Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Cell Phone Experiement

I'm testing sending posts via cell.
Blogger's dashboard says, I've blogged 100+ posts here. I'll try to add to the education focus without being too random.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Some Sports Analogies for Education

This past week has seen several sports moments of note:  the US advances to elimination play in the World Cup; John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the longest tennis match in history, and Edwin Jackson pitched a no-hitter but he issued eight walks.  Each of these events seems to illustrate facts about education that many, especially well meaning but misguided reformers, forget.

If it wasn't clear before this week, it should be clear now: success is often just plain ugly.  No one is going to claim that Isner and Mahut played a great match.  Granted, Isner set a record for aces, but many of those came because Mahut was too tired to move.  Mahut also hit over 100 aces because Isner was too tired to effectively respond.

As for the baseball game, I've never heard a baseball fan say that walks make a game better.  Few pitchers are given the opportunity to give up eight because walks usually lead to runs.  Further in an age of pitch counts, walks drive up the pitch count, and few managers are going to allow their pitchers to throw 149 pitches.

The US World Cup win has been described as "maddening," and "Landon Donovan scuffed the ball into the goal."   This particular example of "the beautiful game" apparently wasn't that beautiful.  

Many educational reformers seem to believe that education is scientific and that there's some magic formula that can make everyone learn.  The fact is that education is "maddening"; teachers scuffle through long days and long school years.  Many of the successes are not caused by skill alone but by a a series of circumstances beyond teachers' control.  Like Donavan's game winning goal, many successes involve luck and being in the right place at the right time.

The other point that the tennis match has illustrated is that success is often costly.  Isner won the marathon match but was easily defeated in his next match.  Jackson's manager is considering holding Jackson out of his next scheduled start.  Likewise, education will have it's costs, even if it's only the fact that the comfortable get troubled while the troubled get comforted.

Update:  Ghana defeats US 2-1 in soccer, a fact that further illustrates that success is difficult to repeat, especially if the initial effort is extremely taxing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Diane Ravitch Speaks Out

The Answer Sheet blog publishes an interview with Diane Ravitch.  I applaud Ravitch for her efforts to give voice to "[p]eople [who] are worried about what is happening today; they detest NCLB and they now realize that Race to the Top is more of the same and probably worse"  She is, however. too optimistic when she says,  "As a historian, I cling to the belief that bad ideas eventually lose steam and that evidence will eventually prevail."

When asked what she'd tell President Obama about educational reform, she replies.
I would tell him that charter schools in the aggregate don’t get better results than regular public schools. I would tell him that his push to have teachers evaluated by student test scores is wrong, and that standards for evaluation should be designed by professionals, not by politicians. I would urge him to stop using language of failing, punishing, closing, and firing and speak instead of improving, building, supporting, and encouraging. I would urge him to think about ways of strengthening American public education because it is one of the foundational elements of our democracy. I would urge him to speak about the importance of a strong curriculum for all kids in every school, one that includes the arts, history, literature, foreign languages, civics, economics, physical education, science, and mathematics. I would urge him to recognize that high-stakes testing in basic skills steals time from everything else that should be taught and that it is thus undermining education. I would also implore him not to recommend testing every other subject, as there would soon be no time for instruction, only testing. [Emphasis mine]
Ravitich begins the previous statement by saying that she would tell the President "to change course before it is too late."  I fear it already is.  Ravitch herself admits,
. . . . I have met with many Democratic members of Congress. I have met some really impressive members who understand how destructive the current "reform" movement is. Many agree with me that the emphasis on evaluating teachers will simply produce more teaching to the test, more narrowing the curriculum, more gaming the system. They have heard from their constituents, and they don’t like what is going on. But frankly, these same Congressmen and women tell me that they are probably helpless to stop the President’s agenda. The Democratic leadership will give the President and Secretary Duncan what they want, and they will have the support of Republicans. That leaves the Democrats in a quandary. They were not happy to see Secretary Duncan campaigning for his approach with Newt Gingrich. Maybe it will turn out to be a winning strategy for Secretary Duncan. He may get what he wants. It just won’t be good for American education or our kids. [Emphasis mine.]
In short, it seems as education will be the bipartisan issue.  Both sides will agree to destroy the public schools.  The Republicans will do so to get revenge on the teachers unions who have supported Democrats for most of my lifetime.  The Democrats will be content to throw teachers under the bus because that support has been so unwavering that teachers probably have no chance of being heard by Republicans.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Interesting Option

I thought I wouldn't do any more BP posts, but this pic was too good to pass up.  I don't think that the artist is an Obama fan, but I think it's funny on multiple levels. so one's politics shouldn't matter.

Via DeadDog with a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Some Responses to Big Boy Bloggers' Education Posts

Andrew Sullivan links to three recent posts about education.  Even though, he is a bit too enamored with merit pay, I think E.D. Kain gets it right when he argues
That’s why this debate is so contentious and so difficult to come to common ground on. We may need to move toward school choice in many places around the country, but that doesn’t mean we need to totally re-write our social contract on education. We can create better alternatives without upending the public education system as a whole.. . .
 Let's be clear, the current system is far from perfect.  There are bad teachers and bad schools, but the system makes an effort to educate every student.  Most teachers make a good faith effort to teach, and most students make a good faith effort to learn.  One of the biggest lies that George W. Bush ever uttered is the one that every child wants to learn.  Some don't, and the system must find ways to deal with their incorrigibility at the same time it deals with teachers who can't or won't teach.

Americans have to come to grips with the fact that the home is probably more important to education than the school.  According to ScienceDaily, students who have parents who have books in the home increase the educational achievements of their children.  This result held up whether the parents were "rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates."  These results and others like them lend credence to Kain's conclusion.
Obviously this means we’ll need to be creative when we talk about accountability or when we talk about creating incentives for good teachers. There are no panaceas in this debate – which means creating a suitable environment for reform and experimentation is all the more important.
On the other hand, Matt Yglesias doesn't "understand . . . the practice of referring to performance pay plans for K-12 teachers as “teacher-bashing."  I'll try to explain to the best of my meager abilities.  First, the pay for performance discussions seem to begin with the premise that only a few teachers actually teach whereas the rest are lazy folks who exist merely to see another June, July, and August.  In the same vein, it seems to assume that teachers are already overpaid, hence only a chosen few deserve a raise. The combination of these premises seems to "bash" the majority of teachers who show up and give an honest day's work for less than an honest day's pay.  Further, few of these proposals are fully funded, a fact that demeans and insults teachers. 

Most pay for performance proponents link these performance to student test scores.  I'm sure that Sullivan, Kain, Yglesias and others were great students.  However, if they attended a public school, they should ask themselves if they would want to be the teacher who was graded on the performance of most of the people who attended high school with them, especially if the results were not placed on a transcript and had no impact on the student.  I seriously doubt any of them would.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Last BP Oil Deluge Post, I Hope

The Madville Times has accurately described me as "stern" and "hirsute" based on this post about the BP oil deluge.  Seeing those terms together convinces me that I should be happy that my wife's not named Delilah, and that I am not overly fond of locusts, honey, camel's hair clothing, or silver platters.  I'm even more happy that my name isn't John Samson or Samson Baptist or something like that.

On a serious note, I wish that I had the prophetic voice to express my outrage at BP's actions and follow the scriptural injunction to avoid sin in my anger.  But when I read reports like this one from the New York Times, I become enraged and I'm more than likely guilty of some serious wrath.
New government and BP documents, interviews with experts and testimony by witnesses provide the clearest indication to date that a hodgepodge of oversight agencies granted exceptions to rules, allowed risks to accumulate and made a disaster more likely on the rig, particularly with a mix of different companies operating on the Deepwater whose interests were not always in sync. (Urbina, "In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was in Charge of Rig" NYT 6/5/2010 bold mine)
Maybe I have read too many Spider-Man comics because I actually believe that possessing great power includes a great responsibility.  Apparently comic books are for kids because huge multinational corporations and government regulators have great power but apparently don't see the need for any responsibility, unless one wants to count a slick PR stunt disguised as an apology. 

I also agree with James Madison that "[i]f men were angels, no government would be necessary." Madison's use of the subjunctive mood in this passage from Federalist 51 indicates that he is well aware that humans are not angels and are, therefore, imperfect.  Madison's modern insight is over two centuries old, and should urge those undertaking risky efforts such as this to follow the basics of the Hippocratic oath and make every effort to do no harm. 

On this rig, however, The Times reports that the "human element [had] not been aligned with the complexity of the system."  Further, hat lack of attention to detail was compounded by a woefully inadequate disaster plan.
On the Deepwater Horizon, for example, the minerals agency approved a drilling plan for BP that cited the “worst case” for a blowout as one that might produce 250,000 barrels of oil per day, federal records show. But the agency did not require the rig to create a response plan for such a situation.  (emphasis added)
I would be willing to grudgingly accept this disaster as an expensive mistake if I believed that the US would learn from it and make plains to move away from oil addiction.  I would be overjoyed if I believed that Christians would heed Russel D Moore's warning and avoid hiding their light under a bushel by adopting the worldview of political allies on the hot button issue of the day.

I don't believe that either of those events will occur.  Within thirty years, someone at a political convention will scream the equivalent of "Drill Baby, Brill!" and be hailed as an insightful populist voice of the common person.  The next generation of religious leaders will trade their spiritual birthright for some political pottage.  The people on the Gulf Coast will still be cleaning up the mess and trying to pick up the pieces of lives that were ruined by corporate hubris and the willful blindness of governmental overseers.  It's really tough to avoid getting sinfully angry.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Some Stuff About Happiness

I am not a philosopher although I want to play one on TV.  I could also pass for Mick Foley's brother, but that's a different story.  As I get older, I've noticed that I am gravitating toward books with older protagonists:  The Walt Longmire series by Wyoming writer Craig Johnson, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, and Rain Gods by James Lee Burke.  These weathered protagonists seem to accept what life throws them; they may seem contented but not really happy.

According to a New York Times report, art does not necessarily imitate life; apparently happiness comes with age.  The article contends,
It is inevitable. The muscles weaken. Hearing and vision fade. We get wrinkled and stooped. We can’t run, or even walk, as fast as we used to. We have aches and pains in parts of our bodies we never even noticed before. We get old.

It sounds miserable, but apparently it is not. A large Gallup poll has found that by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older, and researchers are not sure why.
In some ways, the poll echoes Aristotle who says "a boy is not happy; for he is not yet capable of such acts, owing to his age; and boys who are called happy are being congratulated by reason of the hopes we have for them. "  According to the survey, "[o]n the global measure, people start out at age 18 feeling pretty good about themselves, and then, apparently, life begins to throw curve balls. They feel worse and worse until they hit 50."

On the other hand, the study claims
In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday’s emotional state — the researchers found that stress declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.
Aristotle, on the other hand contends,
For there is required, as we said, not only complete virtue but also a complete life, since many changes occur in life, and all manner of chances, and the most prosperous may fall into great misfortunes in old age, as is told of Priam in the Trojan Cycle  and one who has experienced such chances and has ended wretchedly no one calls happy.
The survey was taken in 2008.  The article does not explain whether it was taken before the economic woes of 2008.  If before, Aristotle may well be proven right.  No one was losing everything until the September/October collapses.

On a personal note, I once again find myself to be a mutant. The results indicate "[a]nger decreases steadily from 18 on."  The Hulk is my role model, so I don't think the anger has decreased much.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Five Step Plan

I remember when the USSR used to announce 5 year plans.  Seth Godin has a simple five step plan for just about everyone and everything.


The number of people you need to ask for permission keeps going down:
1. Go, make something happen.
2. Do work you're proud of.
3. Treat people with respect.
4. Make big promises and keep them.
5. Ship it out the door.
When in doubt, see #1. 
I think Seth is right, but I don't think he's ever taught in a public school.  Steps one and four get teachers in trouble,  It's tough to do number two if the boss cares only about teaching to a test.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

More BP Oil Deluge Stuff

I don't know anything about Russel D. Moore, but on the BP atrocity, he seems to get it.  Some of his points about conservatism, Christianity, and larger social issues echo what I've been thinking for a long time.  All quotes that follow are from Moore's 6/1/2010 blog post Ecological Catastrophe and the Uneasy Evangelical Conscience; the bold face is my addition.  A tip of the hat to Rod Dreher and his Beliefnet Blog for pointing out this post

The Scripture gives us a vision of human sin that means there ought to be limits to every claim to sovereignty, whether from church, state, business or labor. A commitment to the free market doesn’t mean unfettered license any more than a commitment to free speech means hardcore pornography ought to be broadcast in prime-time by your local network television affiliate.

Caesar’s sword is there, by God’s authority, to restrain those who would harm others (Rom. 13). When government fails or refuses to protect its own people, whether from nuclear attack or from toxic waste spewing into our life-giving waters, the government has failed.

In our era, the abortion issue is the transcendent moral issue of the day (as segregation was in the last generation, and lynching and slavery before that). Too often, however, we’ve been willing not simply to vote for candidates who will protect unborn human life (as we ought to), but to also in the process adopt their worldviews on every other issue.

What is being threatened in the Gulf states isn’t just seafood or tourism or beach views. What’s being threatened is a culture. As social conservatives, we understand…or we ought to understand…that human communities are formed by traditions and by mores, by the bond between the generations. Culture is, as Russell Kirk said, a compact reaching back to the dead and forward to the unborn. Liberalism wants to dissolve those traditions, and make every generation create itself anew; not conservatism.


When the natural environment is used up, unsustainable for future generations, cultures die. When Gulfs are dead, when mountaintops are removed, when forests are razed with nothing left in their place, when deer populations disappear, cultures die too.

And what’s left in the place of these cultures and traditions is an individualism that is defined simply by the appetites for sex, violence, and piling up stuff. That’s not conservative, and it certainly isn’t Christian.

I'm not sure that I agree that [l]iberalism wants to dissolve all traditions, but with that small caveat, I have to say preach it brother.

The BP Oil Deluge Brought Home

From the comments section of The Madville Times, this link puts the BP oil deluge in perspective.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Education Standards

The National Governors Association published the final version of their standards for reading and math.  Given that South Dakota refused to apply for second round of President Obama's Race to the Top funding, one must wonder how the state will react to national standards.

Over the next few days, I'll try to go over some of the English standards and make comments, snide or otherwise.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quote Of The Day

But lately I’ve grown increasingly cynical about the assertions of charter-school advocates that the most pressing problem facing our public education system is the plethora of lazy, incompetent teachers who cannot be fired under any circumstances. As Steve Brill wrote for The New York Times Magazine last week: “Indeed, the core of the reformers’ argument, and the essence of the Obama approach to the Race to the Top, is that a slew of research over the last decade has discovered that what makes the most difference is the quality of the teachers and the principals who supervise them.” Maybe it’s because I was a teacher’s pet growing up, or because of my undying love for school supplies, but a lot of this sounds to me more like a full court press to break the admittedly powerful teachers’ unions than simply an effort to improve public schooling. (Raina Kelley, "In Defense of Teachers," 5/28/10)
I live in a state where the teaching union is anything but powerful, so it seems to me that reform is basically an effort to break teachers.  By the way, doesn't everyone love school supplies?

What It Feels Like To Be A Parent And A Teacher

I suppose these sentences by James Lee Burke resonate with me because I am on the wrong side of 50.  Still, if one substitutes "parent" or "teacher" for "the elderly" and "old people" in this quotation, one has concisely summed up the frustrations of parenting and education.  The last sentence probably also sums up the frustrations that arise from living in the 21st Century.
Cassandra had been given knowledge of the future and simultaneously condemned to a lifetime of being disbelieved and rejected.  The wearisome preoccupation of the elderly--namely the conviction that they had already seen the show but could never pass on the lessons they had learned from it--was not unlike Cassandra's burden, except the anger and bitterness of old people was not the stuff of Homeric epics. (James Lee Burke, Rain Gods, pg 283)