Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Week in the Life

Monday: Budget meeting in the morning. $600,000 in cuts need to be made to an $18 million dollar budget. The weighing game begins. Which is more important, extended learning or custodians? Which do we value more, library staff or paraprofessionals? The legislature just went out the day before; is there any money there that we don't know about yet?

Early Tuesday Morning: Type up a list of the budget cuts in Excel, to get them straight in my own head. Send said list to business manager, ask him to proof read so I can be sure I have it right. This will become important in a moment.

Tuesday: Principal announces he's retiring, setting off a flurry of rumours about what could happen and when. Add that to the giant job shuffle that's shaping up, and everyone wants to know what will happen.

Tuesday, right after that: Superintendent shows up at door. Asks what my intent was with the spreadsheet I had made, because business manager had emailed it to her. Tell her honestly: it was for me. Chuckle to myself that I can get head shed in a tizzy so easily.

Tuesday evening: Rushed home after school to take care of daughter; rushed back after school to lesson plan for tomorrow, because I've been so busy with the association that my classroom isn't getting the attention it deserves. Finalize plan for union meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday: Hour long union meeting attended by 75% of the teachers in the building, which is the highest I've ever had. Lots of questions answered, lots of air cleared. Beginning to feel like we're on track.

Thursday AM: Principal pulls me aside and tells me how he intends to handle a transfer issue. It's a complete 180 from everything we had talked about before, would be an unprecedented assault on seniority, and goes entirely against the spirit of the clause he's invoking. Principal tries to explain to me that he knows how that section is supposed to be interpretted; he doesn't have a very good answer when I tell him that I'm the one who wrote that section during the last bargain, and I know better than he how it was meant.

Thursday Day: Email flurry as union exec board tries to figure out what the hell is going on. Unsure as to how the other administrators can possibly back up Principal on this; they sat at the table and know what the language is supposed to do.

Thursday Afternoon: Superintendent shows up after school to talk about the principal search. Timing of this talk raises eyebrows, as it's the day after we had an association meeting. Is there a mole? After that meeting lets out impromptu meeting commences where me, fellow union rep, principal, and superintendent debate the new transfer issue. Super says her notes say one thing; I say my notes say another. She says we really don't want to go to a grievance; Fellow Rep says let's go ahead and have a grievance and see what happens. Super is aghast, says she knows what an arbitrator would say. Wonders why I'm getting so angry?

Thursday Evening: I run out of that meeting to my next meeting, at the local council office. Biggest locals in the region are getting together to compare contracts; good conversation ensues. I show the language in question to two different council reps, both of whom agree that my interpretation is the correct one. Ryan the Rep staggers home bleary eyed at about 8:00.

Friday morning: I take a personal day to work on the reopeners that we're going to negotiate next week. Write up a proposal for deviance from contract to try and accelerate the hiring process in my building. Fellow Rep and I meet with Principal to try and get him to listen to reason; district has turned interpretation over to the lawyers, which is money down the drain. Emails fly back and forth from between all of us on exec board. They say that I can call the day association leave and not personal leave, which is appreciated. Figure out the right way to have 14 people change jobs--now if I can get this one niggling transfer issue figured out, we'll be good to go.

What a life.

Read more here, if any.

This Month’s WE Magazine

The central focus of this issue is what went on at last month’s Rep Assembly in Tacoma. Next year it’s in Spokane, and I’ve already made it known that I want to be one of our representatives. The president-elect is Mary Lindquist of Mercer Island; I like what I read of her in the campaign materials, and I think she’ll do us proud. Mike Ragan kind of shocked the world by winning the Vice-President election over Kevin Teeley, but it’ll be nice to have an Eastsider on the exec board.

The most jarring thing, to me, is to see Bob Chase, the father of New Unionism, featured at the goodbye toast for Charles Hasse, outgoing president of the WEA, and one of the most old-school union guys you could ever hope to find. Two pages later there’s an article about the Seattle EA alliance with the AFL-CIO; again, not exactly New Unionism.

You can get to the online version of WE off of the WEA’s website, here.

Read more here, if any.

Me, Published Author

The new edition of the Read Naturally newsletter came in on Friday. Reading through it, I found this quote on page 2:

The first test I gave was Letter Naming Fluency using Read Naturally’s Reading Fluency Benchmark Assessor. It’s very comparable to the LNF test that comes with DIBELS, but being able to do it on the computer and get the results printed out for you is pretty slick.
“Gosh!” I thought. “That sounds like something I would have said.”

Then I read the byline:

Ryan, Spokane, WA
Turns out it was something I wrote here on the blog back in October, talking about formative assessments. Read Naturally must have picked up on it with the Google and decided to put it in the newsletter.

Still, I think it can go in my resume. I’m published! I’m published!

Read more here, if any.

Hooray for the Teacher of the Year!

EdWonk has the details on Granite Falls' own Andrea Peterson, recently honored in the Rose Garden as the National Teacher of the Year.

I guess we know what we're doing in Washington after all. Who knew?

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where the EFF beats the WEA

Technology and getting the message out. The gap has been there for months, but recent developments show that the gap has ballooned dramatically.

As an example, consider the union dues lawsuit. The EFF got out in front with their blog, Teachers vs. Union, which had video clips and links to the associated legal documents. Over at the WEA website you could find a statement from Charles Hasse, if you dug around a little.

"Well," I can hear some thinking, "The EFF had a lot more invested in that particular fight than the WEA did. It makes sense that they would have put more in to it." I'll grant the point, but I'll ask this in return: who controlled the message on this? If you were a reporter doing background on the story, which site would have served you better? If someone picked up a paper and read about the issue, which side presented a better case?

The most important fight was the one at SCOTUS, which good money says was also lost by the WEA. The battle of the message? That was a rout.

Last week the EFF made their first foray into video podcasting, talking about the passage of the much-maligned HB2079. It's well done, professional looking, and gets the point across. This week they introduced a podcast called Education Reformer, available off their website, aligned with ITunes, and with a transcript posted right on their website for anyone interested.

What does the WEA have? A website and WE magazine. Anymore, that's not enough. Dr. Homeslice has a great article on what Web 2.0 can mean for collective bargaining and union organizing, and right now I don't see that my WEA is getting that message.

I think that this is a chink in the armor that has the potential to get bigger in the next few years as the older generation retires and gets replaced by new teachers who have grown up with the internet as a matter of course. Two points:

1) Those who fought the battles of the '70s and '80s know how hard the profession had to fight to get collective bargaining and earn the gains we have. Many new teachers don't have that background--the association has always been there and always been powerful, to them--and as a result there's not the fire that you see from some of the experienced folks.

2) A side effect is that the WEA narrative becomes passe, because it's the only one they know. If a group like the EFF comes along and presents a good case, visually appealing, accessible through the technology that the new teachers use....we're setting ourselves up for a fall.

The WEA has the resources. They have the personality. During a legislative session like the one we just had I think it's criminal they don't do something like a weekly podcast to get the message out. Give us interviews with our elected WEA exec board, where they talk about the union and why we're still vital. Bring in the experts on ProCert, National Board, retirement, and all the other things that really matter.

Where is the voice of the WEA?

Read more here, if any.


A couple of weeks ago the Tacoma News-Tribune ran an op-ed piece from Kent Vallier on what would happen if NCLB was applied to police officers. Yesterday came the rebuttal from the Department of Education, but near the top was one of those niggling little quotes that needs to be challenged:

Many dropouts say they weren’t sufficiently challenged in school, according to surveys.
Do you believe that? Because I don't think I do.

I've known kids that dropped out, and while many of them talked a good game (e.g., "Man, school's got nothing to offer me!") the reason most of them walked away was because they couldn't make it. You stick a survey in front of a dropout and ask him to tell why he did it, do you think most of these kids are really going to be honest? Will they admit that they had a reading disability, that their understanding of math was still at a 3rd grade level, that the basics of writing were never in their grasp? Do most teenagers (hell, most people in general) really have the understanding of self to admit, "You know, I couldn't handle high school because I couldn't handle the work."?

I doubt it. So we push the blame--"The teacher didn't push me hard enough!" "I was bored, so I tuned out!" "The curriculum wasn't responsive enough!" "The homework was boring!"

I'll be the first to say that our system needs to change, that it could do better for all kids. But when it comes to dropouts, they are the ones who left the system. And I don't think it's because they were bored.

Read more here, if any.

Administrators Gone Wild!!!

....or, late night TV's least popular video series.

The parade starts in Tacoma, home of the aroma, where a former district official has had her named sent off to OSPI's Office of Professional Practices for lying about her doctorate.

We then shimmy over to beautiful Lake Washington, home of Kevin Teeley, where firing principal Mark Robertson for viewing porn on his computer is setting up to cost the district tens of thousands of dollars. He was also the single-most grived administrator in the district. Hooray, Mark!

In bautiful Vashon Island they've put their superintendent on paid leave while the school board asks State Auditor Brian Sonntag to come in and investigate some odd things in their budget. It seems kind of weird to give your super a paid vacation if nothings wrong; one wonders what the fire will be behind the smoke.

And while it's not an administrator story, it's admin money: The WIAA has passed a resolution regarding gifts to coaches after it came out that Bellevue's coach was making $5,600 off of his coaching contract and $55,000 from an arrangement he had with the booster club. The Bright-Eyed Optimist Award is handed out for this quote:
"I think it's the first step," Lakeside athletic director Ed Putnam said. "The schools ought to be involved in anything that involves pay to coaches. It deals with the whole parity issue. The haves and have-nots is not something we want to get into."
Meanwhile, here in reality, things will go along as they always have.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gainsharing: RIP

Jim over at 5/17 has the gruesome details. In this month’s WE Magazine they’ve got more about the demise and fall. This needs to be one of those political payback things, where the next time Lisa Brown (or anyone else) comes around looking for support from the teachers she’s going to have to answer the tough question: “Lisa, how can we support you when you weren’t there to support us?”

The give part of the give-and-take is that teachers have a shot at being able to retire without penalty at 62, which means that I’ll have 40 years in. It’s something, I guess, but gainsharing would have been better

Read more here, if any.

On Classic Literature

I hate Shakespeare.

I mean I really, really hate Shakespeare.

In high school I read like mad. The lit teacher had given us a list of classic books, and I did my level best to make it through each and every single one, checking them off as I went. It’s how I found Elmer Gantry, my favorite book of all time. It’s how I discovered Evelyn Waugh, who I would easily put up as one of the best authors I’ve ever encountered.

The books that never got checked off, though, were the works of Willy the Shake. The language threw me, the stories didn’t interest me, the themes were so prevalent in popular culture that exposure to the source material didn’t seem as authentic....I’ve got a ton of excuses, but I never did grow to like Shakespeare.

I bring this up because of a front-page article in the April 4th edition of Education Week on how teenage readers today are being drawn to “dark” works with mature themes. Many schools are updating their reading lists to reflect the trend, often with blowback from the community when books like Laurie Anderson’s Speak make the list. I say bully for the teachers, and I commend them for exposing their kids to books that they actually want to read. If the themes are tough, so be it—it’s not as if Shakespeare was vanilla, after all.

You could even extend the argument to first grade. Frog and Toad are classics, Dick and Jane are classics, but very few kids are willing to read them. Put Captain Underpants in front of them, though, and you get triple the effort. Even the read alouds follow this pattern; Junie B. Jones has it all over Ramona Quimby nowadays.

If the end goal is reading, does it really matter what the pathway is?

Read more here, if any.

Reppin' and Schleppin'

The pace of change around my school is so breakneck, I can barely keep up with everything that's going on.

There were three job openings. Two of them were Title and Preschool; didn't expect anyone to access those. Friday I get shocked when a 2nd grade teacher and 5th grade teacher decide they want to transfer. That displaced the people who were in those spots now float around until we have the next round of job openings, which could be accessed by anyone, and the merry-go-round keeps turning. There are 30 teachers in my building; I think that at least 8 of them will end up in a different classroom next year. Under certain scenarios, we could have a whole new 6th grade team, 3/4ths of our 2nd grade team, and an entirely new preschool. I had Friday off; I was supposed to be writing a couple of grants and working on our student recognition program, but I ended up having about 15 different conferences to explain what our contract says about transfers. This is a big one, and it'll probably eat up a lot of my time between now and the end of the year.

Yesterday I lost an involuntary transfer battle that I'd been fighting for the past two months. The odds were slim to none that I had a shot at winning, but all the same I'm pretty saddened by the whole thing. The part that bugs me the most is that he's the only other male teacher in my building. That'll make the ratio 50 girls for every boy, when you figure in the paras.

Yesterday was also our big district budgeting meeting. We planned for $600k in cuts, contingent on what happened with the legislature and whether our impact aide money from the feds comes through. Cutting sucks, but God help me I have to agree with the administration on this one: the cost-of-living increase is going to cost us nearly $160k, because of positions that aren't funded by the state but get the COLA anyways. Throw in the health care increase, the retirement increase, fuel costs, shipping costs, legal adds up, fast.

Today our principal shocked everybody and announced he was retiring. He's only been with us for a couple of years, but the thought of a change at the top has everyone very, very nervous. There are two in-district possibilities; our school psych, who was the administrative assistant in my building this year, and the VP over at the HS. They could look out-of-district, too. My piece in this, as the union guy, will be to make sure that the teacher voice is heard when they do the interviews. We haven't hired a principal in my building in nearly 18 years (the last change was a transfer, not a hire), so it'll be something new to almost all of us.

All this, in just the last five days. I keep having to remind myself to take care of my own needs and the needs of my classroom, because there are times (shouldn't be, but there are) that I get so caught up in taking care of the rest of the staff I neglect my primary responsiblity. My wife's great about the whole thing, which helps.

I called a union meeting for my building tomorrow. Hopefully that'll clear the air and get us pointed in a positive direction. If I can get the transfers figured out and get people settled into their new positions, then I can focus on the principal search and make sure we get our place at the table.

Just another week as the union rep.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Fake News Friday 3: Fake Harder

State Math Teachers Push for Cosine Die Day at Legislature

(Olympia) With Washington State legislators set to adjourn Sine Die on April 22nd, the Washington State Math Council has a question: "Why not a Cosine Die, too?"

"It's only fair," said Renee Anderson, president of the WSMC. "A sine without a cosine would be as ridiculous as a vertice without a corresponding supplementary angle. And we all know how ridiculous that would be, right?"

Mr. Anderson then chuckled to himself over the ridiculousness of it all.

Legislators expressed a cautious optimism in adding a Cosine Die day to the legislative calendar. Senator Lisa Brown suggested it could be the day after Sine Die, while Secretary of State Sam Reed proposed moving up Cosine Die to match with what California does with their Cosine Die day.

Bergeson Demoted to Notbadintendent of Public Instruction

(OSPI) In a stunning blow to her long-time friend and colleague in state government, Governor Chris Gregoire today demoted Terry Bergeson, director of the state's school, from Superintendent to Notbadintendent.

"I regret having to take this step, but it's been a long time coming," said Governor Gregoire. "When we even have to have the conversation we are about delaying the math WASL, when our science scores are as low as they are and trending flat, when we invest the billions that we do and still have to suffer mediocrity instead of embracing excellence....well, it's pretty easy to see that's just not Super."

"By any value-added measure, she hasn't added much value."

Dr. Bergeson spoke to reporters while moving her personal effects from her former office, a spacious suite on the third floor of the Old Capital Building, to an old broom closet on the first floor, just off the lobby.

"This is clearly an unfair and arbitrary decision on the Governor's part," said a visibly shaken Bergeson as she pulled diplomas off of her wall. "The work that I produced was valuable, even if her precious "value added" model doesn't show it. Look at the reports I produced, the sheet volume of regulation that has come out of this office under my guiding hand! I'm Terry Bergeson, dammit!"

Bergeson then kicked Pete Bylsma in the shin and stormed off in a huff.

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Read more here, if any.

Where Have All the Principals Gone?

That’s the odd title of an article in this month’s edition of Edutopia Magazine, which is a good, free read for anyone who’s interested in education. They argue that many are looking at the money that a principal makes and saying “No thanks, I’d rather stay in the classroom,” and that there could be a looming principal shortage.

I have a hard time believing that one.

In my school there are two people who have either gotten or are in the process of getting their administrative credential. District wide I know of at least five more who are going in that direction. Our school psych went to the annual Vice Principal’s conference over in Seattle and from the sound of it resumes fly around like ticker tape at a parade.

At our budget meeting my superintendent talked about how they have a hard time getting qualified applicants to be principals, but I’ve never heard of a district slowing down its hiring process because they couldn’t find someone. I’ll happily concede that it’s a tough, tough job that I don’t want to do, but a shortage? Meh.

And I probably shouldn’t discount the idea of going into administration so quickly. I’m finding more and more that there’s only a certain amount of change that I can effect as a classroom teacher; the thought of being the guy who called the shots has quite a bit of appeal to it, really. I’ve had people ask me before if I was going into administration (“Because the men always go into administration!” is what our counselor told me once), but the time isn’t right. If I did decide to start a program and get the credential it wouldn’t be until after we negotiate the next contract, because it could be perceived as a conflict of interest for someone to be negotiating for teachers when he really wants to be on the other side of the table.

The joy of being young and having choices.

Read more here, if any.

Destination Imagination Champions Disqualified for Use of Imagination Enhancing Drugs

I thought about typing up a fake story for that, but I love the headline just the way it is.

Went to the Destination: Imagination state tournament in Wenatchee a couple of weekends back. It’s always one of the highlights of my year; watching motivated kids striving to earn that trip to the Global Finals is an incredible experience. Barb Sailors, president of the Washington Imagination Network and the state gifted ed association, is an incredible lady with boundless energy, and she put together another winner of a tournament this year.

This year I changed things up a bit; I usually sit in as an appraiser, but this year I did the prep area where the teams check in. That was actually a lot of fun; you could tell the teams that were nervous, and you could also tell the teams (hey, G-Prep) that had been there before and were supremely confident in their ability to go out and kick ass (hey again, G-Prep).

I haven’t been able to find the results yet, but I’m sure they’ll be posted over at WIN’s website before too long. Congratulations to all the teams advancing to Globals, and I hope to see you all again next year!

Read more here, if any.

The Conley Report, Part VIII: What We Need to Do To Prove Schools are Our Paramount Duty

Part 8 in a series looking at the Washington Adequacy Funding Study from Dr. David Conley. For previous posts, scroll down or check out the archives!

There are 20 specific interventions Dr. Conley identifies that are research proven to improve student success. What I’ll do is look at them in groups of 4, because there’s an awful lot of content here, and since the report organizes the section alphabetically I’ll go ahead and do the same. If you’re reading along at home these begin on page 67 of the report.

Recommendation 1: Administrator Professional Development

Not only is it proven by research, it’s intuitive: you have a better chance at having a quality school if you have quality leadership. The report calls for an extra $12 per student to be spent on professional development for administrators, going on to explain that could mean, “workshops, induction programs for new principals, principal leadership centers, and … other professional development for principals and assistant principals.” Using the prototypical schools that they developed for the report this would mean $5,700 for each elementary school, $8,172 for each middle school, and $15,876 for each high school.

Two thoughts:

  1. It’s interesting how they seem to intentionally lock district-level administration out of this money; the report is pretty specific on this being for principals and principals only. In my own mind it’s easier to justify the money when you know it’s going to the school site.
  2. This is where the prototype model that they’re using gets hinky. In my part of Eastern Washington, for example, there are very, very few high schools that have 1,300 students the way their prototype does. I may have missed it the first time through, but does this $12 per kid apply to any size, or is it prorated up or down depending on the size of the school?

Recommendation 2: Behavioral Support Programs

This intervention would add a full-time counselor to every prototypical school site, along with a day of focused professional development on how to handle behavior problems in the classroom.

The first part of that I like, the second part I’m leery of. Our last school counselor had actually gotten her masters and worked in Social Work before coming to our school, and that background gave her some really good tools. To my mind a counselor and a social worker are two different types of positions, with the counselor focused on the academic piece in a way that the social worker wouldn’t, especially at the secondary level.

The day of professional development to “enable (teachers) to develop skills necessary to fulfill a preventative role in recognizing problem behaviors”, though, seems wasteful. Classroom management is a process of time, and my suspicion is that any workshop you take in one day will be a throw-away that is promptly forgotten.

Recommendation 3: Campus Security

I’m willing to bet anyone reading this $1 that I teach on the single most secure public campus in Washington State. It’s the ultimate gated community, because it’s a military installation. No one with a felony conviction can get on, no one can get on without a proper ID, and there’s a legion of military police who can be on the scene in seconds if the need ever arose.

We’re the happy exception, though, and the Conley Report acknowledge that by providing for a half-time security officer at every middle school and a full-time officer at every high school, along with $10 per student (I’m assuming at every level; the report isn’t clear) to be spent solely on campus safety.

Just brainstorming, but at my 600 student elementary school I could think of a couple different ways to spend that $6,000: new badges for visitors, more walkie-talkies so that the teachers can take them out to recess, and as unobtrusive a camera as we can get for the front doors. These aren’t must-have items, but they wouldn’t hurt, and if the money is there, why not?

Intervention 4: Career Academies

Because being voc ed wasn’t good enough, now they have to be an academy.

Anyone involved in Career and Technical Education (CTE) statewide should read this one page of the report (page 70), because it convincingly and clearly makes the case for the benefits that these programs offer.

I think that one of the most harmful conceits of the school reform movement has been the idea that every child needs to be “college ready.” There’s a large segment of kids who don’t want to go to college; there’s just as many who shouldn’t go to college because they can’t handle it (you can put my brother in the latter category). If these kids can spend their last two years of high school picking up skills like typing, welding, electrical work, plumbing, or whatever the case may be, they have every chance of being employable right out of high school and can begin leading useful, productive lives. There is no downside!

The thought in years past was that the woodshop is where you went when you couldn’t handle “real” school; that’s crap, because it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s different, but a good program is just as educational as the humanities track, with just as much potential. As someone who’s useless with tools, those guys have my respect.

Anyhow, the report indicates that 250 students in the prototypical high school would be interested in career academies, and adds 7.81 FTE teachers to work solely with those kids. That may seem like a lot, but if there were 2 teachers in each of the areas the school chose to follow (health professions, carpentry, childcare, whatever), you’d have good coverage.

Coming up next: Class size, counselors, extra-curriculars, and ELL.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I Knew It!

From the April 4th Edition of Education Week:

Researchers from the Univeristy of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have come up with some intriguing findings on the effect that a child’s age has on achievement—a timely topic as more states consider moving their kindergarten-entrance cutoff dates so that children are older when they start school.

Older children do better in kindergarten and also do better if they’re surrounded by classmates of the same age or older, according to a study presented by Darren H. Lubotsky, an assistant professor of economics. But that performance isn’t because the older kindergarteners have a greater ability to learn—they do better because of their experiences before kindergarten.

“Policies that delay kindergarten entry but do nothing to address prekindergarten learning are not likely to be successful in raising the achievement level of children from families that provide poor learning environments,” the authors wrote.

I’ll push the rule even if I am the exception. My birthday is August 29th and I always did fine in school, but in my work with our Student Success Team I can tell you that 75% of the kids we see during the retention meetings in May are kids who have summer birthdays. The children that the kindergarten teachers struggle with the most are the ones who just turned five and get pushed into the school before they’re ready.

Parents, if you have the means, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with keeping your child (especially your son) out for an extra year if they’re not ready. Take if from someone inside the system: the money you pay for preschool for an extra year is an investment that you’ll be back a hundred times over. If you have doubts about whether your child is ready for school or not, ask to meet with your district psychologist or one of the kindergarten teachers so that they can do an evaluation. Talk with the child; if they’re excited about school, that’s a positive sign, but if they don’t have the desire, you’ve got some work to do. Look at their sleeping pattern; if Little Johnny goes down for a nap every day at 10:00 and 2:00, will he be able to give everything he needs to be successful?

Education Week also had another article on Kindergarten readiness recently, here.

Bottom line: Just because the state says you can doesn’t mean that you have to, or that you should. It’s a big, big decision, one of the most important you’ve made in your child’s development so far—give it the diligence it deserves.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, April 16, 2007

History of Violence

Reading some news coverage of the mass murder at Virginia Tech, I came across this wikipedia article about a school massacre that I'd not heard of before, in Bath Township, Michigan.

The Bath School disaster is the name given to not one (as the name implies) but three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, USA, on May 18, 1927, which killed 45 people and injured 58. Most of the victims were children in second to sixth grades attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constituted the deadliest act of mass murder in a school in U.S. history until the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. The perpetrator was school board member Andrew Kehoe, who was upset by a property tax that had been levied to fund the construction of the school building. He blamed the additional tax for financial hardships which led to foreclosure proceedings against his farm. These events apparently provoked Kehoe to plan his attack.

On the morning of May 18, Kehoe first killed his wife and then set his farm buildings on fire. As fire fighters arrived at the farm, an explosion devastated the north wing of the school building, killing many of the people inside. Kehoe used a detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of pyrotol which he had secretly planted inside the school over the course of many months. As rescuers started gathering at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and detonated a bomb inside his shrapnel-filled vehicle, killing himself and the school superintendent, and killing and injuring several others.

The KKK said he did it because he was Roman Catholic. Others put it on a serious head injury he'd suffered years earlier.

Either way, horrible.

Read more here, if any.

Every Teacher's Nightmare, Part IV: Virginia Tech

I have the same feeling right now that I did on 9/11, or when I found out about Columbine.

You question what sort of just God could let this happen.

You wonder what sort of mental defect would have to be going on to allow someone to have this idea, decide it's a good idea, and act on it.

You say a prayer to the same God you were angry at two sentences before, and then you move on.

That's been the cycle; I just wish the cycle would stop.

Read more here, if any.

Every teacher's nightmare, part III: Student Assault

Ms. C posts a picture of the bruise a student gave her.

Yeah, That'll Teach You A Lesson: Black and Blue

NYC Educator is spot on on this one: harangue the police until they do something about it. Yeah, it'd suck to hang a criminal record on a kid, but this one deserves it.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Healthy Debate About Math Coaches

We’re in the middle of our collaborative budgeting process right now, and it’s a little tense. I get to sit in on it as one of the union reps. The money situation is not good—our cash reserves have been going down, the Feds are being stingy with the impact aide, etc.—and we’re in a mode of having to look at possible cuts. There can also be additions to the programs we offer, but those will have to be offset by cuts on the other side.

One of the additions suggested was to pilot getting a math coach to work with teachers in the elementary schools. It was brought up by one of the principals and had the backing of the superintendent, but when we’re in a cutting mode I couldn’t see adding it this year. My suggestion was to add the money to our extended learning budget instead, which would let us offer more programs before and after school to help those kids who need it, but that was shot down for a couple of different reasons:

  1. We can’t count on the kids who need intervention to come to the programs outside of the normal school day.
  2. We haven’t exactly done the greatest job of designing and implementing effective intervention programs.

Still, as the union guy, extended learning money is money that goes right to my members, so that’s what I’d prefer.

We went round and round on coaching for a good while. The bottom line is, our math scores are not good. Could professional development get us where we need to be? Not really an option, we’ve already set the in-service calendar for next year. Besides, one-shot classes don’t get us anywhere. What about book studies? Well, they’re always voluntary, and making that transition from page to practice doesn’t always happen. Maybe we should look at something else next year? But what about the problem we have right now, for the coming year?

It occurred to me, though, that perhaps the membership would like having a math coach, so I emailed all the certified people in my building to get their thoughts. It was nearly unanimous: “If we’re going to add staff it should be to lower class size or offer enrichment, not to tell us what to do.” “TOSA is not teacher on special assignment, it’s teacher off sitting around.” “What’s a coach going to tell me about teaching math that I don’t already know?”

What this shows me is that my building, at least, is not ready for instructional coaches. Maybe they never will be ready, maybe it’s something that will be thrust upon us later, but now is not the time. It would be divisive, and said coach would be behind handicapped before they even took the job. Right now all of us in the classroom are working like mad to get the new math curriculum aligned; having someone come in and tell us what to do when we haven’t even established the order to do it in wouldn’t work.

In a similar vein, Skip Fennell’s column in this month’s NCTM News Bulletin is titled For Principals Only, and it talks about the difference an administrator can make when it comes to the professional development of their staff. I’ll have to pass it along to my principal; you should be able to find it soon on the NCTM's website.

I’ll let you know what happens.

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Why I Love the Chronicle of Higher Education

I subscribed to the Chronicle because I’ve flirted with the idea of teaching at the college level and I thought it could help me refine my thoughts. In terms of job advice, it’s a good publication with a lot to offer.

The best section by a mile, though, is their weekly listing of new scholarly books. Some of the titles that are available at bookstores now:

Mortuary Landscapes of North Africa, by David L. Stone. Publish, about the Perished.

The Ghosts of the Past: Latin Literature, The Dead, and Rome’s Transition to a Principate, by Basil Dufallo. Publish, about perished papists.

Soft in the Middle: The Contemporary Softcore Feature in Its Contexts, by David Andrews. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when he went in front of his university research committee. “Well, here’s what I want to do—I want to rent every movie that Shannon Tweed has been in, and then I’d like to make a big deal about 9 ½ Weeks. Who’s with me?!”

Imagined History: Chapters From Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Hungarian Symbolic Politics, by Andras Gero. If that title doesn't hook you in, you've got no soul.

Negras in Brazil: Re-Envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity, by Kia Lilly Caldwell. Included because that seems like the stereotypically perfect title for an academic book.

When I write my book, it’s going to have the word paradigm in the title. I’m not sure how or what I’m writing about, but it’ll be there.

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The Conley Report, Part VII: The Prototypical School

Next in a series looking at the Conley Report, the Washington adequacy study funded by the WEA. Bet you though I’d forgotten about it, huh?

Here comes the meat!

In order to identify how much money you would need to bring the average school up to snuff, first you have to identify the average school. In order to do this they looked at schools that were improving and tried to identify those key factors that helped those schools get better, and after that process was over this is what they came up with for the average, prototypical school:

The prototypical elementary school serves grades K through 5 and has 475 students. 61 of those kids are special ed, 194 need remedial help through the LAP program, and 37 are ELL students.

The prototypical middle school serves grades 6 through 8 and has 681 students. 88 are special education, 255 are in LAP, and 54 get ELL support.

The prototypical high school has 1,323 students (!) in grades 9 through 12. 170 are special ed, 381 are LAP, and 104 are English language learners.

Why is this important? In the following sections where the make their recommendations they’re using these numbers to make those recommendations. For example, when they talk about adding 1.64 counselors to an elementary school, they’re doing that based off of the 250 to 1 ratio and adding to the prototypical school what would be needed to meet that ratio.

As adequacy studies go, this is where you can see the big difference this report and the Picus and Odden report from Washington Learns. Picus and Odden focused more on the state as a whole and used that to make their staffing allowances (e.g., “We have 40,000 kids, so we need 800 counselors”), while Conley’s school prototype model means more math (e.g., “We have 40,000 kids in an average of 84.2 schools, and we should add 1.34 counselors to each school to meet adequacy.”).

Next time: On to the recommendations.

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I Won't Go There

From KIRO in Seattle:

According to Lewis County prosecutors, charges have been filed against a Tenino High School teacher who is being investigated for alleged sexual activity with a 16-year-old female student.

Dawn Marie Welter, a 38-year-old math teacher, was charged with three counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes, a gross misdemeanor, reported KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.

According to authorities, an investigation started in March when an assistant principal at the school notified authorities in Thurston County of an improper relationship between a student and a teacher.

The case was then transferred to Lewis County because of the location of the student’s home.

Police said they searched the girl’s computer and found e-mails she received from Welter. The e-mails contained details about a sexual encounter the teacher allegedly had with the student at a motel in Pacific County, as well as sexually explicit references between Welter and the student regarding their future relationship together, according to Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Melanie DeLeone.

Tenino's mascot is the Fighting Beavers. That has absolutely nothing to do with this article; I've just always liked talking about the beavers, based on a long ago headline from my time at Rochester:

Warriors Shave Beavers in Overtime

I believe they meant it was a close win. That's not how we understood it in high school, but all the same....

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Another Bullet in the NBPTS Hater’s Gun

An article that should give our budget writers some pause, from Education Week:

Does having a teacher who is nationally certified make a difference when it comes to boosting student test scores?

Yes and no, according to a set of working papers published online by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER, a new federal research center based at the Urban Institute in Washington.

Since last year, center researchers have been mining the mountains of student-achievement statistics piling up in states for answers to questions about teacher quality. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must submit plans for ensuring schools are staffed by “highly qualified” teachers. Yet studies have turned up no definitive evidence on what determines teaching quality and how public policy can affect the hiring and distribution of effective teachers.

The four reports posted last week draw on statistics from Florida and North Carolina. Both states have long-running data systems in place that use student “identifiers” so that researchers can match students’ test scores to specific teachers and classrooms.

While their methods were similar, the researchers came to slightly different conclusions in several areas, including the degree to which more-experienced teachers, or those with better scholastic aptitude, can produce better-than-average learning gains for students.

The working papers are available from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. The sharpest differences came on the question of whether teachers who hold certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are more effective than teachers without that status. Since 1987, more than 55,000 teachers have earned national-board recognition, which involves a lengthy evaluation process.

In their paper, researchers Helen F. Ladd, Charles Clotfelter, and Jacob L. Vigdor, looking at 10 years of North Carolina data on students in grades 3, 4, and 5, found that students in classes taught by nationally certified teachers learned significantly more over the course of a school year than students of teachers without that distinction.

But Tim R. Sass and Douglas N. Harris, in a separate study of Florida students in grades 3-10, concluded that teachers with the credential seemed to be more effective only in some grades, some subjects, or some tests.

“We’re continuing to do studies to try to sort out the reasons for our different findings, but right now we don’t have a particular explanation,” said Ms. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If the state is going to make a significant investment in seeing that teachers get the National Board certificate, then they also need to put the mechanism in place to see if the certificate makes a difference. Getting the additional pay should be contingent on providing NWEA, WASL, or ITBS data so that comparison can be done.

Read more here, if any.

The Uncomfortable Question of Basic Education

The Spokane School District is looking at a potential $10 million dollar hole in their budget, and as you might expect it’s the state’s fault. From the Spokesman-Review:
Some freshmen could be without sports teams, elementary libraries may be staffed only pat time and classrooms may not be cleaned every day. Those are just a few of the possibilities the Spokane Public Schools board is considering to fill a projected budget gap next year.

Because of declining enrollment and mandates unfunded by the state Legislature, administrators need to make more than $10 million in cuts to the district’s $285 million budget.

The article was written by Sara Leaming, normally one hell of an education reporter, which is why I’m disappointed that she put the unfunded mandate piece in. Let’s go a little later in the article to see why that’s a bit silly:
Additionally, other options were suggested for future years but not for this year. Those could include closing another elementary school and relocating some programs to reduce the number of building leases the district pays, examining the use of hgh school buildings including Havermale, and reconfiguring the elementary band and strings program.

“Until the Legislature fully funds basic education, we are going to go through this on an annual basis,” (board president Christie) Querna said.

It’s a rather startling juxtaposition to go from orchestra for elementary students to complaining about basic education, isn’t it? Band is a perk; if they want to pay for it out of local levy funds, that’s swell for them, but there’s no way that I think it could be considered “basic education.”

Read more here, if any.

Friday, April 13, 2007

When It Works, It’s Frickin’ Awesome

God, I love it when I nail a lesson.

We’re starting out unit on weather. Told the kids I was going to make water disappear. As an anticipatory set, that worked.

“Nuh uh, Mr. Rain! You’re just going to drink it!”

“Nope. Won’t even touch it.”

“You’re going to tell us it’s invisible, because it’s see through!”

“Nope. It’ll be there, then it won’t.”

“That sounds like magic. My mom says magic is from the devil.”

“Honey, it’s science, not the devil. Does your mom think that science is from the dev….never mind.”

It got a good buzz going. When they went off to music class I started a hot pot boiling and stuck a plastic zip-lock baggie in the freezer. When they came back and saw the boiling water, the hook was set.

“Alright, guys, what’s happening here?”

“You’re making the water smoke!”

“Well, you’re on the right track. Can anybody think of another word for this “smoke” coming off of the water?”


And on it went. I took the baggie out of the freezer and held it above the steam, which caused the water to condense on the bag lickity-split and make drops. Thus, we were able to talk about the whole water cycle with a great visual, and now our conversation about clouds should be a lot more meaningful.

That said, after the hot pot boiled itself dry, it was incredible to me just how many of the kids didn’t understand that the water hadn’t truly disappeared. “Where did it go?” I asked.

“Down that cord in the back of the pot!” No, that’d be the electric cord.
“Out a hole in the bottom!” Feel the carpet, honey. Does it feel wet to you?
“You took it when we weren’t looking.” Damn it, you caught me.

Finally, one brave guy remembered the steam and shouted out that the water had gone up in the air. If I had told them that they never would have believed me, but since Zach came up with it....well, then it made sense. It was a good demonstration of the power of having kids explain things to other kids.

It doesn’t sound like much, but these are the moments that make teaching great. When they’re hanging on your every word and so excited about what you’re doing that they can’t help but to shout out an answer before you call on them….that’s living, right there.

Read more here, if any.

Fake News Friday, Volume 2

Legislature Increases Ed Budget by 157 Bazillion Dollars!

WEA President Charles Hasse: “It’s a start.”

(Olympia) In a strict party-line vote the state Senate today passed the largest education budget in Washington State history, rising from the previous $43 billion dollars to approximately $157 bazillion dollars.

“We applaud the legislature for finally beginning to spend the money needed to provide a basic education for every student in Washington,” said Charles Hasse, President of the Washington Education Association. “This is a good down-payment, and we look forward to seeing the number go even higher in future legislative sessions.”

Others were less enthusiastic. Representative Skip Priest, the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, pointed out that the amount budgeted was several times more than the total net worth of every resident in Washington State combined, while Bob Morton of Kettle Falls showed that the United States Treasury would have to print million dollar bills non-stop for the next 300 years to even make that much money. Their comments were brushed aside by Senator Chris Marr of Spokane, who promised to come up with the money by wishing upon a falling star and dancing with pixies in the moonlight.

Roger Erickson, a social studies teacher in the small Asotin school district in rural Whitman County, seemed nonplussed about the whole debate. “What do I care? I’m frickin’ rich now!” he chortled from inside a specially designed Hummer H3 that runs on burning $100 bills. Under the Democratic budget, Mr. Erickson will make $10 billion dollars next year.

In a related story, the new Alaska Way Viaduct will be an unpaved sidewalk.

Former Vader Students Begin Construction of Death Star

Ryderwood Residents Feel a Disturbance in the Force

(Vader, Washington) Displaced student from the recently closed Vader School in southern Lewis County announced today that they had begun construction of a Death Star.

The Death Star, roughly 2000 feet in circumference and with no accessible air shafts, is the brain child of Annie “Kin” Walker, a 2nd grade student at the school and self-proclaimed big fan of the Star Wars movies.

“Darth had it right,” said the spunky 8 year old, staring westward down Highway 506 from Vader to Ryderwood. “The only way to achieve what you want is through the application of raw power to crush your enemies and take that which was theirs. I’ve learned that lesson well.”

“They may take my school, but those of us who called Vader home will have the last laugh. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Annie then ran off with some of her fellow grade-schoolers to finish work on the targeting array.

Residents of Ryderwood, the area that received the brunt of the blame for the recent levy failure that lead to the collapse of the Vader District, have watched with a vague but growing sense of unease as the rapidly assembled Death Star has begun to take shape on the horizon.

“My tax dollars better not be used to make that stupid thing,” said a visibly angered Dean Hill, spokesperson for the Ryderwood Community. “If the little bastards had built a new gym for themselves, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation!”

Added Gayle Johns, who celebrated when the levy failed, “This is why we want to take over….er, become part of….Boisefort now. The Vader kids will be far better off in Castle Rock—now there’s a town that knows how to make a Death Star!”

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Things Are Picking Up!

On Wednesday I went to my area WEA-PAC meeting, where they generally bemoaned what had come out of the legislature so far. Gainsharing appears dead, the Rule of 90 wasn't going anywhere (much less the Rule of 85), and there was a general grumbling about the health insurance costs going up yet again.

Then comes Thursday and a gift from the Gods: The Simple Majority passes! It still has to pass a vote of the people, but for it to even get to this point is pretty profound. SVC Alumnus isn't pleased, especially with Senators Brandland, Clements, and Pflug who crossed party lines to vote with the democrats on the issue. If even one of the three stays on the reservation, the bill dies. You can also read the opinion of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation here.

Today brought word that HB2079 had passed the senate. This was the bill the WEA badly wanted in order to stave off the coming action from the Supreme Court that would have hampered their ability to spend dues money in creative ways, and barring an April surprise from Christine it looks like it will happen. SVC Alumnus has been all over it from the conservative standpoint, and it's now a front-page story over at the EFF and Sound Politics blog.

Getting the simple majority to the voters is a big win for Washington teachers, and I'll be curious to see what the campaigning looks like on both sides come November. I personally think it's far from a slam dunk, but that could just be the Eastern Washingtonian in me not seeing things for what they are. The Association will tell us that 2079 is a win for teachers, and I'll be curious to see what the practical impact is for us, but my gut-level reaction is that it's just one of those bills that proves the old adage about laws and sausages.

It has to be said, though, that this hasn't been the best legislature for the WEA. One would have thought that control of all three law-making branches would have been a lot more productive than it's turned out to be. One wonders if the legislators decided to support 2079 to stroke the beast, since gainsharing, the rule of 85, and class size reduction are all on the scrap heap. The changes to the WASL timeline are a win, I guess, but was that done because of WEA pressure, or because of the pressure that was going to be put on the lawmakers by parents when their kids didn't get their diplomas?

This coming week could be a doozy.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cute Deaf Baby Update

This weekend was our first long car trip with Kailey: 6 hours from Spokane to Portland. It wasn't something I was looking forward to, but the chance to see both sides of my family was too good to pass up, so we bit the bullet.

And the baby did just fine! We only had to stop once on the way down and twice on the way back, when I was figuring on stopping about 5 times. What I think she liked the most was the undivided attention from Mrs. Thinker, who sat in the back with her the whole trip to make sure she didn't take out her hearing aide.

The hearing aide is a pain in the ass. Back when she didn't have any coordination she would have to work pretty hard to get her hand up there to take it off, but we now know that she has no fine motor problems because she can get her hand up there to take it off faster than you can blink. She mainly does it when she's getting tired, but she also knows if she takes it off both mom and dad are going to come running, and that's high entertainment for a 7 month old. Imagine me half-shaven in my briefs vigorously signing "No! No!" at a smiling, cooing baby and you'll have this morning's tableu.

She also figured out how to turn it off, which is a whole new level of fun. We just found that out a couple of days ago, when I noticed that the aide was being unusually quiet with no feedback, and when I checked was off. "Hmm!" I hmmed, "How odd! It must have gotten turned off when she rolled over!" Later, though, I watched from the side as she reached up and flipped it off with her thumb, then took her hand away. She's a fan of silence, I guess.

I know I'm not the first to comment on parenting being a new adventure every day, but man it's true. Her sleeping and her bowel movements are important topics of conversation, along with any new sounds she might have made so we can make a full report to her teacher at the school for the deaf. You don't dare get in the car and drive without triple-checking to make sure you have her food, her chair, her bed, her toys, diapers, formula, made bottles, ready to be made bottles, and the 1000 other pieces of bric-a-brac that go along with being a dad.

Friends don't quite know how to handle her deafness yet. I'll make a crack about her being "handi-capable!" and they'll just sort of stare, trying to figure out if I'm making a joke or serious about it. You can tell that they have tons of questions, but the social niceties get in the way and you get to watch the wheels turn unspoken.

We live in interesting times.

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On the Importance of Labor/Management Meetings

We have a standing once-a-month date with our superintendent to talk about the state of the district, and it's been a great thing for us to have.

Take today, for example. We were able to talk about a couple of different staffing issues that could involve some involuntary transfers, and I was able to share some concerns that my preschool team has. They feel like decisions are being made without their input, to them not with them, and our super agreed to talk to the administrators at the school and encourage them to get the teachers involved.

The piece that amazes me is that the majority of districts in my area don't do this, and I think they should--it's been a fantastic tool for us. The reps are able to feed their building-level concerns to us on the exec board and we're able to take them right to the top, and by taking it to the level we do we ensure some sort of action.

So I'm asking the other union reps out there: what is the chain of command for expressing contractual concerns in your local, and what sort of relationship does your association have with your district-level administrators?

Read more here, if any.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Fake News Friday

Eastside Legislators Rise Up in Opposition to Rainy Day Fund

"Why can't it be a dry-day fund?" they ask

(Olympia) The state house and senate were both thrown into turmoil today when Eastern Washington legislators rose up as a unified block and demanded changes to Governor Gregoire's proposal to create a rainy-day fund.

The use of the term "rainy day" demonstrates a "profound western-centric bias" on the part of the Governor, argued Representative Bob Sump of Colville. "Everyone knows that rainy days are a westside thing, and calling it a rainy day fund makes it sound like the money is for westsiders only. That's simply unacceptable."

Senator Chris Marr carried the issue into the Senate. "If we're going to create a rainy-day fund, then we should also create a dry-day fund so that the Eastern Washington perspective is honored. After all, we (Eastern Washington) got hosed on the state quarter, and that's not going to happen again. Not on my watch, no sir!"

"Maybe we can compromise by calling it a Damp Day Fund, or just The Fund. A Wet/Dry fund? A Rainy/Dusty Day fund? That could work," said Senator Lisa Brown, also of Spokane.

Western Washington lawmakers responded with puzzlement, as many were unaware that there was an Eastern Washington. "Are you talking about Bremerton, on the east side? Or somewhere really far away, like Issaquah?" asked Senator Dan Swecker of Rochester.

Read more here, if any.

School closure debates roil Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and.....Cheney?

This one is right in my wheelhouse, as there's a chance that the Cheney School District may need to close one of their schools. From the Cheney Free Press:

The future of Reid Elementary is in jeopardy after Eastern Washington University officials informed the Cheney School District last week that Reid would likely not receive $3.5 million in renovation funds from the state Legislature.

CSD received a letter from EWU president Rodolfo Arévalo on Tuesday, March 27, which stated that it’s “unlikely that the money will ever become available or that EWU would support the renovation as one of the two capital items they are allotted each biennia.”

That prompted an immediate response at the following evening’s CSD board of directors meeting from Reid staff members and parents, who almost unilaterally condemned the idea of closing the school.

I think that this might be the most public showing of the decline and fall of the Education Department at EWU yet. Eastern was founded as a teacher's college and education is still one of the most popular majors there, but in the last few years there's been a palpable sense of frustration among professors there with the constant turnover at the top of department and the lack of movement within.

Reid Elementary is the lab school for the College of Education; it's a place where pre-service teachers can go to watch kids and classrooms. The school is actually connected by a hallway to Williamson Hall, where the Education department is housed, and there's a crows-nest structure inside that allows the college kids to watch the kid kids without interrupting the classroom. Losing Reid wouldn't be a deathblow to the major, sure, but it would certainly be a slap to the department that has helped make Eastern what it is and is one of the most visible in all of Eastern Washington.

Come on, Eastern. With all the new construction and renovation, this is the best you can do for Reid? Golly Ned, if anyplace should have an up-to-date, thoroughly modern school, it should be the one that's right there on the university campus.

Soon the only outwardly visible vestige of Eastern's teaching tradition might be the Dr. Miller's one room schoolhouse. That's not acceptable, and the powers-that-be need to realize that fact.

Read more here, if any.

If something isn't controversial, do you need to say it isn't controversial?

Surfing around to take a break from lesson planning I ended up at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's website, where they've posted their annual list of teacher salaries in Washington State. It lists everybody alphabetically by district; if you were paid by a school, you're in there somewhere.

I get that our salary is a matter of public record; there's a couple of things worth commenting on in their press release, though:

On March 27, 2007, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) updated its complete look at the Washington State Teacher Salaries database. This database allows parents and interested citizens to review the salary and benefits of any teacher or other school employee in Washington State. All information is provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

EFF begin this listing 3 years ago as an effort to allow citizens to know exactly how much these “public employees” were being paid.

“These figures go along to dispelling any myths that are out their regarding teacher’s salaries in Washington State,” said Steven Maggi, director of EFF’s Education Reform Center. “We believe that it is important to use actual data when discussing school funding issues. Using actual salary and benefit figures makes the topic of attracting and retaining excellent teachers easier to understand and is not controversial.”
It's a small thing, but why did they put "public employees" in quotes? Are teachers not public employees? I grant that my own biases may well play a role here, but one could easily read that as the EFF being snarky, and what does that do for them?

Then there's that last quote, and it's where the title of the post came from: why do you have to tell us that this isn't controversial? If it's not controversial, shouldn't that fact stand by itself without needing to be said? Perhaps Mr. Maggi's point was that making the real numbers available makes comparison possible in a non-controversial way, but if that's what he was getting at he buried it under some poor sentence structure.

There's also the very real possibility of math hijinx. If I take the average of all the districts M through O, the average total salary of a teacher is about $39,000. The trick is that includes parapros, bus drivers, administrators, etc, artificially raising some classes and lowering others.

What the EFF has given us here is data, but is it useful data?

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The News Tribune on National Certification

Interesting column by Peter Callaghan on the budget proposal to give additional money to teachers who are board certified, particularly if they teach in high-need schools and high-need subjects. I'm with him in that I like targetting the money; I think, though, that there need to be good measures in place to see if the program is effective.

That said, 10% of my base salary might be enough to get me interested in getting Board Certified.

Read more here, if any.

You've got to wonder about the thought process

"Becky, did you finish your report for Ms. Smith?"

"Oh no! I didn't! Whatever will I do?"

"I didn't get mine done, either! Goodness me, we're really stuck! Alackaday, and chuck our luck!"

"Sara, my friend of years, we must think. Think, think, think!"



"I know what we'll do!"

"What, Becky, what?!?"

"It's elegantly simple, yet foolproof! What we'll do is, we'll poison Ms. Smith's coffee cup, thereby preventing her from collecting our papers!"


And off our two heroines go to cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction by exposing their teacher to strawberries.

I wonder if they serve strawberries in juvie?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Frozen Assets, Flawed Thinking

I was going to let this one go, because writing about every report that came out would make me Andy Rotherham and there can be only one, but then it came up in an editorial from the Washington Business Roundtable so I thought it deserved some commentary.

The report in question is “Frozen Assets: Rethinking Teacher Contracts Could Free Billions for School Reform” by Marguerite Roza at the University of Washington, published as a part of her work with the Education Sector, whose director (Katie Haycock) was one of the keynote speakers at the winter WERA conference, which was attended by my principal.
Hey, I just played “Six Degrees of Marguerite Roza!"

Anyhow, there are some severe flaws with the report, particularly if you try to apply it to Washington schools like the Business Roundtable did. Roza’s central contention is that reform is expensive, and (quoting the report):

One potentially valuable source of funds for reform are common provisions in teacher contracts that obligate schools to spend large amounts of money on programs that lack a clear link to student achievement.
This is not excess money that could be withdrawn from the public education system with no impact on student learning, but rather money that might be spent differently and with greater effect.

So, these are areas that she’s identified as being wasted money. It’s what she’s identified that is a problem.

  1. Increases in Teacher Salaries Based on Years of Experience. In Roza’s view, having your salary increase along with your years of experience isn’t a good thing because, “while salaries for teachers typically increase throughout their careers, research suggests that teacher effectiveness in the classroom does not increase on a similar trajectory.” The proposal, then, is to take the money that would be spent on yearly pay increases and instead move it into something with more proven effectiveness.

    Think about that for a bit. In Roza’s world, the salaries of teacher would be frozen at the beginning salary for a teacher, which is about $33,000 as a national average. Is this really a good thing? Is that really something that would attract more people to the profession? Would Roza be willing to take the first step and live on $33,000 a year so that the rest of her salary through the UW can go to other things? It’s for the kids, after all. She says that we would save about $830 per child per year if the lanes were taken out of the pay scale, but at what cost?

    Some of her math is also wrong for Washington. She uses the national average of 14.56 student for every 1 teacher, but here in the Evergreen State the number is more like 19 to 1. That lowers the “savings” from $830 to $636, about 24% less. Oops.

  2. Increases in Teacher Salaries Based on Educational Credentials and Experiences. Here we’re looking at the pay bump for a Master’s degree, credits, or clock hours. They have “little measurable effects in terms of increased student learning,” and cost $174 per child per year.

    The only thing I’ll say here is that if we want teachers to be lifelong learners, then there has to be an incentive, particularly in conjunction with her first idea to freeze salaries. I won’t defend Master’s programs—I only did mine because of the pay increase—but it’s ridiculous to think that teachers will pay out of pocket for learning experiences without reason.

  3. Professional Development Days. Maybe here she’s on to something!

    Or not. Roza says that the average teacher has 5 contracted professional development days. Here in Washington we get 2. She also asserts that,

    “contracts require that professional development activities occur in discrete, set-aside full or half days, precluding districts from offering programs of ongoing support in smaller units of time.”

    .....without offering any sort of an example of language or a citation to back the claim.

    Honestly, this one feels made up whole-cloth to me. I’ve never heard of a district, ever, that can’t offer other professional development to go along with the LID or PDD days. In my own district we have those days, but they’ve also offered book studies, work on Understanding by Design, additional time to do the work necessary to go along with Professional Learning Communities, etc. Is it that different everywhere else?

  4. Number of Paid Sick and Personal Days. Here Roza says:

    Employee absenteeism is a particular concern for K-12 schools. Unlike many professional occupations, a teacher’s work can’t simply be set aside for a day if she or he is too sick to come to school, or simply wants to take the day off. Substitute teachers can be a poor substitute for the real thing.

    Here she has a citation. Trick is, the citation is for a report from 1971. If that’s the best available research on the state of substitute teaching today, then I know what I’m doing my doctorate on!

    Roza goes on to note that, if teachers took sick days in a ratio similar to other professionals, they would only take 3 days out of each 180-day school year.

    The thing that I think she’s missing is that teaching is an occupation that appeals to people who have families, especially young mothers. Quite a few of the people I teach with take 8 to 10 sick days a year, but it’s almost never for them—it’s for their own children. If you were to take that away from the people who need it you’ve then made the job far less attractive, and you’ll lose talented people because of it. Family friendly sick leave is a great thing.

    Consider, too, the number of germs your average teacher sees in a day. Watch the snot fly around my room for a day and then tell me I can’t be sick.

    And I'll also offer my own personal experience as the father of a special needs child: one of the things that keeps me in the classroom is the flexibility it offers to me to do my job as a parent.

  5. Class Size Limitations. The darling of the unions, the bane of....well, almost no one. It’s a strategy that works best in the lower grades and with high-need populations, but ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that class size makes a difference. I won’t tell you that class size alone can cancel out ineffective teaching, but I will assert that I think a manageable class size can make good teachers great and great teachers legendary.

    And for a report that’s trying to present itself as scholarly, Roza sure does go heavy on the suppositions. She points to New York City as a district with class-size reduction policies, which would give most of their teachers a good chuckle. In the end she cherry picks some research from Michigan and California, finesses it to fit her needs, and decides that class size initiatives cost $187.40 per child.

    I’d love her to figure the costs of NOT having class size caps. You’ll save dollars, but you’ll lose kids.

  6. Mandatory Use of Teacher’s Aides. Uh-oh.

    Some (teacher contracts) specify that teachers are not required to supervise students during non-academic times (such as lunch or recess), thus requiring aides to be hired for supervision during these periods. … The research suggests that money spent on teachers’ aides does not yield increased student learning.

    Marguerite, ma’am, when the hell am I supposed to have my lunch if we don’t have playground aides to cover? Is it really the best use of my time to be on potty duty or monitoring the lunchroom, or would you rather I be analyzing data and planning specific interventions for my kids? You know, the stuff that actually makes a difference towards student achievement?

    For God’s sake, talk about squeezing a nickel until the buffalo poops. This can get ridiculous in a hurry: is there evidence that having school secretaries increases student learning? Is there evidence that having a principal increases student learning? Do they really need desks to learn, or can I sell those on Ebay? This is when it’s entirely obvious that someone from academia is talking, someone who doesn’t really understand what it’s like to teach. And it gets even better when we go on to item seven and eight…

  7. Above-Average Health and Insurance Benefits
  8. Above-Average Retirement Benefits

    She refers to both as “unusually generous.” I won’t speak for the rest of the nation, but I’m paying about $300 a month out of pocket for my health insurance, and anyone who thinks that TRS3 is a generous plan isn’t on TRS3.

    (TRS3 is the retirement plan for new teachers here in the Evergreen State)

    Again, these are the sort of features that draw people to teaching and keep them in the profession, like the sick leave benefits discussed above. The problem of rising health care costs isn’t a teacher problem, it’s a national problem, and this insinuation that we should suffer along with everyone else is asinine.

    It’s the same with retirement. I accept that pension plans are going the way of the dodo, but my guaranteed pension (the defined benefit part of TRS3) will be 1% times the number of years I work, and I can’t collect the full amount until I’m 65 years old. Yay.

    Roza almost seems like she’s having a breakthrough when she says,

    Unusually generous health and retirement plans create incentives for teachers to enter and stay in the profession.

    ....but to her that’s a bad thing, because older teachers might be less effective, and they cost more anyway. Push the bastards out!

    And Marguerite, if those are incentives, what would happen if you took the incentive away?

In short, this is just another slam on the profession. Reports like this one are why I’m active in my union—unchallenged, screed like this can take root and grow, harming teachers and making the job that much more difficult.

Fight the good fight!

Read more here, if any.

Hot or Not, International Reading Association Edition

Reading Today from the IRA is a great publication. It comes out bi-monthly, and each edition is a superior overview of not only what’s going on in literacy but in the world of education as a whole.

The front-page headline for the February/March issue is the IRA’s annual survey of their “What’s Hot, What’s Not” survey of literacy trends. The hottest issues, as judged by their panel:

  • Adolescent literacy
  • Direct/explicit instruction
  • ESL and ELL
  • High-stakes assessment
  • Informational texts
  • Literacy/reading coaches
  • Evidence based research and instruction

What’s interesting to me is two areas that weren’t labeled hot: preschool literacy instruction and phonemic awareness. On them the article says,

Until last year, phonemic awareness was “very hot” or “extremely hot.” Last year, for the first time since 1996, most of the respondents still agreed that it was a “hot” issue, but it was no longer “very hot”. This year most of the respondents felt it was “not hot.”

Both PA and preschool literacy instruction are associated with very young children. One would hope that the attention now being paid to adolescent literacy does not mean a corresponding decrease in attention being paid to the reading needs of young children.

As a first grade teacher, phonemic awareness is still a big part of what I do every year. Odd to see it downgraded, especially since it was so stressed in the National Reading Panel report.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Wait....there's sex on the internet?

The article from the Columbian: La Center High School to Offer Sex-Ed Curriculum Online

Not that I would know, but isn't that how most sex ed happens any more? I mean, when I type "teach me about sex" into Google...


Oh, my.

Definitely educational.

I can't see how letting kids on the internet and telling them to study sex would backfire at all.

I'm willing to bet the quality of the research will be commendable.

If you'll excuse me...

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Read more here, if any.

The only coverage of the Rep Assembly I've been able to find

Thanks, News Tribune!

Election coverage from the WEA here. Though he got the coveted I Thought a Think endorsement, Kevin Teeley didn't win for WEA VP.

Or perhaps that should be Because instead of Though. Sorry, Mr. Teeley!


Read more here, if any.

Every Teacher's Nightmare, Part II

There was an extremely important article in the Seattle Times over the weekend. Their excellent series from 2003, Coaches Who Prey, blew the lid off the old system where perverts could shuffle under the radar, from school to school, abusing kids the same way every time before making secret agreements to move on and do it again.

It was very Chris Hansen. It was also compelling and brought about needed changes to the system. The Times has continued to press the issue, to their credit, but where they're going now should concern us all:
The state Public Records Act makes clear that all public records and documents are available to the public unless specifically exempted in the act itself. One exemption concerns the private information of public employees when the information is not of legitimate concern to the public.

The WEA argued that unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct are exempt from disclosure, and that the public has no legitimate interest in allegations of misconduct unless the government agency takes a formal action beyond what is called a "letter of direction," which the union contended isn't discipline.

The Times argued that the on-the-job conduct of a public employee is not a private matter. It also argued that investigations of sexual misconduct involving teachers and children are of legitimate public interest, and that what the school knows about allegations of misconduct should be disclosed.

On the surface, the WEA argument seems reasonable. There is a question of fairness in releasing the name of someone who is accused if the accusation isn't substantiated. But there is more to the story that turns the argument on its head.
This is the paradox of being a union advocate.

We shouldn't be in the business of protecting people who shouldn't be around children, but in their zeal to keep personnel files private that's exactly the impression the WEA gives. On the other hand, look at the Linda Cawley case, where a false allegation got a teacher thrown out of the classroom and investigated by the police. The goal of transparency is laudable, but what would your reaction be if a false allegation of sexual misconduct was made, quickly disproven, and ended up on the front page of the local paper anyways?

The Times is after the story; they're journalists, and that's what they do, but this reeks of the tabloids. Even if the story says:

Mr. Grant was accused of sexual abuse, but later exonerated.

What most people are going to read is this:

Mr. Grant was accused of sexual abuse,
but later exonerated.

....and that's unfair, no matter what the prinicples of journalism say.

It's a case to keep an eye on.

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Read more here, if any.

Juxtaposition and Counterbalance

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
The Seattle teachers union joined forces Friday with the AFL-CIO in a move to bolster its leverage in debates on health care, pensions, education and other public policies.

As part of the move, the Seattle Education Association, which represents 5,500 Seattle Public Schools teachers and staff members, joined the Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council, gaining a role in the council's political activities, such as evaluating political candidates.

"We have a lot that we can work on together," said Maggie Crain, the union's associate executive director.

If teachers strike, they could gain more help from the broader labor movement. Other unions, for example, could be more likely to honor a Seattle Education Association picket line.
Compare that to this from the mission statement for the Teachers Union Reform Network, of which the Seattle Education Association is a member:
TURN (Teacher Union Reform Network) is a union-led effort to restructure the nation's teachers' unions to promote reforms that will ultimately lead to better learning and higher achievement for American's children. TURN will rely on models drawn from a variety of research, internal initiatives, and the experience of some industrial trade unions which have been forced to begin to transform themselves.

TURN members, 21 presidents of large AFT and NEA locals, recognize that reversing a century of hostile labor relations and replacing them with a compact that says "we are all in this together," will be difficult. But, succeeding in this new and unpredictable environment can only be assured by the mutual effort of administrators, union leaders and teachers, and the creation of a new social framework to hold it together.

So on one hand we have the idea that it's good to join up with the AFL-CIO because it gives them more leverage in the next strike. On the other, we're talking about putting the old unionism behind us and marching bravely towards a new tomorrow.

Methinks the SEA has gone bipolar.

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Read more here, if any.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Linda Cawley: Guilty, until proven Guilty

From The Columbian:

Battle Ground police have concluded their investigation into the allegation that a Maple Grove Primary School teacher assaulted a 10-year-old girl and recommended that no charges be filed, according to Battle Ground Public Schools officials.

That does not mean the teacher, Linda Cawley, is headed back to the classroom, said Kelly O'Brien, the district's public information officer. O'Brien said the district must wait for Battle Ground Prosecuting Attorney Chris Sundstrom to make a decision based on the police investigation.


When news got out that the police decided not to recommend charges to the prosecutor's office, O'Brien fielded a flurry of e-mails and phone calls from Cawley's friends and family.

Some wrote both O'Brien and The Columbian that Cawley had been "exonerated." They asked the development receive the same amount of coverage as when the allegations were first made two weeks ago.

I'm glad that Linda has the support system she has, because it sounds like the administration and the local newspaper both threw her under the bus.

She can't go back to work until the attorneys clear her? That's garbage. The investigation is over, the police have said not to press charges, there's no evidence of anything else in her history that would raise flags--if she's out of the classroom one minute more, it's an injustice.

Asking that her being cleared receive the same amount of coverage as the initial allegation? That's golden. Good news walks, bad news runs, and those who have stood by her have every right to ask that this development receive just as much attention as the initial slur.

Good to see her local spoke up for her, though!

Read more here, if any.