Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Apologies to Wazzu

A couple of weeks back I made fun of our esteemed land-grant university for paying their president as much money as they did. Little did I know the happy day that the U-dub had in store for their head. From the Seattle Times:

When University of Washington President Mark Emmert received an annual raise of more than $100,000 last week, it increased his pay to nearly five times the governor’s and vaulted him to the top ranks of public-university presidents.

Yet UW regents still worry whether Emmert’s new annual compensation of $718,700 will be enough to keep him for the long term. They say that in the two years since coming to the UW, Emmert has been approached several times by other universities, both public and private.

And the kicker…

He also gets free use of the UW’s 12,000 square-foot mansion overlooking Lake Washington.

I am so in the wrong line of work.

Read more here, if any.

New York, Chicago, Los Angeles……Seattle?

Buried in an article from the Seattle Times about the school board killing the most recent round of school closures was this:

State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said Wednesday’s board meeting only bolstered his argument that Seattle’s board should have two appointed members to temper its political volatility. Murray, who hopes to win a state Senate seat next month, is drafting a bill for the Legislature to consider in its next session.

“I think that the meeting and the inconsistency of decisions continues to undermine the public’s confidene in our Seattle School District, and it’s hardly a way to attract families who have chosen to put their kids in private schools or chosen to move their kids to another district,” he said.

Murray’s bill will propose that the mayor or City Council appoint “key civic leaders” to the School Board who would be directly accountable to city elected leaders.

Oh dear.

I haven’t heard all that much about mayoral control in Chicago, but reading this blog here might be a good place to start looking. I do know that there aren’t many (any?) teachers who have much nice to say about Michael Bloomberg’s work as the nominal head of the NYC schools, especially as it relates to his school chancellor Joel Klein. Some of their policies are indefensible, like spending so much time and effort on their ridiculous cell phone ban, or the stifling over-reliance on scripted reading programs in the elementary grades, or the nonsensical, child-harming retention policy. NYC Educator is one of the best reads you'd ever hope to find on the subject; if mayoral control interests you, check him out too.

The most recent example is down in Los Angeles, which was long a foil for Seattle civic pride (i.e., “At least our traffic isn’t as bad as theirs!”) until recent years (when indeed, our traffic was worse than theirs). The proposal as outlined by Representative Murray above sounds more like Los Angeles than New York. In NYC the mayor appoints a board to oversee the schools and hires the chancellor to oversee the day-to-day operations, while the model being proposed in L.A. is that the mayor is a strong part of a board of mayors who make decisions about the schools. The Seattle proposal is even weaker than that, with the two members that the mayor would appoint to the board being only half the votes you would need to get anything passed.

Really, Murray’s idea sounds a little too much like he’s trying to adapt something that worked somewhere else and shoehorn it into Seattle in a way that’s easier for them to digest. Personally, I think he should either push for more (mayoral control) or nothing; doing it the weak way has Seattle Democrat written all over it, and that usually doesn’t go well.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Biggest Stories in Washington Education Right Now

  1. Governor Gregoire’s Washington Learns project, which deserves to be #1 based on all the work they’ve done in the last year. They’ve heard all the testimony from the public-at-large; now we get to see if they’ve actually listened and make the changes that will give the report validity. After reading the draft I’m not optimistic. We’ll find out on November 13th when they issue the final report at the Governor’s big education summit with Bill and Melinda Gates in attendance.

  2. The Special Education Lawsuit. See my earlier post here. I do hope that TV Washington is going to go out and cover some of this, because the potential the lawsuit has to change how we help our alphabet kids in the state is huge. I think it has the potential to trump item #1 completely; if the price tag attached to the special ed kids is high enough, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s where the lawmakers decided to target the funds instead of towards all the things called for in Washington Learns. Which leads nicely into item 3…

  3. The Take the Lead initiative from the WEA. In Eastern Washington the action team that they trained at the WEA Leadership Academy is going to start doing their presentations soon on why increased funding for schools is important. They’ve also been given a hell of a gift from Washington Learns, because the Picus and Odden report is an incredible blueprint of just what it might cost to meet that pesky “paramount duty” clause in the state constitution. It also dovetails nicely with WASDA’s Ample School Funding project.

  4. The Battle in Seattle. With their school board making Spokane’s old city council meetings look tame by comparison, and the Superintendent throwing up his hands and hitting the bricks, it’s looking like Washington’s largest school district has an even tougher road ahead than the one they’ve already been down. It doesn’t help that the state’s two biggest newspapers are Seattle-based, meaning that the roving eye of the fourth estate will be watching the entire time. And all of this with a couple of levies on the ballot in February. Good luck, metronaturals!

  5. Kids failing high school because of the Math WASL. Half of the junior class has yet to pass the math test (see here), and Dr. Bergeson seems to be sticking to her guns that if you don’t pass the test (or you don’t meet one of the other, friendlier measures) then you don’t get a diploma. It’s going to be even worse when science becomes a graduation requirement.

  6. The state auditor going through school district finances. This isn’t a hot one right now, but when they start releasing the reports on the districts it could get bloody in a hurry. If it’s broken out enough to show what a district spends on technology, or travel, or administrator perks, there will be an outcry.

  7. The Supreme Court hearing the WEA’s case on automatic deductions for political expenses, a case that I’m not entirely sure the WEA should win. If they do lose convincingly, and I wouldn’t want to be arguing a union case in this political environment, it would be a major hit for them and one of the biggest victories that the Evergreen Freedom Foundation has ever had.

I’ll try to update this list every couple of months or so. When the legislature is in session things happen quickly, and the only constant in schools is change, so it should be fun!

Read more here, if any.

The Da Vinci Cold


Ever play that game in your head where you try to figure out how you got the cold or flu you have?

I’ve been clogged for a couple of days now. The nighttime is the worst because my nose plugs up and then I wake up with dry mouth. It also makes it hard to hold the Little (s)Thinker when you’re sick, and she’s sick, and the wife is about to be sick. This is a sick, sick place right now.

I think it might have come from my sister-in-law, who gave it to my daughter, who passed it on to me. The symptoms are pretty similar. I had two kids miss days this week with illness, but they weren’t exactly like what I’ve got.

Anyhow, it’s a good day to do not very much at all. The weather outside is changing, too, which is really a shame since this October we’ve had some of the most beautiful fall weather we’ve ever had in the years that I’ve been in the area. There was a Halloween three years ago when the temperature got down to zero, so the fact that we’ve only had light frost so far is just amazing.

One nice thing about the weather change is that I’m a wind guy. Growing up on the Westside and visiting the beach with regularity wind was a fact of life, and I don’t know why but there’s just something about a brisk, windy day that appeals to me. Looking out through the sliding glass door right now I’m thinking that there won’t be any leaves left on the ash trees by the end of the day.

Life is good. There’s wind, I’m blogging, the baby is asleep, and I think I’m going to go have a peanut butter sandwich.

Life is good.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Visit from the Dookie Fairie

Alternate Title: The Joys of Teaching
Alternate Alternate Title: Just Another Day in 1st Grade

One of my resource kids came up missing for a short time yesterday. I left the student teacher in charge, went looking for him, and found him in the stall in the boys bathroom.

"B, honey? Is everything OK in there?"


"Hurry up please, it's time to go to Resource."


As I'm walking off I look to the ground and notice poo. Lots of it. Some clumped, some puddled, but all on the floor in the stall.

"B, honey, is that poo on the floor!?"


"Golly ned, kid, why are you using a stall with a dirty floor?"

(silence from him)

(dawning recognition from me)

"B...that's your poop, isn't it?"


(sigh) "OK...I'm coming in."

He hadn't locked the door to the stall, so I pushed it in. Surveying the scene my guess was that he had diarrhea, made a mad dash for the toilet while pulling down his pants, but didn't quite make it before things started spilling out. Onto the floor, onto his legs, his pants, his shirt, his shoes. He got it on his hands, so it was also all over the seat and the toilet paper dispenser. I've had kids with incontinence before, but this was easily one of the top 3 messes I'd seen.

It's a part of teaching the younger kids, especially the Resource kids. The part that's always bothered me is being around kids with no bottoms on when I'm a male teacher--it just doesn't seem prudent on my part--so I went down to the self-contained room and talked my favorite parapro into coming down to help. She works with our wheelchair and Down's kids, so she's an old pro at cleaning up messes like the one that B was in. We borrowed some clothes, and he was good to go.

"Thanks for the help, Mr. Rain!"

"No problem, B. Have fun at PE!"

And off he went, shiny clean, enjoying just another day at school.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Inner Dialogue

“Mr. Rain, I’m walking home today.”

No you’re not, you little bastard. You ride the bus to the daycare center, and there you sit until your mom or dad gets off work. Knock this crap off and get in line for the bus.

“Hmm….do you have a note?


Of course you don’t have a note. I mean, I’m only your teacher…why ever would it be important for me to know what you do after school? And the 20-second effort that it would take to scribble, “Sonny-boy will walk home today!” is far too much to expect. I get it, I really do!

"Z, honey, you know I can’t let you walk home without a note.”

“But my mom told me!”

That’s the point, child! Your mom told you, and didn’t tell me! Why do all these parents think that I’m going to take their six-year old at their word? If I listened to these kids I would believe that the majority of them were princesses who rode unicorns to school, or trained professional ninjas who can kill with but a touch, but I’ve get to see either. Write a note, write a note, write a note, write a frickin’ note!

“Hi Mr. Rain, I’m here to pick up my brother so we can walk home.”

“Oh. That’s good. Have a nice night, Z.”

“See ya, Mr. Rain!”

Read more here, if any.

Can you hear me now? No? Still? Well, crap.

Last Wednesday we went on up the referral chain to an ear, nose, and throat specialist to try and find out why my daugher, the little sThinker, was still unable to pass her hearing tests. He tied her up in a little papoose contraption first and looked in her ears with a microscope, which pissed her off to no end because she really, really likes to have her arms free. It showed, though, that the ear canal looked healthy, and there was nothing wrong with the middle ear, so there was no good reason that she should fail her hearing test.

So they gave her another hearing test, which she promptly failed.

That one sort of knocked my wife and I both off-kilter. The great hope was that there was something blocking her eardrum and keeping it from vibrating right, but with that not being the case in meant that there was something wrong with the inner ear. At first he told us that, “There’s nothing medically we can do for the inner ear,” but later he came back with hearing aids being an option, which was a relief. He kicked us up the chain for an advanced round of testing that’s supposed to tell us what tones she can and can’t hear, and at what decibel levels.

It’s a weird feeling. I really didn’t want to teach on Thursday, but there really wasn’t a point to taking the day off. The worst part was in having to tell everyone that she had failed this test and was most likely deaf. I got the whole gamut of responses, from “Wow, that sucks!” to “So, what next?”. After school that day I hopped on the internet and spent about 4 hours researching, trying to wrap my mind around being the father of a special needs child.

In Washington State, 233 kids a year fail their initial hearing test. 3 in a 1000 get to the point that we are now. I’m a numbers guy. Numbers help. They give context, they’re solid. I can work with numbers.

It was also amazing to see just what they can do with hearing aids anymore. The itty-bitty earbuds that they can use with kids even as young as my daughter is are amazing.

Wish her luck!

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

There Really Is a Such Thing as a Free Lunch

E walks in the other day and says, “Mr. Rain, my mom filled out some special papers, so I get to have free lunch!”

That would be the Free and Reduced Price lunch, which you qualify for by being close enough to the federal poverty line. It’s always surprised me that anyone at my school would qualify, since by definition if you attend the base school one of your parents has to be federally employed (most likely by the Air Force), but so be it.

“Well, E, that’s swell! Go ahead and start your entry task.”

But this is the hot topic on E’s mind, so he wanders over to J and says, “Guess what, J! I get to have a free lunch!”

“What? Why?”

“My mom filled out a paper, and I get free lunch!”

“Mr. Grant, E gets to have free lunch!”

“I heard that.”

“But I wanna free lunch, too!”

And so it goes. A nice thing about my school is the lunch accounts are computerized, so I don’t even have any idea who gets the reduced price, nor do the kids. I remember back in the day it was a stigma, but no more.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The WEA Comments on Washington Learns

The WEA has issued their formal, written comments on Washington Learns. Charles Hasse, president of the WEA, and Kevin Teeley, president of the Lake Washington EA and a member of the K-12 advisory committee, both made presentations at the public session in Olympia last month, and I’m willing to guess that the union was out in force at the other hearings as well.

The biggest flaw that they’ve identified with the draft report is that it fails to redefine just what a “basic education” is. This is actually a very important question; defining basic education in Kansas and New York (vis-à-vis the Abbott decision) has lead to some staggering price tags that made lawmakers sit up and take notice.

Mr. Teeley raised the point at the hearings, and it’s mentioned in the WEA’s response as well, that the draft report almost completely ignores the work that was done in the Picus and Odden report earlier. It’s a damn shame. The P&O report is loaded with specifics on class sizes, staffing ratios, and dollar amounts for different groups of kids, while the draft report is so general as to be useless.

The final report is due November 13th; that'll be a big day for Washington schools.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Hits Keep Coming

Monthly insurance this year: $370. Not as bad as I thought it would be, but still $200 a month more than I spent last year. It’s a good thing I love you, daughter, ‘cuz you’re expensive.

Another unexpected thing was that my house payment went up by about $40 a month because of an increase in property taxes, of all things. It’s nice that I can write it off, at least, but it’s also about $500 that I won’t have in a year that I can use the money the most.

I’m a judgemental bastard. I’ve always been sort of dismissive of the ladies in our building who use every single one of their sick days. “Bwa-ha!” I chortled, “Those sissies! Why are they always out sick? For shame!” I’ve missed three days this year already to take care of my daughter, which I’m taking as a big kick in the ass from God, his way making me more understanding.

The biggest thing going on right now is my daughter’s hearing problems. She failed her right ear at birth, but the nurses in the NICU said that really wasn’t a big deal—a lot of kids fail it, apparently. We went back in two weeks later, and this time she failed both ears. At this point I was getting a little pissed off. I didn’t understand just how the test worked (she was sound asleep when they gave it to her), and they kept on telling us that they didn’t really know what it meant—it might be something, it might not, who knows?

Yesterday we went to the audiology clinic that Group Health covers. I thought we were going to see a doctor, but it was yet another nurse who did the exact same test that she’d already had two times before. This time I asked how exactly it worked, and it was actually kind of interesting: the device they stick in their ear sends a signal in, and then measures what echoes off of the ear drum. It finally made sense why they wanted her asleep during the test.

So what we may be looking at is this: by their test, she’s fully deaf in the right ear and partially deaf in the left. I don’t know what the hell to think. Sometimes I’m sure she’s hearing me, but I just don’t know any more. But she also had a cold when they gave her the test, which might have plugged up her ears and stopped her eardrum from vibrating the way that it should.

In short, we don’t know much. She hasn’t passed, but we don’t know why she’s failed. We’re in a big holding pattern. I’ve always been a patient man, but I’m also finding that when it comes to my daughter’s health patience goes by the wayside.

It’s hard, and getting harder. I work with an exceptional staff of the nicest people you could ever hope to find, and they all care very much about me and my family, but having to talk about what could be over and over again wears you out. More than anything I’ve ever hoped for I’m hoping that this turns out OK. I’ll let you know.

Read more here, if any.

It’s Never Painless

These numbers came from the most recent edition of The Prevention Researcher, and they blew my mind. The first number is females, the second males.

Adolescent Suicidal Behavior by Gender
Seriously considered attempting suicide: 21.8% 12%
Made a suicide plan: 16.2% 9.9%
Attempted suicide: 10.8% 6%
Made a medically serious attempt: 2.9% 1.8%
Suicide Victims per 100,000: 2.4, 12.2

The girls may think about suicide more than boys, but boys actually kill themselves more than 5 times more often. Why?

Read more here, if any.

Take This Job and Shove It….

…I’m going to work for Wazzu! From the Spokesman-Review:

The effort to find a replacement for the retiring V. Lane Rawlings is just beginning. Advisory committees are being formed, and a search firm hired. Officials hope to make a decision by spring, with a new boss in place for the next academic year.

But one thing seems very likely: The next president will make more money than the current one, who makes a very good living.

Rawlins’ compensation for the 2006-07 school year is $514, 450, and while he has turned down raises in earlier years, his pay has risen steeply since he was hired in 2000. He’s one of 23 public university presidents nationwide who earned more than half a million dollars in total compensation last year – salary plus bonuses and perks – according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A cool half a million dollars for a university job. What does he think he is, a football coach?

Read more here, if any.

Article on Teacher Salary in Virginia

Teachers are overpaid and under-worked, and they’re also slowly taking the states into bankruptcy. From the Hampton Roads News:

As state employees teachers receive retirement and health benefits that surpass many professions in private business. Plus, teachers work almost two months less a year than most other college-educated workers.

I know that you’re shocked to have the truth thrown in your face like this. Shocked! But here’s something else you need to know, you sponging bastard:

Teachers are widely envied for having summers off. On average, professionals work 232 eight-hour days a year, including paid holidays and vacations, the federal survey shows. Teachers work an average of 187 days, 7.5 hours a day. That allows them to make some extra money—if they want to—teaching summer school or working in other summer jobs. Or they can simply relax.

And would you please just hurry up and die?

Teachers represent the largest group in the Virginia retirement system. Taxpayers contribute to teacher pensions at a higher rate than they do to the retirement plans of other state employees, said Jeanne Chenault, spokeswoman for the state retirement system.

The reason is that teachers tend to be paid more and live longer, Chenault said.

In fact, some of the oldest beneficiaries on the state’s retirement rolls are teachers, including 51 of the 67 retirees older than 100.

And you—yes, you there, next to the computer—you’re taking money from that taxpayer over there, and he’s not happy about it. At all.

“For every dollar you’re putting in a teacher’s pocket, you’re taking it out of a taxpayer’s pocket,” said Dan Edwards, the chairman of the Virginia Beach School Board.

If you’ve been overcome by a crippling sense of shame, as you should have been, then head over to the article and check out the comments section. It’ll brighten your day.

Read more here, if any.

Requiem for a Schoolmate

EZ was one of those guys growing up that I knew, but didn’t know. We were in the same grade and did the boy scouts together for years, but we weren’t really friends. He had a tough streak to him, an edge that would pop up when you least expected it and would leave you wondering just what the hell was going on.

Truth is, there were times when I hated the guy. He could be a real jerk, but he was familiar, and in a town as small as Rochester that counted for something. After I stopped doing scouting we didn’t have much to do any more. I know he didn’t graduate, but I’m not really sure when he went away. He was a part of the periphery, someone who you didn’t notice was missing until you looked directly for him.

My mom’s great at the total bluntness thing. She helped out with scouts quite a bit, and every now and then she’d ask him, “EZ, you pick out your prison yet?”

“Not yet, Mrs. F, but you’ll know when I do!”

Yeah, typed out it sounds horrible, but that was always mom’s way. He never took it badly—he knew that she cared and really hoped he turned things around—but EZ was one of those kids that you looked at and knew, just knew, that he wasn’t headed for a happy ending.

I hadn’t thought about him in years until he came up in conversation with my mom the other day for some odd reason. It made me wonder, so I googled him.

He’s dead. Would have guessed jail, but dead had pretty good odds going too.

The obituary said that he left behind a wife and three kids, age 6, 4, and 2. No cause of death listed, just that he died unexpectedly.

I had to mull that around my head for a while after I read it. Thinking that something might happen isn’t the same as wanting it to happen, and there’s no way I wanted that to happen to EZ. At his best, he could show you some glimpses of truly amazing things, and it saddens me that never happened for him as long as I knew him.

It also makes me think of some of the kids I know today. If I went to our small-town middle school I could probably fine you an EZ. Someone who at the age of 12 or 13 is already pointed down a path that can only end in tears. The reason why doesn’t matter, though reasons are legion; it’s knowing where they’re going that hurts to the very core.

And you think of the kids you save, and the kids who get their lives turned around, and you wonder why it worked for them and didn’t work for him. EZ had adults in his life who wanted things to work for him, he had caring teachers who tried hard. What happened?

RIP EZ. I hope that you found your happiness there in the end.

Read more here, if any.

What’s Wrong With This Picture

School does interviews for a Title Teacher, a 5th grade teacher, and a pre-school teacher.

Interview committee consists of a 2nd grade teacher, PE teacher, librarian, counselor, school psychologist, and principal.

I don’t know how it goes in other places, but the right thing to do is to have the people on the team helping to the interviews for the open position. Hiring someone to be a part of a team without including anyone from the team in the interview makes the whole process look like a sham. It’s also an indicator of a principal making some dangerous assumptions about what goes on in the classroom without getting input from the people who are actually there.

How does that go for you in your schools?
Do you have a say in who gets hired for positions in your building?

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On the Importance of Formative Assessments

I went to a conference on Read Naturally over the summer (read all about it here) where they gave us some neat new assessment tools to use with our kids. I've been going over the results this weekend, and it's giving me a lot to think about.

The first test I gave was Letter Naming Fluency using Read Naturally's Reading Fluency Benchmark Assessor. It's very comparable to the LNF test that comes with DIBELS, but being able to do it on the computer and get the results printed out for you is pretty slick. Of my 24 kids it showed 5 at level 2 (some risk) and 2 at level 1 (at risk) on the three-tier intervention model that's all the rage nowadays. With the two kids on level 1 one of them is IEPed for developmental delays, which makes me worry quite a bit aabout the littler girl who only scored one point better than he did.

After that I had one of my moms who used to be a teacher give the kids a test called the Quick Phonics Screener, which looked at letter names, letter sounds, and sounding out short vowel words. It confirmed what I'd already been told by the RFBA and also showed some other kids who were stumbling with blending especially.

Tomorrow I'm giving all the kids the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) which measures fluency and accuracy. After it's done, I think I'll have more than enough information to set my reading groups up the right way.

It's always fun to take this beginning of the year information and see how far they go by the time the year ends. It's also disheartening to see some of the kids not make the growth they should, and it's really depressing when you get to the end of the year and there are kids who have only grown barely, if at all. It's important, though.

There's a myth out there that teachers are anti-test. It's not true. All teachers test and assess; the difference is in what we do with the information. If you're going to judge a teacher by how their kids perform on a test on a day, you're going to make incorrect conclusions if you don't also look at where the kids started and where they are now. This is why the WASL isn't really a good assessment of kids--it doesn't show what they've learned or where they need help with nearly enough precision.

I like tests. They may frustrate me and the kids on occasion, but they're a tool that can help learning measurably.

Read more here, if any.

All's Welts That Is Welts

Two fridays ago I woke up with bumps on my hands. They were ugly and itched like the dickens, so I thought that a spider had noshed on me during the night. I'm pretty sensitive to bug bites anyway--a bee sting can swell me up for days--so I didn't think much of it.

The trick is, they haven't gone away. I went to the doctor Thursday and she was baffled. I haven't changed soaps, I haven't eaten anything unusual, we're still using the same laundry detergent as always, and (at the time) it was only my hands, so....what is it? I was a little worried because the same pain I was feeling in my finger joints was making it's way up to my elbows, and that didn't seem right at all. She decided we should monitor it for a while, gave me a perscription for an antibiotic, and told me to call back in a week.

Then Saturday morning I wake up on fire. The damn things had only been on my hands, but now my entire scalp line was one long series of ugly red bumps. The bumps on my hands had grown into welts, and my toes were starting to itch too. This morning I went to the doc-in-a-box that Group Health covers and the doctor gave me a bunch more options: scabies, lingering effects of a strep infection, a really nasty cold making my body do wierd things, stress and lack of sleep, or an allergy.

The stress theory interests me, if only because I can see the changes in my body as soon as the school year starts. Sleeping becomes harder, my hair becomes a lot thinner, and headaches get a lot more frequent. Throw a new baby into the picture and I could see things going haywire.

On the other hand, I don't really feel stressed. I'm not a high-stress guy by nature, but maybe I internalize more than I know.

I think the solution may be either exercise or heavy drinking. I'm leaning towards drinking, because exercise sucks.

Read more here, if any.