Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sometimes All One Can Do is Just Hold One's Tongue and Smile...

It was really hot this afternoon, so we headed down to our condo complex's pool to cool off a bit. While we were there, I overheard a woman talking to her daughter. The daughter, who appeared to be around 10, had noticed a sign limiting the pool to a maximum of 18 swimmers. The mom asked the girl how many kids were in the pool. The daughter answered "11". In actuality, there were 9 kids and 1 adult (me). The mom then asked the daughter how many more people would be allowed to go into the pool. The girl looked blank, so the mom prompted her: "you know, 18 take away 11?" The daughter thought for a moment, and then answered "8." Now, the girl had in fact stumbled upon the true number of additional swimmers permitted given that there were only 10 people in the pool. However, she obviously got the answer to her mom's question of 18-11 wrong.

The mother did not correct her daughter's mistake or give any sign that she recognized it was the incorrect answer. I rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses and probably would've forgotten the incident entirely had I not heard a little while later the mom rave to her friend about the math program at her daughter's school. Apparently, this school is using one of the "new-new math" curricula, known to its critics as "fuzzy" math. This woman was going on and on about how the kids "understand the concepts" when all I could think of is that this 5th grader got a simple subtraction problem wrong!

Now I can understand why a recent Gallup poll found that 76% of parents with children in government-run schools claim to be "satisfied" with the quality of education their children are receiving when there is so much evidence of the dismal academic achievement of U.S. students. Only 26% of students completing allegedly "college-prep" coursework are actually prepared for college-level work. Here in California, only 74% of sophomores could pass an 8th grade math exam. Nearly 60% of incoming freshman in the California State University system, who are supposedly in the top third of their high school classes, require remedial coursework. Average SAT math scores dropped 3 points from last year. Why aren't more parents outraged by these statistics????

"Spin" and the SAT Scores Decline

The College Board has released a report on the 2007 scores on the SAT. Scores declined for the second consecutive year, with a 1 point drop in "critical reading" (formerly known as the verbal section) and a 3 point drop in math. The "spin" the College Board is giving these dismal results is that the drop is the natural result of a more diverse group of test-takers.

It is true that African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans now represent 39% of test-takers, an all-time high, though only up 1% from the 2006. However, Asians held steady on the math section from 2006 and gained 4 points on the verbal. Mexican-Americans gained 1 point on both the math & verbal sections. Other Hispanics held steady on the math and gained 1 point on the verbal. African-Americans held steady on the math section.

The demographic group with the largest decline in math scores? Non-Latino whites! They experienced a drop of 2 points from 2006. Given that non-Latino whites represent 61% of the test pool, their decline is the single largest factor in the overall decline of SAT math scores.

Minorities are getting a bum rap for the decline in SAT scores, and I'm disappointed that the elite media is buying into the College Board "spin". It took me less than 5 minutes to analyze the numbers for myself and see that what the College Board PR folks are saying is a fat, steaming load of excrement.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #87 is Up!

The Deputy Headmistress over at the "Common Room" is hosting this week's 87th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. With traveling and getting ready for starting kindergarten I didn't manage to get anything submitted but almost 50 other homeschoolers had their act a bit more together, LOL!

We Made it Through the First Day of School!

Altogether our first day of kindergarten went relatively smoothly. DD flew through the lessons in Our Heavenly Father, RightStart Math Level B, Language of God Level A and First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. The only issue I had was that she quit partway through the penmanship practice I had planned. It was over an hour into our formal schoolwork and she'd done some printing of numbers during the math lesson so I suspect she was mostly just tired. Today I'm going to try having her do penmanship earlier in the morning. Also, I came across a Barbie-themed penmanship workbook at Michaels last night so I'm hoping that might motivate her more than the other one.

DD seemed like she was enjoying herself while we were doing the lessons but afterwards when I asked her what her favorite part of homeschool was she answered "nothing". I'll admit that I felt a tiny bit put out by that response, but hopefully it was just 4 3/4-year-old crankiness talking!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First Day of "Official" Homeschool Tomorrow!

DD is starting kindergarten tomorrow! I'm feeling a bit nervous about making the transition from the very relaxed homeschooling we've been doing to a more structured curriculum with formal math, religion, and language arts programs. I want to challenge her academically but without putting too much pressure on her.

Part of me is feeling rather intimidated by the fact that I'm the one responsible for her education. There's no outsider to blame if she doesn't master the 4R's. She's not just 1 of a couple dozen kids in my life for 30 hours a week for 9 months and then dumped onto the next teacher. The buck stops right here, and that's a bit daunting for a perfectionist like me.

I have to keep reminding myself that I have the advantage of loving my student and being more personally invested in making sure she succeeds than any paid teacher ever could!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

NAESP Calling for Government Interference with Homeschooling

The other day, I did a post about the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) criticizing homeschooling. Well, Lynn Aleshire over at "Homeschool 2.0" did some further investigation and located the original source. Turns out it comes from the official platform of the NAESP adopted in 1993 and updated in 2003 & 2004.

I skimmed through the entire 52 page document and the tone throughout is very much in favor of the "nanny state". Americans can't be trusted to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their own lives, so Big Brother needs to do it for them. Among the issues that the NAESP platform calls for schools to address include: junk food, tobacco & alcohol advertising aimed at children, violence in the media, and even the "creation or maintenance of a safe, nurturing, and stable home life for children". Of course, I'm certainly against junk food, substance abuse, media glorification of violence, and unsafe and/or unstable households! However, it's parents' responsibility to worry about those things (or social workers in extreme cases), not schools. Schools need to focus on academics. The NAESP platform devotes a section to "quality use of the school day" that talks about how principals should minimize "non-instructional activities during the school day". However, the platform is full of calls for schools to deal with a wide variety of non-academic concerns better left to families.

Anyways, the section dealing with homeschooling is found on pg. 38 of the report (43/52 on my Adobe Acrobat Reader). The NAESP is clearly calling for strict government regulation of homeschooling in the name of "accountability" and "establishing safeguards":

When alternative options such as home schooling have been authorized by state legislation, resources and authority should be provided to make certain that those who exercise these options are held strictly accountable for the academic achievement and social/emotional growth of children.

When home schooling options are exercised, NAESP strongly recommends that state governments establish safeguards to ensure each child:
1. participates in appropriate social experiences;
2. interacts with students from other social/racial/ethnic groups;
3. receives the full range of curricular experiences and materials aligned with state standards;
4. is guaranteed instruction by certified and highly qualified persons;
5. is required to participate in state-mandated assessments; and
6. learns in a healthy and safe environment.

NAESP strongly urges states to require home schools to comply with state and federal laws addressing children with special needs.

NAESP strongly urges local and state associations to address these issues as critical to the education of children.

So basically, the NAESP is calling on politicians to require a state teaching credential for home educators, strict adherence to the cookie-cutter standards imposed by a committee of bureaucrats in Sacramento or D.C., the teaching of every single topic covered by the public schools including highly controversial ones such as evolution and sexual education, provide proof that the child is getting "appropriate" social experiences with a diverse set of peers, and most likely home visits to ensure that the environment is adequately "safe and healthy".

Talk about intrusive! I highly doubt that children's welfare is the primary concern here. Rather, the NAESP likely wants to make homeschooling such a bureaucratic nightmare that it'll be pretty much legislated out of existence. Right now, it's growing at something like 10-25% per year. As many as 2 million kids are homeschooled currently and that number is projected to triple by 2010. Each child who leaves a traditional public school to homeschool represents a loss of thousands of dollars' worth of funding and often also the loss of a parent volunteer fundraiser. No wonder powerful education unions such as the NAESP and the National Education Association feel threatened by homeschooling!

Homeschoolers need to be aware of this opposition and should consider joining a legislative advocacy group such as the California Homeschool Network, the Homeschool Association of California, the National Home Education Network, or the Homeschool Legal Defense Association who will lobby against intrusive homeschooling regulations.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Here We Go Again...

Dana over at "Principled Discovery" had a link a few weeks ago to a very interesting article on the National Association of Elementary School Principals' criticisms of homeschooling. As if the NAESP doesn't have more pressing concerns about the quality of education students in government-run schools receive. The real "elephant in the room" is the loss of funding that each student who is homeschooled rather than enrolled in the local district school represents. Also, since the typical home educated child scores very highly on standardized tests, the loss of such students hurts the school's statistics. Needless to say, these two concerns did NOT make the NAESP list!


1. Deprive the child of important social experiences.

Such as being one of the 80% of high school students and 44% of middle school students who reported witnessing illegal drug use, drug dealing, or drug possession at school? Or being part of the 90% of 3rd-6th graders who reported experiencing bullying at school?

2. Isolate the student from other social/ethnic groups

Public schools today are less racially integrated than in 1970. According to the Harvard University Civil Rights project, in 2003 the percentage of African-American children attending schools than are overwhelmingly minority was 73%. Even in schools that have a diverse student population, self-segregation means that there are often little social interaction between different racial & ethnic groups. A 2002 study by Ohio State sociology professor James Moody found that teens at more diverse schools were not any more likely to have interracial friendships than those at less diverse schools.

3. Deny students the full range of curriculum experiences and materials.

Such as art, music, phys ed, or even science & social studies? Since the No Child Left Behind act was instituted in 2001, almost half of public school districts surveyed by the Center for Education Policy have cut time from one or more subjects or activities in elementary schools to extend time for longer daily math and reading lessons.

4. Provide education by non-certified and unqualified persons.

"Certified" and "qualified" are NOT synonymous when it comes to teaching. Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute did an extensive review of the research evidence in his book Education Myths. He showed that possessing a teaching credential doesn't result in any significant increase in teaching effectiveness, and neither does possessing an advanced degree in education. Studies of home educated students found that there is no significant difference in standardized test scores of children taught by a parent with a teacher's credential compared with those taught by a parent with a bachelor's degree in another subject.

5. Create an additional burden on school administrators whose duties include the enforcement of compulsory school attendance laws.

Huh? Here in California, homeschoolers are treated the same as private schools. We fill out a simple form that is sent to the State Department of Education in October and that's it. The local school district has nothing to do with us whatsoever.

6. Not permit effective assessment of academic standards of quality.

If I want or need an objective assessment of what my kids are learning, I can arrange for them to take standardized tests. Both Seton and Kolbe offer the California Achievement Tests. If we decide to homeschool through high school, they will take the California High School Proficiency Exam and either the SAT or the ACT. They may also choose to take Advanced Placement exams.

7. Violate health and safety standards.

Where is the evidence that home educated students are at any greater risk than students enrolled in traditional schools? As many as 10% of public school students have been sexually harassed or abused by a teacher or other school worker. In 2006, 18% of male teens and 9% of female teens reported being involved in a physical altercation on school property. Not to mention the occasional massacre such as at Columbine or the Amish school in Lancaster County, PA.

8. Not provide accurate diagnosis and planning for meeting the needs of children of special talents, learning difficulties and other conditions requiring atypical educational programs.

Gifted & Talented programs have been absolutely gutted in the public schools in recent years. Even regular ability-tracking has been eliminated in many places in favor of "heterogeneous" classes that teach to the middle. Homeschooling allows the child's individual needs to be met in a way impossible in a classroom of 25-30 students. I can go as fast or as slow as is appropriate for my child so she's not stuck waiting for the rest of the kids to catch up or having the rest of the class move on before she's mastered that particular skill.

Clearly the NAESP has no clue about homeschooling!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Should High School Students Have "Majors"?

There's an interesting article in today's New York Times about a struggling high school in Englewood, NJ called Dwight Morrow. 3/4 of the students are African-American or Latino, and 60% qualify for subsidized lunches. Administrators have decided that the best way to raise student achievement is to require all incoming freshman to declare a "major".

The program at Dwight Morrow is patterned after the one at the self-contained magnet school that shares the campus. What I found disturbing is the difference in majors offered to the high-achieving students at the magnet school and the struggling students at Dwight Morrow. See if you can figure out which school offers which majors:

School A: Engineering, Law, Biomedicine, Finance, and Information Systems.
School B: Sports Management, Fine and Performing Arts, Health Sciences, International Studies, New Media, Liberal Arts, Environmental Studies, and a “Preteaching Institute.”

School A's students are being given an academically rigorous curriculum to prepare them for very lucrative careers. School B's students are given a wider range of options, but on the whole they seem to be a bit trendy and less academically-oriented: "Health Sciences" vs. "Biomedicine", "New Media" vs. "Information Sciences", "International Studies" vs. "Law", "Sports Management" vs. "Finance". They also seem a bit overly specialized for high school. A student concentrating in "Finance" can easily go into any number of fields including sports management, real estate, stocks, accounting, and so on. A student majoring in "Sports Management" would find it more difficult to get into the latter fields. Also, a future teacher does not need specialized training in high school, but should be concentrating in whatever field he or she wishes to teach such as the Liberal Arts, Science, etc. I can see the value of offering an elective in Child Development or the like to future teachers, but not a whole separate major.

Unsurprisingly, School A with the rigorous curriculum is the magnet school; School B with the trendy specialized majors is Dwight Morrow. Why can't the students at Dwight Morrow be offered the same majors as the magnet school kids, with the addition of the Fine & Performing Arts and the general Liberal Arts ones? Why shouldn't the predominantly poor and minority kids at Dwight Morrow have the same high career expectations of their richer, white & Asian peers at the magnet school? Aren't the "dumbed-down" majors at Dwight Morrow indicative of what President Bush terms the "bigotry of low expectations"?

I'm not convinced that requiring high school students to pick formal majors is a good thing anyways. How many adults with successful careers do you know who could've told you at age 14 what they would end up doing for a living? Many of the occupations likely did not even exist when they were in junior high. I've got a good friend who works for MIT as a bioinformatician. Now I could've told you in high school that she excelled in math and in biology, but the field of bioinformatics was still in its infancy.

How many more fields will be created in the coming decades? Shouldn't we be giving our students a well-rounded and rigorous education so that they will be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities as they open up?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Debunking the Myths About the Church & Science

James Hannam, a PhD. candidate in the history of science at the University of Cambridge in England has written a book called God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science. His goal is to translate the recent scholarship about medieval science for a lay audience. Most people outside of academia are unaware of how historians have debunked the popular misconceptions about the Church being allegedly "anti-Science". Not just Catholic apologists but respected secular scholars as well. Mr. Hannam has made the first chapter of God's Philosophers available for *FREE* download at his website. He is also building a registry of people who would be interested in possibly purchasing his book to demonstrate to skeptical publishers that there would be a market for the title.

I definitely think this book is needed because I was very frustrated with the way Joy Hakim perpetuated myths about the Church in her book The Story of Science Volume 1: Aristotle Leads the Way. I'm still using the first part of it about ancient times but the misinformation about the medieval times means we're going to skip the later chapters. I hope that God's Philosophers is published by the time we reach medieval history!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #85 is Up!

Mama Squirrel over at "Dewey's Treehouse" is hosting this week's 85th Carnival of Homeschooling: "School Supplies" edition. Check it out for some great posts!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Off on Vacation!

I'm flying back East this afternoon to visit my parents and in-laws so I will not be posting much until the 22nd. I'm going to take a chance and turn the comment moderation function off. I've only had to reject a handful of comments so hopefully it'll be okay.

See you in a couple of weeks!

The Dumbing-Down of the Summer Reading List

I'm not 100% certain what the specific books assigned as summer reading by the high school I attended were, but I do know that they were serious literary works. I remember senior year we got to choose from several options but I don't recall what the options were nor which one I ultimately picked since that was the summer I spent preparing for the Advanced Placement Literature exam. I do remember my best friend picked Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton because she absolutely HATED the ending of it, LOL! I believe that A Separate Peace by John Knowles may have been 9th, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens may have been 10th, and an Arthur Miller anthology may have been 11th but I'm not totally sure about that.

Anyways, I was reminded of this today when I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor called "High School Reading Lists Get a Modern Makeover." What I found particularly interesting was the comparison between the assigned reading lists of the 1960's vs. the 1980's vs. today:

"Of the nine most commonly taught books in public high schools in 1963, only one (the 1938 play Our Town) was written in the 20th century. By 1988, the 10 most commonly taught novels in public schools included four books from the 20th century: The Great Gatsby (1925), Of Mice and Men (1937), Lord of the Flies (1954), and To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Today, staples in summer reading lists include: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Monster by Walter Dean Myer, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold."
Now, it's certainly possible that 50 years from now, certain of these recently-published books will be considered "classics". The Kite Runner in particular I've heard is an excellent book. However, shouldn't we be waiting to see which modern books stand the test of time before deciding to replace an actual classic on school reading lists? If we're going to have children read Alice Sebold rather than Jane Austen or Edith Wharton, shouldn't we be confident that Ms. Sebold's book has a lasting impact such as Miss Austen's or Mrs. Wharton's novels?

The CSM article quotes Arizona State University professor Alleen Nilsen as applauding the modernization trend:
"It used to be, no matter where you were in high school, you got this list of classics that the value was to talk about them with other people, not to read them yourself," she says. "We're taking this lesson from the [physical education] teachers. Rather than making kids do these things they hate, they're letting them choose what they want to do, so that when they're adults, they'll keep exercising. Summer reading is the perfect time if we want to get kids to read the rest of their lives without us sitting over their heads and telling them what to read. Let them ... just lose themselves in a good book."
Actually, the value of reading classic literature is not just for cultural literacy purposes, though that's certainly important. As Tracey Lee Simmons discusses in his excellent book Climbing Parnassus, the value of reading literature, attending the symphony, or viewing a museum exhibition is to improve ourselves by exposure to the highest achievements of the past (emphasis in the original):

"[Great works] did not merely entertain; they exposed us to something better than we could find elsewhere. And we hoped that such exposure would make us better as well- healthier intellectually and emotionally....Classical education was thought to improve the learner, not simply to make him more knowledgeable or tolerant or mentally skillful, but better and stronger, just as there survives today a residual belief that one who has, say, read and digested all of Shakespeare is better, more insightful, than one who has not."
Besides, many literary works are great stories that are enjoyable to read. Dickens and Shakespeare specifically wrote to entertain popular audiences. There's no reason why students can't "lose themselves in a good book" as Dr. Nilsen puts it while reading classic literature.

Teacher Nick Senger has several excellent blogs, and one of them is called "Teen Literacy Tips". In it, he writes about how to get reluctant teenagers excited about reading. His list of "30 Must-Read Classics for Teenage Boys" includes a ton of books with great narratives to interest both boys *and* girls (or at least this female, LOL!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling #84 is Up!

It got a bit delayed by a stomach virus making the rounds at NerdMom's house, but she's now gotten the 84th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling up at "Nerd Family Blog."

"Baby Einstein" Videos *HURT* Language Development

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics by Frederick Zimmerman, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, and Andrew Meltzoff of the University of Washington found that with every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants learned six to eight fewer new vocabulary words than babies who never watched the videos. These products had the strongest detrimental effect on babies 8 to 16 months old, the age at which language skills are starting to form.

"The more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew," said Dr. Christakis. "These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos."

"Parents and caretakers are the baby's first and best teachers. They instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze and social signals to support language acquisition. Watching attention-getting DVDs and TV may not be an even swap for warm social human interaction at this very young age. The youngest babies seem to learn language best from people," Meltzoff said.

"In my clinical practice, I am frequently asked by parents what the value of these products is," said Dr. Christakis. "The evidence is mounting that they are of no value and may in fact be harmful. Given what we now know, I believe the onus is on the manufacturers to prove their claims that watching these programs can positively impact children's cognitive development."

The authors of the new study might suggest reading instead: children who got daily reading or storytelling time with their parents showed an increase in language skills.

I'll admit that both my children have occasionally watched "Baby Einstein" and LeapFrog DVD's. However, it's a fraction of the time DH & I spend reading to them. Parents need to understand that "educational" videos are no substitute for human interaction. If one wants a "brainy baby", what one needs to do is spend quality time with him/her!

CA State Legislature Trying to Undermine Charter School Law

The LA Daily News has an editorial today called "Charters under attack" about how the Democratically-controlled state legislature is using a sneaky budget trailer bill to undermine the charter school law.

"In the budget now pending in the Legislature, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would double the money now available to pay for facilities for charter schools serving the state's poorest kids. But committees in both the Senate and the Assembly have placed a condition on that money. It would be available only if the State Board of Education in effect lost its ability to grant charters to high-quality organizations.

If that condition stays in the law, Schwarzenegger will have an ugly choice. He can finally provide substantial rent assistance to as many as 150 charter schools that urgently need it. Or he can veto the provision and preserve the state board's approval power, which would lead to the growth of some of the state's best charters."

Under the proposal, the state Board of Education would still be able to issue a charter but only for 3 years. After this initial term, the charter would revert to the local school district, allowing them to shut down the school. A 1992 RAND report found that among the 108 school districts who had authorized at least 1 charter school, 10% of petitions were denied. However, this is likely to be a significant understatement of denials because it excludes the indeterminate number of districts who have denied all charter applications received.

I've never understood why local school districts are given any say over charter applications since they have a financial incentive to restrict them. Every student who leaves a traditional public school to enroll in a charter school results in a loss of thousands of dollars in state funding. Obviously there needs to be oversight of charters, but it should be done at the county and/or state level.

Shame on the California state legislators who are trying to stealthily kill charter schools in the state! It's no surprise why they are doing so, as many of them are in the pockets of the teacher's union. From 2000 to 2004, the California Teacher's Association spent more than $70 million for politics and lobbying according to campaign finance records. Plus an additional $45 million in 2005 alone. Special interest groups like the CTA are fierce defenders of the status quo in education and consider any efforts to expand parental choice in education such as charter schools, vouchers, and homeschooling to be a threat :-(

Monday, August 6, 2007

Catholic School to End Discount to "No-Show" Parishioners

Many Catholic schools offer discounted tuition rates to members of their affiliated parish. Father John Yockey of St. Jerome's in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee got tired of parents registering as members of the parish in order to get the discount but then not attending Mass regularly. So, after consulting with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Fr. Yockey instituted an attendance policy for those claiming the discount. During school registration, parents who wanted the $1400 discount had to sign contracts in which they committed to the required minimum Mass attendance. If the parents don't have at least a 70% attendance rate in any single quarter, about 10 weeks, they'll have to pay full tuition for the rest of the school year.

Fr. Yockey said he has a sense of who is at Mass regularly among the parish's 1,400 families. Weekly donation envelopes collected at Mass also will be cross-checked with school parents' names. In addition, a guest book may be placed in church. People on vacation can bring a bulletin from the church they attended to the school office by noon the following Monday.

Fr. Yockey said the new policy addresses a matter of truth and fairness. It's "a grave injustice" to the parish, which dedicated a new school in 2004, to subsidize families that are not part of parish faith life.
"It was my decision. I'm calling it the expectation model. What this means is that parents who are registered as parishioners of St. Jerome are expected to live up to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the official teaching reminds parents that they are the primary educators of their children in the ways of faith."
Fr. Yockey got the idea from area Lutheran schools, which traditionally require regular church attendance in order to receive discounted tuition and even list the attendance rate on the children's report cards.

It's sad that Fr. Yockey even has to resort to a formal policy :-( Church doctrine is quite clear about the obligation to attend Mass on the Sabbath and on Holy Days of Obligation. Unfortunately, though, too many individuals who consider themselves to be "Catholics" only attend Mass twice per year or not at all. To grant these folks the same tuition discount as active parishioners is simply unfair.

I personally think this type of policy should be standard at any school offering discounts to registered parishioners!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

People in Glass Houses...

"Putting money into _____ schooling is throwing money down a rathole. You have no idea if that money is being spent properly or children are benefiting."

Q1. Who said this?
Q2. Which word goes in the blank?
Q3. What is this quote in response to?

Sounds like the words of a political conservative bashing government-run schools, wouldn't you think? If you guessed that, however, you would be incorrect.

The quote actually came from a 2001 Time magazine article about homeschooling. It was said by the then-president of the California Teacher's Association, Wayne Johnson, objecting to granting homeschoolers access to part-time enrollment or extracurricular activities at public schools.

Perhaps Mr. Johnson should worry a little less about the ~5% of K-12 students being homeschooled in the U.S. and a bit more about the 85% enrolled in government-run schools. If he's concerned about the accountability of taxpayer dollars and whether children actually benefit from the money spent, he needs to start looking a lot closer to home!

For the 2005-2006 school year, only 47% of California 10th graders passed the math portion of the CA High School Exit Exam (CHSEE) and only 51% passed the English section of the CHSEE. The graduation rate is only 71%. This despite a whopping average per-pupil expenditure of over $11,000 per year!

If the California public schools were some bastion of efficiency and effectiveness in education, then Mr. Johnson would have the legitimate moral high ground to question homeschooling. Clearly, that is far from the case.

Ode to Standardized Testing

Back on New Year's Day, NPR's Morning Edition radio show featured a song called "Not on the Test", which is a powerful critique of the standardized testing obsession in our country's public schools. If you're like me and missed it on NPR, you can listen to it here.

Not On The Test

by John Forster & Tom Chapin

Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and math. Forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test.

Each box that you mark on each test that you take,
Remember your teachers. Their jobs are at stake.
Your score is their score, but don't get all stressed.
They'd never teach anything not on the test.

The School Board is faced with No Child Left Behind
With rules but no funding, they're caught in a bind.
So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test.
Sleep, sleep, and as you progress
You'll learn there's a lot that is not on the test.

Debate is a skill that is useful to know,
Unless you're in Congress or talk radio,
Where shouting and spouting and spewing are blessed
'Cause rational discourse was not on the test.

Thinking's important. It's good to know how.
And someday you'll learn to, but someday's not now.
Go on to sleep, now. You need your rest.
Don't think about thinking. It's not on the test.

(HT: Princess Mom over at "Help! My Kids are Smarter Than Me!")

Friday, August 3, 2007

Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar Welcome Baby #17

Jennifer Danielle Duggar was born at 10:01 yesterday morning via VBAC and weighed 8 lbs 8 oz. She was welcomed by her 16 older siblings: Joshua, 19; John David, 17; Janna, 17; Jill, 16; Jessa, 14; Jinger, 13; Joseph, 12; Josiah, 11; Joy-Anna, 9; Jedidiah, 8; Jeremiah, 8; Jason 7; James, 6; Justin, 4; Jackson, 3; Johannah, almost 2.

Mom Michelle, 40, told reporters that "we'd love to have more".

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Who's Going to Be #5000?

I didn't start tracking the number of visitors until almost 2 months after I started blogging so I most likely have actually passed the 5,000 milestone already. I'm sure many of you are well past that number on your own blogs, but I think it's a pretty respectable number for 3 months on a relatively new blog :-)

Blogger Reflection Award

Blogger Reflection Award: this award should make an individual reflect upon five bloggers who have been an encouragement, a source of love, impacted you in some way, and who have provided an example. In other words, five dear bloggers whom, when you reflect upon them, you are filled with a sense of pride and joy. . .of knowing them and being blessed by them

Alicia Van Hecke over at "Studeo" tagged me for a "Blogger Reflection" award the other day. This really means a lot to me because Alicia is one of the Catholic home educators whom I've found inspirational during this homeschooling journey. She is a contributor to the "Love 2 Learn" website, which is a fabulous resource for reviews of curriculum from a Catholic perspective.

There are so many fabulous blogs out there that it's hard to pick just 5 to tag but here are some I enjoy reading:
  • Elena over at "My Domestic Church". Elena is a Catholic homeschooler and mom of 7. Somehow she finds the time to write wonderful posts about Catholicism, education, and family life.
  • Kathy McKinney over at "Broken Homeschool". And no, it's not because she nominated me for a "Rockin' Girl Blogger" award, LOL! I honestly didn't realize she had until I went to her site to check whether she'd already gotten the "Blogger Reflection" one. I find Kathy to be inspirational because she shows a deep commitment to homeschooling her children in the face of challenging circumstances. So many people think they are not in a position to homeschool because they are single parents and/or hold outside employment but Kathy shows that is not true!
  • Elisheva Levin over at "Ragamuffin Studies". Elisheva is another non-traditional homeschooler as she is currently pursuing her doctorate in special education, studying "twice-exceptional" students who are both intellectually gifted and affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. I find her inspirational for being able to juggle the demands of her own graduate school with homeschooling a 2E student.
  • Kristine over at "MamaArcher's Blog". I don't always agree with her theological beliefs as she's an Evangelical Protestant but she often writes very insightfully about Christian parenting and homeschooling.
  • MC Milker over at "The Not Quite Crunchy Parent". She's not a full-time homeschooler but what she does definitely falls into the category of "afterschooling". I enjoy reading her blog because she brings a refreshing “real-world” spin to natural parenting. Her tone is one of moderation, and she talks candidly about her struggles to do what she feels is best for her child within the confines of her limited budget and time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

TT: 13 Luxury Items I Don't Own or Want


I had a different TT all set but reading the CNN article on teens wanting luxury goods for back-to-school got me thinking about all the luxury items I neither own nor want. I will pay more for quality on certain things, but when it comes to frivolous fashion items I tend to balk.

1. An iPhone. I've got an mp3 player I rarely use and a cell phone that works just fine, so why would I want to spend $600 for something that hasn't gotten all the bugs worked out yet?
2. A Kate Spade, Petunia Picklebottom, Burberry, etc. diaper bag. Why pay $300 when you can go to Target and get a cute knock-off one for $30?
3. Seven for All Mankind, True Religion, Citizens of Humanity, etc. jeans. I have worn Lucky and Calvin Klein jeans that I've found at Ross or Filene's Basement but I refuse to pay $200 for a pair of pants.
4. A high-definition plasma screen television set. DH wants one so he'll probably end up buying himself one once he's paid off his student loans but I'd just as soon skip it. I hardly ever watch TV and our current set works perfectly well.
5. Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Prada, etc. shoes. I'm not all that into shoes anyways, so why would I pay $400+ for a pair?
6. A Hummer. There's someone at our church who drives one, and I'd just love to ask him/her if that's what he/she really thinks Jesus would recommend driving.
7. A Bugaboo stroller. Yes, I've heard they really are very easy-to-use, yadda, yadda, yadda. But there's nothing that screams "I'm a yuppie mom!" louder than a $900 stroller.
8. Designer sunglasses. I used to have a pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses I got in a 2-for-1 promotion with my regular glasses but I lost them. Since then, I've made do with Target cheapies.
9. A designer watch. I have a problem with things happening to my watches. The weird thing is that it's a different issue each time. Doesn't matter how much or how little I spend on a watch, it lasts about the same length of time.
10. A Wii or a PS3. DH has a PS2 that is almost exclusively used as a secondary DVD player. I can't remember the last time it was used to play a video game.
11. Nike Shox. Yes, they're cute. I'm sure they're comfortable. But I refuse to pay >$100 for a pair of sneakers.
12. Breast implants. I'd be tempted to get a lift if I ever won Powerball, but having gotten up to a DDD when nursing, I can definitely say that I would not want to go any larger than my normal size, LOL!
13. A much-younger trophy husband. The whole May/December thing isn't any more appropriate when it's the man who is younger. I'm sorry, but one's new spouse should not be the same age as one's children!

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Teens & 'Tweens Demand Luxury Items for Back-to-School

Growing up, I was absolutely convinced that my family was one of the less well off in our town because my parents did not drive luxury cars, own the latest gadgets, vacation at exotic locales, or purchase designer clothes like most of the other families of my acquaintance. I knew we weren't poor as we fortunately never had to go without any of the basics. Still, I thought that we were towards the moderate end of the middle-class compared to my classmates' families. I found out later that my dad made a very typical salary for the area but my parents chose to live below their means rather than financing an extravagant lifestyle with consumer debt. When the economy tanked in the early '90's, many of my classmates' families wound up in real financial trouble while my family was fine.

I was reminded of this today when I saw an article on called "Teens seek luxury items for back-to-school wardrobes".

"Shopping for back-to-school apparel is a late summer ritual. But as 'tweens and teens become increasingly savvy about fashion, they're asking for luxury products, such as $200 designer handbags and $100-plus jeans....Bloomingdale's fashion director Stephanie Solomon said this year, teen shoppers at the department stores nationwide are clamoring after $300 Chanel sunglasses, designer handbags by Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Chloe -- which can cost between $900 and $1,250 -- and $200 to $300 Tory Burch shoes."
Would somebody please pass me the Tums?

"Amy Klaris, a branding specialist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said over the past year or two years, having a luxury item has become more important to teens. 'There are so many icons out there right now for them,' Klaris said. 'There's more people they're looking up to and wanting to emulate, and they can do that through accessories.'"
The people I want my DD to look up to and emulate aren't fashionista celebrities but true role models whose actions are making this world a better place.

"Where parents put their foot down depends on their income, said Klaris. And while a wardrobe of Prada might be too much for a parent to handle, they might be more willing to spend on accessories, she said. 'They want their kids to fit in,' she said. 'They're still buying T-shirts at Target, but still having that (luxury) handbag.'"

Now we come to the crux of the matter: peer pressure. Teens and 'tweens have always worried about "fitting in". The rampant materialism of our culture filters down to our children and drives the appetite for luxury goods.

"Socialization" is such a cliche among those who are skeptical of homeschooling but is this type of socialization really healthy for children? Is it good for society for students (especially girls) to obsess over their physical appearances and neglect their intellectual and spiritual development?