Sunday, March 30, 2008

NCLB Myths; Um... No

I responded to a Washington Post opinion piece written by Hoover Institution's senior fellow Chester E. Finn Jr.

His assertion is that there are at least five Myths about NCLB that need clarification. After reading his piece I was convinced he hadn't -cough- done his homework.

His list of myths is:

1. No Child Left Behind is an unprecedented extension of federal control over schools.
2. No Child Left Behind is egregiously underfunded.
3. Setting academic standards will fix U.S. schools.
4. The standardized testing required by No Child Left Behind gets in the way of real learning.
5. Certified teachers are better than non-certified teachers.

My response to his arguments to the contrary of these "myths" was largely that he was asking the wrong questions.

Finn's framing of the arguments starts with the assumption that standardized testing is good and that NCLB is strictly a neutral proposition whose issues are arguments about tweaking the thing.

I disagreed to the extent I could in the space provided.
Mr. Finn's "myths" obfuscate as much of the horror of NCLB as they expose of any functional misunderstanding the public may have of this legislation.

Myth 1: I'm a Liberal and Mr Finn is dead wrong. There are few states in the union that can afford to operate without federal funding. If NCLB were not mandatory then the ransom of being denied federal funding would not exist.

The fact that it does exist is extortionary. The price of accepting federal funding brought along a neo-conservative agenda that is not only killing the public school system but poisoning our children. In CT, children no longer dissect frogs in Biology because the State Department of Education's mandates to local districts to improve science test scores and conform to every more numerous testing expectations. Hands on activities like this that once fed our universities students interested in biology and doctoring have dried up.

And Spellings has made it clear in recent statements that only states who have not been critical of NCLB will be eligible for a break from the draconian stupidity it currently administers. Why? Can it be an example of Czarist educational administration on the part of the federal government?

I think so. < pop-quiz > Does the history of education matter?

Myth #2 - Is NCLB under-funded? Wrong question. NCLB deserves not a dime of our taxes.

Is NCLB bankrupting public education? YES!

NCLB's draconian and sick inertia to force schools into producing uniform widget beings instead of individual, thinking children is devastating. Technology is almost non-existent in schools as is teachers who can even use any modern software.

Schools have become social service money sources for every conceivable child's illness, allergy, and nuanced behavioral problem. Local taxes are expected to foot the bill (not that the State's smoke and mirrors rhetoric doesn't deny the expensive fact). Good for medical insurance companies, bad for taxpayers.

The by-product is a school system that correlates nicely to the totalitarian school systems that the Department of Education studies so intently and takes regular junkets to.

The recent NY Times expose of American dropout rates reveals that our schools are losing as many kids as possible to show statistical conformity to NCLB. We are more like a class nation than ever.

Myth #3

States who follow NCLB rigorously are performing acts of child abuse. Education Week reports that Advanced placement courses are drying up. Our brightest and best are being institutionally stunted. Dropouts are epidemic leaving the poor and disenfranchised to near certain prison existences.

These are not academic standards, this is the blunt state instrument of conform or else!

Myth #4 "the accountability made possible by standardized testing isn't all bad."

No they are all bad. And the reason is that they ignore multiple intelligence theory, they don't honor the uniquenesss of the individual child, and the spiritual call to lifelong pursuit for those children is crushed so that neo-cons in Washington and Stanford feel good.

Myth #5 No argument but this has nothing to do with NCLB. Schools need to recognise alternative forms of educating students.

- Frank Krasicki

My assertions are annotated at

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Educational Science Fiction

A few weeks ago, State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan started a statewide campaign to extend and further institutionalization the horrors of No Child Left Behind after NCLB behind expires and presumably succeeds.

I asked about this point. "Why, if No Child Left Behind succeeds will it be necessary to propagate such educational policy? And if it fails, the question becomes slightly different, why propagate a program that's failed?"

The answer was some hemming and hawing about the virtues of blah, blah, blah. Later, an E.O. Smith teacher asked, "By ratcheting up the testing, won't dropouts increase?" A good question considering E.O. Smith loses ten percent of its students to dropping out.

McQuillan and his minions responded by citing studies that indicated no such trend, blah, blah blah.

This past week the New York Times reported on NCLB's effect on school dropouts and the perversion of educational statistics. States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School by Sam Dillon reports,
Most troublesome to some experts was the way the No Child law’s mandate to bring students to proficiency on tests, coupled with its lack of a requirement that they graduate, created a perverse incentive to push students to drop out. If low-achieving students leave school early, a school’s performance can rise.

No study has documented that the law has produced such an effect nationwide. Experts say they believe many low-scoring students are prodded to leave school, often by school officials urging them to seek an equivalency certificate known as a General Educational Development diploma.

“They get them out so they don’t have them taking those tests,” said Wanda Holly-Stirewalt, director of a program in Jackson, Miss., that helps dropouts earn a G.E.D. “We’ve heard that a lot. It happens all over the system.”

After several research groups questioned graduation rates, the federal Department of Education in 2005 published an estimated rate for each state, to identify those that were reporting least accurately. The figures suggested that nine states had overstated their graduation rates by 10 to 22 percentage points.

Part of the discrepancy is because many states inflate their official rate by counting dropouts who later earn a G.E.D. as graduates or by removing them from calculations altogether.

The undercounting of dropouts can be striking.

In Mississippi, the official formula put the graduation rate for the state’s largest district, Jackson Public Schools, at 81 percent. Mr. Bounds, the state schools superintendent, said the true rate was 56 percent.

At Murrah High School, one of eight here, the official graduation rate is 99 percent, even though yearbooks show that half of Murrah’s freshmen disappear before becoming seniors. Even Murrah’s principal, Roy Brookshire, expressed surprise.

“I can’t explain how they figured that, truly I can’t,” Mr. Brookshire said.

Governors also stepped in, worried that schools were not preparing the work force their states need. In December 2005, all 50 agreed to standardize their graduation rate calculations, basing them on tracking individual students through high school.

Fifteen states have begun to use the formula, said Dane Linn, director of the education division at the National Governors Association. And it has produced some stunning revelations.

In North Carolina, the rate plummeted a year ago to 68 percent from 95 percent.
The first casualties of math and science are educational institutions themselves. For all of the flowery rhetoric of improving math and science education there is no respect or observance of accuracy within the system itself. The triumph of political partisan agendas over the welfare of children, parents, and society is no less disastrous at home than it is in Iraq.

Margaret Spellings, like her -cough- mentors in the Bush administration uses the NCLB laws like a blunt, savage instrument to torture any State that does not play along with her schemes and agendas. Never mind, that that these objectives are bad for everyone.

Recently, evidence of this abuse of power comes to light in this article, U.S. Eases ‘No Child’ Law as Applied to Some States by Sam Dillon.
The rising number of failing schools is overwhelming states’ capacities to turn them around, and states have complained that the law imposes the same set of sanctions, which can escalate to a school’s closing, on the nation’s worst schools as well as those doing a reasonable job despite some problems.

The nation’s largest teachers union as well as some research groups who study the law welcomed Ms. Spellings’s announcement. “This is something good, something we’ve been advocating,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the teachers union.

But another national teachers union and a group that has supported the law’s goals of holding schools accountable for student progress criticized the proposal.

Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration official who is vice president of the conservative Thomas Fordham Foundation, said Ms. Spellings’s proposal was similar to one put forward by Democrats seeking to rewrite the law in Congress last year, which he derided at the time as “the Suburban Schools Relief Act.”

“This policy change is likely to let affluent suburban and rural schools off the hook,” he said.

States must apply by May 2 to the federal Department of Education to participate in the pilot program, and only those whose carrying out of the law has been virtually without blemish will be considered, Ms. Spellings said.
What's that, "only those whose carrying out of the law has been virtually without blemish will be considered"!

Let's see, even a partisan government agency is admitting that the NCLB program is a failure, yet they limit the number of states who are allowed to "fix" it! (Not that it will.)

Spellings goal, along with the NEA, is to perpetuate this nasty stuff - not to fix it. Spellings and her well-compensated allies profit from this business as usual model regardless of the damage it is doing to our children.

The czarist abuse of power coming from the federal Department of Education is just another reason to dissolve the agency. The abuse of this Department by the Bush administration is reason enough to rethink and decentralize educational policy away from the abusers in Washington.

Thankfully the American Federation of Teachers has the guts to outright reject what Spellings is selling.
The two teachers unions disagreed about the proposal.

In contrast to the praise from Mr. Weaver of the National Education Association, the largest union, Antonia Cortese, a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “N.C.L.B. is in need of a dramatic overhaul and cannot be patched up with Band-Aids and pilot programs.”
The AFT is being optimistic. Education has got to be rescued from the masochists and torturers that currently hold undemocratic and exclusive control over federal funding of education.

The restoration of education as a science and art cannot be achieved in Washington and never in the hands of the Bush administration. A return to accurate and honest science must be a national priority generally and education is in dire need of a shakeout on all levels.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Who Needs Backpacks

By next Christmas, every self-respecting youngster is going to want one of these robots to lug home their 40 lbs of backpack flotsam. Can you blame them?

I want a Big dog to ride to work. Hi 'Yo Silver! Awaaaaaay!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

College Debt

I was at the Mansfield Community Center exercising and because of an inflamed knee, I was using a glider instead of a bike to burn some calories. The ladies exercising next to me were discussing a law school nephew's college debt.

"Why the interest alone is outrageous! And she needs nice suits and dry cleaning and..." It's a common theme amongst college aged students, parents , and interested observers. And with the stock market meltdown in the past few months, even higher education credit is more difficult to get. Even Congress is concerned.

A few months ago, Education Portal reported a study of how much debt students take on.
According to the Project on Student Debt Report, graduates are leaving college with more student debt than ever before. The result is that starting salaries are no longer keeping pace with the debt.

Between 2005 and 2006, average student loan debt increased 8 percent. In comparison, staring salaries increased by only 4 percent. The worry is that it will become more difficult for graduates to manage debt and pay it off in a timely fashion.
It is popular for presidential candidates to advocate more pay for teachers but teachers are not the only ones whose salaries need attention. And in some cases teachers are farther down the list than they will honestly admit.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Government Lies On Math Education

The New York Times reports that yet another government report has been produced advocating the thrashing of the math curriculum in elementary and middle schools - the Bush administration never tires of trying to control government beyond their elected years.

It seems that in education especially, Bush and his cronies are attempting to create legislation that will pervert and hamper public education for years to come.

The Times piece called Report Urges Changes in Teaching Math by Tamar Lewin describes the study.
The report, adopted unanimously by the panel on Thursday and presented to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said that prekindergarten-to-eighth-grade math curriculums should be streamlined and put focused attention on skills like the handling of whole numbers and fractions and certain aspects of geometry and measurement.

It offers specific goals for students in different grades. For example, it said that by the end of the third grade, students should be proficient in adding and subtracting whole numbers. Two years later, they should be proficient in multiplying and dividing them. By the end of the sixth grade, the report said, students should have mastered the multiplication and division of fractions and decimals.
This report is not change and that's why I call it thrashing. The report decides that the existing education regime has failed and recommends yet more of it. More broad based testing, more grade specific goals.

Nowhere is the individual child mentioned. Nor is any recommendation for grooming the individual as a whole spiritual being deserving honor and respect. No, this report is more pig-piling of thinly disguised NCLB remedy. And therefore the report is toxic.

Later in the article a starling assertion is made without follow-up.
“There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction,” Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, said at a briefing on Wednesday. “People may retain their strongly held philosophical inclinations, but the research does not show that either is better than the other.”

The report found that “to prepare students for algebra, the curriculum must simultaneously develop conceptual understanding, computational fluency and problem-solving skills.” Further, it said: “Debates regarding the relative importance of these aspects of mathematical knowledge are misguided. These capabilities are mutually supportive.”
Let's examine the assertion by comparing the world's best math test scores with the U.S. test scores and compare the methodology.

A recent Wall St Journal article entitled What makes Finnish Kids So Smart by Ellen Gamerman is worthy of attention. Here's why.
Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.
Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.

The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.
If we are to believe in test results then this evidence wholly contradicts what Bush's hand-picked Dr. Larry R. Faulkner asserts. There is plenty of evidence that paying attention to the needs of the child instead of the needs of corporate lobbyists in Washington is productive.

Furthermore the article states;
Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.
Maybe the reason Dr. Faulkner's committee makes the kinds of assertions they do is that the Department of Education spends an inordinate amount of time and money visiting the schools of totalitarian countries instead of paying attention to the kinds of pedagogy that actually work internationally.

The casual observer might note that the Finns were one of many democratic nations represented ahead of the United States in this testing. It appears raising intelligent children is not a monopoly in countries we outsource our prosperity to.

Citizens need to reject the Bush education initiatives in wholesale fashion. They are the diseased recommendations of a diseased Washington culture allowed to govern without accountability, sanity, or restraint. They cannot be voted out of office soon enough. Nor can their absurd ideas be flushed fast enough.

The Wall St Journal video:

If this is Hope, What's the Question? Obama's Education Gap

A recent video of Barack Obama speaking about education raises significant concerns with me about the policies he may pursue going forward. While Obama gets many things right, he still insists than No Child Left Behind (NCLB) can be fixed. It cannot.

And by insisting that it can be fixed, he is advocating more federal interference with school funding, state educational prerogatives and autonomy, and so on. On the flip side of the video I discuss other concerns in greater detail.

At the end of Obama's vision statement he lists a series of crowd-pleasing platitudes, many of which are no more useful than the Bush administration admonishments. He pronounces that parents have to parent! And that there have to be books in the house! And that children should not watch videos, play games, and so on.

And I have to ask the silly question, why is he hammering families working multiple jobs who come home tired, need to do the household necessities to get up to do it all over again. Yes, certainly, parents can help children grow. But many aren't equipped.

And it is nice to advocate more pay for teachers but what about more pay for parents who could spend more time at home instead of working two and three jobs?

And why keep the kids off the streets? How about making the streets safe for kids again, so that they can socialize and play together and understand the other. Why shutter America up?

As Paul Krugman recently said about the economy, "Hope is not a plan."

Obama needs to rethink his education stance because this is important stuff. NCLB must be ended on Day One of the new presidency. It has been worse than a failure, it is an abomination that no amount of fixing can remedy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Of Two Minds

This video is both compelling and profoundly interesting story of what happens when a mind researcher has a stroke and lives to tell about it. Her talk avoids the strictly medical aspects of the event and focuses on the transcendent experience of the mind shutting down to a near death stage.

Fans of Joseph Campbell, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and similar authors will enjoy this immensely. Biology teachers should make this part of their curriculum.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Teachers Union Epiphany?

Two editorials in today's NY Times deserve comment.

The first, Educators or Kingmakers? By David White is a litany of stale neo-con ideas that have been kicking around for years and no more pertinent today than when Reagan was in office. White argues that the teacher's union will have disproportionate clout at the Democratic convention and adds,
Good news for the unions, however, might not be good news for education. The union agenda has often run counter to the interests of students and teachers alike.

Take those collective bargaining agreements that the unions have negotiated in school districts across the nation. As Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford, demonstrated, these agreements have hampered student performance in California. Why? Because they protect ineffective teachers — at the expense of everyone else.

Or consider performance-based pay. Forty percent of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years on the job — in some measure because they don’t stand to gain the same performance-based pay raises available to their private-sector counterparts. Merit pay would help public schools retain good teachers by paying them more. But the unions have fought against such measures.

The same can be said about school choice. Despite compelling evidence that it improves student achievement, the national teachers’ unions regularly stand against the policy.

The list goes on. While politicians are aware of the consequences of having these unions set educational policy, they are also aware that they have millions of members and dollars at their disposal. At a convention where every vote is in play, that union power has the potential to be greater than ever before. /span>
While teacher's unions deserve a critical look, most of White's criticism is poor.

As the Times reported months ago, failing schools are often clustered in poverty demographics. Vouchers can't transfer kids into suburbia no matter what anyone thinks and can't fix schools in impossible situations.

And special ed teachers whose students make tiny progress, art teachers, social studies teachers and many others aren't going to receive the merit pay a test score driven subject teacher will. The list indeed goes on.

The second editorial compliments unions for innovating contract negotiations to include rather than preclude what teachers love about their profession. In Teaching Change by Andrew J. Rotherham, Rotherham hopes that teacher's unions begin listening to the desires of teachers.
While laws like No Child Left Behind take the rhetorical punches for being a straitjacket on schools, it is actually union contracts that have the greatest effect over what teachers can and cannot do. These contracts can cover everything from big-ticket items like pay and health care coverage to the amount of time that teachers can spend on various activities.

Reformers have long argued that this is an impediment to effective schools. Now, increasingly, they are joined by a powerful ally: frustrated teachers. In addition to Denver, in the past year teachers in Los Angeles also sought more control at the school level, and found themselves at odds with their union.

Most contracts are throwbacks to when nascent teacher unionism modeled itself on industrial unionism. Then, that approach made sense and resulted in better pay, working conditions and an organized voice. Yet schools are not factories. The work is not interchangeable and it takes more than one kind of school to meet all students’ needs. If teachers’ unions want to stay relevant, they must embrace more than one kind of contract. <-snip-> ...Where this leads is not toward the abolition of unions, as some in their ranks fear and their most rabid critics want. Instead, creating a portfolio of contracts to match a portfolio of schools will give parents better options and re-energize teachers’ unions as an agent of progress.
Rotherham is correct. Teachers unions need to become much more sophisticated about their professional responsibilities to the profession in addition to their members. They can lead educational change or be left in its wake.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Education's Diseased Culture; the American Toady Farm

The perversion of education in America is so pervasive and complete that we are in the golden age of reform-speak blather. The Bush administration has managed to destroy public education by simply subverting the mission of the federal Department of Education from serving the best interest of children to performing the unholy act of subjugating the best interest of children to moneyed special interests.

Yesterday I was having a discussion with an old acquaintance about the Department of Education at UConn. She made the startling assertion that UConn's Department of Education was one of the best in the country! This came as quite a surprise to me since I have yet to meet a UConn teaching graduate who is advocating changing the curriculum and metrics applied to public education. In fact, I've had the opposite conversation with teacher union representatives who question why Universities are not better preparing teachers for the 21st century.

I don't mean to pick on UConn's education department because I think that Education Departments across the country are wholesale frauds. In major educational issue after issue, you can search google till you turn blue and not find significant research on homework best practice, classroom technology, student learning best practice, and so on. What are Education Departments in Universities doing? What?

The answer is obvious. The federal funding that has traditionally streamed to states and universities is now coupled to a government extortion scheme that eliminates all scientific research into what is best for children. Some of the funds have been diverted to the war, others are misdirected toward ever more testing propaganda, and Universities have happily floated downstream for over forty years.

A recent education forum in California hosted by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation pondered the utter failure of educational reforms to impact the reform-sanitized public schools.

last month, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation sponsored a forum on education reform featuring Marshall "Mike" Smith, the program director for education at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Smith has been the dean of the school of education at Stanford University as well as acting deputy secretary of education in the Clinton administration. Panelists for the discussion that followed were Ken Wilcox, president and CEO of SVB Financial Group, parent company of the Silicon Valley Bank; Manny Barbara, superintendent of the Oak Grove School District; and Kilian Betlach, a seventh-grade teacher at Mathson Middle School in the Alum Rock school district. Mercury News editorial writer John Fensterwald moderated. Excerpts of Smith's opening remarks follow:

The title of my talk, "More Than Just A Firefly Blink: Creating Reform That Lasts" comes from experiences I had growing up in the East. In the spring, you'd see a yard full of fireflies. They'd be blinking on and off. After a while, they were gone.

Researchers studied districts that had carried out interventions and showed gains over three years. Two years later, they found that almost none of those districts and schools had retained their effects. They were like fireflies; they blinked on, they blinked off and they left.

The metaphor reflects something important about public school systems: They are not small businesses. They can't fail at the rate of 70 or 80 percent. They have to be stable. But stability does come at a cost: Most reforms have to fit within the system, acceptable to unions, school boards, superintendents. By and large, those reforms have small effects. They may change achievement a little bit for a little while, but they don't change it very much.

The Gates Foundation spent an absolute fortune on something that has small effects. That is, changing the size of schools without changing what's going on inside of the schools. Reducing class sizes and most curriculum changes produce very small results. Most spending on professional development doesn't jar things much at all.

Small effects don't travel. If you move reforms from one school to another, sometimes they don't seem to work at all. The teaching force is different, the students are different, there was a different curriculum that it's being laid on top of.

We'd like to get bigger effects. We know a lot about learning and about motivation. And, yet, our schools aren't changing very much.

We've got strong evidence now that we can accelerate learning using good technology. With technology in high school courses, community college courses and other settings, kids can learn what they typically learn in a semester from a teacher in half the semester and learn it better. We don't do that because it begins to jar the system.

Standards were introduced into California in the late '90s. Gains were considerable until about 2003-2004, particularly in math, some in reading. And, then came No Child Left Behind in 2002. It's a great irony that NCLB, the Bush administration's modification to the largest education programs, is a command-and-control legislation in a Web 2.0 era. The gains did slow after 2002 - not necessarily due to NCLB, but they have slowed. In California, every subgroup is behind national subgroups. We have an equal-opportunity society. We don't do well by anybody.
While many of the issues that forum addressed were specific to California, the questions raised are heroic.

Public schools must change radically to keep pace with an ever-impatient future of technological, biological, and medical transformation. If we do not begin to address the best interests of the child, we risk the extinction of our country and culture. The words "change" and "reform" have become the refuge of reactionary scoundrels.

It is time for Universities to return to their mission to explore and illuminate the richness of learning and unconditionally reject the Bush administration's misology as unacceptable and for state Department of Education to stand up for the best interests of children against the forces of self-serving corporate misopedists.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

CABE Misrepresents Homework Research

In the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) Policy Highlights email to Connecticut Board members, CABE distorts the results of two research initiatives in the news about the value of homework.

CABE's Policy Highlight cites a 2007 survey on homework by Harris Interactive (for the MetLife Insurance Company) that was released in February. The survey is wholly anecdotal depending upon the opinions of teachers, students, and parent respondents. CABE's framing of the results as supportive of homework practice is pure disinformation, inaccurate, and deceiving to CT Board members.

Here's what CABE says:
75 percent of students said they do at least 30 minutes of homework each weekday.
45 percent of students said they do an hour or more.

Here's what the study actually said:
-- Most students (77%) regardless of grade level, spend at least 30
minutes doing homework on a typical school day, while 45% reported spending
at least an hour.

Here's what CABE says:
90 percent of students said getting homework done caused them anxiety; despite the fact that most students said they had enough time.

Here's what the study actually said:
-- Students who get C's or below are more likely than others to feel
frequently stressed about homework (38% vs. 28% of "A" students).

Here's what CABE says:
25 percent of secondary-school students said their homework assignments were mostly busywork (this was down from 75 percent in a 2002 survey). By contrast, only 16 percent of teachers rated homework quality as poor.

Here's what the study found:
-- Although six in ten parents believe that their child's teachers assign the right amount of homework, fully one-third of parents rate the quality of homework assignments as fair or poor, and four in ten believe that a great deal or some of the homework is busywork and not related to what students are learning in school. Fewer teachers (16%) give such low marks to the quality of homework assigned.

Students who had the lowest opinion of homework and spent the least time on it were generally those who earned Cs and below, didn't have college plans, and rated their schools as fair or poor.

Similarly, parents who were the most critical of homework tended to be those who were the most alienated from their children's schools, the most critical of how frequently teachers were in touch with them, and the amount of guidance their children received on homework.

The study:
5. Those who view homework as unimportant or lack time for homework are associated with lower student achievement and other risk factors.

-- Students who do not believe that homework is important are more likely than other students to: get C's or below (40% vs. 27%); not plan to go to college after high school (26% vs. 15%); rate the quality of education that they receive as only fair or poor (29% vs. 13%).

-- Students who get C's or below are more likely than others to feel
frequently stressed about homework (38% vs. 28% of "A" students).

-- Similarly, parents who report that homework is not important feel
more alienated from their child's school, are less likely to have rules
about homework, and are more likely to say that homework is burdensome.

What CABE leaves out:
6. Most students are not getting enough sleep, which has an impact on their ability to get to school and pay attention in class.

-- Nearly half of students (46%) think they do not get enough sleep.
While this experience is more common among secondary school students (57%), 29% of elementary school students also report they do not get enough sleep.

-- Nearly half of elementary school students (48%) get less than nine hours of sleep on a school night, and 60% of secondary school students say they get less than eight hours of sleep.

-- Four in ten students (37%) very often or often have trouble waking up in the morning.

-- One-third (34%) frequently feel tired during class, three in ten (29%) daydream in class, and seven percent frequently fall asleep during class.

-- Teachers seem to underestimate the extent and impact of lack of sleep. On average, teachers report that only 28% of their students do not get enough sleep.

7. Doing homework is a solitary task...but with distractions.

-- Nine in ten elementary school students (89%) and eight in ten secondary school students (81%) usually do their homework at home.

-- While three in ten elementary school students (31%) report that they do nothing else while working on their homework, only one in nine secondary school students (11%) have this habit. In fact, nine in ten (89%) secondary students are doing other activities, or "multi-tasking," while doing homework, including 70% who listen to music and 51% who watch TV.

-- Two in ten students report that they are usually talking on the phone (20%), instant messaging or emailing (20%) or text messaging (17%) while they do their homework.

It gets worse. CABE goes on to cite a second study from the Center for public education.

Older students benefit from more homework than younger students. Researchers at Duke University indicated a stronger positive relationship between student achievement and homework for students in grades seven through twelve.

Older students benefit more from homework than younger students. Some studies have shown that older students gain more academic benefits from homework than do younger students, perhaps because younger students have less-effective study habits and are more easily distracted (Cooper 1989; Hoover-Dempsey et al. 2001; Leone and Richards 1989; Muhlenbruck et al. 2000).

Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness, however research on the amount of time students should spend on homework is limited.

Too much homework may diminish its effectiveness. While research on the optimum amount of time students should spend on homework is limited, there are indications that for high school students, 1½ to 2½ hours per night is optimum. Middle school students appear to benefit from smaller amounts (less than 1 hour per night). When students spend more time than this on homework, the positive relationship with student achievement diminishes (Cooper, Robinson, and Patall 2006).

Some of what CABE leaves out from CPE:
The link between homework and student achievement is far from clear. There is no conclusive evidence that homework increases student achievement across the board. Some studies show positive effects of homework under certain conditions and for certain students, some show no effects, and some suggest negative effects (Kohn 2006; Trautwein and Koller 2003).

Most disturbing about CABE's and many other spin doctors is the racial overtones assigned anecdotal studies.

A 2007 survey on homework by Harris Interactive (for the MetLife Insurance Company) was released in February and shed some light on the status of this much-debated practice: 80 percent of teachers and parents and 70 percent of students said that homework is important or very important - and support was even stronger among African-American and Hispanic parents, who overwhelmingly believe that homework helps children learn more and reach their goals after high school.

What the study actually says is:
The majority of teachers, parents, and students believe in the value of homework, with 83% of teachers, 81% of parents, and 77% of students indicating that doing homework is important or very important.
I cannot find any racial breakout of the findings. [Update: see comment] However, what CABE implies as does the CT State Board of Education is that homework is a silver bullet to success in school, that it is not the discrepancies in income and the quality of education in ghetto schools that is the problem but the laziness of students and a largely poor and uneducated minority population whose belief (largely the result of state sponsored brain-washing) are far more important than the scientific research.

This myth is sold so successfully that most Americans believe that lazy parents and students are the cause of all educational ills and that it is the lack of homework and not quality that ails public education.

This panders to racism at its most vulgar and social belligerence akin to state control of education as practiced in Nazi Germany, communist Russia, and the dwarf-Hitler nations of history.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Video: Did You Know...

Based on many of the Singularity speculations of Ray Kurtzweil, this video is a gentle introduction to the reasons that Federal and State mandated educational conformity must never be allowed to become law.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Waterboarding Students? Could Happen

This Alternet article about a Utah corporation using waterboarding as a motivational technique illustrates how the Bush administration has turned America from a compassionate nation into a sado-masochistic one with nary a whimper of protest.

The waterboarding craze has apparently created opportunities for the manufacture of waterboarding paraphernalia that inevitably will work its way into our police stations, schools, and civic organizations.

The era of experimenting with casual torture is just beginning. From Employee's suit: Company used waterboarding to motivate workers by Erin Alberty
A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe.
In a lawsuit filed last month, former Prosper, Inc. salesman Chad Hudgens alleges his managers also allowed the supervisor to draw mustaches on employees' faces, take away their chairs and beat on their desks with a wooden paddle "because it resulted in increased revenues for the company."
Prosper president Dave Ellis responded that the allegations amount to "sensationalized" versions of events that have gone uncorroborated by Hudgens' former coworkers.
"They just roll their eyes and say, 'This is ridiculous . . . That's not how it went down,' " Ellis said.
The suit claims that Hudgens' team leader, Joshua Christopherson, asked for volunteers in May for "a new motivational exercise," which he did not describe. Hudgens, who was 26 at the time, volunteered in order to "prove his loyalty and determination," the suit claims.
Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill, the suit claims. Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.
Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens' mouth and nostrils - like the interrogation strategy known as "waterboarding" - and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled, the suit alleges.
"At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded," the suit alleges.
Ellis said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student's head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe.
However, Ellis said Christopherson explained the exercise before Hudgens volunteered, no one held Hudgens down and Hudgens was free to get up if he was uncomfortable.
"It was meant to be a team-building exercise," Ellis said. "Everybody was . . . involved and enthusiastic."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Avery Doninger Update

Today's Courant article, Court Looks at Internet Limits by Arielle Levin Becker is a great overview and update on a case about freedom of speech and limits of school authority.
In simplest terms, the hearing Tuesday addressed whether Doninger should be allowed to serve as senior class secretary at Lewis S. Mills High School and, as a class officer, speak at her graduation.

The principal had barred Doninger from serving on the student council because of derogatory comments she made about school officials in an Internet blog. A lower court judge denied an injunction that would have allowed her back on the council.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Kravitz ruled in August that Doninger had not shown a "substantial likelihood" that she would succeed in challenging the constitutional validity of her principal's decision.

The appeals court did not rule Tuesday, but the judges raised questions ranging from the specifics of the high school's student council election procedures to how the Internet changes students' rights to free speech.

The attorneys staked out opposite positions on the free-speech question.
The Courant offers an online poll as well.

The three-judge panel issued no ruling.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Unknown Artist: Star Simpson

Star Simpson is the MIT student who was picking up her boyfriend at Logan Airport in Boston when her hoodie which was adorned with an LED breadboard art piece was mistaken as a potential threat by airport officials. The mistake almost cost Simpson her life as this Tech article by Angeline Wang reported;
Simpson (a former Tech photographer) was wearing the device, which included green light-emitting diodes arranged in the shape of a star, during yesterday’s MIT Career Fair. Her defense attorney said she was at the airport to pick up her boyfriend who arrived at Logan this morning.

Simpson approached an information booth in Logan’s Terminal C wearing the light-up device, Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Wayne Margolis said during Simpson’s arraignment today. Margolis also said that Simpson had been wearing the art for at least a few days.

She “said it was a piece of art,” Margolis said, and “refused to answer any more questions.” Jake Wark, spokesperson for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, said that Simpson only described the LED lights after she was “repeatedly questioned by the MassPort employee.” Simpson then “roamed briefly around the terminal,” Wark said. Margolis said this caused several Logan employees to flee the building. As Simpson left the building, she disconnected the battery powering the device, according to a press release provided by Wark.

Simpson had five to six ounces of Play-Doh in her hands, State Police Maj. Scott Pare said in a press conference this morning. The Play-Doh could have been mistaken for plastic explosives.

Simpson was confronted at a traffic island outside Terminal C by state troopers with MP5 submachine guns, and she was arrested at approximately 8 a.m., Pare said during the conference. “I’m shocked and appalled that somebody would wear this type of device to an airport at this time,” Pare said. “We’re currently under [aviation threat level] Orange. The threat is there against aviation. We did have MP5 officers respond to the scene immediately.” State police determined that the device was not a bomb after her arrest.

“She followed instructions as was required by the State Police and within minutes [Explosive Ordinance Disposal] unit found that it was an innocuous device and we took her into custody,” Pare said at the press conference. “Thankfully, because she followed instructions as was required, she ended up in a cell as opposed to the morgue. Had she not followed instructions, deadly force may have been used.”
Simpson is a young geek artist who was very active in a number of robotics and technology circles and had gained a reputation as a helpful expert to those involved.

The reaction at the airport by security personnel was entirely professional and appropriate. The aftermath is a disgrace to the spirit of American justice and Simpson's case is a benchmark for our society.

Simpson's teen-aged belief that her device was obviously art was not so much a personal mistake as a generational affliction all young people share. Once the police had established that the device was indeed art and that Simpson's explanation was accurate the State should have dropped all charges. Instead Simpson has been dragged from one hearing to another. brings us up to date:
Thomas Dwyer Jr., a lawyer for Simpson, said his client didn't think her shirt would scare anyone. He said she'd been wearing the shirt for several days on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, and it had not alarmed anyone.

He said many young people are fascinated by technology and wear clothing with flashing lights.

"People make these objects part of their identity. It's a part of their personal expression," he said. "They are legitimate forms of First Amendment expression."

Dwyer also argued that state law does not clearly define what a hoax device is.
To continue to prosecute Simpson for this misunderstanding is shameful on the part of the State of Massachusetts. And the reson is compelling.

More and more, not only will young students be wearing electronic paraphernalia but most Americans and tech-savvy travelers will as well. Linda K. Wertheimer, a Globe reporter explains in an article called Look out, Logan: Software is soft wear;
CAMBRIDGE - Orange lights dance across the maroon silk blouse MIT professor Rosalind Picard dubs her "party shirt." The power source for this eye-popping fashion statement: a circuit board, wires, and a 9-volt battery, all concealed in an inside back pocket.

The blouse, also equipped with a microphone, is wearable computer research, part of a growing field that will draw more than 100 researchers from around the world to Boston this week for an annual conference. The researchers will show how their latest designs help people communicate and, in some cases, deal with serious medical issues.

But at this year's conference, they also will confront a side issue - whether to wear their designs at Logan International Airport.

The three-day conference opens Thursday at the Hyatt Harborside Hotel near the airport just weeks after Star Simpson, an MIT student, was arrested at the airport while sporting a glowing design made of a circuit board, wires, and a battery. Simpson, who has worked with Picard and other researchers in MIT's Media Laboratory, said her item was a piece of art - with lights that formed a star - that she made for a career fair.
What the article fails to emphasize is the exponential growth of exoskeleton medical devices that enhance and extend the human endeavor.

Star Simpson is an artist whose experience is less crime and more harbinger of things to come. If airport officials were threatened by Star Simpson, image their fright when someone wearing Dean Kamen's bionic arm shows up at the airport.

The charges against Simpson should be dropped immediately. Further legal buffoonery will only damage the reputation of the prosecutor's office unnecessarily.The State of Massachusetts should take pride in having handled the situation without violence and to a reasonable conclusion. Star Simpson is no criminal and that much is obvious even to those who don't understand art.

Movie Review: Charlie Bartlett - ****

Charlie Bartlett is a film without a traditional audience. More than one critic has compared this film to Harold and Maude, a minor classic. Like Harold and Maude, Charlie Bartlett is destined to become a cult favorite.

This is a movie about high school, teenagers, drugs, and sorting all of that out. It is not a forgettable Hollywood tits and ass movie. Nor is it a glossy production. The film's soundtrack is understated, sublime, and at times will remind you of films like Billy Jack for raw substance.

Charlie Bartlett, the main character is played by Anton Yelchin. Bartlett is a 17 year old who has been kicked out of every private school he's enrolled in and has to attend public school. There he reinvents himself as the school's confessor and pharmacologist. Bartlett transforms the boys rest room into a teen psychiatrist's office and the scenes of fellow students describing their anxieties, one stall to another will remind film buffs of Paris, Texas, another film that explored the confessional metaphor.

This is a film that teems with mature and sophisticated themes rarely explored in teen films - the idea that teens are incomplete - "just kids", that parents make the mistake of treating children like adults too soon thus robbing the child of childhood, and that a nation drowning in pharmacological solutions is nonetheless drowning.

Robert Downey Jr (whose role is all the more compelling because of his personal history), Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, and a wonderful supporting cast all give fine performances that contribute to a story that is not predictable nor disappointing.

The small audience that attended our viewing genuinely appreciated the subtle humor and empathized with the characters all of whom were worth caring about.

This film is getting very limited exposure and the reviews are mixed but for those who enjoy offbeat, intelligent, and memorable cult classics, this is the real deal.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Reactionary Education

The Phoenix, in an article called Publish or Perish by Sharon Steel examines a new for-profit, exclusive blogging community (The Final Club) that enhances and illuminates (or not) lectures and classes from the world's most prestigious Educational institutions. can read six of the currently active blogs about Harvard lectures, on topics ranging from animal cognition to “Media and the American Mind,” without ever once stepping foot in the Yard. Magliozzi and Bacrania are changing the concept of open education, and looking to blow open the hallowed halls of Harvard. The only problem? Their alma mater hasn’t quite caught up with the digital revolution they’re trying to helm.

The Final Club, which pays students to morph their class notes into thoughtful reaction-paper-type essays, sounds good on principle, but is actually in violation of school rules. Since the 1930s— when private tutoring schools surfaced around campus, paying for lecture notes and papers, and creating cramming courses — the Harvard handbook has stated that students who sell class materials are “liable and may be required to withdraw.”

Grassroots, ground-up
Magliozzi and Bacrania’s mission isn’t exactly a rebellious one. Their site is operating in the spirit of the non-commercial open-course-ware movement, which started at MIT in 2000, when the school decided to give away educational materials online. The idea has since spread to 11 campuses across the country, as well as abroad, via the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which seeks to extend the reach, impact, and development of open education.

Like its predecessor, the Final Club currently offers student-produced content gratis. In the future, though, its goal is to charge for special content features and to generate revenue by selling Web site ads. That is, if both students and self-learners can embrace the idea, which would require what Magliozzi calls “a grassroots, ground-up campaign.”

Given that vision, the site and its founders are straddling an awkward line. Since participating professors have allowed the Final Club to blog on their courses, it’s likely been granted some amount of immunity from punishment. Individual bloggers, however, remain at risk — a gamble that Magliozzi and Bacrania seem willing to take.

“The General Counsell is very much aware of what we do,” says Magliozzi (who is the son and nephew, respectively, of Tom and Ray Magliozzi, a/k/a Click and Clack of WBUR’s Car Talk fame). “We have advertisements up on Harvard’s student-employment Web site saying, ‘We will pay you to blog a class.’ And people respond to those ads. So it’s no secret . . . I don’t think it’s a big deal. The spirit of the law is exclusionary. This is the exact opposite.”

“That’s wonderful,” says Arthur Miller, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, of the Final Club’s objective, “but that doesn’t mean that people should profiteer off it. The irony is the [blogger] could be nailed under the handbook, and these other guys might not be nailed.”

New lessons
The Final Club — the name itself is a tongue-in-cheek mockery of the secret, elite undergraduate social clubs that aren’t recognized by Harvard — comprises two components. The first is what Magliozzi and Bacrania call “course blogs,” which consist of student-composed essays and personal musings on a class. In his American Protest Literature from Tom Paine to Tupac course blog, for instance, “Fauxneme,” a grad student, writes of Jefferson’s Declaration: “Interestingly, the Declaration fell out of favor quickly. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that people began to reclaim the language and importance of the declaration. This may be because the bulk of the text is Jefferson’s list of 27 grievances, and God help you if you ever have to read all of them.”

The second piece of the Final Club involves linked annotations designed to assist in the reading of public-domain, classic works of literature. These function as explanatory footnotes to the full text: a Cliffs Notes–like study guide that you read with, not instead of, a book. Anyone can contribute an annotation to the books posted on the Final Club’s Web site (unlike course blogs, which can only be written by Harvard students). At the moment, though, they’re contributed almost solely by “sponsored annotators,” who are likewise paid to seed such content throughout the site.

Making Higher Education Less Affordable

In the past few months Federal and State legislators are hell bent on passing new special interest legislation that will brutally and expensively add to college student's higher education costs. This of course trickles down to pinching the wallets of mom and dad.

This new sugar-coated tax involves government passing along the cost of enforcing and policing illegal file sharing activities to Universities and Colleges or their federal grants and funding are put in danger. The fact that these legislative extortion scheme presume guilt of students and faculty before innocence is of no consequence to the political whores who promote such legislation for special interests.

The latest example of such political debauchery is playing out in Tennessee. Arstechnica reports;
Efforts taken by universities thus far to deter and prevent piracy have had mixed results. The University of Utah, for instance, claims that it has reduced MPAA and RIAA complaints by 90 percent and saved $1.2 million in bandwidth costs by instituting anti-piracy filtering mechanisms. However, the school revealed that their filtering system hasn't been able to stop encrypted P2P traffic and noted that students will find ways to circumvent any system. The end result, some say, will be a costly arms race as students perpetually work to circumvent anti-piracy systems put in place by universities.

The content industry fully admits that its own anti-piracy enforcement efforts have been extremely costly. These laws look like an attempt to shift some of those expenses away from the content industry and onto students and tax payers. Surely, university resources are better spent on education than on futile efforts to prevent file sharing and prop up outdated business models. Unfortunately, lawmakers don't seem to agree.