Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three cheers for Google

Google is pouring its massive resources into developing alternative energy sources:

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc. is expanding into alternative energy in its most ambitious effort yet to ease the environmental strain caused by the company's voracious appetite for power to run its massive computing centers.

As part of a project announced Tuesday, the Internet search leader and its philanthropic arm will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a quest to lower the cost of producing electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind and the sun.
I wish big-money boy Gates would follow suit and get out of the education business, instead of using his billions as a wrecking ball on high schools.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Right to an audience

This is rich!

Alfie thinks he has a right to be heard at taxpayer's expense.

Alfie Kohn Settles Suit
By The Associated Press

The state Department of Education acknowledged Monday it violated the free speech rights of a standardized test critic and agreed to pay him $187,000 to settle his lawsuit over being dumped as a speaker at a state-run conference.

Alfie Kohn, a former teacher who lectures widely, was asked to discuss his views on standardized tests, including the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems test, at a 2001 conference on public schooling in the state's western region.

Kohn said state education officials, after learning he planned to focus on his opposition to the MCAS, forced local organizers to cancel his speech after threatening to withdraw $28,000 in state funding. His lawsuit alleged that state officials violated his rights and kept others from hearing his views.

In a statement Monday, the education department acknowledged it had violated Kohn's First Amendment rights [Emphasis added]. In a letter written as part of the settlement, the department said its position "is that vigorous debate about education issues is healthy and welcome."

The suit was filed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kohn, a school principal, a counselor and a parent. In the settlement, Kohn will receive $7,500 and his attorneys will get $179,500, the ACLU said.
This could be a precedent for a new get-rich-quick scheme. Demand an audience at taxpayer's expense. If denied, claim huge damages.

My understanding of the 1st amendment is that the state cannot deny your right to free speech (except for yelling fire in the wrong places, etc.), but you have no right to an audience. This case is a scandal. Shame on the education department for squandering public funds.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Radical transformation of high schools flying under the radar

Going largely unnoticed by major media, Gates billions are rapidly and radically transforming high schools and turning them into a homogenized monolith reminiscent of the Gleichschaltung of yore. This extraordinary transformation is driven by a nebulous creed called The 3Rs Solution that "education experts" see as a panacea to real, imagined and misdiagnosed problems:

The good news is we know how to fix our broken high schools. We must base them on a brand new set of 3Rs, identified by education experts as the key ingredients of an effective education:

Rigor: all students need the chance to succeed at challenging classes, such as algebra, writing, and chemistry

Relevance: courses and projects must spark student interest and relate clearly to their lives in today’s rapidly changing world

Relationships: all students need adult mentors who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve
It's unclear what rigor refers to since schools are forced to choose from 2-3 packages heavy on constructivism (inquiry), the antithesis of rigor. Most likely, "rigor" is thrown in because it sounds good. Just like "excellence". Even the crappiest schools sing the praises of "excellence". It's also unclear what is relevant to today's students. Academic content apparently is not.

What is clear is that choice and content are radically reduced. For example here in Chicago (a major target of the Gates assault), the packages high schools are forced to choose do not contain Earth science, a subject an educated person should know something about. Electives are also flying out the window.

Investment to Transform 50 Chicago High Schools to Ensure Students are Prepared for Success

$21 Million Investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will Strengthen High School College Prep Curriculum and Instruction

When Gates says jump, our clueless mayor, who is running the schools, asks: How high? An astonishing feat considering the mayor's constitution.

Learning foreign languages early

With all this globalization, it is remarkable that so few elementary schools teach foreign languages. Everyone knows that a language is best learned when young. A few districts are wising up as this NYT report shows.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

English through Latin?

In a superb post, rightwingprof takes issue with the suggestion by some that Latin should be taught to learn English grammar. RWP offers many powerful arguments, among them the obserbvation that English grammar is very different from Latin grammar. Why sweat through Latin to learn to distinguish between who and whom? The effort doesn't survive a cost-benefit analysis. I particularly like this analogy:

I’m not saying students shouldn’t study Latin — far from it. I am saying that students shouldn’t study Latin in order to learn about English. It’s like taking apart a jet engine in order to learn how to fix your car. Most of what you learn taking apart the jet engine doesn’t help you with your car engine.
So by all means, let's teach the correct usage of who and whom. And for good measure, let's work on combatting the horrendously ignorant use of "I" when "me" is called for, as in "between you and me" (not "I", aarrgh!). But we don't need the whole enchilada of Latin for that. Also, we don't need to study all of Latin in order to learn Latin plurals and know that the singular of bacteria is bacterium and that data is the plural of datum, or learn Greek to know that the singular of criteria is criterion and the singular of phenomena is phenomenon.