"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, March 17, 2012

Judge Not a College Student on the Content of His/Her Character, Judge Him/Her on Sexual Orientation.

College students may want to take a cue from the way  40% of judges in California answered in a voluntary, state sanctioned questionnaire on their ethnicity, race and gender:  "None of your business."

From the NY Times:

Officials of the University of California system have proposed asking incoming freshmen to identify their sexual orientation, a move that might cement such declarations as an emerging topic in the college admissions process.

ABC News reports that the Academic Senate of the University of California system initiated the proposal to ensure that services are provided for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

Elmhurst College, in Illinois, announced last year that it would ask students about their sexual orientation on its admission application, making it the first college believed to make such a move. Students who identified themselves as gay were eligible for a diversity scholarship.

As one commenter wrote:

This is a further erosion of privacy and an example of smug crusadership gone wrong. One’s sexual orientation is no one else’s business, particularly as it is something that can evolve with time and do so most notably during the college years. So, as a first step, to place this on a college application is absurd as well as abusive. The power inequality–well established institution deciding upon admission vs. teenage applicant seeking admission–requires no further elaboration. And, as a second step, if a student answers one of these questions falsely for fear of downstream consequences, in effect answering under duress (and it is nothing else), then the same student could, theoretically, be pursued at some later point for “fraud” by having put a false statement in writing and having obtained something of value (either a college admission or some other college benefit, e.g., in the not unthinkable instance in which a non-gay student declared himself/herself gay in order to partake of “diversity” handouts, leaving aside the much more important issue of privacy for actually gay students who do not choose to make this part of their personal lives part of a quasi-public record). There is a certain point at which the declared desire to “do good” becomes indistinguishable from perpetrating vicious evil. This application question has clearly reached that point.
— Steve

What happened to judging (oh, what a politically incorrect word) people based on their character rather than their skin color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability, etc?  Why the persistent insistence on dividing people based on certain qualities?  Is this really "equity" or "divisiveness"?  Could we just let people exist without making a federal issue of every aspect of a person's personality, genetic makeup, etc?   If Americans aren't to discriminate based on sexual orientation, then why are there scholarships based on a student's sexual preference?  As 40% of jurists answered the questionnaire "none of your business", most Americans do not care to know of student sexual preferences in the bedroom.  Why do colleges?

Detractors, including some sitting judges, believe the question is intrusive, explains the Los Angeles Times. Unlike race or sex, sexual and gender identity are private matters.  Individuals can choose to divulge the information on their own terms.

Critics also suggest gender and sexual identity are immaterial. Judicial appointments should be about competence, not filling a quota. But can't the same argument be made about sex, race and ethnicity? 

To this end, isn't asking California judges any question about their personal identity inappropriate?

Can these questions and remarks be rephrased to address what's occurring for college students having to proclaim their sexual identity? 

Student achievement should be about competence, not filling a quota (or scholarship requirement).
To this end, isn't asking California students any question about their personal identity inappropriate?

Friday, March 16, 2012

It's Never Too Early To Start Preparing For College

Twenty years ago the "experts" thought children as young as two and three did not have the fine motor coordination to do many tasks, like using a pencil or a mouse. But some tech geeks, anxious to really maximize the benefits of the home computer (and sell more software) decided to go ahead and make learning programs for little kids like "Playskool Friends" and "Freddy Fish" anyway.  They proved the experts wrong. Toddlers were soon sitting transfixed in front of their home computers clicking away to make things happen on the screen, mousing almost as good as their parents.  Give any child that age today an iPhone and they will soon be mastering Angry Birds to levels that embarrass mom and dad. Their brains are in high gear making neural connections that allow them to understand, synthesize and adapt to their world. So is it wrong to start thinking that we can begin preparing them for college in pre school? New York City says "no", but teachers, parents, and most importantly kids, disagree.

NYC Department of Education has prepared a get-’em-ready-for-college curriculum for the pre-K set.  It includes literacy plans that, in keeping with the Common Core State Standards, use nonfiction as the preferred reading material. But since the kids generally don't read yet, the plan calls for teachers to read and kids to do lot of sitting and listening.  Already this is sounding like the pre-school from hell.

One sample non-fiction book they use is a fairly dull tome on plants, From Seed To Plant, by Gail Gibbons. (The kids are squirming already.)  In addition to some basic words you would expect to see in such a grade level text like dirt, sun and green, are some words that you might also find on the ACT like: stamen, botanist, ovules, minerals, nutrition and pistal. (Some children begin longingly looking at the toy corner of the room.  There is unease among the ranks.)

Then the teacher hits home that comprehension section of the standardized assessments and asks the kids:
  • What types of plants do you notice in this picture?
  • What is this part of the plant called? Stem, leaf, root? How do seeds travel?
  • What are some places where seeds fall?
  • What do birds do with seeds?
  • How do plants grow once they land in the soil? What happens first?
(This incites full on rebellion with some kids staging an occupation of the craft center demanding water based glue for everyone)

When parents pick up their children, they will not be handed  kids who have had fun interacting with each other and learning how to get along, who have been allowed to run around and use up some of the plentiful energy 3 and 4 years olds have.  Instead they will be met by children who are learning early on that school is a lot of sitting still and boredom. Their children will think of bubbles as little circles that adults are crazy about you staying inside the lines of when you color, rather than fun multicolored balls you create by blowing and pop with your fingers. They will learn to fear that thing they can barely say, "summative assessment," because it always seems to make teacher's eye twitch and the tension in the room grow palpably just before they do it.  And they will know the word "palpable' because it was in a story last week about a little cow who felt the fear in his herd as they were chased into the slaughter house.  The story also explains the  sobs coming from the children every day since whenever their parents offered them a hamburger from McDonalds.

The good news for the teachers is, if it is all day pre-school, the kids will look forward to nap time as an escape, though it really may be more a symptom of depression.

New York parents wont feel any more comforted by the pre-K math standards:
  • reason abstractly and quantitatively
  • construct viable arguments
  • critique the reasoning of others
  • model with mathematics
  • look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
  • analyze, compare, and sort two- and three-dimensional shapes and objects, in different sizes, using informal language to describe their similarities, differences, and other attributes
Teachers won't be much happier about implementing these standards.  Having to do the mental exercise of viewing your plan for the day through this high level language and college like targeted goal setting and then translating that into the very simple actions needed to communicate that message to the 3 and 4 year old mind will be mentally exhausting.  The kids will still be making clay snakes that they form into triangles and squares, while the teachers are checking off "two dimensional spacial recognition and labeling."

All of this may not matter to parents who keep their kids at home for the pre-school years or find a private school that still focuses on social skill development and hands on activities. But we must always keep an eye out for the experts who want to close that door and require you to turn your child over to their "better" system.

Election officials advise no ID necessary to register Timothy Tebow and Thomas Brady to vote in Minnesota

In Minnesota, you don't need an ID to prove your identity to vote.  Heck, you don't even have to pick up an application.  The voter registration clerks will give citizens a stack for anyone (actual or fictitious) to complete and return.  And if there is a "problem", it will be dealt with after the election, because as they state in the video, "they aren't the police".

Students in governmental studies might want to watch this video on how the state of Minnesota (or at least its employees) allows potential voter fraud.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kansas Board of Education Experiencing the Ramifications of "State Led" Common Core Standards. We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto, We're in Federal Regulatory Land. Welcome to the Land of Oz.

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Kansas is learning the ugly truth about Common Core State Standards.  From KC Education Enterprise:

Next Monday, when students in the Kansas City, Kansas (KCK) district return to school after spring break, they're going to get some bad news. Those enrolled in grades three through seven are going to have to take about three more weeks of standardized tests this spring.

Unfortunately, these students are caught in the middle of a battle between the federal government and the Kansas State Board of Education over local control of public schools.

"How much learning takes place during those three weeks?" state board member Ken Willard asked KCK Assistant Superintendent Jayson Strickland during today's meeting in Topeka.

The response: "Students are learning how to take assessments. Schools become assessment factories at this time."
The board and district administrators today voiced the opinion that this additional testing is -- in board member Kathy Martin's words -- "wasting money and time for our students."

The pity is legislators could have stopped this madness, at least in Missouri, by refusing the implementation of the change of standards and assessments.  Science and history standards have not yet been finalized.  Could legislatures be PRO ACTIVE and begin the process of taking away State Boards' of Education powers to adopt unconstitutional, unproven, untested and unfunded mandates to ensure these standards are not adopted as well?

State Board Walt Chappell apparently is the only member to understand about this takeover:

During today's meeting, state Board of Education members voted unanimously to extend this year's state testing window until the middle of May to allow KCK additional time to test their students. Board members also voted 9-1 (with Walt Chappell voting against the motion) to support an appeal of the U.S. Department of Education's decision in this matter.

Chappell said he voted against supporting an appeal, because he objected to "un-elected federal officials making decisions about our kids."

Other board members, including chairman David T. Dennis, agreed with Chappell's insistence on the importance of local control of schools. However, if the board and KCK refuse to accept the U.S. Department of Education's decision, the district might lose all Title I funding from the federal government.

"There's a big difference between 'might' and 'will'," Chappell said. "This is blackmail, pure and simple. We don't need to keep playing this game."
KCK Assistant Superintendent Jayson Strickland has a great sense of humor....or disconnect:

"We're trying to do the right thing for kids," Strickland said, speaking on behalf of KCK. "Tell the feds, 'Learn from us.'"

Strickland's statement is like Dorothy talking to the Wicked Witch.  The Wicked Witch didn't want to learn from Dorothy and company, she wanted control.   The Wicked Witch had her flying monkeys and soldiers to do her bidding.  The Federal Government has the states and schools doing their bidding.  Arne Duncan has no desire to "learn from the states".  Doesn't Mr. Strickland understand the new interpretation of the Constitution?  States don't set educational standards and districts certainly don't have the authority from the DOEd to make their own decisions.

Welcome to the Land over the Rainbow.  It's time to throw water on the Wicked Witch, call the bluff of the Federal Government's threat of withholding Title I money and return to reality, instead of fantasy land of common core standards.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Will Common Core Science Standards Embrace Standards of Scientific Practice?

First the good news.  Some things are still free of controversy. A verb is still an action word.  A noun describes a person, place or thing.  The area of a rectangle = LxW.  The mathematical order of operations remains PENDAS. Developing common core standards for math and language arts was made a little easier by the fact that so many things in these subjects are already commonly understood or accepted as absolute truths.  Not so for history or science.  Not by a long shot.

Hot Air reported that climate science is the most controversial subject in school.  Developing Common Core standards for science may prove a lot more difficult for the consortia, IF they concern themselves with accuracy. 

The influence of politics on science has been around for centuries (think Galileo and Darwin).  Policy based on science seems like a good idea, until the science you base your far reaching policy on is proven wrong.  This concern directs funding from government into science to guarantee that they will not be caught with their pants down in the future. This should  provide a catch 22 for developing policy based on science. The political funding of science tends to bias the scientific results so that they support the policy.  That is, until someone else shows where the science got it wrong. Then the scientific debate turns primarily political, as has happened with climate change. 

It is extremely difficult to structure experiments perfectly and the threat of bias always looms in the laboratory.  Any scientist worth his salt will never declare that his results are absolute and final. This allows him or her to save face if a colleague later proves the conclusions wrong, but more importantly it allows them to ask for more money with a straight face.  There is always something else to be learned. The game that is played in science is using the money to point the direction of that future research. This relationship makes finding those commonly understood standards in science much more difficult.  Even something most high schoolers take for granted today, the elements of the periodic table, has a history fraught with controversy, false claims and surprises. (Check out The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean if you'd like to read more.)

Despite all the controversy it turns out  science standards have already been developed by several national bodies. Draft science standards could be released as early as April by these organizations. Some parents will probably not like what they contain. 
"Parents are as outraged today about the way schools teach climate science as they were then about the way schools incorporated evolution into their curriculums."
If they want to get it right, the powers that be should be concerned about what they say and how parents feel about it. Past actions do not give much hope, however, for those people wanting to get it right. 

Tina Korbe at Hot Air concluded with this interesting observation:
"In a state of nature, government doesn’t exist, but the parent-child relationship still does. The decision of the people to form a government does not nor ever can obliterate the parent-child relationship or the obligations it creates. The family exists prior to government and, so, will always be the fundamental unit for organizing society. Parents have the right and responsibility to educate their children. That some parents do not take seriously that responsibility might be a reason for the next-nearest to a child to step in and fulfill the responsibility, but it’s not a reason to deny parental rights."
Given the uncertainty and controversy inherent in science, this is one subject that may most readily lend itself to local control. Concerns that disparate students assembled in college who come from different local science backgrounds will have a difficult time coexisting is a misguided worry. This scenario is actually something that should be wholeheartedly embraced by the scientific community. Their annual meetings are a chance to share results and challenge each others' thinking, because sometimes that is the only way truly great discoveries are made. How sad it would be if we started giving future scientists the idea that we already know it all and there is little we can still learn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kindergarten Rigor in Connecticut and the Kirkwood School District

What do you remember about kindergarten?  Was it the coloring?  The playing of games?  The songs?  The end of the  year recital?  I remember playing the triangle for a song in an "orchestra" and being dressed up in a crepe paper flower costume my mother made for the finale presentation.  

I don't remember rote activities, assessments and rigid expectations.  Probably most parents today don't think of kindergarten in those terms either.  Before parents get all excited about free all day kindergarten in their district and are eager to send their child for a magical experience, they might want to read this from the educational blog in the Washington Post, not known for conservative views:

There is no end to the bad ideas advanced in the name of school reform. Here’s one that will ensure that kids learn to hate school even earlier than usual: In Hartford, Conn., the superintendent of schools wants to extend the school year for some kindergartners to 11 months of the year. 

And these kids aren’t having a laugh riot at school as it is.

Some kindergartners there go to school from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. — with no time for naps and no time to play, according to this story in The Hartford Courant.

“Play? No. No, no, no. This is no longer the case. Even in pre-K, for us, it’s no longer the case,” Immacula Didier, the principal at Betances Early Reading Lab School was quoted as saying by The Courant.

These students are being robbed of opportunities to learn through play that is carefully constructed, which early childhood experts say is the best way for them to develop their social-emotional and academic learning skills.

Think this won't happen at YOUR kindergarten class in your district?  Ask the kindergarten teachers about the expectations of the standards and assessments on kindergarteners thanks to the Common Core standards.  Better yet, ask to see them so you can read what is expected and assessed on a 5 year old child.  See how much time is dedicated to playing and exploring just for the fun of it.

Do you think your child might want to experience half day kindergarten instead? It's an uphill battle in the Kirkwood School District.  The district instituted "free" all day kindergarten (which is of course ludicrous as it's taxpayer funded) and have informed the parents who had been sending their children to the half day program this option was not an option any longer.  Apparently it's an issue in which the educators know best.  Silly parents.

Who would want their 5 year old on the fast track for being assessed to standards that may or may not apply to their particular learning style or ability at such a tender age?  If you are a parent who looks upon kindergarten time as free day care, you probably don't give such a question any thought whatsoever.  

I hope the half day parents stand firm and demand what is best for their children, not what is helpful for their own personal schedule or the mandates the school must follow.   After all, there is plenty of time for a child to be educationally tracked by the government to determine his/her data set and how that data is best suited for particular employment.  

From the Post:

Now all we hear is about getting kids ready for the rigors of rigor at school (“rigor” being an operative word today in education, even for 5-year-olds). That includes subjecting 5-year-olds to test after test.

Ask the superintendent if KSD is under these same tests.  Ask the kindergarten teacher to show you how your child will be assessed on test after test.  Is this really want you want for your child?

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Retired Math Teacher Wonders "What is a Failing School"?

The "regular" people are smarter than the Washington and financial elites attempting to control education.  Forget the teacher evaluations foisted on districts which are dependent upon student assessments that may/may not successfully measure a child's knowledge.   A teacher may have a low performing class for a year, not because he/she is a "bad" teacher, it could stem from a class full of children with special needs now having to abide by "common" standards unreachable for those kids, students with no desire to learn, or students so far behind from previous years of being socially promoted they can't reach the goals for the year.

Instead of persecuting teachers and establishing national curricula, standards and assessments, schools should be allowed the freedom (it is the constitutional right of the state to set standards and assessments and of the district to set curriculum, NOT the Federal government or national consortia) to teach the students in the manner the teacher and principal believe appropriate for students' specific needs and styles of learning.

This letter to the editor in the Jacksonville Times-Union (3.10.12) from a retired teacher sums it up perfectly:

What’s a failing school?

My wife and I have been coming to Jekyll Island for 35 years. I am a retired math teacher from Ottawa, Ontario, and have always been interested in education in Florida and Georgia.

If I had kept the Time-Unions from way back, I’d find that opinions, no facts, have not changed: lousy teachers, underpaid teachers, teachers from the bottom half of graduating classes and so on.

It seems that the only thing teachers are not responsible for is teen acne.

Try as I might, I can’t understand what a failing school is.

I did teach in one school where my grade 12 class median grade was 80ish. What a terrific teacher!

Then I went to another school known as “Last Chance High” where my class median grade in calculus was low 50s. What a lousy teacher!

Classroom discipline, support for teachers and principals and realistic expectations for students is paramount.

Not every kid can become a rocket scientist. Many do not have the intellectual ability nor the interest in such subjects; I didn’t.

My first job was in the High School Of Commerce, which is just what you would expect. Not many doctors or lawyers but a lot of superb secretaries, bookkeepers and employees that you would find in offices and businesses.

The best schools I taught in were those that had good compassionate administrators who made sure that their teachers were respected and happy.

Happy teachers make good teachers.

Richard Elichuk, Jekyll Island, Ga.

None of this billion dollar "beat a teacher up" evaluation system will help students.  It makes for unhappy teachers teaching to the test which makes for unhappy students graduating out as parrots unable to think for themselves. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Sunday Education Weekly Reader Visual Soundbites 03.11.12

Welcome to the  Sunday Education Weekly Reader Visual Soundbites from twitter. Tidbits from the week include tweets about the abolishment of the DOEd, lack of due diligence while instituting expensive (and taxpayer funded) early childhood programs, data sets picking winners and losers and another expert comes out against common core curriculum...err, standards.

  • Could it be states regain control of education?  These senators have a plan for that to happen.....Conservative Plan to Eliminate Education, Energy, Housing, Commerce Depts.
  •  Sounds like Kirkwood School District in MO...instituting early childhood program (all day kindergarten) without performing research if early childhood education makes a difference.  But why worry? It's all "free".  And it's all about "equity".  Sounds more like government provided childcare.....Blog: Is Early-Childhood Education Worth Spending Public Money?
  •  Satire...but maybe not? Data sets will pick the lucky 50 in the future?...All education dollars now directed to 50 children who can actually make a difference  


Education tweet for the week...oddly enough, from an expert in the field of digital identity whose livelihood centers around digitized information...his tweet looks like a tweet that could have come from a teacher:

Just been to a self-consciously paperless technology demo. All iPads, plasmas, formica. Oddly sterile. Not where I'd like to work

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