"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, April 21, 2012

Why do we Need a State Board of Education in Missouri?

DESE and the State Board of Education is being led around the nose by the Federal Government again.  Why do we need a State Board of Education or DESE when all the decisions are being made by the Department of Education?   As practically all educational decisions are being made by Arne Duncan, let's reduce the state employees on the state level and take our orders directly for educational direction from Washington, DC.  We have no state autonomy, but hey, DOEd can establish its national policies for teacher effectiveness ratings, thereby taking away the pesky responsibilities of state employees to make educational decisions.  They only have to do what DC instructs them to do.  

Repeat after me: "I love national education.  I love my school/state having no autonomy.  I love paying my taxes into a system in which I have no voice."

Missouri promised to revise the way it evaluates teacher effectiveness as part of its request for a waiver of requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The intent of the Act is to narrow achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged public school students. However, the goal of 100 percent proficiency on state standardized tests by 2014 appeared to be unrealistic, and the U.S. Congress was overdue on reauthorizing NCLB. Therefore, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has invited states to apply for waivers, and Missouri submitted its waiver request in February among the second round of applicants.

The federal government has already granted waiver requests to all ten of the first round of applicants and plans to respond to the second round of requests sometime in the next few weeks. As part of the waiver requests, the U.S. Department of Education directed states to choose one of two teacher evaluation options. Missouri chose Option A, which requires that teachers and principals be involved in developing the new evaluation system. Option A also requires adoption of new evaluation guidelines by the end of this school year.

Oh, that's right.  Remember many of these educational reforms DESE has signed onto are "state led".  Apparently the Federal Government has mandated the State Board choose from Option A or Option B.  I guess that's the DOEd's idea of "choice" and the definition of "state led".  When is "choice" not really "choice"?  Is a waiver valid when it dictates more restrictions than the original plan?

An Education in the Dehumanization of Americans

I've had several people tell me they felt sad and upset when they read MEW's article When High Stakes Testing becomes Abusive, it's Time for Parents to Keep their Children HomeA kindergartner's teacher wouldn't let her use the restroom because the class was in the middle of testing...that wasn't even "required testing".  The little girl had a terrible accident and had to sit in her waste until the testing was finished.  She was given a garbage bag to wrap herself in. Why didn't the teacher let the child use the restroom?

Many kids right now are taking Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests, the state standardized testing required by law.  Those tests start in third grade, but the superintendent says the reason the teacher was sticking so closely to MAP testing guidelines, even for a kindergartner, is because she was trying to simulate the stringent rules to prepare students for what's to come.   

What kind of teacher would allow a child to sit in her own excrement and have her embarrassed?  Is this what they teach college students preparing for the teaching profession?  Are college students taught the most important goal is to protect the system and treat children's needs as secondary?

Maybe some teachers took the same lessons as some TSA agents in Madison, Wisconsin.  The Gateway Pundit wrote an article about a young woman who was being patted down by a TSA agent and the woman was visibly upset.  Had she suffered previous sexual abuse?  The young woman's response was very intense and this was obviously traumatic for her. The attitude of the agent is similar to the teacher's response to a hurting 6 year old child.  Witness another example of dehumanization and indifference:

How can a human being not recognize or attend to another person's obvious suffering?  How could a teacher or a TSA agent inflict such distress on a child or an adult and just ignore the pain and embarrassment?   Does the system harden these people to not recognizing others as human beings?  Do you notice how the agent marches away after her patting down of the young woman and ignoring her emotional distress?

What is happening to Americans?  Why are we allowing schools and governmental employees to treat citizens in this manner?  Why has maintaining the system overtaken the needs of the people in the system?

Peggy Noonan has noticed this behavior as well.  From "America's Crisis of Character":

I think more and more people are worried about the American character—who we are and what kind of adults we are raising.

Every story that has broken through the past few weeks has been about who we are as a people. And they are all disturbing.

A tourist is beaten in Baltimore. Young people surround him and laugh. He's pummeled, stripped and robbed. No one helps. They're too busy taping it on their smartphones. That's how we heard their laughter. The video is on YouTube along with the latest McDonald's beat-down and the latest store surveillance tapes of flash mobs. Groups of teenagers swarm into stores, rob everything they can, and run out. The phenomenon is on the rise across the country. Police now have a nickname for it: "flash robs."

Also starring on YouTube this week was the sobbing woman. She's the poor traveler who began to cry great heaving sobs when a Transportation Security Administration agent at the Madison, Wis., airport either patted her down or felt her up, depending on your viewpoint and experience. Jim Hoft of TheGatewayPundit.com recorded it, and like all the rest of the videos it hurts to watch. When the TSA agent—an adult, a middle aged woman—was done, she just walked away, leaving the passenger alone and uncomforted, like a tourist in Baltimore. 

She continues:

In New York the past week a big story has been about 16 public school teachers who can't be fired even though they've acted unprofessionally. What does "unprofessionally" mean in New York? Sex with students, stalking students, and, in one case, standing behind a kid, simulating sex, and saying, "I'll show you what gay is." 

The kids in the flash mobs: These are their teachers. 

Finally, as this column goes to press, the journalistic story of the week, the Los Angeles Times's decision to publish pictures of U.S. troops in Afghanistan who smilingly posed with the bloody body parts of suicide bombers. The soldier who brought the pictures to the Times told their veteran war correspondent, David Zucchino, that he was, in Zucchino's words, "very concerned about what he said was a breakdown in . . . discipline and professionalism" among the troops.

In isolation, these stories may sound like the usual sins and scandals, but in the aggregate they seem like something more disturbing, more laden with implication, don't they? And again, these are only from the past week.

The leveling or deterioration of public behavior has got to be worrying people who have enough years on them to judge with some perspective.

Something seems to be going terribly wrong.

Maybe we have to stop and think about this.

Maybe when people are viewed as human capital instead of human beings...
  • and the most valuable aspect of who they are is information to be data mined for what they can contribute to a workforce, 
  • and they are continually reduced to being referred to as a subset instead of an individual,
  • and they are physically touched and searched for no reason other than they have been randomly selected for such a procedure, 
  • and they are punched out, robbed, stripped naked and no one stops to help...but there are plenty of people who assist in the crime, 
the dehumanization of Americans is to be expected.  When we are all "common" and reduced to data, to treat others with dignity is not supported by the system and must be mitigated.  We are left alone and uncomforted, as Noonan contends.

Something IS terribly wrong in America.  We have a poverty of the soul.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Win For the Victim Of Bullying But No Real Solutions to Bullying Coming From Policy Makers

This week's lawsuit settlement by the Ramsey Board of Education, paying former student Sawyer Rosenstein $42. million, while not a legal admission of "a violation of any law or duty owed to the Plaintiffs,” (from the official RBE statement), is certainly an indication of failure of any anti-bullying policy or program the school had.  The facts of this case are these. Sawyer Rosenstein sent emails to officials at Eric Smith Middle School – a guidance counselor, an assistant principal – about the harassment he experienced from another middle school student.  He wrote:
“I would like to let you know that the bullying has increased. I would like to figure out some coping mechanisms to deal with these situations, and I would just like to put this on file so if something happens again, we can show that there was past bullying situations."
The school took no action at that time to address the grievance or protect Sawyer. On May 16, 2006, three months after he wrote this e-mail, the same bully punched Rosenstein so hard that he fell to his knees. Two days later, he screamed out at home.

"We picked him up and called an ambulance," his father told the newspaper. "He hasn't walked since."

For as much as focus as there is on bullying these days, there are few success stories about programs to stop it.  Most of the programs simply identify it or allow some reporting mechanism. The actual stopping of it is far more problematic for school districts.

 Psychology Today reported, "School principals, in particular, are going nuts today dealing with bullying issues. Never have hostilities been higher. When the school administration gets involved apprehending, investigating, interrogating and judging bullies, kids get angrier at each other and the alleged bullies get angry at the school administration. The parents of the kids get angrier at each other. Whichever set of parents feels the administration is unfair to them gets angry at the administration, goes complaining to the school district, and sometimes hires lawyers to sue the school or district. Rather than bringing peace to schools, anti-bullying laws are turning them into war zones. Anti-bullying laws are a Catch 22. They require schools to eliminate bullying by treating it like a crime, but the very attempt to enforce the laws creates an intensification of the bullying problem."

Many schools have adopted a policy of "We didn't see anything here,"  which is ironic as, my son pointed out, they have cameras all over school saying "Smile, you're on camera." If schools don't admit they have a problem, there is no record, they can't be found at fault.  That becomes a truly advantageous position to be in whether you have angry parents swearing their darling was not the instigator and threatening to sue, or parents swearing their child was bullied and threatening to sue.  There is no evidence to prove the school did anything wrong, and that's what they are most worried about.

In cases where the school truly doesn't know what happened because there were no witnesses, many have adopted a policy that would never fly in a regular court in an assault case.  Similar to the reasoning that a woman wearing something that could be considered provocative was "asking" to be raped, many schools have decided that if you were in there fighting you must have added to the problem in some way and are therefore also guilty. 

This happened to nine-year-old Nathan Pemberton of West Elementary School in Colorado who was suspended from his classroom this week following a physical altercation with a bully who had been harassing Nathan for weeks. "In accordance with the school’s policy on fighting, both the bully and victim were punished."

Nathan's parents made the only decision they could.  They decided they would rather see their son suspended and whole, than damaged but in compliance with the school's policy. They told him he had the right to stand up for himself and fight back.  He was suspended, but if his story ends as many other similar stories do, he will not have to fight again. There is anecdotal evidence that standing your ground earns you the "street cred" necessary to stopping the violence. The problem may be solved, but the school gets off scott free and Nathan will have a blot on his permanent record. It doesn't seem right.

Sawyer Rosenstein's email in 2006 turned out to be the key piece of evidence that won the settlement for him. In his case the damages were not merely punitive. "Rosenstein was paralyzed from the waist down due to a clot that had formed after the blow in a major artery above his abdomen. When the clot moved down to his spine, it burst, leaving him paralyzed. Complications resulting from his paralysis, such as scoliosis, led to 19 surgeries and a complete spinal fusion. He almost died several times, Youngman said." (MSNBC)  The family has a lot of current and future medical bills that they are going to need to cover. The bully's family also settled out of court, but school districts have much deeper pockets.

American experts agree that at least 25 percent of students across the nation are bullied in traditional ways: hit, shoved, kicked, gossiped about, intimidated or excluded from social groups. Another survey of student ethics reported that 47 percent of students had been bullied in the last year.

The National Association of School Psychologists reports these facts about bullying:
  • Bullying is the most common form of violence in our society; between 15% and 30% of students are bullies or victims.
  • A recent report from the American Medical Association on a study of over 15,000 6th-10th graders estimates that approximately 3.7 million youths engage in, and more than 3.2 million are victims of, moderate or serious bullying each year.
  • Between 1994 and 1999, there were 253 violent deaths in school, 51 casualties were the result of multiple death events.  Bullying is often a factor in school related deaths.
  • Membership in either bully or victim groups is associated with school drop out, poor psychosocial adjustment, criminal activity and other negative long-term consequences.
  • Direct, physical bullying increases in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school.  Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that younger students are more likely to be bullied than older students.
  • Over two-thirds of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.
  • 25% of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying or putdowns and consequently intervene in only 4% of bullying incidents.
The last two points are critical.  Two thirds of students believe schools respond poorly to bullying (and news reports seem to prove them correct.) And teachers (the adults kids are supposed to go to for help with bullies) only intervene in 4% of bulling incidents.

Parents - if you think your kids' school is going to protect your kids, think again.  They are first and foremost going to protect themselves. You must be the ones who take action because if you wait for the school to do something, you may be too late to protect your child. Zero tolerance policies like those in Colorado must be abolished. Children must be allowed to defend themselves. Administrators who decide to enact their own personal zero tolerance policies need to be called on the carpet every time they punish a victim and fired if they continue to mete out such punishments. Failure by the school's parents to take these kinds of actions can set that school up for a Columbine experience.

 Parents had more advice for other parents with kids who are being bullied (from MSBNC),
The key part of this story is the documentation. And, the documentation has to be something that is not in the hands of the school. The school will "disappear" all documentation in the case of an injury (probably before). Meetings with a principal are going to be written down by the principal (do you really think that s/he will put down anything that will make the school liable?).

Yes, the email messages were key. Everyone needs to be CC'd on the matter, and everyone should take to doing this. Each incident should be written up and emailed. The student should be able to document, and have a document that is recognized in court, of his/her own version. Once students who are bullied start to document the bullying, and parents have access to documents which will be recognized in court, then something can be done.
Schools figured out long ago that if no one speaks to the press and they keep all their own documentation private, that no one can do anything. Theoretically, one has a right to the documentation kept by the school and by teachers--but try to get it. I did once, and the principal knew full well that if I got a copy, I could sue. I never did get the documentation -- and my daughter was treated badly from then on. Someone needs, also, to enforce the law that says that one should be able to get documentation--one should not have to hire a lawyer just to get schools to comply with the law. A certain number of cases in which they refuse, and the principal should be immediately fired.

School administrators that have accepted it for years as "rites of passage" are learning that bullying is not, nor ever was, "innocent fun" just because the perpetrators were usually the cool popular kids from good families. They were in denial and now are facing real life in this age of instant media.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When High Stakes Testing becomes Abusive, it's Time for Parents to Keep their Children Home.

When an educational system becomes so abusive as to cause physical and/or emotional harm to children, it is a parent's duty to keep that child home from public school and find other schooling alternatives...or demand changes to school policy.

MAP testing is a terrible time of the year.  Remember our post last year about the reasons MAP is given to students?  It's not to determine the true educational knowledge of students.  It's to determine how well your child/school performs on standardized tests your child has been prepped for in practice tests and hepped up to do well in pep rallies:

The MAP test is used to determine how the school is performing. Results of the test will not determine if your child advances the next grade or not. Results of the test will not determine any additional services you child may or may not receive. Results of the tests are broken down into subgroup testing to determine how subgroups (Asian/Pacific Islands, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, White, Other/Non Response, Free/Reduced Lunch, IEP, LEP) score. If one subgroup in a school fails, the whole school fails. And what does failure mean? If a school does not show improvement over a specified period of time, the school can become unaccredited and lose funding.

The MAP testing creates stress for students, teachers and administrators.  It will only get worse in the coming years.  MAP will be phased out but the constant assessments due to Common Core mandates (assessments given every three weeks) will create continual stress for students and teachers.  Now not only can money be withheld from schools, teacher and administrator jobs hinge on these assessment results.

How are teachers responding to testing this year?  In March, one Florida teacher made an 8th grade student wear a sign around his neck to punish him for missing an FCAT test even though he had provided a doctor's note regarding a sickness:

He even had this doctor's note to prove his illness was real, but said when he came back to school this week his teacher put a humiliating note around his neck. 

"It said, since I have decided that I will come to school today but I didn't come to school during the FACT."
Thomas claimed the teacher did nothing as classmates laughed. 

"She just made me feel like I'm worthless."

The teacher apologized but the mother stated:

"There is a zero tolerance policy for a student to bully each other. Well, how is there a no tolerance that they allow a teacher to bully a student," said Cancellare.  

Fast forward to April in Missouri.  From ky3.com and Washburn, MO:


A mother is upset over over a classroom incident that left her kindergartner embarrassed. 

A 6-year-old girl had an accident in her classroom, and her parents are pushing for policy changes.

"They told me that the teacher had asked her to go to the restroom before testing time," said mother Lisa Skidmore.

Skidmore says asking a young child to go to the bathroom on demand is next to impossible.

"You can't do that to a 6-year-old."
That's why, when her kindergartner told her teacher she had to go to the restroom during the test and wasn't allowed, Skidmore couldn't believe it.  Her little girl couldn't hold it.

"They didn't even bother trying to clean her up or anything.  She still had poop, diarrhea poop, coming out the back, up her front, down her legs," she said.

Skidmore says her daughter was forced to sit in the class for the remainder of test time, about 15 minutes, then mom was called after the test, and it was a 20-minute drive to school to pick up her daughter.

All the while, the little girl had to sit in the mess.  No one bothered to clean her up, although a teacher did give her a trash bag to wrap around herself.
"You don't even treat a dog that way!" Skidmore said.

The last paragraph explains why the teacher handled it in this way:

Many kids right now are taking Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests, the state standardized testing required by law.  Those tests start in third grade, but the superintendent says the reason the teacher was sticking so closely to MAP testing guidelines, even for a kindergartner, is because she was trying to simulate the stringent rules to prepare students for what's to come.  (emphasis added)

What these teachers are doing by simulating stringent rules for kindergartners for what they are in store for will dull any love of learning these children might possess.  These teachers should be brought up on child abuse charges for the physical and emotional distress imparted to a 6 year old child.  The father's remarks are right on the money:

"If any parent sent their kid to school with crappy pants, diarrhea-type crap, wrapped up in a garbage bag, stench badly, I believe with all my heart those parents would be facing criminal charges, I believe that with all my heart."

 MAP Time.  It IS the "most terrible time of the year".  Just wait until the common core standards kick in and it will be high stakes not just in the spring...it will be your child's public school existence all year...and now, it will be starting in pre-school. 

Here is the AYP measurement from DESE from Southwest Elementary School in Washburn.  The teachers apparently are feeling the pressure to get the scores up as they are lagging behind the NCLB proficiency model.

It is time for parents to demand their local schools stop this madness.  Your children are not hostages, data subgroups and they should not be forced into these constant assessments.  From our previous posting on MAP testing:

To highlight some of the problems with this type of testing, I took a bit of liberty with the lyrics from "It's the Most Wonderful time of the Year". Here is Andy Williams singing the song on youtube. Play it while following along with our version about the dreaded MAP testing every spring:

It's the most terrible time of the year
With the kids all stressed out
And the teachers burned out
There's no one in good cheer
It's the most terrible time of the year

It's the most-most stressful season of all
With those bubbles to fill
With your pencil so near
Anxiety calls!
It's the most-most stressful season of all

There are instructions imparted
And students imploding
And tears all around the class
There are scary test questions
And stories to study
And answers the kids might not know

It's the most terrible time of the year
There are test preparations
All hearts will be pounding
When testing comes near
It's the most terrible time of the year

The results from the testing
Based on subset groupings
Determines the funding for schools
If the kids don't perform
The school flunks, it's a pity
It's AYP regs, don't you know?

It's the most terrible time of the year
There is much consternation
From districts awaiting
Results of the tests
It's the most terrible time
It's the most terrible time
It's the most terrible time....of the year

Is is "Colombia" or "Columbia"? A Prostitution and Spelling Crisis

Supermarkets and journalists make the same common mistake. 

From Legal Insurrection "When the Ivy League is all you know, Columbia is a Country":

The best and the brightest, writing about the Secret Service scandal in the country of Colombia consistently spell it “Columbia” like the University (h/t @BuzzFeedBen via @AlexPappasDC):

The link shows the numerous incorrect spellings of Colombia in the print media and in a CBS Good Morning segment.

As one reader comments:

It’s a common error, but it’s kind of inexcusable for news media reporting on a presidential trip to a country. I think it shows that they are just parroting each other without anyone doing fact checking. If they don’t catch spelling errors, what else don’t they bother verifying any more… 

Here's part of an article about Columbian bananas advertised in a supermarket, "Columbia and Colombia: easily confused?":

Those “grown in Columbia” bananas are back in local family owned markets according to the above ad; the same ones that we saw in April.

Are there similarities with Columbia (the borough) with Colombia (the country)? Are people often confused by Columbia and Colombia?

To clear the issue, we have not been able to find the banana farms in Columbia; though bananas represent a significant portion of Colombia’s agricultural production for export.
Here more information about Colombia, the country:

Maybe some other interesting information that should be noted about Colombia in the future should be this is the country where:
Referring back to the supermarket ad with those "Columbian" bananas beg the question:  "Where's the taxpayer funded party for government employees next time in Columbia?"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A View of The Future

It is encouraging to see various groups open their eyes to the problems in our education system and in the reforms currently being pushed. Both conservatives and liberals are beginning to see the dangers involved in centralized planning of curriculum and collection of personal data by government bodies.  Someday, hopefully soon, the rallying cry of "It's all for the little children"will send chills down people's spines rather than warm fuzzy feelings. But we're not there yet. There is no massive public push back to Common Core Standards and the SLDS. To understand why, we need only look at those who have gone before us and see what happened to them.

In his book "It Was a Long Time Ago and It Never Happened Anyway", David Satter looks at modern Russia and tries to explain to the Western mind why, given their history, there is no widespread revolt by the Russian people against the oppressive regime. Through interviews with average citizens, Mr. Satter shows the world through the eyes of people who have lived under the Soviets and seen their mutation into a hybrid capitalist/fascist government. What he writes could be an interview with an American in 2025.
"Did anyone walk about the Stalin-era terror?"

"I didn't hear about it except from my mother.  The attitude was that there was no point in discussing it.  There was the 'Cult of Personality.' During the Cult of Personality there were certain abuses. That was it.  Nobody knew the extent of the repression because nobody had read Solzhenitsyn at that time."
Under Stalin, political enemies disappeared in the night never to be seen again. Everyone knew someone who had been sent to the gulag. Some estimates say as many as 12 million people starved to death on the collective farms, forbidden at gunpoint to take any of the food they grew.  It was all meant for the party members in the cities. Today, nobody talks about these things and the history books were scrubbed of their mention. Euphemism is used to soften the horror.

As America gleefully heads into fully digital teaching texts, how quickly will the party in power be able to scrub our history? With everyone being taught the official state version of history, who will know anything different, or if they do, who will believe them? What politically correct language will be used to "pretty up" what is happening to us now so that our children will no longer resist the power of their rulers?

Some of us (mostly those over 40) vaguely remember Communism as being bad. When we were in school, they were still teaching about the horrible things that happened in Russia under the Soviets. There were a few defectors here and there, but there was never a widespread revolt after 1917. The assumption for the common westerner was that the Soviet government was so powerful that they had everyone cowed into submission to their will.

This thought gives peace of mind to many here in America today because they believe we will never allow our government to have that kind of power.  It can be debated whether or not it already does, but it still does not explain the widescale acquiescence to Communism. Satter exposes the other element that allowed the Communists to rule and will enable similar control in our own country. A portion of the population LIKED what communism offered.
Communism appealed to Russians for several reasons. First, it provided security, minimizing the individual's need to worry about his own fate. It also provided a universal idea that gave Soviet citizens a feeling of mission and filled a basic spiritual need. Finally, it appealed to the chauvinism of the ordinary man, who compensated for his personal impotence by identifying with a powerful state.

The secure life under Communism was not a myth.  A Soviet citizen was guaranteed a job (it mattered little that, in many cases, his "job" required no real work), medical care, an education and a pension. All of this led Soviet citizens to boast that, unlike citizens of the West, they had "no fear for the morrow."...
With few exceptions, everyone lived, looked, dressed and thought alike.  Disparities in wealth existed but were not strikingly evident. Tranquility was valued and anyone who disturbed the peace was quickly suppressed. In a restaurant, cafe or other public place a diminutive babushka could impose her authority on a potential troublemaker because she knew and he knew that she could call on the full force of a repressive society at the first hint of resistance to her demands...
In the Soviet period, after a person finished school, he would go to the institute, and then after the institute, he would be assigned work as a young specialist and given a free apartment. A person had a future. The collective was everywhere....
'In the Soviet times,' said Grushnin, 'any family could receive a free education, independent of religion, income or profession.' ...
'Most important,' said Nikolai, 'there was no unemployment. Every person was defended by the party organization. He could not be fired, even if he was lazy.' ...
All of them expressed nostalgia for the security of the Soviet Union
This system sounds great.  The average person has no worries. He doesn't even have to try hard. The party/government provides him an education and a guaranteed job. Sounds an awful lot like school-to-work or 21st century skills goals where the government will use data to figure out which career path they are going to send you on so when you get out of college there will be a job waiting for you. There will be people here who LIKE those programs and will resent efforts to put responsibility for their lives back on them.
"Money didn't matter," Maria said. "Now you need money for everything. What does a simple person need? He needs a roof over his head, work where he know they won't fire him tomorrow, money for the education of his family. In the Soviet period this was all accessible."
A system that does not ask (or even want) you to think for yourself is a self perpetuating system. Breaking free from it is very difficult.
The nub of the matter is that people in Communist society, because of their education and the obvious conditions of their personal fate, have to accept whatever limitations apply to their behavioral freedom or unfreedom as something natural and self evident.  They are brought up to live within these limits and grow accustomed to them from childhood. They accept the form of life that is foisted upon them, having no other choice, and they themselves foist it on others." The Reality of Communism - Alexander Zinoviev
Substitute the words "American society" in the above paragraph and you can easily see someone from 2025 making this statement here. Those working to stop the advance of school-to-work education philosophy must not only work against bureaucracies dead set on this path and those who see personal power in such a system, but also against the human weaknesses of fear (of the unknown future) and laziness which causes them to welcome such shackles with open arms.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

GAM vs. Tiger Moms

Last year Amy Chua started a national debate about how hard parents should push their children to succeed. Her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother put a spotlight on the practices Chinese  mothers used to get their children to the top of the success heap.  Many Americans were appalled, but a slight note of worry was also struck by her comment to Meredith Vieira, "To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting," including "how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste — hours on Facebook and computer games — and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future. It's a tough world out there." Many mothers worried, "What if she was right? What if our efforts to provide a nurturing environment for our children were actually making them weak and less able to compete?" The Gifted Association of Missouri (GAM) weighed in on this with Kirkwood parents last week when they answered the question, "Should we push our gifted child to excel?" In short, their answer was "No."

GAM's mission is to:
  • Be a leader for gifted children in the school reform movement.
  • Empower parents of gifted children to become informed and active advocates for their gifted children.
  • Ensure adequate funding for the education of gifted children in Missouri.
In their Fall 2011 newsletter GAMbit, they wrote about this issue of seeking perfection. The phrase many parents of gifted kids have heard from gifted program leaders is, "Perfect is the enemy of good." GAMbit reiterated this mantra, "With a little misguided help from their parents, many talented children drive themselves crazy trying to achieve perfection." Striving for perfection, which is rarely, if ever achieved can lead to high stress, burn out or the adoption of an ideology which says, "Why even try at all?" They write that many gifted kids "snap" when they begin college. Instead, parents should encourage their children to work to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, set realistic goals and focus on the bigger picture. Some things are not worth all the pressure and stress. Being a well rounded person who is content is what, at the end of the day, is most important.

One of the reasons Tiger Mom tactics work is because they can count on other parents not pushing their kids so hard. If everyone did it, there would be no advantage. And the technique obviously works. At a recent Duke TIP award ceremony for seventh graders who took the SAT, there was a separate category for the highest scoring students, those who scored over 650 (out of 800). These were jokingly referred to (in the audience) as the Asian awards and were awarded to almost exclusively Asian children. No one believes that these children had some genetic or innate advantage. They simply prepared better than the other students and a lot of that probably came from parents who pushed them.

GAM is correct that there can be unnecessary pressure put on children to be perfect. We should focus on them succeeding and it is up to the individual to define what success means. There was much in their advice that could be poked at if you took it just at face value. "Stress your interest in your child's social skills and her progress developing relationships with peers." What if your child has autism? Social relationships are the most stressful thing for them, but that is what you should focus on? Instead of developing her raw talent, your gifted child should be forging a relationship with the child who is eating paste in her class?  Of course not. Their advice must be measured against your child's reality. Every parent must decide what is best for their child and take the parts of GAM's advice that seem useful.

Are Tiger Moms wrong because they put all kinds of pressure on their kids to succeed? Are pressure and stress really the problem? Well, who has the higher suicide rate: Asian American kids who are practically guaranteed slots at our prestigious universities, frequently with large scholarships, who win many of the private contests in both academics and the arts and who have little trouble finding jobs after graduation because their parents pushed them toward perfection, or the Chinese workers in places like Foxconn* who are placed under tremendous pressure by their managers to produce and work long grueling hours? (hint: Foxconn had to place nets around their dorms to catch people jumping off the roof.)

Perhaps it is not the pressure itself which is the problem, it is the reward for the effort that we should be focusing on. Pressure to achieve all A's, if that was truly random, would be pointless and cruel.  But getting all A's has monetary value in our society. You can get better scholarships. You can even get reductions on your auto insurance for your child's A's. Doing well in school is not some meaningless goal (like being there for 180 days is.)   Ask any Olympic athlete, when corporate endorsements are on the line, training that extra two hours a day to achieve .001 second improvement, while stressful and no guarantee of success, is worth it. The only issue for parents then is where to draw that line.

One parent was upset by the gifted presentation in Kirkwood. She felt it sent the message to parents not to push their kids, to quit before the race even started. Many things may be screwed up in our current public education system and parents may be required to do many things to fit in this system. But one thing we do still have going for us is that we are still free to take or reject advice like this from supposed experts. We, as parents, still have some autonomy to evaluate what is best for our kids and follow that path. We have a much better view of the finish line than our kids, which is something the Tiger Moms have known all along.

* Suicides at Apple Factory in China Rock the Sweatshop Supply System

Monday, April 16, 2012

Arne Duncan's Educational Dashboard Which Measures Test Scores and Has Nothing to do with Authentic Learning.

What's the difference between the student Longitudinal Data System linking the Department of Education data with the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and Arne Duncan's newly announced "United States Education Dashboard"?

Not much.  From ed.gov:

The U.S. Department of Education today launched a new website that provides convenient and transparent access to key national and state education data, highlighting the progress being made across the country in every level of the education system and encouraging communities to engage in a conversation about their schools. The United States Education Dashboard, available at http://dashboard.ed.gov, presents important indicators of whether the country is making progress toward the President's goal – that, by 2020, the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. 

"The Dashboard highlights both our successes and challenges while providing a new level of transparency that is absolutely essential to our efforts to accelerate student achievement," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We hope communities will use this information to determine where we need to focus on reforms and investments in education." 

The Dashboard contains a range of cradle-to-career data that furthers the Department's efforts to provide a more accessible and transparent view of the country's educational system. On a single webpage, those interested will be able to view indicators of the nation's performance in education, gauge their state's progress and see how their state is performing compared to others. The indicators in the Dashboard focus on some key outcomes: Are we preparing young children to enter school? Are students making sufficient progress to graduate from high school and college? Are they completing college in a timely fashion? Are we providing an excellent education to all students? 

This first version of the Dashboard contains a set of 16 indicators that range from participation in early childhood education through completion of postsecondary education, plus indicators on teachers and leaders, and equity for elementary, secondary, and postsecondary students. The Dashboard also includes a section, "An Excellent Education for All," which provides data on whether subgroups are performing sufficiently. In addition to compiling key data previously reported, the Dashboard presents two new indicators.

The first shows the number of states that indicated in their 2010 State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) reports that they have school districts that evaluate their teachers or their principals based in part on student growth or student achievement.  (MEW note: this had to be signed onto when RTTT funding was applied for by the states).  The second new indicator shows how high-poverty school districts are funded compared to low-poverty districts in their state. 

The Dashboard allows users to quickly find information they need and view it in several different ways. It also allows users to download customized reports for further analyses. 

The Department is committed to continually updating the Dashboard's data and to enhancing the tools on the website. Indicators will be updated as new information becomes available, and users are encouraged to provide comments and feedback on the Dashboard so that usability and functionality can be enhanced in updates and subsequent versions. 

What is the bottom Line?  Your student is data mined based on standardized assessments measuring if he/she was taught to the test.  It won't measure real knowledge.  It will, however, determine if your child's teachers and administrators retain their jobs or are reassigned if they are "too effective".  If test scores are too high, look for the "highly effective" teachers reassigned to lower performing classrooms or schools.

Or to put it another way, your student is nothing more than an amoeba under a microscope in a socialistic experiment of "fairness"  and "educational equity" that has nothing to do with authentic learning.

Here's a blip from the website:

Reaching the President's goal will require comprehensive education reforms from cradle to career, beginning with children at birth, supporting them through high school graduation and postsecondary education, and helping them to succeed as lifelong learners who can adapt to the constant changes in the demands of the global economy. Our youngest children must be in early learning environments that prepare them for success in kindergarten. We must continue to close the achievement gaps and ensure that all K-12 students are on track to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. Once students enroll in college, we must provide them with financial aid and other support to help them complete their degrees. 

Call me skeptical.  I don't believe comprehensive education reforms from the time children are born will make the difference if a child is successful.  Innate intelligence, personality, temperament, emotional development, parental involvement,  and student desire don't seriously factor into these reforms.  And of course, the US government that is currently $16 Trillion in debt can state on this site with sincerity, "we must provide them with financial aid and other support to help them complete their degrees".  With this nanny state mentality comes loss of privacy, individual freedoms and the death of the human spirit.  Being data mined leaves students, parents, teachers and administrators little less than cogs in a managed economy.

What planet is Arne Duncan from?  It's about time to beam him up and out of the Department of Education.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do you have to go to College to be Successful?....The Sunday Education Weekly Reader

Below is a crosspost of a Tucker Carlson presentation to aspiring writers at a Cato Institute luncheon.  Carlson imparted blunt educational advice that not everyone should and/or needs to go to college to be successful.  His view of education  is antithetical to Arne Duncan's goal of 100% of students attending college.  Take away the political leanings of Carlson and Duncan and think about the ideas both men have put forward for students. 

Do all students need to attend college?  Should all students attend college? Can you learn life skills and be successful without a college degree?  What is most important: hard work or a college degree?


From  redalertpolitics.com, "Tucker Carlson gives a Brutally Honest Speech to Aspiring Writers at Cato Luncheon":

Conservative media mogul Tucker Carlson had blunt advice for young people at  a Cato Institute luncheon in Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon.

At an event intended to teach aspiring journalists how to get noticed, Carlson told young people that the mantra that, ‘You can be anything you want to be,’ isn’t true.

“No you can’t. You can’t be most things that you want to be. Why? Because you’re not capable of it,” Carlson told the audience.

The theme of Carlson’s brutally honest speech could be summed up with this direct quote. “Most people’s voices are not worth being heard.”
Carlson compared working for The Daily Caller (TheDC) to being part of the Viet Cong and said writers are expected to work 20 hours . . . a day.

“And if you suck, guess what, we’re gonna fire you,” Carlson said to laughter from a room full of wannabe writers who didn’t seem to grasp that Carlson wasn’t joking.

“Our criteria for hiring are really straight forward – you need to be a ferocious and aggressive worker,” he said. “Laziness” is the one thing he said they would not put up with at TheDC.

Don’t have a journalism degree? Don’t need one, Carlson said. In fact, don’t go to college at all.
“I’m not the only crackpot who believes this,” he said. “I bet you $1,000 [sic] that five years from now, it will be a common place opinion that a lot of people should not go to college.”

Carlson said that he wishes he had not gone to college himself because it was a waste of time. He told students college was too expensive and the costs are “unsustainable.”

“It was never designed for everybody,” he said. “And I’m not being a snob here. Just let me restate – I should not have gone to college.”

Carlson told the students it would be better to work at an internship at a newspaper and get hands on experience than sit through some “government-subsidized college course” or “underwater basket-weaving for feminists or whatever” they talk about in class. To those students who think college professors are akin to sages, he told them to go work at The Washington Post.

After his uplifting speech, Carlson did take time to address questions from the audience on several unrelated issues, including his thoughts on Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart calling him a “d**k” and his personal feelings about likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

“Like I didn’t know I was a d**k before that?” he said. “Shocking.”

Of Romney, he said he didn’t know exactly how he felt about the former Massachusetts governor despite the fact that he had covered him as a reporter for years.

“My politics are not Mitt Romney’s politics,” he said, explaining that he is further to the right, or more libertarian, than Romney. “I think he would be preferable to Barack Obama that’s for sure, but so would my kids.

“Not that he’s a bad guy, but he doesn’t understand the market at all. He thinks government is the solution,” he said in a reference to Massachusetts’ health care law, AKA Romneycare.

Carlson said he was surprised Romney ended up as the nominee because Romney is the one person in the country who cannot run against Obama’s unpopular health care mandate that everyone buy insurance.

“There are only two people in world history who have signed laws containing an individual mandate. One’s the president, the other’s running against him,” he said. “So somehow out of three hundred and fifteen million Americans, The Republican Party managed to find the one guy who couldn’t run on Obamacare.”

In the end, it turned out the most inspiring part of Carlson’s speech came at the very  beginning of his speech when he told young people to “Live for today” and to “always do the most interesting thing available at the time.”

Young, positive thinkers may want to stop watching the replay of the speech there.


 The comments on this article run the gamut, as do Carlson's and Duncan's views on college enrollment.
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