A new sin

March 26, 2010


Conservapedia, despite its name, is not about conservatism. It is, instead some quackish, new age, cult like phenomenon (I don’t know how else to describe it). I mean, I’m fairly conservative, and I’m Christian, but this train wreck of a website has nothing to do with me.

If you check out the wonderful article above on or neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, you may notice that for distance, there is an “N/A”. Reason (quoting form the article’s talk page):

Why is distance and size information being ripped out of this article, especially since it is virtually all cited? Why isn’t it discussed first in the talk section here? What is disputed about distance? Distance to extra-galactic objects are not just guessed at and it doesn’t imply age, it just implies distance. I mean how small do people think the universe is? As far as I know, but creationists and non-creationists agree the universe is very large and most galaxies are millions or billions of light years away.

I explained this on your talk page many days ago, without a satisfactory response. We don’t simply repeat, robot-like, the implausible or illogical claims of atheists here. You’re in the wrong place for that. Mindless repetition of liberal claims may work on Wikipedia, but not here.

No, this isn’t a joke. Apparently my belief in doppler shifts and cepheid variables now condemns my soul.


Attack of the chair ….

March 26, 2010

Spring is in the air …. not because the weather in Chicago is spring-like (it is not), but because in Arizona and Florida, baseball is springing to life again.

In Chicago, the Cubs are using the marketing campaign “Year One” in an attempt to reinvigorate their fans into thinking that this new ownership will somehow do things differently than past ownerships, now that they have spent themselves to near bankruptcy. I guess “Year One” also beats “Year 103” …

And no sooner has the season not even started yet, but the string of freak injuries befalling these multi-million dollar athletes has begun. Cubs favorite slugger Derek Lee was pulled out of a game after three innings after a recent acquired back injury kept him from performing. How did he hurt his back? The chair he was sitting in at a pregame meal collapsed.

That led me to a Dan Brown article on freakish injuries in recent MJB history. You would think with all of the money on the line that players would take better care of themselves, and that teams would take more care to assure that their investments took care of themselves. Aside from DeeLee above, here are others:

Glenallen Hill: placed on the 15 day disabled list after sustaining cuts, scrapes and bruising to lower and upper extremities.
reason: Hill was having a waking nightmare about being chased by spiders, bumped into a table and fell down a flight of stairs.

Sammy Sosa: in May 2004 the Cubs slugger was placed on DL for back spasms.
reason: prior to a game in San Diego, Sosa sneezed so hard, he hurt his back.

Carlos Zambrano: saw reduced pitching time in 2005 for what inflammation in the elbow.
reason: Zambrano was spending several hours a day e-mailing relatives in Venezuela, and begin developing pain through repetitive position and use of the keyboard.

Joel Zamaya: a notable non-Cub was a relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. In 2006, he was unavailable for three games in the AL Championship Series after injuring his right wrist and arm.
reason: Zamaya was playing Guitar Hero too much and too hard.

Adam Eaton: while with the Padres, Eaton was put on the DL after he was stabbed in the stomach.
reason: It was a self-inflicted wound; he had been trying to use a penknife to open a CD package.

Steve Sparks: In 1994, the Brewers’ pitcher dislocated his left shoulder.
reason: apparently inspired by a motivational speaker, Sparks tried to rip the yellow pages in half (no word on his success).

Marty Cordova: suffered severe burns to the face, and lost several games.
reason: tanning bed (seriously folks, don’t use these things!)

Clint Barnes: broken collar bone; lost three months of the 2005 season.
reason: Fell while lugging a large package of frozen venison, which was a gift from Rockies star Todd Helton.

Jeff Kent: broke his wrist
reason: while exiting his pickup truck.
real reason: It turns out that the San Francisco Giants were smart enough to put a “don’t so stupid things” clause in their star second baseman’s contract. In fact, Kent had been popping wheelies on his motorcycle …. specifically verboten in Kent’s contract. His lie was exposed by the local media, and Kent lost his salary for his time away from the game.


Obama to revisit NCLB

March 15, 2010


On Saturday, President Obama took time out address his intents to change No Child Left Behind (including, apparently, to rename the policy).

Here’s the Good:
1. AYP is out the window. Under NCLB, schools are measured on an annual basis in terms of: drop out/graduation rate, math, and reading, across the board, and in up to several student subgroups. This is exceptionally arbitrary. Data can trend up or down in a given year, yet a school that dips too low in any one area. Further, each state used their own tests ….. some state tests were ridiculously easy. Illinois used the ACT. For a time, Mississippi had the highest pass-rate of any state. I have to think that is not an accurate assessment of education.
2. Instead of “by 2014, each student must be reading at grade level”, the Obama plan calls for “by 2020, all students must graduate ready for college or a career”. This seems more realistic. Instead of forcing kids who don’t plan on going to college, or who perhaps lack the maturity to prepare for college at 18, to be ready for college, they are given the option of preparing for a career.
3. Gone is the emphasis on “failing schools”. Many of the best schools in the nation are currently “failing schools” under NCLB. Are they really? Not by any sane definition. The Bush NCLB eventually led to every school being a “failure”, since it eventually required every student to be college ready.
4. The emphasis is on change over time, instead of rigid and arbitrary definitions. A student could enter high school reading at the 6th grade level, and over the next three years be boosted to a 10th grade level. Under the Bush NCLB, the high school is a failure (it made no difference where the kid came from). Under the Obama plan, changes like this would count as success for the high school.
5. There is an acknowledgement that education is more than reading and mathematics. Writing, a foreign language, and the arts have their place. States are given the option to test over subjects beyond reading and mathematics.

The Bad/The Uncertain:
1. Standardized testing will still be the benchmark. This is still a big problem, though it causes less damage to the schools and their students if the other provisions are in place.
2. How will the standards for college/career preparedness be measured? This is left ambiguous, and unless it is better defined, I am ill-convinced that this is wholly an improvement.
3. The lower 5% of schools in a given state are targeted for improvement, including the removal of the staff. I am not so upset about removing the staff, but before you do, make sure that they are the cause of the problem (and while there are some obvious things one might find, I am not sure how realistic it is to find these criteria at work in a school). The one good thing: if your school ends up in the bottom 5% of the state, it is hard for parents to argue that the school shouldn’t change.

Time will tell if anything will come of this.

Philosophical musing …

March 11, 2010

I have been reading with interest as the state of Illinois prepares to raise income tax (likely overdue, if untimely) and make big cuts to univeristies, schools, and to many state services.

Something boiling under the surface of my brain finally broke through and gave me pause.

When was the last time anyone talked about cutting anything for senior citizens? They get a lot of special treatment, and a lot of breaks, but you almost never hear about their state servies being cut. You certainly never hear about federal seniors programs being cut.

Then something hit me. I cannot be 100% sure, but it is distinctly possible that today, like no other time in our history, by far the largest voting block has the least stake in our country’s future. It borders on a form of quasi-disenfranchisement: The Baby Boomer generation has always had the ability to vote for changes they want (not that they are hardly voting singularly as “democrat” or “republican”. But we are in an era where what is best for that block may not necessarily be best for the nation as a whole, or for its future. Yet, the political power is concentrated in their hands, and will be at least for a little while to come.

This is the generation that attended Woodstock, and were awed at the space program … and then supported stripping NASA of its budget to hobble it for decades. Some say our nation was never the same when we lost the aspirations and hope that genuine exploration gave to us.

This is the generation that helped tear the country apart for causes like ending the war in Vietnam, and civil rights, thus planting the seeds for the neoconservative era of today, which many of their right wing members support.

This is a generation that has never had to compromise because at the ballot box they could always win. Now we have a political system that is more than ever partisan and unable to work together.

This is the generation that forced changes in schools because they were boring and weren’t doing their job, now that they are nostalgic, they want schools to go back the way they were when they were young.

Former Asst. Secretary of Education: NCLB does not work

March 11, 2010


From National Public Radio: Former George W. Bush Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, one a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind, is now against a great deal of it, especially the reliance of standardized testing.

Is this good news not-so-good?

March 6, 2010


Urban Prep Charters is a charter school in Chicago, Illinois extremely tough Englewood neighborhood. It holds the distinction of being the first all-male charter school in the United States, and with an all African-American student body, something truly great has happened: every single member of the Class of 2010 has been accepted to a four year school. The article even notes one of them was accepted to John’s Hopkins. As a reward, the school’s prom will be provided free of charge to students.

I must emphasize that this is a great thing. These kids come from one of the toughest neighborhoods in the nation. The article notes that a big part of the education offered at the school revolves around providing positive male role models; given that there are probably not that many in their neighborhood. I don’t know what the level of college acceptance is in the local public school, but I know it is nothing close to 100%. I hope these fine young men go on to wonderful things.

But …


… not all is as it seems. The school’s average ACT is 16.1; over 4.5 point below the state average, and still 0.9 pointe below the average of the Chicago Public School (CPS) System (though, it is 0.7 points higher than the average for African-American males in the CPS). Only 15.3% of the school’s juniors passed the Prairie State Achievement Test, which is lower than the CPS rate for African-American male students.

One particular student, the one accepted to Johns Hopkins, had an ACT of 15.

First off, I have been on the record that ACT and other standardized test scores are extremely limited. I stand by that. ACT scores are not the end all- be all of a person.

However, these scores are a bit of a red flag. In short: they clearly are showing little to no improvement over their non-charter counterparts.

So what gives? On the surface, there appears to be no difference.

One aspect of this is that students are required to participate in extracurricular activities. All students are provided with the opportunity to engage in summer internship programs.

There is strict discipline at the school (a plus), an emphasis on not making excuses (double plus), and …

Urban Prep’s four years of double-period English, as well as a senior class that helps kids write personal college statements, prepared Henderson for the heavy writing needed just to apply for college.

Johns Hopkins seemed more impressed with his 3.8 GPA and his extracurriculars than his ACT, said Henderson, who will probably attend another college that is offering him a better financial package.

“The ACT does not determine how smart you are,” he said.

The school has an overall goal of getting kids into college. In that, there is unquestioned success! However, I am wondering if there is a line between: “getting into college” and “surviving in college”.

At my school, for the most part, the emphasis is not on getting kids into college, rather it is surviving once they get there. We know that most of our kids are able to get in, but we are constantly worried that a lack of preparation will result in our students getting wiped out once they get there. For some of the lower level students, we do have more emphasis on getting into a college, and in many cases they get into colleges who specialize in students who cannot get accepted into traditional colleges.

So, are these kids at Urban Prep prepared to survive at college? I see that they get tons of support in getting there … but when the support is gone, will they thrive?

I hate to sound doom and gloom, because I hope everyone of them not only makes it through college, but lands a great job doing whatever they want afterwards.

home schooling: a cautionary tale

March 6, 2010


This is an interesting article that focuses on a non-sectarian home schooling family, and how it is getting very difficult to find materials that don’t endorse a particular fundamentalist religious world view. With the number of home schooled kids edging up, this creates a situation where tens of thousands of kids, some unwittingly, are being exposed to some really bad science.