Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Importance of Pronunciation

High school students are all encouraged to take a foreign language to qualify for college eligibility.

A careful emphasis on pronunciation is advised when one is traveling overseas using their newly acquired skills.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tracking Santa

I just discovered a very nice Norad application that tracks the progress of Santa.

You can get it here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Things Schools Forget to Teach

I came across an interesting blog a few weeks ago that talks about the things that should be, but aren't, taught in schools. I urge you to read the linked blog for details but here's a list compiled from the Positivity Blog.
The 80/20 rule – also known as The Pareto Principle – basically says that 80 percent of the value you will receive will come from 20 percent of your activities.
Parkinson’s Law - You can do things quicker than you think. This law says that a task will expand in time and seeming complexity depending on the time you set aside for it.
Boring or routine tasks can create a lot of procrastination and low-level anxiety. One good way to get these things done quickly is to batch them.

First, give value. Then, get value. Not the other way around.
Be proactive. Not reactive.

Mistakes and failures are good.

Why do people give up after just few mistakes or failures? Well, I think one big reason is because they beat themselves up way too much. But it’s a kinda pointless habit. It only creates additional and unnecessary pain inside you and wastes your precious time.

Meeting new people is fun. But it can also induce nervousness. We all want to make a good first impression and not get stuck in an awkward conversation.

The best way to do this that I have found so far is to assume rapport. This means that you simply pretend that you are meeting one of your best friends.

Use your reticular activation system to your advantage.

But the thing that I’ve discovered the last few years is that if you change your attitude, you actually change your reality. When you for instance use a positive attitude instead of a negative one you start to see things and viewpoints that were invisible to you before. You may think to yourself “why haven’t I thought about things this way before?”.

Gratitude is a simple way to make yourself feel happy.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

80-90% of what you fear will happen never really come into reality.

Don’t take things too seriously.
If your memory is anything like mine then it’s like a leaking bucket. Many of your good or great ideas may be lost forever if you don’t make a habit of writing things down.

In pretty much any experience there are always things that you can learn from it and things within the experience that can help you to grow. Negative experiences, mistakes and failure can sometimes be even better than a success because it teaches you something totally new, something that another success could never teach you.

Whenever you have a “negative experience” ask yourself: where is the opportunity in this? What is good about this situation? One negative experience can – with time – help you create many very positive experiences.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The False Learning

I have repeatedly blogged about the wholesale failure of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to address the needs of children and society. NCLB is little more than a thinly disguised national policy to destroy public school education that has succeeded.

The ubiquitously accepted and promoted meme that high-stress, high-stakes testing of memorized (and largely worthless) factoids is a pseudo-religion among the educated and uneducated alike. Chances are this policy will not change under Obama ensuring the intellectual collapse of our nation along side its economic bankruptcy.

A better policy would be to promote learning for learnings sake. This is not as altruistic a venture as might be assumed.

In a Telegraph article called, Learning by heart is 'pointless for Google generation' by Murray Wardrop, he summarizes the revaluation of meorization.
...for today's youngsters, tedious rote learning is pointless because such basic facts are only a mouse click away via Google, Wikipedia and online libraries, according to writer and businessman Don Tapscott.

Tapscott, author of the best-selling book Wikinomics and a champion of the "net generation", suggests a better approach would be to teach children to think creatively so they could learn to interpret and apply the knowledge available online.

The Canadian business executive said: "Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the internet is.

"Kids should learn about history to understand the world and why things are the way they are. But they don't need to know all the dates.

"It is enough that they know about the Battle of Hastings, without having to memorise that it was in 1066. They can look that up and position it in history with a click on Google."

Tapscott dismissed the idea that his approach is anti-learning, instead arguing that the ability to learn new things is more important than ever "in a world where you have to process new information at lightning speed".

And he believes that the old-fashioned model of education still prevalent in today's schools, involving remembering facts 'off pat', was designed for the industrial age.

He said: "This might have been good for the mass production economy, but it doesn't deliver for the challenges of the digital economy, or for the 'net gen' mind.

"Children are going to have to reinvent their knowledge base multiple times. So for them memorising facts and figures is a waste of time."

Tapscott added the brains of today's youngsters work differently to their parents', and that multi tasking with digital devices, such as using the internet while listening to their MP3 players, can help them to develop critical thinking skills.

Ofsted has reported that pupils' knowledge and understanding of key historical facts is not good enough to enable them to "form overviews and demonstrate strong conceptual understanding".

Shadow Schools Secretary, Michael Gove, has recently attacked "the move away from fact-based learning", arguing that "knowledge, intellectual capital, is what makes educational progress possible".

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Faux Teachers

The Dallas Daily News in Texas is exposing a Dallas school district that is supplying phony Social security numbers for foreigners being hired by the district to teach bilingual classes:
"There's no way we should be doing that kind of stuff," Ms. Olson said. "Even if your intention is good to help employees get paid, you can't use inappropriate procedures to do that."

Stopgap approach

The investigative report, obtained by The News through a records request, found "that the inappropriate procedure of assigning false SSNs has been systemic for several years" within DISD's alternative certification program, which prepares new teachers for state certification when they don't have traditional credentials.

A call Thursday to DISD's alternative certification office was not returned. In recent years, DISD has hired people from various countries, including Mexico and Spain, to deal with a shortage of bilingual teachers.

The fake numbers were assigned as a stopgap to expedite the hiring process, the report says. The numbers were supposed to serve as temporary identification numbers until employees received real Social Security numbers. Once employees got the real numbers, they were supposed to tell district officials so the fake ones could be replaced.

The investigation found no indication that the fake numbers were provided to the Teacher Retirement System, the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.

However, according to the report, a sampling of several fake numbers showed that they had been included in a July quarterly report sent to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Also, when investigators reviewed a sampling of personnel files, they learned that the fake numbers were entered on Department of Homeland Security and IRS forms. The forms are not transmitted outside the district but are made available to the appropriate federal agency upon request.

In July, the district discovered that 26 of the false numbers were in use after matching DISD employee Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration database. The numbers were already being used in Pennsylvania. DISD officials did not know Thursday whether the practice had caused problems for anyone holding the legitimate numbers.

The district's investigative unit, called the Office of Professional Responsibility, began looking into the fake numbers after the Texas Education Agency's division of educator investigations advised the unit in July that it had discovered the district issuing false numbers in 2004.

That year, the TEA division became aware of the practice when DISD faxed copies of about 100 new Social Security Administration cards for foreign citizens – most of whom had been assigned district-issued numbers – and asked TEA to replace the old numbers, according to the investigative report. The state office told DISD at the time that it's illegal to make up Social Security numbers and pass them off as legitimate, the report says.

'A mess'

Doug Phillips, TEA's director of investigations and fingerprinting, said his office believed the district had stopped the practice because there was no evidence that it continued. He said Thursday that he didn't know which laws forbid issuing fake Social Security numbers.

"We just knew it looked bad and smelled bad," Mr. Phillips said. "That was the first time we'd ever heard of that one."
Ah, but it gets even better...

A research service has found another link to social security tampering from within the education system...
For the past year more than 2,000 New York children have been interacting with online tutors who claimed to be from Texas but were actually based in India. The 250 tutors were hired by a private company under the federal No Child Left Behind program.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education revealed the tutors were never screened with required fingerprint and background checks before they began working with the children, according to a report by the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Richard Condon.

Mythili Sridhar, a co-owner of Socratic Learning Inc, the company that supplied the offshore tutors, admitted in a letter that the tutors did not live in Texas. Ms. Sridhar, who trains the tutors, wrote that they "tutor from there homes," failing to correctly spell the word "their," according to the New York Sun.

"Socratic blatantly violated its contract and we are suspending their contract pending further action by the state," a Department of Education spokesman, Andrew Jacob, said. "We will notify parents of any students who enrolled with Socratic Learning this fall they should select" a new provider.

The company's Web site advertises its primary service as "online one-on-one tutoring with highly qualified college degreed instructors." Last year, the department reminded the company to send a list of its online tutors but it never did so, the report said. Outside providers of tutoring services are required to submit a list of their employees to an electronic database maintained by the Department of Education, which then conducts the background checks.

In November, Carmela Cuddy, an official from the education department's Office of Personnel Investigation, advised Socratic Learning that it would not grant security clearance to any staff members who didn't have Social Security numbers.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Bush Depression Saves CT Schools From State 'Reform'

Yesterday, the Courant reported that the State is far too broke to spend any more money on bad ideas the State's Department of Education reforms.

The much-touted effort to improve quality and standards at high schools across Connecticut has fallen victim to the state's dismal economy.

Bowing to financial pressures, state Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan said officials will put off implementing the changes for another two years.

As recently as last month, officials had hoped to move forward with the reform effort, and planned to begin implementing the changes next fall, starting with 20 to 25 school districts at a two-year cost of $16 million. They argued that the tough economy made it even more important to invest in changes to make high school students better prepared for higher education and the workforce.

But as state budget projections grew bleaker, McQuillan said it became clear that any costly new initiatives would not be viable.

"That $16 million is simply out of reach now," he said.
Thank God. The only thing better would be the complete dissolution of the State Department of Malfeasant Education. These bastards having been screwing up Connecticut Education expensively, publicly, and embarrassingly for far too long.

Time for the State to really save money and get rid of these parasites.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Julie Amero is Free!

After 534 days of waiting for a decision, Julie Amero's sentence has been reduced from the original, potential 40 year prison sentence to a $100 misdemeanor.

The belated arrival of justice is a welcome relief for all of us who have supported Julie's innocence. She and her husband Wes can now, finally, begin life anew.

But in those 534 days, Julie was treated like sex criminal and lost a job at a local Hardware supply chain when the employees of that store decided to presume guilt instead of innocence. And Julie's life was a life of fear that some irrational soul might attempt to cause physical harm.

Justice is just a reminder that innocence exists. But it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that Julie's life is made whole after the ravages false witness and the effects of that on her pregnancy, self-worth, and livelihood.

See: Rick Green's blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Education in an Economic Depression

The Boston Globe is running an interesting speculative article about how the next economic depression will differ from the last century. Called Depression 2009: What would it look like?
Higher education, another big expense, would probably take a hit as well. Students unable to afford private universities would opt for public universities, students unable to afford four-year colleges would opt for community colleges, and students unable to afford community college wouldn't go at all. With fewer applicants, admissions standards would drop, with spots that once would have been filled by more qualified, poorer students going instead to wealthier applicants who before would not have made the cut. Some universities would simply shrink. In Boston, a city almost uniquely dependent on higher education, the results - fewer students renting apartments, going to restaurants and bars, opening bank accounts, buying books, taking taxis - would be particularly acute.

A depression would last too long for unemployed college graduates to ride out the downturn in business or law school, so people would have to change career plans entirely. One place that could see an uptick in applications and interest is government work: Its relative stability, combined with a suspicion of free-market ideology that would accompany a truly disastrous downturn, could attract more people and even help the public sector shake off its image as a redoubt for the mediocre and the unambitious.

. . .

In many ways, though, today's depression would not look like the last one because it would not look like much at all. As Warren wrote in an e-mail, "The New Depression would be largely invisible because people would experience loss privately, not publicly."

In the public imagination, the Depression was a galvanizing time, the crucible in which the Greatest Generation came of age and came together. That is, at best, only partly true. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam has found that, for many, the Depression was isolating: Kiwanis clubs, PTAs, and other social groups lost around half their members from 1930 to 1935. And other studies on economic hardship suggest that it tends to sap people's civic engagement, often permanently.

"When people become unemployed in the Great Depression, they hunker down, they pull in from everybody." Putnam says.

That effect, Putnam believes, would only be more pronounced today. The Depression was, famously, a boom time for movies - people flocked to cheap double features to escape the dreariness of their everyday poverty. Today, however, movies are no longer cheap. Nor is a day at the ballpark.

Much of a modern depression would unfold in the domestic sphere: people driving less, shopping less, and eating in their houses more. They would watch television at home; unemployed parents would watch over their own kids instead of taking them to day care. With online banking, it would even be possible to have a bank run in which no one leaves the comfort of their home.

There would be darker effects, as well. Depression, unsurprisingly, is higher in economically distressed households; so is domestic violence. Suicide rates go up in tough times, marriage rates and birthrates go down. And while divorce rates usually rise in recessions, they dropped during the Great Depression, in part because unhappy couples found they simply couldn't afford separation.

In precarious times, hunkering down can become not simply a defense mechanism, but a worldview. Grant McCracken, an anthropologist affiliated with MIT who studies consumer behavior, calls this distinction "surging" vs. "dwelling" - the difference, as he wrote recently on his blog, between believing that the world "teems with new features, new things, new opportunities, new excitement" and thinking that life's pleasures come from counting one's blessings and appreciating and holding onto what one already has. Economic uncertainty, he argues, drives us toward the latter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gates Education Foundation 1.0 Fails, What Next? You'll Be Sorry You Asked.

Chester E. Finn, Jr. writing in Forbes magazine updates us on the thinking of the Gates Foundation and gives us some insight into their failure to make a difference (aside from spending big bucks on a lot of dubious programs). Was the Gates Foundation interested in education or just indoctrinating more schools with Windows based systems? The question is worth asking because the outcomes are so weak that the only measurable effect is publicity for the Gates brand name.
There's much to like in the new plan, beginning with the foundation's confession that version 1.0, focused on creation of small high schools, didn't turn out very well, save for several networks of high-performance charters such as KIPP, Yes-Prep and Achievement First.

Version 2.0 continues the Gates emphasis on successful high-school completion and college-readiness for disadvantaged young people and adds a parallel thrust toward college completion. It features laudable--and measurable--targets for both.

It includes welcome attention to developing national standards and tests, markedly strengthening education data (stay tuned for the Fordham Institute's own contribution on that front next week), enhancing research into "what works," accelerating the development and use of education technology and strengthening teachers across multiple fronts. Incorporated therein is piloting of performance-related pay and tenure systems.

Two cheers are surely deserved. It's too early to know, however, whether a third is warranted. For what was emphasized in Seattle, and in the materials released so far, is mostly an educator's (and student's) version of education reform, not a parent's, taxpayer's or policymaker's version. Indeed, the word "parent" scarcely appears, nor "choice," "charter" or "governance," nor much by way of politics, policy or finance.

Though Version 2.0 includes a few controversial items--national standards and performance pay foremost among them--it's generally non-confrontational and educator-pleasing, even teacher-centric. (It seemed particularly odd, given the praise lavished on KIPP et al, to find no mention in the documents of building more high-quality charter networks or the policy surroundings and human-capital arrangements in which these can flourish.)
Yet again, schools are being corrupted by the infusion of high-rolling foundations financing national testing schemes that have yet to produce an iota of improved educational practice. And performance pay plans? Come on. If Gates can't release bug-free software with performance pay, waht are the chances...?

I'd call the new initiative Dumb Ideas 2.0.

While it is their money to burn, it is our schools and children used as sacrificial lambs. I'd rather suffer with creative under-funded schools than luxury, centralized memorization boot camps, but that's just the educator in me talking.

The Fordham Institute is a neo-con -cough- "think-tank" artifact of the bad-old Bush administration's policies that Gates helped finance. It will be interesting to see if Obama embraces the urban education myths of NCLB that institutions like this hood-winked the public with for the past twenty years or if Obama steers into programs that actually meet the needs of children.

I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Along Came Bob Rose

In my education reading I include a visit to the Courant's Education section and I browse and sometimes contribute to the readers comments.

Recently I came across an interesting entry and received permission to reproduce it here. Here is our correspondence in full.
Would you mind if I blogged about your recent Hartford Courant response about the Montessori results?


I would be delighted! I've been trying to get someone interested in this for years. On my listserv we are in the process of proving the idea once again.

FYI, I will append a three-page description of our original study below, and I'll also attach the same document as an MS Word attachment. (In case the number columns in the Table don't print out straight in the email version.

It's almost unbelievable that no one has ever checked out this simple idea!



In 2002-2003 I did on on-line survey of “Teachers Applying Whole Language” to test my belief that teaching children to write the alphabet to a definable level of fluency (incorporating both rate and legibility), and to my pleasure, I found an overwhelmingly positive correlation. The following school year (2003-2004) I started my own Internet listserv, and recruited five kindergarten teachers who wanted to help me reproduce the findings. The results were just as positive.

I wrote to the editors of about a dozen education and educational psychology journals, describing our controlled study and the only positive request for a manuscript submission was from the manuscript editor of the Harvard Educational Review. (The assistant editor of one well known journal simply emailed me, “That couldn’t possibly be true!”)

I immediately submitted a slightly different draft from the one that follows, but it was summarily rejected by the referees of the H.E.R.

As far as I know, this is (surprisingly) the only study of a possible relationship between early practice printing alphabet letters and subsequent reading success. The five kindergarten teachers involved are trying to spread word of this method privately, but so far with no success. Between the five, they have over a century of classroom experience, and I could share their email addresses with you, if you like.

Most K-1 teachers are aware that their students who are best at reading are also best at printing. However, they are not aware of the causal relationship between early printing practice and the avoidance of subsequent reading problems.

I believe the general public believes that school curricula already have fluency criteria for printing letters in K-1, and would be surprised to learn the fact that they do not.

I hope you will post the following study in the hopes someone will attempt to reproduce it. If there is truly a massive positive correlation between early printing fluency and subsequent reading success (as long as “dyslexia” has not already supervened), I believe it will be one of the most important social science discoveries in history.


By Robert V. Rose, MD (retired)

Submitted March 15, 2004


The possible relationship between practice printing alphabet letters and learning to read in the earliest grades has not been adequately explored. The present article describes preliminary evidence that this relationship may be important, and that reading difficulties may relate directly to inadequate printing practice in kindergarten and first-grade

Historically, many authorities on the subject of literacy instruction have stressed the importance of adequate practice in printing alphabet letters. The first-century Roman writer and rhetorician, Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca A.D. 35-98?) wrote that with regard to becoming literate, “Too slow a hand impedes the mind.”

In 1912, Maria Montessori wrote, in effect, that teaching young children to print letters is easy, that it is easy to teach children to read after they have practiced printing alphabet letters, but that it is difficult to teach children to read if they have not practiced writing them. 1

Marilyn Jager Adams noted that prior to the onset of the twentieth century the “spelling drill” was the principal means of inducing literacy for several millennia. 2

More recently, several published authors have called attention to the dearth of research on the possible link between printing practice and the acquisition of literacy in young children, but objective studies of the relationship are still lacking.3, 4

This author has made the assumption that emphasis on practicing printing alphabet letters increases the fluency with which children can print them. It was therefore decided to examine the relationship between fluency at printing the alphabet in preliterate children, and their subsequent success in learning to read well.

This method suffers the disadvantage of requiring children to be able to recite the alphabet in order to print the different letters both legibly and at a rate sufficient to demonstrate that they have practiced enough to have become “printing fluent.” However, it was considered superior to other methods of assessing fluency in printing alphabet letters in young children.

Such children have limited attention spans. It was therefore decided to measure the number of alphabet letters children write during a timed twenty-second interval, and multiply that number by three in order to obtain a “letters-per-minute,” or “LPM,” value for each child.

During the early months of 2002, five first-grade (second year of school) teachers were enlisted from teacher-related internet listservs, to do a cooperative study of the relationship between fluency in writing the alphabet, and concomitant reading skill.

The printing rate of each child was listed by teachers submitting classroom data, and each was matched by the subjective teacher assessment of the child’s relative reading skill. The assessments were A, B, C, D and E, to designate “excellent”, “above average”, “average”, “below average” and “possible reading problem”, respectively.

A total of 94 children in five first-grade classrooms were studied. When the letter grades were converted to numbers (4, 3, 2, 1, 0), “average relative reading ability” could be determined for subgroups of students, defined as printing at different rates.

Among the sixteen children who printed faster than 40 LPM, the average reading score was 3.6. Among the 33 children who printed from 30 to 39 LPM, the average was 2.9. For the 26 children writing at 20-29 LPM, it was 2.3. For the 21 children who wrote more slowly than 20 LPM, it was 1.6.

During this current school year, a number of kindergarten (first year of school) teachers have submitted series of similar studies on their classrooms to the k1writing listserv, accessible at By the end of February, 2004, a total of five teachers had submitted serial data on a total of 106 kindergarten students, including data for the month of February.

The relative reading skills of the kindergartners were ranked according to a three-level system: “reading better than grade level”, “doing well at grade level” and “lagging behind expectations”. In the opinions of their teachers, six children were already reading at second-grade level or above.

Statistical analysis of the correlation again yielded similar results. Among the eighteen children who printed the alphabet faster than 40 LPM, 72% were “above grade level,” and only one was “lagging.” Among the eighteen children who wrote more slowly than 20 LPM, none was above grade level in reading skill, and half of them were “lagging” in this regard.

A tabulation of these findings is revealing. It is informative to look down the column of LPM figures for these 106 children, and observe the correlations. These data are presented in Table One.

The correlation between reading skill and fluency at printing alphabet letters in kindergarten and first-grade is readily apparent. This correlation was known to each of the experienced [kindergarten] teachers participating in this study even before the study was done. The experiment, then, was designed to answer the question as to whether this correlation is one of causation, or merely coincident with some other unidentified factor.

The kindergarten teachers involved have each been able to achieve a level of printing fluency that is considerably above what is generally achieved by American kindergarten students. The printing rates of their kindergarten children are comparable to the rates of the first-grade students in the original study, whose teachers had NOT been previously monitoring printing rate. If the cause of the correlation were in the opposite direction, and it is having learned to read which drives printing fluency, then one would expect the correlation to weaken in classrooms where printing fluency has been intentionally contrived. However, we here see the correlation has persisted intact.

This year, each of the kindergarten teachers has been making a dedicated effort to induce objectively measurable printing fluency in the students as the school year progresses. Each of the five kindergarten teachers has emphatically proclaimed that this practice is found to be immensely helpful in turning young children into readers.

A number of the classrooms have high percentages of poverty and minority children, and none of the children could read at the beginning of the kindergarten school year. It was found that printing fluency, which we arbitrarily defined as 40 LPM or faster, is achieved at different times by different children, and that such fluency is an excellent indicator of when children will learn to read, as well as indicating which children have become successful at reading at any particular point in time.

It was also observed that printing fluency gradually improves in almost all cases with continued practice writing the alphabet letters. Failure to cooperate during the time allocated by teachers for dedicated printing practice seems to be the main limiting factor in the development of printing skill.

None-the-less, our data suggest that fluency in writing the letters of the alphabet is a reasonable goal for all normal children by the end of first-grade.

But it appears that printing fluency does not at all correlate with reading ability much beyond the first-grade level. One teacher submitted data on 54 fourth-graders (fifth year of school), demonstrating no difference at all in the median alphabet-printing rates between children who had been formally identified as reading below grade level, and the other students.5

It is also apparent that printing skill is by no means a necessary prerequisite for literacy. Many children learn to read before they are fluent at printing alphabet letters. On the other hand, virtually all children who lag in reading skill in K-1 are dysfluent printers. That this lack of skill is remediable through continued dedicated practice, extended over time, appears to be of fundamental importance.

If the attainment of fluent ability to print alphabet letters in the earliest grades generally assures early success in reading, this fact challenges some current theoretical conceptions regarding the nature of reading disabilities.

Our evidence suggests both that printing fluency confers the ability to name random letters more rapidly than 40 per minute6, and that the ability to phonetically write words fluently, possible only after the attainment of fluency in printing letters, confers phonemic awareness.

Adams wrote, “It has been shown that the act of writing newly learned words results in a significant strengthening of their perceptual integrity in recognition. This is surely a factor underlying the documented advantages of programs that emphasize writing and spelling activities.”7

Montessori also considered practice writing alphabet letters to be crucial, and wrote, “We shall soon see that the child, on hearing the word, or on thinking of a word he already knows, will see, in his mind’s eye, all the letters, necessary to compose the word, arrange themselves. He will reproduce this vision with a facility most surprising to us.”8

While such rhetorical explanations of the value of writing practice have been seen as nebulous in the past, converging advances in the fields of pattern recognition by artificial intelligence and of the cerebral physiology involved in visual pattern recognition and categorization may render them more plausible.

It is emphasized that these studies are limited and preliminary, but their results underscore the pressing need to either confirm or disaffirm their apparent implications.

The author wishes to acknowledge the participation of the classroom teachers who did and submitted these comparison studies on their students. They are Libby Rhoden, Pasadena, Texas; Sue Fisher, Kailua Kona, Hawaii; Ann Vasconcellos, Homewood, Illinois; Helen Wilder, Middlesboro, Kentucky; Nancy Creech, Eastpointe, Michigan; Ruby Clayton, Indianapolis, Indiana; Alice A. Pickel, Phoenix, Arizona; Lori Jackson, Mission, South Dakota; Lalia Kerr, Nova Scotia; Jennifer Runkle, Ohio.


Kindergarten Students Printing Level in Letters Per Minute (LPM)

LPM rate:

> 40 LPM 30-39 LPM 20-29 LPM < 20 LPM

78** 39** 33** 27** 24* 18*

72** 39** 33** 27** 24* 18*

66** 39** 33** 27** 24* 18*

60** 39** 33* 27** 24o 18*

60* 39** 33* 27** 24o 18*

57** 39** 33* 27** 24* 18*

54** 39* 33* 27* 21* 18 o

54** 39 o 33 o 27* 21* 15*

51** 36** 30** 27* 21* 15*

51** 36** 30** 27* 21* 15 o

48** 36** 30** 27* 21* 15 o

48** 36** 30** 27o 21* 15 o

48** 36** 30** 27o 21* 12*

48* 36* 30* 24** 21* 12 o

48* 36* 30* 24* 21* 12 o

42** 36* 30* 24* 21 o 6 o

42* 36 o 30* 24* 21 o 3 o

42 o 30* 3 o


In the opinion of respective classroom teachers:

KEY: o lagging in reading skill

* on level

** above level in reading


1. Montessori, Maria. The Montessori Method, Dover Publications, 2002, pp.266-7

2. Adams, Marilyn Jager. Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print, MIT Press, 1990, p.388

3. Sofia Vernon and Emilia Ferreiro. "Writing Development: A Neglected Variable in the Consideration of Phonological Awareness." Harvard Educational Review 69:4 (1999): pp.395-415.

4. Groff, Patrick. "Teaching Phonics: Letter-to-phoneme, Phoneme-to-letter, or Both?” Reading and Writing Quarterly 17 (fall, 2001): pp.291-306.

5. Data provided by Marianne Morin, Watkins Glen, New York.

6. Data on kindergarten classroom correlation between letter-naming and printing fluency provided by Sue Fisher, Hawaii.

7. Adams, Op. cit., pp.230-231


Bob Rose

151 Sharp View Lane

Jasper, Georgia, USA 30143

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mr. Obvious Endorses...

I assume the people who read my blog are intelligent so I suspect I'm preaching to the choir but here are my endorsements nonetheless.

It is hard to imagine anyone voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. I can't fathom the kind of self-inflicted masochism that could make sense of the inane buffoonery that Palin has brought to American politics.

This celebration of ignorance and flat-out stupidity is the antithesis of what American education is supposed to prevent yet this woman somehow was granted a 4-year college degree. This is alarming on many levels. First, that degrees come this cheaply and secondly that there is a voting constituency that "thinks" that utter nonsense is knowledge.

Obama is a clear winner though I still have serious reservations about his education policy. NCLB must end. Period.


I started supporting Joe Courtney when I met him at a fund-raiser after he had lost a congressional election against Rob Simmons. At that time, Joe had published a scathing article explaining what was wrong with the Bush administration at a time when the country was in love with Bush.

Since then Joe came back to unseat Simmons and is a strong, successful congressman for Eastern Connecticut. His background in the Connecticut legislature on health care will become invaluable as the Democrats work to make sense of such legislation.

Joe is the only choice on the ballot. The republican challenger is a throwback to the Bush years. Good riddance to them.

Vote Joe.


Bryan Hurlburt is just so damned squeaky clean and smart that it makes a city raised boy like myself want to dishevel his hair just once. Bryan and I have become friends after I campaigned hard for Susan Eastwood.

Bryan has done a great job in the Connecticut legislature for the area and deserves re-election. He's far better qualified than the republican challenger so that makes the choice even easier.

Now the fact that I like Bryan doesn't preclude the fact that I petition him at every chance I get to make CT government smaller and to have CT government spend less on Ct government. Nothing is more important to sustainability over time.


Finally, good luck to Al Franken in Minnesota.

May Elizabeth Dole and every other idiot complicit in the Bush reign of terror lose big.

And may the rat-bastard Joe Lieberman forever remain a pariah to the Democratic party. Rot in hell, Joe. May your cellmates be Bush, Cheney, and Rice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Altered States - Evolving Readers

The effect of the internet is being observed by researchers who are beginning to understand that the assimilation of large volumes of information is changing the way people operate.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article questioning whether browsing the internet is reading called Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? by Motoko Rich.
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills. A recent study of more than 700 low-income, mostly Hispanic and black sixth through 10th graders in Detroit found that those students read more on the Web than in any other medium, though they also read books. The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.

Elizabeth Birr Moje, a professor at the University of Michigan who led the study, said novel reading was similar to what schools demand already. But on the Internet, she said, students are developing new reading skills that are neither taught nor evaluated in school.

One early study showed that giving home Internet access to low-income students appeared to improve standardized reading test scores and school grades. “These were kids who would typically not be reading in their free time,” said Linda A. Jackson, a psychology professor at Michigan State who led the research. “Once they’re on the Internet, they’re reading.”

Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Scientists speculate that reading on the Internet may also affect the brain’s hard wiring in a way that is different from book reading.

“The question is, does it change your brain in some beneficial way?” said Guinevere F. Eden, director of the Center for the Study of Learning at Georgetown University. “The brain is malleable and adapts to its environment. Whatever the pressures are on us to succeed, our brain will try and deal with it.”

Some scientists worry that the fractured experience typical of the Internet could rob developing readers of crucial skills. “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive neuroscientist at Yale who has studied brain scans of children reading.

But This Is Reading Too

Web proponents believe that strong readers on the Web may eventually surpass those who rely on books. Reading five Web sites, an op-ed article and a blog post or two, experts say, can be more enriching than reading one book.

“It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”
And in a newer article Reuters investigates whether something new is happening. In an article called Is surfing the Internet altering your brain? by Belinda Goldsmith we get more clues,
Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.

But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.

Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.

"We're seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills," Small told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"They will know when the best response to an email or Instant Message is to talk rather than sit and continue to email."

In his newly released fourth book "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," Small looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information.

Small, the director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA, said the brain was very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought by technology.

He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.

"The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others," said Small.

"We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is an advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution."
So the next question is why are our public schools so technically inept?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The End of Independent Schools?

Forbes Magazine has an interesting article by Maurna R. Desmond called The Coming College Bubble?

I believe it is a harbinger of the fate many secondary independent schools will also face. Public education will be confronting a financial crisis very soon.

From the article:
Home builders and banks aren't the only ones facing economic headwinds these days. America's undercapitalized independent colleges are staring at a spiral of major threats to solvency as penny-pinching students and parents consider cheaper options, and funding sources dry up. As a result, they could be the next bubble industry to pop.

The crush is coming fast. According to a September 2008 study by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, of the 504 member institutions surveyed, one-third said the credit crunch had hurt enrollment, and about a fifth of respondents said they had fewer returning students than expected. Roughly the same number said they had a smaller incoming freshman class than expected.

But while head counts slide, needs rise. Demand for student aid is up, but charitable donations from foundations and individuals will fall during a downturn. Ditto for investment returns. And thanks to tanking tax revenue, federal aid may take a hit, too. Taken together, many independent institutions start to look vulnerable. "They are financially precarious for sure," says Sandy Baum, a Skidmore College economist and senior policy analyst at the College Board.

"Country Club" Closed?

The crunch will be particularly bitter for the institutions that drained coffers to build "country club colleges" complete with luxury dormitories, spas and top of the line sports complexes to lure choice students, hoping that a sharper crowd would lead to more accretive diplomas, entering a profitable cycle of more successful alumni and increased donations.

Many had little choice. "If a college decides we're not going to have fancy dorms or build a shiny new gym, students are not going to that college," says Baum. "People are not choosing the lowest price college, and that's a consumer issue, not a public policy problem."

Adds William Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin: "The market is choosing quality regardless of incremental costs."

Blowing Bubbles

This is at a price. College tuition has increased by more than three times the rate of inflation for the last 20 years, despite U.S. wages flat-lining since 2000. The average tuition at a private four-year institution grew 6.6% year-over-year in 2007 to $23,712, according to the College Board. This is pricey in itself, but when you add in all the luxe living expenses, the total bill touches $50,000 a year at the high end.

To the chagrin of financial advisers, students are increasingly turning to higher interest private loans to meet the burgeoning college bill. Private loans made up 24% of total education loans in 2006-07, up from 6% a decade ago. In 2008, students secured $20 billion in private loans--amounting to roughly a fifth of total undergraduate borrowings for the year. Taxpayers pony up, too, chipping in an average $4,000 per student through government loans and grants to private institutions, which usually come up with $3,720 in aid (often in the form of discounted tuitions) as well.

It's a scenario familiar to anyone who watched the housing bubble blow. "We are at a trend line that cannot be sustained," says Matt Snowling, an analyst at Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, who covers the student loan industry. "Tuition must go down, or there will be limited demand at high-priced private schools."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The 'Lost' Kerouac/Burroughs Novel Surfaces

George Kimball writing in the Boston Phoenix documents the long, strange journey of a book co-authored by William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

Kimball's article is a delicious read all unto itself as he illuminates the history of the authors and main characters as well as a back-story that has kept this book from being published for decades.

English teachers studying the Beat genre will welcome this peek into the earliest writings and adventures of America's literary giants.

From the article,
More artifact than art
That a tale so fascinating to the press might also lend itself to dramatic adaptation occurred to many. In his introduction to Hippos, Grauerholz notes that, over the years, recognizable aspects of the Carr-Kammerer killing have cropped up “in novels and memoirs . . . by Chandler Brossard, William Gaddis, Alan Harrington, John Clellon Holmes, Anatole Broyard, Howard Mitcham, and even James Baldwin.”

Ginsberg, in a school project, was the first of the inner circle to attempt a fictional treatment, but when word of The Bloodsong, Ginsberg’s work-in-progress for a Columbia creative-writing class, reached the university administration, the future poet was summoned to the dean’s office and threatened with expulsion lest he further damage Columbia’s already-sullied reputation with his “smutty” novel.

Ginsberg dutifully discontinued his project, and Kerouac and Burroughs commenced writing And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks shortly thereafter. (The title was a touch of quintessentially Burroughsian whimsy, appropriated from a radio broadcast describing a circus fire.) The two alternated chapters in a curious format that led to a sometimes-bewildering three levels of authorship.

The chapters are pseudonymously narrated by “Will Dennison” (the Burroughs narrator) and “Mike Ryko” (the Kerouac narrator), and when the book made the rounds of publishing houses in 1945, the author credits read “by William Lee and John Kerouac” — the same bylines that would grace the first published work of each, Burroughs’s Junky (1953) and Kerouac’s earlier conventional mainstream novel The Town and the City (1950). Not until they followed Ginsberg’s Howl with their own respective signature works, Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959), did they become Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

The publishing world reacted with sublime indifference to the Hippos manuscript, which after numerous rejections was eventually stowed away under a floorboard in the home of Kerouac’s mother, and the unread book assumed a certain legendary underground cachet. (I had heard about it even before Kerouac’s death, and that was 40 years ago.)

An excerpt from the book can be found here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Test Score Derivatives and Property Values

At the last Board of Education meeting we received a set of SAT test score figures dutifully compared to similar other schools and EO Smith did better than in the previous year. so we dutifully and ritualistically examined this number and that number and genuinely gleaned some pride in the student's relative success.

Of course the minute you try to come to a conclusion about what all the numbers might be telling us, we're warned there isn't enough data to actually do anything with so basically the scores are pretty much worthless accept as a form of town vs town reading, writing, and math handicap metric for those who might be betting on such comparisons.

A year earlier, when scores were received that were much lower, I suggested that we not pay too much attention to the scores as they would fluctuate up and down from no real pedagogical phenomenon other than a different group of kids taking the test.

But when scores go down, the reaction was not so ho hum. The response is more like, "But our housing prices are tied to these scores!"

Ah, the good old days when housing prices were mythologically coupled to test scores of the shiny students living in those artificially priced homes.

Those days are gone thanks to the Wall St meltdown. Some of the high-stakes of testing are gone now. Homeowners can get off the asses of students to get ever-higher test scores for the sake of leveraging the worth of a home to the next impossibly extravagant magnitude of worth.

You see, schools bought into this fantasy as much as anyone. Our curriculum includes courses that examine stock market issues because we wanted our students to be able to navigate the financial reality of the day.

But we weren't alone. Colleges, universities, and high schools all over America studied this stuff. And you know what? For all the study, nobody asked the critical questions that could have averted the disaster to come.

Isn't it funny that the one thing most worth learning - critical thinking - has been sanitized out of the system so that the system could delude itself into a state of sudden fiscal self-immolation.

We need to open schools back up to thinkers, bullies, gifted teachers, imperfect students, rebels, poor boys, bastards, knuckleheads, teachers who offend our taste, people who don't share our values, kids who want to be left alone, kids who get socially promoted, kids who can't read, or write, or do math but who make the kid next to them wonder what the hell they might be thinking.

Critical thinking doesn't come as cheaply as real estate these days. It comes as a tension between the complacent and the outrageous. And that's a good thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An Important Social Skills Study

Yesterday the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released an interesting press release detailing a new study on the link between schools that encourage social skills along with academic achievement.
Ten years after graduation, high-school students who had been rated as conscientious and cooperative by their teachers were earning more than classmates who had similar test scores but fewer social skills, said a new University of Illinois study.

The study's findings challenge the idea that racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic gaps in educational attainment and earnings can be narrowed solely by emphasizing cognitive skills, said Christy Lleras, a University of Illinois assistant professor of human and community development.

"It's important to note that good schools do more than teach reading, writing, and math. They socialize students and provide the kinds of learning opportunities that help them to become good citizens and to be successful in the labor market," she said.

"Unless we address the differences in school climates and curriculum that foster good work habits and other social skills, we're doing a huge disservice to low-income kids who may be entering the labor market right after high school, especially in our increasingly service-oriented economy," Lleras added.

She cited responses to employer surveys that stress the need for workers who can get along well with each other and get along well with the public.

The U of I study analyzed data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, which followed a diverse group of 11,000 tenth graders for 10 years, tracking not only their scores on standard achievement tests but teacher appraisals of such qualities as the students' work habits, their ability to relate well to peers, and their participation in extracurricular activities, a proxy for the ability to interact well with both students and adults.

The teachers' assessments were then compared with the students' self-reported educational attainments and earnings 10 years after high-school graduation.

Even after controlling for students' achievement test scores, family socioeconomic status, and educational attainment, Lleras found that such social skills as conscientiousness, cooperativeness, and motivation were as important as test scores for success in the workplace.

"You could argue that the reason these behaviors matter is that kids who display them are more likely to obtain a college degree and in turn have higher earnings. Certainly that is part of it, but even after I controlled for educational attainment, there were still significant effects," she said.

To measure conscientiousness, the researcher ranked teacher responses to such questions as: Does this student usually work hard for good grades? How often does the student complete homework assignments? How often is this student tardy to class?

To measure cooperativeness and sociability, she ranked teacher assessments of how well a student related to other students. Teachers were also asked to rank a student's motivation or passivity.

Participation in sports and school organizations also had strong effects on a student's future educational and occupational success.

"For African American and Hispanic students only, participation in fine arts led to significantly better earnings compared to whites. This suggests that different activities teach kids different kinds of skills and learned behaviors," she said.

Lleras also emphasized the importance of improving school quality.

"Low-income and racial minority students continue to be concentrated in lower-quality schools with fewer opportunities for extracurricular participation, larger class sizes, and lower teacher quality, all factors that are correlated with poorer school-related attitudes and behavior," she said.

"If the few resources that low-performing schools have are used solely for testing and preparing students for tests, which is what many schools are doing to meet the requirements set forth in No Child Left Behind, these schools will continue to face challenges," she said.

"My findings show that the most successful students are those who have not only high achievement test scores but also the kinds of social skills and behaviors that are highly rewarded by employers in the workplace," she said.
As you can see, some very interesting conclusions can be extrapolated from this research.

the importance of sports, arts, individualized instruction, and the continuing cancer of NCLB are all worthwhile discussions.

Pumping the Stomach of McEducation

Last Night's debate reminded me of what a certifiable mess the McCain Republicans are on education.

From the New York Times transcript:

MCCAIN: Well, sure. I'm sure you're aware, Senator Obama, -snip-

Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it.


And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children -- precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we'll find and we'll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we'll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.

OMG! McCain is off his nut on this one. NCLB is a failure by every definition of the word.

And this idea that a woman who happens to have delivered a downs child is somehow magically qualified to speak to the issues is insane as believing that Palin is a Russian diplomat by virtue of proximity to a geographic border.

The Republicans are frankly embarrassments to intelligent people.

But the McCain statement that was absolutely over the top was this one:
MCCAIN: We need to encourage programs such as Teach for America and Troops to Teachers where people, after having served in the military, can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which -- or have the certification that some are required in some states.
How does serving in the military qualify someone to walk into a classroom and teach?

Troops To Teachers currently trains Troops to become teachers but doesn't waive the state certification requirements.

How safe would Americans feel if GI Joe took over a classroom with a post-traumatic stress condition and no teacher training? It seems to me that McCain's recommendation here is foolhardy and reckless at face value.

And, btw, Obama's answers were only slightly better. The nation needs bold education reform and revamping and both candidates are redecorating the bulletin boards.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Aren't Public Schools This Sophisticated?

In this video, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh shows the learning environment that Bonobo apes have enjoyed a considerable learning curve with. She may be creating the next learning gap in education. That is between our kids and intelligent animals. By the time special interests get through with this... oh, well, I'll leave that to your imagination.

I'm betting that all the John Holt advocates will smile. If only those bonobos didn't spend so much time playing video games...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Just Making It Up

Being unemployed allows me to listen to the news on television in the background.

For all of the values-based sermons we get from politicians, this political season is awash in one lie after another, apologies for the lying, and then a resumption of the same lies. A recent study whose link I have long lost explained that once a lie is assimilated into the brain, it's difficult to dislodge.

Ergo, a tsunami of political lies that stick so well that the conversations we hear pundits discussing sound like a lost Lewis Carroll novel.

Likewise, on CNBC today I listened to one clueless commentator after another fabricate a future that is possible but improbable. Early in the day the market rose and the commentators declared that we "avoided a depression". By noon, they even questioned the depth of a looming recession. Late in the day, they decided the recession would be a correction.

On occasion an expert would talk about inflationary holocausts which seemed to make the commentators heads explode. Won't shopping solve that? When do we shop again? Is it safe NOW? (As if the utter dissolution of capitalism were a video game in which you just get up after dying and jump back into the market after a week of false regret).

By the end of day trading, after a $250 Billion dollar infusion of cash, the market closed down approx 70 points. Go figure. Maybe it means the recession will be not so mild as thought at 4 p.m.

I guess we so often worry that students copy the good work of others, we fail to realize the fabulism required to function in a society lying its way though life. Science and reason have long succumbed to just making it all up.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Education, H-1B Fraud, and Taxes

Computerworld (hat tip: Slashdot) reports on a new study that finally sheds light on the problems of H-1B work visas for foreign workers. The report asserts significant problems and fraud.

As I sit here after months of unemployment, this is not news to myself or others in the software industry. Our career throats have been getting slit for the last ten years and nobody, NOBODY gives a care.

But for what its worth this report validates the concern that many of us have been warning of.

First, H-1B workers often have questionable educational credentials whereas American college graduates are routinely denigrated for their quite legitimate achievements. By undercutting the hard work of legitimately qualified American workers, corporations have managed to undermine both public education and the funding of education.

The combination of creating an uneven playing field tilted toward inexpensive foreign labor and the deflation of wages for those who've paid taxes all their lives to provide the business infrastructures and opportunities that exist for business, corporations are imploding the American Dream of the ability of Americans to make a decent living.

Here's a selection from the Computerworld article by Patrick Thibodeau:
An internal report by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examining the H-1B visa program has found evidence of forged documents and fake degrees, and even "shell" companies giving addresses of fake locations.

The USCIS report, released Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), indicates that serious violations of the H-1B program by employers are so common that one in five visas are affected by either fraud or "technical violations." This means that potentially thousands of employers may be violating the rules, some willfully.

Employers didn't pay prevailing wages in some cases and benched employees when there wasn't work, while some employees worked at jobs that differed from what the application claimed they would be doing.


The report's authors wrote that their confidence in their findings is 95%, and that the results represent a "significant vulnerability."

"USCIS is making procedural changes, which will be described in a forthcoming document," the report concluded.

Ron Hira, an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology and co-author of Outsourcing America, said he was stunned by the size of the problem.

"It is clear that oversight, including an auditing function, are desperately needed to clean up the corruption," Hira said. "But we shouldn't forget that the major problems with the H-1B program are caused by massive loopholes that allow firms to legally pay below-market wages and displace and undercut American workers. Those wouldn't show up in this investigation because they are entirely legal and wouldn't be considered fraudulent or a violation."

Zombies Sighting at The Department of Education

At our last Board of Education meeting one of the handouts and discussions involved the evaluation of teachers. The form the Board received is full of the cover-your-ass rhetoric that the State requires. But my question was whether or not what we were evaluating made any sense today. In 2008, the technical expertise of teachers is far more sophisticated than we might expect in 2000. Yet nobody rewards this stuff and where would qualified evaluation personnel come from?

As I write this I cringe. I can well imagine the education machine ready and eager to create another self-serving, perpetual bureaucracy machine of certifications, laws, amendments and holding the taxpayer hostage to their new demands.

But the question is legitimate. So I looked around for an answer on the Connecticut State Department of Education's website. What I found could pass for a Halloween Haunted House prank.

On the page called Promising Practices in Connecticut Schools a few links are offered. Clicking on any of them is like entering a time warp. I could not find anything more recent than 2001 and many of the "promising programs" had come and gone without a whimper.

The splash page asks, "Why reinvent the wheel?" when what it really should ask is what the Department of Education gets paid for when it can go into an eight year coma without any accountability for their failure to do their jobs.

Oh, wait, they're touring the state selling bad ideas - my apologies. After all, they are doing something. Something stupid but something nonetheless.

I have advocated the wholesale dismissal of this Department for years and no one takes me seriously. I can only imagine they think that funding a brain-dead and flat-lining organization with millions of wasted dollars is appropriate. They must imagine the contribution a civic exercise like giving blood.

It's time to pull the plug. These fools pontificate about education yet are as out of touch with reality so as to be character actors in "Life on Mars".

But their web page is also indicative of the intellectual collapse that has swallowed Wall St. and threatens to swallow us all. By looking for technology best practices you will be directed to an empty page. The Department of Education is clueless as the bankers, financial services sectors, and spreadsheet gurus who precipitated the meltdown.

CT must choose to teach and know, listen and learn. This crisis is not about facts but about the absence of regulation and critical tolerance in CT. By homogenizing education practice into sing-song testing we are creating an environment of cognitive regulatory captivity in which no thinking or questioning is allowed.

When we finally evaluate teachers, school boards need the autonomy to insist their districts schools are judged on a local demand for quality instead of a federal demand for the conformity of lemmings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Education Depression

The shenanigans playing out on Wall St.are playing havoc with more than just money, retirements, and the viability of unbridled capitalism. The market chaos has touched off a series of unfortunate events that will effect schools everywhere.

First, education is funded by local property values. And now that the real estate bubble has burst so has the artificial house of cards that dictated the quality of local schools. The game that is played in Connecticut was that school quality was used as a real estate value metric for housing. Richer community schools scored the highest scores on the ever-friendly high stakes tests administered in public schools.

The game is fairly air-tight. The communities, schools, administrations, parents, and tax-paying bystanders all wittingly understood the rules by which the social pecking order was maintained.

But now that property and mortgage values are being questioned, the game and the rules will change.

As State budgets become strained from years of feather-bedded state employee retirement benefits, school budgets will be mercilessly slashed and recalculated. Local communities will become ever more responsible for the crushing cost and obligations of decades of bad and expensive education legislation.

This coming tsunami of educational destruction will offer a rare opportunity for educators to re-evaluate and correct the pedagogy of school testing.

In an article in Edutopia called Reinventing the Big Test: The Challenge of Authentic Assessment, Grace Rubenstein argues;
Cold, hard numbers have a way of seeming authoritative, but accountability tests are not the infallible and insightful report cards we (and our state governments) imagine them to be. The educational assessment tests states use today have two fundamental flaws: They encourage the sort of mind-numbing drill-and-kill teaching educators (and students) despise, and, just as important, they don't tell us much about the quality of student learning.

"We are totally for accountability, but we've got the wrong metrics," says John Bransford, a professor of education at Seattle's University of Washington who studies learning and designs assessments. "These tests are the biggest bottleneck to education reform."
Hobbled by History

Jennifer Simone, a fifth-grade teacher at Deerfield Elementary School, in Edgewood, Maryland, is acutely aware of the limitations of standardized tests. Her curriculum must emphasize subjects for which the state accountability test measures proficiency -- math, reading, and science. Social studies? Though the subject is on her master schedule, if there is a shortened school day, it gets dropped.

Moreover, Simone says, the test scores don't truly reflect her students' abilities and are too vague to help her pinpoint individual needs. She longs for an assessment that relies on more than just written problems, that could capture the more diverse skills visible in her classroom and valued in the workplace, such as artistic talent, computer savvy, and the know-how to diagnose and fix problems with mechanical devices. Simone asks, "If we differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all the learners, why aren't we differentiating the test?"

The fraud of standardized testing today is not that it is cost-effective nor that it in fact demonstrates proficiencies but rather that they plausibly deny any change to the status quo of teaching as lecturing.

Authors Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg wrote a book called, Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track in which they explain the problem.
Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. It incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without its being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much or what is remembered is irrelevant.

In most schools, memorization is mistaken for learning. Most of what is remembered is remembered only for a short time, but then is quickly forgotten. (How many remember how to take a square root or ever have a need to?) Furthermore, even young children are aware of the fact that most of what is expected of them in school can better be done by computers, recording machines, cameras, and so on. They are treated as poor surrogates for such machines and instruments. Why should children -- or adults, for that matter -- be asked to do something computers and related equipment can do much better than they can? Why doesn't education focus on what humans can do better than the machines and instruments they create?

When those who have taught others are asked who in the classes learned most, virtually all of them say, "The teacher." It is apparent to those who have taught that teaching is a better way to learn than being taught. Teaching enables the teacher to discover what one thinks about the subject being taught. Schools are upside down: Students should be teaching and faculty learning.

In the end it will be the devaluation of property and the revaluation of citizens that changes schools. Children may matter yet again. It's not a certainty but the glimmer of hope is there. The rubble of Wall St. may make the rebuilding of public education a necessity and we must embrace the task with an open mind toward building a future instead of recreating the past.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Poverty and Education

In Iowa, the conversation of the link between poverty and education is a public one. In CT, we still insist on that the political red herring of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has veracity.

While we genuflect to the fraudulent science of NCLB, real children continue to suffer and public education remains in the dark ages of high-stress testing and get-tough political rhetoric.

Maybe we can learn from Iowa some self-evident truths. From Best reform in education? End poverty by Richard Doak:
You can't concentrate in school if you hurt. Or if you're hungry. Or abused. Or worried about your parents being evicted. Or if your parents are druggies who take the Ritalin that was prescribed for you. Or if your older sister entertains gentlemen callers in the next room all night. Or if your mom has a new live-in boyfriend every few months. Or if your job-losing parents keep moving you from school to school with long truancies in between. Or if you don't know where you'll be sleeping tonight because your dad's in prison and you get shuffled from one relative to another, and no one really wants you.

Any teacher in Iowa can tell stories that both tug at the heart and stir anger. Such stories are probably more common, in large and small schools alike, than Iowans would like to believe.

What's remarkable is not that the stories are commonplace - anyone who knows a teacher has heard them - but that they are heard so little in the public discussion about education.

As another school year is set to begin, the focus is once again not on the kids themselves. It's all about test scores, teacher quality and education standards. This year features a national advertising campaign from Strong American Schools, partly financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The campaign notes that schools in most other industrial countries outperform American schools. It advocates higher standards, more time in school and better teachers. The Register's editorial page has been urging higher, uniform standards for Iowa, too.

All well and good, but once again the discussion studiously avoids the elephant in the room.

Student achievement in this country is never going to significantly improve until attention is directed to the root causes of low achievement: failing families in a low-wage economy.

Sure, teaching can get better and schools can adapt their methods to help low achievers. Individually, caring teachers do what they can to overcome poor parenting, but they have the children only a few hours a day. The larger influence is at home.

If fundamental improvement is going to occur, it must happen primarily outside the classroom.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Problem: A Lack of Vision, Not Credit

I am so grateful for the Republicans and Democrats who refused to bail out Wall St. It, in part, restores the idea that America is not wholly brain-dead.

The commentators in the Main Stream Media (MSM) have created a duality of Main St. vs Wall St. Could any analogy be more out-of-touch? Main St. in America disappeared in the 1960's and the Wall St. the media hypes is a conceptual auction house that no longer has veracity in the 21st century.

The MSM exudes the specter of unemployment to an American workforce whose jobs have long fled the country thanks to the very CEOs begging to restore their global empires.

And they blame people who were entangled in a credit swindle that punished consumers for not accepting credit, for attempting to cancel credit cards, and for begging to stop the telephone credit entrapment calls. Instead of blaming the credit industry that kept consumers in a state of indentured servitude with 18% and 21% and higher credit interests, these geniuses blame the home-buyers too illiterate to recognize the con game.

They cite Chrysler, and Ford and GM as needing credit when what is really needed is vision.

Nothing about this bailout will help the middle-class.

May the bailout bill rest in peace forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fear, Inc

The Wall St bailout continues unabated by 98% of the public who don't want any such thing. Washington proves yet again that it is wholly disconnected from the American public and has no intention of doing the right thing.

Last night our miserable excuse for a President addressed the nation selling the Wall St snake oil that bad things will happen if this bailout doesn't get passed. This morning, on CNBC we are being told that if it does pass to expect a 7 or 8% unemployment figure for the coming years and so on. Woo Hoo!

The Washington Post carries this story by Frank Ahrens called Bailout Could Deepen Crisis, CBO Chief Says Asset Sales May Lead to Write-Downs, Insolvencies, Orszag Tells Congress.
During testimony before the House Budget Committee, Peter R. Orszag -- Congress's top bookkeeper -- said the bailout could expose the way companies are stowing toxic assets on their books, leading to greater problems.

"Ironically, the intervention could even trigger additional failures of large institutions, because some institutions may be carrying troubled assets on their books at inflated values," Orszag said in his testimony. "Establishing clearer prices might reveal those institutions to be insolvent."

In an interview later yesterday, Orszag explained using the following example: Suppose a company has Asset X, whose value is recorded on the books as $100. Because of the current economic decline, Asset X's real value has dropped to $50. If the company takes part in the government bailout and sells Asset X for $50, the company has to report a $50 loss on its books. On a scale of millions of dollars, such write-downs could ruin a company.

Such companies "look solvent today only because it's kind of hidden," Orszag said. "They actually are insolvent" already, he said.

Exactly. The reason I am against the bailout is because the government is trying to save a house of cards. At the end of the day its still a house of cards.

By letting the cards fall, America can start building an infrastructure of credit and economy that serves the nation in this century. It is not only the regulation that is outdated but the market and the mechanisms as well.

Propping up an antique only marries us to something that no longer has relevance. And patching it and shining it doesn't make it any more worthwhile.

Already the estimates for the bailout(s) are escalating. When this fails, we may not even be able to afford an internet connection to complain on.

These are sad days in America. Mad Max here we come.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Fix is In

I've been watching the Congressional testimony on the Wall St bailout plan. The plan will pass ans always would. There's a lot of Congressional posturing going on but the fix is in.

CNBC's economic commentators are wetting themselves at the prospect that the Wall St game can resume - business as usual. The money that's infused into the system will find itself in the coffers ogf the rich and the average citizen will take major hits on their investments if not get wiped out. This is not a game for the weak of stomach.

The fools at GM, Chrysler, and Ford are advocating the passage of this bill because they think it will help sell their wares. How a taxpayer suddenly $10K/year deeper in debt can afford their wares is never considered.

Americans who have to train their foreign replacement workers now have to pay their bills as well.

And in Washington the lies flow like honey.

"It's not a bailout its and investment!"

"No, this won't cause inflation."

"In the interest of the taxpayer..."

This is a bad idea that should never be approved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Smile: You're Getting Robbed

As I write this Ben Bernacke says the government is not only going to buy garbage but its going to buy garbage at premium prices. Of course they all insist it's for the good of the taxpayer.

Washington is incorrectly blaming the Wall St. meltdown on bad mortgages. But anyone with a brain knows that's not the problem. They are blaming Americans for the global hollowing out of our national prosperity.

I made the following comments on a Courant story a few days ago. They're slightly edited to correct one poorly written sentence.

There are a number of things that are curious about this financial disaster.

1.) George W. Bush, neo-con evangelist, rightest of right-wing Republicans has accomplished what Karl Marx could have never imagined, socialism as an economic paradigm in America.

2.) American workers whose jobs have been pirated for over a decade by globalism are now being asked to pay for the collapse of our own economic prosperity. How many ways can the American workforce get stabbed in the back?

3.) American IT workers who dared question the delusional business practices that at face value made no sense were shown the door. Global pirates whose only ambition was to saturate the market with ever-cheaper foreign labor were treated like royalty as the businesses drifted further and further from reality.

In turnabout, now those global interests are left holding worthless paper for their efforts. Will any American shed a tear? Will Americans be forced to buy that bad paper? [update: The answer is YES AND Bernacke insists that the sellers of garbage will be offered generous profit.]

4.) People on fixed incomes and living on pensions will have their standard of living reduced by the inflationary pressures this bailout will bring to bear. Are they guessing ONE Trillion? If this crisis takes the same giddy arc as the Iraq War, what they really mean to say is *TEN* Trillion.

5.) [To the Courant] Please run more articles by conservatives who insist on privatizing Social Security.

6.) [To the Courant] Please run more articles about businesses who want to reform schools because the stock market is a shiny example of global competition.

7.) [To the Courant] Run more articles about how corporations need more tax incentives and deregulation because Americans really need a laugh.

8.) Any bailout package [edit] *MUST* insist that any qualified American who applies for a job in this country must be hired before that company can even consider outsourcing that [edit] job.

9.) Any bailout package that does not insist on heavily taxing the outsourcing of American jobs toward this buyout of Wall St. should not be passed.

10.) Any bailout that does not insist on severe penalties for age discrimination in the workplace should not pass. Older workers who have lost their retirement savings will have to work, starve, or visit Dr. Kevorkian.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama's Education Plan, Extra Credit Raise His Grade to a 'D'

The New York Times has an excellent discussion about the Democratic party's education reform debate. In an article called 24/7 School Reform by Paul Tough NCLB and alternative remedies are debated. Rather than argue about public school reform, the article focuses on programs having nothing to do with schools.
What is most interesting and novel about Obama’s education plans is how much they involve institutions other than schools.

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.

The three people who have done the most to propel this nascent movement are James J. Heckman, Susan B. Neuman and Geoffrey Canada — though each of them comes at the problem from a different angle, and none of them would necessarily cite the other two as close allies.

Heckman argues;
the problem of persistent poverty is at its root a problem of skills — what economists often call human capital. Poor children grow into poor adults because they are never able, either at home or at school, to acquire the abilities and resources they need to compete in a high-tech service-driven economy — and Heckman emphasizes that those necessary skills are both cognitive (the ability to read and compute) and noncognitive (the ability to stick to a schedule, to delay gratification and to shake off disappointments). The good news, Heckman says, is that specific interventions in the lives of poor children can diminish that skill gap — as long as those interventions begin early (ideally in infancy) and continue throughout childhood.

Susan Neuman who turned her back on NCLB offers a program that complements Heckman's argument.
she describes nine nonschool interventions. She includes the Nurse-Family Partnership, which sends trained nurses to visit and counsel poor mothers during and after their pregnancies; Early Head Start, a federal program, considerably more ambitious than Head Start itself, that offers low-income families parental support, medical care and day-care centers during the first three years of the lives of their children; Avance, a nine-month language-enrichment program for Spanish-speaking parents, mostly immigrants from Mexico, that operates in Texas and Los Angeles; and Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina that enrolls 4-year-olds who score the lowest on a screening test of cognitive ability and manages to bring most of them up to grade level by the first day of kindergarten.

Neuman’s favorite programs share certain characteristics — they start early, focus on the families that need them the most and provide intensive support. Many of the interventions work with parents to make home environments more stimulating; others work directly with children to improve their language development (a critical factor in later school success). All of them, Neuman says, demonstrate impressive results.

Finally, Geoffrey Canada runs the only comprehensive program that synthesizes many of these ideas.
Canada’s agency, the Harlem Children’s Zone, has a $58 million budget this year, drawn mostly from private donors; it currently serves 8,000 kids in a 97-block neighborhood of Harlem. (I’ve spent the last five years reporting on his organization’s work and its implications for the country.) Canada shares many of the views of the education reformers — he runs two intensive K-12 charter schools with extended hours and no union contract — but at the same time he offers what he calls a “conveyor belt” of social programs, beginning with Baby College, a nine-week parenting program that encourages parents to choose alternatives to corporal punishment and to read and talk more with their children. As students progress through an all-day prekindergarten and then through a charter school, they have continuous access to community supports like family counseling, after-school tutoring and a health clinic, all designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle-class and upper-middle-class kids through their childhoods. The goal, in the end, is to produce children with the abilities and the character to survive adolescence in a high-poverty neighborhood, to make it to college and to graduate.

Though the conveyor belt is still being constructed in Harlem, early results are positive. Last year, the charter schools’ inaugural kindergarten class reached third grade and took their first New York state achievement tests: 68 percent of the students passed the reading test, which beat the New York City average and came within two percentage points of the state average, and 97 percent of them passed the math test, well above both the city and state average.

Obama is throwing his support toward these efforts.
Obama has proposed that these replication projects, which he has labeled Promise Neighborhoods, be run as private/public partnerships, with the federal government providing half the funds and the rest being raised by local governments and private philanthropies and businesses. It would cost the federal government “a few billion dollars a year,” he acknowledged in his speech. “But we will find the money to do this, because we can’t afford not to.”

As a critic of both Obama and McCain's education proposals, I must say that I like this proposal a lot. McCain remains lost in the halls somewhere.

And may I recommend, this article highly. There are more links and resources there as well as a far more comprehensive discussion..