Bloomington, Minnesota addresses 3rd-grade literacy before kids get there

I volunteer at a local elementary school on Monday mornings, tutoring children who are behind in reading. This week, I worked with Carla [name changed], a third-grade dual language learner who is reading at a first-grade level. She knows that she is behind and her confidence is low. She told me how much she disliked reading and insisted that she would never catch up to her peers. I could see Carla’s frustration mounting during our hour together. She’s feeling pressure from the invested adults in her life–teachers, school leaders, parents, and tutors–to get up to speed quickly.

That pressure isn’t without reason: Third-grade reading proficiency is predictive of future success, both inside and outside of the classroom. It has become one of the most commonly cited indicators of student achievement. To use one example: students who aren’t proficient readers by the end of third grade are less likely to graduate high school. Readers who are not yet proficient by the end of third grade are ill-prepared for fourth, a transitional year in which content and texts become much more complex. Children who are not up to speed by then continue to fall further and further behind.

Continue reading

This is how Texas schools encourage student interest in technology

encouraging science in Texas
Ahmed Mohamed wearing his NASA t-shirt – and handcuffs

Police in Texas have arrested a 14-year-old boy for building a clock. Ahmed Mohamed, who lives in Irving and has a keen interest in robotics and engineering, put the device together on Sunday night. When he took it to school the next day, he was pulled out of class, interviewed by police officers, and taken in handcuffs to juvenile detention, after being told by teachers that his creation looked like a bomb.

Ahmed told The Dallas Morning News that he showed his clock — a simple device, created from a circuit board and a power supply wired to a digital display, all strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front — to his engineering teacher first, who advised him not to show any other staff members at MacArthur High School. He originally kept it in his bag during English class, but his teacher heard it beep during the lesson — when Ahmed showed her his home-made clock at the end of class, she took it away from him. In sixth period, the school principal came for Ahmed with a police officer in tow, arresting him and marching him out of school. The schoolboy says he was interrogated by five officers, who asked why he was trying to make a bomb, and was threatened with expulsion by his Principal unless he made a written statement.

Irving police might still charge Ahmed with making a “hoax bomb.” Police spokesperson James McLellan said Ahmed “kept maintaining it was a clock” when he was brought in for interrogation, but that he offered “no broader explanation.” When asked by The Dallas Morning News what broader explanation Ahmed could have given for a clock that was actually a clock, McLellan said the creation “could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car.”…

What? You thought an understanding of simple logic was required of Texas coppers?

Many in the maker and tech community have already rallied around him. A hashtag — #IStandWithAhmed — rapidly rose to become one of Twitter’s top trending topics, and support has come from a number of sources, including a JPL engineer who offered Ahmed the chance to see a Mars rover whenever he wants. Ahmed’s father says his son “just wants to invent good things for mankind” — we can hope that the police reaction won’t dissuade the talented young creator from making good on his dream.

Bigots of every flavor in every state will immediately jump to defend the creeps who had this school kid arrested, who took part in his arrest and potential charges. It’s an automatic response – like crocodiles swarming when one raises the scent of blood to other lower-level creatures on the evolutionary scale.

Meanwhile, a kid who should have been encouraged for his interest in science and technology – and was aided by his science teacher who also sounds like he realized how many stupid people they both were surrounded by in a Texas high school. I hope Ahmed keeps on with his interests and studies. I hope he can ignore the thoughts and actions of the typical American ignoranus. It would be nice to see him realize his dreams and forget the nightmarish delusions of others.


Stephen Colbert and friends fund projects for teachers across South Carolina

Click to visit

Teachers across Spartanburg County were shocked to learn their online education grants had been funded Thursday morning by a partnership including South Carolina native Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, a comedian and television personality, announced that he partnered with the nonprofit group Share Fair Nation, and Greenville-based ScanSource to fund every classroom project in the state on, a website that lets teachers crowd fund classroom projects by requesting the necessary materials from donors.

Together, the three contributions will give $800,000 to fund nearly 1,000 projects for more than 800 teachers at 375 schools across the state…

Turner Fortner, a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Elementary School, said her request asked for school supplies for the students who will be in her class next year. She was surprised her request was funded, but was especially shocked by the source of the money. “I was like, are my eyes playing tricks on me,” she said. “I’m so thankful for what he (Colbert) did for teachers across South Carolina. More than anything, I’m thankful for what he did for my students for next year.”

And that, my friends, is how the best of teachers always think. What can we do to make education better, make it work for these kids?

Hat tip to Stephen Colbert.

Law proposed to allow Texas teachers to use deadly force against students

Teachers would be able to use deadly force against students, and would be safe from prosecution, under legislation filed last week in the Texas state House.

The Teacher’s Protection Act by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, would allow educators to use force or deadly force if they feel they need to protect themselves against a student or anyone else on school grounds. It also allows teachers to use deadly force to protect school property, and to avoid prosecution “for injury or death that results from the educator’s use of deadly force…”

Monty Exter, lobbyist with the state’s largest educator group, said the Association of Texas Professional Educators believes these policies should be determined at the local level. Currently, Texas law allows educators who use reasonable force against a student to be immune from disciplinary proceedings. Flynn’s additional would doubly protect teachers, since the law also states the “use of force, but not deadly force, against a (student) is justified.”

Exter added the ATPE’s legal team doesn’t believe Flynn’s legislation adds any additional protections for teachers that don’t already exist for every Texan claiming self-defense: “We understand he’s trying to carve out some liability protections. But, we can’t see that the liability protection in that particular bill is any different than the protection that exists in law for a regular citizen.”

“Educators in Texas actually do have some legal protections that do allow them to use physical force to protect themselves and protect others, as long as the use of physical force is reasonable,” said ATPE managing attorney Paul Tapp.

Being allowed to kill your fellow Texans, visitors and passersby for pretty much any reason is a long-standing Texas tradition. You need only make a convincing case to a judge who probably was elected on a platform pre-approved by the NRA. Shucks – his grand-daddy likely couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about the occasional lynching.

Most scientists agree – Americans don’t know much about science

Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Americans’ purported cluelessness about science has led to wide gaps in how the general public views the world compared to how scientists perceive it, according to a new study released…by the Pew Research Center.

Some 98 percent of scientists polled rated the general public’s lack of science knowledge as a problem, with 84 percent of them calling it a major issue.

One result: Regulations on land use, the environment and food safety aren’t generally influenced by the best science, according to a recent poll of 3,748 scientists conducted by the Pew Research Center in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The spread between what scientists think and what the general public thinks about a dozen science-related issues varied, but there were some noticeable gaps…

There was a 51 percentage point difference in views about whether genetically modified food is safe to eat. Some 88 percent of scientists were for it while less than 40 percent of the public agreed.

Sixty-eight percent of scientists think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides compared with 28 percent of the public.

Almost all of the scientists believe in evolution. Just 65 percent of the general public feels the same way, according to Pew polling…

There was one notable — if sad — area on which everyone polled appears to agree: Americans need to improve the science, math and technology education available to students across the country.

Historically, we have a consistent if backwards track record on improving any aspects of education. If there is potential benefit to our war machine – we’re all for it. Go America! Rah, rah.

Though a lesser influence, reflect upon our teacher’s unions which have adopted the sort of protectionist policies characteristic of AFL craft unions. Treating schoolteachers – and teaching – like plumbers with city contracts is not my idea of building useful education, a nation of bright young kids stepping out of school to create a positive, progressive world.

Worse than that – is the tradition that we seem to have acquired in the late 1950’s that moved the core responsibility of school systems to keeping our little darlings safe from hurt feelings – at the expense of standards of learning. And how to learn.

Nope. The creeps at the top of our economic pyramid would like a small improvement in meat machines capable of a slightly higher level of technical performance – where they can’t be replaced by a robot on the assembly line. That’s all, folks.

Indian civil servant sacked after 24-years sick leave!

Spock will fix it

The Indian government has sacked a civil servant who went on leave in 1990 and never came back to work.

Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu said a case of “wilful absence” had been proved against electrical engineer AK Verma.

Mr Verma had been under investigation since 1992, but had refused to co-operate, the minister said.

Correspondents say absenteeism is a pervasive problem in government-run offices in India.

Mr Naidu said in a statement that Mr Verma joined the Central Public Works Department in 1980.

He had risen to the rank of executive engineer by 1990, when he went on leave.

An inquiry was set up in 1992, but formal proceedings to dismiss him were not begun until 2007…It took a further seven years for the department to reach a decision and dismiss him.

It is not clear whether he was paid during his time off.

A report in 2012 labelled India’s government machinery the worst in Asia.

Schools have also faced problems, with teachers failing to turn up for work in huge numbers…Last August, a state school in Madhya Pradesh sacked a teacher who had been absent for 23 years of her 24-year career.

Between caste system remnants and leftovers from the British colonial bureaucracy, I think India has further to go to be economically reclassified as Developing rather than a Third World nation.

When it comes to investing any tiny portion of my meagre fixed income in the BRIC nations – the only parts that get my attention are China and Brazil.

The Disappearance of the Forty-Three


Every morning, the newspapers in Mexico City announce how many days it has been since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School disappeared while in Iguala, Guerrero. On Friday, the number—twenty-eight days—was accompanied by an announcement that the governor of Guerrero state, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, had finally resigned after weeks of outrage over the violence and lawlessness that marked his tenure.

The disappearance of the forty-three has aroused horror, indignation, and protest throughout Mexico and all over the world. An air of sadness, disgust, fear and foreboding hangs over Mexico City, where I live, like the unseasonably cold, gray, drizzly weather we’ve been having. This is usually a festive time of year, with the Day of the Dead holidays approaching, but it’s impossible to feel lighthearted. As one friend put it, the government’s cardboard theatre has fallen away, exposing Mexico’s horrifying truths.

The journalists John Gibler (the author of the book “To Die in Mexico”) and Marcela Turati (who has been reporting on the disappearance in the weekly magazine Proceso and elsewhere) have provided the most complete reports of what happened in Iguala on the night of September 26th. “Scores of uniformed municipal police and a handful of masked men dressed in black shot and killed six people, wounded more than twenty, and rounded up and detained forty-three students in a series of attacks carried out at multiple points and lasting more than three hours,” Gibler wrote to me in an e-mail. “At no point did state police, federal police, or the army intercede. The forty-three students taken into police custody are now ‘disappeared.’ ” On September 27th*, the body of another student turned up. His eyes were torn out and the facial skin was ripped away from his skull: the signature of a Mexican organized-crime assassination.

The Ayotzinapa Normal School trains people to become teachers in the state’s poorest rural schools. The students, who are in their late teens and early twenties, tend to come from poor, indigenous campesino families. They are often the brightest kids from their communities. According to Gibler, six hundred people applied to the class that included the students who disappeared, and only a hundred and forty were accepted. To become a teacher is seen as a step up from the life of a peasant farmer, but also as a way for those chosen to be socially useful in their impoverished communities. When Gibler and Turati went to visit the Ayotzinapa School in early October, only twenty-two students were left. In addition to the forty-three missing classmates, many others had been taken home by frightened parents.

RTFA. Please.

Well written, detailed, the sort of work rarely matched by TV talking heads. And, of course, both the conservative and not-quite-so-conservative American Press is tame as ever on the topic. Even where it’s fashionable to recall we are a nation of immigrants, the specter of Fox News seems to haunt our nation’s editors.

Thanks, Mike

All the new tests for teachers give high passing grades

Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind…

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.” In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.

Advocates of education reform concede that such rosy numbers, after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, are worrisome…

The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking. Principals, who are often responsible for the personal-observation part of the grade, generally are not detached managerial types and can be loath to give teachers low marks…

But even the part of the grade that was intended to be objective, how students perform on standardized tests, has proved squishy. In part, this is because tests have changed so much in recent years — and are changing still, because of the new “Common Core” curriculum standards that most states have adopted — that administrators have been unwilling to set the test-score bar too high for teachers. In many states, consecutive “ineffective” ratings are grounds for firing…

The new evaluation systems have been closely scrutinized in the education world by policy makers, publications like Education Week, and foundations that have provided money to help perfect the methods…

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that even though the data from these systems “was not ready for prime time,” it proved what she had long argued: That the majority of teachers are very good…

RTFA for lots of anecdotal information – which, in my mind, doesn’t answer any questions about the lousy overall capabilities of graduates. None of this addresses dropout rates. None of this seems to confront the whole decline in education over the past half-century.

What has been discussed to death is how to blame the teachers. That seems to bear no fruit at all. What hasn’t been discussed especially is what constitutes a useful curriculum – and how much teaching professionals don’t get to participate. Between Congress, the White House, state and local school boards, we have no end of politicians chiming in. They don’t even take the time to examine what worked in the past, what works, now, in other lands.

I’ll offer something I rarely do – the “back in my day” examination. Aside from walking to school in knee-deep snowstorms and the other crap that people think they recall 🙂 – a couple of facts are incontrovertible. The elementary school I attended in a New England factory town was mostly kids from workingclass families. Pretty average teachers – probably not unlike today’s flavor. Dropout rate was less than 5%. We completed the tasks assigned.

I attended high school in the next town over – we moved. A semi-rural town rapidly becoming a commuter suburb. Teachers were about the same. Dropout rate was less than 3%. We all completed the curriculum. I enjoyed school, learned a lot, probably learned even more on my own or in studies with my parents; but, they and I wanted more than acceptable.

Now, living in northern New Mexico, the school system truly hopes to get “up” to the national average of 20% dropouts. We couldn’t get a law passed allowing schools to hold back students with failing marks to repeat the grade. Mom and dad can overrule the school and demand their child be bumped ahead into the next grade even when unable to do the work.

From my perspective, this fits into the phenomena I saw happening broadly across our education system starting in the 1960’s. If the kiddies felt learning something was too hard, too difficult, the schools were mandated to pass them along, anyway. You weren’t to hurt their sensibilities – though, frankly, I never saw anything sensible coming from kids who preferred not to learn.

That’s only a small subjective look at the question. I wanted to offer it because I don’t see anyone who’s in charge doing anything at all useful. That includes BTW the whole Charter School copout. Which has a failure rate worse than our public schools.