"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 28, 2012

America's Global Educational Reform: When the Rule of Law is Ignored and Privatization Overtakes Education.

Why don't we just go ahead and abolish Legislatures?  They have lawmaking abilities and duties, but these laws don't make any difference when governmental agencies decide to enact mandates via regulatory authority or ignore existing laws.

We've seen it here in Missouri when Federal grants are given for educational trigger options  bypassing state lawmakers and the implementation of common core standards.  State standards have been trumped by the signing onto common core standards by the governor, DESE and the State Board of Education.  The standards have been crafted by private organizations unaccountable to taxpayers.  It will cost the taxpayers a minimum of $350,000,000 and no citizen input in local school districts, but that's what privatization is all about: the use of taxpayer money without a taxpayer vote to enable private companies to make decisions in education.  You don't have to worry your brains on how to make decisions for your children or how your tax money is spent...these private organizations and governmental agencies have taken care of all those pesky details.

We've seen it on the national level when the Department of Education revised FERPA regulations allowing invasive personal data about children and their families to be shared with various federal agencies and private vendors.

A classic example of the runaround of  laws protecting parental AND child rights is present in Colorado.  First, here's a snippet from Channeling Reality on the current state of affairs in education, its emphasis on global education and how this renders legislatures impotent.  Existing laws and statutes are ignored or revised to allow private companies to make money in the educational arena with free reign.  Remember, your child is now termed "human capital" in the educational reforms put forth by Arne Duncan:

The real decision that must be made is how we are going to respond to the problems of a globalized economy.  The world trading system under the World Trade Organization has fundamentally changed the nature and function of government.  ‘Globalization’ is the process of transition from government as arbiter between business and people to a system of corporate governance for profit with people as factors of production for corporations.  

                                    Old System                   Globalized System

                                    Government                    Corporations
                                    ---------------                -----------------
                                    Corporations                  Government  

Obviously, government is becoming a superfluous layer under corporate rule - except as it pertains to enforcement of corporate rule.

With that as a basis for understanding, we can now look at the individual elements of the proposed changes. 

Now back to Colorado.  Robert Peters, General Counsel for Morality in Media writes  about access to pornographic sites existing on school issued iPads:

I have been asked to provide an analysis regarding the Manitou Springs School District 14 (“District 14”) policy of providing 5th thru 8th grade students with Apple iPad2 tablet computers (“iPad2s”) for educational use both within and away from school grounds. While District 14 filters the wireless signal that emanates from its own school based servers, the iPad2s are not themselves properly equipped with filtering protections and thus allow unrestricted access to the Internet via wireless signals that emanate from other sources. Some of these unfiltered signals can be received while students are on school grounds. Students’ use of the iPad2s for school work away from school grounds is also unmonitored, thus allowing children to browse the Internet with no record of web pages they visit or the search requests they make. The following additional information about the District 14 policy regarding student use of its iPad2s has been provided by a concerned parent.
  • Most other Colorado schools (6 out of 7) known to provide students with take home computers protect each computer by only installing Internet browsing software that filters and monitors all online activity at all times, despite the source, location or type of Internet connection (hereinafter, “24/7 protections”). Such filtering/monitoring browsing software is commonly and successfully used in iPad2s by schools in Colorado and nationwide.
  • Initially, District 14 installed the LightSpeed Mobile Filter browser that provides 24/7 protections but also inadvertently installed additional Internet browsing applications that did not filter or monitor students’ online activities (hereinafter, “unrestricted browsers”). 
  • When District 14 first became aware of its unrestricted browsers problem, it indicated that these unrestricted browsers would be removed from its iPad2s and did in fact begin to remove them. Subsequently, District 14 reversed itself and provided iPad2s with unrestricted browsers (Safari, Wiki, Wikibot, Zite, Smartnote, and perhaps others) because it deemed “the educational value” of these browsers “too great to justify removing them.” [Quoted matter from a statement, ”Blazing new trails in 21st Century Learning,” issued by Chris Burr, Principal, Manitou Springs Middle School.]
Are there laws protecting children and parents from this access?
The question has arisen as to whether the District 14 policy is in compliance with the Colorado Children’s Internet Protection Act [C.R.S. 87-22-101 et seq.], which states in part in Subsections 101(2) and 104(1) & (2): “It is the intent of the general assembly…that public schools be required to adopt and enforce reasonable policies of internet safety that will protect children from access to harmful material without compromising…use of the internet as an educational resource…[T]he governing body of each [school] district shall adopt and implement a policy of internet safety for minors that includes the operation of a technology protection measure for each computer operated by the district that allows for access to the internet by a minor…After the adoption and implementation of the policy…the governing body of each [school] district shall continue to enforce the policy and the operation of the technology protection measure for each computer operated by the district that allows for access to the internet by a minor.

The question has also arisen as to whether the District 14 policy is in compliance with the Federal Child Internet Protection Act [47 U.S.C. 254(h)(5)], which states in Subsection 254(h)(5)(B)(i) that in order for a school to qualify to buy Internet access at a discount it must first certify that it is enforcing a policy of Internet safety for minors that includes monitoring the online activities of minors and the operation of a technology protection measure with respect to any of its computers with Internet access that protects against access through such computers to visual depictions that are …harmful to minors.”

The school district's actions don't seem to be hindered by the state or national laws protecting students.  Remember its statement: Subsequently, District 14 reversed itself and provided iPad2s with unrestricted browsers (Safari, Wiki, Wikibot, Zite, Smartnote, and perhaps others) because it deemed “the educational value” of these browsers “too great to justify removing them.”
Why is the use of iPads so important in American education?  It's because the assessments the students take due to Common Core mandates require those assessments be done on a computer or hand held device.  Pretty nifty, eh?  Mandate products provided by private corporations in your mandated reform measures (disguise them as being "state led") and it's a bonanza to private industries.  They are the recipients of taxpayer money due to these unfunded mandates.  Remember Scott Joftus and his proclamation about education reform?  It's about the money, not education:

“You know we’re in a new era when school turnaround firms in the U.S. are being funded out of the Middle East,” Joftus said. “To me, that says there’s money to be made. I call this period the Wild West in education.”
Mr. Peters' memorandum details how the rights (mandated by government) of Apple to make money off public education students (funded by taxpayers) trumps the parental rights or existing laws to easily keep pornographic material from their children.  The school shifted the obligation to the parents to keep such material from their children.  Peters writes:
  • To address the problem of children gaining access to harmful Internet content while using school issued iPad2s when away from school, District 14 shifted that responsibility to parents. District 14 Policy Code: JS, entitled “Student Use of the Internet and Electronic Communications” and adopted in December 2011 (available at mssd14.org/boe/section_J_3x.html#JS), states in part: “Parents and/or legal guardians must accept responsibility for the blocking and filtering of obscene, pornographic and harmful information while their students are away from school and using district issued technological devices.”
  •  Because browsers (e.g., Safari) now installed on the iPad2s do not offer parental controls, parents have no means of controlling Internet content beamed from unsecured Wi-Fi signals readily accessible to their children when they are off school grounds.  Parents also face burdensome and complex technical measures to place controls upon their own home wireless networks to protect children while their children are at home. (emphasis added)

Can parents opt out from iPad use at home?  Well, sure, parents can opt out but look at this dire language and warning from the school:

If a parent chooses to “Opt Out” of the school’s recommended “iPad at home” program, the parent must first sign a Technology User Agreement that says in part: “I understand that my child may not have the same learning opportunities as other students who have access to the school-issued iPad beyond normal school hours.”
If a child needs the iPad to finish homework at home, beware!  Because a parent wants to shield his/her child from pornographic sites accessible away from the school grounds, he/she is now withholding said child from the "same learning opportunities" as the other students.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing to be shielded from the "same learning opportunities".  While Apple keeps making money because of educational mandates set forth by the federal government (NOT the states) and the school district shirks any moral and legal responsibility to parents and children, legislatures are impotent to stop this privatization of education (the DOEd either ignores or revises current laws to allow such activity to continue in the name of "education"), and in the meantime, tax dollars are perpetuating this system. 
Welcome to the globalization of education in which Arne Duncan so wants your human capital to succeed.


Friday, April 27, 2012

The Love of Learning Doesn't Require Computer Adapted Assessments

I received this youtube video and comment from a friend who has been a math teacher.  A tutor is teaching a young student her "7" multiplication facts.  The best part of the video is at the very end.  The child's last statement captures what happened in this math tutoring session and reveals what true education is all about: a creative teacher, the love of learning and pride of mastery.  Out of the mouths of children....


I remember hearing my elementary principal in the early 80s (and others since then) say it wasn't important for kids to learn their multiplication facts.  This was before calculators were available in classrooms.  Fortunately, none of those principals forbade me from teaching the multiplication facts and having students develop fluency with those facts.  

Do people think it is too hard for students to learn their facts?  Or do people think it is too hard to teach students the facts?  We don't give young students enough credit.  They can learn the facts.

Watch this video of my friend Linh-Co teaching a kindergarten student her facts for multiplication facts for the 7s in 30 minutes (the video condenses the session to about seven and half minutes).  This is the second session Linh-Co had with this girl.  In the first session the girl learned about multiplication and learned her facts for multiplying by 4.  See what this precious girl says at the very end. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tough Choices or Wrong Choices

"The education system is merely a support for the political system we choose." - Vicky Davis

In 2007 the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) produced a report entitled Tough Choices or Tough Times. In it, they outlined a view for the American education system as the supplier of workers for the 21st century in a global economy.  From her blog Channeling Reality, Davis summarizes the the findings of the report below:

Problems in the Current System

  • Teachers are recruited from the lower strata of the intellectual talent pool
  • Waste in the system, allowing students to fail in lower grades and paying for remediation in later years when costs are higher
  • System is inherently inefficient.  “Standards have helped but only moderately relative to cost” over 30 years
  • Growing inequality in family income as a contributing factor in growing disparities in student achievement
  • Failure to motivate students to achieve
  • Teacher compensation rewards longevity rather than performance
  • Testing system measures rote learning and does not measure creativity, innovative thinking, and analytical abilities
  • People who have the responsibility for education do not have the power.  Power is in the hands of those who do not have the responsibility.
  • Students must be prepared to continue learning for their lifetimes because of the tumultuous nature of the global economy. 
  • Education system must be changed to allow adults to continue education and training throughout their lifetimes for the same reason stated above. 
Proposed Changes
  • Reduce secondary education to age 16 (10th grade) at which time, a board examination is given and a decision is made regarding the path of the student - college prep, or vocation.  Board examination is on a syllabus provided by the Board.   Implicit in the description is that students could choose to end their educational stint at this point theoretically without penalty later in life.   Guarantees for higher education for good performance in lower grades.
  • The reduction of school years will save $60 billion annually to be divided as follows:
    • Recruiting teachers from the top strata of the intellectual talent pool and paying them according to private sector standards
    • Establishing “full-service” preschools for 3 and 4 year olds for early childhood education and social-health services.   
    • Increasing resources for “disadvantaged students” to allow them to succeed to international standards
  • Change teacher compensation from a backloaded system of pension and health benefits to cash up front with a benefit structure the same as the private sector (i.e. 401k’s).  Proposed teacher pay would increase to a median $95,000 for a beginning teacher in a system the same as the current system - moving up to $110,000 for a teacher willing to work the same schedule and hours as a private sector professional.  
  • Privatization of the schools (Management Contract Schools) while continuing public funding.  State maintenance of a licensed teacher registry from which the Contract schools could hire teachers.  The teachers would be state employees and would be paid by the state - but would be managed by the school management contractors.  
  • Current requirements for teachers would be scrapped.  States would create a new agency (Teacher Development Agency) to develop teachers - charged with recruiting, training and certifying teachers.  They would also be responsible for maintaining a registry of certified, licensed teachers. 
  • Develop standards, assessments and curriculum that reflect today’s needs and tomorrow’s requirements.  Set standards with corresponding assessments and then develop curriculum to meet those standards.
  • Eliminate local school board ownership of schools.  Unstated - but de facto sell the schools to the Contract Management groups.  Local school boards would become data collectors for the state (essentially IT operations) and the case managers for social services (i.e. medical, mental, etc) to students and parents of students - BUT… schools would be free to contract for services elsewhere if they so choose.
  • Create “high performance” schools.  “High Performance” is a code phrase that has a very specific meaning that is too long to describe here.  Essentially, it is schools that are oriented towards a system of supply chain management to produce workers as opposed to an education system for citizens with work being a secondary or peripheral goal.   
  • Schools would be funded according to a per-pupil, weighted formula with the discretion for how the funds are expended being given to the Contract managers as long as the Contractors meet the standards for performance. 
  • Schools would be required to be affiliated with a “helping organization” - profit or non-profit.  Presumably this means Foundations like the Bill Gates Foundation or the Carnegie Foundation - which have become front organizations to promote and integrate the UNESCO social agenda into the school curriculum.   
  • Universal preschool with social services for 3 and 4 year-olds. 
  • State level-funding on a per pupil basis to eliminate the quality differences between wealthy districts and poor districts.  And of course…. Mo Money… $19 billion additional as an estimate. 
  • All-inclusive social services including funds to screen and diagnose students for their medical, dental, optical, audiological, mental health services.  Tutors, counselors and mentors will be provided.  Schools will be open from early morning till late at night to serve the needs of students outside of classroom requirements.   They state that this proposal applies to “disadvantaged” students but it would have to be available in all schools because by definition, the schools are public and they take all comers. 
  • Create personal education accounts for each child when born with a $500 government credit with additional amounts added over time.  Additional amounts could be added over time by basically anybody - government, individuals through salary deductions, parents, the state, etc.
  • Create regional competitiveness authorities.  The regional authority would be responsible to coordinate and plan the educational programs for children to correspond with the economic development of the communities within the region.  Noteworthy clarification on these authorities:  
“We settled on the word “authorities” to describe these new bodies because we wanted to convey the idea that they need to be more than debating societies.  They need to be able to raise and spend money needed to develop their regions over time.  If these new bodies are as successful as we think they will be, the federal government should consider lifting many of the restrictions on the separate programs they will administer and permitting them to combine the funds from these programs in ways that are more likely to lead to both strong economic growth and strong job growth, especially for the most vulnerable people in the country."

The underlying message in this report is a threat - either change the education system or your economy will be destroyed by global competition.   The logical fallacy is that there is nothing in the plan that changes the fact that an engineer in India makes $7,500 per year and an American engineer makes $45,000 per year.  Equilibrium in wages will never be reached because of the population differences.  What they are attempting to do is to manage our decline in wage and living standards by holding out the hope that somehow the education system will fix a structurally flawed economic system.  

The idea behind the “regional competitiveness authority” is to establish planners for the economy of the region coupled with the planning of the workforce training to correspond to the planned economic activity.  Central planning of the economy and workforce is the hallmark of the communist system.   There is no way to weasel around the fact that this proposal for ‘education reform’ is a major step towards the ‘transformation’ of the United States to a communist system.   Our capitalist economic system has morphed into a communist political system and the education reforms are designed to support that political system. 

The amount of money they are promising for teacher salaries is absurd.  It’s bribery to get the buy-in from teachers for the plan.  It’s simply not going to happen.  The funding for the schools will be on a per-pupil formula with the Contract Managers being able to spend the money in whatever way they choose.  It’s a sure bet that they will choose not to spend the money on teachers but rather, the money will be spent on software and technology to replace teachers.  Furthermore, in a system of global competition and ‘free trade’, teachers can be imported who will work for much less money than is currently being paid today - let alone the outrageous salaries stated in the report.  It is fundamentally dishonest to imply that somehow teachers will be exempt from low wage, imported competition for jobs.   The teachers who are selected to be the Contract Managers of the schools will be highly paid for sure, but they will simply be ‘fronts’ for the real management of the schools which will be the “helping organizations”.

The report mentions “high performance schools” but does not elaborate on what that means.  Obviously the hope is that decision makers will assume the plain meaning of the phrase but that would be a wrong assumption.  The term “high performance schools” comes from a Labor Department document titled, “Learning a Living”.   When that term is used, they are talking about vocational training in schools beginning with pre-K through the end - whether that’s grade 10 or 12.  The entire curriculum is skills based, work-focused.  Assignments emphasize work-oriented lessons.  In other words, it is a skills training system for workers as opposed to an academically oriented educational system to develop well-rounded citizens with a 21st century knowledge base. 

The emphasis in the report aims high - college for all, extra resources for the “disadvantaged”, more math, science, literature, the arts and technology, but that picture is completely at odds with the realities of a global economy dominated by multinational corporations.  The reality is that there will be few opportunities for good jobs in the global economic system and it will be a buyer’s market with corporations shopping for the highest quality, least cost employees from the global pool of available and desperate workers.  
This report says that the goal is to produce workers who are creative and innovative but those qualities can’t be taught in a school.  That’s a fundamental mistake that all communist countries have made.  Those qualities emerge in individuals when the economic system provides the opportunities for individuals to make his or her ideas and dreams a reality.  In a global economy dominated by multinationals with central planners for the regional economies and “high performance” (vocational schools), the weight of the infrastructure is too great and the risks to future earnings will inhibit innovation and creativity.  In a planned economic system, kowtowing to the regional authorities is the way to get ahead - not initiative.

Although unstated, this plan attempts to nationalize the curriculum through the imposition of standards and assessments.  By definition the goal of standards is to produce cookie cutter results.  When a corporation produces a product like cookies, standards are very important to produce uniform results.  Since it is not possible to produce uniform results with people, the system of “assessments” is being implemented to compensate for over and under achievement and abilities to give the appearance of a uniform product (person).  Assessments are not objective measurements of accomplishment.  They are subjective measurements that include the degree of acceptance of social conditioning, personal characteristics and work habits, and attitude.  A smart kid who sees through this system for what it is and rebels could potentially have his life ruined forever by the power of the “assessment” to override academic achievement and inherent abilities.   In the world of uniformity that this system is designed to create, a rebel is an unwelcome intrusion - not a gem in the rough. 

Clearly, the education system must change.  Our economy will no longer support the expensive,  labor-intensive, bureaucratic system we have today that doesn’t produce the desired result of educated people.   But the tough choice that America must make is not the education system but the political system we want to leave as our legacy for future generations.  The decisions made on the education system will simply solidify the decision on the political system.  

We have come a long way towards this vision with almost no input from the public who is supplying the "capital" for this economic system. Isn't it time we had the discussion about which political system we want our education system to support?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your Most Valuable Asset? It's Not Gold.

Hilary Rosen's comment about Ann Romney never holding a job, completely discounting the years she has invested in raising her children, may have actually shed some light on the left's tactic. Though Ms. Rosen's comments caused them some temporary backlash, they were in fact consistent with the left's official message about children. They are a mere inconvenience to a woman's primary purpose, holding a paying job. This is a message they are proud to convey. But, as with so many messages from the left, it is a cover for a message they do not want to state publicly. We should be looking more closely at that message.

The left is all about choice, but it is carefully orchestrated choice. Cass Sunstein, Obama's regulatory czar,  believes we are all too stupid to make good choices, so it is up to the government to limit our choices to help us make the right ones. So if they offer you a choice, you should be looking for the choices they haven't offered you (e.g. charter school - different building, same defective curriculum; medicaid or insurance exchange, but not your existing policy). If they offer you your choice of jobs while making day care or preschool available for free, are they not offering you the option to stay home with your children?

In Sweden, they're not.
Sweden used to be synonymous with freedom and safety. The nation was a haven for political refugees from around the world.

But today, Sweden is creating new political refugees: the home-schooler.
One of the escape routes for home-schoolers from Sweden is by ship, two hours across the Baltic sea to the Ă…land Islands. It's a part of Finland where the locals speak Swedish and where parents can home school in freedom.
Sweden's home-school movement has been crushed by a state apparatus that wants children as young as one year old in daycare, and all children in a classroom with a state-approved curriculum.
"One mother told me when she went with her 18 month son to his medical checkup, and he was not in daycare. They said, 'Oh, your son is not in daycare? But he has to go to daycare. He needs that and you need to work,'" Himmselstrand told CBN News.     [emphasis added]  http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews
Sweden also has compulsory daycare.  Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) translates from this link (which is in Swedish) the following argument for compulsory three-year-old daycare:
“We cannot allow parents to deny their children the right to go to pre-school.” Look how a woman's choice to work, became her child's right to daycare.

Ready to dismiss that as just Europe's problem? The Bureau of Labor Statistics just released their employment projections for the next decade.  Guess which categories had the highest projected growth?  Number 1 was obviously health care with a 29% increase in jobs projected. Number 2 was Personal Care and Service which is projected to add 1.3 million jobs.  This was defined as:
"...cosmetic and health spas will rise, causing an increase in demand for workers in this group. The personal care and service group contains a wide variety of occupations; however, two of them—personal care aides and childcare workers—will account for nearly two-thirds of the group’s new jobs. Personal and home care aides will experience increased demand as a growing number of elderly people require assistance with daily tasks. Childcare workers will add jobs as the population of children continues to grow and emphasis is increasingly placed on the importance of early childhood education, resulting in more formal preschool programs. These programs will increase demand for both childcare workers and preschool teachers."
In this year's state of the state speeches, the National Women's Law Center found 22 governors mentioning early child care and education, up from 17 last year.  From John Hickenlooper (D), Colorado they heard,
“Currently, there are 23 separate funding streams administered through five different state agencies, each playing a role in early childhood support and services. Together, we are proposing a state-local strategy that integrates prevention and intervention, quality early learning and family support and engagement. Our plan will consolidate early childhood services in a new office in the Department of Human Services.”

That's an awful lot of work and cost for the state to take on just to make women happy, to fulfill their desire to hold a paying job.  Is there any other example of the state being so benevolent or thoughtful? The state is always in the business of perpetuating itself which means they WANT to be taking care of kids. They WANT you to turn them over at an early age, and it is time people start asking, "Why?"

Many women will complain that they had no choice but to go back to work. They could not afford to live on just one salary. But what must be recognized is that this choice, too, has been orchestrated and is not a real choice.  For every two women who hold this position, there is one woman who has found a way to stay at home with her children on one salary.  She made choices about the things her family really needed and decided that a lot of the products pushed by our consumer economy were not necessary.  Is it too hard to believe, if you are the government looking to boost your own revenues and further grow your economy, this woman's choices do not work in your favor? Having her work, pay taxes and use the extra income to buy things is what the government/state really needs.

The reality is, your children are the most valuable thing on the planet. What they are taught can be the most powerful weapon. Those who choose to stay home and raise and/or educate their children are taking an incredibly valuable asset away from the state and the state doesn't like that.  You may not teach them the value of the state, as the state sees it. You may not teach from the state propaganda. The state will not be able to count on those citizens to continue to support its existence, so they must demean the practice in an attempt to embarrass women out of making that choice.  Rest assured, however, if they can't shame you into going to work (for them), they will ultimately require you to turn your child over to them and do so. It's a win-win for them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Black Box of Computerized Assessments - Does Anyone Know What's Really In There?

There's an old saying about the inmates running the asylum that comes to mind with this story from a science educator in Florida who looked into the science portion of Florida's standardized assessment. Robert Krampf was developing some science test prep questions for 5th graders preparing to take that state's high-stakes FCAT test.  Using the FL DOE's own site as a guide, he found many flaws in what was presented as science.
A few weeks ago, I started developing FCAT practice questions to help students review concepts and prepare for the test. To develop those questions I used FLDOE's FCAT 2.0 Science Test Item Specifications. These documents are used as:
"a resource that defines the content and format of the test and test items for item writers and reviewers." 
I expected the Test Item Specifications to be a tremendous help in writing simulated FCAT questions. What I found was a collection of poorly written examples, multiple-choice questions where one or more of the wrong responses were actually scientifically correct answers, and definitions that ranged from misleading to totally wrong.
On his blog - the Happy Scientist, he sited these examples:
A glossary of definitions (Appendix C) is provided for test item writers to indicate the level of understanding expected of fifth grade students. Included in that list is the following definition:

Predator—An organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms.

By that definition, cows are predators because they obtain nutrients from plants. The plants are predators too, since they obtain nutrients from decaying remains of other organisms. I have yet to find anyone who thinks that this is a proper definition of a predator.
This sample question offers the following observations, and asks which is scientifically testable.
  1. The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses.
  2. The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal.
  3. Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers.
  4. Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals.
The document indicates that 4 is the correct answer, but answers 1 and 3 are also scientifically testable.
For answer 1, the Sunshine State Standards list texture as a scientifically testable property in the third grade (SC.3.P.8.3), fourth grade (SC.4.P.8.1), and fifth grade (SC.5.P.8.1), so even the State Standards say it is a scientifically correct answer.
For answer 3, smell is a matter of chemistry. Give a decent chemist the chemical makeup of the scent of two different flowers, and she will be able to tell you which smells sweeter without ever smelling them.
While this question has three correct answers, any student that answered 1 or 3 would be graded as getting the question wrong. Why use scientifically correct "wrong" answers instead of using responses that were actually incorrect? Surely someone on the Content Advisory Committee knew enough science to spot this problem.

This is another example of why local control is so important. Who does the public, or teachers for that matter, go to to correct these types of errors in a test they didn't write? There is not only no mechanism for doing so, to even suggest you might want to, is to invite the accusation of cheating.

Teachers describe the atmosphere is school during these standardized tests as similar to nuclear lock down. The test forms are stored in the office and only released to the teachers moments before testing begins once something akin two officials turning their keys simultaneously after entering the launch codes occurs. Teachers are forbidden from doing almost anything to help the children during the test and there are sometimes observers in the classroom to make sure teachers follow this rule.

Here is one teacher's account of what happened during his class's algebra end of course (EOC) exam done on computer:
The teacher/proctor is not permitted to read the question, only to assist with students and computer operating issues.  Student works through problem on scratch paper, and finds that his/her answer doesn't match with any choices given.  Teacher looks at problem worked out on scratch paper, and determines that the child has correctly answered the problem, but the correct answer is not one listed.  Teacher can do nothing about it since he/she is not permitted to read the test, only the test prompts.  School therefore does nothing.  Child has no defense, and since testing by computer is graded by computer, the testing company is not held accountable. 
Stories like this abound in the comment sections of similar articles.

Since no one is allowed to see the test before testing begins, there is no way to correct errors, even innocent typographical ones, by the test developers. And since teachers are not supposed to be reading the tests, there is no mechanism for them to report faulty questions after the testing has been completed. The same errors can last year in and year out depending on how often the test developers decide to reuse old material.

An obvious fact should be springing to everyone's mind. The computer grades these tests based on what the test developers have told it is the correct answer. In the science question above, children who answered #1 would be marked wrong even though they are not only inherently right, but are correct as defined by their own Board of Education. In the algebra question above children have a 25% chance of guessing the correct wrong answer previously determined by the mental midgets who developed the test. The computer is only as smart as the people who programmed it. If they are not that smart, why do they have control of the education system?

And therein lies the biggest problem in standardized testing, done on computer as is planned for all Common Core assessments. The tests will only be as accurate as the people writing and entering them in the first place. If those people don't know their subject or don't care about accuracy, then what chance do our children have of scoring well on these exams?  If no one except the students is allowed to see the exam, how will we even know what they are actually being tested on?

Worse still is the fact that we will now hold teachers and schools accountable for what amounts to the errors of the testing company. Who will hold Pearson, or McGraw-Hill responsible? Can they defend the qualifications of their "content committees" if these types of errors appear on their tests? When thousands of educational dollars are on the line for these test scores, their answer should be "no." Nothing short of perfection should be accepted.
Local control could address these errors. Massive government funded and mandated distant bureaucracies have little incentive to address them at all, let alone on a timely basis.  We should not accept the black box of computerized standardized assessments.

Monday, April 23, 2012

When Tuscaloosa First Grade Teacher Miss Jones Undergoes Her Sex Transformation....

...the students might be able to watch the process. From thetuscaloosanews.com:

The Tuscaloosa City Board of Education is considering changing its policies against discrimination and harassment to include students and employees who change genders or wear clothing of the opposite sex.

In a four-hour meeting held Thursday evening at Westlawn Middle School, the board heard from school board attorney Dave Ryan. He explained why the board should add “gender nonconformity” to the list of classes — race, color, religion, gender, age, disability, etc. — that are protected in the school systems anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

Ryan cited a case in Atlanta in which a male employee of the Georgia Assembly's Office of Legislative Counsel was fired in 2007 for wearing women's clothing to work. According to case files, the employee wore women's clothes to work because he was planning a sex change operation and part of that process is dressing like the opposite sex before the operation.

Ryan said the employee sued and the district court ruled in the employee's favor.

As a result of the case, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which Alabama is a part of, ruled on Dec. 11, 2011, that a state agency cannot discriminate against a person for gender nonconformity.

“Prior to this case, gender non-conformity was never recognized as a protected class,” Ryan said. “When this opinion came out, it changed the law. So we have to go back and change our policies to reflect that.”

No one objected to the possible policy changes.

Maybe that's why the schools need to introduce sex education classes in kindergarten.   This has been an issue the current Federal Administration has been pushing, and the President has been supporting sex education from kindergarten since he was a state Senator.

Will these "gender nonconformity" policies make our students globally and STEM competitive?  What is the primary goal of public education?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stories of Grace and the Sunday Education Weekly Reader 04.22.12

As noted in a previous article, stories abound with the terrible treatment of children and adults by governmental agencies and private citizens.  

It was a delight to read in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stories of grace and compassion present in two women's lives and actions.  Where did these women learn about grace and compassion and why do they want to help people who are not related to them?  After reading the articles, do you think gracious people are those who have discovered there are obstacles in life and life is not always fair?  Do physical and emotional hardships (in their own lives or experiencing it with others) impart knowledge and emotional depth to those who have experienced grief that no data set can measure?

One is a story of listening.  That's about all an elderly woman can offer her own caregiver.  What a gift to give to someone in need.  From "Caregiving Doesn't Have to be One-Way":  

"She's changed my life," Donna told me.  


The second is a story of providing acknowledgement of women's special gifts, even when these gifts may not fit into a prescribed data set to ensure "success" in life.  From "Miss Amazing Pageant Celebrates Women and Girls with Disabilities":

"Everyone in the audience was either smiling the whole night or either crying or laughing," she said. "I think every girl should get an opportunity to feel beautiful and important."

This second link includes a video about the experience headed by a young college student who wants to give girls the opportunities she has had that they don't.  How has she developed this interest?

A love of pageants and working with people with disabilities came together recently for Lindenwood University junior Ellie Lorenzen.

She organized Missouri's first Miss Amazing Pageant, an event for girls and women with disabilities held April 14 at Lindenwood.

Lorenzen, 21, has been competing in pageants for five years. Her oldest brother, Jordan, 27, is severely mentally disabled. She describes him as a prankster and full of life, but he will never be able to live on his own.

"He has really shaped my family," she said. "My brother and sister and I really live our life to the fullest knowing how much of a blessing he is."


Thanks to the Post-Dispatch for these stories of grace from a dying elderly woman and a young woman in college.  Both have touched lives in countless ways.  These articles are educational lessons in compassion, grace and love.  Maybe these are ultimately the most important lessons we all need to learn and practice.  How will they be measured on a data set? 

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