Thursday, October 08, 2015

How Much Money Was Spent On The Exit Exam?

Which California governor signed into law the creation of the High School Exit Exam?  Of which political party was that governor a member?

Can kids believe anything we teachers tell them?  "This is important", we said.  "This counts", we said:
Another bill earning Brown’s signature continues California’s move away from the exit exam high school seniors have been required to pass in order to graduate. Senate Bill 172 suspends the exam for the next three academic years and, because it is retroactive to 2004, allows students who met all other graduation requirements to get their diplomas. Earlier this year Brown signed legislation granting a reprieve to students after a planned test date was canceled.
The pendulum has swung back to "nothing matters, it's all good as long as you try" 1990s. How many millions were spent creating the exit exam, training us on its use, actually giving the exam for all those years, grading that exam, and reporting its results?

Read more here:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Crazy Ole Uncle Joe

Is this guy really the Democrats' savior in 2016?
Biden’s “Uncle Joe” schtick is designed to camouflage the career politician inside who has no qualms about lying to further his own ambitions. You know, the man who plagiarized his law review comment and falsely claims that he played college football, graduated in the top half of his law school class (he was 76 out of 85), had a blue collar upbringing, that his first wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver (there is no evidence the driver was drunk), and that he was a skeptic of the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden has displayed, over a long period of time, a near-pathological propensity to lie in order to aggrandize himself. That he would “embellish” the story of his dying son’s last words–and plant the story himself with the New York Times–is just another example of this pattern.
I hear them mocking the fact that there are so many Republicans running, as if that's a bad thing,  but this is the guy that's going to save them from having to vote for Hillary Clinton even as she struggles to avoid prison?

Not My Best Test

Ugh!  I was so frustrated when I got home yesterday that I didn't even feel like doing a blog post.  Why?  Because I took a test after school and didn't do so well.

When I tell my students "here's what's going to be on the test", as I do only the day before the test so they can then focus their studying, I mean it to be a relatively inclusive list. 

Perhaps my instructor meant it as "know these things but there will be other stuff", but I just can't seem to get that impression when I rewatch the video.  It seems like the given list is exhaustive.

It was not my best test.  I completely flubbed one of the proofs--couldn't even do it incorrectly, just couldn't do it at all.

Perhaps there's a lesson in experiencing this feeling once in awhile, but it still sucks.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Stupidity Is Not The Exclusive Domain of Public School Administrators

Does this punishment fit the crime?
Kids can get in trouble for smooching. They can get in trouble for touching. They can get in trouble for chewing, playing with toys, and making sugary snacks. They can get in trouble for waving their hands the wrong way (don’t even get me started on pencil-twirlers). And yes, they can even get in trouble for staring.

According to, the principal at St. Gabriel Consolidated School—a private institution—suspended a pair of 12-year-old boys for a day for playing a staring game with a female student...
Why do you think the girl, who was also participating, was not suspended?  This article doesn't pursue that question, but it should.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Letters of Recommendation

Is it just me, or are letters of recommendation useless?

Of course I'm talking about those letters of recommendation that high school teachers are asked to write for students as part of their college application packets.  Are these letters of enough value to justify the time spent writing them? 

The LA Times reports that UC Berkeley is considering asking some applicants to include such letters, which will no doubt start an arms race with the other UC campuses:
In a significant break from tradition, UC Berkeley will ask some freshman applicants to submit letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors this fall. And the UC system is studying whether all of its nine undergraduate campuses should do the same in future years as another way to choose among the avalanche of students seeking admission.

The new policy at UC Berkeley, while optional and limited this year, has triggered much debate at other UC campuses and high schools around the state about the value of such letters and whether they hurt or help the chances of public school students.

Adding even optional recommendations to all UC applications "would be a sea change," said Stephen Handel, UC's associate vice president for undergraduate admissions. Upcoming deliberation will have to measure the usefulness in admissions decisions against concerns that a change might "inadvertently disenfranchise certain students from even applying," he said.
What are the pros and cons?
Supporters say a recommendation letter can boost the chances of a deserving student whose test scores don't fully reflect his or her achievements and who did not have help from parents or private consultants in writing personal statements.

Critics question the letters' worth in predicting college success and say they can reinforce advantages of well-connected students and those who attend private high schools with small classes and ample counseling staff...

"The pros have not outweighed the cons," she said. Students in big public schools "do not always have access to counselors who really know them and can advocate for them." And those teachers and counselors may not have the time to write adequate letters, she added.
As a teacher, I have better things to do than to spend my time writing meaningless letters.  I can't just do a pro forma letter, I feel compelled to write a good one--and those take time:
"It's asking a lot more from the students and the high schools for something that will have a very minimal effect on whether the kids get in or not," he (a high school counselor) said, but he added that he would write them if asked.


Saturday, October 03, 2015

Textbook Adoption

Instead of going to school and teaching students on Monday, I have to go to a textbook adoption meeting.  There are 5 stats books that we stats teachers will get to choose from, and we're going to hear from each publisher about all the bells and whistles--then we'll decide which one's we're going to pilot.

Except we're not really going to pilot them.  We'll each use a book for about two months, then we'll choose another book and use it for about two months, and then somehow we'll all vote and choose which stats book to adopt. 

It's such a half-assed way of doing things.  This isn't how you test out a book to see if it's going to be the foundation of your instruction for the next several years.

That's how disorganized my district is.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


I teach students how to do statistics on a variety of platforms:  TI-30s (because our school has tons of them, and they're good for 1-variable and 2-variable data); TI-83s, because their stats functions are easily accessible; Excel, because it's so versatile and has an OK "data analysis toolpak" add-on; and Minitab, because it's ubiquitous in statistics classes and does a great job.  I also show students Mystat, the free version of Systat, so they can have data analysis software at home.  I'm not devoted to any of these tools in particular; I teach them all, giving students a broad base of stats tools knowledge from which to draw whenever they need it.  And if you're wondering, I do teach the formulas and insist on plenty of pencil-and-paper calculations before we start pushing buttons; anything less would be what I call "black box" math, where you learn more about using the technology than you do about learning the math.

The author of this piece, though, is not a fan of Texas Instruments:
You remember the TI-83: the brick-sized graphing machine you likely covered in stickers and used to send messages, spell out obscenities, play games and maybe do some math, if you were paying close enough attention. Some students today will be the second generation to use it. 

The TI-83 was released in 1996, when mobile phones had antennas and PCs were mostly used for word processing. In 1996, Google was born. It was also the year of the Palm Pilot and Hotmail. Microsoft Office '97 debuted on a floppy disk. You could install the Internet on your computer with a CD from AOL.

In fact, the TI-83 existed for half a decade before the iPod, which became smaller and more powerful for generations before it, too, became obsolete. The iPod made way for the smartphone, a computational powerhouse — the size of, well, a calculator — that is quickly taking over the world.

Technology has not yet killed the reliable old TI-83. Nearly 20 years later, students are still forced to use a prohibitively expensive piece of outdated technology. It's not because better tools aren't available; they exist, and some of them are even free. It's because Texas Instruments, the company that creates them, has a staggering monopoly in the field of high school mathematics. The American education system is addicted to Texas Instruments.
I don't know that anything the author says is wrong, I just don't know how important it is.

Keep in mind that I teach in California.  It's against the law for me to require students to purchase a calculator for class or to charge any fee not specifically authorized by law.  (Yes, I know that plenty of teachers and schools violate that little section of our ed code, but I do not.)  So yes, I do have a classroom set of TI-83s, and they're available for student use when we're specifically covering their use.  I've seen the stats functions on newer calculators and still find the TI-83s to be the most user friendly for what I teach.

The phone apps I've seen for stats aren't exceptional, and finding free ones for iOS (remember, I can't have students incur a charge) makes the process even more difficult.  I'm OK with continuing the use of TI-83s--they're perfectly serviceable--until a better product comes along.  No sense in getting rid of them just because they're older than my students; they still do more math than a high schooler will ever learn!

Release Prisoners, Pay Teachers More

I'd like to believe that idiocy like this can come only from a liberal but I'm sure there are those of my political persuasion that have proposed things just as dumb.  Leave it to politicians.
Freeing half of non-violent prison inmates would save $15 billion to fund 56 percent pay hikes for teachers at high-poverty schools, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a National Press Club speech yesterday. Duncan envisions a “prison-to-school pipeline,” as Ed Week puts it.
Here's the rub:
If their teachers had earned more, would they have done better? Or were they trapped in the bad parenting-to-prison pipeline?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Two Things Lefties Can't Tolerate: Humor, and Opinions That Differ From Their Own

Some people are so delicate and fragile that they shouldn't ever leave home, much less attend a university:
Three contributors to the Claremont Independent, a conservative campus newspaper and website, posted photos of themselves in tank tops that said “Claremont Independent: Always Right.”

Called “racist, sexist, classist” “ignorant,” “white supremacists,” etc. on social media, they also were attacked for “insensitivity” and making students “emotionally ill,” reports The College Fix, which captured screenshots...

Claremont Independent editor Hannah Oh asked critics to “engage with us and offer constructive criticism.” Contributors include moderates, libertarians and classical liberals, she wrote.

What if she’d said being called a racist, sexist, white supremacist had made her emotionally ill? Surely, the insults qualified as a “micro” — or perhaps even a “macro” — aggression.
I'm old enough to remember when universities were the "home" of the free speech movement.


It needs to be said again and again until the truth wins out:
While the huge multi-million pay packages of a few hundred CEOs get all of the media attention, what usually receives much less attention is the small number of CEOs represented in the annual salary surveys, especially compared to the total number of CEOs in the US. For example, the WSJ’s executive compenstation survey last year included only 300 CEOs at large, U.S.-traded public companies, and the AP analyzed compensation figures for only 337 companies in the S&P 500 last year. The AFL-CIO did an analysis of the CEOs of 350 companies in the S&P 500 in 2013 and then computed a “CEO-to-worker pay ratio” of 331 times, up from a ratio of 300 ten years ago and 200 twenty years ago.

Although these samples of 300-350 CEOs are representative of large, publicly-traded, multinational US companies, they certainly aren’t very representative of the average US company or the average US CEO. According to both the BLS and the Census Bureau, there are more than 7 million private firms in the US, so the samples of 300-350 firms for CEO pay represent only one of about every 21,500 private firms in the US, or about 1/200 of 1% of the total number of US firms. And yet the AFL-CIO, Financial Times, AP, the WSJ and others compare the average annual wages of hundreds of millions of full-time employees working at the more than 7 million US companies to the CEO pay of executives at only several hundred companies, which is hardly a fair comparison.

We can get a more accurate and complete picture of CEO compensation in the US by looking at wage data released recently by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its annual report on Occupational Employment and Wages for 2014. The BLS report provides “employment and wage estimates by area and by industry for wage and salary workers in 22 major occupational groups, 94 minor occupational groups, 458 broad occupations, and 821 detailed occupations,” including the occupational category “chief executives.” In 2014, the BLS reports that the average pay for America’s 246,240 chief executives was only $180,700. The CEOs of the 300-350 S&P 500 firms that supposedly represent typical CEO compensation represent only one out of about every 820 firms in the country (or 1/7 of 1%) that have a CEO at the head. The larger sample of almost a quarter-million CEOs reported by the BLS gives us a much better understanding of “average CEO compensation.”

For the larger sample of CEOs reported by the BLS, their average pay of $180,700 last year was an increase of only 1.3% from the average CEO pay of $178,400 in 2013. In contrast, the BLS reports that the average pay of all workers increased by 1.7% last year to $47,230 from $46,440 in 2013. That’s right, the average worker last year saw an increase in their pay that was more than 30% greater than the increase in pay for the average US CEO.

And the “CEO-to-worker pay ratio” for the average CEO compared to the average worker was only 3.83 times last year (see chart above), nowhere close to the pay ratio of 331X reported by the AFL-CIO using the 350 highest-paid CEOs in the country. Call it a “statistical falsehood-to-truth ratio” of 87-to-1 for the AFL-CIO’s exaggerated, bogus ratio.
Our practical application of arithmetic and statistics for the day.  Why do our friends on the left trumpet the false number?  Because it advances their agenda.  They have to lie to advance their agenda.

Update, 10/1/15:  Let's remember that the president of Planned Parenthood, a so-called non-profit that profits from the selling of babies' body parts, makes over half a million dollars a year, which is almost 3x the average American CEO pay.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What's Wrong With Common Core?

I can't speak for the English standards, only the math standards.  Those aren't as good or as rigorous as what California gave up, and the strongly implied suggestion that so-called discovery learning is the approved way to "teach" isn't so great, either.

But don't take my word for it:
Like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the EPA’s regulatory assault on energy production, Obama’s anti-suburban moves, American policy in the Middle East and other fundamental transformations, Common Core is so big and sprawling a change that it’s often tough to see it whole. That problem has just been solved by Drilling through the Core, a book that’s bound to become the go to handbook of the Common Core’s opponents.

Drilling through the Core is a collection of essays by the most informed and prominent critics of the Common Core, including Sandra Stotsky, Ze’ev Wurman, William Evers, and R. James Milgram. It includes a wonderful treatment of the Founders’ views on the study of history by James Madison biographer Ralph Ketcham.

But what sets the book apart is the 80 page introduction by Peter Wood. Calmly and with crystal clarity, Wood explains and connects nearly every aspect of the battle. It’s all here, from the most basic explanation of what Common Core is, to the history, the major arguments for and against, and so much more. The controversies over both the English and math standards are explained; the major players in the public battle are identified; the battle over Gates Foundation’s role is anatomized; the roles of the tests and the testing consortia are reviewed; concerns over data-mining and privacy are laid out; the dumbing-down effect on the college curriculum is explained; as is the role of the Obama administration and the teachers unions.
There's plenty more, go read the whole thing.

Update, 9/30/15Support for Common Core is eroding:
What’s the bottom line? At least three things are clear. First, sentiment is highly sensitive to how the question is asked. Depending on which of the above questions one selects, it’s possible to argue that the public supports the Common Core by more than two to one or that it opposes it by more than two to one. This should remind us to take any particular set of poll results with more than a few grains of salt. 

Second, support for the Common Core remains positive but exhibits a clear downward trend.
Like Obamacare, it will get even less popular as people learn more about it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why I'm Not A Socialist

From the Wall Street Journal:
Go back, for a moment, nearly 30 years. In March 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited Mikhail Gorbachev, the reforming leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in Moscow. Sitting in the Kremlin, the two argued for hours. At one point, Mr. Gorbachev accused Mrs. Thatcher of leading the party of the “haves” and of fooling the people about who really controlled the levers of power. The Iron Lady had an answer: “I explained,” she wrote in her memoirs, “that what I was trying to do was create a society of ‘haves,’ not a class of them.”
Hear hear.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scorch Trials

I watched Maze Runner several months ago and genuinely liked it.  It was yet another "teens fight to save the world" story, the first in a series, but it was still quite good.  I considered it a cross between Lord of the Flies and The Cube (which, if you haven't seen, is a thriller).

Today I watched the second installment, Scorch Trials.  It was a cross between 28 Days Later and Hunger Games Part 2.  Not as good as Maze Runner, which is to be expected, but not a bad movie.