Red light, green light

By Michael Ackley

Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

Further progress was made this month toward the elimination of our antiquated communication employing letters and numerals.

We already have made great strides in this regard, particularly with the employment of the brilliantly conceived circle with a slash through it as the universal symbol for “don’t.”

Other, less effulgent examples are the male and female figures for restroom doors, glyphs of paper cups entering trash cans and the images of hands scrubbing up heaps of soap bubbles.

Often, advances follow crises, and the Office of Homeland Security pushed forward with its color-coded system illustrating the terror threat level.

Perhaps taking its cue from this, California’s Board of Education has adopted a color coded system to inform parents of their children’s academic standing.

The Associated Press, describing the new system for informing parents of the offspring’s performance on standardized tests, reported:

Education officials have scrapped complicated old report cards that they said confused parents and replaced them with easier charts and color-coded guides …

The new, two-page report will use the three colors of traffic lights to show how students are faring – green for proficient, yellow for basic, and red for performance below basic levels … Students also will get lists of their strengths and areas that need more focus.

The story quoted Suzanne Tacheny, a member of the state Board of Education, “The point is to help parents understand better what areas of study their kids need to focus on.”

This leap forward eliminates those pesky, difficult-to-understand percentile rankings, which one California school principal characterized as “information overload for parents.”

For further elucidation, we sought out Howard Bashford, a top aid to Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of public instruction. There were hardly any papers on his desk, and affixed to its front were a number of tiles with glyphs for various activities.

“Numbers hard,” Bashford explained. “Colors pretty; show fast. Parents like.”

“How long has this been in the works?” we asked.

Bashford rose from his desk and stepped to the side, where we could see him, then deliberately stamped twice with his right foot.

“Two years?” we asked.

The educator nodded, again stamping his foot emphatically.

“Go now,” he said, pointing to a glyph on his desk that showed a dinner plate, flanked by a knife and fork.

“Oh,” we said, “lunch.”

“Unh!” Bashford responded, and lurched toward the door, knuckles dragging.

Minor matters: Just across the state line, in Nevada, PeopleSoft founder David Duffield is buying the Ponderosa Ranch, the old “Bonanza” theme park theme park – probably with funds from the bonanza his firm reaped when it got the California State University to shell out $440 million for its “common management system” software. The Los Angeles Times reported some time ago that cost overruns had run the price tag to way over $600 million. There still is gold in these hills.

So, Ron Reagan will address the Democratic National Convention on the topic of stem-cell research. Apparently he will try to convince Democrats that the nation would have been better off if his dad had been cured of Alzheimer’s disease, thus remaining an able spokesman for conservative causes. It will be a measure of the Dems’ open-mindedness that they will agree.

Ralph Nader has teamed up with Californian Peter Camejo, selecting the Green Party gubernatorial candidate as his vice presidential candidate. Camejo certainly brings experience as a campaigner, not only from his quest for the governorship but from his presidential candidacy representing the Socialist Workers Party. Well you might ask: What’s Ralph thinking?

Local governments have agreed to another legislative raid on their coffers, in exchange for a constitutional amendment that would protect them in the future. Democrats in the Legislature are saying no, because such an amendment would limit their flexibility. That would be the flexibility to soak the cities and counties the next time the lawmakers overspend.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, is telling the story of how he came to a new culture and had to learn a new language. This was just in the past year, when he began to deal with the Legislature in the state capital of Sacramento.