Socializing with older people "places these kids in difficult situations that they may not be cognitively able to handle," Piquero said, explaining that, although a 13-year-old may start hanging out with a 16-year-old, he or she "may not be at the 16-year-old level yet."

Lower levels of victimization were reported among teens from two-parent families -- as were 74 percent of the study participants -- those with more highly educated parents, and those who reported having higher levels of attachment with their parents. White teens also reported lower levels of victimization than did teens of other races, study findings indicate.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A mathematical fable

In an article called, More Training Is Seen as Key to Improving Math Levels by Diana Jean Schemo in the New York Times, Bush's proposal to -cough- help math and science education is to get volunteers to do the teaching.

...he called for 30,000 mathematicians and scientists to pitch in as adjunct teachers, to teach a course at their local public schools.

That's where my story starts. My sons play basketball and we taxi them around quite a bit and every once in a while I get to the gym and some players are hanging out late at the gym with the coaches.

So one day I arrive a little early and Ron Pires, the Varsity basketball coach says to the squad, "Okay, listen up! We're going to shoot free throws [and he gives them certain parameters to follow] AND! - I WANT THE GROUP AS A WHOLE TO MAKE AT LEAST 85% OF YOUR SHOTS."

From the distance of the sidelines, an almost perceptable breeze seemed to push back the hair on the players heads - kind of like that rock and roll speaker advertisement of a kid listening to music in a wind tunnel. Ron repeated, "85% gentlemen."

At every basket, a group formed and began the exercise - for those who aren't basketball fans, 85% is a mighty fine shooting percentage and this was a test.

Once the shooting exercise was over, everyone gathered around Coach Pires who began asking for results.

"How many made four out of four?" Say five players raised their hands. "Five times four is how many baskets?" "Twenty" was answered by a chorus of players.

"Alright, how many made 3 out of four?" Now three players raise their hands. "So how many shots is that?" And so it went. Coach Pelletier rushed to get a calculator.

But what I witnessed from the sideline looked very much like a Norman Rockwell painting. Here in the middle of a gym were the biggest students in the school rubbing their chins, raising their eyes to imagine a calculation on a non-existent whiteboard, scatching their heads like Stan Laurel pondering an impossible dilemna. It looked like a lot of thinking and had I captured it on film it would be the yearbook photo.

And in the same fashion that they win basketball games, they helped each other track and recalculate the necessary arithmetic - IOW, with teamwork. The image is still stuck in my memory because everything you ever needed to know about teaching math was right there.

Which brings me back around to a number of things.

A.) Feed these students math in non-threatening, appropriate doses and they learn. You don't need tests to see the gears working when the learning is obvious.

B.) Students working in teams to supplement each other's efforts works well. A lot better than "every student for themselves" no matter what - we got tests to - ahem - administer!

C.) You don't need mathematicians and scientists to walk in from the street to teach math. And, we aren't even touching the subject of what would qualify these people to be in classrooms with mixes of students with mixes of needs. Math is taught and can be taught in doses in many school activities that already exist. Students need to be given a weighed credit for the math and english they exercise in other classes that counts toward graduation.

D.) Bush's "plan does not envision hiring new teachers. Rather, it proposes to retrain the math and science teachers on hand." That's very nice but if the teachers receiving more training are hopelessly poor teachers to begin with - unmotivated to learn new techniques, self-centric, experts in math and ignorant of learning - we're just throwing good money after bad. Schools need a plan to marginalize mediocrity and reward talent.

BTW; The team made exactly 85% of their shots that evening.