A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, April 30, 2006

New York Schools versus the "Electronic Leash"

For a while now, it's been "Don't ring, don't tell."

But now, NYC school officials are trying to cut out students' Razrs and are rolling over students' Rockrs.
Though the phones have been banned in New York City schools for years, parents say that many schools without metal detectors have operated under a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" policy, with the cellphones ignored as long as they do not ring in the middle of class.

But as the city began random security scanning at middle and high schools yesterday in its latest effort to seize weapons, the gap between school rules and parents' expectations has set off a furor. Some principals recently sent home letters reminding parents that cellphones are not allowed, and at the one school searched yesterday, 129 cellphones were confiscated.

Anxious parents say that cellphones are not a frill but the mortar holding New York City's families together in these times of demanding schedules, mounting extracurricular activities, tutoring sessions and long treks to school.

Some of these parents, also fearful of child predators and terrorist attacks, say that sending their children to school without cellphones is unimaginable. "I have her call me when she gets out of school, and she's supposed to get on the bus right away," Lindsay Walt, an artist, said of her daughter, Eve Thomson, 11, a sixth grader at Salk. "Then I have her call me when she gets off the bus, and I have her call me when she gets in the house. The chancellor will have civil disobedience on his hands. No one in New York is going to let their child go to school without a cellphone."

Boy, if the powers-that-be ever tried that in my district, you'd be able to hear the howling all the way to Noo Yawk. Technically speaking, our students are supposed to turn their phones off once they get to school. In reality, the damn things are on all the time, and I haven't gone a day without one ringing in class for at least a month-- and that includes during standardized testing. They look embarassed and apologize and silence them quickly, but still. I really don't want to hear about how It's Hard To Be A Pimp coming off the kneecap of one of my charming suburban mallrats when I'm trying to teach about the relationship between supply, demand, and price. I have tried to warn my kids that if they use a cell phone during their AP exams, their tests could be invalidated and our school could lose its right to administer the test, but I will bet you anything that some wiseguy will try it anyway, because they just don't believe that we're serious.

For those parents who claim they need to be able to contact their child while they are in school, there's this thing called a telephone that all of us teachers have on our desks, and for 99% of our students, that should be more than good enough. Now, for my student with a baby in extremely critical condition in the NICU, that's a different story-- set the thing on vibrate already and put it up against your body, rather than have a tragedy occur. But I've got kids who, when they get bored or hear that there's going to be an assembly, try to go to the john and call mom to excuse them from class. I've got kids who have tried to text-message answers to each other during exams. I've seen kids call each other on their cells when a fight has broken out and caused hundred-student swarms of spectators when adults were trying to restore order and prevent injury. Cell phones can cause plenty of trouble, and don't even start about when they get stolen, which happened to one of our administrators' phones last year. THAT was fun. I have now had to move to having the kids pull out their cell phones, turn them off, and place them face down on their desks during tests, and then I eagle-eye them for the remainder of the period. That's the best I can do, because even though policy says that I should confiscate them, I don't have time to walk 57 cell phones to six different administrators' offices during the day, and I am certainly not going to keep them myself and be responsible for them.

Having been on New York subways, however, I can understand the parents' point about safety. It would be great if the policy would be to turn them off once they get to school, and in the interest of their children's need for safety, the parents and kids would abide by this. But I haven't seen it happen yet.

Why am I a Caffeine-Swilling Diet Failure?

Well, this week, it's because the AP exam is less than a week away! All this work! All the preparation! And the kids looked at me like one of those waifs-in-the-black-velvet-paintings when I asked them the significance of the year 1877.... GAAAH! My husband made me sleep on the couch last night because I kept chanting in my not-quite-sleep, "Analysis! Not narrative!" and "More outside information! Don't laundry list!"

On Friday, after making sure each and every one of their precious little bodies is in the exam room by 7:15 ack emma, I shall then retreat to my lair to swill more caffeine and inhale gummi bears.

Who knows what my excuse for my oral fixation will be next week, but I'll think of something.

A Wee Tiny Chick for the Post-hip Chick and Beausband

Belated but nonetheless heartfelt congratulations to Post-hip Chick and the Lovely Beausband for their blessed arrival, born last Thursday!

And if you want to see pictures of the precious wee bairn, let me just tell you, you must go look. That is the most precious baby since my last one, of course!

Doesn't she just make you want to break out in Stevie-Wonder-ness?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Our anthem or Nuestro himna: are they the same?

Over at NPR they’ve got a very useful posting about the Spanish version of the Star Spangled Banner, which has aroused quite a bit of controversy. Created just in time for the big protests on Monday, this Spanish version begs the question: Is this an attempt to show how devoted illegal immigrants are to our country, or is it an attempt to co-opt the national anthem for the purpose of those who want full amnesty and an open border?

Now, first, let me say that I think it’s a bit embarrassing that our national anthem was set to the tune of a drinking song, and that it is practically unsingable. But be that as it may, I also am a purist about it, since I love my country and believe that it deserves the utmost honor. It personally makes me blanch every time I hear someone play fast and loose with the singing of this song, displaying their narcissistic vocal pyrotechnics when all we really need is to think about the duty and sacrifice and honor that is encumbent upon us as Americans. Just hit the notes, please, so we can concentrate on what’s really important. And by the way—it’s even worse when the singers forget the lyrics or mangle them in their focus on showing off their vocal chords.

Here are the lyrics to the Spanish song, as published on the NPR site:

Nuestro Himno (Our Anthem)
Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?
lo que tanto aclamamos la noche caer?
sus estrellas sus franjas
flotaban ayer
en el fiero combate
en señal de victoria,
fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Por la noche decían:
"Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún
Voz a su hermosura estrellada,
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?
Sus estrellas, sus franjas,
la libertad, somos iguales.
Somos hermanos, en nuestro himno.
En el fiero combate en señal de victoria,
Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Mi gente sigue luchando.
Ya es tiempo de romper las cadenas.
Por la noche decían: "!Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?

English translation:

By the light of the dawn, do you see arising,
what we proudly hailed at twilight's last fall?
Its stars, its stripes
yesterday streamed
above fierce combat
a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed:
"We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Its stars, its stripes,
liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
My people fight on.
The time has come to break the chains.
Throughout the night they proclaimed, "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?

You can also click a link there to hear a version that is being played on many Spanish-language radio stations.

I am troubled by the change in meaning of the above song, and I do not think it is a matter of mere translation. This is not the same national anthem. For comparison’s sake, let’s remind everyone what the actual lyrics are:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming,
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there?
O say! Does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

See, it’s a set of questions, and the answer, then and now, as I tell my students, is “YES!”

Yes, our flag does still fly. We have watched it fly in times of war and struggle. It has been carried into battle for the defense of our country. shrouded in the smoke of cannon fire.

It has flown in times of sorrow.

It has draped the caskets of millions of heroes and heroines.

It has served as a beacon and a hope and an appeal to “the better angels of our nature,” in the words of Abraham Lincoln, when our leaders have drifted from the ideals for which it stands.

Our flag is an emblem of freedom so strong that it can withstand the attempt of people to politicize it, but that does not mean that we should not defend it. And defend it we must.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Carnival of education: just keeps on getting better

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"

The answer is absolutely yes, if you're the Carnival of Education!

The 64th edition of the Carnival of Education is up over at the Education Wonks'. I am thrilled to see so many interesting posts. And an extra big Apes shout-out goes to EdWonk for putting up such a fine product each and every week, Bless him!

Go look. I'll be here when you come back.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Cheating Culture, part 2

She was a 17 year old who got a half million dollar book deal without ever having written the first page of the anticipated first novel. She's now a student at Harvard. The first novel was finally published to great fanfares of publicity. Kaavya Viswanathan's book is entitled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. The title immediately alone sets off internal alarm bells in my head warning that this is the literary equivalent of Turkish Delight which can only lead to immediate atrophy of synapses, and after reading some of the novel in question, you've gotta judge that book by its title.

The problem? Chunks of Viswanathan's book apparently plagiarized passages from a fellow chick-lit artiste.

Yes, that's as American as an ice cream cone. But you gotta love her excuse:
In an e-mail message yesterday afternoon, Ms. Viswanathan, 19, said that in high school she had read the two books she is accused of borrowing from, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," and that they "spoke to me in a way few other books did."

"Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,' and passages in these books," she said.

Calling herself a "huge fan" of Ms. McCafferty's work, Ms. Viswanathan added, "I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words." She also apologized to Ms. McCafferty and said that future printings of the novel would be revised to "eliminate any inappropriate similarities."

Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said that Ms. Viswanathan planned to add an acknowledgment to Ms. McCafferty in future printings of the book.

In her e-mail message, Ms. Viswanathan said that "the central stories of my book and hers are completely different." But Ms. McCafferty's books, published by Crown, a division of Random House, are, like Ms. Viswanathan's, about a young woman from New Jersey trying to get into an Ivy League college — in her case, Columbia. (Ms. Viswanathan's character has her sights set on Harvard.) Like the heroine of "Opal," Ms. McCafferty's character, Jessica Darling, visits the campus, strives to earn good grades to get in and makes a triumphant high school graduation speech.

Well, she's definitely creative: she didn't steal the words of an author she read less than five years ago; no, she "internalized Ms. McCafferty's words"-- and against her own will!

Ohhhhhhh, that's okay then. And her agent says to blame teen culture: "Knowing what a fine person Kaavya is, I believe any similarities were unintentional. Teenagers tend to adopt each other's language."

I guess this has struck a chord in me because I had to call a parent recently and inform him that his child was taking a make-up exam with me and was surreptitiously (is it really surreptitious if you're blazingly obvious and you're caught?) using notes to try to raise his grade. The poor parent apologized over and over again. It made me cringe, because it's not the parent who should be apologizing-- I know he's been trying to do the right thing. "Kiddo" is plenty old enough to know better. But our culture admires people who "get away with things." Even though the kid admitted that he was cheating, he claimed he didn't recall his parent's phone number at work-- until I called home and explained that to grandma, who put the kid on the phone. Within seconds, a miracle happened and the number was recalled. Well, one attempt at honesty out of three chances isn't bad, I guess.

This is not a rotten kid-- just an incredibly polite but disorganized one who needs some reinforcement of study skills and a big dose of accountability. Kid comes to class late, asks to go the restroom in the middle of class about three times a week, leaves the second the bell rings, and refuses to get help from me or a tutor or a study group, even during free time during the school day. Apparently, Kid has been claiming that he has been coming to me for tutoring for months now. Kid has been telling me, meanwhile, that his coach won't let him miss practice, even when that sport is not in season, because, apparently, I am THAT gullible in this kid's eyes. Meanwhile, Coach hyperbolically emails me that Meanie Me may cost the kid a college scholarship (carbon copied to half the building) and then provides as supporting evidence every racial stereotype you can imagine. Does this guy not realize that he is implying that the kid can't do the work because he's a minority? And aren't there SOME KIND of academic requirements for athletic scholarships-- unless, of course, you play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers? (Kidding!-- a bit...)

I appreciate the fact that the kid eventually apologized. I appreciate the fact that the parent actually supported the contention that cheating is wrong-- it could certainly have gone the other way. But hey, everyone cheats, right?

****Saturday Update: the book has been pulled from the shelves, supposedly to be "revised." No word on when or if it will be reissued.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: the DVD

Yes, it's Monday-- again, and time for Movie Madness Monday. Here's the deal: Each Monday I pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite, or cleanest, quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun. And that means you, k.

"What was he the patron saint of?"
"Quality footwear."

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

"Do you have any artificial plates or limbs?"
"Errrr, not exactly."

"Money talks and bullshit walks."

"They're not gonna release the album... because they have decided that the cover is sexist."
"Well, so what? What's wrong with bein' sexy? I mean there's no... "

****Wednesday Update: Rock on, lads! We honor the music of
the loudest band in England, SPINAL TAP! Those merry lads who started out folkie singing that we should all "Listen to the Flower People," and then discovered that all they wanted to do was ROCK!

See? Eleven is louder than ten, when you want to "kick it up a notch."

They also soon discovered that Keith Moon wasn't the only drummer who would rather burn out than fade away, as they went through a series of drummer deaths caused by bizarre gardening accidents or choking on vomit-- that probably wasn't his own-- or my favorite, spontaneous human combustion.

Albums include the controversially sexist "Sniff the Glove," "The Sun Never Sweats," and "Intravenus de Milo." All worth a listen! They last reunited in 2001, so let's hope the boys are broke enough by now to give it another go!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

and now, a public service announcement from our Mother...

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountains' majesties
Above the fruited plain,
God shed her grace on thee!
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A poem for Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and while I brush the bark stains off my shirt from all that tree-hugging I have been delighting in, I leave you a brief poem.

Stopping by Mark Twain National Forest in Light of the Rural Schools Act
(Apologies to Robert Frost)

Whose woods these are I think I know,
Bush wants to sell them for the sake of Oregon, though.
He says he wants to build some schools
To make up for clear-cutting they did long ago.

But I live in the Midwest, once verdant, lush
Now patchwork forests choked in underbrush
Our woods belch pulp for paper mills
And our own schools are poor, too, Mr. Bush.

“These lands are inaccessible,” you sneer
Which is doubtless why they are still here
Perhaps a tax on oil profits would work better
We’d build a million schools a year!

But Exxon would then pitch a fit,
And you have cronies like Libby to help acquit,
And election-year chicanery to commit,
And election-year chicanery to commit.

There are not words for this. May she rest in peace.

Slain 10-year-old Oklahoma girl laid to rest

PURCELL, Okla. — Jamie Rose Bolin, the 10-year-old girl whose body was found in the apartment of a man who authorities said intended to eat her corpse, was remembered Thursday as a friendly child who enjoyed watching movies, singing and sewing. "Maybe heaven needed another rose to add to its bouquet," pastor Duane Elmore told about 1,000 people attending the funeral in the Purcell High School gymnasium. "It only took her 10 years to earn her wings."

Members of Jamie's Girl Scout troop wept during a video presentation chronicling moments in her life, including clowning around with friends. Elmore told Jamie's family that the community would continue to support them.

"Long after the cameras are gone and the headlines change, there will still be people in Purcell who love you," Elmore said, his voice quaking with emotion. A photograph of the girl along with a large bouquet of flowers was on top of the white casket. After the funeral service, the casket was placed in a white hearse for a 60-mile trip to Guthrie for burial.

Kevin Ray Underwood, 26, is charged with first-degree murder in Jamie's death and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty. A judge has entered a not guilty plea for Underwood. The grocery store stocker was arrested Friday and held without bail after drawing suspicion at a checkpoint near the apartment complex where he and Jamie's family lived.

Underwood led authorities to the apartment, where they found Jamie's body in a large plastic tub sealed with duct tape in his bedroom closet. Authorities believe Underwood lured the child into his apartment, beat her on the head with a wooden cutting board and suffocated her with his hands and duct tape. Jamie died of asphyxiation, authorities said.

Prosecutors have said meat tenderizer and barbecue skewers found in his apartment were intended for the little girl. According to a police affidavit, Underwood confessed that he killed Jamie, telling FBI agents: "Go ahead and arrest me. She is in there. I chopped her up." Police said that while there were deep saw marks on the girl's neck, she had not been dismembered.

Apparently this monster wrote about his fantasies about cannibalism on his webpage. And no one noticed. Or cared. May he rot in hell.

NCLB and Cheaterpants School Districts

The newswire has been singing with the news that some school districts are apparently making some students disappear when it comes to their NCLB-mandated test scores:
There are about 220 students at West View Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn., where President Bush marked the second anniversary of the law's enactment in 2004. Tennessee schools have federal permission to exclude students' scores in required racial categories if there are fewer than 45 students in a group.

There are more than 45 white students. Victoria counts.

There are fewer than 45 black students. Laquanya does not.

One of the consequences is that educators are creating a false picture of academic progress.

"We're forcing districts and states to play games because the system is so broken, and that's not going to help at all," said Kathy Escamilla, a University of Colorado education professor. "Those are little games to prevent showing what's going on."

Under the law signed by Bush in 2002, all public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014, although only children above second grade are required to be tested.

Schools receiving federal poverty aid also must demonstrate annually that students in all racial categories are progressing or risk penalties that include extending the school year, changing curriculum or firing administrators and teachers.

The law requires public schools to test more than 25 million students periodically in reading and math. No scores can be excluded from a school's overall measure.

But the schools also must report scores by categories, such as race, poverty, migrant status, English proficiency and special education. Failure in any category means the whole school fails.

States are helping schools get around that second requirement by using a loophole in the law that allows them to ignore scores of racial groups that are too small to be statistically significant.

Suppose, for example, that a school has 2,000 white students and nine Hispanics. In nearly every state, the Hispanic scores wouldn't be counted because there aren't enough to provide meaningful information and because officials want to protect students' privacy.

State educators decide when a group is too small to count. And they've been asking the government for exemptions to exclude larger numbers of students in racial categories. Nearly two dozen states have successfully petitioned the government for such changes in the past two years. As a result, schools can now ignore racial breakdowns even when they have 30, 40 or even 50 students of a given race in the testing population.

So how many kids are vanishing into thin air? Here's where it really gets sticky:
Overall, the AP found that about 1.9 million students -- or about 1 in every 14 test scores -- aren't being counted under the law's racial categories. Minorities are seven times as likely to have their scores excluded as whites, the analysis showed.

Less than 2 percent of white children's scores aren't being counted as a separate category. In contrast, Hispanics and blacks have roughly 10 percent of their scores excluded. More than one-third of Asian scores and nearly half of American Indian scores aren't broken out, AP found.

Bush's home state of Texas -- once cited as a model for the federal law -- excludes scores for two entire groups. No test scores from Texas' 65,000 Asian students or from several thousand American Indian students are broken out by race. The same is true in Arkansas.

Students whose tests aren't being counted in required categories also include Hispanics in California who don't speak English well, blacks in the Chicago suburbs, American Indians in the Northwest and special education students in Virginia.

State educators defend the exemptions, saying minority students' performance is still being included in their schools' overall statistics even when they aren't being counted in racial categories. Excluded minority students' scores may be counted at the district or state level.

Spellings said she believes educators are making a good-faith effort. "Are there people out there who will find ways to game the system?" she asked. "Of course. But on the whole ... I fully believe in my heart, mind and soul that educators are people of good will who care about kids and want them to find opportunity in schools."

Bush has hailed the separate accounting of minority students as a vital feature of the law. "It's really essential we do that. It's really important," Bush said in a May 2004 speech. "If you don't do that, you're likely to leave people behind. And that's not right."

Nonetheless, Bush's Education Department continues to give widely varying exemptions to states:

Oklahoma lets schools exclude the test scores from any racial category with 52 or fewer members in the testing population, one of the largest across-the-board exemptions. That means 1 in 5 children in the state don't have scores broken out by race.

Maryland, which tests about 150,000 students more than Oklahoma, has an exempt group size of just five. That means fewer than 1 in 100 don't have scores counted.

Washington state has made 18 changes to its testing plan, according to a February report by the Harvard Civil Rights Project.

Vermont has made none. On average, states have made eight changes at either the state or federal level to their plans in the past five years, usually changing the size or accountability of subgroups whose scores were supposed to be counted.
Toia Jones, a black teacher whose daughters attend school in a mostly white Chicago suburb, said the loophole is enabling states and schools to avoid taking concrete measures to eliminate an "achievement gap" between white and minority students.

"With this loophole, it's almost like giving someone a trick bag to get out of a hole," she said. "Now people, instead of figuring out how do we really solve it, some districts, in order to save face or in order to not be faced with the sanctions, they're doing what they can to manipulate the data."

Some students feel left behind, too.

"It's terrible," said Michael Oshinaya, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in New York City who was among a group of black students whose scores weren't broken out as a racial category. "We're part of America. We make up America, too. We should be counted as part of America."

Spellings' department is caught between two forces. Schools and states are eager to avoid the stigma of failure under the law, especially as the 2014 deadline draws closer. But Congress has shown little political will to modify the law to address their concerns. That leaves the racial category exemptions as a stopgap solution.

"She's inherited a disaster," said David Shreve, an education policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "The 'Let's Make a Deal' policy is to save the law from fundamental changes, with Margaret Spellings as Monty Hall."

The solution may be to set a single federal standard for when minority students' scores don't have to be counted separately, said Ross Wiener, policy director for the Washington-based Education Trust.

While the exemptions were created for good reasons, there's little doubt now that group sizes have become political, said Wiener, whose group supports the law.

"They're asking the question, not how do we generate statistically reliable results, but how do we generate politically palatable results," he said.

Having left my naive little notions about the willingnesss of people in our country to face up to unpleasant truths when I was about 6, nonetheless part of me is absolutely appalled at the example being set by the frantic maneuverings on the part of some school districts to evade bad press. How can we expect our students to view cheating and obfuscation as wrong when schools engage in this kind of behavior?

It may be an impossible standard that has been set. That is not the point. Part of an education concerns the transmittal of values which our society holds as important. Hate the law all you want, but model the correct response. All this reminds me of the nullification philosophy of the Southern states in the early- to mid-19th century: if the federal government passes a law a state doesn't like, the state should be free to ignore it, right? THAT certainly would lead to a better and more orderly political landscape, now wouldn't it?

There is definitely a message being sent here, all right, but it certainly isn't the right one.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Parents, Teachers, and Confidence about NCLB

Apparently, parents in a survey are more confident about reaching the goals set by NCLB than teachers are.
Setting high expectations for students has become such a priority that Congress passed a law about it. Now schools must make sure all children succeed in math and reading, no matter what their language barrier or level of poverty or support at home.

Realistic? Many parents seem to think so. But plenty of teachers do not.

Almost eight in 10 parents are confident their local school will get all students up to state standards in reading and math by 2013-14, an AP-AOL Learning Services poll finds.

Yet only half of teachers are confident that all students in their school will meet that deadline, which was set by the No Child Left Behind Act that Congress passed in 2001.

That means the two major groups of adults in kids' lives have a huge expectations gap.

The finding underscores a theme in the poll. Parents and teachers often disagree on daily aspects of education, from the state of discipline to the quality of high schools.

A major reason is that adults see the children differently. Parents tend to focus on their own children, while teachers work with dozens of students from different backgrounds.

One obvious flaw to the methodology of this type of survey is that only parents who are engaged in their children's education would participate in a survey. Would that those parents were the majority of parents with whom we deal-- but we all know that is not the case. Unfortunately, many of the parents of the students who struggle the most, or who do not care, have parents who don't even allocate resources to their children's breakfasts, much less devoting minutes to answering a survey.

Read the entire article-- it's quite thought-provoking.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Little One Room Schoolhouse Perseveres

The sprawl of suburbia in New Hampshire is threatening a real treasure:a one-room school that's been continuously used since the American Revolution:
Go slow when you drive through Croydon, N.H. It's a tiny place with a general store, a town hall, one church and a red brick, one-story school. Croydon's school was built in 1780 and has been in continuous operation ever since. But change is coming. It's a matter of growth.

Most of America's one-room schools are threatened with closure because of lack of population. Croydon might lose its school because it has too many people.

Today, only first-, second- and third-graders attend Croydon Village School. From fourth grade on, they take a bus to Newport, the next town down the highway.

Citizens of Croydon are happy with the arrangement and support it with their tax dollars. At a town meeting every March, they scrutinize the school budget line by line. Lifelong resident Harry Newcomb sums up a prevailing attitude: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

For nearly a decade, the Croydon teacher has been Lynn Touchette. Making the most of the multi-grade setting, she finds ways to get older and younger students working together. This kind of education distinguishes one-room schools from more typical public schools, and the citizens of Croydon think it makes for more confident, secure kids.

"They have a tight bond with the teacher, a tight bond with each other and a tight bond with the community -- and they take that right through life with them," says Carol Marsh, who was a student at Croydon and now serves on the school board. Her daughter Katie attended Croydon, too.

Croydon's population varied only a little for many years, hovering for a long time between 600 and 700. Now a lack of housing in nearby towns and cities is bringing people here. Two new subdivisions have broken ground.

Last spring, there were 18 students at the school, and most agree that's near the upper limit. If more come, the residents of Croydon will have hard choices before them: renovate the old, historic school, build a new school, or send more kids down the road to the next town.

"We want our young ones here," says Marsh. "We want them to know their neighbors."

My grandmother taught in Oklahoma in the state's early days when she was barely out of high school herself, and her stories always fascinated me. Apparently NPR has had a series of stories about these cherished institutions, and I recommend you check out all the links. It obviously takes a special teacher to make this work.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: April Showers Edition

Monday. Spring. April. Quite right! Movie Madness Monday time!

What's that, you say? Each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun.

“Let us go forth and conjugate!”

“So, uhhhm. Maybe we could just skulk around here for a bit and then go back down?”
“Now that’s a thought. I don’t usually skulk a lot, but I suppose I could skulk if skulking were required. Do you skulk regularly?”

“Repeat after me: ‘I, Bernard… Delaney—‘”
“I, Bernard Delaney-“
“Do take Lydia Jane Hibbett-“
“Do take Lydia Jane Hibbett-“
“To be my awful wedded wife.”
“To be my LAWFUL wedded wife.”
“That’s right. That’s right!”

“Do you think there really are people who can just go up and say, ‘Hi, babe. Name's Charles. This is your lucky night?’”
“Well, if there are, they're not English.”

“I always just hoped that, that I'd meet some nice friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me didn't make her physically sick, then pop the question and, um, settle down and be happy. It worked for my parents. Well, apart from the divorce and all that.”

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spigot.”

“I really feel, uuhh, in short, to recap it slightly in a clearer version,--uuuh, the words of David Cassidy in fact, eh, while he was still with the Partridge family, ehhhm, "I think I love you."

****Tuesday Update: Yes, this post now comes with a soundtrack, and all thanks to fellow Okie ramblin' educat. See, when you pick quality material, you get quality feedback. And educat combines two of my favorite things here: this film, and the ever-lovin' struggle over the school dress code. It's like peanut butter and chocolate! Go listen!

*****Wednesday Update: Duckface, the movie is

Four Weddings and a Funeral!

Now, HOW could you turn down Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, and all the rest of the merry gang? So let us all raise a toast and say:

"To true love- so we can say, in our dotage, "I, too have been adored."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Well, this is an interesting development.

First, take both hands, and place them under your chin, because otherwise you're going to get a nasty bruise when your jaw hits the floor over this one. I had to check the paper's date to make sure this wasn't a late April Fool's prank, but no:
Lawmakers split Omaha school district along minority lines
Backers say move gives each group more control

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In a move decried by some as state-sponsored segregation, the Legislature voted yesterday to divide the 45,000-student Omaha school system into three districts -- one that is mostly black, one predominantly white, and one largely Hispanic.

Supporters, including the bill's sponsor and the state Legislature's lone black senator, said the plan would give minorities control over their own school board and ensure that their children are not shortchanged in favor of white youngsters.

Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, was expected to sign the measure into law.

State Senator Pat Bourne of Omaha decried the bill, saying, ''We will go down in history as one of the first states in 20 years to set race relations back."

''History will not, and should not, judge us kindly," said Senator Gwen Howard, also of Omaha.

Attorney General Jon Bruning sent a letter to one of the measure's opponents saying that the bill could be in violation of the Constitution's equal-protection clause and that lawsuits almost certainly will be filed.

But its backers said that at the very least, its passage will force policy makers to negotiate seriously about the future of schools in the Omaha area.

The breakup would not occur until July 2008, leaving time for lawmakers to come up with another idea.

''There is no intent to create segregation," said Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha, the Legislature's only black senator and a longtime critic of the school system.

He argued that the district is already segregated, because it no longer buses students and instead requires them to attend their neighborhood school.

Chambers said the schools attended largely by minorities lack the resources and quality teachers provided to others in the district. He said the black students he represents in north Omaha would receive a better education if the community had more control over its district.

So is THIS the only way students can get an equitable education in Nebraska?

Is this just a ploy?

I dunno. What do YOU think?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How effective is amnesty for illegal workers?

Let's just say that this amnesty idea is not "new," notes the History Geek, since Ruminating Dude brought it up. Yes, we have had amnesties-- note the plural-- before. A brief historical review:

On September 5, 2001, Mexican president Vicente Fox visited the White House to urge President Bush to agree to normalize the status of thousands of illegal immigrants from Mexico, in particular to make it policy to allow them to remain in the United States. A Business Week editorial dated September 10, 2001, speaks glowingly of illegal immigration as it concerns business interests, as is expected:
Right now, the U.S. has a bifurcated immigration system. Legal immigrants are allowed into the country based on family ties and national quotas. Only a tiny sliver, under the H-1B visa program that focuses on high-tech workers, enter to satisfy specific labor needs. Ironically, it is illegal immigration that provides added flexibility to the U.S. labor market and helps meet severe labor shortages in the service, construction, and other industries.

but also makes the following interesting point:
But there is a danger: politics. President Bush's political advisers have made no secret of his desire for Republicans to capture a greater share of the Hispanic vote. Legalizing illegal immigrants in some fashion could attract such votes. And President Fox has said he wants to allow the 8 million Mexicans living in the U.S. to vote in Mexico as well, hoping his party will attract many of them. Shaping a new immigration policy around such political aims is the wrong way to go. It not only discriminates against Asians and Europeans who might want to immigrate to America but it also undermines a key goal of immigration--fostering economic growth.

And this is from a conservative publication! Yep, that was the plan. Until September 11 happened, brought to us at the hands of individuals who had gamed the immigration system. Suddenly it was horrifyingly impolitic to talk about legalizing illegal immigrants. Suddenly the Millenium Bomber captured at the Vancouver/Seattle border in late December, 1999 took on a whole new significance in demonstrating the contribution a weak border had played in making unimaginable tragedy possible. And we had bigger and more important issues with which to deal. So the talk of amnesty faded away. But it was not forgotten by those who hoped to gain political or economic advantage. They bided their time.

As is stated at this article published by the Center for Immigration Studies, “There is nothing more permanent than temporary foreign workers.” We have experimented with this idea before. During 1917-1921 and 1942-1964, there was the bracero program:
The major U.S.-Mexico guest worker programs were the Bracero programs of 1942-64, a series of agreements that admitted Mexicans under conditions very similar to the current H-2A program, which allows U.S. farmers anticipating labor shortages to recruit temporary foreign workers. Under the Bracero and H-2A programs, farm employers must make a good-faith effort to recruit U.S. workers by offering at least a government-set minimum wage and free housing to out-of-area workers. If these recruitment efforts fail, the farm employer was and is certified by the U.S. Department of Labor to have temporary foreign workers admitted to the United States to fill the jobs. These guest workers receive as a contract the job order that the U.S. employer filed with the Employment Service to recruit U.S. workers, i.e., it spells out wages, working conditions, housing arrangements, etc.

Most U.S. employers did/do not request certification to employ foreign workers until they have identified the foreign workers they want to employ. Once they have found foreign workers, they do not want to hire any U.S. workers who might respond to their required recruitment efforts.

According to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, employers are required to verify the legal status of immigrants before hiring them, and are not to “knowingly” employ illegal immigrants. This same law provided amnesty for approximately 2.7 million illegal immigrants, and was the first of seven amnesties given to illegal immigrants in the past twenty years. It is already illegal to employ illegal immigrants. Enforcement of the law would be a novel idea.

Allowing illegal immigrants “guest worker” status is a bad idea which rewards lawbreaking on the part of employers and punishes those who enter this country legally. It allows these people to be exploited by enduring low wages and unsafe conditions. But even more importantly, it drives down the wages of all of those who labor on the bottom, entry-level rung in the US economy. Any time there is a glut of workers, the ability to “negotiate with your feet” for decent wages disappears. And we shortsighted Americans have apparently never paid attention to the problems that guest worker programs have achieved in Germany. Let us also not forget that the rioting in France last fall was caused by immigrants and their children who were kept quarantined from full acceptance into French society.

This bill of goods is sold to us as a temporary measure. The guest workers would only be allowed to stay for six years, and then they would be forced to go home. As we have seen, this is far easier said than done. Right now, many are claiming we must allow amnesty since there is no way we could round up illegal immigrants and send them home. How would they be forced home then? What’s to keep “guest workers” from fading into the woodwork when their six years are up and waiting for the next amnesty?

Advanced Placement's growth puts it under scrutiny

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about whether the Advanced Placement program is actually worthy of its reputation.

The Advanced Placement program, administered by the College Board, began 50 years ago as a way to give a select few high school students a jump-start on college work. But in recent decades, it has morphed into something quite different - a mass program that reaches more than a million students each year and is used almost as much to impress college admissions officers and raise a school's reputation as to get college credit. As the admissions race has hit warp speed, Advanced Placement has taken on new importance, and government officials, educators and the College Board itself have united behind a push to broaden access to A.P. courses as a matter of equity in education.

But at the very time that schools like those in Guilford County, Dallas and Hackensack are jumping on the A.P. bandwagon, many of the elite schools that pioneered A.P. are losing enthusiasm, looking for ways to cut their students loose from curriculums that can cram in too much material at the expense of conceptual understanding and from the pressure to amass as many A.P. grades on their transcripts as possible. A few have abolished A.P. programs altogether, and many have limited students to taking three a year, fearing burnout and bad scores.

It's not that a large number of private schools shun A.P. courses - to the contrary, the number offering them rose 15 percent last year - but teachers and college counselors at many top-notch schools, public and private, confess to discomfort with the way the program seems to hijack the curriculum.

"We've been put off for quite a while about the idea of teaching to the test, which is what a lot of A.P.'s are," says Lynn Krahling, guidance director of the Queen Anne's School in Upper Marlboro, Md. "We're convinced, as an educational institution, that they're not as valuable as what we could be offering on our own.

"But," she says, "I think we're going to stick with A.P.'s - purely out of fear. Parents are so terrified that if we drop our A.P.'s it would really affect college admissions that I think some of them would jump ship."

Sixty percent of American high schools now participate in the program, which offers courses in 35 subjects, from macroeconomics to music theory. Last year, 1.2 million students took 2.1 million A.P. exams, and the number of students taking A.P. courses has increased tenfold since 1980.

Read plenty more in the entire article.

There are many things I like about AP United States history, which I have taught for several years. I like the fact that it gives my students an opportunity to earn college credit by actually proving they know something. I like the fact that it is a national curriculum and a national test. My kids have done just as well on the exam as students at chichi private schools. I like the fact that we offer open enrollment, so that any student can have a chance at a rigorous curriculum. I like the fact that I have never felt pressured to encourage only the best students to take the exam to keep the passing rate high. I like the fact that some of my students who have scored 1s or 2s have come back from college and told me how much AP prepared them for the rigor of college-level work. Some have even told me that college classes were easy after AP. My students in my regular US history classes have said-- without whining but with pride-- that they sometimes get a taste of AP in my class, because I think that AP's bag of tricks on document analysis and exposure to primary sources is good for everyone.

There are many things I don't like about AP United States history. I don't like the frantic pace to which I and my students are enslaved. I don't like the fact that some teachers call their classes AP classes simply to attract small classes with dedicated students but then really don't do the job of preparing the students for the exam. I don't like the fact that I have occasionally felt the pressure to water down the curriculum to keep the enrollment numbers artificially high. (This was when we were transitioning from a college credit program with practically no curriculum to an AP program with LOTS of curriculum, and once this was explained, I was supported by the administration.) I don't like the fact that the amount of material I have to cover every year gets longer while the class time I have gets ever shorter.

Then-- I'm going to go there-- there's the elitism question. I don't like the fact that some students and/or some parents like AP because they see it as an escape route from sitting next to kids with behavior issues, IEPs or-- sometimes-- minority students. I don't like the fact that some parents and educational professionals have counselled minority students that they are incapable of taking AP classes, including educational professionals who are themselves minorities.

I have decided over the years to try to adjust the whole breadth versus depth problem. I have stopped trying to talk about every detail. Instead, I have a list of details for every chapter. Before class discussion begins, I give a quiz over these details. This forces the kids to read the book, thereby freeing me to discuss the deeper ideas that are also a part of a quality education. I now can use a more responsive instructional method, and if students really don't understand something, we have time to discuss it. I have found that this works well for our average high school-- and if you don't do your part as a student, you probably won't get a good grade in the class. I have found that my scores have improved dramatically since adopting this method.

But, even with this method, I still must cover 40 chapters in 31 weeks. That's a tall order for anyone. Consider that some AP classes are taught to high school sophomores, and you can see a problem. I believe that the AP US history course is far MORE rigorous than a freshman-level survey course, and that's another problem.

The College Board, which runs the AP program, has also had to institute an audit program to ensure that the proliferation of AP courses sprouting all across the world are not just AP courses in name only. I welcome this audit, but dread the extra paperwork I am going to have to complete.

Let's face it, AP is a victim of its own success. Thanks to the ranking system used by Newsweek magazine, that success may have come at the price of real rigor in the classes. Because schools are judged by the number of AP courses taken per student, some classes are labelled as being something they're not to inflate those numbers. We've seen the same watering down of standards as we have tried to move to decreasing the dropout rate in this country. And that's a real shame.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: My life begins today edition

Yes, it is time for Movie Madness Monday again, and I am feeling giddy! It's spring! It's testing season! It's spring! Barry Bonds is droning on and on about himself again, and he probably won't shut up for the next 6 months!

Did I mention it's spring?

So, each Monday I pick a movie and drop in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun.

So, play ball!

"The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness."

"I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology."

"Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic. "

"You guys! You lollygag the ball around the infield! You lollygag your way down to first! You lollygag in and out of the dugout! You know what that makes you??! Larry!"

**** Wednesday Update: Our paean to the Boys of Summer and the people who love them is:

As we face the home stretch of the school year, let's play the game with verve and joy-- and, hopefully, a lot less profanity-- than our dear Durham Bulls! And did Susan Sarandon ever look lovelier?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Right, what HE said.

"The kinds of immigration policy we have been pursuing, both legal and illegal, lead to an economic outcome where those on the low end of the labor market are suffering and all that extra wealth is being redistributed to the employers. Such a huge amount of wealth is being redistributed away from the poor toward the upper-middle class and people who use immigrant service workers-- the rich. So what immigration is doing is pouring more poor people into the US and making the poor who are already here even poorer."-- George Borjas, economist, Harvard University

Our country was built on cheap labor from unchecked immigration. It wasn't until immigration was regulated at the turn of the twentieth century that wages for the working class began to rise and the middle class began to really grow. Allowing "guest workers" in this country is just a way of manipulating the supply of workers to undercut wages, which eventually spreads all the way up into the middle class. Yes, we get cheap goods, but we don't earn enough to pay for them, unless we dig our grave with the copious credit that everyone inhales like oxygen-- I believe our own government's current debt ceiling is a whopping 8.2 TRILLION dollars. But remember, unless you're a a well-connected corporation, you can't file for bankruptcy. Falling or stagnant wages will make this house of cards collapse, people.

Of course, Vicente Fox is all for us opening the gates to illegal immigration-- that certainly removes the rightful pressure the Mexican government should feel to improve the Mexican economy for its gigantic segment of the population which has no future economically anywhere but in El Norte-- and they send all that nice, cold hard currency back home to further prop up the corrupt Mexican system. As long as Mexico can send excess workers up here, their economic policies will benefit their tiny but powerful elite. And so will ours.

Oh, HERE's a solution to the immigration demonstrations!

Once, again, showing that some of the people leading schools are incredibly clueless, we have this:
Several schools in Colorado, Arizona and California recently banned the display of national flags and the wearing of clothing with patriotic symbols as the divisive national debate over immigration has brought angry confrontations between Latino and Anglo students.

The bans have prompted protests by parents, stirred local debates over free speech and its limits, and caught the attention of civil liberties advocates.

In Westminster, Colo., tensions between middle school students wearing camouflage clothing to show support for troops in Iraq and others wearing bandanas patterned after the Mexican flag triggered an order amending the school's dress code.

“Some clothing worn by some of our students has created a tense and sometimes hostile environment in our school over the past few days,” Shaw Heights Middle School Principal Myla Shepherd wrote in a letter to parents. She banned “clothing that makes a political statement,” camouflage clothes and “banners, flags, bandanas of all types” at the suburban Denver school.

The dress code “is temporary and will be continually evaluated,” said Deb Haviland, spokeswoman for the Adams County school district, which includes Westminster.

In Longmont, Colo., about 25 miles north of Denver, the principal of Skyline High School last week banned temporarily the display of Mexican and U.S. flags by students. Principal Tom Stumpf said some students used the U.S. flag to express hostility to Hispanic students by waving it in their faces.

This is definitely a violation of what has been quaintly known among some people in this country as "FREE SPEECH," a charming little anachronism in today's "Constitution? What Constitution?" climate. Not to mention the fact that it makes these school districts look idiotic when that's already the public perception at the hands of the people who want to eviscerate public education in this country.

Now, I'll be honest. I personally am irked by people who claim that they want to become US citizens and who claim that their illegal presence here is actually a boon to America waving MEXICAN flags. It seems a bit-- disingenuous, shall we say? But still-- unlike the current administration, I'm willing to give non-citizens the benefits of our Constitution, anyway. Our Constitution is one of the things that makes this nation so great.

So, to ban ALL flags? Not only is that an overreaction, but it won't solve the conflicts breaking out over this very contentious issue.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Carnival of history #28 is up...

at Patahistory. There's some deep stuff here, and I am enjoying it immensely. The host is currently living in heaven Oklahoma, lucky dog, even if it ISN'T Tulsa....

But there's a really cool post about the origins of Superman, what the term "Enlightenment really means, and our colleague elementaryhistoryteacher has a post featured entitled, "Can an obscure president become a lesson in character?" from American Presidents blog.

Then the History Carnival has now turned me toward this: Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog. Oh my Lord. Did I ever tell you that I took a class in Middle English? Professor Handelmann, where art thou? This is a scream!

The history Geek in me is all excited!

Movie Madness Monday: Spring Forward edition

It's time for Movie Madness Monday! Yes, even though I was losing an hour of sleep, when this one came on the tube, there I was until 2 am. Fool!

Here is the basic outline: each Monday I will pick a movie and sprinkle in a few of my favorite quotes. You then stop your damn lurking and contribute a quote of your own, from the same movie, if possible. I will not tell you the name of the movie until Wednesday. Now, you could cheat and type the quotes into a search engine, but that would be no fun.

Let's see if you get this one!

"You’re afraid to live—really live!"

"Just look at you, you’re just some nicotine saturated, and—sorry to say, hygiene deficient—FRENCHMAN!"

"My flower is none of your business!"

"Well to kiss a prostitute, it costs more—it has always been."

"Do you believe in love, the kind of love that lasts forever?"
"I loved my mother."
"Everybody loves their mother. Even people who hate their mother love their mother."

"Never touch my vine!"

"Now who is this guy who stole my bags?"
"Uhhhh, Bub."
"Oui, Bub. Y'know, like Bub Dylun?"
"Oh, Bahb."
"Oui, Bahhhhhhb."

"Oh please, not the cows! I just ate that cow! Spasm! Spasm! Oh God, here it comes-- lactose intolerance!!!!"
*****Wedbesday Update: The movie is...

French Kiss, a much overlooked gem of romantic comedy starring the incomparable Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan, both on the top of their game in a classic story of girl-meets-boy-while-chasing-down-cheating-fiance, girl-loathes-boy-while boy-tries-to-scam-her, everyone-goes-to-the-South-of-France.... well, you've heard it a million times. The script, direction, repartee, and scenery are all superb here, with Lawrence Kasdan directing.

Trivia question: on what soap opera did Meg Ryan begin her career?

Anyway, this one's a gem. Treat yourself to it if you haven't seen it! And then post your favorite quote!

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