Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Texas: A state to avoid

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Texas has many wonderful people as inhabitants, but the Texas government is backward and uninterested in furthering the common welfare. Brian Rosenthal reports in the Houston Chronicle on how Texas kicks special needs kids to the curb:

During the first week of school at Shadow Forest Elementary, a frail kindergartner named Roanin Walker had a meltdown at recess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking and giggling, he hid by the swings and then tried to escape the playground, hitting a classmate and biting a teacher before being restrained.

The principal called Roanin’s mother.

“There’s been an incident.”

Heidi Walker was frightened, but as she hurried to the Humble school that day in 2014, she felt strangely relieved.

She had warned school administrators months earlier that her 5-year-old had been diagnosed with a disability similar to autism. Now they would understand, she thought. Surely they would give him the therapy and counseling he needed.

Walker knew the law was on her side. Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability.

But what she didn’t know is that in Texas, unelected state officials have quietly devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled kids like Roanin out of special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams, who taught in the Tyler Independent School District until 2010. “It was all a numbers game.”

Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.

It has been remarkably effective.

In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far.

During the first week of school at Shadow Forest Elementary, a frail kindergartner named Roanin Walker had a meltdown at recess. Overwhelmed by the shrieking and giggling, he hid by the swings and then tried to escape the playground, hitting a classmate and biting a teacher before being restrained.

The principal called Roanin’s mother.

“There’s been an incident.”

Heidi Walker was frightened, but as she hurried to the Humble school that day in 2014, she felt strangely relieved.

She had warned school administrators months earlier that her 5-year-old had been diagnosed with a disability similar to autism. Now they would understand, she thought. Surely they would give him the therapy and counseling he needed.

Walker knew the law was on her side. Since 1975, Congress has required public schools in the United States to provide specialized education services to all eligible children with any type of disability.

But what she didn’t know is that in Texas, unelected state officials have quietly devised a system that has kept thousands of disabled kids like Roanin out of special education.

Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.

Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

“We were basically told in a staff meeting that we needed to lower the number of kids in special ed at all costs,” said Jamie Womack Williams, who taught in the Tyler Independent School District until 2010. “It was all a numbers game.”

Texas is the only state that has ever set a target for special education enrollment, records show.

It has been remarkably effective.

In the years since its implementation, the rate of Texas kids receiving special education has plummeted from near the national average of 13 percent to the lowest in the country — by far. . . .

Continue reading.

Bottom line: Stay away from Texas.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 5:48 pm

Cellphones vs. Education

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Joelle Renstrom writes in Aeon:

ave a rule about cellphones in class: if one disrupts us by ringing, vibrating or sounding an alarm, the owner has to sing a song or bust some dance moves in front of the class. At first, this provision in the syllabus elicits snickers, but it’s no laughing matter. You need to be able to turn off your phones and pay attention, I say. On the first day of class, they shut off their phones. But it doesn’t stay that way.

While my students – undergraduates at Boston University who are taking classes on writing and research – agree that there’s a problem if they can’t go 50 minutes without checking their phones, few of them can resist, despite knowing that this is my biggest pet peeve. A University of Nebraska-Lincolnstudy indicates that 80 per cent of college students send text messages during class. Nearly 100 per cent of them text before and after class. In the minutes before class – the ones I used to spend shooting the breeze with students about TV shows, sports or what they did over the weekend – we now sit in technologically-induced silence. Students rarely even talk to each other anymore. Gone are the days when they gabbed about the impossible chemistry midterm they just took or the quality of the food at the dining halls. Around the 30-minute mark in class, their hands inch toward their backpacks or into their pockets, fingers feeling around for the buttons as though their mere shape offers comfort. When I end class, they whip out their phones with a collective sigh of relief, as though they’ve all just been allowed to go to the bathroom after having to hold it all day.

Even when my students stash their cellphones, my classes look like an Apple commercial – faces hide behind screens embossed with the same famous fruit. I have no delusions that they’re taking notes for class or referencing that day’s reading. A University of Waterloo professor who put a postgraduate at the back of his lecture hall to observe his students learned that 85 per cent of them did something unrelated to class on their laptops; a Cornell University study confirms that most students engage in ‘high-tech “doodling”’ and communication during class. One might think that the whopping $65,000 cost of attending Boston University for a year would provide ample reason to maintain focus during class, but one would be wrong.

Even students who take notes on their laptops miss out. A study from Princeton University shows that we process information better when taking notes by hand because writing is slower than typing (an argument often spun in favour of laptops), which helps students learn and retain the material. Similarly, people better comprehend what they’re reading if it’s on paper rather than on the screen. In a study from the University of Stavanger in Norway, readers on Kindle struggled to remember plot details in comparison with those who read printed books, perhaps because the physical act of turning the pages helps our memories encode the words.Another study revealed comprehension loss for subjects reading PDF versions of texts. Such findings have caused professors to ban computers in the classroom, which is something I used to do but can’t any more.

An increasing number of students present me with documentation from the student disabilities office that entitles them to use a laptop to take notes. If students see a few classmates with laptops, they inevitably start using theirs too. I can’t tell them that only a couple people are sanctioned to use the computers because of learning or cognitive difficulties without infringing on the students’ privacy, so I try instead to encourage students to take notes by hand and I ask to see their faces, not their Apples.

In an effort to save my students exorbitant coursepack fees, I used to photocopy course readings. But when my department clamped down on copier use, I scanned the articles and put them online, which meant I had to allow students to open their laptops during discussions. On the one hand, they’re adults – if they want to go to shop for shoes on the Zappos website or look at celebrities’ Instagram accounts during class, they’ll have to deal with the consequences. But our discussions suffer, which makes my job harder. When reading on screens, students don’t annotate or reread. They get glassy-eyed, zone out, and then struggle to find quotes they only vaguely remember when it comes time to write the paper. The endless opportunities for distraction also mean that they miss other aspects of class, including important instructions.

That’s when they come to me and we have some version of the following conversation:

Student: ‘I have no idea what’s going on.’

Me: ‘What do you mean “no idea”? The assignment sheet details all the requirements, we’ve reviewed them in class, and we’ve read example essays. What exactly are you having trouble understanding?’

Student: ‘I don’t know… everything?’

I used to jump to the conclusion that students with whom I had such interactions were inherently flawed, academic lost causes. But that’s a reductive explanation, and doesn’t get at the heart of the problem; it’s not just that they have trouble paying attention or are distracted by their phones or laptops in the classroom. The problem is their use of technology in general. Technology demands a significant amount of time and attention and has conditioned them to not question it. It takes up more and more of their bandwidth, and the net effect is lobotomising.

onsumed by technology that they cannot bear to disable or ignore, my students lose awareness of what’s going on around them. They don’t know what they’ve missed – often, they don’t know that they’ve missed anything. They’re still accountable for it, but such mindlessness has become an epidemic: a study from the Ohio State University found that walking while texting has caused a significant rise in injuries. In Chongqing in China, sidewalks contain a special lane for people who can’t be bothered to look up from their phones. And in the German city of Augsburg, there are traffic signals on the ground for people who would otherwise endanger themselves by failing to notice red lights.

Part of the reason people can’t seem to look up from their phones is that we’ve convinced ourselves we’re multitasking, rather than failing to focus (like the way I toggle between various browser tabs and apps even as I write this). A California State University study monitored middle-, high-school and college students who had been instructed to research something important for 15 minutes. Two minutes in, students’ focus started to wane as they checked messages, texts and various websites. The average student lasted six minutes before caving to the temptation to engage in social media. Despite being watched, students spent only approximately 65 per cent of the allotted time studying. Given that most students spend far longer than 15 minutes trying to do coursework, it’s easy to see how little gets done, and how checking messages or opening up another browser tab would be increasingly difficult to resist, especially if we tell ourselves it’s related to work or study. . .

Continue reading.

I actually have been pondering this general phenomenon—how cellphone messaging, laptop computers, and the like are changing human culture. I was thinking that people in general no longer seem able to immerse themselves in a long novel, losing track of time because they are so involved with the story. I imagine that few today read (say) War and Peace and the reason is simply its length and the amount of time it takes.

Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about the difference between “urgent” and “important.” Some important things are indeed urgent, but many urgent things are not. If your phone is ringing, then there is a sense or urgency—you must take the call—but often the call is not important. But those urgent unimportant can crwod out the non-urgent important: the very things that pay off over time.

The situation seems easier to understand if you look at it as the evolution of memes in response to natural selection. Success for a meme means that it propagates widely and exploits its environment (our attention) better than competing memes. The Internet is a rich environment for memes—they can easily and quickly be passed from person to person and they can evolve quickly. Moreover, by demanding our time and attention they crowd out memes that do not capture out time and attention so well: a dozen text messages every hour or two pretty much triumphs over War and Peace in terms of one’s attention.

I have fairly often recommended Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine (and it is available as a Kindle edition, though some of the secondhand copies at the title link cost less).

Read that and think about what you see our current cultural life in terms of the struggle of memes to survive and you’ll see how quickly memes evolve. And memes evolve to ensure their own survival: what happens to their (human) hosts is not so important—cf. Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 5:13 pm

Crux of Connecticut Judge’s Grim Ruling: Schools Are Broken

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Kate Zernike has a grim report in the NY Times:

When a Connecticut judge threw out the state’s school financing system as unconstitutional this week, his unsparing 90-page ruling read and resonated like a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education.

Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford was scathing: He criticized “uselessly perfect teacher evaluations” that found “virtually every teacher in the state” proficient or exemplary, while a third of students in many of the poorest communities cannot read even at basic levels. He attacked a task force charged with setting meaningful high school graduation requirements for how its “biggest thought on how to fix the problem turned out to be another task force,” and called it “a kind of a spoof.”

Though his ruling was about Connecticut, he spoke to a larger nationwide truth: After the decades of lawsuits about equity and adequacy in education financing, after federal efforts like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, after fights over the Common Core standards and high-stakes testing and the tug of war between charter schools and community schools, the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, minority and white students persist.

Too many American high school graduates are “let down by patronizing and illusory degrees,” Judge Moukawsher wrote. And too many decisions and too much debate about schools seem, as he wrote, “completely disconnected to the teaching of children.”

Judge Moukawsher’s decision in the case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, which has been making its way through the courts for more than a decade, did not say money does not matter. But it was a strikingly blunt way of saying what many people feel: The system is broken. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 9:36 pm

The Trump University bribe to get the Florida Attorney General to drop the case

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Kevin Drum posted a useful timeline:

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a timeline of events for your consideration. All of these events took place in 2013:

Late August: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi calls Donald Trump to ask for a donation to her reelection campaign.

September 10: In an unusual show of interest in a down-ballot race in Florida, Ivanka Trump donates $500 to Bondi. Apparently that’s insultingly small.

September 13: Bondi tells the Orlando Sentinel that her office is “currently reviewing the allegations” that Trump University has defrauded its students.

September 17: The Trump Foundation makes a $25,000 contribution to a PAC backing Bondi.

October 15: The Florida Attorney General’s office backtracks, telling the Orlando Sentinel there was never any consideration of joining the lawsuit against Trump U because they had received only one complaint during the time Bondi was in office. This was untrue: the AG’s office had received a couple dozen complaints, but had weeded them out so they could say there was only one.

There have been an endless number of stories about “clouds” and “suspicions” and “questions raised” regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. So far, though, there’s nothing even close to a smoking gun. Quite the opposite: the evidence so far suggests very strongly that nobody ever got anything for contributing to the Foundation.

But here we have a case that’s a mere hair’s breadth away from a smoking gun. There’s only the slightest wiggle room for believing that the events in Florida are all just a big coincidence. Maybe they deserve a little bit more front-page attention?

John Cassidy in the New Yorker discusses this case in greater detail:

If news cycles were driven by issues of import, rather than what’s new, Trump University, the scandal-plagued learning annex which promised to teach its students Donald Trump’s secrets of how to get rich in real estate, would never leave the front pages and home pages of American media outlets. As I noted in a June post that was based on court documents, even some of Trump University’s own employees regarded it as giant ripoff.  The idea that the proprietor, and principal promoter, of such an enterprise could end up in the Oval Office is absurd on its face.

In California, three lawsuits filed by aggrieved former Trump University attendees, some of whom spent many thousands of dollars on courses, are still working their way through the court system. Another case, which was brought by Eric Schneiderman, New York’s Attorney General, is also pending. What brought the story back into the spotlight recently was a story by the WashingtonPost’s David Fahrenthold.

Late last week, Fahrenthold reported that Trump had earlier this year paid a twenty-five-hundred-dollar penalty to the Internal Revenue Service for violating tax laws. The penalty stemmed from a donation Trump’s charitable foundation made in September, 2013, a twenty-five-thousand-dollar payment to a political group supporting the reëlection of Pam Bondi, the Attorney General of Florida. When Trump’s charity made the donation, Bondi, a Republican who took office in 2011, was deciding whether to launch a formal investigation into Trump University, following complaints by Florida residents who claimed that they had been bilked. Shortly after Trump’s charity made the donation, Bondi announced that she wouldn’t go ahead with the probe of Trump University. In 2014, she was reëlected.

In a saner country, it would be a crime for a businessman to make a large contribution to an elected law-enforcement officer whose office was looking into his dealings. Thanks to our nutty campaign-finance laws, Trump was perfectly within his rights to send twenty-five thousand dollars to the pro-Bondi group—which went by the name And Justice for All—or so it seems. But it was a violation of tax laws for his charity to make a political contribution—that’s why he had to pay a penalty to the I.R.S. One of Trump’s aides told Fahrenthold that the donation from the Trump charity was the result of a clerical error. The aide said the money should have come from one of Trump’s personal accounts.

Precisely where the money came from within the Trump empire is not the real issue, of course. The question is whether Trump effectively bribed Bondi to back off the investigation. Both parties have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2016 at 11:17 am

Is it suspicious that essentially every climatologist believes that anthrogenic global warming is real?

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Isn’t such unanimity suspicious in itself, evidence of a conspiracy. No, not if what they believe is true, in which case it’s what actually is happening (for everyone—that would be why they would agree). And once conspiracies get very large at all, weak links give way and all—or a lot— is revealed.

Notice that you find a similar level of consensus among astronomers on the idea that the Sun is much larger than the Earth, which seems odd, given that any dern fool can clearly see every day that the Sun is quite small: just look at it! Duh. “I don’t pretend to know a lot of fancy science, but by God I know what I [choose to] see!”

But still scientists agree that the Sun is larger; it must be a hoax doubtless aimed at getting enormous grants of taxpayer money for…  for… something!

Step 1: Fool people into thinking sun is larger (or globe is warming due to human activity).
Step 2: ??
Step 3: Profit!!

In fact, I think we all agree on that. But for some reason, a great number of Americans will not accept the science, despite having no facts with which to argue. (Easy refutations of denialist arguments are numerous (since each argument must be repeatedly refuted) and easy to find on the Web, along with much evidence: e.g., GooGle “maximum global temperature by year.” Notice a pattern?

All this was brought to mind when I updated this post, which for some reason is perennially popular. I added a link to the NY Times feature article on how coastal flooding is rapidly (rapidly: just over the space of a decade, maybe less) increasing. Note the new roadside rulers to show water depth: never needed those before. And indeed, did not need them until quite recently: they’re new.

But nothing dents the convictions of the denialist. I, personally, think it’s due to lack of training in critical thinking skills, and indeed in some states where denialism runs high (Texas), the state board of education specifically forbids the teaching of critical thinking skills, since such skills are (rightly, I admit) viewed as a liberal thing. Liberal, but also liberating.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2016 at 12:16 pm

Unusual solutions that work: School washing machines to boost attendance

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Public health initiative: The Best and Worst College Campuses for Sexual Health, Ranked

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The public health aspect is that the worst colleges in terms of sexual health will be highly motivated to improve their standing.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2016 at 4:36 pm

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