Tag Archives: voldemort

Will the Rising Tide of Nuttiness Come My Way?

Back when school was real life, my phone rang.

“I need you to send Manuel Perez to the front office.”

“Wrong room. I don’t have a Manuel Perez.”

“This is your precalc class?”


“Manuel Perez.”

“No. I have a Sophie Perez.”


“That’s Manuel.”

My turn to pause. I looked at the phone. Looked at Sophie, in the front group of desks, working diligently: an extremely cute, mildly butch, openly lesbian girl I’ve taught in four separate classes. As reference only, without disdain, much more this than this or this.

“Oh. I didn’t know Sophie was calling herself Manuel these days.”

The voice grew, if possible, even sterner at the multiple gender transgressions in my last sentence. “Perhaps Manuel didn’t feel comfortable sharing his identity with you.”

I paused long enough to be rude, thinking bad thoughts. “I’ll send her.”

Hung up. Turned.

Algebra 2 and geometry students hold their breath when the phone rings. If I send a student to the front office, there’s always someone willing to scream “BUSTED!” Precalc students, less likely to be in trouble, tend to ignore the phone. But this call had gone on long enough to gather some casual interest up front.



“Something you aren’t telling me?

“Huh? Oh, I went to senior cut day.”

“No. Mrs. Silveria in front says you’re Manuel.”

“Oh. Yeah, sometimes.  Some places.”

“Am I supposed to be calling you Manuel?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Do you want me to call you Manuel?”

“No, man, I’ve had you since sophomore year. Call me Sophie.”

“Okay, but the thought control police are yelling at me and you need to keep me up on current events. Anyway, they want some dude called Manuel in the front office.”

Sophie jaunted out.

I looked at Consuela, one of Sophie’s closest friends, also a four time student. “She’s been Manuel for a while–well, he’s been Manuel. You know.”

“It’s hard to say this…correctly, but has anyone told her she’s going to score way more chicks as a girl than as a guy?”

The class broke up laughing. Understand, most of these kids knew that Sophie was also calling herself Manuel. Little bastards never thought to tell me.

“I mean. She’s short! Adorable! She’s had girlfriends all through school! Is she planning on dating straight chicks? They like tall guys, normally. It just seems, I don’t know, a counterproductive mating strategy.”


I very wisely began my blog and twitter account in anonymous mode. Recently, Phillippe Lemoine chastised all pseudonymous personalities for not living our real identities online, arguing that “if you want to change people’s minds, you really should consider writing under your real name”, and that there’s no real excuse for the cowardice of a pseudonym. Unsurprisingly, I had some thoughts about that, which you can read in our conversation at the link.

The anecdote above, I related in a  conversation Toad and I had about how the bell will toll for all of us one day, signalling the death of our intellectual independence as we pledge fealty to whatever gods our corporate and governmental overlords deem the victor, or the most fearsome source of lawsuits.

To integrate the two conversations:  I’m not terribly concerned about the lunatics demanding fealty.  I am not normally a sunny person, so my belief that schools would not have fallen whole hog into the crap festival of posturing going on should have some value. Had school been open during this insanity, we teachers would not have been forced into kneeling, feet washing, or even posting some meaningless sign in our classrooms. Is my belief. Our school and district haven’t sent out more than two carefully worded emails, one each from principal and superintendent, bewailing the riots and promising some sort of discussion at a future date.

I am quite afraid of being outed as Ed and then fired and cancelled and probably stripped of a pension. Hell, maybe not even outed as Ed–the wrong person could learn I voted for Trump, and it’s game over. The idea that I should post under my own name is….insulting in its grotesque stupidity. Who the hell do you people think you are, I say as respectfully as possible, to Philippe to Jonah Goldberg to Tim Carney to Charles Murray to all the other people who think the eggnuts trolling them on twitter are the same as eight years of blogging and tweeting under the same identity.  Razib Khan might have a job at a university, but he lost out on a part-time gig at the Times, and that was three or four years ago. But to Philippe, hey, Razib still has a job so it’s all good. Jason Richwine is still employed, David Shor still has a job after his company threw him to the wolves. So this is all evidence that people like me shouldn’t worry.

Nuts to that. (Is “Bugger that for a lark” the same thing or does it carry a different semantic overtone? I remember DEATH saying that in Reaper Man and it’s always stuck with me.)

So leave aside the horror of being outed and cancelled. I’m talking here about having my Ed Realist identity secure and still getting fired. Assume I’d win a lawsuit in the event I was fired for voting for Trump. What erroneous comment could result in my undoing without appeal?

Back in the 90s and oughts, it was all about the holy trinity: race, gender, and gay rights. At the time, race was my big offender–not because I’m a racist, because I’m not, but because I was opposed to affirmative action and ascribed to the Voldemort View. My sins regarding gender are many and varied, but since I’ve never had the power or the inclination to harass women and support early term abortion rights, I’ve always been solid. Cleanest of all, pristine in fact, was my general support for gay rights, although I would have withheld marriage bennies from them because they’re too expensive. But then, I’d ban straight marriages from them, too–women can earn their own money, dammit. (See what I mean about the gender stuff?).

Today, it’s a different story. Certainly I sin on IQ, but I would never mention these beliefs in school. I’m actually more in favor of affirmative action (with a basement) than I was back then, simply because a decade of familiarity with Asian test prep tends to alter your thinking. I’m more likely to offend people with my comments on Asians than on blacks–but then, most Asians agree with me about my thoughts on Asians, so they’d be unlikely to agitate much.

My views on gender rights and gay rights haven’t changed. Alas, the entire issue of gender rights and gay rights have altered beyond all recognition. For example, even though I loathe radical feminists, I’m completely sympathetic with TERFs. And while I was totally on the right side of god with gay rights, I can’t tell if transgender insanity counts as gay rights or gender rights.

Whatever the ultimate category is, as the story above shows, it’s transgender issues that are most likely to get me fired. I’d like to think I could distinguish between someone who was experimenting and cool with it and a student who was genuinely fraught and go running to the authorities screaming. But bottom line, wrong comment to wrong student, and I’m toast.

Which is odd, from my perspective, and evidence again of how completely things have changed. My opposition to gay marriage was largely theoretical. I didn’t really think, as conservatives did, that knocking down gay marriage would result in insane demands for people to choose whatever the hell behavior they want under any gender they want to label it. They were right, and the awareness that such a bizarre concern could come true has utterly changed my thinking.

I have a friend who agrees with me, but whenever he discusses it, even if we’re the only two in the room, he lowers his voice because he’s afraid someone will hear.

I was worried about this before the Supreme Court went insane and declared that transgenders are a protected category.  It’s even more insulting and degrading if Gorsuch and Roberts came to this conclusion because they are planning on striking down affirmative action for African Americans. It’s so typical, really, that they’d privilege the mentally ill over the descendants of slavery, typical that they’d screw over the average citizen who has normal views on gender and sex just so they could be sure that more whites and Asians get into Harvard. (Typical, too, that the Supreme Court wouldn’t give a shit about how this affects public schools. Left or right, the Court hates public schools.)

You can see, can’t you, the irony. If it’s any consolation, if you’d asked affirmative action opponent me back in the 90s if I’d trade affirmative action for giving Bruce Jenner the right to use the women’s bathroom, I’d have said hell, no, let blacks and Hispanics get in with lower test scores. If my opinions have altered slightly with time, my priorities stay constant.


The lurker in the teacher quality debate

Just a few weeks after I complained that the debate on teacher quality ignores state certification tests, Ed Week steps up: Analysis Raises Questions About Rigor of Teacher Tests (Edweek has a paywall, but the synopsis I used includes a link to the original):

The average scores of graduating teacher-candidates on state-required licensing exams are uniformly higher, often significantly, than the passing scores states set for such exams, according to an Education Week analysis of preliminary data from a half-dozen states.

The pattern appears across subjects, grade levels, and test instruments supplied by a variety of vendors, the new data show, raising questions about the rigor and utility of current licensing tests.

I’m happy to see the attention, but what “questions about the rigor and utility”? The scores are high, so there’s a problem? Imagine for a moment that the average score was juuuuuust barely above the cut score. Would Edweek then congratulate the states for setting such an ambitious cut score that teachers barely qualify? I’m thinking not. Besides, this analysis is missing a key ingredient: without a benchmark, passing rates or cut scores tell us nothing about the test’s rigor or utility. The ETS provided that information in its teacher quality report a few years back, so it’s no secret. Without that information, I really don’t see the point of this analysis.

But if the people at Edweek are really wondering why the teacher certification cut scores aren’t higher given the high average score, I think I can provide illumination, thanks to the always useful ETS, an organization that really isn’t given enough credit for its useful information.

Recent Trends in Mean Scores and Characteristics of Test-Takers on Praxis II Licensure Tests)

This particular data is for the Math Content Knowledge Praxis II test, but the report shows the same gap in all the Praxis II tests—African Americans who have passed the Praxis (both I and II) scored over one standard deviation below whites.

Average score and passing rates (again for math, but the link above has all the scores).

Praxis states don’t have substantial Hispanic populations, but California does, showing Hispanic pass rates that are, as always, in between blacks and whites. (this chart again is for math)

These pictures make it pretty clear that raising the cut scores dramatically wouldn’t affect passing rates for white teacher candidates all that much but would run a buzz saw through the prospective non-Asian minority teaching pool. And while no one appears willing to say so, I suspect that cut rates are set to allow some percentage of black and Hispanic teacher candidates.

Black and Hispanic teachers are severely underrepresented. Reporters and educational pundits go through a great show every so often of scratching their heads and wondering why—and then, the next day, interview eduformers demanding that we raise the bar on teacher qualifications without ever connecting the dots.

From another ETS report that combined extensive reporting on the teacher test score gap between blacks and whites with ed school student and faculty interviews, an observation I’ve never seen in a story on the missing minority teachers:

So two takeaways:

First, raising teacher quality, whether by requiring more education or higher qualifying test scores, would further reduce the ranks of black and Hispanic teachers and make the teaching pool much whiter and Asian that it already is.

Second, the evidence linking teacher credentials, whether it’s degrees or test scores, to student achievement is sketchy at best, non-existent in most cases.

So I ask again: How smart do teachers need to be? What proof is there that raising the teaching standards will lead to better educational outcomes?

Homework and grades.

The NY Times rewinds the typical homework debate. The post gets predictable pro and con responses: “homework is ruining my kid’s life” vs. “homework is a necessary component to learning”.

As is often the case, the situation at hand involves middle and elementary school students. High school homework rarely gets much scrutiny, unless it’s high achieving students complaining (with a lot of justification) about the huge amount of work they have to stay on top of to stay competitive.

But outside the top 10%, homework’s impact on high school students is a much neglected issue, and it shouldn’t be. Few people seem to understand the inordinate influence homework has on student transcripts—and the results, for the most part, are near-fraudulent.

High school students are far less likely to do assigned homework and the consequences for non-compliance are much higher, because students who don’t do homework often fail—not for lack of demonstrated subject matter skills, but simply for not doing their homework.

Here’s a chart that pretty much any teacher in the country could produce, comparing achievement (test scores) to classwork and homework effort.

(from Reflections of a First Year Math Teacher)

Don’t be distracted by the positive correlation. This is for individual grades, so the individual points are what matter. Notice how many students work hard, yet have failing test results, and how many students don’t work much at all, yet ace the tests.

This graph reflects the reality I point out ad infinitum: effort is only tangentially related to achievement, and then only at the individual level. Students who try harder don’t do better than students who don’t try at all. The lurking variable, of course, is ability.

For this reason, teachers should not include homework as a significant part of a grade, and should never allow missing homework to lower a grade. (This means, English teachers, that if a student doesn’t do an assigned essay, you find another way to assess the student.)

But of course, teachers routinely include homework as 25, 35, 50% of the grade. Happens all the time, and no one calls teachers on this behavior because it’s so damn cheap and easy to argue that homework is essential, good for both discipline and achievement. Never mind that there’s no real evidence for the latter, and the former should not influence grading.

The “homework proxy for effort” skew is understandable, given that teachers really can’t grade students purely on demonstrated ability. Teachers would fail too many students if they set an absolute ability standard. (See the above chart again if you need reminding.)

Teachers tend to value effort anyway—it makes them feel needed. So this preference, coupled with the real dilemma imposed by teaching and assessing students whose skills are far below the required ability level, gives them license to reward effort, to some degree.

But the degree matters.

Boosting hardworking students’ grades just a bit (say from one grade’s “+” to another grade’s “-“) is fine. While some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of giving a failing student a D- because he shows up and tries, I not only forgive this, but engage in the practice frequently.

Giving a student with mediocre math skills an A or B simply because they work hard and finish all their homework is quite another matter and worst of all, giving a low grade to students with excellent test performance—in many cases even failing the student—is outright fraud.

This happens every day, although it’s drowned out by all the middle class parent whining about how much work their middle schoolers have.

In high school, teachers are assigning homework, students aren’t doing it, and teachers are giving lower grades—often failing students completely—even though their skills are strong, simply because they don’t do their homework. Teachers are a moralizing lot, by and large, and they are far more comfortable giving low grades, or outright failing, kids who don’t try and aren’t compliant than they are doing the same to hardworking kids with low skills.

This leads to astonishingly bizarre grade results. Two students might each have very weak algebra skills but one gets an A, because she goes to a school that weights homework as 50 or more percent of the grade and does extra credit, while the other fails at the same school simply for not doing his homework. Students who can read at basic proficiency can fail English for not doing their essays, while functionally illiterate students who earnestly string together sentences on books they didn’t understand get Bs.

Five of my algebra sophomore students last year scored Basic on their state tests–but failed algebra for not doing their homework. One of my best geometry students failed geometry last year for not doing his homework—at least, he was one of my best students until he left for alternative high school because he’d failed so many classes (all by not doing homework) that he can’t graduate on a normal schedule. Several of my top Algebra II students this year took Algebra II/Trig last year and scored basic—but, yes, failed for not doing their homework. Meanwhile, I have colleagues teaching AP Calculus to students who scored Below Basic on all their math state tests up to that point. How can that happen?

State universities don’t use test scores for basic admission, but grades. Which explains why remediation is such a huge problem, doesn’t it?

Of course, at this point in a conversation someone will say, condescendingly, that the students just need to learn how to put in some effort, go through the motions, and I have to fight the urge to go find a baseball bat. Really? We’re talking about a nationwide problem and some idiot treats this as a cheap sermon on morality and obedience? Seriously?

I mean, never mind the fraud that teachers are engaging in, failing competent students while giving good grades to functional illiterates. Consider the massive waste of money thrown away because so many teachers confuse homework obedience with academic achievement. And of course, because our nation is convinced that all kids must be on the college track, there’s so little room for error that one or two Fs ensure that a student is off-track and just marking time until alternative high school is an option.

Districts desperate to stop teachers from indiscriminately failing otherwise competent kids (compared to the kids who are passing) institute those policies that annoy eduformers and earn them lots of mocking catcalls—Fs can’t be less than 50%, homework can’t be more than 10% of the grade, and so on—but these policies make perfect sense when considered in light of the money districts lose to dropouts and quick credit factories that allow students to collect enough credits without learning a thing—even less than they learned from the teacher who gave them an F.

Never forget: grades are a fraud. And in homework, stop wondering about how much is given, and start asking about how much it’s worth to the grade. Because if it’s more than 5%, it’s too much.

Not in front of the children?

I use the phrase Voldemort View (borrowed from an anonymous teacher) to describe the troubles that come along with suggesting that cognitive issues may be the source of the achievement gap. (To repeat myself: the average IQ of a racial group doesn’t say squat about the cognitive abilities of any one individual.)

But Ted Horrell, new principal of a Memphis Tennessee high school, didn’t discuss the cause of the achievement gap. In fact, he didn’t mention it at all. He was going through test scores by race and SES, using state reports, to explain why the school was starting a new advisory period. Naturally, a student goes home and complains about the race-based graphics, totally misrepresents Horrell’s presentation, the media jumps all over the story and ensures the misrepresentation gets played all over the country. (Day One and Day Two of the coverage). Horrell apologizes, but at least makes it clear that it was the students’ imagination, not his presentation, that started the problem.

Apparently, Horrell should have had race-based assemblies to discuss the results.

You could just dismiss this as just another example of the niggardly issue; if a certified member of an identity group takes offense, reality takes a back seat.

But education in America begins and ends with the achievement gap. Horrell took the slides from the state’s website. The media–the same media now playing up the insanity–routinely reports state scores broken down by race and income. I don’t recall them being rated R. No warning to leave the room, or an alert that some viewers might find the information offensive.

Now, apparently all someone has to do is call the paper or the TV station and complain.

So when Congress tries to renew No Child Left Behind and mandated reporting to close the achievement gap…..Hey. Not in front of the kiddies.

New Year Resolution

I went a year without writing anything for publication (or attempted publication) because I felt sure that anything I’d write would either be deemed too controversial or too specialized or too opinionated for someone who wasn’t an expert. I kept tossing around ideas but nothing seemed to pass that barrier.

But then, I did write anyway–in the comments sections of a hundred different blogs, spouting my opinions,  telling people they are idiots, whiners, or unrealistic dreamers, throwing in inconvenient facts.  As a commenter I am not nice and am often disrespectful, two qualities (“not nice” and “disrespectful”) that aren’t given nearly their due in online discourse.  Over time, snark and sarcasm with decent data can change a lot of minds. But while I’m a mean and disrespectful commenter, I am not, in fact, a mean and disrespectful person. No, really. And comments don’t leave much room to initiate ideas, to talk about the fun side of teaching, or bring up things that no blogger noticed.  So as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to try blogging.

It’s very dangerous for teachers to engage in any online discourse. I’ll take the usual precautions, but I wish there were clear rules about what teachers can and can’t do. Right now the rule is “If your administrator finds out and doesn’t like it, you’re in a lot of trouble”. I’m also not a natural blogger; I like the many to many discourse format of forums much better than blogging. Hence the resolution to blog, to keep me focused on writing something daily, or close to it.

Education is filled with unpleasant realities that “experts” routinely ignore. Some realities are ignored because the experts have a policy idea they want to sell (literally). Other realities are ignored because it’s ideologically inconvenient to everyone. Still others, however, are ignored because our world is constructed in such a way as to make those realities illegal, or at least actionable.  The National Association of Scholars published an anonymous article by a teacher who called some of these realities The Voldemort View–The View That Must Not Be Named. Hence I will call these realities Voldemortean and, well, name them anyway.

Many Voldemorteans speak with what almost seems like glee. They don’t mean it that way; it’s more a “Hah! got you!” to the ignoramuses who refuse to even acknowledge what must not be named. I will not. I don’t see the Voldemortean realities as good or bad. They just are. And we won’t get anywhere until we start focusing on what these realities mean.

But education has all sorts of other realities, particularly the realities of teaching, and I’ll write about those, too. I love teaching. I do it as my job, I do it in my spare time. For most of my life, I’ve been paid for providing information and giving advice–and, for most of my life, my clients ignored me, even though they agreed with me. In contrast, my student “clients” listen to me. Not every day, not every class, not all of them. But the percentages are much higher than I ever saw in corporate America. I’m hooked.