The New-New Thing In Education: Being Aware/Being Involved

Many years ago I worked for Charles Schwab Inc. while in Denver, Co. People  (family, friends, etc.)were constantly telling me how privileged/fortunate I was since Schwab had such high values and cared about the common folk. The implication was that Schwab was the best house on the street since that was how Schwab was marketed. How would I know to  think otherwise- I was recently out of college. My father had invested with Schwab since the dawn of the operation when they were in Sacramento and they seemed to honestly care about making everyone an investor so they could obtain part of the American dream. In fact, at the time I worked there, Schwab was the  darling of San Francisco and anyone with an inkling of liberalism.

All was well in theory until Charles Schwab Inc. and the board of directors determined that going after big money would make the firm more profitable – it was exactly what every other firm on the street was doing so why not Schwab?  They sold their soul and the 1% got wealthy, the 99% (including employees who were not directors or unit presidents/vp) got stock option rights to buy shares of Schwab at a discount because paying employees what they were worth would not be profitable. Unless you were the 5% who made Schwab a  life career, you took a bath in very dirty water about 1998 and forward as Schwab, now wealthy like other houses on the street, began to disband employees over profits. I had left the firm (I felt Schwab was losing its mojo and cache) to pursue a larger dream – Peace Corps.  I, like most employees, who worked for Schwab during the go-go 90’s took a cold bath of reality and in realizing I was underpaid when I worked for them (remember the stock options). I later  took another bath when stocks went down and I needed to sell. Schwab, like every other firm was also affected by the most recent Wall Street and banking debacle, in spite of how it is worded on Wikipedia.

Who lost out? Well, it would appear the average investor or the 99% including me as I was once a ‘believer’. Whether it was mortgage-backed securities or not – investors took a hit, not the corporation. This is along the lines of ‘the house never loses’ in Las Vegas.

I bring all of this up as an example of perception versus reality and how we so wish to perceive what is being fed (read: marketed) to us that we truly overlook what is going on in the middle of the situation.

As with making money, education is not without a ‘fee’ for service. The fees paid take many forms: studying, fund-raisers, PTA, support of school teams, attending events. The list is too onerous to complete here.  No matter how much the new-new thing is touted, the new-new thing becomes yesterdays cold bath in the light of day if you do not pay attention.  In the late 1990’s to now (2012), charter schools were touted as the panacea for this ailing nation. We went from the’ everyone will go to college (the implication of this meant everyone would obtain a college degree – understatement is great marketing)’ to the light of day where reality crept in and getting to college is not as easy as it looks, no matter who is in the White House. Sadly, charter schools were supposed to improve everything.  The two articles above are but a very thin slice of a bigger picture that  charter schools, like Charles Schwab Inc.,  do not possess the luster the marketing and PR firms would like them to endow upon them.

As with the reforms being voted on in Congress and hopefully applied to banks, brokerages and mortgage lenders, charter schools themselves were given a revisit.

The issues at the top of this page are small in comparison to the marketing ploys of charter schools. It is doubtful that anything of value will come from the CA State Board of Education ordering new rules in 2011  to clarify how charter schools are granted statewide operating privileges. The action comes in the wake of a July 2010 Court of Appeals ruling that found the CA State Board of Education  improperly awarded statewide status to Aspire Public Schools, a charter school company founded in 2000.  The reason: being aware versus wanting to believe.

The parents of children at Miramonte Elementary School in  Los Angeles probably believe a charter school would be far better then LAUSD in light of recent events. Since Aspire Public Schools did not make the lawsuit(s) above newsworthy, parents will be fed exactly what they wish to believe.

Hopefully parents will realize it is about involvement – day in and day out. It is about being aware and it is about paying the ‘fees’ for their children to be educated.  These horrible events happen everywhere – unfortunately they happen most when people are not watching and not aware.

When will I use Algebra?

Over the course of my teaching and learning career (I am correctly classified as a lifetime learner!), I have significantly enjoyed the question regarding when/how will I ever use Algebra.  Of course the question is rhetorical as no one will ever ask you about a co-efficient in the parking lot or the process of distribution…..instead, life  ( or at least a life filled with self efficacy) will expect you to be able to use these concepts at various times.

I write this blog as a career changer (pharmacy tech), health care for all advocate (just got zapped with $10K from Anthem/Blue Cross and I am HEALTHY – the bill is just to ‘prove’ my health) and America watching elected people debate a debt ceiling (the news has actually had to explain the issue to American Citizens), all issues which use Algebra and other math to think through with some degree of clarity.

To start, I will explain self efficacy. First off self has to do with the person you see in the mirror as opposed to other people you see with your eyes.

People with a high self-efficacy are generally of the opinion that they are in control of their own lives; that their own actions and decisions shape their lives.                  Albert Bandura as quoted in

Self efficacy is an idea put forth by psychologists which assumes you wish to learn (know) information about the issues which impact your life and the choices/decisions you make which impact your life.  This  means knowledge is indeed power – knowledge allows you to transform your own life by understanding information and making better decisions (or at minimum, making decisions you feel confident about).  So, Algebra is a manner of thinking logically and an approach to understand various numerical processes.

Algebra allows you to understand (and start to ask better questions) regarding the medication doses and timing of doses you take when you are ill. There is actually a methodology to why antibiotics are given at certain scheduled times in specific amounts. There is also a reasoning as to the intervals of chemotherapy for cancer.  These doses and intervals are based on research performed by scientists and doctors who passionately believe in promoting health. The doses and intervals can be altered for the right reason……….which means if the patient has the ability to think about doses and intervals related to side effects (nausea as an example), doctors will often work with them to maintain their health and get through the side effects.  Not all cancer patients choose to have chemotherapy. Yes, amazingly, chemotherapy is a choice and a very personal one. It is an issue of quality of life and length of life – both of which can be better approximated and understood via math.

Another example of Algebra and health has to do with the choice of eating well (healthy) and having reasonable amounts of exercise or taking a medicine to, for example, reduce cholesterol. It is known within medicine that after a patient takes five to seven medicines simultaneously, the various effects can and often are counter productive to ‘maintaining health’ and ‘sustaining life’.  This relationship is because each medicine we take has various effects on one or more body systems.  This is WHY your pharmacist always wants to know all of what you are taking, even if it is prescribed by various different doctors.

The above paragraph relates to health care for all. Most of the money spent on health care is not for disease states which can be cured, but most  which can be brought into a state of remission- OR conversely, avoided in the first place from leading a healthy life.  Aside from antibiotics, there are very few ‘cures’ out there.

Remission is the state of absence of disease activity in patients known to have incurable chronic illness

A person with knowledge is able to make a better decision regarding how they are medically treated (or not in the case of DNR’s) and in what circumstances, conditions they desire to live.  Some people actually believe having mental capacity is reason to avoid medications which may diminish their thinking capacity even if it means they have to give up something else in their life.   These concepts are called choices and can be made by people with an understanding of how their choices will affect their lives.  Doctors and pharmacists take an oath to do no harm – they do not take an oath on how you choose to live your life when you are in a disease state.  A great doctor and/or pharmacist will explain options to you and let you make the decision about YOU (unless you are unconscious in the ER and then they do everything humanly possible to keep you alive).   All of the various options and choices actually have percentages or estimates of success and knowing Algebra allows you to interpret what these numbers mean when you are told.

Most interesting of all is that which is well known in medicine – it is by far cheaper and cost effective to PREVENT the problem than to treat it after it happens. This is akin to why one warms up before exercising.  This gets right back to health care for all. It is more cost effective for  one to live a healthy life from the get go than to have to deal with obesity, diabetes, etc. when one does not eat and exercise.   Again,  a modest amount of Algebra is necessary to understand calories (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and how to make better food choices to promote ones own health.

If all of the above has not already provided some ideas as to why Algebra is important, let me add the debt ceiling debate.  We as the American populace voted in our congressional representatives. We as voters created a divided congress as the house and senate are configured in numbers by who(m) is voted into the position.  The numbers alone of Democrats and Republicans demonstrate an imbalance so it is no wonder the debt ceiling caused a great debate. As the populous, it is up to us to vote in more mid-range politicians to cut down on the level of disparity between extremes.  Not only is this Algebra, it is basic statistics.  We got the government we deserve by voting them in – for good or for ill. Many may think math plays a too subtle role in what I stated in this paragraph, they just have not read enough by Malcolm Gladwell.

If the above is not enough to convince you that getting a good dosing of Algebra by Grade 8 is beyond important, just think about what you know (or don’t know) about debt and why we even have a debt ceiling.

Or this:

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Observations – Parity Across the States (NAEP)

The past four months provided a very interesting job opportunity in a way I was not expecting.  I was hired by Westat to help administer the ‘national’ exam.   While this position requires a great deal of organizational capacity, it also taught me so much about those who ‘know’ and don’t really know what is involved in educational reform.   In my mind, NAEP is a giant scientific experiment extremely well thought out as well as planned and executed for optimum good statistical analysis.  NAEP is the real deal of data.

My first observation was how many teachers and administrators in public schools (including charter) did not know what NAEP was about.

Example:  Spoke with a principal who, when asked by another principal why his school was participating in NAEP answered he ‘guessed’ he drew the short stick. (I completely understood the humor, however, I was sad he truly did not know what it was about.) We talked on the phone and I asked him why he thought the school was participating (aha – a bit of Socratic methodology) and he answered the following three items (1) his school improved test scores by 17 points (2) his school has the youngest teachers in the district/area (3) this had something to do with spring testing but he was not sure. 

 I replied that while I like his answers, the reason behind national testing was to have some test scores to provide parity  between the various states which have different state standards and different ways of measuring educational success.

Parity in sports is defined as attempting to make an equal playing field for all participants, specifically with regard to financial issues. When parity in a sports league is achieved, all participating teams enjoy roughly equivalent levels of talent. In such a league, the “best” team is not significantly better than the “worst” team. This leads to more competitive contests where the winner cannot be easily predicted in advance. Such games are more entertaining and captivating for the spectators. The opposite condition, which could be considered “disparity” between teams, is a condition where the elite teams are so much more talented that the lesser teams are hopelessly outmatched. – Wikipedia/ January 2011

 I further explained that schools which received federal funds w  ere required to participate if the necessary sample of student attributes was at their school.  We talked for a few more minutes so I could answer some paperwork questions and we each went off on our own separate journey through the day.

In a different phone call with another principal the day before, I was asked about how the school would access these test scores so they could use them to compare with their API and AYP since other schools in the district were not taking this special test. I had to explain the scores were not disaggregated down to the district level.  This particular issue kept cropping up with teachers as well, especially on assessment day. Teachers asked if they would have the scores to use by Spring……

In  the above scenarios, I was talking to people who could speak clearly about certain aspects of educational reform, albeit only those minimal measures which had been drummed into them through some grad school program/administrative credentialling program/school district.   My shock was that these were ‘good’ schools in so called ‘good’ districts so how could these administrators not have run across NAEP?  I actually asked a couple administrators where they attended graduate school.

Along the way there were also some funny stories – a school which is in a very wealthy area had a substitute teacher’s aide show up with alcohol on their breath and the principal had to deal with that issue; another school had some students order a pizza via their cell phone, except when it was delivered, the office staff realized no ‘individual’ student would order a 2 L bottle of coke.  I had a colleague talk to a custodian in Spanish, only to have the principal state the man understands and speaks English…..

In my mind I was surprised as I have known about NAEP since I was a child – I went through at least one of the testing sessions in Grade 4, possibly Grade 8.  I read about NAEP and went to a lecture regarding The Nation’s Report Card when I was in graduate school.  NAEP was the organization where  the National Science Standards were related so people could discuss trends in science ed ucation.  I was beginning to feel as if I had entered some alternate universe where educational reform happened on a different planet on an alternate flat plane.

On a more personal note, I noticed (part of the script I read requires me to ask a few questions) there is not a category for people(s) of Middle East origin.  I am not sure if this was intentional, as in who really cares what those students do (even though we seem to care about Asians) or some one with far more wisdom then myself decided these people are, well, white.  Since I do not know specifically what NAEP is looking for, I can only speculate on a ‘forced’ selection of race/ethnicity.  One question asks students to delineate Latino/Hispanic and then the next question is everything else.  I feel bad for the Philipino’s who actually know their history as they are Latino (Spain) and Asian, not either or.

I have never looked at the test questions as I continue to have a teaching credential and this, in my mind is inappropriate.  I have looked at the release questions published in booklets for parents and/or teachers and administrators who may have questions.  Not much was gleened from this process as I do not support the efficacy of multiple choice exams since there is always an inherent 25% of accuracy by randon choice on a four answer question.   As is the case with SAT prep, it is not about the right answer so much as the ability to use your mind to reason ‘out’ what are the wrong answers.  The SAT is in no way indicative of much, my favorite examples being people who bucked the system and did not complete college, such as Bill Gates or people who did poorly on the SAT and succeeded far more than anyone would have guessed, Timothy Ferriss. 

NAEP allows educators and statisticians to peer into the minds of students to take a peak at how various curriculums play out across the U.S.  Our ‘Nation’s Report Card’  is just that, a report.  In a broad way we are able to see where education seems to have traction (typically, in places with low socioeconomic distress) and where no amount of money seems to change the consequences of childhood poverty. 

I have been to schools with views which certainly must prevent even a lax daydreamer from focusing and I have been to schools which remind me all too often of things I have seen in Peace Corps and traveling various third world countries.  This previous sentence is a different kind of parity – until we have PARITY, we will not change education in any formidable manner.  It takes an abundant amount of community involvement, parental education and literacy resources (notice I did not say monetary resources) to overcome poverty.  No amount of well constructed testing is needed to prove this out – rather, we just need to travel outside our own familiar community.

Race Reflections

As far back as 2001, when Bryan Sykes wrote The Seven Daughters of Eve, science has known about mitochondrial DNA and how all of us as humans are related.  Although 2011 brings the current spin of ‘when’ we migrated out of Africa, we know by mitochondrial DNA we did actually leave Africa and spread.  Thankfully the scientists busy researching (including Craig Venter)  are completely in love with what they do and persist despite the varying political climates relating to genetics and, heaven help us, evolution (it is raining so I am waiting for the lightening bolt to reach in and zap me).

Proof  (theory, fact) is a tenuous and slippery thing to scientists – not because they don’t wish to believe, rather good scientists are always up for new data and an open discussion.  Although there is proof about mitochondrial DNA and Mr. Venter has been able to assay genes, there is room for discussion with these people and, interestingly, they look for it – so they can improve on what they know! 

 In spite of what the scientists attempt to tell the rest of the known world, there seems to be great puzzlement in what the various findings of DNA mean.  In some ways, we continue to use DNA data to practice something akin to phrenology( …or  maybe something even more discerning like psychognomy ( popular with Hitler and crew).  Examples of this include the 2000 Census and the 2010 Census questions regarding race and ethnicity – very touchy subjects (read your not too distant history to remember when Ivy League Universities did not particularly want Jews on campus

They are also using the strength in their growing numbers to affirm roots that were once portrayed as tragic or pitiable.

and you will see the issue of race/ethnicity/religion really messed up in the stew pot).   The Census, for all of the good intentions behind it, does not quite have the race/ethnicity thing down – you can be a Latino Brazilian and Black……but not on the Census apparently

It was the census enumerator who decided.

“Where will I fit in?” recalled Ms. Garcia, who is Palestinian and Salvadoran.

 (think back seven months ago to the kind people who came to the door and asked you questions which were challenging to navigate in race/ethnicity) . 

 Ask Michelle López-Mullins, a 20-year-old junior and the president of the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, how she marks her race on forms like the census, and she says, “It depends on the day, and it depends on the options.”

 In addition, NAEP has a default of Latino/Hispanic, which means you have to decide if you are Latino/Hispanic or  all the other possibilities….which is wacky if you are Philipino. There is no category for middle eastern anything.

The conclusion I have made is that race/ethnicity is less indicative of ability and intelligence and more indicative of your mitochondrial DNA and so using it to interpret anything data related is a bit beyond what they teach in stats 101 for undergrads.  When our young adults ( answer ‘all of the above’ , you have to wonder what they know compared to all the statisticians looking for data.

Second to the issue of race and ethnicity is the issue of poverty.  If you remove the race/ethnicity line entirely from a questionnaire and go straight to the meat, your parents education level and their income as well as your grandparents education level and income, you actually pull out the relevant data about which students are consistently failing in American Education.  It is irrelevant that green, blue, black, red, brown, yellow live in particular clusters – it matters whether those clusters have access to quality education and productive lives where they can earn an income. 

Long ago, the nation saw itself in more hues than black and white: the 1890 census included categories for racial mixtures such as quadroon (one-fourth black) and octoroon (one-eighth black). With the exception of one survey from 1850 to 1920, the census included a mulatto category, which was for people who had any perceptible trace of African blood.

So, I am puzzled by the questions of race/ethnicity – I would love to know what it is for when asked on job applications, Census documents, NAEP studies……how on earth do I explain that both sets of my grandparents were from the ever switching border in Russia and Poland (depended on the ruler and war in process), I was raised reform Jewish but now practice Buddhism, I look exactly like my Namibian Grandmother (Peace Corps) – including hair texture, skin color and body shape and yet I am ‘caucasian’ or white.  

“Now when people ask what I am, I say, ‘How much time do you have?’ ” she said. “Race will not automatically tell you my story.”

 All I know for certain is that my mitochondrial DNA states I am related to one of Eve’s seven daughters and so I am, in effect, related to all of you.  There is nothing in all of this which tells you my income potential (2010 was a bad earnings year for me personally), my education level (graduate degree) and/or anything which would be meaningful in determining how I  contribute  or detract from being a U.S. Citizen.

This piece was written due to the intersection of a New York Times article, reading The Seven Daughters of Eve, working for NAEP (and previously the Census Bureau), listening to Snap Judgement and all the recent pieces on NPR about people who gave up children for adoption.  Most importantly, this is for all the times I attempted to ask about race in the training for being a Census Enumerator and/or NAEP Assessment Coordinator and was shut down AND for my past principal at Wood Middle School in Alameda, CA who had the gall to ask teachers (in regards to upping our AYP and API scores) what we were going to do to help all the black and brown kids.


Can a school be segregated if the teacher and administration is white?

The only portion of the aforementioned article I found disturbing was the lack of addressing the color of the people running the school.  Having been a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia (South Africa during apartheid), I learned long ago that I can not bring my values, ideas and good intentions to a community, rather I need to support what the community wishes to do and do everything in my power to assist them.

Somewhere, somehow charter schools used great marketing to offer up something new in education.  Without actual numbers, I would guess that between 80-95% of charter schools are run by a predominantly white staff and administration. Most likely 95% and above is the rate of all charter school organizations started by whites. 

I believe the use of the word apartheid holds the same value in this situation as it did during the historical apartheid in S. Africa. 

Apartheid (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ɐˈpɐrtɦəit], separateness) was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority black inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by whites was maintained.


  • An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
  • A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.
  • The condition of being separated from others; segregation.

    If a school is run by whites, no matter how good, true, pure and wonderful their intentions and beliefs, something is lost.  What comes to mind most readily to me is the lack of data to demonstrate charter schools promote more minority students to graduate from college.  Since charter schools function best under the guise of spring testing and AYP, the lowest form of knowledge – multiple choice tests, is used to educate minority students to their ‘highest potential’.  Multiple choice tests have never prepared anyone for higher education.

    “While this study raises interesting issues, we must remain focused on our goal by supporting those schools that are delivering results and improving those that are not making the grade,” she said.
    Department of Education spokeswoman Hilary McLean
    If the best ( majority white) people can do is stick to the lowest form of achievement (results) and call it evidence of a great education, indeed, we have an apartheid.  It is disturbing  and horrifying to ponder that we as Americans have so much potential and yet have allowed for and praised the least difficult path in educating minorities. It almost makes me think the rumor touted about, “they are easier to control” is in some form true.