Friday, February 27, 2009

Worst Food Ever.

The "Worst Food Product Ever" May Have Been Found

By Meg Marco,Thu Feb 26 2009,

Could it be the worst food product ever? It does have 1170% of your daily cholesterol per serving. Mmmm.

I seem to recall a discussion here a couple-three days ago about schools serving really bad food to their students. I admit defeat. Nothing is worse than this, not even mystery-meat sandwiches or elephant scabs.

h/t to NYCeducator

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shoddy Research leads to Recall

Full article archived here.

A major district has reversed itself on some reforms because they didn't work.
» Carving out smaller groups of students at each high school was expected to boost test scores. Research now says the approach doesn't work.
That research was available at the beginning but was ignored. My old school tried this as well, but since no one actually studied any numbers or moved much beyond anecdotal evidence, it was assumed to be a great success.

A few of us tried to explain that the theory was unsound from the beginning - saying that 20 kids would travel the whole day in their own cohort was just plain silly. And who thinks that dividing kids into groups based on their math scores on a 2-year old, 7th grade test is brilliant? No one understood that perhaps a strong math student might not be well placed in a strong english class.

Fortunately, it got dropped not because it was a waste of time but because the scheduling was more difficult and the principal and guidance director who championed it both left.
» Teaching boys and girls in separate classes is believed to eliminate distractions. But only 100 students signed up.
That's not a condemnation of the project but of the people. Having been in a single-sex situation as a HS student (2 years), as a college student occasionally (engineering doesn't have that many women - male-only classes happen), and as a teacher, I can say that this is one of those reforms that works if you want to let it. Most people think it's discriminatory and complain that their kid didn't get the best teachers. I think they don't know what they're talking about. Oh, well.
» Teaching struggling students for an extra 25 days a year was supposed to help them catch up. But hundreds skipped out, and IPS had to pay the staff for added workdays.
An excellent idea that ran straight into the jaws of reality. The students who are most likely to need more days are also the ones who are most likely to skip out. Correlation, cause, who knows?

Some specifics
The small-schools initiative, which carved each high school campus into four or five smaller groups of students, started before White arrived and was fueled by money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
No evidence from the Foundation, just some seed money. Schools "buy in" and make changes and later find out the truth.
In a recent public letter, Bill Gates said he had stopped funding small schools in IPS and elsewhere nationwide because research showed that that change alone wasn't helping students learn better.
Thanks, Bill. Would you mind mentioning it to Jay Matthews?


Research - some things that didn't work

Reposted from here, in case it gets archived.

IPS says 3 reforms didn't make the grade

Facing low graduation rates, declining enrollment and poor test scores, Indianapolis Public Schools unleashed a blitzkrieg of reforms, from dress codes and alternative schools to new magnet programs and reshaped high schools.

But three years later, the district is dropping several of those highly touted programs -- ones that never jelled or cost too much with too little to show for the effort -- while leaving in place many more that it says are working.

The programs to be ended were launched with high hopes but clashed with harsh realities:

» Carving out smaller groups of students at each high school was expected to boost test scores. Research now says the approach doesn't work.

» Teaching boys and girls in separate classes is believed to eliminate distractions. But only 100 students signed up.

» Teaching struggling students for an extra 25 days a year was supposed to help them catch up. But hundreds skipped out, and IPS had to pay the staff for added workdays.

Superintendent Eugene White had promoted all three of the initiatives as essential for student learning or for offering choices to parents. Now, he says they just didn't work out.

Although those programs are being scaled back, most of his changes remain in place. White said the other efforts are beginning to pay off, but the district must adapt to what's working and what isn't.

"The transition and what we're trying to do to transform the district is in place," he said, "but we reserve the right to make any changes we need to make the program better."

So far, White has seen significant gains in test scores at elementary schools, but at some high schools, fewer than 1 in 5 students can pass state tests, and fewer than half the students who enter as freshmen graduate four years later.

And the district's enrollment has dropped by more than 1,000 students per year for the past five years.

Thinking small

The small-schools initiative, which carved each high school campus into four or five smaller groups of students, started before White arrived and was fueled by money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Each small school had its own principal and faculty, and students rarely had classes with children from other schools. But the result at some of the schools was larger classes, and test scores didn't improve.

In a recent public letter, Bill Gates said he had stopped funding small schools in IPS and elsewhere nationwide because research showed that that change alone wasn't helping students learn better.

At Tech and Manual high schools, students still are assigned to small-school groupings, but the district no longer requires it and is no longer confident in the philosophy behind it.

Teachers union President Al Wolting, a former Broad Ripple High School teacher, said teachers generally had assumed the small schools concept eventually would go away, and some are glad to be returning to the old model.

"There are a few small schools that they have not been able to develop camaraderie, and those haven't been able to do well," he said. "Maybe it's the personalities; maybe it's the academic deans. Sometimes you just have to shuffle personnel and get a better mix."
Separating boys and girls

White suggested the boys and girls academies when he became superintendent.

The district touted the schools as having fewer distractions and more focus on college preparation. White had seen other districts where such schools had worked well.

The parents who chose to send their students there were enthusiastic about the option -- but only about 100 students enrolled, and the district said that's not enough to make the program run.

White, who describes that as his pet project, said that in the end, it just didn't work out.

A national crusader for single-sex schools and classes, though, said he suspects IPS gave up too quickly and could have done better in setting up the program.

"I hate to criticize the superintendent, but I know this program was launched on a few weeks' notice in the summer, and there was no time for appropriate training," said Dr. Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

When schools train their staffs in the research behind tailoring education to just boys or girls and share the philosophy with parents, single-gender schools tend to be popular, Sax said.

"It's a shame this is closing down," he said. "The problem when these programs fail is that they are very rarely, if ever, resuscitated."
More days in class

The most controversial of the three measures was the decision to require students at the district's lowest-performing schools to spend 205 days in school rather than the 180 days for most Indiana students.

White said the extra days presented the best chance for struggling students to get ahead, but the district was spending money without much benefit. Many of those students didn't show up during the extra days.

The district cited research showing that children living in poverty gained by having more time in class and a shorter summer break.

Some parents chose to transfer their children to other schools rather than have them spend time at school during the summer. And two of the schools, Marshall Community High School and Donnan Middle School, struggled to get students back in their seats in July.

Jamie Roy sent her daughter to class at Marshall on the assigned extra days but wasn't happy about it. She would have been more supportive, she said, if the district had planned special activities or extra learning on those days, but she hasn't seen that.

"I think it's just a waste, it really is," Roy said. "They've got them 20 extra days, and there's no extra things for the 20 days -- it's just like another day."

School Board President Mary E. Busch said the district found the year-round school, the small schools and the boys and girls academies to have weak parental support and is focusing on other programs that get better results.

She cited the district's new magnet programs, strict dress code and alternative schools as successes.

"There is some absolute proof that we are going in the right direction," Busch said. "We just didn't get the parental support on some of those issues."

Districts trying to fix systemic issues will have to adjust programs as they go, said Joshua Smith, director of the Center for Urban and Multicultural Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The most significant difference for the district, Smith said, will be dramatically cutting back on the small-schools initiative. He said it is essential for the district to find other ways to address the same problems.

"If nothing's done with the high schools, there's no way they're going to reverse the trends with the graduation rates," he said.
• Call Star reporter Andy Gammill at (317) 444-6494.

Friday, February 20, 2009

TED: Bill Gates has a Great Idea

TED Talk: Bill Gates on how he is trying to change the world.
It's malaria first, education at the 8:12 mark
"How do you make a teacher great?"

Some things that I heard:
If you're low income, you have a better chance of going to jail than getting a four-year college degree.
Gee, Bill. If you're low income, you'll be spending your money on living rather than a college. There's probably a better chance of pretty much anything for these folks, compared to college. How about %Married by 25 vs % who got a four-year degree by 25? How about the percentage of low income people with 4 years of work experience at age 22 vs percentage of high income people with a 4-year degree by 22? But that wouldn't be as sensational, would it?
Top quartile teachers will increase performance of their class by 10% per year. If all teachers were top quartile teachers, the difference between US and Asia would be gone.
Interesting idea. Makes you wonder why we don't do it? Is it innate ability and thus unsolvable or is it the students?
Percentage gain compared to the average teacher, indicator
9%, Past performance; After 3 years teaching quality stagnates
2%, Teacher having a math major
1%, Teach For America Grad
0%, Master's Degree.
I have to think that last is because so many get a M.Ed, which is worthless.
On average, slightly better teachers leave. High turnover is a problem.
Yep. Partly because we're tired of having well-meaning dilettantes convincing our principals to change the way everything is taught. More importantly, statistically speaking, which type of teacher is more likely to leave? The better and smarter one with more experience and more ability to land a better job than teaching, or the loser who can't even figure out how to run a SmartBoard and isn't quite sure how to add without a calculator? Meaningless statistic, Bill.
Charter schools - KIPP are where the great teachers are being made. and 96% of graduates go to colleges.
Bill, Bill, Bill.
This statistic is just plain silly. You are comparing a selected and filtered group with a random group. Read here for more. Your results are meaningless. Undaunted, Bill starts a paeon to KIPP:
Constantly improving - test scores - deeply engaged. Bill is impressed by teacher running around the room (as if athleticism and the habits of a small neurotic dog are what makes a good teacher). Constantly scanning. Rapid, dynamic environment. Keeping people engaged.
And then, the key line, but Bill doesn't recognize it: "Nobody is the kid who doesn't want to be there." Because THEY'VE TOSSED OUT THE BAD APPLES AND THE UNDER-PERFORMING, Bill. When you do that, of course the school looks better.

I'll give him his next points on data: In a normal school, no data gathered. No teacher observation or once a year and has to be forewarned. Nobody can be evaluated, even if they want, on test scores. It isn't a valid point. Just because you don't explicitly measure something doesn't mean it's substandard.

Then I had to laugh.

Bill wants teachers to be recorded every period/every day. Then teachers sit down and discuss their performances. ( Forget the Orwellian nature of this - constant supervision is no path to improvement. Besides, I've got enough to do - I don't have the time to be "improving" my fellow teachers. )

So here's the best part: Bill wants to take the very best teachers and make the video available as free courses for students and parents and everybody. The excuse is for makeup work and missed classes, but that's not where is would end - gradually it would become the course itself.

So the guy who developed a complete corporate entity (SBA) to combat piracy, who wants to be paid for every copy of his software, whose license agreements include the idea that you don't own software you paid for and who wants to put limitations on how many of your own computers you can install Office on. And then screws around with the file formats to force you to re-purchase every 2-3 years ...

This guy wants to record and publish what I do, for free. For use in perpetuity.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Arrested for Texting

Really? Is this not the weirdest thing you've heard? Let's see if we can get the full 9 Kinds of Stupid. (h/t to Richie)
Here's the story:
Student Arrested For Classroom Texting
Wisconsin girl, 14, nabbed after refusing to stop messaging
The Smoking Gun blog with police report

A 14-year-old Wisconsin girl who refused to stop texting during a high school math class was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, according to police. The teenager was busted last Wednesday at Wauwatosa East High School after she ignored a teacher's demand that she cease texting. The girl, whose name we have redacted from the below Wauwatosa Police Department report, initially denied having a phone when confronted by a school security officer. However, the phone was located after the girl was frisked by a female cop. The Samsung Cricket, the police report noted, was recovered "from the buttocks area" of the teenager. The student was issued a criminal citation for disorderly conduct, which carried "a bail of $298," and had her phone confiscated. The girl, who was barred from school property for a week, is scheduled for an April 20 court appearance on the misdemeanor rap.

Here we go!
  1. Someone is surprised a 14yo girl won't stop texting on her "Cricket" and didn't just give her an "F" for the day or something.
  2. She denied having the phone when confronted by SRO.  Right, don't believe the teacher, the SRO needs to ask himself.  She denies it - quel surprise!
  3. She was then handed over to a different set of cops.  Let's Escalate! (Sure hope the parents were there this whole time.  That could get really nasty.  Miranda rights are the least of it.)
  4. Denies having the phone again, so is Frisked by a female cop.  Looking for Weapons of Math Disruption - Found! Bring her in.  She must be lying about texting because she has one of these evil devices.  Have we proven that she was using it? Nope. Were the parents there at the time of frisking?  Sure hope so.  She's 14 and this is NOT an emergency.  Why go to this extreme anyway?  It's not like they were looking for a gun or trying to prevent another Columbine.
  5. Anyone saying saying "was recovered from the buttocks area" instead of "in her back pocket."
  6. She got a court appearance, a criminal citation for D.C., and bail set at $298 and her phone was confiscated.
  7. She was barred from school for 1 week.  That'll help her concentration in class, I suppose.
  8. TMG saying "We redacted her name from the police report" because no one can Google it based on the date, time and HS name and none of the students know it either 'cause "It's a secret."
  9. anyone thinks this helps.

At what point did someone stop and think to themselves "Maybe we're making a bit too much out of all of this?" The school suspended her for a week, pretty much the same if she had brandished a knife, or hidden a bag of pot in her backpack, or stolen calculators for resale on the nerd-market.

The sarcastic evil bastard in me is hoping that a serious family emergency had happened and that the mother was on the other end of the texting conversation - the school is going to look really bad - oh wait, they already do.

But let's continue.  The point was, I suppose, to reduce the classroom distraction.  So far, so good.

Haul the kid out and have her arrested, charged with a crime? Good plan.

Parents will demand meetings with administration, superintendent, school board - lots of wasted time preparing, photocopying, lining up ducks and evidence in readiness for the inevitable lawsuit. Teachers, administrators, police, parents, all the students in the class, will spend lots of time preparing - and not for a test. 

The students will probably hold a protest. The community will scream "heavy-handed stupidity" and hold meetings.  Lawyers will probably cost close to $50,000 by the time this phase is done.

The courts will realize there's no fire, wipe the slate clean for this FOURTEEN YEAR OLD and give her back her "Cricket."  Samsung will have given her a replacement long ago - thanks for the publicity!

Parent's lawyer will point out the blatant abuse of her civil rights - God help the school district if the cops were white and the kid black - and initiate a big lawsuit.  They will have all the ammunition they need, but I'm sure someone at the school will let slip her records or something.  Somebody always has Loose-Lip syndrome.  Lawyers fees and judgements loom and the district will settle for paying the parents' fees and $15,000 punitive "Yeah we over-reacted" fee.  Total? Probably over $100 grand.

Because a girl was passing notes in class.

Yup, 9 Kinds of Stupid right there.

New Ideas in Education - Empty Promises in Reality

Here's how education works. Find a Great Idea that will solve all your problems. Don't bother to check if it actually works or not, just make sure it sounds good. Don't listen to or read anything that might be negative. Trust anecdotal evidence and ignore real evidence.

Spend lots of money to implement the plan. If things are perfect at first, squash the naysayer with "You need to be a team player" and "Everything takes time to work" and "Teachers don't understand how education works" and "We need to be professionals." It'll take some time to burn, but by then administration will change, the bureaucratic types will profess horror that it failed. You now have a new Great Leader who can go find a Great Idea to solve your problem ...

Here's how ...
In 2006, the Department of Education completely reorganized the budgetary process for New York City public schools. The new “Fair Student Funding [FSF]” budget process was based on the idea generally known in the educational world as “Weighted Student Funding [WSF].”
We'll cut some detail, but notice the cool acronyms. That's always a sign of a Great Idea. Make sure that you run any studies on the Great Idea yet because that would spoil the fun. Now, the veneer starts to peel off the Great Idea ...
Shortly after the DoE began FSF, the Seattle Public Schools, which had provided the original model for WSF, ended its experiment with the system. WSF was too complex and cumbersome a system for school level personnel to administer and it was not delivering the intended effects, the district concluded [pdf].
After this first sign of impending doom for the Great Idea, it's time for the research. Not the anecdotal crap you relied on at implementation ...
Now, an important study [pdf] just published by the Education Policy Analysis Archives does one of the first broad-based analysis of the actual effects of weighted student funding, comparing Ohio and Texas school districts which have adopted it with other school districts which still use more traditional methods of funding.
The findings? That despite widely publicized claims of success, the districts employing WSF provided “no more predictable funding with respect to student needs than other large urban districts in the same state” which did not use it. Further, “resource levels in urban core elementary schools [using WSF] are relatively insufficient for competing with schools in neighboring districts to achieve comparable outcomes.”
I forgot a key point in the beginning: don't forget that you need "widely publicized claims of success" for it to be a Great Idea. So we're almost there. We've reached the Obvious Question Stage in the lifespan of all Great Ideas.
So if the promise of WSF/FSF to direct funds to the schools serving students with the greatest needs is proving empty, exactly why should a school system keep it?
Because that is The Way of The Educrat.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SAT Correlations

In my other post on the SAT, I had said that, as an indicator of college success, "Familial wealth is first, HS grades and SATs come in close together at 2nd and 3rd respectively. Most of the rest of the admissions packet is busy-work."

rightwingprof added some fuel to the the fire when he said ...
"I taught applied math in a business school. We did an internal study (it took us years to get permission from the university to collect the data), and with a sample space of over 7,000, found that the correlation coefficient between high school GPA and performance in our class was 0.03, while there was a 0.71 r between the SAT math score and performance."
Nothing like some hard data. Part of my statement was based on an article in the NYTimes by Peter Salins,
If we look merely at studies that statistically correlate SAT scores and high school grades with graduation rates, we find that, indeed, the two standards are roughly equivalent, meaning that the better that applicants do on either of these indicators the more likely they are to graduate from college. However, since students with high SAT scores tend to have better high school grade-point averages, this data doesn’t tell us which of the indicators — independent of the other — is a better predictor of college success.
It would seem ( R=0.03 ) that HS GPA is not the one and that SAT takes the lions share. Salins comes to similar conclusions later. I'm not, however, entirely convinced yet. HS GPA contains a broad range of courses and grades. SAT Math is fairly targeted to a subset. I find it perfectly reasonable that the overall HighSchool GPA vs. College Math correlation is R=0.03 while the SAT Math v College Math correlation is 0.7; I think HS math class GPA is the metric we should look at here. Anyone have such numbers?

I'm thinking of this year's graduates. Many have excellent GPA overall but that includes a lot of non-math curriculum; some are admittedly math-phobic. They may have been the beneficiaries of effort-based grade inflation but generally students' grades are relative - there should be noticeable differences based on math ability.

Exploration of this is definitely warranted but I'm figuring that SAT scores and "pertinent course GPA" would probably have similar prediction capabilities. After all, college is the start of specialization so why would we use a generalized average such as overall High School GPA to predict performance in a specialty such as math in a business school?

Just for informational purposes, let me add to this discussion a chart I constructed from the ETS's aggregate data on SATs in my state.

This trend repeats itself in every state, in every year I've looked at. Income is correlated with SAT scores. This is such an improbable cause-effect that I feel we must have a confounding factor. A simple question shows this easily, "Could I give your family $40,000 and raise your scores by 60 points?" "No, that's absurd."

The fact that SAT scores are also correlated with college success almost closes the circle for me.

I'm tempted to think that the underlying effect is that, by and large, parents are well-educated because they are motivated and intelligent, and have the money for an education or were motivated enough to scrape together the money. 

These characteristics, along with a little luck or athletic ability are what also lead to wealth in this country. Children of such families are likely to have the same characteristics as their parents and thus also be successful at college, an enterprise that takes wealth, motivation and intelligence.

Wealth, while not a cause, is nonetheless correlated and is the most easily measured indicator.

I have no controlled evidence or properly-conducted study to back this up. Any of my readers have some more fuel for this fire, one way or the other?

Optional SAT - it's a Good Thing

But not for you.

It's been going around the seniors recently - "Hey! Colleges don't require SATs anymore! That's so cool." I saw mention of it at RightWingNews and, of course at some months ago.

Anyone who thinks this was done for the students benefit is sadly mistaken. Regardless of the problems with the SAT and its scoring and interpretation, it is still a good single measurement of a student's math, reading, writing and thinking skills. It is taken by a self-selected group to be sure, but it's a group that changes very little from year to year in terms of it's characteristics.

Until recently.

Dropping the SAT requirement has liberated college admissions officers from many of their standards. They now do not have to jump through hoops to accept students who would not have cleared the SAT hurdle, allowing them freedom to use moving criteria to select for diversity and heterogeneity. This is not necessarily all bad, until you examine the effect that this change has on the students who are admitted.

Assuming you do not change the college, who expects that students will be as successful if their qualifications are not as high? They will be accepted but won't be as able to compete. Those with sense will change majors quickly and slide down the difficulty scale that all college students are familiar with (STEM -> CJ, Eng, His -> PE -> Ed, depending on the college). Those without sense will simply fail out, possibly learning a damned expensive lesson in the process but most importantly giving the college one more year of tuition and that smidge of diversity they were looking for. Regardless, the student did not receive the education paid for nor the experience expected.

That's not the only benefit to the college, though. Announcing that you do not require SATs is an open admission that the college is gaming the Ranking system. After all, what weak student will bother with the SATs? Few, leaving the college with only those scores from the more able students. What is one of the keys to the rankings? yup, average SAT scores.

Anyone who thinks I'm kidding - remember the College in Texas that bribed it's freshmen to re-take the SATs. The students had one more year's education under their belts, several hundred dollars incentive and were re-taking a test on their own terms without the college admission stress. To no one's surprise they all did considerably better. Why would the college spend its money this way? Because then they could claim their freshmen had higher average SATs scores. The ROI was much more than the $30K they spent.

High Schools enjoy this benefit as well, since their weaker students can get steered around the SAT towards those colleges who don't require it, allowing the school's SAT averages to rise as well; in this NCLB climate, any improvement is grabbed at desperately.

Yes, Virginia, everyone benefits from filtering the SAT takers. Everyone but you.

Of course, everyone tries to cover their tracks by claiming SATs are not the best predictor of success in college, because "wealthy whites can afford test prep" and other reasonable-sounding blather. Honest college people will grant you that it's not the best predictor, but it's not counter-indicative either. Family income is first, pertinent HS grades (italicized correction based on this post) and SATs come in close together at 2nd and 3rd respectively. Most of the rest of the admissions packet is busy-work.

HS recommendations from teachers are ignored, with one caveat. If the recommendation comes from someone they know, from a graduate of the institution, or from a teacher who has recommended successful students in the past, then it is pushed to the front.

Boilerplate recs from teachers, employers, acquaintances and the directors of community service hours fight for last place with the essay in terms of usefulness. No one believes the student wrote the essay alone anymore and you can sue over a bad recommendation so no one writes anything but lovely dreck.

Most of the steps in the application are "cut-outs" -- part of the checklist attached to the cover of the folder -- get the check mark or the folder is placed in that OTHER pile, near the trash can. There are plenty more where that came from; if a student can't be bothered to read the forms and get the standard letters written, then he definitely won't be a good college student. They'll cash the check, though.

If the SATs would have been the cut-out for you, then the college probably wouldn't have been a good choice. If eliminating it means you might be accepted, then think long and hard about it.

You would attend the wrong school and fail instead of working a little harder to find the right one with the right program that you would enjoy more, work harder for, achieve more in, and be more likely to graduate from with a degree you really wanted.

"You can get a great education at a 'lousy' school or you can get a lousy education at a 'good' school." - Curmudgeon's Law

There's a reason why colleges don't require the SATs anymore. There's a reason that so many kids take bogus majors that require nothing more than sitting in a seminar circle discussing their feelings. There's a reason that so many Ethnic Studies majors, communication majors and Exercise majors exist. There's a reason that basketball players take Geography or Sports Management. There's a reason that so many kids drink themselves into oblivion each weekend. They weren't ready for college and shouldn't have gone.

Take the wrong attitude to the wrong college and no one can help you.

There's a reason why ex-military come to college on the GI-Bill and blow away the competition. They are ready, purposeful and mature. They know what they want to do and they know where they want to go without the false sense of "that college isn't GOOD enough." They have incentives to succeed and a true self-esteem developed through adversity and honor, not from sycophantic morons offering dubious praise.

Take the right attitude to the right college and no one can stop you.

But it's your money.

updated: changed HS GPA to "pertinent" HS GPA

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just because - Wikipedia

It's Professor Wikipedia!

National Standards

A Great Pontificator was Emitting Fumes Yesterday:
"National standards is the same thing as requiring every state to grow orange trees. We don't need national standards. What we can have is a national curriculum that schools can use, partially use or ignore, depending on what makes sense locally."

That's just silly – not every state can grow orange trees because of climate. Are we seriously suggesting that all states couldn't adhere to a national curriculum?

Local control is not a panacea. The kids aren't going to stay local, for one thing. Second, the people making decisions are variable in their abilities to make those decisions and their reasons for doing so.

First, I can't expect my students to stay in the area after HS. I can't expect them to only need to know what my local school board has determined to be important, whether it's evolution or pi=3. When my kids go to RPI or RISD, they need to be on par with the kids from Boston Latin and from East Podunk HS in terms of what they know and have taken. They need to have a consistent definition of what "Biology" and "Algebra II" are and what they encompass.

Similarly, we need to develop consistent definitions of what "success" means. Is it a good score on a state-wide assessment or a couple 60s on the teacher's quizzes?

Does success only include math, science, English, history? Or do languages, art and music count? How about wood-working, cooking, needle-work? When Johnny gets a diploma, what does it mean? Can he be a good math and science student but a lousy writer and still be considered a success? Without National Standards, we are all casting about and going our own way. I'm not sure that's the best or most efficient.

I'd always been a big fan of the Regents exams and the Regents diploma until recently. This was the closest Americans had gotten to a national curriculum. Criticisms such as "You're teaching to the tests" don't matter to me because those exams were always a minimum, but a really good one. If you passed it, you knew your stuff. I'm in favor of the SAT for the same reason. I don't care if you can study for it and take prep classes and raise your score; it's still a good test. Besides, the "improvements" are really just eliminating common mistakes. SAT test prep won't teach you anything you didn't already know, only remind you.

What about Local Control?

I understand that many people have their pet peeves; this is one of mine. I dislike local control of curriculum as it's practiced in my state - it means that one or two teachers in a math department can radically change what and how the district teaches.

Some times this works out beautifully - witness the success Escalante had in reforming his program; after five years he was able to make a difference. Some times, the changes do not affect things positively or negatively. Some times, they are terrible. Witness the changes to Escalante's program after he was pushed out - the local control managed to "reform" everything back to the way it was, forgetting all of the lessons learned over those years.

In my school, a couple of people changed the school's math curriculum – 3 of 4 were non-teachers, none of the four ever looked to see if the hoped-for improvement ever happened at any other school. They had anecdotal "evidence" but nothing that would count as proof. They made the change but never set into place any way of determining whether the change had improved anything at our school either. How crazy is that?

At another time, the entire middle-school curriculum rested on the shoulders of one teacher. "They chose the books seven years ago. Now it's my turn." He then chose the one with the niftiest graphics. (Actually, I don't really know his criteria. I'm in the high-school, you understand. I guess it doesn't matter to me?)

The positive aspect of a national curriculum is that the country acts as one in what it expects as minimums, and the system changes slowly. Any changes are made only after deliberation and much discussion. That is, of course, its greatest weakness as well, if all one is concerned with is immediate flexibility. I'm not.

Education, unfortunately, is one of the few areas where changes are based on shoddy, biased or non-existent research. "Studies" are performed on a select group and results are extrapolated far beyond the scope of the study. For example, KIPP schools have success in a specific testing regimen with a biased and selected sample; suddenly every public school administrator is talking about imitating small portions of their program but not necessarily the part that made KIPP successful. Computer-based learning works for a few kids in a small number of courses and people want to expand that to all students in all situations.

Some years ago, I asked our State Education Commissioner for help. We were considering a change from Block scheduling back to 7*45 and I asked what data the state had kept. "We don't do anything like that."

If I could wish for anything, it would be for someone to settle some questions with some real research, double-blind, controlled and all that: What was the effect of Block Scheduling? Reform Math? Schools within a School? Open Classrooms? Everyday Math? Connected Math? Singapore Math? Step Up and 8th Grade Algebra? The True Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds? (Just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

How about it? Let's make changes AFTER we figure out what success is and whether what we're doing is wrong. Then let's make changes AFTER we figure if they're improvements.

And Good for You, too.

I originally went to for the story about kids getting cheese sandwiches if they couldn't afford lunch, but this other story caught my eye.

EIA Intercepts: Twinkie Defense - you gotta read it.
Teachers testified before the state House Education Committee “seeking changes to a 2007 law restricting the sale of soda, fruit juices and high-calorie snack foods in schools. It turns out that the law, intended to combat an obesity epidemic among Oregon’s children, had the unintended consequence of pulling the plug on vending machines inside teacher lounges.”

Okay, first of all, in the schools around here, the fattest people are the teachers. Sure, there are a couple of kids, but straight percentages fall directly on the shoulders of the adults in the building.

Secondly, the schools are booting the vending machines but the cafeteria still sells crap by the ton. Here in the frozen north, it's sugar content and carbonation that kills kids, apparently. Soda is banned, but Gatorade, Powerade, Snapple are fine. So is Dasani. Oh yeah, you can still get milk ... though the most popular types are ... wait for it ... chocolatey-flavored milk and strawberry-flavored milk, both with added sugar. (You read that right. You can't even get real chocolate.)

So, sports drinks that are 9% - 11% sugar (actually, High Fructose Corn Syrup) are fine, but 10% HFCS soda is not. Snapple is okay at 13%. At least they don't have the evil carbonation - I guess carbon dioxide needs to be banned to save the climate, the planet AND the kids, eh?

We can all take comfort that snacks are healthy, right? The school cafeteria ladies can sell you small bags of Doritos at 60% markup (but at least they're not in vending machines!)

Well, how about the lunches? They'll sell you a piece of pizza for lunch or a mystery-fowl sandwich and tater-tots. The healthy stuff is on the side tray - pears swimming in corn syrup.

Come on. What about the water? That's fine. $1.50 bottle of water is okay, even though the town drinking water is purer than Dasani. (No lie -- the town is seriously thinking of going into the business of bottling and selling the town water, straight from tap to bottle to profit-making heaven.)

Bottom Line: Money and a false sense of Moral Superiority from telling the kids what's good for them.

[and a hat-tip to Darren.]

Fantasy Reform from Jay Matthews that actually makes some sense

I'm often amused and nearly always irritated at Jay Matthews - from his claim for KIPP being the Deus Ex Machina of the Educational world to his quaint ideas on time management for teachers. I was surprised that I actually agreed with him on a couple things. I know, it's crazy but there it is.

I've posted a copy of his latest attempt at reasonable reform. Read that for context, as I plan on fairly heavy-handed snipping.
1. Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets ....
Just as long as you drill them for hours like KIPP does daily?
One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don't learn more than students who do none.
Hasn't stopped KIPP yet. Jay, you're contradicting yourself again. This time, though, you might be onto something. More-targeted homework rather than simply more homework is a good idea. Reinforce the day's work with a few minutes of practice that can be done with the parents -- just what the elementary student needs. High school is another matter, of course.
5. Have every high school student read at least one nonfiction book before graduation. I am not talking about textbooks.
Here's Three: "The Killer Angels" by Sharra, "A Brief History of Time" by Hawking and "The Big Splat" by Mackenzie. Yeah, I'm all for this.

Update: let's add "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World" by Weatherford, "Purple Cow" by Godin, "Just and Unjust Wars" by Walzer, "Innumeracy" by Paulos, "Ruby on Rails" by Tate and Hibbs, "Cultural Literacy" by Hirsch, "Punished by Rewards" by Kohn, "How the Other Half Thinks" by Stein. Crap, I almost forgot "Flatland" by Abbott, though that is fiction - not for this list.

Fantasy Reform from Jay Matthews - the bad.

I'm often amused and nearly always irritated at Jay Matthews - from his claim for KIPP being the Deus Ex Machina of the Educational world to his quaint ideas on time management for teachers.

I've posted a copy of his latest attempt at reasonable reform. Read that for context, as I plan on fairly heavy-handed snipping.
2. Unleash charter schools .... charter schools, public schools that make their own rules, are not draining money from school systems. ... School finance experts don't all agree, but I am convinced that charters are a bargain. So let's have more.
If charter schools are so successful because they make their own rules, doesn't that mean that the rules are the problem rather than the public schools? And what exactly makes you so convinced they're a bargain? Or is this another pro-KIPP thing?

3. Have teachers call or e-mail parents -- once a day would be fine -- with praise for their children. ... It doesn't take long. It doesn't cost much. But it nurtures bonds among teachers, students and parents that can lead to wonderful things.

This is priceless. Let's err on the small side even though I know that many of you would love student numbers like this: 120 students * 1.5 minutes = 3 hours. Every night? Wouldn't our time be better spent looking at student work or preparing for the next day? And you have to love the "once a day would be fine." But Uncle Jay ... I'd like to do this three times a day and not teach. Can we call it uber-differentiation if I call on each parent more than once?

4. Have parents call or e-mail teachers with praise. Successful teachers are often taken for granted.
Because I don't have enough email spam now. Let's add another 120 daily emails to read in between the ones from the principal. At least the principal can spell, but I donno about the parents. It'll be simple, just give the kids a point on the next test for every email their parents send me ...

6. Encourage teachers to call on every student in every class. ... A lesson has to be a conversation. Every student has to be involved.
Riiiight. Because I don't do this already. Bad Curmudgeon.

I have been in many classrooms where the teacher does most, sometimes all, of the talking. I imagine many teachers follow this rule, but it seems to me worth urging all of them to try it. It is, again, a change of attitude and method that costs nothing.
Gee Jay, do you think the kids might act differently when a famous writer like you is visiting? "I have been in many classrooms" - were any kids in there at the same time? "I imagine many teachers use this rule" implies to me that you're speaking out of your ass again.

7. Furlough everybody -- including teachers, students and parents -- for an unpaid national reading holiday. This will never happen.
No kidding, Jay. Screw You. You are an elitist moron.
You want to put me on an unpaid furlough so my students can maybe read a book? Are you planning on explaining how I pay my bills in the meantime?

Do you have a thought as to how you're going to explain this "holiday":
1) "Okay, you don't have kids, but you're on furlough today - go read a book."
2) "Buenos Dios, Senor, ..."
3) "No, you can't go get drunk. You have to read a book."
4) "I understand you're living paycheck to paycheck, but you don't get paid today. Instead, we want you to go buy a book called 'Work Hard. Be Nice. How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America. (Paid Propaganda pushed by a Prissy Print Journalist)' Or you can also just go to the library today along with the other 8 million NYCity residents."

Yeah, that'll work.


Jay Matthews Strikes Again

I'll comment on this in a separate post, but I'm including it here so that the original source can't archive it to oblivion. In the meantime, enjoy the reading.

Boosting Schools' Value Without Spending a Dime
By Jay Mathews / Washington Post
February 16, 2009; Page B02

As happens in every recession, Washington area school systems are cutting back. It's depressing. Here's an antidote: Harness the creativity of educators, parents and students to improve our schools without more spending. Some teachers I trust helped me come up with these seven ideas.

1. Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don't learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents -- at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.

2. Unleash charter schools. I know, I know. Many good people find this suggestion as welcome as a call from a collection agency. They think charter schools, public schools that make their own rules, are draining money from school systems, but the opposite seems to be true. In most states, charters receive fewer tax dollars per child than regular public schools. Yet they often attract creative principals and teachers who do more with less. School finance experts don't all agree, but I am convinced that charters are a bargain. So let's have more. That won't save money in the District, one of the few places that pay as much for charters as regular schools, but Maryland and Virginia would find more charters a boon if they dropped their suburban, aren't-we-great notions and listened to what imaginative educators in a few little charter schools could teach them.

3. Have teachers call or e-mail parents -- once a day would be fine -- with praise for their children. Some great classroom teachers make a habit of contacting parents when kids do something well. Jason Kamras, 2005 national teacher of the year and now a leading D.C. schools executive, used to punch up the parent's number on his cellphone while standing next to a student's desk. It doesn't take long. It doesn't cost much. But it nurtures bonds among teachers, students and parents that can lead to wonderful things.

4. Have parents call or e-mail teachers with praise. Successful teachers are often taken for granted. Struggling teachers need moral support. Both kinds would be fortified by a friendly message. They would also learn something from what parents say is working for their children.

5. Have every high school student read at least one nonfiction book before graduation. I am not talking about textbooks. Will Fitzhugh, publisher of the Concord Review, a journal of high school research papers, has been campaigning for nonfiction school reading. I was surprised, when I looked into it, how overloaded high school reading lists are with fiction. Nonfiction, with all those facts, is often more challenging for this age group. Good. If every English teacher substituted one nonfiction book for one novel on the required list, schools would improve without any extra expense.

6. Encourage teachers to call on every student in every class. Teachers who have exceptional results talk to me a lot about this. A lesson has to be a conversation, they say. Every student has to be involved. I have been in many classrooms where the teacher does most, sometimes all, of the talking. I imagine many teachers follow this rule, but it seems to me worth urging all of them to try it. It is, again, a change of attitude and method that costs nothing.

7. Furlough everybody -- including teachers, students and parents -- for an unpaid national reading holiday. This will never happen. But small experiments might work for some schools or communities. My wife will be taking an unpaid week's furlough soon with all the other employees of her company to cut costs. She will likely spend some of that time reading to our 2-month-old grandson, hoping the words soak in. If everyone set aside a day for books (or maybe, dare I hope, newspapers), we might regain a sense of what a quiet day of reading can do for the soul. Forgoing one day's pay would unite the country in something we haven't seen in some time: mutual sacrifice. (Those in thriving industries could donate the money to a good cause.) We could hold the national reading day in April, school test prep season, so kids wouldn't miss much. Free reading has always been my favorite frugal school fix. Even a few more minutes a day can't hurt.

If you have cost-free ideas to improve schools, post them on my blog at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Glowing Red Dot in the Blue Area

Why do I keep getting flashbacks to educrats trying to speak statistics they don't understand? But they're real serious about it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ain't got that swing.

Study Hacks asks Have We Lost Our Tolerance For a Little Boredom?
(Snipped and reduced) I found myself asking: have American students lost their tolerance for a little boredom? .... I’m referring to the short term malaise that arises when we lack a ready source of novel stimulation — the pressure behind your eyes that builds twenty minutes into writing a paper or reading a tricky article. .... At the first sign of boredom, we reach for e-mail or refresh a Facebook feed. A shockingly large amount of schoolwork gets done in a last minute frenzy, fueled by the adrenaline of an impending deadline, and proceeding in a confusing, inefficient slurry of short work bursts constantly interrupted by quick hits of boredom-busting stimulation.

I am not surprised at this revelation and I can point to its source. It is not technology based, primarily, although technology and tv and instant access to text and flix and pix over our phones have contributed to it. This malaise, as study hacks calls it, is based on the constant insistence of teachers to make learning "fun."

The refrain runs through every in-service: "What can we do to make education fun? How can we relate this math to their lives? What will make it meaningful to them? If they aren't engaged, they aren't learning so we need to make them engaged. We need cross-curricular, group learning situations where the students can access 21st century tools and technology and actively participate in the global community, blah, blah, blah."

Now, the instant it doesn't meet any of these criteria - the students shut off. The minute we stop being actively entertaining, they want to stop "learning." I have been told that practicing math problems is "Drill and Kill" and "Not what we do here." Then we send them to the driver ed teacher to practice their driving and the soccer field to run drills. In their own time, they stay glued to the video game to practice the same move over and over until they get it right. Ever watch them practice same skateboard trick for hours on end? How about the same basketball trick?

Learning is hard. Learning takes focus. Learning takes practice. If we keep on insisting that it always be fun, then it will disappear whenever it isn't.

"I do. We do. You do."

It's not always fun but it's effective.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Teen Suspended - Sent Outside Where it was cold..

Reposting this article because the newspaper will probably archive it soon.

LINCOLN PARK: Teen student left in the cold after being suspended

Friday, February 6, 2009 3:25 PM EST

By Jason Alley

LINCOLN PARK — The mother of a 16-year-old said her son was forced to stand outside in the cold Wednesday after being suspended from Lincoln Park High School.

School officials confirm the student was kicked out of the building, but said he was first given several opportunities to wait for his ride inside the school.

“He could have stayed inside the school by the doors and everything would have been fine,” said Diane Szalka, the district’s human resources director. “But after he was caught roaming around upstairs and interrupting classrooms, he was finally told to leave the building. … At that point, he was trespassing.”

The day started when Susan O’Rourke dropped her 10th grader off at school late. When he checked into the office, he was told he was suspended for the day because he had been tardy too many times.

O’Rourke said neither she nor her son knew he was set to be suspended that day, or he wouldn’t have shown up for school. As O’Rourke had already left the area, her son had to call her to come pick him up. They live on the other side of town from the school.

“As soon as they told him he was suspended, they told him he needed to leave the building,” O’Rourke said. “The principal saw him on his cellphone trying to call me and told him he needed to take his business outside. …

“Some schools were closed for the bad weather that day. It was 0-15 below wind chill and the principal made him wait outside. It was very cold and all he had on was a hoodie. …

“I expect the school to care for my child in a reasonable manner. Regardless of what he did, would you stick your pet outside in 0-15 weather to wait for any reason? That’s abuse.”

O’Rourke said her son, who had to wait in the cold for about 20 minutes before she arrived to pick him up, is bipolar and has been suspended before for his disruptive behavior.

“He’s not the worst child and he’s not the best child,” she said. “But he wasn’t putting anybody in danger. I would hope they wouldn’t do this to anyone’s child, especially not knowing how long it would take for me to get there and how long he would have to be waiting outside.”

Szalka said the teen was given several chances to call his mother from the office as well as on his cellphone and would never have been removed from the building had he remained calm while waiting for a ride.

And, she said, the school has records of calls made to O’Rourke telling her that her son was going to be suspended that day.

“Everything was handled appropriately,” Szalka said. “This has nothing to do with him having to go outside or not knowing he was suspended. … Had he not kept sneaking into the building and roaming around, everything would have been fine.”

Originally set to be suspended on Wednesday only, the school upped the punishment to a three-day reprimand following this latest incident.

“He was being insubordinate with the principal and also not following protocol and was trespassing,” Szalka. “That’s why they extended it. …

“He’s failing all of his classes and he failed all of last semester, too. He’s not coming in, and is playing games when he is here.”

O’Rourke said it’s the school’s responsibility to treat every student humanely; something she doesn’t feel was done with her child last week.

“Regardless of anything else, a school should be a safe place for learning and they should treat the students there with some common decency,” she said.

Contact Staff Writer Jason Alley at or at 1-734-246-0867.

School Discipline and Silly Administrators

The original article and my repost here was about a student who was sent out of the building when he was suspended and had to wait in sub-freezing weather for 20 minutes. I generally read such things with suspicion - somebody's always lying and usually both sides are speaking through the sides of their mouths.

To wit:
"the school has records of calls made to Mother telling her that her son was going to be suspended that day." "Mother said neither she nor her son knew he was set to be suspended that day, or he wouldn’t have shown up for school." (Names changed to Relationships for clarity.)

This sounds a lot like a case of mistaken communication with interpretations taken liberally by both sides. School probably called and said something like "He's gonna be suspended if he keeps coming in late" but might not have mentioned specifics. I can remember when my school called (kept careful records) but never actually talked to a parent - since neither was home during the day when the administrators called.

On her side, Mother might have figured that if she dropped him off and made a quick getaway, she could be rid of him for the day - the school might not go to the trouble of calling to have him removed. He does sound like a real PITA.

The lawyers are going to have to decide that, but I have my suspicions and it's because of some later statements by the school.

As an aside, we have the obvious question of why "suspension for lateness" makes sense. I mean, you have the kid there and that ought to be your purpose all along, no? Put him in a Special study hall, make him serve after school detentions or something that keeps him there and makes your point. If the true reason for suspension is something else, that needs to be said or you will never address your real problems.

So what is my smoking gun here? A few statements from the "Human Resource Officer" ...
"He was finally told to leave the building. At that point, he was trespassing." and "would never have been removed from the building had he remained calm"
But he wasn't really being raucous or violent, he was being a goofball. Why exaggerate?
"Had he not kept sneaking into the building and roaming around" and "He was being insubordinate with the principal and also not following protocol"
Don't you love it - now he's being "insubordinate" and not "following protocol." Let's use serious terms so people won't notice how silly this whole thing is. I find that school administrators resort to this kind of talk when they know they're going too far, when they know that simply stating facts won't look good, when they know they screwed up and are trying to CYA.

For my part, though, the biggest screw up was this line from the HRD (a dehumanizing title, if I've ever heard one - just call the woman Dean of Students or Attendance Secretary) ...
"He’s failing all of his classes and he failed all of last semester, too. He’s not coming in, and is playing games when he is here."
Have you never heard of FERPA, lady? This bit of information was told to a REPORTER. Besides being immaterial to the case at hand, this information comes under the category of Educational Records and it is PRIVATE.

Moron. If they are resorting to this level, they are almost always trying to cover up their own mistakes. Even if the school district is not actually at fault in any way and did everything else exactly right and the mother and kid are completely in the wrong, this HRD needs to rethink her public relations, at least.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Teachers and Technology

Over on "Creating Lifelong Learners," they're talking about Five Reasons Why We Aren’t We Integrating Technology in School. The reasons were:
* Technology is expensive.
* Technology is broken or unavailable.
* Technology use isn’t tested.
* Technology lessons often aren’t well planned.
* Fear of losing control.
If you're ineterested in his details, meander over there and check'em out. I wrote the following and I thought I'd share it here:

In my school, and in many others nearby, the greatest problem seems to be that the teachers do not want to spend time on their own with a manual or a For Dummies book. They are always insisting on "we need training" - for even the simplest things.

Sometimes, admittedly, the cry is used to short-circuit some really dumb initiatives from the administration by raising a big enough stink that the new ed-fad of the week is avoided on a temporary basis.

I'm a technology geek who also LOVES blackboards - I've got five of them, covering two of the walls. It is awesome for math class. I enjoy using a SmartBoard, but it's not essential. So I've resisted buying one for my room on the rather limited budget the math department has. I've played with the idea, though. Borrowed the mobile one from the lab fairly regularly.

The science teacher across the hall, on the other hand, bought a huge one (84" diagonal) and it's still leaning against the file cabinet in the corner! After nearly a year!

Why? Because he spends so much time on his lesson plans - almost three hours a day - and he has no time to learn how to use it (his claim). Now this guy has been teaching for years and is in his third year at this school - how is it possible to spend that much time on lesson plans alone? Beats me.

When I asked him about the SmartBoard, he said "I need training in how to use it!"

Now, how much time would it really take to learn? Maybe a few hours to get the basics and start a few files. 30 minutes one day each week to "learn something new". You're off and running.

I offered to help him but he refused - no time. So I asked if I could set the Board up in my room, to get some use out of it until he needed it. To my total surprise, he agreed.

I'm thinking "I'll get it running and working and then show him how to use it and move it back" but I have a feeling I'll get to keep it for a while.

This mind-set of never wanting to try something new, of being afraid to use technology, to thinking "I'm overwhelmed and can't deal with this" - this is something I just can't understand.

Are we teachers really that "stupid" that we can't learn something new without a consultant guiding our every step?

I sometimes think so.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What is School For?

I'm going to reprint this here and think about it for awhile - He's mostly right but I think there are a few more that really do apply.

From Seth Godin's Blog ...

What is school for?

Seems like a simple question, but given how much time and money we spend on it, it has a wide range of answers, many unexplored, some contradictory. I have a few thoughts about education, how we use it to market ourselves and compete, and I realized that without a common place to start, it's hard to figure out what to do.

So, a starter list. The purpose of school is to:

1. Become an informed citizen
2. Be able to read for pleasure
3. Be trained in the rudimentary skills necessary for employment
4. Do well on standardized tests
5. Homogenize society, at least a bit
6. Pasteurize out the dangerous ideas
7. Give kids something to do while parents work
8. Teach future citizens how to conform
9. Teach future consumers how to desire
10. Build a social fabric
11. Create leaders who help us compete on a world stage
12. Generate future scientists who will advance medicine and technology
13. Learn for the sake of learning
14. Help people become interesting and productive
15. Defang the proletariat
16. Establish a floor below which a typical person is unlikely to fall
17. Find and celebrate prodigies, geniuses and the gifted
18. Make sure kids learn to exercise, eat right and avoid common health problems
19. Teach future citizens to obey authority
20. Teach future employees to do the same
21. Increase appreciation for art and culture
22. Teach creativity and problem solving
23. Minimize public spelling mistakes
24. Increase emotional intelligence
25. Decrease crime by teaching civics and ethics
26. Increase understanding of a life well lived
27. Make sure the sports teams have enough players

If you have the email address of the school board or principals, perhaps you'll forward this list to them (and I hope you are in communication with them regardless, since it's a big chunk of your future and your taxes!). Should make an interesting starting point for a discussion.