Twilight of the Idols

...Or how one blogs with a hammer: an undergrad's views on education, cuisine, and more.

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Thursday, July 31

Update: NYC School Pushouts

As expected with any Times article, plenty of people have picked up on this. Two notable mentions:

Matthew Yglesias definitely leans more to the left than I do on most issues. However, other than the first sentence of his post, his views seem to run pretty concurrent to mine. The educrats will do whatever they have to in order to meet the standards set for them, and if they can't do it by teaching students, then they'll find other ways of going about it. The comments are worth checking out, as well.

Daryl Cobranchi at Homeschool & Other Education Stuff also agrees that "[w]hen you choose to reward an outcome instead of a behavior, you shouldn't be shocked when people do whatever they (legally) can in order to obtain the reward." I would note that depending on the reward, people shouldn't be shocked if illegal behavior occurs. That's why stories have been popping up (forgive the lack of links) about teachers going over kids' high stakes exams and then having students fix their errors. Since the teachers (for a variety of reasons) were unable to teach the children what they needed to know in order to pass the test, they do the only other thing they can: they cheat.

High School Isn't For Everyone (gasp!)

This Washington Post article by Jay Mathews is about kids who drop out - wilfully drop out, that is - but who go on to be successful. No one can argue with the fact that most kids who drop out of high school have resigned themselves to low-paying, hard-working jobs. Some students, however, just don't mesh with the system as it stands, and Mathews has interviews with a few of them to back up his point.

(This article was a follow-up to a June 3 piece that questioned the wisdom of raising the dropout age to 18.)

Students wrote in to talk about how they obtained their GED within days of dropping out; some went straight into community colleges, while others "had a succession of food industry jobs, sometimes two at a time" before coming to the conclusion that education was the only way out of the unskilled labor market. Dylan Rickards, who dropped out when he was 16, learned "that if you take risks, life may not be easy but more options will become available," and "that you do not have to have or do what everyone else has or does in order to be successful." Absolutely. Craig Murphy, a dropout who is now an army combat medic, is a man I can sympathice with: "High school asks [students] to memorize. They want to think and form opinions, not regurgitate dates and numbers on tests."

To be sure, teachers and parents alike wrote in to disagree with Mathews; arguments range from "if an impulsive 14-year-old knows that dropping out is even an option they may give up on school altogether" to "early school leavers are significantly less likely to achieve durable employment." All of the dissenting voices make reasonable claims, but I don't think they weigh in heavily enough to warrant raising the dropout age. I fully understand the fears that go with the high school dropout age; many (if not most) students who drop out don't go on to get doctorates in classics from Brown (as one student in the article did). Nonetheless, I see no reason why most kids who would drop out at sixteen should be forced to stay around until they're 18. If students want to leave that badly, they very well might skip class until they're thrown out. Even if they do show up for class, it seems unlikely that they'll get anything from the experience - students generally have to pay attention and care in order to learn.

The previously mentioned NY Times article and this one do see fairly eye-to-eye on issues, although when I first read them they seemed to contradict one another. The GED is certainly not a fix-all, and students who are two or three years behind when they drop out at age sixteen simply aren't going to be ready for an equivalency exam. Nor should students be pushed out of high school to cover up the fact that the school is ineffective. However, for students who can't deal with the system for one reason or another, the option to leave should exist; forcing students who don't want to be in school into classes with students who do can only disrupt the learning process for all.

P.S.: This also indirectly relates to one of Joanne Jacobs' posts from yesterday about a Forbes article claiming that Yale might just be a waste of money for those smart enough to get in in the first place.

NYC Schools Ditching Students Rather Than Vice-versa

New York City school administrators are getting rid of students who don't perform, according to an article in the New York Times today.

It seems that rising pressure due to higher standards - Regents exams and the like - has caused administrators to ask students who aren't performing to get out. The counselors then attempt to cover up the "pushouts" by filing them in with students who transferred schools. Assuming the numbers that the article gives check out, it would seem pretty clear to me that this is what's going on; and really, it isn't surprising.

Educrats abhor accountability. (Let's call this Nick's First Law of Educracy.) What we have here is a system that has kept itself on its feet for years by brushing students under the rug, fudging numbers where it could, and crying foul when anyone attempts to change it. Accountability is still the issue here, just of a different sort. We're not talking about accountability of the schools with respect to students' education (through testing, etc); we're talking about accountability of the schools not to lie to the public about how poorly they're doing. It should come as a shock to no one that the same people who rail against high stakes testing because they can't accept responsibility for anything are also quite willing to push students out of school in order to make sure it looks like they're doing their job. The jaded part of me is waiting for an article calling for the removal of the Regents exams because those tests are forcing counselors to ask students to leave...

Anyway, I appreciate the fairly balanced tone the article takes; in fact, it seems to go to great pains not to lay much blame on the tests or the regulations, but rather on the counselors and principals (where it belongs). The writers also spend a lot of print time talking about students who were pushed out and are working on their GEDs. While these students are far from success stories at this point, they do tie into the next post...

Wednesday, July 30

Slow News Day

In honor of the fact that nothing particularly interesting seems to be happening in the education world today, I bring you a wholly unrelated topic: AOL. AOL gets a big thumbs down from me today - why, you ask? Let's start from the beginning.

Back in 1996-97, AOL was my outlet to the world. I have been connected in one way or another since 1991 (on the old Prodigy service, originally), and AOL was one of many stops I made between my trusty old 2400 baud modem and the cable modem I have today. So when I first started using AOL Instant Messenger in 1999 - I was sick of ICQ - I used my old AOL screenname. I liked the name, and I just didn't see any reason to buck tradition. Now fast forward to the present, over four years later.

I tried to log in to my AIM account after rebooting yesterday and found that my account was suspended. It was suspended because "Screen Names that were previously used on AOL but have been cancelled or suspended, can no longer be used on AIM." This infuriated me, but the next sentence got me even more riled up when it offered me a solution: I could keep using my screenname if I would simply "reactivate the account on AOL." I have to spend $20/month in order to keep my old screenname? Thanks, but no. I'll stick with my high-speed, low-spam InsightBB account.

If I would have gotten a warning - anything - to let me know this was going to happen, I wouldn't be quite so annoyed. I could have copied down my list of contacts and just entered them into a new account, which would have been marginally irritating, but doable. Now, however, I am stuck trying to track down all 65 people on my old buddy list to let them know that my old account is kaput. Thanks, AOL.

Better Than Nothing

I found the link to this Washington Post article over at Peter's Catholic School Blogger.

The article tells about teachers who have assigned popular, modern novels to students for summer reading; names like Grisham and King are dropped, and the first part of the article talks a lot about Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. (Personally, I'm a big fan of Eggers' book.) Peter seems to wonder if this "dumbing down" of reading lists is a bad thing, and while I wasn't sure at first, the pro pop-lit teachers put a good foot forward and easily convinced me that there's not a problem here.

As the article notes, the point "is to keep children reading: The most important thing they can learn in June, July and August is that books aren't drudgery." With very few exceptions, I would say that any reading is better than none at all. It'd be a shame if a kid's only literary influences were R. L. Stine or Captain Underpants, but even these books would have to be better than no books whatsoever. I wish that the students would read "better" books over the summer; their teachers do as well. However, the teachers (like myself) are realistic about how much work students are willing to do over the summer, and they know that assigning popular novels will at least keep kids reading.

The lone dissenting voice quoted in the article, a University of Virginia professor, claims that readers of pop-lit "aren't likely to get the same payload of cultural literacy." I'd have to disagree with him, though; the simple fact is, people look just as silly when they don't know what Oprah's Book Club is as when they don't know who gave the "To be or not to be" speech. Cultural literacy is not limited to either the past or the present, and anyone who assumes that knowing anything about pop culture is lowbrow is making just as great a mistake as anyone who avoids reading the classics because they're dry or long or boring or irrelevant. On that note, the article is also quite correct in noting that if schools foist the classics on students all year as well as through the summer, students will acquire the "mistaken belief that the only worthwhile reading is difficult."

On a side note, one of the things I really appreciated about this article was that all of the teachers quoted seemed to care about the classics - frankly, after seeing that Hesse was on the list for the fall, it occured to me that I couldn't care less what the teachers had assigned for summer reading.

Tuesday, July 29

Update: Harvey Milk School

Being rather curious about how a seemingly segregated public school came into existence, I did a bit of research (i.e., Google). It seems that an organization - the Hetrick-Martin Institute - got together with the NYC Department of Education in 1984 and got the school up and running. While Harvey Milk remains the country's first public school for GLBT students, it's nothing new - an important detail that the NY Post article left out.

Among other details missing from the Post article: the school is at least partially funded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute. I haven't been able to find any exact figures, however, and all of the $3.2 million that has been spent on renvations and additions came straight from the state. Thus, we're still left with a school that is geared towards a specific set of students being funded (to a large extent) by the state. Compare this again to a hypothetical school for African-American students - would there still be support? What if it were a school for white students?

Lastly, for your perusal, here's the application for admission to Harvey Milk School. Answering one of my questions, "straight" is an option on the "Sexual Identification" box. Now my question is: since the page makes clear that it expects more applicants than available seats, would a straight student ever be picked over a homosexual student?

From Russia With Educrats

This LA Times article reminds me of far too many others I've read about sanitized test items and politicized reading lists across the US, but this article comes with a twist - this time, it's Russian educrats who are (in effect) censoring literature in the name of "patriotism."

Yes, it would certainly be a shame to have students reading books like Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago or Dostoevsky's House of the Dead, especially when there are so many books out there about how great the U.S.S.R. really was. Right.

If it weren't so disturbing, I'd find this part hilarious. "In addition to the revised reading list . . . the committee set out new goals for the teaching of literature, including the development of 'patriotism' and 'to form a universally educated person.'" Yevgeny Saburov (who is on a council reviewing the changes) said, "that is a cliche that comes straight from Soviet times." From Soviet times? I imagine Saburov would weep if he realized that we in the States are just as guilty of modifying literature to suit our needs.

Said a group of liberal authors who are protesting the changes: "Soviet canons still threaten the truly historical knowledge acquired by us over the past decade - the knowledge of the repressive totalitarian regime and its grave consequences for the people, the country and its culture." And really, if you generalize that statement, it is the case for all countries and all histories. James Loewen's excellent Lies My Teacher Told Me manages to explain the dangers of sanitizing the past while also showing the numerous areas that this occurs in American classrooms. Washington didn't chop down the cherry tree; Jefferson owned slaves. Removing the reality from the lives of our founding fathers and replacing it with myth changes the founders drastically; instead of being falliable, interesting men to whom students can relate, they become infalliable demi-gods that are irrelevant and sure to bore anyone to death.

Both the article and former dissident Vladimir Voinovich sum things up quite nicely by noting that he "won't even say this is being done on Putin's orders. It is the initiative of bureaucrats in the Education Ministry."

Monday, July 28

Seperate but Equal... Again?

I really can't say enough bad things about this; it seems that New York City will be opening America's first public high school for gay students.

First off, are heterosexual students actually excluded? If so, then I'd love to see how they get public funding to run a public school. Replace the word "gay" with "black," or worse, "white," throughout the article, and you begin to grasp just how ridiculous this idea is. $3.2 million is being spent on renovating the building, which seems exorbitant in the face of a budget crisis that has gripped NYC for months. That $3.2 million could hire a lot of teachers and buy a lot of books; instead, it will go to "arts and a culinary program."

On top of this, it seems to fly in the face of the pro-diversity propaganda that's so widespread these days. Homosexual students will miss out on learning to interact with straight students, the heterosexual students won't have the diversified benefit of homosexual viewpoints in class, and neither side will learn the benefits of tolerance, etc. Seriously, though, I thought Brown v. Topeka took care of issues like this. We don't have seperate high schools for the different races, even though there are plenty of areas where racial tensions still run high. Why should we have a seperate high school for gay students just because some people don't approve of homosexuality?

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NYC, says that "everybody feels that it's a good idea because some of the kids who are gays and lesbians have been constantly harassed and beaten in other schools and this lets them get an education without having to worry," apparently ignoring the fact that every school should offer the safe environment he describes. State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long correctly wonders if we should have "schools for chubby kids who get picked on. Maybe all kids who wear glasses should have special schools." Indeed.

Drinking and Driving, I mean, Bursting

Also in the previously mentioned Living & Learning:

From this article about environmental ethics: a science teacher put groups of worms "into water, diluted with three strengths of alcohol, and the students watched, transfixed, as the first group started shriveling, the second one bled, and the third, plastered and bursting, died." The teacher, a Mr. Hornstine (presumably no relation to other Hornstines), then pointed out to his students that "this happens to you, in varying degrees, whenever you drink."

Now, I live in Bloomington, IN, which is home to Indiana University and well known to be a great "party town." Of all the drunken people I've seen stumbling down the streets, never once have I seen one burst and die (or any degree thereof). Sure, this is purely anecdotal evidence, but...

I understand that he's trying to make a point, but I envision this worm experiment as belonging in some sort of latter-day Reefer Madness about the evils of alcohol. Teaching kids that something they see all the time does something which it obviously does not is simply going to make kids stop listening - regardless of the subject matter. Kids know that they won't burst and die (or shrivel) from drinking alcohol; yes, I think kids should be warned of the dangers of alcohol poisoning, but that's not what Mr. Hornstine is doing. Once he has established himself as a man who does not tell the truth - regardless of his motivation - he's lost all his credibility. Why should children believe Mr. Hornstine about the danger of mixing bleach and ammonia-based cleaners when he clearly lied to them about (or at the very least, greatly exaggerated) the dangers of alcohol?

Living & Learning in Miami

Today's Miami Herald came with a supplement entitled Living & Learning; it provided a wealth of interesting educaiton-related articles. Here are some of the highlights:

There is an article about professionals who give up their unfulfilling, unsatisfying corporate careers to teach. Now, for the most part, I don't have an issue with this; assuming that these people are qualified to teach, then let's get them in a classroom as soon as possible. If we had more teachers who genuinely wanted to be in the classroom - instead of people who are seeking an easy degree, an easy job, etc - it could only be a good thing for the students.

The article took a turn for the worse, however, with David Dainer-Best, "a fan of U.S. history who started teaching the subject at Palmetto in January after 20 years in sales and management." He says: "'In the business world, if an employee doesn't perform up to standards, he's fired." And unfortunately, that just isn't the case in the realm of public education. He goes on to clarify a bit, explaining that a teacher simply can't expect to reach all of their students; I agree. But some teachers are going to reach more than others, and it would certainly benefit the system to maximize the number of students reached. Whether Mr. Dainer-Best is a good teacher who knows his limits or a bad teacher who knows his excuses, I am unsure; however, he got his master's degree in public administration, and that must have prepared him well for the educracy he faces in Florida.

Also to be found is a piece about the benefits of Phys Ed and how gym classes across the country are getting the axe. I've made my vies on the arts and such clear in previous posts; I'll refrain from doing so again. But take a look at these numbers: "This past school year, the Miami-Dade School System received a $452,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to set up state-of-the-art fitness centers..." Nearly half a million dollars for "fitness centers?" I readily agree that PE is a good thing, even if I disagree with it being in the public schools. However, someone is going to have a difficult task explaining to me why a public school would need a rock-climbing wall.

In amongst the numerous benefits of PE that the article extols, it comes up that "parents [are] increasingly worrying that their children's lack of physical activity may cause obesity..." Well, yeah. Sitting in front of the TV doesn't really burn up too many calories. The article also quotes a soon-to-be eighth grader, Kevin Smith, who likes "to play sports outside" and was disappointed that he was unable to take a gym class last year. He also missed running and jumping. I sympathize with Kevin - most kids would rather be outside running, jumping, or pretty much any other verb-ing than be in class - but the goal of school should be to give students an education, first and foremost. All the money that's being spent on heart monitors and individual pedometers could be far better spent on math and reading teachers.

Friday, July 25

Thousands of Florida students will be eligible for early graduation, according to today's Miami Herald.

Due to a newly implemented fast-track law, nearly ten thousand incoming seniors in Miami-Dade county alone will be able to secure diplomas with only an additional class or two. A significant percentage of this year's incoming juniors may be able to skip their senior year altogether.

Those who are against the bill are worried about the fact that the track must be chosen at the onset of high school. Lourdes Rovira, who is an assistant superintendant in the Miami-Dade district, is aware that parents have the final say in their kids' tracks but "fears 13-year-olds will be driving the choice in many families." She continues: ''In eighth grade all they're thinking about is whether they can use the phone at night. . . For teenagers, three or four years down the line is forever.'' I agree with her that most kids are going to want to take the three year track, but why the worry? The parents have the final say and are therefore almost necessarily included in the decision making process. If the parents are just blindly signing any paper that their child shoves in front of them, that's not the law's fault; it's the parent's fault. Regardless, tracks can be changed at any time, so it seems like this shouldn't be such a big issue.

And of course, the FCAT fits nicely into the picture as well. The three-year program does not require geometry, which is covered on Florida's infamous test. If fast track students haven't passed the FCAT by their junior year, they will automatically be tracked into a senior year. In their senior year, they will promply be put in a program in which the requirements are (allegedly) "so much more detailed, it may be difficult to complete them in a single year." If the program really is that much more in depth, and it really would be difficult to complete in a single year, then that's a pretty significant flaw. Either way, if the program for the fast-trackers who don't quite make it is so detailed and effective, why don't they try using it on the regular students as well?

The NY Times reports today that the state of Illinois has enacted a plan to freeze tuition rates for entering freshmen. The bill was introduced by a State Representative who was touched by the stories of students who "had gone on to college but some had to drop out for a semester or longer when they faced tuition increases they could not meet." The Governor of Illinois was elated about the bill, saying that "The dream of a college education is something we must encourage, not discourage. . . Today we are doing our part to keep that dream alive." That's all well and good, but does this bill actually do anything to help students?

Why not take a look at why the bill was passed in the first place: "The plan comes as financially squeezed colleges in many states have raised tuition significantly to cover rising costs and to make up for cuts in state financial support. In reaction, some federal policy makers as well as some in Illinois and other states have begun to discuss ways to hold down those increases." Let me get this straight: the state government cut funding to the schools. The schools raised tuition in order to keep the money coming in. Now, the same policy makers are discussing ways to keep tuition increases from occuring. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to see what happened here.

The schools (whose tuitions have apparently more than doubled in the past ten years) have already figured out a solution to the new regulations, however. Their great idea "is that tuition rises enough the first year to make up for no increases in the next three years." Okay, that makes sense enough. The universities need money to function, and if they don't charge greatly increased tuition for the incoming freshmen, then later classes will bear a larger burden of keeping the school afloat.

The article is short on actual numbers, but it quotes the vice president of academic affairs of the UI system as saying that the tuition freeze would benefit students because "rather than facing 5 percent tuition increases for four years, for example, students might face a 13 percent increase in their first year and no increases after that." If we take UIUC's current annual tuition cost of $5,568 and increase it by 5 percent each year for three years (to complete a four year degree), then the student ends up paying $23,998.78. If we increase that initial cost by 13 percent (which makes it $6,291.84), then the student will be out $25,167.36 after four years, for a net loss of $1,168.58 under the tuition freeze. Surely, that can't help students who had to drop out because of tuition costs; it will simply keep students who can't quite afford the school out in the first place.

I'll be fair and note that no official numbers have been set yet; that won't happen until next year. But a tuition freeze isn't necessarily a benefit to students, and there's really no way it could be. Unless the universities are willing to sustain themselves on less money than they are already getting, then what they'll have to do is figure out what initial increase equals the amount of money they'll need over the next four years and make that the new tuition.

And that leads us to the worst part: let's use the above numbers again (simply for the sake of arguement). The university is not legally obligated to increase tution 5 percent every year; one year it might be five, another it might be three, another it might not raise tuition at all. But with the tuition freeze, the university is forced to assume the worst and initially increase tuition 13 percent, meaning that students could very well end up paying significantly more than they would have otherwise.

So, since the bill won't help students at all financially, that leaves only one benefit that the new bill could have: predictability. However, given the likely possibility that students will now end up paying even more for their college education, it seems like the only predictable result of this law is that the consumer will get less for more.

Thursday, July 24

A New York Times article from yesterday deals with a topic that relates to my post about the role of art/sports/etc in education.

All sorts of electives, including the usual suspects of art and music, are being pushed aside to make room for NYC's new curriculum. "Some schools are also reducing foreign language, social studies and science instruction to accommodate the curriculum, which requires that 18 periods — more than half of the 35 instructional periods in a typical week — be dedicated to reading and math." Upon first reading this, I was a bit disappointed; science of all sorts and foreign languages are valuable parts of an education. Further reflection allowed me to realize that without math and reading, science and history are nigh worthless. Similarly, while a foreign language may be a useful skill to obtain, it probably shouldn't be obtained at the cost of learning English.

Due to the new curriculum, the schools are basically being forced into eliminating electives. The Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, when questioned about the importance of the elective classes, said that "if I have the forced choice, I think I have to put it into math and literacy, even though I don't like that." Well done. After reading about a college professor (of education and art, no less) who thinks that the study of math and reading just isn't worth kids' time, Klein offers a refreshing - and realistic - point of view. Artists and musicians who can't read aren't as valuable to society as those who can, and I can't really believe in a system that would put the always useful math and reading behind the often enriching arts programs. Not to mention that math is quite important to a musician; music theory is as much applied mathematics as anything else. Students who can't understand that a whole note is two half notes are four quater notes simply aren't going to progress very far in music.

At any rate, if the opinions of a majority of administrators in NYC's school system are as realisitic as the majority quoted in the article are, then it would seem that the schools are headed for better times. Most who are quoted realize the value of a well-rounded education (as do I, even if I think it doesn't belong in the public schools), but they also realize the need for a well-grounded basis in core subjects.

The end of the article does strike a chord for me, however. A principal is quoted as saying "I have got a brand new computer lab ... and it's just going to sit there because I have got no time in the day to do computers." I have had a long-standing issue with the use of computers in schools. Computers are not a magical cure-all for our educational system; computers do not inherently make children smarter. It's not as if kids walk in to computer labs, plug their brains in for a few minutes, and walk out geniuses. While computers may certainly be used to supplement education, they are not a substitute for a real, live teacher.

Compounding the issue for me is that, from my (anecdotal) experience, many teachers know less about computers than their students. While I assume that this knowledge gap is constantly shrinking, I still hesitate to say that there are significant numbers of teachers out there who know how to do much more than open up Word or Excel; if anyone happens to know of any studies on this, I would be interested.

It just seems silly to me to have a brand new computer lab when schools are in the middle of a budget crisis. You can teach without a computer, but a computer is effectively worthless without a teacher.

After an hour or two of messing with Squawkbox.tv's comments, I have successfully gotten them up and running. No thanks, of course, to the worthless Blogger/Blogspot combo. As soon as I have some money - that is, as soon as my financial aid comes through - then I hope to move this to, well, anywhere but Blogspot. As it stands, however, I'm having to panhandle my parents for grocery money, so I'm stuck blogging for free or not blogging at all - the money issue is one of the few things I don't like about being a student.

Anyway, after a whopping three days, I'm really enjoying this. I've been bored all summer, and this is a refreshing break from "just surfing the net." Now I'm always on the lookout for something to write about; really, I'm still just looking around, but now I have a sense of purpose when I do. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, heh.

In other site related news, it seems like I have linked to my BlogMom, Kimberly, in practically every post I've made so far; I see no reason to change that after she graciously linked to me. ;-)

Wednesday, July 23

Utah has decided on a new method of determining what classes to offer in its public schools; Kimberly at No. 2 Pencil provided the link. In her comments section, a person asks how Utah's newer curriculum rules would apply to classes like music, drama, or art.

Oddly enough, I was discussing this with a friend just a few days ago; our conclusion was that there is every reason to have music, gym, et al, at the primary school level, but none at the high school level.

It's important to have these programs for the younger set because some talents become far less likely to be developed over time; it's also good to introduce children to a wide range of activities so that they realize that there's more than the internet and Nintendo out there. (Hey, wait, there's more to life than the internet and Nintendo?!)

However, by the time a student reaches the secondary level of school, there just seems to be very little justification for having all those programs. A public high school should not have programs which all students cannot take advantage of, especially when those programs can be offered (often to greater effect) outside of school.

Most schools in Germany (and the rest of Europe, to the best of my knowledge) don't offer sports or drama; local clubs more than make up for this omission. Music lessons are taught privately, rather individually or in groups, and community bands offer people a chance to perform. While I confess to not knowing about art classes, it would seem that they can be taught privately just as well. Everything I've ever learned about drawing I learned in one-on-one lessons with a friend; two years of drawing classes in high school left me nothing if not demoralized, heh.

There also other benefits to having all of these things outside of the school; for instance, the school days are considerably shorter. If you didn't have all the assemblies for the football (baseball, wrestling, whatever) teams or if you didn't have to go watch the first thirty minues of the play in hopes that you'll buy tickets, then you'd have no reason to be in school for seven hours a day. And while some might argue that the social aspect of school would be diminished, I would argue that it will be reinforced. Not only will students still be able to have/make friends during the day, but they will also be able to make friends from all over the city (not just their school) when they participate in the sports clubs and such.

So anyway, I don't think there's any reason to have sports or the arts represented in a public school beyond the primary years. There are plenty of working examples of private sports, drama, etc clubs. And since taxpayers foot the bill for the public schools, the taxpayers' kids should be able to use everything the public schools offer. Anything they can't use shouldn't be there. And yes, I fully understand that this argument can be applied to AP or honors courses, and I think I'm okay with that. I haven't given the application of this argument to honors classes enough thought yet, but I'll write about it when I have.

Michael Winerip has an article in today's NY Times about the FCAT fiasco. Winerip's article chooses to concentrate on the rigidity of the system; basically, he is writing about a actual example of students failing, as opposed to the hypothetical musings in the SacBee editorial mentioned in the previous post.

Derek Adamson, a student who is the focus of the article, missed being promoted to the fourth grade by a single question; his principal thinks he should be promoted anyway. Indeed, she notes that "not everyone reads on the same time scale." Well, then, why should everyone be promoted on the same time scale?

Winerip moves on to note that the law does not take the margin of error on the test into account. It's true that "Derek's score may reflect a reading ability above the 51st percentile." However, it may not; a margin of error doesn't automatically mean bonus points. Derek could be even further behind than his scores suggest, which would make things even harder on him if he were promoted.

Derek ends up at a summer reading camp; on the surface, this seems like a good idea. If kids are caught up to speed over the summer - and they pass the test - then they can go ahead to the next grade. However, something obviously went wrong when these camps were put together, since "[o]f the 1,715 third graders who attended the summer reading program here in Orange County, only 15 percent passed." Why? Were the students even less prepared than the administration had assumed? Derek's principal, Louise Brown, says that although she "chose six top teachers for her reading camp, she was not surprised when only 3 of 37 students passed." Why?

The article makes reference to research on the limitations of remedial summer school, but it doesn't cite anything in particular; thus, I am left in the dark as to why this program was (for the most part) a failure. I fully realize that it would be nearly impossible to teach a year's worth of reading (or more) in a mere four weeks, but with camps that consist of twenty hours per week of reading drills, I would expect a bit more progress.

In the end, I understand Derek's predicament. Failing the test by a single question is certainly a bit demoralizing. Put simply, though, if Derek really isn't ready for fourth grade, then he shouldn't be there; instead, he should take this next year to catch up, and then go on to shine.

Tuesday, July 22

Both Kimberly at No. 2 Pencil and Joanne Jacobs link to Daiel Weintraub's Saramento Bee editorial about the rollback of California's statewide graduation exams.

As both of them note, Weintraub makes it clear that if there are tests - and assuming that the tests are meaningful - then some children will fail to graduate with a high school diploma. I see this as a non-issue. Not getting a high school diploma shouldn't make or break a person's life.

Even if a student "never got a fair opportunity to learn the material on which they were tested" and did not get a diploma for this reason, there's no reason to just give up on life. Assuming that schools issue certificates of completion in lieu of diplomas, it would seem likely that most community colleges would accept students who only have a certificate; as it stands, most community colleges will accept any student with a diploma or its equivalent, so there is no reason to believe a certificate of completion would be any different.

Community colleges offer a wide range of remedial classes for students who (for whatever reason) did not perform well in high school (as well as adults returning to further their education). The students who didn't get anything from the high schools will still have an opportunity to learn what they hadn't already, and at a pace that they are comfortable with. And honestly, whether students did not pass a graduation exam because they weren't given a good education or because they just didn't work hard enough, either means that those students are probably not ready for a four year school. Community colleges are an inexpensive way to get an associate degree or to acclimate oneself to the academic environment in preparation for a four year school.

In short, the lack of a high school diploma shouldn't be the end of the world for anyone. Having real graduation exams would help to restore some meaning to high school diplomas, and for the students who do not pass, there are still plenty of options.

The AP has an article out about police departments' use of private funds; read it here.

I don't like this trend. Indeed, it seems quite reasonable to "question whether the practice of mixing private money and police work subverts the usual government protections against favoritism and conflicts of interest." I don't like business getting involved with government any more than I like the government getting involved with business. The article further confirms that one should be suspicious when it notes that the New York City Police Foundation's budget has nearly tripled since 9/11, "enabling the NYPD to undertake projects without having to deal with City Hall red tape." This is a good thing?

In reference to private donations to the NYPD's trademark infringement unit, an officer says, ""We're not doing it on behalf of Ralph Lauren; we're not doing it on behalf of Tommy Hilfiger. We're doing it to get the person who's doing the counterfeiting." What about the companies that don't donate; are they protected as well as the ones that do?

I fully realize that there are good intentions here, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with, right? Various NYPD officers and administrators claim that the situation is for the best, but it sure seems like there is a huge potential for abuse if private companies are given any influence over our police departments.

This editorial from Monday's USA Today was written by Cary Sherman (president of the RIAA) and maintains that existing copyright laws simply need to be enforced in order to solve the problems with file sharing.

Cary Sherman offers the usual arguments about the evils of copyright infringement; no need to rehash them here. He then goes on to mention that "Congress has helped expose the rampant privacy and security risks of the file-sharing networks..." Many of the privacy issues stemming from the use of file sharing software can be addressed with programs like Lavasoft's AdAware; most of the privacy issues that AdAware can't address have to deal with the RIAA's legal victories that force ISPs to share information about their users.

Mr. Sherman makes a great point when he argues against compulsory pricing and notes that "[t]o date, the government has avoided regulating the Internet, and it shouldn't start now." I agree wholeheartedly. He also points out that only a free market can "keep pace with the dynamic, rapidly evolving Internet." Well, yes, I agree with that as well... But wait! "Before we jeopardize the most creative and vibrant community in the world for the sake of some theoretical, unproven scheme, let's give the marketplace and the existing copyright laws a chance to work." Copyright laws are currently limiting the free market that Mr. Sherman so adores; nor does the legality of file sharing services seem to matter to the hundreds of thousands of people who use them.

The simple fact is, the free market has spoken. People don't want to pay as much as the RIAA thinks they should. Maybe people would pay $8 for a CD instead of $18; maybe they wouldn't. Regardless, people are more than happy to pay nothing for their CDs. Given the nature of the internet, the RIAA will have to fight tooth and nail to stay a step ahead of the file sharers, and this just doesn't seem like a realistic long-term goal. I don't think the RIAA can win a pitched battle against the ingenuity of the internet. The market has changed, drastically, and the RIAA needs to realize this before they run themselves into the ground. (Not that I'd mind seeing the demise of the RIAA.)

In short, the RIAA needs to start looking a lot harder at improving the content of CDs - say, including lyrics in every CD and more extra content, like videos and interviews from the recording sessions. They also need to secure a lot more exclusive content for the legitimate file sharing sites, like Apple's iTunes. Unless the RIAA evolves to fit the new market (and fast), they will soon meet the fate of species which fail to evolve: extinction.


I am a relative newcomer to the blogosphere. It was only a couple short months ago that I discovered that blogs weren't (all) the angst-ridden LiveJournals that I had assumed they were. Although I was initially wary of posting comments, I soon found that I couldn't stay silent on the issue of the day, and I began adding my voice to the discussions I saw all around me... Presently, some of my comments are cut off by character limits, and I often find it difficult to get across my full meaning in so small a space. Naturally, to solve this problem, I have decided to start up a blog of my own.

As far as content goes, I plan on sticking to the non-political news items of the day - the ones that sometimes get overlooked on the uber-blogs. There are plenty of people who are well-informed (and plenty who aren' t, heh) to write about the Iraq situation or the finer points of Bush's State of the Union address; thus, I will generally avoid these issues.

I don't plan on limiting myself to anything in particular, really. I am majoring in German and Philosophy and I plan on going on to law school. With the help of a good friend, I am training to be a chef; I also have a strong interest in educational matters. I'm sure I'll post about all of the above and more from time to time.

As for a point of reference, I am a Libertarian on most issues; one of those Libertarians who says that "government is a necessary evil." Nonetheless, I am always open to new ways of looking at things. I fully admit that I adhere to my beliefs, but then, if I didn't adhere to them, why would I believe them?

At any rate, I welcome any comments or constructive criticism. In short, I love getting email, so feel free to drop me a line.

Let the posting begin!


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