More on McLeroy’s war on Texas English students

May 25, 2008

The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the Texas State Board of Education meetings this week is not well indexed on the web. Following a couple of odd links I found Gary Sharrar’s article (he’s the Chronicle’s education reporter), though the Associated Press Story shows up for the paper’s main article on most indices I found.

Sharrar adds a few details of Kommissar McLeroy’s war on English education, but the significant thing about the story is in the comments, I think. One poster appears to have details that are unavailable even from TEA. Partisans in the fight have details that Texas law requires to be made public in advance of the meetings, while the state officials who need to advise on the regulations and carry them out, do not.

TEA has an expensive website with full capabilities of publishing these documents within moments of their passage. As of Sunday morning, TEA’s website still shows the documents from last March. Surely Texas is not getting its value from TEA on this stuff.

Sharrar wrote:

Two different outside groups offered opposite reactions. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank, favored the board’s action.

“It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren’t learning the basics with our current curriculum,” said Foundation education policy analyst Brooke Terry. “We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills.”

Texas public schools fail to adequately prepare many students for college or the workplace, she said, citing a 2006 survey by the Conference Board found that 81 percent of employers viewed recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” needed for letters, memos, formal reports and technical reports.

But the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.

“College ready” generally means reading well, and reading broadly in literature. From a pedagogical standpoint, emphasizing “grammar and writing skills” over the reading that is proven to improve grammar and writing skills will be a losing battle. I hope the details of the plan will show something different when TEA ever makes them available to the taxpaying/education consuming public and English teachers. NCLB asks that such changes be backed by solid research — it will be fascinating to see whether there is any research to support the Texas plan (not that it matters; this section of NCLB has been ignored by the right wing from the moment NCLB was signed).

Prior to this week’s series of meetings, Commissar McLeroy expressed what sounds like disdain for reading in the English curriculum to the El Paso Times:

But chairman McLeroy said he would fight against some of the measures the educators want, especially the comprehension and fluency portion.

Their suggestions, he said, would have students waste time on repetitive comprehension strategies instead of actually practicing reading by taking in a rich variety of literature.

“I think that time is going to be lost because they’ll be reading some story, and they’ll just overanalyze,” he said.

By the way, calling the Texas Public Policy Foundation a “free market think tank” is misleading. The group is quite hostile to public education, and features on its board several people who have led fights to gut funding for public schools and impose bleed-the-schools voucher programs. The Foundation appears to endorse preaching in public schools and gutting science standards, among other problems.

If it’s good work, why is it done in secret? Remember that I spent years in right wing spin work in Washington. Here’s what I see: Either McLeroy’s administration at the state board is incredibly incompetent and can’t even get the good news right, and out on time, or there is another, darker and probably illegal agenda at work.

Below the fold, the full text of the comment from “WG1″ at the Chronicle’s website.

Other resources:

Read the rest of this entry »


Texas education board turns authoritarian

May 24, 2008

Nobody can recall the ceremony, but Don McLeroy made it clear yesterday that he thinks he’s been designated Kommissar of Education, ramming through a proposal altering English standards for the next decade — without debate, without even a chance to read the proposal.

It’s probably not so bad a pig in a poke as it might be — of course, no one had the chance to review it, so no one knows, really — but the processes used, worthy of Napoleon or Kruschev on a bad day, should give cause for concern.

Gotta think about this one for a while.


Graduation 2008, part 1

May 24, 2008

Today is graduation day for some of my seniors, at the school where I teach. It’s a wonderful affair, and it will be good to see them off on the next step, ceremonial though it is.

The chaos caused by graduation in this district cannot be minimized, for an odd scheduling reason. Today the seniors graduate. Tuesday, we’re back in class with everyone else, with a couple of days of instruction and finals yet to go. It’s nice to have the seniors gone — the halls are much easier to navigate, the juniors are already stepping up, the sophomores and freshmen suddenly realize the work they do leads to something — but the schedule seems out of whack.

I’m trying to adapt.

This year our family has multiple graduations — well, two. Younger son James graduates in a bit over a week, assuming he gets in a mass of work in classes that appeared after the state tests (for which he was exempt because he passed them all the previous year), and after more AP tests than I thought humanly possible.

James’ school held a ceremony and reception for the top 11% of the graduates, 75 kids who may be in the top 10% (a magic number in Texas because it guarantees admission to Texas colleges). Texas colleges won a majority of the plans of the graduates, but there was an impressive number of students off to out-of-state schools of high repute. (James is off to Lawrence, in Wisconsin.)

I wake up in a cold sweat. Clearly we must have done something right, as parents of graduating kids, as teachers of graduating kids. What was it?


Jihad for Love – in New York City this week (take 2)

May 23, 2008

How very, very odd. I had a post up, and it disappeared.

This is a recreation, as much as I can.

If you’re in New York City this week, go see this movie. It’s got a great producer, a fellow I know only through the Louis August Jonas Foundation. It has a good director, and a few very good reviews. And it covers a topic of surpassing importance.

Below, the press release from the producer, Sandi DuBowski, and other resources.

A Jihad For Love Launches U.S. Theatrical Release at IFC Center in New York from May 21st – June 4th – Two Weeks Only!

Buy your ticket online at http://www.ifccenter.com/film?filmid=38472.
Box Office: 212.924.7771 323 Sixth Avenue (at W. 3rd St. )

“CRITIC’S PICK! BRAVE…EYE-OPENING!”
- New York Magazine

“REVEALING AND MOVING…A GIFTED FILMMAKER!”
-Wall Street Journal

“COURAGEOUS!”
-The Guardian

“LIFTS THE VEIL OF SECRECY…FRANKLY BRAVE!”
-NPR Talk of the Nation

Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world’s second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.

Produced by Sharma and Sandi DuBowski (director of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d), A Jihad for Love was filmed over 5 years in 12 countries and 9 languages and comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, it reclaims the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, whose true meaning is akin to ‘an inner struggle’ or ‘to strive in the path of God.’ In doing so the film and its remarkable subjects move beyond the narrow concept of ‘Jihad‘ as holy war.

www.ajihadforlove.com

After Premieres in 15 countries, being banned in Singapore , selling out everywhere including India and Turkey and five international awards, the film comes to the U.S. and NYC.

We need people to show up during our NYC theatrical run in very large numbers. Bookers across the country will be looking at the success of the film at the NYC Box Office to determine its life everywhere else in the country. If you come the first five days, you can significantly impact the film’s theatrical life in the U.S. and other countries.

Joining director/producer Parvez Sharma and producer Sandi DuBowski in the theater are Imam Muhsin Hendricks, the first openly gay imam from Cape Town , South Africa and Mazen from Egypt/France, featured stars of the film and Faisal Alam, the founder of Al-Fatiha.

We will turn the cinema into a town hall – for debate, change and transformation. Visit http://www.ajihadforlove.com/screenings_D.html for our dazzling line-up of Q & A’s and forums on Islam, Human Rights, South Asian Sexualities, Interfaith such as

Thursday, May 22nd, 7 PM & 9.30 PM
Evening with Sholay and A Jihad for Love Team

Friday, May 23rd, 7pm
Dialogue with Progressive Muslims Meet Up Group

Saturday, May 24th, 5:05pm, 7pm, 9:30pm
Human Rights Watch and Scott Long present in association with A Jihad for Love: Before the Crusade Passes By: Trapped in the middle of a “clash of civilizations.”

Sunday, May 25th, 7 PM and 9.30 PM
Films for Change

… Looking forward to seeing you there!

May 21st – May 29th Show Times: 11:20am, 1:15pm, 3:10pm, 5:05pm, 7:00pm and 9:30pm

Q & A’s and forums with Parvez, Sandi, Muhsin, Mazen, Faisal, and others after 7pm & 9:30pm shows

Get Involved! Here are some ways you can support this film:

Right Now:

* Purchase tickets online for The IFC Center
* Post a link to www.ajihadforlove.com and www.ajihadforlove.blogspot.com on your blog

Support The Cause:

* Donate to our International Muslim Dialogue Project at http://www.ajihadforlove.com/donate.html

Watch A Jihad for Love trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78jUBRio3So

Listen to Parvez Sharma on NPR‘s The Takeaway at http://www.thetakeaway.org/archives/2008/05/19/3

Best,

Sandi DuBowski
Producer, A Jihad for Love
Director/Producer, Trembling Before G-d

Parvez Sharma
Director/Producer, A Jihad for Love

Other resources:


Live blogging conferences: Physics!

May 23, 2008

Our Italian friend at A Quantum Diaries Survivor is in Albuquerque for PPC08 — don’t ask me what that stands for, but it’s a physics conference.  More, he found another physicist blogging away:  World o Science.

If you’re interested in science research, check it out.  Some of the posts are terribly technical — I don’t understand them, so I’ll have to get one of our sons to explain it to me — but you can catch the drift of what’s going on.  Tommaso also offers a few photos of the Albuquerque area and Sandia Peak, worth the click alone.

It’s a good model of what some of us should do more of (yeah, this is self-flagellation).

Some samples:


Where I confess I may have been wrong about some Mormons

May 22, 2008

Some of my earliest and best biology professors were Mormons — Latter-day Saints, or LDS — and from them and a few others I learned that LDS beliefs not only do not cut against evolution, preaching against evolution is “false doctrine” in the faith, since there has never been a revelation against evolution to the LDS prophets.

On the board of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has long sat Duane Jeffery, a devout Mormon and long-time supporter of evolution as a professor of biology at Brigham Young University.

But as we know from the Methodist and Presbyterian and Catholic and other examples, official church doctrine doesn’t prevent members of the churches from jettisoning their reason when they discuss evolution and demonstrate a failure to understand even the basics of the simple theory. Mormons aren’t immune there, either.  Alas.

Here’s an LDS blog where the authors are trying to argue that “philosophically,” creationism should be taught alongside evolution, since it’s a “better” myth than science. Or something like that. All that high-falutin’ use of six-syllable words, e.g., epistemology, makes me think that the words don’t mean what the authors think they mean, especially when the authors then go on to make foolish claims based on something they think they’ve “proven” logically. My tolerance of six-syllable words has been reduced by dealing with actual laws, I think.

Or perhaps, as I suspect, they’re just trying to claim that pigs fly.

“Knowledge is the glory of God” is what I remember* one engraving over one entrance to the campus of Brigham Young University, except when the epistemology is found to be offensive, or something.

You might do well to check out these posts, and other resources:

* “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36)


Strange Maps lets things drift – ducky!

May 21, 2008

Strange Maps jumped onto the duck bandwagon I mentioned some weeks ago. Nice maps of the drift of the rubber ducks that fell off the ship in the Pacific in 1992.

These ducks have been tracked for longer than some of our geography students have been alive. There’s got to be in that story somewhere a great set of lesson plans on ocean currents, oceanography, geography and science.

Pamela Bumsted gave us the goods on this story long ago:

“Wired Science” on PBS has video, and links to other materials (see the slide show), covering all sorts of flotsam tracking projects (Nike’s shoes seem to be better floaters than the ducks — doesn’t that threaten some old adages about ducks and water?). And this video introduces the serious issues of lost and discarded plastics drifting in the oceans. Floating plastic is a major polluter, not just an eyesore, but also a major hazard to marine wildlife, including especially turtles and birds. (There are projects in that topic, I’m sure.)

from www.pbs.org posted with vodpod

The deniers of global warming will be unhappy to see the accuracy with which the ocean currents were predicted, 15 years ago.

29,000 ducks went overboard; only about 1,000 have been found since. Lots of research to be done on beaches out there — fortunately, summer’s coming (hint, hint).

Other resources, courtesy of Wired Science’s site:

Other resources:


Good teachers make the difference

May 19, 2008

A New York Times editorial last week came very close to getting it right on teachers, teacher hiring, teacher retention, and teacher pay.

To maintain its standing as an economic power, the United States must encourage programs that help students achieve the highest levels in math and science, especially in poor communities where the teacher corps is typically weak.

The National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group, has called for an ambitious program to retrain current teachers in these disciplines and attract 10,000 new ones each year for the foreseeable future. These are worthy goals. But a new study from a federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington suggests that the country might raise student performance through programs like Teach for America, a nonprofit group that places high-achieving college graduates in schools that are hard to staff.

Recruiting high-achievers, across the board and not just with the help of a flagship do-gooder program, will require that starting salaries be competitive with those jobs where people of high caliber flock.  Education competes with accounting, law, medicine and other high-paying professions for the best people. 

If Milton Friedman and Adam Smith were right, that most people act rather rationally in their own interests, economically, which jobs will get the best people?

Teaching is the only profession I can think of where the administrators and other leaders threaten to fire the current teachers, work to keep working conditions low and unsatisfactory, and say that more money will come only after championship performance. 

There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t cursed George Steinbrenner and said that he or she could run the Yankees better.  Whenever he opens his checkbook, the nation howls.  And yet, year in an year out, the Yankees win. 

Is there any fool alive who thinks Steinbrenner could do what he does by cutting pay, not cleaning the locker room, and drafting the cheapest players he could find?  Were we to assume Steinbrenner the world’s most famous lousy boss, there are a million education administrators who would need to step it up to get to Steinbrenner’s level.

As Utah Phillips famously said, graduates are about to be told they are the nation’s greatest natural resource — but have you seen how this nation treats its natural resources?

Oh, I miss Molly Ivins.


Any McCain defenders out there?

May 19, 2008

Stumbled into this post, “McCain’s YouTube Problem Just Became a Nightmare.”

To now, I’ve just had policy differences with McCain, and much admiration for his having gone through his prison experiences while maintaining a high degree of balance. The video is damning. Is it accurate?

Any McCain defenders out there who can make the case against what the video seems to say?


Strange bed bugs

May 18, 2008

You can’t make this stuff up.

Alaska’s lone congressman cosponsored a bill last week to provide help to the states to inspect hotels and motels for bed bugs. Chief sponsor is Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina. H.R. 6068 was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The title: The Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008.

While an Alaskan newspaper noticed the bill, neither chief sponsor Butterfield nor any cosponsor submitted a statement accompanying introduction, nor have they put out a press release. The blog NY vs Bed Bugs is all over it already.

Funny title but serious business? Can’t tell. Watch that space.

Full text of the bill below the fold.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Bumsted.

Read the rest of this entry »


Crazy? Don’t insult the real Tin Hats, please!

May 17, 2008

Okay, we can’t say we’re “Fisking” stuff anymore, since Fisk turned out to be mostly right. And now, we may have to retire all of our clever epithets about tinfoil hats. It’s pretty close to “Tin Hats,” and that tends to especially insult Tin Hats, and especially-especially insult the Memorable Order of the Tin Hats (MOTH).

It’s appropriate, so close to Armed Forces Day (May 17), to do something to help out MOTH, as it is an organization dedicated to preserving the fraternité developed by soldiers. One British soldier, craving to keep hold of that camraderie born of desperation and peril, founded MOTH in Africa in the 1930s.

So, henceforth, we’ll make sure there’s a clear distinction between Tin Hats and the wearers of hats of tinfoil.

How came they to be called Tin Hats? Those helmets, you know — like tin!

WWI Doughboy, Montrose NY sculpture garden

Photo: Sculpture of a World War I soldier in a tin hat, from the Montrose, New York, sculpture garden.


Popular idea: Honor the soldiers, sailors and airmen

May 17, 2008

Interesting. The hottest post on this blog today is the one I wrote about honoring Armed Forces Day — last year! The post for Armed Forces Day this year is up there, too.

One of the lessons of Vietnam is that we need to honor our soldiers who go to defend the nation, even when the wars may be of dubious origin. The dubious origins of war cannot be blamed on the soldiers, sailors and airmen who go to do their duty, and they are the ones who can redeem the nation from a disastrous foreign policy, if anyone can.

Love the serviceman, hate the war. Honor the soldier, work on the politicians to change the policy. It’s a workable arrangement that honors good people for doing noble service.

Remember: Memorial Day honors those who died in service to the country; Veterans Day honors the veterans who came back, having served. Armed Forces Day honors those who serve today.

Fly your flag today.


DDT for bedbugs: Waste of mental space

May 17, 2008

DDT doesn’t work on bedbugs.  Here are the facts, at NY vs Bed Bugs.


Business, no environmentalists, oppose DDT in Africa

May 16, 2008

Steve Milloy and an entire host of DDT denialists hope you never read any newspaper from Africa.  Your ignorance is their best argument.

If you don’t read African newspapers, they can continue to blame environmentalists for any case of malaria that occurs in Africa.  They’ll claim, though it’s not true, that environmentalists urged a complete ban on the use of DDT.  They’ll argue, falsely, that African governments were bullied into not using DDT by environmentalists, ignoring the fact that some African nations have just never been able to get their kit together to conduct an anti-malaria campaign, while other nations discovered DDT was ineffective — and most of the nations have no love for environmentalists anyway (Idi Amin?  Jomo Kenyatta?  Who does Milloy think he’s kidding?).

If you don’t read African newspapers, you’ll miss stories like this one, from the Daily Times in Malawi, that say it’s Milloy’s old friends in the tobacco business who stand in the way of modest use of DDT.

If you don’t read African newspapers, you’ll miss stories like this one, from New Vision in Kampala, Uganda, that say it’s the cotton farmers who stand in the way of modest use of DDT.

If Steven Milloy wanted to get DDT used against malaria in Africa, in indoor residual spraying (IRS) campaigns, all he has to do is pick up the phone and ask his friends to allow it to be done. 

Someone who will lie to you about their friends’ misdeeds, and try to pin it on a nice old lady like Rachel Carson, will go Charles Colson one better:  They’ll walk over your grandmother to do what they want to do.  In fact, they’ll go out of their way to walk over your grandmother.

The New Republic seems to have come around to get the story straight.  Truth wins in a fair fight — it’s a fight to make sure the fight is fair, though.

John Stossel?  Your company doesn’t get tobacco money any more.  What’s your excuse?  Do you really believe the Bush administration is beholden to environmentalists on this one issue?  How long have you been covering politics?

(Texts of news stories below the fold.)

Read the rest of this entry »


DDT blast from the past: 1951

May 16, 2008

DDT denialists like Steven Milloy like to paint Rachel Carson as a lone, cranky and crackpot voice in the wilderness against DDT (never mind how that makes the DDT industry look, unable to use facts and the $500,000 public relations campaign to get their message out).

It’s not so. As Carson noted, concerns about DDT were raised early, and often.

The Dallas Public Library makes available much of the news from the Dallas Morning News of the last century. On my way to find something else, I plugged in “DDT” as a search term. Among other articles that popped up was a May 9, 1951 story of Texas scientists warning a Congressional committee of the harms of DDT.

“Hazard to health,” was the flying head, “Renner Scientist Cites DDT Harm.” The story, by the News’ Washington Bureau reporter Ruth Schumm, covered a hearing before an unnamed committee of the House, “investigating the use of chemicals in foods.”  (Where was the copy editor on that one?)

John M. Dendy of the Texas Research Foundation delivered the testimony.  Dendy worked out of the Foundation’s laboratory in Renner.  Renner was an independent community then, located south of Renner, west of Coit, and north of Campbell Roads (no, it’s not there today). 

Studies in the foundation’s laboratories at Renner, Dallas County, have proved that DDT and other chemicals are now causing mass contamination of milk, meat and other foods, Dendy said.

Dendy said that crops absorb the DDT sprayed on them — still true, and more problematic since it’s been discovered that DDT is also damaging to some plants — and animals that graze the crops get that dosage.  Dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep were the chief animals mentioned.

Even though the Texas State Health Department has ruled that no DDT should be present in milk comsumed by human beings, DDT is showing up in the Dallas milk supply even in December, long past the usual season for spraying with insecticides.  About half of the Dallas milk supply is imported from Oklahoma, Missouri and Wisconsin, he said.

*  *  *  *  *

In the Texas Research Foundation tests, the degree of contamination ranged from 3.10 parts per million in lean meat to 68.55 parts per million in fat meat, Dendy testified. 

In milk, the DDT conamination ranged from less than .5 parts per million to 13.83 parts per million.

Dendy testified that so far as he knew, the exact effects of such poisoning on human beings has not yet been established.

Dendy warned in his testimony that DDT builds up over time in “human and animal fat tissue,” so the dangers to human health become greater as the exposure grows over time.

The worried Congressmen wanted to know if there is a substitute for DDT.

Dendy said he was not working on that problem, but he knew others were.

Notably absent from the hearing was the committee chairman, Rep. James J. Delaney, D-NY, according to the list offered by the DMN.  That’s right:  Delaney was the one who, in 1957, got his amendment passed to the Safe Food and Drug Act, the organic act for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) making it illegal to use anything known to be carcinogenic as a food additive (DDT doesn’t count, because it’s not a food additive, but a food contaminant, which is regulated not by the FDA, but by the Department of Agriculture).

So, in 1951, before Rachel Carson had left the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 11 years prior to the publication of her book Silent Spring, 21 years before the EPA banned use of DDT on crops, conservative scientists from Texas were alerting Congress to the dangers of DDT.

It’s in the history books.  You can look it up.

Read the rest of this entry »


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