Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So Open-minded, Your Brain Falls Out

Gotta love our California legislature--because, you know, California is just rolling in money:
The state Senate on Wednesday approved the second half of contentious legislation that would allow students who are illegal immigrants to apply for state-funded scholarships and financial aid.

The Senate approved AB131, also known as the California Dream Act, with a 22-11 vote, leaving it just one step away from the governor’s desk.
Why is this even being considered? Why are they still looking for ways to give away even more money?

Fortunately, My School's Graduates Say The Opposite

From Joanne's blog:
College is great, say recent high school graduates, but they weren’t prepared for college-level math, science and writing.

College Board’s One Year Out (pdf) survey asked members of the class of 2010 how their high school experience prepared them for work and college. In addition to wishing they’d taken harder classes in high school, 47 percent said they should have worked harder, reports College Bound. Thirty-seven percent said high school graduation requirements were too easy.
I can't tell you how many bright former-students have told me that college is much easier than high school was. Then again, when you take 4 AP courses at once....

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Got Home From My Son's Back-to-School Night

I certainly have some issues with my son's school. A week and a half into his sophomore year the world hasn't collapsed, so I'm not going to complain too loudly--but they do some odd things there.

First, they're on a block schedule--they have 4 90-minute classes a day. A year-long class at an "ordinary" school is only half a year long at his school, but they get credit for a year's worth of material. Let's do the math: they're in class 1.5 times as long per period as students at a traditional school (90 min vs. 60 min), but only half the number of days per class. That comes out to 3/4 of the amount of time per class to learn the material as they'd have at a "traditional" school.

Even better, they get entirely new classes in January. So a student who takes geometry August through January has been force-fed a year's worth of material, but the state standardized test isn't given until late April, giving the student plenty of time to forget the material because by the time the test rolls around they haven't seen geometry in 3 months.

One advantage of this block schedule is that students get 8 different classes a year, as opposed to only 6 at a school like mine. Teachers love it, because they have only 3 classes a day (plus a 90 minute prep period) whereas I have 5 classes a day (and only a 60 minute prep period). How our union can tolerate this inequity, I don't understand!

Besides the block schedule there's a second thing they do screwy. Far be it from me to challenge another teacher regarding what goes on in their class--I wouldn't tolerate it if someone were to tell me how I should run my classes--but I'll comment on that screwiness here.

Have you ever heard of an "interactive notebook"?

First off, what the heck is "interactive" about a notebook? "Interactive" is one of those overused words in English--the menu screens on my DVD's aren't "interactive", either, unless interactive means "you push the button and the scene you want pops up". If that's the new meaning of "interactive", then my garden hose is "interactive" because when I open the faucet the water pours out.

Ok, so we know an "interactive notebook" isn't interactive, but what is it? Well, it's a notebook in which you store all your homework assignments, worksheets, notes, and stuff like that. Everything has to be in the correct order and on the correct page, noted in the Table of Contents, or you get marked down. And the winner? Students cut/paste papers into their notebooks.

Remember, they have only 3/4 of the class time as is available at my school to teach exactly the same content to the exact same (in theory) standards. Why are they spending time having 15 and 16-year-olds cutting and pasting in class? Who thinks that's a productive use of student time in anything but an art class? I admit, I doubt I can be sold on the supposed benefits of these workbooks, but even if there are benefits, I just cannot believe they outweigh the wasted time.


On the plus side, I like the enthusiasm and dedication shown by my son's teachers. He likes them, too. I guess that's something, an important something.

The Titanic Was Unsinkable

I always worry a little about tempting the fates when I read something like this, about the new span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge:
It’s designed to handle major earthquakes and will be considered the lifeline from the East Bay to San Francisco.

The bridge is designed not only to not fall down but be immediately useable by emergency service vehicles, then open to public without rebuilding.

Do You Need To Read The Whole Thing To Know Where This Author's Going?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education comes this entirely unbiased (*cough cough*) gem. I'll boldface some fun parts in just the first few sentences:
For American higher education, the Tea Party feels like a wake. As political groups, often with ties to the movement, have increasingly intruded on the affairs of public colleges and universities, financial cutbacks have forced campuses into a triage mode. Administrators squeeze savings out of already malnourished budgets; programs disappear; tuitions rise; and the inequalities of a seriously stratified system worsen. With higher education increasingly hard to pay for in the current economic crisis, it can no longer serve as a safety net for the middle class and a source of economic mobility for society. Nor, given the political attacks on academe, can our colleges maintain the intellectual excellence, diversity, and freedom that once made them the envy of the world.
Do you get the impression that the author has a little bit of an entitlement complex, and just despises the fact that we rubes out in the sticks don't feel like financially supporting her and her whims anymore?

Poor baby.

Oh, you think perhaps I'm mischaracterizing the author's intent? Let's see her closing paragraph:
It's a vicious circle, and one that can only get worse unless the academic community—the entire academic community—recognizes that its own self-interest requires a united defense. That defense must transform the public debate about higher education into one that recognizes the broader social forces involved, explains the need for public financing, and stops scapegoating the faculty. Even then, as the economy totters, maintaining an optimistic perspective on the future of American colleges and universities requires considerable cognitive dissonance.

Circle the wagons and demand more money. Show the corn-pones how important the self-important are.

Sorry, lady. You want me to pay for it, I get a say in it--he who pays the piper calls the tunes. She doesn't like that fiscal conservatives want to start (finally!) calling some of the tunes.

Get used to it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Beautiful Summary of Conservationism

I'm lifting this comment in its entirety from another post. Well done, sir, well done:
I have never once heard anyone argue in favor of wasting more, rather than wasting less. Nor have I heard anyone ever argue that recycling is an immoral act of Godlessness.

However. That's not the issue. It just isn't. I can be very much against the EPA (as it currently exists today) without being against 'clean water and clean air'. I can oppose the environmental fundamentalism that screams that NOT recycling is akin to raping the rainforests, without being against the concept of recycling.

Conservatives, Christians, and most regular, average folks I meet are quite happy to be good stewards of the planet. 'Good steward' does not mean freaking out when children bring ziploc baggies into school.
The original story is about whether or not children should be pressured to bring reusable (plastic) containers in their lunch, or Ziploc baggies.

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is

Today I needed to look something up regarding my employment contract, and since that contract is kept on the web site of my local union, that's where I went to get it. Imagine my bouyed heart when I saw a link on that site to the Teachers Union Reform Network. Wow, teachers unions who see the need for reform!

I'm so naive. I thought they wanted to reform teachers unions. I thought that perhaps some were seeing that unions, as currently configured, aren't "the future", and were going to try to make them better, relevant, and/or useful. Let me repeat: I am so naive. This is on their home page:
Promoting progressive teacher unionism.

Building relationships at the grassroots level among teacher union leaders with key community leaders and allies.

Cultivating the next generation of progressive teacher leaders to influence education policymaking.
In other words, they're progressively promoting progressivism in progressive ways, via progressive teachers unions.


I'm A Bully

Sites like the one mentioned in this post on Joanne's site are trivializing actual bullying: defines “eye rolling” as a form of bullying, Bader writes. “Relational bullying” includes disrupting “another student’s peer relationships through leaving them out, gossiping, whispering and spreading rumors.” It’s hard to imagine a school on Planet Earth in which everybody is friends with everybody else and nobody gossips, whispers or spreads rumors.

Leaving others out? I don't have to like you, and I don't have to let you play in my reindeer games. There are some limits to behavior that we can enforce in school, but this seems to be going more than a little too far.

Update, 8/30/11: Here's more from New Jersey:
But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.

The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.

Ten Forward

Just stepped on the scale this morning for the first time in forever; I've gained 10 pounds since my accident. I despise having to reconquer the same ground, but I'll be darned if I'm going to let this accident make me a gimp and fat.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene Will Stimulate The Economy!

When I read columns by Jeff Jacoby, I often marvel that he's still employed by the Boston Globe. This is one of those columns:
COLUMNISTS MAKE predictions at their peril, but I’ll go out on a limb: If Hurricane Irene turns out to have wrought the havoc some forecasters have predicted, some expert will quickly reassure us that all the destruction is good for the economy. “One of the most reliable results of any natural disaster,’’ remarks economist Russell Roberts, “is the spreading of bad economics.’’ And few fallacies are more enduring than the belief that disasters are really a net benefit to society, since the money spent on recovery stimulates new jobs and construction...

More than 160 years ago, the French political economist Frederic Bastiat skewered such attitudes in a now-famous parable: A boy breaks a shopkeeper’s window, and everyone who sees it deplores the pointless destruction. Then someone insists that the damage is actually for the good: The six francs it will cost the shopkeeper to replace his window will benefit the glazier, who will then have more money to spend on something else. Those six francs will circulate, and the economy will grow.

The fatal flaw in that thinking, Bastiat wrote, is that it concentrates only on “what is seen’’ - the glazier being paid to make a new window. What it ignores is “what is not seen’’ - that the shopkeeper, forced to spend six francs on that, has lost the opportunity to spend them on better shoes, a new book, or some other addition to his standard of living. The glazier may be better off, but the shopkeeper isn’t - and neither is society as a whole.

Broken windows are not economic stimulus. Hurricanes aren’t either. There is no silver lining in useless destruction. Not even if “experts’’ say otherwise.
You know what else isn't economic stimulus? Stimulus packages.

"Green" Jobs Are Just Unicorns

It's not that I'm glad these jobs didn't materialize--I wish they had. As a conservationist I would like nothing more than to have our current standard of living with even less pollution. It's just that government is notoriously bad at things like this, and this outcome was easily predicted:
Pipe dreams eventually are revealed for what they are – unrealistic, wishful thinking. It didn't take long for Spain's touted green-job revolution to be revealed as a financial disaster, siphoning taxpayer subsidies and destroying 2.2 real jobs for every green job created.

Domestic green-job pipe dreams similarly drain U.S. taxpayers' money into economic sink holes. The millions of so-called green jobs promised by President Barack Obama and other champions of taxpayer-subsidized energy schemes not only haven't materialized, many that did, already are disappearing...

Overall, estimates the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner, $30 billion in green handouts in the stimulus bill cost taxpayers about $475,000 per job.

Almost no amount of tax subsidy can make consumers purchase something they don't want. When they don't, the enterprise is doomed to fail. Rather than prop up such failures with tax money, governments at all levels should allow taxpayers to find productive uses for their money.
Adam Smith's "invisible hand" does far better at meeting the needs of the market than does a bureaucracy. Command economies never work, the most obvious one being that of the Soviet Union.

Media Bias

A UCLA professor has quantified bias in the media, and it's definitely a leftward slant. His book stating this was recently released, and he defended its conclusions in a column about a month ago:
It is a well-told story that the mainstream media - at least to a small degree - have a liberal bias. It’s surprising, then, that few people have examined, or even asked, a potentially more important question: Does the bias matter? If the media reports the news with a certain slant, how does it affect those who take in the content?

For the past several years, I have researched this question, trying to solve the following thought experiment: What if media bias were suddenly to disappear? In such a world, how would America look and act politically?

The answer is, approximately like Texas.
His findings won't please the NPR crowd, which doesn't detect any leftward bias anywhere and, in fact, sees Fox News as the only biased source:
- All mainstream news outlets in the United States have a liberal bias.

- The Drudge Report is the most fair, balanced and centrist news outlet in the United States.

- Fox News' "Special Report," which is usually characterized as conservative, is not biased as far right as typical mainstream outlets are biased to the left.
Here's a link to his site, where you can calculate your own "political quotient" by answering a 40 question survey. I've gotten more conservative over time, although my social conservatism (not measured in this survey) has waned.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teacher Accountability

Michael Lopez makes some good points here:
You should be able to see where this is going now: in order for teachers to be "accountable" in the way I discussed yesterday, they need to have a duty to produce student achievement. That would be all fine and dandy if the students were beanstalks or 1974 Pontiac engines or some other sort of insentient matter. But the students are autonomous, sentient agents. They get to make their own decisions (in a strong, narrow sense) and their learning is, in great part, up to them. It is not entirely in the teachers' power...

Teachers can manipulate students in various ways -- they can coerce, cajole, coax, conspire, and a whole host of other words that don't begin with "c". Teachers can attempt to make learning easier. They can attempt to demonstrate the worth of their subject. They can try to make it entertaining. They can be the best teachers in the world, but the final decision as to whether there will be any learning of the subject at hand isn't up to the teacher.

So why would we expect a teacher to be "accountable" for student results, or the improvement of student achievement? Why would a teacher promise such a thing, even implicitly, and why on earth would any administrator accept such a promise?

It seems likely to me that most teachers never made any such promise, and don't view themselves as having made that promise. This is why you see so much push-back from teachers on issues of accountability. It's not that they don't want to be good employees and good teachers, or that they are lazy or unmotivated. It's that the promise for which enforcement is being sought in the name of "accountability" isn't one that they think is either realistic or legitimate.
If he's wrong, what is his error?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Do NOT Make Me Do This

I'm sorry your kid gets seizures, but I'm a teacher and not a medical professional, and neither do I desire a career related to medicine. If I desired one, I'd already be in that field. "Duh" just isn't strong enough.

But some just don't get it:
It's not often that the Democratic-controlled Legislature takes a stand against the state's Democratic Party chairman and the labor unions that are the party's main allies.

But that's what happened Thursday, when a key legislative committee voted to move forward with a bill that would let school employees who are not nurses administer epilepsy medicine to children having seizures...

Labor unions argue that schools should employ more nurses because it's inappropriate to ask nonmedical personnel to administer Diastat, the anti-seizure drug at the center of SB 161. Diastat is a valium gel that must be inserted into the patient's rectum with a soft-tipped syringe...

Supporters of the bill say the federal government has deemed Diastat a medication that can safely be administered by lay people. It would only be given to students whose doctors had previously prescribed the medication and only administered by school employees who volunteer to be trained in proper use. An analysis of the bill says training would cost $10 million.
You know what my fear is? Eventually they'll make it required that I do this.

But let's look at the big issue here. The CTA and I agree on something! Hey, why are my feet getting cold?

Why I Support Capitalism

Just watch the interview here at the link. It's 11 minutes long, but there's not much in it with which I can disagree. Here is the description provided by Instapundit himself:
INSTAVISION: John Allison: The Government Caused The Financial Crisis. And a much-more-of-the-same approach won’t fix it. Plus, the most-regulated sector — finance — vs. the least-regulated sector — technology. Which has done better? And why capitalism is the only moral system for economic organization.

Abusing The Law

California passed an "Amazon tax" law, and true to its word, Amazon ended its relationship will all California affiliates so that it would not have a "nexus" in California and hence would not have to collect state taxes for California. Amazon is funding an initiative to overturn the tax collection law, but some are seeking to overturn that initiative before it even gets passed into a new law:
Supporters of the new law, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., still have a major challenge: The new bill is a so-called urgency measure and needs support from two-thirds of the membership of both houses of the Legislature.

According to the state Constitution, urgency bills are not subject to being repealed by a referendum.

Consequently, the large retailers, which provide financial support for many Republican candidates in the Legislature, have to persuade at least three GOP members in the Senate and two in the Assembly to vote for the Internet sales tax collection.
Does this issue sound "urgent" to you, or are some businesses and their bought-and-paid-for legislators abusing the "urgency measure" law just to get what they want?

Great Post About Math

Over at Joanne's blog there's a post about whether or not schools should ditch the standard Algebra 1-Geometry-Algebra 2 route and lean instead to "quantitative literacy", including data analysis, finance, and basic engineering. Yours truly chimes in that these courses should add to, not subtract from, current offerings, and offers other amazing tidbits of insight and wisdom :-)

What The Recent Wisconsin Brouhaha Was Really About

It was about money--don't let anyone tell you any differently--and George Will says it clearly:
During the recall tumult, unions barely mentioned either their supposed grievance about collective bargaining, or their real fears, which concern money, particularly political money. Teachers unions can no longer bargain to require school districts to purchase teachers’ health insurance from the union’s preferred provider, which is especially expensive. This is saving millions of dollars and reducing teacher layoffs. Also, unions must hold annual recertification votes.

And teachers unions may no longer automatically deduct dues from members’ paychecks. After Colorado in 2001 required public employees unions to have annual votes reauthorizing collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent. In 2005, Indiana stopped collecting dues from unionized public employees; in 2011, there are 90 percent fewer dues-paying members. In Utah, the end of automatic dues deductions for political activities in 2001 caused teachers’ payments to fall 90 percent. After a similar law passed in 1992 in Washington state, the percentage of teachers making such contributions declined from 82 to 11.

Democrats furiously oppose Walker because public employees unions are transmission belts, conveying money to the Democratic Party.
Liberals can't get your money honestly, so they write an entitlement to it into the law. Those days are currently gone in Wisconsin and other states; I can only look forward to the distant day when the same can be said in California.

1 Week Down, 36 To Go!

I wasn't on my A-game the first couple days of school, but now that I'm actually teaching math (instead of just introducing myself and talking about behavior, procedures, etc.) it's going much more smoothly.

I walk all the way over to the office once a day, and I have to make sure I have plenty of time to make the round-trip because I certainly can't run to class when the one-minute bell rings!

One ibuprofin a day seems to keep soreness at bay, although some kids have told me they've seen me wince once in awhile when I try to do something. Oh well, it's not like I can keep it a secret! The cane, which I sometimes use, is a dead giveaway!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Socialism Solution

My son and I stopped by the grocery story yesterday afternoon, and he noted to me that I have a peculiar form of limp: my good leg moves forward quickly, while my injured leg moves forward more slowly. This fast--s-l-o-w--fast--s-l-o-w gait gets more pronounced the faster I try to walk.

This explains why, when I walk slowly, the limp all but disappears--because I'm just slowing down the good leg to the same speed as the bad leg.

Thinking of that today, I was reminded that that's how socialism works in practice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Education Buzz

The current edition is here, and includes my post about the teacher who blogged bad things about her students, then got fired and rehired.

How Young Are My Recently-graduated Students?

Or, how old am I?
The current freshmen entering college who will make up the Class of 2015 have no remembrance of what life was like before the Internet, what this whole Communist Party fuss was about in Russia and that Amazon was once just known as a river in South America.

Ferris Bueller could technically be their dad at this point, and they probably don’t know the name of the bar where everybody knows your name.
Here are the Top 20, just to make you realize that even though these freshmen may look like adults, they're very young:
1. There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
2. Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
3. States and Velcro parents have always been requiring that they wear their bike helmets.
4. The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
5. There have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
6. They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
7. As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
8. Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
9. “Don’t touch that dial!”….what dial?
10. American tax forms have always been available in Spanish.
11. More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
12. Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
13. Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you're talking about LeBron James.
14. All their lives, Whitney Houston has always been declaring “I Will Always Love You.”
15. O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
16. Women have never been too old to have children.
17. Japan has always been importing rice.
18. Jim Carrey has always been bigger than a pet detective.
19. We have never asked, and they have never had to tell.
20. Life has always been like a box of chocolates.

I've Known This For A Long Time

I'm glad this issue is finally getting more recognition--because it needs more:
The members of the generation that is sometimes dubbed the "millennials" are alternately reviled or lauded by the news media for their tech-savvy, gadget-loving ways. But a new ethnographic research project on students in five Illinois universities may put a dent in that reputation. It found that many college kids don't even know how to perform a simple internet search.

Researchers with the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries project watched 30 students at Illinois Wesleyan University try to search for different topics online and found that only seven of them were able to conduct "what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search."

The students "appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school," Lynda Duke and Andrew Asher write in a book on the project coming out this fall.

I remember learning in high school what was considered an authoritative source vice a non-authoritative source; how do students learn that today, when a search engine just lists hundreds or thousands of web sites?

Update: Here are some vetted links provided by a college librarian:
Search guides and handouts in PDF form ( these are basic instructions on various research techniques. Many of them are for the databases we subscribe to, which non-students can't access, but other libraries offer the same services and subscriptions. Note that this page also contains "pathfinders" on common research topics. Here's the PDF on evaluating websites for reliability: That's probably the one that answers your question. Examples I often use in class are googling "Antarctica culture" (which often gets you a fun fictional site) or, to demonstrate the dangers of trusting .org, you can go to is owned by Stormfront. That usually gets their attention. Less horrifying is the site on the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. :)

Online tutorials, in video or HTML ( Most of these are specific to our college, but there are some on general research skills or paper-writing too.

A learning module on writing a research paper ( This is a 10-chapter tutorial that includes the main skills, including evaluating sources, not plagiarizing, and whatnot.

You can poke around the "Student Learning Resources" section, but I think I put everything relevant here. We make a big effort to help students learn these skills, but I don't know that many of them utilize the amazing resources available at our college and all over the place. The University of Washington has an excellent Research 101 program online for general use: And we frequently recommend Purdue's OWL Online Writing Lab for help with citations and so on:

Does Size Matter?

To this guy it does--and just to warn you up front, there's more than a little "ewwww" factor in this story:
A Kentucky truck driver who was wheeled into surgery for a simple circumcision but awoke without part of his penis lost his multimillion-dollar lawsuit Wednesday against the urologist who lopped off a cancer-riddled section of the organ.

A six-man, six-woman jury deliberated briefly before saying it didn't agree with 64-year-old Phillip Seaton and his wife, Deborah, that Dr. John Patterson had failed to exercise proper care. Seaton also sued because he said he hadn't consented to the amputation.

The doctor said he decided to amputate less than an inch of the penis after he found potentially deadly cancer during surgery in 2007. The rest of the penis was taken off later by another doctor.

Patterson testified that when he cut the foreskin, the tip of the penis had the appearance of rotten cauliflower, indicating cancer.

Want more "ewwww"? Read more at the link.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Offensive Books on Public School Reading List

If the best argument we have for requiring these types of books is that we think this is what's required "to get students to read"--forgetting for a moment that we're requiring them to read these books--then we have a serious problem in our culture:
A New Jersey school district has apologized to parents after requiring high school students to read books that include graphic depictions of lesbian sex and a homosexual orgy.

“Some of the language is inappropriate,” said Chuck Earling, superintendent of Monroe Township Schools in Williamstown, N.J. “We were not trying to create controversy. We were just trying to get students to read.”

The books were on a required summer reading list for middle school and high school students. The district decided to pull the book off the list, with the start of school just days away.

It's About Time

Stick a fork in it:
The FCC gave the coup de grace to the fairness doctrine Monday as the commission axed more than 80 media industry rules.

Earlier this summer FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agreed to erase the post WWII-era rule, but the action Monday puts the last nail into the coffin for the regulation that sought to ensure discussion over the airwaves of controversial issues did not exclude any particular point of view. A broadcaster that violated the rule risked losing its license.

While the commission voted in 1987 to do away with the rule — a legacy to a time when broadcasting was a much more dominant voice than it is today — the language implementing it was never removed. The move Monday, once published in the federal register, effectively erases the rule.
One less unconstitutional law on the books....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Victim of a Lie

How is California going to pay me what it's promised?
The state auditor's office on Thursday added teacher pensions to the list of high-risk issues facing California government.

The report by State Auditor Elaine Howle added the nation's largest teacher pension fund because it can't meet the costs of retirement benefits beyond the next 30 years. The pension funding problem was added to a list of risks that also includes California's chronic budget deficit, unfunded retiree health costs and prison crowding.
Answer: it won't. It can't.

We'll See How Long The Solidarity Lasts

With the signing of Wisconsin's new law limiting public employee union activities, the TA's at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will not seek recertification of their union as the legal representative of the TA's. Hidden amongst all the other rhetoric is this tidbit, which is truly where the rubber hits the road, where you separate the wheat from the chaff, where we see how dedicated the "members" are to the ideal of union membership:
The union faces challenges as it adjusts to the limits imposed by the state law. Under the old contract, union dues were automatically deducted from the paychecks of the 2,700-2,800 graduate teaching assistants at Madison. Now the Teaching Assistants’ Association must seek dues from members by itself.

I'm curious to see how this works out.

Another Milestone in the Fall of the Formerly Great State of California

How much has higher education funding had to be cut so we can continue to fund our failed blue-state experiment?
For the first time, students will pay more in total to attend the University of California in 2011-12 than the 10-campus system will receive in state funding, the Los Angeles Times reported. link

From the Department of the Obvious

Any teacher or parent could tell you this:
Why teenage boys may be at more risk than ever: Their bodies mature more quickly but their brains haven't caught up

Done With The First Day of School

My knees are killing me--this is more activity than I've done in a day since that fateful day last April--but I made it. A couple of aspirin and some relaxation is all I need now, and I'll be ready for Round 2 tomorrow.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Something's Wrong

A school district in South Dakota is dropping Friday classes to save money:
Johnke, the superintendent, said the district will add 30 minutes to each day and shorten the lunch break to provide more class time Monday through Thursday. In elementary school, recess and physical education classes will be shortened.

The changes won't entirely make up for losing Friday, Johnke said, but the district will still exceed the state's minimum standard for class time and will teach all the required material.
If everything could be taught using just over 80% of the time previously used, then the schedule before was a waste of time and money and the Monday-Thursday schedule is the way things should be.

On the other hand, I doubt there's anyone out there who truly believes the superintendent's last statement above.

Hat tip to reader MikeAT.

How Can This Be, In The Peoples Republic of Massachusetts?

From the Boston Globe, not some far-right rag:
Economic inequality has grown across Massachusetts...

While family incomes across Massachusetts have generally risen over the past three decades, the state’s poorest residents have fallen behind. And nowhere have they fallen farther than here in Western Massachusetts, where families in the bottom fifth of the income scale have seen inflation-adjusted earnings drop below 1979 levels, according to a new study by University of Massachusetts economists.

The study paints a stark picture of two commonwealths, in which the gap between rich and poor, east and west is growing. For example, the inflation-adjusted median income of affluent families in Greater Boston has grown 54 percent since 1979, to $230,000 from $150,000 a year, largely due to high-paying technology jobs.

In Berkshire County and the Pioneer Valley, where decades of plant closings have left hollowed-out economies, the inflation-adjusted median income of the poorest families fell 24 percent, from $21,000 a year in 1979 to $16,000 - on par with some of the most impoverished parts of Appalachia.

“No real income growth over three decades is what we’re seeing - no improvement in the standard of living,’’ said Michael D. Goodman, one of the study’s authors. “It’s a lost generation of families.’’
But at least everyone is required to buy health insurance!

Hat tip to NewsAlert.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vice Principals Can't Do Anything Right

Vice Principal #1:
A Sonoma County boy has been arrested after police say he threatened to kill the vice principal at his high school...Police say Vice Principal Raul Guerrero suspended the boy earlier in the day after finding him with marijuana.
Vice Principal #2:
An elementary school vice principal has been arrested after being accused of molesting a boy in Sacramento County, according to authorities.

One Murder, Or Two?

You can't simultaneously support abortion and call this a double-homicide a la Lacy and Connor Peterson:
A woman allegedly shot to death by her boyfriend on Sunday night in Colfax has been identified.

The Placer County Sheriff’s Department says the woman is 30-year-old Sarah Burr from Grass Valley. Burr’s family tells CBS13 that Burr was pregnant at the time of her death.

What Gets Included In California's Curriculum

You might remember that just over a month ago I wrote about why I don't like California's new law requiring educators to discuss the contributions of gay people to our society:
...I don't believe in teaching about the "contributions" of people from different groups, which is a cute way of stating the actual goal. If someone did something noteworthy, let's teach about that. But if what they did is noteworthy only because they're gay, or black, or female, or Mormon, or whatever, especially if being gay, black, female, or Mormon isn't related to what they accomplished--well, isn't teaching that way more than just a little paternalistic?

Can you name the first black astronaut? Was the fact that he was black important to his being an astronaut? Why do I need to know about the first gay astronaut? Why are color or sexuality important when learning about astronauts? This is my point.
It's funny how stuff gets into California's curriculum:
Under pressure from the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the plastics industry, schools officials in California edited a new environmental curriculum to include positive messages about plastic shopping bags, interviews and documents show...

Touted as the first public-private partnership of its kind, the trade group's edit of California's school curriculum illustrates a growing concern for special-interest influence over public education. It also shows how school officials abandoned some of their responsibility to write curriculum, handing the heavy lifting over to a paid consultant...

The chemistry council declined to comment in detail about its work on California's environmental curriculum. But its views were made known to the state during a period of public review and comment on the curriculum.

"The ACC takes exception to the overall tone, instructional approach, and the lack of solutions offered – most especially the lack of mention of the overall solution of plastic recycling," wrote Alyson Thomas, senior account executive with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, a lobbying firm retained by the trade group.

"We believe education works best when students are exposed to all viewpoints, alternatives and attitudes, particularly when addressing socially complex issues" such as plastic bags, she continued.

One commenter said it best:
Bottom line is, if giving both sides to the story were common practice in the textbook industry, this article wouldn't have been considered news.
Thus endeth the lesson.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Clearest Article on Economics That You'll Read All Month

In addition to good information it has some down-home folksy tales:
I have two teenage sons. One worked all summer and the other sat on his duff. To stimulate the economy, the White House wants to take more money from the son who works and give it to the one who doesn't work. I can say with 100% certainty as a parent that in the Moore household this will lead to less work.

Economic bimboism is rampant in Washington. The Center for American Progress held a forum earlier this summer arguing that raising the minimum wage would create more jobs. For this to be true, you have to believe that the more it costs a business to hire a worker, the more workers companies will want to hire.

A few months ago Mr. Obama blamed high unemployment on businesses becoming "more efficient with a lot fewer workers," and he mentioned ATMs and airport kiosks. The Luddites are back raging against the machine. If Mr. Obama really wants to get to full employment, why not ban farm equipment?

Human Trafficking, Or Whining?

You come to this country and strike?
Hundreds of foreign students on a State Department cultural exchange visa program walked off their factory jobs in protest on Wednesday.

The J-1 visa program brings foreign students to the country to work for two months and learn English, and was designed in part to fill seasonal tourism jobs at resorts and seaside towns. The 400 students employed at a Pennsylvania factory that makes Hershey's candies told The New York Times that even though they make $8.35 an hour, their rent and program fees are deducted from their paychecks, leaving them with less money than they spent to get the visas and travel to the country in the first place.

Some of the students were assigned night shifts, and said they were pressured to work faster and faster on the factory lines.
Barring evidence of mistreatment, my first thought upon reading this was, "Go home."

He Feels Sorry For The Children

As if Chicago schools were any better under his so-called leadership:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan appears to be the first member of President Obama's cabinet to take a swipe at Rick Perry, the Texas governor and newly announced Republican presidential candidate. Duncan told Bloomberg Television that Texas schools have struggled under Perry, saying he feels "very badly" for children who attend them.

"Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college," Duncan said. "I feel very, very badly for the children there."
If those are his standards, does he feel sorry for the children of California, too?

Worst Reasoning I've Heard In A Long Time From A US Appeals Court

Usually, when a court issues a ruling I disagree with, I can understand their reasoning. Of course I don't agree with the reasoning if I don't agree with the ruling, but usually I can understand their reasoning.

That is not the case with this 9th Circuit (who else?!) ruling. I'm of two minds about the ruling, leaning towards supporting it, but the reasoning behind it is that of a junior high schooler:
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned a lower court ruling. The lower court said the Mission Viejo teacher's disparaging of creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" violated a ban of governmental hostility toward religion.

The appeals court refused to address the constitutionality of the comments. Instead, it said Capistrano Valley High School teacher James Corbett is protected from such lawsuits because the instructor had a reasonable belief such comments were acceptable in an advanced placement European history class. (boldface mine--Darren)
"I don't like dark-skinned people."
"The teacher is protected from racial discrimination lawsuits because he/she had a reasonable belief that such comments were acceptable in an upscale suburban area in a class of white kids."

Yes, that's what I'm getting out of this case.

Last Teacher Workday Before The Kids Arrive Monday

I made it through 2 days of meetings and classroom organization. A couple of students dropped in to help with things I'm physically incapable of handling, and I'm now as ready as I'll ever be for my students to arrive on Monday.

Budget cuts have forced us to go from 3 to 2 vice principals, and with that cut in staffing the administration was looking to pawn off what duties they could. Testing coordinator, the person who handles all the planning for our annual standardized testing, is one of the jobs they hate the most. It's also a responsibility ideally suited to my planning talents.

I applied for it but didn't get it. Yes, I'm a bit bummed, and I console myself with the knowledge that the reason I wasn't chosen was not any concern about my lack of ability to do a good job, but I'm still a little bummed. No one likes to lose.

A mother showed up looking for me today. She just wanted to thank me for working with her son who wants to attend West Point. How kind is that? And our PTSA provided their annual Back To School Lunch for the staff today. How cool is that?

There's nothing more I can do to get ready for Monday. Bring on the kids and the new year.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back To Work Today

Despite my best efforts, all attempts at sleep last night were doomed. This morning, though, I did get up and do 20 minutes on my elliptical trainer--may as well get into the old routine as soon as possible. It was a little difficult, and even more tiring (I've obviously got a long way to go to reach the status quo ante) but I made it.

Off to work in about half an hour....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


From the Financial Times:
Can you be unemployed and retired. . . and collect benefits for being both?

One New York woman who was laid off in 2009 after a 40-year career in philanthropy filed for unemployment while continuing to look for a new job. A year later at age 65 and jobless, she applied for Social Security retirement benefits. She now collects both a monthly Social Security check and weekly unemployment benefits totaling nearly $3,000 a month, and a pension she earned during her career.

With the nation’s fragile economy leaving millions of older workers unemployed, growing numbers of these Americans are double dipping-- collecting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, which extend for 99 weeks and Social Security. Or, in the case of government workers, collecting unemployment and state, local, or federal pensions. Double dipping is not illegal. And many would feel like suckers if they didn't take advantage of all the benefits that are available to them through the Federal and state governments. But is this any way to run a country at a time of fiscal crisis?
On the other hand, because of my state teacher pension, I'll only see a fraction of what I'd otherwise be entitled to for all those years I paid into social security before becoming a teacher--including those years when I was in the military. The Windfall Elimination Provision was designed to limit my retirement income; and of course, my teacher pension is a windfall. Maybe I'll just go on unemployment.

The Last Day

Today is my last free day before returning to work tomorrow--for the first time since Friday, April 15th. We have meetings tomorrow and part of Friday, then we have the rest of Friday to get our classrooms organized for the first day of school on Monday. I've got a couple of students who say they'll come help me set things up, knowing that there are some things I'll be physically unable to do.

At last check I had 42 students in one of my classes. Contractually, I doubt there's a limit to how many they can put into any one class; by the 20th day of school, though, I am limited to an average of 33 per class or 36 in any particular class. That's still way too many, of course.

On Friday my son gets back from a couple weeks of scuba diving in Hawaii with grandma and grandpa. I've already picked up his schedule from school and he'll be ready to go.

Here's to the start of a new year!

Update: That class is up to 43 now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cornell Student Challenges "Excessive Internet Usage" Fee

She's a sophomore, which explains her sophomoric logic:
Lara, the Cornell petitioner, has framed the network-usage fees as a tax on students who prefer consuming Web videos to consuming alcohol. “While some students opt to partake in drug-related pastimes, other students stay in and watch movies, talk on Skype or iChat, or even just surf the Web,” wrote Lara in a Web petition addressed to university officials. “We should not be penalized for this,” she wrote, particularly given how much students already pay in tuition and fees.
Don't students, generally, pay for their own alcohol? Isn't that a major difference here?

Cornell has a bandwidth usage limit below which students aren't charged:
The university more than doubled its network-usage threshold in July, and even before that officials estimated that only 10 percent of students were charged overage fees in any given month.
Other pertinent points were brought up in the article:
Tracy Mitrano, director of I.T. policy at Cornell, told Inside Higher Ed she thinks Cornell’s policy on bandwidth management is better than some alternatives. (Full disclosure: Mitrano writes a blog on I.T. policy and law for Inside Higher Ed.) Many other colleges use tools called “packet shapers,” which allow network administrators to prioritize certain network activities over others. If the network is stressed, packet-shaping administrators might slow the connection in a dorm so as to let connections in the library run at normal speed.

Cornell’s “business-model” approach is more transparent, says Mitrano. Not only are students notified when they are approaching the monthly threshold, but they are never deprived of a speedy connection by any network administrator acting as a “wizard behind the curtain.”
Cornell's policies do not seem to me to be beyond the pale.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Paleo" vs Modern Liberalism

Victor Davis Hanson expounds on liberalism of the 40's-60's vs. the liberalism of today. I was touched by this paragraph:
Most of my parents’ and grandparents’ friends, however, were Grange/Farm Bureau/Chamber of Commerce Republicans. I emphasize “friends” since in the early sixties, pre-Vietnam-protest age, politics still never impeded friendships. Most of my mom’s rural friends were amused rather than angered by her genuine liberalism, since it was directed at trying to improve the lot of the working poor, who were ubiquitous and often next door.
Those were obviously the days when politics wasn't everything. I've taken to "unfriending" a couple of people on Facebook because everything they write is some left-wing screed, and I have no desire to be assaulted with that kind of writing each time I look on Facebook. I wonder if some people today are nothing more than their politics, if that's all they care about.

But back to Hanson's column:
I detour here, because late 1950s liberalism was in some sense conservative, given the rural poverty, the lack of high-tech appurtenances, the coming end of the U.S. postwar monopoly in manufactured goods, and the worry over “commies.” Of course, JFK, like FDR, personified noblesse oblige, but mostly the heroic Democrats were guys like Truman and Humphrey. For my dad, FDR had built the B-29s, Truman stopped the North Koreans, and JFK had stood down Castro — some mythic history in that, but not much.

You might think their square-deal politics were na├»ve, but they were salt-of-the-earth types, whose lifestyles reflected the politics that they advocated, and whose personal tastes were simple. To the best I can recall, there was no manifest contradiction in my grandfather’s voting for JFK in 1960, and his stern warnings about “lazy” “no-goods” who came out to prune for a week, abruptly to quit when they earned enough money for “booze” and “were up to no good.” The new pocket transistor radios, he swore, only encouraged sloth and poor work habits — and he wanted no one on the farm listening to one, us included.

In those days, liberalism, if we can even call it that, was clearly an equality of opportunity idea — whatever the intrinsic contradictions of the prior New Deal that logically led to the Great Society and the other failed “societies” to come. It was still not socialism of the European type, but singularly American and predicated on a “fair shake” as the majority of its adherents’ lives were not too distant from the objects of their worry.
So what happened?
I’ll skip the next half-century, since the tragedy is too well known, and focus instead on the vastly different, contemporary liberal mindset. To be blunt, what strikes us about its recent and most vocal emissaries — politicians such as a Barbara Boxer, John Edwards, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi; or the Hollywood celebrities; or the great fortuned like a Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or George Soros; or the credentialed technocrats who run the foundations and government agencies, or the high-paid media types in the NY-DC corridor — is how vast apart are the circumstances of their own lives from the objects of their concern. In addition, present-day liberalism finds its most numerous adherents among the upper-middle class suburbanites and those who work for government and enjoy de facto tenure (e.g., the public employee unions, teachers, the public professoriate, etc.).

Let Them Eat Steak

Insulation is the common theme here. To the degree that one’s job insulates one from the vagaries of the marketplace — not just the danger of losing a job, but often the petty humiliation so often integral in making a scarce buck, by selling, peddling, hawking, or working for a business — one is now more likely to support the redistributive state and all its satellite philosophies. And to the degree that one has a good salary and capital, and can buy such insulation — where one lives, where one sends one’s children to school, where one vacations — one is most likely to advocate a sort of politics that will not affect directly oneself. The key then is to insulate oneself from the worry over losing a job and livelihood, either by guaranteed employment or ample wealth. (When the London riots started to hit the “better” sections, then suddenly the police appeared in real numbers and the unapologetic public anger increased.)

In other words, if one opposes charters and vouchers, supports teachers’ unions, praises the present-day public schools, and champions the therapeutic curriculum, one is still hardly likely to put one’s child in the L.A. or Fresno school system. If one is a strong advocate for more state subsidies and redistributive policies, one will not live in an East Palo Alto, an Orange Cove, or the wrong side of St. Louis or Baltimore where the money is aimed. Liberalism is, like all politics, self-interested, embraced by those who receive transfer payments and those in charge of administering the redistributive state. But it also provides psychic exemption to a new upper class and asks little concrete in return — no tutoring of the illegal alien, no side-by-side residency in the Section 8 apartment to help create “community,” no hiring in the progressive law firm of a ghetto intern in lieu of the Yale undergraduate. It is the worst sort of petty hypocrisy: an exemption for the guilty soul through support of the redistributive state aimed at the noble but unapproachable poor —and through a clear disdain for the crass and aspiring middle class, which lacks the taste of the elite and the supposedly tragic nobility of the impoverished and victimized.
I'm reminded of the quote by Orwell: "The notion that you can somehow defeat violence by submitting to it is simply a flight from fact. As I have said, it is only possible to people who have money and guns between themselves and reality." I guess money can insulate you from a lot of crazy beliefs.

I'm reminded of one other quote, by French writer Jean Francois Revel: "A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself." According to Hanson, the "paleo" liberals were genuinely interested in helping the poor, but they did so without trash-talking their own country and denigrating their fellow Americans. Compare that with today's liberals....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blessings, and Recovery

It's great to live in a country so prosperous that the vast majority of us can, like I did today, just hop in a car and drive to a nearby city solely for entertainment. There was a small coin show happening in Fairfield today, and having nothing better planned....

I didn't buy any coins, but I did buy a few notes--a Nazi 20 Mark note, complete with swastikas; an East German note; and a French note printed for Free France as American troops headed towards the Rhine in World War II. Not bad, and there's another show in Carson City in a couple weeks. I may go to that one, too, just because.

It was a small show, and I probably wasn't there much over an hour. It was a long way to drive for just an hour or so, so I stopped off at the nearby mall afterward, just to burn some time.

The mall has a couple of floors, and in addition to escalators there were stairs--and I chose the stairs. I'm a long way from those dark days of May, when shuffling a few inches was the best I could accomplish without crutches, but I've still got a long way to go. I can walk now, without too much of a limp, but stairs are my latest challenge.

My left leg muscles are still so weak that they can't support my body weight when trying to go down stairs--or even down a gentle slope. It's funny to be on a stair, looking down, willing my right leg to move and the left leg to gently lower me to the next step, but nothing moves. It's like my subconscious knows I can't do it, and it countermands my conscious instructions to my legs. So I stand there, with this fierce look of determination on my face, and I try, but I can't make the legs do what they clearly don't want to do, so I eventually give up and just go down the steps with my good leg doing all the work--frustrated, but with the knowledge that this improvement, too, is only a matter of time.

Shutting Down Social Media To Prevent A Mob

As a proponent of free speech, I've been conflicted about this situation:
In a controversial move that has riled up free speech advocates, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system said it cut off cellphone signals at “select” stations in response to a planned protest this week.

“BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform,” the transit agency said in a statement on its website Friday.

BART said it took the actions because protesters said they “would use mobile devices to coordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART Police.”

I've decided it was the right thing to do.

From what I understand, commercial providers weren't employed at all in this situation; BART shut down what amounted to its own "towers" within its stations, towers that allow passengers to use their phones underground.

This is very different from censorship. Government didn't prevent anyone from using their cell phone, or prohibit a gathering at the stations. Government, in this case in the guise of BART, merely failed to assist the protesters, and didn't provide a free service by which they could coordinate their protest.

A few points are illustrated here. First, if you believe in government control over all utilities, understand that government can cut you off from those utilities if it so desires--to maintain "order" or some such. Perhaps you don't really want to give government that much control. Perhaps you like private control over certain businesses.

Second, don't expect government to help you "fight the man". Government has no obligation to assist people who want to violate the law.

I have two other points, but I'm not going to share them with the "hooligans" and thereby help them. If they want to wreak havoc, they can do so without my assistance.

What happened in San Francisco is very different from what's been proposed by the British Prime Minister in the wake of the riots there:
"And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

"I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers."
That, to me, is a little more disturbing than not providing a government-sponsored venue for coordinating your attacks. The potential for abuse is astronomically higher.

Update, 8/16/11: Wired has a story stating both sides of the issue:
Some constitutional scholars are likening BART’s actions to an unlawful suppression of First Amendment speech — a digital form of prior restraint. Others, however, say BART’s move would probably survive a court challenge, and will likely be copied by other government agencies as the use of mobile technology and social networking by protesters grows.

“You have the right to speak,” Damon Dunn, a First Amendment lawyer in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think you have the right to leverage your speech through technology that you don’t necessarily control yourself.”

I still don't have firm information on who owned the underground towers to which BART cut power. If BART owned them and used them to provide a free service, they could cut power to them at any time. If that isn't the case, I'd need further information to draw a conclusion about whether or not this is acceptable behavior by a government entity.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Yet Another Reason I Don't Support The Socialist Nanny-State

From the brilliant Mark Steyn:
When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the "abolition of want" to be accomplished by "co-operation between the State and the individual." In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life's vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As I write in my book: "Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity." The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers, the highest abortion rate. Marriage is all but defunct, except for William and Kate, fellow toffs, upscale gays and Muslims. From page 204: "For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what LBJ's Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population."
This is what I was getting at when I asked if socialism subverts the Nietzschean will-to-power. I believe that it does.

Updating the No Child Left Behind Act

Many liberals, ignoring that the bill was written and pushed by the Lion of the Senate (Kennedy), just hate NCLB. They have all sorts of reasons for hating it, but let's be honest--it took NCLB to shine a light into the darkest corners of public education, and the number of scurrying cockroaches was sobering indeed.

If you truly believe in educating children, you must support some kind of accountability for teachers or schools; self-evaluation just isn't going to cut it. We can argue all day about whether the accountability measures in the law are good or bad, or whether some of them should be modified, but no one can legitimately argue that in the wake of NCLB, the discussion about education hasn't changed for the better. We're no longer arguing over whether or not Johnny can read, we're now discussing how to ensure Johnny can read better today than he could yesterday.

For the liberals who hated the law so much--why didn't "your" Congress change it? It was supposed to be rewritten 4 years ago, back when Democrats ran both houses of Congress. Throw in a Democratic president in 2008, and the law could easily have been changed, gutted, or nullified. That it wasn't touched says something about either the law or the Democrats in Congress; I'll let each reader draw his own conclusion about what the law's continuation means.

President Obama seems at first to have doubled-down on NCLB with his critically-flawed Race to the Top program, but now his administration says it's willing to grant waivers (from NCLB) to states that are willing to make other changes.

According to this op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, the law isn't perfect, but the changes being offered by Secretary Duncan aren't any better:
It's time to stop holding schools hostage to the overly rigid and often counterproductive demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was supposed to have been rewritten four years ago. More and more schools — many of them good or at least improving — are being labeled failures and are facing severe sanctions as the 2014 deadline approaches, when the law requires schools to make 100% of their students proficient in reading and math. A frustrated Obama administration, which has tried in vain to persuade Congress to overhaul the act, is now pursuing a workaround. But the plan advanced by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sacrifices some of the best features of the law in an effort to fix the worst ones. (boldface mine--Darren)
Go to the link to read more. I may not agree with every single word, but overall it's a well-written piece.

What's Going On In Sacramento Area School Districts

Sac City Unified:
With summer break ending in three weeks for the Sacramento City Unified School District, a squabble over the school calendar has teachers unclear about when they are supposed to return to campus.

Sacramento City Unified students are scheduled to begin classes Sept. 6, but there is a conflict over the start date for staff. A still-tentative calendar calls for teachers to return for faculty workdays on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, which is two days earlier than in previous years.

San Juan Unified:
The San Juan Unified School District is investigating how a sleeping 7-year-old student came to be left on a bus after a field trip Wednesday to the Folsom Aquatic Center.

District spokesman Trent Allen said two staff members of San Juan's parent-paid Discovery Club program have been placed on paid leave, while a temporary substitute has not been called back following the incident.

Twin Rivers Unified:
Nearly three months after collapsing at a school board meeting, Twin Rivers Unified trustee Alecia Eugene-Chasten has not returned to district duties and has asked district officials not to contact her, instead referring them to her spokeswoman.

Eugene-Chasten's absence from the past five board meetings has community members expressing concern about her health. In a brief interview with The Bee on Friday, Eugene-Chasten said she plans to return in October and will release a statement about her absence then.

Twin Rivers officials have declined to comment...

At an Aug. 9 school board meeting, trustees unanimously voted to continue to pay Eugene-Chasten her $750 monthly stipend despite the missed meetings, citing "a doctor's verification of a medical leave of absence from Board duties." It is common practice among school boards to pay trustees for meetings missed due to illnesses.

There Shouldn't Even Be Remedial Math And English At Universities

We don't even know why so many students nationwide need remedial math in college, but we may find out:
Students who do well in high school math classes often end up in remedial math in college. Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium (KC-AERC) will look at math scores, course-taking patterns in high school, college math placement scores and interest in STEM fields to determine why.
If you're done with high school and can't perform at a university level, you shouldn't be at a university. Go to a junior/community college and get your skills up to snuff. As a taxpayer I pay too much for the UC/CSU system for them to include a repeat of the K-12 curriculum.

Last Free Weekend

This is my last free weekend before going back to work on Thursday. I have no plans at all.

Friday, August 12, 2011

There's A Lot Of Donkeys On This Chart

And a lot of unions, too--especially at the top of the chart.

Where on this chart are the Koch Brothers, the left's latest bogeymen? #87.

Sherlock Holmes Must Be Groaning At This One

From where else but a state NPR site:

Imagine Karl Marx, recognized as the father of communism, and Adam Smith, the patriarch of capitalism, visiting the Walker's gift shop -- with a film crew, arguing about whether the purchase of some tchotchkes is good or bad for the economy...

Reyes is filming an improvised story called "Baby Marx." In it, Adam Smith and Karl Marx come to the 21st century to learn how their work has been interpreted over the years.

"I'm afraid that Mr. Marx has a chip on his shoulder because his philosophies have failed so miserably," sniggers Smith.

"Failed so miserably," Marx responds, "because they aren't doing it right."

Of course! It's not the theory that's wrong, it's the implementation.

Every single time, without exception, that communism has been tried, the result has been the same. Poverty, a secret police, and death camps. Every. Single. Time.

There's an old quote that's attributed to Sherlock Holmes: "when the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts." These commie sympathizers just refuse to believe the facts.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For The Intellectuals Among You

Does a socialist nanny-state subvert the Nietzschean will-to-power in either an individual or in a society?

Discuss. :-)

London, or Wisconsin?

In London, and in several cities in Britain, there have been recent riots because police shot one man of the wrong color--and a socialist underclass with no hope for improvement took advantage of an opportunity to destroy. That Britain has disarmed its citizenry only made the violence worse; you can't fight a Molotov Cocktail with a cricket bat.

In progressive Wisconsin, Republicans last year took over the state government--in free and fair elections--for the first time in forever. Liberals, in a snit, tried to recall some. They succeeded a little, but Republicans still run both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's office. There's little reason now to believe that the attempt to recall the governor next year will succeed. Democrats are abusing the system in Wisconsin--they just can't believe they lost in that state, and they'll try everything they can to get power back.

The streets or the ballot box, which way will California go?
California has already fallen behind the revenue hopes that Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers used to solve the budget deficit in June, raising fears Tuesday that deeper education cuts may be in the state's future.

Controller John Chiang said for the first month of the new fiscal year, California missed its $5.2 billion July general fund revenue target by $538.8 million, or 10.3 percent.

To help bridge the deficit in the face of Republican tax opposition, Democrats relied on an optimistic assumption that California would receive $4 billion more than previously forecast through June 2012.

Under the budget agreement, if revenues fall short, California will ask districts to shorten the K-12 school year by up to seven more days, as well as impose a fee hike at community colleges. Other cuts would hit public safety, universities and social services.
Remember that this year's state budget requires school districts to staff at the same levels as last year. How can we afford this? And how can we afford this list of departments, agencies, boards, offices, etc., that make up California's government?

When California collapses and change is mandated by reality, will we go the way of London or the way of Wisconsin? It's not like either one would be an ideal choice; socialists aren't going to give up easily either way. If it's Option A, at least some people have firearms in California....

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An Amazing Piece of History

OK, you've *got* to watch this video! No, not because Bill Cullen looks just like Matt Damon (really!), but because this tv game show from the 1950's hosts a guest who was at Ford's Theater when Lincoln was shot and saw Booth jump down to the stage.

Other historical tidbit: note the placement of the Winston cigarettes right in front of the host and guest! Obviously they were a show sponsor.

Update, 4/4/2015:  the link above doesn't work, we'll see how long YouTube lasts:

True Story

I don't know why this just popped into my head, but I swear before God and man that it's true.

We had full-on driver's training when I was in high school, and just about every sophomore took it. I remember that we all wanted the smaller Ford Fairmonts, and not the Nimitz-class Ford LTD's.

Anyway, one friend of mine was, and I'll be delicate here, not 100% there mentally. He could have in-depth political discussions, full of facts and philosophy, and sound very intelligent, but had no idea how much a burger might cost at McDonald's. And he wasn't a savant.

Yes, this background information is vital to the story.

Well, this friend, whom I'll call William, was driving the car during driver's training, and a mutual friend, "Joshua", was in the back seat with at least one other student. Joshua told me the story right after it happened, and William confirmed it. Again, this is absolutely true.

As our school was located near a freeway, several streets dead-ended in tall brick sound walls to keep the noise from the freeway from flooding the neighborhoods. William was driving down one of these dead-end streets, and casually started accelerating towards the brick wall. As the wall got closer, and the students in the back seat started tensing, William began honking the horn--feverishly. At what seemed like the last second, the instructor, who had only a seat belt and a brake pedal on his side of the car, quickly but smoothly pressed the brake and brought the car to a stop uncomfortably close to the tall brick wall. His only question of William, asked very calmly as if there was nothing he hadn't already experienced as a driving instructor, was, "William, why were you honking the horn?"

And the answer, spoken as if it were the most logical answer on the planet, was, "To let the people on the other side know we were coming through."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Spent the Day In San Francisco

Today I took off for San Francisco. While there I met up, separately, with three different friends: a childhood friend, a friend of several years, and a former student I reestablished contact with via Facebook. What a great day!

OK, I only took a few pictures, but here's the one I got through the windshield while driving across the SF Bay Bridge:
click to embiggen

I Should Be Getting Home From Iceland Tonight

Icelandair is run by rat-bastards.

I Never Knew All My Students Were Bilingual

Because I had *so* many extra hours to burn each day, and could only tolerate reading and videos so much, I took the plunge and signed onto Facebook. Very soon afterward many former students were asking to "friend" me. After friending them I could see how they communicate with each other, and I admit to being stunned. I never knew they were bilingual.

They speak Standard English, which is how they communicate with me. With each other, though, they use an alien tongue. It's not like my day, wherein we used different words but our communications were somewhat comprehensible to our seniors; no, this language includes weird sounds (e.g., yeeeeeee) and, in its written form, hashtags (e.g., #swag). How does one pronounce a hashtag? And when did the foulest of language become acceptable in a public format?

Whatever. Someday when they're trying to understand their own kids, I'll just sit back in my rocking chair and laugh.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Just In Case You've Forgotten About That New Tone Of Civility

Check out this pic.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Matt Damon has been in the news this week for his blustery, cringe-inducing performance at last week's Save Our Schools Rally in DC, a rally that drew a whopping few-thousand attendees. Damon and his leftie friends in Hollywood want higher taxes, so the Instapundit puts forth what they might consider a "modest proposal":
But why should Democrats be the only ones to enjoy the fun of taxing people they dislike?
You can already tell this is going to be good.
One of the things that's been floating around the Web over the past week is a video clip from 1953. It's a short film produced by the motion picture industry, seeking the end of a 20 percent excise tax on movie theaters' gross revenues that had been imposed at the end of World War II as a deficit-cutting measure. (Yes, gross, not net).

In the film, figures ranging from industry big shots to humble ticket collectors talk about how the tax is hurting their industry and killing jobs, and ask Congress to repeal the tax.

They even explain, in a sort of pre-Art Laffer supply-side way, that a cut in theater taxes might actually produce an increase in federal revenues as the result of greater economic growth...

But while I'm usually for tax cuts, in this case I think that's too bad. Because with this battle over, Hollywood stopped talking loudly about the damage done by high taxes, pretty much for good...

Were I a Republican senator or representative, I would be agitating to repeal the "Eisenhower tax cut" on the movie industry and restore the excise tax. I think I would also look at imposing similar taxes on sales of DVDs, pay-per-view movies, CDs, downloadable music, and related products.

I'd also look at the tax and accounting treatment of these industries to see if they were taking advantage of any special "loopholes" that could be closed as a means of reducing "tax expenditures." (Answer: Yes, they are.)

America, after all, is facing the largest national debt in relation to GDP that it has faced since the end of World War II, so a return to the measures deemed necessary then is surely justifiable now.

The president's own rhetoric about revenues certainly suggests so. Perhaps the bill could be named the "Greatest Generation Tax Fairness Act" in recognition of its history.
It's all about "shared sacrifice", you know, and some people just make too much money. It's not fair to the rest of us--especially us teachers who, according to Damon, make a sh***y salary.
Should legislation of this sort be passed -- or even credibly threatened -- I think we can expect to see Hollywood rediscover the dangers posed by "job killing tax increases," just as pro-tax-increase Warren Buffet changed his tune once his own corporate-jet business was threatened.

And, given the entertainment industries' role as the Democrats' campaign finance ATM, it seems likely that the president might soon reconsider his rhetoric as well.
Why do I say that his idea is a modest proposal? Because we could expect Hollywood types to howl as if he'd suggested eating Irish babies.

(BTW, here's a link I found for that 1953 video.)

Poor Science Instruction, And It's Getting Worse

If we make science instruction more "fun", more kids will be interested, right? Then there's no problem!
This has been my experience for more than 25 years, and over that time the fraction of young, American-educated engineers continued to dwindle. I was reminded of this state of affairs reading Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal about several initiatives, launched by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, designed to attract and retain foreign entrepreneurs, particularly those in the high-tech sector who wish to launch start-up companies in the United States.

One could well ask why in the midst of a recession (“recovery” in some circles) the U.S. would try to attract more foreign, highly educated scientists and engineers to our shores. Yet we, who live in the Silicon Valley, know the answer: fewer and fewer American students are interested, or able, to enter demanding science and engineering programs.

With new (national) science standards being published, we might expect this issue to be addressed--and it is, but in entirely the wrong way:
Yet as I kept reading the document’s 280 pages of lofty prose, I noticed something odd: The framework does not expect students to use any kind of analytical mathematics while studying science.
Uh oh.
For example, the framework promotes a practice called Using Mathematics, Information and Computer Technology, and Computational Thinking (p. 3-13). Yet one observes that after singing paeans to the importance of mathematics, it only expects students by grade 12 to be competent in "recognizing," "expressing," and "using simple … mathematical expressions … to see if they make sense," but not in actually solving science problems using mathematics. Its other suggestions include the use of computer programs and simulations, ability to analyze data using computer tools and spreadsheets, modeling, and describing systems using charts and graphs. But there is nothing about actually being able to model a system by its equations, or solve it using mathematical techniques. The framework also includes as one of its Cross Cutting Concepts something it calls Systems and System Models (p. 4-7), but there, yet again, it does not expect students to use mathematics for that modeling. Its models "can range in complexity from lists and simple sketches to detailed computer simulations or functioning prototypes," but mathematics is left behind.

One searches in vain for words like “algebra” in the text...

All of this made me think. Before Lavoisier’s quantitative approach there was no chemistry, only Alchemy. Before Newton’s invention of calculus, physics was more a craft than a science. Mathematics has been inseparable from science for the last 300 years, and has been largely responsible for the world we live in. Yet here we have a “21st century” science framework for our students that effectively ignores mathematics.
The author tells where this will lead:
Suddenly it all became clear. This framework does not expect our students to be able to do any science, or to be able to solve any science problem. This framework simply teaches our students science appreciation, rather than science. It expects our students to become good consumers of science and technology, rather than prepare them to be the discoverers of science and creators of technology.
There's a time and a place for watered-down courses like this--required courses that everyone must pass in order to graduate--but let's ensure our standards allow for some rigor somewhere, no?

Hat tip to Joanne for the link.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

I Don't Know What To Think Here

I support the use of stun guns, but dang... :
An 18-year-old man attending college preparatory classes at the University of Cincinnati died Saturday after a campus police officer used a Taser on him.

Officers rushed to Turner Hall about 3 a.m. after receiving a 911 call about an assault. The dormitory is located on Jefferson Avenue near the intersection with University.

As officers were trying to figure out what had happened, the teenager approached them outside the hall. The teen appeared agitated, angry and had balled fists, UC Assistant Police Chief Jeff Corcoran said.

Officers ordered the teen to stop approaching them more than once but he refused, Corcoran said. The teen was stunned by one cycle of the Taser and subdued...

The fire department and paramedics were called to examine the teen. As he was in their care, he went into cardiac arrest was taken to the nearby University Hospital, where he could not be resuscitated.

Pile Confusion On Top Of Disorientation

Almost two years ago I wrote about a change in ed code that, in an attempt to win Race To The Top money for California, allowed the state to create a database linking teachers to student test scores. My post was somewhat rambling, in part because I couldn't get any clear information on what exactly changed or why that change was significant or why it was important enough to be a requirement for the RttT money.

Well, it was a waste of time even to try to understand:
California must return a $6 million federal grant to develop a data system tracking information about teachers, state officials were told Thursday.

The money was withdrawn in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown's veto last month of $2.1 million in federal funding for the proposed California Longitudal Teacher Integrated Data Education System, known as CalTIDES...

CalTIDES was approved in 2006 and was supposed to be rolled out in 2011-12. A contract to develop the system had yet to be signed with a vendor.

In recent years, California has lost out on millions of federal stimulus dollars in part because it lacks data systems tracking student and teacher information.

I have to ask: how difficult can this truly be? Apparently it's harder than I think it is.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Getting Ready For School To Start

We teachers have to go back in less than two weeks, and despite my concerns about my physical ability to start going full-bore on a work schedule, I'm looking forward to getting back to a job I haven't done since mid-April.

I took that first step today, logging on to our all-powerful Zangle program and checking out my classloads. I'm sure there will be plenty of changes made in the 2 weeks before school starts, but I've already started by setting up my class seating charts. I always freak students out by having seating charts projected up on the screen on the first day of school--it's their first taste of my respect for organization.

I also checked up on the 2 students I'm working with who are considering attending West Point. Transcripts, schedules, open periods, nothing escapes my eye and all red flags merit an email for clarification.

I've said it before and I'll say it again--technology's greatest contribution to education is not in replacing me, but in automating and simplifying tasks I have to do anyway so that my time can be more efficiently spent planning and teaching.