Sunday, March 31, 2013

Atlantic article points out the benefits of ability grouping in schools

    The Atlantic has a must-read article about the re-emergence of ability grouping in schools.
    Ability grouping is common sense. The one-room schoolhouse of 100 years ago -- which included students of all abilities into a single schoolroom -- was fine when there was no other choice. But dividing students into grades makes far more sense.
    Unfortunately, our society doesn't want to fail anyone, so students are age graded instead of ability graded. And in the name of equality ability grouping has been frowned upon in favor of mixed-ability grouping and differentiated instruction.
    In the typical fifth- or sixth-grade classroom there will be 10 or 12 years difference in reading ability and perhaps eight years difference in math ability between the brightest and dullest students. The brightest sixth-graders are likely to be reading at the level of the typical college freshman or sophomore. The dullest at the first- or second-grade level. No teacher can adequately teach a group of students with such a mish-mash of abilities.
    Differentiated instruction doesn't work any better than the one-room schoolhouse. We needs laws requiring that students be given regular achievement tests and that they be grouped on the basis of their achievement. Studies show that all students learn more when grouped with students of like ability and taught at a level that is slightly more difficult than the material they have already mastered.
    We need to worry less about making every student equal and instead attempt to teach every student as much as possible as quickly as possible. If we do this, some students will start earning college credits in the seventh or eighth grade. This will benefit society tremendously.
    To quote from the article:
Unfortunately, the efforts and philosophies of otherwise well-meaning individuals have attempted to eliminate the achievement gap by eliminating achievement. 
    How true! I urge everyone to read this article and to raise this issue with their local school boards. Schools which use differentiated instruction are intentionally depriving America's schoolchildren of a decent education, and depriving our nation of a prosperous future.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is mercy? It's catching two car thieves and making them house guests

    Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts highlighting stories about my father, or stories my father liked to share.
    Some time in the late 1930s -- I think, and the year really doesn't matter so much -- my grandfather walked out of church to an unwelcome discovery. His car was missing.
    "Don't worry boys, they won't get far. I'm out of gas," my grandfather told his sons. He then dispatched one son in each direction to search for the missing car.
    The car was found quickly enough, I think about seven miles east of town on Highway 78, on the side of the road out of gas. Standing nearby were two runaways from Somerville, Tenn., aged 16 and 17.
    I'm not sure how these boys were corralled, but they were, and were brought to my grandfather. And he did what anybody would do under the circumstances: he had the boys over for Sunday dinner.
    He told the boys they needed to call their parents, but they pleaded to be allowed to spend the night before making the dreaded phone call. My grandfather relented. The next day they pleaded to again spend one more night. I'm sure my grandfather found some chores for them to do.
    On the evening of the second day my grandfather insisted that they call home and arrange to be picked up the next day. He had shown the boys mercy, but it was time for them to face their parents' justice.
    When my father told me this story, I couldn't help but think that very few of us today would ever consider bringing teenagers who had just stolen our car home for dinner, much less providing room and board for two days. Today most of us would call the sheriff and insist that the teenagers be prosecuted as adults.
    I have no idea how these two teenagers turned out. Perhaps they came to a bad end. But my grandfather's act of mercy cost him nothing. Their crime only cost him a bit of aggravation. And perhaps this act of mercy allowed them to escape jail or a criminal record and have successful lives. My grandfather was willing to forgive a rather grievous sin that most of us simply could not forgive.
    I think my father and his siblings learned from my grandfather's acts of mercy. And I think all of us can as well.

Luke 7:40-43
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

The Great Depression, growing up on the county Poor Farm, shaped my father's life

Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting stories about my father, or stories my father liked to share.
    My father Sidney Hurdle, who died recently, was the sixth of eight children and the last in his family to die. As we first cousins said at his funeral, we've moved to the front row.
    I really think to understand my father or any of his siblings you have to understand that he was a child of the Depression in the truest sense. When the Depression hit it was clear to my grandfather that he wasn't going to be able to support a family by farming, and he was lucky to be able to get the job managing the County Home for indigents -- the Poor Farm (or the Poor House).
    I was raised hearing tales about life on the Poor Farm, and until the age of 14 or 15 assumed that Dad had lived there because the family was poor. I remember sitting in Shep Smith's cotton office one afternoon with a few older men when I mentioned something about Dad growing up on the Poor Farm. George Buchanan, who always looked over his glasses, pushed them down an extra bit and said, "Son, your grandfather managed the county poor farm."
    Of course, I considered this a betrayal of the first order! I had always been told Dad lived on the Poor Farm, only to learn that he was in top management. But when I confronted him with this new revelation he explained that when he lived there he didn't live a lot higher life than the residents. The family usually ate the same food and was surrounded by the same poverty as everyone else.
    There were so many stories from the Poor Farm. The times were hard. Even if the family had assets, there truly was no money during the Depression. One oft-told story deals with my grandfather's failure to obtain a $25 loan from the local bank despite having more than $1,000 in county warrants for collateral. These warrants were issued as promise of future payment because the county could not afford to pay my grandfather the 25 cents per day per resident to which he was entitled. Of course, he was expected to continue to feed and clothe the residents at his own expense. Pop Hurdle ended up having to sell the family's best mule to raise the $25. (In 1958 my grandfather "forgave" the bank and again started doing business with them).
    My grandfather was born into relative rural affluence in 1891. He was forced to quit school after third grade due to nearsightedness, lest he go blind (or so the doctors said). He was determined not to slip into poverty, even if the boll weevil and economic collapse seemed determined to push him over the edge. He drove himself hard and drove his children almost as hard. It affected all of his children, sometimes not in a good way.
    I'll leave my grandmother to another day, save to say that by modern standards it's a miracle that a man with a third-grade education managed to attract a highly intelligent, high-school graduate who became a school teacher (although she taught for only a few years). Dad always said whatever smarts our family has came from this wonderful woman.
    Back to the Poor Farm. Dad lived there until just before World War II. I think the family moved into Holly Springs in 1938 or 1939, when Dad would have been 14 or 15. But his time at the Poor Farm had an effect on his entire life. It gave him a great deal of compassion for the poor.
    About 15 years ago we were in an attic and came across an old chest that had been bequeathed to my Dad by a resident of the Poor House when he was a child. To be more precise, although the man did not have a will, the chest and a few other small items were his "estate." He wanted my Dad, who was then 10 or 12, to have his chest.
     When Dad saw his chest he knelt down and rubbed it, and told me the story about his old Poor Farm friend, an old indigent man. "I was his best friend," he said. "When he died he left me this chest."
    The chest was pretty wretched in appearance, and I'm afraid I allowed as much. Dad looked at me, back at the chest, then back at me. "It was all he had."
    Of course, I felt rather small and wished I had kept my mouth shut about the appearance of the chest.

Mark 12
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My father, Sidney L. Hurdle, dies at 89

Dad in Juneau, Alaska, on a cruise we took as a family thanks to his largesse, in May 2011.
    My father, Sidney L. Hurdle, died recently. He was 89. He had been ill for some time and confined to a hospital bed (or the chair next to it) for almost eight months. His mind wasn't all there at the end, but in some matters he remained quite sharp. He was ready for death, and in fact told a caregiver that he didn't think he would be alive for another week when she left for the day. He was correct.
    Here was his obituary:

  Sidney L. Hurdle died Saturday, March 9, 2013, after a lengthy illness. He was a native and life-long resident of Marshall County. He was a graduate of the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi School of Law. He was a rural land developer, with projects in Mississippi, Ohio, and numerous other states. He was an attorney and once served as attorney for the Marshall County Board of Supervisors. He was a veteran and a member of First Baptist Church of Holly Springs.
  Services were 11 a.m. March 11, 2013 at Holly Springs Funeral Home. Burial will be in Hillcrest Cemetery.
  He is survived by three sons, Lanier Hurdle, Mike Hurdle, both of Holly Springs and Frank Hurdle of Oxford; six grandchildren, Sidney Lanier “Sy” Hurdle III, Jamie Hurdle Ammerman, Cayce Hurdle, Jesse Hurdle, Albert Sidney “Ash” Hurdle, and Lucy Karr Hurdle; and numerous nieces and nephews.
  Pallbearers were Jonathan Burch, Jason Burch, Joshua Ammerman, Sy Hurdle, Jesse Hurdle and Ash Hurdle.
  Memorials may be made to Sidney L. Hurdle charitable fund, c/o Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, 315 Losher St. Suite 1, Hernando, MS, 38632.
     There is, of course, so much more to a life than can be told by an obituary. Yet what we put in the paper is what most people want to read.
    This being my blog, I'm going to share over the next few days a few stories from my Dad's life. Some of these are stories about him. Some of these are stories that he told us as we were growing up. The good news for you as a reader of this blog are two-fold. First, you don't have to read anything you don't want to! Second, some of the stories have some real entertainment value.
    One of my favorite professors at Ole Miss was Jere Hoar, who taught in the journalism school. I know I had him for three classes, but maybe four. There were a few things that he would repeat in every class, one of them being the claim of some sociologist that if "You tell me a family's stories, I can tell you that family's values."
    So for the next few weeks I'll share a few of my Dad's stories, and from them you will know a little about his values.

I'd like to hear the news of no one being gang raped in India one day

    To read the news from India lately, rape would seem to be the pastime of a good percentage of the male population. And the general attitude of the authorities is that the women are at least partly to blame.
    So when an Australian couple was "foolish" enough to go camping and ended up with the woman gang-raped while her boyfriend was tied up and forced to watch, the official line is that she was partly to blame for going camping and tempting potential rapists.
    This isn't to suggest that women shouldn't act prudently. But in India the general consensus seems to be that just by being a woman one is asking to be raped, and is thus partly to blame.
    A British tourist recently jumped from her hotel room window because she said the hotel manager and another man were banging on the door demanding to give her an oil massage.
    And, of course, there is the case which brought worldwide attention, where a woman was brutally gang raped on a bus while the driver apparently did nothing. And until there was an outcry, law enforcement was bound and determined to do nothing. The woman died.
    Few things are more grating on Western ears than Indian music. But I got to thinking that some Indian singer might do a rewrite of this Anne Murray's song from the early 1980s:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Opportunities for racial umbrage must not be missed

    In the Do Not Miss the Opportunity to Take Racial Umbrage department, we have this item, from the BBC.
   Don't feel left out; coming soon in modified form from a congressman on our side of the pond. Some time when you least expect it, expect it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Last year I bragged on Ash's ACT score from the Duke TIP program; now it's Lucy's turn

    Last year I gave a big cockle-doodle-do to my son for scoring 24 on the Duke TIP sponsored ACT test. This year it's Lucy's turn.
    We got the magic score envelope in the mail Saturday and Lucy made a 27, with a 33 in English, a 30 in reading, a 24 in math (gasp!) and a 22 in science. For a seventh-grader, this is a pretty good score. It's actually not bad for a graduating senior, either.
    Last year I wrote about how we were using the Boost Your Score ACT Software to get Ash ready for the ACT. I suggest you read the review, which I've linked to, as I give what I think are a couple of good test-taking tips.
    I really like the company that produces the Boost Your Score software. When I first purchased it they told me an upgrade would soon be available at no charge. When it came out they promptly emailed me the upgrade.
    This year I found out that the ACT had put a new sample test on its website, which made all of the answers for the first Boost Your Score test wrong. I emailed them and they sent me an updated version at no charge. All of this for a $15 piece of software.
    Does practice make perfect? The makers of the ACT say it does. They say a good majority of students who take the ACT for a second time make a higher score. I think it stands to reason that taking practice tests will help.
    In Lucy's case, last year when she was in sixth grade she took the English portion of the ACT practice test and made a 25. This year she took the practice and made a 34. Her score on the real test was 33. I think being aware of what is on the test helps.
    Conversely, Lucy refused to take the science practice test. She is a willful child and I am an indulgent parent, so I did not make her. Her science score was 22, yet science is the most coachable portion of the ACT, and is in large part a reading test. If someone has a 30 in reading and a 22 in science it means they didn't familiarize themselves with the types of questions on the science portion of the test. (Only a small portion of the "science" test measures scientific knowledge; it measures the ability to read passages and interpret charts and graphs).
    I highly recommend the Boost Your Score software, and if you use the link on my page to buy it I think they will send me 50 cents or something.
    We are proud of our Lucy. She is among perhaps 2,000 students out of the relatively elite group of almost 70,000 Duke TIP participants to qualify to attend the "Grand Recognition Ceremony" held at Duke each year. If we can use some of our free-night certificates to get a hotel room I expect we will go.
     So pack your bags Lucy, we're going to North Carolina!

Friday, March 1, 2013

California enacts a gas pump tax that, if not likable, is at least less hatable

    California is raising gasoline taxes -- again. The state now has the second-highest gas taxes in the nation, behind only New York.
    As a state California has taxes and spending that are far too high. The debt and problem is completely out of control. Essentially the California legislature is a lot like our national Congress, without the power to print money. I think the state is headed towards Dystopia in about 30 years.
    With all of those things said, if a state has to raise revenue one of the best ways to do it is through gas taxes.
    Sacré bleu you say, Le ColReb is calling for more taxes. Well, sort of.
    Governments must have revenue, and as much as I hate paying higher prices for gas, it's better to pay more for gas than for other things.

    1. Do we want to encourage people to drive more fuel efficient cars while allowing those who really need them to drive big SUVs? Higher gas taxes do that.
    2. Do we want to encourage people to car pool and use mass transit? Higher gas taxes do that.
    3. Do we want to encourage people to use hybrid or even electric cars? Higher gas taxes do that.
    4. Do we want to encourage people to live as close to their work as possible? Higher gas taxes do that.
    5. Do we want to reduce consumption so there will be oil available for export, thus strengthening the dollar and actually reducing the price of oil? Higher gas taxes might do that.

    Taxes have a way of bringing about social change invisibly, much like Adam Smith's invisible hand. When France announced that it was enacting a tax of 75 percent on all incomes of more than a million euros a year rich people started running like mad. Many went to French communities in nearby Belgium, where the top tax rate was "only" 50 percent. Soon France will find that it has very few citizens who make more than a million euros a year. And while it's easy to be envious of these rich people, they do contribute greatly to a nation's economy.
    Higher gas taxes work the same way. People just naturally change their lives in ways that will reduce their tax burden.
    Best of all, regulation through reasonable taxation gives people choices. The government bans nothing. People who want to drive SUVs can still drive them, it will just cost a bit more. I prefer a society that works through nudges to a society that works through edicts.
    There's nothing wrong with opposing higher taxes. I generally do. But if we do need higher taxes, let's have taxes that actually work to benefit society in more ways than just raising revenue.