Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sad Day for Free Speech

A New York Appeals Court ruled against Avery Doninger in a free speech case many have been following closely. The Courant reports
The ruling by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York only addressed a preliminary issue in the case of Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School, who has argued that school district administrators violated her First Amendment rights by disciplining her for a blog post she wrote off school grounds.

But the court's ruling weighed in on a hotly contested and evolving area of the law, freedom of expression on the Internet. The three-judge panel stopped short of declaring how far schools can go in regulating offensive Internet speech made off campus, but stated that the school did not violate the Constitution in disciplining Doninger because her blog post "created a foreseeable risk of substantial disruption" at the school.

Thursday's ruling addressed a request by Doninger's attorney for an injunction to allow Doninger to serve as class secretary, which she was barred from doing because of the blog post. A federal district court judge rejected the request last year, finding that Doninger had not proven a substantial likelihood of challenging the constitutionality of her punishment. The appeals court agreed.

Thomas R. Gerarde, an attorney for defendants Paula Schwartz, the former Region 10 superintendent, and Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff, said the rulings by both courts "exonerated" the school district administrators.

"It's a very, very decided victory for Region 10. There's no other way to look at this," he said.

Jon L. Schoenhorn, Doninger's attorney, said the ruling could "emasculate the First Amendment rights of students."

"If this [blog post] was potentially disruptive, then they might as well empty out half of the schools of not just Connecticut but probably in this country," he said.

Schoenhorn noted that the rulings were based on a limited record and predicted that the courts would rule differently once the full case is heard in a trial.

A disappointed Lauren Doninger, Avery's mother, said she and her daughter had always planned to go to trial for reasons beyond the student government and graduation.

"We filed for an injunction because we really hoped to somehow hold on to part of this senior year experience for Avery," she said. "That's not going to happen, but that doesn't change that we need to move forward to trial. We need to really explore student speech rights at the judicial level in the age of the Internet."

The case originated in a dispute last spring about the Burlington school's Jamfest, a battle of the bands that Doninger helped coordinate. Frustrated that it was not going ahead as planned, Doninger wrote on her livejournal.com Weblog that "Jamfest is canceled due to the douchebags in central office." She encouraged others to write or call Schwartz "to piss her off more."

Jamfest wasn't actually canceled, and was later rescheduled. Administrators found the blog entry about two weeks after Doninger wrote it, and Niehoff told Doninger to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the post and stop seeking re-election as class secretary.

Doninger agreed to the first two, but refused to withdraw her candidacy. Though Doninger was not allowed to run, enough students wrote in her name that she won. She was barred from serving.

The appeals court based much of its analysis on the 2nd Circuit case Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District in New York, in which a student was suspended after creating an instant-messaging icon that suggested his teacher should be shot. The court upheld the suspension last year, saying it was reasonable to expect the icon would come to the attention of school authorities and could create a risk of substantial disruption to the school environment.
This serves as yet another example of the degree of degradation of the court system due to forty years of reactionary judges being force fed en mass into the government. America's court have all of the integrity of courts in totalitarian regimes.

When students are denied the right to exercise citizen's rights they will learn to deny those rights of others when they're older. When children are indoctrinated to be silent in the face of what they feel is injustice then our democracy is forsaken.

The embers of the Bill of Rights are not a flicker of hope but of despair that the American people have let the monsters running our government touch our children's lives with the perversions of intolerance and educational internment. The damage these crazy bastards have done to our country is as unforgivable as it is irreparable.

I hear atheists saying, God help us all!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Technological Debt

On my last contract, I was introduced to a new term confronting the IT industry and Connecticut businesses - technological debt.

Technological debt refers to the practice of making do with existing technology for too long. Systems get patched, band-aids applied, responsible progress delayed or ignored.

Our schools are in similar condition. The lecturer/passive listener model has no place in this century except as an artifact of yesteryear. And students memorizing answers, working without artificially intelligent aids, and lugging papyrus around is wholly inexcusable.

The technological debt we are talking about is non-trivial. The accrued interest payments our kids are unwittingly assuming will diminish their lives forever.

The only relief in sight is the hope that the funding of public schools collapses to the point of forcing reform of an obsolete education mindset that doesn't have the sense to come up for air before it drowns us all.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Public Math, Private Math

Here's yet another study of the differences between public school results as opposed to private school results in math scores. The article is called, Public schools as good as private schools in raising math scores, study says
Students in public schools learn as much or more math between kindergarten and fifth grade as similar students in private schools, according to a new University of Illinois study of multi-year, longitudinal data on nearly 10,000 students.

The results of the study appear in the May issue of the influential education journal Phi Delta Kappan.

“These data provide strong, longitudinal evidence that public schools are at least as effective as private schools in boosting student achievement,” according to the authors, education professor Christopher Lubienski, doctoral student Corinna Crane and education professor Sarah Theule Lubienski.

The new study is the first published study to show that public schools are at least as effective as private schools at promoting student learning over time, they say.

Combined with other, yet-unpublished studies of the same data, which produced similar findings, “we think this effectively ends the debate about whether private schools are more effective than publics,” said Christopher Lubienski, whose research has dealt with all aspects of alternative education.

This is important, he said, because many current reforms, such as No Child Left Behind, charter schools and vouchers for private schools, are based on that assumption.

The debate essentially began three years ago with the publication in Phi Delta Kappan of a previous study by the Lubienskis, which challenged the then-common wisdom – supported by well-regarded but dated research – that private schools were superior.

In that 2005 study, they found that public school students tested higher in math than their private school peers from similar social and economic backgrounds.

In another, more-extensive study in early 2006, they built on those findings, and also raised similar questions about charter schools.

Both studies were based on fourth- and eighth-grade test data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The conclusions of the husband-and-wife team seemed “crazy radical” at the time, Sarah Lubienski said, and generated significant controversy. They were supported, however, later in 2006, with similar findings in U.S. Department of Education studies comparing public schools with privates and with charters, which looked at NAEP test data on both math and reading.

(Unlike literacy, math is viewed as being less dependent on a student’s home environment and more an indication of a school’s effectiveness, Sarah Lubienski said.)

Critics of these previous studies, however, have cited the lack of longitudinal data showing the possible effect over time of different types of schooling. The studies of NAEP data were only snapshots, they said, showing student achievement at a single point in time. The studies did not address the possibility that some students may have entered private school at a lower level of achievement.

The new study was designed, in part, to address that issue, the authors say in their PDK article.

The data for the new study came from the database produced by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (or ECLS-K), administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education.

The ECLS-K database includes both student achievement and comprehensive background information drawn from a nationally representative sample of more than 21,000 students, starting with their entry into kindergarten in the fall of 1998.

The most recent data available for the U. of I. study was gathered in 2004, in the spring of the students’ fifth-grade year. The sample used for the study included 9,791 students in 1,531 schools (1,273 public, 140 Catholic and 118 other private schools).

To better determine the effects of attending different types of schools, the sample included only students who had stayed in the same type of school – though not necessarily the same school – throughout the years covered.

As in the previous studies, the researchers used a statistical technique known as hierarchical linear modeling to control for demographic differences between students, as well as schools. Among the demographic variables included in looking at students were measures of socioeconomic status; race and ethnicity; gender; disability; and whether the child spoke a language other than English at home.

Among the variables included in looking at schools was the average socioeconomic level of its students, its racial or ethnic composition, and its location (urban or rural).

The NAEP data had included similar information, but its quality and controls on its collection were not as strong as for ECLS-K, according to Sarah Lubienski, who studies math education and specializes in statistical research. “It’s one reason this study feels more definitive than the NAEP studies,” she said.

After controlling for demographic differences among students and schools, the researchers’ found that public school students began kindergarten with math scores roughly equal to those of their Catholic school peers. By fifth grade, however, they had made significantly greater gains, equal to almost an extra half year of schooling.
The American public has yet to be told that even conservatives who had previously advocated for school vouchers are now admitting that it is an exteremely bad idea. And although NCLB continues its reign of intellectual deprivation of American public schools it is only because of the continuing and unrelenting masochist policies of the Bush administration led by education dominatrix , Margaret Spellings.

Until the current administration is voted out of office into the jailcells they more rightfully deserve the pox of NCLB will continue to stain the reputation of public schools that in study after comprehensive study demonstrate competent, superior results before Bush denigrated their good name.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Spanking Controversy

A recent Lifestyle Column in the Courant called Men Have Better Friends carried this tidbit:
Should Children Witness Childbirth?

Because of a power outage, only one paramedic responded to the call. The house was very dark, so the paramedic asked Kathleen, a 4-year-old, to hold a flashlight high over her mommy so he could see while he helped deliver the baby. Very diligently, Kathleen did as she was asked. The mother pushed and pushed, and after a little while, Connor was born. The paramedic lifted him by his little feet and spanked him on his bottom. Connor began to cry. The paramedic then thanked Kathleen for her help and asked the wide-eyed girl what she thought about what she had just witnessed. Kathleen quickly responded:

"He shouldn't have crawled in there in the first place. Smack him again."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Hannibal Lecter Memorial Fencing Legislation

Every once in a while the issue of school fencing comes up at Policy meetings. The idea is is repulsively inane that it will never survive a budget process until it has an aesthetic inertia that makes a whole lot more sense than what is becoming known as the Hannibal Lecter schoolscape thanks to critics such as James Howard Kunstler.

Here's a great TED lecture on why local control of school spaces is critical (note the Hannibal Lecter school scape most likely legislated by a brain-dead state agency in the name of security or accountability).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Go Ask Alice

Click image to enlarge.

Dear friends,

I thought you might like to know about the EOS spring play. Hope you can make it!
The Courtyard is a lovely place for a performance, but seating is limited so I suggest you call and make a reservation. You may want to bring blankets with you, depending on the weather!

E.O. Smith Drama Club will present “Alice in Wonderland” in the E. O. Smith Courtyard, an outdoor venue, on

Friday, May 30- 8pm
Saturday, May 31-8pm
Sunday, June 1- 1:30 pm
Friday, June 6- 8pm
Saturday, June 7- 1:30
Sunday, June 8- 8pm

Raindates will be scheduled as needed!

Reservations and Weather alerts at 860-487-4876.
Tickets: $5 for children, students and seniors,
$7 for general admission.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Teach as if Armageddon Has Arrived

There's a wonderful article - Steam Dream by Sharon Steel on the Steampunk movement in this week's Boston Phoenix. Steampunk is “like punk, but with better manners.” An art movement and a lifestyle that just might save the world as you know it.

Of particular interest to school reformers is an idea that could be adapted to create a nomadic school:
Whereas Cyberpunk posits a dark future, Friedrich says that Steampunk has “a hopeful heart . . . where a balance can be struck between progress and tradition.” Friedrich incorporates Steampunk as a strategy of quality consumption and slower living, with a distinct focus on the handmade. “If the idea of always having more is proving to be flawed,” she says, “then why not focus on having better of what we do have?”

Friedrich also dresses the part, and she doesn’t begrudge people who pick up Steampunk purely for its cos-play affectations — there’s an entire LiveJournal community, Steamfashion, devoted to Steampunk-styled photo shoots and garment showcases. The Steampunk “look” varies as much as the personalities of its wearer, although Friedrich herself says she enjoys transforming from “a turn-of-the-century jungle explorer” into “a post-apocalyptic warrior in shredded petticoats and bustled skirts.” She sells her creations, including her Chrono Corps Emblem ring and an “Ambience Enhancer” — a Steampunked device for holding a modern mp3 player on one’s wrist — on etsy.com, the eBay of craft sites.

Another of von Slatt’s colleagues in the Contraptor’s Lounge, David Dowling, is a Jamaica Plain resident, sculptor, and master’s candidate at the Boston Architectural College. Dowling, who has a background in blacksmithing, scenic design, engineering, welding, and machine modification, shares Friedrich’s Steampunk aesthetic, which sees the movement as one that can galvanize proponents.

To that end, he is working on the building plans for a large-scale Steampunk undertaking he’s calling the Meandering Manor — a mobile platform for art exhibitions, maker workshops, performances, and other creative purposes. The Manor, now in the design-and-planning phase, will be erected out of a series of junkyard Steampunked diesel vehicles. They’ll fit together like a puzzle, allowing the vehicles to travel independently or in a caravan and be locked together on site. Dowling hopes to start construction this summer.

“The Meandering Manor is about using spectacle as a tool to get people to engage with radical politics,” says Dowling of its anti-globalization aims. “This project is intended to activate people’s interest in creative reuse, sustainability, and alternative-living methods by showing them how cool and accessible it is without preaching about it. It’s to build an environment that was made by normal people, with normal means, in a sustainable, socially productive fashion.”

Dowling says that Steampunk, until recently, had little to do with “contrapting” and creative re-use. Now, however, these elements are a well-oiled cog in Steampunk’s main engine. Steampunk opens the door to a fantasy-future that can actually — if one wishes and works hard enough — co-exist with the present.

“As we desperately fumble for a way to throw this machine into reverse,” says Dowling, “not just in the Steampunk scene but pan-culturally, I think it’s only natural that some people should manifest that desire by going back to the beginning — the Industrial Revolution and the Victorians. That’s where all this speculative fiction intersects with politics and the DIY movement — a desire to stand on the cusp of the industrialized, mass-marketed, engineered, branded iSpend future and the labor-intensive, technologically impoverished, hand-crafted past and ask: where did we go wrong? What could we have done differently? How can we re-imagine the fiction we will become in the future?”
Oh, and there's some very nice free Steampunk (post-punk)MP3's to be downloaded here.

"Steampunk is the creative mind’s answer to a world that has flat-lined." - Captain Robert Brown, Abney Park

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The $$$ Education Gap

We just got through a very difficult budget season in Region 19 and a clarity about today's economy occurred to me along the way.

Economists like to talk about the nation's economics as monolithic as though everyone experiences the same economic effects.

What has become increasingly apparent is that government employees, teachers, and certain other education professions have surged ahead in security and earnings during the Bush years. Their uninterrupted incomes, benefits, and automatic raises have turned the old arguments that public service jobs don't pay around. They not only pay but they are self-inflationary.

On another hand, the middle-class, working in the free-market have experienced severe deflationary economics. Layoffs, downward re-employment, displacement, and depletion of savings are typical. Missed paychecks are common. Benefits, security, and thoughts of retirement are non-existent.

A third group is a growing retirement community living on fixed incomes.

The ever-increasing tax burden that funds the inflationary group is killing the rest.

This can't go on forever.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Teachers. Don't Try This in the United States

Hattip to Reddit on this one. An unbelievable story about a student lecturing Boy Scouts on the US Constitution and being labeled a "terrorist" for doing so. Watch out Social Studies teachers, you're next!

As part of his duties as an advisor in the college office, Jeff was tasked with the role of giving a short speech and a tour to a group of Boy Scouts that were visiting the college, with a focus on how patriotism and liberty are emphasized in the teaching style of the university.

Jeff said he told the boys, "It's going to be you who is going to take this country and either make or break it - you need to get back to your constitution, you need to get to know your bill of rights and you need to stand up for them."

Jeff also mentioned that the freedoms enumerated in the bill of rights were fast being usurped by the government and he briefly talked about the USA Patriot Act.

"I said they're stripping us of what we know to be America, what you need to do is re-orient yourself to the constitution because that is the very founding basis of our government and it is the supreme law of the land," he added.

The next day Jeff was called into the main administrative office of the university where he was met by college officials and two men wearing dark suits and sunglasses who did not identify themselves. A state trooper was also guarding the door to make sure everyone stayed inside the office.

Jeff was asked by the men if he talked to the Boy Scouts about the constitution the previous day. Jeff was then shown a transcript of what he said and asked to fill in the blanks.

"I saw the transcript of what I said and every word that those boys had said," stated Jeff.

Jeff speculated that the recording of his talk with the Boy Scouts may have been made by a scout master who looked like a Marine that was taking the tour with Jeff.

After asking the men where they were from, Jeff was told he was committing "acts of terror and espionage" by talking to the Boy Scouts about the constitution and the bill of rights.

Jeff was unable to ascertain exactly where the feds were from but university officials later indicated that DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the FBI were involved.

Jeff said that the two men told him, "If you say anything, do anything, continue to talk about these kind of things, we can have your head on a silver platter and the University's head on a silver platter and all the programs they've got going on."

Jeff said that a high level college official who was present during the meeting, himself an ex-Marine Vietnam veteran, was extremely nervous and "shaking" as Jeff was being lectured by the two men.

"I went to my room and I broke down in tears," said Jeff after the meeting was finished, "That's it - our country's gone," he added.
Brutal is the only word that describes what this country is degenerating into. If anything deserves an investigation it is stuff like this.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Okay Class, Let's Be "Creative"

Something every parent encounters routinely are the number of inane ways that certain teachers think they're encouraging creative activities.

There's the ubiquitous choose your own font meme, the go to Staples - buy a giant display poster and posterize a book report meme, the colorize a map, create a chart, graph, picture meme, or put-it-in-your-own-words scramble meme, and on and on.

The uncreative ways teachers think about creative minds is symptomatic of the school methodology and that can only be NCLB under the current dictatorship.

A few months ago, an article, Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike by Janet Rae-Dupree appeared in the New York Times about creativity that's worth reading.
IT’S a pickle of a paradox: As our knowledge and expertise increase, our creativity and ability to innovate tend to taper off. Why? Because the walls of the proverbial box in which we think are thickening along with our experience.

Andrew S. Grove, the co-founder of Intel, put it well in 2005 when he told an interviewer from Fortune, “When everybody knows that something is so, it means that nobody knows nothin’.” In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to look beyond what you know and think outside the box you’ve built around yourself.

This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path.
The remedy?
To innovate, Mr. Heath says, you have to bring together people with a variety of skills. If those people can’t communicate clearly with one another, innovation gets bogged down in the abstract language of specialization and expertise. “It’s kind of like the ugly American tourist trying to get across an idea in another country by speaking English slowly and more loudly,” he says. “You’ve got to find the common connections.”

In her 2006 book, “Innovation Killer: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine — and What Smart Companies Are Doing About It,” Cynthia Barton Rabe proposes bringing in outsiders whom she calls zero-gravity thinkers to keep creativity and innovation on track.

When experts have to slow down and go back to basics to bring an outsider up to speed, she says, “it forces them to look at their world differently and, as a result, they come up with new solutions to old problems.”
So why are schools insisting on narrowly defined specialists to teach?

Just another example of the unintended consequences of black and white thinking.

Carl Chew: American Hero

A few months ago an excellent LA Times editorial talked about the degradation of the concept of heroes. Rosa Brooks in a piece called Heroism and the Language of Fascism
laments...
...it's a big mistake to mix up the idea of service -- or the idea of sacrifice and suffering -- with the idea of heroism.

As most dictionaries explain, true heroism involves "extraordinary courage, fortitude or greatness of soul." So firefighters who take unusual risks to save others can legitimately be called heroes -- but just showing up for work and turning on a fire hose when required isn't quite enough. Similarly, suffering doesn't magically turn an ordinary person, however beloved, into a hero. Some of the office workers who died on 9/11 were truly heroic, sacrificing their own chance of escape to help others. But many of those who died never even got a chance to be heroic.

Distinguishing heroism from service and suffering is important for two reasons. First, it's always worth fighting the Lake Wobegon effect because, in a world where "all the children are above average," the truly special child gets no recognition, and genuine acts of exceptional courage are trivialized.

Take Jason Dunham, a 22-year-old Marine corporal who, in 2004, threw his helmet and then his body on top of an Iraqi insurgent's grenade, saving the lives of the Marines around him. Dunham died of his wounds and became one of only two soldiers in the Iraq war to be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the United States. But in a world where every service member is a "hero," how many Americans have heard of Dunham's fatal courage?

There are plenty of other genuine heroes whose names will never be recorded, like the utility workers described by a Cornell University research team: On 9/11, "they went into the flooded Verizon building just north of World Trade Center 6, risking electrocution in chest-deep water and kerosene to shut off the building's massive circuit-breakers by hand." But when each of the thousands of stockbrokers and secretaries in the World Trade Center qualifies for the "everyone's a hero" award, why bother to identify those whose actions were unusually selfless?

But there's a deeper reason to be wary of the "everyone's a hero" rhetoric. Simply put, it fits neatly alongside other terms beloved of the powers that be, such as "warrior" and "the Homeland": It's part of the language of fascism.

For a chilling account of another society in which "the devaluation of the concept of heroism" was "proportional to the frequency of its use and abuse," check out Ilya Zemtsov's "The Encyclopedia of Soviet Life." In 1938, Zemtsov notes, the Soviet Union instituted "the title 'Hero of Socialist Labor'. . . . Thousands of those heroes emerged. . . . The hero was supposed to die in the name of Stalin during wartime [and] give his or her all in labor on communist constructions. . . . [But] a person upon whom the title 'hero' is bestowed has often performed no heroic deed whatsoever, but may receive the title . . . merely in return for displaying loyalty and/or diligence. . . . With time, the awarding of the title came to be used as a token to be disbursed or withheld according to political considerations. . . . "

In other words, comrades, whenever it seems as if they're handing out "hero" medals for free, look out: There's usually a hidden price.
I am a fan of Rosa's observations. Heroes are very special people usually acting on a higher plane of consciousness. In education its a rarity but I found one.

Carl Chew, a Seattle teacher refused to administer federally required standardized tests. His insubordination, an act of true heroism, cost him a nine day, unpaid suspension. ABC NEWS covered the story:
Chew, who is 60, said his act of civil disobedience will cost him about $1,000 over his nine-day absence. He knows it will go on his permanent record and he could ultimately be fired.

"It took me a few moments before I decided to do this," he said. "I did protesting around the Vietnam War and marched for civil rights in the '60s. But this was the first time I did something against a seemingly huge machine."

"I feel so strongly about this -- that it's bad for the kids and I have to do it," he said. "But I know from my own experience, I have to accept the consequences."

Good Lord, I thought everyone with a conscience and the courage to stand up to the government was dead. At Seattle PI Chew explained his reasoning:
"On April 15, I refused to give the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to my sixth-grade students at a Seattle Public Schools middle school. I performed this single act of civil disobedience based on personal moral and ethical grounds, as well as professional duty. I believe that the WASL is destructive to our children, teachers, schools, and parents.

"It is important for me to note that my disobedient action was not directed at any individual. I love being a teacher; my students are fantastic; my fellow teachers collaborate with and help me every day in numerous ways; and my school administration has always shown a willingness to listen to and support the teachers. I understand that my action has caused people pain, and I am truly sorry for that, but I could no longer stand idly by as something as wrong as the WASL is perpetrated on our children year after year.

"Though my act of civil disobedience was individual, I do not stand alone in my strong beliefs. Any Internet search for high-stakes testing will reveal highly regarded educators, distressed parents and sensitive teachers with a wealth of thoughtful writing and case studies supporting my views.

"The WASL is bad for kids.

"To my mind the measure of successful childhood is that each child learns about who she or he is and how the world works, gains an assertive and confident self image and feels safe, well fed, and happy. Schools, along with parents and communities, need to contribute wisely to this goal. Unfortunately, the WASL creates panic, insecurity, low self esteem and sadness for our children.

# It is written in the language of white, middle-and upper-class students, leaving all others behind.

# It is presented to children in a secretive, cold, sterile and inhumane fashion.

# There is no middle ground --children either pass or fail, which leaves them confused, guilty, and frustrated.

# Numerous questions on the test are unclear, misleading or lacking in creativity.

# It tests a very narrow definition of what educators know children need to become well-rounded human beings.

# The WASL is given at a prescribed time regardless of a child's emotional or physical health.

"The WASL is bad for teachers.

"For meager pay, teachers are asked to work in extremely challenging situations, keep absurdly long hours and, when it comes to the WASL, function in an atmosphere of fear.

# A majority of teachers loath the WASL but feel unable to speak out freely against it due to their fears of negative consequences for doing so.

# Because administrators are constantly pushing to meet federal guidelines for yearly score improvements, their relationships with teachers can become strained and unpleasant.

# Administrators and teachers suffer under the knowledge that if they do not achieve improvement goals (measured by WASL passage alone) they can be sent to retraining classes, lose their students to other schools, or have their "failing" school handed over to a private company.

# Before administering the WASL teachers mandatorily sign a "loyalty" oath promising they will not read any of the test questions.

# Teachers feel devalued by the amount of time most of them have to devote to test practice and proctoring --upwards of four weeks for actual testing and many more weeks for WASL prep in many cases.

# Teachers feel used and depressed when, half a year after the test is given, they are presented with dubious WASL results --amateurish and misleading Power Point charts and graphs telling them next to nothing about their students' real knowledge and talents.

# Teachers' relationships with parents are compromised because they cannot talk freely with them about opting their child out or other WASL concerns.

:The WASL is bad for parents and families.

# Parents have been shut out of this costly process.

# Most of them are misled by official statements about what the purpose of the WASL is.

# Many of them do not realize that they have the right to opt their children out of testing with no consequences, though in practice schools have illegally put inappropriate pressure on parents and children who have opted out.

# Many of them do not realize that teachers are, in many cases, not allowed to discuss any reasons why they might want to opt their child out. (Teachers in California went to court to secure the right to inform parents of their right to opt their children out of that state's testing.)

# Like children, parents suffer from the same feelings of guilt and unhappiness when their children fail.

# Parents are not informed that the test is biased, culturally insensitive and irrelevant and not a real measure of anything.

# The WASL graduation requirement has kept thousands of families from knowing whether or not their students will be allowed to take part in graduation ceremonies and celebrations -- the culminating reward for 13 years of public school attendance and achievement -- with friends and families.

"The WASL is bad for schools.

"Even in the best of times purse strings are rarely opened adequately to public education. Where a private school needs to charge $20,000-$30,000 to educate a child well, public schools are given a third or less of that for each student. Simply, schools are strapped for cash, many of them struggling each year to fund their needs with an ever- shrinking pot of money.

# While schools are generally underfunded, Washington will spend a projected $56 million in 2009 to have a private corporation grade WASL tests. These tax dollars are needed right in our schools providing more teachers, smaller classes, tutors, and diverse educational experiences for our students.

# While the federal government requires that school districts use high stakes testing to qualify for federal dollars, tests are not fully funded by the federal government.

# WASL is one of the most difficult tests used to fulfill the federal requirements, with one of the highest failure rates.

# Instead of safe, exciting and meaningful places for our children to spend half of their waking hours, schools have become WASL or test mills bent on churning out students who are trained to answer state-approved questions in a state-approved manner.

The WASL is just bad.

# Most, if not all, teachers will agree that assessment is vital. Wise teachers know that assessments which are also learning experiences for students and teachers are the best. The WASL categorically is not a learning experience.

# I believe that individual students are entitled to their own learning plans, tailored to their own needs, strengths and interests. Teachers know it is definitely possible to do this in the context of a public school. The WASL categorically treats all children alike and requires that they each fit into the same precise mold, and state-mandated learning plans based on WASL scores fail to recognize individual strengths of students.

# Passing the WASL does not guarantee success in college, placement in a job, a living wage or adequate health care.

# WASL will decrease the high school graduation rate. Thousands of students who have completed all other requirements and passed all required classes will be denied diplomas because of WASL failure.

# High-stakes testing has not proven beneficial to students, teachers, schools, or communities.

In the real lives of students, teachers, and parents the WASL is an ongoing disaster.

# When I was a teacher at Graham Hill Elementary in Seattle, a number of my students received their WASL scores to find that they had "failed". When I looked at the notices being sent to their parents I saw that each student had come to within just a few points of actually passing and that their scores were well within the gray area, or "margin of error," for the test. The "test scientists" aren't sure whether the student passed or failed, yet the school tells the student he or she failed. These students cried when they saw the results.

# When I first started teaching, Graham Hill could afford Americorps tutors, numerous classroom aides and had money for field-trip buses and ample supplies. By the time I stopped teaching there, Americorps was gone, there were no classroom aides except for parent volunteers, and everything else was in short supply.

# Teaching and testing during my last year at Graham Hill was challenging. I was on my own in a room with 29 students, 10 percent did not speak English, 50 percent of them spoke another language at home, several of them were homeless, and many of them had severe emotional challenges due to parental pre-natal drug use, violence and abuse.

# No one ever asked me or any of the teachers I know whether high-stakes testing was a good idea. In fact, we teachers are made to jump through seemingly endless hoops to prove our worthiness to be professional, certificated educators. Public school teachers are responsible for the educational lives of over a million students in Washington state, yet, in the end, no one actually wants to listen to what teachers have to say about what is best for the students in our care.


Wow! Professional ethics! Professional Duty to children and parents! Moral introspection!

I want to vote this guy to Head the Department of Education in Washington.

Hat tip: Schools Matter

Friday, May 09, 2008

Use Twitter for School Communications

The following Twitter tutorial introduces Twitter and explains how it works. Watch it with this consideration in mind;

Assume that your school's administrators and teachers all signed up for twitter using a prescribed naming convention. Our school is EO Smith so let's say my Twitter id is eos_frank so that it is different from any personal Twitter identities. If all teachers and administrators at the school signed up for Twitter and selectively subscribed to each other then a powerful social tool is suddenly available in the school.

A principal for example would immediately know from a twitter feed what's going on between periods, who has a hall pass, who's sick or fighting and so on. Secretarial staff at the Superintendent's office would see issues from the principal's staff, and so on.

This kind of thing could catch on!



Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The American Scream

Tom Friedman at the New York Times is one of my least favorite columnists. He is disingenuous about a lot of things, his agenda panders to a pseudo-liberal audience unwilling to think on their own, and finally he and his colleagues at the Times misled this country about Iraq before and during the early days of the Iraq War as profiteers. Their lies have contributed to this nation's shame, grief and loss of life, liberty, and affluence.

So today, Friedman accurately describes the consequences of almost thirty years of suffocating conservative politics in America.
We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

That’s why Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous defense of why he did not originally send more troops to Iraq is the mantra of our times: “You go to war with the army you have.” Hey, you march into the future with the country you have — not the one that you need, not the one you want, not the best you could have.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”
I doubt that Friedman or his disciples truly comprehend what he is observing because these observations are not as conveniently disposable as his op-ed pieces.

Friedman is describing an intellectual vacuum in this country that has suffocated the American Dream. Friedman is a very rich man who is longing for the accommodations of other places. His question is, "Why can't we be like them? The postscript to the question might read, ...instead of Americans?" His opinions about Hillary, Obama, or McCain are irrelevant. He asks,
Who will tell the people? We are not who we think we are. We are living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. We still have all the potential for greatness, but only if we get back to work on our country.

I don’t know if Barack Obama can lead that, but the notion that the idealism he has inspired in so many young people doesn’t matter is dead wrong. “Of course, hope alone is not enough,” says Tim Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, “but it’s not trivial. It’s not trivial to inspire people to want to get up and do something with someone else.”

It is especially not trivial now, because millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again. They want it to be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, “no one can touch us.”
Friedman gets it wrong again. He thinks we just need to meet at a corner and roll up our sleeves and pull together and it will all be better.

The hard truth is that America has fallen on hard times because Americans already know all of the things he's saying but they've been conditioned to make bad choices. And they are conditioned by a federal brain-washing pogrom called No Child Left Behind that has robbed children of play, day-dreams, and the pursuit of happiness. America is already regimented just like the Communist regimes our parents and grandparents fought against.

America defeated totalitarianism with an engine for affluence - you could be a mutt, be loved, be educated, and make it here and you couldn't do that elsewhere.

Today, American children are told a different narrative;

You must conform even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Be the same even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Love is a commodity even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Don't ask questions even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Know the accepted answer even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Conform or else even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Get in the box and stay there even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Success is being exactly who the government thinks you should be for your age group even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Success is being like everyone else even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

A good citizen is an ever spending citizen even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

We are number one even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Secure and poor is better than healthy, wealthy and wise even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Uniform facts are all anyone needs even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Curiosity is unnecessary even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

The best way to change things is to keep quiet, do nothing, and be scared even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

If there is a salvation for America, it can only come from a radical rethinking and correction of the school system. Dingy architecture, debt, and mindless war and depravity are but symptoms of what we've become used to as Americans.

We've lost the ability to think, to be free to be ourselves, and to be a raucous, dynamic, sparkling society. Without that, we go nowhere.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Diminishing Importance of Fact

You don't have to ask a futurist how quickly the volume of all known information is doubling. The answer is too fast for most people. And the fact of the matter can be found in the speculative literature of the futurists who subscribe to the Technical Singularity.

Along with this phenomenon is the diminished value of what we believe to be fact at any given moment. For higher education this means that all of the rhetoric and presumably good-intention of corporate spokesmen there is little that anyone can do to prepare our students for THE future. That future is passing us all by in a matter of a few years or even months.

A recent New York Sun article, Reckoning With New York's Rate of Change about architecture brings this point home dramatically.
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger focused on the rapid pace of change in New York Friday night at the New-York Historical Society's Chairman's Council Weekend.

Here are the highlights of his remarks, which I recorded in my reporter's notebook while covering the event:

Not long ago, in a meeting in a relatively new midtown skyscraper, I spent much more time than I should have looking out the window. I do this often, as an architecture critic, so nobody thinks I’m a daydreaming instead of working.

Two-thirds of what I saw was built after 1972. In 1972, Lever House was not yet 20 years old. Rockefeller Center was 35 years old, the Seagram Building, 14 years old, and the Empire State Building was younger than Lincoln Center is today. ... We don’t realize how much history we’re living through ourselves.

In 1972, New York was smaller. If you were an upper middle class white person, your city was relatively confined to south of 96th Street. Maybe you got to the Lower East Side as a historical curiosity. You were unlikely to go to Chelsea or Times Square. ...

We tend to view change in the city as something that happens in a long arc. But the New York of our time is also different from the New York of our own time. The city changes out from under us at dramatically and powerfully. Each of us has already experienced several New Yorks.

Old New York is the city of Edith Wharton, the city of John Lennon, and the city of Peter Stuyvesant. The city we lived in a short time ago, that is Old New York. There are hedge funders who weren’t alive when Lennon lived in the Dakota buying new condominiums in Williamsburg.

The city of our memories is the city of the past.
The NCLB merchants who insist that high-stress, high-stakes testing will make schools magically accountable are frauds, stuck in a morose Ludditopia that continues to strangle the ability of public schools to adapt.

But even if we don't care about schools in general we should care about what this is doing to our kids who are leading technologically schizophrenic lives.

On one hand they are trapped in classrooms run like 18th century Charles Dickens nightmares and on the other they operate and communicate using technology their teachers fear but don't understand.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Race as a Dodge

The Sacramento Bee uncovered an interesting new (or heretofore undiscovered) way that schools are making an end run around NCLB requirements. Of course there is no honor in any of this because the schools are playing the NCLB game. After all, they aren't conscientiously objecting to NCLB, they just aren't passing the metric under certain data alignments like, say, is a student black or white?

This is just another example of how the Feds are compromising the integrity of the system and corrupting the profession in addition to making a mockery of racial background.

From, Sacbee.com - Schools reclassify students, pass test under federal law by Laurel Rosenhall and Phillip Reese:
Will C. Wood Middle School faced a vexing situation when last year's test results came out in August. Most students had met the mark set by No Child Left Behind. But African American students' math scores fell far short of it, bringing the school into failing status in the eyes of the federal law.

One hundred students were categorized as black when they took the test last spring. But if the school had fewer than 100 students in that group, their low scores wouldn't count. So Principal Jim Wong reviewed the files of all the students classified as African American on the test, he said, and found that four of them had indicated no race or mixed race on their enrollment paperwork. Wong sent his staff to talk to the four families to ask permission to put the kids in a different racial group.

"You get a kid that's half black, half white. What are you going to put him down as?" Wong said. "If one kid makes the difference and I can go white, that gets me out of trouble."

Over the past two years, 80 California schools got "out of trouble" with No Child Left Behind after changing the way they classify their students, a Bee analysis has found. The changes nudged their status from failing to passing under the federal law.

The state allows school officials to comb through test results every August, changing students' demographic information to correct mistakes that can happen, for example, when clerks register new students or when districts swap student files.

Thousands of schools make demographic corrections, and the majority have no bearing on their No Child Left Behind status. But the correction process may allow some schools to escape the scrutiny intended by No Child Left Behind, The Bee found.
Read the rest of the article for graphics and extended analysis - definitely worth a read.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Origin of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

There's a very nice (slightly dated) interview from LAist of songwriter Richard M. Sherman in which he explains how the Mary Poppins song was created. A wonderful brain exercise;
How did you make up the word Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ?

That's a word we sort of concocted from our childhood when we used to make up double talk words. In the screenplay version of Mary Poppins we wanted Her to give the children a gift they could bring back with them from inside the chalk drawing when they came out into the real world. If it was a tangible thing like a seashell or pine cone it would disappear. So we said, Remember when we used to make up the big double talk words, we could make a big obnoxious word up for the kids and thats where it started. Obnoxious is an ugly word so we said atrocious word, thats very British. We started with atrocious and then you can sound smart and be precocious, we had precocious and atrocious and we wanted something super colossal and thats corny, so we took super and did double talk to get califragilistic which means nothing, it just came out that way. That's in a nut shell what we did over two weeks. All together you get Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):