Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Repressed Aggression or Why I Hate VAM

You can call me a Negative Nellie if you want to, but I hate a lot of things about American education in the 21st century (i.e. Common Core, standardized testing, narrow curriculum, No-Excuses charter schools, NCLB, corporatist education “deform”, value-added measurements [VAM], etc.). However, out of all of those things, I despise VAM the most. I HATE VAM! I cannot shout it from the rooftops loud enough. Maybe one day soon I will have enough clout to help abolish it from North Carolina. I have read a lot about VAM both inside and outside of class and I agree with Thornton, Kohn, Ravitch, and every other critic that it is unfair, invalid, and unreliable. Calling VAM “value-added” is a misnomer, and a cynical joke. There is nothing of value added to the evaluation process if the instrument used is unfair, invalid, and unreliable. How can a teacher be off-the-charts amazing one year and off-the-charts dismal the next year? The better question is how come a teacher is punished for the characteristics of his or her students (the “value-added measurements”), over which he or she has zero control? A teacher cannot choose the composition of his or her students.

I have no objection to evaluation as a concept; in fact, I embrace it. I cannot know what I am doing right and fix what I am doing wrong without feedback. However, I do have a problem with being held accountable for things that are out of my control, such as that proverbial elephant in the room, poverty. Educational researchers are well aware of the adverse effects that poverty can have on a child’s educational success (Berliner, 2005; Grodsky, Warren, & Felts, 2008; Kohn, 2000; Stern, 2014). There is no question that Western North Carolina has a high poverty rate. In some counties and communities in this region, all students are given free or reduced lunch regardless of need because there are so many needy kids in that district or school (Spencer, 2015). To the proponents of VAM, answer me this: What regression algorithm can turn a white rural poor kid from WNC and from a single parent home whose mother works three part-time jobs and can only keep the lights on every other month into a white suburban upper-middle class kid from New England from a two parent home whose father has one full-time job with benefits and that child has never missed a meal or whose parents never had to decide between bringing that child to the doctor or going to work?

The bottom line is that children are not standardized. They are not interchangeable cogs in a machine nor are they blank slates. They are individual human beings who each bring their unique life stories with them to class every day. What regression algorithm can distill out every mitigating circumstance in a child’s life and education and determine how his or her experience in my classroom affected that child’s learning? I do not think that even the Wizard of Oz can answer that question.


Berliner, D. C. (2005, July 29). Our impoverished view of educational reform. Teachers College Record, 1-64.

Grodsky, E., Warren, J. R., & Felts, E. (2008). Testing and social stratification in American education. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 385-404. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from

Kohn, A. (2000, September 27). Standardized testing and its victims. Retrieved from

Spencer, A. (2015, October 22). Praxis Project Interview. (A. L. DeMarco, Interviewer)

Stern, G. (2014, April 12). Education analyst Diane Ravitch: Tests punish out-of-the-box thinkers. Retrieved from

Thornton, H. J. (2014, Winter). Middle level teacher quality in the midst of the rush to Common Core: What do principals think of test-based teacher quality? North Carolina Middle School Association Journal, 28(1), 1-13.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Old Habits Die Hard: The Legacy of Chernobyl

Almost thirty years later, the impact of the Chernobyl disaster is still felt. Children are still being born with cancer and other birth defects. Survivors are still succumbing to radiation-induced cancers. Cities and towns are still abandoned. The site itself and the surrounding areas are still “hot” with radiation. Some estimates are that the area will continue to be unsafe for human habitation for millennia. Some of the radioactive isotopes have a half-life of 24,000 years (Ludwig, 2011). It is difficult to fathom how 14 seconds can have an impact for eons. Human achievement can turn to human destruction in a moment. The people of Ukraine and Belarus relive that moment daily. Their ailments remind them. Their children’s and grandchildren’s ailments remind them. The Soviet system was one of the most destructive regimes in human history. Stalin’s reign of terror alone killed between 20 and 60 million people, depending on the source consulted. One of his infamous quotes was “that he would willingly sacrifice 49 per cent if he could ‘save the 51 per cent, that is, save the revolution” (Overy, 2004). This attitude prevailed even after his death and the formal repudiation of him and his policies by his successor Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviets blindly pursued production at all costs, to the detriment of the Soviet people. Quantity was valued far above quality. Production targets had to be met regardless of the impact on the land, environment or the people themselves. All of this was in pursuit of a flawed ideology. This attitude even permeated the Soviet nuclear sector. The Cold War fostered competition between the USSR and the USA. This competition and the ruthless nature of internal Soviet politics fostered a climate of corruption and obfuscation. This very climate directly contributed to the Chernobyl disaster. The RBMK reactor design was known to have 27 different flaws, but was produced anyway. Despite the known defects, this type of reactor was installed at Chernobyl and other sites (Ludwig, 2011). Sadly, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still has not improved much beyond its past. Its infrastructure is old and decrepit. Most of it is Soviet era vintage. Russia’s government is still corrupt and standards and regulations are not on par with the rest of Europe. There is still mistrust of the government by the people and according to some sources, the Putin government shares similarities with the Soviet regimes of yore – particularly when it comes to personal freedom, freedom of the press, and glasnost (government transparency). Parts of Russia are still some of the most contaminated places on Earth. Although the Russian government is trying to clean up after its past, there is still more to be done. They are still reluctant to seek international help unless they are desperate for assistance. For example, when the submarine Kursk sank they initially refused to let British and American rescue vessels attempt to rescue the trapped sailors. After much delay divers from Britain and Norway were able to assist in the rescue efforts. However, rescue turned to recovery because by this point it was too late for the Kursk sailors (Barany, 2004) (Dodds, 2003). They need to swallow their national pride and put their people ahead of their egos. References Barany, Z. (2004, Summer). The tragedy of the Kursk: Crisis management in Putin's Russia. Government & Opposition, 39(3), 476-503. Dodds, K. (2003). Cold War geopolitics. In J. Agnew, K. Mitchell, & G. Toal (Eds.), A companion to political geography (pp. 204-218). Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Ludwig, G. (2011). The long shadow of Chernobyl. Retrieved May 20, 2013, from Overy, R. (2004). The Dictators. New York: W. W. Norton.

Monday, September 20, 2010


My 10 year old daughter made this. Please subscribe to her YouTube Channel. Thanks!!!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Dumbing Down of English

I hate the Internet because any moron who can't spell can publish something. Three factors have contributed to the dumbing down of the English language: public schools making literacy (the ability to understand English at the most basic level) the goal rather than mastery of the English language, the obsession with catering to the lowest common denominator, and the Information Age. I am obsessed with proper spelling and grammar. Since first grade I've been an excellent speller. After I had spelled the word "said" incorrectly on a spelling test I was bound and determined to become a proficient speller. In 3rd grade it came down to me and another girl. We tied -- the teacher could not stump either of us with 6th grade words. She just gave up and declared us both winners. In 5th grade I ended up skipping the 5th grade spelling level and acing the 6th grade one. I'm an excellent speller in French too, which is not my native language (English is).

An Open Letter To Misanthropic Environmentalists

This comment was deemed spam by the Nazis at MNN The Mother Nature Network. I sent them an e-mail and I am waiting for a reply. Some of the comments on that site were common sense and Conservative, so I may not have been blocked for my opinion. But, we shall see...

Dear Enviro-Nazi:

So is your ultimate solution for every human to commit suicide??? Do reports of people being killed give you a warm and fuzzy feeling??? Is your mantra "Save the animals/planet. Kill the humans"??? You and other enviro-nazis like you would rather see annihilation of the human race than to see one animal or plant even slightly distressed. You preach annihilation until your own life was threatened. Then you'd change your tune. If the world is so over populated, which population should be eliminated first??? Maybe it ought to be all of the Enviro-Nazis and Moonbats, but the real answer is all human life is sacred so no human should have to go first. Environmentalism should be about stewardship, not self-righteousness or destruction of the human race. We need to take care of what God has given us. Humans are not the only creatures that impact the environment. Beavers kill trees and flood areas with their dams. Gypsy moth caterpillars kill trees by eating their leaves. Animal waste is just as toxic as human waste. Unchecked animal populations can wreak havoc on an eco-system. The "Green" movement is self-defeating. How much more money and energy does it take to produce one "green" item versus a conventional one??? "Green" items tend to cost much more and are much less effective. Gaia worship is not going to get you into Heaven. Only through Christ can man get to Heaven.


God Fearing Conservative

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Boehner Watch: BHO Bi-Partisanship???

I have been following John Boehner since October and he has said some interesting things lately. He says that Conservatives/Republicans should not wish for BHO’s failure because BHO needs to succeed in order for America to succeed. In a way, he is right. Let me just say this: I DO NOT WANT BHO’S LIBERAL IDEAS TO WORK!!!! But, if Republicans can somehow come up with a better plan and BHO likes it, BHO can compel Congress (especially the House) to consider it by forcing the Dems’ hand. No one about to seek re-election is going to want to be seen as undermining the President. The Republicans can play politics by going over Bella’s head. BHO is already willing to meet with Congressional Republicans. If he continues this trend throughout his Presidency, and the GOP continues to produce better plans and ideas, the GOP caucus may have its say yet. If Boehner & Co. play their cards right, they can use BHO’s bipartisanship and willingness to be all things to all people agains the Dems. However, I do realise that Bella Pelosi has imposed rules that will make it extremely difficult for Republicans to make their voices heard, but where there is a will, there is a way. And BHO may be doing all of this bi-partisan posturing for show. I am optimistic, but skeptical. I shall keep my eyes and ears open. Also, we have to realise that there will be some things that BHO does that we may like. They may be few and far between, but they will be there. We can’t suffer BHO Derangement Syndrome like the libs did with Bush. As fun as it may sound, two wrongs still DO NOT make a right. My whole point is this: Like John Boehner has said,”If it is good for the country, then I am for it.”