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11 states sue over transgender ‘guidance’

Eleven states, including Arizona, Texas and Wisconsin, have filed suit to block the Obama administration’s “guidance” on the right of transgender students to use the school rest rooms and locker rooms of their choice.

The directive would “turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over common-sense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights,” the lawsuit charges.

Oklahoma legislators are considering a bill that would let a student demand a non-transgender restroom, locker room or shower — persons of the same anatomical sex only –as a “religious accommodation.” A private room would not be acceptable.

An award-winning St. Paul charter school is ripping out urinals and creating “gender-neutral restrooms” — at the cost of thousands of dollars, after being sued by parents of a kindergartener, who’s since transferred, reports the Daily Signal.

I predict schools will create private rest rooms and changing stalls in locker rooms to avoid conflict. It will be costly. Will it be worth it?

How many kids are transgender? Nobody knows, reports the New York Times, but it’s almost certainly less than 1 percent.

Trans teacher wins $60K, say ‘they’ rules


Leo Soell in their fifth-grade classroom in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregonian

When Brina Soell became Leo, the fifth-grade teacher asked coworkers to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” or “he.” Soell, who identifies as “transmasculine and genderqueer,” complained of harassment, reports the Oregonian. Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to give Soell $60,000 to settle emotional damage claims, add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, clarify policies about transgender teachers and mandate trainings for all principals.

Sexual harassment policies are moving from telling people what not to say to demanding that they “must say certain things,” writes Scott Shackford on Reason.

New York City has threatened employers with heavy penalties if they don’t ensure their employees address each other (and customers) by the pronoun of their choice, including “ze/hir” and other non-standard pronouns. The directive also applies to landlords and tenants, professionals and clients and business owners and customers. Everyone is supposed to ask everyone and remember who’s what.

Requiring people to say things they don’t wish to say violates free-speech rights, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

When the government is acting as sovereign, telling us what we must or must not say on pain of coercively imposed legal liability, the First Amendment is at full force. That force, I think, should preclude government commands that we start using new words — or radical grammatical modifications of old, familiar words — that convey government-favored messages about gender identity or anything else.

He notes that Soell complained of harassment, in part, due to other teachers “refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves” (emphasis added), as well as posting “messages on Facebook that denigrate transgender people.”

Ivy League’s Asian problem 


Asian-American applicants need much higher SAT scores to get into Brown, Yale, Dartmouth and other Ivy League schools, a coalition charges.

Asian-American groups want the U.S. Education Department to investigate Yale, Dartmouth and Brown for racial discrimination.

While the population of college age Asian-Americans has doubled in 20 years and the number of highly qualified Asian-American students “has increased dramatically,” the percentage accepted at most Ivy League colleges has flatlined, according to the complaint. It alleges this is because of “racial quotas and caps, maintained by racially differentiated standards for admissions that severely burden Asian-American applicants.”

It’s the Jewish problem all over again, writes Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) in USA Today.

Decades ago, the Ivy League colleges thought they had a problem: too many Jews. These recent immigrants, from a culture that prized education and academic achievement, had an unfortunate characteristic: They worked harder, studied longer and cared more about school.

. . . Problem was, the Ivy League didn’t really want them. Being first-generation students, these applicants didn’t have rich alumni parents who would be likely to donate big bucks. . . . And they were seen as boring grinds who studied too hard and weren’t much fun.

 So the Ivy League favored “leadership” and “well-rounded” candidates — and, when that wasn’t enough, set quotas for Jewish students.

Now Asian students “are seen as people who study too hard, boring grinds who aren’t much fun — and, of course, their parents aren’t as rich and connected,” writes Reynolds.

Here’s more on the Asian-Ivy War.

Math excellence — is it just for Asian-Americans?

Elite math competitions are “overwhelmingly dominated by Asian and white males from middle-class and affluent families, observes Liana Heitin in Education Week. Some are trying to diversify the talent pool by exposing lower-income students, girls, blacks and Latinos to advanced math.

A U.S. team won the International Math Olympiad last summer, the first win for Americans in more than two decades. Four competitors were Asian-American and two were white. All were male.

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Credit: Evelyn Lamb

Students at the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program tackle a hard geometry problem. Photo: Evelyn Lamb

Future mathletes hone their skills in “after-school clubs, summer camps, online forums and classes, and university-based “math circles,” or mathematician-led groups,” writes Heitin.

Middle schoolers start in MathCounts, then move on to an online school called Art of Problem Solving. Some K-12 students get coaching from math professors. UCLA’s Los Angeles Math Circle has more than 250 students. Elites go to the Math Olympiad Summer Training Program, a three-week math camp.

Who knows about these opportunities? Well-educated Asian immigrant parents make sure their talented children participate. “There are a lot of kids whose parents made it to America by being good at math,” said Richard Rusczyk, founder of Art of Problem Solving.

Various initiatives are trying to get more kids into advanced math, writes Heitin.

A New York City-based nonprofit called Bridge to Enter Mathematics runs a residential summer program aimed at getting underserved, mostly black and Hispanic students working toward math and science careers. The summer after 7th grade, students spend three weeks on a college campus studying advanced math for seven hours a day. Over the next five years, the group helps the students get into other elite summer math programs, high-performing high schools, and eventually college.

MathCounts has added National Math Club, which gives resources to middle-school math teachers, and the Math Video Challenge, a team competition, to appeal to a broader range of students.

After the high-pressure Countdown round at this year’s national MathCounts competition, in which the top 12 students went head to head solving complex problems in rapid fire, the finalists for the Math Video Challenge took the stage to show their videos.

Half the video finalists were black and 13 of 16 were girls.

An 8th grade team from the Ron Clark Academy, an independent middle school in Atlanta that serves low-income students, was among the finalists. The students illustrated a complicated multistep problem entirely through rap.

“Three years ago, we were the only African-American people here,” said Valerie Camille-Jones, the team’s coach. “We won the video challenge, and [MathCounts] put it all over the website. The next year, more diverse videos were submitted because [students] saw themselves. It’s exposure.”

Her students watched the fast-paced Countdown round in which 12 students answered high-level math questions. “They turned to me and said, ‘We can do this.’ ”

Inventing the new, new math symbols

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Math with Bad Drawings suggests urgently needed math symbols.

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Principal: Teachers don’t know how to teach reading


CNN’s Kelly Wallace takes part in a game of Hedbanz during reading instruction at P.S. 94 in the Bronx.

Teachers need to be taught how to teach reading, says Principal Diane Daprocida, who runs a Bronx elementary school. University programs teach “philosophy of education, sociology of education, classroom management,” but not reading, she complains.

Finally, she partnered with Teaching Matters, which got a a $600,000 grant to improve reading instruction in high-poverty Bronx schools.

In each classroom, small groups of children work independently: In kindergarten, a table captain might say the sound of the beginning of a word while the other students write the letter on their smart boards. In second grade, students play the game Hedbanz, in which one person wears a headband with a word they can’t see and gets clues from the other students to try to guess the word. In third grade, three boys read “Paul Bunyan,” with each reading the text attributed to a different character.

 In addition to these independent work stations, teachers lead small groups of students in guided reading instruction. In kindergarten, a teacher and students discuss a book about feathers and what clues they have to know that the book is not about birds. In third grade, students reading “Behind Rebel Lines,” a book about a Civil War spy, discuss the motivations of the people they are reading about.

Teachers observe each other doing a guided reading lesson, then discuss what worked and what didn’t.

In the past, one or two third graders might read a fifth-grade-level book, said Daprocida. Now, “we’ve got third-grade kids across the board … reading those stories and being able to discuss the plot of those books, and it’s just amazing.”

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

She’s “had to buy a ton of new books.”

A majority of third-graders are reading at grade level by mid-year, an independent evaluation found. In the past, only 30 percent reached grade level, the principal said.

The major obstacle to success wasn’t that her students come from low-income families or don’t speak much English at home, she said. It was the skill level “to be able to teach reading, and that’s what we needed to bring to our teachers, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Timothy Shanahan has advice for being an effective reading coach.

Free-range Marge

In the Simpsons’ season finale, Orange is the New Yellow, Marge Simpson was arrested and sent to prison for letting Bart play in the playground without supervision.

It turned out to be a vacation from her demanding family.

Lenore Skenazy appreciates the plug for what she calls Free-Range Kids.

Chief Wiggum tells Marge: “A mother at the park saw something she disapproved of and, luckily for your son, she overreacted.”

When Marge gets 90 days for child neglect, Lisa says, “This is Kafka-esque!”

“I’ve got my eye on you,” says the judge.

Lisa: “Now it’s Orwellian!”

‘Mindfulness’ may help students learn


Mindfulness training may improve achievement, reports Emily Deruy in The Atlantic. A Chicago study is looking for evidence of effectiveness of breathing and relaxation exercises or asking students to focus on a feeling or emotion.

Children learn to focus, handle transitions and recover quickly from upsets, said Amanda Moreno, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a child-development-focused graduate school in Chicago. That frees up time for learning.

Moreno said she’s heard from teachers with students who have gone from five or six tantrums a day to none because they know they can go to their classroom’s “calm spot” whenever they feel like they’re spiraling out of control.

The program seems to be helping good schools get better, she said. It doesn’t do much for schools that lack a sense of community or a commitment to learning.

Mindfulness aims to “create compliant students who can manage their own behavior, focus on their assignments, and calm themselves when angry or frustrated with school,” wrote David Forbes in Salon.

That’s a bad thing, he argues. “Such students can then turn into passive, unquestioning consumers and cooperative workers who will help their corporate employers better compete in the global economy.”

People who can manage their own behavior also are a lot less likely to end up in prison.

Chicago teachers worry their students will be killed, writesMarilyn Rhames, who’s now an alumni counselor for a K-8 charter school.

Lee McCullum Jr., 22, — featured as the troubled kid turned honors student and prom king in the 2014 CNN series, Chicagoland — was shot and killed a few weeks ago. His girlfriend, Tiara Parks, 23, was killed a week earlier.

More learning leads to less violence


Philadelphia schools cut teachers and counselors, but not security guards. Photo: Matt Rourke, AP

Raising test scores may be the best way to prevent school violence, according to a new California study, reports Hechinger’s Jill Barshay. Safety doesn’t come first, the study found.

Schools that reduced violence and improved school climate tended not to produce academic gains afterwards. Instead, the researchers found, schools that first raised academic performance usually got large reductions in school violence. School climate indicators, such as whether students feel safe, also improved in schools that first increased test scores.

Surveys of students in middle and high school were compared with school test scores over a six-year period. Researchers were surprised to see that “academic gains preceded school safety and climate improvements,” writes Barshay.

“The best violence prevention is a school that works very hard to improve academics,” said Ron Avi Astor, a USC professor and co-author. “The school climate and school bullying researchers should continue their work, but, for intervention strategies, if they tie in with the school reform movement on academics, they will get a bigger bang for their buck.”