Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Conley Report, Part V (Section 1.2.1 and 1.2.2): Demands on Washington Schools—Changes in Enrollment and Increased Accountability

5th in a series looking at the Conley Report on school financing in Washington State

Schools have almost as many as statistics as baseball. If some enterprising computer programmer ever got access to the numbers he could put together a great rotisserie teaching league pitting states against states, districts against districts, and even schools against schools.

Anyhow, this is the stats section of the Conley Report, and some of those stats are amazing. Consider:

  • The enrollment in the state has risen by 46,000 students since the 1996-1997 school year (p.3).

    (Aside: given this, it’s interesting that Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane are all having school closure debates)

  • Our student to teacher ratio is 19.2 to 1, 5th-highest in a country where the national average is 15.8 to 1 (p.3).

  • The percentage of special ed students in the state rose from 10.9% in 1996-1997 to 12.3% in 2004-2005, which meant 19,357 more special ed kids. Part of that is better identification of things like autism, and part of it is specific learning disabilities in areas like math and reading.

  • “The cost of providing special education services may be almost double the cost of providing services for a regular education student,” says the report, citing a 2002 study by the League of Education Voters (p. 4).

  • ELL students grew from 4.7% to 7.1% of enrollment, a 26,686-student growth. For a look at what that might look like in one district, see here.

  • Similarly, the percentage of students taking free or reduced price lunch grew from 31.2% to 35.9%.

You can go back to what the state constitution says about providing education for all children within our borders, and we know that it costs more to educate ELL and IEP students. That’s the whole point of the special ed lawsuit, and I think that’s the point Conley is driving at here.

Section 1.2.2 (pages 7 though 10 of the report) is a review of the brief history of the WASL. Here they touch on the problems we’re having with 10th grade math, including a section on the changes that happened just last fall, so this is a pretty current document.

At the end of the day the undeniable truth is that we do expect more of kids than we did 20 years ago, but the resource base isn't there to make it happen.

Next section: An overview of the history of school funding in Washington. It's really a lot more interesting than it sounds!

Read more here, if any.


We had a seminar on Understanding by Design a couple of weeks ago. The happy administrative face put on it is that it could revolutionize how we think of lesson planning. The cynical teacher face said that we were going to be put through one more thing that we would all gleefully ignore once we left the room.

So far, the cynics have won.

I can see some value in thinking about the outcome and designing instruction to that end, but the trick is that we are a VERY curriculum based district. You will use the reading curriculum, everyone should be within a few pages of each other on the math curriculum, this is what you must do on the science curriculum, etc.

I don’t think that’s an entirely bad thing. For assessment purposes it isn’t fair if, for example, one class of 1st graders is learning one set of sight words while the other 1st graders do something different.

The other side of the coin I saw on Tuesday when a group of teachers from a neighboring district came through to observe my room as part of the STAR protocol training (I’ve written about it before, here). Their eyes lit up when they saw that that we use the Houghton-Mifflin reading program. Apparently their district just recently adopted it, and now the administration was coming down hard on those who didn’t want to use it.

I’m of two minds, there. If you’ve been a successful teacher for 20 years doing what you do, I can see not wanting to change. On the other hand, if I’m a school district and I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars adopting this curriculum after a vigorous and thorough research process, I’d darn well want my teachers using it too.

There are two sides to the curriculum wars. One says, “Why are they doing this to us?” while the other asks, “Why won’t they do this?” I’m guessing it happens everywhere; I’m wondering if it ever ends well.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Conley Report, Part IV: What Could I Do With More Money?

Fourth in a series looking at the new Washington Adequacy Funding Study by Dr. David Conley, released by the WEA last Thursday.

Last week my local council put on a Take the Lead Talk, sharing numbers and making an exceptionally strong case that school funding hasn’t kept up with inflation, that the schools haven’t gotten the same level of fiscal support that they did 20 years ago, and showing why this is considered a crisis by many. One of the numbers that they’re using is that each student on average comes with $548 less than they did 13 years ago, adjusted by inflation. The Conley report suggests that the state would need to spend $3,613 more per child to meet the “paramount duty” clause of the state constitution.

My district has about 2000 students, 600 of which attend my school. Using the Take the Lead figure would provide about $1,000,000 more for my district, while the Conley figure would mean $7 million dollars more. Conley seems pie-in-the-sky, so let’s play with the Take the Lead number. If my district received a million dollars, about $300,000 would come to my school. Here’s what I would spend that money on:

*A gifted education program for my school. Daily pull-out for math and reading with effectiveness measured by the NWEA MAP assessment that we do in the fall and spring. Some of the money could be used for programs like EPGY from Stanford or the CTY program through Johns Hopkins that would allow those kids to work at their own pace and take the experience home with them. We’re told that a teacher costs about $65 to $70 thousand dollars a year; let’s use the high number and give them a $5,000 budget to work with. Total cost: $75,000.

*Expanding the intervention programs we have in place. I receive 3 hours a week of per diem time for running the before school intervention for 1st and 2nd grade, which is a $100 a week for 20 kids (I’m cheap!). In the course of a 36-week school year that’s only $3,600.

The trick is that not every kid who needs intervention can attend the before school program; if I could also offer an after-school program I could probably double the number of kids served. Under our contract the after-school programs are treated a little differently, so it would cost about $600 for every 15 hours of the program. Let’s double that to pay for extended school hours for two paraprofessionals, so $1200. We could work 10 different 3-week sessions into the school year. If someone else did 3-4 and 5-6, you’d multiply it by 3, then by 10 for the number of sessions. Total cost: $36,000.

*A dedicated science teacher. Not a science coach—someone like the art teacher or the music teacher with their own classroom, who can work through the kits with the kids, who can handle the set-up and clean-up, monitor supplies, and keep abreast of everything that’s going on in the state with the science GLEs and the expansion of LASER in my area. The costs would roughly be the same as for the gifted ed teacher, but I’ll give the science teacher double the money for materials. Total cost: $80,000.

*Expanded summer school. Last year we only had enough money in our extended learning fund to offer a four-week ½ day program, which ended up only being 14 days because of the 4th of July holiday. Double the time to 8 weeks and add another hour a day. Also, if we could pay for a bus to pick up those kids who go to summer school we’d get a lot better attendance. Total cost: $20,000.

*Playground aides. At my school the paraprofessionals have to do recess duty, which sends them out for a half an hour a day. The first and second grade teachers have a half hour of lunch duty, which could be used for common planning, data analysis, or remedial activities. Total cost: $15,000.

* A dedicated parapro for our kindergarten classroom. We have three sessions in the morning and two in the afternoon; if there was a full-time person available that they could use for intervention, it would make a big difference. Total cost: $30,000.

*Finally, a session of full-day kindergarten. It would only be for the kids who are identified as needing it, and maybe that involves a shuffle after a few weeks of the year as we recognize which ones need the intervention and which ones don’t, but I firmly believe that any kind of gap (economic, racial, or otherwise) can be eliminated IN ONE YEAR if we use the right programs and do the right things. For the cost basis, assume half a teacher. Total Cost: $35,000.

*There’s $291,000. Put the rest into professional development, and that’s that.

There’s also a laundry list of things that I didn’t include: reading coach, math coach, money to buy-out the contract and extend the school day an hour (that would take the whole $300k), an assistant principal, software packages, more field trips, offering breakfast, giving me a raise, books for the classroom, bookshelves, a dedicated computer teacher who could use the national tech standards to make sure our kids are on track, an upgrade to our network, etc., etc.

These are examples of just some of the choices we have to make. Granted, some of those are luxuries, but should the school have to choose between luxuries or basics?

At a meeting I was at the other night someone threw out this quote:

You can build a child or repair an adult.

It’s time to get serious about building kids.

Read more here, if any.

The Conley Report, Part III (Section 1.1): What is Adequacy?

To review, here’s what the state constitution says:

It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.

The key word in there is “ample”; it’s what the Washington Association of School Administrators seized on for their Ample School Funding Project, and to answer the question of what adequacy is the report offers these two definitions of ample:

Generous or more than adequate in size, scope or capacity
Generously sufficient to satisfy a requirement or need

There’s also a review of the four learning goals embodied in the 1993 revision of the Basic Education Act, which was the genesis of the WASL, and ties the section all together with this:

Productive citizens pay taxes and participate in civic institutions, thereby strengthening the state. For these and a host of other reasons, it is incumbent upon the state to consider what constitutes an adequate level of finding for public education, one that will ensure that school have the means to enable all Washington students to meet state performance outcomes. (p. 2)

Ask anyone in the schools and they’ll tell you that there’s not nearly enough capital available to meet those expectations. Ask many outside of education and they’ll tell you that they can’t see pouring more money into a system that they perceive as failing. It’s a "never the twain shall meet" sort of deal that I’m guessing will eventually have to be resolved by the courts.

To me adequacy means that I have the means to meet the needs of all the kids in my school, both high and low, without having to choose between the two. But let's save that for the next post!

Read more here, if any.

The Conley Report, Part II: Two asides

They really could have made it a lot prettier, like the Education Sector does with their reports. Hell, they even could have borrowed from the folks over at The Fordham Foundation. If anything the summary report is worse, with two pages worth of content packed onto each 8 x 11 sheet.

From the Acknowledgements (page xvii):

EPIC would like to thank all the dedicated Washington school administrators who participated in the survey, simulations, and/or meetings in Washington, to determine the expenditures necessary to provide all Washington students with an adequate education.

Maybe I’m too sensitive to these things, but I would have liked to have seen a mention of the teachers somewhere in there. They were involved, right?


Read more here, if any.

Monday, February 26, 2007


That little guy that you look at and think, “My God, is he ever ADD!”? There’s research to show that his acting out might be the sign of something more serious. From February’s edition of Edutopia Magazine:

If a child acts inattentive and hyperactive in school, chances are very good he (it’s usually a boy) will be diagnosed with ADHD. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects an estimated 8-12 percent of children worldwide. The designation is so common it’s become a casual synonym for being scatterbrained (“I’m totally ADD today”), and its prevalence is self-propogating—the more people are aware of the disorder, the more likely they are to claim it as the cause of a problem.

Beyond the overdiagnosis of kids who are hyper but healthy, there’s a graver consequence to this attention-deficit bandwagon. A small but growing body of research confirms what is, so far, a little-known fact—that the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can look exactly like those of ADHD. In other words, a distractible, impulsive irritable child who looks to a teacher or caregiver like a classic ADHD case may actually be struggling to cope with abuse, divorce, natural disaster, or another serious trauma. It can be hard to tell the difference; in a 1994 study by researchers at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, trained interviewers assessed a group of troubled children and, not knowing the children were sexually abused, diagnosed 46 percent of them with ADHD.

Something to consider before we pass the pills. You can find the whole article here.

You can get a free subscription to Edutopia at the link. It’s a nice read.

Read more here, if any.

The Conley Report, Part I: Executive Summary

First in a series of looks at the Washington Adequacy Funding Study by Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon, and a good guess as to where the school funding lawsuit might go.

The very first sentence of the report is that pesky quote from the state constitution:

The constitution of the state of Washington declares, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” This establishes education funding as the highest priorities for the state.

We then review the methodology, which is similar to what Picus and Odden did in the Washington Learns report, before they get into the specific interventions required to meet the obligation laid out by the state constitution. Found on page v of the introduction, these include:

  • Full day kindergarten
  • Class size reduction in the elementary grades
  • “Career Academies” at the high school level
  • Expanded time, through summer school or tutoring
  • Expanded ELL programs
  • Additional extracurricular programs
  • More professional development
  • Coaches for teachers
  • Better training for substitutes
  • Support for Sped teachers to reduce the paperwork load
  • An upgrade to the technology replacement cycle
  • Counselors!
  • Parent involvement and outreach coordinators
  • Behavior support programs
  • Additional campus security

I’m assuming that each area will be expanded on as we work our way through the report.

The executive summary also gets into the numbers, which are startling (page vi):

This study determined that the average per student expenditure level needed to provide an adequate education to every K-12 Washington student in 2004-2005 was $11,678. This is $3,613 per student above the baseline level, or a 45% increase. As noted above, the study employed multiple methods in a progressive fashion to generate an increasingly precise final figure.

For a district my size (2000 kids), that would mean about $7,000,000 more.


If I knew how to embed sounds in HTML, I’d put a whistle effect here.

The report also calls for more salary differentiation beyond what is provided for in the salary allocation model (SAM) that we go off of, better known as the state salary schedule:

The comparable teacher wage analyses yielded recommendations for teacher salary increases of 28% in Seattle, 27% in Richland, 16% in Tacoma, and 17% in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area…… The school-level hedonic model indicated a need for salary increases of $3,000 per teacher in schools where 60%-80% of the student population was low-income and increases of $5,000 per teacher in schools where 80%-100% of the student population was low-income. These wage adjustments would increase the ability of all schools and districts to recruit and retain the best teachers and would create a greater likelihood that schools and districts with high proportions of low-income students would be able to compete for the best teachers with schools and districts with lower proportions.

This again echoes some of the work that was done with Washington Learns, previously blogged about here, where they too recommended salary differentiation by region (and I’ll say again that I can’t understand how Richland, of the Tri-Cities, can be almost as expensive as Seattle).

I also don’t see the problem with offering salary incentives to try and lure teachers to high-need schools. The official story from the WEA is that we should raise salaries for all teachers and go from there, but I don’t think it’s a bad entry point to raise salaries for some teachers and then work on getting everyone else to follow.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Merit Pay: The Worst-Case Scenario

It does seem like the national case for merit pay for teachers is picking up steam. It’s ingrained in the Aspen Commission report, it’s a consistent theme in nearly everything that comes out of Fordham, and it’s the darling of school reformers everywhere. The trick is places like Houston, where the ham-handed implementation of their merit pay system has teachers in a fury. From Education Week:

In the largest district level performance pay program in the country, the Houston Independent School District for the first time doled out $14 million in staff bonuses last month. But once the Houston Chronicle published the names and awards of the more than 7,400 staff members who received the cash bonuses—ranging from $100 to more than $7,000—many people, including teachers, parents, and students, were left angered and wondering why some of their school’s most esteemed teachers were overlooked while others were rewarded.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Gayle Fallon, the president of the 6,300-member Houston Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFT. “We have teachers who are on ‘growth plans’—which isn’t a good thing—getting bonuses.”

These are the stories that will be passed around like folk tales when some district here in Washington takes the leap and tries it, and these are the problems that merit pay supporters don’t have ready answers to. Why would teachers risk public embarrassment for $100? How can we distinguish between the luck of the draw and truly effective teaching when it comes to evaluating the growth of a classroom?

Houston’s superintendent didn’t help things, either, when he announced those who earned the bonuses as the cream of the crop and praised their dedication, which may well be true but also sends a message about those who did not receive the bonuses. And when the local paper publishes the name of everyone who got the bonus, it’s pretty easy (if unfair) to draw conclusions.

I read a lot about and think a lot about merit pay; maybe when I write my doctorate I’ll research it more.

Read more here, if any.

Mo’ Mobility

This has been the most topsy-turvy year that I’ve had in a long time. Since the beginning of the year I’ve lost 5 kids and gained 4; one of my kids is both a gain and a loss, as he came in November and left last week after 50 days of school. Two more kids have indicated that they probably won’t be here to the end of the year and at least two are moving over the summer, so I won’t be sending very many kids on to the 2nd grade rooms at all.

Our mobility is sort of different from that you see at other schools. I teach at an air force base, so as they are transferred around the military they come and go. We don’t have the migrant population, like Yakima, or the poverty, like parts of Spokane and Seattle, because if you come to our school at least one of your parents has a job—in the military. Given that, I can’t complain.

One of the projects that I’ve always meant to do was to make a checklist for when new kids come during the year; right now I typically spend that morning scrambling to get ready, and the next couple days remembering things they need. I’d better get that done before my student teacher leaves.

Read more here, if any.

What I'm Reading This Weekend!

I've been looking forward to this for a couple of weeks now, and it's finally here: the adequacy study from David Conley of the U of O. Full disclosure requires that we point out that the WEA was one of the underwriters of the proposal, but it's still a big event in that there's finally a pricetag to associate with Take the Lead.

I'll be picking it apart by section, but at first glance I think this is a good bookend to the Picus and Odden report from Washington Learns. It might be time to update the Top Stories in Education list.....

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Well, That’s Counterintuitive

The schools are doing a great job! It’s true, because I read it in EdWeek:

In 2003, 75 percent of students ages 12 to 17 met or exceeded the appropriate academic level for their age, up from 69 percent in 1994, says a report by the US Census Bureau.

The report added that nearly one of every four students in the 12- to 17-year-old age group was classified as gifted or participated in academically advanced programs as of the 2002-2003 school year. The study also found that 67 percent of 3- to 5- year olds that year had restrictions on what television programs they could watch, when, and for how long, compared with 54 percent in 1994. The study, based on the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, included 73 million children.

“A Child’s Day: 2003” is online at

The notion that 1/4th of all kids are gifted is a dangerous one; the only that that works is if you’ve watered down the definition of “gifted” so far that it’s become meaningless. It’s also an interesting exercise to compare what this report says to what the NAEP says, and what we’ve heard for the last 5 years since NCLB came to life.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

WAETAG, You’re It

The newsletter from the Washington Association for Educators of Talented and Gifted came in the mail a couple of weeks ago. It’s a high-quality publication, maybe my favorite of all the state-level professional organizations that I’m a part of, and this issue had a couple of interesting tidbits to comment on:

  1. Because of some movement at the top, Barb Sailors is filling in as president of WAETAG for the remainder of the year. If you’re involved with gifted education in the state, or with the Destination: Imagination! program that she chairs, you know Barb. She’s one of the most knowledgeable, genuine people that I’ve met in my teaching career, and I’m sure she has the thanks of everyone at WAETAG for stepping up in this time of need.

  2. One of their lobbying goals this year is to have the state fund 3% of a district’s enrollment instead of the current 2%, and to raise the amount paid per pupil from $349.48 to $380.76. This would mean an extra $443.32 for every 100 student in a district; my 2000-student district would stand to gain about $9,000 if this came to be.

  3. Their revamped website looks terrific!

Teaching gifted ed full time would be a tough, rewarding job. There’s not a whole lot of security in it, but that’s a fun segment of kids. I’ve been working with three high math third graders, and all three of them just made it on to the 4th grade Math is Cool team, and they are as excited as if they just won the Superbowl.

Read more here, if any.

Education Week on the Seattle Public Schools

Complete article here, but the beginning gives you most of the story:

Seattle has joined the growing list of urban districts where policymakers are eyeing changes in school governance.

A bill pending in the Washington state legislature, introduced late last month by three lawmakers from the city, would permit citizens to petition to hold a local referendum on switching from the elected board to an appointed panel. While the measure would apply to all of the state’s 296 school districts, it’s aimed squarely at Seattle, where critics say the school board has failed to address critical issues, including closing schools that are underenrolled.

“I’m doing this because I’ve heard from my constituents just incredible frustration with the Seattle school district,” state Senator Ed Murray, a Democrat and the bill’s lead author, said last week.

The Bill is SB 5535 (press release here, text of the bill here), which Murray is sponsoring along with Ken Jacobson and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, both of Seattle.

Seattle did manage to pass both their bond issues last month, which really surprised me—given all the bad PR about their schools, and the new prevalence of vote-by-mail here in Washington, I was pretty sure that at least one would go down. Perhaps the residents are saving their venom for the school board recall effort, or maybe things are leveling out.

Good luck to their next superintendent (who won’t be Spokane’s Brian Benzel—he just took a job with Whitworth); that person will need all the luck and well-wishes they can muster.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Research question

There are research based goals for how many words a child should be able to read per minute. On my 1st grade team we use the 50 wcpm from the Hasbrouck-Tindal ORF norms.

What we're wondering is, are there similar goals established for math facts fluency? We assess them based on 2-minute timings of facts with answers up to 12 (that comes from the state grade level expectations for math), but we can't find any research that says "A child at the 50th %ile can correctly answer 20 addition problems in 2 minutes" or something similar.

Any ideas?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Data Mine-ing

In a sort of spinoff of yesterday's post and my offering to the Tracking Gods, here's the real live numbers from my before school intervention program.

BSP Intervention Data For Naming and Action Verbs
Kid Pre % Post% Change
Mi 4 80% 10 100% 20%
Ni 5 100% 9 90% -10%
Dr 5 100% 10 100% 0%
Eg 4 80% 10 100% 20%
Ma 3 60% 9 90% 30%
Vi 3 60% 7 70% 10%
Ha 5 100% 9 90% -10%
Ja 3 60% 5 50% -10%
Mi 5 100% 10 100% 0%
Ma 4 80% 10 100% 20%
Tr 2 40% 7 70% 30%
Dr 5 100% 10 100% 0%
Co 2 40% 8 80% 40%
Ka 2 40% 9 90% 50%
Al 5 100% 10 100% 0%
Ca 4 80% 10 100% 20%
Fe 4 80% 10 100% 20%
Averages 4 76% 9 90% 14%

So, what can I learn from all this?
  • Three kids didn't grow at all, but that's deceptive because they were already at 100%. Two of the three kids who had a score drop went from 100% to 90%, which isn't a big deal.
  • Some of the gains are pretty good, Ka and Co especially. I think I can reasonably say that the intervention worked for them.
  • Little Ja, on the other hand, was below standard (we set it at 70%) before we began, and he actually dropped down to 60% after the two weeks of intervention.

Under the RTI framework Ja would move on to the next level of intervention, but here's the trick: we don't have one. I don't have the para time to be able to reteach it, and I'm certainly not going to initiate a sped referral based on trouble with naming and action words. This is a subject area that I should let go begging because of the time and manpower issues, but then I'm conceding defeat, and that doesn't feel right either.

At what point do you let go, say "He doesn't get it right now!", and hope for the best?

Read more here, if any.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Data Rich, Time and Manpower Poor

We've made a sea-change in my grade level team this year that would make any ed researcher giggle like a school girl.

It's a function of the Professional Learning Communities process that we began three years ago. We've finally gotten to the stage where we all are using the same assessment (theme skills tests from the Houghton-Mifflin reading series) and sharing our data. S takes all our scores (which are broken out by grammar, high frequency words, spelling skills, etc.) and puts them on a big spreadsheet so that we can see exactly which kid mastered which skill and which skills had the biggest failure rates.

The piece that we're struggling with is the "What do you do when a child doesn't get it?" step. Each theme test has about 12 to 14 areas on it; we look at the 3 that had the most trouble (this past test it was identifying nouns and verbs, using the 's possessive, and inflectional verb endings) and invite every kid who fails in any one of those three areas. For the kids who came we had an intensive 2 week bootcamp, 4 days a week, where we hit those three skills hard and fast. At the end I wrote up a new post-test based off of the theme skills test, and most of the kids showed good growth in the areas that they were identified for.

We're dealing with three distinct problems, though:

1) What do you do with the kids who still aren't getting a particular concept? Take inflectional verb endings (-ing, -ed, -s), for example. It's going to spiral up again in our reading curriculum, and they're going to get ample practice with it, so is it crucial that they pass a test RIGHT NOW?

What we've chosen to do is put together packets to send home to the parents so that they can practice those skills with their kids, but to truly see if that works or not I'll need to write another assessment on those areas and test them again, and the cynic in me wonders if it's really worth the trouble.

2) Then there's the kids who were invited to the before school progam but didn't come, about 10 in all. Ideally I would be able to make the time during the school day to intervene with them, but the twin competing pressures of time and curriculum make that a damn hard thing to do. With a student teacher I have the ability, right now, but when she goes away in March the time just won't be there any more.

3) Touching on the curriculum aspect of it, it's not like time has stopped while we try to remediate the skills they didn't get. We've moved into the long vowels (tough for 1st graders, believe me) for theme 6, but I'm still working with some kids on skills from theme 3 and 4. At what point do we let go and move on?

It feels good to be using the data the right way, and I can see the potential this holds to really help our students achieve to their maximum. My problem is that I'm getting burnt out in a hurry; last week I spent a minimum of 10 hours planning the remedial curriculum and pulling together the packets we need, and that's hard time to find with a baby at home and all the other obligations.

And that's why I drink.

Labels: ,

Read more here, if any.

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's Flu Season

In Kent a 7-year old girl died from the flu, and Seattle's Bishop Blanchett High School closed after 300 of the 1000 students stayed home sick on Wednesday. It's been working it's way through the Pierce County schools, and in my own district there are some classes that have had 50% absentee rates.

My student teacher swears by Airborne; I'm one of those lucky bastards who can usually shake any illness with a good night's sleep.

Update: The flu is also hitting Yakima along with Edmonds and Snohomish County.


Read more here, if any.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pflug Pflubs

I’ve had this one sitting in my “to blog” pile for a while now, but this Tacoma News-Tribune commentary from State Senator Cheryl Pflug is a classic example of someone having just enough information to be dangerous:
When 49 percent of Washington’s high school sophomores – about 34,000 kids – failed to pass the math portion of the WASL in 2006, parents started screaming, and rightly so. Almost half of those students don’t have the skills required for a diploma.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson responded first by blaming educators for not “getting it right.” They said teachers need retraining and our kids need to take more classes.

Their plan is that our kids must either pass the WASL or stay in “rigorous math classes” until graduation – whether or not they actually pass the courses. Terrific motivator, huh?

While the fact that only 40 percent of our math teachers have math degrees is an issue, it isn’t the main problem.

The biggest problem is that our curriculum isn’t working.

Washington schools use the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics approach, which is weak in basic computational skills. When students don’t get the basics, they fail in more advanced courses. Sadly, they also conclude, “I’m not good in math.”

Since U.S. schools adopted NCTM standards, student math scores have plummeted nationwide. Savvy states such as Massachusetts, Indiana and California dumped NCTM in favor of internationally accepted standards, because students in these programs are preferred hands-down by college admissions deans and employers. Washington policymakers should follow their example.

Bergeson, who did her doctoral work with NCTM, and others continue to defend it – despite the lack of effective curriculum. In fact, the math teachers in my local junior high say they’ve logged more than 40 hours of prep time, each developing their own classroom curriculum to support these ineffective standards.

That’s a lot of work for an inferior outcome. A call for retraining is a slap in the face to teachers who are working overtime to make an impossible situation work. Instead of getting a pat on the back for struggling to create a curriculum that will work, teachers hear the superintendent say that they are the problem.

Retraining and more study will not get us there. We legislators need to take a stand for kids, parents and teachers who are being force-fed a math experiment that has already failed. It is tragic that we must delay the WASL requirement for graduation, because our students can’t afford to keep waiting. However, if we must delay, let’s at least fix the problem.

I recommend calling a small advisory committee of legislators and math teachers who can:

Identify clear and realistic grade-level expectations so teachers know clearly what skills students must master.

• Design school-based tutorial programs funded with Initiative 728 dollars. Helping students pass makes more sense than keeping them in classes where they aren’t succeeding, a move that will likely displace other necessary coursework.

• Fix the math WASL, which currently demands significant English and writing skills. Let’s make sure kids aren’t failing math because they don’t have English skills.

Why doggedly insist our students go down with the ship? Our kids are just as competent as those in other countries. Let’s dump our stubborn adherence to a failed curriculum and adopt a plan that works.

The problems are legion:

  1. Blaming the NCTM for weaknesses in computation just doesn’t work any more, with the release of the curriculum focal points, and things fall apart even farther when you note that teaching computation is fully embedded in the Grade Level Expectations for math.
  2. I get that, maybe, there isn’t space to cite research in an opinion column, but Pflug’s information about Massachusetts, Indiana and California is right out of the Fordham Foundation’s State of State Standards Report 2006, especially the forward by Joanne Jacobs which focuses on those three states directly.
  3. She says that Terry Bergeson did her doctoral work with the NCTM. I think that they would be as surprised as anyone to know that they can grant advanced degrees. For the record, her EdD is from the University of Washington.
  4. “I recommend calling a small advisory committee of legislators and math teachers who can identify clear and realistic grade-level expectations so teachers know clearly what skills students must master.” We have these, Senator. They’re called, oddly enough, the Grade Level Expectations, and we’ve already spent money hand over fist developing them.
  5. If you really want to make a difference, put more effort into making sure that the curriculum used in the state is aligned with what we’re asking the kids to do. Tell the schools that they can only use those curriculums that have passed state muster, especially for remedial and Title purposes.
  6. “Fix the math WASL, which currently demands significant English and writing skills.” Really? I’ve looked at the math WASL and the released answers, and I wouldn’t personally call what they’re asking for a significant demand.

I’ll continue to maintain that the problem we’re having with math in Washington is one where the blame can be shared equally among all the involved parties. The solution is not to run away or restart—it’s to continue pushing and doing everything we can for every child to meet these 10th grade standards.

Read more here, if any.

Show Me the Money, Part II: No Salary Schedule Shall Contain Me!

James Carlson, a Uniserv director in Wisconsin, has launched an initiative called the Educator Compensation Institute, which “aims to be an information clearinghouse on educator pay, especially systems that go beyond the standard grid based on years of experience and postgraduate credits,” according to the article in Education Week.

You can find it at

Read more here, if any.

Pity the Innocent Cell Phones

From EdWeek:

The Milwaukee school district wants cell phones and other electronic devices banned in an effort to improve school safety.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos has told principals they must craft policies banning cell phones and electronic pagers in the 90,000-student district when the second semester starts on Jan. 29.

The changes come after violence marred the first half of the school year, including an incident this month at Bradley Tech High School in which dozens of people fought inside and outside the school. Mr. Andrekopoulos said that this year there have been incidents at nine schools that involved adults responding to cell pone calls and attacking people at the school.

Students are not allowed to use cellular phones during the school day, but the rules are often disregarded. There would still be some exceptions for students to use cell phones, such as medical conditions, the superintendent said.

Is there any reason to think that the new rule will work if they didn’t bother to enforce the old one? And didn’t we just see this story last year?

Read more here, if any.

The NEA and School Improvement

The top-of-the-front-page headline for January 24ths edition of Education Week is “NEA Wants Role in School Improvement Agenda,” and it’s a great overview of where the union has been over the past decade, beginning with Bob Chase’s New Unionism and going right through to the debate over NCLB today. Some highlights:

(In the years since the passing of NCLB) the NEA has seemed to publicly obsess over the law, which was passed with big, bipartisan majorities and was signed by President Bush in January 2002. First, NEA leaders said they’d help affiliates minimize harm from the law in their states. Then, in 2003, President Reg Weaver announced from the dais of the annual convention that the union would challenge the measure in court. “Any pretense of support has been swept away,” declared the union’s long-time legal counsel, Robert H. Chanin.

One of the problems that I think Kerry had in 2004 was his opposition to the war. He said he was against it, but that’s pretty much where the message stopped, and that’s way too nebulous for voters to be able to hand their hats on. It’s the same with the NEA and NCLB—it’s not enough to be simply against it, you have to identify the problems with the law and propose a better way. You also have to admit that there is a problem, which presents difficulties of its own for the association:

(Talking about the disagreement between the NAACP and NEA over NCLB) But the tension is unlikely to evaporate, in part because the members of the union teach mostly in relatively untroubled schools. “A lot of the time, in suburbs and small cities, you can pretend everything is great,” said Nancy Flanagan, an award-winning teacher and a member of the Michigan Education Association who is now studying for a doctorate in education. “The AFT is in big, tough cities,” she said, where the problems can’t be so easily ignored.

I’m a little surprised that EdWeek let this go unchallenged. Cynically one could argue that if the NEA schools are “relatively untroubled,” then we should be begging them to come into more of our schools and work their magic. New York City is an AFT affiliate, I know, but I think it’s far too large a generalization to suggest that the big cities aren’t NEA territory.

And we end with the token crackpot:

Martin Haberman, an expert on urban teaching, contends that the teachers’ unions are bound so tightly to an unimaginative view of members’ interests that they are unable to make any positive contribution. “I don’t see either the NEA or the AFT as important participants in seeking to transform schools or to change them in any way that would have a salutary effect on student learning,” he charged in an email.

(sigh) Martin, friend, the NEA and the AFT collectively represent better than 4 million teachers nationwide. If you write them off as unimportant, you’re making the job of improving schools that much harder. I’d be interested, too, in having a dialogue as to what an imaginative view of members’ interests would look like.

Overall, a great article for anyone interested in the interplay between unions and education. You can read it off of EdWeek’s website, here, or I’ve pasted it below.

NEA Wants Role in School Improvement Agenda
Track record, friends, foes, and union’s own affiliates could derail undertaking.
By Bess Keller

It’s a new day, of sorts, for the nation’s largest union.

Democratic majorities in Congress should give the National Education Association friendlier treatment in Washington than it’s received during most of the past six years. And in statehouses across the land, two-thirds of the gubernatorial hopefuls the 3.2 million-member teachers’ union supported in November have taken office.

Backing up the electoral clout are sheer numbers. The union expects this to be the third year of significant membership growth—about 40,000 new members came aboard during the 2005-06 school year, according to Executive Director John I. Wilson.

Union officials point to an organizational overhaul begun in late 2004 as one big reason for the ballot-box and membership-sign-up successes. What’s more, they say, the second phase of the makeover, just completed, will beef up the union’s ability to speak authoritatively on questions of education policy and practice.

Yet how much the National Education Association can make all that pay off remains a guess, given escalating pressures from friends and foes alike and the changing education landscape. Both the NEA and its smaller peer, the American Federation of Teachers, face a new and less doctrinaire group of critics, some drawn from Democratic Party ranks. Those critics and many of the civil rights groups that have been traditional allies of the unions are impatient with the pace of student progress among the nation’s poor and non-English-speaking students.

At the same time, federal budget deficits and an increased productivity mind-set among lawmakers are ruling out big-spending solutions. So, sometimes, instead of seeing lots more money for schools, the unions are getting closer scrutiny of contracts that appear to give teachers more generous deals than those offered to private-sector workers.

External pressures to step up school improvement aren’t the whole story, though. The NEA’s history since the early 1980s suggests that it has fumbled the reins of reform against a variety of political and economic backdrops. The AFT fared at least marginally better under the legendary Albert Shanker, who died in 1997.

Now, both unions are being tested most visibly by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the nation’s main vehicle for school improvement, which is up for reauthorization this year. Both have called for substantial changes in the law’s provisions. Whether the unions will be able to shape that or other parts of the national agenda for school improvement hinges not just on their political muscle. As a new Congress and new state leaders set to work, the unions must bring credibility to their efforts as self-described proponents of public education.

This is the first of two articles looking at how the NEA and, next week, the AFT are stacking up as reform leaders.

Naysayer Image
The movement to put high-quality education at the center of the NEA’s concerns may have reached its peak in the late 1990s, with then-President Bob Chase’s “new unionism.”

Launched with a 1997 speech by Mr. Chase at the National Press Club in Washington, the undertaking largely followed a blueprint from the Kamber Group, a Washington public relations firm that had examined the union’s external communications and issued a report to NEA leaders that year. The report suggested that Mr. Chase admit publicly to some bad teachers in the ranks and take a couple of actions in support of education quality that would help the union shake its obstructionist image.

“NEA has been perceived as unwilling to acknowledge certain problems in education, costing the organization some credibility as a legitimate voice for reform,” the report said. There was also an impression, according to the study, that the NEA would pass up legitimate solutions because they might “inconvenience members.”

Some observers saw the new direction as an affirmation of the NEA’s traditional self-definition as a professional association rather than a union. As such, any stance by teachers would be for the greater good of the profession, the schools, and the students they serve.

The Kamber Group pointed out the immense public relations benefits of that image and urged the union to position itself as the No. 1 champion of public education.

Few observers of the union question Mr. Chase’s genuine interest in elevating the teaching profession to help schools improve. And the two-term NEA leader did bring about some changes in direction. He waged a successful campaign to allow teachers to evaluate their peers for example.

NCLB Strategy
In the end, though, his stance was not able to win the NEA any significant role in shaping the No Child Left Behind law after Republicans won the White House in 2000 and controlled Congress for all but a two-year period till this month. The AFT, which had championed standards and talked tougher about teacher shortcomings, fared better: It at least got the ear of the Democratic leaders who supported the bill.

If that wasn’t bad enough for the larger union, in the years since, the NEA has seemed to publicly obsess over the law, which was passed with big, bipartisan majorities and was signed by President Bush in January 2002.

NEA leaders said they’d help affiliates minimize harm from the law in their states. Then, in 2003, President Reg Weaver announced from the dais of the annual convention that the union would challenge the measure in court. “Any pretense of support has been swept away,” declared the union’s longtime legal counsel, Robert H. Chanin.

The suit, which charged that the law imposed illegal “unfunded mandates,” was later dismissed by a U.S. District Court and is currently on appeal.

The NEA was never able to find a state that would join its legal action. Connecticut, however, later brought a parallel lawsuit, and that led to another blow—this one indicative of tension over the law between the NEA and many minority groups. The groups see the measure’s focus on ending achievement gaps as a boon. Reportedly refusing to be swayed by the union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, long an ally, filed a brief in opposition to the Connecticut suit.

The NEA responded by bumping up the priority of relations with minority groups, and trumpeting its own commitment to closing achievement gaps. But the tension is unlikely to evaporate, in part because the members of the union teach mostly in relatively untroubled schools.

“A lot of the time, in suburbs and small cities, you can pretend everything is great,” said Nancy Flanagan, an award-winning teacher and a member of the Michigan Education Association who is now studying for a doctorate in education. “The AFT is in big, tough cities,” she said, where the problems can’t be so easily ignored.

The union’s leaders are thus under pressure to fight the No Child Left Behind law. On the other hand, they lose if in the process they damage traditional alliances or their ability to do business on Capitol Hill, where little sentiment exists for throwing the law out or significantly weakening its accountability provisions.

Barbara Kerr, the president of the NEA’s largest state affiliate, the California Teachers Association, faults the national union for not coming down harder, earlier on the law. But she says that misstep has now been righted with a plan for its revision that was passed at the union’s last Representative Assembly.

“The most important thing to the membership at this point that the NEA has improved on is NCLB,” Ms. Kerr said. “That’s the biggie.”

To craft the plan, the national union rounded up affiliate leaders, among others, to shape what it calls a “positive” agenda. Last fall, it even disassociated itself from an Internet petition drive led by NCLB super-critic Susan Ohanian that has drawn thousands of teacher signatures. Nonetheless, the blueprint backs off from little the union has said before. It would allow states to cut down on annual tests and would require the federal government to foot the bill for any NCLB-mandated change, for instance.

“They don’t know where they are going,” scoffed one Washington policy insider, referring to the NEA. “Their sole purpose seems to be to fight NCLB.”

Like many people interviewed for this story, he did not want to be named for fear of harming his relationships with people in the NEA, with its $307 million budget and some 14,000 local affiliates.

Policy Push
The NEA’s top management recognizes that generating serious public discussion about teaching and learning has not been the union’s strength. So after now-Deputy Director John C. Stocks, who had been brought in from the Wisconsin affiliate in 2003, overhauled the NEA’s political and recruitment operations, his boss went to work on policy.

“NEA does [lobbying] and politics well,” observed Executive Director Wilson in the fall. “Now, we have to make sure the NEA does content well, too.”

Mr. Wilson’s solution was to create the Center for Great Public Schools, bringing together seven departments that he plans to oversee himself for a year. The work of the center will range from how the federal government’s “in need of improvement” label for schools affects minority communities to defining what successful schools need from policymakers.

“It will allow NEA to be more proactive … as opposed to just criticizing,” said Joel Packer, the union’s chief lobbyist on the NCLB law who now also heads one of those departments, which includes student-achievement and school improvement concerns.

With a closer-knit organization and a deeper policy operation thanks to the overhaul, Mr. Wilson envisions that the power of the state affiliates, often the most influential groups in state capitals, will translate into NEA clout. The parent organization has awarded grants to 10 affiliates—Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania—to help them win policies and funding for closing achievement gaps.

“We’re building a critical mass within the states,” said Mr. Wilson. “We think it’s important to moving a federal agenda.”

‘Role Clarification’
While John Wilson is often quietly circulating at NEA events, the union’s highest elected leader, President Reg Weaver, typically sweeps in bringing a boatload of bonhomie. Grinning, hugging, even kissing the occasional female hand, he is unmistakable, with or without the hand-carved cane he sometimes requires.

“He really connects with teachers,” gushed Denise Cardinal, who worked in the NEA’s communications office before becoming a spokeswoman for the Minnesota office of America Votes, an advocacy group.

Indeed, Mr. Weaver is known more for rallying the troops and pressing the cause of poor and minority students than for his interest in policy or research.

Both Mr. Weaver and Mr. Wilson, who was hired under Bob Chase, concede that they haven’t always clicked. “Having changed [presidents], you have got to work very hard on role clarification,” Mr. Wilson said of the transition after Mr. Weaver’s election in 2002. “We spent a lot of time doing that early on.”

More than his recent predecessors, the current NEA president prefers to control communication with the public. Reporters are welcome to call him, for instance, but calls to others in the organization must go through the public relations office.

Mr. Weaver says such care is deliberate. He’s proud of the work he’s done around “messaging.”

“I looked at people who didn’t like us, and I saw what brought them success,” the leader recounted in a recent interview. “They had a message, they were staying on message, and we didn’t have one.”

It took months of discussion, focus groups, and polling, but eventually the union arrived at a slogan that helps conflate the interests of the union and students. “Great public schools are a basic right for every child” is now emblazoned on union publications. “Basic right” is a nod to minority groups, many grounded in struggles for civil rights. “Every child” echoes the universal concern of “No Child Left Behind.”

“I want to be known as the organization that’s working to close the achievement gap,” Mr. Weaver said, “that’s working to make sure every child has access to a great public school.”

Rear Guard
Some observers wonder whether the message discipline leaves room for even internal discussion of what it will take to make schools better. “I fear there’s little debate, substantive debate, about quality education and how to quantify it,” said a local NEA-paid union director who did not want to be named.

Others note that the NEA lags behind the AFT as a participant in the same discussions among policymakers and school advocates. Elected leaders in both the NEA and its state affiliates, many of whom have term limits, seem not to be in office long enough to take risks. Equally important, the power of some of the NEA’s large affiliates in labor strongholds such as California and New Jersey helps keeps the parent union wedded to worker rights over professional concerns. The 1.3 million-member AFT, in contrast, stays away from term limits and has few large state affiliates.

Many of the most talked-about school improvement ideas go against NEA policies or those of some of its most powerful affiliates: paying teachers more to teach some subjects than others, rewarding individual teachers for their students’ performance, toughening up the requirements for teacher tenure, reducing the prerogatives of seniority, establishing charter schools (unless they meet a long list of conditions), and giving out tuition vouchers.

“Rather than encouraging innovation, the NEA gives undue voice to its rear guard” through its structures and culture, Brad Jupp, a former union activist, wrote in an e-mail. As a member of the NEA-affiliated Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Mr. Jupp led an overhaul of Denver’s teacher-pay system that won approval from the local union, the school board, and voters. He now works as a senior adviser for the district.

Mike Antonucci, a teachers’ union watchdog who writes an online newsletter from his base in Elk Grove, Calif., contends that “the only reforms that come out of the unions are reforms that benefit the unions,” such as class-size reduction, which adds to the number of teachers who can be recruited.

Still, he acknowledged—echoing others—the AFT at least is more likely to take part in discussions about union power and school improvement.

“When they do show up, they are more likely to venture from ‘talking points’ than the NEA,” Mr. Antonucci added. “It’s very difficult to have a normal conversation about education because [NEA leaders] stick to the talking points.”

Balancing Act
At its most fundamental, the NEA is perennially in the position of weighing its members’ rights against the needs of public education, a dilemma that goes away only if you insist that teachers have no self-interest apart from children’s.

“It’s a real challenge for both teachers’ unions right now,” said Richard W. Hurd, an expert on public-sector and professional workers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “Some teachers feel under assault because of state testing and accountability, … and the NEA has to balance their current members’ interests with promoting the field of education.”

For instance, Mr. Hurd said, professional associations traditionally want to improve the quality of the current workforce through professional development. And yet in a fiscally cautious environment where many political forces remain hostile, pointing out the need for teachers to get better could pose a threat to their job security.

Thomas Toch, who covered education as a journalist for 25 years until he became a co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit think tank Education Sector, argues that with an impatient—if indebted— Democratic Party, the unions are running out of time to resolve the challenge in favor of education.

In the 1980s, he recalled, NEA leaders toyed with teacher-pay innovations similar to ones popular now. A union task force, for example, drafted a recommendation for diversifying teacher roles, giving the best people more responsibility and more pay. But a group led by then-executive-committee member John Wilson condemned the proposal as “hierarchical” and killed it.

“It’s very hard to change minds that have been forged in the crucible of hard-nosed collective bargaining and union organizing,” where solidarity is the first principle, said Mr. Toch, who worked for Education Week in the 1980s.

Some critics are even harsher. Martin Haberman, an expert on urban teaching, contends that the teachers’ unions are bound so tightly to an unimaginative view of members’ interests that they are unable to make any positive contribution.

“I don’t see either the NEA or the AFT as important participants in seeking to transform schools or to change them in any way that would have a salutary effect on student learning,” he charged in an e-mail.

Another Division
Union proponents, however, say that while there’s a struggle, the NEA has never been more conscious of its educational responsibility.

“I think that’s the great battle right now, between the professional-association side and the union side,” acknowledged Rhonda “Nikki” Barnes, the coordinator for black-community outreach at the NEA. ‘”We’re the offspring of both.”

But Ms. Barnes added that both the public and policymakers have to understand more about the complexities of the classroom if many of the proposed innovations are to work. In the meantime, the NEA has to fend off what would be harmful.

Said the nationally certified teacher: “We have to force people every day to deal with the complexities of teaching and learning, try to show the world what goes on in a classroom.”

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My day

So I have a student teacher this quarter. She's incredible and does a fantastic job with the kids, and I have no qualms at all about leaving her along with the kids. The trick is, that also makes it easy to pull me out of the class room. On Monday I was off to a workshop in Spokane, and this morning at about 6:00 a.m. the sub caller rings up the house.

On a tangent, our district doesn't do a good job at all of paying substitutes. Spokane pays $120 a day for substitute teachers; we pay $86. When you figure in the money it takes to drive out from town, it's no surprise that we have a limited pool to draw from.

Anyhow, the sub caller calls. Two subs had called in with a case of the flu that's been going around the area, and on top of that two teachers called in because their own children were sick. The end result was that we needed 4 more subs in a hurry and there wasn't a single one available--would I be willing to teach 2nd grade today?

"Sure!" I said, because I'm that kind of guy. We also brainstormed some other ideas for what we could do (cancel Title, cancel Resource, cancel Library), but they were able to dig up a recent retiree who was willing to come in and cover 4th grade.

2nd grade is a world of difference from 1st, that's for sure. There's been no crying all day, they can tie their own shoes, and when I gave them a 40 minute writing assignment, for the most part, they did it with nary a complaint. I think I could get used to older kids, I really do.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Another Blow to the NBPTS Certification

Down in South Carolina Mark Sanford is proposing that they stop paying the bonuses that they’ve been giving to National Certified teachers. He’s citing the same research I’ve talked about (here and here) showing that there isn’t a proven correlation between having the certification and improved student performance, but what’s really astounding is the numbers:

To date, 55,000 teachers nationwide have earned the credential. Supporters of the South Carolina bonus program, started in 1998, say it has increased teacher retention and sent the number of nationally certified educators in the state soaring, from 1,291 in 2001 to 5,077 in 2006. South Carolina last year ranked third nationally, behind North Carolina and Florida, in the number of teachers who have received the credential.

But as that number has risen, so have the costs. The state has so far spent $222 million on the bonuses, and expects to spend another $52 million in the upcoming year.

Holy crap, that’s more than $10,000 a teacher. Up here we’re told that the average cost of a teacher to a district is $65,000 a year; at that price, you could get 800 more teachers for what you’re paying on National Cert bonuses. Governor Sanford would like to instead use it for merit pay, which has an even poorer track record than National Certification, but I can’t say he’s wrong for taking a hard look at the issue.

Read more here, if any.

Show Me the Money, Part I: I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Pension!

From this month’s issue of NEA Today:

Teachers should be paid about $100,000 annually, but give up their pensions, according to a report by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. With global competitiveness in mind, the panel called for radical changes in public schools. (Like this: More kids should leave school after 10th-grade and go to trade schools or colleges, and more school districts should be run by private companies.)

The report “has shed light on some very real issues,” said NEA President Reg Weaver. “However, we urge caution in calling for drastic changes that could potentially disenfranchise poorer communities and eliminate community voices in the reform conversation.” Also, he said, while teachers should be paid more, they also deserve safe retirement plans.

If you’re bringing home $100k a year it should be no problem to fully fund a Roth IRA at $4,000 a year, along with some more in a good 403(b), and you shouldn’t be accruing any stupid debts, either. That said, sure money is always better—just ask anyone who was thinking of retiring in 2002 but had their nest egg in tech stocks.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Random Drug Testing on the March!

Interesting article in the online edition of Newsweek about random drug testing for high school students involved in extracurricular activities.

Even more interesting things said in the comments section. A sample:

It is a great idea. Drug test everyone, not just for extra curricular activities. It's ILLEGAL, and should be addressed. Besides, why get in such a huff over it if you're not doing drugs? Just makes you look guilty...

The only students that will complain is the guilty. Many will complain around certain kids and agree to it with others. The kids know who uses and who doesn't. I wish they would of had the drug testing when I was in school. It would have given me an easy way out of taking drugs.

As a parent of a 15 year old girl, I say test them. Only the guilty have something to fear.

I'm 100% for this. In this day and age, SO many of our children and teens are exposed to and experimenting with drugs. I went to High School. I remember how it was. The argument of "invasion of privacy" is absolutely ridiculous, and is just parents sticking their head in the sand. If my child is on drugs, I darned well want to know about it. Anyone refusing a drug test has something to hide. Period.

I’ve written before about how I think that random, suspicion-less drug testing is an affront to the rights of the kids. Drug use in the schools is a problem, but I think the proposed cure is worse.

Read more here, if any.

Check Your Certificates, and Check Them Often

The Evergreen State merited another mention in this month’s NEA Today, and it’s something that everyone should keep in the back of their minds:

The Mt. Adams School District continues to defend its decision to fire two teachers without termination hearings in 2002. Gary Giedra and Caryl Spencer were fired because their state certificates had expired—even though Spencer’s renewal application was mishandled by the district’s interoffice mail service, and Giedra had renewed his certificate within 11 days of its lapse. When the two lost their jobs without due process, the legal team at the Washington Education Association stepped in.

In 2005, after years of litigation, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the two had the right to termination hearings and awarded (them) about $215,000 in back pay and attorney fees. But last year, school district officials disputed the ruling. (One of the teachers has since stopped teaching, and the other moved to another district.) “Most school districts work with teachers in that situation,” says WEA field representative Mike Horner. “They put in a substitute while the teacher gets the certificate renewed.” The district could spend about $300,000 trying the case.

Background from the Yakima Herald-Republic here.

This happened to a guy I used to work with a couple years back; the district paid to have a substitute in his room while he carried on with starting the school year and teaching the kids. The real pisser of his situation is that it looked like he was going to have to go on the ProCert plan, since his continuing certificate had expired and he hadn’t gotten it renewed in time, but it happened so often statewide that Bergeson put in a grade period so that those affected could keep on the old program, which is a lot easier.

Read more here, if any.

Paging Jay Leno

From February’s edition of NEA Today:

The students have spoken. And, given the results of NEA’s Substitute Educator Day Poll, it seems most of them are young men! Actress Jessica Alba—the star of Into the Blue and Fantastic Four—is the celebrity that respondents most want to see in the classroom for a day. Alba won 46 percent of the more than 5,000 votes. Runner-up Oprah Winfrey took 24 percent.

The obvious joke is about sleeping with the teacher. The kinkier joke involves Ms. Alba and corporal punishment. I’ll not tell either, for the sake of propriety.

Read more here, if any.

The pitfalls of mayoral control

Pretty quiet on the Mayor Nickels takes over the Seattle Schools front in the last month or so, but if it's something they'd like to continue to persue here's Sara Mead's list of seven mistakes to avoid.

Read more here, if any.