Jim Horn Blows My Mind

Just read:
The Nation Exposes Obama's Cynical Education Gambit

While many of us were out busting our humps to gather up a few dollars and votes for the change we thought we could believe in, the Harvard boys were cutting backroom deals with the multi-billionaire oligarchs to fully engage their plan to corporatize American public education, beginning with the urban schools.

There is no wonder that Spellings and Paige were running around breathless and wild-eyed, even as it became clear that McCain was going down. The insiders knew the Bush charter plan would not only go forward under Obama, but it would be slammed into overdrive by the clan of vulture capitalists and tax credit leeches who paid plenty to play the high stakes game for control of American schooling.

From The Nation's Dana Goldstein [link changed], where the story picks up on Obama's decision to invite the three stooges to the White House recently to proclaim the new post-partisan victory for philanthro-capitalism, disguised neatly under the banner of civil rights--with one particularly well-paid civil rights advocate getting a half-million for his time:
. . . the single-mindedness--some would say obsessiveness--of the reformers' focus on these specific policy levers ["free market competition"] puts off more traditional Democratic education experts and unionists. As they see it, with the vast majority of poor children educated in traditional public schools, education reform must focus on improving the management of the public system and the quality of its services--not just on supporting charter schools. What's more, social science has long been clear on the fact that poverty and segregation influence students' academic outcomes at least as much as do teachers and schools.

Obama's decision to invite representatives of only one side of this divide to the Oval Office confirmed what many suspected: the new administration--despite internal sympathy for the "broader, bolder approach"--is eager to affiliate itself with the bipartisan flash and pizazz around the new education reformers. The risk is that in doing so the administration will alienate supporters with a more nuanced view of education policy. What's more, critics contend that free-market education reform is a top-down movement that is struggling to build relationships with parents and community activists, the folks who typically support local schools and mobilize neighbors on their behalf.

So keenly aware of this deficit are education reformers that a number of influential players were involved in the payment of $500,000 to Sharpton's nearly broke nonprofit, the National Action Network, in order to procure Sharpton as a national spokesman for the EEP. And Sharpton's presence has unquestionably benefited the EEP coalition, ensuring media attention and grassroots African-American crowds at events like the one held during Obama's inauguration festivities, at Cardozo High School in Washington.

"Sharpton was a pretty big draw," says Washington schools chancellor Michelle Rhee,
recalling the boisterous crowd at Cardozo. Rhee is known for shutting down schools and aggressively pursuing a private sector-financed merit pay program. Some of the locals who came out to hear Sharpton booed Rhee's speech at the same event, despite the fact that her policies embody the movement for which Sharpton speaks.

The $500,000 donation to Sharpton's organization was revealed by New York Daily News columnist Juan González on April 1, as the EEP and National Action Network were co-hosting a two-day summit in Harlem, attended by luminaries including Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. The money originated in the coffers of Plainfield Asset Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund whose managing director is former New York City schools chancellor Harold Levy, an ally of the current chancellor, Joel Klein. Plainfield has invested in Playboy, horse racetracks and biofuels. But the company did not donate the money directly to Sharpton. Rather, in what appears to have been an attempt to cover tracks, the $500,000 was given to a nonprofit entity called Education Reform Now, which has no employees. (According to IRS filings, Education Reform Now had never before accepted a donation of more than $92,500.) That group, in turn, funneled the $500,000 to Sharpton's nonprofit.

If one person is at the center of this close-knit nexus of Wall Street and education reform interests, it is Joe Williams, who serves as president and treasurer of the EEP's board and is also the executive director of
Education Reform Now. But it is through his day job that Williams, a former education reporter for the Daily News, exerts the most influence. He is executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a four-year-old PAC that has gained considerable influence, raising $2 million in 2008 and demonstrating remarkable public relations savvy.

The group's six-person team works out of an East Forty-fifth Street office donated--rent-free--by the hedge fund Khronos LLC. In recent months, DFER has had a number of high-profile successes, chief among them a highly coordinated media campaign to call into question the work of Obama education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, once considered a top contender for the job of education secretary. During the same week in early December, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe published editorials or op-eds based on DFER's anti-Darling-Hammond talking points, which focused on the Stanford professor's criticisms of Teach for America and other alternative-certification programs for teachers. Less than two weeks later, Obama appointed DFER's choice to the Education Department post, Chicago schools CEO Duncan.

During campaign season, DFER donated to House majority whip James Clyburn, Senator Mark Warner and Virginia swing district winner Representative Tom Periello, among others. The organization regularly hosts events introducing education reformers like Rhee and Fenty to New York City "edupreneurs," finance industry players for whom education reform is a sideline. DFER is focused on opening a second office, in Colorado, a state viewed as being in the forefront of standards- and testing-based education reform. The group successfully promoted Denver schools superintendent Michael Bennett to fill the Senate seat vacated when Obama named Ken Salazar as interior secretary. Bennett led the school system with the highest-profile merit pay system in the nation.

During the Democratic Party's national convention in Denver this past August, DFER
hosted a well-attended event at the Denver Museum of Art, during which Fenty, Booker, Klein, Sharpton and other well-known Democrats openly denigrated teachers unions, whose members accounted for 10 percent of DNCC delegates. With Clyburn and other veteran members of Congress in attendance, many longtime observers of Democratic politics believed the event represented a sea change in the party's education platform, the arrival of a new generation. While progressive groups such as Education Sector, Education Trust and the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights
have long attempted to push free-market education reforms to the Democratic Party, it is only with the arrival of DFER that the movement has had a lobbying arm with an explicit focus on influencing the political process through fundraising and media outreach.

"For a lot of groups that are dependent upon both private money and government
money, there's a tendency not to want to get involved in the nitty-gritty of politics," Williams said in a March 31 phone interview from Denver, where he was meeting with Colorado politicians, setting the stage for DFER's expansion there. "Our group--what we do is politics. We make it clear: we're not an education reform group. We're a political reform group that focuses on education reform. That distinction matters because all of our partners are the actual education reform groups. We're trying to give them a climate where it's easier for them to do their work."

The education reformers who came to prominence in the 1990s, including the founders of Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program, the national charter school network that fought unionization in one of its Brooklyn schools, often went to great lengths to portray themselves as explicitly apolitical. Nevertheless, "a lot of those people are, politically, Democrats," says Sara Mead, a DFER board member and director of early childhood programs at the Washington-based New America Foundation. "One of those things that DFER does that's really important is to help give those people a way to assert their identity as Democrats. It's important for those groups' long-term success, but also for Democrats, to the extent that some of these organizations are doing really good things for the kids whose parents are Democratic constituents. It's important that those organizations are identified with us rather than being co-opted by Republicans, as they were in the past." . . . .
So let's see, if I am working for a an outfit like KIPP or TFA, and I don't want to proclaim my political allegiance, I can funnel money through DFER to pay off the politicians who will make the decisions that favor the benefactors and oligarchs who are funding my programs.

Is this what you might call non-identity politics??

I think this must signal the end of the two party system, since it no longer matters which party you belong to--in the end, the oligarchs will buy either.

Has Howard Dean announced for 2012 yet?? As an Independent?? He's a shoo-in.

How Would You Feel?

Saturday Cartoon Fun: North Korea Edition

Taibbi On Obama's Only Term

I am afraid Obama is heading toward becoming a one-termer. I am not alone...
Instead, Obama is on his way to doing exactly the wrong thing. He’s going to make a show of closing the base, but retain the underlying idea by keeping some of the prisoners in indefinite legal purgatory. In some ways this is worse than what Bush did, because Bush at least took a clear stand — he was nuts and thought this was the right thing to do. No matter how you look at Obama’s decision, it’s weighed somewhere along the line by political calculation. Either he thinks indefinite decision is right and he’s bowing to public appeals by closing the base, or else he thinks it’s wrong and is bowing to opposition outcry by maintaining the old policy.

It’s one thing to change your mind or play both sides of the fence on matters that don’t involve human lives, on theoretical/hypothetical campaign issues, but another thing to do it with actual incarcerated human beings as the key variable in the political equation.


Should Kids Think Or Endlessly Engage?

The Importance of Solitude

Published by Robert Pondiscio on May 28, 2009

A favorite canard in education is the one about Rip Van Winkle waking up after one hundred years’ sleep and easily recognizing a classroom. It’s probably more accurate to suggest, however, that if old Rip were suddenly jarred awake, it would be due to the noise from a nearby elementary school, with its incessant hum of group work, collaborative learning, and nonstop “turn and talks.”

What our classrooms have lost, writes Diana Senechal in an Education Week essay, is badly needed quiet time for thinking, reading, and problem solving. “It is not at all good to be visibly ‘engaged’ at every moment,” she notes. “One also needs room to collect one’s thoughts and separate oneself from one’s peers.” She wonders why there is so much emphasis on socialization in education and so little on solitude, when both are important to learning?
Solitude should not become a fad; that would make some of us wish we had never brought it up at all. The shift toward solitude should be subtle, not screeching. Don’t abandon group work, but take it down from its altar. Make room for quiet thought and give students something substantial to think about. The children will respond. Also, recognize teaching as a thinking profession. There is no reason for teachers to sit in groups filling out Venn diagrams during professional-development sessions when they could be doing something more interesting on their own.
It’s an excellent point. Now, turn to your neighbor and tell whether you agree or disagree…

Diana is a teacher at a Core Knowledge school in NYC. And if you haven’t been reading her thoughtful guest posts for Joanne Jacobs over the past week, take a look.
I am pretty sure folks like Einstein and Feynman would say a person needs time to think.

h/t The Core Knowledge Blog

Duncan The Disaster

A look at Chicago schools under Duncan

Every now and then it is useful to step back from the hype and the spin and see what people on the ground have to say about important issues. In the case of education policy, we should not forget that George Bush gave us Rod Paige and the so-called Texas Miracle (which never was) as the argument for passing into law No Child Left Behind.

Obama has chosen his basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Duncan is an exemplar of several things (1) mayoral control of the school system; (2) a non-educator put in charge of education. The track record of both is not particularly sanguine.

But rather than merely my saying so, perhaps you will take the words of someone on the ground in Chicago. Wade Tillett is a Chicago public school parent and teacher who also blogs about Chicago schools. The piece below appeared on his Bubble Over Network, the name of which comes from the ubiquitous use of bubble-in mass produced tests. I have Wade's permission to reproduce the entire piece, and I will add a few comments of my own at the end.
Flunk, retain, drop out

Written by Wade on May 27th, 2009

Soon scores from a small portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) will come back.

The booklet sent out with ISAT says “No person or organization shall make a decision about a student or educator on the basis of a single test.” (1)

Despite this, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) trusts this test to override our own teachers in deciding the future of our children.
For third, sixth and eighth graders, our promotion policy automatically flunks at least one in four children based on a thirty or forty question test. (2)

At the end of summer school, CPS is five times more likely to retain a child for the next year if they are African-American than if they are white. (3)

By retaining a student, CPS increases that child’s chance of dropping out by 29%. (4)

Chicago Public Schools spends $100 million dollars every year on this policy. (5)

Extensive research shows that it DOES NOT WORK. Repeating a grade does not help children succeed. (4)

Why do we continue to threaten eight-year-olds and tell third-graders they are failures? Why do we make students cry, throw-up, and finally quit?

Chicago Public Schools should use the $100 million it spends every year on holding back kids to instead provide what students really need: caring professionals with the time and resources to find out what works for each of them. Our children need advocates, not inflexible policies spit out of a machine.

CPS should stop using standardized test scores to override all other considerations in making student grade promotion decisions. I encourage anyone who agrees to sign the petition. And I encourage other parents to contact Parents United for Responsible Education if your child is forced to go to summer school.

1. 2009 ISBE ISAT Professional Testing Practices for Educators booklet

2. CPS policy sends any student below the 24th percentile to summer school.

3. http://pureparents.org/data/files/retentionreport09.pdf

4. http://www.fairtest.org/chicago-research-criticizes-retention-test-driven-improvement

5. $10,000 per student per year times approximately 10,000 students retained
Here's what is scary. Chicago is the model for what Duncan wants to do to American education. What has been done in Chicago since Richie Daley got mayoral control of the schools, first under Paul Vallas (who also imposed his "magic" on Philadelphia and New Orleans, but who is really interested in elective public office) and then under his one-time assistant Arne Duncan, has NOT addressed issues like the achievement gap that plagues poor, minority students. There is extensive evidence in the peer-reviewed literature of the negative consequences of retention, and that is without even considering the scope of retention system-wide in Chicago. The use of one-shot high-stakes multiple choice tests - which may or may not truly be standardized - to make the determination of who is retained is contrary to what the psychometricians responsible for the creation of the tests say is appropriate use of their tests.

The idea that anyone at below the 24th percentile is automatically required to attend summer school is also troublesome, unless there is an independent determination that at such a level the student is unable to function at the appropriate level for the next grade. It seems like an arbitrary cutoff without sufficient justification. Even if one presumes that the test is an accurate measurement of meaningful skills and knowledge, by that rationale we are assuming that just under 1/4 of all of our students are not succeeding sufficiently in regular school settings. If that is true, perhaps the answer is to address the deficiencies in the schooling received during the school year. Of course, the track record in Chicago has been instead to reconstitute troublesome schools, then not include their performance in the evaluation of the system on grounds that it is a "new school" so comparison with previous years' test scores is meaningless. Thus the Chicago Public Schools mask the lack of progress under many years of mayoral control.

That we are doing this to relatively young children, marking a significant portion as failures early in the school career is an abomination - the failure is not theirs, it is ours, all of us, for allowing this to occur.

I will not attempt to rationalize the disparate impact of these policies by race. Wade points that out clearly.

Testing, then analyzing test results and applying punitive sanctions has not yet proven successful within cities and state nor across the nation. While some advocates of the NCLB approach brag on "improved" scores at the elementary level in NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), such improvement is tenuous at best. The amount of improvement at the elementary level is less than in the previous cycle, that previous cycle having covered a period most of which occurred before NCLB. There is no improvement demonstrated at the upper grades. And even in the lower grades, the so-called achievement gap has not closed - minority children still lag behind as they did before - for this it is worth remembering that the ostensible purpose of NCLB was to close those gaps, to ensure that poor and minority children were not shortchanged on their education.

People in Chicago have been trying to warn the rest of us since before Obama became a candidate for president. Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) has done yeoman's work in documenting the real story behind the supposed success of the various initiatives in Chicago.

Wade Tillett's piece is but one of a series of alarums to which we should pay heed. As Arne Duncan continues on his listening tour around the nation, people should be prepared to challenge him on the real record in Chicago.

In the last presidency we learned how badly our nation's educational system could be damaged by propagating a failed model. I fear we confront a similar challenge right now.

Learn, and then speak out, for the future of our public schools.

h/t teacherken


Did They Write A Strong Ending?

The district writing assessment for 2nd graders was given last week. The kids had to write a personal narrative (small moment in Lucy Calkins speak). We had to give them a prompt that they were then to write about. The prompt was: Think of someone special in your life and think about something you did with them. Now write about it.

So the kids did just that! They thought of someone important or special to them, and something they did with (or near, or around; prepositions are less rigid when you are 7) that person. Fine.

You non-teachers out there might think we teachers then go over these essays and see where the kid has problems; do they remember to capitalize? Did they use quotation marks? Periods? You would be right, mostly.

We had to use a rubric to grade these things. The rubric covers mechanics/conventions and content. The only score my district wants recorded is the mechanics/conventions score. Content doesn't matter. It matters to me and to the kids, and probably to their parents, but the district poobahs couldn't care less. Personally I don't think either of the scores helps anybody do or know anything they didn't already. I know what my kids can and cannot do even without scoring each narrative on the 8-point, 2 column rubric.

The worst part of the assessment is the scoring. Teachers, arranged in grades they teach, read the narratives (all kids take it, even kindergarten) of another teacher's students in the same grade. They then give their 2 scores for the 2 categories on the rubric. Then a second teacher reads them and scores them. If the scores diverge (sound familiar regulars?) by more than 1 point, a third teacher reads it. If the scores still diverge, well, who the hell knows what to do then!?

So there we were, analyzing the narratives of 7 year-olds to see if they have a "strong closing" or "spell most irregular words correctly", as if it matters. THEY ARE SEVEN!

We spent 2 hours doing this, and I submit, based on my personal experience and the comments of my colleagues, that it was a complete waste of time. We are not evaluating dissertations here, we are looking at half-page little narratives written by second graders.

This is the problem with NCLB. The assessment assesses nothing I didn't already assess by being their teacher and teaching every day for almost 9 months. NCLB belittles this and assumes teachers don't know what to do, don't know what to look for in student work, don't know how to teach second graders to write "strong endings". Maybe they shouldn't?

Here is what kids need more than us poring over and analyzing their 6 sentences: They need opportunities to experience stuff. They need me to be able to be spontaneous, when interest and learning are primed. They need less instruction on punctuation and quotation marks, and more experience with language--like talking, asking questions, answering questions.

I can't tell you how horrible it is to watch these sweet little ones struggle with a writing assignment, only then to be given a 1/1 because they didn't use quotations marks and they wrote about their dog.

School must suck for the kids. I know it sucks for the teachers.

Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Discrimination Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Sotomayor Edition

Merit Pay: It Won't Work II

Merit Pay: It Won't Work I is here.
Retro reform idea - Merit Pay
Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now and then I like to post about writers who have contributed to our knowledge about progressive education. It would be nice to talk about new ideas, but if we’re going to discuss old ideas, we should at least know what’s already been said so we can stop repeating ourselves and either move the discussion forward or change the subject.

EdSec Duncan, for example, has a big pile of money he wants to use to “incent” and reward excellence “based on student achievement” because he believes that a quality education for every student is a civil right. That’s a nice idea, but we need to agree on some key details before we can expect to see much progress there. Prof. Daniel Willingham posted a video on You Tube, offering six reasons why merit pay will not work. Three reasons are about why test scores won’t give us valid information about teacher effectiveness, and the other three are about social factors that make some classes more challenging than others.

James Herndon covered this topic in his own special way 25 years ago in Notes From a Schoolteacher:
The idea that if you’re paid more you’ll work harder may apply to selling encyclopedias. If you’re a lion-tamer, you’re not going to work any harder just because you’ll be paid more. The job of a teacher is more like a lion-tamer, I think.
-Al Shanker, President

I’ve tried hard to find something to say, pro or con, about merit pay - something that has not already been said hundreds of times. Shanker’s remark, above, is one point of view. You must work hard, as a schoolteacher, simply in order to avoid being eaten alive. Subduing the lion’s natural appetite comes first - after that is assured, maybe you’ll be able to teach him a trick or two.

Merit pay has been around a long time in the corporate / industrial world, but even there no one seems satisfied with it. No research can be found which agrees that the salesman works harder or is more successful at his trade if he is given extra pay for “merit.”

It is, anyway, quite beside the point whether one works hard or not. Success is the point. But even there, sales managers report that no one is satisfied if the person who demonstrably sells the most of whatever product it is, is paid more. The other salesmen argue that they had bad territories, mix-ups in their deliveries, no cooperation from the front office, storms - otherwise they would have been right up there.

Teachers, like salesmen, all believe that they are among the very best at their job. You simply must believe that in order to continue teaching (and probably selling).

You begin to teach as a lion-tamer, to be sure and, if not eaten up, go on to ask other teachers what they do here and there, what “works” for them, and quite soon, by some curious amalgam, you develop a way to work in the classroom which suits you and which you think is best … best, considering the various and vast distances between what you must do, want to do, and can do.

You think it best, for you and the students, or for the students and you.

I certainly think that my “style” or “strategy” in the classroom is the best. That’s why I do it that way. I also know that my opinion is not shared by the other teachers at Spanish Main, each of whom, quite rightly, prefers his own.

The whole idea of merit pay, then, seems to founder at this point. If we all think that we are among the best, how are we to reward the best?

If we must decide who is the best, then who is to decide, and on what basis?
Herndon doesn’t say anything about test scores, presumably because nobody had the genius idea of using them to compare teachers. Instead, he tells us that the “plans suggest a committee” of roving teachers who would visit schools and rate them based on their observations. Herndon wonders about the inferences these people would draw if they paid him a surprise visit.
The visiting team, concluding that this teacher is not teaching at all, let alone well, is not dedicated, doesn’t give a damn, certainly deserves no merit pay (if he deserves to be paid at all!) - the team has just missed out on one of the best teachers in the world! They are unaware of it.

Too late, then, for my thoughtful discourse on what teaching is, how students learn, etc.!

Has something been left out in this discussion? I want to cover everything about this now; I never want to return to it.

Well, the basis is left out. The standard, criterion, measure, rule of thumb … anything, any way by which to tell the great teachers from the simply OK teachers. The standard, etc., by which to tell the wonderful teaching strategies from the mediocre ones.

Are the great teachers more entertaining? Have they better intellectual command of their subjects? Have they greater rapport with the students? Are they more efficient, provide more time on task? Are they more aware of their students’ ethnic backgrounds, social class, personal or family problems? All of the above? Well, some of the above?

No one knows.

Does anyone know whether students actually learn more from great teachers, if you could ever find out who were the great teachers?

No one knows that either. The sentence just above sounds insane (p. 85).
It would be so much more interesting to talk about that.
h/t Doug Noon


Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Cheney Edition

Proposition 8: Loser

Marriage is illegal, if you're gay. Unless you got married before it was illegal, and you're gay. Fucking idiots. From the L.A. Times:
The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage but also ruled that gay couples who wed before the election will continue to be married under state law. [...]

Although the court split 6-1 on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the justices were unanimous in deciding to keep intact the marriages of as many as 18,000 gay couples who exchanged vows before the election. The marriages began last June, after a 4-3 state high court ruling striking down the marriage ban last May.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, the state high court ruled today that the November initiative was not an illegal constitutional revision, as gay rights lawyers contended, nor unconstitutional because it took away an inalienable right, as Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown argued.


There was a young lady from Bude
Who went for a swim in the lake
A man in a punt
Stuck an oar in her ear
And said, "You can't swim here, it's private


The Zubaydah Waterboard Transcript

The following is a transcript of notes taken at the interrogation of Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. It was released by the C.I.A. at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques approved by the president.

1. Ha! Is this waterboard supposed to scare me? You think I don’t know that you are constrained by U.S. and international law from ever actually …

2. Hey! What the [redacted]?!

3. No, seriously. What the [redacted]?!

4. You’re Americans! Who do you think you are? Us?

5. You can’t do this! Show me the authorization for you to do this!

6. Wow. O.K., technically, you can do this. Although the quality of the legal work in these memos is shoddy at …

7. Enough! I beg of you! Stop the torture!

8. O.K., fine. Then stop the “enhanced technique!”

9. Please! For the love of God, I can’t take any more of this harsh treatment which does not rise to the level of torture!

10. Could you loosen my left medieval iron shackle? It’s digging in.

11. You’re not even doing it right! You have to tilt the head forward so that the victim’s throat is …

12. Fine! Fine! Do it your way! But don’t blame me if I don’t experience the unspeakable horror of my own imminent death.

13. Is that a video camera?

14. It is! You’re filming this?

15. Wait—am I being Punk’d? Ashton? Really, Ashton …

16. Are you going to post this on the Web? Because I can hook you up with the guy who does our online work.

17. You’re wasting your time! I already told those F.B.I. guys everything I know!

18. I’m telling you, I don’t know anything else!

19. I don’t know anything!

20. I don’t know anything!

21. I don’t know anything!

22. Would you tell that bald guy in the corner to stop grinning?

23. Still don’t know anything.

24. Reply hazy, try again.

25. Ask again later.

26. Better not tell you now.

27. Cannot predict now.

28. Concentrate and ask again.

29. Nothing.

30. Nada.

31. Drawing a blank.

32. Honestly, I’d love to help, but …

33. Nothing is springing immediately to mind.

34. Thirty-fourth time’s a charm?

35. I get it. Waterboard me once, shame on you. Waterboard me 35 times, shame on …

36. For the last time, I don’t know anything!

37. O.K.! O.K.! I do know things! Lots of things! Like Osama Bin Laden … loves … yogurt.

38. Actually, he’s a vegan! He takes a lot of ribbing for it from the guys …

39. No good? O.K., listen. There is a ticking time bomb in Grand Central Station! If you hurry you can stop it!

40. How should I know where? Just listen until you hear the ticking!

41. Well, you put me on the spot! Give me a few minutes, I’ll come up with something more plausible.

42. O.K., fine. Fine. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. What do you want to know?

43. Never mind. I’ll guess. You want to know about … a plot.

44. An operation!

45. A conspiracy?

46. An intrigue!

47. An infiltration!

48. A dust-up! A brouhaha! A kerfuffle!

49. For the love of God, give me a hint!

50. A finger? Why is the bald guy holding up a …

51. One finger … one finger … First word! First word! Three syllables!

52. Two syllables! Sorry—my vision is a little blurry. First syllable … frown! Frowning!

53. Angry?

54. Unhappy.

55. Disconsolate.

56. Morose.

57. Sad! Sad? Yes! Second syllable … ear!

58. Crap! Sounds like! Sounds like! Sounds like … oink?

59. Pig? Sounds like pig?

60. Eating pig! Pork!

61. Sausage!

62. Bacon!

63. Chitterlings!

64. Prosciutto?

65. Ham! Ham! Sounds like ham! Sad Ham! Sad ham?

66. SADDAM! Saddam Hussein! It’s Saddam Hussein! So what about him?

67. O.K. … nine fingers. Ten fingers.

68. Eleven! Nine. Eleven … Twenty?

69. Wait. I got it! Nine-eleven! You want me to implicate Saddam Hussein in the attacks of 9/11? But that’s ridiculous. Osama and Saddam never so much as …

70. You know, now that you mention it, I think I may remember a telegram …

71. Phone conversation …

72. Email exchanges …

73. Series of coffees?

74. Lunch on the verandah of the Basra Palace!

75. Fantasy football league!

76. They were lovers! Saddam and Osama were lovers!

77. O.K.! Enough! I’ll tell you everything! The truth is, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were engaged in a high-level operational relationship to coordinate the transfer of conventional weapons …

78. Chemical weapons …

79. Biological weapons …

80. Nuclear weapons? You expect anyone to believe …

81. But Saddam didn’t have any …

82. … nuclear weapons to terrorists who intended to use them to destroy a major American city and were saved by the brave actions of your American president, George Bush! We good?

83. Bastards.
h/t NYO

"...They Should Be Setting An Example"

Taibbi on Taibbi and AIG and who we should be careful not to blame:
These Wall Street players are enormously compensated, which supposedly means that society highly values their work and is willing to pay them a premium to do it. Having been given that kind of responsibility and trust, these assholes should not then force us to police them as tightly as we police those who we expect to steal from us, like third-rate car salesmen, telemarketers, hookers and three-card monty dealers. With that kind of money they should be setting an example. We are paying them as though they are leaders of society, so they should lead. Instead they ripped us off like common criminals. I mean, the level of morals here is astonishing. In my entire life I’ve never met a drug dealer who would even think about trying half the shit that banks like Goldman Sachs and Citibank pulled during these years.

Well, that’s not true — okay, I did once try to buy weed from a guy I didn’t know in Washington Square, and got ripped off. I was young and stupid. The guy sold me a bag of oregano and immediately, I mean immediately, took off running and disappeared down 8th street. Guys like that usually have a life expectancy of about ten minutes, because eventually they pick someone who isn’t some lily-livered white college student to sell oregano to and they get their heads beat in with lead pipes. That’s what happens in the actual world. In the world of high finance, what happens when they catch you pulling that kind of stunt is they give you fifty billion taxpayer dollars.

A Good Education Idea. Really!

A Defense for the Spinning Heel Kick

This past week we completed the 2009 version of the California Standards Test. It is a standards-based test designed to assess the degree to which children mastered the standards at their grade level. If they get higher than a scaled score of 350, they will be considered "proficient" and everyone will be happy.

Of course, anything less than that means they are "not at grade level" and it will be a reason for great concern. And if 45% of our overall students or 45% of our Latino students or 45% of our English language learners are not at grade level, the state of California will declare us to be a "Program Improvement" school.

So here is what I don't get.

If we have a standards-based curriculum, and students' mastery of those standards is determined by a standards-based assessment (in our state: the California Standards Test), then why aren't kids grouped in classrooms according to their mastery of those standards? In other words... a true, standards-based school.

Where do we see standards-based schools? In that Taekwondo studio down the street-- the one in your neighborhood strip mall.

In Taekwondo and other martial arts, students are assigned a white belt until they demonstrate mastery of ALL of the techniques, blocks, kicks, forms, and philosophies that are taught at that beginning of the learning continuum. They advance through the curriculum- color belt by color belt-- until they reach the level of black belt. There is a high price to pay for not mastering all of those blocking and striking techniques if you spar with another black belt so Taekwondo instructors tend to promote students only when they are ready to be promoted.

Not so in your school or mine.

In fact, in a few weeks we are going to promote quite a few students to the next grade level who have not yet mastered the standards for this year. We'll know who they are, because those will be the students who don't do so hot on the California Standards Test. We will agonize over the perennial "promotion/retention dilemma", we'll choose our poison (social promotion being the lesser of twin evils)... and we'll promote each student whether they are ready or not. But at least we are not sending them to spar against accomplished opponents throwing spinning heel kicks.

The significant difference is that in Taekwondo we group students by their demonstrated competence. In public schools we group kids according to 1) their chronological age and 2) the grade level they were sitting in when the clock ran out at the end of the game last June. Our 11 years-olds are fifth graders no matter what level of mastery they have attained in school. And next month, they will become 6th graders and they will struggle to catch up all year until it is time to take the California Standards Test again. When that time comes, they will be handed the Sixth Grade Test-- not because they are ready for it... but merely because we placed them in a student grouping called "Sixth Grade"!

So what if we organized our students for instruction according to the martial arts, mastery-based model that is thousands of years old instead of the archaic, age-driven system that we all perpetuate today?

For starters:

• Students would be grouped according to where they are on the continuum of standards.
• We wouldn't need grade level groupings at all.
• Students would move fluidly forward and back according to their demonstrated needs and evidence of mastery.
• Teaching would be far more differentiated.
• Students would progress at their own pace.

With regard to testing:

• Some 11 year-olds would take the 4th grade version of the California Standards Test... because that is the level they are ready for.
• Some 11 year-olds may take the 7th grade test.
• Some 11 year-olds might take the 5th grade test for math, but the 3rd grade test for language arts.
• Every student would be "at grade level" because, as in Taekwondo, they would be taking a test to demonstrate what they can do. It is geared to their level... so they will all be--by definition--"proficient".
• Since all students would be proficient, schools would not show up as "Program Improvement" and the states' metrics that are now based on counting percentages of proficient students would be obsolete. So they will need new metrics.

Since we are a charter school known for our willingness to try stuff, we are intent on pursuing this model. We know we will have to do our homework and that we will be accused of 'gaming the system.' And yet, our real intention is to completely align our school-- curriculum, assessment, and student groupings-- to a standards-based model.

The Adams County School District 50 in Denver, Colorado is already taking a courageous lead on this. And I'm sure there are others.

But I am wondering...

What questions, suspicions, criticisms, warnings, come to your mind when I describe this project?

Hearing no comments... we are going to go full speed ahead!

h/t Kevin Riley

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Guns In National Parks Edition

Arne Duncan: Full Of Hope, Not Much Else (Like Brains)

Duncan's testimony is largely a summary of previous statements. He begins the session with a discussion related to the recent report about student safety (this GAO report, released Monday, outlines). "I was deeply disturbed by some of the testimony coming out of yesterday's hearing," Duncan said. Was he disturbed by the reports about KIPP Fresno? The physical safety of our children is certainly important; the psychological and emotional safety should be a deep concern as well, a concept ignored by the charter chain gangs and philanthrocapitalists. We've banned pedagogical approaches that employ corporal harm; I hope we eventually outlaw pedagogical approaches that are psychologically and emotionally degrading, the kind of education designed to break children down instead of recognizing our human capacity and inherent value of every child. This testimony is only what Duncan hopes to do - but he'll be backed by philanthrocapialists and the business community. His endless stream of bogus statistics and questionable logic needs to be demystified so that the rest of America can see that the Education Emperor is not wearing any clothes:
h/t Schools Matter

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