Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is Plagiarism a Bad Thing in K-12?

The more I'm exposed to kids who struggle with school work and homework the more I believe we do these students more of a disservice by getting hung-up on plagiarism.

It seems to me that students who research and organize well written content to add to their assignments are forced to learn how to undo what's well-written "to put it in their own words" regardless of the fact that this is often a bad rewording of the original.

Now I am not advocating theft of intellectual property but merely a fair use of existing research data in pastiche form by young students. It seems to me by learning and organizing well-written good ideas they are doing more to learn proper form than by convoluting the stuff.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The End of the Republic? Bush's NCLB Poison Pill

A recent entry in the Educational Justice blog caught my attention. I responded with this comment.
"Another reason to revamp the accountability system is the new testing program that will be launched in high schools in the 2011-12 school year. Beginning with ninth-graders that year, students will be required to take a dozen end-of-course exams through high school and get a passing score in each subject area to earn a diploma."

This has me concerned. Connecticut's new Dept of Education administration is recommending this identical thing. It is as if the states no longer exist in a republic in which each state gets to decide what's best for that population.

The horrifying thing about this additional testing is that by 2011, NCLB is supposed to eliminate failing schools and if it doesn't then high-stakes, high-stress testing is a failure. Yet, it looks as though the Bush administration's plan is to create 50 state NCLB's to carry on the nightmare.

Can we get a head count of states plagiarizing each others future plans? there may be an unconstitutional intrusion of federal tyranny at work in the states educational responsibilities. Where's these 2011 testing plans coming from?
Every indication is that the Bush administration is preparing a surprise for America after they leave office and that is the perpetuation of their insipid educational pogroms by migrating their legislation to all 50 states. This is a wholesale subversion of the principles of the republic, the brazen theft of states rights, and the denial of the next democratically elected administration to administer their desired education policies and directives. State legislatures may not even be aware of the federal high-jacking of their jurisdiction.

This collusion of dictating testing policies in each state may have criminal implications if bribery or corruption is involved. At face value, the co-incidental similarities are highly suspicious.

A Primer on Public Education

I want to address a number of phony education talking points that everybody gets tangled up in because the discussions about education are intended to end in paralysis rather than epiphany.

The primary beneficiaries of such state are teachers, administrators, and lawyers (or lawyers disguised as legislators). The losers are children, taxpayers, and parents.

Bogus issue #1: Volume of Homework.

Studies indicate that the younger the child the lighter the total homework load (THL)should be. Because teachers rarely collaborate, children and parents confront cumulative homework loads that can be as great as THL x (number of teachers) per night.

Yet, insipid politicians and people without children insist children are not burdened enough.

Bogus Issue #2: Unexpected (but predictable) consequences of homework.

Parents who work all day and come home to make meals then need to repeat a failed classroom lesson (whatever that may have been) with their child. The progressive demand that student and parent do busy work erodes all confidence in the usefulness of homework. The progessive erosion of confidence in homework lessens the effectiveness of truly useful homework exercises that commit essential factoids to memory (like multiplication tables).

The state needs to monetarily reimburse parents for such tutoring since parents are taxed for education and expected to supplement it; double jeopardy.

Bogus Issue #3: Children have too much free time.

The tsunami of pointless homework assignments has robbed generations of children from developing a healthy inquiry into their own interests be they reading, learning via electronic media, or play.

The ubiquitous piling on of homework is endless. Parents who want to vacation often can't because of homework. Teachers vacation. Politicians vacation. Administrators vacation. Parents and children are never allowed a break.

Bogus Issue #4: Small schools are good.

Small schools can be good. Small schools practicing NCLB mandates suck as badly as big schools practicing NCLB mandates.

Inner city huge schools pretending they have schools within schools are kidding themselves. The big athletic hard-on that drives the building of huge inner city schools makes for bad education and distorts the small school vision (which can be very effective).

Bogus Issue #5: Small classes are good.

The concept behind small classes is individualized instruction. Small classes guarantee no such thing. A teacher lecturing to 25 students is no more or less effective than a teacher lecturing to two students.

Certain classes are exceptions to this. Art is individualized because no two students create art the same way. Math on the other hand is absolute: 2 + 2 = 4.

Small class sizes are expensive ways to deliver uniform information.

Today's NCLB generation of teachers like small class sizes because it reduces the volume of busy work. Generally speaking and acknowledging exceptions, it does nothing for the student. Nothing.

Reasonable teacher student load per week is different from small class size discussions.

A very good small class teacher may be a lousy big class teacher and vice versa.

Bogus Issue #6: Passing standardized curriculum and high-stress tests is accountability.

No. It is an expensive perversion of the purpose of a high school degree. Public education guarantees two things; A.) The public school provided a safe, competent learning environment. and B.) the student learned to the best of their ability.

The corporations and politicians have no Constitutional right to void a students inalienable right to become a citizen which in the United States means a free-thinking human being. By imposing a testing regime that maliciously ignores free-thinking, the sanctity of individuality, and the will to become one's chosen destiny, schools violate the Constitution and ensure the brain-washing of generations of children.

Bogus Issue #7: Standardized tests or chaos.

Simple minded critics insist that if students don't all meet certain standards at a certain time they are failures or remedial or misfits and that recognizing individual differences in learning ensures unqualified graduates.

Schools in America did fine before high-stakes, high-stress testing and artificial standards were nationalized. In fact the country was in much better condition then than in the wake of NCLB.

Eliminating NCLB, government testing mandates, and the elimination of the Departments of Education can only improve schools. It's true.

Bogus Issue #8: Qualified teachers.

Teachers currently teaching to tests are no longer qualified to teach children in a humane school setting and need to be re-certified.

Uncertified individuals over 30 with no criminal record and a passion for teaching should be certified after one year of demonstrable success in a classroom as a paraprofessional teaching candidate.

University education departments need to be eliminated for failure to advance the profession and ensure humane teaching practice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hartford's Prison March

Today, Colin Poitras of the Courant reports Tougher Graduation Requirements Proposed In Hartford.

The assault on education by education hate mongers continues unabated. Hartford has managed to hire yet another sock-puppet administrator who has sold the city into the hard child slavery of high expectations, high-stress testing, and the moving of graduation goal posts even further from an urban student population whose drop out numbers on the existing prison march nears 70%.

it reflects Adamowski's belief that the district's recent reorganization — with its focus on smaller schools, special fields of interest provided by new magnet schools and proposed increases in academic support — will enable Hartford's students to perform as well as their peers anywhere in the state.

"I believe our city has been limited by a psychology of low expectations," Adamowski told The Courant. "That just because our students are poor ... or because their parents can't give them the support they need, they can't perform. But I believe when we do raise expectations, our students rise to meet them."
The problem with the argument is that students in the rest of the state aren't competing with inner city youth and NCLB has so diseased the public school system that these administrators are gaming the system to make it look as if the dysfunctional comparison of one intellectually poisoned population to another is significant and healthy.

These recommendations come at a price tag that inner city schools seem to have no accountability for. State funds flow into these schools as if the faucet is an unattended fire hydrant that has an endless supply of money for ever more teachers, ever smaller classes, and never improving students. And someday they'll "compete" with suburban students and "rise to the challenge".

What challenge? The insipid "higher expectations escalation" game that endears these administrators to the political sadists of our society?

The same business community that sheds crocodile tears for their fictional inability to hire qualified candidates routinely ax legions of qualified employees due to greed, avarice, and mismanagement - not lack of an available skilled workforce.

Education has become so dishonest, corrupt, and dysfunctional in the past thirty years that like the earth's ecology it is becoming a hopeless cause. The entire system needs to be fumigated and Hartford would be as good a place as any to start.

How about we raise the expectations of schools to include reasonable costs and respect for the individuality of students.

And how about the dissolution of Carnegie units, high-stakes tests, and the State Department of Education. Not a one of these things has served us well and not a one will be missed. How about raising the expectation of schools to open up their curriculum to involve the community and alternative classes, internships, and student-centric drivers.

How about the corporate community shutting the hell up about their phony employment "needs" and opening their companies to interns. And where are the corporate learning centers? Boarded up - passing the blame onto public schools and taxpayers.

This same philosophy has so screwed up the technical education system that it is creating a crisis in trades as students who've chosen trades are confronted with college-prep curriculum. The insanity just doesn't stop no matter how much empirical evidence documents the educational train-wreck that Bush has wrought.

How about flushing the current system because it sucks like the neo-cons who manufactured it? How about the low expectation that the Department of Education do their freakin' job and examine the empirical evidence?

I'm sure they're at least as smart as the army of dropouts inner city schools shed every year.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Stand-up Comedy at a PreSchool

Zach Galifianakis does a stand-up comedy routine with an preschool class. Some of you may find the comedy to be a bit juvenile but I laughed.

And I have to include this Jimmy Kimmel clip as well. I nearly busted a gut watching.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Unknown Artist: Sami Al-Haj

Sami Al-Haj is a conceptual artist by necessity. His drawings consist of a set of instructions for how the pieces should be rendered. And only a few such drawings exist.

Like Sol Lewitt before him, Al-Haj challenges pre-conceived notions of what art is and how it is made.
“When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.
The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” [1]

—Sol LeWitt
Unlike Lewitt however, Al-Haj's personal circumstances turn Lewitt's assertions on their side. The machine asserted the art on Al-Haj unwillingly and unfairly. And the use of conceptual technique is not Al-Haj's choosing - his drawings are censored because they describe his ordeal as a prisoner at Guantanamo.

An article on Alternet by Andy Worthington called The Torture Drawings the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to See describes Al-Haj's circumstances.
Since January 7, 2007 (the fifth anniversary of his detention without trial by the US), Sami has been on a hunger strike. Although he is strapped into a restraint chair twice a day and force-fed against his will and despite the fact that he is "very thin" and "[h]is memory is disintegrating," according to Stafford Smith, Sami continues to seek ways to publicize the plight of his fellow prisoners. During the most recent visit from his lawyers in February -- with Cori Crider of Reprieve -- he produced a number of morbid, and almost hallucinatory sketches illustrating his take on conditions in Guantánamo, which he described as "Sketches of My Nightmare."

Fearing that they would be banned by the military censors, Crider asked him to describe each sketch in detail and when, as anticipated, the pictures were duly banned but the notes cleared, Reprieve asked political cartoonist Lewis Peake to create original works based on Sami's descriptions.

"The first sketch is just a skeleton in the torture chair," Sami explained. "My picture reflects my nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double-strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, strapped into the torture chair with no eyes and only giant cheekbones, my teeth jutting out -- my ribs showing in every detail, every rib, every joint. The tube goes up to a bag at the top of the drawing. On the right there is another skeleton sitting shackled to another chair. They are sitting like we do in interrogations, with hands shackled, feet shackled to the floor, just waiting. In between I draw the flag of Guantánamo -- JTF-GTMO -- but instead of the normal insignia, there is a skull and crossbones, the real symbol of what is happening here."
There are instructions for at least five such sketches and one can only hope that a major museum space begin an installation of all five drawings for the public's enjoyment.

Update: Sami Al Hajj was released on May 1, 2008 from Guantanamo Bay and flown to Sudan. He arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on a US military plane in the early hours of Friday, May 2nd.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Neil Bush: Ignite's Formula - Bait, Switch, Deposit Tax Dollars, Repeat

The truth about the curriculum that is sold by Ignite is obfuscated by the lack of review of the product's content and the persistence of misconceptions about the quality and attributes of the course-ware as well as a complete misunderstanding of the worth of a machine that has no internet connectivity.

After all what school system would be dumb enough to spend $4K+ on a fancy slide projector instead of investing in, say, 10-15 laptops/COW expenditure?

Some schools do and the this is somewhat understandable. In July 1999 Ignite, Inc. purchased a University of Texas incubator business, Adaptive Learning Technology, a company dedicated to individualized learning courseware.
Adaptive Learning founder Mary Schenck-Ross said the software's interactive lessons allowed teachers "to get away from the mass-treatment approach" to education. When a student typed in a response to a question, the software was designed to react and provide a customized learning path. "The original concept was to avoid 'one size fits all.' That was the point," said Catherine Malloy, who worked on the software development.

"It breaks my heart what they have done. The concept was totally perverted," Schenck-Ross said.

Mary Schenk-Ross left Ignite! in September of 2001 and the remarks are worth paying attention to not for their hyperbole but for their factual basis.

Neil Bush's proclamation that, "Ignite! is designed to make learning fun for "hunter-warrior" kids who don't like reading." could make any person concerned about education wince. And recent studies that question the educational effectiveness of presentation style slide shows like Microsoft's PowerPoint only serve to legitimize the concern.

Coupled with quality of content and methodology concerns is the bottom line cost of buying/pushing such a product into cash strapped school districts.
At a standard price of $3,800-$4,200 per unit, the COW is a very expensive device with limited use. A recent New York Times article about the use of the COW in Spotsylvania, Virginia, put the cost into perspective: each school in the district receives $1,000 "to cover all the lab supplies, equipment and other expenses connected with science for an entire year." Adding to the initial expense, schools must pay an annual $1,000 licensing, upkeep and upgrade fee in order to retain the COW for more than one year.
My guess is that the $1K/year cited in actuality is $1K per subject per COW per year expense.

But here is an actual lesson that should make every American alarmed. The subliminal message of this one is that the loss of a republic to an emperor is no big deal - in fact, things are good for centuries.

This unit on American and Canadian Art manages to completely avoid actually taking about any artists, attributing abstract expressionism to Canadians, and talking more about arts funding than art.

Viewing the YouTube vault of sample lessons shows us exactly why critics are alarmed. By basing an entire curriculum on lessons such as this, reading is minimized and middle school learning material is reduced to near moronic levels of understanding. This is bullet-point information that may reflect the testing industry's idea of high expectations but clearly this represents a dumbing down of American children, teachers, and society.

Numerous videos in this series celebrate war, war spending, and the suspension of human rights simple as that. Media Mindfulness expresses concern about the Habeas Corpus video, "...view the sample lesson from their COW (Curriculum on Wheels) system in the above video. It’s on the history of “Habeas Corpus”; you may agree the lesson is in dire need of some media literacy. It’s curious how it repeatedly justifies the suspension of the law."

The subliminal perversions do not stop there. The content and delivery intended to educate Jr. High school students is more appropriate for an elementary grade student struggling with reading or having a learning disability. But to treat entire Jr High school social studies, science, and math classes to a steady, unrelenting battery of this stuff is to believe these kids are all morons or worse. Neil Bush's dream of developing graduating classes of "hunter-warriors" who "hate reading" may be fulfilled in Houston before too long.

Another aspect of Ignite's presentation that I find disturbing is the implicit racism of the characters who narrate the information. Instead of intelligent, well-dressed teachers presenting the information children are treated to sugar-coated, hip-hop, jive-talking and singing characters who not only distort the content into labored jingoisms but promote an idea that minorities in America cannot be viewed by white America as anything more than modern-day caricatures of persistent, racist stereotypes.

The Adaptive Learning Technology courseware was dedicated to individualized learning, adaptive learning, multiple intelligences, and so on. That continues to be the marketing rhetoric despite the bleaching out of any such high-minded educational development ideals. By September of 2001, Ignite!'s business model first pursued selling itself as an aide to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and more recently as a political NCLB compliance testing inoculation.

One Size Fits All is Back!

Individualization and self-pacing are gone except as cosmically co-incidental mishaps. Ignite's agenda is NCLB's agenda. And that agenda is best summarized by Gene Hickock, the under-secretary of education, "One of the virtues of NCLB is leverage, leverage at the state. . . at the local level . . . We don’t mind being the bad guys... I am very concerned that we will . . . underestimate the potential that we have to redefine everything."

And "redefine everything" means writing laws compliant to the testing and educational lobbyist's desire. Education is no longer driven by the needs of children or the desire of taxpayers to provide a cost-effective public education.

As Bill Gates discovered at Microsoft, he who writes the specifications can near monopolize the procurement of product by consumers who must comply. The perfect storm of corrupt politics and more corrupt corporate interests is creating a manufactured market for ineffective but highly profitable testing monopolies and accessories.

That the Bush family has a hand in that multi-billion dollar tax swindle is no surprise.

next - soon

Previous: Neil Bush and the Origin of Ignite!

Secret to Keeping Teenagers Slim

The BBC News reports an interesting and counterintuitive secret to keeping teens from becoming overweight - eat breakfast. The article called Breakfast 'keeps teenagers lean' claims...
The University of Minnesota research adds weight to a growing body of evidence that those who eat breakfast - whether young or old - are leaner than those who do not.

"It may seem counter-intuitive," said Mark Pereira, who led the research. "But while they ate more calories, they did more to burn those off, and that may be because those who ate breakfast did not feel so lethargic.

"While it's best to go for a healthy option - a wholegrain cereal for instance - the evidence does seem to suggest that eating anything is better than eating nothing at all."

Mixed messages

Around 25% of the group studied regularly missed breakfast, and the problem was particularly pronounced among young women.

"It's not just a girl problem, but it is certainly more of an issue among this group," said Mr Pereira.

"They skip breakfast because they worry about weight gain - and it's ironic that the ones who aren't worried and eat in the mornings are the ones who keep their weight down."

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation at the National Obesity Forum, said the findings of the study showed just how important it was to relay a clear and consistent message to young people.

"The real problem is the profusion of messages about obesity. We need to make clear that eating regular meals is vital - and that a proper breakfast is very important.

"If you eat well first thing, you'll feel brighter, you'll have more get up and go - and that will mean you'll expend more energy."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Neil Bush and the Origin of Ignite!, Inc.

Barbara Bush has long milked the posture of a doting, innocent granny goodness character when campaigning for her sons and husband. She understands her audience.

Neil Bush needed a legitimizing reason for starting an education company in 1999. The resulting heart-wrenching tale of young Neil's difficulty in middle-school would be attributed to being diagnosed with dyslexia. And soon, Neil's story became decorated with tales of momma Bush's struggle to help Neil become a reader. The fact that Barbara Bush failed in making either Neil or brother George Jr a reader is a fact that never enters the conversation.

From my reading of the public record, aside from a smoky anecdotal diagnosis, no evidence or documentation seems to exist to prove that Neil, in fact, is dyslexic. What is clear is that the political meme that Neil was/is dyslexic was so compelling an explanation for George W.'s shocking public speaking gaffs that both brothers were suspected of having learning disabilities with W. having to insist he needed no disability to function as he had.

All of which raises the suspicion that Neil's diagnosis may be wrong. The Bush's may simply have raised at least two sons who were not the sharpest tools in the family shed. And the dyslexia meme, real or imagined conveniently serves a marketing purpose that sells well. And I bring up this topic because the dyslexia meme later becomes a smokescreen for the Ignite product.

The 1999 Assault on America

One can choose to believe that Neil Bush's heartfelt compassion for the children of America suffering from learning disabilities was his motivation for starting Ignite, Inc. And Neil's commitment to improving the lives of these poor afflicted children was so myopic that luring investors - any investor no matter what their background became his calling.

And in the activity by Neil's investors we find a pattern of investment that seemingly contradicts and transcends Neil's pithy dyslexia story.

In 1999, Bill Bennett's educational venture K12, Inc. received $4M of taxpayer NCLB funding. The controversy is documented here:
Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, drug czar, and conservative author and pundit, founded K12 in 1999 as an option to traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
The publication also reported that ED awarded the grants despite the fact that the Arkansas project scored lower on a series of independent reviews than at least one other program that wasn't funded--a highly unusual occurrence, ED insiders said, and one that raises the question of whether the program received preferential treatment as a result of the political ties among Bennett, Arkansas state officials, and Bush administration officials.

The key to our discussion is the 1999 timeframe. This is the year that the American election is stolen in Florida with Gore and the Democrats not knowing what hit them.

Yet, neo-conservative forces like Bennett and Bush's brother are being heavily financed to profit from the education industry (variously reported to be a multi-billion dollar market) a priori of the election results.

And who financed Bennett?
Bill teamed with a Virginia company backed by the education firm Knowledge Universe that is Michael Milikin's(sic) money to start up k12.com his home / cyber learning for profit school which is also commodisizing educational products.

Millkin, of junk bond fame, re-appears in 2006 as an investor in Ignite! whose original investors include Neil's parents and "Neil Bush had raised about $23 million from more than a dozen outside investors, including Mohammed Al Saddah, the head of a Kuwaiti company, and Winston Wong, the head of a Chinese computer firm."

Now, after five years of development and backing by investors like Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and onetime junk-bond king Michael R. Milken, Neil Bush aims to roll his high-tech teacher's helpers into classrooms nationwide.

This perfect storm of foreign investment did not happen overnight. The assault on the American public education system started much earlier and its history is as seedy as anything this series will cover. All such evidence is in the public record.

What is important is that by 1999, a coup of American education is being poised to take control. Not only does it shock and awe progressive educational initiatives, it violates the rhetoric of conservatism that is enlisted to empower this takeover.

And even in 1999, like a bad Austin Powers movie script, the scope of ambition in controlling the education of students everywhere with a uniform and politically correct curriculum of compliance and servitude is obvious to international observers.

In a paper by Angela C. Siqueira presented to the Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society called "The World Bank New Discourse and the 1999 Education Strategy", secret documentation is examined that already describes global education policies that will be applied to education initiatives around the world that eerily predict the form and deployment of NCLB in America.

Based on the 1999 education sector strategy and World Bank documents... -snip- ...it seems that the main target is to create intellectual dependence and impose a one-sided solution and view of the world, by eliminating the possibility for the emergence of alternative perspectives.

In summary, the Knowledge Management Bank and its Education Knowledge Management System seem to be an attempt to foster the commodification, sterilization, and standardization of knowledge. Therefore, it constitutes a serious peril to democracy, which presupposes diversity and not homogeneity.

Ignite!, Inc. is created from the seeds of a long-simmering desire on the part of globally controlled media conglomerates and mideast players with politically incestuous ties to the Bush clan and the neo-con factions of the Republican party to prototype in America a closed, tightly controlled public school curriculum that would uniformly classify its graduates according to the needs of these international power brokers.

They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In the end, Neil Bush emerges as little more than an errand boy. The Bush presidency little more than a well-compensated political ratchet with which to implement a brilliant swindle that brings America's education system to its intellectual knees and under the jackboot of right-wing dogmatists.

Previous: Neil Bush: Igniting an Investigation
next: Neil Bush: Bait, Switch, Deposit Tax Dollars, Repeat

Classroom Size and Education "Gaps"

A recent CABE email newsletter included an update of one of my favorite subjects - class size. In my research, the American high school is often misrepresented on the subject.

The latest controversy - that class size benefits everyone equally or even disproportionately doing nothing to alleviate the mythical achievement gap:

Class Size and the Achievement Gap: Reducing class size has been a popular policy among parents, teachers, and lawmakers as a way to increase student achievement. For 20 years, a large study of class size in Tennessee, known as Project STAR, has raised hopes that reducing class size in inner-city classrooms to 17 or fewer would yield significant increases in achievement, reports Jay Mathews for the Washington Post. However, Spyros Konstantopoulos, a Northwestern University researcher, contradicts assumptions that class size reduction might have a significant effect on the gap between rich and poor students and concluded that high achievers benefited more from the smaller classes than low achievers. By looking closely at the same data as Project STAR on thousands of students from kindergarten through third grade in 79 schools, Konstantopoulos found that decreasing class size might drive some achievement (on average) yet it does not appear to reduce achievement gaps within classes.

Project STAR, short for Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio, launched in 1985, was paid for by the Tennessee legislature and involved roughly 7,000 students from 79 schools. In the study, children were randomly assigned to small classes (13 to17 students per teacher), regular-size classes (22 to 25 students per teacher) or regular classes (22 to 25 students) with a full-time aide for each teacher. Classroom teachers were also randomly assigned, giving the study a scientific validity rarely found in educational research. After four years, researchers found a significant relationship between smaller classes and higher academic achievement. Follow-up studies have shown that children who were in the smaller classes continued to outperform those from larger classes.

Researcher Konstantopoulos stated, "Given that class size reduction is an intervention that benefits all students, it's tempting to expect that it will also reduce the achievement gap." He suggests that higher achievers, perhaps, are better at taking advantage of the opportunities or teacher practices that take place in small classes.

This latest review of the Project STAR data will likely generate discussion among supporters of class-size reduction policies. Since this large study, research on the effects of class size reduction has been limited. Even those who differ over the implications of the research agree that more scientific research on class size is necessary.

Sources: "Class-Size Reductions Seen of Limited Help On Achievement Gap," by Linda Jacobson appearing in the February 27, 2008 issue of Education Week.

"Smaller Classes Don't Close Learning Gap, Study Finds," by Jay Mathews appearing in the March 10, 2008 issue of the Washington Post.

Let me interject that there are lots of studies of class size who argue that as you progress through school class size becomes an irrelevant and in many cases wholly wasteful expenditure. Yet, these studies never seem to be cited by a self-serving and intellectually insulated academic community.

See my previous observations on the subject:

The Multi-million Dollar Scam

The Money Spigot

The Class Size Scam

Search for class size in this blog for related material.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Neil Bush: Igniting an Investigation


To understand why Neil Bush's educational firm is under investigation is only a provincial part of the story of the alleged misuse of NCLB funds.

The larger scope of scandal is not so much global as a surgical subversion of the American system of education by foreign interests who may be seeking to institutionalize a curriculum to undermine democracy in this country. If 9/11 demonstrated the kind of physical threat a hostile outside agent could muster then imagine the potential to disrupt this country's ability to instill trust in law, government, and to revitalize its workforce in maintaining a strong, free-thinking society.

And, like 9/11, by tricking the existing system into financing and implementing the scheme is the well-known irony of the original tragedy.

An outside enemy need not be particularly ingenious to imagine just such a scheme. From afar, the purchase of curriculum materials is often dictated by the buying decisions of the largest state consumers, say, Texas. That same outside agent would need to simply control Texas' most influential political agent. Conveniently that agent might also wholly control the nation's education laws, practice, and funding.

Own Texas' local power broker and in time that outside agent can PWN the curriculum of the planet's strongest democracy.

What would it take to accomplish a speculative feat as just described. The foreign interest might have no interest in the American dollar as that interest might see the currency as worthless wallpaper. So "investing" in a certain American's provincial special interests would be one way of achieving a degree of control.

Another might be to compromise the integrity of that local agent assuming that integrity existed in the first place.

Let's put this narrative aside to look at actual facts to see if any of this might be a concern.


In early November of 2007, a watchdog consumer group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked John P. Higgins Jr., the inspector general of the Department of education to investigate whether or not $1M of No Child Left Behind Funding was inappropriately used to purchase Ignite, Inc's product suite. The issue being that NCLB funding requires stringent compliance to certain educational criteria that this group believes is not being met.

A New York Times report by Marilyn Thompson documents the event:
The citizens' group obtained documents through a Freedom of Information Act request showing that the Katy Independent School District west of Houston used $250,000 in state and federal Hurricane Katrina relief money last year to buy the Curriculum on Wheels.

The district's director of special education, Fred Shafer, supported the purchases, telling other officials that "all the kids love the Cow, and it really meets the needs of the students with disabilities," according to an internal e-mail message obtained by the citizens' group. Mr. Shafer did not return calls for comment.

Neil Bush has assertively marketed the Cow and, according to the company, the product has been placed in 22 states. This summer, Ignite announced plans to expand into China.

The citizens' group says it has documented only a small part of the federal money spent on Ignite products. Ignite has had strong support from districts in Texas, President Bush's home state. This week, the Houston Independent School District is set to consider whether to authorize schools to spend an additional $300,000 from various financing sources on the Curriculum on Wheels.

Jay Spuck, a former curriculum director for the district, has criticized spending on the Ignite product, saying: "It's not helping kids at all. It's not helping teachers. The only way Neil has gotten in is by his name."

Much of the product's success in Texas dates from a March 2006 donation by Barbara Bush, who gave eight units to schools attended by large numbers of hurricane evacuees.

Neil Bush followed up with an e-mail message telling the district that "in order for the schools to keep the Cows in subsequent years they will have to pay an annual fee of $1,000," according to documents obtained by the citizens group.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group, referring to No Child Left Behind, said: "A constant principle of N.C.L.B. is that children must be taught using scientifically proven methods. Ignite's Cows simply don't meet N.C.L.B. standards. This suggests that the real reason N.C.L.B. funds are expended on Ignite is because the founder and C.E.O. is the president's brother."

The cost for each COW unit is approximately $4,200 and a simple calculation of Barbara Bush's "donation" (see below) comes out to $33,600. This means that the Texas school district spent an additional $226,400 on additional units.

The accusation that the units were sold on influence peddling by Neil and Barbara Bush is an obvious suspicion and it is repeated in both liberal and conservative publications reporting on this event. The Bush's largely attribute such criticism to jealousy and celebrity sniping on the part of critics. The fact that their family is self-insulated from oversight or accountability is an unspoken subtext.

The content of a Walter F. Roche, Jr. article in the LA Times has become mysteriously inaccessible on the LA Times site. However this important documentation was found preserved here.
In Houston, where Neil Bush and his parents live, the district has used various funding sources to acquire $400,000 in Ignite products. An
additional $240,000 in purchases has been authorized in the last six months.

Correspondence obtained by The Times shows that Neil Bush met with top Houston officials, sent e-mails and left voice mail messages urging bigger and faster allocations. An e-mail from a school procurement official to colleagues said Bush had made it clear that he had a "good working relationship" with a school board member.
Another Ignite official asked a Texas state education official to endorse the company. In an e-mail, Neil Bush's partner Ken Leonard asked Michelle Ungurait, state director of social studies programs, to tell Houston officials her "positive impressions of our content, system and approach."

Ungurait, identified in another Leonard e-mail as "our good friend" at the state office, told her superiors in response to The Times' inquiry that she never acted on Leonard's request. Leonard said he did not ask Ungurait to do anything that would be improper.

Houston school officials gave Ignite's products "high" ratings in eight categories and recommended approval.

Some in Houston's schools question the expenditures, however. Jon Dansby was teaching at Houston's Fleming Middle School when Ignite products arrived. "You can't even get basics like paper and scissors, and we went out and bought them. I just see red," he said.

In Las Vegas, the schools have approved more than $300,000 in Ignite purchases. Records show the board recommended spending $150,000 in No Child funding on Ignite products.

Sources familiar with the Las Vegas purchases said pressure to buy Ignite products came from Sig Rogich, an influential local figure and prominent Republican whose fundraising of more than $200,000 for President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign qualified him as a "Bush Ranger."

Rogich, who chairs a foundation that supports local schools, said he applied no pressure but became interested in COWs after Neil Bush contacted him. Rogich donated $6,000 to purchase two COWs for a middle school named after him.

Christy Falba, the former Clark County school official who oversaw the contracts, said she and her husband attended a dinner with Neil Bush to discuss the products. She said Rogich encouraged the district "to look at the Ignite program" but applied no pressure.
You'll notice that Houston alone has spent at least $640,000 on the devices and that coverage of the expense for this product is repeatedly under-reported as a result of the piecemeal purchasing audit trail.

You'll also notice that unquestionably NCLB funds (your tax dollars) are being funneled into Bush coffers. The question of whether or not the practice is legal is the contention.


"Donation" Money

As you read previously most of the media both left and right described Barbara Bush's donation as a private act of charity.

Amy Goodman's interview of Joe DeRose sets up the context of the donation;
AMY GOODMAN: Joe DeRose, on a side note, I remember when the President’s mother, the former First Lady, Barbara Bush, went to visit the Katrina survivors in the Houston Astrodome, and she promised to make a contribution to charity. I’m looking at the Houston Chronicle, the piece that wrote about that and said, “Katrina funds earmarked to pay for Neil Bush’s software program. Former First Lady Barbara Bush donated an undisclosed amount of money to the Bush-Clinton Katrina fund with specific instructions that the money be spent with an educational software company owned by her son Neil. Since then, the Ignite learning program has been given to eight area schools that took in substantial numbers of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.” That was in Houston. Do you know more about that? At the time, we didn’t know that she was saying that her charitable contribution would go to pay for her son’s educational software.

JOE DeROSE: No, I don’t know anything about that. But I think the point is that that really needs to be looked at very hard, is that a lot of money has been allocated, maybe not enough, but certainly billons of dollars have already been allocated by the federal government, and I think it’s pretty important to look at where that money is being spent.
But Barbara Bush's earmarked donation is the tip of an iceburg. The diversion of charitable donations toward the Bush's product includes this 2006 tidbit from the Houston Chronicle:
Two years ago, the school district raised eyebrows when it expanded the program by relying heavily on private donations.

In February 2004, the Houston school board unanimously agreed to accept $115,000 in charitable donations from businesses and individuals who insisted the money be spent on Ignite. The money covered half the bill for the software, which cost $10,000 per school.

The deal raised conflict of interest concerns because Neil Bush and company officials helped solicit the donations for the HISD Foundation, a philanthropic group that raises money for the district.
Quid pro quo tax-deductible political contributions in the form of charitable donations? As the Borat character might say, "NICE!"

Previous: Neil Bush, The UnTold Story - Preface

Next - Neil Bush and the Origin of Ignite!, Inc.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The UnTold Neil Bush Story: Preface

A few months ago I had bookmarked an Alternet article that repeated a question about Neil Bush's education company, Ignite, Inc. who distribute something called Curriculum on Wheels (COW). I was doing some house-cleaning of my bookmarks a few days ago and reread the article and decided to update it with my observations.

I never expected what looked to be yet another run-of-the-mill Bush family scam to be so vile or so mysteriously obfuscated by both the journalists on the right and the left. Like a greased pig, the untold story continues to slip its way into oblivion.

This education story involves concubines, cover-ups, threats to national security, international intrigue, a press corp more interested in smoke than fire, a bait-and-switch product, non-existent oversight, the subliminal subversion of the Constitution, and the central character is qualified to be little more than a whistling hollywood second-banana in a buddy western.

Because of the volume of research this story requires, this post as well as follow-up postings will be re-edited over the next few days. Unlike most journalists who have tried to connect the dots, I am not following the money. I am following the slime trail.

Instead of spending a lot of time admonishing you about the excesses of the Bush family or Neil in particular, I just want to examine the public record and asked some unasked questions that I believe weave a quite different story than you will find anywhere else.

Neil's Divorce

The first unusual fact that everyone who examines Neil's public record will discover involves the unusual behavior his former wife testified to in relation to the divorce proceeding. Neil's household behavior had become so bizarre that his wife ripped some hair off his head to be tested for drugs. A second time she pocketed a wisp of hair from a stylist's studio for the same reason.

Neil Bush's lawyer claimed the former wife was practicing "voodoo". Let's assume Bush's wife of twenty plus years, a former schoolteacher and mother of his children was not walking around with a little Neil voodoo doll with pins in it.

Let's assume, she really did want to have the hair tested because of the behavior she was witnessing. If the drug were alcohol abuse, a hair sample would be unnecessary because according to this and many other sites here's what she was worried about:
What type of drugs can be detected in a standard hair test?

Cocaine (Cocaine & Benzoylecgonine), Marijuana, Opiates (Codeine, Morphine & 6-Monacteyl Morphine), Methamphetamine (Methamphetamine/Amphetamine & Ecstasy), and Phencyclidine (PCP). These five drug classes are mandated for testing by the Federal Government.

Oh. That's an interesting concern, don't you think? Maybe she knows something the rest of us should know.

But let's assume Neil is innocent of illegal drug use. What could explain the behavior? Another disturbing clue is found in the divorce public record.

Neil Bush's trips to the Arab Republic, Asia, and the Pacific might hardly be considered a series of boring hotel stays. That means that he would be writing home about the stinking mint that was left on his pillow.

But that's not at all Neil's experience. No, Neil testified that on at least two occasions, a woman knocked on his door and asked to have sex. And , not wanting to offend the locals, Neil obliged.

Now, everyone who covered this part of the story leaves it at that and wags a finger. But my concern -cough- goes a little deeper. How does an unidentified woman walk past the Secret Service and knock on Neil's door for a nooner unless the woman is pre-screened as a concubine assigned to the administration?

I mean, if Clinton sharing a cigar with Monica Lewinski was a security threat, what the hell would you call this? And how -pardon the pun- widespread is this practice? Is it limited to the Bush Bros? Chaney? Does a Unik visit Condolezza as an ice breaker while visiting?

But let's finish the lap. If Elliot Spitzer's infidelity is all over the internet, has the administration been compromised? And which one? Does Osama Bin Laden relax on Friday nights by having a beer party featuring stag films of the American government officials who preach but practice abroad?

And finally, was Bush's erratic behavior the results of willfully taking drugs or being drugged? And what are those conversations like in the Gulf and China - small talk or state secrets?

Postscript to the preface:

Oh, actually there is one more detail that no one talks about. Only the Bush administration and their hosts know who these visitors were, male or female, child or adult, predisposed to the exotic or missionaries.

The origin of Ignite, Inc. was consummated in this stew of inbred, power broking hubris.

Next: Neil Bush - Igniting Investigation

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Are the New Healthy Food Manifestos Promoting Brain Rot?

I'll be the first in line to say that I want kids to have healthy food alternatives at school. But recently that pendulum has swung to a statewide ban of caffeinated drinks in vending machines and on school grounds. Chocolate is another contraband item.

Here in 'Daily caffeine 'protects brain' from BBC news, is yet another study of caffeine that suggests its good for people - especially those who want to keep their brain from getting diseased.

The University of North Dakota study used the equivalent to just one daily cup of coffee in their experiments on rabbits.

After 12 weeks of a high-cholesterol diet, the blood brain barrier in those given caffeine was far more intact than in those given no caffeine.

'Safe drug'

"Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky," said Dr Jonathan Geiger, who led the study.

"High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood brain barrier.

"Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug and its ability to stabilise the blood brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders."

A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Disease Society said that the study shed "important light" on why previous research had showed benefits for drinking coffee.

"This is the best evidence yet that caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee a day can help protect the brain against cholesterol.

"In addition to its effect on the vascular system, elevated cholesterol levels also cause problems with the blood brain barrier.

"This barrier, which protects the brain from toxins and infections, is less efficient prior to brain damage caused by Alzheimer's disease or strokes."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Our April 1 Board Meeting: Athletic Field Improvements

Tuesday night the Board of Education meeting had two primary issues to deal with.

First, a study of the athletic fields was discussed in a public forum. A number of options were presented both cost wise and by configuration. The crux of the matter is that our track is wholly unusable and the adjacent fields are marginal. There is no source of water for maintaining the fields near the school so importing the water is the only solution with that choice. The comprehensive study walked through most of the issues.

What caught my attention was the water and maintenance issue that would result if we did not opt for the synthetic fields. The cost of water and person power over time will become back-breaking given what we know about the trajectory of existing costs.

I advocated the community doing as comprehensive a rebuild of the athletic infrastructure as possible. The $8M price tag was quite reasonable in my limited research of what other school districts have paid in recent years ($5+M for more limited operations).

Let me explain my position.

First the athletic facilities are humiliatingly out of spec with just about any other high school in the state and this is not a matter of status envy. Our facilities have simply exhausted their usable life cycle. Inconvenient as it is, it is time to invest in reconstructing these facilities for the next 20 years or so.

IMO, the community is best served with the option that includes dual synthetic fields that accommodate the additional FFA open space. this is one of the more expensive options due to adjusting some topography issues.

I believe that given the current national and state economic climate we would be smart to take advantage of credit terms that will ensure the money borrowed is most efficiently dedicated to infrastructure rather than interest payments.

Secondly, the long term savings in water and maintenance at EO will be significant over time and well worth the initial investment.

Finally, we should attempt to keep the work force as local as possible when it comes to construction activity. Let's leverage the local spending by keeping local construction workers gainfully employed during this economic slowdown.

I'll talk about the rest of the budget in another post.