31 December 2006

Coming Soon: 2007

Dear 2006,

I have to tell you that you won't make my "Top 5" list in terms of years to remember, but you weren't all bad, either. You were a fussy mistress this year, never quite settling into any sort of pattern: you changed the direction of life on a whim at several times throughout our time together. You taught me to be even more flexible and strong, to anticipate (rather than dread) opportunity and chance, and to find happiness in everyday life. You escorted me through my first year of grad school, taking on elementary science responsibilities, and learning to mentor new teachers in my district. This was the year I got a new boss and completely left the classroom. I gained a home along the water and wonderful new friends. I worked longer and harder than I ever had. You had a lot of demands for me.

Our dance is over and I'm ready for a new partner. I hope you'll tell 2007 to take things easy with me this year. Lots of projects I started with you are going to continue to develop. You'll live on in my archives. Google will send visitors here to have a look and think about what happened in 2006. You'll be gone, but most certainly not forgotten.

Tonight, there's champagne, lots of food, fireworks, laughter, and more to toast your departure and welcome your replacement. See you at midnight.

29 December 2006

What Kind Are You Packing?

The BBC has a fun little quiz you can take to see if you think more like a man or a woman. Some of my answers surprised me. There's a test where you're provided a pair of eyes and four possible emotions to go with them. You have to pick the matching emotion. I got 10 out of 12 right. Ditto for the spatial reasoning where you have to choose which pictures show a rotation of the original graphic. I screwed up on the first part of the word matching portion because I didn't read the directions correctly and neglected to use commas to separate words.

The hardest part? I couldn't find my metric ruler (and you need one to measure your fingers). So, if you just have a standard ruler or tape measure in your house, here's a handy place to go to get it converted to millimeters.

Go play and see what sort of brain you're packing!

28 December 2006

Evolve or Die

Washington, like many states, has a high school exit exam that is part of the graduation requirements. Students who aren't proficient with a 10th grade level of readin', 'ritin', and 'rithematic (and soon to be science) can't get their diplomas. In some ways, it doesn't seem like that great of a demand. Shouldn't 12th grade students be able to do 10th grade work? The bottom line right now is that many of our 11th graders can't, at least in the area of math. The threat that they might not graduate is enough for many schools (including ones in our district) to offer extended math courses for support.

The rub with all of that is twofold. One is for the kid. A colleague of mine likens all of this to going to PE everyday and only getting to do situps because your abs are in bad shape. You don't get to play team sports or run or do circuit training and so on. Gotta fix those abs.

The other major piece of fallout has to do with programs and teachers. Every student who takes an extra period of math is one less student who can sign up for an elective---and areas like Career and Technical Education (CTE) are starting to suffer.

According to an article in the Seattle PI, "...Educators [say] that fewer students are studying wood shop, accounting, drafting and other traditional vocational courses as districts strive to bolster basic skills. In Tacoma, the state's third-largest district, enrollment in career and technical education courses is down 5 percent this year from last year. That's about 500 fewer students taking a CTE course."

We offer some great CTE options in this district. A kid can graduate with a Windows NT or Cicsco certification, among other areas. Some of the teachers in these classes are very purposeful about reading and writing support. But others which could have a far stronger math and science connection aren't making the shift. Imagine how they could sell their programs to students by integrating the math support into shop class...or science remediation with materials science. The standards movement isn't going to go away---and these areas are going to have to adapt or they will become extinct from the schools. They have a great role in the educational ecosystem and I don't want them to disappear. Some school districts, such as Bethel, are figuring this out. "...Enrollment in CTE courses is rising, fueled by its increasing student population and offering of more 'applied math' and other classes that can meet both academic and career and technical credit requirements."

As for the kids who are enrolled in more math, working on their abs, as it were? I wonder how many of them are like this one: "Green, who said he plans to join the Army after high school, is not pleased to be in 'Math Ramp Up.' 'All I do is work on stuff that I already know and then fall asleep,' he said." If you know it, kid, how come you can't show it? Or perhaps you snoozed through your previous math courses, too?

The legislature convenes in a few weeks. One of the items to be considered is whether or not the requirement for students in the class of 2008 and beyond meet the standard in math should be continued...or put off until 2010 or 2011. Most math teachers think that delaying the requirement is a mistake and that we will be no better off in a few years. My guess is that most CTE teachers are keeping their fingers crossed for a reprieve. If that happens, I hope they find some way in the interim to evolve.

27 December 2006

99 Education Carnivals on the Wall...

Unlike me, many edubloggers have been valiantly posting about education related issues during the last week. Head on over to this week's Carnival and show them some love. It's the last of the double-digit versions. Next week we celebrate the 100th edition! Maybe I'll have something valuable to contribute by then. :)

26 December 2006

Prospecting

My most recent grad class ended on Sunday with a draft prospectus being the final piece due for assessment and evaluation. I have been reluctant to commit to a particular focus because there are too many variables in my professional life at the moment. It's hard to use the elementary math and science cadre as a vehicle for study when I don't know if I'll have a job next year (at least in Curriculum), let alone whether or not there will be funding and/or interest in having the cadre continue to meet. I told my prof that anything I put in the prospectus for my dissertation could very well be bunk---not because it was my intention to mislead anyone, but rather that it will be a few more months before I'll know about my situation for next year.

In the meantime, I'm pleased with what I was able to put together and hope to adapt some of it into the real area of research later this spring. I would like to look at the application of transformational leadership to job-embedded staff development. I hope to use the Concerns-Based Adoption Model as a way to gauge the impact of all of this on student achievement. Yes, I know it sounds sort of nebulous at the moment and not terribly practical, but I think it has some potential to get there. Right now, I just need the vehicle---which could be the math/science cadre. What I really want to know is how to support teachers in a friendly way that makes the best use of resources and has the greatest impact on student achievement. In time, I can give this a bit more definition and focus.

My next class starts in a week. I'm amazed that I have already finished one year of my EdD work and am gearing up for the second go-round. At this time next year, I'll just have one more class and then write my dissertation. Right now, I am enjoying my time off from school in all of its forms. There's plenty of time to go prospecting for a dissertation in the new year.

24 December 2006

Two Twos and a Five

The blogging world is rather quiet at the moment. We're all busy with different sorts of festivities and just general recharging of the mental energies before the onslaught of the rest of the school year. I, too, have been enjoying reading for fun, going out with friends, getting in the midst of the frisson of shoppers, and doing some small projects around the house. (Hey, Hedgetoad...I've appropriated your idea for the kitchen door.)

When I was a wee goddess, Christmas Eve was spent at the home of my only great grandmother---a petite Scottish woman with a thick brogue and bright red hair. She insisted that everyone call her "Mom," although she constantly complained that the family was too big. Her five children (four of whom had spouses) would attend, but my adad was the only grandchild (out of three) who was there---and I was certainly the only great-grandchild. The family event consisted of a terrible buffet (Mom wasn't much of a cook...or shopper) and a gift exchange of "two twos and a five." For the exchange, each adult was to bring three wrapped packages: two $2 gifts and one $5 gift. Many times, the gifts were of the white elephant/gag variety. I was always assigned to help my great-uncle number the packages and then the adults drew numbers. They opened the gifts and then spent a lot of time trying to convince one another to trade items. Beyond that, I don't remember much. I usually fell asleep as I was already up far past my bed time (and Santa would be arriving soon).

Mrs. Bluebird was recently commenting on her current holiday traditions. Seems like many of us have our own way of doing things---and in a very un-Norman Rockwell sort of fashion. Times do change. Many of those involved in the "two twos and a five" days are long gone and it makes no sense to keep up such a tradition, no matter how nostalgic it feels to remember it. There are new ways to celebrate and find joy in the holiday season that are just as exciting as in previous years. Go out and revel!

22 December 2006

Lighting It Up

I'm sure that there's a lot going on in the world of education at the moment, but I'd rather blog about something else: Christmas lights.

Christmas on the Pecos by sfgamchick CC-BY-NC-ND


I ran some errands this afternoon and enjoyed the seasonal light displays on the way home. My adad always put up some lights---all at my amom's insistence. It was a task he dreaded. I remember his last Christmas. I had called one afternoon and he was in the middle of the yearly chore. He was frustrated with the untangling and testing of bulbs and said he'd decided that he was just going to spell "Fuck you" in the front window using the lights. I've never mentioned this story to my amom. I like the secret---it makes me smile each time I remember.

The picture here is from Christmas on the Pecos, which was another chapter of my life. The Pecos river runs through Carlsbad, NM, and those homeowners fortunate enough to have property along the banks dress up their backyards. You can only see the decorations from that water. Boat tours take people up and down the river to see all the light displays. I've never seen anything like it.

I didn't put up lights of my own this year---between the wettest November in Seattle history and an all too busy December in Curriculum, it just didn't seem to be the right time. But tonight, I just enjoyed cruising around and seeing everyone else's handiwork, creativity, and joy. Best of the season to you all!

21 December 2006

Good Blogs

Mr. McNamar recently posted about his general disappointment in the nominees for the best education blog. He then suggested a few of his own. It got me wondering a bit about my own blogroll and who/what I like to read.

Most of the blogs up for awards were compendium type blogs. They track lots of different stories, give a synopsis, and move on. There's only one of those I read: The Education Wonks. I guess I feel like I have enough news at my fingertips and coming at me from all sides---I really don't need to go searching for a blog with the list of the day. It's just not my thing.

What I do like are bloggers who have a real voice to their writing. Whether it starts with a piece from the news, from the classroom, or the world at large, my "must reads" have a personal and clear voice. They give you a glimpse into their own minds and lives, rather than regurgitating news feeds. I still let the Wonks fall into this category, if only because they editorialize their posts. There are a couple of blogs I've been looking at recently and have been reluctant to add them to my blogroll for the reason that they lack "voice" in their writing. The blogs just feel like a basic diary of what happened in the classroom on any given day---there isn't any reflection about it.

I also like bloggers who post regularly. I certainly understand the realities of trying to blog nearly every day, but those who only write every few weeks---no matter how good the writing---don't sustain my attention. Some blogs I've had on my blogroll I eventually omitted for this reason. It's just too frustrating.

My general blogroll includes a few that are not specifically geared for education, but a goddess doesn't live by edublogs alone. The Functional Ambivalent has a gift for writing---and I love to laugh. Pratie Place's Melinama is the kind of gal you'd like to hang out with. I enjoy the diversity of her interests and her intellectual curiosity. Other places I visit and list also give a sense of wonder about the world. It's not the classroom that's important to me. It's the learning.

As a blogging community, I think that we do have a responsibility to support one another...to comment and probe ideas...to connect and promote ourselves. This doesn't mean that everyone has to list every blog in the edusphere on their roster, only that we celebrate and foster our creativity.

19 December 2006

What's In A Gender?

I used to ask my students how you tell if someone is male or female. I always got some giggles and a few eyerolls. It's obvious, right? Mind you, we mostly talked about this in human terms---determining sex throughout the animal kingdom isn't just a matter of innies and outies.

The International Olympic Committee has been concerned with this very question for a long time. The first issue was simply a concern of men dressing as women to compete for their countries---something solved by having athletes walk naked in front of a panel of doctors. This wasn't a particularly popular solution with athletes, so the IOC moved to a Barr Body test. In humans, women typcially have 2 "X" chromosomes and men have one. In women, one of the X chromosomes turns off in each cell, migrates to the side, and hibernates. (It's not the same one in each cell---hence patterns in calico cats, for example.) The IOC decided that anyone who had a Barr Body must be female.




But then the IOC found out that they were disqualifing men who were for all visible purposes male. They just happened to have an extra chromosome. Why were they men? Because a gene from the Y chromosome (the SRY gene) had been transferred to the X chromosome during sperm formation. There's lots of gene exchange (a/k/a "crossing over") happening during sperm and egg formation. Things sometimes get stuck in the wrong place or in the wrong way. No matter---the gene functioned as it should have, causing the embryo to be flooded with testosterone at the right time to make the child a male. Now the IOC determined that anyone with an SRY gene would be viewed as male. Here again, there were issues. If that gene doesn't kick on at the right time or is counteracted in other ways, the embryo will keep developing as a female.

It's not so easy, is it?

The recent news about the runner from India failing a gender test and being stripped of a medal made me think about all of this again. Why did she fail? Too many Y chromosomes. Physically, she is female. At the cellular level she has some DNA that should have produced a male when she was in the womb, but it didn't happen. To me, there is something deeply unfair about disqualifying someone because their dad had a mutant sperm. This isn't like doping or cross-dressing. She didn't choose her chromosomes---it isn't anything she has any more control over than any other trait. It's discrimination at the molecular level.

I tend to think of gender as something of a continuum, not an either/or. At one end, you have the XX fertile female...and at the other, an XY fertile male. In the middle? People missing a part or having something extra. Gender is really left to the individual to identify---not society. I understand that the IOC is looking to keep countries honest and ensure a level playing field in a variety of ways, but I worry about the precedent they may be setting. How many of us are unknowingly carrying all sorts of genetic oddities that might mean an employer, insurer, or group would prevent us from participating?

18 December 2006

Equity in Education

From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

"Little progress noted on education law goals" was the headline of an article in the Nov. 20 Enquirer. The article states that the gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing.

The gap is only between children who have good early childhood experiences and those who lack this experience. Equity begins at the moment of conception. The mother who eats right and stays away from drugs has an advantage of producing a healthy child. The mother who smokes, takes other drugs, and does not get the right nutrition may produce a child who at birth is at a disadvantage.

Equity means that both children had the same advantage from the moment of conception.

Children in a language-rich environment, from the moment of birth, come to our schools ready for the challenges we present to him. Children without this experience are not given the opportunity to catch up because of the "No Child Left Behind" law.

Equity means giving each child what he needs. It means moving each child ahead and presenting new challenges to make his education experience a successful one. There will be gaps, not because of the color of the skin, but because children do not get what they need at home.

There will be gaps because teachers have to treat every kindergarten child as if they all came in with the same skills.

There will be gaps because good education practices are set aside, recess is abandoned, art and music are not important, and getting ready to take many tests is nothing but drill work without understanding.

There is a gap between what research tells us about developmentally appropriate practices and what educators are allowed to do for children.

There is no equity because equity does not mean that we treat all children the same - it means that we give each child what he needs.

I don't agree with this view of "equity in education." It's really not about what kids come in with---we know that every one of them is different. It's about not using those factors to deny access to opportunities when kids are at school. To me, it isn't equitable that only white and asian kids take AP Chem in our district. It isn't equitable that students from low-income backgrounds generally perform worse on tests of basic skills than other students. NCLB, for all of its faults, is the reason schools are now so concerned about equity. Students are definitely given the chance to "catch up."

What the author seems to talking about in the article is really differentiation in the classroom, not equity. Differentiation includes the ideas of readiness and engaging instruction. It also appears that she doesn't believe that all kids can achieve because of differences that begin with conception---something I find rather disturbing to hear from another teacher. Not every child will have the same ultimate goals, but they should all be able to have the same basic tools to apply to wherever their dreams lead. That seems equitable to me.

17 December 2006

It Must Be Time for Christmas

I had the potential to know four grandfathers. I never met the fathers of either of my birthparents. One didn't want to be introduced and the other was struck by a car while on a walk one morning. That event occurred some years before I found my birthparents. On the adopted side, my amom's dad died of cancer a few years before I was born; I did get to know my adad's father.

His name was Jarvis---a name, believe it or not, he chose for himself. Apparently, his parents could not agree on a name for him when he was born, so they gave him the initials of "JV" only and decided that he could pick his own name when he was older. He was a WWII vet, having served in the army as a cook. I found out a few years ago that he had an injury during his service which resulted in him not being able to father any more children after my adad was born. I don't know the story that goes along with that and I'm not sure that it's the kind of thing one asks about. Anyway, he was a genial man, quick to remember the poems he had memorized in grade school, ready with a pun, and the most frightening set of driving skills imaginable.

I have been thinking about the lone grandfather today for two reasons. First of all, the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers are playing tonight. This rivalry was the setting for the first NFL game I ever attended. It was at this time of year. We had just flown into Kansas City and I got to go with my adad and grandfather directly to the game. The three of us had a marvelous time, enjoying the crowd (and the rather colorful language they used) as much as the game itself.

As I mentioned, my grandfather was an army cook and cooking was something he enjoyed throughout his life. Every Christmas, he made a batch of fudge. I recently asked my grandmother if she had a copy of the recipe. Here is what she sent:

1 square chocolate
4 cups sugar
1 tall can PET milk
1/4 lb. butter

Cook until it forms soft ball

Add:
2 packages chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pt. jar marshmallow cream
1 cup nut meats

I have been trying some interpretations of this recipe the last few years. Things like "tall can" and "packages" are almost as vague as trying to know if the square of chocolate should be bittersweet or semi-sweet. Anyway, I do my best and then send a big box of the stuff to my grandmother. I just made the fudge this morning and the whole house smells like chocolate and sugar and all manner of other Christmas memories.

Tonight, I'll watch the game on tv, eat a piece of fudge, and make a toast to my grandfather. It's feeling more like Christmas all the time.

16 December 2006

You're Kidding, Right?

"U.S. public schools should be run by private contractors who would graduate most students by 10th grade, concluded an expert commission sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The plan also calls for state funding to replace local property taxes, free pre-kindergarten and higher teacher pay on a merit-based system. The Gates Foundation and other sponsoring groups may pay states to help implement it, organizers said...

The panel, called the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, estimates that its plan would cost little more than $500 billion the U.S. currently spends each year on kindergarten through 12th grade education. The federal government provides about 9 percent of the current total, with the rest split between state revenue and local property taxes...

The added costs of about $60 billion a year would be offset by graduating about 60 percent of students after the 10th grade, when tests would show they are are ready for jobs or college. The commission predicted its improvements eventually would leave about 95 percent of all high school graduates ready for college."

There's much more to read in the article, but I pulled out the more frightening aspects. Graduating kids in 10th grade? After working with 15- and 16-year olds the last 15 years, I'm not convinced this is in the best interests of kids. Will there be jobs waiting for them? Can the kids get to them? Not all of them drive, let alone own their own cars. Might this become another area where low income families again get left out of options?

How does getting kids out of high school at 10th grade mean more of them will be ready for college? I'm also mystified how private contractors would do better than the current public system. It's not as if all of the issues---NCLB, uninvolved parents, poor families---are magically going to go away just because a company is running the school.

I'm hoping that this be one study that gets swept under the rug.

15 December 2006

Can You Really Go Home Again?

With all of the budget woes in the district and looming cuts, there's been some talk among those of us in Curriculum about whether or not we would feel at home in the classroom again. As for me, I'm down with that. This is my first year out and I haven't completely separated my mind from the task. I actually think that the last few years of experience in Curriculum would make me a better teacher should I go back to the classroom. I've had time to really think about the kinds of things that can and should happen with kids---the sorts of thoughts that full-time teachers don't have the time luxury of delving into nearly as deeply. I've been able to reflect on and work with best practices in all kinds of new ways. A return to the classroom could be just as energizing as the transition away. I've already "built my parachute," so to speak, in terms of speaking with a prinicipal about a job in the building...just in case things don't work out here.

Others in Curriculum are not quite so sure, but then, they've been out of the classroom for several years. Some have looked into becoming admins or investigating other pathways, but their general feeling is that they can't go back to the classroom. This is not to say they view it as beneath them or as a step backwards career-wise, just that they've been out of the teacher mindset for such a long time that it doesn't fit who they are now. Their passions are different.

I am always in awe of the classroom teachers I meet who have been doing that job full-time for 25+ consecutive years. There just aren't that many. Some took time to raise children. Others, like me, have transitioned back and forth between other opportunities. It's rare to find a career educator who has made the classroom their home for decades. I would hope they would welcome the rest of us prodigals, whatever our reasons for coming home again.

14 December 2006

Early Holiday

Tomorrow was supposed to be our last day of work before the new year, but some nasty weather has already prompted the cancellation of school tomorrow. Heavy winds are on the way.

I do wonder about how all the little kids will feel about not having their parties tomorrow and giving teachers treats. Will they be more excited about an extra day of vacation...or bummed about not being to do a bit of celebrating?

I didn't bring home all of the things I anticipated working on over the holidays. I may try to make a run to the office next week when the weather has calmed down. This is such an anticlimactic way to get to winter break.

Best wishes to all of you who are still in the trenches! Keep your fingers crossed for brief power outages here.

13 December 2006

In There With the Teachers

Some current research seems to indicate that if elementary schools can't have science specialists, they can do just as well with promoting student achievement by developing expertise among regular classroom teachers. We're going with this idea and the elementary math specialist and I are training a "math and science cadre" for the district. There are 14 elementaries and each one sends one teacher for every grade level, k-6. We do some intensive professional development together and then the teachers go back to work with peers.

Round One of the cadre meetings was at the end of September and we're kicking off Round Two this week with k, 1, and 6 teachers. It is good for me to be doing this. I haven't had much opportunity to work with groups this year and I do miss being in the classroom. There is such good energy in learning with people---no matter their age or background. I come home exhausted, but feeling satisfied about things.

This time around, my portion of the day is to do some general inservice around differentiation and then start the benchmark process with teachers. It's not quite as glam as the math portion of the day, where the specialist is doing some games with them, but it is responsive to topics that they've been wanting us to explore. There is also an opportunity for the teachers to meet the new science kit coordinator and provide us with some feedback about what is and isn't working. I know that there have been rumblings out and about (kits are new this year), but we're not getting many negative comments yet. My guess is that it's much harder to be ugly in person than it is on paper or in the staff room; however, we do want constructive criticism and to be able to respond to needs. We can't do that unless people tell us what they want.

I hope that we keep the cadre next year, although I don't know that it will survive budget cuts and a survey about teacher needs. Teachers who participate (between 1/3 - 1/2 of our elementary staff) are very positive about the experience and feel like they're learning a lot. It's hard to miss a day with kids, but good for all of us when teachers have the chance to be together.

12 December 2006

Table Rules

Image Credit: Unknown
Ah, junior high girls. Well, that's my assumption after reading the "Lunch Table Rules" that were drafted by a girl. How it ended up posted at "I Am Bored" is anyone's guess.

To see and read things like this makes me sad. The same sorts of mindgames girls played when I was in junior high (and no doubt there were versions in previous generations) are still around. I know that some would say that this is just kid stuff...so that makes it okay. But when does something like this make us take a more serious look. Are lunch table rules okay? Or, do they fit our 21st definition of bullying? I wonder what the teachers of these young ladies think about the behavior and if they said anything.

11 December 2006

Luddites in the Classroom

I think that engaging in the writing process with a computer is a very different animal than sitting down with pen(cil) and paper. There are things I like about using my laptop---such as the ability to quickly edit text---but I find that when I really need to synthesize a lot of information, only the old-fashioned way will get me organized. It is rare to find me without a finely sharpened pencil nearby. I keep one tucked behind an ear at work and another beside my bed at night in order to write down all those last minute thoughts that can keep me from sleeping. The physical act of writing something on paper just faciliates the thinking process for me.

Perhaps these experiences are what a school in Scotland has in mind. They are insisting that students do their writing with a fountain pen. "The pens improve the quality of work because they force the children to take care, and better work improves self-esteem," principal Bryan Lewis said. "Proper handwriting is as relevant today as it ever has been."

In this case, the use of the pens is focused more on producing "pretty" work rather than facilitating the writing process. I do wonder what will happen over time with these kids---will achievement go up with this additional way to think and plan?

Between blogging and an on-line degree program, I am getting more comfortable with writing in a paperless environment. I don't think I will ever completely give up my pencil, paper, and eraser. Maybe Scotland is cultivating a few more kids like me.

10 December 2006

Second Blogiversary

Confetti by ADoseofShipBoy CC-BY
Two years ago, I restarted this blog. It had begun as more of a personal space and I didn't post very often. I thought maybe I could do a bit more with things if I reflected on the career portion of my life. Working in public education has been near and dear to my heart all of my adult life. My journey has had a lot of twists over the last two years---I've gone from four classes a day and one "science goddess" period a day to focus on secondary science issues to a full-time k-12 science specialist (and beginning teacher mentor).
Champagne by faberzeus CC-BY-NC-SA

Many thanks to those of you who have supported this blog. I appreciate the thoughtful comments you make, the shout-out links you provide to and from your own cyberpulpits, and the comaraderie to be found in the edusphere.

So, let's get the party started! Here's to another grand year!

09 December 2006

No Child Left Behind Bars

I knew that the oft reviled acronyms of NCLB and AYP were already causing a greater degree of angst with alternative programs, but until I read this, I hadn't thought about prison schools.

Juvenile offenders go to school while incarcerated. Once they turn 18, they are moved to an adult prison and schooling ends. Meanwhile, the schools often show as making 0% growth toward AYP and "face the public embarrassment of being put on a state failure list, with sanctions that can ultimately be as severe as staff replacement. That leads to demoralized teachers and difficulty recruiting."

I'm trying to imagine what the state plans to do when it steps in to take over the school. (Isn't it pretty much running juvy, anyway?) Will it be able to recruit teachers who get all of the kids to standard...just in time to turn 18 and get a pimp named Buddha in their next cell? I do think that education is a key to breaking cycles of poverty. Assuming that these kids make it back out into the real world, they're going to have to have some tools to make it...tools they didn't get before they were sent to the clink. I just wonder if these types of exceptional situations need some exceptions from unfunded mandates.

08 December 2006

Snipe Hunting

There's a proposal in the district that would pay teachers $100 for "good" units. I don't want to go into great deal about the "good" part here, but rest assured that it is being described and a template is being generated.

What I do wonder is whether or not good lessons and units are transferrable from one teacher and classroom to another. Can we really distill everything that goes into good instruction---engaging activities, differentiation, authentic assessment---into a document that can be interpreted the same way in every classroom with the same results? I do believe that a basic scaffold can be adapted by most any teacher to the needs at hand. But a magic lesson that needs no tailoring is akin to snipe hunting in my mind.

So, what communications do we need from good teachers about what works? How do we capture on paper what happens in effective classrooms in order to support other teachers? Can we develop a system to share wheels instead of everyone making their own...or does each one have to be different because every classroom is different?

07 December 2006

Out of Chaos, Comes Order

These days, most of us in the district are hoping that Nietzsche was right. It's an awfully bumpy ride this year and it's just going to get rougher.

School closures will mean lots of change. How do you box up and move two entire schools? They're not all going to the same spots. Will teachers who have technology (LCD projectors, document cameras) get to have those move with them? What happens to students who have attended one school for a few years and although their school isn't closing, they will be shifted to another school due to boundary changes? If you're an administrator and Superstar 3rd Grade teacher is assigned to your school...do you take one of your current 3rd grade teachers and reassign them? We have first grade teachers who have been teaching 1st grade for over 20 years. If they're assigned to a different grade level next year, it will be a lot like starting all over again.

How do you plan for next year when the state legislature might very well change things like graduation requirements late this spring. Will we still run math lab classes for kids who don't pass the WASL? If we will be funded for full day kindergarten, how do we factor that into school closure? What about all of the district initiatives in progress at the moment...will everything be put on hold and kept in limbo next year while things settle down? (Might mean my job is not quite so full.) And the feds? NCLB is up for reauthorization.

At the moment, Boss Lady 2.0 is pushing us hard to get all of our ducks in a row regarding our program. Massive budget cuts are on the way...changes to schools mean we'll need to create new support systems for teachers with fewer resources. We'll be in a reactionary mode to anything legislatures toss our way instead of being more proactive about student learning.

Here's hoping that a butterfly is now flapping its wings in an Amazon forest, setting in motion a series of events to bring a bit of calm to our district.

05 December 2006

Information Overload

I can get my eyes and hands on a lot of information---moreso than other teachers simply because of the nature of my job. This can be a very handy thing when you need to look for district trends, get a phone call from a parent whose name is unclear in the message and needs you to call her back, or have to bring together various pieces for a presentation to the school board. Other times, it's just a burden.

We aren't being allowed to hire for the part time position at the science kit center (we do have a full-year sub). The reason is that someone in my building is going to lose her job---at least, the particular position she has---and "they" anticipate moving her into the science kit center. The only problem with this? The person in question doesn't know. This really seems wrong to me that others of us know and she doesn't. I don't know if there's anything I can do about it. I don't think I should tell the gal...what if the district finds money to keep funding her job? Or chooses to move her to another role and not the kit center? It's not my place to interfere and yet by being given this information, it has partly become my business.

Meanwhile, someone in my department is going to get a very rude awakening about various things. The Boss Lady 2.0 isn't going to pull her aside for a private critical conversation. Instead, it will happen in a meeting with all of us. Again, this just seems wrong to me. I wonder what would happen if some of us tried to visit with her first. We haven't done this because, again, it's not our place. Boss Lady 2.0 is the admin. She is the one who needs to keep all of us in line, but a public forum doesn't seem like the most ethical or sensitive way to do so.

What's a goddess to do?

04 December 2006

Recipe Exchange

Someone has forwarded a "recipe exchange" to my inbox. This is the modern day version of a chain letter. The recipient sends a recipe to the top name on the list, then forwards the message to ten people. On that message, the person listed second on the list is moved up to position one and the sender becomes #2.

Since I don't really want to inflict this sort of thing on people who I know won't participate, I'm wondering any of you in the great wide blogosphere would like to join in. If all goes according to plan, you should end up with 36 new recipes to try. Drop me a line or a comment and I'll add you to the list. :)

03 December 2006

Brick and Mortar Dinosaurs

When I finally decided to take the next step in my own learning, I had an option that was not previously available to me: on-line classes. Heck, I'm pursuing an entire degree on-line. There are some major benefits to this, mostly related to issues of time and flexibility. I attend (i.e. participate in the discussion boards) when I have time and can do so as frequently as I like. I don't have to rearrange my life to continue my education. This time, it's the one bending to other needs. It's not all rainbows and unicorns. I do miss the comaraderie and the kinds of discussions one can only have in "real time." As much as the university claims that these are not independent study courses, they pretty much are.

The k-12 continuum is already seeing a similar shift away from brick and mortar institutions to home-based instruction via computers. According to the Potomac News, "Online education is exploding nationwide, growing at a rate of 30 percent a year...for now most online learning happens inside middle and high schools, where students take one or two courses via computer to supplement their regular education. But the totally virtual public schools are taking online education to another level."

I do wonder how much of that growth rate can be attributed to more traditional home school families moving over to computer assisted education. Somehow, I doubt it can be used to fully explain the 30% gain a year. Where are all the other kiddos coming from? Are they kids who want to accelerate their credit gain and graduate early? Teen parents who are at home with their babies? Alternative/At-risk kiddos for whom even brick and mortar alternative programs aren't suitable? Kids with "helicopter parents" who can mommy and daddy do their coursework? Regular kiddos too lazy to get out of bed in the morning?

It would be hypocritical of me to say that on-line learning isn't as valuable as seat time in a physical classroom setting. But, like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. If you're a homeschooled student with an involved parent, my hunch is that on-line learning would be a good fit. If you're a dropout who didn't have the patience for the regular classroom, I'm not so sure that you're going to have the self-discipline (or support at home) to be successful in an on-line format. There just has to be a caring adult involved. Will positive social development be supported?

My district does offer an on-line option for credit recovery for students. Mind you, with having to meet the standards on state tests, senior projects, and other hurdles to get a diploma, merely getting a passing grade for a class is not enough. I worry about kiddos not getting the kind of nuanced feedback they might need in order to make progress toward the standards...to learn rather than simply jump hoops.

I am curious to see what happens with the on-line school our state now has. It is only for high school (or as they call it, "ischool") and is based out of one school district. It's a smart move for the district, as they get state funding for every kid enrolled, just as if that student was sitting in one of their classrooms and not all the way across the state. There are full-time teachers associated with the program and they, too, are scattered across the state. What will student achievement numbers look like over time? It's anyone's guess right now.

I don't think that "real" schools are in much danger. For all of its faults, public education has much to offer and opportunities for every child. We're not headed for extinction just yet.

02 December 2006

What Next?

Many of us in Washington are a bit surprised to discover that the state supe has reversed her stance on requiring students in the class of 2008 (and beyond) to meet the standards in math in order to get a diploma. Even last month, she was telling parents in our town that delaying this requirement would only mean that progress in the classroom would also be slowed. Now, both the governor and she have said that they will recommend the math requirement be changed to first impact the class of 2011. There is some concern that the timing is politically motivated, with an election year just around the corner.

Letting all of that go, for the moment, I have to wonder about what the plan will be for science. Meeting the standards is currently scheduled to be a graduation requirement for the class of 2010. If math is going to be put off until 2011, might the science requirement also be changed to an even more distant point in time?

I'm not quite sure what to think about that, should that turn out to be the case. As a district, we've been scrambling the last two years to structure our scope and sequence, revamp buildings to support more science classes, and identify and purchase aligned materials. Might it be another six or seven years until things "matter"? It is not as if all the efforts we have made so far are for nothing---if anything, kids will have a more solid experience over a longer period of time. This can only help them when meeting the standards in science becomes a reality.

Mind you, Mighty White Boy filled my ear yesterday about how science just isn't suited for a test because of the content...and how math is only skills and no content, which is why (like reading and writing) it makes more sense to test math. Besides, science isn't really all that important for kids to learn. Why, "they" should just do away with the science WASL and have teachers submit classroom based assessments instead. I bit my tongue. It would have done no good to quarrel with his "expertise," although I had to wonder how many out there shared his view.

I feel a bit in limbo now. The state seems to have forgotten science at present, but they can't do so forever. The feds are already slated to include it as part of a school's AYP by 2010. Yet until the state gets its poop and a pile and gives us a plan, we districts are islands unto ourselves. I just wish I knew what was next.

01 December 2006

Standard Deviants

For the record, we've had 1.5 days of work this week due to weather related issues. Never in my career have I had so much "free" time due to snow and ice. It's been a little odd and by the time people got to work today, we were a bit punchy. Cabin fever had taken over.

We are scrambling in Curriculum to work through the issues the delays have caused. Some trainings didn't occur this week---and good luck finding any teacher willing to leave their classroom before winter break now that they've lost 3.5 days of instruction. We were supposed to have done a lot of work on our own program review earlier this week, and now we're squeezing in a few moments here and there.

One meeting we are desperately trying to reschedule needs to have the presence of a particular person, who was unfortunately referred to as the "deviant" today. This person is so incredibly distant from what makes good sense in the classroom that it nearly appears hopeless that reform will happen. But, we found a date and time and will stage our intervention. In the meantime, we all got the giggles over the term "deviant." It may become our mascot.

30 November 2006

Non Sequitors

Some parliamentarians in France are recommending that schoolchildren there should learn about wine. Anyone interested in volunteering to write the curriculum for that one? Perhaps do the test item selection?

And, a tip of the hat to Bits and Pieces for the item at the right. I hope you laugh as much as I did.

29 November 2006

Ninety-Five Big Ones

Ah, Wednesday. That magical day when we all benefit from someone's feverish work to bring together the week's Carnival of Education. It's number 95 this time around and is still as fresh as the first one posted nearly two years ago. Head over and have a read.

The two I pulled out this week as favorites have to do with grading, of course, as that topic has been on my mind this school year. Check out perspectives from two right-wingers:

  • Darren is perplexed by students who see grades as a means to an end (like getting into college) and not a measurement of their learning. Tests and quizzes are the opportunities for kids to show what they know.
  • Meanwhile, Right Wing Nation contemplates whether or not "good vs. bad" test-taking abilities exist. A thoughtful piece, indeed.
Like Darren, I wasn't wild about offering extra credit. If a kid couldn't do the regular work, then how would s/he do well with something extra? My guess is that what most kids are really asking for is something differentiated. They want a way to show their learning on something other than a test or quiz for every unit. Many don't realize that there are usually a ton of opportunities built in: homework, in-class work, discussions, etc. I also agree with the other post in that most kids and families will use bad test-taking abilities as an excuse for poor study habits. I must say, however, that I had a senior last year who was the worst test-taker I had ever had in 15 years of teaching. I don't know why---and I truly did try to help her by giving her some strategies. Even take-home tests were a dismal failure when other take-home assignments were not. When you talked with the girl, you could tell that she understood the material. She was able to use the information and apply it in different ways. The whole test thing? Not so much. I do wonder how she will survive college when so many grades are based solely upon exams.

Anyway, get on over to the Carnival and stimulate yourself. Your brain will thank you for it.

28 November 2006

Damned If You Do...Damned If You Don't

We don't get a lot of snow or ice out in this part of the world. Rain? Certainly. But temperatures tend to stay, well, temperate for most of the year. But Sunday brought us a bit of snow. Clear skies yesterday followed by more snow and unseasonably cold temperatures brought us a lot of ice on the roads.

School was cancelled yesterday, but the supe opted for the late start option this morning. There were lots of angry phone calls from parents today. Didn't he see the news claiming that if you didn't need to drive, you shouldn't? (True, but that was for Seattle metro...which we arent'.) Our district does cover a lot of geographical territory, so some places can have clean and dry roads while others are dealing with several inches of snow. It doesn't always make sense to parents as to why schools are closed or aren't closed, depending upon where a family lives.

We're scheduled for more ugly weather today and tomorrow. I'm hoping for some patience on the part of families. It's one of those things where whether or not we have school, somebody will call and let us know our mistake.

27 November 2006

Deep Cleansing Breath

Image Credit: Unknown


If you look at the title of the graph, you'll notice that it refers to first-year teachers...but if you spend a moment thinking about the graph, you teachers out there will realize that it doesn't just reflect newbies. How many of us vets start off with enthusiasm at the start of another year---full of piss and vinegar? Do we not enter a "survival" phase as we get into a groove before the doldrums of winter set in? It feels like such a long time until June...especially with a few (or more) impossible students and tasks. Spring brings a rebirth of hope, and enthusiasm about summer.

I shared this graph along with an article about first-year teachers with the mentors in the program this year. They all laughed (as did the noobs when they saw it), recognizing the rhythms of the job. I asked the mentors to share some of their experiences navigating this curve and strategies for making it through the "disillusionment." I implored them to tell the beginning teachers that it's normal to feel this way about the job.

As I trawl the edusphere, I see that many bloggers are feeling negative at the moment---and guilty about not having something positive to say...and for being whiny. But I hope that they realize it's all right. We're all surfing the wave. It's better to blog about an annoying student, recalcitrant parent, or aggravating admin and then set it aside for a bit than lose a night of sleep. Invite all of us to the pity party. We'll help celebrate in style and then pick you up to keep moving on. No one wants to be down on things all of the time. Give yourself a chance to vent once in awhile, take a breath, and then go forward. There will be things to celebrate soon.

26 November 2006

Of Tweens and Teens

When I was in junior high, one of the heartbreaks my peers and I endured was that there were no school dances. This was not reflective of the plotline in Footloose (although the movie was contemporary to our situation), but rather that the school thought that it was best to save some experiences for high school. "What will you have to look forward to if you get to do everything now?" This rather old-fashioned point of view was not enjoyed by those of us in our pre-teen/early teen years, but I respect it now.

I was prompted to remember this story after reading "'Tweens Are Fast Becoming the New Teens" on the AP wire. The gist of the piece is that typical teen behaviors (need for independence from parents, dating, etc.) are now being seen more and more commonly in 8 - 12 year olds. It's not just behavior that's changing, but also bodies. "Several published studies have found, for instance, that some tweens' bodies are developing faster, with more girls starting menstruation in elementary school — a result doctors often attribute to improved nutrition and, in some cases, obesity. While boys are still being studied, the findings about girls have caused some endocrinologists to lower the limits of early breast development to first or second grade." Are parents really having to buy training bras at the same time they provide training wheels for their daughters' bikes?

I recommend a look at the whole article, if you can spare a few minutes. It brought up a variety of questions for me. "Childhood" is really a 20th century and western cultural concept. Could it be that some of the behavioral maturity we're seeing is just something that was there all along? Right or wrong, children used to be viewed as mini-adults and expected to be as such. We may not be sending our kids out to the fields or off to work in the sweatshops, but we are sending them to school and continuing to push the envelope in terms of what we expect kids to know and be able to do. We now have tutoring for toddlers and learning benchmarks for early childhood (starting at birth).

The article does make some good points about the role of parents in all of this. Just because your nine-year old is nagging you for a cell phone doesn't mean you have to give it to her. Parents can monitor and guide selections for tv, music, and video games. However, even the most vigilant parent isn't likely to completely prevent their young children from learning about sexy, violent, or "in" things from their peers. I especially liked the point about clothing. What kind of parent buys their 12-year old a pair of shorts with "Hottie" printed across the seat? My guess is that most consumers out there will blame manufacturers for these, but if there wasn't a demand for it, they wouldn't make and sell it. How many parents out there had children because they would be the ultimate accessory item...and are treating them as such?

I get the feeling that this road to early physical and behavioral maturation is a runaway train. We're not likely to stop it at this point. One thing that is not in the article that I wonder about is the cognitive development in children---and if there have been any changes there. My guess is that the pre-frontal lobe of the brain (responsible for more complex decision-making and abstract thinking) is not maturing at an earlier point in time. In other words, kids might look and act more like adults at a younger age, but they can't think like adults. What impact will that have on them in the long run?

RIP, childhood.

24 November 2006

Court of Intrigue

Now that it's Thankgiving Break, I've been trying to catch up on my reading. My book club picks three at a time and then we meet over the next three months to talk about things. The book for November is The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory. Historical fiction is really not my first choice when I'm reaching for something fun to read, but the author did a decent job with the characters. There couldn't be much in the way of suspense. It's like Titanic. You know how it's all going to end before you even start reading.

The interesting part of the process of reading the book was how much the court of Henry the Eighth reminded me of working in Curriculum. Okay, so Boss Lady 2.0 does not physically resemble that monarch, but we specialists are courtiers in one way or another. The elementary literacy person, with her ladies in waiting (a/k/a instructional coaches), is pretty darned close to Catherine of Aragon. She might have been the first to gain the king's favor, but his eye is wandering elsewhere. He is looking to the Pope (a/k/a superintendent) to find a way to divorce her somewhat gracefully.

We may not be living and working in an early 16th century English court, but all of the intrigue is still the same. Who will curry the king's favor next? Who can capture his attention...and who will lose her head in the budgetary beheadings this spring?

Boss Lady 2.0 has been out among the people...traveling from building to building getting some input about the state of the monarchy. Some bow deeply while others have clumps of manure in their hands, ready to throw at her. On the surface of things, she seems a popular choice: a person who can solve problems with a magical phone call. But this cavalier approach (as another courtier described it) only serves to backfire on those of us who have a more global view of things. There is never any pause for reflection or weighing of evidence. It is no danger to her---no one would dare to displeasure the king---only to we courtiers, striving to make get our families (subject areas) into better favor.

Somehow, I doubt that the next pick for our Book Club, Funny in Farsi, will have anywhere near the parallels with life in the Court of Curriculum. It's nice when books take you to a different place rather than striking so close to home.

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving 2006!


Thanksgiving Dinner by Pink Sherbet Photography CC-BY

Best wishes to those of you celebrating American Thanksgiving out there. May you feast with those who bring happiness to your life as you usher in the holiday season! Enjoy the cheesy Macy's Day Parade, cheer on your favorite football team to victory, and eat 'til you can't eat anymore. Diet-schmiet.

22 November 2006

Respect Your Elders

The granddaddy edubloggers of them all, the Education Wonks, have put out a fine spread of posts from around the edusphere for the 94th Carnival of Education. Please do take a moment to stop by and take a stroll down the midway. So, get thee to the Carnival!

20 November 2006

The Dreaded School Project

An Op-Ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor is "A Mom's Plea: Don't Make Me Do School Projects." I admit that I was a bit put off by the title. My initial reaction was "Who asked you to?" As a teacher, I've seen more than enough projects that were obviously not done by students. At least one elementary school in my district has a policy that kids can bring the "stuff" for their projects, but work must be done at school. It has kept the parental interference to a minimum.

Delving further into the Monitor article, it appears that the mom is upset by a few different things. One is the sheer diversity of projects ("What ever happened to the written word?"). I support the need for differentiation, but at some point, teachers need to offer some options. Not everyone needs to make a puppet. Another complaint is the tendency for teachers to give group grades. I fully support her here. It is not fair to a student to be held accountable for the learning of others. If you must, give a part of the grade for how well kids work as a group. Outcomes need to be individual.

Mom's biggest rant however, is firmly in her own backyard to solve. This woman is a serious enabler. If the kid waits until 10:30 on a Sunday night to tell you that they need a Big Mac box to take to school in the morning, you know what? It doesn't mean that you need to drive over to Mickey D's right that minute. You need to go to Walgreens at the last moment to pick up a box of sugar cubes? Why didn't you look at your child's planner when s/he got home from school...or check the teacher's letter or website...to see what the upcoming assignments were? Is there no real communication expected on the part of the student to the parent. Granted, no parent wants to see their kid fail, but at some point, you need to put the problem-solving back on the student's shoulders. "You need a small box for tomorrow? What can you do about that?"

I don't begrudge the frustrated mom that projects take time and that there can be quite a few over the course of the year and across the curriculum. Teachers and schools would do well to think about that. However, most teachers provide extended timelines for these assignments. Maybe there would be a lot less frustration at home if time management and personal responsibility played a larger role in completing homework.

19 November 2006

Is Our Legislators Learning?

Some of my fellow edubloggers here in Washington have already posted a thing or two about the new Washington Learns report. For those of you living elsewhere, Washington Learns was an initiative by our governor to take a deep look at the educational system in this state. The report is meant to prod the legislature into making a commitment to providing a quality/world-class system here in Washington.

In general, there are some good suggestions here. Every dollar spent for early childhood education saves eight dollars that would be spent for remediation later. It's a no brainer that the Washington Learns group suggests phasing in full-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes k-3. A first grade teacher in my district referred to her role as one of "baking the cake." She meant that if teachers at the primary levels didn't create a basic foundation, no "icing" could be added in later grades.

Other things in the report are a bit scary. As much as I like the idea of supporting high quality math and science education, this part bothers me (emphasis added):
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will adopt international performance standards for math and science benchmarked to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and will adopt high school graduation requirements aligned with those standards.
  • By July 2008 for math and by July 2009 for science, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education will identify no more than three curricula for elementary, middle and high school, along with diagnostic and other materials that are aligned with the new standards.
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will incorporate into their accountability plan the requirement that schools must use one of the state curricula, with exceptions granted by waiver from the State Board of Education for districts that demonstrate outstanding student performance in math and science.
Um...are we really going throw out the state standards that we've developed over the last ten years? The same ones that the WASL is aligned to...not to mention all of the districts who have developed alignments to those standards? I don't mind a state approved list of curricula, but only three? This seems quite limited. Meanwhile, what happens to districts like ours which just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new math and science materials...let alone little districts which can afford change even less than we can? Some publishers out there are vicious lobbyists. How will we ensure that the selection process for these materials doesn't line the pockets of those with flash instead of substance?

Mind you, none of the items listed above has the caveat that most of the things in the report do: "Subject to appropriations..." This means that the legislature isn't going to consider subsidizing or supplying these materials, once they are chosen.

Some people in my district aren't too concerned about the report simply because of all of the items that the legislature would have to find a way to fund (and in a hurry). I suppose that a "wait and see" attitude is called for. The legislature won't convene until early next year and their extended session could well last into the summer. Whatever things happen as a result of this report will likely not occur according to the suggested timeline. Legislators may not choose to accept all of the report. Their ideas about what learning should look like in Washington could be more broad.

In the meantime, I'm off to have a closer look at the TIMSS and PISA benchmarks. I haven't the heart to tell teachers that it's possible we could be starting all over again.

18 November 2006

What's In A Grade?

If there's any theme to this blog this year, it's grading. Between our district move at the elementary level to have a standards based report card, my work with new teachers, and other thoughts afoot with my own return to school, I've been thinking a lot about grades. Some of it is philosophical ("What does an 'A' really mean? Should we really give zeros for missing work?") and other tangents are a bit more practical ("What tools can teachers use to assess student progress based on standards?"). I find myself doing a lot of reading and thinking and talking with other teachers when I can.

I ran across an Associated Press article earlier today that describes the problem college admissions are having with weighing GPA as part of college entry. If you have schools with multiple valedictorians (even 75 of them), what does that tell a university about the students? Are they really all 4.0-ready-for-Harvard types?

One way that colleges are dealing with this is to look more at standardized tests. The ACT and SAT are still good predictors of success, like it or not. How many places of higher ed are looking at state tests is not known. Of course, once such tests either become graduation requirements for all schools or in 2014 when all kids must be at standard (or else...), then I'm not sure they will be good tools for distinguishing among applicants.

The article doesn't mention course selection. It's a lot easier to get your 4.0 if you have 2 periods of study hall, 2 periods of PE, an English class, and an early dismissal at the end of the day than if you're the gung ho type who takes multiple AP classes. Shouldn't a transcript say more to an admissions officer than just GPA?

What colleges are wondering, however, is just what an "A" means in high school. There's not a way to calibrate and every teacher's expectations and grading scale can be different...yet colleges look at an "A" in high school chemistry the same. I am not of the opinion that the number of A's should be limited in the class---a/k/a "grading on the curve"---but if a teacher's view of an A is a kid who turns in their work on time, participates in class, and doesn't get test anxiety is all it takes, then perhaps we at least need to think about that.

When I talk with secondary teachers about grades, there are varied viewpoints. Most think that a grade reflects student knowledge, but also some intangibles ("He works really hard!"). They are not willing to factor out those intangibles, although some would welcome the ability to report two grades: one strictly for content and another for things like effort, attitude, and so on. I like this idea, but I don't know if we'll see it come to fruition here.

As usual, I don't really have any answers here. Schools need to have some hard conversations about what a grade should be in the 21st century and colleges need some communication about what they need to know about applicants. It is a seemingly impossible task when you consider the sheer number of schools (secondary and post-secondary) involved. We have to start somewhere. Huge numbers of students are dropping out of post-secondary ed programs because they don't have the right tools to be successful...but obviously, they had the GPA.

17 November 2006

The Bottom Line

One always expects a few changes when you're working for a new admin. Every boss is a little different in terms of his or her expectations and management style. Up until now, though, they have all had some things in common. The new Boss Lady, however, has been a bit of a puzzlement. And now that I'm starting to get things figured out, I'm not so sure I like what I see.

The previous Boss Lady had her quirks, but you could count on two things. First, she was always there to back you up when it counted. It didn't mean that the two of might not disagree in private, but she was always your champion in public. There was a sense of trust and safety...a feeling of mentorship. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you knew that her bottom line was "Is it good for kids?" That was the ultimate filter. Yes, you needed input from stakeholders. People who would be impacted deserved a voice in process. But at the end of the day, if something was a good thing for kids, then she was willing to take a few hits from unhappy adults.

The bottom line with the Boss Lady 2.0 is very different. Her filter is "Will this make me look good?" This is a little frightening in some ways. It means that all of us in Curriculum will be left hung out to dry. She might understand the issues and agree with the problems in private, but she is not going to publicly support you. It also means that our roles become something akin to popularity contests with the boss. In order to get ahead, you're going to have to make someone else look really bad. You'll have to shine...but not moreso than her. You'll need a posse at meetings in order to pushover another group, because there's no way the Boss Lady is going to mediate. She'll just smile upon the winner while jackals have at the loser.

There are already several examples of this afoot, but it's taken awhile to figure out just what the motivation is. The question then becomes "Do I (and do others in Curriculum) really want to work in that environment?" I have to think hard about my own bottom line.

16 November 2006

Test-Taking to Improve Memory?

LiveScience recently posted the results of a study looking at the connection between test-taking and memory. Their title is a bit misleading, making the claim that test-taking leads to an improved memory. What the study really reveals is that it's not so much the test as it is the opportunity to review. And sleep. "Based on the results, the researchers, led by Jason Chan of Washington State University in St. Louis, recommend that 'educators might consider increasing the frequency of testing to enhance long-term retention for both the tested and the related, non-tested material.'"

This is not really news. There's lots of research out there to support the importance of having practice with information in order to achieve mastery. I used to talk with students frequently about the importance of sleep...something often lacking in the lives of teenagers. It's not just the rest your body needs, it's the opportunity for your brain to process the things encountered during the day and reinforce new neural connections it has made. If you don't sleep, there is even less of a chance of retention.

15 November 2006

93rd Carnival of Education: Get Your Feast On

The doorbell rang. Three teachers, dressed in warm winter coats and holding bowls of food, awaited entrance.

“What did you bring?” asked Mr. Lawrence.

“Well, I made my green bean casserole. It’s my grandmother’s recipe,” Mamacita proudly stated. “Would you look at this rain? I was just blogging about the weather. Somehow I didn’t picture this.”

The NYC Educator shuffled his feet. “Yeah, well, I never pictured that we’d get stuck with a secretary who thinks a bit too highly of herself. I’d always heard that it was best to make friends with the office manager of any school since they run the place, but I thought it was just a euphemism. Looks like some of them take it to heart.”

"That must suck," said Mr. Lawrence.

The door opened. “Welcome!” said the Science Goddess and she smiled. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had you all over to my place. Looks like a great start to our potluck. Let me have your hats and coats. Have you met John Dewey and the Textbook Evaluator?”

The teachers looked over at John and Text. They appeared to be engaged in quite the discussion.

“You know,” said John, “I’m not entirely convinced that constructivism is the way to go...especially in math.”

“I think you may be right. I was just looking at some current research. It doesn’t seem entirely supportive of the model,” said Text.

Dr. P walked out of the kitchen with some crackers and a bit of dip on his tie. “Maybe we should be looking at the whole idea of ‘highly qualified’ in math and science, too.”

“Or,” said the HUNBlog, “perhaps we should just take a closer look at how we use constructivism. Inquiry should be appropriately guided.”

“Teachers—especially in the area of math—also need to be strong in their content knowledge,” added NCLBlog.

“That gets back to my point,” Said Dr. P., as he wiped his tie.

More teachers came through the door.

“I have the pecan pie!” cried Margaret, the Poor Starving College Student. “Hang on just a sec...someone’s texting me.”

Ms. Cornelius rolled her eyes. “Did you see that New Zealand is actually going to allow kids to use text message style writing for classroom pieces? What’s up with that? And where do I put the mashed potatoes?”

Margaret replied, “I don’t think I saw that. But hey, you can’t read kids’ handwriting these days, anyway. I just can’t figure out whose job it is to make them write legibly: schools or parents?”

“Ugh. Cell phones,” said 3σ to the Left. “You should hear what all my principal and I had to deal with recently. This parent just couldn’t understand why the school rules about cell phones should apply to his child. Why can't parents act like parents?”

“Don’t parents get any of the burden for student achievement these days?” asked the Education Wonks. “We read that some schools are now closing the achievement gap, but are still wondering why the government makes the schools solely accountable.”

“I know,” said the Science Goddess. “I keep thinking about how to get parents involved in positive ways. They’re such an integral part of the puzzle.”

Mister Teacher groaned. “Don’t get me started on parent issues. Have you seen the way they drive and park in school zones? It’s enough to give me second hand road rage.” He walked toward the bar area.

DeHavilland got up to follow. “Schools can definitely see that there are achievement gaps. But instead of supporting them with the best instructional tools, we give them a lot of rules and roadblocks. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Are you talking about tools like strategies for vocabulary development?” asked D-Ed Reckoning, walking the other way. “It seems to me that we have all kinds of ways to get kids to standard in many areas of education, but until we can consistently help students develop vocabulary, we’re going to be in trouble.”

“Maybe we just need to learn more about how to think outside the box,” said the Eides. “The problems in education aren’t going to be solved in traditional ways.”

The table was finally set. “Come on, everyone,” the Goddess called. “Soup’s on!”

“Is there assigned seating?” asked Mr. Lawrence, suspicion gleaming in his eyes. “You know, at this one school I sub at, the kids choose to segregate themselves into separate lunchrooms. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.”

“Probably not,” said Ryan from Edspresso. “But hey, some people moved to the ‘burbs thinking that they would find a better school system for their children. That isn’t necessarily the case.”

“Which way’s the bathroom?” asked Mike.

“It’s down the hall,” said Alex, “but I think that Janet’s in there.”

“Figures,” sighed Mike. “And I’ll just bet that she leaves the seat down. Again. I seem to be always surrounded by female co-workers. My kingdom for a men's room.”

Matt passed the marshmallow covered sweet potatoes to Alex. “So, what’s on your mind this week?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking that in light of the recent election results that there’s a good chance the minimum wage might be boosted. That could be a good thing for schools. Maybe we should rally for it.”

“Very interesting,” said Scott. “Over at Get on the Bus, I was just writing about a different reflection on the political process. I really think it’s valuable to kids to involve them in discussions and let them see you vote.”

“I agree. Have you seen that YouTube video with pre-schoolers and the election process?” said Just a Substitute Teacher. “Check it out when you get a chance.”

Discussion at the other end of the table was a bit different. “I’m so stoked! We’re going to take a group of students to see Julius Caesar. I really have a love of the theater. Don’t you, Darren?”

“Oh, I love a good field trip as much as the next teacher. However, one of our own teachers went to DC to receive our school’s National Blue Ribbon Award. The reception wasn’t anything to write home about, unfortunately.”

“We got to go see a different reading program,” said the Median Sib. “I bet those teachers were relieved when the 20 of us departed for the day.”

Matt perked up. “Did you see anything that might support the learning of gifted students? I notice that we don’t serve them well. Maybe they’d be better off classified as being legally disabled.”

Janet returned from the bathroom. “What did I miss?”

“Talk of field trips, students, and parents,” said the Goddess. You’re just in time to get in the last word before dessert.”

“I could use some chocolate. I finally had some resolution to the issues with the class I told you about last week. Sometimes, you just have to focus your energies where they can do the most good.”

“Indeed,” sighed the Goddess. “Shall we retire to the livingroom for football and a tryptophan induced haze? Or would you prefer to check out the Carnival of Teaching next door?"

“That sounds great,” said the Wonks. “And don’t forget, next week we’re hosting the Education Carnival! The deadline for submissions is: 8:00 PM (Eastern) 5:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, November 21st. Submissions may be sent to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net . Contributers may also use Blog Carnival's handy submission form. You can always check out the archives here.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

14 November 2006

Where's Your Homework?

Submissions for this week's Carnival of Education are due today. Send your permalinks to me (the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com) by 6 p.m. PT today. There's plenty of space at the table for this potluck Thanksgiving feast. Bring a dish to share and a hearty appetite for all the news fit to blog about this week. Latecomers will be seated, but it may be at the kiddie table. :)

13 November 2006

Hostile Witnesses

Classroom teachers know that every class has a particular dynamic. Like families, there are roles to play. If you've seen The Breakfast Club, you know the drill. No doubt, if you're a teacher, you can add to that pantheon of student archetypes. You can also delineate all of the roles different staff members play. All you have to do is observe a staff meeting like an anthropologist and watch the dynamics. In all likelihood, such a stance will be far more entertaining than the meeting itself.

Now, take a step back and imagine things at the school level. View the district at a distance. Are there "princess" schools and "outcasts"? How does your department or school fit in the grand scheme of things? As a classroom teacher, I never thought very much about it. In my role with the district, I have this perspective quite a bit.

The junior high schools tabled a discussion last spring. Parents, students, (most) teachers, and administrators reached consensus that we should have an honors option for seventh and eighth grade science...but nobody could agree as to what it should look like. We just didn't have the time and headspace last year to deal with this issue. But, I picked open that scab last week and did I get an earful (or perhaps I should say "eyeful" as responses were via e-mail) from science staff at one school.

Science teachers at the rabble rouser junior high are an interesting lot. A few are elementary teachers who were moved up at one point in their careers (they have no/little science background, but are learning and are good instructors)...one is a good general purpose science teacher...and the other is biding time until he retirement. If they were playing a particular family role, I would say that they are the classic middle child...and they have serious attention seeking behaviours and passive-aggressive tendencies.

So, when I sent out a reminder to science teachers that there was consensus from stakeholders that honors be an option, three of the staff at the rabble rouser jh e-mailed me rather contentious messages because their opinions differed from the consensus. A difference of opinion doesn't bother me...and I knew from discussions last spring that they weren't interested in honors science. It's the "what" of their messages that made me shake my head. One said "I teach all my classes as advanced and the kids who don't get it flunk, just like WASL." Um, okay. So much for being student centered. Another claimed that it was good for the kids who might otherwise be in honors to be mixed in so that they could help the lower kids. Again, how is that student centered? How does spending class periods tutoring help you advance your own content knowledge and skills? Kids are not teaching tools...and they should not be scheduled so that you have a nice class period.

Sigh.

I sent a nice, but firm, reply to the three. I mentioned that I respected their views but that it was not representative of the vast majority of stakeholders. In addition, we have a responsibility to help every child reach his or her potential...not just get low kids to standard. All was quiet on the rabble rouser front. I had surmised that they had just decided to be quiet and pretend that things wouldn't happen.

This morning, I had some nice inquiries from them. They've decided to come to the meetings to plan out the honors option. They have a representative for grade 7 and one for grade 8. I am wondering if they will be "hostile witnesses," there to be vigorous in stopping the process, or if they can set aside their personal opinions enough to work with the other schools to come up with something that's good for kids. Even so, I would much rather have them involved as we move along. Their presence---no matter how negative---is needed. I am hoping that some peer pressure and the fact that only one teacher per school will be present for each session will help. Should make for an interesting blog entry in three weeks, eh?

12 November 2006

The Parental Piece of the Puzzle

I write about parents here from time to time. It's such a vital piece of the educational jigsaw and yet they are not visibly involved with discussions about the kinds of things impacting students: NCLB, state requirements, School Improvement Plans, and so on. This is not to say that they don't care about their kids or do things at home to help things along on an individual basis, but I wonder if it appears that school is something done to their kids rather than with kids and parents.

The coffee clutch I visit on Friday mornings is made entirely of elementary teachers. I listen to their stories of frustrations with students and parents. They often turn to me and ask if high school teachers have the same problems of students not turning work or parents in denial about student behavior (or even helicopter parents). For some reason, the teachers thought that these problems go away. On the other end of things, most high school teachers don't realize that their elementary counterparts have these issues. They don't magically appear or disappear with puberty. The elementary gang said that phone calls about classroom issues begin in kindergarten and continue on. As a classroom teacher, you might think that you are calling a parent about a problem for the first time. A parent might have already had that phone call multiple times over the years.

This observation begs a few questions. How many parents have had call after call, year after year, about their child's behaviour or lack of work ethic? At what point do you (as a parent) just start shutting out what teachers are saying to you? Do you try for awhile to help correct behaviors...or do you just give up around second grade? Were you this sort of student, too, and does that impact your view of the school?

Schools---not parents---are held acountable for student achievement. I don't think that many parents out there realize this and that it is the reason that they neglect to support their children's learning to the fullest. I realize that the feds think we can get all kids to standard without parents helping along the way, but I don't know an educator out there who thinks that's realistic. So, what do we as schools do? We need all parents to shoulder their piece of the puzzle, not just some. Do we log parent contacts over the years? How do we make those calls more positive and draw in the parents we need?

11 November 2006

Been There...Done That

This is shamelessly stolen from Ms. Cornelius, but it's a rather fun little meme. Looks like Graycie enjoyed it, too! The items in bold are things that I've done. (I changed a couple of words from Corny's version.) What about you? What have you done?

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
02. Swam with wild dolphins
03. Climbed a mountain
04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
05. Been inside the Great Pyramid
06. Held a tarantula
07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
08. Said “I love you” and meant it
09. Hugged a tree
10. Bungee jumped
11. Visited Paris
12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
14. Seen the Northern Lights
15. Gone to a huge sports game
16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
18. Touched an iceberg
19. Slept under the stars
20. Changed a baby’s diaper
21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
22. Watched a meteor shower
23. Gotten drunk on champagne
24. Given more than you can afford to charity
25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
27. Had a food fight
28. Bet on a winning horse
29. Asked out a stranger
30. Had a snowball fight
31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
32. Held a lamb
33. Seen a total eclipse
34. Ridden a roller coaster
35. Hit a home run
36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
39. Had two hard drives for your computer
40. Visited all 50 states
41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
42. Had amazing friends
43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
44. Watched wild whales
45. Stolen a sign
46. Backpacked in Europe
47. Taken a road-trip
48. Gone rock climbing
49. Midnight walk on the beach
50. Gone sky diving
51. Visited Ireland
52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
54. Visited Japan
55. Milked a cow
56. Alphabetized your CDs
57. Pretended to be a superhero
58. Sung karaoke
59. Lounged around in bed all day
60. Played touch football
61. Gone scuba diving
62. Kissed in the rain
63. Played in the mud
64. Played in the rain
65. Gone to a drive-in theater
66. Visited the Great Wall of China
67. Started a business
68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
69. Toured ancient sites
70. Taken a martial arts class
71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
72. Gotten married
73. Been in a movie
74. Crashed a party
75. Gotten divorced
76. Gone without food for 5 days
77. Made cookies from scratch
78. Won first prize in a costume contest
79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
80. Gotten a tattoo
81. Rafted the Rio Grande River
82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
83. Got flowers for no reason
84. Performed on stage
85. Been to Las Vegas
86. Recorded music
87. Eaten shark
88. Kissed on the first date
89. Gone to Thailand
90. Bought a house
91. Been in a combat zone
92. Buried one/both of your parents
93. Been on a cruise ship
94. Spoken more than one language fluently
95. Performed in Rocky Horror
96. Raised children
97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
103. Had plastic surgery
104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
105. Wrote articles for a large publication
106. Lost over 100 pounds
107. Held someone while they were having a flashback
108. Piloted an airplane
109. Touched a stingray
110. Broken someone’s heart
111. Helped an animal give birth
112. Won money on a radio show
113. Broken a bone
114. Gone on an African photo safari
115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
118. Ridden a horse
119. Had major surgery
120. Had a snake as a pet
121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
122. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
124. Visited all 7 continents
125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
126. Eaten kangaroo meat
127. Eaten sushi
128. Had your picture in the newspaper
129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
130. Gone back to school
131. Parasailed
132. Touched a cockroach
133. Eaten fried green tomatoes
134. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
137. Skipped all your school reunions
138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
139. Been elected to public office
140. Written your own computer language
141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
143. Built your own PC from parts
144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
145. Had a booth at a street fair
146. Dyed your hair
147. Been a DJ
148. Shaved your head
149. Caused a car accident
150. Saved someone’s life