Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Most Awesome Interview Answer Ever

From the May 23rd Chronicle of Higher Education Careers section, talking about the search for a tenured professorial position:

Or there was the famous professor’s advisee whose dossier I loved: superb letters, fine scholarship, excellent teaching experience for a doctoral student. We asked her how sh might approach indifferent students. “Oh, they wouldn’t be indifferent to Marxist-feminist-postmodernism,” she said confidently, and was off: “We’d start the African-American history course by establishing that gender makes race.”

“Excuse me,” my colleague interrupted, “I don’t understand what you just said.”

She babbled on happily in code for a while.

“OK,” he persisted, “how are you going to persuade students of this?”

She was ready for us: “Oh, I’d have them read a short journal article, no more than 25 pages, that would make the case; they would be persuaded, and we could move on.” She crossed her arms, satisfied.

It almost seems like a special form of madness that someone like this could think that what they were just describing was teaching.

She didn’t get the job for obvious reasons.

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Stay in School Kids Teachers

Interesting front-page article in the April 30th issue of Education Week (Districts Experiment With Cutting Down On Teacher Absence) on the costs that school districts are incurring from teacher absences for sick leave, personal leave, emergency leave, and the like. The article frames it as a problem with no real solution, and as a union guy I agree—if you start telling my members that they can’t use their sick leave, I have to fight you on that point. If the district came to me with evidence that someone was abusing their leave, I would happily tell them to use the disciplinary process. That’s appropriate.

What’s not appropriate is badgering young mothers who need to take care of their children when they access their sick leave for that purpose. One of the strengths of teaching is that it is a family friendly profession, and anything that gets in the way of that only hurts the kids. By giving women with children a chance to be both professionals and parents we’re getting quality people into the classroom who otherwise wouldn’t be able to be there, and that’s good for everyone.

Have any stories from your own district about people abusing sick leave? Is it a problem, from your view?

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Aren't Committee Meetings a Wonder to Behold?

I've enjoyed watching MSNBC today.

I've not enjoyed watchign my peeps have to spend their time on MSNBC on a Saturday in May tearing at each other instead of focusing on November.

But still, good TV.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Question Regarding the NMSI-AP Grant That Has Been All the News Lately

Can anyone tell me where I can find a copy of the grant application?

I know what's been distilled in the news, and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of any of it, but I'd like to see the primary source, and in this case that would be the grant application.

I tried off of the National Math and Science Initiative website, but while they mention the program they don't tell you how to apply for it. I could do a FOIA request from one of the school districts that received the grant, but that takes time and I have a hard time believing that the information isn't available on-line somewhere.

Can anyone offer pointers?

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Creativity Might Be Overrated

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm blog has an interesting post from last month on provocative art projects that have been done over the years. Some lowlights:

Shooting a dog as a performance piece: Tom Otterness (1980s)
Living in a locker for 5 days: Chris Burden (1960s)
Having yourself shot: Chris Burden (1970s)
Having yourself crucified on a Volkswagen beetle: Chris Burden (1970s)
...and those are some of the tamer ones.

I think I'll have my kids stick with finger painting.

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

Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject. Talks about the troubles biographers have dealing with the families of their subjects.

Unlike many of the books that are mentioned in the Chronicle, that actually looks fairly interesting.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The School that Exploded

Here’s a school tragedy that I had never heard of, from March of 1937. A natural gas explosion at the London School 125 miles southeast of Dallas killed an estimated 319 people; the actual total will never be known because of the transient nature of the town’s population at that time. There’s a great article about it in the April 2008 American School Board Journal.

Safety matters.

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Evolution vs. Creationism—A Question of Freedom?

Perhaps it’s my liberal nature, but I really can’t relate to stories like this at all. From the May 14th Education Week:

In another twist in the decades-long battle over evolution’s status in public school science classrooms, state legislators are arguing that teachers have a right to raise doubts about that essential scientific theory as a matter of free speech.

Similarly worded bills that attempt to protect the right of educators and students to present critiques of evolution on the basis of “academic freedom” have emerged in at least five states.

Those measures do not call for teaching “intelligent design” or biblically based creationism. Instead, they generally describe evolution as controversial and seek to bar school administrators from interfering with teachers who describe what they see as flaws in the theory.

Science moves forward when students and researchers are allowed to critically examine theories and the evidence that supports or does not support them,” said state Rep. John Moolenaar, a Michigan Republican and the sponsor of one such bill. His proposal, he said, “will encourage educators to promote a healthy scientific debate.”
The problems that I could see happening here are legion.

  1. If the question of how to teach this topic is to be left up to the individual discretion of the teacher, the way that paragraph three implies, you blown the door open to extreme points of view on either end of the spectrum. “The Lord God created the earth in six days about 10,000 years ago” would have to stand next to “Since the existence of God can not be scientifically proven, He must therefore not exist, and those who believe otherwise are delusional.” An open forum is an open forum, and it sure looks like that’s what they’re going for here.

  2. I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t spend too much time in the science classroom on this whole contrived debate. What lessons are being pushed aside to make time in the curriculum for evolution v. creationism?

  3. The sciences are the area that I’m by far the weakest at, but it feels like this debate really isn’t a debate at all—it’s observable, repeatable experimentation versus faith, and matters of faith should be left to the church. Science class shouldn’t be at the expense of religious belief, but the converse is also true that belief shouldn’t be at the expense of science class.

Later on a Florida pol who proposed a similar bill in his state says that he, “wants our teachers teaching students how to think, not what to think.” It’s a nice sound bite, but take it to the logical conclusion—do facts have any place in the science classroom, or should it all be discovery as you teach the kids “how” to think?

This is an issue that won’t go away.

On a similar note, the Templeton Foundation has been doing a fascinating series of interviews on the place of God in a world of science. They've talked with people from all different walks of life, and the end product is pretty remarkable. Highest recommendations!

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guess Who Just Got Elected President of His Local Teacher’s Union?

Follow-up question: oh dear God, what have I gotten myself into?

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What Every Parent, Teacher, and Community Member Needs to Know About No Child Left Behind

That’s the title of a monograph that I picked up at the Mothers Against WASL booth at the WEA Representative Assembly last week here in Spokane. Juanita Doyon was manning the table for the group; I also picked up an autographed copy of Susan Ohanian’s When Childhood Collides with NCLB that I’ll be reading and commenting on in small chunks over the coming weeks.

Regarding the monograph, it’s a dense read that takes some effort to slog through. Good citations, but not written for the laity—you need to have more than a cursory understanding of education reform to be able to process this paper adequately. That said, it’s a pretty good resource to keep at hand, and I’m thinking that I’ll be referring to it on a frequent basis as I do blog posts on the topic.

You can download a copy here.

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The May 2008 issue of the ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine is all about reshaping high schools. I’ve only had a chance to skim so far, but the articles look good.

Similarly, the Winter 2008 issue of Northwest Education from the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory is all about how high schools here in the Pacific Northwest have addressed the challenges of high school.

If you’re interested in secondary learning, either magazine would be a great read.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speaking of Single-Sex Schools….

….how about those single-sex colleges? Particularly the ones that are only for men?

According to the May 9th Chronicle of Higher Education, there are only 4 all male 4-year colleges left in the United States: Hampden-Sydney, Wabash, Morehouse, and Saint John’s University of Minnesota. It’s an interesting digression to consider what the scene looks like in postsecondary, since the single-gender classroom is a hot issue in K-12 right now.

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The New York Times on Living With ADHD

There's a very neat feature over at the Times' website on people with ADHD; the audio is wonderfully interesting to listen to.

I'm not a big ADHD guy; I think the amount of medication that we give kids today is absolutely insane. There are kids who need it, sure, but I think there are many more where the pills are a mistake. It's interesting to hear from those who actually have the diagnosis.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

“A wet dream is kind of like a fart.”—Sex Ed Teacher Gets Shaft

As the last male staff member in my K-6 elementary school, it fell to me this year to teach the human growth and development lesson to the fourth grade boys. Sex ed for the preadolescent set; a user’s guide to your changing penis.

It was just as awkward as you’d expect.

Things began well enough. We separated the girls and boys and went to different rooms, and the boys knew exactly what was going on by the tittering laughter that was already peeping out before they even sat down. After a brief, sputtering introduction I started a video called Just Around the Corner. First segment, fine. Teenager talks about how nerdy he was before and during puberty. Quite boring, really.

Then the animated penis comes dancing onto the screen.

The visual I’m trying to give you there is much, much worse than the reality, but if you judged from the shrieks of horror that arose from the boys (yes, shrieking boys) you would have thought that Ron Jeremy himself had shown up in the video and whipped it out for all to see.

Anyhow, the actual animation was of a naked boy, very indistinctly drawn. Suddenly hair begins sprouting out of his crotch and armpits, and he gets pimples. The narrator goes through the material in a very matter-of-fact manner, I assume. I can only assume, because at this point my head was buried in my hands wondering how the hell I had gotten into this situation while the boys alternately covered their faces and stared in wide-eyed wonder at the cartoon willy.

Then came the close-up. This is the penis. This is the scrotum. Inside the scrotum are the testicles. This here, that’s where the seminal fluid comes out of the scrotum and makes its way up to the penis. That’s the reproductive process, boys. If you have any questions, ask a trusted male figure who isn’t me.

After the video I was hoping for stunned silence, but they were hyped. There was a quick quiz (“Why yes, Timmy, wet dreams are perfectly normal.”) and then ohgodhelpme the question and answer period.

“Mr. Grant, when they talked about the penis getting hard, was that for...s-e-x?”

“Yes, that’s a part of sex.”


F me, but did that ever open the floodgates. One little guy who is too honest for his own good gets a thoughtful look on his face and says, “Sex? My mom says my sister has that,” which actually shut the room up for about two seconds. Another one pops in with, “You start having sex when you’re 18! Or maybe 17. It depends,” which I obviously couldn’t let go unchallenged, so I said “It’s a personal choice, Bobby. Waiting until you’re married is a good thing,” which satisfied a lot of them.

"Do you have sex every time your penis gets hard?" I wanted to say that I certainly do but that they probably wouldn't get that lucky in life; I answered "No." instead. I think that is probably better for the whole keeping my job thing.

There was also some confusion about semen. “So the baby starts inside the dad, and he gives it to the mom?” one little guy asked me, not understanding the idea of the semen fertilizing the egg. I explained it a little bit more, which lead to the perfect follow-up: “So how does the man get the sperm inside the woman?”

No. We are not going there, you can learn that in 5th and 6th grade health, or you can learn it from the boys on the bus, or you can learn it from the copy of the Joy of Sex that you found when you were snooping around your parents bedroom one weekend when they were gone, but you’re not going to learn it from me. Thank you, here’s your free deodorant, go back to class.

That said, I can see the need for this type of education. The hardest topics to teach are often the most important, and hearing the misconceptions these kids had (e.g., "Men can to get pregnant, I saw it on Oprah!", which is a real quote from one of the groups I had) is quite startling.

For all the nurses and health teachers out there who deal with these issues on a daily basis, I salute you.

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Statcounter says....

...this is going to be an interesting OSPI race.

Looking at the recent keyword activity here on the blog, three of the top five searches are Terry Bergeson (#1), Rich Semler (#2), and Randy Dorn (#5). This, and we're still three months away from the primary. I'd expect to see a spike in the coming days in Semler searches; the key will be to see if Dorn starts picking up more attention.

It'll be an interesting summer.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

WASL Test Administration Quiz Release Items

Actual questions from the WASL proctoring training test. And by actual, I mean mostly made up.

1) During the WASL test many students are confused by question #6. Mrs. Smith stops the class and shows them how to approach answering the question. Is this definitely OK, definitely not OK, or too close to call?

Answer: Definitely not OK. You may not expand on any WASL questions.

2) During the test many students are confused by question #6. Mrs. Smith stops the class and berates them for not recalling the three different lessons that she taught on probability; after a 10 minute screaming jag she retreats to her desk and sobs gently into her morning espresso. Is this definitely OK, definitely not OK, or too close to call?

Answer: Definitely OK. Neither screaming nor crying are banned by the test.

3) As students are taking the reading test a group called Mothers Militantly Against the WASL storms the school, breaks into the secure test storage facility, and holds tomorrow’s science WASL hostage for a $1,000,000 ransom. The principal refuses to pay the money. Is this definitely OK, definitely not OK, or too close to call?

Answer: Definitely not OK. The principal should pay any ransom money out of their building budget, or Title II Part C funds.

4) After losing her election for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008 Terry Bergeson returns to the classroom. In April of 2009 KOMO News 4 helicopters take video of her on her knees in the school parking lot, plaintively screaming to the heavens for relief from the ungodly testing monster that she helped spawn. Is this definitely OK, definitely not OK, or too close to call?

Answer: Definitely OK, and a delightful image to boot.

5) A teacher refuses to give the WASL and becomes a folk hero with ballads written about him. Meanwhile, his kids still end up taking the test, only their teacher isn’t in the room to be with them through the process. Is this definitely OK, definitely not OK, or too close to call?

Answer: Definitely not OK. C’mon, Carl.

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Sonya, Sonya, Sonya....(A Review of the May 9th Get Free! EFF Podcast)

I'm listening to the EFF's Get Free podcast from May 9th, and their new director of Labor Policy Sonya Jones says that it's "very hard to get your hands on" teacher's contracts (it's at about the 6:20 mark).

#1- Many school districts post their contracts on-line.
#2- It's public record; you should be able to get a copy in three days or less by mail if you ask for it.
#3- If the Director of Labor Policy thinks getting copies of the contract is the difficult part, then actually effecting changes in those agreements would be nigh-on impossible.

I've disagreed with her before, but this just seems defeatist.

"The school board can not reduce the number of teaching positions they have without negotiating that with the union," says Sonya. That's false on the face of it. The school district doesn't have to hire for positions that aren't needed. which is why many districts will handle decreased enrollment via attrition. I'm not going to defend Kitsap (the same way I wouldn't defend Spokane last year when they were bleeding kids but refusing to cut staff), but I really can't see how this is a union problem.

I do like the Godfather comparison, as long as it doesn't include the woefully terrible Godfather III. As the lead negotiator for my district I'm considering getting a fedora and wearing a white-on-white shirt/tie combination in order to set the tone.

It's also flat-out wrong to say that the schools that won't be receiving the AP grant didn't have AP programs in place; University High School in Central Valley has AP and would have been a grant recipient.

It's also wrong to say that union dues in this state are $900 a year without pointing out how much that can vary from district to district; while the WEA and NEA dues are consistent, local dues are not.

And can you imagine the stress on administrators if the teachers were represented by four different bargaining units, or if one teacher joined more than one association? If you think it's hard to fire a teacher now, sheesh....

And Sonya obviously has some research to do on teacher strikes here in Washington. They happen, and simply saying "They're illegal!" is ignoring the problem.

This idea that contract language looks the same from the smallest districts all the way up to Seattle is ludicrous. There might be some commonality in the nuts and bolts, but compare a Seattle or Spokane to a small district like Cheney or Reardan and the differences are far greater than the similarities.

It's also interesting to me to see a group like the EFF that's put a lot of work into model legislation projects that can be used in any state criticizing the WEA for having boilerplate language available. Different sides of the same coin?

Anyhow, lots of education discussion in this episode. Well worth listening to for anyone here in Washington who cares about education, from either side of the political spectrum.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Look to the Future

Item--New Business Item #8 from the 2008 WEA Representative Assembly: that WEA, in the future, use its best effort to avoid conflict with the national process to select delegates to the national conventions in presidential years.

Cut ahead to 2011...

Hey Mike, we need to schedule next year’s rep assembly.

Sure thing, John. What dates were you thinking about?

Well, here’s the thing. Do you remember New Business Item #8 from 2008?

The one about scheduling around conventions? Sure!

I went and looked at when the national conventions are scheduled, and that’s not going to be an easy thing.

Why’s that?

Well, I can find a week when we’re not electing delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and I can find a week when we’re not electing delegates to the Republican National Convention…

(John and Mike laugh uproariously over the thought of WEA members going to the RNC)

…but the other conventions are problematic.

What other conventions?

(John gestures to a calendar) Well, the Green Party elects their nominees here, and that’s important for the members from Seattle. The Libertarians picked this weekend, which really effects our small/rural locals.

(Mike, impatiently) OK, that’s four parties, but...

...but the list keeps on going, Mike. The Constitution Party is here, the Prohibition Party is here...

The Prohibition Party? You’ve got to be kidding me!

They’re big in Benge. Then there’s the Socialist Party, the Workers World Party, the Marijuana Party...

I’m guessing they’re not big in Benge.

But you can see the problem, can’t you?

I can, and here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to...


The vague ending is intentional, since I have a strong feeling this New Business Item will never be heard of again.

If you ever have a chance to go to Rep Assembly, take it. It’s one of the more interesting exercises in democracy that you’ll ever see.

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Would Oklahoma City Consider Taking the Mariners, too?

....or would that be an act of aggression against a fellow state?

My Lord, but this team is horrible.


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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Workbooks That Don’t Work

We’re making a commitment to look at every aspect of our spending, and one area that is getting a close look is student workbooks, because there’s a ton of them and they’re all expensive. In my first grade room we have two different books for reading and one for math; they cost about $40 each per child. That’s about $10,000 a year, then just for workbooks for my one grade level.

Looking at that, we decided that next year we would eschew the reading workbooks in favor of a cheaper phonics workbook; we didn’t feel like we could do without math. Even in reading it will be difficult because of how the workbook paces the curriculum, and so we’re going to have to make a pretty strong commitment to bringing in other ways to teach specific reading strategies, high frequency words, and spelling.

If you’re doing a curriculum adoption make sure that you nail down what the year-to-year costs will be to keep it going. We got caught with our pants down.

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Let’s Talk About Sex Gender

The May 7th Education Week has a detailed article (Single-Sex Schooling Gets New Showcase) on the growing movement in South Carolina to offer more single-sex education options. The article comes with a map that lists the number of single-sex public school offerings state by state, and I was surprised to see that Washington had five listed. Doing a little poking around I came across this website from the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, which talks about programs in Camas, Vancouver, Olympia, and Seattle. I’ll be darned.

What do you think about single-sex classrooms? If you were in school, would you feel positive about the experience? Would you put your own children in single-sex environments if they were available?

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What Value Value Added?

There’s an interesting article in the May 7th Education Week on the “value added” model for judging teachers and schools. Under a value added (VA) system quality is judged by the change scores on a consistent scale; the MAP assessment from the NWEA is a good example of what a value-added test might look like. Some pieces from the article that struck me:

“My personal opinion is that this model is promising way more than it can deliver,” (Audrey Amrein-Beardsley) said in an interview with Education Week. “The problem is that when these things are being sold to superintendents, they don’t know any better.”
I’d be curious to understand what exactly it is that a data model like value added can really promise. The results of data analysis can be spun in a variety of ways, true, but the data itself is what it is. I’ve looked at VA as more a piece of the puzzle rather than as a whole puzzle in of itself, but maybe I need to look closer at the issue.

Later the article talks about the problems associated with using VA for programs like merit pay:

For example, results might be biased if it turns out that a school’s students are not randomly assigned to teachers—if, for instance, principals routinely give high-achieving students to the teachers who are considered the school’s best.
This is a legitimate concern. I’ve known several teachers in my short career who can do amazing things with gifted kids but can’t reach out to the low learners at all; by the same token, I want the low kids because the growth is the most spectacular in them. I think that this could be a strength of VA, because if you add 30 points to the scaled score of a low kid but only 5 to a high achiever, it’s clear where the most progress was made.

The most important piece of the article, and one that I’ve brushed on before:

But the more sophisticated the technique, the less understandable it could become for practitioners. The question is whether the added accuracy will make it harder for teachers and administrators to buy into value-added accountability systems, several experts say.
It’s critical that the teachers understand what the score on the test means, and that they know what factors could move that score up or down, especially if you intend to use this test to make a judgment about the teachers or their students. There’s nothing that breeds distrust faster than to be told, “You don’t need to know the details,” because that’s where the devil usually is.

It will be interesting to watch this conversation unfold.

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Can every school be an excellent school?

A loaded question, indeed.

Over on the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Youtube channel there's a video touting the upcoming release of Flunked, their documentary on the education system. It's looking like it will highlight some schools that are succeeding against the odds, and I'm looking forward to it coming to Spokane.

The thing about a movie like Flunked, though, is the question of whether the model is replicable. It's one thing to highlight schools that are doing incredible things; it's another to take what works at that school, apply it to a different school in a different setting, and expect the results to be the same. Worth trying, sure, but only with an understanding that the experiment might well fail.

This is why there are no "THE answers" in education. Competition might be ONE answer, in some settings, but they certainly aren't THE answer. The same could be said about vouchers, merit pay, pay for performance, small class size, increasing teacher salary, or any other adaptation in the field today.

Given that I ask you this--what's getting in the way of making your school an excellent school, and how would you fix it?

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shenanigans on Jay Greene

There’s a blurb in the May 7th Education Week on a new study done by the frequently wrong Jay Greene. His analysis of his own report:

“Our results from evaluating Florida’s McKay program provide additional evidence that rather than being harmed, public schools respond to the challenge of exposure to school choice by improving the education they provide.”
See? School choice works, vouchers are good for kids, the free market will indeed solve all, and Keynes deserves to be in the same pantheon of education gods as Dewey, Kozol, and Vgotsgy. But wait a minute....

McKay Scholarships are available for students with individualized education programs, which are required under federal law for students with disabilities. The vouchers let recipients attend public schools of their choice or private schools that accept the vouchers.
Are you getting a sense, then, of why schools that have a lot of kids leaving with McKay vouchers might be seeing an increase in test scores?

I’m sure that if I bothered to read the report (The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence From Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program) I’d find an awful lot about isolating variables and controlling for factors and ANOVA and the many other statistical tricks that can be used to make a point, but I have a feeling that the gut-level instinct is all I really need on this one.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Why My Local Didn’t Vote No Confidence in Terry Bergeson

There’s a rather odd article in the May 15th Seattle Times about the no confidence votes the WEA has been pursuing against Terry Bergeson. They cite a “confidential memo” that sources in the AP acquired, and that’s just plain laughable—a memo that’s been sent to 400 different locals, has been in 1000 different hands, and has been mentioned online repeatedly hardly qualifies as confidential. This isn’t a secret initiative by any stretch of the imagination.

That is also borne out by the front-of-the-section article in the Saturday Spokesman-Review ($) on the vote of no confidence that was taken at the WEA Representative Assembly late Friday afternoon. It passed by an overwhelming majority, though a later request to make it a unanimous vote was blocked.

I was one of the blockers. My local abstained from taking a position on the Bergeson issue, because there are enough teachers in my group who believe in her that I wouldn’t have been representing them well if I had voted yes.

If you’ve followed the story at all (good background here and here) you’ve probably picked up on the fact that local leaders are polling their members to gauge their opinion of Dr. Bergeson. I did that in my group using an online tool called Survey Monkey that worked really quite well, and about a third of my people responded, which is pretty good for us.

And boy, did I get savaged. Comments ranged from “I want nothing to do with this” to “If you do this, I’m going to quit the union.” Many made a rousing defense of Terry and felt that we should be working with her to solve the problem, which is a theory that I’ll probably explore in a different post later on.

There were also a ton of comments from teachers who are frustrated with the WASL, who have been in the classroom for 25 years and hate to see what it’s doing to learning and to the kids, and who blame Terry for the whole mess. In fact, the majority of the people who voted in the poll said that they felt strongly enough about the issue that they believed the vote of no confidence was a great idea.

So given that, why didn’t I make us a part of the no confidence vote?

  • A majority of the people who responded to the poll said to vote no confidence (21 out of 41), with the rest split between “Leave Terry alone!” and “I really don’t care.” 21 people is about 1/6th of my membership; should I have gone with their vote, overriding the other 5/6ths?

  • The membership of my local is more conservative than most. It’s a small town that serves a military installation (Fairchild AFB), and any union measure is immediately down two strikes before it even gets off the ground floor with many of my members.

  • I really didn’t need the publicity. Had I taken us in this direction I’ve no doubt that my town newspaper would have picked up on it, writing a story which would have immediately verified many of the very worst suspicions people hold about teacher unionism. That wouldn’t have been a fair position to put my members in.

For those locals that voted No Confidence in Terry, I congratulate you. Teacher voice matters, and you are to be commended for making yours heard.

I just ask that you don’t assume silence to be acquiescence, either for or against. Union politicking can be a wonderfully complicated endeavor, and this is one of those times.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Did You Say the Future, Conan?

One of the sessions at WERA a few weeks back was on School Employee Compensation and Student Outcomes, presented by staff from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and based off of their report of the same name from December 2007. It’s actually pretty good reading, as academic reports go; particularly interesting to me were the long-term looks at national graduation rates (less than 10% in 1900, nearly 70% today) and the discussion about what the immediate goals of our state legislature are regarding funding and results.

You can download the report here.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

With Apologies to Doctor King

At WERA in March month Dean Fink, keynote presenter, made a comparison between the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the standards movement of today. I was curious, so I went to a secret underground library at OSPI to do some research, and I was shocked to find this previously undiscovered yet eerily prescient speech that Dr. King never had a chance to give. I present it to you here for posterity’s sake.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from giving seniors the math WASL for the 5th time. Some of you have come from districts where your quest for excellence left you battered by the storms of standardization and deflated by the ignominy that is canned curriculum. You have been the veterans of stifled creativity. Continue to work with the faith that TRS will provide for you in the end.

Go back to Spokane, go back to Stehekin, go back to Ridgefield, go back to Shoreline, go back to the Twin Cities and the Tri-Cities and the Emerald City, knowing that through legislative fiat this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair—let us build a Sylvan Learning Center there for the districts that are in the third stage of failing AYP.

I say to you today, my teachers, so even though we face a long series of difficult days that blend into difficult weeks, and even though the year is long but the hours are short, I still have a GLE. It is a GLE deeply rooted in the EALRs, and it is a GLE that all Washington students share. Allow me to tell you about my GLE.

I have a GLE from math, that one day our standards will rise up and live out their true potential: to be equal to the standards of Massachusetts and California, which are much higher than our own.

I have a GLE for reading, that one day on the wide plains of Lincoln County the sons of Almira and of Coulee-Hartline will be able to sit down together in a classroom and read a passage and make inferences from that passage and write about them.

I have a GLE for science that one day even a screwed up hellhole like Rochester, a district withering under a plague of methamphetamine, strapped by a long series of levy failures, will be transformed into an oasis of hypotheses and controlled experiments and independent variables.

I have a GLE so that one day any one of our children will be able to attend a school where their chance for success will not be a function of the color of their skin but of the content of their character.

I have a GLE today.

Let GLEs ring from the snowcapped Cascades of Grant County!

Let GLEs ring from the amber waves of Whitman County!

But not only that; let GLEs ring from the fogbanks of Olympia, the bars of Ballard, and the overpriced hotel rooms of Long Beach!

From every county, let GLEs ring!

And when this happens, when we allow GLEs to ring, when we let them ring from every 2B school and consolidated school district, from every 4A powerhouse where the high school has more kids than several towns put together, we will be able to speed up that day when all of Washington’s children, black kids and white kids, low-SES or high-SES, free lunch or brown bag, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank Bergeson Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

The AWSP on Political Action

David Montague, a principal out of Kennewick, wrote a commentary for the Spring 2008 edition of The Principal News talking about the reasons that school administrators should be active in the political process. It’s a good read for teachers as well, and I’m thinking that I might try some of his ideas with candidates from my legislative district.

You can’t find the article on-line, regrettably, but Jerry Bender, director of governmental relations for the AWSP, keeps a blog here that "covers" legislative issues. (memo to Jerry: no posts since January? C'mon, man, there's action out there!)

Given the realities of today, I think that engagement is more important than ever. I'm glad that the professional organizations make Olympia accessible.

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Live-ish blogging the WEA Rep Assembly

I'm in the lobby of the Spokane Convention Center getting ready to attend a pre-session on alternative compensation models; the worker bees are still busy getting everything ready. There's a lot of energy in the building already, and it's a drop-dead gorgeous day here in Spokane--you couldn't ask for nicer weather for our out-of-town guests.

I'll try checking in later to let you know how it's going, and after I get a look at the convention floor I'll try to see if I can blog from there.

This is my first rep assembly as a delegate, and I'm pretty excited to be here.


1:30 Workshop on different methods of compensation--merit pay, "combat" pay, alternative pay, etc. Pretty good conversation. I brought up the AP Grant from Exxon that made all the news, and that was a good spark. General sense that it's coming, it's perhaps inevitable, we just need to figure out the right way to handle it.

3:00 Went to a workshop on the costs of the WASL for about 5 minutes, then got out and went to sit in the sun. Soaked my feet in the Spokane River and watched the ducks do their thing. It is a freakin' glorious day here.

3:45 Walk through the exhibit hall, lots of neat stuff. Sort of interesting to me that there aren't any curriculum-book dealers; I guess we're teacher leaders, just not in the curriculum domain.

4:20 Helped my council president put out some placeholders and bring in the food for our council. If this army does indeed run on its stomach, we're good to go. I'm in the third row, far left as you face the stage.

4:45 I think I'll walk over to Auntie's Book Store, which is the neatest book store you've ever seen. I've got an hour to kill until new delagate orientation.

5:15 Some other folks from the council invite me out for drinks before the meetings begin. We head up to Luigi's where I enjoy my vice (Jack and coke, double, neat) and chow down on an order of mozzarella sticks. As it turns out, this is my dinner.

6:45 Back to the convention center. WEA President Mary Lundquist calls the meeting to order. Some piddling issues, then the big one--Christine Gregoire gives a speech.

It was nice enough. She talked about how she had a teaching credential out of college, then went into law. She also reiterated her belief in full-day kindergarten.

8:20 The national teacher of the year for 2007 speaks about her experiences. I took a powder, because sitting isn't really my strong suit. Out in the hallway there was a good crowd at the WEAPAC booth, and I perused the baskets they had set out for the silent auctions.

9:30 In a move that could be wonderfully habit forming, we finished the business session early and were released. Tomorrow it's a marathon, from 9:00 to 9:00. That'll be fun.

(Also fun: Count the Crosswords. Stand at the back of the Rep Assembly and see how many people you can find doing a crossword puzzle or sudoku. I had 10 in one sweep as I was going to the water fountain)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

School Composting Programs and Making Little Changes to Save Money

Does anyone out there have experience with school composting programs? The amount of solid waste produced by our lunchroom is astounding, and if we could do something with the solid food waste instead of tossing it in the dumpster I’ve got to believe that we’d save a couple thousand dollars every year.

I’m thinking that we could do something with our electric bill, too. It annoys me when I walk in on a Sunday evening to do lesson plans and can see computers that have been left on since 3:00 on Friday afternoon with nothing going on. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were set to go to sleep, but they’re usually sitting there with the monitor on and the desktop showing. Some have the screen saver going at least, but it’s still a change that we could make that might save a few dollars.

And sure, in the big scheme of things it’s the heating, cooling, and lighting that make the most impact on the power bill, but I can get to those later.

Is your school making any facilities changes to save money? What do you see in your building that could be done?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Would You Use Prescription Drugs to Improve Your Teaching?

The lead headline in the April 25th Chronicle of Higher Education is on the growing practice in academic circles of using prescription drugs like Ritalin (concentration) and Provigil (keeps you awake) to help job performance; brain steroids, essentially. It’s an interesting idea—Lord knows that I could use some help with focus every now and again, and if there was a happy pill that could help me do that with minimal side effects, I’d sure have to consider it. Right now my pcik-me-up vice is Monster Energy drinks, which drives my wife nuts.

Would you pop pills to be a better teacher?

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Would the Public Schools Be Better if Tenure Was More Like the Colleges?

The April 25th edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting commentary from the pseudonymous Philip Drew on the process of getting tenure in academe; the byline introduction states plainly, “Here’s why it’s usually a bad idea to promote assistant professors before the six-year mark.”

Six years. Golly Ned, that’s a long time. But is two years, like we have here in Washington for public school teachers, too short?

In reading the accounts of assistant professors on the Chronicle message boards it’s pretty apparent that those pre-tenure years are a special kind of hell. The trick is that when they attain the security that tenure provides, they’ve attained something pretty incredible, and they’ve damn well earned it. Can the same be said for teaching?

Governor Schwartzeneggedegegger was burned hard a few years back when he proposed raising the minimum number of years required to earn tenure in the California public schools from two to three; he might have had a point.

What are your thoughts on tenure for teachers? Is two years enough? Should it even exist?

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Nature Deficit Disorder

Kids don’t know nature any more, reports the AWSP in the Spring 2008 edition of The Principal News. That sounds about right—nature’s dangerous, after all, and kids must be shielded from any and all discomfort. That’s the new American way.

I’d like to add another disorder to the lexicon—Farm Deficit Disorder. For today’s kids food comes from the grocery store, and that’s where they think the chain begins. My wife’s family operates a dairy farm, and every year they have school groups out from local elementary schools. Fun excerpts from the kids:

“What are the cows for?” (answer: good looks)
“The milk comes out of THERE?!?!” (answer: Yes. Yes, it does.)
“How long do the baby cows get to stay with their moms?” (answer: Not very. The milk goes into the bulk tank, not into the calf’s belly. That's capitalism. Please don't tell PETA.)
“WHAT’S THAT SMELL?!?!” (answer: That’s me, sorry. Accidentally pulled my own finger.)
“Is that cow poop?” (answer: Nope. That’s processed hay byproduct.)

I teach a weeklong unit to my kids every year on milk and dairying. Next year I’m going to contact some of the local wheat farmers and see if they could give me something to talk about. It’s information worth giving to the kids.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Well, Bully for You.

AWSP Director of Student Leadership Susan Fortin has an article in the Spring 2008 Principal News on bullying prevention programs. Specifically, weaknesses in bullying prevention programs. One piece of the article that stands out:

Too many programs are sold as one-size-fits-all when we know that the challenges and complexities of each school are unique.

I get the point that she’s trying to make, but this reads more like a reason to do nothing (e.g., “We’ve never tried this program, and that means we never should!”) than a thoughtful critique. It also speaks to the idea of using research-based curricula, checking comparable schools for what has worked for them, and not making decisions hastily.

I just wish she had gotten that point into the article.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

First Look: The Teaching Penalty, by the Economic Policy Institute

I like to read academic studies of teacher pay, because they’re totally non-controversial and everyone agrees with them. /sarcasm

The Teaching Penalty is a new book out from the Economic Policy Institute that looks at the most recent trends in teacher pay, and it’s not looking good for educators, especially in the last decade. From the report:

An analysis of trends in weekly earnings shows that public school teachers in 2006 earned 15% lower weekly earnings than comparable workers, a gap 1 percentage point larger than that reported for 2003 in our original study. The teacher disadvantage in weekly earnings relative to comparable workers grew by 13.4 percentage points between 1979 and 2006, with most of the erosion (9.0 percentage points) occurring in the last 10 years (between 1996 and 2006).
I’ll be giving it a full read-through to check the methodology, but if it stands up to scrutiny it’s a great report for teachers. The WEA thinks so, too, though the EFF disagrees.

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Yay Me!

I got a grant from the Association of Washington School Principals to do my internship next year; 32.5 days of release time to use for the benefit of the school. That’s going to make it a lot easier for me to do all the work involved. The order of events:

  1. Do the internship
  2. ?????
  3. Profit.
Yeah, I didn't get that joke without looking it up either.

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As the Father of a Daughter, Stories Like This Make My Skin Crawl

So it used to be that I could listen to stories about the hypersexualization of girls in our culture and nod sadly while not really caring all that much.

Then my own daughter was born, and suddenly crap like Bratz, those pants with the mildly suggestive slogans written on the butt, and too much of the media make me want to lock the front door and hide my family away until the Flying Spaghetti Monster returns.

The March 2008 NEA Today magazine has a nice (?) article on the subject (Lolita in the Classroom). This even before the Miley Cyrus kerfuffle. Lord, what are we doing to our girls?

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why Be a Principal?

Charlene Milota, vice-principal in a Spokane school and President of the Association of Washington School Principals, wrote her final column for the AWSP’s thrice-yearly magazine in the most recent issue. In it she shares her top ten reasons to become a principal:

10) Every day is a surprise.
9) Become a lifelong learner by observing great teachers.
8) Build the kind of school climate you would want to teach and learn in.
7) Support disenfranchised kids—be the constant as kids move from teacher to teacher.
6) Where else can you feel like a rock star while grocery shopping?
5) Hire, mentor and support your team of teachers and support staff.
4) Attend world class sports, music, and drama events—FOR FREE!
3) Play a significant community role by positively influencing parents and others.
2) Impact student’s lives, one child at a time.

And the number on reason to become a principal:

1) Someone believes in you!
This is nice, but as someone looking to enter that job market I need to narrow the field and would like to scare off as many fellow wannabe principals as I can. To that end, I give you

The Top 10 Reasons NOT to Become a Principal

10) Every day is a surprise. Pearl Harbor was a surprise, too.

9) Become a lifelong cynic by observing terrible teachers and not having the power to do anything about it.

8) Work in the kind of school climate that makes Office Space look like Google.

7) Be the constant as kids move from teacher to teacher, so when They start wondering why the test scores are low They can fire the constant—you.

6) Where else can you develop the patience of Job while sitting in on your 5th meeting of the day?

5) Hire, mentor, support, evaluate, remediate, disaggregate, contemplate, and finally defenestrate your team of teachers and support staff.

4) Attend world-class sports, music, and drama events—frequently. If you’re in the high school, nightly. You’ll also be criticized for the ones you fail to attend.

3) Play a significant role in community gossip circles after you make what seemed like a simple, innocuous decision…until it blew up in your face.

2) Have your life impacted, 600 students and 40 staff members at a time.

And the number one reason NOT to become a principal…..

1) Someone might believe in you, but that’s not a measurable quantity under No Child Left Behind.

Have a happy day!!!~!

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So Now I Can’t Even Hold That Against the Bastards

From the March 2008 NEA Today:

Little Johnny is only in kindergarten and already picks fights, interrupts his classmates, defies your orders—you’re completely worn out after a day with him. But at least now you don’t need to worry so much about his academic future. It turns out, children like Johnny do just as well academically five years later as the little joys who behave themselves.

The good news comes from a study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, that followed students from their first days of school through the intermediate grades, recording their math and reading skills, attention level (how well they persist at a task), and whether they were disruptive and antisocial.

Early academic skills predicted later achievement the best. Attention (or persistence) also predicted later achievement, but not as strongly. Defiance and other antisocial behaviors had little or no predictive value—quite a surprise!
It’s not the result I would have expected from a longitudinal study, but in reflecting about it I haven’t taught many kids with behavior problems who haven’t also been struggling academically.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Crisis on Infinite Districts

The syntax doesn't work, but the comic geek in me can't resist.

The Washington State School Director's Association does a great job with their daily E-Clippings of collecting all the education news from papers around the state. It's my start page, it's in my email box every morning (thanks, JL), and for anyone interested in schools in Washington it's a must-read.

Many of the articles in recent weeks have been highlighting the budgetary problems that districts have been having; taken in the aggregate, it's a pretty bleak picture. Below are links to stories that have appeared in E-Clippings in the past few weeks, from all around the state, on this year's budget woes:

Friday, May 9th:
Thursday, May 8th:
Wednesday, May 7th:
  • The Vancouver Columbian: Faced with a projected $2.4 million deficit next year, Vancouver Public Schools may eliminate 26 staff positions and make other cost-saving changes next year.
  • The Kitsap Sun: Tough Choices Ahead for Bremerton Schools
  • The Olympian: Olympia School Cuts Draw a Crowd
  • Peninsula Daily News: Port Angeles Schools Cut Budget, Keep Full Day Kindergarten

Tuesday, May 6th:
Monday, May 5th:
Friday, May 2nd:
Thursday, May 1st:
Tuesday, April 29th:
Monday, April 28th:
Friday, April 25th:
Wednesday, April 23rd:
Monday, April 21st:

Olympia, Bremerton, Vancouver, Aberdeen, Bethel, Blaine, Ferndale, Meridian, South Kitsap, Port Angeles, Edmonds, Central Valley, Mead, Dayton, White River, Sumner, Puyallup, North Thurston, Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap, Medical Lake. North, east, west, south, all in the same house of budgetary horrors. And those are only the named districts; there are many, many more out there in the same boat.

At least we're all in it together. Yay?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

The EFF Podcast on Posting Teacher Salary Data Online

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation is in a good groove with their Get Free podcasts. The hosts are entertaining, the topics are worthwhile, and the production value is praiseworthy. Even though I’m a liberal (who still finds their video podcast host very easy on the eyes) I can give credit where it's due.

In their most recent podcast there’s a discussion of the EFF’s habit of posting teacher salary data on-line. Sonya Jones, who really comes off as rather bitchy in her blog posts, had gotten a letter from a teacher who didn’t realize that this was the practice and that it was just one of those things that we teachers have to deal with by virtue of being state employees.

The piece from the podcast that’s interesting is the defense that the hosts put up, offering that it’s not about individual teachers, really, but more about giving the public information on the system as a whole.

I think this defense fails. I can see where they’re trying to go, but I don’t think they quite get there.

The biggest flaw is simply in how their spreadsheets on salary data are constructed. As a union guy I’ll freely admit that I’ve used them on more than a couple of occasions to help various causes, and from that perspective I can tell you that the problem with the spreadsheets is that there is no differentiation between various job classes. You can’t look at any one of them and tell what the average teacher makes in district X, because if you aggregate all of the names and data for any individual school district you’ll also pull in the paraprofessionals (artificially lowering the average) and the administration (raising it up, though not by nearly as much a percentage). Even if you have a rote understanding of what the range of a teacher’s salary is, I’m willing to bet that the consumer at large could look at the raw data and pull in custodians (since most of them work a 240 day year) and paraprofessional supervisory staff.

Last year I looked at the same topic and asked whether this data was usable data, and as constructed I don’t know that it is.

If you've accessed the spreadsheets and used them, what did you use them for?

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Terry Bergeson and the WSLC: Big Deal, Little Deal, or No Deal?

An email received today that raised my eyebrows:

Thanks to Seattle Education Association who worked with their colleagues, the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 609, who represent Seattle School District ESP's. Local 609 delivered a rousing speech on the floor of Saturday's endorsement convention of the State Labor Council regarding Terry Bergeson's anti union support of charter schools and convinced the Labor Council, who had endorsed her in previous elections, to deny Terry Bergeson their endorsement this year.
It seems odd to me that an old stance on charter schools, which is a dead-as-a-doornail issue here in Washington State, would have any resonance. I would have expected criticism for underfunding the skills centers, or championing practices that have made it harder for kids to pursue a career in the trades, but charter schools?

A quick check of the Washington State Labor Council's website shows that they didn't endorse anybody for the OSPI race, which is a mild surprise to me when you consider that PSE Executive Director Randy Dorn has declared for the office; I maybe would have expected some inter-union synergy.

The crowd I hang with is decidedly in the "ditch the bitch" camp, so it's not a surprise that I hear a lot of anti-Bergeson buzz; it's just odd to me to see so little positive momentum, either. She's a 12 year incumbent, after all.

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