October 2007

Quote of the Day

"Mom, I think we need some new pancake syrup.  The viscosity is too high in this one."
— Delta, age 12

Geez, I had a decent vocabulary at her age, but I doubt I knew what viscosity was until high school — probably about the time I learned how to put oil in my car.

Get Congress out of the Classroom

Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University, has an excellent opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times.  She served as the assistant secretary for education research from 1991-1993, the latter part of the term of George H.W. Bush.

It might be a little surprising, therefore, that she would come out with a rather strongly critical opinion of No Child Left Behind, the flagship legislation of Bush 43:

DESPITE the rosy claims of the Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is fundamentally flawed. The latest national tests, released last week, show that academic gains since 2003 have been modest, less even than those posted in the years before the law was put in place. In eighth-grade reading, there have been no gains at all since 1998.

She also makes a good case for juxtaposing the roles of states and the federal government with regard to education:

No Child Left Behind can, however, be salvaged if policymakers recognize that they need to reverse the roles of the federal government and the states. In our federal system, each level of government should do what it does best. The federal government is good at collecting and disseminating information. The states and school districts, being closer to the schools, teachers and parents than the federal government, are more likely to be flexible and pragmatic about designing reforms to meet the needs of particular schools.

This idea — that the best government is that which is closest to the people — is supposed to be one of the core principles of the Republican Party… but maybe that’s a just relic from the days when the Republican Party embraced "principles" rather than "values."

Her next two paragraphs illustrate some of the flaws  in the current system (other than the absolute impossibility of 100% of children attaining 100% proficiency by 2014):

However, under current law, state education departments have an incentive to show that schools and students are making steady progress, even if they are not. So the results of state tests, which are administered every year, are almost everywhere better than the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the benchmark federal test that is administered every other year.

Many states claim that 80 percent or more of their students are proficient in reading or math at the same time that the federal assessment shows only a minority of students in those states reaching its standard of proficiency. We will never know how well or poorly our students are doing until we have a consistent national testing program in which officials have no vested interest in claiming victory.

(emphasis added)

We know this is true.  We know it’s true in Tennessee — that our own standards are lower than those of the NAEP, and sinking.  But, the NAEP isn’t given to every student, or even taken at every school — it’s a so-called "representative sampling," of which I am somewhat suspicious.  I don’t know the last time that the NAEP was given to students in Oak Ridge, to which students it was given, and whether the "representative sampling" for Tennessee is any decent measure of how our school system is doing.

What would it cost to completely do away with the TCAP, and use the NAEP for all students instead?  If all states did away with their own proprietary tests and used the NAEP instead, would that not achieve some cost savings, in addition to doing away with states’ gaming the system through artificially adjusted performance standards?

On the downside, if it is that, it would mean that all the states would have to align their standards — what subjects they teach at what levels — with the NAEP rather than the state test.  With that comes the possibility of federalizing educational standards, which I don’t think is a good idea.

I’d love to know what you think.

Thought for the Day

This arrived in my inbox this afternoon, and seems worthy of sharing:

I believe –
. . that just because two people argue, it doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.  And just because they don’t argue, it doesn’t mean they do.

I believe –
. . that we don’t have to change friends if we understand that friends change.  Remember that!

I believe –
. . that no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.  Even if you think you can’t.

I believe –
. . that true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance. Same goes for true love.

I believe –
. . that you can do something in an instant that will give you heartache for life.

I believe –
. . that it’s taking me a long time to become the person I want to be.

I believe –
. . that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

I believe –
. . that you can keep going long after you think you can’t.

I believe –
. . that we are responsible for what we do, no matter how we feel.

I believe –
. . that either you control your attitude or it controls you.

I believe –
. . That heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

I believe –
. . that money is a lousy way of keeping score.

I believe –
. . that my best friend and I can do anything or nothing and have the best time.

I believe –
. . that sometimes the people you expect to kick you when you’re down, will be the ones to help you get back up.

I believe –
. . that sometimes when I’m angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.

I believe –
. . that maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned from them and less to do with how many birthdays you’ve celebrated.

I believe –
. . that it isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.

I believe –
. . that no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn’t stop for your grief.

I believe –
. . . that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

I believe –
. . that you shouldn’t be so eager to find out a secret. It could change your life forever.

I believe –
. . two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.

I believe –
. . that your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don’t even know you or by people that you don’t even know.

I believe –
. . that even when you think you have no more to give, when a friend cries out to you – you will find the strength to help.

I believe –
. . that credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being.

I believe –
. . that the people you care about most in life are taken from you too soon.


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