Saturday, December 30, 2006


The announcement of the execution of Saddam Hussein was a bit of a surprise. But interestingly it is indicative of at least one advance in Iraq, a justice system based on a rule of law. Despite a fairly foregone conclusion, the sentence was carried out according to a rule of law

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Peanut at Disney World

Spending the day at Disney World. The weather is warm enouh to let the Peanut and Houdini play in the water at Ariel's Grotto. We had dinner in Cinderella's Castle.

For those looking for a good break and probably the best meal in the Magic Kingdom, I strongly recommend eating at Cinderella's.

Amusement Park Attire

Now that I am here at Walt Disney World, my family and I are having a great time. I do have one question though, what is it about theme parks that makes people dress so inappropriately? Two examples stand out. Men who wear tee shirts that are clearly too small and women who go without a bra when every other time they wouldn't dream of doing so.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pres. Ford

When one thinks of a President, Gerald Ford is not one that comes to mind. Indeed, if asked to name all the Presidenrs since Kennedy, many may actually stumble at Ford.

But Gerald Ford did things for this nation that should not be forgotten. First, and not without controversy, Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, even thought Nixon had not been convicted of anything. At a time when the nation was struggling abroad and at home, Ford brought closure to " the long national nightmare" that was Watergate. But people also forget that Ford was brought in to replace another disgraced national figure, Spiro Agnew. On the domestic front, Ford helped calm a jittery nation.

On the foriegn policy matters, Ford was sitting during the final days of Vietnam, a war that also divided a nation like Iraq. While I hope that President Bush will bw able to set a proper and successful course for Iraq in these last two years of his presidency, Bush's successor can learn much from the steady leadership of Ford.

Leadership need not be flambouyant to be effective, but it does require a sense of ease with oneself, an ease that Frod clearly had, confident in himself to the point that he was unconcerned with what the media thought of him. A lesson that our current President couls learn from Ford would to not worry about doing everything well, but to focus on doing a few things in a truly outstanding fashion.

RIP Pres. Gerald Ford

Gerald Forf was really the first President I remember as a child. As a political and historical anamoly in the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam, I recall him doing an okay job and then losing in a rough election.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Vacation Blogging

I am going to be on vacation over the next week or so. Blogging will be light, both in terms of content and in terms of volume. If the opportunity arises, I will post a little more.

The Educator Roundtable Challenge will continue, albeit slowly for the next couple of weeks.

Watch this space for more photoblogging as I will have my camera phone with me and and perhaps be able to send higher quality pictures from the digital camera.

I hope everyone had a wonderful, safe and lovely Christmas or Hannukah or whatever you choose to celebrate. We had a great time and The Peanut and Houdini made out like bandits again this year.

Some highlight toys:

The Hokey Pokey Elmo--very funny, very cute.
The Disney Princess Guitar set, makes some pretty good music, but Peanut, who is five, is already driving Mom and Dad nuts with the volume (Note: Loud music is acceptable when I is my music--otherwise, when did I get so old).
Massive Chronograph: My wife purchased me this huge stainless steel chronograph. It feels like a lead weight on my wrist, but I cannot be confuses with a girly watch.

On the odd present list:
Cheese Slicer: I love my mother in law, and she knows I love to cook, but I don't really need a cheese slicer. I tend to not use a lot of cheese in my cooking and when I need it, a knife works just as well. My wife and I don't entertain a great deal at our place (at least not yet) and when we do, the atmosphere tends away from cheese parties.

Anyway, a good time.

We are preparing for our trip to Florida now and I thought I would throw this in.

Happy New Year to everyone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cool Military Gadgets

What is coming down the research pike. I particularly like the STF, liquid body armor, and number 7 looks down right fun.

New Glasses for the Peanut

Milestones: 2nd Anniversary

Yesterday was the second anniversary of this humble little blog. When I first started this blog, the main purpose was to simply clean out the mental attic and put some thoughts out there that others might read.

Over time, I have come to focus on a few passions, education, politics and campaign finance matters. These subject bring about the greatest passion in me and while some may not share my passion, I hope that the people who are reading this blog can take away a few things to think about.

Anniversary's are naturally a time of reflection and looking back I am generally proud of what I have done in this space. Last year at this time, I implement some changes in this blog, looking to expand things out, including interviews of other bloggers, the photo-a-day project, a more fixed schedule of subject matter and even 7 day a week writing. All of these efforts failed to catch on.

Analyzing what went wrong is pretty easy--life got in the way. But that is not to say that I didn't think the effort was wasted. Trying new things is important for me and the effort I put into this blog has always paid off in terms of personal, if no other, rewards. I do think my "snap--writing" is getting better and in reviewing previous writing, I think my argument skills are improving as well.

One thing that is occuring of late is more readership. I will admit that I am self-centered enough to track readership with the Site Meter and I do check to see what posts are getting the most traffic. Of course, I don't have the ttraffic of Instapundit or Volokh Conspiracy, but there has been a definite uptick of late. I don't know if it is a matter of having something more interesting to say or what, but I can admit to enough narcissism to say that I care and it makes me happy.

At this point, I don't have any New Year's Blogging Resolutions. For long time readers, the few of you out there, you will note the addition of the Daily Top Five. At this point, that may be the only new effort I add.

If anyone has any suggestions, I would be happy to entertain them. Until then, have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and thank you so much for reading.

The Daily Top Five

December 22, 2006.

1. When I went to college at teh University of Maryland, there were some courses that were a little strange and for my money a little too narrow to be of any practical use or even intellectually stimulating. But the Young America Foundation has a list of 12 bizzare and odd courses, courses paid for in part with our tax dollars.

2. Lots of talk about Virgil Goode's letter. Dan Riehl has what I think is a solid take on the matter. I will have more later.

3. Book banning has a long history in this country and each instance (save child porn) is wrong. But the crusade of Laura Mallory in Atlanta against Harry Potter is more than a little distrubing. The woman is seeking to ban books she has never read. La Shawn Barber has the full story, lots of links and solid research and writing.

4. Nancy Pelosi is planning a four-day coronation, sorry celebration, for her installation as the first female speaker. Besty Newmark has a reminder for Pelosi's Party Girl image:
She seems to be falling into the trap of thinking that the Democratic victories in the Fall were all about putting her into power rather than a repudiation of Bush and the GOP Congressional leadership. I think she's deluding herself if she thinks that the vote represented a positive affirmation of the Democrats and her personally rather than a negative vote on the Republicans. And now she's taking a big risk making herself the very public face of the Democratic Party. She will be very vulnerable to all sorts of targeted attacks and a few galas in Baltimore and churches isn't going to erase the fact that she is indeed a Democrat from San Francisco. She's making some of the same mistakes that Newt Gingrich made after the 1994 elections thinking that it was all about him and that the American people wanted to see him all over the place. And she just doesn't come off all that impressively when she is interviewed personally on a Sunday show.
Saturday Night Live is all ready to go with the Pelosi impersonators and the more gaffes she makes, the more fodder for late night. Makes me want to watch Saturday Night Live again.

5. I went to London two years ago with my family just after Christmas. The city was fantastic and they certain know how to do New Year's. While I am definitely going back, I am not sure this time of year would be safe or smart. While I appreciate the realism of the government, the fatalism is another thing.

The Daily Top Five

For December 21, 2006

1. Prof. Eugene Volokh has a great, and lengthy, piece on the issue of free speech, college campuses and the actions of a professor toward a student involved in a rally against illegal immigrations. Volokh dismantles the professor and his excuses quite well, while also making a valid point about the role of free speech, particularly on college campuses.

2. For campaign finance geeks and lovers of free speech, be sure to check out the decision from the District Court of the District of Columbia's decision in the Wisconsin Right to Life vs. FEC, a case that will, if upheld by the Supreme Court, carve out an exception to the McCain-Feingold law for true issue advertsing. Still working through the opinion, but it looks like a solid move in the direction of allowing political speech that McCain-Feingold limited.

3. More campaign finance stuff (I know, I am a geek about these things). I have long believed that McCain-Feingold's Millionaire's Amendment to be not only silly, but also unconstitutional. Well earlier this week, the FEC announced a decision in the case of former Illinois Senate candidate Dan Hynes, who was trying to retire a $400,000 campaign debt from the 2004 Illinois Senate primary, but because a former opponent had triggered the Millionaire's amendment, Hynes, after consulting with lawyers, continued to raise money to retire his debt under the increased spending limits available to him ($12,000 per person in this case). The FEC said he couldn't do it and has now fined him $76,500. As Paul Sherman at the Center for Competitive Politics writes:
Analysis of the statute reveals another twist: It applies only to "a candidate and a candidate's authorized committee." But if Hull's primary loss meant that he had "ceased to be a candidate" for purpose of the statute, then surely Mr. Hynes had ceased to be a candidate as well and was, therefore, not subject to the rule. Indeed, Hynes was ultimately dismissed from the case, but apparently not on these grounds; the General Counsel's report found reason to believe that Hynes himself had violated the law. Perhaps the General Counsel believed that interpreting the statute to apply to a former candidates' authorized campaign committee but not to the former candidate himself would verge on an absurd result. This strikes us as no more absurd, however, than interpreting "candidate" to include former candidates in once instance and exclude them in another, both within the same sentence.

These textual quirks and the bizarre outcome in this case shouldn't surprise anyone. They are the natural consequence of regulation unmoored from principle. Our concerns about "corruption" should be at their lowest when dealing with ex-candidates. It's hard enough for losing candidates to retire their debt without placing unnecessary obstacles in their way. If Hynes and his Committee did violate the letter of the Millionaire's Amendment, it is further proof of the absurdity of that law.
This is the silliness and absurdity of a campaign finance law more concerned with protecting incuments that preventing corruption of candidates and officeholders.

4. I am currently working through an analysis of the Educator Roundtable petition to repeal NCLB, but if the Roundtable wants to take on a cause that I think would be more worthy of their effort, they should seek a reform of the Title I funding formula. Joanne Jacobs points to a good study on the subject. Any formula that rewards richer states because they spend more on education than poorer states has failed to grasp the spirit of the law.

5. I know a lot of people refer to this time of year as the silly season for a number of reasons. But the press accounts regarding religion, public displays and such have revealed a rather absurd thinking about regligion in the public sphere. From an educational standpoint though, the public "fear" about the separation of chruch and state in the schools is leading people to blur the line between teaching religion on teh public dime (prohibited) and teaching about religtion on teh public dime (permitted). Secular education is proper for the public school system, but that doesn't mean that we should be teaching children to be ignorant of religion and its impact on history. Education Gadfly has more about the reaping of our folly.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Educator Roundtable Challenge, Part 1.

In a comment to this post from yesterday, Philip Kovacs challenged me to read the comments posted by teachers to their petition and by implication, the materials linked in the petition. Mr. Kovacs also challenged me to a debate on TV or radio on this subject.

To Mr. Kovacs, I will readily accept your challenge to debate, at any time and place. Since I advocate for education reform in my spare time and on my own dime, I ask simply the courtesy of some decent advance notice.

Now onto the challenge. Specifically, I thought I would take a look at the assertions in the petition and the material linked thereto. So let us begin at the beginning, with assertion #1. The Educator Roundtable asserts that NCLB
Misdiagnoses the causes of poor educational development, blaming teachers and students for problems over which they have no control.
The links provided with this assertion take you to a number of reports and studies. This one makes more unfounded assertions and dire statements about the quality of education:
In a few short years Congress has transformed many schools into the educational equivalent of fast food restaurants and factories, robbing millions of children of their educational birthright and moving them along an educational assembly line like widgets.
Yet the article provides no substantiation that the education system prior to NCLB did anything different. Links 2 and 3 take you to reports on two studies that claim that pre-birth issues and low birth weight affect IQ, motor skills, and negatively impact later life cognitive abilities. Link 4 takes us to a pretty good article written by a practicing teacher who questions the efficacy of NCLB, and questions legislation that doesn't require parents to be a part of the educational process. Link 5 is unfortunately broken, so it is impossible to determine what was said there. Finally, link 6 takes to a piece by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute which describes additional reforms, in addition to school reform, that can help close the achievement gap.

I have no ground to dispute the findings of medical studies, and given the rigor with which most such studies are conducted, I will stipulate to their accuracy. Likewise, I will stipulate that school reform is not the only route to closing the achievement gap, other actions to reduce childhood poverty, poor health care and single parent households also may play a part in reducing the achievement gap.

Having spent sometime looking at the actual law under discussion, I find no reference to teachers and students being solely to blame or even partly to blame for anything. The law does ignore the common excuses offered up for the achievement gap and this one is the most common--that because teachers don't have control over the "inputs" they should not be held responsible for the "outcomes." However, such a mindset automatically creates biases, whether intentional or not, that allows for students to slip through the cracks, because that child is too poor, too disadvantaged to be worth helping.

However, when it comes to education, the Educator Roundtable insists that it knows best. But you cannot have your elitism without the noblese oblige that the elitism carries. If the teacher is to play such a dominant role in formulating education policy (a position I ardently oppose), then that teachers must accept the lion's share of the responsibility for the children in their charge. But the very nature of "public education" and the general proposition that all children regardless of innate ability have a right to a quality eduction, teachers will still have to accept the child as they are, whatever their shortcomings and undertake your ethical and moral obligation to teach each child, doing all you can to reach the goal of proficiency.

Now, of course the Roundtable will claim, not without merit, that the 100% proficiency mandate of NCLB is unattainable. Of course because we are dealing with human beings, this is true, and a mandate for perfection by 2014 may be unrealistic, but just because the mandate seems unrealistic does not mean that the expectation is unreasonable. Does it hold teachers to a standard that by being unattainable can be ignored? Simply put, is the mandate unfair? Yes it is unfair, but as I tell my five year old daughter all the time, life is unfair and life is not all about you. Education is about the kids and their parents, is it not unfair to them to claim that because the child had a low birth weight, or the mother suffered from poor pre-natal care that that child is not worth the extra effort? Who will decide a child is not worth the effort? Is not every child worth the effort, after all every teacher who has ever written anything about education wraps themselves in the cloak of superior concern for the innate value of each child?

Since we are talking about diagnoses, let us make a analogy that may be useful. Let us take an fictional elementary school with 400 students. Let us assume that, tragically, all 400 kids were involved in a bus accident that left all of them injured to some extent. There is but one hospital in the area and all students are taken there for treatment.

Under the ethical, moral and, yes, legal obligations, the doctors and nurses at that hospital have a duty to provide all the care at their disposal to help each and every child get better. The expectation for these medical professionals is 100% recovery. They, and we, know that such perfection may not be possible, but that does not deter them from their duty. The doctors and nurses know that if they fail in their duty to provide the best care available to give, they can be held accountable, via civil suits (malpractice claims), disciplinary actions by their professional colleagues (suspension or loss of their license) and even criminal sanctions, such as fines or even jail, if their actions are egregious enough (criminal negligence).

The doctors and nurses must accept their patients as they come in the door, complete with all the child's medical and personal history, the advantages and disadvantages the child may have. The "inputs" into their system are completely beyond their control, yet remember the expectation is the same for each child, 100% recovery. When the mob of 400 children reaches their doors, the medical professionals perform a triage. They collect as much data as possible, information like pulse, respiration, blood pressure, type and nature of injuries, medical history if possible; in short they gather as much information. That information is then synthesized to determine which children need immediate care, how much care, and in what order children will be treated. The doctors don't guess without having as much information as possible.

In educational terms, the testing regime of NCLB is designed to provide data, systematic, reliable and objective data about students. Instead of looking at the data as a burden, perhaps educators would do well to look at test results in terms of a diagnosis and triage, looking for those students who need the most and immediate help, devote resources to those cases and work your way down the list to the students with the least need. That is the purpose behind NCLB, admittedly a purpose unfulfilled and unenforced, but the purpose nonetheless.

In this respect, as a diagnostic tool, I think NCLB to be succeeding in its goal. For the first time in decades, we are looking hard at what the problems are and looking with empirical data, not simply anecdotal evidence. No longer are educators the only ones with access to data that can be compared, broken down by groups and based on a common standard. Thus, it is no longer simply the educator who can make an informed decision as to the quality of education.

No one can rationally argue that teachers in public schools have little control over the nature of the children that enter their classroom. But then neither do the doctors in our hypothetical mass casualty example. But where doctors and nurses have seconds, or may be the luxury of minutes or may be an hour, to make decisions with the definite possibility of not being able to correct errors later, teachers, on the other hand, have a time buffer. Teachers have the luxury of time when making a decision about how to proceed with a student. If it turns out that the path chosen is not working, a correction can be applied tomorrow, next week, or next month. Teachers have the luxury of having time to investigate the root causes of a child's poor performance.

Is NCLB the best or only "treatment" option to close the achievement gap? Clearly not, particularly in light of evidence of other root casuses of the achievement gap. But when you are talking about educationaly outcomes, the place to start is in the schools.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For December 20, 2006

1. There is a lot of conversation around the blogs about this piece from the Wall Street Journal, which argues that blogs are not the democratic journalism that proponents claim. Sister Toldjah has a good roundup and comments. As far as the WSJ piece goes, I have to agree with what ST said,
In this piece, Rago also conveniently glosses over the fact that journalists, unlike most bloggers, went to college for and get paid to do what they are supposed to be doing, which is reporting the news free from bias while allowing the reader/viewer to form their own opinion on the subject matter. Most bloggers, on the other hand, blog in their spare time, are self-taught on issues related to media bias, and don’t get paid for what they do outside of ads that are run on (some of) their sites - they’re also opinion writers, as opinion writing is what blogs are. That’s not saying that because bloggers didn’t graduate with a degree in Blogology (grin) and don’t get paid for what they do that bloggers shouldn’t strive to be accurate,...

2. Rick Moran disavows Debbie Sclussel's religious intolerance and the left's exaltation of Sclussel as somehow exemplary of the right's hatred of all things Democrat. Look, I don't know enough about Obama to like or dislike him or his politics. But just because he has an arabic middle name doesn't make him any more Muslim than me. Sclussel represents the worst of both sides of the aisle.

3. From the "It's About Time" file, comes this story via Joanne Jacobs. Perhaps they need to connect up with this teacher in DC.

4. I have been challenged to read the supporting documents behind this petition to jettison the NCLB, which I called a joke. I will begin the research and debunking shortly, but here is the orginal petition and my initial reaction. Be sure to read the comment challenging me. I am happy to accept the challenge.

5. Want to buy Holy City, CA? You can, details here.

Petition to Jettison NCLB--What a Joke

Ken DeRosa and Edspresso both point to this rediculous petition to jettison NCLB and return to the status quo ante, which DeRosa describes brilliantly:
Since NCLB only added accountability measures, the Education Roundtable wants to go back to those halcyon days when the feds' role was to "slop the hogs" with money and educators would feed hungrily at the trough without anyone looking over their shoulder. That kids and taxpayers were the only special interests that weren't benefiting from such a system does not seem to bother the Education Roundtable.
I will readily admit that NCLB is not perfect, indeed it has many flaws. But to jettison it in its entirety is just plain silly. But as DeRosa points out, some of the reasons the Education Roundtable posits are even dumber:
Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.

2. Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.

6. Places control of what is taught in corporate hands many times removed from students, teachers, parents, local school boards, and communities.

7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive, compliant workforce than creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.
These are the ones that drive me nuts the most, although all but one of the reasons is pretty dumb.

First, let us look at that preamble:
Below, briefly stated, are some of the reasons we consider the law too destructive to salvage. In its place we call for formal, state-level dialogues led by working educators rather than by politicians, ideology-bound "think tank" members, or leaders of business and industry who have little or no direct experience in the field of education.
First, while NCLB has flaws, it is salvagable and worth fixing rather than scrapping in toto. Next, state-level administration of schools is a good thing and I would encourage that. Including working educators is an obvious plus and one that if the states are not doing now, they should be doing. However, educators don't have to make the tough decisions regarding budgeting, priorities, spending and standards--the politicians do and the politicians represent the final consumer in all of this, the parents and the kids. While teachers may be "answerable" to parents, in the end teachers have no direct accountability to parents (the fact that they should is a discussion for another time). Polticans are hired, fired and directed by taxpayers, citizens and the public they must be leading these state level discussions. Finally, business and industry leaders have a significant role in educaion for they will be hiring, employing and training the graduates of our education system. If that system does not provide them with adequately educated potential employees, then they have to spend loads of money (which many of them already do) to train employees in basic skills like writing, which in turn drives up prices for everyone. Business leaders can tell what they current get out of the education system and what they want to get. Then politicians have to decide if the education system should meet those goals. Yes, teachers need to be involved, but they are not the only actors nor are they the most important stakeholders in education.

Next is this little screed:
2. Assumes that competition is the primary motivator of human behavior and that market forces can cure all educational ills.
Actually, it is competition that has driven almost all progress in the world. Whether it be competition between nations for land and influence, competition between groups for political and economic power, competition between schools to determine who has the better school, competition between classes for pride and perks or competition between individuals for success, competition has always been a primary motivator for individuals. If there is no urgency, benefits or consequences to learning, why bother with schools at all. Competition is what drives innovation and the only long-term forces that have ever lead to innovation are market forces. Ask teh Soviet Union what happens when there is no competition. Oh yeah, you can't because centralized, monopolized structures fail--each and every time.

6. Places control of what is taught in corporate hands many times removed from students, teachers, parents, local school boards, and communities.
What??!!!! The last time I checked, school boards, whether state or local create curricula. Text book companies and other business are just responding to a need. This is just socalistic stupidity masked as criticism.

Finally, this little bit.
7. Requires the use of materials and procedures more likely to produce a passive, compliant workforce than creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compassionate, engaged members of our democracy.
No employer today wants a passive workforce. A passive workforce in our economy is a guaranteed recipe for failure. But our education in pre-NCLB was not producing creative, resilient, inquiring, critical, compasssionate, egnaged anything, let alone an democratic society. What our education system was doing was producing dolts, lacking in skills and lacking in knowledge. The socilastic, one-size fits all manner of schooling prevalent in the good old days worked for a manufacturing society but not an information society, and the model was purely socialistic.

So if you need a good laugh, check out the petition, but just don't sign the dumb thing, that is unless you think that education is just fine without holding the actors in the system accountable.

More on the FEC 527 Decision

Brad Smith has an editorial in today's LA Times, with this to say at the end about the efforts of groups like Swift Boat Veterans and
Certainly some didn't like what one group or the other had to say. But isn't the point of the 1st Amendment that we hear these messages and make up our own minds, without the government telling us whom to believe or silencing voices before we hear them?

If last week's fines have the desired effect, in future elections we will not hear from groups such as the Swifties or MoveOn. Instead, there will be issues not raised, points of view not heard. The funny thing is, we voters won't even know who is not getting to speak or what issues are not being raised. Politicians who want to "control their own campaigns" will find this to their advantage. But how this is an advantage for democracy, I'm not sure.


Check out this weeks education carnivals. The 98th Edition of the Carnival of Education and the 51st Carnival of Homeschooling.

Grading Exams--An Efficient Method

Daniel Solove has a fool-proof method for grading exams. Wish I would have known of this when working as a Teaching Assistant--would have made my life a lot easier.

By the way, I always suspected this of my law professors, but could never prove it.

Hat Tip: Carnival of Education, #98

KIPP Success in DC

What do you get when you take a 23 year old economics major with two years of Teach For America experience, the KIPP model of teacher management and a belief that most math textbooks have a serious flaw, mix in a little youthful exhuberance and frankly arrogance? A 61 point increase in math test scores amoung 80, mostly poor, mostly African American DC school kids.

Jay Mathews has the story of Lisa Suben. A good read, as is typical of Mathews work.

Suben has produced amazing results, largely through the creation of her own lesson plans, instead of using KIPP's prepared plans. Suben noted that most math texts had a significant flaw, they isolated concepts from real world application and understanding:
In D.C. KIPP has been using the Saxon math series, a no-frills approach that often works well with students whose parents never went to college. Suben said she did not have anything against Saxon. She still has copies of Saxon books and a rival program, Everyday Math, in her classroom. But she thought all the textbooks she had seen had flaws.

"I've found that most traditional textbooks oversimplify and isolate concepts, and yet, are still too difficult for non-readers to use. They don't generally push students to think, but offer repetitive, and boring, practice," she said. She started writing each lesson nightly. This was a remarkable feat of youthful energy when you consider that KIPP teachers work 10 hours a day, and Suben was putting in another three hours each night at home composing the next day's lesson on her Dell laptop.

Suben said: "My primary goal as a teacher is to help my students understand the reasoning behind math rules and procedures. I have several core beliefs about this: (1) Understanding is constructed by the learner, not passively received from the teacher. (2) Understanding is built by making connections between as many strands of knowledge as possible. (3) Understanding is galvanized through communication. (4) Understanding is only valuable when you reflect on it and question it."9emphasis added)
Much of what Suben seems to be talking about is that math is not just concepts and drill and kill. Sure, you have to have some basic, boring drilling to first understand the basic concepts, but that is where much math instruction ends. Suben was asking kids to take an active part in their learning and pushing them to a higher standard, even using 8th grade math texts to push her fifth graders to think more:
"I certainly refer to traditional textbooks for ideas and guidance as I write," Suben said. "My sequence and pace are set by a long-term plan that I have designed to catch the students up on second-, third- and fourth-grade material as well as introduce every single D.C. public schools fifth-grade standard by testing time. I model my word problems after the eighth-grade text that I used in Louisiana because those problems require the level of understanding that I am looking for. I focus on non-traditional problems so that students are forced to think."
Suben has been successful for one year, the test for her curriculum will be two-fold. First, can she repeat her successes with another crop of students. Second, can someone else replicate her successes with in a different environment. If the answers to both of these questions are yes, then Suben may be the next math guru that can turn mathematics education on its head.

Good for her.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Don't Know Much About History (and other subjects)

The freshly returned Polski3 wrote a post in which he questioned the lack of emphasis on anything but reading and math when it comes to NCLB. With the law due for reauthorization next year, he wonders if Congress should consider adding things like history and the sciences to the law's mandate.
I see two possible paths; the one we are currently experiencing in which history is de-emphasized to the point where it may someday be extinct from most schools, or that testing in history (and science, humanities and arts) is added to the requirements of NCLB, which in a future form, works to try to ensure no child is left behind from being a well educated, functioning, employable, politically enlightened, thinking member of our society.
While I can understand the emphasis on reading and math, and I understand the need to begin somewhere with a focus on short term start-up of programs, it would seem to me that the "blinders-on" focus on reading and math will shortchange our children in the long run, particularly as the move from elementary to middle to high school.

If you were to look up the texts that are used in teaching reading to upper elementary school kids, say fourth and fifth grades, you will likely find nothing but fiction/literature on the list. What I have never understood is why reading skills have to focus solely on literature? Reading skills for literature differ greatly from those for science, history, the arts or math. Yet by focusing solely on fiction, we forget about these other skills.

But the skills are not the only problem. Polski noted that while he was in college, everyone was required to take and pass a U.S. history course and a few other courses. Today, and even 10 years ago when I was at the University of Maryland, this is no longer the case. But the failure to emphasize history and other subjects in NCLB may lead to a more long term problem, one even greater than the concern that Polski expresses, that the education of children will be incomplete.

The problem that incompleteness brings is that education used to be a great unifier in this country. No matter what you background was, immigrant or native born, from the cities or in rural America, most schools taught the same general material, at the same general time. Students then learned a common cultural reference. Note that I am not suggesting that the students were indoctrinated in a common culture, although that may very well have been a by-product. All students, regardless of background had a common understanding of certain subjects, history, the sciences, literature and art, that allowed for the disparate segments of society to share a common foundation of knowledge. In this way, education, a good-solid, liberal arts education, allowed for a nation to be forged from disparate peoples.

The problem with a laser focus on reading and math only is that subject that provided a common understanding, history, social sciences, civics, even the arts, get left by the way side, further adding to the fragmentation of society. Our society, despite all its commonalities is on the verge of being too fragmented in its current state. How can we be expected to survive when the future generations don't know how to talk to each other, let alone talk across generational lines.

Polski right to be concerned about the lack of an educated, functioning, politically engaged generation currently in school. But the impact is much, much worse. I am not of the belief that we are necessarily at that point in historical development, or even close, but we need to get beyond just reading literature and basic math. Let us look to expanding our kids minds in other subjects, even as we teach them reading.

The Daily Top Five

December 19, 2006

1. Brad Smith goes off the sarcasm scale as he takes on the New York Times (yet again) and their editorializing on campaign finance reform.
This weekend the New York Times once again grabbed its Thesaurus of invective to tackle the issue of campaign finance reform. Next time, we suggest they grab a copy of the First Amendment, too. Surely a reasonably important newspaper such as the Times must have a copy of the First Amendment lying around somewhere.


The Times: People are running ads that are "obviously partisan."

The Constitution: It is so obviously unconstitutional to limit ads merely because they are partisan that, well, we don't even have a case to cite.


There is a lot of other nonsense in the Times' editorial -- there always is -- such as the belief that if only the FEC had a "blanket regulation controlling candidate-oriented advertising" all this mess could be avoided. We suppose it could, if the First Amendment were not a part of the Constitution -- but we'll spare for now any detailed analysis of the silliness.
Unlike Brad, I think I am to the point of giving up on the Times, the only worthwhile thing they publish on a regular basis is the Sunday crossword puzzle.

2. Getting in on the campaign finance editorializing about editorials, Bob Bauer (with a little less sarcasm) also takes on the NY Times, but also discusses this Washington Post Editorial on 527s.
Both the Post and the Times seem to agree that the law on this can be made clear to the advantage of readier, more effective enforcement. The Times assumes that we are there already, frustrated in this goal only by the recalcitrance (and worse) of the FEC. The Post, considering the emerging "test" for 527 regulation, restates it in fragmentary form (omitting to mention the $1,000 threshold for achieving political committee status) and wishes for "clearer guidance in the form of specific regulations that could be tested in federal court." Some days ago, Rick Hasen asked why the FEC did not promulgate regulations rather than proceed with a case by case adjudicatory venture that left only vagueness in its wake.

In all of these views are found an expectation—easily taken for a fantasy—that we can have clear, enforceable rules that guard against certain kinds of "influence"—the influencing of public views about particular candidates. The analysis employed by the FEC in the settled cases is not too different from one it tried out, in 2004, in proposed but abandoned rules. Then, too, in various drafts and proposals, the FEC toyed with the notion of what it meant by a "major purpose" of influencing federal elections, and it tried to bolster this sweeping but ambiguous construction with bits of regulatory straw—like the $1,000 threshold for political committee status and the PASO test (does the communication "promote, support, attack, or oppose" a candidate). It put this effort aside for the simple reason that, overwhelmed by partisan conflict in a Presidential election year, it could not produce a credible outcome or clear, timely guidance.

The FEC then did what editorials and commentators now do: it just "called them as it saw them," dispensing frontier justice on its sense of what the facts of the particular case justify. Since everybody knew that these organizations were not playing by the same rules as other "political organizations," it was assumed that they should be made to pay some price.

3. Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in a series of slave reparations cases. Anthony Sebok has this column at FindLaw, concluding:
It has always been obvious that the slavery compensation litigation has always been as much about education and politics, as about the underlying legal claims that motivated the suits. It seems to me that if the plaintiffs were to win on the legal theory left standing by Posner, then the litigation's message will be deeply estranged from its original moral and political source. In a case like this, then, victory at any price may not be worth it.

4. Despite its strength, the American economy is rarely discussed in the media, being overshadowed by Iraq and other more negative news. But even when the economy is discussed, some basic mistakes are made, as Don Boudreaux points out. Responding to this editorial chastising the Bush Administration for not providing enough jobs for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Boudreaux writes:
Creating jobs is absolutely no challenge. Indeed, that's a chore that even government can do well. Jobs are all around us, super-abundant. (Persons who doubt this truth should call me: I have an endless number of household chores that I'm happy to assign to anyone who calls.) Katrina herself was positively brilliant at creating jobs.

What's not so abundant is real income.

And while in market economies most of us earn our incomes by performing valuable services for others -- that is, while in market economies each of our incomes is closely linked to the jobs we perform -- it's important to remember that the jobs are not the good; the incomes are the good. And real income -- genuine purchasing power -- is not created by make-work programs. If workers in such programs do get more purchasing power, it's because the money they are paid is really a disguised forced or charitable transfer of purchasing power from persons who created it to persons who perform make-work jobs.
What I find terribly troubling is that we as a nation and the Bush Administration is still struggling with the Left's baggage of having to coddle so many people who seem unwilling to help themselves. As Boudreaux pointed out, there are lots of jobs in post-Katrina New Orleans, one need only start working--some one will pay you for your goods or services if they need them.

5. So Laura Bush had a skin cancer surgery, big deal right? Well the White House Press Corps seems to think that failing to disclose her health matters is some sort of grand conspiracy and are whipping up a good whining about it. James Joyner has it right, the First Lady's health has no bearing on the commonwealth, unlike her husband. But for some reason the Press Corps thinks they should have an open door into the lives of any and all White House residents. Good for the White House and Tony Snow for putting the smack down on the nosy busibodies.

Driving into work this morning the talk radio hosts wondered if the White House Press Corps will get into a snit about it. They didn't think so, I did and well for a change I was right.

The Costs of E-Voting

Dan Tokaji, guestblogging this week for Rick Hasen, points to an article out of Utah noting the costs of the transition to electronic voting machines.
Democracy isn't cheap, but it sure used to be less expen- sive[sic].

Switching from punch cards to touch-screen voting machines doubled the cost of this year's election.
Everyone is pointing fingers for the costs, towns and small cities are pointing to counties, counties are pointing to the state and the state is fingering Congress and the EAC.

In truth, everyone is right to blame someone else and wrong because they don't shoulder the blame themselves. Let's face, for decades, we have looked not to the most reliable methods of voting, but the cheapest and that says a lot about our democracy. Even now, faced with expenses that seem high, they are once again looking for democracy on the cheap:
Those costs are so prohibitive that many Utahns in next year's local elections will revert to a voting style used for generations: checking a box on a paper ballot.
Utah is trying to work out a solution for short terms needs, but no one seems to be recognizing that the cost of modernization is always steep, and no less so when you are updating 40, 50 or 60 year old technology.

Unfortuneately, the cost trade-off has its own price. America could use a system of paper ballots, marked by hand and then mailed or delivered by hand. This is certainly a time-honored tradition of voting and generally pretty effective. However, the problem is that counting takes a long time and is much more prone to human error. The beauty of voting machines is that, for all their other failings, they do count very well and with far fewer errors than is commonly know.

So the trade-off is this: we can spend money for faster counting machines and satisfy our fix for instant gratification as to who won or we can go low tech, wait a long time to find out who won, and oh, yeah, spend the same amount of money paying people to count the ballots.

Joy Behar--The Idiocy That Keeps On Giving

Joy Behar, when she walks into the room, the average IQ level drops 20 points. She truly is the the gift that keeps on giving if you are looking for moronic, idiotic, quips. Even the normally lefty audience of the View didn't take kindly to this one. Allahpundit posted the video at Hot Air.

Anybody want to quote and over/under on when (or if) an apology will be offered?

Did Rumsfeld make mistakes? Almost certainly, but I think he did with good intentions and his decisions now look bad even though at the time, he was making them with incomplete information. When Robert McNamara was SecDef, he made mistakes and no one on the left compared him to Hitler. Do you want to call him an idiot, call him incompetent, call him unfeeling, fine, but to compare Rumsfeld to a genocidal leader has crossed the line of decency.

Why is this permitted and why does ABC keep coddling this woman who clearly thinks that going for a cheap laugh excuses the very behavior she castigates her guests about? Does anyone have video of her following Mel Gibson's tirade? The hypocrisy is so thick you need a buzz saw to cut it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For December 18, 2006

1. Polski3 asks a good question, in essence, should NCLB be amended to include history? What is the long term benefit of increasing reading and math skills if they are not used to actually learn something aside from the actual skill?

2. Dan Riehl wonders why the Democrats can see the disconnect between their assertion that if we don't withdraw from Iraq, then Iraq will becomce too dependent on teh U.S. Government and their policy regarding welfare at home?
I think the Dems are right on at least that one aspect of their thinking on Iraq. But I'd sure like to see them broaden their thinking a little on this whole dependence thing. If the concept is good enough for Iraq, maybe it's good enough for America, too. (smirk)
I don't agree on Iraq, but the disconnect does beg the question.

3. Got an itching to see Milton Freidman in action, check out the Free to Choose items at Hat tip to Todd Zywicki at Volokh Conspiracy.

4. Once again, Philip Mella writes a great piece. Has America's dominance as the world's leader in bringing freedom in jeopardy? I am not certain of the doom and gloom as yet, but changes in the world seem to collude in such a way as to isolate America against the rest of the world (except maybe Australia) in the fight against tyranny.

5. Finally, in the spririt of end of year ruminations, check out this list of the 40 Most Obnoxious Quotes of 2006.

Would Jesus Shop at Wal-Mart?

According to the Unions--no.

But who knows? Jesus and Sam Walton never met. But if helping the poor is something that Jesus favored, Sam Walton may have been Christ's best friend.

FEC Confusion

Last week was a busy week at the FEC, with important decisions regarding 527 organizations, fundraising by PACs and a little attended to policy statement that could get a lot of committees in trouble. But the take away from all of these disparate actions is that the FEC is an agency struggling to provide coherence for the regulated community and failing miserably at the task.

But, I must be fair to the Commission and it staff because Congress has not made their job very easy. But that confusion from Capitol Hill is commonplace in the regulatory environment, so the FEC only gets partial credit for their effort.

On Wednesday, the FEC issued a press release announcing conciliation agreements with three prominent 527 organizations, the Swift Boat Veterans, and the League of Conservation Voters, agreeing to fines of $630,000. After looking through the documents associated with each case, one is left scratching their head about the underlying facts leading the General Counsel's office to recommend the Commission's action. All three groups had made public statements regarding one or more canddiates in the 2004 elections that the Commission interpreted as public communications intended to influence electoral outcomes. The trouble is that some of the statements may not have been "public," even as defined by the FEC. The factual basis and legal anaylsis done by the FEC includes references to several statements by Swift Boat leadership made on "news programs," and even cites the personal opinion of the Chairman of the group as violative of the law.

There is little to deny that many of the actions by the Swift Boat Veterans, and LCV actually lead to their classification as political committees subject to FEC regulations under current FEC law. The groups did make public statement supporting or opposing federal canddiates for office and those should have been paid for with hard money subject to the regulations. But as far as announcing a "standard" for 527 groups as to whether or not their actions would be subject to FEC regulation, there are no clues in these cases and no statement by the FEC as to what should be the standard.

On Thursday, the FEC considered an Advisory Opinion for the National Association of Realtors. I have commented on the matter here, and the CCP has an excellent analysis of the matter. The outcome was positive for the Realtors and that is good news, since had the decision gone the other way, the Realtors and the regulated community would have been stuck with a scenario where two actions, normally legal when done separately, would have been impermissible when done together or too closely together. Then the Commission would have been dealing with some rather arcane and frankly inane requests for guidance relating to how close is too close.

But like the 527 decision, the regulated community and the political world at large are still left with a situtation where common sense and logic are not nearly enough to deal with the campaign finance regulatory regime. If there are questions regarding similar factual scenarios, there is no guarantee that the average person would be able to figure out what is legal and what is not. Even gifted campaign finance attorneys like Jan Baran needed an Advisory Opinion. Why should something like campaign finance be so complicated that normal people can't decipher it?

Finally, the FEC issued a new "policy statement" relating to the the purposes of disbursements on disclosure reports. While it is nice to provide clarification on this topic, the fact that the list needed to be distributed at all indicates a lack of consistency of thought among the Commission and it staff.

For those who have never filed an FEC report, the policy statement sounds an awful lot like inside baseball. To a certain extent it is simply inside baseball, matters that involve only those people involved in dealing with FEC reports. But it goes beyond simply clarifying a policy, it clarifies a regulation that in itself was vague. If one were to simply look at the regulations, and why wouldn't a person do that, then under the regulation 104.3(b) common disclosures would be enough, but they are not enough, so a policy statement.

For those more familiar with administrative law, a policy statement is not subject the normal notice and comment procedures that a change in regulation is subject to follow. There is also the political aspect, issuing a policy statement is not necessarily subject to review and approval by Congress, who are afterall the most common violators or the lack of information for purposes of disbursements.

As I have noted many times, one of the purposes of the law, any law, is to provide clear and predictable standards for action. The FEC is stuggling mightily with this task and the actions of the past week are not helping matters. When does a 527 organization cross the line into political committee-hood? When can certain actions that are nomrally legal, suddenly become illegal due to proximity? What is a clear regulation and what is not? The actions of the past week are not isolated incidents either. It is easy to blame McCain-Feingold for complicating campaign finance law and it does deserve the lion's share of the blame, but that does not mean the FEC can make it a little clearer for the average guy to understand.

Campaign fince is not rocket science or quantum physics, but the FEC seems to be trying very hard to make campaign finance as complex as sending a rocket to Jupiter and the cost is to the American people. Most Americans are not sending a rocket to the moon, but they are voting for people for office on a regular basis and the law surrounding how campaigns are financed should be simple, clearly understood and above all, reflect a certain common sense and predictability.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For December 15

1. Extreme Mortman has the Top Ten Funniest Political Moments of 2006. The post comes with pictures and some of those pictures are not very flattering. Who knew Katherine Harris has quite a nice body?

2. The inestimable Michael Barone notes that the Third World is getting richer. While some may complain that some people in the third world are getting richer faster than others, I think the good news is that they are getting richer. The culprits, well that damn, rule of law thingie, and free market economies. Amazing, huh!

3. Previously, I had noted that the FEC was considering a draft Advisory Opinion from the National Association of Realtors, but decided by a vote of 4-2 to allow the NAR to go ahead with its plan. The Center for Competitive Politics has more on FEC happenings here. The adopted Advisory opinion can be found here. More on this to come.

4. Edspresso reports on educational reform efforts in Boston, which is trying to launch a "pilot schools" program in which schools would operate like charter schools but under district control. But it turns out that the Teacher's Union is throwing up road blocks. Color me surprised!!!

5. As a sometimes rock climber, I like reading stories about climbing. While I have never had an interest in big mountain climbing, Tom Smith at The Right Coast has a way to simulate the experience of climbing Mt. Everest.

If You Can't Retreat, Can't Sit Still--then Attack

This is the advice of Power Line to President Bush and I like it. It is bold, it is necessary and it is the right thing to do.

For too long, this Administration, which started off so right and gone so horribly astray, has tried to fight the war on terror and the war in Iraq by being politically sensitive. In doing so, neither war goes well and America is grumbling. Clearly leaving Iraq, no matter how much the Democrats want to do it, simply means delaying the inevitable return to the region, at a time and under circumstances not nearly as favorable as they are now.

But sticking with the current policy is not working either. "Stay the Course" does not inspire confidence and frakly, the course is off-target.

The only option is to take a bold and decisive step and attack. Attack the root cause, the militias and the sectarian violence. Unleash the fury and power of the American military upon these beasts that kill women, children and police. When a gun is fired in a town or city block, evacuate the whole area, strip search everyone for weapons, do a 100% positive ID check and search the area so thoroughly, you find every dog, rat, a flea in the area, confiscate any weapon, ammunition or bomb making device, arrest those who need arresting and start prison camps in the middle of the desert. In short, give insurgents no place to go, no place to hide and no material to fight.

Of course, lefties will tell you that you can't solve this kind of problem without talking. Fine, talk about this: how do you get two children who are fighting to talk? First you have to get them to stop fighting. In Iraq the only actor capable of doing that right now is the United States. We have to play the hard figure and separate the kids and take away not only their means of fighting but their will to fight. The only way to end their will to fight is to make the people who want to fight that their lives will be ten times as miserable as they are now.

The President should be bold, he should be active. Twenty-five years from now, the world will look at President Bush and consider him to be the most prescient leader of his time. There will be democracy in the Middle East and he will have planted that seed. Now in order to cultivate that seed, the President has to give it a chance to grow, give it a good soil to grow and that soil can not be tilled when it is a war zone.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For Decmeber 14, 2006

1. Most of us have received the spam with the Nigerian Bank scam. I get about 1 a week and usually just delete them. But here is the communication thread of one person who decided to find out what would happen. Very interesting (and long). Tip o' the hat to Randy Barnett at the Volokh Conspiracy, who also has seen a recent twist on the idea, using a U.S. Marine strawman. Watch out!!

2. Joy Behar (of the view) is a big fat idiot!!! She wonders if Sen. Tim Johnson's illness (it is not a stroke according to press reports) was "man-made" because she know what "that party is capable of" meaning the GOP? Hot Air has the video.

3. What if the NBA had quotas? So asks Larry Elder at Townhall. After positing a fictitious NBA Press Release on a new player recruitment policy that would place black players at the back of the line in favor a racial diversity policy for players, Elder writes:
Yet when it comes to colleges and universities admitting Asian-American students, this is, in effect, exactly what is happening. Because of the superior performance of Asian students on high school grades and pre-college aptitude tests, many colleges and universities, through unannounced policies, place these "minority students" at the back of the line.
Most race based preferences in academia discount both white and Asian students in favor of less qualifed Hispanic and black candidates, all in the name of "diversity."

4. I have often railed against teachers' unions, even once calling them the biggest impediment to improving education extant. I also know that some local unions organizations actually do what unions are supposed to do, stick up for the workplace conditions of their members. But I tend to think that the larger the union gets in terms of members and money, the less it actaully does to serve those members because it starts feeling its oats and believing it to be powerful influence in local politics. However, there are a lot of teachers out there who feel cheated by their union not to mention feeling their money has been wasted. Mamacita has her viewpoint, but summed up here:
Union rep: worthless.
Union dues: ridiculously high and very little of it went to anything local.
It goes downhill from there.

5. JennyD has been at an education conference in Washington and reports:
It was not what I expected, at least not entirely. There's this weird political convergence on education, and some people who you might peg as hard-core conservatives or die-hard liberals can agree on aspects of schooling.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Daily Top Five

For December 13, 2006

1. If you are interested in education like I am, be sure to check the 97th Edition of the Carnival of Education and the 50th Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

2. The FEC has levied three fines against 527 organizations for a total of $630,000 for failing the major purpose test. What is interesting is that at least for some people like Allison "The Skeptic" Hayward notes:
Apparently the FEC is of the view that a vague line in the caselaw about "major purpose" (or the retroactive application of regulations) trumps the statutory language requiring a $1,000 threshold in contributions or expenditures before a group can be regulated as a political committee.
A similar ongoing dispute between the Club for Growth and the FEC is being played out in the courts right now.

3. LaShawn Barber reports on a call by North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones to investigate Durham County, NC District Attorney Mike Nifong for violating the civil rights of the Duke lacrosse players accused of rape. While I have followed the case, I have usually not posted on it. But Barber notes:
If DOJ opens an investigation, which I’m praying it will do, first on the list will be the photo ID process. In violation of standard procedures, the photo ID array did not include photos of people not associated with the so-called crime. The stripper-accuser looked at photos of white Duke lacrosse players and pointed to random men she wanted to frame for the alleged gang-rape.
If this aspect is true and I have no reason believe it not to be true, this is certainly a violation of standard police procedure as well as potentially a violation of constitutional criminal procedure. I certainly believe that Nifong has handled the in an amateurish manner at best and probably in an unethical manner.

4. I know that stories of liberal bias on college campuses is old news, but Michelle Malkin points to a very good article on the subject. I suspect that despite accusations that the matter is some sort of conspiracy, I would argue that the dominance of the left on college campuses is a cyclical thing and in 50 years liberal commentators will be making the same arguements. But extremism on both ends is not good and colleges should do a better job of trying to find some sort of, if not a happy at least a tolerant, medium.

5. For those who didn't know, the issue of slavery is still alive and well in the United States. More specifically, slave reparation lawsuits have been filed in many places. Judge Posner has issued a decision on the issue, affirming dismissal of such cases in the lower courts. Check out the opinion here.

Campaign Finance Math

The FEC is considering an advisory opinion for the National Association of Realtors in which two activities undertaken by the NAR and its PAC that when taken separately are completely legal, but when done in conjunction are somehow illegal. he two activities involved are joint fundraising for the federal and state PACs and the transfer of funds between the national assocation and state associations. Each activity, when done on its own, is clearly legal and actually pretty common. Indeed the transfer of association general treasury funds is not even the jurisdiction of the FEC. Yet, when done together, the two actions may be prohibited. The Center for Competitive Politics has a great breakdown of the legal arguments as to why this Advisory Opinion is bad regulation.

But there is an even broader problem we are facing when presented with these kinds of questions. NAR has significant resources and retained Jan Baran as their attorney, one of the best in the business. But what if an association had not retained an attorney and simply looked at the law themselves. Both activities are legal and it would not be a long stretch of the imagination to think that an association would simply proceed with its plan and if this Advisory Opinion is adopted, it would be likely to be found in violation of campaign finance laws.

The tortured reasoning of the NAR draft AO will not add to the comfort level of PACs as they seek to fulfill their mission. In law school, we were taught over and over again that the law seeks predicatbility, for it is only with predicatbility that people can understand the bounds of what is permissible and what is not. But when it comes to campaign finance law, we have moved from the realm of the predictable to the realm of the surreal. Only in FEC regulations and Dali paitings can two legal things be bent and distorted so as to become suddenly become illegal. Only in campaign finance law is predictability not a cherished goal.

Maryland Teachers' Union Gets A Dose Of Its Own Medicine

Mike Antonucci reports on the revocation of email privileges by union members for the dessimination of political messages because it is not allowed in the contract.

Work to Rule indeed.

The Wussification of Education

Honor rolls emphasize grades too much, so says Principal Paul Richards of Needham High School in Needham, MA (near Boston).
Richards said publishing of the honor roll represented "an unhealthy focus on grades." He pointed out that there are lots of other ways that students achieve, such as in clubs, musicals, concerts, athletics and community service.

He said the ranking of students solely based on grades goes against the school's overall mission which is to "promote learning."
While achievement in other areas is certainly worthy of mention and attention in the local press, getting good grades should be the mission of the school and the students. Getting good grades, by definition, promotes learning.

Furthermore, honor rolls also are the single most democratic of honors since anyone can get them with some hard work and study. Other forms of excellence described by Mr. Richards are not nearly as democratic. Athletic excellence is often possessed by only a few people, so the star quarterback or running back gets press, but not the center of the football team. A leading scorer on a soccer team or basketball team will get recognition, but not the kid who goes out and practices hard everyday and gets maybe 10 minutes of playing time and never scores a goal or a more than a baseket. Musical talent is likewise rare and usually the stars of the school play are recognized, but not the bit part player who tried hard and spent hours working on sets while the principal actors rehearsed. Finally, when was the last time you saw the chess club or the math club featured in local newspapers?

While Principal Richards may tout that excellence comes in many forms, my bet is that he generally "promotes" sports and rarely anything else. A quick perusal through the archives of the Needham Times doesn't show a great deal of the "other ways that students achieve" being highlighted.

Of course, we could blame the local media for failing to cover these other events, but I am likewise certain that the school does not do a good job, if it makes any effort at all, of highlighting other activies at the school. I heard the best description of this move on the radio this morning, "the wussification" of America coupled with the "dumbing down" of education.

Where will the stupidity and the inanity end?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

When Am I Going To Use This In The Real World?

All you middle and high school teachers out there who have never heard this question, please raise your hands!

Even in the medium of this blog, I can be fairly sure that not one teacher has their hand in the air. Even us non-teachers can say with a fair degree of certainty that much of what is taught in school has a real world application, the problem is that application is missing from lessons. In an op-ed appearing in today's Seattle Times, Dr. Catherine Taylor laments the fact that mathematics classes in particular do a very poor job showing how all those drill and kill skills that kids practice over and over relate to real world problem solving.

For teh TV minded out there, I draw your attention to the CBS Show "Numb3rs" in which a math professor brother of an FBI agent uses various mathematical models to help solve crimes. While some of the theories seem a little contrived, at least it can show one application of how math can help solve real world problems. But as Dr. Taylor points out, not everything has to be higher order, model based mathematics:
There are two problems with this scenario. First, very few people become theoretical mathematicians; few discover the purpose of abstract mathematics. Second, memorizing dozens of abstract procedures doesn't help students understand how to use mathematics to solve theoretical or everyday mathematical problems.

For example, systems of equations can be used to decide which of two investments will yield the best profits or under what conditions two investment options will result in the same profit; geometric transformations can be used to create video games and graphic designs; statistics can be used to describe or predict changes in weather, population, air pollution, consumer confidence, etc.
But the application problem does not end with math.

Take economics for instance. Economics is a fascinating subject if presented with some real world appliations, witness the popularity of Freakonomics. But as my wife and I learned in college, most economics classes stick with the basic theory and concenpts, which it must, but fail to draw any connections with the real world. Most people can intuitively understand the concept of supply and demand and the effect of both on price. But what impact on both supply, demand and price do government regulations, weather patterns, sales incentives, and other factors have on the old supply and demand graphs. If Economics were presented in college as a course designed to study the effect of incentives upon the actions of individuals and large groups, I would have been more interested in teh class, rather than suffering through it as a required course.

To be sure, the basic threat of failure of the next test or poor scores on exit exams or the SAT often motivates many students to put forth the minimal effort to learn the material. But what if you can enrich those students and garner the attention of those who might otherwise slough off with a little real world application, might that not be worth the effort.

The Daily Top Five

Here are today's Top Five

1. What have we wrought in political correctness when a 4 year old is disciplined for hugging a teacher? Betsy Newmark points to the story our of Waco. From press accounts, maybe the boy crossed the line, but did intend to and with what mindset? Sure, we need to protect against sexual harassment and molestation, but does that mean we have to abandon common sense?

2. The Supreme Court is currently considering two school integration cases from Seattle and Kentucky whereby the school's policy uses race to determine what school to send kids to. While Brown v. Board in 1954 ended de jure racial segregation, proponents of teh polcy claim that de facto segregation based on housing patterns has taken its place and schools have a duty to provide a diverse educational experience. Thomas Sowell calls it like it is:
The racial dogmas have changed since 1954 but they are still dogmas. And flesh-and-blood children are still being sacrificed on the altar to those dogmas.

Some of the learned justices are pondering whether there is a "compelling" government interest in creating the educational and social benefits of racial "diversity." If so, then supposedly it is OK to do to white kids today what the Supreme Court back in 1954 said could not be done to black kids -- namely, assign children to schools according to their race.
Read the whole thing.

3. Michael Barone is setting the record straight about a recent Washington Post article on dairy farming politics. He correctly notes that the problem is not lobbying or campaign contributions, although that is the way some people will undoubtedly see the article, but rather the problem is a big government program of price supports for milk production.

4. When do two activities that taken individually are legal but when done in conjunction are now prohibitied. Only in the arcane world of campaign finance and the FEC. The Center for Competitive Politics has the story. I will have more detailed comments later.

5. Why does the National Education Association keep preaching the smaller class sizes sermon over and over again, despite no proof of smaller class sizes making education better for kids? Because they need members to pay for the quite exorbitant salaries of the national staff. In case you are wondering, the 600+ staff of teh NEA makes an average of $178,000 in salary and benefits in 2005-6. To be fair, not everyone makes that kind of cabbage, but when the salary to benefits ratio is almost $60 million to $47 million, it is hard to cry for the staff.

The High Price of Helping Kids

Prince George's County Maryland has a program to help kids pass the High School Assessments, a series of four tests that students graduating in 2009 must pass in order to receive their diplomas. The program called Twilight Academy is desinged to help the more than half of county students who have failed the exam.

In a Washington Post article, County School Superintendant John Deasy pleaded with parents:
"I am distressed at an enormous level that we put together a program which is the best in Maryland and only one out of six children are going that need to take it," he said. "I need you to get your child to that program. I can build it, I can produce it, I can staff it, but I can't go to your home and make your child go there."
Deasy is running into a common problem, the lack of parental involvement in education. This is not say that parents don't care, for I think we all believe they do, but for the freshmen and sophomores at whom the program is targeted, there is no urgency to the need to pass the exams. After all, graduation for the students discussed in the article is two years away, practically an eternity for almost all students.

But one does have to wonder about the efficacy of the design of the Twilight Academy. According to the article, students meet two to four times a week for an hour to an hour and half to practice for the exam and get instructional aid in the subject matter. But the program generally does not begin until 4:00PM, a time when most students have already been at school for 8 hours. From the description of activities in the article, it seems as though these students are already exhausted beyond the point of being able to glean anything useful from the class.

While the scheduling options are, of course, greatly limited by the clock and the calendar, does adding an extra 90 minutes of extra instruction at the end of the day actually going to help? But there are also other questions that I have.

How is the Twilight Academy integrated with the student's other, regular instruction? Are the two complementary or do they clash in timing and purposes? If the student passed their basic instructional class but failed the exam, how much study goes into determining the root cause of teh failure? Is the failure the result of lack of knowledge of the subject, or lack of understanding of how to take the exam? Was the failure the result of one or two poorly understood concepts were remediation in those areas would be more effective?

Chances are, very little actual analysis went into why each student failed to pass teh exam the first time. This may of course be the result of an inability to actually review the exam by school leaders, but that seems unlikely. But the county and state school leaders have access to the very data they need to help these students, but likely failed to take advantage of it. Before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a remediation program, why not spend a few thousand dollars to analyze the data and then determine what is best for each kid. If a student is having problems with one discreet area, why torment them with a full review?

A short, focused intervention will improve the chances of teh student passing by working on the weakest areas. Such a effort will also reduce costs, in terms of student and teacher time, to such a level as to make the program more cost effective.

While it is too soon to tell how effective the Twilight academy will be in helping students pass the HSAs, I would be surprised if it makes a stellar impact.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Daily Top Five

My fever addled brain has compiled these stories:

1. Jeff Emanuel brings us the story of a Christian Fraternity suing to enforce its right to admit members it chose to admit, i.e. Christians, against the University of Georgia. At issue was an anti-discrimination policy:
which requires that student organizations include in their constitution, and adhere to, the statement that "Membership shall not be denied to any person because of age, race, sex, religion, handicap, sexual orientation, or national origin."
What is interesting comes later in the article:
Though it took legal coercing, in this the University of Georgia corrected a wrong and made the right decision. Next, though, the school must follow through on its promise to “review and change” its nondiscrimination policy. As Timothy Tracey of the Christian Legal Society said Thursday, “We need a long-term solution and just saying, 'You, Beta Upsilon Chi, will be recognized,' isn't good enough. We need a policy change.”

A policy change is indeed necessary. A blanket, one-size-fits-all program to provide a politically correct end to all discrimination cannot be enacted without inadvertently discriminating against some of those whom it was designed to protect. Enacting a policy which forbids an organization based around a common defining characteristic to acknowledge that characteristic when determining its membership is a proposition which is as foolhardy as it is unworkable.
What seems to be missing from the reporting is the stupidity behind the policy, not as it applies to the Christian fraternity, but what the rule said. Under the policy, a man would be able to join a sorority and have a good case if he were denied admission. After all, the sorority would be required to have the nondiscrimination policy.

2. Well, duh! Imagine that, school performance improves when students needing vision and hearing assistance gets it.

3. Here is an update on the state of School Choice in America.

4. Kofi Annan bids farewell (good riddance, I say) in the Washington Post today. Captain Ed calls it what it is:
If his rule hadn't resulted in such worldwide misery and despair, it would be one of the funniest pieces of opinion journalism so far this year.

5. Finally, Tammy Bruce sheds a little light in the Sea-Tac Airport Christmas tree dismantling:
The rabbi should have simply asked, and not threatened to sue. I have no problem at all with the idea of a menorah going up, but the bottom line is, 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. This gorwing obsession with everyone everywhere needing to see their representation is the impact of narcissism and its increasing control of people's lives.
Narcissism fuel "diversity." An interesting theory.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Education Theory and Opinion

As Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning points out, there is far too much opinion in education and not enough theory.
Because education is not yet a mature profession, no one bothers to validate these crackpot opinions via the scientific process. Educators nonetheless often label these unsubstantiated guesses or hunches as theories. They are not.

Theories are not merely someone's opinion, even though that is how the word is often used in everyday speech. Even if that person appears to be an authority figure, their opinions do not magically become theories. In education, there are precious few authority figures at the K-12 level in any event. Most educators simply do not know how to induce learning in kids who are not part of the portion of the top of the bell curve which always has managed to learn no matter how poorly or superbly the material is presented to them. Educators have been much less successful in inducing real learning in the remainder of kids. Without this success in educating, there can be no authority. This is the difference between an opinion and a theory; a difference that is not understood by most educators.

A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from or is supported by experimental evidence. In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable. Most opinions given by educators have either never been tested or have failed under somewhat rigorous experimental conditions. The result is that these opinions are not reliably predictive of what works in education.
I must disagree with Ken's assertion that education is not a mature profession, because it is a mature profession, in terms of time, in terms of acknowledgement of the profession by the general public. I would argue instead that teaching is not a learned profession.

In a learned profession, new ideas are tested, retested, examined, picked apart and put back in to practice. Such processes lead to proper theories, as Ken defined. A learned profession seeks above all predictability in outcome when common factors are present. Now of course, those that read this statement will say, all students are unique and each learns in a different way. To which I say hogwash.

I firmly believe only a finite number of learning processes exist. While some students may present an amalgamation of these processes, even the combination of processes is likewise finite and therefore predictable. While psychologists and neurologists may be able to tell you how a person learns, the fact of the matter is that current educational practices appear not to be geared to that knowledge. Much of our educational "theory" is based on a small segment of the learning bell curve, whether it be on the upper end of the curve or on the lower end of the curve. Rarely do any educational theories span the curve.

But Ken points out, although he may not realize it, a reason why we don't have any unified educational theories--we are afraid to be wrong.
There is no shame in being wrong. Scientists often have hypotheses that prove to be wrong. Science progresses slowly in fits and starts and through lots of trial and error. There is no shame in saying that you don't know something or how something works. What is shameful is professing that you do know something, when in fact you don't. What is especially shameful is when you do this by circumventing or perverting the scientific process. You don't to pass off your opinion as a theory when it is not. If you try to do this in most of the legitimate hard sciences and engineering fields, you will be recognized as a fraud by your peers and discredited. In education, however, most of the theorists are frauds. What we have is a bunch of foxes guarding the hen house. There is a critical mass of frauds in education that prevents the peer review process from working as it should to discredit failed or untested hypotheses being passed off as theory.
While there may be no shame in being wrong, there are consequences in education. I don't believe that educational theorists or opinionists or researches don't have the best interests of children at heart, and that may be their downfall.

To test educational theories reliably, you have to test them on real kids, in a real learning environment. Such a proposition produces fear that any errors in an education hypothesis may do some wrong, however slight. Unlike a car you can test until it breaks, it is a fundamentally different concept to test hypotheses upon a car. This fear may not even be on the part of the researchers themselves but a fear held by the parents of kids being tested. In short it is difficult to impose a scientific method upon children in the educational field because of the fear of long-term or even short-term damage.

These fears however, while real and probably founded in some past experience, need not deter us from trying to find a solution. But part of our problem, in addition to a fear of experimenting with children, is that we still don't know what we are trying to achieve. "An educated child" is an amorphous goal at best and from a practical standpoint impossible to define, measure and examine. Without an adequate definition of a goal, we could have a fabulous line-up of theories to test, but no end outcome to test them against. We can take 100 "educated" men and women and have 100 different examples of what an adequate educated person should be and 100 different answers to that question.

The definitional problem is not a simple abstraction, for it lies at the heart of predictability and replicability. An engineering problem, like a "safer" car, "a car that better protects passengers from injuries than cars currently available" can be mathematically expressed as having fewer injuries to occupants in the same number and type of crashes. Furthermore, the lay person and the expert can generally agree on what that means.

In education, we have neither an adequate definition of an edcuated child, nor do we have any sort of consensus between "experts" and "lay persons" as to what that means. So a teaching problem, for example, a better way to teach children to do mathematics, cannot be boiled as simply. What is the measurement we should use? Proficiency in terms of passing some state test? While an easily measureable outcome, the process may not be replicable across all students?

As a profession, teaching needs to take a few examples from other professions. Spending more time in peer review and after action sessions may lead to a better understanding of what works. From most of the teachers I know, either personally or through this blogging medium, I have learned that there is little regular interaction with other teachers where methods and means are examined and "dissected" for effectiveness. There is no systematic examination of student inputs and student outcomes that could lead to teh development of a field of knowledge around which a real theory of education can be developed. Therein lies the difference between teaching and other learned professions, critical self-evaluation of practice.

Not all the blame can be laid at the feet of teachers. If administration and school leadership did a better job of not only asking for, but demanding such a self-evaluative process, you might see a better development of the practice. The educaitonal theorists and opinionists, the so-called experts, rarely take such a step themselves and if they don't why should lay persons place any faith in their words.

The Daily Top Five

For today's reading.

1. Earlier this week, Vice President Cheney's office announced that both of his daughters were expecting children. One daughter is expecting her fifth child with her husband. However, the big "news" is that Mary Cheney, the openly lesbian daughter, is expecting a child. Apparently such news, common place in the rest of the country, is somehow big news because Cheney's dad is teh Vice President, and is causing a debate about gay rights. Why must this be the case?

2. Media bias--well duh, but Chris Lawrence at Outside the Beltway points to a probably different explanation than you may think.
The basic problem I see with this “profit-maximizing” theory is that newspaper readers tend to be of higher socioeconomic status and are more likely to be white than the average citizen–and both groups are significantly more likely to be Republican. Then again, it is possible that Republicans are more tolerant of left-of-center media slant than Democrats are of right-of-center slant, and thus the “ideal” slant in a typical circulation area is left-of-center–not because it best represents reader’s actual political preferences, but because it leads the fewest readers to cancel subscriptions.
A newspaper after all is a business designed to make money.

3. A "growing consensus about the Iraq Study Group report--it sucks" or so says Rick Moran at Right Wing Nut House.
The right hates it because “victory” isn’t mentioned. And because the group gave an honest assessment of what was actually happening in Iraq. And because they want the United States to talk to Syrian cutthroats and Iranian fanatics. And because it calls the President’s policy a failure. And because James Baker is a poopie head.


On the left, they hate the ISG report because they see it as a gigantic conspiracy to deny them the fruits of their electoral victory. And because it doesn’t advocate an immediate withdrawal of forces. And because the word “defeat” isn’t found anywhere in the report. And because it isn’t hard enough on Bush. And because Bush will ignore recommendations that they disagree with too. And because James Baker works for the Bush family and is a poopie head.
So there are two points of consensus, the report sucks and James Baker is a poopie head.

4. Want to get some news that is more accurate and more useful, pick up a business newspaper or publication. Why? According to this post:
I started reading the business press when I was in graduate school. I found it to be generally more unbiased, if you define unbiased in terms of being the reasonable basis for decisions. There is a reason for that. People making investments are making decisons. They are going to put their money where their mouths are and demand a higher level of accuracy. Publications such as "The Nation" or "Mother Jones" (is that still around?) can engage in fancifully flying diatribes that make intuitive sense but are wrong. The business press gets pulled down to earth much more often. They also tend to deal with more practical people.

There are two sorts of prognosticators. Those who predict what will happen and those who have a hand it making it happen. The former are more entertaining; the latter more useful.
Although I don't read the WSJ daily, I do find their news reporting on current events much more accurate and balanced than any other outlet. Their business reporting, obviously is second to none.

5. Tommy Thompson for President in '08? The GOP could do a lot worse.