Monday, June 30, 2008

There Is No New Math

Alternate Title: There Is Nothing New Under the Sun

The scan above is from book 1 of Mental Arithmetic by D.E. Wiedman, a classic from right here in Washington State. It was published by Union Printing of Bellingham in 1928 and used extensively in schools on the west side of the state; my particular copy is a leftover from the Arlington School District. The piece I'd point out is the first grade math standard: "45 fundamental combinations, no sums greater than 10."

Now consider the new math standards for Washington State, developed over the course of 15 years at an investment of tens of millions of dollars. After all the sturm un drang and teeth-gnashing and study and analysis, what did we come up with for first grade?

Quickly recall addition facts and related
subtraction facts for sums equal to 10.
Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back to basics, indeed.

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The Child Has Dunlapped Syndrome—His Belly Dun Lapped Over His Belt

The June 23rd Time Magazine is all about the child obesity crisis. My heart goes out to the kid on the cover, who had to have some mixed emotions. On one hand, he made the cover of Time! On the other, he made that cover because he’s fat. I’d want an ice cream, too.

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If You're Not Watching Learning Matters on YouTube, You Really Should Be

It's the channel where ace education reporter John Merrow shares the clips that normally run on the Newshour on PBS. It's always great, it's always thought-provoking, and it's always worth your time.

The clip above is on first grade reading in New Orleans. For anyone who has taught early elementary, you'll appreciate the scenes on teaching beginning reading. Part 2 gets into the struggles that low readers go through; it's a neat set, and if I were principal I'd think this would be perfect beginning-of-year staff meeting material.

You can find it all on the LearningMatters YouTube channel, here.

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Negotiating a New Contract When There’s No Money Isn’t Easy

Growing up my mom worked for the local school district, doing a little bit of everything from payroll to personnel to purchase orders. After she left that job she went on to serve 6 years on the school board, which gave her a different perspective that she’s shared with me over the years. I’m labor, she’s management—we have great conversations, her and I.

One of her truisms over the years has been, “Ryan, a budget is a budget. The district only has the money that is has. It can’t spend more than it has.”

Mom’s a very plain-spoken woman, but buried under that confusing tautology is a grain of truth, especially as I sit at the table with my current district negotiating our next 3-year agreement.

Before we went to the table I did a survey of all the members, asking them what areas in the contract they felt needed sprucing up. We received nearly 80 responses, which is a pretty good ratio for a district our size. In our proposal to the district we incorporated the issues that we felt were reasonable (“I want 180 hours of per diem!” would be an example of an unreasonable request), and had them costed out by our district financial man.

Want to increase the stipend for testing coordinators? That’ll be $2000.
Higher personal leave cash-out? $1700.
More per diem? $6,600 an hour on a district-wide basis.
Extra per diem for teachers in combination classes? $17,000.
Caseload limits for special ed teachers? $300,000.
Release time for the president to do local association business? $455.

....and on, and on, and on.

Negotiating is politics, and your average local union is a great reflection of the community at large. I have my contingent that hates the union and doesn’t feel like we should be asking for more from the district; I have another contingent that hates the district and thinks we should bleed them for every penny they have because administrators are overpaid. In the middle lies the majority, those who value the contract and want it to make their lives easier, but not to the point that it hurts the program or the kids.

There’s always a want, too, from the members. It might be more money reimbursed for classroom expenses, it might be an aide to work in the copy room, it might be less meetings, it might be more collaboration, it might be per diem. The challenge is finding out a way to pay for it, and explaining to them why we can’t have it all.

Like the fellow in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, though, I’m loving every minute of it. Good times.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eastern Washington University to Reid School: Drop Dead!

I’ve written before on the ongoing debate about what to do with the Robert E. Reid Laboratory School. It’s located on the campus of Eastern Washington University but operated by the Cheney School District under a joint agreement. It’s also a building sorely in need of some upgrades that EWU doesn’t want to provide.

And it’s frankly obvious that Eastern doesn’t know what they have in Reid. Consider these comments from David Rey, a spokesman for EWU:

But the university no longer sees Reid fitting into its educational parameters as a resource in training teachers. Most of the university’s education majors get their classroom experience at other schools within the district, or other nearby districts. Rey said only 12-15 students use Reid for such training each year. Furthermore, economic conditions make it impractical in spending $4.3 million – more with inflation factored in – to fix up a facility used by 116 or so students.

“I know there’s a lot of passion about Reid school,” Rey said, adding that many people have put lots of time and energy into making the school a little “jewel.”
But Eastern faces other needs that are more relevant to its mission of providing higher education, such as renovations to its major classroom building Patterson Hall, as well as future expansions to on-campus residence halls, and the Science Building.

“The property it’s (Reid) on is of much more use to us than the building itself,” Rey said.
And there, in the last paragraph, you see the real reason why Eastern doesn’t want to support Reid the way they should. If this is a land grab it’s a profoundly stupid one; they’d be better served to go after some of the dilapidated apartment buildings that ring the campus, or build up by the Red Barn and the football field where there is plenty of open land.

The piece that’s really annoying to me is the giant opportunity that Eastern is missing here. If they look at Reid as only providing training for 12 to 15 student teachers a year, then they’re certainly not getting the full picture. Reid also hosts practicum students, students who need their observation time, and whole classes of beginning teachers who can sit up in the crow’s nest and watch instruction take place. For any student in the education department, it’s a great tool to have so close.

Consider, too, the synergy possible when the ivory tower is so close to the primary classroom, like to see with Reid. A professor of education at Eastern can walk out of their office and walk to the Reid School without ever stepping out of doors—the buildings are adjacent and connected. There are opportunities there for intervention and authentic action research that you’ll find nowhere else, and just because the school hasn’t been used with the efficiency that it could have been is no reason to disregard it entirely.

A decade ago the education department at Eastern was floundering. The department chair was woefully unsuited for the position, the Dean of the college was on his way out towards retirement, and while there were some excellent professors (Marilyn Carpenter) there were others who were so clearly disconnected from what really happened in the classroom that their classes were rendered meaningless.

I’ve seen a turnaround, though, from a number of perspectives. As a teacher who hosts practicum students and student teachers in his classroom I’ve been gratified to see the emphasis that Eastern has been putting into getting the kids more authentic classroom time. As a student in their Masters and Administrative programs I’ve been impressed by the leadership that I’ve seen from people like Les Portner, Jane Liu, Harvey Alvy, and many more. They’ve turned the corner, and they’re on their way.

So celebrate that fact! Tear down the old Reid School and build a new one, two stories tall. Staff it with the best teachers you can find, create the ideal classroom environments, put in all the special programs you can, then step back and see what happens. There is no other Education program that I’m aware of that has a laboratory school in such close proximity—this is a perfect opportunity for Eastern to get itself on the forefront of the reform movement and make a splash with the potential to resonate for decades down the road.

The direction that they’re moving towards with their Education Department is to make it just one more program in the University. Why not try and make it something special?

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I Think I Know This Kid!

From If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems About School, by Kalli Dakos:

Caleb’s Desk Is a Mess

When Caleb was away,
The teacher cleaned his desk.
She said, “I can’t stand it anymore.
This is too much
For a teacher to bear.”

She shuddered a bit
Each time she put her hand
Inside Caleb’s desk.
Maybe she thought something
Was growing in there.

We watched her take out
One-half of an old ham sandwich
That was turning green,
Five monstrous spit wads,
One sock with a hole in the toe,
Papers and notebooks
That looked like they had been
Through the garbage disposal,
And the subtraction sheet
Caleb though Rick
Had stolen from him last week.

She took that pile of mess
And placed it carefully
In a green garbage bag.

Next she put his pencils
Neatly in a row
Beside his erasers,
And piled the tattered workbooks
In a corner of his desk.

Then she washed her hands.
“We must help him
Get more organized,”
She told the class,
Drying her hands well.

When Caleb came back,
He looked in his desk
And howled,
“Who ruined my desk?
Now I’ll never be able
To find anything!”
In the first building I taught in we ate our lunches in the classrooms. Finding old food and bags of milk was not uncommon, but always unwelcome.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Books for First Graders: The Owly Series by Andy Runton

The Owly Series is absolutely great for teaching reading, and there's not a word to be found in the books.


In Owly comic pro Andy Runton has created a character that first graders instantly identify with. Along with his friend and sidekick Wormy, Owly has a series of adventures in the woods he calls home. If I had to pick one word to describe the books, I'd say sweet--these are nice, caring stories about friendship and perseverence, and the lessons really lend themselves well to the classroom.

In my room I have a projector/document camera setup, and the kids absolutely love it when I put the books up on the screen for all to see. This might sound like a simple read-aloud, but through his use of pictographs Runton has given us teachers a perfect tool to reinforce the idea of using pictures to make predictions and picking details out of the text. I find that a lot of the comprehension and cause/effect activities in our reading program are rather artificial; Owly is authentic, and that's what helps the kids connect.

You can purchase the Owly books through their publisher, Top Shelf Comix, or from

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Summer TV Viewing Thought for Zoboomafoo

My daughter's not all that interested in television, which is just fine with me, but Zoboomafoo grabs her attention like nothing else in this world. Second place would go to Between the Lions; she really seems to like the puppets.

I might have to become a paying member of my local PBS station. With my subscription to The Nation and my support of NPR, that means I will have hit the liberal media trifecta. Yay for me!


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Friday, June 27, 2008

The Summer TV Viewing Thought for "Wipeout" on ABC

People being beaten to hell and thrown in mud pits = good TV.

And it's nice to see John Henson getting work again.

Put me down for a full season.


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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Summer TV Thought for "Farmer Wants a Wife"

Matt was insane for picking Brooke over Christa. Christa might have had a touch of the witch in her, but I'd rather spend the rest of my life with someone who seems to have a bit of intelligence about her (that'd be Christa) compared to a puppy dog (that'd be Brooke).

Yeah, I watched the full season. Beats grading papers.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Education Week Says that Many Youth Lack Direction in Life

The same study also found that little girls want to be princesses, little boy like to pretend they’re shooting guns, and middle school kids are hormonal. Film at 11.

And I damn this blog for getting to The Onion joke first.


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Monday, June 23, 2008

Money From Nothing

Alternate Title: Dire Straits to Perform Live in Olympia!

The state released a new budget forecast this week. Thanks to the real estate bust the bean counters are projecting another $100,000,000 plus deficit, on top of the already $2.5 billion dollar hole that the Rossi campaign has been making hay with.

Then consider the cost of gas and dairy products, and it’s looking very much like the Seattle COLA this year could be a killer—more than the 3.4% it was last year.

The irresistible force (I-732) is setting itself up for a run against the immovable object (the state budget), and it’ll be a hell of a fight to watch.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Oh, Snap!

Seagull Manager is my new favorite phrase.

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Dr. Homeslice on Test Scores

I've pussyfooted around with issues like graduation requirements and test scores before, but the inimitable Dr. Homeslice said it better than I ever could. It's a great post that gets to the heart of standards and the graduation crisis in the country; I certainly hope he submits it to the next Carnival of Education.

Read it now.

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George Garrett, Maxwell Perkins, and (Open Until Filled)

In the June 13th Chronicle Review Madison Smartt Bell of Goucher College writes a touching rememberance of literary figure George Garrett, who was a mentor to her and passed away last month at 78 years old. A similar column last year in the Careers section introduced me to famed editor Maxwell Perkins, who shaped the writings of a generation.

It made me wonder—who fills that role in the world of teaching?

One of the long-time traits of teachers, and one that persists today to the detriment of the students, is that teachers, in general, are loners when it comes to the classroom. If you don’t believe that, consider this collection of teaching platitudes:

The first year is the toughest, because for the first time it’s just you and them. Sink or swim—if you’re meant to teach, you’ll be successful. Later on in your career you’ll know what you’re doing better than any principal or consultant will, so stick with what works for you. Be especially careful not to buy into the fads that they’ll try to shove at you, because they always go away eventually. Do your job in your room, and the rest of the world will take care of itself.
You, you, you, you, you, with the occasional “they” and “them” thrown in to add a measure of hostility to the proceedings. I think that we’ve made some progress towards breaking down this model via ideas like Professional Learning Communities, and there’s an excellent chance that within a generation collaboration will be the norm instead of the exception.

It’s a question, then, of whom current teachers learn the craft from. In my career there hasn’t been any one person who I would call my guide; my teaching style is my own, developed through trial and error, and through observation of what’s worked for others around me. In that sense, then, I’m a bit of a hodgepodge of traits and styles from all over, which is a direct counterpart to the old academe saw of, “Ah! You’re Professor Smith’s student, so you believe this!”

Who has shaped you the most in your career as a teacher? Is it a fellow teacher, your principal, a professor, a parent? I leave off the kids intentionally, because they are ultimately the ones who drive the instruction, and it’s your knowledge base that decides how you respond to their needs.

When it comes to teaching, who was your teacher?

(For what it's worth, this is the 700th post I've made to I Thought a Think. Thanks for being along for the ride!)

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How Wikipedia Undid All the Good Works of William Wallace

WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland's falling exam pass rates.

The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work.

The group singled out online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows entries to be logged or updated by anyone and is not verified by researchers, as the main source of information.
The land of my ancestors, brought down by the internet. I blame Al Gore.

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Maff Laff

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Books for First Graders: Junie B. Jones

(This is the first in what I’m hoping will be a semi-regular series over the summer, sharing books with you that I love reading with the kids.)

I’ve talked a little bit about the Junie B. series of books before (How Junie B. Jones Ruined America), and the main reason I bring them up again is because of the ample opportunities for good classroom conversations that can come out of the books.

Junie’s a brat. Junie makes some terrible, terrible choices. Junie has a lot to learn about sharing and relating to the world, and that’s what makes them such a good read—a lot of the first graders are right on her level. The icing on the cake is that Junie is a kindergarten student for the first 16 books in the series, which is a great way to drive home the lesson with first grade kids:

Kindly Teacher: “Oh dear, guys, it looks like Junie’s gotten herself into trouble again. But we wouldn’t act like that, would we?”

Wide-eyed Students: “Nooooooooooooooooo!”

Kindly Teacher: “Good kids. Let’s go to recess.”

Sure, the language isn’t perfect. Stupid is one of her favorite words, and the way that she mangles grammar sometimes makes them hard to read aloud. Again, these are the teachable moments, and if you pre-read and know they’re coming you can do a world of good with them.

That, and they're hilarious. I have a hard time not cracking up myself when I read them out loud, and that's a nice feeling to have to deal with.

Some great Junie resources on the web:
The Official Random House website, with promotional video.
The New York Times article that inspired my earlier post above.
A sample lesson plan from the International Reading Association that might help give you some ideas on how to use the books in your room.

You can find all the Junie B. books at Amazon, here, or through your Scholastic book orders.

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Where’s the Math? No, seriously….where’s the math?

Tuesday I was at a curriculum mapping workshop to further develop the work that I talked about yesterday. This workshop was my first real chance to sit down with the new “Adopted Washington State K-8 Mathematics Standards” document that OSPI recently put out. Depending on your point of view it’s either great:

These standards focus on building the capacity of students to think mathematically. They do so while thoughtfully addressing concerns that some recent math curricula pay inadequate attention to developing computational competence.

or, synthesizing some of the more negative comments I’ve seen, it’s a step backwards from what was already a terrible system for developing math standards, spawned from the depths of hell itself by Beelzebub Bergeson.

Frankly, I’m totally Swiss neutral on the whole thing. I think that our failure rate on the WASL math test should give everyone statewide pause, because it’s a very passable test that I think a high school student should be able to do.

Anyhow, the new standards document is a sea change from the GLEs and the EALRs before them. The criticism of the GLEs was always that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep”; exposure was given more credence than mastery, which is the opposite of how it should be. The new standards (let’s call them the Danas, for fun!) are certainly more targeted, an approach which echoes what the NCTM suggested in their recent Curriculum Focal Points document, but that means some things had to go.

Here’s the real-life example, then. In first grade it used to be that two of our major units during the year were teaching time (to the hour and half-hour) and money (up to a dollar); those have both been removed from the 1st grade standards. We also used to at least touch on fractions and probability, but those are gone too. In their place there’s a much greater emphasis on number sense.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve had a lot of success in years past teaching time and money to the first graders; developmentally, they’re ready and they get it. Frankly those are two of the fun units because of all the manipulatives that you can use to teach either. The second grade teachers are apoplectic, because their job looks like it just got a lot harder.

On the other hand, I’m willing to give it a try. I feel like we need to commit to this for it to be successful, and that’s the pitfall that I’m seeing down the road—if schools and teachers don’t commit to this sequence fully, then in three years there will be more hue and cry over why our kids aren’t learning.

A corollary to this is the question of what assigning a standard to a particular grade means; does that indicate that specific grade level is responsible for the topic, or that mastery is expected by then? The two are drastically different approaches that both have credence--which way do we go?

The only constant is change; it’s just odd that some of the most frequent change has been to our standards documents. Shouldn’t some learnings be timeless?

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This is Perhaps My Most Wide-Open Summer Ever

No Summer Institute.
No Summer School with the kids.
Only one four-day-a-week, four-week class for myself.
WEA Leadership Academy to learn how to do this president thing the right way, but that’s a fun time.
I’ll actually have opportunities to sit and reflect on teaching. Or, sit an reflect on nothing at all while watching dear daughter play in the yard.
Man, I love summer vacation.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Getting Lost on the Curriculum Map

Last fall I got involved in a curriculum mapping project that my district has taken on in an effort to boost up sagging math scores. I was mainly interested in the $150 stipend attached to it, because as a broke-ass part time teacher I can’t say no to any money that comes along.

There’s a reason that map and crap are in the same word family, because this process has been lousy from the word go.

Our chosen tool for the maps has been a program called Curriculum Mapper (CM), with a website that functions well enough. As I’d been entering my data into CM, though, I noticed a trend—I was simply copying the names of the sections right out of the teacher’s manual. What, I wondered, was the point of putting information into the computer that could be gotten to just as easily by opening the book?

So I put my map aside for a good long while until the assistant superintendent emailed and said, “Meeting Tuesday! I’ll print off your maps for us to talk about!”, which triggered a bit of a panic and had me up until midnight on Sunday doing 5 months work of mapping work. Good times.

Thus, I have a map on the website. Bully for me. As a parallel process, though, I made a scope and sequence document for our math curriculum. My main quibble with the maps on the computer was that I couldn’t give it to a new teacher and expect them to make any sense of it; were I in their shoes, I’d file it away never to look at it again. With the document I made, though, there’s a very logical and tested sequence listed along with notes about what works on certain sections and what doesn’t.

I got the curriculum map we needed, even if it wasn’t in the format They wanted. This is useful:

This is not:

Tomorrow I’ll tell you why my map already needs a major revision, and it’s OSPI’s fault.

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What the Data Says About the Teachers

There’s a grade level in my school where every teacher is new to the building or the grade after the big shuffle we experienced last spring. Now consider the MAP scores that their kids came out with during the spring testing:

In 2007, 83% of the kids met the goal in math.
In 2008, 71% of the kids met the goal in math.

In 2007, 19% of the kids scored in the gifted range on the test.
In 2008, 4% of the kids scored in the gifted range on the test.

In 2007, 5% of the kids scored more than one grade level below the goal.
In 2008, 18% of the kids scored more than one grade level below the goal.

I knew that the scores in this particular grade were going to tank; the 2007 team had been working together for quite some time, and they really knew their math inside and out. They were super teachers who had a really great system in place; there was no way that the 2008 group could equal what they did.

Data doesn’t care, though. The trouble with data is that sometimes numbers shouldn’t be allowed to speak for themselves, because without context they’re worse than meaningless—they’re just mean.

And this is why we as teachers shouldn’t fear data, but instead we should accept it for what it is and listen to what it tells us.

The history of education can be written in numbers, and that’s never been more true than it is today.

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Please Don't Burn Crosses Onto Your Students

Today's Teaching Darwin Award goes to this gentleman, who took his beliefs way, waaaaaaay too far.

You have to wonder where the thought process goes wrong for some folks.


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Visceral Reactions to the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Twitter Feed

John Stossel was stellar last night. He opened with accolades for EFF. Very humbling.... about 9 hours ago from web
Oh God.

btw, Gov. Jeb Bush is one of the most upstanding individuals I've ever met. He is nothing like the media often portrays him. about 9 hours ago from web
Oh, Dear God.

We got some great shots of the Bloomberg press conference. Some of his suggestions could really be used in WA.
Oh dear God in Heaven.

Follow the fun for yourself, here.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

The E Word

Playground duty was getting quite dull
When Carlos gave my sleeve a pull.
“That kid over there said the e word,” he cried.
“Hon, I don’t know such a word,” I replied.
Startled, he looked up like I was a nut—
“Don’t you know that he called me an e-diot?”

Now I know there are days you can lose your mind,
But who has a job that is better than mine?
Excerpted from “Who Has a Job That Is Better Than Mine?” by Karen Morrow Durica, from her book How We Do School: Poems to Encourage Teacher Reflection. International Reading Association: 2007.

That reminds me of a lot of kids I've known over the years.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

People Who Sign Their Name “M.Ed.” Annoy Me

Save it for the Doctorate, folks.


Mr. Ryan, B.A. Ed.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Failed the Morals Clause

In my most recent principal’s certificate class I got an A on the major paper, an A- on the major presentation, and nailed the final, too.

I’m rather sad that they threw me out of the program.

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An interesting thought, from the March 14th, 2008 Chronicle Review (Dwelling in Possibilities):

One day I tried an experiment in a class I was teaching on English and American Romanticism. We had been studying Thoreau and talking about his reflections (sour) on the uses of technology for communication. ("We are in great haste," he famously said, "to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.") I asked the group, "How many places were you simultaneously yesterday — at the most?" Suppose you were chatting on your cellphone, partially watching a movie in one corner of the computer screen, instant messaging with three people (a modest number), and glancing occasionally at the text for some other course than ours — grazing, maybe, in Samuelson's Economics rather than diving deep into Thoreau's "Economy" — and then, also, tossing the occasional word to your roommate? Well, that would be seven, seven places at once. Some students — with a little high-spirited hyperbole thrown in, no doubt — got into double digits. Of course it wouldn't take the Dalai Lama or Thoreau to assure them that anyone who is in seven places at once is not anywhere in particular — not present, not here now. Be everywhere now — that's what the current technology invites, and that's what my students aspire to do.
I see a lot of the kids in this. I also see a lot of myself, too.

Consider the classroom, and the usual scene of a child spending time on a worksheet of some sort. That child is there (1) working on the sheet; that child is usually also interested in the work of their neighbor (2), and is guaranteed an occasional visit from the teacher (3) who may ask the student to go into the hallway to read with an adult (4) before we leave the classroom to go to music (5). Consider, too, the typecast we have of the high-striving high school student, who participates in a sport, the band, drama, knowledge bowl, ASB, FBLA, holds down a job, and keeps family commitments as well (A Class Apart by Alex Klein is full of examples of this sort of kid).

But upon thinking about it, this is me, too. I leave my Groupwise email box open all day, and I probably check it a couple of times an hour, whenever I happen to walk by my desk, to see what's new. I keep my classroom door open 90% of the time, and it's quite common for another teacher to walk in to ask a question or get advice. The telephone rings; the intercom pleads. Very rarely am I ever just teaching.

Even at home, the rule applies. I'll be here at the computer blogging, attending to my daughter, having a conversation, and trying to pay some modicum of attention to the television, all at the same time. It's rare for me to not multi-task; even watching TV, I usually have a magazine in my lap.

Digg had a recent article on multi-tasking here that was another thoughtful look at the effect of trying to live in multiple realities at once; a related bit of insight can be found at Zen Habits, here.

Is multi-tasking a problem? Is it your problem? How do you overcome it?

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Quote of the Day

From the March 14, 2008 Chronicle Review (The Death of a Conservative Icon):

“(Regarding William F. Buckley) Along the way, Buckley found time to launch the National Review, write thousands of nationally syndicated columns, run for mayor of New York—when asked what he would do if he won, he answered, “Demand a recount”—and tape 1,504 episodes of Firing Line.”
That’s productivity, right there, and I love the recount answer.

When you combine Buckley's death with the recent passing of Tim Russert, we've lost two pretty big names in journalism this year.

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Some of My Favorite Quotes From This Year

"I DON'T WANT TO DIE!"--Lo, after I told her that eating the blue goo inside the ice pack that came with her lunch couldn't be good for her.

"It's OK, Mr. Grant--the nurse says it's not toxic!"--Lo, still missing the point after a trip to the office.

"My favorite letter is 6!"--N

"I'm not going to get married until I'm 15."--Li

"Mr. Grant, there's poop on the floor."--C, stated in a much more matter-of-fact manner than I could have done.

"I need to go wipe my butt again."--M, for whom TMI has no meaning.

"Stop looking at my boobs!"--Li, to N. I ignored the comment, because talking about boobs with first graders is a good way to get in the paper.

"He doesn't have magic teacher breath--it's velcro!"--P, figuring out why the words really stuck to the word wall.

"Mrs. Smith is having Mr. Grant's baby!"--A, a little confused as to the father of my teaching partner's child. The correct answer: Mr. Smith.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Week that Was

Monday: Teach all day, then run out the door to a bargaining meeting with my school district. Good dialogue, and I'm hoping we can turn the contract out in a hurry.

Tuesday: Lion's Club dinner. My old principal was installed as president of the club, which was a neat moment for him. The Lions do a lot of work with vision and hearing, which is right up my alley given my daughter's medical difficulties.

Wednesday: Teach a half day, then run home to study for a final exam that evening. After the final exam head to funeral home for a vigil service for my wife's great aunt, who died over the weekend at the age of 94. She spent 77 years as a nun with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, which is the sort of devotion that I can only begin to understand.

Thursday: I took the day off so I could stay home with my daughter while my wife went to the funeral for the nun. Later on in the afternoon met with the Bargaining Team to talk about strategy for our next bargaining session.

Friday: The last full day of school. Clean this, scrub that. Pass this out, collect these. Awards assembly that goes on too long. Kids are bonkers, but the kids are almost done. The value that I place on having a summer vacation goes up higher every year.

It's a good life.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

On the "Evils" of Tracking

This is a great, great article, from the Los Angeles Times:

As early as fourth grade, students who will be at risk of failing the high school exit exam -- a state requirement to earn a diploma -- can be identified based on grades, classroom behavior and test scores, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The findings, based on an extensive study of student achievement in San Diego schools, call into question the effectiveness of aiming significant efforts and tens of millions of dollars at struggling high school seniors and older students to help them pass the exam.

"From a political standpoint, such spending seems necessary. However, our results strongly suggest that these 11th-hour interventions by themselves are unlikely to yield the intended results," according to the report by the Public Policy Institute of California.
There was a different report I read once--if I can find a reference, I'll post it later--that said that if a student was struggling in reading at the end of 1st grade, there was a very good chance they were also going to be struggling readers at the end of 3rd grade.

And this is why assessment matters, and this is why I'm entirely comfortable with having systems like the MAP and the WASL in place that allow you to see how a kid is evolving over the course of their career. Being able to print off a grade-level report and see the names of the 15 neediest kids in a certain grade is a benefit, because that gives me great guidance on how to direct my interventions.

Now I know that there's someone out there thinking tracking, and that's an important piece as well. The thing with an idea like tracking is that I think many are still in a frame of mind that it doesn't mean change--that once you're in the low "yellow bird" group, that's where you stay forever. That's not the way it has to be! With frequent assessment and flexible grouping and targeted interventions (think RTI), the classroom should be fluid and kids should be where they need to be getting the instruction that they need to get.

If I could change one thing in all the teachers in the land at the same time, it would be to get them to welcome and embrace data. Data-based decision making should be the rule, not the exception. It's a tool for the reflective teacher, and the more we use it the better off the system will be.

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Where the Economics of Education Really Falls Apart.... in the ASCD Catalog.

In their most recent Education Update they trumpet the great sessions that went on at this year's ASCD Annual Conference in New Orleans. Looks like a neat event, would love to go someday if they ever get close to the left coast. I see a little blurb in the flyer about audio recordings of sessions from the conference and I think to myself, "Neat! I'd not mind having those for summer listening pleasure, what since I'm a professional and all!" and merrily make my way over to the website to download them, a la podcasts.

The catch: if you want a package of podcasts, you're going to have to shell out $150 first. Screw that.

I guess that's about what I should have expected, though, since the ASCD video series are almost all priced in the mid three-figure range, putting them out of the reach of most. Even single videos of 15 minutes can cost $89.

I guess when you're the biggest name in town you can get away with that, but golly Ned those prices seem out of line.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Someone Needs to Remind Them There's a Graduation Crisis

Really, the district couldn't find a better solution than the police?

COLUMBIA, S.C. - When Rock Hill school officials tell commencement crowds to hold their applause until the end, they mean it — police arrested seven people after they were accused of loud cheering during the ceremonies.

Six people at Fort Mill High School's graduation were charged Saturday and a seventh at the graduation for York Comprehensive High School was charged Friday with disorderly conduct, authorities said. Police said the seven yelled after students' names were called.

"I just thought they were going to escort me out," Jonathan Orr told The Herald of Rock Hill, about 70 miles north of Columbia. "I had no idea they were going to put handcuffs on me and take me to jail."
Airhorns, cowbells, yelling over the names of other kids--that's not OK, and that should be dealt with. But having someone arrested when they cheer the fact that a person they care about graduated from high school, which is a pretty good trick in some parts of the country? That's a waste of money and effort.

The next time this school district says, "We don't have the money for that!", I've got a brilliant way they can save some coin.

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Sure, let's go with that

I'm thinking this might be a bit of an over-estimate:


How much money is your blog worth?

...especially considering this.

That said, if anyone wants to pay me the average of those two numbers, I'm totally for sale.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Thoughts on the OSPI Race

Well, that happened.

Many were looking for a Gandolf to coming riding over the horizon and save the day, but that person never materialized. The six declared candidates are Terry Bergeson, Randy Dorn of the Public School Employees, and four perennial also-rans. At this point Bergeson has to be considered a lead-pipe cinch to win, buoyed as she is by positive WASL articles and the lack of any serious competition. The biggest name in the field after her is Randy Dorn, but when you haven’t even managed to get a decent campaign website up with two months to go until the primary, you’re not giving your campaign a fair chance.

What does Terry going back to Olympia mean? The WASL keeps the strongest supporter it has, though the legislature has taken some of the starch out. Interest groups like the WEA and Where’s the Math? take a licking, because they have been outspoken in their distaste for the incumbent. Strong standards remain the order of the day, though with frequent refinements.

Anyway you slice it, my summer just got a lot less busy. I wonder if the OSPI candidates will debate at all?

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On Aging and Teachers

This made me pause, from the Chronicle Review:

It's expected that athletes will slowly decline in ability as they age. Every athlete accepts that. But not every professor does. It seems more or less forbidden to talk about what happens to academics as they age. There is virtual silence about the kind of age-associated changes that affect teaching, learning, and research. Baby boomers, known for their willingness to talk about everything having to do with themselves, have been open on issues from breast cancer to erectile dysfunction, empty-nest syndrome, and depression — but in academe, no one dares utter the word "old." Is this because we think that the intellect is ageless, and in an era of Botox and Viagra, there should be no excuse for the vagaries of time? Or are we just worried about keeping our jobs?
I’ve only been teaching for 8 years, and won’t see my 30th birthday until later this summer. I still regard myself as a young teacher, even though les enfants terrible fresh out of college might disagree. From that perspective I can’t truly relate to what it’s like being an “old” teacher. There are stereotypes about old teachers, though, that bear examination:

  • Old teachers are inflexible. It would be a waste of money to put a Smart Board in Mrs. Sliderule’s classroom, because it would be a substitute for a movie screen instead of the interactive learning tool that it’s meant to be. She’s still teaching out of the old math books, because that’s what feels right to her. And please don’t tell her that there might be a way to get through to Little Johnny—she’s already decided that his bad home life has made it impossible for him to learn, because he hasn’t responded to anything she’s tried.

  • Old teachers are jaded. Mr. Memento has seen it all, usually more than once. He can trace the course of his career through pendulum swings: GESA was big, then it went away, then the WASL made the idea come back with a different name, and now it’s gone again. His career has carried on through 5 principals and 35 school board members, and he’ll outlast the new messiahs as well. His favorite joke: “I teach in the IB program. IB here when you get here, IB here when you’re gone.”

  • Old teachers aren’t energetic. If you want your child in an upbeat, positive classroom where every day is an adventure, you don’t want them with Ms. Tepid. Her fibromyalgia rules her life, and any suggestion that comes her way is apathetically ignored because of the time and effort that would be required. She’s taken Harry Wong to heart and believes that she should end every day with as much energy as she began; she practices this by not using any energy during the day.

  • Old teachers are just in it for the health insurance. Mr. Goiter considered retiring when he turned 60, since he had 38 years in, but when he priced health insurance and compared that to his pension he knew that there was no way he could afford to leave. So he soldiers on, doing just enough. Maybe when he gets old enough for Medicare he’ll call it a career.

  • Old teachers are just biding their time until retirement. Mrs. Entitled worked hard, damn hard, the first 25 years or so, but now she’s earned the right to slow down. She should get the best kids, because that’s appropriate for reasons that are never fully threshed out. Asking her to serve on a committee is OK, but only as long as the money paid for being on that committee is pensionable.

....and I’m sure there are others that I am missing.

As I wrote that I could think of someone who fit every description; I could also think of another veteran teacher (often more than one) who defies the mold. The job may change, but dedication never will, and teachers who care can be successful at any age.

The important piece here is how age relates to tenure. It's long been assumed that anyone who achieves tenure will be able to keep teaching until they don't want to, which is a rub to many who wish to reform education. They may have a point--should two years of success at the beginning guarantee you anything?--but the system is what it is.

Are old teachers a problem?

(for a nice poetry tie-in, Old Teachers by Robert Bly)

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Now That’s a Library!

I’ve had a long love affair with libraries. Growing up in small-town Washington we didn’t have a library of our own; the closest was in Centralia, about a 30 minute drive away. My mom would take me there when I was in the primary grades, and later on in high school it was a wonderland. I didn’t have much free time then, but when I did it was usually in the book stacks.

In middle school I had a chance to attend a program at the University of Washington over the summer, and that’s the first look I ever had at a real college library (the Suzzallo Library, pictured above). Later when I was attending Eastern Washington they remodeled their library, and it became the archetype in my mind.

Then I saw pictures of the Old Library at Trinity College in the June 6th edition of The Chronicle Review (Dublin, Decoded), and my mind was blown. I’ve never seen any reason to go to Ireland before, but now I have one—I simply must see that library. Wow.

What’s your favorite library?

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Monday, June 09, 2008

I Saw It Coming, But That Didn’t Make It Any Easier

Longtime readers know that I’ve been enrolled in a school leadership program this year with an eye towards maybe, eventually making the transition from classroom to the principalship. I’ve done well in my classes—I’d recommend Eastern’s program to anyone—but there’s been a nagging fear in the back of my head for a while now: my union work.

The circumstances that lead to me becoming president of my local are colorful, and when I’ve managed to get some more distance from the situation I’ll probably spill exactly why I took the office. At the end of the day, though, it’s left me in a position where I’m the union president, the lead negotiator for our open contract, and the political action coordinator for my local Uniserv council—I’m in it up to my neck, and that’s OK because I really like my union work.

There’s the problem, though, and it involves the administrative internship that is required before you can get your principal’s certificate. During the internship you need to make the transition from teacher to administrator, to be able to look at situations with an administrator’s eye, and be able to take part in the functions of the school from a completely administrative point of view. As union president, though, I can’t do that.

As an example, let’s consider disciplinary actions. Recently in my school we discovered that one of the paraprofessionals (parapros) had a folder on her computer where she was storing some racy, racy pictures that she’d found on the internet. They were discovered by the tech when he was doing routine maintenance. The para and the superintendent met that same day with the PSE president, the para was out the door that same afternoon, and she was out of a job within just a couple of days. This all happened under the watch of the administrative intern I have in my building now.

Now consider if that was a teacher. What’s my role in the room: administrative intern, or union president? Here you truly can’t live in both worlds, because those two worlds are in conflict. It doesn’t work.

So on Wednesday before class I met with the two men who run my program, and they laid it all out on the table: either quit your union work, or quit the program. I told them that with negotiations having begun the day before I simply could not do that—not only would it be unethical, but when word got around that Ryan quit on the members so that he could go play administrator any chance that I would have to lead the teachers from a moral viewpoint would be completely ruined. People would understand me moving into administration; people would not understand me leaving them in the lurch to pursue my own interests.

So I had to make a choice, but there was only one choice to make. I’m going to have to give back the state-funded internship grant that I received from the Association of Washington School principals, and after I complete the class I’m in now it’s game over. Maybe the year will come where I’m out of my involvement with the WEA and where I’m not representing the people in my district, and then I can look at making the shift.

As for now, though, this will need to be a dream deferred.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

I’ve Taught My Daughter to Do a Thumbs-Up!

And it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.


A Proud Dad

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I See Myself in This

“I maintain a blog that would be of interest to only a few dozen people in the world, but none of them read it.”
--“daurousseau”, in the June 6th, 2008 Chronicle Review

Then again, I got a couple of mentions on the most recent Get Free! podcast from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, so maybe there is an audience.

That would be fun.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

On Bobby Kennedy

I was born 10 years after RFK was assassinated, in 1968, and 15 years after JFK died, in 1963. For me the Kennedy family has always been more history than present, even with Ted still being on the national scene. Growing up my mom hated, hated Ted with a passion ("*ucking gunmen killed the wrong brothers!" is a direct quote; I think it had something to do with his car crash); this was pretty much the only connection I had to Camelot.

That's why it's interesting for me to read pieces from those who actually lived through the time, and one of the best I've seen in a long while is The Newsboy by Carl Cannon for Reader's Digest. Thoughtful and descriptive, it's a first hand look at reactions to RFK's death, and it's great reading.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh, That Wacky Free Market!

Over at News with Views there's a commentary from Joel Turtel, author of Public Schools, Public Menace wherein he argues that the government should get completely out of the business of schools and that the free market would do a much better job. What?

In contrast, the free-market, while not perfect, gives us all the wondrous goods and services we buy every day, such as cars, fresh food, computers, refrigerators, and televisions. The superbly efficient and competitive free market gives us all these marvelous products at prices that most people can afford. Even the poorest American families today have a car, refrigerator, and sometimes two televisions in their homes. If we want to discover which system would give the vast majority of children a quality education at reasonable prices, I think we have the answer - the free market, hands down.
Thus, since even poor people have stuff, this is proof that the free market works.

Dear God, Joel, this one doesn't even pass the sniff test.

  1. What is the quality of those possessions? Are they second hand? Third hand? How long do they last?
  2. Do you really want to draw a direct line between a television and an education?
  3. How did these people come into these goods?
  4. Are possessions all that matters?
That's only a lead up to his big finish, though:

Most low-income families don’t need government education handouts anymore in the form of allegedly “free” public schools. Parents today can buy quality, low-cost food in a competitive, free-market food industry full of grocery stores and supermarkets. In the same way, parents today can give their kids a quality education using low-cost Internet private schools and homeschooling.
Which assumes parents have access to the internet, or that they have the schooling themselves to be able to homeschool adequately.

What people like Mr. Turtle (misspelling intentional) fail to realize is that the public schools are there for everyone, smart to dumb, gifted to retarded, mechanical to humanistic. I don't think that they fully realize just what a family in decline really looks like, nor do they have any clue what a child on the edge is going through.

There is a public need for public schools. Denying that reality is equal parts arrogance and stupidity.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008


The May 30th Careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education has a column by Paula Krebs of Wheaton College on how her academic travel has changed over her career, from happily sleeping on dorm room floors to being invited to conferences at destination resort hotels.

My work with the WEA has given me a chance to do more traveling, though I’ve yet to stay in a resort hotel. In fact, it’s usually a Travelodge or Ramada, almost always with a roommate. It’s worth it for the conferences, which are almost always good; I just wish the soda ($2.50 a bottle is not uncommon!) wasn’t so damned expensive.

The worst hotel I’ve stayed in, oddly enough, was the Sea-Tac Airport Hilton, where you had to pay a daily fee for internet access, a daily fee for parking, the food was ridiculously priced, and the rooms weren’t exactly all that wonderful. I think the Hilton is designed for people traveling on expense accounts who can pay $10 for a rum and coke without batting an eye, but that ain’t me. At all.

What’s your favorite part about traveling for the job? What’s your least favorite part about traveling for the job?

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A New Voice in the Chorus

Check out Washington Edublog by a high school teacher in the Seattle area; she's doing a great job so far talking about secondary issues. Especially interesting to me was this post on the math WASL, which gets to the heart of the problem with that test better than I ever could.

You'll also see it over in the links section on the side.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Fat Bastard Takes to the Classroom

Interesting piece from Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Foundation on the cost of teacher obesity in the country; by his figuring, fat teachers cost the system $2.5 billion a year in increased health costs. He errs when he suggests that this is a good reason to make teachers pay more for their health care, but I do like the idea of the district paying for my monthly Weight Watchers fees and personal trainer.

At my school we've got all sorts, from the ladies who do yoga three times a week and run half-marathons for fun, to the guy who can drink two liters of Pepsi in a day without really thinking about it. That would be me.

I've really got to work on this. It'll benefit my health, and it'll benefit the kids when I can match their energy level.

More on Petrilli from Eduwonkette, here. Also check out the Fordham Factor YouTube posting with Mike Petrilli here; it makes for good internet TV.

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Coeur d’Alene Teachers: Please Hang Up During Class. Students: WAAAAAAAAAAAH!

My eyes rolled:

Coeur d'Alene School District 271 is considering a policy change that would ban students' use of cell phones from the moment they walk on campus until the final dismissal bell, including during lunch and breaks.

A draft of the proposed policy is making the rounds among the 17 schools in the district.

"Nothing has been decided yet," said Harry Amend, district superintendent. "The district's policy advisory committee is looking at our policy. It's out in the buildings for input right now as part of that process. It will be out there for 30 days."

Some students are very upset about the proposed change.

"I think the school and the school board is being ridiculous with how many policies they are instituting – the school is a strict environment as it is," said Deanna Dotts, 18, a senior at Coeur d'Alene High School. "A kid using a phone in class is not distracting anyone but that student. It's the teacher bringing attention to it that takes away time from the 29 other students in class."

Deanna, sweetie, the fact that you’re distracted matters too. And as a teacher, the idea of the kids texting or talking away during my lessons is just insane.

It gets even more peculiar when you consider that CDA High is an open campus for lunch, so the kids who need their cell time could go off and get it then. Until then, though, asking them to leave the phones in their backpacks or lockers doesn’t seem unreasonable.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Next Halloween, I’m Going to Dress Up as a Rich Semler Campaign Ad

I’ve got the bumperstickers.
I’ve got the buttons.
I’ve got the 3 x 4 yard sign.
I've got all the makings of a cheap and easy costume.

What I haven’t got is the candidate any more. I wish Rich and Ginny well as they work through her health issues, though; he’s made the right decision, and I'm hoping that he'll keep his toe in the water and be a leader on education issues here in Washington, even if on a smaller scale.

The deadline to declare for statewide office is this coming Friday. The only name that I’ve heard mentioned is Bill Fromhold, who could probably get enough of the vote in the primary to be able to make it through to a general election in November. I don’t know that he’d want to take on a run for OSPI this late in the game, though, particularly given that he's already said he's not interested in the job.

A part of me wonders why we haven’t seen a conservative candidate for OSPI. From the EFF you could posit Lynn Harsh or Cindy Omlin, the executive director of the Northwest Professional Educators. Dan Grimm, the head of the Basic Ed Finance Committee, comes to mind, though I’m not sure he’s a Washington resident any longer. In the House the ranking minority member is Skip Priest, who has already passed on the chance to run, while the assistant ranking minority member is Glenn Anderson out of eastern King County, who has a decent résumé after having been on every education committee there is during his time in the House.

In the Senate the ranking minority member on the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee is Curtis King out of Yakima, but a more interesting name might be Janea Holmquist, who signed her name to the opposition statement for 4204, has been exposed to the issues by virtue of being on the aforementioned committee, and could be fairly perceived as a rising star in the state Republican party. Her senate term isn't up until 2011, though; Holmquist for OSPI in 2012?

It seems odd that, in a year where the state GOP claims to be as energized as they’ve ever been, they wouldn’t field a sympathetic candidate for the office that eats up the biggest share of the state’s budget.

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Some Motivational Tidbits I’ve Found in the Last Few Days

The first was an ad from SAS which says that bees make one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. That’s a lot of work for not much results, but the cumulative effect of all those bees making honey is a neat thing.

Later on I was watching the Spurs/Lakers game and they had a piece on Spurs coach Greg Popovich sharing a quote from Jacob Riis that I think speaks pretty powerfully to what we do in the classroom every day:

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much a a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
I like that visual.

Thanks to Khandor's Sports Blog for having the quote.

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It's a New World

From USA Today:

A high school principal in Dearborn, Mich., has dismissed a longtime wrestling coach after complaints from Muslim parents that the coach's former assistant — an evangelical Christian pastor — was trying to convert Muslim students into Christians.
But the pastor, Trey Hancock, head of Dearborn Assembly of God, said today that he never mixed his religion with sports. And the coach, Jerry Marszalek, said that Hancock "never did that ... he knew the difference between church and state."

Imad Fadlallah, head of Fordson High School, decided this month not to renew the contract of Marszalek, who has coached wrestling at Fordson for 35 years. Marszalek is an at-will employee and so the principal has the right not to extend his contract, said David Mustonen, spokesman for Dearborn Public Schools.

Fadlallah, the first Muslim principal at Fordson, heads a high school where more than 80% of the students are of Arab descent, a majority of them Muslim. In recent years, parents and students have complained that Hancock was using his position on the wrestling team to convert Muslims – a claim Hancock strongly denies.
Watching this one wind it's way through the court system should be fun.

I hope they had fairly strong evidence to justify firing the head coach for the actions of the assistant; otherwise, it feels like the principal might have just stepped into a religious minefield.

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