Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Taxes on Middle Class Parents

This New York Times opinion piece, Future Tax Shock, explains why middle class parents will be paying higher taxes next year.

One of President Bush’s be-very-afraid lines this campaign season is that Democrats, if elected, will raise taxes. What he doesn’t say is that if you are one of tens of millions of Americans who make between $75,000 and $500,000 a year, your taxes are already scheduled to rise starting next year — because of laws that Mr. Bush championed and other actions he failed to take.

The higher taxes stem from the alternative minimum tax, a levy that is supposed to snare multimillionaires who would otherwise get away with using excessive tax shelters to wipe out their tax bills. But these days, the alternative tax is snaring many upper-middle-income filers.

Mr. Bush set the trap in 2001 — and in 2003, 2004 and 2006. In each of those years, he flogged for new tax cuts without requiring corresponding long-term changes in the existing rules for the alternative tax. It was well known that failure to update the alternative tax would create perverse interactions with the new tax cuts, causing filers’ tax bills to drop because of the cuts, only to shoot back up again from the alternative levy.

Mr. Bush said he would vanquish the problem through tax reform. Didn’t happen. Congress never wrestled with lasting solutions. The truth is, the president and lawmakers are paralyzed. To fix the alternative tax while keeping the Bush tax cuts on the books would result in the loss of some $800 billion in revenue over 10 years, blowing a hole in the federal budget and exposing how utterly unaffordable the tax cuts of the last five years really are.

The taxpayers wrongly afflicted by the alternative tax are not tax dodgers. For the most part, they are couples with children who have broken into the ranks of six-figure earners, and who live in high-tax states like New York and California. They are being penalized, in effect, for claiming everyday deductions — like write-offs for dependents and property taxes — which, under the alternative tax rules, are viewed as excessive shelters.

Meanwhile, multimillionaires are not being snared at nearly the same rate as other filers. In part, that’s because much of the income of the superrich comes from investments. The tax breaks for investments — the grail of the administration’s tax-cutting crusade — are not counted as shelters under the alternative tax the way, say, children are.

For the past few years, Congress has papered over the mess by passing temporary relief measures to shield most — though not all — upper-middle-income taxpayers from having to pay the alternative tax. The latest stopgap expires at the end of this year, leaving taxpayers exposed at ever lower income levels. Congress could pass another temporary stay, and it will probably do so.

But stopgaps do little to protect the families already being unfairly clobbered by the alternative tax.

I hope none of you forget to vote.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fiscal Responsibility

This article talks about the dire economics facing this country in just a few short years.

I sure wish somebody would listen.

GAO chief warns economic disaster looms

By MATT CRENSON, AP National Writer
Calculations by Boston University economist Lawrence Kotlikoff indicate that closing those gaps — $8 trillion for Social Security, many times that for Medicare — and paying off the existing deficit would require either an immediate doubling of personal and corporate income taxes, a two-thirds cut in Social Security and Medicare benefits, or some combination of the two.

Why is America so fiscally unprepared for the next century? Like many of its citizens, the United States has spent the last few years racking up debt instead of saving for the future. Foreign lenders — primarily the central banks of China, Japan and other big U.S. trading partners — have been eager to lend the government money at low interest rates, making the current $8.5-trillion deficit about as painful as a big balance on a zero-percent credit card.

In her part of the fiscal wake-up tour presentation, Rogers tries to explain why that's a bad thing. For one thing, even when rates are low a bigger deficit means a greater portion of each tax dollar goes to interest payments rather than useful programs. And because foreigners now hold so much of the federal government's debt, those interest payments increasingly go overseas rather than to U.S. investors.

More serious is the possibility that foreign lenders might lose their enthusiasm for lending money to the United States. Because treasury bills are sold at auction, that would mean paying higher interest rates in the future. And it wouldn't just be the government's problem. All interest rates would rise, making mortgages, car payments and student loans costlier, too.

A modest rise in interest rates wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, Rogers said. America's consumers have as much of a borrowing problem as their government does, so higher rates could moderate overconsumption and encourage consumer saving. But a big jump in interest rates could cause economic catastrophe. Some economists even predict the government would resort to printing money to pay off its debt, a risky strategy that could lead to runaway inflation.

Macroeconomic meltdown is probably preventable, says Anjan Thakor, a professor of finance at Washington University in St. Louis. But to keep it at bay, he said, the government is essentially going to have to renegotiate some of the promises it has made to its citizens, probably by some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts.

But there's no way to avoid what Rogers considers the worst result of racking up a big deficit — the outrage of making our children and grandchildren repay the debts of their elders.

"It's an unfair burden for future generations," she says.

You'd think young people would be riled up over this issue, since they're the ones who will foot the bill when they're out in the working world. But students take more interest in issues like the Iraq war and gay marriage than the federal government's finances, says Emma Vernon, a member of the University of Texas Young Democrats.

"It's not something that can fire people up," she says.

The current political climate doesn't help. Washington tends to keep its fiscal house in better order when one party controls Congress and the other is in the White House, says Sawhill.

"It's kind of a paradoxical result. Your commonsense logic would tell you if one party is in control of everything they should be able to take action," Sawhill says.

But the last six years of Republican rule have produced tax cuts, record spending increases and a Medicare prescription drug plan that has been widely criticized as fiscally unsound. When
President Clinton faced a Republican Congress during the 1990s, spending limits and other legislative tools helped produce a surplus.

The Saints are Coming

My weekend video offering - U2 and Greenday produce a video of what should have happened during Katrina had Saints indeed been administering the government:

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Student Representation on the Board of Education

Tuesday we had a Policy subcommittee meeting. These have become very interesting events because, for the first time in many years the school policies are being entirely reviewed and updated. The process has been deliberately slow because the committee has really been focusing not only on the platitudes of the policies but on the procedure and practice. Interesting conversation to say the least.

Something that came up though was my campaign promise to broaden the scope of student involvement on the Board. In some of the first meetings I suggested one student from each town sit on the Board. We revisited that logic.

My reasons for desiring the additional representation was to use these students to act as intermediaries between the high school and incoming eighth grade students to help clarify issues and smooth the promotion from the lower grade to the high school.

What I was unaware of when I was running is the existance of Responsible Student Peers who are high school students chosen for just this kind of duty and thus negating the need for my suggestion. We're going to continue the dialogue about improving the transition to high school as we go.

We also talked about who should qualify to represent the student body and decided to leave the existing Student Congress membership requirement in place mostly because other algorithms were no more superior and usually only complicated matters.

It should also be noted with some degree of pride that Region 19 honors student representation on the Board. Some Boards do not.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Single-Sex Public Education is Back

The New York Times reports, Federal Rules Back Single-Sex Public Education by Diana Jean Schemo.

Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.

The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.

The article includes advocacy and criticism of this new ruling. At first blush, I have to say that I think I am okay with this. One of my concerns in examining educational materials is that far too many boys are being singled out for special education largely because they act like boys instead of politically correct, neutered, sanitized cubicle occupants.

I also think it offers schools the ability to fine-tune classes to the educational needs of the student body. This is certainly an interesting development.

Monday, October 23, 2006

On War and Peace

I just read an interesting story about Columbine survivor, Craig Scott. It's worth posting. A few years ago, I worked a contract for a major children's publishing house and I had to test their search engine to be sure kids and parents could find the correct books. So I entered the words 'war' and 'peace'.

War books showed up like shoppers at a Going Out of Business sale. But books on peace were virtually absent except for peace as death, isolation, or spiritual search. Try it with your favorite children's books publisher. It will tell you a lot about what children learn.

From Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders">Bill Clinton, George Bush and Craig Scott: Nation's Leaders Mislead Youth by Preaching Peace, Practicing War by David Cook, Common Dreams

Flash forward to last week, as the Amish school shooting in Pennsylvania prompted President Bush to call a similar, post-Columbine conference on character and school violence. Present during the Maryland conference (alongside Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Spellings) was Craig Scott, the now-23-year-old who had lost his sister and friends in the Columbine shooting. During the only meaningful moment of the conference, Scott stood and addressed the president.

"I've grown up in a culture today that doesn't teach me anything of substance, of value, how it bombards me every day with messages of emptiness and shallowness. And the youth are crying for something to stand for, something to believe in. If it weren't for my faith or my family, I possibly could have fallen into the lies that our culture tells us. But now I've traveled, I've spoken to over a million teens across this country.... I've seen depression, anger and loneliness, students without direction or purpose.... I've seen students who called themselves cutters, have cut themselves because that's the way they know to take out the pain that they're dealing with. I've learned a lot about my generation. And I've learned a lot since I lost my friends and my sister.''

And then Scott said the greatest words the president or anyone else could hope to ever hear:

"And the main thing I've learned is that kindness and compassion can be the biggest antidotes to anger and hatred, and I believe the biggest antidotes to violence.''

The president responded in the only way he could, which was to thank Scott, applaud him and then ask for a copy of his speech.

The next day, researchers from Johns Hopkins released an updated body count for the war in Iraq. An estimated 600,000 civilians have died since the war began. These are not soldiers or armed resisters; these are mothers, grandfathers, children playing outside. Families, just like yours, just like mine.

God forgive me should I ever truly understand how presidents Clinton and Bush are able to mouth the hollow words about protecting children ("We must ... teach them to express their anger and resolve their conflicts with words, not weapons") and then, hours later, give the damnable blessing for military movements that kill other people's children. This is madness, and it is the hell-bent delusion of violence that allows the president of the United States to stand up before a crowded room of parents, reporters and survivors and announce his intentions to better protect American schoolchildren, and then, before the same day's sun sets, continue to sit on a war that has killed more than half-a-million souls.

And a nation of 300 million barely opens its mouth.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bus Driver, Bus Driver, Bus Driver Man

One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is "The Otto Man".

In so many Board meetings we are wrestling with transportation issues. Otto puts it all in perspective.

When Dad Talks, Children Mimic

This New Scientist article explains a study on children's language.

Kids hang on to dad's every word from New Scientist Print Edition.

Fathers: watch what you say. It seems dads may have more of an influence on their children's language development than they might think.

Lynne Vernon-Feagans at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her colleagues sat in on playtime with 92 families with dual incomes, observing how much each parent spoke to their child, the words and sentence structures they used, and the types of questions they asked.

Children whose father's vocabulary was more varied when they were 2 years old had more advanced language skills at age 3. Surprisingly, the dads spoke less and asked fewer questions than the mothers, suggesting it was not how much they spoke but what they said and how they said it that resonated with their children.

Friday, October 20, 2006

How To Take Study Notes, The Cornell Method

This site offers tips and tricks on how to study that include printable PDF and Word templates.

For students who have trouble organizing their study materials this is certainly worth a try.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Making Music

I came across an interesting link or two that may be of interest to students doing senior projects.

Peter Gabriel has a web site that invites musicians to resample his [and other's] music by adding tracks or remixing the original in creative ways. You can then upload the finished product for others to hear. Instructions included on the site.

A second site allows musicians who are geographically distant to create music online. Something music teachers across schools, classrooms, or continents may want to experiment with.

Why Doesn't Anybody Want to Learn?

I keep encountering the same story over and over again. At a recent town hall meeting someone came up to me [they'll remain anonymous] and said that they have no use for computers or the internet. I walked away wondering how farmers just like him could use power tools on their farm and not be disgusted with the use of such technology.

If power tools supplement manually intensive labor then computers save intellectually intensive activities. Likewise, exploring the internet is like having the world's greatest libraries at your disposal to instantly gratify any curiousity you may have. These technologies represent the first nanoseconds of a golden age of man yet some men and women reject the informational sunlight.

At a recent open house at EO Smith, I was taken aback by the absence of computers in most classrooms except for teacher's desks. They appear to be so under-utilized as to render them non-existant. A PBS documentary from a few years ago, recounted a story that certain explorers starved to death in a western state that teemed with salmon. The explorers only ate animal meat. I sometimes think our schools are starving our children because our teachers either don't understand technology or refuse to integrate it into the irrational expectations of NCLB.

This past week Google executive Eric Schmidt said, 'Those in the know about technology must spend more time reaching out to governments and helping them understand the Internet's role in society. The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff,' Schmidt said at a public symposium here hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. 'There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real.'"

I see it differently. The use of technology requires personal initiative, curiosity, and intellectual inertias that stimulate the desire to learn anew. Government and schools no longer encourage, reward, or value learning, experimentation, or esoteric tangents. You know, the stuff that generates new ideas, better processes, or discovery. The gap Schmidt is addressing is not generational, it is chronically institutional.

I spend a lot of time trying to stimulate new ideas and excitement about using technology in schools and business. I often get the feeling that the people I talk to are interested in listening only so that they can invent excuses NOT to ever have to try anything like what we're discussing. After all, if there isn't an existing policy, union clause, or speculative risk that can be magnified to crisis proportions - one can always be cooked up.

Learning in America has been redefined in recent years to be difficult to quantify and therefore of no consequence in this country's obsession to "hold schools accountable". So, for the sake of accountability rather than learning, we test, test, test. And what good is testing if we aren't testing THE BASICS?

And we all know how important the basics are, right?

Well, this op-ed piece in the New York Times makes plain why we are losing the war in Iraq, can't secure our homeland, and why American media spouts continuous streams of meaningless and nonsensical gibberish.

Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? by Jeff Stein, New York Times.
FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

My curiosity about our policymakers’ grasp of Islam’s two major branches was piqued in 2005, when Jon Stewart and other TV comedians made hash out of depositions, taken in a whistleblower case, in which top F.B.I. officials drew blanks when asked basic questions about Islam. One of the bemused officials was Gary Bald, then the bureau’s counterterrorism chief. Such expertise, Mr. Bald maintained, wasn’t as important as being a good manager.

A few months later, I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about Mr. Bald’s comments. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. ... Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

Of course, I hadn’t asked about reading Urdu or Mr. bin Laden’s writings.
Isn't it curious that we demand more of our children than we do of our adults?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Aggressive Behavior and Diet

The Guardian Unlimited is reporting on some research that is of interest. As I posted days ago, the link between children's diets and healthcare is getting too little attention in Connecticut and studies like these only underscore the urgency especially in urban and poor districts.

Omega-3, junk food and the link between violence and what we eat - Research with British and US offenders suggests nutritional deficiencies may play a key role in aggressive behaviour, by Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian.

...new research calls into question the very basis of criminal justice and the notion of culpability. It suggests that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression. Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies.

The UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%. Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now "absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it."

The Dutch government is currently conducting a large trial to see if nutritional supplements have the same effect on its prison population. And this week, new claims were made that fish oil had improved behaviour and reduced aggression among children with some of the most severe behavioural difficulties in the UK.


For the clinician in charge of the US study, Joseph Hibbeln, the results of his trial are not a miracle, but simply what you might predict if you understand the biochemistry of the brain and the biophysics of the brain cell membrane. His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.

We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Math Phobias

The Curriculum Committee has been debating adding another year of math as a requirement for graduation. This is a hot and heated topic that was presented at our last board meeting without resolution.

In that meeting, though, plenty of the Board members recounted their math anxieties and unhappy memeories of the subject. The Courant recently published this timely piece.

MATH + PHOBIA = A Problem In America, Where Fear Of Numbers Is Rampant And Many Adults See No Use For The Skill, October 14, 2006, by DAVE PHILIPPS | The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette.

Here's a hint. This country isn't particularly good at math. Pop culture generally paints anyone who is as a geek. And a fraction of the population despises arithmetic so much that the mere thought of solving problems makes them break out in a cold sweat.

Not everyone, of course. There are people who enjoy math, just as there are people who enjoy sitting behind drivers going 35 mph in the left lane. On the whole, though, we don't just loathe it. We fear it.

"Math is right up there with snakes, public speaking and heights. By far it's the least favorite of the three R's," wrote Marilyn Burns in her 1998 book "Math: Facing an American Phobia."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Collaborative Teaching Catching On

Last week the Couant reported on a Bristol school that's improving it's teaching effectiveness by having teachers share and complement each other's efforts. Those of us in software engineering know that bad data can poison any well-intentioned set of statistics or number crunching activity and we know from the fraudulent Bush claims about schools how numbers can be used to obfuscate reality so I always read this stuff carefully.

The schools the Courant talks about seem to be getting it right! Not only are they getting it right but the world is moving in the direction of gestalt thinking activities. Education will soon become less about what any individual knows than what an individual can contribute to larger problem solving.

Check it out.

Teaching Strategy Yields Results - Student Data Analysis Paying Off In Bristol by LORETTA WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer.

This year, 61 percent of the elementary students at O'Connell scored at or above the "proficient" level on the Connecticut Mastery Test, enough to make the school the first public school in the state to pull itself out of the "needs improvement" category. At Central, 72 percent of the sophomores taking the Connecticut Academic Performance Test scored in the proficient range in math - 3 percent more than the number required under NCLB.

"Obviously, we're very pleased," Wasta said. "It's an affirmation of the work we've been doing."

The technique, pioneered by districts in Norfolk, Va., Milwaukee and Indianapolis, took hold in Bristol about seven years ago. The interest grew out of work that administrators at the time were doing with Doug Reeves, the founder of a Colorado-based educational consulting firm specializing in student achievement and accountability.

For the last three years, teachers and administrators have been meeting regularly in an assortment of teams where they compare notes and calibrate instruction based on standardized test scores and other measures of how well students are learning.

If a trend stands out - for example, fourth-grade boys falling short of the goal in math - teachers try to come up with a common strategy and adjust instruction for that grade level. Administrative teams sift through data on the department, building or districtwide level to deal with broader problems.

That may sound simple, but getting educators to actually do it has been a challenge.

"Education is not a culture of collaboration. It's a culture of isolation. `Give me my kids, close the door and let me do my thing,'" Wasta said. "That's enough when you expect some of the kids to succeed. When you expect all the kids to succeed, it's not."

Veteran teachers, hardened by one educational fad after another, were the hardest to convince.

"Little by little, success by success, you don't see that so much anymore," Wasta said. "But it took three years to see those little islands of success."

Those little islands also caught the attention of state school officials, who studied Bristol's use of the technique before adopting it as a statewide model. Training is now being offered to all school districts in the state by the Department of Education.

Wasta and other Bristol school officials have either visited or been visited by district leaders from Southington, East Hartford, Vernon, Bloomfield, Region 10 and elsewhere. Bristol officials also have hosted two out-of-state delegations eager to learn how the approach works. Denise Carabetta, the district's director of teaching and learning, is at work on a book being published by an arm of Reeves' firm, expected to be released next year.

"Bristol has been wonderful in the way they have shared their lessons learned," said Nancy Stark, the manager of the school improvement unit of the state Department of Education. "Now we have many districts involved in this initiative."

"Most school districts are doing it in one form or another," said Michael Frechette, the superintendent of schools in Middletown, where disappointing results on last year's mastery test triggered a wave of data-mining and soul searching. "If kids aren't learning, then we need to change what we're doing. And if we don't change what we're doing, we'll continue to get the same results."

"It's not a script, it's an approach," Rabinowitz said. "An approach that advises you how to look at data, but it doesn't say all of you have to do it this way and get these results. Where Bristol has excelled is tailoring it to their own particular needs, but the beauty is that it can be done in urban, suburban or rural districts."
I would love to see this adopted at the elementary schools for math and reading where such an approach would be most effective in those areas (pre-fourth grade).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Revealing Teen - Parent Promiscuity Survey

Weekends are slow traffic days so I may as well spice up the Gazette with a post that demonstrates the divide between Teens and their parents in understanding the extent of promiscuity teens exercise these days.

Here are some questions from Everything You Don't Want to Know About Your Kid’s Sex Life - The 100-teen-vs.-100-parent promiscuity poll by Stacia Thiel, New York Magazine.

Have you ever...
...kissed someone?
...gone on a date?
...gotten or given a hickey?
...told someone that you loved him or her?
...watched an X-rated movie?
...dated someone on a regular basis?
...received oral sex?
...undressed someone?
...had sexual intercourse?
...gone on a date that lasted past 1 a.m.?
...performed oral sex?
...dry-humped (had clothes on)?
...experienced sexual activity while in bed with someone?
...watched an X-rated movie with a member of the opposite sex?
...had sex with a virgin?
...been masturbated to climax by someone else?
That's just the page one questions. See the link to find out the surprising answers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Power of School Science

With a hat tip to reddit.com, I came across a fascinating jr. high school science inquiry that nobody at the state or federal levels seems to have cared about [a year ago!] despite the fact that it's probably somebody's job to pay attention to small things like food poisoning.

From Hillel Academy, Spinach for Science Fair by Stacey Dresner:
In her project, “Quantitative Analysis of Bacterial Growth on Packaged Salads and Effect on Antibiotic Resistance and Nutrient Content,” Kaili [Janette] investigated several varieties of bagged salad greens.

She tested the bagged greens for bacteria content, and found “extensive growth of bacteria within 24 hours in the fresh “unwashed” samples.”

“I found the highest percents of bacteria in dark, leafy varieties such as spinach and Mediterranean” showing “a correlation between high levels of iron and high levels of bacteria.”

She washed the samples using different cleaning techniques n cleaning with sterile water, cooking with boiling water for five minutes, and using commercial cleaning rinse n water with a pinch of bleach. The only method that killed most of the bacteria was the commercial rinse. The others did not really inhibit bacterial growth.

“On all of bagged salads, it is printed that you do not need to wash before use,” she said. “I learned never to trust that phrase.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Value of Handwriting

The Washington Post ran this story the other day about the disappearance of handwriting skills and why they're important.

Cursive writing rapidly becoming passé
Researchers see a downside as keyboards replace pens in schools
By Margaret Webb Pressler
The Washington Post

Cognitive opportunity missed?
The loss of handwriting also may be a cognitive opportunity missed. The neurological process that directs thought, through fingers, into written symbols is a highly sophisticated one. Several academic studies have found that good handwriting skills at a young age can help children express their thoughts better -- a lifelong benefit. Children who don't learn correct technique find it harder to write by hand, so they avoid it. Schools that do teach handwriting often stop after third grade -- right after kids learn cursive. By the time computers are more widely used in classrooms for writing, perhaps in fourth or fifth grade, many children already have decided they don't like to write.

In one of the studies, Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham, who studies the acquisition of writing, experimented with a group of first-graders in Prince George's County who could write only 10 to 12 letters per minute. The kids were given 15 minutes of handwriting instruction three times a week. After nine weeks, they had doubled their writing speed and their expressed thoughts were more complex. He also found corresponding increases in their sentence construction skills.

But Graham worries that students who remain printers, rather than writing in cursive, need more time to take notes or write essays for the SAT. Teachers may say they don't deduct for bad handwriting in class, but research tells another story, he said.

When adults are given the same composition written in good handwriting and poor handwriting, "they still give lower grades for ideation and quality of writing if the text is less legible," he said.

Indeed, the SAT essays written in cursive had slightly higher average scores than those written in print, according to the College Board.

It doesn't take much to teach better handwriting skills. At some schools in Prince George's County, elementary school students use a program called Handwriting Without Tears for 15 minutes a day. They learn the correct formation of manuscript letters through second grade, and cursive letters in third grade.

In a recent daily exercise, the second-graders at Yorktown Elementary School in Bowie carefully formed letters on individual chalkboards -- first with a wet sponge, then with a tissue, then in chalk and finally in pencil in a workbook. In the future, these kids will produce far more legible letters than kids without this kind of specialized instruction, said Lynne Maydag, the school's handwriting coordinator.

There are always going to be some kids who struggle with handwriting because of their particular neurological wiring, learning issues or poor fine motor skills, teachers said in interviews. For those kids in particular, the growing dominance of typing is liberating because they can write without stumbling over letter formation. Educators often point to this factor in support of keyboarding.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Revolutionary Tool in Study Methods

The age of collaborative learning and teaching is invading schools without warning and nothing can stop it.

This online tool, called NoteMesh allows classes of students to mash their class notes together to develop as flawless a master set of notes as possible.

This is a brilliant idea sure to accelerate learning and stimulate interest. MIT recently announced a corollary set of assertions about collaboration that also deserves your attention.

MIT looks to give 'group think' a good name by Paul McNamara, Network World.

With Friday's public opening of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (formerly the Center for Coordination Science), researchers there hope to address this central question: "How can people and computers be connected so that -- collectively -- they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?"

Ways to Kill Creativity

This list or something very much like it is something that I was given many years ago when I was studying education.

These are the knee-jerk phrases used to kill or squelch good ideas or innovations.

# Our place is different
# We tried that before.
# It costs too much.
# That's not my job.
# They're too busy to do that.
# We don't have the time.
# Not enough help.
# It's too radical a change.
# The staff will never buy it.
# It's against company policy.
# The union will scream.
# That will run up our overhead.
# We don't have the authority.
# Let's get back to reality
# That's not our problem.
# I don't like the idea.
# I'm not saying you're wrong but...
# You're two years ahead of your time.
# Now's not the right time.
# It isn't in the budget.
# Can't teach an old dog new tricks.
# Good thought, but impractical.
# Let's give it more thought.
# We'll be the laughingstock of the industry.
# Not that again.
# Where'd you dig that one up?
# We did alright without it before.
# It's never been tried.
# Let's put that one on the back burner for now.
# Let's form a committee.
# It won't work in our place.
# The executive committee will never go for it.
# I don't see the connection.
# Let's all sleep on it.
# It can't be done.
# It's too much trouble to change.
# It won't pay for itself.
# It's impossible.
# I know a person who tried it and got fired.
# We've always done it this way.
# We'd lose money in the long run.
# Don't rock the boat.
# That's what we can expect from the staff.
# Has anyone else ever tried it?
# Let's look into it further.
# We'll have to answer to the stockholders.
# Quit dreaming.
# If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
# That's too much ivory tower.
# It's too much work.

-Dave Dufour, Act II Associates, Inc.

Let me add one I hear all the time:

# Teachers are tired of educational fads.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Malfeasance of Rob Simmons and his Friends

In this election season marred by pedophilia, coverup, and presidential megalomania, social issues that address everyday reality are buried in the shameless scandals.

Rosa Brooks, in an editorial for the Los Angeles Times, reminds us.

Rosa Brooks: Grand Old Party of Child Endangerment - Think Foley is bad? Republican policies have harmed millions of American kids.
Recall that from 2000 to 2005, Congress handed out tax breaks for the rich like hors d'oeuvres at a Republican fundraiser. They slashed the estate tax and the capital gains tax, selling these cuts with an advertising campaign that misled ordinary people into thinking the cuts were going to help working Americans, instead of just the rich.

Meanwhile, they gave the president a blank check for the war in Iraq (and blithely sent other people's children off to risk their lives in that war). They made no effort to hold the administration accountable for flawed prewar intelligence or the ongoing failure to bring some modicum of stability to Iraq. Instead, as the price tag for these failed policies went up and up, Congress kept right on writing checks.

This combination of irresponsible tax cuts and out-of-control spending guaranteed that there would be little left over for the crucial social programs American children need, such as meaningful spending on healthcare, job-creation and anti-poverty programs.

The result was predictable. From 2000 to 2005, the number of American children living in poverty went up by 1.3 million, and the likelihood that any given child is poor increased by 9%. (Incidentally, Washington, D.C. — the one region of the United States under the direct control of Congress — had higher child poverty rates than any state in the nation, with 32.2% of children living under the poverty line in 2005.) There are now more American children without health insurance, as well: From 2004 to 2005 alone, the number of uninsured children went from 7.9 million to 8.3 million children, with the uninsured now accounting for 11.2% of all American children.

Children don't live in a vacuum, of course. They're part of families, and their fate is entwined with their parents' fate. And no matter how you slice and dice the data, American families and the children who live in them are more vulnerable now than they have been in decades.

The richest few are getting richer, but the middle class is disappearing, and the poor are getting poorer. From 2000 to 2005, the median income dropped 2.7% in real terms, yet Congress hasn't raised the minimum wage in nine years. The federally mandated minimum wage is still a rock-bottom $5.15. At that wage, a full-time worker remains well below the poverty line. In 2005, seven in 10 poor children had at least one working parent — and the number of Americans living in what the government defines as "extreme poverty" went up by 3.3 million from 2000 to 2005.

The statistics are dry, but what they mean, in real life, is babies who die because their mothers lacked adequate prenatal care, children who suffer from preventable diseases, children who have no homes and instead move from shelter to shelter and children whose lives are blighted by uncertainty, instability and fear.
I watch commercials created by the Simmons campaign that are meant to generate fear in the minds of the voters. His commercials warn that Courtney will "raise" taxes.

No Democrat needs to raise a penny of taxes. The malfeasance exercised by Rob Simmons and his cronies in destroying the middle class and introducing poverty back into the American political dialogue is reason enough to throw this bum out. Simmons proclaims taxes are "high enough".

I've got news for Rob Simmons. Taxes are too high and being squandered - not by Democrats - but by his Grand Old Party of corruption, scandal, and incompetence.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Military Recruiting Dirty Tricks

I found this diary entry on the Daily Kos website. Why is our government operating this way - entrapping students who don't know better? This is profoundly disturbing activity.

In part from: High School Military Recruiting: My Son's Story by blue jersey mom
Friday was spirit day at my son's public high school. A pep rally was scheduled in advance of the soccer and football games this weekend. On the PA system in the morning the students were informed that that the school was holding a raffle for an iPod and that the raffle was sponsored by a local radio station and the US Army. The students had the opportunity to enter the raffle during their lunch break.

The raffle table in the lunch room was manned by three school staff members and a local radio personality. No military recruiters were present on the school campus. My son went over to the table, and he was about to fill out one of the raffle tickets. He noticed that on the bottom of the raffle ticket, in small print, the student was notified that by entering the raffle, his or her personal information would be shared with the US Army.

Fortunately, my son was smart enough not to enter the raffle. But how many other minor student's personal data have been shared with the military against their parent's wishes?

The Future of Physics Education

Friday, October 06, 2006

Like Taking Candy from Children

Business Week brings us this heartwarming story of American entrepreneurship. Yes, our schools are being bilked to take tests that are meaningless AND all that meaningless stuff is profit to some people.

You might ask, "But Frank, WHO would profit from such a thing?"

No Bush Left Behind - The President's brother Neil is making hay from school reform
Across the country, some teachers complain that President George W. Bush's makeover of public education promotes "teaching to the test." The President's younger brother Neil takes a different tack: He's selling to the test. The No Child Left Behind Act compels schools to prove students' mastery of certain facts by means of standardized exams. Pressure to perform has energized the $1.9 billion-a-year instructional software industry.

You know, taxpayers routinely demand that the cost of education be reduced. As I scratch my head a minute, I think I have come up with a good idea.

When you go to vote in November, THROW THE BUMS OUT - EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.

The Rise of Virtual Tutors

Here's a nice overview of the state of online education from ARSTechnica, a very good technical information site.

Virtual schools and tutors offer students new opportunities by Jeremy Reimer.

Companies such as TutorVista, a firm based out of Bangalore, offer online tutoring from university-educated instructors (many who have masters degrees in their chosen subject) who have been trained to speak English with the merest trace of an accent. Technologies such as VoIP allow students and instructors to communicate verbally while assisting with assignments online. The service costs $2.50 an hour, compared to fees ranging from $25 to $100 an hour for tutors in the US.

Students and parents are finding the inexpensive tutoring services to be excellent value for their money, but some groups worry that some of the advantages of homegrown tutoring will be lost. "Tutoring providers must keep in frequent touch with not only parents but classroom teachers," said Nancy Van Meter, a director at the American Federation of Teachers. "We believe there is greater difficulty in an offshore tutor doing that."

However, there are those who believe that their local education system is in bad enough shape that supplemental tutoring alone will not fix it. Some of these people have turned to a full virtual schooling system, such as First College, an online high school that opened in the United Kingdom this January. First College offers courses in English, math, history, geography, combined sciences, and French, with four teachers who provide up to eight hours of instruction each. Students can take their lessons from any computer that is hooked up to the Internet. The school charges £594 per term, equivalent to about $3,400 for a full year.

Parents of children who have found difficulties with regular schools due to bullying—a common problem in the UK—report that the virtual schools offer a superior educational experience. "I can't really think of any problems with it. To be honest, I'm just surprised it's taken so long to catch on," said one mother of a student at First College.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What is a Book?

I came across this blog entry in my adventures last week. The author talks about what books represent.

Here's a sample:

I recently had a conversation with Elazar Benyoëtz, a German poet-o-philosopher, about the object called a book. He believes that "people are misunderstanding the function of books; books are not meant, necessarily, to be read".

Benyoëtz's library consists of thousands and thousands of books that are practically everywhere: walls, floor, closets, boxes, jackets' pockets... He lives with his books not only physically, but also emotionally: he can vividly depict any possible detail about any of them - the content, of course, but also any related element of meta-data - the cover, the smell, the touch; the author; the time; the space.

And yet, "books are not, necessarily, meant to be read". According to Benyoëtz, books are potentials. If you wish, they are the early ancestors of Schrödinger's cat. As long as they are not read, standing still on the shelf or piled up on the floor, they represent a potential parallel world. Once they are opened - well, at that point the potential is gone.

"I find it much more fascinating to write about a book that I have never read than about a book that I have read", says Benyoëtz, following the logic of books-as-potentials.

But there's much more to this approach than the romantic allusion to the knight on the white horse; Benyoëtz is serious about the impact of closed books, of those potentials, on his existence. The lives of potential-readers are affected by their physical proximity to books, as if those potential-worlds exert their gravitational power from within the cover. "I would have been a completely different writer if I didn't have those books around me, just as I would have been a completely different writer if I have read them".

I'm not sure if books are potentials only in the physical proximity to a potential-reader, like those noiseless falling forest trees, or that books are potentials independently of us. It doesn't really matter. What's important is the new perspective on this row of parallel worlds, of collective intelligence, placed on a shelf. Probably the books inter-communicate, creating bounds and links among different realities; probably they affect the human beings in their surrounding, in much the same way that thoughts affect water (and, human beings are 80% water, Dr. Masaru Emoto, What The Bleep).

- Muli Koppel
A recurring theme in the observation of why the children of the poor have difficulty reading is their parents lack of education, books, and reading skills.

Can books alone make a difference?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Stupid Is as Stupid Does, Legalized Extortion

Last night's Board meeting was a barnburner. The results of last year's Connecticut Aptitude (CAPT) test took one center stage. Doug Melody presented the Board with stacks of statistical comparisons of schools, scores, and number crunches. And there was absolutely nothing in the test results that isn't obvious by examining the community. Yet another well-educated, middle-class, suburban community providing honest public education comfortably, predictably, and uneventfully passes the CAPT test overall.

The cost of this Norman Rockwell moment is approximately 5 weeks of exhaustive and comprehensive preparation and test involvement. In our school district this translates into between $500,000 and $1,000,000 of education entangled resources expended, a curriculum distortion to pander to the testing, and a major fraction of the school year dedicated to looking in the mirror and seeing the same educational profile that this community has been for twenty or more years.

CAPT testing is the equivalent exercise of counting our fingers and toes every year while burning $1500 of taxpayer money on the front lawn of the school. Yep, ten fingers and ten toes.

As Board members we dutifully pore over every percentile difference between this competing school and that but after furrowing our brows, rubbing our chins, and uncrossing our eyes there is not a single worthwhile statistic to truly care about. Nothing that isn't obvious and well-known already except for some ever-so-useful school rankings. "Hey, we beat out... so and so. Woo-hoo!" If the test disappeared tomorrow our teachers would still have as much insight into the needs of our kids as they have today. If honesty is our measure, CAPT has no value add to the equation - the esoteric merits are not worth talking about.

Our Board chairman, Fran Archambault, started by questioning whether or not the teaching process is affected from one year to the next considering the different populations, class sizes and other factors involved.

Insert sound effect: crickets chirping.

I followed up by asking what the teaching staff interprets these numbers to mean since they are a measure of how well the teachers are doing.

Somebody quickly corrected that assertion. "Oh no. CAPT doesn't measure the effectiveness of teachers, it measures how well PARENTS ARE DOING!"

Oh wah! As a parent this is the first time I've heard this news. I always thought the premise of this absurd nonsense was to hold the schools accountable. My how bullshit rolls downhill.

I don't think they were kidding either. I really have a hard time wrapping my head around that but maybe it's just me.

Shortly, Bob Kremer, followed up, "What exactly, do we get out of these numbers?", and so on.

"Well, um, ah, eh... what do you mean "get", ah, ..." Nobody had a good answer. Apparently, the teachers were as taken aback by the idea that these numbers had meaning as everyone else. It was like the scene from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where a group of scientists, teachers, and guests are staring out into space at this thing that lands that has all kinds of flashing lights... looks expensive... you don't want it in your living room... and everyone wonders, "What the hell is this all about?"

It became comically clear that the CAPT exercise is a dance we do because the state extorts the school districts into participating at the threat of losing State and Federal tax dollars. The test merely quantifies without a shadow of a doubt that the State is still maintaining a clearly defined class society much to the relief of the real estate market.

The State Department of Education can rest easy. Are those ghettos still there? Yessir! Are those ghetto kids still failing? Yessir! Do we have proof? Yessir! Good work, stay the course!

Schools are failing because America never learns from its mistakes. The sign of a fool is someone who after learning that they've made a mistake keeps repeating the very same mistake with the very same results. CAPT testing is a perfect example. In fact the State and Federal Departments of Education are perfect examples of stupid ideas that have failed but won't go away and who refuse to learn.

Our kids aren't dumb. They look at what the schools practice which is willful institutionalized ignorance, stone-walling and petty nonsense, and wonder how important the platitudes about learning and passing tests can possibly be. If the people in the Departments of Education can keep their jobs then being professionally learning disabled has rich career rewards.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Scholarships and Saving Money

I came across a great Scholarship site that is extremely comprehensive. There you will find exhaustive lists of scholarships available for all kinds of student profiles.

The tab I thought was most interesting explains to college students how to save money. It is a very nice baseline for any high school senior personal finance course.

A sample from the site:

118 Ways to Save Money in College
Food is one of the top priorities in a college student’s life. Eating fast, eating healthy, it can all cost money if you don’t take time to consider the nitty-gritty of eating to save money.

17. Trying to eat on 12 cents? Two words: Ramen Noodles.
18. If you live on campus and pay for a partial or whole meal plan, then use it. Some programs don’t restrict you from taking food to go or eating as many meals as you wish. Peanut butter packets are your friend :)
19. Have a coffee fix? If you are one of millions of college students ducking into the corner coffeehouse every morning for your daily cuppa Joe, then you are wasting money.

Your daily latte, cappuccino, or mocha will run you between $2.50 and $3.50 depending on the size you need. Seven days of that routine costs you $17.50 per week, $70 per month and around $280.00 per semester! That’s over $500 a year you drank in morning caffeine. Make your own. By the time you graduate from a four-year degree, you’ve saved over $2000 in coffee beverages. That’s just one a day….Buy a decent coffee maker or even a small espresso/cappuccino machine for your dorm room or apartment. You’ll save hundreds of dollars.
20. Don’t tip just because someone poured you a cup of coffee. Keep your own change. Everyone wants a tip; “Poor college students work here…..” You’re poor, too. They have a job. Drop it in that change jar we mentioned under “Managing the Money You Have.”
21. Oatmeal is fast, filling, and affordable.

Peanut Butter Rocks.

22. Skip the fast food forays and late night take-out. Make sure you keep healthy, affordable options in your room or apartment. Yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, bagels, peanut butter are all affordable, convenient and much more healthy than a late night burger and fries.
23. Collect coupons and follow the weekly sales at the grocery store. Avoid high-end markets like Whole Foods. These are nice, but most products cost much more. Once you’re out of school and have a good job you can shop the upscale markets.
24. Kick the bottled water habit; support your local tap water and drink for free. Get a some kind of filter if you want better tasting water.
25. Avoid a sit down restaurant with a large group. You’ll already be charged at least 15% gratuity, and if everyone decides to “split the bill,” you can really get screwed if you tried to eat cheap and didn’t splurge on alcohol. Know in advance what the tone of the party will be and what will be expected so you’re not surprised when the bill arrives.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Do Teens Have to be Taught to Care?

In this science article entitled, "Why Teens Don't Care", a study suggests teens can't care. They simply don't seem to be developed enough to have that capacity.

My question after reading the piece is, Should we be teaching them about how to care? What do you think?

Study: Why Teens Don't Care by Sara Goudarzi, LiveScience Staff Writer
"Thinking strategies change with age," said Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. "As you get older you use more or less the same brain network to make decisions about your actions as you did when you were a teenager, but the crucial difference is that the distribution of that brain activity shifts from the back of the brain (when you are a teenager) to the front (when you are an adult)."

Teen thinking

In the study, teens and adults were asked how they would react to certain situations. As they responded, researchers imaged their brains.

Although both adults and teens responded similarly to the questions, their brain activity differed. The medial prefrontal cortex was much more active in the adults than in the teens. However, the teenagers had much more activity in the superior temporal sulcus, the brain area involved in predicting future actions based on previous ones.

Adults were also much faster at figuring out how their actions would affect themselves and other people.

"We think that a teenager's judgment of what they would do in a given situation is driven by the simple question: 'What would I do?'" Blakemore said. "Adults, on the other hand, ask: 'What would I do, given how I would feel and given how the people around me would feel as a result of my actions?'"

Developing sensitivity

Children start taking into account other people's feelings around the age of five. But the ability develops well beyond this age, the new research suggests.

And while some of this sensitivity could be the result of undeveloped regions in the brain, the experience that adults acquire from social interactions also plays an important role.

"Whatever the reasons, it is clear that teenagers are dealing with, not only massive hormonal shifts, but also substantial neural changes," Blakemore said. "These changes do not happen gradually and steadily between the ages of 0–18. They come on in great spurts and puberty is one of the most dramatic developmental stages."