Tuesday, March 29, 2011

School districts' zero-tolerance policies examined on "The View"; small classes not always the best thing

School systems have drawn attention to “zero-tolerance” policies regarding objects remotely resembling weapons or drugs. On ABC’s “The View” Tuesday morning, the gals discussed a case with a high school freshman suspended from a central Virginia high school for a whole year for shooting a plastic bee-bee from a pen at school. Apparently there was some clothing damage and the father offered restitution and agreed the boy should be disciplined, but not threatened with prosecution and suspended for a whole year or expelled.  (ABC should have the episode online Wednesday.)

Similar incidents happen now when students are found with unprescribed patent medicines on their person.
Students suspended for strict interpretation of zero-tolerance often wind up in alternative schools.

When I went to high school in the late 50s, there was nothing like this extreme concern for possible contraband. But once I lost study hall library privileges for a week for forgetting to sign in.

When I substitute taught between 2004-2007, subs were not searched for items like patent medicines. However one time a security guard was concerned that my car was open with a copy of the Washington Blade, apparently open to a personals page by accident, visible.

Ian Urbana has a story from the New York Times from Oct. 2009, link (website url) here.

 (The “Help Zachary” link no longer takes you to the right site, and NYT is now under a subscription paywall.)

On Sunday, March 27, Eva Moskovitz wrote an interesting article in The Washington Post, “The cost of small class size”,  link here.  The Post has pursued the idea several times in the past: small classes are a luxury. But now the take is that high tech, including smart boards, and master lesson plans available through carefully designed Internet access can make larger classes work.  Furthermore, some school districts make AP classes available through closed-circuit cable access on other campuses. 

Where smaller classes may matter (with older students) in in labs and recitation. It takes more individualized attention to learn to do things hands-on.  Remember those Qual unknowns? 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Metro apparently nixes idea to stop night-owl weekend service; my own late Saturday night journey; studies of entry-exit ratios per station published

The Washington Post, in a story about the money and maintenance problems of the 35-year-old Metro, reported incidentally today (March 27) that plans to curtail weekend night owl service have been curtailed, thankfully. Here’s the article.

There was a study of Metro station entry and exit ratios during night own service back in February, reported here

Saturday night, I used Metro, two trips in each direction. There was a moderate crowd on the Orange Line as I left Ballstron for Metro Center about 6:30 PM.  After a movie at Landmark E-Street (“I Am”) I walked to the Verizon Center and Gallery Place, where people were getting out of the Circus. It was a pretty crowded train on the Green Line at 10 PM, and I got off at U-Street to go to the Town DC. 

At 1: 15 AM I left (alone!), and rode an almost empty train back on the Green Line to L’Enfant Plaza.  There I caught a Blue train which was again almost deserted.  I changed at Rosslyn for the Orange Line, and found the train crowded in the middle cars.  The total wait on the Orange Line for my needed Orange train was 18 minutes, and it took me a total of 90 minutes to get home, including walking around the horn to get into the Ballston Parking Garage, the front entrance of which closes at midnight weekends.  I barely beat the 1-inch snowfall.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Individual health insurance, directly purchased: GAO says, if denied, it pays to appeal

Today, March 24, Michelle Singletary has some advice in her “Color of Money” column for people frustrated by denials when trying to purchase health insurance on the individual market. The link to her story is here

The “auditing” arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO), looked at data since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in four states and found that between 40-60% of appeals of denials resulted in reversal and coverage.

The original report appears at the GAO site dated March 16, is titled “Private health insurance: Data on application and coverage denials” with link here

See also Feb. 21, 2011 on this blog. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Black Swan" outside of "Swan Lake": EMP, supervolcano, nuclear meltdown

The film “Black Swan” brought up the “term” in conjunction with Tchaikovsky’s ballet, and then with a ballerina playing the role.  But to disaster planners, it refers to a highly improbable event with cataclysmic consequences, changing society forever.

It’s the “it won’t be so bad, or will it” problem.  Call it “The Purification.”

Joel Achenbach has an article about the issue today (March 18) in the Washington Post, front page.

Some of the scariest scenarios could include a large earthquake on the East Coast, where Indian Point Nuclear power plant could jeopardize New York, or a large EMP (electromagnetic pulse), either from a terrorist able to send a device to high altitude, or certain kinds of local microwave devices developed at Aberdeen.  Another risk would be a coronal mass ejection or solar flare, which some NASA scientists think has increasing risk from 2012 on. The article says that power grids could be hardened for 20 cents per user, but that sounds unlikely; how do you protect every transformer with a Faraday Cage?

One of the largest super-volcanoes in the world is Yellowstone, and it goes off every 600000 years. We're ovedue, but the period is so long -- not in our lifetime. 

Another risk could be a large East Coast tsunami from a landslide from the Cumbre Vieja volcano across the Atlantic in the Canary Islands.

We aren't even close to protecting ourselves from H5N1 (not H1N1), or a reintroduced smallpox. 

A society based on individualism and freedom to contract with fiat money as a common denominator might not survive a collapse. Back to tribalism. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Could DC Metro make do with night owl express busses?

Last week the Washington Metro held meeting and again hinted  that it could not afford to “patronize” night owl life in the area, as it put on the table a proposal to end Friday and Saturday night service that now runs until 3 AM. 

One possible proposal, that could work about 8 months of the year (when it is warm), is to run express bus service along the same routes as Metro and stop only at or near those stations.  Busses would have to run frequently enough (maybe every 10 minutes in some routes) to handle the volume that is spread along many train cars. The Orange Line into Arlington and Falls Church gets heavy after-midnight use. In addition, the Orange line bus could make one stop in Georgetown, near Wisconsin Ave. and M Street.  

I used to ride the “2V” and “2T” busses home from K Street near George Washington University to Arlington back in the 1960s, in the days of O Roy Chalk. The traffic on M Street to Key Bridge did indeed slow things down. 

An “express” service, which would run except when there is heavy snow or ice, could develop credibility with riders and give Metro more time to finish needed repairs with lower cost.  It could run all night, rather than stop at 3 AM.  Metro would have to publish the service well, online and with signs, and provide online mobile-ready information as to arrival times.  

See earlier coverage here Feb. 14

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Do standardized tests lead to teacher (and administrator) cheating?

USA Today ran a detailed story about teacher’s encouraging cheating (or participating in it), in order to raise their students’ test scores and their own performance monitoring, but under school district guidelines, and No Child Left Behind. Sometimes administrators participate.  The long story is by Jodi Upton, Denise Amos, and Anne Ryman, link here

The newspaper also had a “two sides” editorial page on the problem.  USA Today says we shouldn’t blame cheating on the use of standardized tests, but admits they can be overused, as can “teaching to the test”.  In my school days, more tests were short answer, essay, or free-response problems; much less multiple choice.
When I substitute-taught, we were often told to proctor carefully. Most teachers made up tests in A and B versions for alternate rows of desks, and some wrote in lesson plans that cheating could be a problem. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The debate over PE in schools and physical unfitness: many sides to the problem

Robert McCartney has a story on p C1, Metro, of the Washington Post, Sunday March 6, “Help trim the fat: Gov. McDonnell: Sign the P.E. Bill”, encouraging the GOP Virginia governor to sign a bill mandating more time for physical education in most grades.  The link is (website url) here.

Today, the media reports a lot on obesity in children, and high school and college students, and blames time in front of the computer.  When I substitute taught earlier last decade, it seemed to be very much a an economic class and sometimes ethnic thing. People whose genetic background includes Native American heritage (including Mexico and Latin America) are more susceptible to overeating in a western diet (they have more diabetes), because their ancestors lived off of what they could catch on the land, and were genetically “adapted” to relative food scarcity before Europeans brought a more sedentary culture to the "New World".  (The same thing happens when previously healthy wild animals that hunt or forage for a living and do well at it are fed processed food by well-intended people wanting to "tame" them.  There's no intended analogy; it's just a metabolic fact, as well as a theme in science fiction; here's a typical explanatory link.) On the other hand, people from “upper middle class” backgrounds with well-educated or  economically and socially “successful” parents did, indeed, tend to look much fitter. (Stable marriages and two-parent families do help with fitness.)   So I don’t think Facebook is to blame for this one, any more than television would have been in the 1950s (when teachers implored us, “Read, don’t watch television” but sometimes assigned certain TV programs as homework). And, as Alternet points out repeatedly, often our "economic system" isn't fair. 

When I went to junior high school (grades 7-9 then) and high school, physical education was mandatory in grades 7-11, but not for seniors. It was taught as “Health and Physical Education”.  In grades 7-9, it was 3 weeks on and off of each. Teachers grade relative to ability, so I got A’s and B’s despite poor athletic performance. In high school, it was more geared to performance, and I got C’s, but PE was not counted as part of the grade point average.  10th grade spent a third of the year on classroom Health; 11th grade was all PE.  I actually got a D one quarter in the 11th grade when we did tumbling.  We always did touch football, soccer, basketball, track and field, and softball (which I liked: I once hit a homer in gym class and pitched a shutout!  -- 4-0; I still remember the game).

In the 1950s, gym had a slightly different meaning, with a Cold War on, and a draft; there was a presumption that every male had a moral obligation to be ready to “do his part”.  I didn’t face the draft until age 24, after grad school, but I got recycled once through Special Training Company (STC) at Fort Jackson, SC (Spring 1968), because of PT problems, but pulled out of it.  After Basic, I was in better shape than at any other time in my life. (What was called the PCPT, of Physical Combat Proficiency Test, a 500 point test of five events back in the 1960s, is now the APFT, or Army Physical Fitness Test, link here.  Probably most young adults who can disco dance all night without substances are physically active enough to pass it.)

It’s interesting to think about PE today in the context of adoration of big league sports.  Pro football, facing a lockout, has to deal with the ethical problems of repeated concussion injuries to its players. In baseball, we try to sell Tommy John surgery to teenagers (I’ve even gotten Internet ads for it on my computer and site).  But, yes, I hope Stephen Strasburg comes back before too long, and think that San Francisco Giant’s World Series hero Tim Lincecum is fun to watch.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

New book on "The Moral Underground" and the "community" idea of family responsibility: "does it take a village?"t

Once again, a review of a book on “family values” stimulates a moral debate, this time on the Left wing side, at Alternet.  The book is Lisa Dodson’s “The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy". 

The link for the rather rambling excerpt, concatenated to one webpage, is here

What’s striking from the piece, however, is how it suggests that family responsibility belongs to everyone, including the childless, merely by belonging to a community.  The excerpt specifically discusses that with the anecdote about childless “Cora”, who ran a franchise element, and “Linda”, who looked at children of workers as “fictive kin.”

I’ve ordered the book from Amazon, but I’ll also be returning this “issue”  with my planned e-book “Do Ask Do Tell III”; in various scenarios in “pseudo-retirement” in the past ten years, others have expected me to function as a grandparental “role model”, which I resented because the whole “dating game” and competitive cycle of my own upbringing was so humiliating.  

It looks as though it will be interesting to compare this book with Elinor Burkett's 2000 missive, "The Baby Boon" (see Book Reviews blog, March 28, 2006).  Fifteen years ago, the simplistic libertarian answer would have been, people should be ready before they "decide" to have children. But then we run into the "Natural Family" crowd. 

CNN Saturday afternoon mentioned another unfair practice, employers (companies) saying they will consider you only if you are already employed.  This, Ali Velshi’s crew says, is driving the poor toward entrepreneurialship and microfinance.  And Ali is saying that the actual unemployment rate is probably more like 16% than the BLS-reported 9% or so, because it is very difficult, even with the best intentions, to collect accurate information from lower-income people. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Washington Post columnist: Unions need to shake their "legacy image"

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein (“Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It”) has a balanced perspective in the Washington Post March 1, “How unions can be more than a legacy institution”.  His link is here

Having been a computer programmer most of my career, I was never in a union (does that necessarily follow?) and always had the impression that unions tended to protect featherbedding and non-performers. That said, I must also say that during my “coming of age” in the 60s and 70s, I had plenty of exposure (and earfuls) from the “Left” on how even the “professional” or “managerial” class was part of the bourgeoisie that lived off the “sacrifices” of workers.  (I remember one December, 1972 evening in a drafty tenement in Newark, NJ with the “People’s Party”; the Left can be “so moralistic.”) But I was never one to carry picket signs for someone else's wages, or join in "collective protests". Once,  when working for NBC in 1976, I worked "strike duty" during the NABET strike and learned to operate a boom, and saw how soap operas (then it was "Somerset") get filmed, from a studio in Brooklyn. 

But, collective bargaining is a legally driven right. Public workers may not have the right to strike, but they have the right to organize, in state and federal governments as elsewhere. But they may not have the "right" to be better off than other private workers.  In any case, unions gradually helped create a world that was not "sustainable."  Like any human organization, unions could become as corrupt as companies or religious organizations.   But maybe that gets back to how individuals "pay their dues." 

The national teacher’s union may finally be getting on the right track, after the pressure from Michelle Rhee, and John Stossel’s coverage of the NYC “rubber rooms”.  (The Teacher’s Union was critical in resolving the impasse of NYC’s 1975 financial crisis, when the New York Daily News ran the headline “Ford to City: Drop dead!”)  As I’ve covered here, I subbed for a while in northern Virginia, and found the experience interesting and challenging yet troubling. As badly as we need top teachers now, the cultural environment for most of my working years did not make teaching sound like an honored profession.