31 May 2007

That's No Torch...It's a Bonfire

Get your marshmallows. Ask your neighbour for some graham crackers. I've got Hershey bars to share. It's time to see out the school year with some kum-ba-yah and s'mores.

There is very little else in the world as liberating as passing off programs and work to someone else. In the last week, I've handed off two major end of year projects and the beginning teachers' program to someone else in the office. In our parlance, it's "passing the torch." In reality, it's a helluva blaze that someone else will have to maintain. Burn, baby, burn!

I wish I could say that this means my load is lightened. It's nice, to be sure, but we have three weeks of school left...and the next two have four cadre meetings, three benchmark meetings, and one 7th grade differentiation meeting. Some of these will have outcomes and products that have to be ready to review by other teachers before the end of the year...and then we have to print and share them with a broader audience. Not to mention the new duties as an instructional coach that I'm starting to have to consider.

It's hard to stay focused on those things at this point in the year. I'd like to just stay home and play in the yard. I'm ready for summer break and all that it entails, leaving the Curriculum Inferno (if Dante only knew...) behind for awhile.

30 May 2007

Differentiated Carnival

For a bunch of educators, we bloggers really cater to the visual learner. So today, it's time for some other learning styles to get their props.

Auditory: GO TO THIS WEEK'S CARNIVAL OF EDUCATION.

Kinesthetic: Simon says "Stand up." Simon says "Turn around 1 full turn." Touch your ear. Hey...there was no Simon Says that time. Simon says "Sit down and get comfy." Simon says "Click this link and enjoy this week's Carnival of Education.

Interpersonal: Go read this week's Carnival of Education and then write a blog post about which links caused "a-ha!'s" for you.

29 May 2007

Meet and Greet

For those of you who've been around the eduspheric block, you know that blogs come and go. People start and use their blogs for different reasons...and when that reason no longer exists, they move on (sometimes without telling us).

But it's spring, and there's a new crop of blogs out there just ripe for the picking. It's too soon to know if any of these will stick around, but you might stop by and drop an encouraging word.

If you're a new blogger, there are lots of good tips around from those of us who've been around the school calendar more times than we'd like to admit. I hope you'll share some new ideas with us, too. I've just finished cleaning out my blogroll (3 deletes and 1 addition) and things are looking rather skinny on the sidebar. I certainly have room if it looks like you're going to stick around.

27 May 2007

Tiptoe Through the Minefield

In the classroom, kids would tell me things...all kinds of things. If you're a teacher, you know this all too well. There are some things you don't really want to know, a few of which fall into the category "must act on this information." While referrals to the counseling office, Child Protective Services, admins, or sometimes parents aren't always the most pleasant task, it is always done with the intent of trying to support the child (no matter what the age).

But what happens when teachers tell you things?

My role within the district is a bit of an odd one. As someone in my office likes to point out, we teachers who work in Curriculum have all of the responsibility, but none of the authority when it comes to working with the schools. This doesn't mean, however, that other teachers see us in that light. I get all sorts of things whispered in my ear about what's happening with various departments and programs. It frustrates me because as much as I am ready, willing, and able to listen to whatever teachers wish to share, I'm often powerless to do anything about it. But if not me, than who?

This part is a minefield that I'm still learning to traipse. Some things---like complaints about other teachers---are not things I can or should touch. This means finding the most diplomatic route to get the right administrator to peek in on situations. This has it's own set of perils. Teachers can't really complain about other teachers because they're in the same "bargaining unit." The contract covers everyone, there can be no member-member issues; however, as soon as an administrator gets involved, it turns into a (potential) union issue. In other words, there really isn't a simple way to tell a teacher to do his/her job. (Except in Texas. I loved a story about people from this district who went to visit a few schools down there. Someone from here asked teachers there about union issues. The response? "We don't need 'em. If there's a problem with a teacher, we take care of it ourselves.")

Other items---like board policies that aren't followed---are even more dicey. Who tells an admin that s/he's not monitoring a situation? What happens when a trainer is doing something inappropriate? Like it or not, Boss Lady 2.0 is my current conduit to dealing with most of these things. I don't mind this so much. What I do mind is teachers getting the impression that no one cares about their problems. To me, the main difference between most of what teachers lay at my feet vs. what they tell The Union is that the things I hear come from a place that is (for the most part) student-centered. I don't want to lose these voices from our district or have them feel that their concerns aren't valid. It's just a matter of learning how to tiptoe along the right pathways to do the best we can for the kids in our classrooms.

26 May 2007

Reaping What You Sow, Part II

We in Curriculum made a good effort this spring to get more closely connected with our secondary schools. Our agendas don't mesh well, which is rather silly when we're all after the same thing: improving student achievement. This disconnection has resulted in individual issues (like the one described in Part I) but also serves to create more of an antagonistic atmosphere. So, we surveyed, we looked, we listened, we made overtures, and we responded. Out we went to the secondary schools to share the plans that their principals had helped craft in order to support them. Everything was going swimmingly...until the very last school.

The one principal who had pushed to have an "in-building expert"...the same one who had pushed for a math only focus...let members of his staff slam Boss Lady 2.0's (BL2) presentation. They want an allocation based on FTE. They don't think anyone in the math department will actually do the job. And their principal couldn't be bothered to say that this is what he'd asked for and then agreed to support with the other principals. Only this person could ask for something, get it, and then make Curriculum look bad for giving him what he wanted. More than any other secondary school, this principal is a firm believer that there is nothing that his staff can learn that they don't already know.

Where is the "reap what you sow" in all of this? Ah, I'm saving that for BL2. We specialists in Curriculum have been trying to tell her all year that this school is an issue and that they dump on things whenever possible. But she hasn't wanted to deal with that. As long as things look pretty on the surface, she doesn't pay attention to what's bubbling up underneath. Now there are a lot of different items coming to a head...and it's not going to come out well for her. Meanwhile, a lot of people are in the process of leaving the department within the next year...and precious few others want to come into the environment she's allowed to develop. I have already tried to tell her that she needs to be thinking long range, not minute-by-minute. It's just not her strong suit...and it is going to drive the district into the ground. Unfortunately, we're all going to have to reap the benefits of that.

25 May 2007

Reaping What You Sow, Part I

I heard from a teacher this week who was continuing to be irritated by the actions of one of his colleagues. I know this other teacher and for the last five or so years, I have also watched him freak out about one thing or another. It's just how he operates. What I don't understand is why he doesn't change his behavior. It's as if he keep expects someone to come along and fix things for him...that he cannot manifest his own destiny within the classroom.

All of this, of course, is crap. He is merely reaping what he's sown.
  • Number of district offered professional development opportunities engaged in: 0
  • Number of learning circles participated in: 0
  • Number of conferences/inservices attended: 0
  • Number of classes taken: 0
  • Number of building committees served on: 0
  • Number of support personnel invited to help with his classroom: 0
Apparently, this guy went off on a bit of a rant about the science WASL in a faculty meeting recently and how he and others in the department just don't know what's going on. But I have to think that if the bed you've made to lie in can only be found within your own classroom, how can you expect to know about what's happening in the outside world? How will you ever improve things for yourself or your students? When will it finally be time to stop being a victim?

The other part of this equation is simply "Where are the administrators?" If there's no expectation for staff to learn and develop, then what does that say about your school...how successful to you expect change to be? But perhaps that is a story better illustrated in Part II.

24 May 2007

Kicking Off the Weekend

I can't muster up something serious this evening, although I have lots to think about at the moment. So, how about some other sort of zen to ponder? Here are a couple of t-shirt logos I've seen in the last couple of days that I thought would be fun to have. It's the unofficial start to summer this weekend---what better way to kick things off than some new wardrobe additions?

Spoiler Tee






















And one for the science geeks (like me):












23 May 2007

Carnivalicious Wednesday

Have you been over to Ryan's place for this week's Carnival of Education? Why not? He's put on a heckuva sparsely totient show for you. Click on over and do your part to support edublogging here in the evergreen state.

22 May 2007

Pleased to Meetcha...I'm the Teacher

Before I begin, does anyone have a clue where I can download an mp3 of "I'm the Teacher" by Ian Hunter? I'm dyin' for it.

But back to our originally scheduled blog post...

The theme for the afternoon seems to have been "Damn, I know a lot of people." The Curriculum Road Show pulled into the last junior high on our district tour today. The goal was to share the changes to the instructional model for next year (they're getting an instructional coach, too...just not me). On the way in there's one of the teachers who helped with Summer Seminar last year and then a variety of others I have come to know over the last 11 years in the district.

I can't believe I've been here long enough not to have to write out the number of years...at least according to APA style.

Anyway, after we rolled up our circus tents for the afternoon, I went to Safeway to get a celebratory type cake for my next meeting. And there was a paraeducator I used to work with. And a student I once had.

I made it over to the final stop of the day---an elementary school. One of the teachers had bravely volunteered to host the last beginning teacher's meeting of the year. As I walked down the hallway, there was a literacy coach...a principal...a teacher who is coming to Curriculum tomorrow to build a "Grade in a Box"...another on his way to the DoD school in Naples. All this before I'm halfway to the destination classroom, where I find two subs I know. I haven't even seen any of the people I'm there to see and I'm already tired of meeting and greeting.

Being the last time for the n00b5 to be together for this year, we had a bit of a celebration. Some cake and a toast with sparkling apple cider. It was bittersweet---many are not going to be back with us next year because there are just no positions for them. I kept our meeting short, let them "party" and chat, and we all went into the sunlight. It's good to be able to count them among the people I know.

21 May 2007

Let's Try This Again

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about "The Power of I." It's part of a program for middle schools to use with students in order to increase student achievement. It is something adopted school-wide and is meant to be used with 12 - 15 year olds. I only mention all of this background because a couple of other bloggers went off on this idea and how inappropriate it was for college (and post-grad) students and how no individual teacher would be able to maintain such a program...even though these structures were mentioned the first time around. So, let's try this again, shall we?

If a 12-year old student who doesn't turn in her homework, then typically the kid receives a grade of "0" for the assignment and that is the end of things. What's so bad about that? Well, there are two problems here. One is that the teacher may not have any "proof" of student learning. Assuming that the homework was assigned to practice a skill (like reading comprehension), then it could well be that the kid hasn't learned the skill...a skill which is necessary to be successful in future learning. The kid has been excused from learning. Secondly, the teacher has used a score to punish a behavior, not evaluate learning. How will anyone be able to accurately interpret the grade later? Does a "C" for a course tell you that the kid has only learned some of the material...or all of the material, but not completely? Is it a kid who understands how to play the game in the classroom...making just enough effort? Or maybe a kid who knows his/her stuff, but doesn't choose to participate?

The idea behind The Power of I is to evaluate learning and behavior as separately---and to have a system in place which supports student learning. If a student doesn't do her homework, then she is assigned a consequence of staying at lunch or after school with a supervisor (not necessarily the teacher) to complete the work. She is not excused from the learning. Will this work with every kid? Nope. But at least one school I've talked to with this policy is only seeing 4 or 5 kids per week assigned to make up work. That's 4 or 5 kids schoolwide who have not completed an assignment. How many teachers out there have 4 or 5 kids per day who don't turn in homework? And student achievement? It's also gaining ground in these schools.

Think about how students shake out of all of this. Are there going to be kids who didn't prepare for class because things at home are troubled? Yes---but if you couldn't easily identify them from the masses before and get them some help...now you can. Are there going to be kids who didn't do the work because they don't understand the assignment? Definitely. What a great chance to intervene with some tutoring and keep them on track and at grade level with some support. Will there be some kids who abuse the system---skip doing the homework so they can get out of class (or don't do the assignment because they were out of town on a field trip the evening before)? That could well be the case. Some schools have some stopgap measures to deter this (can't play sports, be on the honor roll...).

I can't deny that a middle-school program like this takes buy-in from every teacher along with strong administrative support. But I also can't deny that kids are getting to high school without the tools they need to be successful. Perhaps we need to take a good hard look at what we're doing and see what we might need to be doing differently.

20 May 2007

Learned Helplessness

Longtime readers here know that I don't belong to The Union, even though Washington is a closed shop state. I am a "fees payer," meaning that the dues are still withdrawn from my paycheck each month, but once a year, I am provided with a refund representing the amount paid that was used for "non-union activities." I know that there are some very healthy unions out and about, but the one here appears incredibly dysfunctional.

Several e-mails were tossed around the district this week as a few Union members argued about whether or not contract negotiations this year should be mindful of the fact that there are ever decreasing funds available on the part of the district. Losing 3500 kids in 10 years just doesn't generate the revenue it once did. Those programs which escaped cuts this year---like music---will likely be undergoing the budget knife in the next few years. How deep the cuts go depend, in part, on the benefits staff get in the meantime. Some Union members understand that any new benefits which are negotiated will come at the cost of programs. Others, it appears, seem to harbor mistrust over things that happened over a decade ago and are sure that the district must be lying about funding issues.

It is this second group I feel most sorry for. They don't seem to understand that their continued railing against The Man only reinforces the notion that they don't have any control of their work place. They look to Union leadership to save them---something the current regime appears to truly relish. The tone of each e-mail is meant to support the us vs. them mentality; and, frankly, it comes across as rather fascist. If you're not with them, you're the enemy...and being the enemy, everything you say is automatically considered to be a lie. (What I wouldn't give to draw a little Hitler mustache on their Little Dictator...well, if she didn't already have a mustache.)

I do wonder what will happen in the next few years if benefits increase? Will every music teacher whose job is cut because monies that once funded his or her program are now used to provide another teacher more planning time realize that it was The Union who brought that to the doorstep? Or, will those teachers on the chopping block advocate now for some moderation in the negotiations---hold the line, but be mindful of the future? How many teachers will learn that they don't have to be helpless. They have a choice to tell the Union "No, thank you."

19 May 2007

Six of One and Half of Six of Another

Seattle School District is fortunate enough to have an individual who is very passionate about teaching expository writing skills to elementary age students. She's had not one, but two, National Science Foundation grants awarded to her to develop a science notebook program. Better yet, the universities around the country who have studied this program have found it to be very effective in not only boosting science and writing achievement---but also reading and math. It is an amazing and powerful program, but also very simple in its nature. Teachers who learn about the concept take on an attitude of "I can do this." And they do.

As Winnie the Pooh said, "You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." And for the last six Thursday evenings, I've done just that. The guru is in Seattle---and she won't present elsewhere. It's easy to respect her boundaries. She's singularly focused on working with the 20,000+ elementary students in Seattle...and if she starts saying "Yes!" to presenting in one other district...we'll all expect her to do so. Each Thursday afternoon, I've been traveling with pairs of elementary teachers (a different grade level each week) to learn with her. It's made for a long spring in some ways---getting up on Friday mornings is not simple---but the effect it's had on the teachers who go has already been amazing. We are looking at ways to grow the program within our own district next year. Thank goodness we have a book to guide us.

Meanwhile, Boss Lady 2.0 and a few of us from Curriculum are making the rounds to the 6 secondary schools to meet with their teacher leadership. I've attended two of the three sessions (the other three are next week) and have been somewhat disappointed by the admin support in terms of bringing teachers. At one school---the one where I'll be assigned as an instructional coach---there were only 2 staff members. Yesterday, there was only one. As crabby as staffs can be about things, I'm not so sure that this whole thing won't come back and bite us on the fanny...but it is what it is.

18 May 2007

Calling All Girls

I met with my group of seventh grade teachers this week. They don't get to see each other very often and there is always a lot of catching up about things. This time, however, the focus was on the district HIV/AIDS trainer.

We hire a licensed nurse to visit classrooms and provide the HIV training which is required by law. (Some teachers choose to do this themselves.) One teacher was talking about the training this spring. Apparently, when it got to the point where there was a discussion about the risk factors associated with different sexual behaviors, the trainer said that "No girl enjoys giving oral sex."

The teacher herself was not in agreement---but it wasn't as if she could stop the presentation and say in front of the class that she believed a healthy relationship included oral sex. Meanwhile, there were no remarks about boys...or about receiving oral sex. The teacher spoke to the trainer after class to no avail. The trainer made the same remarks in another teacher's class.

After this story was revealed, a teacher from another school mentioned that this same trainer had also editorialized a bit about oral sex. When one of the seventh graders finally made the connection that oral sex involved mouth to genital contact, he let out a bit of a gasp. The nurse said, "Yes, it's yukky, isn't it?"

Um, okay. My dilemma was what to do with this information. While it's not my responsibility to deal with this, it's a problem that has to be handled (so to speak). It's perfectly all right for this nurse to have her own view about sex, but the job she's hired for is just to present the facts on HIV, ma'am. How many seventh graders are now thinking there's something wrong with them for being interested (or perhaps for a few, enjoying) oral sex? What about the generalization about "all girls"? It just isn't acceptable.

I have collected a couple of pieces of written documentation from the teachers and passed this issue off to the proper person. Perhaps a gentle nudge is all that's needed. After all, some of us girls know better. :)

16 May 2007

Just Push Play

There's a school board policy here about the films used as instructional materials in classrooms. If the film hasn't been approved by the Instructional Materials Committee or if it does not come from the media center's library, then teachers need to have parent permission for a student to view the film. As you might imagine, many teachers disregard the policy, but it's really there for their protection. This is, after all, public education and there are all kinds of family backgrounds feeding into the system. If a teacher is absolutely sure that a film is the only way (or the best way) for students to be exposed to the concept---then s/he can have it adopted as an instructional material and parent permission is no longer needed. (Mind you, R or X rated films can never be used.)

I've had to fight this battle a bit with teachers this spring. Three of our junior high schools had teachers who wanted to show "An Inconvenient Truth." They felt it was important material and, indeed, it was quite relevant to their curriculum. Two of the schools grudgingly followed board policy. The third didn't...and then had the gall to make fun of the other schools. I had another teacher say recently that he'll start doing the permission slips if he ever gets caught. He will have no Union backup if that happens, but oh well.

Now, none of the teachers I know are silly enough Brokeback Mountain, as this teacher did; but the case illustrated in the article could just as easily happen here. We may not agree on a personal level with all of the various "family values" which walk through our classroom doors each day. They do, however, deserve our respect.

Time to Walk the Midway

It's time to stroll on over to the Education Wonks and see what there is to see along the midway for this week's Carnival of Education. I do think that now that things are moving on to summer, perhaps the Carnival should move to the beach and be along the boardwalk. Who's with me?

15 May 2007

A Pocket of Excellent Deviants

A trainer recently told our department that it is desirable to find those pockets of deviant excellence within a school and "grow" them in order to effect change. Those of us in Curriculum, however, much preferred the idea of being a pocket of excellent deviants. I think it should be our department motto. But I digress.

It seems to us that the Gurus in Education (Wiggins, McTighe, Tomlinson, Stiggins, O'Connor, Danielson...) deserve a fan base. When was the last time one of them was asked to autograph a body part? Does anyone ever throw their undies at the podium when they present? Perhaps nicknames are in order: Wiggy and Tiggy, The Stiginator, and so on. Are there "Tomlinson-heads," perhaps, who follow presentations around the country? I told a friend at work that I was geeking out because Ken O'Connor left a comment on one of my recent blog posts. "I'll never wash that blog page again." :)

We're silly, I know. But sometimes you just have to entertain yourself at work...try things in new contexts and see what fits. I can't imagine that we'll deviate much from this.

14 May 2007

The Big Reveal

Since tomorrow afternoon things will be public knowledge, I'll go ahead and share my big news about next year.

I am keeping the k-12 science goddess portion of my job...but it will be reduced from 80% of my contract to 60%. Although I strongly feel that k-12 science deserves full-time attention, I am nearly alone in that sentiment. Math is the darling right now. It needs its time in the sun, to be sure, but achievement in science is much farther behind in this district...and kids have to be just as proficient in it as they do in math by 2013. We're not being very proactive. But enough about that.

I've enjoyed working with the beginning teachers this year, but I can't say that I have a passion for it. I think this is a group which needs a better advocate than I could be for them. So, that program is being passed along to someone else.

I have felt very disconnected from kids and teachers this year for various reasons. One is just being out of the classroom. Another is the general discontent in the district about budget and school closures---no one is happy to see or hear from anyone at central office. Meanwhile, I'm not completely enamored with the idea of being around Boss Lady 2.0 all the time. Working for her has not been a pleasant experience.

What's a gal to do?

Obviously, it was time to make a bit of a change. My EdD is in Teacher Leadership and I'm past due for more opportunities to apply what I'm learning about working with teachers. So, the other .4 of my contract next year will be as an instructional coach at one of our junior highs. I am very excited about this opportunity. The principal is someone who has always been one of my biggest supporters and the staff wants a coach. I know that many teachers may look at me as just "high school" and/or "science," but I really feel like my experiences over the last two years have both broadened and deepened my skills in working with teachers and students.

The model for next year will be very much teacher driven. They will identify what their professional development needs are---and I will be there to support them all the way. I'm so glad that all will be revealed tomorrow and I can start building relationships at that building for the remainder of the year.

13 May 2007

Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

When I worked in NM, I had some very frank colleagues and administrators. It was nothing for one of my buddies to remind her 7th grade charges that "It's gettin' down to the nut-cuttin' time" when a deadline was looming. One of the favoured phrases of the assistant principal was that something or other "had gone tits up in the ditch." It's colourful enough. An appliance dies...a marriage dissolves...an accident happens---all things that could lead to pulling out that particular old saw about mammary glands pointed skywards.

I was thinking about this yesterday when my laptop screen suddenly flickered and went dark. The darned thing had gone tits up. I made a few calls and didn't find anyone who could fix it in less than a couple of weeks. I opted for a creative solution: buy a new laptop.

There's a screamer of a computer sitting with me now. Three hard drives...2 gigs of memory...built-in webcam...full size keyboard and 17" screen...a LightScribe to burn not just my CDs, but their labels, too. I'm sure I haven't begun to discover all that this puppy can do.

As for the other machine, I'll resuscitate the old gal and restore her dignity. My mother is interested in having it, even if it's an "old" machine (4.5 years). As for me, I'm hoping that it's another good long time before I have another computer that goes tits up in the ditch.

12 May 2007

It's My Grade in a Box!

It started out innocently enough. We have many teachers changing buildings and/or grade levels for the next school year and Curriculum wanted to put together some support materials. We termed them "Grade in a Box," and later added "Building in a Box." The idea is to provide an insider's guide and all the need-to-know information in a reference tool.

Little did we know that the whole thing would be corrupted through the efforts of Justin Timberlake and the cast of Saturday Night Live.

The mere mention of "Grade in a Box" is enough to elicit naughty smiles and outright giggling. It's been suggested that we rename our creation before sending it out to teachers next month.

For those of you unfamiliar with the "...in a Box" phenomenon, enjoy the YouTube clip below. (FYI: It's "not safe for work" or toddlers with a mind like a steel trap and a voice like a bullhorn.)

11 May 2007

Scatterbrained

It's one of those times when I have too much to write about and yet nothing seems to fit this space.

I could write about the ongoing saga with 4th grade teachers at one school. They had quite the temper tantrum on Monday when I went out to "help" them do what we agreed last Friday. I received an apology note, but it rings hollow in terms of their intent to do what is needed for kids.

I want to write about what an awful bully I work for, but it makes me sad to contemplate that too much.

I'd like to mention how utterly spoiled the secretaries in our office made us feel during this Teacher Appreciation Week. We had breakfast (with Starbucks coffee on Monday), a deli lunch on Wednesday, and got hand dipped caramel apples today. The boss, on the other hand, tried to appreciate us by sending an e-card (which never made it through the spam filter). "Thought that counts," indeed.

It would be good to tell everyone about the 20 teachers I had attend an in-service I provided on Science Notebooks. Good energy and enthusiasm is my favourite kind of infection to give and receive.

I'm dying to share some thoughts about my job assignment for next year. As predicted, it is going to look a bit different...and I couldn't be happier. Meanwhile, some of those affected by this change are unaware of what is happening, so I can't say anything out loud just yet.

I need to save what happened Thursday evening to write about next Thursday evening. You'll understand why later.

And then there was the big meeting yesterday to talk about how to deal with issues that may arise as kids transition from our standard-based grading system at elementary to the traditional "Gotcha!" grading system of secondary. Secondary teachers who attended are starting to take a long hard look at their own practices and that they can't justify what they do.

Or maybe I should just tell everyone about the beautiful weather we're having and how I'm ready for summer break...although nearly 30 days are left.

For now, I'll just wish you all a wonderful weekend. I hope to have my head together enough to complete a thought tomorrow. :)

09 May 2007

We Have A Winner...Sorta

Remember the story of a high school senior whose family was suing the school district because the young lady received only partial credit on an assignment that was turned in a day late? The verdict is in.

A Kanawha Circuit judge on Tuesday threw out the lawsuit of a Sissonville High School student who wanted her grade changed on a leaf project she turned in late.

Judge Duke Bloom granted a defense motion to dismiss the student’s suit, writing that unless a teacher made a mathematical error in calculating a student’s grade, state law forbids anyone else from stepping in to change it.

“It is not, in this Court’s view, a proper role for a court to assess whether a particular penalty imposed for turning in schoolwork late is too harsh,” Bloom wrote.

There were a number of options available to Hay that would have allowed her to attend the student council trip and turn her assignment in on time, Bloom wrote.

“[Hay] could have sent it to school with a family member or a classmate on the due date. She could have, as she noted, submitted it early. In addition, [she] could have taken a proactive approach and explained the situation to Schultz and asker her how she wanted [Hay] to deal with the deadline in light of the fact that [she] would not be in school on that date,” the order reads.

“Nonetheless, a student such as [Hay], who voluntarily takes on additional responsibilities and activities, needs to make sure she is not neglecting her assigned schoolwork.”

Hay’s lawsuit “appear[s] to invite the judiciary to second-guess grading decisions of professional educators who are traditionally vested with great discretion in performing their responsibilities, such as grading,” Bloom wrote.

“Teaching students responsibility, time management skills, accountability, the importance of deadlines, and discipline, are legitimate goals for our public educational institutions,” the judge wrote.

This is very much what I expected to happen...and likely should have happened. Do I agree with the teacher's grading practices? No. Do I agree with the kid's poor choices in handling the due date of the assignment? No. I do, however, agree that it is not the province of the judiciary system to make a decision on this case. There you have it.

08 May 2007

It's the Time of the Season

According to the findings of a new study, when it's the time of the season for loving, children conceived perform more poorly than peers on math and language tests.

When researchers linked standardized test scores of 1,667,391 Indiana students in grades 3 through 10 with the month in which each student had been conceived, they found that children conceived May through August scored significantly lower on math and language tests than children conceived during other months of the year.

The correlation between test scores and conception season held regardless of race, gender, and grade level...The lower test scores correlated with higher levels of pesticides and nitrates in the surface water (nearby streams and other bodies of water) during that same time period.

"Exposure to pesticides and nitrates can alter the hormonal milieu of the pregnant mother and the developing fetal brain," Winchester explained in a statement. For example, past research has linked exposure to pesticides and nitrates to low thyroid hormone levels ("hypothyroidism") in pregnant women and hypothyroidism in pregnancy has been tied to lower intelligence test scores in offspring.

While the current findings do not prove that pesticides and nitrates contribute to lower test scores, "they strongly support such a hypothesis," Winchester said.

"A priori there should be no reasons particularly why the month of conception should change your (test) scores," he added in an interview, "and yet from our chain of evidence our hypothesis was that if pesticides do alter the friendly environment of the developing fetus than that might be reflected in lower scores. And unfortunately that's what we found."

"There is something going on" and it needs to be studied further, Winchester concluded.

I looked at birth rates by month (2002 was the most recent data I viewed)---there's not a wide variety within the year. There's a low of 13.7 live births per 1000 people in June and a high of 14.1 for July. (Rates for just Indiana mirror the national data.) Assuming rates have been fairly consistent, then the number of kids entering school each year should be evenly spread out in terms of birthdays. I would have thought it would be the June, July, and August babies that scored lower more often as they are the youngest in their classes.

Correlation, of course, is not the same as causation. My guess is that the amount of ice cream consumed or the increased number of backyard barbecues during the same months of the conceptions noted could be correlated with the testing data. It's hard to tell from the article if there is more evidence available that makes the link between pesticides and test scores in later years seem linked. As always, I guess we'll just have to stay tuned for more news as it happens.

07 May 2007

Seeing the Apples for the Trees

Tomorrow is Take Your Child to Work Day here in Washington. Yes, it is usually in April, but our state testing elicited a suggestion from the governor that we wait until now. I know of at least one small person who will be in our office tomorrow, but we've also talked about another option.

What if there was a "Take Your Parents to Work Day"?

This idea elicited gasps of horror from many of us...imagining our mothers and/or fathers hanging out. One guy claimed that his father would likely just sit and read the Bible all day...another did a fun impression of her mother complaining "You're going to wear that? I don't want to be seen in public with you." The clash of parents in the office would definitely be something to see. I think about all of the times when I met the parents of students and thought "So that's why this kid is like that." My guess is that even among adults we'd gain plenty of insight. How far do them apples fall from the trees?

06 May 2007

The Power of I

I was intrigued by a comment left on a post over at Laura's place. It referred to "The Power of I." One does have to read carefully. It's not "I" as in the Roman numeral for "one," although "The Power of One" is a good book to read. It's also not a mathematical reference to i...that magical mystery number. (Is it just me, or is there something kinky about a guy saying he wants to use his imaginary unit?) No, no, gentle readers, it refers to a component of Making Middle Grades Work that deals with grading. In this case, I = Incomplete.

The idea is that if a student does not complete an assignment, s/he doesn't have a grade of zero assigned. Instead, the student receives an "I" along with a consequence (e.g. assignment to a lunchtime or after school study hall) and then makes up the work. Behind all of this is the belief that kids know how to play the system---both at school and at home. If you can slack off and not have to worry about learning, then why bother? You don't have to learn to do the hard thing. Meanwhile, these same students fall farther and farther behind in their learning because they don't have any practice with the content. By having a school-wide system to hold kids accountable for learning, they raise expectations for students and support their achievement. (If you want more information, there's a giant PowerPoint on this page---scroll over to the right to link to the "Power of I" ppt.) As much fussing as we public educators make about the lack of parent and student accountability in NCLB, maybe it's time that do what we can to change that within our schools.

As far as I can tell, there's a good research base for the Power of I. (Trust me, I'm doing a ton of reading these days about standards-based grading for my EdD. If you don't want to take my word now, I'll send along a copy of my dissertation later. :) ) Are there barriers to implementation? Sure. Not only does a school need buy-in from all staff members, it needs a way to manage the program. Where and when will supervised opportunities for students to make up work happen? What if a kid still refuses to do the work---how does this translate to the grading policy? How many "I's" are allowable? Schools which navigate these waters are finding success with the program---and fewer students needing remediation and/or assignment to a time/place to make up missing work.

We can't get all kids to standard by doing what we've always done in the past. We're going to have to stretch, try something a bit different, and make kids understand that we care about them. Maybe the Power of I is one step on the path to get there.

Update: Welcome Kitchen Table Math and RightWing Nation readers! Somehow, those bloggers missed the beginning of this post referring to middle grades. The "Power of I" was never intended for a university context, but hey, it's a good example of why we need to hold students accountable for standards like reading comprehension...rather then giving them 0's when they don't do their homework.

04 May 2007

Under the Bus

It's no secret that I don't support The Union in this district. I am not opposed to the idea of unions...I even think that they have their place in education. I do not, however, support the concept of a "closed shop" where people are forced to join...and even if that were not the case in Washington, I could not in good conscience belong to this district's association. They do not represent the things I value as an educator. You might imagine today that I took no small delight in throwing one of their reps under the bus in front of the very teachers she was there to support. I like this woman and I realize that she was there to fulfill an obligation, but someone has to be there to speak for kids. So under the bus she went.

Believe it or not, the Free for All that started six weeks ago didn't come to a head until today. This was not due to me not caring or being too busy to mind this issue, but rather that I didn't have any backup at the ready. Today I did. The teachers who came to chat today don't want to do the new science kit because they do a unit on salmon. It's good stuff, to be sure, but it only has a couple pieces of content---and no process, which the majority of what kids are expected to demonstrate in order to meet the standards.

The Union rep was one of the people who selected this kit for adoption. I made sure to point this out in the beginning, because I have to say that my teachers who served on the materials adoption committee have scattered like cockroaches when teachers turned on the lights of their displeasure. I have let them run, knowing that they have to get along with others in their buildings. I don't mind taking any "blame," because the bottom line is that I'm not at fault. But as long as there was the one committee rep there...and not in a position to support the choice she helped make...then perhaps I should point that out to the teachers who were upset.

The bottom line? Teachers have to teach the kit. It's possible that the pieces they've developed can be integrated, but only as supplements. The backup I had today (someone with cajones...not Boss Lady 2.0) made it clear that (a) it is expected that teachers use the district adopted materials and (b) instead of complaining all the time how they have too much to do, they now have an opportunity to let something go and should take it. I'll work with them on putting some things together, but they do not get to trade one for the other.

I couldn't be more pleased. The kids win...and the only one under the bus this time is The Union.

03 May 2007

I SO Need a Meme

Okay, time for a change of pace around here. I'm stealing this meme from Coach Brown. Those of you who feel compelled to join in, go right ahead. I'm definitely a movie buff, but I do like to kick it old school. Give me Turner Classic Movies over HBO anytime.

Name a movie you have seen more than 10 times.
This is a tough one. I've seen lots of movies more than 10 times. The first ones that come to mind are The Philadelphia Story, The Cocoanuts, Gilda, and Young Frankenstein. I seem to go on little binges where I'll watch the same movie over and over.

Name a movie you’ve seen multiple times in the theater.
Star Wars. My parents must have taken me to see it 6 or 7 times. I remember it being at the theatre for more than a year.

Name an actor who would make you more inclined to see a movie.
William Powell. I don't know what it is about the guy, but I just can't help but watch when he's on. Gregory Peck and Glenn Ford have a certain integrity I enjoy. For those of you with more modern sensibilities, I find Ving Rhames both charming and compelling and John Cusack is always interesting. As far as actresses, I'll take Kate Hepburn.

Name an actor who would make you less inclined to see a movie.
Adam Sandler. (shiver)

Name a movie that you can and do quote from.
Airplane. :) (Hey, Sweetie---does "See Your Local Dealer" count?)

Name a movie musical in which you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.
Sadly enough, I know many of these. I played in a pit orchestra for many summer rep seasons. My favourites were Guys and Dolls, Annie Get Your Gun, and The Music Man.

Name a movie you have been known to sing along with.
See previous answer.

Name a movie you would recommend everyone see.
Amelie.

Name a movie you own.
Just one? Are you kidding me? How about I just name the one I most recently purchased: V for Vendetta.

Name an actor who launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.
Hmmm...Will Smith, perhaps?

Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?
Lots! When I was little, my adad worked a bark beetle station for Texas A & M that had a trailer beside a drive-in. We'd always watch something in the evenings after a dinner of Dinty Moore stew. (I remember a Sinbad movie most vividly.) When I lived in Carlsbad, NM, in the 90's, there was a brand new drive-in. I loved to go with friends who had pick-ups. We'd sit in the back with lawn chairs and...beverages. Made for great fun!

Ever made out in a movie?
Duh.

Name a movie you keep meaning to see but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Nothing recent comes to mind, but I didn't see Casablanca until a year or so ago. Citizen Kane was another one that I didn't watch until the last few years.

Ever walked out of a movie?
No...but I have snuck into a few. :)

Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.
Should I be cliche and say Titanic? Bambi freaked me out so bad as a little kid that my amom never took me to another movie again---she made my adad or a neighbour take me.

What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?
Pan's Labyrinth. I really enjoy Guillermo del Toro's work---I'm a major (now out of the closet) Hellboy fan. PL was a beautiful and intriguing film. I adored it.

What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?
How about a nice screwball comedy?

What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?
Bambi or maybe a Grizzly Adams movie or Snoopy Come Home.

What movie do you wish you’d never seen?
Legends of the Fall. Not that it wasn't good...it was just so hard to watch. I can't ever go again to the places that movie took me. Oddly enough, Ironjawed Angels gave me nightmares. That one was also a one-time view.

What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?
I bet someone at my workplace would think that The Saddest Music in the World would qualify here...eh, homegirl? (Or perhaps you'd pick 8 Femmes?)

What is the scariest movie you’ve seen?
This depends on the age I was when I saw it. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Alien certainly creeped me out when I was younger. I think the most recent film I saw that was disturbing was The Ring.

What is the funniest movie you’ve seen?
People who know me know how much I love to laugh. "Funny" is associated with time and place---it's hard to separate out. Some of the movies mentioned above (like Young Frankenstein and Airplane) are definitely funny...but so are Animal House and most anything by the Marx Brothers. I can't help but laugh at The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek. For something a bit on the bawdy side, you can't go wrong with American Pie. As a pre-teen/early teen, I liked Hysterical and Saturday the 14th. (Don't judge me too harshly.)

So, there you have it. Most of my relevant movie history all in one handy-dandy reference guide. I think the meme should expand to include a few other items. What about the first R-rated film you saw? Or perhaps the one you knew your parents didn't want you to see...but you did anyway? (Maybe some late-night "skinemax" at a friend's house?) What movie would you call in sick for? Which one reflects your life's story? Is there a film that's so-bad-it's-good?

Do tell.

02 May 2007

Quickie Carnival

Dr. Homeslice is hosting this week's Carnival of Education. (It's #117, for whoever out there is counting.) The presentation this week is a series of one-line invitations to read.

It reminds me a bit of a summarizing strategy I've used with students. They'd read a piece and then I'd ask them to sum it up in a single sentence of 20 words or less. Some of my favourite classroom "arguments" among students centered around the word choices for these sentences. It was a great way to engage a lot of kiddos.

Anyway, do click on over to the Carnival and see what there is to see!

01 May 2007

Falling for Anything

As you can probably tell, I'm an -ism fan...-isms in the sense of traditional words of wisdom. Colloquialisms. I have long had a love affair with the written word and the different ideas it can convey. I like the hokey nature of -isms, how most of them appear pithy and purile on the surface but have another layer if you're willing to read between the words. -isms tell a story---and who doesn't enjoy that? They are a one-line "in joke."

Some people embody certain -isms for me. Right now Boss Lady 2.0 is of the "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything" variety. It's in the same family as taking a stand, drawing a line in the sand, picking your battles, growing a pair, and I hope they bought you dinner first. You can't be a Director of any department and not be a political animal. The job is an orgy of partners---everybody wants a piece and you have to be particular about how things work. There has to be a bit of give and take all based upon a well-grounded educational philosophy. In short, you need to know what you stand for.

I'm okay with the fact that she can't always take my side. I'm just not okay knowing that she doesn't take anyone's side. She'll fall one way or the other depending on who's in the room and how a particular perspective will make her look. I think kids in this district deserve better than that. They need someone who stands for something and falls for nothing when it comes to their experiences in the classroom. We need a new -ism to lead us.