Saturday, September 30, 2006

Must everything have a spoiler warning?

From the wikipedia page for Reading Mastery 2:

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

"The Pet Goat" is the story of a girl's pet goat which eats everything in its path. The girl's parents want to get rid of the goat, but she defends it. In the end, the goat becomes a hero when it butts a car robber into submission. A sample passage:

A girl got a pet goat. She liked to go running with her pet goat. She played with her goat in her house. She played with her goat in her yard. But the goat did some things that made the girl's dad mad. The goat ate things. He ate cans and he ate canes. He ate pans and he ate panes. He even ate capes and caps.

Talk about giving away the entire plot! Bastards.

For extra credit, tell why The Pet Goat (a Reading Mastery story) is culturally important enough to merit it's own wiki page.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Vice-Principal Sues over MySpace Page

I like this.

I really, really like this.

Did I mention I like this?

I hope that the parents don't settle and that this does go to court. I'd love to see the arguments about free speech vs. maintaining the dignity of the school. I'd like this young man to have to take the stand under oath and explain how making such a page could be a good idea.

My heart is entirely with the VP on this, and I hope she wins big.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

You Too Can Be a Published Author

Part of our reading curriculum is a series of little books called phonics readers that reinforce the sounds that we're working on that week. For example, here's this week's first reader:

Page 1: Tam Cat
Page 2: mat
Page 3: Tam Cat sat.
Page 4: Tam Cat sat, sat, sat.

The humor, to me, is that there's an author listed for the book: a Jason Weeks. Good for him! Published work is published work, after all, and I'm guessing the readership of Tam Cat is wider than that of most works.

Looking through the readers, though, I was astounded to find some truly famous authors who also wrote for the Houghton-Mifflin phonics series! For example, here's some early Steven King working with the short /i/ sound--you can see the inspiration for "Pet Cemetary" within:

Page 1: Kid
Page 2: Dead Kid
Page 3: Live, kid, live!
Page 4: Kill, kid, kill.

Then there's Dan Brown's reader for short /o/ and /i/:

Page 1: Who is his mom?
Page 2: God's cop says stop, stop!
Page 3: Stop, blonde God cop! Stop, stop!
Page 4: Bop the God Cop with this whip.

Astoundingly, James Frey did the long i sound:

Page 1: My, my! I am high, high, high!
Page 2: High, high, high am I!
Page 3: It is a lie. Now I will sigh.
Page 4: I told a big fat lie, and now I will cry.

And then there was this from Ernest Hemmingway, focused on -nk endings:

Page 1: Drink, drink, drink.
Page 2: Drink, drink, drink.
Page 3: Drink! Drink drink. Drink?
Page 4: Drink? I drank. Drunk.

Finally some early Mitch Albom, using the /ch/, /sh/, /wh/, and /th/ digraphs:

Page 1: My chum is dead. Write, write, write.
Page 2: She is dead. They are dead. Write, write, write.
Page 3: What if I should chat with them? Write, write, write.
Page 4: Cash the check. Cash, check, cash! Ca-ching.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A *ucking Story

When one of the kids comes up to tattle on one of the other kids for using the F word, it usually turns out to be “fart.” Similarly, the S word is usually “shut up” or “stupid.” Cursing happens, though, and here’s my favorite story on the topic.

M was one of the cutest girls I’ve ever had in my class, and one of the most challenging. She came to me with an ODD diagnosis, and as the year went on it was looking more and more like pre-adolescent bipolar disorder, which I never would have believed in if I hadn’t had her. One second she would be sweet and loving; the next she was biting you and throwing her desk around the room; the next she was sobbing uncontrollably.

One day we’re lining up for lunch and M comes up and starts pulling on my sleeve.

“Mr. Rain! Mr. Rain!”
“Honey, please go back to your seat so we can get lined up.”
“But Mr. Rain, it’s really important!”
(eyes rolling, deep breath) “OK, M…what is it?”
“Mr. Rain…I *ucking hate math!”

The world stopped. It was one of those long, timeless, eternal moments where you earnestly hope that you’ll just disappear and that what happened didn’t. A thousand thoughts run through your head…what do I do? How do I handle this? We hadn’t even done any math that morning! Oh my God, did she really say that? Did the other kids hear? This is first grade! Move, you idiot, you have to do something! Act!

So I said the absolute dumbest thing that I could have said in that situation:


Bless her heart, she thought I didn’t hear her. To make up for it she screams at the top of her lungs,


The “mmm” is what she sounded like after I tackled her and put my hand over her mouth. I carried her across the hallway to the behavior room and asked her where she had heard that word; apparently, she’d picked it up on the neighborhood playground. I think her mom fainted dead away when I called her up to tell her what happened.

Every now and then I'll get some scatology ("Mr. Rain, there's *hit all over the bathroom!" said one excited boy last year), and every year there's one little guy who has to push the limits by saying ass, but for the most part they're so awed by words like that they can't even imagine saying them.

All things considered, I’ll take fart and stupid. I can handle those.

Read more here, if any.

Today's stories

One of my littler girls comes up to me and says, "Mr. Rain! I learned how to stand backwards with my eyes closed!"

I considered that for a moment. "Really? Show me how you do that!"

So she takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and turns around. After a couple of seconds she turns back around and says, "See! I did it!"

Remember when learning how to stand backwards was a good day?


Another one, from when we were doing calendar:

"Sweetie, do you think that today is dry, foggy, rainy or snowy?"


"I think that's a good answer; it was quite foggy when I was driving to work today!"

Then one of my girls asks in all seriousness, "Mr. Rain, where do you work?"

I should have played with her some on that. "I can't tell you where I work, honey, because I'm a spy!" or "I play piano in a....warehouse." or "I'm the guy who takes your order at the drive-through at Burger King!" or "I work in a pineapple under the sea."

Instead I gave her the truth--"Honey, this is my job."

"Nuh-uh! This is school, not work!"

Oh honey, if only that were entirely true.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's the Little Things That Make Class Size Important

I've got a load of kids this year. Too many--our contract limit is 22 (sweet!), but we've had to carry 24 this year because of a variety of circumstances. Last year I started with 18, and that was great. This year, here are some of the things that I'm noticing:

*The line stretches on a lot longer than it did last year. Even in pairs, that's three more pairs, about 10 more feet down the hall. You get a couple of knuckleheads at the end of the line and you've got a problem.

*The carpet is packed. I had to rearrange desks after day 1 just to accomodate the space needed to do the calendar time.

*If we do 5 papers in a day (entry task, two reading worksheets, two math worksheets) that's 30 more papers a day to grade/process.

*I did the math on parent conferences and blanched. 24 kids at 30 minutes each is 12 hours of conferences. Trick is that some kids take longer than 30 minutes, so I could realistically see me having 15 hours of conference time That's a lot of talking in two days.

*There's 26 computers in the lab. There's 24 kids. God willing all the computers are working all the time, because if just 3 of them are out of commission I'll have a kid who doesn't have a computer.

*Reading groups go from three groups of six to four groups of six. Or 4 groups of 5 and a group of 4. Either way, that's harder.

I've heard it said before that the correlation between class size and student success is weak. Perhaps, perhaps not. What I do know is that I'm now dividing my attention among 24 kids with different needs instead of 18, but the number of hours in a day hasn't changed. These kids will not get the experience that last year's kids did, and that's a shame.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Frustrated with the New Math Curriculum

We've got a new math program this year, from Scott Foresman Addison Wesley, and I'm not liking it so far.

Take chapter 1, for example. We've started with number combinations, but they don't call it addition. Instead, we're "making 6" and "making 10" without ever using the words plus or equals. I get that showing kids the different facts that make a number would ideally help them with their fact fluency when the time comes, but I really think that missing out on the vocabulary piece is a big, big mistake.

It gets worse. After four days of making groups of numbers we're jumping into "1 and 2 more than" and "1 and 2 less than", again without ever using words like plus, minus, add, take away, or equals. I also have a big problem with doing the addition skill one day and the subtraction skill the next--my experience the last five years has been that if you blend the two like that you're going to confuse half the class, so to avoid that I'm going to have to do some real tap dancing.

After those two lessons we compare numbers (i.e., "5 is less than 7") for a day, then practice putting numbers in order, and end the chapter with a 3-day unit on patterns. There's absolutely zero cohesion unless you use the ancillary spiral review activities, and even then you're reviewing three skills a day when I think that my kids, especially the low ones, need the chance to be completely immersed in one thing at a time.

And not to turn this into a whine, when I've got 25 kids of such diverse abilities as I do this year I'm really being set up for failure by this curriculum. I'm going to need to work 200% as hard with 33% more kids than I had last year, and that's with the family being 50% bigger. I differentiate for reading, but how much should I be expected to do in math?


Read more here, if any.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The First Week

Too many kids. Really, contractually, too many kids. Some of them will go to different bases with their families soon, but it's quite jarring to compare this year's opening number (25) to last year's (18). The carpet area is packed, the line to go anywhere stretches out to the horizon. I know that 25 isn't that many, comparatively, but it's also not that few.

I have some hepped-up boys this year. One of them is extremely bright and I know that the review sections are absolute soul death to him, but I'll be able to fix that once we get into the heart of the reading program. Two special ed boys, but they're both really fun kids who try hard.

We've got a new math curriculum, Scott-Foresman Addison-Wesley Smith-Wesson Black-Decker. The chapters are thick compared to the old program (Harcourt-Brace), so we're going to have to PLC hard on how we do our assessing.

The thing that has me most annoyed about the math books is that the pages are too big to fit in our math folders. That's minor, yeah, but the OCD in me just can't handle the pages sticking out of the top of the folder. We might not do math folders this year.

A parent emailed and asked if I'd like some hermit crabs. I said sure. Class pets are cool, even if they're not that cuddly.

The stack of "things" next to the computer is teetering at 11.75 inches tall. I'll get to it during some prep, some day. Some day.

Red Bull really does give me wings. With a Red Bull and a bagel I can make it too lunch time feeling energized and alive.

The formative assessments so far are feeling good. Only a handful of the kids are missing any letter sounds, which is an incredible basis to start from. I did an impromptu test of the first 20 high frequency words on Friday, and it was really, really encouraging. Last year I was able to get 70% of my kids over the DRA goal, and I think I have a good shot at passing that this year.

Babies change everything, and I change babies. I also now know that you should take off your tie before you change the baby.

It used to be that working until 7:00 wasn't an issue. Mrs. Rain understood, having taught herself. That's just not doable with the (s)Thinker being a part of my life now. I don't want to be here that late working on the math curriculum, or planning for PLCs. I wanna go home.

Read more here, if any.

One Nation, Under Standards

It’s been a busy month over at the Fordham Foundation. Lots of reports and lots of media, and it’s all interesting stuff.

To Dream the Impossible Dream is a look at what it would take to institute a system of national standards that would replace the current 50-states, 50-sets paradigm we enjoy. The lead authors are Mike Petrilli and Liam Julian of the Education Gadfly show, joined by the original Gadfly, Chester Finn.

The approach they took in writing the report is highly readable; they sent a questionnaire to 12 big names in education reform and asked them what they thought on the topic. From their responses they were able to distill 4 approaches to national standards, ranging from “The Whole Enchilada” (think NCLB on steroids) to “Sunshine and Shame”, wherein states are encouraged but not required to use standards that the feds develop.

I don’t mind the idea of national standards. What you should know and be able to do in reading and math is the same in the northwest as it is in the southeast, and it does seem odd to me (as Finn and Petrilli have both pointed out on numerous occasions) that so many states would have spent so many tens of millions of dollars on developing their own standards when they could have gotten together and shared some of the work, or just outright licensed good standards from another state (say, Massachusetts).

However, consider math. The NCTM Principles and Standards of Mathematics have been around for better than a decade now, and they’re also one of the most vilified documents around for being too constructivist and not firm enough on the basics. And despite what the folks at Reading First might tell you, the Reading Wars are still being fought every time a district adopts a new curriculum. I don’t know how any committee would be able to get enough buy-in to be able to present a set of National Reading Standards to the country without it being horribly politicized.

To go along with the report Jay Mathews of the Washington Post had an article in the September 3rd edition (“National School Testing Urged”, registration required) about how many states performance on their own state exams doesn’t jibe with their performance on the NAEP. He also gives a brief history of the national standards movement and talks about why now might finally be the time it could happen.

The trouble I have here is that I really don’t understand the NAEP. I think if you polled your average group of teachers you’d find a very low percentage that could even tell you what the NAEP is or what it’s used for. What I do know is that it’s often held up as the gold standard of testing, and I’m not quite sure why. What makes it more valid than the WASL, or the ITBS, or the SAT-9?

Finally, Fordham also released The State of State Standards 2006, which covers a lot of the same ground that they’ve gone over in their other state standards reports in recent years. I’ll break out what they say about Washington State specifically in a different post, but the overall picture is not pretty: only 9 states earn an A or B, while 26 score a D or F.

One thing to remember about these Fordham studies is that they are the opinion of the folks at the Foundation; it would be quite easy to find others who disagree with their assessment (particularly if you asked those who wrote their state standards). Fordham also has to do some statistical gymnastics to make a connection between “good” state standards and high academic performance, but they’re at least honest about it.

Another highlight of the report is a section called “It Takes Vision” by famed edublogger Joanne Jacobs. It’s a nice history of standards-based reform in three states, but she’s also quite heavy-handed when it comes to describing the roles of teachers unions and ed schools in those states. For someone who runs a charter school, though, this isn’t surprising.

Happy reading.

Read more here, if any.

Books I Will Write When I Go On Sabbatical

“No, Actually, The World Is Round. I Mean, Look at a Globe, fer Chrissakes!”

“Professional Learning Communities Won’t Work Because Your Co-Workers Are Stupid”

“The Second Day of School: A Sequel to Harry Wong’s The First Day of School”

“The Substitute Teacher’s Survival Guide and Mixed Drink Encyclopedia”

“Principles and Standards of Mathematics with Pornographic Pictures Inserted Just To Piss Off People Who Don’t Like the Book Already”

“Johnny Can’t Read Because His Mother Spent $1800 Last Year on Cigarettes and Nothing on Books”

Read more here, if any.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Spo-CAN! Part IV: This Is What Childhood Obesity Looks Like

I had a flippant title for this, but it didn’t seem appropriate given the material.

Last Sunday the Spokesman did a incredibly powerful article about a boy named Cody Harris, a 6 year old from Post Falls who has already been tipping the scales at 105 pounds. From the opening:

But Cody, the 6-year-old, is another story. Tall and stocky, with cheeks like soft pillows and a roll around his middle, Cody is easily mistaken for a hefty kid of 9 or 10. His shoulders are broad beneath his size 14 T-shirt; under the stretchy waistband of his shorts, his hips taper to legs like small tree trunks.

Cody was born big – two weeks early and 10½ pounds – and he's grown steadily bigger. At nine months, he weighed 30 pounds. By age 4, he was up to almost 80. At last year's checkup, Cody had gained 25 pounds, tipping the scale at 108.

We all see overweight kids every day. I can think of a couple in my school that are absolutely huge, and I can also identify several environmental factors in the school that don’t help.

  1. Our playground sucks. No big toy, no slide, only 8 swings to service all the kids from grades K through 3. We’ve got a couple of basketball hoops, some four-square areas, and tetherball, but that’s not enough. Hopefully they’ll get that fixed soon.
  2. I know that they’re supposed to consider nutrition when they do school lunches, but the policy in our kitchen is that they only have to have three things on their plate. That could well be the chocolate milk, the grilled cheese sandwich, and the ice cream cup, while they leave the cucumber slices and mixed fruit behind. I know I need to manage this better on my end as the classroom teacher, but there are so many other battles during the day that it’s hard to find the energy for this one.
  3. We’ve got two pop machines that the kids can get to. They’re not supposed to, but I’ve had first graders walk in the door in the morning with a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper who wonder why Mr. Rain is so mean when I take it away.
  4. I’ll freely admit that I could do better in the classroom. I have an M&M jar that I use to reward them for good behavior. It’s not healthy, but it sure does work. For snack I might serve fruit once a week, but that’s because I have to wash and cut fruit; single-serving crap in a bag is a lot easier to pass out.
  5. And yeah, I could do a better job of being a model for them. I start nearly every day with a Red Bull energy drink, and sometimes a Pepsi. I graze off of the M&M jar all day long. I also steal food off of their trays, and it’s never the broccoli that I go after.

On the positive side, my school does a great job of giving the kids time to move. Every child gets a recess every day, and in the lower grades it’s often two recesses. The kids also get 90 minutes of PE time every week, which maybe isn’t enough but it’s better than nothing. We also offer a great intramural program for the 5th and 6th graders, along with Bloomsday training for 1st through 6th grade in the spring.

It’s something every school can do better at. It’s important, and this is a great article towards that point.

I've put the full story below. If you're a Spokesman-Review subscriber, you can find it here.

A big boy

Celise Harris circles the parking lot of Coeur d'Alene Pediatrics, finally nosing her Yukon into a far space on the hot August asphalt.

The Post Falls mother is late for an appointment she's anxious to keep. It's a routine checkup for her children, Ciera and Cody, but for the Harris family, the meeting with pediatrician Duane Craddock feels much more than routine.

Ciera isn't the worry. At age 8, the blond girl with round glasses is growing normally, all thin arms and tan legs unfolding beneath her pink shorts and sparkly shirt.

But Cody, the 6-year-old, is another story. Tall and stocky, with cheeks like soft pillows and a roll around his middle, Cody is easily mistaken for a hefty kid of 9 or 10. His shoulders are broad beneath his size 14 T-shirt; under the stretchy waistband of his shorts, his hips taper to legs like small tree trunks.

Cody was born big – two weeks early and 10½ pounds – and he's grown steadily bigger. At nine months, he weighed 30 pounds. By age 4, he was up to almost 80. At last year's checkup, Cody had gained 25 pounds, tipping the scale at 108.

The surge alarmed Celise Harris, 36, and her husband, Wayne, a 44-year-old software engineer. Always a worry, Cody's weight became a primary focus for his family, setting off a year of monitored meals and accelerated exercise, all supervised by Celise.

So if today's checkup feels like a referendum on her effort, perhaps that's because it is.

Celise is quiet as Dr. Craddock steps into the tiny exam room and reaches for the yellow folder that tracks Cody's health since birth.

"Hey, Cody-man, how are you?" he calls to the boy, who's spinning in circles on a low stool.

Celise watches as the doctor reviews Cody's chart, sees his eyes grow wide as he confirms what she already knows.

Four pounds.

In a year.

That's all Cody has gained.

In the world of children's weight, where the average kindergartener gains five pounds between age 5 and 6, that's as good as a loss, his mother figures.

Dr. Craddock smiles.

"We had a good year, man!" the doctor says, high-fiving Celise first, then Cody. "We can celebrate!"

Cody jumps up on a chair to slap palms. Like any 6-year-old, he's happy at the attention, though he doesn't understand the worry about his weight.

But his mom, overwhelmed, reaches for a tissue.

"We had a good year," she echoes softly, wiping her eyes. "We had a good year."

American kids: obesity on the rise

It's not news that American children are growing alarmingly larger. Childhood obesity is an epidemic that encompasses nearly one in three U.S. kids, national health experts say.

In the last three decades, the percentage of 6- to 11-year-olds has tripled in the highest weight category reported by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2004, about 19 percent of kids that age were in the 95th percentile for height and weight, which is defined as "overweight" by the CDC but as "obese" by organizations such as the American Obesity Association.

The AOA estimates that more than 30 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, a number that shows no sign of declining. Newer studies indicate that the childhood obesity rate has doubled for preschoolers ages 2 to 5 in the past three decades and that increasing numbers of infants can be considered obese as well.

The Northwest seems to fare better than other parts of the country, but just slightly, studies show. About a quarter of 10- to 17-year-olds in Oregon, Washington and Idaho are overweight or obese, according to the most recent figures from the Kids Count survey conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The flood of studies and surveys dismays doctors like Craddock, who says battling obesity is rapidly becoming a common problem in his North Idaho practice. Like other professionals, he blames too much TV, sedentary activities and an explosion of calorie-dense but nutritionally deficient foods.

"There's high-fructose corn syrup in everything," he says.

The obesity problem in the Inland Northwest isn't as dire as elsewhere, says Craddock, who estimates that 10 percent of the children he sees are overweight or obese. But he fears it's only a matter of time.

"It's frustrating. Everybody's struggling with obesity. It's an epidemic, and it's increasing," he says. "You feel like you're trying to go upstream in a river that's overrunning its banks."At 112 pounds on a 50½-inch frame, Cody Harris weighs as much as an average eighth-grader.

Despite the success of the past year, Cody's parents worry that they've got a shrinking window of time to save their boy from a lifetime of obesity.

"If we don't address it right now, he's going to be a 350-pound adult," says Wayne Harris.

The Harris family, who moved to North Idaho five years ago from Arizona, have struggled to control their son's diet and exercise habits, hoping to avoid the health and social problems that plague people who weigh too much.

That puts them on the front lines of America's ballooning childhood obesity problem. But the Harrises' experience shows that there's nothing easy about helping a heavy child lose – or even maintain – weight. It's a daily effort that requires unrelenting attention, constant patience and a determination to buck social pressures that conspire to keep kids fat.

"I think you need to realize our commitment to this," Wayne says.

Health risks – and more

If professionals are daunted by the problem of childhood obesity, parents are nearly paralyzed. In a society that simultaneously celebrates thin bodies and excessive consumption, even deciding when to worry is an issue.

For the Harrises, Cody's weight was a worry from the start. He was a big baby, they acknowledge, but daughter Ciera was born at 9 pounds and quickly grew into a petite child. Wayne and Celise felt sure Cody would do the same.

But the infant who nursed for four months and then began draining dry his bottles of formula grew more rapidly than anyone expected.

"When you think your baby is hungry, your instinct is to feed him," the mother says.

Craddock says he became worried when Cody reached 18 months with no signs of slowing. He broached the subject gently, as he does with all parents of overweight kids.

"You try to be articulate about how you talk about it," he says. "You don't use 'fat.' You don't use derogatory terms."

Wayne and Celise didn't need anyone to define the problem for them.

"When Cody was 2, we were concerned," recalls Wayne. "By the time he was 3, it was my number one priority."

A battery of medical tests showed no reason for Cody''s rapid gains, the pediatrician says. There's nothing wrong with Cody's endocrine or other systems, no apparent problem with his metabolic functions.

"There is not an identifiable medical illness for Cody," Craddock says. "His system is just really geared to making fat."

That scares the Harrises, who, like most parents of overweight children, worry about future health risks. High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disorders are among the most serious concerns associated with obesity in children and adults.

"The problem with obesity is not cosmetic," says Dr. Judith O'Connor, a pediatric gastroenterologist and hepatologist with the Feeding and Growth Clinic at Sacred Heart Children's Center in Spokane.

"We're not talking about weight reduction so they can be in a magazine or be socially acceptable … I tell parents, 'Your kids are at more risk than you are' " for health problems.

Health effects are the top worry, of course, but the Harrises don't deny that they're alarmed about the social effects of Cody's obesity as well.

"I always felt like I was overweight," says Wayne, a stocky, barrel-chested man who never approached Cody's relative mass.

"Obesity affects your quality of life. If you ever want to meet girls and want to get married, it's a huge issue."

A family dilemma

Defining a problem and knowing what to do about it are two different things, the Harrises say. They acknowledge that concerns about Cody's weight began to drive a wedge between them.

Wayne, an entrepreneur who runs his own business, Wayne Harris Enterprises, was frustrated at what he believed should have been a simple equation.

"You have to balance your caloric expenditure and your caloric intake," he says. "I felt he was eating way too much."

But Celise, the stay-at-home mom who monitors the children's activities and meals, knew it was more complicated than that. Like most women who've struggled with a few extra pounds, she knows food can be as much about emotion as nutrition.

"Even I have a hard time eating just fruit for a snack," says Celise, a ponytailed blond whose sessions with a personal trainer keep her weight under control.

Cody's attraction to food and his reaction to hunger always have been extreme, she says, a notion that Craddock confirms. From the time he was tiny, Cody has responded to hunger with tears and tantrums.

"When you're hungry, you want to eat," Craddock says. "Cody has a strong hunger drive."

Managing that drive has come to consume his mother's life. Celise's day is filled with meal plans and calorie counts. She monitors Cody's every morsel as if it were her own.

"Today for lunch he had half a sandwich, four strawberries, four carrots and pickles," she says. "I am certainly aware of everything that goes into his mouth."

Celise keeps meticulous track of his intake, aiming for five small meals of about 300 calories each.

"We do lots of salsa and vegetables. He's a raw veggie and ranch kind of guy," she says. "He's a dipper."

Even when Cody goes other places, his mom retains a tether.

"He'll call me on the cell phone and say, 'Mom, can I have a brownie?' "

Sometimes – though not often – Celise says yes.

She doesn't ban snacks from her house; a peek into the pantry reveals floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with Wheat Thins, Cheetos and Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, along with peanut butter, soups and cereal.

"I'm realistic," explains Celise. "Kids watch TV, they hear about these things. I try to do carrots and fruits for snacks, but sometimes kids need something else. My kids don't by any means live on Cheetos."

There's a basket on the floor of the pantry filled with 100-calorie packages of crackers, cookies and other snacks. When Cody is hungry, Celise allows him to select one or two treats.

"Cody does not live on air," she says.

Celise knows there are people who might criticize her choices. She knows families where snack foods are not allowed at all and families where children eat nothing but junk foods.

"I'm trying to find the happy medium," she says.

Similarly, it's Celise's job to make sure both kids, but especially Cody, stay active. She acknowledges that he enjoys video games and computers, but she says his time spent with them is limited.

"The key to Cody is keeping him active," she says.

"I've got him signed up for five sports just between now and Christmas. He's signed up for flag football, golf, basketball, karate and swimming."

Adds Wayne: "He is not a passive couch potato."

Emotions charge family mealtime

The sun is sinking in the August sky as Cody dashes onto the deck of the family's riverfront home. He shrieks and giggles as Mitzi, the family's bichon frise, chases the boy down the steps to the elaborate play structure in the backyard. Cody jumps tummy-first onto a swing, pumps a couple of times, then leaps off. He heads down the dock, past the family's twin jet skis, past the covered speed boat, down to the full-size waterslide his dad installed this summer.

Wayne doesn't want to say what it cost to put in the slide, an impressive structure that hooks to a hose and curls into the river. He knows he's fortunate to have the resources to keep his children entertained and active. Whatever the cost – for the slide, for the swing set, for the child-sized rock-climbing wall – he figures it's worth it.

"He'll burn 1,000 calories climbing up and down those stairs," says Wayne. "If he goes up and down that slide 30 times, that's a lot of extra effort."

And climb Cody does, shrieking with delight as he splashes, over and over, into the chilly river.

That extra effort, however, generates a huge appetite in the boy, whose trouble coping with hunger quickly becomes apparent.

"I want dinner," he says, as he enters the kitchen. His voice rises quickly from a whine to a wail. "I'm ready for dinner! I'm hungry."

With little warning, he throws himself on the floor. A few feet away, his mother and grandmother toss salad and wrap ears of corn in aluminum foil.

"He sees us getting it ready, and he thinks it's time to eat," says Peg Pytko, Cody's Arizona grandma.

With practiced calm, Celise ignores the boy thrashing on the floor. She's purposefully low-key as she slices peppers, lays out broccoli and squirts low-fat ranch dressing into a tiny cup.

She keeps her voice low, her tone neutral, even in front of visitors, even as her youngest child launches into a full-scale tantrum. Tension fills the air as Wayne walks in, sizes up the situation, and suggests a game. Distraction, they've learned, works better than confrontation with Cody.

Checkers, maybe?

"Battleship" is even better.

Diverted, Cody immediately improves his mood. He pulls up a chair at the kitchen table and goes to war with his dad.

"E-8" says Cody.

"Miss!" says Wayne.

"J-4," says Cody.

"Hit!" says Wayne, sending his son into gleeful giggles, thoughts of food momentarily forgotten.

But when Celise brings over the tray of vegetables and dip, "Battleship" is over. Cody's eyes light up at the sight of food.

"Do you want to take a veggie break?" his dad asks.

But Cody already has dunked one piece of broccoli, then another, into the dressing. The pepper strips are soon gone, followed by the carrots.

"Celise, he's gonna polish this whole plate," Wayne warns.

"Let's take it away, then," says Cody's grandmother.

Celise folds her lips together and shakes her head.

"No, Mom," she says in that same calm voice. "I'm not going to take a veggie plate away."

"Can I have more dip?" pipes up Ciera, goading her brother. "Cody, why did you polish off the plate so that no one else can eat?"

Cody, occupied with another stalk of broccoli, seems not to notice.

'A big, strong boy'

Staying calm and using distractions to divert children from food are vital techniques in the struggle with obesity, medical experts say. Parents like Celise and Wayne must master a delicate balance between addressing the child's eating habits and not making food the focus of their life.

"You get into battles over eating or pooping and it's a big problem," says O'Connor, the feeding clinic specialist. "Those are the only things that they can control and kids learn that pretty fast."

Children like Cody, who is "very, very bright," are especially challenging, says Craddock.

"Very bright kids are good at manipulating to get what they want," he says. "You've got to stand your ground and be persistent. They do a very good job, but (Celise) wears down."

The challenges do mount, the Harrises say. In addition to diet and exercise, they worry about the emotional effects being overweight might have on Cody. Aside from Cody's intense reactions to food, his parents believe he's a well-adjusted boy.

"It has been suggested to see a psychologist, but I don't think it's necessary," Wayne says. "He doesn't have anything wrong physically or mentally. He just likes food."

Because Cody is still so young, he hasn't confronted many social problems because of his weight, they say.

At home, they're careful to describe Cody's size in positive terms.

"We've never used the word 'fat.' We say, 'Man, Cody, you're a big, strong boy,'" she says.

Occasionally, Ciera pesters her brother about his size or complains about his eating habits. But her parents quickly quash any signs of sibling rivalry.

"Stay out of it, Sweet Pea," says Wayne, when Ciera starts to tease.

The Harrises believe that sending both kids to Holy Family Catholic School in Coeur d'Alene fosters a similarly protected environment where name-calling, for instance, is not allowed.

"When I was a kid, I would get teased (for being overweight)," Wayne says. "Kids don't need that kind of trauma."

Cody's gregarious personality is probably the reason he's popular with his peers, his parents say. He's a funny boy, quick with a silly joke or action. He nibbles corn on the cob like a typewriter, ending with a "ding!" and a wild wiggle of his eyebrows that cracks up his parents and sister.

"When Cody laughs, we all laugh," Ciera says.

For now, Celise says attention on Cody's weight doesn't affect him.

"He's so confident," she says. "He's really, really outgoing."

But Wayne and Celise are acutely aware that they won't be able to protect Cody from society's harsh judgment forever.

"I don't want to know how much he weighs because it stresses me out," says Wayne. "I didn't weigh that until I was in the eighth grade, and I thought I was fat."

The Harrises take some comfort in the notion that society is kinder to overweight men than women.

"The only thing that would be worse would be if it were Ciera who was obese," says Wayne. "It would be a heartbreaker if the problem was reversed and it was Ciera."

As it stands now, coaches are already sizing up Cody as a future linebacker, his father says.

Adopting a realistic attitude about Cody's future is essential, says Craddock, the pediatrician. He was encouraged by Cody's recent visit and by the determination exhibited by his parents, especially his mom. But he also believes that Cody's combination of genetics and temperament could easily lead to lifelong obesity.

"I'm guardedly optimistic that we're going to slow his weight gain down," the doctor says. "It's a tribute to them as a family. The hard part is, this is such a long road."

But the Harrises say it's a road they have no choice but to take.

"We only have a window of opportunity here to get results," Wayne says. "We're going to fix this. I'd never forgive myself for not taking care of it while I had the opportunity."

Read more here, if any.

Spo-CAN! Part III: Lawsuits Will Make Everything Better

The good folks at the Parent Empowerment Network are at it again, this time threatening to sue because they can’t get a good look at their sophomore’s test booklets. The quote from the article that really got me to thinking was this (the Finer mentioned is an attorney):

“These children, denied any opportunity to appeal their scores in a timely manner, had their academic careers altered to include summer school and/or remedial junior classes and this month’s retake, all without due process,” Finer wrote.
“We’re tired of excuses. FERPA says that any student record, and that includes the WASL, may be requested for viewing and must be accessible for viewing within 45 – not when it is convenient for OSPI,” said Shelley Anderson, a parent involved with Mothers Against the WASL, the Spokane faction of the statewide PEN group.

There’s a couple of things here that bug me.

Consider that 45-day window that FERPA allows. The test isn’t going to go away, so to get the WASL booklets back to families that quickly you either have to a) get rid of the subjective element in the scoring or b) speed up the scoring process. If you take out the subjective element and leave only the multiple-choice/definite answer questions, you’ve neutered the test and have essentially reinvented the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Similarly, if you grade the tests quicker you’re going to also increase the number of scoring errors, which will raise dissatisfaction, which doesn’t help.

I’m also curious about the appeal option. There’s a link in the article to the score appeal guidelines (see here), and it'll be interesting to see both how many scores were appealed and how many were changed upon appeal, plus the breakdowns of the appeals by academic area.

You can find the math WASL online (the test and the scoring guide can both be found here). I did it, and I think it’s a fair test that accurately shows the kind of math that everyone needs to know. If your score on the math WASL was so close that an appeal of one or two questions will push you over, I’d suggest that you don’t know enough math and you probably should be grateful for the opportunities that are being provided.

But that’s just me.

You can read the entire article by clicking below.

Parents say scores released too late
Group wants WASL results in spring

A statewide parents group is threatening legal action against the state for refusing parents' requests to view their children's WASL test booklets this spring.

Spokane attorney Jeffry Finer has been retained on behalf of the Parent Empowerment Network to address "alarm at OSPI's failure" to provide redress to families, children and school districts affected by failing scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the state's answer to the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Finer states that parents of sophomore students who failed one or more sections of the test this year weren't allowed to see their children's test booklets when they were released in June by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"These children, denied any opportunity to appeal their scores in a timely manner, had their academic careers altered to include summer school and/or remedial junior classes and this month's retake, all without due process," Finer wrote.

Only scores for sophomore students were released this summer so that students who did not pass one or more sections could prepare for a retake. Scores for other grade levels are expected in the coming weeks. No official date has been released.

Beginning with the class of 2007, the test is a requirement for graduation. Students have five chances to meet standards in reading, writing and math.

State officials said it has been clear that parents could view test booklets and appeal WASL scores only after Sept. 1.

The test booklets are disassembled for scoring. Subjective questions such as essay portions of the test are separated from multiple choice answers, and each portion is shipped to testing sites across the country, said Kim Schmanke, OSPI spokeswoman.

"The test booklets are literally ripped into pieces," Schmanke said.

The exams cannot be released until the scoring process is complete and the booklets are put back together, "and that takes a little more time," Schmanke said.

According to Finer's letter, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, parents must be provided viewing rights of student records within 45 days of the request.

"We're tired of excuses. FERPA says that any student record, and that includes the WASL, may be requested for viewing and must be accessible for viewing within 45 days – not when it is convenient for OSPI," said Shelley Anderson, a parent involved with Mothers Against the WASL, the Spokane faction of the statewide PEN group.

Other problems with the testing, as outlined in Finer's letter, include claims that OSPI destroyed past student exams and delayed the response of public records requests from the parent group.

Finer also states that parents of students in all grade levels must be allowed to appeal a child's score.

Under state guidelines, only parents of sophomore students can appeal test scores. Parents with children in all other grade levels may view the test but cannot appeal failing scores. Students are often identified for remediation based on performance on the WASL.

"We've been keeping the pressure on OSPI for more than a year," said Juanita Doyon, the director of the Parent Empowerment Network, based in Spanaway, Wash. "They need to change the process … so it does not override the rights of parents. If they don't, we will need to pursue legal action."

Read more here, if any.

Spo-CAN! Part II: Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Schools….We Make You Feel No Good

It seems to me like the WASL scores are running late this year. In years passed I would have seen in-depth articles from the Seattle papers and the Tacoma News-Tribune by now, and those haven’t come out.

However, the scores themselves are starting to float around. The Spokesman, acting on a report from OSPI, has released the names of the eight schools in Spokane County that didn’t make AYP this year and are “needing improvement.” You may notice a pattern:

  • Phoenix Alternative School, Nine Mile Falls
  • West Valley Contract Based Alternative School, West Valley
  • Mead Alternative High School, Mead
  • Bryant Center (an Alternative School), Spokane District 81
  • Havermale Alternative School, Spokane District 81
  • Glover Middle School, Spokane
  • University High School, Spokane
  • North Central High School, Spokane

There are certainly things about No Child Left Behind that make no sense, and the idea that an alternative high school could be a failing school is one of them. These are the toughest schools that serve the very toughest kids; is there any possible sanction that would change that fact?

Where would these kids transfer to that could meet their needs? They’ve typically already failed in a traditional setting.
What would “restructuring” possibly accomplish?
So you fire the entire staff—do you really think there’s anyone else looking for these jobs?

Digging a little deeper, the reason that Glover Middle and University High are on the list is because of special education scores (math and reading for Glover, math for University). It’s another one of those things that make no sense; the entire school is labeled because of the performance of kids with identified disabilities in a subject. And as the bar gets higher closer to 2014, it’s something that you’re going to see more and more of.

This is why the battle over the reauthorization of NCLB next year is going to be so important.

Read more here, if any.

Spo-CAN! Part I: Taking Riversides

The Spokesman-Review has been absolutely hitting on all cylinders when it comes to their education coverage lately. On August 26th they ran this article talking about the goings-on in the Riverside School District, which has been one of the most troubled in Eastern Washington:

Teachers with the Riverside School District lined up along Highway 2 for an informational picket Friday, after months of contract negotiations failed to produce an agreement between the district and its teachers union.

"It's not a strike, we're just getting information out there," said Cory Neville, a Riverside teacher and president of the Riverside Education Association.

Contract negotiations between the 1,800-student district and its teachers began in February and came to an impasse July 20, largely over wage increases, benefits, and new contract language.

Lower salaries and fewer benefits paid to teachers in the rural district compared with what other area districts provide make it difficult to attract and keep qualified teachers, staff said.

"We continue to lose good teachers, and that's not good for our students," said Tina Andrews, a fourth-grade teacher who lined up with other teachers near the intersection at Highway 2 and Deer Park-Milan Road waving picket signs. "We're not out here because we want more money. We are out here because we want to keep quality teachers."

The district north of Spokane is one of a handful of districts in the state heading into the last weeks before school without a contract, said officials with the Washington Education Association, the state teachers union. Most districts negotiating contracts without dissension tend to finish up by mid-summer.

"It is difficult to be in this position close to school now. Our hope is by Thursday at the latest we'll have things resolved," Neville said. School begins Sept. 6.

A mediator was brought in Friday for the first of three meetings between district negotiators and the teachers union. Two more meetings are planned next week.

As teachers waved at passing vehicles on the highway, holding pickets signs that read "Catch up with Deer Park" and "Attract the Best," both the district and the union worked throughout the day to come to an agreement.

Several points are at issue, including a proposed pay increase. A beginning Riverside teacher makes about $31,000 a year. On average, that is about $2,500 to $3,000 less per year than their peers in Deer Park, which has roughly the same number of students, Neville said. Riverside teachers make as much as $9,000 less than teachers in the Mead School District to the south, he said.

The union, which represents about 112 teachers in Riverside, proposed wage increases of 7 to 10 percent pay, spread over a three-year period, to make up the gap.

"They came in asking for a lot of money, and we came with huge changes in contract language," said Superintendent Galen Hansen. "We need to meet somewhere in the middle."

Turmoil is not new to the Riverside school community.

The district has dealt with 11 lawsuits in the last four years and is still paying for the buyout of the previous superintendent, Jerry Wilson.

The district bought out the final three years of Wilson's contract in 2000, following months of conflict that led to more than 200 teachers and community members holding a walkout against him.

Wilson sued the district over breach of contract in 2001 and so did three other administrators, Hansen said.

When Hansen came on board as superintendent in 2000, the district had a budget deficit of $1.5 million.

After cuts and belt-tightening, "within a year we were able to come back in the black," Hansen said. "We've worked very hard to heal the community and to come together. To picket brings all of it back. We're hopeful we can come to an agreement."

Teachers said they've donated personal days to the district to help with budget woes and have worked to create curricula because there wasn't enough money for textbooks.

REA officials said they've also watched as administrator expenses, including wages, have grown by nearly 23 percent, while money spent on teachers increased only 6 percent. The district also won't pay the health care "carve out" or money paid to the state to help with the cost of health care for retired teachers, while most other districts do. Teachers pay for the benefit.

"As teachers we've really had to buckle down, and we've done that. Now we feel it's time for us to feel like we're respected," said elementary teacher Bill Shaw. "We'd like to be treated like our peers: We want to know that teachers are a priority."

Washington is a salary schedule state, so any differences between districts are the result of agreements within those districts. That Riverside would be so far behind Mead isn’t really a surprise—they’re a very well-off district—but it is extremely odd that they would rank that far ($2,500 to $3,000) behind Deer Park, a neighboring district in their same athletic league.

The health care carve-out is also a huge issue. This year it’s $55.15 a month, so that’s $661.80 a year that Riverside teachers never see to pay for retiree health expenses. My district is one of those that pays for the carve-out out of local funds, and that’s a happy thing.

I’m also curious as to what the “huge changes” in contract language are.

Here’s to hoping they get things settled in time for the start of school.

UPDATE: In the September 2nd edition the Spokesman reports that Riverside has reached an agreement that will be voted on Tuesday, the first day of school. Teachers at the top of the pay scale will get a 1% bonus, and there’s a stipend for teachers with master’s degrees as well.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. If what’s reported by the Spokesman is all of it, then it appears that beginning teachers in Riverside got exactly squat out of this contract.
  2. The state salary schedule has a built-in raise of about $5,000 for teachers that earn a master’s degree. For Riverside to supplement that is kind, but is it the best use of the dollars?

Read more here, if any.