Monday, January 24, 2011

Test Taking And Dollars

This Slate post links to a Daily Beast article about students' NAEP scores.  The top five test taking states are Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Minnesota. The younguns in the wrong reading group aka those don't take tests well live in Mississippi, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, New Mexico, and Louisiana.

Slate concludes:  "Probably not coincidentally, the list of 'smartest' states tracks pretty closely with the list of richest states, and the worst test-takers tend to live in the most impoverished areas."  The Beast gives a bit more detail concluding pointing out
. . . . the top five performing states on this list have a median household income (not adjusted for cost of living) of roughly $60,000, and 21 percent of people over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree; the bottom five are at $44,000 and 14 percent, respectively, according to 2009 US Census figures. Children who perform better on NAEP tests also tend to come from states with lower levels of student poverty.
For the record, South Dakota ranked 22nd on the NAEP and ranks 26th in child poverty.  A quick look at a chart provided by the Census Bureau seems to indicate that South Dakota ranks 26th in median income with an average income of $48,416.

I spent most of the weekend listening to high schoolers tell me that correlation does not mean causation, so I approach these numbers with a bit of trepidation.  That being said, it seems to me that the austerity effort South Dakota's governor is undertaking is going to drive people, especially high wage earners out of state.  If that happens and if the articles are correct, that means that the state's NAEP scores may soon drop as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Giving Teachers Guns: A Bad and Scary Idea

A Nebraska state legislator wants to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons.

According to a Lincoln Star Journal article bill is sponsored by Senator Mark Christianson who claims that "he introduced his bill in response to the Jan. 5 shooting at Millard South High School, where 17-year-old student Robert Butler Jr. shot Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar and then shot Principal Curtis Case."

Christianson asserts that had his law been in effect the Millard South deaths might have been prevented, "We might have been better off.  To me, it's much better to be able to deal with the situation quickly. We can stop additional lives from being taken."

Christianson seems to be proof that American's education system has failed at least when it comes to teaching people how to think logically.

First, looking to the case at hand, "[p]olice found Butler about 45 minutes after the shooting in a parking lot about a mile from the school, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot."  If the person who shot others commits suicide, it's unlikely that the threat of being shot by others will provide a deterrent.

Second, real life is not like TV. Armed teachers firing at armed students is going to produce wounded innocents.

I have about twenty allegedly humorous reasons why having teachers bring guns to school is a bad idea, but I'll keep it simple.  This idea is one of the most inane and frightening that I've ever heard.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Fear for the Future

Via big boy blogger Andrew Sullivan, this post referencing this NYT article about self-esteem.  The article cites a study that
a group of 152 University of Michigan students were asked about their favorite activity, but were given an expanded list to choose from that included receiving a paycheck, seeing a best friend and drinking alcohol, in addition to eating a favorite food, engaging in a favorite sexual activity and having a self-esteem-building experience. Again, self-esteem trumped all other rewards. This study also ascertained how recently participants had experienced or engaged in their favorite activities. It appeared to make no difference how long it had been since they had last received the rewards, the researchers said.
On the bright side, one could argue that prioritizing self esteem over food lowers obesity, and prioritizing self-esteem over sex lowers promiscuity and it's attendant ills.  That being said, however, self-esteem doesn't pay the rent while a paycheck does.

The article points out a more frightening part of the study.
The participants were also asked to do a timed test of intellectual ability, and then were told they had the option of waiting for an extra 10 minutes to have the test re-evaluated using a different algorithm that produces higher scores. This essentially gave them an opportunity to get a self-esteem boost right there in the lab. Not surprisingly, students who highly valued self-esteem were more likely to be willing to stick around to get the new scores.

Note that the participants weren't doing a new test that demonstrated improved intellectual ability.  They were going to get a higher score simply because people were going to figure the scores differently.

The findings show that the younguns haven't figured that everything they've heard about self-esteem is really backwards. 
“The idea has been that if we build their self-esteem, then they’ll do better in school and in relationships,” said Dr. Twenge, the “Narcissism Epidemic” author. “Well, that puts the cart before the horse. When you break down the research you see that kids who behave well and get high grades develop high self-esteem — not the other way around.”
The results scare me not just because kids seem to have it backwards.  I'm scared because necessary activities don't really build self-esteem.  They are just a series of tasks that need to get done because they need to get done and no one else will do them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Uncomfortable Personal Question

Which is worse:  the fact that the so-called History Channel spends so much time broadcasting programs about Nostradamus or the Maya calendar and its alleged prophecy about the end of world or the fact that I spend so much time watching them?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Great Education Editorial

Everyone should read this Robert Samuelson editorial.

The quotation no one will believe:
The most pessimistic view of the study is that, on average, American schools do as good a job as schools in other wealthy nations. We're worse than some and better than others. The overall loss of economic competitiveness is likely modest and would be swamped by other factors (government policies, business management, exchange rates, the willingness to take risks). But a more detailed evaluation of the study - comparing similar students in different countries - suggests that U.S. schools still rank high in the world. [emphasis mine]
 The perceptive conclusion: 
For half a century, successive waves of "school reform" have made only modest headway against these obstacles. It's an open question whether the present "reform" agenda, with its emphasis on teacher accountability, will do better. What we face is not an engineering problem; it's overcoming the legacy of history and culture. The outcome may affect our economic competitiveness less than our success at creating a just society.
The statement Governor Daugaard will use to justify paying math and science teachers more than English, history, music, or art teachers:
American schools are hardly perfect. Math scores, though showing the same pattern, are lower than reading scores. We can learn from other countries better ways to teach math. 
I would guess that this last statement will become one of the holy texts of science and math religion.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teachers and Students and Texting

The Madville Times ended 2010 with a post that the Brookings School District is considering banning teachers and students texting each other, following each other on Twitter, friending each other on Facebook, or using any social media to communicate with each other.

Apparently, Virgina will see one South Dakota district and raise a whole Southern state.  In addition, they will ban student teacher gaming as well, so my online poker reference my not be legal in Virgina either.

I don't have too many dogs in this fight.  I don't have a Facebook account and am actively working to be the only person in the United States without one.  I have a Twitter account.  I've made 150 posts, none since October.  I text some of my debaters to let them know about practice times or discuss case ideas.  At a tournament a few years ago,  I couldn't find a debater and had to text her to tell her she was in the final round.

I also know that some people hired to teach are wolves in sheep's clothing so schools need to be careful.  That being said, these rules are ludicrous and unenforceable.  They will insure that teachers appear out of touch with the "real world."  Some teachers and students will be punitively punished for innocent communication.  More importantly, the predators will find new ways to exploit kids.

The logic behind limiting teachers' use of social media seems akin to an effort to prevent a teacher in 1901 from using an Underwood No. 5 typewriter because the machine allowed one to write letters quickly and anonymously without revealing one's identity through one's handwriting.  Instead of banning social media or texting, schools need to find ways to teach students how to use these tools as adults not as expensive toys.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Teacher's View of the Giffords' Shooting

I also want to echo the sentiments of John Spencer Spencer's Scratch Pad: State of Fear. His winning argument,
I don't blame Sarah Palin for what happened, but I do believe that symbols take on powerful meanings and far too much of her rhetoric has been fascist. I don't blame the Republican Party, either. Many of my friends and family members are GOP and they aren't joining a terrorist movement. They simply believe in small government and national security.

Bottom line is that this isn't about politics.

It's about death.

It's about racism and bigotry.

It's about an ideology that sees anything public as a threat to anything individual.

Real World Interruptions

I had hoped to have daily updates after Friday posts, but certain real life activities like a debate tournament followed by an unplanned five and half hour trip prevented posting.

I want to echo The Madville Times contrast between high school debate and the increasingly, dangerously weird world of American politics.

I found ABC's The Week's roundtable discussion rather fascinating.  I thought Dick Armey seemed to be whistling past the graveyard as he eschewed "pop sociology."  I thought George Will's hope that this one is closer to Columbine rather than Oswald or John Wilkes Booth interesting, but hollow; no matter the reason, scores of people have been killed or wounded in similar shootings since 1999.

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 Week 1--The Good, The Bad and The Scary

I survived the first week of the new semester with few wounds.  I haven't blogged much since school started, but I really would like to get back to regular posts, so I thought I'd begin with something that can become a recurring post.

The Good: Bert Blyleven finally got elected to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. How it can take 14 years for someone who has struck out over 3700 hitters to gain entry to Cooperstown is beyond me.

The Bad: South Dakota may cut funding to K-12 education by 10% instead of 5%.

The Scary:  The South Dakota Retirement System will run out of funds by 2035.