Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Less Kids Refuse the WASL

In recent years the hip thing to do was to refuse to take the WASL, because it didn't count and who was The Man to tell you what to do and who cares if it put the school into AYP. Now that you have to pass the test to graduate, though, refusals are way, way down. From the Everett Herald:
With a diploma on the line, far fewer students are refusing to take the WASL - though many are still yelling about it.

Snohomish County led the state last year in the number of sophomores opting out of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, making up 23 percent of the 1,016 teens who opted out of all three subjects, according to a 2005 Herald analysis of scores.

It's a far different story this year.

Under preliminary figures, refusals appear to be about one-fifth of last year's counts statewide.

Students must pass the reading, writing and math sections to graduate, starting in 2008.

That put a different spin on the annual exams for this year's sophomores, who recently got their scores back after taking the battery of tests in March and April.
It will happen eventually that a conscientious objector with impeccable grades will refuse to take the test and then be denied their diploma. How the system responds will be incredibly telling about how committed the state is to making the WASL count.

I have my objections to high-stakes testing, especially here in the younger grades. At the high school level, though, I think the kids need to realize that the WASL is the way of the world now, and that complaining and refusing isn't going to make it go away. My heart breaks at the idea that good kids might not graduate, but as someone who cares about education I can't live with the system the way it has been. There are links to practice tests right off the OSPI's front page, so any interested parent or student can see what will be expected. Dr. Bergeson also did a great job of getting the legislature to fund remedial programs for the kids who didn't make it--what else should the state do?

Read more here, if any.

Marysville Comes Back

Here in Washington, the Marysville will be forever tied to "teacher strike" because of the breakdown they suffered in 2003. Under their new superintendent, though, things are improving. From the Everett Herald:
When asked if the schools are getting better, staying the same or getting worse, 39 percent said they are getting better this year compared with 19 percent four years ago.

Thirty-six percent said they were "getting worse" compared with 43 percent in 2002. The remainder answered "staying the same" or they don't know.

Four years ago, "administration, poor communication and superintendent" were identified by 20 percent of the survey sample as the district's biggest problems. None of those issues were mentioned as concerns this time.

Good for them; a 20-point increase in "getting better" responses is a happy thing.

One could question, though, if this sort of data is worth the $17,000 that they paid for it. Beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling, how does this help kids?

Read more here, if any.

I [heart] Summer School

I really enjoy teaching summer school. We only run a half-day program that runs for four weeks, so it still gives me a lot of summer to enjoy, and I get to make the curriculum up myself, which means I can do a lot of fun things that just don't fit in to the school year.

Mrs. Rain is getting pretty antsy that we get the house ready for the coming of the LIttle (s)Thinker, which isn't easy when two packrats have married each other. We're also a couple of bibliophiles, so the stacks run deep in the spare bedrooms. I know that I'm probably going to never read that copy of Uncollecting Cheever or How We Die or Crying: A Cultural History, but I like the idea that I could if I ever had time for pleasure reading.

Anyhow, the extra summer stipend will go towards the crib, the playpen, the carseat, and the 10,000 other things that we have to get before she comes. If the Lord reads blogs I'd nicely ask that he stick to the due-date that the midwife told us; we'll need every last minute.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Washington Learns….about class size

(Part 3 in a continuing look at the recommendations being formed by the Washington Learns k-12 taskforce. Class size begins on page 32.)

Let’s start off with the recommendation, then go into the commentary:

We recommend that schools be resourced with core teachers for class sizes of 15 for grades K-3 and 25 for grades 4-12. With these class size recommendations, a K-5 elementary school would have an average class size of 18.

A class size of 15 would be swell! There’d only be, like, 15 of the little blighters, and that’s a fight I think I can win!

Here’s the thing I Thought a Think thinks, though—where will you put all these kids? In my district the maximum class size for 3rd grade is 24 kids. If that size is lowered to 15, you’d need three rooms now where once you needed two, which is a drain on facilities.

The second objection I have is really a question: is class size more important, or teacher quality? The effect size for small classes cited in the report is .25 (.5 for low-SES students), which is statistically significant, sure, but is it significant enough to justify the money that would need to be spent?

Third: Lowering class size hasn’t exactly been a rousing success in Florida. Granted, that’s a far different environment than what we have here in Washington, but one could imagine that the problems are likely to be the same.

This one seems like a non-starter to me. The costs aren’t outlined in this draft document we’re reading off of, but I’m willing to bet that the class size initiative alone would cost as much as the other proposals in the report put together.

Read more here, if any.

But what else would you do during your prep time?

A teacher in Hoquiam has gotten himself in trouble for looking at porn on his classroom computer, reports The Olympian:
Billmaier told The Daily World from his home in Ocean Shores that he ''should have known better'' than to make inappropriate use of his classroom computer. He acknowledged to visiting Web site ''personal ads'' that included X-rated images, but ''100 percent denied'' having any inappropriate contact with students.

McCarthy said the district would have fired Billmaier but the school year ended before the district could take any formal action. He said he hopes the state superintendent's office follows up.

There's a mild amount of humor in the fact that Mr. Billmaier was once a candidate for Lieutenant Governor. He only got 1% of the vote.

Yet another candidate for Eduwonk's Teaching Darwin Award.

UPDATE: Then I did some more reading and the story went from "Oh God" to "Jesus Christ!" From the Aberdeen Daily World:
According to Hoquiam School District notes in Billmaier’s file, the father of one of Billmaier’s students contacted the district on May 30 “worried about situations that have occurred in Harvey Billmaier’s classroom.”

The parent informed the district that his son was openly gay and that Billmaier was openly gay.

“Having said this, he had found out that Harvey had made comments to the student about being in movies,” according to the notes.

Also according to the notes, the father told the district that Billmaier would tell the student, “When you turn 18, you could be in movies” and “I can get you in movies. I have a partner that makes movies.”

The “parent also said Harvey was giving his son special treatment,” the notes state. “Students were getting in trouble for doing the same things his son was doing. His son was not getting in trouble.”

Billmaier told The Daily World that his boyfriend of 20 years owns a “soft porn” company — Richard Anthony Films — based out of Ocean Shores. According to the company’s Web site, the production office’s phone number and address are the same as Billmaier’s home address, as registered with the School District.
This is why OSPI has to act; the idea that he could go to Chicago (he's moving) and take up teaching again with no reprecussion is horrible.

Read more here, if any.

Poor: Not Pictured

If you didn't submit a professional picture to Nathan Hale High School's Yearbook, you didn't get in reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
New Nathan Hale High School graduates who flip through their yearbooks this summer may be surprised to find something missing: about a quarter of the senior class photos.

Nearly one in four Hale seniors weren't pictured in the annual because they didn't submit professional portraits, the only kind accepted by the school this year for inclusion in the yearbook.

Hale Principal Lisa Hechtman called the omissions "an embarrassing gaffe" that had created "some definite heartache on behalf of at least some of the students" who weren't pictured.

Getting professional photos taken is often part of the pomp and circumstance of senior year, and many seniors choose to purchase elaborate photo packages. Hale seniors could submit one of their "senior photos," or pay $15 to have a yearbook head shot taken at school in the fall.

I think I have to lay most of the blame at the feet of the yearbook staff. Putting "Not Pictured" in that many times should have told them that something was wrong, and policy or not they needed to find a way to fix the problem.

Read more here, if any.

Who needs librarians, anyway?

Apparently not Federal Way, says the Seattle Times:
As Puget Sound school districts prepare their budgets — and propose cuts — for next year, one district may trim a cherished position: the school librarian.

Federal Way Superintendent Tom Murphy has recommended a budget that aims to avoid a $4 million shortfall largely through slashing the number of librarians from 34 to seven. Each school currently has one librarian; the recommendation would give each school a librarian one day a week.


Whenever there's a budget crisis it seems like librarians are one of the first things that end up on the cut list, and I can't understand why. I've never heard of a school that didn't have one, and I've seen the difference they make in turning kids onto reading and keeping them motivated.

Happily, it looks like the union might be able to help the situation:
One potential wrinkle in the district's plan is a grievance that the Federal Way Education Association (FWEA) may file. The district plans to operate the libraries with paraprofessionals and have certificated librarians focus on teaching reading, but FWEA President Shannon Rasmussen said that violates the teachers' contract. Murphy said a successful grievance would lead the school district to close the libraries when a librarian wasn't present..


Read more here, if any.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Best of Bus Beatings

I was messing around on The Today Show's website when I found this absolutely shocking video from their Monday show of a 10-year old getting absolutely thrashed by a 14-year old who rode his bus. They also have several other clips of fights caught by bus surveillance videos.

Driving bus is one of the hardest jobs in the district, and I give total respect to anyone willing to do it. I'll take a tough classroom any day.

Read more here, if any.

Graduation Consternation Part II: God is my Valedictorian

In a story that you might have seen on the Today Show, the valedictorian of Foothills High School in Las Vegas had her speech cut short when she invoked Christ. From the Review-Journal:
She knew her speech as valedictorian of Foothill High School would be cut short, but Brittany McComb was determined to tell her fellow graduates what was on her mind and in her heart.

But before she could get to the word in her speech that meant the most to her -- Christ -- her microphone went dead.

The decision to cut short McComb's commencement speech Thursday at The Orleans drew jeers from the nearly 400 graduates and their families that went on for several minutes.

However, Clark County School District officials and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that cutting McComb's mic was the right call. Graduation ceremonies are school-sponsored events, a stance supported by federal court rulings, and as such may include religious references but not proselytizing, they said.

For a different perspective from another speech, read what Pat Robertson has to say on the subject.

Update: You can watch the video from the Today Show here.

Read more here, if any.

Oregon Bets on Black; Black Loses

From the Associated Press:

Just 25 percent of African American students in Oregon will graduate from high school, by far the lowest rate in the nation, according to a new survey released Tuesday by an education research group. The national average graduation rate for black students is 51.6 percent, according to the study by Editorial Projects in Education, the Maryland-based nonprofit organization that publishes the influential newspaper Education Week.

The next lowest percentage was Michigan, at 31.6%.

Read more here, if any.

Graduation Consternation, Administration Alienation

A Hispanic student in the Medical Lake School District wasn’t allowed to wear a cultural sash during the graduation ceremony, reports the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

Michelle Ontiveros, 18, and another Hispanic student at the school were denied the opportunity to wear a sash resembling a serape during the ceremonies June 10th because of a school policy that does not allow deviation from the standard cap, gown, tassel and honor cords for those who qualified. A Native American student was denied a similar request last year.

“It’s like the school is just saying, “This is what we produced,’ as opposed to allowing the students to say who they are, celebrate who we are,” Ontiveros said. “I was really disappointed.”

Because of the short notice, Principal Scott Blasingame told the students nothing could be done to change a policy put in place years ago. “There was a problem in the past; there ere some things that didn’t look appropriate,” Blasingame said.


You can read the entire story here, if you're a subscriber.

The upshot of the article is that after the parents called the state Human Rights Commission and sent a letter to the school, there’s now going to be a committee formed to look at the issue for future years.

I’m completely with the school on this one, and commend the principal for sticking to policy and not changing at the last minute to avoid a ruckus. Ms. Ontiveros was able to celebrate who she is at the ceremony where she was awarded the serape by the Hispanic Business Professionals Association—why isn’t that enough?

I’ll make the slippery slope argument, too—if everyone is celebrating who they are at graduation, can the racist wear his confederate flag? Would political signs (“Bush Sucks”, for example) be OK, if that was a part of who that person is? Pink triangles? Darwin fish? Could the future economics major sell ad space on their gown to Budweiser, Hooters, and TrimSpa?

My brother graduated from Central Washington University a couple of weeks ago. There were several graduates of the engineering department as well, all of whom wore hard hats to the ceremony. Similarly, when my student teacher graduated recently she wore a jump rope along with her honor cords. She was a Children’s Study major at the college, so it was a cute way to celebrate along with the department. These variations I’m OK with because they related to the academics at the school; I don’t think the serape does. Hypocricy on my part? Perhaps.


Read more here, if any.

Washington Learns…about school size

Or, when you’re in the same state as Bill Gates, you gotta drink his kool-aid.

It seems odd to me that Washington Learns is even spending time on school size; the research seems a bit lacking, and I think that teachers and program are far more important than the number of kids in the building. The paper recommends (page 27) that school units (that word is important) for elementary be in the 400-600 range, while secondary can be between 500 to 1000. The reason they say units is that the report comes out strongly in favor of breaking up large schools into smaller sub-schools. Under their thinking a 2000 student school would turn into 2 thousand-student schools, or 4 schools-within-schools of 500 students each. The report isn’t recommending that we replace the existing sites with smaller buildings, but suggests that future construction could take the size research into consideration.

My take: eh. There was a great article in Education Week ($) a couple of weeks ago about Manual High School in Denver, which was broken up into 3 different academies. The end result was chaos. The Gates Foundation has even expressed some regrets about throwing money at smaller schools without really checking to see if they made a difference, and I’m not sure it’s clear that they do. One of the most honored high schools in the country is Adlai E. Stevenson in Illinois, home school of PLC guru Richard DuFour, and it’s got more than 4500 students. Are we better off looking at successful large schools and copying what they do well, or spending the money to break up the larger schools and hope for the best?

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Washington Learns…....about Full Day Kindergarten

Full Day K has been gaining traction in my area. During our budgeting process this year the principal at the elementary school had a great proposal whereby the kids who were identified as having a deficit would get a full-day program, while the kids who were doing fine would have the traditional half-day setup. I think it was a great idea, and I hope we’re able to get it going in my district soon.

Anyhow, Washington Learns is set to recommend that we provide full day kindergarten programs in Washington State. The trick is, they intend to recommend it, “for all students, at least for those parents who want their child to have such a program.” (page 25). The reasoning is valid; as the report points out, full-day kindergarten has an effect size of +.77, which is huge for statistical purposes.

I think, though, it would be a mistake to suggest a full day for all kids. Look at what happened to Rob Reiner’s initiative in California to provide pre-school for all kids; it failed by a wide margin, and the big knock against it is that it wasn’t targeted towards those kids that would need it the most. I think a much better idea, and one that would be easier on legislators and residents, is to go with the sort of setup proposed for my district where all-day K is provided, but only for those kids who demonstrate a need. You can prove that need through a variety of ways (SES, initial screenings, etc.), but let’s target the money to where it will do the most good and have a chance of getting this passed instead of putting out the pie-in-the-sky proposal and letting it get ripped to shreds.

The funding mechanism for this fairly easy, too. Right now a kindergarten student can only count as .5 FTE (full time enrollment) for funding purposes, since they’re only in school a half-day. If the state would agree to let the kids who are selected for full-time K count as 1.0 FTE, there you go. The districts should have to show cause for why the child was put into a full time program, not with anything like an IEP, but something more like scores below a set benchmark. Keep the record around for when the auditors come, and we have a chance to do some real good.

Full-day kindergarten is a good idea that can make a big difference; I’m glad to see that it’s one of the first things suggested in the report.

Read more here, if any.

The Reading Wars are Over—Long Live the Reading Wars

Because I am a nerd, I’m reading the working draft of An Evidence Based Approach to School Finance Adequacy in Washington by Allan Odden and Lawrence O. Picus, prepared for the K-12 Committee of Washington Learns. It’s 171 pages, but it’s all about what I do, so I think it will be a fun read.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be doing quite a few posts looking at different parts of what the document says; if it is indeed used to guide the recommendations that come out of Washington Learns in September, this could be a nice early preview of where Washington schools might be going in the future.

That said, my first post needs to invoke the wagging finger of shame. This is from the introduction, on page 10:

For the maximum impact, our resources need to be used to deploy a more effective curriculum program, from too much whole language reading today to a balanced, research-based approach with more phonics and phonemic awareness in the early elementary years.

Here they’re clearly echoing what was called for in the Reading First Program, but there’s no way a statement like that can’t be perceived as a slam on what we’re doing in the elementary grades. If you’re going to trumpet your “evidence based” approach in the title of the report, shouldn’t you provide some evidence that whole language is getting as much airtime as you say it is? Given the gains that Washington kids have made in reading at 4th grade, isn’t it reasonable to assume that what we’re doing in reading grades K-3 is working well?

I know in my own room I spend a lot of time on BOTH phonics and what I guess is “whole language”, which I define to be high frequency words, oral read-alouds, and the like. It’s a settled issue that we need both—the National Reading Panel decided as much in 2002. Given that this is a draft document, hopefully they get that out of there before the final product comes out.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Teacher/Student Relationship Reaches its Logical Conclusion

Got my new certificate in the mail last week. It’s one of the new Professional Certificates, because I messed the deadline to be on the old (read: easier) program by one quarter. Happily I’m now on the 150 clock-hour system, which is pretty easy to get.

Anyhow, when they sent out my certificate they also tucked in a copy of the Code of Professional Conduct. I decided not to take it personally. As I read through it this caught my eye:

WAC 180-87-080 Sexual Misconduct With Students. Unprofessional conduct includes the commission by an educational practitioner of any sexually exploitive act with or to a student including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Any sexual advance, verbal or physical.
  2. Sexual intercourse as defined in RCW 9A.44.010
  3. Indecent exposure as defined in RCW 9A.88.010
  4. Sexual contact, i.e., the intentional touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a student except to the extent necessary and appropriate to attend to the hygienic or health needs of the student;
  5. PROVIDED, That the provisions of this section shall not apply if at the time of the sexual conduct the participants are married to each other.

My question: when the hell would the teacher ever be married to the student? I can’t quite get my mind wrapped around that one. Has it ever happened?

Read more here, if any.

You School Me Year Round Baby Year Round Gotcha Down Year Round Year Round?

I’ve been thinking about year round school lately.

On one hand, I’m tired by the end of the year. Someone somewhere once used a pitcher analogy that I really liked; when you’ve poured so much of yourself into the kids over the course of the year, it takes time to get filled back up so you can start pouring again.

On the other hand, a function of year round schools (as I understand them) is that there are more frequent breaks throughout the year; a whole month at Christmas, for example, or two weeks for spring break instead of the customary one. Would the end-of-year exhaustion be helped if there were more time off during the year?

Summer vacation is an ingrained American tradition, though. Parents plan their vacations around it. There have been efforts lead by the hospitality and tourism industries in some states (notably Florida) to make sure that there is a summer vacation, with school getting out as close to Memorial Day as possible and not going back until Labor Day.

On the other hand, if you showed the parents that they would have more opportunities during the year to take trips, perhaps they would be more accepting. I know one of my frustrations is when the parents come up to me things like, “We’re going to California for a week starting tomorrow….can you send homework?” If there were more windows for time off during the year, would they use them appropriately?

A big stumbling block is professional development. Here in Washington you’ve got to earn a Master’s degree, and the way to do it that’s easiest on you is to take a couple of classes during the school year but you load up over the summer. If summer vacation was only 6 weeks, say, it’d be almost impossible to have a meaningful classload during that time.

It’d be better for the kids, though. The big Evidence Based Approach to School Finance document that Washington Learns recently put out says this:

Research dating back to 1906 shows that students, on average, lose a little more than a month’s worth of skill or knowledge over the summer break (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, and Greathouse, 1996). Summer breaks have a larger deleterious impact on poor children’s reading and mathematics achievement, which falls further over the summer break than does that of middle-class students. This loss can reach as much as one-third of the learning during a regular nine-month school year (Cooper et al, 1996). A longitudinal study, moreover, showed that these family income-based summer learning differences accumulate over the elementary years, such that poor children’s achievement scores—without summer school—fall further and further behind the scores of middle class students as they progress through school grade by grade (Alexander and Entwisle, 1996).

I’m all for putting the kids first, but summer is about the only time during the year that I put me first, and I can’t figure out how to reconcile that conflict.

Anyone out there have experience with year-round schools? There aren’t any up here; I’d love to talk to someone who’s been there.

Read more here, if any.


Has anyone ever put a monetary value to summer vacation?

Our last day of school was Friday. We watched Chicken Little (cute movie), had cake to celebrate our summer birthdays (good frosting), I said a few words and gave them their report cards, and we were out the door.

The sun shone a little brighter, the flowers smelled just a little sweeter. Our end-of-year party was in a lounge down the road, and the food seemed to taste just a little bit better. I slept so well this weekend. I think I’m taller now, and my hair is growing back.

I love summer. Absolutely love it. There’s time now, for things, and I don’t even have to do most of those things. The impending birth of the Little (s)Thinker necessitates doctors appointments and getting the house ready for new life, but there’s time. Precious, precious time.

I hope you all have a fine summer holiday; it’s one of those things that makes teaching worthwhile.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Clallam Bay--Where Intention Meets Reality

Absolute must-read article in the Seattle Times today about the Clallam Bay schools. There was a report from the Governor's office in 1992 about how to make schools in the state work; Clallam Bay was put out there as one of those "Even here!" examples. It hasn't worked out that way. From the article:
Clallam Bay Principal Kandy Ritter hears the council's vision of what her school could be like by now. "Somebody's dreaming," she said.

Ten days to plan? Flexible hours, time to meet with parents? Teachers at Clallam Bay say they take their kids' schoolwork home at night and meet with parents on their own time. The third-grade teacher has a new math curriculum but no time to learn how to use it. She's planning to go to the library this summer to learn better ways to teach science.

As for social-service supports, Superintendent Gene Laes of the Cape Flattery School District, which includes Clallam Bay, has to suppress a laugh: "Out here, I am lucky if I call 911, they come the next day."

The nearest social services — counselors, dependency treatment, mental-health screening — are nearly an hour away. Educators here miss the help Head Start used to provide. The program was discontinued at the school because so many families had moved away, seeking work.

I'd drop everything and go teach in that part of the state in a heartbeat. There near the Olympic National Forest, you're in one of the most beautiful places you could ever hope to see.

The interesting thing about this article is the connection you can draw to the current Washington Learns initiative. This effort 14 years ago was supposed to change the state for better, forever, but the follow-through wasn't there. Will Chris Gregoire be able to do what Governors Lowery and Locke couldn't?

Read more here, if any.

Baby Showers Bring Fun For Hours

I think I’ve mentioned on here before that Mrs. Thinker is pregnant with the Little (s)Thinker. The only problem that we’ve run across is that the due date is September 7th, which also happens to be the first day of school in my district. Not the best planning on our part, but that wasn’t really what I was thinking about at the time of conception. My worst fear is that I’ll end up missing the first day of school because of the baby coming due. Everyone tells me that when the baby does come school will be the farthest thing from my mind, and they’re likely right, but in 1st grade you’ve got to start building those routines from day 1 or you’re going to regret it.

Today was our baby shower. We’re a young staff in my building, so we’ve had a done of these in the last couple of years. For every other shower I’ve been able to throw a couple of bucks into an envelope, grab my cake, and hit the road, but when it’s your shower for your baby there’s this expectation that you’ll stay for the whole thing. I intended to protest, but the look on Mrs. T’s face made me reconsider.

Actually, it was really a fun experience. We’re having a girl, so there was a ton of little pink outfits. My wife is from a farming family, so we also had a ton of cow things. It was neat having so many people come to the shower—I’ll be able to think back to that during a hard day down the road and remember just why I love my job and the people I work with.

But man, there’s a lot of pink around this house right now, and so much more to come, too.

Read more here, if any.

Writing la Vitae Loca (Alternate Title: Veni, Vici, Vita)

There’s a grant that I want to apply for from WERA. If I got it I could get enough sub days next year to be able to really measure the effectiveness of some of the reading programs that we’re using, particularly Read Naturally and STAR Reading. With RN I’d love to be able to have the time to really look at the effect that it has with kids, break it down by grade level/Title/gender, etcetera, and have a solid argument to make as to it’s effectiveness. With STAR, I think I can artificially raise the score by giving the kids good vocabulary instruction, thereby making the “grade equivalency” number that it gives after a student has tested completely meaningless. It’s nerdy, but interesting. Plus then I could apply to a doctoral program and make Mama Thinker proud of her little brainy boy. It would be very Rockwellian.

Part of applying for the grant is that you have to turn in your curriculum vitae along with it. This is a good exercise for me—the resume hasn’t been updated since I got the job, and there are a couple of openings at the local colleges that I’m thinking of taking a flyer at. A couple of weeks ago I downloaded a couple of how-to guides, and I’m off.

Off writing on the blog. This thing’s kind of a pain. I’ve done a ton of extra activities, but I can’t quite make things fit in a way that makes total sense to me. Does all my work with the union go under qualifications, or professional service? Is leading a book study a teaching experience, or a presentation?

I’ve got a good professor friend who’s been around the block; I think I’ll bounce this off of her. I’m half toying with the idea of trying one of those professional resume-writing services, but I can’t see spending the money on something I should be able to figure out for free.

Back to writing.

Read more here, if any.


The Education Partnership is a group in Rhode Island that has made quite a name for itself recently by going after teacher contracts, even getting one of the back-page editorials in Education Week some months back. They hit most of the same points that we’ve seen recently from Rick Hess or the New Teacher’s Project, but it’s still fun to read. For example, here’s a great quote from their most recent report:

We have heard union leaders say, “The union and the teachers are one and the same.” We disagree. Teachers are not the union. Teachers are professionals in classrooms where teaching and learning take place. Unions are big-business associations that receive union dues – whether or not the teachers believe in the unions’ positions and representation. The unions are focused on their own economic interests, on membership and membership outcomes – not students.

I sat in on a meeting the other day with a teacher who was facing being force-transferred to one of the other buildings in our district because she has a special ed credential. Two other teachers are looking at involuntary transfers because declining enrollment means their current jobs may be cut, and I’ve been working hard with them to figure out the angles so they can have an idea of what’s going on and what could be coming up. That’s what I’ve done for members this week alone, and that’s why comments like the above really tick me off. My union really is about the teachers, and all of us in the leadership work hard to do right by the people we represent.

Plus, it’s not like unions arose in a vacuum. Listening to old interviews with Al Shanker gave me a great appreciation for just how vital forming the unions was, and just how bad things could be without them.

Later on (page 7) they list some of their recommendations for improving teacher’s contracts. One of the old chestnuts they suggest (emphasis in the report):

Adoption of a governance model that requires school committee members to prioritize student needs when allocating all resources during contract negotiations.

The phrase, “What’s good for the teachers is what’s good for the students!” has been trampled on pretty good in recent years, but let’s think this through for a second. Students don’t need their teachers to have good health insurance, dental, or retirement, so shouldn’t the schools eliminate all these things so the money can go to the kids?

Oh, wait. You do that and no one is going to want to teach the kids.

Not that the union doesn’t do stupid things, especially at the national level, like ream the membership so they can make money off their partnership with ING. But still—the good outweighs the bad, to me.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

You Flunk: The Hardest Decision I Have to Make

A recent article in The Olympian talked about when it might be a good idea for a child to repeat a grade. It's a very fair article, and one that could be shared with parents should the topic ever come up.

We've done a lot of research on retention here at my school this year, mainly because we didn't have a coherent policy school-wide for staff to follow. In the upper grades it was mainly a threat--"If you don't start doing the work, you'll repeat the grade!"--which, while satisfying, never really seems to work all that well. For the younger grades we can easily identify the kids who are struggling, but it doesn't make the decision any easier.

Take C, who I had two years ago. He's easily one of my favorite students ever, but it was apparent from the minute he walked in the door that he was going to have problems. Every other kid could identify all the letters of the alphabet; he knew 13. Most of the other kids had the letter/sound correlation down pat; C could tell me the sounds of the letters in his name, plus S and T, and that was about it. When the Title teachers tested the 1st graders he came in last out of 103 kids. In talking to his mom it sounded like his Kindergarten was completely non-academic, which may have made for a pack of happy kids but is lousy for the 1st grade teachers.

I worked my ass off for C. Twice a week he'd stay with me after school so we could work together on the literacy skills he was missing. We had a great relationship and the growth he made was phenomenal!

And at the end of the year, he was still failing in every subject. I laid it all out for his parents--the struggles he had, the even worse struggles he was sure to have if he did go on, and after some tears (on both sides, I'll admit) we decided that he'd repeat the grade and I'd keep him.

His redshirt season in 1st grade went really well. He tested out of Title, and was right there for most of the year. I though it'd worked. In 2nd grade, things fell apart. He started the year with a teacher who was new to the grade (she'd taught middle school the year before), and then when she up and retired in December he had a brand new teacher struggling to get ahold of a tough, tough class. Complete and total regression followed.

In 3rd grade they had him tested, and now he's on an IEP.

Undeniably, retention didn't work. A year of his life wasted, and he's still one of our resource kids. I keep going back, though, to the great second year of 1st grade that he did have--if we could have built on that the right way, would things have worked out differently?

We have to consider, too, that the research on retention is overwhelmingly and completely negative. Nearly everything you'll ever find says that it works in the short term (like my boy above), but in the long run you increase their risk of dropping out, failing, and becoming communists. This is established fact.

And yet here I am, having two more kids repeat the grade again this year.

Damn the head, my heart tells me they need it. I think about sending them on to 2nd grade and I cringe, because they are not ready. They don't qualify for Sped because of their age, but they didn't respond to any other intervention I tried this year, either. I'm desperate to protect them from certain failure around the corner, but I also can't deny what the research says.

And yet I do deny it, an angry speck in front of an uncaring God, refuting the obvious because it suits me, yelling denials into the dark vast, because dammit I know I'm right and what does a PhD really mean anyway and I know my kids and the rules say I can so nyah and...



The questions come flooding in. Am I throwing away a year of their lives, or am I making their lives better by giving them what they need? Am I being overprotective, or just doing the best I can in a system that can't do what I need it to do? When they look back will they call what I gave them their golden opportunity or just one more bull*hit encounter, first in a bitter series with the schools?

So I struggle with it, pray, and hope for the best, as we all do. I forget sometimes the real power I have to shape these lives, a startling responsibility yet so easy to lose sight of under the paperwork, the bad news, and the day-to-day dealings of the classroom. Then retention time comes up and reminds me again.

My God, I'm a teacher. Lord, please--help me not to screw this up.

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Lake Stevens Says Yes to Random Drug Testing

Per this from the Seattle Times:
Details of a drug-testing program set to begin in the fall at Lake Stevens High School will be discussed from 4 to 7 p.m. June 15 at district headquarters, 12309 22nd St. N.E.

The School Board last month directed Burgess to develop and implement a random drug-testing program for students involved in sports and other after-school activities.

Lake Stevens would become the first Snohomish County school to implement random student drug tests.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing two other Washington school districts over similar programs, saying they violate state constitutional guarantees of privacy. Those cases have not yet been heard by the courts.

The other two districts that the ACLU is suing are Cle Elum and Wahkiakum (see here), which should give pause to other districts like Almira/Coulee-Hartline, which links proudly to its drug testing policy right off of their front page.

I'm completely with the ACLU on this. We should try to combat drug abuse in the schools, but suspicionless searches as a condition for being in the band, or on the Knowledge Bowl team, or playing a sport...that's too much. It's a basic matter of dignity.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

And now for something completely different

I've never watched The Omen, even though I hear it's a classic. I read the spoiler for the new version over at The Movie Spoiler, and then I went to Amazon to look at the reviews for the original version. There's something there that made me go "Huh?"

What do customers ultimately buy after viewing items like this?
  • 74% buy Mr. & Mrs. Smith - Unrated (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) DVD ~ Brad Pitt $17.49
  • 20% buy the item featured on this page:The Omen (2-Disc Collector's Edition) DVD ~ Gregory Peck $17.49
  • 3% buy The Omen Legacy DVD ~ Jack Palance $17.99
  • 3% buy 666 Revealed: True Stories of Real Evil DVD ~ Omen 666 Revealed $13.49
  • 1% buy Omen DVD ~ Omen $17.99

How in the world does Mr. & Mrs. Smith get to the top of that list? Does this prove than the Brangelina child IS the antichrist?!? Ave Maria, REPENT!

And now back to your usual education news.

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Washington's History Standards Get Mixed Review

As they tend to do every year or so, the Fordham Foundation has released a new review of the academic standards states have set, this time focused on world history.

The good! Washington ranks 20th in the nation, under the scoring system that they use. Our standards in grades K to 8 are called "laudable", "well written", and are said to "provide a solid foundation."

The bad! What they don't like are the high school standards, which are "vague and unspecific." Our overall grade is a D, which puts in the company of 2/3 of the states. Overall: "Washingtonians should feel cheated."

One thing that needs to be pointed out is that our Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) only go up to 10th grade. If you consider that there are 11 years total in grades K-10, and we're said to have good standards grades K-8, that means we're said to have good standards 9 years out of the 11 we have GLEs, and yet we're still at a D level.

And if they'd used a curve we'd have a B, so nyah. You can read their full review of Washington State (it's only a 1 page pdf) here.

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This Week's Carnival is up at the Education Wonks

You can find it here. Make sure you read the post he links to at ChemJerk's blog; it's hilarious, and matches my mood perfectly this time of year!

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Coming Soon: School Audits

Last year Washington voters passed I-900, which set aside part of the sales tax money for the state auditor's office to run performance audits of all state agencies. School's are going to be one of the first areas looked at, since we're half of the state budget. From the Washington State School Director's Association:
Initiative 900, approved by voters last November, requires independent performance audits of state and local government entities, including school districts. The law requires the State Auditor to analyze the "economy, efficiency and effectiveness" of government entities with the goal of improving operations and reducing costs.

Sonntag said the ESDs were selected for the first K-12 performance audits because of the importance of their role in supporting school districts and because "audit history reveals an inconsistent pattern of the types and depth of services provided to districts."

According to Sonntag, the goal of the ESD audit is to determine whether the current structure "is effectively and efficiently meeting the needs of students of school districts" and whether it is "serving the purpose for which the Legislature initially intended."

The performance audit will take place in the state’s nine ESDs and at least 12 school districts. The review will examine areas such as organizational structure, leadership and management of human resources, operating costs (including salaries, travel and fringe benefits), and current mission, strategic goals and performance management plans. Auditors will also be comparing and evaluating the cost and quality of services provided by the ESDs to the school districts.

The ESDs are our regional offices; there are nine of them around the state that provide guidance to school districts. More information about the audits can be found through this website that State Auditor Brian Sonntag has set up. From the report that they've published there:
Looking beyond the near term, we expect to perform a comprehensive audit of the K-12 education system from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to individual school districts and ultimately to classrooms. We anticipate selecting a large sample of individual school districts for this audit, which will be conducted over the next two years.

This could turn into one of those big deal stories, depending on what they identify as wasteful spending. I'll be extremely curious to see what they say about the ESDs in their first report, due in December--if they come down hard on them, you'll see a lot of school districts start sweating bullets.

Read more here, if any.

A Professor That I Do Like

Another one of the John Merrow podcasts was on H. Michael Gelfand, an adjunct at the University of Arizona. He makes a nice comparison to Paulette Kurzer, who I wrote about a couple of days ago. It's an interesting podcast, because he's one of those who have been hanging around academia for years trying to get in the door to one of those tenured positions. Some of the quotes I really liked:

John Merrow: And had anybody trained you to teach?
H. Gelfand: My preparation began with a professor at the University of Georgia who said to me, "H., you're going to teach Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'll do Monday, Wednesday and Friday." And I had never taught before. And it was a classroom of 500 students. And it was a sort of a semi-circular room with a balcony, so that when you looked around, there were people looking down at you from every direction, and I felt about that big, I was nervous as heck, and ever since I've just had a good time with it

I like stories like that. On a much smaller scale it's what I've tried to do with my student teachers, because that's teaching--you're on your feet and you go. My master teacher went on a 2 month coffee break, and I was better for it.

Here he talks about his relationship with his students:

Now, some people critique that and say, you need to establish that firm wall between the students and the professor. I have found that by breaking that wall down a little bit, the students become more comfortable, you get more interaction. They are more interested in learning the material if they feel comfortable.

This guy gets it. Dr. Kurzer talked about how no one would participate in her classes and blamed it all on them, but Dr. H here thinks about what he can do on his end to get them to participate. He talks more about his role in their learning here:

Merrow: So if they don't learn it that's their fault, or yours?
Gelfand: Both. I look at it this way. If they're not learning something then probably I may not be achieving my goal of attempting to really inspire them and to draw them into the topic.

Later on in that section he goes on to talk about the work that the student has to put in, but I like how he begins with what he does.

It's a great piece that's well worth listening to. You can also download the transcript here.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006


I'm overweight, because I don't eat well. Today's brekfast was a pouch from Schwanns, lunch was two pizza pockets and a Pepsi from Yoke's, and dinner is fairly certain to not be much better. There's been times in my life when I ate quite well, with salad at least 6 or 7 times a week and some exercise for dessert, but not lately.

A big part of it is that I eat for comfort--after a tough day, a tough meeting, whatever, I'll drink soda and I'll feel better. It's made me quite fat. It's also given me an appreciation for the damned skinny teachers who've figured out how to balance work, family, and self. Hopefully I get that straightened out before the family history of diabetes kicks my butt.

I know the mantra is "Take care of yourself first!", but I don't do that nearly enough. I'm putting too much into the classroom and not enough in to me; I've got to get that turned around next year. Any suggestions?

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10th Grade WASL Results Delayed

From the Seattle Times:
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) plans to wait until late August or early September to report how many 10th-graders did well enough on this year's Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) to put them one big step closer to earning their high-school diplomas.

Sophomores will get their own WASL scores by June 14, but officials for the state's education agency said Thursday there are too many data issues to quickly calculate how many students statewide passed the three exam sections required to graduate — reading, writing and math. OSPI, however, will release this month how many of the test-takers passed each individual subject.


The question is over the statewide results. Willhoft said results for the reading, writing and math sections will give a rough idea of how students fared. But he said OSPI, for a number of reasons, needs more time before it will be confident reporting how many students passed all three.


The prospect of a three-month wait between the time 10th-graders receive their scores and the release of the statewide results has raised some concern.

The president of the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, last month questioned why the public can't get preliminary scores if they are available to districts.

Some parents also are unhappy that they won't be able to view their student's actual 2006 WASL test until September, too late to appeal their scores until after the August retake.

There's a fair amount of irony in the WEA complaining that scores aren't being released fast enough--they've been fighting for years to have the entire test thrown out, and now we're pushing the state to get the results out even faster instead of making sure that the data is accurate? C'mon, guys.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Someone who I do not like

I’ve talked about the John Merrow podcasts before—they’re great listening, extremely well done, and I recommend them to anyone who is nerdy about education the way I am. Recently they did two podcasts where they interviewed professors at the University of Arizona to find out what they thought of university teaching today.

The one that I listened to first was Paulette Kurzer from the Political Science department, and it was one of those that made me sad and angry at the same time. I’ll give her some credit for her honesty, but at the same time I question why anyone with some of her beliefs would stay in the profession. Here’s some quotes that jumped out at me:

I know I am very dynamic and energetic, but then I read those exams and I think, yet another group of students who couldn’t care less. It’s just a performance-lecturing. I feel there are 220 students in this course and I probably perform for 20 of them.

I’ll happily grant that my experience in teaching adults is limited to some staff presentations at my school and leading a book study this year. That said, anyone who is only reaching 10% of their students IS doing something wrong, and one subset of teacher that annoys the hell out of me is the one that pats themselves on the back for doing a great job while at the same time letting that many kids go wanting.

John Merrow: Are you well paid?
Paulette Kurzer: No. No! No! My pay is a source of great discontent.
Merrow: How much do you make?
Kurzer: I’m making $65,000.

Insert primal scream here from a teacher making $35,000 a year.

Perhaps I shouldn’t judge. Maybe the cost of living in Tuscon is high. It could be that Dr. Kurzer is trying to put 5 kids through college. I don’t know the woman. What I do know is that she makes more than most, and later on you’ll see how she uses the money issue to excuse some horribly lax practices.

Merrow: Okay. Let’s argue about this. I think, for the sake of argument, students are not demanding because you professors are so boring that don’t bring it to life, and they don’t know enough to be angry that they’re just being droned at.
Kurzer: Wow! You are just the devil’s advocate, so I’ll continue to talk to you (laughs). But I don’t think I’m boring, and the students know that I invest a lot of my lectures, and that’s very clear because of my visuals.

Insert a second primal scream here, because I get the sense that she’s more interested in her visuals looking pretty than she is in them actually being effective.

It reminds me of a session I sat through last year at the OSPI Summer Institute, which is our state’s main way of sharing ideas with teachers. I had picked this particular session because it had “fluency” in the title, and that was something that I really wanted to work on this past year. The duo that presented seemed nice enough, and they had THE BEST POWERPOINT SLIDES I’VE EVER SEEN. Drop dead gorgeous backgrounds, preset animations that worked, color changes, and some of the best bullets you’ll see outside of Dick Cheney’s lawyer friend. The trouble is that it was a Tyra Banks presentation—great looks, zero content. Less than zero. It was one of those Billy Madison moments where you feel dumber for having listened to it.

My point is that it doesn’t matter if your presentation looks good if the kids aren’t learning. If she’s pouring tons of effort into the technology but still only self-reporting that 10% of her students are engaged, she’s making a mistake.

Merrow: How many do the work? How many of the 225?
Kurzer: Well you know, I don’t know exactly. Maybe ten percent. Maybe 15 percent.
Merrow: So you are teaching to that ten or 15 percent?
Kurzer: Well, I definitely address those but there is obviously a tacit understanding that they do minimal amount and in return I can get away doing minimal amount.

All I can say is wow. Incredible. Sad. I don’t care if that is the tacit agreement, if that is part and parcel of the experience, if that is the reality. I don’t think you should be putting voice to a sentiment like that if you work at any level of education.

I teach first grade, and I work awfully hard to try to get them all up to the standards that we’ve set, but then I work even harder to get them beyond. I could have ignored my upper reading group all year long and they still would have been just fine, but I’ve been able to push them into books like The Big Wave that first graders typically don’t get to. For her to have the eager ones and hope that they don’t try to stretch themselves so she can do the “minimal amount” is a damnable shame.

Merrow: Is it discouraging to be there and thinking that only ten percent are…
Kurzer: No. No, no. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. No. It’s not discouraging. The only thing that discourages me is my pay (laughs). Not this (laughs). Only my pay.
Merrow: Is there something you could do different that would change this?
Kurzer: Uh, well, I could create course requirements where they have to do more writing, or they have to come and see an instructor. I could make them work harder. But why should I? Why should I? I’m not getting paid in order to have a bigger load unto myself.

I’m so liberal I voted for Nader twice, but here’s where my inner conservative runs riot. You should make them work harder because THAT’S WHAT THE TAXPAYERS ARE PAYING YOU TO DO! IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MORE THAN $65 GRAND A YEAR, SHOW YOU DESERVE IT! RIGHT NOW YOU’RE PUTTING OUT ABOUT AS MUCH EFFORT AS A STUMP, AND YOU WANT MORE FOR THAT? IN REAGAN’S NAME, I CURSE THEE!

Huh. That was actually kind of refreshing. I think I’ll vote for Jeb.

Merrow: How many “A’s” do you give?
Kurzer: Well, I grade on a curve. We all do, I think. So, usually ten, 15 percent.
Merrow: Is it really “A” work?
Kurzer: No. No. But I grade on a curve.

I can understand the temptation. Using a curve, at least you’ll have some kids get an A, a 4.0, whatever the scale may be. I’d love to know just how prevalent a practice this is in the college ranks.

Merrow: Are the students not engaged because they’re too busy doing something else?
Kurzer: I think so.
Merrow: What are they doing?
Kurzer: Well, many of them work. I think all of them work. And I don’t know what else they do.

This is another reality of college life today. When I was working my way through my Master’s program it was terribly diffiult sometimes to balance the class work, the teaching work, and the family commitments, especially with what we go through to renew our certificate any more. Plus, I was on the pay-as-I-went plan with no student loans, so the beginning of the quarter was always extra tight.

Merrow: How much work outside of class does your course require?
Kurzer: I personally think very little. I think very little.
Merrow: Time?
Kurzer: I don’t know. An hour? Maybe an hour a week.

An hour a week, for college level work. This is probably part of the “You do less so I can do less!” bargain she has with her students, but it’s obviously not the way it should be.

The next quote is the unforgivable one that really sends me over the edge.

Merrow: Do you ever say to yourself, “Okay, so these kids can’t write very well. I’m going to do whatever it takes. I’m going to go the extra mile. I’m going to make them rewrite their papers. I’ll stay up nights…”
Kurzer: No. No. No. No.
Merrow: Why not?
Kurzer: Why should I? I’m making $65,000.




Why should you? Because it’s an ethical responsibility. Because you owe it to your students. Because you owe it to the people of the state of Arizona who are paying your salary. Because there’s an army of adjuncts out there scraping by and accomplishing great things while you sit on your dead, tenured butt and complain about how much money you make. Because it’s how you earn the title teacher. Because it’s the right thing to do.

And as a union member, I know that there are limits. You can’t let yourself get taken advantage of, and you can’t let yourself be used up. What Dr. Kurzer describes, though, is only doing the bare minimum because she doesn’t feel like she makes enough to do any more, and that’s not acceptable.

The other Merrow podcast, which I’ll write about later, is of a professor who is a diametric opposite to Dr. Kurzer. It'll make for a great comparison.

Read more here, if any.