Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why Americans Don't Choose Unions

There are plenty of reasons why so many Americans who don't want to be in unions are, in fact, union members--but Wisconsin has recently shown us that when they're not required to be, many opt out.  Why is that?

From a comment on this NYT article, which came to me via Instapundit via Ann Althouse:
"It is facile, lazy, and simply wrong to blame the anti-union efforts of Reagan, Walker, the Kochs, Whole Foods, Walmart and the like. If you say it is the anti-union policies of the past thirty five years, then you are simply ignoring the fact that when American unions formed in the 19th century and struggled to build in the first third of the 20th century, the anti-union sentiment of the corporations and most politicians was much stronger than today, and the lot of the average worker was harder. Lazy people blame others. If those who originally fought to create our unions had such an attitude, unions would never have been established in the first place. Part of the problem is that the Left failed to criticize unions as their leadership often evolved to having more in common with the bosses than with their own members. As the Left moved away from worker issues in the Sixties to Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, feminism, and cultural issues, blue collar workers became alienated from those who were now largely content to support labor by merely singing Woody Guthrie and Weavers songs. The Left largely came to look down their noses at workers because of attitudes regarding culture and the war, only honoring workers when their issues were tied to something else, such as the largely Mexican-American United Farmworkers Union or access to jobs for women."
People will voluntarily join unions when they believe that the union provides them with something of value.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Smearing the Authors

From Powerline:
A blockbuster peer-reviewed paper in the Science Bulletin, authored by Christopher Monckton, Matt Briggs, David Legates and Wei-Hock (“Willie”) Soon, is roiling the global warming Left. The paper identifies flaws in the computer models that predict major global warming–which shouldn’t be a surprise, since the models’ predictions have flopped. It concludes that due to mathematical errors, the models overstate the impact of CO2 on the climate by a factor of three times.

So far, global warming Leftists haven’t been able to find any technical flaws in the Science Bulletin paper, which you can download here. So, naturally, they have resorted to smearing its authors.
Lefties really don't like being disagreed with.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

School Mission Creep

There probably used to be a time when the primary function of a school was to educate students.  Nowadays we do so much more.  We feed the students, we proselytize about global warming, we teach them "values" and/or "character ed", we entertain, we enable their bad behaviors by encouraging them to use their phones in class (then wonder why they goof around with them), we teach them to "work in groups" because that's what's needed "in the 21st Century", we teach them to be good little racists by teaching them that they should classify themselves by race.  We should spend our time teaching.

What students do in their off-school time is their (and their parents') own concern.  Oh, but what if it affects the school environment, you ask?  Well, if Boy A dumps Girl B that "affects the school environment" because she's distraught but it's not really the school's business, is it?  I'm all for a very tight reading of the "affects the school environment" standard.

So this new Illinois law is one that I would absolutely not support, and if my child were punished for violating it (on my instructions), I'd fight it in court:
The crusade against bullying is entering a new phase in Illinois. In an attempt to “stop cyber-bullying,” a new law went into effect that on January 1 that forces students in all school districts and universities to turn over their social media passwords to school officials if they feel they have “reasonable cause” to believe the accounts contain evidence the student has run afoul of the school’s “disciplinary rule policy.”
Seems a little bit 4th Amendment-y to me, doesn't it?  With very few exceptions (again, there's that "close reading" I was talking about) it's not the school's business what's on a kid's social media site unless the kid is posting from school.  Schools should focus on at-school behavior and on learning, and leave the raising of kids to their parents.

(And for those of you teachers who say that "parents aren't raising their kids", that's their issue, not yours.  You just teach.)

Unions Don't Represent Their Membership

I don't do this often but I'll include the entire Instapundit post here:
AND YET NOBODY LEARNS: Walker’s Pro-Worker Law Has Crippled Labor Movement That Opposed Him.

Walker had vowed that union power would shrink, workers would be judged on their merits, and local governments would save money. Unions had warned that workers would lose benefits and be forced to take on second jobs or find new careers.
Many of those changes came to pass, but the once-thriving ­public-sector unions were not just shrunken — they were crippled.
Unions representing teachers, professors, trash collectors and other government employees are struggling to stem plummeting membership rolls and retain relevance in the state where they got their start.
Funny that you can “cripple” supposedly representative organizations just by requiring that they raise their money from people willing to be represented.
The laws that Scott Walker signed in Wisconsin weren't anti-labor, they were pro-worker.  It speaks volumes about the labor movement that those two are not synonymous.

If labor unions offered something of value, people would want to be members.  If labor unions were responsible to their members, they wouldn't be bought-and-paid-for arms of the Democratic extreme.  If labor union membership were voluntary, as it is in the 2-dozen right-to-work states, then labor unions would both offer something of value and be responsible to their members.

I choose to be a member of the Association of American Educators.  It's not a union, it's a professional organization--and one that provides me with, among other things, better liability insurance than the CTA would if I were a member of CTA, and the policy is in my own name (as opposed to CTA's).  AAE provides me something of value so I voluntarily give them my money.  There's an object lesson there for those whose minds are open enough to see it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Who'd'a Thunk?

The surprise isn't that he's right, it's that he came to the right decision:
Los Angeles Unified won’t try to give every student a computer, said Superintendent Ramon Cortines on Friday. It’s too expensive, he said. Besides, he told reporters, “education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.”
It's heresy to some but I'll say it anyway--because I, too, am right--and that's that kids today don't learn any differently than they did in the past.  Of course they want to, but they don't.  Our reptilian brains aren't any different from those of the students of Plato or Aristotle, and today's students would do well to try to learn as those students did.  The further we get from students' absorbing the wisdom of their teachers, the worse our students do. 

Who'd'a thunk that, either?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Circling the Wagons

It's one thing for an instructor to share his/her personal beliefs, but requiring students to state those beliefs goes beyond the line, even in college--and the university is protecting this instructor:
Administrators at Metropolitan State University of Denver have determined that a professor who forced his students last fall to recite a satirical anti-American pledge of allegiance that characterized America and Republicans as racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-poor did absolutely nothing wrong.

“The university concludes there was no violation of the students’ first amendment rights, and that the faculty member exercised his right to academic freedom, and considers this matter closed,” campus officials have determined as a result of a probe into the matter.
I have no doubt that had the views been conservative, the outcry would have been deafening and the results entirely different.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Numismatist In Me Loves Stories Like This

That's a lot of gold:
A group of divers in Israel has stumbled upon the largest hoard of gold coins ever discovered in the country. The divers reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority, and nearly 2,000 coins dating back to the Fatimid period, or the eleventh century, were salvaged by the authority’s Marine Archaeology Unit. The find was unearthed from the seabed of the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, according to a press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the release. “There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected.”
That's a lot of history.

Two Ways of Looking At This

One way is to fret and wonder how much longer our experiment with a republic can last when people think this way.  The other way is to optimistically note that they'll come back into their right minds as soon as a Republican is elected president:
The United States prides itself on being a nation of laws, not a nation of men. But a surprising number of voters are ready to override those laws in order to have their way.

President Obama’s immigration plan and his national health care law both face legal challenges this year that could bring them to a halt. But one-in-four voters think the president should be able to ignore the courts if he wants to, and Democrats believe that even more strongly.
From Rasmussen Reports.

I just want to remind you that the primary function of the president is to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" (US Constitution, Article II, Section 3).  The people mentioned above want a dictator, not a president.

It's Not Much, But It's A Start

From the Washington Examiner:
Department of Education regulations forcing colleges and universities to create pseudo-court systems to handle campus sexual assault are interfering with schools' core mission to educate, according to a bipartisan report from a task force for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The report was designed to offer solutions for easing regulatory burdens on colleges, which have exploded in recent years.

One can argue whether "schools' core mission [is] to educate", based on any number of criteria, but the sentiment expressed above is certainly correct.

These new requirements are for colleges and universities to adjudicate accusations of sexual assault — a separate justice system that has been labeled a “kangaroo court” — which has led to lawsuits from both accusers and the accused that the system is biased.

The HELP report is careful to note that colleges should make their institutions safe for students, but the way OCR has gone about doing so has lacked transparency...

Those new standards lack any semblance of basic due process. Accused students are not allowed to cross-examine their accusers and are limited from providing exculpatory evidence. Investigators lack professional training and the ability to subpoena evidence. Neither party is allowed legal representation to speak on their behalf at hearings. Further, young men are being expelled based on little more than “he said/she said” accusations. And the most accusers can expect from a “guilty” verdict is that their rapist will be kicked off campus — not sent to jail.

Only in cases of campus rape  do people think it's entirely OK to throw out all jurisprudence and convict someone based on an accusation.  You have to wonder how people benefit from that, and what kind of people would accept that benefit if they acknowledge the cost.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Boiling Point

There was clearly a disconnect between what I have been trying to get out of my History of Math class and what the instructor wants me to get out of the class.

I've never been much of a geometer.  I taught it for a year, several years ago, but haven't taken a geometry class since since the spring of 1981.  In other words, I was last enrolled in a geometry class when the embassy hostages were still being held in Tehran!  That's my way of saying I don't know much geometry.  So imagine my frustration when I'm thrust into a maelstron of Euclid, Archimedes, and Appolonius!  Compound that with a horribly written textbook--the author's explanations seem to assume that you already understand the mathematics and don't need much explanation--and I've quickly gotten lost.  And never having had an astronomy class I had no way of understanding so much of what was written, as much ancient mathematics was devoted to understand the movements of the heavenly bodies.

I thought I was supposed to be learning about how the ancients did math, and my inability to understand what they were doing, and why, and how, was truly frustrating.  And I don't handle frustration well.

The instructor offered to have me call him, which I did the next morning--a long distance office hours!  Before I knew it an hour had passed, and in that time he'd explained not only some of the "simpler" things that had been confusing me but also the expectation that the minutae in the textbook was more for background than it was a course requirement.  His goal is for us to understand how this math knowledge led to that math knowledge, and how this particular lack was satisfied by that mathematician who built on the work get the idea.  I was lost in the weeds, he's going for the bigger picture.

We also discussed the course research project, which he said is where we get to "get into the weeds".  I've long been interested in the development of logarithms so my research question will be "What types of calculations were being done that motivated John Napier to spend 20 years of his life developing logarithm tables in order to simplify them?"  I already have over a half-dozen excellent sources to go through but have no idea how I'll ever find the time to read them all, especially considering that I'm the world's slowest reader.  I think my first goal should be to learn what calculations Napier was trying to simplify, and then try to understand how his logarithms (which are quite different from what we use today) work--then I should be able to understand all my sources that discuss the logs.

So now, at least, I know what the instructor expects.  And I know I still have a mountain of work ahead of me.  And I jumped through hoops at the last minute to take this course--what was I thinking?!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I'm Not Much For Selfies, But Come On, This Is Pretty Cool

Of course it's from Wired:
We love looking at images of ourselves. First there were Olan Mills portraits. Nowadays there are selfies and selfie-stick selfies and drone selfies.

If you’re wondering what comes next, Dusseldorf-based DOOB 3D thinks it has the answer—and contrary to what the company’s name suggests, it doesn’t involve getting high and watching Avatar.

DOOB 3D can produce a detailed, four-inch figurine of your body—yes, a 3-D selfie. Making one of these figurines requires a massive pile of hardware and software: 54 DSLRs, 54 lenses, a complex 3-D modeling pipeline, and an $80,000 full-color 3-D printer, not to mention a room-size scanning booth.

Factor that all in and the $95 asking price for a replica of yourself that’s roughly the size of most classic Star Wars action figures doesn’t seem so bad. A Barbie-esque 10-inch model goes for $395, while a 14-inch figure that’s more along the lines of an old-school G.I. Joe doll costs $695.

The company has eight 3-D scanning booths (called “Doob-licators”) scattered in strategic locations throughout the world. There’s one in Dusseldorf, one in Tokyo, one at Santa Monica Place in Los Angeles, and one in New York City’s Chelsea Market. The company also says they’re set to add more U.S. locations soon, although details aren’t public yet.
I once worked with a woman whose husband was a "naval aviator".  When he deployed she glued a picture of him onto a piece of paperboard, cut it out, made a small stand behind it, and put it on her desk.  She called it "Stand-up Andy".  DOOB is just the next generation of that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

But I've Been Told "Bush Lied, People Died"

There's a difference between believing something that's wrong but that the CIA told you, and knowingly touting something wrong.    President Bush didn't lie.  He wasn't wrong, either:
The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war...

A New York Times investigation published in October found that the military had recovered thousands of old chemical warheads and shells in Iraq and that Americans and Iraqis had been wounded by them, but the government kept much of this information secret, from the public and troops alike...

In confidential declarations in the 1990s to the United Nations, Iraq gave shifting production numbers, up to 18,500. It also claimed to have destroyed its remaining stock before international inspectors arrived after the Persian Gulf war.

No clear evidence ever surfaced to support Iraq’s claim, which meant that questions about whether Boraks remained were “carried forward as one of the big uncertainties,” said Charles A. Duelfer, a senior United Nations inspector at the time who later led the C.I.A.’s Iraq Survey Group. There was “a big gap in the information,” he said.
I've referenced the Duelfer Report more than once on this blog.

What's the left's story now that their own mouthpiece, the NYT, shows that Saddam did have unaccounted for chemical and biological weapons?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Imperfect Timing

I hate missing school so perhaps the timing isn't so bad after all, but--our district has this entire week off for what I call Ski Week, and I'm sick.

I noticed it starting to come on Friday evening, last night I was sure it would hit today.  I'm not in horrible shape, but I can't even bring my self to go outside for a walk, and it was plenty sunny and warm today.  Instead I opened the windows and doors--nobody wants to be in a house full of cooties!--and spent a couple hours listening to an audiobook of Unbroken.  Some tv and plenty of tea and hot chocolate and handfulls of Cheerios later, I'm heading back to bed to listen to some more of the story.

I don't feel like things will get much worse, so I anticipate being well enough to venture out on Tuesday.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Welcome To Socialism

You didn't think health insurance for the poor was going to be free, did you?  Who, exactly, did you think was going to pay for it?
Students at vaunted Cornell University are plenty smart enough to know they should not have to pay a penalty for not buying the school's health insurance if they already have coverage, but that's exactly what a new policy at the Ivy League school requires.

The $350 "health fee" for opting out of the school’s insurance plan was announced in a memo school President David Skorton posted on Cornell’s website last week, according to higher education blog The College Fix. But it is just setting in with the student body, and many attending the Ithaca, N.Y., school are not pleased. Under the Affordable Care Act, students must have insurance, but making those already covered pay an extra fee to skip the school's plan is not sitting well.

“Effective next academic year, 2015-16, we will be introducing a student health fee for those not enrolled in the Cornell Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP),” read the memo. “As a physician, parent and president, I am proud of our university's long history of providing quality medical, mental health, education and prevention services on campus. These essential services play a critical role in student well-being and, therefore, success. Yet funding these services — and creating access to them for all students — has been a growing fiscal challenge, and a personal concern of mine.”
So if I understand this correctly, those that have must pay for those that don't have.  Because equality, or something.  What exactly did you think socialism looked like?  Well, dumplings, it looks like this:
“It is our responsibility to work together, to make sure everyone in our community who needs help gets it. That is a burden, and a benefit, we all share,” She (some Cornell administrator) said.
University students and faculty are some of the biggest socialists out there--until it's their pockets being picked.

Doesn't A Story Like This Make You Feel Good To Be Alive?

I love it when a kid tries hard to catch a break.

A couple weeks ago the internet was all a-flutter with the story of the teenager who went into Target to buy a clip-on tie to wear to a job interview; some employees there taught him how to tie an actual tie and gave him some good advice on interviewing.  This was caught on video by another customer, who rightly thought these "Target Team Members" went above and beyond in helping the young man.

The kid got the job :-)
The teen had come in the store to buy a clip-on tie for an interview at Chick fil-A. But soon an employee was sharing interview tips while another began teaching him how to tie a tie, as HLN previously reported. When another shopper overheard their conversation, she decided she needed to snap a picture: Finally, something worth sharing.

Well, Yasir went on his interview with Chick fil-A -- and he aced it!

But David Langston, the owner/operator of the Chick fil-A location at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh, wants to be very clear about something.

"Yasir didn’t get hired because of social media, Yasir got hired because he went after it," he told HLN.

“The biggest thing to me is what I saw is a hunger to grow, and that’s something that you really can’t teach. You just have to already have that,” Langston said.
Congratulations to Chick-fil-A's newest employee, and many thumbs-up to the Target employees.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The First Step To Recovery Is Admitting You Have A Problem

Some people are late to the party, but I always welcome them when they arrive:
Back in September, I wrote The Top Three Reasons Why Liberals Hate Conservatives. The piece did fairly well in social media, and I thought it was a pretty decent summation of why there is so much hate, anger, and vitriol boiling on the left. Then I read Ten Reasons Why I Am No Longer a Leftist by Danusha Goska, and I was, frankly, blown away by how devastating an indictment it presented of the left. And it presented it from an insider’s viewpoint, giving it all the more credibility.
Welcome, Danusha!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If You Don't Support Clean, Safe Nuclear Energy, You're Not An Environmentalist--You're Just Anti-West

When even Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, supports nuclear power, can you really come up with a good argument against it?  The technology is relatively safe, non-polluting, and mature, and getting even better:
Transatomic Power, a startup that’s developing a novel type of nuclear reactor, has begun a series of experiments that will either verify its design or send it back to the drawing board. The experiments were made possible by $2.5 million in new investments from Founders Fund, the venture capital firm cofounded by Peter Thiel, and two family funds.

The reactor would be smaller and safer than a conventional nuclear unit, potentially making it far cheaper. It would use molten salt as its coolant, making it meltdown-proof and thus requiring fewer costly safety systems. Transatomic’s design could also consume nuclear waste, and it could use nuclear material that couldn’t easily be used to make a weapon...

Transatomic’s design is based on a reactor developed and tested in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. If a conventional reactor is damaged and its water pumps fail, as happened at Fukushima, the water coolant can evaporate, leading to a meltdown resulting in explosions and the release of radiation. Molten salt evaporates at a far higher temperature—even if a reactor is damaged and pumps fail, it won’t evaporate and will continue to cool the fuel, preventing the release of radiation. Transatomic’s design also introduces new materials that could make for an even cheaper and more compact nuclear reactor.
Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

Who Decides What Words Get Banned?

If they're going to start banning (or banning-lite) certain words and phrases, could we start with the vulgar and profane ones first?  I'm tired of hearing f-bombs dropped in public:
The University of Michigan hopes its students will stop saying certain words and phrases that could be considered offensive.

"Such as: Illegal alien, ghetto and gypped," one Fox News anchor said.

Several derogatory words referring to a person's race or religion are on the list. Certain phrases are also discouraged, like "That test raped me."

It has launched a $16,000 Inclusive Language Campaign, or ILC.

As noted by the university, "The ILC raises awareness about the power of words, why certain language can be hurtful to others, and how to be more inclusive in how we speak and act as members of the Michigan campus community."

The College Fix chatted with a university spokesperson who said the program isn't regulatory, but educational -- which is pretty obvious point, considering America's "freedom of speech" amendment in the Constitution.
No matter how you slice it, this is doubleplusungood.  Orwell showed us where this leads.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jindal Sends Mixed Messages Re: Restoring The Constitution

I don't see any reason to have education policed at the federal level.  I can understand having the former Office of Education, which gathered and tracked data and such, but let me ask you this--is education any better now than it was when President Carter approved the Department of Education?  I don't see anywhere in the Constitution that justifies the behemoth we currently have and I support the rollback of de facto national standards:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has unveiled a 42-page proposal to reform American education at the national level, one of the clearest signs yet that he is laying the groundwork to jump into the 2016 presidential primary.

At the heart of his proposal is a total repudiation of Common Core, as well as a general rollback of federal authority, increased school choice options for parents and greater administrative freedom for educators.
One wonders how there can be a "general rollback of federal authority" while the federal government increases school choice options for parents and gives administrative freedom to educators, but let's continue:
While Jindal supported the English and math standards just a few years ago, he has changed his mind and been attacking them constantly since last spring, when he gave a speech comparing them to policies in the Soviet Union.

Jindal has been battling his own school superintendent and state school board for over half a year in an effort to force Louisiana off the standards. He has also filed a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that Common Core is an illegal federal intrusion into state sovereignty.

Accordingly, in Jindal’s plan, he proposes to “repeal Common Core and restore state and local standards.” He accuses “central planners” in the federal government of creating a de facto national curriculum “through deception” by having the standards crafted by several non-profits rather than by Department of Education apparatchiks.
I'm getting mixed messages here.  Of course I support school choice and vouchers and the like, a true constitutionalist would insist that those issues be decided at the state and local level.

Do You Want A Government That Would (or even could) Do This?

I'm floored at the level of government that some people actually applaud:
Puerto Rico is weighing a measure that some lawmakers feel may be the solution to childhood obesity – a fat fine.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Gilberto Rodríguez Valle on Monday, calls for hitting the parents of obese children with a fine if their offspring’s excess weight seems to arise from their neglect, reports El Nuevo Día.

Sen. Jose Luis Dalmau defended the measure as "necessary for society" and argued that there should be ramifications for parents of children whose weight gets out of control.
I know what let's do!  I assert that that being well-educated is "necessary for society" and "that there should be ramifications for parents of children" who get F's in school.  Let's fine the parents of F students!

I know what let's do!  I assert that decorum is "necessary for society" and "that there should be ramifications for parents of children" who use foul language in public.  Let's fine the parents of pottymouths!

I know what let's do!  I assert that having a good work ethic is "necessary for society" and "that there should be ramifications for parents of children" who are capable but don't work.  Let's fine the parents of jobless students!

I know what let's do--Let's tar and feather politicians who suggest such stupid things.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Babying College Students

Students shouldn't be bribed to keep their phones put away in class:
Thousands of college students in the United States are being bribed to ignore their phones during class with free food and store discounts. Students at colleges including Penn State and California State University, Chico, have downloaded an app called Pocket Points that tracks how long a smartphone is kept locked and gives out points accordingly. The app — first developed by a student at the Chico university — encourages students to earn points by ignoring their mobile devices, rewarding them with treats for paying attention to the classes they pay thousands of dollars for.
They should keep their phones put away because not to do so is rude to both the instructor and to their fellow classmates. If you're going to be distracted and to distract others, leave the class.

They're too old to be bribed to do what they're supposed to do anyway. If the instructor insists on having phones put away then there's no excuse at all for having them out. In the absence of such a policy, though, they should be kept away in order to be polite. If I'm wrong and there's no politeness/distraction issue at all, then what is the point of bribing them?

Standardized Testing--It's Not Just For Conservatives Anymore

On her blog today Joanne has two consecutive posts about liberal support for standardized testing.

I'm not a believer in "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", because I don't believe that it's impossible to find common ground with people not of my political stripe.  With the exception of Islamists and their ilk, I don't generally separate people into "for me" and "against me" camps.  There might not be a lot of common ground between me and the lefties, but I'm happy to find it where I can.

Her first post:
Now that school testing is unpopular, its enemies see it as “conservative,” writes Rick Hess. But, liberal reformers are the most enthusiastic advocates of testing, which they see as the way to close the “achievement gap.”
Her second:
The bipartisan campaign to roll back testing would “roll back progress” for students, argues Bellweather’s Chad Aldeman in the New York Times.

Improve test quality, he writes. (He thinks better tests are coming soon.) Cut back on time-wasting tests for benchmarking or teacher evaluations. But keep annual state exams to measure “how much students learn and grow over time.”

Grade-span testing — for example, testing only in fifth, eighth and 10th grade — would let many schools off the hook for the achievement of low-achieving subgroups, Aldeman writes.
I don't support testing because I think it will help identify and close the achievement gap; I'm glad it identifies that gap, and hope that transparency leads to improvements in student performance.  My overarching reason for support of good standardized testing is that it gives an objective evaluation of student achievement--all students. 

When the tests are bad, there's no reason to support them--because they can't provide valid information on student achievement.  When tests are used improperly, there's no reason to support them.  But it's not hard to find tests that are good and valid and that, when used as they're designed to be, serve as high justification for the efficacy of standardized testing.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day

That's the general way of saying that Mike Mazenko and I might agree on a couple things, but that's more likely due to chance than to a meeting of the minds.

His latest opinion piece, published in the Denver Post, is about PARCC testing, one of the two consortia vying for big money in Common Core testing.  He's against such testing.  He's right when he claims that the Common Core standards are not internationally benchmarked (as California's now-former math standards were), but he's kind of taken the express bus to Crazytown when he claims that standardized tests "increase gaps and reinforce inequity."  No, they really don't; they diagnose problems and help point out where gaps exist.  And while it seems obvious that of course some schools (and teachers) are better than others, I lean more towards "it's the community/culture" when explaining so-called inequity than I do the "institutionalized racism" explanation.  Mazenko's nod to the extreme Diane Ravitch doesn't help his case in my eyes.

I've written before about how flawed the Smarter Balanced math test, the one we'll use in California, is, and Mazenko has similar concerns about the PARCC English test.  He's right to suggest that Colorado ought not to use that test, at least until it's "better" or until Colorado creates a better one of his own, but I can't help but think that's merely an excuse not to have any standardized testing at all, at least temporarily.

Why do I say that?  Mazenko started off with a dig on President Bush, saying it was he who kicked off the "standardized testing craze"--which "Lion of the Senate" wrote NCLB?--but completely ignores President Obama's role in Common Core acceptance via Race To The Top, etc.  You have to take that kind of bias into consideration when evaluating the merits and conclusions of this article.

For a smart guy, Mazenko makes use of one of the weakest, most flawed anti-testing arguments:
Test scores should be detached from teacher evaluations, not because teachers shouldn't be held accountable for performance, but for the same reason that your dentist isn't accountable for your cavities, your doctor isn't blamed for your high blood pressure, and your trainer shouldn't lose his job when you put on pounds over the holidays.
Your dentist identifies your cavities.  Your doctor diagnoses your high blood pressure.  Your trainer shows what you should to in order to be fit.  In each of those cases, it's up to you to take their advice.  A teacher, however, doesn't just identify or diagnose, a teacher's job is to teach.  And while you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, part of our job as teachers is to motivate and inspire our students to drink that water; we can't just say "we taught but they didn't learn" and expect that to excuse overall poor student performance.  Mazenko's analogy to the trainer might not be too far off--if the trainer doesn't motivate you, you fire him/her--but the doctor and dentist comparisons are so flawed that intelligent and educated people should flee from them as from a burning building.

What do we agree on?  We agree that the specific tests, the Smarter Balanced and PARCC tests, are flawed and should be significantly improved in order to be valid measures. 

There--twice a day.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Which Do You Trust To Better Run An Economy, The Purchasing Public Or The Government?

I'd heard the story so many times that I decided to track down the primary character and confirm it.  Here's how our email exchange went, in part:
Sir, is this statement about you true?
Sometime before 1989, a Soviet official asked economist Paul Seabright who was in charge of London’s bread supply. Seabright gave him an answer that is comical but also true: ‘nobody’.
If it is true, would you please provide me some background information about it? Where/when were you asked? Do you know the official who asked this question?

The statement is basically true but the details are not. The question was put to me around 1991 or 1992 in St. Petersburg by an official of the city of St. Petersburg (so not a "Soviet" official). I mention it in the first chapter of my book "The Company of Strangers".

Best wishes,

Paul Seabright
I marvel at the idea that one person would be responsible for something that doesn't need such an overseer--but the Russian official couldn't imagine things any other way!  There are people all over the globe, though, who think government can and should dictate and regulate the market to such a degree--many of them in this country, too--but for the life me I cannot understand what flaw in their brains would cause them to against all evidence about the real world.

Here's just the latest example:
Shortages of basic products such as corn, milk and chicken have plagued Venezuela for years, creating long lines at supermarkets and pushing inflation well past the 60% mark just in the last year alone.

More recently, shortages are affecting people in the South American country in a more personal way. Venezuelan consumers complain condoms and birth control pills are nowhere to be found. Shortages that first affected the dining table have now made their way into the bedroom...

Venezuelans are turning to Mercado Libre, or Free Market. It's a website similar to eBay where consumers buy and sell all kinds of products.

One subscriber is selling a box of 36 condoms for 4,760 bolivars. That's a whopping $755 U.S. dollars at the official exchange rate. It's also 85% of the Venezuelan monthly minimum salary, currently at 5,602 bolivars.
This is a family blog so I'll avoid the temptation to make a joke about getting "blanked" by your government and needing condoms :-)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Call Me Nostradamus

Over three years ago I wrote about how higher mpg vehicles will result in less need for gas, which will result in less gas tax revenue, which will necessitate a gas tax increase.  So what do I see at the web site of the major Sacramento newspaper today?
Drivers would fund repairs to California’s roads with a new user charge under a proposal unveiled Wednesday by California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego...

“While it’s great our air is cleaner as cars have become more efficient and less dependent on gasoline, it’s clear we must now move forward to the next generation of transportation funding,” Atkins said in her speech...

“It could take any number of forms,” Atkins told reporters after her speech. “You’ve heard vehicle mileage, you’ve heard vehicle license fee, there’s a way you could attach it to insurance – people pay insurance on a regular basis. Either way, it’s a fee that we have to figure out how best and the easiest way to collect it.”
Our friends on the left probably don't have a problem with this, believing as they do that California's government is a better steward of money than its citizens are.

By the by, do you notice that "infrastructure" is always "crumbling" in this country and always needs to be improved?  What ever happened to that $880 billion in porkulus money in 2009, money that was supposed to go to "shovel-ready" projects for improving infrastructure?  Did any infrastructure get improved, or was that, in all seriousness, the biggest financial boondoggle/swindle in the history of mankind?  (Or, if you're only slightly more cynical than I am, did it get funneled to exactly the "right" people?)

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here:

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


The science behind vaccines is less like global warming and more like gravity.  There's plenty of evidence here.

I notice that lately, the press is trying to paint the anti-vaccine crowd as conservative/Republican.  That just ain't so.  Marin County, California's home of the anti-vaccine crowd, only has about 7 Republicans in it.  Jenny McCarthy isn't known for her conservative political slant.  That's only two examples, though.  Are there more?  Yes:

Jon Stewart and Robert Kennedy, Jr.
Bill Maher (who doesn't trust the govt to stick a needle in his arm but supports Obamacare?)
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (says the Huffington Post)
Hillary Clinton attacks vaccine producers
Mother Jones
Oprah Winfrey 
"Hollywood Parents"

Yes, I'm sure that with some digging you can find Republicans who are willing to jump on this bandwagon, too, but the list above should be a good vaccination against the lie that the crazies are all or even mostly Republican. 

I'll close with two observations:
1)  The financiers of the anti-vaccination movement now blamed for a resurgence of measles in the United States include trial lawyers suing drug companies that manufacture vaccines and high-profile Democratic fundraisers, public records show.  link

2) President Obama released his $4 trillion fiscal year 2016 budget proposal Monday, and in it he outlined some ambitious health care initiatives to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. But buried a little bit deeper is a $50 million cut to one of the U.S.’s longstanding vaccine programs for the under- and un-insured.  link

I don't really expect comments on this post.  I just wanted to have all this information available in one place in case I need it.

hat tip to Instapundit

Clearly, School District Administrators Disagree

Joanne tells us what everyone who's not a school administrator or a tech salesperson already knows:
Technology won’t close the achievement gap, writes psychologist Susan Pinker in the New York Times. “Showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices” could widen the class divide, she warns.

In the early 2000s, nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students were given networked computers. There was “a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” concluded a multi-year study by Duke economists. “What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest,” writes Pinker. “When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.”
If this surprises you, raise your hand. No hands? Hmmm.

How many billions have been spent chasing this phantom?  There's no royal road to geometry, and there's no silver bullet for closing the achievement gap.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Not A Team Player

A month ago I shared how badly our school district is screwing up its math program.  Frequently we're sent emails about some new meeting wherein we can "have input" into the decisions being made, but I honestly don't think anyone's interested in input.  No, the decisions are made, at this point they're just trying to get buy-in.  If you agree with the decisions you get to have input on implementation; if you don't, "the decision has already been made."

I have a lot of respect for my principal so it was difficult for me to tell him, but I can't be a so-called team player on this.  They pay me, so I'll teach, and I'll teach what they want me to teach, when they want me to teach it.  But I believe the decisions are so demonstrably and incredibly wrong that I've decided not to help them make those decisions, I don't want my fingerprints anywhere near them.  There are some teachers across the district who believe these decisions are the right ones--I'll let them participate in making any such decisions, let them determine pacing guides and order of topics and which textbooks to use, and let them give me that information as marching orders. 

Tell me what you want me to teach, and when, and I'll teach it.  That's where I am right now.  I'm not going to sabotage my district's plans, but I'm not going to help them formulate those plans, either.  They get my obedience but they don't get my support.

Monday, February 02, 2015

While the Islamic State Gathers Strength and Iraq Rattles Apart...

It's important to remember whose fault this is:

Two years later President Obama was still more than willing to take credit for events in Iraq when things were going well:

This president is a failure, and this presidency is a disaster.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

My Super Bowl Sunday Story

From CNN:
He has intercepted passes from both of the Super Bowl quarterbacks, but Tom Brady and Russell Wilson have nothing on Mr. Silva.

The NFL just wasn't adding up for Ricardo Silva, so he decided to hang up his shoulder pads and head back to school -- to teach high school geometry.

Silva, 26, played two seasons in the NFL, earning more than $500,000 a year as safety for the Detroit Lions and then briefly with the Carolina Panthers. Now, he earns about $50,000 a year as recruit for Teach for America. Silva made a two year commitment to Washington's Ballou High school starting back in September.
You'll definitely want to read the whole thing.