Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congress Defunds the Fence

Last year Congress approved spending to build 700 miles of double-tiered fencing along our southern border. Monday night they passed a spending bill which gutted last year's bill. Meanwhile, the bill they passed allocates $10 million for attorneys for illegal immigrants.

Citizens of this country must make it clear that they will refuse to vote for any congressperson or presidential candidate who refuses to secure our border or whose record on illegal immigration is weak. This encompasses all the Democratic candidates for president and most of the Republicans except Fred Thompson, Tom Tancredo, Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter.

The Democrats pander to Hispanics to get their votes and Republicans curry favor with businesses which rely on cheap labor. Between them they're selling out America for a mess of pottage.

See here for an explanation of why illegal immigration is a problem and here for what we should do about it.

Simply put, no candidate who goes squishy on the border fence without offering something better in its place will receive our vote.


Dumbing Down Education

It seems that the tension between faculty and administration over academic standards is close to universal. Teacjhers almost always want to make their courses more challenging than what their principals would prefer. It's unusual, though, for the administrator to be this blatant about wanting his teachers to moderate their standards and expectations:

Have teachers at an East Harlem school been ordered to lower their standards because many students there are poor? That's the impression some got from their principal's memo.

Last month, Principal Bennett Lieberman sent off a stern memo to teachers.

"If you are not passing more than 65 percent of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities, and you are setting your students up for failure, which, in turn, limits your success as a professional."

Was he ordering teachers to dumb down their classes?

The memo continued:

"Most of our students come from the lowest third percentile in academic achievement, have difficult home lives, and struggle with life in general. They DO NOT have a similar upbringing nor a similar school experience to our experiences growing up."

Some students took offense.

"That's not the way to pass," 12th grader Richard Palacios said. "That's not the way to get your education, so you're basically cheating yourself."

Lieberman told a newspaper Thursday he "confidently stands by" his words.

But late Thursday, the Department of Education weighed in. It sent him a letter demanding he clarify his views and state that he is not ordering his teachers to lower their standards.

Teachers at the school stand to receive $3,000 bonuses if their school improves.

During my career teaching in a public high school I heard lots of stories from colleagues in other districts, and some even in my own, who felt that they were pressured to be less demanding of their students, to lower their academic expectations, to fail fewer kids. Administrators don't like it when teachers set high standards (though they say they want them to) because when students don't do well parents complain and principals and superintendents get tired of taking angry phone calls and meeting with irate parents. It's easier to just make good grades a little easier to achieve. In one school of my acquaintance no student, no matter how poorly he or she did, could be given a grade of less than 50%. This is ridiculous, but it reflects the fear of administrators that if we demand too much of students too many of them will fail, and that makes the school and its leadership look bad.

This is what's wrong, by the way, with requiring that a state-wide test be passed in order to graduate. If the test is rigorous many minority students will not be able to pass it, and there will be immense political pressure to water down the standards. But if the test is diluted it'll be so easy as to be a meaningless joke for most of the state's students. It'll be interesting to see how many states are still requiring such tests ten years from now and how rigorous those tests will be by then.

My guess is that if they're still around they'll be so simple that a fifth grader could pass them.