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Free Video Lecture on China, India and the 21st Century Global Economy

global economy

There’s a lot going around re: the 21st century global economy – part myth, part truth, part sense, part insanity. I’ve written several times on the film Two Million Minutes and responded to a few articles about education and the global economy.

The Teaching Company just sent the following bulletin which offers a free video lecture about China, India and the 21st century economy. My experience with TTC has been excellent, and their free lectures are top quality. I’d recommend them to anyone.

There is substantial interest in the future of the global economy because of the rising influence of rapidly growing countries like China and India. As a thank you for being our customer, here is a specially commissioned video lecture on the future of the global economy: Will China and India Dominate the 21st-Century Global Economy? delivered by award-winning Professor Lee Branstetter of Carnegie Mellon University.

Economists predict that China and India are set to dominate the 21st-century global economy and become the new engines that drive economic growth. But how will this transition affect the standing of the United States within the global economy? What are some of the challenges that the United States will face in adjusting to the rise of these Asian economies? What are the opportunities for American growth and prosperity in this situation?

View this free video lecture between now and September 29, 2008, to discover what startling effects the rapid growth of these two countries may have on the economic future of the United States.

Will China and India Dominate the 21st-Century Global Economy? is delivered by Professor Lee Branstetter of Carnegie Mellon University. An Associate Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Professor Branstetter received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His teaching skills have earned him the Thomas Mayer Distinguished Teaching Award and a Harvard University Certification for Teaching Excellence. Professor Branstetter’s award-winning research has been supported by the National Science Foundation.

Feel free to send the link to this free video lecture to family or friends who might enjoy it—it is free for them as well.

Sincerely,

Brandon C. Hidalgo, CEO
The Teaching Company

Absolut Historical Ignorance: Or, How I Learned to Love More Than One Book

absolut disgrace

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of Reconquista, check it out here. It’s a term applied to many movements that, at the core, advocate for reclaiming real estate that one used to own, that one doesn’t own now, and that one wishes to own in the future.

The merit of Reconquista arguments is best judged on an individual basis, but it’s safe to say that advocating – or even alluding to – Reconquista of any sort is bound to draw ire from some group, namely those who won’t come out on top when the ink dries on the deeds.

I don’t drink Sweden’s Absolut spirits because I don’t like them. I’m a sucker for symmetry and frosted glass, so I’ll admit that their bottles look sharp. I’ve always found their Absolut ______ ad campaign to be banal and weak – and really, it would take a Hell of an ad to draw my support from Pabst and Jim Beam, so I don’t fault them too much.

But their latest offering, pictured above, shows a map of the United States with boundary lines that reflect a Mexican Reconquista “In an Absolut World.”

Calls for boycotts were swift and robust. For me, a boycott not to drink swill – no matter how charming the bottle – doesn’t change much.

Michelle Malkin has been on top of the story from the get-go. She’s got a wild set of notes from Absolut executives, commenters and the like that demonstrates well both the arrogance of Absolut and the ire their actions have drawn – it’s worth a look.

And Absolut apologized several times, from the half-hearted, mealymouthed doublespeak non-apology to something more clear:

“The ad has been withdrawn as of Friday April 4th and will not be used in the future.

In no way was the ad meant to offend or disparage, or advocate an altering of borders, lend support to any anti-American sentiment, or to reflect immigration issues.”

Uh-huh.

Anyway, Elementary History Teacher’s post on the debacle is solid:

What’s next? Will we soon be seeing ads intended for German citizens showing maps with concentration camps highlighted? Will Italians see ads showing the gradeur that was Rome by depicting Christians being torn apart by lions? What about an ad targeting Native Americans depicting North America in its natural state? In this type of context we can see how these types of things can be offensive to some.

Personally, I find the map of Germany with Third Reich borders to be the most powerful parallel example – because it embraces Absolut’s talking point of “a time which the population of [Germany] might feel was more ideal.” There are some who might get a boost from that map, but I doubt that the rest of Europe would find it as charming.

With apologies to EHT for swiping some of her content, a commenter on her site left the following:

I like your blog (it’s certainly on my blogroll as a teacher), but have to say that it seems to me that you’re ignoring what America actually *did* to Mexico during that war. Whether it was the raping of nuns, the burning of Roman Catholic churches, or the looting of villages, cities, and monasteries, America’s interests were purely selfish… in fact, it was our first illegal/immoral offensive war – of many.

I don’t agree with Absolut here, but can see what they’re getting at – many Americans wouldn’t think much of it – I personally *don’t* put much faith in my fellow countryman/woman to get a lot of meaning from this ad… sorry ;)

Perhaps it’s a statement regarding our lack of care for the rest of the world – and a darn good one at that.

Oh my.

I responded:

Of course, anonymous, you failed to point out how Mexico made it very clear that annexing Texas to the United States would result in a declaration of war against the US. Or have you not come across President Herrerra wanting to negotiate a peaceful solution and, for that, being considered a traitor to his country and deposed en route to continued hostilities?

The conduct of some individuals in the Mexican War – just like in most conflicts – was deplorable. That conduct was, by and large, committed by undisciplined, poorly managed volunteers.

If you want to discuss the conduct of all-volunteer armies vs. that of wholly professional forces, it’s a conversation worth having, though it’s one not appropriate for this thread.

Your barb at the average American’s knowledge is shameful considering your own willful ignorance.

What was that in Luke 4:23? “Historian, heal thyself?”

If you’re interested, I can recommend a few history books to go along with that one Zinn book you read.

First, I hope that Monmouth University’s Jim Horn stops posting as “anonymous.”

Second, this travesty of a comment by a teacher is a perfect demonstration of how revisionist historians and their students, most of whom can be labeled as embracing diversity and liberal ideals [this is not pejorative], buck common sense and engage in anything but intellectual diversity.

Believe it or not, it’s important to read more than one book, hear more than one perspective and come at a topic from more than one angle.

Though personal histories are compelling and, to some, more interesting than the standard fact-fare, we can’t rely just on narrow accounts. Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and its offshoots is worth reading – if only to familiarize one’s self with talking points one will encounter in any academic debate.

If we don’t read history from the inception of the event to the present, we just won’t get it all – we’ll just get a piece of it. And we’ll leave uninformed, moronic comments like anonymous, who fails to express even valid points [war-time atrocities were a real thing in that conflict] in the proper context.

We need to start with dusty old stuff like John Clark Ridpath’s “History of Texas [1884],” newspaper sources from the time of the war and some primary accounts – and then put that information with The Office of the Chief of [United States] Military History’s account and niche-historians like Zinn.

So, I’ve composed a brief letter to those who in upcoming months will graduate high school and pursue studies in history at some post-secondary school:

Dear Graduates-to-be,

a) Read things. It’s obvious when you haven’t.

b) Read more than one thing. It’s responsible historical scholarship and it’ll save you from embarrassing yourself.

c) If you can’t commit to a) and b), please, for the love of God, don’t become a history teacher. Things are bad enough already.

Love,

Matthew

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in the Education Blogosphere

If you’ve got 5 minutes, check out the video of the wildly entertaining Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performing the theme song from the Sergio Leone classic “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” The first minute is slow, but it picks up. It’s a must-watch [as is this medley which starts with Handel and works into The Eagles, Sinatra and more].

That triad of Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco is an awfully fitting taxonomy for the weekly goings-on in the education blogosphere…

blondie, the good

  • Ed in ’08 has finally progressed from their ineffectual “Rock the Vote!”-style participation rhetoric by highlighting the documentary 2 Million Minutes on their homepage. As I’ve written in the past, 2MM is a serious look at how we go about secondary education – and education in general – in the United States as compared to India and China. If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, there’s a link right on the Ed in ’08 homepage – I encourage every education blogger to look into 2MM and request a screening in your area.

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  • The Online Education Database [OEDb] has released their rankings of online education programs. They factored in acceptance rate, financial aid, graduation rate, peer Web citations, retention rate, scholarly citations, student-faculty ratio, and years accredited. The overall score is used to rank each college by its average ranking for each metric for which data was available. In their words, “We think more transparency is a good thing; a set of objective, quantitative rankings — however imperfect — should help shed some light on the relative attractiveness of the most popular accredited online colleges.” This is an excellent first step toward separating the legitimate opportunities for online degrees from the pretenders – and worse, the diploma mills – that weigh down the industry.

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  • Congratulations to Darren of Right on the Left Coast for his 3rd year blogging anniversary. Congratulations are also in order for D-Ed Reckoning, who not only relayed some fine anecdotes about his 15-year history with the internet [$22/hour for CompuServe use?] but also managed to draw ire from Alexander Russo. How dare you suggest that you’ve been reading a seminal education blog longer than that Perez Hilton of the education blogosphere, Mr. DeRosa? You should know your place.

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angel eyes, the bad

  • The Houston Chronical’s School Zone blog is usually fairly good, but they really blew it this week when they posted, “Fried Chicken for MLK?” HISD’s menu, in tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., included fried chicken. School Zone presented the situation as if a lineup of mammies in blackface gleefully slopped the stereotypical food on the tykes’ plates – but that isn’t even close to the truth. A look at the menu shows that not only was the fried chicken served along with hamburgers and a rancher salad, it wasn’t even headlining the list. Also, the MLK, Jr. Center of Atlanta confirmed that fried chicken was his favorite meal [along with General Lee and many, many others, I might add]. School Zone’s source for internal commentary on the issue? Gayle Fallon, President of the Houston Federation of Teachers. Grow up, School Zone – and specifically the author of this post, Jennifer Radcliffe. Leading with tendentious headlines – then burying the relevant facts in paragraph 4 – is shoddy, race-baiting journalism.

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  • The Hillsborough County School District [Florida] has embraced grade inflation of the highest order – it’s all a curve on the District-level exams. One of the most harmful effects is that the curve essentially pits classes from one school against others. You don’t have to know everything, you just have to beat those dummies over at [insert underperforming school's name]. This is quite likely to mask troubles with this year’s scheduling change that forces teachers to instruct in 6 out of 7 periods – no more planning. Not only has HCSD emasculated the purpose of an exam – an exam being the certification of knowledge – but it’s succeeded in clouding real analysis of its personnel decisions. The Wall sums up the relevant concerns.

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  • The Education schools fail. It’s old hat by now, but Jay P. Greene and Catherine Shock’s pithy City Journal article on the prevelance of “multicultural” courses in education schools relative to math courses is worth a read. From the text: “The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82 percent more courses featuring social goals than featuring math.” Skoolboy’s got it wrong and Sherman Dorn misses the point.

tuco, the ugly

Horn’s latest post, “Unending War Relies on Steady Supply of Dropouts and Pushouts,” plays that tired, offensive reel that our armed forces are populated by hopeless, talentless, dumber-than-dirt dropouts who have chosen the military in lieu of a life in the gutter:

“These youngsters today have failed to make it in the testing factories we call schools, and recruiters, armed with these kids’ school data (NCLB mandates it), have an unending supply of hot leads.

What would that recruiting poster look like–an army one group of dropouts and pushouts who can still contribute to the America’s world class military economy. Sign your body up today!” [emphasis added]

Sign your body up today, you mindless, ignorant rubes! Horn thinks you’re only good for stopping bullets in Chimpy McHalliburton’s never-ending quest to trade Blood for Oil.

I asked one of those animalistic, Morlockian subhumans currently serving in the Army about Horn’s post. After all, he fits Horn’s stereotype well: after graduating from a rural public school in the US, he went to college in Canada [that cesspool of Re-thug-lican, flag-waving, Toby Keith-loving trash, correct?] where he graduated in just 3 years with a double major in international relations and history. A year after earning that degree, he joined up with the US Army – not that he had a choice, being one of those dropout/pushout sacks of garbage that Horn so pities.

He says about Horn’s piece:

Horn’s post is not only factually wrong but deeply offensive. I invite him to visit any major military post and converse with those whom he terms, “poor, brown and black” soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen. He will find young men and women who are passionate about their country, concerned with what is morally right and who seek to improve themselves through their service. - A 2nd Lieutenant, United States Army Infantry

He’d likely decline that invitation, Lieutenant – unless, of course, you asked him to come and enlighten you.

Almost as charming is Sunday’s post that pays tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Well, for a sentence – then he takes a shot at George W. Bush. Titled “Tomorrow”:

we can celebrate the life and contributions of a great man, Dr. King

and

we can mark the first day in the last year of the worst President in all of our American history.

Sheesh, and Mr. Downes thought I abused Edmund Hillary’s legacy to make a “cheap political point.”

Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that Horn wrote one of today’s Onion Radio pieces, “Uneducated Outbreeding Intelligentsia Two-to-One” unaware that it’s a satire publication?

Monmouth University should be ashamed of itself for employing Horn, though they surely aren’t. And to Horn, I’ll say what George Patton would say if he were alive today:

You’re one lowlife son of a bitch, Jim.

Book Review: Learn Me Good by John Pearson

Learn Me Good by John Pearson

Learn Me Good, John Pearson

211 pages, 2006; ISBN-13: 978-1-4116-6589-7

Jack Woodson isn’t your typical elementary school teacher. First, he’s a man; second, he’s not an idealist fresh out of college; and third, he “has forty children, and all of them have different mothers.”

But that’s education blogger John Pearson’s identity in Learn Me Good, an irreverent, anecdotal look at life as a first-year elementary teacher.

Jack Woodson was the unfortunate victim of job cuts at Heat Pumps Unlimited. Faced with finding a new job that made use of his engineering credentials, Woodson decides to take a hard right turn into the world of third grade mathematics. What he discovered, endured and laughed about during that first year in the trenches is the basis for Learn Me Good.

Woodson would want you to know that in those trenches he’s a Lieutenant commanding a platoon of rag-tag 8 and 9 year olds, all of whom are armed to the teeth with four-function math skills. Oh, and he’s got the weirdest case of trenchfoot anyone has ever seen. Who knew that graham cracker crumb residue could manifest itself into an infection? At least it’s a sweet-smelling infection…

Such is the style and tone of Woodson’s e-mails to former colleague Fred Bommerson, greeted throughout the book as F-Bomm, Fredster, and Big Poppa Heat Pump, to name a few. In e-mail after e-mail, Woodson describes classroom scenarios that cause him to shake his head, drop his jaw, laugh out loud and everything in between.

The supporting cast of characters in Learn Me Good give Woodson plenty of opportunity to reflect on the quirks of teaching in an elementary school. There are adult oddballs like the district employee who checks Woodson’s students for vision problems – but not before selling the third-graders on the coolness of glasses by proclaiming, “I think glasses are SEXY!” Though Woodson takes the surprise in stride, he can’t help but tell Fred that it was awkward and nothing short of “airing a commercial for Bacardi rum in the middle of an episode of Sesame Street.”

But Woodson doesn’t just pluck the low-hanging comical fruits. He humanizes – or is it humorizes? – students like Esteban, an energetic kid who enthusiastically yells answer after answer without stopping to think whether they’re right [he also has a penchant for filling in test bubbles randomly]. And even the terrors such as the “clinically insane” Chandra, whom Woodson affectionately nicknames “Lucifer,” are regarded no worse than “bad data points” when they clearly have earned the status of a public school urban legend.

It’s not all humor and pop culture references, though. Pearson exposes his energy, command of pedagogy, and curriculum on nearly every page. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff. His blood pressure is largely stable. He isn’t political, doesn’t wail out diatribes on No Child Left Behind and isn’t out to reform the American education system.

Woodson wants to understand the quiet ones, the Spanish speakers and the hyperactive-but-harmless. He just wants to teach and love his kids the best he can and he’s going to do it with a smile.

Purists of the written word may lament the e-mail structure of the book. Pearson avoids a novel-like progression and goes with a unique schema that, while fresh and surprisingly effective, lends itself to reading in short bursts instead of chapter sessions. A particular omission in that structure is the lack of replies from Fred Bommerson; though the character of Woodson sums up Fred’s reactions in the beginning of his e-mails, a few notes directly from Fred might break up the series of familiar blueprints.

Learn Me Good has a place on shelves in all levels of the edusphere from the boiler room to the penthouse in the Ivory Tower. Policy wonks will find that it cures frequent heartburn related to frustration, albeit temporarily; parents will be refreshed as they read candid reactions from a teacher who they’d want to befriend in real life; teachers with this book on their desk will find that its good-natured but relevant anecdotes will invigorate even the most atrophied smiling muscles.

But there’s a caveat to those teachers: be prepared for the longing you’ll feel en route to the teachers’ lounge when you think, “Why can’t I have a Jack Woodson at my school?”

John Pearson’s Learn Me Good is available for purchase at www.amazon.com.

Texas Teacher Fired for Maintaining Grading Standards

The blogosphere is a funny place. I check my Google Analytics account every few days to see how people get to this site, including the terms they use in search engines to find the articles. If there’s a search term that surprises me, I search it myself to see how this site came up and who else is around it. That’s how I came across E.C. Huey, a candidate for the Guilford, North Carolina school board, who weighed in on a recent injustice in public education.

Mr. Huey pointed me to a story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that exposed the firing of a 6th grade teacher for refusing to give students grades that they didn’t deserve:

Problems for sixth-grade math teacher Michelle Kevil began last fall when parents complained to school authorities at Bear Creek Intermediate School in the Keller district.

One set of parents wrote Principal Tedna Taylor asking that their child be transferred from Kevil’s class. The parents hired a math tutor, they wrote, who couldn’t understand the child’s poor math grades.

I’ve heard this record spun on the Victrola more than a few times, but it never quite seems to wear out. Parents, unhappy with their child’s performance in a class – usually because the student just isn’t making the grade – go outside the system to prove that their child is, in fact, the genius they thought he was. It is true that some students have difficulty in a particular class for any of a host of reasons. It is not true that this is always the teacher’s fault. Encountering difficulty in management/staff relationships, teacher/student, parent/child, etc. is a normal part of life and it is important that we as educators and parents give our kids the strategies to work through them rather than avoid them altogether. Then another parent complained:

A second mother, whose child was an A student, also complained to the teacher. She disputed a half-point reduction on a math test on a question about a mixed number and a fraction. She asked that her child’s score “be adjusted accordingly.”

The mother added in an e-mail to Kevil, “We have been frustrated with this math class. It is hard for me to not view this [test] problem as trying to ‘trick’ the students.”

The teacher wrote back, explaining how she graded the problem and adding: “These issues have manifested themselves into an obvious personality conflict. We both only want what is best for your child. If your perception is that I am perpetually trying to ‘trick’ the students, perhaps this is the time to pursue changing” teachers.

And then another and another – discontent with a teacher tends to snowball in a community. I haven’t seen the math problem in question, but it’s safe to say that a “half-point reduction” on one test doesn’t warrant inciting a lynch mob. Kevil did the right thing by explaining her reasoning in full. One can only wonder how angry the parent’s e-mail was [or if it was one of many] if Ms. Kevil had to suggest that the student consider transferring classes.

It shouldn’t have come to that. If a parent is that unhappy, it’s time for the administration to mediate the conflict and, presumably, support their staff throughout the process. The administrator should determine whether the ruling was fair and if the teacher had done her job properly; if she had, she should be supported. If she hadn’t, she should be disciplined accordingly and given all available resources [especially peer/departmental guidance] to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. What happened? Principal Tedna Taylor wrote the following memo to Ms. Kevil:

“Michelle, I checked the grade averages across the campus and your failing rate is above the sixth grade average. I believe you have as many as 24 percent failing in one class and around 17 percent in the other classes. In the educational climate we are in at the federal, state and campus level, this is not acceptable. NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is clear, no child will be left behind and at BCI we embrace that philosophy. You should have 100 percent passing. We will discuss a plan of action when we return from the holidays.”

Principal Taylor harkens the blandest interpretation possible for No Child Left Behind [NCLB]: that indeed, no child should be left behind. According to Principal Taylor, this school interprets that mission as making sure all students are pushed through the system because the government tells them to do so. It is folly to expect 100% of a teacher’s students to pass; it is deeply offensive to suggest that a failure rate greater than 0% proves that a teacher is ineffective. This tendentious memo speaks volumes about how the Bear Creek Intermediate administration handled the issue. Ms. Kevil sums up her response succinctly:

The teacher says she believed that she was being asked to compromise her standards. “Don’t think I’m going to give grades out when a student doesn’t even deserve it,” she told me.

The Watchdog, the Star-Telegram’s consumer advocacy/news section, reviewed the documentation collected from the struggle between Taylor and Kevil:

The Watchdog reviewed more than 100 pages of letters, memos and e-mails provided by the teacher that show how the situation was handled. Nothing in the documents or in interviews indicates that the teacher was asked to alter grades. But Kevil said she believed that she was under pressure to do so.

“It put me in a position to regrade, add points, to change your grading policy, to change the material you were presenting so you don’t have any kids failing,” Kevil said. “Honestly, that’s how it was presented to me.”

Few principals are careless enough to express in writing such an embarrassing, shameful stance. Even so, an environment that encourages, “grade inflation and bumping and social promotion,” as Mr. Huey puts it, can pervade a classroom and render a teacher ineffectual. At the least, it creates irreconcilable [and wholly unnecessary] tension between everyone involved: administrators, parents, teachers and, of course, the students who are caught in the middle.

And then the district decided to terminate her contract at the end of her probationary year. Ms. Kevil maintained her will:

Other teachers, she said, told her to just pass the students. “Well, I can’t pass them,” she remembers telling her colleagues. “They have to do the work to pass.”

For that she should be applauded [and her peers who suggested to pass students unjustly should be decried]. Principal Taylor called this a “cop-out statement” and implied that Kevil didn’t know how to motivate students properly. The pressure continued:

The documents provided by Kevil show that Taylor performed walk-throughs during Kevil’s classes, asked administrators to meet with Kevil to discuss her methods, checked grades and tests designed by the teacher and requested that she make sure that her assignments mirrored those of other sixth-grade math teachers.

This is not the supportive environment I mentioned before; based on the evidence in this article and the [brief] testimony of both parties, it is reasonable to conclude that these interventions were closer to bullying than staff support. Kevil requested a transfer and was asked specifically by Taylor whether she was resigning; at that point she withdrew the transfer request and wrote a letter of grievance to the school board. She couldn’t follow it up because she couldn’t afford a lawyer [and in this case, she needs a skilled practitioner of employment law]. Because she didn’t pursue the grievance, the school board was unable to hear her case in full and voted 6-1 not to extend her probationary contract. Trustee Gerry Knowles said:

“A high failure rate, to me, tells me the subject is not being properly taught,” Knowles added.

Apparently Knowles concluded that the only force at work here is Kevil’s inability to teach. Remember, though, the vote wasn’t unanimous:

The lone dissenter in the board vote was Randy Pugh, whose wife is a math teacher at Bear Creek.

Pugh said, “I spoke to Michelle once when she was demanding a higher standard for the children. She was being pressured to lower that standard in order to have children passing, and that concerned me.” He said he referred her to the district’s grievance policies.

I laud Pugh for not bending to the majority, but the school board should have been more than concerned – horrified would be a more appropriate response – and voted to investigate this situation immediately and to the fullest. They didn’t.

Kevil wrote school board members this final statement: “I refuse to compromise my integrity because of an uninformed parent, a weak administration and a district that turns a blind eye.”

Kevil and other teachers with a commitment to standards and integrity face persecution by those who lack that will. Kevil’s not the first casualty and she won’t be the last; as administrators worry endlessly about the accountability of NCLB, exclusion rates and appearing on Newsweek’s best schools list, we’ll hear about teachers who keep their focus on teaching being thrown under the bus. Students and their parents are in a sense customers with the school serving as the business, but in education the customer is not always right.

I have no doubt that Ms. Kevil will approach her next job with the same conviction with which she carried out her duties at BCI . Her next employer will be better for it – and so will her students, who will be given genuine evaluation instead of being cheated by an administration that pushes them through a system with a shameful disregard for their well-being. I would wish Ms. Kevil luck, but those who maintain their integrity require little luck to be successful.

Asked how many of her students failed on the most recent report cards, Kevil answered three out of about 100.

The bad guys may have won the battle, but if teachers like Michelle Kevil stay committed, they won’t win the war.

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