Archives for June 2005

How to achieve productivity

Denver’s new school superintendent, Michael Bennet, formerly the mayor’s chief of staff is “incredibly smart” with “strong community relationships, but no K-12 experience, and not much background in the education wars,” writes Rocky Mountain News columnist Linda Seebach in an e-mail. Bennet says his first priority will be hiring a chief academic officer to develop education policy. Seebach asks: How should he go about filling this critical position?

I’d recommend consulting with the folks at Education Trust, which has a no-nonsense attitude toward raising the achievement of disadvantaged students.

He also should consult Zig Engelmann, of Direct Instruction fame, or, at least, readi Engelmann’s response to a column by Alan Bersin, outgoing superintendent in San Diego. Bersin, an attorney who also came in with little education experience, argued in a column that a superintendent must change the paradign to make productivity the top priority.

Bersin “talks about focus on productivity, but nothing he says gives the slightest clue that he knows much about achieving it,” Engelmann writes.

Let’s look at a different way. Let’s say we have a superintendent of a large school district, like San Diego, that believes all of the above and that wants to make a change for the students who are victims of the unshifted paradigm. What would this sensitive superintendent do-given his strong commitment to productivity, data, and students?

He would check the records to see if anything had been done in that district earlier that produced positive results.

He would find out which teachers or supervisors are effective with lower performers, starting with those who are or have been in his district.

He would conduct controlled experiments to determine whether any approaches identified are “authentic” and disseminable.

He would get facts about specifically what is needed to train teachers to be effective.

He would then expand those approaches that consistently lead to higher achievement to all schools in need.

Good advice.

ADHD warnings

New warnings about psychiatric side effects will be added to the label of drugs used to treat children for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The FDA is reacting to “reports of hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, psychotic behavior and aggression” among users of Ritalin and similar drugs.

Godless college

Using “the G word” (God) in a term paper on “Religion and its Place in Government” earned an F for Bethany Hauf, a community college student in Victorville, California. Adjunct English instructor Michael Shefchik had approved the topic on one condition: “No mention of big ‘G’ gods, i.e., one, true god argumentation.”

When she realized this meant a ban on the word “God,” Hauf, who’d titled her report “In God We Trust,” complained to the instructor and then the department chair, Judy Solis.

During a joint meeting between all three the options were laid out: Hand in the report with the “G” word or revise, edit or re-write the paper, Solis said.

“She continued to write her paper,” Solis said. “She knew what the consequences were.”

Hauf acknowledges she knew her teacher’s condition for writing the paper, but argued it would be impossible to write about the affect of Christianity on the development of the United States without using the word God. “He told me you might as well write about the Easter Bunny,” Hauf said. “He wanted to censor the word God.”

When I first read about this story, I was convinced that Hauf had received an F for a poorly written report, but her complaint that “God” was taboo appears to be undisputed by Solis. The instructor wasn’t available for comment.

Despite the failing grade on the paper, Hauf received a C in the English 101 course.

Godless camping

Do secular kids need their own summer camp? Well, they’ve got one.

Providing a haven for the children of nonbelievers is what Camp Quest is all about. As the camp’s official T-shirt announces, it’s a place that’s “beyond belief.” More precisely, it claims to be the first summer sleep-away camp in the country for atheist, agnostic and secular humanist children.

Some campers come from conservative communities where you’re either Christian or you’re suspected of devil worship. Still, there are plenty of camps where the emphasis is on canoeing, not Christ. When my daughter went to my old summer camp in Vermont, Brown Ledge Camp, she had a bunkie who was a devout Catholic and another who was a Wiccan. Everybody got along.

Education isn't everything

Education isn’t a cure-all for economic problems, writes Peter Schrag in the Sacramento Bee.

Education is a necessary element of a successful high-tech economy; it’s emphatically necessary to help reduce social inequities, and imperative for civic and humanistic understanding and democratic unity. But it’s not enough in a high-tech global market where many jobs can be sent overseas at the click of a mouse.

Of course, India is a tough competitor because they’ve got a large class of well-educated people.

Go to the carnival

School’s out but the Carnival Of Education goes on.


New York City’s public elementary and middle schoolers will be told not to make fun of each other. The New Yorker reports on “Don’t Laugh at Me.”

The program, which is the brainchild and heart’s desire of Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul & Mary, aims to combat bullying by emphasizing the moral lessons of folk music.

Yarrow heard a ballad at a folk festival in 1999.

Moved to tears by its swelling harmonies and first-person testaments to the effects of ridicule—“I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek / A little girl who never smiles ’cause I’ve got braces on my teeth”—he decided to incorporate the tune into Peter, Paul & Mary’s repertoire.

The program “is now used in at least twelve thousand American schools and camps.”

My daughter encountered “Don’t Laugh” when she interned with the California Education Department’s violence prevention unit. She thought the song gives tips on who to pick on for callow bullies who don’t realize that a classmate wearing glasses or braces is victim-worthy.

Number 2 Pencil lives in fear of “over-earnest old hippies writing drippy songs.” She also recalls Yarrow’s 1970 conviction for sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl. Well, he didn’t laugh at her.


I just sold my house for the asking price to a couple with two little kids who claim they’re going to live in, not tear it down to build a bigger house. These days, buyers send a personal letter with a photo, as if the seller is putting the house up for adoption. I have to say: Cute children will be living in my house. Furthermore, they bought it as is, knowing they’ll have to deal with the termites and dry rot on their own dime. I can stay till late September, so my stuff can be moved directly to the new house instead of going into storage. Now all I have to do is figure out where the stager hid the wastebaskets, the salt and pepper, the Kleenex and the soap. Well, I have to decide what furniture of mine should be moved to the new house. John and I have some oak-teak issues to resolve.

Update: I forgot to mention the buyers’ daughter is a charter school student; their son is a preschooler.

Mathless teachers

Virginia will drop a basic skills test for would-be teachers which measures high-school-level reading, writing and math performance. Instead, the state will develop its own test of college-level reading and writing skills. Only math teachers will be tested on math knowledge.

Here are “advanced math” test prep questions for Praxis I, which is being abandoned. Thirty-five years out of high school, I can do these problems in my head. It’s hard to believe there are people smart enough to teach who can’t pass a basic math test. How are they going to average students’ grades?

Spa camp

Spa camp starts with manicures, Newsweek reports. Then the girls move on to scrubbing technique.

“Who knows why it’s important to moisturize after we exfoliate?” asks the counselor. “Um, ’cause the skin’s all open and stuff?” says Hannah Vandeventer, 12. “Right. Girls, rub in the cream.”

Instead of roughing it in the wilds, some summer campers are learning to luxuriate.

The adult resort Canyon Ranch now offers a Pilates-and-massage camp in Pennsylvania for teens, while Washington state’s Wolf Camp boasts a herbal-medicine-and-spa program. Of the estimated 10,000 overnight or day camps, more and more are offering specialty programs like stuntman school and fashion design to an increasingly sophisticated kid demographic.

Sophisticated or spoiled?

The southern California spa camp costs $1,400 a week, which includes yoga and etiquette.

The New York Times has a story on “fat camps” for overweight kids.