Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Moron wins in the Rankings Horserace

Yes, she's an overanxious mother, maybe even a helicopter. She wants her daughter to be better than the others. She had access to the grades. Her daughter wasn't going to be the best so she helped her daughter improve her place in the horserace of school rankings ...

She changed her grades.

"Tell us about it, Johnny!"
"This Mother of the Year is a secretary at her daughter's school with access to the guidance department grading system. She changed scores and grades using other people's passwords ..."

"What does she win?"
"She gets publicity and an ever-grateful daughter. In addition, she wins 29 counts of unlawful use of a computer and tampering with public records. But that's not all ..."

Jill Adams, the school district superintendent, said prosecutors have asked school officials not to comment publicly about the case.

Bit late for that, ain't it sweetie? Maybe a little about the improved procedures so it doesn't happen again quite so easily?




Pa. mother charged with changing daughter's grades
Thu Jun 25, 2009

A high school secretary illegally changed grades in a school computer system to improve her daughter's class standing, according to criminal charges filed Thursday.

Caroline Maria McNeal of Huntingdon is accused of using the passwords of three co-workers without their knowledge to tamper with dozens of grades and test scores between May 2006 and July 2007 at Huntingdon Area High School in central Pennsylvania, the state attorney general's office said.

McNeal, 39, is alleged to have improved her daughter Brittany's grades and reduced those of two classmates to enhance Brittany's standing in the 2008 graduating class.

School officials corrected the grades before the students graduated, prosecutors said.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said the case involves "a serious violation of the public trust."

"Our citizens depend on people in public positions, including school employees, to protect the safety and security of these records and not use confidential information for their own benefit," Corbett said.

McNeal was charged with 29 counts of unlawful use of a computer and 29 counts of tampering with public records. Each count is a third-degree felony punishable by a maximum of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine, said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Corbett's office.

No telephone number was listed for Caroline McNeal. Brittany McNeal is not charged with any wrongdoing.

Jill Adams, the school district superintendent, said prosecutors have asked school officials not to comment publicly about the case.

"We would like to have it be finished, over and done," she said.

In all, McNeal is accused of altering nearly 200 scores and grades covering four school years.

The situation came to light in October 2007, when an employee of the high school guidance office discovered conflicting SAT scores for Brittany.

Scores provided directly by the College Board showed a cumulative score of 1370, while an unknown source had previously entered 1730, according to court papers.1

Further investigation revealed that the data had been entered from Caroline McNeal's computer starting more than a week before SAT scores for other students were entered.

Three other secretaries at the school told investigators they had shared their passwords with Caroline McNeal during vacations or other prolonged absences.

KIPP Schools: Where Bulls--t is an Art-Form

How to lie with statistics, as explained by Jim Horn
... in five Bay Area KIPP schools, researchers found that 40 to 60 percent of KIPPsters in the five schools "chose" to leave KIPP between grades 5 and 8, and that most of the students who were ridden out were the low scorers who could have damaged the KIPP brand if they had stayed.
Our Scores went up!

It's the same old refrain - you can't improve schools without improving the students in them and one of the best ways to improve your averages is to eliminate the bottom half.

If you need quality wood, you go to the lumber yard and sift through the construction quality 2x4s, tossing aside any split or knotted wood. The average quality of the pile was low and priced accordingly, but your minimal time and effort in selection raises the average quality of the wood in your cart.

The analogy is quite strong to education. The ethics part of this "weeding" can only be justified in a private school setting.

KIPP Schools: Where Bulls--t is an Art-Form

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wrapping up the Strip Search for Advil Case

I thought the school would lose the case but 8-1 is a pretty strong rejection of the school's policies and behaviors.
Supreme Court Rules School's Strip Search of Girl Was Illegal
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 25, 2009 12:22 PM

The Supreme Court ruled today that Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old girl when they subjected her to a strip search on the suspicion she might be hiding ibuprofen in her underwear.

The court ruled 8-1 that such an intrusive search without the threat of a clear danger to other students violated the Constitution's protections against unreasonable search or seizure.

Justice David H. Souter, writing perhaps his final opinion for the court, said that in the search of Savana Redding, now a 19-year-old college student, school officials overreacted to vague accusations that Redding was violating school policy by possessing the ibuprofen, equivalent to two Advils.

What was missing, Souter wrote, "was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear," Souter wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented. "Judges are not qualified to second-guess the best manner for maintaining quiet and order in the school environment," Thomas wrote.
Thomas - "Judges are not qualified to second-guess" ... Everyone else seems to think so, why not the Supreme Court?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Non-eponymous SmartBoard

We're busily learning the amazement that is SmartBoard. I'm getting exasperated by the childlike wonder from the elementary teachers - "Ooooh, the picture of a word and it has a sound pronouncing it! WOW." Maybe they've just been hanging around 8-yr-olds too long. I keep reminding myself, "Don't make fun."

Then we load up a bad animation of the human respiratory system. Pretty limited and possibly wrong -- it seems okay -- I'm no Biology teacher so I can't say for sure. I'm not impressed. Show me a lifelike one with zoom and realism and you'll have me, but this? Five pieces you drag and drop onto a "guy" and then press resuscitate? Oh, brother.

Robert Frost is another of the multimedia offerings. Stopping by Woods is a classic. It has someone reading it aloud. This apparently is special because none of these folks would ever dream of reading it out loud themselves. You can click and read the words, too. You can click and read something about the author. You can do nothing more here.

This is it? This is the "Interactively, Forward-Thinking, Digital Native enticing, Nowadays, Kids think Differently and You must Teach Differently" hoo-ah technology that'll transform my teaching?

Hell, I can recite that poem from memory and read it a lot better than the stupid animation can. I also know a lot more Frost than just that one poem.

Okay, I'm officially annoyed at this point. I've got a wanna-be PowerPoint masquerading as a teaching tool and falling way short of a couple webpages or even -- horror -- an actual BOOK.

Then we are told of this neat little math tool that will definitely help engage those reluctant digital natives - Pythagoras' Theorem (sic). I'm game so I toss it on a notebook page and I'm playing with it. Nothing here to improve learning - it's just a "Black Box". You drag around the top button to set the values and it tells you the answers. You do nothing but mouse around. I fiddle but I'm uninterested because I find this kind of thing unnecessary brain-candy and frankly, mentally distracting to the actual learning involved. Then, the teacher next to me gives me a nudge and shows me a 45-45-90 triangle, just like this one:

Yes, that's a 45-45-90 triangle and the sides are 252-325-403. If you take the three sides in the following equations, that calculations are done correctly -- a²+b²=c² and area values are okay. It's just that equal angles mean an isosceles triangle and those sides are not consistent with those angles. DUH. Apparently, not anymore.

It's been around since freaking 2004! It comes with the SmartBoard software, prepacked in the Lesson Activity Toolkit 2.0 (it's also in 1.0) and it's wrong!!!!!

I swear that I have not photoshopped or altered the image in any way except cropping the edges. Go ahead. Load up your software, search the gallery for pythagoras and make a right isosceles triangle. Then re-do it, making a 45-45-90 triangle. Two different triangles.

How is this possible? Are they that stupid? In FIVE YEARS, has no one noticed this? My guess is, "NO." The folks who use these prepacked toys are mainly elementary school teachers and most of them come from the bottom quintile of their college ranks. They blithely move on, screwing up education: fractions, multiplication (that matrix crap), decimals, pretending to algebra, using tools with incorrect information that gets in the way of learning, using calculators because they can't teach math, basically screwing everything up for six straight years of the kids' education.

I point it out to the others, "Hey watch out. If this is wrong, then you need to check all of these before you trust them." Blank looks.

There's another gizmo that has adjustors that seem backwards:

I ask if that bothers anyone, being the reverse of the number line and the usual web standards. "Maybe it's because it's a Canadian company," was the only explanation.

No wonder we've got an education problem in this country.

Or, why the goalie can't just kick it at the striker in frustration ...

Never lose your temper when you're playing soccer ...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summertime and the Blogging is Easy.

Yes!

Last day done. Classroom empty. Grades exported.

The only thing I have to do now is earn three graduate credits taking the easiest course EVER - introduction to the SmartBoard. I'll learn how to write lesson plans on software that is really a bad version of PowerPoint. I'll learn that pictures and gee-whiz gizmos are the goal of education. If we're lucky, we'll learn about something SPECIAL.

Blogs.

Oh boy. Never thought I'd learn about that. It's making my heart flutter.

At least I have the time to write now.

Critical Thinking vs Knowledge Base.

Teachers and educationistas are having a debate: do we teach knowledge or critical thinking?

I maintain that the one must precede the other, that knowledge must be internalized before critical thinking can truly take place. How can you expect a student to solve a complicated problem dealing with volume of water in an underground aquifer (with all of the requisite variations) if they have never dealt with simpler tasks like the volume of a rectangular solid or cylinder?

The idea that memorizing is bad while teaching thinking skills and problem solving is good is misguided. Memorizing is the first step toward understanding something more complicated - you memorize certain basic facts that frame the further discussion. If I ask the students to find the area of a complicated free-form shape, they can count squares all day. Is that appropriate? Knowing to break down the shape into squares and triangles (with their formulae memorized) turns the task from a silly exercise to one that is more high school appropriate.

Stressing critical thinking over memorization also results in less knowledge being internalized and more of the basic facts missing from the students' "toolbox". The student is forced to re-invent the wheel every time he needs something, re-conceptualize the method and re-imagine the solution. Then he has to solve it.

The debate over multiplication methods is illustrative. Calculator based curriculum proponents want the kids to use the machine at all times. They should estimate answers, but students don't care to estimate if they have the calculator - the "true" answer is quicker. The student who can do any multiplication problem by hand knows a lot more about the problem and can tell much more easily if the problem has been keyed incorrectly.

This issue, this divide between the schools of thought (sorry for the pun), must be resolved before this country will be able to move forward confidently into whatever the future holds for us. I fear that we will continue on the road to 21st century skills without any of the 20th century skills that are its complete foundation.

Drill and Kill? No, it's called practice. Understand one thing and then move on. Don't try to build the Tower of Babel on the shifting sands of spiralling and "We'll come back to it" and "Guide on the Side, not a Sage on the Stage."

I'm a knowledge first, thinking second kind of guy. I want to know what before I have an opinion. I know that one cannot solve a problem with tools he does not possess. Basic skills must be understood before the "extensions" will resonate in the education of the students. To put it another way, you've got to know some facts before you can solve the problem.

Teaching is a Profession

Leonora Klein writes in the Guardian that she became disillusioned with teaching

"Last year, I wanted to start a new career. I had spent 10 years as a family law barrister, representing parents and children in care proceedings. I left to do an MA in life writing at the University of East Anglia. Then I wrote my first book. The recession came along just as I was thinking about my second. My mortgage rate was fixed, and it was the wrong rate. I became a graduate teacher. I had no idea if I could teach, but I thought I could act the part of a teacher while I learned to become one. After the first week, I knew I had come to the right place: my colleagues were talented and the atmosphere in the school was one of confidence. I felt lucky and full of hope. Three months later, I resigned. What happened?"
Hmmm. Let's see. You're an idiot? You had no idea of what you're doing and it took three months for you to admit the truth that everyone else could see immediately?

I can't stand this attitude held by so many - "Teaching must be simple because I went to school myself. If I learned, then I can teach." It's the same with the simplistic TFA goofballs, people like this lawyer, every yammering talking head, every CEO, and Jay Matthews.

"I can run a company so I know about education."
"I'm a Washington Post columnist so my stray thoughts are worthwhile."
"I've never been a teacher so I should be Secretary of Education."
"I had no idea if I could teach, but I thought I could act the part of a teacher while I learned to become one."

Huh? "Act the part?"

Screw you, lady.

You know you need a four-year degree and to pass the Bar before you can practice Law? WHy should it be any different for any profession, including teaching? Just because a large percentage of the teachers in this country are from the bottom of the collegiate ranks doesn't mean that it's the optimal way to run things.

If it's worth the money, it's worth the time preparing. If you can't spend the time, the kids really don't need your condescending help.

For the record, I'm in favor of teachers' having to pass the Praxis II (content) every so often - or at least the SAT or MCAS or NECAP, or TAKS. Sit us all down in a room just like the students and give US the damn thing. Those who can't pass it have some serious s'plaining to do - and a scramble to retain their jobs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Community Service and Other Silliness

Over at Joanne Jacobs, there was mention of mandatory volunteerism that was "infused" into the curriculum so kids didn't actually do anything to earn the Service Learning hours.

Yeah. You read that right. "Oxymoron-squared" was tossed around.

A commenter, Peter Wood, said
"At the National Association of Scholars we have noted this kind of mandatory “volunteering” several times. Students have an apt name for it: voluntyranny. We wrote about it here."
Isn't that so true? Why is Community Service mandatory in the first place?

Help me out here:
  1. If you volunteer at church, it's not volunteering and the time doesn't count.
  2. If you sullenly carry boxes at the food bank, that's somehow better?
  3. Showing up at the FireHouse and being a pain in the buttocks for two hours benefits who, exactly?
  4. Why does running the Blood Drive with the rest of the Student Council count if donating blood doesn't?
  5. If you lie about the time spent and your friend covers for you, what lesson are we really teaching?
  6. If you are a senior and you can't graduate without the Senior Law class (and CS is part of the credit), are you really volunteering?
I want kids to volunteer and I think that helping others is a good thing. It needs to happen at the right time and for the right reasons for it to be meaningful, though. Perhaps banning all mention of it from college applications would be a good start.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Teacher Uniforms

In the Archives of Under Assault, I found an opinion piece advocating uniforms for teachers.

The author wants tenured and certified professors and teachers to wear black robes as part of their teaching attire. The reasons are deeply political and are a reaction to NYC's particular bogeymen, such as the TFAs and the provisional teachers supplanting the tenured and certified teachers.

Still, parts of this argument make sense even if the Black Robe doesn't actually fit all.

First, teachers should have a dress code of some kind. Whether it be shirt and tie or jacket/shirt/tie, the teachers need to set themselves apart from the students. The science department looks very professional in white labcoats, as does the art department. The shirt and tie look is great for those who choose it. I object to blue jeans and ratty shirts and sandals, though. Likewise for athletic attire and sneakers, unless it's the PE teachers. English teachers shouldn't be dressed down that far. I could even tolerate the Black Robe if it had the proper-colored lining and borders.

The point is that the teachers are different from students and should show it.

Under Assault's idea of differentiating teachers based on their tenure status, though, is just petty when I look at it from this distance. I understand the annoyance of having TFAers come be-bopping in "to save the poor benighted losers" with their "unique skills and obvious charm" but you'll never get them to behave by ostracizing them. They certainly won't be tempted to stay yet some of them definitely should. New teachers are always arrogant and full of themselves - the trick is to figure out who mellows to the proper level.

Merit Pay dropped

from The Dallas Morning News; May 18, 2009

AUSTIN – Texas' longest running merit pay plan for teachers is being quietly retired this year after getting lackluster returns on its $100-million-a-year investment.

Within a school finance bill recently approved by the House – and now before the Senate – is a provision that terminates the Texas Educator Excellence Grant program after four years and shifts some of its funds to a second plan launched this school year.

When you can't measure the product directly, you "wing it." If you've got the money and are pretty free with your definitions, I'm all for it. If you actually profess to be able to tell the best teachers from the others then you owe it to the country to trumpet the details of that ability from the highest point. I'd be happy to be shown that merit pay can be distributed fairly but I'm not holding my breath.

Measure me, not my students.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Merit Pay can't work

Dan Willingham does it again. This time he discusses why Merit Pay for Teachers won't work.

He ends with the following: "Merit pay can't work until there's a way to measure teacher performance that's fair."

I feel that the problem is not about fairness. Merit pay can't work until we have a way to measure the performance of the teachers directly instead of using indirect measures, like children's test scores or community income levels.