Thursday, May 31, 2007

Georgie Anne Geyer in Her Own Words

This opinion piece appearing in the Dallas News by conservative Georgie Anne Geyer should be read by every high school graduate. It foretells a future that we can only hope never becomes realized. In part;
The White House sees terrorists as born, not created by history, bearing the mark of Cain, not the mark of circumstance. There is a scarlet "T" written on their foreheads at birth and the only answer is to destroy them. This kind of thinking, of course, relieves the thinker of any responsibility for the presence of the insurgent-terrorist-whatever in our innocent midst.

What's more, there is not much real give in the administration's policies. True, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American diplomats met Memorial Day weekend with the Iranians in Baghdad (a good first move but limited, since the Iranians have most of the power because of our incredible stupidity in Iraq). But by all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness.

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

The truth of the steadily deteriorating situation in the Middle East is, of course, quite different. The Palestinian people of 40 and even 30 years ago were formal, conservative people who remained closely tied to their families, clans and religious groups. Theirs was a highly stratified society, which has now been shattered.

In the institutional vacuum that is a camp like Nahr el-Bared, a few hundred men trained and tempered in Iraq can make a huge difference. At the same time, the Turkish military is ready to go into northern Kurdistan, al-Qaeda operatives from Iraq are popping up in hitherto untouched places, and the American military's advice to its troops is, "Get down with the people – listen to them!" Only four years and thousands of bombs and night missions too late.
If our country still has a destiny guided by democracy and not the ravings of a madman then I suggest that today's high school graduates learn to vote.

The Genius of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)

The more I hear and read about the OLPC movement the more impressed I am. Taken at face value, it sounds like little more than a shopping trip that will result in yet another consumer age product that gets no exercise.

But that is simply not true and American public school educators better take heed. The OLPC movement is revolutionizing education around the globe with renewed hope and enthusiasm for technology just when this country has abandoned reason, hope, and progress.

The quality of the hardware, the brilliance of the machine to accommodate young children's needs in poor environments, and the nuance's of the software are very impressive.

A recent Daily Techno-babble blog (brought to my attention via reddit.com) lists 3 Reasons Why The OLPC Project has Microsoft Running Scared.
1. Millions of children running Linux.
All silliness aside, the prospect of an entire generation being introduced to computing in a world where Windows simply does not exist is downright horrifying to Microsoft executives. Lack of understanding as to the level of dedication on the part of the OLPC project has lead to 11th hour actions with Intel to rush a competitor to market running Windows. Unfortunately as proposed this Microsoft-Intel version of the ultra-low-cost laptop seems to be not only pricing out significantly higher than the projected $100 (or even the more realistic number of $175) for the OLPC laptop but is also facing stiff resistance due to the very perception that running Windows raises the long term costs beyond what developing nations can support. The bottom line is that the huge potential market penetration of millions of Linux-based laptops can turn the tide against Windows in not just the education markets but also in the broader corporate world as these children grow into adulthood.

2. Windows developers are taking notice.
Now that the OLPC project is really starting to make progress many developers are starting to take notice. Generally there is a strong feeling “on the ground” that Linux is really starting to become not just a server option but an option on mobile, desktop, and the ultra-portable laptop markets. The OLPC project brings the numbers to the table but the efforts on polishing the development tools over the last few years have finally begun to pay off. With other similar operating systems such as Mac OSX beginning to pull market share from Microsoft alongside Linux many forward thinking development teams are starting to see the writing on the wall; start working with Linux now, or suffer later when the broader markets make the jump. Bottom line is that Microsoft will have a hard time wooing developers back onto Windows once they realize that Linux is where the action is at.

3. OLPC is breaking the cost rules.
As many have noticed with the recent Dell Ubuntu Linux offerings, the so-called “Microsoft Tax” seems to be about $50 per system for machines shipped in large quantities. To folks in the developed world this does not sound like an unreasonable amount of money, especially when a single copy sells for $199 (or more). In developing nations even $50 is simply far too much for these users to consider paying in addition to the hardware costs. This situation has generated a significant increase in both piracy and governmental pressures in these parts of the world prompting Microsoft into making some (reluctant) price concessions. That said, this is not news Microsoft shareholders want to hear. With Windows’s market penetration starting to flatten out thanks to Vista’s poor reception things are defiantly not looking good for Microsoft in the long run. Bottom line is that the OLPC project is targeting one of the last remaining growth markets for Microsoft’s products with a price point that is virtually impossible for Microsoft to compete with.
Couple this with the fact that Dell Computer's commercial home page now features Ubuntu, a beautiful, seamless and worthy of consideration (by the average user) Linux and I think we are witnessing a watershed event in computing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cindy Sheehan on Memorial Day

In her own words;
Being cynically pessimistic, it seems to me that this new vote to extend the war until the end of September, (and let's face it, on October 1st, you will give him more money after some more theatrics, which you think are fooling the anti-war faction of your party) will feed right into the presidential primary season and you believe that if you just hang on until then, the Democrats will be able to re-take the White House. Didn't you see how "well" that worked for John Kerry in 2004 when he played the politics of careful fence sitting and pandering? The American electorate are getting disgusted with weaklings who blow where the wind takes them while frittering away our precious lifeblood and borrowing money from our new owners, the Chinese.

I knew having a Democratic Congress would make no difference in grassroots action. That's why we went to DC when you all were sworn in to tell you that we wanted the troops back from Iraq and BushCo held accountable while you pushed for ethics reform which is quite a hoot...don't' you think? We all know that it is affordable for you all to play this game of political mayhem because you have no children in harm's way...let me tell you what it is like:

You watch your reluctant soldier march off to a war that neither you nor he agrees with. Once your soldier leaves the country all you can do is worry. You lie awake at night staring at the moon wondering if today will be the day that you get that dreaded knock on your door. You can't concentrate, you can't eat, and your entire life becomes consumed with apprehension while you are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then, when your worst fears are realized, you begin a life of constant pain, regret, and longing. Everyday is hard, but then you come up on "special" days...like upcoming Memorial Day. Memorial Day holds double pain for me because, not only are we supposed to honor our fallen troops, but Casey was born on Memorial Day in 1979. It used to be a day of celebration for us and now it is a day of despair. Our needlessly killed soldiers of this war and the past conflict in Vietnam have all left an unnecessary trail of sorrow and deep holes of absence that will never be filled.

So, Democratic Congress, with the current daily death toll of 3.72 troops per day, you have condemned 473 more to these early graves. 473 more lives wasted for your political greed: Thousands of broken hearts because of your cowardice and avarice. How can you even go to sleep at night or look at yourselves in a mirror? How do you put behind you the screaming mothers on both sides of the conflict? How does the agony you have created escape you? It will never escape me...I can't run far enough or hide well enough to get away from it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Learning Guitar Online

NPR recently ran a newsstory exploring online learning opportunities in music. Called Learning Guitar for Free (for Now) on YouTube by Frank Langfitt it says,
Let's say you want to learn to play guitar — but you don't have the time or money for lessons.

Why not try YouTube? A number of people teach guitar on the video-sharing Web site, offering lessons for free.

In the past few months, two teachers have posted around 200 videos that demonstrate everything from basic strumming techniques to the opening riff of "Sweet Home Alabama." So far, people around the world have watched the videos a total of more than 3.5 million times.

One of the teachers is David Taub, who lives in San Diego and often appears wearing a flannel shirt and a backwards baseball cap. A one-time bar band rocker from New Jersey, he opens each video with the same line: "What's up, good people!"

His most popular video, a simplified version of the Eagles' "Hotel California," has been viewed more than 125,000 times.

The other teacher is Justin Sandercoe, who lives in London, where he teaches guitar and plays with a famous pop singer. He's a mellow presence with an impish grin. Among his song lessons is an acoustic version of Britney Spear's "Hit Me Baby One More Time" that is surprisingly affecting.

The teachers play slowly and use close-ups, showing each finger movement. If you don't get it at first, you can hit replay. It's like having a teacher with endless patience.

The lessons are informal and feel home-made. Sandercoe sometimes appears sitting on his floor, with his hair matted at different angles. Taub's lessons are mostly unedited and include moments like his golden retriever eating his guitar pick.

Taub sees the videos, at least in part, as a marketing tool for his paid instructional Web site, NextLevelGuitar.com. His videos emerged last year as an experiment when one of his students, Tim Gilberg, shot video of Taub teaching.

"We filmed about 10 minutes in his backyard," Gilberg recalls. "I put it up on Google. Then I forgot about it. Basically, two months later I went to see how many visitors we had. There were about 6,800 visitors, and I was like: Wow!"

Then they posted the videos to YouTube, and the audience took off.

On the free videos, Taub teaches the basic chords to popular songs, but he holds off explaining some of the riffs so he can drive people to his site. After playing a riff from Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy," he stops playing and says, "But if you want to learn that, you're going to have to go to our full site for the lead lines, okay?"


Links:
* Justin Sandercoe's Site
* David Taub's Site



Saturday, May 26, 2007

Great News About Exercise

CNN reports in Strength training may reverse muscle aging by Reuters some good news for older folks and something kids of all ages should be imprinted with in terms of physical education habits.
Strength training may not only make older adults' muscles stronger, but younger as well, a small study suggests.

It's well known that resistance exercises improve muscle strength and function in young and old alike, but the new research suggests that strength training also affects older muscles on the level of gene expression -- essentially turning back the clock on muscle aging.

The study, published in the online journal PLoS One, looked at whether strength training affects the "gene expression profile" in older adults' muscle. Genes hold the instructions from which the body manufactures proteins; gene expression refers to the processes that translate these instructions into proteins.

Analyzing small samples of muscle tissue from a group of healthy young and older adults, researchers found that older and younger muscle tissues differed significantly in their gene expression profiles. The difference indicated that older muscle tissue had impaired functioning in mitochondria -- structures within cells that act as the cell's "powerhouse."

That impairment was reversible, however. After 14 of the older adults underwent 6 months of strength training, the gene expression profile in their muscles showed a more youthful appearance.

"In a very real sense, the muscle was younger," said lead study author Dr. Simon Melov of the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, California.

Experts have long known that exercise is good for younger and older adults alike, Melov told Reuters, but the new findings suggest that it can "actually rejuvenate muscle" in older individuals.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Education Money Spigot

A new report has been released and it's reported here, U.S. spends average $8,701 per pupil on education by Reuters. We spend far more. The gist:
Students in northeastern and northern states tend to perform better on standardized tests than students in southern and southwestern states. But experts say the correlation between spending and testing performance is not strong.

The "No Child Left Behind" education reforms passed during President George W. Bush's first term have placed increased emphasis on performance on national standardized tests. Schools can be penalized if they repeatedly fail to meet targets for improving student scores.

"It's not necessarily so that states with higher spending have higher test scores," said Tom Loveless, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution think tank.

He said Washington, D.C., has among the highest spending in the country but its students have among the lowest scores on standardized tests, while some states like Montana with relatively low spending have fairly high performance on tests.

Loveless said two areas where education spending might make a difference were in teacher salaries and small class sizes for first graders. But overall, the relationship between spending on education and test performance was not strong, he said.
I will argue in coming investigations on class size that it is small class sizes in k-3 complemented by teachers who can individualize instruction and provide innovative feedback loops that really make a difference.

First grade is not enough.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Class Size, Part 1 - Prelude to a Multi-million Dollar Myth

I have spent the last few weeks investigating class size documentation and what I am finding without looking very hard is a frightening history of exaggerated claims, reckless spending of public funds, and an intellectual dishonesty that makes creationist fiction writers look like honest brokers.

With this the first entry in a multi-part series that I will continue periodically, I want to discuss the state of the arguments about class size and why it is such a hot-button issue.

First the popular myth believed whole-heartedly by the majority of parents, teachers, and administrators is that Small Class Size (SCS) is always desirable and, furthermore, that the mantra of Small Class Size applies to every grade. Let's think of these people as the sleep-walking consumers of the concept. Whether or not these consumers are being sold a bad bill of goods or whether they want to buy any bill of goods that's expense and feels good, or whether they are just intellectually too lazy to care is inconsequential. Lemmings are more likely to question their preconceptions than these consumers. And nobody, I mean nobody, is brave enough to give these people a dose of truth, the white lie is far to profitable to derail.

Certain politicians like this argument as well because instead of having to draft thoughtful legislation or fund meaningful programs, the act of shopping and throwing millions of dollars at a solution that all of these people like is oh, so tidy (I, politician, am good and noble). In fact, some politicians think that they've been elected largely to shop for their constituencies. Small Class Size is the shiny, very expensive item in their shopping cart.

The teacher unions also like this idea. Very, very much. And teachers unions also promote this argument in three ways. First, through teachers as advocates, secondly through thinly disguised special interest research groups who predominantly consist of former educators,and finally by overwhelming representation on educational governing bodies - BOEs, State Associations, and so on. They even seed most search engines with their point of view. Try searching on "Small Class Size". You will get a parade of NEA, AFT, and special interest web pages advocating proof positive research papers on the joys of small class size.

And society and politicians have bought in. They can't write checks big enough, fast enough, or with more sincere empathy. Everybody is broke but happy forevermore.

Sigh!

Um, there's a few problems with all of this of course and it will not sit well with the meek of spirit or those feeling bamboozled.

I have read dozens of research papers on this topic, most from scholarly journals, all of which cite dozens more research artifacts. Not a single credible source agrees with the consumers, buyers, and advocates of this myth. Not one.

The studies worth reading - those that demonstrate some intellectual veracity - all lament the lack of adequate research especially in the classes higher than fourth grade, the fuzzy quality of existing studies, and the inability to isolate even under ideal conditions the actual effect of SCS on student achievement.

In this series, I will cite only studies that pass my own sniff test of credibility. You are welcome to add counterpoint in the comments.

And it is fair to ask, Why bother? Although discussions on class size are referred to as debates, these are debates which have been acted upon under false pretenses using precious private lives of children and public resources.

The result?

After thirty years of dwindling class sizes in American public education, no significant academic achievement is to be found on a national scale. This is not to say, that SCS is wholly without merit - there are notable and important places where it is worth pursuing.

But in California that not only legislated SCS but coupled class size to per pupil physical space, resource rooms, art rooms, music facilities, and more were dismantled to accommodate the government mandate.

In Florida, teacher shortages threaten the quality of education.

With a rush to hire ever more teachers, school systems are saddled with more and more poor teachers who become impossible to replace.

Most troubling is that educational, scientific research has become a parody of itself. I have encountered disturbing examples of Master's Thesis papers that conclude that there is no positive effect of small class sizes as advertised but dismiss the conclusion in summary to end with a fictional happy ending proclaiming what society needs is smaller class sizes! Honest self-evaluation may get you drummed out of the profession.

Worse still, University published research often suffers from what I'll call apologetic research conclusions. The authors will find no credible evidence that class size matters and will say so closely followed by "but we really think it should make a difference and if you don't like this conclusion blame the data or rearrange the algorithm or...".

It is as if both science and math have no factual basis in educational research.

The academic dishonesty really needs to stop. It distorts public policy and undermines the credibility of educational evangelists with better ideas.

In coming segments, I'll try to sort out the truth from the inertia of lies.

- Frank Krasicki



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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Learning Physics Through Art

A fellow software engineer recently turned me on to linerider. It's software written by a former science teacher that allows individuals to create drawings that an anonymous sledder slides around on. Here's how linerider bills itself:
Line Rider was originally created by Boštjan Cadež, a Slovenian university student, in September of 2006. It almost immediately gathered a cult following and became the seventh quickest gaining keyword in Google. Since that time, the ‘toy’ has generated over 16 million views. Fans quickly noticed that they could create tracks, set them to music, and share them over YouTube.com. Currently, there are over 11,000 shared videos with many more to come.

Give it a spin with an art or science class.



Friday, May 18, 2007

The Courant Is On Fire!

For the past six months or so the Courant news organization that covers central Connecticut has suddenly rediscovered the art of journalism. Their coverage of education issues has been outstanding and they seem to have transitioned from being doormats for whatever the cat dragged in to becoming advocates and ambassadors for real news in the state.

Today, two pieces of interest to regular readers of my blog.

First Rick Green's column (why isn't this guy syndicated by the Tribune Company??? - HELLLLOOOOOOO!). Rick's Porn Case: Ducking For Cover continues the narrative of the Julie Amero case.
"The evidence is very strong, very clear-cut, that the defendant was the only person that had access to that computer," Smith said in his closing argument. The pop-ups argument, he told judge and jury, was ridiculous.

"It's very clear that that just didn't happen," Smith concluded.

He was careful to repeat the lurid names of the websites and to project the dirty pictures on a large screen for the court to see. These were images that never popped up in the classroom, but the state was too busy to bother with this detail.

"The evidence is overwhelming ... she purposefully went to these websites. ... We know that the images on there were offensive," Smith said, ramming his point home. "She clearly should not have allowed this to happen. The evidence is clear. She is guilty of all the charges."

Except when you consider the facts.
That's just a teaser. Click on the link to read the whole thing. This is compelling Connecticut journalism at its finest. Rick is one of the few mainstream journalists to take this story seriously and he gets it right.

Second, is an opinion piece by twenty-something Kevin Miner called Why I'm leaving Connecticut. Every taxpayer in this state should read this with an open mind. Connecticut thanks to the anti-leadership of Lieberman and an anemic Republican and Democratic political establishment is in the toilet as a place to live and work. An ever self-enriching government bureaucracy is economically bleeding the state dry of private sector incentives to do business here. The result? Citizens being over-taxed, underfunded locally, and a withering, ever-more-hostile business environment.

Kevin Miner speaks truth here:
It was a hard winter for me. To pay the bills, I worked part time for a media research company. However, at 20 hours a week, I couldn't even afford to pay my car insurance. In March, I thought things were finally picking up. I had an interview with a manufacturing company that wanted a technical writer. At last my hard work and perseverance had paid off. But it was not to be. During the interview, the supervisor told me that many in the company believed that my purpose at the company was to train workers overseas. I shook his hand and walked out the door.

But the nail in the coffin isn't Connecticut's present - it's the future. Connecticut is stagnant in several key categories. We rank 49th out of 50th in job growth and per capita federal spending. We rank behind Alabama in tax funds appropriated for operating expenses for colleges and universities, for student aid and for state higher-education agencies, according the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University.

What's worse, our elected officials are rewarded, rather than castigated, for exacerbating the problem. While neighboring states New York and New Jersey have passed property tax reform to ease the tax burden on middle-class families, Connecticut has done no such thing. While Massachusetts has become the first state in the union to have universal health insurance, Connecticut also has done no such thing.

At a time when we should invest in fuel-efficient cars and transportation alternatives, our representatives suggest temporary suspension of the gas tax.

Where are the elected leaders who will invest in 21st-century energy production, lowering electric rates for homeowners and businesses? Where are the public officials who will invest in more efficient modes of transportation? Why, if we like our UConn Huskies so much, do we appropriate less tax money for post-secondary education operating expenses than Alabama? What realistic hope does Connecticut have to compete in the new economy?

At 25, I am part of the fastest-growing age segment that is leaving Connecticut. I did not want to leave, but a prohibitively high cost of living coupled with widespread complacency and ineptitude at the state Capitol have sealed my fate. I liked Connecticut's shorelines, its state parks and its midsize, human-scale cities. How many more people like me have to leave before the rest of the state gets the message?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

School 2.0; Safe Search Tools

I was poking around not really looking for this but came across a search engine that advertises itself as a safe way for young people to search for information. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the claim and I'm certain it is not air-tight but a welcome addition for teachers, parents, and conscientious youth nonetheless.

Check it out at: http://askthewabbit.com/ or Ask The Wabbit.



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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Five Second Rule Re-examined

A clever article in the New York Times, The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna? by Harold McGee examines the veracity of eating that piece of candy dropped on the floor but rescued by super-human effort before five seconds elapses.
I learned from the Clemson study that the true pioneer of five-second research was Jillian Clarke, a high-school intern at the University of Illinois in 2003. Ms. Clarke conducted a survey and found that slightly more than half of the men and 70 percent of the women knew of the five-second rule, and many said they followed it.

She did an experiment by contaminating ceramic tiles with E. coli, placing gummy bears and cookies on the tiles for the statutory five seconds, and then analyzing the foods. They had become contaminated with bacteria.

For performing this first test of the five-second rule, Ms. Clarke was recognized by the Annals of Improbable Research with the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in public health.

It’s not surprising that food dropped onto bacteria would collect some bacteria. But how many? Does it collect more as the seconds tick by? Enough to make you sick?

Prof. Paul L. Dawson and his colleagues at Clemson have now put some numbers on floor-to-food contamination.

Their bacterium of choice was salmonella; the test surfaces were tile, wood flooring and nylon carpet; and the test foods were slices of bread and bologna.

First the researchers measured how long bacteria could survive on the surfaces. They applied salmonella broth in doses of several million bacteria per square centimeter, a number typical of badly contaminated food.

I had thought that most bacteria were sensitive to drying out, but after 24 hours of exposure to the air, thousands of bacteria per square centimeter had survived on the tile and wood, and tens of thousands on the carpet. Hundreds of salmonella were still alive after 28 days.

Professor Dawson and colleagues then placed test food slices onto salmonella-painted surfaces for varying lengths of time, and counted how many live bacteria were transferred to the food.

On surfaces that had been contaminated eight hours earlier, slices of bologna and bread left for five seconds took up from 150 to 8,000 bacteria. Left for a full minute, slices collected about 10 times more than that from the tile and carpet, though a lower number from the wood.

What do these numbers tell us about the five-second rule? Quick retrieval does mean fewer bacteria, but it’s no guarantee of safety. True, Jillian Clarke found that the number of bacteria on the floor at the University of Illinois was so low it couldn’t be measured, and the Clemson researchers resorted to extremely high contamination levels for their tests. But even if a floor — or a countertop, or wrapper — carried only a thousandth the number of bacteria applied by the researchers, the piece of food would be likely to pick up several bacteria.

The infectious dose, the smallest number of bacteria that can actually cause illness, is as few as 10 for some salmonellas, fewer than 100 for the deadly strain of E. coli.

Of course we can never know for sure how many harmful microbes there are on any surface. But we know enough now to formulate the five-second rule, version 2.0: If you drop a piece of food, pick it up quickly, take five seconds to recall that just a few bacteria can make you sick, then take a few more to think about where you dropped it and whether or not it’s worth eating.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Busy Weekend

I am working on re-examining the data on class size which has become more distortion than useful fact. Much of what you think you know about the issue is wrong. Years of political obfuscation have buried and distorted what we might learn from the studies.

Rather than post incomplete analysis I'll get back to this when I can.

The Mother's Day weekend is just far too busy to post anything more.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Criminalizing Youth

An opinion piece in the New York Times called Juvenile Injustice describes the effect of the automatic sentencing of youth as adult offenders;
The United States made a disastrous miscalculation when it started automatically trying youthful offenders as adults instead of handling them through the juvenile courts. Prosecutors argued that the policy would get violent predators off the streets and deter further crime. But a new federally backed study shows that juveniles who do time as adults later commit more violent crime than those who are handled through the juvenile courts.

The study, published last month in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was produced by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent research group with close ties to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After an exhaustive survey of the literature, the group determined that the practice of transferring children into adult courts was counterproductive, actually creating more crime than it cured.

A related and even more disturbing study by Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington finds that the majority of the more than 200,000 children a year who are treated as adults under the law come before the courts for nonviolent offenses that could be easily and more effectively dealt with at the juvenile court level.

Examples include a 17-year-old first-time offender charged with robbery after stealing another student’s gym clothes, and another 17-year-old who violated his probation by stealing a neighbor’s bicycle. Many of these young nonviolent offenders are held in adult prisons for months or even years.
My, my, yet another one of those obvious-to-the-rabid-mob things that backfires in our faces. Anybody tired of the heavy-handed stupidity of ever escalating punishments on children?

Oh, all right, progress is just around the corner, maybe we'll do something about it next year. Connecticut, once a beacon of political brilliance, is a leading jailer of youth. Mighty Christian of us.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bleh, The Class Size Scam

The Region19 budget passed on Tuesday. In many ways it is obscene. Bloated by over $200K, taxpayers may as well burn dollars in barrels during the winter for heat.

There's really no excuse for this kind of over-spending. As a liberal, I believe responsibly managing the resources and budget is what will keep public schools healthy and keep the politics from swinging back into the arms of the lunatic fringe the Bush administration ushered into office.

Throwing money at ineffective educational pedagogy is nothing new but pointless nonetheless. It is also corrosive. Conservative Republicans can, in good conscience, complain about budgets like this and Democrats should listen. Education budgets like this are shining examples of tax dollar spending run amok.

Last Tuesday, I questioned whether the tiny and temporary rise in class size that reducing our staff by two positions would in fact affect academic performance at all. I was showered with a litany of BOE members, former teachers, present teachers, administrators and who-not that OH MY GOD, OF COURSE CLASS SIZE MATTERS! - YOU IDIOT!

So, for the past week I have been researching the class size literature and the fact of he matter is that the one thing that the experts agree on is that the kind of class size fluctuation we were discussing HAS ZERO EFFECT ON STUDENT ACADEMIC PROGRESS.

ZERO. [Yes, I know, I know, somewhere there is a cosmically co-incidental example of a student actually raising their grade in a one or two pupil smaller class! Riiiiiiiiight.]

It seems to me that when there's a national whining about math and science education, one would thing that teachers would take the math and science of their own profession into consideration - just to set a good example, you know.

I mean, I happen to think its embarrassing when the certified personnel are oblivious to the conclusions of the research about the affect of class size on learning. Not only that but they spend their time convincing the community to over-spend on already low classroom sizes.

Finally, it hurts the BOE when so many members are tightly coupled to teaching and also are so oblivious to the assumptions and special interest indoctrinations they introduce to business decisions about the school.

In future years, taxpayers are unlikely to believe the Board and it is the expensive fictions like these that will make them think twice.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

17 Year Olds Get Sucker Punched

The Connecticut Legislature had an opportunity to vote to allow 17 year olds who will vote in imminent elections to vote in the primaries.

Sadly, this is how it went.



HatTip to Spazeboy for the link. The takeaway is that 17 year olds who do vote should do so with these characters in mind.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Vote NO on the Region19 Budget, May 8th

There's nothing to recommend this version of the budget.

The cost per pupil expense is wholly out-of-touch with the reality that EO Smith's high school population is shrinking and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

If EO Smith were endeavoring to do something new or innovative, the cost might be justifiable but the school district is doing nothing of the sort.

An argument has been made that EO Smith's class sizes will swell to unacceptable levels if two passive staff reductions were made. After investigating the research I've found this to be a fiction. Our current class sizes are well below recommended norms and I plan to blog further on this subject of disinformation. Even with a staff reduction, EO Smith is still paying a high per pupil cost with little evidence that it makes an educational difference.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More Bad Anti-Porn Legislation Proposed

In IT Professionals Would Be Required to Report Child Porn Under Proposal at Capitol by Susan Haigh, WTIC reports yet another example of sugar-coated, feel-good, bad legislation being considered by a legislature than is clueless.
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ Computer technicians would be obligated to report child abuse just like doctors, teachers and others who work closely with children, under measures being considered by lawmakers in two states.

At least five states _ Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota _ require computer technicians to report child pornography. Connecticut and California are considering legislation that would go a step farther, adding technicians to the list of ``mandated reporters'' who notify authorities about any type of child abuse and neglect.

``Computer usage is a very real part of our culture and daily activities,'' said New Britain Police Sgt. James P. Wardell. ``Laws must change and evolve to reflect this ever-changing technological advancement.''
Officer Wardell is correct, the laws must change but not in this way.

Laws that assume that content found on any computer is the direct result of activity by the owner are out of touch with the "ever-changing technological advancement" officer Wardell cites.

As we've seen in the Julie Amero case, computers now perform life-cycle activity that may be completely unknown and uncontrollable to the user. The fact that an image, link, or even program exists on a computer may be wholly co-incidental to the owner's experience, intent, and lifestyle. To apply the legal concept that possession is 9/10th's of the law would be a miscarriage of justice in every case. In fact the activity of the technician could very well contaminate the customer's drive.

Add to the confusion of how one would acquire the expertise to know without a shadow of a doubt that any image is a real person under the age of sixteen and you have an Orwellian recipe for disaster.

No law is better than a blind, dumb one. Certainly images that suggest existing criminal activity should be reported as a matter of professional and civic duty.On the other hand, requiring the Computer community to suddenly report every instance of pornographic material found on private computers exposes parents of teens and the teens themselves to odious social harm.

The fact of the matter is that young boys will seek out pornographic materials unknown to teachers, parents, and others. This is a natural curiosity that accompanies becoming a man. In a 2005 article called, The secret life of boys, Pornography is a mouse click away, and kids are being exposed to it in ever-increasing numbers by Bella English, the Boston Globe tells us the facts about pornography and teens.
Those who work with adolescents agree that parents who discover their child is downloading porn regularly should be firm without shaming him. Kendrick likens it to obscene rap lyrics or suggestive videos that parents forbid. ''You can say, I understand how you can be very curious about these images, but we don't support people who think of women in these ways. . . . We don't welcome them into our house, not through the boombox or your iPod, not through the radio, or the television, and not through the Internet."

Kendrick might want to add cellphones to that list. Companies such as Playboy and X-rated film producers have announced plans to bring ''adult material" to cellphone carriers, which they ultimately expect to be even more lucrative than Internet porn.

Today, one-third of children between ages 11 and 17 have their own cellphones. The number is expected to increase to nearly 50 percent in two years.

Kids and porn

According to a poll released in March by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

70 percent of teens ages 15-17 say they have accidentally come across porn while using the Internet.

25 percent of the boys admit they have lied about their age to access a website.

76 percent of the teens say their schools have Internet filters on the computers.

33 percent say their home computer has a filter.

Family Safe Media, an outfit that sells Internet filters and other blocking devices, has also compiled research on the topic. It has found:

The average age at which a child is first exposed to Internet porn is 11.

The largest consumer of Internet porn is kids between ages 12 and 17.

12 percent of all websites are porn sites.

25 percent of all search engine requests are for porn.
The article is worth reading. And once you read it, you have to ask yourself if you want every Skippy computer technician turning a mom, dad, or teen to police for felony investigation. And you also have to ask yourself if you want to arm the Skippy's of the world with the power to destroy a family or individual by planting such material on a drive. Political and corporate reputations could be washed away by the simple accusation. And once again, the material may be co-incidental, automatically generated, or planted with few clues as to the truth.

This suggestion for a law is a bad idea and it should be rejected.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Unknown Artist: Last Leg (Jeff Iwanski of Honey Stump)

I've recently been getting some correspondence from friends in Nebraska about some of the bands who play the area. I went to Doane College in the early seventies and as a freshman taking an education course was promptly put into the Crete Public Schools as a teacher's aide. The practice was to immerse education students in public schools early to see if the freshman student was in fact had any real interest in pursuing a career in education.

So I was placed in a high school art class with Larry Boehmer the art teacher at the time. Larry was a University of Nebraska fine arts painter who had one of his pieces set up in the classroom. It was a painting of a woman farming and in the semester I was an aide it never received another stroke of refinement. Larry played the Layla album every day, every class period for the semester - he was hooked on blues.

Larry quit teaching that year and bought The Zoo, a bar in Lincoln where he invited Chicago Blues musicians to entertain the largely University f Nebraska art crowd. Later, when I took advanced art courses at the University I would make an occasional beer run.

All of which gave me a great perspective on the music that rocks the Midwest.

All of which is prelude to a freely downloadable masterwork by Jeff Iwanski recording as Last Leg. The last time I heard music this honest and whole is when Michelle Shocked released the Texas Campfire Tapes.

The Last Leg EP songs are gray, post-modern country-narratives. And as such they are stark, refreshing reminders that loneliness is busy with impersonal socializing. These songs are not a vampiric restyling of Woody Guthrie, Dylan, or Buffalo Springsteen. Here you will listen to the dark wonder of nothingness that Cormic McCarthy writes about in The Pretty Horses Trilogy. In the digital age, emptiness may feel warm as well as cold, pointless but exhausting for the blurring motion.

Today's prairie traveler has no horse but very well may have some fries to sing about. And breakfast may not be the same without your latest flame. These songs will remind you of Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, and Johnny Cash even though they'll offer completely different takes on similar subject matter.

There are sonic echoes of Eno's ambient sound experiments at play here as well. The spare instrumentation creates the mythic darkness at the edge of town that no longer exists in the megalopolises of American experience.

This is singles bar music like the one David Byrne described so many years ago, "Heaven - heaven is a bar - where nothing, nothing ever happens."

How Seedy Can the Student Loan Scandal Get?

Put on your mud boots. The Washington Post is reporting Student Loan Probe Expands to Include Alumni Associations by Amit R. Paley.

That's right, the older generation is using the younger one in a pyramid scheme that serves only to punish the person taking the loan and enrich the sponsor. During the years of unaccountability that the Bush regime cobbled together the message to this nation's rip-off artists is clear, Why simply privatize when you can pillage as well? Read on.
The New York attorney general has broadened his investigation into the student loan industry to discover whether university alumni associations are steering graduates toward a major loan company in exchange for payments from the lender.

The lender, Nelnet, said it has agreements with about 120 alumni associations across the country, including those affiliated with the University of Maryland and Old Dominion University in Virginia. Nelnet said it typically pays the associations in return for data used to mail marketing materials to graduates.

"Unfortunately it appears that student loan scams don't end at graduation," New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo said yesterday in a statement. "Our investigation seeks to put an end to kickback schemes and payoffs that benefit lenders and their partners - be they schools or alumni associations - at the expense of students trying to control their debt."

School 2.0: Squelch Rumors

I picked this story up (When rumors fly, schools vet them...online
BY Jennifer Sinco Kelleher of Newsday)
and thought it expressed a great idea all schools with a decent website should consider. That is that they are open and transparent about altercations at the school, respecting privacy being a given.
Word out on the streets of the Connetquot school district was that an eighth-grader had stabbed a classmate in the neck with a pen.

The rumor could have festered and grown. Pen could have evolved into knife. But the story got quashed when the accurate and less dramatic version appeared April 3 on the district's Web site: There was no stabbing. But one student did hit another on the shoulder with the eraser end of a pencil.

At connetquot.k12.ny.us, there's a link, "Have You Heard a Rumor?" that provides a forum for parents, students and just about anyone who has heard a Connetquot-related tale.

District officials started the link in February last year to keep rumors from getting out of hand and to find out about concerns before it's too late, Superintendent Alan Groveman said.

"We found there was typically a large delay from the time the rumors were out in the community until the time we heard about it," he said.
And more...
The rumors link is helping to improve communication, especially for parents who don't have time to attend meetings, said Rosemary Weaver, president of Connetquot Council of PTAs.

About two years ago in the West Babylon district, officials tried a rumor link on its Web site but soon changed it to "The Question Box," to encompass all school-related inquiries, spokeswoman Nancy Lenz said.

But it hasn't seen a question since June 16 last year. Officials found that people are more inclined to call when a rumor or question surfaces. A large part of Lenz's job is to field those calls.

So far, Groveman said, he hasn't seen any rumors that are too far-fetched, as many turn out to be at least partly accurate.

There are even rumors about the rumors.

Groveman said some have suspected that district officials make up the questions. Not true, Groveman said. "All the questions are real."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Imus,Skakel, Baez, Existential Christianity

If there are no liberals in a foxhole then there are no conservatives in the unemployment line. Imus is readying to defend his -cough- first amendment rights. After bashing liberals for a career for exercising these same rights, Imus has discovered his own appetite for certain inalienable rights. Hallelujah!

I have grown to despise everything this guy stands for including any and every so-called charity he sugar-coats his liberal-bashing hate speech with but he needs to be heard and understood for what he is. We must defend the right to be offended as Salman Rushdie advised us earlier in this blog.

Likewise, Joan Baez should have been heard at Walter Reed Hospital. Service to one's country means defending everyone's rights - even those you may hate. Again, we must defend our right to be offended.

Michael Skakel is no Kennedy. When Robert Kennedy appeared in Skakel's behalf a week or so ago, it was the first time in decades. Kennedy is the antithesis of Skakel. Skakel the villified American conservative is nothing like Kennedy, liberal environmentalist.

Yet, Skakel was convicted because a drug-addict cutting a deal claims Skakel said, "I can get away with murder because I'm a Kennedy." I don't buy it. The last claim Skakel would make is to be a Kennedy. And can any statement made under therapy carry the veracity of fact? This conviction doesn't pass the sniff test.

Baez and Imus are political hot potatoes. Skakel represents the avarice of wealth.

This weekend my younger son, Adam, received his Confirmation into the Roman Catholic faith. The priest spoke of service, service in the here and now - existential Christianity if you will.

These people all share the breath of God with us and all provide a service by example.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Exit 69 Mystery

Now how cool is that?

I got this email from Susan Eastwood who is letting as many people as she can know.

Greetings Quiet Corner friends,

Just yesterday Tony was browsing through the latest edition of National Geographic Traveler (May/June) and opened to an article called "The Mystery of Exit 69" (p 108). Sure enough, it was our exit 69 in Willington! And on the next page I saw our neighbor up at the junction of Waterfall and HiIllside, Charlie Woytik, petting one of his cows! Well, I was astonished, and I thought you would be too, to know that we live in a magical land from another time! It says so right there, in Natl Geo Traveler!!! Check it out for yourself!

: )

Susan

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):