Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Intimidation Factor

There was an article by Terri Cettina in the September Parenting Magazine that really caught my eye:

Q. I’m a little intimidated by my child’s teacher. Is there anything I can do about it?

A. You’d be surprised (and relieved) to know many parents privately feel the same way, says Rebecca Weingarten, a former teacher who is now a New York City parenting and education coach. ... Your best bet is just to be friendly. Try asking her something about herself to break the ice, and talk to her like a regular person. Pretend she’s someone you’re meeting at a book club. She’ll probably respond to you the same way: nice, respectful, relaxed. Oh, and it’s also okay to ask if there’s a bigger chair at those teacher meetings.

It’s kind of hard for me to imagine that I intimidate any of the adults; although I’ve got size on almost all of them, the goofy ties and Batman motif that I decorate the classroom with usually lets them know pretty fast that “Hey, this guy’s a bit of a nut.”

The only time I’ve ever gone out of my way to intimidate a parent was the first day of my second year of teaching, with the Unholy Class from Hell. It was the first time I’d ever done the first day of school (I’d taken over mid-year the year before), and at the end of the day after I got the kids on the busses I was wiped out. As I’m sitting in my chair collecting my thoughts one of the parents comes bursting in the door—her son had a temperature of 101, she tells me, he was clearly sick, and why the hell didn’t I call her to come and pick him up?

My first impulse was to speak and explain to her it was the first fracking day of school, but I choked that down. Instead, I stared. Eye contact, right at her. She was also rather short, so I pulled myself up to my full height and looked right down at her, the way I would at a student who had crossed the line.

She melted.

I think it was the perfect response. I could have launched into a defense right away, but she was fired up and would have pounced on anything I said. By asserting myself non-verbally I got us back on at least an equal footing, which also gave her that few heartbeats she needed to calm down.

I explained that since it was the first day of school I didn’t really know her son, so I couldn’t really tell if he was feeling off; I hadn’t seen his on, yet. I told her that many kids say their tummy hurts on the first day, especially first graders in the afternoon. I offered her my room phone number along my home phone number and told her that she was always welcome to call and talk about her concerns, because I was here for her child and I always wanted to help any way I could, and oh, would she be interested in volunteering in the classroom?

The son ended up being one of my favorite students, and his family was one of the best I had that year. It could have been ruined on day one, but a little intimidation got them on my side. It was a good thing.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

That Hurts

When David Postman announced he was leaving I was disappointed, but my great hope was that Chris Mulick could get pulled over from the Tri-City Herald, because Mulick deserves a wider audience and he's one hell of a political reporter.

That ain't going to happen.

Will the last reporter leaving the bullpen please turn out the lights?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

If Your Elementary School Textbook Could Talk

Not safe for work, but funny as hell, from Cracked.com.

Do kids still do that to their textbooks? Being first grade, I wouldn't know.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Do You See a Win on the Huskies Schedule?

....because I sure don't.

Also, does anyone know where I can make a proposition bet on the Huskies going 0-11? I'd lay $50 on it.

P.S.: Fire Willingham.


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Friday, September 26, 2008

I'd Like to Welcome Randy Dorn to the I Thought a Think Family

Item, from the News Tribune:

This from News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan:

One interesting revelation from Thursday's debate between Randy Dorn and Terry Bergeson is that Dorn, the challenger, said he would support a constitutional amendment to eliminate the school superintendent as an elected office.

Dorn said the top schools job should be appointed, perhaps by the governor.

Bergeson, the 12-year-incumbent, said she thinks it should continue to be elected by the voters.
Me, in July:

On a mailing list I’m on someone recently shared a conversation that they had with a state senator. He echoed what I’ve heard other legislators say during my lobbying trips—Terry Bergeson is ineffective and something needs to change over at OSPI—but then went a step further and said he was considering legislation for this next session that would change the SPI position from an elected one to an appointed one.

That’s an interesting idea. I don’t know that it’s a good idea, but it’s one that merits some conversation.
OK, so he probably got the idea from the same guy I did, and he's probably not a raging ITAT fan who waits with bated breath for the next post, and he might not be getting an I Thought a Think tattoo even as we speak. I think it shows you, though, that there could be more legs to this idea than I initially thought.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

What if.....? Superintendent of Public Instruction Edition

It's an idea that I've been playing with for a bit now, and a conversation I had at lunch today helped to spur it along even farther: what would the possible governor/SPI matchups mean for the future of education in Washington State?

There's a great post up at the News Tribune right now comparing the differences between Terry Bergeson and Randy Dorn based on a debate that happened today. You can get the education platforms for Rossi and Gregoire off of their respective websites.

(An aside: Rossi's is much more fully developed. C'mon, Chris)

So let's dream about the future, shall we?

Scenario 1: The incumbents both win. What changes? Very little. The work of the Basic Education Finance Task Force is finished and promptly ignored, much like Washington Learns. Some version of the WASL remains in place, because there's no way in hell that Terry can back away from that test now. The biggest name in education in Washington State turns out not to be either Gregoire or Bergeson, but rather Rep. Dave Quall and Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, because the legislature has already shown an alarming disregard for our Superintendent and I see no reason why that would change. In that environment your committee heads become that much more important. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Results: A WASL, but a different WASL. We keep on keepin' on.

Scenario 2: Same Governor, New OSPI. Fun one to consider. Gregoire has come out in support of the WASL in past years, though that support has become noticably more tepid (especially towards math) as the test becomes a bigger and bigger target for the public. Randy Dorn has come out pretty strongly against the WASL and for ditching the entire system:

For over a decade, OSPI has clung to the test it created—the WASL—which is currently a bureaucratic, exorbitant waste of taxpayer dollars providing no useful information to teachers, students or parents. I will overhaul the assessment system to make it cost effective, less wasteful of precious class time, and capable of providing timely results that aid effective instruction and provide a national comparison of our students' performance. The new system will focus first on improving student learning and the money saved will be put back into the classrooms where it belongs.
Remember that piece about saving money, because it's a Dino plank as well.

A Dorn administration would give Gregoire cover. Don't like the system? Give our new OSPI time to fix it. Hate the WASL? Randy's working on that, too. Randy has some other views (notably merit pay) that would put him at odds with teachers, and it could create an odd dichotomy between the Governor, the WEA, and the OSPI.

In short: the pace of change slows as Dorn tries to shape OSPI in his own image. Governor Gregoire gets more cover. Eventually a new testing system has a chance to grow out of the relationship, but not immediately.

Scenario 3: New Governor, Same OSPI. Pick one to be Felix and the other to be Oscar:

Bergeson: “We’ve changed the culture of learning in our state and we’re on a journey that’s not over,” she said. “It’s well worth the time it’s taken to do it.” (1)

The first step in improving our education system is to replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) with a new test that has clear standards and a proven track record of success. (2)
I have a very, very hard time seeing how the two of them could work together. Bergeson has been pounding the podium for more school funding; Dino refuses to raise taxes. Bergeson would accept changing the periphery of the test; Dino proposes throwing the whole thing out entirely. In a Rossi administration you'd suppose that many of the categorical programs that contribute to the bloat of OSPI could be at risk, and that's not change Terry can believe in.

Rossi points out correctly that ditching the WASL could have the potential to save tens of millions of dollars, money which could be re-invested into the system, but he has his own designs on that money that don't match up with Terry's. Further, if you believe that Dino's transportation plan would siphon money out of the general fund and hurt education spending by making the pie smaller, then Terry's slice also gets smaller by default.

Results: dysfunction junction.

Scenario 4: New OSPI, New Governor. The hardest to predict. Randy and Dino seem to be the most compatible when it comes to the nuts-and-bolts of how to change the testing system. Randy's made some noise about merit pay, which dovetails nicely with Dino.

With a $2.7 billion dollar deficit revenue shortfall staring us in the face, though, ideas are going to be hard to fund. Would this dynamic duo be able to get anything accomplished?

Results: Division of Yalta.


It's going to be an interesting November.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

First Day of NWEA Testing

The MAP Assessment from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is one that I've been boosting incessantly for a while now. I think that value added models of student growth are the only real way to measure student growth; it's where they start and end that really matters, not necessarily what the finishing line is supposed to be.

So this morning I had both computer labs here in my building buzzing. In one I was set up for the first grade classes, who are very, very easy to test this time of the year: average test time is about 13 minutes, and you even have some knuckleheads (one from my class, natch) who finish in under 5. That's a fun conversation:

"Johnny, there's no way you could be done in that short a time."
"But I am done!"
"You got me. Let me rephrase--there's no way you could have done a good job in that amount of time."
"I tried my hardest!"
"Really? Let's do the math--you spent about 8 seconds per problem. About half of that time is the computer reading the problem to you, sooooooo......"
"Can I go to the bathroom?"
"No. No you may not."

That said, the beauty of the NWEA is instant feedback. It backed up what I was already thinking, that I don't have any exceptionally high kids, that one or two are very, very low, and that the rest are in-between. That's OK with me.

Over in the other lab there were a couple of third grade classes that came through, and they say that their test is quite a bit harder this year after a re-alignment that occured over the summer. It'll be neat to see what they're saying at the end of the year.

This, to me, is what testing should be: quick, functional, and applicable. My next big project will be to lay out all the scores on a graph for each grade level to get ready for my RTI presentation to WERA this coming spring, but I'm rather looking forward to that piece because data matters and giving the teachers an easy way to read the data is critical to the growth we're trying to achieve.

Dino Rossi is running for Governor here in Washington, and a big part of his platform is ditching our state level assessment (the WASL) in favor of something better. I won't be voting for him, but on that point he's absolutely right.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

How's Life?

Good, thanks. It's a really nice class of kids this year. Three that were on my roster didn't show up, which put me down to 19, but since I've gotten a new little friend, getting me up to 20. That's not bad at all.

No extreme behaviors. Some little knucklehead boys, but at this age they're supposed to be and that's fine with me. No real deep academic holes that I can see, either, which is always awesome to see here at the beginning of the year.

Really, really busy with my union work. I'm told that at the beginning of the year is the hardest time, especially in a district the size of mine, because getting the class load issues settled can be an adventure. Oh, the stories I have for the coming weeks.

It's tough going back to full time after having been part time last year. The trouble with doing the half-time thing is that it kills your retirement, and the health insurance goes bananas as well, especially if you're someone like me who covers his family.

Still, I'm pretty content. It's going to be a good year.


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