Monday, July 31, 2006

Free Collaboration Online Tool

This online drawing tool allows teachers to interact with students remotely to draw diagrams, explain equations, or what ever the subject may be. This is useful for school districts who use virtual school days to make-up for student sickness, inclement weather, or other school cancellations.

For political organizers it offers an online whiteboard to draw strategy diagrams, meetup plans, or whatever strikes the fancy of organizers.

As usual, I'm trying to locate resources that give schools on low budgets the opportunity to share and learn technologies that for too long are considered the exclusive province of wealthy school districts.

Oh, by the way, tools like this drawing tool can expand the audience of the classroom as well. I have long written that as endemic as poverty is, there is no law preventing teachers from team teaching across schools or school districts. By using tools inner city schools can use to interact with suburban classrooms, we create virtual integrations of minds no matter what color their bodies are, no matter how rich or poor they may be.

During the dark ages of the Bush administration this may be the best we can hope for.

Tags: School 2.0, integration, free, collaboration, education

Sunday, July 30, 2006

School 2.0 - Public School Kids Should be Branded

This week's New York Times Magazine explains a new cultural phenomenon that public schools need to understand and assimilate. That is that being a public school attendee is a cultural thing and kids should understand that they're being used as pawns in George Bush's political gambits. As such, our kids and our schools would be wise in making a statement about their public school pride, their values, and their style.

As you read this teaser, imagine school logos that emphasize the "public schoolness" as much as the School mascots and whatnot. School gear can get much more creative and it should.

Of course, companies don’t go into business in order to express a particular worldview and then gin up a product to make their point. Corporate branding is a function of the profit motive: companies have stuff to sell and hire experts to create the most compelling set of meanings to achieve that goal. A keen awareness of and cynicism toward this core fact of commercial persuasion — and the absurd lengths that corporations will go to in the effort to infuse their goods with, say, rebelliousness or youthful cool — is precisely the thing that is supposed to define the modern consumer. We all know that corporate branding is fundamentally a hustle. And guys like A-Ron are supposed to know that better than anybody.

Which is why the supposed counterculture nature of his brand might arouse some suspicion. Manufactured commodities are an artistic medium? Branding is a form of personal expression? Indie businesses are a means of dropping out? Turning your lifestyle into a business is rebellious?

And yet thousands and thousands of young people who are turned off by the world of shopping malls and Wal-Marts and who can’t bear the thought of a 9-to-5 job are pursuing a path similar to A-Ron’s. Some design furniture and housewares or leverage do-it-yourself-craft skills into businesses or simply convert their consumer taste into blog-enabled trend-spotting careers. Some make toys, paint sneakers or open gallerylike boutiques that specialize in the offerings of product-artists. Many of them clearly see what they are doing as not only noncorporate but also somehow anticorporate: making statements against the materialistic mainstream — but doing it with different forms of materialism. In other words, they see products and brands as viable forms of creative expression.

Through aNYthing, A-Ron sees himself as part of a “movement,” a brand underground. And maybe there is something going on here that can’t simply be dismissed just because of the apparent disconnect between the idea of a “brand” and the idea of an “underground.” After all, subcultures aren’t defined by outsiders passing judgment; they are defined by participants.

To try to understand this phenomenon and how it might play out, I sought a test-case category in which I could compare the experiences of several upstarts over time. The T-shirt, a simple commodity, seemed an ideal vessel. While some indie products are handmade, many more are, like T-shirts, manufactured goods that attract consumers largely through branding. Even with this single product as a framework, the variety is dizzying. Some T-shirt branders target high-end consumers, some are attached to the curious world of sneaker collecting and some are harder to categorize. Like A-Ron’s brand.

Tags: School 2.0, culture, education

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Comics Page

I discovered a site from which unknown cartoonists can make their work available in order to get their ideas out to the public. These scripts will update periodically and we'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile while poking around I also found some great animation shorts well worth watching so once in a while I'll feature one of these on a slow day. Enjoy.

Tags: comics, animation, education

Friday, July 28, 2006

Howl, Fifty Years On

Allan Ginsberg's history shaping poem is fifty years old and still rings with holy truths. Kerouac's "On the Road is also approaching its fiftieth birthday and is being republished in its manuscript [uncensored] form.

Those of us who grew up loving this work certainly hope some of it finds its way into English curriculums across the nation. As long as we're reliving the mistakes of the past we may as well enjoy the highlights as well. The windows of America's skull need to let in some fresh air once again.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats
floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the
scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,...

Get Yourself a Tattoo

One of my goals is to get EO Smith's student newspaper, The Oracle, online and interactive.

The Tattoo, a teenager run newspaper for teens is a fine example of the genre. They run articles on teen pregancy, school violence, suicide and much much more. The cartoonist Joe Keo is great. Check it out at the link. I'm giving them a permanent bookmark here.

Here's what they say about themselves;

The Tattoo takes teenagers seriously

From its beginnings in 1994 as a small group of teens in Bristol, Connecticut with an interest in journalism, The Tattoo has grown into a widely respected, award-winning teen newspaper with writers spanning the globe.

Relying on a network of volunteer teen journalists, The Tattoo tackles a wide range of subjects, from proms to pregnancy.

While mainstream publications treated teens as an afterthought -- interested in little more than pop groups and movies -- The Tattoo has always recognized that young people can be as serious as their elders, though the topics that absorb them may be different.

The Tattoo, which appears online and in the pages of The Bristol (Conn.) Press, has focused on school violence, teen suicide, the struggle against terrorism and the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina.

Student writers have also offered plenty of cartoons, movie and television reviews, sports coverage and much, much more -- like any decent newspaper.

The Tattoo has offered scores of students the chance to have their work published – and read. Hundreds of teens have been involved at one time or another, 50 have won some sort of journalism award, and some have gone on to careers in journalism.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Haruki Murakami on Smart Kids

I've been reading the magic realism of Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and really enjoying the book. I'm working hard at becoming a writer worth reading and in recent years I've rediscovered numerous works of super-fiction that interest me.

In any case, this short passage says more about the idiot zealotry of continuously raising the bar of expectations on children than any educational tome can.

Nakarta was one of five children evacuated to our town from Tokyo, and of the five he was the brightest and had the best grades. He had very pleasant features and always dressed well. He was a gentle boy and never butted in where he didn't belong. Never once during class did he volunteer an answer, but when I called on him, he always gave the correct answer, and when I asked his opinion he'd give a logical reply. He caught on right away, no matter what the subject. Every class has a student like that, one who'll study what he needs to without supervision, who you know will one day attend a top college and get an excellent job. A child who's innately capable.

But as his teacher I will say there were a couple of things about him that bothered me. Every so often I felt a sense of resignation in him. Even when he did well on difficult assignments, he never seemed happy. He never struggled to succeed, never seemed to experience the pain of trial and error. He never sighed, or cracked a smile. It was as if these were things he had to get through, so he just did them. He handled what came his way efficiently - like a factory worker, screwdriver in hand, working on a conveyor belt, tightening a screw on each part that comes down the line.

I've never met his parents so I can't say anything for certain, but there had to be a problem back home. I'd seen a number of cases like this. Adults constantly raise the bar on smart children, precisely because they can handle it. The children get overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them and gradually lose the sort of openness and sense of accomplishment they innately have. When they're treated like that, children begin to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kid's hearts are malleable, but once they gel it's hard to get them back the way they were. Next to impossible, in most cases. But maybe I shouldn't be giving my opinions on the matter - this is after all, your area of expertise.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Vanishing American Technology Jobs Report Bush Sought to Bury

So much disinformation about America's competitiveness has been written. Those of us who work in high-technology have long known and suffered a degrading reality, American hi-tech jobs are being frittered away overseas and to ultra-rich international interests who own the current American political system.

The House Democrats have finally revealed the contents of a report that exposed the truth.

Why's it important here you might ask? The answer is that the American Public School system has been wrongly blamed for America's failure to compete. When the political system is corrupt, American workers don't stand a chance.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Connecticut where many of us pray for the day politicians like Rob Simmons and Joe Lieberman are shown the door.

Recently, however, offshoring has begun to strike at the very high-tech jobs that we believed U.S. workers would move to fill as blue-collar opportunities shifted to other countries. A Cable News Network report in early March 2006 noted that 500,000 American jobs have migrated to India in recent years. That number is expected to triple in the next two years as American companies seek to cuts costs and streamline business. India is but one example of a country that seems to be gaining employment at the expense of American workers. Over the last six years, the U.S. has lost just under 3 million jobs due to offshoring.

Now, we are witnessing software engineering, computer design, research and development, radiology, architecture and design and other high-value-added positions moving offshore to low-wage markets such as India, China, Ireland, and Brazil.

For the past two years, Science Committee Democrats tried to get specific details and information from Federal experts on this alarming trend. Our efforts were met with resistance, stonewalled by Federal agencies, and a lack of the Committee's traditional bipartisan cooperation. The Federal Government did the research, taxpayers paid for the report and the Technology Administration produced its analysis and findings, yet the Administration buried the truth in rhetoric. Democrats wanted the data, and finally got it.

Click the title link for the whole shameless story.

Free Software: Zone Alarm

Protecting PCs from the bad guys is a non-trivial exercise. Spam, malwares, and dozens of viruses and whatnot are all widely circulated thanks to our teenagers engaging in indiscriminate web-surfing activities. It certainly happens in my household and I'm sure other parents and interested parties will know what I speak of.

Zone Alarm is a highly reviewed [though not infallible] tool that can help prtect you. Use it with one of my recommended anti-virus packages [search 'free' on this blog].

Desciption from CNET site:

ZoneAlarm is designed to protect your DSL- or cable-connected PC from hackers. This program includes four interlocking security services: a firewall, an application control, an Internet lock, and Zones. The firewall controls the door to your computer and allows only traffic you understand and initiate. The application control allows you to decide which applications can and cannot use the Internet. The Internet lock blocks Internet traffic while your computer is unattended or while you're not using the Internet, and it can be activated automatically with your computer's screensaver or after a set period of inactivity. Zones monitor all activity on your computer and alert you when a new application attempts to access the Internet. Version 6.5.722 removes McAfee installation gate and fixes an update problem with LastWriteTime.

Note:ZoneAlarm is free for individual and not-for-profit charitable entity use (excluding governmental entities and educational institutions).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Holier than Thou

I've been advocating that Connecticut schools be allowed to use blogging technology for some time now. My basic thesis is that teachers can blog the daily assignments for students [on some periodic basis] giving students and parents an exact idea of what the students are responsible for. And maybe class notes as well.

The very nice by-product of this is that students who are sick can keep up online.

But the second by-product is that when schools close for snow days or whatever reason, students and teachers can attend a school day virtually.

The only make-up days that need to be made up are days where there's no internet connection available.

But the real point I'm coming to is this, Yahoo just ran an article on the difficulty of scheduling. Parents, teachers, and everyone else want some certainty about vacation time and so on. Moving toward virtual makeup days make more personal choice possible.

Here's a sample of School schedules try to respect all faiths By Cara Anna, Associated Press Writer
It can get complicated. When Muslims in the Tampa Bay region of Florida asked for a day off to celebrate the end of Ramadan, another local religious group perked up.

"There was discussion in the Hindu community if we should also push for a holiday," said Nikhil Joshi, a board member of the national Hindu American Foundation.

The Hillsborough County school board responded by ending days off for all religious holidays. The move inspired more than 3,500 e-mails. Christian leaders pleaded for the Muslim holiday. Finally, the district restored this fall's original calendar, with days off for Good Friday, Easter Monday and the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.

The Muslim community was relieved it hadn't hurt other faiths. The Hindu community decided not to ask for days off.

"You would hope in a country of religious freedom all would be recognized, but we know that's not practical," Joshi said.

School districts say they can't take days off for purely religious reasons, but they can act if they think operations are affected by students or staff taking the day off.

That practice gives school holidays a certain regional flair. Some schools close for the beginning of hunting season. San Francisco schools have Cesar Chavez Day on March 30 to celebrate farmworkers, and Chicago schools have March 5 to honor Casimir Pulaski, a Polish count who helped the American side in the Revolutionary War.

Religion is more sensitive. Some districts mark "special observance days" when no test or exam can be scheduled. Other districts find inspiration in the business world — each student gets a number of "floating" days to celebrate his or her own holidays with an excused absence.

"'Choose your own holiday' has become more popular," said Kathryn Lohre, assistant director of Harvard University's Pluralism Project, which studies diversity in religion. "It takes pressure off the school boards."

New Jersey's board of education now lists 76 excused religious holidays, from Russian Orthodox to Sikh. New York City schools are even more flexible. Students with a letter from parents get an excused absence for a holiday in any religion.

Some have tried the traditional route of schoolwide holidays, and failed. In Ohio, the Sycamore Community School District once canceled classes on the Jewish High Holy Days after some parents asked why schools closed on Good Friday. Muslim and Hindu parents then asked why they didn't get days off. The
American Civil Liberties Union sued the district.

The case was settled in 2000, and the High Holy Days became school days again.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sensitivity, Sensibility, and Scumpunks

Englehart political cartoon depicting teacher looking like an exotic street kid

In today's Courant EngleHart published this cartoon and some commentary.
I pity the white urban teachers of today. They have to be part lawyer, part linguist and part multicultural education professor. The white teacher in Hartford who was charged with cultural insensitivity –– God how I hate that term –– in the first degree must call to mind the adage, "No good deed shall go unpunished."

When I read the comments from the UConn Neag School of Education multicultural professor –– who must be a perfect specimen of a human being –– I almost fell off my chair laughing. "Teachers have to create room for kids to express their own identity in a way that's meaningful" and then he ended his little lecture with a dig about white teachers living in the white suburbs.

I do want to thank him –– or her –– I wouldn't want to be culturally insensitive. Perfesser Perfect's PC gibberish formed today's cartoon in an instant. Word, dawg.

The whole episode sounds to me like another good reason to have uniforms AND STANDARDS of appearance in the public schools.

I have given many classroom talks in Hartford schools and it makes me angry to see so many good kids starved for knowledge being overshadowed by the few scumpunks who steal all the attention. Being a white man, can I say scumpunks, Perfessser Perfect? I made up the word. It's culturally inclusive.

The object of Englehart's is this story called, A Classroom Divide by Rachel Gottlieb. It is loaded with a powderkeg of oh-so-sensitive topics.
The boy, 13-year-old Jose Velez, accused his math teacher in a letter to school officials of using the word "faggot" during a discussion of Velez's appearance. The teacher, 49-year-old Robert Williams, vehemently denies using any slurs.

And of course a UConn sensitivity trainer responds,
This sort of conflict, Irizarry and Coleman said, shows why it is critical for urban districts to train their teachers to be culturally sensitive, even those who have been in classrooms for decades.

"I don't think this is an isolated incident. Things like this happened to me when I was growing up," Irizarry said. "This has to be put in its historical context. You're not just teaching kids, you're teaching kids in a specific context. Teachers have to create room for kids to express their own identity in a way that's meaningful."

Irizarry encourages urban districts to evaluate their history, art, literature and music curriculums to ensure they reflect subjects that are relevant to minority students; increase the recruitment and retention of minority teachers; use students as guides for some professional development in cultural sensitivity; and encourage teachers to attend some church services, walk the streets and shop in the area where they teach.

"If you're going to work in these communities, it's about more than what you need to know, it's about who you want to be. It's a lifestyle choice," Irizarry said. "Teachers have to want to cross these boundaries. You cannot become culturally connected from the cheap seats in the suburbs."
What Irazzary fails to mention is that the New York Times ran an editorial weeks ago by a scholar who asserts that it is precisely the culture of poverty, gangs, and lifestyle that is frustrating the assimilation of the poor into a generally welcoming society.

And students complaining about the insensitivity of teachers conveniently fail to mention that gay bashing, in your face n*g*r speech, and other exotic, inflammatory language are all perfectly acceptable vernaculars in their "own identity".

Forgive me for being verbose but here's a cheap seat suburban "gay" story.

A few years ago, my son returned home with an elementary school assignment and he was flustered, really bent out of shape.

What's the assignment?

I have to write a paper on what 'gay' means and I looked it up on the internet during study hall and found these disgusting pictures. The teacher in study hall wants to discipline me for looking up dirty pictures.

Needless to say my wife and I went ballistic. What the hell are they thinking? We don't want our kids bashing gays however, we don't want them looking up the subject on the internet, and why is this a school project?

It turns out that my son and his friends were wise-cracking in class using the word gay to describe the actions of some other kid in class. The teacher rightfully put a stop to that dialogue and lectured them that gay was a lifestyle choice and that the boys using it as a slur was wrong and furthermore they should know what it really means and so on.

So this teacher naively asked my son to "look it up and write a paper on it" probably expecting my son to come home discuss the incident and write under our supervision.

Instead, to avoid admitting his duplicity, my son dutifully used his studyhall time to "look it up". The internet is unkind for this kind of research. My son was shaken by the porn he found, the study hall teacher shocked, and we were all fuming.

It all got straightened out in the end. There are no educational villans but the lesson for everyone involved was that everything is complex these days and its easy to get it wrong. And those who get it wrong aren't evil, they're just human, like me and you and that teacher and students in Hartford and in the cheap seats.

Can We Declare a War on Stupidity Please

Godfrey Daniels! What is the legislature thinking about? Today's Courant informs us that thanks to the ethical lapses of the Rowland/Rell administration, new ethical guidelines were developed to prevent the ethically challenged politicians from accepting gifts like jacuzzis for their cottages.

Thanks to the genius of our CT lawmakers this law seems to include the elimination of corporate technology gifts to schools. Where do these Homers come from? Honestly. Does anyone in the State House use their heads?

People, get out and vote on August 8.

Ethics Rules May Hurt Schools
State Agency Asked To Clarify Law Restricting Gifts
July 21, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
According to an opinion issued by the Office of State Ethics, the law bans all gifts to state agencies from donors or companies who pay for registered lobbyists or who seek to do business with the agencies. That includes many major corporations in the state.

The law does not apply to local school districts, but it does affect the technical high school system, for example, because of its status as a state institution.

The issue prompted a letter to the ethics office this week from State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor, who sought clarification on the new law.

Taylor cited the technical high school system as an example, saying it relies on gifts ranging from scholarships sponsored by Northeast Utilities to a recent $141,000 donation of heating and air-conditioning equipment from a group of companies including Carrier Corp.

Taylor also mentioned the $25,000 from financial services company ING that pays for the state's annual teacher of the year recognition ceremony and helps send the winning teacher to a national reception in Washington, D.C., and conferences in Texas and Alabama.

Although such gifts were acceptable in the past, state-operated schools and prospective donors can expect that future donations will be subject to a case-by-case review, said Meredith Trimble, director of education for the Office of State Ethics.

"Their concern is legitimate," she said.

"It's just pretty clear the way the statute is written. If they are a regulated donor and what they provide is a gift to the state - from a fax machine to cash to free training - it is no longer permissible."

The new rules could hinder efforts to forge ties between schools and businesses, some officials say.

"I don't think this was the intent" of the law, said Rachel Rubin, an expert on ethics who reviews compliance issues for the University of Connecticut. "We have a mandate to raise private money. It kind of puts us in a Catch-22."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

NEA's Jonathan Kozol interview

“I’m going to encourage speak out politically, to rise up and protest, not only against this testing madness...but also about the perpetual separation of our children so they don’t know each other any longer in America.”
—Jonathan Kozol

Kozol is one of my heroes from college. When I was studying teaching and education "Death at an Early Age" was one of the first books I read on the subject. I've never forgotten it.

In this interview, Kozol talks about Teacher Power. Teachers need to start speaking out and flexing their muscles on behalf of curriculum and innovation for everyone's sake.

February 2006, Teacher Power, Jonathan Kozol wants to team up with NEA in a new movement to banish ‘apartheid schooling.’
Increasingly, it’s up to NEA and other advocates for the teaching profession, like Kozol, to defend the conditions and job security that make it possible for good teachers to work their magic, and also stave off an onslaught of misguided federal dictates. Dictates like the high-stakes testing craze, which Kozol believes is “not to benefit children but to humiliate the public enterprise in order to set the stage for the voucher program.”

“[The bureaucrats] are so accustomed to making decisions for us, about us, without us, in spite of us, and think that we should follow those dictates and mandates without having anything to say,” NEA President Reg Weaver said to Kozol during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.

“They don’t give us credit for having the professionalism, the knowledge, the care we must have in our classrooms today for kids.”

“What a way to welcome a teacher to a school system!” said Kozol. “‘Oh, we’re so happy to have you in our school. Here’s a teacher-proof lesson which is so perfect that even you can’t do it wrong.’”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

The Rolling Stone magazine is running the disturbing speculation that the draft will be making a comeback. This is bad news for all teens.

The Return of the Draft -
With the army desperate for recruits, should college students be packing their bags for Canada? - Rolling Stone

Desperate for troops, the Army has lowered its standards to let in twenty-five percent more high school dropouts, and the Marines are now offering as much as $30,000 to anyone who re-enlists. To understand the scope of the crisis, consider this: The United States is pouring nearly as much money into incentives for new recruits -- almost $300 million -- as it is into international tsunami relief.

"The Army's maxed out here," says retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff under the first President Bush. "The Defense Department and the president seem to be still operating off the rosy scenario that this will be over soon, that this pain is temporary and therefore we'll just grit our teeth, hunker down and get out on the other side of this. That's a bad assumption." The Bush administration has sworn up and down that it will never reinstate a draft. During the campaign last year, the president dismissed the idea as nothing more than "rumors on the Internets" and declared, "We're not going to have a draft -- period." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in an Op-Ed blaming "conspiracy mongers" for "attempting to scare and mislead young Americans," insisted that "the idea of reinstating the draft has never been debated, endorsed, discussed, theorized, pondered or even whispered by anyone in the Bush administration."

That assertion is demonstrably false. According to an internal Selective Service memo made public under the Freedom of Information Act, the agency's acting director met with two of Rumsfeld's undersecretaries in February 2003 precisely to debate, discuss and ponder a return to the draft. The memo duly notes the administration's aversion to a draft but adds, "Defense manpower officials concede there are critical shortages of military personnel with certain special skills, such as medical personnel, linguists, computer network engineers, etc." The potentially prohibitive cost of "attracting and retaining such personnel for military service," the memo adds, has led "some officials to conclude that, while a conventional draft may never be needed, a draft of men and women possessing these critical skills may be warranted in a future crisis." This new draft, it suggests, could be invoked to meet the needs of both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

The memo then proposes, in detail, that the Selective Service be "re-engineered" to cover all Americans -- "men and (for the first time) women" -- ages eighteen to thirty-four.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Jonathan Kozol on Teacher Power

Jonathan Kozol's NEA interviews are fascinating listening. Also, this an excerpt from his book, The Shame of a Nation to stimulate your intellectual appetite.

Public policy has largely turned its back upon the aspirations represented by these instances of school desegregation. “Even many Black leaders,” notes education analyst Richard Rothstein, weary of the struggle over mandatory busing programs to achieve desegregation, “have given up on integration,” arguing, in his words, that “a Black child does not need white classmates in order to learn.” So education policies, instead, he says, “now aim to raise scores in [the] schools that black children attend.”

“That effort,” he writes, “will be flawed even if it succeeds.” The 1954 decision, he reminds us, “was not about raising scores” for children of minorities “but about giving Black children access to majority culture, so they could negotiate it more confidently. . . . For African-Americans to have equal opportunity, higher test scores will not suffice. It is foolhardy to think Black children can be taught, no matter how well, in isolation and then have the skills and confidence as adults to succeed in a white world where they have no experience.”

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Margaret Spellings Dirty Little Secret

There are numerous buried studies that refute the claim that America's schools represent a threat to our ability to globally compete or that our children are suffering some kind of miseducation at the hands of incompetent fools. They never get the traction they deserve because bad press about school performance is main stream media's (MSM) party line. It sells.

And, of course, the Departments of Education at the Federal and State levels genuflect and defer to the political impetus to promote these kinds of fallacies. But truth is a funny thing. The right-wing fanaticism about school performance is starting to be exposed for what it is and always was - bullshit.

This from the New York Times article, Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study by DIANA JEAN SCHEMO.

The report, which compared fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math scores in 2003 from nearly 7,000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, found that fourth graders attending public school did significantly better in math than comparable fourth graders in private schools. Additionally, it found that students in conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools on eighth-grade math.

The study, carrying the imprimatur of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department, was contracted to the Educational Testing Service and delivered to the department last year.

It went through a lengthy peer review and includes an extended section of caveats about its limitations and calling such a comparison of public and private schools “of modest utility.”

Its release, on a summer Friday, was made with without a news conference or comment from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the union for millions of teachers, said the findings showed that public schools were “doing an outstanding job” and that if the results had been favorable to private schools, “there would have been press conferences and glowing statements about private schools.”

“The administration has been giving public schools a beating since the beginning” to advance its political agenda, Mr. Weaver said, of promoting charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for private schools as alternatives to failing traditional public schools.

Something that this report hints at is that "The report separated private schools by type and found that among private school students, those in Lutheran schools performed best, while those in conservative Christian schools did worst."

I cannot help but wonder whether or not the complaints coming from Colleges and Universities about the need for remedial courses in reading and math are in fact an indictment of public school graduates and not more specifically certain private school graduate clusters pulling down public school graduate's accomplishments.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Time for Virtual Makeup Days is Here

The latest War in the Middle East will dramatically affect the cost of busing school children in the coming school years. It is time for the Department of Education to recognise the need to allow school districts to implement online, virtual school days for any and all make-up days schools miss during the course of a year.

The link takes you to my original proposal for virtual make-up days.

Here's Juan Cole's speculation of what may be on the immediate horizon:

Is the Arab Spring turning to Dust under Israeli Bombardment?

Petroleum hit $76.70 a barrel on Thursday, a record high price, in reaction to the new Middle East crisis. (Though in real terms, the 1980 post-Iranian revolution crisis price was probably $80 a barrel in today's dollars). To those of you in the Gen-X and younger generations, let me welcome you to the late 1970s. The only pleasures of that day of which you are now denied are standing in long lines just to fill up your tank and stagflation or combined high inflation with economic stagnation. If George W. Bush's wise stewardship of the world continues in this brilliant fashion, you may yet have those joys, as well.

Gary Hart's assessment is here;

We have some lessons in democracy to be learned here at home. Democracy does not work without accountability. Today there is no accountability in American democracy.

On the other hand, perhaps there will be in 2006 and 2008...if the Democrats recapture conviction and courage.

p.s. And, by the way, how do you like $4 a gallon gasoline?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Republican Scheme that "Mortgages Black People"

As everyone should well know, politicians like Rob Simmons who receive dubious sources of funding from lobbyists who suddenly come under judicial scrutiny magnanimously -cough- "donate to charities".

It is unclear how pervasive the following scheme became but how can any American not find these ideas despicable. But aside from the obvious new political low that something like this may appear, it is precisely why education continues to scream with glaring gaps in achievement. The poor and minority populations remain hostage to politicians who want little more than to exploit them.

Read and weep if you have any tears left.

Ralph Reed Allegedly Mulled ‘Mortgaging Black People’
Only Senator Dodd didn’t go along with the plan. In fact, he was mightily pissed his good name had gotten dragged into such a scam, a point he made quite clear during an Indian Affairs Committee hearing.

The failed con took more than a year to play out, by which time the Tiguas were pretty much broke. So Abramoff came up with a way for his marks to continue paying him: the Tigua Elder Legacy Project. Abramoff would arrange, at no cost to the tribe, a life-insurance policy for every Tigua 75 or older. When those elders died, the death beneļ¬ts would be paid to Eshkol Academy, a private school Abramoff had founded near Washington. Eshkol, in turn, would then pay Abramoff’s fee to continue lobbying on behalf of the surviving Tiguas. Morbid opportunism disguised as charity: Each dead Tigua would be cash in the lobbyist’s pocket.

The Tiguas declined the offer. “It felt uncomfortable,” a Tigua official told the Senate committee last November.

The Tigua-death-fund offer had been made in March 2003. Four months later, Abramoff was pitching Reed—his connection to Christians—the Black Churches Insurance Program. There was only one difference: It would be huge, to use Abramoff’s word.

“Yeah,” a former associate of Reed’s says, “it sounds like Jack approached Reed about mortgaging old black people.”

Can the Dept of Education Bureaucrats Be Taught to Respect School Districts?

I can't resist. I came across an article that I ignored for days because it sounded ridiculous but it kept on showing up as a most popular story at the New York Times. It's hilarious and true.

When I was studying for my education certification at Doane College so many years ago, we read B. F. Skinner that dealt with behavior modification techniques that could be applied to classroom discipline situations. I had always had an ethical dilemna about the potential abuse of this stuff but it does work.

In any case, as I read this rediscovery of an ancient art piece I was idly wondering to myself if the BOE members could somehow use it to train politicians to stop passing stupid education legislation and so on. See what you think.

Modern Love: What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage
by AMY SUTHERLAND, published: June 25, 2006 in the New York Times

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"

It was only a matter of time before he was again tearing around the house searching for his keys, at which point I said nothing and kept at what I was doing. It took a lot of discipline to maintain my calm, but results were immediate and stunning. His temper fell far shy of its usual pitch and then waned like a fast-moving storm. I felt as if I should throw him a mackerel.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lieberman is Poster Boy for Dysfunctional Politicians

In the recent debate between Ned Lamont and Lieberman, only Lamont talked about education with any conviction. We should be thankful for that. Education suffers the same fate in Washington that ecological issues, social security, and healthcare do. Far too much sloganeering, sugar-coated platitudes, and disingenuous concern plague all these important discussions.

The Main Stream Media (MSM) is catching up and finally giving us some straight talk. This should be a belated education for Lieberman and the legion of Democrats and Republicans who play blind, deaf and dumb with their constituencies.

Joe Conaston's Lieberman Misses Point of Opponents
tells us a lot about being dysfunctional to a constituency (click title link for the entire piece).

After 18 years in the Senate, his fervent insistence that he is a lifelong devotee of “progressive causes” and his endorsement by major liberal organizations only seem to mask his accommodation with Washington’s conservative status quo.

Mr. Lieberman dutifully recites his opposition to “tax cuts for the rich” and “privatizing Social Security,” and his support of “universal health insurance” and “affordable health care.” When he utters those phrases, unfortunately, they ring hollow to many rank-and-file Democrats.

Actually, the syndrome afflicting him is found among entrenched veterans of both parties, especially those who appear more concerned with connections and contributions than values or ideals.

Lieberman's Real Problem by Harold Meyerson (Washington Post) is equally blunt.

No great mystery enshrouds the challenge to Lieberman, nor is the campaign of his challenger, Ned Lamont, a jihad of crazed nit-pickers. Lieberman has simply and rightly been caught up in the fundamental dynamics of Politics 2006, in which Democrats are doing their damnedest to unseat all the president's enablers in this year's elections. As well, Lieberman's broader politics are at odds with those of his fellow Northeastern Democrats. He is not being opposed because he doesn't reflect the views of his Democratic constituents 100 percent of the time. He is being opposed because he leads causes many of them find repugnant.

Education and dialogues about education have suffered dangerously under Bush and his enablers and the voters know this. They know it on a host of issues. Voters are hurting.

But so are schools and our children. If you care about anything other than money, vote differently on August 8 and in November. Don't send messages to the Statehouse or Washington - send new, competent representatives.

It's in your hands.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Free Software: A Graphical Math Calculator, Ump

From the site:

Ump is a graphical, easy to use math program, which works with complex numbers, matrices, functions and much more.
Ump is released under the terms of Gnu GPL.

Peter Tork Keeps Getting Rave Reviews

I wrote a short review of Peter's one man concert that benefitted Joshua's Trust. I received yet another very nice reply that confirms how well liked Peter's latest venture is.

I'll try to get a sample of Colleen's review. Citilife's link is here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Political Spin on the Boy/Girl "Crisis"

A college professor [identified as amike] of 34 years experience wrote the following observations. I cite them because in reading the literature there is a weary, predictable redundancy in complaints about what entering freshmen know and don't know.

The pretention of academics is simply overbearing when it comes to pointing out their perceived deficiencies of youth. These observations are more interesting because of the gender context.

Unspoken in any of these discussions is a factoid about college that a guidance counselor tipped me off to. Today's college graduates are taking longer to graduate by two years. These days a typical graduate will spend six years getting what used to be a four-year degree. This comes as a shock to me and other parents as well.

But here's the gender divide observations. See what you think.

I've been in the ed biz for 34 years now, and I am really curious to see how this chain develops. Those of on the faculty side of the desk are stuck (this is not a complaint) with what comes in the door on the first day of class. I haven't tried to tally the changes over the last 30 years, save the students of the millennium generation (is that what we're supposed to call them?) are a tad more docile than the students I first taught during the tail end of the Viet Nam war. Here's a couple of observations, and I'm wondering if they tally with any other faculty who may drop by to comment here. First...let me say that I teach undergraduates exclusively, in History and American Studies, and about 60/40 per cent general education requirement students (the havetas) and 40 per cent majors (the wantas)

Observations without proof:

* Men do less well in the required courses than women do. They're less willing to devote time to things they're made to study, and more vocally resentful of the idea of required courses.

* Women do better on collaborative work then men do. They're more group oriented in the ways they interact. They're more willing to assist each other and more subtle about making sure the members of the group pull their weight.

* Women are more willing to make use of academic resources available to them: tutors, the learning center, and faculty office hours. Men, especially men who have diagnosed learning disorders (such as dyslexia) are far less likely to avail themselves of the assistance available to them by law. They feel, somehow, that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and they'll take a lower grade rather than show that particular sign.

* Among the average students (we get those, and I rather like working with those) men are more likely to ask questions related to technical issues (how long, does it have to be typed) and women are more likely to ask clarification questions...what do you mean by. . .

* Neither sex handles the written language well. They handle it worse, if anything, than students did thirty years ago. Neither seems to think that grammar matters, or that clothing what they think in powerful language is important.

* Women are more vocal than they were twenty years ago. Neither sex is as vocal as it was thirty years ago. Neither sex is as willing to contradict faculty positions or risk being wrong as the best students were when I began my career. Some of my colleagues breathe a sigh of relief about this. I rather miss the fracases into which some class sessions developed.

All in all, I wish my students worried less about what I thought and more about what they thought. I can see why Americans have been so passive regarding power structures in general and government in particular. Perhaps the one thing good which might develop out of the current national situation is the reawakening of youthful anger.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Science Lab Safety

Students should always keep in mind that wearing a lab coat and safety glasses are important equipment in keeping themselves safe.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Arresting Teens, Heavy-handed Discipline

I was watching C-Span the other night. It was a show about a recently published book called Tiger Force. During the Vietnam War, Tiger Force was a special ops military unit that was off the books. And for a period of years it was out of control as well with unit members performing heinous war crimes in Vietnam.

The authors concluded that the behavior was a direct result of negligent and unethical supervision by the superior officers. One of the comments about a soldier, a California surfer, who was intimidated into killing a prisoner in cold blood remains in my head screaming for resolution. The authors went on to say that once he had committed that murder the rest of the horrible things he would do followed with an easy discompassion. Once a certain line is crossed there's little more to regret.

In just the past few weeks I have read numerous stories from many states about police intervening in teenage high school activities. Today the police are no longer the friendly neighborhood watchmen of the past. With the ratcheting up of tensions thanks to the political commercialization of terrorism, police no longer exercise patience, understanding, nor do they dismiss teenaged behavior with a stern warning.

More disconcertingly, school officials in far too many CT school districts seem to play the police card casually as though teenagers are somehow hardened criminals deserving a rough time.

I offer the following links to some very disturbing incidents that bring into question the quality of educational administration.

Read here and here to get a flavor of what's going on.

I have no doubt that there are times where police involvement is absolutely necessary but it seems to me that society needs to begin thinking about staffing community relations specialists who can act as para-professional police authorities who are less likely to over-react to teens and children misbehaving.

And it would be nice if school administrators used better judgment as well.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hurray! Microsoft to Support Open Document Formats

This is very good news indeed. Far too many school districts are in love with spending taxpayer money needlessly on vendor-specific products usually to the detriment of the community.

Now, even districts who think they're using superior vendor products because it costs money will no longer be able to force teachers, parents, and students to go out and buy that product just to be able to keep themselves from looking poor.

Here's the news announcement;

Microsoft to Support OpenDocument by Nate Mook, BetaNews, July 6, 2006, 2:19 AM

Although it was reported in May that the OpenDocument Foundation was working on a compatibility plug-in, Microsoft's decision to spearhead the effort is quite an about-face for the Redmond company. OpenDocument has become a thorn in Microsoft's side, with a number of governments looking to move to standardized document formats.

The release of 2.0 finally provided a viable and free alternative to Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite, as well as bringing OpenDocument into the limelight. ODF is backed by the OASIS standards body and was certified by the International Standards Organization (ISO). The state of Massachusetts turned up the heat last September, announcing plans to switch to ODF and by January 1, 2007.

Microsoft responded to the public pressure by developing its own Open XML formats, which it has submitted to European standards body Ecma for certification. The company has long said it would not support OpenDocument, claiming a lack of interest from customers and noting the necessity for backwards compatibility with older Microsoft Office versions.

However, Microsoft is now acknowledging the importance of interoperability and says it wants to make choice an option for its customers.

"We believe that Open XML meets the needs of millions of organizations for a new approach to file formats, so we are sharing it with the industry by submitting it, with others, to become a worldwide standard," said Microsoft XML architect Jean Paoli. "Yet it is very important that customers have the freedom to choose from a range of technologies to meet their diverse needs."

By providing a downloadable add-in that enables customers to import OpenDocument files and export to the format, Microsoft is also making Office 2007 a possibility for businesses and governments like Massachusetts that do opt to switch to ODF. But the translation will not be seamless, the company concedes.

The OpenOffice suite of tools can be downloaded free from here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Uncle Sam: Pre-Teen Predator?

A disturbing article from the Associated Press indicates that the latest issue of Cobblestone magazine is little more than a military propaganda piece. This goes hand-in-hand with other military recruitment efforts aimed at children too young to realize they're irrevocably signing up to perform military service.

Why these practices of targeting immature and unwitting children to be persuaded to make life choices before they are old enough to make those choices is inexplicable and irresponsible on the government's part.

From: Preteen Mag Accused of Military Pitching, by the Associated Press, Published: July 3, 2006, New York Times

Most controversial has been a set of classroom guides that accompany the magazine, which suggest teachers invite a soldier, Army recruiter or veteran to speak to their classes and ask students whether they might want to join the Army someday.

One of the teaching guides -- written by Mary Lawson, a teacher in Saint Cloud., Fla. -- suggests having students write essays pretending they are going to join the Army: ''Have them decide which career they feel they would qualify for and write a paper to persuade a recruiter why that should be the career.''

This magazine's editors can claim responsibility all they like but the fact of the matter is that the government should have a much more restrictive policy about who they're recruiting. The editors fail to explain why military recruitment is suddenly such a compelling topic for young teens.

Nor do they bother to mention new recruitment programs aimed at younger and younger adolescents.

Nor is this as innocent as it may seem. Insidious is our vocabulary word of the day.

Cheap Thrills

Use the link to play an ant game. Using the cursor click a morsel of food into the ant's sandbox.

Just something to do on a hot summer day.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Region 19 Needs a Federal Lobbyist

No wonder we're not being served in Washington. We aren't greasing the wheels enough. As a liberal I'm for lowering the cost of government and returning the money to the taxpayers. But as you can see from this New York Times piece, municipalities are helping themselves to slovenly excessive helpings of tax dollars. All kinds of subsidies, public works pork-barrel projects, and political schenanighans are being paid for with our hard-earned money.

It looks to be an easy game to play, -cough- political payoffs -cough- I mean, passing the hat around the community to pay off a lobbying firm appears to work quite effectively. In schools we teach that elected government officials are expected to fulfill these duties as part of their official duties, but that's all wrong.

It's pointless to complain. Based on the interactive media chart, Simmons looks to be running a quite an operation in his hometown area. Gee, I thought he was looking out for our interests as well. We aren't on the list though. Do we drop off the money in an unmarked brown paper bag?

Maybe then we'll receive some of those tax dollars back.

Student Testing a National Scam? I'm Shocked!

A nicely written editorial in the New York Times reinforces an ugly truth about schools - they cheat on test results. They fudge, dodge, cheat, and do whatever they can to avoid responsibility. Sounds a lot like the Bush administration.

We get lectured every other day about this stuff so we're all deaf to it. For the historical record, here's a dose of truth. I'm bolding the elephant in the living room.

Editorial, New York Times, The School Testing Dodge, published: July 2, 2006.

Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a research institute run jointly by Stanford and the University of California, showed that in many states students who performed brilliantly on state tests scored dismally on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is currently the strongest, most well-respected test in the country.

The study analyzed state-level testing practices from 1992 to 2005. It found that many states were dumbing down their tests or shifting the proficiency targets in math and reading, creating a fraudulent appearance of progress and making it impossible to tell how well students were actually performing.

Not all states have tried to evade the truth. The tests in Massachusetts, for example, yield performance results that are reasonably close to the federal standard. Not so for states like Oklahoma, where the score gap between state and federal tests has averaged 48 points in reading and 60 points in math, according to the PACE report. The states that want to mislead the government — and their own residents — use a variety of dodges, including setting passing scores low, using weak tests and switching tests from year to year to prevent unflattering comparisons over time. These strategies become transparent when the same students who perform so well on state tests do poorly on the more rigorous federal exam. Most alarming of all, the PACE study finds that the gap between student reading performance on the state and federal tests has actually grown wider over time — which suggests that claims of reading progress in many states are in fact phony.