Friday, July 28, 2006

Seattle Moves Fast and Furious to Close Budget Gap

There's a couple of great articles up at The Seattle Times' website. The first that caught my eye was on the costs of providing transportation and special ed in a district the size of Seattle. The transportation costs ($10 million) are a function of the school choice movement in Seattle, while the special ed expenses are a result of Seattle being the big city. They have special programs for autistic kids and the deaf that other towns in Washington don't, which I would think would account for their higher costs.

The School Board also voted to close 7 schools, with a chance that more may need to go in the future. They've been struggling with declining enrollment for a while, and I give their administrative staff a lot of credit for finally being able to get school closures through. It's the right thing to do. Painful and heartbreaking, but the right thing.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Morton Kondracke in the Detroit Daily News

Eduwonk referenced this article in a post last week, pointing to it as yet another sign of an emerging left-right consensus on education reform in the US.

Sadly, it’s just one more drumbeat in the “Unions suck” refrain. Kondracke talks about a visit he made to the Aspen Institute last week, and the first person he finds to talk to about making schools better is Joel Klein. Judging on the initiatives that he’s championed in New York City, calling Klein anti-teacher is equivalent to calling hell hot. Similarly, US Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue has this fun quote:

“Teachers unions in many communities have made it very difficult to change the school structure, the school curriculum, school hours, school management, the pay system. What we need here is a collaborative effort. We need the school boards and teachers unions to support strong superintendents and strong principals.”

  1. Unions typically have no say in curriculum. That’s long been a management prerogative.
  2. Of course teacher’s unions are going to make it difficult to change the hours of the school—any union worth it’s salt would. There are certainly kids who would benefit from a longer school day and school year, but administration should not be able to unilaterally make that decision (i.e., “You’re all going to work for 210 days instead of 180!”) without input from the people who actually teach the kids.
  3. A call to support strong superintendents and principals is a call to minimize teacher voice, period. The management side of the equation can be every bit as flawed as the labor side, and to paint the principal as some sort of all-knowing Solomon who is restrained only by the petty machinations of the union is naïve.

On the brighter side Mr. Kondracke does call for raising teacher pay, which would be a nice first step.

Read more here, if any.

Oriental Trading Company Sure Does Send Out a Lot of Catalogs

I like OTC for cheap bribery; the level of cooperation that I can get from a 6 year old by dangling a 10-cent trinket in front of him is amazing, and it’s a tool that I have absolutely no reservations about using.

I’ve seen a bit of a flaw in their business plan, though. This week alone I’ve gotten three different catalogs from them (party supplies, crafts, hands on fun), and I got the same catalogs at the school. Sometimes it seems like I get a catalog a week.

If they cut back a bit, or sent out one big catalog, it would make a lot more sense.


These are the little things I think about after summer school is over and my vacation has really started.

Read more here, if any.

Tenure Rules! Tenure Stinks! Tenure Rules! Tenure Stinks!

There’s an excellent article in the New Jersey Record on tenure for teachers. Unlike many articles it's very fair and even handed; lots of great points, no matter what side of the debate you fall on.

One quote I liked was from Ronald Shaw, who left his district after being accused of negligence, bad management, and insubordination. The newspaper called him up to ask his side, and he said:

“It’s my opinion that it’s really none of The Record’s business. Any agreement that was made between us was made in private without it being privy to scrutiny with everyone. I choose not to comment about it because it was a private matter.”

Bad news, dude: you’re a public employee. If they gave you a 6-month buyout and let you land in another teaching position, that’s a story.

In Mr. Shaw’s defense, there aren’t any indications that he’s having trouble at his new job, though getting your name in the newspaper like this can’t be a happy thing.

Later in the article you’ll find one of those really unfortunate quotes that the anti-union crowd loves to use:

Union officials claim their job is to protect members who could otherwise be subject to pressure from parents and administrators, not to worry if a teacher has done something wrong.

“From our point of view, there’s no deficient teachers,” said George Lambert, who has been a Bergen County NJEA representative for the past 15 years. “Our job is basically to represent and not make a judgment.”

This isn’t OK on a couple of levels. If you vocalize this you’re just giving ammunition to those who would see teacher’s unions blown up entirely (see Klein, Joel). This also isn’t a good policy in practice; any defense of the teacher who slept with their student is beyond justification and a misuse of union resources.

In sum, it’s a great article. I’ll be putting it with my contract as a good reminder the next time we negotiate.

Update: It's also interesting to read the Letters to the Editor that were inspired by the article, as well as this great piece defending teacher tenure and giving a pretty thorough overview of the teacher pay system in New Jersey.

Read more here, if any.

The ASCD on the NCLB Reauthorization

One of the perks of being a member of the ASCD is the Education Update report that comes 12 times a year. It’s a quick read, with only two or three articles in each 8-page issue, but the writing is very good and the topics are always timely.

The lead story this on the upcoming reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind act. The American Enterprise Institute held a forum in April on the current state of the act. The first two quotes come from Frederick Hess and Mike Petrilli, both of the Fordham Foundation and the hosts of my favorite podcast, the Education Gadfly Show.

“Today, the once-tranquil consensus over the law has given way to bickering and fierce debate.”—Frederick Hess

This seems a little naïve coming from Hess; people have been arguing about NCLB since it became law in 2001, and Hess has been at the forefront of many of those arguments, particularly in terms of school choice.

For his part, Petrilli asserts that NCLB has three goals:

  1. Closing the achievement gap.
  2. Helping school systems overcome challenges associated with economic disadvantage.
  3. Providing external incentive for intrastate change.

I’ll agree with #1, but I’ll argue with #2 pretty strongly. We know from research that the correlation between socio-economic status and academic achievement is nearly perfect; what does NCLB do about that, besides giving kids a chance to go to a higher-SES school? As for #3, let’s be clear that these are unanimously negative incentives as you lose your money, your kids, and your jobs.

There’s also a great piece from Alice Johnson Cain, who works in the office of Rep. George Miller of California, talking about the impossibility of achieving 100% proficiency. “Which percent do we accept as being unreachable?” she asks, and it’s probably the most important question in this NCLB era. Would you be comfortable looking at a school where 90% of the kids of all races are passing their tests? What do you say about the school that has 20 black kids but “only” passes 17 of them; failing, or a school of distinction?

NCLB is unquestionably the biggest piece of education legislation ever; it’s also the most debated, and for good reason. I don’t want to see NCLB gutted, because the mission is worthwhile, but there has to be some reason brought into it.

I’ll leave it to others to figure out the impact if the Democrats take over the House in November.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Nifty New AFT Website

The AFT has a new sebsite called T-Source out, and it's a good one. Tons of video and great ideas--I especially liked the behavior management piece, even if it is a little hoaky in the dialogue.

It would be nice to see my parent union, the NEA, rise to the challenge and put out some web content that was a little more practical for teachers.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Carnival of Education is up at Education in Texas

It's an excellent week for the Carnival; the posts are great reading, and Mike did a great job putting it together. You can get all the ed goodness here!

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

How Does Your District Get Its Subs?

My new copy of Scholastic Administrator magazine came the other day. It’s not my copy, per se, but the lady it’s addressed to doesn’t work in our building any more, and I’m all for free reading, so it’s mine as long as I keep doing the mail.

Anyhow, there’s an article about the Syracuse, New York schools. To get a sub a teacher used to talk to their principal, who would talk to the district office, and someone over there would make the arrangements. Now they have a computerized system that they say has saved a ton of man-hours and made things much smoother.

On the other hand, the Big City District east of us also uses a computerized system, and there have been a ton of complaints. Teachers will call in to request a sub, but the computer doesn’t follow through. It’s also been hard for them to request specific subs. Some subs I’ve talked to haven’t been getting called for jobs until 9:00 or 9:30 the morning, and by then many of them have taken jobs in other districts. If you refuse a job for a day you’re not called back with other jobs for that day, even if the initial offer was the behavior room at the high school and you’re an elementary ed person.

In my medium-sized district we talk to our principal when we need to request a day; he then forwards the request to the district sub scheduler, who is a part-time parapro. If we’re sick in the morning we’re also to call the principal, who again calls the sub caller and puts her on the case.

If your district uses a computer, has it worked well for you?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Choose Your Own Grad School Adventure

You are sitting at your dining room table. To your left is a pile of materials from local graduate programs; to your right are printouts from the Invisible Adjunct. A mixed drink sits close by your mouse. It seems to be quietly contemplating its short, merry life, content to be at hand and then at liver. With a slurp and a burp it joins its friends in the struggle against...struggly stuff.

As you flip through the grad school materials the choices are overwhelming. You pause briefly to reflect on the good ol’ days, when beating Super Mario Brothers III as quickly as possible was a worthwhile goal. This sort of depresses you and pisses you off at the same time, which is as good a reason as any to make another drink.

It’s time to make a choice, though. What are you going to do with your life?


A) You decide to go into administration! Teachers respect you, and you’ve proven your ability in the classroom. You’d never really thought of it when you began your career, but more and more people are asking if you if your intent is to go into administration, so maybe they see something you didn’t. As principal you could make a difference for an entire school.

If you choose option A, you then have to make some other choices:

You can attend State U. It’s your alma mater, where you earned your BA and M.ED degrees. The credits from your first masters degree will carry over, meaning you’d only have to take about 20 more to get the principal’s certificate, plus the internship. One of the key professors in the program has a national reputation (he really did write the book on the principalship), and the program coordinator is one of the sharpest men you’ve ever met.


You can attend Private U. One recruiter told you that hiring committees sometimes look negatively at candidates who have all their degrees from one institution, and a quick look through the staff list at State U shows that indeed most of them have traveled far and wide getting their degrees. Private U is significantly more expensive than State U (about 50% more), but it has a sterling regional reputation. Your past encounters with the education department at Private U have all been exceptional; they fall over themselves trying to help out the teachers in the area.

Of course, there’s also always…..

B) You decide to go into college teaching! The area around here is absolutely ripe with education schools (2 private, 2 state, plus the program at the community college), and the little bit of looking around you’ve done makes you think that you could probably get adjunct work if you wanted it. You’ve enjoyed the presentations you’ve done and the book studies you’ve led, and there is nobody you’ve met yet who can out-research you on a topic. You’ve been recognized for your effective teaching practices, and being able to share those with future teachers could touch thousands of lives.

If you decide to follow option B, these are the subsequent choices you have to make:

State U has a program in Adult Education. It teaches you how to teach adults, and then you’re given a class of your own to teach, which may or may not be in education. You have no idea what their placement rate is, or if they even consider that sort of thing. You do know the lady who coordinates the program, and she’s someone you respect. You feel like this would make you an attractive candidate for part time and adjunct positions, which would be nice because then you could possibly keep your teaching position, too.


BIG State U has the only doctoral program in the region. If you pursued a degree through them you could get your Ed.D. in five years or so, which would qualify you for tenure-track positions at any of the local universities. Getting the Doctorate would pretty much necessitate the life of an academic, as it would be a little weird to have 1st graders calling you Doctor Thinker. Actually, it’d be pretty hilarious, which isn’t the best argument for getting a doctorate, but it’s not a negative either.

There’s also a very attractive option C:

C) You stay right where you are. You’re doing a good job, you’ve got a baby on the way, and there’s no good reason to throw more money down the tuition rat hole when you just finished your Masters last year. In the classroom you control your own destiny, and that’s really a powerful thing to have going for you. You’re happy, you’re busy—why change?

Here there’s a ton of bonus choices, none of which preclude the others from also being done:

You do presentations at local conferences, talking about the success your district has had with PLCs, how to use comics in the classroom, or something else equally close to what you do.

You get more involved in the union. You’ve had this idea kicking around the back of your head for a while now that you could make a very effective blog for the union, and that would make you the only local in the council that had one of those. You can also get a good stipend for your union work.

You teach more after school classes. The Washington Science Teachers Association has a big contest for primary grade kids every year; taking a team down to that could be a ton of fun. You can do another Destination: Imagination! squad, or teach your math PAU again.


You say to hell with it, give up all the extra things, and come home to your daughter every day as soon as the bell rings.

Read more here, if any.

Quick Hits from the July 12th Edition of Education Week

Let’s hear it for and hear it for the Detroit Public Schools, who managed to get on the cover of Education Week for all the wrong reasons. From the article ($):

On June 26, school officials announced that 800 positions must be cut before school starts this fall. The next day, they scrambled to explain how a now-fired district employee mishandled nearly $1 million that must be repaid to the federal government. And on June 28, school board members approved a $1.4 billion budget that counts on $105 million in labor concessions, to which the president of the teachers’ union said, “No way.”

The article goes on to say that about 12,000 students have fled the district, many to charter schools, and they’re expecting another 9,000 student hit this year.

They’ve got a good plan in place to make things better, though. That plan: Great PR!

What district officials and some board members do talk about is the need for a better marketing strategy to counter what they say is a widely held, but largely inaccurate, perception that charter schools are doing better academically than the regular public schools.

The phrase “lipstick on a pig” runs through my head, but I don’t know why.

Georgia is going to lock 4-year tuition rates, meaning that the tuition you pay as a freshman will be the same when you are a senior. Anything that makes it easier to plan for the costs of college is a good thing—I like this proposal.

The Department of Education is starting to withhold funds from states that are out of compliance with the NCLB mandates. Texas will take the biggest hit, losing more than a million dollars. As more and more states fall out of compliance with NCLB--and they surely will--this will be a continuing trend.

The spokesman for the Kansas Board of Education has resigned after six months on the job. I can’t possibly imagine what would have driven him off. What job could be easier? Nothing ever happens in Kansas.

In an article about the Weighted Student Funding report that Fordham published, it says that Marguerite Roza “chose not to endorse the report because she wants to remain neutral on the topic.” That’s kind of funny, being as in the report she’s pictured (with a quote) on page 10. I personally see being pictured in the report as far more of an endorsement than being one name among 70-something on the signing pages, but what do I know?

Finally, one of the commentary articles has this interesting factoid: 15 percent of the nation’s high schools produce close to half of its dropouts. If that’s true, it’s a scary statistic.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Isolation—What Does It Look Like, and What Do We Do About It?

Mike Schmoker has an interesting new book out through the ASCD called Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning. ASCD books have been hit-or-miss for me over the years, but this one’s a definite hit in that it’s highly readable, makes sense, and he sticks to his points instead of getting bogged down in minutia the way some of ASCD's authors tend to do.

One of his central ideas is that teacher isolation is still a pervasive force that keeps us from improving our schools. This isn’t a surprising view for him; he’s a disciple of Richard DuFour and contributed a chapter to one of his books on Professional Learning Communities a couple of years ago. In his own words:

Isolation ensures that highly unprofessional practices are tolerated and thus proliferate in the name of…professionalism. “What works” morphs easily into what feels good, or keeps kids occupied or “what I’ve always done and gotten good evaluations for.”

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I don’t think that isolation is nearly as prevalent as it used to be 20 years ago. For the five years I’ve been teaching I’ve always met with my team to talk about curriculum; we’ve also shared our DRA test results with each other to get the big picture of how we’re doing as a grade level. My district also has a mandated curriculum for math and reading, so as long as everyone is teaching out of the books we’ve been given you can be assured that the kids will be getting mostly the same concepts.

It helps that we get along. I’ve seen teams before where a teacher has been forced into isolation because of stupid, petty bickering. I’ll admit that there’s been times when I’ve just wanted to give the world a big FU, close the door, and make obscene faces through the window at passers-by.

Where collaboration falls short, and it’s something that I can’t quite figure out how to do, is when we’re asked to compare our scores and “help” our peers who aren’t doing as well. Schmoker makes the point that it’s hard for administrators to get around and do this with all of their teachers, and that we are the experts, but I’d still have an awfully hard time telling someone else how to do their job when I’m their peer. In the elementary schools especially it’s hard to look at two different teachers and say that one is clearly better than the other; if the discrepancy is so large that you can see it, then the principal should be able to see it too, and they should be the one to take care of it.

Read more here, if any.

There’s Poverty, and then there’s POVERTY

Mrs. Thinker and I enjoy sitting on the porch and watching the birds eat off the feeders in the front yard. We’re starting to see the quail and pheasant chicks, and the yellow-headed blackbirds have been legion this year.

A couple of weeks ago we were reading an article in Education Week about the flattening world, the next generation of engineers is going to be 100% Indian and Chinese, we’re falling behind—all the usual.

The question out there is why. The schools could do a better job, certainly. With our population and our resources there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have an excellent pipeline of future brainiacs to help us keep our enviable place in the world pantheon.

I think the motivational aspect gets overlooked, though. I haven’t fully fleshed this idea out, so please tell me what you think:

In India the consequence for not getting a good education is severe and immediate. Failure means you live and die in a slum, you may well be hungry, and your quality of life will be among the lowest in the world.

In the United States the consequence for not getting a good education is…..what? You won’t have a comfortable life, but you’re still likely to have food, clothing, and shelter. Working a minimum wage job will still get you $5.00 an hour.

Who’s penalized more for failure?
Who has a better incentive to get an education?
Is this at all a factor, or just a useless social observation?

Read more here, if any.

Thanks, Ed Researcher!

I noticed that Ed Researcher had a feature on his website where you could show only the first paragraph of a post and then click a link to see the rest. I thought that would be a pretty cool thing to have here; it should make scrolling through the posts a lot easier, and if you don’t want to read the whole piece on Weighted Student Funding you shouldn’t have to. I asked him how to do it, he gave me the link, and hopefully you’ll be able to see the difference. I wish there was a way to only have the "Read More HERE!" link active when there was actually more to read, but such is life.

Blogging—It’s Swell!

Read more here, if any.

I Went 19-3 In Free Cell Yesterday, Then Read a Magazine and Took a Nap

Do I like summer vacation? Yes I do!

Read more here, if any.

Working With Gifted Kids

If I get to teach this combo class next year I’ll have a very, very bright group of kids. I’ve been thinking about the possibility a lot this summer, which probably means that it won’t happen because I’ll be ready for it.

Anyhow, I’ve been surfing around for hints and tips on working with gifted kids. This is an area that I feel pretty comfortable with anyhow, but it never hurts to know more, right?

Hoagie’s Gifted Page was pretty good in the idea department. What I’m looking for is curriculum ideas, things that I can have the driven, independent kids do on their own while I work with groups, teach the other half of the class, whatever. They had a link to the EPGY program at Stanford, which looks like it would be excellent for the high math kids, but then I read a review at Hoagies and it looks like the price per course would be around $500. I’ll spend money on my kids, but that’s way over the top. Accelerated Math will have to be good enough.

This website, on the Dos and Don’ts of instruction for gifted kids, was a good read too.

Read more here, if any.

WASL Retake Rate: 1-in-3

Only a third of the students who failed the math section of the WASL are taking part in the summer retakes, report The Olympian:
Fewer than one-third of sophomores who failed the math section of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning have signed up to retake the test in August, South Sound and statewide figures released this week show.

Even smaller numbers plan to take the reading and writing tests.

The WASL retake numbers are about what state officials had expected given that many students would need more instruction during the school year to improve their chances of passing the test, said Kim Schmanke, a spokeswoman for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Here's the thing--if only a third of the students are going to take the opportunity, is it really worth giving? Could the retests be delayed to the curriculum day in October, or worked into the school day some other way? Could districts combine resources to have a big, central retest place (think SAT administration) and save a little money?

I give Bergeson a ton of credit for getting this through the legislature and providing the money for it, but it seems like the execution could be better.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I always feel like.....somebody's watching me.....

If you live in Vancouver, you're perfectly justified to think so. From the WEA's website:
But Vancouver Education Association leaders note that the district found money to give raises to central office staff and recently hired a new deputy superintendent at a base salary of $130,000. Statewide, Vancouver already is second-highest (in its size class) for the ratio of administrators per teacher, at 1:13. The district spends nearly $3 million more for administrators, paid from local taxes, than the level set by the state. And the current Vancouver School District budget calls for an increase of five more administrators over last year.
1 administrator for every 13 teachers. I can't even begin to imagine what they could possibly all be doing.

Vancouver's teacher association filed an unfair labor practice charge when the district cut two days out of the schedule, meaning the average teacher would lose $500. There's a possibility of job action, which would have sort of a bittersweet irony to it since it was Evergreen School District near Vancouver that had the most famous strikes in state history.

You can read more about the situation here, including their tongue-in-cheek proposal to sell blood to support the schools.

Read more here, if any.

Washington Learns--The Overview

There's a neat overview of the thinking coming out of Washington Learns that has been posted to the website. If you go about 8 pages in to the document I linked, you'll find the summary. It talks about what they want to do in different grade bands and breaks down pretty much everything into nice-sized chunks.

They've also announced that the final summit on Washington Learns will be at the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle on November 13th. I think the public hearings are supposed to be before then, so I'm guessing that in September we'll get the first real roll-out of the materials.

Read more here, if any.

Thanks for being gifted! Here’s $25.

Because you just can’t get enough Washington Learns coverage!

I’ve talked before about different elements of the initiative, like class size and all-day kindergarten. Here we’ll look at what they’re proposing for gifted and talented ed.

Short answer: not much. $25 per kid is enough, according to the Picus and Odden report that is guiding the committee. Their argument is that the best strategies for acceleration are grade skipping, which is cost neutral, and that the smaller class sizes that they propose (15 in grades K-3!) would also make it easier for classroom teachers to modify for the gifted kids. They also talk about combination classes of accelerated kids, which again would be cost neutral. For a school of 600 kids, $25 per kid would be $15,000. For a district of 2000 students it’d be $50,000, which isn’t much, but at least it’s a start.

My thought: it’s nice that they’re thinking of the gifted kids, at least. $25 isn’t a lot and won’t get you much in the way of services, but if it gets something for the T&G kids, then it’s a good thing.

I think of what I’ve done with my accelerated kids over the years. Last year I had my Destination: Imagination! team, which ran me about $500. If they had actually paid me to do it (yeah, right) that would have been another $700 or so. The math classes I used to teach cost about $100 a shot in supplies, before my salary. The computer program that I’d like to get for the kids this year if I teach the advanced combo runs $25 a student, which would be $500 for a normal classroom.

I’m curious to see what the good folks at WAETAG think about this. If I can’t find anything on their website I’ll shoot their president an email and see what they say.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The National Board Takes Another Hit

I haven't seen any numbers lately for how many teachers in Washington have earned their National Board Certification, but if this great post is any indicator we might be making a mistake if we give bonuses to the NBPTS teachers. The links at the bottom of Ed Researcher's post will take you to some of the other recent stories.

Bottom line--if the effectiveness is in doubt, should we be paying for it?

Read more here, if any.

The Beeping Story

In the comments section of my post about changing rooms someone talked about how cleansing the experience could be, especially when there had been people in the room before you. This is truth.

I took over my room in October of 2001. Right after 9/11 the teacher who started the year had to leave in a hurry (her husband was a desert survival teacher and got orders elsewhere), and she’d only been in the room for a year, so there were cabinets filled with 30 years of accumulated crap. It was impenetrable. I took one look and closed the door, thinking I’d get to cleaning it up later.

Continued below!

Then the damned beeping started, every afternoon at around 5:00. The room would be quiet, I’d be slogging away on what needed to be done, then softly from one of the cupboards I’d hear it….

Beep beep…..beep beep…..beep beep….

It was like you’d hear from a digital watch that had its alarm set.

The first couple of times I let it go, but I hate sounds like that. Ticking clocks, dripping faucets, beeping things. One day I resolved to do something about it, but by the time I walked across the room and got into the cabinet, the beeping would stop.

That pattern repeated itself for weeks.

Beep beep….beep beep….

“Aw crap….I need to find that thing….”

(open) (shuffle) “Where the hell is it coming from?”

(and now silence, because I didn’t make it in time)

This became my mission. I would find the beeping. I HAD to find the beeping, for my own sake. So one day I wrote myself a note, and at the designated time I had the cabinets open, ready to spring into action.

Then the phone rang, and the beeping happened while I talked.

I was prepared again the next day. The beeping began and I tore into the cabinet that I thought it was coming from.

And found nothing.

Day 3 of Operation: Bleep the Beep I took every single box out of the cabinets, emptied their contents out on the floor, and waited.

Finally, success. The clock was in an old shoebox with some reading flashcards. Turned off the alarm, and peace was restored.

Except that I had boxes and materials all over the room. I shoved them back in the cupboard and didn’t look at them again until I threw them away three years later. It was good to do.

Read more here, if any.

Thinking About Coaching

I really don’t like the idea of instructional coaches for teachers, and I’m not totally sure why.

This particular rant is also born out of the Washington Learns discussion, where they’re suggesting that every school receive one instructional coach for every 200 students. At a school my size that would mean three coaches, which I could see being split between math, reading, and science.

I’m wary.

I don’t mind the idea of someone coming in and showing me ways I can improve my teaching, but I would mind someone coming in who only had different ways, not better ways. Take reading, for example. I’ve had great scores for the last couple of years, even among my low kids. I get results. If a reading coach came in and tried to tell me I needed to change, I’d have a hard time with that. I work with the youngest kids and the hardest to teach kids, and someone else is going to try and tell me how to teach reading?

I know, that’s me being petty.

The other thing that worries me is that I’ve heard in other districts that the instructional coaches have become little more than snitches for the principal. If they don’t like what you’re doing, even if it works, they complain, and since they’re the nominal experts on their subjects, they’re immediately given more credit than you are. I know that it doesn’t have to be that way, but I could easily see it happening, and that’s a concern.

And how does the coaching aspect work, really? In my school of 30 teachers do they watch each teacher every week? Every two weeks? I’m assuming that they’d be required to visit every classroom whether the teacher wanted them or not, or would they only go to the classrooms where there was a demonstrated need for them to be there?

I don’t mind being responsible to my principal—that’s life. It would worry me, though, to have to be responsible to my principal and three coaches, each of whom is looking over my shoulder to see if I’m teaching “their” subject the right way. I’ve worked hard to get an effective flow in my room that works for the kids, and anything that would threaten that makes me nervous.

Is there anything to worry about, or am I worried about nothing?

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Craze That's Sweeping the Blogosphere

I am nerdier than 40% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

I'm just not a computer guy.

Read more here, if any.

Thinking about Moving Rooms

There’s a chance next year that my school might need a 1st/2nd combination. I’m willing to teach it; after five years in 1st grade I’m ready for a change. On top of that they try to load the combo classes up with good kids who follow directions and are already doing well academically, which would make for a very nice class to teach.

The trick is that if I teach the combo I might need to change my classroom. It’s not far, just down the hallway, but as I sit here in the room and look at all the materials I’ve accumulated in only five years it really makes me pause.

How did I get so many books?

Why did I buy and record all those books on tape? I’ve never really used them all that well anyway.

Yes, I can see a situation where I might use that large, bulky manipulative to try and show one of the kids a different way to think about addition, but does using it once a year really justify the amount of space that it takes up in my closet?

The real bummer of it is that I work in a pretty new school (only three years old) and every room has a ton of storage space. They gave us cupboards and cabinets, and a really nice set of moveable drawers that are perfect for storing posters and other big materials. I’ve filled all the space in my room. I’ve got boxes in two other empty rooms, plus the storage room, filled to the brim with materials.

I have this fantasy sometimes that I’ll take out all the materials I have when I retire and have a giant garage sale that helps to pay my way to spending my twilight years by the side of a lake up in Republic. Why anyone would want to pay me for a 30 year old copy of Daily Oral Language I don’t know, but it’s my fantasy and I’m going to keep it, thank you very much.

The room that I’m thinking about moving to would be perfect for a couple of reasons. For a combo class it’s ideal for small groups and being able to set up dual instruction, and for a packrat is got more shelf space than any other room in the building.

It’s nice, too, that it’s my choice. Every time I think about it Mike In Texas’ posts about changing rooms pop into the back of my mind; having flexibility and not being forced is key.

I’ll know more after we do registration in August. If they need the combo I’ll go for it; if they don’t, I’ll stay put, teach the curriculum I already know, and spend more time with the Little (s)Thinker.

Read more here, if any.

What You Need to Know as a New Union Member

Ms. Cornelius has an excellent post that led off this week’s Carnival of Education on what new teachers need to know and do to be successful in their classrooms. It’s wonderfully well written and incredibly accurate—great job on her part!

It got me to thinking—as a new teacher, what should you know about being part of a union? Here’s some things I thought of that can help you interact with your association in a way that helps you both. These answers are NEA specific, because that’s the group I’m a member of—if anyone from the AFT would like to jump in, go for it!

1) You’re not just a member of one union, you’re a member of several.

You’re not just a member of your local, you’re also a member of your state association and the National Education Association as well. You’re also a part of your local Uniserv council, which represents all the locals in your areas. You’re going on more mailing lists now than you ever imagined possible.

2) Know your local chain of command—these are the people who can help you if you have a contract problem.

The person that you’re likely to be closest to is your building rep. The association will also have a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, at least, and the larger groups may well have more. It’s fascinating to look at a district like NYC and see just how big a leadership block can grow to be.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal, the first person to ask would be your building rep. If they don’t know the answer they should know whom to ask.

3) Read your contract. If you don’t have time, find someone who knows the contract well and become good friends with them.

My contract was given to me in a big pile with my insurance paperwork, benefits handbook, and a bunch of other things. I didn’t critically read it until my 4th year, when I was on the bargaining committee. Sure, I scanned it when I thought it might be relevant, but I didn’t live in it the way I do now.

As a new teacher no one expects you to read your contract, especially if you're in one of those locals where the contract can run 150+ pages. If something comes up that you think might be covered under the contract, ask someone who’s been around a while what they think. That person might be the building rep, or it might be someone on your team, but please ASK QUESTIONS.

The danger in trying to go it alone is that you don’t know what’s happened before. I had a transfer situation come up recently where two new staff members read their contract on their own, thought they had things all worked out, told the principal the way they thought things should be, and were pissed off when it didn’t work out the way they wanted. If they’d asked someone before going to the principal they could have known that a situation exactly like theirs had just happened two years before.

4) Your principal isn’t going to tell you what rights you have. They don’t have to. There isn’t a Miranda Warning for teachers.

Let’s say your principal tells you you’re being transferred, and further says that you can’t fight it because she’s read the contract and she knows all about it.

If you defer to that, you’re a sucker. Maybe your principal is right, maybe they’re not, but you owe it to yourself to get a second opinion from someone who knows. Don’t assume that what’s in the contract is all that there is to say on the matter, either—there might be a past practice that you don’t know about, or there could be another section in the contract that has some bearing on your situation.

This was one of the big issues in the last negotiation that my district did. You have the right to representation, but you have to be the one to ask for it. The district is under no obligation to tell you to go get your rep; it’s in their best interest if you try and go it alone, really.

5) Understand just how much support is behind you, if you need it.

If you have a tough situation your local association can be there for you. If it’s something we can’t handle we can call the Uniserv office, where there is full-time staff that lives union politics and loves a good fight. One step up the chain is the state office, where they have lawyers on the payroll who can help.

If there’s a way to help, we’ll find it.

6) Your Union will do stupid things. These will be highly publicized and make you wonder why you’re a member. Please don’t judge the entire organization based on those stupid things.

This gets truer the higher up the ranks you go. When the NEA is debating gay marriage or the war in Iraq, for example, you might wonder just what that has to do with teaching and learning. Similarly, my own Washington Education Association has spent time debating latex in schools and on whether “they” should be recognized as a proper singular preposition.

Remember, though, that bad news is what gets the noise. The quiet stories are the teacher who gets the transfer they were entitled to, the person who gets the back pay their principal was withholding from them, the victim of administrative harassment who finally gets some measure of justice. YOU might end up living one of these stories, and that’s when your association is there to help you.

(That's why I think it's great when stories like this get mainstream play. The story here turned out fine, but what would you have done if it had been you?)

Know too that, as a union member, the majority of what goes on at the state and national level really isn’t going to impact you anyways. It’s your local association that’s going to negotiate the contract that impacts you directly, so that’s who you should pay the most attention to.

7) The Union isn’t a monolith.

This will come as a surprise to many who’d like to portray the association as some sort of Borg-like collective marching in lockstep to ruin public education, but there’s quite a variety of opinion out there on what we should be and how we should evolve. If you decide to get active in your association—and it’s something well worth doing—you’ll see just how fiery the debate can be. That’s OK. Debate is the birthing ground of progress, and anyone either within or without who says that there shouldn’t be discussion is someone you should gleefully ignore.

Here in Washington I’m glad we have the Evergreen Freedom Foundation bird-dogging the WEA every step of the way. There’s nothing wrong with oversight, and I’m glad that our leadership has been made to justify themselves every now and again. It builds character.

8) You can be involved as little or as much as you want.

If you have to make a choice between attending a membership meeting or taking care of yourself, take care of yourself. Anything really important you’ll hear about anyway.

If you feel like you’ve got it all under control and you want to begin down the path to being the next Al Shanker, go for it. It’s a fun trip!

I’m sure there’s more things that I should talk about (like dues, sloganeering, and the fact that you’ll probably never go on strike), but that can wait for another day.

If I had to sum everything up in one sentence: You’ve got to be in, so why not try to make the most of it?

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WSF, Part II: The Little Things

If you've never been to Airway Heights, Washington on the 4th of July, it's a hoot. They blow the town up, and it's every bit as good a show as you'll see in the cities.

This is a continued look at the new Fund the Child: Tackling Inequity & Antiquity in School Finance from the Fordham Foundation on Weighted Student Funding as a means to reform the school finance system. Yesterday I talked about the impact that it could have on teacher salaries and seniority; here's a round-up of some other items in the report that I thought interesting.

1. One of the principles of WSF is that you pay more for different kids; for example, an ELL/ESL/LEP kid could merit 125% of the money that a regular ed student would. A part of the report that I really like is the idea that they would weight gifted and talented students differently. A lot of the time funding for G&T ed is in the form of grants or percentages, but by attaching the dollar amount to the number of students you'd give districs a powerful incentive to 1) seek those kids out and 2) give them the service they deserve.

2. Low-SES kids would carry more money with them. The authors of the report argue that this would make those kids desirable, saying:
Under WSF, if weights are implemented properly, schools will have pwoerful incentives to serve more disadvantaged kids. Schools may begin to vie for these populations to gain increased funding, rather that shun them as is often the cases today. By rewarding schools for attracting more students (and especially more students with educational challenges), WSF can fundamentally change the way individual schools think about their "most attractive" students.
I can't see it. If under NCLB you're subject to being labeled a failing school and losing your job if you don't get all kids to pass their tests, and if the sanction for not getting them all there is losing your job, closing your school, becoming a charter, state takeover, whatever, then are you really going to be actively pursuing kids who could cost you your job? How much money would it take?

3. A function of WSF is that the principal should be able to make the heavy majority of the school-based decisions. They give an example of a school recruiting parents to do the landscaping, which seems like a bad idea to me. I can't imagine any principal putting a blurb in the school newsletter asking for someone to cut the grass. Could a principal, in order to save money, cut the lunch program and demand that all students brown-bag it? Make the teachers clean their own rooms?

4. One of the major supporters of WSF in the report is Rod Paige--he gets a two-page spread to talk more about the great things that happened in Houston. Here's the trick--the Texas Miracle was a complete sham. Paige oversaw a district built on lies, that cheated to make itself look better, and was the absolute opposite of what NCLB calls for. It's amazing to me that Paige is still able to hang on around education--I don't see how anyone could take a word he says seriously. He is our Barry Bonds. His name should forever be written as Paige*.

In short--if Paige is for it, that's a good reason to look closely at it and wonder if it's for real.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Weighted Student Funding: The Wrong Solution

I'm a Fordham Foundation junkie; if they write it, I'll read it. They're very good at getting national attention for the work they do, particularly when they compare standards across states (see here for history, for example), and I'm a fan of the Education Gadfly Podcast they do.

Their newest report called "Fund the Child: Tackling Inequity & Antiquity in School Finance" is on a concept called Weighted Student Funding, which has five main components (click below for more):

1. Funding should follow the child, on a per-student basis, to the public school that he/she attends.
2. Per-student funding should vary according to a child's need and other relevant circumstances.
3. The funds should arrive at the school as real dollars (i.e., not teaching positions, ratios, or staffing norms) that can be spent flexibly, with accountability gauged by results, not inputs, programs, or activities.
4. These principles for allocating money to schools should apply to all levels (e.g., federal funds going to states, state funds going to districts, districts to schools).
5. All funding systems should be simplified and made transparent.

Yippee skippy. There's an impressive list of people who believe in WSF attached to the report, and it sounds good in principle until you get down to the details.

The main detail that bothers me: under weighted student funding teachers who are higher up the pay scale can get screwed hard, capriciously, with impunity. Here's how.

A lot of the research in the report is based off of the work of Marguerite Roza, who works for the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Her major area of research has been on the disparity in spending between schools in the same district (short overview here) which in her view is short-changing kids from lower-funded schools.

The trick is, though, that the disparity that usually exists is based on the salaries that you pay the teachers at the different schools. Here's an example from the report (page 16):

To better understand how these policies work, picture a pair of schools, one on each side of the tracks. Each has 40 teachers and 800 kids. On the rich side, the average teacher has 14 years of experience, and 60 percent of the teachers have master's degrees. On the poor side, the average teacher has 3 years experience and just 10 percent have master's degrees. Let's say that the 11 added years of experience are worth $9,000 in salary and the master's degree is worth $3,000. The affluent school would receive $432,000 more than the poor school--just in funding for teacher salaries. That is an additional $540 per student to the rich school, before any of the other factors discussed in this section are taken into account.

I disagree completely. That money isn't going to the school to be spent on kids--it's going to the school to pay teacher salaries. The principal has no say in how that money is spent, there's no way it can be directed to any other purpose than salary--given this, how are the kids at the poorer school being shortchanged?

No one will argue against trying to get our best teachers to the kids who need them most, but I believe using teacher salary to make the argument is the wrong approach. Other elements of WSF make sense, like giving schools additional money for high-need, high-poverty kids, but trying to make salary part of the problem is wrongheaded.

That's a goal of WSF, though. From the report (page 15):

Because some staff members are paid much more than others, one school can effectively receive quite a bit more funding than another it it employs more experienced, and thus expensive, teachers.

There's nothing effective going on here--the school does not receive the funding, period. Perhaps I shouldn't generalize, but in most districts doesn't your paycheck come from the district office? At my school the only money that comes out of the building budget is for the enrichment classes I teach, and I have to do additional work to get that money.

The hits keep coming. This is from page 26, in a discussion about the autonomy that school leaders need to have to make WSF work:

Staff hiring decisions. Choosing the best teachers for the school within budgetary constraints, and managing the tradeoffs between experienced teachers who cost more and younger teachers who cost less.

This should set off warning bells for anyone. The idea that you would look at how much money someone makes as a factor for employment in the school is horrible. Imagine principals cutting high-paid teachers to divert more money to their pet programs and pet pedagogues. Imagine being told after 29 years of teaching music that you weren't going to be welcome any more because your high salary doesn't make it economically feasible any more to have a music program. Imagine getting lunch duty because your principal decided having paras cover lunch was too expensive (you don't have to work very hard to imagine this if you live in NYC).

Am I overreacting? Consider this from page 40:

What happens to teacher seniority under WSF? Adapting teacher seniority rules to WSF will be challenging. If schools must bear the full costs of salaries, and if salaries rise with seniority, schools need to be able to decide the optimal mix of senior and junior teachers on their payrolls. Otherwise, because staff costs make up most of school spending, schools will not truly have control over their budgets. WSF therefore requires that districts eliminate the right of senior teachers to choose their assignments, a right that is in direct conflict with the local autonomy necessary for success.

I see a long, long list of things that could go wrong for teachers here, and I can't see the positives. This may well be one of those fly-by-night ideas that comes and goes with barely a ripple, but if it's not union folk should pay attention.

There are some other small problems with the report that I'll cover in another posting. I'm off to watch fireworks!

Read more here, if any.

New links!

I added some more links over in the sidebar to blogs that I read a lot of. NYC Educator and Mr. Lawrence were both recently honored with awards, so you know they're good. Ms. Cornelius of A Shrewdness of Apes is a wise soul who makes great points, and is thus well worth reading. The guy who writes Education in Texas is hilarious, and What It's Like on the Inside is a fellow Washingtonian.

My blog has been showing up in more and more blogrolls, which is really a neat thrill. Here's a big 4th of July Thank You! to everyone who's been stopping by; you make blogging fun.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Some more quick hits from the June 21st Education Week

The Southern Baptists are urging school boards to pass resolutions that make it easier for kids to go to off-campus bible study during the school day. I’m all for bible study, but the day is so limited already—why can’t this be done at home, or on Sunday?

Mayor Bloomberg is going to empower 331 of the 1,400 schools in New York City. Actually, he’s empowering their principals to do more. This is good, because can you imagine what would happen if the teachers were allowed to make decisions? The end of civilization. It’s true. Eva told me.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Coleman Report, which changed how we view minority students. I salute Gary and the great work that he did.

In Oregon, the teachers union has agreed to stop pushing a Corporate Accountability initiative if the business community will oppose initiatives to cut state revenues. One of those, backed by poorly-named former US Representative Dick Armey, would take $835 million dollars out of the state budget during the next cycle. As if Oregon’s schools don’t have enough trouble already.

You know your state test is valid if the janitor says it’s OK. From Florida:

Some temporary workers hired to grade esay questions on Florida’s standardized tests apparently lack teaching experience or degrees related to the subjects they are grading, a preliminary examination of their job applications shows.

A review by aides to Democratic Senate leaders, who sued to get the records, shows people being paid $10 an hour to grade the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, are as likely to be janitors, homemakers, or store clerks as they are to have professional careers.

Nobody ever said anything about the assessors being highly qualified, just the teachers. After all, when your child being promoted or flunked depends on passing the test, what does it really matter?

Finally, the office of the Department of Education’s inspector general has spanked South Dakota for the way they calculate their graduation rate. The humor comes from the fact that Department of Education has already approved the states data collection method. Secretary Spellings may need to get this straightened out, if she ever gets back from her most recent junket to whereever the heck she is.

Read more here, if any.

Yearbook Screw-Ups II: The Quotable Fuhrer

In the “Dear God, THINK!” department, I submit to you (via EdWeek) the yearbook from Northport HS in Northport, NY:
Two high school seniors in Northport, N.Y., picked quotations from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to appear under their yearbook pictures, prompting an apology from school officials. “It’s our responsibility, and we failed miserably,” said Northport High School Principal Irene McLaughlin. “The fact that the book went out in the form it did was a grave mistake on our part.” The quotes picked by Christopher Koulermos and Philip Compton, both 18, were attributed to Hitler. Superintendent William Brosnan said the yearbook’s student staff and its adviser saw the quotations before they were published. While the 6,500-student district has no formal policy for reviewing quotations from seniors, he said, common sense dictated that the Hitler quotes should have been run by administrators before they were published.

I hope that there was some debate among the yearbook staff before this happened; it would bother me if no one looked at those quotes and was given pause.

Update: There's a good opinion piece about the issue in Newsday.

Read more here, if any.

Terry Bergeson in Education Week

Hey, it’s our Superintendent of Public Instruction on page 3, and it’s not a negative story!

Two weeks back I went to the OSPI Summer Institute that they hold every year here in Spokane. It’s a great conference and one of the few professional development things I’ve done that is actually worth attending.

One thing that kind of sticks out about Dr. B, though, is her love of the word “suck.” Here are some quotes from her keynote speeches during the conference:
“Our science scores in Washington suck.”
“Our scores suck and will continue to suck if we don’t….”
“That really sucks.”
“You can see the sucky suckitude all over this sucky Powerpoint slide that my sucky assistant made over in Osuckia.”

OK, I made the last one up, but the first three are direct quotes. Not that they’re wrong, mind you—the science scores are not good at all—but I’d like the highest elected teacher in the state to say things a bit more…politically?

Eh, never mind. Part of the reason she’s been able to get as much done as she has is because she doesn’t gloss over things, and we’re a better state for it. Here’s to 20 more years of Terry as SPI.

Anyhow, the article is about the most recent round of 10th grade scores from March. 86% passed in reading, 84% in writing, but only 54% in math, which is where the concern lies. This is the first year that you have to pass all 3 sections of the WASL to graduate, so the best-case estimate is that half of the class of 2008 hasn’t earned their diploma yet.

There’s help coming. The legislature gave $28 million for summer school programs to help the kids who didn’t pass, and the option to count the SAT or ACT math score in place of the WASL score is a useful one. I like those alternatives a lot more than I like the “compare your GPA to kids who did pass” option, because the latter seems ripe for abuse.

On the whole it’s a good article. If you subscribe to Education Week you can read the story here.

Read more here, if any.