Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Deep Thoughts on the Sun Bowl

Go Beavers, but that game sucked a lemon. Oy.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Governor Gregoire: All Your Budget Are Belong To Us
Lisa Brown: WHAT YOU SAY?!?

(here's what the title is about, for those who missed that particular craze)

In the "nobody will like this" department, Senator Lisa Brown (the majority leader, by gosh) is casting some aspersions on the Governor's proposed budget. To wit:

“We haven’t seen the details and I don’t want to get into specifics of this budget just yet. But I do see one glaring flaw in the governor’s approach.

“The governor assumes over a billion dollars of federal money to close the gap in critical health and human services.

“I’m glad the governor has confidence in the incoming Obama Administration, and I share her hope for a more positive direction from the federal government.

“But President-elect Obama has not been sworn in, and has gotten nothing through Congress yet.
Representative Frank Chopp, the House Speaker and the most powerful man in Washington State, isn't much happier:
Cuts in health care for children and services to the elderly, people who can’t work due to disabilities, and the mentally ill will be devastating to them and will cost us more in the long run.
The next budget proposal will come out of Brown's senate, where this document will probably be a guide; it lays out pretty starkly what the cuts could mean.

Then you've got Joe Turner over at the News-Tribune saying that he's hearing that there's going to be a tax increase proposed, and it makes you wonder just what Brown and Chopp will come out with. The no new taxes proposal was Gov. Gregoire's, not theirs.

Read more here, if any.

The Rural School and Community Trust on School Consolidation

The Rural School and Community Trust held a webinar in October on the topic of rural school district consolidation; it was a prescient topic, given the recent directive from the Governor to look at school district consolidation for "administrative savings".

I'm sure that the Rural Education Center at Washington State U. will have something to say about this as well.

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Being Around Kids Is a Good Way to Learn How To Teach Kids. I'll Be Damned.

This article from the Indianapolis Star-Tribune is rather humorous to me, because it reports things that we've long known about student teaching in such a way as to make you think they're recent discoveries. To wit:

Matt Taylor shoveled mulch into metal trash cans, a wheelbarrow and a red wagon while supervising fifth-grade students who distributed the mulch to create a quarter-mile walking path at DeVaney Elementary School.

“By doing this with them, I get more of an idea of their likes and dislikes,” said the Indiana State University senior elementary education major. “Also, on days when they’re a little rowdy, it wears them out a little bit. Maybe their parents will thank you for it.”

Helping create the walking path wasn’t all volunteer work on Taylor’s part. It was a classroom project and part of Taylor’s duties as he worked alongside an experienced educator during the fall semester learning what it takes to lead a classroom before his student teaching semester.

The Newport resident is part of ISU’s pilot program Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning (TOTAL).
I've had a fairly long parade of student teachers and practicum students come through my classroom in recent years. Eastern Washington U requires 3 hours a week of the college kids when they enroll in Ed200, the first education class. Later on there's a practicum (3 hours a week over the course of the quarter), and then the 10 weeks of student teaching. If the students can schedule their practicum and their student teaching in back-to-back quarters that's a happy thing, because it makes the adjustment into student teaching that much easier.

And regarding student teaching:

“When they student teach, at a certain point in the semester the teacher leaves them in the classroom for a two-week period to plan and deliver all of the instruction,” she said. “The TOTAL student is never left alone in the classroom and is never responsible for the full day of instruction.”
2 weeks?

Seriously, that's all they ask? Two weeks of alone time? I've always made my student teachers do at least 4 weeks where they do all the planning and delivering of instruction, sort of on a model like this:

  • 4 weeks of phase-in, where they learn the classroom routines and the kids, adjust to some of the grunt work, do assessing, etcetera.
  • 4 weeks where they are solely responsible for the lesson planning and putting the day together. I'll double check their plans and share with them the materials that I have, along with providing a rough outline of where I want them to go, but how they structure things is entirely up to them.*
  • 2 weeks of phase out where I ship them to other grades and programs to do observations.
The * is a caveat to say that it depends on how the student teacher is doing; if they can't handle planning on their own, I'll certainly take it over from them and be a lot more hands on than I would normally be. They're still my kids, after all.

I really enjoy having the college kids come through my room. I often learn just as much from them as they do from me, and that synergy can really make the classroom hum.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

A Good Episode of This American Life

For you iTunes people out there, check out episode #370 (posted December 21st). The first segment is on people who are difficult to work with, like me, and that's followed up with a great, great look on parents who choose not to get their kids vaccinated. It's a great listen.

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That'll Learn Him!

From the BBC:

An Egyptian court has sentenced a schoolteacher to six years in jail for beating a pupil to death because he had not done his homework.

Maths teacher Haitham Nabeel Abdelhamid, 23, took Islam Amr Badr outside the classroom and hit him violently in the stomach.

The 11-year-old boy fainted and later died in hospital of heart failure in the city of Alexandria.

The court was told the boy had four broken ribs.

Abdelhamid was convicted of manslaughter.

He said he only meant to discipline the pupil and did not mean to hurt anyone.

The teacher's lawyer was quoted as saying in court: "Hitting [a child] is not banned in schools and my client did not break the law."
This man is a monster.

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The Math is So Simple I Won't Share It With You

Sen. Zarelli out of Ridgefield is the lead Republican on budget issues; his budget tidbits of December 4th floats an idea about how to save the state $2 billion more, by making changes to the 2007-09 budget before it runs out. Try to follow the bouncing ball:

The math is simple. If $500 million in ongoing policy savings are achieved in the final quarter of the current biennium, that translates to a savings of $2 billion in the next biennium. And this can understate the amount in instances where savings from policy changes compound and grow over time.
The math is so simple, in fact, that the Senator doesn't seem to bother to share it anywhere. That makes it really easy for partisan hacks (me) to say that Senator Zarelli is up to something, even though he might actually have a really good idea buried in there.

Specifics, Joe. They're the coin of the realm.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Governor Takes a Suggestion, Part 2: Early Retirement?

Yesterday I mentioned the suggestions that were sent to the Governor's office on how to save the state some money; the list posted at the Washington Policy Center is pretty interesting reading, really. One theme that comes up a number of times in the document is to offer early retirement to employees to get them out of the system:

*An incentive program for people who are within two to three years of Retirement. Some people would like the opportunity to enjoy an early retirement. I think they should at least have that option.

*Every so many years, to help with the State's budget, the Governor offers staff who are close, or sort of close, to retirement, an "offer hard to refuse" to retire early. I am 60, have 17 years under my belt, and would love to be able to retire early! Good luck and we are behind you in these very difficult times…
I'm wondering how feasible that would be for teaching.

Consider--this year a teacher at the top of the salary schedule makes $64,887 while a new teacher earns $34,426, a difference of $30,461 dollars. If you offered the top-scale person $20,000 to get out and hired someone new to take their place, the savings in salary alone would be $10,000. Figure in the benefits and the difference between someone on TRS1 and someone on TRS3, and that number could balloon quite a bit, to the point that you could offer $30, maybe even $35k for people to leave and still have a savings. Project the savings out over 5 years (e.g., (MA+90+16 years)-(BA+0, BA+1....BA+4), and it's very nearly $150,000.

The trick is that this plan presupposes that people would be interested in retiring. A lot of the teachers I know who are staying in the system are there because they need to bridge the gap to medicare so they can afford health insurance, meaning that no matter how effective they aren't or how much they don't like the job they're going to do everything in their power to get to the magic age.

Similarly, those on TRS2 and TRS3 have recently seen their Defined Contribution accounts go in the tank in a truly epic way; anyone watching that happen would need to be shown a pretty substantial emolument before they'd commit.

I don't know if it would work, but it could be an idea worth pursuing.

Read more here, if any.

Afghanistan: Winning Hearts By Fixing Guns

Alternate Title: The Way to an Afghani Warlords Heart is Through His (censored)

From the Washington Post:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.
One wonders if his four wives were equally enthusiastic, but such is war.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dust in the Wind, National Boards Edition

Want to know what happens if the bonus for getting National Board Certified goes away? This is what:

Just this month the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards announced that 1,826 Florida teachers had achieved National Board Certification after a grueling process that took a year or more. They were culled from 4,000 who sought the status, with Broward County alone having 358 who made the grade.

But this year only about 400 statewide are going after certification, with those achieving it next year expected to dwindle to a handful.
That's a 90% reduction. Why?

Cost-saving measures by the state have cut the program off at the knees. Last year's $100 million budget for the program was reduced to $55 million for this school year, with some educators fearful even more cuts may come.

In previous years the state paid 90 percent of the $2,500 fee to enter the program, which trains teachers to improve instruction and then judges what they have accomplished. The state also offered an annual 10 percent pay bonus for certified teachers, plus another 10 percent -- about $4,500 -- for certified teachers who agreed to mentor other teachers.

But with the state's economy collapsing in the face of the housing bust and reduced tax revenues, the Legislature axed the money to pay the initial certification fee. Only a few teachers in high-need schools qualify this year for partial-fee payment through a federal program.
I still feel good about the National Boards bonus here in Washington going forward, based on my reading of what legislators are saying, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see an attack on the bonus from some quarter or another.

As a local president, if my members asked if I thought the money was still going to be there if they went ahead, I'd give them a qualified yes.

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The Governor Takes a Suggestion

There's been a couple of interesting posts in the past few weeks about the website that Governor Gregoire set up to take suggestions on how to save the state some money; the Washington Policy Center and Richard Roesler of the Spokesman Review being two of the best. Check out the document at the WPC website; it's about 27 pages of suggestions that were sent in, some feasible, some not. All the same, good reading.

I'll have more on this later after I've had a chance to read through it more thoroughly; if you have any good ideas on how the schools could save money, leave 'em in the comments section. There's a general belief in some circles (cough*bobwilliams*cough) that about 10% of the state budget is pure waste; if we attack that belief head on, we're only helping ourselves.

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A Pretty Good Overview of Unions and Teachers

Sure, you could read Collective Bargaining in Education by Andy Rotherham and Jane Hannaway, but this well-done report from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy also gets to the heart of the matter, and it does it in 400 less pages.

Good work, CEEP.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Comedy

Kerry Soper's column in the December 5th Chronicle Review is one of the funniest you'll ever hope to see; check it out here. An exerpt:

If students get so frustrated that they start to leave, I tone things down a bit and reveal the details of my peer-at-the-rear philosophy. That includes doing an imitation of what my old teaching persona might have done, had he been there. After getting a taste of that pedagogical nerd, they seem to chill out a bit.

I lay the ground rules: They have to treat me as an equal, not an authority figure or even a knowledgeable mentor. This includes calling me by my first name (or a cool nickname like "Kerr Dawg" or "Super Soper") and greeting me with some kind of groovester handshake or laid-back fist bump. When that's settled, I throw up my hands, say, "Dudes, the class is yours!," and watch as the magic unfolds.

Eventually some of the more alert students will reluctantly organize themselves into study groups. This is a move in the right direction; they're no longer relying on a self-inflated "professor" to show them the way. But they're still full of predictably boring ideas, and so I do my best to disrupt their discussions with postmodern Socratic methods: walking around making annoying sounds; loudly interjecting Zen-like non sequiturs into their conversations ("he who dealt it, smelt it"); or standing behind someone while mouthing their words and mimicking their posture.
Reminds me of a science teacher I once had.

No postings for a few days. Have a Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Whistling Past the Graveyard

From the Seattle Business Journal:

The National Retail Federation says that more people are waiting longer to start holiday shopping this year, likely because they are waiting for more discounting from retailers. Teague said the real question is how much the last-minute shoppers will wind up spending when they do get out and shop.
My alternate theory is that people are waiting to shop because, well, the economy sucks and they don't have a job. I sincerely doubt that you're going to see a big surge in shopping in the next two days, particularly given the weather here in the Pacific Northwest.

(via Slog)

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John Merrow Writes a Commentary

I'm a big John Merrow guy. Everyone should be; the videos that he puts out for the NewsHour on PBS are a great resource and an important voice in the chorus.

In the December 3rd issue of Education Week John gets the back page commentary to talk about some of the things he's witnessed in the New Orleans Recovery District. He talks fondly about a classroom he observed where the 1st graders were reading fluently from Nate the Great; he contrasts that with another classroom in the city where the kids droned through what little reading they could do. It's a nice story, and you can watch the video the article is based off of here.

The bridge too far that he goes, though, is towards the end:

Our national goal—all children reading by the end of 3rd grade—is a ludicrously low floor that may have become a ceiling. Children don’t learn to walk to get somewhere more efficiently. So too with reading: Children want to learn to read so they can make sense of the world around them. Good teachers capitalize on that intrinsic motivation.
This is an assertion that sounds great on the surface, but doesn't always stand up to the reality of the classroom.

This is my 8th year of teaching first grade. In my time I've bent over backwards to try to get some of the kids to read, but it doesn't always happen despite the best efforts of every adult in that child's life. The trick is that for a good percentage of them, by the time they got to 3rd grade they were doing....OK. I've never had a struggling first grader become an advanced reader by 3rd or 4th grade, but I have had bad readers become average readers, and sometimes that's a laudable accomplishment in and of itself.

I reject the idea that Merrow puts forth, then, of 3rd grade as a floor. It's a realistic goal with some legitimacy behind it that acknowledges the different rates that kids develop at, and it's something that I think teachers can legitimately get behind. Where Merrow is going above--"If we'd only build on their motivation, they'd all be reading like the one class I saw!"--is a dead-end path.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Dear Fordham...

A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

Just a thought, but when the screenshot that begins the video shows two people sleeping and one person who looks bored as hell, it doesn't exactly draw you in to the material.

Merry Christmas, your friend,


p.s.: You've actually done this video in a fairly brilliant way, with the still shots superimposed over some of the audio. The whole thing loads with beautiful efficiency even on my slower-than-typical connection; kudos to your tech department for a job well done.

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I Believe, Fully and Without Reservation, That I Would Be a Freakin' Awesome Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Strategic Initiatives

Wonkette has a story on all the applications the Obama administration is receiving and how you will not likely get a job with them; it's a pity, really, since the list of ed department jobs is as full and varied as a very full and varied thing.

Read more here, if any.

What RTI Shouldn't Be

The next big thing on the horizon in my life (after my daughter's next round of medical tests, and the budget cuts, and lobbying in Olympia, and trying to get the WEAPAC numbers up, and getting my car fixed, and trying to save members' jobs, and....) is a presentation that I'm giving at the spring WERA conference on implementing RTI in my elementary school. I'm coming at it from a union president perspective--e.g., these are the roadblocks that teachers can see and put in front of you, this is how you get around those roadblocks--so this article from the December 10th Education Week on a symposium that the NEA held on RTI is the kind of article that I'm particularly interested in right now.

It's also the kind of article that drives me absolutely bat*hit crazy. Consider:

“We really do see [RTI] as a way of transforming the way we do business,” said Patti Ralabate, a special education policy expert for the NEA. “But too often, these kinds of initiatives are done as a top-down approach.”

The symposium is one of the first steps the NEA plans to take to help increase the capacity of teachers to engage in RTI programs as they spread through school districts, Ms. Ralabate said.
See, this is when I think the union gets in trouble--when they try to be something that they're not. The NEA's involvement with RTI should be in writing contract language, advocating for the needs of sped teachers, and maybe even program evaluation. What the NEA should not be doing is trying to increase the capacity of teachers, because any kind of professional development that the NEA could do towards RTI is guaranteed to be laughably deficient.

A far more likely model is that the NEA will train some people, who will train some Uniserv staff, who will have knowledge that they take with them out into the field. Maybe it gets used, maybe it doesn't. A far more likely scenario is that RTI gets interpreted by the school districts in a number of different ways and that an area wide/state wide consensus develops on what RTI is and that then becomes the model.

Point is, the NEA should be an informational piece. I don't think they can guide this idea with any real ability.

Later on:

The challenge with RTI, however, is in making sure general education teachers understand how it works, and how to properly administer the interventions, supporters say. Teachers must also juggle the small-group work of RTI along with their other classroom responsibilities.

RTI shifts the focus to student progress, not student labels, David Prasse, the dean of the education school at Loyola University of Chicago, told the group gathered in Washington for the NEA-sponsored symposium, held Nov. 24.

But to be carried out successfully for classroom teachers, RTI “cannot be an add-on,” he said. Instead, it must be seen as a natural part of good classroom instruction.
This is when the defensive barriers start going up big time, because many teachers pick up on the if/then pretty quickly:

If this is a part of regular classroom instruction, then I'm not going to get any more help for the additional things they'll ask me to do.
If they're not going to give me the resources to make this work the way they want, then I'm not going to do it.

If this is a part of regular classroom instruction, then I'm already doing it.
If it really mattered, I'd be doing it already.
If it really mattered, then they'd be doing it for me.

The fundamental, then, is to not present RTI as a matter of, "This is what good teachers do," because the false premises inherent in a loaded statement like that will kill the idea before it even has a chance to get to fruition.

Oh, but there's more:

Abraham H. Jones, a special education resource teacher for the Christina district in Wilmington, Del., also stressed the importance of RTI as work that is done in the regular classroom.

“It’s a general education initiative, and it needs to remain in the general education classroom,” Mr. Jones said. Educators should work on promoting RTI through pamphlets and brochures as well as professional development, so that it can become better known to more teachers, he said.
Are you f'ing kidding me? A pamphlet?

And this, too, is what drives the regular education classroom teachers mad--it's very, very easy to dismiss RTI as nothing but a sham to keep kids from getting referred to special education, and when you go to your regular ed teachers and ask them to make efforts that have historically been the province of special education ( like measuring data, planning interventions, small group instruction) you're doing nothing but feed into that perception.

My personal belief here is that you've got to have two dual structures in place: PLCs, or some sort of team level meeting where data sharing becomes the norm, and a useful pre-referral team that can analyze that data for the teachers--and maybe even collect it for them--with the understanding that it might be useful for a special education referral at some point. If your pre-referral team is just a rubber stamp of bad ideas off of the web (i.e., "Have you tried having Little Johnny sit somewhere else in the room?"), then you need to reform your crap structure before you try to superimpose something like RTI on top of them. Similarly, if you're not making a connection between the resources and knowledge of your special ed teachers and the new work that you're asking the regular ed teachers to do, then you're really neglecting what could be your most awesome resource.

Recommended Reading: the blog at the RTI Action Network, where some of the important questions are discussed. They don't seem to get a lot of traffic, yet, but I think they're off to a capable start.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

I Confess My Cultural Ignorance

Maybe this says something about my schooling. Maybe it says something about my background. Maybe it says something about my hobbies, my upbringing, or the path I've walked in life.

But I had honestly never heard of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling until it popped up in the Blagojavich speech last week.

Am I a total illiterate, or is the poem not one that's commonly taught?

(The image is kited from this website, another pretty good web version of the poem.)

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I Think That I Would Read the Twilight Books if They Were Ninjas Instead of Vampires

Just sayin'.

(Image found at Vampyres Online, which is gothically awesome.)


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An Important Piece, from the Chronicle of Higher Ed

In the Careers section of the December 5th Chronicle of Higher Education there's a Ms. Mentor column titled "He's Hogging the Course I Want." The gist is that a junior faculty member wants to teach the course that a senior professor has been charging for a decade, poorly in the eyes of the junior professor; what Ms. Mentor says in reply is something with a resonance to the K-12 system as well:

Ms. Mentor thinks she knows why. Professor Swine, not an active scholar, seems to be disqualified from teaching cutting-edge research courses. "Intro to Felicity" may be a course he teaches well and rigorously. He may know where the weakest students will falter, and how to challenge the strongest.

He may also have health worries or private sorrows. Many "senior juniors" — those who publish little after tenure — are caregivers for elderly relatives or special-needs children. In business, employees who frequently miss work because of home responsibilities are fired. In academe, tenured colleagues often quietly but generously make accommodations. Young hotshots sometimes call their nonpublishing elders "unproductive," but more mature souls recognize the varying rhythms of lives and careers. Sometimes guiding the young or sheltering the weak is more valuable than submitting another grant proposal or creating another international symposium.
Given that teaching is a caregiver profession, it shouldn't be a surprise that it's attractive to young parents. Given that teaching is a profession built on relationships, it shouldn't be a surprise when the 50-something 3rd grade teacher isn't called on the carpet when she fails to meet some of her professional "obligations" because she's busy dealing with her mother's cancer.

A program that attracts strivers into the profession, like Teach for America, is a good thing, but it has to be understood that it is what it is--a recruitment tool with a limited scope and strained replicability, where the stars will burn brightly and then burn out. This is why I think that improving teaching begins not with opening the doors wide, but with improving the lot for those who have chosen to make a long term commitment.

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Cause and Effect

This, from the November 21st Chronicle of Higher Education ("Frozen Eggs: Oocyte Cryopreservation is Not the Secret to Professional Success in Academe"):

According to the 2000 census, the more hours that professional men work — up to 59 hours a week — the more children they are likely to have. But for professional women, the opposite is true: The more hours they work, the fewer children they are likely to have.
Ah, but what is the cause, and what is the effect?

The gist of the article is on how women have to make choices between career and family far more than men do, which is most likely true. I have to qualify that since I'm one of those men who downgraded their career (by going half time, to be at home with my daughter more), but I know that I was the exception to the rule.

When men who have more kids are spending more time at the office, then, the question is...why? Are they running from the kids, or working hard for the kids?

This is a stat without a context around it. The meaning in it is the meaning you want it to have.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Why Hasn't The Onion Put Out a New Collection Lately?

The last one I have is this....

....and I know that since they've put out that atlas that I haven't bought yet, but I used to be able to count on a new Onion collection every Christmas, and that was a happy thing.

I thought the books sold like gangbusters, but maybe I was wrong about that.

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You Might Think That Being a Blogger in a Niche Industry with a Readership of 50 Pays the Bills.....

....but, sadly, it does not, even for an eerily prescient man-of-the-future like myself. Some thoughts, then, from the job that pays my bills: teaching first grade!

  • I had a biiiiiiiiig blowup earlier this year with the LASER science coordinators from my ESD. I'm getting trained in one of the kits for first graders, on solids and liquids, which requires three days out of the classroom. Given that I had a student teacher at the time, not a big deal.

    The big deal comes, though, when the The presenter skipped around from unit to unit with little cohesion; instead of getting the "big picture" of what the kit was, we instead got little snapshots of the things that she found cool. It was the exact sort of training that I despise, when someone who hasn't seen the classroom in years is doing a poor, poor job of trying to tell me what to do in the classroom, so before my sarcastic, antagonistic side could take hold and say something regrettable, I left.

    The next day my principal gets a phone call. Early on in my career that would have scared me; now, not so much. At the end of the saga the two main science ladies from the ESD ended up coming out and meeting with teachers from my district to talk about why LASER isn't working, and my most fervent hope given our ongoing budget crisis is that I can pull us out of the whole damn co-op entirely.

    If your district is considering LASER, run the other way. Madness lies down that path.

  • I've got this kid in my class, L. Energetic, 7 year old boy. The problem is that I've yet to find his soul.

    I like my classroom to be a happy place where the kids are engaged. There's a certain amount of noise, but that's OK--I have to look a little askew at those teachers who always manage to keep their classes silent, because that's not the natural state of the primary-age child. The trouble with L, though, is that he can't handle any freedom, at all, and I haven't found his motivator.

    We started positive: do the right thing and I'll play a game with you. Do the right thing and you can choose to use the computer during recess. Do the right thing and you'll earn a sticker, and those stickers can be traded for points. Do the right thing and these great things will happen.

    He didn't care.

    We went negative: do the right thing, or you'll miss recess. Do the right thing, or you'll turn your card. Do the right thing, or you'll have to sit by yourself during lunch. Do the right thing, or I'm taking away everything in your desk.

    He still didn't care.

    The kids I struggle with the most are the kids who don't respond to anything. Positive, negative, whatever--they're going to do what the hell they want to do, and they don't care what you think. They have great fun at school, because there is no consequence that you can offer that will make them stop and think about what they're doing. That's how L is.

    The other problem I have with him is the pervasiveness of his behaviors. There's never a break; he's always up to something. It's kids like him that can ruin a class faster than any other, because when you have a class of 24 and you have to invest 80% of your effort into one child, the rest of the kids aren't getting the attention they need or deserve. For the struggling academic students, they're not getting the one-on-one time they need. For behaviors it's worse, because kids who could be stopped at step one are usually three or four steps down the line before you can catch them, because of the effort you have to put into the one.

    I had never done this before in my 8 years of teaching, but I went to my principal and asked her to move the kid out of my room. We don't have a relationship worth salvaging, so there's no concern there, and in a different room with less kids, maybe he can succeed. I hope so, for his sake.

  • The problem with having a tough class is that you can redirect those negative emotions the wrong way, if you're not thoughtful about it. Wednesday morning I had one of those moments; the principal had emailed to tell us all to come to a staff meeting, and that staff meeting was going to start early because there was so much to go over. I leave for work early, thinking about what I'm going to do with the kids the entire way, and set up the room a little bit before heading down to the staff meeting....

    ....which turned out to be a surprise breakfast put on by the Social Committee.

    "This is it?" I asked. "This is why we're here?"

    "Oh yeah!" replied the 6th grade teacher at the door, cheerfully passing out door prize tickets.

    I think the look on my face gave her pause.

    "....but you don't have to stay if you don't want," she quickly added.

    I didn't stay very long.

    I think part of it, sometimes, is being the only male staff member in the building. The things that sound really, really great to the girls, all 49 of them, aren't all that interesting, sometimes, to the one guy. Thank God for the custodial staff, at least.

  • I'm kind of obsessed with the state budget. As president of my local I'm at the intersection of a number of different special interests: the Uniserv, the WEA, my principals, the district office, my teachers (all 130 of them), the community writ large, the media, and more. With my district looking at a potential $700,000 hole, I'm worried. My goal is to avoid layoffs at all costs, because any teacher released into this economy isn't getting hired anywhere else anytime soon, but the district budget can only be sliced so many ways before my people get hit.

    That's probably going to be my biggest project this spring. The worst thing that could happen--the absolute worst--would be for the legislature to run long, because then the district would almost have to layoff people. At one point Senator Zarelli out of Ridgefield in SW Washington said that he thought there was a chance it could not get done until June, and that would be devastating. Stay tuned.
And for all the readers out there, thank you for sticking with ITAT, and I wish you all a wonderful holiday season!

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I Was Going To Start Reading the Stack of Education Weeks that I've Accumulated....

....but when Hal Jordan stares at you like that, you damn well better read comic books instead. So that's what I did, and I feel like a better man for it. Teaching may not pay the way we'd all like, but you've got to love the vacation time.

(If you're a Green Lantern fan, the above is pretty good; there's a Hal/Guy story, especially, that sticks out above the rest.)

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I Feel Like I've Been Too Hard on Governor Gregoire....

....after all, she really has been a good friend to teachers over the years, and her budget does try to preserve some of the I-728 money that the Seattle Times would have seen cut much further, and we teaching folk did get a 5.1% COLA last year, which isn't bad at all, and she is protecting our health bennies, which is awfully good, so what the hell, here's my make-up Christmas Blingee to celebrate our Governor.

Happy Holidays!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

O Hai, I Make Public Policy.

Actually, Statcounter is brutally efficient in reminding me that no one visits this blog except for me, and I actually haven't even been here since late 2006 (all postings since are created by BlogBog 3000; I'm way too busy whinging about the Sonics and finding new TV shows to badparent my daughter with), but I did find this blurb from the New Tribune interesting:

Here's the general analysis of Gregoire's budget that was done by the House budget committee staff:


Other Adjustments:

· OSPI is encouraged to look at school district consolidations with the goal of administrative savings. Report to Legislature Nov. 2009.
That sounds a lot like something that I've been pushing for a year now; I wrote a quick-ass paper on it for one of my Leadership classes, too.

I'm just happy to see the idea get a mention, anywhere, because I think it's the right thing to do. It will be painful, but there are way too many school districts out there where I think it would be better for a lot of the stakeholders.

Now I just need to find a way to get on that committee...

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I Think I'd Like Me a Kindle

They look quite cool, and I like the idea of something smaller than my laptop that I could take to bed with me to read the avalanche of .pdfs (what is the plural of .pdf, anyhow?) that I come across every week, but I've also got this nagging feeling that were I to lay out $360 for this toy in a year there would be a much, much better toy that I'd regret.

If you have used a Kindle, or any of the other e-books that have come out in the past year, please let me know; I'd love to have a conversation.


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Not a Cut: District Technical Financial Assistance

We'll (meaning I'll) get back to the scheduled wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the Governor's education budget soon enough, but let's take a moment for one of the new programs that she's looking to fund:

Provide school district financial technical assistance. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction predicts that more school districts with declining fund balances could become subject to state oversight. A group of experts is created through the Educational Service Districts to help school districts with financial planning and monitoring. The OSPI will coordinate this technical assistance. ($3.0 million GF-S)
I've heard a stat bandied about that there are 30-something school districts "on the verge"--of insolvency, of bouncing checks, of being Vader-ed, I'm not sure which--but I've yet to find a source for that claim. If anyone out there can assist, I'd appreciate it.

I guess I'm curious, then, what the role of these "experts" would be. Is this a takeover? Would the experts have the authority to void contracts they felt contributed to the insolvency problem? Doesn't the ESD already handle a lot of the financial oversight for smaller districts, the so-called "second class" districts with less than 2,000 kids? Is this a role best taken on by Sonntag and the State Auditor's Office?

Some of this is reflexive distrust on my part of adding more programs to the OSPI menu. Part of it, too, is a sense of frustration--"Hi, I know we cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from your budget, but now we're here to tell you what a bunch of f-ups you are!"

Hopefully there'll be more exposition forthcoming, but at first blush I'm not feeling it.

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I Get Mail! How To Figure Out Your District's Cut.

To whom it may concern,

Is there an easy way to find out how much money the cuts in Gregoire's budget would cost my school district?

Thank you for any help you can offer,

Well, there's not exactly an easy way, but it can be done with only a few clicks around the OSPI website:

  1. First, click here to go to the Apportionment and Financial Services subsection of the OSPI website. There's enough data here to keep you up for days.
  2. On the side menu go to Reports ---> District Reports (or click here).
  3. In the menu, select the name of the school district tyou'd like to look at and click the "search" button.
  4. Scroll down to the 2007-2008 school year and click on the report called "F-196 All Pages." This is the yearly financial summary that the districts report to OSPI.
  5. In that report, first do a search for the number "3300." This will take you to the line item for "Local Effort Assistance" (LEA), the area I blogged about yesterday. Write down the income number they show there.
  6. Go to the very next page of the document and look for line "4166", which is the amount the state gave your district for the Student Achievement Fund (SAF), probably better known as I-728. Write down this number, too.
  7. Now you get to do some math. LEA is looking at a 33% cut, so multiply that first number by .33 to see how much your district could be in line to lose.
  8. Similarly, I-728/SAF is looking at a 24% reduction, so multiply your SAF number by .24 to see how much your district could stand to lose. Add the two together to see the total loss.
The hazard of using this method is that you're using last years reported numbers to make predictions about what could happen next year, completely skipping this year; there's a three year time span, then, and the numbers don't always play fair. For example, I think there was a bit of a bump in the I-728 money this year, which would make the potential loss greater, and the property tax valuation that impacts the LEA money is always hard to get a handle on. You could use the F-195 budget for this year, but the F-196 for the previous year is actual spending (not projected), which I think is a more solid base to work from.

I'm willing to bet, though, that the numbers you'll find in the method above are pretty close to the reality. The big districts are on the hook for the biggest cuts, sure--combined, Spokane 81 is looking at an almost $7 million dollar hit--but even a small district like Almira in Eastern Washington could stand to lose $57,000, mainly off of lost LEA money. Similarly, a really, really small district like Onion Creek (25 kids K-8) could take a $30,000 haircut.

Happy accounting!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gregoire's Education Budget: Levy Equalization

(First in a series of serious looks at the education section of Governor Gregoire's budget, which means I have to drop the l33t speak and put away the lolgregoire pictures I made. Damn.)

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Local Effort Assistance (LEA), also known as Levy Equalization--the money that the state gives to those districts with lots of non-taxable land (state parks, prisons, etc.) to make up for the lost levy money. The thrust of that post was that cutting LEA works politically because so much more of it goes to Eastern Washington school districts, making it easy for your political power base to make the cut--Seattle doesn't get any LEA money, so what does Frank Chopp (Speaker of the House, out of Seattle) care? The Governor ordered a 4% reduction to LEA for this biennium to make up for the hole that has appeared, and in her budget proposal that cut's going to get deeper:

Reduction in levy equalization, which provides a state match to local school districts with higher-than average tax rates to raise a local levy (those districts are more “property poor” than average). For calendar years 2010 and 2011, allocations for levy equalization are reduced by 33 percent. This timing allows school districts to phase in the reductions over two school years. ($125.4 million GF-S)
Putting it off helps slightly, maybe, I guess, but I tinkered with the spreadsheet to see how much money that could cost Washington districts, and it ain't pretty:

  • Spokane: $3,998,849
  • Yakima: $3,357,764
  • Pasco: $2,535,265
  • Kennewick: $2,342,471
  • Evergreen: $2,193,321
The figure that I've used recently for the average cost of a teacher is $80,000; in real money, then, that's about 50 teachers in Spokane. For a district like mine ($442,000), it's about 4.5 positions out of 130 positions.

Now there's a lot of legitimate objections to be had here. #1 might be wondering why a decidedly urban district like Spokane is getting any LEA money. One would suppose, too, that Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown out of Spokane's 3rd LD would have something to say about a cut that could really hurt her home district. You could also offer that these cuts don't necessarily need to be staff cuts, as there are also other areas of the budget beyond salaries.
All well and good. My overarching concern, though, is that this isn't a cut that effects everyone equally. If you cut the class-size reduction money (that's the next post) you're at least being equitable; going after LEA, which was put in place to remedy a systemic injustice, just creates a different problem.

Watch to see what the legislature does with this, because it could be a hell of an albatross.

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Governor Gregoire: "Ha ha, I hate health care and children, who's a tax and spend liberal now bitches?"

Actually, the quote was more along the lines of, "I'm sure each and every one of you will find something you don't like about this budget," but if you ask the right people they'll give you an answer more in line with the title.

And Christine, love ya babe, and thanks for the Christmas card below, even though my invitation kinda sorta got lost in the mail, but all the same best wishes, and by the way fire your tech department for making that really, really unflattering picture what shows up when people link to the YouTube video. It even looks worse in wallet size on your homepage. Tweet me later!

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John Merrow on Gay Teachers

This podcast from the always excellent John Merrow is an incredibly interesting look into the past when a teacher could be fired for being homosexual. It's from a radio program that Merrow did in 1976; they've reposted it in light of the recent dust-up over Proposition 8 in California. The recent release of the Harvey Milk bio-pic, and the new light that it's brought to Proposition 6, also make the podcast a timely piece.

This is the sort of education history that I can't get enough of. I'd love to see more of these old reports re-issued as podcasts in the future; it's a great way to preserve the voice.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marketplace on State Budget Woes

(Meta: I went with woes in the title because I couldn't figure out offhand how to spell the plural of the word crisis.)

The Wednesday, December 17th airing of Marketplace on NPR had a good segment on what the larger effect of state budget troubles could be on social services. The piece focuses on California, but there's lessons in it for what we could be looking at here in Washington State as well.

The Governor's budget comes out tomorrow. That's signal material, and should give us all something to look at over the break.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

I've Sat Through Some of These

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Happy Birthday, John Milton!

Today is poet John Milton's 400th birthday, and to celebrate I'm going to liveblog my reading of all 12 books of his epic work, Paradise Lost! Join me, won't you?

[Begin Liveblog! (10:25 PM]

This is confusing.
I don't get it.
Oh, screw it.

[End Liveblog! [10:27 PM]

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Delving Into Levy Equalization and Local Effort Assistance Lovely Elegant Anteaters and....

At a meeting I had the other day the assertion was made that it really wasn't a surprise that the state would roll back the money that they put into what's known as the LEA Fund, which goes to help districts that are low in property value. It's more familiarly known as levy equalization, and it's been a hot topic for a number of years. The gist of the argument was that since LEA means a lot more to districts in Eastern Washington than Western, if the west side legislators needed to make a cut, why not there?

Anyhow, I was curious, so I wandered over to the OSPI website and downloaded this report which details how much money districts get for LEA. I played around with it and coded it by counties and whether they were on the east side of the state or the west; for the purposes of how I sorted things, there were 144 east side school districts and 152 on the west.

  • There are 79 school districts in the state that don't receive any LEA money. Of those, 57 are on the west side of the state, leaving 22 on the east. That means that 37.5% of west side school districts receive no LEA, compared to 15.3% on the east.
  • The actual allocation for east side districts was $121,312,536; for the west side districts, $89,217,123. Therefore, since more of the LEA money flows to the east, then any cut is also going to be felt harder in the east as well.
  • So, when you add it up, east side districts stand to lose $4.85 million dollars in LEA, and west side districts $3.57 million. This is about $400,000 off from the OSPI reported figure of $8,059,773, so I'm willing to bet that the percentages hold.
So, does the idea that this is an East v. West issue hold? More districts in Eastern Washington use LEA, and the cuts total more for eastern school districts, but Evergreen, Federal Way, Vancouver, Marysville, and Kelso are all western districts that receive $2.5 million or more in LEA.

I think this is one that could be spun the way a person wants it to be spun, but the blame doesn't make the reality any less painful.

If you'd like to see the document along with the changes I made, it's available off of Scribd, here.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

BEFTF Watching Party In My Hizzee, Yo.

Really interested to see what comes out of the Basic Ed Finance Task Force in these next two days. I've read through the draft recommendations, and it looks like the group lead by Rep. Ross Hunter is carrying the day, but we will see. The piece that could be the most profound change is to see what comes of the changes to collective bargaining that Dan Grimm has been championing.

This week it's the Basic Ed Finance report; next week it will be the Governor's budget proposal. The Christmas "holiday" would be a good time to watch the list of prefiled bills, and on January 12th the Legislature convenes. I'm also looking forward to seeing the various legislative previews come out of the professional organizations, namely Washington Association of School Administrators and the State School Director's Association.

It's going to be a hell of a session to watch. I wonder if Postman and Mullick have any regrets about bailing?

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No, Really--Let's Close a Bunch of School Districts

Earlier this year I wrote a post about the potential of closing some school districts here in Washington, and this past week I gave a presentation to my Current Issues in Education class about that same topic, but only looking more here at Spokane County.

Since my original post the state has fallen into a budget hole chasm canyon that has the potential to cut services for kids K through 16, and I think that if eliminating gifted programs and raising class size are on the table, then cutting the administrative side of the equation should also be. It's common sense, it's just, so let's do it.

And just look at the map of school districts in Spokane County to get an understanding of why I think this is a discussion that needs to happen. There's West Valley tucked to the west of East Valley and Central Valley, and my essential argument is that if you combined all three of them you'd end up with a district that was a) geographically nearly identical to Mead, just to the north and b) still had less kids than Spokane District 81 immediately to the west. And those are large, urban school districts--you could save millions of dollars without touching the small rural locals (Great Northern, Orchard Prarie) which becomes a far more emotional issue.

Or, in King County, consider Shoreline, with Seattle to the south, Edmonds to the North, and Northshore to the east. The dividing lines between these districts are basically which side of the heavily travelled highway you live on; why not take out the arbitrary lines and make one administrative unit, as it should be?

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Because Business is Good With Money!

Hey, did you see how Governor Butch Otter in Idaho wants to teach his department heads to cut costs?

Otter has ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to immediately cut its administrative expenses by 6 percent. Because the department receives no state general funds, it wasn't subject to Otter's recent midyear cuts in the state budget. The governor also wants a group of business leaders to advise the department on efficiency, and he is looking for savings pursuant to a legislative audit that's soon to be completed.
This is clearly a great idea, because there's no recent news that would suggest that trusting our business leaders with large sums of money would be anything less than a great idea.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

I Take Pleasure in the Misery of the Oklahoma Thunder, Part 2

Oklahoma City can't even get losing right. Last week they had a chance to break the franchise record for consecutive losses, but they had to go and screw that up by beating Minnesota. Since then, though, they've figured out how to lose three in a row and get their record down to a robust 2 wins and 19 losses.

We're better off without them. That may be hard for some to swallow, but it's truth. At least Oklahoma has football to help.

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The Seattle Times Has Bipolar Disorder

On their Ed Cetera blog the Seattle Times has got a post up looking at the draft report from the Basic Ed Finance Task Force. We love it, sez the Times, because

The reports - there is the main one, a minority report by former lawmaker Dan Grimm and an assortment of add-ons by other education groups - all make the case for a sizeable increase in education funding. The money would come from tying future state budget growth to public education. It is a far-reaching proposal that could return K-12 funding to 50 percent of the general fund, rather than the current 35 percent.
Hooray for money! This is far more progressive than what that other stupid paper, The Seattle Times, said two weeks ago:

Cancel the Initiative 728 money, or most of it. Officially this is for class-size reduction in the public schools, but the schools have folded it into everyday operations. Cutting I-728 money was done in 2003, when the budget was in a crisis, and has to be done again. That is the danger of budgeting by initiative.
I guess the trick is that if you cut the state budget enough then education would get back up to 50% by default, but that would also make it impossible to implement any of the ideas that the Grimm Commission has put forward.

In a related story, if I win this auction from Strangercrombie, I'm totally going to have Eli Sanders write me a long, thoughtful story about school district consolidation in Washington State and why it would be a good thing.

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Why Don't We Raid Unions Any More?

So last week I was at a meeting where the no-raid agreement between the WEA and the PSE came up. We were talking about the nascent effort to organize the early learning centers, which is a joint effort with the AFT and the SEIU, and the very, very logical question was asked: why are we continuing to work on organizing day cares, which is an area we don't know much about, but not trying to get more of the support staff units, who we can do excellent work with?

There should be raids. The competitiveness would keep us sharp, and the WEA could do a lot of good for some of the units currently organized by the PSE. When the no-raid agreement comes up before the WEA Board again, I hope they reject it.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

MSN Says You Should Tip Your Child's Teacher $20

Really, they do! For me that would be $460. I think I should put this out on the email list I have for my class parents.

What I'll get are the usual gifts, the chocolate and the ties, and those are pretty cool too.

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Moving On

Time always brings perspective. Back to our usual programming.

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Monday, December 01, 2008


As I write this I'm rather pissed at God.

We're on the 65th day of school, and here are some of the personal tribulations that people have gone through already this year:

  • One of our 4th grade teachers was pregnant and announced it to the staff. She was pretty excited; it was going to be her first. When she and her husband went in for the ultrasound they found out the fetus had died in utero.
  • A 3rd grade teacher's husband was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. There's always hope, but he's in a bad way.
  • Our counselor's son has been to the best hospitals available to try and cure his health problems. He needs a couple different organ transplants. Last week the insurance company said they wouldn't pay for the procedure. She's now in a position of having to fight them for her son's life.
  • A kindergarten teacher who retired a few years ago lost her battle with cancer. She was a part of the staff for better than 20 years, and lived the cleanest, most Christian life you could imagine. She died about the worst death you can imagine.
  • One of the parapros went to Baltimore to take care of her daughter while she was having knee surgery. While over there, she has emergency surgery for a bleeding ulcer. Mother and daughter end up in the hospital at the same time.
And then there's one of the kindergarten teachers. A few weeks ago she gets the phone call that her dad has been diagnosed with cancer. On Thursday he has a hernia rupture and gets admitted to the hospital for surgery. On Sunday her Grandfather dies.

And then, today, her grandmother, who was a fixture in our school office for 40 years as the lead secretary, dies in a single car accident. It looks like she had a heart attack while she was driving. For this kindergarten teacher, her mother's mother and her father's father died on consecutive days. All this, while her father is getting ready to start chemotherapy next week.

If you tried to sell a story like that to Lifetime TV, they'd laugh you out of the building.

I don't get it. I don't fucking get it. I was raised Episcopalian, and now I go to the Catholic church with my wife since we've married, and my understanding was always that there was a grand design--there is a plan--and while we may not understand all aspects of that plan, you could accept it as a matter of faith that there was, in fact, a plan.

Right now the plan seems to be to shit all over this one family, and I don't get it.

A loving God, by definition, can not be a capricious God. Following that, then, there has to be a reason, and I can't see the reason. Lately I feel like there's more comfort in the idea that there is no God, because the idea that all this is part of a plan is repugnant. Random chance is an idea that I can live with, because sometimes that's just how the breaks fall. Science and logic I can accept, because cause and effect relationships are observable and explainable.

I can't explain, at all, the idea of a just and loving God who would act like this. "It's too big for you to understand" feels like a line of crap. I'm watching people of great faith suffer greatly, and I don't get it.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?


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More Grievances I'd Rather Not Have to Defend

Good times:

Jenna Jameson now has a 9-to-5 job. Fully one quarter of employees who use the Internet visit porn sites during the workday, according to October figures from Nielsen Online; that's up from 23 percent a year ago. And hits are highest during office hours than at any other time of day, reports M. J. McMahon, publisher of AVN Online magazine, which tracks the adult video industry.
I'd suspect the numbers are much, much lower for schools, given firewalls and the fact that we're government employees. Let's keep it that way.

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