Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A New Hat in the Ring

Randy Dorn, the executive director of the state Public School Employees Union (PSE), has announced his candidacy for Superintendent of Public Instruction. The water gets muddied again; it had been looking like a two-horse race between Terry Bergeson and Richard Semler (sorry, David Blomstrom), since Skip Priest and Jim Kastama had both passed on running. There's a couple different ways to look at this:

  • It's a positive for Richard Semler. The concern with the primary as it was shaping up was that Terry Bergeson could get 50%+ in the August election and thus negate the need for a general election in November. If Dorn can siphon more support from Bergeson and keep her below that 50% threshhold, it benefits Semler. On the other hand...

  • It could be a strong negative for Semler and great for Terry Bergeson. The WEA just endorsed Semler, which now creates a WEA v. PSE dynamic as they each push their guy. Dorn has more statewide experience than Semler does, via his work with the PSE, but Semler's going to have the full force of WEA-PAC acting on his behalf. Ideally they'd both beat on Terry Bergeson, but I think her incumbancy gives her some powerful advantages--it could be that Semler and Dorn split the anti-Bergeson vote, which is great for her.

  • The PSE benefits no matter what. The concerns of the classified staff are often the hardest to hear. The WEA has tried with their living wage campaign, but if Randy Dorn can speak to the needs of his membership during the course of the campaign, that's a plus.
It should be a fun summer to watch.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Engineering and Title IX--The NEA Gives an Opinion

I talked a few months ago about how some were hoping to expand the proportionality principles of Title IX to academic subjects like math and engineering. It worked to create a generation of female athletes, the argument goes, so why not to create a generation of female mathematics all-stars?

I don't see the sucess potential. Programs that introduce girls to the sciences and make them want to enter the STEM fields I have no problem with, but were Title IX to be applied to the academics the same way it has been to the athletics (e.g., "60% of your students overall are female, so your engineering students should be 60% female as well"), I think it would be a step back.

The NEA gave the issue their nod of support in the May 2008 NEA Today magazine. This isn't surprising for an organization that has made diversity one of their keystone issues, but I'm not sure they thought the argument all the way through.

For perspective from the other side, this website is comprehensive.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book Review: “A Class Apart” by Alec Klein

One of the best books on teaching I’ve ever read. Klein takes a personal look at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, arguably the top school in the country, and turns out a real gem on academic pressure and the sacrifices involved in being a part of the academic elite. There’s a particular thread that he follows with a student named Jane struggling with drug addiction that is incredibly powerful; the piece in the epilogue where he expands on their relationship is thoughtful and will mean a lot to anyone whose life has been touched by addictive behavior in their loved ones.

Speaking of the epilogue, it should be required reading in ed schools around the country. Klein gets to the heart of why programs for the gifted and talented are so important and why they need to be protected against the twin dangers of heterogeneity and envy.

If you’re gathering some books for summer reading, this would be a good one.

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Cold Cocked by Killer COLA

(For those who hate whining, you’ll want to skip this post. Ryan’s going for a ride on the Wahhhmbulance!)

My district is in the middle of its budgeting process for next year. It’s not a fun time.

Problem #1 is that our enrollment is declining. The Air Force has been working towards privatizing their base housing for a number of years, turning the maintenance and upkeep over to contractors and taking the responsibility off of the government’s hands. All the houses on my base were contracted out earlier this year, and now the contractor is beginning the modernization process, which involves tearing down many houses and completely remodeling others. The families obviously can’t be there while that happens, so off they go to live in town, taking their kids with them.

Problem #2 is one that I helped cause—the 5% cost of living allowance (COLA) for teachers. (JL, if you’re out there and could help me with the history, I’d appreciate it)

The trouble with the COLA is that the state only pays it for those teachers who are covered under the Basic Education Act (BEA); in other words, the state only pays COLA for the teachers that it funds. That makes sense, in its own way; the trouble is with teachers who aren’t funded by the state, but instead through federal and local monies. This was an unexpected consequence of I-732, and after it passed in 1998 there was a lawsuit that declared “All means All!” and mandated that every employee get the COLA, no matter how they were funded.

That brings us to the present day. The unfunded COLA for my district is about $250,000, which means cuts. Through retirements and attrition we’re looking at shedding about 6 staff positions, but there will also be some layoffs (RIFs, in the vernacular of my local). That’s not what anyone wants, but the district needs to maintain fiscal stability, so what do you do?

Now, the union piece. When I was doing my lobbying work for the WEA this session we pushed hard for the COLA, and for a big one—not only the Seattle cost of living percentage, 3.9%, but also a .5% catch-up for the “Rossi cuts” and an additional .7% for salary equalization because of districts grandfathered under a higher salary schedule being able to pay more. It feels like we won the COLA in Olympia, and now we’re losing it in districts statewide.

Here’s the thing—I could solve the problem for my district by bargaining the COLA at the local level. Instead of every teacher getting 5.1% I could agree to 4.0%, which would save about $80,000. If I did that we could still lose staff through attrition, but we wouldn’t need to lay-off anyone outright, and that could be good.

But I can’t do it. I don’t have the political capital in my association. The segment that hates administration would skewer me. The part that knows the contract inside and out would point out that this is a mandatory subject of bargaining, and it would require a contract change. It would look like a giveback to the administration, and as someone in an admin program I’m especially vulnerable to that charge; I don’t want to be perceived as a sell-out.

Our next budgeting meeting is Thursday. We’ll all get together and see what we can come up with. Odds are, no one will leave happy. After all, if everybody loses, then nobody wins. School finance is making a lot of losers right now.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Haven't Been This Excited for a Fight in a Long, Long Time!

(from UFC.com)

One of my vices is watching people beat the hell out of each other in a cage, and that itch will be scratched hardcore tonight when GSP and Matt Serra meet again. Either way, I'm happy--St. Pierre is easily my favorite fighter in the UFC right now, but Serra shocking the world again would also be just fine with me, because I love a good upset.

That said, after the way GSP ran through Matt Hughes, including one of the most beautiful throws that I've ever seen in the time I've watched MMA, Serra could be in for a short night's work.

I'm also in love with any card that has Mac Danzig and Ed Herman on it.

Yay violence!


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I ain't sayin', but I'm just sayin'....

Dino Rossi released his transportation plan this week. As can be expected he's getting gleefully savaged several times over by the commentators over at Horse's Ass, where transportation is king.

Transportation is what it is, and for many folks it's The Big Issue. As an education guy my piece is to worry about the effect on the schools if you take $10 billion out of the general fund (COLAs suspended again? Full-day kindergarten delayed? A retreat on standards?), and if Sen. Rossi is going to stick to the line on spending there are going to have to be cuts, or the math doesn't work.

But how can I reconcile that with this from Rossi's website?

Making education our paramount duty
  • Today, too many politicians in Olympia do not treat education funding like it is their paramount duty.
  • As governor, I will make funding education one of my top priorities.
Elsewhere in his education platform he calls for increased salary for math and science teachers (more $), merit pay (more $), new initiatives in the STEM subjects (more $), and alternate routes to certification (more $).

I realize that this is the game that politicians from either side play, but I'm really curious to know--how will Dino pay for it all? How can he criticize Gregoire for her spending habits, when here it really looks like just more of the same?

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Dinner With Rich Semler

Dr. Richard Semler, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, came to our local Uniserv meeting last Wednesday night to make his pitch. There was a really good turnout, and I was very impressed by the man. The take-home quote:

“We need someone who knows about schools.”
That’s the piece that’s been bugging me the most about Terry Bergeson, I think—while her force of personality is undeniable, and she is a hell of a public speaker, I’m not sure that she understands the effects that her policies are having in the average classroom. Take the WASL (please!). It’s a constantly changing measure, the results don’t get back to the kids until months after the test, and the cost involved is disastrous. She’s married to that assessment, though, and has shepherded it up through the years, which leads me to believe that she doesn’t have the ability to back away from the system, or even to know how to repair it.

Dr. Semler was very direct about the flaws in the testing system, and though he didn’t use it by name the alternative that he proposes is very similar to the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test that the NWEA puts out. I like the MAP, especially for reading and math, and when there’s a legitimate testing option that is cheaper and more usable than the one we have now, it certainly seems like something that should be considered.

I was gratified to hear what steps he’s taking to keep his campaign moving in the right direction. It sounds like he’s hired both a fundraiser and a full-time campaign manager, which is a positive sign. I was also very impressed by his wife, who came on the visit with him and also brought a ton of energy to the room. They both seem like neat people.

I do think his problem will be name recognition. I’d love to see him write some opinion pieces for the main dailies around the state; buying simple advertisements that direct people to the website to learn more would also seem like a good way to go. The WEA hasn’t made their official endorsement yet, but I’d hope that they’d do that soon and then offer him a platform to speak from at Rep Assembly. Having the WEA and Where’s the Math isn’t enough, though—-he needs to find a way into the consciousness of The Average Voter who doesn’t think about schools and will be tempted to vote for Dr. Bergeson just because they know the name. I think too that the August primary makes this issue that much more critical.

In short, I think Richard Semler would make a hell of an SPI. I like the knowledge base he showed, I liked his specific suggestions for improving the system, and I think he can bring a perspective to the job that would benefit education as a whole.

Vote Semler.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Carnival of Email #5: I Love Sunshine Edition

It's a glorious day here in Spokane. I took my daughter out for a long romp this morning, and now that she's down for her nap I'm enjoying some Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookies and cleaning out the email box. Tonight the Mrs. and I are off to town to see America's Got Talent winner Terry Fator do a show. He's easily the best ventriloquist I've ever laid eyes on:

Good times.


The State Board of Education is having themselves a special meeting this coming Friday in Olympia to talk about the new math standards report. I'm guessing it'll be on TV Washington, and hopefully Where's the Math will have folks in attendance to give a report.

In conference news, registration for the Association of Washington School Principals is now open. I'll be attending on the cheap as an intern member, plus it's right here in Spokane so I don't have to pay for a hotel room. Speaking of hotel rooms, that's also Hoopfest Weekend, which means that every room in town is going to be packed. Make your reservations now!

You've probably seen the video of the girl who was beaten bloody and senseless by two other girls who thought they'd been dissed on MySpace. As is usual after these events, the question has come up: is the internet to blame?

(Editorial answer: No, it's not. Stupidity begins at home.)

The University of Southern California has ended its German department because of lack of interest. In the University's defense, German isn't exactly what you think of when you ponder what world language would be worth learning.

Also from the Golden State, academic powerhouse Stanford University is building subsidized housing for....assistant coaches, who can't afford to live anywhere near the campus. They're also constructing a cardboard box for Robin Lopez to live in after he washes out of the NBA.

If you're interested in starting work on your National Board Certification next year, there are scholarships available. I've been harsh on the NBPTS, and on the WEA for investing so much effort into the process, but with the money that's attached to it now I may need to give it a look.


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The EFF Tries a Podcast

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation recently put out their first ever podcast, which is pretty good for a first effort. They also have a new video channel, like the WEA does, and if this was a different decade where a man could get away with saying such things I'd go so far as to call their host strikingly beautiful.

(Factcheck on the podcast: very few locals charge $1000 a year total in dues. There are also many locals that don't charge a percentage of the paycheck. This I know, because I've been studying how locals charge their dues for a project I'm working on)

I'm not a member--when it comes to their "free market will solve anything!" tripe I'm not even a fan--but as an observer of the education system I think it needs to be understood that the EFF is a part of the chorus, and they have a message that resonates with many. I'll be adding the podcast to my RSS feeder.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

OSPI Race: Eek.

Recent numbers from the PDC website; C4 forms from Richard Semler dated April 8th and Terry Bergeson, dated March 10th.

 IncomeExpensesCash on Hand
Richard Semler$39.603.21$37,429.69$2,173.52
Terry Bergeson$61,753.29$13,183.04$48,573.25

I'm actually on my way to go see Dr. Semler speak tonight, and I'll be writing a check. With the primary being at such an odd time--August 19th certainly doesn't seem like the time for politics--Bergeson could conceivably get above 50% of the vote right out of the shoot and win the election when no one is looking.

I've talked before here on the blog about how money matters. We can blog from now 'til election day about the many, many mistakes of Terry Bergeson and that it's time for a change, but until the public writ large gets that lesson nothing will happen.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Carnival of Email #4: Spring Break is Over Edition

The Sunday afternoon before you go back to school after spring break is melancholy defined. This is even more true when you were sick the two weeks before spring break.

In laryngitis news, I can finally talk almost normally after THREE WEEKS of whispering. My poor daughter keeps wondering why daddy won't say anything, and even with the progress I've made my voice still fails me on occasion. It'll be nice to have oral communication back again.

On with the carnival!


The Innovate Journal of Online Education has published their newest issue; there's a great article on "healthy video gaming" that breaks a lot of assumptions. This is a good resource for anyone interested in Web 2.0 and what it could mean for the classroom.

The College Board is eliminating four unpopular AP courses, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education via the Washington Post. If you were thinking of taking AP French, Italian, Latin, or Computer Science next year, never mind.

The ASCD Smartbrief lead off Friday with the good news about the NAEP writing scores. The Associated Press weighs in here; the NY Times with a gloomier take here; and my good friends at the Fordham Foundation provide video here.

A 7-year old in Washington DC spanked a girl on the bottom. Once upon a time that would have meant a trip to the principal and a swat of his own; this principal thought it made more sense to call the cops. That feels like overkill, but the same article says that Maryland suspended 22 FIRST GRADERS last year for sexual harassment.

Having daughters makes you a democrat says a researcher out of Yale. One wonders where our current president went off the rails, then.

Courses with dual face-to-face and online components are proving their merit, says the ESchool News. I've taken online courses, and I've taken traditional courses that require online work, but I've never taken one like what this article describes.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced that we'll soon have a national graduation rate formula, because for too long states have been able to define dropouts in whatever way suits them, making comparison impossible. This is a good idea that we should have had long ago. DoE press release here; NASSP here.

A blog that I really should add to the blogroll is The School Law Blog from Education Week. It seems like they keep it pretty relevant, and seeing the law behind the stories always helps add a deeper understanding.

The Summer Institute for the Gifted does a nice newsletter on what's going on in the gifted ed community. I looked into the program a couple of years ago for one of our most amazing girls; I'd be curious to talk with anyone who has had kids attend.

Education Sector celebrated April Fool's Day with some sort of Mad Lib; similarly unfunny was The Fordham Foundation's jab at Ed in '08. These are obviously folks with a lot of time on their hands.

Every thought that has ever been had about the achievement gap can be found in this post at the Freakonomics Blog from the New York Times.

Bruce Oliver is a former school administrator who writes a monthly column for Just Ask Publications that's pretty good reading. This month he's looking at formative assessments and the power they can have in the classroom. It dovetails nicely with what I heard at WERA last month.

In the "A proper anticipatory set makes all the difference!" department, girls are getting sucked in to science via its application to cosmetics. The mind boggles.

Three "No shits" in a row to close:
Choosing the right books for kids can be a challenge. Yes. Yes, it can.
Smaller class size leads to higher student engagement. Gosh. Why would that be true?
100% proficiency may not be possible. You mean we can't get 100% of kids to do what we want them to do? Damn.

Midway closed!


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Thursday, April 03, 2008

I am not smarter than this 5th grader

Did you hear the one about the kid who noticed a 27-year old error at the Smithsonian?

Proud moment for the kid, prouder moment for the teachers who brought him up right.

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