Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No More Schooling While Drunk - New Jersey To Give Students Alcohol Tests

From Ash:

I came across an interesting news item that a New Jersey school district has announced that it's going to randomly test students for alcohol-use – using urine tests that apparently can detect if alcohol was consumed as many as 80-hours earlier. Not that I want to encourage underage drinking, but I think this is an ill-conceived attempt at agenda-driven policy. It may have been created out of the best of intentions, but its ramifications needed to be thought through more seriously before its instigation.

While random drug-testing has been allowed by the courts, I'm not so sure that this will stand up to the inevitable challenge. Here's what makes this different. Drug-tests are allowed because there's a two-fold concern – first, concern that drug-dealing and drug-using take place on campus, and second, that kids who are loaded pose an imminent threat to themselves and others – especially in something like a sports-activity where kids may be intentionally smashing into each other to begin with.

But, as quoted by AP, the Superintendent's interest in alcohol-testing doesn't at all relate to students' on-campus activities; instead, she specifically moans the number of teen drunk-driving fatalities. While those are of course tragic, there's a vast difference in justifying testing on activities completely unrelated to school, compared to a claim that it's dangerous to have a kid high on speed running around a football field.

What's really troubling about the District's position is that it's essentially a "no confidence" vote for the parents in the community. It's impossible to see this action without concluding that the District has essentially decided that parents have wholly failed to police their kids in this regard; thus, the schools must act in loco parentis - legally becoming the kids' parents. Schools can do that, but only for very specific reasons, and under very prescribed circumstances.

Even beyond the troubling in loco parentis position, it's hard to see that this will not result in the schools becoming a police enforcer, designed to identify (and presumably punish) those are drinking underage. Again, in exigent circumstances, that can be allowed – but that's not what the Super's concerned about.

The whole thing reminded me of an interesting study of school districts who did or didn't institute drug-testing. The report, in Education Law Review, found that the schools with drug-testing policies were schools that did not seem to have drug problems. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.

Only 12.7% of the Superintendents surveyed said the efforts to initiate a drug-testing policy were arising out research that there was actual drug-use in schools. Instead, for more than 50% of the districts, the policy was simply based in a personal view by the district's Superintendent or its School Board that drug-testing should be put in place. With no support whatsoever.

And I noted that (at least in the AP report) the New Jersey Superintendent who announced alcohol testing doesn't address if alcohol-use has ever been a problem in her schools.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

President Bush's State of the Union Ignores Science At Your Children's Peril

From Ash:

During last night's State of the Union address, President Bush lauded Julie Aigner-Clark, the founder of Baby Einstein, the maker of videos for infants and toddlers. During his commercial across-every-network (which is good for Disney because they need free air time), telling the tale of her company's humble beginnings making videos to the day she became a big enough company to sell out to Disney, the President concluded that, with such a success story, Aigner-Clark "represents the great enterprising spirit of America."

And compared to the other things he spoke about, this probably seems like a small potato to comment upon. But I think the President's remark may represent the great disregard he has for anything that might protect people at the loss of an enterpriser's dollar.

To wit – the American Academy of Pediatrics still says, and I quote: "Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television for children age 2 or younger."

From the research I've seen, there hasn't been any consistent proof that viewing such videos is beneficial. On the contrary, even researchers paid by Sesame Street (to advise them on their own toddler-video line) have written that it is "critical" that more research be done on the effects of videos on children under the age of two.

Further, they find that children under two learn less from TV than from real life, and they can't apply what they learn from TV to the real world. These paid-by-Sesame Street consultants say that there are at least some studies finding a relationship – if not yet causation – between infants' television watching and having shorter attention-spans when they are older children.

(Oh, and while there doesn't yet seem to be definitive research on the impact of TV on a child's brain development, there's already agreement that watching TV is related to increased children's obesity, decreased reading, and even decreased interaction with parents and siblings. Again, that's from the paid consultants.)

Still other independent researchers have basically said that there's no proof that infants and toddlers receive any benefit from watching television: for them, the issue isn't what benefit there might be but what harm such TV watching could bring. (Check out NPR's Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered.)

Now, if somehow the White House can be excused from having heard of this years-long controversy, I find it impossible that there isn't a single person in the White House or Department of Health and Human Services who couldn't have taken the time to read the company's own website before heralding the company with such accolades. On its site, the company states:

"And, while we respect the American Academy of Pediatrics, we do not believe that their recommendation of no television for children under the age of two reflects the reality of today’s parents, families and households. . . . The Baby Einstein Company believes that when used appropriately, television can be a useful learning tool that parents and little ones can enjoy together."

So the Baby Einstein Company admits there's a controversy. It does not dispute the AAP's warning. (Conversely, the company "respects" the Academy.) And the company offers no research to back up their claim that that their products are useful: all they say is that there's a really big market for their product, and that's sufficient.

That logic is no different than Big Tobacco's old claim that a lot of people smoke and they aren't all dead yet, therefore, it must not be bad.

If I hadn't been upset enough by the President's remarks right away – it was his pitch for Aigner-Clark's work on a forthcoming line of safety-video products that really sent me over the edge. Now, I don't know anything more than what he'd said, so maybe the videos aren't hysterical. Maybe there will be some value in them. But as I explained in my post last week, the President's own Department of Justice says that a lot of the concerns over kidnappings and missing children are based in unfounded media-driven hype.

Of course, this isn't the first time that the Administration has willfully ignored the warnings of experts to promote its agenda: the Union of Concerned Scientists is constantly concerned. But tonight's speech underscores the point that what makes a success for the President is a billion-dollar bottom-line: the damage that may result from such profitability isn't even a consideration to slow him down.

At which point I realized what may be attracting the President to the Baby Einstein story.

His Administration has been conducting wars, violating Congressional statutes and arguably acting outside the Constitution, at the cost of billions of dollars and lives – all on the basis of unfounded facts that fly in the face of the experts' data and dire warnings: it's an Administration that's made itself on selling fear to frightened citizens desperate to do anything to be safe.

Baby Einstein uses unsupported claims that fly in the face of experts' data and dire warnings – it's a company that's made itself a fortune selling videos to panicked parents desperate to do anything to ensure their children's futures.

Ah, yes, we all know there's one tactic Bush Adminstration values above all else – fearmongering. Apparently, they love it even when it's someone else who's doing it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This Week's Recommended Reading #22

From Ash:

This week's recommended reading is well, all New York Times. First time I've done that, just picked one publication, but these are the pieces that stood out for me enough to remember them more than a few minutes after reading them.

Now, you may have already seen the NYT's piece, 51% of Women Are Living Without a Spouse, which wasn't horrible – but the ludicrously sunny line about how divorced women don't remarry because they enjoy their newfound freedom (as supposed to can't or won't date because they have custody of the kids) drove me crazy. And I thought that the CJR Daily comments on the NYT's shortsightedness (i.e. completely ignored) in terms of the disparity of marriage rates of class and race were dead-on.

Apparently, the NYT must have agreed with CJR: because Sunday, the NYT ran a much better piece that tackled just that - the class and education disparities of getting married, with a dash of race-thrown in there, too. Too bad it was just a dash, but at least it was acknowledged. And I don't know why they do that – but it's a pattern I've seen more than once: they run a "trend" story that's only got half the story, and is usually laden with a cultural bias, then later the same week, they run a piece that has the information they should have included the first time.

Earlier in the week, there was an intriguing article about the effort to stop pregnant women from Mainland China emigrating to Hong Kong just in time to give birth in Hong Kong (which would give their children Hong Kong residency status).

Then I liked the Sunday piece about a kids' soccer league in Georgia - but most of the kids are refugees from war-torn countries around the globe.

Speaking of the Times' coverage on clash of cultures, it isn't the near-tear-jerker the soccer piece, is but I gotta' plug my friend Michael Colton's piece, Yo Quiero Marry Carla. The NYT url is "funny_humor," and the IT guy was right: it's a hoot. Yea, Mike.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Eddie and Leslie in Full-Day Kindergarten

From Ash:

Sunday's Minnesota Pioneer-Press (registration is probably required) had a nice concise piece on efforts in its state legislature to provide state-wide universal full-day kindergarten – which 29 states currently have.

A catalyst for this renewed effort is a recently released report by University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Development; the center studied one district that had implemented half-day, then full-day kindergarten.

In the study, the researchers found that full-day kindergarten significantly improved scores of first-graders – more than those who didn't attend, and more than those who went half-day, and even those who attended a combined week of half-day and full-day school.

The kids who attended kindergarten started out worse than the national mean score, but they ended up scoring above it.

And here's where it gets really interesting.

The achievement gaps between minority and white kids in full day kindergarten were almost eliminated. Gaps between schools with high recipients of free lunch and those schools with lower number of free lunch recipients (a commonly used placeholder for children's economic backgrounds) also largely disappeared. In fact, in some subjects, kids in the schools with free lunches actually improved more than the kids from the schools with families from better economic strata.

Gaps narrowed even between kids who were learning English and those native speakers!

Not only did the kids improve academically, the teachers thought that the children improved their social skills, the kids were more comfortable in a learning-environment, and they were even able to focus more. The parents saw behavioral changes as well. Those included more whining about going to school, but, oh, well, you can't win them all.

There's only one unfortunate fact about the report. The full-day day care only lasted a year. After that, it was cancelled due to a budget shortfall.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Contrary to What You've Heard, Libraries Aren't Dead

From Ash:

If you've shared my concern that about the health and welfare of our nation's public libraries, a report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics should give you some hope.

Which is interesting timing, since I'm still reeling from the January 2nd Washington Post article about how Fairfax, Virginia libraries are actively discarding books that haven't been checked out within 24 months. I think that's horrid on two levels. I can't imagine any library worth its salt not having books such as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Glass Menagerie, The Sound and the Fury, or The Mayor of Casterbridge (all on the list of removed titles) on its shelves, nor can I fathom how no one checked them out for two years. But, as usual, I digress.

So it turns out that, in 2002, 48 percent of American households visited a public library at least once in the preceding year. Utah had the most – a whopping 62 percent of households went to the library.

For those who think that libraries' only way of continuing to be vital is by going digital, the jury's still out: just nine percent were there to use the computer. And they weren't going for lectures – just two percent did that – no, most were there to check out books, or at least browse through the collection.

Apparently, going to the library is a family outing – among 69 percent of two-parent with kid households are going, while 60 percent of single mom/kid households are there.

The report may also explain why I'm still available: just 29 percent of single guys made it to the library, compared to 33 percent of single women.

But the upside for me is that the few guys in the library might be interesting, if I can find them: households with higher incomes and higher education levels go to the library as frequently as families with kids.

The downside for the libraries is that the lower the education level and the lower the economic level, the fewer go – and I sort of thought that was the idea of public libraries – getting knowledge for all.

So, to librarians out there – Singles Nights in the Stacks.

For the rest of you, please get yourselves to a library and check out a book – at least in Virginia – the book you save may be your own.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Child Kidnapping – "The Missouri Miracle"

From Ash:

There's a ton of news reports out there on the safe return of the Missouri kidnapped boys, and I completely understand those. But what drives me crazy are those other articles – the ones spinning off the news reports – the related reports that suggest child kidnapping is an almost omnipresent threat. These articles may claim to be a performing a public service, teaching you how to protect your kids, but the facts just aren't there to support that claim.

No, instead, those articles do little more than fan a hysteria over child-kidnapping. And it's just got to stop.

Now I spend a lot of time in a crime-ridden community, so I'm certainly not saying that you should be cavalier about your child's safety: threats against children are real and have to be taken seriously. But all the attention on kidnapping is mis-placed and hides where the real danger often lies.

So these are the facts you should consider the next time you see a kidnapping reported on the news, or if you hear a parent say that he never lets his children out of his sight because of fears of kidnappings, etc –

99.8 percent of missing children (1,312,800) in the U.S. in 1999 were returned home alive or located (meaning not missing at all).

And don't think for a minute that means a million children were stolen off our streets that year. Conversely, almost half of those kids described as "missing" were actually runaways or – far from having parents who are desperate for their return – kids were often thrown out of the house.

Of the remaining kids, the vast majority were missing for benign reasons, such as a miscommunication, a missed curfew. Some are missing because they got lost, stranded, or injured, and couldn't get home.

And of those missing, most – about 90 percent – come home within 24 hours: most actually make it home within one to six hours.

Of the 0.2 percent (2,500) who had not returned home or been located, again – it wasn't a kidnapping that prevented them from coming home: again, most of them were juvenile runaways from institutions.

So just how widespread is the problem of stranger kidnapping – the kind you see in the movies? It isn't. It's such a small problem: it doesn't even qualify as minute.

Of the 1.3 million who went missing in 1999 – only 115 children in the U.S. of these taken in a classic stranger kidnapping. Total. Now, the horrific truth is that 49 of these children were found dead or are still missing.

But that's 49 out of 1.3 million. And the other 56 were found.

Moreover, there is no evidence that child kidnappings increased from 1988 to 1999. The only thing that increased was the media attention. And that's not my opinion – that's the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Justice.

To put it another way, consider that . . . .

For every one child kidnapped by a stranger, over 1,000 children are kidnapped by a parent or other family member (usually in a custody dispute).

In 1999, 1.7 million kids ran away or were thrown-out of their houses.*

In 1993, 57,000 children were permanently abandoned by their parents or caregivers.

Now, that I think is a national crisis. But you'll never hear about it. An abandoned child is too busy trying to survive to have a press conference.

* If you're wondering the number of missing kids and runaways seem sort of inconsistent, I think that's because some kids are reported as runaways, while others are described first as "missing," but when they ask what happened, the parent says "Oh, she ran away."

Saturday, January 13, 2007

This Week's Recommended Reading #21

From Ash:

Some short, random articles worth reading over the long-weekend:

A more important piece I can't yet link to – but the New York Times Sunday Magazine will be running a piece on how circumcision may be a key to preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa. (If you're wondering why I'm so special to get NYT advanced copies – I'm not special. It's a wee perk they throw in if you're willing to pay for NYT's "Times Select.")

AP via Yahoo has a fun little piece on the difficulties for a husband to take his wife's name, instead of the other way around. Apparently, it's just not done – so there's little way to make it happen. Almost needless to say – a couple is now suing over this.

The BBC has an interesting article on a current court case in Morocco. Journalists are on trial for writing a joke about their King. But what makes this particularly interesting is that they are sort of the vanguard of a new culture of laughter and free speech brought into being with the Moroccan new king. . . or they might go to prison for five years.

I try not to post every article on immigration I see, but I do try to note the ones with a different perspective on the issue – since I know my views change by the hour – so if you haven't seen it yet, the Washington Post article on Mexicans trying to stay in Mexico is well-worth reading.

And I'm one of those people who gets sick if someone I've never met sneezes. So I was fascinated by this San Francisco Chronicle report on a new local requirement that all businesses must provide sick-leave for employees. Businesses are complaining – not surprisingly – while some are just surprised to hear that there is even such a requirement.

But what I really want to know about is food-service-related workers. Personally, it's sort of amazing to me that there aren't more demands for sick-days requirements just for these workers: they're the lowest paid, so they can't afford to miss work, but they have the potential to infect hundreds of people a day. I mean seriously, who hasn't been grossed out to see a cashier cough on your "to go" order (for Brits, that's the cooler sounding but still germ-infected "take-away."). Note for San Franciscans: both a local grocer and a restaurant-owner both complained this was too expensive a requirement (The reporter didn't tackle the public-health issue of their work in this piece.). I'm not saying they'll refuse to comply with the law, but still, you might want to consider either skipping their locations or bringing antiseptic wipes with you during the flu season.

And in the whaa-at? category – not a recommendation, just a mystified observation –

"Greatly Exaggerated" is currently on the list of most popular articles. That is an article about a couple errantly reported as being dead, which might not be a surprise as an article emailed around... except for the fact that the article was written in 1927. And I can't for the life of me figure out why that one even surfaced out of the archives, let alone hit the "most popular" list.

Friday, January 12, 2007

On MLK Day, Segregation and Integration in Schools

From Ash:

This weekend, a holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., seems like a good time to consider the on-going issue of race in education. I'm not sure but I think neither Dr. King or Justice Thurgood Marshall would be pleased about now things are going at the moment. And when I mean moment, I'm talking about right now, as I type.

This week, the University of Michigan announced that it would resume its admissions process, which it had frozen because of pending litigation over its use (or not) in considering race, sex or ethnicity to determine who was admitted to the university.

Michigan voters adopted a policy that ended any sort of further race-consideration in state school admissions, but – given the almost-immediately ensuing litigation to block that law – the University had asked for a court's permission to continue its in-place admissions practice until that litigation had concluded. Since then, they've won, they've lost – and now Justice John Paul Stevens of US Supreme Court is considering the issue – not the underlying legality of the Michigan law, just whether or not they can use their current admissions policy while the rest of the legal battle is fought.

In the meantime, the University has a school to run – an incoming class to fill – so it's decided to change to the new policy. That means that some of the students have already been accepted and rejected under the old standard, while the rest will be in or out under the new one. Which is a nightmare scenario that will probably result in a slew of lawsuits on its own.

(For more in-depth information on the University of Michigan guagmire, check out our friends over at SCOTUSBlog (Amy Howe and I went to law school together.) But I warn you: it's written by and for lawyers who practice before the Supreme Court, so there's some terrific insight into the law and the Court mechanics, but it's not for the casual reader. It can get very dense. My brain occasionally hurts after reading it.)

Meanwhile, earlier in its term, the Supreme Court heard arguments about two joint-cases related to elementary school integration – suits to stop forced integration: essentially, schools that are trying to maintain integrated levels are being sued to stop that effort. (But, again, Scotusblog is where to go for specifics.)

But there was some good news this week: I just hope people get to hear it.

You may have seen an AP story well, everywhere, on blogs such as USA Today, on local television – the story went that children were turned away from their normal school bus because they spoke English: the school had a language-based "academy" and the buses now only pick up kids based on what academy/language the child speaks.

Today, AP is running an "oops" correction – it turns out that the kids were kicked off the bus because they didn't live in the geographic area the bus serves. Contrary to what the kids' mother had claimed, it had nothing to do with their language.

Still, I think we're still along way away from Dr. King's vision of children playing together, regardless of color or creed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Eddie and Leslie – A New Census Report On "A Child's Day"

From Ash:

This morning, the Census Bureau released its report, A Child's Day. It's fascinating reading – and there are some very encouraging statistics. For example, 75 percent of children 12 to 17 are considered "academically on track" – that's up six points since 1994. More parents have rules for their children's television watching – 67 percent of 3-to-5 year-olds have rules about TV watching now, compared to 54 percent in 1994.

But for me, the statistics that were more amazing were the ones that dramatically show the Eddie and Leslie situation we've written about in previous blogs – the way in which parents' education affects children's upbringing.

Just to hit a few highlights: about 20 percent of parents with less than a high school education never read to their 1-to-5 year-old children, while just five percent of those with advanced degrees aren't reading to their kids.

17 percent of kids 6-to-11 play in sports if their parents don't have a high school diploma, while 50 percent of those kids play in sports if at least one parent has an advanced degree.

Kids whose parents don't have a high school diploma are about twice as likely to have been suspended than those whose parents have upper-level degrees.

And the kids whose parents have those degrees are roughly three-times more likely to be in "gifted classes," while kids whose parents aren't high school grads are three-times more likely to have had to repeat a grade.

Which starts raising a lot of interesting questions – are those kids really gifted? Are those other kids really more trouble and well, "not gifted"? Is it resources, genetics, upbringing?

I'm not sure, but it's something both Po and I want to tackle further.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Loss In Northern Ireland - An Appreciation

From Ash:

It was to my great regret that I heard last evening that Northern Ireland's David Ervine had suddenly passed away from a heart attack. No, that's an understatement: I'm in shocked disbelief. I'm terribly saddened.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Ervine a few years ago, and I honestly thought that he was an exceptional beacon of hope – the people there have suffered a great loss with his passing.

For those unfamiliar with his history, Mr. Ervine would be the loyalist version of Gerry Adams. He didn't achieve the international fame (and infamy) of Mr. Adams, but that was due more to an American failure to understand their political situation, and a preference to root for the Irish, rather than anything else.

Mr. Ervine began as a street punk fighting in block wars. He was young, uneducated, and unskilled, but he was also bright, ambitious, and angry at a time of civil war. He rose quickly in the Loyalist Paramilitaries – until he was running one of them. He was sent to prison for his role in a bombing, but in the ways of the paramilitaries, that only increases stature and authority. While serving his time, he educated himself, and he started really considering the costs of the bloodshed that he and the others caused – and he started thinking if there was another way.

Out of prison, Mr. Ervine eventually renouned violence to seek a political solution. He began his own political party and – out of a small storefront office in East Belfast – rose to a different kind of power – ultimately being elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Ervine's party is much smaller than the Sinn Fein or the loyalist DUP, but that he had any support at all was fairly remarkable: his constituency and party was made up of poor and working class. The other most influential guys on his block were the paramilitaries who didn't renounce violence. And it fell to Mr. Ervine to navigate between the paramilitary and political communities. Everyone I met who knew him spoke with real admiration for him. While other paramilitaries's claims at transformation are constantly doubted, I never met anyone who doubted him. Because of that, his influence exceeded the size of his constituency.

But the reason I liked him the most of any politician I met, was because he wasn't afraid to criticize his own people's failings. When I asked about some of the racism and bonfires I'd seen, rather than defend them as tradition (what most of the Loyalists did), he shot back, "If that's our tradition, God help us."

For himself, and for his people, he never let the past get in the way. And for Northern Ireland, a place where the past is the real obstacle for the future, that made him extraordinary.

While I'm not sure anyone in West Belfast would say it outloud, I expect that even Gerry himself is feeling the loss, praying that there will be someone else like him to take his place within the Loyalist community.

David, though I know that you wouldn't have been one to enjoy Gaelic, all I can think to say is Dia dhuit – God be with you.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tutoring – A Story from the Front-Lines of Kids and Education Today

From Ash:

Normally, I don't like to write much about Tutoring, but we're about to come back after our Christmas break, and recently my professional work had a dead-on collision with my Tutoring – and I just gotta' share.

Sick of seeing kids who write essays that are a single page-long paragraph, I started pop-quizzing the kids with two questions: "What is a sentence?" and "What's a paragraph?" From my second-graders to my Sophomores and Juniors in High School, not a single kid had a clue as to a definition for a sentence – but from fourth grade on, they all immediately had the same answer for a paragraph. I knew what was coming, but there it was, all the same.

"A paragraph is five to sentences long," they all parroted, almost in unison. They nodded to each other, so pleased they'd gotten that one correct.

"Wrong!" I yelled out.

A bomb of disbelief hit. Stunned silence and puzzled looks replaced the nodding.

"A paragraph is a collection of sentences about an idea. If you look in the dictionary, it doesn't say anything about five to seven sentences. A sentence can be a perfectly good sentence with just one word – say, 'Hello.' And a paragraph can be a perfectly good one with just a single sentence."

I didn't have them sold until I reminded the older kids (by now the younger kids just went back to ignoring me, but the older kids were sort of still with me) that when they wrote dialogue, they were supposed to start a new paragraph every time a different person spoke. And I asked how they could even apply their the five-to-seven sentence, open with an introduction, have a body, then conclusion, structure to writing fiction: once again, they were stumped.

We grabbed nearby copies of Time and Newsweek (which I forceread to the kids), and we looked to see how many of their writers used the paragraph structure the kids were slavishly following. (And, of course, none of them used that, ever.)

It took a while – but a light was slowing dawning – a paragraph was about an idea.

I went home all glow-y, thinking that I'd just shot these kids straight from remedial to college-level composition work. I'd instantly solved a young writer mystery for them that had eluded me for years.

Then a few weeks later, one of the high schoolers heard me explaining this – my genius insight – to others who'd missed it the first time. When he mumbled that he'd done just what I said, and he'd gotten an "F" on an English assignment because his paragraphs weren't long enough. He wouldn't tell me the teacher's name (knowing that I would have been on the phone with that guy that very minute), but I could tell that my credibility with him took a serious hit.

I mean, I make no claims to being a math tutor (when I'm stuck, I pick up the phone and call Po or another friend), but I know my way around Strunk & White. I've written for the White House and Time friggin' Magazine, for Pete's Sake. So both of us were wounded – I think me more than the kid.

Still, another one of my high schoolers thought my theory still made sense to him, so he decided to risk it. He wrote an essay after the manner I'd suggested, and then told his English teacher about what he'd learned.

His teacher first said that I was wrong. Then, he thought about it for a minute.

"Okay, she's right. That's what it is," he slowly admitted.

Then, the teacher proceeded to agree with every single point I made. But then seeing a minor educational revolution in the making, the teacher made the kid promise not to tell any of his friends. It was just too potentially explosive – or at least too troublesome – to allow other kids hear that the size of a paragraph should be determined by its content.

My student's quite thrilled with his secret. (The other kid's still bitter about his "F.")

And I'm demoralized, as I'm now having to tell kids, "A paragraph is an idea – unless your teacher tells you it's five to seven sentences, and then that's what it is."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

This Week's Recommended Reading #20

From Ash:

This week, the news to read is really political. In the social science world, I think are there are really only two quick pieces that made me sit up and take notice. First, is the CNN/AP report that the new University of Alabama Crimson Tide football coach is making $4.5 million – making him the highest paid in the country – over a million more than the #2 guy. That's seven times the state median income.

But here's the really scandalous part – AP reports that this state school is in a state that ranks 45th out of 50 in educational expenditures for its students. I looked it up: Alabama spends $6,508 per pupil (compared to, for example, Mass's $10,986). (You can get state education profiles from NAEP.) So his annual salary is roughly equivalent to what the state spends on 700 kids a year.

Now, I went to USC, so I love football. I know how much money a good team can bring in, and Pete Carroll's worth every penny the school pays him, but I'm sorry, 'Bama, that's just obscene. The university's statement that the football program's separately financed is no excuse. Get those boosters to pay for kids to go to the university, why don't you?

While I steam over that – check out the San Francisco Chronicle coverage of a new report on children's chances for success, based on parental backgrounds, state educational programs, etc. Basically, they say Virginia is where to be – from parental educational background to school resources. But that some states like California do try to make up for demographic disadvantages through their institutions, and that those efforts to make a difference. (Oh, Alabama again ranks 45th on that chart, too.)

The Chronicle piece is a nice primer, and the underlying report, which I've just started to examine, seems fascinating. Education Week has taken 13 predictors for children's success, and stacked them up against each other. I'm not completely persuaded yet about their bottom line results (I'll blog more about it when I read it in full), but the premise is worth considering.

More an FYI than a recommend: Tomorrow's New York Times Sunday Magazine will have a feature on the science and teaching of happiness. (At least, that's what my preview email told me.) But for my money, both the more recent New York Magazine cover story and the earlier Time cover were better. I don't think that the NYT piece really added anything to my knowledge from what I'd learned in those pieces, and it seems to me to more derisively portray the happiness scholars as leftovers from the "feel good" movement. I'm sure those folks are out there, but it was the conflict between those who were taking happiness seriously and those weren't, that I found the most compelling part of the NY Mag and Time Mag articles. And I admit a connection to both of those pubs, but I wouldn't say that unless I really believed it.

By the way, there's also a last week cover story on happiness in The Economist, but I confess I haven't done more than skim through it, so I can't comment on it other than to recognize that it's out there.