Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#WarOnWomen? Not Quite.

It's three mothers who have formed a new non-profit to ensure due process rights for those in the crazed sexual environment of higher education:
She and two other mothers who say their sons were falsely accused of sexual misconduct recently formed a national nonprofit organization called Families Advocating for Campus Equality to provide a support system for other families going through what they experienced and to bring awareness to what they call a “lack of fair and balanced safeguards within campus hearings.”

“When this happened to Caleb in 2010, I thought we were the only ones,” she said. “We felt very isolated. You feel afraid a lot. It’s very traumatic.”

Their goal is to ensure fairness and due process for all parties involved in allegations of sexual misconduct on college campuses. The group also hopes to help change the ways campuses respond to sexual assaults. When the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses is addressed, rights of the accused are hardly, if ever, mentioned, said Warner Seefeld, who is president of the group.
Caleb was never even charged with a crime but was still kicked out of college.  How does that remotely seem reasonable?  Is this feminism has become?  Because if it is, I want nothing more to do with it.

Anxiety, and Section 504

Talk at the lunchroom table recently has revolved around the latest fad in 504 Plans, and that's anxiety.

But let's back up for people who don't know what a 504 Plan is.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was designed to help kids with physical issues.  Apparently there were some rather inflexible teachers back in those days, teachers who wouldn't accommodate a child's physical issues.  Section 504 requires schools to make accommodations, such as:
  • allowing a student with low blood sugar to eat a candy bar, even if food isn't allowed in class
  • giving an exceptionally obese student more time to get to class, especially if he/she has to walk across campus
  • cutting slack on assignments related to color for the kid who's colorblind
  • getting large-print books for a student who's near-blind
The following comes from a pamphlet put out by the Office of Civil Rights:
Section 504 defines an individual with a disability as a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks and learning.

Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities include: HIV/AIDS, blindness or low vision, cancer, deafness, diabetes, heart disease, intellectual disabilities and mental illness.
You get the idea.  Pretty common-sense, right?  Well, the problem with Section 504 is that there's one clause in it that, like the Commerce Clause in the US Constitution, has been blown and stretched out of its original meaning to essentially become a catch-all for any additional bennie a parent can get for a child, and that's "and specific learning disabilities."

You might think that ends it, but let's look at the definition of "physical or mental impairment" that requires accommodation under Section 504:
(A) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory; including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hermetic and lymphatic; skin; or endocrine; or
(B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
You can see that Section 504 is designed to accommodate certain specific disabilities, and I assert that "specific learning disabilities" was understood when it was written to mean disabilities more like dyslexia and less like "oppositional-defiance disorder" or "anxiety".

If a parent wants special consideration for his/her kid, all he/she has to do is get a doctor to say that the child has some "condition" and the world of 504 accommodations opens up for them.  For the longest time, ADD/ADHD was the prize; if you could get that diagnosis you could ask for the sun, the moon, and some unicorn farts for your kid and the schools pretty much gave it to you (actually, administration promised it all and the teachers have to make it happen).  Get a diagnosis, any diagnosis, and your kid gets a leg up on all the other kids.  Bonus!  Of course not every parent and/or student abuses Section 504, but abuse is common enough that I haven't met a teacher yet who doesn't get at least a little frustrated when a new 504 Plan hits their mailbox.

So back to the lunchtime conversation.  Several of us have noticed that, over the past few years, we're getting more and more students in class with 504 Plans.  Furthermore, ADD/ADHD, the former gold standard in diagnoses, is starting to go out of favor.  The up-and-coming diagnosis is, you guessed it, anxiety.

I myself am noticing this trend, as I've put three students in the past four days in tears.  And I'm not even trying!  Ask someone a question they can't answer, anxiety!  Ask someone to focus on their schoolwork, anxiety!  Look at a kid the wrong way, anxiety!

And it's not like I'm known as Mr. Mean, either.  In general I have very good rapport with students, and being less than two weeks into the school year so far it's not like I'm tired of kids, don't like kids, or any other excuse someone could come up with.  I'm just flummoxed!

I was discussing a recent "event" with one of our school counselors today.  We view things pretty much the opposite of each other but we agreed on this:  kids are getting this diagnosis and we have to deal with it.  I don't want "I need to go talk to my counselor!" to be a get-out-of-class-free card, and she doesn't want kids who genuinely need to talk to be denied.

There must be some median between "There there, baby" and "Suck it up, Buttercup."  I hope we find it, because 504 Plans have been around for a long time and they're not going away.

Personally, I lean more to the way of thinking that says we should teach the kids effective ways to deal with their own anxiety and not expect someone else to fix it for them all the time, but that's just me.  I'm Mr. Mean.

UpdateHere's some related humor.

Monday, August 25, 2014

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Play Dirty

Can anyone come up with a similar situation in which it was Republicans acting like this?
The indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on August 15, 2014 has drawn criticism from pundits, politicians and papers all over the country. Some Democrats have disavowed the indictment, going as far as to claim that launching courtroom attacks against their opponents in the GOP is just not how Democrats operate.

But is that the case? Or have Democrats shown a disturbing pattern of using courtrooms to go after Republicans who pose a threat to them?

The following eight cases suggest that Democrats will wield ethics complaints and courtrooms as weapons against Republicans at strategic moments.
Let's not forget "let's keep recounting votes until we get the result we want", a la Christine Gregoire's 3 counts until they finally found enough votes in the trunk of someone's car in Seattle to put her over the top against Gino Rossi.  Let's not forget other electoral shenanigans, such as illegally allowing Frank Lautenberg on the ballot to replace Robert Torricelli when he had to resign.  And these are recent ones off the top of my head, there are plenty more from history.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Many Education Consultants and Charlatans Does This Guy Want To Put Out Of Work?

What is the key to better education for kids?  This guy has what seems to be a fairly obvious answer:
Hattie says there’s far too much focus on things that will do little to improve student success — such as reducing class size, focusing on transformational ideas and leadership, advocating for discovery or inquiry-based learning, and labelling kids with learning disabilities and learning styles — and not nearly enough time and money spent on the one thing that matters: raising the level of teacher expertise.
The more I learn about other teachers, the more I come to believe that.
Perhaps his least popular finding is that reducing class sizes enhances student achievement, but not by much. “It does have an effect,” Hattie says. “The problem is it’s very small"...

Educational research also doesn’t support the notion of classifying kids with various disorders or learning styles, Hattie says. “It’s pop psychology rubbish that’s perpetuated in our system ... It’s absolutely almost criminal how we classify kids and label.”

Teachers certainly need to understand each child and to use all kinds of strategies to reach each one, but labelling the kids doesn’t help, Hattie says. “That’s great he’s got that learning style, but let’s give him some other ones, because when that one doesn’t work, what is he going to do?"
To that I can only add a loud and thunderous "hear hear!"
Hattie is also leery about Alberta Education’s recent fixation on discovery or constructivist learning, where the teacher is a facilitator and even elementary-aged students fixate on project and group work, with little or no focus on memorizing math facts and word sounds.

The evidence shows this inquiry-based learning model has limited success, Hattie says. “I would seriously wonder why you would take on something that we know is below average.”
I feel the same about Common Core, both the math standards themselves as well as the almost-explicitly-required pedagogy that goes with them.
Hattie isn’t a big fan of a massive curriculum rewrite either. “All those people who want to spend hours and money on curriculum change, it’s not going to make a difference.”
Curriculum itself usually isn't the biggest problem when it comes to adverse educational outcomes.
Excellence abounds here, he says. “One of my messages, particularly to the politicians, is: ‘Don’t look outside, don’t look to Finland, don’t look around the world. It’s here in Alberta right now.’ ”

The real job, Hattie says, is having school principals get into the classrooms, figure out which teachers are having success and which are not, then working with the ones who need it.
Again, hear hear!

This article definitely speaks truth to me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Are You Surprised By This Entirely Predictable, and Predicted, Result?

If so, you're not very bright, and you weren't paying attention when those of us who understand even the slightest bit about economics were telling you this would happen.  You let your slobbering support for an untested man as president overwhelm any reason and common sense you may have had, and now the country will suffer under the weight of your socialist dystopia.  Here's just one more example:
Add the Affordable Care Act – or, specifically, the big-business Cubs’ response to it – to the causes behind Tuesday night’s tarp fiasco and rare successful protest by the San Francisco Giants.

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That’s the full-time worker definition under “Obamacare,” which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for “big businesses” such as a major league team.
You refuse to believe that people, and organizations, respond both to incentives and disincentives.  You choose to believe, in the absence of any evidence, that if you add just the right amount of pixie dust and ground unicorn horn to the current mix that everyone will live happily ever after.  And when it doesn't work you complain that those who were right sabotaged you, that people just didn't try hard enough to implement your ideas, that maybe just a little more pixie dust will do the trick.

I may be over here on the side of the road drinking my Slurpee, to paraphrase your Lightbringer Obama, but I'm smart enough to know that you can't wish the car out of the ditch.  I also know that digging isn't going to get it out of the ditch, but that is what you keep trying.

Will you please, just once, ditch your left-wing, authoritarian, top-driven, rose-colored views of how things should work and join the rest of us here in reality?  It's an open invitation.

Update, 8/25/14Here's another set of examples:
Institutions say complying with the Affordable Care Act has caused them to pass on some costs to employees, according to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Since the act began to take effect, some 20 percent of institutions have made changes to benefits in an effort to control associated costs, the survey says. About the same percentage of colleges are considering making changes, or making further changes, in the year ahead. Of those institutions that have made changes so far, 41 percent have increased employees’ share of premium costs...

The new health care law as it relates to higher education made headlines last year, when scores of colleges and universities began to limit adjuncts’ hours so as to minimize their number of full-time employees. Under the act, large employers must offer health care coverage to employees working 30 hours or more per week.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Service Academy Attendees

Due to recent graduations and a resignation, the school at which I teach only has one former student still attending a service academy--and that young man is a squid!

That should change by this time next year, though.  I have one current and former student who wants to go to West Point, one current and former student who wants to attend Navy (and be another squid), and there's one I met today who wants to go to the Air Force Academy.

A triple header would be nice :)

How Much Lower Can We Go

Survivor, the Bachelor, Big Brother, and other brain-rotting television shows--you'd think we've gone about as far as we could go, but now look what's coming:
If you thought Dating Naked, VH1’s boner-poppin’, trolltastic reality series where contestants do just that—and whose participant, Jesse Nizewitz, is suing the network for $10 million for showing a brief flash of her unpixelated crotch while she play-wrestled with a random nude dude on the beach (really)—was the lowest of the low, well, think again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sex Box.

On Thursday afternoon, The Hollywood Reporter reported that WE tv, a subsidiary of AMC Networks, has ordered the dating show Sex Box to series, picking up nine hour-long episodes. It will debut sometime in 2015. The show is an American adaptation of the UK Channel 4 series of the same name that sought to “reclaim sex from pornography” (their words) by having couples step into a giant box erected on the set, have sex inside of it, and then emerge for a post-coital chat about their seven minutes in heaven—or hell—with a panel of sexperts.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Special Ed Kids Digging Through Trash

Legitimate?  Or tempest in a teapot?
A Southern California school district has apologized to parents of special education students who were outraged to learn their children had been sorting trash as a school activity.

Jurupa Unified Superintendent Elliot Duchon made the apology at a heated meeting Monday night. He also said the activity — which was part of a functional skills program at Patriot High School to teach students general life skills like budgeting and purchasing groceries — had been suspended, the Press-Enterprise reported Wednesday...

"It is disgusting," said Carmen Wells, who complained after learning her autistic son was digging through trash on his first day as a high school freshman.
We have a similar program at our school.  We have special blue recycling cans in our classrooms, and we only put paper and plastic bottles in them.  Periodically some of our special needs students will come around and empty out the cans.  They take care of getting those items to recycling and, to be honest, I have no idea what they do with the money--but I'm pretty sure their class spends it on extras.

I can understand being a little upset if kids are digging through garbage to look for the recyclables; the difference at our school is that they're collecting the recyclables that we've already segregated.  Now that I read this story, though, I wonder, is that difference so great?

Finding a Silver Lining

We're over a week into school now and some of my students still don't have textbooks.  Why?  Because so many students than ever before are taking the higher level courses that we've run out textbooks to give them.  Our textbook clerk has ordered more, and they're trickling in.

I guess it's a good sign that so many students are taking pre-calculus and statistics.

You know me, ever the optimist, always looking for that silver lining :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tie My Hands Even More

To begin with, I may send one or two students to the office in a school year.  I teach upper-level math classes, well beyond the minimum needed to graduate and even above the minimum needed for admission to most 4-year universities, so the vast majority of my students are college-bound.  To be honest, such students are not near as likely to be troublesome in class as would, say, a senior in an Algebra 1 class.  Such a statement could conceivably enrage certain types of people, but most who have ever spent more than a week in a classroom know that what I'm saying is not only reasonable, but factual.

It just is.

But whatever classes I teach, I want to know that I can remove students who are disruptive or blatantly defiant.  Do I really need to explain or justify why it has to be that way?  Or can we just accept it as clearly as we accept breathing air and gravity?  Because anyone who isn't convinced of the veracity of the statement a priori probably isn't going to change his or her mind; we would call such a person a "true believer" in whatever failed ideology or pedagogy to which they cling.

There are things my teachers did to me and/or my classmates that were considered eminently reasonable then but border on child abuse and lawsuits today.  That we can't do so many of those things today is, in some cases, probably a good thing, but in other cases all that's happened is that teachers' hands have been tied and students allowed to run a bit more wild.

And it's going to get worse as this trend picks up steam:
One reason for the suspension, according to Hernandez, was what’s commonly referred to as “willful defiance.” One of many justifications California teachers can invoke to banish wayward students from classrooms, the practice has drawn scrutiny from educators, civil rights advocates and legislators who say it is overused.

Adding to the growing backlash is a resuscitated Assembly Bill 420, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, that would ban expulsions based on willful defiance and prohibit willful defiance suspensions for the youngest California students, those in kindergarten through third grade...

California’s education code lists dozens of reasons to suspend or expel students. Among them are instances where a student “disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority” of teachers and administrators. Statistics from the state’s Department of Education show that willful defiance was listed as a reason in 43 percent of the 609,776 suspensions handed down in the 2012-13 academic year.

That isn’t to say it is the sole factor spurring those suspensions. Administrators often list willful defiance as one in a universe of related infractions. Hernandez’s principal said the student was punished only after a pattern of misbehavior that administrators tried unsuccessfully to correct. Principal Bruce Bivins refrained from getting into specifics but said the case was more complex than a student talking back to a teacher...
Of course, racial disparity is the reason given for watering down the issue of willful defiance.  And from there we go on to "institutionalized racism" or "unconscious bias".  Isn't it more likely that a teacher would have a conscious bias against crappy behavior rather than a mythical bias against people because of their skin color?  NEA and AFT, are your unions really so full of bigots?

Turns out the unions, left-wing and progressive as they are, aren't too ready to kick their members' hornet nest to score some liberal bona fides:
California’s two teachers’ unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, have adopted neutral positions on Dickinson’s bill.

“We share with the author of the bill a concern that in some school districts there may be patterns of disparate treatment of certain students, and such practices must end wherever they exist,” said Fred Glass, a spokesman for the teachers federation, but “the teacher has a responsibility for the education of all her students, and if one student consistently prevents students from learning, there has to be a remedy available.”
I'll agree that you can't fix the problem until you identify the underlying cause.  The difficulty, though, is that those who push these silly so-called fixes refuse to admit, or even to consider, what is obviously the underlying cause, and that cause is a culture amongst certain groups in this country, a culture in which people don't value education, don't respect authority, and don't consider anyone other than oneself.

You want to see that culture in action?  Turn on the news in the morning and watch the prior evening's events in Ferguson, MO.

Cost of College Textbooks

Next Monday begins my next master's level course, linear optimization.  Of course I had to purchase the textbook.

Turns out that the textbook was written by my instructor--at least I know it'll be referenced in class!  I received it today:  more of a spiral-bound notebook than a textbook, and only 163 pages.

The cost?  Under $30, including UPS delivery.  I am not complaining!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excitement In Class Today

A hummingbird flew into class today.

Kinda made me realize why humans are apex predators, as that hummingbird wasn't so bright.  It couldn't find its way outside!  Even when we turned off the lights and closed the curtains, it couldn't find its way to the door.  It would fly in the general vicinity but it wouldn't drop low and go out the door.

It stayed in the room for about an hour.  Once in awhile it would land on something up near the ceiling, but only for a moment or so.  Then it would be flying and squeaking again. 

And trying to feed from the motion detector probably didn't yield the best meal.

When class ended I closed and locked the door and went to the staff lounge.  When I came back for the next period the bird had given up; it was on the floor, too tired to fly anymore.  It even hid under a shelf!  I don't know my students' names yet, but one girl went over and gently picked it up--it was too tired to resist.  She took it outside and placed it well into a planted area where it would be safe until it rested enough to fly again.

All in all it was a fun experience, certainly better than when a full-sized bird or a wasp flies in.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Problems Like This Were Entirely Predictable, and Predicted

And even then, situations like this arise:
When 13-year-old Rachel Pepe returns to her New Jersey middle school after summer break this year, it will be her first time attending school as a girl — something Rachel’s mom, Angela Peters, says is causing a dustup with school administrators.

"He was going to school last year as Brian," Peters, who could not be reached by Yahoo Health, told the Asbury Park Press. She added that her child had developed stress-related seizures, depression, and panic attacks, explaining, “She would get off the bus and just cry. Then she would go to sleep for 17 or 20 hours and refuse to go back there.”

Now, Peters claims, since informing Thorne Middle School in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, about Rachel’s transition, school officials told her that Rachel had to return in September as Brian or not return at all. And while Peters offered up the option of Rachel using the nurse’s bathroom instead of the girls’ bathroom, she claims that that request was denied and Rachel would be forced to use boys’ bathroom if she attended school. In the interview with the newspaper, Peters also said she was told that Rachel’s presence would upset the school’s boy-girl ratio and that standardized tests would require her to use her legal name and gender.

As a result, Peters is asking for monetary aid from the Middletown Township Public School District in order to send Rachel to an alternative private school more prepared to deal with transgender issues...
Who's right--the kid and mom? the district? both? neither? Heck if I know.

The "boy-girl ratio" excuse sounds like complete and total crap to me, though.

Best Star Trek Movie EVER

First, read the background to this new CBS-approved, crowdfunded fan movie:
The third installment in the recently rebooted Star Trek movie franchise hasn’t shot a frame of film yet, but work is well underway on another Trek feature, made possible by the enthusiasm (and funds) of dedicated Trekkies. Star Trek: Axana (sic) is the brainchild of writer/producer/star/fanboy Alec Peters. The 90-minute, crowdfunded production (due out in 2015) will at long last, reveal the full story behind the pivotal Battle of Axanar, an event initially referenced in a season 3 episode of the original series, “Whom Gods Destroy.”

As non-Abrams, non-Vulcan-goes-kablooey continuity goes, the planet Axanar served as the battleground for a pivotal clash between the Federation and the Klingons. It was here that Starfleet captain Garth of Izar (played by Peters himself) achieved a victory that served as the inspiration for generations of deep-space cowboys that followed him, including one James T. Kirk. Told through the testimony of several Axanar veterans, as well as recreations of key moments from the battle, the movie is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious fan-made films around.  It’s also one of the few that’s been officially sanctioned by the franchise’s overlords at CBS; Peters has said that he secured permission from the network to move forward, with the understanding that he wouldn’t attempt to profit personally from the production.
Go read the whole thing so you understand what's going on in the 20-minute prelude/teaser:

Don't remember the original series episode Whom Gods Destroy?  Read about it here, and note which character shows up.

Two words:  freakin' awesome.

Yes, Children Should Memorize The Multiplication Tables

I've always thought that it worked something like this, so it's nice to have the fine folks at Stanford backing me up:
When it comes to adding up it's experience that counts, scientists have found.

Research carried out on elementary school-age children has revealed that drilling children on simple addition and multiplication may pay off.

According to the results, as children's brains develop remembering sums helps them add up faster.

'Experience really does matter,' said Dr Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what's called fact retrieval when they're eight to nine-years-old, when they're still working on fundamental addition and subtraction.

How well children make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement.

Those who fall behind 'are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,' Mann Koepke said...

But that's not the whole story.

Next, Menon's team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don't use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH's Mann Koepke explained.

Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple maths, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math.

'The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development,' she said.

'So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps.'
This seems perfectly reasonable to anyone except extreme fuzzies and certain members of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  As I've said for years, it's not "drill and kill", it's "drill and skill".

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How We Learn

In some of the courses I've taught I've allowed students to take a note sheet into the final exam.  I'm not convinced that knowing and understanding math is the same thing as memorizing formulas and equations--and let's be honest, a kid who doesn't know any more about a topic than what they wrote on their note sheet isn't going to ace the test anyway.  But that isn't the point of this post.

My rule for the note sheets was that students must write everything; no cutting/pasting, no typing, no photocopying, only writing by hand.  Anyone who can type well knows that you can type something while simultaneously holding a completely unrelated conversation with someone, but it's significantly harder to do that while writing.  Consequently, I developed the belief that there's something at work in the writing process, something that activates the brain, that isn't present in the typing process.  That's why I always required students to write their notes instead of typing them, I've believed it's better for the learning process.

Turns out I might have been on to something:
A study titled The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard backs the idea that students learn more when they write in longhand rather than taking notes on a laptop.
The study found that, because the hand can’t possibly keep up with the speaker’s words, the writer must rephrase what was said in his or her own words, which in turn processes the information at a deeper level.
I wonder if that study took shorthand into account. Do schools even teach shorthand anymore? Am I one of the few remaining people who possesses that archaic skill?