Saturday, September 30, 2006

I Feel Kinda Sick Today

House Representative Foley turns out to be a pedophile.

Uh, he heads up House Committee that oversees children's affairs.

The Republican House Leaders knew about it for months.

Uh, that includes Dennis Hastert who is in charge of "cyberspace safety for kids".

Woodard tells us Laura Bush wanted Rumsfelfd Fired. Lieberman never did.

Lieberman voted for torture. No Democrat I know thinks this is a good idea.

I saw a "Lieberman, Democrat" sign on somebody's lawn last night. Republicans think voting for Lieberman serves Democrats right.

When does the political debauchery end?


Friday, September 29, 2006

Failing Schools and Failing Health

About a week ago, maybe more, I was catching up with my Board of Education handouts and was browsing through a Connecticut School Health Survey (CSHS). This is put out (and I use the term loosely) by the Department of Education and the Department of Public Health.

On the cover letter, it offered a couple of people to call "if you have any questions". I did. Identifying myself as a school board member with questions I called both Dr. Mhoura Newsom-Stewart (860.567.0863) and Mrs. Cherl Resha (860.807.2108) over a week ago and never received a call back.

Funny how adults getting paid by public funds have so little accountability yet children are held to task 24 by 7. Oh well, I'm going to guess they're working their fingers to the bone.

Anyway, my question pertained to the responses they received from the survey. Five plus percent of schools reported that 26 to 75 percent of their attending students had no health insurance. Even the majority of schools who reported otherwise still reported that as much as 50 percent of their populations might not be covered. And there are more devils to be discussed in these details - unattended mental health issues, poor dental health, and so on.

Nowhere in the survey do the people administering it ever consider mapping the findings to the failing schools issue even though the results read like child-labor sweatshop health conditions of third-world children.

I'm not going to even bother going into a rant about this. But it seems to me teachers who are being accused in these failing schools should demand a recount of extenuating circumstances. Furthermore, the Rell administration needs to belly up to the health clinics with getting these kids on the Husky plan.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bad News

The Courant is reporting that Connecticut has had most of its lawsuit against NCLB thrown out. Bummer.
From: Judge Dismisses Most Of No Child Lawsuit, Associated Press
Judge Mark Kravitz dismissed three counts, saying state officials can't challenge the law until they have violated it, Blumenthal said.

The judge is allowing the state to proceed with a fourth claim that the U.S. Department of Education unfairly denied Connecticut's proposed amendments to testing rules, he said.

The law, the cornerstone of President Bush's education platform, requires annual standardized tests for students in grades 3 through 8, but Connecticut wants to continue its program of testing students every other year, in grades 4, 6 and 8.

"This is a jurisdictional ruling," Blumenthal said Wednesday. "Our challenge is alive and well."

I have faith in Blumenthal. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Kids and Burnout

CNN ran this a while ago, Experts: Despite their energy, kids still at risk of burnout, POSTED: 3:01 p.m. EDT, September 2, 2006 by Lisa Porterfield, CNN.

This is just one of a backlog of stories that are piling up screaming for attention. This one folds nicely into a few of the previous posts so let's examine it.

Chronic stress can have severe consequences for children and adults, according to Dr. Kate Cronan, medical editor for It can cause people to lose sleep, eat poorly, become irritable and fall behind at school or work.
How big a problem is it?

Forty-one percent of 882 children ages 9-13 surveyed in a recent KidsHealth poll said they feel stressed either most of the time or always because they have too much to do. And more than three-quarters of those surveyed said that they wished they had more free time.

Even Austin, who is comfortable with his packed schedule, said he wishes he had more time to "just hang out and play video games or read."

Overscheduling is a growing problem for American families, according to Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of "The Over-scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap."

"A cultural phenomenon is taking place where parents are being told that the right way to raise their kids is to involve them in every enrichment opportunity possible, even if it means leaving the entire family feeling anxious and stressed," he said.

"The notion that education is a race has become quite prevalent and part of the conventional wisdom," said Elkind of Tufts University. And this race begins at infancy. Videos and software designed to give kids as young as six-months-old a leg up on the competition are being sold at toy stores around the country.

Experts suggest considering the motivations behind scheduling multiple enrichment opportunities for kids. Is it because the activities are enjoyable or is the sole purpose to give kids a competitive edge? Rosenfeld advises parents to "weigh the benefits of participation against the cost -- time, energy, logistical effort, stress and expense -- to you, your child and the rest of your family."

It seems to me the empirical evidence is all around us that the conservative generation of children are being severely short-changed of their childhoods. Right-wing pundits will insist that getting tougher with kids and working them harder is what's wrong but these people increasingly sound like snake oil salespeople selling child flagellation as the key to enlightenment.

The Fourth Dimension

This article talks about something that gets lost in America's crazed desire to work kids 16 hours a day. It has to do with a developmental aspect of memory called change blindness.

From the article, Kids need more time than adults give them, study finds (Emphasis by bolding is mine):

"Children are increasingly being expected to provide an adult-level of detail and information," says David Shore, associate professor in McMaster University's Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour. "Adults have had years to hone their perceptual skills; children - even 10 year olds - are just starting out."

The study is the first to probe so-called change blindness in children, a hot topic in psychology circles especially when it pertains to gauging the veracity of children who are called upon to give eyewitness testimony in court.


"We expect children to be adult-like, because of their proficiency on computers or because they display adult-like speech," he says, "so we give them instructions and get impatient when they can't understand what we tell them the first time. Children learn through repetition, at a pace suitable to the child, not to the curriculum. Once upon a time, kids controlled their own pace; now that pace is controlled by adults."

Source: by Jane Christmas, McMaster University

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Indictment of Homework

I just came across a great essay on homework that I've recommended to all the Boards of Education as well as teaching staffs. This isn't a new topic here but its an important one.

The essay expresses many of my own observations and certainly observations from local parents as well. I'm going to extensively quote a few parts that would lose their context otherwise. This is a great read so use the link.

What Are the Costs of Homework?

Homework wrecks families. That's not a joke, that's just a fact. For an alarming number of kids of all ages, their entire relationship with their parents has been turned into a war over homework.

An Endless Cycle. The first thing the parents say to their kids after school is, "Do you have any homework?" That's not a parent-child relationship, that's a foreman-millworker relationship. What's your task? Let's stay on task!

So the kids aren't actually coming home, are they? School isn't over. It's just going to go on and on, in their own homes. They can never, never, never get away. Not on weekends. Not on holidays. Not over Christmas. Not over summer vacation. There's always some assignment from school.

What do you think that does to kids? To have not even a day when they can say, Whew, I'm done with that, I can have a break!

Would you put up with a job that was like that? Sure, some people with Type A personalities do live like that -- but most of us don't even consider that a life. We want to have days we can count on not belonging to our bosses. Shouldn't kids have that too?

Childhood Obesity. In all the concern about the hours our children spend playing videogames and watching television, has anybody noticed that time spent doing homework is also not physically active? Maybe if our children didn't have to spend even ten minutes a day, let alone hours a day, on homework, they might get enough exercise to shed a few pounds.

Parents As Drill Sergeants. Parents are told to make sure kids have a regular, well-lighted, quiet place to do homework. The funny thing is that there is no study indicating that this actually helps homework get done.

What parents really do is set up rewards and punishments. Do your homework first, and then you can play. No television till homework is done. Get it out of the way first!

This is such a horrible mistake. No wonder so many kids end up in tears over homework. Why can't they have a couple of hours, right after school, to be themselves?

Think about it. They've spent all day at school where people tell them when to stand, when to sit, when to talk. Hold still. No, you can't go to the toilet. No, you're wrong. Pay attention! You can't eat that in here. Don't cross that line. Stay where I told you! Hurry up! Stop that!

And their parents don't let them have those precious late afternoon hours to run around and be free. Why? So they can get into a better college? What good will it do them to get into a better college if they hated their entire childhood?

So they go to UNC-G instead of Duke because of that four percent difference -- but they have a childhood. An adolescence. What do you think will make more of a difference in their lives? What will make them happier human beings? That's the goal, isn't it? Not the job that makes the most money, but the life that has the most happiness -- right?

Of course, a lot of parents don't make their kids do homework during that late afternoon period, because both parents are working and don't even get home till after five o'clock.

You know what that means. When young kids have rational bedtimes -- eight o'clock, for instance, which gives them the minimal 10 to 11 hours of sleep that children need -- the parents have only three hours between getting off work and the kids going to bed. Somewhere in there will be dinner, bathing, whatever chores the kids might be expected to do (you know, the part of child-rearing that parents do) -- and ... homework?

When did we parents decide to give the schools the power to take even a moment of those precious hours away from us and force us to be proctors supervising our children in their schoolwork?

The high school kids go to bed later -- but they also want a social life. They have friends. They want to talk on the phone, go hang out together. And what about the things they actually love to do -- the plays? The sports? The dance lessons, the music lessons?

Is there any time left for parents to be anything but chauffeurs and homework sergeants?

Homework Kills Students. I knew a girl who, when she was a rising junior in high school, was assigned to keep a "reading log" over the summer. This was a girl who had always been a voracious reader, consuming books well above grade level since she was five. But the moment the teacher intruded in her reading, requiring that she answer questions, make comments, and analyze, every time she set the book down, she stopped reading entirely.

Because her joy of reading had been stolen from her. It had been turned into an assignment. It was now work, forced on her by someone else. That summer she read exactly one book -- a girl who ordinarily would have read at least twenty. And from that moment on, she was hostile to the entire enterprise of school. She hated it all. That summer assignment had turned her into an enemy of the educational system -- she who had been the favorite student of many an English teacher.


There are plenty of teachers who hate homework, too.

Why Teachers Hate Homework

When a teacher assigns each of five classes of 25 students to do 50 math problems overnight, then the teacher has to look at 6,250 math problems. That's in addition to the time the teacher spends grading their in-class work -- like quizzes.

And you know the teacher regards those homework results as nearly worthless, because the teacher doesn't know who really did the work. Was it the student, or the parents? No way to be sure. Maybe the student with a dozen mistakes is actually doing better than the student with perfect homework because the student with mistakes is actually doing the work himself.

So the teacher only takes seriously the work the students do in class. So any time spent grading homework is actually wasted time. Mostly teachers look at it just to make sure it was done, not to take it seriously as an evaluation tool.

Remarkably, there are even teachers who actually demand that parents proofread their children's homework. If the student turns in homework with spelling and punctuation errors, the parents actually get a snippy little note telling them that they're supposed to proofread their child's work! (Though I'm sure that never happens in Guilford County.)

Here's another reason some teachers hate homework -- and stop assigning it: Their own kids reach school age and start having to spend hours a night doing meaningless assignments. Both books record this phenomenon. Teachers who are also parents become quite skeptical of the value of homework when they see how it steals time from and ruins their relationships with their children.

Bad Homework

Even admitting that there is some conceivable value to homework in the upper grades, let's keep in mind that not all homework is equal. Some kinds of homework are utterly worthless even for seniors in high school.

Art Projects for Academic Classes. I remember when my oldest son entered chemistry class at Page High School. During the open house, the teacher proudly told us that the highlight of the year was her requirement that the kids all create a three-dimensional model of the periodic table of elements. It could be a poster or a t-shirt or a sculpture or ... oh, whatever their creativity suggested.

I raised my hand and pointedly asked how much of the grade would be for art and how much for science? She didn't understand my objection. It was so fun

for the kids.

Nonsense. It was time-consuming and expensive and a complete waste of time. Were they going to treasure these models for their whole lives? No. Did it help them actually know more about the periodic table? Not a chance.

This is one of the few cases where rote memorization would have been more worthwhile. They might actually have remembered some of the more common elements' names, abbreviations, atomic numbers, or weights. They might have memorized all the gases, especially the inert ones; all the elements that combine easily; all the radioactive elements; all the elements that only occur in the laboratory.

Instead, they made t-shirts.

Or rather, their parents scrambled to figure out how to do it.

There's an astonishing number of absolutely useless "projects" that are assigned which are really done by the parents anyway, and even if the kids do them, teach them absolutely nothing about the subject matter.

Exactly what does a child learn about astronomy or physics or aerodynamics by building a scale model of the space shuttle?

Once upon a time, science fairs consisted of displays of voluntary projects done by kids who were really gung-ho about science. The kids who couldn't care less didn't have to bother. But somebody thought that science fairs were so wonderful that all children should be required to do them.

Did this make the kids who never cared about science suddenly become more interested? No. It was just one more tedious assignment that they postponed until Mom and Dad finally helped them put some stupid thing together at the last minute.

Every now and then, one of our kids actually had a project they cared about and learned something from. Oddly enough, they were precisely the kind of thing they probably would have done on their own, without anybody requiring them to do it at all -- provided, of course, that they had had any free time.

In other words, the real projects, the ones that kids love, are replaced by the fake ones assigned as homework.

Meaningless Repetition. Some claim that kids need to do repetitive homework to "nail down" the things they learned in class. But how many repetitions are needed to "nail it down"?

If a child has mastered the process, then surely five examples, done in class, will demonstrate the child's proficiency. And if the child has not got it right, then what really happens at home when twenty or fifty problems are assigned? Either the student does them all wrong, thus "nailing down" the wrong process, or the parent has to try to teach the child what the teacher failed to teach in class. Is that how homework is supposed to function? In that case, it's really just home schooling -- with less time to do it in and only exhausted children to work with.

Fun and Games. Here's a good idea. Let's take from the internet a word-search puzzle with terms from the constitution hidden in a 39x39-letter grid, and make our seventh-grade students play the "game" of finding the important words.

Never mind that a 39x39 word-search grid is monstrously large, that you can get a headache from searching it. Never mind that the puzzle isn't even clever -- no two terms from the list actually intersect. None of them shares a letter. So the puzzlemaker didn't bother to take the time to make a tight, interlocking puzzle.

Nor are the terms themselves useful. Some are, but some of them are simply not used by grownups in discussions of anything.

And when you've finally gotten your headache by finding every one of these 29 terms in a huge grid, how much more do you know about the Constitution than you knew before you started?

Maybe, just maybe, those terms will be marginally more familiar to you. If you had been assigned to memorize them as spelling words, you could have done it in less time.

When did we actually have any fun? And when was any of this actually educational?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Principles of Educational Reconstruction

I was on the phone the other day with an old friend of mine, Herb Gerjuoy who may be one of the most intelligent and interesting people on the planet. Herb and I had a conversation about education and he introduced me to The Society for Educational Reconstruction.

So afterwards, I began digging into their ideas and came across a site that enumerates many of their principles. I'll simply give and introduction and list of items but I heartily urge you to use the link and read the longer piece. It's excellent.
We are about to enter the next century with the same basic learning system with which we entered this century. A previous Chief Inspector of Schools, Edmond Holmes, wrote off this kind of system, based on imposed uniformity, as 'The Tragedy of Education' in 1911. It was both anti-educational and unchristian, he explained. Bertrand Russell in 1935 gave his verdict: "We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought." But since 1977 UK has gone back to just such a system. In this situation there is an urgent need to try to establish some principles of reconstruction if we are to cope with the challenges of the next century.

Principle one: Uniform approaches to all, are intellectual death to some

Principle two: What we want to see is the learner in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the learner.

Principle three: The modern world requires behaviour flexibility and competence in all the three forms of discipline: authoritarian, autonomous and democratic

Principle four: With information doubling in quantity about every ten years we need a different kind of learning

Principle five: An iron law of education is that 'rigid systems produce rigid people and flexible systems produce flexible people'.

Principle six: An information-rich society allows a variety of learning locations

Principle seven: Deep learning is needed more than shallow learning

Principle eight: Effective teaching requires much more than being an instructor: welcome the 'learning coach' and the 'learning travel agent'.

Principle nine: Schooling and education are not the same thing.

Principle ten: We need to learn from the experience of home-based educators.

The one annotation I will add is that information is doubling much faster (exponentially faster) than Principle four acknowledges. That doubling contributes to the idea of a Singularity where transhuman interventions begin to appear (5-20 years from now).

Here's a Radical Idea

Keith Olberman interviewed Bill Clinton recently. You won't believe what Clinton said! The bold lettering is my emphasis.

From Clinton: We must get back to thinking, former President Bill Clinton sits down with 'Countdown's' Keith Olbermann

Getting back to thinking
OLBERMANN: So that’s involvement on a global scale on life and death issues, on the essential quality of life issues.

Here in this country, at the moment, there seem to be a lot of us who think that there are—we are having trouble getting people involved in defending essential ingredients of our country and our heritage. We’ve heard a lot about anyone who disagrees with the current administration’s policy in Iraq or on the war on terror, or even disputes their facts or questions them, would be suffering from moral or intellectual confusion.

The president talked about how in the world you could disagree with him. It’s unacceptable to think that we could ever be doing anything in any interrogation process that might be similar to what the terrorists do. When those of us worry about the future of the country and the past of the country, worry about our heritage, what we stand for, are we overreacting? Are we nuts? Are we exaggerating? Would you feel this is a threat?

CLINTON: No, let me say, first of all, you know, on a lot of these issues I’m more close to where you are. I think what’s the great disservice, though, that’s been done here in the last few years is not that let’s say the administration disagrees with you or me on whether there should be an Abu Ghraib or a Guantanamo or what the economic or social policies of America should be.

The great disservice is the creation of the idea that if you disagree with the people that are in, you’re somehow, you don’t love your country and you can’t be trusted to defend it. What we have to do is to get back to a point, to thinking in America and to promoting honest debate and honest diffences, so that like, if you asked, and I would urge you to do this, if you interview somebody in the administration, no matter how much you disagree with them, don’t be snide. Give them a straight up chance to say how they disagree with you.

I think that one of the things I’ve tried to do with this Global Initiative is not only to find common ground for disparate people, but also to have people calm down enough to actually air their differences of opinion. Like you take this interrogation dealing. We might all say the same thing if, let’s say Osama bin Laden’s number three guy were captured and we knew a big bomb was going off in America in three days.

It turns out right now there’s an exception for those kind of circumstance in an immediate emergency that’s proven in the military ranks. But that’s not the same thing as saying we want to abolish the Geneva Convention and practice torture as a matter of course. All it does is make our soldiers vulnerable to torture. It makes us more likely to get bad, not good information.


CLINTON: And every time we get some minor victory out of it, we’ll make a hundred more enemies, so I think these things, I really think we need to think through all of this and debate more. So, no I think it’s wrong for you to be portrayed as not patriotic. I think that’s wrong, but I think that those of us who are on the, kind of the progressive side of the ledger, we ought to find a way to say what our differences are in a way that even our adversaries can hear.

I’ve gotten a lot of big crowds this year of people who are unusually quiet. Because they just want to think. They’re tired of this labelling and name calling and we’re not patriotic and all that. They know that’s a whole bunch of bull and they just want to think it through. That’s why I think the CGI was phenomenally successful this year. People said, OK, here’s something I can do that is profoundly good and positive. No one’s going to question my motives and I’ll either succeed or fail based on the results.

Wow! With all the negative publicity schools get who would have thought thinking would become a political talking point?

Friday, September 22, 2006

The US Dept of Education Sweethearts

The New York Times reports on an audit of the Department of Education. Vile, nasty characters. In other words, business as usual in Bush world.

From Audit Finds Education Department Missteps by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

It also depicts a program in which review panels were stacked with people who shared the director's views, and in which only favored publishers of reading curricula could get money.

In one e-mail, the director told a staff member to come down hard on a company he didn't support, according to the report released Friday by the department's inspector general.

''They are trying to crash our party and we need to beat the (expletive deleted) out of them in front of all the other would-be party crashers who are standing on the front lawn waiting to see how we welcome these dirtbags,'' the program director wrote, the report says.

Sick yet? There's more:

Reading First aims to help young children read through scientifically proven programs, and the department considers it a jewel of No Child Left Behind, Bush's education law. Just this week, a separate review found the effort is helping schools raise achievement.

But from the start, the program has been dogged by accusations of impropriety, leading to several ongoing audits. The new report from the Office of Inspector General -- an independent arm of the Education Department -- calls into question the program's credibility.

The ranking Democrat on the House education committee was furious.

''They should fire everyone who was involved in this,'' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. ''This was not an accident, this was not an oversight. This was an intentional effort to corrupt the process.''

Spellings said the problems happened in the early days of the program, which began in 2002, before she was secretary. She said those responsible have left the agency or been reassigned.

About 1,500 school districts have received $4.8 billion in Reading First grants.

The audit found the department:

--Botched the way it picked a panel to review grant applications, raising questions over whether grants were approved as the law requires.

--Screened grant reviewers for conflicts of interest, but then failed to identify six who had a clear conflict based on their industry connections.

--Did not let states see the comments of experts who reviewed their applications.

--Required states to meet conditions that weren't part of the law.

--Tried to downplay elements of the law it didn't like when working with states.

The report does not name Doherty, referring to him as the Reading First director.

It says he repeatedly used his influence to steer money toward states that used a reading approach he favored, called Direct Instruction, or DI. In one case, the report says, he was told a review panel was stacked with people who backed that program.

''That's the funniest part -- yes!'' he responded in e-mail dating to 2002. ''You know the line from Casablanca, 'I am SHOCKED that there is gambling going on in this establishment!' Well, 'I am SHOCKED that there are pro-DI people on this panel!'''

Spellings took issue with the use of such e-mails in the audit. She said they could be used to draw unfair conclusions about a person's intentions.

The inspector general rejected that. It said the e-mails were written by Doherty in his role as director, and there is no evidence they were inaccurate or pulled out of context.

Yet the audit also faults other officials who had a big hand in Reading First, including Susan Neuman, the former assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

Brutal. Here's a link to the entire report.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stuck in the News

Holly Nelson and Bing Xu got very nice exposure for winning the Stuck at the Prom Contest. This time US News and World Report has a money article about 'Tips for Winning That Scholarship Money" by Kim Clark.

The article remains a very nice read for understanding the ground rules of applying for scholarships.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The "Accountability of Education" Anti-Pattern

Monday evening Ashford held a town hall meeting to discuss whether or not the Ashford school budget should be a separate voting line item or be incorporated into the overall town budget. Eventually, the budgets were merged.

Something that has become increasingly clear to me as we discuss educational funding (and lord knows this is an endlessly painful topic) is that the public has so bought into the idea that voting on school budgets somehow sends messages to the educational establishment that they are blind to the plain reality that it does no such thing.

In fact it is an anti-pattern of accountability. By the time budgets are presented to the public there is very little in the budget that has not already been set in stone. The effect of binding arbitration and contractual commitment leave little to negotiate and what little there is to bicker about is the chickenfeed that most nourishes kids.

The effect on local politics is animus between taxpayers and children's advocates. The true beneficiaries of this process are never disturbed. Comforted by never having to defend their cups running over, they can sit on the sidelines offering platitudes about "do it for the children" and lament that society doesn't care.

In fact, I rarely meet someone who doesn't care. Everyone wants better education but most are delude into thinking testing is a panacea.

If we truly want to affect better education more cost-effectively we need to begin to pass legislation that disallows teacher contract negotiations to exist in a closed and self-serving system. Educators granting educators special interest favors to one another is unfair to taxpayers. And collective bargaining that allows teachers to exclusively point to fun house mirror contracts of other school districts while ignoring the economic pains of the citizens bearing the burden of their windfall raises and benefits will eventually destroy the profession.

Connecticut teachers can no longer claim to be underpaid. The incomes of working families not in government or teaching has dropped well below the -4.2% reported. Teachers and school personnel are out-earning these people by upwards of a whopping 10% a year in Connecticut. This is likely true of most government employees.

These are unsustainable trajectories. Teachers need to begin deflating their expectations for more money, benefits, and perks. The piggy bank wallets of parents are empty and filled with credit debt. The current system of contract negotiations is bankrupt.

Teachers need to stop resisting technology, innovation, and the social responsibility to look beyond the paycheck in their union activities. It is time to stop pan-handling for yet another perk and start creating better curriculums, classroom processes, and civic investment. And it is time for teachers to invest in their own self-education just like everybody else not on a government dole does.

A resource toward managing teacher expectations and reforms is available here. Smart taxpayers and teachers will spend the time to read it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Marilee Jones, MIT Dean on Education Issues

An AP interview with Marilee Jones reinforces many of the growing concerns I already have about the effect of NCLB on education. First let's look at the issues Jones cites. From MIT dean takes aim at admissions anxiety by JUSTIN POPE, AP Education Writer.

Are schools making students sick?

Not many sleep eight hours a night, or eat three meals a day. Few spend time each day just staring into space.

And Jones is blunt about the consequences.

The quest for perfection "is making our children sick," the MIT dean of admissions told a recent gathering of college admissions professionals in Boston. She means it literally, snapping off statistics on the increase in ulcers, anxiety disorders and control disorders such as cutting and anorexia.

"Kids aren't supposed to be finished," she said. "They're partial. They're raw. That's why we're in the business."

For years, high school teachers and counselors have been complaining about the emotional and physical toll of the competition for slots in selective colleges. SAT prep classes and an arms race of extracurricular resume-building, they say, are draining the fun out of life for their students.

College officials have been slower to see it as a problem — though, finally, that may be changing. A group of presidents from prominent colleges has been talking behind the scenes about possible steps to "lower the flame" — to use the buzz phrase — surrounding colleges admissions. And Harvard made a surprise announcement Tuesday that it would eliminate its "early action" round of admissions, partly on grounds it contributes to admissions anxiety.

Jones, who sports a shock of red hair, speaks bluntly and loves the Rolling Stones, is neither quiet nor behind-the-scenes by nature. Nine years as dean, and the mother's-eye view she got of college admissions last year, have persuaded her something is wrong. Now, from the surprising pulpit of a university famous for its overachievers, she has become perhaps the field's most visible and outspoken champion of revamping admissions — and certainly the sharpest critic of colleges themselves for their complicity in the problem.

What happened to truly creative students?

And Jones grew increasingly worried about the applications that crossed her desk. The students were remarkably accomplished, but she worried the resume rat race had quashed creativity. Would future MIT graduates make world-changing discoveries, she wondered, or merely execute the discoveries of others?

"You don't see the kind of wild innovation from individuals you used to see," Jones said over lunch during a recent interview. "You see a lot of group and team projects overseen by professionals, but you don't see the kind of rogue, interesting stuff that we used to see at MIT."

MIT faculty told her many students just weren't much fun to teach. The issue of perfectionism had been brought painfully to the fore at MIT by a series of student suicides. Students "want to do everything right, they want to know exactly what's on the test," faculty told her. "They're so afraid of failing or stepping out of line, that they're not really good students."

Who ARE these kids?

"We're raising a generation of kids trained to please adults. Every day kids should have time when they're doing something where they're not being judged. That's the big difference with this generation. They're being judged and graded and analyzed and assessed at every turn. It's too much pressure for them."

On standardized testing...

Jones hopes someday to see MIT make standardized tests like the SAT optional for applicants. A growing number of colleges have stopped requiring standardized tests, though none of MIT's reputation, and for MIT to do so would send shock waves through the field. (Jones acknowledges that persuading MIT's faculty to go along is a long shot and is doubtful it will drop early admissions as Harvard did).

We'll return to these topics again and again because they're important and largely neglected today. What much of this points to is that it is not junk food that's poisoning today's generations but junk education.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Improve Your Memory

I just ran across a great website that is dedicated to biosingularity.

This blog article is of most importance today because schools are becoming increasingly required to provide healthy food alternatives. The article celebrates apple juice as an important nutrient for everyone to begin enjoying. Here's the evidence;

Research shows benefits of apple juice on neurotransmitter affecting memory

For those who think that apple juice is a kid’s drink, think again. Apples and apple juice may be among the best foods that baby boomers and senior citizens could add to their diet, according to new research that demonstrates how apple products can help boost brain function similar to medication.

Animal research from the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) indicates that apple juice consumption may actually increase the production in the brain of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine, resulting in improved memory. Neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine are chemicals released from nerve cells that transmit messages to other nerve cells. Such communication between nerve cells is vital for good health, not just in the brain, but throughout the body.

“We anticipate that the day may come when foods like apples, apple juice and other apple products are recommended along with the most popular Alzheimer’s medications,” says Thomas Shea, Ph.D., director of the UML Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration Research.

Reminder, Talk Like a Pirate Day, Sept. 19

Link to "Talk Like a Pirate Day"

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How Will Our English Teachers Deal with Osamatives?

It looks as though English words no longer have traditional meanings. A John Oliver investigative report has discovered the devious plot to introduce Osamatives to the English language.

Do English Departments feel safe?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Too Much Homework Makes Jack a Dull Boy

A reader sent me a link to a Time article called "The Myth of Homework" that adds to the growing body of evidence that our kids are being ill-served by the volumes of homework they are being drowned in.

From the article, The Myth About Homework - Think hours of slogging are helping your child make the grade? Think again by CLAUDIA WALLIS, Time/CNN.

• According to a 2004 national survey of 2,900 American children conducted by the University of Michigan, the amount of time spent on homework is up 51% since 1981.

• Most of that increase reflects bigger loads for little kids. An academic study found that whereas students ages 6 to 8 did an average of 52 min. of homework a week in 1981, they were toiling 128 min. weekly by 1997. And that's before No Child Left Behind kicked in. An admittedly less scientific poll of parents conducted this year for AOL and the Associated Press found that elementary school students were averaging 78 min. a night.

• The onslaught comes despite the fact that an exhaustive review by the nation's top homework scholar, Duke University's Harris Cooper, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. That's right: all the sweat and tears do not make Johnny a better reader or mathematician.

• Too much homework brings diminishing returns. Cooper's analysis of dozens of studies found that kids who do some homework in middle and high school score somewhat better on standardized tests, but doing more than 60 to 90 min. a night in middle school and more than 2 hr. in high school is associated with, gulp, lower scores.

• Teachers in many of the nations that outperform the U.S. on student achievement tests--such as Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic--tend to assign less homework than American teachers, but instructors in low-scoring countries like Greece, Thailand and Iran tend to pile it on.

Success on standardized tests is, of course, only one measure of learning--and only one purported goal of homework. Educators, including Cooper, tend to defend homework by saying it builds study habits, self-discipline and time-management skills. But there's also evidence that homework sours kids' attitudes toward school. "It's one thing to say we are wasting kids' time and straining parent-kid relationships," Kohn told me, "but what's unforgivable is if homework is damaging our kids' interest in learning, undermining their curiosity."

The City That Never Learns

Hartford has hired a new superintendent who thinks NCLB "has raised the level of aspiration and achievement.".

The article ends with these paragraphs:

Search committee member Sam Saylor, president of the PTO Presidents Council, said parents want a superintendent who can turn schools around and answer the question: "Why has success eluded us generation after generation? ...

"At the end of the day, what made him the best candidate is that I wanted the fears of parents addressed, and he will be willing to do that."

Oh well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Budget Considerations

This income analysis explains what has happened in Connecticut on the Republican watch. The economic reality is nightmarish.

America suffered a 2.8% drop in median household incomes in nearly every state between 1999 and 2005.

Connecticut's drop? A whopping 4.1%.

The Washington Monthly's quip about Texas' 8.9% drop;

I'll say one thing, though: those boys down in Texas sure did a whole lot better under Clinton than they have under Bush. If they were smart, they would have voted for Gore and kept the Shrub under wraps in Austin, where he couldn't have done so much damage to their economy.

Be sure to thank Rob Simmons and Joe Lieberman for helping you learn downward mobility. We couldn't have done it without their negligence.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

OMG! Schools are in Great Shape! What Now?

I love being the harbinger of more good news. You see while the US Department of Education spends enormous amounts of money on junkets to totalitarian regimes "studying their schools" because ours are allegedly so bad, the truth trickles through the cracks of the Bush regime's tsunami of lies, corruption, and deception.

The following opinion piece is compelling and spot on. The excerpt I chose is a bit more than I usually snip to maintain an accurate context for the piece. I heartily encourage you the read the entire article. It is very worthwhile.

WHAT CRISIS? - U.S. student progress since World War II has been remarkable, and America is seen the world over as an education leader by Gerald W. Bracey, Courant.

April 1983 saw the arrival of the paper Sputnik, "A Nation at Risk." Although the report was a golden treasury of selected, spun, distorted and nonexistent statistics, it focused attention on education at least as brightly as the actual Sputnik had. And although the report was optimistic that public schools could accomplish the task at hand, many people saw it as cause for severe hand-wringing, even hopelessness.

Today, the erroneous belief that public schools perform poorly leads some to think that there is no need to check facts. Thomas Friedman in "The World Is Flat" stakes a claim that Romanian schools are superior to American schools on an unverified statement from a single student that what he studied in science in the fourth grade in Romania he studied again in the seventh grade in America. Had Friedman checked this contention against data from the 1995, 1999 and 2003 administrations of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, he would have seen that on all three occasions, the United States outscored Romania substantially in math and greatly in science.

The media contribute to the syndrome by ignoring positive results. In 2003, an international reading study showed that only three of 35 nations outscored the United States significantly in reading.

Nationally, 30 percent of American students attend schools with less than 25 percent poverty; they outscored the highest nation. The 28 percent of American students who attend schools with 25 to 50 percent poverty scored at a level that, had they constituted a nation, would have ranked fourth. Four newspapers reported the study with bylined stories.

In 2006, a study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that if you control for demographic differences, public schools perform as well as or better than private schools. The private schools, though, have many fewer poor kids, special education kids, and English language learners. Only a few newspapers carried the story the day after it was released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Oddly enough, educators from nations that score high on tests frequently wish to inspect our schools. They see the United States as a creative, innovative nation and they think the schools have something to do with it. Newsweek pundit Fareed Zakaria observed that although Singapore students ace tests, 10 or 20 years later it's the American students who are world beaters: "Singapore has few truly top-ranked scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business executives or academics," he wrote. America, however, has scads.

The Singapore Minister of Education told Zakaria that the tests his students do so well on do not measure the American kids' traits of "creativity, ambition or the willingness to question the conventional wisdom." And a Singaporean father who had returned from the United States said that "in the American schools, when my son would speak up, he was applauded and encouraged. In Singapore, he's seen as pushy and weird."

U.S. creativity and innovation have led the World Economic Forum to rank it the most globally competitive nation among the 117 the forum evaluated. Alas, such initiatives as the test-obsessed No Child Left Behind law threaten that creativity. As Robert Sternberg, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Tufts University, put it, our "massive" use of standardized tests "is one of the most effective vehicles this country has created for suppressing creativity."

It is quite possible that No Child Left Behind puts our global competitiveness and our national security at risk.

The Courant's piece was adopted from a set of debate essays that appeared in Stanford Magazine called, Put To The Test. It, too, has great merit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How Teens Grieve

When death occurs to high school populations the media shows heavy doses of mourning parents and grief-stricken teens. In suburban schools that can afford it, grief-counselors practice their counseling skills with the parties involved.

For the majority of schools that aren't failing, grief is an uncommon event.

I spent a short time having a conversation with a Hartford inner-city school teacher last night. He works in a community where death and killing of teens is a relatively common occurance. The following conversation is a composite approximation of what he talked about.

"They decorate their notebooks with the list of their dead friends. Sometimes they'll decorate the names. They don't know how to grieve so that's what they do."

"But aren't those markings gang symbols?"

"Sometimes. But not often.

They will say. "He shouldn't have been walking there" or "He was in the wrong place." They have no rationale for why their friend is dead so they blame the victim.

One of the saddest things are three day weekends. When we have to tell them that there's no school on a Friday or Monday, their heads drop to their chests in disappointment.

You see, they're scared. Everyone of them is scared and school is the only place they can socialize and feel safe. When there's no school many of them can't leave the house. It's too dangerous."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Learning All the Time

The topics showing up in the New York Times lately are too important to ignore. I apologize for mining this one source so consecutively but this is truly good material.

One of the complaints often heard is that class sizes are too large and that students aren't "keeping up". Yet I will go to any number of Board meetings or other events where someone will lament that television, video games and so on are distractions to learning. These complaints about media other than textbooks assume a truthiness that has the audience nodding.

I not only disagree with this, I think the assertion is self-defeating. Just as Ebert and Roper recommend movies, teachers and their affiliated organizations should begin to grade, recommend, and incorporate new media into the learning mix.

What students need is more quality learning time throughout the day. Rather than continuously trying to shoehorn more responsibility for instruction on teachers we need to leverage alternative media.

Here's why.

When Toddlers Turn on the TV and Actually Learn by LISA GUERNSEY, New York Times

“We found that if children gave evidence of treating the video as a social partner,” Dr. Troseth said, “they will use the information.”

Their article referred specifically to “Blue’s Clues,” saying the show appeared to be “on the right track” — a point that, not surprisingly, thrilled creators of the program. Alice Wilder, the show’s director of research, said each script was tested in live settings with children to make sure that the show’s hosts — a young man named Steve in the early seasons and the current one, Joe — appear to be having realistic, child-centered conversations with viewers.

Developmental psychologists say the Vanderbilt research offers an intriguing clue to a phenomenon called the “video deficit.” Toddlers who have no trouble understanding a task demonstrated in real life often stumble when the same task is shown onscreen. They need repeated viewings to figure it out. This deficit got its name in a 2005 article by Daniel R. Anderson and Tiffany A. Pempek, psychologists at the University of Massachusetts, who reviewed literature on young children and television.

Child-development experts say the deficit confirms the age-old wisdom that real-life interactions are best for babies. Parents can be assured, they say, that their presence trumps the tube.

But psychologists still want to get to the bottom of what might explain the difference. Is it the two-dimensionality of the screen? Do young children have some innate difficulty in remembering information transmitted as symbols? “It’s definitely still a puzzle, and we’re trying to figure out the different components to it,” said Rachel Barr, a psychologist at Georgetown University who specializes in infant memory. She and Harlene Hayne at the University of Otago in New Zealand published some early evidence of the video deficit in 1999.

The Vanderbilt research offers the possibility that the more socially engaging a video is, the more likely the deficit will disappear. But Dr. Troseth and other psychologists stress that in-person connections with parents are by far a child’s best teacher. No word yet on whether that includes those moments when harried parents are so distracted that TV characters are more responsive than they are.

Despite the video deficit effect what these studies are beginning to confirm is that interactive technology can affect the learning of children. As we get better at understanding these learning symetries, educators will be able to develop re-usable learning activities that can be downloaded or streamed to the student and like a good movie will convey compelling information to that audience.

I mention this not because we will need teachers less but because these supplemental learning activities will free teachers to have time to get better at their own practice.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Cost of Higher Education

The New York Times is running a very funny, biting satire about the realities of education in America today. The name of the fictional university is Laudable. Here is a bittersweet taste of the longer article.

A Little Learning Is an Expensive Thing
by WILLIAM M. CHACE, New York Times

Laudable could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.

Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

Laudable’s surroundings, by the way, will remind you of where you came from. That’s because your financial circumstances are pretty much the same as those of your classmates. More expensive schools have students from wealthier parents; less expensive schools draw students from families with fewer financial resources. More than half of the freshmen at selective colleges, public and private, come from the highest-earning quarter of households. Tell me the ZIP code and I’ll tell you what kind of college a high-school graduate most likely attends.

After paying (and receiving) all this money, please finish up and get out. Colleges like Laudable are escalators; even if you stand still, they will move you upward toward greater economic opportunity. Once you leave us, you’ll have a better chance for a good job and a way to pay off your debt and to give us more money when we call on you as alumni.

So don’t flunk out; you’ve got too much invested in us, and we have too much invested in you.

Kind Words

At last night's monthly Board meeting I noted a particularly wonderful comment from a departing employee.

Cliff LaPointe resigned as Campus Monitor this summer. He is a wonderful man who will be missed by all who knew him. I want to quote something from his letter of resignation.

I have enjoyed my time at "EO" and will miss all the great kids, faculty, and staff. It was a fun place to work.

I also want to take a moment to plug your administrative staff. Each of those guys, Lou, Frank, and Bob, bring their own unique perspective and set of experiences to work every day, and I do not believe that I ever witnessed a situation that baffled their combined skills. They were good to work for and fun to work with. We as a community are very lucky to have such a great team of administrators managing our school.

Kudos to Cliff and to our administrators! Kind words are not spoken often enough about all the wonderful people who sacrifice to make EO Smith the fine learning institution it is. Cliff's goodbye speaks volumes about the respect our team has and about the character of the people working in our schools - all good.

Happy trails, Cliff.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

School 2.0: Life After High School

I ran across a very interesting article that reports on a growing trend. More and more high school graduates are taking off a year from school before entering college and working, volunteering, and traveling.

In previous posts I've suggested that the second semester of High School be transformed into a similar experience, eliminating some of the senioritis, allowing students to work and save for college, and enriching the job and volunteer pool of talent that the local community can draw from.

Here's an interesting passage from the longer article.

How to Become a World Citizen, Before Going to College - New York Times

Many of this year’s high school graduates are now settling into college dorms, but an increasing number of middle-class students, like Ms. Sullivan, are opting to take a gap year before or during college. Such a transition was once considered the province of the well heeled, but many students of various financial backgrounds now pay all or part of the cost. And as college costs soar, more families see the moves as good investments, because their children often return more focused.

As it is, many freshmen don’t stay in college for long. “About 30 percent of freshmen don’t see sophomore year. It’s like World War I trench warfare,” said Brian R. Hopewell, a college consultant on Cape Cod. “That’s the dirty little secret many don’t take into account.”

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that only 35 percent of students graduate in four years. Many take as long as five or six.

“Parents are thinking twice before writing hefty tuition checks,” said Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, in Princeton, N.J., which helps students plan gap years. Despite increased pressure to have their children attend good colleges, many boomer-generation parents seem more open to gap-year options than their predecessors were.

It makes economic sense for students to explore their interests before college, advocates of gap years say; freshmen who do so are less likely to party too much, fail courses or change majors repeatedly — all of which can result in more time needed to graduate, and more expense.

And gap years can help build résumés: students who are interested in medicine have more contact with patients volunteering in clinics in Costa Rica, for example, than they can in the United States, Ms. Bull said. And, on various foreign trips, they can attain a level of fluency in a new language.

Many students learn valuable life skills by earning and handling money during gap years, said Gail Reardon, founding director of Taking Off, a Boston consulting firm that also helps students plan gap years.

“One mother said to me: ‘I don’t know what you did to her, but before she wouldn’t use an A.T.M. Now she’ll go anywhere, often taking the cheapest way to get place to place,’ ” Ms. Reardon said. “We spoon-feed our kids and they don’t develop any sense that they can do things. And once they do it, it changes everything.”

Friday, September 01, 2006

Today's Educational Scandal; Private Student Loan Data And the FBI

Yawn! Should I waste breath mentioning that this is yet another Bush-era (will it ever end!) low-point. Why bother. We're so far away from textbook America these days that we may as well believe we'll all win big lotteries this week.

The number of outrages in this latest scandal are many. Let's start at the top (all quotes from: Education Dept. Shared Student Data With F.B.I. by JONATHAN D. GLATER, New York Times).

The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.

Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.
Oh. I'm not Columbo so I'm guessing, like me, you're all wondering why. I mean, what's more important - that there's a terrorist on campus somewhere or that the terrorists are abusing their loan money?

The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.

In a statement, Mary Mitchelson, counsel to the inspector general of the Education Department, said, “Using names provided by the bureau, we examined the Department of Education’s student financial aid databases to determine if the individuals received or applied for federal student financial assistance.”

Information collected on federal financial aid applications includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, incomes and, for some students, information on parents’ incomes and educational backgrounds.

Generally, only United States citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for federal student financial aid.

An assistant director of the F.B.I., John Miller, said in a statement: “During the 9/11 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor.
See what I mean? This seems antithetical to American justice.

If the list of 100s were terrorists then the Student Loan data is co-incidental - they should be arrested and tried, no? But the explanation implies that the Department of Education had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy of granting student loans and financial aid to -cough- students who aren't citizens, whose parents don't pay taxes, and who might be getting a freer ride in school than your kid or mine! Much of the other eclectic assertions made by the authorities don't justify this warrantless invasion of privacy this action exercises.

How many terrorists exploited student visas? I haven't heard of any. Student loan frauds? Why fish for these? Were these hundreds of students Americans or not? And if the terrorists were stealing identities then wouldn't the entire fourteen million applications be suspect?

Could this witch-hunt get any more dubious? OH, YEAH! We are, after all, talking about the Deapartment of Education.

A spokeswoman for the bureau, Cathy Milhoan, said the Education Department had provided financial aid information on fewer than 1,000 names in connection with terrorism investigations.

The information sharing was disclosed as the Education Department examines a proposal by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, established last year by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, to create a national student database that would follow individual students’ progress as a way of holding colleges accountable for students’ success.

“This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.”
I could swear that they said it was hundreds of student records. We're half-way through the article and we're already up to nearly one thousand!

But what's this about the Department of Education holding colleges accountable for students' success? Is the Department of Education now ensuring the success of loan and grant recipients? This so much sounds like social engineering and a grade fixing scheme.

As usual the Main Stream Media likes to wrap these civil liberties stories with a smiley face ending:
Ms. Mitchelson of the Education Department said a review of the files of the people named by the F.B.I. had not led to any cases that charged student loan fraud.

Ms. Mitchelson said the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity.”

She said the department had spent fewer than 600 hours on the program, including 50 hours over the last four years.

Ms. McGann, the journalism student who reported on the program, said she saw data sharing mentioned, but not described, in a report by the Government Accountability Office that she reviewed in the spring as part of a research project after a seminar on investigative reporting.

“I thought that was pretty unexpected for the Department of Education,” said Ms. McGann, 24, who graduated this year from Medill. “So I decided I would try to look into that a little more.”

She said she found another mention of the program in a report from the inspector general’s office in the department.

In June, Ms. McGann went directly to the Education Department.

“Eventually, I did an on-camera interview with a deputy inspector general there who did comment on the program,” she said.

She said his name was Michael Deshields.

“After that,’’ Ms. McGann added, “I decided I should file a Freedom of Information Act request.”

Last month, she received documents in response to her request that were heavily redacted, she said. Among them were Education Department memorandums describing F.B.I. requests for information on specific people whose names were blocked out and an internal memorandum dated June 16, 10 days after her interview, stating that the data sharing program had terminated. The name of the author of that memorandum was also redacted, she added.

I'm confused. If the agencies are using "the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity”" then how can they claim that the "that the data sharing program had terminated?" Somebody's missing the point, as Dick Cheney would say, "BIG TIME!" Somebody needs to identify this magic law and demand that a subpoena be required to make such transfers of data. Secondly, margaret Spellings' alterior motives for collecting data on students and parents needs to seriously questioned.

The Bush administration has made a mockery of justice in this country and using private, often tax dependent, data collected indirectly by government agencies against the neediest of Americans is just another low blow to the American psyche. Our private income tax data must be protected from exposure except to the intended audiences.

Personally, I cannot believe Republicans think these policies are in any way acceptable. Pull the plug on funding this rabid presidency, Congress, and House. They cannot be voted out of office soon enough.

So Goes CAPT, So Goes the Courant

The link will take you to The Courant's page listing the entire State's results (with a few exceptions).

In reading, Region 19 (EO Smith)was one of the State's biggest gainers. Overall the results were disappointing. But so is the Courant's coverage. The front page graph is wholly graphically misleading. This year's 46.5 percent of students reading at grade level's graph bar being shorter than 2002's 44.8 percent.

I know many of the reading specialists in Mansfield and Ashford and I'm familiar with E.O. Smith's very real commitment to reading improvement so I take great joy for everyone who works so hard at improving our kids.

However, I would've argued just as hard that our teaching staff was doing the right thing even if the CAPT scores had tallied differently. Testing is useful, vindicating when the results reflect the effort, and so on but these isolated metrics can never deny the professionalism and hard work that Board members see routinely.

Our teachers deserve a kind word of thanks all the time because they earn it and our kids showit, test or no test.