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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

clipped from news.yahoo.com

NEW YORK – The scarlet letter in education these days is an “R.” It stands for restructuring — the purgatory that schools are pushed into if they fail to meet testing goals for six straight years under the No Child Left Behind law.

Nationwide, about 2,300 schools are either in restructuring or are a year away and planning for such drastic action as firing the principal and moving many of the teachers, according to a database provided to The Associated Press by the Education Department. Those schools are being warily eyed by educators elsewhere as the law’s consequences begin to hit home.

Schools fall into this category after smaller changes, such as offering tutoring, fall short. The effort is supposed to amount to a major makeover, and it has created a sense of urgency that in some schools verges on desperation.

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Once again No Child Left Behind rears its ugly head. In the land of the free and the home of the brave 2300 schools are deemed failing. No doubt the vast majority of these schools serve urban or rural poor, people of color, or otherwise undeserved communities.
The crisis in American schools is not real, it is, as David Berliner pointed out, one that is politically manufactured, politically motivated. The same people that underfund urban schools rant about how urban schools are failing. The same people that rant about school failures are also behind the movement to privatize education in the United States urging vouchers to pay for religious education and the like.
John Dewey argued that the wealthy in a democracy have the absolute responsibility to provide for the poor the same level of education they provide for their own children. Dewey was speaking about school funding and the gap between funding in wealthy and poor communities. Jonathan Kozol revisited this claim in his fantastic book Savage Inequalities. Nothing has changed in 100 years.

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clipped from www.reuters.com
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI possibly violated the law or its rules more than 1,000 times since 2002 in collecting data about phone calls, e-mails and financial records while investigating terrorism or espionage suspects, FBI officials said on Thursday.
The potential violations found by an FBI audit were far greater than the approximately two dozen previously documented violations in a U.S. Justice Department report released in March that was based on a much smaller sampling, they said.
The vast majority of newly discovered violations were instances in which companies, such as telephone and Internet providers, gave more information than the FBI sought, the officials said.
They said the FBI has drafted new guidelines in an effort to prevent future abuses, but civil liberties groups and Democrats in Congress expressed doubt that they would be sufficient to protect the privacy of Americans.

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When I was growing up in the 1950’s we were forced to watch propaganda films telling us all about the evils of the Soviet Union, especially the danger from the Secret Police. We were briefed on the potential abuse in such a system, one which went so far as to encourage children to spy on their parents, workers on their bosses and colleagues, and friend on friend. Awards, we were told, were given to those who reported to the secret police crimes real or imagined.I wonder just what the difference might be if the FBI takes upon itself the role of secret police. Of course, there is a great difference here. The FBI investigated itself and slapped its own hand. What would an external investigation, one that is independent of the Justice Department under the questionable leadership of Alberto Gonzales, might find?

Sad fact is that I am not surprised by any of this. Just another potential scandal for George II’s administration.

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Yesterday Education Week reported the results of a study by the National Center for Education Statistics that calls into question the efficacy of state educational assessments required by the No Child Left Behind legislation. In part, Education Week wrote:

Many of the states that claim to have large shares of their students
reaching proficiency in reading and mathematics under the No Child Left
Behind Act have set less stringent standards for meeting that threshold than lower-performing states, a new federal study finds.

The
study drew an immediate and strong reaction from many public officials
and education advocates, who said it laid bare states’ vastly divergent
standards for testing students.

The report judges states’ reading and math tests against a common yardstick: the proficiency standards used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card.”

Released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics,
the analysis appears to back up the suspicions of those who have cast a
skeptical eye on state data showing high percentages of students
reaching the “proficient” level in reading and math.

But researchers who were asked by the Council of Chief State School Officers
to review the study’s methodology cited what they see as flaws in
comparing two dissimilar sets of exams: NAEP and those administered by
states.

Even so, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret
Spellings called it “sobering news” as the nation seeks to raise
academic demands on students.

States “must do their part by
setting high standards and expectations,” she said in a statement. “I
hope this report will be a catalyst for positive change.”

The
study was issued June 7, two days after a separate report by an
education policy group showing that student scores on state tests have
risen since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, which
President Bush signed into law in January 2002. (“State Tests Show Gains Since NCLB,” June 6, 2007.)

There are many reasons that state testing shows greater gains than that of the NAEP scores, not the least is mentioned above, that the tests are dissimilar and therefore do not measure similar things. That, however, is a straw man when it comes to practical significance. Policy makers and both liberal and conservative think tanks have used comparisons of state testing and NAEP over and over to make their case that NCLB is flawed or is working just fine (it all depends on one’s political lens). What is clear, however, is that there is a discrepancy between NAEP scores, which remain flat and state tests, which show an increase in student performance since 2002, the year NCLB went into effect.

The emphasis in NCLB policy on annual performance growth has altered the face of educational practice in the United States. School children and their teachers now spend more time in preparation for testing where they learn formulas for appropriate performance on testing instruments designed by state boards of education. In some estimations, in a 180 day school year, students and teachers spend between 80 and 100 full days preparing for testing. This amounts to fully half of the school year spent in preparing for the state tests. Even of this estimate is on the high side (let’s reduce it by 1/2) the fact still remains that children are spending 25% of their academic year learning formulas for passing the test so the school’s AYP passes the muster of NCLB.

Because schools spend so much of their time engaged in test preparation, little time is left for rigorous academic inquiry. Students no longer study the arts, engage in social studies education and science instruction is somewhere on or near the back burner. What counts is reading and mathematics. But, reading about what? Math in relationship to what? Teaching reading and math (by the way it is not really mathematics that is being taught rather it is arithmetic) in isolation does nothing to provide a context for either reading or math. These subjects become tasks to do, something like doing the laundry. They get done because one must do them but one does not necessarily have to like doing them.

High-stakes testing provides a climate in which students and teachers must focus on the testing and not on instruction or learning. In a recent conversation with a focus group of high school juniors that I recorded as part of a study I am currently working on, I asked the students about their recent performance on a written take-home exam. The results of the papers that the students turned in was disappointing. The writing was formulaic, showing no creative thinking but sticking closely to conventions and structural components that are appropriate on state mandated tests. One of the students said, “I really don’t know how to write any other way. That’s all I’ve ever been taught. All my life I learned the 5 paragraph essay and now, sadly, i have to learn a whole new way to write.” Another member of the focus group wondered, “Why do you teach us this style for so long and then tell us we have to go beyond. I’m confused.” My point is simply that these students clearly can and, when given a chance, do articulate significant problems with high-stakes testing and NCLB.

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Reuters reports this afternoon that:

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday responded to the deadliest shooting rampage in modern American history by passing legislation to help keep guns out of hands of the mentally ill.On a voice vote, the House sent the measure — which would be the first major gun control bill enacted since 1994 and bolster background checks for gun buyers — to the Democratic-led Senate for needed concurrence.

The bill was drafted in consultation with the 4 million-member National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun-rights group, after a deranged gunman killed himself and 32 others in April at Virginia Tech university.

“I think the chances are very strong that we can get this passed in the Senate,” said Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, provided the legislation is not laden with amendments that gun rights backers find objectionable.

It is a start. Interestingly the NRA apparently participated in the drafting of this bill–has the leadership of the NRA finally come to their senses. Gun control does not mean depriving Americans of the right to own weapons. It does not mean that Americans cannot hunt or participate in the infantile sport of shooting at paper targets. Gun control doesn’t even mean that one is deprived of the right to join the militia. As I have blogged many times before, making it more difficult to place weapons in the hands of those that are likely to to harm to themselves and others reduces the probability that another Virginia Tech is imminent. Hooray for the courage of the House. Now will the Senate follow suit? Will the lame duck sign legislation that limits placing guns in the hands of the mentally incompetent? All I know is that it is a beginning. I for one will be watching for the outcome.

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Education Week reported on June 8th:

House Democrats want to put their own stamp on federal education spending by increasing Title I and other programs they favor and slashing Reading First and other priorities set by President Bush.

In the $56 billion fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Education unveiled by the Democrats, No Child Left Behind Act programs would receive a $2 billion increase, with the Title I program for disadvantaged students receiving $1.5 billion of that.

But the $1.03 billion Reading First program—which the Bush administration points to as one of its biggest accomplishments under the NCLB law—would take a cut of $630 million, or 61 percent. What’s more, the administration’s latest proposals for private school vouchers and new mathematics programs would not be funded at all.

“This [Reading First] cut will not be restored until we have a full appreciation of the shenanigans that have been going on,” said Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Reports by the Department of Education’s inspector general and congressional investigators have outlined management and ethical questions involving the program.

Republicans voiced no objections to the Reading First cuts or other spending levels during the June 7 session of the appropriations panel’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The subcommittee approved the Democratic plan in a unanimous voice vote.

“If I were chairman,” said Rep. James T. Walsh, R-N.Y., the subcommittee’s senior Republican, “I don’t know that I would have made the bill a whole lot different.”

This should come as no surprise given the recent questions about how the DoED administered the Reading First program. Surrounded by questions of improper ethics and outright fraud when it came to forcing DIBLES on school districts large and small, draining much needed funds away from the classroom, the bipartisan support of this spending cut makes a great deal of sense.

The DoED, like other embattled Bush administration departments, is keeping a stiff upper lip claiming no ethical violations and that the Democrats are undermining the ability of the urban poor to learn. What they forget is that this legislation will most likely leave the committee with full bipartisan support. Republicans as well as Democrats have simply had enough of this scandal ridden White House. Of course, it is easy to take a stand when those directly effected by that stand are not voters.

Where is this kind of bipartisanship when it comes to the blatantly political Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales? But that is for another post…

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clipped from www.telospress.com
Richard Rorty, the leading American philosopher and heir to the pragmatist tradition, passed away on Friday, June 8.
He was Professor of Comparative Literature emeritus at Stanford University. In April the American Philosophical Society awarded him the Thomas Jefferson Medal. The prize citation reads: “In recognition of his influential and distinctively American contribution to philosophy and, more widely, to humanistic studies. His work redefined knowledge ‘as a matter of conversation and of social practice, rather than as an attempt to mirror nature’ and thus redefined philosophy itself as an unending, democratically disciplined, social and cultural activity of inquiry, reflection, and exchange, rather than an activity governed and validated by the concept of objective, extramental truth.”

Richard Rorty, 1931-2007

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Richard Rorty’s contribution to American Pragmatism was important and profound. I am deeply saddened by the news of his death, Rorty had a significant influence on my own thinking, especially his distinction between normal and abnormal discourse. It will be a long time coming before another philosopher of Rorty’s stature and influence appears on the American landscape.

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clipped from www.y-origins.com
Q.
IS THE ARGUMENT FOR DESIGN BASED ON SCIENTIFIC IGNORANCE?
A. But, today’s intelligent design arguments are based upon a growing body
of scientific evidence concerning everything from DNA to the laws of physics;
and upon our uniform and repeated experience.Design theorists offer extensive evidence that blind, material causes are
incapable of building irreducibly complex and information-rich systems.
They then point out that whenever we know how such systems arose such as
with an integrated circuit, a car engine, or a software program invariably
a designing engineer played a role. Design theorists then extend this uniform
experience to things like molecular machines and the sophisticated code
needed to build even the first and simplest of cells. An increasing number
of leading scholars attest that increased scientific knowledge about such
things has greatly strengthened the argument for design.

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The argument from irreducible complexity suggests that the removal of a single part from a system destroys the system’s function, ergo evolution is ruled out, ergo the system must have been designed by some external force. This is the basic argument advanced by Michael Behe and his followers. Below I counter some of the claims made by the proponents of irreducible complexity.

  • Sometimes the functions are changed so that they do something other than what they did prior to mutation. Such evolutionary development of irreducibly complex systems have been described in the scientific literature in great detail.
  • Even if irreducible complexity does preclude Darwinian evolution, the conclusion of design does not follow. Many other possible conclusions can be argued. It is an example of a failed argument from incredulity.
  • Systems have been considered irreducibly complex that might not be so. For example:
  • Michael Behe’s mousetrap example of irreducible complexity can be simplified by making some minor alterations to the mousetrap. Furthermore, the mousetrap may lose functionality as a mousetrap if a part is removed but then one might craft a fishhook from the spring, turn the nonfunctional mousetrap into a paper weight and so on.
  • The bacterial flagellum is not, in fact, irreducibly complex because it can lose many parts and still function, either as a simpler flagellum or as a secretion system.
  • The immune system example that Behe is so fond of is not irreducibly complex because the antibodies that mark invading cells for destruction might themselves hinder the function o fthose cells, allowing the system to function (although not as well) without destroyer molecules of the complement system.

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