Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mozarella Cheese biscuits (bread)

The Obama government made a great deal of fanfare of the Race to the top funds. You can click on the link to learn more but in short, Race to the Top funds provides competitive grants to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform. States go through several stages of application process, competing with each other and winners enjoy federal funds. Maryland my state also won some funding through this program. Our friends from New Jersey with school age kids are all probably intimately aware of the botched up application process and disqualification from the race of their state, leading to the firing of the education commissioner. So it is a big deal really. Education funding is the first to get cut in a down economy, so any help is lapped up by states with glee.

Is this enough to change anything at the ground level? Not really. US probably has the worst primary and secondary school education compared to even countries like India, China and many European countries and far behind countries like Singapore and New Zealand. The Universities here are some of the best in the World but most US high school graduates lack the skills and are not adequately prepared to take on the load of college level courses. Increasingly students enrolled in colleges are sent back to complete remedial courses before they can continue their college education.

Is anybody with school age children really surprised by any of this? The education in this country is controlled by school board members who are elected (anybody can run for these elections) and the most qualification these candidates seem to have is having volunteered in their children's classes, being members of PTA(Parent Teacher's Association) and in some cases people who think Intelligent Design should be the predominant theory taught in science classrooms. If interested read about folks who are BOE members in my county and read their qualifications. Most use this post as stepping stone to higher elected office, education be damned.

As teacher's salaries and bonuses are increasingly tied to kids performances on tests, there is a general lowering of standards across the board to make everyone come out looking good. This is a sample but can extrapolated to the whole country. Catering to the lowest common denominator is the norm. Kids who are performing at grade level(but in official terms it is considered above grade level) are separated into what is called a GT (gifted and talented) stream and supposedly given a higher level of instruction. This frankly does not mean anything because the bar is set so low. In a class room if more than 50% of the kids are testing at above grade level what does it tell us about the quality of the curriculum.

The teachers and school administrators are generally so risk averse(meaning scared of lawsuits) that anything close to maintaining discipline is anathema. Teachers will be caught in a maelstrom if they dare question a student for disrupting the class. The byproduct the teachers are intent in covering their behinds and don't worry too much about educating. They cannot take all of the blame either, the system is so broken that even teachers with the best of intentions cannot do much about the situations they find themselves in.

If you live in a socially and economically diverse region, your public school would obviously be a reflection of that. What happens in these schools is that the teachers struggle to educate kids who are ready for their grades in age only. As for the kids who are at or above grade level, some are recruited to be unpaid teacher's assistants, while the others are bored and disruptive while another group gets by without much work.

For this reason most parents struggle to get their kids into streams which supposedly offer a higher level of education than the normal classroom but all it does is lull parents into a false sense of security. The minimum expectation from these programs is nothing more than a grade level education. In a tough economy these special programs which are geared towards above average students are the first to go. There is very little support for these programs which cater to a very narrow group of students. These programs might be given fancy names like Magnet, GT etc but what they accomplish is not much.

The sad state of education today is visible already. There cannot be any second opinions about that. If a parent is capable and understands the problems facing secondary education in this country, the best they can do is to provide the extra learned needed at home. Frankly, how many have the time or energy to do remedial work that the schools woefully fall short of, and neither do the kids after a long day of boring school work.

In the US being a sports jock carries more power and prestige in a high school than math whiz (or in the American lingo a nerd or geek). Even though playing how many ever football games is going to do nothing to pull the country out of recession.

Educators, scientists, technology company CEOs have all sounded alarm about the quality of STEM education. There is no common curriculum or education standards ls across the country. The curriculum and syllabus are left to the individual school districts(counties) where setting them is in the hands of the above mentioned BOE members.

The more I see of the quality of education here is being handled the more I feel scared, frustrated and helpless. Principals who feel lowering the standards to below grade level gives opportunities for more students to participate is good for the school community at large? An over emphasis on annual testing. A test before getting admitted to college may prove that a student is ready but yearly standardized tests? Just as polling is done to gauge the mood of the electorate the same politicians need feedback do determine progress? These high stakes test results apparently determine everything from funding to allocation of resources. Little wonder that the school boards are eager to lower standards to keep their funding and cushy jobs.

I tried to convince myself that education in the US has to be good. These people are some of the most successful people in the world right? It has got to be good. The reality is more stark, the glory days of public education are long gone, the US is able to afford the best and brightest because they had the means and at whatever price. Increasingly the best and brightest can choose greener pastures than the jaded American dream.

Some of you might wonder if private education is an answer. Unfortunately only the very rich parents can afford private school education for their wards unless you are willing to send your kids to religious schools where Math and Science have religion incorporated. Most private schools besides the fees also make regular demands for donations. A high tuition does not guarantee a spectacular education either. A significant portion of the student body is compromised of rich kids with learning problems whose parents have deep pockets. It might not especially come as a surprise but rich does not equate to excellence!!
Many have sounded warning that the time to act is now. Will they? Doubtful.

I am sorry if I sounded downright depressing but these are the facts and we are struggling with it everyday.

the sticky dough

If you have reached this far and still would like to see the recipe, here it is.
Cheese biscuits are delicate and delicious. I set out to make biscuits but ended with bread almost like pizza. DD2 decided to have her birthday at Ruby Tuesday's where they started is off with cheese biscuits which gave the impetus for these biscuits.

The batter has to have just enough moisture else forget the biscuits they become bread. No waste of taste but definitely big problems with the texture. We are a spice loving family so some finely chopped chipotle peppers with adobe sauce gave the right amount of kick. Traditionally these are made with cheddar cheese but I had a huge packet of mozzarella cheese so choose to stick with it.

The 2 recipes that helped me along were from
1. Homemade Cheese Biscuit from Purple Foodie
2. Cheddar Cheese Biscuits

Spicy Mozzarella Cheese Biscuits Bread
1. 2 1/2 unbleached all purpose flour
2. 1 1/2 shredded Mozzarella cheese
3. 2 tbsp of chopped chipotle peppers + adobo sauce
4. 3 tsp baking powder
5. 1/2 tsp salt
6. 4 tbsp of cold butter
7. 2 tbsp safflower oil (any flavorless oil should work)
8. 1 cup of fat free yogurt + 1 1/2 cups of milk (be careful with the liquids)

1. In a mixing bowl add the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk it together
2. Add chopped cold butter and mix it into the flour with the back of a fork
3. Add in the shredded mozzarella cheese and using a spatula mix it in well
4. Add in the oil, whisked yogurt and mix it into the flour
5. Add the milk slowly to get the flour wet and into a stiff dough (if you want a bread texture and not biscuit texture the dough should be soggy)
6. Add in the chopped chipotle peppers and gently mix it into the dough (I learned that overworking the dough will make the biscuit not rise)
7. Grease a cookie sheet and place 2-3 tbsp of dough on the sheet about 2" apart
8. Place in a preheated 400F oven for 20-25 minutes.

1. Be sure to keep the liquids to a minimum and the dough should not be soggy like for bread
2. Overworking the dough is not good and does not help the biscuit rise

Even though they turned out to be bread instead of biscuit they were still tasty.


  1. Delicious looking biscuits..

  2. A very intense post! Between gory education system,hollow government policies, sky rocketing fees,and the bonus linked to performance of teachers..the main motive of making a child capable & educated is long forgotten in here ! On second thoughts..I have cousins who when moved back to India found that what is taught here in 6th standard forms the syllabus of 3rd or 4th class in there!.The system is slow, traditional and refuses to change.Sometimes it makes me wonder if all these dollar dreams are worth my child's future ?

  3. and yes I forgot..the biscuits looked really yummy which small bits of cheese peeking through!

  4. My knowledge about USA academic system is very, right now my daughter is going to the pre-school and She had already taken admission in one of the schools in India as we don't have any plan to settle down here in USA....May be the primary and secondary school education here is worst in comparison to the Asian countries....but for me, as I always hate the over pressure of studies that the Indian schools provide, here the education system considers more on the child's potentiality rather how much he is studying.....Here they teach a child to write at the age of India a child who can't hold a pencil properly would be forced to learn how write if he/she is going to the school...IN India at the age of 8-9 a child is studying for 2-3 hours at a stretch as he/she has to get good marks in his/her exams....Parents are not sending them to the playground but making them compelled to study.....I really hate this system....where I feel here the system is quite good, at least a child is enjoying the time of his/her innocence....but I also agree with you that nowadays if a good education is not provided to a child it means that the parents are dooming his/her future....So it’s a most complicated state where the parents are hanging in a limbo to choose which education system will be proved to be good for their children.....

  5. Forgot to tell...I did reach your cheese biscuits and sounds very tasty to me....I have bookmarked it to njoy it in the near future...

  6. :-( It is frustrating and having 2 kids of my own. I feel the positive and negative here. and I am only comparing the standards to the Indian education system. As i am seeing with DD1, and she is only in 4th grade.While the pressure might not be in reading a chapter and memorizing 25 questions only to write a test the next day - the pressure here remains in self study, research and learning and remembering more for practical purposes. We do have the advanced section in each class here and they are tested at the first week the school opens and the advanced students do extra during the same time as the other students but in a different group.I am however very unhappy about the standards of math. The school district here has the scores almost at the top of the country yet their focus and incentives are all for reading, language and others.. feels like everyone is consciously avoiding the math area.

    well we do have a choice...we are sticking to this country and will have to be happy just making the best out of it.

    Ruby Tuesday happens to be a place I love and miss, and we don't have very many here. the biscuits look yum.

  7. Hey Indo.. I agree somewhat with Silence Sings.. Primary/Sec education was not too great in India (and that is the only country whose education I can speak about, I don't know much about the US either.) Teachers there are not paid well, do not necessarily teach subjects they are good at. Grading at board levels is arbitrary and totally out of control. Many kids are unhappy and even kill themselves.

    What was the metric used to evaluate that the quality in the US is worse than India?

    Oh and yes, I got to the end of your post. Baking can be tricky according me. Your bread/biscuit trial seems to have turned out tasty results! :)

  8. I don't think i can coment aobut the education system there, as i kownothing aobut it, but reaingthe post I am glad I live in belgium and had a good school to go and college.
    But then I also don't like the way the kids are taught in India, my sisters two girls have not time for anything elso that learning from the moment they come home till tehygo for sleep. And in weekend i think they have far less free or not free time than S here.
    Ask aobut anything not ralated to school they woudn't know unless Bollywood ;-)unlike here kids know more about what is going around in the world.

  9. I feel how schools are tied to the town influences the whole system. I mean in my state, Princeton/West Windsor is supposedly a very good school district. Good neighborhood, affluent residents.

    School levels are top notch there. A friend stays and does subbing there, she says Grade 3 students get microscopes for science labs and they don't even have to share. The work load(both academic & extra curricular) and stress level for students there is very high.Incidentally the town's property tax has gone up so high in the recent years that only high earning people can move in there. These parents obviously spend a lot of money on their kids' education/activities even outside of school and also re-enforce education at home.

    Take one of those ghetto neighborhoods on the other hand. Low tax, low income parents. As a result majority students are not up to the mark. I know someone who is a teacher in such a town. She says they are told to downgrade the curriculum by several notches to ensure everyone gets it.

    The fact that students at elem or middle level have to go to schools in their own town and depending on the town's socio-economic strata they have to adjust to either lower level or higher level is what sucks.

    But honestly, while in India, my initial schooling till middle level was in one of those Catholic schools, where education was really great. Then we moved to some place where there were no school other than the Central Gov one for the employee's kids. I wouldn't say level was low but facilities definitely were. All kinds of kids went to the school, no admission criteria and that did pull down the level a bit.

    For the high school standardized test, a lot had to be done on own by the students and their parents.

    So I guess it is true in every scenario and unless parents here make a concerted effect instead of leaving everything on the teachers and system it is hard to raise the bar.

  10. I do agree with Kamalika(Silence Sings) education in India is more about training a kid towards choosing a good paying scientific profession than one that encourages independent thinking and innovation.

    My 2 year old niece had to face a 4 member interview board and answer questions to get into a good play school.

  11. Thanks for this very thought provoking post. It indeed is a sad state of affairs for our kids. In addition to all this our town is facing budget cuts,lot more students in the class etc... not good.

  12. Tanvi, I am frustrated and for all this DD is in a supposedly elite program in the county. I am not complaining about making education accessible to all but what purpose does it serve if it does not serve the students they are educating. And thanks for taking a look at the biscuits as well.

    Silence Sings, I do not have issue with any of the problems you mention. Indian system is frustrating with its overemphasis on rote work and expecting even a new born to be proficient.

    Soma, exactly. What the grouping does is provide an illusion that the able kids are challenged. The more I learn the more a waste of time it seems. Math and Science are the 2 subjects that concern me the most. Arts/Language education which I thought was great in ES is turning out to be mediocre in MS.

    Sandeepa, very true the affluence of the residents that feed to a particular school do determine the standard but as they get into late ES, MS and HS is when the problems start. The standardized tests are set by the state whose population is not homogeneous. A general lowering of standards seem to work best for administrators.

    I used to think that encouraging a kids creativity is a good thing to be admired but like I said it only takes a kid so far. Teaching Math and Science like an art course like they do here, does not seems to be preparing kids for the future.

    What scares me most is we do live in a supposedly affluent county whose education is consistently top in the nation but I still do not think it is adequate.

  13. Food for thought indeed - I am not surprised frankly, I have heard about the system and its failings from my friends in the US.
    Also, some of my interactions at work have made me realise how our education system (with all its terrible flaws) and the social set up we have (again with all the gaps) still makes us much more capable and aware of what we need to do to progress and achieve more. Other countries with their cushiness and comforts seem to handicap their products from pushing themselves more than necessary.

  14. Indo, my parents lived in the US a few years and they would always tell me school was easy there but that one had to really slog in college. Because we were a British colony and wanted jobs and saw a good future only in English, we learnt it better than we did our own mother tongues - and in India we are good at spelling and in the US spelling bees, compared to the Americans.
    I studied in my town's best schools and with educated parents and grandparents and their indulging me with books my English turned out alright, but when I went to a city to college, I realised how much behind our schools were in the way they taught us. I somehow feel we were taught to mug up facts - history, geography, etc, and don't even ask about Maths and Science - without their being put in context. Or maybe it was probably just me and not the school - shouldn't discount the possibility of that either.
    When I look at today's students, I keep wondering why we didn't do all that in school - the activities, etc. We hardly had any projects, though we did have sports and dance classes.

  15. Indo

    With DD1 going to MS(?) you surely know the nuances of the education sys. I have not seen much Science yet in Grade 1,but basics like Magnets and weather etc. were introduced. But I have heard from my friend's daughter not too much emphasis is on Science as you said.

    BTW watch the docu, "Looking for a Hero" or something like that. There was an interview with the director on NPR yesterday and it is about the sorry state of PS system

  16. Ok, it is "Waiting For Superman"

  17. Sandeepa, I did listen to fag end of the program on NPR and the whole program after you mentioned it.


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