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SCHOOL NEWS: “Thesis Buddies,” Bluster & Cell Phones

By Jackie Burrell
Friday, February 29th, 2008 at 6:30 am in Schools.

Pencil pushing (Margaret Spengler, MCT Direct) Education headlines you may have missed this week… We’ll start with the “wha-?!?” items, and then segue into slapped-forehead terrain.

If you’re a Princeton Man (or Woman), you may have something new to add to your resume: senior slave. Gawker is reporting that Princeton’s new residential college, Whitman, has a brand spanking new “Thesis Buddy” program. Seniors are assigned two underclassmen “buddies” to do their laundry, fetch snacks, run errands and provide additional, er, academic support during the thesis-writing crunch. (Read the dean’s description here.) You know, back in the day that was called “fagging” (yes, it was, open your history books and look up “hazing at Oxford”) and it was considered a form of extortion and servitude, but hey, this is quite, quite different. Oxford’s 19th century “thesis buddies” didn’t have to pay $40,000 a year for the privilege.

Brooklyn middle schools are trying a new incentive: Earn an A, get a cell phone. The 2,500 Samsung flip-phones they’ve handed out come with 130 free minutes. Do your homework, earn more minutes. (Oh puh-leeze. We won’t write essays for anything less than an iPhone.)

A Georgia school district is going single sex. And yes, that’s a first. By next fall, every K-12 classroom will be segregated by gender, a move the superintendent says was born out of sheer desperation – nothing else has worked to boost lousy test scores, lower soaring dropout rates or reduce the number of teen pregnancies. The district’s preschools will not be affected because … um … the toddler pregnancy rate is lower?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his buddies (but not thesis buddies) just announced they were taking dramatic action against schools that failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks five years in a row. But the action? Not so dramatic. At Berkeley High, where not enough students took the tests – NCLB mandates a 95 percent participation rate, state law allows families to opt out, this is not rocket science, folks – administrators must encourage more students to take the exams. Yeah, good luck with that. (Perhaps if they were given cell phones or thesis buddies, that would help.) In Oakland, where test scores are too low, the district spokesman says they won’t be doing anything radically different because they already think about NCLB, like, all the time.

In related irony, Schwarzenegger’s “Year of Education” budget proposal would cut $4.4 billion from K-12 schools and result in teacher layoffs, so some 200 East Bay parents, teachers and students massed in Sacramento this week to lobby legislators to just say “no.” Meanwhile, the budgetary slashing and burning continues back home in Antioch, Pittsburg, Mt. Diablo, West County and other districts. Alameda is contemplating cutting high school sports entirely. San Ramon Valley plans to put a parcel tax on the ballot this June, and Pleasanton will likely follow suit in November.

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