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Saturday, July 27
British phonics Teaching phonics prevents learning disabilities and helps boys catch up to girls in reading, according to The Scotsman.
Teaching reading by phonics is practised in only a handful of schools down south, but they have results way above the national average. Jonathan Solity, of Warwick University, has introduced phonics into parts of Essex, studying 10,000 children over a seven-year period and comparing his results with those produced by children following the National Literacy Strategy. In Basildon, where learning difficulties previously afflicted 25 per cent of all children, they are down to 5 per cent.
In Britain, as in the U.S., the progressive educators believe teaching phonics requires endless, boring, rote learning. Actually, some kids learn very quickly; they can then move on to comprehension skills. Kids who need more practice can learn through games and songs. The alternative -- trying to get through school by guessing what the words mean -- is a lot harder. 7/27/2002
Civic education In an eloquent essay on civic education, Victor Davis Hanson extols the schooling in American values he received in California's Central Valley.
The class was about 65 percent Mexican-American, 10 percent Asian and African-American, the rest mostly poor rural white whose parents had fled the Dust Bowl. Yet I cannot recall a single reference by our teacher, a native Oklahoman, to race, class, or gender, which might so easily have divided us. Instead, we repeatedly heard that President Lincoln, Mark Twain, and John Henry belonged to a heritage we all shared—that we natives had no more claim on FDR or Guadalcanal than did the new arrivals from Oaxaca or the Punjab.
Multiculturalism, moral relativism and blame-America-firstism leave young people confused about why our country is worth defending, Hanson argues.
Education Gadfly points to a San Jose story on how teachers are designing lesson plans for the anniversary of Sept. 11. The stress is on teaching tolerance -- one recommended lesson plan features a young Iraqi immigrant named Osama -- discussing civil liberties and understanding the Middle East, Gadfly notes. Teachers are being urged to celebrate diversity -- not unity. 7/27/2002
Some success but not enough The success of the "Success for All" reading program -- now in 1,500 elementary schools -- has produced a backlash from educators who say it's too regimented and that results are hyped. Though SFA's disadvantaged students outscore control groups, they don't catch up to national norms in reading. But nobody's come up with anything better, points out Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.
Principals and teachers at San Jose's early Success for All schools -- all serving very disadvantaged students -- told me the program improved reading, cut referrals for learning disabilities and boosted teacher attendance. In addition, the structure and sense of purpose carried forward throughout the school day, reducing discipline problems. 7/27/2002
Blue-collar futures John Gardner, a socialist elected to Milwaukee's school board, is fighting what he calls EduCartel for the future of students who want a decent job. Steve Sailer of UPI asks, "Is there a 'Yale or jail' presumption in the educational establishment? Gardner replies:
The people who run the Educartel are all, by definition, four-year college grads, and believe that is the path to success and productivity. They are also, increasingly, from families, neighborhoods, and affiliations ever more distanced from working class high-wage productivity, such as construction workers, toolmakers, and line electricians.
The old voc/tech programs weren't very good, says Gardner.
They were also very expensive, compared to the capital outlay for classroom chairs, desks, and blackboard. In eras of tightening educational financial margins, often miscalled "cuts" or "decreases," spending comparatively more money per student for vaguely remembered failed programs does not get anyone's support.
Low-achieving students know they'll never make it in college, so they give up, says Gardner. But they can be motivated by the chance to earn real money as a mechanic, technician or welder. 7/27/2002
Friday, July 26
Snoops Princeton admissions officers who hacked the Yale web site went repeatedly to the file of Lauren Bush, the president's niece, the Washington Post reported. They also triple-checked Ara Parseghian, grandson of the famous Notre Dame coach. Bush and Parseghian were admitted to both Princeton and Yale. However, the hackers also peeked at the file of non-celebrity Matthew Pasco, who was rejected by both Princeton and Yale despite scoring a perfect 1600 on his SATs. 7/26/2002
Lau speaks Bilingual education's poster boy is Kinney Lau, who became the name plaintiff in a civil rights suit filed in 1970, when he was a Cantonese-speaking first grader. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled non-English-speaking students have a right to a comprehensible education. Lau v. Nichols didn't require students be taught in their native language, but it was read that way for many years. Ken Lau, as he's now known, grew up to be a computer consultant with mixed feelings about bilingual education, according to a Boston Globe interview
Lau was educated in English; bilingual programs came in too late to affect him. It was a struggle, but he succeeded.
'''It's just that I adapt pretty well if you throw me into the fire. I'm pretty flexible, but maybe other kids don't do as well. If you throw them in the classroom and tell them to sink or swim, there's a much bigger probability that they're going to sink.''
... While there were periods when he did not understand what was on the blackboard, Lau says he found ways to translate his lessons into Chinese. He struggled with English through high school, but finally mastered the language at San Francisco City College, where he majored in computer programming, graduating in 1984.
Lau speaks perfect, accentless English but regrets he can't read or write Chinese.
Massachusetts will be voting on an initiative, similar to California's Proposition 227, to require English immersion classes for non-English-speaking students, unless their parents request bilingual education. 7/26/2002
Competition via PR Detroit Public Schools spent $1.5 million on public relations last year, reports the Detroit News. At the same time, the district cut 700 staffers; schools reduced spending by 10 percent. The goal was to recruit students and publicize programs. Kindergarten enrollment fell by 1,200; the district estimates it would have dropped more without the PR. 7/26/2002
We have more choice available to us today than has any other grouping of humans ever -- in the history of the world! Were I to take a five minute trip right now, I could have my pick of over a hundred types of fruits and vegetables. I can buy whole grain bread for pennies a slice and smear it with organic applebutter. I can climb into a vat of sprouts and eat my way out for, like, $10.
That I choose instead to drive 30 seconds to Subway™ to pick up a double-meat meatball sub smothered in provolone, is my decision. So is that bag of Jalapeno 'n' cheddar-dusted potato chips I'm enjoying on the side (in lieu of a plate of, say, radicchio).
And I like making my own decisions. Really I do.
Megan McArdle predicted that Big Fat would be the next target of lawsuits.
Jonah Goldberg has a slogan for those who want the right to choose their food: "Keep your laws off my bear claws!"
Meanwhile, everybody's got ideas on who to sue. Andrea Harris wants to sue the Blogosphere for addicting her to blogsurfing, thereby ruining her exercise program. John Doyle, co-founder of a restaurant industry group, thinks Mom could be next: "Fully two-thirds of all foods consumed in America are consumed in people's homes." Those who've read that government-promoted high-carb diets may be fattening us up will want to sue the FDA, Snackwells and the Pillsbury DoughBoy, with perhaps the potato, rice and wheat farmers thrown in. Warbloggers will be cheered to know that we can sue the French for hooking us on French bread. 7/26/2002
Call off the dogs An elementary school in South Dakota used a police dog to search children for drugs.
In one kindergarten class, the dog escaped from its handler and chased screaming children around the room, the complaint alleges. In another class, it says, an 11-year-old girl who had been scarred in a pit bull attack two years earlier was traumatized when her teacher denied her permission to stand during the search.
No choice in Chicago In theory, 124,000 Chicago students in 179 failing schools have the option of transferring to better schools in September. But there are only 2,000 to 3,000 open spaces in better-performing schools. So why not expand charter schools, asks the Chicago Tribune (I can't get the link to work).
Here, apparently, is what's giving the opponents the heebie-jeebies. Twelve of Chicago's 14 charter schools are performing better than regular neighborhood schools on a variety of measures, from attendance and graduation to math and reading. They are public schools, so they don't charge tuition and are open to any student regardless of achievement or special needs. They are located in some of the city's most challenging neighborhoods.
And as of March, more than 4,200 students were on waiting lists to get into those schools. As of today, there are at least a half dozen established and innovative groups angling to start their own charter schools, from the Field Museum to DePaul University to National-Louis University.
But they can't, because legislators won't approve a measure to expand the number of charter schools in Chicago from 15 to 30.
In the D.C., charter schools are turning away students for lack of space. The school district has empty buildings but the ones offered to charters tend to be falling apart. 7/25/2002
Dumb Down Under Educational idiocy is international, as I discovered when Tim Blair steered me to Australia's Professor Bunyip. The professor takes down Aussie educators who say "talented students should be able to remain within mainstream schools," when what they mean is that smart kids shouldn't be allowed to do better than duller or lazier students.
Students "should be able" to remain in the schools that have nurtured them. No coal mines or boot-blacking factories for these young ones!
How do they propose to help above-average teenagers remain at their present schools?
By eviscerating the more academically demanding ones that have been honing sharper minds to a finer edge.
Draped with feelgood catch phrases snatched from the latest Journal of the Society of Professional Social Engineers, these levelers are so determined to combat elitism -- can't you just hear their collective sneer at the mere mention of the word? -- they even want to wreck James Ruse Agricultural High, which last year recorded the highest HSC results in the entire state. The ENTIRE state! Go figure: In order to "improve" the school system, their first step would be to dismantle the best of the lot.
Oh, and students who take "coaching" (test prep) classes are competing unfairly, like athletes taking steroids. 7/25/2002
Wednesday, July 24
And its/it's errors really bug me. It's the Lucy in me. Some things are just wrong. 7/24/2002
Get-rich quick scheme for teachers Remember the New York City teacher who sued because his students harassed him for his Sri Lankan ethnicity? Because the kids had a special ed label for behavioral disorders, the school said they couldn't be punished for misbehaving. Overlawyered reports that he got $50,000. Just think of all the abused teachers who could supplement their pay this way. 7/24/2002
I got a new iMac! No one can say I'm not doing my bit to revive the high-tech economy. I bought a new iMac yesterday -- the one that looks like a lamp. A lamp with a great screen. I'm having some trouble getting my old e-mail files transferred but otherwise it's working pretty well. Of course, I don't know how anyone who doesn't have my brother as their brother ever gets going on a new computer. And it sure would be nice if I could remember my online banking password. I didn't think I had one. 7/24/2002
Tuesday, July 23
Ya-Ya professor Carol Gilligan, the queen mother of "difference" feminism, is a sloppy romantic, writes Margaret Talbot in New Republic.
Gilligan's contentions are not provable or disprovable, because they are not anything like science. You may find the particular stories that Gilligan tells about women and men true to life, or you may not. And that is why the greatest strength of Gilligan's new book is its lack of pretensions to social science. It is, unabashedly, an essay--a circular, solipsistic, New Agey essay, based on sometimes elegant and often engaging readings of texts ranging from the Cupid and Psyche myth (the origin of the book's title) to Toni Morrison and Arundhati Roy, as well as on Gilligan's therapeutic practice with couples, her childhood memories of her mother, and her personal observations of adolescent girls and preschool boys. And it reveals Gilligan once and for all as a state-of-the-art 1960s romantic, a hippie really, enamored of spontaneity and authenticity, and entranced especially by the superior knowledge of twelve-year-old girls--an ecstatic and nostalgic worshipper of youth.
We are suffering under the yoke of Western culture, Gilligan believes. That yoke consists largely of tragic stories of love -- tragic because they are the products of patriarchy, and they justify male authority squashing true feeling and the democratizing force of love, to which she gives full due here.
Talbot doubts that teen-age girls are losing their "voice" or authenticity or anything else due to excessive reading of Ovid. 7/23/2002
Reading and religion Requiring freshmen to read part of the Koran violates their religious freedom, claims a lawsuit filed by three University of North Carolina students and the Family Policy Network, a conservative Christian group (via How Appealing.)
This year's reading is Approaching the Qur'án: The Early Revelations, translated and introduced by Michael Sells. Although the summer reading is required, if any students or their families are opposed to reading parts of the Qur'án because to do so is offensive to their own faith, they may choose not to read the book. These students should instead complete their one-page response on why they chose not to read the book.
Family Policy Network argues it's still coercive: Freshmen would be singled out as hostile to Islam.
The change pitted students with religious views contrary to Islam against fellow students, faculty and members of the administration who either ascribe to Muslim views or sympathize with those who do.
Is the University of North Carolina really so pro-Islam and anti-Christian? It seems unlikely. And I suspect many students won't do the reading, whether they have religious qualms or just don't get around to it. 7/23/2002
Over the top and 'round the bend Harper's Magazine gets far more letters than it has space to print. Yet the editors chose to print this letter from R. Lee Matthews:
Lewis Lapham's restraint in regard to Attorney General John Ashcroft's doggerel is admirable. However indecorous Ashcroft's "work" appears from a modern critical perspective, his subjection of subordinates to his singing is reminiscent of a passage in Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. When a capo subjected Frankl and other inmates of Auschwitz to the reading of a poem that the capo had written himself, Frankl bit his "lips till they hurt in order to keep from laughing . . . and very likely that saved my life" A capo in our (not very) brave new world, Ashcroft is not content with simply erasing our civil liberties; he also wants us to admire his sensitive side. This is just one more indication of how out of touch with the rest of us Ashcroft is and how much is he in love with his own power.
No evidence is provided that Ashcroft starves, beats or kills staffers who don't appreciate his songs.
Under the heading, "The Reagan Revulsion," another letter suggests "ordinary citizens" thought Ronald Reagan was the "devil incarnate," but I think that's meant as a joke.
And there's a letter by Steve Baughman, a Tali-boy fan, who concedes: "One may choose not to characterize as heroism Walker Lindh's willingness to risk his life fighting" the Northern Alliance, which Baughman asserts is "virtually undisputed" to be "a group of thugs, murderers and rapists." Well, it's a point of view that doesn't get aired often. Harper's also chose to run a letter from a professor who compares Walker Lindh to Richard Jewell, a guiltless man hounded by the FBI and "indicted by the media."
I can't speak for "the rest of us," but Lapham's magazine is "out of touch" with me. 7/22/2002
Way back to basics "Dad had a sad lad." Los Angeles Unified is teaching basic phonics to 35,000 sixth through ninth graders who never learned to read (via PatioPundit). Students spend two hours a day learning reading skills; they give up electives.
The magnitude of adolescent illiteracy in Los Angeles was demonstrated earlier this year when the district tried to establish qualifications for enrollment in the new classes. District officials targeted the 67,000 students entering sixth through ninth grades who scored in or below the 20th percentile in reading on the Stanford 9--those in the bottom fifth.
About half that number were taken off the list, either because they had passed a separate third-grade reading test or because they were still learning English and qualified for another intervention program. That left the 35,000 who will spend the next two years learning how to read all over again.
The phonetic exercises that start this month with the most basic lessons linking sounds and letters will gradually take on more complex and challenging material as students tackle grammar, learn to write essays and study methods to improve their comprehension.
Notice that students who passed a third grade reading test are considered too advanced for the literacy program.
It's not clear this curriculum is the best way to teach reading to older students. But, at least, LA has started to pay attention to a huge problem instead of passing the kids along until they drop out.
By the way, Downtown College Prep, the charter school I'm writing a book about, just got its reading results: In two years, their first class of students -- who started ninth grade reading, on average, at the fifth grade level -- have caught up. They'll enter 11th grade reading as well as the average 11th grader. Scores rose from the 29th percentile to the 50th in one year.
DCP targets Hispanic students with less than a C average. In the fall, the school expects two-thirds of ninth graders will need to skip electives to make more time to learn reading and math skills. 7/22/2002
The academy is designed to combine state-of-the-art equipment with traditional music values, strict academic standards and character-building skills to revitalize the neighborhood through its youth.
"We believe that music helps build character through hard work, discipline and team effort," said Deanie Parker, Soulsville's president and executive director. "And so why not use music as a creative way to change the lives of thousands of children?
By contrast, Tony Woodlief questions the value of a summer music camp for girls that teaches "all you need is three chords" -- and freedom from sexist stereotypes -- to be a rock star.
While the (NPR) reporter interviewed other campers about their experiences, I could hear in the background various camp bands performing. One featured a young woman squealing "Girls rock! Girls rock! Grrrrrllllssss!" Another affected a quasi-Jewel sound, only the guitarist used two chords (one less than the expert's recommendation; an appropriate thumb in the eye of repressive authority), while the singer unleashed her voice on the scale like an untended fire hose on full blast. . . .
t's one thing to help a girl see that Britney Spears demeans herself by flashing a bit of thong to sell albums. It's another to convince this girl that she is belittled by singing in a voice that pleases the ear, or that real empowerment lies with casting off the tight constraints enforced by scales, rhythm, and lyrical subtlety in favor of unconstrained noise-making.
I think most kids enjoy the feeling of competence they get when they master challenging skills. The Memphis music students will have more fun than the would-be rock stars yowling in the woods. 7/21/2002