Saturday, May 13, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading

From Ash:

This week, there have been a number of interesting social science pieces this week.

First, check out these two, which highlighting the difficulty of executing real school reform.

AP reports that a judge has halted the first exit exam required of California's graduating seniors because it discriminates against poorer students whose schools that didn't have sufficient resources to prepare for the exam. (My two cents: I absolutely detest the funding inequity in schools, but I'm also equally troubled that the answer is to graduate students we know did not receive a sufficient education. Isn't letting them leave school going to perpetuate their lack of preparedness? Isn't there some sort of middle ground here?)

But then -- who would teach them? Since AP also reports that not one state is meeting the "No Child Left Behind" teacher requirements -- that all of its teachers in core subjects (such as math and history) be "highly qualified" -- but don't be fooled into thinking that's an impossibly high goal. As AP explained, that's just the statutory language: the requirements are just that these teachers have at least a bachelor's degree, a state license and proven competency in the subjects they teach. Those are so low requirements, it frightens me that the states can't make them, and I really wonder who it is who's teaching these kids.

But then -- just when you're about to write off our educational system completely, read this New York Times piece about the shambles of the French university system. It's a horror story of underfunded schools, thousands of students crammed into buildings that are failing down with disrepair, then leaving school without any real education to speak of . . . hey, wait a minute -- if you substitute the word "university" with "high school," it's just another story about the U.S. schools . . . .

In immigration, I was intrigued by this piece on the front page of the LA Times: Mr. Fox, Cough Up $300,000 -- about an Oregon Sheriff who has actually sent Mexican President Vincente Fox a bill for the cost of incarcerating Mexican undocumented immigrants (those who have been convicted of crimes, not just because of their immigration status). I've actually long-wondered why we don't make foreign governments reimburse the US for services we provide their citizens -- so to see this one guy just do it on his own cracked me up.

If you're in the mood for pondering core humanity, you might take a look at this LA Times editorial, by an evolutionary biologist theorizing on why birth rates in industrial nations keep falling (i.e. because we just don't need to have kids). I was a little distracted by his opening with an invocation of the plummeting German birth rate -- because there are less ephemeral reasons for it there (e.g. an economy that makes most of its young leave the country to work elsewhere). But the larger point of the piece is intriguing enough.

On the lighter -- and freakier side . . . .

First, a group of Australian men are traveling around the world, as a "human zoo" -- they live in glass boxes for weeks, and you can apparently see them do everything from sleep to shower. They've been in a few US cities already; now they are headed to China.

Now, lest you're worried that your child won't be enough of a voyeur to appreciate something like that, no worries -- there's a new cable channel just for infants. Sure, there's some concern by pediatrician-types that kids shouldn't even be allowed to look at a t.v. until they're at least two, but what busy mom isn't going to be grateful to let the kid see all Genius Babies all the time?

What's the worst thing that could happen? I mean -- it's not like the kid's going to be incapable of functioning in society and just spend their lives biking around the world, with no real ties to anything at all, is it? But then . . . . t.v probably wasn't too blame for either of the lost biking souls I read about this week.

First, a friend of Po's sent us this story about a guy who has been literally biking around the world: he made the news when, after 44 years on the road, his bike was stolen. (He eventually got it back.) . . . .

Then, a day later, the Los Angeles Times reported on a homeless man who bikes to all the local Clippers basketball games. He has no place to live, but he spends a third of his income on tickets, and doesn't miss a game. Holy crap -- two guys spending their days on bikes, chasing a dream. I couldn't believe the coincidence. (If I worked for one of a few publications, I could write about it as proof of a new sociological trend.)

(Note to the Clippers management staff: he says what he really wants to do in life is work for you cleaning up the towels; he'll do it for free. Somebody just give this guy the job already. And if you need to use the money from one season ticket or two to get this guy an apartment or counseling, before you trust him on the court, then I think you should suck it up and do the right thing.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things:

Yes, I saw the photo of the German guy whose bike was stolen in England and I was glad of the updated news that he got his bike back!

Regarding the exit exams, I have mixed feelings. How are the exit exams designed? Are they created by the exam authors with this goal in mind: to find out what the students already know?

Or are the exams designed with questions that are NOT covered at all in public school curriculum so certain people can say "See how lousy public schools are - let's CUT more money for public school education" or perhaps "NO property taxes for schools".

Unfortunately, the passage of Prop.13 caused a downturn in public school education. But on the other hand, it was a blessing in disguise for me because it meant I could get out of the self-contained classes for Deaf kids. The passage of Prop.13 resulted in many public school teachers Losing their jobs. Before Prop. 13, the classrooms had teacher's aides. after the passage, many classes had no teacher's aides. I think elementary schools still have teacher's aides in some classes, but I am not sure.

More reasons for my mixed feelings about the exit exams:

when I went to the state school for the deaf, I took what was called the STANFORD test. Our teachers explained to us that it was to test what we already knew. The exams were mostly pictures and I did very well, including the math part.

Guess what? After leaving the state school and going back to public schools and put in "remedial" classes because I was deaf, I took the ORBIT test in the 10th grade. I failed the math part. Surprise!!!

So I threatened to file a lawsuit against the state of California unless the school allowed me to mainstream full time in regular classes. After a year of regular classes and cramming in several years worth of regular education in a short time, I PASSED the Orbit exam!

And I got into Honors and took AP English classes. I got into one of the best universities in California.

Please explain to me why I did so well on one exam but not so well on the other exam.

Was one exam designed with DEAF students in mind and the other exam designed for students with perfect hearing?

Regarding the exit exams, I have this burning question.

Suppose the exit exams were given in the native language of the student, say Chinese or Spanish, what are the chances that the students would do very well?

I am asking this because as a Deaf child taking an exam designed for deaf people, I did so well BUT when I took an exam designed for people with perfect hearing, it was a different story.

Just some points to ponder here.

Thanks again for a great read!

10:02 AM  

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