Friday, November 30, 2007

The Decline of Men In College--What is the Real Problem

George Leef asks that question in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer.
Men are now underrepresented in many colleges and universities. Should we worry about that?


I think the answer is no -- and yes.

No, because the common idea that among any large population, such as college student bodies, we should expect to see all groups of people proportionally represented is mistaken. People make decisions as individuals, each trying to do whatever is best, given his or her own circumstances, abilities, beliefs and goals. Young adults who enroll in college -- or decide not to -- are usually acting with care and deliberation.
Leef notes that the fact that more men are choosing not to go to college is a factor of a labor market that rewards work that does not require higher education, things like construction, auto repair, etc. These are good trades in which a person can make a substantial living without a bachelor's degree. Leef also argues that such labor options are not as available for women.

Leef also posits that our K-12 education may be turning boys off to education, making higher education even less attractive:
For years, there has been a movement in K-12 education built upon the notion that schools should try to make boys more like girls. This is another of those "progressive" education theories designed to remake and improve the world -- in this instance by socializing boys out of their supposedly harmful competitive and aggressive tendencies. Professor Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys," calls it the feminization of education.

Under this approach, schools are replacing reading material that might appeal more to boys (for example, stories with adventure and conflict) with stories having "better" messages. They're also trying to reduce or eliminate competition.

The result is that school becomes less interesting for boys. Of course, many do well anyway, but this approach causes some to lose interest at an early age. Far more boys than girls get bored and drop out, in part because of the feminization of schooling.

So the dominance of women on campus may be alerting us to a real problem -- the fact that early education is turning many boys off, keeping them from making the most of opportunities to develop their minds.
I am not willing to go that far, but some of what Leef says is accurate, K-12 education is not appealing to boys and is not geared toward them at all.

But I wonder if something else might be at play here--the growing avaialability and prevelance of higher education for everyone. Prior to Title IX and the push for broader college accessibility for everyone, college was restricted largely to those who could afford it and men. Following Title IX, the growth of women in college expanded-perhaps at the expense of some lesser qualified men, but in all likelihood the male population on campus was not affected much. As the educational opportunities for men and women expanded in terms of the types of programs available for students who otherwise might not have gone to college, whether for financial or academic purposes, I think the number of women on campus grew at a higher marginal rate, again because of the availability of non-education related labor opportunities.

During the push of the 80's, 90's and today of "college for anyone who wants to attend" coupled with changes in K-12 education, what we may have is a cohort of women who are better prepared for college, more willing to enter college and who have chosen to get an education versus working in low-skill or unskilled labor until marriage and family.

There are a lot of factors contributing to the growing percentage of women on campus and I don't think any of it is cause for long term concern. In short, it will work itself out.

More PC Crap in High Schools

Via La Shawn Barber. A Cincinannati high school canceled the performance of a play based on an Agatha Christie novel because the original publication of Christie's novel was under the title Ten Little Niggers (in 1939). The book has since been republished under the titles of Ten Little Indians and now And Then There Were None:
A widely performed school play has been canceled by Lakota officials after a recent meeting with a local NAACP official.

The internationally acclaimed play - Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" - was to be performed by students at Lakota East High School this weekend.

But Gary Hines, president of the local NAACP branch, recently complained to Lakota officials that the play, based on Christie's 1939 mystery novel, was inappropriate for a school production.
Hines said the book's original title and cover illustration used for its initial publishing that year in England was a racial slur toward blacks and included a cover illustration of a black person and a hangman's noose.

"The original title was 'Ten Little (N - - - - - -),' and it is important to say that because that was the actual title," Hines said Monday.

The title of the international bestseller was widely changed after 1939, and school theater productions in America have performed the murder mystery play as either "Ten Little Indians" or "And Then There Were None" for decades since.

Hines claims that a lack of racial diversity among Lakota's students and teachers allowed the play to be chosen despite the history surrounding its original title.

"It's a lack of diversity knowledge on their part. Diversity is not a way of life in Lakota," Hines said.
Give me a break!! Look, we have enough of a problem getting kids to understand you know actual history for them to worry about the history of a particular publication. The "diversity" of which Hines speaks of is rediculous. He criticizes a community that he probably has never been to and I certainly have not visited.

Barber writes: T
wo points here. First, Christie was a product of her times. When she chose the title Ten Little Niggers, the term nigger was in common usage, at least in the U.S. In due time, the title was changed. That doesn’t make it any less offensive, but the book’s original title doesn’t detract from the intricately plotted story she wove together. The book itself isn’t racist in the least. I’d recommend her books to anyone who wants to enjoy a good, old-fashioned, “cozy” English murder mystery.

Second, I think it was ridiculous of the school to cancel the play. But you already know what I think. If Hines is bored with his day job to the point of complaining about a high school play (free advertising for his skin color-based business?), I’d recommend he give it up and travel the country researching racist intent behind everything from local laws to historical landmarks to gun control (I wonder if he believes in the right to bear arms…) to works of art to church traditions. If he looks hard enough, he’ll find it.

The very concepts of dialogue, discussion, and debate have deteriorated in this country, thanks to that odious practice called political correctness, let alone actually engaging in these things. It saddens me that individuals and institutions prostrate themselves before the PC god, deathly afraid of appearing insensitive at best or racist at worst.

Both Christie’s book and play have inherent value worth discussing, and discussing “offensive” things would help those high school students hone their intellect. Engaging in debate - learning how to formulate and support arguments, cross-examine opponents, etc. - is a stimulating exercise that shouldn’t be stifled because the subject might be controversial or offensive. Canceling the play, no matter how trivial it may seem to have done so, sends the wrong (albeit PC) message.
But Barber forgets, the PC crowd and people like Hines don't actually want kids to be educated and capable of rational discourse and discernment, they want PC spouting puppets who will toe the line of what is defined (by the PC liberal left) as "proper thinking."

I am sure La Shawn knows that, but I thought I would make sure we all know it as well.

Unscrupulous Lawyers

Overlawyered has the story of trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs' indictment. I am relatively new to the legal profession and believe it to be largely a field of honest, hard working people, but these kinds of stories, and a legal malpractice case I am working on, makes it real hard for good lawyers to keep the proper public perception of the profession.

I've Got Mine

The Instapundit recommends a wet/dry vac for every home in light of his recent plumbing problems.

I have one, bought after my washing machine broke and flooded large sections of my finished basement. The problem with a wet/dry vac's usefulness in plumbing emergencies is that you must know an emergency exists. The second use for my wet/dry vac came after a valve in my toilet failed (the one that shuts off water flow when the tank fills). However, we were not at home when it happened. Fortuneately we came home before the entire middle level of our townhome was destroyed.

Still, having it and being able to clean up before the insurance provided clean up crew comes to the house was a big help in alleviating further damage.

Murtha, the Surge and Democratic Indecision

Ed Morrisey talks about Rep. John Murtha's credibility in the wake of Murtha's recent declaration that the surge is working.

The Democratic caucus can't seem to make up its mind about the war--not that I am surprised.

The Slow Death of Academic Competitions

Betsy Newmark talks about the matter.

School sports remain an important part of the education system and I fully endorse that aspect. But academic competitions are also important because competition does not have to take place only on a sport field. There are only so many slots on a given sports team and not every can make the team. But sports are encouraged and academic competitions are not.

One reason often given is the effect on a student's self-esteem if they lose. But sports teams regularly lose and individual kids lose by not making the team. Seems to me that the hypocrisy is pretty ripe on this issue.

Growing Cities

Hey, urban leaders, if you want to grow your cities the secret appears to be to appeal to married people with children not the young single's crowd.

Does Creativity Matter?

Eduflack has some thoughts.

George F. Will on the Millionaire's Amendment

I hate the Millionaire's Amendment with the white hot passion of a million suns. I think it is nothing more than raw, naked incumbent protection and so does George F. Will.
It was in 2002, when Congress was putting the final blemishes on the McCain-Feingold law that regulates and rations political speech by controlling the financing of it. The law's ostensible purpose is to combat corruption or the appearance thereof. But by restricting the quantity and regulating the content and timing of political speech, the law serves incumbents, who are better known than most challengers, more able to raise money and uniquely able to use aspects of their offices -- franked mail, legislative initiatives, C-SPAN, news conferences -- for self-promotion.

Not satisfied with such advantages, legislators added to McCain-Feingold the Millionaires' Amendment to punish wealthy, self-financing opponents. The amendment revealed the cynicism behind campaign regulation's faux idealism about combating corruption.


So, that amendment punishes candidates who use their own noncorrupting money -- self-financing candidates cannot corrupt themselves -- to disseminate their political speech. Such candidates are penalized for exercising a fundamental right -- political speech -- that Congress cannot constitutionally curtail.

The amendment does this by increasing the access of candidates opposed by wealthy candidates to what the authors of McCain-Feingold supposedly considered the corrupting sort of money -- political contributions from donors who can give triple the amount that McCain-Feingold says can corrupt (or in the case of Senate candidates, six times that amount).

Furthermore, incumbents can benefit from the Millionaires' Amendment even when they have amassed, as most can, substantial war chests. McCain-Feingold's authors wrote this provision while pretending to reduce the influence of donors but while actually engaged in incumbent protection.
If Congress were to treat personal wealth and political wealth (i.e. campaign warchests) the same then I would have far less quarrell with the law.

Will discusses the case of Jack Davis, whose case is going to the Supreme Court on a challenge to the Millionaire's Amendment, possible even this year.

Drew Carey: Renaissance Man

Look, I always thought Drew Carey was a pretty funny guy. But in recent months, he has become

1). host of the Price is Right
2). Part owner of a Major League Soccer Franchise
3). A political commentator

I could do without 1 but really like 2 and 3.

Consent Of The Governed: Tax Credits For Homeschoolers - Bad Idea!

Courtesy of this week's Carnival of Education, comes this postabout tax credits for homeschoolers. This particular homeschooler thinks it is a bad idea.

Judy Aron writes that the homeschooler tax credit is an unconstitutional usurpation of a state and local matter--namely education.
While policies and proposed legislation like this at first glance appear to benefit homeschool families, ultimately legislation adopted by Congress establishes the unconstitutional precedent that the federal government has the authority to enact legislation regarding education. When homeschool families do not receive any federal funding or benefits, the federal government has no constitutional authority to enact any legislation. By enacting legislation that provides for federal funding and benefits, Congress unconstitutionally is granting to itself the authority to enact further legislation affecting homeschooling. In addition, because in the federal legislation, the word, “homeschool” appears, and is defined, the definition of that word may conflict with the definition in one or more state statutes. Because of the “supremacy clause” of the Constitution, when a federal law conflicts with a state law, the federal law supersedes state law, thus, placing into jeopardy the validity of all state statutes regarding homeschooling. For these reasons, even seemingly beneficial federal legislation must be defeated or repealed.
Aron of course is right. A tax credit would be the nose under the tent for homeschoolers.

Look at it this way, if Congress defines homeschoolers in a certain way in order to get a tax credit, then Congress has established a preference for certain types of homeschooling. When they establish a preference, Congress can then reshape, redefine that preference and the definition in an attempt to reshape the manner in which homeschooling is conducted. The other word for that is regulation.

Sure the regulations won't look like regulations, but if anyone wants to qualify for the tax credit they have make sure their homeschooling reflects the homeschooling that Congress wants to see. While people have the option (at least under the tax rules) to not take the tax credit, it does open the door for regulation.

I have no doubt that there are other areas that Congress regulates that got their start this way.

While I don't agree with parts of Aron's legal analysis, she makes a very solid point about the slippery slope.

An Interview with Obama

I don't like the man's political viewpoints, but at least I agree with him on this matter. From a TNR interview:
Do you worry that people look at that and say "Well, this guy doesn't have the thirst, the kind of bloodlust for brass-knuckle politics that you need to have?"

This argument never makes sense to me. If I lose, then I think it's fine for people to speculate that I don't have the bloodlust. I think I'm going to win doing exactly what I'm doing. This notion that somehow the only way to succeed in politics is to try to kneecap people, distort their records, engage in underhanded maneuvers--I just don't buy it. Now, you know what, if it turns out in this campaign that I have lost, and the reason I've lost is because I wasn't willing to do things that I think are wrong, I can live with that. I don't think that's going to happen. The one thing I won't tolerate is people trying to play that stuff on me. The one thing I hope people have become very clear about, and if not I will remind them, is I won't be a punching bag for anybody. I won't have people try to engage in unfair attacks against me. And if they come at me hard, I will come back at them harder. Alright?
It is one thing to fight back hard, but it is a far different thing to play dirty from the outset. I think this is what is making Obama popular with people, particularly those who detest the brass-knuckles, win-at-all-costs, no matter what it takes attitude of the Clinton camp. I think people running for president should want to win and will play hard to get there. But playing hard to win does not mean you have to play dirty to win.

When people worry about politics getting so bitter, I think that is what they worry about--the dirty playing has gotten so out of hand and so extreme that it turns people off on politics.

Hat Tip: Ann Althouse

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Obama Throwing Punches--And Connecting

This is the best punch yet thrown by Obama.
"I think the fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said, and added, referring to his relationship with his wife, Michelle, "There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues," Obama said. "On the other hand, I don't think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work I've done."

With this line of attack, Obama is openly calling Clinton out on one of the basic arguments of her candidacy and her career -- that her experience at Bill Clinton's side in the White House and before, make her the most qualified person in the race.
Obama is gaining confidence as he gains ground.

He seems to be peaking at just the right time. Now we have to wonder, will his inexperience blow it for him?

Government Environmental Regulation--Impossible to Manage

John Stossel once again makes the point that the whole global warming scare is a scam perpetrated upon the world and cites none other than Weather Channel founder John Coleman. But what if Coleman is wrong, writes Stossel,
I've argued that even if global warming is something to worry about, it's dangerous to look to government to fix the climate. Government is a blunt instrument, riddled with self-serving politics and special-interest pandering. To expect it to do something as complicated as calibrate regulations and taxes to fine-tune the climate -- without making many people poorer and a few cronies richer -- is naive.

But that doesn't mean we can do nothing. We have a powerful generator of solutions if we let it work: the free market.

The market has solved environmental problems many times in the past. Before the automobile, America's cities suffered from a terrible pollutant. It bred disease and emitted noxious odors.

It was horse manure.
No one back then were arguing that the world needed to get rid of horses. The market will work itself out. Sales of hybrid vehicles are increasing and the crossover SUV market is booming with more fuel-efficient vehicles replacing gas guzzling SUVs.

But here is a larger problem of government regulation related to global wamring--there are simply too many variables for the government regulators to keep up with. Just as the Cold War era price admministration in the Soviet Union proved incapable of setting prices on millions of items to prevent shortages and surpluses. There were simply too many variables to manage. The environmental variables are simply too numerous to manage. But just as the market is able to manage the allocation of scare resources to their best use, the market place will also be able to regulate behavior over time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not Every Education Problem Begins and Ends at NCLB

Over the weekend, Naomi Wolf has an op-ed in the Washington Post talking about how the young people of America seem aloof or indifferent about politics these days.
When I speak on college campuses, I find that students are either baffled by democracy's workings or that they don't see any point in engaging in the democratic process. Sometimes both.

Not long ago, I gave a talk at a major university in the Midwest. "They're going to raze our meadows and put in a shopping mall!" a young woman in the audience wailed. "And there's nothing we can do!" she said, to the nods of young and old alike.

I stared at her in amazement and asked how old she was. When she said 26, I suggested that she run for city council. Then she stared at me-- with complete incomprehension. It took me a long time to convince her and her peers in the audience that what I'd suggested was possible, even if she didn't have money, a major media outlet of her own or a political "machine" behind her.
That young people are not involved in politics is not all that new or surprising. The one group of people with the greatest untapped potential for political activism is and always has been voters age 18-25, which historically have the lowest turnout of any age cohort.

Wolf points out, not incorrectly, that many American high school students are no longer required to take a course in American government or civics and that such a dearth of civic instruction is damaging our young people's perception of politics. But it was this statement that bothered me most:
In recent years, the trend away from teaching democracy to young Americans has been at least partly a consequence of the trend of teaching to the standardized tests introduced by the Bush administration. Mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the tests assess chiefly math and reading comprehension. Basic civics and history have suffered.
I would like to point out to Ms. Wolf that the Bush Administration did not invent standardized tests and while they may be used differently, standardized tests are not necessarily an evil to be dispised at the mere mention of the term. Attacking NCLB as the strawman for all that is wrong with current American curricula ignores the reality that, just as the hapless college student had the power to change her political circumstances, we have the power through local activism to change the curricula in our schools.

I will admit that NCLB may have accelerated the trend away from teaching civics and American government, but it is not the cause of the decreased number of civically illiterate in America. Wolf was speaking to a 26-year-old person and on a college campus. These are students who came of age before NCLB, and so that crutch, that NCLB has undermined civic education, is not available to them or their educators.

The root cause of the lack of civic education in America's students lies in changes in curricula and what was and is deemed important. Curricula change, ebbing and flowing, with what is deemed important by our communities. Certainly, math skills and reading comprehension are important and should be stressed. But one of the things we are starting to learn is that there are many subjects that are important to the development of a liberally (in the classic sense) educated child. It takes math, reading, and science skills, but a well-educated child must also have an exposure to the arts, history, literature, and yes, government and civics, to have that well-rounded, well-prepared status of citizenship before exiting high school. Curricula have evolved away from history, the arts and literature, and civics in favor of an emphasis on reading, math and science. This is not, in itself, a bad thing since the decisions have been made politically. While the consequences of the decisions at all levels of the government may not have been fully considered, they are political decisions.

NCLB did not cause the curricular change, but the emphasis on math and reading has caused America to realize what gets lost when basic skills are not learned in elementary school. Schools have two scare resources to contend with--time and talent. There are only so many hours in a school day and so many schools days in the calendar. While adding hours or days may expand the opportunity to teach reading, math, science and all the other necessary subjects, in the end, there are political and policy decisions to be made. There are only so many teachers available and those teachers have specialitis that may not lend themselves to the teaching of civics or government (although that may be a problem to consider as well).

In Maryland, at least, students must take an exam in Government in order to graduate. Students must take a class before they take an exam. Maryland has made the policy decision that goverment is an important subject to learn and enforced that decision. If civic education is important (and I whole-heartedly agree that it is), then we must treat it as such and make the decision to include it in the curriculum.

We can't blame a law (a political document) for our failings and it is ironic to say the least, that Wolf doesn't understand the politics of education so much as she misunderstands the education of politics.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Democrats Party of Rich 

Democrats are the party of the rich people according to a study by teh Heritage Foundation based on IRS tax data.

Of course, it is easy to be liberal when you don't have to pay for or suffer the consequences of your liberal ideas.
"If you take the wealthiest one-third of the 435 congressional districts, we found that the Democrats represent about 58 percent of those jurisdictions," Mr. Franc said.

A key measure of each district's wealth was the number of single-filer taxpayers earning more than $100,000 a year and married couples filing jointly who earn more than $200,000 annually, he said.

But in a broader measurement, the study also showed that of the 167 House districts where the median annual income was higher than the national median of $48,201, a slight majority, 84 districts, were represented by Democrats. Median means that half of all income earners make more than that level and half make less.

Mr. Franc's study also showed that contrary to the Democrats' tendency to define Republicans as the party of the rich, "the vast majority of unabashed conservative House members hail from profoundly middle-income districts."
Coming as it does from the Heritage Foundation, Democrats will cry foul.

Sarkozy--Passive Strike Busting

The French railway strike is all but over and Nicholas Sarkozy is basking in the win--sort of. Sarkozy, whose election was predicated in part upon the growing disdain among the French for the sense of entitlement that many workers, particularly union workers, have to their jobs, remained largely out of the negotiations. He allowed public sentiment, which opposed the strike, to destroy it.

Eventually, the market made it impossible for the unions to keep the strike up.

Save the Planet/Kill The Species

I have heard all kinds of reasons to have an abortion, some sensible other down right dumb, but this one takes the cake in the latter category.
Had Toni Vernelli gone ahead with her pregnancy ten years ago, she would know at first hand what it is like to cradle her own baby, to have a pair of innocent eyes gazing up at her with unconditional love, to feel a little hand slipping into hers - and a voice calling her Mummy.

But the very thought makes her shudder with horror.

Because when Toni terminated her pregnancy, she did so in the firm belief she was helping to save the planet.
Not only did she have an abortion, she got sterilized to boot.

Look, if you don't want to have kids, that is fine. But to hear Vernelli describe it, kids are a threat to the planet.
"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

"Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of over-population."

While most parents view their children as the ultimate miracle of nature, Toni seems to see them as a sinister threat to the future.
I am not sure how having children is selfish--not having them is selfish--it places your own happiness above others. Without children, Vernelli clearly does not understand the kind of sacrifice and unselfish nature that comes with parenthood.

Here is the ultimate irony, with a mother so empassioned about saving the planet, it may have been possible that tiny baby Vernelli, aborted those many years ago, may have been the person who saved the planet for Vernelli. Odd.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Texas Math Program Trashed Because It Doesn't Prepare Kids for College

That is not particularly earthshattering, but as Eduflack points out, the math program we are talking about is for 3rd Graders.
Sometimes, it just isn't as simple as two plus two. Case in point, the current brouhaha down in Texas, where the State Board of Education is rejecting the third grade Everyday Mathematics program. The program currently has 20 percent marketshare in Texas, and its been credited with turning around the math scores in New York City's public schools. Despite that, Texas is expelling the program, citing its failure to prepare kids for college.


The public criticism is that Everyday Math is not preparing kids for college. Some Texas officials rejected it because the book doesn't include multiplication tables. And an NYU computer science professor has attacked the curriculum for not preparing kids for the types of college courses he teaches.

Eduflack is the first to recognize that college readiness is all the rage these days. But how many of our third graders are planning on matriculating to postsecondary institutions this coming fall? Are third-grade math courses designed to prepare us for the rigors of college, or the rigors of middle school?

Yes, states and school districts should be given the flexibility to do what is best for their students. Even in NYC, Klein has provided waivers to those schools looking to use an alternative elementary school math curriculum. But when we attack third grade textbooks on the college readiness issue, aren't we starting to play Chicken Little?
Look, I am all for rigor and preparing kids for college and the workforce, but as Eduflack points out, there aren't very many 3rd graders who will be going from 3rd grade math to college math in the next couple of years.

People decry the lack of common sense in policy decisions and bureaucrats get offended. Well, with evidence like this, can't you see why the public is upset.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Privatization and DC Schools

DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee is considering hiring either for-profit or non-profit groups to manage 27 failing DC schools. Of course, the label privatization gets thrown around and everyone starts to go ape.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, in considering turning over the management of 27 failing public schools to nonprofit charter education firms, is sending a clear signal that she intends to shake up the moribund bureaucracy that has failed generations of students.

But experts and school advocates say they are uneasy about the lack of details surrounding her idea, particularly given evidence across the country that charters and schools under private management sometimes fare no better than traditional public schools.

"There's nothing in the literature [to suggest] that privatization will get you revolutionary results," said Henry M. Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Columbia University's Teachers College.


Rhee is not the first D.C. schools chief to consider education management firms for troubled public schools. Frustrated by dismal test scores across the city, in 1993 School Superintendent Franklin L. Smith wanted to hire Education Alternatives to manage 15 failing schools. Amid an angry community reaction that labeled the proposal racist and elitist, the Board of Education opposed it and Smith abandoned privatization.
Since then, the growth of independently operated charter schools and national groups including KIPP and Imagine Schools, which operate multiple campuses in the city, have dramatically altered the education landscape. In that new climate, along with stronger federal mandates to improve schools, experts say privatization might have a stronger chance to win approval.

Education activists cite Rhee's expressions of no confidence in the central office administration as an indication that she is more inclined to seek outside help. She has asked the D.C. Council to give her authority to fire hundreds of office employees she considers incompetent.
The last bit there is the real driving force. Rhee has little or no confidence in the DC schools' central office and her decision to outsource the administration of some schools is a reflection of that distrust. As Kevin Carey commented,
It's worth noting that the word "privatization" means different things in different contexts. In health care, for example, it can mean selling public or non-profit hospitals to private companies, which then own them outright and run them at a profit. That seems like a reasonable use of the word "privatize."

What Rhee is considering, by contrast, is hiring either a for-profit or a non-profit organization to take over certain administrative and management functions for a fixed period of time, with the schools, teachers, and students remaining firmly in the public realm--accountable to public officials, paid with public funds, remaining public employees, etc. That's a lot different then selling off a hospital, to the point where I'm not sure using the same word to describe both scenarios is useful.
Sure, Rhee needs to be careful about how the deal is structured.

In the end, it is not likely that these outside groups can do any worse than the current management.

Evaluating Charter Schools

As charter schools grow in both number, size and importance in the educational landscape, there comes an inevitable call to measure the schools, to create some sort of "gold standard" as was noted in yesterday's Washington Post article by Jay Mathews.
Now, some charter leaders in the city that is a national epicenter for their movement are planning to take the next step in this sifting process. They say they want to create a "gold standard designation," to publicly identify for the first time which charters are doing the most to raise teaching quality and academic achievement for low-income students.

Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, likened the initiative to a certification system to show "what high quality really means in terms of children of color from impoverished backgrounds, which is the vast majority of the students charter schools educate here."

Officials at the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees charter schools, said they have been discussing an annual report card that would play a similar role for the city's 56 charter schools, on 80 campuses, which serve roughly three of every 10 D.C. public school students. Such talk has not gone nearly as far in Maryland or Virginia. There are 31 charter schools in Maryland, many in Baltimore and some in Prince George's County and elsewhere in the Washington region. Virginia has three, none of those in the Washington suburbs.

National charter school leaders say the idea of certifying their best, already used in California, is likely to spread as the 4,000 U.S. charter schools face a strong pushback from traditional public school advocates. National research shows that charter schools on average are no better at raising achievement than regular public schools. But high-performing charter groups such as KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Aspire, YES and Green Dot say they are not average.
The movement for a "report card" is not all that surprising and for the most part can be a good thing, both for the charter schools and for the traditional public schools in the same community. If the charters can come up with a meaningful standard or standards upon which to grade charter schools, beyond the simple statistics currently used, then there will be a push by the parents of non-charter students to see the same kind of evaluative tool used on traditional public schools--which goes beyond the current measures. Once again, charters are paving the way for new thinking in education--this time in grading the schools.

But the obvious hurdle how and what to measure to define the "gold standard." That in and of itself is a difficult enough hurdle. But an even more complicated hurdle is the differences between charter schools themselves. While some criteria, such as enrollment, test scores, and other factors can be objectively measured, there are some matters that aren't as easily measured. For example, how does one measure or account for the different focus between two schools-say a math/science focused school versus a more general school or a school that perhaps focuses on languages or government (and there are such differences in DC). Clearly a school with a math/science focus is going to do better in those categories and it would seem unfair to judge them harshly for not emphasizing say government or the arts.

There are other subjective factors as well, namely, selectivity, demand, the make-up of the student body, the relative age of the school (experience matters), whether or not the school is affiliated with a larger charter management organization (arguably KIPP and other has an advantage in terms of administrative matters and set up).

While I applaud the effort, I think we may be a long way from creating various standards and grading categories. But without a doubt any system that helps inform parents as to their choices and the characteristics and nature of those choices the better. I have argued that a choice based market in education can work, but I am often dismayed at the response that I get, that parents lack information to make an informed choice. Well, people make choices about where to live, based in part on poor quality data on schools (at least those with the means to make such choices in living arrangements), so what would make actual school choice any different? With a evaluative guide, even if it doesn't lead to the definition of a gold standard, there will be more information about charters and that is a good thing in and of itself.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A New Iraq Debate

See Victor Davis Hansen for the insight. I bow to his intellect.

Why I Opposse Slots

As the Maryland General Assembly debates the state's budget crunch in special session, I have come to the conclusion that I must oppose the use of slots to close the budget gap. I have no problem with gambling and would actually like to see table games as well as slots. But right now, in this atmosphere, I must oppose slots.

There are a number of good reasons that people have to support or oppose slots, and everyone has good arguments. My issue with the way slots are being handled in the special session is two-fold.

First, as I have noted before, I think putting slots on a referendum is political cowardice to the extreme. Then making public the notion that failure to pass slots carries a lot of "catches" meaning that some "tax breaks" will not be enacted or money for schools, healthcare and other programs will be jeopardized is essentially blackmail of the voters by politicians who lack the spine and huevos to do what needs to be done, that is rein in our prolifigate spending.

Second, while the slots measures will no doubt generate a lot of revenue, that revenue is a crutch, no an addiction twice as bad as any gambling addiction. Legislators will get addicted to the revenue stream that slots and gaming generates and will not learn that the solution to a budget crisis is to tighten spending, cut back on non-essential services or find better and cheaper ways of providing vital services. So instead of fiscal responsibility, legislators, assuming the slots referendum passes, will get a rush of being able to "solve" our budget crunch without too much damage to their political fortunes. That is a rush this state can ill-afford.

The addiction wounds not only the current General Assembly but gets the state government, and local governments, hooked on a financial drug that permits them to spend prolifigately without consequence. This is the ultimate destruction of the slots addiction. If slots would be used to REPLACE income tax or sales tax or property tax streams, thereby giving a tax break to the average Marylander then I could support the use of slots to generate funds for the state. But right now slots are being used to AUGMENT revenue streams with no real cuts in spending. So instead of living within the means provided, Uncle Marty's Strategy is to expand the pockest of the state, rather than cut the spending.

Despite the rhetoric, slots will not put us on a path to fiscal health, but on a descent into addiction from which we may never recover.

The Definition of Insanity

If one defines insanity, as I have done in the past, of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then the House Democrats must be the most insane group of individual ever collected. Yesterday, the House passed, 218-203, a war funding bill that carries a mandate to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of next year.
The bill stands virtually no chance of being enacted. Amid recent reports of progress in Iraq, Bush, who is determined not to let Congress restrict how he conducts the war, has threatened a veto.

Democrats know that but say that their efforts to limit the war since taking control of Congress in January are a political -- and, some say, moral -- necessity. "The American people voted for change," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday. "We ought to extricate American men and women . . . from refereeing a civil war."

The measure angered the Bush administration. "This is for political posturing and to appease radical groups," chiefly and Code Pink, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.

The close vote reflected days of arm-twisting by Democratic leaders, who labored over language to satisfy the party's antiwar liberals and conservative Blue Dogs, and the White House, which dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to press its case. Early yesterday, Hoyer would say only that Democrats had a "winning" margin.

In a statement, the White House said the proposal "unwisely abandons the cause of freedom and stability in the Middle East."

Senate Republican leaders said they will allow a vote on the House bill, but only if they can offer their own version: a $70 billion package with no strings attached.
After days of arm-twisting, the Democratic leadership could must only 218 votes, barely a majority of the entire House, a chamber controlled by Democrats. A pitiful showing at best.

The problem for Democrats is not just a Bush veto, which is all but certain and impossible to override, but the fact that the move is nothing more than political posturing. While there may be a majority of Americans who want a different strategy in Iraq (although that supposition itself is now suspect), a vast majority of Americans don't want to abandon our troops while they are still on the field of battle. Cutting off their funds is the only thing Congress can do and they can't even do that effectively.

This move has been tried before and it failed before. The news coming out of Iraq is much more positive (even if not well covered) and America still has faith in its soldiers, if not in its president. In the end, the Democrats will have to cave and they will, one more time, show that they are incapable of leading on any issue.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Homework is Evil--NOT

At least many parents apparently think so. Charles J. Sykes comments on the strange crusade against homework at American Thinker.
This is a genuinely strange crusade.

A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children's days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens.

And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy's history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.

Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit. But while some children undoubtedly do have too much homework, reports of a national homework crisis are highly exaggerated. In 2003, a study by the Brookings Institution found that the great majority of students at all grade levels now spend less than an hour a day studying, or about a quarter of the time they spend text messaging things like "NMHJC" (Not Much Here, Just Chilling) to one another.
The problem with modern homework at least as it has been described to me by parents of older kids and my own decades ago experience, is relevance. Even my kindergarten daughter, who has about 30 minutes of homework a week, does not have homework that is designed to either expand or reinforce the skills and knowledge she is learning or needs to learn.

Admittedly, there is homework that is a waste of students' time and energy. That particularly subspecies of homework can and should be eliminated. But homework, in general, is not a bad thing. The problem of course is that homework has come to be viewed,by students and their parents alike, as busy work. While the student perception is as common today as it may have always been, adults should know better and teachers should know better than parents. Homework, quite frankly, may not be utilized to its maximum potential. I am not arguing for more homework (or less homework), but for relevant homework.

Relevant homework serves two functions. First, it should reinforce current and revisit past lessons to reinforce knowledge or to keep skills sharp and refine those skills that may be getting rusty. This can be done, for example, by asking questions or presenting problems that draw on previous lessons. Second, homework should stretch the critical thinking skills of the students. This is done by presenting problems outside the norm, that call for applying what has been learned in other contexts to new situations. When employers and colleges decry the lack of critical thinking skills in the graduates they see, part of the problem is that critical thinking is not routinely asked of the students. If classtime is precious (and it most certainly is), then homework needs to be used to foster those critical thinking skills that, while clearly valuable, are apparently in short supply.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing inherently wrong with some drill and kill exercises for younger students. But drills should last only as long as necessary. If 20 drill questions are enough, why give 50? Why not take the time to expand the ideas and apply them.

Make homework relevant and use it effectively. But the argument that homework is unnecessary or too time consuming is ridiculous, particularly when modern students spend so little time on homwork and so much time on other things.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tocquevillian Federalism

What do Alexis De Tocqueville, immigration policy and federal education policy all have in common? If you answered federalism, you would be right, but not for the reasons you might think.

In the seminal observational document of American democracy, Tocqueville noted that American democracy is predicated upon the premise of national laws locally administered. In the 1830's this was not an option for the young republic. If Congress passed a law, the slow methods of communication, the small nature of the national government and the far flung nature of America at the time, all but demanded a certain reliance upon local government to not only promulgate federal law but to enforce it as well. In this respect the federal nature of the American democracy suited the rugged individualism of the American people. In short, those who administered the law had to look their neighbor in the eye when making decisions and that led to some different applications of the law to account for circumstances that Congress could not envision.

However, today, with rapid transit and even faster communications, we as a republic have lost some of that republican application. Congress can pass a law and a massive federal bureaucracy, backed up by a judiciary interested in even and consistent enforcement of the law, can execute a law without regard to sectional or local differences. Indeed, even the laws Congress passes are larger and more complex than ever before. To be sure, the world is more complex, but that complexity screams not for more complexity in the law, but for broader guidelines on the national level and local enforcement and administration.

Outside of health care, educaiton and immigration policy are likely to dominate the debate on domestic policy in the 2008 elections. On their face, there could be no two issues more different thatn these two. Education, a traditionally state and local govenrment responsibility, has become more and more federalized, even though the Framers, who thought education was vitally important, made no mention of education in the Constitution. In some respects that is not a bad thing, but in many other respects, education is a policy area screaming for Tocquevillian federalism. Immigration, on the other hand, a policy area expressly delegated to the Congress and federal government, is a policy area that Congress and the executive have nearly abdicated; paralyzed by interest group politics and our desire to not look mean-spirited on the international state. In the absence of federal leadership, more and more localities are stepping up to fill the void, only to be slapped down by judges who must read the law and see a federal pre-emption in this area.

A Tocquevillian federalism approach to both of these policy areas can provide immediate and lasting change. If Congress were to pass a set of broad federal goals in each of these areas of policy and empower the states and localities to enforce the law as their needs dictate, the goals of federal policy can be achieved and the proper functioning of our republic can be achieved.

As for immigration, the laws are already on the books that need to be enforced. Local law enforcement, typically tasked with enforcing state and local law, must still adhers to federal law. There is no reason to suspect that a local cop in incapable of enforcing federal law as well as state law. A local cop can check the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens and can begin the process of deportation just as easily as an ICE agent. Furthermore, a local cop in Thermopolis, WY has different immigration enforcement needs than a copy in El Paso, TX. If we empower the local police to help enforce federal immigration law, we can immediately and drastically increase the manpower to effectuate real immigration control.

On the education front, the more we read about states gaming the accountability system and the federal intereference in a traditionally state province, the more people are coming to realize that No Child Left Behind is better turned on its head. A national education standard, the goals and criteria that Congress believes indicates a well education child must serve as the goal of federal education policy. But that is where federal policy must end and state enforcment begins. This would be the ultimate in Tocquevillian Federalism, a broad national standard enforced by the states as best fits their conditions. States would be left to determine the remediation needed by schools that fail to meet the national standard. There would be no doubts as to what the standard is and the states woul be held accountable by their citizens, a more immediate accountabilty than a federal bureaucracy, for failure to prod schools to meet the standard.

Upon examining the Constitution and the specifically enumerated powers, there are some powers that must be undertaken by the national government alone. But in many other policy areas a Tocquevillian Federalism, of a national standard or law that is locally enforced can do wonders, but in terms of reducing the size of govnerment, but also in ensuring that national law does not become so large and complex so as to attempt to deal with every potentiality. As the U.S. Code has grown, the responsiveness and adaptiveness of federal law has declined. We need to embrace the idea that just because Congress can and actually does have the power to make legislation in a given area, does not necessarily mean that the states and local govenrments are incapable applying and enforcing that law.

In Tocqueville's time, such local administration was a necessity born of condition. Today, local administration is a necessity required by flexibility. Modern communications, instead of demanding centralized control, can actually effectuate local administration.

San Jose 2.0 to Play in MLS in 2008 and Seattle in 2009

Major League Soccer announced today that USL-1 team Seattle Sounders will be an expansion franchise for the 2009 season and San Jose Earthquakes will reopen in 2008 after moving to Houston a couple of years ago.
The Seattle team will be owned by Hollywood movie studio executive Joe Roth, Seattle Sounders managing partner Adrian Hanauer and Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
Cool. With a possibility of 18 clubs in the MLS by 2012, can we get some talk going again about merger between MLS and USL?

Upward Mobility

The Wall Street Journal talks about a Treasury Department study showing that upward mobility in terms of economics is much more common than the doom and gloom naysayers who insist that a growing economic divide exists in our country. The Journal calls the income inequality "hokum" and it looks like the data supports that notion.
The Treasury study examined a huge sample of 96,700 income tax returns from 1996 and 2005 for Americans over the age of 25. The study tracks what happened to these tax filers over this 10-year period. One of the notable, and reassuring, findings is that nearly 58% of filers who were in the poorest income group in 1996 had moved into a higher income category by 2005. Nearly 25% jumped into the middle or upper-middle income groups, and 5.3% made it all the way to the highest quintile.
Of those in the second lowest income quintile, nearly 50% moved into the middle quintile or higher, and only 17% moved down. This is a stunning show of upward mobility, meaning that more than half of all lower-income Americans in 1996 had moved up the income scale in only 10 years.

Also encouraging is the fact that the after-inflation median income of all tax filers increased by an impressive 24% over the same period. Two of every three workers had a real income gain--which contradicts the Huckabee-Edwards-Lou Dobbs spin about stagnant incomes. This is even more impressive when you consider that "median" income and wage numbers are often skewed downward because the U.S. has had a huge influx of young workers and immigrants in the last 20 years. They start their work years with low wages, dragging down the averages.
Oh some people's real income declined in the 10 year period--those dastargly to 1% of income earners:
Only one income group experienced an absolute decline in real income--the richest 1% in 1996. Those households lost 25.8% of their income. Moreover, more than half (57.4%) of the richest 1% in 1996 had dropped to a lower income group by 2005. Some of these people might have been "rich" merely for one year, or perhaps for several, as they hit their peak earning years or had some capital gains windfall. Others may simply have not been able to keep up with new entrepreneurs and wealth creators.
So for at least this study, the rich did not get richer--they got poorer and the poor didn't get poorer--they got richer.

I would like to take a deeper look at the methodology, but the sample size is more than sufficient and the movements are dramatic. This time frame includes the boom years of the 1990's and the market skids of the past couple of years as they related to 9/11 and other international events. I wonder if 9/11 had not happened what the results would be. Surely the top 1% might not have taken the beating they did, but would the poor have gotten much richer?


Makes you wonder?
LAST weekend's news coverage of our veterans was welcome, but deceptive. The "mainstream media" honored aging heroes and noted the debt we owe to today's wounded warriors - but deftly avoided in-depth coverage from Iraq. Why? Because things are going annoyingly well.

All those reporters, editors and producers who predicted - longed for - an American defeat have moved on to more pressing strategic issues, such as O.J.'s latest shenanigans.

Oh, if you turned to the inner pages of the "leading" newspapers, you found grudging mention of the fact that roadside-bomb attacks are down by half and indirect-fire attacks by three-quarters while the number of suicide bombings has plummeted.

Far fewer Iraqi civilians are dying at the hands of extremists. U.S. and Coalition casualty rates have fallen dramatically. The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily.

Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military - and the Iraqis - may have turned the situation around? Shouldn't we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today's soldiers and the progress they're making?

Teen Sex and Delinquency

A study suggests the earlier you lose your virginity, the less likely you are to become a delinquent. Old finding: Kids who have early sex become delinquents. New findings: 1) When you eliminate genetic differences by comparing twins, those who have sex earlier don't become more delinquent. 2) Compared with fraternal twins, identical twins lose their virginity at relatively similar ages, which implies that the age at which you lose your virginity is genetically influenced. 3) In fact, 'adolescents who had sex at younger ages were less likely to end up delinquent than those who lost their virginity later.' Researchers' conclusions: 1) Early sex and delinquency share a genetic basis, probably in propensity to take risks. 2) For teens with risk-taking genes, 'sexual relationships may offer an alternative to trouble.' Old advice: Pet your dog, not your date. New advice: Pop a cherry, not a cap. Bonus report: Kids who smoke pot (but not cigarettes) are 'significantly more likely to practice sports and they have a better relationship with their peers' than kids who smoke neither. (Related: the case for lowering the age of sexual consent.)(links in original omitted)
If teen sex prevents delinquency, then it not a genetic think, but a time thing, if you are too busy having sex, you can't be breaking other laws.

Methinks there may be some flaws in methodology or samples.

What of the Jena 6 funds?

Ther perils of raising money for legal defense funds and then allowing more or less unfettered access to the money are detailed here in a story on the Jena 6 legal defense fund.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Teachers Evaluating Teachers

Saw this in the Washington Post over the weekend. Early on, teachers could be fired if a parent complained or enough parents complained, or if a teacher didn't vote for the right politician.
Over time, to address these abuses, states passed tenure laws for teachers, and unions bargained for "due process" rights: the right to have charges laid out when dismissal was sought and the opportunity to defend oneself against the allegations. This right is at the heart of unionism, and in 1968 teachers in New York City, led by the late Albert Shanker, went on strike for 36 days after a school board in the ghetto of Ocean Hill-Brownsville summarily terminated the employment of several white teachers without due process.

By the 1980s, however, Shanker and other leaders of teachers unions came to acknowledge that in some school districts the right to due process had been taken to an extreme, making it very difficult to fire incompetent teachers. Shanker was willing to admit that there were some lousy teachers, and he backed a compromise plan to weed out the incompetent while preserving the basic idea of tenure: "peer review." Under peer review, which is used in Toledo, Ohio, and other communities, master teachers try to help struggling teachers. But if that doesn't work, the master teachers can recommend dismissal.

In practice, in Toledo and elsewhere, it turns out that teachers are even harder on colleagues than principals are, because a fourth-grade teacher doesn't want to get stuck with kids who haven't learned anything in third grade.

Peer review would not be a cure-all in D.C. schools, where a large number of teachers are seen as lacking. For such a system to work well, only exemplary teachers should be placed on review committees, and peer review programs to rid the District of the very worst teachers must be supplemented by innovative programs to replace them with the very best. But Rhee and Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker should take a close look at the peer review model. Tenure should be mended, not ended.
Tenure is okay, but it doesn't mean that tenure is a sheild against incompetence.

Elena Silva has some comments as well.
In Montgomery County, MD, for example, to be "put on PAR"– the county's peer assistance and review (PAR) program– means you've been evaluated by master teachers (not at your own school) as needing some form of remediation. For new teachers, this means more targeted professional development, which is often welcome. For veterans, this sometimes works as a reality check and a decision point– it either lights a fire under them to teach in new and better ways (pride swallowed) or reminds them that they forgot to retire or find a second career. I know a teacher who left after 20 years of teaching b/c she was put on PAR- it was the first time, she said, that she really "heard" the problem– she was a good teacher for the honors kids and a horrible one for the on-level kids, which is where she'd been placed by a well-meaning principal who was trying to put the experienced teachers with the kids who needed the most help. She didn't want to go through the program after 20 years of teaching, so she left. This is too bad for the honors kids she might have taught but, in the end, she says she's happier and says she had been thinking about leaving for years. And it's definitely better for the on-level kids who she was failing. She counsels kids for elite college placement now– probably what she should be doing.

DC Schools Via a Case Study--Not the Intended Lesson.

The problems with case studies in reporting is that they demonstrate the problems one student faces as some sort of shorthand for larger problems. While larger problems are mentioned, what you reall get is a story about a young person, and in the case study of Jonathan Lewis, a kid who went to Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, DC, the case study, in two parts, is not about DC schools failing, but about one student failing.

The Post's Lonnae O'Neal Parker's profile of young Mr. Lewis is more a case study of one young man's apathy than about the notoriously inept DC school system. The two part study began on Sunday, with a lengthy peice on Mr. Lewis. The series concluded today, with what was all but a foregone conclusion of Sunday's article. Jonathan Lewis was a B student up through about the 10th grade, by his own admission. But in his junior and two senior years, he all but quit.
"I started having problems about 11th grade, started, like, skipping class and stuff," Jonathan says. "I didn't want to go to class, didn't want to write, didn't want to do work."

"He got in with the wrong crowd," his mother chimes in.

That's part of it, Jonathan says, "being influenced by them sometimes, wanting to do what they did, walk the halls and stuff."

Maybe if more teachers had been like Ms. Cruz-Gonzalez, things could have been different, he ventures. "She takes time to, like, help you understand. Like if she went over something, she'd go over it again till you get it." Not like some teachers, he says, who just pass out work sheets. "You ask a question, they, like, brush you off. They just catch attitudes, like you wasn't paying attention or something." It makes you say, "Forget it. I don't even want to know."

It makes you "feel like nothing."

As to why he didn't graduate last year: "I just got lazy."
While Jonathan doesn't live with his father, his father is nearby and involved in the boy's life. His mother is on his case and clearly involved in his education and has regular conversations with his teachers and the school principal.

But throughout the story, there is but one inescapable conclusion about Jonathan Lewis I keep coming to--he just doesn't care. A quote by his principal, L. Nelson Burton, himself a Coolidge graduate who nearly dropped out, says it all:
"I don't think you're going to meet a student, or anyone, for that matter, who doesn't want to graduate from high school. They all want to. Everyone wants a diploma, but not everyone wants to do the work required for it."
Burton, who is only 34, is the seventh principal at Coolidge in nine years. He has made some changes, but must, like all DC school administrators, fight with a number of issues, from fights and poor teachers to apathetic students to systemic failures--the scheduling and transctripts matter described in Part 2 is simply frightening in the age of modern computers.

Still, I find it hard to feel sorry for Mr. Lewis, if that is what I am supposed to feel. A classmate of his says this:
You have to be on top of your own stuff. . . . You have to look out for yourself, because there's really nothing you can do, for real. . . . It's not like someone tells you that. You have to figure it out yourself. Ibijoke Akinbowale, 17, 12th grade
That is it in a nutshell. A young man at Lewis' age should have learned this lesson, if not for himself, at least for the effort his mother and father have gone through to see him complete high school. While Jonathan finally did graduate after summer school following his fifth year in high school, it is very hard to feel sorry for this young man. His teachers all but bent over backward to help him. His mother was apparently a fixture on the phone and in person at the school. His father incentivized him in legitimate ways. Yet he took advantage of none of these offers of help and assistance.

While some of the fiasco's described in the stories are systemic and are being addressed by Chancellor Michelle Rhee, it is very hard to see how and why Jonathan should be viewed as a symbolic case of the poor condition of DC schools. In his story, he was not screwed by the system. The powers that be did not make mistakes that brought him to the brink of dropping out. The school system did not cause him to fail his senior year--twice. Calvin Coolidge, while it has a share of fights and problems, is not the worst school in the district. To be sure, there are real problems in the DC school system and it may be that those problems contribute to a poor education experience for many, if not most students. I have no doubt that Chancellor Michelle Rhee is working on the systemic problems, poor teachers, lack of proper facilities, lack of proper administrative tools and programs, textbooks and the like.

In the end, what Jonathan Lewis' long story did for me was to remind me how young men and women can be excused for their own behavior by society. That is exactly what this Post writer did, probably without even realizing it. But even if the DC school system was as good as say Montgomery County Maryland or Fairfax County Virginia, it is hard to see what could have been done to prevent Jonathan Lewis from screwing himself up and over. In teh end, the DC schools did not fail (though they may have tried), Jonathan Lewis did and in the end, that is all that matters.

Washington Teachers Union Embezzlement Payback

In Jaunary of 2004, former Washington DC Education Association Presidetn Barbara Bullock was sentenced to nine years in prison for embezzlement. Bullock had embezzled some $4.5 million in funds from the teacher's union treasury and bought some extravagent, by any standard, items, including fur coats (lots of them--including some she had never worm) and silver serving sets complete with a berry spoon and ice cream forks. Well the teacher's union was getting pay back yesterday as an auction of Bullock's ill-gotten goods was held.
Union Controller Derrick Palmer smiled as the auction began, seeing dollar signs ringing up in the union's register. Not all the items were for sale at this auction, and it was unclear exactly how much money was made. Union officials are hoping to recoup up to $3 million of the $4.5 million that Bullock was convicted of stealing.

"I can't wait to deposit it all," Palmer said as he gazed at 19th-century Tiffany silver in an oak Tiffany box designed with a special compartment for each piece.


There were 13 furs and 37 handbags up for auction from a variety of designers: Fendi, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Escada, Dolce & Gabbana, Judith Leiber and Kieselstein-Cord. Bullock was a fan of Chanel purses: There were 11 in various colors and designs.
To bad some 33 percent of the money can never be returned.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Pain In My Rear Explained

I was wondering why my wallet hurt so much today, now I know.

More DC School Corruption

While the history of DC schools generally includes a large chunk of incompetence, the place is not without more than it share of graft. Whether is the the theivery of the DC Teacher's Union president or the larceny of charter school officials, the graft and corruption was there. But latest story is just dispicable:
The fundraising drive by the Moten Center chess club had an underdog appeal. Most of the elementary school children had been removed from other D.C. schools for behavioral problems. Through the discipline of chess, they were learning life lessons: patience, focus, strategic thinking.

In the spring of 2003, they were selling hot dogs and candy to try to pay their way to a national tournament. After their efforts were publicized in a newspaper column, money poured in from businesses, school officials, the public and even the principal's mother -- more than $72,000 in all, according to records and interviews. Eleven students, from some of the District's poorest neighborhoods, flew to Nashville.

Days after they returned home, somebody began raiding their leftover money. Most of it was stolen. Last week -- four years after the theft and following inquiries from The Washington Post -- authorities filed criminal charges against a former employee at the school.

The theft from the chess club is among dozens of instances in which D.C. public school employees or others have stolen or misused student activity money, a Post investigation has found. Management of the funds is chaotic, oversight is ineffective and the people responsible for plundering or squandering the money are rarely held accountable, according to internal audits, court documents, interviews and school records.

The failure to safeguard student money is a symptom of a public school system that has defied reform for decades and of a culture in which rules are broken with impunity.

"It's a travesty," said Vaughn Bennett, a former firefighter who was the Moten chess club's volunteer coach. "This is the kind of thing that stops D.C. schools from having an atmosphere of success."

Almost all of the District's 146 public schools have student activity funds -- bank accounts in which they deposit proceeds from bake sales, vending machines and sporting events, as well as charitable donations and, sometimes, federal grants. The funds take in as much as $6 million annually citywide, records show. A small elementary school might have only a few hundred dollars. But the fund at Cardozo High School reached $400,000 this year after a graduate bequeathed more than $200,000, records show. The student account at Wilson High School has deposits totaling more than $700,000 annually.
Keep in mind that this money is not taxpayer money, not directly anyway, and is usually the result of a great deal of effort by the students themselves. This is just another item on the list of things that Chancellor Michelle Rhee has to deal with, even though she shouldn't have to.

To a certain extent, such troubles are predictable, and not just because DC schools have a lot of corruption. Theft, or more accurately embezzlement, it made possible two things: Opportunity and lack of oversight. Those people whose job it is to maintain these funds often do so without any real regular oversight. The money is often brought to them in cash, by the kids. The kids, arguably, make a mistake in their tally and a few dollars here and there are skimmed off.

The mismanagement is rampant and the story details the sorry state of affairs and the pitiable consequences to students.

So what can be done. Just have some basic accounting practices put in place. Two people to count and verify all deposits. Two signatures on all checks. The person who writes checks doesn't manage the bank reconciliations. Annual audits and audits whenever the person with primary responsibility for the accounts change, etc. These are not rocket science accounting procedures but what all of these procedures do is make the opportunity for embezzlement much smaller.

After all this is not their money, it is money that belongs to the kids and is for their use and enjoyment.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Teen Wins Fight for Antiabortion Club at School -

From the Washington Post, a Virginia teenager dropped a lawsuit after school officials reversed their initial decision to not allow an anti-abortion club.
School administrators initially turned down Hoffmeier's request to start the club at Colonial Forge High School on the grounds that it was not tied to the school curriculum. She filed suit in federal court in Alexandria, contending that her proposal could not be denied when other clubs are allowed to form on campus. The suit put a spotlight on an often-misunderstood legal arena involving religion in public schools. Even some advocates of strict separation of church and state say religious speech by students at public school is protected under the Constitution and federal law.
One probably doesn't have to look hard to find clubs that aren't tied to the cirriculum. For example, I don't recall seeing chess on my high school curriculum, but there was a chess club. The list could go on and on.

We are a nation of associations and to deny an voluntary association of students seems a little ham handed. At least someone got a common sense knock on the head and allowed the group to go forward.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Freedome of Speech Does Not Speech Free of Consequences.

I think one of the more interesting items to come out of my views on the Maryland funeral case was the realization that although people claim to believe in free speech, there are a number of people who don't really get it.

I believe that what the Westboro Church was doind was free speech, as dispicable and deplorable as it was. But the fact of the matter is, they have a right to their views and their speech. And, like it or not, this is a case that is likely to end up on the Supreme Court docket and there is a chance that a lot of people are not going to like the result, including the Snyder family. I got two comments on my original post and a couple of nasty emails and I thought it worth addressing a few points.

First, Darren, a blog friend who is also a former military officer noted that reasonable time, place and manner restrictions are permitted on speech and he is absolutely correct. But here is the thing that is missing from all this discussion. The protesters were some 1,000 feet from the funeral on public land. A number of states have laws on the books (Maryland does not from what I have found in an admittedly cursory search), that prohibit any protesting of any type within a certain distace of a funeral for a period of time before or after a funeral. Such laws will essentially be challenged by this case. And as Michael Dorf writes, the laws are likely to be upheld. But a court is going to have to decide how far is reasonable. Thus the crux of the matter.

The Ridger, FCD said that this is not a free speech issue, noting "Your right to free speech doesn't come with a right to go anywhere you want in order to talk." Again, this is like the matter Darren brings up. There are reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner. But the line is fuzzy and hard to discern, especially when it comes to political speech (and like it or not Westboro's speech is political in nature). But inherent in teh freedom of speech is the right to do it where you choose. While the government can impose certain restrictions on the time, place and manner of your speech, it cannot ban it. And if the time, place and manner restrictions are so onerous as to effectively silence your chosen speech or the restrictions so take away your intended audience, then those restrictions are likely to be unconstitutional. So, if a state said groups cannot protest a military funeral like the Snyder's funeral for two days before and two days after the event--that would be too onerous. Freedom of speech implies a certain freedom to be heard. That doesn't mean I have to listen, but I have to allow you to be heard and the government has the same duty.

One emailer clearly has not read this blog to get even a feeling for my views on freedom of speech. This right, above all others, I hold most dear. Sometimes, believing in an ideal makes it really hard to accept that some practitinoers of that right still deserve protection. This emailer, who shall remain anonymous, likened my protection of Westboro as an endorsement of their views. This could not be further from the truth. I don't like the KKK, but I will protect their right to speak. I don't protect their right to harm, threaten or intimidate people. Similarly with Westboro, I don't like their politics and I think their views on the Bible and American policy are narrow-minded and bigoted, but they have a right to their opinions and a right to express them.

But lost on this emailer was an important point and one that I think too many free speech advocates on both sides of the political spectrum forget. Free speech means that you have a right to say what you think, and it is a right that I will defend wtih every fiber in my being. However, free speech does not mean speech free of consequences. Speech can and often does carry consequences, which is why I think that the Snyder case on appeal will actually be a split decision. The Appeals Court will probably say that the damage award for intentional infliction of emotional distress will likely be affirmed, but that shall be the only basis for the award. Westboro will be vindicated in their right to speak their message, but they will not be allowed to speak without consquences.

This important point is lost on many Americans when it comes to our rights. Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. One cannot expect to exercise a right and then shuck the responsibility that comes with those words. Westboro has a bigoted message, a message that they can speak and have a right to speak, but with that right comes responsibilities and you cannot escape the consequences of your speech by wrapping yourself in the cloak of the First Amendment.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Closing the Achievement Gap

When I was in elementary and middle school, lo so many years ago, it was common practice to track students, that is put them in courses based upon their academic ability. This was fine, so far as it went, but it did mean that some students who were generally basic in some classes, like math or science, could get tracked in to classes beneath their skill level in say English or History or some other mix. Since my time in school, tracking fell out of favor. The funny thing is that tracking only took place for some courses, allowing for advanced education in some subjects. But in other subjects, say required courses, like government, students of all abilty levels were put in one class.

However, the idea of grouping students based on their ability makes a great deal of sense. The fears of tracking are real and relevant. But at least in one school in Montgomery County, it looks like performance based grouping is closing the achievment gap.
The technique, called performance-based grouping, is uncommon in the region. Some educators believe it too closely resembles tracking, the outmoded practice of assigning students to inflexible academic tracks by ability.

Educators say Rock View, however, is using the same basic concept to opposite effect, and the results have been positive. While some other Montgomery County schools serving low-income populations have posted higher test scores, few have shown such improvement or consistency across socioeconomic and racial lines.
What strikes me as odd is the basic logic of the system, logic that is often lacking when it comes to education.
Roberson decided that regrouping students by performance level would make the most of her limited staff, which was struggling to deliver lessons to a student body with wide-ranging abilities.

"When you have all the students who are academically alike for 90 minutes and you don't have to split them up and give 30 minutes to each group, you get more bang for your buck," she said.

School system administrators were uncomfortable with the arrangement. Nothing resembling tracking was going on in the county. Few, if any, elementary schools grouped children into classrooms by ability to the extent that Roberson was proposing.
The school's principal implemented the program in 2001 and test scores throught the school improved significantly. Still school officials worried, so they ordered the school to stop performance based grouping in 2004 and 2005, what happened? Test scores declined.

So the practice was reimplemented and test scores have soared to an all time high. The achievement gap still remains but for far fewer students than even last year.

So why isn't the practice being replicated all over the county or even the whole country? After all, performance based grouping occurs in high school, for example not every student takes calculus. Simple, it looks too much like tracking and it can be interpreted as labeling kids. However, when dealing with limited resourced, it makes the most sense. Students don't spend the entire day in grouped classes, but they do spend a great deal of time in grouped classes. By focusing on performance levels, the school leadership can use their teaching skills to the greatest effect as well. The results appear to bear out the theory.

What schools like Montgomery county or other counties serving mixed populations would be to study the Rock View example and replicate it on a larger scale, say a dozen elementary schools. If the results enjoyed by Rock View are seen on a wider scale, then we have a localized phenomenon. If the results are replicated, then maybe we might be on to something.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Playing with Poll Numbers

How the AP defines the 'vast majority of parents' is suspect.

I wonder what would have happened if the question was "Do support MIDDLE schools giving birth controls to students WITHOUT parental consent OR knowledge?"

I also liked the question, How many of you have school aged children and the response was that 2/3 of survey respondents didn't have school kids? Talk about a bad sampling for that question. Compare the numbers--there is an odd coincidence there, or is it an odd coincidence.

$1 Million Dollar Fine in FEC Case

Wow! for funneling $78,000 in corporate contributions to federal candidates. That is a hefty price to pay.

This little tidbit may have gone unnoticed in the Press Release: The FEC has assessed $4.7 million in fines this year and $6.2 million last year.

Funeral Award Violates Free Speech

My first reaction to this news about a huge jury award against a church that had protested at the funeral of a fallen soldier, was "Good." But my second reaction was more measured.

Sure, what the Westboro Baptist Church did at the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. Westboro believes that the deaths of soldiers are the direct consequence of America's tolerance of homosexuality and gays in the military. The churc is known for protesting a funerals of fallen soldiers carrying placards that read "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and other messages along the same lines.

The jury had found the Westboro Baptist Church liable for invading the expectation of privacy of the soldier's family and intentional infliction of emotional distress. I am not sure whether the full verdict will hold up on appeal because I am not sure that the family had an expectation of privacy in a public place, but they may still prevail on the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

This is why I am so torn about this case. The church and church members have a legitimate right to free speech and I will defend their right to be idiots, zealots and bigots despite my belief that they are wrong. However, while I don't think the family had a legitimate reasonable expectation of privacy at a funeral occuring in a public place, I tend to think that we can't just give people a free pass on free speech grounds for the consequences that their speech may cause. But by the same token, free speech isn't free if we hold people accountable for words that are not libelous or slanderous.

While as a military man, I don't think Westboro should be exonerated, as a ardent believer in the First Amendment, I think they are entitled to a reversal on appeal.

Sometimes free speech hurts, but as I have said before, freedom of speech is not about the speech we all like, it is about the speech that makes our blood boil and you can't abandon the ideal when it suits your world view.

Crossposted at Red Maryland.