Monday, January 30, 2006

The problem with Math

I've been attending curriculum meetings because that's my special interest. I've taught at every level if only briefly and over the past thirty years much of my computer science career has been dedicated to automating manual or ineffective business processes.

Now, I am not actually ON the curriculum committee but that's a whole other story.

The point of this post really is that I strongly felt that EO Smith was academically doing a pretty good job of educating our kids. At face value this seemed to be the case. The more exposure I have to the teachers and curriculum the less enamored I am with what I seeing and hearing.

Lately there's a push to force MORE math as a prerequisite for graduation. We had a lively discussion on the subject. The math department continues to disappoint me in their offerings (more about that in a future posting).

But the decision about math was put on hold for want of more information. The LA Times series we read yesterday continues talking about California's experience with the genre:

The course that traditionally distinguished the college-bound from others has denied vast numbers of students a high school diploma.

"It triggers dropouts more than any single subject," said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer. "I think it is a cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system."

When the Los Angeles Board of Education approved tougher graduation requirements that went into effect in 2003, the intention was to give kids a better education and groom more graduates for college and high-level jobs. For the first time, students had to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry or an equivalent class to earn diplomas.

The policy was born of a worthy goal but has proved disastrous for students unprepared to meet the new demands.

In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds.

In all, the district that semester handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools the size of Birmingham.

Among those who repeated the class in the spring, nearly three-quarters flunked again.

The school district could have seen this coming if officials had looked at the huge numbers of high school students failing basic math.

Lawmakers in Sacramento didn't ask questions either. After Los Angeles Unified changed its policy, legislators turned algebra into a statewide graduation requirement, effective in 2004.

Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today's second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California's entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II, and four years of English.


furthermore...

"If you want to believe you're for standards, you're going to make kids take algebra. It has that ring of authenticity," said Robert Balfanz, an associate research scientist with the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But you're not really thinking through the implications. There may be no good reason why algebra is essential for all high school students."


What we are beginning to examine here is education policy run amok. Politicians and overpaid administrative zealots are cheered for advocating ever higher and tougher standards as our children are sacrificed to this nonsense - a generation of unwitting sheep being led to educational slaughter.

We have got to re-evaluate what we're doing and no question is too obvious to ask. The more anyone truly examines the devastating after affects of NCLB and its zealot army of fools the more one remembers an old NAACP homily, A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Except these days we are witnessing with quaint disregard the wasting of generations of students to whom the love of learning and the tools of intellect are being systematically destroyed nationwide.

And, as the bad joke goes, our school is contemplating following the lemmings over that same cliff.

Connecticut has to wake up. This is the Land of Yankee Ingenuity for cripes sakes. Why are are schools dissolving into idiocy? At EO I'd like the Board to re-evaluate our math program and re-calibrate it to the needs of the community and students and I'd like to see the State Department of Education get out of the way and let some schools re-vitalize their curriculum including Region 19.

Can the legislature put a moratorium on NCLB? Get this educational policy cancer off our backs.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Should EO offer a Bible as Literature course for seniors?

In Georgia and Alabama, a course in reading the Bible as literature course is being promoted. I just finished reading Harold Bloom's study, Jesus & Yahweh, The Names Divine a very sophisticated analysis of just such a topic and I have to say that such a course might be wonderful.

Here's what the NYTimes article says about the subject;

Democrats in 2 Southern States Push Bills on Bible Study by David D. Kirkpatrick -
Published: January 27, 2006

Democratic sponsors of the Bible class bills say their efforts would help shield local school districts from First Amendment lawsuits, in part by recommending a more neutral approach.

The textbook they endorse was the brainchild of Chuck Stetson, a New York investment manager and theologically conservative Episcopalian who says he was concerned about public ignorance of the Bible.

Mr. Stetson helped produce "The Bible and Its Influence" as the centerpiece of a course that seeks to teach about the Bible and its legacy without endorsing or offending any specific faith.

The textbook came to the attention of Democratic legislators in Alabama and Georgia through the advocacy of R. Randolph Brinson, a Republican and founder of the evangelical voter-registration group Redeem the Vote.

Mr. Brinson, who said he was working with legislators in other states as well, described his pitch to Democrats as, "Introducing this bill will show the evangelical world that they are not hostile to faith."

Some liberals are unhappy, however. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argued that "The Bible and Its Influence" was "problematic" because it omitted "the bad and the ugly uses of the Bible," like the invocation of Scripture to justify racial segregation.

Conservative Christian groups have been skeptical, too. "This appears to be a calculated effort by the Democrats to try to out-conservative the conservatives," said Stephen M. Crampton, a lawyer for the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group that supports the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools.

"To mention any curriculum by name is suggestive of some back-room deal cut with the publishers," Mr. Crampton said.

For his part, Mr. Stetson, founder of the group that produced the textbook, said a political fight was not what he wanted. "We are the first English-speaking generation to have lost the biblical story," he said, lamenting that studying the Bible had become "a political football."

On Dropping Out

In a new four part series, the LA Times is investigating High School education. While much of the dialogue is provincial to LA, many of the roots stretch into problems in our own backyards.

At EO, Bruce, Lou, and the Board of Education are all wrestling with lowering dropouts and the potential for droputs. The price the school pays will likely be lower standardized test scores. In other words, by NCLB "accountability" standards we will likely be lowering our chances of looking good statistically.

Here's why it's worth it.

Back to Basics: Why Does High School Fail So Many?
Shockingly high dropout rates portend a bleak future for youths who fall by the wayside and for society. For many, the traditional U.S. education system is a dead end.
by Mitchell Landsberg, Times Staff Writer.


There was a time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a dropout to get a job that could eventually lift him into the middle class. Those days are pretty much over. In 1964, a typical high school dropout earned 64 cents for every dollar earned by someone with a diploma. By 2004, it was 37 cents and dropping.

At a conference last fall at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York, some top educational researchers released their findings about the consequences of dropping out.

The researchers calculated that dropouts will cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars a year in lost income taxes and increased welfare and healthcare costs.

Dropouts will die, on average, nine years earlier than high school graduates.

Dropouts will commit far more crimes than high school graduates.

Economist Enrico Moretti of UC Berkeley estimated that if high school graduation rates were just 1% higher, there would be 100,000 fewer crimes in the United States annually, including 400 fewer murders, and that the savings would be $1.4 billion a year.

In an economy that increasingly relies on educated workers, "those who are not properly educated are going to fall by the wayside," said Michael Rebell, director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College.


The perversity of NCLB is that in order to avoid being labeled and punished as a failing school there is a reverse incentive to discard the students most likely to bring down these scores. The article describes the dubious practices:
Statistics Versus Reality

The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, in conjunction with UCLA, produced a controversial report last spring saying that official dropout statistics in California's largest school districts were shockingly out of sync with reality. The researchers found that only 48% of the L.A. Unified students who started ninth grade in 1999 graduated four years later. The district claims a graduation rate of 66%.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who wants to take over the school district, jumped on the study to assert that half of the students in L.A. Unified were dropping out.

School district officials said that was wrong, since the UCLA numbers included as dropouts students who had left to continue their education elsewhere. They put the dropout rate for 2003-04 at 33%.

One of the problems with trying to understand the dropout problem is that experts can't even agree on the definition of a dropout: Should it include, for instance, a student who quits school but continues in home study that is unlikely to lead to graduation?

The debate can be seen in microcosm at Birmingham High. UCLA calculated the graduation rate at Birmingham at 50%. L.A. Unified, using federal formulas, puts it at nearly 80%, with just 3.5% classified as dropouts.
furthermore...

Debate has long raged in education circles over who's to blame for students failing high school. Is it the school or the student? The educational system or the society? The parents or the culture?

Teachers, the adults with the closest view of this slow-motion disaster, tend to have the most nuanced view. Even the best of them often express frustration and disappointment in their inability to reach failing students.

Paula Sargent teaches senior English composition at Birmingham and takes pains to stimulate her students.

Students adore Sargent, a former professional singer who appeared on the front page of this newspaper in 1968, when her singing troupe was ambushed in Vietnam en route to a performance for U.S. troops; two musicians died, and Sargent suffered back and leg wounds that afflict her still.

"Best teacher in the world," one boy said as he shuffled into her class. "I love you, Ms. Sargent," another exclaimed.

But Sargent, a wisecracking combination of mother hen and free-spirited aunt, is discouraged.

"There's no love of learning," she said. "If that's not there from the get-go" — she scanned the students slouching at their desks, the ones who had come to class on time — "then we have what we have."

Teachers complain that students come to school with a sense of entitlement — "seat time" alone, they believe, should be enough for a passing grade. Teachers also say they believe that popular culture demeans education.

But teachers also are among the first to admit that, for many students, the traditional American high school is broken. They can't handle its academic rigor and they chafe at its restrictions.

Monday, January 23, 2006

No Freshman Baseball team this year

Bruce Silva just confirmed a rumor going around the school that there's no money for a freshman baseball team. This is Bruce's exact reply;

The baseball rumor is true. We have attempted for the past two years to budget the funds needed for a freshman teams for baseball, softball and JV golf. My budget also included funds to support a "novice" crew coach and the start-up cost for a wrestling program. Unfortunately, the money needed for the teams didn't survive the budgeting process.

The reason I followed up is that an Ashford baseball coach offered to coach the team if the issue was simply finding a coach.

To add insult to injury, the freshman class is loaded with great baseball talent. I'd be very surprised if the three town baseball organizations couldn't find a way to share existing equipment and somehow cobble together some funds to put this back on the EO Smith calendar.

It's in the hands of the baseball community at this point.

Make sure the state representatives hear what's happening as a result of the education funding these days.

No baseball in America! C'mon.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rethinking Curriculum

In today's Courant, a commentary by Wick Sloane addresses many issues having to do with higher education yet touches on a number of issues that apply to high school policy and organization as well.

From: Higher Education Needs Cash, Vision - January 22, 2006 By WICK SLOANE

"...the very basic cost driver of higher education is the unexamined assumption that a degree must be four years worth of credits, which many students cannot complete even in five years.

This four-year model was developed in the 14th century at the University of Bologna. Part of the reason the curriculum took four years to impart was a shortage of books. That is no longer a problem, yet we still abide by this ancient model. Would we send an injured child today to a 14th-century hospital? Is that what we are doing in higher education?

What about innovation? The past 50 years have produced what scientists and educators call the cognitive revolution. What are the opportunities to use modern tools for learning?

Our daughter carries her language lab for Arabic with her in an iPod. Look at the new short books: "No-Nonsense Guides" or "A Very Short Introduction" to dozens of topics, from A - Ancient Philosophy to W - Wittgenstein, with stops at Darwin, Descartes, Shakespeare and Socrates. What about the Quick Study Bar Charts? At least the new dean of my Yale School of Management ought to be alarmed at how good that $4.95 "Management" guide is.

These tools are not a substitute for a great teacher. They are excellent sources on topics once available by the semester only. Can't they be used, under the direction of skilled teachers, to impart a high-quality education in less than four years?

Other than some intermittent efforts at online learning, I don't see any movement for change."


We are examining this very issue about our high school. That is, is the current organization and learning model the best way to educate our young citizens? The High-stakes Testing paradigm has long ago drowned out any real concern for the education of our young people in favor of magic metrics "accountability" games.

All policy makers these days are under great pressure to fix the educational crisis of the fleeting moment. So, every news article crying that a high school graduate can't balance a checkbook becomes an Arnold Swartznegger moment - TIME TO GET TOUGHER! (And tougher is never, ever tough enough - talk show afficiados can't press the "Inflict Pain" button often or hard enough).

So school boards have easy choices;

MORE Math! (or whatever)

MORE Accelerated Math taught by educational-NO-Nonsense, knock-you-out, serious-math-gorillas! (and, BTW, why aren't fetuses listening to banking tapes instead of Bach?)

EVER HIGHER EXPECTATIONS of students, over-worked parents, anybody willing to be the fall guy for the students perceived academic foibles (Expectations are the latest magic fix - all you have to do is say you're raising expectations and miracles happen - Jesus would be envious at how effective this is in educational rhetoric).

If we now require three years, why not four? five?

Or maybe we just invent a course that puts out the educational outrage of the moment - a checkbook course, a contract reading course, a manage your money course, and so on for every co-incidental minutia.

This is how it goes for the most part. Society confronts educators to show more muscle. But none of these solutions really address the fact that our kids aren't learning to learn and don't know how to think. Balancing checkbooks is addition and subtraction not the absence of more Calculus. And testing for addition and subtraction shows kids can add and subtract all right, or memorize vocabulary words, or whatever. But they're all unrelated test factoids. We have to get better at this.

We need to change the way we do education and we will. NCLB must be the first piece of loose, worthless baggage to get jettisoned.

More from the commentary...

"Also, if there are any Gallup-type surveys on what students want in education, I haven't seen them. Why do we know more about how much caffeine students want in what form each day than we do about learning preferences?"

Are we afraid that they're thinking despite school? Asking students is called respect. What a concept.

More Federal Interference Coming to a School Near You

In today's edition of the New York Times, yet another stealth Bush administration initiative to indirectly control high school curriculums is in the pipeline. According to the article, the Democrats have not been consulted nor have they participated in the drafting of this legislation. Nor, apparently has the professional eduvcation community been offered a chance to debate the constitutionality or merits of this legislation. The selected snippets are offered to encourage you to read the article in its entirety (Click the title).

If it smells like Soviet-style social engineering...

January 22, 2006
College Aid Plan Widens U.S. Role in High Schools
By SAM DILLON

"When Republican senators quietly tucked a major new student aid program into the 774-page budget bill last month, they not only approved a five-year, $3.75 billion initiative. They also set up what could be an important shift in American education: for the first time the federal government will rate the academic rigor of the nation's 18,000 high schools.

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study" and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields."

and...

"The Constitution outlines no role for the federal government in education, and local control of schools is a cornerstone of the American system. But Washington's role has grown since Congress began financing college studies for World War II veterans. Several laws increased federal aid to education, including the landmark National Defense Act of 1958, but specifically prohibited federal officials from assuming supervision or control over programs of instruction. And while President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind, imposed mandatory testing, it allowed the states to choose their own tests.

Like the No Child Left Behind law, the new grants are largely an effort to take a Texas idea nationwide. The legislation is modeled on the Texas Scholars program, begun during Mr. Bush's governorship, which enlisted certain Texas high schools and encouraged their students to take a "rigorous course of study," defined to include four years of English; three and a half years of social studies; two years of foreign language; and a year each of algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, biology, chemistry and physics."

...and...

"The new one-year grants, designed to supplement the broader, $13 billion Pell Grant program, range from $750 for low-income college freshmen and $1,300 for sophomores to $4,000 for juniors and seniors who are pursuing majors in the physical, life or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering or certain foreign languages. Applicants must have a 3.0 grade point average to be eligible as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

The administration's original proposal would have been simple to administer. But under the proposal approved by the Senate, Department of Education officials would need to scrutinize high school courses of study and discuss curricular matters with local officials to a degree that Washington officials never have."

...and (this is important)...

"Even in states like New Jersey and Connecticut, where the State Scholars program is operating, however, it may be politically awkward for federal officials to declare programs of study at a few high schools to be rigorous while withholding that designation from others, educators said. In New Jersey, for instance, just 35 of 300 high schools participate in State Scholars. In Connecticut, 4 of 180 public high schools participate.

Another problem is that private school operators believe that the legislation renders their graduates ineligible by saying applicants must have completed a "program of study established by a state or local educational agency and recognized by the secretary." The bill "would inadvertently exclude over 5.3 million private K-12 school students," the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents some 1,200 private schools, said in a letter to senators last month. The same legislative language may also exclude parochial and home-schooled students."

Where EO Smith ranks academically

Jay Matthews, a Washington Post education columnist came up with a formula that ranks all United States High Schools.

EO Smith is not on the list. Should we be?

The unit of measurement is;

Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school in 2004 divided by the number of graduating seniors.

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Free Web Editing Tool

I added a new post dedicated to Free web tools students can use at home and at school. Click the link.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Community Emergency Response Team Training

Something I talked with neighbors about while campaigning was what many thought was the need for some courses that helped train students for the eventualities of disasters.

The January issue of the Neighbors paper has an article that announces such a course (CERT) open to the public. It offers American Red Cross Training for First Aid, cardio-pulmonary resusitation (CPR), Automatic external defibrillator (AED), and more. Registrations are being accepted Tuesday evenings 1/17 - mid-March.

Barbara Buddington is Executive Director of WINCOG and can be reached at 860.456.2221 or director.wincog@snet.net

But let's explore this subject just a bit further. Many years ago Candy Stripers would offer humanitarian services at hospitals, and so on. That model of public service has faded and is probably far too naive for the times we live in.

As a community we should begin to examine ways to reconnect high school students to the needs and realities of citizens in distress. Massive floods such as Katrina, though an unlikely local disaster event, underscored the plight of the elderly and shut-ins of society. I would like to see the Region 19 schools begin to think about and develop some cirriculum ideas about a hybrid program that identify likely crises that students might become exposed to and the skills that they will need.

For example, all nurses know how to leverage weight to lift and move an incapacitated person, many elderly need special handling to be moved out of harm's way, school computers could be networked to shut-in citizens who might enjoy listening to plays or musical presentations on-line or have a communications lifeline in a time of need. And students should be given College credits applicable toward their core requirements for this level of community service - let's call it Critical Communication skills.

And, while we're on the subject, the State should begin an open dialogue about dual use funding of schools. Money for programs like this needs to be supplied by the State above and beyond mere education funding supplements. As budgets are strained it makes sense to use our funds to accomplish multiple needs.

These programs must become channels of social responsibility for the communities they serve. By dual use, I mean that the State should pay the salaries of janitorial, technical personnel, and facilities and equipment that serve both education and civil preparedness programs. This would lift some of the strain of school funding off the local communities (especially small communities).

Let's face it, schools now serve most communities day and night and far beyond the scope of K-12 citizens. Yet State funding does nothing to supplement these demands and depreciations of resources. While there's a budget surplus let's be sure schools and education are first in line and rebates to citizens follows next.

Secondly, elderly citizens who participate in programs with students should be eligible for the same prescription drug benefits as State employees enjoy. By sharing their gifts of experience they should also benefit.

Just some thoughts for all of you to talk about.

Finally, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Neighbors as well. It is a wonderful monthly pamplet of interesting things to do in the area and it is, by far, the most comprehensive of its kind.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

CABE, Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO)

It turns out that CABE does have a website. It's pretty pathetic but I thought I'd poke around. The latest CABE Journal repeats some astonishing assertions about education from the State Dept. of Education.

What I found was Improving Achievement and Closing Gaps Between Groups: Lessons from Schools and Districts on the Performance Frontier, April 2005 - Katie Haycock's Presentation given at the CABE Workshop "The Board's Role in Closing the Achievement Gap" on April 6, 2005. Katie Haycock is executive director of the Education Trust in Washington, D.C.

It is a downloadable PDF file that is very interesting in that it contains data that is cooked! In fact it is hard to believe that this data is still making the rounds or that CABE paid for the presentation. The data in question is (at least) on slides 69 and all slides thereafter refering to Aldine, TX schools. It is possible the rest of the school examples are equally dubious.

Aldine, TX is in Harris County and it's part of the Houston metro area. That's Rob Simmons' buddy Tom Delay's district - quaint co-incidence.

The data smelled funny so I went out to the school district's web page and found out these facts.

Ethnic Composition (of the school district):

Hispanic 61.06%
African American 31.85%
White 4.87%
Asian/Pacific Islander 2.14%
Native American 0.08%
as of Oct. 3, 2005

...and look at these student/teacher ratios!

The pupil/teacher ratio averages are:

Grades PK-4 22:1
Grades 5-6 28:1
Grades 7-8 29:1
Grade 9 29:1
Grades 10-12 29:1

The data showed the Hispanic and Black population pulling even with the white population in reading and math and the School in question was being touted as a national example of success in testing excellence. But it looked too good to be true. and that 5% White population looks more like the statistical evidence is more noise than substance. And that student/teacher ratio implies that the students must be mind-melding with the tests. I mean this stuff is fantastic evidence! Sci-fi channel quality to be sure.

So I looked at the demographics of Harris County, TX.

The racial makeup of the area is 59.30% White, 5.84% African American, 0.69% Native American, 3.41% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 27.58% from other races, and 3.10% from two or more races. 56.33% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
Um, 60% of the area is white yet these nationally recognised schools are just attended by a handful of white kids. Even John Stoussel would admit this looks, well, miraculous.

So I looked up Katie Haycock and discovered an interesting Washington Post article equally enamored with the Texas education data.

Education 'Miracle' Has a Math Problem
Bush Critics Cite Disputed Houston Data

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2003; Page A01

" Opponents of the Houston system of business-style accountability have seized on the dropout scandal as evidence that some of Paige's most cherished accomplishments -- including narrowing the "achievement gap" between white and minority students -- rest on false or manipulated data. They have raised questions about the validity of test results that purport to show spectacular progress by Houston students in reading, writing and arithmetic.

"It is all phony; it's just like Enron," said Linda McNeil, a professor of education at Houston's Rice University, referring to the bankrupt Houston-based energy services company that boosted its stock price by covering up losses. "Enron was concerned about appearances, not real economic results. That pretty much describes what we have been doing to our children in Houston." "
and...
"An investigation by state auditors showed that at least 14 other Houston high schools, including Austin, reported unusually low dropout rates in 2000-2001, although there is no evidence administrators falsified data. By reporting a dropout rate of less than 0.5 percent, school principals increase their chances of winning bonuses of as much as $10,000 and earning top accountability ratings for their campuses.

After years of relying on dropout statistics as a key component in their annual accountability studies, school officials concede that they were worthless all along. “The annual dropout rate was a crock, and we’re not [using] it anymore,” said Robert R. Stockwell Jr., the district’s chief academic officer.

Katie Haycock, director of the Washington-based Education Trust, a nonprofit group that supports strict accountability standards, said dropout statistics are notoriously unreliable, in Houston and across America.

“We have been lying to the public for a very long time about how many kids leave high school by using a dropout-reporting system that is crazy,” she said."
That's right, CRAZY! But that didn't stop her from using this data anyway.

There's more. The NCLB hoax is unraveling everywhere.

Wesley Elementary a Hoax
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
By Jim Trelease, © 2005

Whether you like it or not, the No Child Left Behind Act is gradually sinking. While some argue that the priority of the war in Iraq and a lack of funding is causing its destruction, others point to a lack of support from rank and file educators as an undermining factor. A more fundamental argument is that it was doomed from the very start. Just like Enron, the "numbers game" it plays is finally catching up with NCLB.

NCLB was built on the bedrock of "what's good for business is good for schools," that schools' productivity would improve significantly if business principles were applied, and nothing proved it better than the "education miracle" built in Texas by then-governor George W. Bush and in Houston by Superintendent Rod Paige. If such "miracles" could happen in Texas, then they could happen everywhere in America.

As the statistics on the following pages will show, nothing could be further from the truth. And then one must ask: How much did Rod Paige know and when did he know it?
...it continues...

The fact that all children cannot blossom on time does not signal the end of the world as we know it. It's possible to bloom late and still be successful, and nothing proves it better than the high school or college transcripts of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell-each of them a "late bloomer." While wondering how these three would have measured against today's proposed standards of learning, there's no denying they did all right for themselves once they finally "blossomed." Fifty years ago David Boies didn't learn to read until third grade (severe dyslexia) but today's scoreboard lists him as the most "in-demand" lawyer in America.

But today's standards allow for no such late starts. The present schedule began with the Business Roundtable (see Nation at Risk Report, 1985, Reagan
administration) and the concept that all children can learn, even poor children, if you bring the right kind of administration to schools and incorporate "accountability" into the picture: Reward achievement, punish failure. George Bush the Harvard MBA won the hearts of business class by advocating that strategy state-wide in Texas and in urban-poor Houston, Paige proved it worked.

One problem: It won't work now because it didn't work then. That is, there was no "education miracle" in Texas or Houston. If it wasn't a hoax, then it was a mirage. In any case, building a national education agenda on the Texas model was like building on quicksand.
...and...

And finally, under provisions in both No Child Left Behind and the Texas Public Education Grant, students attending a school that does not make adequate yearly progress in its tests scores have the right to move to achieving schools.By December, 2004, Texas' latest count was 293,000 students at the state's worst 420 schools (199 of the latter on the federal failure list) had the right to transfer to a better school.

How many of the students were expected to make the switch to better schools? Since Texas established its Public Education Grant program under George Bush in the late 1990s, only 2,000 students (about 200 a year) have switched schools. Why so few? Transportation cost is not included, good schools are already overcrowded, and out-of-district schools are not obligated to accept neighboring students. Even with vouchers, how many Texas private schools would you need to accept 293,000 students, many of which come with special deficits? Since NCLB is modeled on the Texas program, it also incorporated many of its liabilities: There is little enough room or money to accommodate the millions of students nationally who now attend what government labels "failing schools."
Read the entire article for a wakeup call.

CABE should demand their money back.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Satellite Art

I was just reading an online article talking about companies taking advantage of Google maps.

What they do is paint their logos on the roofs of their buildings so that when you zoom in using the map feature then switch to satellite mode, you see the logo identifying the building.

So I tried looking at EO Smith from the Google satellite perspective. Click on the title link, center Connecticut in the map area and slowly zoom in using the mapping feature to Mansfield then Rte. 195 and so on. Switch to the satellite mode and you'll see the school and football field.

Now, it seems to me that, come spring, the art department should organize the student body to wear certain colors (or hold up color boards), and see if they can create an EO Smith School logo on the football field, and take a picture of it using Google.

Just a thought.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Men's basketball after Bloomfield

All our teams lost to Bloomfield. My eclectic set of stats includes all those games.

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

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

#34 Freshmen ((34 + 14 + 4 + 14) - 12) /7 = 7.71
#34 Varsity ((32 + 5 + 4 + 10) - 6)/7 = 6.42
#22 Varsity ((23 + 9 + 8 + 17) – 14)/7 = 6.14
#15 Freshmen ((27 + 8 + 5 + 10) - 9)/7 = 5.86
#20 Varsity ((20 + 8 + 1 + 19) - 12)/7 = 5.14
#22 Freshmen ((21 + 10 + 4 + 9) - 11) /7 = 4.71*

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

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 20 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

Today the team is:

#20 Varsity .761 32/42
#44 JV .657 23/35
#22 Varsity .630 34/54
#20 Freshmen .593 16/27
#34 Varsity .588 30/51
#22 Freshmen .528 38/72

*corrected totals based on 7 games

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reading minds

Very interesting research on the functions of the brain,

Cells That Read Minds

But if the findings, published in 1996, surprised most scientists, recent research has left them flabbergasted. Humans, it turns out, have mirror neurons that are far smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities.

The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.

"We are exquisitely social creatures," Dr. Rizzolatti said. "Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others."

He continued, "Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking."

The discovery is shaking up numerous scientific disciplines, shifting the understanding of culture, empathy, philosophy, language, imitation, autism and psychotherapy.

Everyday experiences are also being viewed in a new light. Mirror neurons reveal how children learn, why people respond to certain types of sports, dance, music and art, why watching media violence may be harmful and why many men like pornography.

How can a single mirror neuron or system of mirror neurons be so incredibly smart?

Most nerve cells in the brain are comparatively pedestrian. Many specialize in detecting ordinary features of the outside world. Some fire when they encounter a horizontal line while others are dedicated to vertical lines. Others detect a single frequency of sound or a direction of movement.

Moving to higher levels of the brain, scientists find groups of neurons that detect far more complex features like faces, hands or expressive body language. Still other neurons help the body plan movements and assume complex postures.

Mirror neurons make these complex cells look like numbskulls. Found in several areas of the brain - including the premotor cortex, the posterior parietal lobe, the superior temporal sulcus and the insula - they fire in response to chains of actions linked to intentions.

Something that affects social behavior in schools might be the watching of violent movies or the playing of a violent video game the night before a school day. This would cetainly be true of day care as well.

And I'm guessing that children who do sleep overs at a friend's house, watch rowdy video behavior, and so on may come home displaying those exact behaviors. Just guessing, but I'm betting many parents have that story to share.

But this research must also affect our understanding of homeschooling. If humans learn empathies toward others in the social stew then are sheltered children receiving a rich enough cultuaral interaction to become whole. Couple these findings with the research being done on teenaged brains and my guess is that these mirror neurons are incomplete until adulthood.

And in this melting pot of America, are we teaching racism through the apartheid of public schools? And surely, religions that teach that how you live your life is inconsequential as long as you believe may have more trouble with these findings than with evolution itself.

Interesting reading. Enjoy.

NCLB as class warfare

No Child Left Behind is the boldest educational fraud in history perpetrated by an administration whose trademark is corruption. Yet why does no one protest?

The math of NCLB doesn't add up, yet no mathematicians step forward to point out the obvious.

The educational value of NCLB doesn't educate kids with anything they need, yet no educators raise a whimper of protest.

If the country were reading with comprehension then articles on the ineffectiveness, fiscal insanity of, and shameful social experimentation on our youth would certainly ignite growing protests and demands that this program be stopped immediately.

But none of that happens. It is as though we live in a totalitarian state of mind - an educational 1984 - in which all news is good news even as we sink deeper into the quagmire.

For those of you still brave enough to read the writing on the wall, here's more:

No Child's Behind Left: The Test
By Greg Palast
The Observer UK

Tuesday 10 January 2006

President Bush told us, "By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, we are regularly testing every child and making sure they have better options when schools are not performing."

But there are no "better options." In the delicious double-speak of class war, when the tests have winnowed out the chaff and kids stamped failed, No Child Left results in that child being left behind in the same grade to repeat the failure another year.

I can't say that Mr. Bush doesn't offer better options to the kids stamped failed. Under No Child Left, if enough kids flunk the tests, their school is marked a failure and its students win the right, under the law, to transfer to any successful school in their district. You can't provide more opportunity than that. But they don't provide it, the law promises it, without a single penny to make it happen. In New York in 2004, a third of a million students earned the right to transfer to better schools - in which there were only 8,000 places open.

New York is typical. Nationwide, only one out of two-hundred students eligible to transfer manage to do it. Well, there's always the Army. (That option did not go unnoticed: No Child has a special provision requiring schools to open their doors to military recruiters.)

Hint: When de-coding politicians' babble, to get to the real agenda, don't read their lips, read their budgets. And in his last budget, our President couldn't spare one thin dime for education, not ten cents. Mr. Big Spender provided for a derisory 8.4 cents on the dollar of the cost of primary and secondary schools. Congress appropriated a half penny of the nation's income - just one-half of one-percent of America's twelve trillion dollar GDP - for primary and secondary education.

President Bush actually requested less. While Congress succeeded in prying out an itty-bitty increase in voted funding, that doesn't mean the extra cash actually gets to the students. Fifteen states have sued the federal government on the grounds that the cost of new testing imposed on schools, $3.9 billion, eats up the entire new funding budgeted for No Child Left.

There are no "better options" for failing children, but there are better uses for them. The President ordered testing and more testing to hunt down, identify and target millions of children too expensive, too heavy a burden, to educate.

No Child Left offers no options for those with the test-score Mark of Cain - no opportunities, no hope, no plan, no funding. Rather, it is the new social Darwinism, educational eugenics: identify the nation's loser-class early on. Trap them then train them cheap.

I ask you, why doesn't CABE address this issue, head-on, no more double-talk nonsense? Why?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Men's Basketball after Wethersfield - 1/10/06

Our Varsity beat Wethersfield High last night. My eclectic set of stats includes all those games.

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

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

#34 Freshmen ((32 + 14 + 4 + 14) - 11) /6 = 8.83
#34 Varsity ((29 + 5 + 3 + 10) - 5)/6 = 7.0
#22 Freshmen ((22 + 10 + 3 + 8) - 8) /5 = 7.0
#22 Varsity ((19 + 8 + 7 + 17) – 11)/6 = 6.67
#20 Varsity ((16 + 7 + 1 + 17) - 9)/6 = 5.5
#15 Freshmen ((19 + 8 + 4 + 9) - 8)/6 = 5.4


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

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 20 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

Today the team is:

#20 Varsity .805 29/36
#22 Varsity .667 28/42
#44 JV .667 20/30
#34 Varsity .596 28/47
#22 Freshmen .538 35/65
#15 Freshmen .512 21/41

Monday, January 09, 2006

Holiday Dinner parties and teachers

Over the holidays, my wife and I had a wonderful dinner with some long-time professional teachers. After dinner , the out-of-district teachers discussed the culture of perpetual testing.
  • "In our district, the scores are extremely high and yet we are greeted with ever greater expectations the next go round. We are handed reams of literature on improving [teaching for] test scores."
A teacher in a religious institution commented that they are not obligated to administer these tests.
  • "Well, the high scoring towns manage property values based on the scores. I mean the developers would have a fit if the scores were not adequate to justify the cost of the housing."
  • "I love working with the kids but after decades of teaching my expertise is wholly ignored and the only thing administrators care about are these test scores. I know these kids and I can't effectively help them. Heaven forbid we should have ONE free class to just do something creative!"
  • "The people making money on this are the testing industry who sell all the specialized cirriculum materials for test preparation."
So I asked why they don't express these opinions to the administrators. They answer, "Look, in the old days I'd say something. Today, they're likely to punish you by changing your assignment next year to something undesirable. It isn't worth it."

In some cases I've slightly paraphrased these conversations from memory but I hope the internalized outrage of a few teachers offers a voice and an insight into what our schools have become for professional teachers. Finally,
  • "I moved from another state to come here and teach and I have to say that the thing I'm so proud of about Connecticut is that we have an Attorney General [Blumenthal] with the guts to file a lawsuit against NCLB (No Child Left Behind)."
These opinions are important because professionals who are trying to improve schools are calling for more pro-active teacher involvement in the dialogue. For example, this article discusses the topic precisely.

Bring teachers to the table

By S. Paul Reville | January 3, 2006

As the volume of schools identified as ''in need of improvement" ratchets upward under the idealistic assumptions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the urgency for the state to act intensifies. It is morally and educationally unsound for authorities publicly to label poor performance without a plan and the capacity to intervene.

Intervention planning is challenging work. There is little evidence of dramatically successful ''turnaround" strategies anywhere in the country. Policy makers in virtually every state are grappling with the question of what to do with their failing schools. Research evidence is limited. State takeovers have not been successful, except on financial matters. Most state departments of education, as is the case in Massachusetts, have limited capacity, personnel, and expertise to address the complex issues of school performance.

Naturally, the policy discussion migrates away from state bureaucracies. In Massachusetts, conversations on interventions and poor performance have focused on management prerogatives, turnaround partners, and chartering or privatizing failed schools. These strategies, like many others, have little or no research evidence to support their effectiveness.

Conspicuously absent in the debate on intervention has been the role and voices of teachers and teacher unions, arguably the front line troops in any ''turnaround" strategy. There seems to be a belief in some policy circles that school improvement can be accomplished in spite of teachers rather than with them.

Some of the assumptions embedded in the prominent strategies, management prerogatives, turnaround partners, chartering, and privatization imply that teachers are the problem rather than part of the solution, that the source of expertise on fixing school problems is external rather than internal or that current leadership is highly competent. Although each of these assumptions is sometimes true, none is always or typically correct.

Teachers and, certainly, unions don't have all the answers either. They are also sometimes the source of problems, but it is folly to shape school intervention and turnaround plans without extensively consulting teachers on policies and practices.

A common flaw of educational policies is that they take a ''one size fits all" approach to solving problems or meeting challenges. Not all failing schools fail for the same reasons. Therefore, not all successful school interventions will look alike. Our intervention policies will need to take into account the substantial variation in context: communities, leadership, curriculum and teaching, resources, students, demographics, mobility and a host of other factors. Our intervention policies will need to be strong but flexible and responsive to local circumstances. Above all, we will need policies and practices that those charged with implementing see as worthwhile and likely to succeed.

However, it's not just some policy makers' neglect or management bias that keeps unions from the intervention policy table. Union leaders are sometimes ambivalent about participating in solving the problems of the accountability system for fear of being seen as collaborators with a system of assessment and accountability which some of their members still actively reject. However, enlightened leaders across the country increasingly see that, however flawed, the system of accountability is here to stay and teachers have a vital role to play in improving that system. These leaders know that unions need to be at the table.

In addition to including teachers in policy formulation, we would do well to craft state intervention policies that increase the capacity of the state Department of Education to provide real assistance and tools, like formative assessment data, leadership training, extra time, and professional development, to our most challenged schools and districts. We should also view our policy efforts as experimental. We don't have much evidence to support any of the most prominently mentioned strategies, but this doesn't absolve the state of the obligation to get involved in helping educators improve teaching and learning in the Commonwealth's most challenged schools.

S. Paul Reville is president of the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy and a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Although the State being discussed is Massachusetts, the content is relevant. But how can this nation ever hope to have such discussions with teachers when NCLB, for all intents and purposes, encourages little more than a draconian, adversarial conversation?

NCLB is a failed social engineering experiment that needs to be suspended sooner than later.

Free Software update

I just added two new free software links to the list (click the title link);

Google's free software pack (includes Norton anti-virus trial and a spam product)

Software for Starving Students (it's a humorous title) - a collection of great open source materials

Sunday, January 08, 2006

CABE - Can we change the name to RUBE?

Man, are these people in the dark. They sent me another CABE Journal the other day. The last one featured this Jodi Rell money sink. You'd think these people would stop throwing good money after bad. But Noooooooooooooooooo.

In this issue they announce yet another waste of taxpayer's money called CABE-Meeting. I know you're holding your breath wondering what magic this thing brings to the educational table. Get this... it promises to...

  • Make documents available in REAL-TIME [hooo-hoo]!
  • Allow for board members to follow along electronically [no not with a pacemaker - with a laptop]
  • Allow minutes to be put together as the meeting progresses! [Stop the world! I want to get off!]

All for the introductory price of $2K/year and $1K/year after that. There's more but really you have better things to do than ponder this buffalo chip [It makes my eyes water].

Between the lines CABE tells us the true agenda. The Gates Foundation is underwriting some of the cost of this boondoggle because they are soooooo interested in better school board meetings. It's coincidental that each school board will requisition laptops requiring Microsoft software to actually run this thing.

AH, PHILANTHROPY, where art thou?

What's that?

Sold to the highest bidder, you say.

Pity.

Truth be told this software sounds as useful and necessary as a third shoe. Region 19 can already post documents to the internet [there's zero urgency in doing so and so on]. This software aspires to be dubious but dubious refuses to compromise its integrity in this case.

I will attempt to help this organization the best I can but I'm not miracle worker - just keep that in mind.

Men's Basketball stats (after Platt contests)

Our Varsity beat Platt the other night. My eclectic set of stats includes all those games.

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

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

#34 Freshmen ((30 + 14 + 4 + 13) - 10) /5 = 10.2
#22 Freshmen ((22 + 10 + 3 + 6) - 7) /4 = 8.5
#34 Varsity ((26 + 4 + 3 + 8) - 4)/5 = 7.4
#22 Varsity ((16 + 7 + 5 + 15) – 10)/5 = 6.6
#15 Freshmen ((18 + 5 + 4 + 6) - 5)/5 = 5.6
#20 Varsity ((13 + 6 + 1 + 11) - 7)/5 = 4.8


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

((Shots Made + Assists) divided by (Shots Made + Shots Missed )) for that player. (Minimum 20 shots attempted) This is my Bron-Bron number.

Today the team is:

#20 Varsity .812 26/32
#22 Varsity .667 26/39
#44 JV .642 18/28
#22 Freshmen .576 34/59
#34 Varsity .556 20/36
#15 Freshmen .529 18/34

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The IRS and your Political Privacy

This is slightly off-topic but there's always so much noise about how taxes are spent - as if education were a criminal enterprise.

Just Friday, this extremely disturbing article appeared in Tacoma Washington's paper. It talks about the IRS' indirect collection of party preference information from taxpayers. It also talks about a mysterious third-party database housing this data (is this secure and local or maybe outsourced and available for dubious purposes).

You'll notice that Connecticut taxpayers were targeted. Ah, the joys of a Bush presidency.

Read it and weep (I'm out of tears),

IRS tracked taxpayers’ political affiliation

The News Tribune
Published: January 6th, 2006 02:30 AM
WASHINGTON – As it hunted down tax scofflaws, the Internal Revenue Service collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of an appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the IRS, said the practice was an “outrageous violation of the public trust” that could undermine the agency’s credibility.
...and...
Kelly said Thursday that several IRS employees had complained to the union about the practice. She said IRS officials weren’t even aware of it until she wrote them in late December.

In a letter to Kelly, Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple said the party identification information was automatically collected through a “database platform” supplied by an outside contractor that targeted voter registration rolls among other things as it searched for people who aren’t paying their taxes.

“This information is appropriately used to locate information on taxpayers whose accounts are delinquent,” he said.

Murray and Kelly, however, remained skeptical. Kelly said the collection of such data was even more troubling because the IRS intends to start using private collection agencies later this year to go after back taxes.

“We think Congress should suspend IRS plans to use private collections agencies until these questions have been resolved,” she said.

According to Murray’s office, the 20 states in which the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Friday, January 06, 2006

My Latest Men's Basketball Stats

Our boys lost all three games to Glastonbury the other night. My eclectic set of stats includes those games.

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

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

#34 Freshmen ((24 + 8 + 3 + 11) - 10) /4 = 09
#22 Freshmen ((18 + 8 + 2 + 5) - 6) /3 = 09
#34 Varsity ((19 + 4 + 1 + 7) - 4)/4 = 6.75
#44 JV ((17 + 3 + 1 + 3) – 6)/3 = 06
#15 Freshmen ((12 + 3 + 3 + 6) - 4)/4 = 05

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

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

Today the team is:

#20 Varsity .750 21/28
#40 Freshmen .666 6/9
#15 Freshman .652 15/23
#22 Freshmen .625 25/40
#22 Varsity .592 16/27

Student Discounted Merchandise Anxiety

I advocate the use of open source software whenever possible because it levels the playing field for all American children and their families. Anyone owning a fairly new model of a computer can participate in using word processors, spreadsheets, programming tools and so forth. I include alink on my left menu bar for all the programs that I think have a responsible critical mass - Open Office, SchoolTools, and so on. Just search on 'free' and you'll find whatever I stumble across.

To be fair though, today I want to address the issue of Student Discounted products. I want to encourage students and parents to take advantage of these discounts whenever possible. But a few months ago, my wife and I were considering such a purchase. My wife's a teacher and in looking at the box, we were both intimidated by the legalese and weren't sure of what we 'needed'. Rather than be embarassed at the register by a clerk who might suddenly turn into a CSI investigator we didn't purchase the product.

I think this happens too often so Lynda Breault and I chased the issue around for a few days. Here's what we found.

At the Apple site, it is clear who can buy discounted technology;

Who is Eligible To Purchase
The following education individuals are eligible to purchase through the Apple Store for Education individuals:

* Employee of public or private K-12 institutions in the United States
* School Board members who are currently serving as elected or appointed members
* PTA or PTO executives currently serving as elected or appointed officers
* Qualified homeschools
* Employee of a public or private, profit or non-profit preschool


Although this is Apple's qualifying list, my guess is that all corporations offering such discounts are fairly identical.

The message I'm conveying here is this. If a store is selling Student Discount versions of a product then, assuming you're qualified as the above list says, you can buy it without having to offer any 'proof'. This does not operate like the old Soviet Union where you had to be a card-carrying-member of an organization.

The registration process of the company selling the product will make you sign a contract that confirms that you are who you say you are usually with no litmus tests.

Any store clerk demanding an ID has no right to demand one. There is no ID for BOE members, or home schoolers, or whoever. None.

Ask for a manger or buy it elsewhere. It is your privilege and right to purchase whatever you qualify for - there is no burden of proof at the checkout line, nor should there be.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dangerous ideas...

This website poses a question to the world's most interesting people. This year they asked for the individual's most dangerous idea. Here's a sample of one answer that talks about education (click the link to see many more - well worthwhile!);

School is bad for children

Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them.

The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have been spoon-fed.

We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves.

We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school.

We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves.

Call school off. Turn them into apartments.

- Roger Schank, Chief learning officer, Trump University

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sex offenders off the radar

I got another issue of The Journal from CABE full of pablum about the State Department of Education. This is a lot more important (I'll get back to the flotsom later).

Katrina sent sex offenders off the radar
Governors urged to track 2,000 evacuated offenders

Friday, December 30, 2005; Posted: 4:52 p.m. EST (21:52 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Governors in states that accepted Katrina evacuees are being urged to locate about 2,000 registered sex offenders who fled the Gulf region during the hurricane's mayhem and may have vanished from legally required tracking.

The unexpected consequences of the Bush administration's bungling of Katrina continue to ripple through our communities. Couple this with a recent WFSB I-Team news investigation of the Rocky Hill Veteran's facility.

It says,
An I-Team investigation...Dangerous conditions at Connecticut's Veterans Home in Rocky Hill, and we discovered much more than just health hazards.

Our investigation also uncovered convicted felons -- even sex offenders living inside.

It's a report that has the government backpeddling -- even before they see the story.

Our I-Team undercover camera captured decrepit bathrooms, dirty walls and ceilings, and floors falling apart inside the state veterans' home.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to residents' fears for their health and more importantly, safety.

Veterans and other sources tell Eyewitness News the home has admitted a growing number of veterans with more violent pasts.

"Rocky Hill essentially has a prison in its backyard at some level," said Richard Browne a former resident at the Veterans Home. "And it's not being taken care of."

Richard Browne lived at the home for 10 months beginning in June of 2004. He says in his short time there he noticed a growing number of fellow veterans on probation and parole.


This facility is being expanded. The feds have an obligation to provide the community with an inventory of what our veterans are being subjected to as well as to the quality of people residing there. Here's why (aside from the painfully obvious);

On December 28,, 2005, the Chronicle wrote an op-ed piece called, Field Trip Offers a Real Education.

The field trip was by Windham Middle School students to the Rocky Hill Vetran's Home. It discusses parental opposition to the field trip and that the Windham Middle School Staff "stood their ground. The students visited the home."

The op ed goes on to say, "These trips are historically well supervised with plenty of chaperones, from both the school and veterans home staff. Threats are not an issue."

Excuse me? Threats are not an issue!

As a school board member I would have voted, NO - not on my watch. I do not know the psychology of the threat that exists but I would be loathe to parade anyone's middle school child into the imagination of a potential threat. I disagree with the Chronicle editorial and with the administrators who allowed such a trip.

I would like to see the State Department of Education issue a policy guideline that suggests proibiting the exposure of students to facilities that house sex offenders. This isn't an issue of respect for veterans this is an issue of public safety that all of the platitudes about real-world experiences cannot justify.

Furthermore for the safety of the residents, any expansion of this facility should conform to strict State of Connecticut guidelines for residential eligibility.

The Student Loan Sharks

This Fortune article tells parents and prospective college loan seekers just how expensive college will be:

Sallie Mae: A hot stock, a tough lender
To drive growth, the education-lending giant is socking students with rates of up to 28%.
December 14, 2005: 3:03 PM EST
By Bethany McLean, FORTUNE senior writer

The giant of the student loan industry is the Student Loan Marketing Association, better known by its friendly-sounding nickname, Sallie Mae. Many people think that Sallie Mae, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is sponsored by the U.S. government. And until recently it was. But at the end of 2004, Sallie became an independent, publicly traded company, completing a process begun in 1996.

It is now radically different than it was even five years ago -- an aggressive, highly profitable lender and a stock market superstar. Since 1995 its stock has returned over 1,900 percent, trouncing the S&P 500's 228 percent gain. Today Sallie's stock sells for 22 times earnings and almost ten times tangible book value, "an almost unheard-of valuation for a financial institution," as a Criterion Research report noted.

Sallie's dividend has risen at an average annual clip of 18 percent over the past ten years. And thanks to hefty helpings of stock options, Sallie's top executives have earned fortunes. From 1999 to 2004, just-retired CEO Al Lord -- now the lead investor in a group trying to purchase the Washington Nationals -- received total compensation of $225 million. New CEO Thomas "Tim" Fitzpatrick made $145 million over the same period.

To produce those sorts of numbers, a company usually has to be obsessed with the bottom line, and Sallie is certainly that (a big chunk of its executives' bonuses is based on Sallie's profits). As good as that may be for shareholders, a growing number of critics contend that those profits are coming at the expense of Sallie's other constituents: students and taxpayers.

"Sallie advocates policies we believe are frequently contrary to the interest of students," says Luke Swarthout, a higher-education advisor to the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups. He charges that Sallie used its political clout to shape new legislation that will increase the cost of student loans.

Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, decries Sallie's growing presence in the ugly business of collecting on defaulted debt. Pennsylvania state representative Doug Reichley alleges that Sallie is engaging in "predatory lending."

Indeed, Sallie uses high interest rates and fees to charge students as much as 28 percent annual interest on loans. As a result, some have seen their school-loan debt balloon into six-figure delinquencies that they can't hope to pay when the collection agency (which nowadays may be owned by Sallie) comes calling.

I've quoted the important part for tax-payers and borrowers. The article includes the usual 'buts and therefores'. Make no mistake that soaking students and parents has become a huge, unregulated, and unconscionable business. Please thank the Bush administration cronies this November.

Monday, January 02, 2006

More 'No Child Left Behind' Criticism

Last week, the Washington Post ran this editorial contribution, questioning the NCLB blight that is being spread throughout our school systems;

Leave No Gifted Child Behind

By Susan Goodkin

Tuesday, December 27, 2005; Page A25



Conspicuously missing from the debate over the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is a discussion of how it has hurt many of our most capable children. By forcing schools to focus their time and funding almost entirely on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, NCLB sacrifices the education of the gifted students who will become our future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific leaders.

The drafters of this legislation didn't have to be rocket scientists to foresee that it would harm high-performing students. The act's laudable goal was to bring every child up to "proficiency" in language arts and math, as measured by standardized tests, by 2014. But to reach this goal, the act imposes increasingly draconian penalties on schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward bringing low-scoring students up to proficiency. While administrators and teachers can lose their jobs for failing to improve the test scores of low-performing students, they face no penalties for failing to meet the needs of high-scoring students.

and...


Perhaps these schools, along with the drafters of NCLB, labor under the misconception that gifted students will fare well academically regardless of whether their special learning needs are met. Ironically, included in the huge body of evidence disproving this notion are my state's standardized test scores -- the very test scores at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reflecting the schools' inattention to high performers, they show that students achieving "advanced" math scores early in elementary school all too frequently regress to merely "proficient" scores by the end. In recent years the percentage of California students scoring in the "advanced" math range has declined by as much as half between second and fifth grade.

Many gifted students, of course, continue to shine on standardized tests regardless of the level of instruction they receive. But whether these gifted students -- who are capable of work far above their grade level -- are being appropriately educated to develop their full potential is not shown by looking at test scores measuring only their grade-level mastery. Nor do test scores indicate whether these students are being sufficiently challenged to maintain their academic interest, an issue of particular concern in high school. Shockingly, studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.


[bolding is my added emphasis]

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):