Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Going to Be One Heck of an Election Day...

...if the lines for the early voting in my county are any indication. I'd been hearing predictions of a heavy voter turnout for next Tuesday's election for a while now, so when I happened to be over near the county elections office this morning I decided to swing by and cast an early ballot. Even though it was mid-morning on a Wednesday, the place was mobbed. I had to wait about half an hour before it was my turn.

As I was leaving, I happened to remark to a Fed-Ex deliveryman that I was surprised to see it so crowded. He told me that it'd been that way for the past couple of weeks!

Although I have a feeling that I may not be too happy with the outcome of this year's election, I do think on the whole it's a good thing for our country for its citizens to show a higher level of civic engagement than has been the norm in recent years.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Any Suggestions for Relieving Pregnancy-Induced Isomnia?

I've tried drinking chamomile tea, I've tried reading a dull book, I've tried yoga and I'm *STILL* not tired. This has been happening a fair amount lately, and also I've been waking up in the middle of the night & then having trouble falling back asleep :-(

Anybody got ideas for how a mom-to-be who really needs to catch some Z's can do so?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Can Pick Cherries, Too! The Myth of the "Teaching Penalty"

I recently came across an interesting post on the "Public School Insights" blog from back in March entitled "Teacher Pay is Prosperity Proof". It discusses a report from the liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institute called The Teaching Penalty. You can read the full 82 page report here, but in a nutshell the researchers argue that the average weekly pay in 2006 for teachers was 14.3% below those in "comparable occupations".

The validity of this argument hinges on whether the occupations selected for comparison truly are comparable. The authors of the report give a highly technical explanation for how they chose "comparable" occupations, but a number of the results seem to defy basic common sense.

Here's the occupations the authors claim are comparable to teaching: accountant, reporter, registered nurse, computer programmer, clergy, personnel officer. Okay, I can see nurse, clergy, and possibly personnel officer because like teaching these are all "helping" professions. But the others strike me as having little similarity to teaching.

Including accounting and computer programming in particular is going to skew the results because those have some of the highest entry level salaries for new college graduates (as of 2007 they were $46,718 and $56,201 respectively). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 25th percentile of wages for accountants is $44,230 and the 75th percentile is $75,020. For computer programmers, the numbers are $51,450 and $87,950.

Two occupations that strike me as much more similar to being a schoolteacher are social worker and librarian. According to the BLS, the 25th percentile of wages for social workers is $30,250 and the 75th percentile is $50,530. For librarians, the numbers are $40,730 and $63,440.

If I average the BLS median weekly wage for social worker, librarian, registered nurse, and personnel officer, I come up with a figure of $940. That's only $20 greater than the EPI number for the average weekly wage for teachers. Not to mention that that if I average the numbers from the BLS data for elementary, middle, and secondary schoolteachers, it results in a figure of $1,205/week, which is 28% more than the average for the 5 "helping" occupations.

My college stats professor used to love to remind us of the old saying about there being 3 kinds of falsehoods: lies, d*** lies, and statistics.

So the next time you hear someone using the EPI report to bolster his/her argument that teachers are underpaid relative to comparable occupations, you'll know to be appropriately skeptical...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

George Weigel 1, Catholic Apologists for Obama 0

Boy, do I wish I had the disposable cash to make photocopies of the article by George Weigel in this week's issue of Newsweek to put on each car at my parish this weekend during Mass. The article is entitled "Can Catholics Back Pro-Choice Obama?" and it's a brilliant critique of the flaws in the arguments of several well-known Catholic supporters of Sen. Obama such as Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi.

It's a message that many of my fellow parishioners would likely not want to hear, but as St. Paul wrote two millennia ago to the Galatians:
"Am I now seeking human approval or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of God." (Galatians 1:10, NRSV Cath. Ed.)

Despite House Speaker Pelosi's recent assertions to the contrary, the Catholic Church has had a clear and consistent record of opposing abortion dating back to the 1st century A.D. teachings of the Church Fathers in the Didache.

Pope Benedict XVI, back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote that a Catholic can vote for a pro-abortion candidate for other reasons only when those reasons are "proportionate". Under Catholic teaching, the taking of innocent life is considered the most serious sin prevalent in society today. For that reason, none of the commonly suggested reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate like Sen. Obama such as peace, health care, poverty reduction, etc. are considered proportionate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Frustratingly Misleading Piece on GATE in "Ed Week" has an article on a forthcoming book on giftedness to be published in January by the American Psychological Association entitled The Development of Giftedness and Talent Across the Lifespan. I found the EdWeek article interesting, but very frustrating because it perpetuates the myth of "evening out" in the 3rd grade.

Here are some excerpts:
"Academic talents can wax and wane, the latest thinking goes, meaning that a child who clearly outpaces his or her peers academically at age 8 can end up solidly in the middle of the pack by the end of high school."

That's confusing intellectual potential with academic results. IQ is remarkably stable over time after the age of about 6. But certainly there are plenty of gifted children who underachieve in school. An estimated 20% of high school dropouts are intellectually gifted. Many more manage to graduate from high school but without stellar academic records. As I've mentioned before on this blog, one of my brothers was like this.

The EdWeek article also quotes Randy Collins, the director of one of the best-known schools for the gifted in the U.S., Hunter College Elementary School in New York City. Hunter receives along the lines of 1800+ applications each year for a mere 48 kindergarten slots. Collins told EdWeek:
"Third grade is probably a better place to admit someone because assessments are more reliable at that age."
This is the same kind of nonsense I heard from the superintendent of our district when I questioned her why the district's GATE program did not start until 4th grade. Research has shown that while the highest IQ stability was found among those tested at age 6+, testing at age 4 (Hunter's current practice) results in only somewhat lower stability (median correlation of 0.72). That means nearly 3/4 of those tested as preschoolers will not see a significant change in IQ if they are retested later!

Yes, children who are "late bloomers" ought to have the chance to participate in GATE programs if they qualify at an older age. Schools like Hunter ought to take a certain number of additional children who did not initially qualify at about the 3rd or 4th grade. But that doesn't mean that educators should deny those who show signs of giftedness at an earlier age the chance for a properly challenging environment.

Most educators who will read this EdWeek article will presumably not be all that familiar with the literature on giftedness. It's really a shame, therefore, that the article perpetuates the "evening out" myth :-(

Monday, October 13, 2008

Government-run School Sponsors Field Trip for 1st Graders to Gay "Wedding"

I haven't really talked much about Proposition 8, the California Marriage Protection Amendment. which would restore the traditional definition of marriage in the state as that of one man and one woman. Not because I don't think it's important but because it's one of those issues where you either hold traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs or you don't. Supporters and opponents can talk each other blue in the face and nobody's going to convince the other side of anything.

The whole argument about legal rights is a smokescreen because homosexual domestic partners in California already had the SAME rights as married couples under state law BEFORE four activist judges overturned the will of the people back in June. Nothing in Prop. 8 would change that!

Where Prop. 8 IS important is how marriage is presented in the state's government-run schools. The CA Ed Code requires teachers to instruct children as young as kindergarteners about marriage- and if Prop. 8 does not pass, that would include gay "marriage". Teachers in government-run schools would have to treat gay "marriage" as NO DIFFERENT FROM traditional marriage regardless of how parents feel about the issue. Obviously this is an issue about which there is tremendous controversy, which is why PARENTS ought to be the ones making the decision about how they want it presented to their own children in accordance with their own family's values.

What prompted me to bring up the subject of Prop. 8 today is a story that is shocking but sadly not surprising. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a government-run school in San Francisco sponsored a field trip Friday by a FIRST GRADE class to a GAY "WEDDING" officiated by mayor (and notorious adulterer) Gavin Newsom.

The interim director of the Creative Arts Charter School, Liz Jaroslow, justified the trip on "educational" grounds thus:
"It really is what we call a teachable moment....I think I'm well within the parameters....As far as I'm concerned, it's not controversial for me."
If the teacher in question had chosen to invite her students to attend her "wedding" outside of class time, then I wouldn't really have a huge problem with it. That would've been a non-school event and no taxpayer dollars would've been spent funding it. I might still question its appropriateness for such young kids, but that's a judgment call for the students' parents. But this trip was done during time that the state is paying this school to educate the children.

I looked up the data on the Creative Arts Charter to see if the school is doing such a wonderful job that it can afford to waste time on non-academic pursuits such as this field trip. Here's what I found:

Percent of students scoring Proficient or Above in Math: 28.6%
Percent of students scoring Proficient or Above in Language Arts: 56.8%
Ranking of this school compared to others in the state with similar demographics: bottom 10%

Seems to me the administration needs to spend a bit more time teaching its students academic basics and a bit less time on indoctrination...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bill Ayers: "Guilty As H***" and Proud Of It

The more I'm learning about Bill Ayers, the more repugnant I'm finding him- and the more unbelievable it seems that so many of the elites in this country are excusing away his atrocious past behavior.

"He was never convicted of anything!" is one thing I've heard several times from liberals so completely besotted with Sen. Obama that they are simply unwilling to face the ugly truth about Bill Ayers.

In an interview with David Horowitz in the early 1990's, Ayers recounted the details of his terrorist activity. After he was finished, he gloated: "Guilty as h***. Free as a bird. America is a great country."

I also discovered that for all Ayers' talk about social justice, he was a child of enormous privilege. His father was the CEO and Chairman of the giant utility company Commonwealth Edison and a crony of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and President Richard Nixon.

It seems clear to me that Ayers developed the entitlement attitude unfortunately not uncommon among those who've grown up wealthy that he is above the laws that govern everyone else. Horowitz describes Ayers as possessing "a shallowness beyond conception" that has resulted in an inability to distinguish right from wrong.

So tell me again- just *WHY* are so many otherwise intelligent individuals rushing to defend Ayers?

Matthew K. Tabor over at the "Education for the Aughts" blog has an excellent mini-carnival of posts from education bloggers critical of Ayers. Definitely worth checking out!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bill Ayers' Violent Past: "Passionate Participation" or Terrorism?

I don't always agree with the authors of the "Core Knowledge" blog (especially when it comes to their cheerleading about the No Child Left Behind Act and their push for nationalizing the curriculum), but there's an excellent post today from Robert Pondiscio regarding unrepentant terrorist/"education reformer" Bill Ayers. Here's an excerpt:

"The Support Bill Ayers document would have us believe that Ayers is being silenced as a means to 'intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue.' Forgive me for saying so, but what is violence if not an attempt to intimidate and stifle viewpoints with which you disagree? It would be a lot easier to move past what the document dismisses as 'history' if Ayers might at some point allow that his particular brand of 'passionate participation' was ill-advised....

Ayers, for his part, has never come close to such an admission. 'I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough,' he told the New York Times in an interview that was sitting on millions of breakfast tables on the morning of September 11, 2001. This lack of introspection on Ayers’ part makes the education establishment’s embrace of him troubling on so many levels."

What I can’t understand is how such a large number of elites in this country can be so morally relativistic that they can’t acknowledge that terrorism is never justified. Even if they’re sympathetic to the goals of the attackers, why can’t they just admit that the means are despicable? Some things really ARE black-or-white, with no shades of gray.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why I Should Beware the WTM Bulletin Boards...

Remember how yesterday I was talking about how many interesting-looking programs there are now available for studying Latin in the elementary grades? Well, through the Well-Trained Mind website bulletin boards, I discovered yet ANOTHER one: Song School Latin. This one looks really fun!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ultrasound Results

I'm very relieved to report that the ultrasound I had this afternoon showed a healthy-looking baby girl who is only a little small for her gestational age (measuring about a week behind). The technician said that's within the normal range and that the doppler flow measurements of the baby's blood vessels looked good :-)

Thanks everyone for your prayers!

Latin Making a Comeback in Schools

There's so much disheartening news about the state of K-12 schooling in this country that it's refreshing whenever I see an article about a positive trend, such as the article in today's New York Times entitled "Latin Returns From Dead in School Languages Curriculum".

Enrollment is booming in Latin courses across the country, with the language expected to surpass German as the 3rd most popular foreign language taught in schools. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement exam has doubled over the past 10 years, and the number taking the National Latin Exam has increased by roughly 1/3.

The president of the American Philological Association, Adam Blistein, told the NYT that studying Latin builds vocabulary and grammar for higher SAT scores, appeals to college admissions officers as a sign of critical-thinking skills and fosters true intellectual passion.

Students who study Latin in high school have average SAT-Verbal scores significantly higher than students who study French, German, or Spanish. Some of this may be due to selection bias, but learning Latin provides a real advantage in figuring out the meaning of unfamiliar English words. 90% of English words over 2 syllables are of Latin derivation.

I have not yet started my DD on the study of Latin but I think I will once we reach Ancient Rome in history (which I'm guessing will most likely be this coming spring). The hard part is choosing from among the many interesting looking programs for elementary Latin instruction. Minimus? Learning Latin Through Mythology? Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Latin Readers? The American Classical League's Activitates Pro Liberis?

Monday, October 6, 2008

U.S. Schools Failing Bright African-American Kids

In general, I'm not a huge fan of all the attention paid to the so-called "racial achievement gap" in test scores because I think it obscures the fact that even the white and Asian kids aren't doing so hot. On the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the average scores for white students fell below grade-level proficiency for both reading and math in the 4th and 8th grades. I'd like to see more of a focus on raising achievement levels for *ALL* students regardless of race. If significant progress was made in raising test scores for all groups, then everyone would be better off even if the gap between the groups remained the same size. A rising tide lifting all boats, so to speak.

That said, I was surprised and dismayed to read on the "Eduwonkette" blog about new research from Professor Sean Reardon of Stanford on the size of racial achievement gaps between African-American and white students who entered kindergarten at high vs. low levels of ability. Dr. Reardon found that African-American students who entered kindergarten at the 84th percentile of ability in reading and math fell behind similar-ability white students twice as fast by fifth grade as African-American students who entered at the 16th percentile of ability. By 5th grade, the typical African-American student who had entered kindergarten at the 84th percentile was only scoring the same as whites in the 55th percentile.

This finding is important because it means the problem is something in the child's environment causing him/her to underachieve compared to his/her potential. Dr. Reardon does not go into detail in his paper about what that might be, but mentions 3 possibilities:

(1) high achieving black students encounter less challenging curriculum and instruction and attend schools with fewer resources.

(2) high achieving black students are subject to different sets of teacher expectations and behaviors than similarly high achieving white students.

(3) high achieving black students have less access to out-of-school enrichment than high achieving white students.

Another couple possible contributing factors that Dr. Reardon does not mention include:

(4) whether high-achieving blacks face greater anti-intellectual peer pressure than high-achieving whites.

(5) whether high-achieving blacks have fewer positive role models both in their communities and in pop culture than high-achieving whites.

It is interesting to note that studies of homeschooled students do not show a significant racial achievement gap in test scores. Whatever is causing bright African-American students enrolled in traditional government-run schools to fall behind their white peers is not an issue for homeschoolers.

We need to do further studies to determine the cause(s) of this type of underachievement and figure out a way to remedy them for the children whose families are unable or unwilling to homeschool.

Depressing Survey About Teen Girls' Aspirations

A new survey of the career aspirations of British girls aged 13-18 done by the organization New Outlooks in Science and Engineering found that the majority picked beauty over brains. While 32% of those surveyed were interested in becoming a fashion model, 29% were interested in being an actress, and 20% were interested in being a beautician, only 14% were interested in becoming a scientist, and a mere 4% were interested in becoming an engineer (note: girls were permitted to select more than one answer).

I am saddened but not surprised at these results. Pop culture very much values style over substance, particularly when it comes to women. Female celebrities popular among teen girls such as Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, the actresses on The Hills, and so on often give the appearance of vacuousness (even if they may actually be not quite as dumb as their public personas would indicate). Television portrayals of women tend more towards the walking clothes hangers of America's Next Top Model than the braininess of Dr. Amita Ramanujan on Numb3rs. Far more teens could likely name last year's American Idol winner (Jordin Sparks) than could name either the current Secretary of State or the female member of the U.S. Supreme Court (Condoleeza Rice and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, respectively).

Given that we are now three-and-a-half decades past the landmark passage of Title IX, I find this state of affairs very depressing. Today's girls are so lucky that they do not face the barriers to participation in scientific and technical fields that stood in the path of previous generations of women. True, more still needs to be done to allow for a better work-life balance in scientific and technical careers (an issue that disproportionately affects women although it's becoming important to an increasing number of men as well). But the main thing today keeping girls from becoming scientists and engineers is themselves.

So long as girls go for glamor over contributing to the betterment of society, we're likely to see a continuation of the gender gap in the sciences and engineering. And that's really a shame :-(

New Carnival for Environmentally-Conscious Mom Bloggers

Many of us homeschoolers strive to be good stewards of the Earth's resources, whether it's for religious reasons (like me) or secular ones (like a number of the families in my local inclusive HS support group). Whatever your motivation for your environmental consciousness, I highly recommend checking out the recently formed "Green Moms Carnival".

This month's theme is "Coping With the Commercialization of Halloween and Other Holidays" and is hosted over at the "Green Bean Dreams" blog. Even if your family does not celebrate Halloween, there are lots of good ideas for simpler, less materialistic, and more eco-friendly holidays.

November's theme is "Gratitude for Your Favorite Green Things" and submissions are due by October 27th to greenmomscarnival (at) gmail (dot) com.

(HT: afterschooler extraordinaire MC Milker over at "The Not-Quite-Crunchy Parent")

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Time Once Again to Play "Fill in the Blanks"

Here's the quote:

"The unease with [name of politician] is not [sociological term]-based. It is empirically based. [He/she] is a rising political star, a young [man/woman] — [he/she] is only [age] —who has done extraordinary things. It takes guts to offer oneself for election, and to serve. It is far easier to throw spitballs from the stands than it is to seek and hold office. [He/she] is a [current political office], and [he/she] has the courage to go into the arena. For that [he/she] should be honored and respected....But it is only prudent to ask whether [he/she] is in fact someone who should be president of the United States in the event of disaster. [He/she] may be ready in a year or two, but disaster does not coordinate its calendar with ours. Would we muddle through if [name] were to become president? Yes, we would, but it is worth asking whether we should have to."

So is the author here discussing Sen. Obama or Gov. Palin?

Here's a huge hint: the quote comes from an article in Newsweek. You can find the answer here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Please Pray for Our Family

I've been having a kind of rough day today and could really use any moral support that you all could offer.

This morning I got a call from my mother-in-law that DH's grandmother passed away last night. She had been suffering from diabetes complications for a long time and was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday so it wasn't totally unexpected but we're still going to miss her.

Then at my OB appointment this afternoon, my doctor found that I'm measuring quite small for the baby's gestational age. Not only that, but the measurements hadn't changed at all since my last appointment a month ago. So she has referred me for an ultrasound to make sure that the baby and placenta look okay. Unfortunately, the first opening the clinic has is not until Tuesday afternoon :-(

The good news is that the baby's heartbeat sounded strong and she's been moving about quite a bit. Also, my DS also measured very small for his gestational age and was only 5 lbs. 12 oz. at his full-term birth. He's still a little peanut (almost 3 but is the size of a typical 18 month old). Our pediatrician has run a bunch of tests on him & has not found any medical problems. As she has reassured me, "Somebody's got to be in that below-the-3rd percentile on the growth curve." So hopefully that's the case with this new baby, too. I just wish that I didn't have to wait 4 days to have the ultrasound.

Sorry to ramble on, but I just wanted to ask you to please keep our family in your prayers :-)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Wrong Way to Go About Implementing a GATE Program

A government-run elementary school in the town of Duxbury, MA decided to implement a cluster grouping program aimed at the top 3-5% of students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades to provide differentiated instruction for them. That's the good news. The bad news is how the school went about setting up this GATE program.

According to an article in The Boston Globe, the pilot program was not announced until after classes had begun in September. The 14 participating children had been selected not based on any objective criteria such as standardized test scores but rather on a chart of behavior traits associated with gifted children. Parents of children chosen for the program were notified, but instructed to keep it a secret from other parents.

Rumors flew of favoritism when it was learned that the son of School Committee member George Cipolletti was one of the students selected for the program.

Not all gifted kids fit the stereotype of the good little teacher's pet. My brother was one of these- he tested off the charts but was constantly in hot water at school because he refused to comply with anything he considered to be "busywork". That's why the selection process for GATE programs need to include objective criteria like test scores. Additionally, the administrators need to be open and straightforward with the community about what is going on.

We're Officially a Private School!

DD turns 6 in a couple of weeks, so this is the first year that California's compulsory education law applies to her. We've chosen to establish our own small private school, which I officially registered with the California Department of Education as of 9:03:01 A.M. this morning.

Filling out the Private School Affidavit was very easy, thanks to the line-by-line instructions provided by the Homeschool Association of California.

Also thanks again to all the hard work done in recent months by HSC, the California Homeschool Network, the Christian Home Educators Association of California, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the Pacific Justice Institute, and their legal teams to preserve the right of California parents to educate their children at home!