Daylight Savings Starts (Ends?)

Whatever. Spring forward one hour tonight before bed.

Update: The case against DST here.

NCLB 2.0 Worse Than 1.0

Congratulations again America! We have elected a FOO (Friend Of the Oligarchs) president who has placed another FOO in charge of education. Jim Horn lays out the ramifications of their new plans to reform our schools:
Because the annual testing will continue unabated under the Oligarchs' plan that Obama will present, this new system will pit the poor against the poorer and the poorer against the poorest, because the only thing that will keep your school off the shutdown, er, turnaround list is some other school in your vicinity that is doing worse still. No targets, no impossible goals. AYP be gone, they don't need you anymore. Under NCLB 2.0, there will be a never-ending list of the "bottom five percent" of schools every year, and there is nothing any school can do except to hope there is some schmucky school further down the road that is even poorer.

Bill Maher's New Rule

New Rule: Let's not fire the teachers when students don't learn - let's fire the parents. Last week President Obama defended the firing of every single teacher in a struggling high school in a poor Rhode Island neighborhood. And the kids were outraged. They said, "Why blame our teachers?" and "Who's President Obama?" I think it was Whitney Houston who said, "I believe that children are our future - teach them well and let them lead the way." And that's the last sound piece of educational advice this country has gotten - from a crack head in the '80's.

Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It's just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers' lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school - canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We're chewing gum and no, we didn't bring enough for everybody.

But isn't it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn't us, and the fix is something that doesn't require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It's so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we're at it let's cut taxes more. It's the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people.

Firing all the teachers may feel good - we're Americans, kicking people when they're down is what we do - but it's not really their fault. Now, undeniably, there are some bad teachers out there. They don't know the material, they don't make things interesting, they have sex with the same kid every day instead of spreading the love around... But every school has crappy teachers. Yale has crappy teachers - they must, they gave us George Bush.

According to all the studies, it doesn't matter what teachers do. Although everyone appreciates foreplay. What matters is what parents do. The number one predictor of a child's academic success is parental involvement. It doesn't even matter if your kid goes to private or public school. So save the twenty grand a year and treat yourself to a nice vacation away from the little bastards.

It's also been proven that just having books in the house makes a huge difference in a child's development. If your home is adorned with nothing but Hummel dolls, DVD's, and bleeding Jesuses, congratulations, you've just given your children the gift of Duh. Sarah Palin said recently she wrote on her hand because her father used to do it. I rest my case.

When there are no books in the house, and there are no parents in the house, you know who raises the kids? That's right, the television. Kids aren't keeping up with their studies; they're keeping up with the Kardashians. We're allowing the television, as babysitter, to turn us into a nation of slutty idiots. By the way, one sign your 9-year-old may be watching too much One Tree Hill: if she has an imaginary friend with benefits.
h/t JH


Moderation: Good For Booze, Not Freedom

From digby:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

MLK, Letters from a Birmingham Jail
Human rights are not "issues" to be finessed in order to procure votes. They are principles which form the very basis of our values and worldview and they must be defended. Yet Americans have sold out their most cherished ideals of equality and liberty throughout its history. And it's always, always been shameful, every single time.

Texas: Still The Most Embarrassing State Updated

Here is what the Texas Board of Education did:
– To avoid exposing students to “transvestites, transsexuals and who knows what else,” the Board struck the curriculum’s reference to “sex and gender as social constructs.”

The Board removed Thomas Jefferson from the Texas curriculum, “replacing him with religious right icon John Calvin.”

– The Board refused to require that “students learn that the Constitution prevents the U.S. government from promoting one religion over all others.”

– The Board struck the word “democratic” from the description of the U.S. government, instead terming it a “constitutional republic.”
Congratulations Texas!

Update: Some more in depth here.

The Bogus Recovery

Bob Reich reminds us that just because some greedy bastards are getting rich from our misery that does not mean we are in a recovery.
Are we finally in a recovery? Who’s “we,” kemosabe? Big global companies, Wall Street, and high-income Americans who hold their savings in financial instruments are clearly doing better. As to the rest of us – small businesses along Main Streets, and middle and lower-income Americans – forget it.

Business cheerleaders naturally want to emphasize the positive. They assume the economy runs on optimism and that if average consumers think the economy is getting better, they’ll empty their wallets more readily and – presto! – the economy will get better. The cheerleaders fail to understand that regardless of how people feel, they won’t spend if they don’t have the money.

The US economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2009. That sounds good until you realize GDP figures are badly distorted by structural changes in the economy. For example, part of the increase is due to rising health care costs. When WellPoint ratchets up premiums, that enlarges the GDP. But you’d have to be out of your mind to consider this evidence of a recovery.

Part of the perceived growth in GDP is due to rising government expenditures. But this is smoke and mirrors. The stimulus is reaching its peak and will be smaller in months to come. And a bigger federal debt eventually has to be repaid.

So when you hear some economists say the current recovery is following the traditional path, don’t believe a word. The path itself is being used to construct the GDP data.

All Children Can Learn, But What About Teachers?

Anthony Cody makes a good point:
What would the reforms look like if we turned these solutions on their head? It might make more sense to focus on how we might improve our evaluation systems to RETAIN and IMPROVE teachers, rather than to get rid of them. It is ironic that a reform movement based on the premise that every child can succeed has decided that though children can learn, many of their teachers cannot.
The reformers talk out of both sides of their mouths, because that's how shysters do it!

Alfie Kohn: No National Standards!

National standards, should we or shouldn't we. A definitive no from Alfie Kohn.
I keep thinking it can’t get much worse, and then it does. Throughout the 1990s, one state after another adopted prescriptive education standards enforced by frequent standardized testing, often of the high-stakes variety. A top-down, get-tough movement to impose “accountability”– driven more by political than educational considerations – began to squeeze the life out of classrooms, doing the most damage in the poorest areas.

By the time the century ended, many of us thought we had hit bottom – until the floor gave way and we found ourselves in a basement we didn’t know existed. I’m referring, of course, to what should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act, which requires every state to test every student every year, judging students and schools almost exclusively by their scores on those tests, and hurting the schools that need the most help. Ludicrously unrealistic proficiency targets suggest that the law was actually intended to sabotage rather than improve public education.

Today we survey the wreckage. Talented teachers have abandoned the profession after having been turned into glorified test-prep technicians. Low-income teenagers have been forced out of school by do-or-die graduation exams. Countless inventive learning activities have been eliminated in favor of prefabricated lessons pegged to numbingly specific state standards.

And now we’re informed that what we really need . . . is to standardize this whole operation from coast to coast.

Have we lost our minds? Because we’re certainly in the process of losing our children’s minds.

To politicians, corporate CEOs, or companies that produce standardized tests, this prescription may seem to make sense. (Notice that this is exactly the cast of characters leading the initiative for national standards.) But if you spend your days with real kids in real classrooms, you’re more likely to find yourself wondering how much longer those kids -- and the institution of public education -- can survive this accountability fad.
I assume many folks in support of national standards feel fine so far; a little rain must fall and all that. But Kohn goes on to debunk the notion of national standards and the narrowing effect it will have on instruction nationally.
Let’s be clear about the latest development. First, what they’re trying to sell us are national standards. It may be politically expedient to insist that the effort isn’t driven by the federal government, but if all, or nearly all, states end up adopting the same mandates, that distinction doesn’t amount to much.

Second, these core standards will inevitably be accompanied by a national standardized test. When asked, during an on-line chat last September, whether that was true, Dane Linn of the National Governors’ Association (a key player in this initiative) didn’t deny it. “Standards alone,” he replied, “will not drive teaching and learning” – meaning, of course, the specific type of teaching and learning that the authorities require. Even if we took the advice of the late Harold Howe II, former U.S. Commissioner of Education, and made the standards “as vague as possible,” a national test creates a de facto national curriculum, particularly if high stakes are attached.

Third, a relatively small group of experts will be designing standards, test questions, and curricula for the rest of us based on their personal assumptions about what it means to be well educated. The official Core Standards website tries to deny this, insisting that the items all teachers are going to have to teach will be “based on evidence” rather than reflecting “individual beliefs about what is important.” It would be charitable to describe this claim as disingenuous. Evidence can tell us whether a certain method is effective for reaching a certain objective – for example, how instruction aligned to this standard will affect a score on that test. But the selection of the goal itself – what our children will be taught and tested on – unavoidably reflects values and beliefs. Should those of a single group of individuals determine what happens in every public school in the country?
Is a great education possible with national standards?
Advocates of national standards tell us they want all students (by which they mean only American students) to attain excellence, no matter where (in our country) they happen to live. The problem is that excellence is being confused with entirely different attributes, such as uniformity, rigor, specificity, and victory. Let’s consider each in turn.

Are all kids entitled to a great education? Of course. But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education. High standards don’t require common standards. Uniformity is not the same thing as excellence – or equity. (In fact, one-size-fits-all demands may offer the illusion of fairness, setting back the cause of genuine equity.) To acknowledge these simple truths is to watch the rationale for national standards – or uniform state standards -- collapse into a heap of intellectual rubble.

To be sure, excellence and uniformity might turn out to be empirically correlated even if they’re theoretically distinct. But I know of no evidence that students in countries as diverse as ours with national standards or curricula engage in unusually deep thinking or are particularly excited about learning. Even standardized test results, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), provide no support for the nationalizers. On eighth-grade math and science tests, eight of the 10 top-scoring countries had centralized education systems, but so did nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.

So if students don’t benefit from uniformity, who does? Presumably corporations that sell curriculum materials and tests can reduce their costs if one text fits all. And then there are the policy makers who confuse doing well with beating others. If you’re determined to evaluate students or schools in relative terms, it helps if they’re all doing the same thing. But why would we want to turn learning into a competitive sport?
And then we get to the meat of the problem--teachers. Of course it's the teachers' fault we have to resort to Draconian measures, as Kohn points out:
Apart from the fact that they’re unnecessary, a key premise of national standards, as the University of Chicago’s Zalman Usiskin observed, is that “our teachers cannot be trusted to make decisions about which curriculum is best for their schools.” Moreover, uniformity doesn’t just happen – and continue – on its own. To get everyone to apply the same standards, you need top-down control. What happens, then, to educators who disagree with some of the mandates, or with the premise that teaching should be broken into separate disciplines, or with the whole idea of national standards? What are the implications of accepting a system characterized by what Deborah Meier called “centralized power over ideas”?
Does harder mean better?
I’ve written elsewhere about another error: equating harder with better and making a fetish of “rigorous” demands or tests whose primary virtue (if it’s a virtue at all) is that they’re really difficult. Read just about any brief for national standards and you’ll witness this confusion in full bloom. A key selling point is that we’re “raising the bar” – even though, as Voltaire reminded us, “That which is merely difficult gives no pleasure in the end.” Nor does it enhance learning.

Then, too, there is a conflation of quality with specificity. If children – and communities – are different from one another, the only safe way to apply an identical standard to all of them is to operate at a high level of abstraction: “We will help all students to communicate effectively,” for example. (Hence Howe’s enduring wisdom about the need to keep things vague.) The more specific the standard, the more problematic it becomes to impose it on everyone. Pretty soon you’re gratuitously defining some kids as failures, particularly if the new standards are broken down by grade level.

The reasonable-sounding adjectives used to defend an agenda of specificity -- “focused,” “coherent,” “precise,” “clear” – ought to make us nervous. If standards comprise narrowly defined facts and skills, then we have accepted a controversial model of education, one that consists of transmitting vast quantities of material to students, material that even the most successful may not remember, care about, or be able to use.

This is exactly what most state standards have already become and it’s where national standards are heading (even if, in theory, they could be otherwise). Specificity is what business groups and newspaper editorialists want and it’s what very vocal defenders of “core knowledge” equate with good teaching. Specificity is a major criterion by which Education Week and conservative think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute evaluate standards documents. In any case, Achieve, Inc. and the National Governors Association probably won't need much convincing; they'll give us specific in spades.
The rest after the jump.


Thursday Cartoon Fun: The Democratic Party Edition

Texas: The Most Embarrassing State

Texas, our most embarrassing state, is on its way to re-writing history for its students. Here are some ideas for what should be taught in Texas, according to the Texas school board (sans links):
For instance, one guideline requires publishers to include a section on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

There have also been efforts among conservatives on the board to tweak the history of the civil rights movement. One amendment states that the movement created “unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes” among minorities. Another proposed change removes any reference to race, sex or religion in talking about how different groups have contributed to the national identity.

The amendments are also intended to emphasize the unalloyed superiority of the “free-enterprise system” over others and the desirability of limited government.

One says publishers should “describe the effects of increasing government regulation and taxation on economic development and business planning.”

Throughout the standards, the conservatives have pushed to drop references to American “imperialism,” preferring to call it expansionism. “Country and western music” has been added to the list of cultural movements to be studied.

References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.

Early in the hearing on Wednesday, Mr. McLeroy and other conservatives on the board made it clear they would offer still more planks to highlight what they see as the Christian roots of the Constitution and other founding documents.

“To deny the Judeo-Christian values of our founding fathers is just a lie to our kids,” said Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican.

The new guidelines, when finally approved, will influence textbooks for elementary, middle school and high school. They will be written next year and will be in effect for 10 years.


Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Obama The Republican Edition

How Much Are You Worth? More Than $5?

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:
Women of all races bring home less income and own fewer assets, on average, than men of the same race, but for single black women the disparities are so overwhelmingly great that even in their prime working years their median wealth amounts to only $5.
h/t CBB

Make of this what you will. But remember this the next time you feel like bashing parents for their kids' lack of "effort" or "ability" in getting the necessary high test scores in school needed to keep their teachers from getting fired--teachers who are needed by these neediest of our children--and from getting their school "privatized" so the wealthy can continue to subjugate the least powerful for their own gain and perpetuate the re-segregation of America. Given the $5 net worth described above, I would say the oligarchs are doing exactly what they want, and are succeeding.

Poverty is a reflection of society; a mirror of what we deem important as a people; it is the civil rights issue of our time (and ALL time), Arne.


Unemployed America: Headed For Bereavement

At least the bankers got their bonuses.
Andrew Oswald, an economist at the University of Warwick, in the U.K., and a pioneer in the field of happiness studies, says no other circumstance produces a larger decline in mental health and well-being than being involuntarily out of work for six months or more. It is the worst thing that can happen, he says, equivalent to the death of a spouse, and “a kind of bereavement” in its own right. Only a small fraction of the decline can be tied directly to losing a paycheck, Oswald says; most of it appears to be the result of a tarnished identity and a loss of self-worth. Unemployment leaves psychological scars that remain even after work is found again, and, because the happiness of husbands and the happiness of wives are usually closely related, the misery spreads throughout the home.

Especially in middle-aged men, long accustomed to the routine of the office or factory, unemployment seems to produce a crippling disorientation. At a series of workshops for the unemployed that I attended around Philadelphia last fall, the participants were overwhelmingly male, and the men in particular described the erosion of their identities, the isolation of being jobless, and the indignities of downward mobility. (link)

Monday Cartoon Fun: I Want You Edition

Robert Reich Chimes In On RTTT

Bail Out Our Schools

Any day now, the Obama administration will announce $4.35 billion in extra federal funds for under-performing public schools. That’s fine, but relative to the financial squeeze all the nation’s public schools now face it’s a cruel joke.

The recession has ravaged state and local budgets, most of which aren’t allowed to run deficits. That’s meant major cuts in public schools and universities, and a giant future deficit in the education of our people.

Across America, schools are laying off thousands of teachers. Classrooms that had contained 20 to 25 students are now crammed with 30 or more. School years have been shortened. Some school districts are moving to four-day school weeks. After-school programs have been canceled; music and art classes, terminated. Even history is being chucked.

Pre-K programs have been shut down. Community colleges are reducing their course offerings and admitting fewer students. Public universities, like the one I teach at, have raised tuitions and fees. That means many qualified students won’t be attending.

Last year the nation committed $700 billion to bail out Wall Street banks, the engines of America’s financial capital, because we were told we’d face economic Armageddon if we didn’t.

We’ve got our priorities backwards. Our schools are the engines of our human capital, and if we don’t bail out public education we face a bigger economic Armageddon years from now.

Financial capital moves instantly around the globe to wherever it can earn the best return. Human capital – the skills and insights of our people – is the one resource that’s uniquely American, on which our future living standards uniquely depend.

Starting immediately, the federal government should give states and local governments interest-free loans to make up for all school and university budget shortfalls. The loans can be repaid when the recession is over and local and state tax revenues revive.

Over the longer term we must shift incentives away from financial capital toward human capital. A tiny one half of one percent tax on all financial transactions would generate about $200 billion a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That might put a crimp on Wall Street bonuses but it’s enough to fund early childhood education, smaller K-12 classes, and lower tuitions and fees for public higher education. [emphasis mine]

The Street’s financial capital is important to the American economy, but over the long term the classroom’s human capital is absolutely crucial.

Monday Revolution Fun

h/t House of Grindlebone


Diane Ravitch Speaks Updated

Part I

Part II(update)

What's The Lesson Of The Central Falls Firing?

Open Left has a great post up about the inevitable conclusions one should draw from the mass firing of the Central Falls staff. It's a fairly long post, but well worth going to the link to read the whole thing.
The bottom-line reason given for the firing [of the Central Falls High School staff in Rhode Island] in many news reports was a 48% graduation rate. Now, that rate is nothing to be proud of--even though it would have been quite respectable for the "Greatest Generation", which sent a lot of high school dropouts off to war. But 48% is still almost halfway to perfection. Contrast that with the violent crime rate for Oakland, California, 1917.8 per 100,000 in 2007 (the most recent year for which statistics are available in the DOJ online database). You'd have to double their performance (cut their violent crime rate in half) eleven times before you'd get close to perfection, a violent crime rate of less than 1 per 100,000.

Obviously, the entire Oakland Police Department should be fired. No other conclusion is possible. It's a no-brainer.

But why stop with Oakland?

The safest community in California is Laguna Woods, and it's violent crime rate is 16.4 per 100,000. You'd have double their police performance four times to get close to a violent crime rate of 1 per 100,000 and five times to get under 1 per 100,000. If perfection's your measure (and why shouldn't it be?) then the Laguna Woods police are spectacularly worse than the Central Falls High faculty and staff.

The conclusion is obvious: Every police department in America should be fired en masse.

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Bipartisanship Edition

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