Twilight of the Idols

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

Email me!


Site Meter

Sunday, August 31

Houston (Kinda, Sorta) Takes Action Over Dropout Issue

From the New York Times: the Houston school district is (sort of) taking action against those involved in the underreporting of dropouts.

The Houston Independent School District will dock the salary of the former principal and a computer technician at Sharpstown High School, where false claims of no dropouts led to a state audit that found that nearly all the Houston schools examined were vastly undercounting dropouts.

The principal, Dr. Carol Wichmann, who retired in June, will lose $3,000 in salary, and the technician, Kenneth Cuadra, will be put on unpaid leave for two weeks and be reassigned to another school, a spokesman for the district said.

I'm going to assume that the article is poorly written (or that I don't understand some aspect of retirement policy), because it seems quite silly to dock the pay of someone who has already retired. Really, I quit my last job almost three months ago - and if they want to lower my pay, they can feel free to.

Either way, it sure doesn't seem like much of a punishment. It's the kind of slap on the wrists that doesn't discourage people from doing something wrong; it merely enourages them to avoid getting caught. And how come "nearly all the Houston schools examined were vastly undercounting dropouts" but only two people from one school are being punished?

In a statement, the district superintendent, Dr. Kaye Stripling, said an investigation of the misreporting found that Mr. Cuadra had not been ordered to change the dropout codes.

"While no specific directive contributed to reporting of low dropouts, a climate existed at the school that tolerated the reporting of unrealistic dropout rates," a statement by Dr. Stripling said.

I'm not convinced. Why would a computer technician randomly decide to change the dropout codes? What kind of climate would have to exist before a tech would alter school records?

I would say it was obvious (and so would State Rep. Rick Noriega) that someone told Mr. Cuadra to do what he did; otherwise, I can't imagine he'd have any reason to. Presumably, Mr. Cuadra's salary is not contingent on how many students dropped out. On top of that, it seems odd that Mr. Cuadra would even have the ability to alter records. Could he look up confidential information about students? Could he change grades? If so, why? There's no need for a tech to have access to information like that - he can hook a computer up to a network without having access to all of the school's data.

Others have called on the district to review the reports of the 15 out of 16 middle and high schools that were found to have submitted lower dropout numbers than they could document and to demand the return of bonuses given on the basis of false numbers. A principal could collect up to $5,000 for good performance, and area superintendents could collect upward of $10,000.

I just can't stop quoting Daryl Cobranchi: "When 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." The caveat is, of course, if the reward is big enough and the punishment is small enough, people will do whatever they can to obtain the reward regardless of the legality of what they're doing. If Dr. Wichmann got a $5,000 bonus and a $3,000 salary dock, she still made $2,000 for lying to her superiors and the public. I'm sure she cried all the way to the bank.

Friday, August 29

U. Michigan Changes Admissions Policy

See articles here and here to get all of the (limited) details. My thoughts? Quite simply, Michigan will now do under the table what it used to do in the open.

Thursday, August 28

Houston Schools Caught Lying - Again

This time, instead of lying about how many kids dropped out, Houston schools are lying about how many students attend college.

Davis High School, where students averaged a combined SAT score of 791 out of a possible 1600 in 1998, reported that every last one of its graduates that year planned to go to college.

Well, I'd say it's pretty apparent that with an average score of 791 on the SAT, these kids aren't going to college - most likely, they're going nowhere at all. From a former principal:

On paper, her school claimed that almost all of its graduates were headed for college. In fact, the principal said, most of them "couldn't spell college, let alone attend."

That's some impressive cynicism - even by my standards.

It seems that the schools have been lying about how many students go to college in order to attract more students (and of course, more money). There's nothing technically illegal going on, since the schools aren't required to report to the state how many students are going on to college; nonetheless, as the article points out, this just makes federal Education Secretary Rod Paige look even worse. It's quite apparent that this coverup was also going on while Paige was superintendent of the Houston district, and one must begin to wonder if he would have even been considered for his current job if this information had come out sooner.

Ashleigh Blackmon, a graduate of Yates in 2002, said she did not for a moment believe all her classmates were planning on college but was not sure her school's claims did any harm.

"It doesn't mean anything, because who cares?" she said, and then paused. "But it could mean they lie about a lot more of other things."


Cultural Bias Alleged In Teacher Certification Tests

Lots of former New York City teachers are upset about the fact that they got fired because they failed mandatory certification exams; they have claimed, naturally, that the tests were culturally biased.

The protesters urged the city to reconsider its firing of 10,000 uncertified teachers over the last five years, saying the test was culturally biased against blacks and Hispanics.

Marc Pessin, a co-chairman of a teachers' group called the Progressive Action Caucus, which organized the demonstration, said the passing rate among blacks and Hispanics was about 40 percentage points lower than that among whites.

I won't go into detail explaining how ridiculously wrong this assertion is; Kimberly has already done so multiple times - and besides, she does a better job of explaining such matters than I would, anyway. Put simply, the fact that blacks and hispanics don't do as well on the test does not mean that the test is biased; it means simply that blacks and hispanics don't do as well. This could be for any number of reasons - and one of the least likely is "cultural bias."

Regina Powell, who worked for 19 years in schools in East New York, Brooklyn, first as a teacher's aide and later as a teacher, said she had lost her job last year after failing the test and had to go on welfare recently.

"It started as a dream come true, but it ended in disaster," Ms. Powell said. "It hurts to even think about it. I've gotten so many award letters, and accolades from parents and the Board of Education."

A 19-year veteran teacher and she couldn't pass what amounts to a basic skills exam? Good riddance. It may hurt her to think about how she got fired, but it hurts me even more to think that someone like her was allowed to get the job in the first place - much less keep it for nearly two decades.

Jose Aguasvivas, a former math and Spanish teacher in the bilingual program at Roosevelt High School in the Bronx, said he was typical of teachers who had failed the test because English was not their first language. "I even have a master's degree in bilingual elementary education," he said. "But the test is very confusing. If the test is in Spanish, then I pass it no problem."

...read that again. Superintendent Laboy doesn't have anything on this guy. Mr. Aguasvivas has a master's degree in bilingual elementary education but he can't pass a test in English? How can he possibly consider himself bilingual when he obviously can't function in English? If Mr. Aguasvivas wants to sue someone, he should consider suing the school that sold him his master's degree; it obviously isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Side note: two articles in a row that mention people who worked somewhere for 19 years... It must be a conspiracy! Heh.

Yale's Union Workers Walk Out -- Again

Yale employees - primarily maintenance and clerical workers - have staged a walkout because the school isn't giving them a large enough raise. I would assume that it's well known by this point that I really, really don't like unions. I loathe them, in fact. Listen to this:

"Their [Yale's] offer stinks," said Peggy Nelson, a maintenance worker who earns $29,000 a year after 19 years on the job. "I have three kids, and what they're offering isn't enough to support a family."

$29,000 after 19 years sure isn't very much money, I agree. So, I came up with this idea for Ms. Nelson: get a different job! For instance, she could take night classes at a local vocational school and become an RN or an NP - they make gobs of money. Regardless, she needs to stop whining about how little money she makes; if the job is so horrible, why didn't she get a different job 18 years and 11 months ago? I mean, the job market may not be prime right now, but it has had some real highs since 1984 and surely she could have found something that paid better if it mattered that much.

And while this may draw some fire, I feel obligated to mention that it would be reasonable to assume that if her three kids are still at home and being supported by her, then it's likely that none of them are over nineteen. If the amount she's making now isn't enough to support a family, then whatever she started at certainly wasn't enough - yet she started a family nonetheless. That sure isn't Yale's fault, now is it?

As it stands, most dining halls are closed and lots of professors " are expected to move their classes off campus to honor the picket line." Yale isn't there for these clerical workers - it's there for the students (or at least, it should be). If only Yale could take a cue from Ronald Reagan and just fire all these unionites... That would be "economic justice."

Wish Me A Lot Of Luck!

Today's attempt at registering for classes was quite futile. For all practical purposes, there are no openings in non-graduate, non-100-level courses in either the philosophy or the history department (my two majors). I am - get this - registered for one class and waitlisted for five, just so that I might get into enough to be full time.

I could take the couple of low-level courses I need to fill out graduation requirements, of course, but I need to speak with an advisor and find out which courses count and which ones don't... And my advisor didn't bother to return my phone call. Gee, thanks, Ms. Adviser Woman - I didn't really want to take classes this term.

Anyway, as penance for not writing anything yesterday, I present to you today three New York Times articles. Enjoy. :-)

Wednesday, August 27

Wish Me Luck!

G'morning! I've interrupted your regularly scheduled cynical rants in order to overhaul my sleeping schedule and go sign up for classes. Since I'm a new student at IU this fall, I wasn't allowed to sign up for classes even a week ago - no, I had to wait till today.

The last time I checked online, there were 9 seats open in non-graduate philosophy classes; I'm hoping that since I'm a major, I'll be able to appeal to the professors in the classes I want. Neither Modern Jewish Philosophy (which might be interesting, admittedly - it's something I know nothing about) nor Introduction to Philosophy and Art (which meets with a gender studies class, for chrissakes) are high on my list of classes to take.

And of course, today is freshman move-in day, so traffic within a mile any direction of campus will be a nightmare. But I'll make it, one way or another - perhaps I can just smugly remind myself that this is my sixth school in seven years, which just has to be some kind of record, right? Heh.

Tuesday, August 26

Update: "F" Is For Florida Schools...

The second part of the St. Petersburg Times' "Journal of an F Year" is up - it can be viewed here.

There's nothing much to cover from the second part of the series that I didn't go over with respect to the first; the administrators are just as inept and numbers are just as fudged in the second half of the year as they were in the first half. Nonetheless, here are some highlights:

Today's update of the journal drives home the fact that even though 70% of the students aren't reading at grade level, Shaw Elementary has a TV studio so that kids can broadcast the morning announcements. I'm well aware of the fact that almost everyone likes to be on TV, but surely the money that went into this studio could have been better spent.

[Principal] Mrs. Pedrero, the queen of optimism, is thrilled with the school's third progress report to the state: 75 percent writing well; 73 percent reading on grade level; 79 percent on level in math.

The big question: Will the improvement they're charting show up in the FCAT scores?


The shine in the winner's circle lasts all of three hours, until Mrs. Pedrero opens the second box, overlooked in the hubbub. It has third-grade reading scores, the ones that determine who must stay back.

Of the 91 third-graders who took the test, 41 failed. Her Triple Crown is turning into a crown of thorns.

How, exactly, did the principal manage to report that 73 percent of the students were reading at grade level at mid-year when they obviously weren't? How were the students measured at mid-year? There was nearly a twenty percent difference between the school's numbers and the test's numbers; it seems fairly obvious that something was wrong with the way the school determined which students were reading at grade level.

Fifth-grade math - 50 percent failed - lifts their mood, sort of.

"We had a level 6?" Some unknown genius earned a top score? "We need to get them an award."

It seems that Mrs. Pedroro - the principal of the school! - was unaware that the highest score in the math section is a 5; she was simply reading "Column 6" on the spreadsheet. Shouldn't the principal be aware of facts as basic as the grading scale on the FCAT?

Why grade at all? Responsible educators don't need the threat of a bad grade, [Pedrero] says. They're always working to improve.

Forgive my cynicism, but a principal who can't be bothered to know the grading scale on the high-stakes test that her students are legally required to take sure doesn't seem very responsible to me.

29 percent meeting high standards in reading.

25 percent meeting high standards in math.

74 percent meeting high standards in writing.

The above numbers are from Shaw's scores for the 2002-03 year, and I have to question the FCAT here: how can a majority of students be unable to read at a high level yet be able to write at a high level? The skills quite naturally go hand-in-hand, after all.

Anyway, Shaw ended up with a D for the year; they did improve some, after all. I applaud the teachers' efforts, of course... But I think that the issues at Shaw Elementary are as apparent as they are common. Computers instead of teachers; a TV station instead of books; wildly disparate numbers between the school and the state (73% vs 55% reading at grade level, for instance); parents who simply don't care. These are all issues that are shared by school districts across the country - and all of the above problems will have to be solved before any real progress can occur.

Monday, August 25

"F" Is For Florida Schools And The Failing Grades They Get

The St. Petersburg Times brings us this disheartening account of the past year at one of Florida's infamous "F Schools." The article is full of stories about kids who are really, truly good enough, but because they're poor and the state is unfair (so goes the logic of the administrators), they just can't pass the mean ol' FCAT; significant print is also given to teachers who are excessively whiney about the fact that their school is getting a bad rap. First come the excuses:

[Superintendent] Lennard tells the assembled reporters: The state changed its grading formula again. Under last year's formula, Lockhart, Oak Park, Robles and Shaw elementaries all would have made passing grades. Lockhart missed passing by only two points.

If, as the article says, 70% of kids aren't making it in reading and math and almost 50% are missing the mark in writing at Shaw, I shudder to think of a system of accountability that would let Shaw pass. The lowest mark I've ever seen for a passing grade in any actual classroom is 60%; Shaw isn't even remotely close to that. The state's change in formula may be what changed Shaw's official status from "pass" to "fail," but the reality of the situation is that Shaw was a failure - regardless of its official status.

It's summer vacation and Szedriel Olivia Mulero is home watching TV. She started Shaw in kindergarten and will be a big fifth-grader this year.

Kids picked on her last year, which her father attributes to Szedriel's innocence (still plays with Barbies), her name-brand shorts and skirts (FUBU) and her hair (styled at the salon every month, $50 a pop).

I'll avoid asking why the hell her parents are wasting this money if they're poor. I know how many good and nutritious meals I could make for a fifty dollar haircut and a forty dollar pair of shorts, so I'm just going to assume that they're from the rich end of the spectrum at Shaw... Because to assume that parents could blow $600 a year on hair care for a ten-year-old kid when they have trouble keeping food on the table would simply destroy too much of my fragile faith in humanity.

Deputy superintendent Jim Hamilton asks what the schools need to turn F's into A's. We're shooting for the moon here, he says. Don't worry about cost.

They shoot. They want:

More computers...

By the time I reached this point in the article, I was seething. 70% of the kids at this school can't read at grade level, and they want computers?! How are the students going to use these computers if they can't even read? Computers don't teach children; teachers teach children. Why does this simple fact escape so many administrators? Thankfully, the article later describes how the computers "inflict early-morning confusion" on students "as [they] freeze, one by one." Neither teachers' assistants nor books are known to freeze often - at least in Florida, although I'm sure it would be different in Alaska (heh) - and perhaps either one of these would have been a better purchase.

The January 24 entry is particularly symbolic of the issues at Shaw. A teacher (Ms. Gettel) is taking a group of older students to read to the younger students, part of a program called Buddy Reading, and one of the older students asks what the title of the book that she's carrying (to read to the younger children!) is:

"What's that word, Ms. Gettel?"
"You tell me."
She makes pleading eyes.
"Okay," Ms. Gettel says. "What are the first three letters?"
"What are the last three letters?"
The girl purses her lips. "Puht."
"No, the last three letters."
The girl shakes her head.
"Poppleton," Ms. Gettel says, giving in just before her older kids reach the door.
Time for Buddy Reading.

Time for Buddy Reading, indeed. How is this girl supposed to help the younger kids read when it's quite plain that she herself can't read? Perhaps that $40,000 the school spent on low-quality laptops that teachers and students alike can't use should have went to another reading tutor.

There's a first grader who punches his pregnant teacher in the belly. The FUBU wearing fifth-grader with the $50 haircut can't even make an intelligent guess at a simple math problem ("She divides 0.84 by three and enters 0.24.") and is all too happy to quit trying - but she wants to be a clothing designer. There's even a Chinese restaurant that serves sushi, and while that may not be a problem with the school, it's still extraordinarily strange.


I could go on and on forever about the many problems at this school and the plainly ineffective solutions that are being tried - just go read the whole article for yourself, if you haven't already.

Saturday, August 23

"It Was A Mistake"

According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, that's what a spokeswoman for the Rochester, NY school district had to say about the decision to grant tenure to a teacher who is currently suspended due to the fact that her husband was bringing her heroin to help her get through the day.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski said Correy Hallinean intends to resign, so the tenure issue is moot.

“This will not be an issue, nor does the union want to make it an issue,” he said.

Wow, a union backing down from a fight; I am as pleased as I am surprised. What a refreshing change from the NYC teacher who was arrested for possession of cocaine and got his job back after the union pitched a fit.

Board President Shirley Thompson said the board and district administration will “make sure the process is reviewed and cleaned up and that closer attention is paid to who is granted tenure.”

Sounds like an excellent idea to me. I understand that the school board had a lot of material to cover, I understand that they're busy, so on and so forth... But it really pains me to think that these people didn't notice that they gave tenure to a teacher they suspended a mere three months earlier for possession of heroin on school grounds.

Excessive - Indeed, Needless - Use - Of Dashes

I won't bother getting onto the topic of global warming itself (suffice to say that I loathe educrats and ecocrats equally), but this sentence from a Reuters article caught my eye:

But the process has picked up pace over recent decades -- particularly since the 1970s -- under the impact of global warming fueled -- many scientists believe -- by high emissions of greenhouse gases.

Surely, the writer or an editor could have thought of a better way to write that. Eugene Volokh is simliarly annoyed (by pointless parentheticals).

Friday, August 22

Textbook Battle On Evolution (Ha, ha, get it? Textbook? Heh...)

From the Houston Chronicle: Lawyers in Texas are gearing up for a battle over the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks the state is planning on adopting.

There's nothing new in the debate here; religious types are arguing that evolution should not be taught as fact, while science types are claiming that facts should be taught as, well, facts.

David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas, said he thinks the publishers have done a good job discussing evolution, but he is worried that the text will be diluted or that misleading information will be added. If science really is the issue, he asked, why are there no similar controversies at scientific meetings or in scientific journals?

"This argument is being waged over high school textbooks because that is where the final decisions are not made by scientists but rather by politicians," said Hillis.

Well said. In all honesty, I see no particular issue with options (be they creation "science" or Master Architect theories) being in textbooks in private schools - and it should be well known by now that I support privatization of all schools, so I'm pretty open minded here. The thing is, we're not talking about private schools here, we're talking about public schools, and I really don't think there's any room for advocating religious beliefs in the science textbooks public schools use. Kids are at home far more than they're at school, and there's plenty of time to teach them about religion then. Oddly enough, the article quotes (of all people) a Baptist Minister who agrees with me:

"Individual religious beliefs about the origin of life are sacred and illuminating, and they should be studied in homes and religious congregations, just as evolution is studied in science classrooms and laboratories," said Larry Bethune, a Baptist minister who serves as chairman of the Texas Freedom Network, a group dedicated to the separation of church and state.

Far more humorous, though, is this quote from the end of the article:

Publishers last year also responded to criticism that there wasn't enough information about minorities in the textbooks by adding passages about Mexicans who helped defend the Alamo...

That may make for a great story about Mexicans, but it sure doesn't make for a happy story about African-Americans; after all, anyone who has taken even a cursory American History course in college should know that one of the primary reasons Texans railed against Mexican rule was that slavery had been abolished in Mexico. So, the publishers added passages about Mexicans who were presumably pro-slavery and anti-Catholic in order to make the Diversity Police happy. Priceless.

Update: Massachusetts Superintendent Laboy

Remember Wilfredo Laboy, the Mass. Superintendent that couldn't pass the English exam? (I know, he is so two weeks ago.) Well, according to the Boston Herald, Supt. Laboy has until the end of the year to pass the test - or he'll most likely get fired.

This seems fair enough to me. Laboy has already tried (and failed) three times; if he can't get it in four, perhaps he should look into a job as a teacher's aide.

Thursday, August 21

Discrimination Against... Non-Hawaiians?

Here's an ethnic group one doesn't hear much about: Hawaiians. They made it into the news today, however; the Honolulu Advertiser reports that a U.S. District judge is forcing a traditionally Hawaiian private school to admit a seventh grader who is only arguably of Hawaiian descent.

The details are all in the article... My opinion is that the judge made the best decision he could, given the circumstances. The decision on whether the school can legally give preference to native Hawaiians will come later; presumably, if the school accepts federal money, it will not be allowed to discriminate as such. The article only mentions that the school is funded primarily by a private trust; it does not make clear whether the school takes money from the government or not.

The identity politics involved are interesting only as a novelty, since I am unaccustomed to speaking of Hawaiians (although a former manager of mine is a native Hawaiian, and a great guy to boot):

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i, said the decision was unfair to Native Hawaiian children who still want to be admitted.

"There are 48,000 Hawaiian children in the public system who would love to have that spot," she said. "They should be taken care of first."

Replace Hawaiian with "white" or "African-American" for fun and games. And of course, always remember that if education were completely privatized in the first place, then we wouldn't have to deal with cases like this. Without government interference, there could be Hawaiian schools, Hispanic schools, GLBTQ schools, et al - and mixed schools for the majority of the population that doesn't care what color you skin is or who you sleep with.

Americans Oppose Vouchers - Sort Of

According to this AP Wire release, most Americans are opposed school vouchers. There seem to be some interesting caveats, though:

Some 62 percent of respondents said that if they were given a full-tuition voucher they would send their child to a private or religious school. With a half-tuition voucher, that number dropped to 51 percent.

So while a majority of Americans may oppose vouchers, a majority of Americans would use them if they could? What's the deal with that?

Anyway, according to the poll, Americans also think that teachers' salaries are too low. Americans don't seem to realize that by introducing vouchers into the mix and encouraging competition, those salaries might go up. The article says it best:

[P]oll responses to voucher questions can fluctuate significantly, possibly because the public is unclear about how such a system would work.

Here is the actual poll data from Phi Delta Kappa International's website.

Green? Supergreen!

I managed to get my new hard drive up and running tonight. With this addition, I now have a mind-boggling 360 gigs of hard drive space. Cool.

I'm very, very tired right now, so I'll grace you with just a couple quick posts before I hit the proverbial hay. Barring other vital hardware going out, regular posting should now resume - really, this time I mean it. :-)

Wednesday, August 20

My Apologies To My Readers

I haven't been posting because I have suffered massive hardware failures over the past several days. (I'm at the library right now.) My video card died; I replaced it only to find that my primary hard drive (a four year old Maxtor 40 gig) had finally made it to its last legs. I've managed to scrape together the cash for replacement parts, so I should have everything put back together and in order by late tonight. And of course, since computers are always easy to use and work on, I'm sure I won't run into any infuriating hardware conflicts or anything. Really, I am. :-) Anyway, I appreciate those of you who have kept visiting over the past week and a half, and I'll try and have everything in order by tonight or tomorrow. Thanks!

Monday, August 18

Follow-up: Blind Student in Washington, D.C. Finally Gets His Equipment

The Washington Post reports here that it took a US District Judge threatening fines, but the school finally got around to giving Jonathan Herring the equipment he needs to study at home. See my original post from August 2nd here for the rest of the details.


I'm finally back in Bloomington tonight. It was great to be back home for a few days, but it's even better to be back home. This apartment is my home now; I left the other one years ago, and going back is as much pleasure as it is pain, heh. Daily blogging will now recommence - I'll start with a correction to an earlier post.

As a couple people pointed out in response to my post about Des Moines' "voluntary desegregation plan," it matters (for a number of financial reasons) that students are leaving the district. I knew this. Why I said otherwise is beyond me; I'll consider it a hazard of typing out posts quickly on my mom's computer, which has this infernal trackball that is awkward to the point of being unusable. In the future, I'll try not to post without thinking (or from my mom's computer, ick).

Regardless, I do maintain that it is not the responsibility of English speaking students to educate non-English speaking students, nor should the English speaking students' education suffer for non-English speaking students' sake. We should be looking for education to be less socialized, not more. The English speaking students should be allowed to move out of the district if for no other reason than the fact that a good education for some is better than a poor education for all.

Friday, August 15

Harvey Milk School Redux: Let The Lawsuits Begin!

This Liberty Council press release gives all the details (and some related links) to the latest twist in the Harvey Milk School saga.

According to the release, a State Senator and a mother of four have gotten together and filed a lawsuit claiming that the existence of a school for GLBTQ students is discriminatory.

Eugene of the Volokh Conspiracy wonders:

What if the school doesn't explicitly bar heterosexuals, but just pitches itself as a school aimed primarily at homosexuals, with the intention of drawing a mostly homosexual student body? My sense is that courts would treat discrimination in recruitment of students -- publicly stating that the school really wants mostly homosexuals -- as being tantamount to discrimination in admission, which is the general rule in antidiscrimination law.

This seems to be the case, rather than a hypothetical situation. While straight students are nominally accepted (see Harvey Milk's application here), it stands to reason that the school is either 1) misrepresenting itself and is just a normal school that accepts anyone or 2) in fact a school geared specifically for homosexual students - at the expense of heterosexual students.

Vacation Update

Home is... well, home. Since I'm assuming most anyone who reads this has already left home, I'm sure you're all aware of the ups and downs of going back. So while I'm thoroughly enjoying spending time with the family, I'm also looking forward to getting back to Bloomington on Sunday - and getting back to blogging every day!

Wednesday, August 13

Accountable For What?

Michael Winerip hit the nail on the head with his article in today's NY Times about the Houston dropout cover-up.

[Education Secretary Rod] Paige's spokesman, Dan Langan, referred dropout questions to Houston officials, but said that the secretary was proud of the accountability system he established here, that it got results and that principals freely signed those contracts.

It's seems impossible to imagine that even a spokeman would do anything other than condemn the Houston district. Just look at the quote: "proud of the accountability system?" What accountability system? So far, no administrators (save for a lone whistle-blower) have been reprimanded for their part in the cover-up. "[I]t got results?" You bet it did; before Paige's plan, there were lots of dropouts and everyone knew about them. After Paige's plan, there are lots of dropouts and nobody knows about them. Those are results to be proud of.

Terry Abbott, a Houston district spokesman, agreed that both Dr. Paige and the current superintendent, Kaye Stripling, pressured principals to make district goals. "Secretary Paige said, and rightfully so, the public has a right to expect us to get this job done," Mr. Abbott said. The principals were not cowed, he said, declaring, "They thrive on it." Every administrator under Dr. Paige and Dr. Stripling, Mr. Abbott said, has understood "failure is not an option" and "that failure to do our jobs can mean that we could lose those jobs — and that's exactly the way it should be."

As for adequate resources for truant officers to verify dropouts, he said individual schools decided how to use their resources, but added, "Money is not the problem, and money by itself won't solve the issues we deal with every day."

I would completely agree with Mr. Abbott's first statement if a principal's job was to ensure that students were being educated, not to ensure that the numbers look good - which it apparently is. Far more impressive, however, is his second comment; it's rare to hear anyone in an educracy admit that money 1) isn't a problem and 2) won't solve any problems.

As Daryl Cobranchi (who also posted on this here) so correctly noted with respect to NYC's pushout problem, this is what happens when you reward an outcome instead of a behavior. Students aren't doing better. Administrators are just getting better at marginalizing the ones who don't perform. Says whistle-blower Dr. Robert Kimball: "This isn't about educating children . . . It's about public relations." Indeed.

Tuesday, August 12

"Voluntary Desegregation Plan"

From the Des Moines Register: a judge has upheld a school board's decision to deny a (white) couple's transfer request for their daughter - in the interest of diversity.

A judge has allowed a northeast Iowa school district to limit the number of white students who can transfer, a ruling that could make it easier for rural districts to block so-called white flight.

I can't imagine how this is legal. Rather, I can't imagine how it should be legal - but in our era of affirmative action and the like, it's not particularly shocking. Imagine a judge upholding a school board's decision to limit a black couple's freedom to enroll their child where they wanted; now imagine the outcry from the pro-diversity public at such an appallingly racist decision. Why isn't there an outcry at the limitation of a white couple's freedom?

Officials in some other rural Iowa districts have fretted in recent years about the growing number of white students who are leaving schools in towns with meat-processing plants that employ large numbers of immigrants. Students transferring from districts in which they live take with them the state's per-pupil financial aid, about $4,500 a student.

School officials in those districts worry that their schools will face the task of educating non-English speaking students with dwindling financial resources. They also worry their schools will face federal sanctions if students fail to show annual progress in reading and math.

Okay, let's look at it like this: if each student has the same amount of money spent on his/herself as every other student, then it doesn't matter that kids are leaving the district. There will still be the same amount of money per student and therefore, the quality of education for the non-English speaking students should not decline - nor should it matter that English-speaking students are leaving the district. If, however, the money is being spent unequally, then the system is broken anyway. The latter case would mean that the system is effectively denying English-speaking students the education that they are legally obligated to receive (and pay for through taxes) to the benefit of non-English speaking students. That's equality.

"We can now fully implement our voluntary desegregation plan," said Superintendent David Strudthoff.

Voluntary? Voluntary in the sense that a judge has had to uphold a school board's decision to deny a request for a trasnfer based on the color of the student's skin alone? Voluntary, indeed.

Cameras In Classrooms

Kimberly told us how schoolteachers in Britain suggested it. Now, according to USA Today, administrators in Biloxi, Mississippi have done it - installed webcams in every single classroom, that is.

[Biloxi Superintendant] Drawdy says the cameras are there for safety -- ''for supervision and not snoopervision.'' But the images could be used by others to evaluate teachers, he concedes. ''If you've got unscrupulous administrators, that's always a possibility. But if we're going to act as professionals, then we should not be doing something in the classroom that we would be afraid to be on camera.''

This is highly reminiscent of the Orwellian argument that people shouldn't mind being observed because they shouldn't be doing anything wrong, and if they're doing something wrong, then it'd be a good thing if they were observed. I'm going to have to side with privacy advocates here; I just don't think it's a good idea to make cameras in the classrooms mandatory.

However, if a teacher wanted to have a webcam in the room to keep an eye on things, I suppose it should be at his/her discretion. I see both ups and downs to having the cameras installed, and if a teacher were to decide that they preferred the benefits of having a camera (showing parents how their children act up, for instance) over the benefits of no camera (no parents breathing down your neck because little Johnny didn't get called on), then I'd think they should be able to make that decision on their own.

That's what worries critics, who say such recordings could be used for other purposes: What if a parent complains that a teacher uses class time to promote birth control or drug use, or even terrorism?

Public school teachers shouldn't be using classtime to promote any of these things, and if a parent accused a teacher of doing so, the camera would either a) exonerate the teacher or b) prove his/her guilt. Without the webcams, it's simply the teacher's word against the parent's, and all too often the teacher gets the short end of the stick in these types of scenarios. While I don't particularly support the usage of webcams, I don't see how anyone could say that the situation described above would be a detriment of having them, not a benefit - unless you think public employees should be teaching kids about how terrorism is okay, of course.

[Science teacher R. Scott] Page, who unhooked the cameras after switching classrooms last winter, says he'd oppose using Webcams to provide evidence in a dispute between student and teacher. ''If it gets to the point where my word against students' isn't good, then I go find another job,'' he says.

Private message to R. Scott Page: You'd better go ahead and start looking now; it's only a matter of time before it becomes necessary.

Saturday, August 9

Why We Have Drugs In Schools

Just a quick little blurb this afternoon: says the NY Times, Michael Campbell was the dean of discipline at a Staten Island Junior high... Until he got arrested for possession of marijuana and cocaine, that is. End of story - or is it?!

Campbell went through a drug treatment program, and after he finished the program, his criminal record was expunged - that is, it was as if he had never committed a crime. So what did he do? He tried to get his old job back, of course; thus far, he has succeeded.

Education Department officials sought to dismiss Mr. Campbell from his position as a tenured teacher, but he fought to keep his job through arbitration, a right afforded by the teachers' union contract.

The arbitrator who decided the case, Ernest Weiss, said he had ordered Mr. Campbell reinstated because he is undergoing treatment and his record is being cleared.

"There has been no conviction and his record will be completely expunged," Mr. Weiss said, after initially declining to comment.

Ridiculous. The press secretary for the schools chancellor said it best: "This is another example of arbitrators blocking the department's efforts to remove people who are not fit to be in our schools." He's quite correct. The Department of Education is currently appealing the arbitrator's decision.

Now, I'm a libertarian, and my stance on drugs is rather lenient. However, even if drugs were legalized, I would still think that someone who uses cocaine shouldn't be employed by a school - and since drugs are currently quite illegal, I absolutely don't think that a guy who uses cocaine should be employed (particularly as the dean of discipline) by a school. However, that's probably just because I have a little thing I like to call "common sense" - something that's lost on most bureaucrats.

Friday, August 8

Are There Pushouts In Houston, Too?

I come home from Bloomington for the first time in three months, and no one else is here; my entire family had other things to do. C'est la vie. So, in lieu of spending quality time with the fam, then, I bring you this AP Wire report. This has been on the headlines section of Yahoo! all afternoon, by the way, so it is getting reasonable press.

The article is strikingly similar to a couple of reports from the New York Times dealing with schools that change records (or file them incorrectly in the first place) in order to cover up the number of dropouts; while this doesn't go for the "human angle" like the Times stories did, it stands to reason that many of the same things went on for the same reasons. Presumably, administrators were worried about the number of dropouts, so they asked students to leave school - and then they covered it all up.

In other words: it's happened before and it will most likely happen again. There are two things that make his story a bit different than the one in New York, though.

First, the district will have to hire outside people to keep track of the numbers for the next six months; the district also removed the administrators at of one the worst-offending schools. It's refreshing to see that someone is doing something about this, and more specifially, that someone is holding the bumbling administrators accountable for their actions (instead of blaming it on the "pressure to perform" or some such nonsense, or suing, like NYC students are).

The district — whose former chief is federal Education Secretary Rod Paige — must also hire an external consultant to look at problems with data collection.

Under Paige, the district's sharply lower dropout rates had contributed to Houston's reputation as a showcase for the "Texas miracle" in education that then-Gov. George Bush cited in his presidential campaign. Paige, tabbed by Bush for his Cabinet shortly after the 2000 election, has acknowledged "there probably was" a dropout problem in Houston while he was there.

And second, the former superintendant of the NYC schools isn't the Secretary of Education. "[T]here probably was" a dropout problem? If that's not admitting knowledge of the issue (and therefore a complete lack of accountability), then I don't know what is - and this is the man in charge of every school in the country. Gee, I wonder where the rest of the administrators who pull this stuff get it from?

Pseudo-Vacation Time!

Well, now that my summer has finally begun - my summer class ended this past Monday, thank goodness - I'm going to be heading out of town for a week or so. Some people have been to Italy this summer, and even if they claim it was for a conference which was a lot of really hard work, at least it was hard work in Italy.

Me, where do I get to go? Evansville. Evansville, Indiana. Evansville is known for many things - the world's second largest freestanding wall (after the Great Wall of China) encompasses Oak Hill Cemetary, the Fall Festival held every October is the second largest street festival in the US (after Mardi Gras in N'awlins), the movie A League of Their Own was shot primarily in E-ville... I could go on for hours, heh. Most importantly, however, Evansville is my hometown - basically, I'll be chilling with the family for a while before school starts back up and I drown in a sea of German-reading and philosophy-writing.

Anyway, I plan on blogging every day, as per usual. Since school starts up this coming week for my younger brothers, that means everyone else will go to bed about 6-8 hours before I do, and that means I shouldn't have a problem getting some writing done. However, if I do miss a day, I hope that you'll forgive me - I'll make it up to you all somehow. :-)

Floridian Follies

Florida finds itself with an entirely new educational mess on its hands, according to today's Miami Herald; it seems that a large portion (78%!) of schools ranked as A schools under Gov. Jeb Bush's A+ Plan for Education didn't manage to reach the standards set by the No Child Left Behind law.

State and federal officials said the Bush brothers' plans were designed to look at public schools in different ways and are not contradictory.

''The two measures are actually complimentary,'' said Jill Bratina, the governor's spokeswoman. ``The A+ Plan measures individual student progress, and No Child Left Behind measures the performance of groups of students.''

Fair enough, I suppose. The article does a good job of explaining the discrepancies, showing that the state grades for improvement while the federal government grades for actual performance... But this is terrible publicity, and it's a sweet spot for anti-accountability forces to strike at. Even though there's a good reason for the grades to be so disparate, people attacking the system will be able to get better sound bites when they lash out at a system that (on the surface) looks to be quite contradictory.

Thursday, August 7

An Innovative New Punishment System

The Washington Post has this article about a new punishment system under consideration in a nearby county.

The vast majority of the suggested punishments are standard, echoing codes used by school systems across the country. But then there's the clause proposing that a parent or guardian be required to tag along during a day of classes with any Anne Arundel student who has been caught disrupting class, skipping school or violating certain other rules.

I can safely say that such a punishment would have quite effectively deterred me from doing anything wrong - although I was a good high school student, I was quite the scrapper in my middle school days, and I would have unquestionably walked away from fights if it meant my mom would have to come to school with me. All of the students quoted in the article seem to agree that the punishment would be unbearbly humiliating, and perhaps that's the kind of punishment we need more of. As task force who designed the punishment noted, "creative approaches to discipline sometimes end up being more meaningful to students." Indeed.

It's not all a rose garden, of course. The mother of one of the quoted students says that "[she]'d be super annoyed if I had to take a day off in my life with four kids and everything." That's a valid argument; some parents have a job or other commitments and simply don't have the time or ability to spend a day at school. Further, I'd imagine that while this would be an effective deterrent for the "good kids" - that is, kids who act up very rarely if at all - I doubt that it would make any difference to the "bad kids." Students who are constantly disrupting class or skipping school probably picked up this behavior as a result of their home life; if the parents don't discipline the children at home, then there's no reason to expect that they would spend a day at school to do so.

Either way, I applaud the school for working on novel ways to discipline students. Other ideas included "requiring students caught vandalizing property to work on the school grounds until they pay off the damage, and having students mop floors after school as punishment for skipping classes." Wonderful stuff, all of it. I've always thought that the logic behind suspending students who skipped school was rather questionable, and it's good to see a school district working to correct that.

Parents Want A Say In MCAS Testing

According to this Boston Globe story, parents in Massachusettes are attempting to get a question on the ballot that would allow the voters to decide if the students should have to pass the MCAS in order to receive a diploma.

I do have some sympathy for Wayne Masse, the primary parent who is pushing to get this issue on the ballot. Unlike many who are anti-testing, Masse does not accuse the test of being culturally biased, racist, or classist; he says that it's unfair to special education students. He's probably right. However, the solution here should not be to get the public to vote on the validity of the test for all students; it should at most be to get the public to vote on the validity of the test for special education students, and more realistically, it should simply be a push to get the code amended legislatively. So while I may empathize with Masse's problem, I cannot support him in his current endeavor; there's no reason to remove a tool for accountability from all schools based on the needs of a few students.

State Board of Education Chairman James A. Peyser said yesterday that he doubts voters would approve the measure. He also warned that the proposal might run into a legal stumbling block in part because of a 1993 Supreme Judicial Court decision ordering the state to provide an adequate public education to its students.

''The state's obligation isn't just financial, but it also includes essentially an accountability system that ensures student learning,'' Peyser said.

What a refreshing voice of reason; if only all school administrators had this attitude.

Link via Catholic School Blogger.

Teachers Who Cheat On The FCAT Hurt The Students

Today's Miami Herald updates a previous story about a school that was suspected of cheating to raise its FCAT numbers. Apparently, the investigators couldn't find enough real evidence to bring actual charges against school administrators, but it's pretty apparent what happened.

''Clearly the scores were very, very high,'' [Superintendent Frank] Till said. ``Statistically they are beyond the range of real possibilities. It still doesn't mean it didn't happen. But the big disappointment is they didn't sustain themselves the next year.''

The school went from being ranked 1529th in 2001 to being ranked 14th in 2002 - and then back down again this year, since everyone had their eye on the district. Now, Till does make a good point; it is possible that this actually happened, even with everything on the level. However, I think he's on the right track here to be skeptical - and given all the anecdotal and circumstancial evidence implying that theachers funneled answers to students, I'd say that anyone who thinks otherwise needs to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee.

Critics will no doubt say that this is a problem with the FCAT - that high stakes testing forces teachers to cheat in order to assure that all the students get to move on to the next grade level. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: testing students and ignoring the results is cheating the students and the students alone. If there are kids who can't read, and they are pushed into the next grade, then they will just be unable to read in a higher grade. If that keeps happening, then we suddenly end up with a bunch of high school graduates who can't read - and that's where we're at now. The kids who are failing the FCAT graduation exam now are the ones who would have failed it in third grade, and it's a shame they weren't held back then. However, better late than never; these kids should be thankful that the schools aren't forcing them unprepared into the real world but rather keeping them around to try and teach them something before they go.

Question: Why aren't the kids who are failing the FCAT just dropping out and getting GEDs? If these kids are really as prepared as their parents/pundits would have us think, then surely they could start out at a community college or a low-tier four-year college/university and move on from there... And if they're really not ready for a community college - if they really are unprepared - then why are people throwing such a fit abuot not letting them graduate?

Wednesday, August 6

Update: Blind Student In D.C. Schools

The Washington Post reports today that four administrators have been suspended (with pay, for some reason) due to the fact that they ignored a court order to obtain equipment to help a legally blind student study at home. A spokewoman for the schools, Linda Wharton-Boyd accurately noted that the suspended workers were "in charge of complying with court orders. . . That's their job."

The original story can be found here; for my original post on the subject, go here.

Sheltered Students Enjoy Their Infrequent Trips To Reality

This story from today's NY Times irritated me.

College kids are flocking to "fun," easy jobs in droves this summer, according to the writer, Sara Rimer. Rather than seek out competitive, resume-building internships, many students have decided to take the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work at a restaurant or a bookstore. Huh?

"I guess I thought I have the rest of my life to work on my resume," said Mr. Thronson, 21, a philosophy major from Salt Lake City. "I won't necessarily have the chance to do this again."

Patrick Thronson is a senior at Harvard who got sick of doing internships and decided to take a summer off from them; he is currently working at a bookstore in South Dakota. I don't blame him. After all, we all need some down time every now and then - but retail work is hardly a picnic. The article also introduces us to Jessica Phillips-Patrick, an economics major at Stanford, who is working as a bartender this summer and thinks it's great:

To Ms. Phillips-Patrick, who made flash cards to help her memorize the drink recipes, bartending is downright exotic. "Instead of sitting at a desk, you get to talk to different people and mix drinks and make a huge vat of strawberry puree in the back and organize a walk-in closet with all the beers."

Oh, come on. I suppose what really gets me about this article is the inherent assumption that all retail is fun and easy work, and that employees really are always so happy to be there. Here's a tip: they're not. Unlearned Hand had a great post about retail horror stories a couple weeks ago. Three mall jobs, two sit-down restaurant jobs, and one pizza delivery job are among the many I've had at one point or another, and I can assure you that the service industry is a horrible place to work; it just happens to be the most effective way for a person to work their way through college.

Hearing these kids talk about hard work as if it's a fun game to play simply indicates to me what sheltered lives they must have led thus far. How refreshing it must be to them to have a job where they can afford to quit if the manager wants them to clean up vomit in the restroom; if they had to put of with the same monotonous tasks (organizing beer is fun?!) thirty or forty hours a week - in addition to school - in order to pay the rent and eat, I imagine their attitude would be strikingly different. Am I a tad bitter that my parents aren't rich enough to pay every single dime for my education? Sure, I admit it, I'm somewhat jealous of these kids. However, just because they can afford to have a service industry job for fun doesn't mean that they should effectively mock the rest of us who do this to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads.

Teachers Who Don't Care

One of the many stories coming out of NYC this summer involves their new literacy program, Ramp Up to Literacy. The New York Times has a report today detailing the many, many problems (such as "union opposition, bureaucratic mix-ups and New York irascibility") that have hindered the implementation of the program.

The article begins by introducing us to David Strahl, an assistant principal at Franklin K Lane High School - the same high school that is being sued by former students for having pushed them out for underwhelming performance (see posts here and here). Offering telling examples of how much the administrators and teachers care about their students at FK Lane High School, Strahl complained that "his training would interrupt a long-planned vacation" and only "two or three" of five teachers who needed to show up did.

Now, I fully understand that a lot of teachers and administrators are skeptical of the new program; I'd say they are within their rights to question the usefulness of the curriculum. However, not showing up for the training programs is nothing other than inexcusable laziness. If only two or three of every five teachers at FK Lane care about students enough to attend a few seminars, then it's really no wonder that students there aren't performing as well as they could.

University of Pennsylvania researchers published a study last year that found that fewer than half of the teachers in a random sample fully applied what they had learned in America's Choice literacy workshops. Important elements of the curriculum were missing in 45 percent of the classrooms observed in the study. Another study by the same researchers linked student achievement directly to their teachers' adherence to the curriculum.

The important detail missing here is that the adherence to the curriculum is only correlative; the causation lies in the (likely) fact that teachers who cared enough to show up at the training sessions and learn how to use the curriculum also care enough to see to it that their students actually learn something, regardless of how. But I digress.

Issues with the training as well as the curriculum itself abound; there are the usual he said/she said arguements about the effectiveness of the material. Teachers who attend the training seminars have only five days to learn everything, as opposed to the normal 10-12 days, because NYC was late in making the decision to switch to the curriculum.

I realize that some teachers don't think the new curriculum is a good idea. However, I think that it is imperative that the teachers at least give the curriculum a shot; it can only help to attend the training classes and learn what the material is all about. The teachers and administrators who are skipping the training classes because they know the new material won't work remind me of my younger self; I never tried broccoli because I knew it tasted nasty (I realize now that I was wrong, heh). The real shame to me, though, is the simple fact that the article displays yet another example of some unionized, lazy teachers who can get away with completely ignoring tasks required of them - all to students' detriment. I've had jobs at the mall where I had to attend training seminars (at a whopping $7/hour) or lose my job; these teachers would be paid $34/hour and still, they don't go. It simply boggles my mind that money won't even get these people to go to the curriculum training seminars... I can only assume that we've hit rock-bottom when $34/hour isn't enough to make teachers care.

Tuesday, August 5

...And You Think Testing Is A Problem In The US?

I came across this darkly humorous tidbit via Reuters.

Not just the police, but elite commandos have been deployed in Cambodia... to prevent cheating on the country's national exams. According to the article, education has been flourishing recently, but "there has also been a rise in the level of cheating or bribing of exam officials." The officers were deployed nationwide to keep testing on the level; I, for one, would imagine that an armed guard would be quite an effective deterrent to would-be cheaters.

As disconcerting as I find elite commandos in the classroom, I suppose that if it raises the overall educational level of Cambodians, which could lead to a better life for them, etc, etc, then it's not so bad. And besides, it's better than ending up with State Senators who lie, over-exaggerate, or can't read at a third-grade level, isn't it?

More FCAT Fun

The Miami Herald serves up another FCAT article today; this one is about a(nother) protest by students and parents. Students gathered near Governor Jeb Bush's office and read aloud from books, but the article fails to note what books they read from - certainly a necessary piece of information.

Anyway, the article really isn't anything new; the same arguments that have been used since the beginning of this fiasco are brought up again here. One thing made this worth blogging about, though: State Senator Frederica Wilson claimed that "she organized the rally after visiting reading camps and found that many students can read well." In fact, she says, ''They can read as well as me -- I've had them reading for me all summer."

Now, compare those claims to the claims Michael Winerip put forth in the New York Times article which I blogged on a couple weeks ago. Keep in mind that Winerip is heavily biased against the FCAT; his first article on the subject (sorry, no link) completely neglected to mention that students had multiple chances to retake the test. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that the reading camps didn't seem to help students at all, and that very few of those who attended the camps went on to pass the test. Even in this article, the writer notes that only 262 out of 1,861 (14%) Orange County students passed after attending the reading camp. It seems quite apparent that either Wilson did not visit the camps or that she is greatly exaggerating the skills of the students she met; the only other possibility is that Wilson's reading skills are poor enough that she cannot pass the third-grade FCAT, and that is why she compared the students' skills to her own. Personally, I'm hoping that one of the former scenarios is the case. Either way, Wilson had a response prepared for those who questioned the wisdom of social promotions:

"You don't retain children based on a high stakes test that comes out of a computer that someone so far away is correcting,'' Wilson said. ``You look at children as individuals. Every one of them has a heart of gold. We don't want them to drop out of school. We don't want them to be broken and demoralized."

And given that Senator Wilson is quite convinced that "[m]any children are being held back who shouldn't be," she apparently doesn't want children to be able to read, either.

Update: Blogspot/Blogger's archives aren't working right - surprise, surprise. If you would like to read my previous post, simply click the link and page down to the earlier entry from Wednesday, July 23.

Who's To Blame For Overweight Kids?

We've all heard the recent buzz about the lawyers planning to sue the fast food companies and other food industry giants. Kraft, General Mills, Pizza Hut, McDonald's (especially McDonald's), et al are all coming under the gun; the lawyers claim that the companies market their fatty foods to children and that these children then comsume massive amounts of Oreos and Big Macs and become overweight. There's a step missing here in the lawyers' logic, however: the step where the parents buy the food for the children.

So now, we have this article in Sunday's New York Times about the problems with marketing junkfood to kids. Here are some of the highlights:

Tatanisha Roberson, who is 8, was riding on the front of a shopping cart pushed by her mother, Erica, 24, heading toward the cereal aisle.

The question was posed: What kind of food is Tatanisha interested in? "Anything that comes on the TV, she'll get," her mother said, rolling her eyes. "Rugrats Fruit Snacks; Scooby Doo Fruit Snacks; Flintstone's Jell-O."

There are two options here: either she buys her daughter the junkfood, or she doesn't. I'm not sure how anyone can blame marketing for her decision to purchase this food; no one is holding a gun to her head and making her buy it. I'll let an expert in child marketing, Dr. James McNeal of Texas A&M respond: "I don't think [the food industry] should be singled out," he says. "Mom blames everyone but herself. There's an abdication of the parents' role. You've got 70 percent of moms who are working, so when they're home they try to please their kids." No doubt.

However, marketing and product tie-ins aren't the only areas where the lawyers are striking. Some schools contract out with fast food restaurants and have "McDonald's Wednesdays" or "Pizza Hut Days." These programs typically give the schools a share of the money earned by the outside business. All aspects of the programs - from the money to the nutrition - are coming under fire.

Lawyers and consumer advocates have harshly criticized educators for "commercializing the schools" and sending poor dietary messages to children.

"It seems very clear it's a breach of duty," says John Banzhaf, a professor of law at George Washington University in Washington and one of the lawyers pressing for class-action lawsuits against big food companies. "Schools get paid a kickback for every sugary soft drink or burger sold."

I wonder how many people think both that a) if schools had more money, they could fix all their problems and b) marketing fast food in schools is a bad idea because schools aren't there to... make money. I get the impression that there'd be a significant correlation, but I don't have any studies to back that up. Anyway, rather you think money is the be-all-end-all of solutions for schools or not, more money generally can't hurt. But here's what bugs me about the complaints with regards to the fast food in schools: the food the schools offer isn't significantly better.

I spent about an hour looking for actual nutritional information on school foods; I found lots of info about the guidelines for the foods schools must offer, but that's about it. The closest thing to any real info I found is this cryptic table of nutrition facts I found on my old school district's web page. 544 calories for breakfast? Every day? Exactly? Huh? But disregard this for a moment and take a look at the menus - especially the middle and high school ones. For the middle schoolers, there is not a single, solitary healthy entree being offered. The only thing even remotely healthy that is served as an entree is the "Sack Attack" lunch, which consists of a turkey, ham/cheese, or sub-style sandwich - and these were all on white bread when I was in middle school. For high schoolers, a ham/cheeseburger is the meal four times a month, a fried chicken patty or a corn dog three days a month, a fried fish sandwich twice a month, and pizza is available every day. Let's not neglect the fact that there's not a single healthy item on the ala carte menu, save for bottled water. The elementary schoolers fair no better.

So, what's the idea? We shouldn't let Pizza Hut sell food in the schools because the kids need to eat nutritious, low fat foods like strombolis? Please. Sure, I don't expect to walk into a school cafeteria and find a wide array of vegan meals, but there are healthier foods out there than burritos and Philly steak sandwiches. If we're going to serve pizza to high school students every day, why not at least have Pizza Hut do it once or twice a week? It's not as if the school pizza is somehow healthier than any other pizza. The school would make some money, not to mention the fact that Pizza Hut is significantly tastier than that nasty rectangle pizza schools serve.

No matter what, kids will eat unhealthy food if it's the only option put in front of them - and all too often, that seems to be the case. But Kraft and McDonald's don't kidnap children to feed them unhealthy food. It's the schools and parents that leave children with no option but to eat unhealthy food who are to blame for this issue. Parents cave in to their kids' whining and buy them the fatty/sugary snack foods they see on TV instead of fruit (which is sweet and good for you, too); most schools don't even bother offering children the opportunity to eat healthily. Combine all that with today's sedentary culture, as well as the grossly mistaken notion that unhealthy food always tastes good and healthy food always tastes bad, and it's no wonder kids are overweight.

Monday, August 4

Light Blogging Alert!

I typically find myself on a third-shift schedule, which means I can usually get the jump on anything interesting the dailies put out; normally, I would be putting my posts together right about now.

However, today is different - I have an astounding amount of work to complete for my summer class, all due at 6:00 PM. The class is a basic English course, far below my level but necessary for graduation - I was the only one out of about fifteen people who knew what a "thesis" was when we started talking about the five paragraph essay that we had to write. Ick. The class has been a complete waste of time and energy - lots of energy, in fact, due to the alarming amount of busy work required. And since I put some of that busy work off, I now find myself having to write a slew of journal entries (oh, fun) and complete a research paper rather than blogging. (Wait, I'm blogging right now... Oh, heck.)

Anyway, I leave you with a couple quick tidbits and the promise of more in-depth blogging tomorrow (or perhaps this afternoon, if I can get everything typed quickly enough). Enjoy!

This Toronto Star article about parents who don't want to give up the leash on their kids really struck me. There's nothing too new or interesting in the article, but it was refreshing to see that at least one university somewhere is a bit disconcerted by the fact that kids simply won't grow up if their parents don't let them. I really appreciated that they stuck up for student/school confidentiality... I was in the registrar's office a couple days ago, and this woman was having a screaming fit because they wouldn't give her her son's grades; I applauded the poor secretary for showing courage under fire after the woman left.

Joanne Jacobs tells it like it is with respect to James Traub's NYT article on the school system's new reading and math programs. I consider myself lucky to have made it out of high school before any of these terrible programs struck my hometown.

Saturday, August 2

Incompetence in the D.C. School System

Continuing the trend of school systems massively screwing things up and trying to cover their tracks, the Washington Post brings us a story of a blind student, Jonathan Herring, who has been waiting nearly two years for equipment he needs to be able to study at home.

I don't really support huge expenditures for individual students (in a public school setting), and the $20,000 that Jonathan's equipment will cost is significantly more than many students in many districts typically have spent for their benefit. Nonetheless, I can't help but be irritated at the administrators who are playing the blame game and still managing to avoid accomplishing anything. It's not as if the admins are arguing that the money could be better spent elsewhere or anything else that could be construed as a feasible reason for giving this kid the runaround; the admins are simply too incompetent to do anything right. After hearing of Herring's plight, Superintendent Paul Vance said: "I am just sick and tired of incompetent people, insensitive people working for this school system. . . I am sick and tired of being embarrassed by the operatives in this school system. This is just another example of where this superintendent has run out of patience." I certainly understand that. Vance is planning on finding out who is at fault for keeping this covered up - and firing whoever it is. Now, are you ready for the kicker?

The school delivered a laptop to Herring last week... A laptop that was previously used by the school system and which "contained a wealth of school system data, including a list of the names and disabilities of each of the system's 12,000 special education students." Huh? They released private information on 12,000 students? Inexcusable.

Friday, August 1

Students Suing NYC Schools Over Pushout Issue

Jennifer Medina and Tamar Lewin - writers of yesterday's bombshell about NYC schools pushing out students - have struck again. They report in today's New York Times that several dozen students have brought forth a suit against their former high school, claiming that they forced out.

The article begins with the story of Haydee Garcia, a 17 year old who was forced out of Franklin K. Lane high school because she was effectively a year behind as well as "her frequent absences, her suspension for fighting, her pregnancy." I empathize with these kids, I really do. But honestly, if Ms. Garcia wanted to be there so badly, why didn't she go to class? Perhaps I'm just heartless, but I can't feel too sorry for a girl who decided not to come to class and decided to fight when she did; she should have considered the results of her actions if she wanted to stay in school. (I won't touch the pregnancy issue with a ten-foot pole; I haven't considered the topic very much, but my gut instinct is that her pregnancy should have no bearing on her education.) Haydee says, "I just wanted to finish, no matter what." I'm not exactly sure how she planned on finishing high school with spotty attendance, but far be it for me to say that she couldn't have changed; almost anything is possible. I just feel like she was wasting her time as things stood.

We then learn that in February 2002, Ms. Garcia and her mother were brought into a meeting with several other families; it was here that they learned that the students in the room were being asked to leave. Of the meeting, Haydee's mom "remembers being given a paper to sign, but does not remember what it said." Did she read it? In her own words: "They just said, `You have to do this.' ... I knew it was wrong, but what was I supposed to do?" Well, my suggestion would be not to sign the paper, but I do understand what it's like to be in her position. It wasn't as if I was born bucking the system. It took over two decades to get me to the point where I won't sign something without reading it first - much less question people who tell me what's in my own best interest. Nonetheless, she shouldn't have signed something she didn't understand; the lawsuit seems appropriate to me, but the situation should have never gotten this far.

That's right, I think the lawsuit is appropriate. Shocking, isn't it? The simple fact is, New York state law gives students the right to remain in high school until they turn 21. Frankly, I don't think the law would help many students; chances are, if you skip class and fight at age 17, you will do the same at age 19. Regardless, the law says that the students can be there, and it certainly isn't a high school principal's job to override the law. Of course, I'm sure there are legitimate reasons for asking at least some of these students to leave. Weapons violations, repeated fighting incidents, and the like are all good reasons to kick a kid out, yes. But out of the (likely) hundreds of kids forced out of NYC's high schools, I doubt that they had all committed offenses so grevious as to be officially removed from classes. Thus, I would imagine that at least some of the kids have a valid grievance.

The lawsuit may help to force some accountability on the administrators, but all the administrative accountability in the world won't fix the problems students face if the students don't take some responsibility themselves. The writers note that "while some [of the pushouts] enroll, at least briefly, in high school equivalency programs, few will ever get an equivalency degree or a high school diploma." Why is that? What keeps them from continuing to pursue a GED? The article quotes Tenisha Miller, another Lane pushout:

"We never even got a chance, you know," she said. "It's just like they decided, `no, you can't stay.' And then boom, we had to go."
"The teachers were rude," she said. "The teachers don't care, nobody does. So why should we?"

She did have a chance, as did Ms. Garcia. Haydee used her chance skipping class and fighting. Ms. Miller followed a similar track; she started skipping classes her freshman year and never really stopped. And while I understand that it's nearly impossible to care about learning if the teacher doesn't, that's still no excuse for one to stop caring altogether. If the teacher doesn't care about you, then you have to care about yourself - otherwise nobody will. (Wait, what about her parents, you ask? They're not mentioned in the article, even though they had to give consent to Ms. Miller's discharge.)

All in all, this is a bad deal for everyone. Educrats are forcing students out of schools in order to make the numbers look good, students who are already doing poorly are being given up on, and now there's a lawsuit. Wonderful. I leave you with the one clear voice of reason in the article, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein; in a moment of insight, he said that "it is a disservice to our students and ourselves ... to rely on shortcuts or play numbers games in order to make things look better than they really are." I couldn't agree more. We won't solve any problems by sweeping them under the rug; only by facing the issues and dealing with them will we find a solution that works.


July 2003   August 2003   September 2003   October 2003   November 2003   December 2003   January 2004   February 2004   December 2007  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?