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Saturday Night Open Thread – Fantasy Bucket Lists

It’s Saturday night. Time to unwind.  Summer was pretty much a bust weather-wise and so I’m looking forward to the colorful hues of the Fall.  I’m also thinking about my “Bucket-List.”  You know, that “things to do before I die” list?  I’ve been checking things off recently and I figure that I better add a few new ones because I’m not sure what happens when the list runs out.

Right now, remaining on my “bucket list” are the following:

1) Travel to Australia and hug a koala bear

2) Go whale-watching in Cape Cod

Now it appears that we may be going to Cape Cod for next year’s vacation so that means my bucket-list is close to the end. I really need to beef it up.

S0, what’s on YOUR Bucket-List?  Maybe I can steal some ideas; or better yet, what have you checked off your bucket list?  Share your stories.

appletiniFor your relaxation, Rico has whipped up a batch of his killer Appletinis, but of course the bar is open and your liquid refreshment wishes are granted for the price of a generous tip.  Tonight’s live entertainment is Michael Buble’ accompanied by David Foster on the piano.  Enjoy!

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Charter schools, Standardized Tests and the Tianamen Square Effect

Parent facing down the Educational Establishment

Parent facing down the Educational Establishment

Vastleft’s post on the NEA’s response to Obama’s education plans reminded me of piece I had seen in the NYTimes last week just before I went on vacation.  In Dangling Money, Obama Pushes Education Shift, the Obama agenda on education starts to crystallize as an increase in charter schools and an emphasis on standardized tests.

Now, before I get into this further I want to make three things absolutely clear: 1.) I’m no Obama fan because he doesn’t make policy based on principle so what is he up to?  2.) I am a strong supporter of teacher’s *labor* unions.  3.) I don’t like No Child Left Behind for many reasons, the main one being that it seems to be designed to make public education unpalatable so that many of us don’t want to support it anymore.  That being said, Obama’s plans are pretty reasonable as long as they don’t undermine the strength of the teacher’s labor unions and I’ll tell you why.  But first, an antecdote.

During my brief tenure as a school board member (I only ran for one term), my personal mission was to change the curriculum of our school district.  My district is about 10 miles from Princeton but it definitely couldn’t compete with Princeton or the school district I had recently left, West Windsor-Plainsboro, which is where many Princeton people live.  Central Jersey is chock full of high tech, pharmaceutical and academic types.  But what is really interesting is what you will find in graduate level classes at universities like Princeton and Rutgers, especially in the hard sciences.  Almost everyone is asian.  This is not a biased remark.  It is simply reality.  In fact, my brainiac #2 child took a 5 week algebra course at Rutgers Prep this summer and was the only caucasian in the class.

We noticed it at work as well.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, labs across the state got an influx of Chinese scientists.  I called it the Tianamen Square Effect.  Many of these Chinese students came after the failed uprising.  The lucky ones got out and came to the states to study.  They told us stories about what education is like in China.  It’s grueling.  There are standardized tests, high stakes standardized tests, constantly.  Those tests determine whether you will be able to go to a good school and study or whether you will end up making widgets in a factory somewhere.  It is really important to do well and parents push their children hard.

So, back in my days on the school board, I brought this up to the curriculum supervisors and asked why we weren’t performing at least at the same level as Princeton and West Windsor-Plainsboro where there was much more rigor and a more challenging curriculum in math and science?  The attitude I was met with might be described as, “So what?  They just do “drill and kill”.  Chinese students aren’t creative.  They just imitate everything we do.  We Americans have nothing to worry about.”  (Education propaganda is about as difficult to kill as the stuff that emanates from Rush Limbaugh.)  Educators seem all too willing to believe what other educators tell them but easily dismiss what people who work in the real world tell them.

I’ll tell you why we have to worry.  While their billions of children were clawing their way up the academic ladder, ours were coddled to the point of being completely useless to anyone but the finance industry.  Oh sure, we educate a lot of future accountants and teachers but future researchers of America who can use the scientific method or think rationally?  Not so much.  It is the sheer numbers of well educated Chinese and Indians that should be alarming to us.  Their populations are much bigger than ours, therefore the number of hard science graduates they have is also much bigger.  And those so-called imitative automatons are beating the pants off us in the world of outsourcing.  Why should American companies hire expensive American scientists when Indian PhDs are a dime a dozen in Hyderabad?  And yes, these same American companies don’t think twice about giving those PhD’s the boring, tedious work that *used* to be done by scientists with four year degrees.  So, if the US wants to re-establish its innovative bona fides, we have got to get crackin’ or send our kids to China for 12 years so they’re ready to compete when they get to college. It won’t be long before those Chinese and Indian scientists are inventing the next internet.

So, I was pained to see the NEA come out against charter schools.  I understand it but it still shows that they just don’t get it.  Or they get it but they’re in denial.  There is a HUGE problem with the US education establishment that will become a serious obstacle to any change in policy.  It is not unionization.  It is preparation.  Our teachers are simply not equipped to teach world class math and science.  I think this is part of the resistance to standardized testing.  It is very hard to teach standards which you do not understand.  Most teachers can handle the early grades fairly well.  It’s when children hit the intermediate grades that we have problems.  Here’s how the problem plays out in NJ:

Every child in our school district takes a statewide stadardized test called the NJASK.  A child is ranked partially proficient, proficient and advanced proficient based on the NJASK and is *supposed* to put into a class based on their score.  So, partially proficient kids should get extra help, proficient kids are the vast majority of students.  But what about the advanced proficient kids?  As I said before, in the early grades, teachers can differentiate their curriculum a bit.  But once they hit middle school, the advanced proficients meet the K-8 teacher certification limit.  At this point, teachers aren’t required to teach anything more than algebra I and most aren’t required to do that anyway with the vast majority of students taking pre-algebra.  So, if a kid scores at the top of the advanced proficiency range, there may not be enough room for him/her in the single class of 21 kids that gets the benefit of the single teacher in the school that is qualified to teach them advanced algebra I and geometry.  This is what happened to Brook last year.  She’s at the top of the advanced proficiency range and does very well on her math tests.  But she refused to do her homework. So she ended up repeating pre-algebra. (For some reason, teachers are convinced that every child has to do the same homework, whether they’ve mastered the material or not.  I’d give them homework on stuff they don’t already know but that requires a different curriculum and it’s so much easier to blame the kid and reinforce bad study habits.  Ok, the kid has an attitude problem too but I digress…)

What we do with these advanced proficients who don’t show zealous attention to their homework is we hold them back in 7th and 8th grade.  We slow them down so they don’t peak in algebra too soon, leaving them nothing to do for 2 years.  In the meantime, these kids start hating the subject matter.  It’s goes too slowly and it’s too easy.  They develop poor study habits.  We level them off to the same proficiency as their peers.  Wonderful. But it doesn’t stress the teachers and that seems to be the point.  We can reward teachers for taking continuing education credits and getting masters degrees but these classes seem limited to learning new pedagogy, not content.  And some curriculum supervisors admit that their teachers are afraid of science and math, especially in the lower grades.  They want pre-digested lesson plans and packets that can you can just add water and serve.  Nothing too stressful.

It’s not that these teachers are incapable of learning math and science to world class standards.  It’s just that we don’t make them do it.  We fall victim to the “guide on the side, not sage on the stage”, “drill and kill” and “we shouldn’t be teaching to the test” propaganda, but these memes are just smokescreens.  Take the last one for example.  We are talking about *standardized* tests.  That means that standards were to be taught.  If a teacher’s class hasn’t been learning the standards all year that are expected by local, state, and the national authorities, what the f^*) has the class been learning?  NO teacher should be cramming in the weeks leading up to a test.  The standards are there to be used as guidelines as to what is expected to be learned.  If teachers do not like the standards or are incapable of teaching them, they can always go into finance.  I personally don’t like New Jersey’s standards because they are fuzzy and indistinct, but by golly, the NJASK is a hard test so somebody better know how to teach this stuff.

What frosts my crockies is that many parents like myself and my internationally trained colleagues can’t afford to live in Princeton.  So, we’re stuck in these suburban school districts were “all of the children above average”.  And that’s it.  There is no pushing limits.  Teachers act as gatekeepers to the tiny number of slots in the enriched classes and the selection process appears to be subjective.  Many of my colleagues resort to sending their kids to Saturday Chinese schools or summer programs at local prep schools.  The local schools simply refuse to accommodate accelerated math and science programs for their middle schoolers.  If that’s the case, why shouldn’t we, the taxpayers, choose to allocate some of our hard earned money to a charter school, staffed by union teachers but teaching curriculum at a world class level?  What exactly is the problem?  That diverting some of the money from the general population would be a detriment to the students?  When we expect our children to perform at the level of our Asian counterparts, maybe they will have made a case.  But right now, we ask far too little in order to compete at an international level.  It’s time we asked more of our teachers.  For starters, let’s ask them to stop holding back our best students.

Teachers, educate yourselves.

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Your Breakfast Read, Saturday Edition

Health Care Pseudo-Reform

Should we (Liberals and Progressives) worry even more than before about the health care legislation? Sure Tom Daschle knows how to navigate the Senate but the noises he has been making about the type of legislation have been unpleasant.
Oval Office Visit Hints at Daschle’s Role

As Obama’s health-care agenda teeters in Congress, the White House listed the private meeting on the president’s public schedule, sending a signal that Obama is still consulting Daschle on his top domestic policy priority. An assiduous student of health policy and an adept creature of the Senate, Daschle was Obama’s first pick to oversee his reforms, but a firestorm over Daschle’s failure to pay about $146,000 in taxes on time prompted the South Dakota Democrat in February to withdraw his nomination to be secretary of health and human services.

The unbearable senselessness of the health care “bipartisan” committee.
New Splits Emerge in Health-Plan Talks

Republicans are pressing to reduce the size of tax credits for families with incomes that are below three times the poverty rate. They would also like to trim back insurance coverage mandates in hopes of lowering premiums that would have to be subsidized.

But the three Democrats believe savings can be found without going to the heart of the bill. “There are not going to be significant changes to coverage,” said one Democratic aide familiar with the talks. “We’re finding other ways to bring down the cost.”

Why aren’t more people up in arms about this? Why was the Senate HC bill taken out of the committees where such bills are usually handled? Why did the Democrats relinquished the majority they won at the polls. This is not a 50/50 Senate. Who made that decision?
Why the Gang of Six is Deciding Health Care for Three Hundred Million of Us

We have a Democratic president in the White House. Democrats control sixty votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It is possible to pass health care legislation through the Senate with 51 votes (that’s what George W. Bush did with his tax cut plan). Democrats control the House.
[..]
It’s not even as if the gang represents America. The three Dems on the gang are from Montana, New Mexico, and North Dakota — states that together account for just over 1 percent of Americans. The three Republicans are from Maine, Wyoming, and Iowa, which together account for 1.6 percent of the American population.

So, I repeat: Why has it come down to these six? Who anointed them? Apparently, the White House. At least that’s what I’m repeatedly being told by sources both on the Hill and in the Administration.

Being a resident of MA, I have always thought our health care model was not as bad as some people make it out to be. The model, with its successes and failures offers a good basis on how the national health care system could be fixed. (Masslib, what say you?)
The Massachusetts model

How does the state’s health plan work?
In an effort to achieve universal coverage, Massachusetts essentially requires every resident to obtain health insurance—either through their employer, a private plan, or, for low-income residents, a subsidized state program.

Has it succeeded?
In one important respect, unquestionably. Massachusetts now enjoys the lowest percentage of uninsured in the nation—2.6 percent, compared with 15 percent nationwide. More than 400,000 residents have health insurance for the first time, either because their companies began offering coverage or subsidies made the premiums affordable.

So it was a slam-dunk?
Hardly. The program has proved a lot more expensive than was anticipated.

What can be learned from Massachusetts?
The Massachusetts experiment shows just how difficult fixing the health-care system may be, for both political and logistical reasons.


Economy Watch

Another one bites the dust…
Guaranty Bank Shut; 10th Largest Failure Ever

Guaranty Bank, a big Texas lender that succumbed to losses on loans to homebuilders and mortgage-tied securities, was shut down by regulators Friday and most of its operations sold to a major Spanish bank.

It was the second-largest U.S. bank failure this year and the 10th-largest in U.S. history, expected to cost the deposit insurance fund an estimated $3 billion. The transaction approved by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. marked the first time a foreign bank bought a failed U.S. bank.

Is the global economy really out of its tailspin? At least things are starting to look up.
World Economy Emerging From Worst Recession Since World War II

The global economy may be coming out of the worst recession since World War II as record-low interest rates and trillions of dollars in fiscal stimulus spur demand.

Sales of existing U.S. homes jumped in July to the highest level since August 2007, and German service industries expanded this month for the first time in almost a year, reports yesterday showed. The Japanese economy grew for the first time in five quarters, according to a report earlier this week.

Economy Is ‘Leveling Out,’ Bernanke Says

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke rendered his most positive assessment of the economy yet in a speech Friday and gave credit in part to his own institution’s handling of the worst economic crisis in decades.

The world economy has stopped shrinking. That’s the end of the good news

Damien Hoffman takes an axe to Nouriel Roubini
Is Nouriel Roubini a False Prophet?

Wall Street has a laundry list of such charlatans. They tend to capture the spotlight during the heat of emotional peaks in the markets because emotion and reason tend to maintain an inverse relationship. During times of crisis we need something, sometimes anything, to reduce our pain and restore order to an uncomfortable new chaos.

During the height of the most recent economic crisis, the media offered the center-stage spotlight to NYU Economics Professor Nouriel Roubini to comfort us with his soma. At the peak of the crash, Roubini was as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola and cellphones. He was the go-to guy because his PR team branded him as “The Prophet of Doom.” A perfect fit when you need someone to call at an overwhelmingly bullish place like Wall Street.


Around The Nation

What are you going to believe? The truth or the bunch of lying thugs that unfortunately ruled this country for 8 years?
George W. Bush vets dismiss Tom Ridge claims

Top officials from the George W. Bush White House are disputing claims in former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s coming book that they pressured him to adjust the terror threat level for political gain.

“We went over backwards repeatedly and with great discipline to make sure politics did not influence any national security and homeland security decisions,” former White House chief of staff Andy Card told POLITICO. “The clear instructions were to make sure politics never influenced anything.

Come on Andy Card! You can dispute what Tom Ridge is saying, but don’t insult us.

Convicted US soldier apologises for My Lai massacre

The only US Army officer convicted over the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai made an extraordinary public apology while speaking to a small group near the military base where he went on trial.

William Calley, who has long shied away from publicity and routinely turned down journalists’ requests for interviews about My Lai, broke his long silence after accepting a long-time friend’s invitation to speak at a meeting of a local community club.

Are we ever going to get to the bottom of this?
Report reveals CIA methods

As the Justice Department considers whether to investigate alleged harsh interrogation practices sanctioned by the Bush administration, sources say a soon-to-be-released report by the CIA’s inspector general reveals that agency interrogators conducted mock executions of terror suspects.

I hope Rupert Murdoch lands on his nose with this one.
Paid Content: The Days of the Internet Free Lunch Are Numbered

Media billionaire Rupert Murdoch wants to start charging online readers of his newspapers a fee. His decision has launched a fierce debate over the future of the culture of free content on the Internet. It has also posed a difficult question for publishers: How much are we worth to readers?


Op-ed Columns

The prosaic professor (h/t TC commenter laurie)

When Mr Obama came to office, most Washington insiders believed he would make up for his lack of governmental experience by continuing to be the best political salesman of his generation, as he had on the campaign trail. But as president, his ability to sell his most important policies – particularly on healthcare reform, the centrepiece of his domestic agenda – has proved much weaker than expected.

Instead of electrifying the country with the case for reforming America’s expensive and highly exclusionary healthcare system, he has too often appeared to be reacting to other people’s characterisation of his plans, however misleading those might be. As a result, Mr Obama is going through something of a nightmare August.

Hitler Is a Conversation Stopper

Midway through the month’s town hall meetings on health care, it seems the shark has jumped the shark — and even Hitler must be sick of himself.
The terrible tyrant can’t get a rest these days. For eight years, he was George W. Bush. Now he’s Barack H. Obama. We just can’t quit the monster with the fur lip.

Masters and Slaves of Deception

President Obama made a huge mistake in pursuing health care reform. He tried to be hands-off when he needed to be knee-deep.

Boy I hate to concede a point to Chuck Krauthammer
The Truth About Death Counseling

Let’s see if we can have a reasoned discussion about end-of-life counseling.
We might start by asking Sarah Palin to leave the room. I’ve got nothing against her. She’s a remarkable political talent. But there are no “death panels” in the Democratic health-care bills, and to say that there are is to debase the debate.

We also have to tell the defenders of the notorious Section 1233 of H.R. 3200 that it is not quite as benign as they pretend. To offer government reimbursement to any doctor who gives end-of-life counseling — whether or not the patient asked for it — is to create an incentive for such a chat

A Public Option That Works

TWO burning questions are at the center of America’s health care debate. First, should employers be required to pay for their employees’ health insurance? And second, should there be a “public option” that competes with private insurance?

Answers might be found in San Francisco

If Switzerland Can …

The deal struck between the United States and Switzerland last week to provide the names attached to 4,450 secret accounts held by Americans at the Swiss banking giant UBS is a blow for fairness. If Switzerland lives up to its commitment, it may well be a watershed: the beginning of the end of international tax cheating.


Around The World

This is just provocation, but that should be expected: We are dealing here with a certifiable nutball.
Ahmadinejad Nominee Is Wanted in ’94 Bombing

The man nominated to serve as Iran’s defense minister is wanted by Interpol in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires (…)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nominated Ahmad Vahidi on Wednesday to serve as defense minister when he submitted his list of 21 nominees to Parliament. Mr. Vahidi was the head of the secret Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards that carries out operations overseas.

He was one of five Iranian officials sought by Interpol on Argentine charges of “conceiving, planning, financing and executing” the 1994 attack, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds, said a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League condemning the nomination.

This is truly outrageous and the Scottish government ought to bury itself into a never ending shame.
US fury grows over release of Lockerbie bomber

The White House last night vented its fury over the release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber when it described the triumphalist scenes greeting his homecoming at Tripoli airport as “outrageous and disgusting”.

Oh noes! Not again.
Karzai, Abdullah both claim victory in Afghan election

The top two candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential race both claimed to be on their way to victory after Thursday’s vote.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has received roughly 150 official allegations of election fraud and expects a significantly larger number to arrive in the coming days. With preliminary vote-count results days away, each camp is working to influence public perceptions and gather legal ammunition for appealing a possible loss.

If you french kissed a woman who had consumed cocaine, could be accused of taking drugs? Apparently this is what happened to a French world class tennis player who got subsequently banned.
Richard Gasquet’s cocaine-kiss claims supported by forensic tests

They met in a Miami restaurant — he a handsome tennis player, she a pretty waitress — and spent the evening smooching at a nightclub.

Little did they know that the kisses they exchanged would spark a controversy that has gripped France all summer amid lawsuits and wrangles before international doping tribunals


What Do You Know

Are you up to speed with what’s going on in the news? There’s a panoply of information source but how much do you really know? Test yourself and tell us how you did. Don’t cheat because I’m watching you.
The Smart Quiz

In the digital age, the flood of information can often be so overwhelming that even hardcore news junkies may be surprised by what they missed. If you master this extra-hard current events quiz, then you officially know your news.


One More Thing

Best newspaper correction ever.
For the record (via tvnewser)

TV listings: The Prime-Time TV grid in Thursday’s Calendar section mistakenly listed MTV’s “Jackass” show on the MSNBC cable schedule at 7 and 10 p.m. where instead MSNBC’s “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” should have been listed.


Have a terrific weekend!!!

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