Sunday, March 31, 2013

Education Reform and Teachers Unions

These words are absolutely true:
Our idea of education reform isn’t to take teacher union membership away and leave teachers exposed to the power of uncaring, rigid bureaucracies. Instead, we want to use concepts like charter schools and school vouchers to give good teachers the chance to build cooperative and community schools where a reputation for excellence ensures a stream of students.

By acting like teachers are the problem or the enemy, education reformers often make their goals harder than they need to be. We don’t like teachers’ unions, but it’s not because we hate teachers and want them to suffer. It’s because the unions are part of what’s wrong with the system: They are the biggest defenders of the bureaucratized, by-the-book system that has stifled many teachers and made it difficult for them to do their jobs as they see fit.

We understand the appeal of unions to teachers. We understand why people under the rule of bureaucrats, who are ultimately responsive to big city political machines, would want to have their own representatives as the table. But we think there are ways to decentralize the whole system, to give teachers more autonomy and ground their evaluations more deeply in the views of their peers and local communities, while also giving parents more choice.

It’s not the teachers we want to disempower but the bureaucratic machines that seek to control them. Sadly, teachers’ unions have become a key cog in that machine. Pointing this out isn’t anti-teacher, it’s pro-teacher, and that is an important distinction for education reformers to make.
If only there were an organization out there that would empower California teachers....

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Let The Revisionism Begin

I'm sure someone will try to blame this on NCLB:
In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.

The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation's school districts after the district's test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system...

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.
What evidence do I have that NCLB wasn't what started the cheating?  This little fact:
The alleged cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.
NCLB wasn't signed by President Bush until January 8, 2002.

No, you can't blame Bush, Kennedy, Pelosi, Reid, Kerry, or any of the others who voted for this law.  This was just cheating, plain and simple, and you can only legitimately blame the people who did it.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Milton Friedman on the Free Lunch

Climate Change Takes More Body Blows

I know the True Believers will find reasons it isn't so, but at that point they leave the realm of science that so many claim to believe in and go straight into faith:
The new issue of The Economist has a long feature on the declining confidence in the high estimates of climate sensitivity.  That this appears in The Economist is significant, because this august British news organ has been fully on board with climate alarmism for years now.  A Washington-based Economist correspondent admitted to me privately several years ago that the senior editors in London had mandated consistent and regular alarmist climate coverage in its pages.

The problem for the climateers is increasingly dire.  As The Economist shows in its first chart (Figure 1 here), the recent temperature record is now falling distinctly to the very low end of its predicted range and may soon fall out of it, which means the models are wrong, or, at the very least, that there’s something going on that supposedly “settled” science hasn’t been able to settle.  Equally problematic for the theory, one place where the warmth might be hiding—the oceans—is not cooperating with the story line.  Recent data show that ocean warming has noticeably slowed, too, as shown in Figure 2 here.

So The Economist story, though hedged with every reservation to Keep Hope Alive, is nonetheless a clear sign that it’s about over for the climate campaign.

I Thought Big Corporations Were Eeee-vil

The president bashes Wall Street while giddily taking their money--and note that his administration hasn't charged, tried, or convicted a single one of these "greedy" people who supposedly brought the world to the brink of economic apocalypse.  If they're so bad, could not one single charge have been filed?

It's that kind of hypocrisy that, in part, causes me to despise the man.

All of you granola-eating corporation-haters, what do you think of this:
Slipped into the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which passed through Congress last week, was a small provision that’s a big deal for Monsanto and its opponents. The provision protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks and has thus been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by activists who oppose the biotech giant. President Barack Obama signed the spending bill, including the provision, into law on Tuesday.
Some warned about this 3 years ago.

Flipping Of(f) The Parties

In his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, ardent socialist James Loewen goes into striking detail about the Democrats' racist past. This article hints at it, and links to more, and then explains why the theory that "the parties changed sides, and all the racists went to the Republican Party" is just a crock:
In order to escape their truly wretched past (click on the link for my short book on the subject), modern Democrats have adopted as an article of faith the bedtime story that, thanks to Tricky Dick Nixon’s “southern strategy,” the racists who had been the backbone of their party for the better part of a century suddenly switched to the GOP en masse some time around 1968with the happy result that now all the racists are on the right. Presto — instant virtuousness and a clean slate...

And yet this myth persists — in fact, it’s just about the only response today’s Democrats have to their own sordid history: pinning it on the other guy. It makes them profoundly uncomfortable that among the 21 who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be found Albert Arnold Gore, Sr., the founder of the Hillbilly Dynasty; Robert “KKK” Byrd, the Conscience of the Senate; and Sleepin’ Sam Ervin of Watergate fame.

Just for laughs, let’s take a look at the electoral maps for 1968 (Nixon-Humphrey), 1972 (Nixon-McGovern), 1976 (Carter-Ford), and 1992 (Clinton-Bush) to see how the South voted....
I see no evidence of this flip.  You make your own call.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Economic Freedom

Political conservatism sure looks good:
The "Freedom in the 50 States" study measured economic and personal freedom using a wide range of criteria, including tax rates, government spending and debt, regulatory burdens, and state laws covering land use, union organizing, gun control, education choice and more.
It found that the freest states tended to be conservative "red" states, while the least free were liberal "blue" states.

The freest state overall, the researchers concluded, was North Dakota, followed by South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire and Oklahoma. The least free state by far was New York, followed by California, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island.
Socialism, not so much.

The Coming Ice Age

The information in the article is based on a peer-reviewed paper from two Russian scientists, who looked at the real world data and trends, as well as the solar processes, and say that this could lead to a climate similar to the Little Ice Age (PS for Warmists: it’s not just about sun spots, but the overall activity of the Sun along with its magnetism).

Again, to be clear, until it happens, it’s all conjecture. Just like the notion that this current warm period is caused by Mankind. Well, except that the climate does switch between warm and cool.
It's that big yellow thing in the sky.

(The actual Die Welt article is here--where is that "translate this page" link?)

Not A Good Way To Run A Business

For all the Wal*mart haters out there--instead of whining, instead of boycotting, instead of ordinances to keep them out of your area, why not just practice what a Japanese friend told me was an old proverb: If you wait long enough by the river, eventually the head of your enemy will float by:
It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers. 
The market will solve such problems far more efficiently than government ever will.

Chicago Teachers Union President On Lying To Parents

Hear her in her own words.

Really, is hostage a word you want to use with regards to a student?

To paraphrase someone else, she won't be bringing the potato salad to the next Mensa picnic.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Race: Toure v. Alfonzo Rachel

Which one seems more reasonable?  I know which one I choose.

"Coercive Paternalism"--a Leftie's Term, Not Mine

Why we need an overarching government:
Sarah Conly, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, is the author of “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.”

A lot of times we have a good idea of where we want to go, but a really terrible idea of how to get there. It’s well established by now that we often don’t think very clearly when it comes to choosing the best means to attain our ends. We make errors. This has been the object of an enormous amount of study over the past few decades, and what has been discovered is that we are all prone to identifiable and predictable miscalculations...

So do these laws mean that some people will be kept from doing what they really want to do? Probably — and yes, in many ways it hurts to be part of a society governed by laws, given that laws aren’t designed for each one of us individually. Some of us can drive safely at 90 miles per hour, but we’re bound by the same laws as the people who can’t, because individual speeding laws aren’t practical. Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws. 

The freedom to buy a really large soda, all in one cup, is something we stand to lose here. For most people, given their desire for health, that results in a net gain. For some people, yes, it’s an absolute loss. It’s just not much of a loss.

Of course, what people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch “PBS NewsHour” every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if it’s too painful, it’s not a good law.  Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety. 
One of the myriad problems with "logic" like that is that it only works when the "right" people are in charge, when the "right" people know what's best for you.  I think it would be best if students said the Pledge of Allegiance in school each day, but I doubt Sarah would agree.  When the "wrong" people are in charge, I'm sure Sarah would argue that their laws are too painful, too burdensome, just plain wrong.

I wonder if she supports abortion....

You live your life your way, I'll live my life my way, and lots not impinge on each other any more than is absolutely necessary.  That is freedom, and I'm all for it.

UpdateThis sums it up for me:
I want a "leave me alone" society -- one where Christian schools can turn people away for rejecting their doctrine, just as gay rights groups can reject those who don't share their beliefs. I don't want us all to get along -- not because I'm misanthropic (well, not just because I'm misanthropic), but because I know that "consensus" is usually a fancy word for muting minority viewpoints. I want us all to be free to be annoyed with each other from our separate corners. Is that too much to ask?
In other words, I support tolerance.  I'll tolerate you and your dumb ideas as long as you don't try to impose those dumb ideas on me.

Update #2, 4/3/13:  Here's a great post on the food police:
I am reading a new book by professor Jayson Lusk titled The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate. The author is tired of the food socialists coming after trans-fats, Happy Meals, Twinkies, and soda. The book seeks to debunk “the myths propagated by the holier-than-thou foodie elite who think they know exactly what we should grow, cook, and eat"...

It is a dangerous dynamic and one that feeds into power for the political class at the expense of the individual. Those of us who believe in freedom must fight for Happy Meals, Twinkies, and, yes, even the occasional trans-fats, for the food police are more dangerous than these.

Are You Surprised This Was Jesus And Not Muhammed?

A professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Davie campus named Deandre Poole teaches an “Intercultural Communication” class from a textbook by the same name.  The textbook calls for an exercise where students write the name of Jesus in large letters on a piece of paper and then stomp on it.

Enter Ryan Rotela, a student in the class who happens to be a devout Mormon. Rotela refused to stomp and complained to Professor Poole, telling him, “Never do the assignment again because it’s offensive.”  Rotela also told the professor that he was going to complain to the university.  Then, according to Rotela, FAU responded by suspending him from Poole’s class.
It's not politically correct to say, but I'll say it: the reason they stomped on Jesus' name and not Muhammed's name is because no one is worried that the Christians will riot, cut throats, and post the video on the internet.

Only cowards attack Christians.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bag It and Tag It

My skiing days are done.

Sunday I went up to the slopes.  The temperature was in the 50s, but despite that the snow conditions weren't horrible.  Oh, they weren't optimal, but it was pretty darned good skiing for being in the 50s.

From my house to the ski slope is 80 minutes, and another 40 min from there to Reno, so that's where I stayed Sunday night.  Slept in Monday, then hit the slopes on my way home.

I can't do what I used to be able to do--my once-injured knee lets me know it's not happy.  Skiing is just not as enjoyable an experience as it once was so I'm packing it in.  Next fall I'll sell the skis, boots, and poles.

I need a new winter activity.  I'm considering snowshoeing.  Any other ideas?

I Can Imagine Worse Designations Than This

Worst party schools--West Point is #10:
"The closest things we have to nightlife here is Eisenhower Hall, a place where noted authors, poets, scholars, artists, entertainers, and musicians perform on the weekends," said a student. The school doesn't have much of a nightlife, but then again, we expect they didn't expect much of one when they enrolled.

Monday, March 25, 2013

This Summer's Vacation Starts Taking Form

I've got three nights of camping reserved on San Juan Island in Washington, followed by three nights of camping reserved in Victoria, British Columbia.  Not a bad start.

It Takes All Types, Or So I've Heard

It doesn't take this type to teach kids, though:
Police in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania arrested a local high school Spanish teacher on Thursday for allegedly creating and disseminating Photoshopped images of naked bodies — to which he attached students’ faces.

The teacher, Jeffrey Schmutzler, had four terabytes of data storage capability at his home, reports Public Opinion, a local newspaper. (Four terabytes is the rough equivalent of several laptop computers’ storage capacity.) Pornographic images, including child pornography, reportedly took up much of that space.

Federal prosecutors charge that Schmutzler also wrote fictional sex fantasies involving him from the perspectives of students, according to WHP-TV, the local CBS affiliate.

The 42-year-old bachelor apparently owned a couple of life-size silicone dolls, too.

What Is It About This Post?

I just deleted a couple dozen spam comments on this post.  Whenever large numbers of spam comments arrive, that post is always on the list.

Can anyone find anything there that might cause it to merit so much attention from the dregs of internet society?

Update:  I'm up to over 50 on that post just today.

Update #2:  Well over 100/day now.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

White Men, Higher Education, and Race

It's about time someone who's not a white man notices:
Most people who are not straight white men would probably smirk at the idea that straight white men feel alienated in the higher education workplace.

Those who smirk, Sandra Miles said here at the annual conference of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, are hindering meaningful discussion about race.
I've experienced this issue myself.

TED Talks

I first discovered TED Talks when I was convalescing from my ski accident almost 2 years ago.  They're usually good for stimulating thought; on the other hand, sometimes they project that NPR-like elitist veneer.  That's not to say that I wouldn't enjoy attending one some time, just that not every word spoken in them is gospel.

I was watching some of the videos last night and these two interested me.  Under the new Common Core standards, the first video should generate many huzzahs and accolades.  The second just makes sense to me. (full disclosure: I teach stats)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Tyranny of Relevance

Edublogger Joanne is off on a cruise (lucky!) and has not one but two capable stand-ins.  I read this today:
In other words, if you can persuade kids to stick with something that’s initially difficult or not palpably fun, you see their interest grow over time. But if you give up, you encourage the “relevance” crutch: you feed their demand for studies that feel good and seem to meet their needs and wants, right now. “Relevance” and “fun” are not exactly the same, but in their shallowest form they become close to synonymous. When omnipresent, they become that shallow.

It takes a lot of energy to get students to stick with something in their studies that doesn’t immediately grab them–but it’s worth the struggle. Then they become capable of a larger range, and they overthrow the tyranny of relevance.
The tyranny of relevance.  Hmmm, I like that. The embedded link is to the author's own blog on the subject, where she states the following:
The polarization of education discussion is sad—but even sadder are some of the points of consensus. Across ideologies, educators insist that education should be immediately and obviously relevant to students’ lives. Those of a narrow utilitarian bent maintain that a lesson should have a specific, explicit, measurable objective and that students should be constantly working toward that goal. Students should know exactly what they are learning and should always have a “task” to perform; by the end of the lesson, they should be able to demonstrate attainment of the objective. By contrast, “student-centered” educators hold that the lesson should shape itself around the students’ opinions, interests, needs, and desires. Though opposed on the surface, the two camps commit the same error: they reduce education to what can be immediately grasped and used.

Of course education should be relevant to students’ lives; of course students should not be endlessly frustrated in their search for meaning. But what sort of meaning? Promoters of relevance have taught children to expect quick connections to their lives, whether they are making a “text-to-self connection,” completing a “Do Now” exercise about a childhood memory, or “sharing out” at the end of the lesson. As a consequence, when students don’t see the direct application to their lives, they not only stop paying attention, but start disrupting class or ask for something interesting to do. On the one hand, there is something honorable in this protest; on the other, it can be shortsighted, especially when the students don’t wait to see what a book or lesson holds.

The students did not create this situation; they were brought up in it. They have been taught, day after day, to expect their learning to apply to real life. The idea that a theorem could be interesting for its elegance or its relation to another theorem—that is remote from their consciousness. A few students enjoy patterns, possibilities, shades of meaning; they enjoy coming to understand things that were dense or distant before. But many hold to the doctrine—which the Church of Present-Day Relevance preaches—that the teachers are supposed to make things clear, fun, and useful this very minute.
I can't address the issue of relevance without yet another reference to Paolo Freire's flawed ideas and Bertrand Russell's and Will Fitzhugh's insightful ones. Put simply, there's more to the world that what interests a student in the here and now.  If we indulge only what interests or what is relevant to the student, we do them the disservice of failing to provide the broad education that we're supposed to.

Our job is to open minds, not to reinforce their closure.

(Now go read my post at the last link.  Go ahead, it won't take long!)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

New Ways vs Old Ways

I've been teaching long enough now that I'm of the "hey you kids, get offa my lawn!" mode.  I believe that no one in my math classes knows more math than I do, and the best, most efficient method for my students to learn the math that I know is for me to teach it.

Not everyone thinks that way, of course.  We've all heard the "new methods" which extol the "guide on the side", not the "sage on the stage".

Here's a question for you:  why would my school district pay me more if I get a master's in math?  How would that make me a better "guide on the side"?

Anyway, some of our younger teachers are all gung-ho about Common Core standards and how we're finally going to get kids to think instead of just memorize (if we even got them to memorize).  The old ways didn't work, don't work, won't ever work, and we must use new and improved methods (that were tried, to dismal results, in the 1990s, but that's a different story).

The human brain hasn't changed much in the past few thousand years.  What worked millenia, centuries, decades ago still works today.  Oh, today's American culture may not value education as much as it did 50 years ago, but that culture isn't going to foster thinking any more than it's going to foster memorizing.

The old methods work just fine.  Direct instruction is still an extremely valuable way to impart knowledge.

When we decide we need something new, it's often fashionable to get rid of what some consider extremely important--as a lesson that there's a new sheriff in town, and this is the way things are going to be nowIs that perhaps why we don't teach grammar or geometric proofs anymore?
Everyone goes nuts, holding professional development days and sinking money into seminars, technology, and new curricula, in a rather silly quest to teach “critical thinking”. What you see in the quest for critical thinking is a recognition that something has been lost.

It has been lost. To a great degree. It used to be formalized and structured… And now we cast about for it haphazardly. I am not saying that we should use ancient texts and teach with handwritten codexes. The method can be modernized, and taught using modern technique. But it must be taught or it… won’t be. (There’s some logic for you.)
It won't be long before memorizing the multiplication tables goes out of fashion again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Would You Ask The CTA President?

CTEN President Larry Sand recently participated in a roundtable with the president of the California Teachers Association and wrote about it here:
I was quite surprised when California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel agreed to join a panel that consisted of Gloria Romero, Terry Moe and me a couple of weeks ago at an event sponsored by The Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley. Gloria had many a battle with CTA when she was in the state senate from 2001-2010, and Terry recently finished his magnum opus, an extraordinarily detailed account of the machinations of the powerful teachers unions. As a former teacher and CTA member, I, as an apostate, have written frequently about these unions which I believe to be the biggest hindrance to reforming our troubled public education system.

Vogel is an amiable sort, unlike some of the other union leaders I have met – a ready smile and an easy manner disarms at first. But after carefully listening to his talk, I realized that – at least for the time he spoke – “there is no there there.” Platitudes piled on top of clich├ęs lavished with gobs of bunkum...

 Unfortunately, the event’s format didn’t allow for direct questioning of other panelists. A small sample of what I would have loved the opportunity to ask the union leader in front of the 230 or so people in attendance....

Monday, March 18, 2013

War On Science

I found this article to be most interesting:
You hear a lot about the politicization of science, but the real problem is the moralization of science. The New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt has made a compelling case that moral differences drive partisan debates over scientific issues. Dan Kahan and others at the Yale Cultural Cognition Project have identified cultural differences that bias how people assimilate information. Together, Haidt and Kahan’s research suggests that what you believe about a scientific debate signals to like-minded people that you are on their side and are therefore a good and trustworthy person. Unfortunately, this means that the factual accuracy of beliefs is somewhat incidental to the process of moral signaling...

Let’s look at what scientific research says—and does not say—about the moralized issues of climate change, biological evolution, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, exposure to synthetic chemicals, concealed carry of guns, vaccines, video games, fracking, organic foods, and sex education. I chose this list largely because I could find relevant ideological polling data and majority scientific opinions. Applying Mooney’s standard of seeing whether fewer of one ideological tendency gets the science wrong, we find that Democrats are less wrong on four issues, Republicans are less wrong on six, and the parties are tied on one.
Fairly even, but you'd think it would be more lopsided for people who call themselves the "reality-based community".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rising Seas? No Problem?

Are you one of the devoutists who believes that global warming will cause the seas to rise?  No problem!  Now we can drink the sea water, use it to water the deserts, and keep sea level at its current place :-)
Cheap, clean water may soon be available for the whole planet. According to Reuters, defense contractor Lockheed Martin has developed a filter that will hugely reduce the amount of energy necessary to turn sea water into fresh water. The filter, which is five hundred times thinner then others currently available, lets water pass through but blocks all salt molecules. It will use almost 100 times less energy than other methods for making salt water drinkable, giving third world countries another way of expanding access to drinking water without having to create costly pumping stations.
I love technology.

Why Suspend Students?

This article from Slate asks an interesting question:
Why Do We Suspend Misbehaving Students?
Don’t they want to go home?
The article goes on to answer the question superficially--and that's it.  I guess I just expected a little more analysis, some valid alternatives to suspension, etc.

The most reasonable answer to the question is one they mentioned:
Still, surveys consistently show that parents support suspension, because it keeps those students perceived as bad apples away from their peers.
Teachers like it for a similar reason.

As for the tired "minority kids get suspended more than white kids", when someone shows me that minority kids get suspended more than white kids for the same offense, then I'll get concerned about it.  Until then I'm not going to listen to your "institutional racism!" cries.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

They're Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack!

Outside of the Rutgers game at Giants Stadium and the Navy game in Philadelphia, I don't recall leaving West Point between the day I got there and Christmas Break.  I remember coming home in December, 1983, and being startled at the vivid, electric colors of clothing that were replacing the more subdued togs I remembered from only a half a year before..  The new style was called day-glo.

That was almost 30 years ago.  You'd think that style would stay in the past, but you'd be wrong.  Let's do the time warp--again!  Making an encore appearance, that blast from the past, DAY-GLO!
Seen at the local Macy's today....

Friday, March 15, 2013

High School, I Understand. But Elementary School???

Wow.  Just wow:
A 12-year-old Orange County boy who allegedly passed around a marijuana brownie at his school, sickening students, has been arrested after authorities say they found a bag of pot in his backpack.

Read more here:

Friendliest and Unfriendliest Nations for Tourists

I laughed when I saw these lists, because since I was a child I've wanted to go to Iceland and to Mongolia:
Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)


1. Iceland 6.8
2. New Zealand 6.8
3. Morocco 6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR 6.7
5. Austria 6.7
6. Senegal 6.7
7. Portugal 6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.6
9. Ireland 6.6
10. Burkina Faso 6.6


1. Bolivia 4.1
2. Venezuela 4.5
3. Russian Federation 5.0
4. Kuwait 5.2
5. Latvia 5.2
6. Iran 5.2
7. Pakistan 5.3
8. Slovak Republic 5.5
9. Bulgaria 5.5
10. Mongolia 5.5

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Statistical Analysis Class

It's bad enough that I struggle to keep my head above water learning how to analyze statistical software output.  What completely overwhelms me is that I can't figure out how to use the analysis software (which is command-driven and seems straight out of the 1970s or 80s) and I guess we're just supposed to figure out how to use it by watching the instructor use it.

Glug, glug, glug.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Not A Teacher This Time!

No, this time it's an Assistant Principal!
A Texas assistant high school principal has resigned after he was arrested Monday for allegedly having sex with an underage student in his office during the school’s prom last spring.

Mark Steven West, 30, an assistant principal at Spring High School, in Spring, Texas, was charged with improper sexual relations with a student, a second-degree felony, according to the court record. The student has not been named.

West has pleaded not guilty and posted a $30,000 bond.

Post Update

I've updated last week's post on the discussion between some education reformers and Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association.  The post now includes a link to video of the discussion.

Sad That It Takes Judges To Figure This Out

Just a couple days ago I lauded the 9th Circuit for getting a ruling correct--and lightning has struck twice in the same place!  What's sad is that it took a judge to tell people this is wrong, that they couldn't figure it out on their own:

A federal appeals judge has upheld most of a 2010 Arizona state law that prohibits school districts from offering coursework that endorses the overthrow of the United States government or stokes resentment toward a race or class of people.

Friday’s ruling, by A. Wallace Tashima of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, declared three of the four sections of the law constitutional, reports the Arizona Daily Independent.

The ruling stems from a case concerning a school district’s intervention to forcibly alter coursework in a controversial Mexican-American studies program in Tucson schools. The highly race-conscious program taught history, civics and literature from a pointedly Mexican-American vantage point.

The judge agreed with a prior evidentiary finding by an administrative law judge that the program contained “classes or courses designed for Latinos as a group” and promoted “racial resentment against ‘Whites.’”

The Lefties Won't Like This One

No, not one little bit, they won't:
Rand Paul: Tea Party is like the American Revolution – The Occupy movement more like the French Revolution

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What A Sick F*@%

How else can you explain this?
The Los Angeles school district will pay millions of dollars to settle claims and lawsuits filed by students and families from an elementary school where a third-grade teacher was accused of spoon-feeding children semen in what he called "tasting games," lawyers in the cases said Tuesday.

District officials did not reveal the total amount of the settlement, but attorney Raymond Boucher, who represents several Miramonte Elementary School students, said each claimant will receive $470,000.

District General Counsel David Holmquist said the settlement covers 58 of the 191 claims and lawsuits filed by students and parents against the district after the January 2012 arrest of former third-grade teacher Mark Berndt on 23 charges of lewd behavior spanning five years at Miramonte.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Is This Bullying, Or Just Wildly Inappropriate Behavior?

I don't think we should label as "bullying" any behavior we don't like.  Is this necessarily bullying, or something else entirely? 
Several years ago, Brendesha Tynes was taken aback when she received an e-mail from one of her former students.

The note directed her to a Facebook event for an all-night bar crawl an event with which Tynes, an assistant professor at the time, had nothing to do. But it featured an offensive image and listed Tynes as the host; another former student had set it up.

As an educator and researcher, Tynes had spent years looking into cyberbullying. Now, she was a victim.
I'm not saying the former student shouldn't be punished, but I'm not sure that "bullying" is how we should label this behavior.  To be honest, this action doesn't even meet most definitions of bullying that I've seen presented.

Electric Cars Are Not Necessarily Good For The Environment

So says liberal vegetarian (and skeptical environmentalist) Bjorn Lomborg, about whom I've written several times:
Electric cars are promoted as the chic harbinger of an environmentally benign future. Ads assure us of "zero emissions," and President Obama has promised a million on the road by 2015. With sales for 2012 coming in at about 50,000, that million-car figure is a pipe dream. Consumers remain wary of the cars' limited range, higher price and the logistics of battery-charging. But for those who do own an electric car, at least there is the consolation that it's truly green, right? Not really...

A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.

While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.

So unless the electric car is driven a lot, it will never get ahead environmentally.
It's hard to argue with someone who makes sense. Go read his entire piece here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

When You Dodge A Bullet, You Shouldn't Jump In Front Of Another One

One wonders about this high school softball coach:
A high school softball coach has resigned after he was accused of using his team of girls to find him dates.

Troy Hennum submitted his resignation to Seattle Public Schools on Friday, officials said, after his dating scavenger hunt was brought to their attention by a woman who said she was targeted for a date.
Not the brightest thing, but perhaps not a career-killer.  But:
"He seemed like a nice enough guy for a while," Aagard said.

She had a change of heart, she said, after she searched for Hennum online and found articles about his departure from another school in nearby Lake Washington.

The Lake Washington School District reportedly found no cause to discipline Hennum for texting a student in an April 2012 incident, but he was not on staff the next season.

"I was completely … shocked to see something inappropriate happened with this coach before," Aagard said.
He probably should watch his behavior around students.

And now, what about the women his students found for him?  She was perfectly fine with what he was doing until--when, exactly?  When she found out he had texted a student before?  Not that I would ever be texting students, but the school found no cause for disciplinary action, so what was this woman so concerned about?  If she were going to be concerned it should have been about being targeted by high school girls as a potential date for their coach, not because he used to work at a different school.

Neither the coach nor his "date" come across very well in this story.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

9th Circuit Gets One Right

Sad that it takes a Court of Appeals to figure this out:
In a somewhat surprising 9th Circuit ruling (en banc, or in front of the entire set of judges), the court ruled that the 4th Amendment does apply at the border, that agents do need to recognize there's an expectation of privacy, and cannot do a search without reason. Furthermore, they noted that merely encrypting a file with a password is not enough to trigger suspicion. This is a huge ruling in favor of privacy rights.

The ruling is pretty careful to strike the right balance on the issues. It notes that a cursory review at the border is reasonable:
Officer Alvarado turned on the devices and opened and viewed image files while the Cottermans waited to enter the country. It was, in principle, akin to the search in Seljan, where we concluded that a suspicionless cursory scan of a package in international transit was not unreasonable.
But going deeper raises more questions. Looking stuff over, no problem. Performing a forensic analysis? That goes too far and triggers the 4th Amendment. They note that the location of the search is meaningless to this analysis (the actual search happened 170 miles inside the country after the laptop was sent by border agents to somewhere else for analysis). So it's still a border search, but that border search requires a 4th Amendment analysis, according to the court.

Screwing Good And Decent People To Make a Political Point

It's fairly well established now that President Obama is trying to make the American people hurt so that they'll finally cry out against the sequestration cuts--a paltry amount that still allows the debt to increase.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a leader.

Go look where the US government spends its money.  Defense comes in 3rd--and while it's not an insignificant chunk of change, at least defense is mentioned in the Constitution, unlike HHS and Social Security.  Would it really be impossible to cut 5% across the board for the next decade?  If we did that perhaps we'd finally, eventually, have to make some real cuts, eliminate genuine waste, instead of cancelling White House tours or stopping tuition assistance to GI's:
According to, U.S. soldiers will no longer be able to request help to pay tuition.

The suspension to the program was announced Thursday and is effective Friday.
I wonder how long after 2016 it will take for even ardent liberals to admit that this man is among the worst presidents--in fact, not even a very good person!--we've ever had.  Intentionally inflicting pain on his own citizens just to get what he wants politically?  Usually those kinds of actions are reserved for the Kims and Chavezes of the world.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Test Results

I heard from my professor about last week's test.  I scored 45/50, and all the points off were in the last problem.

Yeah, I erased stuff on that problem several times (as well as erasing and redoing the entire first page at least twice).  Yeah, I wasn't very prepared.  The score reflects not my mastery of the material, but rather my almost-mastery of mimicking what I see in examples (since it's an open book test).

I plan on improvement on the next test.

A Contentious Parent Conference

Recently I had a parent conference that lasted 80 minutes after school.  It got so contentious at times that I was exhausted enough when it was over that I didn't do my own homework that night.

I write this post not to disparage the parent but to ask a genuine, serious question:  What is the "correct" answer to the question, "How can I help my student do better in your class?"

I don't want flippant answers--yes, I know the student should do the work, not the parent, but the parents wants to know what he/she can do to help.  Yes, I know the student could ask more clarifying questions in class, could see me outside of class, etc.  I'm looking deeper.  I want serious, reflective answers.

Here's why.  I don't know what the answer is to that question, but I don't think it's the correct question. What the parent really wants to know, and only sometimes says outright, is, how can my kid do better in your class?

And the answer is simple.  The student needs to get more answers right on tests and quizzes, and better demonstrate an understanding of the material on labs and projects.  How the student is going to do that?  I have no idea!  If I knew what would cause students to get A's, they'd already be doing it and they'd all be getting A's!  I don't know exactly what would cause any particular student to score one or two letter grades higher on a test.  I know some generic things that couldn't hurt (mentioned those above) but there are no silver bullets.  But that's what so many parents want.


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Bit Too Far

Check out what a bill in the Minnesota legislature would define as "bullying" in schools:
Examples of bullying may include, but are not limited to, conduct that:
places an individual in reasonable fear of harm to person or property, including through intimidation;
has a detrimental effect on the physical, social, or emotional health of a student;
interferes with a student’s educational performance or ability to participate in educational opportunities;
encourages the deliberate exclusion of a student from a school service, activity, or privilege;
creates or exacerbates a real or perceived imbalance of power between students;
violates the reasonable expectation of privacy of one or more individuals; or
relates to the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A of a person or of a person with whom that person associates, but the conduct does not rise to the level of harassment.

Seriously?  I'll bet I know who gets to define if a statement "has a detrimental effect on the...emotional health of a student"--and that would be the so-called victim!  Turning someone down for a date could affect the emotional health of a student....

I don't know when "bullying" became the "Cause of the Day", but laws like this are definitely out of hand. Now don't be hyperbolic and suggest that I think comments or actions that would violate the above are entirely reasonable and should be encouraged, as doing so would be creating the straw-est of straw men.  I'm merely suggesting that sometimes people say things that hurt your feelings, and while it's not nice, we shouldn't make a pariah out of them by branding them with the scarlet letter B.

Monday, March 04, 2013

CTA Showing A Lack Of Class

Note the use of scare quotes in this link:
Tomorrow night, CTA President Dean Vogel will sit on a panel titled “How Do We Improve Education Achievement”, alongside education “reformers” Gloria Romero, Larry Sand and Terry Moe. The panel discussion is being sponsored by the Silicon Valley Conservative Forum.
Larry Sand, of course, is the president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. Gloria Romero is a former Democratic state senator.  Terry Moe is a Stanford professor and member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.

Nice swipe, CTA.  I look forward to Vogel's looking like an idiot up against these people.

Update, 3/13/13:  I received this email from Larry Sand along with his permission to post the contents here:
The video of the education reform event last week in Mountain View is now available. Terry Moe, Gloria Romero, CTA president Dean Vogel and I each gave a 10 minute opening talk. Then, before the Q&A, we each were given 5 minutes to expand on what we said in our opening or to rebut what another panelist had said their opening. Unfortunately, the format did not allow for any direct engagement. I say “unfortunately" because I had about 500 or so questions that I would have loved to pose to Mr. Vogel.

In any event, if you are interested in watching a part of this, I suggest going directly to the secondary comments which begin at 12:00 of the second tape. Thanks.


A Reasonable Ruling

One problem I have with aggressive atheism and secularism is the incorrect belief that the First Amendment requires a total separation of church and state, when all evidence is to the contrary.  The Founders were clear that while government cannot get involved in the affairs of churches--it cannot "establish" a church or show favoritism to any particular church--the contrary is not so.  Religious people are not excluded from government, nor are they required to forget their religion's teachings in their government role.

Similarly, the fact that some government money finds its way to religious institutions is not, a priori, a violation of the Establishment Clause, and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled correctly in this case:
In a tremendous victory for families in Douglas County, Colo., the Colorado Court of Appeals this morning upheld the Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program.  Reversing an August 2011 trial court decision that had struck down the program, the Court held that the program “does not violate any of the constitutional provisions on which” it was challenged...

The Choice Scholarship Program is a local school choice program adopted by the Douglas County Board of Education on March 15, 2011, to “provide greater educational choice for students and parents to meet individualized student needs.”  The program operates in a simple and straightforward manner, providing 500 scholarships that parents can use to send their children to any private school that participates in the program and that has accepted the child.

On June 21, 2011, however, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and several Colorado organizations and taxpayers sued the school board, school district, Colorado Department of Education, and Colorado Board of Education in Denver District Court to stop the program.  Despite clear case law rejecting their claims, they alleged that because some parents would choose religious schools for their children’s education, the program violates the state constitution’s prohibition on aid to religious schools.  They also alleged various violations of state constitutional and statutory provisions concerning public education...

This morning, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision and upheld the scholarship program. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals explained that the scholarship program “is intended to benefit students and their parents, and any benefit to the participating schools is incidental”  Moreover, the Court stressed that the program “is neutral toward religion, and funds make their way to private schools with religious affiliation by means of personal choices of students’ parents.”
I could side against this program if the relevant issues were the quality of education received at taxpayer expense, but that wasn't the case here.  The ruling is reasonable.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Stats on the Rise

Not one but two articles in the Wall Street Journal discuss the field of statistics:
More students are studying the field in high school, receiving degrees from universities and finding employers interested in their skills...

“Every place where statistics has touched, it’s basically revolutionized the profession,” said William Kahn, New York-based head of science in commercial insurance for Chartis Insurance. “Almost anywhere you go as statistician, it’s revolutionary. It’s very sexy.”

The shift is apparent at universities, which have seen a big increase in students receiving statistics degrees.
The second:
The explosive growth in data available to businesses and researchers has brought a surge in demand for people able to interpret and apply the vast new swaths of information, from the analysis of high-resolution medical images to improving the results of Internet search engines.

Schools have rushed to keep pace, offering college-level courses to high-school students, while colleges are teaching intro stats in packed lecture halls and expanding statistics departments when the budget allows...

Despite statisticians' newfound sexiness, not everyone wants to be one. Ms. Vohlers, at North Carolina State, said she still occasionally gets negative reactions when she tells classmates her major. "They look at me funny and say, 'Stats? I hate it,' " she said. "It's a little bit reassuring. It means I'll have a little less competition in the job market."
I really enjoy statistics.  That statistical analysis course I'm taking for my master's degree, though--it's conceivable I bombed the test last week. Sometimes I feel like I'm in so over my head in that class, and other times I catch the slightest glimpse of the potential, or the big picture, of some topic, and I'm right back in the thick of it because that merest glimpse was so tantalizing.

Hat tip to reader mmazenko for the links.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

What Lesson Are These Students Being Taught?

School administrators are too often CYA-serving nutjobs:
A Florida high school student wrestled a loaded gun away from another teen on the bus ride home this week and was slapped with a suspension in return.

The 16-year-old Cypress Lake High student in Fort Myers, Fla. told WFTX-TV there was “no doubt” he saved a life after grappling for the loaded .22 caliber revolver being aimed point-blank at another student on Tuesday.

“I think he was really going to shoot him right then and there,” said the suspended student, not identified by WFTX because of safety concerns. “Not taking no pity.”

The student said the suspect, a football player, threatened to shoot a teammate because he had been arguing with his friend.

Authorities confirmed to WFTX the weapon was indeed loaded, and the arrest report stated the suspect, identified by WVZN-TV as Quadryle Davis, was “pointing the gun directly” at the other student and “threatening to shoot him.”

That’s when, the teen told the station, he and two others tackled the suspect and wrestled the gun away. The next day, all three were suspended.

“How they going to suspend me for doing the right thing?” he asked.

The school’s referral slip said he was given an “emergency suspension” for being involved in an “incident” with a weapon.
Tar and feathers, as the Instapundit would say.

Grandpa's 101st Birthday

I just marvel at how healthy and sharp he is:

Not-So-Reality-Based Community

While I'm sure these lefties believe in the "science" of global warming, they clearly don't believe in the science of mathematics:
The education of nearly 3,000 Illinois students came to an abrupt halt Thursday morning when Dixon teachers went on strike to protest the school board’s refusal to meet their demands for a 30 percent pay raise over a five-year span...

Board members say they can’t afford such a drastic increase, given that the district is running a seven-figure deficit this school year and may be in the same situation next year, if state lawmakers cut K-12 school aid.

The union and the school board are also at loggerheads over health insurance expenses. Union members contribute from $50 to $150 a month toward their insurance costs, while the district pays $500 to $1,300 each month per employee, along with any premium increases that may occur.

School leaders say the health insurance costs “are becoming increasingly unsustainable,” and want DEA members to help shoulder those expenses. Union members have flatly rejected that proposal, according to the district’s website.

Of all the issues separating the two sides, it’s the early retirement plan that should cause outrage among Dixon taxpayers.

According to the district’s website, the current “early retirement plan provides for higher than normal raises to teachers in their last four years of employment, artificially increasing the teachers’ pension and placing an additional burden on an already burdened state pension system.”

The board wants to end the early retirement plan, but the union has reportedly rejected any changes to the plan.

While taxpayers should be happy that their school board wants to end this pension-padding scheme, they should be disgusted that school officials ever allowed it to occur in the first place.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Bad Statistics

There's nothing stickier than a bad "statistic", and this one is one of the stickiest and one of the worst:
Everyone from the President on down recites the mantra that women earn only 77 cents to the male dollar. However, a Dept of Labor report in 2010 concluded unambiguously that the principal reason for economic difference was personal choice - perhaps not a free choice but one made by persons in the economy. One huge example: some 85% of women have children and the average mother tends to leave the labor force for 5-8 years and is much more likely than a male to work part-time. Both lead to reduced income. Add that males take the higher-paying jobs such as commercial fishing, which are dangerous and lead to much higher fatality and injury rates, and we begin to derive a picture different from the conventional statistician's view that if there's a discrepancy it must be imposed not