Entries Tagged 'Book Thoughts' ↓

Are we great again, yet?

Yes – the Democrats nominated a lousy candidate in 2016. Evidently, their party is so empty that they couldn’t find someone to defeat a narcissist.

But that is nothing compared to the Republicans. Evidently, they cannot find a candidate better than someone who displays all the vices of our uneducated nature — ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weak character, fear of truth, pride and selfishness.

The Democrats made a huge mistake in 2016. Short of death or illness, it is too late for Republicans to avoid the same one. Therefore, we will find out in November, 2020, if Americans once again choose to be governed by an uneducated, vicious person.

Test for Trump

The lead reads:

A group of immigrant workers fired from President Donald Trump’s golf clubs say they want to meet with him at the White House to make the case that they should not be deported.

Their request was in a letter, to which the White House responded, “we are reviewing your message.”

The article quotes Gabriel Sedano, who worked for Trump as a handyman for 14 years: “I’m hopeful that he’ll look at the letter. I believe he has a heart.”

Does Donald Trump have a heart? This should be an easy call. Who among us would deport people who worked for us for ten years or more? What about five years or more? What about three years or more?

What about less than a year? Would that make it OK? Please respond with your deportation decision.

Payback

Trump discovered that Andrew McCabe was not loyal to him, so he fired McCabe two days before his fiftieth birthday. According to various news accounts, McCabe lost early-retirement benefits that he would have been eligible for at age 50. But that is not the point, here.

The point is that you gotta love McCabe’s payback. The Threat is a tell-all book based on contemporaneous notes of conversations with the first orange-colored president. It is the perfect payback to the man who failed to see the obvious–you don’t fire a federal employee two days before he is eligible for benefits earned during more than twenty years of service. Nobody does that, except someone who cares only about himself and who is a threat to all that is good in our country.

Presidents change course

Dear Donald,

We were wrong. It’s the economy, Stupid. Now declare shutdown victory and go back to tweeting. We will tell listeners you created the best economy our country has ever seen, and then you can repeat that in all your appearances.

Sincerely,

Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh

George Orwell on Writing

From “Why I Write” by George Orwell, 1947

When I sit down to write a book, I never say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.  But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article (read Blog), if it were not also an aesthetic experience.

One page later:

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

A primer on standardized tests

According to his sign-off, Peter Green “spent 39 years as a high school English teacher, looking at how hot new reform policies affect the classroom.” Recently he wrote about standardized tests and education accountability for Forbes.com.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2018/09/20/is-the-big-standardized-test-a-big-standardized-flop/?fbclid=IwAR0rZSrLUCmkvCryOpYsXT2Iwbp8EZejJ2eOQm5Kp7V5lyHpk1px0X9oP8I#6839ec004937

He argued that standardized testing and the accountability movement have not produced a better educated citizenry. This paragraph captures his main point:

But there is one critical lesson that ed reform testing apostates should keep in mind. The idea that the Big Standardized Test does not measure what it claims to measure, the idea that it actually does damage to schools, the idea that it simply isn’t what it claims to be–while these ideas are presented as new notions for ed reformers, classroom teachers have been raising these concerns for about 20 years.

Of course Green is right. The purpose of this blog is to explain why, which space limitations at Forbes.com did not allow him to do.

Standardized tests are of two types. As their names suggest, criterion-referenced tests match student responses against a criterion, and norm-referenced tests match student responses against a reference group or a norm.

The written driver’s license test is a criterion-referenced test. The first step in creating this type of test is to define the body of knowledge to be assessed. The knowledge needed to pass the test is described in the driver’s manual, so the manual defines the knowledge required to pass the test.

The second step for administering a criterion-referenced, standardized test is to set the cut-off point for passing. Driver’s license applicants in North Carolina must correctly answer at least 80% of the questions to qualify for the road test.

When I was an assistant principal at Stoughton High School (Wisconsin), I was on a district committee assigned to develop grade level, criterion-referenced tests for every academic subject. We thought, how hard can that be? The driver’s license people do it. Why can’t we?

Our first stumbling block was that students of the Stoughton Area School District, needed to have both knowledge and skills assessed. (The driver’s test assesses only knowledge because skills are assessed in the road test.) Third grade math students, for example, need to understand mathematical principles and must also be able to use them to solve mathematical problems. Our committee’s task was to define all the desired knowledge and skills. That was the first step toward creating tests that would assess students knowledge and ability against those criteria. Still–how hard can that be?

Our work came to an abrupt halt after we hired a statistician to assist us. During his first meeting with us, we described what we wanted to accomplish. He responded by explaining that each specific knowledge or skill proficiency would require students to answer more than one multiple-choice question. In many cases, we needed at least five questions to test for a single skill. That meant the number of tests and questions would have to be many times greater than we assumed. We concluded that it was a good idea to develop criterion-referenced tests, but creating and administering them would take too much time.

Standardized, norm-referenced tests have limitations, too. Greene mentioned some of them, but the main one is that they are not designed as improvement tools. Instead, their main purpose is to tell students how they score in relation to other test takers. Results are reported as percentiles, not as percentages.

This type of test is like a machine that is balanced for proper operation. Easy-to-answer items are balanced with those that are slightly more difficult and others that are very difficult. Balancing items this way enables the results to discriminate across the knowledge and skill levels of test takers. Some students will be high scorers, some will score in the middle, and some will score toward the bottom.

A perceptive reader sees that a test designed for these results means that students scoring at the lower percentiles make it possible for others to score at higher percentiles. It’s as tjhough teachers prepare students for a test that requires their lowest ability students to score low, and their high ability students to score high. (Then they scold low scoring students.)

Educators do this because they are ignorant of the way standardized tests operate. For example, some schools develop annual school improvement goals that focus on improving students’ scores on end-of-grade exams. They must not realize that their annual goal–the idea that focuses their efforts for 5 hours per day, 180 days per year—will be achieved if students average 1 more correct answer on an end-of-grade exam. A shallower, more meaningless annual goal might be possible, but I can’t think of one.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  –

Those are the explanations Greene could not give in his limited space. And those are the reasons why standardized tests fail as school improvement tools. They do not tell us what students know, and they distract schools from their most important goal, which is modeling and teaching the six virtues of the educated person. But aphilosophical educators never define what it means to be educated (I love irony), and space limitations prevent me from explaining the reasons. You have to read the book. Order it at

https://rowman.com/ISBN/978-1-60709-274-2

Not a Jim Brown fan

I was born in Wisconsin in 1952, so I was never a fan of Jim Brown. In fact I was happy when he retired early from the Cleveland Browns. (The Browns still have not recovered.)

Whose idea was it to bring him out of retirement to the White House? I am waiting to hear from him about his experiences, today. What does he have to say after listening to the fawning president and the irate Kanye? Brown used to be a vocal opponent of oppression in our society. What does he say, now?

Or did they drag him into the White House because, like the president, he is unable to speak coherently in his old age? We will have an answer in the coming days and weeks.

New laws are not the solution

I am listening to coverage of the Santa Fe High School mass shooting, which occurred this morning. I hear NRA-endorsed legislators say that stricter gun laws are not the solution.

Here is a news flash — no law is a SOLUTION to anything. Instead, every law is a statement of what we stand for. So, explain your stance on mass shootings. I already know what you don’t stand for. What do you stand for in the aftermath of another school shooting?

 

 

Right or wrong? It depends on the question

The questions we ask determine the answers we get about what is right or wrong.  For example, in the news right now is the situation of a special needs student who wants to play football at Asheville High School next year.  His Individualized Education Plan (IEP) calls for a fifth year of high school, but the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) says he can’t play football next fall because he has already completed eight semesters in high school. His mother is appealing the ruling.

How should her appeal should be decided?

The fundamental premise of the NCHSAA is that playing interscholastic sports is a privilege, not a right. All their rules are based on that idea. If someone does not like the rules, too bad. Playing is a privilege that is afforded only to those who obey the rules. End of story.

On the other hand, the fundamental premise of American public education is that all children deserve, as much as possible, an equal educational opportunity. The newspaper article quotes the mother as saying the NCHSAA’s rule “. . . only serves the kids at the top of the bell curve. This is a rule trying to stop a star athlete from playing another year, not for a kid like Noah (her son, who just wants to a member of the team).”

If the question is whether an exception to the 8-semester rule should be given to Noah, the NCHSAA is right. Playing is a privilege that he had until this fall. According to the rules, he no longer has that privilege.

If the question is whether Noah should be afforded, as much as possible, an equal opportunity, his mother is right. The rule discriminates against students who are not able to complete high school in fours years. That was why the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association made an exception to the eight-semester rule in 2013.

Instead of asking which decision is the right one. We might know better how to decide, if we ask, “Which is the more important question?”

Who are the snowflakes now?

I was reading through the article entitled, Liberals, You’re Not as Smart as You Think, by Professor Gerard Alexander (University of Virginia, political science) in the May 12, 2018, New York Times opinion section:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/opinion/sunday/liberals-youre-not-as-smart-as-you-think-you-are.html

The following three paragraphs seem to capture the author’s main point.

Consider some ways liberals have used their cultural prominence in recent years. They have rightly become more sensitive to racism and sexism in American society. News reports, academic commentary and movies now regularly relate accounts of racism in American history and condemn racial bigotry. These exercises in consciousness-raising and criticism have surely nudged some Americans to rethink their views, and to reflect more deeply on the status and experience of women and members of minority groups in this country.

So far, so good – racism and sexism have been part of American culture — do you think? From here it gets squishy:

But accusers can paint with very wide brushes. Racist is pretty much the most damning label that can be slapped on anyone in America today, which means it should be applied firmly and carefully. Yet some people have cavalierly leveled the charge against huge numbers of Americans — specifically, the more than 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump.

In their ranks are people who sincerely consider themselves not bigoted, who might be open to reconsidering ways they have done things for years, but who are likely to be put off if they feel smeared before that conversation even takes place.

I get it now. Remember that “snowflake” thing – it doesn’t apply to liberals, it applies to Trump voters. I can hear them whimpering right now – “I was going consider the possibility that my life has benefited from white privilege, but since you called me a racist, I won’t consider that possibility, and I will vote for Trump again.”

Here is another paragraph from Alexander:

Pressing a political view from the Oscar stage, declaring a conservative campus speaker unacceptable, flatly categorizing huge segments of the country as misguided — these reveal a tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority. It’s one thing to police your own language and a very different one to police other people’s. The former can set an example. The latter is domineering.

“Domineering?” – I guess those sensitive, Trump-voting snowflakes are melting fast.

Professor Alexander appears to be trying to help liberals. But does he really want to describe Trump voters this way? The “deplorables” was bad enough. Now he says they are sensitive, whiney people, whose judgment melts in the heat of political debate — especially when liberals think they are superior.

Who knew all those crusty Trump voters were such snowflakes?