Thursday, October 29, 2009

Board Of Education Campaign Errata

The Ashford Democrats have sent a mailer around that contains a piece of information that is untrue.

Under my credentials the claim is made that I was a"teacher of the year". I never was a teacher of the year nor have I personally made such a claim.

The error is simply a matter of campaign literature that went without a thorough proof-reading. I take full responsibility.

My guess is that in a conversation I said that I "taught high school for one year" was later transcribed that I had been a teacher OF the year.

So, I ask forgiveness of those who may believe this is intentional deceit - certainly I'm not perfect and believing any politician is lying is understandable.

For those who are more understanding of the situation I want to reassure them that I would have loved to be a Teacher of the Year - it's a noble honor and something a lot harder to achieve than running for office and getting elected.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shamelessly Flogging Public Education

Thomas Friedman's latest op-ed piece called The New Untouchables seems synchronized to reinforce the disinformation being propagated nationwide by Business and Industry Associations across the country.

Friedman's thesis is summarized by someone he quotes;
“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor.

Along the way Friedman intimates that there's some truth in the idea that "our struggling public schools — was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession."

And if that weren't enough, Friedman claims;
"A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education."

Friedman's intellectual sin is in his editorial hypocrisy and absence of even the effort to present proof for his assertions. In lecturing his readers about the virtues of imagination and critical thinking, and the dangers of just showing up, Friedman exercises no critical examination of the tired and dreary lies about education that are lorem ipsum filler for such knee-jerk and pedestrian "observations".

What this column represents is a false entanglement of many complex and nuanced social issues, all of which are claimed to the causal effect of [American public] education. If he were a student, his paper would fail based on faulty logic. Let's examine his ideas.

First, is education responsible for the "the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness". Friedman gleefully assumes so. He ignores cheap labor, international job piracy, indiscriminate business practices in foreign labor markets, child, slave, and prison labor, totalitarian working conditions, subsistence living conditions, ecological and social malfeasance, and so on. None of that seems to matter to Friedman.

Friedman's concept of the New Untouchable is a blend of Ayn Rand super-global-person and self-sufficient, perpetually sustaining futurist.

Yet everyone with a brain and an ounce of real world work experience knows that TF's claim that the people "who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained" is wholesale fiction. The people being retained are often refereed to as sheeple - docile, compliant, safe players clinging to safe jobs by their fingernails - the go-along gang.

The finest reflection of what corporation value in workers is already codified and ruthlessly enforced as public school curricula. No Child Left Behind has everything to do with absolute compliance of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Deviate or perish.

Go to any corporate function where the authority figures ask for questions about policy, goals, or corporate objectives. The only hands raised are to ask the Pollyanna questions.

"Is it okay if we jump higher than you ask?"

Will the cafeteria be open for those of us who work weekends?

It is not the educated, intelligent, or creative who are usually retained - it is the clever, devious, ingrown, and ruthless who do. Confusing one for the other is an disservice to the former and undeserved by the latter.

Friedman's untouchables don't exist except as a romantic, fictional entity who, if they existed, would be first fired, last hired, and marginalized. Not even IBM promotes the concept of "Think" anymore.

And Friedman libels those who are unemployed by characterizing the victims of down-sizing and economic deflation as worthless slackers waiting for work to be handed to them.

Education is not responsible for the shared greed, duplicity, and brazen criminal behavior that saturates the corporate world today. It is just an easy target. like a magician redirecting the attention of the audience, Friedman and his cohorts want America to punish the innocent yet again while the lying thieves make a back-door escape scot-free.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The CBIA's Anti-Education Agenda

Today's Courant carries yet another in the endless litany of Connecticut Business and Industry Association's assault on education practice. No doubt they have a right to their own opinions. Sadly, these opinions are are profoundly ignorant of what education is, can be, and should be.

Today, it was John Rathgeber's turn to lip synch the propaganda that the CBIA has been repeating during good business times, bad business times, while they were irrationally exuberant, after they nearly melted down the entire financial system of global banking, and so on, Whatever ails society is education's responsibility and fault!

Some Rathberger quotes...
Connecticut is at risk of losing its advantage, as other states and countries are more effectively dealing with the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy. If we are to maintain our state's competitiveness and vitality, our education system must measure up.

If we are to keep pace, much of the burden — and opportunity — rests with our schools. We need to train today's students for tomorrow's jobs.

From preschool to high school and to our public universities, Connecticut must demand more for its investment in education by strengthening the curriculum and graduation requirements for all students — making certain they enter the workforce with the professional and technical skills they need.

The achievement gap between our high-performing schools and those that serve predominantly low-income and minority students must be eliminated.

Connecticut must strengthen its education system to anticipate and respond to employers' needs while emphasizing lifelong learning. That means more collaboration, greater coordination, better aligned curriculum and stronger awareness of the expectations of each level of education. It means parents, teachers and communities, businesses and nonprofits, every segment of our society coming together to ensure our progress.

It also means making postsecondary education an expectation for more of our young people, regardless of where they live or their family's income. Only then can we truly ensure today's youth a secure future, no matter which of the yet-to-be-invented jobs they may find themselves doing.

Never does Rathgeber offer a single piece of evidence to substantiate any of his claims. That would require research, an open-mind, and a wholesale turnabout in opinion. In fact it is this lack of veracity in the CBIA and their national counterparts claims that may be the reason that Connecticut and America's businesses are melting down.

It is easy for the CBIA to want to get into the affairs of education but what are their qualifications for doing so? If they are so sure of what businesses need then why not list those qualifications and where the businesses who he claims needs them are so that the tens of millions of us who are searching for work can apply?

The truth is that the bromides the CBIA is advocating are whole cloth fiction.

There is not a shred of credible evidence that CT is falling behind, above, around anyone.

And the fact of the matter is that job titles and responsibilities are changing so fast and furiously that a student entering college with one idea about a job may leave college only to find that job is obsolete for one reason or another.

Schools are not where we should train anyone for jobs, businesses have to hire smart, fungible, confident people to keep up and change with the times.

And the knee-jerk, obligatory "We need higher expectations, standards, blah, blah, blah" AND "we need cheaper, unionized, and disposable teachers who are all "great" teachers" rhetoric has been disproven over and over and over. If Rathgeber read this blog he'd see study after study refuting such claims.

The best thing the CBIA can do for education is to go out of business. It is a prime example of an enterprise that ignores factual data, repeats the same mistakes repeatedly, and doesn't learn.

The late Dr. Gerald Bracey wrote Nine Myths About Public Schools recently. It's worth reading. Here are some highlights that refute Rathgeber's assertions.

4. The United States is losing its competitive edge. China and India ARE Rising. As economies collapsed all around it, China's economy grew a remarkable 7% last year. On just humanitarian grounds, we should not wish China and India to remain poor forever, but the more they grow the more money they have to buy stuff from us. As China and India prosper, we prosper. The World Economic Forum and the Institute for Management Development have consistently ranked the U. S. economy as the most competitive in the world. Education is only one part of multi-factor systems in rankings. WEF is especially keen on innovation. Our obsession with testing makes testing a great instrument for destroying creativity.

5 The U. S. has a shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. This was a myth started oddly enough by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s in a study with assumptions so absurd the study was never published, but the myth lingers on. In fact, Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that we have three newly minted scientists and engineers who are permanent residents or native citizens for every newly minted job. Within 2 years, 65% of them were no longer in scientific or engineering fields. That proportion might have fallen during the current debacle when people are more likely to hang on to a job even if they hate it. An article in the September 18 Wall Street Journal reported that before the economy collapsed, 30% of the graduates of MIT--MIT--headed directly into finance.

7 The fastest growing jobs are all high-tech and require postsecondary education. "Postsecondary education" is a weasel word. A majority of the fastest growing jobs do, in fact, require some kind of postsecondary training. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for very few jobs. It's the Walmarts and Macdonald's of America that generate the jobs. According to the BLS, the job of retail sales accounts for more jobs than the top ten fastest growing jobs combined.

8 Test scores are related to economic competitiveness. We do well on international comparisons of reading, pretty good on one international comparison of math and science, and not so good on another math/science comparison. But these comparisons are based on the countries' average scores and average scores don't mean much. The Organization for Economic Cooperating and Development, the producer of the math science comparison in which we do worst has pointed out that in science the U. S. has 25% of all the highest scoring students in the entire world, at least the world as defined by the 60 countries that participate in the tests. Finland might have the highest scores, but that only gives them 2,000 warm bodies compared to the U. S. figure of 67,000. It's the high scorers who are most likely to become leaders and innovators. Only four nations have a higher proportion of researchers per 1000 fulltime employees, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Japan. Only Finland is much above the U. S.

Consider Japan, the economic juggernaut of the 1980's. It kids score well on tests and people made a causal link between scores and Japan's economy. But Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for almost a whole generation. Its kids still ace tests.

9 Education itself produces jobs. President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have both linked any economic recovery to school improvement. This is nonsense. There are parts of India where thousands of educated people compete for a single relatively low-level white-collar job. Some of you might recall that in the 1970's many sociologists and commentators worried that America was becoming TOO educated, that they would be bored by the work available.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I got the following email from Nicole Waicunus and it's worth sharing:

Caitie Parmelee is a senior this year and she is working with Gabriel bol-Deng, from Ariang, Sudan. One of the “Lost Boys,” Gabriel has returned to his village, Ariang, and has decided to dedicate his life to helping his friends and family. He is in the process of building a school for the children of Ariang and he has finished his documentary, “Rebuilding Hope.” The premiere of this film will take place here, at E.O. Smith on Friday, November 6th at 6:30pm. Many of the seniors are helping Caitie to make this event a success for Gabriel. We hope that you will join us in celebrating the progress that has been made and the promise of the finished school and education for the children of Ariang.


Helping Offer Primary Education for Sudan

You are invited to the Premiere of

Friday, November 6, 2009 E. O. Smith Atrium/ Auditorium 6:30 - 10: 00 p.m. Tickets: $5

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kristof, Democrats, and Schools

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an opinion piece called, Democrats and Schools in which largely blames Teachers, union protection, and specifically 'bad' teachers for the real and imagined woes of public education.

And Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama are using teachers and teacher unions as their version of welfare queens. By ripping a page out of the Clinton playbook that reformed welfare in the nineties, Obama hopes to break the back of teacher's unions after Bush failed. Kristof opines:
Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that — and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.

It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence — so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called “rubber rooms.”

But Kristof fails to do the homework required to understand the problems in education. In fact he makes assertions that are wholly false in his arguments to indict teachers as a primary culprit for so-called failing schools.

Kristof claims,
A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards.

The "devastaing article" makes the claim that,
Test scores and graduation rates have improved since Bloomberg and Klein took over, but when the law giving the mayor control expired, on July 1st, some Democrats in the State Senate balked at renewing it, complaining that it gave the mayor “dictatorial” power, as Bill Perkins, a state senator from Manhattan, put it. Nevertheless, by August the senators had relented and voted to renew mayoral control.

On the same day of Kriftof's op-ed piece, the New York Times in a piece called, U.S. Math Tests Find Scant Gains Across New York by Jennifer Medina fond the article's assertion to be fiction.
“What this amounts to is a fraud,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has been one of the most vocal critics of both the state exams and Mr. Klein. “This is a documentation of persistent dumbing down by the State Education Department and lying to the public.”

Ravitch is responding to the disparity between bloomberg and Klein's assertions that plutocratic, dictatorial powers over education have raised student competencies in reading and math.

The second assertion Kristof makes is based on yet another dubious claim. Kristof:
Research has underscored that what matters most in education — more than class size or spending or anything — is access to good teachers. A study found that if black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.

The study he refers to is Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job by the Hamilton Foundation.

So let's take a look at what it says.

1.) Teacher certification is irrelevant>
To put it simply, teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certified or not is largely irrelevant to predicting his or her effectiveness.

2.) If we suspend reality and speculatively project the idea that minority students studying under the very best teachers for four continuous years will close the achievement gap measured by high-stakes, high-stress testing methodologies.
While certification status was not very helpful in predicting teacher impacts on student performance, teachers’ rankings during their first two years of teaching does provide a lot of information about their likely impact during their third year. The average student assigned to a teacher who was in the bottom quartile during his or her first two years lost on average 5 percentile points relative to students with similar baseline scores and demographics. In contrast, the average student assigned to a top-quartile teacher gained 5 percentile points relative to students with similar baseline scores and demographics. Therefore, the average difference between being assigned a top-quartile or a bottom-quartile teacher is 10 percentile points.

Moving up (or down) 10 percentile points in one year is a massive impact. For some perspective, the black-white achievement gap nationally is roughly 34 percentile points. Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile
teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.

Kristof never bothers to think about what the study implies and that is that if we can identify the very best teachers in the country, force them to teach in the most challenging schools in the country for four consecutive years AND subject the rest of the country's schools to less than the best teachers that we, AS A COUNTRY, would finally close the "education gap".

I would like somebody to explain why this is remotely possible, desirable, or a worthwhile pursuit. It should be noted that the Hamilton Project pretty much is the same -cough- think-tank that created the Clinton welfare reform program in the nineties and is a thinly veiled neo-con social policy venue.

Monday, October 12, 2009

School Under Siege For Singing Obama Song

The New York Post is reporting that a class of students who were visited by an Obama biographer and who sang an Obama song with him are at the center of yet another Tea-bag manufactured crisis.

From Protester sights on song kids by Associated Press:
Conservative groups plan to rally tomorrow [October 11, 2009]near a New Jersey school where students performed a song celebrating President Barack Obama.

The planned rally has school district officials planning to beef up security at the B. Bernice Young School in Burlington Township, which houses kindergartners through second-graders.

The song drew national attention last month after a video of the performance was posted on YouTube. Conservatives say it shows how schoolchildren are being indoctrinated to idolize Obama, allegations school officials have denied.


Citing concerns for the safety of students and staff, Superintendent Christopher Manno has asked organizers to reconsider the protest because classes will be held that day. Manno said protesters will not be allowed on school property and additional district staffers will be on hand.
Here's the video:

Ooooooooooooooo... scary!

Friday, October 09, 2009

"At some point, people in positions of power need to protect the public"

The video that surfaced recently of a school policeman assaulting a learning disabled teenager because his shirt wasn't tucked in has cost the officer his job. And for most observers that's the end of the story.

But that set of events exposes the dysfunction of the school system in general. Starting during the Reagan administration, educational reform consisted in the escalation of war rhetoric as a remedy of what was wrong with schools. With the fall of the iron curtain and the retirement of military personnel looking to dip into the public coffers yet again, school reform encouraged the introduction of police and military into the administration of schools - usually urban schools.

And so, the segregated school experiment was allowed to continue with a new and revitalized passion; urban schools could be regimented in such a way as to pacify the unruly masses attending those institutions with boot camp discipline, metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs, educational black-ops, and so on. You can never be too tough.

And just as the night follows the day, what America succeeded in creating was an ever more violent school environment. Tough became the petri dish for tougher and that self-fulfilling stupid loop continues unabated today.

But after 911, tough went exponential. The country became more forgiving of violence from law-enforcement to the extent that cover-ups for law-enforcers committing crimes are standard practice.

In Chicago, the intersection of rogue policeman being used in the most delicate institution played out.

You see, the policeman who assaulted the student had a history of violence. that violence s documented in this follow-up Chicago Tribune story; Dolton cop in beating case has troubling history.
A Dolton cop caught on camera allegedly breaking a 15-year-old special needs student's nose for failing to tuck in his shirt has a troubling history that includes killing a man in a case of disputed self-defense.

The officer is now in an Indiana jail on an unrelated rape charge.
The video in that link shows multiple school teachers or administrators who seem to accept such treatment of students akin to waiting for apiece of toast to pop. No one asks what is going on. No one calls 911. No one seems to care if the kid lives or dies.

None of this is surprising. There is no way for schools to know the quality of police officers being assigned to schools. The practice of police cover-up is so pervasive and accepted that in this case an officer with a profoundly violent incident in his past (shooting a man 24 times) and a rape allegation just weeks ago is allowed to treat a dress code violation as if the teen were an armed robber.

Yes, at some point people in positions of power need to protect the public. Who will watch the watchers and how do we keep sociopaths with badges under control?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why Art Matters

The New York Times has published a very interesting article called, How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect by Benedict Carey.

The article discusses scientific speculation that people exposed to disruptive information are capable of recognizing a broader range of patterns when problem-solving. The author uses the term nonsense to describe disruptive information and then uses many examples of art to illustrate the theory.

As far as I can tell, the use of the term nonsense is, well, nonsense. It seems to me that this theory is reinforcing the idea that exposure to art broadens the mind in ways that schools and the public care little about (probably because you can't test it ad nausea).
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.

After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.

The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.

But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.

“The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the others,” Dr. Heine said. “And the fact that they were more accurate means, we think, that they’re forming new patterns they wouldn’t be able to form otherwise.”

Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.

Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.
The author's conclusions are an intellectual cop-out. A broader teaching of art is neither premature nor radical nor is it a touchy-feely appeasement.

The study of art and the participation in art exercises broadens the mind in significant and important ways and experiments like those described in this argument are beginning to quantify and formalize just how.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unknown American Heroes: Rep. Alan Grayson

This is the first of a new series of posts that celebrate critical thinkers with chutzpah. We need more of these people. make sure he gets your support.