Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pursuit of Equality

Last nite I went to a screening on campus of the documentary "Pursuit of Equality".

Sometime I am so damn proud of being a Californian. It is people like San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome and his staff that really are amazing. How they stood up to the evangelical, right-wing, religious republican nutcases with style, grace and strength was an inspiration.

Here's a quote from the back of the DVD:

By issuing same-sex marriage licenses, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom uproots the status quo, attempts to change the way the nation looks at life, love, and marriage, and ignites what may become our nation’s next great Civil Rights issue.
PURSUIT OF EQUALITY is an emotionally charged film that puts a face on American citizens who strive for marriage equality.

From the first frame of the film, even before the press is aware, this film crew is with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s senior staff as the nation’s first same-sex couple exchange their vows and ignite the most controversial civil rights topic in recent history.

The story continues on the streets, in the courtrooms, and on the steps of City Hall, where same-sex couples clash with church groups who declare that who they are and how they love is a sin.

The film focuses on the compelling, human rights struggles surrounding same-sex marriage and captures the elation and despair of couples and families who are fighting for equal rights.
As the only film crew in the Mayor's chambers during the most crucial of times, this extraordinary film provides a telling ‘fly-on-the wall’ view as this historic event unfolds.

Watch the trailer now!

Go get a copy and share it the website is:

Thursday, November 29, 2007

American Voters Speak on Job Skills: Oh, Please, Just Shut Up

From The Huffington Post Blog, November 28, 2007. See
American Voters Speak on Job Skills: Oh, Please, Just Shut Up
By Gerald Bracey see for bio]

On November 3, 2004, 59,054,087 Americans cast their presidential votes for George W. Bush. On November 4, 2004, the front page of the London Daily Mirror showed a picture of a smirking George W. Bush and asked, "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" Three years later, surveying the rubble and ruin of what once was the United State of America, one finds the question even harder to answer. In any case, that presidential result should give one pause before one puts a great deal of stock into some conclusion endorsed by the American voter.

Still, in October 2007, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills announced that in a survey, most American voters don't think that our public schools are giving kids the 21st century skills they need. This little piece of idiocy could be dismissed out of hand except that the Partnership has many heavy hitters from industry -- Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and even the National Education Association and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It appears to matter not that whatever their genius at their professions, Apple's Steve Jobs, Intel's Craig Barrett and Microsoft's Bill Gates (and lately, Melinda, too), have been consistent whiners about schools and when discussing education have said some of the dumbest things in history (see, "Dumb and Dumber, the Gateses on Parade" on this blog -- see

The immediate questions that come to mind -- or certainly should come to mind -- are "What constitutes a 21st century skill?" and then "Who gets to define such a skill?" The answer to the first question is "nobody knows" and the answer to the second question is "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills." Futurist Ed Barlow told the Industrial Asset Management Council in October, 2007 that 80% of the jobs our current kindergartners will hold as adults don't exist yet. This, I submit, makes it a bit complicated to prepare the kids for them. You would think Barrett and the others would see this: Barlow also said that 90% of Intel's products at the end of a year didn't exist at the start of that year.

Among the skills listed by the Partnership are "Ethics and Social Responsibility." Excuse me? These are areas only now emerging as cogent to the 21st century? "Self-direction?" Yoo-hoo, David Riesman pointed to this in 1950 -- The Lonely Crowd. "Critical Thinking" and "Problem Solving" also number among the 21st century skills. I suppose it is boorish to point out that without further context and elaboration, both of these terms are wholly meaningless. Back in the 1960's some psychologists announced that they wished to produce "content free problem solvers." That goal is now viewed as absurd. Problem solving always occurs around some content and people who are superb at writing software to solve some statistical problem might be awful at dealing with human beings in an organizational setting (see, Jobs, Gates, and Barrett, above). It might be important to think outside the box, but the contours of the box differ hugely from situation to situation. Jaime Escalante, the inspiration for "Stand and Deliver," was unable to reproduce his L. A. success when he moved to Sacramento, in large part it appears, because the situations were so different.

All this begs a larger question: Is job preparation what schools should be about? I have argued, and continue to argue, no. I have written here and elsewhere about even conservative school reformers now coming to the realization that the old time notion of the well-rounded person, the person who has received an education that includes a healthy dose of the liberal arts, is an appropriate goal for the 21st Century. They have realized that a narrow focus on job preparation is inadequate. Steve Jobs, Craig Barrett and Bill Gates all emerged in reaction to their educational situations. Such people will always emerge at unexpected times and in unpredictable ways -- who the hell could have predicted the Sixties from the Fifties? The schools should not be restructured around these people in an attempt to reproduce them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Too much School Testing, Panel Says

From The News and Observer [Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina], Monday, November 19, 2007. See

Too much school testing, panel says
By T. Keung Hui

RALEIGH - A state commission agreed today on a draft report saying "there is too much time spent on testing" and that several exams should be eliminated or no longer counted in the state's testing program.The Blue Ribbon Commission on Testing and Accountability agreed to recommend to the state Board of Education that the fourth-, seventh- and 10th-grade writing tests and the eighth-grade computer skills tests be eliminated.The commission also agreed that the number of end-of-course exams used to measure how high schools are doing in the state testing program be cut from 10 to five. They no longer want to count physics, physical science, chemistry, algebra II and geometry, which if adopted by the state could lead to those exams no longer being offered.In addition, the commission is recommending not counting new science exams in fifth- and eighth-grades in the state's testing program. The state is only offering the exams for the first time this school year to satisfy federal requirements.It's up to the state Board of Education, which created the commission, to decide whether to adopt the recommendations. The commission will present its final report to the state Board in January."We're testing more but we're not seeing the results," said Sam Houston, the commission's chairman. "We're not seeing graduation rates increasing. We're not seeing remediation rates decreasing. Somewhere along the way testing isn't aligning with excellence."The commission's finding represent a strong backlash to the rise in statewide testing that has taken place over the past 12 years.Since 1995, North Carolina public schools have been held accountable for how their students do under a variety of state exams. As time has gone on, the number of state exams has increased.The state's ABCs of Public Education testing program has also been tied into bonuses awarded to teachers for how well their students are doing. Some have complained that schools are now focused on teaching to the tests.

-------------------- or (919) 829-4534************************************************



Lt. Gov. John Garamendi went on the offensive against California’s ever-rising student fees last week. In an opinion article published in the Los Angeles Times, Garamendi advocated for a moratorium on student fee increases.

His article states: “We've been creeping down that road toward privatization for years, slowly shifting the cost of running our public universities from the public at large to students and their families. Over the last 13 years, as the cost of living went up by 40% in California, total student fees for resident undergraduates at Cal State increased by 90%, and at UC by about 110%.

“Enough is enough. Cal State and UC fees should be stabilized at current levels, in constant dollars. That means no future increases except to keep pace with inflation.”

To read the full opinion article, go to:


Last week the Fresno and Modesto Bees published perhaps the harshest critique yet of CSU executives for continuing to raise student fees at the same time that top executives continue to rake in extravagant raises.

“Leaders of the state's higher education systems are contemplating an early Christmas present for California's college students: higher tuition. That's quite a different gift than the pay raises and perks given to executives of the two systems,” the papers wrote.

“State support for higher education, as a percentage of the systems' budgets, has fallen sharply. That's led to frequent and onerous fee hikes borne by students and their families. And that, in turn, has pushed increasing numbers of students out of the system -- and out of the opportunities that higher education can offer them.”

To read the editorial, go to:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Andres Oppenheimer: Latin America's education gap

By Andres Oppenheimer

Here's a new statistic that should sound alarm bells in Latin America: The region is falling increasingly behind China, India and other Asian countries in the number of students it sends to U.S. universities, which are still ranked in international studies as the best in the world.

According to the new Open Doors report by the New York-based Institute of International Education (IIE), India remains the country that sends the most students to U.S. universities, with nearly 84,000 students, followed by China with 68,000 students – 76,000 if one includes Hong Kong – and South Korea with 62,000.

By comparison, Mexico has 14,000 students in U.S. universities; Brazil, 7,000; Colombia, 6,700; Venezuela, 4,500; Peru, 3,700; Argentina, 2,800; Ecuador, 2,200; and Chile, 1,570.

While the number of Indian students in U.S. universities grew by 10 percent last year, and that of Chinese students by 8 percent, the number of Latin American students fell by 0.3 percent.
These are startling numbers: Even communist-ruled Vietnam, which until recently was in the stone ages in terms of its insertion in the world economy, has more than 6,000 students in U.S. universities – twice the number of Argentina, whose economy is nearly three times bigger.
Why are there fewer Latin American than Asian students in U.S. universities? It's not because of economic reasons: While Latin America is not growing as fast as Asia, its economies have grown by an average of nearly 5 percent over the last four years, which is the region's best performance in 25 years.

And it's not because the governments of China, India, South Korea and other Asian countries are paying for the foreign studies.

To my surprise, when I asked Chinese education officials about this during a visit to Beijing two years ago, I was told that less than 5 percent of the Chinese students in the United States had government grants. Virtually all of the Chinese students' expenses are paid for by their families, they said.

IIE officials say Asian families have a long-standing culture of investing in their children's education, a tradition that may date back to Confucius, the Chinese philosopher born in the sixth century B.C. who advocated focusing on education as a key pillar of social progress.
Peggy Blumenthal, a senior official of the IIE, told me this month in a telephone interview that Asian students are also more likely than Latin American students to get financial help from their U.S. universities because they tend to come with part-time jobs as assistants to professors.

While nearly 70 percent of Asian students are graduate students, and nearly half of them can pay part of their tuition by working as assistants to professors, most Latin American students in U.S. universities are undergraduates who rarely get teaching jobs, she said.

What may be even more troubling for Latin America, Asian students tend to concentrate in business, science and technology.

"Overwhelmingly, Asians are graduate students and pick business, management and engineering," she said. "Among Latin American students, there are more undergraduates, and they tend to concentrate in humanities, communications and social sciences." My opinion: This is a troubling trend for Latin America because in a knowledge-based world economy in which countries that produce sophisticated goods get the biggest income, you need scientists, engineers and business managers trained at the world's best universities.

And if you look at the two best-known rankings of the world's best universities – the London Times' Higher Education Supplement's list of the 200 best universities in the world, and the University of Shanghai's ranking of the world's 500 best universities – U.S. universities overwhelmingly dominate the first 100 places.

Unless Latin American families follow the steps of their Asian counterparts and invest more in their children's education – including graduate studies in the United States, Europe or wherever the best universities in their fields of study are located – they will continue losing competitiveness, and the gap separating them from Asia's booming economies will continue to widen.

Post script: On a happier note for Latin America, the IEE study shows that a record 224,000 U.S. college students studied abroad last year, an 8.5 percent increase over the previous year.
Latin America did not do badly: There was a 14 percent increase in the number of U.S. college students who chose the region as their destination.
About the writer:

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. Oppenheimer can be reached at Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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