The Academic Decathlon year is over. I've spent a lot of time since August offering instructional support to Bullard's team. We had a decent but not great year, by all accounts, finishing third in the county and qualifying for the state tournament in Division I with a team score of over 40,000 points, which was good enough for 17th in the state.

At the competition, some of the kids medaled but overall scores were flat and we finished 23rd in Division I. Keeping in mind that's 23rd out of over 500 teams state-wide, that's not too shabby. But we have two schools in Fresno County (Edison, 1st in the county, 6th in the state; University High, 2nd in the county, 10th in the state) who have set the bar pretty high. Less than 3,000 points separated us at Regionals, but we have to do better if we want to win our Region.

Having got a taste of it, and having played College Bowl at a pretty high level for six years back in the 1980's, I'd like to see Bullard achieve those goals, but I can't say as I'd be interested in making it a more regular gig. The stipend is pitiful and the extra hours of commitment are just ridiculous. I can't help but notice that many of the more successful programs have teachers who are either retired or confirmed bachelors without family or, apparently, other interests and I'm already the most overcommited science guy I know. So it was with real mixed feelings I learned today that our team's coach, who has really done a good job of building the program, has decided to step down: it's the seemingly all-but-inevitable burnout that goes with these things.

And, I've also got to face the reality of the rest of the school year: testing, testing and more testing, starting with the CAHSEES for all sophomores. Picking up the pieces from my sub. Cramming to cover the Evolution and Ecology standards before the CST's. Seeing if we can get certain classes embedded in our Law Magnet school program, and seeing if I can get a greater percentage of my students (70 would be nice) to do enough work to actually pass their classes to avoid taking Summer School. Oh, and, get ready to teach Summer School. They should really try to pass my class now!


Ryne said...

Dad, I think we both know that sadly only the students who care or who fear their parents or guardians will put an effort into your class. But I must admit, those whom I have seen in your classes that truely want to pass and be educated are some of the better students on campus, real bright individuals. I would say that those minds has been "touched" by someone who cares about the subject he or she has chosen to teach. I think you should at least take a small note of pride in this.

As for ACADEC, it's sad to hear Oliver is stepping down but he couldn't do it forever. He has his classes and Model UN already on him. Maybe Clarke might take on ACADEC, he might be a good person for it.

Well, I'll see you this Saturday. Keep in touch!

R. Moore said...

I hope the Bullard kids had a good time. I hope they also realize the game they are playing is rigged. The stats you give on the rankings are meaningless, because Academic Decathlon is not played on a level field. All one can take away from it is a sense of personal achievement.

I am skeptical of you comment on the teachers/coaches -- I am not sure it would stand up to empirical scrutiny. As you know, the Edison coach does not fit your description, and they have been first in county for how many years?

Edison has the best team, because the students interested in AcDec are self-selecting for the Edison team. The same for University High. Students are on the Bullard team because they live in the Bullard district.

University High is the most rigged of the teams. A school formed for the wealthy and elite, that offers little educational diversity other than AcDec training. It is basically a publicly funded home school.

Like in pro sports, without controls on the best players being allowed to create a team funded by the richest owners, the competition eventually destroys itself, for it ceases to be a competition, but merely a validation of selection mechanisms.

I also think AcDec is educationally dishonest in way. It rewards retention, not comprehension. It emphasizes boiler plate essay writing and speech making. And in the end, it does little for getting into good colleges. The students would get more admission points working at a homeless shelter and cramming for perfect SAT scores.

The kids and coaches deserve kudos for their very hard work. We (the community) need to consider what the point of it is.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Well, Richard, you certainly know more about Gary's life than I do, but from what I can see he is pretty much all about Acadec. That's his passion, and what I observed of other coaches at State seems to dovetail with that. Many of the coaches on the top team seem to be retired teachers!

I agree that much of the Acadec curriculum emphasizes lower-level learning and that it doesn't polish kid's resumes for college as much as some people think. It is definitely more of a validation of a kid's commitment to learning than their capacity to learn.

It's also true that the playing field is not level. But that's true of competition everywhere, including sports, and if you want to compete you have to play with the field you're given. It's hard for Minnesota or San Diego to compete with cash cows like the Yankees and the Dodgers, but I notice that from time to time they still make the playoffs and (sometimes) the World Series.

Bullard worked hard to get into Division I, and in a sense they are penalized for this achievement because they will end up taking home less hardware at the Regional than when they weren't in the same division as Edison and University High.

But I don't want to take anything away from those coach's achievements. It is true that Edison's success breeds success, but they had to succeed in the first place against schools that had a much higher median income in the home. And, I can tell you that while University High does have a higher median income among its parents than any other public school, it isn't necessarily as high as some of the other schools in this state who didn't place as high. For example, Trabucco Hills won 2nd place in Division II and their median income per household is in six figures. University High is affluent compared to Edison High, but I wouldn't guess that they are that high. It's a public high school with an admissions process, and they have to accept kids who meet their criteria. They expect (but can not legally require) parents to make a voluntary donation of $600 per student per year. This is well within the range of affordability for even low-income families.

R. Moore said...

I knew you would use baseball as an example, the only major sport without salary cap's, free agency, and the other controls that have been implemented due to the level playing field problem.

I agree, Gary just does AcDec. I have personal opinions as to what this has done to his effectiveness as a teacher in his day job.

I disagree that University High is a public school -- it is a charter school, supported with public funds, in the same way Grizzly Stadium (baseball again!) is a private stadium supported by public funds -- everyone pays for it, but not everyone gets to use it. University High is carefully designed to keep out all but the elite (private music lessons required, must supply own transportation, no sports, no special ed, etc), while at the same time making it highly accessible to others in our community -- CSUF professors, doctor, lawyers, etc. This is creating apples to oranges comparisons among our local schools that I find to be dangerous in the false conclusions about education that are being made.

What is also interesting about AcDec, is that the Clovis schools don't even seriously compete. There is something different in mentality here that is worth serious exploration.

If AcDec is to have any meaning, then the process needs to be changed -- maybe teams are created by randomly selecting those interested, to try to create a system where we are truly measuring the competitiveness of the students and the coaches.

At the moment, we are really measuring is the demographic alignments of our state's school system.

residualecho said...

Hi Scott, Ken from over at pharyngula, as if across the table at Jupiter in Berkeley.

I'm taking a speech class, and in grabbing a topic that meets the constraints for a persuasive speech, I'm came up with a proposal for federally funding national science standards in education, since DI takes advantage of local control in individual school boards and states to ply their science-displacing goals.

In anticipating arguments against my position, there is the problem of cost of enforcement, training, and testing to standards vs. standardizing to tests, and who should come up with those standards. In my brief time to research, it would seem that there are some institutions that set and recommend standards for science educators, and I realized you are likely both opinionated, and able to point me in any directions I should look in my research. Thanks in advance, and hang in there!

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Hi, Ken! Good to hear from ya.

My first thought (and you may have already found them) is to check out the Fordham Institute web site:


They are critical of both the intent and implementation of NCLB. Of particular use to you would be their periodic surveys of state science standards:


This is an outgrowth of the widely-cited and highly-regarded studies begun by the survey director, Lawrence Lerner. They have gone through multiple iterations to develop their criteria. You can read the latest survey on-line or download it as a PDF file at the above URL.

Lerner is at CSU Long Beach, by the way, and you might try dropping him an email to get some more primary resources. His email is:


Finally, I would say that many previous attempts to develop national standards (such as Project 2061) are too amorphous to satisfy local administrators, who want to know what they have to do to keep them out of hot water with their own state's education department. NCLB has essentially turned the state standards and scoring on state tests based on same as weapons to be used primarily against 'low-performing' schools...which, in the real world, doesn't translate into a change in the school board or the superintendent but typically puts all the onus on the classroom teacher. Color me bitter!

By the way, I don't think the real problem with national standards is expense or the absence of objective, research-based findings to guide those standards. The former is quite modest, the latter exist. The real problem is finding the political will to admit that the NCLB approach does not work and to make the case that national standards objectively implemented would be better instruments for promoting school reform, better instruments for ensuring equity of access, etc.

Good luck!

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...


Again, I agree the playing field is not level. But I do prefer baseball's setup on talent, where a very large number of players get very well-compensated, to the meat-grinder earning environment of the NFL, where most players don't make enough in their careers to cover their post-career health care costs.

As for University High, I admit that they have advantages, based upon being able to set their own standards. Frankly, I would love to have those advantages as well, and if as a school we had the political will to do it, we could actually negotiate those advantages for ourselves, either by becoming a charter school or by pressuring the district to give us greater site autonomy.

But, in the meantime, I can't tar them with so black a brush. I know of at least one single mom with limited means who put two daughters into University High, taking them out of Bullard, because she wanted them to have the music program. It broke my heart to lose that particular kid, but I had to admit that her parent was making a sacrifice to give her kid what amounts to a better educational experience for that sort of kid. Do they tend to be affluent? Sure, but the parents who send their kids to UH also tend to be extremely involved in their kid's education, and I can't fault them for seeking the best fit. And UH does have significant expenses that regular public schools do not have. They have to rent their facilities, for example, getting virtually nothing from the district other than a license to operate. And let's not forget that the parents are deliberately choosing to send their kid to a school that does not offer much in the way of competition with other schools. They are forgoing the kind of glory-pursuit that defines so much of the non-academic side of high school for most people. I find it hard to begrudge them their enthusiasm for Acadec, when they don't win valley championships in soccer, football or baseball.

By the way, my impression is that Clovis schools were much more competitive before they lost Sean Canfield (UH's coach). Clovis West was a power with Sean as coach and they had a much more intense rivalry with the other Clovis schools, but he ended up losing a power struggle with a principal. Further irony: I know of few people who hate unions more than Sean, but he sure could've used one then. By all accounts, he was screwed over. Workers of the world, unite!