Friday, November 11, 2005

Read blogs, but read books, too.

I'm a day late for buy Joanne Jacobs' new book day but I figure I ought to point out Our School anyway. While I often disagree with her, Jacobs' blog is one of the oldest and best edublogs out there. I read it often and I appreciated very much that she linked to my blog only a few days after I started it.

So buy her book or at least go to amazon and think about it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Message to Dover: God hates you

You've probably already heard about Pat Robertson's love for the good people of Dover, Pennsylvania following their rejection of the eight board members who instituted a creationist curriculum. But just in case you haven't:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.


Get it? God hates you. Way to go, Dover Pa. You heathens. You scum.

I've got to say, so many people get up in arms about Robertson, but I love him. He makes us progressives look even more sensible than we already are and religious conservatives look even more crazy than they already are.

Keep up the good work, Pat. We should give you a salary. Oh, I forgot, you're already making millions scamming charitable donations. But I suppose God loves you, huh?

Poverty on the rise

There can be no doubt that achieving success in schools is dependent on a variety of factors. There can also be no doubt that child poverty leads to failure. These studies from the National Center for Children in Poverty provide a stark look at a truly dire situation.

The first is a study on children in urban environments. 51% of them live in poverty (3% more than 5 years ago). That's nearly 9 million kids. Until poverty is adequately addressed no amount of education reform will make a significant difference.

The second study focuses on the children of immigrants, an increasingly large population in America's public schools. While immigrant children do have access to public education, they have little or no access to other federal assistance that could improve their school experience.

(Hat tip to the Moving Ideas Network.)

Whose Wars?

This is not an endorsement; I haven't seen the materials. But I've been impressed with other articles and projects of Rethinking Schools, a Milwaukee organization originally formed to battle vouchers in their city. More recently, they've put together a 72-page teaching guide to the Iraq War called "Whose Wars?"

I've struggled -- as I think most socials studies teachers have -- with teaching about the Iraq War. I present the geography of the country, the history, the geopolitics involved. But most importantly, I want the students to think deeply about the issues and make up their minds about its justification.

But it's hard to get around the facts: there were no weapons of mass destruction and there was little (if any) link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. And now we have 2,000 dead and 15,000 wounded veterans. It's hard to skirt around those facts and still maintain any sort of honesty with students.

And yet, like every American, I want to hold out hope that maybe -- somehow -- Iraq will work out. I know, I know, it's probably not going to happen. Iraq will probably degenerate into a civil war and we'll have to get out of there: Mission most definitely not Accomplished. But how do you explain that to a 12-year old?

I'm interested to see how the people at Rethinking Schools go about doing that. You can read the introduction here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Veteran and Congressional candidate hates NCLB

Everyone's talking about Democratic victories today, including one in red state Virginia. So could it be possible that Texas could become a little more purple, too?

If we get more candidates like David Harris, we'll have a great chance. Major Harris is back from a 14 month tour in Iraq and is challenging Smokey Joe Barton in Texas's 6th Congressional District in 2006. He's got a steep hill to climb because Barton is well connected. Of course, some of Barton's connections (like those to DeLay) will be a distinct disadvantage for him.

But back to Harris: In an interview with a blogger who is tracking the congressional race, Harris said No Child Left Behind is nearly criminal. Here's pare of the exchange:

DS: What is your position on No Child Left Behind?
MDH: I think NCLB borders on criminal.

DS: Are you aware of the "Sneak-n-Peek" provision in NCLB, and how do you feel about it? (Info on the SNP can be found at leavemychildalone.org)
MDH: Not only do I know about it, I have been participating on panel discussions in the community to talk about recruiting abuses. Children have the right to make up their minds on their own and recruiters that target them and their families do the military a serious injustice. I have a hard time figuring out why more parents aren't speaking out about this issue.

DS: How do you feel about rising tuition rates at public universities? Do you have any ideas about how to keep college affordable?
MDH: Its so sad because its becoming cost prohibitive to go to college. We should have a system that allows every student to get a college education, regardless of income level. This is where the lotto money should go, and allow everyone the ability to go and pay on a sliding scale at public universities.

DS: Do you support repealing Bush-era provisions which prevent students with misdemeanor drug convictions from receiving federal student aid in the form of loans or Pell Grants?
MDH: I do support that because everyone deserves a chance to better themselves, and rise out of the system and poverty that cripples too many that have gone before.


In those answers, Harris hits all the right chords. I'm looking forward to hearing more from him. For more information on Harris his candidacy, check out his website.

Maureen Dowd right here in Austin

For any of you Austinites out there, don't miss Maureen Dowd's lecture next week. Details here.

Are Journalists Necessary? Maureen Dowd Lecture

Conquests in Cali

For news and firsthand accounts of the victories in California over the Governator (an electoral girly man?) I direct you to Shari and to Eric Mar, President of the San Francisco Board of Education.

Democracy can be rough some times

Eight members of the Dover School Board who voted for the teaching of creationism in science class were voted off the board yesterday.

From the CBS/AP article:

"My kids believe in God. I believe in God. But I don't think it belongs in
the science curriculum the way the school district is presenting it," said Jill
Reiter, 41, a bank teller who joined a group of high school students waving
signs supporting the challengers Tuesday.


I think there's an emerging consensus around his now. Teach creationism in philosophy and religion classes, teach science in science classes. I hope other school board members learn a lesson from all this. In this country, you're free to worship however and whatever you want, but you can't make others do the same-- especially in science class.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Day

Abstinence updates

Abstinence-only educators had a conference last week. Laura Donnelly at TomPaine.com was not impressed:

It was a big weekend for abstinence-only education. The unproven and unscientifically supported education method got its own first-ever national conference—sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services , no less!—in Baltimore to evaluate how it's working. The results were inconclusive—only one study has found that teens exposed to abstinence-only education programs embrace the idea of chastity, and there's no evidence yet that they actually follow through with it—but the conference's main purpose, as I see it, was simply to put a lot of abstinence-only educators together in one room and let them reinforce each other. It's a lot easier to drown out science that way.


She also tells of protestors at the conference and at the headquarters of Family Research Council in Washington. The protestors at the FRC were dressed in full-body condom costumes. My guess is the staff of the ultra-right FRC will be having nightmares for the rest of their lives.

In other abstinence news, Sen. Lautenberg's amendment that would require abstinence only programs to at least provide medically accurate information faces a battle in the House. The good people at NARAL have a petition ready to sign if you're interested. (Hat tip to tompaine.com again.)

And the Denver Post reports that abstinence groups are heading to college! Look out UC-Boulder... I will say this, it appears based on the representation of the college group in the Denver Post, that the abstinent students aren't trying to push their agenda on others, nor are they trying to misinform or scare anybody. They're trying to create social networks of students that are abstinent. At the end of the day, this is a good thing. There is a lot of pressure on young people to have sex and many of them simply aren't ready it for it. They shouldn't feel like they have to.

Abstinence is a good idea for teens and college students. Teaching only abstinence, however, is not.

Budget Battles

Behold the Budget Battle Royale!

The Republicans in the House have a steep hill to climb to pass their controversial budget which includes cuts for school lunch programs and student loan assistance, according to the Washington Post.

...[F]or now, Republicans concede they are well short of the votes needed to pass a bill that would require longer work hours to qualify for welfare, allow states to impose new costs on Medicaid beneficiaries, cut assistance for child support enforcement, trim student loan spending, cut back agriculture supports, and curb eligibility for food stamps.

The Senate last week narrowly approved legislation that would trim about $35 billion from the budget over five years, but that bill largely avoided the direct cuts to beneficiaries of federal anti-poverty programs contained in the House budget measure. Those proposed cuts have created strong misgivings among some Republican moderates, especially since a five-year, $70 billion tax cut is awaiting action that would more than offset the savings in the budget cuts.


The Democrats are stepping up to challenge this mean-spirited budget package:

House Democrats have compiled lists of committee votes for cuts to agriculture, student aid, child support and health care programs, as well as for oil drilling in the Alaska refuge, that Democratic leaders vow to use in next year's midterm congressional elections.

"This is going to test whether moderate Republicans are really moderate," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "There are a ton of people who will have a day of reckoning coming."

This week, Democrats will hold a conference call with a Wisconsin college student to talk about student loan cuts and will serve lunch at a District school to highlight the budget's impact on subsidized school lunches. They will also stage a mock hearing to tar the entire budget as an effort to finance tax cuts for the rich on the backs of the poor.


It'll be interesting -- if not depressing -- to see how moderate Republicans vote on this. Either way, it's a win for the D's. If they moderate R's vote for what will surely be an unpopular budget, they are that much more vulnerable, as Emanuel points out. If they vote against it, we're spared an awful budget bill.

Update: The Hill provides more details about Democrats' plans to combat the budget in the court of public opinion:

House Democrats and their allies are planning a weeklong assault on the GOP’s proposed budget plan, hoping to kill an impending vote on budget cuts and highlight internal division within the Republican Conference.

...

Rep. John Spratt (S.C.), ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, plans to hold the mock hearing tomorrow. Many of the caucus’s most senior members, such as Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), George Miller (Calif.) and John Dingell (Mich.), will likely participate in the hearing, which will probably take place in one of the rooms in the Capitol controlled by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rather than the committee’s usual room in the Rayburn House Office Building, said a spokesman for Spratt.

Headlining the event will be Georgetown University freshman Reggie Douglas, a former member of his high school’s NAACP board, who will talk about how the proposed budget measures will affect him personally. Joining Douglas on the witness stand will be representatives from various special-interest groups addressing potential cuts to child support, agriculture programs and Medicaid.

At the mock hearing, Democrats plan to argue that the spending cuts will be used to fund tax cuts rather than reduce the deficit; that the cuts will threaten vital services such as Medicaid, student loans, child support and food stamps, some of which benefit hurricane victims; and that the budget resolution will still increase the deficit even after these cuts are taken into account.

...

Aside from the mock hearing, other members are heading up separate events this week.

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and possibly the Congressional Black Caucus will hold an event on the Capitol steps to talk about “Republicans’ misplaced priorities,” according to a House Democratic aide.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and members of the caucus’s 30-Something Working Group are planning to serve lunch at a school in Washington to call attention to Republicans’ planned cuts in the school-lunch program.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) will host a conference call for reporters with a Wisconsin college student who is poised to lose student financial aid under the GOP plan.

On the floor, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) plans to coordinate a series of one-minute and special-order speeches throughout the week lambasting the budget plan.

Democrats will likely criticize the cuts using variations on internal talking points distributed last week.

According to Pelosi’s Morning Message Points from last Thursday, Democrats will tie the budget cuts to the plight of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

“Republicans are moving forward to impose even greater sacrifice on Katrina families with a fiscally irresponsible budget that cuts student loans, healthcare and rural programs,” read one bullet point.

The Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, a labor-funded group aligned with Democrats, continues to pursue moderate Republicans in their districts, targeting 38 lawmakers in 16 states with press conferences and ads.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bad Karl

Karl just can't seem to get it right these days. From the ever vigilant -- and supremely ethical -- Borowitz Report:

ROVE CAUGHT CHEATING IN WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CLASS
Top Aide Seen Looking at Cheney’s Paper During Pop Quiz

Just days after President George W. Bush ordered the White House staff to take what was called a “refresher” course on ethics, his top aide Karl Rove was caught cheating during the first pop quiz given in the course, the White House confirmed today.

According to Marisa Clomens, the teacher who taught the refresher course, Mr. Rove was clearly seen craning his neck to copy answers off Vice President Dick Cheney’s paper during the pop quiz.

“Once I saw Mr. Rove looking at Vice President Cheney’s paper, I told him to put down his pencil and asked him to stay after class,” Ms. Clomens said. “I had him write ‘I will not leak the name of CIA officers’ one hundred times on the blackboard.”

Nationalized hysteria

Don't miss Diane Ravitch's critique of NCLB in this morning's NYT. She is a standardista and has been since she served in Reagan's Education Department so her argument is not against testing. Rather, she believes the key flaw in NCLB was the law's allowance of localism. Each state has different tests. Each state has been lowering their standards to raise their achievement levels. And thus, it's hard to really get a sense of what's going on out there-- even for people who study this stuff.

Thus, Ravitch argues for a nationalization of testing. In a perfect world that would make perfect sense. But this, need I remind you, ain't a perfect world. The high-stakes associated with testing would only get higher with a nationalized test as states would be pitted against each other even moreso than they already are thus increasing the amount of instructional time solely focused on test preparation. Until this country's education establishment begins to put test scores in some perspective, this is a bad idea. Compelling, but bad nonetheless.

Blair's popularity fading ... with his wife

Cherie Blair has created a bit of a stir in England by highlighting the role a free university education played in her life. From the BBC:

In this month's edition of barrister's magazine Counsel, Mrs Blair remarked: "The truth is if I hadn't had the funding from the state to go to university I would have worked in a shop."


Her husband, Prime Minister Tony Blair, did away with universal college in 1998. Her remarks have been interpreted -- misinterpreted according to Downing Street -- as critical of her husband's policies on college funding:

Responding to Mrs Blair's comments, Ed Davey, the Lib Dems education spokesman, said: "I warmly welcome Cherie Blair's recognition that a free university education was vital for her and, by implication, vital for tens of thousands like her.

"It's a terrible tragedy that her husband has decided to pull up the ladder of opportunity behind him.

"The prime minister seems to be an ever more isolated figure.

"It is no longer just his Cabinet colleagues and Labour backbenchers who are increasingly critical of this government's policies, the growing sense of disillusionment is also clearly felt by his wife."

President Scrooge

Colleges and universities that generously waived tuition for victims of the hurricanes will not be reimbursed if the president's miserly budget is passed.

From the University of Virginia's Cavalier Daily:

Although U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced in September that President George W. Bush would ask Congress for funds to help institutions of higher education affected by Hurricane Katrina, colleges and universities that have taken in affected students were not allocated funds in the $17 billion emergency spending plan Bush submitted to Congress Oct. 28.

The proposal announced by Spellings would have asked Congress for $227 million, which would have covered a portion of affected students' tuition at host institutions and deferred loan payments.

Many expected colleges and universities that took in hurricane victims to receive funds in an effort to alleviate the financial burden of enrolling students without charging them full tuition and room and board.

The University has waived tuition and academic fees for students from schools affected by Katrina but is charging room and board. According to University Spokesperson Carol Wood, the University currently is absorbing the costs of educating displaced students.

The University made the decision to waive tuition immediately after Gov. Mark R. Warner amended state policy that prohibited public institutions from waiving tuition, according to Director of Student Financial Services Yvonne Hubbard.

This decision, Hubbard said, was not necessarily based on the expectation that the government would step in to cover the lost revenue.

"You do what you think is right for the people involved at the moment and you go with it," Hubbard said.


Anybody from the Bush Administration want to explain how this is the right thing to do?

Blaming and punishing teachers

Tomorrow, California will vote on several propositions, some of which could potentially do great harm to California's education system.

Proposition 74, or the Confuse the Issue by Blaming and Punishing New Teachers Initiative (as Shari at An Old Soul calls it), would increase teacher "tenure" from 2 years to 5 years. In fact, tenure is tentative in California and, despite what the right-wing teacher-haters say, they CAN be fired-- but not as arbitrarily as they would like. There has to be evidence and documentation now. In the right-wing utopia, administrators could fire teachers according to their personal whim.

Hey everyone, I've got an idea! Well, let's see, there's like this huge teacher shortage so let's blast teachers, take away what few rights to hold on to their underpaying jobs that remain left to them, and see if we can get a lot more teachers! Brilliant, huh? Welcome to right-wing bizarro world.

Prop. 76 also is on the ballot along with a slew of other non-education but equally egregious initiatives. I'll leave it to Shari to explain. More tomorrow once the results are in...

Update: Nice editorial on Prop 76 here. (via NSBA's Board Buzz.)

More executive disorder in Texas

Last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order which diverted $10 million of federal funds for math and science education into a controversial teacher incentive program.

This is the second pre-primary gift from Perry to the right-wing. In August, Perry ordered that 65 cents of every dollar be spent on "instructional expenditures." Nobody's quite sure how to make that happen considering there is no new money for education in Texas and the same costs for transportation, building maintenance, librarians, and security (to name but a few) still exist.

The new executive order has pissed a lot of people off, as the Houston Chronicle pointed out in an editorial yesterday:

DESPITE the prodigious self-promotion that went into Texas Gov. Rick Perry's announcement that he was using his executive power to order merit pay for some Texas teachers, its size is distinctly underwhelming. Perry's entire statewide budget of $10 million is considerably less than what the Houston Independent School district merit pay program will cost for one year.

...

Teacher union leaders have consistently opposed bonus pay plans linked to tests scores because the criteria for receiving bonuses can be easily manipulated by school principals to reward favorites and punish mavericks. Simply assigning advanced students to particular instructors can rig the system in their favor. Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon says Texas teachers' base pay is about $6,000 less than the U.S. median pay for instructors, and Perry's plan won't make a dent in that disparity.

"I understand that the fad of the moment is to try and do these merit pay schemes," Fallon said, "but the bottom line is none of them work until you have a good base salary."

Alief school board President Sarah Winkler expressed similar sentiments to the Chronicle's Jason Spencer: "I think we need to get everyone's salary up to an equitable level before we start giving rewards here and there."

Perry's likely opponents in the upcoming gubernatorial contest also were unimpressed with the merit pay plan. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn chided Perry for failing to realize that all Texas teachers, not just those in low-income schools, are underpaid. Democrat Chris Bell derided the governor's plan as treating instructors "like glorified hall monitors."

It's too bad Perry didn't provide the leadership during the series of special sessions this year to secure a fair and adequate system for financing public education, one that would pay Texas teachers a competitive salary. His merit pay executive order is better than nothing, but just barely.


Maybe Perry could issue an executive order to bring Texas teacher salaries up to the national average.

Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Thoughts on the end of the Scopes-Monkey Trial, Part II

The 21st century Scopes-Monkey trial ended last week. The decision should be an interesting one to read but it will most likely be appealed no matter what the outcome.

Incidentally, last week I saw John McCain on the Charlie Rose Show. Rose asked him about 'intelligent design' and McCain asserted that it should be taught in schools. What's wrong with allowing dueling theories to be discussed and argued about in schools? Let kids hear it all and decide for themselves, he said.

I was beside myself that Rose didn't follow up on that point. Yes, of course, let them hear it all, but not in science class. Science class -- and I know I'm going out on a limb here, forgive me -- should be a place for science. Remember those elementary school lessons where you learn the difference between fact and opinion? Apparently a lot of people don't.

Opinions are great. There are a wide diversity of them and they should be explored fully in religion and philosophy classes. But let's leave science class for actual science. And please spare me the comments about how intelligent design is science. It's not. It's creationism dressed up as science, but it's not science.

Why party do you trust..?

I'm not sure if it's a sign of weakening support of NCLB, continued opposition to vouchers, or just an overall malaise for Republicans generally, but an ABC News poll shows that when asked "Which party do you trust to handle education?" 55% said Democrats while only 32% said Republicans.

Lessons for Republicans:

(1) No Child Left Behind is a failure,
(2) Vouchers are no way to improve public schools,
(3) Lying is wrong. (Oh, and it's not good for poll numbers either.)

From the 'too little, too late' file

Wouldn't this have been a good thing to do, oh... i don't know ... LIKE IN JANUARY OF 2001?!?!

President Bush, reacting to the indictment of a high-level White House aide in the CIA leak case, has ordered his staff to get a refresher on ethics rules.

In a memo sent to all White House aides, the counsel's office said it will hold briefings next week on ethics, with a particular focus on the rules governing the handling of classified information. Attendance is mandatory for anyone holding any level of security clearance.

"There will be no exceptions," the memo said.
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