Monday, February 27, 2012

Quotation Of the Day: South Dakota Economic Development Edition

From this Bill Fleming comment at the Madville Times,
Seriously, how many more gambling joints, loan sharks and market speculators do we need in SD? How about [implementing] some ideas where people can actually create something that will be of service and value to the whole society… (you know, like we used to do back in the “old days?”)
I would guess people will pass out from holding their breath long before South Dakota's political leaders answer that question.

Yankton Opt Out Election, The Sequel

I do not know if Flora Knodel is a member of COBRA Command We The People Yankton (WTPY), but she seems to express their sentiments quite well when she asserts: "We cannot afford an elite school system" because "instead of the taxpayers realizing an overall decrease in property taxes, we face another opt-out vote to essentially have a net increase in our property taxes."

No one from the WTPY has spoken to me.  My wife said they sent us a mailer telling us that they weren't opposed to teachers.  She didn't show me the pamphlet, but I'm guessing they left out the part that explains that their efforts will mean that some teachers will lose their jobs, and that those still employed will have to take another long term pay freeze.  Further the group's emails indicate that WTPY seems intent on having teachers pay more for insurance.  They may not oppose teachers, but they certainly want them to have less money for the foreseeable future.

More importantly, WTPY apparently drew the organization's name from the Constitution's Preamble.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
If WTPY wants to "establish justice", the rendering of each his or her due, they should explain to the current students why students who graduated 10, 20, or even 50 years ago were due an "elite" education while the students currently in school are not.

Reviewing that last paragraph made me realize that WTPY seems intent on denying current students one the "blessings of liberty" that the Constitution ensures for the young of each generation.  I guess it's possible that WTPY doesn't view education as a "blessing."

WTPY may have taken their name from the Constituion, but they seem perfectly willing to ignore Constitutional principles.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Political Sycophant Edition

Bob Mercer gives us a little insight into the merit pay debate with the following report.
As Sen. Elizabeth Kraus put it, a governor with 78 percent approval rating deserves the opportunity to lead in this matter.
The logic, and I use the term advisedly, behind Senator Kraus's remark is that ideas proposed by popular people are good merely because the ideas came from a popular person.  I hesitate to mention that popular Roman emperors frequently proposed gladiatorial combat as part of a larger public policy.  Taken to it's logical conclusion, Senator Kraus's statement implies that the most popular person in the school should set school policy; in short, the prom king and homecoming queen should make policy instead of the administration and the school board.

It seems that some members of the South Dakota legislature believe they are in a parliment and the executive and the party chief are one.  To vote against such an executive requires courage and may have some political cost because the legislator is beholden to the executive not constituents.

I had always operated under the idea that the American legislatures acted as a check on executive power not an enabler of someone who had 78 percent approval rating.  Of course, that concept of a legislature as a check requires legislators with political courage not high school royalty hangers-on.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lewis Black Helps Teach Irony

Lewis Black shows the irony of a woman with the surname of Grace having nearly a total dearth of that quality.  Like a good teacher, Black extends the lesson to show that other news celebrities have even less grace than Nancy.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Diane Ravitch On Teacher Preparation and Testing

Two quick important takes from this must read Diane Ravitch piece at the New York Review of Books:

First on testing,

The main mechanism of school reform today is to identify teachers who can raise their students’ test scores every year. If the scores go up, reformers assume, then the students will enroll in college and poverty will eventually disappear. This will happen, the reformers believe, if there is a “great teacher” in every classroom and if more schools are handed over to private managers, even for-profit corporations.
Finland provides yet another reminder that testing doesn’t produce results nor does it serve as a proper determinant of merit pay. Then on teacher preparation,
Finland’s highly developed teacher preparation program is the centerpiece of its school reform strategy. Only eight universities are permitted to prepare teachers, and admission to these elite teacher education programs is highly competitive: only one of every ten applicants is accepted. There are no alternative ways to earn a teaching license. Those who are accepted have already taken required high school courses in physics, chemistry, philosophy, music, and at least two foreign languages. Future teachers have a strong academic education for three years, then enter a two-year master’s degree program. Subject-matter teachers earn their master’s degree from the university’s academic departments, not—in contrast to the US—the department of teacher education, or in special schools for teacher education. Every candidate prepares to teach all kinds of students, including students with disabilities and other special needs. Every teacher must complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in education.
Because entry into teaching is difficult and the training is rigorous, teaching is a respected and prestigious profession in Finland. So selective and demanding is the process that virtually every teacher is well prepared. Sahlberg writes that teachers enter the profession with a sense of moral mission and the only reasons they might leave would be “if they were to lose their professional autonomy” or if “a merit-based compensation policy [tied to test scores] were imposed.” Meanwhile, the United States is now doing to its teachers what Finnish teachers would find professionally reprehensible: judging their worth by the test scores of their students.

Finland’s national curriculum in the arts and sciences describes what is to be learned but is not prescriptive about the details of what to teach or how to teach it. The national curriculum requires the teaching of a mother tongue (Finnish or Swedish), mathematics, foreign languages, history, biology, environmental science, religion, ethics, geography, chemistry, physics, music, visual arts, crafts, physical education, health, and other studies.
The whole article needs to be read, but I would like to make two quick observations. First, neither the South Dakota legislature nor U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are doing anything to get the state or nation close to Finland's teacher prep standards. Second, although STEM classes are important parts of the curriculum, it also focuses on philosophy, history, and art. Again, the U.S. seems willing to assign those areas of study to the dustbin.
The reformers don’t care that standardized tests are prone to measurement error, sampling error, and other statistical errors.1 They don’t seem to care that experts like Robert L. Linn at the University of Colorado, Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford, and Helen F. Ladd at Duke, as well as a commission of the National Research Council, have warned about misuse of standardized tests to hold individual teachers accountable with rewards or sanctions. Nor do they see the absurdity of gauging the quality of a teacher by the results of a multiple-choice test given to students on one day of the year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Education and Recipes Edition

From this John Merrow post about the need for innovation and education
Now think about tomorrow. Unless our economy collapses, very few youth now in school will earn a living doing physical labor. Some will do mental labor, but, if we prosper, it will be because the large majority of adults — not just those who grew up rich — are doing ‘creative labor.’ They have to learn to do this ‘work’ in school, which means that innovation must become the norm and not the ‘gee whiz’ phenomenon it now is. In short, we must close ‘the opportunity gap’ if we want better educational outcomes for more kids, and, by extension, a competitive economy down the road.

A barrier to innovation is the accounting/accountability mentality. Suzy Null, a reader of this blog, wrote in part last week:

I think teachers are becoming more like McDonald’s workers. They are given pre-cooked products and a specific “recipe” for preparing them. They are expected to follow these orders religiously in order to ensure that everyone gets the same “quality” experience. If they diverge even slightly, they are told that they are negligent and aren’t doing their jobs. What’s really sad is that the public is so used to mass-produced products and fast food, that they think that uniformity and mass production would be “good” for schools too
It strikes me that many pushing Governor Daugaard's education reforms believe that teachers and McDonald's fry cooks share the same intellect and skill set because teachers didn't major in business.  It also seems probable that the testing regime and evaluation plans the Governor's supporters will mandate will produce students incapable of doing anything but following a recipe.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Being Permanently Displaced Edition

A succinct pox on both your houses comment from Conor Friedersdorf,
Personally, I don't think Obama deserves a second term, due to his actually radical, Cheneyesque abuses of executive power, his violating the War Powers Resolution in Libya, his civil liberties abrogations, his broken promises on transparency, and his warrantless assassinations. .  . .But if [Andrew] Breitbart plans to persuade the American people that Obama is stoking racial division; if he's seriously going to play the class warfare card against a guy who sinned by bailing out Wall Street rather than raging against it; he and his followers deserve to lose too, and to be ridiculed meanwhile for their absurdist narratives.

Usually, fanatically loyal partisans hurt an ideological movement by giving its leaders cover as they sell out. And hard core activists hurt a movement when they let their rhetoric cross over from rabble-rousing to self-discrediting nonsense. It's rare for someone to simultaneously hurt a movement in both of these ways. As a shameless Mitt Romney apologist, however, I have no doubt that Breitbart will manage it.
I don't know much about Breitbart, but Friedersdorf echoes my views about  Obama and the eventual Republican nominee the 2012 election.  Obama has squandered the trust that I and many other gave him, but the blind partisan rage that his opponents possess leaves one no alternative but to vote for a 3rd party candidate who can't win or leave the ballot blank.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gobsmacking Stat Of The Day: Presidential Politics Preference Edition

I don't need many new reasons to despair for our country, but these results provide one whether I want it or not.

According to a Public Policy Polling press release, 6% of those surveyed will support Rosanne Barr if she wins the Green Party nomination and is a three-way race with President Obama and Mitt Romney.  Obama would win with 47%, Romney would get 42% of the vote.  Five percent claim to be undecided.

I think that Wall Street wealth and power has a detrimental effect on America, but supporting a candidate who references the guillotine and re-education camps favorably is only a step away from writing John Yoo torture memos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saving Endangered Political Species: Is it Already Too Late?

America's paper of record, The Onion, turns it's satiric attention to the lack of moderate Republicans in a "report" "New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct".
According to members of the Initiative to Protect the Political Middle (IPPM), centrist Republicans, who once freely roamed the nation calling for both economic deregulation and a return to Reagan-era tax rates on the wealthy, are in dire need of protection, having lost large portions of their natural terrain to the highly territorial Evangelical and Tea Party breeds.
"Our new program is designed to isolate the few remaining specimens of moderate Republicans, mate them in captivity, and then safely release these rare and precious creatures back into the electorate," said IPPM’s Cynthia Rollins, who traces the decline of the species to changes in the political climate and rampant, predatory fanaticism. "Within our safe, enclosed habitats, these middle-of-the-road Republican Party members can freely support increased funding for public education and even gay rights without being threatened by the far-right subgenus."
Working within a narrow three-election-cycle window to reverse the decline before extinction becomes imminent, political conservationists told reporters they have already begun the arduous process of tracking down members of the elusive breed of sensible, non-reactionary public officeholders, which a generation ago was one of the most plentiful GOP species in existence.
IPPM officials also said that while there is no guarantee they will ever be able to restore the moderate-Republican population to its once-teeming levels, "every effort must be made" to forcibly breed the species and at least keep it alive in the Midwest and Northeast, where its chances for survival remain highest.
The Onion's editors apparently don't get to South Dakota much or they don't consider South Dakota to be part of the Midwest.  The moderate Republican is nearly extinct here. In addition to worrying about the demise of the moderate Republican, those who enjoy political diversity should be worried that one rarely sees a Democrat in the South Dakota political environment.

Quotation Of The Day: Damning Santorum With Faint Praise Edition

Writing about Rick Santorum, Pete Spiliakos asserts,
I really like the guy . . .  If Santorum is somehow the Republican nominee, he is going to get suckered into these kinds of culture war fights every couple of weeks.  And this is Santorum being good.  He isn’t that bright, he isn’t that articulate, and he can’t be fixed.
If Spiliakos says that someone he likes isn't "bright" or "articulate" or "can't be fixed," I'd hate to see what he'd say about someone he doesn't like.  Actually, I guess it would go something like this classic encounter,

Perhaps, it might get a little nasty and say something like this from Highlander:  "You have the manners of a goat. And you smell like a dung-heap! And you have no knowledge whatsoever of your potential!" (I can't believe that that clip isn't easily available on YouTube.)

A Modest Proposal For HB 1234

This Representative Bernie Hunhoff suggestion appears one day too late* for the South Dakota House to show some commone sense, but the South Dakota senate can still act on it and give the House a second chance.  Hunhoff writes,
There’s nothing to be lost by deferring HB1234 to the 41st day. That’s how we politely kill bad ideas in the South Dakota legislature.
And then let’s do something great. Let’s create a year-long Blue Ribbon Task Force that challenges us all — state officials, state legislators of all stripes, teachers, community leaders and all other stakeholders — to present a plan to the 2013 Legislature that can be a roadmap to giving South Dakotans the best schools in America.
We already have some of the best schools. Our students consistently score above average. And we get all that for the least money. We spend far less per pupil than any state in our region. In fact, to reach the average spending of the seven-state region we would need to invest an additional $215 million in our schools. Obviously we can’t accomplish that any time soon, but if we don’t begin to rebuild our base funding we are going to hurt our schools and raise property taxes. Nobody knows that better than residents of the Yankton School District, where we are facing the controversy of an opt-out because the state has severely cut its funding of our schools.
Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I still believe we can have the best schools in the country. To be the very best, we need to:

1) Give schools more creativity, freedom and local control;
2) Provide adequate base funding;
3) Inspire a spirit of cooperation and teamwork at every level.

HB1234 does none of that. Well-intentioned or not, it has already damaged the educational environment. Let’s stop the damage and come together to work together toward the goal of America’s best schools. 
I have no hope that the South Dakota Senate will follow up on this suggestion, but it's good to know someone in the legislature had the wisdom to make it.

*Hunhoff did offer an amendment from the floor, but the vote failed 49-20.

Monday, February 13, 2012

South Dakota Republicans With Courage

The majority of the state's Republicans voted to support HB 1234, Governor Daugaard's merit pay plan.  Many also uttered pablum-lite talking points like “Democrats focus on teachers and salaries; Republicans focus on students and achievement.”or “What it’s saying is that the current compensation model doesn't work” The latter statement, a trite assertion of the obvious, apparently made without irony, should have mentioned that the compensation system is the worst in the nation and has been for years.  Further, there's no evidence that this plan will actually improve compensation. I will also note that Representative David Lust, the latter speaker, claims that the bill is not a "magic elixir" for achievement. Somebody missed a memo somewhere if Republicans are supposed to be about achievement not salaries.

Several, however, deserve thanks for recognizing that the plan has never been shown to work, so I'd like to say things to Republican Representatives Bolin, Deelstra, Hubbel, Kopp, Liss, Russell, Schaefer, Stricherz, and Tornow.

Update:  Bonus quotation of the day goes to Representative Jim Bolin who says, “(Daugaard’s) plans on the education front are a major blunder,”   Bolin also points out that the bill will not imporve student achievement.

Quotation Of The Day: Education Accountability Edition

From Robert Pondiscio at The Core Knowledge Blog
I remain equally skeptical of the storyline that says schools are dysfunctional purely as a result of adult indifference or self-interest.
I see no reason to believe that failing schools are filled with tenured layabouts refusing to teach and not getting fired. In my experience, such schools are mainly filled with decent people trying their best and failing. And with depressing regularity, they are failing despite doing exactly what they were trained to do–even because they are doing exactly what they were trained to do.
The entire edifice of accountability assumes that American education is essentially a sound product, but it’s delivered poorly. I see no evidence to suggest this is true. I see much evidence to suggest it’s not.

Prophetic Or Delusional?

I may be wrong, but this but this trailer seems to indicate that some neocons apparently believe that the US will defeat both Iran and Syria by 2018, so the only foe left will be zombie Nazis.

Of course, someone may have merely wanted to remake Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The New York Times Buries The Lede About Education Gap

The New York Times reports that the education gap between the rich and poor:
 . . . . in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.
More importantly,
The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.
However, the biggest part of the story is the last sentence:
There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.
The problem is a puzzle, he said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”
"No one has the slightest idea what will work."  The statement should produce both desperation and innovation.  Yet, in South Dakota, Governor Daugaard has deceided to rely on political orthodoxy and push a warmed over  merit pay plan that has been shown not to work.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: STEM Edition

From this John T. Spencer post
If we want to have a thriving democracy where people think critically about their world, we need to balance STEM with AHEM (Art, History, English and Music). STEM might help us stay competitive in the global pissing contest, but AHEM will teach us to examine our cultural hubris and question whether the goal in life is really consuming more. STEM might teach us the art of solving problems, but AHEM will help us see nuance and paradox to problems. STEM pushes students toward innovation, but AHEM helps students avoid the obsession with novelty and embrace the vintage ideas that we so often miss.

On The Need For Another Political Party Or Two

This morning Christians across the United States gathered to worship.  The following passage's principle from Ephesians 4:1-6 is inherent in each gathering:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.    
Despite the implied unity, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox faiths all met in different buildings.  Among the Protestants, Lutherans and Baptists congregates separately;  Among the Baptists, North American Baptists, American Baptists, Southern Baptists, General Baptists, Independent Baptists couldn't agree about enough articles of faith to worship together.

If Christians can agree that a First Century Jewish man was born to a virgin, crucified as a criminal, and rose from the dead to save humanity from the deadly wages of sin but can't agree on the proper form of worship, it seems odd that American politics limits itself to two parties.  Writing in today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman contends,
I’ve argued that maybe we need a third party to break open our political system. But that’s a long shot. What we definitely and urgently need is a second party
Friedman concludes,
Until the G.O.P. stops being radical and returns to being conservative, it won’t provide what the country needs most now — competition — competition with Democrats on the issues that will determine whether we thrive in the 21st century. We need to hear conservative fiscal policies, energy policies, immigration policies and public-private partnership concepts — not radical ones. Would somebody please restore our second party? The country is starved for a grown-up debate.
Friedman's analysis made me think about South Dakota's political situation: the state certainly needs a second political party. At the South Dakota War College, an unofficial Republican organ, "Bill Clay" giggles, "can I call the Democrats a major party in SD?"  Outside of having some entertaining internecine battles, South Dakota Republicans seem like the Democrats Friedman describes:
the best of the Democrats — who have been willing to compromise — have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking.
I don't see many South Dakota Republicans willing to compromise, and many seem to have some "magical" views about their proposals:
Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Hartford, made himself the target of boos when he said education in South Dakota is not a partisan issue, but if it does divide along party lines, “Democrats focus on teachers and salaries. Republicans focus on students and achievement.”
In many places, politics is a religion; it would be good for South Dakota and country to have a few more denominations.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Politics And Art Edition

From E.D. Kain,

But for some reason, conservative attempts at pop culture simply don’t pan out for the most part. So we get complaints about liberal media or liberal Hollywood or whatever. But it’s not liberal Hollywood’s fault that conservatives can’t do art. (Nor is it entirely obvious that Hollywood is liberal, but that’s another story for another time.)
And it’s not as though no good conservative art or literature has ever been produced. It’s just that today’s conservatives have lost any sense of proportion or subtext. Everything is so overt and over-stated. I think that The Lord of the Rings is a basically conservative text. It’s just not explicitly conservative and doesn’t say anything nasty about Obama . . . .
And perhaps that’s the crux of the issue. Conservative art mimics conservative politics rather than the other way around. And so it can never really be art.
I don't think it stretches Kain's analysis to point out that the conservative politics that produced NCLB reduced teaching literature to teaching reading and prioritizes STEM uber alles.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Santorum Hyperbole And Tale Of Two Cities Edition

And here I have been spending all my time worrying that the United States was going to go the way of Rome.  How silly of me.

From Rick Santorum,
“They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the the guillotine.”
Guess I'm going to have to break out A Tale of Two Cities again and look for the best of times and the worst of times.    Perhaps Santorum wants to help Rep Hickey encourage schools to teach the Bible as literature; Hickey's guest columnist lists the novel in this post.  I've always told students that Sydney Carton's selfless act makes him an archetypal Christ Figure

If Santorum starts referring to himself as a "resurrection" candidate, I am going to start worrying.  On a side note, I have been worried about all of the knitting clubs that I have seen springing up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Expect Better From Elected Officials

From today's Washington Post,
For years, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has supported a Pentagon program called Starbase that teaches science, math and engineering skills to children in dozens of locations around the country.
Johnson is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Pentagon’s budget. In 2008, Johnson, along with seven other senators, added $4 million to the Starbase budget.
At the time, Johnson’s wife, Barbara, was paid an annual salary of $80,000 as a contract employee to evaluate the program. From 2005 to September, she worked for the Spectrum Group, a lobbying and consulting firm in Alexandria, that has a $1 million Pentagon contract to monitor Starbase. A social worker and educator, Barbara Johnson was also assigned to manage its Web site.
Getting $4 million to a program that pays one's spouse $80,000 a year looks wrong and sends the message that everyone is in it only for the money.  I didn't like Mike Rounds putting his family members on the state payroll and I don't like what Johnson did here.

Maybe Senator Johnson did nothing wrong, but he's been around enough to know that elected officials need to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing as well as actual wrongdoing.

South Dakota War College Makes Case For Continuing Contracts For K-12 Teachers

Let's get one thing clear right at the start:  K-12 teachers don't have tenure; they have continuing contract.  Calling continuing contract tenure is like calling a McDonald's fry cook an Iron Chef.  Both provide food, but the latter's is far superior fare.  Continuing contract offers a few protections but it's not tenure

At the Madville Times, Cory reports on Krist Noem's townhall and, as is his wont, takes Noem to task.  At the Dakota War College, "Bill Clay," as is his wont, takes Cory to task.  Both are partisans; both take as much as they give.  In a side note, the Rapid City Journal posts a picture of Cory and Noem talking after the meeting

"Clay," however, concludes his response with the following: "He sets such a darn good example for his students doesn’t he?"

The not so hidden threat within that statement is that Cory's politics make him unqualified to teach and that if "Bill Clay" had his way, Cory would lose his job.  "Clay's" response and its implied threat illustrate why teachers need a modicum of protection.  No one should be fired or threatened with losing his job for writing partisan blogs and playing political hardball with the hyperbole that accompanies the game.  In fact the only people who should lose their job because of their politics are the politicians who hold elected office.

Let's be clear, "Clay" is likely not one of Cory's students nor his evaluating principal, so he has no idea what Cory does in the classroom.  I'm certain that Cory's reading list does not include Sartre, Foucault, or Derrida, so "Bill" doesn't need to worry about radical philosophy.

I've read scores of Cory's debate ballots.  He demands intellectual rigor and a logical presentation.  He's voted for teams or debaters that espouse positions he dislikes.  If I may paraphrase, what happens on the blog, stays on the blog; what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom, and never the twain shall meet.

If "Clay" believes that people cannot change how they behave in a given situation, he should look for statistics on the number of people who praised the Lord last Sunday morning and needed a designated driver after the Super Bowl.

A high school teacher who teaches basic semester classes may have up to 250 students in a year.  Some of them will have parents who disagree with the teacher's politics.  That disagreement should have nothing to do with whether the teacher gets rehired no matter what "Bill Clay" thinks.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Short Points Disguised As A Blog Post

Am I the only one who finds a disconcerting irony in the fact that today marks the 10th anniversary of the US making torture part of its official policy and the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens birth?

Speaking of disconcerting ironies, the New York Times reviews Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.  The Right Side blog cuts and pastes a review as well.  Unsurprisingly, the Times and Right Siders appear to have read a different book.

While I was watching the Super Bowl, I was struck by the idea that the National Football League and corporate America share one common view:  they want educational institutions to provide them workers but they don't want to fully support the educational institutions.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Education And Technology: What Works?

At an Irene cracker barrel, Yankton state senator Jean Hunhoff, said,
The premise out there is, how do you get performance to improve?” Sen. Hunhoff asked. “The idea was merit. Tell me how you see how something could work to raise student performance, as an option. Let’s not focus on just what’s bad.”
Iagree, but it seems that data frequently conflict. One of the saviors has allegedly been technology.  In spite of my desire to follow Senator Hunhoff's injunction, I can't.  Michael Hiltzik takes issue with the idea that schools will be well served by increasing their emphasis on technology.
Every schoolchild should have a laptop, they said. Because in the near future, textbooks will be a thing of the past.
Where had I heard that before? So I did a bit of research, and found it. The quote I recalled was, "Books will soon be obsolete in the schools.... Our school system will be completely changed in 10 years."
The revolutionary technology being heralded in that statement wasn't the Internet or the laptop, but the motion picture. The year was 1913, and the speaker, Thomas Edison, was referring to the prospect of replacing book learning with instruction via the moving image.
He was talking through his hat then, every bit as much as Duncan and Genachowski are talking through theirs now.
Here's another similarity: The push for advanced technology in the schoolroom then and now was driven by commercial, not pedagogical, considerations. As an inventor of motion picture technology, Edison stood to profit from its widespread application. And the leading promoter of the replacement of paper textbooks by e-books and electronic devices today is Apple, which announced at a media event last month that it dreams of a world in which every pupil reads textbooks on an iPad or a Mac.
 I have a certain agnostic view of classroom technology:  Hiltzik seems to have a similar view.
Apple and its government mouthpieces speak highly of the ability to feed constant updates to digital textbooks so they never go out of date. But that's relevant to a rather small subset of schoolbooks such as those dealing with the leading edge of certain sciences — though I'm not sure how many K-12 pupils are immersed in advanced subjects such as quantum mechanics or string theory. The standard text of "Romeo and Juliet," on the other hand, has been pretty well locked down since 1599.
There's certainly an important role for technology in the classroom. And the U.S. won't benefit if students in poor neighborhoods fall further behind their middle-class or affluent peers in access to broadband Internet connectivity or computers. But mindless servility to technology for its own sake, which is what Duncan and Genachowski are promoting on behalf of self-interested companies like Apple, will make things worse, not better.
That's because it distracts from and sucks money away from the most important goal, which is maintaining good teaching practices and employing good teachers in the classroom. What's scary about the recent presentation by Duncan and Genachowski is that it shows that for all their supposed experience and expertise, they've bought snake oil. They're simply trying to rebottle it for us as the elixir of the gods.
It boils down to whether the student is willing to learn and whether the teacher can teach.  Hiltzik points out,
"The media you use make no difference at all to learning," says Richard E. Clark, director of the Center for Cognitive Technology at USC. "Not one dang bit. And the evidence has been around for more than 50 years."

The Common Core And Conformity

The blog at has an interview with Sugata Mitra, an advocate of self-directed learning.  Mitra installed a computer in a hole in a wall in a New Dehli slum and let children operate it unsupervised.  He contends,
"Experiments show that children in unsupervised groups are capable of answering questions many years ahead of the material they’re learning in school."
I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of no adult direction in a classroom, but I do agree with Mitra's analysis about how and why our current system works like it does.
The existing Victorian system of education was created to mass-produce identical human beings, mainly to serve an aristocracy, and, in modern times, an industrial elite. Governments find it difficult to move away from this model, because it has worked. provides a succinct reminder and visual proof that schools succeed in their mass production efforts.

Writing in the Answer SheetMarion Brady, a teacher and curriculum designer contends that the Common Core standards will continue to produce conformity.  She calls the standards "a confusing, random, overwhelming, intellectually unmanageable assortment of facts, specialized vocabularies, disconnected conceptual frameworks, and abstractions — the whole too far removed from life as the young live it for them to care about it."
Later, she predicts,
When the CEOs and the politicians they’ve bought finish the simplistic “reform” they’ve started, when the claim that an order-of-magnitude improvement in learner intellectual performance has been dismissed as hyperbole, when all 50 states have been pressured to adopt the regressive Common Core Standards locking the knowledge-fragmenting 1893 curriculum in permanent place, when standardized subject-matter tests that can’t measure the qualities and quality of thought have been nationalized, when the “standards and testing police” are fully deployed and looking over every teacher’s shoulder, it’ll all be over. America and the nations that follow its lead in education will face a dynamic world equipped with a static curriculum.
I don't know which is worse: being unnecessary or helping mass produce conformists.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Sunday Evening Musing About Ego And Futility

 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. (Genesis 11:3-8)

In 1986, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Heritage USA was the third most-visited amusement park in the US, behind only Disney World and Disneyland. Now the park that once entertained millions of guests is falling to pieces, and looks more like the scene from a post-apocalyptic movie than a place for family fun.

Photos from Tommy and James.

The Secular Holiday Season

If Americanism is indeed a religion, consumerism and sports may be it's major denominations and today may mark the start of the sports' faithful's holiday season.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, a day that combines both sports and consumerism.  This ultimate secular holiday's main ritual consists of serious and casual sports fans gathering together with those who don't know the difference between a first down and down-filled pillow to eat too much homemade bar food and keep pizza delivery drivers busy.  

The conservative sports fans will have reason to cheer when pitchers and catchers report.  Oakland's and Seattle's batterymates report on February 12; the rest of the MLB clubs have a February 19th reporting date.  If   Orthodox and Western churches can't always agree about Easter, why should baseball teams shouldn't have to agree about starting Spring Training.  The main requirement of this secular day of obligation is to mediate about the hope that will spring eternal on Opening Day, April 4.

On March 12, work will stop all over the country as people take as much work time as possible to fill out brackets for the NCAA Basketball Tournament aka March Madness.  On March 15 and 16 high school students across the country, even those who don't know the difference between a basketball and a bidet. March Madness also features gatherings and the conumption of copious amounts of bar food.

Happy Holidays.

The Differences Between Americanism And Christianity

James K.A. Smith draws some contrasts between Americanism and Christianity.  Writing about Mitt Romney, Smith points out,
 He is primarily interested in conserving America’s role as a hegemon (“preserving American leadership” is the guise under which he segues to talk about religion). And he enthusiastically adopts Sam Adams axiom that it’s not the specifics of piety that matters, but rather whether one is a “patriot.”
Smith claims that in that respect Romney is "like almost every other presidential candidate (from I don’t care which side of the aisle)."

Smith elegantly makes a point I've long believed:
 if one pays close attention to the actual theology at work here—that is, if one starts asking just which God is being invoked—one finds that it is a particular deity: “the divine ‘author of liberty.’” The god of the culture warriors has always been a generic god of theism (precisely like the god of the Founding Fathers): a “God who gave us liberty” (to do what we want). The “Creator” is a granter of inalienable rights and unregulated freedoms, a god who shares and ordains “American values.” If evangelical culture warriors had worries about Romney’s faith, his jeremiad today should confirm that he pledges allegiance to the same “God of liberty” that they do. We’re all Americanists now.
Like most Americans, I'm probably built my share of idols of  a "'God who gave us liberty' (to do what we want)."  Frequent short reflection brings one to the conclusion that one should join the small company that Smith describes:
some of us find it hard to believe in Americanism and its God of liberty. Some of us just can’t muster faith in the generic theism that is preached on the campaign trail, whether from the Right or Left. Some of us Christians have a hard time reconciling the Almighty, all-powerful, law-giving God of liberty with the crucified suffering servant born in a barn and executed at the hands of the elite. Some of us are trying to figure out what it means to be a people who follow one who relinquished his rights rather than asserted them, who considered submission a higher value than freedom. We serve a God-man who wasn’t concerned with “preserving leadership” and the hegemony of the empire’s gospel of freedom, but rather was crushed by its machinations for proclaiming and embodying another gospel.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Let's Meet Stephanie Strong And Look For Propaganda, Especially Glittering Generalities

I suppose one could look for alliteration too.

Stephanie Strong, the Rapid City businesswoman not the adult film star, is running for Congress.  Cory has covered her website here.  The Right Side Blog touts her candidacy with the following propaganda.
She believes in:
•limited Constitutional government;
•the vigorous defense of our Constitutional rights;
•debt reduction by reducing spending, not raising taxes;
•reduction in government interference in business through excessive regulation;
•a strong military;
•traditional Judeo-Christian values;
•US energy independence.
I use the term propaganda academically not pejoratively.  Every phrase fits the example of a glittering generality.

Glittering generalities are words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.
I think I'm going to have to stock up on some popcorn.  Between Kristi Noem's leather jacket glitz and Stephanie Strong's glitter, this race might be entertaining.  I would rather have substantive, but one takes what one can.

A Conservative Gives Good Advice About Being Radical

I don't make this statement often, but David Brooks gets it perfectly right.
The paradox of reform movements is that, if you want to defy authority, you probably shouldn’t think entirely for yourself. You should attach yourself to a counter-tradition and school of thought that has been developed over the centuries and that seems true.
The old leftists had dialectical materialism and the Marxist view of history. Libertarians have Hayek and von Mises. Various spiritual movements have drawn from Transcendentalism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, Thomism, Augustine, Tolstoy, or the Catholic social teaching that inspired Dorothy Day.
These belief systems helped people envision alternate realities. They helped people explain why the things society values are not the things that should be valued. They gave movements a set of organizing principles. Joining a tradition doesn’t mean suppressing your individuality. Applying an ancient tradition to a new situation is a creative, stimulating and empowering act. Without a tradition, everything is impermanence and flux.
Most professors would like their students to be more rebellious and argumentative. But rebellion without a rigorous alternative vision is just a feeble spasm.
If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain — then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.
Effective rebellion isn’t just expressing your personal feelings. It means replacing one set of authorities and institutions with a better set of authorities and institutions. Authorities and institutions don’t repress the passions of the heart, the way some young people now suppose. They give them focus and a means to turn passion into change.
On a side note, I wonder if Brooks's insight doesn't explain why many corporate ed reformers seek to reduce reading to mere utility and emphasize STEM.  Reading people that help one successfully challenge the status quo might hurt corporations' bottom line.

Daugaard's Merit Pay Plan Begins With Wrong Premise

High school debaters are frequently intelligent and logical young people.  They are also frequently myopic. I have seen scores of rounds turn into debacles because one or both of the debaters chose to focus on a single issue rather than the premises behind an opponent's case.

In some ways, those of us who oppose Governor Daugaard's merit pay and STEM uber alles proposals have done the same thing.  We have pointed to Daniel Pink or Diane Ravitch to illustrate that merit pay fails.  On the facts, we're right, but sometimes focusing solely on the facts produces a bad debate.

At the same time, it seems that no one is challenging the fact that Daugaard's plan focuses on the teacher. It strikes me that if this were a debate round,  I would want my debaters to demand that focus be put on the students or on schools' structure.

Larry Cuban looks at one element in education that seems immune to reform: the age graded school.
The age-graded school is also an institution that has plans for those who work within its confines. The organization isolates and insulates teachers from one another, perpetuates teacher-centered pedagogy,  and prevents a large fraction of students from achieving academically. It is the sea in which teachers, students, principals, and parents swim yet few contemporary reformers have questioned this one-size-fits-all organization.
Cuban concludes,
The unintended (and ironic) consequence of frequent and earnest calls for radical change in preparation of school leaders, school governance, curriculum, and instruction through non-traditional teachers and administrators, charter schools, nifty reading and math programs, iPads for kindergartners, blended learning, pay-for-performance, and other reforms  preserve the age-graded school and freeze classroom patterns that so many reformers and entrepreneurs want to alter.
Intuitively, Cuban's analysis seems to make perfect sense.  I have some successful class sections that combine sophomores and seniors.  Cuban notes that few schools have tried to alter age graded schools, but uncertainty about merit pay's efficacy did not prevent Governor Daugaard from proposing merit pay.

If there's one part of school that's as sacrosanct as grouping students by age, it's the agrarian notion that students need not be in school in the summer. At the Madville Times, Cory points out that more contact hours don't necessarily lead to positive results. I wonder, however, if shortening the school day so that teenagers could show up at 9 am or so when their brains wake up might help achievement.   I also wonder if a school year that had six week sessions followed by two week breaks might also produce better results.

I've also been intrigued by reviews of Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts.  In an interview in Scientific American, Cain contends,
In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s -- second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.
Later in the interview she asserts,
Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of groupwork.
Instead of accepting Daugaard's premise and arguing only that his plan is destined to fail, let's reject his premises about the nature of reform.  The past ten years have focused on teachers and best practices.  The Governor claims that those reforms have produced meager results.  Perhaps a pilot study would develop a way to modify age based schools or create curricula that helps introverts succeed in school.  Instead of focusing solely on teachers, let's focus on the institutional practices and the students as well.

[edited for grammar and completeness 10:45 am; one should never blog before coffee]

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Creationists Don't Like Bill Mandating The Teaching Of Creation

I guess South Dakota will get to this legislation next year.  From the Discovery Institute,
Indianapolis – A bill approved today by the Indiana Senate to allow the teaching of creationism in public schools is being criticized as bad science education by Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading intelligent design think tank.
If made law, Indiana Senate Bill 89 (SB89) would allow creationism, a religious view on the origin of species, into the Hoosier state’s biology classrooms. In 1987, the Supreme Court struck down similar legislation as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Instead of scrapping SB89 in deference to legal precedent, the Indiana Senate has amended the bill to allow more religious views on origins, as if more religion could cure the original problem.
“Instead of injecting religion into biology classes, legislators should be working to promote the inclusion of more science,” said Joshua Youngkin, a law and policy analyst at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “There are plenty of scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory today, and science students should be able to hear about them, not about religion.”
The original bill was amended to mandate that science classes teach the creation stories of many cultures in biology classes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Yesterday's Most Offensive And Ridiculous Blog Post

Granted I did not surf the entire Web, but this Brad Ford offering from The Right Side Blog can't have many competitors.
Farmers don’t abuse, neglect, or minimize animals under their care because problems will show up. Even slaveowners centuries ago understood this. No, people aren’t animals, but the same dynamics about caring apply. Families know this instinctively.
I will try to make my sentences simple in clear so that the logically challenged Mr. Ford does not get confused.

First, I did not know that members of families were like either slaves or animals.

More importantly, slavery is morally wrong.  (For all the readers who possess an IQ above Mr. Ford's, please insert the word reprehensible.)  Further, reducing humans to the level of chattel "minimizes" them.  As for "abuse" and "neglect," accounts of freed slaves are replete with accounts of both.

I would also point out to Mr. Ford that there are more slaves today than there were at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.
According to research carried out by the organization Free the Slaves, more people are enslaved worldwide than ever before.
In its 400 years, the transatlantic slave trade is estimated to have shipped up to 12 million Africans to various colonies in the West. Free the Slaves estimates that the number of people in slavery today is at least 27 million.
I'm pretty sure all 27 million are abused, neglected, and minimized.

Quotation Of The Day: Reading Edition

From Jennifer Eagan,
Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work.