Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scarsdale and AP Tests

How do you rank high schools? U.S. News & World Report does it by calculating the ratio of students taking AP (Advanced Placement) exams to the number of graduating seniors. U.S. News & World Report has documented their methodology and you can see for yourself. Of course, this allows schools to "game the system" by forcing all seniors to take AP exams. (Newsweek magazine has their own list and they too like AP tests.) But who says taking Advanced Placement courses provides children with the best education? The Advanced Placement tests are a money making project of the College Boards.

It's been reported in the New York Times, "Scarsdale Adjusts to Life Without Advanced Placement Courses," by Winnie Hu (December 6, 2008) that Scarsdale is de-emphasizing Advanced Placement courses because Scarsdale High School believes it can provide a better education for its students without AP courses. They offer "Advanced Topics" classes instead.

Schools cannot allow the College Board to control education. The College Board is a corporation headed by a CEO who is not an educator; he is a former politician. School districts need to provide their students with the best education possible to face a complicated and uncertain future, and that won't happen by taking direction from a corporation.

If the Plano Independent School District wants to offer a superior education to its students, then the Plano ISD needs to identify its own list of the best high schools in America, ignoring U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek, and consider what features of the truly superior schools PISD might duplicate.

Plano could share its list and charge fees for details from the PISD analysis of the best schools. Maybe Plano would not rank in the top 10 or even top 50 of the best high schools in America on its own list, but it could certainly put itself squarely in the national picture of education by thinking independently, by establishing relationships with the very best schools in America, and by liberating schools from the shallow assessments of for-profit magazines.

Plano ISD needs to think for itself.

Robert Canright

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Math Rankings and Math Facts

The Decemeber 10, 2008 Wall Street Journal reported the latest international rankings for math in "U.S. Students Make Gains in Math Scores," by John Hechinger. (The New York Times ran a similar article on December 15.) The international ranking system is called Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

4th Grade:
1. Hong Kong
2. Singapore
3. Taiwan
4. Japan
5. Kazakhstan
11. USA

8th Grade:
1. Taiwan
2. South Korea
3. Singapore
4. Hong Kong
5. Japan
9. USA

These international tests are administered every 4 years. The Journal reports, "Two states, Massachusetts and Minnesota, sought to have their schools' test results broken out separately. Both reported results outpacing the rest of the nation." The WSJ then says, "Massachusetts fourth-graders scored roughly as well as those in high-performing Taiwan and Japan."

Why did these two statess outperform the rest of the nation?

"Alice Seagren, Minnesota commissioner of education, said the state in 2003 revamped its education standards, which include a focus on learning math facts, such as the multiplication tables, in early grades."

"Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts commissioner of education, said the state in the early 1990s developed new assessments and standards that, as in Minnesota, stressed the mastery of math facts..."

A child cannot master math without mastering math facts. When I ran for the Plano ISD school board in 2008 I recommended we pay better attention to teaching math facts.

Education all across America has systemic problems in teaching math. Fixing math instruction is not that hard. Getting rid of bad attitudes towards mathematics within the colleges of education is the challenge. The colleges of education consistently misguide every generation of teachers.

The parents and their elected representatives, the school board trustees, need to clean up the mess in math instruction because the school administrators have been misguided and are unable to correct themselves.

Robert Canright

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Economics, Not Science, Finance, Not Math

Texas is now requiring high school students who started as freshmen in 2007 to take 4 years of math and 4 years of science, which is called 4x4. You will notice that it is Wall Street financiers who are ruining our economy, not scientists, not engineers, and not mathematicians.

You will remember our recent Presidential election had one candidate say he did "not know enough about economics." The economy is in the toilet in part because too many citizens do not know enough about finance to understand when they are getting a loan they cannot afford to pay.

The problems facing America today were not caused by a lack of Math and Science education, but by a lack of education in Economics and Finance. Students of History know the Roman middle-class was driven into bankruptcy before the Republic was over-thrown by the powerful and ambitious. We should study History well enough to avoid losing our republic like the Romans lost theirs.

The Texas 4x4 is a terrible, misguided plan. If we value our future, we need to correct the 4x4 mistake, improve the electives in Economics, and add an elective in Finance.

Robert Canright

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Grammar and Writing: What Happened?

First, a couple of stories. A lady I know handed me a copy of her son's business plan written for a college course. She said she did not understand why the paper got an 87. She saw nothing wrong with it. I took a quick look and handed it back, saying nothing. She prodded me for my opinion and I told her I found multiple grammatical mistakes on the first page and important information missing from the table of contents. I thought an 87 was generous. The lady had a masters degree from a well known Texas university and she could not spot grammatical mistakes.

A young person I know came with a college paper. The student said the college grader told him to rewrite it, saying if she were to correct it she would just pour red ink onto the paper. The student said his mother, college educated, read the paper and could not see anything wrong. I spent 2.5 hours correcting the paper and it was indeed bathed in red ink.

I talked with this student and discovered he had A's in high school English from a Plano high school, commended scores in the English TAKS test, and above average SAT scores in writing. There is something wrong with the way writing is taught in public schools.

There are serious deficiencies in the writing skills of college students, both entering and leaving college. If you are a student at the University of North Texas and you want to major in journalism, you have to pass a test on grammar, spelling, and punctuation before you can take a journalism course. Obviously a high school diploma means nothing in regard to writing.

I have studied numerous books on grammar and writing. I know there are good books and good courses on writing, so what has gone wrong in Texas?

I recently finished a Teaching Company course, "Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writers Craft" by Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa (Ph.D. Univesity of Texas). Dr. Landon said that for all the great books written about crafting good sentences, teaching students how to write good sentences is now unfashionable. In Lecture 24 he quotes from a paper by Dr. Robert J. Connors, "The Erasure of the Sentence," who said that sentence based writing approaches are considered "...scientistic and therefore suspect, mechanistic and therefore destructive."

It seems as though every subject requiring skill is declared boring and dropped from the school curriculum or diminished to the point where students with good grades are at best marginally competent.

What is wrong in Texas is part of a nation-wide corruption of standards. It is a shame because there have been some remarkable works, like "A Lesson from Hemingway" by Francis Christensen in his Notes Toward a New Rhetoric that are very intelligent.

We need to admit the writing program in Texas public schools is flawed and fix it.

Robert Canright

Saturday, October 25, 2008

History and David McCullough

David McCullough, the author of prize winning biographies and histories, had this to say about history at the National Conference of State Legislatures:

David McCullough:
"History is not about dates, and quotes, and obscure provisos. History is about life, about change, about consequences, cause and effect. It's about the mystery of human nature, the mystery of time. And it isn't just about politics, and the military, and social issues, which is almost always the way it's taught. It's about music, and poetry, and drama, and science, and medicine, and money, and love."

History is the story of humanity. Without history we cannot begin to understand what it means to be human. Without history we cannot improve our society, nor protect the progress we have made. Without history we cannot give our children a better life, nor even plan on leaving them at least with the benefits we received from our parents.

We must provide our children with a good grounding in history. And we adults need to maintain a life of learning, constantly adding to our knowledge of the story of humanity, growing in wisdom as an example to our children.

Robert Canright

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Math Should be Valued

The New York Times on Friday, October 10, 2008 on pages A15 & A19, published and article, "Math Skills Suffer in US, Study Finds" by Sara Rimer.

Here is a quote from this article, "'We're living in a culture that is telling girls you can't do math -- that's telling everyone that only Asians and nerds do math,' said the study's lead author, Janet E. Mertz."

This is a well written article that touches on one of the great failings in America education: the poor attitude within our culture towards mathematics. I remember reading an op-ed writer in a national newspaper, the Washington Post I think, writing that he never learned algebra and that did not hurt him, so he felt no one needed to learn algebra.

There are a lot of negative attitudes towards math, even amongst school teachers and college professors in the colleges of education. I have most certainly run across parents who had a poor attitude towards algebra and passed that bad attitude on to their children.

I heartily recommend the article by Ms Sara Rimer and I suggest we need a greater effort to promote valuing mathematics.

Robert Canright

The title of this article in the print edition was "U.S. Failing to Promote Math Skills, Study Finds - Citing Lack of Value for Talent in Culture." Sometimes the print edition and the online editions have different titles.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Economics Should be the New Science

When the Russians launched Sputnik, the USA increased its commitment to science education because the satellite launch raised fears of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's).

The recent economic meltdown is a greater threat to America that Sputnik was. We need a national focus on economics and finance. We need to reduce the emphasis on science and start adding the study of economics and finance to public education. Banking deregulation and irresponsible monetary policy is a greater threat to America than Al Queda.

Economics and finance should be the new science.

Robert Canright

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Education and V for Vendatta

A man I respect had this to say about the 700 billion dollar bailout our Congressmen voted on October 4, 2008: "The treason of our politicians had put me in a very sour and depressed mood. To Lift my spirits and regain some inspiration - tonight I am again watching "V For Vendetta". It always seems to lift my spirits and give me hope."

Many Americans are worried by how irresponsible our leadership is in handling money. But I see bigger problems than the money and I see a connection between our problems and education.

The failure of banks in America, year after year, is a symptom of big problems. The problems are (1) our leaders are incompetent, (2) our leaders deceive and manipulate us, and (3) too many people go along with the manipulation and deception.

Regarding Manipulation

Besides the movie V for Vendetta, featuring government deception, there have been movies with a similar theme for many years, like The Parallax View (1974). Even the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had the AI computer, HAL, go crazy because it was forced to lie to its crew.

In the movie, The Matrix, the character Morpheus says, "...there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." That "something" is the deception and manipulation practiced by our leaders,

On the large scale, our deception has been documented in Manufacturing Consent. On a smaller scale, an article in the Saturday August 30, 2008 Wall Street Journal, "Machiavelli's Daring Gift" by William Amelia says Lee Atwater has read The Prince 23 times.

Karl Rove has been described as a Machiavellian in Machiavelli's Shadow by Paul Alexander. Scott McClellan wrote What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception and was pilloried in the press for being disloyal.


One critique I have heard of The Prince said that the manipulation and deception encouraged by The Prince is most helpful to mediocre people, so a Machiavellian system is riddled with mediocrity and incompetence. This goes a long way towards explaining the incompetence of the current Bush administration. Lee Atwater was important to George H.W. Bush and this Machiavellian presence in the 1st Bush administration had to influence the 2nd Bush administration.

To Be or Not to Be, a Sheep

The frustration of the American people with our corrupt leaders is finding voice in artistic works besides V for Vendetta. The book Black Friday by James Patterson describes disgruntled veterans blowing up Wall Street and assassinating the Secret Government. The short story, Sergeant Chip by Bradley Denton in Year's Best SF 10 depicts our government murdering its own soldiers in order to give the government an excuse to continue an unpopular war. There is a growing sentiment that our government cannot be trusted.

Cicero said it is dishonorable to be deceived. So it is our responsibility to be well enough informed that we are not easily deceived. Once we perceive the deception, some people think violence is an answer, or at least enjoy fantasies or movies about a heroically violent struggle. Yet, non-violence has been an effective form of resistence.

The Wall Street Journal, Saturday September 13, 2008, ran a story on page 1, American Revolutionary by Philip Shishkin about Gene Sharp. Gene Sharp started The Albert Einstein Institution to promote non-violence in the defense of freedom and democracy.

Gene Sharp wrote a handbook, From Dictatorship to Democracy, that is available as free PDF document. Gene Sharp promotes non-violence and the techniques he describes have been proven to work around the world.

Education is the Real Solution

We must avoid slipping into an outright dictatorship. The key to preserving our freedom is to educate our children for liberty to they can preserve their freedoms.

Ideally, we should educate our children so they can become tomorrow's leaders. We do not need to accept the existing ruling class. We can educate our children to rise to the top and restore competency, rationality, and morality to our nation's leadership. This is one of the goals of the Timeless Way Foundation.

Robert Canright

Thursday, August 14, 2008

TLR: the Texas Leadership Revolution

Texas will experience a revolution in leadership. Texas Congressman Ron Paul is just the beginning of the revolution.

I said back in May 2007 that Texas was going to experience a renaissance in politics. Instead of referring to this political renaissance as the Texas Leadership Renaissance, as I had planned, I will refer to it as the Texas Leadership Revolution (TLR) in honor of Ron Paul's book, The Revolution: a Manifesto.

The struggle to restore America to greatness and secure our liberties will take generations. Forty years after the civil rights movement was in full swing we have an African American running for President. We will succeed in the long run if we don't lose hope.

America needs better leaders and education is the key. We must educate our children for liberty. The citizens of a free society cannot be ignorant of history and remain free. This is why I have run repeatedly for the Board of Trustees of the Plano ISD: to prepare our children for a life of freedom and prosperity, to empower them to meet the difficult challenges awaiting them in a competitive and troubled world.

Robert Canright

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

TBAR, Rooster Teeth in Austin

Good education should lead to improvements in the arts and in business. But this is not like the law of gravity. We need to make sure we nurture the arts and support local businesses. Today we will look more at computer animation and its impact on business and the arts in Texas.

The July 2008 issue of IEEE Spectrum ran an article, Machinima's Movie Moguls By David Kushner, describing a company in Austin named Rooster Teeth Productions.

Rooster Teeth publishes a show called Red vs. Blue (RvB). The type of show is called Machinima, a blend of Machine and animation.

This is an example of what Texas needs to cultivate in pursuit of a Texas Business and Arts Renaissance (TBAR).


PS: here is more about Machination.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

TBAR, Venture Capital and Economic Growth

TBAR, the Texas Business and Arts Renaissance, is not just about the arts. We should expect a renaissance in business as a result of our investments in education. But what we want and what we expect will not fall into our laps, we need to reach out and get it. A renewed focus in venture capital can help the Texas economy grow.

The New York Times, on Sunday June 1, 2008, ran an article, Venture Capital, Before High Tech, by Stephen Kotkin. The article is about a book, Creative Capital by Spencer E. Ante, that is about Georges F. Doriot.

There are books and articles, to be sure, about venture capital, but this quote from Doriot is why I mention this book: "I am building men and companies." Building something that lasts is what is missing in today's economy. If we increase the prosperity of Texas, it should be a lasting achievement, not a fly-by-night boom and bust like Enron.

There are several things we might surmise from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown on Wall Street. (1) There are a lot of investors who have trouble finding good investments for their money. (2) There appears to be a shortage of startups: Texas and America need more growing businesses that can blossom with investment. (3) If there is not a shortage of businesses that could benefit from investment, then perhaps there is a shortage of wise men, like Doriot, who know what businesses and people are worth backing.

Texas needs to work harder at encouraging its citizens to start businesses. Texas needs better ways to connect wealth to promising businesses.

Texas can have a renaissance in business, and a better venture capital infrastructure might be part of our success story.


PS: I have heard the theory that the lack of good investments was due to the presence of too much money in the system after Alan Greenspan drove the interest rate from the Federal Reserve down to essentially zero. Nevertheless, the money was there, but good investments were not.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Moral Instruction and Story Telling

Stories are an excellent way to convey moral lessons. Movies are a good way to tell stories. I have shown The Keys of the Kingdom with Gregory Peck and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingrid Bergman in my home for moral instruction.

Upon a friend's recommendation I bought The Emperors Club in DVD. Because I was not personally familiar with it, I was watching it without requesting my son to join me. He wandered into the room, found the story interesting and stayed to watch it. I'm glad he did because it was a movie that conveyed moral instruction while entertaining us.

A good show or story is captivating and has full bodied, complex characters in challenging circumstances. They make an impression.

When I ran for the local school board I recommended Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans be incorporated into the curriculum, particularly in history. Plutarch's biographies are like stories, bringing to life famous and important people and giving insight into their characters. My 4th grade boy and I are presently going through the life of Alexander the Great. I ran for the school board because I wanted all the children of Plano, Texas, to have the same quality education as the Plano children whose parents provide tutoring.

The philosopher Richard Rorty has said that moral education is best taught by works of fiction that help us understand and sympathize with other people. The philosopher David Hume, in his work, Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, has also said that stories are a good way to provide moral instruction. But if we use stories for moral instruction in the schools we must be very careful.

A friend brought to my attention an article, Little Manchurian Candidates by Matt James, that describes a badly botched attempt by a school to provide moral instruction for the students through stories.

I have for a long time felt that moral education is the purview of the parents and the schools should stay away from that topic. Yet, the staggering amount of corruption in contemporary society indicates a lack of moral instruction in many households.

Education is an important ingredient in the glue that holds society together, so moral instruction should be included in education. Yet, we cannot depend on professional educators to assemble that part of the curriculum. Only the involvement of the parents will provide a system of moral instruction with community support and representative of community standards.

We parents must be more involved in the school curriculum.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

TBAR, Virtual Reality, the Arts, and the Public Schools

TBAR, the Texas Business and Arts Renaissance, is very much related to the public schools. We have forgotten that education is not all about standardized testing. We forget there are real benefits to education. I believe education can ignite a renaissance in business and in the arts.

Here is a proposal for a project that can tie together education, business, and the arts: multi-media / virtual reality projects for students that are based on the classics of literature.

The epic poems of Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey are fabulous when you hear them spoken. These are crying to be turned into animated films. This is something high school students can do. There are translations old enough to be in the public domain, so students have a script. It is also good for students to learn about copyrights and the public domain. Intellectual property is an important part of business in a knowledge based economy.

Students can plan and manage the production of animated films of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Theater students can do the voices. Orchestra students can write and perform the sound track. The techies and the artists can both work on the animation.

There is a 3D programming tool, free from Carnegie Mellon University, called Alice. It is intended for high school students. They have a program for middle school students called Storytelling Alice. Money for software is not a problem.

Plano (my home town) can teach high quality animation in its public schools. Lack of will power and vision are the only obstacles.

Animation is an important part of the new economy. Texas can have an important part in the business of animated movies, and we can start with our public schools.

The works of Shakespeare are in the public domain. Besides learning animation, our theater students would have more opportunities to perform. The orchestra students would understand soundtracks and see how they can be opportunities for creativity. When the projects are finished, the animated versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey can be used for instruction, along with works by Shakespeare.

Students can learn the classics.

Students can learn hi-tech skills.

Students can learn important business skills.

Our children have great opportunities. Texas needs visionary leadership to enable our children to excel. This is a great opportunity for all the children of Texas, not just Plano.

Robert Canright

Monday, June 02, 2008

TBAR and Summer Festivals

I mentioned earlier the goal of a Texas Business and Arts Renaissance, TBAR. The New York Times, Sunday May 11, 2008, had a series of articles on arts festivals. Texas was mentioned in "Summer Stages Pop/Jazz" by Ben Sasario. This article mentioned the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

A related article, "Summer Stages" by Vivien Schweitzer, looking at classical music, mentioned the International Festival at Round Top. This is great.

It's great to see the arts in Texas being mentioned in a national newspaper. That series of articles did not mention any dance or theater festivals in Texas, so there is room for improvement, or maybe there are dance and theater festivals this Summer in Texas and the NY Times did not mention them.

We need to support the arts in Texas, so one day the arts in Texas can help support our children!

The arts are ennobling and uplifting, but if done right they can increase prosperity in Texas.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

TBAR, the Texas Business and Arts Renaissance

Texas needs a renaissance in business and the arts, and the two are related. A renaissance in the arts will be most successful if it is self-sustaining, which makes it a business. I've said this before, both in this blog and when I campaigned for the local school board.

Dallas, in March and April, 2008, had an AFI Dallas International Film Festival. It is important that we have events like this, that we support them, and that we build upon them.

The Texas needs to become a new center for film, publishing, and news production. Texas already has a toe-hold in the film industry. There is nothing magical about New York city or the West coast for publishing. No one really knows how to predict the next best-seller. Texans have the same capabilities as New Yorkers or Californians, but we lack the interest.

If you go a book fair in Texas, the books people buy most frequently are about Texas or the Old West. As Texans become better educated, there will be a natural progression to better quality books and films, but we can hasten the pace of progress. The Texas Film Commission, a government office, already promotes films. We also need to promote book publishing, script writing, and play writing.

There is money to be made in publishing, not just in film making. This is part of the business renaissance in Texas (yes, there is much more, but that is for another day).

I'm using the name "TBAR, the Texas Business and Arts Renaissance," because if you google "Texas Renaissance" you will flooded with hits related to the renaissance festival. There are a number of organizations and websites with "TBAR", but not too many to hide this idea.

I've also said that Texas needs a renaissance in politics, and I still believe that, but will have to be a separate thread, which I plan to call the "Texas Leadership Revolution."

Let's aim high for our children's sake. They deserve the best we can do for them.

Robert Canright

Here are subsequent posts on this topic
Summer Festivals
Virtual Reality, the Arts, and the Public Schools
Venture Capital and Economic Growth
Rooster Teeth in Austin, Machinima

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Character Education, the Love of Learning, and the Five Virtues

A lot has been said about character education. Schools and parents need to work together to teach good character. Here is a link to a nice article from the Mercury News in San Jose, "For success in schools, teach character first, then content," by Robert Freeman, March 3, 2008.

One thing missed in contemporary efforts to teach character in the schools is identifying the love of learning as a virtue. This is a Confucian virtue, which helps explain why the Chinese are so successful in scholarship.

Here is how James Legge translated Book XVII, Chapter VIII, of the Analects of Confucius:

1. The Master said, 'Yu, have you heard the six words to which are attached six becloudings?' Yu replied, 'I have not.'
2. 'Sit down, and I will tell them to you.
3. 'There is the love of being benevolent without the love of learning;-- the beclouding here leads to a foolish simplicity. There is the love of knowing without the love of learning;-- the beclouding here leads to dissipation of mind. There is the love of being sincere without the love of learning;-- the beclouding here leads to an injurious disregard of consequences. There is the love of straightforwardness without the love of learning;-- the beclouding here leads to rudeness. There is the love of boldness without the love of learning;-- the beclouding here leads to insubordination. There is the love of firmness without the love of learning;-- the
beclouding here leads to extravagant conduct.'

Obviously, newer translations read more smoothly, but you can see that the love of learning is important in Confucianism, yet missing from the lists of virtues used to teach character.

This link will lead you to the Six Pillars of Character. See how the Six Pillars compare to the Five Virtues of Confucianism.
Confucius -> 6 Pillars
Respectfulness -> Respect
Generosity -> Fairness
Sincerity -> Trustworthiness
Earnestness -> Responsibility
Kindness -> Caring

The 6 Pillars of Character includes Citizenship, but that is such a big deal to Confucians that they have lists of relationships and principles relating the individual to society.

The love of learning was not in Confucius' short list of virtues, but he spoke often about learning. To better understand the importance of learning in the Confucian tradition, contrast how the Christian Bible starts to how the Analects of Confucius starts.

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Analect 1:1 "Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?"

If our children are to become successful students, it would help to inculcate the love of learning.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Parents Duty to Teach Phonics

I believe it is the parents' responsibility to ensure their child is getting a good education. That means the parents need to know if the schools are falling short and to make up for the failure. Phonics is a perfect example. Many schools are stuck with the "look-say" approach, which is now called "whole language". It is the parents' responsibility to teach their child phonics. I've mentioned elsewhere how I taught my son phonics. Now I want to give an example of parents who did not teach their child phonics.

A bunch of families were together for a Bible study. A 12 year old boy (a sixth grader) is reading a section but stops when he gets to the word "gentiles". He comes to a dead stop, sits in silence for a long time, then says he does not know the word. He did not try to sound out the word, which means his school, like so many, did not teach him phonics. After he says he does not know the word, his mother tells him to skip it and move on. She did not tell him to sound it out, which means neither she nor her husband taught their child phonics.

My children can sound out words they do not know because I taught them. They have an advantage over kids whose parents blindly trusted the schools.

If you want your child to have a good education, you must be involved and fill in the gaps the schools leave.