"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Arne Duncan on The Daily Show. Take the Poll!

Jon Stewart's expression says it all about Arne Duncan's Appearance on The Daily Show.  "What just happened here?"

Read Larry Ferlazzo's blog on Arne Duncan's appearance on The Daily Show complete with all three installments. 

After watching the videos and listening to the one-liners, code talk and talking points Duncan engages in, here's a poll for you to answer.

After listening to Arne Duncan on The Daily Show:
pollcode.com free polls 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Government Taking A Peek Into the Lives Of Students, Or Just Being Peeping Toms?

Warning **  today's blog contains explicit material, not meant for younger readers - unless they live in Wisconsin.

Dane County Wisconsin - The home of progressivism lives up to its name. An on-air host at WISN, Vicki McKenna, shed some light on a student survey that has been given to Dane County students for many years that asks intimate questions like:
  • Which of the following best describes you: Straight, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning
  • If I'm home after school between 3-6:00 there is: always, usually, seldom, never - a parent present
  • Is one or more of your family members involved in a gang?
  • How many cans or cups of the following drinks have you had in the last week: soda, energy drink, sweetened drink like Snapple, coffee, milk?
  • Do you have a disability that limits certain activities for you?  If yes which one (long list of disabilities provided)
  • When was the last time you saw a dentist?
  • Do you wear a seat belt while driving or riding in the car?
  • Do you have any long term emotional or mental health problems?
  • Have you ever choked yourself to make yourself pass out?
  • During your life, who have you had contact with?  males, females, no contact, females and males
  • How old were you when you had your first sexual contact (vaginal, anal, oral)?
  • Have you ever had sex with people while under the influence of alcohol marijuana or other drugs?
  • Is at least of your parents intoxicated at least once a week?
The list goes on, but it doesn't get better.  This on-line survey is administered to kids in 7th-12th grade through the schools. It is voluntary and students are promised anonymity. It comes from the Dane County Youth Commission. The fact that some of the questions are wildly inappropriate is obvious. Most businesses would be sued if they asked these questions of people who had reached the age of majority, let alone a minor. The bigger question is, "What do they do with the data?"

See the results of the 2009 survey if you would like to see the full list of questions asked.

The Youth Commission says it uses the data to plan services for youth in Dane County. Sounds good. But if they have too many kids responding that they stay up very late at night, what exactly is the Youth Commission going to do about that? If they see kids are drinking a lot of soda, what authority does the Youth Commission have to change that?

There are several questions on the survey whose answers provide no meaningful data.  "About how many people your age do you think have ever had sexual intercourse?"  If students grossly underestimate that number, does it serve a useful purpose to show them that many more kids are sexually active?  If they overestimate but proudly list themselves as abstaining, does anyone need to intervene to correct their perception?

Questions about whether they have been in foster care or have a family member in prison attempt to get at how many kids might need support for those conditions. But self reporting is notoriously inaccurate and the Youth Commission admits that they "sample" this data which means they are not getting full reporting from every student. They can get accurate foster data from Child Protective Services and inmate populations from the Dept of Corrections.  So why ask the student?

The main page of the Youth Commission Assessment lists both the aggregated survey results and several pdf documents, most of which deal with homosexuality.  Clearly this is an issue for them.  But a quick review of their own reports show that this is not an issue for the students.  Only 1% of them report homosexual tendencies and 99% of them report knowing where to go for support about their sexuality.

So is there a need for this 68 page survey or is this just voyeurism on the part of Dane County? One clue may be found in the Arkansas Needs Assessment Survey, a similar survey about drug and alcohol use, which parents are notified about in advance and given the option to opt out.  On their website they answer why a school would want to participate in this type of survey:
  • Provides data for the No Child Left Behind reporting requirements AT NO COST to the district
 Their data is not available for public review as Wisconsin's is.

Since the story broke, others have begun reporting similar types of surveys being given at their schools.  One teacher even noted that he has requested another teacher proctor this survey as he cannot, in good conscience, give this to his FOURTH GRADERS.  If parents were aware that these surveys were being given to their children, would they support it? Have they taught their kids that when the top of the document says "This is voluntary" they can decline to fill it out?

We would like to hear from teachers (who can comment anonymously) whether you have ever seen or been asked to give such a survey in your school.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

School Choice Week in Chicago: Pay Fines or Be Scruntinized by Police Surveillance Cameras.

Charters are privately run government schools.  In Missouri, they are under the same mandates and common core standards as traditional public schools.  They are taxpayer funded which means the taxpayer is paying private companies to deliver education.

Do they do a better job than traditional schools?  Some do, some don't.  But what one charter school in Chicago does do better than a traditional public school is levy fines for bad behavior and minor infractions.  It fines a child's parent for a child's untied shoes or bringing chips to school.  While teaching lessons to children, the charter school administration pads the coffers of the charter school (did we mention it is taxpayer funded?) and makes a tidy profit from bad (and perhaps just plain adolescent) student behavior.

From The Chicago Tribune:

A charter network praised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel for its academically competitive schools is charging students $5 for minor disciplinary infractions like having untied shoelaces, bringing chips to school or dozing off in class. Critics say the network is using the fines to push out troubled students so it can boost graduation rates, but school leaders say tougher discipline has led to a safer school environment.

The Noble Network of Charter Schools, which runs 10 high schools in the city, has raised nearly $200,000 from the disciplinary fees last year and almost $400,000 since the 2008-09 school year, according to three parent and student advocacy groups who held a joint news conference Monday at
Chicago Public Schools headquarters.

There is a video of the news conference and protest on the site.

If this has been a great money maker for the charter school, maybe the money should be returned to the school district and the taxpayers.  Why should the charter school be keeping the money since it is taxpayer funded?  Think of it.  The charter school could return the fines to the Chicago public school district to defray the cost of hiring policemen to patrol in the traditional public schools and setting up surveillance cameras.  From "Policing Chicago Public Schools":

Last summer, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) proposed purchasing new surveillance cameras for fourteen (14) high schools at a cost of $7 million dollars.  The Chicago Tribune reported that:

Footage from up to 80 high-definition cameras could be monitored by CPS and will be fed to a nearby police station, then linked into the citywide network of surveillance cameras. That network includes cameras operated by the Chicago Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and Communications and Chicago Transit Authority. Images from the cameras can also be viewed on officials’ cellphones.”  

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) charges CPS $25 million a year for two police officers at each high school. But because the district hasn’t paid the full amount in previous years, it will have to pay $70 million in the 2011 school year.  CPS estimates that it costs $75,000 a year to have a police officer stationed at a school for daily 8 hour shifts.  A coalition of student researchers, called Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), found that:  “In 2010, Chicago Public Schools spent $51.4 million on school-based security guards, about 15 times more than the $3.5 million it spent on college and career coaches.” As education budgets shrink, it makes sense to question schools’ heavy investment in policing, surveillance and security.

Do you think traditional public schools should try fining students for poor behavior?  Would it cut down on the enormous cost of hiring police officers to be stationed in public schools?  The above paragraphs are a sad testament to children running the public school asylum in Chicago.

If attending school is seen as a responsibility rather than a right, and you have to pay to retain your right to be in school if you misbehave, the act of attending school becomes an act of becoming accountable, rather than being entitled.  Maybe the parents of the charter school students who pay the fines would rather do that than having their children under camera surveillance piped into police departments.  Again, from the Tribune article:

Some Noble parents, though, have seen the discipline policy work.

After paying more than $300 for behavior classes and detention fees, Kimberly Davis said her daughter is now on track to graduate from Comer.
  (link on Comer's statistics added by MEW)

"You have to buy into the program," Davis said. "For (her daughter), it worked."

Here is an article from The Chicago Sun-Times about Noble's educational testing results:

Only one of nine Chicago multi-site charter operators — Noble Street — beat the districtwide average of all Chicago public schools for the percent of students passing state tests last spring on every campus it oversees. 

Is the reason the Noble students pass because of the educational teaching or fining students into compliance (and getting rid of the rule breakers), or a combination of both?  Groups can protest the fines levied on children, but the parents have the right to pay the fines or withdraw their child from the school.  If the parents don't like this practice, they can re-enter the traditional public school.  What might be a more meaningful protest is to question where the money from those fines are funneled. 

It's sad the school choices in Chicago have evolved into paying to stay into school or facing police cameras.  I guess dipping into the pocketbook of parents has greater impact than appealing to student sense of good behavior and learning to abide by the rules because it's the moral way to live.

Vote in this Poll About the Food Police in Schools

There is a 3 question poll in this Althouse blog about the food police in the North Carolina school who told a mother she did not pack a nutritious enough lunch for her 4 year old daughter.

Take the poll and see if you think the same way 90% of the respondents voted on the school's actions. 

Then visit a new Facebook Group "Stay Out of My Lunchbox".  Share YOUR stories of the food police visiting your school or district.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Could All Use A Little Perspective

This map tool, which we all use frequently, should be a reminder to us that perspective is important. Using this zoom feature can tell you whether you got a great deal on a hotel in the middle of the action, or found a hotel in the second ring of suburbs outside the city you really wanted to visit.

Last week the news erupted with coverage of Catholic institutions fight against the Administration's edict that they cover contraceptive care in their health insurance plans. Many people got bogged down when they zoomed in tight on the merits of contraception.  If they zoomed out a little and got some perspective (which many people thankfully did) they saw the larger implication of this action. Obama, or rather his HHS Director Kathleen Sebelius, was forced to offer a "fix" when 70 million potential voters seemed to line up on the side of the Catholic church. But the "fix" is actually worse than the disease IF you have some perspective on it.

Charles Krauthammer noted the duality of the Administration's position in his piece from last week in which he discussed what the President said about good works being central to religiosity at this year's national day of prayer and what Directer Sibelius said about religious institutions. Here, from the Washington Post, was her definition of what a religious institution is and is not.
Criterion 1: A “religious institution” must have “the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.” But that’s not the purpose of Catholic charities; it’s to give succor to the poor. That’s not the purpose of Catholic hospitals; it’s to give succor to the sick. Therefore, they don’t qualify as “religious” — and therefore can be required, among other things, to provide free morning-after abortifacients. 
Criterion 2: Any exempt institution must be one that “primarily employs” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.” Catholic soup kitchens do not demand religious IDs from either the hungry they feed or the custodians they employ. Catholic charities and hospitals — even Catholic schools — do not turn away Hindu or Jew.

Their vocation is universal, precisely the kind of universal love-thy-neighbor vocation that is the very definition of religiosity as celebrated by the Gospel of Obama. Yet according to the Gospel of Sebelius, these very same Catholic institutions are not religious at all — under the secularist assumption that religion is what happens on Sunday under some Gothic spire, while good works are “social services” properly rendered up unto Caesar.
The perspective Catholics gained was not that the government wants contraception for everyone but that the government believes it has the right to dictate what religious institutions do. This belief was also felt by the military chaplains who were ordered not to preach about this issue in their Sunday services.

The perspective everyone should be getting with the HHS fix is that this government believes it has the right to dictate the specific practices of business, in this case insurance companies, who will now be required to provide a service for free.  Why not tell McDonalds that they must supply a free bottled water with every meal because, after all, that is in the customer's health interest? Why not mandate that businesses offer either their own fitness centers or pay for club memberships, since that also will improve the health of their employees?  So much has, and will, be done in the name of "health."

Even in our schools we see changes being made in the name of "health." We have written about this many times in MEW, here, here, here and here.

In North Carolina this week, a mother had her 4 year old's lunch sent home with a note that it did not meet the USDA's guidelines for a healthy meal and that she was being charged $1.25 for the "supplemental" food the school had to supply to her child.

Hit the "-" button on your map tool and see that the lunch that was deemed unqualified contained: a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, some chips and a box of apple juice.

Hit the "-" button again and see that the school had someone assigned to check lunchboxes for every child who brought one from home to make sure that the food was in line with USDA guidelines.

The school assigned this Guardian of the Lunchbox because there was a state law passed that said any food served by the school must meet USDA guidelines (lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables). Some officials interpret that to include lunches brought from home.

The school has a right, maybe even an obligation, to tell children when their parents are not measuring up to snuff, as this little girl was.  Ironically, the supplemental food the school served her was chicken nuggets which have far more trans fats in them that the lean turkey supplied by her mother in the sandwich.  The lesson for the little girl?  Greasy nuggets good. Turkey sandwich bad. Mom incompetent.

A state has passed a law determining that they have a role in dictating 25% of what a typical child eats in a week and therefore can force implementation of these policies all the way down to the pre-school level and into your home.
The school apologized because it was determined that the lunch did in fact meet the guidelines.  However, if you followed the above exercise, you should now be hovering somewhere over the eastern portion of our country and realize how deeply the government has inserted itself into your personal life. It is like a glioblastoma tumor which spreads through, and into the folds of, the brain making if difficult to remove. But nano technology may provide the answer for patients with this disease and may provide the mechanism for the rest of us to deal with intrusive government. It involves small groups (nanites) to infiltrate at the very local level to destroy the cells. Parents in NC need to stand up to the schools and tell them to stay out of their kid's lunch.  They also need to go to their legislature and get that law repealed or clarified. And if the national congress is looking for areas to make budgets cuts, we all need to suggest they drastically defund the USDA who is reaching way too far into our personal lives and really has no proper place in national government.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are School Districts are so Incapable they Need Predictive Data Analysis from the Bill Gates Foundation to Provide Education? Pity the "Free Thinker".

Refer to our last posting on who education is for...it's not for the government, corporatists or technocrats.  Parents, taxpayers, teachers and school districts must adopt this belief to protect their children from being used as pawns in the global society to fulfill the goals of the international workforce via student data sets.

Ed Week has an article entitled "Data Tools Aim to Predict Student Performance"  abut the mining of data to ostensibly help students from falling through the cracks.  Students will be data mined based on assessments from curriculum, as well as from information based on  factors such as test scores and attendance, but also looks at students' physical-fitness levels, other health issues, and socioeconomic standing.

If you are in the San Jose Unified School District (or in another school district utilizing invasive data sets), is it time for a bit of civil disobedience if you don't want your child's standardized "one size fits all" assessments, physical fitness level, health issues, socioeconomic standings scrutinized to predict future failure or success?  This is what many school districts believe about your student:

Patte Barth, the director of the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association, in Alexandria, Va., who is working on predictive data analysis through a grant from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says school boards have reported that the information gleaned from such analysis "takes the stress out of decisionmaking."

"The power in this data is that it makes it much easier to defend decisions and give confidence that districts will get a return on their investment," Barth says. "It helps them identify where the needs are and to align the resources to those needs."

Many school boards are now operating from a business management perspective.  Your child is seen as being "a return on an investment".  How much easier it will be for school boards and administrators to make decisions based on standardized data.  Why are we paying school administrators huge salaries when they are nothing more than glorified office managers?  They don't have to put their careers on the line for decision making.  All they need to do is rely on data sets to make any decisions school boards are still allowed to make.

These assessments begin quite early in public schools.  Your three year old will be facing assessments in many areas of the country.  The chilling results of such early assessments reminds me of a true story from a mom who used "Parents as Teachers" for her first child.

Her child at age 3 was being assessed by a parent educator.  The child was given 4 pictures and was told to "point to the picture that had to do with rain".  The child answered, "It's the picture of the girl with the yellow boots and umbrella".  The parent educator said "point to the picture".  The 3 year old answered, "I TOLD you, it's the picture of the girl with the yellow boots and umbrella".

My friend's daughter used complex language for a 3 year old.   Her understanding of the concept was correct.  What she didn't do is follow directions.  She didn't "point" to the picture (had she possibly been taught it is rude to point?), she verbalized her answer (which is higher level than just pointing) and the parent educator failed the 3 year old based on her non-compliance.  Would this child be considered "at risk"?  Is there a space for children who possess higher level thinking and language skills?  Apparently not since the Parents as Teachers educator failed her on this question.  Is this the moral of the story: you fail if you are too smart for the question?

Ed Week writes:

Education leaders in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district are scrutinizing the habits and grades of elementary school students to determine who may fall off track and fail to graduate from high school a decade or more from now.
These same assessments will penalize the higher skilled students.  It's a great data tool box to turn out widgets and make students fit into the prescribed educational box and common core rubric.  It's a trap for those students outside of "one size fits all" intellectual and developmental abilities and will penalize those students who are advanced, creative and individualistic.

Who IS public education tailored to these days?  It seems education centers around fairness and educational equity and it's solely for the children who are failing.  This administration is determined failing students fit in that "one size fits all" box and they receive the majority of educational resources.  

Just how is this dependence on data (which makes administrators lazy and impotent) will enable American children to become STEM ready?  It will make them into good little widgets; innovators, not so much.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stop. Take a Breath. Remember What Education Is For. It's Not for the Government, Coporatists or Technocrats.

Apparently I'm not such a dinosaur after all.  I still have my records from junior high school with the psychedelic art and liner notes.  Vinyl is making a comeback.  Alternative recording musical offerings as 8-track tapes, cassettes, CDs, etc have come full circle as musical aficionados find their way back to the old-fashioned vinyl LP.  

It's time to take out those 33 RPM records, set that needle onto the edge and settle back for either the A or B side of some great Joni Mitchell, Allman Brothers, Cream (or your favorite band) while flipping through the album notes.  It's a tactile experience demanding your attention  as you need to turn over the record to the other side after the needle reaches the middle.

According to the Wall Street Journal in "It's Alive! Vinyl Makes a Comeback":

The digital revolution was supposed to do away with a lot of fusty old relics. First compact discs took their toll on the long-playing (and long-played) vinyl record; then iPods and digital downloads began doing the same to CDs. But long after the eulogies had been delivered, the vinyl LP has been revived.

Substantial. That's the word I keep hearing from the fans of vinyl. Records are admirably physical, the antithesis of the everywhere-and-nowhere airiness of "the cloud."

The embrace of vinyl isn't just some retro fad, but a push-back against the techno-triumphalism that insists there is no future for physical artifacts like books and newspapers. It's a small declaration of independence, a refusal to let the march of progress stomp on one's pleasures.

Vinyl is an assertion that efficiency isn't everything.

Switching to vinyl makes me wonder if the increased use of IPads and computers in the classroom will experience a similar backlash.  The use of digital curriculum increases the speed on information imparted, but it doesn't necessarily mean the information is absorbed more quickly by people.  It may just mean technological overload for students.  And what happens when an overload occurs? A short-circuit is in the making and the student can't concentrate and real learning is impeded.  

At dinner this weekend with friends, two of them indicated they had deactivated their Facebook accounts and they don't miss them.  Stephen Lazar, a teacher who had a large Twitter following wrote a blog entry entitled "Why I am no Longer Tweeting":

Last year, I became convinced I developed adult ADD.  I felt like I was loosing my ability to concentrate on any one task for an extended length of time.  Luckily, teaching is a job that rewards being aware of many different things at once, so it didn’t affect my job performance.  There were times when it was a challenge for me to focus on extended conversations with my wife, though.  I seriously considered going to see a psychiatrist and talking about going on adderall (which I, unlike many of my generation, never used recreational in high school or college). 

As common core standards demand more and more computer assessments and the move toward more and more virtual schools and computerized text, keep your eye on the students.  If adolescents are anything like adults, eventually  they will throw up their hands and withdraw from the technological front lines and demand the time, the rhythm and the tactile experiences necessary for thorough learning, not just surface learning to pass the assessments.  

The Federal government can insist students and people are only human capital and this human capital is nothing more than massive data sets.  The assessments will make companies very rich (via taxpayer funding for their use and implementation) while looking for students to answer the questions set up by private corporations to help the workforce, not the student.  

The plan to make the perfect student, the perfect worker, the perfect widget may just backfire.  Folks are beginning to walk away from the technology designed to make our lives better and our minds sharper.   They are becoming more selective about what they read and with whom they share information.  Are we witnessing the beginning of an anti-technology movement that will hopefully doom the federal/global takeover of American education?   Revisiting the WSJ article above:

 Vinyl is an assertion that efficiency isn't everything.
What's important in education might not just be for efficiency after all.  What might be important is to encourage and nurture the time it takes a student to fully understand the subject studied before moving on to stay on track for that common core rubric or "one size fits all" playbook.  It's time for parents, teachers and school districts to demand their public educational institutions refuse the implementation of the techno dreams of Bill Gates and the other corporatists determined to take over the delivery and content of education:

The embrace of vinyl isn't just some retro fad, but a push-back against the techno-triumphalism that insists there is no future for physical artifacts like books and newspapers. It's a small declaration of independence, a refusal to let the march of progress stomp on one's pleasures.

Enjoy this musical interlude from Cream, "I Feel Free" with stills from "Easy Rider":



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader Visual Soundbites for 02.10.12

Welcome to the Sunday Education Weekly Reader.  The visual soundbites from Twitter for 02.12.12:

  • From Japan, an article on an alternative learning process.....the Donguri method because "it attaches a high value to [children's] thinking processes."...but how will this method fit on a computer assessment sheet?.....EDUCATION RENAISSANCE / Drawing pictures helps kids develop math skills: This piece--the final installment in a ...
  •  This story comes from Britain.  Just substitute "USA" in place of the word "Britain" and it's the same argument.  Must be that global push for education.  Teachers seem to be the number one villain in the education wars everywhere...Teachers, stop being so defensive. It's time to embrace the no-excuses culture | Will Hutton -
  •  Interesting video from an Asian student on how Asian parents and US parents view grades. A teenager's view of Tiger Mom parenting.  Seems as if the parents have embraced the "no-excuses" culture..... Education and culture! If every student's parents were Asian an A would = average
  •  Are you a student adhering to the "Road Less Traveled" blueprint?  Check out these scholarships actually rewarding creativity, rather than what you spew out on a data set.....These are 4 unique that could land you some serious cash!


Educational wisdom from Twitter focusing on student responsibility for his/her own future:

DREAM = Dedication . Responsibility . Education . Attitude . Motivation.

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