Monday, December 31, 2007

First Aid Training--In Effect

A great story of military first aid training and initiative. Look not only did the military give me first aid training, but I have expanded training as Emergency Medical Technician. Too often as an EMT we would come to an accident scene where the medics were called quickly which resulted in more serious injuries than necessary had someone just taken the initiative to do something.

Under most state laws, you cannot be sued for helping (contrary to what some people would have you believe). Keep everyone as still as possible consistent with their overall safety (that is, if the car is burning or sinking and you can help-do so). That is not to say you should take unnecessary risks when trying to help someone, but even the simply act of applying pressure to a bleeding wound can do wonders. I once had someone tell me at a scene that they didn't want to use a dirty blanket to stop the bleeding for fear of giving the victim an infection. The patient lost enough blood that we had to re-start her heart on the road the hospital. The patient survived thanks to three units of plasma and short trip to the local hospital, but simply putting that dirty blanket on her leg would have done wonders for her health and recovery.

Look, unless your blanket is dirty by way of some fast acting poison, any infection someone gets from a dirty blanket is a far lesser concern than actually stopping the bleeding. An infection can be treated with aggressive anti-biotics. A loss of blood can lead to a loss of life.

Here is a funny story for you. In EMT training, I could not eat before class. The pictures of injuries made me squeamish (almost to the point of dropping out). But once I was onsight at my first car accident, I was never squeamish, there is too much to do.

So, if you come upon an accident, by all means call 911 and get the professionals rolling. Next, make sure bystanders are safe and if necessary stop or reroute traffic to make sure the victims are not hurt more. Then at least start taking an "inventory" of who is there and what injuries you can ascertain. Serious injuries should be brought to the professional's attention as soon as they arrive. Any information you can give is a help.

Bad Assumptions About Military History

In every generation and in every struggle since the founding of the United States, mistakes are made and opportunites go unexploited. Case in point, witness the Articles of Confederation and the failure of our Framers to eradicate slavery. The fact that such mistakes are made is not news nor should it be viewed as an overall failure, the greatest strength of the United States is that we learn (and usually quickly) from our mistakes. In no arena is the fact that mistakes will be made more prevalent than in war and the military. Michael Barone talks about Iraq and mistakes.
There are lessons to be learned from the dazzling success of the surge strategy in Iraq.

Lesson one is that just about no mission is impossible for the United States military. A year ago it was widely thought, not just by the new Democratic leaders in Congress but also in many parts of the Pentagon, that containing the violence in Iraq was impossible. Now we have seen it done.


George W. Bush, like Lincoln, took his time finding the right generals. But it’s clear now that the forward-moving surge strategy devised by Gens. David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno has succeeded where the stand-aside strategy employed by their predecessors failed. American troops are surely the most capable military force in history. They just need to be given the right orders.
The fact that the American military is not only the greatest fighting force ever assembled was somehow lost. The military is capable of performing just about any mission handed to it and even some that the so-called "experts" believe to be impossible. The American soldier is a master of "adapt and overcome." The failings that happen in most military struggles come not from the grunt on the ground, but from the civilian leadership. That George W. Bush and his advisors made mistakes with regard to Iraq strategy cannot be denied (but can be debated in their specifics). But once handed orders, the generals and their men salute, say "Aye, Aye Sir" and move about their mission.

Now that their mission is showing success, it is almost natural to stop and think, "Why didn't we come up with that strategy before?" The answer lies in the basics of wartime (or any real time) decision-making. Decisions are made in the very absence of the "perfect" information we have in hindsight.

As the New Year dawns, perhaps now we can move on from the America will lose dialectic and take on the idea that mistakes happen. We must learn from those mistakes and allow for the knowledge that as certainly as the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow, we will make more mistakes. It is the ability of the military, and America, to own up to and correct those mistakes, that makes the United States great. America is not perfect, but it is great.

Music Review: Browns in Blue by The 5 Browns

A while back I posted a review on The 5 Browns, five piano playing siblings with loads of talent and a penchant for classical music. Since that time, the three sisters and two brothers have expanded their appeal and their range. Their youth, and attractiveness, have made them something of a star attraction among a younger crowd, allowing young people the experience of classical music, and make no mistake, The 5 Browns are not your grandad's version of classical musicians.

Yet, there is no denying their talent. Having a piano duet is hard enough as most pianists will tell you, but having five people playing different, overlapping parts of the same piece of music is amazing.

The latest from The 5 Browns is Browns in Blue, a disc with jazz inspired piano music that reinforces their skill with a little different attitude. As with their previous albums, the disc offers solo pieces and various combinations of duets and other arrangements, including their trademark five-part arrangements.

What impresses me most about this disc is not the selection of the pieces presented but rather the ability of the artists themselves to render the mood of the piece. For example, Ryan Brown's performance on Astor Piazzolia's Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi from History of the Tango, exudes the sometimes frenetic passion of the tango, but also displays the precision of the dance as well. That the tango and Ryan's playing, can convey both is a testament to the music and muscicianship.

Lacking a clear, note by note comparison, it may be hard to judge this statement, but each piece, even the truly "classical" works by Rachmaninoff, Schubert and Debussy, have a jazzy overlay, not necessarily a improvised note or sequence, but just a feel of something a little different. One would expect such a feel from Gershwin or even the newly commissioned work by John Novacek, but not from Brahms.

The Browns included three guest artists on this disc. Violinist Gil Shaham, unknown to me until now, trumpeter Chris Botti and Dean Martin. Each of the guests provides an addition to the music and depsite being featured, fails to overshadow the piano work. Shaham teamed with Deondra and Desirae Brown on Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, but it is not my favorite piece. The piece is short, barely three minutes and just as you feel immersed in the work, it ends. Although the Piazzolia selection is just one second longer, it feels more complete than Saint Saens.

Now, I like Gershwin and have not come across a piece of his music that I didn't like. But the 5 Browns and Chris Botti teaming up on Home Blues from An American in Paris, is simply stunning. (Check out the video here).Even with Botti's strong trumpet in the foreground, you can't miss the complex piano arrangements in the background. The piece is classical/jazz/blues defined.

John Novacek, who created Reflections on Shenandoah for this CD, has a wonderful description of both the history and meaning behind tracscription, arrangement and working in a multiple piano setting in Music Notes on the 5 Browns's Website. Also included on that page is a description of how Dean Martin's "Everybody Loves Somebody" came to be included on Browns In Blue.

Music, as an artform, is in part original and in part derivative. While the 5 Browns are not writing their own music (yet), there is no doubt that their "derivative" portion of their artistry provides a new sound to older works. What seems to be captivating audiences is the diverting combination of youth, skill and the fact that they appear and sound like they are having fun. As the New York Post wrote after their debut in 2005, "When these kids do Rachmaninoff, they'll make you forget about Marshall amps.” Well, you may not forget entirely about Marshall Amps (I don't), it is easy to see and hear why the 5 Browns are packing arenas and winning converts--they make classical music "listen-able" and present it without all the stuffy tuxedos and formal presentation. Classical music, just as Browns in Blue shows, can have a fun, jazzy and yes cool side.

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Orleans Offering Merit Pay for Teachers

Via Bell Work Online, brings the story and very poor analysis thereof.
Here's one more example, in a list that is growing faster than a plague in a petri dish, of why No Child Left Behind continues to fail American schools and American children.

The schools in New Orleans are in trouble. They have poor attendance rates and high failure and dropout rates. So, in an effort to meet state minimum requirements, set forth under NCLB, the powers that be have decided that the best idea is to offer bonuses of $3,000 for teachers and $5,000 for principals, when their students meet minimum standards.

Children are failing, staying home or dropping out, and the best answer these non-educators can come up with is to offer bonus pay to anyone who can get these troubled kids to do anything short of staying home.

This is the type of ingenuity that NCLB spawns.

Additional funds could be used for innovative after-school tutoring and extra-curriculars. New resources for instruction could liven up the classroom, engaging students in learning. Money could be given to create a sense of community at school. These are just a few examples of how government funds could be effectively used to improve these recovery schools.

Instead, New Orleans gets bonus pay — teachers teaching less for more money.
First, the link Bell Work provides is behind the EdWeek registration, so here is a free link.Second, the analysis is so full of holes it is hard to know where to begin.

One can scour the entire article and find no mention of No Child Left Behind. While, admittedly, the absence of a mention of the law does not mean it is unrelated, it seems a stretch to say that No Child Left Behind is the reason why these bonuses are being considered. The article does mention that that bonuses will be paid to schools operated by the Recovery School District, which manages the most difficult schools in the state and that the bonuses would be paid to meet certain objective goals. Arguably those objective goals are formulated in response to NCLB, but we don't know that for sure. States had performance standards before NCLB.

It seems ludicrous in the extreme to complain about a program designed to help teachers help students. Could the money be put to other uses, like "innovative after-school tutoring and extra-curriculars. New resources for instruction could liven up the classroom, engaging students in learning. Money could be given to create a sense of community at school." Sure it could, but what good is after-school tutoring or an enlivened classroom or engaged students if the students aren't in the classroom in the first place. Bell Work Online admitted early that the Recovery School District has attendance and drop out problems, will a "lively" classroom really solve that problem? Would not a bonus make the one person who can truly enliven a classroom (the teacher) more likely to make such an effort. A sense of community does not educate a child, a teacher does. Giving more money to teachers helps keep them in the classroom rather than seeking employment elsewhere.

What BWO has done is taken a strawman they don't like (NCLB) and lays the blame for a program they don't like (bonus) and conflates the and do so poorly.

Frankly, if a teacher is incentivized by additional pay to get the students in a classroom and learn something, I am not seeing the downside here. Everyone wins.

Hugh Hewitt on Impact of Bhutto Assassination

Great Thoughts.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reponse to Bhutto Assassination

Ed Morrisey has a collection of worldwide responses.

That Bhutto was killed is a crime of that there can be no doubt. But the fact that she was assassinated was predicatble and certainly the risk was known to Bhutto. I am not saying she had a death wish, but certainly there were easy signs to read.

1. She was a woman, in a country that is largely Muslim and despite its progressive collective nature, the radical Muslims could not simply abide a woman in power.

2. Bhutto was a small "d" democrat in that she favored the democratic process--again not something that sits well with radical fundamentalist Muslims.

3. She dared to defy the radical Muslims in her own and other countries (oh and show her face while doing do).

Three strikes and your out as far as radical Islam is concerned (not that they would use such a Western expression). As tragic as the incident is, it simply is not without its predictability.

The question remains, how long will the average Pakistani allow radical, fundamentalist Muslims to dictate how things will go in their country?

McDonald's Making Billions and Milloinaires

I admit, I patronize McDonald's regularly, which young kids you have to once in a while. While I have always known that McDonald's does fabulous business, I had not given much thought to the consequences of that vast business. George Will gives some idea of the power of one company. McDonald's expects a 2007 profit of nearly $3.5 billion on $23 billion in revenue, an increase of nearly 12.7 percent. The healthy eating nut cases must be having heart attacks.
McDonald's exemplifies the role of small businesses in Americans' upward mobility. The company is largely a confederation of small businesses: 85 percent of its U.S. restaurants -- average annual sales, $2.2 million -- are owned by franchisees. McDonald's has made more millionaires, and especially black and Hispanic millionaires, than any other economic entity ever, anywhere.

McDonald's has 14,000 restaurants in America and an additional 17,000 in 117 other countries. The company will add 1,000 others in 2008, more than 90 percent of them abroad. Such is the power of the McDonald's brand, 48 percent of the people of India were aware of McDonald's before it opened its first restaurant on the subcontinent.
It is hard to imagine that kind of impact from any other company. Keep in mind that many Franchisees own more than one McDonald's.

I will admit to my disgust at too many McDonald's employees in my area of the country not being able to speak or even understand English. But that is a service problem and a function more of what has become the norm as far as entry level work is concerned.

As a child my first paying job was as a soccer referee at age 10 (at the time I was the youngest referee in the state of Florida). When I was fifteen, I got a summer job at the local supermarket and later with Little Ceasar's Pizza. I was not above working at McDonald's but the supermarket and Little Ceasars did not involve me having my parents drive me to work since I could walk.

I wonder how many of today's millenial kids had their first job at McDonald's or some other minimum wage, low-skilled, no-skilled job? I fear that too many will arrive in the workforce for the first time after graduating college, complete without any concept of their true worth and lacking in any job maintenance skills, like how to be on time, follow directions and orders or how to serve customers. Make no mistake about it, no matter what job you are in, you have customers and customer relations is at the heart of any enterprise.

The reason why there are so many minority millionaires thanks to McDonalds is that many minorities take "the jobs Americans won't do" and then make something of themselves as a result. McDonald's is constantly hiring and if you work hard for them, they work hard for you. Other phenonmenally successful companies are the same--Wal-Mart, Disney and others.

I have no interest in running a food service establishment, it simply is not something I think I would enjoy. However, because I am not inclined to do it doesnt' mean someone else is not interested in that path to fincial freedom.

Soccer Bloopers Video

Nothnig left to say.Soccer Bloopers Video . Best highlight, the referee who clotheslines a player and the player mockingly giving the Referee a Red Card.

Hilarious stuff.

You May be Addicted to Soccer If…

Courtesy of Laurie at the MLS BlogYou May be Addicted to Soccer If… . According to the point score I am just barely addicted. My wife still thinks I am normal, but I am not sure why.

Preimer League Statement On Two Footed Challenges

Watching the highlights of yesterday's Boxing Day matches from the Premiership, I came away with a sense that there are a lot of angry (or stupid) players out there. In addition to some very fine play and terrific goals (see for example Chelsea v. Aston Villa's 4-4 draw), there some very stupid challenges, two footed challenges. At least three players were dismissed from yesterday's matches for two footed challenges. The Premier League leadership issued a statement that a "clamp down" was not in effect, but simply that the referees were applying the rules as stated at the start of the season--two footed challenges will result in a dismissal. That is good news as the tactic is dangerous and silly to boot.

Fulham Smacked Around on Boxing Day

The Boxing Day match between Fulham FC and Tottenham Hotspur was just ugly as Hotspur smacked the Whites for five goals in a dismal performance at White Heart Lane. Fulham Interim Manager Ray Lewington had this to say:
“I thought we were very lethargic in the first half,” he said. “We seem to have got into a siege mentality where we keep backing off, when what we want to do is stop the ball at source. But from the very off we started to let them have time and space on the ball and backed off. We got lots of numbers behind the ball but that actually wasn’t the plan.

“If you do that against any Premiership side, especially a side with talent like Spurs, you’re really going to pay the price – which we did."
Gee, you think?!

From the kickoff, Fulham acted and looked over-matched and of course that does not produce a winning attitude. Once again the back line looked unorganized and lacking in leadership. The marking, quite frankly, sucked. You cannot leave players like Robbie Keane unmarked and expect nothing to happen. Keane found the back of the net twice for the Spurs in large part because of collapses on the defensive side.

American Clint Dempsey scored the lone goal for the Whites, giving the Texan two goals in as many games--a veritable deluge of scoring for the Whites--and that is just plain pitiful. Dempsey's performance of late has been one of the few bright spots on the Fulham side in recent weeks and the American International has probably cemeted a starting position for himself.

However, I am still very concerned about the lack of organization on the pitch. While the turmoil at the top certainly can lead to some mixed play, the turmoil on the pitch pre-dates Lawrie Sanchez's sacking. Aaron Hughes is fine player but is a poor leader. Carols Bocanegra (who for a while was Captain) is likewise a fine player but doesn't seem to have that leadership quality either. To be honest, in the absence of Brian McBride, I don't see anyone capable of stepping in to a leadership role.

The Boxing Day performance simply reiterates my belief expressed previously. Lewington or whoever is appointed manager in his stead, needs to do some serious head thinking in the Transfer Window if the second half of the season is to be better than the first. In their current configuration, relegation is looking more and more likely.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Fool For a Client

A common legal saying is that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Can the same thing be said about a pro se litigant? Howard Bashman points to article out of Indiana that would seem to indicate yes, that would indeed be the case. If not a fool, perhaps a spendthrift would be more apt a description.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Tragedy of Education

I wonder how many times we have heard stories similar to this one featured in yesterday's Washington Post, where the bright idealism of education meets the harsh realities of school life in an urban area? The Post featured Calvin Coolidge High School, and the efforts of its youthful principal to bring about change. In addition to the print story, the Post offers a photo essay online and a multimedia presentation featuring eight teachers at Coolidge High.

What is instructional about all 8 of these teachers is the idealism they carry with them into their teaching assignments and what is conveyed in each profile is that wall of reality that they crash into, every day. It is not simply the fact that students are willful and at times or regularly disobedient, but the fact that they are completely unprepared by the time the cross the threshold at Coolidge High.

This bit, just near the beginning of the article, sums up the atmosphere:
There is a struggle going on at Coolidge, and at schools across Washington. A battle every day for the will to be something better against a mud-suck of chaos.

Both sides are powerful.

Sometimes it's hard to say which is winning.

Sometimes it is frighteningly clear.
There have been changes at Coolidge, some programmatic and some cosmetic, but a couple of themes stuck out: Lack of enforcment and lack to common sense. There is a dress code at Coolidge, but because the goal is to keep students in the classroom, it is not strictly enforced by sending kids home or calling their parents.
One kid takes his shirt off, revealing a sleeveless tank. Students had been customizing their uniforms -- turning up collars, wearing beads -- but increasingly some are abandoning them altogether, showing up in jeans and T-shirts. Teachers mostly say nothing.

Out-of-uniform students "are supposed to get a call to the parents or sent home," acknowledges Vice Principal Samuel Scudder, but because the goal is to keep students in school, the policy is not strictly enforced. Still, even out of uniform, most students dress more conservatively than last year.
Such a small victory, kids dressing more conservatively than last year. When kids are disciplinary problems, they are ejected from class though, sent to the principal's office, which rarely if ever occurs. The Post story is peppered with allusions to kids roaming the halls. The photoessayist actually photographed a kid smoking marijuana in a stairwell!!

I realize that the administration may have to pick their battles, but I wonder which battles are being chosen.

As for common sense, when I read this segment I was floored. Earlier in the story, the writer detailed how one teacher was attacked by students.
Sgt. Franklin James, head of Coolidge's seven-person security detail, patrols the same third-floor hallway he walked as a Coolidge student a decade and a half ago. On the day Willis was hit, he says, classes were changing and guards were switching posts. The officer on the second floor was on the way to the third floor.

Security officers get blamed for what happens in the halls, but the problems go much deeper, he says. "Extra manpower would be good," he says, and finding money so guards could have two-way radios would be even better. But for real, "all the weight can't just fall on security," he says. "If you have teachers here on time, the kids wouldn't be in the hallways. It's a team effort."
What kind of security arrangement has the guards changing posts at a time when they are probably needed most--during class changes. A much more common sensical approach would be to have the guards change posts while kids are in class. That is just basic security 101. The episode simply illustrates that the adults in the education system don't use their heads any more than some of their students.

But more than anything else, this paragraph seemed to sum up the problems at Coolidge and with educaiton in general:
Burton acknowledges that there are problems. "We aren't as consistent as we should be in dealing with students," he says, "for some good reasons and for some unclearer reasons." They put a discipline plan in place last year, Burton says, "but to be quite honest, we didn't follow it to the letter, because if we had, the consequences were a little too high" -- like automatic suspension for cursing. Or pointless -- like calling parents when sometimes parents were in no position to help.
In short, we want high standards, we want high expectations, we want students to behave and learn. But at the same time, we don't want to look bad when the students don't meet expectations. We worry about the self-esteem of students to the point that we don't expect high performance or adherence even to a dress code.

Idealism is wonderful and the youthful energy of young teachers can be a benefit, but in the face of reality, who wins?

Seven Random Bits About Me

Looney Hiker Tagged me to provide seven random things about me. Here are the rules: - Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here are my seven things:
  1. I once spent Thanksgiving on a beach in Aruba, by myself and it was great.
  2. I have been chased off the Canadian Embassy grounds by a Mountie for rollerblading down their steps.
  3. I love puzzles and routinely have several going at anyone time, from the Samurai Sudoku, to crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, etc. I am in a constant running battle to keep my wife to keep her from throwing them away.
  4. My idea of a dream vacation (with or without my family) inevitably involves soccer--I would love to go to a World Cup and spend the entire month going to games.
  5. I have been cited by the U.S. Park Police for rock climbing without registering
  6. I have never, in 22 years of driving, ever driven a new car as my primary vehicle. My wife drives the new cars.
  7. On average, I have between 6 and 10 books being read at any one time.
I tag the following people

Matthew Tabor
The Ed Wonks
Allison Hayward
Ms. Cornelius
Kevin Dayhoff


Self-Defense, Schools and Zero-Tolerance Policies on Violence

In general, zero-tolerance policies are generally pretty stupid as they establish a bright line rule that admits for no exceptions, even legally protected ones. Darren at Right on the Left Coast and the Instapundit have the story of a Nashville high school student, who when confronted with an attacker, walked away not once but twice and then, after being struck by an attacker struck back. The result--suspension from school.

One of the commenters on Darren's post said this:
When my eldest son was in 7th grade, he was very slight of build. One day, four high school kids jumped him and beat him badly. It didn't happen on school grounds, so the school system's idiotic policy didn't come into play. But I had the ringleader arrested hy the police. At the hearing (not a trial, since all concerned were minors) the other attorney tried to grill my son about why he didn't run away. The judge interrupted and stated very plainly that Tennessee law does not require retreat when attacked; it is a "stand and fight" state.
and another this:
Funny how self-defense is recognized in a court of law, even if you kill in self-defense, but not in a school. I would think there is, and should be, a terrible amount of liability for a school that denies one the right of self-defense.
In most states, not all but most, if this attack on Rachel Davis had occurred anywhere else but on school grounds, Davis would have been more than justified in her actions, she countered an assault on her person with a response in kind. But the zero-tolerance rule put her on suspension and there will be a mark on her record for the incident, a mark she will have to explain when she applies to colleges, etc.

Now, admittedly fighting is not to be allowed, but when video tape evidence and the attackers own admission indicates that the student attempted and did indeed walk away, there needs to be some common sense applied.

I will counsel my daughters to walk away, until they can no longer do so effectively. They will be taught to stand their ground and if necessary disable an opponent without serious damage (a good hard stomp on the foot or a sharp kick to the shin works wonders followed by, if necessary hard kicks to the knees. To be honest, I don't want my kids to fight, but by the same token they cannot be punching bags either.

In many ways, a zero-tolerance policy disarms the victim. Aggressors obviously have no concern about suspension, if they did, they would not attack. So the victim, those who are concerned about the rule, and want to avoid a suspension think twice--to their detriment.

Related story here.

More On Fulham's Failings

In the past few days, I have discussed what I think are Fulham FC's shortcomings, particularly their inability to protect a lead. I have argued that if Fulham, which has had a good bit of luck scoring first, could protect its lead it would be doing much better than 16th on the table. Here is more support for that contention.

In the team stats on the Premier League site, you can select Half-time league which would show the league standings if all the games ended at half-time. Currently, Fulham sits 16th on the table with a record of 2-8-8 for 14 points(that is W-D-L for the American readers, not W-L-D--not that it matters in this case) and a goal differential of -10. If Fulham's games ended at half time, their record would be 7-9-2 and 30 points (and a +5 goal differential), putting them fifth on the table behind only Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, and Arsenal. In short, in the last 45 minutes of the game, Fulham have give up 15 more goals than they have scored in 18 games and lost or tied games they should have won.

So note to the new Fulham manager, who ever that may be--get better at your second half performance.

What Is the Extent of the Speech and Debate Clause

That is a question being posed by the Bush Administration on an appeal of a decision related to the FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's Congressional office.

The cert petition asks:
“Whether the Speech or Debate Clause provides a non-disclosure privilege that bars Executive Branch agents from executing a judicially issued warrant in a Member’s office to search for non-legislative records of criminal activity.”
The cert petition is here and a good discussion of the case is here.

Government Hypocrisy

I reguarly read Bill Ferriter's The Tempered Radical and in particular a recent post on governmental hypocrisy related to targets for education and targets for climate change. After discussing the relucatance to establish and meet hard target goals in the area of climate change, Bill had this to say:
The reason this sits wrong in the pit of my stomach is that our government seems to have completely embraced hard targets for education, haven't they? After all, we've been told that "100% of our students" are going to be on grade level by 2014.

We've been given specific targets for student growth for every year between now and then, too---and when we don't meet those targets, we're ridiculed in the press, called failures, and taken over by outside agencies. Despite working in a field that is easily as unpredictable as climate change, our government has no troubles setting hard targets for schools?

Starting off with "some set of numbers" didn't seem to bother anyone when No Child Left Behind was passed. Coercive accountability was seen as the only way to get unresponsive schools to "shape up," and urgency was necessary because to wait any longer was morally wrong.

So why are hard targets appropriate for education, but not appropriate for fighting global warming? Aren't both issues equally important?

Interesting, huh?
In the comments, I wrote (in part):
I think the fact that the government has much more discretion over domestic policy, where the variables are better known, means that they set the hard numbers domestically. Witness for example the hard target numbers for gasoline efficiency just set for cars sold in America. (by the way does not those standards count?)
Aside from my admittedly tortured grammar, I still believe this to largely be the case, domestic policy is easier to develop standards in than foriegn policy.

But there is another reason why I believe that the government is not being hypocritical when it comes to the dichotomy between climate change and education. I don't think there is any lack of consensus on the importance of education to our future. I firmly believe there is a deep lack of consensus on climate change (or at least our ability to do anything about it as a nation). Therein lies the rub. We think education is vitally important and that government can somehow make the necessary policy decisions to implement a tough educational policy, with hard targets. On the other hand, there is broad enough dissension on climate change in the opposite direction. There is a large enough percentage of people who, perhaps believing climate change is an issue, do not think the goverment capable of making any lasting change.

I generally don't think there is much government can do in either case and that is where I see the hypocrisy. Education policy, from everything I have seen, read, witnessed or discussed ultimate comes down to an individual family's output. That is, if the family believes it to be important, the kids in the family unit will generally do better--regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in. Government can help by providing assistance or opportunities, but unless the family takes advantage there is really little government can do.

The same holds true for the environment. Unless people are willing to make personal choices to do something to help, i.e. recycling, switching to compact flourescent bulbs, choosing cars that are better on gas mileage and other personal (and I might add market oriented) solutions, there is little government can do to mandate change and have it be effective. Government can, and has, mandated better fuel efficiency, and a growth in alternative fuels, but all that pre-supposed that people will buy those new cars or use those alternative fuels. There are an awful lot of old muscle cars, lovingly maintained, out on the road that would be exempt from new fuel standards.

So the hypocrisy in government is that it believes it can make a difference in either education or climate change via government policy. It can do neither effectively and fails on both accounts, hard targets or not.

Fulham's Lewington Speaks Out

Fulham FC's interim Manager Ray Lewington spoke both about Fulham's performance over the weekend and the search for permanent manager. Lewington, who has mad no secret of his desire to take the reins permanantly, understands that the owners are looking elsewhere as well.

Had the Whites won over Wigan on Saturday, Lewington might have more of a chance. But with the 1-1, come from behind draw against another drop zone denzien, I am not sure that Lewington has done enough to show that he should have the job. Lewington said that his team played well in patches of the game, which is true enough, but to succeed in this league you have to play well in more than just patches, you have to play better all the time and have as few rough patches as possible. And let's face, consistency has not been Fulham's strong point this year.

Fulham have scored first in 8 of the team's 18 matches this year and failed to protect that lead, with predictable results--losses or draws in the final minutes. Had Fulham been able to protect those leads, the team would be sitting on 38 points and sitting in the neighborhood of Chelsea and Manchester United near the top of the table rather than just above the relegation zone on goal differential. Even if they had won just have of those games, they would be sitting squarely in the middle of the table with the likes of Newcastle and Blackburn.

After reviewing some of the matches over the weekend, I have come to three conclusions.

1. During the January Transfer Window, Fulham needs to find a pure-bred, dyed in the wool goal scorer. American Clint Dempsey leads the team with five goals in 18 games. That simply is not going to cut it, despite his best efforts. Dempsey has tried to put the team on his shoulders and carry them, but his talents are better used to set people up. American striker Brian McBride will not be healthy and full match ready for a number of weeks. Fulham needs a goal scorer and needs one now.

2. Either Aaron Hughes or Carolos Bocanegra have to leave. Boca is propably my favorite player on Fulham's squad and Hughes is a solid player. But these two are not working well in the back together. They seem to be stepping on each other's toes and the confusion in the back line is leading to mistakes in the defense, leading to costly goals in the final minutes. Both Hughes and Boca lead their respective National team back lines and may be unwilling to give up that kind of leadership position, so one of them has to go, either out of the starting line-up or off the team. There needs to be one, and only one, back line leader to organize the defense, make assignments and lead. In the absence of this move, the new manager has to designate (and stick with) one or the other.

3. There needs to be a strong, on-field captain to organize this team. This team is unorganized. I believe the talent is there on the team to be a solid, mid-table team this year, but the squad is floundering without a dominant personality on the field to lead them. The defense is unorganized, the mid-field play uneven and the attack simply is not producing. While Sanchez can take some of the blame for the team's failings to this point, there is not doubt that the team has failed to find and rally behind a leader on the pitch.

While the transfer window may help bring in some goal-scoring talent or some help in the mid-field, it is unlikely that Fulham will find an on-pitch general to help them out in the leadership department.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Is Scripting for Teachers a Denial of Their Professionalism

Via Joanne Jacobs comes the question of whether or not teaching using a script is actually worth the effort. Linking to a post by Education Gadfly's Liam Julian, Jacobs wonders if Julian's analogy holds up. Julian writes,
The popular value of ___________ creativity and autonomy as high priorities must give way to a willingness to follow certain carefully prescribed ________ practices."

Replace the first blank with the word "doctor," the second with the word "medical," and you've constructed a commonsense sentence that will garner nods of agreement. Replace the first with "teacher" and the second with "instructional," however, and you've got on your hands a 40-year-old dogfight.

The above sentence is originally found--with the words "teacher" and "instructional"--on the Direct Instruction website. One also finds out on the website "that 32 of 34 qualifying studies demonstrated a positive effect of Direct Instruction on student achievement" and that the practice, which provides teachers with scripted classroom-lessons, is effective in improving academic performance in a bevy of subjects and has a positive effect on students' social skills.

Direct Instruction is not promoted only by its own website, either. Others think highly of the practice (see here, here, here, and here, for example).

Yet, despite the reams of data showing Direct Instruction's effectiveness, the approach remains controversial, in large part because of educators who find its methods stultifying. The practice is being attacked nationally and locally. After administrators in Providence began this year using Direct Instruction in seven of the city's lowest performing elementary schools, Roger Eldridge, a dean at Rhode Island's Feinstein School of Education, told the Providence Journal that teachers would be "jumping through hoops." Others lamented that teachers would lose their ability to be creative in the classroom.

But when doctors use specific, scripted methods, nobody suggests they are "jumping through hoops" or despairs because surgeons can't be "creative" in the OR. It's worth asking: Why do we want our public-school teachers to be "creative"?

Medical training is scientifically-based and prizes results over creativity. Would that this were so in education. A 2006 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality found that, out of 72 randomly selected education schools, only 11 taught all elements of the science of reading. The report's authors wrote, "The decision about how best to teach reading is repeatedly cast as a personal one, to be decided by the aspiring teacher." Reid Lyon, former chief of child development at the National Institutes of Health, has compared such teacher-centered practices to child neglect.

It is foolish to believe that big-hearted 22-year-olds will know, intrinsically, the best way to teach reading to a class of second graders, just as it is foolish to think that newly minted doctors can on their own derive the best way for treating a particular pathology. Surely, though, veteran teachers can teach without rigid, Direct Instruction curricula? Not necessarily. A comparison to the medical profession suggests that even the most grizzled teachers (and their students) may benefit greatly from scripted procedures.
I have often linked the medical and legal professions practices and continuing education as a model for the teaching profession. There is a certain symmetry to the matter and a certain dissonance as well.

For the most part, to answer Joanne Jacobs' question, I think the analogy holds up well. There is a one big caveat. Doctors are treating one patient at a time, often in isolation from other patients. While a series of patients may present with the same symptoms and require the same treatment, often responding in the same manner, a teacher is not dealing with one child at a time in isolation, but with a classroom.

But to be honest, I am not sure that is a reason to completely ignore the success of Direct Instruction as a methodology. Clearly, just like doctors, most students will resond to the standard presentation and instruction. It is only the outliers, those students whose performance is clearly not the norm, that would require a different intervention. Doctors have the same sort of procedures as well. If the standard treatment is not working, that is when doctors have to get creative.

Clearly in medicine results matter, more so than we may want to admit. We pay doctors to know the standard treatments and then we pay to address the non-standard presentations.

One of the most common criticisms I recieve about supporting things like Direct Instruction is that it does not treat each student as an individual and medicine treats each individual separately. But think back to what was just written, doctors can treat patients with the same symptoms in the same way. Yes, each individual is respected but the doctor categorizes them by treatment methodology.

Teachers and schools do the same thing. No offense to all the teachers out there, but you do. I am not passing judgment, it is simply a matter of human nature. Go to any kindergarten classroom (and yes, I have been in more than a couple) and children are grouped by ability for certain activities, like reading or writing instruction. It makes instruction easier and allows the teacher to make the most of their limited time. While the concpet of tracking is looked upon with disfavor, it is nonetheless happening on a de facto basis if not in actuality.

Grouping students is not necessarily a bad thing so long as those groupings are not fixed or long term. What Direct Instruction allows, just like treating patients with the same symptoms in the same manner, is for the professional to find the outlier faster and then tailor a "treatment" plan quicker.

Fulham Makes a Change

Yesterday, Fulham FC fired manager Lawrie Sanchez after a disappointing first half of the season and the January transfer window fast approaching. Sanchez spent a whooping $50 million U.S. during the summer transfer window and the club's performance is not significantly better than last year when the team barely managed to avoid relegation. Now the team sits in the relegation zone again and ownership finds that unacceptable.

The big question to ask though is whether or not the owners will be willing to part with more money in the January transfer window to improve the Club's prospects. So let's assume that they are prepared to part with say another $20 million or so, where should the new manager spend the money.

The biggest problem that I see is that Fulham has been very, very lax in the last 15 minutes of a match. That the team has more draws than any other team in the Premier League, with seven, does not help. Most of those draws have come in the last 15 minutes of the match and the question is whether there is a breakdown in the defense allowing opposing teams to score. Earlier in the season, Sanchez allowed defender Zat Knight to go to Aston Villa. While I love Carlos Bocanegra, I wonder if he is capable of leading the backline against some of the better teams. There does not seem to be anyone else in the defense who is prepared and capable of leading a defense and solidifying the back line.

But what about more scoring? So far the team is suffering a minus 10 goal differential (and seven draws). American Clint Dempsey has 4 goals in 14 games to lead the team. Target man Brian McBride has been out for the last four months with a knee injury and is not likely to return to full match fitness for at least another month (if ever). Sanchez favorite and fellow Northern Ireland national David Healy and Welsh international Simon Davies each have three goals. The scoring performance is weak and that is not helping to cover the goal surrendering back line. One thing the Whites could do would be to consider recalling Collins John, currently out on loan to bolster the attack.

And of course, the big question is who will take the reins of the club. One name that has been mentioned is recently fired England national team manager Steve McLaren. But I am wondering who will take over. That will make a big difference in the direction of the club during the transfer window. But make no mistake, Fulham has to turn around their performance and the Holiday matches, under the leadership of Ray Lewington as interim manager, will provide the opportunity to make that happen.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dog Helping Students

This is a great story highlighted by Joanne Jacobs

Utah Closes Low Performing Public School

Real quick, check to see if Hell has frozen over!!! The state of Utah is closing the state's lowest performing school, a middle school that serves primarily students on a Ute reservation.
If the goal of No Child Left Behind is to shut down the worst schools in America, then the federal government has scored its first success in Utah.

After seven years of failing to meet testing and attendance requirements, seeing its student numbers plunge and its reputation decline, West Middle School in Fort Duchesne is shutting its doors. The school was technically the worst in the state. With fewer students came fewer teachers. No band to learn flute in. No wrestling team to join.

Forced by federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) rules to restructure West, the Uintah County School Board decided at the end of November to send the kids on a 20-mile bus ride into Vernal instead of shoring up a deteriorating institution. This is the first school in Utah whose struggles to meet NCLB led to its demise.

The roughly 120 students will leave a school almost entirely populated by members of the Northern Ute tribe to attend schools that are nearly exclusively white. This fact, tribal parents fear, along with a long bus trip is not the best decision for their children.
It's about time!!!!

I don't recall ever hearing about a public school being closed under NCLB standards (that doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but I doubt that it has). Is this the first? If so, that is a long time to make the decision.

I can see the concern parents have about a 40 mile roundtrip bus trip as it is a long haul to make. But what I don't understand is why that trumps the fact that school simply was not doing it job, that is educating kids.

Hat Tip:Joanne Jacobs

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Needing a Lesson In How Congress Works

No I am not talking about the average Joe on the street (who probably does need a lesson or two), but Members of Congress themselves. Betsy Newmark has the news story and the appropriate commentary:
I hope that Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters know better. They've both been around long enough to know how Congress works and that the majority can't push through whatever they want especially when there is divided government. It was always extremely doubtful that policy was going to be directed out of the House of Representatives. The Senate allows for the minority to stall and block legislation as long as they can stick together. Given that the Democrats had been adept at utilizing those rules when the Republicans were in the majority was there any real reason to think that Republicans wouldn't return the favor?

Too many people have bought into the fantasy of "I'm just a bill on Capitol Hill" and don't understand all the procedural blocks that can stall out legislation. When I teach the legislative process in my AP Government we have a day when we list all the "Kill Bill" moments in the process. If more students were taught about how the process really works, perhaps these activists wouldn't be so disappointed when the majority party can't get their desired legislation through.
I wonder if Kucinich and Waters have ever given long thought to the fact that the Framers designed this system to prevent willy nilly changes in policy and politics based on the "passions" of the People's House.

Probably not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rhee One Step Closer to Firing Authority

Yesterday, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee got one stop closer to having the ability to fire DC schools central office workers more or less at will.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee won an initial victory yesterday in her effort to shake up the school district's central office as the D.C. Council voted 10 to 3 to give her the power to fire nonunion workers without cause, an action supporters say could remove a major barrier to education reform.

"Today is a momentous day for District of Columbia public schools," Rhee said at a news briefing after the vote on the personnel bill. "It marks truly an amazing first step that we are finally going to put the best interest of students above everything else."

Council members also called it a day in which they put the needs of the 50,000 children in the troubled school system first.

"This is not the time to be timid," said Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).

The central office, often referred to as "825" for its address on North Capitol Street, has been criticized as one of the biggest hurdles to improving public education. Teachers have complained about not being paid on time. Principals have grumbled about work orders that get lost, leaving roofs or boilers unrepaired.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's takeover of the schools this year followed a trend in which big-city mayors have seized the reins of school districts, including in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Rhee said yesterday's vote takes the next step: getting more control over employees.

"This legislation is about creating a new culture," she said. "It is a culture of accountability."

Rhee said chancellors and superintendents throughout the country had e-mailed her and were "praying" that the legislation would pass and that their cities would follow the District's lead. "The eyes of the nation are on D.C.," Rhee said.
Indeed the eyes of the United States are upon DC and that is a good thing.

Rhee, who has made no secret of her belief that one of hte biggest barriers to reform is the sense of entitlement amoung school employees, particularly the central office employees. She has campaigned hard for this authority. The City Council will have to vote again on January 8, 2008 to fully and finally pass the measure. Given the overwhelming vote, and the relatively short time frame for union representives to cry about the move, the measure should pass in early January. I have no objections to protections for workers, but those protections should not, cannot and must not extend to protecting an incompetent worker. These people serve the taxpayer and the tax payer has a right to competent workers.

Hint to DC Central Office Wokers--take some time to make sure your desks are cleaned out over the Christmas holidy because the pink slips could start making their way to your inboxes on January 9.

The Forgotten Aspect of School Choice

Over at the Quick and the EdErin Dillon talks of school choice on steriods, the case of the Mapleton School District outside Denver where every school is a school of choice. Having read and listened to the linked NPR story, I finished Erin's post. This comment gave me pause:
The research and advocacy around school choice often focuses on building the supply of schools and reducing barriers to choice for parents and students, but not much has focused on what is needed to build a knowledgeable consumer base. There is a bit of a “build it and they will come” attitude about school choice reform. But without a culture of informed choice, school choice reforms might either see little to no impact, or might see choice (somewhat like the higher education market) shifting priorities to things like sports or fancy facilities and away from the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
I will readily admit that much of the school choice research has been focused on reducing barriers to choice and builiding up the supply of choice oriented schools. That much is fair and it may involve a certain amount of "build it and they will come" mentality.

But I don't think we need to be spending money or time to "build a knowledgeable consumer base" because we don't have to. First, we can agree that a school choice environment is a market economy, operating on the idea that people will choose for themselves the options they seek. One of the fundamental economic premises of a market economy is that almost every decision made by the millions of actors in an economic system are made in the absence of complete or perfect knowledge of the entire market. Indeed, consumers make choices based only on their wants, desires and/or needs, without regard or even care about what anyone else wants or needs. In short, millions of transactions occur each day without anyone having a complete picture of what is going on. Over time, those goods or services, in this case schools, will learn to deliver on what is demanded by the market. Any school that doesn't fails to a certain extent and must retool and reinvent itself.

Based on that premise, we don't need to build a knowledgeable consumer base--one already exists. If we assume for a moment that those people who can afford to live anywhere will consider the quality (however defined) of schools in their calculus for deciding where to buy a home, then we have an adequately informed consumer base. These folks have made a decision for themselves as to the quality of the schools. Now, whether that decision was an informed decision based upon their own wants or needs or a "short-cut" decision based upon what other people like them have done is not important. They have acted based upon their needs.

Now, at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum comes those without the choice of where to live. They may have little choice in where to send their children to school, but they can still act out of a desire to fulfill their desires in the education market. They may not know exactly what they want, but they certainly know what they don't want. Again, they do not have perfect information, but they can make a informed decision.

In either case, the individual actors are making an informed decision, based upon the information they have at hand. Admittedly, this information is far from perfect or complete, but we have in these two examples and "knoweldgeable consumer base." Now this may not be the knowledgeable consumer base that Dillon believes should exist, but that kind of knowledge base--almost perfect--does not and cannot exist. Dillon seems to think that people will be drawn, like college students and their families, to high-performing sports teams or flashy facilities, instead of quality teaching and learning. But what apparently Dillon wants to do is substitute her vision of quality school choice (based on teaching and learning) away from real school choice, in which a range of schools compete for enrollment and students--yes, including sports focused settings or fancy campuses.

There are certainly people out there who will choose a high powered basketball or football or soccer program over a math and science focused or foriegn language centric option. The beauty of a market system is that the option belongs to the consumer--not the policy maker. The individual consumer can make the choice based on their individual needs. Just as students may make decisions about colleges based on less than perfect information (or because their basketball team made it to the Final Four), parents and students can make such decisions in an elementary or secondary school market as well. Each decision is just as valid as any other and people can and will change their minds mid-stream. An education market means that changing their mind entails far less cost (i.e. selling and moving their home) than our current method.

So the research and advocacy on school choice should remain focused on building more options and lowering the barriers for admission into the education marketplace. If you build an education market place that is vibrant and real, the consumers will education themselves as far as they need to--be assured of that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hillary's Bill Problem

Douglas Kmiec (the one time dean of my law school) has this Wall Street Journal op-ed talking about what Hillary might do with Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton's commanding lead in the polls has diminished, and with Oprah Winfrey stumping for Barack Obama, she's called increasingly on the "star power" of husband Bill. But the ubiquitous presence of the former president on the campaign prompts a question: What will Hillary do with Bill if she is elected?

Of course, one might say Hillary has been wondering what to do with Bill for quite some time. But Mr. Clinton's prominent role in his wife's campaign--whether going head to head with Oprah for airtime or defending Hillary from "swift-boat-like attacks" from rival Democrats--has renewed the question: What exactly will he be doing on Jan. 21, 2009?

The issue of Mr. Clinton's potential role has a serious side for Democrats already concerned about her persistently high negatives. The notion that Mr. Clinton will be a "shadow president," effectively circumventing the constitutional limitations on presidential service, presents a campaign opportunity for the GOP.
So if neither a Senate nor executive position will do, what does work? While it's probably not something the Hillary campaign would want us to contemplate, we should remember that there are three branches of government, and that it is widely anticipated that there will be one or more vacancies on the Supreme Court during the next presidential term.
Kmiec goes on to talk about the possibility of Bill Clinton on the Supreme Court. This is not a new scenario, Bill Clinton on the Court. This article from the Village Voice came out over two and half years ago. My reaction then included these thoughts:
Justices are called upon to decide cases dealing with some arcane subjects of law and their training and experience to this point in the careers has led them to the point where they can do that research and scholarly work necessary to make those decisions. Former President Clinton--well he has spent most of his adult life in politics, not devoted to the study of law. This is not to say that I don't think Clinton is smart enough for the job, I do believe he is, but his training is not near the level it should be for being a Supreme Court Justice.

Third, the presence of Clinton on the Court would politicize the Court too much. I am not necessarily talking about cases involving political issues, such as abortion or privacy rights. Rather I am talking about the appointment of a person whose primary effort in recent decades has been political in nature. The Court was established as a check on what it refers to as the political branches, with such a political figure in its midst, will the Court legitimately be able to claim the mantle as an apolitical body.

Fourth, like it or not, the Supreme Court works largely in private, behind closed doors because as an institution, the Court believes the focus should be on the opinions and decisions it hands down in cases, not on the mechanics of its operation. By nature and temprament, the Justices, for the most part, shun the spotlight outside of legal circles. Clinton, by nature, is a person who craves the spotlight, enjoys its glare and welcomes the attention. I am not sure how that would play among the other members of the Court. Perhaps some light would be shed on the Court's workings, but I am not convinced that such exposure would be good for the Court.
I still think this is largely true, particularly the politization of the Court angle. Even though I don't know it for a fact, I am pretty sure that the GOP would be able to hold the line on a filibuster of Bill Clinton's appointment to the Court and would likely get a fair number of Democrats to cross the aisle to support a filibuster. Politically, the move can't happen.

Still, there is the question of Bill's role in a Hillary White House. In 1992, they declared that America was getting two presidents for the price of one and that concept did not fly so well. What will Bill do on January 21, 2009--assuming his wife is elected, a proposition far from certain right now? There are two possible avenues.

First, Bill Clinton could have no role in a Hillary Clinton Administration. However, the perception will be there that he is playing too big a role, particularly if her actions are like his. The chatter will always be there, below the surface and quite frankly, that is not a good think for Hillary.

Second, Bill Clinton could have a big public, though relatively non-controversial role in the White House. This would be a symbolic role, not unlike what most First Ladies do, working on a generally wholesome topic with as much positive publicity as possible. This would keep Bill busy, safely in a controlled limelight.

What absolutely cannot happen is for Bill Clinton to have a major policy role, a la Hillary Clinton and Clintoncare. The public is not likely to stand for it and Hillary would be a one term president.

How to Measure Schools?

It is not an easy question to ask, and yet is a question that seems to be taking up a lot of time in policy and political circles. But so far, no one can define what a school, any school should be doing. If you ask 100 people, you are likely to get 300 hundred different answers.

The Washington Post's article over the weekend included a fair amount of discussion from various groups including science/engineering groups, the NAACP, the NEA, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and on and on. (By the way, who assigned this hodgepodge article anyway--it doesn't really contain "news" so much as a litany of education platform planks of various groups.) Some of topics read like a line-up sheet for inside baseball, multiple measures, locally developed tests, more physical education, state tests, "gaming the system," and on and on. The problem with any debate about how to measure a successful school has skipped over the first step--define a successful school.

One approach to the critical definitional standard is advocated by Eduflack, a national standard:
If we look at the hand-ringing in the Post piece and in public and private discussions these past few years about accountability and the measurement of student, teacher, and school achievement, there is rarely discussion of national standards. It's as if it is the third rail of education reform (or maybe the 3 1/3 rail, after teacher accountability). We're afraid to talk about national standards, not knowing what might be behind the curtain if we allow that show to truly take the stage.

But isn't national standards the rhetorical solution to all of these criticisms?
  • It offers a bold solution that demonstrates that we, as a nation, are committed to strengthening our schools and ensuring our students have the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and the community
  • It provides a strong fix to the notion that some states may be lowering their standards to appear proficient
  • It states that every child, regardless of their home town or economic standing, has the right to a strong, proven effective public education
  • It brings equality to our expectations and measurement of classroom teachers, whether they be in urban, suburban or rural settings
  • It may just be the only "fair" approach to measuring our schools - with one common yardstick
I am supportive of a set of stringent national standards. I also think that from a separation of powers viewpoint, a national standard with state based sanctions for failing schools would be a better model than the current NCLB model of state testing and national sanctions. However, even with a national standard, we will still not have addressed the real question--what is a successful school. Only then can we development measurements to see if a school is achieving that benchmark.

Without a doubt, a successful school must be able to provide strong teaching in the core subjects. I think there is unanimity on reading and math as core subjects. Certainly writing, science, and history would make the cut, with strong consensus if not unanimity. But then we start losing things, literature, art, music, physical education, languages, civics/government, world history, etc. These are just the big subjects, and it shouldn't take too much of an effort to see that discussions about what should be included in a literature curriculum or a music curriculum. Then we have questions about an appropriate age level or educational level to introduce subjects.

The debate in education reform circles right now is centered on the wrong question. Yes, measurement is an important function of any program. But we still don't know what we should be measuring against. Even more fundamentally, we have difficulty in answering the question of why we educate our young people. But how to define a successful school is a fundamental question that we need to answer before moving on to make sure we are measuring properly.

I would submit that a successful elementary school would achieve, at minimum, the following items for all students:
  1. All students capable of reading at a fifth grade level.
  2. All students capable of basic "pre-algebra" mathematics, to include functions, complex multiplication/division, "word problems" and the like.
  3. All students possessing knowledge of physical science and biological sciences fundamentals; versed in the scientific process of experimentation and observation.
  4. All students possessing knowledge of American history, including exposure to our primary documents (The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights); exposure to key individuals in the development of our country; basic information about our system of government and the key differences between our system and the systems of other nations.
  5. All students exposed to one or more foreign languages
  6. All students knowledgeable about nutrition, exercise and general health maintenance.
  7. All students knowledgeable about the principles and basics of art, music and drama, including forms, methods, and performances.
  8. All students exposed to the various genres of literature and mythology.
Of course, this list may be too general and not exhaustive enough, but the idea is there. Of course, it remains to be developed what these principles would entail in detail, but the idea that we can begin to measure success of schools before we define, completely, what is a successful school is ludicrous.

For all the hand wringing in education reform circles, why is is that we don't or won't answer the basic questions of why and what, before we answer the how? Of course, part of the problem with the "why and what" question is that we fear the political debate. But it is time to move past the fear of the debate and actually engage. While we as a nation will no doubt continue to limp along with our currently misaligned system, do we really want to "limp along?" Is what we have now acceptable from both a political and sociological standpoint?

Friday, December 14, 2007

"No Suprises?" Hillary's Campaign Theme Scrapes Bottom of Barrell

Question to Hillary Clinton? Are you really that desperate?

The campaign team that came up with this idea is just plain dumb. Just because she has been a public figure for this long doesn't mean there is not dirt out there. No suprises is the sign of desperation and that is not going to help her poll numbers.

Also, the new tactic of scaring democratic voters by saying the the GOP will play dirty against the eventual nominee is pretty weak. It implies three things: First, that you know dirt exists, which means you have gone out of your way to find it yourself. Second, that by claiming the GOP will use the same dirt implies a belief in a vast right wing conspiracy again. Third, if Clinton gets really desperate in teh last couple of weeks before the first four primaries, she will pull out the dirt.

If she does the latter, it is quite likely that she will do down in flames, if not in the primary, certainly in the general election.

Baltimore Bus Beatin

Gateway Pundit has the story of the second attack on a Baltimore City bus in a week. The City is claiming it is not a racist attack. Two white men were beaten by four black men in the most recent attack.

Now switch the races around, what if four white men attacked two black men? The calls of racist attack would be so loud I would be able to hear them in my office in Frederick Maryland, some 40 miles away.

Baltimore, by the way, has a very large black population.

The victim of the first attack, Sarah Kreager has gone into witness protection because of a threat made against her by the cousin of one of her attackers.

Stupid, stupid.

Democratic Disaster in the Making

Remember when Nancy Pelosi declared that it was time for the adults to be in charge of Congress (or was it Hillary Clinton--not that it matters). Well, right now it looks like Congress is just a bunch of petulant pre-teens, unhappy about not getting their way, and that is just in the Democratic party.

The polarization of Congress has crippled the institution. The Democratic left has held their party hostage, with the result that a more moderate (marginally) Senate has been unable to move legislation. The result:
Unfinished work is piling up -- legislation to aid borrowers affected by the housing mess, rescue millions of middle-class families from a big tax increase and put stricter gas-mileage limits on the auto industry. Two months into the new fiscal year, Democrats are still scrambling just to keep the government open.
This is important work (arguably) but the Democrats can't seem to get things in gear and actually force a showdown with the President.

But what bothers me is that most Americans are fed up with the situation and we are still going to be facing largely the same problem in 2009. Most of the current Congress will be re-elected and neither party has a vested interest in actually making sure they get legislative work done. Of course, part of the problem with the current Congress is that they are trying to out executive the President and they simply cannot do it. If Congress could settle down and do the things that Americans want addressed (see above), then they might actually make some progress. But most American's don't want to end the war, they don't want Congress to spend money like a teenage heiress on Rodeo Drive without a credit limi and they want Congress to address the problems of average Americans, not the problems Democrats have with President Bush.

Besty Newmark sums it up well, this is how Congress was DESIGNED to work:
So this story is nothing new except maybe to people who don't understand how the Congress works. The real story has been that the Republicans ability to hold together. In the Senate, 41 votes can block anything. And they have held together and supported President Bush despite Bush's low approval ratings.

Since this situation was predictable, the question also arises of Democrat overpromises. They should have known that they couldn't do all that they were promising to do. I wrote a column a year ago about what a sorry history our nation has of trying to run a war from Congress. But the Democrats acted as if they could rise above the rules of our political system because they had won the 2006 elections. And now they're reaping the reward of frustrated supporters who are angry that everything they were promised has not come to pass.

Please remember all this as you listen to all the presidential candidates talk about how they're going to bring about change in Washington. Without those 60 votes in the Senate, little is going to change. And gridlock will result. And both sides will end up sniping at each other and casting blame. And the media will complain about partisan bickering. The supposed "change agent" will be disappointed and will join in with the blame game while supporters will be angry . It will happen. Count on it.
Good point.

Of course, a good politician in the White House will help, no matter which party holds Congress. Democrats have shown no willingness to work with the President on issues of concern to Americans, so why should the President who has been all but beseiged as incompetent, a fool, dangerous cowboy or all the above by Democrats, be the one to give in? The lack of civility from both camps has led to the deadlock on Capitol Hill. Believe it or not it is possible to hold opposing views and be civil to one another.

But this is how the Framers wanted the government to work, slowly and through consensus and competition.

whenb 10th Graders Laugh at Your Gambit

From Betsy Newmark:
My AP Government classes are reviewing now for their midterm. Yesterday we were talking about how politicians try to manipulate the media and this story came up. Their reaction was instantaneous. Why would anyone care about what he did in high school? And they burst out laughing at Shaheen's attempt to make it seem like he was just worried about what the GOP would do. When 10th graders laugh at a political gambit you have to wonder what the adults were thinking about.
Betsy's 10th graders were laughing about the story that NH Clinton advisor revealed details about Obama's past drug use. The reason, according to the Clinton camp is that the GOP would have found out.

Well, maybe they would have and maybe they wouldn't have released if they had found out. Betsy also linked to a story about the candidate setting the tone:
In the spin room after today's debate, Obama adviser David Axelrod said that Obama had told Clinton today that "leadership came from the top" in regards to negative attacks and campaigning.

Axelrod said that the two senators spoke for about 10 minutes today, during which Clinton apologized for the comments made by her New Hampshire co-chair Billy Shaheen, who told the Washington Post that Obama's past cocaine use would make him vulnerable to GOP attacks. "Senator Obama expressed to Senator Clinton it's important for campaigns to send a signal from the top as to what type of campaign they want to run. If you send a signal that negative campaigning is the fun part of campaigns and treat it as a sport, then you are sending a signal down the line that it's all okay. They have to decide if they want to send a different signal and certainly by asking Mr. Shaheen to leave that would be a different signal," Axelrod said.

Axelrod went on to say that leadership in campaigns "flowed from the top down," and Clinton's previous comments that the "fun starts" when candidates begin to attack each other set a tone that allowing negative attacks were okay.
Hillary Clinton's willingness to use this kind of attack is a fixture of hte aides closest and most loyal to her. But it looks like the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire are not having it this time. It could be a rough couple of weeks for the Senator from New York.

Hillary's Woman Problems, Part III

On a couple of occaisions, I have written about Hillary Clinton's Woman problem. Now Reid Wilson is talking about it as well. In Iowa in particular, women could make up 60% of the Democratic primary vote. For Hillary to win, she will need to get a majority, a big majority of those votes. The problem is that the momentum is shifting to Obama and that is not a good sign for Hillary. Granted there are not a lot of black voters in Iowa or New Hampshire, so in a big sense, Iowa and New Hampshire will be an opportunity for Obama to show that not only can he win, or take a big enough share, of the woman vote to make certain Clinton loses. As Wilson writes:
From virtually the beginning of her campaign, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has made every effort to maximize her advantages among women voters. It seems a natural constituency for the first woman to climb to the top of a presidential field. Polls throughout the campaign have showed Clinton earning the support of far more women than men, giving Democrats hope that, in a general election, she would enlarge the party's traditional gender gap and cruise to the White House with stronger backing from women than any other candidate in history.

But now, as polls show her once-strong lead in Iowa slipping, the once-inevitable Democratic nominee looks human again, vulnerable to defeat from Illinois Senator Barack Obama. If Obama pulls off the once unthinkable scenario of beating Clinton, a post-mortem analysis will show it is women, once seen as Clinton's key to a guaranteed victory, who caused her defeat.
In looking back at Clinton's stump speeches, addresses and debate peformances, I have not seen much that would ensure she pulls a big gender gap victory. Sure, she will have a gender gap, but as I pointed out in my previous posts, her gap may not be as big as she hopes because is not appealing to women as much as she may think.

Neither Clinton's or Obama's politics are particularly appealing to me. But as Wilson points out, the tone between the two candidates is markedly different:
Obama's rise among women, some say, is thanks to a fundamentally different background from which the two candidates come. Clinton, a major player in Democratic politics for a decade and a half, has made it known that any effort to attack her will be met with a swift response. She has portrayed herself as tough on the campaign trail, willing to fight to get things done. Obama, by contrast, is new on the scene. He has promised to create a more open government and has emphasized compromise and hope.

"There's a real difference between the candidates in distinguishing their leadership style," said Selzer. Because of issues ranging from husband Bill Clinton's presidential library being slow to open records, to questionable fundraising practices from campaign associates like Norman Hsu, to the partisan tensions of the Clinton Administration, "people hearken back to a time when people felt like things weren't on the up and up," she said.

Obama, meanwhile, has focused much of his appeal to women on his personal story. "I know what it's like to be raised by a single mom who's trying to work and go to school and raise two kids at the same time, doesn't have any support from the father," he told the New York Times. "These are issues I'm passionate about." Michelle Obama has told audiences that her husband is "a man comfortable with strong women in his life."

Those statements are music to women voters' ears. Obama "comes across as authentic and a sympathetic figure who know women need a change," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, now a contributor to several news organizations and not associated with any campaign. "For now, he is believable, and women like honesty in a candidate."
The more positive tenor of Obama appeals to women, and it must be said men as well, who look for a more positive outlook. Campaigns, particularly open seat campaigns, are about the future and for many people, and particularly many women, Hillary Clinton is not about the future, she is the past in a different dress. Obama presents an image of hope and optimism which is driving his success at the polls.

Expectations and Early Races

In politics, expectations, unfortunately, mean a great deal and that is why being the frontrunner is a tough position to have when dealing with early round primaries. Now that the presidential primary season will be all but over in a just about two months, expectations mean a great deal more this year than in the past. Howard Fineman talks, sort of, about expectations:
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is teetering on the brink, no matter what the meaningless national horserace numbers say. The notion that she has a post-Iowa “firewall” in New Hampshire is a fantasy, and she is in danger of losing all four early contests, including Nevada and South Carolina – probably to Sen. Barack Obama, who is now, in momentum terms, the Democratic frontrunner.
The problem with this year's democratic race, in particular, is that Hillary Clinton has been the front runner for so long that it is all but expected that she will be over taken. Obama has done just that, over taken her and put her on the brink.

Now I like a good primary battle and watching the Democratic battle has been, to a certain extent, far more amusing that the GOP battle. Clinton has, for so long, tried to build this air of inevitability that people have begun to question whether inevitability is such a good thing. National polls still give Hillary Clinton a double digit lead. But polls, as many people will tell you, including Fineman in his article, don't mean a damn thing. The only poll that matters is the one where voters make an actual choice that means something. The Real Clear Politics poll average has Obama within striking distance and he clearly has the momentum in New Hampshire.

But here is the funny thing about expectations. The expecation is that Hillary wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. In short, the expectations for Hillary are to win and win big. If she doens't meet those expectations, she loses, even if she wins by narrow margins in Iowa and New Hampshire. If she doesn't meet expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire and loses in South Carolina and/or Nevada--she is toast. Obama will surge and Hillary Clinton will spend the rest of her political career as a Senator from New York. But in reality, Clinton cannot meet the expecations that her campaign has created themselves. No candidate should try to wrap themselves in a cloak of inevitability, to do so creates an expectation that if not lived up to, will surely doom them.

Reliving the Past and Not Moving Beyond It

Local Frederick County attorney E. Kevin Lollar is proposing a plaque to be added to the bust of Roger Taney currently outside the Frederick City Hall. Lollar noted:
said he doesn’t dwell on the past, he focuses on the future.

It is with that mindset that the local attorney and development director for the Frederick Housing Authority is working to ensure a bust of Roger Brooke Taney at City Hall will educate rather than omit the former jurist’s role in a landmark Supreme Court decision.
‘‘Our history is our history,” he said. ‘‘We can’t change it, but maybe we can look at it and learn from it.”

Five months ago, the Frederick County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sought the removal of the 76-year-old bust from the hub of Frederick’s government. The group’s reason was Taney’s controversial opinion in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Taney, a former Frederick resident, authored the majority opinion for the Supreme Court, stating that blacks, even those freed from slavery, were not citizens and had no rights.

In his decision, Taney referred to blacks as ‘‘beings of inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race ...”

Memorializing a man whose words preached prejudice did not sit well with members of the NAACP or Lollar, who is black.
There can be no doubt that Taney was a racist and the the Dred Scot decision was a nadir in American legal and constitutional history, but do we have to keep reliving the past?

Anyone who sees Taney's bust and wants to know more will quickly learn of Taney's opinion in Dred Scot and its influence on the events leading up to the Civil War. Do we have to continually air our dirty laundry?

Lollar claims that he wants to live for the future, and I am not suggesting that we bury or forget the past, but I am unsure how holding on to a Supreme Court decision that is over 160 years old, the product of another time in history, and a demonstrably wrong decision helps us move forward. If we are looking for a way to move forward, why don't we simply admit Taney a racist, that it was bad and start to find a way in this country to make sure that race is not an issue. Throwing the past in the the path to a colorblind society is not the way to make a color-blind society.

Crossposted at Red Maryland

Frederick Charter Government On Hold

Paul Gordon had comments in the Frederick Gazette about the (hopefully temporary) demise of the charter govnerment movement in Frederick County. While I can understand why the local League of Women voters pulled out since there does not seem to be much interest amoung the County Commissioners themselves to follow through on the effort, the hibernation of the movement is a concern.

In some fairly significant matters, Frederick County and Western Maryland are not much like the rest of the state. Frederick is more rural (although that is changing rapidly), is more conservative (also changing) and tends to be more self-reliant. It has always seemed anachronistic for Frederick to have to go, hat in hand, every year to the General Assembly to do anything of substance. Some members of the Frederick County General Assembly Delegation, specifically Del. Galen Clagett (D) also feel that way. But what is strange is that we in Frederick have not realized the benefits of a charter government. The first, and most important, is that a charter government is here, right in front of us, not a hundred miles away in Annapolis. Second, a charter government is more robust, capable of responding to immediate needs without having to wait for the General Assembly to gather to address immediate needs. Yes, the Commissioners can do some emergency type legislative activities, but it is limited and shouldn't be.

Gordon was right when he said that it is the people we elect that is more important than the form of government we have. This is, of course, true, but when the bulk of the legislative activity we ask of the General Assembly can be held hostage by Delegates over which Frederick County Residents have no control, it is pretty difficult to see how that is to our continued advantage. Yes, a great deal of "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" goes on in the General Assembly when it comes to county legislative requests, but that doesn't mean it is a good thing.

Gordon used Washington County's charter effort as an example, noting that a vast proportion of the legislation passed by a County Council (on the ballot in February for approval by the county voters to have a strong county council form of charter government) would still have to be approved by the General Assembly.
Washington County's analysis showed that in the 2001-2005 period, 130 county bills were proposed by the delegation with 58 becoming law. Of those 58, if there had been home rule, only 12 bills, 9.2 percent of the original 130, would have escaped a vote by the General Assembly. That’s hardly significant.
Well, let's not be too hasty. What were those 12 bills? What was their subject matter? Were those the top 12 issues of concern to voters? Did they make the top 20? Just because only a few bills would not have needed General Assembly approval does not mean that they were insignificant.

Maryland's laws regarding the power of Counties to act independently has always sort of amused me. Individual cities within a county, say Frederick City or Brunswick or Thurmont, have a city council and mayors capable of a fair amount of independent action, but the county government is not.

Frederick needs to revive the charter government movement and either adopt a strong executive format or a strong council format. But for goodness sakes, let's move out of the 19th Century.

Cross-posted at Red Maryland

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Democrat's Fuzzy Budget Math

Redstate has the story of how Democrats have tried to put $23 billion more into the budget than the President requested. How you might ask:
According to an analysis done by the Republican Study Committee, the omnibus bill would include up to $7.4 billion in “emergency spending” to avoid spending restraints. (Tucked away in the bill are plenty of examples of non-emergency items, such as $100 million for spending for security at political conventions, which take place regularly every four years).(link in original)
Now $100 million is a small percentage of $23 billion, but it does seem extraoridnarily high for the conventions (even considering it is split among the two parties).

Al Sharpton Under Investigation by FBI, IRS

Apparently there are questions whether Sharpton misstated campaign revenues in his 2004 presidential run or improperly intermingled funds from non-profit and for-profit ventures.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Public Education Is A Business Deal--Parents Are Becoming Better Consumers

Teacher Leader Network member Renee Moore, highlights an interesting issue related to high stakes testing and the concern she has for the "de-professionalization" of teachers.
There is mounting evidence that many of the strategies broadly adopted in response to high stakes, low quality testing around the country are shrinking the curriculum and actually causing U.S. students to regress rather than progress intellectually. More subtle, yet equally disturbing, is the growing realization that those same ill-conceived reforms can ruin good teachers (those that aren't driven out of the system entirely).
One of the scenes Moore reveals happens when teachers move from high needs schools, which tend to be quite rigidly organized with a very controlled curriculum, to more "suburban schools" populated by professionals with a very high interest and engagement in their children's education.
From M.R.-- "While I wish it was as easy as many people think it is, teaching in the suburbs comes with its own specialized skill set. Without that skill set you are shark bait. Except in my environment it is the parents that will eat you up. They are accomplished professionals in their own right and they are used to their children performing at the highest levels. If the kids stumble, there is heck to pay. They want technology integration, differentiated instruction and individualized lesson planning everyday, every hour...(T)his is how they lead their professional lives 24/7, and they treat teachers just like someone they would interact with on a business deal. You better know your stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it. If you can't, they'll demand that their student be moved (and the request will always be honored) to another teacher's classroom who can...
"When the teachers from high-needs schools transfer to my environment, they don't know how to react to micro-managed parental involvement..."(emphasis added)
Admitting that there are some parents who take their involvement in their child's education to an (unhealthy) extreme, I don't think there is anything wrong with hyper-invovlement and no parent should be embarassed by it. I am not and refused to be placated on such matters.

However, the highlighted text above indicates something interesting. Moore and (I assume M.R.) are accomplished teachers at the top of their profession. Yet what I find puzzling is their belief that parents who ask teachers to "know their stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it" are somehow causing the "de-professionalization of teachers." What I read implicitly in the highlighted and bolded text above is that M.R. knows of teachers who view this characterization of public education as a business deal as somehow distasteful, beneath the dignity and nobility of public education and otherwise just contrary to how they view their employment.

Parents who are invovled in their child's education may be treating teachers like the other side of a business deal--and what is wrong with that? Of course, education is a business deal; it is the payment of money in return for services--the quintessential definition of a business deal. In a private school setting, the exchange is explicit and two-way. No private school teacher could reasonably expect not to be questioned by a parent about the services that teacher provides. Any such private school teacher who was not responsive to parental inquiries and demands would likely find themselves looking for a new job.

But somehow public school teachers have forgotten that they are the service providers in a business deal. The fact that the exchange of money (via taxes) for the return of educational services involves the government having multiple levels in between does not diminish the exhange of money for services--a business deal. That some parents with children in private school have caught onto this fact and are beginning to demand the same type of service and responses from public school teachers as they do of other service providers. The business deal is a little more complicated in a public school setting, in that the transaction is circuitous on the payment end, but direct on the service end. Just because the payment is circuitous doesn't mean the consumer is going to abstain from ensuring they get top quality for their payment.

Parents are paying for the right to send their kid to a school through taxes, etc. Is it any wonder that these parents then want answers? The fact that the exchange invovles a third party, namely the government, does not lessen the exchange.

Instead of Moore's worry that such activities lead to the de-professionalization of teachers puzzles me. It would seem to me that the exact opposite should be happening. Professionals of all stripes, lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, engineers, what ever, must be able to "know their stuff, be able to explain it, defend it and advocate for it." Very few people simply assume a doctor is right just because he is a doctor and we routinely question a doctor's actions (and they themselves routinely review their own activities to improve their service). If a doctor or lawyer does not provide you answers to your questions or defend their actions to you in a reasonable manner, the assumption is that the doctor is a) incompetent, b) doesn't care or c) a combination of the two. The result is that in a marketplace of service providers, you go somewhere else.

The problem of course is that in a public school setting, the marketplace does not exist to move your child to a different service provided, except for the demand to have the child moved to another class. This is even more true in the suburban setting among professionals who cannot afford to send their kids to private school and the choices for alternatives to their local public school are limited. So these motivated and business like parents exercise the only choice they have, a demand for a different teacher. They are playing by standard business rules within the constraints of the system.

Teachers, who argue vociferously that they too are professionals, that react poorly to such demands by parents to explain, defend and advocate for their choices are the cause of the de-professionalization of teaching. The sooner that more parents, teachers and administrators realize that public education is just as much a business deal as private education, the quicker we will see that "professionalization" of the teaching force and the improved delivery of public educational services.

Hat Tip: Blogboard