Happy Valentine's Day

W5 is a nebula, a giant cloud of gas roughly 6000 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Saturday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Credit Where Due Or You Reap What You Sow Edition

Saturday Bonus Cartoon Fun


I watch 4 tv shows: Countdown, Rachel Maddow, Monk and House. It's pretty obvious why I like the 2 news shows. I like Rachel's show more and more because she is so smart and so well prepared, respectful, funny, and adorable. Keith is getting more and more snipey, but I still watch.

House is great because I like to think of myself as House; I know more than you, and I don't give a shit. Although I do act this way sometimes, I realize I shouldn't, unlike House.

Monk is a great show, and Tony Shaloub is great. So far, this season has been a disappointment. Not very funny, or clever. And I can figure out "what happened" way too early in the show. Too bad. It was a great show.

Let's Get Education Right

Good, simple article on the reality of schools. This kind of stuff can not be expressed enough: The reformers are shooting themselves in the feet.
Control? Or, collaboration?
By Peter Henry
Created 02/14/2009 - 10:34

Lot's of fulmination right now as Obama takes office and people like Arne Duncan, his new Secretary of Education, begin to flesh out what approach they will take in their new positions.

Duncan is saying some of the right things. Too much testing. We need to improve dramatically. This is our moment to get it right.

But, he's also saying some things [1] that could continue taking us down the path of top-down, authoritarian control over the learning of children.

Duncan also wants states to adopt academic standards that are more rigorous and aligned with those of other leading nations. "The idea of 50 states doing their own thing doesn't make sense," Duncan says, referring to the current patchwork of standards and tests. "I worry about the pressure because of NCLB to dummy those standards down."

At this point, I hope teachers realize that when people use the word "high standards" and "accountability" and "achievement gaps" they are in fact engaging in political speak, not a policy or philosophy of education. What will work in education, in our nation's schools, are actual policies, programs and philosophy, not more political jargon and posturing around "getting tough". After two decades of increasingly pitched and uninformed political rhetoric about education, we have gone backwards on the track of figuring out how to bring young people into the world of learning.

And that's an incalculable waste. Sad beyond belief. And, we will pay for it. We're paying for it now.

I saw the other day where the person who replaced Arne Duncan in Chicago as schools chief was the current Transit Commissioner [2]. So, to run a school district you need experience in running trains and buses?

That is, the job of education is one of management, of running a tight ship, of making sure that people follow orders and obey the leader.

I can't say this strong enough, and I don't have time to lay this all out in a single blog entry, but here it is:

The truth about success in education is that it is all about collaboration, not control.

What we have seen in the last several decades in education politics, is this idea that we have to exert more and more control over kids, over teachers, over schools. Only by having more control, more dominance, more of the iron fist, will we ever make progress.

Word from the wise down below: It ain't working. And more. It will never work. We cannot force young people to learn. We cannot scare them to study harder. We cannot order them to do better on exams.

And the same is true for teachers. We can't force them to get their student's test scores up. We can't order them to spend more time grading. We can't require them to say certain words in a certain order on a certain day.

Though this doesn't keep the people in power from trying. And, they will continue to try.

But, as many, many teachers will patiently explain: too much control never works. It will never liberate a student's sense of spirit; it will never get them to enjoy learning; it will never allow them to value the importance of truth and meaning. Nor will higher test scores solve our society's problems, make teachers feel better about their jobs, nor keep young people from screwing up or falling by the wayside.

We essentially have only two paths open to us, as teachers, as superintendents, as politicians: We can try harder and harder to control the outcomes that we want to achieve -- and use data to micro-manage every aspect and strategy for better control. Or, we can realize that the best outcomes come from collaboration, from trust, from understanding that setting a high bar for success is about encouragement, support and facilitating far more than it is about threats, fear and punishment.

This goes for the classroom, this goes for the boardroom, this goes for the legislature. We either have to learn to honor the best parts of the people that we want to lead, or we continue to put them in shackles, demand more and say "Mush".

We have been on an authoritarian spree for over two decades, in our schools, our companies and our politics. It isn't working.

Mr. Duncan is saying good things about learning, about collaboration, about building something dramatically better. It has to start with understanding that trying to "control" young people, teachers or workers is the precise problem that is running us into the ground. The time for collaboration is here; it was always here.

Are we brave enough to actually believe it?

Saturday Cartoon Fun: Foreign Perspective Edition


Friday Cartoon Fun: Fuck (Updated)


The Last Best Hope On Earth

Here is the transcript of President Obama's speech tonight in Springfield. He is impressive, still. Happy Birthday to Abraham Lincoln.
It is wonderful to be back in Springfield, the city where I got my start in elected office, where I served for nearly a decade, and where I launched my candidacy for President two years ago, this week – on the steps of the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln served and prepared for the presidency.

It was here, nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, that the man whose life we are celebrating today bid farewell to this city he had come to call his own. On a platform at a train station not far from where we’re gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd that had come to see him off, and said, “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.” Being here tonight, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiments.

But looking out at this room, full of so many who did so much for me, I’m also reminded of what Lincoln once said to a favor-seeker who claimed it was his efforts that made the difference in the election. Lincoln asked him, “So you think you made me President?” “Yes,” the man replied, “under Providence, I think I did.” “Well,” said Lincoln, “it’s a pretty mess you’ve got me into. But I forgive you.”
Update: Whole speech now on 2 videos, post-expando!!

It is a humbling task, marking the bicentennial of our 16th President’s birth – humbling for me in particular, I think, for the presidency of this singular figure in so many ways made my own story possible.

Here in Springfield, it is easier, perhaps, to reflect on Lincoln the man rather than the marble giant, before Gettysburg and Antietam, Fredericksburg and Bull Run, before emancipation was proclaimed and the captives were set free. In 1854, Lincoln was simply a Springfield lawyer, who’d served just a single term in Congress. Possibly in his law office, his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame, he put some thoughts on paper for what purpose we do not know:

“The legitimate object of government,” he wrote, “is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, by themselves.”

To do for the people what needs to be done but which they cannot do on their own. It is a simple statement. But it answers a central question of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Why did he land on the side of union? What was it that made him so unrelenting in pursuit of victory that he was willing to test the Constitution he ultimately preserved? What was it that led this man to give his last full measure of devotion so that our nation might endure?

These are not easy questions to answer, and I cannot know if I am right. But I suspect that his devotion to union came not from a belief that government always had the answer. It came not from a failure to understand our individual rights and responsibilities. This rugged rail-splitter, born in a log cabin of pioneer stock; who cleared a path through the woods as a boy; who lost a mother and a sister to the rigors of frontier life; who taught himself all he knew – this man, our first Republican President, knew, better than anyone, what it meant to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. He understood that strain of personal liberty and self-reliance at the heart of the American experience.

But he also understood something else. He recognized that while each of us must do our part, work as hard as we can, and be as responsible as we can – in the end, there are certain things we cannot do on our own. There are certain things we can only do together. There are certain things only a union can do.

Only a union could harness the courage of our pioneers to settle the American west, which is why he passed a Homestead Act giving a tract of land to anyone seeking a stake in our growing economy.

Only a union could foster the ingenuity of our farmers, which is why he set up land-grant colleges that taught them how to make the most of their land while giving their children an education that let them dream the American dream.

Only a union could speed our expansion and connect our coasts with a transcontinental railroad, and so, even in the midst of civil war, he built one. He fueled new enterprises with a national currency, spurred innovation, and ignited America’s imagination with a national academy of sciences, believing we must, as he put it, add “the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery…of new and useful things.” And on this day, that is also the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth, let us renew that commitment to science and innovation once more

Only a union could serve the hopes of every citizen – to knock down the barriers to opportunity and give each and every person the chance to pursue the American dream. Lincoln understood what Washington understood when he led farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers to rise up against an empire. What Roosevelt understood when he lifted us from Depression, built an arsenal of democracy, and created the largest middle-class in history with the GI Bill. It’s what Kennedy understood when he sent us to the moon.

All these presidents recognized that America is – and always has been – more than a band of thirteen colonies, more than a bunch of Yankees and Confederates, more than a collection of Red States and Blue States. We are the United States of America and there isn’t any dream beyond our reach, any obstacle that can stand in our way, when we recognize that our individual liberty is served, not negated, by a recognition of the common good.

That is the spirit we are called to show once more. The challenges we face are very different now. Two wars, and an economic crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime. Jobs have been lost. Pensions are gone. Families’ dreams have been endangered. Health care costs are exploding. Schools are falling short. And we have an energy crisis that is hampering our economy, threatening our planet, and enriching our adversaries.

And yet, while our challenges may be new, they did not come about overnight. Ultimately, they result from a failure to meet the test that Lincoln set. To be sure, there have been times in our history when our government has misjudged what we can do by individual effort alone, and what we can only do together; when it has done things that people can – or should – do for themselves. Our welfare system, for example, too often dampened individual initiative, discouraging people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. With respect to education, we have all too frequently lost sight of the role of parents, rather than government, in cultivating a thirst for knowledge and instilling those qualities of a good character – hard work, discipline, and integrity – that are so important to educational achievement and professional success.

But in recent years, we’ve seen the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction. It’s a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government – this constant rejection of any common endeavor – cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges. It cannot refurbish our schools or modernize our health care system; lead to the next medical discovery or yield the research and technology that will spark a clean energy economy.

Only a nation can do these things. Only by coming together, all of us, and expressing that sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility – for ourselves and one another – can we do the work that must be done in this country. That is the very definition of being American.

It is only by rebuilding our economy and fostering the conditions of growth that willing workers can find a job, companies can find capital, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is the key to our competitiveness can flourish. It is only by unleashing the potential of alternative fuels that we will lower our energy bills and raise our industries’ sights, make our nation safer and our planet cleaner. It is only by remaking our schools for the 21st century that our children will get those good jobs so they can make of their lives what they will. It is only by coming together to do what people need done that we will, in Lincoln’s words, “lift artificial weights from all shoulders [and give] all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

That is what is required of us – now and in the years ahead. We will be remembered for what we choose to make of this moment. And when posterity looks back on our time, as we are looking back on Lincoln’s, I do not want it said that we saw an economic crisis, but did not stem it. That we saw our schools decline and our bridges crumble, but did not rebuild them. That the world changed in the 21st century, but America did not lead it. That we were consumed with small things when we were called to do great things. Instead, let them say that this generation – our generation – of Americans rose to the moment and gave America a new birth of freedom and opportunity in our time.

These are trying days and they will grow tougher in the months to come. There will be moments when our doubts rise and our hopes recede. But let’s always remember that we, as a people, have been here before. There were times when our revolution itself seemed altogether improbable, when the union was all but lost, and fascism seemed set to prevail. And yet, what earlier generations discovered – what we must rediscover right now – is that it is precisely when we are in the deepest valley, precisely when the climb is steepest, that Americans relearn how to take the mountaintop. Together. As one nation. As one people. That is how we will beat back our present dangers. That is how we will surpass what trials may come. And that is how we will do what Lincoln called on us to do, and “nobly save…the last best hope of earth.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless America.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in Shrewsbury, England. Darwin’s father was Robert Darwin, a physician; and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a famous philosopher and naturalist. Darwin’s mother, Susannah Wedgwood, died when he was eight years old (Wyhe, 2002). Charles showed great interest in collecting things, especially beetles. At the age of sixteen Darwin was sent to study medicine at Edinburgh University. Because of his repulsion of surgery without the use of anesthesia and lack of interest in medicine, Darwin earned poor grades and his father sent him to the University of Cambridge where he was to become a clergyman. He stayed at the University of Cambridge for three years and continued to do poorly in academia. In 1828, Darwin was introduced to John Stevens Henslow, a cleric-botanist and his biology professor. Henslow’s mentorship led to Darwin’s interest in science.


Chicago Teachers Beat Kids!?

Holy shit! I have worked with children my whole life, and I have never seen any teacher hurt a kid (years ago I did see a preschool teacher, who had been a linebacker, shove a kid in anger, and the kid fell and got a bloody nose, but that was not a public school, so I am not counting it; but it fucking counts!)

Also, I do not think Arne Duncan should be held responsible. He was just the CEO. Like Bush and Cheney, I think those in charge of disasters deserve raises and medals.
'Painful Lessons': Abuse At Chicago Schools

Hundreds Of Kids Beaten, Whipped, Even Choked By Teachers, Coaches

Hundreds of students have allegedly been beaten by teachers, coaches and staff at Chicago Public Schools. 2 Investigator Dave Savini continues his ongoing investigation involving the illegal use corporal punishment.

Treveon Martin, 10, is afraid of a teacher at his school.

"I've seen him hit five of them in the classroom," Martin said.

Martin says he and others have been hit, grabbed and even struck with a belt.

"He's threatened almost all the kids in his classroom," Martin said.

He says it happened at Robert Emmet Academy in November but a Chicago Public School investigator didn't talk to him until last week - 70 days after the case was reported, and not until after we started asking questions.

"He holded my arms and he picked my body up, and then he just slammed me on the desk," Martin said.

An exclusive CBS 2 investigation discovered Treveon Martin is one of at least 818 Chicago Public School students, since 2003, to allege being battered by a teacher or an aide, coach, security guard, or even a principal. In most of those cases - 568 of them - Chicago Public School investigators determined the children were telling the truth.

"I'm thinking that I don't really feel safe," Martin said.

The 2 Investigators found reports of students beaten with broomsticks, whipped with belts, yard sticks, struck with staplers, choked, stomped on and pushed down stairs. One substitute teacher even fractured a student's neck.

But even more alarming, in the vast majority of cases, teachers found guilty were only given a slap on the wrist.

CBS 2 informed former Chicago Public School CEO Arne Duncan of our investigative findings shortly before he was promoted to U.S. Secretary of Education.

"If someone hits a student, they are going to be fired. It's very, very simple," Duncan said.

Before heading to Washington, he vowed to take action.

"Any founded allegation where an adult is hitting a child, hitting a student - they're going to be gone," Duncan said.

But that's not what happened under Duncan's watch. Of the 568 verified cases, only 24 led to termination. Records show one teacher who quote "battered students for several years" was simply given a "warning" by the Board of Education.

And another student was given "100 licks with a belt." The abuse was substantiated, but the records show the teacher was not terminated.

Alderman Pat O'Connor is on the City Council Education Committee. He wants all these cases re-examined including the way Treveon Martin's was handled.

"I'll tell you what it is - it's deplorable," O'Connor said. "I really believe that the Board has dropped the ball in this instance."

He says this information was never brought to the committee's attention until now.

"You rely on them to follow the law, and clearly here, it doesn't appear that they have," O'Connor said.

There is a state law that bans corporal punishment. But as our 2 Investigators first exposed in September - students are being hit by coaches too. Paddles were confiscated, and CBS 2 exposed gym security tape at Simeon Career Academy showing a coach paddling volleyball players reportedly for missing serves.

Martin says the teacher injured him after he got into a scuffle with a classmate over an eraser.

"My back really hurted, and then at the end of the day, I had to go the hospital," Martin said.

His mother, Courtney Smith, says he was taken by ambulance and treated for a contusion on his back. It is children around his age who appear to be most at risk. The 2 Investigators found the students with the most complaints are in kindergarten through 8th grade.

"He doesn't have very much faith in anyone at his school," Smith said.

"He hurt my feelings," Martin said.

So why did it take over two months to look into Martin's case? School officials say it's because they have many cases to investigate. But just a few hours ago, an investigator determined the allegations against the teacher were unfounded. We are also told only two students were interviewed.

Incoming Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman is troubled by all these cases, including the case of Treveon Martin and promises to further review them, and that includes the process by which they are examined and investigated.

Alderman O'Connor is drafting a resolution and will bring our findings to the attention of the entire City Council this week.

Reich On Our Useless Congress

Wall Street's Congressional Perp Walk

CEOs of the nation's largest banks and financial institutions faced Congress today, defending how they used almost hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailout money. Members of the House Financial Services Committee wanted to know why the executives paid executive bonuses, bought corporate jets, put on parties, arranged employee junkets, and richly rewarded their shareholders with dividends, rather than lend the money to Main Street. Committee Chairman Barney Frank told the bank executives there was "a great deal of anger" across the country.

Anger, yes. Indeed, the hearing was something of a perp walk. But the pertinent question is what Congress will do to make sure Geithner's new plan for using more of the bailout money doesn't allow bank executives to do much the same, through back doors and loopholes.

In recent years, Congress has gotten into a habit of publicly shaming the executives of companies that have acted badly in some way. But little legislation emerges to force the companies to behave any differently in the future.

When oil prices soared in 2005 and early 2006, oil companies reaped extraordinary profits while millions of Americans had to pay more to fuel their cars and heat their homes. This prompted calls for Congress to enact a "windfall profits tax" on the oil companies, but not even a debate took place. Instead, Congress simply scolded oil company executives and publicly berated the companies. As oil prices and profits approached record levels, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, issued a public letter reprimanding the oil and gas industry and instructing its companies to make charitable donations – 10 percent of that quarter’s profits – to help poor people pay their heating bills that winter. "You have a responsibility to help less fortunate Americans cope with the high cost of heating fuels," Grassley said.

When BP’s carelessness on the North Slope led to the temporary shutdown of the nation’s largest oil field, in August 2006, Congress demanded BP executives appear in person to be held accountable. At the ensuing hearing, members from both sides of the aisle accused the executives of crass negligence. Representative Joe Barton excoriated them: "If one of the world’s most successful oil companies can’t do simple basic maintenance needed to keep the Prudhoe Bay field operating safely without interruption, maybe it shouldn’t operate the pipeline," he fumed. "I am even more concerned about BP’s corporate culture of seeming indifference to safety and environmental issues. And this comes from a company that prides itself in their ads on protecting the environment. Shame, shame, shame." The BP executives solemnly promised to be more careful in the future. That was the end of it.

When in 2005 Yahoo surrendered to Chinese authorities the names of Chinese dissidents who had used Yahoo email, and Google created for the Chinese a censored version of its search engine (removing such incendiary wordsa s "human rights" and "democracy," many Americans were outraged. Executives of both companies were summoned to appear before the House Subcommittee on Human Rights. Christopher Smith, its chairman, accused Yahoo of entering into a "sickening collaboration." He ridiculed the firm’s avowed justification for revealing the names of dissenters, saying if Anne Frank had put her diaries on email and Nazi authorities wanted to trace her down, Yahoo might have complied if Yahoo’s email system had exposed Nazi Germany to American culture. The late Tom Lantos, a leading Democrat on the committee and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, asked the assembled executives "are you ashamed? Yes or no?" He called their behavior a "disgrace" and asked how they could sleep at night. James Leach, a Republican from Iowa, accused Google of serving as "a functionary of the Chinese government," adding that "if we want to learn how to censor, we’ll go to you." Smith subsequently introduced a bill to prevent American companies from, among other things, cooperating with censorship, but no one expected it to pass, and neither Smith nor any other member of congress pushed for it.

Perp walks like these may serve a useful public function. Rituals of public shaming are not inconsequential. But they're no substitute for laws and penalties that prevent the conduct in question from recurring.
Hey, We The People....it's up to us! Write your representative (look in my sidebar and find the link to look up your representative) and tell them to have hearings!!! Lots of hearings!

Update: I am calling for hearings with consequences, like jail time, and real perp walks.

Update II:
A Truth Commission Now, War Crime Prosecutions To Follow

By Cernig

There's a new poll out from Gallup and USA Today which one is headlining as showing there's "no mandate for criminal prosecutions" and the other is headlining as showing that "most want an enquiry" into whether Bush's anti-terror policies broke the law.

Those headlines aren't mutually incompatible. There's a hard core of around 30% of Americans who still cleave to Bush as a hero, an unsung genius who can do no wrong and think that a president can just declare actions legal and be done with it. There's a slightly larger core of those who want America to return to the fold of the rule of law, presidential accountability and humanity. They've done some homework and realise that anti-terror tactics during the Bush Years were built upon the kind of deliberately twisted legal reasoning that got Nazi lawyers hanged at Nuremberg. And there's a group - the undecideds - who want to know more before they make their minds up, and would understandably prefer the evidence to come from official governmental sources rather than liberal blogs and human rights groups. They want to trust their government and want that government to bring the facts out in the open. That's just human nature and trying to spin the two different headlines about results of this poll as some liberal conspiracy is just being dishonest.

So give the people a Truth Commission. Let the evidence be made public in official hearings rather than tucked away in little-read reports from human rights groups about the Defense Department's co-operation in running CIA secret prisons or in obscure blog posts citing studies showing the military have "disappeared over 24,000 video tapes of detainee interrogations. Let's not rely on whether foreign officials and judges bow to blackmail in hoping to get details of why someone had his penis repeatedly sliced because he once read a satirical article online. Let's get those Bush officials who have admitted their administration engaged in torture up on the witness stand, under oath.

We need to send an overwhelming and clear message to Obama and those among his cabinet who don't want to see justice served. Two thirds of America want this. Give it to them if that's the people's will - that's called "moving forward". Then as the evidence unfolds we'll see how America feels about prosecutions, and about making sure such inhuman acts can never again by perpetrated wholesale by a White House under cover of blanket secrecy and legal lies. I'm betting that America will overwhelmingly want to see those guilty have their day in court.

Maddow And Leahy On Holding Bush Accountable

It sounds an awful lot like we may be able to rid ourselves of the horror of Bush after all! Leahy seems to be saying that the door will remain open for prosecution of war crimes!!

Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Wednesday Edition (?)


Michelle Rhee Is Trying To Be Nice, Now That The Devil Inside Her Has Been Exposed

Here she is. Michelle Rhee, trying to keep her job. She says she thinks teachers are great and not the problem! She is lying! She has said, since she got her Chancellor job, that teachers are the problem. Don't buy this new, improved Rhee. It's a facade, a sham, a trick, she's slippin' you a Mickey, just ignore her....
The Toughest Job

By Michelle Rhee
Monday, February 9, 2009; A17

Much has been said and written about education in our city recently, and I want to set the record straight with students, parents and, especially, teachers. My thoughts about teachers have not always come through accurately. Much has been lost that they should know.

I often speak of our district's performance data with sadness and outrage. The situation for our city's children is dire. Yet while I acknowledge the seriousness of the work we face, I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.

I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I have watched them pour their energy into engaging every student. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them -- sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong.

Rather, teachers are the solution to the vexing problems facing urban education.

In the coming weeks, we will submit a final proposal for a new teacher contract. Through it and other reforms, we can create, together, the most effective and highly compensated educator force in the country. Our key goals:

· Individual choice. Contrary to the rumors, nobody will be forced to give up tenure. All teachers will get a substantial raise. Some may wish to choose an option that includes pay increases and bonuses based on excellence in the classroom. This would result in many teachers doubling their pay, with some making at least $100,000 by year seven.

· Measuring excellence. We cannot rely on test scores alone. Good evaluations of teaching practices must be well rounded. Only some of our teachers work in grades or subjects in which tests are given, so we must use many assessments to measure student growth.

· A growth model of achievement. Many teachers inherit classes of students who are far behind academically. Yet some teachers, even with minimal support, move their students two to three grade levels ahead in a year. Teachers will not be evaluated on an absolute measure but on how far they take their students.

· Protection from arbitrary firings. Some teachers are concerned a principal may want to fire them for reasons unrelated to performance. While principals who do this risk their own jobs (firing effective teachers is a sure way to lower school achievement), we will ensure protections for teachers. We need a fair and transparent process, free from bias and haste, designed with teachers' input.

· Professional development and support. Teachers have told me that many of their hesitations about the contract -- and about me -- center on the pressures that teachers face: "What if my school does not support me? What if I am working my tail off and I still have weeks when my patience is thin and things beyond my control are causing problems?"

Our proposal will provide a framework to navigate these questions with strong programs to support and develop teachers as professionals. Neither will we forget the small things that can weigh down great teachers. For example, we want to reimburse those who buy supplies for their classrooms or use their cellphones to call students and families. We want to compensate teachers when they cover classes for others. I was a teacher. I know how these things add up.

Finally, we have to talk about ineffective teaching, which is not a popular subject. I am not referring to situations in which teachers are trying hard but are frustrated by their daily challenges. I am talking about teaching -- or the absence of teaching -- that shortchanges kids. Do not misunderstand: I do not believe that most of our teachers are shortchanging their students. But in the worst cases, we have teachers who put their feet on their desks and read the paper while students run around. Or they use corporal punishment. Or they intentionally abuse their current contract, leaving for three months at a time and returning for the one day that will keep their job active. We all agree that these people do not belong in the classroom, and we must be able to remove them expeditiously.

I am often asked to name the most important factor in this district's success. It is teachers. It is their classrooms and what happens there, the expectations they set as they push students to go further. Teaching is the toughest job there is: Doing it well can keep you up at night thinking about your students, their stories and your role in their lives. But as teachers know, this work is also sure to surprise and reward. Teachers deserve recognition and respect for their efforts.

Those who teach well deserve the highest compensation we can offer. All teachers -- especially those in one of this country's most challenging districts -- deserve the best professional development available. My hope is that a new agreement will support teachers to continue to love this hard work, to keep doing it and to become even better.

The writer is chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

That Voodoo You Do

I don't know how to describe it. I saw it at Sully's.

Update: I have been informed that it is a little disturbing. It won't hurt you, but it might cause you a little computer-animation-voodoo-straight-pin-unease.

watch more at aniBoom

Teach Them To Read When They're Ready!

I had to post this because it rings so true, especially for those of us who have been in a classroom full of the kids Dr. Johnson describes. I can't help but think Dr. Johnson is completely correct.
Teaching our children to write, read & spell

Susan R. Johnson MD, FAAP, 5/7/2007

Part I— The Proprioceptive System

There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades. This is, however, not true. The truth is that children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed. There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing “academics” in preschool and kindergarten will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities.

In order for children to be able to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers, they first need to have developed their proprioceptive system. In my clinical practice I see children who are being asked to sit still at a desk who can’t yet “feel” where they are in space. They have to keep their muscles and body moving all the time or sit on their feet or wrap their feet around the legs of their chair in order for their mind to locate the position of their body. They also have difficulty balancing on one foot while their eyes are closed. Their drawing of a person is more like that of a younger child, being stick-like in form and lacking hands and feet. These children are often given the label of Attention Deficit Disorder because they appear fidgety in their movements, have difficulty paying attention, and have poorly developed fine-motor skills. In addition, these same children are often labeled as having learning disabilities in visual processing (for example, dyslexia or other types of non-verbal learning disabilities). They have difficulty recalling letters, numbers, and shapes that are shown to them, and they are unable to recognize letters, numbers, and shapes that are drawn with a finger on their back. These children have difficulty remembering the orientation and direction of letters and numbers when writing, reading, or spelling. They often will confuse the letter “b” with the letter “d” and may write the number 2 or number 3 backwards and not even notice.

The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars. When children do these types of activities they stimulate pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints, thereby allowing their minds to make a map of the location of these various pressure receptors within the body. A connection is made between the mind of children and the various parts of their physical body. In this way children develop a sense of where their body is in space (proprioception), and even if their eyes are closed, the children will be able to feel or sense the location of muscles, joints and tendons within their trunk, arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In addition, as the children move their arms, legs, hands, and feet forwards, backwards, up, down, left and right, they will start to gain a sense of the spaces around them. Now, when these children look at the shapes of letters and numbers, their eyes will follow and track the lines and curves. The memory of these movements will then imprint upon their mind. They will have the capacity to make mental pictures or images of these numbers and letters. They will easily remember the correct orientation of numbers like 2 and 3 when they are writing. There will be no more confusion between the letter “b” and the letter “d”. The correct orientation of the letter or number will be seen within the mind before it is written.

This proprioceptive system impacts other areas in children’s life beyond being able to sit still and having a visual memory for abstract forms. It also affects their ability to fall asleep by themselves at night and to stay asleep throughout the night. When the proprioceptive system is not fully developed, children will have difficulties falling asleep at night by themselves. They will frequently wake up during the night and then need physical contact with their parents in order to fall back to sleep. Since their own proprioceptive system is not yet developed, lying next to their parent will activate their pressure receptors and allow them to feel their body, relax, and fall back to sleep. For these children, closing their eyes at night makes their body disappear because their mind has not made a connection to the pressure receptors within their muscles, tendons, and joints. This is why so many children want the light on at night when they go to bed. They need to see their body and the spaces around them since they can not “feel” their body when in darkness.

Part II— Reading, Spelling, and Writing

Our current educational system is teaching children to read in a way that doesn’t make sense developmentally. Children in preschool and kindergarten are expected to memorize letters and words before their minds have developed the necessary pathways to identify letters, easily read words, and comprehend what they are reading. We are asking these young children to read, when the only part of their brain that is developed and available for reading words is the right hemisphere.

The right hemisphere first develops for reading, usually around four to seven years of age. This right part of the brain allows children to recognize words by sight. It enables children to focus on the first and last letters in a word and the overall length and shape of the word. It allows children to guess at words without paying much attention to spelling or matching sounds to letters (phonics). In contrast, the reading center in the left brain and the connecting bridge-like pathway between the left and the right brain don’t start developing until seven to nine years of age (girls may develop these pathways a little earlier, while some boys won’t develop these pathways until ten or eleven years of age). It is this reading center in the left brain that allows children to match sounds to letters and enables them to sound out words phonetically. Now they can remember more accurately how words are spelled.

Because the reading center in the right brain sees abstract forms like letters and numbers as pictures, it makes sense to first teach children to read by relating the shapes of letters to actual pictures that children can relate to and draw. For example, the letter “M” can be represented by two mountain peaks with a valley in between. As teachers we can tell children that the sound “M” is the first sound one hears when saying the word “mountains”. Other examples might include drawing a king out of the letter “K”, a bunny out of the letter “B” or waves out of a “W”. What doesn’t make developmental sense is expecting children to just memorize the abstract shape of the letter “F” or memorize phrases like “F” as in the word FOX, “B” as in the word BOY, or “C” as in the word CROCODILE. These words do not make any visual sense to the reading center in the right brain. The letter “F” doesn’t look like a FOX, the letter “B” doesn’t look like a BOY, and the letter “C” does not look like a CROCODILE.

When we push young children to read and they only have access to their right hemisphere for reading, we create learning problems for them in the future. Since children using the reading center of the right hemisphere look at the first and last letters of a word, the length of that word, and then make a guess, they will look at a word like “STAMP” and may guess that the word is “STOP’ or “STUMP”. If you show them the word, “TGOEHTER” they may read the word as “TOGETHER” but will not realize that the word is mis-spelled. Words like “FRIEND, FIND, and FOUND’’ as well as ‘’FILLED, FILED, and FLOOD’’, will all seem the same.

It takes a lot of mental effort to read words using only sight memory. Sight memory was meant to be used for only small words. Children who are reading using only their right hemisphere often are exhausted after reading just a few paragraphs, and can only parrot back words or sentences by memory. In addition, their minds are busy deciphering each word and therefore are not free to create the pictures and actual scenes associated with the words they are reading. This limits their overall comprehension. These are the children who plagerize or copy a text verbatim, word by word, when they are doing a report. This is because they can only recall the exact words they read and therefore can’t summarize, condense, or comprehend ideas very easily.

For all of these reasons, reading should be taught in school only after children have developed both their right and left reading centers. This will enable children to use sight memory for small words and the more efficient method of phonics for larger words. In addition, children need to have developed the “bridge” pathway that connects the two reading centers together. When children have developed this connection between the right and left cerebral hemispheres (bilateral integration), they can access both the right and left reading centers of their brain at the same time, and therefore can decide at any given moment whether to read a word by sight, if the word is short (a right hemisphere activity), or sound out the word phonetically if the word is long (a left hemisphere activity).

A physical sign that children have developed bilateral integration and can now read both by sight memory and phonics is shown by their ability to do do the cross-lateral skip (swinging their opposite leg with opposite arm forward at the same time) without thinking or concentrating. This is because movements on the right side of the body are connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, while movements on the left side of the body are connected to the right side of the brain. If children can move their opposite arm and leg at the same time, then the right and left hemispheres of the brain are “talking” or connected to each other. If children can only skip using their feet or only skip extending the same arm with the same leg (the homolateral skip), they are not ready to read, since they can’t access both sides of the brain simultaneously.

Children who can simultaneously access their reading centers in the right and left hemispheres of their brain will read easily and will create visual images and pictures in their mind related to the content of what they are reading. They will be able to discuss or write about what they have read using their own words, because they can replay the scenes in their mind and don’t have to think so much about the specific words used in each sentence. Therefore, they will have an easier time understanding the meaning behind the stories and books they are reading. Learning to spell will be easier too.

Besides pushing children to read and spell before their minds are developed, we also ask them to hold a pencil and write before they are developmentally ready. I see very young children being asked to write with one hand while they still have overflow movements occuring in the fingers of the opposite hand. Before six or seven years of age, the vertical midline of the child is not fully integrated. When a child moves the fingers of one hand, the fingers on the other hand will also move, often without the child’s conscious awareness. Children should not be forced to write until this vertical midline is integrated. If we force children to hold a pencil or pen and write before they have integrated this vertical midline, they will develop a tense pencil grip, a cramped writing style, and a spatially compromised and jerky penmenship. It makes more sense first to teach children to write the small letters of the alphabet in cursive before teaching them to print these lower case letters. When doing form drawings or writing in cursive the right and left hemispheres are both active and working together. Printing of the lower case letters is a more abstract and advanced developmental task that requires the left hemisphere, which often isn’t developed enough for this task until seven to nine years of age. Girls may be ready to do this task by age six while boys often can’t do this task until after nine years of age.

My greatest concern is that I am seeing more and more fourth, fifth, sixth, and even seventh graders from public and private schools who can’t spell easily and are still reading mostly by sight memory. They can now use their left brain to sound out words, but they approach every word they read first by using the reading center in right brain (by sight). For example, when I give these children a sentence to read like “Six byos wnet on a vaccaiton tohgeter and tehy wnet fsihing in a bule baot”, they often do not notice any of the misspelled words. Furthermore, when I have these same children read another paragraph where every word is spelled correctly, they often tell me that both paragraphs are exactly the same or only note one or two words where the spelling is different.

My worry is that these children were pushed to read too early, when only their right brain was developed enough for reading. They compensated by learning to read everything using only sight memory. When the reading center in their left hemisphere finally developed, the habit was still to read by using the reading center of the right hemisphere. Therefore, these children first looked at the words in a sentence using sight memory, and if the words didn’t make any sense, then they accessed the left reading center to sound out the words. The problem was they weren’t using the reading centers in the right and left brains simultaneously. Many of these children still lacked bilateral integration in their physical movements as well as in their reading. For some of the children, reading was slow and took a tremendous amount of effort. For other children, their sight memory was so strong that they could read quickly but their comprehension and spelling were still poor. Neither group of children could easily picture the scenes from the words they read or remember how individual words were spelled.

Many of these children need cranial therapy because of a history of a c-section birth, prolonged labor, induced labor, or use of suction forceps at delivery. In addition, these children need lots of cross-lateral types of movements (where the opposite arm moves at the same time as the opposite leg) to strengthen bilateral integration. Movements like walking or hiking with the arms swinging, swimming the various strokes, rock climbing and playing tennis will all strengthen bilateral integration. Also, specific movement therapies such as Therapeutic Eurythmy, Extra Lesson, Parelli horseback riding, Spacial Dynamics, Bal-A-Vis-X, Brain Gym, HANDLE, and sensory integration therapy will foster the development of these neurological pathways. These movements need to be non-competitive, and the therapists needs to avoid overstimulating the children or activating their fight and flight “stress” nervous systems. For neurological pathways do not form well when children are stressed. Once these pathways and connections are formed, many of these children will need tutoring to re-learn the rules of spelling and phonics and to start using their left brains for reading. Even if these children were taught phonics in the first or second grade, they need to revisit these reading skills because they didn’t have access yet to the reading center in their left brain.

In addition, when children feel loved unconditionally (loved for who they are and not what they do), they will work hard to overcome any challenges. As parents, teachers and therapist for our children, we need to BE PRESENT when working with children and experience the joy in each moment. Being fully present with children when doing any type of movement work or therapy will create the most profound healing environment for their mind and their entire Being will flourish.

Part III— Prevention of Learning Disabilities

Overall, schools and parents can support a child’s learning by serving healthy foods rich in protein, good quality fats (especially omega 3 fatty acids), fresh fruits, and vegetables, while eliminating partially-hydrogenated oils and trans fats, which occur when cooking or frying foods in corn oil. Adequate sleep will increase the percentage of rapid eye movement or REM sleep. A lack of sleep leads to less REM sleep and therefore, less consolidation of the previous day’s learning. Extremely limiting screen time (television, videos, and computer games) and eliminating it altogether on school nights, will keep the mind free to do its own picturing and not stress it with violent images and rapid sequences of pictures that the brain can not fully process. Regular rhythms and routines in eating and sleeping as well as daily activites will promote a more relaxed nervous system for learning.

In addition, children can’t learn and neurological pathways can’t form as easily when children’s nervous systems are experiencing stress. Forcing children to write, read, and spell and giving them “standardized” tests before they are developmentally ready, will stress their nervous systems. Furthermore, children will dislike reading and will not want to go to school. If we insist on pushing writing, reading and spelling before the children’s minds are ready, we will continue to create an epidemic of behavior and learning difficulties, especially in our boys.

First grade is the time to introduce lots of form drawing, learn the capital letters as pictures that children can draw, and practice cursive writing by drawing each small case letter in a repetitive series (eg. drawing the cursive form of “c” ,over and over like the waves of the ocean). Over the next year or two, as the majority of children in the classroom strengthen their proprioceptive skills and integrate their right and left hemispheres (as evidenced by their ability to stand on one foot with their eyes closed, remember the shapes that are drawn on their backs, jump rope forward and backwards by themselves, and easily perform the cross lateral skip), the children can be more formally taught to read, spell, and print the lower case letters.

It is time to remove the desks from kindergartens and preschools. Our preschools and kindergartens need to fill their curriculculms with play consisting of lots of sensory intergration activities that will strengthen fine motor movements, visual motor abilities, balance, muscle tone, proprioception, as well as strengthen children’s social and emotional development. Activities like imaginary play, climbing, running, jumping, hopping, skipping, walking the balance beam, playing circle games, singing, playing catch, doing meaningful chores, painting, coloring, playing hand clapping games, doing string games, and fingerknitting will strengthen their minds for learning. Children need these healthy, harmonious, rhythmic, and non-competitive movements to develop their brains. For it is the movements of their body and their love for learning that create the pathways in their mind for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, and creative thinking.


Teachers Can't Eliminate Achievement Gap

Palo Alto superintendent: Achievement gap can't be eliminated

By Sharon Noguchi

Mercury News
Posted: 02/02/2009 06:58:11 PM PST

When it comes to closing the achievement gap, Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly says educators are deluding themselves. And he dares to say what's become almost unspeakable publicly:

"It's just not possible for the average kid who comes to this country in seventh or eighth grade, or even third grade, without a word of English and parents with little formal education, to match the achievement levels of kids whose mom has a Ph.D. in English from Stanford and can afford to stay home and spend time supplementing the education of her kids."

Closing the gap that is separating higher-scoring white and Asian students on one hand and lower-scoring black and Latinos on the other has become a key mission of California educators. Today, state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell, who's made eliminating the achievement gap the centerpiece of his administration, is expected to pledge to continue those efforts, even as school budgets are axed.

"We know all students can learn to a high level," said O'Connell, who hasn't wavered in his mission. "We have a moral, social and economic imperative."

Yet totally eliminating the gap would be "the triumph of hope over experience," said Skelly, who came from San Diego 19 months ago to take the helm of Palo Alto's 17 schools. When educators set that lofty goal, "we're not being honest, and it's to our detriment," he said.

Here in the shadow of Stanford University, those socioeconomic and educational differences are arguably magnified. While many professors, high-tech workers and other professionals have paid a premium to live in the city to send their children to highly regarded schools, other parents come from working-class backgrounds, some busing their children from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

Make no mistake, Skelly said, his schools should — and do — try to bring up the achievement of Latino and African-American students. But idealistic rhetoric creates high public expectations for schools, while letting families, politicians and society in general off the hook, Skelly believes. By themselves, schools can't overcome the influence of parents, friends and communities, he said.

He believes preschool deserves more funding to better prepare more students to learn, and schools should ensure all students are prepared for college — so they don't end up taking remedial classes at community colleges.

In California, white students outscore blacks by 157 points and Latinos by 133 points on the state's academic achievement index. It's a gap that yawns in both math and language and at all grade levels, across income levels and school districts. And studies have shown a strong link between mothers' educational levels and their children's achievement.

In Palo Alto, where students as a whole outscore the state by a considerable margin, the gap is even wider: On the state's academic performance index for 2008, the district's Asians scored 972, whites scored 934, Latinos 746 and African-Americans 700. That's a 234-point gap between white and black students, up one-third from 2003 and nearly 50 percent higher than statewide figures.

The white-Latino gap also is greater in Palo Alto — 188 points — than it is statewide. But the school district has narrowed that gap by 7 percent over five years.

Skelly said he doesn't know why African-American achievement has fallen in the district. But he insists that schools are educating kids better than they did before. Bill Garrison, the district's testing guru, notes that a higher proportion of blacks and Latinos in Palo Alto suffer from poverty, learning disabilities and English deficiencies, all factors that pull down scores, than do whites and Asians.

Members of Palo Alto's Parent Network for Students of Color say even children who excel in elementary school falter so badly in middle and high school that many barely graduate. "There's a huge problem here," said Melissa Kirven-Brooks, mother of a senior and twin freshmen in the district and a member of the group.

Kirven-Brooks wants Palo Alto to emulate successful staff training and parental involvement programs that have helped narrow the achievement gap elsewhere.

Skelly said the district is working hard on several fronts to bring up lagging students. At Barron Park Elementary School, some fifth-graders have longer school days three days a week and start school two weeks early in the summer. Districtwide, struggling students attend an academic summer school.

While Skelly's colleagues may agree with his realpolitik talk that California must give schools the means to educate the immigrant and poor students, they take issue with his words. "Teaching is more powerful than what kids bring to school with them as background," said Charles Weis, superintendent of Santa Clara County schools. "We can close the achievement gap; we just need to create the environment where it can happen."

Don Iglesias, superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District, is unequivocal: "I absolutely do believe that it is possible for kids from poverty and with high mobility to succeed."

Skelly doesn't disagree with any of that, and he believes that his staff every day works to educate all kids: "If you stop believing you can make a difference in a kid's life, you ought to get out of education," he said. He just has an issue with setting unrealistic goals — similar to the state board of education mandating that all eighth-graders, regardless of readiness, take algebra. He calls that "a nutty idea."

Schools already know what does help students: longer school days, a longer school year and, especially, an excellent classroom teacher for each child.

Yet those seem elusive this year, with massive budget cuts on the horizon. Even in that dark cloud, Skelly finds a possible silver lining. In a bad economy, he believes, "People will take education more seriously."

Vote Coulter, Vote!

From HuffPo:
The New York Daily News reports that Ann Coulter is under investigation by the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission for allegedly voting in that state while registered to vote in New York City.

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