31.10.05

CONTINUAL AND FEARLESS SPRAYING AND CUFFING. Madison's Hallowee'n weekend, which is a nearly 30 year tradition of street partying and outrageous costumes (anybody else remember 1978, the year of two papal conclaves?) is apparently a bit too successful for the current city government. Dane 101 appears to be the Isthmus News Service of the crackdown coverage and commentary. (Former Madison mayor Paul Soglin has a weblog??!?) Notes from the Underground provides several links. Danny at Electric Commentary came back from State Street intact.
A FACTION FIGHT AMONG THE ELECT? That's stolen from a characterization I read somewhere about the selection of rulers of the Soviet Union after the Stalin-Trotsky split ended any hope of popular sovereignty in the building of Communism. (Sorry, many more books, many more beers, fewer and less nimble brain cells, can't point you to the book and page the way I once did.)

There's something in last week's Peggy Noonan column that prompts the title. In some ways, she's sounding a Fourth Turning Alert, seeing the cracking of established institutions everywhere. But it's this paragraph that irritates:
Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
Oh, come off it. The entire partisan tussle, all the blue-and-red, all the shouting and talking points merely ticket-punching by people who attended the same few private colleges, interned with Heritage or Brookings, wrote for Washington Monthly or New Republic or National Review merely a faction fight among the elect for the right to tell The Rest of Us what to do? And now they're frustrated because more than a few of The Rest of Us are pursuing our own goals?

Justus for All makes the same point in fewer words.
What we are experiencing I think is a dramatic empowerment of the individual, and a corresponding decline in the ability of the 'elites' to control events.
Emergent meritocracy, forsooth! Must think about this further. Must, however, recommend The Sovereign Individual for a more pessimistic assessment of the consequences of that empowerment and decline. (That book antedates September 11, and it marvels at the United States flipping several submarines' worth of cruise missiles at one wealthy Saudi expat called Osama bin Laden. There is much more of a similarly gloomy tone to be found between the covers.)

The Anchoress suggests the current generation of elites longs for The Reckoning as a way of achieving long-held goals. Classic Fourth Turning thinking that.

Photon Courier links to a sandhouse session on the Noonan column he started at Chicago Boyz, but at posting time the Watsonville yardmaster appears to have lost the train of thought.
RISING FRUSTRATIONS. Russian Violets offers her version of The Talk.
Mike Rose said in Lives on the Boundary that "Students will float to the mark that you set." I'm going, today, to remind them that I will not lower the mark because they are too lazy and unmotivated to achieve. Instead, they will bear the burden of their actions.
Go. Read. Understand. Empathize.
TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI. It's Hallowe'en, and its the 202nd anniversary of the capture of Philadelphia by Tripolitans bent on lifting the blockade of the Barbary Coast. A subsequent raid by Constitution, Enterprise, and the war-prize Intrepid (a precursor of the Q-ship?) burned Philadelphia. No less than Admiral Nelson himself hailed the operation as "the most bold and daring act of the age."
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of the Capitalists sets up a particularly long bannerline at Triple Pundit. Thanks! If you've followed the ringmaster's directions this far ("triple" in the title calls for such a comment) the electricity deregulation post, with links to all the radio coverage, is here.

30.10.05

INCENTIVE COMPATIBILITY? University administrators seek the assistance of student governments in ratifying fee-increases to pay for amenities. Are the referenda illegitimate because few voters vote?
Colleges say they are giving students what they want, pointing out that the fees have been approved by student governments or referendums. But a vast majority of students aren't involved in the process. College administrations control most of the revenue - with little oversight from the UW System staff and Board of Regents who govern the state's 13 four-year public universities.
Or are the referenda flawed because they enable a current cohort of students to pass along the costs to future students?

And where does the money go?

UW-La Crosse is using $10 million in student fees to pay for a recreation center that was built in the mid-1990s.

UWM is using $5 million in student fees to help pay for the renovation of the Klotsche Pavilion.

UW-Parkside is using $24.1 million in student fees to expand its student union.

UW-Oshkosh will use $21 million in fees to build a new fitness center.

UW-Madison, meanwhile, will use $17 million in fees to help pay for a development called University Square that will include housing, retail, health services and a student activities
center.

"There are more student-funded projects now than 15 years ago, primarily because the buildings are older and student expectations are higher," Harris said.

University administrators frame these projects as student-initiated and student-approved. Fee increases must pass a student referendum, a vote by a student government body or both.

But in most cases, few students are involved in the review and approval process.

That becomes a tender subject sometimes.

Janelle Wise, a UW-Madison senior who served as chair of the student finance committee, disapproves of some of the choices made by the administration, specifically the decision to use almost half a million dollars a year in student fees to fund the school's diversity education staff.

Wise says UW-Madison should be using other sources of money to fund a unit that reports to the administration.

Particularly a unit that has revealed expense-preference behavior in the extreme. Such projects are guaranteed to get the legislative micro-managers involved, as they have.
THE ST. LAWRENCE SEWER? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel launches a three-part report on the state of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Now, nearly 50 years after the manmade shipping link between the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean opened for business, it turns out Seaway boosters were right: Foreign cargo did flood the lakes, but it wasn't what we had hoped for. And the Seaway did change our lives, but not necessarily for the better.
Alas, no spices from the Indies or exotic Teutonic brews in the holds.

Fouled beaches, beleaguered fish populations and ominous wildlife die-offs - all linked to the Seaway and to biologically contaminated ballast spills from overseas freighters - are often written off as a grim but necessary cost of the Great Lakes doing global business.

But with each passing year, that global business is looking more and more like a bust.

Most bulk and container freighters can't even fit into the Seaway, which was undersized from the day it opened. The result is that Great Lakes overseas traffic is limited to a small fleet of pre-World War II-sized ships that typically bring in slabs of foreign steel to feed the region's dwindling manufacturers, and depart with shrinking loads of Midwest grain.

And with the railroads able to price grain shipments by the trainload, and thin-slab casters able to recycle scrap into decent sheet, neither the importers' nor the exporters' price advantage is what it used to be.
One estimate of the total annual economic benefit associated with floating that material in and out of the Great Lakes basin on overseas ships instead of bringing it into the region by some other means, such as trucks or trains or Mississippi River barges, is less than $55 million.
Not much benefit given the possible recreational losses.
Yet the total cost of the two-decade-old zebra mussel invasion just to utilities and municipal drinking systems - which must keep water intake pipes clear of the clustering mollusks - has been estimated at $1.5 billion. That figure likely tops $2 billion when similar expenses to other industries are factored in. Then there are the costs that don't appear in a ledger - the immeasurable price tag of a shredded Lake Michigan food chain, or a family's ability to enjoy a day at the beach.
And the traffic benefits of the Great Lakes are overwhelmingly movements of bulk-cargo through the Upper Lakes in boats so large that they're landlocked. (Leave aside for the moment the possible valuation of recreational opportunities. We can do such things with the proper tools.)

U.S. Seaway boss Albert Jacquez says Great Lakes and Seaway shipping generates $3.4 billion in business revenue annually on just this side of the border. Ships plying these waters move 222 million tons of cargo per year, according to a 2002 Army Corps of Engineers study.

But here is a critical point that gets lost in the Seaway's annual reports and press releases: The overseas portion of that traffic is a skimpy 15.4 million tons - 6.9% of the total cargo moved. And that overseas trade - mostly inbound steel and outbound grain - registers barely a blip on the U.S. import-export charts.

Last year, for example, Seaway grain exports accounted for about 3.6% of the nation's overseas grain shipments, according to the U.S. Grains Council. In a typical year, Seaway steel imports account for around 6% of the U.S. annual total.

Regular readers are aware of these points. Is it time to pull the plug on the St. Lawrence Seaway?

28.10.05

A QUOTE FOR THE DAY.
Toleration gives us the dictum attributed to Voltaire, that I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Relativism, by contrast, chips away at our right to disapprove of what anybody says. Relativism names a loose cluster of attitudes, but the central message is that there are no asymmetries of reason and knowledge, objectivity and truth.
That's Simon at Butterflies and Wheels. Read and understand.
PSEUDO-INDIAN SPEAKS. Critical Mass sees the hidden meaning.
Ward Churchill spoke at DePaul University. His visit caused enormous controversy, in part because Churchill causes controversy wherever he goes, but also because the visit highlighted what looks to be an institutional double standard about who does and does not get to speak at the school.
The American Thinker has coverage from a DePaul mathematician and a Chicagoland attorney who demonstrated great creativity in getting into the speech.
POSSIBLE SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL? The Speaker of the House, who represents the Fourteenth District of Illinois, has a weblog.
BY THE BRIGHT SHINING LIGHT OF THE MOON. Carnival of the Badger No. 11 pops up at The American Mind. Jump around!
THE WORD GETS OUT. Some time ago these pages called attention to the Free Speech Zone at Northern Illinois University. The continued existence of this free speech policy, along with several other abuses, has earned Northern Illinois University a Speech Code Rating of Red from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Several of the award-winning phrases are excerpts of university harassment policies. My sense is that these policies exist for purely bureaucratic reasons, otherwise known as "butt-covering." The harassment training session I attended included hypotheticals based on some rather un-mannerly fishing off the company pier as well as some lame attempts at team-building that gave offense. The relevance, particularly, of the latter, to a university escapes me. I'd welcome any explanation, in the comments, or by private e-mail, of the value of team-building activities among the for-profits.

27.10.05

ROUND AND ROUND ON REVERSE AUCTIONS. The University's National Public Radio news affiliate has made available all three interviews addressing the Commonwealth Edison rate increase and the reverse auction for the procurement of supply. The first interview features Dave Kolata, executive director of Illinois's Citizens Utilities Board. Next out is Commonwealth Edison's Vice President of Energy Acquisition, Arlene Juracek. This morning was my turn. The news director was kind enough to run the local feature in its time slot, rather than cut away to the announcement that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers had withdrawn her nomination.

A seven minute interview is not a lot of time to communicate information. The producer's judgement was that the comparisons I drew between Priceline.com as a reverse auction and the joys of procuring pizzas would be the most accessible to a general audience. Herewith a quick synopsis of the other topic we chatted about.

1. Deregulation and fragmentation of formerly vertically integrated natural monopolies makes some sense. Although it seems a bit jarring to be undoing a power system in which one company generates, transmits, and distributes the electricity, there is ample economic research confirming that economies of scale do not persist at the largest generating stations in service. A system in which distribution companies purchase power from competing generating companies with the interstate transmission supervised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the local distribution supervised by the state public service commission introduces competition where competition is practicable while preserving regulation of the natural monopoly components by the proper federal and state commissions. I mentioned natural gas as a useful analogy, with a bit of history best summarized as The Regulation-Induced Shortage of Natural Gas. The breakup of the Bell System also provides useful lessons in introducing competition where previously there was none. Put simply, had regulatory commissions worked the way Bob LaFollette and Richard T. Ely envisioned, there might be no interest in deregulation and restructuring. But experience uncovered a number of problems LaFollette and Ely did not anticipate.

2. The reverse auction is a useful tool for getting the low-opportunity cost producers to reveal themselves. (One snippet that didn't make it onto radio included an "if any students are listening, this is disclosing your comparative advantages.") But the nature of the contract is important. I came up with the pizza metaphor after reading a statement by the New Jersey Ratepayer Advocate (think of a guardian ad litem for the householder too busy or too put off to read all the filings before the commission.)
The power is to be procured in 180 "slices" of 100 megawatts each. If the auction works as intended, the price for the 100-megawatt slices will drop until there are no longer enough bidders to supply all of the electricity needed.
Doesn't that sound like 30 pizzas? (Better cut it into six slices. I'm not hungry enough to eat eight.) But not all megawatt-years(?) are identical. Some of these slices will be for base-load capacity. The power grid analogue of your basic cheese and sausage pizza is a coal-fired or nuclear steam-turbine station that can spin lots of power onto the grid, relatively cheaply, day in and day out. It's not the kind of thing you can turn on or off quickly, and if you're going to take it off-line for maintenance, you'd best have something ready to replace its power when you do that. These units, however, are not so helpful on those hot days when all the air conditioners are running constantly, or on those cold days when all the baseboard heating units turn on at the same time. Something a bit more expensive to run but easier to turn on or off to meet that peak-load is in order here. Put a slice of pineapple and an anchovy on half of one slice on a six-slice cheese and sausage pizza.

The idea of procuring most of the power supply in advance is to avoid the situation California's system operator ran into a few years ago, when forecast load was for a lot of baseboard units to kick in, and a few owners of generating capacity easily turned on recognized that they could extract a lot of rent from a system operator desperate that the system not fail from an overload. The New Jersey system, on the other hand, appears to commingle the base-load and the peak-load procurement in one price per slice. One of my observations that didn't make the final cut was that such pricing might benefit Exelon with payments as-if the company is being paid to make some slices of pineapple-anchovy-sausage-and cheese when it is making only cheese and sausage. Exelon's private information about northern Illinois load patterns did make the cut.

3. Despite those potential difficulties, the reverse-auction approach has some promise. It spares Edison's load managers the exposure to hold-up that Californians faced, an exposure that would have been present even without the abuse of the system committed by some power traders at Enron. It introduces competitive bidding for long-term contracts, something a bit more flexible than the Demsetz auction of the right to operate the vertically integrated monopoly. The compromise the commission, the power companies, and the intervenors have yet to work out is one of specifying the auctions in such a way that providers of base-load power face different incentives from providers of reserve power, such that base-load providers do not receive a blended price in excess of their opportunity costs, and reserve providers are not discouraged from participating because that blended price is below their opportunity costs.

26.10.05


NA NA, HEY HEY, GOOD BYE! Juan Uribe with an amazing grab and throw of a seeing-eye chopper over the mound. Runner out, game over, 1-0 Sox.
NO BARTMAN IN HOUSTON. Amazing catch by Sox shortstop Juan Uribe, getting to a foul fly before the fans could interfere, and hanging onto it as he tumbles into the third-base seats. 1-0 Sox, two outs, last of the ninth.
IT'S CALLED A MARKET TEST. Also in Atlantic's "College 2005" set is Richard Hersh's "What Does College Teach?" Mr Hersh is editor of Declining by Degrees, a project reviewed here. The article also hides behind the Pay to Read gatekeeper. It argues the case for improved assessment of universities, including a sensible proposal that universities quantify their value added ("a school is adding considerable value if it graduates more of its students than would be expected given their high school records and socioeconomic background, and adding little if it admits a bumper crop of high-achieving kids and then graduates them at a below-average clip.) Let me direct your attention, however, to two observations. Early in the article Mr Hersh notes a research finding that occasionally merits mention on these pages.
But although the researchers found wide variations in learning within each college or university, they were unable to uncover significant differences between colleges once the quality of the entering students was taken into account.
That information, alone, ought suffice to put paid to the positional arms races among colleges to simultaneously trash the U.S. News rankings and boost their standing thereon. (There is another paid article on the shenanigans enrollment managers engage in to tweak their entering classes in such a way as to make their rankings look better. Much of what is in there will make readers angry. But does it surprise that if an airline's seat-pricing algorithm is more valuable than its airplanes, that something similar would NOT be true of a university?) The money quote, however, is key to Mr Hersh's case for better assessment.
Finally, there is direct assessment of student learning that takes place constantly on college campuses, usually symbolized by grades and grade point averages. For our purposes these are nearly useless as indicators of overall educational quality -- and not only because grade inflation has rendered GPAs so suspect that some corporate recruiters ask interviewees for their SAT scores instead.
Focus on that last sentence. Remember this?
I continue to anticipate the Fortune 500 company, disgusted with spending large amounts of cash training junior executives in things the universities failed to provide, to announce that hereafter it will be recruiting in selected high schools.
High school juniors and seniors write the SATs. Somewhere, some personnel manager has to be wondering, what is the point of relying on a datum four or more years old with a noisy signal of progress since then ...
HASTA LA VISTA, EL CRUSHER. Here is a Spanish version of "The Crusher." The WFMU Blog that located it correctly asks, " what's Spanish for "do the crusher you turkeynecks" anyway?"

The words are straightforward enough. I recall, though, that the first hold is the eye gouge, followed by the hammer lock.
PUT IT ON THE BOARD ... YES! This isn't supposed to be live-blogging the World Series, but Jermaine Dye just batted in a run. 1-0 Sox.
WHAT IS SEEN AND WHAT IS UNSEEN. The "College 2005" insert in the November 2005 Atlantic Monthly includes a number of articles contemplating the tension between merit and access. I am pleased to report that the articles do more than the usual navel-gazing about the thirty or so expensive finishing schools that claim to be the five best colleges. I am less pleased to report that each of the linked articles is behind a subscription wall. You may thank me in advance for developing some proficiency in touch typing (and the backspace is a heck of a lot more convenient than that correction fluid.) First up, Ross Douthat, a recent and disillusioned Harvard graduate asks, "Does Meritocracy Work?" His conclusion: too well, for reasons not entirely the fault of higher education.
In this inherited meritocracy the high-achieving kid will not only attend school with other high achievers but will also marry a high achiever and settle in a high-achieving area -- the better to ensure that his children will have all the cultural advantages he enjoyed growing up.
Ah, the old assortative mating bugaboo? In a milieu which an apprentice characterizes as "drive-through divorce" with assortative mating, is the college Diversity Office now supposed to expand the mating pool? Let's stick with the facts on the ground. The key to the tension between merit and access is this.
Through boom and recession, war and peace, the proportion of the poorest quarter of Americans obtaining college degrees by age twenty-four has remained around six percent.
Why? Here, the first thing that is not seen.
Certainly, policies that strengthen families or improve elementary education undercut social stratification more effectively than anything colleges do. For now, however, numerous reasonably prepared students -- 300,000 a year, by one estimate -- who aren't going to college could be.
I'll return to Mr Douthat's thinking about access shortly. But notice what slips into that first sentence. Poverty as a consequence of poor life management skills? How many observers have shied away from that inference for fear of being mau-maued for blaming the victim or ordered to the corrective labor camp to be made more culturally competent? More specifics.
The higher one goes up the income ladder, the greater the emphasis on education and the pressure from parents and peers to excel at extracurricular achievement -- and the greater the likelihood of success.
Is there, anywhere, a program of sensitivity to the special needs of the disadvantaged that can overcome external reinforcement of internal ambitions? Or is that simply cooling out the mark?

Mr Douthat follows that observation with a curious parenthetical.
Even the admissions advantage that many schools give to recruited athletes -- often presumed to help low-income students -- actually tends to disproportionately benefit the children of upper-income families, perhaps because they are sent to high schools that encourage students to participate in a variety of sports.
What is seen and what is not seen, again. Compare and contrast collegiate hockey in the East (home-grown preppies) with that in the midwest (recruits off the iron range and the Canadian tundra.) But the elephant in the room is the exploitation of predominantly African-American youth in basketball and football, the so-called income sports, whose unpaid labors incompletely subsidize the entire intercollegiate athletics enterprise. Title IX of the 1971 Civil Rights Act mandates subsidies to female runners, gymnasts, equestriennes, tennis players, golfers, in proportion to the womens' share of the applicant pool. And you're surprised that well-off parents wouldn't pick up on that? Why not end the exploitation of the football and basketball players and drop ALL the athletic scholarships? It's easy to allocate zero dollars in proportion to any definition of the share of females in the pool of potential applicants.

Mr Douthat considers a number of reforms. Some have merit. Sometimes he gets a bit silly.
Public universities that spend more to improve access and graduation rates could make up for it by cutting, say, faculty salaries. Public schools already have a hard time keeping sought-after teachers from jumping to private colleges; if more money were spent enrolling and graduating poorer students, the problem would worsen?
What, you mean I get better working conditions and get paid more money? It's not the teachers that are sought-after. It's the researchers. Increase my class size? You've cut my pay. Request that I spend research time filling in progress reports for students admitted under various special criteria? You've cut my pay. Downsize the faculty and reduce the pool of colleagues working on similar projects? You've cut my pay.

The article is worth a look, warts and all. Hit your library. It's possible that the "College 2005" material will move to a free archive once the rents have been extracted from the Must. Read. It. Now. set. If the memory serves, I will advise readers of its availability.
HEIL (HAIL) THE WEHRMACHT ... I MEAN, THE BUNDESWEHR. German pacifists object to the Bundeswehr closing its golden jubilee ceremonies in Berlin with Der grosse Zapfenstreich ("bar time," in Wisconsin English.)

The "Zapfenstreich," originally just a signal indicating lights out dating back to the end of the 16th century, took on a musical form and has been an institution in the German armed forces since 1838.

Politics professor Wolf-Dieter Narr of Berlin's Free University argued that the ceremony belongs to the eras of German imperialism and the Nazis.

"I don't claim it was the product of the Nazis, but it was certainly a ceremony they used," Narr said.

I have a recording of one such ceremony from before Reunification. Was it in Ordnung to hold it in Bonn, but not in Berlin? Where was the professor on the subject of goose-stepping by the Volksarmee of the so-called Democratic Republic, 1949-1989? That, too, is a holdover from the Kaiser that the Nazis used. Zapfenstreich has a back-beat you can goose to, but the current German military doesn't do that. For that matter, where does the professor stand on the subject of placement examinations for Gymnasium? That was certainly a ceremony in use in the Nazi period. Come off it, already.

More interesting is this observation by another protestor.

Frank Brendle of the anti-ceremony alliance said the transformation of Germany's military from a purely defensive force to more professional units capable of operating abroad was another focus of the protest.

"It is an expression of militarized politics. We have moved from an army of defense to one of attack," Brendle said.

But outgoing Defense Minister Peter Struck defended the celebrations, saying it had nothing to do with the Nazis or the Wehrmacht.

"The military tattoo is an old Prussian tradition," he told Reuters television.

Ah, those old Prussian traditions. (They include surrendering to Americans, a tradition the Prussians borrowed from the Hessians.) All the same, when you see German troops doing close-order drill with bicycles, worry, particularly if you're French.
KEEPING THE POOR POOR? Two views of the role of the university, its relationship to corporations, and the value of testing. Robert Miranda, writing at WisPolitics, is uneasy about workplace preparation and testing.

For decades our educational system has been structured through "testing"-the tests are designed to persuade the working class, and people of color that they and their children are intellectually incapable of performing as professionals, filling the better and higher paid jobs, or leading the nation. The book, "The Bell Curve" (Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray) provides us with an overt attempt to prove and justify this twisted logic. In fact, the book states that Latino immigration is contributing to the downfall of American national intelligence (p. 341). Statements such as this contribute to this wicked prevailing notion of intellectual inferiority within communities of color.

Indeed, tests help to screen the children of the working class, Latinos, Blacks and other communities of color away from universities and point them towards vocational and so-called "career" programs, effectively excluding them from the best jobs our nation has to offer. Many European and Asian models of higher education follow this doctrine of elitism effectively cutting off upward mobility of generations of workers.

University leaders understand this and over the years they have been eager participants and co-planners of the transformation of the university becoming a production-line plant for corporate research and development. [They] are ideologically indistinguishable as a group from the leaders of major multinational corporations, and share the same goals. The truth of the matter is that these ideological homogenous men (and women) have created a racially and class-biased system of education, and are doing so deliberately and with malice aforethought.

Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil notes that testing has some value. (Her focus is on a different argument than Mr Miranda's social stratification argument.)

What testing critics are hoping you don't notice with this type of criticism is the fact that, if you can't read and write and do basic calculations - skills for which test scores tend to be extremely good proxies - your chances of economic success in our society are extremely low, regardless of your academic or artistic abilities. Sure, there are kids with rock-bottom SATs who make big bucks on stage or on a playing field, but the percentage of Americans who make a living with those skills alone is pretty darn small.

What this type of testing critic wants you to conclude is that kids who do well on standardized tests have learned many literacy- and numeracy-related facts without really understanding them, that these skills are utterly separate from other mental and physical abilities, and that the development of skills that are measurable with tests always happens at the expense of other critical skills. I think that's nonsense. You want to teach your kids good habits of mind, good social skills, and some touch football or ballet as well? Then explain to them that, unless they're prodigies, they'll be supporting themselves with their minds, not their bodies, later on in life, and skills such as discipline and teamwork will serve them just as well later on life as they will on their upcoming exams.

Does research show that high test scores predict everything a kid will do later in life? Of course not. But I think there's sufficient research to show that low test scores are a sign of a real problem, and a strong indication that intervention is needed. Maybe if schools of education impressed this upon the would-be teachers and principals, educational research would have a bit more impact on education today.

Study both of these posts. I have been reading a series of gloomy if at times not-well-thought-through essays on meritocracy and college competition in the back-to-college section of The Atlantic. These will be material for some upcoming posts.
CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of Education 46(8) returns to The Education Wonks.
A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT. The university's National Public Radio news affiliate is doing a three-parter on an upcoming electricity rate case that includes the unbundling of generation from transmission and distribution. The first interview features Dave Kolata, executive director of Illinois's Citizens Utilities Board. Next up, an interview with a representative from Commonwealth Edison. Airing Thursday morning: some compare-and-contrast from me. Links to the second and third interview to be provided.
RAILWAY PRESERVATION LOSSES. There has been a fire in a roundhouse in suburban Nuremberg that damaged or destroyed 24 historic locomotives and cars. We are not referring to the main Deutsche Bahn collection in downtown Nuremberg, although Pravda is insufficiently clear on whether this roundhouse holds a subsidiary collection or some other museum's collection. (Old habits die hard where railway secrets are concerned, nichevo?) Where Worlds Collide links to German news coverage of the fire and the aftermath. Looks like a V200 diesel (the make that enticed Southern Pacific to go Fairbanks-Morse one better) and a German Santa Fe (they had freight locomotives with trailing axles??) are among the casualties.

25.10.05

THE CARNIVAL OF LAW AND ECONOMICS. Blawg Review hosts both the 107th presentation of Carnival of the Capitalists and the 29th Blawg Review, with a focus on business law. Don't overdose on the cotton candy!
A RAILWAY PRESERVATION REPORT. It's been rather busy with the day job, which turns into a night job as well. Here, however, are some pictures from a local preservation railway that does its biggest business on fall weekends. (One end of the line is behind a farmers' market that does a great business with hayrides, pumpkins, apple pies and other Dairy State harvest goodies. Lots of kids see the train and talk the folks into going for a ride.)

First up, a real camera shot of the recently restored Sheboygan Light, Railway, and Power Car 26. This car served for many years as a lakefront cottage before its owners donated it to the museum to put it back on rails.


Inside, the seating is tidy if not particularly luxurious. These cars existed to bring workers to the Kohler factory and farmers to the department stores. On weekends they hauled picnickers to Elkhart Lake (long before the Forumula 1 set discovered the place.)


Philadelphians might cringe at this picture. Sorry. If one has to modify a car to load from street level and run off a trolley wire, one might as well be honest about it. This is former Philadelphia and Western and Philadelphia Suburban car 164. Philadelphia Suburban purchased the Electroliners to offer coffee shop and tavern-lounge service on the Norristown High Speed Line.


Here is a picture from October, 2004. The locomotive is one of the newer pieces in the collection. It was built in 1935 and served to shift coal hoppers for Wisconsin Electric Power at Port Washington, Wisconsin until about 1970. It does on occasion move revenue freight for the preservation railway, which does serve some on-line industries.


Inside the museum ticket office and gift shop is this O Scale layout built by the late Tom Matola, an accomplished modeler of streetcars and interurbans. The model is of a Milwaukee 500-series deck-roof streetcar, one of the heavier cars to break up the streets of Milwaukee. If only some trader would make castings for Milwaukee's unique harp-case streetlights. (Visitors to the contemporary city take note: the ones that have proliferated in shopping and tourist districts of late are replicas. The originals mostly disappeared in a fit of misguided modernization during the 1960s and 1970s.)

24.10.05

A FEW BYTES OF FAME. Welcome, visitors from The Main Quad, which made Cold Spring Shops the Featured Blog last Sunday. Thanks! And greetings to visitors from Samantha Burns, who has a Random Blogroll (is that anything like the Penn Central traffic department?) that occasionally routes traffic this way. This is a working site. Expect trains of thought on any track, in any direction, at any time.
WHY ARE WE PAYING TWICE FOR THE SAME JUNK? Two posts address different dimensions of the university's remediation dilemma. Perhaps the Retention Pond will be drained when sufficient policymakers think about the cost-benefit ratio. Start with something I found at Joanne Jacobs's place.

College students, educators rue unpreparedness.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm called on the state Board of Education to adopt mandated graduation requirements. State Superintendent Mike Flanagan will make a recommendation to the board Nov. 15 on boosting graduation guidelines.

"Everybody feels they have to do something because the economy is so drastically changing and kids have to be prepared to work in a much more technologically advanced world," said Kathleen Straus, president of the state Board of Education.

The problem is clear in the enrollment for remedial math at Wayne State, which has soared 85% in the last four years. There are 1,200 students in 12 sections of the class, a computer-based course.

"These students are coming in at the level of ninth-grade math," said Patty Bonesteel, developmental math coordinator at Wayne State. "Without a doubt, the idea of being bad at math is perfectly fine in our culture, and that's unfortunate."

They're beginning to catch on.

One of the main problems is that high schools simply haven't kept up with the changing economic times, and that has left the United States lagging behind, said Beverley Geltner, superintendent for Southfield Public Schools. And it's not just a school issue.

"It's a national survival issue," Geltner said. "The American standards of education are simply not world class anymore."

Funny how incentives work, isn't it?

There's a related post over at Anonymous Community's place.

Instead, judging by the amount of remediation we have to do at the cc level, what we have for the 13-to-17 population could be described as holding tanks.

Remediation is a live wire, as a political topic. Yet, educationally, it’s an obvious need.

Some have argued that colleges should get out of the remediation business. Leave high school material to the high schools, and don’t bill the taxpayers twice for teaching subject-verb agreement or the pythagorean theorem. Save tax money, and maintain the brand integrity of higher education.

He goes on to note that, for a number of reasons, some remediation is a necessary evil. Point granted. There is, however, an efficient level of remediation, and accumulating evidence that the current level is inefficiently high. It doesn't come for free, and it's draining on people who expected to be working in the higher learning yet encounter ever-rising administrative expectations that those same people do special education. (Think about it this way: do you really want a high-strung test pilot teaching weekend flyers how to read a check list? Shouldn't the test pilot be pushing the envelope on the latest hard-to-unload passenger bus?)
EVERYTHING HAS AN OPPORTUNITY COST. University Diaries has located a number of useful posts on mission creep in the higher learning, this time focusing on the misnamed cultural competency. First up: Wendy McElroy.
'Cultural competence' "entails actively challenging the status quo…one table noted the need to incorporate institutionalized notions of power, privilege, and oppression into the definition….Thus, for many, cultural competence is transformative and political."
There is something of the Cretan Paradox in this definition. Suppose the status quo at a university is a 'cultural competence' mission. Is it thus culturally competent to actively challenge the mission? Suppose further that the university has a Director of Cultural Competence. Does that person embody an institutionalized notion of power, privilege, and oppression? But let us suppose that the Director is destooled and the mission statement rewritten? Is not there a new status quo to challenge, ad infinitum, ad nauseam?

Next up: Butterflies and Wheels.
So at the University of Oregon. There was this committee, see, and it came up with ever such a good idea to transform the university - the entire university, every bit of it, not just the studies departments, but all of it, math, physics, biology, all of it - from a pesky old educational and research institution into a wonderful caring hand-holding Make Everything Better device. Into a branch of mental health and/or social work. Super idea, no? Only...one wonders why not leave that to mental health and social work and similar organizations, in order to leave time and space for the university to go on doing what the university is (generally) supposed to do? On account of how it's all tooled up to do that, and knows how, and has the equipment in place, and has the rules written down, and the staff hired, and the beds fitted up with sheets. That's not to say it couldn't do it better, that there's no possible room for improvement, but it is to say that it seems a little wasteful to make it do a completely different job after it's already gone to all that trouble. Unless of course we think teaching and research are just completely valueless, in which case it does make sense to recycle all those books and microscopes and libraries and lecture rooms into something else as best as people can. But do we think that? Have we decided that? Have we quite, entirely made up our minds that teaching and research are just boring effete pointless elitist preoccupations that should now make way for therapy and massage and bedwetting? Have we? I on't think we have, quite. We may be stumbling and creeping in that direction, but I don't think we're quite there yet.
Go read the whole thing. Reflect on whether there might be comparative advantages in researchers being researchers, therapists being therapists, and higher education higher.

Finally, a lengthy and rather gloomy essay by Professor Norman Levitt. Too much stuff to highlight here. Let me offer this.
Therefore, if I tell you that a university is, above all, an institution for the preservation and extension of learning and for its dissemination to the emerging generation, for the winnowing of truth from falsehood and imposture, for the conservation of the highest values our civilisation can conceive, for the emulation, insofar as we are capable, of the finest and deepest minds our civilisation has produced, for the hoarding and protection of what must survive of our civilisation even after all the dross has fallen away; if I tell you all this without satiric intent, and with the purpose of describing an ideal that is at least approximable if not perfectly realisable, then I will have committed an enormous gaffe, by the standards that our culture inflicts on us all. I will have tried to sell you a bill of goods, swamp real-estate, pump-and-dump stock, the Brooklyn Bridge.
Read the rest, and ask, where is the Fortune 500 employer who will tell the job-fair sales representative "Enough?" Read it, and ask, where is the stressed parent who will tell the campus recruiter, "Enough?"
GRAD SCHOOL PREPARATION? Constrained Vision notes that Duke's economics department seeks to phase out the B.A. Her take:
The econ department says it's trying to improve the degree and "give economics majors a more complete understanding of the field", but if I were feeling cynical, I might wonder if this already overcrowded department were trying to cut down on the number of majors.
The Duke Chronicle article reporting on the story suggests the deans would like to milk more effort out of an already overstretched faculty.

The elimination of the degree is one of the first steps in the Undergraduate Economics Major Initiative, which also includes the restructuring of course distribution requirements for majors.

The changes were prompted by top academic deans’ suggestions that the department provide students with more hands-on research experience.

“We said, ‘Rather than just trying to tweak our program, why not take this opportunity to look at the program as whole—if we had the possibility to create an ideal program, what would it look like?’” said Assistant Professor of the Practice Michelle Connolly, who led the committee that mapped out the major’s changes.

One notable difference between the B.A. and B.S. majors was that the B.A. degree did not require undergraduates to take econometrics, which will now be required for all majors.

“It’s certainly not that we’re unhappy with having a B.A. degree, it’s just that it’s important enough for every student to have econometrics,” said Connel Fullenkamp, associate director of undergraduate studies for economics.

Would an econometrics requirement in the B.A. crowd out a language requirement or some other college-wide component? The econometrics requirement is something that would serve aspirants to a Ph.D. in economics well. It might also induce substitutions.
“We don’t know to what extent students are only doing the B.A. because they just don’t want to do the additional constraints of the B.S.,” [director of undergraduate studies Emma] Rasiel said. “If, on the other hand, the economics B.A. is kind of pushing the limits of their mathematical abilities, they might think, ‘OK, maybe I should try another major.’”
Is Duke a university with only graduate degrees in business (as is the case at Harvard and Northwestern?) Or, if there is an undergraduate business program, does the economics major serve as a safety major in case the business program has to limit enrollments?
TWO SPORTS GIANTS, GONE. Milwaukee Brewer general manager Harry Dalton, who put together Bambi's Bombers and Harvey's Wallbangers, dead at 77. Mr Dalton did the Cardinals out of Ted Simmons, Pete Vuckovich, and Rollie Fingers. St. Louis might have repaid the favor by winning the Series...

Also crossing the final summit, Reggie "The One, The Only, The Crusher" Lisowski, who may have wrestled in the world's first cage match. Late in his career Jesse Ventura and Hulk Hogan were making their debuts. And yes, this is the wrestler The Novas sang "You do da eye-gouge, you turkey-neck" about.
In 1985, a reporter asked The Crusher why he was so popular in Milwaukee. "I think the working people identify with me, because years ago I worked when I wrestled, too. I worked in a packing house. I worked at Ladish, Drop Forge, Cudahy Packing House. I was a bricklayer. But finally, I got away from punching the clock," he said.
And read and understand this, turkey-necks!
"People make a joke out of it," he said of wrestling. "But it wasn't a joke to me. It was a living."
The world is a little less colorful tonight.
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN. DoDo's Monday Train Blogging features the lost railroads of Colorado.
IT TAKES A LOT TO STOP A TRAIN. Photon Courier discovers that Norfolk Southern opted to retrieve track washed into Lake Ponchartrain by Hurricane Katrina rather than await delivery of new ties and rail. The gambit paid off, with the bridge repaired and in service 16 days after the storm surge. Resourceful? Yes. Also predictable. This is the company that for many years viewed toilets and in-cab air conditioning in diesels as unproductive additional-cost extras. Why buy new track if track already prepared to be exposed to the salt air has just been washed off the bridge?
UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS ACTING SILLY. I once went to the Saturday Night Fights at DePaul and a womens' basketball tournament broke out. Apparently the DePaul administration redeemed itself somewhat in allowing some dissenters to listen to a speech by Colorado's fourth-rate Barrington Moore, jr.



Instapundit recommended The Mental Ward, where there is extensive coverage of the protest of Mr Churchill's visit. Marathon Pundit also attended the protest. Both sites provide additional links to others who followed the controversy leading up to the visit and the protest that accompanied it.
HOW DO YOU SCOUT BLOCKING AND TACKLING? I've been rather busy with grading and judging a student paper competition and in paying attention to the Badgers' win over Purdue missed the Northern Illinois score. Not to worry: Huskies 45, Kent State with a spite-check field goal late in the game. There was some worry in DeKalb with regular runners Garrett Wolfe and A. J. Harris out with injuries. Reserve Adrian Davis carried for 242 yards. Sean Ostruszka reveals the secret.
I think you’re praising the wrong guys. Let me introduce you to the true workhorses behind the Huskies.
To quote from the Epistle of Vincent to Green Bay, "The team that blocks better and tackles better will win the game."

21.10.05

INCENTIVES MATTER. Joanne Jacobs locates an Idaho proposal that matriculants in high school earn a C average in middle school first.

The State Board wants middle school students to earn a cumulative C average in math, science, social studies and language and pass pre-algebra as their ticket into high school beginning with next year's sixth-graders.

Those who don't meet the standards would be held back.

This is promising. What follows is more promising.
Better middle school preparation will help kids handle more rigorous high school classes that would require two more years of math and an additional year of science as part of a college preparatory curriculum all students would be expected to complete, the State Board says.
But let's think this through.
Earning a middle school C average is one of several parts to the State Board's plan to toughen high school with an eye toward encouraging more kids to go to college after graduation.
Relatively few Idaho youngsters start college, but with proper middle- and high-school preparation, will some of them require the remediation that too often passes for college? I can see the denizens of the retention ponds fretting over this prospect. Education Gadfly correctly notes that such a proposal will encourage grade-grubbing at lower levels.
If the Gem State's middle schools are like those in the rest of the country, they suffer from low academic expectations and an emphasis on social development rather than learning. Giving middle school teachers an incentive to inflate their students' scores could make that illness even more acute.
Whatever the problem, there is a tremendous social waste in the elementary schools punting their failures to the middle schools punting their failures to the high schools punting their failures to the colleges in such a way that more than a few potential high achievers finally live up to their potential ... upon completing a Master's degree. That path requires people to defer entering their peak earning years as well as to come up with more resources working their way through ... stuff their common schools might have equipped them with?
I KNOW I WROTE SOME QUOTES DOWN. Patience.
THIRTY SECONDS, BLUE FLAG AND GUN.(*)Today is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. I was hoping to complete a relevant book review in time, but it's the fall semester and the deadlines keep on getting in the way.

Apparently British flag codes worked on a variant of what later evolved as the Enigma cipher with the combination of numbers changed every few weeks in order that the opponent could not steal the signals. (Unlike a third base coach, an admiral cannot by planting a chaw in his cheek or scratching himself designate that a particular hoist is the real hoist. There is also a little problem with running strings of flags up and down the yardarms of not terribly maneuverable ships that are sometimes pitching in the storm and sometimes being shot at.)

The evolution of the flags is interesting. Although Nelson's code uses flags that represent numbers, "D" is the contemporary "Uniform" flag; "U" is "Peter over X-Ray" (if I ever hoisted that during one of my stints on Race Committee, everybody would have more reason than usual to doubt my sanity), "T" is "X-Ray over Kilo," and "Y" is "Peter over Uniform." If you're racing on the inland lakes, you might see "Peter over Lima," although most race committees use a plain blue flag rather than Blue Peter as the "racing rules now apply" signal.

There is a lesson for schoolteachers on Nelson's hoist and on the contemporary nautical flags. It provides interpretations for some but not all of the common hoists. I like "Bravo," which in racing means "Protest!" and on the high seas means "I am preparing to discharge explosives," and "India," which in racing means "I acknowledge that I maneuvered into your right of way" and on the high seas means "I am maneuvering with difficulty."

INDIVIDUAL RECALL. Amy Ridenour's National Center has Trafalgar bicentennial links. (Piped aboard by Sean at The American Mind.)

(*)I did serve the Lake Geneva Yacht Club as a Principal Race Officer, 1988-1998. We will revert to the usual railroad nomenclature with the issuance of the next timetable.
WE ARE BADGER BUCCANEERS. This week's Carnival of the Badgers has a salty theme.
DRAIN THOSE RETENTION PONDS. Money might be tight at Northern Illinois University, but our Office of Faculty Development has resources to send a newsletter around to everybody as well as to post it for those who would rather print it themselves. This month's topic: students behaving badly.


Classroom Civility

Today there is a seemingly growing problem of lack of civility in university classrooms across the nation. Disruptive classroom behaviors include students arriving late and leaving early, reading newspapers, coming unprepared, being argumentative, refusing to participate, students not respecting the views and rights of classmates and faculty, private conversations, cell phone and beeper use.
I wait for the statement from headquarters that says "You do not have to put up with such things. Here are the sanctions we will support."

Instead, we read,

Media provide visual images of the current state of unrest and terrorism that today’s culture has come to expect; these images can readily translate to the classroom (Lepper, 2000). Easily filed lawsuits may keep faculty and administrators from acting on incidents of classroom incivility. In many cases, faculty may not retaliate for fear of retribution.
I repeat. Where is the statement from headquarters that says, unambiguously, "You do not have to put up with such things?"

I go to Professor Lepper's suggestions, and what do I see?
In many ways, the overall trends in educational institutions are mirror images of the trends that we experience in society. Therefore, if there is evidence of unrest in the social landscape, then we can expect to experience student unrest in the college classroom. The media attention given to the recent outbreaks of student violence in our nation's elementary and secondary educational institutions (Columbine being the most recent), have represented the extreme of classroom incivility. These outbreaks have also reemphasized the vulnerability of the classroom professor in regards to physical and mental abuse or even death. According to [Alison] Schneider [Chronicle of Higher Education OnDeadTree], college professors across the country are complaining that their courses have been hijacked by 'classroom terrorists'.
Here would be an opportunity for Professor Lepper to observe, "Columbine happened because the school authorities adopted a nonjudgemental stance toward the behavior of state-class athletes and burnouts alike, treating the emergent social order as applied constructivist theory, no matter how cruel it became. Choices have consequences."

Instead, he places classroom disruption in a historical context.
Every college professor has experienced instances where students were rude or confrontational in the classroom. The student activism in the 1960's and 1970's is an example of students confronting professors about the nature of the knowledge being presented, and on a more personal note, the nature of the research in which the professors were engaged. This same type of questioning was commonplace in the colonial colleges. During that era, students were embracing the ideas of the enlightenment in contrast to the religious dogma that laid the foundation for the curriculum, and represented the base of knowledge that their professors were drawing from. This blatant student disrespect of the knowledge of their professors eventually fueled the intellectual and emancipatory revolutions that founded this nation.
We were talking about people reading the newspapers, text-messaging, and conducting private conversations with neighbors or cell-buddies? Somebody with a smattering of knowledge of Marx or Leibniz or Philip Johnson (the evolution skeptic, not the architect) or William Brewster or worked up about a thread on NoIndoctrination or Democratic Underground is a Good Problem. This claim, although historically accurate, is a non-sequitur to the problem at hand.

Professor Lepper buried the lead.
Many faculty feel that it is not necessarily the fault of students or faculty members that has allowed for the rise of incivility in the classroom. Instead, they feel that it is the result of an overall lack of support by university administration that has left the individual professor powerless against rude and hostile students. Today's universities are more concerned with increasing revenues than they are about increasing students' intellect. This new emphasis on revenue has shifted the university's perspective on the student/teacher relationship, and this has caused a shift in power that has left university professors powerless to defend themselves against blatant attacks by students. Students are now seen as clients who are being provided an educational service by professors, and just like at McDonalds or Wal-Mart, the customer/student is always right. The reliance of university administrators on this business model of education has deligitimated the institution of higher education while simultaneously undercutting the authority of the professor in the classroom.
The good news for beleaguered faculty is that the business model is wrong. The demand for a university education is a derived demand, derived from the willingness of employers and graduate schools to accept a university's graduates. And the motivated students grasp this. What Professor Lepper appears to be calling for is a university administration worthy of its motivated students. Alas, it is likely to take a more stringent market test to effect such a change. I continue to anticipate the Fortune 500 company, disgusted with spending large amounts of cash training junior executives in things the universities failed to provide, to announce that hereafter it will be recruiting in selected high schools.
WHY AM I HERE? It's the third Friday, and time for the monthly report from the Teacher Certification committee I've been conscripted onto.

As some readers might have suspected, the teacher preparation program at Northern Illinois is confronting its review from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which the cognoscenti refer to as EN-Kate. I can see that a regular serving of Professor Plum will help me get through this hitch. What distinguishes Northern Illinois from Professor Plum's university is that Northern Illinois involves several colleges in teacher certification. Therefore, although the College of Education will have to jump through the hoops Professor Plum mentions, others are also subject to being called into the center ring.

At least I now know what the point is. We received it, on a nice blue sheet of paper.


The Unit Assessment uses common measures across programs to determine candidate progress in three areas outlined in the NIU Conceptual Framework(*) Within each broad area, several categories of performance are assessed.(+) The measures for Knowledge seek to assess candidate performance related to: content standards, Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, technology and core language arts standards, and scholarship. The measures for Practice seek to assess candidate performance related to: P-12 student learning, collaboration, and preparedness for diverse settings. The measures for Reflection seek to assess candidate dispositions related to: caring, lifelong learning/scholarship, creative and critical thinking, collaboration, and diversity. In addition to these common measures of performance, the unit assessment system assures that all candidates have been tested for tuberculosis (TB test) and have passed a criminal background check.
That last sentence jars, but note it is the most substantive performance measure in the statement of philosophy.

We also have a statement of principles.


Statement of Principle – Contemporary Experiences



The professional education faculty preparing candidates for initial teacher certification support, as a matter of principle, that all members of the unit such faculty should undertake sustained contemporary professional experiences in school settings minimally once every three years.

For purposes of this statement of principle, a contemporary professional experience is defined as an activity at a PK-12 school site that relates directly to the area of pedagogical training (certification) delivered by the respective member of the teacher preparation unit. Such contemporary experiences are expected to promote the faculty member’s knowledge of and direct experiences with current practices involving curriculum and instruction, diverse student populations, changing school and community cultures, and other policies and issues affecting local education agencies. Such contemporary experience requires the respective faculty member to engage in interaction with school site personnel and students in manners such as direct teaching of students across time, teacher action research, and cooperative endeavors. Such contemporary experience does not include activities such as observation of student teachers, delivery of in-service presentations, or teaching graduate or undergraduate classes.

That took about a half hour of discussion, two amendments to strike each of the "Such contemporary experience" sentences, and the subset of all faculty treated as "professional education faculty" as well as suitable "experience" and sufficiently above minimal work remain to be spelled out.

(*)The conceptual framework is the document I referred to here as having a logo that resembles a hazardous-material warning.

(+)Catch that Divine Passive? The assessment isn't going to do itself. Somebody -- a lot of somebodies -- are going to be busy filling in forms and otherwise providing information, all because "Data is the force behind needed change." I thought the struggles between the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force were behind change, and Data was an android. Silly me.

20.10.05

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. Fruits and Votes admires things that run on rails and recommends others, including this service, for the commentary. Thanks! But do check out this European site run by DoDo at the European Tribune. DoDo, do I have the engine for you!



Union Pacific "Centennial" 6930 at the Illinois Railway Museum.


There are several posts of interest at DoDo's site. Let's start with a topic that has long been of interest here, the quest for the world's fastest steam locomotive. One post considers the case for the Hiawatha.


The caption describes this as the Afternoon Hiawatha at Deerfield, although the postwar red Mars light and mixed consist suggest that we are looking at No. 46, the 4 pm 80 Minute Train from Milwaukee to Chicago. The chimney in the background and the small rise suggest the C&NW roundhouse at Chase and the overbridge near Oklahoma Avenue in Milwaukee. Corrections and clarifications welcome.

The post links to an intriguing discussion of Mallard's speed tape suggesting measurement error or tape-doctoring. What if the instant of 126 is a hiccup recorded as Mallard ruptured herself? (The Gresley A4s had rather tender inside-cylinder heads.) To be fair, the post also mentions the Germans interpreting the speed tape on their record-holder contender conservatively.

Another post looks at the tricks railroads use to fit more cargo within the existing loading gauge. The comments point to the first installment of the experiences of a New Yorker writer riding a Union Pacific hopper train.

TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN THE WOODS. One of the difficulties we faced at Wayne State was the lack of preparation our charges had, irrespective of their ancestry or national origin. Best of the Web links to more recent news from Michigan.

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress results show significant improvement in math. But the test results show little improvement in reading scores overall since 1992.

The gap between Michigan African-American students' progress and progress nationally has grown during the last decade.

At least policy makers are thinking about the right things. When I started at Wayne, I discovered that Michigan students could earn a high school diploma without algebra, let alone finite math or pre-calculus. (Milwaukee required something similar to finite math. Perhaps that's why the tools that Michiganians used to build the cars came from Milwaukee.)
"I think it has to do with is the importance of high expectations and standards," said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, associate dean for science and mathematics education at [Michigan State]. "Particularly for students who are being underserved, particularly black students and urban students." The good news is that the gap between black and white students' scores in math and reading within Michigan has decreased.
Best of the Web observes,
We'll agree it's bad news that black Michiganites are doing badly, but why is it good news that nonblack ones are losing ground even more rapidly?

19.10.05

NO JOY ON THE GOLD COAST? Tough times in Wrigleyville, with the World Series opening at Comiskey Park with one of the three teams that finished ahead of the Cubs visiting. The Sprecher is on ice.
RECLAIMING THE CULTURE. The National Basketball Association recommends business casual.
Players are required to wear business attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business.
Proscribed:
Headgear of any kind while a player is sitting on the bench or in the stands at a game, during media interviews, or during a team or league event or appearance(unless appropriate for the event or appearance, team-identified, and approved by the team).
Does that mean the end of the rather goofy ritual in which the draft pick puts on the one-size-fits-all gimme cap after his name is called?

Also proscribed:
Sunglasses while indoors.
Does that also apply to Jack Nicholson?

For an opinion that concurs in part and dissents in part, go here.
JUST IN TIME FOR THE COMMISSION. Inside Higher Education covers the opening of the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education. University Diaries links to an Andrew Hacker review in the New York Review of Books of six books that paint a rather bleak picture of the state of the enterprise.
THERE'S THE GREAT WESTERN WAY, AND THEN THERE'S THE WRONG WAY. Tyler at Marginal Revolution finds an excerpt from The Undercover Economist (hey, I have a gift certificate to use...) with disquieting implications for someone who bought bubble.com at 300 times earnings back in 1999.
Not long after the Great Western Railway shares were put on sale for 100 pounds a share in 1835, there was a tremendous burst of speculation in rail shares. Great Western shares peaked at 224 pounds in 1845, ten years after the company was formed. Then they crashed and never reached that level again in the century-long life of the company. The long-term investor would have received dividend payments and would have made a respectable but unremarkable 5 percent annual return...
Small consolation for being part owner of the 12"=1' version of these beauties.


King Stephen was renamed King Edward VI in the 1930s.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE. Russian Violets notes reality riding in on the Gales of November.
And much of the foolishness that all too often accompanies first papers has disappeared -- as have many of the fools who have figured out that college is not an extension of high school and may just not be something they are equipped to handle at this point in their lives. It's like there's a big, giant pot of coffee that gets brewed as the weather grows colder; I used to call it a "come to Jesus" moment, but now, I really think it's a form of self-awareness that hits students around this time -- particularly the first-year students.
The taxonomy of her charges is enlightening. Do read it.
MAYBE.



You Have A Type A- Personality

A-
You are one of the most balanced people around
Motivated and focused, you are good at getting what you want
You rule at success, but success doesn't rule you.

When it's playtime, you really know how to kick back
Whether it's hanging out with friends or doing something you love!
You live life to the fullest - encorporating the best of both worlds



(Via Kelly in Kansas.)
IT'S CALLED MAKING CONNECTIONS. Joanne Jacobs finds a particularly inane piece of writing by an Iowa student with delusions of writing for Glamour. The inane piece is amusing.

When I got to college, the education system did a better job of focusing on students' career goals. But even then, I found myself stressing over statistical equations and astronomy facts during my first two years. Why? I was never going to use that information. For open majors, the general-education requirements are great. For me, they were a waste of time and tuition.

Not only did the gen-ed classes waste my time and money, but they also hurt my GPA. Being forced to take classes makes them less interesting. If they aren't interesting, you won't do well in them. Statistics and astronomy bored me, so I opted not to attend class and neglected to study for them. These gen-ed classes caused my GPA to plummet. I worried that these classes - ones that I would never use - were going to hurt my chances of getting into the journalism school, which has a 3.0 GPA requirement. As it turned out, my GPA was below 3.0 after my first year. I had to take summer classes to raise it, and luckily, I was eventually admitted to the J-school. I can not imagine what I would have done if I were not admitted. I would have had to change my major.

How is this fair? I shouldn't have to give up my dream of working at Glamour magazine because my GPA was low - all because of some stupid gen-ed classes that I was forced to take. Let's just get rid of them.

The smackdowns in the comments section of Joanne's post are brutal.
CARNIVAL CALL. Teaching Carnival II, with a focus on the struggles and triumphs of the higher learning, calls at Scribbling Woman.
STORED, UNSERVICEABLE? It appears as though Cassandra at Villainous Company has suspended service.

18.10.05

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Critical Mass posts extended excerpts from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her interpretation:
The point of the piece is that higher education may well be reaching its tipping point--the moment at which parents, college-age students, and the general public decide that college is just no longer worth it.
It's a Fourth Turning Alert for the generational message. From the Chronicle,

Gen Xers also were told by one academic report after another how poorly educated they were as a generation, what a "rising tide of mediocrity" they and their schools represented.

Married Gen Xers with children are among America's most conservative voting blocs. They are fiercely protective of their children, in school and elsewhere. On their own and through PTA's, they are doing all they can to make sure that schools don't fail their own sons and daughters the way (they were told) their schools had failed them. Hence, at the grass roots, Gen Xers have propelled school choice, vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, and the standards-and-accountability movement.

And now they are coming, with their children, to college.

When we have raised the issue, we have found that, far more than boomers, Gen Xers are likely to recall college in hindsight as a waste of time and money. Their recollection of their own college years has morphed into a profound skepticism bordering on cynicism, a demand for standards and accountability, and a keen interest in the bottom line. Considering what they have done as school parents, it's not hard to predict how they will behave as college parents. This get-real generation will focus on standards, transparency, measurable results, accountability, and (especially) cost. They will ask, perhaps very pointedly, whether courses and the professors who teach them are worth the money. After carefully checking out the college dorms, food, gyms, and career-counseling services, they will ask about "ROI" (return on investment). Some will wonder whether class discussions focusing on issues of the 60s and 70s, still so intriguing to many boomer professors, teach anything their kids need in the workplace.

Many will ask why, in recent decades, whatever the economic climate, higher education has relentlessly risen in cost relative to inflation.

The answer to that last question is simple. The return on investment for those who finish has risen even faster. But that vocationalism at the expense of making connections is going to trouble Northern Illinois president John Peters, who in his State of the University speech noted,
Our students tend to be practical and outcomes-oriented. And like their peers across the country, many have come of age in the "No Child Left Behind" era of standardized testing. In fact, the most visible" generation gap" on today’s college campus involves faculty who stress critical thinking skills and students who just want to know if it’s going to be on the test.
That focus on being prepared for the test long predates "No Child Left Behind." The roots of the problem lie in "To get a good job, get a good education." The focus of this site is frequently on the ability of Higher Education to deliver a good education. Critical Mass links to a statement from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that makes the same point, but in such a way as to more clearly spell out the task at hand.
The AACU report suggests that one reason American students are less rounded and less prepared for life after college is, ironically, that all they really do in college is try to prime themselves for life in the global economy. The intellectual impoverishment of that approach to undergraduate education, which increasingly sees college as a time for resume building, networking, and personal advancement, is taking its toll on a generation of young people who emerge from their undergraduate years well versed in gamesmanship but not particularly knowledgeable about anything else.
Curiously, the resolution of this tension between academic vocation and vocationalism might be in ... ensuring that division of labor between common and higher education is properly carried out. But that now comes with a new label, P-20.
The P-20 program, or preschool to graduate school program, asks observers to imagine a world where third-graders read at or above their level, every student learns algebra by the time they enter high school and every student who attends college finishes and enters the workforce as an educated member of society.
Better watch out. If that initiative works, legions of hand-holders and faculty tasked with teaching high school classes in the guise of "remediation and retention" might have to look for new jobs. University presidents serious about this program will have to treat their research faculty with more respect as their sycophants in the retention ponds turn on them. (Yes, I am deliberately being churlish here. I earned a research degree and was hired for my research skills. Skimpy pay raises and increased special-education responsibilities do not much for the morale do.)

But it's worth doing, and doing properly. Common schools that do not teach third graders to read set them up for future failure. Oh, snap! spells that out.
YOU'RE JUST THE HIRED HELP. Must be Minnesota Teachers' Convention. King's university has an open house and allows visiting families to park everywhere.
We've had "Year of the Student" and I guess now it's "Year of the Parents Who Can Afford A Day Off to Drive to Campus and Give Us Tuition Money." I can't wait until the university declares "Year of the Employee".
No. Your responsibility is to keep the hockey team eligible and Report For Diversity Training.
CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of the Capitalists kicks off its third year from winter quarters at Accidental Verbosity.
GETTING HOSED DOWN BY THE ZOOKEEPERS. Great metaphor for a thesis defense? Congratulations, Jeff!
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE. University Diaries envisions Duke's administration re-educating the university's neighbors.
“We all know we need to demonstrate the ability to deal with disadvantaged people, and people of different ethnicities, and so forth. But the offspring of America’s affluent represent every bit as legitimate a culture as, say, the Hmong, or the Amish. It’s time for the shopkeepers and homeowners of Durham to demonstrate that they understand the cultural backgrounds and sensitivities of our student population, and to behave accordingly.”
Hie thee hence, and read it.

17.10.05

THE TRAIN USED TO STOP AT PAWTUCKET. Destination: Freedom reports that commuter trains may again call at the Pawtucket-Central Falls station.


I've ridden through that station several times and have always been impressed by it.
FAILURE TO SOCIALIZE. What do upscale universities have in common with poverty-pocket school districts?

Start in the common schools. Joanne Jacobs finds a Detroit News article reporting that Michigan teachers "give up on disadvantaged students."
The startling finding -- turned up in a statewide survey -- shows the problem is more a matter of class and income than race and ethnicity.
Nothing startling here. We used to have shop class and reform school for such problems. Times have changed, as have the skill sets of machinists and the attitudes toward warehousing delinquents. So too, has the notion that schools exist to instill some of the habits of the middle classes in the youngsters.

For example, college students studying to be teachers would welcome more training on dealing with diversity, which is often synonymous with race. But the survey says the bigger problems in the classroom are more directly related to economic class (family income), the education background of parents, as well as language barriers.

Interestingly, the poll suggests all the problems won't be solved with higher school budgets. If teachers are right, many problems lie outside the classroom.

Teachers need better training before they are assigned to a classroom, and more support once they get there in dealing with poor children. Schools must also be prepared to provide additional services to help students from homes where education is not a priority.

And they must work with poor parents to engage them in the learning process.

Unfortunately, the examples being set by more favored members of society are not good. Betsy's Page finds a story about well-to-do Dukies behaving badly. Her observation:
Some kids are disgusting and giving a fine university a bad name. It just goes to show how all that looking for character in the application process can't do much to screen out some truly obnoxious people. The school is full of fine kids who are volunteering in the Durham community and really trying to build healthy town-gown relationships and then these jerks have to spoil it all with their sense of entitlement for drunken parties.
University Diaries goes one better, discovering a royal who still understands noblesse oblige.

Despite Lady Gabriella's academic and romantic success in America, there is, however, one aspect of campus life that she may warn Beatrice about. Shortly before she graduated, she wrote about the social life at Brown University, documenting her fellow students' alcohol abuse, drug taking, sexual licentiousness and all-round bad behaviour.

She said she thought that it would be like living in Dawson's Creek, the American television soap opera featuring clean-living teenagers, but, in fact, she was confronted by drunken students, who indulged in "week-long vomiting sessions", and the widespread use of cannabis.

"Young men and women limp to classes bleary eyed from the previous evening's excesses," she told an interviewer. "In England everyone gets this out of their system at 14 and I can't help feeling that younger teenagers have more dignity in their disgusting alcoholic exploits than these supposed adults."

It's more difficult for Michigan's teachers to instill the notion that education matters with the most indulged participants in the system behaving so badly. And it's not a problem confined to the best-known universities. It has trickled down to the mid-majors. Here's Ms Newmark.
Not that they're much different from kids in colleges all over the country, but it's always disappointing to read about how these kids act. And if the Duke basketball teams play as predicted, I don't anticipate this behavior getting much better. I'd expel a few kids and maybe they'd get the message. Don't be a jerk!
Here's the anecdote from closer to home.

On Friday night in DeKalb, instead of going to bars, partying with friends or watching the White Sox game, I sat in a squad car with DeKalb police Sgt. James McDougal patrolling the streets and watching the police try to keep the peace.

My high expectations of police activity did not go unfulfilled.

That's Homecoming weekend. The post hoc disclaimer applies, but with the student affairs types promoting the football experience and closing some of the dorm dining rooms to encourage attendance at a Greek-system recruiting picnic earlier in the term, does this surprise?