"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ice Storm leftovers

The radiator that exploded...literally - pieces flew off...spewed its black gunk all over the living room.

Here is a picture of a spot of that gunk across the room over the couch.

Here's a lampshade which got in the way of the gunk.

Most of the house is put back together. Tuesday night Chad came over and put in our new faucet. How lovely it is!!!


Still to do:

Contact the phone company.
Figure out what to do about the "down" bathroom which is still backing up.
Gather more sticks.
Entertain the Insurance adjuster when he comes on Monday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Pause in the Ice Storm...Obama, Arne Duncan, and test scores

We interrupt news about the ice storm to drop three items. First, a comment about Obama's nominee for Secretary of Education. If you listened me during the election I frequently said that I did not like Obama's Education policy (what little there was). Now, unfortunately it looks as if he is putting his money where his mouth is. Arne Duncan, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, is going to be our new Secretary of Education. Duncan is not an educator...he's an attorney. His interest is in producing good workers for business interests. More testing...more punishment...more of the same crap we've been forced to step in for the last 8 years.

Second...a modest proposal from a math teacher.

Third...more about Arne Duncan from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

1. Obama Betrays Public Education. Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling

Here's Arne Duncan, Obama's nominee for Secretary of Education, rubbing shoulders with the enemy, Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary of Education. Her disdain for public schools is legendary. She's also not an educator. Her qualifications? She's a mom and has had kids in school. Duncan's main qualification is that he's one of Obama's basketball buddies.


The current "reform" of public education is a travesty and a lie...it's a pretense and we need to stop calling it "reform." It is corporate deception, hidden in the language of civil rights. They're killing our schools.

From Henry Al Giroux and Kenneth Saltman:

"It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with [Arne] Duncan's history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices - both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services."

Read their entire piece at truthout. It's long, but it's important to see what our next president is going to (continue) to do to public education.

2. A modest proposal from a teacher...

To the editor

From Robert Shelvock

Published in Washington Post (12/23/2008)

Every politician and appointee seems to have all the answers to our public schools problems. It amazes me how few of these people have actually taught in those schools.

A challenge to President-elect Barack Obama and Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan [front page, Dec. 17]: Take the entire staff from the worst-performing D.C. school and swap it with the one at the best-performing school. Then see what happens to test scores.

This would be a cheap way to find out whether school reform is worth everything being invested in it. If teachers really are the difference, scores will go up at the bad school and down at the good one. But I think you will find, as most teachers already know, that socioeconomic status
affects scores far more than teaching methods.

The writer is a math teacher with the Department of Defense Education Activity program.

3. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Blasts Duncan in Op-Ed

Arne Duncan favors free market schools....for profit schools...

"Duncan’s reforms are steeped in a free-market model of school reform, particularly the notion that school choice and charter and specialty schools will motivate educators to work harder to do better as will penalties for not meeting standards. But research does not support such initiatives. There is evidence that encouraging choice and competition will not raise districtwide achievement, and charter schools in particular are not outperforming regular schools. There is evidence that choice programs actually exacerbate racial segregation. And there is evidence that high-stakes testing increases the drop-out rate."

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ice Storm - Day 5

Woo hoo!!! The power came on at about 7 pm last night (Monday).

With the help of a brand new generator and a kerosene heater we started warming up the house. Chad removed the old, broken radiator - with only one minor emergency as water came shooting out of the pipe. The electricity came on while we were "thawing" out various water areas, so the generator was put away for next time. Lots of problems still remain.

There's no hot water in the "up" bathroom, the kitchen faucet is still broken, there's no heat above the garage, no heat in "the addition," and the floor in the "down" bathroom flooded because of frozen drains.

Today's chores:

1. Hope that the power stays on.
2. Move things out of the living room so that the floor can be cleaned.
3. Clean up the "down" bathroom...wash the towels used to mop up the floor (and, btw, hope that the washer works.
4. Thaw out the radiators in the addition.
5. Thaw out the hot water lines in the "up" bathroom.
6. Drag more limbs to the front of the house hoping that eventually some kind soul will come along and haul them away.
7. Contact the phone company to re-attach the phone lines...though this may have to wait until the tree which pulled the wires down melts and gets out of the way.

The living room corner with the dead radiator removed and capped - thank you Chad!!

The dead kitchen faucet - soon to be replaced with a brand new faucet with soap dispenser.

For some reason the siding has not "healed itself."

The "Hero" trophy goes to Chad and Kate for all their hospitality, help, and patience!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ice Storm - Day 4

All day Friday...all day Saturday...all day Sunday...and this is Monday...so it's the fourth day we've been in exile from the Grabill homestead.

We are extremely grateful to Kate and Chad for allowing us to invade their quiet home. Evidence of our presence is definitely felt and Kate is being a very brave girl with Mom and Dad in such close proximity. Memories of all those times she was embarrassed simply by being around us are, I'm sure, in the forefront of her mind, yet she continues to be strong in the face of such difficulties.

Some of the evidence...

Computers laying around...

Meg's favorite winter wrap-up blanket and heat bag...

...and the deep sense of stress which pervades the entire episode.

Today's trip home to Grabill brought some surprises. With subzero temperatures last night, the threat of frozen water pipes was great...and it happened. So far, there are two locations in which it is known that water froze in the pipes. First, the kitchen sink...which now needs a new faucet and second, one of the radiators, pictured below:

Water from the radiator burst into the room splashing up to 10 feet away and leaving a mess on the carpet.

Here are some more pictures of the ice storm which has caused all the problems.

The tree in our neighbor's yard which pulled down our telepone wire, ripping off the siding.

Another view of the siding.

The redbud tree in the front of the house. You can see how the trunk is being split by the weight of the ice on the limbs. Not sure if we will be able to save it.

Yesterday's pictures showed the limbs in the backyard...here are some that we dragged into the front yard.

A tree limb fell down and popped one of the boards off of our fence.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ice Storm

On Friday morning, December 19, we were hit with an ice storm. The power went out at about 6 am.

We're still waiting for power, but the electric company is saying "Wednesday or later." No thaw till next weekend...so the danger of trees knocking down powerlines is still great.

Minor damage to the house...the phone wire was pulled down by a tree. It's still attached, but it pulled away from the house dragging some siding with it. A limb fell on our fence knocking some of it off.

Today I think, we need to go back and open the faucets a bit more to make sure that the water doesn't freeze in the pipes.

Ah...the joys of homeownership.

Some pics:

Neighbor's yard.


Kate said, "That's Arty" so I included this shot, too.

Redbud tree from the driveway.

Our redbud tree hanging precariously...

Same view...further back...

Tree limbs in the backyard...several more have already been dragged to the front.

Phone wire was pulled to the ground by a tree next door...and ripped siding off the house.


The top of the deck...right after the ice storm.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why Teaching Jobs Based on Test Scores is a Bad Idea

Top 10 Reasons Why Teaching Jobs Based on Test Scores Is A Bad Idea


10. Teaching jobs based on test scores will hasten the flight of the remaining good teachers from the poorest schools where the best teachers are already in the shortest supply.

9. Teaching jobs based on test scores will attract only the most desperate teachers to the poorest schools.

8. Teaching jobs based on test scores will contribute to cutthroat competition among teachers for positions most likely to produce the best test results.

7. Teaching jobs based on test scores will decimate teamwork and collaboration among teachers.

6. Teaching jobs based on test scores will push the curriculum into a smaller and smaller box based only on what is tested.

5. Teaching jobs based on test scores will further poison the educational climate in schools that is now almost unbreathable.

4. Teaching jobs based on test scores will exacerbate the cheating and corruption associated with high stakes policy implementation.

3. Teaching jobs based on test scores will damage learning for knowledge, skills, and understanding by placing further emphasis only on memorization and short-term learning gains that can be demonstrated with paper and pencil tests.

2. Teaching jobs based on test scores will extend the view of children as raw material to be exploited for their monetary worth.

1. Teaching jobs based on test scores will encourage the marginalization and discarding of the raw material that can't be exploited.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poverty is not an excuse...it's a condition...

"When people have said 'poverty is no excuse,' my response has been, 'Yes, you're right. Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition. It's like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.'" - Gerald Bracey

Poor Children's Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows

ScienceDaily (Dec. 6, 2008) — University of California, Berkeley, researchers have shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids.


In a study recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, scientists at UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the School of Public Health report that normal 9- and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Brain function was measured by means of an electroencephalograph (EEG) – basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain – like that used to assess epilepsy, sleep disorders and brain tumors.

"Kids from lower socioeconomic levels show brain physiology patterns similar to someone who actually had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult," said Robert Knight, director of the institute and a UC Berkeley professor of psychology. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response."

Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but according to cognitive psychologist Mark Kishiyama, first author of the new paper, "those studies were only indirect measures of brain function and could not disentangle the effects of intelligence, language proficiency and other factors that tend to be associated with low socioeconomic status. Our study is the first with direct measure of brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity."

Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health who currently is the British Columbia Leadership Chair of Child Development at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is not surprised by the results. "We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive."

Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist, heads a joint UC Berkeley/UBC research program called WINKS – Wellness in Kids – that looks at how the disadvantages of growing up in low socioeconomic circumstances change children's basic neural development over the first several years of life.

"This is a wake-up call," Knight said. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

Kishiyama, Knight and Boyce suspect that the brain differences can be eliminated by proper training. They are collaborating with UC Berkeley neuroscientists who use games to improve the prefrontal cortex function, and thus the reasoning ability, of school-age children.

"It's not a life sentence," Knight emphasized. "We think that with proper intervention and training, you could get improvement in both behavioral and physiological indices."

Kishiyama, Knight, Boyce and their colleagues selected 26 children ages 9 and 10 from a group of children in the WINKS study. Half were from families with low incomes and half from families with high incomes. For each child, the researchers measured brain activity while he or she was engaged in a simple task: watching a sequence of triangles projected on a screen. The subjects were instructed to click a button when a slightly skewed triangle flashed on the screen.

The researchers were interested in the brain's very early response – within as little as 200 milliseconds, or a fifth of a second – after a novel picture was flashed on the screen, such as a photo of a puppy or of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

"An EEG allows us to measure very fast brain responses with millisecond accuracy," Kishiyama said.

The researchers discovered a dramatic difference in the response of the prefrontal cortex not only when an unexpected image flashed on the screen, but also when children were merely watching the upright triangles waiting for a skewed triangle to appear. Those from low socioeconomic environments showed a lower response to the unexpected novel stimuli in the prefrontal cortex that was similar, Kishiyama said, to the response of people who have had a portion of their frontal lobe destroyed by a stroke.

"When paying attention to the triangles, the prefrontal cortex helps you process the visual stimuli better. And the prefrontal cortex is even more involved in detecting novelty, like the unexpected photographs," he said. But in both cases, "the low socioeconomic kids were not detecting or processing the visual stimuli as well. They were not getting that extra boost from the prefrontal cortex."

"These kids have no neural damage, no prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, no neurological damage," Kishiyama said. "Yet, the prefrontal cortex is not functioning as efficiently as it should be. This difference may manifest itself in problem solving and school performance."

The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame, since in animals, stress and environmental deprivation have been shown to affect the prefrontal cortex. UC Berkeley's Marian Diamond, professor emeritus of integrative biology, showed nearly 20 years ago in rats that enrichment thickens the cerebral cortex as it improves test performance. And as Boyce noted, previous studies have shown that children from poor families hear 30 million fewer words by the time they are four than do kids from middle-class families.

"In work that we and others have done, it really looks like something as simple and easily done as talking to your kids" can boost prefrontal cortex performance, Boyce said.

"We are certainly not blaming lower socioeconomic families for not talking to their kids – there are probably a zillion reasons why that happens," he said. "But changing developmental outcomes might involve something as accessible as helping parents to understand that it is important that kids sit down to dinner with their parents, and that over the course of that dinner it would be good for there to be a conversation and people saying things to each other."

"The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development," said Silvia Bunge, UC Berkeley assistant professor of psychology who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in teenagers by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Boyce's UBC colleague, Adele Diamond, showed last year that 5- and 6-year-olds with impaired executive functioning, that is, poor problem solving and reasoning abilities, can improve their academic performance with the help of special activities, including dramatic play.

Bunge hopes that, with fMRI, she can show improvements in academic performance as a result of these games, actually boosting the activity of the prefrontal cortex.

"People have tried for a long time to train reasoning, largely unsuccessfully," Bunge said. "Our question is, 'Can we replicate these initial findings and at the same time give kids the tools to succeed?'"

This research is supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health.



Adapted from materials provided by University of California - Berkeley
.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Time Bashes...

I remember arguing with my father about Time magazine. "A right-wing, fascist rag" I said (this was back in the day of my anti-Viet Nam War radicalism). "An editorial magazine with definite corporate opinions and a 'business' focus" he said.

Of course, he was right...and they have done it again. The latest issue of Time Magazine features the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools on the cover and contains a diatribe against 1) American education, 2) American schools and 3) American teachers. It seems that all that's wrong with public schools today is bad teachers. Our schools are failing...students not learning...teachers' unions sabatoging the future of our children...and the rest of the world is passing us by.

The 'business focus' of Time Magazine has come through loud and clear. They have joined the ranks of the "Business Roundtable," Bill Gates, and the Chamber of Commerce in their level of public school bashing.

"The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation's economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research. And Washington, which spends more money per pupil than the vast majority of large districts, is the problem writ extreme, a laboratory that failure made."

This is pretty clear is it not? It's the teachers' faults...period. Unfortunately they are missing the point.

It turns out that we're not so bad after all...it all depends on how you look at "the decades of research."

The truth is when compared to our white middle class and wealthier students, the rest of the world does not have that much of an edge.

If you read the research by Erling E. Boe and Sujie Shin from the University of Pennsylvania (published in Kappan, October 2005) you'll see that white American students are doing pretty well compared to the average scores from the G5 nations. It is only when you add in the test scores of America's poor, both brown and black, that you get the sorts of results that the anti-public school crowd can use to perpetuate their myth of failing schools in the United States.

The fact is that the 'problem' with the public schools in the US is the same problem that has been affecting the rest of the nation economically and socially for the last 8 years...the growth of poverty. Poverty in the US was not eliminated, but at least reduced during the Clinton years, but in the last 8 years the number of children living in poverty in the US has skyrocketed.

The rich are getting richer...and their children are getting a pretty good education. The poor are getting poorer thanks to Bush, Cheney, Rove & Co. The bottom line is poverty, and urban schools are neglected. Time Magazine is still too blinded by their corporate connections to see the truth.
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