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.