Neal Degrasse Tyson on Social Pressures and Genetic Differences and

He’s never been female, he avers, but he knows something about the pressures against black people succeeding in the sciences. The pressures are huge and happen at every turn; he’s pretty sure that’s also why there are many fewer women scientists than male scientists.

His suggestion? Once we actually equalize opportunity for all, and see the results, then we could perhaps have a discussion about those genetic differences.

Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Electronic Schools of Ohio are an Excellent Idea for Investors

But not so wonderful for Ohio’s students, families or taxpayers. The moral of the story is that in Ohio,
1.charter schools do MUCH WORSE than regular public schools in test scores
2. e- Schools, or online charter schools charge about the same as regular public schools beget per pupil even though the have no building to maintain and no bus transportation
3. Dropout rates at e-schools are MUCH HIGHER than at their public compeeion, even worse than at charter schools
4. Some politicians continue pretending and making excuses

Read this, by Stephen Dyer:

OH State Rep. Excuses Poor e-School Performance

Remember state Rep. Andrew Brenner, who last month claimed that public education was socialism? Well, he’s back at it — pimping and making excuses for statewide eSchools (which are among the worst performing schools in the state) while saying those same excuses are not allowed for traditional public schools.

Here’s the Gongwer Report where he does this (subscription required). The opening sentence is perfect irony when he excuses poor performance of eSchools because they “can be tied to the challenging population they serve.” Couldn’t that be said of major urban districts too?

Oh no. Not to Brenner, who happens to be the vice chairman of the House Education Committee. He claimed that the urbans hadn’t made the “management decisions” other districts have made.

For the record, the Big 8 Urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) spent 14% of their money on administrative, non-instructional costs last year. The major statewide eSchools (the Alternative Education Academy, Buckeye Online School for Success, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Ohio Connections Academy, Ohio Virtual Academy, Treca Digital Academy and the Virtual Community School of Ohio)? Try 23%. Perhaps eSchools should be making the “management decisions” the Big 8 have made.

And why should we be even comparing the statewide eSchools in performance or cost with the Big 8 anyway? About 80% of all statewide eSchool students come from non-Big 8 districts. So shouldn’t the “apples-to-apples” comparison Brenner requested we make on performance be with non-Big 8 districts?

Anyway, remember that eSchools don’t have busing, lunch rooms, buildings or any other fixed cost of a brick-and-mortar operation. Yet the average statewide eSchool still spends more per pupil than a handful of school districts, even though school districts get local revenue too. In fact, the average eSchool spends $7,266 per pupil while the average district spends $9,826 per pupil.

What’s the difference?

Try operations support (busing, mostly). The average eSchool spends $78 on this category. The average district spends $1,935 per pupil. If you subtract out the districts’ busing costs, the average Ohio eSchool spends more per pupil than 234 school districts, or nearly 4 in 10 districts. And they only get outspent by less than $3,000 per pupil in the Big 8.

And remember that because they’re urban districts, the Big 8 are mandated to spend a lot of that money — they have little choice. So actually, when you account for those spending realities, the average Big 8 district spends $8,490 per pupil — not far off from the statewide eSchool average of $7,266.

So how efficient are these virtual operations, really?

Which brings me to Brenner’s most outrageous statement, where he claims that eSchools’ performance is achieved spending “$6,000″ while some districts are spending $20,000 for similarly bad results. Again, the statewide eSchools (which house nearly all of the eSchool kids) spend about 21% more than Brenner’s claim — $7,266 on average. And, for the record, there are 2. That’s right, 2 school districts in Ohio spending $20,000 or more per pupil. One is Orange City Schools — one of the state’s top 5 districts. The other is Cleveland Heights, which, while struggling, is hardly as bad as, say, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — Ohio’s oldest, largest eSchool.

That’s it. And once you subtract costs for busing, etc. no Ohio district spends more than $20,000 per pupil. Not a one.

Again, Brenner is spinning the apocryphal story that public schools spend money less efficiently and get worse results. The truth, my friends, is the exact opposite. And when you look at Fleeter’s analysis, the more discretionary money an Ohio school district has, the better they tend to perform. The highest performing districts in the state, in Fleeter’s analysis, have the highest discretionary per pupil spending.

It wasn’t that long ago that I discovered that the statewide eSchools received enough state money to pay for 15:1 student-teacher ratios and a $2,000 laptop every year for every student and still clear nearly 40% profit. I’m not the only one who’s questioned why Ohio taxpayers should be forking over nearly double the per pupil amount for eSchools as they do for traditional public schools. The average online eSchool gets about $6,800 per pupil from the state (the rest of the $7,266 is mostly federal and private money). The average district gets a bit more than $3,500.

So, when kids go to eSchools, they typically remove more state money from the district than the state would have received if the kid had stayed in the district, which leaves kids not in eSchools (who are in mostly higher performing districts) with less state revenue.

It would be one thing if eSchools were rocking the socks off traditional districts on performance. But they aren’t — a fact Brenner, to his credit, acknowledged, before he made his excuses. In fact, ECOT graduates barely 1/3 of its kids. Yet they were able to pull Gov. John Kasich to speak at their 2011 graduation ceremony. Would Kasich go to to a traditional public school graduation where even 70% of the kids graduated? No way. Even though that’s twice the rate of ECOT.

My biggest disappointment with Brenner is this: Our kids need guys like Brenner — people who are strong choice proponents — to be the fiercest proponents for excellence in choice. Brenner had an opportunity to stand before eSchools and demand they do better. The rest of the state has to do more with less. So should they. “The days of 35% graduation rates for double the state money are over,” he could have said.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he did that which folks in the choice movement have derided public school advocates for years: make excuses.

That constitutes a failure of leadership. And it’s extremely disappointing. But I can’t say it’s unexpected. After all, the operator of ECOT — William Lager — did spend $180,000 on Republican lawmakers just in the last few weeks of the last budget. So perhaps Brenner is angling for some of that.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this (PG rated version): “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, take their money, then vote against them the next day, you shouldn’t be in politics.” Brenner is in a great position to make much needed changes in Ohio’s eSchool landscape. Instead, he excused their miserable failings by using misleading arguments.

Our kids deserve better.

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Re-Segregation of America’s Schools

A three-part series detailing how our nation is re-segregating its school system.
I hope this link works:

Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

What Kurt Vonnegut might have written about 15 years from now

Robert Shepherd wrote this and I hope he doesn’t mind me repost ing it:

Let Freedom Trickle

Were Kurt Vonnegut not in heaven now, if he were still among his fellow great apes, he might tell a tale something like this:

The year was 2030 and there was a grit crisis.

Not that people weren’t warning about this way back in 2014. Some few visionaries saw the crisis coming. Secretary of Education Privatization Arne “Dunkin” Duncan had let the country know in no uncertain terms, way back then, that Amerika, Inc., was in trouble. If it didn’t do something to stop those lazy, shiftless teachers and kids in Topeka and Jacksonville from being failures, Singapore was going to throw the whole country to the mat, stomp on its rib cage, buy up its MacDonald’s franchises, and replace its Walmarts with Singaemporiums.

The Common Core Curriculum Commissariat and Ministry of Truth–CCCCMiniTru for short–had tried to stave off the disaster. It had really tried.

It had fired all the teachers for underperformance and replaced them with nifty “personalized” software from Gates.Murdoch Pearson Knowlogy, Inc. (Company motto: “Teaching, there’s an app for that”). It had hooked up all the kids to retinal scanners and galvanic skin response monitors to measure their gritfulness in real time as they did their identically personalized worksheets on a screen. It had installed headphones to blast into kids’ ears Barry Sadler’s “Song of the Green Beret” and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir cover of “Everything Is Beautiful” whenever their gritfulness fell below proficiency level 3 point 86. Kids would do anything to avoid those.

From their gleaming, floating offshore cities—West Xanadu, Elysium, Redmond, and Shangri-La LA—the 0.1 percent dispatched drones to monitor the general population for terrorist activities such as spending too little on consumer goods and failing to show up on time to their meager and part-time but nonetheless essential service jobs, assigned to them by Gates/Murdoch Kelly Temp Services, the sole employer of proles. Everyone, young and old alike, was rigorously tested every 23 point 4 minutes to ensure proper understanding and performance of whatever task he or she happened to be engaged in—nail polishing, going to the bathroom, preparing Happy Meals—whatever.

To no avail. Sure, people (well, proles) were doing what they were supposed to do–they were going through the motions at the required pace. And they were hitting their grit benchmarks. The Fair and Balanced Good News of well-met production quotas for grit, along with other key production metrics, was continually broadcast from every wall and street corner by Gates/Murdoch Fox state television, and if you missed those reports, you could always check the running ticker on your Gates/Murdoch Google Glass and Retinal Scanner.

But weirdly, nothing quite worked. Everything the proles produced, though to specification, was shoddy. Things fell apart. STUFF–the essential output of Consumer Homo Economicus–was produced with grit but not, it seemed, with True Grit. Whatever could the Plutocrats and their windup politicians do?

Fortunately, Walmart Pharmaceuticals and Neurological Engineering had a solution: Freedom Juice, piped into people’s heads via ports installed in the back of their skulls. Gates/Murdoch Goldman Citi Merrill Chase Bank of Amerika, Inc arranged a loan from the Singaporeans to install the necessary infrastructure. Soon, a network of piping covered the entire country and, and one tendril of a pipe led to the back of the head of every student and worker at every desk.

What could go wrong?

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rachel Maddow takes on the violent right wing racist

More people in the USA have been killed by right wing racist wackos since September 2001 than by Islamic jihadists, according to Rachel Maddow.

But the white nazis, kluxers and so on don’t get any where near the attention of Federal anti-criminal or intelligence services that the Muslim extremists do.

Try to see if you can view some details here:

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 11:51 pm  Comments (1)  

What Does A Teacher Make, or Do?

Another nail in the coffin of Value Added, thanks to Diane Ravitch. Here is an excellent quote from the article:

““This paper presents the first evidence that teachers have meaningful effects on non cognitive outcomes that are strongly associate with adult outcomes and are not correlated with test scores.” (Emphasis mine, italics his, by the way.)

“I have to stop with this blog post here (but I promise to do more deciphering of this paper in the next few days.) My only question at this point would be: why hasn’t anybody explained this to Arne Duncan, perhaps through the use of hand puppets and a mallet?”

I have known for a long time that while I may have been better than some teachers in finding useful explanations of certain math topics than some of my peers, there were certainly a lot of teachers who were much better at relating emotionally and personally to a lot of my students. Obviously our students are the best judges of who of us were most/least helpful in their lives.

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 10:56 pm  Comments (2)  

The Public Pension Rip-Off

Some people think that hedge-fund managers are leaders in reforming public education.
The fact is, they are just very-highly paid thieves.
Matt Taibbi is a busy investigative reporter. He has a new book but last fall he wrote an article in Rolling Stone about the raids on pension funds, led by hedge fund managers.
A quote:

“Hedge funds have good reason to want to keep their fees hidden: They’re insanely expensive. The typical fee structure for private hedge-fund management is a formula called “two and twenty,” meaning the hedge fund collects a two percent fee just for showing up, then gets 20 percent of any profits it earns with your money. Some hedge funds also charge a mysterious third fee, called “fund expenses,” that can run as high as half a percent – Loeb’s Third Point, for instance, charged Rhode Island just more than half a percent for “fund expenses” last year, or about $350,000. Hedge funds will also pass on their trading costs to their clients, a huge additional line item that can come to an extra percent or more and is seldom disclosed. There are even fees states pay for withdrawing from certain hedge funds.”

Read more:
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Totally Self-Contradictory Claims in the War on Teachers

Diane Ravitch, Pail Thomas and Anthony Cody show that the attack on picnic education and against teachers is based on claims that completely contradict each other and are based on fake science.

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.



*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

Some Released PISA Questions

Yong Zhao and some other commentators have been criticising PISA for a number of reasons, one being that its sample populations are at times ‘gamed’ by two cities (Shanghai and Singapore – and that’s all they are, two cities that import their labor force from elsewhere and neither place educates or tests the children of that labor force) while ignoring the outstanding performance of certain individual US states on the exact same test. In her recent book “The Smartest Kids in the World” Amanda Ripley follows a handful of exchange students to and from the US and thinks that the PISA is a pretty good test and that it predicts real things about how societies are going; she appears to be a great fan of Poland these days.

Looking at some of the questions, I am beginning to have a lot less faith in PISA as a test itself and in those folks who claim that the sky is falling on American education based on our scores.

Some of the questions seem OK, some not. I have no idea whether these released items are of equal difficulty if written in French, Polish, Chinese, English, Arabic, Urdu or Swahili, but let’s pretend they are equivalent.

More importantly I read recently an argument that PISA is *not* in fact a test of creativity and original applications of things learned in school; instead, it IS things learned at school or else IQ-type logic puzzles, Even Rick Hess, a big friend of Michelle Rhee, apparently agrees, to my surprise.

Apparently there ARE tests of creativity that are, supposedly, quite reliable. I haven’t read scholarly critiques of THAT creativity test, but I’ve heard of the concept. I will need to  reserve judgment on the real records of the creativity test, but I did indeed recall that one PISA question I saw really was basically a little math/logic puzzle of a sort that I had seen in various puzzle books.  Let’s see if I can find it.

In any case, now that I’ve seen the sample questions, I have even less sympathy

Just now I went to look for some sample PISA items that have been declassified — i.e. it is legal to discuss and show them to people; nobody will lose their jobs for leaking their contents — as teachers and other school staff are threatened with, no matter how stupid a question might be or how many students complained that the problem didn’t make any sense at all and you saw that they weren’t kidding, yes, the problem makes no sense at all.

Let me show you one PISA test item that I think has a fatal flaw – it doesn’t make sense, because ALL of the answers are possible. Some have a higher probability of being correct, but that’s all.

Here is the question:


A seal has to breathe even if it is asleep in the water. Martin observed a seal for one hour. At the start of his observation, the seal was at the surface and took a breath. It then dove to the bottom of the sea and started to sleep. From the bottom it slowly floated to the surface in 8 minutes and took a breath again. In three minutes it was back at the bottom of the sea again. Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one.

After one hour the seal was

  1. At the Bottom
  2. On its way up
  3. Breathing
  4. On its way down

In my opinion, the phrase “Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one” does NOT mean the same as “Martin took very careful notes and timed a seal that he had learned to recognize for precisely one hour. What’s more, the water was so transparent that Martin could see everything the seal was doing. At exactly 9:00 AM, the seal was at the surface and took a breath that lasted ____ seconds and then dove … and so on, and then it floated to the top where it surfaced at exactly 9:08 AM, and so on”

Notice the details I added. If you are out in cold coastal waters where I myself have seen some seals during my lifetime, you often can’t see down to the bottom if you are on top; even if you are underwater in scuba gear, you generally can’t see a long way; and if it took this seal THREE WHOLE MINUTES to swim to the bottom going, I suppose, straight down at speed that no human swimmer could possibly achieve without mechanical help of some kind, then it’s gotta be pretty deep water, right? You are going to have an impossible time seeing that seal.

And then how does mythical Martin actually know that it’s the exact same seal?

Come on, now. This is a bullshit question, made up by someone who hasn’t actually watched seals at all. I’ve only watched a few dozen myself, but it’s BS.

And plus: animals do NOT act like clocks. Their behavior is not metronomic: it is influenced by what goes on around them. Even though the problem says “Martin noticed that this whole process was a very regular one”, and even if we allow that that is true, nowhere in the problem does the wording imply the kind of clock-like precise repetition that is required to be able to answer the question.

Plus: it doesn’t really say how loong the seal is breathing, nor does it say how long the seal is at the bottom. All the numbers are very vague. It is impossible to answer the question with the information that is ghiven — we are being asked to guess what the problem-writer really meant.

In my opinion, repeating that pattern as being precisely 3 minutes and zero seconds plus 8 minutes and zero seconds, for exactly 60 minutes, is absurd and unbelievable. Animals are NEVER that regular, as I complained earlier. The cycle will shift, somewhat, and those odd seconds do add up. And, as I said, the writer never told us the elapsed time on the sleeping or on the breathing.

So the question is utterly bogus.

We could talk about the PROBABILITY that the seal was in one of those four categories, but only if we knew a whole lot of information. Any child who has ever observed animals knows that they will not keep up the exact same pattern for a full hour measurable to the exact second, no matter what. Not even if they are imprisoned in a cage or a zoo and go all insane and repetitive will they repeat to the exact second.


Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 1:09 am  Leave a Comment  

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