Technorati Monster: Dead?

May 25, 2008

Is anyone else having trouble with Technorati?  What has been flawless performance up to now, especially for a free indexing service, has failed to update anything about the Bathtub for more than three days.  The statistics listed suggest problems dating back two weeks.

Anybody know what’s going on?


Phoenix has landed

May 25, 2008

Phoenix landed on Mars today at 4:38 p.m. Pacific Time. Confirmation of the landing took 15 minutes to get to Earth, radio signals traveling at the speed of light.

We have a robot scout on Mars again!

This is another of those teachable moments, an event to note in class that your students might tell their children and grandchildren about.

Artist's drawing of Phoenix, on Mars.Touchdown occurred exactly at the time programmed and predicted. Such accuracy might be interpreted as a good sign that NASA has anticipated problems, and a successful mission of discovery is in store.

The University of Arizona leads the discovery consortium on this mission (one of my alma maters). Educational activities and plans for teachers are listed at Arizona’s Phoenix Mission website.

NASA is the world’s biggest player in astrobiology, the science of figuring out how life could have begun, and where it might be. Astrobiology is one of the topics Texas’s State Board of Education threatened to remove from biology texts in 2003. That this mission has gotten this far is a sweet little bit of beneficial revenge on the anti-scientists who tried to gut the books then. Maybe it will pose a warning to them on the next go-round.

Teachers, strike a blow for science, knowledge and leadership in knowledge gathering: Teach your kids some astrobiology.

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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.

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