Anaheim, California Schools Took Step onto the Slippery Slope of Eugenics

Cypress and Kennedy high schools in the Anaheim, California school district recently color coded students based on test scores. Every student was given a color coded ID card and binder. Besides creating a visible method for students to ostracize one another it also allowed the school the ostracize the students by giving the good test takers discounts and made the poor testers use a separate lunch line.

This horrific practice was instated to create an incentive for students to improve their test scores. Luckily, the Anaheim school district nixed the practice.

In a press release the school district stated:

The incentive programs at two AUHSD campuses were implemented with the best intentions. They were designed to support and encourage students to do their best on a state test they are mandated to take, but which does not directly impact their academic success in school.

If there has ever been a better indication that mandatory testing is not only useless, but also harmful this is it. Creating classes of students based on a test score that “does not directly impact their academic success” doesn’t help students. The incentive program itself is an absurd idea that is working at the problem backwards. A good grade in and of itself is a reward. Poor grades or test scores demotivate students by reinforcing low self-esteem in the students. Creating a prominent color coding system only agitates the negative feedback loop that students already suffer under.

Indeed, University of California professor, AnneMarie Conley, said that, “It goes against everything we know about student motivation and what helps students learn in productive ways.”

And while the school designed the system with the greatest of intentions, we all know what the road to hell is paved with. A system that encourages good test takers to view themselves as somehow better people, worthy of privileges and discounts that inferior students are not is an amazingly scary concept. It isn’t difficult to imagine that a color coded ID could quickly devolve into a dystopian eugenic nightmare where children can only socialize with a student of their class. There is no doubt that people at Cypress and Kennedy high schools would be aghast at the thought, but that doesn’t excuse them from steering the school system towards that darkened sky and rough murky waters.


Why Mrs. Bush is Wrong About No Child Left Behind (bad analogies part 2)

In a USA Today article Mrs. Bush defended the No Child Left Behind act. Apparently she didn’t read my blog post about not using bad analogies. In the article she says, “We would never go to a doctor and say, ‘I’m sick, you can’t try to diagnose me … you can’t use any kind of test.”

What’s wrong with this analogy? Nothing, so long as you don’t mind the fact that in the analogy the students are the doctors and the eduction system is the sick patient. But actually, this is accidentally a pretty good analogy in some ways. The testing system does treat education system as sickly and makes the students work to diagnosis it. The question then becomes, why are the students the ones with qualifications, and why is the education system so unqualified? And is that even true?

Mrs. Bush explains how the US education system is failing, saying that “poor kids… make it to the fifth grade and can’t read, or make it to the ninth grade and drop out.” But what does this really say? For one it says we already know the problem. Why make the patients into the doctor, forcing them to relentlessly test the system. If we are to believe Mrs. Bush’s assessment then the issue is clearly underfunded school systems in poor communities. Well, that along with a host of other economic class related issues.

It seems most people would agree that the education system in the US needs to improve and we know where and how it is fail to live up to its potential. What remains unclear is how testing achieves that.


Classroom Discipline, Some Teachers Should Learn Lessons Taught in 1947

I can’t remember how I came upon this video on YouTube, but I am glad I did. It is amazing to me that a film on Maintaining Classroom Discipline made in 1947 can still be relevant. While it is true that the solutions in the video simplify things to a degree and that the issues inside and outside of the classroom have changed since then, the core idea of the video is still important and overlooked.

From my limited experience I can say that many teachers (certainly not all) have misguided approaches to running a classroom. The methods used by some teachers at a school I recently substituted at shocked me. They seemed ineffective, callous, and misguided. And my conversations with other teachers lets me know that these kinds of teachers are not only at this one school but many, if not most. However, the individuals shouldn’t be blamed. If it was one person then maybe pointing fingers would help, but it is not one person, it is many. The problem lies in the schools teaching teachers, and the administration in the schools they teach at. They need to teach, guide, and support teachers better.

Most issues in the classroom stem from the teacher, and that’s what this video gets at. Having teachers insult and bully the students leads to attitude and learning problems for students that can be nearly impossible to fix. I have listened as teachers said things to students like, “my dog behaves better than you kids” and “Billy1 use his time well? That’ll be the day, he doesn’t even know what his book looks like.”

Observing some teachers I am reminded of two studies. In the first study children were divided into two groups based superficial things. One group was then told it was smarter and superior to the other. The other group was told they were inferior. The first group excelled in the classroom, while the other group did poorly. I learned about this study in a child psychology class many years ago, it was a prerequisite for teachers, it is obviously an important study to learn from— yet it seems many teachers are unaware of how they are replicating this experiment in their own classrooms. [I learned of this study a long time ago and can’t remember who lead it, but it was fairly famous so if anyone knows of it please let me know.]

The second study is the famous Staford Prison Experiment. Sadly, there are many parallels between guard/prisoner and teacher/student dynamics. Of course, the guard/prisoner relationship is a more dramatic and cruel one, but there are similarities in the means of establishing authority, and the effects of that establishment that should not simply not exist. And yet they do.

This is not to say that every teacher is wrongheaded, mean, or provides a negative impact on students. It is to say that there are far too many teachers that are those things and they need to reevaluate the effects of their actions. But more importantly, the schools that teach teachers and the school that those teachers teach at need to support and educate teachers better. Every teacher has small failures with certain students in every class, but no teacher should fail even one student completely. It can be done.

1name changed.

education, whatnot

Changes in Focus for Higher Education

As a culture we are moving more and more towards commodifying everything. Some of these things make sense, others might not. Education and art are examples of things that should maybe shouldn’t be commodified.

Search employment postings for an admissions rep and see what you get (emphasis added):

Are you aggressive? Motivated? Strong closer? Money hungry? Direct sales rep? We are looking for you for our well established Baltimore location. All leads provided. Exp. preferred but will train.


Admissions Sales Representatives also facilitate the student recruitment process through intensive interviewing that includes telemarketing, personal selling, and generating leads through corporate and community outreach.

More and more schools are shifting their focus. Education is a job requirement and people are enrolling based on who will make them the most tempting to employers. Higher education once meant becoming a better person and increasing your knowledge and understanding of the world, but today it has shifted to preparing its students for work. This transition in higher education towards the vocational is often celebrated. Many schools pride themselves on teaching “job skills” and increasing “employability” and promote these qualities first and foremost. We see this shift in students as well, ask one why they are there. Wanting to find a job will come up, usually after some quick lip-service about wanting to learn.

Which is more important? Which should be? Would every student in college or at a university be there if they could get a job without going? The answer may say a lot. More importantly are we comfortable with this shift and where it will inevitably take us?

technology, whatnot

Open-Source is Good for Students (Paris gets it)

This is news from last week, but it’s something worth thinking about. The Ile-de-France district in Paris is giving away 175,000 USB memory sticks load with open-source software to students. CNet reports:

The portable office will include the office software suite, an Internet browser, an e-mail client, an instant-messaging client, and audio and video player software, according to the Ile-de-France regional council. The open-source software will work in the Windows environment.

With the rising cost of education the question become, when will America embrace open-source? OpenOffice has become over the past few years a very capable MS Office alternative, in fact some people make a good argument that it is better. The cost of education, especially for families sending kids to college, is expensive. Open-source software can help a little by giving students mature feature-rich applications that they can use to get their work done. The real problem is that people perceive it as different and different means bad. Nonsense.

OpenOffice writerOpenOffice isn’t for everyone, but it is for the majority of people and it is free. I offer this challenge, try OpenOffice for a month and see how you like it. Sadly Mac users will probably find that OpenOffice isn’t quite as nice just yet because it requires something called x11, but that is set to change very soon. So, if you are a Mac user, just wait a little to take up that challenge. Once an aqua version is out there will be no compelling reason for vast majority of MS Office users to continue paying for buggy overpriced software.

Lots of businesses are starting to make the switch to OpenOffice, why should educators lag behind? After all graduating college with less debt (or if you are lucky, with more money) means a better footing getting out into the post-college world.


An Inconvenient Truth for Public Education

I read recently about Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth getting banned in Federal Way schools (an area just outside of Seattle). It seems a parent complained and the school board decided that the movie shouldn’t be in the classroom. The claim was that it violated the district’s policy of teaching both sides of a controversial issue. This ban came despite teachers using additional materials and discussing the points (and counter points) of the movie.

This is why an American public education is worth less and less every year. The idea of a school board is cute, but it is bad. Is it an educated decision to place people who aren’t experienced educators in charge of a school? Would you let a person manage a restaurant if his main qualification was that he has eaten in one? Then why let a person who has been to school manage a school?

School boards are political, and politics has no place in education, democracy yes, but not politics. Community is important, but it’s time to ask ourselves if a local community has the global vision needed to get a quality education. Should we ask the neighbor next door if he believes that light is fast than sound, or should we look towards the global body of experts? If our neighbor believes it to be in opposition to his belief, should we be obliged to comfort him or to politely point him towards the experts? Does our neighbor really know how to best educate our children? Does she know better than the superintendent, principal, department chair, and teachers in the classroom. Does she know better than experts working in their fields?

Discussing controversy is good, as is intelligent debate, and people unwilling to accept a point of view when they have a discrete logical argument to disprove that point. Letting people declare a point invalid based on faith or a feeling of the issue being too confusing only hurts American education. It has to stop.

There is no reason to fear foreign invasion, terrorists, economic collapse or any of the other external threats to America which people agonize over, we will slowly fall apart of our own volition if we continue to let our children be educated by neighbors.


I think this is funny

Is it just me or does this say a lot about class?

edit: there was a screenshot attached to this post, sadly this was lost when the blog broke. It wasn’t all that great anyway, it just announce a talk being given at Harvard with a $15 admission (I was trying to point towards issues of access to important dialogs, education, etc in America)
[tags]class, classism, privilege[/tags]