Wednesday, November 29, 2006

We Need Elementary School Mathematics Specialists NOW


That’s what Skip Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, says in his President’s Message column in this month’s edition of the NCTM News Bulletin. It’s a great article that touches on the importance of math education and covers some of the common pitfalls in how instructional coaches are selected.

This also gives me a chance to plug a great blog done by an instructional coach for science, What It’s Like on the Inside. She’s an excellent writer who’s really in-tune with what’s going on with science education in the state, and heartily recommended reading!

Read more here, if any.

The New Teacher Magazine is Very Good

The old version wasn’t bad, but I really like the new focus and the new design. The one I got in the mail last week had a focus on alternative education, and the schools they profiled were amazing in how diverse their methods were. The North Star School in Hadley, Massachusetts was especially interesting for the laissez faire approach they take, and the article on parent education programs in Miami-Dade County was a great guideline for any district to follow.

I’d let my subscription lapse, but I think I’ll re-up. If you read about education, I heartily recommend the magazine.

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Read more here, if any.

Sue!

I’ve been reading about the lawsuit that the Federal Way Public Schools have filed against the state regarding school funding. I’ll freely admit that I don’t really understand the way the funding system works; my principal tells me that we have $X in the building budget, I nod thoughtfully, and that’s the end of it.

What is easy to see is that Washington is headed towards a big budget showdown the way that New York, New Jersey, Kansas, and many other states have. Whether you look at the WSSDA’s Ample Funding Project, the WEA’s Take the Lead project, or Governor Gregoire’s Washington Learns project it’s clear that the movement to put more money into the schools is reaching critical mass.

As to Federal Way’s initiative, it looks good on paper. The problem of the state funding raises only for those employees covered under the basic ed allocation is a very real one that came up the last time we negotiated a contract in my district, because it forces the district to cover the raise, the health care, the carve-out, and the associated retirement expenses out of district funds, which adds up in a hurry.

The links below will give you more information. It’s not expected that they’ll be able to get into the courtroom until 2008.

Lawsuit Homepage from the Federal Way SD
Seattle Times article
News-Tribune article
Commentary in the Seattle Times
Ken Schram

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All You Need to Know About The November Issue of WE Magazine



WEA President Charles Hasse leads off with a column about the union dues lawsuit currently set to be heard before the Supreme Court. He argues that any wrong that has occurred is the result of conflicting regulations from the Public Disclosure Commission, and that the whole thing is a put-on from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation anyhow. It’ll be interesting to see how the high court comes down, and what the practical impact around the state turns out to be.

The groups that were trained to publicize the Take the Lead campaign at the WEA Leadership Academy last summer are hard at work and doing some neat things. The team in my Uniserv has met with a couple of different groups, and we’re going to be getting together with our closest neighbors to do a presentation for everybody on the leadership team in our districts. I think we’re in the beginning stages of what could be a bloody war about school funding, and the WEA activities on that front will be telling.

The WEA had a bargaining conference at the offices in Federal Way in October. I didn’t have a chance to go (parenting the (s)Thinker makes travel difficult), but my president went and she said it was worth it. There’s a nascent push for coordinated bargaining in my area, and that could be huge for the schools in my area.

Congratulations to Granite Falls music teacher Andrea Peterson for being the Washington State Teach of the Year. There’s also a nice article about her in the Seattle Times, here.

Evergreen State College became the most recent college in the state to have their professors unionize, following the lead of Eastern, Central, and Western. I grew up about 20 minutes away from Evergreen, and we went there frequently for Knowledge Bowl tournaments in high school. It’s….different? Iconoclastic? Weird? Bizarre? Freedom epitomized? When your mascot is a Goeduck, you’re a school apart from the rest. Nice campus, though.

An ESL aide and Laotian immigrant in Seattle hit $55 million dollars in the Powerball, which is a perfect segue to one of my favorite jokes:

Joe found himself in serious financial trouble. He was desperate he decided to pray to God for help. He begins to pray. "God, please help me. I've lost my business and if I don't get some money, I'm going to lose my house as well. Please let me win the lottery."
Lottery night comes and somebody else wins it. Joe again prayed."God, please let me win the lottery! I've lost my business, my house and I'm going to lose my car as well".
Lottery night comes and Joe is still out of luck. Once again, he prayed."My God, why have you forsaken me?? I've lost my business, my house, and my car. My wife and children are starving. I don't often ask you for help and I have always been a good person and loyal to you and the church. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE... I beg you...just let me win the lottery this one time so I can get my life back in order."
Suddenly there is a blinding flash of light as the clouds part and the heavens open up. Joe falls to his knees in awe, shieding his eyes from the light as God's voice booms "Meet me halfway on this, Joe. Buy a freaking ticket."


National Board Certified teachers from around the state gathered together October 21st to discuss education policy. Despite my inherent cynicism towards the NBPTS this actually looks like it tackled something important: how to get these National Board teachers into the schools that actually need them. I think the extra pay should be tied to doing work with kids who need extra help, not simply for attaining a certificate that doesn’t have a research backing.

Rain Rant! I don’t understand why the WEA is one of the biggest advocates of the Board certification, and the stipend that goes along with it, yet way too mute on the issue of stipends for teachers that earn their Professional Certificate, which would help a lot more members. Terry Bergeson’s been leading the way—I’d love to see the association join with her to support the cause.

There’s going to be a big push to make sure that everyone on TRS 2 and TRS 3 is able to take part in the gain sharing that should happen as a result of the higher than expected gains in the DRS TAP fund in the coming biennium. I barely understand what that means, so I’m glad they have people working on it for me.

Read more here, if any.

Banned Books are for Shnooks

Great article in the September 27th Education Week about those books that are the most challenged in libraries. I think that the family that finds Of Mice and Men objectionable is way too sheltered, but such is life.

I’ve never had a parent actually question any of the books that I’ve read to the kids. Junie B. Jones worries me every now and then, just because her language can get a little salty to some, but I’ve gone on reading them all the same. I don’t read the Captain Underpants books out loud to the kids, mainly because they get the boys too riled up.

I have gotten some raised eyebrows from the other teachers in the building when I put out the books at Christmastime, mainly because I put Christian books out for the kids right next to the normal Christmas books. I don’t read them out loud, but they are there for the kids to check out if they want. I’ve never made an issue of it, nor have the parents or the kids. It’s only been a couple of the teachers who think I’m pushing the envelope; I think they’re being too sensitive.

You can find the list of the Most Challenged Books for 2005 at the American Library Associations website, here.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Education Week on the Special Ed Lawsuit

A short, concise update, from the November 8th edition:

Spec. Ed. Financing System On Trial in Washington State

Washington school districts gave their openings statements last week in a trial in which they are asking a state court to throw out the state’s system of financing special education, arguing that more than 120,000 special education students are being shortchanged.

A loss in the case could cost the state at least $100 million a year in more generous budgets.

Twelve districts from around the state – joined by Seattle, Tacoma, and 70 other supporting districts – urged Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee to rule that the system falls short of the constitutional mandate to fully finance basic special education.

But Washington state Assistant Attorney General Bill Clark defended the current setup in his statements in court last week, saying the state and local districts together fully meet the needs of all students.

The two-year state budget provides $1.38 billion in state and federal support for special education, roughly 10 percent of the K-12 budget of $13.8 billion. The state has 1 million pupils.

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A Well-Blown Teacher

Last Monday we had a two-hour late start because of the wind in the area. The power was knocked out to most of the schools in the district, so they called the late start to give the repair crews a chance to get things up and going.

The trouble that we’ve always had with late starts at my school is that a lot of the parents don’t hear that we’re late, and I could see that happening especially on a day like this one because there wasn’t any snow. I also was supposed to teach a before-school remedial class for 2nd graders in the morning, and I had a pretty good idea that most of them wouldn’t get the message. So I went in at my normal time (7:00 a.m.) and manned the phones in the office.

We’re a school of about 600 kids, and I talked to 40+ parents on the phone between 7:00 and 8:00. The assistant secretary showed up at 7:30, and she handled a ton of phone calls too. 5 people called me “ma’am”, which has to do both with gender assumptions in who would be answering the phone at an elementary school and the fact that I have a fairly high voice for a guy.

At 8:00 the cars started pulling up.

“Mr. Rain, what are you doing out here?”
“Telling you to go home. We’re on a two-hour late start.”
“Really? But it wasn’t mentioned on the TV…”

That was the big problem of the day—some wise parents had actually turned on the telly to see what was going on, but something went funky in the pipeline and my district didn’t get on the ticker the way they should have.

After the initial rush of kids coming for the before school program I went back inside, then at 8:30 the kids started coming for the school day proper. 60 more cars I shooed off, with only one parent getting mad.

“But I have to go to work…can’t I leave them here?”
“Sir, the teachers are on a two-hour delay too. There’s no one here to watch the kids.”
“Why can’t you?”
“(sigh) It just isn’t doable, sir. Please come back at 10:30.”

That was my special gift to the staff, giving them the extra time in the morning instead of having to look after the kids who would have shown up. They appreciated it; one of the fourth grade teachers brought me my coat (I’d forgotten it in my room) and another brought coffee.

And man, was it windy. As a transplanted westsider it brought back old, happy memories of growing up in Rochester and listening to the wind rush its way through the giant evergreen trees around my house. I used to love to sleep with my window open almost year round just to listen to that wind sound. We also had a house at Surfside Estates, north of Long Beach, and every year without fail we’d go down to the kite festival. Good times.

All in all, it was a good day. When the kids came we had 30 minutes of instruction, then went right into the lunch break. I was subbed out in the afternoon for meetings, so my total contact time for the day was about 45 minutes. I felt like an administrator!

Read more here, if any.

State Stats!

According to District Administration magazine, using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the school enrollment in Washington State will only rise by .2% between now and 2015.

What does that mean for us as a state?

Read more here, if any.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I’m a Jerk, I give Homework

Interesting article in District Administration magazine about the Homework Wars:

We've all heard the rationale for assigning homework, and although few of the justifications pass the giggle test, we don't give it a second thought. Homework is just part of the environment, like pollution. But claims that homework extends or reinforces classroom learning are ridiculous when every kid gets the same assignment, regardless of need. Your district may even require a specific number of minutes or hours of daily homework, and the textbook industry is happy to oblige with books and worksheet packs with titles like Homework Tonight. No illusion of curricular relevance or individual skill development is necessary when every first- grader knows to complete the next worksheet each night.

My colleagues at The Pulse, contributing editors Alfie Kohn and Etta Kralovec, have inspired debate about the merits of homework. Their books, The Homework Myth and The End of Homework respectively, do a masterful job of debunking the science behind homework policies and informing the public of the unintended impacts on student equity and family tranquility. It is this last area that I wish to explore.

Family Interruptions
Homework often injects unnecessary stress, conflict and interruption into family life. The same people who long for the simpler days of Dick and Jane playing outside and baking cookies with Mom see nothing hypocritical in sacrificing the joys of childhood to one-size-fits-all homework policies. Schools recognize this burden with policies that state there should be no assigned homework on weekends. Won't the student forget everything by Monday?

People often ask me if my children and I build robots, program the computer, podcast or make films in the ways I teach educators. The answer is 'no.' "Why not?" they ask. The reason is because school consumes every minute of my kids' lives. They wake up before sunrise, return home late in the afternoon, do homework, eat dinner and go to sleep. And that is on days when they do not participate in extracurricular activities. Similarly, my primary-school-age nephews spend 90 minutes on a school bus each day, do their worksheets, eat and go to sleep. There's no time for reading, playing, exercising or practicing a musical instrument.

Do we need to replace school soda machines with espresso to get those little kids through twelve-hour workdays without naps or personal time?

Surveillance
In his book Dumbing Us Down, John Taylor Gatto discusses the seven lessons of school, one of which is surveillance: You are always attached to the system, and the school monitors your behavior 24/7. Homework is therefore a form of surveillance designed to ensure that the first priority of childhood is to comply with the demands of school. Having parents monitor homework puts them in roles as parole officers, and in adversarial positions towards their children and often the school itself. Why should schools interfere in the lives of families?

"I can do my homework without throwing up!"
Schools also wreck recreation programs. For example, in many communities, particularly urban ones, recreational centers offer the only safe place for supervised play, crafts, sport and the arts. Now, however, many such facilities, including Boys and Girls Clubs, have also been deputized to monitor homework, and some require homework as the price of admission.

And kids can now read about doing homework in addition to actually doing it. For example, books with inspirational titles like How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up (Free Spirit Publishing, 1997) attempt to justify homework to young children by making them repeat "Homework is not horrible," (well, not that horrible) and "I can do my homework WITHOUT THROWING UP!" But the lame attempts at humor cannot disguise the noxious task.

Competing Internationally
One of the major justifications for homework is so that our students can compete in the global economy. We're told, for example, that our children are falling behind Singaporean students. But can you name a Singaporean jazz musician, Nobel laureate, filmmaker or scientist? Who is their educational John Dewey?

Each year I spend a month or so living with a lovely Australian family with three school-age children. The kids play outside, play on basketball teams-often two in the same season-swim competitively, take music lessons, practice their instruments, go to football practice, ride bikes and eat dinner together with their parents. The kids even read books for pleasure. The fifth-grader recently spent five days and nights reading Harry Potter with a friend aloud.

How can one explain such an idyllic childhood and serene family life? The children's schools do not assign homework. One of the daughter's fifth-grade friends just left school for a four-month family trip to India and Europe with the complete blessing of the school. They didn't even have to pack a trunk full of workbooks. The trip would be her education.

It's worth noting that the United States is fifteen notches below Australia in math according to the Program for International Student Assessments comparisons we love to use selectively to justify a get-tough approach to American education. It is ironic that students in Australia do less homework, enjoy recess, have morning tea breaks in school and still do better, as America rushes in the opposite direction.

I give homework. I send a packet home every Monday that’s supposed to come back on the last day of the week. There’s no accountability, and I tell the parents that it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, but I do it. Why?

*It’s a communication tool that shows the parents what we’re doing in class.
*It helps to build that home/school connection.
*It builds responsibility in the kids and teaches them to take stuff home, bring it back, and actually turn it in.
*It gives them something to read at home, and for some of my kids that’s important.

And while I realize that I’m nothing more than bad weather and Alfie Kohn is Alfie Kohn, I think that perhaps he’s too far removed from the classroom and too deep into the theory to see the tool for what it could be.

Read more here, if any.

Vignettes

Buddy reading. H walks up and says, “Mr. Rain, M says that we’re not supposed to read the story twice, but I say we are!”

“Tell M. that you’re right, H.”

H walks back over to M and says, “Mr. Rain says that I am right. I am soooo right!”

Kids are soooo weird.

...........................................

I explain the math assignment. Upon completing my explanation of what to do on the math assignment M raises her hand and asks, “Mr. Rain, what do we do on this?”

“M, honey, that’s what I was just telling you, and I’m not going to tell you again.”

“But I wasn’t listening!”

Really? I’ll be darned.

....................................................

I’m a little annoyed at one of our Kindergarten teachers, because when A came to me this year it was as obvious as the nose on my face (and believe me, it’s obvious!) that he had a speech problem. I called in one of the speech therapists who did an informal assessment in the classroom one day; on the way out she says, “Oh yeah, he’s definitely going to be one of mine.”

He says to me one day, “Mr. Rain, I bant to have a tookie for snat.”

“Huh?”

“I bant to have a bookie for snat!”

Fortunately I speak fluent first grader, and using my translation skills I was able to discern that he wanted to have something for snack. I just wasn’t sure what.

“A too-kie?”

“No, a took-ie!”

“A turkey? What?”

“A tookie!”

“…..Wait! Do you mean a cookie?”

“Yeah, tan I have a tookie?”

“Yes, A, you may have a cookie.”

“Tanks, Mr. Rain!”

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Read more here, if any.

Speaking of acceleration….

2nd grade teacher comes up to me the other day. “Rain, what did you do with J during your reading time?”

Well, I taught him. He was one of those who had already mastered the 1st grade reading expectations before he walked in the door on the first day of school, so I pushed him and the other high kids I was blessed to have hard. We read Pearl S. Buck’s “The Big Wave,” we wrote and responded, we worked hard. I excused him and the others from doing the rote work because I knew that they knew how to do it and neither of us could see the point in doing something just for the sake of doing it. Besides, if they were over reading their novels I could focus more on the other kids who really did need that sort of review.

The thing was, and I thought it even as I was doing it, I knew that the 2nd grade teachers wouldn’t push them the same way I would. They teach to the middle; everybody does everything that everybody else does, and that’s just the way it is. I’m trying to work with them on things like Accelerated Math and giving them packets that I know are on the same level as the kids were, but it’s slow going.

Anyhow, J’s parents are concerned that he’s not being challenged. They should be. The trick is that they were interested in having him skip 2nd grade at the end of last year, and I don’t think it’s a good idea. He’s young and he’s short. Certainly those aren’t great reasons, but they’re the reality.

What I wish we had at my school was a floating hi-cap teacher who could work with these kids 1-on-1. Let’s say I send J up to 3rd grade and it shows that he doesn’t quite understand adverbs yet. He could get it with only a little bit of remediation and then be raring to go, but that doesn’t happen. Someone who could meet with small groups of kids and let them create and read and just go at their own pace….that would be cool.

Hey Washington Learns, how about it?

Read more here, if any.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Does K-12 Make Sense?

This is the loaded question posed by District Administration in their November issue, and it’s a good one to ask. They lead off with a story about a state Senator in Colorado, Ronald Teck, who proposed changing schools from the traditional K-12 model to a pre-11 system instead. His thought was that research showed the value of preschool for future academic success, but the senior year of high school is generally considered a waste of time. My thoughts on either end of the proposal:

  1. Preschool is a good, good thing. My school has been fortunate enough to be able to offer preschool for anyone who wants it the last two years, and I can already see it making a difference. Trick is, if it’s tax money involved, I think it makes a lot more sense to offer pre-school only to those parents who need it based on SES or whatever other criteria you’d like to look at.
  2. The senior year is actually starting to mean a lot more. In my district there is a major senior project required for graduation, and it’s a bear for those kids to do. When I was in high school all I had to do my senior year was show up and make sure the yearbook got published on time.
  3. An interesting thing that’s happened recently is the University of Washington withdrawing admission offers to kids who slacked off their senior year. Tough for those kids, sure, but if word got out that not trying your senior year could cost you your college of choice I think the impact would be profound.


There’s an acceleration argument to be made, too. One of the best reports that’s come out in the last couple of years is A Nation Deceived by the Belin-Blank center at the University of Iowa, focused on the needs of gifted kids. It talks about ways to pace the curriculum for those students who are bright and can handle the material in less time than we traditionally allow, and I think that’s a partial solution to the boredom problem that always pops up in student surveys. Grade skipping is a hot button issue for many, particularly in the lower grades, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing when done right.

Anyhow, good article. You can read it for yourself here.

Read more here, if any.

It’s a Process

Last week the Little (s)Thinker had her big hearing test. The result: Completely/profoundly deaf in the right ear, moderately to severely in the left. It sounds bad, but what it means is that she should be a good candidate for a hearing aid in the left ear, which will be a big help. It also told us exactly which ear we should be yelling into when we try to talk to her: the left.

“HELLO LITTLE BABY, HOW ARE YOU TODAY?!!”

“Coo!”

“WHO’S A CUTE LITTLE BABY? WHO? YOU! YOU!”

“Gaa!”

Good times. The test was interesting to watch, because even sounds that were painfully loud to the wife and I sitting in the room with her got nary a reaction from her.

It’s also fascinating to think about just how she registers with the world. She makes sounds of her own beyond crying, and I wonder why. Is it instinct that makes a deaf baby make those happy noises? Is it the inner vibrations that lead her to do it?

Anyhow, next week we have a meeting with a social worker to hear about programs that are available to kids with disabilities, like my daughter. The week after that they’re going to make the mold of her ear to get her fitted for the hearing aid, and the week after that she should get it installed. That’s going to be big. When I can finally talk to my daughter and know that she’s hearing me....yeah, that’ll be big.

There are a lot of resources out there. It looks like the speech and language program through WSU-Spokane does a lot of work with deaf kids, and we’re going to find about about the birth-to-three programs available through the state. One of the ladies I work with brought up social security, another talked about the active deaf community in the area. It’s going to be an adventure.

The nurse who did the tests last week also brought up cochlear implants. I’ll have to do a lot more research before I feel comfortable with that. I look at her now, a little baby, and then I think about them cutting into her head for surgery…I don’t know.

I’ve gotten a wide variety of responses from the people at the school, too. Some have started crying as soon as I gave them the news; other are, “Wow, that sucks!” We’ve both been told too many times to count that the Lord gives special kids to special people and that she couldn’t have possibly gotten better parents to deal with this. I work with great people, and this has really driven that home. The support is profound, and appreciated.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Asked, Then Answered

This came from Mark, in the comments section to my post on the WEA Union Dues Lawsuit. I was going respond in the comments section, but it got long so I thought I’d make it its own post.

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that there is now an alternative to unions in the State of Washington, in the form of the Northwest Professional Educators. I have no affiliation with them. You say they are "arch conservative," but I know of quite a few teachers who are members who are huge supporters of public education but who do not support the unions.

What is your beef with the Northwest Professional Educators, if any?


To be fair, I said that Human Events Online was arch-conservative, not the NWPE.

As to whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that NWPE exists, overwhelmingly and decisively I'll tell you it's a good thing. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having options available, and for those who feel that the WEA isn’t for them I wish them well.

That said, here are some of the problems that I have with the NWPE:

  • Who are they? If you look around their website you can’t find a single name. Who is their president? Who works with the schools? If I needed legal services, whom would I talk to? I know what the counter-argument here is, “We need to maintain our privacy to keep from being bullied by rabid unionists!”, and that’s fine. But if you have the courage of your beliefs, why not stand up for them?

  • I think that some of the viewpoints the NEA takes are asinine, too, but painting the locals and the WEA with the same brush because you don’t like what goes on at the NEA Rep Assembly is troubling. As evidence, I give you statements like this:

    While many employees support their local union, they may desire to opt out of the WEA and NEA because of the unions’ support of political and social issues that the educator opposes. See Grading the NEA: The Troubling Values of a Union Giant.

    If you question the values of the WEA, then point that out. Using the parent organization to slam the state isn't intellectually honest.

  • It gets worse when you follow the link from the NWPE over to I Choose Charity, which explains to dissenters how to opt out of the union. Here the big issues are abortion (which isn't a WEA issue), gay rights (which is an issue for everyone), and school choice. One wonders: if you want to be an agency fee payer because of the WEA's stance on vouchers, what in the world are you doing teaching in a public school?

  • They're not a bargaining agent, and anyone who thinks that schools would be a utopia if it wasn't for the damned contract getting in the way is fooling themself. Statements like "We focus on what is best for our students and for their education" (see here) are platitudes, just like "What's good for the teacher is what's good for the student."

  • Then there's things like their commentary on teacher compensation (here, see page 4) which calls for "new fresh ideas" to raise teacher compensation. The two ideas they name? Local only bargaining units and faculty senates, different iterations on the theme "Get rid of the union."


The main issue as I see it with the NWPE is that they don't seem to stand for anything besides, "We're not the WEA and NEA!", and I don't think it's enough to say that you're not them. That was basically what John Kerry ran on in 2004, and it didn't work. There has to be content to have any validity, and as I see it right now the NWPE doesn't have the content yet.

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There was time now. There was all the time I needed....

I award 10 “I Thought a Think Points” to any of you who get that.

I got my new issue of the Harvard Education Letter in the mail a couple of days ago, and the back page article by Richard Elmore is an interesting one. He argues that nearly three thousand hours of instructional time is lost over the course of a student’s school career because of inefficiencies in how the school day and year are structured. Testing takes a hit because it’s not new instructional time; he similarly criticizes the “end-of-year letdown” for needlessly letting contact time go to waste.

He’s right, the time is wasted.

He’s hopeless, because there’s not a whole lot that can be done about the situation.

My kids start showing up in the morning at about 8:45; we walk out to the busses at 3:15. That’s 6.5 hours I have to use, but there’s an hour off of the top for the midday lunch and recess time. You can also assume 15 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to either get the kids settled or get them ready to go. We typically take about a 15 minute break every morning, because I have no preps in the morning and they need the chance to cut loose. That’s 1 hour and 45 minutes of time gone, leaving 4:45 for teaching.

Except that I have an average of 45 minutes a day of prep time, so that knocks the total time down to four hours a day for teaching time. An educated guess would be that I lose another half hour a day through things like walking the kids to their specialist classes, transitioning between activities, and the like, so in a 6.5 hour day I really only have 3 hours of instructional time. Troubling? Perhaps, but it’s the way it is.

So how do we make more instructional time? Some schools are cutting recess and the arts, which is a profound mistake on either end, but I can understand the instinct. At my own school we’ve made a change from offering band AND music to 5th and 6th graders, to giving them a choice between band OR music. They still get something, just not as much as they used to. They were losing two hours a week of instruction because not every kid was in band, but you couldn’t teach new skills solely to the kids who were left behind when the band kids were gone, so it was wasted time.

But if you look at the time lost to processes, there really isn’t a way to get that back. My kids are going to take 15 minutes to get ready to go—that’s just the way it is with 6 year olds. At the beginning of the day the kids trickle in during a 20-minute window instead of all showing up at the same time, and there’s nothing I can do as a classroom teacher to fix that problem, either. I could try to shore up the 30 minutes of time that we lose over the course of the day during our transitions, but there really is only so much I can do there, too.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to think about extending the school day. It’s what they do in KIPP and a bunch of other charter schools, and it’s certainly what some kids need. This month’s issue of District Administration magazine has an article about the idea of IEPs for every child; imagine what we could do with all the kids from the highest to the lowest with one extra hour a day.

It can’t happen, because of finances.
It can’t happen, because of the contract.
It can’t happen, because of the kids.
It can’t happen, because of the parents.

But if it could....

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A Bill, A Bill! They Wrote It On the Hill!

You’ve seen how Washington Learns has evolved. Tomorrow, you’ll watch it come into full bloom. But what about the spawning?

Based on a tip in the comments section (thanks, JL!) I went and looked up Senate Bill 5441, the seed from which Washington Learns grew. It was characterized as a wish list of everything that Governor Gregoire or anyone else in Olympia ever thought or heard about how to fix the education system—and yeah, that’s actually pretty accurate. A game of Buzzword Bingo could be won before you got to the end of the second page.

It’s been said that you don’t want to know where laws and sausages come from, but all the same I’d encourage you to give this a look, along with the bill history. It’s good school trivia that you can drop into your next evaluation debrief.

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Ffff…flllluuu…..fluency?

Interesting article in the Washington Post two weeks back about fluency, the Big Thing since the National Reading Panel report in 2000. It’s a good read and gives several examples of what fluency instruction shouldn’t look like—anyone interested in the teaching of reading should check it out.

I started teaching shortly after the NRP report came out, so fluency instruction has been a part of the job for me since the beginning. It’s one of the easiest to quantify, but also one of trickiest—I misjudged the skills of several kids in the early years because I was misled by their good oral reading, but at the same time their comprehension was poor. Fluency is a part of the puzzle, but not the end-all, and this is a good reminder of that.

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A Little Love for the Alma Mater

Was in Cheney the other day to do some banking, and it’s incredible to see how much the town has changed in even the ten years since I showed up in the fall of 1996. It used to be that Cheney started with the McDonalds and the car wash, but now with the new hotel and the Safeway store and the Starbucks it’s looking more and more like a soulless berg of the damned than a small college town.

(Just kidding, Cheney! I kid because I love!)

Anyhow, at the bank they had a stack of The Easterner, the campus newspaper for EWU. Under Stephen Jordan the college grew and grew, and to my mind one of the biggest upgrades can be seen in the form of the school paper—it’s filled with real journalism, and it just plain looks good. It actually looks better than the Cheney Free Press, which says a lot about both newspapers. Their website looks great, too.

Good Job, EWU!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The WEA Union Dues Lawsuit

If you click on the “Read here for more” link at the bottom of this post you’ll find the full text of a front-page article from the October 4th issue of Education Week talking about the WEA case going before the Supreme Court. It’s good reading. Great reading is the work that has been done over at a blog called 5/17 which I wish I had discovered much earlier, because he’s an excellent writer doing a great job of getting to the ins-and-outs of the laws and numbers involved. He’s over in my “great blogs” section now; I recommend him highly!

While poking around his blog I found a link to an article at Human Events online talking about the Supreme Court case, and it’s a great example of an anti-union attack piece. The byline tells you that Tracey Bailey was the 1993 teacher of the year; what the article fails to mention:

  1. The group that Mr. Bailey now works for, the Association of American Educators, is the parent group of the Northwest Professional Educators.
  2. The NWPE is the favored union alternative (see page 10!) of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF). Oh, they can deny it, but it's inarguable that the two groups have goals that often dovetail.
  3. The EFF initiated the complaint that lead to the current case and has been on the WEA's case for years.


It’s clear, then, that Mr. Bailey has a stake in the argument beyond being just a teacher making a comment. Then again, looking around Human Events Online shows that they’re the sort of arch-conservatives who wouldn’t like unions anyway.

I made a comment in the Biggest Stories in Education today post that I wasn’t totally sure the WEA should win the lawsuit, and was called on it in the comments section. Based on the law I think it’s clear they should; it’s not nearly as hard to become an agency fee payer as the EFF would have you believe.

My only complaint is that the WEA might be too efficient in what they do. They get results which benefit teachers, but there are way too many teachers out there who take it for granted. To those who would lambast the WEA for spending their money mainly on democratic candidates I would ask this: where the hell do you expect them to spend the money? Here in Spokane, for example, there was a contested State House race between Brad Benson, the Republican incumbent, and Chris Marr, the democratic challenger. Benson hates public education by any measure—should the WEA and WEA-PAC have supported him, just to appear fair?

And to those conservative teachers who drop out because of the support of progressive candidates I would ask this: are you doing what you do because of reasons related to education, or other things? If you look in the WEA-PAC voter’s guide (I did!) you won’t find any mention of abortion, capital punishment, the war in Iraq, or anything else. It’s about the education and only the education, so what’s the problem?

In short, I think the good that this might do is to make some teachers sit up and take notice, break them out of their comfort zone. I think that'd make us all better in the long run.

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Merit Pay on the March


Last week the Department of Education rolled out the first of their grants to urban school districts for merit pay programs. Denver received better than $22 million dollars to supplement their existing ProComp program, while Chicago got $27.5 million to begin a program. The Chicago program is targeted, reports the Tribune:

The extra money will start flowing to about 10 high-poverty schools in Chiago next year, for a total of 40 schools by 2010. District officials will select schools that have improved test scores over time, but also struggle with high teacher turnover.

Each school would receive as estimated $500,000 to $750,000 a year depending on the size of its staff, and individual teachers could see yearly bonuses of as much as $9,000 for superior work and student gains, Duncan said.

Chicago officials said the program will improve teacher quality in the city’s most challenged school by creating incentives for them to stay and by rewarding teachers who act as leaders or take on extra assignments.

I don’t have a problem with this, as long as there are results. Giving extra money to people to teach in high-need schools isn’t a good idea unless they’re actually effective teachers. I question whether it will actually work (how much money would it take to get you to go from a great school to a failing one?), but it’s worth a shot, and a rising tide raises all boats, so there.

Then I got to thinking about how merit pay would affect me personally. This year we started something new in 1st grade where we ability-grouped the kids: high, two middle groups, and a low group. I’m teaching the high group, which is a blast. I’ve got more kids than the others—we tried as hard as we could to keep the low group below 20—but that’s OK, because my kids are mostly independent and ready to run, where the low groups needs more practice with the very basic skills.

The trick is, that’s 5 hours a week that I’m not teaching “my” kids reading. I believe that what’s going on in the low group will be a good thing, but what if those kids don’t grow the way they should? Under some merit pay systems that would be my problem and I would be the one who would get the blame, ignoring the fact that it’s really a failure of the team and the Title department. If that’s the way it were, I’d have a hard time voting to accept any merit proposal.

That’s why it works better to reward schools, and even grade levels within those schools, instead of teachers as individuals.

I’m also not quite sure what happens to specialists (art, PE, etc.) and Special Ed under merit pay. I’ve tried to research it on the Denver ProComp website in the past, but I couldn’t get anywhere.

Bottom line: I'm for anything that gets more money to teachers, as long as its done fairly.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Quotes Guaranteed to Bite You on the Ass


Oddly enough, not from John Kerry.
“If the community works with me and gets me the support I need,” he said, “I will fix the middle-school problem in the next two or three years – no problem.”
David L. Brewer, the new superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, said that in the Los Angeles Times. In a case of Los Angeles copying Seattle, we’ve tried the military man-come-educational leader when John Stanford led the Seattle Schools, though it’s not fair to draw any conclusions on what he accomplished because of his untimely death.

The Education Wonks have the best analysis of the situation here. Again I say to you: I’m in the wrong line of work.

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RIT on the NWEA MAP


We’ve done the NWEA MAP assessment in grades 2 through 6 for years now, and as a first grade teacher I’ll gleefully admit that I’ve been able to ignore the test whenever it’s come up. Inservice on the NWEA? Mr. Rain will be surfing the net in the back of the room. After school staff meeting on the NWEA? Sorry, can’t be there, I’ve got a thing at a place that….anyhow, not coming.

That’s changed now, though, because the NWEA people have released a version of the MAP that goes down to Kindergarten and 1st grade. The MAP is the Measure of Academic Process, a semi-annual test on the computer that spits out a score called the RIT. They’ve assigned percentiles to various RIT scores (i.e., a kid who scores a 170 is in the 68th percentile). The nice thing about the MAP that I’ve observed is that it’s supposed to meet the kids on their level, so you can do the value-added measurements to make sure that you’re helping both the high and the low kids move along.

Anyhow, we did our preliminary tests last week. For the little kids there are two reading and two math tests, so on four different days we lined up and went down to the computer lab. Here’s some things I noticed:

  • *If you put the kids in front of a computer, some of them will take it seriously, and some of them won’t. I had kids who figured out quickly that they didn’t really need to try all that hard, so they rushed through by clicking whatever answer they found.

  • *There were some tough, tough questions that were way ahead of even my high kids. One question asked them to read about the Okefenokee Swamp and then identify if the passage was fact, opinion, historical reference (!), or something else, which had them all looking to me for help. I know this is the pretest, but golly ned…

  • *The NWEA had provided a sample computer test that the kids could do, and it was appropriate for the reading test but wholly inadequate for the math test. It’s something they need to fix before next year.

  • *It’s kind of annoying to have to take the time, honestly. 4 30-minute blocks doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it was pulled right out of the heart of my reading block, and that’s annoying.

  • *There’s a lot of meaningless numbers that come out of the tests. The NWEA has an enormous system called Descartes that helps you to understand what the scores mean, but it doesn’t go as low as the scores in the primary version of the MAP go.

  • *I’m also unsure of just how to use this in the classroom. It’s that old formative/summative assessment debate with a new ribbon on top; do I use this test to guide my instruction, or do I carry on with the instruction as normal and let the test scores fall where they may?

I will be curious to see how much growth I can get out of some of the kids this year. Since the primary MAP is only in the beta stage it’s not going to be something that we’re truly accountable for this year, but soon enough it’ll be part of my evaluations, I’m sure.

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The NEA on the Dropout Crisis


A couple of months ago the NEA released a 12-point plan to cut down the dropout rate in the country; it’s also the topic of Reg Weaver’s column in the most recent issue of NEA Today. It’s the usual stuff that we’ve heard before, but there are some things in there that are worth thought:

2) Establish high school graduation centers for students 19-21 years old to provide specialized instruction and counseling to all students in this older age group who would be more effectively addressed in classes apart from younger students.

Which goes nicely with

5) Increase career education and workforce readiness programs in schools so that students see the connection between school and careers after graduation. To ensure that students have the skills they need for these careers, integrate 21st century skills into the curriculum and provide all students with access to 21st century technology.

Career education has been nearly completely overlooked in the run to make sure that every child is college ready, in my opinion. There’s nothing wrong with being a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter—in those jobs, you’ll probably make more than a teacher, so more power to you.

Another good point:

3) Make sure students receive individual attention in safe schools, in smaller learning communities within large schools, in small classes (18 or fewer students), and in programs during the summer, weekends, and before and after school that provide tutoring and build on what students learn during the school day.

It’s nice to see them acknowledge that the school day as constructed might not be enough for some kids. Washington Learns also touched on this principle, and one of the big things I’m looking for in the draft report is to see if they actually keep it in.

But you take the good with the bad, and when you talk about the bad:

1) Mandate high school graduation or equivalency as compulsory for everyone below the age of 21. Just as we established compulsory attendance to the age of 16 or 17 in the beginning of the 20th century, it is appropriate and critical to eradicate the idea of "dropping out" before achieving a diploma. To compete in the 21st century, all of our citizens, at minimum, need a high school education.

I can’t see that working well at all. If you want to keep kids in school give them choices that make them want to be there, but simply saying, “You’ve got to be here” isn’t enough.

In short, this was a thoughtful piece from the NEA, and I applaud them for putting it out there. The test will be to see if they follow it up with as much diligence as they do their other issues, but this is a good start. Thumbs up!

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Political Silly Season


I passed out the WEA-PAC voter’s guides at my school the other day. I’m not sure that anyone will actually use it, but I at least did my job as the association vice-president.

The mail is packed every day with these giant postcards from McMorris, Goldmark, Cantwell, and McGavick. I’m deliriously happy that I have the DVR on my Dish receiver, because skipping over the political ads especially is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

I will say that Cathy McMorris’ ad saying that Peter Goldmark blames the United States for what happened on 9/11 is disgusting. I was even considering voting for McMorris—she’s been a strong advocate for my local air force base, which is pretty important for me—but after seeing that I can’t in good conscience support sending her back to D.C. Shame on you, Cathy.

The most recent issue of the Washington Education Association’s magazine, WE, is also pretty political. “No on I-920” is the front-page story, and inside there’s a lot of content about Take the Lead and Washington Learns.

I’ll be glad when this passes, especially this McGavick/Cantwell nonsense. The pisser of it is that this election will be followed by a gubernatorial election here in the state and a presidential election nationwide, so this may only be the calm before the real storm. Oy.

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Oh, that Ken Schram. What a card!


Growing up on the west side we all knew who Ken Schram was—that guy with the amazing voice on channel 4 who was always complaining about something or another. I think he even had his own local talk show in the 3:00 hour for a while when I was a kid, but I might be getting him confused with a different show. I seem to remember him being there with the lady my grandma loved who did the recaps of the soaps that day.

Anyhow, he’s a professional ranter now. The link that I found off of 5/17 (a great blog that I’m sad I hadn’t found much earlier) shows Ken standing in front of a “Schram on the Street” logo, which is mildly amusing since I’m pretty sure that Ken’s street is either a) somewhere in Edmonds b) behind a gate or c) somewhere behind a gate in Edmonds.

Apparently the Federal Way SD is suing the state. Ken’s all for it. He even calls out the WEA for not doing enough and giving the legislature too many chances, which is absolutely baffling because if there’s one thing the WEA has never been accused of it is being apolitical on a school funding issue.

Good ol’ Ken. He’s like our Andy Rooney, the same way that Bill Nye the Science Guy is like our Bill Nye the Speedwalker.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Publish, Perish


Sometimes I think that the Big Names in Ed Reform put things in the Post or Times because they need to meet some sort of quota. Take, for example, Eugene Hickock’s Friday op-ed from the Washington Post.

He doesn’t say much, and what he does say he says poorly. Buried within is a paean to vouchers and charter schools, but he refuses to come right out and say what he’s talking about. If you believe, Eugene, profess! There’s a statement about how NCLB won’t be enough to get to the goal of 100% proficiency in every subject for every child, but Hickock makes the same mistake that many commentators do: he won’t acknowledge that the 100% goal is impossible.

It’s also readily apparent that most of the Big Names (see Hess, Haycock, or Petrilli) don’t get rural America. School choice is a concept that might work in the cities, but consider the Reardan school district here in Eastern Washington, geographically one of the largest in the state. How do you propose to do school choice when there isn’t another school for 20 miles around? Pretty soon all schools will be failing schools, and when that happens then what? I’d invite any of them to come with me on a nice driving tour of my side of the state so they can see just how isolated a place like Republic, or Curlew, or Asotin, or Wellpinit really is.

This is also one of the reasons that geographically isolated areas have trouble getting teachers. If you’re young and single, there isn’t a whole lot for you in these towns. I have single friends on the Uniserv council from Freeman, and they say the only thing that makes it tolerable is the proximity to Spokane. These are starter jobs that you take to get experience until you can move closer to the job you want, which means that turnover is a constant problem.

My plea to Mr. Hickock and the rest: don’t forget the small towns. We really do exist, and the solutions you propose aren't universally applicable.

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I Answer the NEA’s Mail


Taken from the new issue of NEA Today:

Wow. An interview with Angelina Jolie. What’s next? Paris? Britney? If I want to read about Angelina Jolie, there are plenty of tabloids from which to choose.

Cheryl Peach
Puyallup, Washington

Ms. Peach,

The Allman Brother’s album “Eat a Peach” was classic. Classic, I tell you! And we should interview Britney; she’s a classic case of the old education research adage, “If you can’t be a success story, be a case study.”


I have to agree with Keith Parker. By the time a student takes a class at the university level, the lack of basic training really shows up. By this time, the basics should be anchored in cement. You don’t climb the mountain before you climb the molehill, and you don’t drive a car until you have had driver training.

Ila Oaks
Kalispell, Montana

Ms. Oaks,

Why are you climbing molehills? I usually just step over the damned things. How big are the moles in Montana?!? Please write back, as all of us here at the offices are very concerned about giant moles tunneling over. We’ve just recently seen the movie Tremors, and Reg isn’t sleeping well any more.


In our district, we use Wikipedia as background information only. The only problem is that our own NEA educators aren’t aware that it isn’t an appropriate source for research. It is merely an organized, interesting, widely used, informative blog.

Paige Jaeger
Glens Falls, New York

Ms. Paige,

Just so we’re clear on this, it’s “organized, interesting, and informative”, yet it’s not appropriate for research? For pity’s sake, why not? If they’re using it as a gateway to find other information, and certainly fact checking those things that seem unreliable, then what’s the problem? Plus, the discussion pages on Wikipedia are excellent for ferreting out the erroneous information.

I think you’d be far better served to teach your kids how to use the tool, instead of discarding the tool out of hand.

Your friend,

The Rain

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Student Teachers


I have an incredible student teacher this year. Right now she’s doing her math practicum work with me, but in the winter she’ll be taking over the class full time and I think it’ll be just swell. She’s excellent at holding them accountable, but being nice about it at the same time. I really believe that she’s doing what she was meant to do, and that’s a nice feeling to have when you’re giving your class over to someone.

She had a sample math lesson on Wednesday with her practicum supervisor watching. It didn’t go well. She tried to use manipulatives during the lesson, because that’s how they teach them to do it at the University, but they ended up becoming more of a toy than a tool as the kids happily played with the unifix cubes and ignored everything she was saying. She was also doing a lot more explaining than she usually does, because she felt like she had to in order to show her supervisor what he expected to see.

After he left I could tell she was pretty shaken, so we talked about why this lesson didn’t go as well as any of the others she had taught. I also ran off the basic review page and had her do that with the kids as soon as they returned from music class, and getting right back in the saddle and teaching math again seemed to help her get over the hump.

We’ve also talked quite a bit about lesson plans. I’ve shown her how I do it in my planning book…

Math: Subtracting to Compare, page 81-82
Also Do Timing C and Spiral Review 2-13


…and let her know that’s all I really need from her in terms of lesson plans, too. I’ve had student teachers before give me 3 page lesson plans for 20 minute math lessons, which they just plain don’t need to do. I tell them that I want them to think about what they’re going to do, certainly, and they should know a) what they’re going to do to introduce the skill and b) how they’re going to assess it in a meaningful way, but these Socratic dialogues that some of them feel like they have to write are wasted effort.

The biggest thing that she’ll have to do next quarter is this ridiculous assignment called the pedagogy. My student teacher last year did two of them (I think that’s what’s required during the actual student teaching experience); it’s a 7 to 10 page lesson plan FOR ONE LESSON. If I had had to do those, I don’t know that I would have graduated.

Being the master teacher is fun, though. It’s kind of a kick when you hear them talking to the kids the same way you do and wondering if that’s how you sound, and it’s neat to see them develop their confidence in teaching over the course of the quarter. It also gives me time to do the other 1000 things that I have to do, which makes everything better.

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