Sunday, August 28, 2011

Abandoned Blog

I am abandoning this blog due to lack of time.  I will instead be dedicating some time to my educational curriculum wiki at

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I spoke too soon. Boo! Hiss!

My alma mater finally gets pretends to get it right.

Effective with the current academic year FIU has dropped its secondary education major and replaced it with a requirement to major in your selected discipline and take education classes.  To think I wrote a paper making this recommendation back in 1992! Better late than never, I guess.

FIU's new BA in "mathematics" with a major in math education
Notice what's missing from this curriculum ... differential equations, abstract algebra, advanced calculus.  And it's short one two math courses relative to a real math major (even though history of math isn't valid for math majors it's required by the state so I'll let that slide, but there's no way I'll ever accept Problem Solving Seminar as a legitimate math course).  And they still allow the farcical substitution of statistical methods in place of mathematical statistics. 

FIU's new BA in physics education
The gaps here are even more appalling than in the mathematics program ... the differential equations mathematics prerequisite, the second semester of classical mechanics, BOTH semesters of quantum mechanics and BOTH semesters of electricity and magnetism.

In summary, these are EXACTLY the same watered down crap they gave in the college of education, except now they're polluting the College of Arts & Sciences.  This is actually WORSE than before!  For shame!!  (I'm actually a little disappointed in myself that I allowed myself to believe that anything was going to get better.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Incompetence and recognizing competence in others

When the researchers then shared the performance of other participants with the people who performed poorly (hoping that they would then adjust their self-perception downward) people who scored poorly failed to adjust their self-perception of their performance.  In other words, they are completely unaware of their own incompetence and can't detect competence in others. (Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Shadow Scholar

(Normally I would not reproduce an article wholesale like this, but given the author is scum I don't really mind being yet another client who presents his words as my own.  The original article can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education. - ALD)

The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): "You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?"

I've gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client had attached a document from her professor with details about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.  I told her no problem.  It truly was no problem. In the past year, I've written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won't find my name on a single paper.

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.  I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I've worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company's staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.  You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students' writing. I have seen the word "desperate" misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn't write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created. Granted, as a writer, I could earn more; certainly there are ways to earn less. But I never struggle to find work. And as my peers trudge through thankless office jobs that seem more intolerable with every passing month of our sustained recession, I am on pace for my best year yet. I will make roughly $66,000 this year. Not a king's ransom, but higher than what many actual educators are paid.

Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it. Last summer The New York Times reported that 61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion about custom papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms of plagiarism, or about why students cheat in the first place.  It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I'm planning to retire.

It is late in the semester when the business student contacts me, a time when I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a day. I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks before, suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical business practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which goes in my pocket.

A few hours after I had agreed to write the paper, I received the following e-mail: "sending sorces for ur to use thanx."  I did not reply immediately. One hour later, I received another message:
"did u get the sorce I send
please where you are now?
Desprit to pass spring projict"

Not only was this student going to be a constant thorn in my side, but she also communicated in haiku, each less decipherable than the one before it. I let her know that I was giving her work the utmost attention, that I had received her sources, and that I would be in touch if I had any questions. Then I put it aside.

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let's be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn't get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven't mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to "master" English. And those who are hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication in general.  (Whatever helps you sleep at night. - ALD)

Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as "but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?"  I'll admit, I didn't fully understand that one.  It was followed by some clarification: "where u are can you get my messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to get very worry."  Her messages had arrived between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Again I assured her I had the matter under control.  It was true. At this point, there are few academic challenges that I find intimidating. You name it, I've been paid to write about it.

Customers' orders are endlessly different yet strangely all the same. No matter what the subject, clients want to be assured that their assignment is in capable hands. It would be terrible to think that your Ivy League graduate thesis was riding on the work ethic and perspicacity of a public-university slacker. So part of my job is to be whatever my clients want me to be. I say yes when I am asked if I have a Ph.D. in sociology. I say yes when I am asked if I have professional training in industrial/organizational psychology. I say yes when asked if I have ever designed a perpetual-motion-powered time machine and documented my efforts in a peer-reviewed journal.

The subject matter, the grade level, the college, the course—these things are irrelevant to me. Prices are determined per page and are based on how long I have to complete the assignment. As long as it doesn't require me to do any math or video-documented animal husbandry, I will write anything.  I have completed countless online courses. Students provide me with passwords and user names so I can access key documents and online exams. In some instances, I have even contributed to weekly online discussions with other students in the class.

I have become a master of the admissions essay. I have written these for undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs, some at elite universities. I can explain exactly why you're Brown material, why the Wharton M.B.A. program would benefit from your presence, how certain life experiences have prepared you for the rigors of your chosen course of study. I do not mean to be insensitive, but I can't tell you how many times I've been paid to write about somebody helping a loved one battle cancer. I've written essays that could be adapted into Meryl Streep movies.

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

With respect to America's nurses, fear not. Our lives are in capable hands­—just hands that can't write a lick. Nursing students account for one of my company's biggest customer bases. I've written case-management plans, reports on nursing ethics, and essays on why nurse practitioners are lighting the way to the future of medicine. I've even written pharmaceutical-treatment courses, for patients who I hope were hypothetical.

I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it's hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. Future educators of America, I know who you are.

As the deadline for the business-ethics paper approaches, I think about what's ahead of me. Whenever I take on an assignment this large, I get a certain physical sensation. My body says: Are you sure you want to do this again? You know how much it hurt the last time. You know this student will be with you for a long time. You know you will become her emergency contact, her guidance counselor and life raft. You know that for the 48 hours that you dedicate to writing this paper, you will cease all human functions but typing, you will Google until the term has lost all meaning, and you will drink enough coffee to fuel a revolution in a small Central American country.

But then there's the money, the sense that I must capitalize on opportunity, and even a bit of a thrill in seeing whether I can do it.  And I can. It's not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It's just miserable. I don't need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.

I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don't know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there's Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I've taken hundreds of crash courses this way.

After I've gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I've refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.

I've also got a mental library of stock academic phrases: "A close consideration of the events which occurred in ____ during the ____ demonstrate that ____ had entered into a phase of widespread cultural, social, and economic change that would define ____ for decades to come." Fill in the blanks using words provided by the professor in the assignment's instructions.

How good is the product created by this process? That depends—on the day, my mood, how many other assignments I am working on. It also depends on the customer, his or her expectations, and the degree to which the completed work exceeds his or her abilities. I don't ever edit my assignments. That way I get fewer customer requests to "dumb it down." So some of my work is great. Some of it is not so great. Most of my clients do not have the wherewithal to tell the difference, which probably means that in most cases the work is better than what the student would have produced on his or her own. I've actually had customers thank me for being clever enough to insert typos. "Nice touch," they'll say.

I've read enough academic material to know that I'm not the only bullshit artist out there. I think about how Dickens got paid per word and how, as a result, Bleak House is ... well, let's be diplomatic and say exhaustive. Dickens is a role model for me.

So how does someone become a custom-paper writer? The story of how I got into this job may be instructive. It is mostly about the tremendous disappointment that awaited me in college.

My distaste for the early hours and regimented nature of high school was tempered by the promise of the educational community ahead, with its free exchange of ideas and access to great minds. How dispiriting to find out that college was just another place where grades were grubbed, competition overshadowed personal growth, and the threat of failure was used to encourage learning.

Although my university experience did not live up to its vaunted reputation, it did lead me to where I am today. I was raised in an upper-middle-class family, but I went to college in a poor neighborhood. I fit in really well: After paying my tuition, I didn't have a cent to my name. I had nothing but a meal plan and my roommate's computer. But I was determined to write for a living, and, moreover, to spend these extremely expensive years learning how to do so. When I completed my first novel, in the summer between sophomore and junior years, I contacted the English department about creating an independent study around editing and publishing it. I was received like a mental patient. I was told, "There's nothing like that here." I was told that I could go back to my classes, sit in my lectures, and fill out Scantron tests until I graduated.

I didn't much care for my classes, though. I slept late and spent the afternoons working on my own material. Then a funny thing happened. Here I was, begging anybody in authority to take my work seriously. But my classmates did. They saw my abilities and my abundance of free time. They saw a value that the university did not.

It turned out that my lazy, Xanax-snorting, Miller-swilling classmates were thrilled to pay me to write their papers. And I was thrilled to take their money. Imagine you are crumbling under the weight of university-issued parking tickets and self-doubt when a frat boy offers you cash to write about Plato. Doing that job was a no-brainer. Word of my services spread quickly, especially through the fraternities. Soon I was receiving calls from strangers who wanted to commission my work. I was a writer!

Nearly a decade later, students, not publishers, still come from everywhere to find me.  I work hard for a living. I'm nice to people. But I understand that in simple terms, I'm the bad guy. I see where I'm vulnerable to ethical scrutiny.  But pointing the finger at me is too easy. Why does my business thrive? Why do so many students prefer to cheat rather than do their own work?  Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.  You know what's never happened? I've never had a client complain that he'd been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.

With just two days to go, I was finally ready to throw myself into the business assignment. I turned off my phone, caged myself in my office, and went through the purgatory of cramming the summation of a student's alleged education into a weekend. Try it sometime. After the 20th hour on a single subject, you have an almost-out-of-body experience.

My client was thrilled with my work. She told me that she would present the chapter to her mentor and get back to me with our next steps. Two weeks passed, by which time the assignment was but a distant memory, obscured by the several hundred pages I had written since. On a Wednesday evening, I received the following e-mail:
"Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:
The hypothesis is interesting but I'd like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.
What shoudwe say?"

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can't remember the name of my client, but it's her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and trade liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.

So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:  "thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now".

Thursday, October 07, 2010

High School Graduation Mathematics Requirements

Algebra I = CA, FL, GA, IN, MS, NC, ND, NH, NM, OK, SD
Geometry = AL, IL, KY, MD
Algebra II = AR, MI, DE, LA, TN, VA
The remaining states = zippo

Friday, June 25, 2010

College Required Reading Lists

The National Association of Scholars released a report on the books that colleges are requiring their incoming freshmen to read.  Leaving aside the usual liberal bias debate, their incontrovertible conclusion is that the list is pitched at an intellectual level well below what should be expected of college freshmen and it is hard to find anything on the list that poses even a modest intellectual challenge to the average reader.

Here's the list ... see for yourself ...

  1. A Good Fall Jin, Ha
  2. A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America Cuadros, Paul
  3. A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League Suskind, Ron
  4. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Beah, Ishmael
  5. A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean McClure, Tori Murden
  6. A Thousand Splendid Suns Hosseini, Khaled
  7. A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age Pink, Daniel
  8. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge Neufeld, Josh
  9. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation Patel, Eboo
  10. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic De Graaf, John and David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor
  11. An Ordinary Man Rusesabagina, Paul
  12. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Kingsolver, Barbara
  13. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Sijie, Dai
  14. Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking Gladwell, Malcolm
  15. Blonde Roots Evaristo, Bernardine
  16. Blue Hole Back Home Lake, Joy Jordan
  17. Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It Royte, Elizabeth
  18. Brooklyn: A Novel Tóibín, Colm
  19. Brother, I'm Dying Danticat, Edwige
  20. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam Pham, Andrew X.
  21. China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power Gifford, Rob
  22. China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution Chen, Da
  23. Cion Mda, Zakes
  24. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose--Doing Business by Respecting the Earth Anderson, Ray C.
  25. Copenhagen Frayn, Michael
  26. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers Appiah, Kwame Anthony
  27. Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism Yunus, Muhammad
  28. Crossing into America: the New Literature of Immigration Mendoza, Louis and Subramanian Shankar, eds.
  29. Cry, the Beloved Country Paton, Alan
  30. Day of the Locust West, Nathanael
  31. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account Of The Death Penalty In The United States Prejean, Helen
  32. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future McKibben, Bill
  33. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick, Philip K.
  34. Dreams from My Father Obama, Barack
  35. Ecology of a Cracker Childhood Ray, Janisse
  36. Einstein's Dreams Lightman, Alan
  37. Enrique's Journey Nazario, Sonia
  38. Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America Bok, Francis
  39. Everything Matters Currie, Ron Jr.
  40. Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living Fine, Doug
  41. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal Schlosser, Eric
  42. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change Kolbert, Elizabeth
  43. Flight Alexie, Sherman
  44. Frankenstein Shelley, Mary
  45. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner
  46. Freedom Writers Diary Gruwell, Erin
  47. Friday Night Lights Bissinger, H.G.
  48. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America Dumas, Firoozeh
  49. Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage Rogers, Heather
  50. Half of a Yellow Sun Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
  51. Half the Sky Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn
  52. Here, Bullet Turner, Brian
  53. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Ford, Jamie
  54. Hunger Chang, Lan Samantha
  55. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto Pollan, Michael
  56. Into the Wild Krakauer, John
  57. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit Quinn, Daniel
  58. It's Kind of a Funny Story Vizzini, Ned
  59. Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny Harper, Hill
  60. Light and Darkness Anthology Anthology
  61. Listening is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project Isay, Dave
  62. Make the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary Strickland, Bill
  63. Man, Controller of the Universe Rivera, Diego
  64. Maus Spiegelman, Art
  65. Me Talk Pretty One Day Sedaris, David
  66. Miracle in the Andes Parrado, Nando
  67. Mountains Beyond Mountains Kidder, Tracy
  68. Mudbound Jordan, Hillary
  69. Muskingum College (History Series) Giffen, Heather, William Kerrigan and R. Worbs
  70. My Own Country: A Doctor's Story Verghese, Abraham
  71. Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America Ehrenreich, Barbara
  72. No Impact Man Beavan, Colin
  73. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It Batstone, David
  74. Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town St. John, Warren
  75. Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell, Malcolm
  76. Peace Like a River Enger, Leif
  77. Persepolis Satrapi, Marjane
  78. Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption Thompson-Cannino, Jennifer and Ronald Cotton and Erin Torneo
  79. Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around Wagner, Cheryl
  80. Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet Mackinnon, James & Alisa Smith
  81. Regeneration Barker, Pat
  82. Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet McNeely, Ian F. with Lisa Wolverton
  83. Rescue Warriors: The U.S. Coast Guard, America’s Forgotten Heroes Helvarg, David
  84. RFK In the Land of Apartheid Shore, Larry
  85. Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life Fisher, Len
  86. Rooftops of Tehran Seraji, Mahbod
  87. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, And The Search For The American Dream Shephard, Adam
  88. Searching for God Knows What Miller, Donald
  89. Secret Daughter, a Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away Cross, June
  90. Song Yet Sung McBride, James
  91. Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time Loeb, Paul Rogat
  92. Sounds of the River Chen, Da
  93. Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan Mortenson, Greg
  94. Strange as This Weather Has Been Pancake, Ann
  95. Strength in What Remains Kidder, Tracy
  96. Telex from Cuba Kushner, Rachel
  97. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Alexie, Sherman
  98. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Twain, Mark
  99. The Alchemist Coelho, Paulo
  100. The Bean Trees Kingsolver, Barbara
  101. The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 Eggers, Dave
  102. The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao Li, Charles
  103. The Blue Sweater Novogratz, Jacqueline
  104. The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World Pollan, Michael
  105. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer
  106. The Brief History of the Dead Brockmeier, Kevin
  107. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Diaz, Junot
  108. The Cathedral Within Shore, Bill
  109. The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts Farley, Tom Jr. and Tanner Colby
  110. The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother McBride, James
  111. The Colors of the Mountain Chen, Da
  112. The Communist Manifesto Marx, Karl
  113. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Haddon, Mark
  114. The Devil's Highway Urrea, Luis Alberto
  115. The Dew Breaker Danticat, Edwige
  116. The DNA Age Harmon, Amy
  117. The End of the Spear Saint, Steve
  118. The Family Bible Delbridge, Melissa
  119. The Geography of Bliss Weiner, Eric
  120. The Glass Castle Walls, Jeannette
  121. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows
  122. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter McCullers, Carson
  123. The House on Mango Street Cisneros, Sandra
  124. The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel Ogawa, Yoko
  125. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Skloot, Rebecca
  126. The Kite Runner Hosseini, Khaled
  127. The Last Lecture Pausch, Randy & Jeffrey Zaslow
  128. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir Yang, Kao Kalia
  129. The Learners Kidd, Chip
  130. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Zimbardo, Phillip
  131. The Maltese Falcon Hammett, Dashiell
  132. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals Pollan, Michael
  133. The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Iyer, Pico
  134. The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream Davis, Sampson and George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt
  135. The Perks of Being a Wallflower Chbosky, Stephen
  136. The Poe Shadow Pearl, Matthew
  137. The Reluctant Fundamentalist Hamid, Mohsin
  138. The Road of Lost Innocence Mam, Somaly
  139. The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal Mooney, Jonathan
  140. The Soloist Lopez, Steve
  141. The Sparrow Russell, Mary Doria
  142. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: a Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures Fadiman, Anne
  143. The Things They Carried O'Brien, Tim
  144. The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur Hari, Daoud
  145. The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works – and How It’s Transforming the American Economy Fishman, Charles
  146. The White Tiger Adiga, Aravind
  147. The World Without Us Weisman, Alan
  148. The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future Watkins, S. Craig
  149. These Shining Lives Marnich, Melanie
  150. This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women Allison, Jay and Dan Gediman
  151. This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women Allison, Jay and Dan Gediman
  152. Three Cups of Tea Mortenson, Greg and David Oliver Relin
  153. Tracking Desire: A Journey After Swallow-Tailed Kites Cerulean, Susan
  154. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society Manjoo, Farhad
  155. Under a Papery Roof: A Memoir About Life in Post-Revolutionary Iran and Exile Sanati, Panteha
  156. Walden Thoreau, Henry David
  157. What is the What Eggers, Dave
  158. When the Emperor Was Divine Otsuka, Julie
  159. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman Krakauer, John
  160. Where We Stand: Class Matters hooks, bell
  161. Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World Goldsmith, Jack and Tim Wu
  162. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Tatum, Beverly Daniel
  163. Will This Be on the Test? Anthology
  164. Wish You Well Baldacci, David
  165. Work Hard. Be Nice.: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America Mathews, Jay
  166. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto Lanier, Jaron
  167. Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body Shubin, Neil
  168. Zeitoun Eggers, Dave
  169. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
  170. 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina Rose, Chris

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Save Are Teachers

Perhaps your teachers are not worth saving. Also, perhaps you should understand the issues before you protest.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tough guys don't do math. Tough guys fry chicken for a living.

RIP Jaime Escalante, now you have a ticket to see the show.
Thank you!

Claudia: You're worried that we'll screw up royally tomorrow, aren't you?
Jaime Escalante: Tomorrow's another day. I'm worried you're gonna screw up the rest of your lives.

Jaime Escalante: Do you want me to do it for you?
Pancho: Yes.
Jaime Escalante: You're supposed to say no.

Jaime Escalante: You know the times tables?
Thug: I know the ones, the twos...the threes (shows him The Finger)
Jaime Escalante: (whispering) Ahhh The Fingerman ehh? I am The Fingerman too; you know what I can do? I can multiply by nine. Three times nine? (starts counting with his fingers) one... two... three, what do you got? (shows fingers) twenty seven; six times nine, one... two... three... four... five... six, what do you got? (shows fingers again) fifty four; how about something more difficult? How about eight times nine? one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... eight, what do you got? (shows fingers a third time) seventy two.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Widespread Cheating on Georgia's CRCT

This article provides a list of all the schools that were flagged because more than 25% of classrooms had answer sheets with wrong-to-right changes in excess of three standard deviations above the norm. Forty-three Atlanta Public Schools are on the list.

Exceeding three standard deviations is expected to happen only in 0.15% of the cases, so the state has clearly set an extremely conservative rule in order to avoid unfairly tainting any school's reputation. The odds of hitting this rule without there being cheating in at least some of that 25% of classrooms is literally infinitesimal (so small as to be unmeasurable).

And even more astounding, there are schools on the list where 80%+ of classrooms exceeded this amount. ALL FOUR of these were within the Atlanta Public Schools system.
* Frank L Stanton Elementary, 83.3%
* Peyton Forest Elementary, 86.1%
* Gideons Elementary, 88.4%
* Parks Middle, 89.5%

With school rates this insanely high it strains credibility that these were individual teachers acting alone, and with 58% of all elementary schools in Atlanta Public Schools implicated it strains credibility that these were individual principals acting alone. Numbers like this can only point to the top of the system's administration. Either the superintendent Beverly Hall was in on it or she is a blithering idiot of monumental proportions. Either way, she has to go. Now!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Talk about bad judgement

Selling candy didn't raise much money last year, so a Goldsboro middle school tried selling grades. However, the fundraiser came to an abrupt halt today after a story in The News & Observer raised concerns about the practice of selling grades. Wayne County school administrators stopped the fundraiser, issuing a statement this morning. "Yesterday afternoon, the district administration met with [Rosewood Middle School principal] Mrs. Shepherd and directed the the following actions be taken: (1) the fundraiser will be immediately stopped; (2) no extra grade credit will be issued that may have resulted from donations; and (3) beginning November 12, all donations will be returned." A $20 donation to Rosewood Middle School would have gotten a student 20 test points - 10 extra points on two tests of the student's choosing. That could raise a B to an A, or a failing grade to a D.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On grading...

“Shouldn’t effort count for something?” We all know students who attend every class and turn in every assignment yet still do poorly, sometimes because they don’t test well or because they didn’t have the prerequisites to succeed in the course. Such students may not deserve to fail, but should they earn an A for their effort? And what about the students who are so far ahead of their peers that they can goof off in class, blow off homework and yet ace the midterm and final. Do they merit an A? Shouldn’t a student earn credit for showing up on time, for being respectful of the teacher and peers and for trying, even when the results fall short?

I once taught a cocky 20-year-old who’d been suspended from his prestigious university and ended up in my evening class at a community college in Florida, where the average student was about 60. The young man had already taken a similar course at his former school, so he was disgruntled to be repeating the same material and sitting next to classmates wearing orthotics. His displeasure showed. I gave him the A, but it hurt. On the other side of the grading equation, I’ve taught diligent students who respected their classmates, arrived early, stayed late, but flubbed the tests, usually because they entered college without the necessary fundamentals.

The author somehow misses the obviousness of an idea that she actually includes in her text. Shouldn't grades represent what you know? How did we get away from the idea that a grade represents what you have mastered of the subject matter at hand, nothing more and nothing less?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sweating the small stuff

The Weekly Standard recently reviewed this book; a great read for anybody interested in seeing what actually works. The book also explains why we see more of what doesn't work instead of what does work...
The three legs of the education establishment tripod--teacher unions, education schools, and the district bureaucracy--are all unlikely to embrace key elements that make paternalistic schools work. Requiring teachers to work longer days and years would violate union contracts. So would allowing principals to handpick teachers (who may or may not be certified), evaluate and pay instructors based on their effectiveness, and fire those who are not successful in the classroom. Frequent testing, teacher-directed instruction, and flunking students who fail to meet academic standards are all unpopular at schools of education. District bureaucrats, meanwhile, are loath to grant individual schools the freedom to do things differently.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is college too much to ask?

Charles Murray (of The Bell Curve fame): While half of our high school graduates march off to four-year colleges each year, only about 10% meet the intellectual benchmark suggested by College Board data - at least an 1180 on the SAT math and verbal tests - to master traditional college-level work. Murray contends that it’s cruel to steer kids to college when most lack the intellectual chops to handle it and will flounder. America holds a romanticized view of education, he says, and propagates a fairy tale, unsubstantiated by the hard truths of inborn abilities, that students are limited only by their ambition and will. Murray claims that the most schools can do is cause children who are intellectually below average - by definition about half of all kids - to be a little less below average. Even the best teachers under the best conditions cannot overcome the limits set by a child’s own cognitive abilities. “The 9-year-old who has trouble sounding out simple words and his classmate who is reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ for fun sit in the same classroom day after miserable day, the one so frustrated by tasks he cannot do and the other so bored that both are near tears.”

In countering Murray, Anthony Carnevale (director of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce) attacked his major premise, “that there is something in each of us that is innate and fixed, that doesn’t change over time. … It is true that cognitive ability affects people’s prospect in life, but it’s also true that people’s prospects affect cognitive ability.” In looking at high-scoring first-graders across incomes, Carnevale says 75% of the more affluent kids will still test high in fifth grade, compared to only 45% of the poorer students. That gap is not created by some inherent deficit in the children, he says, but to the quality of the educational opportunities afforded the two groups.

Carnevale (like most researchers looking at similar results) completely miss the point. They are confusing cause and effect. The largest factor influencing the facts that the affluent parents are affluent and the poor parents are poor is the cognitive ability of the parents, which IS hereditary. Therefore, the primary reason that financially disadvantaged students underperform is NOT financial; that is simply a side effect of the fact that they are below average on the cognitive ability scale.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

88% of DC 8th-graders can't read

Well, not really, although that is the sensationalist headline that CNN used. If you actually watch the news clip the actual statistic is that only 12% of eighth graders are proficient at the eighth grade level per NAEP exams (and only 8% in math). Isn't that bad enough without a misleading headline?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fake Diploma Mill Degrees

One fact from the article jumped out at me.

"The number of fake doctorates sold each year is in the range of 50,000 to 60,000," states John Bear, author of "Bear's Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning." "The number of real Ph.D.s awarded is around 40,000."

Bear goes on to say "In America right now, more than half of all the Ph.D.s are fake." but that is not correct. I assume he meant more than half of all PhDs issued each year are fake.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wall Street Looks Abroad

Senior executives at some of the largest U.S. corporations say stringent immigration policies are hurting New York's ability to compete with other financial centers. Investment bank officials say visa issues have forced them to move jobs to other countries. "New York's ability to compete with London, which has much more open immigration, or with the emerging financial capitals in Asia and the Middle East, depends on mobility of talent," said Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City.

Source: NYT

Now even Wall Street claims it can't find talent, another chink in our educational armor.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Discussion of Physics Education Major

Same idea, for the physics ed major now...

Requirement: A minimum of 25 hours, selected from the following list:
AST 3033 Recent Advances in Astronomy and Cosmology
ISC 3121 Science, Technology, and Society
PHY 2048C General Physics A
PHY 2049C General Physics B
PHY 3101 Intermediate Modern Physics
PHY 3221 Intermediate Mechanics
MAP 2302 Differential Equations or MAP 3305 Engineering Mathematics
PHY 3424 Optics
PHY 3802L Intermediate Laboratory
PHY 4040C Physics of the 20th Century
PHY 4323 Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism
PHZ 3113 Mathematical Physics

Of course, this looks quite reasonable on paper. The somewhat low 25 credit requirement is due to the fact that the major wants to accommodate introductory chemistry and biology sequences. But the first problem is that General Physics eats up 10 of the 25 credits. Then physics ed majors stay away from classes that physics majors take, so you end up with the following very unreasonable collection of courses:

PHY 2048C-2049C General Physics A&B (10)
PHY 3424 Optics (3)

AST 3033 Recent Advances in Astronomy and Cosmology (3)
ISC 3121 Science, Technology, and Society (3)
PHY 3101 Intermediate Modern Physics (3)
PHY 3802L Intermediate Laboratory (3)

Here's how I would toughen this up...

1) Given how often biology, chemistry and physics teachers end up teaching each others' classes, I agree that the 25 credit limit is appropriate and will work within its confines


2) Physics majors have to take General Physics as a lower division prerequisite; I see no reason why physics ed majors could not do the same.

3) Drop the AST and ISC courses. No question. There's simply no room for this. Drop the Physics of the 20th Century course too; it doesn't count for physics majors - too fluffy.

4) This removes the elective nature of the existing list. Modern Physics, Intermediate Mechanics, Differential Equations / Engineering Mathematics, Intermediate Electricity & Magnetism, Mathematical Physics and Optics should all be required. But since this is just six courses, I have actually opened up space for two electives.

So we end up with the following eminently reasonable collection of courses:

PHY 2048C-2049C General Physics A&B (prerequisite)
PHY 3424 Optics (3)
PHY 3101 Intermediate Modern Physics (3)
PHY 3221 Intermediate Mechanics (3)
MAP 2302 Differential Equations or MAP 3305 Engineering Mathematics (3)
PHY 4323 Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism (3)
PHZ 3113 Mathematical Physics (3)
Two electives selected from courses that satisfy physics major requirements (6)

And I've even saved a credit. My proposed program requires 24 credits instead of 25.

Discussion of Math Education Major

Trying to resurrect this blog...

When I argue that, at almost every college in the country, the math ed major is unnecessarily weak relative to the math major, the response I get is always that because of all the education courses required, there is not enough space left within the confines of a 120 credit degree to fit in all the courses that a math major usually takes. Fine, I will leave aside my opinion that the education courses are not anywhere near as valuable as the math courses they displace. I will work strictly within the confines of this restriction.

Let's look at one school's BS in math ed...

Subject Matter Specialization: Thirty semester hours of mathematics at the 3000 level or above including 3 semester hours in geometry, 6 semester hours in probability or statistics, and 3 semester hours in linear or abstract algebra.

This sounds rigorous, until you start dissecting it. First of all, the calculus sequence is somewhat oddly numbered 3000-level, so there's 12 credits right there. Then 6 credits of introductory statistics (also numbered 3000-level), 3 credits of linear algebra, 3 credits of geometry and 3 credits of history of mathematics, and you're at 27 credits without taking a single substantive upper-level college math class. One class (introduction to advanced mathematics is customary) and you're done.

Let's see if this can be improved...

1) First of all, math majors are expected to complete Calculus I-II-III and Linear Algebra as part of their lower division preparation. Since the math ed major does not require any lower division prerequisites, it should be possible for them to fit these courses into their first 60 credits the same as math majors. I've just freed up 15 credits.

2) Instead of the introductory statistics sequence designed for social science majors, I would require the Mathematical Statistics sequence that math majors are required to take. No change in the total number of credits, but I've just toughened up this requirement.

3) Geometry is fine as is. History of math is a little fluffy for my taste, but it is required by the state. No changes.

4) I would definitely add differential equations, which is a lower division prerequisite for the math major.

5) I would also require Advanced Calculus and Algebraic Structures. Together with introduction to advanced mathematics and mathematical statistics, this will give all math ed majors exposure to at least the common core required of all math majors.

To summarize, we started with the following course selection...

Calculus I-II-III (12)
Linear Algebra (3)
Introduction to advanced mathematics (3)
Geometry (3)
History of mathematics (3)
Introductory Statistical Methods (6)

And we've ended up with

Calculus I-II-III (prerequisite)
Linear Algebra (prerequisite)
Introduction to advanced mathematics (3)
Geometry (3)
History of mathematics (3)
Mathematical Statistics (6)
Differential Equations (3)
Advanced Calculus (3)
Algebraic Structures (3)
Two electives selected from courses that satisfy math major requirements (6)

Quite a difference, n'est pas? And all without removing a single education class.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Additional Data

Here's an updated graph of the percentage of temporary visa holders in mathematics, physical science and engineering graduate programs. In 2005 (the most recent year for which data is available), the percentages were 42% for physical sciences, 44% for mathematics and 54% for engineering. These numbers reflect a slight drop from their peaks in 2001-2 due to a reduced number of visas in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

For those who want all the gory details, they can be found at the NSF website.

Restarting a conversation from October 2004

It should be deeply troubling that admissions for students from countries which have previously been enthusiastic consumers of American education is up (apparently in double-digit percentage increases), especially in fields where American student participation has already declined dramatically, and in which international student participation already exceeds 50%.

It is facile and [dis]ingenuous to claim that this is a problem related to a lack of competitiveness on the part of American students. The real issue is whether the departments in question have been compromised to the extent that they no longer function for the populations that they were built to educate. Ohio University’s experience over the last two years indicates that such a compromised culture flourished for over two decades in its graduate mechanical engineering department — allowing international students to plagiarize with impunity and thus “outcompete” US citizens. Ohio is not alone and the problems detailed there may be spreading.

Realistically, American students really have very few other options to fulfill their educational needs. Degrees taken in most other nations (with the exceptions of the UK, Canada, and Australia) are usually not considered equivalent to US degrees in the US job market, and most nations are not particularly open to the notion of welcoming immigrant labor. There is also a certain amount of resentment and hostility generally directed at Americans abroad primarily owing to political issues — even in nations that are presumably allies — and it would be foolish to assume that this does not have a negative impact on those subjected to it.

There are other substantive issues involved, including the indiscriminate dissemination and loss of intellectual property, the exploitation of graduate programs to provide means and opportunity for international espionage, and the probability of successful integration of people from countries where ethnicity and religion are conflated with national identity. There are issues of representation and not-so-subtle racism — is it sound for a nation to enroll large numbers of people from a given nation (e.g. India) when it has substantial minority populations that are underserved (i.e. Hispanic, African-American, or better yet, Native American)? Not least is the issue of whether a nation has a duty to at least try to ensure the productive employment of its citizens, and whether large-scale international participation interferes with that duty.

Comment on the Inside Higher Education wesbite

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A hilarious blog

Still very relevant commentary on the state of education today, but with a much needed humorous attitude that helps keep us sane.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blog Post by Joanne Jacobs

Forty to sixty percent of students who start California schools as “English Learners” never reach full English proficiency; many won’t graduate from high school.

My article How Good is Good Enough? Moving California’s English Learners to English Proficiency is up on the Lexington Institute web site.

California schools lose funding when students are reclassified as “fluent English proficient,” an obviously perverse incentive. Many set high standards for reclassification: ELs have to do as well or better than the average native English speaker to qualify as proficient.

But the larger issue is that many ELs go to schools that don’t do a very good job teaching reading and writing to anyone. They’re not reclassified as proficient because they score below-average in English Language Arts on the state exam, even though they may speak “playground English” as their preferred language. ELs become proficient in English more quickly if they attend schools that focus on building the reading and writing skills of all students.

This isn’t really about teaching in English (more than 90% of ELs are in mainstream English classes) or teaching in Spanish. It’s about teaching well.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dean at M.I.T. Resigns, Ending a 28-Year Lie

Marilee Jones, 55, originally from Albany, had on various occasions represented herself as having degrees from three institutions: Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fact, she had no degrees from any of those places, or anywhere else, MIT officials said.

I continue to be amazed at the attitudes that come out when something like this happens.

"something she did long ago came back and trumped [the good she did]” said Leslie Perelman, director of the program in writing and humanistic studies

No, it's not someTHING she did "long ago." It's a pattern of lies stretching across 28 years. Every time she signed a letter with her "degrees" (which is quite common for directors of admissions) she was committing fraud. I am sure the back cover of the book she co-authored prominently features her "degrees."

I am not normally pro-litigation, but I hope every student who got turned down from MIT since she became dean in 1997 sues the school.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Software Has No Effect on K-12 Performance

Going high-tech doesn't lead to higher math and reading scores, according to a federal study. The study on the effectiveness of education technology was released by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, a research arm of the US Department of Education. The study found achievement scores were no higher in classrooms using reading and math software products than in classrooms without the new products.

Researchers looked at elementary and secondary classes in 132 schools. The teachers that participated used more than a dozen software products to help deliver their lessons. Nearly all the teachers received training on the products and believed they were well prepared to use the technology in their classrooms. When asked whether they would use the products again, nearly all teachers indicated that they would. The report was based on schools and teachers not using the products in the previous school year. Whether products are more effective when teachers have more experience using them is being examined in a follow-up study. The report detailed the effectiveness of the products as a group and did not review the performance of particular programs.

[Sorry, no link]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Get a job, doofus!

He has compiled a 2.9 grade-point average

He has 242 credits (that's 20/year - noticeably less than full-time)

He has accumulated $30,000 in student loans

He has majors in theater, communications, and liberal studies; his minors are in pre-school education, health education, and women's studies. (One could not get a more useless collection of majors by throwing darts randomly at a school catalog.)

UW-Whitewater is not even a national university; it's ranked as a master's university by USN&WR.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Here we go again

The homework debate

One comment stuck in my mind:

[...] Many teachers lack the skills to design homework assignments that help kids learn and don’t turn them off to learning. Today, schools of education provide varying levels of training in the art of designing homework assignments that are more than busywork, usually imbedded in courses about curriculum. Many, however, offer none [...]