Archive for September, 2013
Well, pace Woody Allen, they still teach.
I’m Facebook-friends with my old hometown high school science teacher, Steven Allen (no relation to Woody), who also doubled as a vice-principal at the time. He’s a nice enough guy and have nothing against him personally. But I never thought much of him as a teacher nor as a vice-principal. He always extolled the virtues of David Suzuki and the leftist cause (later he became very active in the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation), and his theories on student discipline were often dubious and occasionally mocked.
It was in no small part due to Mr. Allen that I left home and attended a private Catholic residential school (at considerable cost to my parents), which resulted in a dramatic turnaround in my academic performance and my eventual acceptance to engineering school. So thanks for that, Steve.
A couple of years ago, he sent a friend request, so I accepted. Because I’m friendly. He just posts the typical radical leftist drivel you’d see at any union rally, universities and other conformist progressive camps: “Harper is evil,” “Bush is evil,” “inequality is evil,” etc. Don’t get me wrong — reading this stuff doesn’t really bother me because I like to know how the other half lives and thinks. I just don’t agree with one iota of propaganda he’s pushing, and I tend to leave his commentary be.
Today, Mr. Allen linked to this opinion piece on how Bill Gates and his zeal for standardized testing are destroying education or something.
Mr. Allen posted a quote from the article on his Facebook page and, instead of getting into an argument on his Facebook page, I thought I’d paste the quote here and then rebut below:
Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers.
So how do we identify good teachers or bad teachers? No one seems to know.
Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income.
Not “most especially” on what they do or how hard they try; it’s about the money, honey.
Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality.
If teacher quality doesn’t matter, then why don’t we outsource public education to Mexican immigrants and save us a few bucks?
Students are not randomly assigned to teachers.
No, just arbitrarily by the year in which they happened to be born.
A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains.
What about those gifted students who are getting poor marks because of a lousy teacher? And what if sky-high marks are because of a certain teacher?
A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up.
Because the primary goal of education is to “thrill” teachers.
A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality.
Coincidentally, Mr. Allen criticized the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census.
But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.
Because the other primary goal of education is to prevent teachers from getting fired.
Look, I’m no expert. I’ve worked with enough statistics to know that data is useless unless it’s treated carefully. It’s not the quantity or quality of information that’s available but, rather, how it is applied toward a particular end.
If standardized testing were the only method being used to evaluate educational performance then, yes, I’d agree that it wouldn’t be the best tool or even a good one. But I hardly would think that this data would be used in this manner.
If the data found, instead, that there were trends (key performance indicators or KPIs, in corporate lingo) which pointed the way to a possible problem and potential solution, then why not test to certain standards?
Put it this way: teachers already assign midterm and year-end finals, don’t they? Wouldn’t these tests be considered “standardized” if they are exercised annually by the same teacher using the same course material? Even if we recognize that these particular tests would be performed locally, they still would be used on different cohorts which, as Mr. Allen pointed out, may vary based on their composition. So what’s the difference?
The difference is, of course, that standardized tests could actually point out to taxpayers and parents that some teachers aren’t as good as others and, as Mr. Allen put it, we’d consider firing “them all.”
Another consideration is that teachers aren’t compared to their counterparts in comparative schools. Not only does this imply a lack of accountability, but it doesn’t also help the teachers who are struggling in their role, who might need more resources for skills training to do their jobs better or to provide a stronger educational environment.
After all, if an industrial corporation finds a lagging KPI, they don’t just fire the person responsible. They would look at the underlying causes, such as the person’s level of skill, oversight, or resources to do the job. This way, if the problem persists, the accountability would start from the CEO and work its way down to those implementing the program. The whole company would be invested in the solution.
But since teachers are told by their union that they’re somehow special, that these tried-and-tested methods don’t somehow apply to them, our schools aren’t going to get any better and the kids will continue to suffer.
And those shitty teachers will continue to teach until they exercise their defined-benefit pension plans.
If you ever want to know if Gerry “The Finger” Klein wrote the StarPhoenix editorial (and who wouldn’t?), just look for the buzzword “creative” or its variants in the text. The Finger is a disciple of Richard Florida, the increasingly discredited “creative cities” “expert,” and as such uses every opportunity to propagate the ideology.
Here’s what The Finger wrote in the September 18 editorial:
The mayor’s other defence of the automobile – that the only way to convince more people to live and play in the downtown is to have more cars on its roads – is counterintuitive to anyone who has walked in a successful urban centre. It is when there is a dearth of automobiles that streets come alive. That’s when there is more room for street vendors, outdoor restaurant tables, more casual walking. However, even successful urban cores require access for people who live in the periphery. And in a city such as Saskatoon, which is still a long way from having the kind of rapid transit options available in Calgary or Edmonton, which can bring people to the core without their cars, there will long be a need to facilitate the automobile.
Check out the “dearth of automobiles” in the living streets of New York…
…or Las Vegas…
…or, closer to home, Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue…
…or Calgary’s Red Mile.
If anything, it’s a dearth of dearth of automobiles.
It’s obvious The Finger doesn’t get out to successful urban spaces much, but does he even read his own paper? This is from the September 5, 2013, StarPhoenix:
It is dusk on Second Avenue, and the air smells of cigarettes. Groups of young people gather outside the pubs and restaurants that line the street, laughing and chatting. A woman in a dress sits on a nearby bench asking for change in a high-pitched voice. Cars circle the block looking for a parking space.
It’s a Friday night, and this street is alive and buzzing. The after-work drink crowd is slowly being replaced by nighttime revelers who have chosen this street — and more specifically this block — for a night out on the town.
Again, emphasis mine.
What The Finger and other “pedestrian-friendly” advocates don’t get is that the walkways themselves aren’t the destination. They’re a means to an end. What draws people to urban spaces are their own desires and goals: a night out with friends, a new movie at the multiplex, a great band coming to town, a fancy dinner.
They need to get to these places.
A fancy new ped- and cyclist-only bridge would be fun for those wanting to go for a nice outdoor jaunt, and I get that. But that in itself doesn’t make a space “come alive.” This goes especially for a ped bridge that would merely connect an older residential neighbourhood filled with people who look like this to the downtown. And even then only when the weather cooperates.
Every new bridge has to be accommodating to pedestrians and cyclists. I agree with that sentiment. And I also don’t have any problem with creating public infrastructure with a pleasing aesthetic, especially if it is to be a particular landmark near the centre of the city, even if it costs (a little bit) more.
My issue is with those self-anointed elitists who adhere to a particular lifestyle that suits them to the disregard to others. For me, I want to get downtown, and I’m not about to ride a bike or jog just so I can have a few beers with the boys.
The best use of public funds is to ensure that public infrastructure benefits citiziens in the broadest way possible. Excluding the 90% of people who wouldn’t cycle or walk downtown normally is a poor use of taxpayer dollars.
I don’t know what it is about Mayor Atchison that Gerry “The Finger” Klein hates so much, as I’ve noted previously.
Gerry Klein calls out Mayor Atchison and other supporters of the proposed $170 road-maintenance flat tax for their supposed insensitivity toward the city’s poorer taxpayers. He says that this “regressive” tax would make widowed seniors “subsidize” wealthy residents of the suburbs and exurbs.
Where were Klein and the rest of the well-meaning councillors when they advocated and received an annual flat tax of $55 for homeowners to pay for their beloved recycling program? I recall no tears shed by mandatory recycling advocates on how well-off homeowners living beside The Willows (who were already recycling) would be subsidized by the poor, old widow living alone on a fixed income and consuming practically nothing.
One can debate the merits of using flat taxes to either keep roads safe and maintained or to put off the construction of a new landfill by a mere five years.
But, please, spare me the righteous and indignant hypocrisy.
It was published nearly word-for-word the next day, a new record for me.
Another “balanced” editorial from The StarPhoenix, August 28 (which I re-published in full, in contravention of copyright, just because these editorials tend to disappear into the ether):
Whether a direct connection can ever be made among the flooding in southern Alberta, the burning of California and a hypothetical oil-tanker train stretching between Winnipeg and Houston, one thing that is clear is that both sides who characterized the energy-or-environment debate as a zerosum war have lost.
Scientists have warned for years that unusually devastating environmental events, such as the catastrophic storm that inundated Alberta’s south, including its largest city, and forest fires such as the one consuming one of America’s most beautiful and treasured national parks would become more frequent as the climate warms due to human activities.
According to leaks of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expected next month, scientists are now 95 per cent certain that the increase in greenhouse gases emitted by humans have been the principal reason the planet is warming. As the Washington Post pointed out in an editorial Monday, this level of confidence is generally considered high enough to justify drawing conclusions and amending public policy.
It’s not only scientists who are convinced. According to a study released this week by Canadian pollster Nik Nanos, 78 per cent of Americans consider the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to be important.
But even more of them have even greater concerns about energy security. That has meant that, while programs to push alternative energy sources have met with some success, the demand for North American oil – including from Alberta’s oilsands – has grown so fast that, without the Keystone pipeline to pump it south, rail companies have had to add enough capacity that, counting only the addition since 2011, if all the extra tanker cars were strung together it “would create a train of petroleum products stretching from Winnipeg in the north to Houston in the south.” Nanos says in his report.
This means every day there are 1,284 more rail cars on the tracks compared to just two years ago. It is partly to meet this demand that TORQ Transloading is building a $100-million hub near Kerrobert.
This additional rail capacity is neither a victory for the environmentalists who hoped to shut down the oilsands by opposing pipelines, nor the oil companies and their government backers.
When it comes to energy and the environment, no side in the debate has been willing to compromise. The Canadian government has characterized environmental groups and opposition politicians as traitors, environmentalists have pulled out all stops to prevent pipeline development, antinukes have opposed new plants, windmills have been considered health hazards and local and regional governments have pitted their own self-interests against their neighbours.
As Mr. Nanos points out, the partisan nature of the discussion has all but stalled any real action. Meanwhile, the market has driven up demand.
What is needed, Mr. Nanos writes, is a co-ordinated North American effort to draft a cohesive energy-carbon strategy that takes into account emissions and reduces them over time.
This is the position Canada should be selling in Washington, rather than Keystone or bust.
My response to the editorial:
When calling for a “cohesive” emissions-reduction strategy, the editorial “Co-operation better strategy” (Aug. 28) makes a few assumptions about the climate debate which do not bear under scrutiny.
It is to be expected that the self-selected, self-interested scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will claim a 95% confidence on the impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases on the climate. However, their claim would carry more weight if average global temperatures weren’t currently below the 5% confidence level of climate models cited by previous IPCC reports.
Global temperatures simply have not been increasing since they peaked in 1998, even though the IPCC confidently predicted otherwise. This ought to convince policy makers to at least hold off on making key decisions based on IPCC recommendations for the time being.
Further, even though the editorial admits that one cannot connect specific events with climate change, spurious connections are nonetheless provided with the recent flooding in Alberta and the Yosemite wildfires.
Yet, in June, the StarPhoenix published a list of no less than 22 major floods in southern Alberta in the past 115 years, many of which occurred prior to recent global warming trends. Similarly, the Yosemite wildfires have raged on despite the fact that the continental United States has just experienced its mildest summer in more than a century. Climate change has far less to do with the impact of these events than, respectively, the urbanization of flood plains and increased fire loads due to fire-fighting practices in national parks.
While I appreciate the call for a more reasonable approach to policy development, it would be wise to stop cherry-picking anecdotes and making uninformed assumptions about climate science to suit one’s own agenda.
My letter was published in the Labour Day weekend paper, August 31, more or less as delivered.