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Once an SJ Mercury News columnist, I'm now writing Start-Up High: A Charter School Teaches the American Dream. Till the book comes out, you can read QuickReads; hit the links below for my freelance writing. Support this site by donating through PayPal or Amazon or by using my book links to buy Amazon stuff.

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Friday, September 13

QuickReads on Fox
My blog highlights on Fox this week center on the theme of stupidity.

Garth Brooks at Gitmo
The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler has some vicious fun with a Daily Mirror story on the plight of those poor, pitiful Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. The strain has "taken a severe toll," the Mirror reports. The prisoners have taken to singing Britney Spears or Madonna songs. Garth Brooks is "a particular favorite." The horror. The horror.

Fit of madness
Natalie Solent found this bizarre tale of Scottish jurisprudence.
A man who suffers from epilepsy has been ordered to pay compensation to a student who was upset by his contorted face during a seizure.

In a case described by an epilepsy charity as "like something you would see on the Ally McBeal show", Edwin Young has been told to pay £3,500 to Yvonne Rennie for the mild post-traumatic stress that she suffered.
Young had an epileptic fight while driving and hit Rennie's car. Her physical injuries were minor, but she claims that seeing Young's contorted face, and thinking he was dying of a heart attack, was traumatic. You can info on finding sex at our partner Sex Files. They've made it easy with brands like SexSites.nz to find a fuck easily in New Zealand and South Africa.

Thursday, September 12

Bonus teachers
Teachers in Chattanooga can earn a $5,000 bonus if they teach at a struggling inner-city school and raise their students' performance. Twelve experienced teachers have switched from affluent to high-poverty schools in hopes of earning a bonus. The teachers' union resisted, but finally went along with the performance bonuses. CNN asked why a union would object to more money for its members.
"If a system says all we're going to do is give a test, and based on that, determine if you deserve or not deserve pay, I think that is very degrading for me as a professional," explained Dennis Van Roekel, with the National Education Association.
Of course, what the union wants is more pay for all teachers regardless of their effectiveness or their willingness to tackle the challenges of high-poverty schools.

Teachers would do better if they could choose among collective bargaining agents instead of being represented by unions, argues Myron Lieberman in a Cato Policy Analysis. (Thanks to Education Gadfly for the links).

Teacher harassed for teaching
Courtesy of Daryl Cobranchi, here's an update on the teacher who was forced to apologize for teaching fourth graders that "niggardly" is a synonym for "stingy." Now the school board has sicced the superintendent on the poor teacher. The board's attorney says the board is "very concerned about the situation" and wants a "quick and immediate resolution." The teacher was reprimanded and forced to apologize. How could it be more resolved except by firing a woman for trying to do her job?

The complainers -- a mother, the minister who heads the local NAACP and a few others -- are unhappy because the school board discussed the matter in closed session. They know the board members are sitting in private laughing at the idiotic notion that teaching a vocabulary word that sounds like a racial slur is the same as teaching a racial slur. But they want the board to pretend to take the complaint seriously, even at the cost of hounding a dedicated teacher out of the classroom.

Who's buried in Grant's tomb?
American students don't know much about history, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But what about adults? You can test yourself on fourth, eighth or 12th grade history questions here. I think the 12th grade questions are absurdly easy, but some of the fourth grade questions are challenging -- for fourth graders. And, yes, I got 100 percent.

Catching up
Charter school students in Michigan are improving their test scores at a much faster rate than students in traditional public schools, reports the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Typically, test scores dip in a charter school's first year, then start to climb. Because so many charter schools are new, there's not much information on long-term growth rates.

Not healed
I got up early yesterday to watch the Ground Zero ceremonies at 5:46 Pacific time. Then I went to hear Mozart's Requiem sung at Stanford at 8:46. And I watched way too much television, hoping for the live coverage I missed a year ago. So I was too washed out to post much yesterday, or even to read what others posted.

But I found this column by a writer for The Street whose older brother, Matt, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Kevin Burke is not healed. He's angry. "Mad as hell."
He was a hard-working American in his prime enjoying the fruits of his labor, only to have his life cut tragically short by those who envy our way of life. He harbored no ill will toward Muslims or their beliefs; he had no political agenda. Yet he was murdered simply for going to work and doing his job. And that pisses me off. And it should piss off every American who aspires to create a better life for themselves.
It should piss off every American who gives a damn about other people.

A crime, but not a hate crime
Hate crime charges won't be filed against Sanjay Nair, 18, a Hindu from Fiji accused of the attempted rape of a 15-year-old Muslim co-worker at a Palo Alto Long's drug store. The victim said Nair used anti-Muslim insults during the attack in an employees' bathroom. However, the prosecutor concluded Nair is an equal opportunity creep; several non-Muslim employees told police he'd been sexually aggressive toward them. Nair faces up to six years in prison if convicted of assault with intent to commit rape.

Wednesday, September 11

Lightening the academic load
Will California buy schoolbooks by the pound? Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee mocks a newly passed bill to set a weight limit on textbooks.
It was an adult act of stupidity -- really two acts -- that got us into this fix in the first place.
The most obvious, of course, was the contagion of locker-removal, apparently in the belief that it would increase school safety, save money and reduce drug use: Get rid of the lockers, and the kids wouldn't have them to hide the stuff anymore. They'd have to carry it around in their backpacks along with all those books.

The other act of stupidity is the collective professional decision that in order to get the kids to look at the textbooks at all, they had to stop being texts and become picture books -- great fat things printed on heavy glossy paper with hundreds of color photographs and other illustrations that threaten to choke out the last remaining words entirely. Each book costs $70 and up.
Japan's excellent math books are slender and inexpensive, Schrag points out.

No to terrorism
The editor of Arab News wants Saudis to reject terrorism and educate their children to be citizens of the world. Sounds great.

Elsewhere on Arab News, however, writers show their inability to accept the fact that Muslims -- most of them from Saudi Arabia -- were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Chadless fiasco
It looks like Janet Reno lost in the Democratic primary, but she may challenge the results because of screw-ups at the polls. Florida's new high-tech voting systems are less reliable than the old chad-poking methods, it seems.
Florida's first big test of its new voting system since the 2000 presidential election debacle turned sour as soon as polls opened. Ballots were chewed up in the new touchscreen voting system, some polling stations opened late and hundreds of would-be voters were turned away.

(Gov. Jeb) Bush ordered polls statewide to stay open an additional two hours. Problems were reported in at least 14 counties, including six of the seven that were sued after the 2000 vote. In Union County, officials counted every ballot by hand after the optical-scan system showed that every vote cast was for a Republican candidate.
Reno may ask for a recount.

Tuesday, September 10

A day that will live in apology
JunkYard Blog imagines a news story on Dec. 7, 1942 in an alternate universe. (Probably everyone's blogged it by now, but I was out of town and offline, so it's new to me.)
America commemorated the tragedy of Pearl Harbor today, one year after the terrible day that changed the nation forever. In San Francisco, closest US-held territory to the site of the incident that the National Education Association has said should not be blamed on any group or nation, sailors rowed by a mockup of the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona in lifeboats, dropping wreaths and handwritten poems dedicated to their fallen comrades. It was a moving, tearful scene . . .

In Washington, Congress observed a moment of silence. Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt . . . pledged to seek out the root causes of Japan’s apparent hostility toward the US, vowing to “make things right,” adding that he would probably review our relationship with China’s beleaguered military with an eye toward ending it. . . .

. . . CBS radio, meanwhile, played somber music most of the day, mixing it with tearful testimonials from those who lost loved ones, pausing only for a moment of silence. This was followed by a brief newscast detailing events in Europe, which look grim for the increasingly bellicose English and their shrill, portly leader, Winston Churchill.
The Colonel, a new blogger who teaches at a Virginia college, gave JunkYard's fake story to a colleague, who showed it to freshmen in his next class. "All of them thought it was actually a clip from the 1942 paper," the Colonel reports.

Monday, September 9

Banana on terrorism
Susan Sontag gets a column on the New York Times op-ed page to say virtually nothing. She flirts with moral equivalence, noting the French Resistance were considered "terrorists" by their opponents and calling good vs. evil rhetoric "jihad language." But in the end, Sontag supports taking action against our "vicious, abhorrent enemy." It's just that she doesn't want to call it "war." She can't reflect properly if it's a war. Well, OK. Let's call it a "banana." Thinking any better?

Losing ground
Federal statistics hide an unpleasant fact: The high school graduation rate is dropping, as more students settle for a GED (General Educational Development) certificate, which is worth less to employers. In the last decade, about 86 percent of young people earned a diploma or a GED. But the number earning a diploma seems to have peaked in 1969 at 77 percent; by 1999, it was down to 70 percent.

Going home
An 8-year-old boy slipped out of his foster home in Ohio, stole a pick-up truck and drove 20 miles to Akron at 70 miles per hour. Stopped by police a block from his aunt's house, the third grader then escaped from the facility where he was being held and walked 12 miles to see his father. The boy's stepsister, who retracted a charge of sexual abuse, escaped from foster care last month, also trying to return home.

Louise Miller of the Children's Services Board, which took the children in March, said evidence doesn't support the sexual abuse charge, but the children can't be reunited yet with their parents.
"This is a violent home. There (is), for a variety of reasons, a lack of security for these children to be at home. . . . At this time, we're not ready to unify because we don't feel the kids would be safe at home."
Are they safe in the care of the county?

Rich Buffo, who sent me the Akron Beacon-Journal story, wonders how bad the home could be if the boy is so desperate to return to it.

Scrappleface reports on another case: Minnesota parents were caught teaching their values to their three children, who were removed from the home.
"Not only were these children receiving explicit instruction in the religion of their parents, to the exclusion of all others, but the parents also imposed a whole range of their own provincial ideas upon the youngsters. These little blank-slate minds were subjected to dogmatic instruction in everything from eating, clothing and hygiene practices, to beliefs about virtue, sin and the existence of God."
Yes, it's a joke. But the other story isn't.

John Scalzi's analysis of blogonomics is persuasive, unfortunately. He thinks BloggingNetwork will require more work from premium bloggers (like me) for very little more money. Which reminds me: I need to post something on BN.

On a plus note, donations via Amazon are up this week. Thanks, contributors.

New econo-blogger
New blogger Stephen Karlson, an economics professor, surveyed his students to see how much they know about economics. Not much, but he has hope.

Illiterate in Iowa
Des Moines public schools should give diplomas to students who can't read, argues Jim Patch, a school board candidate who taught school for 40 years. (Thanks to Brett Rogers for the links.) Patch is favored to win a seat in tomorrow's election because he's endorsed by the teachers' union.
 "How can we take a bright kid that is having trouble reading and tell them, "You can't graduate?" " Patch asked. "If they are doing well in other subjects, are we going to tell them they can't get a high school diploma?"
If diplomas are withheld, "we could have a lot of future architects and doctors out there that aren't going to graduate," Patch said in an interview.
Um, isn't that a good thing? Who wants an illiterate doctor?

In a radio interview, Patch said that CEOs of major corporations don't need to read well because they can dictate letters. Illiterate police officers could use a Dictaphone too, Patch said. Later, he decided that maybe cops should be able to read.

Patch believes that students who can't read well are dyslexic, and therefore can't be held to normal standards. Actually, most poor readers aren't "word blind." They just haven't been taught properly. True dyslexics also can learn -- if they're not just passed along. Patch would like to pass them on with a worthless piece of paper, a Des Moines high school diploma. Then they'll discover they don't have the skills they need to function in society. Not even as a CEO of a major corporation.

Here's what happens when the subliterate go to college.

Home lessons
My column on K12's online curriculum for home-schoolers and virtual charter students is up on TechCentralStation.

Sunday, September 8

No flags in Berkeley
While I was off with the Bard, Berkeley's student government leaders announced its official Sept. 11 ceremonies would contain no flags, no anthems, no displays of national unity. God will not "bless America," lest someone be offended by "God" or "America."

Of course, banishing all signs of patriotism is deeply offensive to many. Apparently, not a problem.

Mourning is politically correct. Berkeley will ring bells, observe a moment of silence, listen to Mozart's Requiem and to Bach, light candles. Feeling sorry for one's self is OK too: There will be workshops on post-traumatic stress and students will write about how they felt on Sept. 11. Diversity is de rigeur: A concert will include music of many cultures. "Diverse" students will give short talks. There will be moments of "reflection'' -- but no discussion of who attacked us and how we can defend ourselves.

In response to the outcry, Berkeley's chancellor announced that flags and "God Bless America" aren't actually banned from campus. During the evening open mike session, anything goes. A student who wants to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" can do so. And the chancellor reversed the decision to hand out white ribbons to students. The ribbons will be red, white and blue.

I think many Berkeley students will wear their nation's colors with pride. They're just not the sort who run for student government.

I hath returned
I was off for a few days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw "Macbeth" and "Julius Caesar", plus a very funny farce called "Noises Off" and "Playboy of the West Indies," which is "Playboy of the Western World" moved from Ireland to Trinidad. After the Shakespeare, it was nice to have a couple of corpse-free plays. We skipped "Titus Andronicus," which is too nasty for my tastes. Also, I believe there's a reason that some plays are performed less often than others.

At any rate, I've got a book review due tomorrow, so don't expect much till I've written the damn thing.

Wednesday, September 4

Su casa es su escuela
Bilingual is better -- but only if the second language is learned at home, writes Joseph Guzman in Hoover's Education Next. Students from Spanish-speaking homes who are educated in English outperform similar students educated in bilingual programs. The learn-at-home bilinguals also do better than Hispanic students who speak English only. Guzman believes it's a cognitive plus to learn two languages, and it's a minus to delay fluency in English past the age of six.

Guzman looked at years of education, degrees completed, wages and occupation, using the High School and Beyond surveys.
Even controlling for such variables as socioeconomic status, 10th grade math scores, parents’ birthplace, sex, and region, bilingual education has unambiguously negative effects on both years of education and attainment of a degree. Students taught using bilingual education methods obtained 0.6 years less schooling and were also less likely to obtain a college degree. Living in a bilingual household, by contrast, had a positive effect on both measures of education attainment: it added 0.3 of a year to a student’s years of education and increased the probability that students would complete college. Students receiving bilingual instruction were also less likely to be in a high-skill occupation, although differences in the wages earned by the two groups were not statistically significant.

... The best performance is found among students from Spanish-speaking households who make a rapid transition to English, either through English as a Second Language programs or through English immersion.
At a middle school in East Los Angeles, 900 of 1,200 students classified as limited in English proficiency have spent seven years or more in bilingual or English as a Second Language classes; most were born in the U.S. They speak conversational English but don't have much vocabulary. Some don't know the meaning of "fluent," reports Education Week.

See me colon
High school graduates aren't just ignorant, writes Mark Goldblatt, a college professor, in National Review. (Actually, he wrote it three years ago for the New York Post.) Students don't know what they don't know. Their ignorance is "buoyed by self-esteem."
. . . More and more of them are arriving in my classes with the impression that their opinions, regardless of their acquaintance with a particular subject, are instantly valid — indeed, as valid as anyone's. Pertinent knowledge, to them, is not required to render judgment.

Want to scare yourself? Sit down with a half-dozen recent public high-school graduates and ask them what they believe. Most are utterly convinced, for example, that President Kennedy was murdered by a vast government conspiracy. It doesn't matter to them that they cannot name the presidents before or after Kennedy. Or the three branches of government. Or even the alleged gunman's killer. Most are convinced, also, that AIDS was engineered by the CIA — even though they cannot state what either set of initials stands for. Most will voice passionate pro-choice views on abortion — even though they cannot name the decision that legalized it. Or report the number of judges on the Supreme Court. Or define the word "trimester." ...

... Several years ago, for instance, a student of mine suggested that a semi-colon got its name because it drew attention to the words around it. She thought the spelling was: "See me colon." Clearly, if she's clever enough to come up with that, she's clever enough to learn the proper use of semi-colons; it's just that no teacher ever bothered to correct her punctuation.

She, and students like her, have been robbed — and not simply of the instruction they should have received through 12 years of primary and secondary schools. They have been robbed of their entrée into serious cultural debate. Robbed even of the realization that they are stuck on the outside looking in. They are doomed to an intellectual life of cynicism without ever passing through knowingness, a life in which they grasp at platitudes to resolve momentary disagreements and do not possess the analytical wherewithal to pursue underlying issues.
I found this on Number 2 Pencil, which refers to me as "edu-blog royalty." (Where's my prince? Hell, where's my frog?) Number 2 has lots of good back-to-school posts. I especially like her pyschometrician's rant on the question: Do tests lie?

Civil rights for right-wing profs
University professors in the humanities and social sciences are overwhelmingly liberal. Kenneth Lee, writing in Front Page, wants conservatives and Christians to file a civil rights suit alleging the numbers prove discrimination.

Jane Galt focuses on evangelical Christians, setting off a lively debate in "comments."

With friends like these
Thomas Sowell writes that lowering standards doesn't help blacks.
Some imagine that they are being friends to blacks by lowering the standards for them. Some don't think that blacks have what it takes to meet real standards, and that colleges and universities will lose their "diversity" -- and perhaps federal money with it -- if they don't lower the standards, in order to get an acceptable racial body count.

My own experience as a teacher was that black students would meet higher standards if you refused to lower the standards for them. This was not the royal road to popularity, either with the students themselves or with the "friends" of blacks on the faculty and in the administration. But, when the dust finally settled, the students met the standards.
Sowell points out that during World War I, black soldiers from the northern states outscored whites from the south on mental tests. During the 1940s, black students in Harlem and white working-class students on New York's Lower East Side earned similar test scores.