Archives for July 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is hosted this week by Mom is Teaching.

Anti-psychotics for kids

Anti-psychotic drugs are being prescribed to children — sometimes very young children — with attention deficit disorder, behavior disorders and autism. Nobody knows the long-term effects. From the St. Pete Times:

The ever-increasing number of kids who come through the doors of pediatrician Esther Gonzalez’s office lead chaotic lives. There’s more divorce and more drug use, more domestic violence and physical and sexual abuse. Working parents are overwhelmed.

“Some parents are so stressed out, they come in seeking a pill,” Gonzalez said. It is easy to medicate kids; “it is very hard to change environment.”

At her practice in Crystal River, she starts with a thorough screening. A child might need occupational, physical or speech therapy. Sometimes, it takes psychiatric drugs.

Despite her concerns about prescribing such medications, Gonzalez has no doubt they have saved many a child from juvenile detention.

Not prescribing drugs to a child who needs them, she said, “it’s like seeing someone dying and not giving them CPR.”

It’s easy for people who’ve raised easy children to believe better parenting is the answer. In some cases, that’s true. But there are kids who are very disturbed at very young ages. What do you do when your six-year-old goes wild with a steak knife?

What teachers make

Taylor Mali, a high school teacher and slam poet, talks about what teachers make.

He’s also very funny on the “impotence of proofreading.”

Majority backs NCLB

In a new national survey, 57 percent backed reauthorizing No Child Left Behind as is or with minimal changes. The survey was done by Hoover Institution’s Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard. Support goes to 71 percent if respondents are asked about “federal legislation” that holds schools accountable for student achievement rather than “No Child Left Behind.” However, only 42 percent of current and former public school employees support renewing NCLB with minimal or no changes.

Respondents gave mediocre grades to their local schools and even worse grades to public schools in general.

Specifically, 43 percent give the schools in their own community an A or a B, 38 percent give them a C, and 18 percent give a D or F. When asked about public schools around the nation, these grades drop. Just 22 percent give public schools in general an A or B, 55 percent, a C, and 24 percent, a D or F.

By large margins, respondents supported setting a national proficiency standard and requiring students to pass an exam to graduate from certain grades and to receive a high school diploma.

Summer start

To prevent the “summer slide,” some schools with disadvantaged students are opening a month early to provide academics and outdoor activities low-income parents can’t afford. Scores rise sigificantly for students who complete the voluntary program.

Much of the achievement gap separating low-income and middle-class children is a summer gap: Middle-class kids learn a lot more from their parents and from the enrichment activities their parents choose; poor kids do most of their learning at school or not at all.

Under la maestra’s thumb

Mexico’s schools are controlled completely by the teachers’ union, reports The Economist. Elba Esther Gordilla, the union president known as la maestra, is one of the most powerful politicians in the country. She is a force for the status quo, writes The Economist.

Mexico spends a relatively large percentage of its GDP on education with poor results.

The problem is how the system is organised. Teachers, including school heads, are accountable to union leaders, not to the education ministry or parents. Teacher evaluation exists in name but not in practice. A significant slice of education spending goes straight to the union. Some 30,000 union officials are on the payroll as teachers; they never set foot in a classroom although there is a teacher shortage in some schools. In 2006, an election year, 750m pesos ($70m) was transferred from the ministry to the union, a threefold rise over the 250m pesos in transfers in 2005, according to Aldo Muñoz, a political scientist at the Iberoamerican University.

. . . La maestra “negotiates directly with the president,” says Eduardo Andere, a professor at ITAM, another Mexico City university. The deputy minister in charge of basic education, Fernando González, is Ms Gordillo’s son-in-law.

President Felipe Calderon is more of a reformer than Fox, The Economist writes. But Calderon owes power to la maestra.

Meet me in Frisco

BlogFestWest is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 18 starting at 6:30 pm at Fort Mason Center, room C370, in San Francisco. Eat, drink and be merry for $20 (for students and struggling writers) or $25 (for people with regular jobs). I’ll be there.

Cinnamon Stillwell, Ed Driscoll and Nina Yablok are the organizers. Contact them at [email protected]

Dad wrote the book

In Riverview, Michigan an engineer father started out helping his sons with their math, then rewrote their textbook and finally wrote a series of math textbook that are being used by schools and parents. The Detroit News reports Nicholas Aggor’s books are catching on:

Riverview Community School District teachers liked the books so much they started using them in classes last year, and district officials in June made it part of the curriculum for elementary and middle school starting in fall.

. . . Interest in the series has multiplied exponentially among Metro Detroit districts. Administrators in Wyandotte, Taylor and other districts asked teachers to review the series. In nearby River Rouge, curriculum director Paula Daniels said she wants copies by September for parents as a tutoring guide.

The “MathMaster Series” hasn’t yet been published: Aggor copies the books himself and hands them out for free.

Teachers and parents like the books’ step-by-step instructions, the blend of basics and concepts, easy-to-understand examples and the close match with the state’s content standards.

Aggor, an immigrant from Ghana, wored as an automotive engineer before devoting himself to the books. His wife as a school principal in Ghana.

Via Education Gadfly.

Motivated and unprepared

Antoine, a B student at a mostly black, mostly poor high school, learned to refine his college admission essay at a summer program sponsored by College Summit. The New York Times story left me uneasy about Antoine’s future. The assumption seems to be that having a good poverty story to tell is the key to college.

One staple of the affluent students’ essays is the service trip to Latin America. “It’s the first time they’ve seen this wrenching poverty,” said Lee Coffin, the director of undergraduate admissions at Tufts University. After a while, however, the trips sound the same.

. . . But the lives of Antoine and the other 36 students at the workshop, which is run by College Summit, a nonprofit organization, are defined by struggle.

The workshop is intended to help them discover — and prove to college admissions officials — that their life stories can be as powerful as high SAT scores and stellar grades.

High SAT scores and stellar grades predict a student will be able to take advantage of college opportunities. Below-average grades and scores predict the student will struggle academically; family poverty and dysfunction increase the risk of failure.

Antoine is motivated to succeed. His first draft reads:

“I will not become a stereotype/statistic because many African/Black Americans proved that we can achieve greater heights,” Antoine wrote. “Richard Wright is a great, black American writer. Have you read his famous book, “Black Boy.” I have, and if you have read it, you should know that he defeated the odds. Same with Martin and his dream.”

“Just like these incredible men,” he wrote, “I, too, want to defeat the stereotypes.”

I’ve seen a lot of essay drafts by Mexican-American students who don’t want to be stereotypes. (Who wants to be a stereotype?) Motivation is good. But it needs to be coupled with academic preparation. Teach Antoine to write a research paper.

Felon principal on the payroll

Convicted of third-degree rape, a Tacoma middle-school principal remains on the payroll. Harold Wright Jr. was convicted earlier this month of helping a friend rape a 19-year-old woman. He refuses to resign, reports the Tacoma News-Tribune.

. . . Wright, 36, continues to collect his $8,245-a-month salary, something he’s been doing since February, when he was first charged. So far, the district appears to have paid him at least $45,000 for time he wasn’t working. There are not many other jobs where commission of a felony can earn the perpetrator a sweet paid vacation.

But in Washington’s public schools – all public schools, not just Tacoma’s – even convictions for grave crimes do not permit administrators to simply fire the convicts. State law explicitly gives all educators the right to a potentially lengthy process of responses, hearings and appeals.

Washington legislators should change the law to make it easier to boot the next felon principal.