NY story: More money = better schools, better tests

June 24, 2008

Headlines across New York this morning shout about improved test scores, especially in reading and math, almost across the board. Scores are up in the “troubled” schools of New York City (and in the less-mentioned untroubled schools), scores are up in Buffalo. The news is so universally good that some are worried about statistical goofs, or cheating.

And while most economists with the possible exception of Milton Friedman would think it’s not news, some people point out that scores are up in poorer districts that got more money for educational programs.

At a news conference in Albany, the state education commissioner, Richard P. Mills, called the results “encouraging and exciting,” saying they were evidence that the state’s emphasis on giving more money to poorer school districts and focusing on high standards was successful. “The schools have delivered,” he said. (New York Times)

The War on Education continues unabated, however. The headline in the New York Daily News: “State math and reading exam scores released; critics question improvements.”

A beleaguered parent commented at the Daily News site:

our children are forced to do homework over weekends, Christmas vacation, winter break, spring break, etc. to prepare for these tests – their scores are up because they’ve worked hard all year!

If we’re wise, we’ll applaud the students and teachers, and we’ll wait for a lot more analysis. NYC Educator? JD2718? Is this good news for teachers in New York? Good news from teachers?

Update, June 26: NYC Educator takes note, “Test Scores Explode Statewide.”  JD2718, “Integrated Algebra Conversion Chart, Later Today.” Also:

Other notes and resources:

Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children

June 23, 2008

This is the device Ohio teacher John Freshwater was using to shock students and brand them with crosses: A BD-10A high-frequency generator tester for leak detection, from Electro-Technic Products, Inc.:

   BD10ASV  OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch

BD-10A high frequency generator tester leak detector, from Electro-Technic Products.  “BD10ASV OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch”

As described at the company’s website:

  • Model BD-10A is the standard tester
  • Model BD-10AS features a momentary ON/OFF switch
  • OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz

The company also offers a line of instruments for teaching science — notably absent from that part of the catalog is this shocking device (literally).

Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied. Standard middle school lab safety rules would suggest that it should never be used to “test” a human for leaks. Such voltages are designed to produce sparks. Sparks do not always behave as one expects, or hopes. High voltages may make cool looking sparks, but the effects of high voltage jolts differ from person to person. It may be harmful.

“We have instructions to warn people that it’s not a toy,” said Cuzelis, who owns Electro-Technic Products in Chicago. “If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that’s a clear misuse of the product.”

Cuzelis said he is not aware of anyone seriously hurt with the device and said that his company has never been sued for injuries.

What sort of lab safety rules did Freshwater have for other experiments?

If you discovered your child’s science teacher had this device, designed to produce high-voltage sparks to highlight holes in rubber and plastic liners of tanks, would you be concerned? If you know what should go on in a science class, you’d know there is probably little use for such a device in a classroom. It’s been described as a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils of extremely small voltages can be safe. They should be safe. But one occasionally finds a safety warning, such as this generalized note at Wikipedia:

Even lower power vacuum tube or solid state Tesla Coils can deliver RF currents that are capable of causing temporary internal tissue, nerve, or joint damage through Joule heating. In addition, an RF arc can carbonize flesh, causing a painful and dangerous bone-deep RF burn that may take months to heal. Because of these risks, knowledgeable experimenters avoid contact with streamers from all but the smallest systems. Professionals usually use other means of protection such as a Faraday cage or a chain mail suit to prevent dangerous currents from entering their body.

Freshwater was using a solid state Tesla coil, if I understand the news articles correctly. Knowing that these sparks can cause deep tissue and bone damage in extreme cases, I suspect that I would not allow students to experience shocks as a normal course of a science classroom, especially from an industrial device not designed with multiple safety escapes built in.

Freshwater had been zapping students for years.

Here is a classic photo of what a Tesla coil does, a much larger coil than that used by John Freshwater, and a photo not from any classroom; from Mega Volt:

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

There is nothing in the Ohio science standards to suggest regular use of a Tesla coil in contact with students performs any educational function.

I offer this background to suggest that the normal classroom procedures designed to ensure the safety of students were not well enforced in Freshwater’s classrooms, nor was there adequate attention paid to the material that should have been taught in the class.

The teacher, John Freshwater, has been dismissed by his local school board. Freshwater supporters argue that this is a case of religious discrimination, because Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk.

Among the complaints are that he burned crosses onto the arms of students with the high-voltage leak detector shown above. This gives an entirely new and ironic meaning to the phrase “cross to bear.”

Cafe Philos wrote the most succinct summary of the case I have found, “The Firing of John Freshwater.” Discussion at that site has been robust. Paul Sunstone included photos of one of the students’ arms showing injuries from the schocks. He also included links to news stories that will bring you up to date.

Amazingly, this misuse of an electrical device may not be the most controversial point. While you and I may think this physical abuse goes beyond the pale, Freshwater has defenders who claim he was just trying to instill Biblical morality in the kids, as if that would excuse any of these actions. Over at Cafe Philos, I’ve been trying to explain just why it is that Freshwater does not have a First Amendment right to teach religion in his science class. There is another commenter with the handle “Atheist” who acts for all the world like a sock puppet for anti-First Amendment forces, i.e., not exactly defending a rational atheist position.

Below the fold I reproduce one of my answers to questions Atheist posed. More resources at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Louisiana creationists gear up campaign to deceive students

June 20, 2008

My earlier post urging readers to contact Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to urge him to veto the latest creationist eruption the Louisiana Lege gave him, produced an interesting comment. A fellow named Wayne provided links to a presentation by some guy named Perry Marshall, in which Marshall flails vainly against evolution theory.  The video is billed as one the Louisiana Coalition for Science “fears.”  Wayne wants to know, should we keep children from seeing it?

Marshall apparently isn’t even an engineer, but instead designs ads for internet placement — at least one step removed from the usual joke about engineers as creationists. Of course, that doesn’t help any of his arguments.

Wayne linked to three YouTube presentations, about half of the presentation Marshall made at an unidentified church (there are five segments total, I gather). What you see is bad PowerPoint slides, with audio. Marshall suggests that evolution couldn’t get from the American pronghorn antelope to the African giraffe, but in classic creationist form, he doesn’t address the unique signs of evolution we find in giraffes (neck, vagus nerve, for example) nor in pronghorns (bred for speed to beat the American cheetah, which is now extinct, and thereby hangs a great tale of sleuthing by evolution).

Marshall’s presentation is insulting. To me as a historian, it’s astounding how he can’t accurately list sequences of events well known to history. The science errors he makes are errors any 7th-grade student might make — but he’s passing them off as valid criticism of evolution theory.

Here’s the first YouTube presentation, and below the fold, my response to Wayne.

These presentations are an omen. They are sent to us as a warning for what the Discovery Institute will try to sneak into classrooms if Jindal signs that bill into law — heck, they’ll try anyway, but we don’t have to drill holes in our kids’ heads to make it easier for con men and snake oil salesmen to get their fingers in there.

My response below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Louisiana lashes out at science

June 19, 2008

“Stop the World! I Want to Get Off!” won a Tony Award on Broadway in 1963. It was a musical play about a fellow who overreached. With book and lyrics by Leslie Bricuse and Anthony Newly, it spawned a string of hit popular songs: “What Kind of Fool Am I?” “Gonna Climb a Mountain,” “Once in a Lifetime,” and “Mumbo Jumbo” among them.

Oh, why not: Update, here’s Sammy Davis, Jr., singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?”:

How can one know that history and not think of it, when looking at the current Louisiana legislature? What kind of fools are they, indeed? Louisiana would like the world to stop, so they can get off.

Progress and science so much offend the Louisiana legislature that they have carved out what they hope is an exception so teachers can avoid hard science on issues like reproduction (cloning), evolution, and that pesky weather stuff that ransacked New Orleans, global warming. Sitting on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk right now is the enrolled version of S. B. 733, the misnamed “Science Education Act,” which gives teachers and local school districts the right to deviate from state curriculum and science texts in those three areas.

Why not the Big Bang and other cosmology? Why not gravity? Why not algebra? It may be that Louisiana’s preachers don’t know about those areas of science. Shhhhh! Don’t tell them!

A few observations.

First, having been slapped down by federal courts repeatedly when they’ve tried to introduce religion into science classes before, the legislature seems to have learned not to say much, in hopes that federal courts will have difficulty determining the religious intentions behind the bill. In 1987, in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, federal courts didn’t even get to trial. They simply took the statements of the legislators as to their religious intentions.

This time around, the bill is being passed without debate at all. Legislators obviously hope that if they say nothing, they can’t be held responsible for anything. Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubts — and obviously, there is hope among Louisiana creationists that federal courts won’t be able to use their closed-mouthedness as to evidence their foolishness. Well, they may want to consider that intelligent design has been ruled religious dogma by a federal court, already.

Second, the legislature’s learnings seem limited to bellicose speeches. The courts have repeatedly struck down Louisiana’s yearnings to teach creationism, both statewide, and repeatedly in the Tangipahoa Parish schools, which tried warning labels on textbooks and a variety of other methods, losing in court each time. It’s not just the ravings of the legislators that get up the dander of the courts. When the laws that come out of the ravings offend the Constitution, especially the First Amendment, the courts have struck them down. It’s not enough to just play at being non-offensive: The actions of the legislature must also not violate the Constitution. They appear not to have figured that one out. (More remedial con law courses coming up? Perhaps.)

The state should just let science be taught. Sneaking religion in does no good for the students, and it’s no secret that’s what they’re doing.

Third, the bill wasn’t drafted by people with much experience drafting legislation, running schools, or defending the Constitution. The bill could be used in some districts to teach nothing but evolution. It opens the door for anything a local school board decides might be science in three specific areas, cloning, evolution and global warming. Fruitcake groups like Ken Ham’s “Answers in Genesis” will rush to produce materials noting the accuracy of Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones.” Kids could be allowed to watch cartoons and call it science. In contrast, teachers who don’t understand the science in the first place will probably have few sources to turn to for good science information. Maybe one way to kill the law would be to point out that this thing opens the door wide for the theology of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (may his noodly appendage . . . well, you know).

What you should do: The Louisiana Coalition for Science urges Gov. Jindal to veto the bill; you should call Jindal’s office and urge a veto, too.

You can send e-mail here.

You can mail, or telephone, here:

Mailing Address:

Governor Bobby Jindal
PO Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)
Fax: 225-342-7099

Other sources:

Text of the bill below the fold.

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Pay kids to go to school

June 6, 2008

What if we gave students a paycheck just to attend school?  Some people are serious about it.  Some authorities are actually doing it.  High-level, if theoretical, discussion at the Becker-Posner Blog.

(That’s Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker, and law professor and federal Judge Richard Posner.)

Texans want McLeroy gone, too

May 26, 2008

Texans who ought to know want Education Commissar Don McLeroy out, too — P. Z. Myers (“Fire Don McLeroy”) is not the only one.

In a letter reported in only one newspaper I’ve found, The Houston Chronicle, State Board of Education member Mary Helen Baranga of Corpus Christi asked Gov. Rick Perry to fire McLeroy.

Don McLeroy “has created havoc” as chairman of the State Board of Education and should be replaced, the senior member of the board said in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry.

“It is such a shame that after all these years of trying to improve public education in Texas, we are taking steps backwards because of Don McElroy,” Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi said in her letter to Perry, misspelling McLeroy’s name.

Berlanga, who has been on the 15-member board since 1984, said McLeroy’s leadership has been a disaster and asked Perry to replace him with “a moderate conservative who can work with all members of the State Board of Education and the citizens of this state.”

Gov. Perry said the SBOE should deal with the issues.

Has Perry forgotten what office he holds?   Nuts.

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 »

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.

The 1,200 teacher challenge

May 9, 2008

Dallas Morning News education blog reports the Dallas ISD needs to hire 1,200 new teachers by next fall — about 200 more than usual. 

We have great kids, we have a very good department, and Dallas pays better than most of the suburban districts in the area.  Vacancies existed through most of the school year.  Good candidates went other places.  It’s frustrating.

I’ll wager the hiring process would go faster, and work better, if teacher pay in Dallas were $5,000 higher.  I’d wager, as an administrator, that the $5,000/year raise for teachers would provide greater savings in hiring, tutoring, testing, and all other areas of academic performance.

But, then, I think supply/demand economics often works.  What do I know?

Two million minute challenge

May 9, 2008

Just over two weeks to graduation, son James is concerned about global competitiveness.  He’s off to study physics at Lawrence University in the fall; he is insistent I note the news in the paper this week.  I still have an active  stake in public schools, after all — good call, James.  Here’s his concern, below.

Each child has two million minutes of life over the four years of high school. Whether the U.S. can remain competitive in the global economy depends more than ever on how each child allocates those two million minutes.

A new film raises concerns that U.S. children are losing out against students from India and China.

Dallas Morning News business reporter Jim Landers wrote about the movie, “Two Million Minutes,” in an article May 6. It’s an indication of something that this is front page in the business section — an indication of genuine concern, one may hope.

Science and mathematics education gets the major attention in the film. One wishes this film could compete with the anti-science film “Expelled!” which still lingers malodrously in a few theatres across the nation.

Landers wrote:

2 Million Minutes argues that “the battle for America’s economic future isn’t being fought by our government. It’s being fought by our kids.”

And in a series of international comparisons, the U.S. kids are not doing so well. The one area where they score better than the rest is self-confidence.

Once they leave the eighth grade, students have a little more than 2 million minutes to get ready for work or college and the transition to being an adult. This documentary, made by high-tech entrepreneur Robert Compton, follows two high school seniors in Carmel, Ind., two in Bangalore, India, and two in Shanghai, China, to see how they use their time.

All six are bright, accomplished, college-bound individuals.

Our students spend a lot of time watching TV, working part-time jobs, playing sports and video games, but not so much on homework. The Chinese kids spend an extra month in school each year, more hours at school each day and more hours doing homework. By the time they graduate, Chinese students have spent more than twice as much time studying as their U.S. counterparts.

While one may hope kids will pay attention, one may be unhappy to recall the topic, and many of the same or similar numbers, were published nationally in the 1980s by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at the U.S. Department of Education. I remember it well, since I was publisher for some of the work.

The website for the movie offers more details, including a calendar of screenings. DVDs are available, but at very high prices — $25 for home use, $100 for school or non-profit use. I’d love to show it to students; I can get a couple of much-needed PBS videos for that same price. I hope producers will work to arrange distribution competitive with opposition movies like Stein’s. I’ll wager “Expelled!” will hit the DVD market at about $10.00, with thousands of DVDs available for free to churches and anti-science organizations.

Landers chalks up some of the stakes, and we should all pay attention:

Nearly 60 percent of the patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.

The United States ranks 17th among nations in high-school graduation rate and 14th in college graduation rate.

In China, virtually all high school students study calculus; in the United States, 13 percent study calculus.

For every American elementary and secondary school student studying Chinese, there are 10,000 students in China studying English.

The average American youth now spends 66 percent more time watching television than in school.

SOURCE: “Is America Falling off the Flat Earth?” by Norman R. Augustine, chairman, National Academy of Sciences “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” committee

Education spending, per pupil, apples to apples

May 3, 2008

Utah rejected education vouchers last November, so the release from the Census bureau at the first of April probably got overlooked as not exactly important — I saw no major story on it in any medium.

Education spending chart from U.S. Census BureauMaybe it was the April 1 release date.

Whatever the reason for the lack of recognition, the figures are out from the Census Bureau, and Utah’s at the bottom end of spending per student lists, in the U.S. I wrote earlier that Utah gets a whale of a bargain, since teachers work miracles with the money they have. But miracles can only go so far. Utah’s educational performance has been sliding for 20 years. Investment will be required to stop the slide.

Utah’s per pupil spending is closer to a third that of New York’s.

Of course, spending levels do not guarantee results. New York and New Jersey lead the pack, but the District of Columbia comes in third place. Very few people I know would swap an education in Idaho, Utah or Arizona, the bottom three in per pupil spending, for an education in D.C.

Public Schools Spent $9,138 Per Student in 2006

School districts in the United States spent an average of $9,138 per student in fiscal year 2006, an increase of $437 from 2005, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.

Public Education Finances: 2006 offers a comprehensive look at the revenues and expenditures of public school districts at the national and state levels. The report includes detailed tables that allow for the calculation of per pupil expenditures. Highlights from these tables include spending on instruction, support services, construction, salaries and benefits of the more than 15,000 school districts. Public school districts include elementary and secondary school systems.

All the census statistics are on-line, for free. Policy makers can mine these data for insights — will they? You may download the data in spreadsheet or comma-delimited data form.

The rest of the press release is pure policy talking points:

  • Public school systems received $521.1 billion in funding from federal, state and local sources in 2006, a 6.7 percent increase over 2005. Total expenditures reached $526.6 billion, a 6 percent increase. (See Table 1.)
  • State governments contributed the greatest share of funding to public school systems (47 percent), followed by local sources (44 percent) and the federal government (9 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • School district spending per pupil was highest in New York ($14,884), followed by New Jersey ($14,630) and the District of Columbia ($13,446). States where school districts spent the lowest amount per pupil were Utah ($5,437), Idaho ($6,440) and Arizona ($6,472). (See Tables 8 and 11.)
  • Of the total expenditures for elementary and secondary education, current spending made up $451 billion (85.7 percent) and capital outlay $59 billion (11.2 percent). (See Table 1.)
  • From current spending, school districts allotted $271.8 billion to elementary and secondary instruction. Of that amount, $184.4 billion (68 percent) went to salaries and $58.5 billion went to employee benefits (22 percent). Another $156 billion went to support services. (See Table 6.)
  • Of the $156 billion spent on support services, 28 percent went to operations and maintenance, and 5 percent went to general administration. Of the states that used 10 percent or more of their support services on general administration expenditures, North Dakota topped the list at 14 percent. General administration includes the activities of the boards of education and the offices of the superintendent. (See Table 7.)
  • Of the $59 billion in capital outlay, $45 billion (77 percent) was spent on construction, $5 billion (8 percent) was spent on land and existing structures, and $8.7 billion (15 percent) went to equipment. (See Table 9.)
  • State government contributions per student averaged $5,018 nationally. Hawaii had the largest revenue from state sources per pupil ($13,301). South Dakota had the least state revenue per student ($2,922). (See Table 11.)
  • The percentage of state government financing for public education was highest in Hawaii (89.9 percent) and lowest in Nebraska (31.4 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • The average contribution per pupil from local sources was $4,779, with the highest amount from the District of Columbia ($16,195), which comprises a single urban district (and therefore does not receive state financing). The state with the smallest contribution from local sources was Hawaii ($265). (See Table 11).
  • The percentage of local revenue for school districts was highest in Illinois (59.1 percent) and lowest in Hawaii (1.8 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • On average, the federal government contributed $974 per student enrolled in public school systems. Federal contributions ranged from $2,181 per student in Alaska to $627 in Nevada (See Table 11).
  • The percentage of public school system revenues from the federal government was highest in Mississippi (20.1 percent) and lowest in New Jersey (4.3 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • Spending on transportation represented 12.4 percent of support services. New York and West Virginia spent the largest percent from support services on transportation (21 percent). Hawaii (5.4 percent) and California (7.2 percent) spent the least. (See Table 7.)
  • Total school district debt increased by 8.5 percent from the prior year to $322.7 billion in fiscal year 2006. (See Table 10.)
  • Send an apple to your old teacher:

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China hammered by “globalization” – why students should study

May 2, 2008

Economics, history and geography, and “vocational” teachers take note:  David Brooks’ column, “The Cognitive Age,” in the New York Times today should be a warmup in your classes next week.  See why in this excerpt:

The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.

The globalization paradigm emphasizes the fact that information can now travel 15,000 miles in an instant. But the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it? Are there cultural assumptions that distort the way it is perceived?

Back again: Measles

May 2, 2008

Copy a couple of these articles and give them to your school nurse to pass out to people who say they don’t want to inoculate their kids.

In 1991, we could have inoculated every unvaccinated child under the age of 10, in Dallas County, for much less than $20,000. Then the epidemic hit. One of the early hospitalizations for the company I worked with was $100,000. One kid went in, and after $1 million of care, spent the rest of his life in a local hospital (another decade).

The economic arguments for measles vaccination should be clear.

Update: Bug Girl is right (see her comment below):  Go check out Orac’s post on the issue, “Antivaccinationsim versus measles in the U.S.:  Are the chickens coming home to roost.”  I was posting in a hurry; Orac is posting after visiting the issue several times.  Contrast Orac’s views as a physician with those of people who tend to get herded into panics without the facts, only through the fault of not having the facts about the dangers of the diseases they let off the hook (make no mistake: most of these people are well-meaning).

My more complete measles story, below the fold.

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$1 billion boondoggle: Bush’s reading program doesn’t work

May 2, 2008

From today’s New York Times:

Published: May 2, 2008

President Bush’s $1 billion a year initiative to teach reading to low-income children has not helped improve their reading comprehension, according to a Department of Education report released on Thursday.

Read the study here:

Created under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, the Reading First program provides assistance to states and districts in using research-based reading programs and instructional materials for students in kindergarten through third grade and in introducing related professional development and assessments. The program’s purpose is to ensure that increased proportions of students read at or above grade level, have mastery of the essential components of early reading, and that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of grade 3. The law requires that an independent, rigorous evaluation of the program be conducted to determine if the program influences teaching practices, mastery of early reading components, and student reading comprehension. This interim report presents the impacts of Reading First on classroom reading instruction and student reading comprehension during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.

The evaluation found that Reading First did have positive, statistically significant impacts on the total class time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program. The study also found that, on average across the 18 study sites, Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. A final report on the impacts from 2004-2007 (three school years with Reading First funding) and on the relationships between changes in instructional practice and student reading comprehension is expected in late 2008.

The inaccuracy and spin go all the way to 11

April 22, 2008

There’s a guy who doesn’t like my comments on his blog, so he’s banned me. Every once in a while I find a headline or link to something, and it takes me over there — and I remember why he doesn’t like my comments.

Rationality and accuracy are barriers to be overcome for some bloggers, and this guy often falls into that category. Today he’s bummed that gay students and their friends and relatives protest bullying of gays with a Day of Silence. Neil Simpson wrote:

The Day of Silence (where schools encourage kids to be completely silent for a day to protest alleged discrimination against gays) is back, and students’ rights are being violated left and right. It is bad enough that they disrupt the learning process for a whole day, but now some schools aren’t permitting students to miss school that day or instituting other requirements.

Okay, that’s enough. I gotta stop the quoting and make corrections. “Where schools encourage kids to be completely silent for a day?” There is no such place. This is a fabrication of someone. Who?

The link in the quoted paragraph goes to Kevin Bussey’s blog; from there we get a link to a story in WorldNet Daily, perhaps the single greatest source of information pollution on the internet.

But read the story — even WND doesn’t claim that schools are supporting the event. WND only decries the fact that schools won’t bully kids into not supporting the anti-bullying campaign (irony drips from every serif of this story . . .).

Gay clubs and the “Day of Silence” have no purpose in schools. The GLBTX propoganda machine just uses the Trojan Horse of being anti-bullying to get them in. It is all part of the drive not just for tolerance, not just for affirmation, but to silence all critics.

But why have sex clubs and school-sponsored protest days just for that? All you need is a simple and thoroughly enforced anti-bullying policy:

If you physically or verbally harass other students on or off school grounds you will have swift and serious consequences. It doesn’t matter if you are bullying because they are gay / straight / fat / thin / smart / dumb / pretty / ugly / etc., or if it is just because you are a mean jerk. Zero tolerance. Training over. Now go to class and learn something.

Bullying is wrong. I would always protect gays if they were being bullied, but that isn’t what this issue is really about. If it was, then the kids who are picked on for all those other reasons should get a special day as well, and schools wouldn’t persecute students who wanted to opt out of this special day.

Just a stand against bullying? Maybe Simpson will take a stand against bullying, you think? Maybe Simpson would urge his friends at the Texas State Board of Education to rejoin the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). Texas pulled out a few months back, protesting the anti-bullying curriculum NASB had put together. The Texas officials — speaking for themselves, not necessarily the people of Texas, let me assure you — said they didn’t like the part that said “don’t bully gays.”

When stuff like that happens, people will on occasion use their First Amendment right to petition and right to assemble and freedom of speech to protest the stupidity. In the immediate case, the protest takes the form of remaining silent.

When gays and the friends of gays don’t speak, it makes the hardcore fundies crazy. The voices in their heads seem so much louder.



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