Archive for the 'Education' category

And Max the king of all the wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.

May 08 2012 Published by under Education, Family, Misc, Uncategorized

And sailed back over a year
And in and out of weeks
And through a day
And into the night of his very own room
Where he found his supper waiting for him

And it was still hot.

Goodnight, Mr. Sendak. The world is better for having known you.

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How to Best Help Pay for College: Sec. Duncan Goes to the Hill

May 21 2009 Published by under Education, Politics

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified for the first time in front of the House Education and Labor Committee yesterday, on the topic of the President's education plan. Duncan was the only witness for the hearing, and his testimony covered the broad spectrum of federal involvement in education. (As someone with a Bachelor's degree who is moving toward a secondary education career, I was particularly happy to hear discussion about the need for more of a focus on non-traditional routes toward teacher certification.)

One area that received a great deal of attention (and which will receive even more attention later today when a panel of witnesses testify in front of the same committee) was the President's decision to end the

Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). That decision is, predictably enough, controversial. The student loan providers have already mobilized, and will be fighting as hard as possible to keep money flowing from us to them.

I find the debate around this issue fascinating for a number of reasons. How - or if - the government gets involved in helping fund college education sheds a great deal of light on our commitment to providing an equal opportunity for as many people as possible. At the same time, the debate over this particular program highlights a case where there's a very interesting tension between two different alleged conservative ideals: keeping government small, and saving taxpayer dollars.

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The Ward Churchill Wrongful Dismissal Verdict

Apr 06 2009 Published by under Education

On Thursday, a Colorado jury found that Ward Churchill had been improperly fired, and awarded him $1 in damages. Right now, I've got very mixed feelings about the verdict. That's not a surprise, of course, since I've had mixed feelings about the entire situation almost since the start.

For those of you who either aren't aware or have forgotten about the case, Churchill was a professor at the University of Colorado who stirred up a bit of controversy when an essay that he wrote about the 9/11 attacks came to national attention. In that essay, Churchill blamed the victims for the attacks, and famously referred to workers at the World Trade Center as "Little Eichmanns". When that essay, which was written shortly after the attacks, finally gained notoriety in 2005, there was a widespread cry for Churchill's head - or at least his firing. The University of Colorado correctly concluded that he could not be fired for speaking his mind. However, a number of substantial allegations about Churchill's academic conduct were also raised around that time. UC launched an investigation, found that the allegations were well-founded, and fired Churchill.

Churchill sued, claiming that he was only fired because of his political views. The jury, as I just indicated, agreed with him. I'm definitely not happy with their decision. What I can't decide is if I'd be any more happy had the decision gone the other way.

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Questionable Classic: Why Isn't Our Children Learning?

Apr 04 2009 Published by under Education, Picture Posts

Since I'm currently out of town, original content is going to be in short supply for a few days. Fortunately, there are a few things I've written over the years that I think people might still enjoy (or at least tolerate). Since they didn't get read much when I first posted them, I thought I'd give them another chance. This one was originally posted at the old blog in August of 2005.



I took these pictures, showing the screen of a Sega video game, at a nearby* Chuck E. Cheese today**. I think they definitely help answer Bush's question about education.

*at the time the post was written, nearby was Honolulu, Hawaii.

**13 August 2005

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Questionable Classic: Nobody Is So Blind...

Apr 03 2009 Published by under Education

I'm heading out of town today, so original content is going to be in short supply for a few days. Fortunately (for me) there are a few things I've written over the years that I think people might still enjoy (or at least tolerate). Since they didn't get read much when I first posted them, I thought I'd give them another chance. Today's entry was first written back on 25 August, 2005. I'd just started work as a teaching assistant, and quickly discovered that I had a lot to learn about teaching and about students.

Yesterday, I got my first chance to TA a lab. I've got a nice deal this semester, since I'm assisting a professor instead of running the whole lab section on my own, and because we've only got six students in the lab at the moment. It's not so easy for the students, however. This lab (400-level ecology) is, for most of them, the first time that they are forced to do very much in the way of planning for the experiments. Most of the prior labs that they've taken have been plug-and-chug, follow the cookbook kind of things. Here, they are given a problem, then told to come up with a way to solve it. Yesterday's introduction to the course involved having them measure seed pods from a local invasive (Koa haole), in an attempt to determine which two (of three) bags of seed pods were taken from the same tree. We suggested that sampling would be better than a census approach, and mentioned that two possible parameters to look at might be length of the seed pods and the number of seeds per pod. We also told them to be sure to try to look at everything, as there might be other characters that might work.

Koa haole seed pods tend to hang around the trees for a while, so the bags contained a number of different age classes of seed pod. There were some that were still green, but the bulk were older brown pods. One of the first questions that they came to us with was whether or not the green seed pods were full grown. We looked at them, grinned, and shrugged. They went off muttering to discuss the question among themselves. They were able to quickly reach the conclusion that they didn't know whether or not the green ones were full grown, so they decided to discard them for the purposes of length measurements. They piled up all the green pods from each bag out of the way, then went on to lay out the brown pods to randomly select their samples. The green pods stayed discarded for the rest of the lab, as the students industriously measured lengths and counted seeds

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Quality Education Wins Again in the California Creationist Case

Aug 11 2008 Published by under Creationism, Education, Religion

The initial phase of the California Creationist Lawsuit is over, and quality education is the decisive winner. Kevin Vicklund has Judge Otero's decision, as well as a very nice analysis of the ruling up over at his blog. If you've been following the case closely, you can probably jump right over there for the details. If you haven't been tracking the events closely, or want a quick review of the case, keep reading. I'm going to go over the history first, then I'll talk a bit about what Friday's decision means, and what is likely to happen with the case in the future.

The lawsuit (ACSI v. Stearns) was filed in federal court in August of 2005 by the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School, and parents acting on behalf of their children, who were students at Calvary Chapel. They were challenging the University of California's decision to refuse to accept several of their courses as fulfilling UC's admissions requirements. The rejected courses covered the academic spectrum, with English, history, and science classes all failing to meet UC's scrutiny. The common element in the rejected courses was that they did not actually teach the material that UC requires from incoming students. Instead, the rejected courses taught a radically wrong "Christian perspective".

For most of us, the rejection of the courses was nothing more than the natural consequence of the Christian schools' decision to reject reality and teach fantasy. From their perspective, it represented an unconstitutional attack on their freedom of religion. The court, obviously, did not agree. To see why, we really need look no farther than the introduction to the biology textbook used in one of the rejected courses:

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The Income Gap and the Education Gap - and how to stop leaving children behind.

Oct 14 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

Late last week, the IRS released figures showing that the income gap in the United States is larger now than at any time since they began tracking that data in 1986, and may be worse now than at any time since the 1920s. The figures, which are based on 2005 tax returns, reveal that the richest 1% of Americans accounted for 21.2% of income, up from about 20.8% in 2000. The bottom 50% of families earned 12.8%, which is a drop from the 13% that they took home in 2000.

When the Wall Street Journal asked President Bush about the widening income gap, he said:

First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps. And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century.

Amazingly enough, he got most of that right. Skill gaps do yield income gaps. Providing everyone with a quality education is a good way to make sure that everyone has a chance to get into a career that will let them bridge that gap. Right now, though, that's not happening. In part - in large part - that's because we're funding education locally. Rich people tend to live in areas inhabited by other rich people. Poor people tend to live in areas inhabited by other poor people. When the tax base for your area is made up primarily of rich people, it's easy for the local government to come up with enough money to run a quality school system. When the tax base for your area is mostly made up of people who don't have much money, it's very hard to come up with the funds to run adequate schools.

If you don't believe that money makes a difference in education, take a look at this story:

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A DonorsChoose challenge update, some new proposals, and what those proposals say about our screwed-up national priorities.

I can't begin to thank the people who have donated to the DonorsChoose campaign enough. As of today - four days into the campaign - we've raised $1045. That's more than was contributed during all of last year's 15-day campaign. That's absolutely fantastic.

As of now, all four of the projects that I picked have been fully funded, but we haven't hit the goal yet. (Either someone donated to one of the projects through this campaign without receiving credit, or someone donated to one of the projects independently of the campaign.) At this point, we're still about $550 short of my goal for the campaign, so I've added a few more proposals. I'm doing something a little different with these, though.

When I picked my original proposals, I focused entirely on science education. I'm a scientist, I write about science (at least on occasion), I write at, and I firmly believe that it's critical for children to receive a good foundation in science. Given all of that, it seemed appropriate that I ask you to help fund projects that have some tangible science component.

The more time I spend browsing through just the Bronx proposals on the DonorsChoose website, the more I think that focusing this funding drive on science was the wrong decision. Science is good. Science is important. Science is critical. But it's not the only critical part of education. Focusing entirely on science is like giving kids nothing but citrus fruit. It's exactly what you need to do if their biggest problem is a vitamin C deficiency. But it's not the best solution if they're starving to death.

There are teachers - not to mention entire schools - that lack some of the most basic essentials needed for education. And when I say basic, I mean basic. I'm not even talking about things that are a basic part of any reasonable concept of a 21st century education. In many of these cases, we're talking about things that are a basic part of a reasonable 19th century education.

I've added a number of additional proposals to my drive. Some of them are still Bronx-based, but I'm no longer exclusively using that as a criteria, either. Leaving poor children behind is not a problem that's restricted to New York City. It's a national disgrace. The common elements behind this set of proposals are that the schools that submitted them are all rated by Donors Choose as having poverty levels of 85% or higher, and the proposals themselves request less than $400. Oh, and these proposals are all for things that these teachers should not, should not, should not have to beg for. These teachers are asking for the kinds of things that most people take for granted.

Even after restricting myself to proposals come from very poor areas, request little money, and are intended to provide things that teachers should already have, I still had a hard time narrowing down the list of proposals. There are just so many to choose from. I've picked a few, and if you folks are kind and generous enough to step up to the gap where our pitiful excuse for a government has gone unforgivably AWOL, I'll find and add more. Take a look at the things these teachers need:

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Great Start for the Donors Choose Campaign.

Oct 02 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

For those of you who haven't looked over at the sidebar, the DonorsChoose campaign is off to a start that far exceeded my wildest expectations. Yesterday, five donors kicked in an outstanding $687.06. That's more in one day than I had targeted for the entire drive last year, and enough to bring us more than 40% of the way to the total. To everyone who's donated so far, thank you very much.

Some of the other blogs at scienceblogs are offering incentives to donors. I'm trying to think of something, and promise that I'll get some sort of idea up in the next day or two. There are also some rumors that there may be some incentives available from other sources - so hold onto your receipts if you've already given, and check back in a couple of days.

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Let's Make Science Happen: The 2007 Scienceblogs DonorsChoose Challenge

Oct 01 2007 Published by under Do Something, Education, Philanthropy, Science

DonorsChoose is a fantastic organization. Individual teachers submit proposals for things they'd like to do in their classroom, but can't afford to do. People can go to DonorsChoose, pick projects that they like, and donate money directly to those projects. You truly know where your money is going to go, and you can see what a big difference even a small donation can make.

Last year, we had a major Scienceblogs funding drive for DonorsChoose. Our readers - you - were absolutely fantastic. In just 15 days, we managed to raise more than 23,000 dollars - not counting the 10,000 dollars in matching funds that our benevolent overlords at Seed kicked in to sweeten the pot. Readers of this blog - and there weren't as many of you then - donated over $650, exceeding my goal for the drive. Today, we're launching another drive, and I hope you'll be every bit as generous this time as you were last year.

This year, I'm hoping that the readers of this blog will be kind enough to kick in $1588. That might seem like an odd number - it's definitely not a round number - there's a method to my madness. $1588 is the combined total that is needed to fully fund four projects that I know will really help make a difference in an area that could really, really use it.

The four schools are all located in The Bronx, and all four are within walking distance of where I grew up. All of the schools are in high poverty areas. 73% of students qualify for a free lunch (that's an annual pre-tax income of under $27,000 for a family of four) at one of these schools, and that's the one in the wealthiest area. At least 80% of students qualify at the other three. These children come from families who don't have much money, and go to schools that don't have much either. The buildings are often in incredibly poor shape. The classrooms have few of the resources that most of us take for granted. The kids do have at least one thing going for them, though. They've got teachers who care enough to go the extra mile, and aren't willing to let the lack of funds at their school stop them from trying to offer the best education that they can. Let's do what we can to make sure they get what they need. They certainly deserve no less.

Here are what the four teachers I picked are asking for:

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