Monday, June 29, 2009

We Need a Broader Definition of What Benefits Are

You know, like Molson:
Beer maker Molson is turning off the tap and cutting off the supply of free suds to its retirees, the Toronto Star reported on Tuesday.

Molson, a division of Molson Coors, said it was looking to "standardize" its complimentary beer policy.

There are 2,400 Molson retirees in Canada and their free beer costs the company about C$1 million ($900,000) a year, the Star said.
Being on TRS 3, where it's a 50/50 proposition whether you'll retire or die first, I know that a complimentary liquor policy would help me be more positive about the state of things. And since Washington State has a monopoly on the liquor store business, it seems doable!

Write your Legislator today.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too Soon?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Proving the Correlation Between Poverty and Academic Success

One of the joys of summer is that I finally have the time to process the various reports that I gather during the school year but don't always have a chance to read; I'm starting off with Report Card on Washington State's Elementary Schools 2009 from the loyal opposition at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

What they've done is actually quite impressive--a rank order, from 1st to 1,127th place, of all the elementary schools in Washington State. I have some qualms about the methodology--these rankings are completely WASL-driven, which makes them rank in another sense of the word--but if we look at the report more as a discussion piece and less as an evaluative measure, it has some potential value.

(Might as well dispense with the snark right away--I'm a union guy, a teacher union guy, and as such fairly well disposed to not like anything, ever, that the EFF does. That said, I've had pleasant e-mail exchanges with a number of their staffers, and while their beliefs are diametrically opposed to mine, I won't question the sincerity of what they think.)

I think the over-reach, though, can be found right in the introduction to the report:
Previous studies have shown that variations in student results from school to school cannot be accounted for solely by the personal and family characteristics of a school’s students. Many other factors—including good teaching, counseling, and school administration—contribute to the effectiveness of schools. Indicators like low income describe past relationships between a socioeconomic characteristic and a measure of school effectiveness. It should not be inferred that these relationships will, or should, remain static. The more successfully schools enable all their students to succeed, the weaker will be the relationship between the family characteristics of students and their academic success. Thus, this socioeconomic indicator should not be used as an excuse for poor school performance.
Laudable, certainty. The great legacy of the Bush administration will be No Child Left Behind, and I say that with the utmost sincerity--the focus on disaggregated scores, and measuring all sub-groups, and making sure that all kids are coming along--that's what we should have been doing since the beginning. It's never a comfortable conversation, but it's the most important one we can have. That said, in the context of failing schools and failing kids, "excuse" is a loaded word. Poverty and race should never be the excuse for a school's low performance, but to ignore those metrics as even being factors would be a hell of a mistake to make.

And frankly, the report itself backs me up on this. Creating tables in Blogger is nigh-on impossible, but here you can see a spreadsheet that I made comparing the top 15 schools in the state, those that earned a perfect 10 on the rankings, to the bottom 20 schools in the state, those that earned less than a 2.0 on the scale. The interesting pieces:
  • Of the bottom 20, 19 of them are majority-minority schools, where the majority of the students come from minority populations. Only Oakville Elementary breaks even, with 50% caucasian students.
  • On the other hand, in the top 15 schools, white students are always the majority (all at 60%+). In 13 of the 15 the largest minority group is Asian students; in the other two (both from Spokane), the largest minority group is mixed-race students.
  • Each of the bottom 20 schools has higher than 70% of the kids coming from low-income households. 4 of the schools are tribal schools and don't report the percentage of their kids who are low income. Of the 16 reporting schools, the average percentage of low-income students is about 83%.
  • At the top 15 the average percentage of low-income students is 6%. One school (Libby Center of Spokane) has 23% low-income; if you take it out of the picture, the average drops to less than 5%. At two of the top 15 schools, less than 1% of the kids are low-income.
The Fraser Institute, which has been doing these analyses on Canadian schools for a number of years now, is quite explicit in calling the high schools winners and the bottom schools losers.

By their metrics, then, the way to be a winner is clear: be well-off and white. It's also very explicit who the report thinks the losers are. That's a shame.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Let's Keep Up the Positive Momentum for Goodspaceguy!

Goodspaceguy (yes, that's his name) is a perennial candidate in Western Washington for whatever office happens to be open at the time; sort of like an Alan Keyes, but less insane.

The reason I bring him up? He's polling a single percentage point behind State Senator Fred Jarrett, and only 3% behind State Representative Ross Hunter. Those are two of the leading voices behind the ed reform bill that's gotten so much attention in the past 6 months.

If reforming schools was meant to be a step on the ladder to bigger things, it doesn't seem to be working.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Will the Great Recession Put the Breaks on Dorn's Hiring Spree?

With the big state-level news lately being that Governor Gregoire has ordered a 2% reduction in spending by state agencies (see here, here, here, or here) one wonders if the good Superintendent Dorn hasn't overextended himself with 9 job posting for OSPI this month alone. I'm guessing some of those are stimulus money hires, for if it wasn't for the stimulus money WE'D ALL BE SCREWED, but all the same it looks like the hiring freeze has thawed if you're the Dorninator.

(Dorninator trademarked by this blog, even though I don't think it sounds all that good and probably won't catch on, but all the same)
(Also, I miss Tone from the Top. Come back to us!)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You Know What This School Needs? KIPP! Or Maybe a Charter.

Seattle Police were called to a middle school graduation on Capitol Hill last night when a melee broke out after off-duty officers tried to arrest a teenage girl.

Just before 6pm last night, off-duty officers working Meany Middle School graduation ceremony spotted a 16-year-old girl who had previously been trespassed from the building.

Police say the officers attempted to arrest the girl when another 14-year-old girl jumped in and attacked one of the officers. Police called for backup and arrested both teens.


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Monday, June 15, 2009

I Hope the Students Win


As a proud facial-hair wearer, this warms my heart:
The United States is the world's new facial hair super power, having captured twelve world championship titles out of eighteen categories plus overall at the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage, Alaska on May 23, 2009. Possessing home field advantage, the USA was able to dethrone Germany which had dominated this competition since its inception.
And now, something to strive for. He's from the German team, but that doesn't make it any less awesome:

Having that would make parent/teacher night THE BEST EVER.

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Coming Soon to I Thought a Think

  • A look at the Federal Way lawsuit that was just heard in the state Supreme Court last week. It's a great preview of where the NEWS lawsuit will go at the end of the summer, and could definitely be signal for the next legislature.

  • More talk about RIF and layoff statewide. If you think this year was bad, you'll love my theory on why next year could be even worse.

  • School district consolidation: the argument that will not go away.

  • The recent report from the EFF that ranked every elementary school in Washington State from #1 to #1,130. I don't mind school rankings, but I think there were some mistakes made that make the report very hard to accept as useful.

  • Speaking of the EFF, I'll explain why lining up with Glenn Beck is a stupid move if you want to connect with Washington state voters.

  • More yelling at the League of "Education" Voters.

  • My new teaching assignment for next year!

  • ....and the good works of WEAPAC, among many other topics.
Thanks for reading, and check this space!


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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Vacation: A Chance to Breath, Reflect, and Blog Again

The last month has been one kick in the ass after the other, almost completely tied to my work as president of my local. No layoffs in my district, per se, but the hidden story that many districts aren't talking about is the "provisional" teachers (those in the first two years of teaching) who are being non-renewed because state law says that they can be. It's not a layoff, or a RIF, but it is a teacher losing their job in a very real and tangible way, and that's just as hard on them as a layoff would be on someone in the private sector.

In my home district there were 9 provisionals, all of whom were given non-renewals. Some of them were called back almost immediately--my young speech therapists, for example, who can't have their jobs filled by anyone else in the district, or the PE teacher at my high school whose position is funded out of a grant. A couple of others I was able to negotiate through after the Federal stimulus money became more of a tangible asset; this is what's saved two of my special ed teachers. Two more were non-renewed for performance reasons, and in those situations all I can do is make sure that the district dotted the i's and crossed the t's before trying to negotiate the best exit package that I possible can.

The toughest ones are the three who had fine evaluations, and whose programs are going to continue on without them. My HS choir teacher, for example--because I'm in a district with declining enrollment, they were able to cover the three periods he teaches with other music teachers from the district. There's a 6th grade teacher who isn't exactly fond of the union to begin with, and is very angry at how things have been handled, but I've been able to get a commitment from the district that they will bring her back first before looking at anyone else, and that's more than most around the state are being given.

It's my shop teacher that really has me heated. He is provisional in the district and they've decided to start contracting with the Skills Center to provide shop classes. Fine, but that locks out my Freshmen and Sophomores who can't use the Skills Center. Plus, he was turning out kids who could go right into apprenticeships and get work in the trades, and that we would throw that away really annoys me.

The back-story is that I think it has a lot more to do with high school politics (i.e., there's another teacher in the building who has the principal's ear on what CTE "should" look like, and she wants my shop guy gone), and given that he's a provisional teacher I can do the full Rumplestiltskin (pull hair, scream, stomp feet) and it'll only create a pleasent diversion while the process goes on unabated.

I'm filing a grievance Monday morning, but it's a long shot.

Representation is *hard.* I take being the local president pretty seriously--I've been given a charge, and by God I'm going to do it to the best of my ability--but it would be seductively easy to skip a phone call, miss a deadline, say that there's nothing you can do, and just let it go. I've got a newfound respect for our Uniserv staff state-wide who are fighting this same battle on a x1000 scale.

It's summer. The battles are almost over for a few weeks, until the next round in the fall.

Thank God, it's summer.

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