Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Native American Students

Title links to an interesting article about Native American students.

Darwinian Democrats

Top notch--read the whole thing. An excerpt:

The Dover evolution trial, then, represents the effort of Mrs. Callahan and her allies to win in court what they could not win at the ballot box.

Please note that all the Dover board did was to require that the school provide a mild disclaimer about Darwinian dogmatism, and make available a supplemental text about pandas, to biology students in a small Pennsylvania town. Not content to dispute the issue locally (the Dover board is up for re-election Nov. 8), Mrs. Callahan and friends insisted upon a month-long sequel to the 1925 Scopes trial in the Harrisburg courtroom of U.S. District Judge John E. Jones.

The burning question is not whether life on Earth was created or evolved. Rather, the great mystery is why the content of ninth-grade science classes in tiny Dover, Pa., should merit the attentions of the federal judiciary.

I don't claim to be a constitutional scholar, but I'm pretty sure the Constitution doesn't say anything about schools or scientific theories. In fact, I think it fair to say that James Madison and his fellow Founders would have been horrified at the prospect of a federal judge telling folks in Dover what they should or should not teach their 14-year-olds. Yet the boundless ambition of undemocratic Democrats will not permit dissent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Here's something I wrote on vouchers years ago (1992). It's interesting to consider what still holds true, what progress has been made, and what has not.


Disclaimer: This work is intended to be a summary, not a research paper, and thus is not documented. However, nearly all of this information can be found in a 1990 book by David W. Kirkpatrick, former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Choice in Schooling. The book is well documented and includes an extensive bibliography on the subject.

Myth: Tuition vouchers are a new idea.

Fact: Tuition vouchers were supported by Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.

Myth: Vouchers are a conservative, or Republican, issue.

Fact: People from various parties, liberal and conservative, have supported tuition vouchers throughout our history. Only since Ronald Reagan (conservative Republican) supported vouchers against the opposition of the NEA (which supported liberal democrats) has this issue been perceived as conservative.

Myth: Tuition vouchers would be unconstitutional.

Fact: In 1930 the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana Law giving textbooks to public and private schools alike.

Fact: In 1983 The Supreme Court upheld tuition tax credits for all students and parents.

Fact: The GI bill, a tuition voucher for higher education, has been used since 1944 for both public and private schools. By 1958 over 3600 veterans had used the voucher to enter the clergy!

Fact: In Illinois, the state has provided vouchers for certain handicapped children to attend private schools.

Fact: In 1976, The California Supreme Court (Seranno II) rejected that state's present school financing system as unconstitutional. Among the 6 constitutional alternatives spelled out by the court was vouchers!

Fact: In 1983 (Mueller v. Alien) Rehnquist wrote for the Supreme Court majority: "A state's decision to defray the cost of educational expenses... regardless of the type of schools ... evidences a purpose that is both secular and understandable" (read constitutional).

Fact: In more than 30 Maine towns that lack high schools of their own, students have been allowed to attend public, private, or parochial high schools in other towns with their own town paying the tuition.

Fact: In 1985, Minnesota began allowing public school juniors and seniors to attend state colleges or private colleges at public expense for high school and college credit.

Myth: Tuition vouchers would permit the establishment of segregated schools or elite schools for the rich.

Fact: In 1958 (Cooper v. Aaron) state support of segregated schools was outlawed. Even private schools are subject to discrimination laws.

Fact: Typical proposed voucher legislation includes provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or economic status. One proposal says that an individual could not add funds to the voucher—so parents using expensive, elite schools would have to foot the whole bill.

Fact: Poor and minorities express the most support for vouchers.

Fact: We now have tuition tax credits which DO help the middle class and rich have choice in schooling, but do nothing for the poor whose taxes are not greatly affected.

Fact: The wealthy successfully establish elite public schools now by moving to exclusive communities and supporting schools with high property taxes which they then deduct from income. Open enrollment policies, short of vouchers, would tend to counteract this practice.

Fact: In 1974 Daniel Sullivan found the range of per-pupil costs in public schools to be from $200 to $14000! (How's that for elitism?) Vouchers would certainly tend to equalize these discrepancies.

Fact: Present nonpublic schools are not elitist. Lutheran schools, for example, are populated mostly by middle and lower class children. Some Lutheran schools do not even charge tuition to members, and since anyone who wishes may become a member, this is an non-elitist policy. Andrew Greeley compared the number of blacks in Catholic and public schools and found:
......................Catholic .............. Public
have few blacks...30% .............. 29%
half black ........... 21% ............... 28%
mostly black....... 22% .............. 24%
all black ............ 17% ............... 19%

Fact: In addition, recent Census Bureau reports say being white increases the probability of private school attendance by only 1%!

Myth: Parents would make mistakes in educational choices (cant be trusted or are too apathetic to make good choices).

Fact: Of course parents would make mistakes. But individual mistakes can quickly and easily be corrected. Government mistakes, affecting thousands or millions of students, often cannot be corrected for years, if at all, certainly too late to help those affected.

Fact: Parents are apathetic because they are powerless. Given choice, parents tend to be actively supportive of their schools.

Myth: Vouchers would destroy the public schools.

Fact: This has not happened in higher education, where the GI bill (a voucher), the Pell grant, and various government loans have made private education competitive with public colleges.

Fact: In other countries public schools thrive alongside state-supported private schools. In Denmark, only 7% of students do not attend public schools although homeschooling is allowed, parents may band together and start their own school which receives 85% funding of operating costs after the first year, and parochial schools are also supported. France and England also give government support to private schools but the majority of students attend government schools.

Fact: Those who make this statement do not even consider the possibility that destroying the public schools, as we know them, might be a good thing!

Myth: Tuition vouchers would hurt teachers.

Fact: The greatest result of the voucher system might be not freedom of choice for students but freedom of choice for teachers—to use individual differences, skills, and philosophy. In British Columbia, as Peter Brimelow reported in 1985, government subsidies given directly to private schools resulted in an unexpected blossoming of teachers declaring independence to start their own schools.

Fact: Phi Delta Kappan (the educators' honor society) members support vouchers by 46% to 41% opposed (1986).

Fact: In recent years the percent of school budgets for teacher salaries has declined from about 56% to 40%. A voucher system might result in higher teacher salaries while at the same time lowering educational costs by cutting bureaucracy.

Fact: In 1972-1974 a limited experiment in vouchers was conducted in the Alum Rock school district in California. Limitations of this study included that it was short term, only involved one district, only elementary, and only public schools. Still, the following results are interesting:
95% of parents said they liked having choice
75% of parents felt their children received a better education
96% of teachers said they had more freedom to be innovative
66% of teachers said parents should have more say about what children learn
66% of teachers said vouchers would help accomplish this
Central staff members began to function more as consultants than administrators
Principals functioned more as counselors and advisers
The prediction that there would be sweeping changes proved wrong—there was no chaos, no segregation, no brutal competition

Myth: Vouchers would encourage fraud or fly-by-night schools.

Fact: Schools receiving vouchers would typically have to be approved by the state anyway. Besides, isn't fraud a good word to describe graduating millions of illiterates, as the current system does?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

NAEP results are out

Highest honors in 8th grade math:
Massachusetts ---------292
Minnesota -------------290
North Dakota ----------287
South Dakota ----------287
Vermont ---------------287

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Education vs Instant Gratification

I think I have a new take on the "schools were better in the past" or "students were better in the past" argument. It's this: We live in a culture of instant gratification, and education doesn't fit.

Consider being a student a couple of hundred years ago. Suppose you were hungry. What would you do? Well, you would probably have to think of it in advance, and get prepared. Maybe you'd have to butcher a chicken, which you would have had to raise up from a chick. Maybe you'd have to go hunting for something, then butcher it, then cook it, and so, in a couple of hours, you'd have something to eat. If you wanted some vegetables, you'd better have planned ahead months in advance--planted a garden, tended it, put up and preserved the goodies. Then, when you're hungry, you could take it out and prepare it (which might involve building a fire, etc). It would take lots of effort and advance planning. Of course, as a student, you might not have done all that yourself. But, chances are, you'd have been part of the process, helping your parents do exactly those things. So you would get the idea that if you wanted to eat, you'd better be prepared to put some work into it.

Today, you run to McDonalds or throw a frozen dinner in the microwave, and in a few minutes, you can eat. It's pretty easy and doesn't take much planning or work.

Suppose you were a student a couple of hundred years ago, and you were cold. What would you do? Throw another log on the fire--but first, you'd have to chop the wood, stack and dry it. Or maybe you use coal--dig it out of the ground and haul it home. Or maybe you gather buffalo chips in the fall. Or, you'd put on more clothes. But where do you get them? Long ago, you would have gathered straw, spun thread, and wove the cloth, and finally sewed the garment. More recently, you'd still have to buy the cloth and make your clothes. It was a long process that involved planning and work, to make sure you'd have something warm to put on. You probably participated with your parents in all these activities. You'd get the idea that if you wanted to be warm, you'd better be prepared to put some work into it.

Today, you turn up the thermostat or run to Walmart and buy a sweater. In a few minutes, you're warm. It's pretty easy and doesn't take much planning or work.

Suppose you are a student a couple of hundred years ago, and you went to school. You'd know that everything important in life requires hard work and advance preparation. You'd take if for granted that nothing important comes easy. You'd automatically be prepared to work hard at school, just like everything else.

Today, every other experience of your life tells you that the things you want can be quickly and easily obtained. There is practically no chance that you would ever have to worry about not having your basic needs fulfilled, even if you do absolutely nothing. You see advertising that tells you how all the hardest jobs can be done without breaking a sweat, leaving you plenty of time to play and enjoy yourself. Unfortunately, there haven't been any major advances in education in the last 200 years. Learning proceeds pretty much just as it always has, with lots of hard work and advance planning. But you have no analogue for this. Nothing in your life has given you a context for it. So, you scoff at your teacher's admonition that you put hard work and effort into your learning. Life just doesn't work that way, in your experience. Certainly, there must be a way that you can flip a switch, or run to the store, or pop something into an appliance, so that your educational needs are quickly fulfilled, and you can get back to playing and entertaining yourself.

Is there really any possible way that today's students could be as good as yesteryear's?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why Engineering Students Wash Out

Please read this excellent piece at Kitchen Table Math:

Engineering school is a rude awakening for most college freshmen. Many students are surprised to learn that their previous thirteen years of formal schooling have not adequately prepared them for the rigors of engineering school. Sadly, about 2/3rds of them, some very bright motivated students, won't make it through the program. This is what you learn by the end of freshman year:

Why College Students aren't ready for Math

MoebiusStripper reacts to an article in The Globe & Mail (Universities Trying to Cope With Students Lacking Basics 9/22/05).

My A-minus student does not have a C-level understanding of the grade twelve course that I took a decade ago, the one that prepared me reasonably well for my university math classes. He doesn’t even have a D-level understanding of such material. To say that an A-minus means anything in terms of a student’s understanding of the math they need to succeed in university is to say that there’s any correlation whatsoever between college level math and grade twelve math as it’s taught in BC. And there isn’t.

My student’s A-minus is a in fact pretty accurate reflection of his knowledge. My student does indeed have an A-minus grasp of the material taught in grade twelve math in BC. My student has acquired A-minus-level proficiency at storing formulas in his ... graphing calculator and memorizing the solutions to homework problems so that he can recall them when he faces the test. He’s quite good at all that, really. It’s just that this proficiency would help him not one whit if he were to take a university-level math class, taught by professors who naïvely expect their A-minus students to be minimally numerate, not to mention vaguely proficient in reasoning mathematically.
How much of the problem with disparity between expectations and reality is due to inadequate K-12 education, and how much is due to the simple fact that so many more people are going to college? I guess that's the million dollar question, and I guess the answer is, "What difference does it make?"

A high school diploma is supposed to signify some level of education, which, in the real world, means, "ability to perform." If you got a high school diploma (recently), there should be an expectation that you actually know the stuff that you are supposed to. It shouldn't be about demographics. It should be about achievement. And they shouldn't let people into college without that achievement. Colleges should start taking entrance exams seriously. Even though high schoolers in the US are told how important the SAT/ACT is, the fact is that you can almost always get around it somehow. Some college, somewhere, will let you in. After all, they NEED you. They need the enrollment numbers and the dollars that go with them. So they will let you in. Then, the professors will complain that you don't know what you are supposed to, but there's really nothing they can do about it. They have to deal with you. That's life in academia.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fred's Column on Education

If you haven't checked out Fred Reed' s column, please do so today. Described as a "curmudgeon," Fred has pretty cynical views about lots of things, but his writing is addictive!

His latest column describes an "irresistible current" in America. I think we'd better get busy and resist it.

Little while back, I found a story about how Toyota decided to put a factory in Toronto because Americans were too hard to train when they weren’t actually illiterate. Isn’t that why companies don’t have factories in Zimbabwe? “Look, Ma, we’re almost a third-world country. Can I have a spear?” After decades of trying to make every kid as dumb as the dumbest kid, I guess we did it.

Ever ten minutes a study appears saying that kids can barely read. Yes! In America, the richest most hooptee-whatever, leader of nations, etc. How is this possible? How hard is it to teach kids to read? Not very. It’s hard to keep most of them from doing it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thomas Sowell on Education

I'm a little late on this one, but just read Sowell's Sept. 13 column which is on education. Some highlights:

-my efforts should be directed toward the slower or low-performing students.
-Unfortunately, the idea of treating the brighter or more serious students as a problem to be dealt with by keeping them busy is not uncommon.
-High potential will remain only potential unless it is developed.
-But the very thought that high potential should be developed more fully never seems to occur to many of our educators -- and some are absolutely hostile to the idea.
-People like this would apparently be satisfied if Einstein had remained a competent clerk in the Swiss patent office
-Most of the teachers in our public schools do not have what it takes to develop high intellectual potential in students. They cannot give students what they don't have themselves.
-Test scores going back more than half a century have repeatedly shown people who are studying to be teachers to be at or near the bottom among college students studying in various fields.
-Too often there is not only a lack of appreciation of outstanding intellectual development but a hostility towards it
-Maybe the advancement of science, of the economy, and finding a cure for cancer can wait, while we take care of self-esteem.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bumper Sticker Seen


That was a thought starter.....

What does this mean?
1. Obviously, it's setting itself up against the pervasive alternative, "God Bless America." So, the sticker is condemning the belief that we should ask God to Bless us over other nations. More specifically, there are no nations which God should not bless, or even bless to a lesser degree (that would be an exception too).
2. Indeed, it is proper to pray for God to bless the whole world. In particular, we ask that He bless all people with the Gospel, and thus that he send missionaries to all parts of the world. We pray that he break down all barriers that prevent people from hearing the Gospel or responding to it.
3. People rarely think of "God Bless " as a spiritual message. They are more likely to think of God's blessings in terms of physical and financial well-being. Applied to nations, it is more likely to imply that the nation should be strong economically, militarily, and in world-wide influence, as well as safe from threats to peace and stability. If this interpretation is applied to the bumper sticker, it implies that all nations should enjoy equal positions of strength and influence in the world.
4. If God were to bless all nations in this way, equally, it would mean that there would be no consequences for bad behavior. The bully who threatens his neighbors would have the same blessings from God as the most generous nation on earth, that has done more to establish world peace than any nation ever did. God's blessings, applied in this manner, would mean that the world would become an unstable, unsafe place (more so than now).
5. It is truly a blessing to the world if God blesses America. That is, as long as America acts in accordance with God's will and serves as "a beacon to the world." American influence has benefitted every country that has opened its doors. This is true physically and spiritually. In that sense, a prayer that "God Bless America" is also a prayer that "God Bless the World."
6. If America loses its special place of leadership in the world, there will not be equality among nations, or peace, or security. One or more other nations will rise to superiority, and there are few other countries that would use their position to benefit the world the way America does.
7. God Bless America, and use her to bring ever greater blessings to the whole world, without exception!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Languages Other Than English

I was looking at some census data on languages spoken at home. I was particularly interested in the area where I grew up, so I started with North Dakota.

Looking at the 2000 census, for North Dakota as a whole, ages five and over, we have 565,130 who speak only English, and the top 5 other languages spoken in the home are as follows:

German 14,931
Spanish 8,263
Scandinavian 3,193
Other Native American 2,536
French 1,597

In Mercer County, we have 7200 who speak only English, and the top 5 other languages spoken in the home are as follows:

German 895
Spanish 103
Other Slavic 10
Scandinavian 9
Chinese 9

In Oliver County, we have 1866 who speak only English, and only two other languages as follows:

German 81
Spanish 14

I also thought it might be interesting to look at the rankings in each state for languages other than English. I tabulated the top first, second, or third most frequent language spoken at home, other than English, in all of the states.

Spanish, of course, comes up first in 42 states. But in two states German is first (ND and SD) and in four states French is first! "Other Native American" comes in first once, as does "Pacific Islander." Spanish makes the top three in all but one state, and German makes the top three in 31 states! French makes the top 3 in half of the states. All others are far behind.