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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Popularity of High-stress Testing

One of the most disturbing phenomenon about the high-stress universal testing movement is the dogmatic appeal that it has fostered. In America, a country who so often describes itself as compassionate, caring, and Christian values driven, there is virtually no evidence of any such practice in education.

Today, educational practice is dictated more often by business consultants insisting that they aren't hiring American workers because they're uneducated rather than because they've sold their souls to cheap, inexpensive, and insecure foreign labor. And corporations reinforce these ideas as often as they can by sponsoring talk-show mouthpieces who hammer home the subversive idea that American children are lazy, underperforming, and overindulged.

By and large, none of this is true.

What is true is that the practice of education at its worst approaches the same cruelties and attitudes that propel our so-called wars on terror, drugs, and minority communities.

To subject every human being to high-stress anything assumes that not a single one might be harmed by the practice. No such evidence exists. Nor is there a compelling argument that children [or adults for that matter] can withstand year upon year of high stress, ever increasing workloads without cracking somehow.

Let me remind you I'm not speaking of concentration camps, we are speaking of education practice.

Monday, the Courant ran yet another article describing the victimization of children by adults and educational professionals who know better. You will find no heroes in education these days - they've long ago turned their back on the best interests of chidren for the praise of the roman crowds cheering for more pain.

Testing Policy Under Scrutiny
Requirements Upset Some Disabled Students
May 29, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

"Every time he walked in to take the test, he would have a seizure," she said. "Finally, I said no more testing until I can get an answer from somebody." She said her son cannot read or write at his grade level.

"How," she asked, "can you give him an eighth-grade test?"

That is exactly the kind of question top-level state education officials are asking about the impact of the pressure-packed annual test on at least a handful of disabled children with serious academic problems.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, those children are required to take the six to seven hours of mastery tests at their actual grade level - tests that parents and educators believe are beyond their ability to comprehend. As in the Bristol case, the results can be distressing.

If you have the stomach for it, view the results of the Courant poll. I'm assuming this poll represents the self-described "compassionate" society that has given us Bush and a daily more unimaginably atrocious scandal a day, every day for years. Someday an Education profession will look back on these years as the dark ages for children. Until then, the educational floggings will continue until corporations hire American kids again.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Procuring School Computers

I've had numerous discussions on this topic at Board meetings and privately. Bruce Silva gets it, few others do.

I have long advocated the following formula.
Invest in the most inexpensive PC equipment you can get that fits a need.
Invest in the best monitor you can afford [min. 17", 19" if you can swing it, flat screen].
Rotate PC boxes out every two years, monitors every three or four.
For laptops spend no more than $800/unit.

Everyone thinks I'm demented. School procurement policy is to by the best, most bulletproof item they can. They want it to last for years. That's all wrong.

As Kurtzweil points out in The Singularity Is Near, technology [especially PCs] is advancing at exponential rates. Actually faster. By 2009 or 10, the PC in the classroom will be smarter than any teacher in the school, equivalent to a humanoid tutor per student. Why invest long term in PCs that today are no smarter than a mouse?

The answer is to not invest heavily. Invest inexpensively and turn over older units to needy kids, as fund-raisers, or as donations. Every year from now on will mean profoundly improved machine intelligence that must not be confused with today's primitive products.

Also note that this article indicates schools can shop wisely and save big dollar amounts.

Look and learn from this snippet [click the link for the full story];

Your Money
Timing the Electronics Market for the Best Deal on a New PC
By DAMON DARLIN
Published: May 27, 2006

Some analysts had expected coming into the year that prices would actually go up slightly. Instead, the average price of a notebook computer dropped to $963 in April, an 18.5 percent decrease from a year ago, according to Current Analysis, which is based in Sterling, Va.

When an electronic device breaks through the $1,000 psychological barrier, sales take off. Samir Bhavnani, director for research at Current Analysis, said 37 percent more notebooks have been sold so far this year. About 60 percent of all notebook computers sold last month were priced below $1,000. He credits Dell, saying, "They love getting down in the mud."

Dell is running a promotion, which it bills as a celebration of its 22nd anniversary, with a $400 discount on PC's, plus a free monitor and free shipping.

Another statistic will tell you just how good consumers have it. While the number of notebooks sold is up 37 percent, revenue growth in the period is up only 15.5 percent, Mr. Bhavnani said. Companies are making less money on each notebook. Desktop computers are literally being given away. Retailers sold 14.8 percent more of them in the first five months of the year, but revenue declined 4 percent, Mr. Bhavnani said. Half of the computers sold for less than $500.

Consider the Hewlett-Packard Compaq Presario desktop offered this week at Office Depot. For $300 you get a PC with 512 megabytes of RAM and a 100-gigabyte hard drive. Office Depot tossed in a 17-inch CRT monitor and a printer.

"The material cost, before the printer, was around $400," estimated Mark Hill, Acer's vice president for sales in the United States. "It's crazy." Not that he's complaining. Acer has gained one point of market share this year by artful pricing.

So how does a consumer play this? As always with electronics, it is worth waiting. Expect even better deals around the Christmas season. But if you need to get one now, you certainly won't suffer. Deals will abound during the back-to-school season, which starts in June just as the school year ends.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On Teaching Science

The New York Times Editorial Observer has published some very interesting observations about why American Higher Education fails to produce more scientists. I can't help but think that the conclusions apply to secondary education as well.

The rabid legislators who concocted and condone the NCLB practice of anxiety, stress, and memorization are doing our children and society harm. They need to be voted out of office as soon as possible. And the institutions like the Department of Education both at the Federal and State levels are failed experiments as well.

These institutions should be decommissioned as soon as possible. The Bush administration has turned them into ugly, dogmatic, and cruel institutions meant to cause harm instead of serve the interests of children.

In the following excerpt you will note that learning is best performed as teamwork [something discouraged by high-stakes testing schemes] and that students are encouraged to stay until they learn the basics even if their grade is a 'C'.

There is no excuse for teachers, administrators, elected officials or anyone with a semblence of intelligence to continue to entertain the NCLB paradigm.

Read on, and take action.

Why American College Students Hate Science By BRENT STAPLES, Published: May 25, 2006

Science education in this country faces two serious problems. The first is that too few Americans perform at the highest level in science, compared with our competitors abroad. The second problem is that large numbers of aspiring science majors, perhaps as many as half, are turned off by unimaginative teaching and migrate to other disciplines before graduating.

Furthermore...
The new students are welcomed into a well-established community of scientists and scientists-to-be through a summer program that sets the stage for the next four years.

The students are encouraged to study in groups and taught to solve complex problems collectively, as teams of scientists do. Most important, they are quickly exposed to cutting-edge science in laboratory settings, which demystifies the profession and gives them early access to work that often leads to early publication in scientific journals. At the same time, however, the students are pushed to perform at the highest level. Those who earn C's, for example, are encouraged to repeat those courses so they can master basic concepts before moving on.

The laboratory approach keeps the students excited and prevents them from drifting off into less challenging disciplines. Indeed, according to Science, 86 percent of the Meyerhoff participants have graduated with science or engineering degrees. Nearly 9 in 10 of those graduates went on to graduate or professional programs, with a significant number earning M.D.'s or Ph.D's, or both.

Critics have sometimes accused the Meyerhoff program of cherry-picking bright students who would perform spectacularly well wherever they went to school. But the numbers suggest that the school's instructional strategy makes a real difference. Meyerhoff students are twice as likely to earn undergraduate degrees in science or engineering as similar students who declined the scholarships and went to school elsewhere. Most significantly, students who completed the Meyerhoff program are 5.3 times as likely to enroll in graduate study as the students who said no and went elsewhere.

The higher education establishment is generally startled to learn that more than half of the high-flying Meyerhoff students are black. This surprise stems from the unstated but nonetheless well-established belief that high-performing science students don't actually exist in the black community.

U.M.B.C.'s president, Freeman Hrabowski III, knows better. He has spent years expanding his school's access to high-performing minority students and has taken great pains to reassure black families that their children will be well looked after on his campus.

It has long been known that teachers' low expectations, particularly those related to race and racism, can depress student performance. At U.M.B.C., sustained success by minority students seems to have alleviated this poisonous problem. Faculty members who once looked askance when asked to take on minority students in their laboratories now clamor for them.

Off campus, meanwhile, the students are much sought after as research assistants and as candidates for summer internships. Those who finish their education and take their places in the ranks of researchers and professors often become powerful proselytizers for science.

The Meyerhoff model shows that a vibrant, well-structured science program can produce large numbers of students who excel and remain in the field. It has also debunked the myth that academic excellence and minority access are mutually exclusive goals.

Is Hartford listening? Is Connecticut listening? Is Washington listening? Can we finally get rid of the incipid representation in Washington that spends our tax dollars on dogmatic nonsense instead of learning?

C'mon, people, work with me here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sanitizing Our Children's Minds, More GIGO

I maintain the slim and slippery hope that this research is doing some good. The motto of American public k through 12 education could well be, "Ignorance is bliss".

American public education is run by a circle jerk of politicians who are a byproduct of the system they so despise. I am less upset with the lack of funding for mandates as for the lack of quality, if any, that the mandates represent. The legislation of education is a colossal and expensive failure that rewards publishers, test corporations, and a compliant education industry that is happy to go along to get along.

Tonight is especially trying. Ashford is a small town full of diverse, wonderful people who are always at the short end of the political stick. Our candidates stand no chance of competing with the larger towns to evrer get elected to state office regardless of the quality of candidates. We are held hostage to Tolland in the 53rd District and Mansfield in Region 19. The bigger towns roll in state money while the small towns try to make Lincolns scream. It seems nobody in the provincial politics outside of Ashford could see fit to vote for our candidate. I'm totally bummed - more braindead politics.

The same phenomenon exists in the world of textbook publishing, information is scrubbed so hard to please the big markets that nothing worth memorizing is left to memorize for testing purposes. The byproduct of textbook learning is equivalent to an exercise in anti-learning - our kids are dumber for the effort.

Here's a sample of A textbook case of failure, Politically driven adoption system yields shallow, misleading materials by Alex Johnson, Reporter, MSNBC, Updated: 10:05 a.m. ET May 16, 2006. Click the title bar to read the entire piece.

“This is where people miss the boat. They don’t realize how important the textbooks are,” Wang said. “We talk about vouchers and more teachers, but education is about the books. That’s where the content is.”

If America’s textbooks were systematically graded, Wang and other scholars say, they would fail abysmally.

American textbooks are both grotesquely bloated (so much so that some state legislatures are considering mandating lighter books to save students from back injuries) and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail. Worse, too many of them are pedagogically dishonest, so thoroughly massaged to mollify competing political and identity-group interests as to paint a startlingly misleading picture of America and its history.

Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in Washington, charged in a scathing report issued a year and a half ago.

“They are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at textbook adoption hearings in big states, they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator,” Diane Ravitch, a senior official in the Education Department during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote in the report’s introduction.

“As a result of all this, they undermine learning instead of building and encouraging it,” she added.

A closed market
The culprit is the system by which many states choose what books their students will read. Because the market is a small one, textbook publishers must cater to the whims of elected school board leaders in the biggest states that buy the most books: Texas and California, which control a third of the national market, the Association of American Publishers estimates.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Well, well, American Schools Get a Great Review

Recent articles in the Courant and elsewhere inform us that government statistics are being disseminated for the expressed intent of deceiving us [you don't say].

Today, we were told that the story about minority owned businesses doing so well was not only wrong but backward.

No surprise here. In my profession, Information Technologies, American workers are shafted routinely while the CBIA laments how hard it is to get good help - so, please send more docile, inexpensive labor from overseas to; sniff, sniff; help these poor companies purge themselves of workers nearing retirement.

Yeah, numbers can lie when you've got an administration that walks that walk.

So here's another example of the same thing about our so-called "FAILING" schools. No lie is too large to try to kill public education there's just one problem:

A snippet from: The Myth of America's Failing Schools by Tamim Ansary


Oddly enough, these numbers don't really support what "everyone knows." In the very year that A Nation at Risk was bemoaning a "rising tide of mediocrity," the NAEP seemed to show American students doing about the same as their counterparts had done 20 years earlier, even though the educational system had expanded tremendously and was serving, at that point, a far more diverse population of students, including many more with a limited command of English.

As for international comparisons, every four years, over the last decade, the NCES has participated in an international assessment called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This report compares test results from 25 to 50 countries in various categories. It focuses only on mathematics and hard science because those subjects are culturally and linguistically neutral, so the same test questions can be given to kids of different countries. Data was collected in 1995, 1999, and 2003, and will be collected again in 2007.

What the numbers show
According to the TIMSS, the United States is not "dead last" (as journalist Charles Krauthammer so colorfully put it) but "dead-middle," or a smidgen above. In 2003, overall, it scored higher than 13 countries and lower than 11 others. The countries beating us included Latvia, Hungary, and the Netherlands. The ones we beat included Norway, Iran, and Slovenia. It's hard to see a pattern that correlates definitively to economic competitiveness here.

Besides, statistics are more ambiguous than they seem, because there's always a social context to numbers. Consider one troubling pattern that does emerge consistently in the TIMSS reports. American students rank above average in the fourth grade but drop below average in 12th grade.

What's going on here?
There may be several factors, but here's one that education writer Gerald Bracey points out. In many countries, toward the end of high school, students take a single high-stakes test that determines whether they will go to college and thereby determines what social class they'll be in for life.

Kids cram for that test as if their lives depended on it because their lives do. In South Korea, there's a saying that students who sleep four hours a night will go to college, but those who sleep five hours a night will not.

Japan has a whole second school system of jukus or "cram schools" that many students attend every day after regular school. Cram schools!

I find it interesting that in India, about 7 percent of the college-age population is in college. I'm thinking Indian students must work desperately in that last year of high school to squeeze into the 7 percent. American students are more lackadaisical because here about 63 percent of high school graduates go to college the next year and the others can go later--this is a country of second chances.

If you test two groups of students, one of which has been cramming for months and one of which hasn't, the former will score higher. But are they better educated? Will they know more in a year? Four years? Ten? It's not a given. A test score is a snapshot of a moment.

So you're left with a circular proposition, it seems. "Failing schools" is the explanation of a national problem. The national problem is finally the proof that the schools are failing. If that correlation is valid, we should see the perceived problems disappearing after school reforms.

Has this historically been the case? That depends on how you look at it. The former Soviet Union directed national resources into producing scientists and engineers during the space race era, but that doesn't necessarily mean Russia is better off today. Maybe "failing schools" is not the only explanation of the poor test scores problem.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Velvet Military Draft

The Bush administration refuses to reinstate the military draft. Why bother?

The alternative plan is not only to force teenagers to enlist but to make as much money as possible doing so. As you know, college loans are no longer guaranteed reasonable rates of interest. Those borrowing will be paying that debt until they're in their late middle ages.

Now, comes news that this administration has found a way to punish families that save as well. From the Courant;

The kiddie tax was created nearly 20 years ago. It affects a child's unearned income - typically interest, dividends and capital gains. It does not apply to money that a child earns on a job.

As it now stands, the tax applies to those under 14. The first $850 of a child's unearned income isn't taxed. The next $850 is taxed at the child's rate. Anything above that is taxed at the parents' rate.

After children turn 14, investment income is taxed only at their rate, not the parents'.

Under the new tax bill, the kiddie tax would apply to those under 18. The change would be retroactive to the start of this year.

Here's how the change would affect a child's tax bill:

Assume that a 15-year-old's tax rate is 10 percent and that her parents are taxed at 35 percent.

If the teen has taxable interest income of $10,000, under current law her tax bill would be $1,123, said Bob D. Scharin, a senior tax analyst with RIA, a provider of tax information in New York. Once the kiddie tax age limit is raised, her tax bill would go up to $3,283, he said.


Soon the only teenagers who will be able to afford college will be those receiving GI benefits. Maybe that's the new draft, strangle higher education.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Peter Tork Unplugged

Tonight my wife and I attended a fund-raiser for Joshua's Trust at newly reopened Knowlton Hall. I had no idea what to expect although I had been hearing very good things from some musically knowledgable friends that Peter had been playing out with some former Shaboo All-Stars and others who sounded very well.

So tonight in walks in Peter, casual as you please and good-naturedly mingling with old friends and locals who support Joshua's Trust. No band or backup - cabaret setting. Hmmm.

The minute Peter took the stage, the warmth of his personality just permeated the room. This guy is flat-out funny, genuine, and comfortable in his own skin. Between songs he joked about fame, age, and experience. The early evening show felt like catching a special performer playing at the Iron Horse Cafe in Northampton, MA. This turned into something very special, a performer performing without a net.

I cannot remember the entire set of songs nor the sequence so I'll simply stick to those that stood out.

Peter's two banjo sets were reminiscent of John Hartford. He performed a Motown tune, Higher and Higher that involved audience participation for the chorus and it played very well. The playful humor of these sets will also remind you of Steve Martin's [minus the balloons] fine banjo sets.

On acoustic guitar, Peter played Neil Diamond, Carol King, Van Morrison, and Boyce and Hart tunes from his earlier career. Like the recently released acoustic version of George Harrison's My Guitar Gently Weeps, the refreshing starkness of Peter's version of Daydream Believer is worthy of consideration of re-release in this stripped down form. His modulation of the chorus gives the song a haunting and warm regret of a lifetime for fading daydream believers.

Dress Sexy for Me and MGBGT are two of Peter's original songs that both were enjoyable reminders of songs that you can enjoy, listen to, and maybe sing along to.

In Peter's passion, the blues, songs like a Robert Johnson cover Come in my Kitchen and Ain't Your Fault, Babe exorcise a suprisingly accomplished inner blues man who serves up some very tasty blues that have the same quality of Robert Cray's delivery.

Most surprising though was the inclusion of an old Mills Brothers tune, 'Til Then. Again, maybe coming home is good for Peter's soul because this song, moreso than many of Springsteen's latest folk set, invokes a powerful emotional dialogue that could well be a conversation between one of our soldiers overseas and his loved one being left behind. Peter's version is a real treasure that complements the same sentiments of Neil Young's Living With War songs by providing a historical context. This one deserves to be offered up in MP3 form by Move On, Truthout, or other progressive venues. It's a find.

I'm sure I failed to mention a half dozen outstanding performances of other songs and I'll apologize - I hadn't planned on writing this.

Peter's new album Saved By the Blues is put out by Beachwood records and I'm happy to say I've bought a copy to play for my family's commuting.

This was a great show. Don't hestitate to attend Peter's show, in life this is known as the good stuff.

Postscript; My wife and I played the CD over dinner - fantastic blues... my wife loves it and wants it for her commute... easy come, easy go. I'll get it on the rebound.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Citizen's Network Alert!

Susan Eastwood, our fine Democratic candidate for representing the 53rd District just passed along this important message;

Tony found this info about an upcoming forum on
educational funding. The Citizens Network of the Capitol Region is hosting a community conversation Thursday 6/8 at 7 pm in W. Hartford.They have had a study group working on the issue and their full report can be found at the link below.

For your information, this is from the email attachment from the Citizens Network of the Capital Region, Inc.

In part it states:

From March until June of 2005 a Citizen Study Committee of the Citizens Network of the Capital Region studied the issue of local education finance in Connecticut. Following community consultation, this report was finalized. The full report and information on the Citizens Network is at: www.citizensnetwork.info

In Connecticut we have tied our highest public priority, public education—a major and fast growing expense item—to the slowest growing and most highly visible source of revenue—local property taxes. Nationally we are near the top among the states in educational expenditures, but at the bottom in the percentage of education funding coming from state revenues.

This is a prescription for problems as can be seen in failed local budget referenda, constrained educational investment, ... [-snip-] ...and the increasing competition among communities for property tax funds that accelerates consumption of irreplaceable land...

Conclusion 1: Local Property Tax Burdens In Connecticut Are High And Increasingly
Problematic In Meeting The Education Funding Challenge:...

Conclusion 2: State Support For Local Education Is Inadequate To Meet The State’s
Obligations and Local Need...

Conclusion 3: The State’s Tax System Is Regressive In Paying For Local Education...

Recommendation 1: The State should pay its fair share of local education expenditures...

Recommendation 2: A variety of state and local sources of revenue should be used. Employing a balanced, diverse range of income, sales, and property taxes, with a broad base and appropriate proportionality will reduce the current heavy reliance on property taxes for education funding.

Recommendation 3: Local control of education should be a priority and should be maintained in so far as possible. Connecticut towns prize their local discretion and self-determination. In achieving finance reform, a balance must be struck between the need to increase the state’s share of funding (and corresponding greater state control of public education) and the need to retain local autonomy over education. Furthermore, increased state financing of education should not produce a mere shuffling of revenues at the local level with educational revenue gains offset by losses in funding for municipal services.

Action Steps

To advance the “fair funding” agenda of this report,... Here are some suggestions.

Governor and Legislative Leadership

The Governor announced the creation of an Education Finance Commission in September 2005, charged with reviewing the current status of the ECS formula. In addition, the Governor and General Assembly should consider steps to address broader education finance issues in the state. The Governor and General Assembly need to have before them a menu of options for correcting our current over-reliance on the property tax to fund public education, a set of transition mechanisms for implementing reforms and an implementation timeframe.

Business Leadership

The business community must provide leadership if the state’s share of funds for local education is to increase to at least 50 percent. A good business climate in the state requires healthy communities that cooperate with one another rather than compete against each other. Tomorrow’s workforce must be well educated if it is to provide the employees needed to attract and retain business in Connecticut. Improved public education also will reduce the need for prisons and social services.

Local Town Leadership

Mayors, First Selectmen, Council members, Selectmen, Finance Committee members and Board of Education members should provide leadership in developing efforts to gain additional state resources for pre-K to grade 12 education in Connecticut. They also should support the recommendations in this report by sponsoring forums, passing resolutions and otherwise speaking out on these issues.

The Citizens Network of the Capital Region, Inc.

The Citizens Network ... strategy and activities include the following:

• A strategy to heighten citizen engagement throughout the Capital region around the issue of finding a better way to fund local education and a citizen-based campaign to state and local elected officials urging that a better way to finance local education is in the public interest and should be adopted by the state.

• Activities to implement this strategy include: a public relations campaign involving media, including a news conference, press releases, newspaper opinion pieces, letters to the editor, public affairs television programs on network and local access; presentations to civic associations; town citizen forums across the region as done with the Connecticut MetroPatterns report; meetings with key elected officials in a bipartisan approach; and meetings with community leaders who have experience in promoting policies that are in the public interest.

The Citizens Network of the Capital Region. The Citizens Network (www.citizensnetwork.info) is a grassroots organization composed of citizens from across Connecticut’s Capital region. Our members study pressing issues for the region and deliberate to find common ground and a collaborative agenda for the good of the region and the state. In early 2005, based on several electronic polls on issues of regional significance to over 500 residents of the region, the issue, financing local education, was selected for study.

Contact information. Courtney Bourns, info@thegatheringplace.us;
860-278-4090 or 860-983-7894; www.citizensnetwork.info.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Double-dipping into the troubled Teachers Pension Fund

On March 9, 2006, Betty Sternberg, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Education issued circular letter C-10 to Superintendents and Principals for posting to teachers and administrators. It lists the "shortage areas" that become eligible for special incentive programs to alleviate these shortages.

In a section of text called "Rehiring of Retired Teachers", school districts may rehire retired personnel in the shortage categories without penalty to their retirement benefits. In other words, if a retired individual desires to return to teaching or whatever because a school district is in need can do so without penalty.

The unintended consequence of this incentive program has taken a sinister turn. Instead of enticing shortage area teachers and administrators out of retirement, it is tempting individuals close to retirement to petition for nod and wink deals allowing them to retire early, receive their salary AND retirement benefit, AND exascerbate the shortage that the State has identified.

Shockingly, a number of Connecticut school boards have already participated in this giveaway.

The damage is obvious and not so obvious. The Teacher Pension Funds in Connecticut are already grossly underfunded. This double-dipping scheme could add another half-billion or more to that deficit if every district pretends it's all alright. I think the taxpayers will then have good reason to revolt against further funding until amends are made.

Furthermore, it erodes public confidence in the education system which is already seeing its approval ratings drop. It will hurt school budget votes and hurt everyone who is not a short-timer in the system.

Aside from calling a moritorium on the program, the program needs to be rewritten to ensure no early retirees are eligible. School Boards need to say NO until that time. Connecticut taxpayers cannot afford these kinds of mistakes.

Search for Section 8-265pp from the above link for more info. The Teachers Retirement Board can be reached at 860-241-8401 (Darlene Perez) or Sara.Ellsworth@ct.gov, 860-713-6872.

It's your money.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ashford Democrats Endorse Lamont

It's been a busy day.

The Region 19 Policy Committee was fine-tuning the Policy Manual and the Nutrition policy. I stayed late to advocate that the second semester of eighth grade be conducted at EO Smith.

My argument is that teens are maturing far more rapidly than previous generations had and schools have not acknowledged the changes. Bruce Silva is an advocate of a four or five year high school curriculum for students depending on their needs.

I am also trying to initiate an internet lifebook that will complement the existing hard copy yearbook. I'm prototyping at http://eosmith2006.wordpress.com

We'll be looking for students to contribute and maintain digital memoribilia for their own graduating classes.

After that, I rushed over to the Ashford Democratic Town Committee meeting and Caucus.

A highlight was a vote to endorse Ned Lamont to run as the Democratic nominee for Congress. There were only three votes who disagreed.

I bring this up because Lamont responding to a question about NCLB stated in an interview that it "was all stick and no carrot." As a Board of Education member it's nice to know somebody is paying attention. I expect Lamont to be the Democratic nominee and I hope high school students across the state are beginning to learn about his positions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Charles Dickens on NCLB?

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"
The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker's square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster's sleeve.
The emphasis was helped by the speaker's square wall of a forehead, which had his eyebrows for its base, while his eyes found commodious cellarage in two dark caves, overshadowed by the wall.
The emphasis was helped by the speaker's mouth, which was wide, thin, and hard set.
The emphasis was helped by the speaker's voice, which was inflexible, dry, and dictatorial.
The emphasis was helped by the speaker's hair, which bristled on the skirts of his bald head, a plantation of firs to keep the wind from its shining surface, all covered with knobs, like the crust of a plum pie, as if the head had scarcely ware-house-room for the hard facts stored inside. The speaker's obstinate carriage, square coat, square legs, square shoulders,-nay, his very neckcloth, trained to take him by the throat with an unaccommodat-ing grasp, like a stubborn fact, as it was,-all helped the emphasis.
"In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!" The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.

Chapter I, THE ONE THING NEEDFUL, From Charles Dickens (1854) Hard Times London; Hazell Watson and Viney (1868 corrected edn.)

link; ATHERTON J S (2003) Doceo: Gradgrind [On-line] UK: Available: http://www.doceo.co.uk/background/gradgrind.htm Accessed: 15 May 2006

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Banality of Education

The No Child Left Behind legislation is patent nonsense. Fundamentally is an attempt at implementing a category error in judgement. The American public has allowed a rogue Republican administration to run amok with school policies, the worst of which is NCLB.

In this recent article, CNN reports on another false consequence of NCLB, that schools do not have competent teachers in place - yet another exagerrated hoax.

Education law leaves children behind
'The day of reckoning is here, and it's not going to pass'
Friday, May 12, 2006; Posted: 11:02 p.m. EDT (03:02 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Not a single state will have a highly qualified teacher in every core class this school year as promised by President Bush's education law. Nine states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico face penalties.

This article like most discussions about education fall into the category error trap. By accepting the premises and phony metrics of NCLB, the discussion never elevates itself out of the Alice in Wonderland rhetoric that spawned the legislation.
In the hallucinogenic world of NCLB, schools and teachers are measured with tests that produce numbers that have no real value except those assigned by the Bill Bennetts of this world. Frank Rich of the NYTimes talks instructively about Bennett here as being a "bloviator in chief" to this administration. I agree.

St Joseph's College recently held a conference reported by the Courant.
It talks about Connecticut's law suit and dissent from the law. But no one talks about the yellow elephant in the room, the fact that NCLB is pure, unadulterated bullshit. It is unworthy of intelligent discussion except to gracefully eliminate it.

Most disturbing is the lack of professionalism and honesty that allowed NCLB to become law. The CNN article has this quote, "At some point there was, I suspect, a little bit of notion that 'This too shall pass,' " said Henry Johnson, the assistant secretary over elementary and secondary education. "Well, the day of reckoning is here, and it's not going to pass."

The entire educational community no longer gives a care about education at all. There is virtually no discussion anymore about improving schools with innovative curriculums or ideas - just conformity to tests and "fixing" a fraudulent program of dismantling our public schools. Teachers now cynically go along to get along and assume "this too shall pass". There is no aching appetite for innovation, quality, or change - too many bad ideas have poisoned the process.

Teachers should stop lecturing students about courage, individuality, creativity, and other subjects requiring the exercise of human dignity. That is, unless those teachers and administrators are willing to exercise those qualities themselves. The first step in rehabilitating the profession might be to take a stand.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Legalizing High School Robbery

Thanks to Republicans like Rob Simmons, most high school students who will depend on financial aid of one kind or another will be lucky to keep a shirt on their backs. The latest tax legislation is carefully crafted to offer a few crumbs to the middle class while punishing parents and students.

As Connecticut Blue observes, "Simmons is one of the few Second District residents that will benefit from this bill. The rest of us will be saddled with paying the principal and the interest on the debt we will rack up in order to transfer our money to rich people like Rob". The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lists the criminally negligent consequences of Bill: H R 4297.

$20 for the middle class, $43,000 for millionaires. Middle-income households would get an average tax cut of just $20 from the agreement, according to preliminary estimates by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, while the 0.2 percent of households with incomes over $1 million would get average tax cuts of $43,000, and the top 0.1 percent of households (whose incomes exceed $1.6 million) would get average tax cuts of $84,000.

But to complain about this -cough- "transfer" of wealth from the not-rich to the ultra-rich would be nothing more than petty jealousy on the part of the not-rich so we can't talk about how it will affect local budgets.

You see, when the not-rich have less money to spend the not-rich are less likely to vote for school and local government budgets. Bad for schools, fire departments, police, and other not-rich constuencies.

But let's peel the onion one more skin.

Today, The Student Business by Ralph Nader, is an article that talks about your child's chances of ever paying off a student loan.

In February Congress did act on student loans in another way - backward. It cut $12 billion out of the student loan programs, mostly from students and parents. In a report just out, the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) found that in California, 17.9% of public college students and 28.8% of private college graduates have unmanageable student loan debt were they to take jobs as teachers or social workers. Yet these critical careers desperately need college graduates to replenish their ranks. (To download the full report, go to http://www.calpirg.org. See also http://www.studentloanjustice.org.)

Last Sunday, May 7th, I turned on CBS' 60 Minutes which unloaded on Sallie Mae in a devastating segment about its power, greed and profits.

Originally a government-sponsored enterprise like Fannie Mae, Sallie Mae was privatized in 1997 and is now the largest private lender to students. But not entirely private. The federal government is its guarantor. Michael Dannenberg of the New America Foundation told Leslie Stahl: "It may be called 'private'.but it's not private at all. Frankly it's a socialist-like system. It's not as if this private entity is assuming any risks. No, no, no. The law makes sure that this so-called private entity has virtually no risk."

It gets worse. Let's say a graduated student defaults. The government pays Sallie Mae both the principal and the interest compounded. But the loan is still subject to collection. Guess who owns some of the largest collection agencies - you guessed it, Sallie Mae. When its collection agency collects, it gets 25% of the recovery. The profits go to Sallie Mae.

The corporate lawyers who conceived this self-enriching system ought to get the nation's top prize for shameless perversity.


Shameless perversity! The holy rollers who have taken complete control of this government say they talk to God, that the non-rich "don't share their values", and tell us underfunded schools need to be held accountable. And just a minor footnote on their "values" - for the first time in my life - torture, eavesdropping, sado-masochism, prostitution, money-laundering, national fraud in a multiplicity of critical areas, cover-ups, political paybacks, kickbacks, and back-stabbing, the destruction of a major American city including neighboring suburbs in three states... I am likely to exhaust myself naming the sins, high crimes, perversions, and witless incompetence that so naturally and casually has become business as ususal in the Bush theocracy.

And gutter bureaucrats like Rob Simmons have no problem with any of it except that it has an outside chance of hurting their election chances.

Voters reinforce the idea that schools are turning out idiots. Just look at the national election results. Stupid is as stupid does. The kids don't deserve this.

Friday, May 12, 2006

School Communications

In the past couple of years I have had the hair-pulling experience of having to deal with email attachments that come from schools. My wife is a teacher and my sons high school students but this phenomenon started when they were in elementary school.

Let me tell you why schools make parents (and fellow teachers and administrators) nuts.

For some reason, school secretaries have decided that Microsoft products are the best way to communicate. So they send the Word document based on the latest, greatest school version of Word, say, Word 2006. The trouble is that most parents and students haven't yet "upgraded" to that version so the student or parent can't read the file. That is, unless they know where to get a special reader or go out and spend hundreds of dollars on the upgrade.

But wait, even assuming you can read the file, Word email attachments are notorious for carrrying viruses and malicious stuff in them. And schools are great places to launch such things. So many saavy parents won't let such attachments be open out of fear that the computer itself is compromised.

The best way for schools to send attachments is by PDF file, a much safer alternative, for reading files.

Unfortunately, the State Department of Education often sends PDF files that have to be filled in with data. Without a PDF editor this is a nightmarish experience.

The recommendation I continue to make despite it falling on deaf ears is to send documents to be read only as PDF files. All others should be OpenOffice documents.

Why? Because OpenOffice is freely downloadable to the school, the parents, and the teachers. And, generally speaking, a less risky medium than Word.

Is anyone listening?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Hardest Thing About Being Rara Avis

I speak with lots of people about schools, students, and kids and what I write is usually a composite viewpoint that I hope has enough universal appeal to apply to Region19 in Connecticut as well as school districts elsewhere in the country and the world.

I listen to lots of parents pridefully declare that their Johnnies and Suzies are smart as papercuts. They get A's in school, get along, and never miss the bus. It's all good.

In the past few weeks, I've been learning about a young man named Tom, a very interesting fellow. I occasionally share a lunch table with his mother Dee who shared her unique son's story.

I asked Dee about how school was for her son and she explained that schools had very little to offer her son, he's different. I wasn't sure what she meant. "He's been diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disordered although I wonder about that." I thought I knew what she was telling me. I thought he was a distracted kid. "Did he have any good teachers", I asked knowing that great teachers are as common as hen's teeth.

"Yeah, I think the kindergarten teacher was very good. My son was afraid to walk into the classroom because of the checkerboard floor tile design. It disoriented him. Spatially, he thought the tiles were different heights and he was afraid to fall. She put down trails of newspaper to cover the tiles so he could walk into the classroom. She did lots of things like that for him. But school was hard for him. By then he could already read and do math. Most teachers didn't know what to do with him.

I would drop him off at the front door of the high school and he would exit the back door and go skiing instead of attend class. He learned to ski in high school. He skis like Billy Kidd, I swear.

Content was easy for him. He never had to study. He got straight A's. He took the S.A.T.'s and just got two answers wrong.

But being smart isn't everything. He's not like us. He's not sure what do or say. School really didn't know what to do with him."

"So what happened to him?"

"He works at a big box handyman store. He likes it and I'm glad he's finding some happiness. That's important. He's doing something he likes.

He does things that interest him but not necessarily things that someone would interest us. He invented a data compression scheme for remote, virtual light saber sword fights that got him into a mjor university but he left after a semester - not a good experience.

The hardest thing for him to do was to dumb himself down to the level of everybody else. That's the hardest thing."

Region19 Funny Pages; Not in my comfort zone you don't!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Remember what the doormouse said, "Feed your head."

Today I'm inspired by a New York Times Magazine article that addresses the issue of talent or, more generally, earning expertise.

Their observations about the training of individuals is quite interesting though not surprising. Everyone is an individual who is capable of many talents and masteries assuming that effort is applied to the endeavors and that proper feedback mechanisms encourage further interest and are attended to.

That's often not at all what happens in schools. Special needs students receive Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) but often these "programs" suit the political needs of the school more than the interests of the students. Schools are about passing high stakes tests, not about nurturing educational interests of students although occasionally the two goals overlap.

Self-propelled learners often learn more out of school than in {I'll address this issue in some forthcoming posts], though school teachers and administrators cheerily announce the high acheivers as typical by-products of the educational millstones.

Students who for whatever reason don't fit the upper or lower bounds of the system are herded into general studies - a category so bland that it cannot offend anyone not put to sleep by its malicious disregard for the learning needs of the students being so labeled.

Contrast this reality with the recommendations of the author;

Freakonomics
A Star Is Made
by STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT
Published: May 7, 2006

The Birth-Month Soccer Anomaly


In other words, whatever innate differences two people may exhibit in their abilities to memorize, those differences are swamped by how well each person "encodes" the information. And the best way to learn how to encode information meaningfully, Ericsson determined, was a process known as deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task — playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

Ericsson's research suggests a third cliché as well: when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good. Most people naturally don't like to do things they aren't "good" at. So they often give up, telling themselves they simply don't possess the talent for math or skiing or the violin. But what they really lack is the desire to be good and to undertake the deliberate practice that would make them better.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ominous Censorship and NCLB

A week or so ago I came across a story in School Matters that simply reinforced all of my suspicions about the near absence of No Child Left Behind discussion from any quarter. It is as if the entire country is participateing in a "don't ask, don't tell" conspiracy. Taken at face value, nothing about NCLB is appealing except it's loud, Homerish platitudes.

Our link, takes us to Patricia Polacco's website. She's a children's book author who finds herself uninvited to certain industry events because she might discuss her misgivings about NCLB.

In Bush's tidy, totalitarian democracy any opinion that conflicts with his dogma is one opinion too many. From that webpage here's a sample of her own Kafkaesque experiences:

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers...I truly believe they are among the last hero's we have in our country...but I always mention the destructive path that is laying wasted to our schools and that is the No Child Left Behind Mandate!

I did mention to them that I considered this broaching "censorship" and a violation of my freedom of speech.

Finally, after receiving numerous emails from this 'firm' that got more and more 'insistent'...I finally sent them a written refusal to alter my speeches in any way, Certainly I can moderate their length, but I refused to alter the content. I made them aware if they truly had a problem with this, then they could "un-invite" me to be part of their event.

Needless to say, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferee's will be led to believe that it is I who cancelled this event. The cancellation was the choice of SRA/McGraw Hill and was generated by a blatant attempt to CENSOR my remarks and the content of what I say to teachers. Which is a clear infringement of my constitutional right to freedom of speech. I pride myself on being an advocate for America's teachers as well as being one of the most reliable speakers at conferences in our country.

My lawyers and I have set a formal request to SRA/McGraw Hill through their representative, The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post the following signs outside of each venue at the conference where I am schedules to speak.

"DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SRA/McGRAW HILL AND PATRICIA POLACCO, SRA/McGRAW HILL HAS CHOSEN TO CANCEL ALL OF PATRICIA POLACCO'S APPEARANCES AT THIS EVENT"

Call anyone you know that was either going to attend my events, or that did and were disappointed and tell them why this happened.

I am very disturbed by this on many levels. It seems that we American's are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitution "guaranteed" rights.

I am insulted and very offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profit from the misery for our teachers and school children. Profits and money seem to matter much more that truly making changes to our educational systems that would truly help our children. I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.

Yours faithfully,

Patricia Polacco

Monday, May 08, 2006

Speakers on campus

I've been thinking about this for a long time and I've come to the conclusion that the Policy Committee needs to pass a policy that only allows government representatives a certain distance within the school grounds based on the educational funding gap that level of government represents.

For example, the federal government passes plenty of mandates that cost plenty of money and they send pennies on the dollar to the schools. My thought is that anyone, including military recruiters, be required to only visit the very corner of the school parking lot at the nearest to speak their piece. They can use a bullhorn if they like but that's all their pennies buy them.

If they bring baked goods, sell them and donate the proceeds, we'll let them park in a visitors spot.

We have no such problem with the State, they've been calling it in for years, they refuse to vote on legislation that would fund special education, and so on. We'll give them a special number to call of a cell phone that has no battery because the funding isn't there.

It also keeps the air in the school from getting stale quick. Let's keep it in mind shall we?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Education's Anal Retention Problem

I came across this article quite a while ago and I'm just getting to posting it.

Popular wisdom, largely imprinted on the American mind by the whiny conservative mongrels of the eighties, nineties, and this decade, have surnmissed that too much social promotion takes place in school. Everybody knows, "This is bad!" Otherwise these right-wing zealots would be wrong and everybody knows how right they always are.

If you're intelligent enough to think they might be wrong, read on and click the link for the whole sordid tale.

Is Retention an Appropriate Reading Intervention?
At Wrightslaw, we receive dozens of emails every week about retention. Despite overwhelming evidence that retention does not work - and that it damages children - many school districts continue to use this outmoded policy.

If you are dealing with a retention problem, you must educate yourself before you can advocate for your child. Download and read these articles. Read the articles from the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Federation of Teachers. Make copies of these documents for members of your child's team - they support our position that retention is not an appropriate intervention.

Grade Retention - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes (National Association of School Psychologists) 6th grade students rated grade retention as the single most stressful life event, higher than the loss of a parent or going blind. Retained students are less likely to receive a high school diploma by age 20, receive poorer educational competence ratings, and are less likely to be enrolled in any post-secondary education program. Retained students receive lower educational and employment status ratings and are paid less per hour at age 20.

Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion (National Association of School Psychologists) "Through many years of research, the practice of retaining children in grade has been shown to be ineffective in meeting the needs of children who are academically delayed."

Oh.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Abstinence pregnant with failure

A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with a school administrator about keeping kids from becoming parents. Early teenaged pregnancy is on the rise and no laughing matter. Raising children is hard enough for working adults, it is largely an absurd life crisis when teenagers are the parents.

So I asked about the effectiveness of school guidance and health services and the answer I received was astonishing.

"Frank, believe it or not, we have teenaged girls who come to these programs not to learn about contraception or birth control but to receive counseling as to why they aren't getting pregnant." That didn't make sense to me. He went on to explain that certain segments of our population takes great pride in getting pregnant young and that the children are often raised by the grandparents as their own.

This is a complex issue. In recent years religious fundamentalists have intimidated many Planned Parenthood Organizations to fold or operate on meager budgets. The pregnancies and abortions that are the consequence of these policies are beginning to get counted.

The Washington Post and NYTimes are reporting the following study;

Use of Contraception Drops, Slowing Decline of Abortion Rate
By KATE ZERNIKE
Published: May 5, 2006
NYTimes


Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute.

The decline appears to have slowed the reduction in the national abortion rate that began in the mid-1980's.

"This is turning back the clock on all the gains women have made in recent decades," Sharon L. Camp, the president of the institute, said.

Among sexually active women who were not trying to get pregnant, the percentage of those not using contraception increased to 11 percent from 7 percent from 1994 to 2001, the latest data available, according to numbers Guttmacher analyzed from the National Survey of Family Growth, a federal study.

The rise was more striking among women living below the poverty line: 14 percent were not using contraception in 2001, up from 8 percent in 1994. Better-off women — those who earned more than twice the poverty rate — were also less likely to use contraception: 10 percent did not use any in 2001, up from 7 percent in 1994.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Tough Love, Dead Kids

I have never really bought into the idea that has spread faster than the Bush administration's addiction to corruption. That idea is that getting tough with kids will somehow straighten them out. For well over twenty years, juvenile delinquents are increasingly being subjected to conditions that even violent criminals would find abusive.

Republican politicians, themselves often on the wrong side of the law, argue that you can't be tough enough on underpriviledged kids - no, sir. Tough is never, ever tough enough. Of course when politicians break the law they write their memoirs while awaiting early release matriculation.

Here's the latest tragedy - big surprise - in a Bush state.

Autopsy: Boot camp guards killed teen
Second coroner's examination finds 14-year-old suffocated
Friday, May 5, 2006; Posted: 6:03 p.m. EDT (22:03 GMT)


(CNN) -- A teenager who died at a Florida boot camp was suffocated by guards who were restraining him, a medical examiner has determined.

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died in January after he was restrained and struck by workers at the boot camp for juvenile offenders.

No charges have been filed in connection with Anderson's death.


It's about time this country re-examined its lust for punishment when it comes to kids. These practices of racheting up the violence are racheting up the violence and the people getting hurt can't vote or fight back - not my idea of America.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Northeast SAT Scores Disproportionately in Error

The testing industry has outgrown its ability to accurately and fairly deliver test results. That's been clear for a while. A NY Senator is trying to regulate this industry and shares some good ideas in this article. Connecticut should take note.

In Wake of SAT Errors, Senator Seeks New Rules on College Testing
By KAREN W. ARENSON
Published: May 3, 2006, NYTimes

In addition to the free and automatic disclosure of questions and answers, his bill is likely to require testing companies to respond to student requests for hand scoring because of possible errors in 5 to 10 days rather than 3 to 5 weeks, he said.

It will probably also require the companies to do more sampling of their scoring to ensure better quality control, he said.

Mr. LaValle said he favored outside oversight of the industry but was trying to figure out "who is the proper agency to do this."


and...

Robert A. Schaeffer, public education director of the group FairTest, which says tests are often overused, called for outside oversight. He said he favored a model like the Food and Drug Administration. "There is stronger public oversight and control over the food we feed our pets than for the tests administered to our children," he said.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Free Software: tinySpell

This product performs spell checking in any Windows application you or your son or daughter may be using. See if it makes sense for you:

tinySpell
Version 1.3


Occasionally you need to check the spelling of words in an application that does not include a spelling checker and you don't want to launch your word processor just for that. This is when tinySpell becomes handy. It is a small utility that allows you to easily and quickly check the spelling of words in any Windows application. tinySpell monitors your typing on the fly and alerts you whenever it detects a misspelled word. It also checks the spelling of every word you copy to the clipboard.
tinySpell installs itself in the system tray for easy access. It comes with an American-English dictionary containing more than 110,000 words.


The title link points to previously noted free software titles.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sheepskin and indentured servitude

The issue of college debt based on Bush's deregulation of student loan interest rates is coming home to roost. Here CNN takes a look at the phenomenon;

Student loans - a life sentence
Forget about getting married and buying a home. This generation is thinking about next month's payment.
By Christian Zappone, CNNMoney.com staff writer
May 1, 2006: 4:25 PM EDT

A growing issue for the economy and society

The cumulative effect of such student debt on graduates is unclear, although few would argue that its impact will be positive for the graduates, the economy or society.

"We've never done this to a generation of young people before," said Dr. Heather Boushey, Senior Economist at the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research. "We've never put a generation in their 20s in debt they can't get out of before they started their work life."

"The normal approach in any healthy society is to help young married couples get started in life through marital gifts, dowries, and the like," Allan Carlson of the socially-conservative Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society said.

"We now burden many young adults with student debt, sometimes massive in nature; the price being paid includes marriages delayed or foregone and fewer children. This is foolish public policy."

The League of Extraordinary Public Servants

Tonight we hosted a public forum to discuss the upcoming budget. Two former Board of Education members came and contributed to some very interesting discussion. It was good for the spirit.

A few weeks ago at a policy meeting, I suggested that former Board members be allowed to exercise the same speaking rights during Board meetings as current Board members. It's not so much that I expect a flood of former Board members to suddenly express interest but in cases where they have tackled issues that linger our board would certainly benefit from their experiences.

Another way to accomplish this would be to organize a Board Alumni Association of sorts online where they could plug in their thoughts on what we're trying to accomplish.

From what I heard tonight I think they'd all say, "Get out and vote tomorrow." It's an important exercise.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):