Sunday, May 30, 2010

The heck with it, I'm yielding the floor to the L.A. Times

The L.A. Times editors sum up something about the education problem that I would have taken a lot longer to say. They have gone public with the opinion that complex problems in a complex system may have more than two "sides" and may not be susceptible to simple, one-shot solutions. How dare they.

No magic bullet for education
America keeps looking for one simple solution for its education shortcomings. There isn't one.
May 30, 2010

The "unschooling" movement of the 1970s featured open classrooms, in which children studied what they were most interested in, when they felt ready. That was followed by today's back-to-basics, early-start model, in which students complete math worksheets in kindergarten and are supposed to take algebra by eighth grade at the latest. Under the "whole language" philosophy of the 1980s, children were expected to learn to read by having books read to them. By the late 1990s, reading lessons were dominated by phonics, with little time spent on the joys of what reading is all about — unlocking the world of stories and information.

A little more than a decade ago, educators bore no responsibility for their students' failure; it was considered the fault of the students, their parents and unequal social circumstances. Now schools are held liable for whether students learn, regardless of the students' lack of effort or previous preparation, and are held solely accountable for reaching unrealistic goals of achievement.

No wonder schools have a chronic case of educational whiplash. If there's a single aspect of schooling that ought to end, it's the decades of abrupt and destructive swings from one extreme to another. There is no magic in the magic-bullet approach to learning. Charters are neither evil nor saviors; they can be a useful complement to public schools, but they have not blazed a sure-fire path to student achievement. Decreeing that all students will be proficient in math and reading by 2014 hasn't moved us dramatically closer to the mark...

Go ahead, read the whole thing and tell me where they're wrong.

Quote of the Week (May 30-June 5)

Seems to me all our times have been algorithmic times; we just didn't know it yet.
     --Jon Carroll, May 28, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nothing certain as dearth in Texas

[At the risk of skewing the Blogger/Google stats about my blog even more, this week's pact post will be again be more reactive than proactive and will contain certain right-of-center terms.]

From a bird's-eye view, there's a national pattern emerging that has been succinctly described as lost they damn minds to explain everything from why there are still black Republicans, to why there are any minority Tea Partiers, to why people will pay to hear Sarah "Half a term is better than none" Palin's word salad, to why certain state officials (Virginia, Arizona, Texas) have done things that are clearly racist to all but the most obtuse-- all while mainstream media pundits continue to "debate both sides of the issue."

I believe that Rand Paul of Kentucky has been sufficiently hoist on his own petard as he trampled on his own primary victory by first being just a little too honest about the 1964 Civil Rights Act in a May 19 Rachel Maddow interview:
... and then deciding he'd had enough and refusing to appear a few days later on Meet the Press. I can't add much to what's already been well said. I don't know what's in his heart (ignorance or racism) and I don't care, because his smarmy meanderings deny history and contribute to a racist result. From his own comments, he'd clearly allow a return to Jim Crow days-- and on that basis alone, he doesn't need to be a U.S. Senator.

So let's move on from Dan'l Boone country to Texas, where the State Board of Education has been even more direct in their denial of history than waffleberry Rand Paul. On May 21, they officially adopted new curriculum standards for history. This year's conservative rewrite follows last year's revised science standards, which generated a bit of controversy themselves and stopped just short of saying the universe began in the year 4400 B.C.

A decent summary of the Texas proceedings can be found at the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) Insider blog. For an alternative one-pager, try the TPMmuckraker summary. Bottom line: Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schafly in, overt discussion of Christianity in, minorities (including President Obama) barely tolerated, left-of-center figures out.

I take the impending ignorance of Texas grads seriously because I have young family members in K-12 schools there. One is old enough to miss most of this controversy and will only have a couple of years under the new standards. The other is young enough to be impressionable and will be fully immersed when the new textbooks arrive. I find myself thinking I should send CARE packages of books and videos on black history. One of the kids isn't a reader but the videos might "take."

I also find myself thinking about boycotts. There's just been a push to boycott Arizona over their recent immigration laws. Haven't heard a peep about boycotting Texas, but...

One sector that won't boycott Texas anytime soon would be the textbook publishers. They have their own difficult calculus to deal with. Texas as the 800-pound gorilla may not be a sustainable model much longer, in this age of customizable textbooks, print-on-demand, and e-textbooks, but they're still in charge.

By contrast, the higher ed textbook model is essentially broken already-- the publishers are really pushing e-texts and even book rentals to keep the doors open. They have put their best (and, might I add, best-looking) sales reps on the job to sell their hardcover, high-cost wares to the profs. I don't think it's working, though it's an impressive last hurrah. This has to trickle down to K-12 soon and influence Texas, California and New York, which I believe are the next-largest gorillas. The latter two each have distinct K-12 standards and I hope they won't adopt Texas history just to please the publishers' desire for hardcover sales.

I've also been concerned about the general welfare of the upcoming generation of grads beyond my own family, and I can imagine a need for remedial U.S. history to join the remedial English and math that already plagues so many of our incoming college students.

Remediation is an add-on to my system's 4-year model, but it's destined to shrink, not grow. It's already been pushed to the community colleges at CUNY on the "other" coast. And California State (CSU) is picking up on that idea:

Despite calls to maintain the status quo, the trustees of the California State University system approved this week the "Early Start" program to address remediation rates that often top 60% at various campuses, and hover near 47% in English and 37% in math system-wide.

Starting in 2012, prospective freshmen who fail the CSU proficiency placement exams must take CSU-sponsored courses to address the deficiency before arriving at college. CSU anticipates this program will reduce the amount of remediation the campuses must offer and help their new students arrive ready for college-level work...
This is touted as "wholesome and gentle" at the above link, but low-income (including white and minority) students are really going to feel the squeeze. From the K-12 side they will be deemed ready to move on if they pass the high-school exit exam and graduate. The CSU English and math placement exams will, in the percentages described above, say they're not ready for college.

The current solution for most students needing remediation is to admit them, and offer a combination of late summer and first semester remediation on campus. The "new and improved" solution is actually a very old one: Get any remediation done on your own before showing up. In principle, one can argue that 4-year colleges shouldn't do remediation. In reality, there's a gap and a need. Our community colleges are full now, so everyone needing remediation won't be able to get it, starting in 2012.

[NOTE: Several parts of this post were adapted from comments I posted on a thread at P6.]

Quote of the Week (May 23-29, 2010)

"What we sow or plant in the soil will come back to us in exact kind. It's impossible to sow corn and get a crop of wheat, but we entirely disregard this law when it comes to mental solving."
     --Orison Swett Marden

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Good News Department, updated

Back on April 12, I posted a link about Katie Washington, the first Black valedictorian at Notre Dame. Here's her speech at commencement, and a PR story about her achievin' life. (h/t to JJP for both of these)

Valedictorian speech:

Video from Notre Dame's Office of Public Affairs:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Next Blog" of the Week (May 16-22, 2010)

The sheep proudly raised their heads. "Justice!" they bleated in chorus. "Justice!"
     --Leonie Swann
As stated in previous weeks, I still don't have a clear pattern as to what happens when the Next Blog link at top of page is clicked. Could be that the Blogger algorithm just doesn't have a clear pattern of posts from me. Fair enough, it should take years to get inside my head. Be that as it may, a couple of days ago I clicked Next Blog and got a result that is fairly on topic for TOTF, so here we go.

Truth in Justice Files is an offshoot of the larger Truth in Justice site, the purpose of which is "to educate the public about the criminal conviction of wholly innocent people."

While the blog consists mostly of repurposed newspaper editorials about preventing and undoing wrongful convictions, with little new commentary, the main Truth in Justice site is broader in content. It consolidates cases and issues by category (e.g. death penalty, arson, junk science...) and includes a category I wasn't expecting: wrongfully convicted cops. Generally, you think about the police being in the power position and covering their own, but it doesn't always happen.

There's also a recommended reading list, which was more extensive than I thought it would be. Worth a look, even if you think you're up on this issue.

Oh, the quote at top of post is from a darned good ovine-based murder mystery called Three Bags Full. It's a bit out of context, as the sheep actually take charge of their own destiny and work the human-dominated system as they understand it quite well. Would that more people did the same...

Quote of the Week (May 16-22, 2010)

He had the precious gift of being deaf when convenient. Many people took this for absent-mindedness, but it was rather his faculty for concentrating on what suited him, and remaining impervious to what seemed inappropriate or useless. He was in no way a daydreamer: or at any rate his dreams were based on a sharp observation of life, for in order to grasp reality better he limited his perceptions to a few definite things.
     --Jean Renoir

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So many open windows & tabs...

First up: The New York Times finally catches up with David Byrne, three years later:

Published: May 9, 2010

...To many expert ears, compressed music files produce a crackly, tinnier and thinner sound than music on CDs and certainly on vinyl. And to compete with other songs, tracks are engineered to be much louder as well.

In one way, the music business has been the victim of its own technological success: the ease of loading songs onto a computer or an iPod has meant that a generation of fans has happily traded fidelity for portability and convenience... [emphasis added]

Quoting a Reuters story on Byrne's presentation at SXSW 2007, in which he discusses music sharing, the death of the CD, etc.:

"It's kind of sad," Byrne said, "but I think of it as a boost for live music. As long as it doesn't get to be too horrible -- the sound quality -- they'll go for convenience and accessibility. He added, "It doesn't have to sound good to move people."

Next, something I'll try, but it will still feel like succumbing to the dark side of the Force:

Published: May 11, 2010

Microsoft has created a chimera in its new Office 2010 software, part desktop software and part Web app.

This latest version of Office, which includes applications like Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint, is Microsoft’s long-awaited effort to modernize one of its most lucrative products and to thwart rivals like Google that are nipping at its heels with free Web software.

Recently, I've been concerned about the "other" Digital Divide, the one concerned with access to employment, funding, etc. for minority techies. The Black Web 2.0 folks are apparently doing something about it:

New Media Entrepreneurship Conference

Someday, this won't be news:

Published: May 9, 2010

WASHINGTON — When Natalie Randolph was named the head coach of Calvin Coolidge Senior High School’s football team in March, her players wasted no time in testing her...

Yet Randolph, one of a few women to lead a varsity high school football team in the United States, was not hired at this school in northwest Washington because she had proven herself on the football field.

Members of the hiring committee said she won the job over more than 15 other applicants — including two former N.F.L. players, several Pop Warner coaches and a retired Army brigadier general — because she emphasized one thing that those men did not: helping the players in the classroom....

Is that a furtive movement or are you just glad to see me?

There's a shorthand (trope) that's used in stories like this one, that crime is just so obviously higher in certain neighborhoods, which is why there are more cops on patrol there, which is why there are more events (stops, detentions, arrests, etc.) and it's all very natural and the way of the world.

What people mean is, certain types of easily-pegged, statistics-boosting crimes are more common in certain neighborhoods, and crime is so much harder to spot and harder to prove in other areas so don't blame the cops for going after the easy stat-booster. Otherwise cops would be swarming all over Wall Street frisking everybody in a suit. OK, that's rather extreme-- the '80s stereotype of coke-snorting brokers and traders is surely past. No way anything untoward is going on around Wall Street! But minority neighborhoods are NOT the only places where people walk around and look furtive when cops stare at them. Spread the force out a little, willya?

Tip o' the TOTF fedora to the Times editor, though, for keeping an otherwise minimally-reported factoid in the story, the increased pressure to use the CompStat database.
Published: May 12, 2010

Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but no more likely to be arrested.

The more than 575,000 stops of people in the city, a record number of what are known in police parlance as “stop and frisks,” yielded 762 guns.

Of the reasons listed by the police for conducting the stops, one of those least commonly cited was the claim that the person fit the description of a suspect. The most common reason listed by the police was a category known as “furtive movements.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Okay, NOW I'm concerned about charter schools

Prometheus6 frequently posts about charter schools and is the reason I tuned into this story:
Published: May 9, 2010

When Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet certain members of the hedge fund crowd, seeking donors for his all-but-certain run for governor, what he heard was this: Talk to Joe.

That would be Joe Williams, executive director of a political action committee that advances what has become a favorite cause of many of the wealthy founders of New York hedge funds: charter schools.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Quote of the Week (May 9-15, 2010)

Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
   --Martin Luther King, Jr.
     Letter from Birmingham Jail

When I agree with Al Sharpton you'll be the first to know

Rev. Al went down Phoenix way a few days ago, and some people (if you can call a clearly unrepentant Armstrong Williams "some people") gave him a hard time about it. The recent Arizona legislation on illegal immigration didn't seem to affect him or African Americans. If anyone was going to be stereotyped or profiled, it would be Latinos-- and not even Latinos in his native New York. So why would Rev. Al add the Arizona governor and legislature to his enemies list by assuming the classic "outside agitator" role?

From the above Rev. Al/Phoenix link:
“If they do to Latinos today, they’ll do it to your group tomorrow,” he said. “If you open the door to a double standard for anybody, you open the door to a double standard for everybody.”

And Sharpton had a special message for blacks who made up a large part of the audience.

“Let me tell you something: After dark we all look Mexican riding down the street,” he said.
This week, Rev. Al and I agree. Legislators and law enforcement types aren't talking about checking people in plaid shirts just in case they might be Canadian and so far they've been unable (oh, all right, unwilling) to say what it means for someone to look illegal. So it makes sense for us to be duly concerned.

But Rev. Al is not alone in noting that stereotyping one group may lead to stereotyping others. (This isn't a "research study of the obvious" situation, either. If you've ever met whites who seem to get along with black folk but not with Asians, or black Protestants who like Catholics and Muslims but not Jews, or... well, continue please...)

(h/t to Racialicious) Jenn Fang over at briefly describes two new studies led by Dr. Chu Kim-Prieto of the College of New Jersey, one of which
suggests that stereotyping is a psychological process that actually promotes a broader "stereotyping" attitude that affects all minority communities, not just the ones being actively stereotyped. In other words, my stereotype is your stereotype, too.
Participants were exposed either to a stereotyped Native American image (the old University of Illinois mascot), a generic logo, or a blank folder. Those exposed to the mascot endorsed anti-Asian American stereotypes (yes) more so than the two other groups did. The implication being that stereotyping one group increased the propensity to stereotype others.

I continued to follow the trail from Fang's commentary in hopes of finding the original study. Her page led me to an article by Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune that more clearly describes both studies. Jacobs reports:
The second experiment was conducted at The College of New Jersey. The 161 participants were randomly assigned to read one of two short essays: A descriptive history of Chief Illiniwek taken from the U of I website, or a description of that same university’s arts center. Both essays “were complimentary and respectful in tone,” the researchers note.

Afterwards, the same test to measure anti-Asian American stereotyping was administered. “Participants who were assigned to the American Indian reading passage endorsed anti-Asian American stereotypes to a greater extent than did those in the control condition,” Kim-Prieto and her colleagues report.
Jacobs provided a link to Kim-Prieto's article in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Here's the abstract:
Numerous findings have documented the adverse effects of stereotypes on those negatively portrayed by the stereotypes. Less is known about the ramifications of stereotype exposure on those who are not the objects of the stereotypic depictions. Two studies examined the effect of exposure to an American Indian sports mascot on the stereotype endorsement of a different minority group. Study 1 used an unobtrusive prime, while Study 2 used a more engaged prime. Study 2 also investigated the effect among those unfamiliar with the controversy regarding American Indian sports mascots. Results from both studies show that participants primed with an American Indian sports mascot increased their stereotyping of a different ethnic minority group. [emphasis added]
Bottom line, as minorities we hang together or hang separately. That's why I agree with Rev. Al's trip to Phoenix. He wasn't just showboating.
P.S. from our Cute Web Tricks Dept.: Fang's commentary also has a great example of single-word linking, for those who like online parlor tricks as I do. Go there and scroll over the words in the phrase: "right-wing pundits and fear-mongerers who perpetuate the racist notion that all Muslims are terrorists" ...

Talk to your mother today

You're welcome.

Friday, May 7, 2010

(Th)ink and Grin, or shudder

I can't aptly describe this week's (Th)ink cartoon by Keith Knight (you know, the guy who isn't the Boondocks guy). You'll need to go see it yourself.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Get counted now or you WILL whine later

Just a reminder, hat tip to Jack at JJP, that the 2010 census is still in progress, inquisitive humans with black bags roaming the streets.

Steve Jost's own words from Huffington Post:
All census workers have taken an oath for life to protect the confidentiality of the data they collect. In addition, by law the Census Bureau cannot share your answers with anyone, not housing authorities, not tax authorities, not law enforcement. Not even the President of the United States can see your answers.

Census workers will be easily identifiable: Each will have an official government badge (identifiable by the seal of the Census Bureau) and a black canvas census bags. [sic]

If you have any doubt about whether the person at the door is a census taker, here is a list of what 2010 census workers will NOT ask you for:

1) Your social security number
2) Any personal financial information
3) To come inside your home


All those with a great "Next Blog" of the Week: take one step forward

Not so fast, Cooper...

Well, all right, Mr. Blogspot or Ms. Blogger or whoever is actually the person pulling the strings while we dance out here in the open blogosphere. I think there may be a pattern to this Next Blog thing after all. Since I posted about the uproar in a certain Southwestern state just east of California which shall not be named, my Next Blog link seems to have altered considerably. I think it's more to the political right but I can't prove it. In any case, after an inordinate number of attempts (in two browsers) I'm calling it a draw. Nothing I'd foist upon y'all. We'll try again next weekend.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Quote of the Week (May 2-8, 2010)

Human beings seem to be a poor invention. If they are the noblest works of God where is the ignoblest?
   --Mark Twain (Notebook, 1896)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Take off your rainbow shades

It's too early-- or too late-- to react calmly and reasonably to the train wreck generated by Arizona's passage of a draconian immigration law, signed into law on April 24 by Gov. Jan Brewer. Cooler heads do not yet prevail.

If Arizona starts checking ID of people with plaid shirts to see if they're Canadian, I'll take back all my remarks.
That was late April. Now that it's early May, it appears that I need not worry about retracting the above. The tops of people's heads did indeed explode, and stayed that way. Arizonan public officials (and their pundit supporters across the realm) spent the intervening days trying and failing to explain how the new law could be enforced without rampant racial profiling, especially since there is no expressed official interest in illegal immigrants from anywhere but Mexico and points south.

As of April 30, a hastily-signed follow-on bill attempted to quell the uproar by being, ah, just a bit more specific. It clarifies that people can't be interrogated strictly on the basis of race or ethnicity alone, but (from the linked story) "civil complaints, such as an unmowed lawn, could trigger questioning about immigration status." Well, as long as there's a sound reason to check someone's papers, right?

I had one moment of near-sympathy for the Grand Canyon State when talking with an expatriate Arizonan a few days ago. The claim, which I have no reason to doubt, is that border crime and violence has gone so far beyond merely crossing to find work that a radical solution is necessary. Well, you've got me there. Peaceful residents on either side of the border, being overrun by marauding drug dealers? Migrant workers' minor pilfering of water or food escalating to grand larceny? No argument, some kind of hammer needs to come down. I just can't see how the new law, however amended, changes either of these.

A gentle reminder for our gentle readers of what month it is

For a host of reasons I forgot to post this yesterday, but there's still plenty of May 2010 left. You may recall Kris Broughton's recent post over at Brown Man Thinking Hard. It was written in response to neo-Confederate shenanigans (too many to list here) from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and was titled "America Has a Black President Month" Comes Every 30 Days. It said, in part:
This is "America Has A Black President" month.
The next celebration will begin May 1st. The one after that will be June 1st. The one after that...
Keep smiling.

The Death of Proofreading: Kamal or Kamala?

Major news site typos are always amusing, unless you're the person whose name was misspelled. I assume the SFGate webmaster staff will fix the headline in the image below when somebody wakes up (it's early Sunday morning in this time zone). And I further assume they will apologize to Ms. Harris, the Chronicle regrets the error, etc. as there is NO WAY this is anything but a typo, certainly not an inebriated weekend staff trying to slip one by.

Actually, I'd expect the publisher & editor to call and apologize for this one, as they have just "typoed" their own endorsed candidate for Attorney General. One hopes this isn't an omen of some kind for the rest of the election cycle...


EDIT: They fixed it. The headline now reads:


A focused vision for attorney general