Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
CSS Virginia.

Today's question is:
What was the name of the “missing link” skeleton discovered in England in 1911, and exposed as a hoax in 1953?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Education Buzz

This week's is here and includes my post about Back To School Night.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
When the Merrimack was raised and made into an ironclad, what was she renamed?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Unintended Consequences of "We've Got To Do Something!"

Laws banning texting while driving actually may prompt a slight increase in road crashes, research out today shows...

Researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute compared rates of collision insurance claims in four states — California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — before and after they enacted texting bans. Crash rates rose in three of the states after bans were enacted.

The Highway Loss group theorizes that drivers try to evade police by lowering their phones when texting, increasing the risk by taking their eyes even further from the road and for a longer time. link

It's plausible.

On the other hand, there's this:
Sending text messages while driving was the culprit in the deaths of an estimated 16,000 people from 2001 to 2007. Even more sobering, researchers warn that fatalities have shot up significantly since 2005.

An analysis of federal data on road fatalities, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health, concluded that deaths due to "distracted driving" surged from 4,572 in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008. That's a 28 percent increase in three years.

Many of the deaths involved collisions with roadside objects, as drivers typing on their cell phones veer off-track and into poles, traffic lights or other items.

Whom to believe....

There Was A Time I Wasn't "Highly Qualified"

Teaching interns can no longer be counted as "highly qualified" teachers under the No Child Left Behind law, a federal court ruled today.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals comes in response to a 2007 lawsuit filed by Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based public interest law firm. The suit alleges that a loophole in No Child Left Behind allowed the government to misrepresent how prepared teachers are for their jobs, perpetuating a pattern of clustering inexperienced teachers in the neediest schools.

Read more:

When I started teaching I had a bachelor's degree and a pulse--heck, I hadn't even taken the CBEST yet, and that's a requirement for teachers and substitutes in California. The district HR folks told me, "Just sign up for the October test. By the time anyone at the county or state figures out you haven't taken the test, you'll already have passed it." I appreciated their confidence in me.

I had an intern credential for my 2nd and 3rd years of teaching, while I earned my real credential.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
President Bush 43.

Today's question is:
What was the last name of the Beverly Hillbillies?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Can These People Do Even The Simplest Things Right?

Apparently not:

The U.S. government said Sunday it made an "honest mistake" when it displayed an inverted Philippine flag — which wrongfully signified that the Southeast Asian nation was in a state of war — in a meeting hosted by President Barack Obama.

The Philippine flag was displayed upside down behind President Benigno Aquino III when leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met Obama in New York on Friday.

Yeah, we've definitely got that smart diplomacy thing firing on 8 cylinders now. Add this to the reset button, the iPod with Obama's speeches, the bust of Churchill, and the DVD's as unforced errors.

What would the press have said about President Bush had this occurred during his administration? Why does the current president get a pass?

Got A Nastygram From My School District Today

Today I got a letter from my school district warning me that my teaching credential expires in 1 week and that I need to get hot on getting it renewed. Since it takes 2 weeks to renew, I'll have to go fill out a request of a temporary credential and have a negative comment noted on my evaluation in the Professional Responsibilities category.

Of course this letter prompted a few questions.

1. If the district can (and in fact does!) track this, why don't they send me an email a month or so before my credential expires? They obviously keep better track of this than I do, as I thought I had another year on this credential.

2. I love the evaluation dig. I'm forced to wonder how professional it is for them to watch me get this close to not having a credential, only to warn me past a reasonable time. Would they have me treat a student that way, perhaps on a timed test--watch the student screw up a problem, and then when there's 1 minute left until the bell rings, point out the error?

3. Am I really unprofessional for not knowing when my once-in-5-years credential expires? Quick, when does your drivers license expire? The DMV sends me notices--well in advance!--each year, so that my car's registration is always up to date, and every 4 years or so they send me one about my drivers license. The county sends me a notice about my property taxes well in advance of the due date each year. Hm, I wonder why these agencies do this, but it's too much effort to expect my school district to send me an email a few weeks in advance.

I'm not trying to shed responsibility here. I know that it's my credential and that I must have it renewed. I'm disappointed, though, that my school district chooses to needle and threaten rather than remind and assist.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
“We came in peace for all mankind.”

Today's question is:
Who was the only US president to hold an MBA degree?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maps of American Cities, By Race

Very interesting--too bad I have to learn this from a British news source.

Global Cooling?

The Bilderbergers think so!

Yep, that’s right. Global Cooling.

Which means one of two things.

Either it was a printing error.

Or the global elite is perfectly well aware that global cooling represents a far more serious and imminent threat to the world than global warming, but is so far unwilling to admit it except behind closed doors.

Let me explain briefly why this is a bombshell waiting to explode...

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Jor-El and Lara.

Today's question is:
The Apollo 11 astronauts placed a plaque on the moon, the first line of which read, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D.” What is the next line?

Part of the Reason I Miss Colorado

A friend of mine in Denver sent these pictures he took recently:
click on the pictures to enlarge

There's not much prettier than when the aspens change color.

Weight Loss Update

Back in July I started a weight loss regimen that I planned to use to help me lose 30 pounds this school year. Since then I've used my ellliptical trainer almost every school day, started going for neighborhood "head clearing" walks in the evening, and took up hot yoga (Bikram style) twice a week, in addition to severely cutting back on the quantity and improving the quality of my diet.

Yes, weight fluctuates daily, and even more so throughout a day. But I weigh myself each morning when I get up, on the premise that such consistency helps provide better daily data.

This morning, for the first time, I passed the 18 pound mark :-)

The Czech President Gets It

Less "global government" and interference in the economy:

Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Saturday criticized U.N. calls for increased "global governance" of the world's economy, saying the world body should leave that role to national governments.

The solution to dealing with the global economic crisis, Klaus told the U.N. General Assembly, did not lie in "creating new governmental and supranational agencies, or in aiming at global governance of the world economy."

"On the contrary, this is the time for international organizations, including the United Nations, to reduce their expenditures, make their administrations thinner, and leave the solutions to the governments of member states," he said.

Klaus appeared to be responding to the address of the Swiss president of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, who said on Thursday at the opening of the annual gathering of world leaders in New York that it was time for the United Nations to "comprehensively fulfill its global governance role."
I previously mentioned Mr. Klaus in this post.

Media Matters and Leftie Physical Assaults Against Conservatives

I have nothing to add to this post, which is exquisite in its detail. The only thing better would be to have the sounds of crickets chirping whenever your mouse rolls over the Media Matters screen shots.

"California Is So Screwed Up..." "How Screwed Up Is It?"

It's so screwed up, we can't even spend so-called stimulus money to repair our highways in a timely manner.

WASHINGTON — Federal stimulus money to fix America's highways is stuck in the slow lane in some states, including a few that are suffering from some of the nation's highest unemployment rates.

In California, for example, where the 12.4 percent unemployment rate is the third worst in the country, officials are rolling their highway money out far more gradually. As a result, the Golden State is far behind other states in the percentage of projects it's started.

More than a year and a half after Congress passed a massive plan to stimulate the economy and get Americans working, California has yet to start 41 percent of its highway projects, according to a McClatchy analysis of the most recent federal data.

Read more:

If I didn't have family and a non-social-security job and a mortgage here in California....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Bromance

I've mentioned many times on this blog my professional crush on DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Now allow me to show why I have a bromance with NJ Governor Chris Christie:

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

Today's question is:
What were the names of Superman's parents, who died when Krypton was destroyed?

Free Tech Support

This is good to know!

Free Tech Support

If you're a member of Sam's Club or Costco, you can get free tech support -- even if you didn't buy the device at their store.

Or, for PC problems, anyone can head to or for free help. You can search the forums for your computer's particular ailment or post a question to receive a timely response from the sites' groups of geek volunteers. And don't forget to try the manufacturer's web site. Many post user manuals and FAQs to help you solve your dilemma.

Versatile Housing From Used Shipping Containers

This is *way* cool. Note the pictures of university housing from a couple cities in the Netherlands!

And We Wonder Why There Are Problems In Schools

I keep telling you, part of the reason our "schools" aren't doing as well as they used to is because of the culture of the communities and/or families they serve. Exhibit 7,358:

A Florida woman has been arrested on child abuse charges after being caught on video apparently egging on her daughter in a fight with another teenage girl.
I'm sure this girl, and her mother before her, is an Honor Student.

College Students Outside The Comfort Zone

From CNN:

With programs from Rome to Rabat, colleges in the United States promote studying abroad as a way to grow and learn outside of the American comfort zone.

An increasing number of globetrotting students are taking full advantage of the opportunity by trading the European experience for one they consider more challenging and exotic.

"After college, I'll go to Europe, but I'm not sure I would ever have the chance to live in a developing country," said Jessie Lavintman, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student who became familiar with bucket showers and malaria when she studied in Ghana.

Oh, to be young and have no responsibilities and be able to zip around the planet....I had the opportunity and the means (when I was in the army) but squandered it. I'm glad there are some who have not.

Union Hypocrisy

When even Jon Stewart highlights union hypocrisy, you know there must be more to the claim than just conservative muckraking.

Remember what the union boss said: It's Wal*Mart's fault that his union is treating its temporary employees as badly as he claims Wal*Mart treats its employees. Real adult there. Obviously a liberal.

Could This Possibly Have Been Foreseen?

Yes, it could have been, and it was, but the Democrats don't care. They don't want private insurers anyway, and they just killed off part of the insurance business on their way to single payer.

This week Democrats threw a six-month birthday party for ObamaCare—and the timing was only appropriate since it occurred at the same moment their reform annihilated a corner of the U.S. insurance market.

Democrats were celebrating the arrival of ObamaCare's first regulatory wave, which was designed to land weeks before the election. These include mandated benefits like "free" preventive care (i.e., the cost is built into the premiums). Democrats think these "consumer protections" poll well, even though they're already raising consumer rates across the country. But the most immediately destructive item turned out to be new rules governing private health coverage for children.

This week, almost every big insurance company in America—including Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Humana, Coventry, some Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates and others—stopped writing "child-only" policies in the individual market. This is a niche product that parents typically buy when their employer health plan doesn't cover dependents. The exact plans vary company to company and state to state, and the insurers will still offer family policies and make good on the child-only policies that they've already sold. But most won't be writing new ones.

In other words, for-profit businesses are refusing to sell products that consumers want to buy. Exact data aren't available, but the child-only market covers roughly a million kids a year.

The reason is a regulation that President Obama mentions every time he talks about health care, as he did recently in Falls Church, Virginia: "Children who have pre-existing conditions are going to be covered." Insurers are now required to cover everyone under 19 when their parents apply for coverage, regardless of health status. The problem with this kind of "guaranteed issue" is that it encourages people, in this case parents, to wait until their kids are sick before seeking coverage.

This drives up premiums for the healthy, encouraging consumers in turn to drop coverage, and eventually it leads to what's known as a "death spiral," the industry term for an insurer with rapidly increasing costs as a result of population changes in its coverage pool. The child-only market is a particular death-spiral risk because it is so small and unstable, which explains why so many insurers left in a stroke.
So-called "smart" regulation of the insurance industry.

Government Spending

I don't think there are any economists out there who are putting last year's porkulus bill up on a pedestal as a shimmering example of good government spending, and this is partly why:

No one spends money like the federal government. This year alone, it will shovel out $3.7 trillion, which works out to $7 million a minute. So it may surprise you to find out the clearest lesson from the Obama administration's fiscal stimulus program: The government is not very good at spending money.

On the contrary, it's slow and clumsy. Nearly a third of the $787 billion package, signed into law in February 2009, was assigned to infrastructure projects—from fixing roads and building bridges to weatherizing buildings and upgrading electrical grids.

The idea was to simultaneously improve our physical facilities while putting people back to work, which in turn would provide a badly needed surge of adrenaline to the overall economy. But it hasn't quite worked out that way.

The Wall Street Journal reports that 19 months after the plan was approved, federal agencies have managed to use only one-third of the infrastructure money. Federal contracting rules and labor requirements are among the hurdles that have slowed the process down.

This is not entirely unexpected. The Congressional Budget Office said before the program was approved that less than half the infrastructure money would be spent in the first two years.

That's always been one of the big problems with using fiscal policy—changes in spending and taxes—to manage the level of activity in the economy. By the time a policy takes effect, it may be too late to serve the original purpose.

Supporters insist there's no such danger this time, since the economic recovery has been feeble and promises to remain that way. A Bloomberg survey of economists found that most expect the unemployment rate to stay above 9 percent until 2012.

But if that's true, it doesn't say much for the potency of fiscal policy in boosting short-term growth. Obama's program, after all, is the biggest stimulus package, as a share of the economy, in our history. Yet it has landed with the force of a damp sponge.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facebook For Teachers

That's what some are calling this site, but given that it's a state Department of Education site, color me skeptical.

Is The President Of Harvard An Idiot? Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Why does no one in the mainstream press ever challenge the idiocy of these types of statements?

Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, said in an interview with The Boston Globe Wednesday that the university will welcome a Reserve Officer Training Corps unit to campus as soon as the "don't ask, don't tell" policy ends. Currently, Harvard students who wish to join ROTC do so through a unit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but Faust said Harvard would welcome the chance to "regularize our relationship" with ROTC when "don't ask, don't tell" ends.

Let's remember a few things.

1. This is not the military's option; this law was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Congress and the President must change the law, there's nothing the military can do about it. Shouldn't the legitimate target of Harvard's sanctimonious ire be the Congress and the President who vowed to overturn this law but haven't, and not the institution of ROTC or the cadets/midshipmen who join it?

2. This law was signed by a Democratic president.

3. Democrats have run the Congress for almost the last 4 years, and there has been a Democrat in the White House for almost 2 years. This is not an issue that can rightly be blamed on Republicans, although the loud voices always make this a Republican travesty.

4. This law is an improvement over the situation prior to its passage. Before DADT, suspected gays could be ferreted out, hounded, questioned, harassed, and then kicked out of the military. The current law allows gays to serve as long as they keep their orientation relatively quiet.

5. Legitimate estimates put the gay population in the US at somewhere between 1.5% and 6% (not Kinsey's 10%). Does anyone expect a flood of openly gay Americans to rush to recruiting stations when DADT is repealed? (I do not.)

Conclusion? Drew Faust is an idiot.

Update, 9/26/10: Senator Scott Brown isn't impressed with Faust:

“It is incomprehensible to me that Harvard does not allow ROTC to use its facilities, but welcomes students who are in this country illegally.’’ He added: "Harvard has its priorities upside down. They should embrace young people who want to serve their country, rather than promoting a plan that provides amnesty to students who are in this country illegally.’’
I agree with Brown on this one.

Constitutional Showdown?

We can argue whether or not Congress has the authority under the Constitution to regulate marijuana, but since no court in the land has ruled against Congress in this arena, I accept that for the time being, Congress has the authority to regulate marijuana.

I also accept without argument the primacy of federal law over state law; when the two conflict, the state law yields.

Having established that baseline, what am I to think of Proposition 19?

Proposition 19
Initiative Statute
1377. (09-0024. Amdt. #1S) - Final Random Sample Update - 03/24/10

Changes California Law to Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be Regulated and Taxed.

Qualified: 03/24/10

Proponents: Richard Seib Lee and Jeffrey Wayne Jones (510) 208-4554

Allows people 21 years old or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use. Permits local governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sale of marijuana to people 21 years old or older. Prohibits people from possessing marijuana on school grounds, using it in public, smoking it while minors are present, or providing it to anyone under 21 years old. Maintains current prohibitions against driving while impaired. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Savings of up to several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments on the costs of incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders. Unknown but potentially major tax, fee, and benefit assessment revenues to state and local government related to the production and sale of marijuana products. (09-0024.)

It might surprise some of you to learn that I support the legalization of marijuana and the stated goals of this initiative; I've long felt that pot's effects are no worse than those of alcohol. I cannot, however, abide a state's blatant violation of federal law in support of that goal. The state should sue, or be required to sue, but cannot have a law that clearly violates federal law.

What Do Oprah, NJ Governor Chris Christie, and Facebook All Have In Common?

Earlier this week Oprah did a show on Waiting For Superman, and again today her show had a definite educational angle:

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will make a surprise appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show Friday to announce an unprecedented restructuring of Newark's school system and the gift of $100 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, two officials with direct knowledge of the plan told The Star-Ledger tonight.

Christie and Booker will proclaim that the long-troubled Newark schools, which have been under state control for 15 years, are going to be placed under Booker’s authority. Together, Booker and the school system will embark on a massive program of educational change long opposed by teachers unions.

Here's to hoping that the children of Newark now have a chance at a better education than they otherwise might have had.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The Thunderbirds.

The answer to yesterday's bonus question is:
They currently fly F-16's. The immediate predecessor to the F-16 was the T-38.

Today's question is:
What are the names and correct spellings of Donald Duck's nephews?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where Does "The Academy" Give Its Money?

It might surprise you to learn that more of professors' money goes to Democrats instead of Republicans. Or it might not. :-)

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Potomac, which is currently berthed in Alameda County, California. I took two pictures of it, which can be seen in this post.

Today's question is:
What is the name of the US Air Force's aerial acrobatic and demonstration team?

Bonus: What type of aircraft do they fly, and what was the previous aircraft they flew?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Leghorn. (To my ear, Livorno is much more appealing.)

Today's question is:
What was the name of President Franklin Roosevelt's presidential yacht?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Climate Change "Enlightenment"

Hanging over everything is the growing recognition that the United States isn't going to play. Not this year, perhaps not in any year. If Congress couldn't pass a climate bill so feeble that it consisted of little but loopholes while Barack Obama was president and the Democrats had a majority in both houses, where does hope lie for action in other circumstances? Last Tuesday the Guardian reported that of 48 Republican contenders for the Senate elections in November only one accepted that man-made climate change is taking place. Who was he? Mike Castle of Delaware. The following day he was defeated by the Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, producing a full house of science deniers. The enlightenment? Fun while it lasted.
--George Monbiot
Monbiot. Moonbat. Coincidence? I think not.

Too Many Journalists Are Cowards

Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had "gone ghost." Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn't protect her against death threats from Muslims she'd angered. Earlier this year, Norris started "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" to protest radical Muslims' violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans...

Freedom of speech and press are in deep trouble when the American government thinks the best it can do to protect a journalist from death threats is to counsel her to go into hiding, and when the elite voices of American journalism can't be bothered to say anything in her defense. But it's actually worse than that. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof thinks Muslims are owed an apology. "I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you," he wrote Sunday. "The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you."

Instead of telling the rest of us that we're all bigots, shouldn't Kristof and the rest of the journalism profession be outraged by what has happened to Molly Norris? And shouldn't they be angered that her government believes it cannot protect her? Imagine what they would be saying if white-hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan were threatening to kill Norris in Selma, Ala., instead of radical Muslims in Seattle. Would the FBI tell Norris she had to stop being a journalist and go into hiding? And would ASNE and SPJ look the other way as the First Amendment and freedom of the press were symbolically turned to ashes by flaming white crosses?

From the Washington Examiner.

"Mexicans" Were Here Before America Was Even An Idea?

This one from the president is a doozy:

"Long before America was even an idea, this land of plenty was home to many peoples. The British and French, the Dutch and Spanish, to Mexicans, to countless Indian tribes. We all shared the same land," President Obama told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Mexico declared its independence on September 16, 1810. It was recognized on September 27, 1821.

The United States of America declared its independence in 1776.

Combine this with his "57 states" remark, and I'm beginning to wonder how much American history they teach in Kenya :-)

Dueling Movies--Or Not

There's been a big push at my school this year--someone (I've yet to find out who, but I only asked today) is advertising the heck out of a screening of the movie Race To Nowhere at our school. Here's what the movie's about, straight from its web site:

Director Vicki Abeles turns the personal political, igniting a national conversation in her new documentary about the pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic in our schools: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.

Race to Nowhere is a call to mobilize families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

Sounds like there's a definite slant to it, no? Since it's being shown at school, and part of the cost of each ticket sold goes to a school-related organization (PTSA), I think we ought to have a little balance. I recommend Waiting For Superman:

When disaster strikes in America, heroes rush in. We've seen it time and again: when all seems lost, real-life supermen (and women) step up to save the day. But what if, right now, there is a hidden catastrophe spreading quietly, insidiously through our nation's cities, towns and communities--and yet we have the power to stop it? What if our children and their futures--were in peril? Who will become a hero now?

From Davis Guggenheim, the Academy Award-winning director of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, comes another stirring, must-see clarion call of our times: WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN", a deeply personal exploration of the current state of public education in the U.S. and how it is affecting our children.
School reform--definitely a different slant. Oprah seems to like it:

The operator of a Sacramento charter school received $1 million from Oprah Winfrey during a show that aired Monday.

Winfrey presented a check from her Angel Network to Aspire Public Schools CEO James Willcox along with five other public school organizations during a show dedicated to the documentary "Waiting for Superman," according to a press release.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Clayton Moore.

Today's question is:
The English-language name of the Italian city Livorno is also the last name of a Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon character. What is the English-language name of the city?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Paris and Istanbul.

Today's question is:
What actor played the Lone Ranger in the 1950's television show?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pulling Out All The Stops

The September 2010 issue of California Educator magazine, mouthpiece rag of of the California Teachers Association, takes naked hypocrisy to dizzying new heights. One would think that after 5-1/2 years of blogging about education that I'd be inured to this verbal whiplash, but I must congratulate California Educator--they have stunned me yet again.

Let's start with page 4, and Ole Si Se Puede himself:

We currently have a federal administration that asks us to compete for education dollars; corporate foundations are increasingly meddling in the classroom, influencing policy that leads to dangerous, experimental reforms; and too many of our state's elected leaders are failing to do their jobs, leaving us - still at this late date - with no budget at all. And that's why the elections this year are so very important: to help fix this broken process.

Both houses of Congress have been run by Democrats for almost 4 years now, and for almost 2 years we've had a Democratic president. Our state legislature has been run by Democrats for as long as I can remember, and our governor is a Republican in name only. Which party is Si Se Puede accusing of being the problem? Why, the Republicans, of course! Does Puede not know who's running the "federal administration that asks us to compete for education dollars"? Of course he does! He doesn't like Race To The Top, of course, but he'd have been quite happy if California had gotten a piece of that pie--because more money would flow into CTA's coffers. He can make bad sounds about RttT, but he'll still tell you to vote straight ticket Democratic.

Puede doesn't like corporate money going to schools, and this article on page 10 singles out the Broad, Gates, and Walton Family foundations as having undue influence on education policy. I've got to ask, Puede, has this situation gotten better or worse in the last 2-4 years? He's happy to point out US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's ties to corporate foundations, but will still tell you to vote a straight Democratic ticket. Interestingly enough, pages 28-29 of the magazine are devoted to grants given to schools by CTA and NEA; presumably, those are "good" grants.

We jump to page 20 for A Lesson Plan For Victory, how and why we should elect Jerry Brown to be our once and future governor. Is this the same Jerry Brown who worked such wonders in the schools as mayor of Oakland? The same Jerry Brown who went against the local school board and teachers union to create the Oakland Military Institute, and without whose support the school wouldn't even have been founded? (I laud Brown for this support, btw.) Is this the same Jerry Brown whose campaign commercials now brag that when he was governor in the 70's, he cut state (union) worker pay? Is this the same Jerry Brown who, as Attorney General, can investigate a private university foundation for paying Sarah Palin to speak, but couldn't be bothered to investigate ACORN offices that were filmed trying to assist people they believed were involved in child prostitution? That Jerry Brown? He's supposed to "put California back on track"? He would be "A governor with our values"? What, exactly, do we think he'll do for education, or for teachers?

"A governor with our values". What are those values? Perhaps we can get some idea what they are by looking on page 36 at the CTA-Sponsored and Co-Sponsored Legislation For 2010. I cannot find a link for that article on the main page, so if you want to see it yourself you'll have to click on the magazine's digital version (link is just under the cover picture) and turn to page 36. Here are the only 3 bills listed:
SB 810, Universal Health Care (Obamacare on steroids)
AB 1814, Retiree Health Benefits (go see what it does!)
AB 2320, Charter Schools (putting restrictions on them, of course)

Those are CTA's values right there. Nothing that's going to help Darren, that's for sure!

So let's recap. In an issue where we're told that everything is going to Hell in a handbasket and we need to vote for all the Democrats in a few weeks, we see that Democrats are a big part of the problem. But hey, we should vote for them anyway, because what's good for CTA is good for California, right?


Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
The Comstock Lode. See pictures of Virginia City in this post.

Today's question is:
What cities were the original starting and ending points of the Orient Express?

I Heart Boobies

Have you seen these bracelets on kids at school, especially the boys? I certainly have.

Here's how I see it:
1. Most of the boys aren't wearing them for breast cancer awareness.
2. That makes them subject to sexual harassment claims.
3. "Boobies" isn't a word we should be using openly at school. If it's not appropriate for me to use the word in class, it's not appropriate to use anywhere at school.
4. Most boys wearing them are just trying to see what they can get away with, maybe even see if they can get a rise out of someone. And that's why I just ignore them, recognizing that wearing such bracelets is a sign of immaturity.

Read more here. At least the last student quoted in that article is honest.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
George Carlin.
The answer to yesterday's bonus question is:
Billy Preston performed Nothing From Nothing and Fancy Lady, and Janis Ian performed At Seventeen and In The Winter.

Today's question is:
What was the name of the famous vein of silver and gold discovered in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1858, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and which necessitated the creation of the Carson City Mint?

Boston Students Attend A Mosque During Prayers

Let's go to the Boston Globe:

WELLESLEY — This affluent suburb found itself cast squarely into the culture wars yesterday, as controversy engulfed school officials over a field trip to a Boston mosque where several sixth-grade pupils were videotaped kneeling during a prayer service.

As blogs and talk radio programs raged over whether the school should have allowed the trip, the mosque issued a statement saying there was no attempt to coerce the children and accusing critics of fear-mongering. The influential American Jewish Committee called for tighter guidelines for educational trips to religious settings, and First Amendment advocates said such outings ominously blur the divide between church and state.

But those who had the greatest cause for anger, parents of Wellesley students, emerged as the school’s most vigorous defenders. At coffee shops and in school parking lots, they insisted that the visit to New England’s largest mosque was a valuable educational experience that would help children gain an understanding of the Muslim faith. The backlash against the visit, many said, underscored the need for such exchanges.

I'm with the quoted parents on this one. If the facts are as they are reported in the story, and there's no hidden game-breaker, then there's nothing wrong with students learning about other religions. So the students were kneeling in a mosque. They weren't in what I'd consider an Islamic "prayerful" pose, they were in a quiet and respectful pose. Those are very different.

I've been to Jews' houses during Passover, and even though I'm not Jewish, I respectfully wear a yarmulke during the celebration. Were I invited to a Muslim student's house for Eid, I'd follow whatever conventions were standard in that instance. In neither way would I feel pressured or give anyone reason to believe that I was being converted, I'd just be participating in what I consider to be a cultural exercise.

Granted, I have much more free will than 6th grade students on a field trip. But being taught, and demonstrating, respect in a place of worship hardly strikes me as a bad thing.

Of course, some people can't claim that degree of common sense or see gradations of gray.

On Thursday, a group critical of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center released the recording, taken by a parent who chaperoned the field trip. That prompted a quick apology from the superintendent of Wellesley schools, Bella Wong, who said teachers should not have allowed pupils to take part in the midday prayer service, and she regretted “the offense it may have caused"...

“It’s very important that public schools not put students in a position where they feel obligated or pressured to participate in worship and that they never be subject to proselytizing,’’ said Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C., education group. “The bottom line is the school fell down in its responsibility.’’

I've yet seen no evidence that students were pressured to participate in the prayer. However, there may have been an offer to participate:

Wong, who did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday, said in a letter to parents that teachers anticipated that prayer services would coincide with the pupils’ visit, but made “an error’’ in allowing the children to take part.

The field trip was part of a required social studies course, “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today,’’ which introduces students to world religions. Students had earlier visited a synagogue, attended a gospel music performance, and met with Hindus.

In response to the escalating controversy, the Muslim American Society of Boston, which operates the mosque, condemned the group Americans for Peace and Tolerance for releasing the video. Bilal Kaleem, president of the group, said the heavily edited footage created a misleading impression that the mosque coerced the students into prayer.

“At no point did we attempt to proselytize students, or teach them how to pray, or even invite them to pray,’’ Kaleem said. “Each month about 15 schools, churches, and synagogues reach out to us requesting tours and requesting to see a Muslim prayer. The visit from Wellesley was no exception.’’

In her letter to parents on Thursday, Wong said a representative of the mosque told pupils they were welcome to join in the prayer.

In that case I would say the teachers should have stepped in and said that it would be inappropriate for students to participate. But I'm going to disagree resolutely with this individual:

“Public schools need to have clear guidelines that these field trips are for educational purposes only,’’ said Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. “If it’s a school-sponsored activity, it may not involve religious practice.’’

Simply observing prayer services, Haynes and others said, was problematic.

“I think it’s too close to participation for comfort,’’ he said. “Observing is a gray area, but these are sixth-graders. They are in a place of worship with worship going on, and I think that crosses the line.’’

Participating would cross the line. Observing is what we in the business call "educational".

My bottom line here is that the teachers erred for allowing a few of the students to apparently "immerse themselves in the experience" and possibly participate in the prayer while the rest of the class merely observed. This error, though, is relatively minor and should merit no more than a brief reminder or warning to teachers not to let such things happen on field trips. That's it.

Yes, Muslims flew airplanes into buildings. Yes, Muslims are doing some pretty nasty things around the world. Yes, we keep waiting for "moderate Muslims" to stand up to the extremism being perpetrated in their name and get their fellow Muslims under some sort of civilized control. Believe me, I get that and I support that.

But the hue and cry over this mosque visit is a bit too far over the top for me.

Hat tip to NewsAlert.

Update, 9/19/10: Mr. Chanman links to video shot by a chaperone mother. Hmmm, not quite as benign as the Boston Globe reported.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Warms My Heart

A former student dropped in to visit me unexpectedly today. Nice guy, relatively bright--and very liberal. To show off his liberal "street cred", he goes to UC Santa Cruz. It's crazy liberal there.

He told me the place has made him slightly more conservative :) He's not yet ready to join us in the Tea Party, though.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Butch Patrick.

Today's question is:
Who was the host of the first Saturday Night Live show?

Bonus question: who were either of the musical guests on that first show?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Wake-Up Call From Your University

No, it's not a wake-up call like "you'd better get your act together or you'll be deep in debt and not have a degree to show for it." No, it's a genuine "time to get out of bed and go to class" wake-up call, and it's costing the university $11,000. I wish this were a joke.

Any college students who needs such a service--well, they don't strike me as having enough drive to ever amount to much.

Education Buzz

This week's is here but does not include any posts of mine--as I didn't even send one in.

Whither Michelle Rhee

I've made no secret on this blog of my professional crush on Michelle Rhee, current Chancellor of the DC Public Schools.

When I heard her speak at a CEAFU conference, Rhee told us that because of the entrenched bureaucracy in DC, she could only do the job she's doing because of the support of Mayor Adrian Fenty--"Nobody tells Michelle Rhee no but me", and he didn't tell her no. Well, in part because of his backing of Rhee, Fenty has lost his reelection bid.

The question now is, how long will Michelle Rhee last?

In an outcome that had come to seem inevitable, though it would have been shocking six months ago, D.C. city-council chairman Vincent Gray beat incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty 56 percent to 42 percent in Tuesday's Democratic primary. Fenty, who swept to a massive citywide victory in 2006, fared well with white voters but cratered in the black community. He lost the city's black Democrats, even though the Washington Post reported in August that 67 percent of registered Dems thought the mayor had "brought needed change" to the city.

The contest assumed national significance because of its educational implications. It was Fenty who fought for mayoral control of the D.C. public schools, appointed Michelle Rhee as chancellor in 2007, and then stood rock-solid behind Rhee's remarkable efforts. Rhee has made it clear that she regarded Fenty as a stalwart champion and was skeptical she could be equally effective without that support. Her stance has been read as a particular dig at Gray, who had persistently equivocated on the contentious particulars of her efforts.

It's not yet 100 percent certain whether (or when) Rhee will leave. But nonetheless, for several reasons, the election results bode poorly for school reform in the nation's capital.

Her concern for, and focus on, the students in DC--students who, incidentally, are overwhelmingly black--cannot be denied. The changes she's made were necessary, and the kids deserve even better than those.

The chances that they'll get better are now close to zero. The new mayor will almost certainly appoint a new chancellor that will "get along" with the unions, the ward bosses, and the city council, and will return the schools to the status quo ante Rhee.

DC's students will be even worse off, through no fault of their own--the fault of their parents, perhaps, who voted for Gray, but no fault of their own.

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
James Buchanan.

Today's question is:
What actor played Eddie Munster?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wal*Mart Your Way To A Greener World

I'm not sure I buy this hook, line, and sinker, but there's definitely a logic to it that I'll have to consider:

As I drove my load of goodies home, I started to feel a surge of Green Guilt: the Great Wastrel staggers home in his gas-guzzling automobile stuffed with Big Box Retail productions — the enemy of everything sustainable. Shouldn’t I be riding a bio-degradable bicycle to the farmer’s market to pick up locally produced heirloom beets and carry them home in my reusable organic burlap shopping sack?

Actually, no. Walmart and its Big Box friends are making the world a greener, more sustainable place. This isn’t because of any PR stunts or corporate green initiatives they may have going; it’s because they are relentlessly focused on profit and efficiency. It is their cutthroat capitalism not their sense of corporate citizenship that will save us — if anything can.

Walmart is helping to save the planet because it’s tough and realistic and focused like a laser on the bottom line. Giving customers what they want at low prices has made Walmart an irresistible force in the market. Every sock factory in China, every flatware manufacturer in Bangladesh wants to crack the Walmart market. Some purchasers buy by the crate and the carton; Walmart buys in the millions and billions.

But there’s a catch. Walmart wants to sell cheap to its customers; that means it must buy cheap from producers. And Walmart isn’t loyal; what have you done for me lately? is what its buyers want to know. Maybe last year you sold them ten million pairs of men’s shorts; if you want to repeat that you are going to have to be the low bidder yet again. If the factory across town (or across the ocean) figures out a way to make shorts that meet Walmart’s specs for two cents a pair less than your price — it’s goodbye to those ten million sales.

That means you, and everyone else trying to sell to Walmart, have to spend all your time figuring out how to produce the same product with less. Walmart’s ruthless focus on reducing prices is driving producers everywhere to cut the costs of production: to switch to cheaper materials, use less packaging, cut down on waste of all kinds and to consolidate and rationalize both production and distribution. The result is a steady and inexorable decline in humanity’s impact on the environment for every unit of GDP.

The Green Police couldn’t do it any better. In fact, given the political cluelessness, uncertain signals (is nuclear energy a good thing or a bad thing?), and anti-scientific knuckle dragging from environmentalists on subjects like the use of GMOs in agriculture, it’s likely that a world run by Walmart would be both richer and cleaner than a world run by Greenpeace. Not that I want Walmart (or Greenpeace) to run the world, bu at the end of the day, being ruthlessly cheap is the most important way of being green. To cut out waste, to use methods of production that cut the energy consumed at every stage in the process, to strip packaging to the barest minimum, to reduce the amount of raw materials in every product: this is the mother lode of green. This is how a growing human population limits its impact on the earth. This is where Walmart and green are as one.

More, by doing what so many of its critics hate and driving small mom and pop stores out of business, Walmart is making the planet greener still. It is much more energy-efficient to have one large store that receives large shipments than to have dozens of little trucks roaming the highways and byways with small deliveries to small retailers. It is also more efficient to have consumers come to one store for all their needs rather than having them drive all over creation — to the farmer’s market for the local rutabagas, to the small appliance and notion store for the toaster, to the pharmacy for the drugs, the optometrist for their glasses, to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker for everything else.

Meanwhile, Walmart, like other enviro-friendly companies like Amazon and Costco, is doing its best to become greener still by luring customers to shop its website. It is much more environmentally beneficial for Walmart to ship my socks and my garden tools directly to my door than for me to drive to the mall to pick them up. Delivery trucks use complicated mathematical algorithms to make the most deliveries with the least use of fuel and time. That’s especially true because Walmart is clearly dreaming of the day when it can cut back on expensive stores and sell more of its products directly through the web.

Back To School Night

I just got back from Back To School Night. At our school, parents follow the 6-period schedule their students have, and we teachers have 10 minutes to brief the parents in our "classes".

I've always preferred Back To School Night to Open House, which is held in the spring. At Open House there's no set agenda--we're just supposed to show off what our students are doing in class. As a math teacher I'm not one who likes to hang student work on the wall (what am I going to hang up, a test?), so I don't have a lot to talk about at Open House.

At Back To School Night, however, I can get the parents eating out of my hand. I thank them for raising such polite kids, and the kids at my school are, for the most part, very polite. I tell them that I, too, am a high school parent, so I understand the position they're in. I let them know their kids are in good hands.

The vast majority of the parents at our school are probably like parents everywhere else--a little richer, perhaps, but just like everywhere else--they work hard and want what's best for their kids. And for the most part they're nice, kind people. But at Back To School Night there's always one, and sure enough, I met that one tonight....I'm glad I don't even know whose child that one was the parent of, as I might be tempted to draw conclusions based on that parent.

Other than that one, it was a pleasant, receptive atmosphere. Now it's bed time.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
A decagon.

Today's question is:
Who was the only bachelor US president?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
His master's voice.

Today's question is:
What is a 10-sided polygon called?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Porn On The School Projector

We hear about a couple of these stories a year, and can you help but laugh a little?

More than 400 students from Norwin High School in western Pennsylvania got an unexpected eyeful Friday, when a big screen presentation on the importance of donating blood suddenly turned into an X-rated slideshow.

The hardcore images -- described by students as gay pornography, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette -- were stored on a portable flash drive owned by a Central Blood Bank employee. That USB stick also contained the safe-for-all-ages PowerPoint presentation. But unfortunately, the Gazette noted, when Assistant Principal Tim Kotch plugged the drive into a computer, he unwittingly clicked on the wrong file, causing several explicit photos to appear on the school's giant TV screen.

"It took a few seconds for people to process what was up there," senior Chelsey Fix told the newspaper. "People were laughing, but the main thing was people were like, 'I can't believe this happened.'" Student Ethan Dobranski told Channel 4 Action News that the images included "frontal male nudity, and there was one with, like, two people in there, but it was, like, from the back."

"That's what popped up, but I don't think [the Central Blood Bank employee] realized that was on there at the time, and he was truly embarrassed for what happened," student Dan Jones told the TV news show. "He was just shocked. He, like, put his hand on the stage and covered his head. He was so ashamed of himself for having that."

A second presentation planned for the school's junior class later that day was canceled.

OK, you and I can laugh a little, the students laughed, the Assistant Principal feels like a fool through not fault of his own--and I guess it's appropriate if the blood bank employee loses his job. But do we really need to go here?

Those hardcore images may have caused snickers among the students, but they look certain to result in the Central Blood Bank being hit with a seriously hefty lawsuit. "They tell me it lasted about 30 seconds, which is a long time," attorney Peter J. Payne, who has been hired by parents of several students who attended the presentation, told Channel 4.

The school has apologized. The blood bank has apologized. Do these bloodsucking parents and their ambulance-chasing lawyers want anything besides ill-gotten blood money? To ask the question is to answer it.

Reducing the Arts Requirement For Graduation

A bill that seeks to reduce dropout rates by changing high school graduation requirements statewide has arts education advocates bristling.

Assembly Bill 2446 would allow students to pick from a myriad of arts and career technical education or vocational classes instead of requiring them to take yearlong classes in arts or a foreign language.

"We feel it's bad educational policy as it sets one education area against another," said Joe Laddon, policy director of the California Arts Education Alliance.

Approved by the Legislature, the bill is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto it.

In addition to potentially eroding arts education, Laddon said he fears it would create a pool of graduating students who do not meet basic requirements for getting into the University of California and California State University systems. Both require arts and language classes.

"One of the implications of this is that it suggests a two-tier system where kids are sent in the direction of career tech at the expense of going into higher education," he said. "They will have to go back and take those courses if they want to go on to a postsecondary educational track."

Read more:

I hope no one is anchoring their argument against this on the "won't get into UC" comment. Kids who are aiming for a UC know what to do; kids who just want to complete high school, and maybe even get some useful job or life skills in the process, should have that option.

Not everyone needs to go to college.

Lowering Academic Standards

The Wall Street Journal reports that companies are now targeting large, often public, universities for recruiting new hires:

Recruiters made clear they preferred big state schools over elite liberal arts schools, such as the Ivies. A number of state schools were added to recruiters' lists in the last two years, including Penn State and Arizona State University (No. 5) and Ohio State University (No. 12).

So where are Harvard University and other exclusive schools? While many companies that answered The Journal's survey say they recruit and hire Ivy League graduates, far fewer ranked them as top picks.

Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economics professor and lead researcher on a study tracking Harvard graduates' career paths, said, "We have none of the basic bread-and-butter courses that serve you well in much of industry." What's more, Ms. Goldin said, at Harvard, more than 55% of graduates went on to a doctorate degree, according to a recent survey, so they tend to stay in a first job for a short period of time—often a year or less. It's an observation recruiters in the Journal's study also made.

A Harvard spokesman said, "Harvard College graduates consistently experience success in the job market and in their chosen fields."

Monica Wilson, acting co-director of career services at Dartmouth College, said it's partly a numbers game: "How can you compare a large state school to a small liberal arts school that produces less than 750 students who go into employment each year?"

While companies didn't rate Ivy League grads best overall, several did favor them in some specific majors. Stanford University, for example, was ranked No. 11 in engineering recruits and No. 16 in business/economics; Harvard was No. 4 in business and economics.

TaxProf Blog lists the WSJ's top 25 schools along with their USNews rankings and finds a bit of a disconnect.

According to the WSJ, the top California schools, unsurprisingly, are UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and USC. The two UC's have been around a long time and no doubt can rest on some laurels, but will they be able to remain so prestigious if they continue down this path?

The University of California Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) is at it again, attempting to slowly erode the high academic standards required for admission to this most prestigious network of public universities.

For some reason, BOARS is recommending to the Board of Regents that the school "signal" to applicants to not take the new SAT test for admission to the UC system. This comes less than two years after the Board of Regents lowered the admission requirements for UC schools by eliminating the use of the SAT II Subject Tests and just eight years after using scarce university resources to help create the new SAT in the first place...

Time and time again, BOARS has put forth proposals that would lower academic standards and undermine the value of a UC education. All the evidence shows that an applicant's performance on the SAT has a high correlation to university performance and it is imperative that during these times of fiscal constraints that UC not foolishly waste its limited resources on such misguided efforts.

Using the SAT to identify applicants with a high degree of probable success continues to be appropriate and prudent. The UC Board of Regents should reject the BOARS recommendation because abandoning the SAT as a tool for evaluating admissions would be a mistake that will increase costs and diminish the quality of a UC education. Don't squander decades of academic excellence and the SAT's proven record of success by again changing admissions standards and policies, removing student choice and sowing further confusion and anxiety in the admissions process.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonder at what ideas come out of the University of California system.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
What was the slogan of the RCA Victor company, which often was accompanied by a picture of a dog listening to an old phonograph?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Leonidas I. (I hope the real Leonidas was as cool as the one in the movie 300.)

Today's question is:
In what year did Home Box Office (HBO) begin broadcasting?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
Who was King of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopolae?

A Clear View Of The President

Jonah Goldberg, who writes so much that I agree with, does not disappoint here:

For reasons fair and unfair, Obama, who inherited a bad recession and made it worse, every day looks more like a modern-day Hoover, whining about his problems, rather than an FDR cheerily getting things done. Inadequate to the task, Obama is discrediting the statism he was elected to restore.

If you put your faith in government and government isn't up to the task, whom do you turn to then?

ACLU Sues Over Illegal Fees

It's a drum I've been beating for a very long time. Even this year, my own school tried to charge a "locker fee", but after I raised a stink and they looked into it, they acknowledged that the fee was illegal and offered to refund the money to any student who paid it.

California schools may soon take this issue a bit more seriously, as the ACLU is now suing:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state of California on Friday for allowing school districts to charge students for books, uniforms, classes and other basic supplies.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that more than 30 districts require students and their families to pay for basic supplies that are supposed to be provided at no cost. Districts cited in the lawsuit include Beverly Hills, Burbank and Long Beach.

It will be interesting to see if the suit looks into the fees charged for school athletics and cheerleading :-)

I don't often agree with the ACLU but I'll give them props when they do something right--and this is definitely one of those times.

If They Were As "Brave" In The Past As We Are In The Present

Rhymes With Right says it all.

A bit of what might have been had American leaders in the 1950s had simply shown the "courage" of today's leaders in dealing with the threatened burning of the Quran by a small group of cultists in Florida.

Of course, you have to click on the link to read his tidbit of alternate history.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I got the old computer fired up, the Star Trek fonts transferred over, and am finishing up deleting any personal files. By morning I'll be able to salvage the hard drive--not insignificant at 225GB--and get rid of the rest of the old box. I don't think there's anything else in there, not even the cd/dvd-rw drive, that's worth salvaging, although I'll check with our tech guy at school to see if he can use any of it.

Christie Puts On A Smackdown

Teacher asks a loaded question. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie starts to answer. Teacher does the roll-the-eyes, start-mocking routine. Christie blasts her. All in the first 2 minutes.

3:00 Clearly states he attacks the leaders of the teachers union, not teachers themselves.

After that, lots of specific facts about the budget. Points out that since the teachers union wouldn't compromise at all on a pay freeze or a 1.5% salary contribution for health care benefits, they, not he, bear the responsibility for teacher layoffs.

7:45-8:00 Hard to argue with the point he's making here. It's about the "tone" of the disagreement.

If you've got 9:13 to spare, watch this video. I like a politician who tells the truth without any walking on eggshells. I respect his directness while also demonstrating respect for someone with whom he clearly disagrees.

Social Security Retirement Age

Thinking like this is why I like libertarians:

The questions that policymakers thinking about Social Security reform should be asking aren’t “How many years should people work” or “When do we think individuals should retire?” ... Instead, the right question to ask is: “At what age should we start subsidizing retirement by taxing younger members of society?”

Math Joke

Instead of doing the bonus problem on today's stats quiz, one of my students drew a picture of a mermaid along with the following joke:

What do mermaid math teachers wear?

Ans: An algae-bra!

Charters--Taking Only The Best and Brightest?

It's a common refrain from the anti-school-choice crowd, but I haven't seen a lot of evidence that it's so. Joanne has a post today that would be funny if it weren't so sad (from a hypocritical standpoint):

Albany’s charter students (85 percent poor, 96 percent black or Latino) are outperforming students in district-run schools (68 percent poor, 80 percent black or Latino), reports the Albany Times Union. But those poor, little, high-performing charter kids are racially isolated, the Times Union charges in a front-page story. There aren’t enough white students in their classes.

That’s because the Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all of Albany’s charters, opened schools in the neediest neighborhoods, writes Jason Brooks of Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability.

After nearly a decade accusing Brighter Choice schools of “creaming” the best students, it takes chutzpah to accuse the schools of segregation, writes Peter Meyer, who wrote an Ed Next story on Brighter Choice’s success.

It doesn't matter if their complaints are valid or even honest. All that matters to them is getting rid of charter schools. Since charters are public schools, what is it these types of people object to? Is it simply that these schools are often not beholden to teachers unions, and can do things that actually help kids instead of just adults?

Charter Schools Are Growing In Number

From yesterday's major Sacramento newspaper:

Last year the California Charter Schools Association reported that 88 charters opened in the state – more than any prior year. The association expects another 90 to 100 to open by Sept. 30, bringing the total in California to more than 900.

Sacramento County has 37 charter schools, the fifth-highest number in the state.

"We have clear, concise evidence charter schools are picking up steam," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association...

Charter schools are generally started by parents, teachers or community groups with the permission of a local school district. They are part of the public school system and receive state funding based on the number of students they enroll. They don't have to comply with all the rules of traditional schools, but must meet student performance goals. This flexibility allows charters to do things like expand the school day or school year...

On the Academic Performance Index, California's primary yardstick for student achievement, charter schools and district-run schools score similarly, on average.

But charter schools – which aren't bound by collective bargaining agreements – have the flexibility to save money in ways that traditional schools can not. Preston said his West Sacramento charter will seek donations and grants, and will save money by using parent volunteers.

"You literally can't have a voluntary librarian (in a traditional school)," Wallace said. "There are some positions where you are literally prevented from what charters schools do in common practice."

Read more:

The article closes by mentioning 5 new charters in the Sacramento area, along with the focus of each school.

Friday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
September 9, 1850.

Today's question is:
On what day of the week were the September 11th attacks, the 9-year anniversary of which is tomorrow??

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thursday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
September 8, 1966.

Today's question is:
On what date did California enter the union? (We'll see who's paying attention!)

Happy California Admission Day!

When I was a kid, we used to get California Admission Day off school as a holiday. It's kinda sad; I'll bet if I asked the kid in the front of each row in each of my classes, none will know the significance of the date (unless they heard it on the tv or radio in the morning before school).

It's a great holiday.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Another Civil War Letter

I've mentioned before that I'm on a maillist of West Point graduates, and one fellow member of the list recently wrote about transcribing family letters from the Civil War. Click on Letters From History at the end of this post and you'll see I've done the same thing with the few letters I have. One difference between our letters, though, is that while mine were written to a soldier (my great-great-great grandfather), his is written by a soldier. Read all of them and you can get a snapshot of both the army and of the home front.

With his permission I'm posting the transcript he provided, as well as a link to a scan of the first page of the letter.

Vincent_Martin_Elmore_Ltrs from the Civil War_4May1861
Context of this letter:
 Alabama seceded four months prior (11 January)
 Ft Sumter has been fired upon 3 weeks prior (12 April)
 VM Elmore, 21, [private?] is on a troop train going North
 1st Manassas (Bull Run) has not yet occurred (21 July)

Lynchburg May 4th
My dear Father
We arrived at this place this morning about 4 o-clock all well. Our transportation reflect a disgrace upon the Secretary of War. We were for the most part crowded into box-cars in which stock had been previously been carried. but this was a minor evil --- in one car (the one in which I was) there was upward of forty persons. You can imagine how suffocating it was. Mention it not -- for it would seem that I was
dissatisfied whereas such is not the case. In Alabama very little excitement was perceptible, but in Georgia Tennessee & Virginia the reception of our Regiment was sufficiently gratifying to have satisfied the most inveterate unbeliever in Southern Rights that it had a flourishing existence. At every station we were met by immense crowds of men women & boys cheering and seemingly influenced by the wildest enthusiasm or rather frenzy. -- The ladies (God bless them. as Charlie Bryan says) were ready with all their provisions to feed the tired & hungry soldiers. Before I believed that Lincoln could never conquer us, but Now I know it. In Knoxville - Brownlow's* especial theater of action & eloquence - we were received with Southern banners and by immense crowds. Speeches were made intensely Southern in feeling.

It is doubtful how long we shall be here, but I think it probably we will not leave before next week. Would you not like to see the Lynchburg [news]papers? We passed a Regiment of rifle who will be here soon. A great number of Tennesseans are expected here.

Love to all. Kiss Coirie[?] for me. My thoughts are ever of home. Joe Gwen has just asked me to send word that he was well and would write tomorrow.
Your Son V.M. Elmore
The man who sent this to me? Michael Elmore Havey, West Point Class of 1968. Mike, thank you for granting permission to post this, and for providing the transcript and link.

One Man's View of Freshman Comp

After World War II, when a surge in prosperity brought an increasing proportion of high school graduates into institutions of higher education, it became evident that many of them were incapable of reading and writing their native language adequately for academic work. They were not illiterate; they knew their letters and could read documents that conveyed information or instructions of on a simple, one-dimensional level. They could write out their thoughts in a rudimentary, colloquial fashion.

What they could not usually manage was to grasp the nuances of a sophisticated work of literature or follow the logic of a complex argument. They were even more perplexed at the prospect of constructing a consistent, focused argument of their own expressing such understanding as they had attained of the subtleties of literary and intellectual discourse. Their high school English hadn’t taken them far enough.

English departments in colleges and universities were, therefore, assigned the task of raising students to a level of reading and writing adequate for serious academic work. They tried to accomplish that by means of an essentially remedial course, freshman composition.

The emphasis of the course, as the title indicates, was on writing; but reading was also a crucial feature, because of an implicit assumption that learning to read challenging works of literature would enhance a student’s writing skills. Freshman composition thus became the foundation for liberal education of a broad swath of American students who were often encountering for the first time the liberating effect of intellectual cultivation – the mental excitement of mastering intellectually difficult books, handling ideas with discernment, and realizing their thoughts in clear, coherent language.

Now it would be na├»ve to suggest that the 1950s through 1970s were a golden age of student enthusiasm and exalted educational attainment. Very few institutions of higher learning, in this country or any other, have even tried to embody Cardinal Newman’s ideal of liberal education as the cultivation of the mind for its own sake. Land grant universities, polytechnic institutes, schools of agriculture and technology—all proclaim by their names a commitment to providing students with job training and augmenting the local economy.

Nevertheless, almost all of those institutions, and certainly the most ambitious, usually sought to offer young men and women something beyond mere technical expertise. At least some acquaintance with the humanities was thought to prepare students for leadership or at least furnish the materials for better citizenship and a more fulfilling life.

During the last three decades, this generally humanistic, even literary, understanding of freshman composition has been almost wholly displaced in the vast majority of state university campuses, along with many other institutions as well. The old vision of freshman composition has been pushed aside by a theoretical approach more in tune with the social sciences and the public education establishment.

Read the whole thing here.

Conservatives--With Anti-Obama Literature!--Kicked Off Florida Campus

School officials at Palm Beach State College kicked members of the Young America’s Foundation off campus after they saw anti-Obama literature at their table.

It was offensive...

Other college groups were allowed to stay on campus despite not registering for the event. link
This is what happens in Obama's America.

Burning Korans At Church

A couple of students asked me today what my opinion was of the upcoming Koran-burning planned at that church in Florida, and I thought my readers here would like to know my thoughts on the subject. I heard a comment on the radio on the way to work this morning that helped encapsulate my views on the topic:

It's not very Christian. It's not very patriotic. It seems like nothing more than hatred. Yes, it's legal for them to burn Korans, but it's not "right"--kinda like building an "Islamic Center" near Ground Zero. And no way should any level of government prevent their doing so, in either situation.

Evidence That Someone Has Lost Their Mind?

Zombies are everywhere these days. Last year they hit the best-seller list in a bizarre mash-up with Jane Austen called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." They have inspired math professors to devise statistical models for surviving a "zombie apocalypse." This fall, they'll star in the AMC TV series "The Walking Dead."

And now, they're the subject of a new course, otherwise known as English 333, at the University of Baltimore. link

You might think that my initial reaction to a course like this would be academic revulsion, but that's actually not the case. There are all sorts of college courses out there that examine specific genres of music, literature, film, or art, and as individual courses I think they can be educationally valuable and can allow students to explore some specific interests in a little bit of depth. I'd be very concerned, though, if someone were allowed a major in Zombie Studies.

Wednesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Roald Dahl.

Today's question is:
On what date did Star Trek first air?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Good Study Habits

The New York Times tells us that "the research" shows we've perhaps been wrong about studying:

Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing...

I have no problem believing the next part, as I've believed it for years:

“Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. Some excellent instructors caper in front of the blackboard like summer-theater Falstaffs; others are reserved to the point of shyness.

And this on testing:

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future...

“Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test,” Dr. Roediger said. “Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.”

Of course, one reason the thought of testing tightens people’s stomachs is that tests are so often hard. Paradoxically, it is just this difficulty that makes them such effective study tools, research suggests. The harder it is to remember something, the harder it is to later forget. This effect, which researchers call “desirable difficulty,” is evident in daily life. The name of the actor who played Linc in “The Mod Squad”? Francie’s brother in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”? The name of the co-discoverer, with Newton, of calculus?

The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.

And the coup de grace:

None of which is to suggest that these techniques — alternating study environments, mixing content, spacing study sessions, self-testing or all the above — will turn a grade-A slacker into a grade-A student. Motivation matters.

Yes, it certainly does.

The Universe Has A Sense of Humor

The Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Sciences, a school in Los Angeles named for Al Gore and Rachel Carson (of Silent Spring fame), was built on a toxic site.

Tuesday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:

Today's question is:
Who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Monday, September 06, 2010

School Reform: Doomed To Failure?

Robert Samuelson thinks so:

As 56 million children return to the nation's 133,000 elementary and secondary schools, the promise of "reform" is again in the air. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced $4 billion in "race to the top" grants to states whose proposals demonstrate, according to Duncan, "a bold commitment to education reform" and "creativity and innovation (that are) breathtaking." What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than "school reform."

Since the 1960s, waves of "reform" haven't produced meaningful achievement gains...

"Reforms" have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains. Efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C., to raise educational standards involve contentious and precarious school-by-school campaigns to purge "ineffective" teachers and principals. Charter schools might break this pattern, though there are grounds for skepticism. In 2009, the 4,700 charter schools enrolled about 3 percent of students and did not uniformly show achievement gains.

The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.

I wonder how many teachers would disagree with this assessment. On the other hand, there are enough examples out there that show that schools can overcome these hurdles if the right kind of people are in charge and the right kind of people are teaching.

Doesn't It Seem Just A Bit Contradictory... have a bumper sticker that says "Two wheels are better than four", with a picture of a bicycle on it?

Just saw one on the way home from yoga class.

Monday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly. (I didn't know the part about Waylon Jennings.)

Today's question is:
In what state do we find Deaf Smith County?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Better, Stronger, Faster

I went to Sam's Club yesterday to get an external hard drive for a backup. On the clearance table was an HP computer with 7GB of RAM, significantly more than the 1GB I currently have. It was Vista, not Windows 7, but since I currently use Vista, I don't mind.

So now I have an external hard drive and a new computer, and I'm working on porting all my "stuff" over.

Update, 9/6/10: So I spent a lot of time yesterday doing a backup of the old computer and then setting up the new computer. An idea I had several years ago sure came into play--I had a folder called "Transfer files for a new computer", in which I stored installation files for the software I use. Moved that folder over, ran each of the programs, and voila! My "Program Files" folder started filling with software.

I also learned how to copy over the important web browser and email files, so that when I fired those programs up, everything was there: saved emails, mail filters, account settings, web bookmarks, etc. I made a text file explaining how to do these things and stuck that text file in my new "Transfer files for a new computer" folder.

I started deleting personal files off the old computer, and after awhile it started to get sluggish--and when I say sluggish, I mean sluggish--so I rebooted it. It wouldn't start up again, just like on Friday.

Good thing I responded so rapidly and aggressively to Friday's problem.

Sunday Trivia

The answer to yesterday's question is:
Nibblin' (on spongecake).

Today's question, the last in Music Week, is:
Which 3 musical performers were killed “The Day The Music Died” in 1959?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Saturday Trivia

I didn't post a new question yesterday so we'll start fresh today. Continuing Music Week, today's question is:

What is the first word in the Jimmy Buffet song Margaritaville?