Archive for April, 2007

Funny in my inbox, like maggots fried in hot grease

Posted in All posts, Life on April 21, 2007 by Trina

E-mail has now become the source of urban legends and myths. And the senders are not spammers, they are naive friends and family with good intentions. But my e-mail inbox is filling up, like a colony of E. coli on room temperature Canadian beef, (see below) and I’m not laughing.

I received a joke e-mail from a coworker Friday listing “excerpts of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays.” Although these analogies read like the laugh-out-loud writing of some of my former middle students, I began to doubt that these were actually from high school essays when I could find no reference or source in the e-mail. So I searched on Google and found the exact text of the e-mail cited as early as 2003 on several Web sites. Further searching revealed that high school students did not write these analogies. Instead, about half of them appeared in a 1999 Washington Post Style Invitational contest, where they asked readers to submit items in the style of bad student essays.

These analogies are quite a funny collection of sentences and remind me of the fun I had reading my students’ unintentionally funny answers to worksheets and tests. So does it matter that high school students didn’t write them? Probably not any more than maggots in hot grease. (See below).

But then this morning I received a group e-mail from my aunt. She prefaced the text with, “… will our citizenry ever stop being negative when we have so much to be thankful about. Complainers ought to be shipped to live in a Godless society …”

JAY LENO SPEAKS OUT
The other day I was reading Newsweek magazine and came across some poll data I found rather hard to believe. It must be true given the source, right?
The Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the president. In essence 2/3s of the citizenry just ain’t happy and want a change.

This is from an e-mailed article that has been circulating since March, 2007, titled “Jay Leno Hits the Nail on the Head.” The article falsely attributes Tonight Show host Jay Leno as the author of the article that labels the majority of Americans ‘ungrateful, spoiled brats’ for saying they’re unhappy with the current direction of the country. Apart from uttering the words that inspired the final paragraph of this text, Tonight Show host Jay Leno had nothing whatsoever to do with its authorship. The original was written by columnist Craig R. Smith and published in November 2006 on WorldNetDaily.com under the title “Made in the U.S.A.: Spoiled Brats.” Read more.

So do I embarrass my aunt by telling her that the heartfelt e-mail that she sent to family and friends is bogus? Or do I simply delete the group e-mail and do nothing? It is only a harmless joke, right. Jay Leno is used to criticism. His skin is thick, right? Thick as, like, whatever. (See below).

Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their collections of actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year’s winners:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River .

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

The Chimp, the Chump, and You

Posted in All posts on April 16, 2007 by Trina

I read this cover story on neatoday. I think it is a fitting followup to my previous post on NCLB.

Testing:
How the Sausage is Made

By Alain Jehlen

How do standards become test scores?

What do ‘proficient’ and ‘grade level’ really mean?

How are high-stakes tests dumbing down education?

These aren’t questions you’ll see on any test, but the answers might surprise you.

Little Jimmy opens his test booklet and reads:

What number goes in the box to make this number sentence true?
11 – ? = 2

Your whole year’s work has come down to this. If he gets the right answer, your school is on its way to the modern Holy Grail: Adequate Yearly Progress. If not, you’re a failure. Read entire story.

And now to the point of this entry. Computers are rating millions of essays per year in thousands of school districts. What happens when you take the human element out of test scoring. See below.

The Chimp, the Chump, and You
Can a dumb machine help students write smart essays?

“It is with chimpanzee greatest esteem and confidence that I write to support Risk of physical injury Employers as a candidate for a faculty position. I have known Risk of physical injury in a variety of capacities for more than five years, and I find him to be one of chimpanzee most eloquent, hard-working and talented students to have graduated with a UC Davis PhD in English. …” Read the perfectly scored chimp essay.

Thus began an “essay” cooked up by University of California-Davis writing instructor Andy Jones, which earned a stellar 6 out of 6 rating from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Not from a reader, but from software called Criterion, a leader in the field of computerized essay scoring.

UC-Davis was considering using Criterion to decide which students should be allowed to skip a writing course, and Jones thought that was a bad idea. So he took a letter of recommendation he had written, replaced the student’s name with a few words from a Criterion writing prompt, and substituted “chimpanzee” for every “the.” Criterion loved the result, calling it “cogent” and “well-articulated.” Read entire story.

So there you have it folks. The sausage on testing. May we leave no monkey behind.

Govs call for more control over NCLB

Posted in All posts on April 11, 2007 by Trina

Renewal of the oft-criticized No Child Left Behind federal law is supported by the nation’s governors, but they want far more authority to carry out its mandates.
That’s the crux of recommendations the National Governors Association (NGA) sent to Congress Thursday as that body considers what the second iteration of the five-year-old law should look like.

“The governors’ voices when No Child Left Behind was initially written were not present,” said Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), co-chair of the NGA’s lobbying effort, in a conference call Thursday. But now “the states believe that it’s very important that the governors have a voice on this because we truly have a unique view about how this piece of legislation can be implemented.”

The governors aren’t alone. Their recommendations were jointly released with two other state groups: the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Boards of Education. Read entire Story.

One of the key requirements of the landmark federal education law No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) is that ALL students tested in reading and math will reach grade level by 2014. I will repeat, “ALL students.” It follows that if even one student has a bad day on testing day, according to NCLB, we have failed. Picture a heartbroken middle school child whose pet dog of twelve years had to be humanely euthanized the day before. Will he score well on the test? Or a troubled elementary school student whose parents are divorcing. Then there’s the normal adolescent break ups and crisis. Wearing the wrong outfit or hair style to school on test day can interfere with performance. And we haven’t begun to discuss the exceptional child whose learning disability or attention deficit disorder will keep them from scoring on grade level.

Critics of NCLB, including some teachers unions and many testing experts, view the law as a forced march toward an impossible education nirvana. They are lobbying Congress to reduce the 100 percent target and delay the 2014 deadline. They are also pushing for the elimination of sanctions that school systems face for failing to make yearly progress toward the goal.
NCLB expires in 2007, and to continue, must be reauthorized by Congress. Even when the law was enacted five years ago, almost no one believed that standard was realistic. But now, as Congress begins to debate renewing the law, lawmakers and education officials are confronting the reality of the approaching deadline.

“There is a zero percent chance that we will ever reach a 100 percent target,” said Robert L. Linn, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing at UCLA. “But because the title of the law is so rhetorically brilliant, politicians are afraid to change this completely unrealistic standard. They don’t want to be accused of leaving some children behind.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. education secretary and supporter of the law, said Americans don’t want politicians to lower standards. “Are we going to rewrite the Declaration of Independence and say only 85 percent of men are created equal?” Alexander asked. “Most of our politics in America is about the disappointment of not meeting the high goals we set for ourselves.”

Foes and supporters alike praise the law for drawing attention to student achievement gaps. The law requires testing for all students in reading and math from grades 3 through 8, and science starting this school year, and once more in high school; it also requires reporting of scores for groups of students including racial and ethnic minorities, those from low-income families, those with limited English skills and those with disabilities who receive special education.

Why do the governor’s want a voice? To answer that, we have to answer another question: Who establishes the academic standards for all students, and then tests them to see how well they’re learning the standards? Why, the states do. No wonder the governors want to be heard.

If NCLB is renewed, I’ll have instant job security. As a science researcher at a company that develops and scores educational tests, NCLB will ensure that I have enough work to keep me busy indefinitely. Perhaps the jobs created from developing state reading, math and science tests will boost the economy.

Sidebar:
The parodies below take a humorous look at NCLB, but in doing so bring forward the impossible task outlined by the much criticized law.

No Dentist Left Behind
John Taylor, retired superintendent of schools in Lancaster, S.C., offers this history of the above essay which he wrote while leading that district:

The parody was originally titled ‘Absolutely the Best Dentists.’ It was written and sent to every newspaper and legislator in South Carolina a number of years ago in an attempt to point out the absurdities inherent in South Carolina’s then new accountability act which was focused on ‘absolute’ performance and threatened retention for every child who couldn’t meet very challenging grade level standards. (Not to mention severe penalties for ‘poorly performing’ schools, teachers ands administrators.) Since then it has traveled widely to the point that I have not been able to keep up with the uses; but I know it has appeared in teacher association publications in at least three Canadian Provinces and in Australia, as well as dozens in the USA. The No Child Left Behind Act seems to have given the story a new life.

Football Version

Mis-Education President:

Information from this blog comes from:
Govs call for more control over NCLB

High-profile report calls for new NCLB

‘No Child’ Target Is Called Out of Reach

Pros & Cons of the No Child Left Behind Act

Surfing the Net

Posted in All posts, Life, On writing with tags , , on April 10, 2007 by Trina

It’s been awhile since I had time to post an entry to this blog. I’ve managed to start work on a short story loosely based on the events of the past month, but otherwise I’m in survival mode — see previous blog entry. Life happens. Parents — who you thought would live forever — pass away unexpectedly. Furnaces need to be replaced. Cars get banged and need fixing. Doctors want to be paid.

So I decided to write an entry on the effects of stress on the mind, behavior, and the body, including its effects on the immune system and cancer. I learned that tumors grow faster in experimental animals subjected to stress than they do in unstressed control animals. But soon after I started researching the effects of stress, I realized that there were so many that I’d better wait until I had time to write a coherent blog entry on why I’ve been existing in an zombie state.

So I did what I always do to take a break, I started surfing the Net. I decided to post some of the stuff that I found interesting in my brief excursion into current science.

I read that global warming will hit the poorest the hardest. So developing countries that don’t burn fossil fuels or create the environmental crisis will suffer the most. Even global warming is discriminating against the poor. But then I read that total destruction of forests may cool Earth. So maybe global warming is not a problem. What, global warming could make Earth spin faster. My head is spinning faster.

Then I read new thinking about the death of sunlike stars and how old stars could be masquerading as youngsters. I feel old. So I take a break from astronomy and decide to do some reading about health.

I learn that smokers take more sick time than nonsmokers. Well, duh! Who wouldn’t guess that. But then I read about this study that shows that cigarettes may protect against Parkinson’s disease. Should I take up smoking? Might help with my recent stress.

So I surf on and read that attempts to cleanse illicit drugs from one’s body by taking large doses of niacin can cause life-threatening reactions. Bad news for all those marijuana smokers out there. I guess I better not try to use drugs either, to counteract my stress. Perhaps I’ll try food instead. Yes, I found a recipe for healthier pizza. Who knew that cooking pizza longer and hotter could increase the antioxidant activity in the pizza ? Now I’m hungry and I’m no where near an oven. Oh well, back to work.

Effects of climate change tallied up
Increased drought, flood and disease ‘will hit poorest hardest’.

Climate change is having an impact now on our planet and its life, according to the latest installment of a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). And the future problems caused by rising seas, growing deserts and more frequent droughts, all look set to affect the developing world more than rich countries, they add.

Total destruction of forests predicted to cool Earth
Large-scale deforestation — long fingered as a contributing factor in climate change — could cool Earth, say the researchers behind one of the first attempts to model the phenomenon at a global scale.

Global warming will make Earth spin faster
Of all the possible ways in which climate change could affect our planet, this is the most bizarre: as the oceans warm up, Earth will start rotating a wee bit faster, reducing the length of a day.

New thinking on the death of sunlike stars
Chemical reactions during formation of stardust could help solve mystery
When stars like our sun die, they bloat to become red giants and then eject gigantic clouds of gas and dust into space. Increasingly, however, scientists found themselves at a profound loss to explain how exactly dying stars could blow away these clouds.

Galaxy’s ‘wunderkind’ stars may actually be old pro’s
‘Young’ stars that seem to have formed impossibly close to our galaxy’s supermassive black hole could in fact be ancient interlopers merely masquerading as youngsters, a new study claims.

Patterns: Smokers Take More Sick Time Than Nonsmokers, Study Says
Smokers take more than a week more annual sick leave than nonsmokers, a new study suggests.

Do coffee and cigarettes protect against Parkinson’s?
People with Parkinson’s disease are less likely to be smokers and coffee drinkers than their healthy siblings, according to a study of family members. The finding adds to a growing body of evidence that some substance in tobacco might protect the brain against this devastating neurological disorder and sheds new light on coffee’s effects on the disease.
Researchers say the study provides new evidence that the causes of Parkinson’s vary. They also stress that the negative health effects of smoking far outweigh any protective effect the substance might have against this neurodegenerative disease.

Not-So-Artful Dodgers: Countering drug tests with niacin proves dangerous
Attempts to hide illicit drug use by taking niacin have landed four people in Philadelphia hospitals over the past 2 years, two with life-threatening reactions to high doses of the nutrient, doctors report.

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, plays roles in digestion, hormone production, skin upkeep, and nervous system maintenance. Because the vitamin promotes fat metabolism, doctors sometimes give niacin in large doses to people with high concentrations of cholesterol and triglycerides. That property has led some people to believe that niacin can also cleanse the body of illicit drugs, particularly marijuana.

Crusty Chemistry
Want to make a piece of pizza healthier? Try using whole-wheat dough. Give it a full 2 days to rise, and then cook the tomato pie a little longer and hotter than usual. That was the recipe shared last week by researchers at the American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago.