Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Too funny to not share.

From the Boston Herald ...
The state Appeals Court has refused to get involved in a mother’s efforts to force a Newton sperm bank to reveal the identity of her twin daughters’ father so she can sue him for child support.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Twittering the wrong people

A while back, I was watching the weather channel, waiting for the Local on the Eights. They did a fluff piece on BBQs and someone twittered them to ask how long one could leave meat out?

Why would anyone twitter that to the weather channel? Why would the Weather Channel answer?

I have my thoughts. They're "digital natives" and they can't think because they've come to depend on the magic box. The "digital natives" can't research. They've been able to Google and WikiSearch and copy/paste what seems to be a decent answer. Of course, it rarely is appropriate. It's usually pretty laughable if the administration weren't so keen on promoting it. It certainly smacks of plagiarism and laziness.

Lazy is too harsh a word? Their habits are (1) watch the weather channel, and see a story about a barbeque (2) have a random thought and uhhhhhhhhh ... Twitter the weather channel.

This is something we want to replicate in schools?

Just sayin'

Differential Gear

Just because I think it's neat.

Money isn't everything.

I keep hearing the same refrain: "Why should we keep funding schools? My tax money would be better spent elsewhere. Why should the schools keep getting 3% - 6% increases when I didn't get that this year?" and so on.

Money isn't everything, but not much gets done in this country without it.

If you've been funding your school properly for the last ten years, then you can easily keep the increases to the rate of inflation. Massive increases are unnecessary. Spending cuts will be possible but only for the "spend to the limits of your budget" kinds of purchases. Overall, the budget won't decrease unless you cut Art or do something equally foolish.

If you've been scrimping and underpaying for years, then more money will become necessary. Sooner or later, you'll have to repair, hire, replace, install or upgrade from the twenty-year-old books to something with covers and mentions of post-cold war America. Spending cuts will only make problems worse.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Time for Testing ... but not academics?

I'm worried about my kids' workloads.  I'd like to suggest that we trim some things from their to-do lists so they can concentrate on what's important.

I refer, of course, to the TEST.

I don't know about most of you, but here in the VT-NH-RI NECAP regions, we have AYP testing in the fall of the junior year. Many schools around here are getting antsy because their "didn't-make-the-grade"-checkmarks are being checked. Accumulate checkmarks in two consecutive years and you're on notice. Continue to not make AYP for any subgroup and your school is on double-secret probation. Administration might be forcibly changed. Schools might suffer sanction.

A school to the south of us is having eight days of one-hour delayed-openings ... for PRACTICE TESTING. Then they'll have six days of two-hour delayed openings for the actual tests. 9th, 10th and 12th have no school and are home sleeping for the extra hours. 11th are cramming for the test.

When did actual teaching take a backseat to the state-wide testing pogrom? When the principals started fearing for their jobs.

Few people other than the teachers and students make the connection that one of the major reasons that education is on the ropes is the tremendous number of things students miss a class for. I have kids with 10 excused absences already and it's only the 18th day of class. Sure, they're excused, but they're still not there.

Doctor's appointments, valid sicknesses (and the cough-cough days-off, Mommy calls the school), vice-principal call-downs for discipline, counselors who talk to them about their "issues" or who counsel them on getting into college (miss class to talk about going to college - don't you just love it?). Field trips and other teacher's projects. Assemblies for anti-bullying and harassment, watching the President, pepping up the cheerleading section, Prepping for the NECAP tests, staying off drugs (as presented by seven steroid-laced muscle-bound men who stress that they've 'never done drugs'), not driving drunk, watch out for STDs and creepy Internet pedophiles. MADD, SADD, SMILE and WORLD OF DIFFERENCE taking various kids for one, two or three full days.

Then you've got in-class suggestions to "drop everything and prepare for the NECAP test" three weeks from now, not to mention the idea of giving the 9th, 10th and 12th graders time to sleep while the 11th graders practice test-taking strategies, and then six more days when they're actually taking the test. And the principal opines that it's not fair for anyone to give homework during the testing days -- and then reinforces his opinion with a direct statement "I don't want you to give homework in any class that has an 11th grader in it." For math teachers, that's quite a few of them.

Throw in the random interruptions, sports excuses, part-time job, ill parents and kids in a pissy mood cause they're teenagers with active glands. Add the nurse call-downs for swine flu, or regular flu, or the school-based physicals.

NOW is when we're taking time off for testing?

Pretty soon the students have no time to spend concentrating on math and really, don't they have enough on their plate without also demanding that they learn that, too? Let's drop the math requirement and replace it with test-taking strategies and test-taking skills. That'll learn them.

Hmmmm ...

Or we could just teach and eliminate all the other silliness. Consistent, steady progress towards a goal. No distractions, just routine.

NAH. It'll never happen. This is education. Homey don't play that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Everyone gets a trophy ... But Rudy earned his.

Sometimes I really hate the "touchy-feely" stuff and the vast complex of delusions that usually go towards sustaining it despite what should be obvious. I hate the tendency to want a prize for everything all the way through life, regardless of the circumstances.

Situation: Football team is getting shut out 46-0 and the losing coach calls timeout with 6 seconds to go, calls the number of his Downs player, runs to the other side to ask if they'll let him get a free touchdown. The winning team agrees. Both teams fake the play and let him score. Final: 46-6.

I like that the one team of players, taken completely by surprise, so quickly agreed to the crazy notion that they let a shutout go and let the kid with Downs Syndrome score his touchdown.
  • I don't like that the coach called the "Matt Play" BEFORE he set off to ask the winning team about it. What if they had said "No?" Do you tell Matt "Too bad, sit down?"
  • I don't like that the coach ran to the defensive huddle and sprung it on the opponent in the last seconds of a game. The opposing coach and team should have been given a graceful way to back out of this if they felt it unnecessarily dangerous, wanted to keep the shutout, or simply felt it a bad idea.
  • He didn't tell the refs about it. It would have been nice to be sure that Matt wasn't flagged for illegal motion, illegal formation, or a lineman called for holding.
  • "To minimize the danger, Matt doesn’t take part in full-contact drills at practices" -- You're going to put him in a real game with 21 players who don't have a good idea of what they're supposed to do? If you can't take a chance in practice, why take one in a real game? This isn't about overcoming a disability. Some Downs Syndrome kids can and do play football for real, and they play well if well-coached. If he's so delicate that he can't take a hit in practice, he should not be on the field.
  • One of the parents wasn't there because they knew it was the third game of the season - he'll never be put in.
  • The winning team lost their shutout. Shutouts are special and usually have meaning down the road when rankings and standings are decided. The winning team can know in their hearts that they won 46-0, but the official score says 46-6.
  • I don't like the precedent. Is this a tradition about to start? If they're being beaten by enough, does a losing team automatically get to trot out it's hard-luck cases for a free score? How much is that margin? Will this become a part of the "mercy rule?"
It also aggravates me that the Coach is calling it "understanding that winning isn't everything." Bullshit, Coach. You were getting spanked 46-0. You approached the other team and asked that they make an exception for a kid who isn't normally allowed on the field. They showed magnificent composure and true sportsmanship. You took advantage.

You didn't teach anyone about winning or the value of playing the game in an honorable fashion because the win was already in the bag. If you were down by 3 points, and they acceded to the request and allowed your team to win the game on the play, THAT would have shown that "winning isn't everything."

No to be all curmudgeonly about it, but this rings a little false to me. I can feel this guy coming up with this to ward off complaints that he got shut out by the cross-town rival. Who's going to point out that he hadn't prepared his team properly for this game? Certainly not the athletic director - coincidentally, Matt's father.

McCamy could just as easily have talked to the other coach ahead of time and planned this out. First, the game is played to completion. Then the announcer, knowing his role in all this, says "The refs have put 6 seconds back on the clock." The refs do so, knowing their role - they also know to swallow the whistle. The clock operator puts the time up. Then, you run the scripted play against the other team who knows the game is over but have agreed to the stunt, and you achieve your goal of lying to your player.

The game would then have been honest and both teams would have been clear about their roles. The kid would have been safe and you'd still be a hero.

Of course, a cynic will wait to see if Coach uses this again this season. Matt won't know he's been conned and he'll expect to go in every game now. Coach can play the beneficent mentor and the team will never have to suffer another shutout.

The problem is, it's never a good idea to blatantly lie to your player.

The scrub who never plays has at least the satisfaction of knowing that he practiced hard and worked, that his few minutes of play were against an opponent who played just as hard, i.e., the other team's substitutes who just as desperately want to prove themselves. You know, the Rudy thing.

The softer side of me hopes that Matt will understand and be able to forgive his coach and his fellow teammates when he does find out that the whole thing was a sham. My experience with similar kids tells me that will be especially hard for the boy - this will chew at him. The sense of betrayal will not be assuaged by the thought that they did it for his sake. It will take him far longer to get over it.

Will the entire school be able to keep the secret? No. I figure it will be less than a week before some jerk tells him it was all a joke. Then the real problems will start. It's a 50% chance he'll stay on the team and a 0% chance he'll trust them again easily.

Maybe this will all work out. I hope so, but I have this sinking feeling.


Rivals cooperate on touchdown for player with Down syndrome
The Kansas City Star
ST. JOSEPH | Matt Ziesel doesn’t stray far from coach Dan McCamy on the sidelines during St. Joseph Benton High School’s freshman football games. He likes to stay within earshot.
“I’m ready, Coach. … Coach, I’m ready,” Ziesel says.McCamy says he hears it about 10 times a game, and also at practices, from Ziesel, his 5-foot-3, 110-pound running back.
So in the final stages of Benton’s third game of the season on Monday at Maryville, McCamy decided it was time for Ziesel — a 15-year-old freshman with Down syndrome — to make his season debut.
With about 10 seconds left in the game, and Benton trailing 46-0, McCamy called his final timeout, told an assistant coach to organize the team for the “Matt play” and ran across the field to the Maryville defensive huddle — and to some puzzled looks from the opposing players.
“I’ve got a special situation,” McCamy remembers telling Maryville freshman defensive coach David McEnaney. “I know you guys want to get a shutout. Most teams would want a shutout, but in this situation I want to know if maybe you can let one of my guys run in for a touchdown.”
Several days have passed since Ziesel chugged more than 60 yards down a sideline for his first high school touchdown — but the buzz hasn’t.
The YouTube clip McCamy posted Tuesday morning had received more than 1,500 hits as of Thursday night. The e-mails and messages of support also have been rolling in all week — to McCamy as well as the Ziesel family.
“It’s just amazing how one play can mean so much to one kid and then to a team and then to a community,” McCamy said Thursday after practice. “And now it’s spread not just to the community of St. Joseph, but now it’s spread across the region. How something so simple can impact so many — to me, that’s the amazing part about it.”
Mike Ziesel, Matt’s dad, a longtime high school coach and the athletic director at Benton, was standing near the top of the bleachers Monday when a spectator told him it looked like Matt was about to enter the game. His wife, Patty, was at home. She hadn’t planned on Matt actually getting on the field Monday.
Neither had McCamy. As he headed across the field to talk to McEnaney, McCamy wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. He asked the players to avoid physical contact with Ziesel but to make it as real as possible for him.
“The (Maryville) players, they didn’t hesitate at all,” McEnaney said. “They jumped right on board.”
And so Matt Ziesel ran a sweep to the right and just kept going. This time, it was McCamy making sure he was close enough to be heard — running down the sideline alongside Matt, yelling as loud as he could.
“Come on, Matty! They’re coming!” McCamy yelled, making the play as real as possible for Ziesel.
Benton lost Monday’s game 46-6, but those six points made a bigger impact than McCamy could have ever imagined.
“It’s not necessarily about winning or losing,” said McCamy, a second-year coach who played college football at Missouri. “Obviously up in Maryville we lost the game. The end result, we lost the game, but when we went away, we were all kind of winners.”
After he posted the touchdown video on YouTube on Tuesday morning, McCamy sent the link to the Ziesels, so Patty could see her son’s first high school score, and to five fellow Benton coaches.
From there the highlight and the emotions it stirred just kept spreading.
“I don’t know that I (have) gotten one comment from somebody who said they didn’t cry” after watching the video, Patty Ziesel said.
Mike Ziesel, who coached boys basketball for 19 years, said what made him most proud was the way the rest of the players embraced the opportunity.
“It was just a good thing to see people realize that the value of winning is not (as) important as it is to participate and enjoy the game,” Mike Ziesel said.
Said McEnaney, who co-coaches the Maryville freshman team with Jordan Moree: “It just kind of takes you back to what it all really should be about.”
The truth is, Patty Ziesel had reservations about Matt joining the football team. And after she had taken him for the mandatory physical, she received a call from his pediatrician.
“When they got the report that said he was playing football, the pediatrician’s office said, ‘We just want you to know that (the doctor) doesn’t approve of him playing football,’ ” she recalled. “I said: ‘Well, neither do I, but here’s the deal: He wants to be part of the team, and he will be part of the team.’ ”
To minimize the danger, Matt doesn’t take part in full-contact drills at practices, and on his touchdown run he raced untouched as players from both teams trailed along.
Standing next to Matt on Thursday after practice, Patty said she hoped the players on both teams understood how important Monday’s touchdown — and their roles in it — were for her son.
McCamy is sure they do.
“Some of them get it now, but in due time all these kids who were a part of it will have a better understanding,” McCamy said. “When they grow up and they get older, everybody will realize the impact that maybe that play (has) had — not just on that kid’s life, because Matt will remember that forever — but on some of these other kids and what they may have been a part of.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Math Teacher Marries

Congratulations. All the best.

Everyone's Not Proficient. Accept it and Move On.

"All students will be proficient in every public school by 2014."

Really? Proficient in math and science? or math and English? or basketball and poetry? In all subjects? In just two? How about Chinese and marketing?

Can all students understand every subject? Is full math knowledge possible - if so, to what level? I think not. This fantasy of Full Proficiency at all things is an educational holy grail, a pipe dream. It's certainly not going to block success in life. Every person learns to work around his limitations and succeed despite them. For some, those limitations have guided them into fulfilling their talents in spectacular fashion.

Certainly, I know hundreds of people who marvel at my math knowledge, marvel that THEY could never understand all that stuff, not realizing how limited my knowledge really is. I can't tell you how poor the writing and grammatical skills are for the population as a whole - even my principal has a degree in English yet is constantly writing things such as "All students THAT are in the building ..." rather than "All students WHO ..." and using "there," "they're" and "their" pretty much randomly. His math abilities rival a 6th grader's, yet he's pulling down a 6-figure income.

Is it possible to be successful in life if you aren't proficient in English and math? It certainly seems to be so.

Could most teachers pass the NY Regents test in math and English? I doubt it. Even some of the high school teachers OF those courses will have difficulties. I know many successful tradesman and managers and businessmen who couldn't come close to passing. Certainly there are vast reaches of this country where English is a foreign language and rarely heard.

Why should anyone care if the SAT scores aren't rising? Why should anyone reform their schools if AYP isn't met? I'm not entirely sure that they CAN consistently rise nor should we expect them to. It isn't possible to be all things. Over the last few years, I have seen story after story of successful schools whose gains have been the result of cheating, playing games, or practice overkill to the exclusion of all else. I don't want to have schools succeed if that's the method they use. Some of the "miracles" are the result of success by elimination - toss the low-scoring students to the curb and the average rises, which works for the remaining ones, I suppose. Private schools do this quite well. Also, those private schools are never tested in the same ways. Force them to "reform" and to submit to testing before you claim that the public schools are inferior.

Shouldn't we be looking to place students appropriately? Shouldn't we question whether ALL students should be taking the test - shouldn't many of them be looking at vo-tech or alternative placements, avoiding the test entirely? Is having 100% of the students proficient at ANYTHING by 2014 even a worthwhile goal or is it not even close to achievable because students are human, and humans are different?

I know that some will start the chorus of "We need twenty-first century teaching for twenty-first century students." This attempt at reform assumes that changing the teaching method will magically make everyone perfect. Like a million other reforms, this one won't work either because you are still dealing with people. You can reform all you like and you'll scratch the surface and ease the itch. You won't cure the patient and you won't make much difference.

Testing is interesting. It's not very useful, though.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Scores vs Income

From Schools Matter

The new Census Bureau report on income is out, and the New York Times has some interesting analyses. Here are a few of them summarized:
For the first time since the Census has been keeping records, median income is less than it was ten years ago. And even though the top quintile of workers' incomes increased, the decrease in the other four quintiles was significant enough to make the median income in 2008 less than it was in 1998. In short, the rich have gotten richer, and everyone else, poorer.
In terms of the relation between family income and SAT test scores, the Times analyis shows the statistical relation a monstrous direct correlation (.95). This same correlation, by the way, can be found in any set of state test scores for elementary school children, too. Poor kids do worse on high-stakes standardized tests, so let's keep them poor and contained by using these tests to determine who gets a chance for the best teaching, the best colleges, and the best jobs. Simple. The rest will get the corporate welfare apartheid charter schools with minimally-qualified missionaries from Teach for America, along with no libraries, no art, music, athletics, or even cafeterias. And thus, The New Eugenics in Action.
As family income and wealth goes, so go the test scores, so let's blame, once again, the schools and the teachers for the flat or diminishing test scores, rather than the corporate exporters of jobs over the past decade or the greed of CEOs or the enemies of workers' rights or the anti-educational curriculums of the testocrats.
Read the rest of it.