Education Archives

May 31, 2012

Bad Love High School strikes again

Bad Love Teacher, Erin Sayar

The wholesome, glowing bride in this photo is Erin Sayar, a 36 year-old English teacher at James Madison High in Brooklyn. She was removed from her classroom in January for allegedly having sex with an 11th grade student she was supposed to be tutoring. The story is familiar to anyone who follows the non-stop deluge of disastrous teacher/student relationships that fit the Bad Love criteria: an adult in a position of power, a kid who doesn't know any better, lots of sex, and zero judgement.

The story goes that Sayar and the student started having sex both in her office during the tutoring sessions, where they also smoked the weed she kept in her filing cabinet, and in her SUV, where she pulled up in front of his house late one night last fall. In addition to the student's confession that the two of them had sex 8-12 times, he also identified tattoos "on intimate parts of Sayar’s body". And then there's all the texts. For some reason, teachers who have sex with their students are also ferociously enthusiastic texters--Sayar and the student sent 3,856 text messages in 17 days--over 200 a day!

Note to self: if you have 200+ text exchanges with someone every day, whatever it is you're doing with them, it's probably ill-advised and/or illegal.

Somehow, they got caught. Actually it wasn't the kid's mom who figured out what was going on, it was his girlfriend. In an interesting twist on the usual formula, the girlfriend saw her teenage boyfriend flirting with a teacher and got suspicious, so naturally, she hacked his Facebook account. There she found messages from him to his teacher: "I love you so much", and the one that just about breaks my heart: "I always loved you, since last year."

When the adult in these Bad Love situations declares their love for the teenager they're sleeping with, I pretty much assume that they're emotionally crippled delusional creeps. But when the kid tells his English teacher that he's always loved her, since last year, I just feel awful for that poor misguided lovelorn 16 year-old, whose romantic fantasy is a married mother with glaringly obvious mental problems. And I might feel a little bit worse for his girlfriend.

We should point out that James Madison High was also the site of some hot girl-on-girl teacher action in 2009, when a janitor stumbled upon two drunk language teachers, Cindy Mauro and Alini Brito, going at it after school in a classroom, which was the most excellent Bad Teacher story of the decade.

Man, my high school was SO LAME.

April 28, 2011

Cursive culture wars

Kids learning cursive

Another generational bomb is going off in today's Times in an article about the decline of cursive handwriting in schools. The story is that college kids today rarely seem to know how to write, OR READ, cursive handwriting, which for some people is a sign of welcome progress beyond outdated modes of communication, and for some is a signal of the progressing dumbification of our country.

You can tell which side you fall on by your reaction to this anecdote:

Alex Heck, 22, said she barely remembered how to read or write cursive. Ms. Heck and a cousin leafed through their grandmother's journal shortly after she died, but could barely read her cursive handwriting. "It was kind of cryptic," Ms. Heck said. She and the cousin tried to decipher it like one might a code, reading passages back and forth. "I'm not used to reading cursive or writing it myself."

As with most debates like this, i.e. useless ones, people's opinions seem to be based almost exclusively on their own personal experience in elementary school when they were taught to write cursive. If you weren't good at it, you got bad grades, and you now hate cursive and think it's a waste of time to teach it. If you were good at it, you think it's a beautiful form of writing that should be preserved.

The comments section is vast and will probably become more passionate/indignant as the day wears on (one commenter calls the article "Boomer bait") but I guess that's the point of divisive little articles like this that the Times loves so very much.

Here's a comment highlight from Phil Greene in Houston: "I learned to type in the sixth grade and have written cursive since the first grade. This is just another sign of the dumbing down of America. I have three grandchildren who are as dumb as a post, and of course they can't write or multiply. They bore me to tears."

And from Scott in Nyack, whose anti-cursive ideology represents many commenters', i.e. vituperative rage directed at his teachers: "I recall getting straight A's in every subject in elementary school, but consistent D's in handwriting. As a result of this low penmanship grade, I never made the honor roll. By the time I entered high school, almost all our work was typed,and my straight A's continued to a great career in academia. The stupid nuns in 4th grade couldn't hold me down!"

I'll try to stay calm in presenting my own views: I like cursive and use it all the time (just checked grocery lists and notes lying around the house to make sure--yup, some lazy version of cursive) because if you know how to do it, it's faster than printing. For those occasions when you have to take notes or record something and using a keyboard isn't practical, writing in cursive is a useful skill to have, because it can be very fast. Just like reading a non-digital clock with hour and minute hands, and driving a car with standard transmission, having a skill is better than not having a skill. Technology makes it less necessary to have some skills, but in life, you're still better off being able to do more things. It's probably not worth spending a whole lot of classroom time on cursive (I think we only spent a week or so on it in 2nd grade) and if the handwriting revolutionaries are adamant about their God-given right to print, let 'em print.

Personally, when I write a word that ends with a "t", I do what my cool 5th grade teacher did and make a little upward curved arc instead of picking up the pen to cross it. I might be the only non-centenarian in America who does that. It's just faster.

If we want to get really practical, here, let's teach kids to write shorthand. Have you seen someone write in shorthand? That shit is FAST. I use a couple of shorthand symbols my mom taught me that are ridiculously easy and fast. With the decline of dictation and the typing pool, no one learns it anymore, but it's probably more useful than printing and cursive. I'm not entirely kidding.

November 10, 2010

The way NYC does business

Cathie Black, new NYC Chancellor

Yesterday when we heard that Joel Klein was resigning as Chancellor of New York City schools, I thought for one brief moment that maybe he was ousted so that controversial reformer superstar Michelle Rhee, who just resigned from the same job in DC, could come in. Michelle Rhee didn't make a lot of friends during her time in Washington, but she started the ball rolling in fixing one of the most horrifically mismanaged and unsuccessful public school systems in the country.

That didn't happen. Joel Klein is happily returning to the milky teat of corporate America at News Corp, which makes me totally re-evaluate everything I ever thought about that guy. Can I retract all the positive things I've said about him now? And Michelle Rhee is still floating around in the ether, writing about Klein's departure on her blog, and might one day wind up at some prominent rabble-rousing advocacy organization or become a full-time documentary film star.

We also found out about NYC's new Chancellor: Cathie "don't call me Cathy" Black. She just landed one of the hardest government jobs on the planet. Here's what we know about her:

  • She's a media executive who's never worked in education or for any kind of youth or public service organization.
  • She also has never attended a public school.
  • Her children go to private schools in Connecticut.
  • She's married to a major Republican donor.
  • And she gets pissed off when people misspell her name, although she herself changed it so that no one would spell it right.


But she's one fantastic corporate manager! I guess I should be used to this by now, but it's getting a little tiring seeing people who have been successful in the corporate world believe that they know how to solve the world's problems, and assume that running a company is the same as managing a gigantic public service system. Bloomberg believes that management is management, and has obvious biases favoring corporate experience over nonprofit or public sector experience.

He didn't have any governing experience when he ran for mayor, either, and he's had some pretty successful terms. But this overriding belief that the only people who know how to get things done are corporate executives, and that selling magazines is essentially the same as educating kids, really reeks of hubris.

In an interview in the Daily News about Black's new position, they asked her old boss at USA Today about her qualifications to be Chancellor: "Asked if not having a background in education might hinder her, Nueharth punted. 'I'm not qualified to make that judgment,' he said. 'I really don't know what the chancellor does.' "

I wonder if she does, either.

August 9, 2010

3rd grade = puberty

3rd grade class, 1984

[photo: Mrs. Ford's 3rd grade class, 1984]

A new study was just released in Pediatrics magazine that measures when American girls are hitting puberty to see if it's happening at an a younger age than it used to. It's definitely happening earlier, but what I found alarming is that for the purpose of this study, "earlier" means "at an age when I was still wearing jammies with feet."

The study included girls ages 6 to 8 in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, and checked them to see if they had breasts yet. We're talking 1st to 3rd grade, here. The target demographic for My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

And Giant Gazongas Barbie, apparently. Because it turns out lots of these 7 and 8 year olds have breasts--like 18% of white girls, 31% of Latina girls, and 43% of black girls!

For a late bloomer like me, this is completely insane. I associate that first bra purchase more closely with learning to drive than with learning to add. It's entirely possible that, if I were a teenager today, I would be babysitting a 7 year-old whose boobs were bigger than mine. I can't even imagine how girls who are still figuring out how to avoid wetting the bed are dealing with suddenly having pubic hair.

The causes aren't completely clear, but everyone suspects it's mostly due to obesity and chemicals in food and the environment like xenoestrogens and bovine growth hormone that mess with your endocrine system and do crazy things like make 7 year-old girls develop breasts. It was mostly the overweight girls in the study who were reaching puberty at such early ages, and the scientists say they're going to measure all the girls' hormone levels and see what chemicals they'd been exposed to.

Even though this new research suggests lucrative new product lines for busty elementary schoolers, I'd rather not see displays of Dora the Explorer training bras at Target.

April 3, 2008

Glory Glory Hallelujah

girl with a machine gun

As far as I'm concerned, this is the whole point of user-generated content: Wikipedia's exhaustive entry on the popular generation-spanning parody children's song, "The Burning of the School".

Kids have been singing versions of this song about destroying their schools and torturing/killing their teachers and administrators since 1950's England. I heard a lot of variations between grades 2 and 5, but, of course, the song has been continuously developing in different regions and populations, and today the list of variations of the verses and chorus is vast.

Every version of the song seems to start with "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school", and the chorus always starts with "Glory glory hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler", which is like a tribute to the olden days of public school corporal punishment that, even if it isn't practiced anymore, still serves as the justification for fantasizing about killing your teacher. A few variations of lines I hadn't heard before:

  • We have sliced the English teachers and have drowned them in their blood
  • We have wandered down the halls writing cuss words on the walls
  • We have bound and gagged the principal and tossed him in the pool
  • We have barbecued the principal, destroyed the PTA
  • and one funny, grisly variation that completely abandons the rhythmic structure of the song:

  • We have forgotten our multiplication tables, eaten our teachers and their families
  • The chorus variations are simpler, and are mostly based on different models of guns:

  • Met her at the gate with a loaded .38
  • Met her at the door with a loaded .44
  • Shot her in the bean with an M-16
  • Shot her up to heaven with an AK-47
  • And a few dated ones that seem insufficiently gruesome by today's standards, or just don't make sense anymore:

  • I hit her in the bean with a rotten tangerine
  • Met her at the bank with a loaded German tank
  • Now that cops are arresting 3rd graders and charging them with conspiracy to attack their teacher with a paperweight, it's going to be hard for today's elementary schoolers to keep developing the song with new and innovative violent imagery. Keep the underground parody song movement alive, kids!

    February 20, 2008

    Big mess at Columbia

    Protests at Columbia

    Today the Columbia Spectator reported that the professor who found a noose on her office door last fall has been cited for plagiarism. The professor, Madonna Constantine (best name in the Ivy League), allegedly used the work of one of her colleagues and of two students without attribution.

    There's no clear connection between the noose incident and the plagiarism thing, but Times readers wasted no time in slamming Prof. Constantine in a textbook example of an ad hominem argument:

    I was very suspicious of Professor Constantine during the noose case. As an African-American woman and graduate of Columbia University, I had doubts about the validity of her claims. I had a sick feeling that she put the noose there herself. Of course that would far worse than plagiarism, but news that she would do something as dishonorable as using the work of her students makes me wonder.

    Ugh. You can look at other reader comments for some really disgusting references to "lowering of standards" at elite universities and openly racist remarks about Prof. Constantine's education at a historically black university in New Orleans.

    Plagiarism is a serious offense for an academic, but it has nothing to do with the noose situation, or race, or anything other than plagiarism.

    Unfortunately, as soon as the allegations were made, Prof. Constantine started in with the crazy logic herself. She called the inquiry into her writings, which has been going on for a year and a half, a "witch hunt", and wrote to faculty and students:

    "I am left to wonder whether a white faculty member would have been treated in such a publicly disrespectful and disparaging manner. As one of only two tenured Black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted."

    What?! You're not helping yourself, Professor. Even if Columbia doesn't put much value in diversity in its faculty, that has nothing to do with whether or not you stole other people's work.

    First, Columbia and NYPD should try harder to figure out who put the noose on her door--the investigation is still going on, apparently. Then if there is substantial evidence that the professor plagiarized others' work, she should get fired.

    Ironically, Constantine's work focuses on how race influences people in educational and counseling settings.

    There are loads of examples of plagiarism in academia, literature, and politics: Stephen Ambrose, Joe Biden, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mike Barnicle, Harvard undergrads.

    February 4, 2008

    Sons of Italy vs. scratch tickets

    Bada Bling ad

    When The Sopranos was on the air, the Sons of Italy protested its unflattering negative stereotypes of the Italian-American community--specifically, they claimed Italian characters on the show were mostly mobsters, criminals, murderers and, in their words, "low-class, dim-witted hoodlums." David Chase said the show was "about America" and wasn't meant to generalize about Italian-Americans, but the Sons of Italy stayed mad.

    Now that the show's over, the Sons of Italy are protesting a cheap, unfunny rip-off of The Sopranos produced by the NY State Lottery for one of their scratch games, Ba-Da Bling. Here's the TV ad for Ba-Da Bling that caused the problem:

    Bada Bling Video

    You'll note that some of the four ganster-type guys in the ad look almost exactly like Sopranos characters, and that they have really schlocky fake Brooklyn accents. And that the name of the scratch game is obviously taken from the strip club where the guys all hung out on the show.

    Stella Grillo from the local Sons of Italy chapter says about the protest, "I know a lot of people are saying you are overly sensitive. But Americans have become more sensitive to most racial groups, and it should apply to Italian-Americans."

    I don't know where she's seeing all this sensitivity--if you look at this one cruddy state-sponsored lottery ad, you'll also notice young black men with lots of jewelry, big cars, and puffy jackets rapping about money. And a group of girls in tiny hideous outfits enthusiastically shaking their asses all over everything.

    If anything, I'm impressed that the lottery could reference gangsters, rappers, strippers, one of the best TV series of our time, and loud obnoxious jewelry all in one 30-second ad for a program that mostly exists to fund public education.

    Almost half of the $2.3 billion that the state generates for education through the lottery every year goes to NYC schools. So you can feel good about perpetuating a whole rainbow of stereotypes for a good cause.

    September 20, 2005

    NY Times looks at stay at home moms... again!

    Today's Times has an article about young women at elite Ivy League schools who are planning to leave their careers and stay home once they have kids. You know, exactly like that other article they published almost exactly two years ago ("The Opt-Out Revolution"). The main difference is that, while the 2003 piece interviewed about five Princeton graduates to support its generalizations about American women, today's piece includes interviews with four students from Yale, as well as one from Penn and two from Harvard.

    Questions neither article goes into: why aren't young men at these elite schools being interviewed by the NY Times about if they'll stay home once they have kids? Why are these young women all assuming that it is their choice and their right to have a man support them and their children for their entire lives? Why are privileged young women unable to think outside conventional gender roles in envisioning their futures? What do women at East Tennessee State University or Lehman College think about work and family? When discussing family values and personal goals, why don't issues like saving to buy your first home and building financial stability come up?

    And I love this guy at Harvard who in his American Family class, during a discussion about women giving up careers to stay at home and raise their kids while their husbands support them, said "I think that's sexy." It sure is, dude! You know what else is sexy? When women don't vote. And are illiterate! That's fucking hot!

    It is such a riot when the Times runs series like that one about class from earlier this year, to show how in touch they are with all the different sectors of Americans and all the struggles that working people face in their lives, and then they keep coming back to articles like this one about the young wealthy elite who can just flippantly decide whether they feel like having a job from one year to the next, and talk about having a job or not like it's some kind of moral issue of being a good parent.

    Here's an idea: rather than blowing $250,000 on Ivy League college and graduate school when you know you're going to stop working once you have kids, how about donating that money to some low-income woman or man who wants to go to school and actually use their degrees to have a career in law or business or academia, while the most challenging thing you'll have to write is your kids' Montessori school applications?

    May 31, 2005

    Slim Goodbody, still scaring children everywhere

    Slim Goodbody

    When I was little, no children's television character was as terrifying to me as Slim Goodbody, who made regular appearances on Captain Kangaroo. I hid under my bed when he came on, and cried. I don't know what it was--maybe that skin-tight suit with organs all over it, or his maniacal demand to his viewers, "Give yourself a hug. Say, 'I love my body. I'm the best me in the world!'"

    Anyway, he's back! He's still doing books and videos on children's health and is now creating more series on exercise for kids, but his style has evolved with the times: "He swapped his afro for a mullet, which he in turn abandoned in favor of a more conventional hair style. And he has added rap to his repertoire."

    Slim's real name is John Burstein, he's from Long Island, and he once aspired to be a Shakespearean actor. Guess he had to settle for filling my early childhood with total abject horror.

    February 14, 2005

    Everybody hates No Child Left Behind

    NY Times headline: "New US Secretary Showing Flexibility on 'No Child' Act"

    "Oh alright, I guess it's OK if we leave some children behind. Especially those poor, stupid ones."

    OK, really what the headline refers to is some policy elements of NCLB that the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling, is realizing are totally unworkable. For example, 4,000 veteran North Dakota elementary teachers were declared unqualified through NCLB standards, and after they protested, Secretary Spelling said they were qualified after all. She also agreed to ignore the part of the act stating that students in low-performing schools can transfer to better ones in the case of New York City, where this is physically impossible due to overcrowding. Of course, this prevents NYC students from taking part in what was supposed to be a major benefit of NCLB for families who can't afford private school. For now, the concerns of overcrowded high-quality public schools have won out.

    Back to the article: "Ms. Spellings said that she intended to balance states' rights to control schools with the federal government's responsibility to reduce the achievement gap between suburban white and urban minority students. 'That's the most important thing I'm going to do, to thread the needle of that balance,' she said. The president, she said, wants her to 'get with the states and the Congress and work the problem.'"

    "Thread the needle of that balance"? What does that mean? Maybe the Secretary was reduced to nonsensical metaphors because the issues of class and race in public education are far too complicated to be solved by obsessively testing middle schoolers.

    Interestingly, it's the state that voted the most for Bush last year, Utah, that's especially unhappy with NCLB. Maybe that's because many traditional Republicans value local government more than seemingly ineffective federal programs, and they're not too keen on the burdensome requirements that NCLB has placed on public education, which is supposedly a state-operated service. So they're trying to pass a law for state governance of public education.

    "Top educators are all demanding more freedom from the federal law's dictates. The legislature is considering a bill that would require Utah's superintendent of public instruction to give state educational goals priority over the federal law. The superintendent, Patti Harrington, urged lawmakers to pass it and predicted in an interview that they would. 'We don't have much regard for No Child Left Behind in Utah,' Ms. Harrington said. 'For rigor, yes, for achievement, yes, but this law just gets in our way.' She called the law's accountability system 'convoluted,' its method for defining highly-qualified teachers 'faulty,' and its requirement that disabled children be tested at their grade level rather than at their ability level 'ludicrous.'"

    September 22, 2004

    Can Professors Require Voting?

    An American Literature professor named Merrill Skraggs at Drew University in New Jersey was planning to require that her students vote this semester, but when she told the entire faculty of her plans, she received overwhelmingly negative responses. Her assignment was called "totalitarian" and over the top, and she was advised to just talk about the process of political elections in class instead.

    Students were generally less critical of the assignment; one said, "When she told us we were required to go into voting booths, it wasn't a different reaction than when she said on the 21st the first paper is due." Since voting is a personal political expression, requiring that students vote is different than requiring that they write a paper, but students are able to choose their classes and drop any class that requires assignments that they don't want to do. What surpises me is the vigor with which the school objected to the voting requirement. One political science student said "the requirement runs counter to democratic freedoms." Look, undergrad girl, I'll tell you what runs counter to democratic freedoms. 18 to 24 year-olds being the least likely age group to vote, that's a threat to democratic freedoms.

    Professor Skraggs ultimately changed the requirement, assigning students to enter a voting booth on election day, look at the candidates, and decide for themselves if they want to vote or not. No students have dropped the class so far.

    August 23, 2004

    How to go to college

    The New York Times offers some helpful advice today on what is probably one of the easiest things one can do in modern America: being a college student. Chuck Klosterman, our patron saint of metal fandom, reviews a new book entitled Real College: The Essential Guide to Student Life [tx Rungu]. He points out that the most difficult part of college for many students is paying for it--an area of advice that the book's writers mysteriously omit in favor of trickier topics such as "social life" and "studying". Klosterman notes that if your biggest worry about attending college is how to get your roommate to vacuum more, you probably don't really need an advice book: "For those who actually paid for college themselves, the repayment of student loans was the only 'real challenge' higher education ever presented; everything else was just sort of fun and exciting and amazingly drunken."

    The breezy assumption that college students' parents pay the bills is one flaw of the book; as far as I can tell, the other major problem is the usage of the name "Rollo" as one of the "real-life freshmen" characters who write in questions about college life to the writers. I mean, is "Rollo" attending clown school? Will his (her?) concerns be relevant to a student who is not taking classses like The Anthropology of Dance or Television and the Nation at UC Santa Cruz?

    Anyway, Klosterman comes up with his own bits of practical advice for the kid entering college which strike me as important platitudes for adults to hold onto as well: "if something makes you vomit, don't worry about it; everybody vomits sometimes" and "your parents will never, ever understand anything about you (and it is unreasonable for you to expect otherwise)" are especially relevant.

    But perhaps college students really do need book-length advice from authoritarian figures to guide them through higher education. At least, maybe the kids who study a semester abroad need it. It appears that our ambassadors of the American education system have been promoting the ugly American stereotype to our foreign friends: dropping beer bottles onto passing cars from their dorm windows, getting into knife fights, skipping their classes for weeks at a time, getting caught with drugs, and, of course, getting drunk and puking all over everything. The host universities are complaining, and some U.S. colleges are requiring their students to meet some strict academic standards before they are accepted into study-abroad programs, or even take a class before they go on how to be an exchange student without getting arrested.

    Kids: if all you want to do in college is drink, you can do plenty of that right here in America--just join a fraternity or sorority. If you want to have a European vacation, just get your parents to pay for one during the summer--hey, they're already paying for college, right? (see above.) What's another couple thousand bucks? OK, some full disclosure: I was one of those college students who studied abroad, and I was even one of the ones who went to a university in an English-speaking country, which college administrators say are "more likely to attract students who have no language expertise or interest in foreign culture." Sometimes I opted to spend an evening in the bar that was in my dorm rather than do my reading for Gothic Literature. But I did manage to vomit exclusively into appropriate receptacles, and never once wore a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt while actually in a Hard Rock Cafe.

    July 29, 2004

    School Sports +

    The LA Times reports on a disturbing and growing trend in public education: kids are being intentionally held back a grade by their parents, so they will be better high school athletes. The rationale is that if students are a little older and a little bigger than the other kids in their grade, they'll have a better chance of playing varsity sports for four years, and a better chance at getting a college scholarship. One administrator who oversees sports in Texas public schools says, "There was almost an entire class of youngsters held back in one of our schools. All the kids repeated seventh grade. It was a collective decision on the part of the parents. They just sort of decided together."

    Not only does this practice encourage unfair advantages in sports, it also wastes a year of children's lives, disrupts their social development, and most of all, sends the message that academic achievement should be sacrificed for a chance at being a successful athlete. The kids interviewed in the article complain about being bored in a year of school that they had no academic reason to repeat. And, of course, the kids who are held back don't all end up winning athletic scholarships. Their parents might be misjudging the likelihood of winning a sports scholarship, and may stand a better chance by encouraging their kids to excel in school. "You run into this whole issue of, 'My kid's going to get a college scholarship,' and if he can't play varsity right away, he won't go to college," said Dan Gould, the new director at Michigan State's youth sports institute. "Statistically, you're better off sending him to the library five hours a night. When you look at the number of academic scholarships, your kid has a much better shot."

    One family studied in the article has held back all of their children, either in sixth grade or in kindergarten, and they all went on to be big sports stars in high school or college. Their father says, "Even in third grade, my kids were a little older, a little bigger, a little more mature... We thought it was important for our kids to be leaders instead of followers." Of course, this only works if you're the only one holding your kids back. If kids really do perform better as slightly older students, and if this phenomenon leads to an education policy change in which kindergarten starts at six instead of five for everybody, that's great. Otherwise this is unfair competition and use of public resources, and sends the message to students that they can't succeed on their own merit among kids their own age.

    Experts from the Amy's Robot Educational Psychology Desk add: "Keeping kids at home for an extra year doesn't always work. Those big, older kids who are supposed to be more mature are often the ones who end up maladjusted and acting out. It can be a serious problem when an unhappy first grader is physically larger than his peers. Not to mention the problems that teachers have tailoring a lesson plan for a classroom with an age range that spans three, four, even five years (and all the accompanying ability levels.)"

    May 3, 2004

    U.S. Losing its Top Position in Sciences +

    A post from our friend Jim:

    Here's an interesting juxtaposition of articles from recent editions of the New York Times. Today, we learn that the United States is producing fewer PhDs in the sciences than is used to, that we account for a smaller share of world patents and Nobel Prizes than we used to, and that fewer foreign graduate students are choosing to come here. Some of this I think is overrated: if Asian countries produce more PhDs, and European universities encourage their faculty to publish rather than pontificate, it's a good thing for the world, and says nothing about changes in America. But some of this is very bad news: fewer foreigners are coming partially because visa restrictions are getting tougher for foreign students, and green cards are harder to get. Importing the best and brightest from India and China might be bad for India and China, but it's a windfall for us. Why is it so great?

    Why, for the reasons laid out in this article. While Singaporeans and Germans are out studying physics and biochemistry, publishing journal articles and starting companies, American high school students are going to Creationist theme parks. Creationism sure is an appealing philosophy. Why bother studying hard classes like biochemistry and genetics when your church says it's all lies? This sort of foolishness didn't matter so much when it was a bunch of bumpkins in Tennessee who weren't going to amount to anything more than textile workers anyway, but now that those textile jobs have moved to other countries, it would be nice to get some warm bodies into science programs. What a shame the only thing that develops slower than the Southern economy is the Southern worldview. -Jim

    In other troubling education news, CUNY has included an initiative in its four-year plan to recruit and retain more black men in its colleges. It looks like men in general are seriously in trouble in New York public higher education, representing only 38% of all CUNY students. The largest race group at CUNY schools is black (31%), so it makes sense to target black men specifically to raise enrollments of all men. Interestingly, schools within CUNY that have the highest majorities of black students also have the largest disproportion of female students: Medgar Evers College's students are 92% black and 78% female. Maybe the new breed of affirmative action programs need to focus not only on class, but also on gender. -Amy

    April 28, 2004

    Bullying is a crime +

    16 year-old Joey Bari ("not a crybaby") won a lawsuit worth $195,000 from NYC public education because he was teased, pushed, and tripped while in middle school. I'm not sure if this case sets a legal precedent for defining teasing and bullying as a crime (or at least, charging a school system when they ignore such behavior) but it certainly makes me wonder how little Joey will turn out as an adult. Apparently the bullies teased him for his slicked-back hair and preppy clothes, and the primary bully called him "freckle juice." I don't know about you, but just about everybody I know went through way worse than this during those difficult pre-teen years. There were kids in my middle school who got physically harassed every day. Believe it or not, some kids were even called names way meaner than "freckle juice."

    Teasing and bullying are major social problems in every single school in the country, and there are many in-school and after-school programs that encourage kids to accept differences and treat each other with greater respect. However, having a mother like Mary Bari (who is probably majorly bitter over her ridiculous name, and is lashing out at others to try to gain some self-respect) who says things like, "He was going through mental and physical abuse. I always told him never to fight. Now he's emotionally damaged. He doesn't trust older people after the school refused to do anything to stop this" probably isn't going to help little Joey develop into a self-sufficient well-adjusted adult either. Instead of suing the Deptartment of Education, maybe you could have taught Joey a few choice insults and washed the grease out of his hair, Mary.

    Hope you fare better in private school, freckle juice.

    I don't know, Ames, I think you're being a little hard on the parents. If they attempt to get remediation from the school and don't succeed, I think litigation is a reasonable recourse. The kid should not have to experience the burden of a hostile environment any more than an employee should have to experience harassment in the workplace. -ADM

    April 27, 2004

    Your Tuition Dollars at Work

    When students at New York University have to resort to living in the basement of the library like mole people because they can稚 afford housing, it痴 a sign that tuition costs are just too damn high.

    Since NYU isn't very forthcoming about their finances, I致e had my financial staff crib together some numbers for you. Young Steve Stanzak was paying the College of Arts & Sciences, excluding fees, room (obviously) and board $30,095 per year. If you multiply that amount by the 5,700 enrolled students, NYU receives $171,541,500 per year from this college alone.

    Now, keep in mind the College of Arts & Sciences is only one of NYU痴 14 separate schools, which include the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (4,100 students at $22,056 per year for another $90,429,600), and the profitable Stern School of Business, whose 6,020 students each pay $34,726 (totaling $209,050,520) into the NYU coffers each year.

    Continue reading "Your Tuition Dollars at Work" »

    April 8, 2004

    Managing Credibility Gaps, Vol. 3: Scalia

    We've already examined the way the concept of truth has become a malleable piece of silly putty in the hands of our current administration. Joining in the White House's machinations is good old Antonin Scalia, who is making the school speech circuit (much like he did in 1996, when he spoke at my graduation. Yeah, I know.) It seems that Scalia doesn't like his speeches to be taped by the press, and has convinced local (Mississippi) authorities to take recording devices away from journalists. And what is the content of his speeches that he doesn't want to be recorded, one might ask? The enduring value of the Constitution of the United States, which, as you might recall, guarantees freedom of the press. "People just don't revere it like they used to," said Scalia. And thousands of high school kids were sent overtly duplicitous messages about what our country is about, and what it means to be a patriot.

    January 5, 2004

    Mayor Mike and School Safety

    Whether you agree with his chosen methods or not, it has to make you feel good about NYC to see Bloomberg taking such a prominent and bold stand on school safety. He's doing something rare for a politician: taking responsibility for a problem no one wants to address. He's kept it in the news for the last three weeks, and has outright apologized for his administration's ineffectual handling of the problem thus far. Beginning a few weeks ago, he began to tackle the problem head on, and today marked another day in the process: he identified the city's 12 most difficult schools and outlined his plan for dealing with them. Incredibly, these 12 schools are responsible for 13% of the criminal acts in the city's school system of 1,200 schools. As Bloomberg identified the schools and gave some details on the next phase, he passionately announced his commitment to the problem: "If I have to put a police officer next to every kid, we will do it," Bloomberg said. "We are not going to tolerate disruptive behavior or criminal behavior, period." Like I said, you might disagree with this seeming equation of bad students and criminals, but his efforts to do something dramatic about the problem should be appreciated.

    When students in our public school do not feel safe inside the school building, something dramatic needs to be done. You can talk all you want about testing, and standards, and "kids today," and the color of bulletin boards, but it all starts with giving the kids an environment where, first and foremost, they can feel safe. Only then can we even begin to worry about what and how they are being taught. Bloomberg's "whatever it takes" attitude is the only appropriate mindset in this situation: something is so seriously and fundamentally wrong if our kids cannot even feel physically safe in the classroom. As a city and a nation, we should make this issue our top priority. As is often said but rarely truly considered, these kids are the future of this city, and in many neighborhoods they have been abandoned before they've even had a chance to define their future for themselves. I agree with Bloomberg: no matter how much it costs, or how radically we need to change things, it must be done, and it must be done now. There is little doubt that as the new system gets put into place some kids will be treated too harshly and some kids will slip through the cracks, but whatever happens, we can hope that Bloomberg and his administration will continue their candid approach to the issue and fix problems as they arise. To start the program and not evaluate it would be as big a sin as ignoring it completely, but Bloomberg seems to paying the issue more than just lip service.

    School safety is one of only a handful of issues that we simply cannot afford to sweep under the rug and ignore, and it's a good sign that Bloomberg has finally put the issue in the spotlight where it belongs.

    Here's some coverage of his announcement today, and the mayor's detailed press release from the event, which is filled with some pretty amazing statistics about the selected schools.

    Here's our earlier post on the topic.

    December 23, 2003

    Bloomberg's New Plan for School Safety +

    It hasn't hit the wire services just yet, but earlier today, Mayor Bloomberg announced his plan for improving school safety. The cornerstone of the plan seems to be some new "reform schools" that will put all the problem kids together. Details will be out later, but at first glance, this seems like an expensive and not necessarily effective solution. When trouble-making children are all pulled out of the classroom and put in some remote location together, they cease to be a problem for the community at large. While this might seem like a good thing, it takes away the incentive for the community as a whole to help them. Once they're at the reform school, everyone can say "They're not our problem any more" and forget about them. Over the long term, this isn't good for the problem kids. As hard as it is to deal with these kids, the community needs to take responsibility for them and concentrate on rehabilitating them so they can be integrated into a normal classroom environment again. It's hard to imagine that these reform schools will be essentially different from our stereotypes of highly-regimented, tightly-controlled environments where people are ordering the kids around all the time. Admittedly, I'm basing this on some assumptions. According to the mayor, problem kids will be handled with a policy of "three strikes, your out" and be sent off to "Off Site Suspension Centers, New Beginnings or Second Opportunity Schools." I'm not familiar with these programs, but it sounds like there's a world of difference between "Off Site Suspenstion Center" and "New Beginnings." I wonder if the differences are only name-deep.

    Anyway, strict and institutionalized environments are not what the children need. Instead, they need people to show them respect and help them become a better person. I believe an alternative to reform schools would be a sort of "reform program" where problem children are sent temporarily with the explicit goal of getting them ready to return to regular school. Bloomberg's plan also calls for a stream-lined procedure for suspending students. Instead of being sent home or back to the street during their suspension, I think the kids should be sent to a variable-length reform program. Most of these kids need two things: positive attention and therapy. I'm not convinced that any kind of long-term reform school is going to offer them that. It might sound like I'm being too easy on the trouble-making kids, but I've taught enough to know that most kids respond well to trust, respect, and another chance.

    One smart idea, though, is to concentrate the most resources on the schools that have the most problems. This may sound familiar: it's the same strategy used in the NYPD's Operation Impact that has been so successful in reducing crime in the city. Strategically and conceptually it seems like a good idea, but if you look at the specifics of the program, it does sound as though they are treating problem students like criminals, which they may not be.

    Update: Read the Mayor's detailed press release. You can also watch the news conference.

    About Education

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