Truth is stupider than fiction, Bartow County edition

“In the beginning, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then he created school boards.”

DunceMark Twain’s famous saying about school boards is one of the epigraphs in my novel, Chain Gang Elementary. (The other one was courtesy of Bart Simpson.) I also use it to describe the actions of my local school board here in DeKalb, County, Georgia.

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s also much stupider, as recent events involving a Bartow County (Georgia) school board member have shown. Board member Angela Cornett has resigned her seat on the Bartow Board of Education after surveillance video showed her driving into a pedestrian in a dispute over a WalMart parking space.  This event has now made national news, courtesy of the Today Show.

Two things: (1) It does not appear to be an accident (she was arrested), and (2) the space in dispute is next to an empty slot.

Mrs. Cornett is no stranger to controversy. She has drawn criticism for her behavior during a school board session back in September, when she called out a school teacher by name and aired her laundry in public. This has been captured in a Youtube video that has gained enough prominence to merit a commercial at its start. She should be proud that her tirade is sponsored. (Her contribution to good government begins at the 6:00 minute mark of the video.)

After seeing the school board video, the parking lot incident makes perfect, damnable sense.

Maureen Downey, in her Get Schooled blog, writes: “After watching the videos of the parking lot incident and the school board meeting, I have to wonder if there are any functioning school boards left in Georgia.”

There’s another thing. While this is a Chain Gang kind of story, I was struck by Mrs. Cornett’s delivery. For those of you have read my second novel, Brambleman, and wonder what the varmints sound like, well, whoop, there it is.

Mark Twain vs. DeKalb Board of Education

“In the beginning, God created idiots. This was for practice. Then he created School Boards.” — Mark Twain

Ah, to live in DeKalb County, Georgia, where it goes deeper than Twain.

My kids graduated from Lakeside High School a few years ago and are now succeeding in college.  However, I feel like I’m in one of those movie scenes where I’m walking away and there’s this huge explosion behind me.  (Or maybe it’s an implosion.)

In either case, the DeKalb County School System seems to be teetering on the edge of collapseIt’s like we have our very own Congress.

The system is under probation, the former superintendent is under indictment, and every day is a fiscal cliff. The state is considering removing the school board.

By the way, Chain Gang Elementary is a work of fiction. I had no idea real-life events would unfold as they have, but I could have guessed.


Colorado’s 1st marijuana club opens, closes on same day

MarijuanaWould-be customers lament (h/t Shel Silverstein and Dr. Hook).


From Talking Points Memo:


The first recreational marijuana club in Colorado — permitted under the state’s landmark new law, Amendment 64 — shuttered its doors this week mere hours after its opening on Monday, the Denver Post reports.

Attempting to make history as the first establishment of its kind in the state under the new law, the White Horse Inn in Del Norte, Colo. opened on Monday — inadvertently breaking the building’s lease, which wasn’t slated to begin until Tuesday. The club’s owner, Paul Lovato, said his landlord nullified the lease before it took effect after seeing the publicity generated by the grand opening.

“By opening early I kind of screwed myself out of my building,” Lovato told the Post on Tuesday.

Want good grades? Act like a girl.

Reprinted from UGA News Service:

New UGA research helps explain why girls do better in school

Athens, Ga. – Why do girls get better grades in elementary school than boys—even when they perform worse on standardized tests?

New research from the University of Georgia and Columbia University published in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests that it’s because of their classroom behavior, which may lead teachers to assign girls higher grades than their male counterparts.

“The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as ‘approaches toward learning,’” said Christopher Cornwell, head of economics in the UGA Terry College of Business and one of the study’s authors. “You can think of ‘approaches to learning’ as a rough measure of what a child’s attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child’s attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.”

The study, co-authored by Cornwell and David Mustard at UGA and Jessica Van Parys at Columbia, analyzed data on more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It examined students’ performance on standardized tests in three categories­­—reading, math and science—linking test scores to teachers’ assessments of their students’ progress, both academically and more broadly.

The data show, for the first time, that gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.

The authors attribute this misalignment to what they called non-cognitive skills, or “how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills.” They even report evidence of a grade bonus for boys with test scores and behavior like their girl counterparts.

This difference can have long-reaching effects, Cornwell said.

“The trajectory at which kids move through school is often influenced by a teacher’s assessment of their performance, their grades. This affects their ability to enter into advanced classes and other kinds of academic opportunities, even post-secondary opportunities,” he said. “It’s also typically the grades you earn in school that are weighted the most heavily in college admissions. So if grade disparities emerge this early on, it’s not surprising that by the time these children are ready to go to college, girls will be better positioned.”

Research about gender differences in the classroom and beyond has grabbed headlines recently. Titles like Hannah Rosin’s “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” and Kay Hymowitz’s “Manning Up” have spent months on best-seller lists and inspired countless discussions in the media.

“We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it’s in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market,” Cornwell said. “Men’s rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women’s has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It’s at a point now where you’ve got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors’ degrees awarded every year.”

But despite changing college demographics, the new data may not be reflecting anything fundamentally new.

“My argument is that this has always been true about boys and girls. Girls didn’t all of a sudden become more engaged and boys didn’t suddenly become more rambunctious,” Cornwell said. “Their attitudes toward learning were always this way. But it didn’t show up in educational attainment like it does today because of all the factors that previously discouraged women’s participation in the labor force, such as a lack of access to reliable birth control.”

What remains unclear, however, is how to combat this discrepancy.

“The most common question we’ve gotten is whether or not the gender of the teacher matters in regards to grading students,” Cornwell said. “But that’s a question we can’t answer because there’s just not enough data available. As you can probably guess, the great majority of elementary school teachers are women.”

Tuition tax credit extended in fiscal cliff bill

cliffThe college tuition credit, worth up to $2,500, has been extended (Hallelujah).

Here are some key measures of the Fiscal Cliff legislation approved by Congress on New Year’s Day, coutesy of Tax Planning:

Various Individual Tax Credits

The child tax credit remains unchanged and is permanently extended. The maximum amount of the child tax credit is $1,000, and the credit is partially refundable. However, the provision the reduces the earnings threshold for the refundable portion of the child tax credit to $3,000 will expire at the end of 2017.

The dependent care tax credit remains unchanged and is permanently extended. Daycare expenses up to $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children qualify for the tax credit, and these amounts are not indexed for inflation.

The adoption credit is permanently extended. The credit is worth up to $10,000 (indexed for inflation).

Also permanently extended is the earned income tax credit for families with three or more dependents.

The American opportunity tax credit is extended temporarily through the end of 2017.

Emory students step in it over affirmative action

Kids just want to have fun, right?

From Inside Higher Ed:

Emory University students who produce “The Dooley Show,” which is intended to be humorous, have issued an apology for a broadcast that angered many at the university. The show referenced the Supreme Court case on affirmative action in college admissions and urged viewers to help identify students who “shouldn’t be here and are only at the school because of affirmative action.” Methods suggested for finding such students included lynching, tarring and feathering, and cross-burning.

Read more.