My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Guys--a Shopping Tip 

A friend of mine has started a business designing jewelry. She's a really gifted web designer who is expanding her artistic horizons in this direction. It's pretty cool stuff at a great website, and [guys!] could potentially save you hours of shopping for the perfect gift.

Check out C. Kelly Mitchell's stuff here. Pass the word.

On Larry Craig 

First of all, let me state very clearly: Larry Craig should resign. For the good of the Senate, for the good of Idaho, and for the good of the GOP, Larry Craig should step down. We should, and do, expect vry much better from our elected officials. And I applaud those members of Congress who have already stood up and called for him to do so.

But, help me out here: Am I imagining a pattern--a conspiracy, if you will-- where none actually exists, or are the coincidences more than believable?

In the early Fall of 2006, President Bush began to make very forceful speeches in defense of the War in Iraq. By Labor Day, it seemed as though the Democratic momentum had been effectively halted, and it seemed possible that the GOP might be able to retain a majority in the Senate, at least. Then, out of the blue, a major story breaks about lewd and wrong behavior from a member of the GOP caucus--a story that had actually taken place many months before, but only became a headline in September. The GOP momentum broke on the rocks of this story, and the election turned decisively for the Democrats.

In the early Fall of 2007, the country anxiously awaits a major report regarding progress in Iraq. All signs, including the observations of a couple of Democratic lawmakers, seem to point towards a very positive report which will indicate American success is more and more likely. Couple that with public opinion which seems to be shifting in a more positive direction regarding the war, and the Democrats in Congress seeming both impotent as legislators and hopeful of an American defeat, and you have the makings of a political sea change. Until the lewd and wrong behavior of a member of the GOP caucus--again, some time ago--becomes the major national headline. So on the same day that the President calls out Iran and talks about 12,000 dead terrorists in Iraq, all the major media can do is cover the fall from grace of one poor, confused Senator from Idaho.

Is it just me? Or, rather, is this just another fine example of the completely self-destructive impulses Republican office-holders tend to exhibit?

From the Department of Blind Squirrels 

Last night I wrote about the Denver Teachers' Union, and linked to a Rocky Mountain News editorial which called the union out for its over-the-top behavior in regards to current negotiations.

But, while I stand by the underlying criticism of the union, I must, in fairness, point out that the union is actually very correct on one point.

The letter to civic leaders took a direct swipe at the essential reforms Bennet has instituted. In it, Ursetta wrote the union "believes the time has come to listen to teachers, not policy wonks in think tanks far from Denver." (Actually, the chief academic officer who directs the reforms not only works for the district, after moving here from New York, but his background is in teaching, not think tanks.)

Ursetta also promised that the union would roll out its own proposed "teacher-designed, child-based" reforms soon.

As I mentioned here, teachers are very often the last link in the professional chain of curricular "innovations". So, if a union finally has the fortitude to tell the administration to stop listening to the ivory towers and start listening to the people in the trenches, I will point that out and applaud that.

And I, like the Rocky Mountain News, look forward to seeing these "teacher-designed, child-based" reforms. We hope that these reflect a seriousness about teaching students subject matter, and not a "soft American" reliance on "self-esteem" or any other gobbledy-gook.


Rep. Merrifield, Is There Also A "Special Place" For Teachers' Unions? 

Posting without comment, because a. I've said it before and b. it's too embarrassing to my profession:

From this blog, April 15 of this year:

Teachers' UNIONS, on the other hand, are self-important, self-interested, protectors of THEIR OWN interests who freely spend teachers' money on hard-left political causes, many of which have precious little to do with education.

Which is why I believe teachers' unions are one of the greatest impediments to good education in all of society.

From today's Rocky editorials:

The union has never been bashful about criticizing the fundamental reforms sought by Superintendent Michael Bennet. But in the current labor negotiations, its rhetoric has risen to an unhealthy level of antagonism and mockery.

This posture serves union members poorly, because it pits teachers against administrators and undermines reforms rather than giving them a chance to work. Intentionally or not, it also treats the district's students and parents as an afterthought, when they are the association's actual clients. . . .

In the meantime, the disdain that DCTA has expressed toward the district's administrators and their initiatives is not good for anyone. Until the union's leaders begin to see school administrators as partners, essential reforms will take longer to implement. Slowing that pace will only punish students now enrolled in district schools.


Sure, But Since When Has The Left Ever Needed Facts? 

The Rocky Mountain News is running a spot-on editorial today refuting any implication of wrongdoing by Bob Schaeffer in relation to a vote he cast as a Board of Education member.

Give Michael Huttner credit. The head of ProgressNowAction, a left-wing activist group, has ginned up plenty of media coverage by alleging Colorado State Board of Education member Bob Schaffer crossed an imaginary ethical barrier that would be impossible to enforce.

Huttner says Schaffer did something fishy when he cast a vote in a dispute between a charter school contractor and Denver Public Schools. . . .

Huttner argues that at a minimum Schaffer should return the contributions from Brennan and his wife, who also gave to Schaffer's 2008 efforts.

Look at the calendar. The Brennans' 2008 contributions to Schaffer came after the board's May vote, not before it.

Like I said, the Left has never needed actual facts to make a lot of noise. Sadly, this is very likely just the beginning of the smear campaign against Bob Schaffer.

And the Rocky is not likely to catch all of the lies. I hope the Schaffer campaign IS.


How Do You Know Global Warming Is Junk? 

Any time any argument for causation is alternately assigned to opposite resultants, you know the underlying argument is junk.

Case in point: [from The Corner]

Since the late 1960s, much of the North Atlantic Ocean has become less salty, in part due to increases in fresh water runoff induced by global warming, scientists say.
—Michael Schirber, LiveScience, 29 June 2005

The surface waters of the North Atlantic are getting saltier, suggests a new study of records spanning over 50 years. They found that during this time, the layer of water that makes up the top 400 metres has gradually become saltier. The seawater is probably becoming saltier due to global warming, Boyer says.
—Catherine Brahic, New Scientist, 23 August 2007

Polis' Sense of Irony Unsurprising, At Best 

From the Rocky Mountain News:

Congressional candidate Jared Polis announced in an e-mail message that he doesn't take "lobbyist money," but campaign records show he has received nearly $9,000 in donations from current or former lobbyists.

The e-mail also raised eyebrows because of Polis' lament about the influence of lobbyists in the political process.
. . .

"The whole point of this e-mail is that we are not financing this campaign in the typical fashion," [campaign spokesperson Wanda] James said.

Not financing this in the typical fashion?! Does she mean not the way Polis has helped bankroll the Democratic takeover of Colorado, through millions in 527 influence? Or does she mean not the way he financed his State Board of Education victory, which was through millions of his own money to buy the seat? Or does she mean not in the way he hammered through the now-inscrutable Amendment 41, which was through direct financing of "issue ads"?

In all reality, what's surprising about this is that Polis actually is getting any donations at all. I guess, that is, other than from Pat Stryker and Tim Gill.

Shoot Me Now 

It's stories like this one that just make me embarrassed to be a part of the education profession.

Officials at an Arizona school suspended a 13-year-old boy for sketching what looked like a gun, saying the action posed a threat to his classmates.

The boy's parents said the drawing was a harmless doodle and school officials overreacted.

The drawing did not show blood, bullets, injuries or target any human, . . .

Follow the link to see the actual drawing--it's not even a GOOD drawing of a gun.

I guess what's really sad--if there's any ONE thing that can be isolated for its sadness--it's that a quick look at the school's academic report card show that the school is an excellent school with very high success rates in the AIMS test (Arizona's standardized progress test). Not only that, but the school seems to have only been open for one year, with very low rates of either discipline issues or violence.

This seems like just another case of a school overreacting to a relatively innocuous act of distractedness in class. Calls to mind the story of a little boy and a wolf . . . .


Something To Think About 

Guess who said this [from Reader's Digest September issue]

We're in trouble with our education system. That's because a family today is considered a failure unless their kid goes to college. But not every kid has the aptitude to go to college. We need more service- and tradesoeioke--electricians, plumbers. There's nothing in school anymore that trains you for a job. When I dropped out of 11th grade, I could build a house with my own hands.

Just some down-and-out, bitter man, railing against "the system" to justify his own failures in life? Hardly.

This quote came from Ken Hendricks, the man listed at #107 on the Forbes Magazine list of the 400 richest Americans. Last year his housing materials company did over $3 billion in sales.

Just, like I said--something to think about.

Howard Dean's Amazing Sense of Timing 

Howard Dean was in Denver today, and, as usual, managed to step right into a fresh, steaming pile of . . . whatever it is Dean regularly steps in.

The war in Iraq will be a major issue during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, DNC chairman Howard Dean told several hundred people at the west entrance to the Pepsi Center this afternoon.

"Every single one of the Republicans running for president thinks we ought to stay in Iraq, maybe for as long as 50 years," said Dean. "Every Democrat thinks we ought not to be there."

On the same day--THE VERY SAME DAY--a major step towards Iraqi reconciliation is announced in the Italian press [via Captain's Quarters]

The leader of Iraq's banned Baath party, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, has decided to join efforts by the Iraqi authorities to fight al-Qaeda, one of the party's former top officials, Abu Wisam al-Jashaami, told pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

"AlDouri has decided to sever ties with al-Qaeda and sign up to the programme of the national resistance, which includes routing Islamist terrorists and opening up dialogue with the Baghdad government and foreign forces," al-Jashaami said.

. . . . In return, for cooperating in the fight against al-Qaeda, al-Douri has asked for guarantees over his men's safety and for an end to Iraqi army attacks on his militias.

Recent weeks have seen a first step in this direction, when Baathist fighters cooperated with Iraqi government forces in hunting down al-Qaeda operatives in the volatile Diyala province and in several districts of the capital, Baghadad.

Now, what in the world could make somebody like al-Douri decide to lay down his arms? Why would such a terrible dead-ender try to actually strike a deal?

Oh . . . maybe this, from President Bush today:

“In Iraq, our troops are taking the fight to the extremists and radicals and murderers all throughout the country. Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year. "

Oh, so, you mean it's possible that we can move towards political progress once we get closer to establishing security? And--just so I'm clear in my own mind--we're starting to establish security to the tune of killing 12,000 terrorists since January? And--again, just to be clear--isn't January about when the surge really started kicking in? So . . .

maybe the surge is working. And, maybe, just maybe, the Iraqis are moving themselves in the right direction now that they're not getting blown up so much (well, except for the bad guys). And maybe we'll have a massive success story in Iraq by the Democratic National Convention next year.



White House: Congress Sucks More Than We Do 

Not really. I mean, they do, but the White House would never say such a thing.

But it's gotta be hard on the Democratic leadership in the Congress to notice that their approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll is down to 18%. That's sort of in the "Mendoza-Line-For-Congress" territory there.

Guess all those dynamic, interesting freshman aren't as useful as the country (read:media) thought eight months ago.

Now, if only the Colorado GOP could find and get out and get behind good candidates to run against Ed Perlmutter and John Salazar. They're part of that 18%

And I have to believe the Republican bench is deep enough to field two quality candidates.

It is, right? Anybody . . . . . ?

AP via the Today Show: Children Happy 

In more news, children whose parents are still married are happier than those whose aren't, and children who participate in religious life are happier than those who don't.

Of course, I'm being a little sarcastic. This poll is NOT news to anybody who is raising a child--OF COURSE they're happier with both parents, and OF COURSE being religious makes them happier. This, in and of itself, is not news.

What might be news, however, is that the media reports all this as such surprising information. As if it never occurred to anybody in an editor's booth that traditional lives tend to be happier. Or, to put it more correctly, traditional lives ARE traditional lives because they tend to make those living them happier.

Mon dieu! HReeally?

Now, if we could just teach these kids something useful in school, we might be able to harness that positivity into making good changes in the world.

More Of Our Government At Work 

The Inspector General, Central Intelligence Agency, released its report on the performance of the Agency leading up to 9-11. All you have to know is this:

(U) The findings of greatest concern are those that identify systemic problems where the Agency's programs or processes did not work as they should have, and concerning which a number of persons were involved or aware, or should have been.

Systemic failures. . . . And 3,000 Americans died. Because of "systemic failures."

In other words, despite one previous attack on U.S. soil and a number of attacks on American interests oversees in the decade prior, the C.I.A. still could not figure out how to deal with even the possibility of an attack. It couldn't even get the right processes in place to deal with what we now see for what it was: an inevitability.

But this is the government that Hillary wants to hand over your health care to.


Because Liberal Ideas DON'T WORK! 

Three quick links about what happens when liberalism is allowed to run to its natural course.

:on crime (via Powerline) Don Surber notes a remarkable feature of criminal justice in Norway: prisons are optional. That is to say, the courts sentence criminals to prison, but whether they actually turn themselves in is up to the criminal:

Predictably, difficulty in planning prison occupancy is the least of the Norway's problems: Surber cites Interpol data to show that Norway's crime rate, and the crime rate across northern Europe generally, is now double that in the United States

:on economics (via Captain's Quarters) Meat disappeared after the government shut down private abattoirs, transferring all slaughtering to a quasi-governmental organization that cannot meet demand. Fuel supplies dried up after the National Oil Co. of Zimbabwe was made the sole authorized distributor.. . .

In towns, straggling queues form at any rumor of sugar, maize or bread. Most supermarket shelves are empty of basic staples: no meat, no sugar, no maize, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no milk. . .

That hasn't kept Mugabe from pressing his luck. He has used violence and intimidation to virtually shut down sector after sector of the private economy. Now he plans on going after what's left -- manufacturing and retail. They employ 27% of what's left of Zimbabwe's workforce, and their collapsing under price controls that force them to operate at ever-expanding losses. Those losses got expanded when Mugabe forced enormous wage increases at the same time he imposed price controls. A pair of trousers on the legitimate market now loses over $2400 dollars US; on the black market, the loss is around $7. . . .

Mugabe makes sure that the price and wage controls get enforced. Gangs of police and soldiers raid retail and manufacturing businesses to check on compliance. . . .

It's a perfect illustration of the end game for statist economics.

on public retirement (via The Kestrel) Unless the government [Italy] gets its pension accounts quickly into order, young people entering the workforce today will have to pay contributions amounting to 127% of their salaries over the next 15 years in order to receive the same benefits current pensioners receive.

THIS is what every Republican candidate has got to stress to the electorate in 2008. So far, we're getting creamed on money and, to a lesser extent, on style.

The problem for the Democrats is that they have to obscure the ridiculousness of their great policy ideas. That makes it our job to highlight them.


Anybody Else Recognize This Pattern? 

The President just left for his August vacation in Texas, while a major storm heads into the Gulf of Mexico right around Labor Day.

I'm just sayin' . . .

A very public display of preparedness would be in order right about now.


Just Thinking Out Loud 

In the last two statewide elections in Colorado, the Republican Party has put forward a candidate with the "aw-shucks", simple, western charm.

And gotten creamed.

Does that come pretty close to describing any of the current crop of GOP Presidential candidates (or near-candidates)? Maybe without the "western"?

On the other hand, Bill Owens coasted to re-election with an almost wonky, smooth approach.

Does that describe any of the current crop?

I'm just thinking that whoever the GOP puts forward in 2008 had better have long enough coattails to help pull Schaffer into the Senate and, hopefully, SOMEBODY into the House from both the 4th and 7th Congressional districts.

And we have a little bit of a track record--at least stylistically--to help evaluate.

I'm not committing to anything or anybody just yet, but this will definitely play a role in my final thinking.

Schaffer and Udall on Education 

Since I've been spending a lot of time over the last several nights on educational issues, I decided that tonight's post should examine how our two would-be Senators would address the issue. For that purpose, I will be looking at statements from the two man's websites (Udall's Congressional one here, and Schaffer's Board of Ed one here)

A sound public education system is the cornerstone for a strong, modern society, and our children deserve the very best we can provide in order to secure their successful future. The world is changing before our eyes, and the demands of an increasingly globalized economy are higher than ever before, with new competition coming from China and India. Our students must have the tools to be innovative and competitive if we want our economy to remain the strongest in the world.
Education is America’s top civic priority. A well-educated citizenry is absolutely necessary to maintain the Republic. The reason I have been such a strong and consistent supporter of public education is because I believe it is Colorado’s primary obligation to assist parents in the transmission of knowledge, values and skills to their children in the most direct and effective way possible.

The differences here are subtle, but important: notice Udall talks about what "we can provide," while Schaffer talks about how to "assist parents." Again, a subtle difference, but would you rather rely on the state to "provide" for your children, or would you rather provide for them yourself, with help from the state?

On No Child Left Behind
In 2001, I voted for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act because I felt it was an important bipartisan step toward the establishment of higher academic standards and accountability. Unfortunately, I believe it must be acknowledged that NCLB has fallen short of our expectations. . . .In the 110th Congress, I introduced the CLASS Act (HR 2070) to help achieve these goals. In addition to creating a more accurate measurement for student achievement, my bill would allow schools to better target groups with higher needs by offering transfer opportunities and supplemental resources to those groups alone instead of entire age groups.
After having helped draft the initial NCLB proposal while serving in Congress, I was ultimately compelled to vote against it. I did so for reasons of principle that today educators in Colorado and former colleagues in Washington say have proved sadly prophetic.

The goals of NCLB - lifting educational achievement for all children, particularly the most vulnerable - are admirable beyond question. However, the mechanisms of implementation have seriously undermined state and local authority and imposed undue burdens and needless confusion upon educators across the land. . . .Fixing NCLB cannot degenerate into a simple flight from accountability. Colorado's education community must demonstrate that we have a better way to advance the worthy goals of NCLB.

Again, a subtle difference. It sounds like Udall wants to simply move the goalposts while adding to the federal dole, but Schaffer wants to decrease the federal role but leaving the goal in place.

On the Role of Parents
Udall: silent
Schaffer: It is the responsibility of parents to educate their children. It is the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

The contrast here couldn't be more stark. The fact that Udall doesn't even acknowledge the role that parents play speaks volumes about what he thinks is really important.

But the really important thing here is completely inadvertent on Udall's part. Read this statement very carefully:

Lower-income children in America are not keeping pace with their peers who come from more advantaged families. Studies have shown that this is largely due to the fact that many of these children come to school ill-prepared to learn. The years from birth to eight-years old are critical in a child’s cognitive and social development, and our investment in education should emphasize these formative years. High-quality, comprehensive early-childhood programs like Head Start have been proven to help with cognitive development, socialization and long term performance. Head Start has served low-income children and their families since 1965 and currently serves over 900,000 children and families annually. I will continue to work to fully fund Head Start and support early childhood programs.

Do you see the problem?

"Head Start has served low-income children and their families since 1965", but "Lower-income children are not keeping pace with their peers who come from more advantaged families."

Huh? So . . . .

"I will continue to work to fully fund Head Start."

In other words, as a Senator I will FULLY embrace and FULLY fund programs that have never proven to actually work.

This is the line of offense for the Schaffer campaign: Democratic policies DO NOT WORK, but they continue to embrace them and think that all they need is more funding.

NCLB pumped more than $10 billion in new federal funds into education, but it seems that almost nobody thinks it has accomplished anything. Why should we think additional funding will make any difference in any other aspect of education?

I hope the Schaffer campaign embraces an offensive strategy with regard to education. Udall's a tool of Big Education, and Schaffer has a long track record of support for and reform of public schools. Which one will serve Colorado better?

[cross-posted at Schaffer v. Udall]


CSAP Impressions, post-script 

A couple nights ago, I analyzed the results of an "innovation" Jefferson County schools embraced two years ago. The conclusion I reached was that the new program was less than uniformly successful.

To be kind.

But I would like to take a moment to point something out. This "innovation" that I analyzed was not written by the teachers in JeffCo Schools. It was not, for that matter, very likely written by classroom teachers at all.

Nor was it purchased with the consent or consultation of the vast majority of classroom teachers, either.

This program, like most "Newest, Greatest Things", was probably written by a college professor somewhere, in consultation with a publishing company. It could not possibly have been rigorously tested in real classroom situations, because it was only completed in 1998. That means that it has only had 9 years, at most, of classroom testing. And last time I looked, public schooling lasts 12 years. It was bought by the school district and handed down to the teachers from on high, with a plan for teaching them how to teach it over the course of two years' time.

My point is this: do not hold it against the classroom teachers that they are trying to teach something that has pretty shaky data about success. They're just the part of bureaucracy that comes most in contact with your students.

But they're also the part of the bureaucracy that make the fewest decisions.

And, since the CSAP tells us that only about 30% of our students are doing the math they should be doing in 10th grade, let me suggest that maybe we'd all be a little better off if the teachers made a few more of those decisions on their own.

Could it possibly be worse than the results we're getting right now?


CSAP Impressions, part last 

So, what's the bottom line in all of this?

I've spent several nights now talking about what the CSAP test tells us about the state of education in the state of Colorado.

And, as near as I can tell, the bottom line is this: educational improvement across the state is a very hit-or-miss proposal.

Some "regular" public schools do a pretty nice job, but "reforms" tend to be embraced absent any evidence that they actually work (you want to talk about "faith-based" education?).

Some charter schools, like Peak to Peak, do an excellent job, seem to move their children ahead of where they start, and could be models for achievement. On the other hand, other charters barely perform at a level comparable to their nearby "regular" schools.

And at the end of all of this analysis, we have the usual laments about the haggard state of American education, and how the rest of the world is moving ahead of us at an alarming rate.

And that brings me to the last point I want to make about CSAP: if others are doing it so well, then why don't we simply imitate them? Is it really that hard?

I remember doing some classes a couple years ago in which it was frequently stated that, according to one recent study, American schools led the world in exactly one category: the weight of our textbooks.

So, we got that going for us . . .

And yet, nobody seemed very interested in studying what the other countries were doing differently.

So let me pose a few questions that the leaders of the future need to consider if they wish to be taken seriously on the issue of education.

What proportion of their educational resources do the countries that out-perform us ("CTOPU") devote to second-language learners in their classrooms?

What proportion of their educational resources do CTOPU devote to special education?

What proportion of their educational resources do CTOPU devote to individualized instruction for students with learning disabilities?

How would you characterize the depth and efficacy of remediation efforts in CTOPU?

What proportion of the typical instructional day in CTOPU is devoted to drilling fundamentals, as opposed to "critical/creative thinking" instruction?

What is the average length of the instructional day in CTOPU?

How would you characterize the richness of the Arts Education program in CTOPU?

What is the nature of disciplinary intervention in CTOPU?

How are teachers evaluated in CTOPU, and what steps are required to remove ineffective ones?

What is the process for achieving grade-level advancement for students in CTOPU?

What accountability is in place for students who under-perform in CTOPU?

What proportion of the total student population in CTOPU are tested in comparative assessments? In other words, how many students take the test in CTOPU that EVERY American student has to take?

It would seem to me that any serious discussion of American education must at least have a basis in understanding of the answers to all of these questions. We can lament all we want that Germany scores 10 points higher than us (or whatever) on "the test", but until we understand how Germany is different, we will never quite have a grip on whether or not this is the huge problem it is made out to be.

AND THEN . . . .

once we know the answers to these questions, doesn't it seem at least reasonable to work towards imitating the way things are done in CTOPU? Or, at least, shouldn't know why we're not doing things the way they do?

And then let's stop grasping at straws of educational reform and put serious time and energy into COMPLETELY RE-SHAPING American education, based on models that actually work already in the real world.

When Henry Ford pioneered the assembly-line, every manufacturer in America was soon imitating it. When Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls with an unorthodox game plan called the "West-Coast Offense," imitators sprung up over night all around the NFL.

Why do we in America not insist on copying the things that work in other places around the world?

And, yes--I'm also hoping the answer isn't just that we don't, as a society, have the intestinal fortitude to be as hard on our students as they are over there.


Amazing Week In the Normal World 

Bloggers are a unique bunch, especially political bloggers. For the most part, they are WAY more interested in the world of public policy than most, and they tend to be vastly more informed about the goings-on in Washington and the corridors of power than most. And I include myself in that--I love sports, but if I watch SportsCenter at night, its almost always because its on in the background as I'm writing a post on this blog.

So it took a while for it to dawn on me that we've just passed a week that most people--men especially-- would consider one of the most extraordinary in their lifetimes. Consider:

:on Sunday, Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player ever to hit his 500th home run, right in the middle of a year in which he is almost certain to be the AL MVP

:only a few hours later, Barry Bonds hit his Hank-Aaron-tying 755th home run, forever guaranteeing him a place at the top of a near-mythological list; he would go on to hit the record-breaking homer just a couple nights later

:on Tuesday, Tom Glavine, by all accounts one of the best guys in the game, became quite possibly the LAST major league pitcher to win his 300th game

:on Thursday, a terribly flawed but imminently likable John Daly, ranked about 420th on the tour this year and given up for career-dead several times, teed it up at the PGA Championship and posted a 67, good for 2nd on the leaderboard after day one; he has since managed to stay in the game, if not on the leaderboard

:also on Thursday, another career-dead but likable guy, Rick Ankiel, made his return to the major leagues as a remade man, and marked the occasion by hitting a home run--almost bringing his skipper, Tony LaRussa to tears and to a thundering, standing ovation by the hometown Cardinals fans

:and Tiger Woods is poised to earn his 13th major championship at the PGA today, having a 3-stroke lead (now 2) as he smartly moves around the course with his foot on the throat of the competition

What I love about sports, and how it is vastly different the politics, and what I miss too much in my passion to watch the political class, is that sports often brings out the absolute, very best in people. Sure, it's not life-and-death, actual important stuff like serving in the military, but sometimes you see stuff that is truly inspirational.

And I'm not just talking about the record-setting brilliant sort of performances like Bonds and Woods--feats of athletic accomplishment that most of us can only shake our heads at in wonder.

In particular I'm talking about the moments of redemption from people who were once feted by the sports masses, but whose personal "issues" cast them from the limelight, and--in the way only the American Cult Of Personality can do--discarded them as flashes who were no longer meaningful. So when a John Daly goes out and has a brilliant day, followed by a very funny and human press conference, it gets my attention, regardless of how he finishes the week. And if you weren't moved by the scene from St. Louis this weekend (complete with the obligatory footage of Rick Ankiel throwing six pitches to the backstop in the 2001 playoffs), then you're a pretty cold person.

So, sure, sports doesn't really matter in the long run.

Except maybe, once in a while, we get a little glimpse of what is POSSIBLE for a person to accomplish. And that, for all of us, is a very good and important thing.


CSAP Impressions, part III 

Last night I mentioned that charter schools are able to work around things like district curricula, especially if said curricula may not work. Tonight, I am going to elaborate.

Jefferson County Public Schools went to great lengths and expense to purchase, and to then train their teachers to use, a new math curriculum called Math Investigations (with its 6th grade companion "Connected Math" and upper grade equivalents). This is supposed to be te next great thing. It was piloted in a handful of schools during the 05-06 school year, and then implemented across most of the district in 06-07.

Disclosure: I only know all this because I spent many hours with my daughter this year helping her get a grip on this program.

Did it work?

Here are the Math CSAP scores for 15 of the schools in the northwest part of Jefferson County Public Schools who have adopted Math Investigations. Once again, scores are presented in cohort-groups, (2006 score, 2007 score, progress) with the key number being the +/- at the end of each grade.

4th grade 54 46 -8
5th grade 64 39 -25
6th grade 41 40 -1

4th grade 67 43 -24
5th grade 65 68 +3
6th grade 57 65 +8

4th grade 77 85 +8
5th grade 80 76 -4
6th grade 85 85 --

4th grade 64 45 -19
5th grade 60 59 -1
6th grade 55 72 +17
4th grade 33 57 +24
5th grade 48 34 -14
6th grade 16 40 +24

4th grade 63 60 -3
5th grade 77 66 -11
6th grade 86 71 -15

Hackberry Hill
4th grade 78 81 +3
5th grade 86 77 -9
6th grade 66 69 +3

4th grade 55 81 +26
5th grade 65 56 -9
6th grade 58 58 --

4th grade 60 60 --
5th grade 69 53 -16
6th grade 55 63 +8

4th grade 84 86 +2
5th grade 82 74 -8
6th grade 84 81 -3

4th grade 70 86 +16
5th grade 77 70 -7
6th grade 58 50 -8

4th grade 88 71 -17
5th grade 71 85 +14
6th grade 87 83 -4

Van Arsdale
4th grade 89 82 -7
5th grade 86 76 -10
6th grade 80 75 -5

4th grade 33 57 +24
5th grade 48 34 -14
6th grade 16 40 +24

West Woods
4th grade 98 93 -5
5th grade 92 83 -9
6th grade 81 86 +5

So, there you have it. 45 assessment groups, 16 demonstrated improvement, 26 showed regression, and 3 broke even.

The question you have to ask yourself, if you are paying property taxes, or especially if you have children in this school system, is this: did Jefferson County Public Schools just spend money on a curriculum that is not doing anything to teach our children math? Is this really better than what we were doing before?

And just how long do they intend to keep using a system that isn't working?

After the investment the district made in this program, I have no doubt that they will stick with it for several years. Which means, very likely, a lot of remedial math instruction somewhere before these kids get to college.

And then ask yourself this: if a charter school showed numbers like this, how long would they stick with the curriculum?

I would like to think not very long.

There's the advantage of the charter school.


CSAP Impressions, part IIB 

Two nights ago, I did an analysis of the CSAP scores for three Colorado elementary charter schools. The results were, well, uneven.

One school show regression in every test in every grade, one show a mixed bag, and one showed pretty good growth. My point was that charter schools are not a simple cure-all to what ails the education system.

I failed, however, to point out one obvious factoid: charter schools, by their very nature, are more nimble and aggressive in diagnosing and prescribing solutions to problems. They are not tethered to a district bureaucracy which may have invested heavily in a curriculum project, or which may have created a culture of conformity; as such, charter schools have a much better opportunity to respond to problems that the CSAP brings out.

I would be very surprised if there wasn't a noticable difference in two of the charter schools I analyzed by this time next year.

What do I mean, "invested heavily in a curriculum project"? Tomorrow night, I will elaborate, using "Math Investigations" and the Jefferson County schools.

Note: Denise has pointed out that the one charter school I mentioned earlier which showed great growth this past year, Peak to Peak, has also recently been honored to have its high school named the Best High School in the Denver Metro Area by 5280 magazine. With scores like the ones that elementary is putting up, I would expect this high school to be in contention for that award year in and year out.


Regarding Asterisks 

If memory serves, Roger Maris had an asterisk next to his name and the number "61" for years.

Barry Bonds might have an asterisk, as well. And that's too bad.

You can say what you want about the man--he's not the most outgoing, media-friendly guy in the bigs.

You can say what you want about the weight gain in the last ten years--yeah, it's a bit abnormal for a man to bulk up like that at his age.

Me, I've been "bulking up" a bit in the last few years, but it has very little to do with home run power.

But just look at the numbers. No matter what you think of the 756, you have to consider this:

:a very good major-league career lasts eight to ten years
:a good major-league season is one in which a man hits 30 home runs; at 30 home runs per year, it would take a man 26 seasons to get to 756
:a very good major-league season is one in which a man hits 40 home runs; at 40 home runs per year, it would take 19 seasons to get to get to 756;
:a great major-league season is one in which a man hits 50 home runs; at that rate, 15 seasons
:a record-style season is one in which a man hits 60 home runs; 13 seasons

You cannot diminish either the volume of home runs or the astonishing consistency with which Bonds has played for the better part of his 22 years. If it was all steroids, Bonds would have had a few amazing seasons, with several interesting ones marked by lengthy stints on the DL (a la McGwire). But people forget that there was a time, when he was still a skinny little guy as renowned for his base-stealing as anything else, that Bonds legitimately contended for the triple crown.

So, congratulations to Barry Bonds on setting the home run record tonight. Do I wish a better spokesman for major-league baseball had accomplished this feat? Sure. But I'm just happy I was around to see the record.

Besides, A-Rod's going to break the record in six years, anyway.


CSAP Impressions, part II 

Inevitably, somebody will note my post from the other day, and say that they ARE making real changes with their students because they go to a charter school. So, for tonight's exercise, I've decided to look at the test scores of three charter schools to see what sort of progress they really are making with their students.

The three I've chosen will be these:
:Excel Academy, in Jefferson County, because it's close to home
:Crown Pointe Charter Academy, in Westminster 50, because it's a pretty tough area
:Twin Peaks Charter Academy, in Longmont, to get out of the Denver Metro Area

For this exercise, I will follow my own advice, and analyze according to cohort groups. So you will see me list the grade and the subject, followed by two scores--this class's score (i.e. the number of students who "pass" the test) on the same LAST year, with the score from this year. In other words, the 4th grade math scores are what that school's 3rd graders scored last year, and what the 4th graders scored this year, so we can compare apples to apples. Then I will simply mark the change in score to establish whether the students progressed from last year.

Excel Academy Elementary
4th Gr Math 83 74 -9
4th Gr Reading 77 75 -2
4th Gr Writing 60 53 -7
5th Gr Math 69 58 -11
5th Gr Reading 65 54 -11
5th Gr Writing 48 38 -10
6th Gr Math 78 72 -6
6th Gr Reading 85 81 -4
6th Gr Writing 65 58 -7

Crown Pointe Charter Academy
4th Gr Math 72 88 +16
4th Gr Reading 88 76 -12
4th Gr Writing 60 76 +16
5th Gr Math 91 88 -3
5th Gr Reading 96 81 -15
5th Gr Writing 74 77 +3
6th Gr Math 87 65 -22
6th Gr Reading 79 85 +6
6th Gr Writing 79 65 -14

Twin Peaks Charter Academy
4th Gr Math 92 86 -6
4th Gr Reading 94 84 -10
4th Gr Writing 74 76 +2
5th Gr Math 80 82 +2
5th Gr Reading 80 86 +6
5th Gr Writing 54 74 +20
6th Gr Math 64 82 +18
6th Gr Reading 86 90 +4
6th Gr Writing 82 82 n/c

Do I do this to tear down charter schools? Of course not--I'm actually a pretty big fan of charter schools. And it does need to be noted that, even with all those red numbers up there, these schools still out-score their districts by a wide margin. And any good statistician will tell you that three schools hardly makes a sample worthy of making ANY conclusions from.

That said, my larger point is this: there is no panacea out there. SOME charter schools are excellent, and make dramatic improvements in their children's performance; and some charter schools are somewhat disappointing, and unable to buck the trends of schools in general.

And it also needs to be said that there are many "regular" public schools that show significant improvement in their students' performance from year-to-year, also.

But the overall trends are disappointing.

For what it's worth, Twin Peaks was ranked with "Improvement" in terms of academic growth by the state; Crown Pointe was ranked "Significant Improvement"; and Excel was ranked "Stable." There's also one school whose numbers I was looking at earlier today whose scores were all "in the black," but somehow the state labeled it "Decline."

So if you're a person who looks for the labels the Big Education establishment puts on schools, you may want to look a little deeper.

The numbers don't always support the labels.

Hurricane Forecast Lowered 

Hurricane researcher William Gray lowered his 2007 forecast slightly Friday, calling for 15 named storms, with eight becoming hurricanes and four of those becoming intense.

On May 31, at the outset of hurricane season, Mr. Gray had expected 17 named storms and nine hurricanes, five of them intense.

“We've lowered our forecast from our May predictions because of slightly less favourable conditions in the tropical Atlantic,” said Philip Klotzbach, a member of Mr. Gray's team at Colorado State University.

The new forecast calls for three named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in August; five named storms, four hurricanes and two intense hurricanes in September; and five named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in October and November combined.

I'm really just posting this so that in November it's easy to go back and see how accurate these predictions really are.

Just for comparison, so far there have been (just doing the math) two named storms this season, neither of them hurricanes. This compares to the earlier prediction of four storms to this point, with one hurricane.

One would think, if this was a predictable effect of global warming, that it might be possible to get more of this right.

But the predictions seem to be a bit difficult to get right. For instance, last year the original forecast was for 13-16 named storms, with 8-10 hurricanes; in the end, there were 10 storms, five of them hurricanes.

I don't know about you, but I wish I had a job that allowed for a 38% margin of error.

So let's just watch and see what the reality ends up being in November. My point is, if the local news weather person can't get the weather right for tomorrow, and these advanced climatologists can't get it right for this season, what makes anybody think they can get it right for the next two decades?


CSAP Impressions, part I 

With the announcement of the results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program on Tuesday, we now have a lot of data to work from when assessing the progress of Colorado shools and Colorado students. Over the course of the next several days, I will try to break down various aspects of the test results. With any luck--or maybe, I don't know, a little bit of actual logic--I will provide some thoughts that run contrary to the dominant media spin, and, in particular, contrary to the inevitable hand-wringing of Big Education.

I'll start with this beautifully simple statement in the Rocky Mountain News:

"It looks like wherever we meet you, that's where you stay two years later," [Jo] O'Brien said.

Okay--that needs a little setting up.

For the first time, the department this year dissected data from the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests to show how students progressed over the past two years. . .

Two-thirds of the third-graders who scored "unsatisfactory" — the lowest level — in reading in 2005 are still at that level, the data show. And more than 20 percent of students who were partially proficient — the step just above unsatisfactory — in 2005 slipped down to unsatisfactory this year. . . .

At the other end of the scale, students who scored at the advanced or proficient level stayed there. Only 12.9 percent of third graders slipped from advanced or proficient to a failing level

So . . many . . .thoughts . . .can't . . . sort . . .them . . .

Okay, so it's as though the bottom line is fairly simple: after two years of schooling, students tend to still be wherever they started out.

Well, . . DUH. If you accept the idea, even just a little bit, that talent and native intellect have something to do with academic performance, than you have to expect that a test that identifies low achievement would not vary greatly from year to year.

In fact, this actually looks fairly promising: if 33% of those Unsatisfactory two years ago have managed to move up the scale, while 20% of those "partially proficient" and 12.9% of those marked proficient slip, than it would seem you have a balanced ledger. Yes, the actual numbers are probably a little bit different, but just thinking in terms of percentages you have managed over these two years to keep the number of students failing constant.

I know--I'm looking for a silver lining here. Work with me, people.

Let me break a few things down here.

First of all, what do you mean "for the first time the department dissected data . . ." Are you telling me that this sort of analysis HAS NOT been the norm over the ten-year life of the CSAP?!?! How stupid is that?

It's like the Denver Broncos trying to do a ten-year running analysis of their running offense WITHOUT taking into account the specific running backs. "For our purposes, there is no difference between Terrell Davis or Clinton Portis or Ron Dayne." That is, of course, absurd; and so is the notion that we having not been tracking individual students to know if there is any mobility between classifications.

Secondly: Why are students who failed this assessment in third grade taking the fifth grade assessment two years later? Is it just me, or is the fact that they failed the assessment an indicator that maybe they should not have moved on to the fourth grade, and subsequently, the fifth grade materials just yet? How about we master the third grade stuff, then move on--you'll be a little behind your age group, but better that than we start stringing together years and years of failure.

This is one of the major--perhaps fatal--flaws of the American education system: there is NO accountability to the students. If a student is unable to do third grade work, they should not be asked then to do fourth grade work; if they never master any of the starting points, then how in the world can we expect them to be able to function at a high school level eventually?

But more importantly, thinking Big Picture, here's a thought: is it possible that a student who fails the third grade test entered Kindergarten behind the rest of their classmates? Does it seem reasonable to expect that a perfectly normal kid is somehow failed by the education system over the course of the years Kindergarten through 3rd grade while his classmates were fine; or, rather, applying Occam's Razor, is it MORE likely that this kid started out behind and was never made to or expected to catch up, so that when testing finally rolls around in third grade they have very little hope of success?

Maybe we can use this testing regiment to identify the students who need the most help the earliest and then GET THEM HELP rather than just shepherding them along with their age-peers.

And, by the way, folks (and here's where I'm going to tick off my conservative friends), guess who's more important to a child's learning in the first eight years of their lives: their parents, or the schools?

That's right, folks--the schools can only do so much. If parents haven't read to their children when they were younger, if they don't continue to read with them in Kindergarten and first and second grade, then NO amount of brilliance or dedication of resources by the schools are going to make that child a great reader in the third grade. They may get lucky--native intelligence and talent will always play their roles--but the schools can only do so much.

The converse is true, as well; the numbers seem to say that students who start out ahead continue on just fine. Does that mean that the schools don't effect them? Or is their influence mitigated by great environment or talent? Or do these students succeed IN SPITE of the schools?

Or, perhaps, whatever it was that got them ahead in the first place is still in place, irregardless of any effort on behalf of the public schools.

Maybe it would be more useful for all of us if we used this information strictly to identify aberrations. Find places where schools got students to defy their destiny, and then let's study that school and emulate it. Likewise, find schools that clearly retarded students' destinies, and then let's burn that building to the ground.

Maybe then we can have a reasonable discussion about schools' responsibilities and students' responsibilities in the context of EVERYTHING involved. Because right now, and for the last ten years, we've been having a very loud conversation about what the schools' responsibilities are, and we're not, apparently, having any affect on our students.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most important points of discussion that should come out of the entire CSAP hullaballoo--just what is the role and the expectations for the public schools. If the general public--conservatives included--expect the schools to cover up for failures of parenting and upbringing, than the schools will continue to be Quixotic failures.

If, instead, parents accept their rightful roles as first and most important teachers of their children, and then hand their children off to the schools for more opportunities and focused instruction, and the schools start focusing their mission on instuction and results, then there is the possibility that we can see some real changes in student achievement.

We either get used to the idea that we all have a role to play in this, or we get comfortable with the notion that the world only needs so many engineers and doctors and lawyers, and we ought to just let those jobs go to those with talent, while everybody else picks up useful blue-collar skills.


Counting Our Blessings 

The early estimates of the dead from the 35W collapse--9 dead, 30 missing--seem to have been overstated.

More than 100 cars and trucks and a school bus crawling bumper-to-bumper on a bridge that suddenly crashed into the Mississippi River seemed like a recipe for a massive death count. But on Friday came what this city's fire chief called a miraculous turn of events: the prospect that relatively few lives were lost.

The latest count I heard tonight was 5 confirmed dead, with possibly as few as nine people still missing.

An extraordinary number, considering the conditions.

A great deal of credit must, of course, go to the first responders in Minneapolis--fire and police--and to the organized leadership of the rescuers working under the umbrella of Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

But this strikes me more as a triumph of the common man seeing an extraordinary event, seeing his neighbor in danger, and working in a focused and self-sacrificing fashion to do what they can to help.

So, while Democrats move to assign blame--absent ANY real information--I choose to continue to pray for the victims, their families, and to celebrate the amazing qualities of character and community evident on this day in America.


I don't have a lot of free time (blogging doesn't count as free time . . . though my wife might quibble with that distinction I maintain), and so what free time I have I rarely give over to television.

Though, for some inexplicable reason, the television is almost always on.

Hmmmmm. . . .

Anyway . . .

So when I find a show I really like, I make it a point to watch. 24 has become one of those sad little obsessions, finding ways to suck me in and hold my attention for hours at a time.

And now I've found another one.

The History Channel has a wide assortment of viewing offerings, some of which are too much like high school history for my taste, but a few which are very interesting. Recently, they've started a series called "Human Weapon", in which the two hosts--a mixed-martial arts fighter and a former pro football player and wrestler--travel around the world to study with experts in a variety of martial arts.

For anybody who has ever studied a martial art (ahem . . . JARED), or even anybody who just enjoys UFC or sport karate, it is fascinating to watch.

Plus, it's hilarious to watch a 250-pound former football star get smacked around by 150-pound, 70 year-old Oriental guys.


More Good News On Stem Cells 

ADULT stem cells, that is.

British researchers said on Wednesday they had successfully grown in the laboratory a type of adult stem cell found in the eyes of both fish and mammals that develops into neurons in the retina.

In future, these cells could be injected into the eye as a treatment for diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes-related blindness, according to Astrid Limb of University College London's (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology.

Wow. You mean it's possible that we could actually have a therapy for something--we might actually cure a human problem--without the massive federal spending boondoggle that embryonic stem cell research has become.


It's almost as if--and I hesitate to say this out loud--our Congresspeople don't know what they're doing. While they spend hours and hours of debate to pass bills that they know are going to be vetoed by the President to spend billions of taxpayer dollars chasing the elusive embryonic stem cell cure-all, researchers all over the world are using their time very effectively finding uses for types of stem cells that have NO ethical baggage attached to them.

It almost makes you think the Democrats are more interested in the embryonic stem cell (rhetorical) bludgeon rather than actually finding cures for human suffering.


Keeping An Eye On Governor Ritter 

Ben has a pair of very good posts today.

The first notes that the Independence Institute is going to file a lawsuit regarding Governor Ritter's massive tax hike. I don't expect much from this state's judiciary, but you never know--stranger things have happened.

The second piggybacks on the Rocky Mountain News editorial of today to take on one of the four proposed "solutions" for health care reform in Colorado, with some excellent links useful arguments for free-market solutions.

Just for humor, Ben includes a link to another story which shows what a stuffed suit Bill Ritter is, especially when he tries to wade out into national and international affairs.


A Note On Evaluating CSAP Scores 

NOTE: the numbers I used in this post are hypotheticals to make my point; for some reason, at the time I was writing this, I couldn't access the real numbers on the web. When I get real numbers, I'll use them (hopefully, they won't make my hypotheticals look overly-optimistic).

A common mistake people make when they're looking at CSAP scores is to compare last year's 3rd grade scores to this year's 3rd grade scores.

One can hardly be blamed for that--that's how the scores get reported by the notoriously uneducated press. But this is not the best way to look at the data.

If you really want to know how well your school is doing, you have to look at what educators call "cohort groups;" that is, look at how a class performs compared to how that same class performed last year.

Let me take an example: if you look at the 6th grade test scores in Jefferson County, you'll see that in Math, the 6th grade had 52% of the students score proficient or better. You might be tempted to think that this is a great thing, because last year only 48% of the 6th graders scored proficient or better.

But that would not be useful. This year's 6th graders are a completely different group than last years'--that improvement could be simply an unusual difference between classes. It's impossible to tell.

If, on the other hand, last year's 5th grade class had 55% of the students score proficient, than you must conclude that there's a problem. Why are 3% of the students not proficient this year when they were proficient last year?

You see how the data can be deceiving.

Want to really get depressed? Compare the 10th grade test scores with the 5th grade test scores from five years ago.

So I would caution you, as you are looking at the data, to not get too caught in the simple analysis. Work a little deeper and get a sense for how schools are doing by looking at how classes have performed in the past.

Ritter's Heavy Hand 

From the Rocky Mountain News:

. . ."It is like 'my way or hit the highway' and that's not right," Moffat County Commissioner Saed Tayyara said Wednesday.

Ritter's July 3 visit and subsequent request angered county commissioners, who say Vermillion Basin contains an estimated $5.85 billion worth of gas, based on production in surrounding areas. Ritter disputes the estimate. . . .

Moffat County's three commissioners said Ritter is ignoring their 12 years of planning to put together a drilling plan.

Almost $6 billion? Perhaps in his zeal to create the "new energy" economy, Ritter is too anxious to cripple the "old energy" economy, and the rest of the economy with it.

Pray For Minneapolis/St. Paul 

Latest from FoxNews: 9 dead, 28 in the hospital, some with serious injuries, and 24 still unaccounted for.


As Rocket Man says, "This is the kind of disaster that just doesn't happen in the United States--a bridge spontaneously collapsing, apparently, into a river."

There is a lot to this story, and we have almost none of it yet (contrary to the DHS). There are a great many possible explanations for a collapse of this nature, but few of the "spontaneous" ones seem like they would be sudden; on the other hand, many of the "non-spontaneous" ones could be absent an explosion or similar outward sign. And, granted, I'm no engineer, but this smells wierd.

In the meantime, say your prayers for the people of the Twin Cities. That number "9" will almost certainly climb over night, and it's impossible to know right now what the long-term impact on the region could be.

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