Credit where Credit is Due

Neal McCluskey at the Cato Institute notices an interesting Obama administration initiative to develop a Federal curriculum. Mr. McCluskey expresses reservations: "Washington would for all intents and purposes be on the way to creating a federal university, and not one like the service academies that is constitutionally justifiable under federal defense powers. No, this one would be completely and utterly unconstitutional, and would unfairly compete with lots effective private — including for-profit – institutions."

This is a problem because...?

Most of those "private" institutions survive on tax-subsidized tuition support, tax-subsidized "research" grants, and legally-mandated degree requirements for professional licensure (physicians, surgeons, lawyers, engineers, social workers, teachers, professors).

McCluskey: "And, of course, there’s the little matter of how this would be paid for."

In this answer to that question lies the resolution of the larger issues of federalism and the crowding-out of independent institutions by tax-subsidized competition. The service academies (the Naval Academy at Annapolis, the Air Force Academy at Boulder, the Coast Guard Academy at New London, and the US Military Academy at West Point) serve a constitutional defense function. Mr. McClusky probably would object to the subsidization of the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. Mr. McCluskey observes that the creation of a Federal University would subject independent schools to subsidized competition. Again: this is a problem because...?

The best is the enemy of the good. If a free curriculum (defined by designated text books and tests), coupled with a competitive market in examination services, reduces the burden on taxpayers, what's the problem?

The real problem is that effective reform probably will not happen; college professors are well-paid, articulate, and have a lot of free time. They (like public school teachers) defend their interests effectively. Reform will come only when legislators can no longer afford the wasteful State-monopoly school system. Public sector unions and their kept legislators will bankrupt this country (consider California) before they face this financial reality.


Learning, Disabled

Joanne Jacobs asks: "Do Schools Create Learning Disabilities?".

According to a Federal Department of Education official quoted in a Cato institute publication on homeschooling, the rate of dyslexia in a population falls as the age at which reading instruction is institutionalized rises. Later is better. While early education confers benefits, early institutionalization damages children.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins observes that children have to be gullible to survive. Before civilization reduced the number of sharp edges children encounter, children did not have time to learn, on their own, the accumulated knowledge of their parents. Which plants are edible? Which insects are venomous? Which non-human mammals attack? Evolution has shaped young children to attend to their parents (especially their mother). Young children will work their hearts out for the love of their mother. Reading instruction goes down like dessert if the infant, basking in the warmth and security of mom’s lap, follows the moving finger across the printed page. Strangers cannot substitute. Subject that same infant to a roomful of crying strangers and to the shouted commands of an apparently angry strange adult ("SHUT UP! SIT DOWN! LISTEN!: 'A', 'B', 'C'…") and you lose that child for a very long time.

The Hawaii DOE counts about 10% of its student population in special education. The largest categories of special education are "emotionally handicapped" and "specific learning disability" (meaning the students have trouble learning to read and compute. Notice that these disabilities occur in the subjects with the least ambiguous measures).

Is there a Math teacher alive who, upon revealing his/her occupation, has not heard the response: "That was my worst subject"? Why does this happen? Basic Math fluency requires no more than normal language ability and a fascination with puzzles like crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Why then do we see widespread Math aversion?

I know three people who actively dislike classical music. Their parents compelled them to study piano when they were small.

From Karl Bunday’s site: “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly (“Autobiographical Notes,” in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Paul Schilpp, ed. (1951), pp. 17-19 © 1951 by the Library of Living Philosophers, Inc.)

We hold this truth to be self-evident: that no men other than monozygotic twins are created equal. Parents roll dice when they put their kids together and some kids come up snake-eyes. Evolution shaped the human brain. Unless current instructional methods work equally well with humans, dogs (your cousins), and nematodes (distant cousins), variations in genetic endowment influence variations in brain structure and function, and so variations in learning ability. Politicians can do little to change that. The next generation’s genetic endowment is not a policy variable. As a wise Israeli politician once said: “No solution? No problem.”

Instruction acts on a individuals from a range of genetic endowments. Differences between teachers, schools, school districts, and countries, in the instructional methods which they apply, strongly influence differences in instructional performance (as measured by aggregate statistics of student performance on standardized tests of Reading and Math). Policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children the choice of curriculum and the pace and method of instruction place control in the hands of people who know those children best and who are most reliably concerned for their welfare. While there will always be a bottom 10%, that 10% level of performance responds to policy variables. The Singapore 5th percentile score (1996 TIMSS 8th grade Math) is higher than the US 50th percentile score. The range of curricular methods available to parents is a policy variable. Open enrollment between numerous small independent school districts, tuition tax credits, charter schools, school vouchers, subsidized homeschooling, and (my preference) Parent Performance Contracting expand the range of instructional options available to parents.


Self-Assured Ignorance? Or Self-interested Disingenuousness?

The Headmistress of The Common Room linked this teacher's attack on homeschooling. If any homeschooling family needed more evidence in defense of their decision to homeschool, Jesse Scaccia unwittingly provides it.

His "top ten reasons why homeschooling parents are doing the wrong thing":...

"10. 'You were totally home schooled' is an insult college kids use when mocking the geeky kid in the dorm (whether or not the offender was home schooled or not). And… say what you will… but it doesn’t feel nice to be considered an outsider, a natural outcropping of being homeschooled."

If true, he's established that some conventionally-schooled kids are pointlessly rude and envious, no more.

"9. Call me old-fashioned, but a students’ classroom shouldn’t also be where they eat Fruit Loops and meat loaf (not at the same time I hope). It also shouldn’t be where the family gathers to watch American Idol or to play Wii. Students–from little ones to teens–deserve a learning-focused place to study. In modern society, we call them schools."

Mr. Scaccia may call the building in which he works a "school", but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If homeschooled kids are so geeky (see point 10, above), as to earn the envy and hostility of his charges (as well as admission to college a year or more ahead of his charges), the memory of yesterday's dinner obviously did not interfere with their education. Mr. Scaccia's "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" are his personal (ill-considered) idiosyncracies. Is not a one-room schoolhouse a "school"? Wouldn't students who attended a one-room school have taken lunch in the same room they occupied for instruction?

"8. Homeschooling is selfish. According to this article in USA Today, students who get homeschooled are increasingly from wealthy and well-educated families. To take these (I’m assuming) high achieving students out of our schools is a disservice to our less fortunate public school kids. Poorer students with less literate parents are more reliant on peer support and motivation, and they greatly benefit from the focus and commitment of their richer and higher achieving classmates."

In general, taking care of one's self is a generous act. It reduces the burden on caregivers and so allows caregivers to devote their attention to more needy cases. Further, Mr. Scaccia does not limit his indictment, "homeschooling is selfish", by time, yet his evidence, "students who are homeschooled are increasingly from wealthy and well-educated families", implies that, previously, homeschoolers were less wealthy and less educated. So, it was not selfish earlier?

The "peer effects" argument is important; too important to depend on say-so. There is some evidence that the "peer effects" argument works against conventional schools. Chubb and Moe found that schools which practiced "tracking" (by which I believe they meant ability-grouping) outperformed schools which did not. If "peers" may successfully exert their effect from across the hall, why not from the house across the street? Also, peer effects may work against overall system performance if negative peer effects (e.g., point 10, above, the hostility which Mr. Scaccia claims his disciples direct at their intellectual betters, or the pressure against "acting white") outweigh positive peer effects.

"7. God hates homeschooling. The study, done by the National Center for Education Statistics, notes that the most common reason parents gave as the most important was a desire to provide religious or moral instruction. To the homeschooling Believers out there, didn’t God say “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”? Didn’t he command, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me”? From my side, to take your faithful children out of schools is to miss an opportunity to spread the grace, power and beauty of the Lord to the common people. (Personally I’m agnostic, but I’m just saying…)".

In "Schools and Simple Justice: Toward the Dignity of Choice", Boalt Hall Professor of Law John Coons argued that school choice protects parents' right of speech, to speak through their children to their community and to succeeding generations. This argument applies with equal force to homeschoolers. Their "witness" consists of their choice to homeschool, and the children they send into the world. Mr. Scaccia's "witness" consists of...see point 10, above. See also...
Roland Meighan
"Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications", Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.

"The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?"

"The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school." ...p. 277
"12. So-called 'school phobia' is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem

(Personally, I was raised in no church. I'm a materialist. That is, the only things which require explanation are observations, and the only things which count as explanation are observations.)

"6. Homeschooling parent/teachers are arrogant to the point of lunacy. For real! My qualifications to teach English include a double major in English and education, two master’s degrees (education and journalism), a student teaching semester and multiple internship terms, real world experience as a writer, and years in the classroom dealing with different learning styles. So, first of all, homeschooling parent, you think you can teach English as well as me? Well, maybe you can. I’ll give you that. But there’s no way that you can teach English as well as me, and biology as well as a trained professional, and history… and Spanish… and art… and counsel for college as well as a school’s guidance counselor… and… and…"

Homeschooling parents do not need to know everything; there are these amazing resources known as "books", and programs like Rosetta Stone, and tutors.
btw, I will be seeking work come September. I charge $20/hour (or invite me to lunch and I'll arrive an hour early and provide instruction free--but no teacher or tutor outperforms a loving parent).

"5. As a teacher, homeschooling kind of pisses me off. (That’s good enough for #5.)"

People hate what they fear. Homeschooling challenges the justification for the entire State-school apparatus, and threatens the revenue stream of system insiders. That's good enough for a rebuttal.

"4. Homeschooling could breed intolerance, and maybe even racism. Unless the student is being homeschooled at the MTV Real World house, there’s probably only one race/sexuality/background in the room. How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?"

Homeschooling parents have chosen to homeschool, not to move to Mars.

"3. And don’t give me this 'they still participate in activities with public school kids' garbage. Socialization in our grand multi-cultural experiment we call America is a process that takes more than an hour a day, a few times a week. Homeschooling, undoubtedly, leaves the child unprepared socially."

Conventional schools provide bad socialization. See Meighan, above. See also this Marvin Minsky comment on school, this article on artificially extended adolescence by Ted Kolderie, and these charts which I got from a statistician in the office of the Hawaii Attorney General.

"2. Homeschooling parents are arrogant, Part 2. According to Henry Cate, who runs the Why Homeschool blog, many highly educated, high-income parents are 'probably people who are a little bit more comfortable in taking risks' in choosing a college or line of work. 'The attributes that facilitate that might also facilitate them being more comfortable with home-schooling.'

More comfortable taking risks with their child’s education? Gamble on, I don’t know, the Superbowl, not your child’s future.

Socialists just do not get it: "What works?" is an empirical question, which only a competitive market can answer. Professors of Education treat John Dewey as some sort of diety. It always seemed odd to me that Dewey lauded "inquiry" as a model for dealing with life, yet defended the State's (i.e., government's) role in prescribing curriculum. Every decision is a gamble. Aggregation of authority (for curricular decisions, for example) raises the level of risk.

"1. And finally… have you met someone homeschooled? Not to hate, but they do tend to be pretty geeky***."

Meaning, homeschooling works.


House-sitting, Reading, and a Bit of Math

My younger sister and her husband are on vacation from their retirement. This is not to say that they went back to work, but that they have taken their two-year-delayed 25th anniversary vacation to Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, Crakow, and points in between. While a friend feeds Bully, my cat, in Honolulu, I feed three cats and two dogs in Honomu.

This time of year, the sun rises around 0530 local time (1530 Zulu) here, over the ocean, casting a long house-shadow upslope toward Mauna Kea and the telescopes. Makai (seaward) the land falls away for 1000 feet, to the East-Northeast. I have always been an extreme lark and rise before the sun, unless some night-owl has led me astray. With no temptations around, it's easy to be temperate, and, nuked cup of yesterday's coffee in hand, I walk the 100 yards to the mailbox for the Hilo Tribune-Herald, then watch daylight spread.

My sister and her husband majored in History, so, as you would expect, books line the walls of this house. Since I had resolved on New Year's Day to read two books for every new one I order and had some catching up to do, I brought from Honolulu Clayton Cramer's rebuttal, Armed America; The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie, to Michael Bellesiles' Arming America; The Origins of a National Gun Culture, Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, Ivar Berg's Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery, and the State Auditor's latest indictment of the Hawaii DOE.

Two down. I read slowly, chewing over things, arguing with the author, and rereading things I do not understand. I recommend Armed America, not only for the major point but for the incidental details (for example, in the early Republic, young teenagers, including free black teenagers, routinely carried guns; legislatures in some frontier slave states required plantation owners to arm their slaves). Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid makes a strong case against foreign aid, but leaves unanswered her pointed question: "Who will bell the cat?" The aid industry, like the education industry, employs a large number of articulate, well-paid people who have a lot to lose in a transformation to a more effective institutional structure.

Which brings me to Ivar Berg's Education and Jobs: "...The indirect (i.e., circumstantial) evidence of dollar earnings favored by human capital writers, in urgent and insistent support of claims about the 'social value' of diplomas and degrees, was especially troubling. The theme in these claims was straightforward: better educated Americans earn more because they are more productive, and we know they are more productive because they earn more. Cliches are cliches and may be indulged because they are true; it is the case generally, though, that tautologies are likely to be more than just a tad problematic."

Just a tad. I expect to like this book, too.

The Math?
I. Q: Why does 1530 Zulu (Universal Time) equal 0530 Hawaii time?
A: 360/24=15, so every 15 degrees away from the Greenwich meridian means one hour time difference. Hawaii's longitude is about 153 degrees or so West of Greenwich, so that's 10 hours difference. Add two (0500 Zulu is 7 p.m. Hawaii time, the day before) or subtract ten (1530 Zulu is 0530 Hawaii time).

II. You have seen the teasers for IQ tests: how many triangles in the repeated pattern? I take the things and click "submit", then cancel out when the site wants personal information, but anyway, the formula which relates a level "l" to the number of all up-oriented triangles plus unit down-oriented triangles is a 3rd degree polynomial with leading coefficient 1/6. 1/6 because a hexagon tiles the plane. I'm working on a general formula for down-oriented triangles, but that's more complicated.
Update (2009-06-08-0150 Zulu): Got it, sort of. I have two functions (one for odd and one for even) that yield correct values up to ten levels. The real work will involve demonstrating that these functions yield correct values for the general case.

III. The last kids I tutored (US-born Japanese-Korean and US-born Korean intermediate or high school kids) could do this:

Find "t" such that 187^^t (exponentiation) gives a remainder of 16 when divided by 43and a remainder of 25 when divided by 47.

I guess that this stuff finds application in error-correcting codes, but I do it because it's fun and my students do it because it's easy. It leads to consideration of the Euclidean Algorithm and generalizations of the Chinese Remainder Theorem (generalizations which I do not understand). I have been computing the cyclic subgroups generated by exponentiation of the congruence classes mod a prime, for all primes from 2 up to...well, I don't know when I'll get bored. I finished 61, am not looking forward to 67 or 71, but expect to have fun with 73. Maybe then I'll stop and do something useful, like yardwork.