Thursday, August 24, 2006

Health Insurance Can Make You Sick

Alternate Title: Health! I Need Some Money! Health! Just Like Everybody!
Alternate Alternate Title: No Fun With Numbers

My district does a benefits fair every year where you can go and talk to the different insurance providers and learn about the various supplementary retirement plans that are offered. The letter that they send every year to remind us always has some great numbers in it.

In Washington the state gives a certain amount of money per teacher to cover insurance costs. Last year it was $629.07; this year it’s bumped up to $682.54, a $53.47 increase. Happy day!

The district gives us the money to spend on whatever offered plan we’d like. I’ve used Group Health since I started teaching; they’re quite a bit cheaper than the other plans but still quite comprehensive. Here’s what Group Health cost per month last year:

Employee: $376.66
Employee and Spouse: $726.96
Employee and Children: $557.46
Employee and Family: $911.53

The pisser is that the fees on my plan are going up 16.5% this year. When you figure that in here’s what those plans will cost this year, with the increase in parentheses:

Employee: $438.81 ($62.15)
Employee and Spouse: $846.91 ($119.95)
Employee and Children: $649.45 ($91.99)
Employee and Family: $1062.38 ($150.85)

The increase in state funding doesn’t cover the increase in plan costs for any of the plans. If you’re on the family plan, like I will be this year, you’re still going to pay nearly $1200 more out of pocket for your health care.

It gets worse, because that’s only the medical insurance. We’ve got a choice between two dental plans, Washington Dental at $111.20 a month, or Willamette Dental at $65.00. Most people choose Washington Dental because there are only two offices in the Spokane area that accept Willamette, and they’re both terribly inconvenient.

So, if you use Group Health to cover your entire family ($1062.38) and get Washington Dental ($111.20), your total cost per month is $1,173.58. Take out the state funding ($682.54) and your total deduction per month from your paycheck is $491.04. Multiply that by 12 and you’ll get the yearly cost, $5892.48.

Now consider that as a part of my yearly salary. This year, with a Master’s Degree and 5 years of experience, I’ll make $38,442 in salary. 15% of that will go towards insurance costs. That’s off the top, before taxes, before retirement—15% on insurance costs alone.

Teaching is about sacrifices, and I accept that. It’s unconscionable, though, for Rick Hess to rail against “gold plated” health care for teachers when I don’t think it’s something that he himself has to worry about. Is Margaret Spellings putting 15% of her salary towards her health care? Rod Paige? Joel Klein? Terry Bergeson?

Anyhow, there’s my reality. What’s yours?

Read more here, if any.

Rise of The (S)Thinker!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks.

The due date for our daughter was the middle of September. A couple of Wednesdays ago, on the 9th, we were watching Prison Break on the Tivo when the wife goes to use the restroom. She comes out shaken and crying—there’s blood, a lot of it, and it’s bright, bright red. In our birth classes they said that this was a very bad sign, and both of our minds leapt immediately to the worst-case scenario.

I called our OBGYN’s office and got the answering service. She helpfully told me she’d message the doctor on-call, but that she might not be able to get back to us for up to 20 minutes.

“Um….shouldn’t we be going to the hospital instead of waiting by the phone?”
“Sir, I’m not a doctor. I can’t tell you that.”

I’m not a doctor either, but I’ve watched every episode of House, and there was no way I was waiting 20 minutes. Happily, it only took 30 seconds, and the doctor agreed—get to the hospital.

I calmly ran every red light and broke the speed limit in four different jurisdictions, and we got to the emergency room at about 9:30. Emergency rooms are an interesting place. Anybody in an emergency room has a story to tell, even the drug addicts. Heck, the addicts might have the best stories. After a wait they took us up to the neonatal unit, took a look, and sure enough—her water had broken, 5 or 6 weeks early, and she was not dilated at all. Too early to deliver, so they told my wife that she could be looking at up to two weeks of bed rest.

And that’s what we did on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Happily they hooked me up with the wireless internet connection, so I did lots of ego surfing, game playing, and browsing through YouTube. Sunday a different doctor from the practice that our midwife works out of came in, read her chart, shrugs, and says, “I think you’re ready enough—we’re going to start inducing you, and you should have the baby tomorrow.”

She and I were both stunned. Our midwife, the resident, and the nurses had all been saying at least one more week, possibly two more weeks, and now we were looking at having the kid the very next day. I paced. She cried. The nurse came in and started her on a drug called Pitocin, which is used to begin contractions. “They’ll be very light tonight!” she said. “You should be able to sleep through the contractions!” she said.

Neither one of us slept through her contractions. The dads get a nice vinyl couch to sleep on, so while I chafed against that she grunted her way through the night. The next morning they upped the dose and made the contractions that much harder, so we tried our breathing exercises!

Him: “In 2 3 4, out 2 3 4! Great job, honey!”


Him: “Well, that’s one contraction closer to the end, right?”

Her: “SHUT……….UP……….”

She didn’t really want to do the epidural—she’s got a thing about needles—but I talked her in to it. She loved, loved, loved, the epi. I could look on the graph and see the contractions coming and going….

“Golly! That was a big one! How do you feel, baby?”

(dreamy look in her eye) “Did I have a contraction? Oh….gee…..”

I liked her a lot more after the epidural, too.

Finally, she fully dilated to ten and it was go time. My intent during the actual delivery was to sit off to the side and be a cheerleader, but a few pushes in the nurse tells me to come over and hold my wife’s leg up. This gave me the full view, which is unforgettable, but I’m glad I did it. And then, at 1:25 in the afternoon, I became a daddy! They had to take her up to the neonatal intensive care unit for a couple of days because she was having trouble regulating her temperature, but we were able to bring her home last Thursday.

So now I’m a family man. I know I’m going to have to work hard on the balance piece, because I’ve been so into my work the last couple of years, but it’ll all come together. Maybe this year I don’t lead the book study, coordinate Read Naturally, and do 5 different after-school clubs.

Life is good. It was already good, but now it’s better. Welcome to the world, daughter!

Pictures to follow when I find a good hosting service.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It can't possibly be true, right?

A brief, troubling exerpt from the New York Times, talking about how principals are trained in New York City:

The method of filling those vacancies, however, has been markedly altered under Mr. Klein. As chancellor, he jettisoned the so-called Distinguished Faculty program, which used veteran or newly retired principals to nurture newly appointed ones. The Distinguished Faculty program, which reached 500 principals for a total cost of $1.5 million, was replaced by the $70-million Leadership Academy, which drew much of its curriculum from corporate management training. The academy’s first leader, Robert E. Knowling Jr., had most recently demonstrated his leadership skills as chief executive officer of the telecommunications company Covad, which he left $1.4 billion in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy while he received a $1.5 million severance package.

A program that costs 40 times as much as what was in place is given over to run to someone with obviously poor leadership skills. That's more than troubling, it's bizarre.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Because You Just Can’t Get Enough Washington Learns!

Things are clicking right along with Governor Gregoire’s Washington Learns committee. TV Washington has the last meeting of the steering committee streamed on-line; in it, Dr. Bergeson does a nice job of explaining where they want to go. We’ll have a better idea when they start putting out final reports, which should be next month.

A couple of interesting developments:

In their memo to the steering committee the K-12 Advisory Committee has recommended that, because of the money and personnel involved, it should take 6 to 8 years to phase in their recommendations. That’s about the only way that I can see it happening; the up-front money simply isn’t there in the state budget right now, and a lengthy phase-in process would allow for some good priority setting as well.

They’re still talking about capping class size at 15 in grades K-3 and 25 in grades 4-6. I’m ambivalent. A class of 15 would be an incredible thing to have, but the cost involved would be equally incredible.

Consider a group of 60 kids. In most schools that would be split into 3 classes; under the new formula, you’d need four. My district estimates that a teacher costs $65,000 in salary, benefits, and retirement. Then consider that, statewide, there are nearly 300,000 kids in the primary grades. At 20 a class, you’d need 15,000 teachers; at 15 students, we’re talking about 20000 teachers, or a 5,000 teacher difference. That’s an extra cost of $325,000,000 dollars, and it’s certainly more than that because the average class size in the primary grades is more than 20.

An extremely interesting (and very wonkish) wrinkle to the salary debate is the idea of differentiating salary based on the region of the state that you live in. This has long been one of the peeves of the teachers in the Seattle area, who often can’t afford to live in the districts (think Mercer Island) they teach in. Picus released a draft report through Washington Learns in April and used a tool called the Comparable Wage Index to look at what it costs to live in different parts of the state, and surprisingly (at least to me) they found that the highest-cost area was the Tri-Cities, with Seattle a close second. In fact, of the 13 areas they looked at, only four were above average in cost and a couple (Spokane and Eastern Washington) were significantly below.

This is a tough one. It would be awfully hard to live on a beginning teacher’s salary in Seattle (and apparently Pasco, too), but is there a shortage of people looking to fill those jobs? If yes, you can justify the additional pay. If there isn’t a shortage, though, then (from a taxpayer’s point of view) what do you get from a pay bump? Raising everyone’s salary appeals to the unionist in me, but that’s not likely either. I don’t know what the ideal is—that’s why I’m not on the committee!

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Drop and Give Me 20, Lardass

I live and work in a military community, and every spring there’s a big up-tick in activity as everyone shakes off the winter hoar and gets ready for their physical fitness tests. I usually get to the school at 6:30 or 7:00, and I’ll typically pass about a 100 or so airmen out for their morning runs, all dressed in gray shirts and shorts.

The fitness tests are a big deal that everyone knows about. And yet

Since the new fitness program began in 2004, Air Force Reserve Command’s performance has stumbled.

In 2003, 76 percent of unit reservists took the fitness test. Most of them—98.9 percent—passed their assessments.

Two years later 68 percent of the reservists tested. But this time 7 percent of them finished with a marginal score and 12 percent of them performed poorly. AFRC’s failure rate in this category was six times higher than the rate for active-duty members.

We can’t get 100 percent of the Air Force to the standard of physical fitness after decades of measurement. How, then, can the expectation to get 100% of kids to grade level in reading and math be reasonable? Consider too the drop-out rate from bootcamp, which you can find here. The upshot it that they've all lowered their failure rate, but none of them are at zero. Consider that these are folks who self-select to be there, while students don't often have that motivation. Can we draw anything from that?

Just something I've been kicking around.

Read more here, if any.

Philadelphia Looks at Extending the School Year

Paul Vallas would like to add a month to the school year in 60 low-performing schools, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Vallas said the plan also was prompted by a survey of district teachers that found that a program started in 2003 ordering under-performing students to attend summer school has not been as successful as hoped. One of the main problems is attendance, which has hovered in the area of 70 percent, he said.

Students who return for summer school after a couple of weeks off don't have the same level of "seriousness," he said. Eliminating that break will maintain meaningful instruction, he said.

This touches on one of the big questions in education--how do you get more time to the kids who need it? Do you extend the year for the entire school, or only for those kids who need it (which may well be the entire school)? I've struggled with poor summer school attendance too, and if I could figure out a way to get them there more often I'd use it in a heartbeat.

Read more here, if any.

A Phone Call

I’ve been checking the voice mail in the office over the summer. We’ve got a highly mobile population, and there have been several calls from parents during the summer asking questions about the school, wondering when registration is, etc. I try to call them back so we can set a good tone and get on their good side right away.

I had an interesting one the other day. A family is moving in from the mid-west, and mom had gone online to one of the websites like Just for the Kids that rank schools. She knew our test scores, she knew where we compared to the other districts around us (all of which are within driving distance, a couple of which you can bus to), and she liked what we had to offer.

Parents choosing schools based on data is the dream of many; it underlies the charter schools movement, and it’s inherent in the failing schools language of No Child Left Behind. This was the first time that I’d ever seen it directly, and while I’m gratified that it was to our benefit I worry about the future.

The Public Education Network did a series of hearings last winter on NCLB. They were written off as teacher whining about the law, but there’s a great quote from their published report that I liked:

Labeling schools “in need of improvement,” typically interpreted as “failing,” creates conditions whereby schools are abandoned by some students—often the highest performing students; by teachers who transfer to other schools; and by communities unsure of their responsibility for schools most in need of support.

Rather that viewing a school in nee of improvement as an opportunity to rally community support and elicit strategies for ways students in that school can be better served, such labeling initiates blame-games and finger-pointing at whichever group caused the school to “fail.”

This destructive impact goes well beyond the school; it tears at the fabric of community. When a district or school receives a low grade, said an Ohio student, “it reflects on the community. Who wants to attend a failing school? Better yet, what parent wants to live in a community where the schools are failing?”

It’s the down-the-road impact that worries me the most.

We’re doing a pretty good job at my school right now. Our biggest weakness is in science, but that test is pretty new. We’ve done incredible things in reading and math over the years.

Pretty soon, though, it won’t be enough. We’ll only pass 87% of the kids in math when our AYP goal is 90%, and we will have failed. We’ll only get 95% of the kids in reading when the goal is 100%, and we will have failed. This will be in the newspapers and on the internet, and then what? How will I explain to parents who call that while yes, we are failing under the provisions of NCLB, we’re still a very, very good school?

I’m not saying that we can’t do better. We can, and we must. What gnaws at me is trying to figure out what we’ll do when everyone is working is hard as they can, when we’ve made that step from good to great, and we’re still out of compliance. What then?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Book Thing

Over at Bluebird’s Classroom, via California Teacher Guy, there is a series of questions about books that have touched your life. It looked like fun, so here are my answers:

  • One book that changed your life: A Bell Tolling in an Empty Sky: The Best of the Sun Magazine. I first picked up The Sun when I went off to college, and the sheer quality of the writing impacted me as profoundly as anything I’ve ever read. There’s a theme on improving yourself to improve the world, and the personal stories are incredible.
  • One book that you’ve read more than once: Elmer Gantry, by Sinclair Lewis. It’s not uplifting, but Lewis’ classic about an insincere preacher reveals something new every time I read it. In my opinion, it’s easily his best work.
  • One book you’d want on a desert island: For practical reasons, the Boy Scout Handbook.
  • One book that made you laugh: Red Sky at Morning. During our silent reading time in 9th grade I read this scene between the hired Mexican day laborer and the landlord that had me shaking with laughter and looking like a complete spaz in front of everyone else in class. But man, that was hilarious!
  • One book that made you cry: There was a Spiderman story I read years ago called “The Boy Who Collected Spiderman” that was one of the most emotional comics I’ve ever come across. For other tear-jerking comics, you can read a comprehensive list hereor here.
  • One book that you wish had been written: How to Lose Weight Without Making Any Life Changes or Exercising.
  • One book that you wish had never been written: The Catcher in the Rye. I hate this book. I’ve heard others say how it changed their life forever, but the couple of times I’ve been completely unimpressed. My high school English teacher and I went around and around on this one.
  • The book you are currently reading: Tough Love for Schools by Frederick Hess and Collective Bargaining in Education by Jane Hathaway and Andrew Rotherham. School nerd!
  • One book you’ve been meaning to read: Freakanomics. My dad says it’s great.

    Read more here, if any.
  • My Statement to the Press

    I thank you all for coming today.

    As you know, I was fortunate enough to win the Teacher of the Year award recently. It was a crowning achievement for me, certainly the highlight of my career, and a high point in my life.

    It has recently been disclosed that the tests done after the awards ceremony showed that I had unnaturally high levels of teachtosterone in my blood stream. Further tests showed that this was synthetic teachtosterone, and this has led to allegations that I was using steroids to improve my teaching.

    I say to you definitively, nothing could be further from the truth! I have never used teaching-enhancing steroids, and there are several legitimate, reasonable explanations for those test results!

    1. Just before the awards ceremony I graded several hundred math timings after drinking two cans of the original-formula Red Bull. I normally drink sugar-free, and I submit to you that this could have thrown off the tests.
    2. Similarly, a copy of Ron Clark’s “The Essential 55” was accidentally left on my nightstand the week before. I think that exposure to this recent classic about successful teaching may have raised my teachtosterone ratios to dangerous levels.
    3. I had also recently taken to listening to Al Franken on the radio. I am ashamed of myself for giving in, but his dry delivery and impeccable sense of humor grabbed me and refused to let go.
    4. I was also fired up about some changes in the district. As a union rep, it’s my job to be fired up! You start talking contract and the ol’ heart gets pumping and the teachtosterone kicks in hard. However, this is a natural reaction and not tied to steroids at all!

    Finally, I would like to answer one of the most disgusting, scurrilous charges that has been leveled against me—that my teaching talent comes from eating the hearts of young children. All of those missing students transferred to different schools, and I’m sorry they didn’t tell their parents ahead of time, but isn’t that how it is with grade school kids nowadays? I’m sure they’ll be in contact soon.

    Thank you for your time.

    Read more here, if any.

    Sunday, August 06, 2006

    Here Comes Teacher Appreciation Season!

    Crayola does a monthly email newsletter, and recently they listed some of the events for teachers that are coming up here in the back-to-school season. Here’s what they listed, along with some others I found:

    Michael’s Crafts: The week of August 20th to 26th they’ll be giving 10% off to anyone who comes in with a valid teacher ID card. They're also having an on-line giveaway beginning the 19th at the link above. I spend way too much money at Michael’s; I like to redo the room every couple of months to match the season, and they’re great for decorations.

    Shopko: The flyer in today's paper said that they would be giving teachers 15% off of everything this Wednesday, August 9th.

    Wal-Mart: Their website lists teacher appreciation events, but it doesn’t give any dates. I called two of my local Wal-Marts and they said that they were definitely going to have something for teachers and to check the ads to see when they would be.

    Staples: Here in Spokane they’re all going to be on August 26th. They’re giving each teacher a bag of stuff!

    Office Depot: Their website says they're hosting a teacher appreciation breakfast at their stores, but individual dates aren't listed for each store. They could stand to learn from Staples' web site in that regard.

    Free stuff is always good stuff.

    Read more here, if any.

    Because Bad Ideas Need Love Too

    From the report Teaching Inequality, published in June by the Education Trust:

    And, finally, take a cue from professional sports and start using a “draft strategy.” That is, put high-poverty, struggling schools at the head of the hiring line, allowing them to have the first pick of teaching talent. If we can give struggling sports teams first dibs on talented new players, can’t we do the same for low-performing schools and provide these schools a decent shot at giving good teachers to the students who need the most help?

    Scene: The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It’s a full, rowdy house, filled with screaming fans in face paint, awash in the ecstasy of the moment. "Get Ready for This!” blasts over the speakers, whipping the frenzied crowd into an even higher fervor.

    Chris Berman: Hello education fans, and welcome to the 2006 Teachers Draft! I’m Chris “Lots of Nicknames” Berman, joined today by analysts Mel Kiper Jr., and Andy Katz. Mel, give us the answer to the question on everyone’s mind—who will be the number one pick?

    Continued Below

    Mel Kiper: Chris, this is as wide open as I’ve seen the draft since Rafe Esquith went number one in 1992. There are literally thousands of possibilities, and any one of them would be a great fit for Coach Moskowitz’s team at Harlem Success.

    Andy Katz: What I’m hearing from sources close to the league office is to keep an eye on where the Teach for America folks go. They’ve got great fundamentals that a lot of the teachers coming out of college just aren’t getting any more.

    Berman: It looks like we’re about to find out….here comes the commissioner!

    (Rod Paige comes out from behind the curtain. He’s wearing a tweed jacket, a bolo tie, and, inexplicably, no pants)

    Paige: Hello teaching fans!

    (crowd cheers)

    I’d like to thank Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein for all their help with this year’s draft. We couldn’t do it without them. The teachers couldn’t do it without them. In fact, all good in the world flows from the glistening wellspring that is Joel Klein’s magnanimous, all-knowing self. Reading rugs will save education in this country!

    (More cheering. A “PED-a-GO-gy!” chant starts in the back of the room and grows to a thunderous roar. Towards the front of the room two men wearing Rick Hess masks headbutt each other.)

    Paige: All the hard work and preparation pays off today for the nation’s teachers, as they will be told where they can spend the rest of their careers. Sure, it might not be where they want to work, but that’s wholly irrelevant to what we’re doing today.

    Berman: Amen, Rod!

    Paige: And with the first pick in the 2006 Teachers Draft, Harlem Success Charter School selects....Reg Weaver, President of the National Education Association!

    (The crowd sits in stunned silence. TV cameras pick up Reg Weaver, who looks shocked. The silence is then broken by a shriek from a table up front)


    (Eva screams in fury and begins throttling the 23 year old first year teacher next to her, who takes it because she’s an at-will employee)

    Paige: Wow, what a bummer. Good luck Eva!

    Berman: Let’s go to Andy Katz, who is live with President Weaver.

    Katz: Reg, how do you feel about this dramatic turn of events?

    Weaver: This is a complete mistake. I can’t be expected to teach—I haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in 20 years!

    Katz: Indeed! Back to you, Boomer.

    Berman: Reg Weaver may be off the board, but there is still plenty of all-star talent out there. I can see Mr. Paige coming back to the podium; let’s hear who’s next!

    Paige: With the second pick in the Teachers Draft, Craphole High School selects….. Stereotypical Careerchanger!

    Berman: A bold pick for Craphole High! What can you tell us about him, Mel?

    Kiper: Chris, Careerchanger has wanted nothing more in life than to teach kids but has been consistently blocked from the classroom by the foul, petty machinations of the evil, malignant teachers unions. Now, thanks to the Teacher Draft, he can finally live the dream!

    Berman: What are his stats?

    Kiper: SC is a 40 year old accomplished professional with rich life experience. He nailed a 5.5 40 in the teacher combine last month, and he’s been able to go for 13 hours at a time without using the restroom. He was in charge of a department of 120 people at his old job, where he made $170,000 a year.

    Berman: Wait a minute, Mel….$170,000?

    Kiper: That’s right, Boomer.

    Berman: Interesting! Let’s go to Andy Katz, covering the contract negotiations between SC and his new school.

    (Careerchanger is sitting at a table with officials from Craphole High, a shocked look on his face)

    Careerchanger: $33,000 a year? Are you kidding me?!? That’ll barely cover my mortgage!

    Balding Administrator: (looking rather put out) Sir, that’s what we pay all of our beginning teachers. You haven’t ever taught children; in fact, the only teaching experience listed on your resume involved getting the family dog to sit.

    Careerchanger: Irrelevant! I demand top money, full autonomy, and to only teach the best kids!

    Katz: It looks like there could be a holdout down here, Chris. What drama!

    Berman: Indeed, Andy! Folks, we have to go to our first commercial break, but stay with us for complete coverage of the draft on all the ESPN family of networks!

    Read more here, if any.

    I Thought a Think Tells You All You Need to Know About the July 26th Edition of Education Week

    (With all due apologies to Steven Colbert)

    The edu-sphere has been sort of hard on Kansas in recently years. Sure, the wounds are mostly self-inflicted, but I don’t think Education Week is helping to dispel the idea that Kansas is an ass-backwards hick hegemony when the best picture they have to illustrate an article on the state is a parade of tractors.

    The American Federation of Teachers has done a neat report looking at how well states’ standards are lined up with their tests. Washington State was one of 11 commended for having 100% alignment while Oregon was in the 75% to 99% range and 9 states bombed hard with 0%. You can read the report for yourself at the link above.

    Reading to even the very youngest kids, under the age of two, has been shown to raise their comprehension and vocabulary scores as compared to kids whose parents don’t read to them as often. With fatherhood about to kick me in the ass (we’re 5 weeks away from the due date!), this is good stuff to know. The research was published in Child Development magazine, but I can't find it online.

    Being a parent changes your views on many things. I’d written off the folks who linked immunization and autism as a pack of whacks, but when we were at Lamaze class the other day and they were talking about getting our own kids immunized the “debate” (as much as there is) was suddenly a lot more personal. Another study from Canada has shown no link, but you still wonder.

    Qatar is expanding a charter-school experiment in their country. One wonders if any of the charter schools will follow the model set by schools in Saudi Arabia, where anti-Americanism is a core part of the curriculum.

    The results of their annual salary survey were published in this issue. Some fun numbers:

    Average salary for a superintendent: $116,244
    High school principal: $84,515
    Elementary principal: $76,456
    Librarian: $52,505
    Teacher: $46,953

    It’s confusing to me why the librarians would have an average salary $5,500 more than the average teacher. Education Week has set up a sub-site here ($) with more information.

    Perpwalk! Former Georgia state schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko is headed to the pokey for 8 years for stealing from the department of education to finance a run for the governorship. The least she could have done was won the election, but noooooo.

    It was a big deal in the blogosphere a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed that the NEA was giving money to other groups that oppose the NCLB act. In Education Week it merited only the 6th place mention in their “News in Brief” roundup. Overblown, or under-covered?

    One of the best articles I’ve read in a while gets the back-page treatment, but Education Week is a lot like the New York Post
    in that being on the back is actually a place of honor. It’s an article by Mike Petrilli, affable host of the Education Gadfly podcast, looking at the contradiction between using what works (as identified by research) and whatever works (as practiced in the classroom). It’s a good read with a good point; Ed Researcher has kindly reprinted it at his website.

    Finally, a motivational speaker by the name of Jason Dorsey was a big hit at the High Schools That Work conference last month with his talk on, “50 Ways to Improve Schools for Under $50.” He’s only 28 and never taught, so it could be an interesting perspective. I might have to get the book.

    Read more here, if any.

    I Thought a Think Goes on the Road and Likes It

    Last week I drove to Portland to attend a conference sponsored by Read Naturally. I absolutely love the drive; it’s pretty non-descript as you head down from Ritzville to the Tri-Cities, but once you pass over into Umatilla and start heading up the Columbia River Gorge you get to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Northwest. The area around Hood River, Oregon is incredible. You also see three different dams as you go along, and it’s neat to think about the engineering that went into making something that big.

    Continued Below

    I really enjoy my trips to Portland. My dad lives there with his family, so I’ve been visiting the city for decades now. It’s really a pretty place, as cities go; if you drive in at night on I-5 heading south, the view of downtown is incredible. Downtown is also where you’ll find Powell’s World of Books, the absolute neatest bookstore that I’ve ever been to. They give you a map when you come in the front door, and you’ll need it—it’s that big. Portland’s daily newspaper, The Oregonian, is a great read every day, and they also have one of the best weekly newspapers in the country in Willamette Week. Sure, the property taxes are obscene and the public schools really struggle, but it’s still a heck of a place to visit.

    The conference was good, which is an added bonus. It was led by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, who’s a dynamic speaker with ideas that you can actually use, and it gave me a ton of great ideas on how to assess and intervene with the kids who turn up in my before school remediation program. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea on how to intervene when the kids have a genuine fluency problem; the difficulty with the young kids I work with is separating out the fluency problems from the phonics problems. In 40 minutes a day twice a week there’s not much time to work with, so I’ve got to tighten up what I’m doing.

    So the school paid for me to go to a great workshop in a great city where I was able to stay with my family and catch up with them and recharge before the back-to-school rush starts up. It’s neat to feel like a professional; I kind of like it.

    After the conference I went up I-5 to my hometown in Rochester, Washington. It’s not the same place I left 10 years ago. Development has gone absolutely nuts; fields that once held one house and a barn are now parceled out into 20 half-acre sections with a mobile home on each one. There are fast food restaurants now, pizza delivery, bad traffic; contrasting what it is now to what it was 20 years ago, when I was in elementary school, is one of those bittersweet activities that leads you to stop typing and take a moment to just remember how it was and how it will never be again.

    That said, Rochester is still rife with the thing that I miss most about the west side of the state—trees. Sure we have trees over here in Spokane, but we have trees and the west side has Trees. Big, green, towering, thick, and majestic in a way that the fir trees over here just can’t match. You can really get a sense of it when you’re driving on Interstate 90 from Seattle to Spokane. On the west side (Eastern King County, for example) you’ll see some of the most beautiful forests you could ever hope to find. On the east side you’ll find a tree every now and then, but it won’t be anything special.

    In short, it was a good time. My wife wasn’t able to make the trip with me because of work commitments, but in a way it was nice to be on my own for this one. I came back recharged and ready to work on whatever was next, be it the baby or changing grades or moving rooms.

    That’ll last until about September 1st, but I’ll live in the moment.

    Read more here, if any.

    Report on Successful Washington High Schools From Just For the Kids

    The Just for the Kids website has done a series of reports on successful high schools in different states; their report on Washington is neat reading for anyone who cares about the high school reform movement. The schools (with districts) they identified as getting particularly good results:

    Friday Harbor HS, San Juan Island
    Inglemoor HS, Northshore
    Lewis and Clark, Spokane
    Nathan Hale HS, Seattle
    Olympia HS, Olympia

    The only personal knowledge I have of any of these schools is that Lewis and Clark has a great building (the OSPI Summer Institute was there last year), and I took my SATs at Olympia HS many, many moons ago.

    JFTK has identified several different traits of effective schools, and one of the most interesting sections of the report is where they talk with different teachers about how their schools match up with these traits. There’s a heavy emphasis throughout on collaboration, which is a topic near and dear to my heart. It’s light reading, but useful.

    One term that I learned from the report was something called a “critical friends group”, which was new to me. As far as I can tell it’s just another term for a professional learning community, but I’ll need to poke around on the internet some to see just what it entails. The name is a bit off-putting (critical friends?), but if it tells me something new about how to work PLCs I’m all for it.

    Read more here, if any.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    District Administrator Magazine Turns Me Into a l33t haXor warez d00d

    So the focus of the June issue of District Administrator magazine is technology, and there’s a neat article on keeping your wi-fi network secure. I’d never heard of sniffing, but the magazine was nice enough to provide both a definition and a link to a site where you can download a sniffing tool.

    The firewall on my school network didn’t block it out, which is a little disturbing.

    Similarly, I could get on my school network and get to the NetStumbler website. also went through. The only one of the websites listed in the magazine that was blocked on my network was, and in this case one out of four really is bad.

    I’m thinking I’ll send the article over to our district IT guy and see what he thinks. Blocking them on the district level won’t stop a determined kid from getting these tools, but at least we can say we tried.

    Read more here, if any.

    Speaking of the New Math.....

    I’ve been going through my box of things to read and finally got to TeacherLink, the newsletter that McGraw-Hill puts out in support of their Everyday Math curriculum. Everyday Math is controversial, with many saying that it bypasses procedure and algorithms in favor of exploration and discovery. They say they’re just as good as any other math program, but they made a pretty stupid mistake in their newsletter. Check out this excerpt from an article on algorithms:

    When formal instruction is not geared to their level, children tend to perceive mathematics as difficult, mysterious, and even threatening. This contrasts with the ease, confidence, and enthusiasm with which children use their informal mathematics to think through a problem to the solution such as 22 + 34: 20 plus 30 is 50 and 4 plus 2 is 6 so the answer is 56! Or 35 + 27: 30 + 20 is 50 and 5 + 7 is 11 so put the 10 with the fifty and 1 is left so the answer is 61!

    Check the math and you’ll see what the problem is.

    Friends, if you’re writing a newsletter to promote your math program, MAKE SURE THE ADDITION YOU USE IN THE NEWSLETTER IS CORRECT. This article had to go through a writer and at least one editor before it got into the newsletter, and neither of them saw this? That’s a bad, bad miss.

    You can read the article (still uncorrected!) at the link above. Click on the article about algorithms and you'll see it on page one.

    Read more here, if any.

    Dap and a Slap for the Spokesman-Review

    The Spokane Spokesman-Review is my local newspaper, and overall I'm pretty happy with the work they do. They get a lot of criticism in the Lilac City for their treatment of the Jim West situation, but I think it's a story that had to be told.

    Lately they've been doing some bang-up education stories as well. On July 16th they did an *excellent* cover story on expenditures by local school boards. West Valley of Spokane had suffered a levy failure in recent memory, but their school board went on a "retreat" across the state lines where they dined on $60 lobster dinners at one of Coeur d'Alene's swankest restuarants. That can't have gone over well with the voters.

    Similarly, ace education reporter Kandis Carper did a superior article about how Central Valley has become the most recent front in the math wars, with parents petitioning the district to offer classes that teach math the traditional way to offset deficiencies they perceive in the inquiry-base Core Plus curriculum.

    I wish I could link to the articles (they're good!), but the Spokesman chooses to hide everything behind one of the more restrictive pay-to-peep systems of any newspaper website in the state. I'd also love to see them group all of the education articles together on one central page, the way that they do it at any of the newspapers listed to the right in my links section, and I'd point out for special recognition the Seattle Times, which is easily the nicest, most user-friendly education news page in the state.

    The Spokesman is sitting on some great work. If they did a better job of getting the word out, they'd be one of the best.

    Read more here, if any.