Tuesday, September 30, 2008

English Immersion Example

IN a New York Times "Education Watch" article:
The Bilingual Debate: English Immersion
By Lance T. Izumi

Take, for example, Sixth Street Prep, a charter elementary school in eastern Los Angeles County. The school’s students are overwhelmingly Hispanic and low income. More than a third of the students, many of whom are recent arrivals, are learning English. Yet, among fourth graders, an astounding 100 percent of the students tested at the proficient level on the 2008 state math exam. A nearly equally amazing 93 percent of fourth graders tested proficient on the state English-language-arts exam. This incredible success was achieved using a different ingredient than the one favored by Mr. Obama.

Sixth Street emphasizes review and practice, constant assessment of skills and a no-excuses attitude. Furthermore, and here’s where Mr. Obama should take note, according to Linda Mikels, Sixth Street’s principal, the school’s instructional approach for English learners is “full immersion.” English immersion emphasizes the near-exclusive use of English in content instruction. Ms. Mikels, who opposes bilingual education, told me, “we’ve had tremendous success with having a student who is brand new from Mexico and you would walk into a classroom 12 months later and you wouldn’t be able to pick out which one he was.” “It’s working,” she observed, “it’s working for us.”

I wonder why that seems to be the exception rather than the rule? I can't see bi-lingual education being as effective - it certainly never was in my experience.

Let's define effective while we're at it. The students should walk in knowing only their own language and walk out speaking fluent, if accented, English. To put it another way, in two years or less an immigrant student should be able to function in an exclusively English setting whether it be a community college or trade school or sales position at a car dealership in Iowa.

How do you pack twelve years of English education into two? By doing it 6x as often per day, i.e., immersion.

Seems simple to me.

Monday, September 29, 2008



Feel like dirt on a taco. I figured that I'd made it through the first month with only my own allergies to complain about. Cruising along, wasn't I? and then -- WHAM -- hits me like a truck. Slept for 24 hours, nearly straight through. Still not good, coughing and just plain grouchy.

As for that "feel like dirt on a taco" thing? I just made it up. I thought it was clever until I realized that I'm somewhat delirious and that I made no sense.

Fits, somehow.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Drinking age discussion

I found this in the local paper and thought I'd bring up the topic.

Prohibition, then and now
September 25, 2008
By John M. McCardell Jr.

As a former college president who is all too familiar with the damage alcohol can inflict on the health and safety of young adults, I was intrigued to run across the observations of noted psychologist A.A. Brill as reported in The New York Times. Dr. Brill noted "that more people are drinking who never used to drink, that moderate drinkers have become heavy ones, that former drinkers of beer and light wine are drinking whiskey, brandy, gin, raw alcohol and other concentrated spirits."

That Dr. Brill's thoughts were reported by the Times in 1926, and referred to the effects of Prohibition on otherwise sober citizens does nothing to lessen my impression that they constitute an apt summary of the kinds of adverse effects produced by the modern-day equivalent of Prohibition - the federal mandate that establishes the legal drinking age at 21.

On Sept. 26, it will have been 75 years since the citizens of Vermont voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 18th Amendment, which had supplied the constitutional authority for Prohibition - a bold and misguided experiment intended to end the consumption of alcohol in this country.

Vermont's shared border with Canada made the state popular with smugglers, who transported illegal alcohol in vehicles with secret storage compartments, using smoke screens to conceal their activities. On Lake Champlain, liquor-laden submarine barges were towed just below the water's surface from the Canadian border headed for secret destinations in Vermont and New York. A Washington Post story reported on a Vermont senator, who was accidentally shot by Prohibition agents in 1924 and subsequently suffered dizzy spells as a result of his wounds.

After more than a decade, even Prohibition's initial supporters had had enough. In 1933, lopsided votes in favor of repeal in state after state ultimately sounded Prohibition's death knell.

But 51 years later a self-appointed moral majority led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving persuaded Congress to enact the National Legal Drinking Age Act of 1984. Once again, the federal government effectively usurped the power of the states to regulate alcohol, stipulating that any state with a legal drinking age lower than 21 risked the loss of 10 percent of its federal highway funds.

And how has this modern reprise of Prohibition worked out? Badly.

In the same way that the speakeasies of the 1920s and '30s functioned as havens where alcohol could be consumed out of the sight of enforcement officials, today's young adults frequent fraternity house basements and other hideaways where they engage in furtive binge drinking. There, suspended above a keg, tap in mouth, feet in the air, young people chug beer to the chants and cheers of fellow partygoers, and engage in games of Beer Pong, Kings, Flip Cup, and Beirut, whose foremost purpose is to get contestants drunk as quickly as possible. Private homes and college dorm rooms serve as venues for "pre-gaming," in which young people under the legal drinking age consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time in order to become and remain sufficiently intoxicated to spend a night moving from party to party.

It is no surprise that substantial numbers of these young adults become victims of alcohol poisoning, serious bodily injury, sexual abuse and worse. As with Prohibition, legal age 21 has had the predictable effect of worsening the problem it was intended to solve. Trying to eliminate an ingrained social behavior by legislative fiat simply does not work, as we should have learned from Prohibition. Such ill-advised policies simply drive the consumption of alcohol from public view, significantly increasing the hazards that irresponsible drinking imposes on the health and safety of us all.

The repeal of Prohibition and the return of jurisdiction for the regulation of alcohol consumption to the states drastically reduced the incentive to participate in the dangerous behaviors that accompanied the furtive consumption of alcohol spawned by speakeasies. We could profit by following this path.

Young adults should be treated as such, even when it comes to alcohol. If we devise ways to educate them about alcohol consumption in a broad way that goes beyond temperance lectures and scary messages about brain damage, we can certify that they have reached a level of understanding that qualifies them to exercise adult judgment.

We should reconsider the bad law and poor social policy that allow these problems to fester in the shadows. We do ourselves no favors by relegating drinking by any age group to the dark corners of society where the effects of risky behaviors remain unobserved and unaddressed until it is too late to do much about them.

Science scores are back - we're #1

So the scores are back in for the NCLB science testing - we're in the top three in the state for one grade and #1 in another.

So what? Just as low scores are meaningless in the long run, so are these high scores. The students are the difference, not the teaching. Last year, these same teachers were "below average" because the students didn't do well and probably next year we'll be back down in the pack again. Does this mean that their skills as teachers have somehow improved for this cohort and then will have diminished next year? Pretty silly if you think about it that way, isn't it?

When are the bean counters going to figure out that the manufacturing model isn't an appropriate analogy for education. You have a group of students here. You can't reject any with flaws as you can with raw materials for the assembly line. You can attempt to standardize the process but without consistency in the construction material, you get variations in the final product. Those variations can neither be eliminated nor minimized.

You can improve the process but it'll only be incremental. The students are the key and they are not consistent. Sometimes you get lucky and the kids get it and sometimes you don't get lucky and the state puts you on the checklist.


I celebrate because they're my friends, not because they're superior to the rest of the state. When the 11th grade scores come back, let's hope the coins comes up heads again.

A Great Debate Tonight

Regardless of the side you're on, I think you'll have to agree that this evening's debate is one of the best in my memory. Kudos to those who set it up, kudos to the candidates for agreeing to the format, and kudos to Lehrer for bringing back the classic debate.

Both candidates are looking presidential and both sound very good. Classroom teachers should replay this one many times.

True Education Research - YAY!

Thank whatever gods ye want ... at last they're doing research.

New Effort Aims to Test Theories of Education
September 24, 2008

Roland G. Fryer Jr., a Harvard economist, has often complained that while pharmaceutical companies have poured billions of dollars each year into studying new drugs and Boeing devoted $3 billion to develop the 777 jet, there has been little spent on efforts to scientifically test educational theories.

Now Dr. Fryer has quit his part-time post as chief equality officer of the New York City public schools to lead a $44 million effort, called the Educational Innovation Laboratory, to bring the rigor of research and development to education. The initiative will team economists, marketers and others interested in turning around struggling schools with educators in New York, Washington and Chicago.

Backed by the Broad Foundation, founded by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, and other private groups, the research is intended to infuse education with the data-driven approach that is common in science and business, Dr. Fryer said. He compared the current methods of educational research to the prescriptions of an ineffective doctor.

“If the doctor said to you, ‘You have a cold; here are three pills my buddy in Charlotte uses and he says they work,’ you would run out and find another doctor,” Dr. Fryer said. “Somehow, in education, that approach is O.K.”

In its first year, the research group plans to focus on incentive programs, including controversial ideas like giving students cash for good test scores, an approach that Dr. Fryer has tested in New York since June 2007.

Each of the three school districts working with the institute will use a different plan to encourage high achievement, with researchers tracking the effect of each on student performance.

New York schools plan to continue Dr. Fryer’s experiment of paying students in the fourth and seventh grades up to $500 a year for doing well on reading and math tests. A separate Fryer initiative, which rewarded 3,000 New York middle school students with cellphone minutes for academic performance and classroom behavior, was discontinued because the city did not raise enough money from private donors to pay for it this fall.

Conclusive evidence about the effectiveness of such programs has been scant, and Dr. Fryer said officials are still examining the data on last year’s cash incentives. He said he hoped that the cellphone idea would gain traction in other cities.

Dr. Fryer said the new institute would be able to identify what works so that educators across the country could prioritize their spending.

“We will have the willingness to try new things and be wrong — the type of humbleness to say, ‘I have no idea whether this will work, but I’m going to try,’ ” he said.

The Broad Foundation, based in Los Angeles, has pledged $6 million to fund the institute for three years, and the school districts are expected to front half the cost of any projects they launch with the Education Innovation Laboratory. Organizers are seeking other foundation grants to cover additional costs.

Mr. Broad has been a generous and aggressive advocate of education issues, with mixed results. He has invested in charter schools, run training programs for urban school leaders, and he finances a prize that awards districts for narrowing the achievement gap among income and ethnic groups.

Mr. Broad’s collaboration with Dr. Fryer, 31, began on Christmas Eve when Mr. Broad called Dr. Fryer to congratulate him on earning tenure from Harvard, the youngest black professor to do so.

Mr. Broad asked Dr. Fryer to come up with “the next big idea” in education, and Dr. Fryer began consulting with companies that market to younger people. By summer, the idea for the Education Innovation Laboratory had been hatched.

“We’re looking for people that want to run an urban district that is not satisfied with the status quo, that recognizes that you need reform, you need change,” Mr. Broad said, “and recognizes how far America has fallen behind other nations in public education.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Education Research

One of these that I remember fondly is the "no lazy students" one. My principal read that and instituted a new policy the next day. We were not allowed to give a 0 for missing work -- we had to allow it to be made up, since "no child would ever choose to not do his work."

It is why I have such a visceral reaction to most education research. Principals, school boards and teachers (especially teachers) read preliminary research results and jump to wrong-headed conclusions. Then the school gets turned upside down to institute some "new" idea. Let's build "open classrooms" so the children can learn cooperatively with the teachers "doing inter-disciplinary work."


Education research relies on classroom anecdotes, faulty numbers
PETER BERGER, Vermont middle school teacher / Schenectady (NY) Sunday Gazette
Sept. 14, 2008

Education experts always claim their latest breakthrough is based on "what the research tells us."

Consider these specimens of actual education research:

* A study of juvenile crime determined that most of it happens after school, as opposed to during school, when most juveniles are in school, or after 11 at night, when most juveniles are in bed.

* According to a sexuality specialist, teenagers who drink are more likely to have sex. This confirmed what teenagers themselves discovered at drive-in movies.

* Investigators probing adolescent behavior calculated that a 20-cent tax on six-packs of beer would lower gonorrhea rates for 15- to 19-year-olds by 9 percent.

Their findings rest on the assumption that teenagers who are thinking of having sex will decide not to if it costs them each an extra dime.

* A bestselling pediatrician-turned-education-expert deduced there's no such thing as a lazy student.

His "science" tells him that children never "decide not to make an effort."

* British and American researchers concurred that overweight kids are more likely to be picked on.

* A Georgia team discovered that eighth-graders who study algebra tend to do better in "higher level" ninth-grade math classes. Also there appears to be a correlation between success in ninth-grade English and reading lots of books in eighth grade.

* ACT analysts determined that students who can read "complex" material are more likely to be ready for college than students who can't.

* Students rejected by their classmates are more likely to withdraw from school activities. Preschoolers whose parents drink and smoke are more likely to choose alcohol and cigarette accessories for their Barbie dolls.

* Students who rank in the bottom fifth of basic skills have a low probability of completing college. Kids with "academically oriented friends" tend to do better academically, while kids whose friends are "delinquent types" are more likely to wind up in trouble.


Gender gap

In 1993, research conclusively told us that girls were achieving less than boys and were victims of a gender gap. By 1994, these conclusions were under attack, and by 1999, the data were telling us that boys, not girls, were achieving less and were victims of a gender gap.

The research also validated single-sex schooling until a March 1998 report cast doubt on the value of single-sex schooling, a charge that was irrefutable until an April 1998 report confirmed the benefit in single-sex classes.

In 2001, the research demanded that schools "give single-sex classes a chance," except when it concluded with equal certainty that single-sex programs were a failure.

When most people think of research, they picture facts, figures and experimental results. Unfortunately, education's numbers come from standardized testing, which has proven so unreliable that its reputation for producing meaningful data lies in well-deserved ruin. When RAND concludes that today's standardized tests identify not "good" and "bad" schools, but "lucky" and "unlucky" schools, you've definitely got a data problem.

When education researchers aren't citing faulty numbers, they're basing their conclusions on feelings.

For example, those conflicting gender studies rested on notoriously unreliable student surveys and evidence as weightless as "boys call out in class eight times more often than girls," which is why scholars and critics complained about flawed research claims, a small body of research and questionable findings.

Similarly, a 2004 evaluation of Maine's statewide laptop distribution announced that laptops made a "significant and positive impact" on the quality of work and student achievement. Except those rosy conclusions were based on the perceptions of teachers, parents, and students, on their "opinions, but not actual hard data." In other words, the evidence consisted of what students and teachers believed had happened, not on any documented improvement in student performance.

The American Educational Research Association even endorses a research tool they call "data poems." Employing this method, educators can "focus, interpret, clarify, and communicate qualitative research" by writing and reciting a poem.

Don't look for this species of research at a physicists convention.

Not a science

Education research rarely satisfies real scientific standards. That's partly because education isn't a science. It's an art and a craft.

That doesn't mean that teachers don't need knowledge of their subjects, or that I can't improve my technique in the classroom.

But education research is fundamentally anecdotal, so that what I observe free in my classroom isn't necessarily any less valid or informative than an expensive study of someone else's classroom, especially when most of those studies are conducted by experts who have rarely, if ever, worked in a classroom.

The education establishment has lavished a fortune on research that's yielded mostly meaningless data and sentiment dressed up as evidence. Schools have squandered scant resources and time hopping on research-based bandwagons.

Even worse, decades of students have been the unwitting guinea pigs of a pseudo-science that more often suits education experts' philosophical preferences than it serves either students or the truth.

The nation, its schools and our students would be better served by common sense.

If the research tells us anything, that's it.

Exercise and Academics

For those who are interested, here's one of the studies:
Grissom, James (2005), Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement, Journal of Exercise Physiology online, v8, n1
Grissom evaluated the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement. TO do so, FITNESSGRAM physical fitness test scores were compared to reading and mathematics scores on the standardized achievement tests. Subjects included all 5th, 7th and 9th grade students in California public schools in 2002 for whom there was a complete set of data. The researcher found that as overall fitness scores improved, mean achievement score also improved. The relationship between fitness and academic achievement appeared to be stronger for females than males and stronger for higher socio-economic status (SES) than than SES students. (Paragraph written by the meeting presenters - I have not read the executive summary.
Now THAT's the way to run a study. Use all the students. Try to find out if gender or socio-economic status plays a commanding role, a large role, a partial role or no role at all. Don't claim your one study has all the answers or is somehow "extremely important."

Early Morning Exercise helps academics

I went to a state-wide math teacher conference last week. Among the topics presented were abstracts from four education research studies. Essentially, they said that exercise in the morning was correlated with improved test scores. We read the abstracts and the presenters asked for opinions. A teacher in the back said she didn't think she would have 20 minutes at the beginning of each class for exercise, and could this really be true?

It really made me wonder whether she could read.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Talk Like a Pirate Day Weekend

Yes, it's time for the annual "Talk Like a Pirate Day" which happened to be Friday the 19th. Since it was Friday, though, it got extended to the whole weekend.


To help all the pirate-deficient folks out there ...

Tip o' the hat to Casting Out Nines.

Fear leads to political view? Bunk.

From Slashdot.org:
Researchers writing in Science report that the political orientation of test subjects who have strong views is linked to how easy they are to startle. They found that subjects who were more fearful were more likely to have right wing views, such as being in favor of capital punishment and higher defense budgets. The researchers suggest that this psychological difference is why it is so difficult to change people's minds in political arguments.
I wish the researchers would just shut up. They've got worse than nothing. They've got junk. There are so many holes in this research, there's nothing left but hot air. Let's add a little information from the Science article.
The authors first conducted a random telephone survey of Lincoln residents to find some who held strong political opinions. Then 46 selected respondents were invited to come in to the lab and fill in questionnaires to reveal political beliefs and personality traits. Participants were then given two types of tests to measure physiological responses to threat.
Let's list the sampling problems:
  • There was a preliminary phone survey
    selection bias - who a. has a landline phone not a cellphone, b. answers the phone when the researchers call, and c. takes the time for a survey)
  • Local residents with "strong political views". Define strong and decide what kind of people will come over that way in a survey. You will note that the researchers eliminated those who did not react strongly politically but were very afraid. That group is an important control.
  • Local means Lincoln Nebraska, hardly a bastion of liberalism in a red state ... would the same results come from a group in Chicago?
  • They were all white and elderly, living in an Urban Area. How about white elderly rural? Or perhaps some other color or age group?
  • They invited 46 to come into the lab. First, a very small number. Second they were invited to come in for research. This took them for the day - what, no job? What of the people who declined to come in?
Now, I'm all for research but you need proper research before you go trumpeting your results. Otherwise it's interesting only to researchers but much more needs to be done to make it important to society. Publishing it in Science, which is fairly well read, gives it traction in society as a whole. The fact that it leads directly into a Liberal stereotype of the Conservative ("they're just old, white, and afraid of their shadows.) will simply help this myth along.

Let's invent a response: "It is simply to let wishy-washy liberals feel good about themselves by denigrating those who are smarter and more self-assured than they. Notice that there were no Special Forces or conservative veterans in that sample? There were no young capitalists? There were no football players? There were no Hispanics or Blacks or Asians? It was all old white people who were afraid and who were old therefore conservative."

That last part was written to illustrate how quickly this kind of research can generate spin on both sides by being too limited in scope and sample, by being too limited in it's results, and by being too limited in imagination. I think this area of research shows some promise but so much more must be done. I think Dr. Fowler, below, needs to tone it down and stop pretending.
"These findings are extremely important," says political scientist James Fowler at the University of California, San Diego, who has been doing research linking certain gene variations to political activity.
They may be important to you, Doc, but not to anyone else at this point. Just because they fit your specialty doesn't make them true or important. If they contradicted Dr. Fowler, would he have declared them "extremely important?" Probably not.
"In essence, the authors have filled in a 'missing link' between genes and brains on the one hand and psychological personalities and political attitudes on the other."
Actually, they haven't filled in anything. They've only scratched a surface and opened a door that will require a lot more work before anyone can say anything with certainty. I'm not surprised that the following information was left until the end.
He adds that the subject pool is limited to "a handful of white subjects from Nebraska, ... but many great ideas start with a simple test."
And so do the lousy, wrong, spiteful, and stereotypical ideas, Doc. Remember Tuskegee?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Go Guard

So there I am on the sidelines of the football game between two small rural schools. In conversation with a fan, I hear that the woman who was also prowling the sidelines with a camera was in fact a quite generous benefactor.

She thought that her local public school needed a football team. She discussed it with the school and found out that money was the issue. So she donated it.


Everything the school needed for player equipment and game-day stuff.

Oh, and one more thing ... she gave the school that $20,000 check just before deploying to Iraq again.

That's right. National Guard.

For serving her country and community, for giving back when no one expected it, for going above and beyond:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Everyone gets a medal, now.

The education parallels are obvious.

Wow. "Sarah and Hillary" on SNL

If it doesn't appear here, try the direct link.

UNvaccinated children get the measles more often.

At the Chicagoist:
Illinois Measles On The Rise
Illinois had more cases of measles than any other state this year, and according to the CDC, most of the people infected were unvaccinated children who are homeschooled. According to Cook County Public Health Department's Catherine Counard, not vaccinating a child affects more than just one person. "[Parents are] making a choice for the entire community. Because they're putting others at risk. And if their children become infected and expose a newborn infant who then dies, thats a pretty serious consequence."
Well, duh.

At the risk of being too analytical, though, I disagree with the health official in this sense. The community as a whole is unaffected. The age to vaccinate is 12-15 months and the primary transmission vector is schoolchildren well past that age. The only ones at risk are the child's own family, not the infants of the community at large. Only those who have made the same decision share the same worry.

At what point does the mother no longer have the right to make decisions for her own children? How about decisions that the rest of us deem stupid? What if we're all wrong? As someone who identifies himself as a libertarian, I would put be very hesitant to remove this fundamental choice from the parent.

As a nation, we've gone too far in many ways. We've turned into a Nanny State. We pretend we can remove all chance of any injury however minor, and go to extreme lengths even to avoid what might be termed "beneficial injury."

My kids are vaccinated. They are safe against measles. We made our decision and these homeschooled kids are not a danger to the rest of us, only themselves. This other parent has been informed and has made a decision. May she never have cause to regret it and if she does have cause to regret it, may she have the strength of her convictions to sustain her.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's Bizarro world in IT

Survey from the IT people to the faculty ( the issue is that the huge bandwidth requirements of streaming video is interfering with the schools attendance and grading system and the email):

# Streaming is important to me. I don't mind that my mail and PowerSchool will not always work.
# I can live without streaming. It is important to access my mail and PowerSchool more reliably than I can now.
# PowerSchool and mail are my top priorities, lock down the filter.
Ummmm. Let me think. Do school work or watch videos? I'm being paid $40k + and I get a choice?

It's Bizarro World.

Crisis committee meets to discuss the crisis plan. Fire drills come up. Currently, we all walk out of the building out random exits and everyone collects on the athletic field. The students mingle, the faculty wander. (It's truly bizarre - unlike any other school I've ever seen - but I'm new here and I shut up) The students are usually called back in before everyone is even at the field, encouraging the stragglers because they get in before the mass crush.

I suggest that perhaps we should line up our classes and make sure all are present, that none stayed in the building. Give each teacher a place and have the children organized and accounted for.

Principal PJs nixes that. "Too much structure. Too many places for things to break down. What about the sub who doesn't know where to go?"

I point to the books on the shelves of the library where we sit. "It's easy to see the missing book when all is lined up. If you put plastic numbers on the fence, it'll be easy. Or line up by class along the road."

"Too much organization."


Did I mention that we're talking about a fire drill here? Why else have a "Drill" if not to learn what to do when all the screaming starts? I don't need to march them with a drill sargeant's cadence ringing their ears, but P6 is always appropriate. Except for Principal PJs, I guess.

Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance -- except here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Once more into the Breach of Contract

I feel that we have a Contract with Students to teach them as much as possible. For ESL/ELL students, this means English. This country runs all it's systems in English, with a patchy cobweb of translated documents inhabiting the corners of our bureaucracy. Colleges are run in English. Businesses are run in English. Media are run in English. Laws are written in English and court cases are judged in English. (Sure, they're translated. Do you trust that translator with your freedom? What if he went to the same school you did and the same program and learned just as much?)

ASBJ: has an article about the struggles of ELL students to pass the state competency tests. The article is called "A Race Against Time" referring to the need to take tests soon after starting at school.
Butler estimates that a mid-level student, with average intelligence and moderate literacy in their home language, will be in ELL classes about seven years. Research shows it takes five to seven years to gain competency in English.
Which leads me to ask, "Why?" The answer is "Because they're not focusing on English."

The kid is in the US and will have to take tests in English. If he's a good student and works hard, he'll go to college - in English. Why are we teaching him math in Spanish or Vietnamese? Let him take all his time to learn English. No science. No math. No history. A class of grammar. A class of reading. Back to writing. Speaking and enunciation. A math class in English - one he has already mastered the math of and is taking for the English.

It is better to take a year off from math and science and history than to take four or seven more years to learn English. He's already at the ninth or tenth grade in math skills. He'll not lose that. His math skills are probably better than his classmates' anyway because his old math teachers didn't mess around with calculators and group learning and fuzzy math. (Yes, it's a stereotype but the reality is too often true to that stereotype. Remember the South Park episode where the Mexican day laborers teach math better than Mr. Garrison? priceless.)

As a final point, look at the language program at Middlebury College or any competent college. Total Immersion. Why? It's the best way.

Here are your choices to use the time he's got:
A) Math and science classes in which the language problem will limit him to maybe a half year of progress and lots of time staring at the wall.
B) English classes in which he'll make several years of progress, which will then allow him to take those math and science classes NEXT year.
Nevertheless, Georgia requires high school students to take the district’s graduation exams after they have been enrolled for only one year, beginning in 10th grade. Norcross’ ELL students struggle to pass any of the seven required subjects, particularly the writing exam.
I'll bet many of them pass the math tests anyway.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Went visiting

I popped into the history teacher's room today. He was laughing about one of his classes:

"Kid after kid asked to go to Guidance. I figured schedule changes, minor crisis, the usual. The number of kids rose quickly and I asked 'What's up?' It turns out Guidance was handing out free skittles and M&Ms.

Wait for it ...

During class.

What? No Mountain Dew to get them really hyped up? Just what we needed for the period after lunch."

Not a scheduler, either

So we have an early release day Wednesday - for the students, not us. We have meetings and other fine uses of our time set up and ready to annoy. That means that we need a daily schedule for the day after tomorrow. Administration has known about this idea since they negotiated the once-a-month special days last March.

It seemed a good thing to practice with, so my consumer math students spent a class last week putting together the 1hr delay, 2hr delay and early release schedules as well as a more logical normal schedule.

Their efforts weren't good enough because the middle school teachers would lose 30 minutes of prep time. (The high school is on a block schedule and the middle school isn't - always causes major headaches - and the middle school feels put upon.) Instead, we've got Principal PJ's attempt.

His first draft of the schedule came out this morning.

... with one too many periods.

Principal PJs hurriedly redrew the day by putting the last period first, bumping up the rest, changing the lengths of classes in a seemingly random fashion and dumping it all into an email.

Wednesday is going to be fun to watch.

I've gotta get back to work.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Group Work.

From Scenes from the Battlefield
It is always suggested that it would be a good idea if students took part in some activities during a lesson in pairs or groups. ... snip ... Of course, this is nonsense. If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. (emphasis mine)

Of course, Principal PJs and the Superintendent do not agree. We need to go "high-tech" and "teach the 21st century student" and "incorporate more technology resources" into the "collaborative classroom environment" of "digital natives." We need more "collective work" and more "self-directed learning." If we stress "interactivity" and group work, the students will experience less stress and will learn more. They'll never waste time.

I'll believe it when I see it. Now, I've gotta get back to work.

NEA Mailings are a real Pain

What's with the NEA sending out loan offers and pre-approved credit card letters? If we get paid so badly that the Union is always yapping about the problem, why are they trying to add to the mess?

I know why they do it - they're paid money for their "subscriber list" - but why doesn't someone notice that more loans and credit cards are not good ways to get a better financial picture? Could it be that they don't actually have our best interests at heart?

Just sayin'

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Open House - Fun for the whole family ones who show up.

Had an open house last Wednesday. Funny to watch if you're not personally invested.

No organization, not enough food for the barbeque and the grill wasn't started until after the event began so we're all waiting around staring at it, couldn't get into the box to turn on the lights so everyone ate in the dark, schedule was disorganized and was changed anyway halfway through, many teachers weren't there (coaches, other commitments, etc.) so their rooms were dark. The funniest was the attempt at an assembly - it took more time to congregate than to listen to all the speeches. (just one, actually.)

Principal Pajamas (too casual to call him Suit) was bustling about, useless. His 50 second speech to the parents ended before people really started listening. You could see them all hesitate wondering whether to clap. Then they were sent off to wander the building. Everyone is thinking "I walked in here and just sat down. Couldn't someone at least make noise for a few minutes to justify the effort? Maybe ask for donations to the "Friends of Music" or the Booster Club or something?

The teachers who usually take care of certain tasks weren't there, yet no one thought to mention that fact to the rest of us so others could fill in. We're fidgeting in our classrooms because AP told us to be there instead of mingling and making things happen. (It's called communication, guys.)

They got the wrong kind of soda - too much sugarcrap and not enough Diet Pepsi and water - what kind of parent drinks Mountain Dew? Didn't anyone think about the audience they were trying to reach?

On the plus side, parents were great. The barbeque was worth it in the final analysis - real food brings them in and the goodwill is cheap at the price. I recommend it to any school: borrow an eight-foot outdoor gas grill from whoever runs big events in town and buy a couple hundred bucks of hamburger, veggie burger and dogs. Grill and serve. Don't forget the really cheap bottled water. Parents can't bitch as well while they're eating - for some it's a matter of manners and the others mumble and you can pretend to not have heard them clearly.

Charge it to the Principal's Discretionary Fund. You know you have one.

16-year-old drops out of school to play Guitar Hero

It happens, it's stupid, but it's the parents' right to make asinine decisions for their minor child. (Not dangerous ones, mind you, but asinine ones) He "hadn't been doing well in school and wasn't liked." So the obvious answer is a variation of school choice? This kid exemplifies why I don't follow every whim and wish of my students, why I don't like school choice (too many decisions are based on flimsy junk like this) and why I don't like the trend of catering to "the 21st Century student" and his odd little educational quirks.

Let's get beyond the question of whether any adolescent feels that he is doing well and is well-liked. Whether you believe that the gaming is the cause or effect of his loneliness or that both were caused by a third unmentioned factor as I believe, you probably can agree that this kid would be okay in a big public high school where there are lots of kids just like him and amongst whom he'd be liked and admired. His helicopter parents are screwing him up.

It's that third factor, a parental obsession with easing the daily details of their kid's life, has to be a big contributor. This is complete conjecture on my part, of course, but the fact that they are getting him a tutor for his entire education means they're not the homeschooler type of parents. They're not improving his schooling out of principle. Instead the kid wasn't "happy" and they're paying for his every whim. They're going to subsidize his gaming fad-hobby in the face of truly unrealistic images of financial return, which reeks of a spoiled child to me.
From Yahoo!Tech:
In fact, young Mr. Peebles is dropping out of high school... in order to focus on Guitar Hero full time. Peebles hopes to join the small but growing crew of players looking to make gaming a job. Citing his victories in Guitar Hero tournaments, which include "gift certificates, gaming equipment, and chicken sandwiches," Peebles thinks he has the chops to play competitively and earn actual money in the process. As the story notes, top gamers on the competitive circuit can earn up to $80,000 a year (though $25,000 is more common). Peebles, of course, can count his 52 Chick-fil-A combo meals toward that total.
I love that he "thinks he has the chops" and "earn actual money" phrases. Part of me wants to explain that "earn actual money" means "spend that actual money on everyday necessities like gas and still require a lot more" and part of me wants to let the kid and his parents make the decision and waste their money.

Then there's my favorite: lead them on with the promise that some other guy gets paid a lot of money collected from all the rubes. "Of course, kid, you're one of the elite, not a rube contributing entrance fees to pay the real winner."

The money quoted was for "some top gamers" and "up to $80,000 a year (though $25,000 is more common)" which implies that he has a reasonable chance at $25000 per year and an outside chance at $80,000, not bad for a kid playing games and easy enough to live on with no dependants and sleeping in his van. Later in the article, that's corrected to "in eight years his total earnings are about $25,000 total" -- a slightly different set of circumstances. Not to mention that it's only ONE top gamer who makes $80,000 - but that lets them bring in the suckers.

So far, he's won "gift certificates, gaming equipment, and chicken sandwiches." This set of giveaways is worth exactly zero in real money but sounds like he's won a lot. This is his ticket to financial independence? Later the Tech Blogger mentions training and the cost of travel and expresses a worry about the difficulties of breaking into the professional ranks. He's wrong to worry - it's easy to get in and stay in if your parents are right there to pay for everything. He won't win but he doesn't care. Churchill's maxim does not apply to him: "Play for more than you can afford to lose and you will learn the game." He's playing with house money now and it'll only be a shame when he hits the big 2-1 and his money supply dries up. (excuse me, his ChickFilA chicken sandwich certificate supply) Then what?

At least with a football player, there's a degree as athletic trainer or jobs as coach to fall back on. That'll make you a good living and be a lot more secure than playing a fake guitar.
I was at first inclined to disparage the decision by his parents to let Peebles drop out of school, but it seems a little less ridiculous when you delve into the facts. Peebles hahdn't been doing well in school and wasn't liked, and even now he isn't gaming full time. He has a tutor that provides a private education, and his parents say he's doing well with the more focused instruction and that their son now even does his homework without complaint. (Presumably he can hit the axe sooner after he's finished his studies.)

However, I worry that Peebles, who's just 16, may have a tough road ahead trying to break into competitive gaming. The costs of traveling to tournaments alone can totally outstrip earnings, and the amount of training can be grueling. Sponsorships are often a pipe dream. And then there's the issue of games going out of date and being replaced by something new. Traditional athletes never have to worry about, say, distance running being upgraded with a new version, but many games can go out of style, fast. In the end, there's just not much cash there: One gamer, quoted at the end of the linked article, says that in eight years his total earnings are about $25,000 total, and that's including a national championship in Halo 2.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The 65% solution is 100% B.S.

From Schools Matter:
TALLAHASSEE | In a stunningly swift move, the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday knocked three politically contentious constitutional amendments off the November ballot, with the most important ruling eliminating a complicated plan to cut property taxes by 25 percent that was linked to an uncertain promise to increase sales taxes.
Amendment 5 would have traded a huge property tax cut for other tax increases, amendment 7 would have provided a basis for reinstating a public school voucher program, and amendment 9 would have required public school districts spend at least 65 percent of their money directly on classroom activities.
It's funny how this shell game keeps popping up all over. The first one is just political gamesmanship trading a tax break now for a tax hike later, the second is just a bad idea floated by people who hate public schools and the last one is just amateurs looking at statistics and pretending they understand what makes a school successful.

The 65 percent thing is a national movement started by the founder of Overstock.com. Another outsider who has been successful in business and who is now convinced that he knows the secrets of the Universe and has all the answers to our educational blues. TM

When will these guys learn that just attending school thirty years ago does not mean you can translate your business sense to the local public school?

At first blush, he seems to have a good idea, until you start looking at the definitions of what is and isn't considered "classroom related" and you realize that the game-playing is pervasive and essentially ruins the whole argument. Library books, librarians, and library media are not considered classroom expenses but athletic uniforms and equipment is. How screwed up is that?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

They don't have weaknesses anymore ...

So, the inservice was in full swing. Educational buzzwords are flying hither and yon. Curriculum mapping is being discussed. The trainer is screeching about techniques for writing the "Essential Questions" and someone includes the wrong word in a sentence ...

"The kids in my class have certain strengths and weaknesses ..."

"No!" she is interrupted by the trainer. "Students don't have weaknesses. They have needs."

I had forgotten the prime directive of teaching. Changing a buzzword makes all the difference. It really IS JUST THAT EASY. Just look at all the success we've had now that we call them English Language Learners Students (ELL Students) instead of English as a Second Language Students (ESL Students).

Don't I feel dumb?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

English, and Bilingual education.

For generations, the French have fiercely guarded their language against the horreurs anglais. But France's education minister yesterday admitted for the first time that the secret to success is speaking better English. Xavier Darcos claimed poor English is now a 'handicap' because all international business is conducted in the language, and said French schools would offer extra lessons during the holidays. He also admitted that, because of globalisation, very few people outside France will being able to speak French in the future.
Daily Mail link

Can we now extend that to this country? How many businesses can you get a job with if you only speak Spanish? How many US colleges will award a degree if the student only speaks Chinese? How many stores, restaurants, policemen, neighbors, and other daily conversationalists will be able to deal a friend who only speaks Vietnamese?

Can we admit finally that the use of English is the biggest key to success in this country and that putting off the learning of English is more damaging to the future of a student than probably anything else? Can we understand that allowing a kid to get through high school without a clear command of English is essentially committing him to a life of only watching Telemundo and only getting jobs in businesses that cater exclusively to Hispanics - a vanishingly small portion of the job market.

So why do we still insist that every ESL ELL (English Language Learner, because we all know that changing what we call them makes all the difference) student get a bilingual education? All students who can't speak English should get 7 straight periods of English. Nothing else. This phase might even take a couple of months. It's called a crash course and it's effective.

When they get enough to make it in a math class, add one. When they can handle a social studies class at an ESL-level, do it.

Think back to your own time - you took one class of French and then everything else in English. How much did you learn? Maybe enough to not get lost the Metro but nowhere near enough to matriculate at the Sorbonne. Giving them one period of English and six other courses taught in Spanish, knowing they're going home to a home that doesn't speak English and knowing he's surrounded with friends who also don't speak any English? That's just prolonging the time until that kid learns the language. It may even be too late.

Try going to any other country and demand that people teach you in English - oh, wait, they all know enough English that you can get by.

But then, what do I know?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Principal Suit doesn't do English either.

How to refer to the principal? Pissed Off Teacher simply calls him "Principal Suit." This conjures up a mental image of an empty suit mindlessly emitting noise disguised as insightful comment.

If my principal wore a suit or a tie, even some of the time, it would be a perfect nickname for him. As it is, I am reminded of PS whenever he sends out email and the grammatical errors simply scream. I've never pretended to an ability to write well and I am always subject to typos so I don't care when an email contains some mildly tortured grammar or a misplaced comma or a bad caes of keybaord fumble, but even I can't ignore this:

"I am hoping there are a couple people out their that have the gift ..."

How does anyone write this way without cringing?