Monday, December 31, 2007

"Don't Let God Laugh Alone"

The New York Times is running a short biography of one of the most interesting people to walk the earth, Joybubbles.
This was in the early 1950s. He was still Josef Engressia then, born in Richmond, Va., and phones were solid objects. All those lovely, palpable parts: the dial, the curved metal tooth that stopped a fingertip, the 10 finger holes, the curled cord from mouthpiece to phone body that could be straightened out but boinged right back. The thin cable that ran from the back of the phone to the wall, and from the wall into the world, a secret passageway as sure as any rabbit hole or mirror. A phone could be endlessly caressed and — if there were noises to drown out — listened to. Phones didn’t care that he couldn’t see.

“Lots of scary sounds and stuff at night,” he’d say, years later. “Sometimes I’d hug my phone up close and listen to the dial tone, the soft hum of the dial tone that was always there.”

Ask any mother: children love telephones. “I’m a telephone man forever,” he told his mother when he was not quite 4. The family moved a lot — his father was a school portrait photographer — but the phone lines followed him. The phone directory was his favorite storybook, with all the new exchanges and Dial-a’s: Dial-a-Joke, Dial-a-Devotion and Dial-a-Prayer, 24-hour-a-day voices, improvisations on the dial tone: something to listen to when you have no one else to call.

The boy decided to talk back to the phone. Not to other people, not right away: to the phone line itself, and in its own language. At 7, with his perfectly pitched ear, he heard through the receiver the tone that controlled long-distance connections, 2,600 cycles per second. “I started whistling along with it,” he said, “and all of a sudden the circuit cut off, and I did it again, and it cut off again. And gradually . . . I figured out — back in the mid-’50s — just how to do it.”

Those tones were how telephones spoke to one another. Once you’d cut the circuit off, you could call anywhere you wanted. He became a student of phones and phone systems. He heard noises on the line and called the phone company to find out what they meant. By the late 1960s he was a student at the University of South Florida, whistling long-distance phone calls for his classmates at a dollar a pop. In 1971, Ron Rosenbaum, in his landmark Esquire article, called him “the original granddaddy phone phreak,” though he was only 22. The phone phreaks were a subculture of pranksters and oddballs and proto-hackers who loved phone lines the way some boys love train lines: for their intricacies, their puzzles, the way they led as far away from home as you could get and then back again. They looked for weakness in the lines, flaws in numbers that allowed them to skip around the globe, from Moscow to Saudi Arabia to California. Some phreaks whistled; some duplicated tones with electronic keyboards and tape recorders; some built dialing boxes; at least one used a giveaway whistle from a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal. Two — Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs — went on to invent Apple computers.

But that same year, Joe Engressia was arrested in Memphis on charges of defrauding the phone company and stripped of even the toy phone he kept on his desk. He claimed he got arrested on purpose, to get the attention of the phone company so they’d employ him. It worked: he got jobs for phone companies in Tennessee and Colorado as a troubleshooter and operator. He gave up illegal calling but spent the rest of his life playing with lines, looking for defects and reporting them.

In 1988, he decided to cast aside the memories of his unhappy childhood — he said he’d been abused by a nun at a school for the blind — and thereafter declared that he was 5 years old. In 1991, he changed his legal name to Joybubbles. He handed out his telephone number and invited strangers to call. He counseled them on how to stay young forever, according to the principals of his invented Church of Eternal Childhood, whose motto was “Re-envisioning a new past in the present is important for our future.” When he discovered that the University of Pittsburgh had the complete run of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on tape, he went on a pilgrimage: he rented an apartment nearby and spent hours in the library listening to every episode, sometimes hugging a stuffed globe, huddled under a blanket. Then he returned to his home in Minneapolis, a tiny, unlighted apartment filled with phone equipment, stuffed animals, old cassette tapes, plastic toys. He lived on disability payments. He didn’t take care of himself. “I don’t want to grow old,” he told his friend Steven Gibb.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What to Do with the Corpse of "No Child Left Behind"

We have a refrigerator magnet at home that is a dated picture of California Redwood loggers taking a memento snapshot of themselves. Behind one proud fellow is the 3/4 sawed out divot of a redwood yet to fall. Joyfully nestled in the divot is his partner posing with a grin of such vacuous consciousness, of a soul so blissfully unaware of the absurdity of his decision, that I still laugh deeply when I see it.

The saying that accompanies the photo is an Einstein quote, "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits".

No single meme better captures the reality of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Bruce Silva was kind enough to suggest a commentary in The American Prospect by Richard Rothstein called Leaving "No Child Left Behind" - Behind Our No. 1 education program is incoherent, unworkable, and doomed. But the next president still can have a huge impact on improving American schooling.

In it, Rothstein summarizes the state of the death of NCLB better than any writer thus far. This is an important read for all educators and it is an outstanding piece of journalism in general. A snippet to whet your appetite:
SCHOOLS AND SOCIAL POLICY

In one respect, NCLB betrays core Democratic principles, denying the importance of all social policy but school reform. Inadequate schools are only one reason disadvantaged children perform poorly. They come to school under stress from high-crime neighborhoods and economically insecure households. Their low-cost day-care tends to park them before televisions, rather than provide opportunities for developmentally appropriate play. They switch schools more often because of inadequate housing and rents rising faster than parents' wages. They have greater health problems, some (like lead poisoning or iron-deficiency anemia) directly depressing cognitive ability, and some causing more absenteeism or inattentiveness. Their households include fewer college-educated adults to provide rich intellectual environments, and their parents are less likely to expect academic success. Nearly 15 percent of the black-white test-score gap can be traced to differences in housing mobility, and 25 percent to differences in child- and maternal-health.

Yet NCLB insists that school improvement alone can raise all children to high proficiency. The law anticipates that with higher expectations, better teachers, improved curriculum, and more testing, all youths will attain full academic competence, poised for college and professional success. Natural human variability would still distinguish children, but these distinctions would have nothing to do with family disadvantage. Then there really would be no reason for progressive housing or health and economic policies. The nation's social and economic problems would take care of themselves, by the next generation.

Teachers of children who come to school hungry, scared, abused, or ill, consider this absurd. But NCLB's aura intimidates educators from acknowledging the obvious. Teachers are expected to repeat the mantra "all children can learn," a truth carrying the mendacious implication that the level to which children learn has nothing to do with their starting points. Teachers are warned that any mention of children's socioeconomic disadvantages only "makes excuses" for teachers' own poor performance.

Of course, there are better and worse schools and better and worse teachers. Of course, some disadvantaged children excel more than others. But NCLB has turned these obvious truths into the fantasy that teachers can wipe out socioeconomic differences among children simply by trying harder.

Denouncing schools as the chief cause of American inequality -- in academic achievement, thus in the labor market, and thus in life generally -- stimulates cynicism among teachers who are expected to act on a theory they know to be false. Many dedicated and talented teachers are abandoning education; they may have achieved exceptional results with disadvantaged children, but with NCLB's bar set so impossibly high, even these are labeled failures.

The continuation of NCLB's rhetoric will also erode support for public education. Educators publicly vow they can eliminate achievement gaps, but they will inevitably fall short. The reasonable conclusion can only be that public education is hopelessly incompetent.


"FIXING" NCLB

Few policy-makers have publicly acknowledged NCLB's demise. Instead, they talk of fixing it. Some want to credit schools for student growth from year to year, rather than for reaching arbitrary proficiency levels. Clearly, adequate progress from different starting points leads to different ending points, but growth-model advocates can't bring themselves to drop the universal-proficiency goal. Doing so would imply lower expectations, on average, for disadvantaged children -- too much for unsophisticated policy discussion to swallow. Consequently, the "fix" is incoherent.

Growth models have even larger error margins than single-year test results because they rely on two unreliable scores (last year's and this year's), not one. And accountability for math and reading growth retains the incentives to abandon non-tested subjects and skills. So some NCLB loyalists now propose accountability for "multiple measures," such as graduation rates. But presently quantifiable skills are too few to minimize goal distortion -- the federal government is unprepared to monitor, for instance, whether students express good citizenship. Further, any mention of diluting a math and reading focus elicits the wrath of "basics" fundamentalists, such as the president and his secretary of education.

America's experiment of using the White House in Washington, D.C. as a free-range psychiatric institution is nearing an end. In Rothstein's article, conservatives who helped craft NCLB admit their failures;
Goal distortion has been particularly troubling, as it should be, to conservatives. Two former assistant secretaries of education (under Ronald Reagan and Bush père), Chester Finn and Diane Ravitch, once prominent NCLB advocates, now write:

We should have seen this coming ... more emphasis on some things would inevitably mean less attention to others. ... We were wrong.


They conclude:

[If NCLB continues,] rich kids will study philosophy and art, music and history, while their poor peers fill in bubbles on test sheets. The lucky few will spawn the next generation of tycoons, political leaders, inventors, authors, artists and entrepreneurs. The less lucky masses will see narrower opportunities.
But a funny thing is happening in American politics. Liberals are discovering their failures as well. Rothstein writes:
Renouncing federal micromanagement will require liberals to abandon a cherished myth: that only the federal government can protect disadvantaged minorities from Southern states' indifference. The myth is rooted in an isolated fact: In the two decades following Brown v. Board of Education, the federal government forced states to respect rights not only of African Americans but of disabled and immigrant children.

But at other times, the federal government has been no defender of the oppressed. In the early 20th century, state governments enacted minimum-wage, health, and safety laws, only to see them struck down by the Supreme Court. Today, Southern states' attempts to improve education are often impeded by federal policy. Only last year, school integration efforts of Louisville, Kentucky, were prohibited by federal courts, while federal administrative agencies block efforts at integration and affirmative action. In recent decades, states like North Carolina and Texas have been innovators in school improvement. North and South Carolina and Arkansas have had nationally known "education governors" (Jim Hunt, Richard Riley, and Bill Clinton). The greatest potential for greater education improvement in the South lies in boosting African American voting participation, not more federal mandates.
Rebecca Solnit reporting for The Guardian (The Growth of Local Power Is a Bright Spot in Seven Bleak Years of Bush) makes similar observations;
Quietly, doggedly, cities, regions, counties and states have refused to march to the Bush administration's drum when it comes to climate change, the environment and the war. Some of the recent changes are so sweeping that they will probably drag the nation along with them - notably efforts by Vermont, Massachusetts and California to set higher vehicle emissions standards and generally treat climate change as an environmental problem that can be addressed by regulation. The Bush administration has notoriously dragged its feet on doing anything about climate change, and it will now be dragged along by the states, themselves prodded forward by citizens.

It wasn't supposed to work that way. States' rights was a rallying cry for conservatives for much of the 20th century, first in allowing segregation and racial discrimination across the south and then in allowing environmental destruction around the west. Rightwingers have usually believed in a weak federal government - except when they run it; and that weakness, or rather the strength of the local, has been one of the bright spots during the seven bleak years of life under Bush.

The changes operate on all scales. Across the country, quite a lot of cities and towns have passed measures condemning the Iraq war or calling for the troops to be brought home. A handful of California counties have banned GM agriculture, and others have tried but been defeated by industry money - but may try again. North Dakota farmers created so powerful a pact against the use of Monsanto's GM wheat that the corporation eventually gave up on commercialising the invention worldwide.
The heart-warming message in all of this is that it is the adoption of true conservative principles by Liberals that is bringing NCLB to a screeching and fitting halt. Given the intellectual squalor of the past seven years, anything that comes in wake of NCLB will seem like sunshine after a cold, dreary storm.

No one need bury NCLB. It has been rotting away all on its own. Soon only the stench of the Bush administration will be left to remind us of its pernicious and unwelcome insult to national sanity.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

By Definition: Me, Myself, I

I occasionally shuffle from being a Board member to just being a parent with staff members involved with my kids. It's a touchy thing.

But I know a lot about education - its been a passion of mine for a long, long time and I know a lot about kids although the biggest enigma in everyone's life is their own family and I must admit that my own kids befuddle me on a daily basis. And so everyone must take what I write with the understanding that I am humbled by my own words often enough to understand that I am not imparting wisdom so much as grain of opinion that I can only hope makes its way into the realm of shared wisdom.

In the past few days, one of my most anti-establishment sentiments has come to the fore. And it is the question of who has the right to define who you or I or somebody else is, is capable of being, or has the seed of becoming.

To me the answer is that we each must find our own way and that schools, teachers, coaches, and others are there to guide us into being and becoming. However, that's rarely how it works.

Guidance counselors or coaches or local pundits will insist this athlete, of this size, of this high school playing time, of this so and so measure USUALLY WIND UP at some predestined post-secondary place. This applies to lots of subjects and corollary conjectures.

It presupposes, of course, that free choice is the free choice of societal shackles, chains, dungeons, and we-who-know-better directives.

If we take the time to self-examine ourselves, we are often most happy in life when we follow our bliss, do it the hard way, fail the test but win the race, and so on.

In the play Wicked, the song Defy Gravity is worth humming to ourselves when someone tries to pidgeon-hole our sons and daughters. At the end of the day the only question worth answering is not What is gravity? but rather, Do you have the courage to defy it?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Athletics and Teens with Learning Disabilities

Parents of teens with learning disabilities get beat up pretty good. It is hard enough coping with a teen who isn't processing information the way most people do. These kids may take longer to process a direct command, or stumble on an obvious double entendre, or just inadvertently mess up some simple request. And it is maddening because the behavior may never change.

But it is doubly brutal for teens who have such disabilities and who are athletes. As a group athletes are often not the brightest and the best in a school to begin with so athletes with disabilities have a tendency to blend into categories that may peg them as not very intelligent instead of challenged to respond to certain kinds of directives.

Coaches don't receive guidance in handling these students and as a result these students who may be fine athletes never are given opportunities to shine because learning disabilities can be misinterpreted as insubordinate behaviors or refusal to jump through the procedural hoops.

For parents, this presents the gut-wretching decision to attempt explaining the nature of the disorder to a coach who may then either exacerbate the social discomfort of the situation for the teen or eliminate the teen from further consideration because the disability merely reinforces the stereotype that the teen will not perform up to expectations.

The fans only see coaches yelling at seemingly deaf and inattentive athletes. But in too many cases, the athletes cannot process the information such as it is. And worse still, athletes perfectly capable of learning what's required often fall victim to demeaning coaches who use them as scapegoats for their practice examples opening further humiliations from their peers.

Someday guidance counseling will involve athletic departments. Until then, the indifference of wins, losses and high school politics will keep these kids tied to a whipping post.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas! Free AVG Professional 7.5 Anti-virus Link

A British magazine called Computer Active is giving away free downloads of AVG Professional 7.5 anti-virus software. Carefully read the directions if you choose to participate in the promotion.

AVG is a product I highly recommend and a very nice seasonal promotion on the part of the sponsors.

Unknown Artist: Cory Kibler

I've been saving my recommendation of Cory Kibler's music for Christmas because he is a wonderful alternative folk-sometimes rocker artist who offers his work under the Creative Commons license.

His (legally) free MP3s and commercial CDs are available on Mr Furious records. Cory has recorded with Shacker, Beach Puppy, and Robot, Creep Closer (a personal favorite of mine).

Here are the links to the free MP3s that I know you'll enjoy.

Cory Kibler's The Silent Woods

Beach Puppy's Creey Eepy

Shacker's The Dimly Lit Room

Shacker's Knowing Her Best, Blackbeard Defends the Open Sea

Robot Creep Closer!'s RealAwful, Real Quick

Christmas 2007


While you're at Mr. Furious records, discover an artist of your own

Merry Christmas all!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Unknown Artist: The Kransky Sisters, On Home Schooling

A friend of mine sent me this insisting that this, this is the future not only of rock music but all music from now until they retire, which could be any minute now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anything is Possible

I'm a bit on automatic pilot going into the holiday season.

This is a great video about fulfilling potential.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Can't Anybody In Connecticut Count?

The other day the Corant ran an article about our big city poverty called State Is Told Of Urgent Need For Change
Measuring Effects Of Achievement Gap, Poverty by Colin Poitras.

And when folks discuss how Connecticut's wealthiest families earned more than 10 times the income of the poorest family in 2005 — establishing Connecticut's income disparity as the second-worst in the country — the ramifications of that on the state's economy may not be immediately clear, officials said.
Huh??????

Let's see, call poverty $25k per year for a family more or less. Now multiply that by 10 and you get $250K per year. I don't have exact numbers but I'm going to bet that the people living in the wealthy towns of Connecticut spend that on their dogs and cats.

No, the income disparity is more like 10k times and exponentially more of a difference between poor and rich.

Math is not a strong point in Connecticut but the people who talk about poverty only talk about money. Money is important but the poverty of a lousy State government, an unimaginative business sector, and a wholesale disinterest in new ideas will assure the continuing migration of young people fleeing this state.

Connecticut has to re-establish its republic roots and support the abolition of NCLB mandates so that individual states can opt-out without penalty. Connecticut has followed the red state lemming march over the cliff and into the pit of mass ignorance. Dumbing down the population is good for the Bush administration but bad for the human race and bad for Connecticut.

The big cities need to become tax-free commercial zones whose state government operations capacities must be limited. Corporations doing futuristic research and development need to be given unbridled access to low-cost city spaces.

The sale and use of personal marijuana needs to be decriminalized within big city limits.

If Connecticut expects to ever thrive in this century, it has to manufacture an environment where freedom rings.

The status quo is killing the state. And I'm not just crying poor-mouth.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Echo Location

This is an older story that I'm just getting around to. Implicitly, it tells us a lot about learning and overcoming obstacles.




Best Video Of The Year - video powered by Metacafe

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Toddler Language Development

Two recent articles suggest that getting babies toddlers books instead of DVDs is a smart way to ensure a Toddler will read.

The Guardian recently reported a story called Language DVDs can slow down baby talk, parents warned by Helen Pidd.
Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and co-author of the study, said: "The results surprised us, but they make sense. There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the 'alert time' is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in 'parentese' - that melodic speech we use with little ones - the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience." The researchers believe the content of baby DVDs and videos is different from the other types of programming because it tends to have little dialogue and shows linguistically indescribable images such as a lava lamp. By contrast, children's educational programs are crafted to meet developmental needs of pre-school children.
A second article found on Web MD called Why Toddlers' Vocabulary Grows Quickly
Repetition, Challenging Words May Lead to Boom in Toddlers' Vocabulary
by Miranda Hitti states;
According to McMurray, kids don't necessarily reach that tipping point by learning one word, then the next, and then another. Rather, it's a matter of learning a mix of words at once -- including simple and not-so-simple words -- and repeating them.

"Children are going to get that word spurt guaranteed, mathematically, as long as a couple of conditions hold," Murray says in a University of Iowa news release.

"They have to be learning more than one word at a time, and they must be learning a greater number of difficult or moderate words than easy ones," McMurray explains. "Using computer simulations and a mathematical analysis, I found that if those two conditions are true, you always get a vocabulary explosion."
These ideas should warn well-intentioned gift-givers not to buy DVDs for young children but buy something parents can read to kids instead.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Inexpensive Interactive White Board Kit

A Carnegie Mellon Engineering student teaches us how to create an Interactive whiteboard from fairly inexpensive techno-trivial products. Not a joke.



Hat-tip Gizmodo and Reddit.

George Will on NCLB

After watching decades of his own partisan hacks control everything in America, George Will suddenly wakes up to blame... get this... Lyndon Johnson for NCLB.

The guy is hopeless but his observations here actually are true to conservatism and liberalism in America. Someone looking for sanity from partisan, neocon commentators takes what they can get.

From the Courant, The Heavy Federal Hand Of NCLB:
Fourteen months ago, the president said, "The gap is closing. ... How do we know? Because we're measuring." But about those measurements ...

NCLB requires states to identify, by criteria they devise, "persistently dangerous schools." But what state wants that embarrassment? The Washington Post recently reported that last year, of America's approximately 94,000 public schools, the "persistently dangerous" numbered 46. There were none among the 9,000 schools in amazingly tranquil California.

NCLB's crucial provisions concern testing to measure yearly progress toward the goal of "universal proficiency" in math and reading by 2014. Most states retain the low standards they had before; some have defined proficiency down.

So says "The Proficiency Illusion," a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which studies education reform. Its findings include:

The rationale for standards-based reform was that expectations would become more rigorous and uniform, but states' proficiency tests vary "wildly" in difficulty, "with passing scores ranging from the 6th percentile to the 77th." In some states, tests have become more demanding; but in twice as many states, the tests in at least two grades have become easier.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Republican who represents western Michigan's culturally cohesive Dutch Calvinist communities, opposed NCLB from the start because he thought it would "tear apart the bond between the schools and the local communities." He believes the reauthorized version of NCLB will "gut" accountability. He is gloomily sanguine about that because he thinks accountability belongs at the local level anyway, and because removing meaningful accountability removes NCLB's raison d'etre. He proposes giving states the option of submitting to Washington a "Declaration of Intent" to reclaim full responsibility for K-12 education. Such states would receive their portion of K-12 funds as block grants.

But Rep. Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican, warns that Washington, with its unsleeping hunger for control, steadily attaches multiple strings to block grants. He proposes to allow states to opt out from under NCLB's mandates and regulations and to give residents of those states tax credits equal to the portion of their taxes their state would have received back in federal funds for K-12 education. Hoekstra's and Garrett's proposals would enable states to push Washington toward where it once was and where it belongs regarding K-12 education: Out.


Captain Obvious must have had dinner with George last week.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Beyond Stupidity; The DOE's Plan to Make Teens Hate Reading

Yep, you guessed it. The Department of Education has issued yet another in a litany of asinine schemes to improve education in Connecticut. This time it's about reading and writing. It's calledand it's as scary as it looks. I'll examine this steaming pile of academic research piece by piece over a period of weeks. The stuff reads like a recipe of smelling salts for the dead.

The document starts with an introduction by Alfred Tatum, Ph.D. Here's a sniff;
Students enrolled in Grades 4-12 throughout the United States deserve the same attention and commitment given to younger readers and writers. Unfortunately, the literacy development of these older students has been grossly neglected. This neglect has resulted in dismal reading achievement for a very high percentage of students who have moved beyond the third grade as reflected in the data provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
If this guy is suggesting that kids enrolled in grades 4-12 are going to get the same quality of reading education we give to kids K-3 in Conneticut then parents better be prepared for communicating in grunts and groans instead of reading and writing.

He finishes the introduction with a platitude that high school authors get demerits for as too condescending.
It is refreshing to note that fewer older readers will suffer from low levels of literacy development because of the sincere effort being advanced by the Department.


The report starts with a set of presumably incontrovertible facts about reading and writing. this is the dogma we are expected to salute.

Conclusion one states "The ultimate literacy goal for each student in Connecticut schools is to become an independent, skilled, lifelong reader and writer." Platitudes such as these are custom-made to be universally accepted without argument and who am I to argue that world peace will not someday break out in spontaneous joy.

Conclusion two is where it gets sticky. Conclusion two states "Research has identified what good readers do when they read". The key word here is research. What passes for research in education is often disconnected from the scientific concept of research that a seventh grader might do in poking a cat to see what the cat will do. No, this kind of research can only be done and be published by an elite task force of inscrutable academics who already know what they're looking for. The conclusion is followed by the folly.
Duke and Pearson (2002) summarized these research-based good reader characteristics as follows with my own inimitable annotations following each bullet point.

Good readers:
• Read text at their grade level accurately and easily and can attend to meaning rather than struggling with decoding individual words

No sooner than we get on the Yellow Brick Road toward improving reading skills than we step in a pile of it.
Good reading has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with grade levels. Grade levels are arbitrary and co-incidental artifacts of school frameworks imposed on student populations. You don't have to do research to know that.
This research is not about good readers who are people who at some point of maturity in their lives realize their thirst for knowledge through the printed word - rather this "research" is about identifying readers who are compliant with somebody's idea of school metrics for reading achievement and who conform to school norms for reading progress - no thirst for knowledge need be present.
• Are active readers who try to make sense of what they are reading
• Have clear goals in mind for their reading, constantly evaluate whether the text, and their reading of it, is meeting their goals
Again, we step in a pile of it. But this is no ordinary bullshit we scape off our souls. No, this is highfalutin' bullshit - that rarefied form that only makes its way into academic journals hidden behind University firewalls. You see, to expose the public to such stuff might anger taxpayers who might look askance at such byproduct.

Good readers set no goals. This is government double-speak. readers make no attempt to memorize material per se. Reading enriches the mind and soul by just being an intellectual activity that has no goal except maybe the joy of the act of reading.

This is no petty thing in a society where enthusiastic young readers stop reading for pleasure because the constant scrutiny of their reading habits and pleasures are superseded by educational specialists who bleach out any desire to ever read again.

• Typically look over the text before they read, noting such things as the structure of the text and text sections that might be most relevant to their reading goals
This sounds like a wholly manufactured artifact of such "research". It is so contrived as to be absurd at face value. People young and old read things they find interesting to them and that fits a certain comfort zone. If the reading is for research then certainly one reads only that portion of content that is pertinent. There is no majority of good readers who pick up a book, decide what chapters to read and are done with that.
• Frequently make predictions about what is to come;
Can this be expressed as "understand nouns usually precede verbs"? That is unless the researchers studied psychics anonymous.
• Read selectively – deciding what to read carefully, what to read quickly, what not to read, and what to reread
• Construct, revise and question the meanings they make as they read
• Try to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words and concepts in the text and then deal with inconsistencies or gaps as needed
• Draw from, compare and integrate their prior knowledge with material in the text
No real objections there.
• Think about the authors of the text, their style, beliefs, intentions and historical context
This sounds like a dubious assertion. Certainly, if the reading is an assignment to pay attention to trivia then this would play out that way but getting lost in a book which is a traditional measure of reading pleasure implicitly denies any such nonsense.
• Monitor their understanding of the text, making adjustments in their reading as necessary
Again, a dubious assertion that can only be true in circumstances where the reader is being put upon by a third-party like an obtrusive teacher or researcher.
• Evaluate the quality and value of the text, reacting to it in a range of ways, both intellectually and emotionally
• Read different kinds of text differently
True.
• Find comprehension a consuming and complex activity, but one that is also satisfying and productive
Or unproductive such as the case may be.

Here comes the scary stuff.
Connecticut’s K-3 Blueprint for Reading Achievement (2000, 12-13) parallels these characteristics in its description of the reading process: “Skilled reading involves a complex interplay of abilities and habits. Proficient readers actively construct meaning; for example, their comprehension extends far beyond an understanding of the literal information in a text to include drawing inferences, making evaluations, and using prior knowledge to interpret what they are reading. Proficient readers also identify printed words with ease; they recognize the pronunciation and meaning of most words automatically, without effort, and can use their knowledge of spelling-sound correspondences, when necessary, to figure out unfamiliar words. At the same time, proficient reading draws heavily on broad oral-language competencies, such as knowledge of word meanings (vocabulary), understanding of idiomatic expressions (e.g., “it’s raining cats and dogs”), background knowledge, and comprehension of grammar and syntax. And proficient readers read strategically; for example, if they do not understand something they have read, they use strategies to repair their comprehension, such as rereading or using context clues to construct meaning. In skilled reading, these components — active construction of meaning, accurate and effortless reading of individual words, broad language knowledge, and comprehension strategies — all work in concert to enable good reading comprehension.”
Skilled reading at all grade levels draws upon many different abilities, but the abilities most critical to further growth and achievement in literacy tend to shift somewhat across grades. By the end of third grade, students are generally expected to have developed a solid foundation of basic reading skills needed for meeting subsequent grade expectations. From fourth grade on, students must be prepared for a rapidly expanding volume of reading and writing, as well as increasingly advanced comprehension and expression demands. Furthermore, in a changing, technological world, literacy tasks are becoming more challenging and complex, requiring more high-level evaluative thinking and placing greater demands on students than ever before.
The State Department of Education is failing both students and schools by mixing up two different concepts. Reading and being a compliant victim of reading education practice are two different things.

If the Department of Education mandated the teaching of bicycle riding in the same prescription form they prescribe reading then the hospital wards would be overflowing in head injuries.

Readers are an endangered species in Connecticut. You can thank the Department of Education.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

When the System Cheats

The New York Times recently ran an article about grade manipulation by the administration of a New York school. Samuel Goodman's article entitled Teacher Grows Disillusioned notes;
Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course.

That student, Indira Fernandez, had missed dozens of class sessions and failed to turn in numerous homework assignments, according to Mr. Lampros’s meticulous records, which he provided to The New York Times. She had not even shown up to take the final exam. She did, however, attend the senior prom.

Through the intercession of Ms. Geiger, Miss Fernandez was permitted to retake the final after receiving two days of personal tutoring from another math teacher. Even though her score of 66 still left her with a failing grade for the course as a whole by Mr. Lampros’s calculations, Ms. Geiger gave the student a passing mark, which allowed her to graduate.

Ms. Geiger declined to be interviewed for this column and said that federal law forbade her to speak about a specific student’s performance. But in a written reply to questions, she characterized her actions as part of a “standard procedure” of “encouraging teachers to support students’ efforts to achieve academic success.”

The issue here is not a violation of rules or regulations. Ms. Geiger acted within the bounds of the teachers’ union’s contract with the city, by providing written notice to Mr. Lampros of her decision.

No, the issue is more what this episode may say about the Department of Education’s vaunted increase in graduation rates. It is possible, of course, that the confrontation over Miss Fernandez was an aberration. It is possible, too, that Mr. Lampros is the rare teacher willing to speak on the record about the pressures from administrators to pass marginal students, pressures that countless colleagues throughout the city privately grumble about but ultimately cave in to, fearful of losing their jobs if they object.

Mr. Lampros has resigned and returned to his home state, Michigan. The principal and officials in the Department of Education say that he missed 24 school days during the last year for illness and personal reasons. He missed two of the three sets of parent-teacher conferences. He also had conflicts with an assistant principal, Antonio Arocho, over teaching styles. Mr. Lampros said all of this was true.

Still, Mr. Lampros received a satisfactory rating five of the six times administrators formally observed him. He has master’s degrees in both statistics and math education and has won awards for his teaching at the college level.

“It’s almost as if you stick to your morals and your ethics, you’ll end up without a job,” Mr. Lampros said in an interview. “I don’t think every school is like that. But in my case, it was.”
Well, this very same issue is playing out in Windham as well.

Reporter David Hinckley of the Chronicle has been investigated numerous allegations of grade changing in local schools there.

Update: Barbara Popeleski has retracted her allegations in the Dec. 7 issue of the Chronicle although every explanation sounds more suspicious than reassuring.

Other allegations in Windham regarding similar grade changing allegations remain in question.

The original post was:

The latest allegation comes from a North Windham teacher, Barbara "Bunny" Popeleski who says "she was told by school administration she could not give grades higher than a 'C' because the class was below grade level while adding she was "coerced" into changing the grades."

I leave it to the reader to fill in the blank.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More Oppressive Student Legislation

The Nation is reporting yet another incredibly bad, special interest driven piece of legislation, H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (COAA). As usual with this Congress, if it sounds like something good run for the hills.
Page 411 of this 747-page bill is "Section 494(A): CAMPUS-BASED DIGITAL THEFT PREVENTION" wherein the bill's meaning takes a serious detour from its title. To prevent college students from illegally accessing copyrighted material, the section says all schools shall (when you see the word "shall" in a law, it's a requirement, not a suggestion):

1) Have "a plan for offering alternatives to illegal downloading or peer-to-peer distribution of intellectual property"
and
2) Have "a plan to explore technology based deterrents to prevent such illegal activity."

The craziest thing about this is that noncompliant schools would lose all their federal funding, for all their students. No more Pell Grants. No more federal financial aid. No more student loans. This is not just draconian punishment for students who break the law, this punishes all students at that institution even if they did nothing!

Beyond that, both requirements actually work against the point of the bill itself--implementation would likely raise school fees.

If a school requires students to sign up with an "alternative system," this means (for now) a for-profit company. Who pays for the subscription? And if a school has to use filtering software, who's going to pay for that? If schools have to prove compliance, they will have to make it mandatory--folding it into school fees is the simplest way. How does that contribute to "Affordability?"

There's no good reason for fee hikes because the requirements could never solve the "problem." Let's back up: what's the problem and why are schools being forced to solve it?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Read This to an Illiterate Voter

The issue of reading is reaching a crescendo that American academics relish. The inability of Americans to read is reaching an alarming proportion of the population. so this is always an opportunity for the experts, and specialists, and politicians to dust off their 78 rpm records and sing along to the same old tunes that we've been practicing in education since Sputnik.

Like modern day Nikita Khrushchevs, they bang their shoes on tables loudly proclaiming that schools aren't teaching kids to read, write, do math, or practice science!And they produce all the manufactured evidence any good apparatchik knows by heart;the kids, parents, schools are to blame and the corporate nomenklatura are not happy, no not at all.

And so - and everybody knows the answer - WE MUST GET TOUGH! No, not TOUGH - TOUGHER! In fact, some politicians who oppose torture can't even define what it is and until such time, we must use whatever means are necessary short of torture, whatever it means, to get these kids to READ, DO MATH, and SCIENTIFICATE!

And so the media troughs flow mightily with these pronouncements. And boy do voters eat this stuff up. Yum, big heaping spoonfuls of pain, zero tolerance, and bigotry toward youth are just about as politically pleasing as Willie Horton ads. We Americans just love hating and baiting and disrupting public schools.

But behind these recipes for delusion, a few local writers are speaking out. Perhaps the psychological bullet to the head the Bush administration has fired at intelligent journalism failed to silence these guys or maybe Connecticut was just left for dead.

Read Rick Green here.
Read Stan Simpson here.
Read Bob Herbert here.

You see, politicians Like Joe Lieberman, who get so much political mileage out of beating up on kids and teachers for not teaching math oversees a Homeland Security Department that is missing billions of unaccounted for dollars. So, yes, math is important.

And just a few weeks ago, a Connecticut Department of Education function featured a Hedge Fund business owner who dutifully lectured the Department about how incompetent schools are and what a disappointment job seekers were because of their math and reading skills. This lecture just two weeks before the Hedge Fund malfeasances imploded on Wall Street bringing Wall Street and his company to its knees. So yes, math is almost as important as integrity, trust, and a few other things.

And let us weep big wet tears for science education as well. The Department of Education is so concerned about science that the dissection of frogs is no longer taught in high schools because they caved in to religious fundamentalist sentiments in designing science competency tests. The avenue toward stimulating an interest in doctoring, nursing, biology, and a slew of other scientific endeavors was slammed shut.

But the Department is in love with the idea of complaining about science education. Mostly because the word science seems to be important.

For educators, science is important to know so you never accidentally use it. You see, any actual reading of how children actually learn, when they learn best, and so on has been known and reinforced in scientific literature for over a half century. yet to acknowledge that every child is different, learns differently, matures differently, requires patience and nurturing, and so on violates the Orwellian Laws Against Educational Reform act. Good apparatchiks believe in uniform standards and the endless raising of expectations of children that Tantalus would suffer anew from.

Reading, math and science - to cure the problem would only serve to kill the goose that lays political golden eggs. Even a fool can read the writing on that wall.
The answer is not polite conversation about how schools need to work harder.
- Rick Green

Monday, December 03, 2007

Unfixing Mind Sets

A new article about learning research in Scientific American called The Secret to Raising Smart Kids is on noteworthy interest to all of us.

It illustrates a problem we have at EO Smith. Many of our students are children of educators and a subset of those students thanks to parental inertia believe they are not only smart but entitled to more than other students. we are not unique in this regard but we certainly have a greater volume due to our proximity to UConn.

The authors of this article provide empirical evidence that such attitudes may be intellectually self-immolating for the students in later life.

The other group that this work pertains to are teachers and administrators who in their own work habits may be playing out the same failures to adapt to change, to learn something they're deficient in, and so on.

Here's a snippet, it's all good.
I wondered: Why do some students give up when they encounter difficulty, whereas others who are no more skilled continue to strive and learn? One answer, I soon discovered, lay in people’s beliefs about why they had failed.

In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. In 1972, when I taught a group of elementary and middle school children who displayed helpless behavior in school that a lack of effort (rather than lack of ability) led to their mistakes on math problems, the kids learned to keep trying when the problems got tough. They also solved many of the problems even in the face of difficulty. Another group of helpless children who were simply rewarded for their success on easy problems did not improve their ability to solve hard math problems. These experiments were an early indication that a focus on effort can help resolve helplessness and engender success.

Subsequent studies revealed that the most persistent students do not ruminate about their own failure much at all but instead think of mistakes as problems to be solved. At the University of Illinois in the 1970s I, along with my then graduate student Carol Diener, asked 60 fifth graders to think out loud while they solved very difficult pattern-recognition problems. Some students reacted defensively to mistakes, denigrating their skills with comments such as “I never did have a good rememory,” and their problem-solving strategies deteriorated.

Others, meanwhile, focused on fixing errors and honing their skills. One advised himself: “I should slow down and try to figure this out.” Two schoolchildren were particularly inspiring. One, in the wake of difficulty, pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips and said, “I love a challenge!” The other, also confronting the hard problems, looked up at the experimenter and approvingly declared, “I was hoping this would be informative!” Predictably, the students with this attitude outperformed their cohorts in these studies.

Two Views of Intelligence
Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so. Like Jonathan, such children shun effort in the belief that having to work hard means they are dumb.

The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else. After all, if you believe that you can expand your intellectual skills, you want to do just that. Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating; they offer opportunities to learn. Students with such a growth mind-set, we predicted, were destined for greater academic success and were quite likely to outperform their counterparts.

We validated these expectations in a study published in early 2007. Psychologists Lisa Blackwell of Columbia University and Kali H. Trzes­niewski of Stanford University and I monitored 373 students for two years during the transition to junior high school, when the work gets more difficult and the grading more stringent, to determine how their mind-sets might affect their math grades. At the beginning of seventh grade, we assessed the students’ mind-sets by asking them to agree or disagree with statements such as “Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t really change.” We then assessed their beliefs about other aspects of learning and looked to see what happened to their grades.

As we had predicted, the students with a growth mind-set felt that learning was a more important goal in school than getting good grades. In addition, they held hard work in high regard, believing that the more you labored at something, the better you would become at it. They understood that even geniuses have to work hard for their great accomplishments. Confronted by a setback such as a disappointing test grade, students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material.

The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well. Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests.

Such divergent outlooks had a dramatic impact on performance. At the start of junior high, the math achievement test scores of the students with a growth mind-set were comparable to those of students who displayed a fixed mind-set. But as the work became more difficult, the students with a growth mind-set showed greater persistence. As a result, their math grades overtook those of the other students by the end of the first semester—and the gap between the two groups continued to widen during the two years we followed them.

Along with Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant, I found a similar relation between mind-set and achievement in a 2003 study of 128 Columbia freshman premed students who were enrolled in a challenging general chemistry course. Although all the students cared about grades, the ones who earned the best grades were those who placed a high premium on learning rather than on showing that they were smart in chemistry. The focus on learning strategies, effort and persistence paid off for these students.

Studies such as these convince me that the Federal, State , and conservative mantras of relentlessly raising the expectations on children is LOUD wrong. It is a misinterpretation of learning studies.

It is not the expectations on students that must constantly be ratcheted up to intolerable levels of pressure and pain.

What these studies suggest is that grading should emphasize the process of learning material rather than the memorization of fact. And rather than emphasis on knowing ever-larger volumes of fact, an emphasis on encouraging students to investigate, formalize, and interrogate uncertain material can disrupt the notion that one who knows all the facts is "smart". The concept of "smartness" migrates from easily memorized material to exploring unknown material that invites more effort and curiosity.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Digital Manslaughter

The Julie Group, a worldwide group of digital forensic experts, writers like myself, legal experts, and a few interested parties continue to investigate, explore, and refine ideas about law, punishment, false accusation, and other phenomena having to do with cyberspace and digital media.

I've been involved from before the start. My blogging about Julie Amero contributed to a larger chorus of voices who eventually helped funnel the legal resources and arguments that were used to overturn a profoundly ill-advised and faulty guilty verdict. Look up "Julie Amero" in this blog or on a search engine and the richness of that story unfolds for you to explore.

Another member of the group (Karoli) recently blogged about another case that is just out of the group's scope but deserves your attention.

Megan Meier is a teenager who committed suicide by hanging herself. She was a teenager like so many we all know. Self-conscious, weight problems, suffered from ADHC, and avidly carried on a social life on the internet. The mainstream media gave the story its 15 minutes of attention and has moved on with little trace of ever having paid any attention.

Megan Meier was led to believe that an online chat acquaintance was a teen-aged boy who was attracted to her and in him she shared her trust. The "boy" turned out to be a neighbor parent who created the boy character to gain Megan's trust and use that trust to surreptitiously spy on what teens in the neighborhood might be saying about her own daughter.

And looming behind all of the subterfuge is a back story of petty animosities between the parents and teens of the two families. All of the details can be referenced online.

Megan is dead and that's the last irrefutable fact that can be made about any of this.

This is about how it happened.

We know a lot about teenagers and how they think. They remain physiologically incomplete adults until at least 19 years of age. Their brains remain incomplete until they are no longer teenagers and psychologically they remain a diverse and unknowable cacophony of luminous energies.

And we know they are infinitely sensitive and fragile.

The correspondence that sent Megan to her despair and death was abuse and there appears to be no law against it.

Megan was lured into a trust relationship that she believed was a peer to peer relationship, one teen to another. And she trusted in that relationship. The oh-so clever adult abuser at the other end of the line shaped and manipulated that trust relationship to a vulnerable dependency. Megan believed she had found a cyber-soul-mate, the neighbor had achieved a perfect con.

And once the perfect con had been achieved the neighbor exposed the con to others who shared a contempt for Megan's naive sincerity in the fictional relationship. The voice of the character changed from a loving, caring friend to someone who violated all the trust and shared spiritual goodwill of the earlier conversations into a vicious psychological attack on Megan's very real person.

The real Megan died that day. Emotionally disarmed, vulnerable, humiliated, and irredeemably violated, she checked out. We are told there is no law against this.

Is this not manslaughter performed in cyberspace executed by proxy?

This case is sufficiently and uniquely qualified and it is about time that the authorities answer the question.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):