"Top Secret" curriculum at BCPS?

Can someone explain to me why public school administrators talk incessantly about "the curriculum", but seem determined to ensure that parents don't get to see it?

The mission of the Baltimore County Public Schools' Department of Curriculum & Instruction includes this bit:
development of curricula, based on research and best practices, provides teachers, students, and parents with a quality instructional program
But the BCPS website hides nearly all details of the curriculum behind a password-protected intranet.

All we parents get to see on the website is fluff, peripheral material, and educational mumbo jumbo about "seeds", "clarifications", "sample assessments", "thinking skills", "Articulated Instruction Modules", "Core Learning Goals toolkits", "parent summaries" that don't exist yet, and so on. And this comes in an Alice-in-Wonderland format that is impossible to skim in an efficient way.

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs links, and asks her readers, "Do other school districts make it hard for parents to access the curriculum?" Thanks Joanne. The comments she gets are enlightening. Another thing I'd like to know: which largeish school systems out there (1) have an excellent curriculum, and (2) make the curriculum easily accessible on the web?

Health care reform: Obama shies from the cold stove because Clinton was burned by a hot one

David Brooks explains:
The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.


Clive Crook on cap & trade bill: "a travesty"

I haven't looked at the details yet, but this doesn't sound promising:
The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty. Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself.

It proposes safety valves that will ease the cap if it threatens to have a noticeable effect on energy prices. It relies heavily on offsets – theoretical carbon reductions bought from other countries or other industries – so that big US emitters will not need to try so hard. It gives emission permits away, and tells utilities to rebate the windfall to consumers, so their electricity bills do not go up. It creates a vastly complicated apparatus, a playground for special interests and rent-seekers, a minefield of unintended consequences – and the bottom line for all that is business as usual.

Dutch Ruppersberger votes for Waxman-Markey cap and trade "travesty"

Clive Crook of the Financial Times has some choice words for the bill: it "neutralizes itself", it would create a "vastly complicated apparatus", the "net effect ... will be small to none", and it constitutes a "minefield of unintended consequences".

Many green lobbyists don't like the bill either.

The official name of Waxman-Markey (HR 2454) is the American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009. I haven't looked at the details yet, but from 30,000 feet it doesn't look promising:
The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty. Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself.

It proposes safety valves that will ease the cap if it threatens to have a noticeable effect on energy prices. It relies heavily on offsets – theoretical carbon reductions bought from other countries or other industries – so that big US emitterswill not need to try so hard. It gives emission permits away, and tells utilities to rebate the windfall to consumers, so their electricity bills do not go up. It creates a vastly complicated apparatus, a playground for special interests and rent-seekers, a minefield of unintended consequences – and the bottom line for all that is business as usual.
This is one very large black mark for Dutch.

UPDATE: Looks like Dutch probably didn't even read the bill .


You are not a credible environmentalist unless

you seek out and understand the arguments of thoughtful skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg, Steven Hayward, and the folks at PERC.

A "criminally stupid war on drugs"

Clive Crook of the Financial Times looks with 20/20 vision at the total failure of the US war on drugs:

How much misery can a policy cause before it is acknowledged as a failure and reversed? The US “war on drugs” suggests there is no upper limit. The country’s implacable blend of prohibition and punitive criminal justice is wrong-headed in every way: immoral in principle, since it prosecutes victimless crimes, and in practice a disaster of remarkable proportions. Yet for a US politician to suggest wholesale reform of this brainless regime is still seen as an act of reckless self-harm.

Even a casual observer can see that much of the damage done in the US by illegal drugs is a result of the fact that they are illegal, not the fact that they are drugs. Vastly more lives are blighted by the brutality of prohibition, and by the enormous criminal networks it has created, than by the substances themselves. This is true of cocaine and heroin as well as of soft drugs such as marijuana. But the assault on consumption of marijuana sets the standard for the policy’s stupidity.

It's time for my state legislators in Maryland District 42 to step up to the plate. Are you listening, Sue Aumann, Jim Brochin, Bill Frank and Steve Lafferty?

Same goes for Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, Senator Cardin and Senator Mikulski.

In my book, all of them get an "F" for their (non)effort on drug policy.


Carefirst listened and responded ... I like it

They redesigned their health insurance cards just as I suggested last year. Nice going Carefirst, and if you played a role Chet Burrell, thank you.

Shelby Steele on why people change

Something about this phrase (at 5:00 min) stopped me short, in a good way:
People don't change because the government intervenes with a social program. People change when they become exhausted with their suffering.
Despite the subtitle, his book on Obama is well worth reading today.


On the happiness of roadkill-picker-uppers & the "war on work"

Gary Jones at Muck & Mystery wrote recently about thinking and manual labor.

It reminded me of a wonderful short talk that Mike "Dirty Jobs" Rowe gave about an epiphany he had while castrating a lamb.

Rowe also skewers the tendency of semi-informed staffers at places like the Humane Society (and the SPCA and PETA) to lecture the rest of us when far too often they don't have personal experience and don't really know what they're talking about.

I wonder whether any of these groups have responded to Rowe's video.

UPDATE: Gary and his readers area way ahead of me. Here's his take on the Dirty Jobs show:
My reaction is usually that I wish he'd explore the thinking side of the dirty jobs, though I understand that this isn't the show's purpose.

For example, his show on insemination of dairy cattle focused on the squick factor of palpating a cow rather than the knowledge and skill of doing the right thing at the right time. Dairies fail because of lack of knowledge and management skill rather than because someone is too delicate to shove his arm into a cows rear.

If he did a show on office workers the emphasis would be on paper cuts and carpal tunnel injuries, the horrors of the shared coffee station, and the indignities of the daily commute. Those are real issues, and popular TV fare, but not the ones that intrigue me
I don't think you can say it any better than that.

"Green jobs": PERC punctures politicized projections parroted by progressive policy wonks

PERC (the Property & Environment Research Center) is a Montana-based think-tank specializing in free-market environmentalism. They have a new report, 7 Myths About Green Jobs. It critiques four recent reports put out by (1) the American Solar Energy Society, (2) the Center for American Progress, (3) the US Conference of Mayors, and (4) the UN Environment Program.

There are many convincing arguments in the PERC critique. Here's a memorable one:
No doubt it is true that requiring all public buildings to be retrofitted or offering "strong financial incentives" to private building owners to engage in retrofitting would created jobs (CAP 2008, 6-7). Of course, so would requiring all public buildings to be painted purple or offering tax incentives to private building owners to paint their buildings purple. Painting jobs would increase, paint manufacturers would increase production of purple paint, paint stores may hire additional delivery help, paint brush manufacturers would increase production, and so forth.

The question is: What would have happened to the resources used to meet the purple paint mandate in the absence of the government program? Those resources would have been put to the building owners' highest and best use, and those uses would have also created demand for goods and services, even if not for purple paint. The same is true of [green] retrofitting mandates. The implication of the necessity of a mandate is that profit-seeking building owners are too foolish to make investments in energy saving despite the alleged short-term paybacks.
Here are the seven myths that PERC debunks:
  1. Everyone knows what a "green job" is.
  2. Creating green jobs will boost productive employment.
  3. Green jobs forecasts are reliable.
  4. Green jobs promote employment growth.
  5. The world economy can be remade by reducing trade, relying on local production, and lowering consumption without decreasing our standard of living.
  6. Government mandates can substitue for free markets.
  7. Wishing for technologicial progress is sufficient.
There's also a long version of the PERC report.

I have nothing against green jobs per se (I've held a few myself) but it seems to me that most of the people hyping the concept are either (1) political types whose technical knowledge and economic reasoning are shallow or just plain wrong, or (2) opportunistic government contractors maneuvering for a place at the subsidized feeding trough.

UPDATE: For some "green jobs" excitement, watch this YouTube exchange between Harry Alford and Barbara Boxer.


Are ophthalmologists thinking "outside the eyeball"?

Perhaps not, if my recent experience is any indication.

A family member was suffering from eye pain whenever she moved her eyeball, so I took her to the Wilmer Eye Institute. After Dr. B examined her, the gist of what he told me was something like this:
Dr. B: Her eyes are fine. I don't see anything wrong.
Me: So if the pain comes back, should she see a doctor or can we safely ignore it?
Dr. B: I can't say that. It depends.
Me: What do you think caused it?
Dr. B: I have no idea.
Me: If a thousand patients like her were to come in with these symptoms, what are the odds that it's a serious problem that needs treatment?
Dr. B: I haven't seen any cases like this--ever--where there was a serious problem.
Dr. B's answers didn't ring true. Like so many other doctors in my experience, he was unwilling to give any type of probabilistic estimate. [Why is that, I wonder? - Ed.] I asked some more questions but eventually gave up trying to elicit anything of use from him.

For the record, we later discovered that my family member had Lyme disease, which apparently can cause eye pain. It was serious, and she did need treatment.

My guess is that Dr. B is a fine doctor within his specialty, recognizing and treating diseases of the eye. But in our case it seems that he was thinking only inside the eyeball. When the symptom was in the eye and the cause was elsewhere, he essentially was implying to us that "It's not my problem". And he didn't seem to be in a mood to think about or discuss what the real problem might be.

Somehow I expected more than that.


Four-eyes vs. half-wit -- a thought for everyone who wears glasses

Years ago a third-grader complained to me that a mean kid at school was calling her "four-eyes". She was bothered and wanted to know how she could put an end to the name-calling. I suggested this reply:


It gives a nice symmetry to the exchange. One person multiplies by two and the other divides. And if the sequences continue, the numbers characterizing the tormentor shrink to nothingness (1, 1/2, 1/4, ...) while those describing the victim (2, 4, 8, ...) grow to infinity and beyond.

By the way, it worked very well at school the next day, and it still makes me smile when I think about it.


A great resource for learning who's who in the MD General Assembly

Whether you lean left or right, the place to go for info on the Maryland state legislature is the Roster of Maryland Elected Officials put out by the Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG).

It's nicely laid out, with plenty of photos that help you recognize every delegate and state senator. Plus committee and subcommittee assignments.


Service Learning, Part II: a response to comments on Joanne Jacobs's blog

One of Joanne Jacobs's readers, Catherine, commented on my earlier Service Learning post:

>Actually, service experiences are often
>more meaningful when tied to curriculum
>and thoughtful systematic analysis.

Catherine's assertion sounds good at first blush, but is it really true? If a student shovels a sidewalk for an elderly neighbor or delivers meals to a shut-in, does "thoughtful systematic analysis" really make the experience more meaningful? I don't think so.

Even if you accept her assertion, reality gets in the way. At BCPS, the thoughtful systematic analysis is not happening for the kids that I know:
  1. In most cases, the students don't even realize that in-class projects are part of Service Learning,
  2. Students don't fill out the reflection forms for in-class projects, and
  3. Even if they were to fill out the forms, what teenager would do anything but roll his eyes at the questions? One example: "How did you build character from your service learning activity?"
>It’s true that service integrated into a course
>probably doesn’t fit the definition of “volunteering.”
>That’s probably why it’s called “service learning”

"Service learning" is educational jargon. Most people outside the school system don't know the official meaning. No matter how schools define it in their manuals, parents and kids will take it to mean community service. And because there is no pay, parents and kids will call it volunteering. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend led the effort to create Maryland's service learning graduation requirement. On her own website, she does not use the term "service learning". She calls it "community service".

I wonder how she feels about the state of her brainchild now.

Here's yet more evidence that BCPS's official definition of Service Learning ("not volunteerism") contradicts the reality of the program: The Dulaney High School website encourages Service Learning students to apply for Prudential's Spirit of Community Award, a "youth recognition program based solely on volunteering".

>I think you’ve taken something out of context

I don't think I've taken anything out of context. If anyone with knowledge of the BCPS system believes that I've done so, I'm happy to listen.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In a second comment, Catherine says:

>It’s not because service learning is inherently
>bad or a waste of time, as [BaltoNorth] suggests.

I am not suggesting that service learning is inherently bad. I am suggesting that:

(1) Mandatory service learning, as implemented in Baltimore County and throughout Maryland, has not succeeded and never will.
(2) The current BCPS implementation of Service Learning does not live up to the vision of its creators. Not even close.
(3) The BCPS implementation is worse than a waste of time. By breeding disrespect and cynicism, it damages our kids in a real--if small--way.
(4) The General Assembly in Maryland should 'fess up to its mistake, eliminate the graduation requirement, and divert all Service Learning resources (a non-trivial amount that includes administrators at the state, county, high school and middle school levels) to programs that are far more worthy.


Oxymoron squared! Mandatory volunteerism now optional in Baltimore County Public Schools

If a student at Ridgely Middle School reads his report card carefully, he might well ask, "why do the Service Learning hours on my report card go up every semester even though I haven't done any community service work yet?"

The answer: Over the past decade or so, Service Learning has slowly become "infused" in the curriculum. Students get community service credits just for going to class! They don't have to leave the school or do any extra work!

This means, of course, that community service in Baltimore County Public Schools has come full circle. Before 1992, it was voluntary. Then, thanks to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and the Maryland General Assembly, volunteering became mandatory across the state. Now, thanks to infusion, mandatory volunteerism is optional.


On the bright side, the only kids who need to volunteer now are the ones who actually want to do community service. But there's a dark side too. Failed programs like Service Learning look ridiculous to students, breeding disrespect for schools and cynicism about government.

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs linked, with a great headline. There is some interesting discussion in her comments. In response to Catherine's comments I wrote this.

UPDATE: Peter Wood at the National Association of Scholars says students have another name for mandatory volunteerism: voluntyranny.


Service Learning background: the Dulaney High School website

The service learning coordinator at DHS, a school librarian, suggests that students fulfill their requirement by doing community service projects in ... the school library:

The DHS service learning web page:

The DHS Service Learning "reflection form" asks students, "How did you build character from your service activity?":

Service Learning background: Ridgely Middle School

An official student handbook describes "infusion" of Service Learning in the curriculum:

Service Learning background: "preparation, action, reflection"

Good intentions from the MSDE service learning web page:
Service-learning projects must include academic preparation, service activities, and structured reflection...

Service Learning background: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's role in Maryland

According to her website, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend "founded the Maryland Student Service Alliance to make Maryland the first, and still only state that requires young people to engage in community service as a condition of graduation."

Service Learning background: Maryland's graduation requirement

From the MSDE website, here's the requirement:

General Instructional Programs 13A.03.02.06

D. Student Service. Students shall complete one of the following:

(1) seventy-five hours of student service that includes preparation, action, and reflection components and that, at the discretion of the local school system, may begin during the middle grades;
(2) a locally-designed program in student service that has been approved by the State Superintendent of Schools.

Service Learning background: MSDE's Maryland timeline

UPDATE: New link for the updated MSDE timeline for service learning is here]

Apparently not much of note has happened in the past five years. The last entry is from 2004:

1988 - [...] the Maryland Student Service Alliance (MSSA) is created as a public/private partnership with the State Department of Education to enhance service-learning efforts in Maryland. [...]

1990 - State funding adds full-time technical assistance capacity to MSSA staff. [...]

1992 - The State Board of Education adopts the current mandatory service requirement which becomes effective in 1993 and affects the graduating class of 1997 and beyond.

1992-93 - Considerable publicity, some of it hostile, was given to the mandatory requirement, focusing almost exclusively on the 75 hour option. Most local school boards, teachers organizations and student groups initially opposed the requirement.

1992-93 - MSSA conducts a vigorous public education campaign focusing heavily on having involved and engaged students change other students' attitudes toward the requirement. [...]

January 1993 - An effort by state legislators to overturn the Board of Education requirement is defeated. Similar efforts in later years will likewise fail.

March 1993 - All 24 school districts opt to design their own service-learning programs and submit plans to the State Superintendent. [...]

June 1997 - 42,000 Maryland public school students graduate with their service-learning requirement fulfilled. Only 49 students in the state did not graduate solely because of the service-learning graduation requirement. [...]

October 2000 - "Statewide Quality Review" initiative begins with MSSA specialists visiting every school district during the school year to monitor service-learning implementation policies and assess quality of service-learning activities. The State Board requests an annual presentation on the status of this initiative. [...]

June 2004 - The Maryland Student Service Alliance disolves as a public/private partnership between the Student Community Service Foundation, Inc. and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). The service-learning program is fully integrated MSDE and supported through the Youth Development Branch. The many contributions of MSSA and its staff through the years are greatly appreciated and helped make Maryland a pioneer in service-learning.