Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Archery Puzzle

How close can the young archer come to scoring a total of 100 - using as many arrows as she pleases.
The rings are numbered 16, 17, 23, 24, 39, 40

Skating Puzzle

It is recorded that in a mile race between two graceful skaters the rivals started from opposite points to skate to the other's place of beginning. With the advantage of a strong wind Jennie performed the feat two and a half times as quick as Maude, and beat her by six minutes. The problem, which has created no end of discussion, is to tell the time of each in skating the mile.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How do Corporations Choose?

From a A WALL STREET JOURNAL Letter to the Editor
Reader Harvey Karten concludes that the recent Journal article about employers favoring graduates of big state universities over graduates of the Ivies is an indication that there are still things that government can do better than private industry.
I think it just as likely that the corporations are tired of the self-absorbed and self-indulgent TFA wanna-bes, primarily scions of the upper-class, graduates of the Ivies and are instead looking for candidates who had to work for a degree and who might be more likely to succeed at working for a living.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vouchers again

Voucher results mixed
Overall, public-school students did better on state tests
By Jennifer Smith Richards / Columbus (OH) Dispatch

On the whole, Ohio students who used tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools last school year did no better on state tests than public-school students.
One commenter wrote:
"That's not the issue, is it? What we want to know is whether private school students did better than they would have in a public school. That's the issue. The only way you can come close to answering that question is with random samples and control groups--neither of which were used here."

Very true. In fact, random samples and control groups would tend to eliminate the selection bias inherent in the voucher system and make the comparisons even worse for the voucher schools. Add to that a size bias - the small voucher school that randomly does well is used as a club over the heads of the public school.  At the same time, the small voucher school that randomly does poorly is ignored .... until next year's random increase means that you can trumpet "Its huge improvement is the result of vouchers."
When the one with all the advantages doesn't win,
there is usually a reason.

Fundamentally, public schools should be the recipients of public school money. They are run by the town for the benefit of its citizens, are controlled by a School Board elected by the citizens, use a budget that is voted on by its citizens, and by and large are staffed by its citizens. Accountability is to the town.  At least in Vermont.

Private schools are not accountable to the town, do not have to make their finances public, do not have to answer to the taxpayers, and are run for the benefit of the school. Private and charter schools do not have to follow federal mandates for the education of all students, can dismiss or expel students for disciplinary or educational reasons without refunding the town, and can send kids back to the public school if their academic performance isn't up to par. Private schools can skim the best students off the top, "recruit" from other districts, include I20 students rather than IEPs or 504s, offer "scholarships," and do many other things to "win."

What's the real issue? If the charter and private schools cannot out-do the public schools despite their very real head start, we shouldn't be blaming the public schools.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cattle Puzzle

Farmer Jones sold a pair of cows for $210. On one he made 10 percent and on the other he lost 10 per cent, cleaning up just 5 per cent. What did the cows originally cost him?

Sam Loyd, Cyclopedia of Puzzles, 1914

answer here.

It Isn't What We Don't Know ...

that's a problem, it's what we do know that isn't so.

From a Letter to the Editor, but it could have been taken from any article or column. It always amuses me how people can say one thing true and then leap to the assumption that the next thing out of their mouths must also be true.
"[NYTimes article] reports on research that concluded that moving from one room to another will improve learning and retention. Who didn't know this already?"
Following the research is key. Assuming the next thing out of your brain is the basis for that research and the reason for its truth -- ain't necessarily so.
"The problem with sitting in one place for a long time is boredom. Why do you think kids get so bored sitting in classrooms? Our entire educational model is antithetical to learning."
Pretty amazing, huh?

Our educational model is antithetic to learning because the kids sit in a classroom and some get bored. Okaaaay.
"It isn't education if it isn't FUN!"
"It's factory model education. We need malls."
"Drill and Kill."
"Google will answer any question you have."
"Waiting for Superman" is a great movie.

I am so glad my own kids are done. They got good public school educations because both of us are teachers and we made sure that none of this reform nonsense applied to them.

Critical Thinking requires foundation

In this article on the Dangerously Irrelevant blog, Richard Kassissieh writes of an interesting, high stakes test in Britain

A student gazes at a mystery solution. Its contents are unknown. The student reaches into her toolkit, a set of known solutions, and one by one, combines them with a small portion of the mystery solution. One test changes the color to bright yellow. Another produces a milky, solid substance. Gradually, the student pieces together the clues that allow her to identify the unknown solution.

This qualitative analysis laboratory required the student to recall properties of different solutions, understand reaction processes, and synthesize the results of different experimental tests while under pressure. To practice, the student had worked together with classmates to identify a series of mystery solutions and shared their findings with their classmates.
Too often US "reformers" believe that critical thinking like this can be taught, that repetition and practice is "Drill and Kill" and that foundation work can be ignored until the student "needs it", at which point the Omniscient Google can be used -- no need to memorize anything.

Critical thinking requires the foundation in order to be effective. That student needed to know how chemicals react, the contents of her "toolkit" and have a basic understanding of the processes.

Prior knowledge leads to further learning. Memorized knowledge is a prerequisite for critical thinking.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welfare Queens are Back

Facebook people have been commenting on this doctor's posting. He apparently sent a letter to The Clarion Ledger of Missippi (according to Snopes) explaining why healthcare is in trouble. This one seems to have been embellished, but only a tiny bit.

As well as being an arrogant bastard, he makes some invalid points and some amazingly judgmental comments about one of his patients. She is, according to him, making bad life decisions and that is why the country's going to hell.  Get rid of her and others like her and "all our health care difficulties will disappear."
Dear Mr. President:
During my shift in the Emergency Room last night, I had the pleasure of evaluating a patient whose smile revealed an expensive shiny gold tooth, whose body was adorned with a wide assortment of elaborate and costly tattoos, who wore a very expensive brand of tennis shoes and who chatted on a new cellular telephone equipped with a popular R&B ringtone.

While glancing over her patient chart, I happened to notice that her payer status was listed as "Medicaid"! During my examination of her, the patient informed me that she smokes more than one pack of cigarettes every day, eats only at fast-food take-outs, and somehow still has money to buy pretzels and beer. And, you and our Congress expect me to pay for this woman's health care? I contend that our nation's "health care crisis" is not the result of a shortage of quality hospitals, doctors or nurses. Rather, it is the result of a "crisis of culture" a culture in which it is perfectly acceptable to spend money on luxuries and vices while refusing to take care of one's self or, heaven forbid, purchase health insurance. It is a culture based in the irresponsible credo that "I can do whatever I want to because someone else will always take care of me". Once you fix this "culture crisis" that rewards irresponsibility and dependency, you'll be amazed at how quickly our nation's health care difficulties will disappear.

He "happened to notice her payer status was listed as Medicaid." Okay, a doctor "happened" to notice? Bull. Doctors are all about the money. Try going to one without it. Don't act all innocent, Roger.

The patient had lifestyle choices that disapproved of. His obvious feeling is that she should be thrown off Medicaid because she can afford to have a gold tooth, tattoos, sneakers and a cellphone. She also smokes and eats fast food. "What a welfare queen," you can almost hear him saying. "Damn nigger" also comes through clearly -- though he never quite said that word -- but he made sure to mention the gold tooth, R&B ringtone.

Apparently gold teeth are bad - news to me. I have a gold tooth as well. It was cheaper and better than composite and my dentist recommended it. Should I be denied health care if my financial situation takes a turn for the worse?

Tattoos are stupid, in my opinion, but that's only my take on it. I really couldn't care less if your 18th birthday present to yourself is a tramp stamp. It lowers my opinion of you, but that's all. Likewise the pair of sneakers - yes, a TI-84 costs as much as AirJordans, but AirJordans are better for people on their feet all day than a calculator. The shoes could also have been one of Marbury's $25 shoes; I doubt this guy would know the difference. He also points out a new cellphone - as opposed to what in this day and age? If it was a replacement for a landline, it's actually cheaper and far more convenient. Lot's of people are doing that, including a $1 ringtone.

Then, in a veritable tsunami of evilness, she smokes and eats fast food. Like THAT is a reason to drop her from health care through Medicaid - she's in the category that MOST needs a doctor to counsel her instead of judging her. You would also need to make smoking and fast food illegal across the board for all poor people. All Jewish deli sandwiches, Polish kielbases and "Italian" pizza joints, McDonalds and Burger King, and Subway, and the sidewalk pretzel carts.  How does this smarmy little twerp care to judge the relative worth of all that?  I'm not so sure that we should be dictating personal dietary choices - isn't Bloomberg enough of a cautionary tale?

Finally, I think of all of my lower-income FRL students.  Do they deserve to be left without health care because some doctor disapproves of the choices their mother made?  The life of a single mother is difficult enough these days.  Grow up, Doc.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wait, how much?

I was struck by this when I first saw it.  Cool use of distortion effects and all that, laudable goal of getting people to slow down near schools, too. The post points out the "sweet spot" and mentions some of the unintended consequences. I get it.

But then, these two sentences jumped out at me:
The $15,000 decal was paid for by ...
the decal was removed after one week. It was an experiment, a stunt,
Didn't they have a better use for $15,000 dollars that a stunt that lasted a week? And why $15,000? The local screen printer could have banged that out for a couple hundred at most. The anti-danger people can spend the money like water.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Root of the Matter.

What is a Principal ...

Scott Macleod has been asking what Teachers feel that they need from Administrators.

Whatever happened to the real meaning of "Principal," as in, first, head, leader? Implicit in the title was that the Principal was the lead teacher.

A teacher.

The one with the most seniority or best leadership or highest level of comfort with paperwork and families or whatever was elected by the teachers from within their ranks. Private schools (who used to call teachers "masters") have a Head-master. It's the same thing. I think the administrators started being a detriment to schools when they stopped being teachers.

Lead us from the front.

"Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more." Shakespeare, Henry V

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Common Sense on Drug Stats

Every once in a while we get hit with the workshop that exists only to justify its own existence, while keeping the presenter employed. The drug-scare workshop is the prime candidate.
  1. Funny About Money went to one. They said 50% of CC students are coming to class stoned or high on multiple drugs.
  2. Our Drug Awareness Dude from the community center showed up with two suitcases of things to look for and police-approved fake samples of paraphernalia. 
  3. The ex-cop came in to show us those brain scans of druggies vs non-druggies. "Look at the "holes" in this one and at the nice smooth brain over here."
  4. The ex-druggie claimed to have taken this entire list of drugs and abused his kid, and here she is to confirm that he was an asshole. The poor girl stands there looking embarrassed as hell as he lists all the signs of alcoholism and drug use in your students and describes how he used to mistreat his family while under the influence.
All this time, I'm thinking, "Calm down. Scare tactics only work for a few minutes until people start thinking again." It burns me up. Here we are paying this clown a couple thousand to preach bullshit and take up a lot of time. Isn't there a better use of our resources?

The ex-druggie is spouting utter crap, trying to make himself look better in his own eyes. His daughter is still being abused and I have no sympathy for him. He's telling us the signs of alcoholism - slanty eyes in kids - and the admin are eating it up. No one is surprised when the email comes by the next day ... "Please stop asking kids about their parents' alcoholism." He's telling the kids the dangers of drugs and how they'll ruin your life. Most of the kids noticed he's getting paid a couple grand to speak to a gynasium full of kids for an hour. A few also noticed that he "wants to come back a lot because this is the worst school in the whole state and I'd really like to come back often to help you guys." Gee, thanks.

The ex-cop has gotten hold of some pictures that scare the bejeezus out of him, except that he doesn't understand them. "Look at the holes in this kid's brain." then, the best line, "See the awful colors? Those are caused by drugs."

Ahhh, it's a computer generated scan of activity levels, Dude. It's a graph. The colors were chosen for contrast. There are no physical holes, just activity levels below an arbitrary cutoff.

Then, there were the line graphs. No vertical or horizontal scale, no mention of what was actually being measured. "This is a graph of memory for a kid on drugs." Me: "Time in days, months? Number of items, type of items, first 800 digits of pi? What memories, what kind of mental tasks?" Him: "I don't know. I just got these graphs from their website." Me: "...."

But wait, there's more. There's the community anti-drug crusader.

Apparently, according to him, our students are taking any or all of over a hundred different types of drugs. He had displays in the two suitcases so therefore he must be telling the truth. We had problems: meth, heroin, speed, downers, pot, booze, cocaine, peyote, mushrooms, wine coolers and hard lemonade, injectables, glue and other inhalants -- even (this is no shit) "Some girls are soaking their hair scrunchies in gasoline so they can sit in class and sniff the fumes all period." Really? Don't you think someone might notice that? Doesn't this seem a bit far fetched?

So I asked him, "According to what you have seen and found, according to what the Police Chief standing next to you has seen and found, according to what the kids themselves tell you about what they've heard other kids are doing, what is really happening in this town?" "Alcohol, mostly. Marijuana."

What about the other things you're showing us? "Well, there was that one kid three years ago." Here's a little math for you: 100 - 2 = 98% bullshit.

Funny with Money was told by the college people responsible for policing and preventing it, that about fifty percent of students in a community college classroom, at any given time, are likely to be abusing some kind of drug, legally purchased or not, often more than one something.

"Substances" range from meth to over-the-counter cold pills and nostrums. So, the homeopathic "cold medicine" that contains less of anything useful or harmful than does the average placebo is also lumped into the statistic. And probably Hall's and Ricola.

Anyone else wondering why these geniuses are telling us all this? Maybe to justify their own salaries through irony? If this is such a problem, why haven't they done anything about it?

And seriously? Most community college kids are there on borrowed money and many are working fulltime, desperate for an education. They aren't going to class wasted, they're going to class tired. If they were wasted, they wouldn't bother going to class.

Why do I complain? Because overloading the classroom teacher with trivial bullshit that has no bearing on anything in their classroom is a lose-lose situation.

If you have us looking for wraiths that do not exist, then we will find those wraiths anyway and waste time, effort, soul, and most importantly, trust, barking up the wrong trees. Everyone loses.

If you tell us that slanty eyes in kids are a sure sign of parental alcoholism, then that is what the faculty will see. Don't be surprised if parents thus accused do not take it well.

If you tell us that 95% of our students are on drugs right now (via the ex-druggie, with the principal standing right next to him, nodding wisely), then we will misinterpret tired or worried or frustrated as "drugged." If you tell us that we should report everything, then an awful lot of nonsense will get thrown into the system -- parents will be called, kids will be called in, DYS will have to be notified -- because a kid had a fight with his girlfriend and didn't sleep well for the last two weeks.

That's how you lose when you are dealing with students.

You lose. YOU. LOSE.

Kids won't open up when they really need help. They will fall into the patterns you accuse them of. The parents will learn to NEVER trust the faculty or the school. The kids will withdraw from all of the possible support. Your school will take on a whole new feel and no one will like it.

If you try and tell students that the brain doesn't stop growing until the age of 25, so "Students shouldn't drink until then," you will come off as loony and hypocritical. Kids watch TV on Sunday for the football. We shouldn't expect the other messages to magically disappear: Alcohol is cool and very desirable and the perfect home has hundreds of cans in the fridge, strength and power are all-important (steroids and other PEDS), and women are supposed to dress like that.

If your presentation is mostly hyperbole and loaded with graphs you don't understand, your rhetoric will pass right on by. Kids are good at ignoring adult exaggeration and they hate hypocrisy.

Kids laugh at the lameness of the "Eggs on Drugs" commercials. They don't listen to teachers who bullshit them.

Is there a problem in my school? Yep.
Should the school discuss it? Yep.
Should we do something? Absolutely.

If you have information for us in the school, we will gladly listen to it and do our best to act on it.  Just follow one simple rule:

"Tell me the truth without exaggerating and stop wasting my time."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Speaking of New Orleans and the Miracle Hurricane

Surrounded by gutted homes in the Lower 9th Ward, Sen. John McCain promised that the federal government won't be so slow after the next big storm. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee toured a residential street with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, before addressing about 50 activists, journalists and Hurricane Katrina survivors in front of a church. Ironic, huh?(from 2008.)
To hear the charteristas tell it, Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans schoolkids.  Now they've got charter schools and all that creamy goodness. If one were waxing cynical, one might rename Katrina as "The Divine Wind", the kamikaze that overwhelmed the school system down there.

But then, if you actually go there and look around, the picture is not so rosy. Consider this on Women's eNews (8/29/10) by Kimberly Seals Allers,
When a few of the local community leaders came to address us, what they had to say about the Lower Ninth Ward was appalling but not surprising. They said that of the $90 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated to rebuilding the city, the Lower Ninth Ward has not received any money. Nobody has been told a definitive answer as to why.

They said the Lower Ninth Ward only has one working school for kindergarten through 12th grade. The school has 750 students and a 450-student-long waiting list. There are no hospitals in the area and God help you if you need emergency care and have to travel across the bridge and across town to get it. Many displaced residents, they added, would love to return to the area, but they can't because there are no schools and no real health care options for the elderly. The local community leaders expressed their outrage that tour companies bring busloads of people through the Lower Ninth Ward everyday to gawk at their despair, yet never share any of their profits or stop to support local businesses.
Kinda pisses you off, don't it? Tourists? Sure! Come and gawk at the poor people! One school that can't fit all the students? Who cares? 450 are on a waitlist. That's nearly 40% of the kids wanting an education from that school who are left out in the cold. Exactly what are they doing in the meantime? Charter Schools are the answer to all your education woes unless you're inconvenient, I guess.

LA should have rebuilt the public schools. They won't turn kids away.

Charter Bashing ... by mentioning the truth?

The whole idea of a charter school is that you take off the blinders and the restrictions and let them thrive.  Giving them freedom from "Big Government" and all those repressive regulations, as the thinking goes, means that they can succeed in educating all students much better than the public schools.  The proof usually includes whichever KIPP school is doing well that year (ignoring those that are embroiled in a lawsuit, not making sufficient progress, etc.) and, of course, New Orleans which was liberated by Katrina. (or something like that.)

Then you read:
One of the most exhaustive studies of charter performance, from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found 37 percent of charter schools “deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.” About half produced similar outcomes to public schools, with just 17 percent outperforming public schools (Extra!, 8/09).
If all charter schools have the advantage of running free, why aren't all of them out-performing public schools? If they can choose their students, skim off and keep the best performers and eliminate the troublemakers, teach in any way they choose, shouldn't the standard be "If a charter school doesn't beat the public school, it will be immediately closed?" 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Psychologists say NO to Learning Styles

I'll have to read the rest of this NYTimes article carefully, but this paragraph stood out:
Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.
Hallelujah. Striking and disturbing, indeed.

What Teachers Need from Administrators.

Dangerously Irrelevant has the beginning post of a series on what teachers want from administrators. Though I agree with some of this gentleman's points, there is some contradiction in what Brian Crosby says.

I agree with him when he wants teachers to have more say in professional development. No wasted meetings. This should be obvious, but isn't. Admin who haven't taught in years should temper their advice. Schools should hire teachers and then expect them to be teachers - stop second guessing all the time. Accountability is good if you allow the teachers to teach. If you require they follow a script, then hold the script accountable.

Absolutely: Change for its own sake is stupid. Adopting the gee-whiz Fad of the Month from a summer admin workshop while instituting a new math curriculum, new science curriculum, and new Common Core Standards only ruins any chance of knowing whether any reforms were successful. Maybe it's a science mindset, but you should only change one variable at a time if you want to isolate cause.

"Research" in education is often inapplicable to the school. Apply with care. Read the damn paper before you try to implement the hype in the newspaper report of the University press release of the heavily hedged Executive Summary. Don't expect the 150 college students in the study to behave in the same way as your high-schoolers.

When you make changes, you should be "experimenting" properly. Measure before and after. Have a control group. Add your data to that of the study. Isolate variables. Either track the proposed change scientifically or accept the fact that you are playing Russian Roulette with kids who won't get another chance at a high school education.

I'm not so thrilled with the idea of 2 weeks in the beginning of the year for planning - seems like too much and wouldn't be well used by the faculty. It's a nice idea in theory, but details go out the window at first contact with students. Besides, I like having the summer.

A big sticking point for me is the reform contradiction and I felt that his message lost its way.

Saying "Changing course constantly is very bad," he wants to stay away from the Summertime Fad and avoid jumping on the research-based fad. Then he wants to explore non-research-based pedagogies (i.e., fads), change to 21st century tech and wants his admin to "BEG for creativity and innovation." Which is it?

"Creativity and innovation" are euphemisms for "summer workshop fad" except for frame of reference. Is it always a fad if your admin proposes it but realistic and wonderful if it came from your own 6-hour workshop? Brian is tripping down this staircase.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

or, "Those who do not backup the past are condemned to re-type it."

Darren was talking about his new backup system, which included a new computer and I figured I'd repeat what works really well for me. I have a good computer at home, loaded with a bunch of software and a basic machine at school that is connected to the smart board.  I do not have any other tech toys and only a basic LG phone.

I have two 8GB thumbdrives (e.g., from You could get them from Amazon, too.) "MY Documents" has a folder for academic videos and another for academic files. These two folders are synchronized with the two thumbdrives every day or so. At school I run everything off the two thumb drives, leaving nothing on the school's network. When I return home, I synchronize and thus never go more than a couple days without a simple backup.

For all my other files, I have an external USB drive (400GB, from Staples, Amazon, and many other places, ~$70)  This is connected about once a month or so and backs up ALL my files, including the academic ones, mail folders and system files.  Except for the mail folders, there's little on the home computer other than academic stuff that changes often so I'm okay there.

If you don't have a similar plan yet, you should start.

Reform, Deform, Conform.

The other day, it was announced that Vermont had the highest scores in the nation for FRL kids. And was graded "D" by the same organization for not reforming itself enough. Joanne Jacobs: Vermont. Good results, weak reforms
In ALEC’s Report Card on American Education, Vermont is ranked first in the nation for educating low-income children, but gets a D on its reform policies. Well, maybe Vermont doesn’t need to reform. Massachusetts, second in performance, gets a C; Florida, ranked third, gets ALEC’s highest reform grade, a B+.
What I've seen and heard most, in the math network meetings and the professional development et cetera ad infinitum, is that the powers that be don't have much in the way of vision. We keep getting told "Reform" but no one ever specifies "To What?" or "In what way?"

That's right. The goal is the change itself. We are never given any other goal. I have been told point-blank that the State will never recommend any program or project or method of teaching, but they want us to change nonetheless. When we finish the change, we are supposed to change again. That's why so many of us resist and it seems to have paid off, at least for some of our kids.

New Policies that will work SO well ...

It's goofy season again in our district, the time when rules are made to be broken, then changed. Last week the announcement was made that "all students who live in (one of our sending towns) would be dismissed from last period five minutes early to ride the bus." No one else.

That'll work.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

1969 Norton Commando

Got this from the web. Brings back memories of my '66 Tiger. Wish I'd kept that bike but was offered too much to turn down so I sold it. I can totally relate to this guy ...

Video: The Norton Project
'This is a story about how me and my brother stole our fathers 1969 Norton Commando, had it restored and then gave it back to him for Christmas. He had no idea.'

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

About that Longer School Year Idea

It's at this time of year, when the temperature in the building is above 90° and the only fans are ones the teachers bring in from home, that you begin to understand why school leaders in the 1800s decided to take the summer off. It is also about this time -- although late June is also hot around here -- that I really wish the reformers would shut the hell up.