Our Website is Broken and We Apologize

I always keep some news feeds from the BBC in my RSS aggregator, both because they offer a non-American slant on the news and because of the occasional odd story that is just so very British.

From a recent example of the later comes the revelation that “The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint that the clock on the BBC homepage was “inaccurate and misleading”.”

The BBC Trust is the governing body that oversees the operations of the British Broadcasting Corporation and is supposed to represent the interests of the people who pay licensing fees to own a television set, aka the viewers.

In this case one of those viewers was upset that “although readers assume the clock is correct, it merely reproduces the time on the user’s computer” and thus may not be accurate if the computer itself has the wrong time.

The Trust ruled in the complainant’s favor saying that “having a clock which does not state it derives its time from a user’s computer is not consistent with BBC guidelines on accuracy”, and that the clock will be removed in the next update.

And the BBC management offers a very British apology, probably not unlike this wonderful example from John Cleese…

The Stranger-Than-Usual Holiday Mix, 2012

As the title says, this year’s holiday playlist, currently in heavy rotation on the iDevices, is a little stranger than usual. Although it has a little taste of tradition towards the end, the list is still completely Glee-free. And just because I’m in that kind of mood, a couple of bonus tracks tangentially related to the season.

  1. ¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe! – The Killers
  2. Eight Days a Week – The Bobs
  3. Come On Santa – The Raveonettes
  4. Christmas is Just Around the Corner – Barry Manilow
  5. One Wish This Christmas – Nikki Yanofsky
  6. Peace on Earth – Brian Wilson
  7. Santa Stole My Lady – Fitz & The Tantrums
  8. Winter Night – Little & Ashley
  9. Must Be Santa – Bob Dylan
  10. The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball – The Killers
  11. Calling on Mary – Aimee Mann
  12. All I Want for Christmas – Vic and Nick
  13. Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad – Michael Bublé and Thalia
  14. Let’s Make This Christmas Mean Something – The Bobs
  15. A Great Big Sled – The Killers
  16. Fruitcake – The Superions
  17. My Dear Acquaintance – Regina Spektor
  18. Stille Nacht – King’s Singers
  19. There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In – Stephen Colbert, Elvis Costello, Feist, John Legend, Toby Keith & Willie Nelson
  20. Very Merry Christmas – Dave Barnes
  21. Angels We Have Heard on High – Brian Setzer
  22. Holiday Medley – Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Just to add a little more diversity…

Atheists Don’t Have No Songs – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers

And for all the Mayans out there…

It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – REM

Whatever you celebrate this time of year, enjoy.

A Very Weak Challenge Defense

In his Class Struggle column today, Jay Mathews is promoting Newsweek’s annual ranking of “best” high schools and also attempts to defend his “challenge” index that was used to compile the bogus list.

Many people prefer rating schools by average test scores, but I consider that a measure of the student family incomes, not the quality of the schools,…

So, instead of using one narrow, inadequate measure of school quality, use mine.

… I get many messages from principals, teachers and parents who like this way of assessing schools.

My index is popular so the results must be valid.

The list gets about 7 million page views a year.

And we all know popularity on the web equals quality information.

An extremely weak defense for this simplistic, misleading system.

Challenging Credibility

I guess I didn’t stay away long enough to avoid Newsweek’s annual cover story defining America’s “Best” High Schools.

That “best” ranking, of course, is based on the tenuous (and that’s being generous) assessment tool known as the “challenge” index, which assigns each school a number based solely on the ratio between numbers of AP/IB/Cambridge tests taken and the numbers of graduating seniors.

No factoring in how well students actually did on those tests (or any other academic criteria). Ignore the quality of arts programs. Dropout rates are irrelevant. And forget completely about students in vocational or any other programs that don’t involve college prep.

Schools rise to the top of this pile if they get kids to take tests.  Lots and lots of tests.

Which results in totally meaningless scores that often produce headlines in local papers, sometimes for very strange (and somewhat amusing) reasons.  Such as this dichotomy in Houston:

Newsweek has come out with its latest ranking of the nation’s best high schools, and the Houston school district is crowing that a record number of HISD highs made it.

The usual suspects are there — DeBakey, Carnegie, Bellaire and Lamar — but joining the list this year are 11 others, including Waltrip, Chavez, Sharpstown, Milby and — WTF? Sharpstown?

The same Sharpstown that is on quite another list — HISD superintendent Terry Grier’s “Apollo 20” list of failing schools? (Lee HS, too!)

Newsweek says Sharpstown HS is among the best in the country while the superintendent says it’s one of the worst in his district.

Who’s right?

And I wonder how many other schools racked up enough tests given to make this farcical “best” list while still failing to educate the majority of their students.