Wednesday, January 30, 2008

You really want ways to appear smart?

A few months ago I wrote a throw-away post on how to appear smart, based on some trends in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I found funny. Playing around with my Statcounter numbers, though, that’s been one of the most popular posts I have based on keyword searches off of Google. Apparently, people really want ways to appear smart.

So, here’s another list. Maybe it’ll work for you!

  1. Use your first initial and middle name along with your last name. Examples include T. Coraghessan Boyle (author of The Road to Wellville), B. Brian Blair (professional wrestler), R. Carlos Nakai (instrumental musician), M. Night Shyamalan (director of The Sixth Sense), and E. Gordon Gee (president of Ohio State University, past president of Vanderbilt).

  2. Develop a knowing smile. It works even better if you can get it with a bit of a twinkle in your eye and an appropriate hand gesture, like holding one knuckle thoughtfully to your lips, or gesturing with your thumb like Dana Carvey used to do during his George Bush Sr. impersonation.

  3. Learn a handful of big words—5 will do—and use them selectively. Something like “heuristically”, for example, can take the place of “Well, in a perfect world…” or “Under ideal circumstances”. Nascent, which stumped a room full of teachers just the other day, can substitute for beginning, starting, or just underway.

  4. I thought about putting read a newspaper here—the 15 to 20 minutes a day you spend would be useful time—but you can frankly get just as much value by combining Jay Leno’s monologue with a dose of The Daily Show.

  5. A wise man once said, “It’s better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that. I also remember reading a story about a young lady who offered that she felt like listening was better than talking, because you could only talk about things you know but listening allowed you to learn. In brief, shut up and look thoughtful, even if your thoughts are about booze, boobs, and World of Warcraft.

  6. As a corollary to number six (see the power of big words? Do you really know if I used “corollary” correctly or not?), the subject that most people would like to talk about is themselves. If you use active listening questions (e.g., “What’d you think about that? So then what did you do? Where the hell did he find a lemur that time of night?”) that allow the other person to go on about the things they think are important, they’ll consider you quite smart for caring enough to ask.

  7. Take a class. Any class. Hell, one every other year or so is enough. Just being able to tell people, “Yeah, I’ve got class tonight,” makes you sound intellectual, even if the class is on how to make and drink beer.

  8. Drink from a mug. It doesn’t matter what you’re drinking; you just plain look smarter if it’s a mug that you’re drinking it from. Cans are trashy, bottles (unless they’re water bottles!) are worse. For maximum effect, have a picture of some famous intellectual or a college logo on the side.

  9. Have a quirk. Not a threatening quirk, like having voted for Nader, but something more on the whimsical, benign side. Have a passion for one specific comic book character. Start a spoon collection. Memorize famous movie lines and use them ironically in conversation, but don’t go overboard; a couple lines a week is plenty, just like with crack. Having a quirk shows that you’re well rounded, a true intellectual in the Noam Chomsky mold.

  10. Carry a full bag with you wherever you go. Not a grocery bag (hobo!), not luggage (where ya going?)—some sort of briefcase or satchel that is nearly filled to overflowing. Throw in a couple of books, even if you never intend to read them. Buy a couple of magazines like GQ, Money, or Oui. It’ll make you look well read, and well read equals smart!
If you have any others, leave them in the comments section. has a similar list, here.

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Quote of the Day

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards.” — Mark Twain


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OK, this is getting ridiculous.

On Monday we were closed because of snow. It was the first time it had happened in my district in a decade--we'd have 2 hour late starts, but never cancellations--and it was a welcome long weekend.

Then Tuesday was cancelled, because of more snow. Then today (Wednesday) was cancelled, because of drifting snow closing roads. There's another big storm coming tonight, so we could very well lose Thursday and Friday as well.

The district is making the right decision by closing; there's 17 inches of snow on my back porch, and the roads are terrible. I'm just seeing myself until the butt-end of June, and that's not what I want to do.

Ain't weather great?

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Over Paid Teacher

There’s a lot of people out there who talk about teacher salaries in the abstract—“They’re overpaid! They’re underpaid! They’re paid just right!”, etc. Since teacher salaries are a matter of public record there’s not a whole lot to be argued about there, but what about the other numbers like benefits, retirement, etc.?

On Friday I got my annual statement summarizing all my paychecks for the year. I give you those numbers here so that you can know exactly what it’s like.

  • Social security wages: $42,864.02
  • Wages, tips, other compensation: $35,822.74
  • Federal income tax withheld: $4,390.32
  • Social security tax withheld: $2,657.56
  • Medicare tax withheld: $621.53
That’s basically the information from the W2. The central number is the second, because that was nominally my take home pay after taking out the income tax and social security.

Oh, but there were other deductions:

  • L&I: $48.72
  • Section 125 ME: $4,077.82
  • Union Dues: $732.64
  • Retirement: $7,041.28
The total of those deductions is $11,900.46. When you subtract that from the line above it leaves about $24,000, or $2,000 a month.

What’s that Section 125 ME number? That’s what I pay in health insurance out of pocket per year, or about $340 a month. If anyone tells you that all teachers get their health insurance paid for, slap them with a trout. Know too that I voluntarily put far more into my retirement plan than I have to, but on TRS3 if you don’t save for yourself you’re absolutely screwed.

This is my reality. What's yours?

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I've got 17 inches of snow on my back porch, and my district shut down earlier than they ever have since I worked there. No school for me tomorrow--hooray!


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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Leadership Week, The Big Finale: Getting Serious About Leadership

Last in a series of articles about the changing role of the principalship. For others, see here.

The last article about leadership from the December 12th Education Week that I’d like to talk about is by M. Christine Devita of the Wallace Foundation called “Getting Serious About Leadership.” It’s a general paean to the importance of improving school leadership, but there are some good points that deserve more attention. Consider:

The importance of having high-quality teaching in the classroom is a given. But we often fail to recognize that it is the principal alone who can ensure that the teaching and learning in every classroom are as good as they can be.
This is a fairly pervasive train of thought that I’ve noticed the past few months; here in Washington State, for example, it’s a cornerstone of the education platform of gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. I think in part it’s a capitulation, because the reality of school improvement is that it’s easier to make one principal better than it is 30 teachers. As a later quote says,

If leadership is in fact the critical bridge to having school improvements pay off for children, we need to understand how to better prepare principals to lead the increasingly complex institution we call school, so that all children can learn to high standards.
Principal leadership begets student achievement. It’s a subtle change in the conversation, but an important one.

To back up the article Ms. Devita uses two different reports: “How Leadership Influences Student Learning” by Ken Leithwood and the exceptionally well written “Preparing School Leaders for a Changing World” by Linda Darling-Hammond.

One quibble I have comes when the article turns to how best support principals:

New York City’s school system has set demanding criteria for would-be principals to enter its leadership academy and to get a job leading one of the city’s 1,400 schools. Once selected, candidates are regularly evaluated and permitted to remain in the program only if they demonstrate required competency at periodic intervals, through assessments using various experiential processes such as simulation and role-playing.

It’s yahbut season. If you believe the blogosphere (and hey, who doesn’t?) graduates of the leadership academy are given far more flexibility than they deserve in some cases, and many believe that the system is reluctant to pull the plug on bad leadership academy graduates because it makes the system look bad. It’s a program that ideally would do what it’s designed to do; I’m just wondering if the evidence is out there.

To all the principals out there, past, present, and future—I salute you.

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Everything You Need to Know From the January 9th Education Week

“Spellings Seeks to Cast Her Glow Over NCLB,” says the headline. Why Tori Spelling cares about No Child Left Behind is beyond me.

The page 1 above the fold headline gets into how the states as a whole probably aren’t going to be making education a number one priority for new spending this year. That helps Governor Gregoire here in Washington, because she can point to a national trend when she says no to the teachers.

From the “Glad it’s not me who has to make that call” department:

With too many students and too few classrooms, Calexico school officials took the unusual step of hiring someone to photograph children and document the offenders. Mr. Santillan snaps pictures at the city’s downtown border crossing and shares the images with school principals, who use them as evidence to kick out those living in Mexico.
This seems like a Republican wet dream. I can’t see kicking out kids who actually want to be in school, but OK.

Aligning your teaching to the culture of the students in your room has been a given over the years, but this article says that the research base for the practice is quite thin. EdWeek does a great newsletter on education research, which you can subscribe to here.

DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee got the authority she was looking for to be able to fire nearly 500 central office people if she so chooses. The city council also is backing her plan to close 23 schools by next fall. That should take care of the financial and the facilities—it’ll be interesting to see how the academics come along. It’s also worth noting that there’s a full-page ad at the back of the paper recruiting administrators to come work in the DC schools; is she cleaning out the principals, too?

In Georgia an entire school district can go charter if it so chooses, which is where this great quote comes from:

Districts and superintendents like the idea of districts’ getting more flexibility, but don’t like the idea of turning around and giving their schools more flexibility.”—Todd Ziebarth of the National Alliance for Public Schools
To me that’s the missing piece from many school reform proposals, ranging from Dino Rossi’s here in Washington State all the way up to the Aspen Commission. There’s plenty of talk about giving principals more power and districts more power, but why isn’t anyone outside of the union talking about empowering teachers?

Down in South Carolina, the new chair of the Board of Education is going to be a lady who home schools her four daughters. Someone who doesn’t believe in public education will be setting public education policy. Oy.

Reading First got absolutely reamed in the federal education budget last month, going from 1 billion dollars to slightly under 400 million. That’s a damned shame, because for all its controversy Reading First was still a good program that was getting money into schools that needed it the most. Sure there were strings attached, but there should be.

Finally, this issue has many letters in response to the articles that I highlighted during Leadership Week here at the blog. It's a neat commentary, especially on the highly qualified principals article.

Have a good day!


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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Leadership Week, Day 4: Data Wise

Yes, I know that leadership week has stretched into leadership weeks. There’s just that much leadership!

The recent Harvard Education Letter has an article related to the book Data Wise by Jennifer Steele and Kathryn Boudett. The beginning is an important lesson for anyone trying to move their staff in a number-savvy direction:

When delivering her opening-day speech to faculty at McKay K-8 School in Boston, second-year principal Almi Abeyta hoped that displaying recent state test results would “light a fire” among teachers and spark a powerful conversation about instructional improvement. Instead, teachers reacted with stunned silence, quickly followed by expressions of anger and frustration. It was the first they had heard about the prior year’s decline in language arts scores. Almi felt as if she “had dropped a bomb” on the room. Far from igniting collaborative energy, her presentation of achievement data seemed to have squelched it.
Teachers are defensive about numbers. We should be; increasingly, that’s how we’re judged as professionals and people, and if the powers that be start linking the numbers to our pay then the issue becomes a deeply important one. That balancing act between numbers as a hammer vs. numbers as a scalpel might be the most critical discussion we have as we move education forward, and it’s why every teacher needs to have a good idea of what data means to them.

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Quote of the Day

“I wish I was as cocksure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything.”—William Lamb


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You Can Send ‘em Home Dumb if You Send ‘em Home Happy

From the January American School Board Journal:

The study, by Brigham Young economist Lars Lefgren and University of Michigan professor Brian Jacob, says parents are more interested in teachers who can satisfy their students rather than those who raise academic achievement.

“Hi honey, how was school?”
“What did you learn?”
“Nothing. Can I go play?”

On the other hand, the Hoover Institution looks at the same study and says that it shows poor parents care more about academic achievement than personal satisfaction. Something for everyone, then.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Upon watching the Republican response to the State of the State address.....

....Senator Holmquist, what the hell were you thinking putting on rose-colored glasses in the middle of your rebut? (watch it here at the 20 minute mark) Seriously? You're youthful looking to begin with; stick on sunglasses and wear a ponytail and it makes you look more like one of the pages than a state senator.

God, I wish I had video capture abilities on my computer. That's a priceless image.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Evolution Will Not Be Televised. It Will Be Pamphleteered.

The National Academy of Sciences has released a report called “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” on the teaching of evolution in the classroom. It’s a neat look at what’s been going on nationally (hey, Kansas!) and would be a useful resource for anyone who might be dealing with the issue in their classroom or district. You can find it by clicking on the picture above.

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Resist the Rush to Judgment in Personnel Disputes

Great article in the January 18th Chronicle of Higher Education on a dean-professor situation that ended up being a learning opportunity for both sides. It can also be read as a thoughtful commentary on tenure, which makes it good reading for anyone interested in K-12 reform efforts like “getting rid of bad teachers.”

There’s a situation sort of like this one in my school now, where the parapro union is up in arms about a perceived favoritism that one of the paras is receiving. The para in question isn’t one of the best, honestly, but she does what she’s asked to do. She’s also an easy target for abuse, and it’s sad to watch grown-ups act that way.

This is the part of going into the principalship that I’m not looking forward to. At all.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Blackboard Jungle

Education Week has an article about a new movie from Ed in '08 called 2 Million Minutes. The trailer looks interesting; I might need to buy a copy.

It looks very similar to Flunked: The Movie from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which I've also been anxious to see. Hopefully, it will be out soon as well.

And speaking of movies I've been waiting for, Beyond the Pale looks absolutely hilarious in the trailer as it satirizes life in academe. It debuted in Austin last fall; I hope it's available wider soon.

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On New Professors

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education forums they're talking about the Gaping Chasm of Ignorance, including some great satire of new professors:

Help! I can't dress myself! Any tips on tying your own shoes? It's really tough!

Help! I've never taught college, and I have no idea what I'm doing! Dude, writing syllabi 'n' stuff were SO not in the job description!

Help! I stubbed my toe! Should I cancel class?

Help! I think I caught someone cheating. Omigod, can you believe it? Am I supposed to, like, do something about it?

Help! It might rain! Should I take an umbrella? What would you do?
There's more in the full post, and the whole thread is pretty funny.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Leadership Week, Day 3: The Instructional Coach vs. The Principal

Type the phrase “a principal needs to be” into Google and you’ll get quite a few different suggestions: a superhero, utterly reliable, aware, a manager, an educational leader, flexible, and so on. Take a look at the ISLLC standards for school leaders and you’ll get more suggestions, like instructional leader and curriculum expert.

Today it’s the instructional leader piece that I’d like to look at, and I’ll work it around this question: how does the role of the principal as instructional leader change in a school that has instructional coaches?

In the December 12th Education Week the article “Coaching Teachers to Help Students Learn” is all about how school districts are increasingly using coaching as a way to increase the skill of the teachers and improve practice in the classroom. In my area the Spokane School District has invested millions of dollars into their coaching program, with mixed success.

As it relates to our question, though, I think that perhaps focusing on the mission of the school rather than the imagined role of the principal is key. If curriculum coaches can help the goal of having all children learn, then the principal should be happy to see them there. It has to be acknowledged too that it’s an impossibility for principals to get into every classroom on a consistent basis to work with the teachers; again, if academic coaches can help, then the principal wins along with the staff.

I guess what I’m seeing, then, is a metamorphosis of the principal from instructional leader to more of a school manager, and that’s OK as long as those taking on the instructional leader roles (here, the coaches) are capable. The principal will still set the tone of the school, to be sure, but it’s the coaches who are going to know better what’s going on.

A couple of pieces from the article that I thought were interesting:

In comparing coaches to other programs that bid to increase student learning, education economist Eric A. Hanushek has reanalyzed data from Washington state. He found that $100 spent on classroom coaches would net student-learning gains “very similar” to those that the same amount spent on full-day kindergarten would achieve. And the gains from coaching would be about six times more than those for class-size reduction, according to Mr. Hanushek.
I would caution any reader to take what Hanushek says with a grain of salt, because he’s certainly arch-conservative when it comes to education finance, but that also adds some credibility to what he says here because it’s rare to find any additional spending in education that he likes.

Ah, but the problems are there as well. Speaking about how coaches are paid (Adams 12 is the district the article is focused on):

Unlike in Adams 12, where coaches are paid just the same as if they were classroom teachers, Dallas coaches get $6,000 added to their teacher salaries.
This bugs me. It feeds into the perception that “the farther away you are from the kids, the more money you make.” Is the workload of the coach more than that of a teacher? Can’t Dallas see how this would tend to breed cynicism?

There’s another financial issue as well:

Mr. Paskewicz, the superintendent, has warned that the district could be squeezed by as much as $6.7 million in the coming school year, mostly in order to pay the growing costs of employee health care and retirement.
If it’s a coach or a librarian, what do you choose? If it’s a coach or keeping class size in kindergarten below 25, what do you do? If it’s a coach or copies, what do you do? That’d be a hell of a survey to see, how teachers would rank order the cuts they’d want in their district, because that would show you how much they value the coaching they’re getting.

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A Family Left Behind

Anyone interested in issues of poverty needs to read this article from the Spokesman Review. It’s about a family that lives in a trailer in the woods of northern Idaho and the struggles they’ve had to get anywhere in life. The kids have been homeschooled, in school, then back to homeschooling, the father is a cripple, the mother is overwhelmed.

No child should be left behind, but sometimes you wonder if it can be avoided.

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Leadership Week: An Aside

Some stats on the changing of the guard in the principal’s office, from the January edition of NEA Today:

  • Fewer than 5 percent of new principals come directly from the classroom; many now come from central office positions or coaching roles.

  • 54% of new principals are women. Only 36% of principals with more than ten years in the field are women.

  • 20% of new principals are ethnic minorities, compared to only 15% among the old guard.
The stats come from the EPE Research Center; you can find their report here.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Leadership Week, Day 2: Less is More. Therefore, is More Less?

A continuing look at the evolution of the school principal. For part 1, see here.

Today’s article is Towards the ‘Highly Qualified’ Principal (Education Week, December 12th) by Joseph Aguerrebere (pronounced Smith) of the National Board, Paul Houston of the AASA, and and Gerald Tirozzi of the NASSP. Three wise men who know much about school leadership, certainly.

Their central belief can be found a few paragraphs in:

We need a nationwide advanced-certification system for principals if we are going to meet national student-learning goals. Such a system would clarify the skills, knowledge, and achievements that set highly qualified principals apart from peers with minimal credentials. Currently, there are no such national standards and assessments.
Why have the federal government take a guiding hand in crafting the standards for principals? Their belief is that the first NCLB act in 2001 was far too vague when they constructed their highly qualified language for teachers; the wide amount of latitude given to the states created 50 different systems and a paperwork nightmare for the Department of Education to have to figure out. A federal role, then, could add clarity.

They also share some of the language on principals that came out of the discussion draft of the NCLB reauthorization that was circulated in November:

…(it) includes a proposal to fund principal training in the use of data, improving instruction for all students, and literacy development. It also would pay “exemplary, highly qualified” principals annual bonuses of up to $15,000 for each of the four years that they worked in a high-need school and provide all principals up to $4,000 in annual bonuses based on the performance of their schools, particularly on tests that demonstrated student improvement over time.
Two bits of snark that I’ve got to get out of the way. First, if principals don’t know how to use data, then that’s a problem that the university programs they went through need to fix (sort of like was talked about yesterday). Secondly, I’m not really a big fan of the federal government providing bonuses to move principals to action; that seems like something that should happen more on a state or district level.

The rest of the article is spent encouraging the congress to put language into the NCLB reauthorization, whenever it might happen, that would begin the creation of a sort of national board certification for principals. It would be voluntary, but the hope is that there would be both remunerative and prestige enhancements for getting the certificate.

I’m curious as to how many principals would take the time, though. Running a school is not an easy task; would many volunteer to take on the rigors of the National Board, especially when you consider the existing demands? Is it worth it to the principals to spend the effort, when they're already pretty well compensated?

To my mind, the best way to improve the principalship is to strengthen the quality of the candidates going in, and for districts to then be proactive in identifying those who don't have what it takes. The principalship should not be a patronage job (nor should any in public service), and those who can't shouldn't.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Leadership Week, Day 1: How To Improve the Principalship

As someone in a school administration program the December 12th edition of Education Week was an early Christmas present, because there are four superior articles on how the role of the principal is changing and what that will mean for the schools that must change as well. I thought it’d be neat to look at one article a day this week, because there’s that much good content to be found.

Leading off is “How States Can Build Leadership Systems,” by David Spense and Gene Bottoms of the Southern Regional Education Board. They’ve written an article on how states can improve the principal pipeline for themselves, and there’s some very good suggestions to be found:

  • Be more precise about expectations for good leaders. The administration class that I had this fall was my first exposure to the ISLLC standards; they’re nice enough on their face, but they don’t tell you a whole heck of a lot about what it really means to be a principal. The fine print of a job announcement for a principal position would be a good place to start, if you’re interested in refining what it really means to be a school leader, because there you’ll find 20 or more bullet points about what’s expected.

  • Be more selective about principal-candidates. The point they’re making here is that pretty much anyone can get into an administrative program. The article goes on to say that about half of principal program graduates never use the credential; for them, it was a path to a pay bump and nothing more. That seems odd to me when there are so many different master’s degree programs out there, but so be it.

    The article recommends that the schools and universities act as a sort of dual filter; encouraging great teachers to think about taking a step up on one end, putting them through a meaningful, rigorous program at the other. It’s a nice theory; I’d be interested to actually see it in action. Teachers College at Columbia University is a far, far different place than Central Washington University, after all.

  • Ensure that university-based leadership programs improve. I’m spoiled, because Eastern has a superior administrative program. Here the authors say that many principal programs are mired in thinking that worked 50 years ago, that the classes needed often aren’t the classes taught, and what is taught is usable only in the most general sense.

  • Help aspiring principals learn on the job. One of the problems they list isn’t really a problem at all, to my mind:

    Unfortunately, many principal preparation programs provide internships in name only. They allow interns to choose their own mentors and schools for their internship sites. Many programs also fail to provide trained mentors who can expertly demonstrate competence and coach others to meet the state’s leadership standards.

    Incredibly, one principal testified at an SREB conference on school leadership last year that her internship in graduate school had consisted of her collecting tickets at a high school football game!

    Number one, I call shenanigans. Is it possible that a principal intern might have collected tickets at a football game? Sure, just like if I’m able to do my internship next year it’s possible that I’ll be setting up bleachers for assemblies, wiping down tables in the lunchroom, and passing out band-aids in the nurses office, because that’s what the principal sometimes has to do. The football game story is an anecdote, nothing more.

    Number two, the reasons most interns choose the site of their internship is because they choose their work site. How else would you have them do it? It’s a very small subset of potential candidates who could afford to take a year off on a lark; is that what’s being suggested, here?

  • Require more of beginning and veteran principals. Adding more rigor to the licensure process is the key, says the article. By requiring more proof of leadership ability and asking a principal to do more to keep their administrative certificate valid, the thought is that you’ll have better leaders.

    Ugh, ugh, ugh. This reeks of ProCert, the back-asswards process that teachers have to go through to keep their certificate, and the reasons that I wouldn’t want that for principals are much the same:

    • A principal jumping through hoops to keep their certificate is a principal spending less time with their school and their family.
    • Principals are at-will employees. Don’t like the performance? Can ‘em. Want them to attend workshops to get better? Dictate that struggling principals do so. Do not, however, punish good principals with more tedium just to fix a few bad apples.
    • If you make it too hard, you’re going to drive good people out of the profession. That doesn’t benefit anyone.

    Tomorrow’s article talks about voluntary national standards for principals, so this conversation will continue.

  • Build better ways to find the leaders schools need. It’s the John Sanford model; provide ways for great leaders in other fields to come to the principalship, and train them up on the instructional piece on the fly. I don’t think that you can teach someone to be an instructional leader if they’ve never instructed, so this worries me.

    And finally,

  • Provide stronger leadership for traditionally low-performing schools. One of the correlates of highly effective schools is the presence of a strong leader, which makes sense. The difficulty arises from what it would take to attract your best leaders to your neediest schools—more power and more pay. The second is an easy one to work around; the first, given the realities of collective bargaining and school politics, is much harder.
Leadership week continues tomorrow.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Carnival of Things in My Email Box 2

Because you just can't get enough carnival.

A faculty advisor wonders if it's OK that she gets free tickets to sporting events, worrying about the appearance of impropriety. I say go and enjoy the games.

It's a tale of two merit pay programs: down in Florida the program is floundering because of lack of district interest and a state budget crisis, while in Houston it's going quite well. I'd put a Rod Paige joke here, but that's so 2003.

Depending on your politics, this proposal to track kids with GPS is either one more step towards the mark of the beast or a great way to use modern technology to keep kids safe.

Advice on how to dress if you're looking for a job. It's one of those areas where you'd suppose that common sense would apply, but common sense isn't that common any more.

What price would you put on a faculty meeting?

Here's a situation that looks like it could have come right out of The Wire, only it's real life.

(Aside: I've been watching Season 4 of The Wire lately. That's incredible television, right there. When the cop-turned-teacher had his breakthrough moment with the kids, I stood up and cheered.)

When I was working with the gifted math kids last year I bought a homeschool math curriculum to use, figuring that if we worked out of a different book the material would still be fresh if they saw it again, as opposed to doing the same workbook sheet twice. It's a very easy way to differentiate for your high math students, and I'll vouch for the high quality of the one I linked to above.

Happy surfing!


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Saturday, January 12, 2008

You Work Hard For The Money

From the January 2008 NEA Today:

Americans spent 1,080 hours actually teaching (not counting lunch duty or anything else). But the international average is much lower—803 for elementary schools, 707 for junior high, and 664 for high schools.
I’m not sure what to make of these numbers, or even if they have any meaning. Are teachers in other countries getting more collaborative time, therefore having less instructional time?

Also be sure to check out New York City Educator’s recent post on time. He has some frustrating stats on what Americans are doing that will make you think.

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What Makes a Good Presentation?

The pseudonymous Tory Defoe turns in an exceptional article called "The Truth Is, You Gave a Lousy Talk" in the Careers section of the December 21st COHE talking about mistakes that he’s seen in presentations at conferences and workshops. If you’re someone who leads staff development, or presents at teacher conferences, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy or find someone with access to the website. What he says about using Power Point effectively and avoiding jargon is absolutely critical for helping your audience understand what you’re trying to communicate.

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STEM Week Continues

Out of Texas comes a possible model for how to train science and math teachers, both to improve practice and to increase the number that choose to go into the classroom. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Many high-school chemistry students would probably love a teacher like Robert A. Gonzales.

During a class at James Bowie High School here last month, he asked his students to figure out the alignment of atoms within different molecules — using marshmallows. Put the tiny, white sweets, representing different atoms, on toothpicks, he suggested, and build a little model that shows the shape when charged atoms repel each other.

The students got busy, giggling. They were stumped on one molecule, ammonia. Mr. Gonzales, who majored in chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, demonstrated the right configuration by balancing on one leg, his arms spread to either side, head cocked down. The students laughed some more — and listened.

Mr. Gonzales credits their attention, and his creative approach that attracts it, to the preparation he received from an acclaimed, unusual program at Austin called UTeach. Congress and the National Academy of Sciences have singled out UTeach in recent years as a promising model to help fill a national shortage of qualified schoolteachers in science and mathematics. The program has doubled the annual number of Austin's bachelor's-degree recipients certified to teach those subjects in secondary schools.

Now UTeach has a chance to go national. Last month a foundation backed by ExxonMobil announced that the UTeach model had so much promise that the group would make grants of $2.4-million each to 12 other universities to copy it.
It sounds like a good idea.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Daughter Update

I've come over time to believe that the phrase "Sleep like a baby" is a load of horseshit, because my dear daughter doesn't sleep. She kicks her daddy in the ribs, she flails, she hits her head against things--she puts out more energy sleeping than I do awake.

My official diagnosis for my daughter right now is congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV or CCMV, depending on where you look). The way that it's manifested itself the most is deafness--she was born with total hearing loss in the right ear, and a 70-80% loss in the left--and the concern with CMV is that she could also lose her eyesight, which would leave her deaf-blind. Yesterday we received a bit of hope from her ENT doctor, who said that the hearing she has is maintaining nicely, and that with CMV kids most of the problems are there at birth, and almost certainly by age three. We're halfway there, so it gives us a target.

Insurance is a pain in the ass. Couldn't live my life right now without it, but it's still a wonky, wonky system. My daughter is qualified for physical therapy and speech therapy, but they only authorize for 12 visits at a time, and the referral has to come from her family doctor, not from the office where we get PT and speech. That means that I have to do some careful calendar watching to make sure we're not running out of referrals, then call the family practice, who calls Group Health, who calls the PT center, who confirms with Group Health, who then sends out a referral. We do this every 10 weeks or so. With my daughter, who is certainly going to need both for the forseeable future, wouldn't it make more sense to give me a 1-year authorization with a reminder to stay under the 60 visit cap that's in the plan?

Such is life with a special needs child.

In other news, we're still efforting getting an appointment with the pediatric neurologist to go over the results of her MRI and find out what exactly that scar tissue in her brain means. That'll be a big appointment. In two weeks we have her eye appointment, and we're praying hard for that one to be where we want it to be. If you're of that bent, and candles lit would be appreciated.

Happy weekend!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Say WHAT!?!?

Education Week recently ran an article about how ed schools are adding more classroom management training to their teacher prep programs. That’s good, because a teacher who can’t manage their kids isn’t going to be a good teacher. If you’re going to be interviewing for a teaching position, know with 100% certainty that you will be asked your theory of classroom management. If you blow that question, you’re not going to get the job.

This little bit from the article really floored me:

At the University of Cincinnati, a mandatory classroom-management course has been built into each teacher education program since 2000.
Wow, since 2000. The only way that’s OK is if they started the program in 2000. How the hell can you put a program together and not have a classroom management class included? Oy, vey.

Were I a college professor teaching a 4 credit classroom management class, here’s some of the principles that I’d follow:

*Required texts: The First Days of School by Harry Wong, Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones, and Classroom Management that Works by Marzano and Pickering. Each come at the question of what works in the classroom from a different angle; Wong on routines, Jones on relationships and structure, Marzano with actual instructional practices.

*Class activities: Case studies. Lots and lots of case studies. What do you do about the kid who has a chip on their shoulder? How do you manage all the paperwork? What should your lesson plan for a week look like? There’d be an awful lot of discussion, too.

*Tests and Papers: The final would be a term paper asking you to define the most important pieces of a good management plan, and explaining in detail how you would implement those in your classroom.

The more skills we send new teachers into the classroom with, the better off they’ll be. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a start.

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Will Hillary Winning in New Hampshire Last Night Have an Effect On What You Do In The Classroom Tomorrow?

The New Carnival of Education is Up!

Check it out at the Columbus Education Association website.

I should think about doing that with my union's website; seems like a nice way to participate in the dialogue.


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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

STEM Week, Day 2: A Little Bit More on the Women and STEM Discussion

In the December 21st edition of the Careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education there’s a column from Rex Sayers (a pseudonym) about the effect that having children can have on the career paths of those in academe. His belief is that having children of your own can make you a better teacher, even if it lowers your productivity (read: writing and research) and impacts your career path.

That brings me to the effects of a new baby on an academic's ability to practice his or her craft, a topic on which there has been much debate. I am here to affirm that those effects are real and primarily negative. Before this latest birth, I had been working at a pretty good clip. I had a high teaching load, so it was hard to find time to write during the day, but I had developed a routine of putting the kids to bed and knocking out a page or two before my own bedtime.

Not anymore. Not only have we lost the luxury of a consistent bedtime, but in those seemingly rare moments when I do find myself with a free, childless hour in which to work, I'm simply too fogged to produce.

The reason that I think teaching appeals to many is that it’s a family-friendly career. Your breaks will typically be the same as those of your children; your child can be in your workplace with you; you can be a part of your child’s life while at the same time participating in your profession. Given that the primary caregiver role still tends to fall on the mother, it’s easy to see why women would choose teaching as a career.

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Why Tenure is Necessary

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

It’s fair to say that Henry Petroski loves old objects. Mr. Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University, has written about forks and zippers, paper clips and pencils. His latest book is a history of an extremely primitive tool: the toothpick.
That book would be The Toothpick: Technology and Culture, released this past October.

I wonder if he took a sabbatical to write it?

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Well, That’s Useful

From the December 12th Education Week:

Secondary school teachers of special education in Michigan likely have lost their status as being “highly qualified” under federal standards because the state allowed them to take certification tests for elementary teachers.

Those teachers have until June 30, 2009, to become highly qualified, a status they need to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The Michigan Department of Education said it was unclear how many of the state’s 7,000 secondary special education teachers used the elementary exam to become highly qualified.

“At the time, this was believed to be an appropriate means to meet the requirements—until guidance from the federal government directed us to amend the requirements,” state education department spokeswoman Jan Ellis said last week.
7,000 teachers of our most in-need students who now have to jump through more hoops in order to stay in the profession. Who benefits from this?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

About Damn Time

From the December 12th Education Week:

All states that meet federal criteria will now be allowed to take part in the US Department of Education’s 2-year-old experiment with growth models, which let states measure individual students’ achievement gains as a way of ensuring accountability under No Child Left Behind.
I like this. The NWEA MAP assessment is a great example of a test that shows you the growth of the kids from the beginning of the year to the end, and getting the results back instantaneously is a powerful, powerful tool for school improvement.

I hope that OSPI considers something like this. There’s also more information to be found about growth models in the December 19th Education Week, here.

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STEM Week Day 1: Engineering: A Title IX Issue?

The December issue of the ASCD’s Education Update focuses on the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal law that opened up the doors for women to have equal opportunity in athletics and education. It’s a good law that needed to happen, but I’m curious about where the ASCD sees things going. From the newsletter (p. 3):

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and other organizations are employing Title IX to ensure that women are equally represented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In February 2007, Michelle Tortolani, then SWE president-elect, asked at the National Association of Multicultural Engineering national conference, “Why, while girls comprise 55 percent of undergraduate students, do they account for only 20 percent of engineering majors, and boys remain four times more likely to enroll in undergraduate engineering programs?”

Two Congressional briefings have focused on strengthening the STEM workforce by asking this question: Are more women and members of diverse groups needed in the STEM workforce? Resoundingly, SWE says “Yes” and offers the following recommendations:

*Policymakers should step up enforcement of Title IX with regard to STEM disciplines and fund programs that will help educate students, their parents, and STEM faculty of their rights under the law.

*Educational institutions should fulfill their obligations under the law; examine their institutional policies, procedures, or practices for gender bias; provide suggestions for areas to examine when evaluating programs for gender bias; and make this information accessible to the public.

*Federal funding agencies should fulfill their monitoring and enforcement obligations under the law, and make this information available to the public.
I know that as a male I’m probably better off running as fast as I can and as far as I can from anything having to do with Title IX, but on the face of it there’s a lot of problems that I see here.

The first is the difference between a bias of design and a bias of choice. If a program is structured in such a way that people are excluded on the basis of their gender or race, that’s immoral and should be addressed. It’s a different matter, though, when those of one gender tend to gravitate towards a career more than those of the other as a matter of choice. If more men are drawn to the engineering life, with it’s nerdy stereotype and long hours, is that a problem of the system, of the sexes, or of the society?

We have an example in our own field—elementary teachers are almost 90% women. With its family friendly policies and the chance to work with kids, that’s not a surprise. What it’s also not is discrimination, and anyone arguing that it is would be wrong.

Programs that expose girls to the STEM fields, like those that come across the WSTA listserv? Excellent! This nascent suggestion that we should have proportionality in the college programs, because equal must be inherently more fair? That’s an idea that takes us down a weird, exclusionary road that we’re better off not traveling.

And let’s also acknowledge that there’s a bias on the pro-girl side as well. In a section on the ongoing challenges associated with Title IX we find:

Young women represent the vast majority of students enrolled in high school cosmetology, child care, and health assistant courses. Child care workers earn a median salary of $7.43 per hour, while cosmetologists earn a median salary of $8.49 per hour.
We need good child care workers every bit as much as we need engineers. That the ASCD would tie the worth of the job to the pay is a sad statement of the priorities that we’ve established as a society, and shame on them for taking the bait. That someone could make more in engineering than hairdressing is a given, but why imply that there’s something wrong with wanting to be a hairdresser?

For anyone interested in gender equity in the mathematics and sciences, this is an article well worth finding.

Is there a problem with males being over represented in the STEM fields? How would you solve it?

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Carnival of Things in my Email Box

I am on waaaaaay too many email lists.

Can't help myself. I see a button that says "Click here for our free newsletter about the latest in education!", and I'm powerless to resist.

That said, there's a lot of great content to be found for people interested in schools. Here's some of the best articles and thoughts that caught my eye from the ASCD SmartBrief, the Chronicle of Higher Education Morning and Afternoon Updates, E-School News Daily, and a host of others:

A teacher in Detroit says the solution to school improvement is less NCLB, not more. His best evidence seems to be his Grandma Lulu, but that's OK.

The problem of tying teacher pay to student achievement and advanced certification schemes can be amply seen in Mississippi, where the teachers got all of the bureaucracy and little of the raise that was supposed to make it worthwhile.

NPR did an exceptional piece on an exceptional program, the ProComp system in Denver that was the first to bring "merit pay" to scale in an urban district. Memo to Tom Luna of Idaho: watch this before you try your merit proposal for Idaho, and you'll be better off.

The ASCD is looking for articles on how to reach reluctant learners. I'm tempted to write up something on the work I've done getting young boys into reading....

Paging Doctor Homeslice: George Washington University is finally recognizing the adjunct faculty union.

There could be some openings on staff at a school in New Jersey--12 of their teachers pooled their money and won an $80 million dollar jackpot. I feel for the teachers who said, "Meh....that never works."

The University of Oregon is going to pay the tuition of low-income students. Of all the ways to break the cycle of poverty, this by far seems the most workable.

The average interlibrary loan costs better than $30 a book, report the Chronicle of Higher Education. It's amazing to live in a country where we have access to a system like that.

A teacher in Texas talks about transforming teaching from job into a profession. You're going to be seeing a lot more of this sort of talk; as a union guy, my job is to figure out how to direct it in a way that's best for the members.

Yet another story on how not getting enough sleep effects kids. I have a couple of parents in my school right now who can't seem to get this message.

The staff of a high school in Massachusetts found out that there were hidden cameras in the hallways when the news was spilled in the student newspaper. Somewhere out there, there's a principal who needs to work on their communication skills.

A recent change to Medicare could change the level of services that districts are able to provide, especially when it comes to transporting disabled kids. As the father of a deaf daughter who is at risk of losing her eyes as well, this bothers me.

In Tennessee a teacher actually pressed charges against the high schooler who assaulted her, even though the school security officer encouraged her not to. Good for her, I say--you hit a teacher, you don't belong in any school.

A newsletter that I enjoy very much is Just for the Asking! by Bruce Oliver. Geared more towards lead teachers and administrators, he's done some great columns on how to use data recently that would be useful for anyone.

....and that got me down from 250+ messages to 175 or so. Look for another email carnival soon :-P


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The Case of the Misplaced Adjective

I vote liberal, Mrs. votes conservative. I'm sure that we cancel each other out in 95% of elections. A happy side effect of this is that she gets campaign mail from the various Republican groups around the country, and I get a good view at what her side is up to. Consider this, from a fundraising mailer for the National Republican Congressional Committee:

The Democrats want a government takeover of the health care system, amnesty for illegal aliens, billions more for school bloated bureaucracies, punishing regulations on already struggling manufacturers -- And the largest tax increase in history to pay for it all.
Personally, were I the editor, I would have gone with "bloated school bureaucracies" instead of "school bloated bureaucracies." I can't give you any sort of a rule for that beyond saying that if the noun being described is
"school bureaucracies" then the adjective should go before it, but I'm not sure if that's the perfect reasoning or not.

It's also worth noting that nothing has contributed to the school bureaucracy more in the last decade than the No Child Left Behind Act, which created a testing industry that demands time and money of every school in the nation, created paperwork for every one of the nations 2 million teachers vis-a-vis the "highly qualified" standards, and superimposed a 5-tiered intervention system on struggling schools that in some cases supplanted already existing state efforts.

That's your bureaucracy, right there.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Oh, Lighten Up

From the January NEA Today (p.17):

A recent Hardee’s “flat bun” hamburger commercial, which featured a teacher gyrating on top of her desk, was “irresponsible,” “unbelievably demeaning,” and “sexually exploitive,” said Tennessee Education Association President Earl Wiman—whose strong words got it pulled from the airways.
First, I call shenanigans. I doubt that Hardee’s gives a rip what some guy in Tennessee said.

Secondly, here’s the commercial:

Third, it is all those things that Wiman said it was. It’s also funny, in the spirit of “**** in a Box” or “Lazy Sunday”, and that’s why the company went that way.

Then again, I’m also the target demo for this ad, so I’m probably not the best to judge.

I guess I didn't realize what a kerfuffle this caused, either, because when I went looking for more info I found a ton of posts about the "controversy" surrounding this add. Some of the best are here from Blogger News, and here from Olberman punching bag Fox Business.

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My Interview With a Brain Eating Zombie Who Also Happens to Enjoy Education Policy Discussions

Me: “Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to the first ever actual interview on I Thought a Think. Today’s special guest, here to talk with us about what’s going to happen in the coming legislative session, is a Brain Eating Zombie Who Also Happens to Enjoy Education Policy Discussions. And how are you today, sir?”


“I’ve got to say, friend, that this won’t be much of an interview if that’s all you have for me.”

“Oh dear, I do apologize. It’s so easy to slip into zombie vernacular, what with the undead existence eating brains and all.”

“Quite all right. So tell me, what’s new in brain eating today?”

“Well, Ryan, the hot buzz in the zombie education policy wonk circles right now is the rise in academic achievement among new teachers. According to the ETS, GPAs are up, Praxis scores are up, and the overall pool is much, much more accomplished academically than what we were seeing ten years ago!”

“That’s great news indeed!”

“You’re telling me! I was snacking on some new elementary math majors the other day, and I haven’t had this sort of vintage in a long, long time. (kissing sound) Mwah, that’s some good brain eating!”

“Math majors? Hold on there, my undead friend—we need more math teachers!”

“Elementary math majors. They’re a dime a dozen.”

“I stand corrected. Do math teachers tend to have juicier, tastier brains?”

“It depends on the part of the world, actually. As Education Week recently reported, our middle school math teachers are far less intellectually prepared for the rigors of teaching than math teachers in other countries. Right now, I wouldn’t eat a middle school teacher’s brain no matter how far I had shambled that day!”

“Ha ha, you and your zombie humour! Tell me, does being one of the undead make it harder to dabble in education policy?”

“Oh, not at all. Web 2.0 was the best thing that ever could have happened to me. I’ve got a guest appearance lined up on the Education Gadfly podcast, I’m doing some webinars for the ASCD, and my new book, “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire BAD! FIRE BURN!” should be available soon. I also did some consulting work for the charter school ballot measure in Utah!”

“Really? How’d that go?”

“Not so hot. When I told Patrick Byrne that the voters were brainless, he took me to mean that they were stupid, which he why he made that unfortunate quote to the press about Utahns failing an IQ test. I was being literal, though—they were brainless, because I had eaten several of their brains. I do that. It’s kind of my thing.”

“Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Any final thoughts for the readers out there?”

“Just remember kids—stay in school, so that when a zombie eats your brain, it tastes good.”

Editor’s Note: I escaped having my brain eaten only because my guest knew that I had voted for Nader twice. Upon hearing that, he lost his appetite.

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The Chronicle of Higher Ed on Holiday Gifts for Teachers

For next year, an idea from a college professor.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

You Go To College To Be a Teacher, and What Do You Get?

According to the NEA, a boatload of debt.

The front page story in the January 2008 issue of NEA Today is on the amount of student loan debt many future teachers are graduating with, and how this potentially could drive excellent teaching candidates into careers that have a higher pay grade. The numbers are startling: $28,000 in debt, $58,000 in debt, $15,000, $25,000, $30,000, $90,000.

That’s a tough anchor to have to haul around right after college. Do you know anyone who said no to teaching because of debt, or the low starting salary?

Also worth noting is this report out of England that says women on average take 16 years to pay back their student loans, while men take 11. The article attributes the difference to the "gender gap" in salaries, and a side effect of women taking time off to have children.

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