Monday, December 31, 2007

The Return of "Fuzzy" Math to CA

By now, I would imagine most of you have seen the classic YouTube video on the problems with the Everyday Mathematics textbook series. If you haven't, click here. While there has been a lot of media attention paid to the state of Texas' recent rejection of Everyday Math, there has been virtually none surrounding the California School Board's decision on November 30th to include it on the approved textbook list. I personally had no idea this had happened until I happened to see a brief mention of it in an article on Everyday Math in the Alburquerque [NM] Journal.

The textbook watchdog organization Educational Research Analysts recently reviewed eight 3rd grade mathematics textbooks including Everyday Math and also Saxon Math, a program that's popular with many homeschooling families. As you can see on this chart, Everyday Math was rated the worst overall. Some of the comments (emphasis in the original):

"Instead of teaching addition with regrouping, Everyday Math's 'focus algorithm' for addition is 'partial sums', a cumbersome, time-consuming, less efficient, more laborious, non-standard method....

Cumbersome, time-consuming, less efficient, more laborious, unduly complicated 'extended facts', 'partial products', and 'lattice' methods replace the standard simple multiplication algorithm....

Admits that a 'formal introduction to division algorithms is not included'....

Every lesson calls for small group and partner activities...

Heavy calculator dependence....

With the most calculator-dependence, peer-dependence, and the fewest practice problems of all eight 3rd grade math editions submitted by major publishers for 2008 Texas adoption, Everyday Math RETARDS SKILL BUILDING."

This is what California's Board of Ed. has decided is acceptable for use in the state's schools? This is what their report had to say about Everyday Mathematics:

"The program provides clear, grade-appropriate explanations for mathematics concepts, and clear instructions for efficient use of manipulatives to promote student learning."

Is the textbook committee looking at the same program that is the one on the YouTube video? The same one that earned such negative reviews by the folks over at ERA? The same one that parents all over the country are up in arms about? The same one rejected by the state in 2001 after significant public outrage over its deficiencies?

So why is it back in California's government-run schools? Chalk one up to the power of the educrats, who are absolutely convinced of the merits of "constructivism" regardless of what parents and the general public want.

Every time I turn around, it seems like I read about a new reason to avoid California's government-run schools. If they're not passing laws to force schools to promote alternative lifestyles to children as young as 2, they're bringing back "fuzzy" math.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweden Provides Parents a Smörgåsbord of Educational Options

Via Princess Mom over at "Help! My Kids are Smarter Than Me", I came across a very interesting article in the UK's Guardian newspaper about Sweden's education system. Sweden outscored the U.S. on the most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in science, reading, and mathematics. Reading the Guardian article gave me a major case of educational envy:

"There are no standard schools....Neither is there a fixed syllabus or curriculum; instead, the state sets out various goals in 19 different subjects that students are expected to reach within a fixed number of hours and it's up to each school how they go about teaching the material."

How refreshing for a government to recognize that one size does NOT fit all when it comes to education!

"The main reason Sweden has come to people's notice is the way it's funded. Each student comes with his or her own price tag and the state - or rather the municipality (ie the local education authority) has to pay. Within a few practical parameters, students may choose which school they want to go to and what programme they want to study, and the municipality has to oblige....If parents don't like their local school they can apply to ones that are further away - though they will have to meet the child's transportation costs. And if they really don't like anything on offer from the state, they can send their child to an independent school. Or even start one up themselves."

Wow, what a concept- allowing all parents (not just wealthy ones) to choose the school that is the best match for their child's needs. The Swedes also permit vouchers to be used at religious-affiliated schools, so that parents can send their children to schools that reinforce their family's values.

Critics of vouchers in the U.S. often claim that implementing a voucher system will benefit the rich at the expense of government-run schools. Sweden's experience shows these fears are exaggerated. Poorer Swedes actually choose private schools at a higher rate than do affluent ones. Also, student performance at government-run schools has increased, lending credence to the argument that increased competition leads to a push for quality improvement.

While the Swedish voucher system is a major improvement over the current system here in the U.S., it is not perfect. It prohibits schools from selecting pupils on any basis other than first-come, first-serve (thereby effectively prohibiting specialized schools such as those for the gifted or with learning disabilities). Sweden also restricts private schools from charging tuition above the value of the voucher. If a voucher program with these restrictions were instituted where I live, most of the existing private schools would likely not participate. The voucher would be enough to cover tuition at some of the Catholic, Lutheran, and other Christian schools but not the local Jewish school and the secular private schools.

Vouchers should be like Pell Grants, where a student can use them at any accredited school. If it does not cover the full tuition at a particular school, families should be allowed to spend their own money or any scholarship money they receive to make up the gap.

This is the way that my health insurance works- I can either see a network doctor who has agreed to accept what Blue Cross is willing to pay or I can see any doctor I want but then I will be responsible for all the charges above and beyond the insurance payment. Most of the time, I do end up sticking with the network providers, but at least I have the freedom to go elsewhere should I so decide. I don't have to sacrifice my right to choose my doctor in order for the insurer to pay its share. The same should apply for educational vouchers.

Politicians looking to do something about the abysmal state of education in this country ought to take a look at Sweden's success with its voucher system.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It's Time for Those in Authority Positions to Act Like Adults

As a thirtysomething mom, I've put away teen fashions in favor of more appropriate attire. While I look younger than I am (product of good genes, daily use of sunscreen, and never smoking) and could easily dress in whatever the college coeds are wearing these days, that's just not who I am any more. Not that I'm a frump in shapeless denim jumpers like the stereotypical Christian homeschooler (actually, I don't know anybody IRL who dresses that way!) But I do think that I ought to dress in a manner reflecting my status as a mother.

I'm currently reading a very interesting book by journalist Diana West called The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization. I'm not very far into it, but her premise is that since the middle of the 20th century, adults have embraced an adolescent mindset and refused to grow up. Parents, teachers, and other authority figures have rejected their authority status and ceded control to children.

A news story I read this morning perfectly exemplifies this problem. A 39-year-old substitute teacher in Louisiana has been suspended after several parents complained about her blue hair and nose piercing. The school's dress code requires staff members to be "professional in their dress and state that attire and personal grooming should not be a distraction to students."

Ms. Harmon claims to be "confused and hurt" by the complaints and defends her appearance as
"professional". Friend and fellow parent Jessika Perkins stated in an e-mail to the Shreveport Times:

Her hair and her nose piercing are not a distraction to the children. And she has always dressed very modestly around all of the students she has taught. What has happened to her was discrimination. Anyone who takes the time to look past what they see will agree with me that she is one of the most giving and best people you will ever meet."

Ms. Harmon may well be a nice person and a good teacher. But it's simply ludicrous to say that her appearance is not distracting or unprofessional. She's not some avant garde artist- she's a middle-aged schoolteacher. Her appearance needs to be appropriate to the setting. One does not wear a bathing suit to the prom nor a ball gown & pearls to the beach. And blue hair and a nose piercing do not belong in the classroom.

The Carnival of Homeschooling Needs You!

Henry Cate over at "Why Homeschool" is running a graphics contest for the Carnival of Homeschooling. You've got until January 28th to come up with a cool logo for the COH.

I'm not much of an artist, but I'll see what I can come up with :-)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

R.I.P. Benazir Bhutto

Whatever her faults, she demonstrated admirable bravery in speaking out for democracy and moderation in the face of Islamofascist threats. I pray that whoever is responsible for this heinous crime will be brought to justice, though sadly I'm skeptical of Pervez Musharraf's ability and commitment to do so.

Why Colleges Shouldn't Eliminate Admissions Tests

The high school I attended did not weight honors or Advanced Placement classes in its calculation of students' grade point averages. Because of this, kids who took less-challenging classes for easy A's wound up with higher GPA's than those who enrolled in harder classes & received B's. Several very bright & hardworking classmates of mine missed the cutoff for our school's chapter of the National Honor Society as a result of this policy while lazier kids got in. While it did not hurt me directly since I did well in honors & AP classes, I always felt it to be both unfair and anti-intellectual. Students should be rewarded for challenging themselves with rigorous coursework, not penalized.

There is an interesting article in today's Washington Post entitled "Grading Disparities Peeve Parents." It discusses research detailing just how wide grading disparities are. Robert Hartranft, a retired nuclear engineer from Simsbury, CT, analyzed the College Board's data to find that just 29% of SAT-takers from CT reported having an A- or better average, compared with 37% in VA, 40% in CA, 42% in FL, and 49% in TX. Overall, schools in New England were the toughest graders while those in the Sunbelt were the most generous.

When Hartranft looked at the average math + verbal SAT scores of those students reporting an A- GPA, he found that those in TX averaged 1039, those in VA averaged 1095, and those in CT an 1146.

Using the 2007 ACT data, 35% of CT's college-bound seniors demonstrated college-level readiness in all 4 subjects tested compared with 23% in VA and only 19% in TX. Unsurprisingly, 10% of students at CT public 4-yr colleges needed remedial coursework compared to 21% in VA and 24% in TX.

As a whole, this data suggests that grade inflation is rampant in this country and it's giving students a false impression of their readiness for higher education.

There's been a big push in recent years by educrats to eliminate college admissions tests such as the SAT and ACT. The complaint is that certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups average significantly lower scores than other groups. While this is true, the test itself isn't the real problem- it's merely the result of the fact that too many poor and minority students are stuck in lousy schools.

Research has shown that private school students show a significantly smaller racial & ethnic gap, one which is virtually eliminated for students from families with a high religious commitment. Additionally, there is no significant racial or ethnic differences in standardized test scores among home educated students. Providing a high-quality education to all students, regardless of their color is the solution to the "achievement gap".

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Penn Dean Wants to Ban Fractions

I'm no math whiz, but I've never considered fractions to be particularly difficult. They are one of the math topics I find most useful in my day-to-day life. While I can't remember the last time I had to say, calculate the volume of a cylinder [I had to look up that formula, which in case you're curious is V=(pi x diameter squared x height)/4)], I'm constantly using fractions to adjust the batch size of a recipe.

Dr. Dennis DeTurck, mathematics professor and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, has written a book to be published next year calling for a reform of mathematics education to eliminate the teaching of fractions, long division, square roots, and pencil-and-paper multiplication of large numbers. Dr. DeTurck dismisses these as obsolete:

"Fractions have had their day, being useful for by-hand calculation. But in this digital age, they're as obsolete as Roman numerals are....Parts of math are used differently now -- and different parts are used."

Dr. DeTurck goes on to give the standard educratic excuse for dumbing-down academic instruction: that teaching kids challenging material is allegedly bad for students' self-esteem.

"Part of that is our kids are remarkably sophisticated consumers. They want to know why they are forced to do complicated and difficult calculations. You can't say, 'Have faith and it will all become clear,' Kids figuratively throw up their hands. It is no longer seen as relevant."

Having high expectations for students has been shown time and time again to result in a greater level of achievement. As a woman especially, I get angry when educrats like Dr. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley's "Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity" project allege that traditional math is "culturally oppressive" towards female and non-white students.

Dr. Maureen Stout discussed the S.E.E.D. project in her book The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing Down of Our Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem:

"SEED's director, Peggy McIntosh, sells her elementary school math curriculum on the basis that it teaches children to understand themselves 'in the bodies of the world,' and places them 'in the deepest relationship with the invisible elements of the universe.' Will her program teach children basic arithmetic skills? Unlikely. McIntosh hates arithmetic problem solving because it presumes 'right' and 'wrong' answers, a presumption, she says, which in its very 'hierarchical' nature unfairly imposes a 'white,' Western paradigm of 'getting ahead' on an increasingly nonwhite, non-Western student population. In a democratic and racially diverse society, McIntosh insists, to concentrate on arithmetic skills is bound to demoralize children of color, who (she implies) are culturally not disposed to the notion of 'getting ahead.' She warns teachers against drills and tests on the grounds that in the cruel 'win-lose world of right and wrong mathematical operations... there is no way the child can feel good about the assignment.'"

News flash to Dr. McIntosh: mathematics is an exact subject. 2 + 2 = 4 not just for white males but for everybody, regardless of race or gender. She demonstrates an incredibly patronizing attitude towards female and minority students when she implies that they are less able to solve math problems correctly. It is neither "cruel" nor "culturally oppressive" to teach kids how to calculate the right answer; in fact, it is cruel NOT to!

The children most hurt by the "fuzzy math" fad are precisely those who are already at a disadvantage. Affluent, educated parents can make up for deficits in their children's curriculum by "afterschooling" or enrolling their children at the local Kumon center. Or they can simply vote with their feet and flee the government-run schools for private or home schooling.

Dr. George Andrews, president-elect of the American Mathematical Society and math professor at Penn State, summed up Dr. DeTurck's proposal thus:

"All of this is absurd. No wonder mathematical achievements in the country are so abysmal."

I couldn't agree more. India and China don't sit around worrying that teaching rigorous math hurts the self-esteem of children. The Economist forecasts China's real GDP will increase 10% in 2008 and India's will increase 8% compared to the U.S.' anemic 1.2%. If the U.S. hopes to compete in the global economy, we've got to fight against the dumbing-down of the curriculum such as the proposal by Dr. DeTurck!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem!
Natum videte regem angelorum:
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus,
Venite adoremus Dominum!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt...

The Sacramento Bee a few weeks ago had an op-ed entitled "State of our schools: Not all good, not all terrible." The author, Peter Schrag, is a veteran journalist and the author of Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America's Schools. In the op-ed, he criticizes what he calls the "schools [vulgar term meaning 'stinks'] industry" for continuing "to churn out information falling between distorted and flat wrong."

Mr. Schrag writes:

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), sometimes called the 'nation's report card,' California scores lower than comparable states. But its data (as [educational consultant John] Mockler says) 'are just silly' because each state chooses its own sample of students to be tested. Texas, which consistently ranks higher than California on NAEP, tests English learners only after they've been in school three years. We test them after one.
This is a valid point, but Mr. Schrag conveniently ignores the fact that non-Latino white students in California on average score near the bottom of the nation on the NAEP. On the 8th grade reading test, white Californian students scored 48th, above only West Virginia and Nevada. If California's low NAEP scores were just an artifact of the large number of immigrant kids, then why are the white kids (the overwhelming majority of whom are native English speakers) doing so poorly?

I live in a town where the median income for a 4 person household is >$105k and 70% of the residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Only 6.5% of the students in our neighborhood public elementary school are low-income (as defined by qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches). Yet the standardized test scores are terrible- nearly 1/3 of the kids are below grade level in English and almost 1/4 are behind in math. And the non-Latino white kids are doing even worse than the overall average!

As a comparison, I checked the numbers for some towns with similar demographics near where I grew up in Massachusetts. Here are the results:

Median Income % Passing Math % Passing English
Town 1 $ 97,100 93 82
Town 2 $ 111,600 87 86
Town 3 $ 81,000 83 80
Town 4 $ 125,821 83 83
Town 5 $ 104,000 79 80
Town 6 $ 108,900 78 84
Town 7 $ 86,813 77 80
Town 8 $ 119,200 77 80
Average $ 104,304 82.1 81.9

Now if these school districts with similar demographics are able to get most of their students to the "proficient" level, why can't my town's do the same? It isn't a question of spending more money- only Town 2 has a per-pupil expenditure higher than my local district's and Towns 1 & 7 spend over a thousand dollars less per student.

Sorry, Mr. Schrag, but the conclusion I come to looking at this data is that California's government-run schools do, in fact, stink.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Study: Institutional Care Hurts Kids' IQ

"Any number of factors common to institutions could work to delay or blunt intellectual development, experts say: the regimentation, the indifference to individual differences in children’s habits and needs; and most of all, the limited access to caregivers."

The New York Times
quote refers to a new study proving that children raised in orphanages have a lower IQ than those raised by foster parents. The foster children had an average IQ 8 points (1/2 of a standard deviation) higher at age 4 than those in the orphanages, and the younger the child moved to foster care, the greater the improvement in IQ. Both groups, however, had significantly lower I.Q.’s than a comparison group of children raised by their biological families.

This study raises an interesting question about what effect spending long hours in institutional care at a very young age might have on other children. In 2005, 51% of all U.S. infants and toddlers were in some form of non-parental care. 55% of children aged 0-5 in non-parental care were in group care (either center-based or at the provider's home). If regimentation, indifference to individual needs, and limited access to caregivers makes institutional care bad for orphans, might those same factors make group day care bad for other young children?

Let me be clear that I'm not trying to bash employed moms here- many of them are in the workforce out of economic necessity and feel tremendous guilt about putting their kids in day care. I used to be one of them! My oldest went to a center 3 days/week from 9-20 mos. and then full-time from 20-36 mos. It broke my heart to send her there but we needed my salary and health insurance coverage and my income was not high enough to afford a nanny. I am so thankful that we are now in a better financial position such that I can be a full-time homemaker. But I realize that the ridiculously high cost of living these days puts that out of reach for many families :-(

Perhaps it is time to examine a paid parental leave system similar to the ones found in most 1st world countries. In the U.K., moms receive 90% of their salary for 6 weeks and then a flat rate of approximately $224/wk for another 33 weeks. In Canada, moms receive up to 55% of salary for 50 weeks. Germany offers 12 mos. at 67%. Norway gives 54 weeks at 80%. Sweden gives 16 mos. at up to 80%.

It would be expensive to offer paid leave to all moms, but I suspect it might be cost-effective for society in the long run. Aside from the militant feminists, who really thinks that it is better for babies to be in non-parental than parental care? How many of the social problems in this country would be reduced if children spent the first year of life at home with a parent?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

TT: 13 Christmas Songs I'm Completely Sick Of


I love Christmas music and have had my car radio tuned to the holiday station since the day after Thanksgiving. By this point, however, there are a number of songs I've heard so many times that I don't want to hear them again at all until next year. I'm particularly frustrated by their heavy rotation given that there are several of my favorites that I've heard only a few times (Do You Hear What I Hear?, the Barenaked Ladies' version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, and Josh Groban's version of O Holy Night) or not even once (Mary, Did You Know? and New Song's The Christmas Shoes). I'm officially sick of:

1. Sleigh Ride, especially the Air Supply version (ick!)
2. Winter Wonderland
3. Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
4. Holly Jolly Christmas
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
6. My Grown-Up Christmas List
7. There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays
8. Santa Baby
, especially the Madonna and country versions!
9. Happy Christmas (War is Over)
10. Merry Christmas, Darling
by the Carpenters
11. Happy Holidays (It's the Holiday Season) by Andy Williams
12. LeRoy the Red-Neck Reindeer by Joe Diffie.
13. Anything by the Trans-Siberia Orchestra, Manheim Steamroller, or Kenny G!

Links to other Thursday Thirteens (please note I take no responsibility for the content of other blogs):

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There is an "I" in "Write"

When I was a sophomore attending a university widely considered to be among the best in the country, I took a biology course that had a unit on bioethics. As part of this unit, we were assigned a group research project, including an oral presentation and an accompanying policy paper. I had the misfortune to be assigned both a topic in which I had little interest (the declining water levels of Ogallala Aquifer) and to a group that included a varsity football player. Now, he was a talented running back and also personally a likable guy, but he was let's just say out of his league academically. He was as much an deadweight to our group as my DH (who played a couple years' worth of football at his prep school) would've been on the university's Division I team. Effort and attitude are certainly important, but they're not enough- there also has to be ability. Had my teammate been assigned an individual paper, he probably would've had difficulty pulling off a C. Yet he was able to free-ride on the rest of us and wound up with a B+. By contrast, I had an A in the class up to that point. The lower group grade meant that I had to work even harder to make up the lost points on the final exam. How fair is that?

I was reminded of this incident when reading "Writing is Not a Team Sport, Learning is Not Team-Dependent" by Linda Schrock Taylor. She criticizes the "cooperative learning" fad thus (emphasis in the original):

The language, Edu-Speak, now includes terms like: peer groups, peer editing, peer review, peer led, peer directed…but fails, of course, to include, peer disgust, peer disinterest, peer miseducation, peer failure, peer laziness, motivated peer doing all the work while all other group members benefit from a higher (group) grade than deadweight peers could have ever earned working individually,... But such is fad-driven educational policy.

Amen to that, sister!

I find the idea of peer reviews especially off-putting in the area of composition and writing....Picture assigning a group of four students, all with comparable (lack of) skills, editing each others’ papers! Shudder as the group adds bad corrections and simplistic, if not downright inappropriate, suggestions and rewrites to an already deficient paper!!

I can remember arguing with
the other members of my group about why they couldn't include the phrase "uniformly two tier rate structure" in our presentation and paper. I just couldn't get through to them that something cannot be both "uniform" and "two tier". I even pulled out a dictionary to show them the definition of "uniform". Even then they insisted that I was wrong and that having two flat rates is "uniformly two tier". Oy! I flat-out refused to give in and they finally did cut the word "uniformly" but we had wasted a ridiculous amount of time on it.

Yes, in the workplace colleagues do often have to work together on group projects. But salaries, raises, and promotions are not handed out collectively!

By all means, students should sometimes be required to participate in group projects. However, grading should be done on an individual basis for fairness. Those team members who contribute the most should be rewarded and "free riders" should be punished.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

103rd Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

The Deputy Headmistress over at the "Common Room" is hosting this week's 103rd edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Happy reading!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Despite What the Elite Media Asserts, Not All Homeschoolers Heart Huckabee

The elite media is jumping all over the supposed groundswell of homeschooler support for Mike Huckabee. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have articles today on the subject. Both give prominent placement to Michael Farris of the HSLDA and the WP one also mentions Gregg Harris. Neither mentions Dr. Ron Paul (is it just me or does it seem like the elite media has deliberately decided to ignore him despite his significant grassroots popularity?)

As I mentioned last week, what really irks me about the coverage is the use of "homeschooler" in the elite media as codeword for superfundamentalist Protestant. Most families who educate their children at home do not have 10 kids or believe that the Biblical commandment to "honor thy father and mother" mean that parents should dictate their children's votes such as the Hurleys of Iowa whose quote leads off the NYT article.

According to the 2003 survey done by the National Center for Education Statistics, 29% of homeschool families have only 1 or 2 kids. The NCES unfortunately lumped together medium-sized and larger families, but it's pretty safe to assume that the majority of the rest have 3 or 4 kids rather than 5+. Not that there's anything wrong with having a larger family- it's just not the norm, even among homeschoolers. The media may give a lot of attention to the Duggars and other very large homeschooling families, but that paints a misleading portrait of the average homeschooler.

The NYT and WP articles also implied that homeschoolers have monolithic opinions on gun control, abortion, homosexual unions, a flat tax, and other "hot-button" issues. While certain homeschoolers do agree with Huckabee's position on these issues, others disagree with him on some or all of them. People from all over the political spectrum educate their children at home. Just because we've chosen against traditional schools does not mean that we all heart Huckabee or anything else.

I'm not trying to pick on Mike Huckabee, who seems like a decent guy personally. It's not his fault that the media has decided a good way to try to discredit him is by linking him with groups viewed with suspicion by a large segment of their readers (Evangelicals and homeschoolers) and to perpetuate the stereotype that all those in the latter also belong to the former.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Education is Not a Luxury Good

In an attempt to encourage private school parents in the U.K. not to feel embarrassed about their educational choice, Vicky Tuck, the incoming president of the Girls School Association has compared it to a luxury good:

"We are not embarrassed by paying a decent sum for a nice house or a nice jacket or a nice engagement ring. Yet if you decide to spend your earnings on the most valuable thing you can do - to give your children an education - you are damned for doing so."
I can see the point she is trying to make, and I agree with the sentiment that providing one's children with the best education available is a worthwhile investment. Yet Mrs. Tuck is playing right into those critics who view private schools as elitist and a status symbol for the wealthy.

For most families, a private school education is not like an Armani jacket, Tiffany ring, or villa in the Caribbean. Sure, there are some social-climbing individuals who care more about the perceived cache of the school than whether it's the right "fit" for their children. But most parents are just concerned about what's best for their kids. They look at the serious problems in their local government-run schools and want something better for their sons and daughters.

A private school education is IMHO more like starting a business- it's an investment in the future. Hopefully, the value of one's education will continue to appreciate as time goes on, unlike consumer goods that depreciate the moment one brings the item home.

Private school parents should not be ashamed of spending their hard-earned money on their children's education, but Mrs. Tuck's idiotic comment is likely to make them feel even greater embarrassment.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cute Article on my Hometown Christmas Pageant

As I mentioned in this week's "Thursday Thirteen", one of my favorite Christmas traditions is my hometown's ecumenical Christmas pageant. There's a great article about it in the local paper with some darling photos from this year's production.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Comments Now Open to Bloggers on Other Platforms

While I'm still disallowing anonymous commenting, I have turned on the OpenID function so that bloggers on platforms supporting the OpenID format such as WordPress or TypeKey can comment. It was never my intention to restrict commenting to only those with a Blogger account- I just wanted to keep people accountable for what they wrote!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

TT: 13 Favorite Christmas Traditions


Christmas is one of my favorite holidays and here are some of the things I enjoy doing this time of year. I don't do all of them every year, of course, because of budget & time constraints.

1. Midnight Candlelight Mass. I haven't gone since I had kids but this is my absolute favorite service.
2. Sing-along Messiah. I'm not much of a singer, but who cares in this kind of a crowd?
3. The Nutcracker. I can't wait until DD is old enough to go. I considered taking her this year but couldn't find an abridged performance in our area. She's only just turned 5 and the full-length ballet is still a bit long for her attention span.
4. The Christmas Revels. Again, this is something I debated on taking DD to this year, but decided to hold off on.
5. Cookie Exchange. The Boston alumnae group of my sorority always holds a fun one but sadly I'm not visiting my folks for Christmas this year.
6. Ecumenical Christmas Pageant in my hometown. One of my brothers played Joseph one year and my other brother was one of the Magi another year. It's always fun to time how long it takes for them to switch out the real baby for a doll.
7. Photo with Santa. The funniest was the year that my mom-in-law and I took her dog Murphy and my then-10 -week-old DD over to Petco for their "Santa Paws".
8. Ice Skating at the Frog Pond on Boston Common. Another New England tradition I miss!
9. Zoolights at Stone Zoo. Did I mention that I really miss New England this time of year?
10. Growing an Amaryllis. I forgot to buy one early enough this year so it's going to bloom probably in January, LOL!
11. Peppermint Mocha. Preferably from Peet's but I'll take one from Starbucks if one's there.
12. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The original TV special, not that awful movie with Jim Carrey!
13. Reading Luke 2:1-20. Does it make me a bad Catholic to prefer the beautiful language of the King James translation here? Obviously, the KJV cannot be used for theological purposes but it's so much more poetic than the NAB or RSV.

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The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Should Homeschooling Disqualify Someone From Leading a Board of Ed?

Kristin Maguire has served on the South Carolina State Board of Education since 2000 and is currently Gov. Mark Sanford's representative. She is co-founder of South Carolina Parents Involved in Education, "a grassroots organization committed to public school excellence through meaningful parental involvement". She is also Visiting Educational Fellow of the S.C. Policy Council, a member of the Educational Leaders Council, and is on the advisory boards of the S.C. Public Charter School Association, the Center for Education Reform PERC Grant, and the South Carolinians for Responsible Government. Even her critics admit that she is "brilliant". Fellow board member Joe Isaac calls her "the most prepared person I have known in my life." Rick Adkins, another board member says: "She knows her stuff and puts a lot of effort into what she does.”

While no one is questioning Mrs. Maguire's credentials, she is taking a lot of heat for her decision to educate her four daughters at home. Given her affiliation with the Public Charter School Association, I suspect that she is not even an independent homeschooler but rather has her children enrolled in a charter program. I Googled her but couldn't find any information on it. Apparently, she is, in fact, an independent homeschooler.

The board's chairperson nominating committee, headed by Mr. Isaac, passed over Mrs. Maguire because of her homeschooling. Area educrats have also bashed her:

“I couldn’t see someone who does not support public schools by sending their kids to be a proponent for public schools,” said Mr. [Danny] Hawkins, associate dean of the college of education at Anderson University.

So Mrs. Maguire is supposed to sacrifice her children's education by sending them to sub par schools just to "prove" her commitment to improving public education? Isn't that a bit like saying that no one except those who live next to a toxic waste dump could be in favor of cleaning it up?

UPDATE #1: The Board of Ed voted 9-7 in favor of Mrs. Maguire as chairwoman, yay!

I corrected earlier speculation about whether Mrs. Maguire homeschools independently vs. through a charter school.

Are Today's Students Less Well-Educated Than Their Parents?

As I mentioned the other day, I'm currently reading The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing Down of America's Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem by Dr. Maureen Stout. It's a thought-provoking book and the author makes some good arguments about the excesses of "child-centered" progressive education. Although I agree with her on many points, I question some of her other assertions. For example, she writes:

While the average citizen today is better educated than the average citizen a generation ago, the average high school and college graduate is not as well educated as her peer of 25 or 35 years ago. In other words, more people are being educated but the standards are lower.

Certainly, college completion rates have significantly increased; in 1970 only 9% of those 25 & older held a bachelor's degree while nearly 29% do today. Additionally, between 1972 and 2002, the high school dropout rate in the U.S. decreased by 4 percentage points (however, the overall percentage of high school graduates in the population has remained steady at 70% because of immigration). So it's fair to say that more people are being educated. But is it true that they are being less well-educated? I'm not convinced that the picture is quite as uniformly gloomy as Dr. Stout paints.

My mom graduated high school in 1970 and I graduated in 1995. We had very similar SAT and GRE scores, and I think it would be pretty accurate to say that we have roughly equal intelligence. While my public high school offered multiple college-level Advanced Placement courses, hers did not even offer a single one. An increasing number of schools are now even offering so-called "post-AP" courses. Furthermore, as a girl, my mom was discouraged from enrolling in the "honors" science and math courses her school did offer. She never studied calculus until graduate school, even though she majored in economics.

The average SAT score of freshmen at top universities has increased significantly in recent decades. In 1952, the median verbal SAT score at Harvard was 583. By 1985, it had risen to 659. By 2004, the median verbal score (adjusted for the exam's recentering in 1995) was 738. In 1964, the median math SAT score was 695. By 2004, it was 760. Nearly 40% of those admitted to Ivy League schools last year were ranked either 1st or 2nd in their graduating class and 90% were in the top tenth. At DH's and my alma mater too, there has been a significant increase in selectivity. I'm not sure either of us would get in if we were applying this year even though we both had good SAT's and class ranks (he was valedictorian of his class and I was salutatorian & top female of mine).

What I think has happened over recent decades has been an increased stratification between economic "haves" and "have-nots" when it comes to education. For many upper-middle-class and affluent students, there are more opportunities for rigorous coursework, particularly for girls. Additionally, the greater competition for slots at top colleges has pushed them to higher levels of achievement. Unfortunately, too many low-to-moderate income students have been left behind. They are victims of the "soft bigotry of low expectations". Even if they complete allegedly "college prep" courses, often they wind up in need of remediation.

So what can we, as a society, do to fix this situation? I don't think throwing money at the problem will solve it. We need top-to-bottom reform of the entire system. While we can't get (and should not aspire to) equality of outcome, we need to ensure equality of opportunity so that each student can make the most of his/her God-given potential.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Harvard Boosts Financial Aid for Middle Class Families

For many families, sending their child to Harvard will now cost them less than sending him/her to the University of California. Harvard has announced that any family making less than $180k will now pay 10% of its annual income. Total tuition, room, and board at Harvard currently costs $45,620 per year.

Harvard officials said they noticed that many middle- and upper-middle-class families could barely afford the school's fees. Such families struggled to pay tuition while absorbing the rising costs of housing, insurance and, in some cases, the care of aging grandparents. "We understand that families are feeling distress in a way they haven't felt before," said Bill Fitzsimmons, Harvard's dean of admissions and financial aid. "We want to make Harvard accessible and affordable to all Americans."

The change means that for qualifying families, Harvard will be more affordable than the University of California. UC Berkeley currently charges in-state students a total of $21,012 for tuition and room & board.

Let's hope that other schools follow Harvard's lead and boost financial aid for middle-class students. Yale, Stanford, and Princeton all had endowments of over $13 billion dollars at the close of 2006 and are competing for the same caliber students as Harvard. Too many of their graduates leave with six figures' worth of debt, which often leads to them passing up public interest jobs in favor of more lucrative but less personally rewarding ones. How many investment bankers, management consultants, corporate lawyers, specialist physicians, etc. would rather have done something else if they hadn't had massive educational debt hanging over their heads?

102nd Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Jacque over at "Seeking Rest in the Ancient Paths" is hosting this week's 102nd Carnival of Homeschooling: The Many Hats of Homeschool Edition. Cute theme!

Monday, December 10, 2007

An "Aha!" Moment

Do you ever come across something when you're reading, watching TV, listening to the radio, etc. that just makes the light bulb go off in your head? I had one of those "Aha!" moments earlier this evening when reading the introduction to The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing Down of America's Kids in the Name of Self-Esteem by Dr. Maureen Stout, formerly a professor of education at Cal State-Northridge, the University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Interestingly, Dr. Stout has left academia for the business world- perhaps she stepped on a few too many educrats' toes or maybe she just got burned out trying to swim against the tide of anti-intellectualism and political correctness so prevalent in ed schools.

Anyways, here's the quote from Dr. Stout's book (emphasis mine):

Although it was probably always understood that a positive side effect of education is having an educated citizenry capable of making rational educational, employment, and personal choices, the public school was never intended to serve the personal whims of each individual. Indeed it cannot do so, since a public school, by definition, must provide the education that the public as a whole- not as individuals - wants."

Dr. Stout has precisely nailed it on the head why homeschooling is inherently superior to traditional schooling. I do take issue with her use of the pejorative word "whims"; a more accurate term IMHO would be "needs". Traditional schools, by design, sacrifice the individual student's needs to the desires of those in power. Worse, government-run schools have, over recent decades, become less and less accountable to the parents of the children in them. Decisions that were previously made on the local level are now being made hundreds of miles away in the state capitol or thousands of miles away in D.C.

With homeschooling, parents are able to provide the education appropriate to the individual child's needs. One size does NOT fit all when it comes to education; homeschooling, unlike traditional schooling, embraces this fact. Good teachers may try to differentiate instruction but the demands of a 20-to-30+ student classroom and mandatory state curriculum standards necessarily limit their ability to do so. Only in the homeschool with its extremely low teacher-pupil ratio and its relative freedom from artificial external mandates can there be true individual tailoring.

Note to Mainstream Press: Michael Farris Does Not Speak for All Christian Homeschoolers

Mike Huckabee seems like a decent guy personally, but it absolutely infuriates me when the mainstream press touts him as "the homeschooler's choice" based on his endorsement by Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association. The HSLDA has done a lot of good work over the years but they don't speak for all homeschoolers. I personally don't think they should get involved in partisan politics, particularly since there is another strongly pro-HS candidate in the election (Dr. Ron Paul). Now, I've got my own concerns about both Huckabee and Paul but that's a discussion for another time. Anyways, the Des Moines Register ran an article yesterday entitled "Homeschoolers propel Huckabee".

Although not monolithic, home-schooling Republicans are united by core principles, especially their rejection of public schools in favor of their own religious-based teaching.
Let's stop right there. While all HS families have rejected the public schools, not all those who vote Republican are HS for religious reasons. The GOP is the party not just of the religious right but also of secular libertarians, many of whom also have decided to educate their children at home.

Likewise, they are civically active and well-connected to Iowa's evangelical churches
Again, why does the mainstream press insist upon equating homeschoolers with Evangelical Protestants? Some are, but many aren't. There are HS families of every Christian denomination, and also plenty who are other faiths, atheists, or agnostics.

Michael Farris' endorsement of Huckabee in May, meaningless to much of the voting public, sent a strong signal to Crawford and other Christian home-school families in Iowa. Farris is founder and chairman of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association and the national figure for Christian home-school families.
The national figure for Christian homeschoolers? Maybe in his own eyes, but I know plenty of Christian home educators who do not believe that he represents them.

Estimates by the Oregon-based National Home Education Research Institute put the number of Christian home-school families in Iowa at roughly 7,500 to 9,500. As a group, they are disproportionately active in politics, partly out of strong opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, core positions for socially conservative Republicans.
Not all Christians are socially conservative, anti-abortion, or hold traditional views on sexuality. These are hotly debated issues and several denominations have taken official positions that are definitely on the liberal side: the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee (aka the Quakers), etc. While I personally disagree with those positions and I'm glad that the Vatican has held the line on traditional sexual morality, my point is that Christians are a pretty diverse group. Just knowing whether someone considers Jesus to be the Savior of the world doesn't automatically mean one knows where he/she stands on "hot button" issues.

Socially conservative Evangelicals may be a vocal subset of the homeschooling community, but they don't speak for all homeschoolers and it annoys me when the mainstream press treats them as if they do.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Are Today's College Students Too Apathetic?

Thirteen members of Harvard University's class of 1967 are criticizing today's Harvard students as being apathetic and politically indifferent. They have sent a petition to the new university president Dr. Drew Faust complaining that the school is either not recruiting enough politically active students or is doing too little to promote "civic courage and political engagement". So what is the impetus behind the alumni's complaints? No big riots or mayhem such as violently taking over a university building such as occurred during their own student days.

Harvard's director of admissions, Marlyn McGrath, countered that today's students are active but use different methods than 1960's era protesters. "I don't think there's much of a lack of political engagement here," she said and noted that today's students prefer "civil discourse" to "throwing tomatoes."

Adds associate dean Judith Kidd, "students today often focus on causes they can see in front of them."

An example of this is 17-year-old Dan Nally of Westwood, MA. Back in 1996, then 9-year-old Dan heard a news report that the Greater Boston Food Bank was 5,000 turkeys short of its Thanksgiving dinner giveaway goal. Dan went door-to-door in his neighborhood collecting turkeys and that year ended up getting 36. Since then, Dan and his family have turned their efforts into a full-blown nonprofit organization called Turkeys 4 America. They have served over 3.5 million servings of turkey to needy individuals!

I don't know where Dan will attend college next year, but it would not surprise me if he wound up at Harvard or similar school. I met a significant number of individuals at my alma mater who, like Dan Nally, had impressive "do-gooder" credentials. They weren't out there in a mob burning flags or effigies of the president in an ostentatious display but rather they were quietly making this world a better place.

I wonder about these kvetching Harvard alums- would they be happy if Harvard recruited more members of Generation Joshua? Somehow I doubt it...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Government-run Schools Dumping Classic Poems in Favor of Lightweight Verse

One of my favorite books to read growing up was the Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer. I received it as a gift on my 6th birthday from one of my little friends and it still has a special place on my bookshelf decades later. I spent many hours as a child absorbed in the wonderful poems such as Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride", Poe's "Annabel Lee", Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci", Thackeray's "Pocahontas", Holmes' "Grandmother's Story of Bunker Hill", Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat", Nash's "Tale of Custard the Dragon", and so on.

I was therefore very disappointed to read an article from London's Evening Standard newspaper entitled "Schools scrapping classic poetry for 'lightweight' verse." British school inspectors checking poetry teaching in government-run primary schools found that only 8% earned an "outstanding" rating. Most teachers did not know enough about the subject to teach classic poems and instead focused on easier modern verse such as "On the Ning Nang Nong" by Spike Milligan:

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
and the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So it's Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go ping
Nong Ning Nang
The mice go Clang
What a noisy place to belong
is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

Not exactly Shakespeare, is it?

While there is a place for modern poets such as Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky in the curriculum, the primary focus should be on classic verse. Not just for cultural literacy purposes, but also because they typically demonstrate a higher-level vocabulary and structure than recent poems. A child simply gets more out of reading something that has not been "dumbed down".

In our homeschool, I'm planning to use the poetics series by Michael Clay Thompson published by Royal Fireworks Press. It looks like a good introduction to studying poetry using classic verse. I think we'll do a poetry unit in the spring with the Music of the Hemispheres book if DD appears to be ready at that point (it's so hard to predict with her).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

TT: 13 Christmas Gift-Givers from Around the World

Header courtesy of Missy Frye at "Observations from Missy's Window"


In honor of tomorrow Feast of St. Nicholas, here are 13 Christmas gift-givers from around the world.

1. St. Nicholas, 4th century bishop of Myrna in modern day Turkey. Renown for his generosity and love of children.
2. Santa Claus, his secularized, commercialized version in present-day America.
3. Father Christmas, the British version of our Santa Claus. In Roman Britannia, the pagan god Saturn was said to watch over the festival of the winter solstice. After St. Augustine brought Christianity to England in 597 A.D., the gift-giver changed from Saturn to Father Christmas.
4. Dun Che Lao Ren, "Christmas Old Man" in China
5. Pere Noel, Father Christmas in France.
6. Christkindl, the Christ Child in Germany.
7. Nino Jesus, the Christ Child in Latin American countries.
8. Befana, an old woman said to have gotten lost bringing gifts to Gesu Bambino (Baby Jesus) in Italy.
9. Babushka, an old woman said to have felt guilty about steering the magi in the wrong direction on their trip to Bethlehem, in Russia.
10. Jule-tomar, little elves with long white whiskers, in Sweden.
11. Jule-Nisser, elves in Norway.
12. Tel-apo, "winter grandfather" in Hungary.
13. The Grinch, if you live in Whoville :-)

Other Thursday Thirteens (Please note that I take no responsibility for the content of other blogs):

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Great Holiday Gift Idea for Kids

I just found out that one of the kids in our homeschool support group makes unfinished wooden toy animals that look like a fabulous alternative to all the "made in China" toys. Please note that I have no affiliation with the selling website and am receiving no consideration for promoting these financial or otherwise. I just wanted to share something I thought might interest some of my readers and help out a fellow homeschooler :-)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #101 is Up!

Mama Squirrel over at "Dewey's Treehouse" is hosting this week's 101st Carnival of Homeschooling: Snowed-In Edition. This is the time of year I miss New England winters. Come February & March, however, I'm glad to be out here in California, LOL!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Thoughts on "Why Education is Useless"

I just finished reading the provocatively-titled Why Education is Useless by Dr. Daniel Cottom of the University of Oklahoma. I had picked up the book because I was interested in reading a spirited defense of why liberal education remains important in modern times. I've read several books on that theme in the past year or so including Climbing Parnassus by Tracey Lee Simmons, Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson, and The Paidea Program by Mortimer J. Adler.

I was very disappointed by the pedantic, incoherent, and politically correct drivel Dr. Cottom wrote. Why Education is Useless reminds me of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind but written from a left-wing perspective. Like Dr. Bloom’s book, Dr. Cottom’s is a mish-mash of rants against the author’s personal bugaboos and a highly pedantic discussion of philosophy full of academic jargon.

Here is a typical paragraph:

“Survivalism is an acephalic, rhizomatic, activist, grass-roots movement inspired by quasi-organic intellectuals who have rejected the so-called public sphere, cultural studies an institutionally legitimized academic movement through which tenured and potentially tenurable folks aspire to transform that sphere through their transgressions. The tragic vision of turn-of-century naturalism returns as farce in contemporary survivalism, and to judge from the ‘return to beauty’ widely bruited of late, fin de siecle aestheticism may return as farce in cultural studies if we do not watch what we are doing.”

Now imagine 206 pages worth of this soporific prose- no wonder it took me almost 2 months to get through the book rather than my typical fortnight or so!

Dr. Cottom comes off as the stereotypical arrogant, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist, anti-military, ultraliberal Ivory Tower academic. He spouts all the politically correct nonsense that’s been coming out of universities since the 1960’s and demonizes anyone who happens to disagree with him as racist, intolerant, self-righteous, or at best merely ignorant. He makes little distinction between demagogues such as George Wallace and thoughtful conservatives such as Dinesh D’Souza, William Bennett, and Pope John Paul II.

Dr. Cottom asserts that universities should "celebrate the uselessness at the core of higher education" as a bulwark against the "tyranny of stupidity" of our culture epitomized for him by George W. Bush. Now, I'm certainly no fan of President Bush but I just don't get the vitriolic loathing and insufferably arrogant feelings of superiority he elicits in many liberals. It goes beyond criticism of his administration's policies, which is to be expected, to something much more personal. It started long before the invasion of Iraq and even before the disputed 2000 election (though I'm sure those events exacerbated the already-existing animosity).

I suspect that a great deal of it has to do with the militant hostility to Christianity so popular in certain social circles. Dr. Cottom specifically mentions Bush's naming Christ as his favorite political philosopher in his book and makes the astonishing claim that it identifies Bush as a "right-wing Protestant white male beneficiary of political support from racist voters." Last time I checked, Christians were a pretty diverse bunch: both genders, all different races & ethnicities, a wide variety of denominations, and the full range of political leanings. Bush is a right-wing Protestant white male and for all I know he could well be the choice of white racists (though it's important to make the distinction Dr. Cottom conveniently skips that not all racists are white). However, simply choosing Christ as one's preferred philosopher does not make one ipso facto conservative, Protestant, white, male, or racist.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Want a Summer Internship? Trying Buying One at Auction...

A friend of mine who works at a Wall Street investment bank refers to some of his well-connected colleagues as "being on the friends and family plan". While they are minimally competent for their positions, he feels they were primarily hired because of whom they know rather than what they can do. While this type of "good old boys' network" is nothing new, I was shocked when I stumbled across a 2006 Wall Street Journal article about how a number of prestigious firms are now donating summer internship slots to be auctioned off at pricey prep schools.

In the competitive world of summer internships, a new route to plum spots is emerging: buying them at auctions, often at elite private schools. This spring, internships at Morgan Stanley, NBC, Miramax, WebMD, Electronic Arts and a host of other companies have been put out to bid at auctions across the country. Bids often reach into the $2,000 to $5,000 range. Some internships are unpaid; in other cases the winners' kids receive a salary....The auctioning of internships reflects the convergence of two trends: ever-expanding fund-raising efforts at private schools, and parents' obsession with getting their kids into the right schools and eventually the right jobs. In some cases, it also stems from competition among parents to donate the most attention-grabbing auction items.
This practice is wrong on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin.

100th Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Summer over at "Mom is Teaching" is hosting the 100th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings in our lives!

O Gracious God, we give you thanks for your overflowing generosity to us. Thank you for the blessings of the food we eat and especially for this feast today. Thank you for our home and family and friends, especially for the presence of those gathered here. Thank you for our health, our work and our play. Please send help to those who are hungry, alone, sick and suffering war and violence. Open our hearts to your love. We ask your blessing through Christ your son. Amen.

by Mary Cronk Farrell from Celebrating Faith: Year-round Activities for Catholic Families.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Renters Beware!

There's an article in today's New York Times that's anxiety-provoking for those of us who rent a house or condo. It's entitled "As Owners Feel Mortgage Pain, So Do Renters" and it discusses how the current mortgage foreclosure crisis is hurting renters in many areas. Nationwide, 1 in 8 homes foreclosed upon are renter-occupied, and here in California, the number is nearly 1 in 4. Banks typically evict the tenants upon foreclosure so that they can quickly sell the house at auction. California state law provides a 30-day notice to tenants, but in other places it can be as short as 72 hours! :-0

Can you imagine what these poor families must be going through? Here they are, paying their rent in a timely fashion, completely unaware that their landlord/lady has not been paying his/her mortgage on the place. Then boom, they get hit with a notice to leave in a mere 3 days.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would require landlords to provide their tenants a 90 day notice prior to foreclosures. Then, the new owners (typically the bank) would have to continue existing leases for 6 months. Tenants without leases would have 90 days to leave. The Senate is considering a similar bill introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). The banking industry opposes these bills, and the White House has released a statement critical of them.

I'm unfamiliar with all the details of these bills so I can't say whether or not I'm in favor of them as currently written. But I definitely feel that tenants deserve greater protection than current laws provide them!

The tenants are innocent victims of foreclosure since they played no role in the mortgages in question. The banks may have been stupid in approving loans that never should've been made and the landlords may have been stupid in obtaining mortgages they couldn't afford. The tenants on the other hand did nothing wrong. Our legal system should give them a greater amount of time before they get kicked out onto the street as the result of a mistake that other parties made :-(