Thursday, March 29, 2007

Dollars? Cents.

There's nothing quite like the night before payday.

Mrs. Thinker was not very happy with me when she opened up Money and saw that the balance in my checking account was better than $800 in the red. "Where the hell did it go?" was her question, though she phrased it a bit less delicately.

Where did it go? Our first half property taxes were due; that was about $300. Paid a lump sum on the auto insurance; so long, $450. The hearing aide specialist needed a partial payment on the Little (s)Thinker's new mold for her hearing aide; that was $100.

"That's about half your take-home already," she pointed out.

Don't I know it. My monthly net is about $2,000, including my $150 a month stipend for the after school enrichment classes. Every now and then there's a little extra when I teach the before school remedial classes.

Right off the top of that comes my mortgage, $700. Cable, electric, telephone, gasoline, food. Copays for my daughter's frequent appointments. A couple of magazine subscriptions. Snacks, teaching supplies, and prizes for the classroom.

"I know, I adds up."

When I've been paying bills I hate that phrase, because it usually adds down. 3 months out of 4 I play that game where I let the checking account get dangerously close to zero, often writing checks that fall well below, hoping to God that I've timed the mail right. When I haven't WaMu sends me a $29 love note and thanks me for my financial foibles.

I don't do the job for the money, but I also can't ignore that aspect of my life, especially with a special needs child. That's why reports like this from the American Federation of Teachers are so important, because they demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt just how far behind we've fallen. There's talk of a 4.3% COLA on the horizon for next year, and I thank WEA-PAC for all the great work they've done in that regard, but there are hard, hard days when I can't help but wonder why I have to leave my daughter early and get home late so that we can stay even.

Anyhow, check out the full report. It's great reading, and I commend Ed and all the other folks at the AFT for their work. I think it's also one of the most important conversations we can have as a profession; please join in.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Why Does Bob Morton Hate Democracy?

Just kidding, Senator. Mostly.

The cyber lobbying tool on the WEA website is excellent; you can email your legislators on the issues of the day in under five minutes. At a council meeting last week we passed around a laptop computer and sent emails; I focused on the simple majority. To my surprise, I got a response in the mail yesterday from Bob Morton, my state senator!
Dear Ryan,

I have been very consistent in my position on retaining the requirement for a 60 percent validation on excess school levies, fire districts, cemetery districts, library districts, and others.

My premise is simply that it is too easy to raise taxes in this state.

Enclosed is a copy of a citizens guide that comments on many of the questions raised concerning K-12 funding.

I appreciate your taking the time to let me hear from you.

Cordially yours,

Bob Morton

I’ll acknowledge that I get where he’s coming from. Senator Morton seems like a true Reagan conservative who believes in smaller government, and in my district he’s been great for farmers.

On this, though, I think he’s dead wrong. The supermajority requirement for school levies makes a no vote 50% more valuable than a yes vote, and that’s unfair no matter how you try to spin it. Some in his party have tried to play the simple majority movement as a tax increase, but that seems like a jaundiced view at best when you consider that it’s still about what the voters decide.

The notion has been expressed, too, that school supporters have some sort of unfair advantage when it comes to getting levies passed, and that’s why we need the supermajority. That argument falls apart with only one word: Vader. Their levy was to decide the very life or death of the district, and it still failed to garner even a simple majority. If the anti-tax crowd in small-town Vader, Washington can get mobilized for an early spring election, why can’t that happen in every other town in the state? In this age of vote by mail, isn’t voting no easier than it’s ever been?

The other piece that annoys me about the hang-up in getting the simple majority bill through the legislature is that the bill itself wouldn’t repeal the supermajority; it would only place a constitutional amendment in front of the voters here in Washington to give them the option to repeal. That makes Senator Morton’s intractability on the issue a slap in two different ways: not only does he think that the voters can’t handle a simple majority, he refuses to even give them the chance, and that seems like exactly the wrong message for an elected official to send.

To Senator Morton I would say this: trust your constituency. If you believe that you represent good people of good intentions then there’s no reason to not give them the chance to decide the issue for themselves. If you don’t value their voice, then carry on, but know that you’ve made a powerful, negative statement about the people you represent.

Read more here, if any.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Not that the opinion of some shmuck with a blog matters....

....but I'm pretty impressed by Kevin Teeley, who is a candidate this year for WEA Vice-President. Bright guy; his testimony before the Washington Learns Commission was the bright spot of the Olympia session, and his passion for all things education really shines through. I'll be pulling for him to win at Rep Assembly next week.

Last week we had our Mock RA at the council office. Kevin was there, along with some other candidates for office. I'm not going to RA, but it was interesting to hear about the candidates and the action items that would be before the assembly. For those who are going, I hope you have a great time!

Read more here, if any.

Speaking of the union....

...I've been fighting like a maniac for some of my members, and I'm getting awfully tired.

The biggest thing on my mind is the non-highly qualified teacher that I've written about before. He's only qualified to teach one particular subject, but his school doesn't need him to teach that subject all day long, so we've got to find a place for him. That wouldn't bother me so much, but by *all* accounts (parents, teachers, students, and administrators) he's not a good teacher. He's biding his time until he can collet social security, which is unfair on a number of levels:

It's unfair to the students, who get saddled with a teacher whose heart is no longer in it.
It's unfair to the teachers in his building, who are saddled with higher class sizes because of his ineptitude.
It's unfair to the newer, vibrant teacher that he's likely to displace, who gets pushed out of a position that she's doing well in to make room for someone who shouldn't be in the schools any more.

The council office says we don't have a choice. It's a matter of equity, I'm told--he's put in his time and is entitled to a full contract. He can't be reduced in time, because that wouldn't be fair to him. Going after this guy because of the highly qualified language under NCLB would be wrong on numerous levels, they say.

I don't know. What I do know is that I'm working to protect a bad teacher, and that makes me sick. What I do know is that this is the sort of thing that makes us all look bad, every single one of us who believes in the union. The rights of the one member are trampling all over the rights of the students, the teachers, the district, and the taxpayers; where's the equity in that?

The uncomfortable question that's also floating around is, "Why hasn't the administration done anything about him before if he's that bad?" Well, he's a nice man. He's been here for more than 30 years. His wife is sick. And besides, it's too hard to get rid of bad teachers, they say. What if he sued? Golly ned, we couldn't have that.

And that's where we're at. Over the course of years people have chosen to do the easy thing instead of doing the right thing, and now we all get to harvest the bitter fruit that was sown.

I'll let you know how things turn out.

Read more here, if any.

Teacher of the Year speaks out on WEA Union Dues Case

An interesting take, from the Columbia Basin Herald:

Washington state lawmakers are currently in the process of turning that system on its head. Washington voters passed Initiative 134 in 1992. The Washington Education Association (WEA) has been fighting ever since to overturn the will of the voters. Initiative 134 requires employers and unions to get permission from employees before making political deductions from the employee's paycheck. Just over a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from the WEA defending their right to use non-member representation fees for political purposes in contradiction to I-134's requirements. In the face of a possible decision against them, the WEA has decided to circumvent the Constitution and the people of Washington state by drafting legislation that, if passed, will ensure their ability to intimidate and control teachers all over the state.
I'm thinking she's not a fan of the union.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Every Teacher's Nightmare

These are the stories that need to be passed around the state. These are the stories that everyone needs to keep in mind. These are the situations that should lead off Education 101 and be in everyone's mailbox on the first day of school. From The Columbian:
A Battle Ground elementary teacher remains on paid leave after a parent complained that the teacher assaulted her daughter.

The 10-year-old girl said her teacher, Linda Cawley, yanked her wrist Friday afternoon to take away a bell the girl had picked up. She said Cawley then threw the bell across the classroom; the bell bounced off the wall and hit another student in the forehead.

Detective Sgt. Jason Perdue of the Battle Ground Police Department said the investigation should be completed in two days.

Perdue said police are interviewing students and assessing whether the 10-year-old girl suffered an injury.

"Just removing an item from a student is not a crime," Perdue said. "It's the manner in which they do it."

Others close to the situation say they believe the story has been exaggerated.

Kym Alexander, Battle Ground teachers union president, said it bothered her that the student's mother was speaking to the press.

"I question in my mind what the parents are doing," Alexander said.
There's more in the full article.

It only takes one incident to ruin a career, and it'll be interesting to see how it all works out.

Read more here, if any.

I don't think I believe this

Regarding the sex ed bill making it's way through the legislature, from The Columbian:

There is nothing medically or scientifically inaccurate in saying abstinence is a proven birth-control method (not to mention a way to protect one's heart and reputation). But Linda Klepacki, nurse and analyst for sexual health with the conservative group Focus on the Family in Colorado says, "What (legislatures) are saying is that in order to be medically and scientifically accurate, you must be verified and supported in your research by peer review. Abstinence education cannot get into peer-review journals because the journals are controlled by far-left liberal organizations that do not allow us to publish."
Really? The science can't get into the journals, because scientists and doctors are "far-left liberal"?

Truth time: I'm one of those who waited until marriage. I'm glad I did, and I don't regret it. In health class I think that the primary message should be that abstinence is the only way that is 100% proven to prevent pregnancy and transmission of STDs. I think, though, that we also need to give kids all the information we can, because many of them aren't going to follow the path of abstinence. And local control is certainly important, but what does the science tell us?

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You Don't See That Every Day

Being a union officer can be a pain in the ass, but at least I don't have to represent this guy:
MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- A teacher who has been suspended since January, apparently for a derogatory crack about a Mormon-run university, was carried out of Moses Lake High School after "initiating a riot," officials said.

Four school personnel carried Samson "Sam" Lyman, a science teacher, out of the building by his arms and legs Wednesday after he burst through the cafeteria doors and began yelling that he had been treated unfairly, peppering his language with obscenities, Principal Dave Balcom said.

"When (school officials) approached him, he jumped on a chair and started initiating a riot in our school commons," Principal Dave Balcom said. "Unfortunately it led to us having to remove him."

Outside the building Lyman was met by a police officer who escorted him off campus. Prosecutors will decide whether to charge him with second-degree criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, police Capt. James Jenkins said.
The genesis of the story can be found at the Columbia Basin Herald, and their story about him being removed (that's where the picture is from) can be found here.

Now that's entertainment!

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That other student free speech case

Three students expelled for making a movie in which evil teddy bears attack a teacher will share $69,000 in a settlement of their civil rights lawsuit.

The board of the Charles A. Beard School Corp. voted 5-2 on Tuesday to approve the settlement of the lawsuit, which stemmed from the school's response to a movie called "The Teddy Bear Master."

The expulsions will be erased from the record and the students will be allowed to make up for missed work. Two of them still must write letters of apology to a teacher named in the movie and his wife.

In the movie, the "teddy bear master" orders stuffed animals to kill a teacher who had embarrassed him, but students battle the toy beasts, according to documents filed in court.
Courtesy of CNN.

Frickin' evil teddy bears. Colbert is right again.

Read more here, if any.

We pay our subs $86 a day.

From Pittsburgh:

Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill will have a new principal Monday -- its third one this school year.

The Pittsburgh school board on Wednesday tapped Bernard Komoroski, a retired district teacher and administrator, to run Allderdice through July 31. He will be paid $600 a day.
That means that if there's 50 days left in the school year, he stands to pocket a cool $30,000. Not bad for part-time work.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Meanwhile, in Tacoma....

....they're having a nice, big argument about whether the superintendent's job review should have been made open to the public. In reading the articles it seems like a case of the News Tribune making a story because they need something to do, but you be the judge:
The newspaper's point is that since a good evaluation adds a year to his contract then this needs to be done in a public manner. To me, if it's all over the newspapers then it has been done in a public manner. C'est la vis.

Update: Added the last link. (3/23)

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Kramer vs. WASL

WASL time also means WASL Editorial Time. They're often repetitive, but I really liked this take by Stephen Kramer:
Last year, for the first time in WASL history, teachers were prohibited from looking at any test questions or completed test booklets. Now teachers have no way of knowing what is on the test or how their students responded. As I monitored students taking the test last spring, I knew many of the things I'd seen in the past were happening again:

  • Students inadvertently turning two pages in a test booklet, and missing all the questions on those pages.

  • Good writers who were stumped, became discouraged and shut down because they couldn't quite figure out how to respond to the assigned writing prompt they had a full day to work on.

  • Students whose hands were so tired by the afternoons on writing test days (there are two) that, when they were copying their final draft work into the test booklets, they purposely skipped entire paragraphs or pages of their first-draft writing.

  • Students who became so disheartened, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to solve a particularly difficult math problem, that they gave up, lost confidence and randomly marked answers to the rest of the questions in the section.

  • Students who struggled for so long on a couple of particularly confusing math or reading questions that, when they read a "no-brainer" question, they were convinced that they were being tricked -- and skipped over the obviously correct answer because they didn't think it could possibly be right.

This idea of not being able to look at the test your kids just took is stupid beyond words; what manager worth his salt doesn't check what's being produced on his watch? Kramer has written previously about his experiences giving the WASL before; I'd be curious to hear his take on what a useful testing system would look like.

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Everett: On the Front Lines of RTI

Neat article in the Seattle Times yesterday about some good things going on in the Everett School District:
No school likes to publicize the number of students who are failing, but in the Everett School District, focusing on students with a single F grade has allowed teachers and counselors to get more teenagers on track to graduate.

Last year, district administrators presented each high school with lists of students failing a single class. Principals and teachers were surprised to learn that 60 percent of students with F grades were failing only one subject.

"The staff was shocked when they looked at the data," said Terry Cheshire, principal of H.M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek.

The reasons for student failure are often complex and include poor attendance, lack of academic skills, a family crisis or drug or alcohol abuse. With most high-school teachers seeing as many as 150 students a day, trying to solve any of those problems for even a single student can seem overwhelming.

But Cheshire said that when teachers saw that their failing students were succeeding in their other five classes, they saw a chance to make a difference.

"Suddenly teachers with 150 students could take ownership. They said, 'I'm going to do everything in my power to get these kids to graduate,' " Cheshire said.

And that's when the data becomes actual information: when it's used for the good of the kids.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why you gotta LASER hate, yo?

The post title works better if your pronounce LASER as "laysah".

The Good Ladies Across The Hall (GLATHs) wound up their first LASER kit recently, on solids and liquids. It looked like neat stuff, the little bit that I watched the kids were active and engaged, and the lessons seemed straightforward.

Sadly, I won't get to join in on the fun until 2009. Maybe.

What my district is still hearing from LASER is that you absolutely must have the training on the kit before you can teach it to your kids. Each kit requires three days of training, but the training seems to be scheduled incredibly haphazardly, and as a result I have a good shot of getting fully trained in solids and liquids by this time next year, at which point I'm supposed to teach the Weather kit. Which I haven't had any training in.

I get the point that LASER is trying to make--many teachers aren't comfortable teaching science, and their focus on the process is commendable. In practice, though, their insistence on training is absolutely killing the cohesion of the curriculum in my building; half of first grade will do one activity, half will do another, and the twain shant meet until 2010. At the earliest.

So the GLATHs will be doing their thing, I'll be doing mine. That's not such a bad thing, being as we're first grade, but if you were a 5th grade teacher who had to give the science WASL and you heard that the 4th graders were doing two different curriculum, what would your reaction be?

I'm trying to move the district in one of two directions:

1) Hire a full-time science coach. They might not even be a coach, per se; they could teach science at the elementary level, the same way that we have an art teacher or a music teacher. If you're worried about teacher prep time, don't make it a prep; instead, have the teacher be in the room at the same time so that you have two adults to monitor and guide.

As a classroom teacher, I'd love it! If I didn't have to set up before and clean up afterwords, it would be a lot easier to work science into the day. Let me focus on my strengths, math and reading, and put someone else in a position to teach to their strength, science, and I think you'd see some incredible things happen.

2) Maybe having a full time science teacher is over the top. The trouble with LASER, then, is the fact that we can't get any training in a timely manner. If we trained the trainer and put them on a 40-day extended contract to teach the kits over the summer, you could easily get the majority of the staff up to speed and ready to go when the year started. For those who didn't want to give up time during the summer, they could go to the trainings during the year. In that case it would be on them to write sub plans, and they would be the ones teaching the old curriculum, but that's their choice.

The Governor has put aside a lot of money for LASER and we've drunk the Kool-Aid; I just hope we can figure out the way to make it work best.

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I got my grant from WERA!

Back in early January I applied for a grant from the Washington Educational Research Association, aka WERA, to fund an idea I have to study how Response to Intervention is implemented in my school.

Just getting the darned thing turned in was an adventure. I was working on two different computers at the time, wrote what I thought was a really good application, put it on my thumb drive, took it home to work on it some more....and it wasn't there. Stupidly, I had saved it to the thumb drive proper instead of the hard drive, so when it corrupted I was left with one crap file and an ulcer.

So I tried to recreate what I had done the first time around, all the while thinking that there was no way to get it done the right way. I finished what I was able to, proofread, decided it had to be good enough, and mailed it in just under the deadline.

Lo and behold, I got the grant anyways! The letter came in the mail today letting me know I had won, and man is it ever a good feeling. Right now we're creating a ton of data; this grant will give me the time to actually sit down with the data from every grade level, develop interventions, and make sure they're meaningful. I think it's got a real chance to put us on the right track for years to come, if I do it right, and that's a neat thing.

Slowly but surely, I'm morphing into Jenny D or Ken. It's a new challenge, and I think it'll be a lot of fun.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

You're in the Army're not behind a plow....

This is an interesting idea, and it'll be intriguing to see how it works out:
Washington lawmakers are poised to authorize a boot-camp-style academy in Bremerton for the state’s high school dropouts, a last-ditch opportunity for struggling youth to get back on track.

Dubbed the Washington Youth Academy, the military-style proposal is a pet project of the powerful local congressman, Norm Dicks, and is embraced by Gov. Chris Gregoire; state school Superintendent Terry Bergeson; the head of the Washington National Guard, Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg; and community leaders.

The governor is seeking about $6 million to build and operate the academy, which would serve about 300 dropouts each year – two intensive five-month sessions of 150 kids from around the state.

About a quarter of the state’s ninth-graders fail to graduate with their classes. One recent count showed 16,000 dropouts each year – the equivalent of a whole town, Lowenberg said.

There's references to the Youth Academy all through the recommendation from the House Appropriations Subcommittee, and I think it's worth trying. It's also interesting to point out that this is a need that could be filled by a good charter school, but we don't do that here.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

It would be funny, if it weren't the test!

There's a good chance that students will come up short on the NY state exams. That's because the rulers they use for measurement problems are marked wrong.

I choose to believe it's all a plot by the Chinese; mess up the rulers so the kids mess up the test, mess up the tests to mess up the schools, mess up the schools to mess up the society, then invade Canada.

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The most important blog post in the edusphere so far this year

The art of teaching is essentially the art of motivation; if you can make them care, you can make them learn. Mrs. Bluebird gets to the heart of that idea in this must-read post, talking about her work with middle schoolers.

I'm the happyfun entertaining teacher on my grade level team. I joke with the kids, I'll toss in references to the shows they watch and the things they're interested in, I'll make silly faces and tell fantastic stories about aliens battling bears if it'll just make them tune in to what I'm doing. I think that I'm in direct competition with video games and television, even if they're not in the room--the way a 6-year olds mind can wander, I have to get them back again...and again...and again.

I wish it was as simple as presenting the information, guiding them through practice, and testing for mastery. That's what they made it sound like in ed school, after all. The reality is parent sending their kids to school with Mountain Dew in their lunchboxes after they've stayed up until 11:00 the night before watching this real cool movie called Saw III and Oh Man Mr. Ryan that was a totally awesome movie and Do you have any books about Saw? or Chucky? cuz that would be totally freaky!

With all the technology at my school, I've considered setting up a TV studio in the empty classroom next to mine and sending it to my projector via the wireless network. Mr. G TV could revolutionize how we teach 1st grade.

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Ain't No Publicity Like Bad Publicity!

I'm unabashedly a union guy, but I've also been pretty honest about the fact that there are things that go on at the state level that drive me bat*hit crazy. This time, though, it's not the WEA that's making us all look bad, but the Vancouver Education Association. From The Columbian:
It's bad enough that public schoolteachers are required to pay union dues as a condition of their employment in Washington state. It's bad enough that educators' mandatory union dues end up funding ideological stances that some dues-payers abhor and that often have nothing to do with education or kids.

But enough is never enough when it comes to unions that are allowed to gather compulsory dues from teachers. And when a Vancouver middle school teacher, Susan Wiggs, went to the lengths of declaring a religious objection with the union -- which at least allows her dues to be diverted to a nonreligious charity -- union leaders still insisted on dictating how her money would be spent.

It's not right. And we hope the Public Employment Relations Commission helps Wiggs when her case is heard next month. Better yet, the union standing in her way should step aside and offer an apology for being so stubborn.

Background from the EFF here, another take here. The general gist is that the VEA didn't want Ms. Wiggs' money to go to this particular charity because of it's association with arch-conservative Linda Smith; if that's the real story, then this is one of the stupidest moves I've seen an association make in quite some time.

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Back to Work

This week was the phase-out week for my student teacher, and I'm tired. Today my voice started giving out, mainly because I hadn't needed to do much in the way of constant talking in the past 9 weeks.

She did an incredible job, though. She'd been in my room for her math practicum and the block classes, so she knew the routine, and there was no fear as she took over. I let her try quite a few different management techniques so that she could find the one that worked best for her, and she really seemed to appreciate the freedom that I gave her. She also knows how to talk to kids, commanding yet loving, and it's been a treat to watch her develop this year.

I hope the next student teacher is as good as she was.


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Sunnyside Down

More fuel to the supermajority fire down in Yakima, where Sunnyside fell in that <60%, >50% range and thus failed a bond to buy new bleachers. From the Yakima Herald-Republic:

SUNNYSIDE -- School board members here are facing the possibility of not having bleachers for this year's graduation following the defeat of a $1.95 million bond issue Tuesday.

Had the proposal passed, the 40-year-old Sunnyside High School grandstand would have been replaced and the school's auditorium would have been improved. Now, there's a chance programs could be cut to pay for new bleachers. And there's the possibility visitors at this year's graduation ceremony will have to sit on folding chairs, board member Lorenzo Garza said.

"It's a safety issue," he said. "So we're faced with a dilemma. � We're not sure we'll have something up as a replacement by the next graduation."

A new count Wednesday showed yes votes ahead 1,407 to 1,181, or 54 percent. But that's still far short of the 60 percent needed under the state's "supermajority" law.

The newest edition of This Week in Olympia says that a supermajority bill has passed the House, and if Senator Brown can work some magic in the Senate, maybe it has a shot to get to the point where the voters can decide.

Update: You can also add Warden, Yakima, and South Kitsap to the list of districts that failed measures because they didn't reach the supermajority.

Read more here, if any.

Creating a Calendar

Seattle has put together its calendar for next year, reports the Seattle PI. There's quite a few days for make-ups in case the weather is lousy again, which is probably a good thing.

This is the first year that I've been able to take an active part in the discussion about how to put our calendar together, and it's been an adventure. Some of the thigns that have come up:

  • Short weeks stink, especially when they're stacked on top of each other. This past November we had a 4 day week (Veteran's Day), a three day week (conferences), and another 3 day week (Thanksgiving) back-to-back-to-back. We've tried to work around that by putting conferences the week of Thanksgiving, along with a LID day, and being smart about where we put our LID days during the year.

  • Before Memorial Day, or after Memorial Day? A lot of our parents like to travel for the holiday, and we try to accomodate that by not starting school until afterwards, but the side effect is that we go until the middle of June.

  • WSIPC, those nominally responsible for the rhinoceros in the room that is Skyward, does their big update the first weekend of every month. Well and good, except when that runs into the grading window and keeps everyone from getting their report cards done. We toyed with moving conferences earlier or later, but it wasn't worth the trouble.

  • We also like building a 4-day weekend in February to go along with MLK Day, using one of our LID or PDD days. It's like a midwinter break!

It's a haggle. Move conferences, and you're too close to WASL. Start too early, and the beginning of school never ends. Put in too many breaks, you go long, and the summer vacation doesn't feel right. How close do you get to the Christmas break? With New Years day on a Tuesday, is it OK to come back on Wednesday?

I've a new respect for our administrators.

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That messy business of free speech

A senior at Monroe High School didnt' want to stand up for the flag salute, his protest against the Iraq war. One of his teachers objected:
When Kyle King's cousin was killed by a sniper in Iraq two years ago, he lost more than a friend and role model. The Monroe High School senior also lost his faith in the war and in the government that was waging it.

When the rest of his classmates stood during fifth period for the Pledge of Allegiance, King stayed seated. A few teachers questioned him, he said, but until this year, none challenged his right to sit quietly.

But recently, King said, a music teacher told him he was required to stand with the other students. He said the teacher, in front of a class of about 30 students, also challenged his patriotism, his loyalty and his religious beliefs.


The teacher, Katie Lenoue, said she'd be in "a lot of trouble with the district" if she commented.
I remember when I was growing up that the Jehovah's Witnesses never stood for the flag salute for religious reasons. Some of the Native American kids didn't either. It was understood that they didn't have to if they didn't want to, no big deal.

Ms. Lenoue needed to get that message.

Update: Another article on the incident, from the Everett Herald.

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Gayle Johns, today's Worst Person in the World!

From the Longview Daily News:
RYDERWOOD -- Gayle Johns raised her arms and let out a big "Yes" Wednesday when she learned the do-or-die Vader school levy and bond failed.

Isn't that a wonderful image? Bitter retiree takes pleasure in death of school district; film at 11.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vader School District: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

In one of those "They did what?" kind of moments, Vader failed a pair of levies yesterday. As a result, the school district is going to be closed and divided among its closest neighbors. From the Longview Daily News:
VADER --- Voters here slammed the book on the school district, giving resounding "nos" to both the bond and levy measures.

Both do-or-die measures needed a 60 percent supermajority to pass but failed to reach even 50 percent approval, according to unofficial results released Tuesday night. That means the 89-student K-8 district will cease to exist this spring.

The results stunned the 30 school supporters who gathered in the library with balloons and nonalcoholic champagne to toast their predicted victory. Many sat in silence shaking their heads once the results sunk in. Others wiped away tears and clutched their children close.

There are 375 votes still outstanding but with the overwhelming initial results officials were quick to concede defeat Tuesday. The bond got 368 yes votes total (47 percent) and 409 against. The levy received 376 yes votes (48 percent) and 404 no.

The people have spoken, and they've said, "Commuter kids!"

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Things found while trying to get to the official Dr. Seuss website was blocked by our firewall; apparently it's porn. is some sort of junk site to get you to buy things. redirects you to the proper site. I figured it'd be a lawyer. was similarly blocked by our firewall (advertising).

Read more here, if any.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Conley Report, Part VI: A Brief History of School Finance

Next in a continuing look at the Conley Report, Washington’s very own school adequacy funding study. The full report can be found here.

I can remember the names of two judges from my Washington State History class many years ago: Judge Boldt, who had the unpopular decisions regarding Indian fishing rights, and Judge Doran, the school guy.

Section 1.3 of the Conley Report is “The History of Washington School Finance,” a history that would be incomplete without Judge Doran. This is a dry section, so I’ve included some links that can give you more background if school finance happens to be your kink:

1974: The first school funding lawsuit, Northshore School District v. Kinnear. An important idea established here is that the school system should be, “one in which every child has free access to certain minimum and reasonably standardized educational and instructional facilities and opportunities.”

1975: The Miller Report finds that state spending hasn’t kept pace with inflation, class size reduction, and special education costs. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

1976: Seattle School District No. 1 vs. State, better known as the first Doran decision. This established the principle that local levy funds should only be used for enrichment programs, not basic education, which was one of the points made in the special education lawsuit. Doran also tackled the “paramount duty” clause of the state constitution, ruling that meant the state should have a system that, “embraces broad educational opportunities needed in the contemporary setting to equip our children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today’s market as well as in the marketplace of ideas.” Even then, the world was flattening.

1977: The Basic Education Act is passed by the legislature, along with the Levy Lid Act. Under the Levy Lid Act districts levy capacity was supposed to be no more than 10% of their general fund, but in 1989 (and several times since) the Legislature raised the limit. In 1980-1981 8.0% of total operating revenues came from levy funds; in 2004-2005, that had climbed to 15.99%.

1983: Doran II! The state cut $200 million from basic ed during the recession and were promptly smacked down by the judge, who ruled:
  • Special education is basic education
  • Transportation (for some) is basic education
  • ESL, vocational programs, and remedial programs could all fall under that basic education umbrella

If something was basic education, its budget could not be cut to solve revenue problems. You can see some of the wording here still popping up in the dialogues we have today.

1988: Doran III! Here the Judge looked specifically at the special education funding formula, ruling that funding based on average costs was unfair. This was the birth of the safety net and the 12.7% cap, both of which went through the legislature in 1995.

1991: Booth Gardner convenes the Governor’s Council on Education Reform and Funding. The EALRs and the WASL are born.

2000: I-728 is passed with an impressive 72% yes vote. We’re required to do a parent survey every year to see how they want us to spend the money, and every year we’ve done it it’s been overwhelming for class size reduction. I-732 also passes, guaranteeing annual cost-of-living increases for teachers, but it is suspended in 2003 because salary isn’t considered a part of basic education.

2006: Washington Learns.....or
do they?.

The remainder of section 1.3 looks at the current state of ed financing in Washington, along with an overview of past studies that contributed to the discussion. Section 1.4 discusses the methodology Conley used for the report, and section 1.5 is a review of adequacy funding studies from around the country. In section 2 Conley begins drawing recommendations out of the different models he ran; we’ll pick up the series with that piece tomorrow,

Read more here, if any.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Budget Analysis

I took Wednesday off to attend a budget analysis training at the Uniserv office.

It’s a humbling experience. I do OK with math, but the sheer volume of numbers they threw at us was staggering, and as you go through the reports it’s amazing to see just how the lump sum from the state is parceled out.

One of the big things they tell us to look for is the reserve fund. If it’s high, that’s money we could be negotiating over. If it’s low, that says something about the financial health of the district. An example is Federal Way. They had about $6.8 million dollars in reserve at the end of last year, but that’s a mere 4.04% of their budget. They’re also consistently last out of the ten schools their size in the percentage that they have in reserve.

For my district, the picture is troubling. We serve Fairchild Air Force Base, so our enrollment is highly volatile based on what happens with the movement of troops around the world. In 2004-2005 we ranked 75th in the state (out of 296) for the percent we had in reserves; in 2005-2006, it dropped down to 159th. When you’re dependent on impact aid, like we are, you want your reserves to stay healthy as insurance against the worst-case scenario.

Another thing that jumps out: if you want to be financially healthy, be really, really small. The healthiest school district in the entire state for each of the last five years: Star, with their reserve a robust 242.35% of their total spending. Where’s Star? There’s Star, in the puckerbrush near (?) Pasco. The humor in their website is that it was last updated May 2nd. Of 1997.

Third healthiest is the likewise miniature Stehekin School District (140.66%), with Shaw Island (162.85%) rounding out the top three.

The most financially insolvent district in the state appears to be Morton, which had -5.79% in their reserve; in other words, a debt of nearly $186,000. Other districts cutting it close include Orcas Island (291st, .37%), Bridgeport (288th, .51%), Quinalt (289th, .48%), Onalaska (-2.03, 294th), Vader (292nd, .13), Granite Falls (293rd, -.45), and the perennially broke Shoreline School District (295th, -3.02%).

Vader is an interesting case; if they don't pass an M&O levy next week, there's every chance that they'll close the entire district. I wouldn't be surprised if you see more of this in the coming decade; if school district consolidation can save money and still give the kids a level of service, isn't it worth looking at?

Update: The state auditor's report on the Morton School District can be found here and here. Glad it's not my district....

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

America’s Most Literate City: Seattle!

From Reading Today:

The 2006 ranking of America’s most literate cities puts Seattle, Washington, at the top of the list for the second year in a row.

The America’s Most Literate Cities study, released in December, ranks the 70 largest cities—with populations of 250,000 and above—in the United States. Other cities at the top of the list include Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and St. Paul.

The study by John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, focuses on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.

This is why we need both the Seattle PI AND the Seattle Times. Get it done, Tribune Company!

Read more here, if any.

A Few Thoughts About the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education 2007-2009 Operating Budget Recommendations

And the award for Most Wonkish Title in the History of This Blog goes to…this post!

I can’t quite remember how I happened upon this; I think it was from a newsflash that the WASA sent out. It’s the suggested education budget of the committee mentioned in the title of this post, and it’s a very interesting look at just where the state is thinking of going with their education spending. If you consider reading it, the stats that matter most to K-12 Education are towards the front, beginning on page 4. Some items that jumped out at me:

$6,594,000 to increase the number of math and science teachers! There are three proposed pathways to pump up the pipeline, and the hope is that nearly 700 new teachers will come up through the ranks. I have to think that this money is only for recruiting the new teachers; their salary will easily be several times the amount listed.

$1,786,000 to measure district financial health! This one kind of seems like a cure in search of a problem—are there really that many districts that struggle financially? When they do its very high profile (Hi, Seattle!), but it’s also a very public rebuke that gets attention. And isn’t this a job better done by the State Auditor’s Office?

$388,000 to fund two new positions at OSPI! The two positions may well be necessary—a Skills Center director and a World Languages supervisor—but the part that caught my eye is the cost: $194,000 per position. That certainly includes salary, benefits, and retirement, but it’s still a fairly shocking number.

$29,317,000 to lower class size! This will pay for 216 new teachers statewide to lower the staff ratio in grades K-3. That’s $135,726 per teacher, and I would be fascinated to know how the hell they came up with that number.

$22,101,000 for more classified staff! From the report:

Funding is provided to enhance the classified staff ratio in the general apportionment formula for school districts. Currently, the formula allocates one classified staff for every 60 students enrolled. The new formula will allocate classified staff at a rate of 1 per 59 students.

The ratio is lowered by one person, and it costs 22 million dollars. What a difference a person can make, eh?

$58,678,000 for special education funding! There are some technical changes involved here in how they look at preschool students and changing the safety net; I’m wondering how far short this figure is for those who were behind the special education lawsuit.

$8,045,000 to beef up the ESDs! Under these joined proposals the ESDs would each get a math specialist in 2007 and a science specialist in 2008 (hear that, Science Goddess?). OSPI would put on additional Summer Institutes in math and science, and the staff at each office would be more fully threshed out.

$3,316,000 for gifted education! The silver lining is that school districts would be able to claim funding for 2.5% of their enrollment, up from the current 2.0%. Would have rather they increased the per pupil amount for gifted students, but so be it.

$5,333,000 to increase the bonus for National Board Certified Teachers!
$2,000,000 to lure NBPTS teachers to challenging schools!

Hate the first item, love the second. The current bonus for NBPTS certified teachers is $3,500; the proposal would raise it to $5,250 next year and $5,400 the year after. This, when there’s scant evidence of the effectiveness of the standard and many are in districts that are doing just fine anyways.

That’s why I really, really, really like the second item. National Board teachers who worked in schools with a 70% or greater poverty level would get an additional $5,000 bonus, and they could get $5,000 on top of that if they were nationally certified in math or science. I think that’s a great way to lure good teachers to the schools that need them most, and my personal druthers would be for the money from the first item to instead go into the second.

$51,122,000 for All Day Kindergarten! The plan is to phase-in all day K, beginning with the 10% of schools with the highest poverty rates next year and increasing it to the highest 20% the year following. It’s going to be voluntary, but I can’t imagine why any school with those sort of demographics would turn down the chance.

$5,369,000 for math and science coaches! 25 of each, with math to come first and science to follow in the following year. The wording in the budget offers that they’ll only have to serve two schools, which seems like a pretty good ratio.

$9,400,000 to expand LASER! I’ve talked on here before about the trouble my district has had with getting LASER implemented the right way; here comes a lot more money for the program.

$20,000,000 for “targeted assistance” in math and science! This is to fund House Bill 2339, which gives grants to school districts to work on achievement in the aforementioned subjects.

$11,593,000 for Promoting Academic Success! PAS is the program that Dr. Terry worked through last year to help those juniors who failed the math WASL as sophomores; this money is to expand the program to also help seniors.

$14,000,000 for scholarships for talented math and science students! I like this one an awful lot, too. The money would purchase credits in the Guaranteed Education Tuition program (GET) for kids who had demonstrated some math and science smarts on the WASL. If you want kids to take the test seriously, putting a financial incentive on it can’t hurt.

There are no guarantees that any of these will make it through the whole legislative process, but it’s pretty interesting to see just what they might be thinking of doing!

Read more here, if any.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Not-so-Simple Majority

The Republicans are getting skewered pretty good over this, but Democrat Ken Jacobson of Seattle is getting his share of the heat, too.

The Seattle Times: "State Sen. Ken Jacobsen wins this year's legislative "Cutting Off His Nose to Spite His Face" Award."

The Tacoma News-Tribune: "Hewitt and other Republicans reneged and voted against the legislation. Hewitt told reporters he had changed his mind because GOP senators don’t like how Democrats are treating them. They’re especially ticked that a bill to reinstate a 1 percent cap on growth in property tax revenues is bottled up in committee. Boo hoo. What did Republicans expect, given that voters returned even fewer of them to Olympia this year?"

The Vancounver Columbian: Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is mad because Brown "did not heed my warning" that the measure didn't have the votes. Well, he sure showed her, didn't he? Meanwhile, could we just get back to the simple majority issue?

The Yakima Herald: Enough of the self-serving political rhetoric in Olympia that has stymied this issue far too long. Let the voters decide.

There are also editorial takes from the Walla-Walla Union Bulletin, the Longview Daily News, and the Kitsap Sun.

There's also an excellent post over at A SVC Alumnus' Blog which gets into great detail.

I hope that they're able to get this done and send it on to the voters. It's the fair thing to do.

Read more here, if any.

Based on the scant evidence available, I believe Terry Bergeson likes the math WASL

Dr. Terry is on the offensive again, this time decrying the movement to take the pounch out of the reading and writing WASLs in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The real fun begins in the comments section at the bottom of the article, where one particularly strident naysayer lays it all at the feet of the union. Just so we're clear, friend:

1) The WEA didn't write the GLEs.
2) The WEA didn't write the WASL.
3) The WEA doesn't adopt curriculum.

I'm still not OK with them delaying the math requirement, but that's just me being stubborn about a test that I think kids should be able to pass. Jim over at 5/17 has been all over that story as well.

I'll stick by an earlier prediction: math and science get delayed this year, but the reading and writing requirements are left intact.

Read more here, if any.

Sped, Said Fred

The verdict is in on the special ed lawsuit, and at first glance it looks like Solomon has split the baby. From the Seattle Times:

Washington's system of financing special education for more than 120,000 students has been upheld by a judge, but a lid on the number of the special-needs students has been thrown out.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee rejected claims that the state is violating the state constitution by shortchanging districts by more than $100 million a year. McPhee ruled late Thursday in a lawsuit brought by 12 school districts from across Washington, including four Eastside districts and Everett.

Representatives of the Eastside districts — Lake Washington, Issaquah, Mercer Island and Northshore — said they were disappointed by the ruling, but were hopeful state legislators would still consider increasing funding for special education, as well as general education.

The judge said the coalition of districts had not proved a financing gap and added that the courts typically won't second-guess the Legislature.

I can understand why the legislature would have put a cap on the number of sped students it funds, in order to cut down on overidentification, but it's akin to declaring that only certain amount of your mail can be bills and throwing the rest away. The largest segment of our special ed population has been identified for having a specific learning disability, and I think we can remedy that problem through frameworks like Response to Intervention and using more research-based curriculum (hello, Reading First) to make a difference.

The view of the Post-Intelligencer is here.

Read more here, if any.

Quick Hits!

1) I'm picking my way through the next couple of sections of the Conley report, and hope to have the next part up here on the blog Wednesday.

2) I've invented a new set of words that should be creeping into the collective subconscious any minute now:

Wea Culpa (noun): An anguished cry used to describe an action undertaken by a union member that his or her union would dislike. Usage: "Yes, I shop at Wal-Mart, but they're so damn cheap! Wea Culpa! Wea culpa maxima!"

3) I love a good fight, and watching Randy Couture beat Tim Silvia in every phase of the game made my Saturday night.

4) Tomorrow the kids who attended the before school program get to go on a field trip with me to Auntie's Book Store in Spokane. I got a grant last year, and they're going to get $15 each to pick out the books of their choice. It's a neat partnership we've been able to set up; the kids just love it.

5) There's a pretty important email from JL sitting in my inbox right now. As soon as I finish getting the grades into the computer, I'll put together a reply. Thanks, JL!

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It's almost DI Tournament Time!

While I was playing with Statcounter tonight I noticed that I'm getting quite a few hits from teams looking up Destination Imagination! state tournament information. Congratulations to everyone who has made it so far; I just judged at our regional tournament here in Spokane yesterday, and it was a great time.

It's a good time to refer you over to the Washington Imagination Network website, where they should have all the information you'll need. It's ably managed by the amazing Barb Sailors, and they have a subsite set up for tournament results.

We'll see you in Wenatchee!

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Remember when Alvin Toffler was relevant?

You know, back in the day? Man, wasn’t Future Shock great? How about those futurists and their predictions….about the future!

Now today, in the present, which was once the future, Mr. Toffler is in Edutopia Magazine opining about education. Some fun ideas:

*Open schools 24 hours a day.
*Customized educational experiences.
*Kids arrive at different times.
*Students begin their formalized schooling at different ages.
*Nonteachers work with teachers.
*Teachers alternate working in schools and in the business world.
*Local businesses have offices in the schools.
*Increased number of charter schools.

The interview is the standard “high on thought, low on practicality” fare that you’d expect from an idea man, but still fun reading.

Read more here, if any.