Archives for May 2008

Not dead yet

How do you get through to teens about the dangers of drunken driving?

A uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms at El Camino High near San Diego to tell students a classmate had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.

About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) came up with the hoax scenario to make students think about the risk of drunk driving.

“When someone says to me, ‘Oh, my God, you’re traumatizing my children,’ I’m telling them, ‘No, what I’m doing is waking them up,’ ” said (California Highway Patrol Officer Eric) Newbury, whose father was killed by a drunken driver.

. . . “I want them to be an emotional wreck. I don’t want them to have to live through this for real.”

Via Radley Balko’s MADDsteria at Hit & Run.

Does playing at tragedy — “ghostly apparitions” — persuade teens to change their behavior? I doubt it. It’s easy enough to find real victims of drunk driving — guilt-wracked drivers, scarred survivors, parents of victims — who can talk about the pain. Even that, won’t get through to everyone, but it will reach the reachable.

When my daughter found out her sixth-grade classmate had been killed (by an unlicensed driver), she was alone. I was at Back to School Night crying with the parents and teachers, who’d just found out. I came home. Allison was sobbing. The girl was in three of her classes. They’d been working on a project that day. She was an emotional wreck. Death is not something to play at.

Good teachers make a difference

Very good teachers can compensate for not-so-good parents, argues Eric Hanushek in a Children of the Code interview.

If you make the most conservative estimates possible, we find that if you have a good teacher, meaning a teacher that’s at the 85th percentile or one standard deviation above the mean. If you had a good teacher five years in a row, you could completely make up for the difference between low-income and middle income achievement, on average. Having good teachers a number of years in a row can offset the disadvantages that some kids have from being less prepared coming to school and from their families not giving them the same start.

The ways we judge teacher quality don’t correlate well to ability to raise student achievement, he says.

Obama talks education policy

Education is the second most important issue to voters, after the economy, according to a new Pew poll.

Speaking at a Colorado charter school, Barack Obama criticized No Child Left Behind and proposed a series of education programs.

For more than 20 minutes, the Illinois Democrat laced the language of uplift and challenge with the acronyms of education and reform: GEAR UP and TRIO, a proposed Service Scholarship program to replace retiring teachers, a Teacher Residency Program to recruit them at mid-career from other professions, and the Career Ladder Initiative to reward teachers who mentor others.

In a snug auditorium packed with education professionals, the loudest cheers greeted his critique of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative, which Obama blasted for forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes standardized test without offering sufficient resources.

Obama pledge to fix the “broken promises” of NCLB.

Interesting that he chose to speak at a charter school.

John McCain is sticking to a “total, no-caveats embrace of No Child Left Behind,” writes Education Gadfly. In response to the speech, a McCain spokesman said Obama hasn’t been a leader on education reform in the Senate. True enough. But neither has McCain.

Multilingual at an early age

South Florida parents want their children to learn multiple languages, reports the Sun-Sentinel.

Nine-year-old Bianca Herlory can strike up a conversation in French, Portuguese, Spanish or English, and recently expressed an interest in learning Mandarin.

“It’s a gymnastic of the mind,” said her mom, Stephanie Herlory, who introduced her daughter to foreign languages at a young age. “Once they’re immersed, it comes very quickly.”

Parents think their bilingual or trilingual kids will be prepared to compete in a “flat” world.

Bilingual parents are not the only ones driving the trend. Parents who speak only English are getting in on it as well.

Years ago, when Japanese automakers were ascendant, a friend of mine helped start a language immersion school in Detroit. Black autoworkers lined up to sign up their children to learn Japanese.

Best of worst verse

“Vegetarian Predator by The Hairy Best has won Hatemonger’s Quarterly’s Fifth Annual Horrible College-Student Poetry Competition. Key line: “She is the we we are waiting for.”

The scariest mascot

In More Mascot Mania, Jay Greene reveals that PC hasn’t annihilated the “Redskins” or “Crusaders” and that “Devils” far outnumber “Angels.”

One of the more frightening is the Marshall High School “Lawyers” from Cleveland, Ohio.


Standards everyone can meet

Some students at the high-scoring MATCH charter school in Boston are transferring in their last semester to district-run public schools, apparently in search of lower standards. Kids get into college, slack off and then realize they might not graduate. Or they think a D at MATCH will turn into a B at Generic High, protecting their college slot.

Boston officials accuse MATCH of not offering enough support for students to graduate on time, leaving Boston with the awkward task of determining the students’ fate.

MATCH officials, on the other hand, say Boston presents an easy out — an automatic promotion — for their students struggling under rigorous graduation requirements. They deny encouraging students to leave, and ask that Boston make diploma determinations based on the charter school’s standards.

“It breaks my heart to see students leave this late in the senior year, but it would break my heart more to change or lower our standards,” said Jorge Miranda, the school’s principal. “There’s no compromising on the standards. They need that preparation to succeed in college, and when they get that college degree, that’s their ticket out of poverty.”

MATCH is right to maintain rigorous standards, writes Flypaper.

There’s a term for “standards that everyone can meet.” It’s called “no standards.”

Flypaper also questions the Washington Post’s feel-good story about a school where all students meet Maryland’s standards.

Perhaps this is a sign that Maryland should raise the passing scores on its tests?

If one school in the entire state hits 100 percent proficient (most students score as advanced), that’s hardly a sign that everyone can do it. Ocean City Elementary places an unusual emphasis on structure, consistency and getting all students to speak. Surely there’s something to learn from its success.

More kindergarten cruelty

This time it’s a kindergarten teacher in southern Indiana accused of humiliating a five-year-old boy in front of his classmates. Gabriel Ross told his parents throughout the year that his teacher, Kristen Woodward, was mean. He said other children didn’t like him because he was “bad and stupid.”

In mid-April, Tabitha McMahan and stepfather J.R. Edwards sent Gabriel to school with a tape recorder in his pocket.

“I’ve been more than nice to you all year long and you’ve been ignorant, selfish, self-absorbed, the whole thing! I’m done!” Woodward says to Gabriel on the tape.

She continues: “Something needs to be done because you are pathetic! If me saying these words to you hurt, I hope it does because you’re hurting everyone else around you.”

Gabriel can be heard crying on the tape.

The teacher encouraged the kindergarteners to reject Gabriel.

“So you guys think, is that somebody you want to be with?” Woodward asks the class.

In unison, the other students reply, “Noooo.”

“See, your friend doesn’t want to be with you. I don’t know what else to tell you. So you’re not going to have friends because of your actions.”

She was having a bad day and lost her cool, says the teachers’ union. Too bad that just happened to be the day she was on tape. After listening to the rant, the parents pulled Gabriel out of school.

Early in the year, the teacher, a 13-year veteran, said the school would set up a “behavioral plan” for Gabriel, says the stepfather. He says that when he tried to discuss the plan, Woodward said, “I don’t have time for this.” His report card was a mix of smiley faces and frowns, usually for being disruptive, but the teacher never asked to meet with them, the parents say.

I don’t care how aggravating this boy was. He’s five years old. The teacher had options — such as talking to the parents — short of berating him and encouraging his classmates to reject him.

Woodward has been suspended. She says she’s moving out of state and vows never to teach in a public school again. Does she think private schools welcome abusive teachers?

Carnival of Education

It’s Carnival of Education time at Bluebird’s Classroom. Jose Vilson explains to a student why he’s not going on the field trip.

No time for lunch

At some high schools, ultra-studious students have to be required to break for lunch, reports the New York Times.

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. — High school students in this well-to-do Westchester suburb pile on four, five, even six Advanced Placement classes to keep up with their friends. They track their grade-point averages to multiple decimal places and have longer résumés than their parents.

“I would never put lunch before work,” says Elaine Rigney, a junior at Briarcliff. She intends to work through the new period.

But nearly half the students at Briarcliff High School have packed their schedules so full that they do not stop for lunch, prompting administrators to rearrange the schedule next fall to require everyone to take a 20-minute midday break. They will extend each school day and cut the number of minutes each class meets over the year.

The principal hopes the 20 minute break will ease the stress.

This year, 12 percent of Briarcliff’s 665 students have no free periods, while an additional 30 percent have classes the entire time the cafeteria is open.

Some lunch skippers eat in class; others don’t eat at all.

When I was in high school, I avoided the cafeteria, which was dirty and noisy. I’d bring a sandwich and eat it quietly in a study area, careful to avoid notice. Later, when the student lounge opened, I often consumed a Tab and two packs of M&M’s for lunch. I’d get a hunger headache a few hours later, which I’d cure with a bowl of soup when I got home. Well into my twenties, my first response to a headache was to eat rather than take aspirin. And now I’m diabetic. I should have eaten more M&M’s when I had the chance.

All Work and No Play Still Might Not Get Jack into Harvard, writes Anne Applebaum on Slate.