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Reason (February)
"Threatened by Success" and "Watching the Numbers" about San Francisco school board's attempt to take control of an Edison-run charter school
"Vanishing Valedictorians" on schools without honors
"GI Joe College" about military e-learning
"Dumb but Pretty" about the evils of graphic software

San Jose Mercury News
"Rage, not logic" on Dworkin and McElroy books

Good blogs

Tim Blair
Moira Breen
USS Clueless
The Corner
Andrew Hofer
Jeff Jarvis
Mickey Kaus
Ken Layne
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
Frederik Norman
Damian Penny
Virginia Postrel
Jeff Sackmann
Rand Simberg
Natalie Solent
Bjorn Staerk
Andrew Sullivan
Tres Producers
Matt Welch




Read my book
“Start-up High: A Charter School's Story” will follow organizers, teachers and students at Downtown College Prep, San Jose's first charter school. Click Mail List and I'll let you know when the book's published.


Saturday, June 15

Whither the blogstomp?
A Chomsky-led gaggle of idiotarians writes a fish-barrel letter proclaiming their moral superiority. Once such a target would inspire a fisking frenzy by the warblogosphere. Now, there's some genteel linking, Den Beste and ... Yes! A great post by Brian O'Connell in the grand tradition. Go read it.

Update:Damian Penny reminds us why we can't just talk out our differences with Islamofascists. And Tim Blair wonders why the Artistic Wank Left, alleged champions of the common man, think their opinions should overrule the opinions of common men and women.

Friday, June 14

Stark Fox
My weekly FoxNews column includes Naked Guy revelations, as well as weblog highlights. They turned some of my apostrophes into exponential "1s", but you can get the drift.

Carefully taught to hate
Jews are apes and pigs, says an adorable three-year-old girl; killing them is a pleasure as well as a duty. has picked up Little Green Footballs' story on the Saudi-funded TV station's hate broadcasting.

Fight, Lambkins, fight!
Best of the Web is collecting wimpy high school team names from around the country, including the Fort Collins (Colo.) Lambkins, the Poca (W. Va.) Dots and, in my father's hometown of Omaha, the Benson Mighty Bunnies.

Adding up the numbers
Analyzing data -- how many students could multiply fractions after the fractions unit? -- is very powerful for schools, reports Education Week.

Studies of high-performing schools and districts have found that they rely heavily on data to inform their practices.

The "No Child Left Behind Act" is forcing accountability. But states and districts have to learn how to collect valid data and use it for understanding and solving problems. Most states still aren't able to track individual students' progress.

Death at an early age
While test questions can't use "fat," for fear of upsettting students, the new kids' books make "Lord of the Flies" look like a Sunday school picnic, writes Martin Arnold in the New York Times. Forget "Little Women." The new classics deal with disability, death, madness and murder.

Of course, the old classics dealt with dark themes too. "Hansel and Gretel" includes starvation, abandonment, imprisonment and (justified) homicide; "Goldilocks" deals with a child thief. Think about death, disability and dysfunctional parenting in "The Secret Garden" or child abuse in "David Copperfield." "Wuthering Heights" was no romp on the moors. Even "Little Women" isn't all sweetness and light. Father's off fighting in the Civil War; Beth dies.

Distracting ideas
Indoctrination is the norm at Santa Monica High, writes student Steve Miller. Libertarian columnist Larry Elder couldn't speak unless he was "balanced" by a liberal. David Horowitz was cancelled.
The administration had discovered what would have been obvious to anyone who was exposed to alternate points of view, which was that the David Horowitz we invited was not the Emmy-Award winning consumer advocate, but the outspoken conservative.

Horowitz's ideas "would hurt students' performance on tests and distract them from their work," an administrator explained. However, the school invited Dolores Huerta, who led students and administrators in a march against a nearby hotel to demand higher pay for Hispanic workers.

Thursday, June 13

The dangers of tag
A Santa Monica elementary school principal has banned unsupervised games of tag to protect children from bumps, bruises and skinned self-esteem (via Daryl Cobranchi). The principal wrote in a newsletter:
"The running part of this activity is healthy and encouraged; however, in this game, there is a 'victim' or 'It,' which creates a self-esteem issue. The oldest or biggest child usually dominates."

So now kids can't play a lousy game of tag without adults horning in and trying to make it "safe." Next they'll be making kids wear helmets and knee guards and elbow guards to play hopscotch. What will these kids do when they grow up and encounter the bumps, bruise and esteem-crunching reality of adult life? Whine, I guess. Sue, definitely.

I came, I saw, I blogged
I discovered Julius Caesar's Bloggus Caesari -- a great site for fans of Roman history -- by reading Volokh Conspiracy.

Men tricked into assuming responsibility for another man's child wouldn't have to pay child support, under a bill moving through the California Legislature. It's unfair to kids, who'll lose the money and the connection with the man who they thought was their father, writes Marje Lundstrom in the Sacramento Bee. Current law gives the purported father two years to demand a paternity test. Some men take longer to figure out that Junior looks a lot like their best friend.

I can't see forcing a man to support someone else's child. If a bond has formed, the unDad will want to support the child anyhow. If not, it's tough on the kid. I blame the deceitful mom first, then the deadbeat biological dad (assuming he knew he was a father).

Ignorant teachers
More than half of middle-school students and a quarter of high schoolers take core academic subjects from teachers who didn't major in the subject and aren't certified to teach it. According to the federal survey, 93 percent of middle school science teachers lack a degree in the physical sciences.

Education Secretary Rod Paige wants states to test new teachers' knowledge of their subjects. He also called for encouraging talented people to teach by expanding alternative certification and requiring fewer education theory courses.

Philanthropic fizzle
Walter Annenberg gave more than $1 billion to improve public schools -- with modest results.

Wednesday, June 12

OK, I think
The permalinks now link to something. The missing posts turned up once I killed the duplicate posts. Looks like I may not have to learn how to type HTML in a straitjacket.

OK, the permalinks go nowhere and items are vanishing from the web page. I have no idea what's going on. But I'm working on it.

Constructing ineffective teachers
Teaching novice teachers to use "constructivist" and "inquiry-oriented" "learning communities" is difficult, concludes this report. For one thing, they don't see much evidence that students are learning.
Most often, students turned out to be the strongest "obstacle" of success when they did not behave according to the expectations of the pedagogy.

When the education professors used constructivist techniques to teach the teachers, the novices begged for structure.

I hope you guys appreciate the permalinks. Because using BloggerPro is driving me nuts. It's so delicate and flighty. Not to mention my Explorer keeps crashing. I have to use HTML, which is incredibly primitive after Dreamweaver. All for permalinks. And, in theory, a spellchecker, though I don't see it. Maybe because I'm using a Mac. I just spent two hours on the last post. Almost all of it was on technical details. This is supposed to be simple! This is not what I call simple.

Litigation graduation
When an Arizona senior failed a class and realized she wouldn't graduate, her parents threatened to sue the teacher. Their lawyer wrote that "a young lady's life has now been ruined forever" and "she will be scarred for life." He threatened to investigate the teacher's background and career history, go through all her class records, etc.

The teacher replied, noting that the student had earned a 57 percent average, plagiarized one assignment, cut class and failed to show up for a help session.

The student would be a very capable student if she would apply herself, study and get her assignments in on time. Instead of being scarred for life, perhaps she will learn these lessons now, rather than when she is in college or in the work force.

As far as your threat to litigate this case, do what you must. .. I think your clients would be better off investing their money in summer school tuition for the student rather than wasting their money on attorney fees, litigating a case with little likelihood of success.

The administration caved on graduation day, letting the student retake a test and receive her diploma. For the student, "F" stands for failure to take responsibility; for the district, "F" is for funk.

Tuesday, June 11

Stand, deliver, get run out of town
Jaime Escalante's success in teaching calculus in East LA -- and his failure to change Garfield High's no-can-do mindset -- is described in Reason.

Inflating grades
Administrators at District of Columbia high schools have been changing students' grades without telling teachers, apparently so kids will graduate. It's easier than teaching them. Unqualified Offerings doesn't believe in graduating unqualified students.

How to pay for pizza
Robert Wright's students want an end-of-the-year pizza party. They're willing to pay $3 apiece. Here's the procedure:
Collect three dollars from each student. Give each student a receipt.
On each day that money comes in, give the cash to the school secretary who will lock it in the school safe. The money will be credited to the school council fund.
Pay the delivery person with my own money. (They don't take purchase orders.) Ask for a receipt that includes the tip.
Attend a student council meeting and ask for a reimbursement. The council will vote on the request.
Assuming the council votes to approve the reimbursement, get an authorized copy of the student council minutes and staple the receipt to it along with three photocopies. Submit the paperwork to the school secretary.
The secretary types up the paperwork on an NCR form. (I think it needs the principal's signature too.)
The paperwork is sent to the district's business office, where it's carefully checked. ("We're not bitches! It's the auditors, I tell you!) If the business office thinks the receipt is not a forgery, they approve the paperwork and issue a check.
The check is sent to the school secretary and the school secretary gives it to the teacher.

The entire process can take three months.

The original VodkaPundit
Dostoevsky was a proto-blogger, says this New Republic book review:

Dostoevsky was most famous for his Diary of a Writer, a monthly publication of sixteen pages, in which he gathered together stories, polemics, replies to his critics, and journalistic commentary on Russian news items such as the latest sensational court case. -- 6/10

Official state book of California
Chicagoans were asked to read "To Kill a Mockingbird," New Yorkers to tackle Chang-Rae Lee's "Native Speaker." Texans read "Lonesome Dove." The idea is that everyone will be able to discuss the One Book. The California Council for the Humanities wants the whole state to read John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," so modern-day Vietnamese refugees, Mexican immigrants and ex-Midwesterners can bond with the Okies.

I have a feeling that a state the size of California is too big for a book group. Will anyone pay attention? A San Jose Mercury News report was discouraging. People browsing at a bookstore said they'd never heard of Steinbeck or "Grapes of Wrath." Never heard of Steinbeck? And they didn't think the plight of Dust Bowl farmers sounded like a fun summer read.

At the Borders bookstore in Milpitas, many shoppers browsing the aisles had not even heard of Steinbeck, much less ``The Grapes of Wrath'', and a brief summary did not grab them.

``I never read it, never heard of it,'' said John Nguyen, 23, an Ohlone College student from San Jose flipping through a book written by master of the macabre Edgar Allen Poe. ``It doesn't sound like my cup of tea.''

I guess poor people are a downer. They should have asked Oprah for ideas. -- 6/10

Broken promises
Harvard has no right to complain if students lie about being gay, e-mails Bob Hawkins. Harvard has decided to accept students who signed binding early admissions decisions with other schools, but changed their minds. "Launch your Harvard career by breaking your word to another educational institution!
For students, early admissions relieves the pressure. If you're admitted to your top choice, you don't need to fill out a stack of applications. The whole agonizing process can be over by Christmas of senior year.

For colleges, early admissions locks in part of the enrollment early with students who've made that school their top choice. And students can't bargain effectively for financial aid if they're committed to one college.

Harvard's move erodes the value of early admissions to all its competitors. If they take Alberta Einstein in December and she says "yes" in January, they can't count on her showing up in September. -- 6/10

Where honor is due
I'm getting tons of mail from Fox readers in response to this week's column on the declining respect for academic merit in education.

Angelika Harder:

This "class-less" society our so called academians/activists are leading us towards will destroy us all. . . . Our great thinkers will help us keep our self-esteem up by creating this fake environment -- as if our kids did not know it when they did not earn their "A." Mediocrity should not be the goal.

Richard Morton:

We, the American People, need to understand that challenges are healthy for us, and working hard produces more balanced, adaptable adults. Education is a privilege, and to those who work hard and dedicate themselves to the pursuit of it, honor is due.

Aron Spencer:

One of the problems is that schools are mandated by law to provide programs for "challenged" students, or special education. There is no such mandate for advanced students, who are often left to sit through material far below their ability level. Similarly, while athletic scholarships abound, a full-ride academic scholarship (at the undergrad level) is a rare bird indeed

Chet Chapman:

As a former teacher, I have seen the constant degradation of anyone (other than an athlete) who tries to achieve. I used to teach math, and had high standards for the algebra and geometry classes I taught. But then when school integration programs came into vogue, I was told that I had to drop my standards because I was failing too many students, or not giving enough A's or B's.

In addition, Robert Railey wrote to challenge the idea that rent-a-coders from India will replace U.S. programmers:

If you want some dinky small project, then a rent-a-coder my be your best value, but for large scale projects with many programmers working as a team, email and phone just won't cut it for proper communication, and productivity goes down fast. There is also a need of testing the application, and most QA testers and analysts need to work with the programmer to resolve problems. --6/9

Knight of the Rolling Stone
Sir Mick Jagger? -- 6/9

Charters in churches
Tennessee will let church groups start publicly funded charter schools, as long as teaching is strictly secular. Even the ACLU thinks it's OK, with monitoring to make sure the rules are followed.
-- 6/8

Isn't that special?
"Everyone's Special'' -- blog highlights on merit and mediocrity -- are up on -- 6/8

The $108,730 graduate
The cost of producing a high school graduate averaged $108,730 in 1998, writes Herbert J. Walberg, a University of Illinois-Chicago professor.
It varies, though. Cleveland, with a huge drop-out rate, spent nearly $300,000 for each student who actually earned a diploma, while a similarly sized Utah district produced "finished graduates" for $59,199. Walberg multiplied annual school spending for 13 years, then factored in the graduation rate.

Productivity -- brains for the buck -- improves when school districts face competition, Walberg argues. -- 6/7

Truant cops
If Mom can't get her kid to get up and go to school, a San Jose police officer will show up and escort the truant to class. This Mercury News story mentions a girl who's missed 114 days of class, and another who's missed 40 days. They complain that school is boring. So is ignorance, girls. So is poverty. So is daytime TV! -- 6/7

No weight to excellence
Grading is tougher in tough classes, so an A in Advanced Placement and honors courses is usually worth 5 points to a student's grade point average; an honors B is worth 4, the same as an A in a regular class. But a committee working on a master education plan for California wants to eliminate extra grade points for more rigorous classes. Every A would be worth the same as every other A, whether the student is taking Slacker Science or honors physics.

Charles Ratliff, consultant for the legislative committee working on the master plan, says weighting grades is unfair because some high schools -- about 15 percent -- don't offer any AP classes while other schools have dozens of AP options.

Critics of college admissions tests, such as the SATs, invariably say that high school grades are the most accurate predictor of students' college success. But GPAs will be much less predictive if easy As and self-esteem Bs are worth the same as honors As and Bs. Inevitably, students will shy away from challenging courses that risk lowering their GPAs.

University of California regents, who are tinkering with college admissions tests, don't want to give up weighted grades too.

In 1999, the Education Policy Committee discussed dropping the AP bonus from one grade point down to half a grade point.

"A number of regents voted down this change because they believe students ... should have the motivation and the incentive to try to do better in their courses," (regent Velma) Montoya said.

State universities take into account students' access to AP courses in analyzing transcripts. And, because grades are weighted, high schools are being pushed to expand access to advanced classes by partnering with community colleges or using technology or coming up with the money to hire a teacher for the 10 kids who qualify for AP calculus. Taking the weight off honors grades takes the pressure off schools to challenge students. It is a dangerously stupid idea. -- 6/6

Putting the pro back in profile
Fingerprintingand photographing non-citizens from terror-friendly countries is OK with James Lileks. He thinks it's OK with most American Muslims. And if it's not . . .

I don’t care. I am way past caring. I have not a jot of the care-sauce left in my bones. The care tank is empty. There’s no one home in Careville. The dog ate my care. The Care Crop didn’t come up this year. comes up as a 404.

Would I raise an eyebrow if the government quarantined everyone with a Koran, kept them in holding cells for a week, tagged them with a microchip and sprayed them with a dye that shows up on orbiting satellites? Yes, I would. I’m raising an eyebrow right now, just for practice’s sake. But when these people get hysterical about co-religionist non- citizens being photographed and fingerprinted, I not only disregard what they say now but whatever they say in the future, as well as whoever cites them as an authority.

Lileks now has permalinks, by the way. And I am getting permalinks too. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Soon. -- 6/6

Reading researchers say Reading Recovery, a popular one-on-one tutoring program for elementary students, doesn't work very well considering how much it costs. -- 6/6

Merit under fire
State-funded merit scholarship programs, such as Georgia's Hope Scholarships, are facing complaints and lawsuits because middle-class students are more likely to have good grades and test scores than low-income students (via Confidence Man).

A few years ago, a study found that a "C" at an affluent, suburban high school was the equivalent of an "A" at an inner-city school. That suggests that Hope Scholarships, which require a B average in high school, favor students who attended high-poverty schools. Of course, these kids can' t use the scholarship for long because they lack the academic preparation to succeed in college. -- 6/6

Coming out for Harvard
Elite colleges like applicants to take advanced courses, compete in sports and chalk up extra-curriculars. So they do. Elite colleges like to see community service. So every student who ever smiled at a homeless man presents himself as a dedicated volunteer. Now, according to Josh Marshall, CNN is working on a story saying that Harvard and other universities are favoring students who've come out as gay -- or say they have on their applications. Marshall quotes a CNN memo:

Forget winning the science fair or being an all-state pole vaulter or, well, getting straight A's -- not being straight's now worth a lot too, when it comes to looking good to the college of your choice. Harvard and other universities around the country now are factoring in gayness as an enhancement to a college application...thinking having confronted one's sexual orientation at a young age shows independence - and builds character and leadership potential -

This doesn't mean honor students will have to go gay to go to Harvard. They'll lie. Is Harvard going to check?

One of my daughter's classmates clinched a a perfect 800 on the SAT II composition exam with an essay about the courage it took for him to declare his homosexuality. He wasn't gay. He was ahead of the curve.

A pro-gay policy in admissions will fill the Ivies with deceitful heterosexuals. -- 6/5

If you can read this . . .
I've done it! I've switched to Blogger Pro so I can generate permalinks to each post. Only, as I write this, nothing is actually publishing to the page. I get "publish process completed successfully," but it doesn't match my definition of success: Something appears on the page.

Also, all my Tuesday posts -- and I was going to have an Instapundit day -- have been wiped out. Other than that, things are hunkydory.