Thursday, April 26, 2007

Babies Are From Baby-Lon

When I was a kid, we came up with a theory on where babies come from. They are actually space travelers from the planet Baby-Lon. Baby-Lon is an Earthlike planet whose gravity is quite a bit less than Earth's, so scientists from Baby-Lon come here to do gravity experiments. Initially they are unused to the heavy gravity, which is why they can barely move their arms or lift their heads. After an initial adjustment period, Baby-Lonian scientists begin their gravity experiments, dropping objects from their chairs to observe their fall. They speak their own language, file reports to their home planet through their instant voice transmitter network at odd hours that coincide with the Baby-Lonian daytime, and get excited when they encounter another Baby-Lonian. They observe traditional Baby-Lonian customs such as expressing appreciation for a meal by placing one's bowl on one's head. Eventually, though, they learn to speak our language and "go native." They don't return to Baby-Lon, which is why Baby-Lon continues to send more of their best scientists to Earth to continue the important experimental work.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Waste Of 1 1/2 Hours

Tuesday evening I went to the Tooele County School Board meeting to support Action 4 Autism in trying to get more support and services for autism in the public schools. It was a complete and total waste of time. A4A gave a great presentation. Parents and students came forward to talk about the services they need. Most of what they needed was simple awareness from teachers and staff. They related stories of how principals told them they needed to discipline their kids at home, how teachers felt they just couldn't deal with problem behaviors and wouldn't learn how to do so, how funding wasn't available for classroom aides, etc. At the end of a very moving and well-done presentation, A4A offered a list of suggestions, not one of which included more special ed teachers. But then the superintendent said this:
"You have to understand, we're working on it," added Superintendent Michael Johnsen. "You also have to understand, there's a national crisis, a shortage of special education teachers... There are a lot of things we can do. Still, we're short because the nation is short."
That's right, you heard him. This is a problem for (cue patriotic music) Special Ed Teacher! (enter Special Ed Teacher in cape and spandex) Special Ed Teacher, who can save all normal staff from the problems of having to deal with autistic kids! Superintendent Johnsen, immediately after the presentation, ran outside to turn on the spotlight that projects the bright "SE" symbol onto the clouds. Unfortunately, due to Tooele's high winds, the clouds quickly blew away, so the school board went back to handing out shiny award plaques and hearing the petitions of aw-shucks cute kids who want a gym they were already planning to build.

Here's what I wrote to the Tooele Transcript Bulletin as a letter to the editor:
With all due respect to the school board, I don’t think they heard the message of Action 4 Autism at Tuesday’s meeting. I attended that meeting and heard Mr. Johnson’s remark at the end, saying they’d do something about autism if only they could get more special ed teachers. If he’d been listening at all, he’d have known that more special ed teachers were not what A4A was suggesting. What we need most of all is more awareness among school staff of how to deal with autism in a regular classroom setting. You don’t need a degree in special ed to know that; all you need is training. But Mr. Johnson and the school board are stuck on the idea that the way to deal with anything out of the ordinary is to stick it in a special ed classroom. God forbid their normal staff should have to deal with “those” children, when they could be dealing with all the “normal” children instead. This attitude is precisely why I’m seriously considering homeschooling my 7 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome next year. I can’t work with a system that, at heart, doesn’t see a place for my son in it.

Maybe once they get “enough” special ed teachers, the feckless school board will make a plan to create a committee to explore the possibility of studying the problem of autism in the schools. Until then, they’ll just hand out shiny award plaques. They’re good at that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stuff I Don't Blog About

Since Assistant Village Idiot was so kind as to not tag me with an assignment to write about 5 things about myself that I have not blogged about, I'll only write about three.

1. I love fair division. I don't blog about fair division, though, even though it was the topic of my Master's paper and I could say quite a bit about it, or mathematical topics in general for that matter. This is largely because if I did, the few readers I have would either fall soundly asleep, wander away, or edge away nervously with their hands on the can of mace in their pockets. I've found that few people outside of the fields of mathematics and economics find fair division as fascinating as I do, despite the fact that it would totally improve their lives if only it were in widespread practice. I have thought seriously about adding fair division information to Wikipedia though.

2. I don't blog about every little annoying thing that FH does. I'm working hard at not focusing on these things. Blogging about them would work at cross purposes to that. Rest assured I am thoroughly annoyed by them though. Why just today, after I went to the bank... Nope, not gonna do it.

3. I refuse to tell you all about the time I became a Playboy Playmate without posing nude. No, really, it's a true story, and it's funny and totally PG, involving nothing sexier than a slinky black dress. My mom reads my blog though, and I don't think she'd appreciate me even mentioning Playboy.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Week In Logan

Last Tuesday I left for Logan to spend nearly a week there. I sold at Baby Animal Days at the American West Heritage Center, and we spent Easter with my folks.

Baby Animal Days didn't start till Thursday, but I wanted to do some shopping on Wednesday so we went early. Tuesday night we had Seder dinner with my family. My sister made nut-free haroset and chose an allergen-free grape juice, and my father bought us rice cakes to use instead of matzos and went to the very impressive length of making his own allergen-free ketchup to cook the brisket. I am so grateful to both of them, because without their efforts, my Passover dinner would have consisted of parsley, peas, and horseradish.

Wednesday I did my shopping and at my mother's suggestion went to get fitted for a bra by Margene Yeaton. My mom bought me some bras, which were fabulously expensive but fit really well (thanks so much Mom!) I ended up in a very different size bra than I had been wearing, but it fits so well that I can jump up and down, which I haven't been able to do since I was about 19 or 20. With my bust now up where it's actually supposed to be, my breasts now stick out so far from my body that I'm afraid they may put people's eyes out. :)

Baby Animal Days went well, with nearly $500 in sales. I came pretty close to lowering my prices on the booties, but I held firm and sold them at the same price they were selling at online, and I did all right.

In the booth next to me was Childrens Needs, a local business. I got a sheepskin for Knuckles to sleep on, and George The Bouncing Horse. They recommend those riding bouncing balls for sensory integration dysfunction, so I thought George might be good for Bagel and Sonshine to get some deep pressure stimulation from. Knuckles likes to sit on it too, although his toes barely touch the ground when he does. When I brought George home, my mom saw him and bought one for the Family Support Center's toy lending library, and one for my nephew. My sister showed hers to my nephew's therapist and he loved it so much as a therapy toy, that he wanted one too. So hopefully Childrens Needs will get some more business and George will get some exposure among occupational and physical therapists that work with children, because George is a really cool toy.

I made the Easter chocolates out of Enjoy Life allergen free chocolate chips. If you want to know if it was worth it, here's my answer:
Five pounds of allergen free chocolate chips: $27.18.
Seeing your food-allergic son smile a big chocolate bunny-eating grin on Easter morning: priceless.

Deconstructing anti-voucher arguments

This piece is typical of the anti-voucher "argument":
Vouchers and education tax subsidies do not provide "choice" since neither can guarantee parents that their children will be admitted to the school of their choice. There is also no strong evidence that these programs improve student achievement.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out a little-known fact (at least it's little-known inside of educator circles). Speaking as a parent, I would guess that probably 1/3 to 1/2 of parents in Utah provide supplemental instruction to their public school students. Whether they conduct summer school, hire tutors, or tutor the kids themselves, they are artificially inflating the public school's scores by their actions, which they undertake because they feel they are necessary to keep their kids' education up to speed. We parents put in all this work, and then the school comes along and takes credit for it. They did their spiel in front of the classroom, and magically the student learns the material, therefore what they did must have caused the learning. They don't take into account that they're not the only ones educating children.

As for the "guarantee" argument, anyone with half a brain can see that it is fallacious. Try this version on for size: "State inspections don't guarantee you won't be injured in a car accident, so why should we require safety standards on vehicles at all?" See how ludicrous that sort of "reasoning" is?
Furthermore, these programs undermine accountability, since private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools.
Ms. Weselak fails to appreciate that this is precisely the reason why voucher supporters want to send their children to private school. She argues from the assumption that public schools are held to a better standard of accountability. On what does she base this assumption? The only thing I can think of that she might base it on is the superior size, measured in shelf inches, of the volumes of rules and regulations that are imposed on public education, regulations so stifling that they make public schools entirely moribund. Private schools that accept vouchers will be accountable to the state as well as the parents. In my mind, that's twice the accountability that the public schools have.
Vouchers divert money from public schools, where 90 percent of all school-age children are enrolled, to private schools, where the public has no oversight of how those public dollars are spent.
Talk about circular reasoning! The reason 90% of school age children are enrolled in public schools is precisely because there is no choice in most areas. I'll bet her $50 that if there were a viable choice for most families, they would line up around the block for even the chance to get out of the public school system. I base my confidence in winning this bet on the fact that when Thomas Edison Charter School opened in North Logan, people did line up around the block to apply. Where's her evidence that when people have a choice, they'll choose the public schools (which to her are so "obviously" superior) in the same proportions they do now?

As for the "public" having no oversight, I think she's confusing "the public" with certain aspects of the current school regime. Last time I looked, parents of children were a very large part of "the public". Or don't we count unless we go through our designated district officials, whom we didn't elect?

Also note the "diversion of funds" argument. More on that later.
There is no strong evidence that voucher programs - whether funded directly or indirectly through education tax subsidies - improve student achievement.
Since when is lack of evidence an argument for not trying something? Did the Founding Fathers have "strong evidence" that representative democracy was a superior form of government to monarchy? How then did they justify jumping into the void and trying the untried? How, indeed, does Ms. Weselak get up in the morning and go to work as PTA National President, when there is no "strong evidence" that it is the best job in the universe for her? There has been no large-scale "clinical trial" of vouchers, hence no evidence. I challenge Ms. Weselak to show me the "strong evidence" that public schools funded directly by the taxpayers and without parental opportunities to choose the school are the optimal source of student achievement.

Not only that, but the standard for choosing vouchers shouldn't be that it improves student achievement, but that it fails to produce a decline in student achievement. If the state can find an arrangement whereby they pay a third of what they're paying now and produce the same results, on what basis (other than left-wing idealism) can you argue that the state, and by extension the Utah taxpayer, does not benefit from such an arrangement?
We hope the people of Utah continue to stand up against this poorly devised plan to take money away from our public schools. The national PTA is fully behind the Utah PTA's efforts to reverse the action of their legislature and will help in any way possible.
Not ONCE in this entire piece has Ms. Weselak mentioned the diversion of students from the public schools. This is the second time she mentions diversion of funds. This says a lot about where her priorities lie. It also says a lot about how intensely she's studied the Utah voucher law, which addresses this concern by means of a "hold-harmless" clause which guarantees non-diversion of funds from the public schools. The voucher program is separately funded.

She also completely ignores Occam's Razor, for she provides no compelling reason why even if legislators wanted to see public schools partially defunded, they wouldn't just vote for less money for education in the state budget. Why would they need a separate plan, poorly or well devised, to do that? And what evidence does she have that Utah legislators want to defund public schools? Talk about a crazy conspiracy theory!

Is that the best you can do, voucher opponents?

Anyone who's read my blog knows that all other things being equal, I'm opposed to vouchers, but that's because I favor charter schools over vouchers, not because I'm against school choice. This sort of simplistic and illogical argument is just pabulum that is being put out there in hopes that the public will go back to sleep. I know I just about fell asleep reading it, it was so full of eduspeak buzzwords that reading it produced a soothing white noise. Go back to sleep, people, all is well in the public schools. You don't need this crazy new voucher stuff.

Good luck getting the public back to sleep, Ms. Weselak.