Friday, December 20, 2013

Google: Surge in pressure from governments to ERASE CHUNKS of the web

"Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes."--Google

I have found that school district and teacher union officials also don't want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes, or have a light shone on their conduct.  They don't want to see information on the Internet that is critical of them.

Google has been asked to shut down this blog, and Yahoo has been asked to shut down my related website.

Chula Vista Elementary School District
board members Pam Smith and Larry Cunningham
have given school tax funds to support
Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz law firm's
quest to silence this blog.

Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz are lawyers for many Southern California school districts. Stutz law firm demanded that Google shut down this blog, and Google complied temporarily. Yahoo also complied temporarily by depublishing my related website.

But both Google and Yahoo relented after I argued that they should let the justice system decide how to deal with complaints about free speech.

The Court of Appeal has already thrown out one injunction from Judge Judith Hayes in Stutz' defamation suit against me.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Judith Hayes threw out all my evidence and granted Stutz summary adjudication based on a technicality. Judge Hayes denied all of my many requests that I be allowed a jury trial for damages. Judge Hayes' decisions are under appeal.

Thank you, Google and Yahoo, for keeping speech free.

Google: Surge in pressure from govts to ERASE CHUNKS of the web
Libelous book about MP among stuff pulled offline
By Shaun Nichols
The Register
19th December 2013

Governments, judges, cops and politicians are continuing to lobby Google to tear down online material critical of their operations, we're told.

Today, the advertising giant said that, in the first six months of 2013, it received 3,846 demands from public officials to remove 24,737 personal blog posts, YouTube videos and other pieces of content it hosts. That's up 68 per cent on the second half of 2012.

And according to the web giant, which has just published its latest transparency report, 93 requests focused on content that was critical of people in public office. Defamation and copyright infringement were often cited, but less than one third of the highlighted material was removed in the first half of 2013.

"Over the past four years, one worrying trend has remained consistent: governments continue to ask us to remove political content," wrote Google legal director Susan Infantino, who called out Turkey and Russia for ramping up the number of complaints.

"Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes," she added.

In the US, Google said that it saw requests for content removal up 70 per cent over last year. Notable cases include the removal of 76 apps from the Google Play store over alleged infringements of government copyrights and the denied takedown request from a local official who sought to remove pages outlining his record as a police officer.

In the UK, Google said it shot down a request from a local government council to take down a critical website, and upheld a request to pull a preview from a book that alleged illegal activity by an unnamed member of Parliament.

The report is the latest in a transparency program that Google is soon hoping to expand. The company has petitioned the US government to allow it to post information and notifications relating to FISA takedown requests. Thus far the requests have not been granted.

Verizon is also preparing to launch its own transparency report on law enforcement data requests, a particularly interesting development given the mobile carrier's recent interactions with the NSA and the revelations of federal officials collecting mass archives of user activity.

"All companies are required to provide information to government agencies in certain circumstances, however, and this new report is intended to provide more transparency about law enforcement requests," said Verizon general counsel and executive vice president of public policy Randall Milch.

"Although we have a legal obligation to provide customer information to law enforcement in response to lawful demands, we take seriously our duty to provide such information only when authorized by law." ®

Monday, December 16, 2013

Pennsylvania School Tries To Kick Out Two Students After Their Families Became Homeless

It's remarkable how many educators lack empathy or attachment for the kids they are paid to care for.

Pennsylvania School Tries To Kick Out Two Students After Their Families Became Homeless
By Scott Keyes
December 16, 2013

As if their lives hadn’t been thrown into enough turmoil when their house was foreclosed on and their family became homeless, two Pennsylvania students learned last Monday that they were no longer welcome at the school they had attended their entire lives because the campground they were living in was located just outside of town.

The two students, one eighth-grader and one twelfth-grader whose names are withheld because they are minors, have lived in a camper with their parents in eastern Pennsylvania since losing their home to foreclosure in 2011. The campground where they were able to find refuge is located just outside the school district’s boundaries.

That shouldn’t be a problem under federal law, which allows homeless students to remain enrolled in the school they attend, even if extenuating circumstances forced them to live outside of the limits. Indeed, for more than two years, the two students were allowed to continue their education at the Easton Area School District, giving them stability in an otherwise-tumultuous situation.

However, according to the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, an education nonprofit that filed a lawsuit on behalf of the students, they were kicked out of school without explanation last week. Easton Schools Solicitor John Freund wrote in an email to The Express-Times that they had “made a studied determination that this family, living outside the boundaries of the district, no longer qualified as homeless for the purpose of free public education in Easton.”

The matter went to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which issued a preliminary ruling on Thursday to immediately re-enroll the students, pending the outcome of the suit.

Though Easton doesn’t believe the students are homeless enough to qualify under federal law, it’s important to note that most homeless people don’t sleep on the streets per se. Few would consider the 24-foot-by-7-foot camper where the four-person family resides to be a permanent housing situation, but that’s precisely what school district is arguing.

Because of the court’s ruling, the students will be able to continue attending classes at Easton — for now — but their enrollment status remains in limbo.

Unfortunately, their experience is not atypical. Overall, the number of homeless students in the United States hit a record high during the 2011-12 school year, with more than 1.1 million homeless students enrolled in preschool or K-12, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

In an effort to address the systemic challenges facing these students, a trio of senators introduced a bill last month to help homeless and foster youth overcome barriers that prevent many from going on to college.

Inside a School Where Teachers Pack Heat

Jonesboro superintendent packing heat?

Inside a School Where Teachers Pack Heat
A year after Newtown, schools still debate whether guns in the classroom make kids safer.
By Nicholas Kusnetz
Center for Public Integrity
Dec. 16, 2013

It wasn't quite cold enough to need a vest on a recent Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy canvas, the vest might have concealed a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.

Dossey is superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, which serves a tiny community in the rolling Texas scrubland north of Austin. In January, the district decided to arm a select group of staffers with concealed weapons.

Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties; it's more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff's department. The town is unincorporated, and has no government or police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one's coming to protect the kids—not quickly, anyway.

Dossey was standing inside the school cafeteria, where students motored around a room decorated with harvest-themed paper cutouts. The district was hosting a pre-holiday Thanksgiving dinner, when parents join kids for a school lunch of turkey and stuffing. Looking around the room, Dossey, who hadn't taken off his vest, said the new policy adds a layer of security that most everyone in town is happy with.

"If somebody walked in that door and opened fire," he said, "we would have a chance."

Ever since Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, school districts and state governments have searched for better ways to protect students. Lawmakers introduced hundreds of school safety bills. Many called for arming more security guards or for arming teachers. Others went the opposite direction, tightening gun laws.

In Monroe, Connecticut, just nine miles from Sandy Hook, residents supported a range of expensive measures. The town, which spreads out from a village green between two white-steepled churches, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading buildings and hiring school resource officers, town cops who are posted at schools. The move is largely in step with what happened statewide. Lawmakers passed sweeping legislation in April that included gun controls, such as expanded background checks and mandates for school security. The Legislature also funded millions of dollars in infrastructure grants and tightened state law covering guns in school so that only active or retired law enforcement officers can serve as armed guards.

"I don't believe a teacher would just kill a kid right there. I've walked up in front of a kid who had a gun. I know how it feels."

Texas, on the other hand, has not appropriated money to school security and is not creating mandates. Jonesboro is one of about 70 districts to arm staff since Sandy Hook. This year, the Legislature encouraged more to do the same, passing a bill that created a state-run training program that will allow districts to designate staff as "school marshals," an entirely new class of law enforcement (districts must pay the costs).

At first glance, the disparate approaches appear simply to reflect a stereotypical divide between two regions of America with their own closely held views of guns and their place in daily life. But a closer look shows that what's happened in Jonesboro and Monroe also reflects a broader set of beliefs about the role of government, about local control, and perhaps most importantly, about taxes...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Colorado school harasses 6-year-old boy who gave a girl a kiss on the hand

Found guilty of "sexual harassment", Hunter Yelton asks, "What is sex?"

Good question. I have a question, too: "Is this child being harassed because he acted like a boy?" And would such an action constitute sexual harassment?

I think superintendent Robin Gooldy owes some explanations.

Zero tolerance policies are becoming discredited because they do more harm than good. They seem to be created so that adults don't have to use their brains.

See all posts on Zero Tolerance.

Six-Year-Old Suspended For Kissing Schoolmate
Hunter Yelton's behaviour was classified as "sexual harassment" by a Colorado school official, his mother says.
11 December 2013
Hunter Yelton, 6, was suspended from school. Pic: CBS4/Denver.

The suspension of a six-year-old boy for kissing a girl at school is raising questions about whether the peck should be considered sexual harassment.

The boy's mother said officials at Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, Colorado, are overreacting.

Jennifer Saunders said her son was suspended once before for kissing the girl and had other disciplinary problems, and she was surprised to find out that he would be forced out of school again for several days.

Hunter Yelton said he has a crush on a girl at school and "she likes him back".

"It was during class, yeah. We were doing reading group, and I leaned over and kissed her on the hand. That's what happened," he said.

Saunders said she saw nothing wrong with her son's display of affection.

She said she punished him for other problems in school, including "rough-housing". She was shocked when the school's principal brought up the term "sexual harassment" during a meeting.

"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn't need to be met with a six year old. Now my son is asking questions. ‘What is sex mommy?’ That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six-year-old," she said.

District superintendent Robin Gooldy said the boy was suspended because of a policy against unwanted touching.

"The focus needs to be on his behaviour. We usually try to get the student to stop, but if it continues, we need to take action and it sometimes rises to the level of suspension," he said.

David Welsh, a school psychologist, said some policies that bar bullying, harassment and weapons on public school campuses may go too far, but school boards are being forced to develop strict policies because of a large number of complaints being reported by students and teachers who face consequences if they keep silent.

[Maura Larkins' comment: Administrators need to evaluate issues on a case-by-case basis. This situation is ridiculous. For starters, it was idiotic to use the term "sexual harassment".]

"If you have a policy and procedure and you don't follow it, it's hard to defend," Mr Welsh said.

[Maura Larkins' comment: If you make a reasoned decision, then you have a defense.]

Recent Studies Raise the Possibility That Male Brains Are Wired for Focus, Female Brains for Multitasking

Boys and girls brains start to differentiate in adolescence.

"Broadly speaking, women in their 20s had more connections between the two brain hemispheres while men of the same age had more connective fibers within each hemisphere. "Women are mostly better connected left-to-right and right-to-left across the two brain hemispheres," Dr. Verma said. "Men are better connected within each hemisphere and from back-to-front."

"That suggests women might be better wired for multitasking and analytical thought, which require coordination of activity in both hemispheres. Men, in turn, may be better wired for more-focused tasks that require attention to one thing a time. But the researchers cautioned such conclusions are speculative."

Differences in How Men and Women Think Are Hard-Wired
Recent Studies Raise the Possibility That Male Brains Are Wired for Focus, Female Brains for Multitasking
Robert Lee Hotz
Wall Street Journal
Dec. 9, 2013

So many things come down to connections—especially the ones in your>
Women and men display distinctive differences in how nerve fibers connect various regions of their brains, according to a half-dozen recent studies that highlight gender variation in the brain's wiring diagram. There are trillions of these critical connections, and they are shaped by the interplay of heredity, experience and>
No one knows how gender variations in brain wiring might translate into thought and behavior—whether they might influence the way men and women generally perceive reality, process information, form judgments and behave socially—but they are sparking>
"It certainly is incendiary," said Paul Thompson, a professor of neurology and director of the University of Southern California's Imaging Genetics Center. He is directing an effort to assemble a database of 26,000 brain scans from 20 countries to cross-check neuroimaging findings. "People who look at findings about sex differences are excited or enraged," he said. br/>
Combined brain scans of 949 subjects, ages 8 to 22, show how neural connections differ by gender. Male brains, top, have more connections within hemispheres (blue lines). Female brains, bottom, have more between hemispheres (orange lines). Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences/University of Pennsylvaniabr/>
Researchers are looking at the variations to explain the different ways men and women respond to health issues ranging from autism, which is more common among men, and multiple sclerosis, which is more common among women, to strokes, aging and depression. "We have to find the differences first before we can try to understand them," said Neda Jahanshad, a neurologist at USC who led the research while at the University of California, Los Angeles. br/>
Dr. Jahanshad and her UCLA collaborators conducted a 2011 brain-imaging study of healthy twins, including 147 women and 87 men, to trace connections in the brain. She discovered "significant" sex differences in areas of the brain's frontal lobe, which is associated with self-control, speech and decision-making. br/>
In the most comprehensive study so far, scientists led by biomedical analyst Ragini Verma at the University of Pennsylvania found the myriad connections between important parts of the brain developed differently in girls and boys as they grow, resulting in different patterns of brain connections among young women and young men. br/>
The team imaged the brains of 949 healthy young people, 521 females and 428 males, ranging in age from 8 to 22. Like Dr. Jahanshad's team, Dr. Verma employed a technique called Diffusion Tensor Imaging to trace how water molecules align along the brain's white-matter nerve fibers, which form the physical scaffolding of thought. The study was reported earlier this month in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. br/>
Pairs of scan images show gender differences in brain wiring in childhood (1), adolescence (2) and young adulthood (3). Male brains are on left, female on right. University of Pennsylvania, Proceedings of The National Academy of>
The neural patterns emerged only when combining results from hundreds of people, experts said. In any one person, gender patterns may be subsumed by the individual variations in brain shape and structure that help make every person>
Dr. Verma's maps of neural circuitry document the brain at moments when it is in a fury of creation. Starting in infancy, the brain normally produces neurons at a rate of half a million a minute, and reaches out to make connections two million times a second. By age 5, brain size on average has grown to about 90% of adult size. By age 20, the average brain is packed with about 109,000 miles of white matter tissue fibers, according to a 2003 Danish study reported in the Journal of Comparative>
Spurred by the effects of diet, experience and biochemistry, neurons and synapses are ruthlessly pruned, starting in childhood. The winnowing continues in fits and starts throughout adolescence, then picks up again in middle age. "In childhood, we did not see much difference" between male and female, Dr. Verma said. "Most of the changes we see start happening in adolescence. That is when most of the male-female differences come about."br/>
Broadly speaking, women in their 20s had more connections between the two brain hemispheres while men of the same age had more connective fibers within each hemisphere. "Women are mostly better connected left-to-right and right-to-left across the two brain hemispheres," Dr. Verma said. "Men are better connected within each hemisphere and from back-to-front."br/>
That suggests women might be better wired for multitasking and analytical thought, which require coordination of activity in both hemispheres. Men, in turn, may be better wired for more-focused tasks that require attention to one thing a time. But the researchers cautioned such conclusions are speculative.
Experts also cautioned that subtle gender differences in connections can be thrown off by normal disparities in brain size between men and women and in the density of brain tissue. Other factors, such as whether one is left- or right-handed, also affect brain structure. br/>
Also affecting results are differences in how computer calculations are carried out from one lab to the next. "With neuroimaging, there are so many ways to process the data that when you do process things differently and get the same result, it is fantastic," Dr. Jahanshad said.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Chula Vista Educators president Manuel Yvellez is wrong about Common Core and about how to teach sixth-grade math

Manuel Yvellez, President of Chula Vista Educators (CVE)

See all posts re lazy teachers.

CVE president Manuel Yvellez won office last August by promising to protect teachers from the District's implementation of Common Core standards. He said he'd insist on extra pay for teachers since they would have to design their own curriculum for Common Core.

But how does he propose to show that any given teacher actually designed an effective curriculum? The teachers union has been reluctant to approve effective evaluations of teachers, with or without test scores.

Here's an obvious way to figure out which teachers designed a good curriculum for Common Core: look at the test scores of their students. Would you agree to that, Mr. Yvellez?


I've been thinking about Mr. Yvellez' complaints about the strict timelines for sixth grade Common Core math lessons. This led me to ask myself why teaching math is so difficult for so many teachers.

Of course, there are many reasons, including the fact that most teachers were poorly taught when they themselves were students.

But another reason is that teachers simply don't want to be bothered. They have their way of doing things, and anyone who does things differently should get out of their school or, better yet, out of their district. I have noticed a couple of what I call "lazy teacher syndromes" among teachers at CVESD:

Lazy teacher syndrome #1: I can't be bothered with kids who are behind

At Castle Park Elementary, I was on the math committee with the Teacher of the Year. She stated, without embarrassment, "I don't have time to teach the kids who are behind." Many teachers can't be bothered to figure out how teach more than one level at a time. These teachers certainly shouldn't be paid by the district to develop curriculum.

Lazy teacher syndrome #2: It's not cool to know math

At other schools I taught at, teachers frequently boasted about how they couldn't do their own offspring's elementary math homework. They felt no shame, no embarrassment. They didn't sit down and study their kids' math books. It was apparently considered cool to be a college graduate and math teacher who couldn't do elementary math. Another teacher at CVESD announced at lunch that there was a problem in the third-grade math book that she couldn't do, her students couldn't do, and none of the parents could do. "It can't be done," she stated. I offered to help her, and after school she showed me a word problem. As soon as I explained to her that the problem involved a number sequence, and that she just had to figure out what number came next, she immediately knew the answer.

This teacher wasn't lazy. And she appreciated the help I gave her.

But other teachers resented my thinking that I could solve a third-grade math problem. It is simply not considered cool among many CVESD teachers to be able to do elementary math. Being clueless is the way to popularity.


Mr. Yvellez complains in his campaign speech (see video below) that Common Core sixth-grade math topics such as fractions and decimals are taught in a different sequence than in his text books.

The Common Core timelines will work just fine if teachers teach basic number concepts in depth, WHILE TEACHING KIDS SIMPLY TO VARY THE WAY THE NUMBERS ARE WRITTEN, AS SEEN HERE:

There is no need to do advanced fractions before starting decimals and percentages and ratios. In fact, each concept can easily be combined, and should be combined, with the other concepts.

The sixth grade math Common Core standards that Mr. Yvellez rants about in his video (see below) specifically instruct the teacher to use VISUAL AIDS.



MATH CAN BE BOILED DOWN TO ONE SIMPLE GOAL: finding different names for a number.

2 plus 2 is one name for a specific number. 4 is another name for that number. If you draw a picture, you see that 2 is half of 4.

The relationship between any two quantities can be expressed as a fraction, decimal, percentage or ratio.

And teachers should constantly use number lines, all kinds of number lines, showing fractions, decimals, whole numbers, etc.


ALL students can benefit from review of basic concepts. After the teacher has presented the basic concept, the advanced students can be challenged with more complicated problems on one side of the whiteboard, while proceeding with more basic ideas for the kids who are at or below grade level.

It can be done. I know, because I did it for years.

It's simple. You just divide the whiteboard in half, and let kids decide which problems they want to do, the easy ones or the hard ones. I liked to put my low-achievers in the front of the room, and the high achievers in the back. I went back and forth, teaching one type of problem while the other group is working on its own.

I also had a clipboard with every child's name on it. I'd instruct the kids to cover their answers as soon as they were done. I'd come around and they'd show me, and I'd mark down if they had it right.

Then I'd go to the front and give the right answer. (Kids need feedback right away, right at the teachable moment.) I'd tell them to give themselves a star if they had it right, and to change the answer and then give themselves a star if they had it wrong. I wanted right answers, not wrong answers, on their papers.

My kids did terrific on standardized tests.

And we had fun. We all loved math.

Here's the 9 minute 16 second campaign video of Mr. Yvellez from YouTube. In it, Mr. Yvellez talks about how Common Core math standards might hurt students:

No teacher should teach in a way that harms students, and then blame Common Core. There is simply no excuse for such behavior.

And what about the District's responsibility?

The school district insists that teachers carefully evaluate their students' abilities, but the district doesn't even bother to find out if the teachers can do elementary math. Why not give teachers a math test? Then the teachers who do well can give some classes to the teachers who do poorly. But for heaven's sake, CVESD, don't do what you usually do: bring in some consultant and give him huge amounts of tax revenue to do what your teachers can do.

Note: Mr. Yvellez' CVE election victory was probably also helped by his PERB complaint about election irregularities. Here is a partial decision from the PERB board that includes a mention of this and other CVE problems, including the bizarre mid-term exit of former CVE President Peg Myers.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Are some school districts misusing Common Core, rejecting the main idea that concepts should be taught in depth?

See how the issue of Common Core timelines is playing out at Chula Vista Elementary School District with new Chula Vista Educators president Manuel Yvellez.

I've been thinking about this issue, and I believe that Common Core is NOT being misused. Teachers can and should teach basic concepts in depth. They just can't go on and on for months teaching the details of a single basic concept. They have to create a broad understanding in their students of multiple basic concepts.

Common Core timelines can work is to teach basic concepts in depth by teaching the relationships between a variety of numerical conventions, such as fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios at a simple level for kids who are behind, while at the same time giving advanced students more difficult problems. It can be done. I know, because I did it for years. ALL students can benefit from review of basic concepts. Then the advanced students can be challenged by presenting more complicated problems on one side of the whiteboard, while proceeding with more basic ideas for the kids who are at or below grade level.

Comment on "Teachers can be bullied, too"
by Margaret Berry
Teaching Tolerance
3 November 2013

No one ever said teaching would be easy, but I never dreamed that with more than 27 years under my belt I would be treated like an outsider.

When I first read Common Core Standards I thought they would free me to teach my students what they needed when they needed it. I thought that with careful scaffolding and time, they would make progress. Little did I know that my school district would make Common Core more restrictive than a basal reading program. Who knew that someone with years and experience would be told, "not to worry, that mastery isn't necessary.... they will catch up next year or the next".

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance

The nicely-detailed New York Times article is at the bottom of this post. It seems that some school districts have realized that they are doing more harm than good with zero tolerance policies. But I liked the first article below from for calling out school administrators for their laziness--and for the great graphic.

See all posts re zero tolerance.

See also suspensions for defiance.

One School in America Just Voted To Not Be Stupid
by Ian-Fortey
June 2013

Zero tolerance is arguably the dumbest policy in the history of education and that includes things like teaching Creationism in non-religious schools. At least that can be fixed and ameliorated with the teaching of real science. You can’t really undo a suspension or expulsion and refund the time lost for a kid who got kicked out of school for bringing a plastic butter knife in his lunch. Despite how idiotic the policy is, it’s nationwide and has been in place for years. The gist of the policy is as follows – school officials will not need to worry about things like context, intention, common sense or even using brains and will instead use blanket, pointless punishments for any and all offenses that seem to fall under the purview of school policy, whether it makes sense or not.

Likely we’ve all heard stories of the heavy handed application of zero tolerance in the past. Like I said, that plastic butter knife example is true, kids have been suspended for bringing a knife in their lunch. In 2010 a 12 year old girl in new York wrote “I love my friends” on her desk in green marker. She was taken from school in handcuffs by the police. Three years earlier a 13 year old wrote “Okay” on her desk and was taken from school by police along with several other students who put stickers on a wall. A foodfight at a Chicago school ended in 25 arrests. Because 11 year olds need to be held accountable for felonious use of pudding.

To the gulag with all of them!

School officials, under the blind, deaf and remarkably dumb hand of zero tolerance have made anything that could be contextualized in some way as a crime into a full on, real crime with over the top reactions and punishments as a result. Metal bracelets have been banned from schools because they could be considered weapons. Plastic bracelets were banned because they may have had sexual meanings (which they didn’t). Rubber bands have been banned due to their use in the creation of projectile weaponry. Special education students in Florida were arrested and charged with a felony after drawing stick men being stabbed. A third grader drew a picture of his brother, a soldier in the US Army serving in Afghanistan, and was suspended because the drawing depicted a gun.

Despite how, for years, stories like these have hit the news and made every teacher, principal and school board look completely out of touch and completely stupid, no one has made a move to change policy until just now. The Suffolk school board in Suffolk, Virginia, after reviewing the case of two boys who were suspended for pretending their pencils were guns, pointing them at each other and making shooting noises, decided to get rid of zero tolerance. Now, in a stunning turn of events, school administrators will be able to decide on a case by case basis if something merits suspension or police involvement. Instead of a kid who brings a grenade to school getting the same punishment as a kid who draws a grenade, the principal can now decide to maybe not have the SWAT team show up.

Is this who we want showing up in schools?!?

Zero tolerance policies have been in US schools since 1994. That’s nearly 20 years of blanket stupidity, 20 years of education being cheapened by the implementation of idiotic and harsh extremism based on what is a fairly faulty logic to begin with – that by demonizing the smallest of crimes we prevent the bigger ones and create an orderly environment, an idea that falls apart in the face of the very nature of children and the way they act which is part of why they need to be taught the proper way to do things in the first place. Kids can be impulsive, irrational and illogical because they’re kids. They’re not mature yet, that’s kind of the point.

There isn’t actually evidence to support the use of zero tolerance in schools – its one redeeming feature, if it could be considered that – is that it doesn’t require effort. School officials get to be lazy by implementing it and not having to address any complexities at all. Studies have not indicated zero tolerance lowers drug use in schools, or violence. They offer no benefits at all beyond the thrill of reading another news story about how an idiot school board wrongly punished a child in an extreme and embarrassing way.


So one school board has abolished zero tolerance. In the past, courts have had to step in to tell school boards to chill the hell out and that they’re violating basic rights with their knee jerk reactions and foolish policies. Seems like it should be time for more school boards to get on top of this and stop treating all kids like scumbags; maybe encourage and reward the ones who came to school to learn and focus extra attention on those with problems and try to figure them out rather than just sending everyone off to the big house in fun-sized shackles.

Of course, to drop zero tolerance means more school board officials need to start thinking for themselves and who knows if that’s ever going to happen.

Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance
New York Times
December 2, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

Perhaps nowhere has the shift been more pronounced than in Broward County’s public schools. Two years ago, the school district achieved an ignominious Florida record: More students were arrested on school campuses here than in any other state district, the vast majority for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti.

The Florida district, the sixth largest in the nation, was far from an outlier. In the past two decades, schools around the country have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools. The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive in the wake of school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado.

But in November, Broward veered in a different direction, joining other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, in backing away from the get-tough approach.

Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.

These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.

In Broward, which had more than 1,000 arrests in the 2011 school year, the school district entered into a wide-ranging agreement last month with local law enforcement, the juvenile justice department and civil rights groups like the N.A.A.C.P. to overhaul its disciplinary policies and de-emphasize punishment.

Some states, prodded by parents and student groups, are similarly moving to change the laws; in 2009, Florida amended its laws to allow school administrators greater discretion in disciplining students.

“A knee-jerk reaction for minor offenses, suspending and expelling students, this is not the business we should be in,” said Robert W. Runcie, the Broward County Schools superintendent, who took the job in late 2011. “We are not accepting that we need to have hundreds of students getting arrested and getting records that impact their lifelong chances to get a job, go into the military, get financial aid.”

Nationwide, more than 70 percent of students involved in arrests or referrals to court are black or Hispanic, according to federal data.

“What you see is the beginning of a national trend here,” said Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Everybody recognizes right now that if we want to really find ways to close the achievement gap, we are really going to need to look at the huge number of kids being removed from school campuses who are not receiving any classroom time.”

Pressure to change has come from the Obama administration, too. Beginning in 2009, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education aggressively began to encourage schools to think twice before arresting and pushing children out of school. In some cases, as in Meridian, Miss., the federal government has sued to force change in schools.

Some view the shift as politically driven and worry that the pendulum may swing too far in the other direction. Ken Trump, a school security consultant, said that while existing policies are at times misused by school staffs and officers, the policies mostly work well, offering schools the right amount of discretion.

“It’s a political movement by civil rights organizations that have targeted school police,” Mr. Trump said. “If you politicize this on either side, it’s not going to help on the front lines.”

Supporters, though, emphasize the flexibility in these new policies and stress that they do not apply to students who commit felonies or pose a danger.

“We are not taking these tools out of the toolbox,” said Russell Skiba, a school psychology professor at Indiana University who promotes disciplinary changes. “We are saying these should be tools of last resort.”

In Broward County, the shift has shown immediate results, although it is too early to predict overall success. School-based arrests have dropped by 41 percent, and suspensions, which in 2011 added up to 87,000 out of 258,000 students, are down 66 percent from the same period in 2012, school data shows.

Under the new agreement, students caught for the first time committing any of 11 nonviolent misdemeanors are no longer arrested and sent to court. Rather, they attend counseling and perform community service.

Nor do students face suspension for minor infractions. Instead, they also attend a program called Promise for three days or more. Repeat offenders get several chances to change their behavior before more punitive measures kick in.

One recent afternoon, an 18-year-old senior sat in the cafeteria at the Pine Ridge Alternative Center, where students are sent in lieu of a suspension, and spoke with a psychology graduate student on a counseling team. The girl had been caught with a small amount of marijuana in her car on her high school campus, a misdemeanor that would have led to a suspension or arrest in the past. It was the first time she had gotten in trouble at school.

“I was freaking out,” she said. Her first fear was that she would be barred from prom. Here, though, she saw the larger picture and came to view the incident as “her second chance.”

She learned about bullying and drugs and alcohol. “It was a slap in the face,” she said. “I don’t even want to smoke anymore.”

Other students here learn to manage their anger, if that is their issue. Parents are involved in the process. And counselors have helped identify problems at home including abusive situations, something that administrators said underscores how invaluable the counseling component has been for the Promise program, said Belinda Hope, the principal at Pine Ridge.

Mr. Runcie and others said the more punitive measures tended to make a bad situation worse. Suspended and expelled children would be home alone or on the street, falling behind academically. Those arrested could be stigmatized by criminal records.

“The data showed an increase in the harshness of the disciplinary practices in schools — what was once a trip to the principal’s office is now a trip to the jail cell,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil-rights group involved in the effort.

Juvenile judges were among the first to express alarm over the jump in the number of students appearing in court on misdemeanors, an increase they said is tied to the proliferation of school police officers.

“We started to see the officers as a disciplinary tool,” said Judge Elijah H. Williams of Broward County Circuit Court, a juvenile judge who said he was “no flaming liberal” but saw the need for change. “Somebody writes graffiti in a stall, O.K., you’re under arrest. A person gets caught with a marijuana cigarette, you’re under arrest.”

A version of this article appears in print on December 3, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Who are the smartest kids in the world? The Pisa tests reveal who's rising and who's falling

Pisa tests: What do we know now?
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News
December 2013

Singapore is among the high-achieving countries at the top of global tests

How Pisa became the world's most influential exam

Would $4,000 make poor children cleverer?

The results of the latest Pisa tests, launched by the OECD this week, are going to be analysed disputed and selectively quoted for the next three years.

But what have we found about the world's education systems, from these tests taken by 15 year olds in maths, reading and science?

The coverage has been dominated by the rise and fall in national rankings, or in the UK's case getting stuck in the middle.

But there were also overarching findings from this mammoth trawl of data, based on 500,000 teenagers in 65 countries and education systems.

For instance, behaviour in class is better now than three years ago.

And among better-off countries, the amount spent on education does not seem to have any clear link with improving results.

But there were other more specific lessons.

East Asia's success not 'cultural'

The runaway success story has been the achievement of a clutch of Asian education systems. But results saw the OECD's Andreas Schleicher challenging any stereotypes about some places having an inherent "culture" of education.

Results in Shanghai and Vietnam are much better than three years ago, he says, but the "culture" hasn't changed.

The improvements reflect a deliberate policy of ensuring that a high proportion of pupils will succeed.

This also applies in other parts of the world. Poland has been transformed into one of the best school performers in Europe and the OECD argues this reflects an active policy of change and not any inherent quality of its culture. The implication of this is that other countries could follow their example.

High results or happy children?

Is it a good thing to be successful at any price? South Korea might be at the top end of the performance tables, but it's at the very bottom in how happy pupils are in school. Punishingly long hours of study, high pressure tests and extra lessons out of school might deliver high results. But is that the system to pursue?

In contrast, Peru, Albania and Indonesia, among the lowest test performers, have the highest proportions of children who like being at school.

The tests raise big questions about the balance of happiness and success

[Maura Larkins' comment: I suspect that one type of happiness, the enjoyment of intellectual pursuit, does play a large role in student success. I'm guessing that the truly strongest education systems, the ones that support achievement throughout a student's lifetime, rely on intrinsic motivation rather than duress.] And the Pisa study also showed no clear link between parental choice and better standards - but would parents accept a more controlling, centralised system to raise results?

Expect more examination of the relationship between cramming, creativity, choice and happiness.

Irresistible rise of rankings

The impact of Pisa as an international phenomenon could be directly linked to its bold willingness to rank countries. These league tables emerged about the same time as universities first experienced being listed like football clubs. It was an unfamiliar approach, but ranking has spread like ivy over ancient institutions. Everyone stands back and says it's a terrible over-simplification - and then starts planning ways to get higher.

Scandinavian gloom

Seekers after educational excellence once used to head pilgrim-like towards Finland. This was the most quoted example of a high performing school system, even though in many ways it was a very distinctive and individual system. Scandinavia was the education world's sensible successful neighbour.

But Finland has slipped downwards and the gloom has spread across Nordic countries, with Sweden among the biggest fallers. Norway and Denmark are absent from the top end of the tables. Their sluggish performances has been overtaken by countries such as Estonia, Poland and Ireland.

Are regions a better way of measuring results?

The headline results for these tests are about the performance of countries or at least big Chinese regional education systems that are as big as countries, such as Shanghai or Hong Kong.

But this year's results show much more local detail. And it often entirely contradicts the national picture.

For instance, the education system in the United States has been seen as one of the great under-performers, struggling among the below-average stragglers.

Go down to state level and it can be an entirely different story. Massachusetts would be a match for the best European systems. There are similar examples in Italy and Spain. Wales is a long way behind the other parts of the UK.

What this means, the OECD says, is that there are often bigger differences within countries than between countries. And if one region can perform so well, why not the rest of the country?

Boston Massachusetts had results completely unlike the US national score

Hungry newcomers

Education systems are inextricably linked with economies and the ambitions of their people. And the rising stars are those that are pushing up from below, in Asia, South America and eastern Europe. Vietnam, Brazil are Poland are getting the praise for progress, following in the footsteps of Singapore and South Korea.

Baltic states such as Estonia are now more likely to be among the top performers than wealthier western European countries.

Old empires

The great powers of the 20th Century are conspicuous by their absence from the top of these education rankings. The UK, France, Russia, the US, all with very different systems, have collectively shown no sign of a resurgence. They each will have a complicated, entrenched set of legacies. Expect more political introspection and rummaging through the ideas box.

Rise of global tests

Where is this all heading? Economies, employers, digital technologies and media operate globally across international boundaries.

But education has until recently remained stubbornly inward looking, with national systems only measured against national exams. Pisa has thrown down a challenge on their credibility.

What happens if national exam results are going up when international tests are staying flat? And how can we rely on the accuracy of a sample-based process such as Pisa? More examination of the examinations is lying ahead.