Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Yet Another Post On Universal Preschool

Among several posts I've written on this topic are this one from early last December and this one from a few days ago. Here we have a San Francisco Chronicle article on the topic. All tell you the same thing--that what Meathead (Rob Reiner) is proposing is bad for California.

Let's review what I said back in December, shall we?

Rob Reiner, who is still a meathead after all these years, wants to tax rich people to pay for universal pre-school here in California. Think the CTA will have anything to say about this? Think they'll want credentialed teachers to run these preschools? Think these teachers will be compelled to cough up CTA dues?

Well, well, well. Today I received my California Educator magazine--apparently CTA hasn't yet figured out I'm no longer a union member and hence not entitled to their rag--and what's the topic of the issue? Three guesses, and the first two don't count! Cover story: Early Childhood Education, This Is Serious Business. Page 10 starts an article on Meathead's specific initiative. Oh, look what I read on page 12! "Other teachers expressed support for requiring credentials for preschool teachers...." If only I could read the stock market as easily as I can predict the CTA's take on things.

But wait, you touchy-feely libs will say. What's wrong with universal preschool? Probably nothing, but what is wrong here is the way it's funded--and the cost/benefit analysis is heavily weighted to the cost side.

Let's repeat what I previously quoted from Joanne Jacobs' blog:

Universal preschool would cost Californians $23 billion over the next 10 years, if Rob Reiner's Proposition 82 passes. But it won't close the learning gap for poor kids, warns Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley education and public policy professor. Currently, 64 percent of four-year-olds go to preschool; Reiner's plan would boost that only to 70 percent. Instead of directing public money at needy families, most of the dollars would go to provide free preschool to middle-class and wealthy parents. Any gains by poor children are likely to be lost when they enter substandard schools.

Now let's see what the Chron says:

If Reiner's initiative is approved in June, individuals making more than $400,000 a year ($800,000 for families) will face a 1.7 percent tax increase to raise $2.5 billion to finance three hours of free preschool a day for all of California's 4-year-olds -- even the 62 percent who already attend preschool without universal subsidies.


Will California's program enhance school readiness of children in its care and improve educational outcomes, one of the main arguments of child care advocates? Not if Quebec's experience is any indication.

Pierre Lefebvre, an economics professor at Universite du Quebec, has just completed a study comparing 4- to 5-year-olds in Quebec with kids elsewhere in Canada and found that Quebec kids have no better scores on the Peabody vocabulary test -- the most widely used indicator of school readiness...

Universal preschool sounds progressive, but actually has pernicious unintended consequences for the parents and children it seeks to help.

Again, let me remind you that this is the San Francisco Freakin' Chronicle saying these things.

Today's major Sacramento newspaper has an interesting story on this subject as well.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, one of the state's leading Democrats, said Tuesday he is reconsidering his support for a June universal preschool ballot proposal in another blow to Rob Reiner's initiative campaign.

The June initiative, Proposition 82, would increase income taxes on the state's wealthiest earners to raise $2.4 billion to pay for preschool for any family that wants it.

Perata, an Oakland Democrat, said he is concerned that the initiative lacks a "means test" and therefore would mostly benefit middle- and upper-middle class families in California. He also said there is no mandate for superintendents to use anything other than school districts, so community-based organizations serving ethnic communities may lose out.

What is it Archie said about Meathead? "Dead, from the neck up!"

Toss in Reiner's conflict of interest and potential legal trouble on this topic and you have an initiative that should be dead on arrival. Why is it still even in play?

Because too many people will think with their hearts and not their heads, just like they did on the stem cell initiative.

Update, 3/3/06: Joanne has more here.

Update #2, 3/5/06: Another informative essay here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The False Lure of Socialism

Dan Weintraub, blogger extraordinaire at the major Sacramento newspaper, had this to say earlier this week:

Universal health care

Here is my column for Tuesday, in which I ask why we don't want our employers to manage our food, housing and transportation purchases, but we think it is a good idea for them to decide how we get our health care. I also suggest that this relationship is a major reason we are more insecure about our next doctor visit than our next meal.


Live Free or Die

I guess not *everyone* in the Northeast is a wuss.

The PTA and the Teachers Union

From the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com site comes this commentary about the PTA its decline since essentially becoming a front for the teachers unions. Fair Use excerpts:

In "The Politics of the PTA" (2002), Charlene Haar explains that the PTA shifted its focus mainly because of its longstanding alliance with the National Education Association. Formed in 1857, the NEA once shared the parent group's concern for schoolchildren in such matters as school curriculum and the qualifications of public-school teachers. Indeed, in 1920, the National Congress felt so much in line with the NEA that it moved into the association's impressive Washington headquarters. Already allied with the teachers group on support for a "progressive" curriculum that would emphasize "life skills," the PTA would from then on curb its more general social programs and limit itself to matters directly affecting education.

Ms. Haar chronicles the major policies on which the two groups cooperated throughout the 20th century. Having begun as equals, the PTA gradually became the subservient partner. Both organizations refused to support the National Defense Education Act--passed in 1958 in the wake of the Soviet's launch of Sputnik--because, as Ms. Haar explains, it "provided funds for mathematics, science and other defense-related curricula but could not be used for teacher salaries."

By the 1960s, the PTA was known as "a coffee-and-cookies organization"--unquestioningly offering its seal of approval to the newly unionized NEA. It was the issue of teacher strikes, though, that dealt the reputation of the PTA its final blow. In 1961 the AFT, representing New York City's teachers, staged the nation's first citywide strike, and in 1968 Florida teachers followed with the first statewide strike. To avoid conflict, the PTA abandoned any pretense of independence and supported the walkouts.

A few years later, the PTA tagged along with the NEA, lobbying for a cabinet-level federal department of education. What followed were a series of legislative victories for the teachers unions. Among their outstanding lobbying successes, backed by the PTA, was the defeat of a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Patrick Moynihan in 1978 proposing a tax credit for as much as half of private-school tuition. In the aftermath, many parents began their exodus from the PTA, including a large number of Catholics whose tuition fees for parochial schools would have become less burdensome under the plan.

Today the PTA supports all of the union's positions, including increased federal funding for education and opposition to independent charter schools, to vouchers and to tuition tax credits for private and religious schools. This "parent" group lobbies for teachers to spend less time in the classroom and to have fewer supervisory responsibilities like lunchroom duty. Moreover, they want a pay scale for teachers that is based on seniority, not merit. In November, the PTA even helped to defeat California's Proposition 74, which called for limiting teacher tenure by extending the probation period for new teachers from two to five years, a proposal designed to give administrators more time to weed out bad instructors.

With polls indicating that the union label is a liability with the public, an arrangement has developed whereby the NEA provides needed financial support for the PTA, which in turn bolsters union positions at the grass-roots level. As one union official put it: "[T]he PTA has credibility . . . we always use the PTA as a front."

Proportional Reasoning and the Chicken Problem

University of Rochester math professor Ralph Raimi listened to a speaker who was pushing what we so-called traditionalists refer to as "fuzzy math". He wasn't impressed.

Read his account of the 6th grade math involved. See how his mathematical approach simplifies and organizes the problem so much more than the speaker's tripe. Even non-mathies will see that Raimi's approach is far superior.

I always tell my students (and their parents) that it's taken the best minds our human race has to offer a couple thousand years to develop the math we have today. It would be ridiculous, wasteful, and futile to expect a bunch of 14-year-olds (or however old) to invent this math on their own over the course of 9 school months. Instead, the school district pays me a moderate amount of money on the assumption that I know more math than anyone else in the room, and I'm expected to transfer that knowledge to the students. My primary method of pedagogy will not be putting kids in groups of 4 and having them invent the math that was invented centuries ago. I will teach the students. Parents love hearing this at Back To School Night.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Free Speech and Hypocrisy--One View From San Francisco

Via RealClearPolitics.com I learn that The LA Times carried this op-ed by Catherine Siepp. Excerpts:

The fascists of free speech

By Catherine Seipp, CATHERINE SEIPP writes a weekly column for National Review Online and blogs at www.cathyseipp.net.
February 25 2006

A FRIEND OF MINE took his young daughter to visit the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, explaining to her that the place is important because years ago it sold books no other store would — even, perhaps especially, books whose ideas many people found offensive.


However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists."

Now let's just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors — owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading "banned books."

Yet his store won't carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It's particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.

Strangest of all is the scenario of such a person disliking an author for defending Western civilization against radical Islam — when one of the first things those poor, persecuted Islamists would do, if they ever (Allah forbid) came to power in the United States, is crush suspected homosexuals like him beneath walls.


But, although "The Force of Reason" is expected to reach the U.S. this spring, a City Lights clerk said when I called that the store has no plans to carry anything by Fallaci.

"You're welcome to buy her book elsewhere, though," my friend was told helpfully when he visited. "Let's just say we don't have room for her here."

OK, let's just say that. But let's also say that one of the great paradoxes of our time is that two groups most endangered by political Islam, gays and women, somehow still find ways to defend it.

Sure, they're within their rights to sell whatever books they want. But hypocrisy runs like a river in that city.

The End of Soviet Communism

Here is an excellent post about the beginning of the end of Soviet communism. This particular post puts that starting point not in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in 1956, when Krushchev gave a speech about the horrors perpetrated by Stalin. I don't know whether or not this view would be substantiated by mainstream historians, but I enjoyed it anyway.

I loved this comment about lefties, though:

I was a radical leftist in the '60's when I woke up to the realization that our own homegrown Left/Liberals are of exactly the same ilk as the Soviets and ChiComs. Remember the shock and awe when Alexander Solzhenytsin got "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and "The Gulag Archipelago" published? I'll never forget the look on the faces of my com-symp friends when they read, or even heard word of, those works. These people are festering and fulminating here at home, even as we speak, as I think all of you are aware. They're disguised now as Environmentalists, Progressives, and New Agers, but there are many subsets, too.

I suspect this is a latent disease, like cancer, that has always lurked in the human psyche: The mob that brought down the Roman Republic; the hierarchy of the Catholic Church - which brought on the Protestant Reformation; the "levelers" of Cromwell's England; the Directory of the French Revolution; Karl Marx's loyal followers; the 'Wobblies' here in America; and so on.

Any mass of people who have looked inside themselves and seen only a gaping chasm of emptiness (no talents, no conscience, no empathy) will come to believe that violent theft from productive members of society is the only path for their survival. So they believe, and they may be correct, that they won't survive without a scheme, or scam, or a hybrid of the two: a customized religion, just for them.

As I've said before, lefties never let facts get in the way.

I Lost A Comment

Someone posted a comment, which I approved but now cannot find, about a child who's struggled with Algebra 1 in junior high and Geometry in 9th grade and is concerned about the two-year math requirement in high school--meaning the child will take Algebra II. I think I have the facts straight here.

If you'd post your comment/question again, please, I'll note which post it belongs to and address it adequately.

I apologize for the screw-up.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What Has Happened To The Republican Party

As a fan of Star Trek, I know there's nothing worse than a "warp core breach". This happens when the matter/anti-matter interaction that powers Enterprise gets out of hand and "superheats" (to put it in early 21st century terminology) to the point where the core (think carburetor or perhaps cylinders in a car engine) will actually explode. There's not much you can do if a breach is imminent except to eject the core from the ship and try to get far enough away to avoid the damage when it does in fact explode.

Sometimes I wonder if the Republican Party isn't headed towards a warp core breach.

I'm almost done with an amazing book called The Right Nation: Conservative Power In America. Written by two Brits who don't seem to have a dog in this fight, it chronicles and explains the conservative undercurrent that exists in this country. Here's a fair comment from the linked Amazon review:

My fear is that people will see it as just one more "exposé" of the evil right-wingers and their malevolent influence on the country.

If that's what you're looking for, you're bound to be disappointed. This is, in fact, a thoroughly researched and marvelously fair look at the rise of conservatism as a political force in America. More than that, it's a fascinating look at why America is a fundamentally conservative place, and why even liberal Democrats -- on the far Left by U.S. standards -- would be centrists, or even conservatives themselves, in Europe. While this last may be an unpleasant idea for the American Left to have to entertain, even readers on that side of the political spectrum will find a lot in here to recommend it.

Totally agree. The only word missing is "Tocquevillean", a term which would certainly apply.

I've often had a hard time wondering how small-government conservatives could, in the next breath, care what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes. This book explained it to me. But before I explain it to you, allow me to relate the following "Ask Amy" column. I'll assume the writer is a conservative, probably Republican, based on her location and actions. Yes, I'm stereotyping here, and I'd like to be wrong and find out the woman is on the boards of both the ACLU and Amnesty International, but my fear is she's more likely a member of Focus On The Family.


Monday, February 20, 2006; C12

Dear Amy:

My husband and I have lived in our quiet suburban Denver neighborhood for six years.

About two years ago two young gay men moved in across the street. They've taken the ugliest, most run-down property in the neighborhood and remodeled and transformed it into the pride of the street.

When it snows, they shovel out my car and are friendly, yet they mostly keep to themselves.

Last month I went out to retrieve my newspaper and watched them kiss each other goodbye and embrace as they each left for work.

I was appalled that they would do something like that in plain view of everyone.

I was so disturbed that I spoke to my pastor. He encouraged me to draft a letter telling them how much we appreciate their help but asking them to refrain from that behavior in our neighborhood.

I did so and asked a few of our neighbors to sign it.

Since I delivered it, I've not been able to get them to even engage me in conversation.

I offer greetings but they've chosen to ignore me.

They have made it so uncomfortable for the other neighbors and me by not even acknowledging our presence.

How would you suggest we open communications with them and explain to them that we value their contributions to the neighborhood but will not tolerate watching unnatural and disturbing behavior.

Amy answers the question the way I would:

You're lucky that these gentlemen merely choose to ignore you.

Your neighbors could respond to your hospitality by hosting weekly outdoor "gay pride" barbecues and inviting all of their friends to enjoy life on our quiet suburban street.

I can hold out hope that they will choose to do this, but I'm spiteful in that way. Your neighbors sound much more kind.

In your original petition to these men, you basically stated that while you value them when they are raising the standard on your street and shoveling your driveway, you loathe them for being who they are.

The only way to open communication with your neighbors would be to start by apologizing to them for engaging your other neighbors in your campaign. Because you don't sound likely to apologize, you are just going to have to tolerate being ignored.

The Right Nation authors separate the Republican Party into two wings, working independently of each other while still operating under a big tent. One wing is the Southern Wing, the social and religious conservatives; the other was the Western Wing, the small-government, individualist conservatives. During the Reagan years, this so-called Western Wing was prominent. However, the Southern Wing is now ascendant--see the Ask Amy column above. This social conservatism explains how a Republican presidential administration can spend (non-defense) money faster than a drunken sailor in an Asian port.

The Right Nation
authors have a chapter called How It Could Go Wrong: Too Southern, Too Greedy and Too Contradictory. I've already highlighted "the Southern problem". The greed is exemplified by the need to have a Porkbusters group. Power corrupts, and all that rot. Too contradictory? Toss in tensions between libertarians and traditionalists, and between religious conservatives and fiscal conservatives, and you've got injection manifolds that are frozen in the full-open position. For you non-Trekkers, that means we've got the makings of a warp core breach. And that's bad.

I support President Bush's foreign initiatives. He's an excellent leader in the Global War on Terror. Honestly, I'm glad he's at the helm. However, it won't do us any good to revere the captain when the Enterprise is torn apart by a matter/anti-matter explosion. When that happens, it's bad. Very, very bad. Think Republicans-in-the-election-of-1964 bad. Think Michael Dukakis bad.

Federalizing airport screeners by creating the TSA, the most useless government agency this side of the levee boards in New Orleans. Prescription drug benefit fiasco. These are not good. Not warp core breach bad, but pretty bad.

Harriett Miers. The Dubai port deal. The war in Iraq. How many times in the last 5 years have we heard that the President has good proposals, he just needs to get out there and sell them to the American public? I'm sick of hearing it. You'd think that someone in the White House--maybe even the big guy himself--would get a clue and start doing this. But no. Instead, they wait until there's a crisis of confidence in the country, often inflamed by a hostile media, and then try to play catch-up.

The economy is humming right along, the War on Terror is proceeding, Iraq isn't a rose garden but its institutions as well as its infrastructure are being built before our very eyes--or they would be before our eyes if the press would actually cover them. These are positives. But I haven't heard from the President since his State of the Union address.

Sometimes it seems to me that the Administration is on autopilot. Unfortunately, that autopilot has no setting for "make sure the American people are behind this" or "the public may not understand this, or if they do understand it they may not stay behind it unless they're repeatedly encouraged to do so". I'm reminded of all my lessons about leadership and being in charge--follow-up is key. This administration does not do the required follow-up with the American people, and it does so to its peril. Well, maybe not to its peril, since it's going to be around for 3 more years no matter what, but to the peril of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

What happened to social security reform? What happened to immigration reform?

What has happened to my Republican Party? How do we bring the Western Wing back to the forefront?

To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel:

Where have you gone, Ronald Reagan
The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Woo woo woo.

Update, the next morning: I finished the book after typing this post, and came across a glimmer of hope. Perhaps I shouldn't hope for continued Republican control of both the White House and the Congress--maybe the House should switch back to the Democrats for a couple years, just to slap some reality into the Republicans. They were a much better minority party than they are today. Perhaps a couple years in the desert will bring about a purification.

But here's the glimmer of hope. From page 383:

Nowadays, American liberalism has fragmented into two remnants: a collection of single-issue pressure groups (the teachers' unions, abortion rights activists, etc.) and an inchoate leftist protest movement, furious abou the Right Nation's advances.

Pretty much sums up the libs to me.

Update #2, and it's still morning: The BBC gives the Republicans more cause for hope.

So why is it that Democrats can't move on? The answer is that they don't know where to go.

Update #3, 2/27/06 6:54 am: Here's an article in The Nation that says pretty much the same thing I did.

Just The Fours

I've been tagged. For those of you who want to know a little bit about me, this is your chance.

Four Jobs I’ve Had
Army Officer
Sales Coordinator (inside sales)
Manufacturing Manager
Math Teacher

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over
Sky High
Crimson Tide
Ocean's 11 (Clooney/Pitt version)

Four Places I’ve Lived
New York state
Colorado Springs, Colorado
El Paso, Texas

Four TV Shows I Love
I don't watch TV anymore, except perhaps for World News Tonight.
I used to watch the Star Trek serieses (is that the correct plural), Friends, Scrubs, and others, but now? Nothing.

Four Places I’ve Vacationed
Baja California
Western Europe
British Columbia
Las Vegas

Four of My Favorite Foods
Ice Cream
Roast Beef

Four Blogs I Visit Daily
Joanne Jacobs
Little Green Footballs

Four Places I’d Rather Be Right Now
The Bahamas
Colorado Springs
On a ski slope

Four Bloggers I Now Tag

Coach Brown
Lillian Perry
(links for all of them are on the blogroll at left)

The Great Algebra Debate

I thought I had a fairly good reply to Richard Cohen's pathetic little screed against algebra. It turns out that Pharyngula's is even better (albeit not by much!). Here are some points:

I'm sure that he has never once rued not being able to use algebra. If I had never heard a poem or listened to a symphony or read a novel or visited Independence Hall, I could probably dumbly write that I don't miss literature, music, or history…never heard of 'em. Don't need 'em. Bugger all you eggheads pushing your useless 'knowledge' on me!

That kind of foolish complacency is what we'd expect of the ignorant, but it takes the true arrogance of the stupid to insist that others don't need that knowledge…especially after you've dismissed the utility of algebra because they can just use calculators. What, Mr Cohen, you don't think the engineers who make calculators need algebra?

Yeah, a person can live a good, bland life without knowing much: eat, watch a little TV, fornicate now and then, bleat out opinions that the other contented consumers will praise. It's so easy.

Or we could push a little bit, stretch our minds, challenge ourselves intellectually, learn something new every day. We ought to expect that our public schools would give kids the basic tools to go on and learn more—skills in reading and writing, a general knowledge of their history and culture, an introduction to the sciences, and yes, mathematics as a foundation. Algebra isn't asking much. It's knowledge that will get kids beyond a future of stocking shelves at WalMart or pecking out foolish screeds on a typewriter.

And here are some of the comments:

So Cohen's argument seems to be "Algebra shouldn't be required for graduation from high school." I assume he's talking here about basic algebra, a class my brother and I passed in eigth grade and my sister passed in seventh. He's arguing that since not getting a high school diploma is bad, we should give diplomas to even those who don't pass algebra.

I feel that the same argument could be made about any class in high school. I don't use history in my everyday life, why not get rid of it? English? Nothing in my profession requires analysis of symbolism in literature, so why bother there? And on and on. At some point, we need to address the fact that a high school diploma should be indicitive of more than the ability to show up at 8:30 every morning. One of the many skills I'd hope students have learned is basic algebra - maybe they don't have to solve quadratic equations in their heads, but most students can use calculators in their classes these days anyway. If someone can't be bothered to put in the extra work required to pass a class they're struggling in, should they really get a diploma?

The more people that perpetuate the image that "I suck at math and succeeded in life" the worse math will be off for our younger generations. How can people imply that "I know less" is good? It's sending the completely wrong signal.

Go read the whole thing. Truly entertaining and enlightening.


ENIAC is considered the world's first computer. An amazing machine--primitive by today's standards. Then again, most things created in 1946 are primitive by today's standards. Sixty years of progress will do that to you.

Here's a very interesting post on ENIAC. It's from Photon Courier, which I'm proud to have on my blogroll.

I remember listening to a talk by Commodore (I love that rank) Grace Hopper, USN, for some class I took at West Point. I don't even remember which course. Anyway, Commodore Hopper talked about her work on ENIAC, a fascinating first-person story from a "little old lady" told as only a little old lady could. What I remember most about this talk was her description of a nanosecond. She couldn't grasp how small a timeframe a nanosecond was, so she calculated how far light (or electricity) would travel in a nanosecond. It came out to about 11.8", and she cut a wire that long to help her "see" a nanosecond. As we left the auditorium, she handed each of us a "nanosecond".

I've long since lost mine. Shame.

Must A Private School Accept Students It Doesn't Want?

From CNN.com:

HONOLULU, Hawaii (AP) -- A federal appeals court said Wednesday that it would reconsider a decision to strike down the Hawaiians-only admissions policy of a prestigious private school...

Kamehameha Schools was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and its three campuses are partly funded by a trust now worth $6.2 billion. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in elementary to high school classes on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.

If the school receives state money, I can see the legitimacy of this lawsuit. You can't use state money to discriminate against people on the basis of race--unless you're implementing so-called affirmative action, in which you can discriminate on the basis of race if in doing so you benefit people whose skin color is the same as that of people who used to be discriminated against on the basis of race. That's a topic for a different post.

But these schools seem to have more money available to them than most small countries. The individualist Republican (as opposed to the religious Republican) in me asks: why shouldn't these schools be allowed to discriminate against anyone they want? Is this a free association issue? Or is there more at stake?

I invite readers to comment on why the schools should be required to accept non-Hawaiians if they don't want to.

Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree

From CNN.com:

Though it was once conventional wisdom that you needed to have a four-year college degree to be successful, many employment experts believe that maxim has become myth...

So while a college degree was de rigueur for the baby boom generation, that's not necessarily the case now. In today's highly technical and service-related market, workers are judged more on their skills than their sheepskins.

The article lists several jobs and their pay. Top on the list:

  • Air traffic controller
  • Annual income: $102,030

    Teenagers, Sleep, and School Start Time

    I, for one, wouldn't mind an extra hour or so of sleep in the morning. And I'm usually in bed by 10 and get plenty of sleep.

    Parents: "Start the school day later!"
    Schools: "Make your kids go to bed earlier the night before!"

    The debate rages on

    Via Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil (see blogroll at left).

    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    May As Well Learn To Speak Arabic

    I like the introductory sentence to this story:

    Here’s a nauseating story from Germany, where they’ve apparently already accepted their new masters: German court convicts man for insulting Islam.

    Compare that to this statement, which comes from our friends at CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations):

    "The right to free speech is not absolute," Rishi said. "It does not give a right to defame Prophet Muhammad or any other" religious figure.

    Defaming religious figures isn't nice, and it certainly isn't civil. But--well, do I really need to go on here, or can anyone with more than four operational brain cells finish my thought correctly?

    (College) Freshman Composition

    Should we be making fun of students? Well, sometimes!

    Here's an essay, written in the style of a freshman essay, by a college professor. Read it and howl.

    The topic? Compare and contrast the movies Curious George and Brokeback Mountain.

    My favorite comment was this one, which had less to do with the essay but relates to what I've said before:

    You forgot to start a sentence with "I feel that...." I keep telling my students that the brain has no nerve endings, so when they say they feel something, they're probably right, because they're certainly not thinking.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Carnival of Education

    If you don't get enough education-related information here, go check out this week's Carnival of Education.

    Bombing Mosques

    I can't say it any better than Glenn has:

    If Danish cartoons could create riots worldwide against the defamers of Islam, you'd think that bombing of mosques would create anti-terrorist marches all over.

    Bad for LA Unified, Good For The Rest of California

    Rumors are flying around the Los Angeles area: Jackie Goldberg is going to replace former Colorado Governor Roy Romer as superintendent of LA Unified School District.

    Jackie is a former teacher, former school board member, former city council member, and current Assemblywoman. She's being termed out of office next January. Want to read about her? You can try this article, but it doesn't tell you much. She has spent time in the Capitol trying to do stupid things like get rid of "offensive" school mascots, place a weight limit on books and/or student backpacks, limit the influence of academic standards, etc. She's made her sexual preferences a public fight. She's a truly foul person, one not used to making the kind of compromises she'd have to make as a school superintendent. And here's an example of the kind of politician she is.

    Most interesting: her nephew was recently elected to a leadership position in the LA Teachers Union. As the Church Lady would say, "How conveeeeeeeeeenient."

    There's lots more available at Yahoo. Here's an interesting tale.

    Well, good luck LA. I'm on a maillist of "traditional" educators of all political stripes, and the Los Angeles dwellers are hyperventilating over the possibility. The way I see it, if Goldberg gets that job the LA area will be saving the rest of California from Goldberg. "It's a far, far better thing you've done, than you have ever done before, Los Angeles." Taking the bullet for the rest of us.

    Update, 2/26/06 11:33am: Apparently I'm not the only non-fan of Jackie Goldberg. The first few letters to the editor here give some more information.

    Why I Can't Stand Bank of America

    I don't like Bank of America. I refuse to have an account there because they're so user-unfriendly. A few months ago I sold my house and got a 6-digit check for it from the mortgage company, which I then tried to sign over to someone with a BofA account (don't stress, it's all legit). BofA wouldn't take the check! I mean, it's not like we were trying to take money out of the bank, we were trying to deposit money into the bank. I even went to the bank myself with identification to show that the signature on the back of the check was mine--and they still wouldn't take it. They wouldn't even take it and hold the funds until the check cleared! What kind of operation is that?

    Today I tried to cash a 3-digit check drawn on a BofA account. I went to a local branch to cash the check, and the first thing they asked me was if I had a BofA account. Why does that matter? What should matter is if the person who wrote the check has a BofA account, and whether they have money in the account to cover the check! When I answered no, I didn't, the teller asked me why not! She then went on to give me yet another reason not to have such an account....

    First, she needed my identification--no problem. Then, she had to verify the signature on the check. This is only necessary since I don't have an account there. What's up with that? She then asked me to go take a seat and she'd call me when everything was taken care of. Then she made a lap around the tables and desks behind the counter and then set my driver's license and the check down next to a computer--and came right back up to the counter to help someone else! After she was done with that customer, and seeing that no one had even touched my i.d. or check, I went back up to her and asked for the two items so I could leave. Without any hesitation or discussion she gave them to me.

    From there I met a friend at Jamba Juice, which is right next to a grocery store with a BofA branch in it. After my friend left I gave it the old college try and in I went. I got the same "do you have an account here" introduction, which doesn't impress me--and I said so. This teller also had to verify the signature but at least got to work on it right away. How is this done, you may ask? BofA electronically saves a copy of all checks for 7 years, so she was pulling up previous checks by the person who wrote mine so she could verify that the signature wasn't forged. This took the computer several minutes, during which time the teller tried to convince me this "minor inconvenience" was much better than the old-fashioned method of having to go to the actual branch location at which the person had opened the account (where they would look at a signature card).

    Does BofA not realize it's 2006? Is this really the best they can do?

    Finally, the checks came up on her screen. Uh oh, she said. It seems like the wife is the one who seems to write all the checks, so she'll have to scroll through the checks until she finds one signed by the husband. Scroll...scroll...scroll...scroll. I asked if she could just call the people who wrote the check--their number is printed on it--and ask them if they wrote me the check. "That still wouldn't verify the signature." Finally she finds one, and actually takes my check and places it on the computer screen to match up the signatures. Then she records all sorts of information on my check--probably the number and date of the check she confirmed the signature with. And as some final protection, I had to put a fingerprint on the check.

    Only then did I get my money.

    Does BofA really wonder why I don't bank there? If this is how they treat a prospective customer, how will they treat me when they actually have my money under their lock and key?

    How Machiavellian Am I?

    This seems about right. It's hard to read, but it says I'm Somewhat Machiavellian.

    You Are Somewhat Machiavellian

    You're not going to mow over everyone to get ahead...
    But you're also powerful enough to make things happen for yourself.
    You understand how the world works, even when it's an ugly place.
    You just don't get ugly yourself - unless you have to!

    John Stossel on Teachers Unions

    The following quote, from this article by John Stossel, pretty much sums up the union attitude:

    "We are not a unionized monopoly," she retorted. "And ultimately those folks who want to say this all the time, they don't really care about kids."

    I guess I don't really care about kids.

    Where Are The Unions Spending Their (Your) Money?

    From EIA (where else?):

    NEA Declares War on 65% Solution and TABOR. The NEA board of directors approved some unusual things at its February meeting, but it also took actions that weren't the least bit surprising:

    * NEA will send another $250,000 to Americans United to Protect Social Security.

    * NEA will spend more than $583,000 on research and polling to fight the so-called "65% Solution" and Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) legislation and initiatives.

    * NEA dues for 2006-07 will be $145, an increase of $5. Education support employees will pay $80.50. A bylaw amendment creating an "associate membership" will also be placed before the union's representative assembly in July (see "Union Membership Growth Sector?").

    California Teachers Association Not Tapped Out Yet. The California Teachers Association (CTA) may be paying off the bills for the November 2005 election for a few more years, but as long as teachers keep getting paychecks, the union will have some cash to spend on political campaigns.

    CTA's State Council recently authorized the union to spend up to $2 million on June 2006 ballot initiatives. The only two measures on the June ballot are a $600 million library construction bond and Rob Reiner's universal preschool initiative. Which of these do you think will get the money?

    No, we can't have those taxpayers actually expect anything in return for their tax money, can we? Gawd.

    Update, 2/27/06: Here's a post from Joanne Jacobs' site. The opening 'graph:
    Universal preschool would cost Californians $23 billion over the next 10 years, if Rob Reiner's Proposition 82 passes. But it won't close the learning gap for poor kids, warns Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley education and public policy professor. Currently, 64 percent of four-year-olds go to preschool; Reiner's plan would boost that only to 70 percent. Instead of directing public money at needy families, most of the dollars would go to provide free preschool to middle-class and wealthy parents. Any gains by poor children are likely to be lost when they enter substandard schools.

    Sad Day For College Press Freedoms

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Supreme Court declined Tuesday to decide whether university administrators can censor campus newspapers by insisting they be approved before publication.

    The justices refused to hear an appeal by three students in a case involving the scope of First Amendment free speech protection for college and university newspaper editors and reporters.

    (Previously) (t)he appeals court cited a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that public high school officials can censor school newspapers without violating student journalists' constitutional rights. (emphasis mine--Darren)

    The appeals court said the 1988 ruling also applied to student newspapers subsidized by public colleges and universities.

    The difference here is that high school students are children, whereas college students are adults. The Supremes screwed up again.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    The Mission Project

    My son is in 4th grade, and all Californian parents know what that means--the dreaded "Mission Project."

    For those of you outside of California, allow me to explain. California history is taught in the 4th grade, and one of the major topics, right up there with the Gold Rush, is the string of 21 Catholic missions that run from San Diego in the south to San Rafael (north of San Francisco) in the north. The time span studied is from the late 1700s until the missions were "secularized" (sold off because the Mexican government, independent of Spain, could no longer afford to maintain them), a process that occurred prior to the Gold Rush in 1849.

    My son was born a few miles from Mission San Jose, located not in San Jose but in Fremont, so we requested that he be assigned this mission. Today he and I drove the 2+ hours to go see it so that he'll have a better understanding of what he's writing about when he works on his report.

    What Say You, Art Teachers?

    I doubt I have any art teachers who read this blog. Every art teacher I've ever known is of the artiste variety, with all the political-leaning connotations that brings with it! And those leanings aren't the same as what I share on this blog.

    So, imaginary art-teacher-readers, what do you think about this story?

    BTW, since when can't Moslems draw any human? A week ago it was just Prophet Muhammed (sigh*) that couldn't be portrayed. This is what happens when you start caving in to these people. For those of you who don't know what dhimmi means, look it up. Imagine the self-censorship that comes with dhimmitude--and that's what we're seeing already.

    *some initials go here

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Politics on President's Day

    Over the course of my readings today--done while non-unionized student laborers are building a new fence outside my window--I came across four articles that really stimulated my attention. Here they are, in no particular order.

    1. Mark Steyn (don't you just love him?) excoriates the US press for its hypocrisy by telling Americans that we have a "right to know" about Dick Cheney's hunting accident but have no need or right to see those cartoons that have caused riots, death, and destruction all over the world. The comments to this post are fairly entertaining as well.
    2. I've never thought about it this way before--why do the 1st and 4th Amendments have so many interpretations, umbrellas, and hidden meanings, but the 10th Amendment is ignored?
    3. Howard Dean has apparently ticked off many homosexuals by reorganizing the DNC's political outreach efforts, focusing more on "getting out the vote" than on identity politics. Imagine! Apparently this has happened before.

    The moderate middle in American politics, he (DNC Chair in the mid-1980s Paul Kirk) contended, was coming to the conclusion that Democrats were more interested in a short list of favored tribes than the broad mass of individual voters who traditionally had been attracted to the party around an array of economic and foreign policy concerns, as well as civil rights, that encompassed all Americans, white and black, gay and straight, male and female.

    Those in the party enthralled with identity politics reacted with the vengeance of aggrieved faculty senators, and chose to see an intelligent broad-based outreach as an insult to the party’s Washington-based minority advocates....

    With a foolish focus on internal party affairs, left-libs in LGBT (gag me with a verbal spoon) politics seem to prize feeling good about how many staff members they get at the DNC more than winning elections that decide who gets to name Supreme Court justices and wage disastrous elective wars.

    4. And lastly, Jimmy Carter tells us that not supporting Hamas and the Palestinian government will only punish innocent Palestinians--you know, the ones who voted to put a terrorist organization in charge of their government in the first place. Next thing Jimmah will tell us is that we should send money to al-Qaeda as well. What has happened to this man? Has he never gotten over his trouncing in 1980? Is this a glimpse into Al Gore's future?

    Happy reading!

    How To Do Well In Math

    After my last post, I thought I should throw a bone to all those people I tossed into math class hell just so they can graduate. Yesterday's San Jose Mercury News had an article about math education; it was written by a Stanford mathematician who is also the "Math Guy" on National Public Radio.

    I admit that I've never heard of this "Math Guy" because I don't listen to National Pravda Radio, but that's a story for a different post =)

    Here are some of his comments:

    While it sounds reasonable to suggest, as the math-ed community does, that understanding mathematical concepts should precede -- or at least go along hand-in-hand with -- the learning of procedural skills (such as adding fractions or solving equations) -- there is evidence to suggest that this is simply not possible. The human brain evolved into its present state long before mathematics came onto the scene, and did so primarily to negotiate and survive in the physical world. Our brain does not find it easy to understand mathematical concepts, which are completely abstract....

    Ask experts at any activity what it took them to acquire their expertise and they'll tell you in one word: practice. Expertise does not come from understanding, it comes from practice. The part of our brain that provides conscious understanding did not evolve to control and direct our detailed actions, it developed to make sense of them -- after the fact. (The benefit of that sense making is that we can make use of our understanding to guide future action at a higher, more strategic level.)

    We are not ``natural-born mathematicians,'' but we are well equipped to learn new skills. Initially, we simply follow the rules in a mechanical fashion. Then, with practice, we gradually become better, and as our performance improves, our understanding grows. Anyone who has learned to play chess, play tennis, ski, drive a car, play a musical instrument, play a video game, etc. has experienced this progression from ``following rules,'' through proficiency, on to eventual mastery and understanding. Mathematics is no different....

    And anyone who thinks that today's children don't have what it takes to practice for hours until they really ``get it'' has not watched them playing a video game.

    What Is The Value of Algebra?

    This article, with the same title, has caused quite a stir on an education emaillist of which I'm a member. I mean, just who does this guy think he is, denigrating algebra so?

    I'm inclined to take a less emotional, more logical look at the article and conclude the author's an idiot.

    He makes plenty of mistakes in his article. "I hated algebra, so you can, too." "I barely got through algebra when I was in school, so it must be a worthless subject." "I don't need algebra, so you won't either." And my favorite, "The best algebra student in class couldn't find the Sahara Desert on a map."

    Yep, those arguments pretty much prove the lack of value of knowing algebra.

    The knee-jerk reaction to an article like this is to start finding all the ways algebra is useful in the world--cell-phone calling plans are the current rage for such illumination. This, however, is the wrong tack to take. While practical application has a value of its own, so does knowledge for its own sake as an opener of the mind. A well-rounded, liberally-educated person needs to be able to do more than just write, more than just calculate, more than just know geography. A well-rounded person needs to know all of the above. And can we not accomplish that minimum after 13 years of school (14, if Reiner's pre-school initiatives passes)?

    Mr. Cohen, in his disgust for an entire academic field, wants to close doors for students before those students even get to those doors. How many times must we hear--by the same people who don't think students should be taught algebra--about how all our low-skill jobs are being sent overseas? Or how many times do those who denigrate algebra refer to it as "college track" or "higher" math, notwithstanding the fact that it's taught to 13-year-olds all over the world? The motives of people who do this remind me of the motives of the Planned Parenthood crowd--it's not that we want to give you options (for an abortion, or not to take algebra), what we really want is for you to do it our way (have an abortion, or not take algebra).

    I also don't accept the false dichotomy of knowing math on the one hand, and being able to do anything but math on the other. Knowledge of math and knowledge of ____ (fill in the blank with your favorite topic) are not mutually exclusive. I'm glad Mr. Cohen has found a way to support himself despite his lack of math knowledge. However, I assert he has succeeded in spite of his lack of math knowledge, not because of it.

    I don't know if Mr. Cohen has a college degree or not. If he does, and he never took a math class above high school geometry, then I'm disappointed. A college degree should be an indication of a well-rounded education, and here in California the minimum math required to get into a 4-year state school is Algebra 2. Can't pass that course? You shouldn't have a college degree. I've said that here before.

    If you want to dance, go to Juilliard. If you want to be an artist, go to the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. If you want to get a college degree, you should have a well-rounded education. In fact, the liberal arts originally included math courses, but what did those Renaissance people know, anyway? I assert that high school Algebra II is not sufficient for a college graduate. But that's just an opinion.

    Want to be a reporter but don't know math (and how dangerous would that be, anyway?), start in the mailroom and work your way up through the ranks.

    I addressed the algebra graduation requirement in this post. The following comment from that post is, I think, the best rebuttal to Mr. Cohen's rant:

    Finally, I should hope that we are aiming a little higher in our school systems than teaching students how to survive.


    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Federal Funding For Schools

    Matt has an excellent post on hypocrisy:

    While I have not studied the Bush budget to any real degree, it strikes me as funny that groups that argue that the federal government is getting too involved in education, now complain when the Federal government cuts the purse strings. It is only through the spending power of Congress that the federal government has any way of enforcing educaiton policy on the states.

    Pick a side and stick with. Either you want the federal money, in which case you must play by Congress's political rules, or your don't want the money. But you can't complain when the government cuts funding if you want the money with no strings attached.

    Socialism and the Public Schools

    Last night I had duty at a basketball game, and shortly before the game started I was talking with the other teachers who also had duty. Someone brought up the superintendent's visit, and his comment that he thought that the universal preschool initiative would pass when it comes up for a vote on the next ballot. This brought up the whole subject of socialism, including government-run health care.

    Why should the children suffer because of the lack of parenting ability, lack of money, lack of whatever? Here we go again, thinking with our hearts instead of our brains. When the government fills in for the parents, it only reinforces the "bad" behavior in the parents. If we teach the parents how to "do it right", we only have to pay once; otherwise we pay forever--or at least until the child turns 18. It's kind of like a job training program, which keeps you from having to pay for welfare forever.

    I ask my usual questions of the socialists. Do you want people like those who run the TSA, or the DMV, in charge of your health care? You don't seem to like or trust George Bush or the Republican-controlled Congress, so why do you want them in charge of your health care? "I just think that..." is the usual response.

    I've thought about anti-racist math, about using schools and students for social engineering, and then I read this story out of Los Angeles. Turns out that the city has spent quite a lot of money on keeping kids out of gangs, with not a lot to show for it. Those who think with their hearts will fe-e-e-e-e-l that if only they spent more money, at least one kid could be saved from a gang. Those of us who think with our heads wonder if they should continue to throw good money after bad:

    Los Angeles spends $26 million a year to keep kids out of gangs or get them to renounce their affiliation, but the program is such a failure that not a single youth has ever been released from a court-imposed gang injunction, officials said Friday.

    $26 million a year. Good job, social engineers.

    Helping the People of Darfur

    The flier in my mailbox had all the indications that it was written by a 15 year old girl--the "bubbly" letters, the lack of any planned presentation, the youthful yet naive enthusiasm. Buy Chipotle and/or McDonald's at lunch, it exhorts, and help feed people in Darfur!

    If you don't know what or where Darfur is, go to Instapundit (see blogroll at left) and type Darfur into the search engine there (scroll down, it's on the right). You'll see post after post, going back a couple of years, chronicling the story that most of the mainstream press has all but ignored: a civil-war-induced famine of epic proportions. Read about the murders of towns, the systematic rape, everything you expect in a Rwanda-like African horror.

    And then marvel at the irony of scarfing down a huge burrito to help the starving, terrorized people there.

    There's nothing we're going to do to help those people. There are two groups of people eating in Darfur--the government soldiers with firearms, and the militia soldiers with firearms. Everyone else goes hungry. If you want to help the helpless there, send them firearms so that they, too, can eat.

    I mentioned that to a few of my classes, and it wasn't long before the instigator of this food sale was in my classroom wanting to talk to me. She was mortified--mortified!--that she didn't have faculty support for this good cause. She'd called the White House and left a message for the President, asking him to "do something". I mean, she cares!

    I don't fault the girl (who may or may not be 15, but she's close) for her youthful idealism. I fault her for making a mistake that will cause huge problems later in her life. As I told her, "Think with your brain. Feel with your heart." When you try to think with your heart you do stupid things, like she's doing now. I have no doubt she truly cares, but she doesn't know what she's talking about.

    Here are a few things she told me:

    1. I don't know enough about the world. A teenage girl told me this. I suppressed a chuckle.
    2. The reason we (the US) don't do anything about this is because there's no oil there. I wasn't aware that there was no oil in the Sudan--someone should let the Chinese know.
    3. The reason we (the US) aren't doing anything about Iran is because there's no oil there.
    4. The reason we invaded Iraq was to take the oil--which explains low gas prices over the last year, I guess.

    Bottom line, the girl feels strongly about the issue but doesn't know a thing about what she's talking about.

    The short conversation left the realm of the rational and entered the twilight zone when she asked me if I'd have done anything to stop the Holocaust. Can you see where this is going? I told her that a bake sale at a high school would have done nothing to stop the Holocaust. You know what did stop the Holocaust? Armed men. Millions of armed men. American, British, Commonwealth, Soviet soldiers--they stopped the Holocaust. Men with firearms cause a lot of problems in the world, but men with firearms also solve a lot of problems in the world. Want to help the people of Darfur? Give them weapons.

    She stormed out. Her parents later called the office and complained that I was undermining their daughter's project. One of our Vice Principals, for whom I have a lot of respect, asked if I was telling my students not to participate in the fundraiser. No, I said, I told them if they want a burrito or a Big Mac then they should by all means go buy one, but if they think a cent of that money is going to help the starving in Darfur they are mistaken. He said I shouldn't have addressed the issue since it's officially sanctioned by the student government and school administration. I told him that if I can't even address in class things that are going on in school.... I didn't address it after we spoke.

    The school newspaper came out the next period, and in it was an article about Darfur. A student came to me later in the day and said that if I hadn't told him the day before about what's really going on in Darfur, he'd have bought the article's slant hook, line, and sinker. He thanked me for giving him an opposing view by which he could better judge for himself what's going on.

    Some will no doubt question my actions. But look at that result.

    Update: 3/2/06: At least I was talking about a school event. This time. :-)

    Anti-Racist Math

    What exactly is anti-racist math? Could it be something like this tripe?

    Would you be afraid to send your child to a school where even the math instruction was politicized? I would.

    Not Our Kind Of People

    People of my generation will remember the television show Baa Baa Black Sheep, later renamed Black Sheep Squadron. It was about Greg "Pappy" Boyington and his squadron of Marine pilots during WWII. Robert Conrad starred.

    You can read about the real Pappy Boyington here. To summarize: part Sioux Indian, worked in gold mines during summers to make money during the Depression, went to the University of Washington, joined ROTC, graduated in 1934 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, joined the Reserves while working as a draftsman at Boeing, became an Marine Corps aviation cadet and then aviator--and this was all before WWII. He joined the American volunteer unit The Flying Tigers, defending China against the Japanese, and later was made commander of what has become known as the Black Sheep Squadron in the South Pacific. Is there a prettier fighter than the F4U Corsair with its gull-wings? Maybe the P51, but that's a different story. Boyington shot down 28 enemy aircraft before he himself was shot down, after which he spent 20 months in a Japanese POW camp. He was never listed as a prisoner--he was MIA. He was liberated and, shortly after the war, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

    Boyington is an American hero.

    There's been a move afoot to place a memorial to Boyington at his Alma Mater, the University of Washington. Unfortunately, such a memorial has been given the ixnay by the Student Senate. Why, you may ask? One student senator, a Jill Edwards, "didn't believe a member or the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce." Another genius, Ashley Miller, complained that there are already "many monuments at UW...(that)...that commemorate rich white men" (as if you get rich in the Marine Corps). Another complains that Boyington's service should be honored, but not the fact that he actually shot down enemy aircraft during that service.

    I've written about the ignorance of college students before, here. I'm inclined to agree with young Miss Edwards, though: Marine Corps officers most definitely are not the sort of person that UW wants to produce. How sad for UW. I'd ask exactly what kind of person UW wants to produce, but I'm afraid the answer would be people like Miss Edwards and Miss Miller, quoted above.

    Update, 2/18/06 10:48 am: I received the following email from a list of which I am a member. I received permission to repost it here, thinking it might give a somewhat different perspective to what I wrote above:

    As has been pointed out by other members of this group the Seattle area is certainly a diverse and interesting crowd. Students ignorant of history are all over the country but we have an unusually weird crowd in the city and at the UW. Some adults and many students were taken back by this issue and the
    whole memorial thing is having another look and will likely pass.

    During the national parade frenzy following Desert Storm, the King County and Seattle City Council folks wanted to have a parade with I Corps and Fort Lewis soldiers marching, we initially agreed to it then the "negotiations" began. No tanks or vehicles, then no rifles, yada yada yada, by the end of it I think they didn't want uniforms or any things celebrating war in the
    parade and could we not march, but just sort of "amble" through town wearing gay pride ribbons or something. Thank God the CG finally said thanks but no thanks. Seattle also has a dedicated corps of protestors who assemble in front of the Federal Court House to protest whatever tweaks them. The "Hell no We Won't Go" signs that marched down the interstate during Desert Shield and Storm were real fun, especially after someone explained that there wasn't a draft anymore and we didn't want them to "go". The WTO riots were big with many of the Anarchist types from Oregon joining in busting up Starbucks and Nike stores for their ties to who knows what.

    Even the "blue collar red neck" city I work in (Everett WA) still has apparently 3 different groups who every Friday around lunch time stand on the various corners of the intersection of Hewitt and Colby "Demonstrating". It all revolves around the War in Iraq, all "support the troops", and Anti War and Pro War are two sides, I don't really know what is up with the third group, I walk by in Civilian cloths once in a while to watch and listen. Nobody seemed angry about anything, they just don't want the other group to be the last one demonstrating, this could go on forever!!

    People from the East side of the state think we are all commies on the West Side of the Mountains. Washington State University (the arch rivals of the UW) is more conservative, the only protests/riots they've had in the last couple of decades was actual rioting that broke out when WSU and the local police told the students that they couldn't have underage drinking parties on campus, they tore the place up over that.

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Superintendent's Visit

    I'm bummed.

    Our district superintendent is coming to address our staff during our "collaboration time" this afternoon. He's new this year, and by all accounts is a "good guy" who has an open mind about the changes our district needs to make due to declining enrollment, changing demographics, etc.

    Why am I bummed? Because I don't have a zinger question to throw at him.

    Any suggestions?

    Update, 2/16/06 4:31 pm: I came up with a good one while in the meeting. The superintendent discussed, among several other things, the fact that "modernization" money had been spent on fixing some things and improving curb appeal, but that we still had essentially 45-year-old classrooms. So I asked him this:

    You've talked about maintenance, and how modernization money was sometimes spent on maintenance (like roofs). I've lived in this district for 9 years, and in that time have had to vote on 2 bond issues for the district because proper maintenance wasn't being done. How are you going to be a better steward of the public's money and maintain our facilities within budget?

    I liked his answer, but the proof will be in the pudding. He certainly was as personable as I'd heard.

    Saddam's Weapons

    In this post I mentioned the Duelfer Report, the report submitted to Congress in 2004 about Saddam's weapons programs and where all his goodies went. If you don't have the time to read that post (and I link to the full report there) here's the world's shortest summary:

    Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.

    The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead, his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.

    I print this because I came across a quote from Charles Duelfer in an article this morning. Apparently some tapes of Saddam talking to his "lieutenants" have been translated and released by our government. Here's what the article says:

    Charles Duelfer, who led the official U.S. search for weapons of mass destruction, told ABC News the tapes show extensive deception (on Saddam's part) but don't prove that weapons were still hidden in Iraq at the time of the U.S.-led war in 2003.

    "What they do is support the conclusion in the report which we made in the last couple of years, that the regime had the intention of building and rebuilding weapons of mass destruction, when circumstances permitted," he said.

    Of course, this won't matter to the lefties. Bush lied, right? Facts are too inconvenient for the "reality-based community".

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Tuesday, February 14, 2006

    Wiretapping, European Style

    From Slate, hardly a conservative mouthpiece:

    Think Bush's warrantless NSA surveillance is bad? Wait till you hear what the British government does.

    By Eric Weiner
    Updated Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, at 6:39 AM ET

    For Europeans, scolding the Bush administration for everything from Guantanamo to the Iraq War to secret CIA prisons has become a full-time job. But when it comes to the American scandal over President Bush's warrantless wiretaps, there's been a curious reaction from the other side of the Atlantic: silence. Where is the European outrage?

    European restraint may arise from a fear of hypocrisy. The fact is that in much of Europe wiretapping is de rigueur—practiced more regularly and with less oversight than in the United States. Most Europeans either don't know about this or, more likely, simply don't care.

    Which Science Fiction Crew Would I Fit With?

    I'm disappointed in this result. I wouldn't mind being a member of Star Trek: The Next Generation (cushy life) or even Battlestar Galactica (horrid life, but awesome uniforms and cool ships). But this one? Ewwww.

    You scored as Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix). You can change the world around you. You have a strong will and a high technical aptitude. Is it possible you are the one? Now if only Agent Smith would quit beating up your friends.

    Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


    Moya (Farscape)


    Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


    SG-1 (Stargate)


    Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


    Serenity (Firefly)


    Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


    Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


    Enterprise D (Star Trek)


    Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


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    Monday, February 13, 2006

    More on the European Welfare State

    It doesn't look good according to Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek.

    If present trends continue, the chief economist at the OECD argues, in 20 years the average U.S. citizen will be twice as rich as the average Frenchman or German. (Britain is an exception on most of these measures, lying somewhere between Continental Europe and the U.S.)

    A New Job

    Online poll here. Answer in the comments section.

    Question: Should I apply for one of these jobs?

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Two Great Articles on the NSA Wiretap Issue

    From this article we get:

    In the end, as with so many of the clashes involving presidential power in our history, it is the president who is likely to emerge with the upper hand.

    Recall that during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had thousands arrested for suspected disloyalty, ordered trials of civilians in military courts and barred from the U.S. mail newspapers critical of the war. During and after World War I, Woodrow Wilson ordered the arrest of socialist leader E.V. Debs for criticizing the war and authorized the Palmer Raids, in which more than 10,000 radicals were rounded up and held without trial for an extended period.

    During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt ordered accused Nazi saboteurs (two of whom were American citizens) tried before a military tribunal that quickly sentenced them to death. He also signed the executive order forcing 110,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps.
    From this one we get:

    (Former US Attorney General Edward) Levi said a traditional warrant procedure works when surveillance "involves a particular target location or individual at a specific time." Foreign intelligence, however, may in some situations require "virtually continuous surveillance, which by its nature does not have specifically predetermined targets." In these situations, "the efficiency of a warrant requirement would be minimal."

    In approving a surveillance plan, "judicial decision would take the form of an ex parte determination that the program of surveillance designed by the government strikes a reasonable balance between the government's need for the information and the protection of individuals' rights."

    Had Levi's procedure been in place, President Bush could have submitted to a court an application setting out the elements of the proposed NSA surveillance program: the target; communications to be intercepted; screening methods; controls on information dissemination. Because FISA procedures are secret, a court application would not have compromised the program's secrecy. If Congress puts this procedure into the law, the president can submit the NSA program for approval now.

    The court role would be limited to approving the "reasonableness" of the plan under the 4th Amendment, using a standard of review that recognizes the president's primary constitutional role in surveillance on foreign powers. The approving court might be the three-judge FISA court of review.

    Based on everything we know, NSA's surveillance program would be approved. Even the president's critics generally acknowledge that, based upon what we know, the NSA program is "reasonable" in responding to the Al Qaeda threat.

    "The Research"

    Every educator has heard the phrase "The research shows..." or "The research proves...." It's a phrase that's designed to shut off challenges to whatever the speaker is saying and to bully the listener into accepting it. After all, who could possibly disagree with what "the research" proves?

    The problem is twofold. First, it's very likely the speaker is blowing smoke and has no research at all to back up his/her position. This is likely to be true if the speaker cannot refer to a specific study to justify the claim. Second, if there is research to support the speaker's position, very often (especially in education) that research is not based on valid research methodologies.

    I'll give one lengthy specific example, and then get back to the general topic.

    My research-busting hero is Christine Rossell of Boston University. Ten years ago she and partner Ken Baker looked at studies of bilingual education to determine the best way to teach non-native English speakers. At the time, "everyone" knew that transitional bilingual education was the best way to go--put the kids in a class in which the majority of time the home language is used to teach content (math, science, history, etc), and over the course of several years transition to having most of the instruction done in English. Study after study backed this process up.

    Except they didn't.

    Their report, published in Research in the Teaching of English, Vol. 30, No. 1, February 1996, states that methodologically sound studies had the following characteristics:

    1. They were true experiments in which students were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups;
    2. They had non-random assignment that either matched students in the treatment and comparison groups on factors that influence achievement or statistically controlled for them;
    3. They included a comparison group of LEP (limited English proficient--Darren) students of the same ethnicity and similar language background;
    4. Outcome measures were in English using normal curve equivalents (NCEs), raw scores, scale scores, or percentiles, but not grade equivalents;
    5. There were no additional educational treatments, or the studies controlled for additional treatments if they existed.

    Rossell and Baker found that unacceptable studies usually exhibited the following characteristics:

    1. The study did not compare program alternatives or assess educational outcomes.
    2. The study did not use randomly assigned students and made no effort to control for possible initial differences between students in different programs.
    3. The study did not apply appropriate statistical tests (probably because of the heavy math involved--Darren).
    4. The study used a(n English-speaking) norm-referenced design.
    5. The study examined gains over the school year without a control group.
    6. The study used grade-equivalent scores.
    7. The study compared test results in different languages for students in different programs.
    8. The study did not control for the confounding effect of other important educational treatments that were administered to at least one of the groups, but not all of them.

    They then went into detail explaining the issues surrounding each of these flaws.

    So what did they find? Of the 300 prominent studies they examined, only 72 were methodologically sound. Yes, that means that 228 studies, an overwhelming percentage of "the research", were statistical crap. And they identified the studies in both groups in an appendix. Later work by Rossell increased the number of studies she evaluated to over 500.

    Three teaching methodologies were studied: submersion, transitional bilingual education, and structured English immersion. Here's my quick summary of each:
    • submersion--sink or swim
    • transitional bilingual education--described above
    • structured immersion--instruction is in English at a level the students can understand, in a self-contained classroom consisting entirely of LEP students
    • ESL--pull-out English instruction (only 3 of the 300 studies used this, so I'll ignore it here)

    So what did the 72 sound studies show? Of the three primary methods of teaching multi-lingual students, structured English immersion clearly won out. Rossell summarizes her work here. Of those 300 studies, do you have any guesses which group, the 72 or the 228, the bilingual education lobby means when they talk about "the research"?

    I have a personal story about "the research". I wrote about it here.

    So now back to the general topic. This week's Education Gadfly, published online by the Fordham Foundation, has an editorial about the "mad, mad world of education research". The gist is contained in this paragraph:

    Why are randomized experiments being dropped faster than a tainted control group? Hsieh put that question to a number of folks. One “speculated that with the increasing popularity of qualitative methods (i.e., not relying on quantitative data), some researchers may have rejected the underlying assumptions of experimental research in favor of a post-modern, relativist view.” A more cynical interpretation holds that because empirical research is difficult to conduct and yields unpopular results, many authors simply take their studies down an easier path. Why risk tenure by studying the effectiveness of phonics, for example, if a university promotion committee member worships at the altar of whole language? Why bother with multivariate analysis when a feminist critique of patriarchal statistical methods will do?

    This is why and how we get whole language, fuzzy math, ethnomath, ESL, "education for social justice" (as opposed to learning how to read, write, compute, and think), etc. If something fe-e-e-e-e-ls good, it must be good. We don't need no education...and we don't need no facts, either.

    It's ok, though. They're not my kids, right? Why should I care?

    Have some fun. The next time you hear the phrase "the research shows", be skeptical. Ask for some backup information. Make the speaker prove that their statements are backed up by scholarship and not emotion. Watch how quickly you get shut down, get told "I'll have to get back to you", or have the subject changed.