Tuesday, October 30, 2007

But It's Not On the Test

Tom Chapin scores big with this one. Titled "Not On the Test," it appeared on National Public Radio on January 1, 2007. If you'd like to listen, click here. (A fellow named John Forster helped write it. Not sure who gets the lyric credit, but I'm willing to settle on a collaboration.)

Now, so far as I'm concerned, the entire federal public education effort has become nothing more than a "pay as you go" set of failed policies. Any policy that requires standardized performance in order to win those all-important federal dollars is really just begging schools to teach to the tests. Rather than ensure that children are advancing at an even pace, it has instead the effect of discouraging true educational innovation. It supports bureaucratic nightmares at the local level, and shores up an increasingly ineffective money-feeding union.

This is the good news. Business as usual.

There are, however, a few glimmers of hard truth in Chapin's song. A few key phrases:
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Proponents of the merit-based pay schedule for teachers need to take note: Merit is ephemeral. It's darned difficult to establish success criteria for teachers. It's altogether too easy to say "students must perform to a certain level on standardized tests." It fails to take into consideration that every kid is different, they all learn at a different pace, and no one — not the feds, not the NEA, not the psychometricians — is smart enough to come up with a one-size-fits-all test. There are too many intangibles at play and no safe way of determining how well a teacher is performing. I'm not saying that a simple seniority system is the right answer, either. I just wish the one-size-fits-all crowd would shut the heck up.

The School Board is faced with no child left behind
With rules but no funding, they're caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test.
Hey, I would be the first to admit that if it weren't for music and performing arts, I wouldn't have graduated high school. That, and the fact that the dean couldn't stand one more semester of my smug little face. Still...

Whatever I have become in life is due to three things: a loving family, a burning testimony that took several years to develop, and the performing arts. The family and the testimony are self-explanatory. The performing arts, however, defined who I was, both internally and to society. I was an actor. I was a singer. I was reasonably talented. And I was driven.

I wanted to learn about the music I was singing. I had a strong desire to understand motivation in my stage blocking. I was motivated to study music and acting where math, history and science utterly failed to capture my imagination. Had you taken my teenage self and plopped me down in today's schools, I would have created a "Dropout Farm" no matter where I lived. Yet look what I have achieved today: a stable twenty-plus year career, skills as a programmer and web designer, and a reputation for being a better-than-average teacher. Not bad for someone who lived on the performing arts in high school.

And, finally:
Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you're in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.
Score! This is the payoff line in this little gem.

Take a good, hard look at the state of discourse in politics today. Go ahead. I'll just hum to myself for a bit while I wait.

Can you describe it? Probably sounded pretty harsh out there, didn't it? Did you happen to hear any actual debating while you were at it? No? Me, neither. So, let's talk about what happens out there. I remember debate class as a kid. I've watched a few debates in the past few years. Those aren't debates. Those are sound-bite political statements designed to encapsulate "everything you need to know" about a candidate in two minutes or less. Well, if this is everything I need to know, I shudder to consider what I'm missing. You cannot give substantive answers in two minutes. Two minutes is barely enough time to misspeak and accuse your opponent of inappropriate relations with livestock. This creates cardiac arrest in your hired spin doctors and gives the MSM all the ammunition they need to create your entire (incorrect) platform from that two-minute gaffe.

[Side note on a related topic: Has anyone ever though of creating Fantasy Politics? You could have your own front-runners, keep stats, dummy up your own sound-bite debates, and probably do a better job of predicting the actual winners than the pollsters. Just a thought.]

No, folks, the reasons for the popularity of Assault Debating are the same reasons why professional wrestling exists: the entertainment value. The current crop of voters in the desirable demographic were all raised on Phil Donahue, Ricky Lake, and (heaven help us) Jerry Springer. Assault politics is the only flavor they know and understand.

Conservatives, by the way, are not immune. Michelle Malkin has, if anything, gotten angrier over the last two years. She's spending so much time in full-court press that she tends to do fewer well-constructed thought pieces. Assault Politics sucks you in. It's a disease.

So listen to Tom's song, and give it a worthy chuckle. Then hold your hat over your heart and mourn the loss of a truly classical education.

Proof Positive that Ralph Nader is an Area 51 Alien

We gotcher proof right here.

If, like me, you appreciate ol' Ralphie as the fringe vote-grabber that he has become in years past, the article will probably tickle your funny bone. I find it hilarious that a consumer advocate would simply sue an entire political organization simply because he claims they hold a monopoly on potential voters.

I'm having a fit of the giggles over this one.

Is Ralph saying that he stands a better chance of grabbing votes from Democrats than Republicans? Or does he not want our votes? The question — largely rhetorical — is moot anyway. Nader runs for visibility. No one, including scientific polls of migrant farm workers who think "Nader" is mispronounced Spanish, ever expects Ralph to win more than a relative handful of votes. Personally, I think Ralph lends a certain entertainment value to every general election. Nader, not Dave Barry, is the true comic relief of any election cycle simply because he wants people to take him seriously, even as he knows that he'll never be elected to Municipal Dog Catcher.

Help yerself, Ralphie boy. Nothing spells "common sense" like pandering to a litigious society.

Can I sue Nader for physical distress? My side hurts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

NEA - National Education Axis

When labor unions were first formed over a hundred years ago, it felt like a good thing. Finally common workers would have some guarantees for favorable working conditions, reliable wages, and protection from greedy, profiteering bosses.

Flash forward to 2007 and you now find that unions themselves are just as greedy of profiteering and unfair labor practices as the bosses they continually declaim.

I have had direct dealings with several unions throughout my career. I work in aerospace, for example, which means that I have co-workers who are members of the powerful IAW. Whenever they strike (and it's only happened a couple of times during my career) it hurts. The company inevitably loses money and it takes us a good couple of years to recover, generally speaking. Since I am an office "professional" (this adjective always makes me chuckle) I am not constrained by a union, although they have tried. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) has threatened more than once to make salaried guys like me become part of a union of which I want no part. It's one of very few things — being asked to do something unethical being another one — that would make me seriously consider resigning from the company and trying my luck elsewhere. Fortunately, their reach hasn't extended to our facility as yet.

Bad as some unions can be, however, none hold a candle to the growing evil which has become the National Education Association. I say this because no other organization in the country has so successfully foisted a socialist agenda on an unsuspecting populace by hiding themselves behind our children.

Now, I may caveat this by stating that, if you are dedicated to public education and enjoy having your kids go through that experience, then the NEA may not seem so bad.

On the other hand, from a homeschooler's perspective the NEA is a living incarnation of the devil himself. If liberals find G. W. Bush to be the most evil man in America, homeschoolers point to the NEA and see Soviet-era policies and power-mongering run amok.

The NEA is, above all else, a lobby. They hold the ears of extremely influential legislators both nationally and (through their state affiliates) locally. Their coffers are deep, and they use that money as effectively as any political boss of the 30's might have. When they speak on matters of educational policy their voices are heard; altogether too frequently to the detriment of public education in this country.

As Exhibit A I present to you the NEA's latest "official" resolution regarding homeschooling in the United States of America. If you can stomach the intense marketing, you can visit the page on which this resolution is linked, or you can click straight to the PDF file. A word of warning, though: it's a big file. Resolution B-75 begins on page 45 of the document.
B-75. Home Schooling

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.

The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.

The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting. (1988, 2006)
They fire a warning shot over our bow with their very first sentence: parents, who know our children better than their teachers ever will, are incapable of providing our children with a "comprehensive education experience." Here are a few choice assumptions this resolution goes on to make:
  • Children must be "enrolled" in homeschool

  • Children must be subject to "state curricular requirements," most of which have become bloated over time far beyond their ability to actually teach anything meaningful

  • Children must be assessed (presumably by The State) to "ensure" adequate academic progress

  • Homeschools must be limited to the immediate family

  • Homeschool parents will bear all costs (i.e., no vouchers, even if available in your area!)

  • Only State Licensed persons may teach homeschooled children, and

  • Only State Approved curricula should be used

It also goes without saying that, even though homeschooling parents support public education through taxes, their wild kids should never be allowed to mix with kids who suffer through the public education experience.

I actually have no beef with their last statement about grade placement as it only stands to reason. If your kids are coming into a public experience from a home experience, they're either embarrassingly advanced compared to the public schoolers, or have failed in their home experience and can only benefit from the public schools.

As for the rest, read on:

1. My children are "enrolled" in our homeschool only by virtue of our having filed an appropriate form with our state superintendant of public instruction. Period. They do not audit our home to make sure that our two Woodyettes are actually attending. Nor are they welcome to. In short, the State of California is not welcome in this house without a warrant. I have nothing to hide, but I see no reason for the state to intrude on our privacy, either.

2. State curricular requirements are laughably and hopelessly complex. Nowhere else in the world will you find a more convoluted set of requirements for the teaching of relatively simple principles than in the United States. Mrs. Woody used to work for a major educational publisher and assisted with the development of instructional materials as part of her job. After leaving the company to become a stay-at-home mom she would occasionally do some freelance work for her old company as a means of supplementing our income. What she discovered was that individual states can take an already hopelessly complicated curriculum and, if it were at all possible, make it even worse. I do NOT want my kids subjected to this nonsense!

3. State licensing of instructors and educators has brought us a veritable pantheon of child molesters, autocrats, emotional and physical abusers, and other honorable professionals. Need I say more? I realize that this represents only a fraction of those who consider themselves to be professional educators. But if any of that fraction come in contact with my sweet daughters, I shudder to think of the consequences.

4. I thought we were done with the whole segregation issue of the 60's and 70's. Apparently not. Now we find we don't want our pure-bred, publicly educated children mixing it up with those dirty, nasty little homeschoolers. If it weren't for the fact that we hold school in our own homes, I suppose our kids would be packed off on the first available bus for some concentration camp in the Nevada desert. Still, that has to be a better option than sending them to some school where they have such recreational activities as random locker searches, metal detectors, begging for bathroom key privileges, and detention. That would certainly be my idea of a good time! Bottom line: if you don't want my kids using public education programs or facilities, then you obviously don't want my tax money, either.

Resolution B-75 is laughable not only for what it is, but also for what it isn't: a thoughtful, comprehensive understanding of the homeschool paradigm and how these two very different worlds might possibly work together for the common good. I'd like to say they've made a start, but Resolution B-75 isn't it.