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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Journalism 101

Good Question

I've finished reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass again. I had a conversation with some neighbors who wondered why schools don't teach morals and ethics.

I slept on this. What I wasn't quick enough to have was my conclusion that schools do teach morals and ethics just about as well as they teach everything else - not necessarily well.

Here's the big minded ideas that get lost in the NCLB high-stress testing dogma.

You can bring this back [as John Lennon would say...] "if you want it".

6

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer, designedly dropt, 95
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say, Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic;
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white; 100
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you, curling grass;
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men;
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them; 105
It may be you are from old people, and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps;
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers;
Darker than the colorless beards of old men;
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths. 110

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men? 115
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. 120

All goes onward and outward—nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Peter Tork to perform in Ashford - May 20

Form the Joshua's Trust website (click above link):

Peter Tork Performs at Trust Benefit Party

May 20, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Knowlton Memorial Hall in Ashford

Peter Tork, who first made his musical mark with the Monkees, will provide a musical interlude at a party to benefit Joshua's Tract Conservation and Historic Trust. The event will be held on May 20, from 5:00p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Knowlton Memorial Hall, Rt. 44, in Ashford. Wine and refreshments will be served starting at 5:00 p.m.; music at 6:00 p.m. Co-chairs of the event, Isabelle Atwood and Mona Anderson, hope to raise money for the Land Acquisition Fund. They encourage you to make your reservation early because many events this year have been oversold, disappointing some people who had hoped to come.

Peter Tork, who grew up in Storrs, is a versatile musician whose recent tours with Shoe Suede Blues have drawn enthusiastic audiences. He is donating his performance to assist with the Trust's local conservation efforts. Knowlton Memorial Hall, which is Ashford's former town hall, was donated by C.C. Knowlton, grandfather of Mildred Hamilton Knowlton, who gifted land to Joshua's Trust. Isabelle describes it as a beautiful space for a party. The hall is located just off Rt. 44.

Most of the land owned by Joshua's Trust has come as gifts from families or individuals like the Knowltons; however, the Trust has purchased a few parcels at below market value, such as Proposal Rock in Mansfield. In recent years, the Trust has adopted a more pro-active approach to conserving open space and during the coming year will have an opportunity to permanently protect one of the area's prime properties. The Trust will have to raise a considerable amount to do this. Help to start the campaign by inviting friends to join you for a great social event on May 20!

To print the reservation form, CLICK HERE. Reservations must be received prior to May 15th!

The Region19 Funny Pages

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More Free Software: SketchUp

This is a very heavyweight freebie announced just recently by Google. Adults and children can model (in 3-D solids) just about anything they like. Maybe you want to design a new deck, a shed, or a rocketship - click on this link here.

The title links always point back to other free software titles.

If the schools aren't smart enough to use this in classes - well, I just don't know what to say.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wellford Wilms: On Taking Back Our Schools

Every once in a while I'm heartened that the world still has witnesses enough with the courage to question what's happening to our children. This article is significant reading - words not heard often or loud enough.

Over the last 25 years, education in general has been taken from ordinary citizens and teachers by politicians, administrators, union leaders, publishers, test makers, consultants, university professors, hardware and software developers and the media, each playing its part in keeping alive the illusion of reform. All in all, this $1-trillion industry has replaced the common interest, and no one, it seems, can muster the will to rein it in.

Local control is only a dim memory. Decisions now come from the top—from the federal and state governments, school boards and high-level administrators who have little knowledge of what goes on in the classroom. Teachers are left out of these decisions, carrying on the best they can, safe in the assumption that the newest fad, like those before it, will blow over. Parents are all but forgotten.

While command-and-control management may seem to produce results in the short run, it strips schools of the capacity to develop the stable leadership that is necessary to sustain success. Principals are besieged with demands from district offices and from the educational fads that emanate from publishers and university researchers. Many principals know that they put their careers in peril unless they do what their bosses want. One elementary school principal told me, “District directives undermine our own abilities to think for ourselves, to believe in what we see and know.” When schools discover something that works, it is rarely sustained because they lack authority or stable leadership.


If you care about education, click on the link and read the entire piece. It is well worth your while.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Let's Make It Better: High-school Head Start

At the last curriculum meeting I introduced an idea I had that I had spent quite awhile thinking about. Generally speaking I would like to see all Connecticut schools (at least Region 19) to promote eighth graders to high school during their second semester.

What I think this accomplishes is a number of very positive outcomes.

First, it ends senior-itis both in the high school and Jr High school level. At the eighth grade level, the students will suddenly have to navigate a new school, take some mandatory classes and tests (to better evaluate their talents), and hopefully acclimate them to what will be expected in the coming years. For years we've read about the early arrival of maturity in this young teen group. It's time to acknowledge this and put these kids in an environment that they belong.

For seniors, they'll be expected to serve in their second semester not as students but as tutors in the elementary grades in math, science, english and wherever they can be used in community settings. Their final semester will be outside the high school box and immersed in mature relationships with the society they're entering. This can be a time to earn money for college, try volunteer work, or directed study. This kind of experience has long been advocated by educators like Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.

In educational regions like ours, this frees up some local funds for a better k-8 experience and it reinvigorates the high school by eliminating the excruciating second senior semester.

For the students it keeps the experience vital, vibrant, and exciting. The seniors get a head start on college plans, spring to summer jobs, and so on. Eighth graders will know over the summer what to prepare for educationally and culturally.

I think this is a cornerstone of reinvigorating high school education in the region and in Connecticut.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Is NCLB Institutionalized Malpractice?

How would you feel if your doctor's professional journals were filled with monthly critiques of a therapy being used on millions of patients a year that not only wasn't effective but was observed to be harmful?

Would you think it constituted malpractice, needless harm to innocents, or malicious behavior?

Consider that America's teachers and their unions know, write about, and complain about the No Child Left Behind Act with grave concerns.

Consider this article in the Teacher's Union magazine, NEA Today. It celebrates Homerisms such as; "Every Child Can Learn" and "A Better Deal for Homeless Students", yet it lists nine ways NCLB hurts, that's right hurts students. These nine observations are non-trivial; "Testing crowds out learning", "One Size Does Not Fit All", "Educators get blamed for problems they can’t control", "More Teaching to the Test, Less Teaching for Understanding", "If it’s not on the test, kiss it good-bye", "Impossible Mandates", "Schools have an incentive to push out low-scoring students", and a few others (some dubious).

In America, with all its diversity and celebration of the individual, how did the country get sold such a sack of educational nonsense? And why are teachers who are supposed to be professionals practice bad education? Would they accept their doctors practicing bad medicine because George Bush's latest conversation with God said it was okay? I have a very hard time with this. Must every child in America really have to conform to the Bush administration's idea of a perfect fifth grader or ninth grader or high school graduate?

As a Board of Education member, I find the science and math of NCLB to be pure fabulism yet millions of tax dollars are thrown away on testing advocated by special interests in the testing business. And for all the so-called data gathered, how much is actually useful? Very little from what I can see. In my profession, software engineering we would call it, "Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO)".

Rating NCLB
NEA members say it’s hurting more than helping.
Edited by Alain Jehlen

"Wish you had a dollar for every hour one of your students spends filling in test bubbles instead of experimenting with magnets or reading the latest Junie B. book? Cheryl Chapman must give her second-graders in DuPage County, Illinois, a constant stream of standardized tests.

“I give them a week’s worth of tests every six weeks in language arts,” Chapman wrote in an e-mail. “Our lit program is so highly scripted, a second-grader could teach it. I’ve let them at times. I use it because I have to, but I supplement like crazy.”

Chapman administers another language arts test three times per year, plus several kinds of math tests. “All kids are supposed to graph their progress on the computer, even first-graders,” says Chapman. “Our administrators think the graphing will make the kids more motivated, but I haven’t seen the research to support this. It’s just a big stress-out.”

The results are supposed to provide insight into what kids have mastered and where they need help, but Chapman says they don’t add “any information I don’t already know if I just teach it.”

Recently, Chapman’s husband asked her why she planned to retire early, at age 60—after all, she loves teaching. She answered that she no longer sees what she does as teaching. “My job is to protect my students from the local repercussions of this Administration’s educational policies,” she says. “I wish Americans would wake up and see that these policies create little stressed-out robots, not thinking, creative, smart kids.”"


This teacher isn't the only one who thinks this is a BIG PROBLEM. Since when is robbing children of their individuality a good thing? If teachers actually read their professional journals why is NCLB still in practice? I don't get it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Good God, they let CABE in the State Capitol...

You guessed it, another CABE Journal newsletter. They call themselves "The leading voice for Connecticut Public Education" which is probably why parents are hiding the kids in the attic - "Don't be scared children, Bush can't run again."

Anyway. The headline of the April issue screams, "EACH CHILD COUNTS". In reality the article never mentions math or children again. Apparently it was just about the only sentence nobody disagreed with so they ran with it.

Actually, running is too strong a term. The picture that accompanies the article shows what looks to be a crazed mob of mall-walkers either looking to run Dr. Frankenstein out of town or mutually looking for a rest room in Bushnell Park.

It turns out that they were a CABE contingent that somehow finagled their way into the State Capitol under the pretense ("EACH CHILD COUNTS!") that they had something to say about education.

Later in the Journal a photo spread has a number of pictures of these people presumably saying something about education to education deaf legislators. Nancy Wyman's picture sums it up. Looking frantically for the exit, hands up as if being told this was a stickup, Nancy's expression infers that she's wondering where all these Alzheimer's patients came from.

Thank God nothing was accomplished. The next time CABE is let into the CT Statehouse I would like their sign to say, "FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY - NO MORE FREAK'N EDUCATION MANDATES!"

But that's just me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Corrupting Education, NCLB's consequences

Yeah, yeah. The Fed and State Depts of Education whose only function seems to be the extortion of so-called "school accountability" from school districts, keep shoveling the steaming brown idea that NCLB somehow provides metrics of student achievement.

The only people who believe these fabulisms don't know anything about math or its application to quality control. But that sad fact is neither here nor there.

Today's NCLB outrage addresses who's measured, who isn't, and why.

States Omitting Minorities' Test Scores

By NICOLE ZIEGLER DIZON, BEN FELLER and FRANK BASS, Associated Press Writers Tue Apr 18, 12:21 PM ET

"We're forcing districts and states to play games because the system is so broken, and that's not going to help at all," said Kathy Escamilla, a University of Colorado education professor. "Those are little games to prevent showing what's going on."

Under the law signed by Bush in 2002, all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, although only children above second grade are required to be tested.

Schools receiving federal poverty aid also must demonstrate annually that students in all racial categories are progressing or risk penalties that include extending the school year, changing curriculum or firing administrators and teachers.

The law requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from a school's overall measure.

But the schools also must report scores by categories, such as race, poverty, migrant status, English proficiency and special education. Failure in any category means the whole school fails.

States are helping schools get around that second requirement by using a loophole in the law that allows them to ignore scores of racial groups that are too small to be statistically significant.

furthermore...
"It's terrible," said Michael Oshinaya, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in New York City who was among a group of black students whose scores weren't broken out as a racial category. "We're part of America. We make up America, too. We should be counted as part of America."

Spellings' department is caught between two forces. Schools and states are eager to avoid the stigma of failure under the law, especially as the 2014 deadline draws closer. But Congress has shown little political will to modify the law to address their concerns. That leaves the racial category exemptions as a stopgap solution.

"She's inherited a disaster," said David Shreve, an education policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "The 'Let's Make a Deal' policy is to save the law from fundamental changes, with Margaret Spellings as Monty Hall."

The solution may be to set a single federal standard for when minority students' scores don't have to be counted separately, said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Washington-based Education Trust.

While the exemptions were created for good reasons, there's little doubt now that group sizes have become political, said Wiener, whose group supports the law.

"They're asking the question, not how do we generate statistically reliable results, but how do we generate politically palatable results," he said.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Reverse the Raid Act

The premise of NCLB is that all high school students now prepare for college. Such platitudes deny the unaffordable expense of college and the Bush administration's tangled special interest complicities in driving up the interest rates on student loans. These loans now prepare college students for an early life of debt and lowered living standard than any generations of college student to come before. That is, unless the family is independently wealthy.

The linked article advocates change;

The Raid On Student Aid
By Earl Hadley
TomPaine.com

Friday 14 April 2006

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., have introduced the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act of 2006 , which would cut interest rates on college loans in half. The typical student borrower would save $5,600 over the duration of their loan. As with national security, Democrats have stepped up with an alternative and progressives must now do our part to get that message out.

To make college affordability an election-year issue we need to put the Reverse the Raid Act in front of the Republicans and the media. Progressives need to force the Republicans to stand either with America's students and middle-class families or with their special interest friends. With this goal in mind, the Campaign for America's Future has launched a petition campaign, demanding that House Majority Leader, John Boehner, R-Ohio, endorse the Reverse the Raid Act.

We've targeted Rep. Boehner because he is the poster child of the Republican failure on college affordability. As former Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee he shepherded through the $12 billion cuts. Boehner helped to make sure that students and parents continue to pay excessive interest rates on college loans, while protecting the interests of his financial backers-student loan companies like Sallie Mae, which has donated $122,470 to Boehner's PAC. While Boehner and his fellow Republicans have tried to justify their cuts to college assistance with rhetoric about deficit reduction, when the tax cuts for the wealthy are accounted for, the Republican slash'n'burn plan actually increases the deficit.

The bottom line is that our students don't have time for Republican word games. Republicans need to answer once and for all whether they are looking out for America's students or special interests. Let's begin by putting House Majority Leader John Boehner on the hot seat.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Parents lose tax break - thank Congress

Not only is education largely unfunded, now parents will be getting taxed without the benefit of long-standing tax breaks. The NY Times gives you the heads up...

With Tax Break Expired, Middle Class Faces a Greater Burden for 2006
By DAVID CAY JOHNSTON
Published: April 16, 2006

The tax break that expired at the end of 2005 limited the alternative minimum tax to 3.6 million taxpayers, of which 2.1 million were families with children.

This year 18.9 million taxpayers are facing the alternative levy, with 11.8 million representing families with children. Without Congressional action, those affected will pay $26.6 billion more in federal income taxes for this year. Almost the same amount, $24.1 billion, will be saved by all investors, the Tax Policy Center estimated. Actual savings for investors are likely to be higher if recent stock market growth continues.

The alternative tax was originally adopted in 1969 to ensure that people who earned the equivalent of more than $1 million in today's dollars did not live tax free. It has not been fully adjusted for inflation and was not integrated into the Bush tax cuts. In addition, Congress in 1986 made basic changes in what kind of deductions are counted in determining whether one has to pay the alternative levy, causing it to become a tax on the middle class.

In the beginning it took away exotic breaks to high-income taxpayers who paid little or no tax. Now it denies people exemptions for themselves and their children and deductions for state income taxes and local property taxes.

Just one-tenth of 1 percent of the increased alternative tax is being paid this year by those making $1 million or more, the Tax Policy Center estimates, even though this is the only group affected by the original version of the levy.


And you all thought your kids would be the first generation to not do as well as their parent's generation.

The hiring process

A very nice article here about the expectations of teaching in the coming years and what administrators need to do to make the process effective. From the above link;

Teachers Wanted: Must be Prepared for Constant Change and Re-Training and In- servicing for the Rest of their Careers
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Delia Stafford
Haberman Foundation

TOP TEN ADMONISHMENTS TO SCHOOL HIRING OFFICIALS

1. Be Honest. Discuss your students, discuss the resources that teachers have, and discuss the turnover rate in your district and be selective in who you hire

2. Be Up-Front- Talk about the morale at the current time and your guesses, hunches and beliefs for the future.

3. Be Sincere- School systems want and need teachers and hiring officials should reflect this. But also indicate that teachers are expected to coach, do the school newspaper, sponsor the cheerleaders, be assistant track coaches, help with the chess time, and the school year book, just the hem of the list..

4. Stay honest!. Applicants at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado , may know what transpired there a few years back. But there may have been incidents in Idaho , or California or other states in the Union . Should applicants be aware of these things? We will leave this to the reader to decide, remembering always, our prisons are full of Kinder Kids...someone perhaps could have said a kind word, somewhere,sometime,even changed the direction of a child even if the "parents appeared to have little or no interested". IT ONLY TAKES ONE TEACHER, ONE TEACHER WITH THE RIGHT STUFF, TO CHANGE THE LIFE OF A CHILD !

5. And 5 th ,no hiring official can take the fifth amendment!

6. Be Realistic- No hiring official can predict what will occur over the next 5, 10 or 15 years. During the Reagan administration, no one could have predicted that " A Nation At Risk " might evolve into No Child Left Behind. One should not be optimistic, nor pessimistic, but realistic.

7. Be Up Front- Often teachers are hired at the last minute (I know I was.and not once but twice) and hiring officials need to be wise, prudent and judicious about what they say to recently hired teachers. If classroom management is paramount and important, that needs to be communicated. If " full inclusion" is the order of the day, that needs to be stated. If sports, and homecoming events and the like are the most important items on the agenda, let that be said.

8. Be sure to mention " Highly Qualified" and what that may mean today, tomorrow and years down the road. I suspect that teachers are going to have to undergo much more rigorous training in the future as the world becomes more complex and teachers more accountable to get pay raises

9. Be cautious, since student's lives are literally in the hands of teachers. Witness the recent teacher who compared George Bush to Hitler. Well, any straight thinking Martian knows that Hitler had a moustache and George Bush does not. But in all seriousness, one wonders about the malleable, shapeable minds of children and what the rantings and ravings of some individual might do to the thinking processes of children and adolescents. And witness a teacher in Florida who apparently had some type of sexual alliance with a student. How will that student's emotional and psychological life be affected by this alleged " bi-polar" teacher who cannot seem to gratify her urges appropriately.

10 BEWARE ! on both sides of the desk when as
king questions to determine "who to hire"!!!!. THE FAINT OF HEART NEED NOT APPLY!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Boys, the new underclass

A very provacative article reinforces some obvious trends that no one wants to talk about. Boys are an at-risk population. We know this has always been true of black boys but today white boys are no better off.

College
Affirmative action for boys?
4/7/2006

There’s an endangered minority on American college campuses, said Kevin Wack in the Portland, Maine, Press Herald. It’s not gays, or blacks, or even conservatives. It’s men. Today in the U.S., “about 57 percent of college students are female,” and they earn about 200,000 more bachelor’s degrees annually than do males. On plenty of campuses, the girl-boy ratio is approaching 60-40; at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, it’s 80-20. To coax more men into applying, institutions of higher learning are getting desperate. At Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where men made up only 36 percent of the Class of 2004, the administration added more photos of men to its admissions literature. When the Class of 2007 at Husson College in Bangor, Maine, came in at 65 percent women, the school responded by creating a football team. Many administrators are even resorting to lowering admissions standards for boys—in effect, practicing male affirmative action.


Read the rest of the article and weep. Nobody has an iota of sympathy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Region 19 Funny Pages

A Teacher - Parent - Student Web-based Portal

Okay the big downside to this is that it's absolutely free to students. This means the State Department of Education will immediately start a five-year plan to build it for millions.

The actual cost from the chalksite.com website specifies;

How much does it cost?
Chalksite is available in 5 different plans ranging from a completely FREE plan to pay plans ranging from only $4.95/month - $19.95/month. There is also school pricing available with discounts up to 35% off.


Check it out (from the title link);

While attending college, the student control panel was the one thing that I always felt my educational system just could not get right. Every student was given access to a control panel that had been built to help students keep track of schedules, important dates, finances, email, and announcements, and I am sure the average college provides students with this as well. This is great, although I personally found it confusing, horribly crafted, and pointless (I really didn’t like the control panels during my college education). So, what were these systems lacking? I feel they were mostly lacking student/teacher communication. Whether I had to catch up on missing assignments, ask a question, keep up with grades, or whatever the case may have been, I had to email the teacher. Now, the problem with this is that I had to wait for a reply, the teachers had to put time and effort into making a reply, and not to mention teacher email accounts were built into the control panels as well, which teachers weren’t too fond of either (funny). What I am getting at is communicating was a handful and had always seemed to be more troublesome then it should have been in an educational system.

Chalksite solves this communication problem by providing teachers with an easy to use central point where they can communicate with students and parents, post assignments and grades, send messages to each other, and even manage a website for their courses. However, so there is no confusion, Chalksite is not a learning system like Nuvvo. It is more of a system to organize and communicate rather then a full-fledged system for teaching. This is what I like about it though and it definitely is a service that I would have absolutely loved to use back when I was attending college.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Needless to say, I didn't win...

I spent hours trying to get my cartoon to show up here with no luck. Try the link, it's a site that allows anyone to create a cartoon script using some prefab characters. Pretty neat stuff.

My alternative budget went down in flames this evening but I have no melodrama to offer. As I've said before and will say countless more times, every budget cycle must be about constructing next year's educational offerings, the budget part of the equation is just a matter of talking about how the budget should be appropriated.

Years ago when I was studying sculpture at Doane College, I learned some artistic algebra. The creation of anything new can be performed by applying additive substance, by subtracting substance, or by metamorphosizing substance, or some combination of these exercises.

When working with a fixed budget to create a vital educational offering in the coming year, anything added needs to subtract some corresponding expense. It isn't personal, it's applying math to the priorities we are obligated to establish for the health of the educational environment.

My alternative budget proposal upset some secondary faculty members who personalized the recommendations I made to cut staff. But the real losers are the kindergarten program in Ashford and maybe elsewhere that are paying the consequences of the Region 19 budget numbers. And the teachers in the small towns are also receiving the short end of the fiscal result.

The Board was unwilling to make a short term sacrifice to revive the body (sometimes referred to as fasting). By short-changing the younger children we exacerbate learning issues that so perplex us at EO today.

I have to work harder.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Thank You, Andy!

Andy Rooney, Sixty Minutes on homogenized testing;

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic

NEW YORK, April 9, 2006
Andy Rooney (CBS)
(CBS) The following is a weekly 60 Minutes commentary by CBS News correspondent Andy Rooney.

Something's wrong here. Any time teaching is done just to help kids pass an exam, it's wrong. The purpose of teaching is to provide an education, not to help kids pass a test.

Subjects like science, art, history and music are being taught very little in a lot of schools. We're going to raise a generation of cultural idiots - people who don't know Beethoven from Mozart, Cezanne from Van Gogh, or Albert Einstein from Charles Darwin.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I'd better get to work...

I've got to formalize my alternative budget by Tuesday.

Junk Food and Junk Legislation

Washington passed some good legislation recently. They're trying to improve the quality of food served in schools as well as ensure that children are fed to begin with (subsidized breakfasts and so on).

But troubling issues persist, Senator Harkin's legislation makes sense.

Lawmakers try to expel junk food from schools
Friday, April 7, 2006; Posted: 10:02 a.m. EDT (14:02 GMT)


Lawmakers blame high-fat, high-sugar snacks that compete with nutritious meals in schools.

"Junk food sales in schools are out of control," Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said Thursday. "It undercuts our investment in school meal programs and steers kids toward a future of obesity and diet-related disease."

Harkin and a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to have the Agriculture Department set new nutritional standards for all food sold in schools. The goal is to restrict junk food sales in schools.

The department sets standards for breakfasts and lunches in federal school meal programs, which reimburse public and nonprofit private schools for giving free or reduced-price meals to kids. Those meals must follow federal dietary guidelines, which call for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less calories, fat, added sugars and sodium.

But the standards don't apply to a la carte lines in cafeterias, vending machines or school stores. The Agriculture Department has tried to restrict junk food before, but a 1983 federal court ruling, in a lawsuit by the National Soft Drink Association, said the limits could only apply to cafeterias during meals, not for the entire day throughout campus.

The last paragraph is critical. In CT, the Rell administration has passed legislation encouraging schools to eliminate or severely restrict vending machine sales, school charity and non-profit sales, and so on.

I wish the Democrats had said no to this. Instead, School Boards across the State of CT are now at the mercy of the OPWGIABUCs (Orwellian-dispositioned people with good intentions and bad unintended consequences). So today we have Corporations pitting their special interest money against this legislation and, quite frankly, I'm on the vendor's side.

I happen to favor something else (and, yes, it's too late so this is just spitting into the wind, but...). I would like to see the Democratic leadership offer a bill that eliminates Rell's proposal in favor of a bill that taxes healthier food less in grocery stores and offers tax breaks to the creation of smaller grocery stores (moms and pops) who carry high volumes of healthier food vs big boxes that carry everything under the sun. Here, rather than creating a class of nutritional criminals who need an occasional candy bar or soda, we allow people to choose healthy, less expensive meals (WELLness) OR to exercise their God-given right to be as fat, unhealthy, or happy eating whatever they damned-well choose.

A second-part of the legislation must require soft-drink vendors to offer healthy alternatives on school premises. Nutritionalists can create guidelines for a boutique class of beverage that is healthy, lower-in sugar, and so on. Coke and Pepsi and whoever can all get this done. The soft-drink machines must offer low-fat chocolate milks and drinks as well as (say) green tea and low-sugared juices, and so on.

A third leg of the legislation can require vending machines to dispense a minimum of one or a set limit of drinks per day per student id card. Student id cards could work just like NY's subway cards, add a magnetic stripe that the student uses as a cash card. The students load the card with a few dollars worth of purchasing power and the machines regulate usage. This gives parents a record of eating habits for their child and gets the school out of the nutritional cop business.

Teachers and administrators are adults and citizens, nobody has the right to tell them what to eat. Nor should parents of fundraisers wind up having to flee school grounds to sell brownies. This kind of regulation is absurd at face value.

On a final note, personal health is becoming a science that's increasingly able to map every individual's body to a health profile unique to the individual. Access to this level of health care is increasingly based on wealth but nonetheless, legislation that attempts to broadly enforce nutrition regiments ON EVERYBODY NO MATTER WHAT are doomed to fail and leave a wake of nasty, ugly lawsuits in tow. Jody Rell's feel-good election year grandstanding will slam this State hard in the coming years, truthi but unwholesome.

I would urge all school boards in CT to conform to the minimum required to stay out of the line of fire. The biologic needs of children are all different. For example, I've been repeatedly lectured that fruit juices are unhealthy because they are high in sugars and so on. I have two healthy, athletic boys who grew up on 2% milk, fruit juice and balanced diets - I have yet to see anything detrimental about their ingestion of fruit juices. While nutritional studies may find overweight people have problems with these items, is it really the State's right to prevent my healthy teenagers from drinking something I have no problem with and they have no problem with?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sad Day in America

I have become convinced that we've reached a point of no return. I'm not talking about a fashionable political tipping point but a historical milestone that signals an ominous future for all of us. The past no longer looks anything like the future.

The changes we will experience in the coming years will arrive in breathtaking succession, good and bad, and thanks to the Bush administration we will not even be able to afford a metaphorical seatbelt.

We are no longer in control of our government and I'm losing faith that government is even meaningful anymore. Recent economic indicators show that all Americans are getting poorer - that means wealth is drastically shifting away from this country. It's not like we're entitled to an eternal pursuit of happiness but I would prefer that the world lift itself up in a less chaotic way.

Job preference no longer belongs to Americans in America;

Jobless rate higher for U.S.-born than immigrants
Unemployment rate for foreign-born workers fell below 5% last year, lower than the rate for native-born workers for the first time.
By Chris Isidore, CNNMoney.com senior writer
April 6, 2006: 5:30 PM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The unemployment rate for immigrants working in the United States fell below the rate for U.S.-born workers in 2005 for the first time since the Labor Department started tracking those numbers a decade ago.

Numbers from the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment for native-born workers fell to 5.2 percent last year from 5.5 percent in 2004. But the unemployment rate for those who were born elsewhere sank to 4.6 percent last year from 5.5 percent the year before.


Wait!... it must be the fault of education... yeah, that's the ticket...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Virtual School Make-up Days

At tomorrow's policy committee meeting, I am going to suggest that beginning next year all teachers will be responsible to post their daily class plans online with links to any ancillary data.

Furthermore I am going to recommend that these record plans legally constitute a school day for any student who completes the assignment online via the comments feature.

This means snow days no longer need to be "made-up" physically. The savings of transportation, energy, and so on in the Northeast is considerable. It also frees parents, the school, and teachers from missing well-earned vacation time.

It also means that students can stay home sick when sick and not 'miss' school. This makes us a healthier community as well.

Let's see if we can make this stick.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Dumbing Down the Teaching Profession, Part Deux

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Now, NCLB will be used as an instrument to weed out teachers who aren't teaching to the test. One would think, given the empirical evidence, that the teacher's unions would have spent some time working to eradicate NCLB from litany of national disgraces the Bush administration has visited upon us.

But NOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooo..............

Check this out:

Who's Really Fit To Teach?
`No-Child' Report Questions Teacher Skills
April 4, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

"The U.S. Department of Education has issued a new monitoring report that throws into question the qualifications of more than 13,000 teachers, about 30 percent of the state's public school teaching force, state officials say.

State education officials have vowed to challenge the report's conclusion that many teachers - especially older elementary teachers and those teaching social studies and special education classes - do not meet the criteria established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The findings, to be outlined at a State Board of Education meeting this week, could mean that even some of the state's most highly regarded teachers would have to undergo job reviews or possibly even take tests or further training to demonstrate their competence."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Koufax Awards

The Koufax Awards celebrate the best of the blogs... If you love learning, many winners and nominees are places where you can find great comfort, intelligence, and disruptive information.

Here's;

The winners list:

Best Blog -- Non Professional
Crooks & Liars

Best Blog -- Professional or Sponsored
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo

Best Blog Community
Daily Kos

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition
Echidne of the Snakes

Best New Blog

Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory

Best Writing
Digby of Hullabaloo

Best Single Issue Blog
Jordan Barab of Confined Space

Best Expert Blog
Pharyngula by P.Z. Myers

Best Group Blog
Shakespeare's Sister

Best Post
Bag News Notes for Katrina Aftermath: And Then I Saw These

Best Series
FireDogLake for Plame coverage

Most Humorous Blog
Jesus' General

Most Humorous Post
Dood Abides for The Wizard of Oil

Best State or Local Blog
Bluegrass Report and Tennessee Guerilla Women

Best Commenter
Georgia10


Congradulations to all! Go to the Wampum link to see many more former winners and runners-up - well worth bookmarking for reference.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Region 19 Budget that makes sense

I want to propose an alternative Region 19 budget The reason is that the budget being proposed is wholly inadequate to meet the vision and return on investment that constituents I talk to think are important.

I've been reading two books on the future. The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil is a heads up that times and technology are changing everything. Information by Hans Chr Von Baeyer suggests that everything we know about math and quantum physics is deductable to new theories about information. These books represent transcedent changes in the way we need to operate politically, think, and educate our kids.

IMO, Region 19 needs to change the way we educate our youth on a number of counts. Technologically, EO Smith (and I'm being kind) has become a backwater institution of education. Neither the administration nor the majority of faculty seem to educated in information technology skills and, more upsetting, few seem to care. In brief that needs to change.

And although I have wonderful conversations with some truly gifted teachers at EO Smith and elsewhere, far too many faculty at EO seem to be floating downstream. The community is paying top-dollar for education that too often serves too few. And the many are being short-changed mightily. That too needs to change.

There is also a pallid squaller of protest from those who are invested in a mediocre but lucrative status quo. The EO Smith budget process is conducted like a city park shell game where the object needing reform and cutting is always shifted from one place to another. The budget cuts I propose here will be specific , real, and worth your attention.

First, the EOSmith budget must exceed the expections of the taxpayer, the parent, and the student. It must make the administration, faculty, and special interests uncomfortable. In a society where people are afraid for their jobs, making do with less, and uncertain about the future, the schools must recognise the need to cut back, work more efficiently, and shed the crusty hubris they currently hide behind.

EOSmith is on the threshold of two school changing realities. One is that $100K deficit will be carried over to NEXT year's budget. The second is that student enrollment begins dropping in 2008. The budget we vote on for next year has got to have the future in mind.

My budget proposal is different from a sheer budget numbers shell game. I am treating the exercise as a school construction activity. Starting from scratch and reusing as many obligatory pieces as I can, what can we create as a institution next year.

Okay, let's start building next year's school.

Next year's school should cut back one faculty position in World languages (9.4->8.4 teachers). The department head can be asked FOR NEXT YEAR ONLY to teach a fourth subject as an indepent study for advanced world language students. The savings purely in salary will be approximately $60K plus the savings in benefits.

Of those savings I would like he school to invest in at least three smart-boards to be distributed to the most creative teachers EO Smith currently employs in science, english, and mathematics. These boards increase the productivity of teachers and the attention of students. The cost is $40K or so (these teachers will forego the purchase of a classroom projector (-$9K or so).

We will also trim the English faculty by one position (15->14 teachers), the Department head will need to teach a fourth course if necessary. EO Smith has an over-emphasis on fast-track English and not enough on reading. This will save the district $60K. However, I would like the district to hire a reading specialist who can teach English in innovative ways to be hired to work with students who need a more specialized course in reading. I still think we can save some money here.

Any mathematics department hires need to be technically saavy in Java, HTML, and other web based technologies. The days of cyberphobia need to end. Now's the time.

The budget needs to include a Deep Space Imaging camera and a Solar Telescope. Our kids need to become technologically adept. Period. The science department needs to begin developing a more far-reaching use of internet available materials.

The Social Studies department needs to work with the reading specialists to begin to identify materials that serve dual purposes, social studies curriculum and supplemental english/reading socail studies, student special interests materials.

The Music and Art department budgets seem reasonable.

The Information Technology department is spending far too much money on Web site services. This must be reduced from $11K to approximately $2K. The school also needs to convert from expensive commercial Office software to the free OpenOffice suite. There is little if any difference educationally and the savings are substantial to the school, students who use it on home computers, and parents. There is significant savings here as well. So far ignored.

I have also suggested a reduction of cost for new laptops by purchasing refurbished IBM equipment ($16K/unit -> $4k/unit). Ther exists tens of thousands in savings that has been ignored.

Guidance services has $8K allocated to line items for 'temporary students', 'reference books and periodicals', 'Office supplies', and 'software'. I'd like these items to come in at about $2k, saving $6K. Open Source software, internet resources, and a tightening of the belt can help here. Recent NYTimes articles complain about the amount of materials being sent freely by colleges and so on - let's find cheaper ways to do business.

There is $16K in the budget for Professional Developmeent monies. The current salary structure of teachers is a windfall (see my earlier comparisons of income). Teachers need to pay their own way just like the rest of the working world. Times and economics have changed. Membership and Professional dues must be the responsibility of the professional not the tax payer. Thousands can be eliminated there.

The savings here amounts to $47,830.

In educational media, I think a .5 secretary reduction can save at least $6K.
I'd like to see the new library books line item reduced by $2K ($8.6K -> 6.6K). There's way too much material online these days to invest too heavily in hard print.

The principal's office needs to be reduced by one secretary. A savings of approz $30K plus benefits.

Also I would like to see a vice-principal's position reduced by .5%, a %50K+ reduction.

Instructional supplies should be reduced by 10% across the board. $7,847 savings there.

Already part of the EO reductions are .6FTE math teacher (-41,190) and 1FTE Computer Maintenance Tech (-42,190)

By my loose calculations, the budget gets reduced by at least $240K. The school adds a .2FTE music teacher, lots of worthwhile programs are preserved and expanded, technologically the school bulks up, and the quality of education improvers with a renewed emphasis on Math, reading, and so on.

I'm still a little ornery this morning



I think EO needs that wrestling program next year.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Free MP3s; Too tired for anything else today

I spent too much time working on sculptures today. So I'm sore and ornery.

But earlier in the day I discovered a Salon MP3 site that has a lot of wonderful free MP3s. What better thing to do on April 1?

May I recommenfd Billy Bragg's "The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie" and Bush War Blues".

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):