Monday, July 30, 2007

Tag, I'm It!

The Four Things meme, thanks to The Exhausted Intern:

Four Jobs I've Had:
*Cutting the lawn at the Episcopal Church in Chehalis. My stepfather was on the vestry. It was good work.
*The shipping department at Aluminite Northwest, one of the nation's largest producers of screen doors and windows. I have never, ever been in better shape than I was doing that job. The 50 hours a week of factory work diet will take the pounds off in a hurry.
*Working in the hall office during college. I'm one of those nerds who lived in the dorms for four years, but it was cheap living on campus, so why not?

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over:
*The Shawshank Redemption. When Andy breaks out through the sewer pipe and looks up into the rain....that's good video, right there.
*Unforgiven. You can't watch the last 15 minutes of that movie and not get emotionally involved.
*Batman Begins. I'm a bat-nut from way back, and this re-imagining of the series warmed the cockles of my heart, big time.
*Citizen Kane, for all the obvious reasons.

Four Places I've Lived:
*Born in Vancouver, Washington.
*Moved to Rochester, just south of Olympia, when my parents divorced.
*Graduated from Rochester and went to Cheney to attend college.
*Fell in love with a Medical Lake girl, and now here I am.

Four TV Shows I Love:
*Around the Horn. It's brain candy!
*The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. How the hell they think Conan can replace Jay, I don't understand.
*The Daily Show with John Stewart.
*Countdown with Keith Olberman.

Four Places I've Vacationed:
*Long Beach. My family has a house near the beach, and we spent many happy hours down there when I was a kid.
*Colville. What? Yes, Colville. My in-laws have the neatest cabin in the woods up there, and when you want to get away from it all that's the greatest place in the world to go.
*Disneyland, after my high school graduation.
*The Oregon Coast. I'd love to get there again some day.

Four of My Favorite Dishes:
*Arroz con Pollo.
*The chicken quesadilla from Taco Bell.
*Brownies, the moister, the better.
*Lasagna with a little provolone cheese melted over the top.

Four Sites I Visit Daily:
*The Education Wonks
*NYC Educator
*Washington Teachers

Four Places I Would Rather Be Right Now:
*As I type this I'm in Shoreline, Washington attending the WEA Leadership Academy. I'm in the thick of it, and I can honestly say that there's nowhere I'd rather be!


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Thursday, July 26, 2007

How Junie B. Jones Ruined America

I've never had a child in my class who didn't like the Junie B. Jones series of books from Barbara Park.

Guess I'd better not read them to the parents.

(Courtesy of the New York Times)

Mr. Alvis wasn’t so sure about that. Nor are some of the more vocal parents who discuss the books on Web sites like Craigslist and UrbanBaby. Most of the books have earned an average rating of at least four stars out of five from Amazon readers, but the negative reviews are brutal.

“I am going to throw them out,” one said. “I wouldn’t give them away, because I don’t want anyone else to read them.”

Another wrote, “I find this the mental equivalent of toxic waste.”
Better not show them Walter the Farting Dog; they'll die on the spot.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Decline and Fall of Antioch College

Those of you who have access to the Chronicle of Higher Education would be well served to seek out the July 20th edition, particularly the Chronicle Review section, and the profound, thoughtful article by Ralph Keyes within. Mr. Keyes graduated from Antioch College when that still meant something, and his ruminations on the University’s ruination are somber, but important.

One could easily draw similarities between the Antioch University of 1965 and the charter schools of today. Hopefully the charter movement gets a better sendoff.

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Taking the Leap

I’ve decided to begin an administrative program this fall.

It’s sort of been an evolution. When I went into teaching I never would have figured myself as the guy in the principal’s office, but as the years have gone by a lot of the people I work with have said that they could see me doing it. My work with the Association has shown me, too, that the best way to represent your school is to have a seat at the table, and I’m hoping that I can do a lot of good for my school and my kids by taking that next step.

It’s also a tough decision, because of the Union. I like being vice-president of my local. I like being involved in my regional Uniserv office, and going to the WEA Leadership Academy next week may well be the highlight of my summer. I think that if I stuck with it I could have a shot at getting more leadership roles higher up, which would be a neat thing.

This is also our open year for our contract, so next summer we’ll be hitting the bargaining table again. That’s going to take a lot of my concentration, because there are some big issues that have presented themselves in recent years. It’s also a tough position, to bargain for the teachers while at the same time making plans to not be one of them any longer, but I think that people have enough faith in my character to know that I’m going to fight for the membership every bit as hard as I would otherwise. It’ll be fun!

The final deal-breaker was looking at where things could be going with my daughter. If the insurance says no to the cochlear implants, we may have to go it alone. She starts at the HOPE School, our area school for deaf kids, this fall in their toddler group, an expense that is covered by the county social services office, but there’s still a cost involved in the days that I’ll take off, the childcare, the transportation, the other extended learning opportunities that have shown success with deaf kids, etc. To provide the kind of life that I want to provide her, I have to step it up somewhere. The principalship seems like a good means to that end.

Frankly, it’s also an exciting proposition. Setting the agenda, leading the charge, helping a whole school be successful—I really like that idea. I doubt that I’d get a job right out of the program, but having the credential would give me options, and that’s always a happy thing.

I decided to go with Eastern, which was an easy, easy choice after speaking with Les Portner, who runs their leadership program. My Master’s degree was through EWU, so I’d already taken many of the classes required for the administrator’s certificate. With 5 classes and an internship, to be done in the 2008 – 2009 school year, I’ll be legal.

The classes look pretty interesting, too. Should give me a ton of fodder for the blog!

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Free Spike Lee Movie for High School Teachers

Via the American School Board Journal:

“When the Levees Broke,” Spike Lee’s acclaimed documentary on the experience of New Orleans residents following Hurricane Katrina, will be given free to high schools this fall to “encourage a democratic dialogue around the issues of race and class.”

The two-disk DVD set, which includes Lee’s four-part documentary and hours of extras, is available free to high school, college, and community educators through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Teachers College Press also has published a multidisciplinary curriculum guide, “Teaching the Levees,” to accompany the series.
The documentary and curriculum guide are available by request at

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where Do Teachers Go To Talk?

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education’s website there’s a wonderfully vibrant section where folks throughout academe come to talk about all aspects of the job. The discussions are typically both thoughtful and thought-provoking; it’s an easy place to spend some time on a lazy afternoon.

One wonders, though—why isn’t there something similar out there for teachers? There’s more of us, with every bit as much diversity of thought as can be found in the University; it’s odd to me that there isn’t an on-line, central gathering point, the way that the college folks have. The closest that comes to mind is some of the blogs, but even the most deliriously successful teacher blogs (The Education Wonks, or Joanne Jacobs) are slow-paced in comparison.

Maybe this is a gauntlet that the folks at Education Week should pick up.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

NCTM News Bulletin, July-August Edition

The newest volume of the News Bulletin from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has begun, and it has a snazzy new look that’s shaken off some of the stodginess of the old newsletter. Good work by their graphics department. Some highlights:

*My man-crush on Skip Fennell continues on unabated as he turns in another excellent column, this time on the inherent challenges of the No Child Left Behind act.

*You can apply to get a grant to cover your travel costs to the International Congress on Mathematical Education conference in Monterrey, Mexico next July. That’d be a heck of a way to spend part of your summer vacation.

*Their journal of secondary math, The Mathematics Teacher, is looking for thoughts from teachers on how they reach their ESL/ELL students in the math classroom. Submission details here; general NCTM publishing guidelines can be found here. If you get published because of something you read off of I Thought a Think, please give me second author credit.

(just kidding)

*My recent post on the research/practice gap (which was profoundly expanded upon by The Science Goddess—thanks, Goddess!) seems to have been on the mind of the NCTM as well; their series of Research Briefs is designed to help bridge the divide by, “strengthening connections between practice and research.” It’s a good start to what could be a very worthwhile project.

*This issue marks the beginning of a series on intervention in mathematics; I’m quite curious to see where it goes. The material on intervention for reading difficulties is voluminous, but not so much for the mathematics. This could be a good place to keep an eye on if you’re a math specialist or math coach here in Washington, because golly knows we could use the help.

Hope you're enjoying your summer!

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I Swear I Left Him By the River

I don’t do water.

I’ve had a terrible and pervasive fear of drowning since my teenage years. Wading up to my knees is the best I’d done since right around 1990. Boats I’m fine with, but anything that asks me to be in a position where my feet aren’t touching something hard--no, I don’t care for that very much at all.

Fear met dreams, though, in the form of my wife, who has wanted to go white water rafting since before we were married. She took a class last week on health and wellness, and as an extension of that one of the field trips offered was a rafting trip down the Clark Fork River in Western Montana. She knows that I’m a hydrophobe, but this is something that she really wanted to share with me, so after a lot of prayerful consideration I went with her.

Yesterday we made the drive to the river with some friends of ours, both 6th grade teachers. After getting fitted with our PFDs and grabbing our paddles we walked down to the shore and got in the raft. I’m taking deep breaths the entire time, but the rest of the group is as happy as could be.

The first little piece was no problem. Nice, flat water, a leisurely float down the river. Saw some ospreys. Life was good. Then, just like in the movies, you hear a sound, a soft rumble, off in the distance.

“Alright,” says our river guide, who looked like Matthew Mcconaughey’s younger brother, “Here comes the first big one! Paddles ready, feet locked, and here we go!”

Oh, hell no. There’s rocks sticking out of that thing, man. This is it. Beloved teacher dies in Clark Fork River, kids weep. You can’t honestly expect an out-of-shape landlubber like me to......

“Paddles forward, GO!”

I found that focusing on the paddling and less on the rocks was a good way to think about it. Man, did our guide ever know the river; he took us through the rapids without even blinking, then stopped the boat so we could watch the other rafts in our group come through.

Exhilarating actually means something to me know, because that was the most adrenaline-inducing experience I’ve ever had. Walls of water crashing over the side, the raft turning and leaping and buckling and hovering and sliding and contorting. After the first rapid I looked at my wife, and she was loving every minute of it. Truth be told, I was pretty excited myself.

After a couple of rapids we got to a calm stretch, and most of the rest of the raft jumped out to swim.

Deep breath.

There’s other boats all over the place. The water is calm. It’d mean a lot to the Mrs.

Deep breath.

Toe in the water. Feels OK. No one appears to be dying. I’m guessing the guides can swim.

Deep breath. Foot in. Leg in. Up to the waist. Let go of boat. Float.

Oh. Oh, my. I’m floating, and I'm not dead. It’s been a long, long time.

Long story short, it was a neat, neat day, and I’d love to do it again sometime. The only thing that I regretted was floating through one of the rapids, because that was too damn fast and the only time I couldn’t keep my head completely above water, but otherwise it was a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone.

Next up: scuba diving, bungee jumping, parasailing, hot air balloon ride, and fire-walking. Hoo-ah!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Little Something for the Lemony Snicket Fans

The July/August issue of Edutopia has a nice profile of Daniel Handler, the anthroponym of Lemony Snicket, wherein he talks about how he developed his love of writing. Handler is also profiled in the newest issue of Writer’s Digest magazine in a feature where authors share the spaces where they practice the craft.

It’s always neat to see the process behind the finished work.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Expiration Date

A teacher coach walks into the curriculum director’s office and says, “Bob, now that I’ve left the classroom, I’m worried I won’t have credibility with the staff. How long do I have before teachers don’t take me seriously any more?”

Her boss leans back in his chair, looks thoughtful, and says, “Ten.”

“Ten? Ten what? Ten years? Ten demonstration lessons?”

The director shakes his head sadly and keeps counting, “”
One of the most thoughtful websites for practitioners interested in the big picture can be found at the Teacher Leaders Network. I found a very interesting conversation there the other day on just how much credibility coaches and TOSAs have when they’re out of the classroom; in fact, the entire site is filled with mindful commentary on education today.

It’s a great place that’s well worth checking out!

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Friday, July 13, 2007

The Joy of Down Time

The car's in the shop, so I'm at Starbucks a block away with nothing to do but play on the internet. Ms. Cornelius showed me the way to a grand collection of those stupid little quizzes, so let's waste some time:

Your Aura is Blue

Spiritual and calm, you tend to live a quiet but enriching life.
You are very giving of yourself. And it's hard for you to let go of relationships.

The purpose of your life: showing love to other people

Famous blues include: Angelina Jolie, the Dali Lama, Oprah

Careers for you to try: Psychic, Peace Corps Volunteer, Counselor

You Are 50% "Average American"

You are average because you live within three miles of McDonalds.

You are not average since you do make New Year's resolutions.

You Are 68% Democrat

You have a good deal of donkey running through your blood, and you're proud to be liberal.
You don't fit every Democrat stereotype, but you definitely belong in the Democrat party.

Your Social Anxiety Level: 40%

You have low social anxiety.
Of course very unfamiliar or strange situations make you uncomfortable.
But you can pull through and handle almost any social occasion with grace.

You Are Midnight

You are more than a little eccentric, and you're apt to keep very unusual habits.
Whether you're a nightowl, living in a commune, or taking a vow of silence - you like to experiment with your lifestyle.
Expressing your individuality is important to you, and you often lie awake in bed thinking about the world and your place in it.
You enjoy staying home, but that doesn't mean you're a hermit. You also appreciate quality time with family and close friends.

And this one is spot on:

You Should Have Voted for Ralph Nader.

Sorry - Shirts and Shoes are Required in the Voting Booth.


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Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Deaf Daughter

Hard: Getting a 10-month old to keep her hearing aide in when she doesn’t want to.
Easy: Getting into a power struggle with that same little girl over that same little hearing aide.

Long time readers will know that my daughter was diagnosed with near-total hearing loss at age 4 months (see here, here, and here); it’s made parenting even more of an adventure than it would have been. She has a hearing aide, but I guess she doesn’t like to listen to daddy because the second I get home she pulls it out.

So I put it in.
So she pulls it out.
So I put it in.
So she pulls it out.
I put it in.
She pulls it out.

Repeat all night long, until exhaustion.

Her newest specialist is a physical therapist. The thought is that because of her deafness her balance was thrown off, which is why it was taking her so long to master sitting and crawling. She absolutely loves PT; the way her face lights up when she sees the therapist is one of those great parent moments, and the PT itself has made a real difference. I’m still not looking forward to teaching her how to ride a bike, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’ve never been much of a doctor guy. Yeah, it’s a stereotype, but it’s me. I’ve got a general practitioner that I go to when I have to, but that’s maybe once every two years or so. Kailey, on the other hand, has:

An audiologist, a physical therapist, a hearing aide specialist, a pediatric optometrist, a consulting teacher from the area school for the deaf, the ENT doctor, her family practice doctor, a geneticist, a pediatrician who specializes in special needs kids, a social worker through the county social services office, and a partridge in a pear tree.

That’s not counting the innumerable secretaries and nurses who have helped us along the way. It’s certainly been a team effort, and I say a prayer of thanks every night for the support we’ve had.

It makes me think pretty regularly of the families, both here and abroad, that don’t have the resources available that my daughter does. Being a teacher helps, because I’m more familiar with the system than many might be. It’s still hard, though, to give up all the time to take her to all the appointments (2 a week normally, sometimes 3 or 4). When we balance that against doing whatever it takes for her to “make it”, though, we get it done. That’s what all that accrued sick leave is for, right?

The next big thing will be to look at a cochlear implant. The right ear is profoundly deaf, the left ear severe to profound. What that means is that we’ve been able to use a hearing aide in the left ear, and her ENT doctor thinks that might be enough to get her through life. The teacher who works with deaf kids strongly disagrees; in her experience as a deaf educator the kids who get the implants are almost always better off than the ones who try to go with the hearing aide alone. She says there’s a new trend towards getting bilateral implants, one in each ear. It’s amazing what they can do, really.

Looking around online doesn’t really help. One website will tell me that if I give my daughter a cochlear implant I’m wasting $50,000 and helping commit cultural genocide; another is filled with glowing testimonials from parent who finally have a “normal” child. I don’t know what’s right. I know the life I dreamed of having with my daughter, and there are still days when I mourn the death of that dream, but it seems like getting the implant would be a step, a small step, towards normality.

Then I ask myself, what is normal? So what if we do sign language, so what if her speech never fully develops, so what? So what.

So what.

We have a test coming up in a few weeks called an ABR, where they sedate her and hook her up to the brainwave monitors to see exactly what sounds are getting through and at what decibel levels. That will give us (meaning the whole team) a good look at where she’s at and just how much the hearing aide can do for her. After that, the discussion begins.

I’ll let you know where it goes.

She’s also started crawling within the last week. You never know how many things that you have are close to the ground until you have a baby. So far she’s tried to eat leaves off my ficus, chewed on an electrical cord, and had more fun with shelves than should be legal. It’s neat to get down on her level and just look at all the things that are out there for her to get in to. Neat, and annoying.

That’s my daughter :-)

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Guess the Acronym!

It’s the fun, fun game that anyone in education can play. Below are several acronyms from the world of education, but instead of just giving you the letters (what fun would that be?!) I’ve instead spelled them out either phonetically or used a garbling of the acronym, based on the way that I’ve heard people pronounce it. Answers will be in the “Read here for more” link under the post; give yourself 1 point if you know what the acronym is supposed to be, and two more points if you know what it stands for. For example, if you know that “nickelby” is a corruption of NCLB, which stands for No Child Left Behind, you’re a 3-point winner!

1) Ape
2) Aychcutie
3) Ayesbee
4) Aypee
5) Deeohee
6) essaytea
7) Pee Elsie
8) Elary
9) Eyebee
10) Aye, ‘e pee
11) Toesa
12) Esbeeim
13) Ineeay
14) Aiseatee
15) Nape
16) Es ’ello
17) Itybeeyes
18) (Special 9 point bonus question!) Ohtee, peetee, and esselpee

Ape = AYP = Annual Yearly Progress
Aychcutie = HQT = Highly Qualified Teacher
Ayesbee = ASB = Associated Student Body
Aypee = AP = Advanced Placement, or Assistant Principal
Deeoee = DoE = Department of Education
Essaytea = SAT = Scholastic Aptitude Test
Pee Elsie = PLC = Professional Learning Community
Elary = LRE = Least Restrictive Environment
Eyebee = IB = International Baccalaureate
Aye, ‘e pee = IEP = Individual Education Plan
Toesa = TOSA = Teacher on Special Assignment
Esbeeim = SBM = Site Based Management
Ineeay = NEA = National Education Association
Aiseatee = ACT = American College Test
Nape = NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress
Es ‘ello = SLO = Student Learning Objectives
Itybeeyes = ITBS = Iowa Test of Basic Skills
Ohtee, Peetee, and esselpee = OT, PT, and SLP = Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and Speech-Language Pathologist

50-60: Please consider putting your name in to follow Margaret Spellings, because you are the awesome when it comes to acronyms.
40-50: You’re certainly well educated about education.
30-40: Keep your nose to the grindstone, scout, and you’ll be on your way!
20-30: You know, not everyone is meant to go to University. Have you perhaps considered one of our local technical colleges?
10-20: You know, not everyone is meant to finish high school. Have you considered going after your GED?
0-10: The good news is, someone out there still thinks highly of you. Please pick up your participant’s white ribbon at the table on your way out.

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Jay Greene Needs a Hobby

Jay’s got one of those names that pop up as regular as the sun shines when you read as much education material as I do. Perhaps best known for his 2005 book Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why it Isn't So, Greene's a naysayer, but a well-spoken one.

Last week Greene released his latest report through the Center for Civic Innovation and the Manhattan Institute. It’s not good. I don’t mean not good in the, “We’re out of beer? That’s not good!” sense, either. I mean it’s really...not....good. He takes a trend and tries to make it mean something, but it’s wasted effort that I think will be forgotten before July gets finished.

The gist is that Greene and a pair of graduate assistants studied the trends in naming schools in seven states over the past century, and there’s a lot less naming the school after a historical figure and a lot more naming the school after geography and cuddly animals. This is bad because,

“This shift from naming schools after people worthy of emulation to naming schools after hills, trees, or animals raises questions about the civic mission of public education and the role that school names may play in that mission.”
Wow. Greene’s argument is that by moving away from naming schools after great Americans we’re undermining the entire “civic mission” of schooling. He should get together with David Gelernter; they’d be BFFs.

He does have some fun stats, including:

  • In Florida, there are 5 schools that honor George Washington and 11 named after Manatees.
  • In the last 20 years a new school in Arizona is 50 times more likely to be named after a mesa or a cactus than a president.
  • A majority of public school districts nationwide do not have a school named after a president.

Ponder that last bullet point for a moment, because that’s a classic example of how some of these think-tank guys overreach to try and prove their point. It sounds like it’s something, but consider—there’s thousands of school districts in the country that are composed of just a few schools. Here in Washington State the vast majority of districts are composed of 6 school buildings or less; is it really that surprising, then, that none of the buildings are named after a president? In the smaller towns the schools are typically named after the town; would it make sense for Asotin, for example, to be the home of Nixon Elementary, Van Beuren Middle, and Clinton High Schools?

This is one of those products that's mildly interesting and tangentially related to education. Meaningful, though? Meh.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

John Merrow on the Value Added Model

I think pretty highly of John Merrow; the podcasts that he puts out are always well worth listening to, and the segments that he does for PBS are quality education journalism. In the June 13th edition of Education Week he has an interesting commentary on using growth models to measure the progress that schools and the students in them make; a part that resonated with me was this: have a valid growth model, schools need what families have: a common yardstick. But schools also need a generally agreed-upon (and nourishing) curriculum. So if we want to develop a valid “growth model,” we first need to debate what belongs in the curriculum and figure out what sort of performance measures make sense.
It’s perhaps the most important question since the rise of NCLB: should the testing drive the curriculum, or should the curriculum drive the testing? The limitations and strengths are nearly identical with either approach:

*If we base our tests off of the curriculum, we can accurately measure how well they learned what was taught. This allows for discussions of teacher effectiveness, because they’re the ones who taught the material. The weakness in this approach is that the curriculum might not cover everything that is believed essential for that grade level, which creates gaps in learning that can have a terrible cumulative effect if allowed to grow over time.

*If we base our curriculum off of our tests, we can help to ensure that kids are being shown what has been deemed important, because what’s tested is what’s taught. If we believe that’s what tested is important, this is a good thing. This allows for discussions of school effectiveness, because the yardstick is the same for everyone statewide and we can see which buildings “get it” and which don’t. The weakness in this approach is the overwhelming number of learning requirements, more than can realistically be taught in most grades, which perhaps leads to a narrower curriculum.

This is why I’d like to see more school around the state using the MAP assessment from NWEA, and school-wide scores being made more readily available for study. One of the biggest weaknesses I see in the WASL is that a 1, 2, 3, 4 scale doesn’t tell you nearly enough about where you’re at as a school. The MAP breaks the scores out into the basic areas of reading and math and can be used to measure their growth from the beginning of the year to the end, which is also much more useful than the WASL, which comes back 5 months later.

Growth models: I like ‘em!

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Money Matters!

From the June 15th Chronicle of Higher Education:

An effort by a major university to replace loans with grants in its financial aid to low-income students has led more of its graduates to choose public-service careers, a study has found.

The study, supported by the private National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that an additional $10,000 in student debt reduces the likelihood that a graduate will take a job in a nonprofit organization, government, or an education field by five to six percentage points.
If I’d financed $50,000 worth of college education, it certainly wouldn’t be to go into a career that starts at $30,000 a year. This is one of the few areas where it can be truly said Eastern > Gonzaga.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Principal Hiring Process

One of the things that I’d never done was to sit in on the interviews for principals in our district; the one time that we’d changed principals at my school the position was filled by a different administrator in the district, so no interviews required. With the recent retirement of our sitting principal, though, there were no transfers, so we had ourselves a hiring process.

There were two different tracks going on simultaneously—what was happening in my building, and what was happening at the district level. In my building we had a vote to select who would be on the hiring committee; it was a good process that gave the staff a lot of confidence in who was representing them, and I give our superintendent a lot of credit for letting us choose our own people. The rumor mill was also churning like mad, mainly with speculation about the position and what it could mean for us all next year.

Meanwhile, at the district office, they were busy winnowing down the initial pool of 20 applicants to a reasonable number for interviews. I was pretty surprised that we only had 20 applicants; we’re a pretty respectable school in a pretty respectable district, and I thought that more would be interested.

The initial 20 was narrowed down to 17; those 17 were all given what’s known as the Ventures Screening, which is essentially another layer of interviewing where the candidate meets with a team of administrators to respond to What if…? and How do…? type questions. As a district we’ve had a lot of luck with it, though it is a bit of a double-edged sword, because if the Ventures misses and the candidate washes out it makes the screening look really, really bad.

Anyhow, after the Ventures they had a list of six candidates. Interviews were set up for the last week of school (which was fine with me, because it got me out of my classroom for two days during the silly season), and we were on our way.

The interviews were one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had as a teacher, because all 6 of the candidates were great in different ways. This one had an infectious energy that would be great to work for, that one has the kind of experience that helps you respect the decisions they make. This one knows special ed inside out, but this one is a whiz-bang math teacher and we could sure use someone with that kind of clout.

Our superintendent wanted three out of the six; she would then choose one of those three to be our principal. She also wanted unanimity in our choices, meaning that any one of us could support any one of the candidates, and that was hard. By the end of the discussion there were some frayed nerves and upset stomachs, but I don’t think anyone was made at anyone else—it was just the mental processing that went along with the selection process.

In the end, I think our Superintendent made a hell of a hire. I’m really looking forward to working with our new leader next year, and it’s nice to have been an integral part of the search process.

When your district hires principals, how involved are the teachers in the building in choosing who the new administrator will be?

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I’d Love to Attend Their Caucus Meetings

Negotiators for United Faculty of Evergreen also are gearing up for the first round of contract talks at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.
--WE Magazine, June 2007

Top contract demands from the United Faculty Union:

*No classes on April 20th
*Tenure decisions to be based on hacky-sack skills.
*Goeducks to be re-christened Gooeyducks, because that's how everyone spells it, dammit!
*Family of Dan Evans no longer has to admit his association to college.
*Sandals and ponchos to be considered proper attire.
*With regards to what the horticulture department is growing in the campus greenhouse, the administration agrees to mind their own business.
*School to separate from city of Olympia, become Free and Sovereign Nation of Evergreen State.
*Sleater-Kinney named professors emeritus in music department.
*School leader no longer to be called president; will instead be known as The Dude.

Evergreen: The Berkley of the Northwest.

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Claptrap and Nonsense

I’d not ever heard of David Gelernter until Gadfly linked to a piece of his in The Weekly Standard. Provocatively titled A World Without Public Schools, Gelernter argues that the fundamental consensus that lead to the creation of our school system had completely eroded, and that as a result the school system should go with it. If you print the article it goes on for 10 pages, and in several spots his pedigree as an intellectual and a scholar shines through brilliantly.

Then you think about what he wrote, and it all turns to crap. For upon even the most cursory review, the pure asininity of Gelernter’s essay is the only thing that you can take away from it.

From the beginning his central tenet fails to hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Gelernter guiding hypothesis is that, “Public schools are first and foremost agents of the public.” Well and good. He fails, though, to understand just how nuanced the word “public” can be when talking about American education.

Consider your own local school; which public should that school be an agent of? Should it be a reflection of the immediate community, the public by proxy of proximity, or of the state system that funds that school? Or does the scale expand even beyond that, to the school needing to be an agent of, and an advocate for, the national interests? Put more simply, where does local control begin, and by extension, what is the community that you need to gauge the consensus of to define the mission of the school?

Gelernter goes on to argue that there is no longer a national consensus, a shared national vision of what is and what should be, and therefore the public schools can no longer advance our national interests and should be scrapped. To prove his point he tries to work a neat rhetorical trick wherein he proves first that there is no consensus, and then that there was, and therefore he must be right. He fails on both counts.

To demonstrate that there is no national consensus Gelernter goes back to the election of 2004, calling it a “split down the middle.” This proves, to him, that we are a divided country that couldn’t possibly agree on even the basics of what it means to be educated. I would argue that what he suggests here should be completely ignored as the useless contrivance of someone without any better evidence to try and carry his point home.

It was an election, and elections are nothing more than opinion polls with really good TV coverage. Why focus on Bush/Kerry, when you could use the 2006 midterm elections, which were a rout for the democrats? Why 2004, and not the opinion polls from today where a plurality think that both our President and our Congress are incapable of running the country? Ask voters today what they think of Nancy Pelosi and you’ll get your consensus in a right hurry, so again—why so much emphasis on 2004?

His fundamental argument, then, that consensus is impossible in America today doesn’t even have the gumption to get out of the gate. It fares slightly better than his other horse in the race, the idea that there was once a national consensus on education—that poor nag dies before it even gets to the track.

This is where the essay falls apart completely. Gelernter first trots out the 1910 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which says that the “great mass of the American people” agree with what education should be. He acknowledges himself that the book would have been speaking for middle America and ignoring a great swath, but he then ignores himself: “But there must have been some sort of consensus,” he explains, “the public was not bitterly divided, was not split in half as it is today.”

Really? It wasn’t? There was no racial divide, there was no class divide, there was no tension between our recent immigrants and those who were already here? It may help the cause that he champions in his essay to pretend that history didn’t happen, but that makes him no better than the textbook publishers he lambastes later on, the ones who ignore the great figures like Einstein to include the far less significant but far more multicultural, like Begay.

Not content with the rosy picture he painted Gelernter goes from the sublime to the ridiculous when he presents his next example of the great American educational consensus: the McGuffey Reader. To prove their greatness he reaches back to a book published in 1935 (Our Times, by Mark Sullivan) which contains reminiscences from students raised up on McGuffey who attest to just how wonderful it was.

Consider this for a moment. The proof that he’s offering of the national consensus is a 1935 comment about a 1900 basal series. This is evidence? A couple of paragraphs after that he praises Winslow Homer’s schoolroom paintings as another signal of the esteem that education once held. Again, this is evidence? Basal readers and paintings?

Then, there are the contradictions. Early on he assures that his vision is for the schools to remain free for every child, and that all taxpayers would continue to pay into the system. Towards the end, though, he outlines a scenario where all the schools in town, newly liberated of the public trough, would get together and “discuss programs and fees among themselves.” Which is it, then, free or fee-based? He offers a nod to the vouchers movement, but the thought is left to go begging, a victim of the author’s own lack of clarity. Early on he has his consensus dying in the 1970s; then he pins it on “intellectuals” taking over the universities in following WWII; then he quotes a speech from Woodrow Wilson in 1902 to say that the colleges were going down hill even then. They are dates, they might be relevant to something, but for the sake of what he was trying to do here? It just doesn’t work.

Gelernter ends with a question: Is there any chance that Abolition will be acted on, or even discussed? I have your answer: no. No, because it’s a half-baked idea, and no, because you did a poor job of making that idea better. This is one that will shortly be forgotten in the dustbin of history, not because of the system, but because it didn’t deserve to go any farther.

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