Jewish World Review June 9, 2003 / 9 Sivan, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Racist math, red tape for charters, potty reading | 2 + 2 = ?

On Number 2 Pencil, Kim Swygert rounds up the controversies over graduation and promotion exams. Basically, everyone wants to blame the test instead of blaming the school for not teaching algebra or the student for not learning. Or they just blame racism:

“I call it a testocracy,” said Ron Walters, the director of the  African-American Leadership Institute  at the University of Maryland. He said that the tests used for high school graduation in Florida are culturally biased, as are most tests across the country now being used to measure the performance of schools, teachers and pupils.

“The sum total of these tests is that they are a strong reflection of the white Anglo-American-European experience in American culture,” and unfair to Hispanic and black test-takers, Walters said.

Most Florida students eventually pass the reading and writing part of the state's graduation exam; they falter on the math. I wonder what part of math reflects Anglo-American experience. Perhaps most of the numbers are white, and blacks only get 13 and 17, while Hispanics get 23 and 29. What color is a triangle? What does the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle equal in the ghetto, the barrio and the 'burbs? And how come Asian-Americans are capable of learning algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus, despite their non-Anglo culture?

Newspapers are running stories about B students who can't get a 60 percent on a multiple-choice math test in multiple tries. I'd love to know what grades these students got in math. From the Washington Post:

Tyler Douglass, 18, a senior at Cimmaron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas, has been a solid student: He has a B average, has taken a smattering of honors classes and is qualified for Nevada's Millennium Scholarship, which would award him as much as $10,000 in college scholarships over four years.

But like many students in Las Vegas, he has not passed the state's math exam.

His mother says it’s a “flawed exam” because students weren’t taught all the material on the test. No, it's a flawed system, Mom. If your college-bound son wasn't taught algebra and geometry in high school, what was he taught? Math Appreciation?

California students also are struggling with the math section of the graduation exam. This site links to sample questions, and points out that most of the questions on the math exam cover knowledge that's supposed to be taught in seventh grade. It's possible to pass with the minimal 55 percent score without answering any algebra questions.

I did the first 25 questions in my head and got all of them right; only the ones with exponents required more than a few seconds. It's been 30 years since my last math class, but the kids I tutor always seem to need help with algebra, so I've had some refresher training.

No Siphon

Texas spends $7,300 to educate the average public school student. If the state spends $5,000 on students educated in public charter schools, is that siphoning money? Francis X. Clines, writing in the New York Times, thinks so. He wants more oversight of “how the money is spent.”

The whole point of charter schools is to oversee the results: Are students learning? Charters that fail to offer parents a better alternative will lose students and shut down. Mismanaged schools can be closed. Try closing a mismanaged, educationally bankrupt public school run by a school district. It can't be done. But Clines complains that 25 of 200 charters have gone under. He doesn't get it.

In National Review, Chester Finn dismembers Clines' facts and analysis, but commends the Times for its flair for fiction writing.

Choking Charters With Red Tape

In exchange for freedom from regulation, charter schools are judged by results. That's the theory. In California, charter school operators struggle to comply with nearly as many regulations as conventional public schools. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Although the first dozen charter-school applications approved a decade ago averaged fewer than 20 pages, nowadays they tend to run to more than 100.

Meeting new requirements costs money. Applications alone often require expensive advice from lawyers, accountants and other professionals.

. . . Funding formulas and regulations favor charters that are . . . housed in traditional school buildings, as opposed to homes and churches; offer college preparatory curriculums, as opposed to job training; or locate in poor neighborhoods.

Cato's David Salisbury warns about creeping regulation of private schools that accept vouchers.

Discriminating Against a Minority — Lefties

Showing people writing left-handed is banned by a textbook publishing company's guidelines. Kate Gladstone of Handwriting Repair writes on Education News:

According to educational-issues researcher Diane Ravitch, the USA branch of the educational-publishing conglomerate  Harcourt/Steck-Vaughn now has a "publishing guideline" forbidding their illustrators to draw/photograph anybody writing left-handed.

What's wrong with lefties?

Muslims traditionally regard the left hand (and left-handers too) as seriously unclean and disgusting; they forbid using the left hand except for, uh, personal-hygiene purposes ... and they DEFINITELY forbid it for such important daily tasks as writing, eating, etc.

Yes, but this is America.

Fun facts: Saudi Arabia has a law against using the left hand in public. Usama bin Laden is a natural lefty.

Learn to Love Reading About Poop

Deputy Doo-Doo has gotten Riverside schools in . . . You know.

The deputy is a villain in The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, which is part of the popular Captain Underpants series. It "presents such subjects as talking toilets, troublemaking cafeteria ladies from outer space and a mad scientist named Professor Pippy P. Poopypants," reports the Los Angeles Times. The comic book “follows Super Diaper Baby's battles with Deputy Doo-Doo, a walking, talking, evil piece of excrement enlarged after an accidental fall into a nuclear reactor.”

A grandmother raising a 7-year—old grandson wants the book removed from the school library. In addition to the toilet humor, the book encourages disrespect for authority and bad spelling, she says.

Defenders say Captain Underpants' fans get hooked on reading at an early age.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

06/02/03: Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed
05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs