austin, texas


Iran democracy vigil 012

Tex & I managed to stay silent for the entire minute of silence, but, o be perfectly fair, no one else at tonight’s Austin vigil was silent either.

iran-democracy-vigil-019

Most of the 700+ people who protested with candles were Iranian, and they all seemed to know each other.  Between me and Betsy, we knew three other people, but everyone was there for peaceful purposes.  In addition to the protesters, there were police officers on bicycles and a few regular joggers and bicycle riders who happened to be using the same bridge.

I spoke with a 19-yr-old student who has family in the South of Iran and a grandmother in Teheran.  She says that her grandmother hasn’t left her apartment at all in the past 10 days, but she feels safe living on the 19th floor of a large apartment building.

iran-democracy-vigil-005Tex spoke with a family that was in Iran in 1977-79 and the mom left with her infant daughter four days before Iranians took over the U.S. Embassy there.  The whole family are dual citizens and want their votes counted in both countries.

Austin has six TV stations, and five of them had satellite trucks at the vigil.  There were also print reporters and a few radio stations.

iran-democracy-vigil-019We walked back to the parking lot with a family from Iran, and the father of the family said that he missed Wednesday’s rally but was glad that he made it tonight.  He said that he’d have to stay better tuned in because we’ll be needing more vigils and protests, but I sincerely hope that we don’t need any more.

Iran democracy vigil 018

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This is TAKS week here in the Texas schools. As a 10th grader, I take four tests this year. Some years we take two and other years three or four, but this is the big year that determines how well our school does compared to other schools. For us as students, every year matters because certain classes are open or closed for the following year depending on whether we pass or fail the tests. But for the school, 10th grade test scores are the ones that decide how well the whole school does. Some schools can even close if their scores are still low.

The Texas Education Agency has told the Austin school district that it needs to use the word “probable” — not “possible” — when referring to the closure of Johnston High School, district officials said.

The shift in verbiage was made at the suggestion of state officials who are part of Johnston’s oversight team because they wanted to underscore the urgency of the situation at the school in East Austin.

Agency officials have said the school, which has received “unacceptable” ratings for the past four years, will be closed or put under alternative management if it fails to achieve an acceptable rating this year.

Under the state’s accountability system, schools are rated “academically unacceptable” if they don’t meet target graduation rates and goals on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Are we being deliberately undereducated or miseducated? Is our whole generation being purposefully denied essential elements of a meaningful education as a byproduct of spending all of our schooling preparing for tests? Is that an accident?

Here’s the disturbing part. The bureaucrats don’t care if WE improve individually from year to year. They don’t care if our CLASS improves. They only care that we do better than last year’s 10th grade, even if they were a bunch of idiots or a bunch of screw-ups or a bunch of genii. By extension, BETTER doesn’t mean that our average is higher than last year’s class. It means that a larger percent of white kids pass (70%) than last year; a larger percent of black kids, a larger percent of immigrants, a larger percent of girls, a larger percent of poor kids, a larger percent of left-handed kids, and a larger percent of soccer players who only eat ice cream for breakfast.

This means that kids like me who get 90% or 99% every time only spend a THIRD of our school time learning how to answer the test questions and regurgitate essays. The poor kids, meanwhile, who got ONLY 60%-80% spend ALL their time on nothing but test practice. Kids in honors or pre-AP or advanced classes learn some other material and get interesting projects from time to time, like in-class debates, short story assignments and geometry construction projects, but the kids in academic or regular classes have every single test look like a TAKS question. That is not an exaggeration.

Last year, my test scores were all above 92%. I could go down by 10 points in every single subject and no one would care. If I went down 20 points, my brother would wring my neck and I’d probably have to drop some honors classes and possibly lose the chance for AP US History, but the state and the government STILL wouldn’t care. I would be within acceptable parameters.

Our school would still show improvement even if every single kid in honors right now dropped to 71% as long as one kid whose older sibling failed last year passed this year. That’s crazy!

Clearly they don’t care whether we as individuals pass as long as the scenario I have presented makes my high school look good. What’s the point? Could it be that the point really is to dumb down yet another generation; to keep us from learning about the Constitution and our rights. Only in understanding them both may we learn when our republic is at its BEST.

student taking a test

I agree with the teachers. TOO MANY TESTS! (Also too much homework, which is why I am spending less time on my blog.)

Teacher group says schools should ease up on testing

Educators say they feel the pressure of ratings system.

Listen to this article or download audio file.Click-2-Listen


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The third week of school is under way. In other words, it’s time to start testing.

In the Austin school district, some teachers must start giving benchmark tests, which measures students’ strengths and weaknesses heading into the new year.

. . . . .

The statewide Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is the favorite punching bag of teachers and parents who say schools are too focused on tests.
But Malfaro said that much of the testing burden in Austin comes not from the state but from district officials who require teachers to give district-produced tests throughout the year.

Ann Smisko, the Austin school district’s associate superintendent for
curriculum, said the district, like most, “regularly assesses students for one main reason: to ensure that children receive better, more focused classroom instruction.”

Smisko said the district uses benchmark tests at the start of school to see where students are, in the middle of the year to measure progress and at the end to see whether students need extra help before moving to the next grade.

District officials said the number of days per year that a class spends on testing varies by grade and campus.

Ken Zarifis, who teaches eighth-grade language arts at Burnet Middle School in North Austin, said he and colleagues spend more than 40 of the 180 instructional days in a school year giving tests that they do not write themselves.

Those tests include state-written exams such as the TAKS and district-produced tests, such as six-week exams and the three-times-a-year benchmark tests.

 

solar panelsOK. Texas started. In addition to the ones mentioned here, there are also schools with some solar panels. Can the whole country do this? Can we do a better job at recycling at school? Can we turn in more work electronically and not on paper? Can they cut down on the AC sometimes? What’s happening where you live?

Schools find it easy being green

Districts strive to make campuses eco-friendly.

Listen to this article or download audio file.Click-2-Listen


AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, August 26, 2007

When it comes to building schools, district leaders and taxpayers are focused on being green: being environmentally friendly as well as fiscally responsible.

Several campuses are opening for the first time Monday in the Austin area, and dozens of other campuses and school buildings are under construction or are being renovated. Many have gone green — using recyclable materials in construction and operation and saving on water and energy — as part of a nationwide movement that touts green schools as healthier for students and cheaper to operate.

Almost four years ago, the Austin school district made the largest purchase to date of renewable energy from Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program: 45.7 million kilowatt-hours annually of solar, wind or geothermal power. It was the largest such purchase by a school district nationwide. The district is eligible for $430,000 in Austin Energy rebates for environmentally friendly projects in the 2004 $519.5 million bond program.

When Pickle Elementary School opened in Northeast Austin in 1999, it was the first Austin campus to include green building features like proper solar orientation to better take advantage of natural light, which helps it use 25 percent less energy than other campuses, along with rainwater collection to replace water that evaporates out of air conditioners and salvaged long-leaf pine floors. An analysis estimates that those features will save the district $12 million over the life of the school.

Schools represent the largest construction sector in the nation, with $53 billion being spent this year, and they are the fastest-growing market for green building, which is expected to account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the school construction market by 2010, according to the Council of Educational Facility Planners International.

About 60 schools across the country, including two in Dallas and Houston, have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization in Washington that sets “green” standards. An additional 370 are in the pipeline; one San Marcos school is among the nine in Texas.

I wonder who is behind THESE people.

Not everyone believes that it’s easier being green, however. Saying that building costs would skyrocket, the Fast Growth School Coalition, a group of 124 Texas school districts, helped defeat a bill during the most recent legislative session that would have required all school construction to fall in line with standards set by the Green Building Council.

Lady Bird Johnson in the wildflowers

LADY BIRD JOHNSON — 1912-2007

Former first lady and conservationist.

World Environment Day — What can WE do?

solar powerBryce from YouthInkLeft had a great post this morning giving his ideas for ways we can celebrate World Environment Day, June 5. As that day draws to a close, it’s time to look at what actions we can do for the environment for the days and months ahead. Bryce gave great suggestions for things people can do, and I have a few more to add.

  1. Get the government to require better mileage and force the auto makers to sell their efficient cars here. If they sell them in Europe, they should sell them here.
  2. Start a campaign to get your town or county to use solar and wind energy. Here’s an example.
  3. Get energy-saving products for your home, including new technology like this:
    1. sunlight table
    2. solar panels
    3. efficient light bulbs
    4. solar or electric cars
    5. swamp coolers instead of air conditioning
    6. Get rid of junk mail.
  4. Learn more
  5. Learn even more.
  6. This one’s my favorite, but I don’t think I’ll get one. 😦 Not this year.

electric motorcycle

What else can we do? Any or all of us?

Like most of my political posts,

this is cross-posted at Political Teen Tidbits and at YouThinkLeft.

Many thanks to Jordan for alerting me to this story, which is happening practically in my own back yard, right in Taylor, Texas!

—Freckles

From Texas cell, Canadian, 9, pleads for help

Family in limbo after unscheduled stop in Puerto Rico

From Friday’s Globe and Mail

AUSTIN, TEX. — Even if you try to look past the eight-metre-high chain-link fence, beyond the scores of uniformed guards patrolling the perimeter and away from the cameras, metal detectors and lasers, there isn’t the slightest evidence of children inside the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center.

No one is playing outside; there are no sounds of laughter.

But inside the thick, whitewashed walls of this former maximum-security prison in the heart of Texas are about 170 children — including a nine-year-old Canadian boy named Kevin.

Call it international limbo. Detained by U.S. Customs officials after their flight to Toronto made an unscheduled stop on American soil nearly four weeks ago, Kevin and his Iranian parents, Majid and Masomeh, feel they are being held hostage not only by the physical parameters of Hutto, but by the politics of nationality.

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Related to this article Enlarge Image

'Dear Mr. Prime minister haper I don’t like to stay in this jail. I’m only nine years old. I want to go to my school in Canada. I’m sleeping beside the wall. Please Mr. Priminister haper give visa for my family. This place is not good for me. I want to get out of the cell. Just pleace give visa for my family. My home land is in Canada, My life is over there. I’m also sleeping beside wasroom. Mr. Priminister haper pleace bring me and my family to Canada. Thank you so much.'

‘Dear Mr. Prime minister haper I don’t like to stay in this jail. I’m only nine years old. I want to go to my school in Canada. I’m sleeping beside the wall. Please Mr. Priminister haper give visa for my family. This place is not good for me. I want to get out of the cell. Just pleace give visa for my family. My home land is in Canada, My life is over there. I’m also sleeping beside wasroom. Mr. Priminister haper pleace bring me and my family to Canada. Thank you so much.’

_______________________________________________

“We can’t go home because I am Canadian but my parents are not,” Kevin said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail — no personal interviews have been granted.

Majid and Masomeh — they prefer their last name not be used — initially fled Iran for Canada in January, 1995, to seek political asylum. Majid did odd jobs, eventually becoming manager of an east Toronto pizza parlour, paying the rent for their one-bedroom apartment.

In 1997, their only son, Kevin, was born. “For the first time, I was happy,” Majid said from the Hutto detention facility.

“I had my family with me — it’s the only family I have — we didn’t have any problems and we lived happy in Toronto.”

Kevin attended a Toronto school until Grade 3. Meanwhile, his parents were seeking refugee status, based on fear of persecution in Iran, but their application was denied and, in December, 2005, the family of three was deported.

Upon their arrival in Tehran, Majid said he was taken away from his family to a prison cell. For three months, he was detained, beaten and tortured, he said. When he was released, the three were reunited, and, with the help of friends and relatives, they connected with a people smuggler in Tehran.

“I pay him $40,000 to [get us] to Canada. It included everything: fake passports, tickets. He got $20,000 in Iran, and $20,000 in Turkey.”

(more…)

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