Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Week’s Fun Book Title from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Psychedelic White: Goa, Trance and the Viscosity of Race, by Arun Saldanha. Explores the dynamics of race in the rave-music scene found in Goa, India, a site for Western countercultural tourism since the 1970s; draws on fieldwork in the village of Anjuna.

Now that's esoteric!

Labels: ,

Read more here, if any.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Internet is Really Really Great…..for Porn

Another week, another pair of stories about the sexual follies of teachers in Washington State. The first comes from the November 13th edition of the Spokesman-Review (no online access available), and it’s way too familiar a story:

A teacher who used Rogers High School computers to talk about his fantasies of having sex with—and even raping—teenagers is still being paid a year after he was removed from the classroom.

Social studies teacher Peter Perkins was sent home a year ago today. His salary and benefits have cost taxpayers nearly $69,000 since then.

Spokane Public Schools documents allege that Perkins photographed and twisted the nipples of bare-chested high school boys in a bathroom, wrote about his fantasies of raping a student, engaged in explicit online chats using district computers, and downloaded graphic files titled “Teen Muscle Boy” to a publicly owned computer. In all, there were 13 allegations of misconduct.
Perhaps the saddest part of this story is that Mr. Perkins is an openly homosexual teacher in a town where that’s way too rare. In a city where the late Jim West and Richard Curtis both threw away their political careers and contributed to a general air of homophobia, Perkins could have been a powerful role model. Instead he plays right into the most horrific of stereotypes about gay men, and that’s a damned shame.

Down in Richland it’s a decidedly more pedestrian bit of lechery as 58-year old music teacher Allan Eve is arrested for having sex with one of his students in the band closet.

Thank you for exiting the profession, sir, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I take these things kind of personally. The sexual escapades of men like these make all male teachers look bad, and for a guy like me who works in the primary grades that’s poison. To hell with both of them.

Labels: ,

Read more here, if any.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Bridging the Research-Practice Gap

That’s the title of an interesting commentary by Stanford University’s Deborah Stipek in the November 14th issue of Education Week. It’s actually a paid-for advertisement, not uncommon for EdWeek, but I think this one rises above the fray for the examples it provides and the thoughtful tone it takes.

Narrative after the article calls it part of a series from the Education Deans Alliance. If this is their first effort, I look forward to seeing more of their work. You can find out more at their website, here.

Later on in the same issue of Ed Week there’s an article highlighting the recent launch of the Doing What Works website from the Department of Education. Designed to complement the What Works Clearinghouse they already run, Doing What Works is set to have video of teachers using those research-based practices in the classroom. I just checked it out, and there are some neat clips of ELL teachers working with primary students. It looks like it’ll be a good place to keep an eye on in the coming months!

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

Good News, Bad News

I’m really enjoying my intern membership in the Association of Washington School Principals. Their magazine is top notch, and I’m hoping that I can get to the assistant principals conference in February and learn more about administrative things.

As I’ve been going through my pile of reading material I came across their annual report, which details all their activities for the previous year. A number that jumped out at me was that they gave 257 grants last year through the program they administer that allows for time off for principal interns to learn the trade.

This is good, because I’d like to think I have a pretty decent shot at getting one of those grants.

This is bad, because that means there’s 257 other new principals out there who’ll be fighting for the jobs that come up.

Under the Dilbert Principle, I’m hoping that the fact that I’m tall will help be stand out (get it? Eh…) from the field.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In my defense....

Ok, so maybe I overreacted a bit on election night.

But Education Week got it wrong, too, so I'm in good company.

Thank you, Lord, for getting 4204 to pass!

Labels: ,

Read more here, if any.

I Hate Retired Teachers

Ms. B, our old PE teacher, came by the school for a visit the other day. She looked 20 years younger than she did when she left; the satisfaction was palpable as she told us of the joys of sleeping in, not doing report cards, spending your time the way you want to—the retired life.

Bah, humbug.

That’s jealousy talking, of course. After 30+ years in the system she’s entitled to every happiness that the TRS affords her; I hope to tread that same path myself in 25 years or so.

The October 2007 issue of the ASCD’s Education Update newsletter has an article about how retirees are staying active after leaving the classroom. It talks about some of their fears (the rising costs of health care, pensions that don’t keep up with inflation, missing the joys of the job) before moving into the joys (less stress, more chance to follow passions, flexibility). Also, some websites for retired teachers:

The American Federation of Teachers
NEA Retired
AARP Educator Support Network
AARP Retired Teacher Association

For Washington State teachers, it’s always a good idea to check out the Department of Retirement Systems website periodically. The retirement calculators are fun to play with, if you’re in the right frame of mind. For more information, try this post that I wrote for our union website—it’ll walk you through the process.

The last bit of retiree news comes via Eduwonk—a new study on the pitfalls of teacher pensions. It’s the usual—more portability, less guaranteed money, it’s really in the teachers’ best interests if we put it in the stock market, yada yada—but it may be of interest to those who are really interested in pension policy.

Always remember, every day is one day closer to the end!


Read more here, if any.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Role Should the School Play in Public Health?

There’s a neat article in the November 9th edition of The Chronicle Review that looks at how public health initiatives have changed in the last century. Written by Philip Alcabes, a professor at City University of New York, it’s a well-written examination of how the role of the public health professional has evolved from the smallpox and polio era of 1920 to the concerns over MRSA and avian flu today.

If you believe that common schools are for the propagation of the common good, and that having a healthy community and society is part of the common good, then it follows that schools have a place in helping to promote public health. My question to you is, what should that role be?

In my school we have a part time nurse, who works for a total of 20 hours a week. She’s mainly charged with giving hearing and vision screenings, as well as handling any outbreaks of lice that come along. Beyond that she functions as a sort of dispensary, giving out prescribed drugs like Ritalin and ice packs to the kids who scrape their elbows. I suspect that this is the model in most schools. Our PE teachers are charged with the health part of the puzzle, including promoting active lifestyles and showing the kids how exercise can be fun and healthy. In the classroom we do those units on nutrition and the body that are mandated by the state.

Yet it’s inarguable that we’re only providing the basics, just as it’s also inarguable that there are schools where the basics aren’t enough. When you consider situations like the obesity epidemic, the numbers on sexually transmitted diseases, or dental health, something in the system is screwy. Two thoughts, here:

  1. At what point, if ever, do you demand parental responsibility? Does anyone have the right to suggest, “Ma’am, your son is too fat,” or, “You really need to get that kid to a dentist”? With lice we’ve mandated proof of eradication before the child comes back to school, because of the risk to other children—should that standard ever be applied because of a risk to the child themselves?
  2. There’s an interesting economic argument to be had here as well. It takes taxpayer money to make anything happen in a school; is that a wise use of the monies available, or just another instance of wasteful spending? Are we slapping the invisible hand of capitalism if the school takes on roles that can be served by private companies (i.e., dentists?).

I’ve been doing some reading on community schools, those schools that have a full-time nurse and invite health professionals into the building to work with the kids right there in the schoolhouse. It feels like there’s a lot of potential there to positively impact the lives of kids—it could fall under the broad heading of “early intervention”—if only for the want and the will.

What’s the state of health education in your school?

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Next Doctor’s Appointment

My wife met me at the door the other day with tears in her eyes. Never a good sign.

The developmental pediatrician had called with the results of the MRI. Dear Daughter has scar tissue on her brain, and the working theory now is that my wife was infected with a virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) when she was pregnant. It’s been linked to premature labor (DD came 6 weeks early) and hearing loss, which is also my daughter. There’s also a strong correlation between CMV infection and mental retardation, though I’m not sure I believe that one, because my daughter seems like a pretty smart kid.

Now Mrs. is blaming herself. I’ve tried to talk with her about how that’s a ridiculous game to play that won’t change anything, but she’s still beating herself up pretty hard. I don’t really know what to say to make things better, beyond what I’m already doing. She's sleeping a lot and trying to get back to center, and I let her because she's my center too and this feeling of being adrift hurts.

I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I became a parent.

To confirm the CMV diagnosis they needed a urine sample. Dear Daughter's not potty trained, so we had to get a urine collection bag that adhered to the skin. Put bluntly, we taped a ziplock to her cooter and waited for her to pee. Hopefully we’ll hear results on that next week. I don’t know what this means for the earlier suspicion of DiGeorge’s Syndrome, but the blood work on that should be back soon, too.

Our new specialist to add to the list is a neurologist, who will take a closer look at the MRI results and administer a CAT scan so that we have a better picture of what’s going on with the brain. We’re also supposed to see a geneticist depending on how her blood work comes back.

The more we know, the less we know. The more I know, the less I understand. I get to my feet, and there goes the rug one more time. The knowledge as power meme really isn’t resonating with me right now.

One day at a time.

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

What’s Important from the Fall 2007 Edition of The Principal News?

The Association of Washington School Principals does a stellar job with their thrice-yearly magazine. Very professional, very polished, and a good resource for anyone with an administrative frame of mind. The editor is Jocelyn McCabe, who also does yeoman work keeping up their blog. Interesting things from this issue:

“I look forward to a day when everyone in this country truly values principals for the critical role they play not only in the future of each child but in the future of this nation.”—Mary Kay Sommers, NAESP President
Discussion question—what’s more important, a good principal or a good teacher? While the teacher works directly with their kids in their learning, a bad principal can take out a good teacher. A bad teacher has a chance of improving in the hands of a good principal. Bad on both ends, you’re pretty well screwed. If they’re both good, though—there’s power there that can change lives for better, forever.

Jerry Bender turns in a nice piece about the Simple Majority. It’s much nicer to read now than it was a week ago.

Greg Schwab and Vincent DeMiero of Mountlake Terrace High write two nice columns about student newspapers and the freedom they should be accorded. For more information about the topic I highly recommend Nuss’s website at the Washington Journalism Education Association.

The last great article I’ll highlight comes from Cheryl Boze, principal of Odyssey Elementary in Mukilteo, who turns in a great piece on how schools can connect with parents and the community at large, particularly those who speak a different language. It's worth tracking down for anyone having ELL issues at their school.

My school leadership class so far has been a lot of fun. Dr. Alvy is pretty remarkable, and one of the books we’re using (School Leadership and Administration, by Gorton, Alston, and Snowden) has a great section on case studies that’s lead to some thoughtful discussions in class. Next quarter is school law, which is supposed to be a bear of a course, but it should be interesting in it’s own way.

The winter break will be a welcome one.

Labels: ,

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

With Great Power.....

I'm pretty hawkish about the right to free speech. It's what makes America great, and I firmly believe that the vibrancy of our culture is directly connected to our tradition of any idea being able to get out and be heard.

That said, I detest those that abuse the right. Just because you can doesn't mean you should, and when the uncreative defend saying outrageous things as an exercise of the first amendment my heart breaks. Case in point:

Two students in northern New Jersey can wear buttons featuring a picture of Hitler youth to protest a school uniform policy, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. sided with the parents of the students, who had been threatened with suspension by the Bayonne school district last fall for wearing the buttons. However, the judge added in his ruling that the boys will not be allowed to distribute the buttons at school.

"I'm very pleased," said Laura DePinto, mother of one of the students. "I think it upholds the most basic of our American rights, which is to protest peacefully."

Citing a 1969 case in Iowa involving students who wore black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War, Greenaway wrote that "a student may not be punished for merely expressing views unless the school has reason to believe that the speech or expression will 'materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school."'

Greenaway's decision "follows the law as we saw it going in," said Karin R. White Morgen, an attorney representing both boys' families. "We believed that it was the Tinker decision that applied," she added, referring to the Iowa case.

The buttons bear the words "no school uniforms" with a slash through them superimposed on a photo of young boys wearing identical shirts and neckerchiefs. There are no swastikas visible on the buttons, but the parties agreed that they depict members of Hitler youth.

Bayonne instituted mandatory uniforms last September for grades K-8, and fifth-grader Michael DePinto wore the button several times before objections were raised in November, attorneys for the plaintiffs said.

In a letter dated Nov. 16, 2006, Janice Lo Re, principal of Public School 14, notified Laura DePinto that her son "will be subject to suspension" for wearing the button in school.

Parents of the other student, Anthony LaRocco, a seventh-grader at the Woodrow Wilson School, received a similar letter from principal Catherine Quinn.

After the suspension threat, the boys' parents filed a federal lawsuit claiming the district stifled the children's First Amendment free speech rights. They also have mounted a legal challenge to the uniform policy.
These parents should be ashamed of themselves.

Exercising your free speech is great--it's an American tradition, after all. When you run right to the Nazi analogy, though, you're not only being uncreative, you're also being a thug. The Nazis were responsible for the deaths of millions. Some of the most horrible things that man has ever done to man were done under the Nazi banner, and to suggest that there's a direct correlation between a school uniform policy and those who perpetrated the Holocaust is repugnant.

The very act of invoking the Third Reich makes this a non-peaceful protest. There are legion others ways that these kids could have expressed themselves; shame on them for not choosing a way that would have given the message more respect.

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

It's already been done, but not by me!

From the November issue of District Administration:

Education author and activist Jonathan Kozol began a partial fast early this past summer as what he describes as a "personal act of protest at the vicious damage being done to inner-city children by the federal education law No Child Left Behind."

In a recent column in The Huffington Post Kozol said the law's justification was the "presumptuous and ignorant determination by the White House that our urban schools are, for the most part, staffed by mediocre drones who will suddenly become terrific teachers if we place a sword of terror just above their heads and threaten them with penalties."

About 30 pounds lighter than he was before he began, Kozol says he has been subsisting on mostly liquid foods, only breaking the "partial fast" for other forms of nourishment when he experiences stomach pains.

He feels that his fast is "a tiny price to pay compared to what so many of our children and teachers have to go through every single day."
Ryan Eats Lots of Food To Protest NCLB

Education blogger and activist Ryan began turning really fat this summer as what he describes as a "personal act of protest against the No Child Left Behind Act and the hundreds of acronyms that it's added to the eduaction vernacular."

In a recent post for his blog Ryan said the laws "liberal use of seemingly random strings of letters--NCLB, AYP, LRE, RFG, and the like--has caused in me an insatiable hunger, because acronyms make me want to eat, and that hunger can only be partially slaked through frequent trips to Burger King and heaping dishes of ice cream."

Added Ryan, "PORK! Pork pork pork pork pork! PORK!"

About 90 pounds heavier than the day he was married, Ryan has been subsisting mostly on Pepsi Cola, quesadillas, and enough chocolate to give an entire middle school acne, only breaking his "not at all a fast" to sleep and talk.

He feels that his fat is "a tiny price to pay compared to what so many of our children and teachers have to go through every single day."


Read more here, if any.

When In Doubt, Pick C

In Maryland the debate over how best to test kids is touching on an interesting question--can multiple choice questions work? From the Washington Post:

Maryland plans to eliminate written-response questions from its high school exit exams to address long-standing complaints about how slowly test results are processed, state education officials said yesterday.

Beginning in May 2009, the Maryland school system will phase out "brief constructed responses" and "extended constructed responses" -- questions requiring a short or long written answer -- from its four tests covering algebra, English, biology and government, said Ronald A. Peiffer, the state's deputy superintendent for academic policy.

Eliminating those questions will allow the state to process test results up to four weeks faster than before, Peiffer said. The timing of the change means that the Class of 2009, the first group for which the test will count, will still be responsible for composing written answers.
There's the speed argument, but can multiple choice tests still be valid measures of what students know? How do you account for guessing and the old-school Genesis fan who goes with "Abacab" over and over again?

It's a question that's come up here in Washington just recently. In February there was a proposal to scrap the WASL in favor of a multiple-choice assessment; despite some bi-partisan support, it didn't pass. There's been a hearty debate about whether the WASL is that much better than the ITBS that many schools discarded in favor of the mandated state assessment.

To my mind, a written response is always going to show you more about what the kids know than filling in the appropriate bubble will. Even the best constructed multiple choice question will be inferior to an essay question if you want to measure insight and application.

That said, I'm also a big booster of the MAP assessment from the NWEA, because it's sooooo damned easy to administer, you get the results back the second the test is over, growth can be measured in a snap, the ability to rank order and apply percentile rankings is meaningful--the data that my school gets from the MAP is vastly superior to what we get from the WASL, and I'm saying that as the data guy and one of the building test coordinators.

We can't solve this through local control; to be able to compare districts and comply with the demands of NCLB, OSPI has to bigfoot. If you heard tomorrow that Terry Bergeson had seen the light and wanted to switch the WASL to a multiple choice format, what would your reaction be?

For a different take on the Maryland story, try District Administration magazine. Diane Ravitch brings her usual thoughtfulness to the limitations of multiple choice testing here; EdWeek does a great job with her blog, and it's a place well worth checking out often. A research-minded look at how to write good multiple choice questions can be found here.

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Down Goes the Simple Majority

Right now, by about 60,000 votes. Unless something drastic happens over night, that's the end of that.

This one surprises me. One person, one vote should mean something, but the supermajority (and the Eyman initiative that also looks on track to pass) throw that principle on its head. People in Washington are so afraid of taxes that they can't even bother to fill out their absentee ballot, I guess.

Any before anyone tries to tell me I don't get it, don't even start. I own my own home. My wife is self-employed, and we get absolutely reamed every April. I've got a special needs daughter who's eating up a lot of my discretionary income.

But I still believe that every vote should count 1-to-1. When your no vote is worth 50% more than my yes vote, that's giving you more power in a democracy than I have, and that's unfair. The people of Washington had a chance to fix that. Apparently, they prefer minority rules.

This can't be seen as anything other than a total repudiation of Washington students and teachers.


Read more here, if any.

Friday, November 02, 2007

On the Joys of Teaching Part Time

Regular readers of ITAT will know that my daughter, the Cute Deaf Baby, has some special needs. We've known about her deafness since she was a month old; the concern is that her hearing loss might only be the tip of the iceberg.

After the appointment with the developmental pediatrician things were....different. Deaf we were dealing with pretty well, but deaf + heart problems + syndrome + OT + PT + SLP + Guild School added up to a sum that had both Mrs. and I thrown. I wouldn't say sad, exactly, but I don't think that either one of us had balance for the few days after the doctor's appointment.

The place that it was showing up the most was in the classroom. One morning I was sitting there before the kids came and everything sort of landed on me at once. I felt like I was doing a lousy job as a father, a lousy job as a husband, a lousy job as a union officer, and a lousy job as a teacher. The teaching part was really eating at me. I made a commitment to my wife that I would be there for the doctors appointments and I was going to honor that commitment, but that meant that I would miss a lot of dats in the classroom. It was showing on the kids. The days that I was there were a treat, because they pretty much expected a sub in the room. The routines weren't sticking. The rules were fluid. It was pretty plain to see that being there for my wife and daughter was hurting my class, and while the "Family first!" catchphrase sounds great, it felt like an anchor there at my desk that morning.

I was a half-assed teacher.

But could I be a full-assed teacher half time?

The thought came from the ether like a bolt from the blue. If I dropped down to half time I could job share with my student teacher from the year before, who knew the classroom inside-out and was one of the most naturally talented teachers I'd ever seen coming out of college. If I needed to be gone for one commitment or another she could be there to substitute for me. The kids would have the stability that I felt like I was stealing from them, I would have the time to be the kind of father that I wanted to be, our childcare issues would be solved. Sure, there'd be a monetary cost, but *uck the money--there was positive potential here to make many, many areas of my life better.

I talked about it with Mrs. over the weekend; she liked it immediately. The Monday after I went and visited with two ladies in my building who had done job shares before, and they both said they had no regrets about the experience. That day I emailed the superintendent, and she said that the district would absolutely support me in this. Two weeks later it was all set up, and I was on my way to half-time relaxation.

All of that went down a couple of weeks ago, and it's been great. The kids responded to my job share partner immediately--I knew they would--and the parents have been unanimous in their support for the arrangement. Granted, it's hard to criticize the dad trying to care for his sick kid, but I think it's been an honest, positive reaction.

It's also shown me the power of team teaching. The way we worked it out is that I teach in the mornings, so I can do the reading, while my partner works the afternoons so that she can do the math and science. We're both working in our strongest areas, which is a plus, but there's also a lot to be said for being able to focus on doing one area and getting it right. We're nailing the building block pieces, absolutely nailing them, and I'm just ecstatic to see how far these kids can go this year.

Life has gotten a lot better. The daughter's medical situation feels a lot more under control than it did, I feel good about being here for my family, and I don't have to worry about the kids in the class any more. It's one of the toughest decisions I've ever made, and it's also one of the best.

I've got no cause to piss and moan
The clock says 12 and I go home
I'm happy to be a part time teacher
Meet after school, I must decline
I'll be at home, the chair reclines
I've got feet up, a part time teacher....
With apologies to Stevie Wonder.

Labels: , ,

Read more here, if any.