Sunday, February 27, 2011

Academic Xenophobia.

NPR is reporting on school districts who are cracking down on residency issues.


  1. Those parents who are going to go out of their way to "work" the system and exert extra effort to get their kids into your school are statistically more likely to have better motivated students.That's the KIPP difference, the charter difference.  Why not use it? Helping your AYP is nice.
  2. It's not like the kid is free-loading. You get the money for every kid who attends regularly and these kids are already going out of their way to get there, so they'll probably have better attendance.
  3. The kids are more likely to behave because calling the parents would expose the scam. 
  4. District lines are very often arbitrary at best. Gerrymandering the lines doesn't make the bus ride shorter, the school better or the environment safer.
In my mind, I think the best thing would be to make noise publicly. "We're cracking down in the best interests of our community" while making sure that only the troublemakers who try this get caught at it.

Besides, I never quite figured out why it was so important.  We have to educate every kid somewhere and isn't it a compliment that family after family wants to be at YOUR school? I'd be rolling out the red carpet for kids who wanted to come and bragging about it if I could, but maybe that's the private school experience coming out of me.

How do I square this with my stand against vouchers? Because it is a switch between public schools. Most often, vouchers are touted as a transfer of funds from the public school system to a private school and that's the part I don't like.

I can be a member of the local school board (actually have been). I can pick up the phone and directly effect what is going on at the public school in my town. Even as a private citizen, I can walk into the principal's office and ask a question directly - and get an answer (okay, yes, make an appointment and wait a little but you get what I mean). If I am calm, dispassionate, and right, the school will make a change to its policy because I am a taxpaying member of the town and the school is being run by the town for the benefit of any citizen who wishes to take advantage of it.

The Catholic Schools and the private schools won't do that. Why should they?

I do not have a problem with the public - public voucher system. It works well here in Vermont.  I really have a problem when money goes to private institutions which don't follow the same testing and accountability requirements that the rest of the schools do.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's it all for, really?

Coach Brown writes about a senior who said "You'd think that by now teachers would realize that giving seniors homework in the last quarter is pretty pointless and just a bad idea in general ... most of us already know what schools we're going to, and we no longer need to try to get the best grade possible. All you have to do is pass." Coach asks if the student is right.

Yes and No.

I disagree with what Utah is doing with the incentives to graduate early, I disagree with the students who take the senior year off and I disagree with the parents, schools and states who encourage either.

What is high school for, anyway? It's not for job training, although some kids get some of that from it. It's not for practical purposes, although some get that, too. It's not for babysitting or socialization or any of those things.

It's for the mind.

You may be stuck in a boring job but you learned about poetry from someone who thought it was cool and now you realize it really was - now it's your escape from the drudgery. Or maybe that science teacher turned you on to Biology and the processes and you went and became a brewmaster for Sam Adams.

The only way to deal with senioritis is to realize that, for once in the student's educational life, the scores don't matter but the class is still free. How liberating is that? Finally, you can take a course and learn strictly for the intellectual pleasure of it.

Why study Russian history? "ForDaHellofIt"
How about organic chemistry? "ForDaHellofIt"
AP Statistics with the boring teacher? Okay, that sucked but nothing ventured, nothing gained and nothing lost in the long run.

This is the ultimate in heads I win, tails I win.


Can't Lie -- That just makes it worse.

It's bad on every side but I wish that our side
wasn't feeding the "I am Stupid" fire.
The mess in Wisconsin keeps getting messier.  Stupid people on both sides get recorded doing and saying stupid things. The Governor gets "crank-called." A doctor hands out hundreds of notes and says that many protesters he met with seemed to "suffer from stress."
"Some people think it's a nod-and-a-wink thing, but it's not," Sanner said. "One of the biggest stresses in life is the threat of loss of income, loss of job, loss of health insurance. People have actually been getting ill from this, or they can't sleep."
Sorry, bud. When you are handing out absentee excuses en masse, you are not being a trustworthy doctor, any more than the ones who prescribed way too many painkillers for Rush Limbaugh. The protestors tell their schools they're "sick." The lack of teachers forces many schools to close. So the schools responded.
Workers were told they would need to provide a form from a medical professional for any absence after Feb. 16, according to Ken Syke, a spokesman for the school district.

Protesters in Madison who obtained medical excuse slips to cover their absences from work, and the doctors who issued them, are likely to be subjected to more intensive examinations.
Well, duh.

Look, people. Call it a personal day and go protest, or call in sick and stay home.  Don't call in "sick" and then go marching through the Capitol waving your hands and banging a drum. (Do you know how stupid that looked?) Call a strike, do it up front, in the open and without suberterfuge. If you get on TV, answer the question simply and succinctly, don't just start screaming slogans. (Do you know how stupid THAT looked?) If you really can't afford to be docked a day's pay and feel that this obviously transparent line of BS will cover you, then perhaps you'd better rethink how the public will view you because you're feeding the beast that will devour you.

At the very least, don't brag about it publicly and dare the school system to do something about it. We teachers, and those we have "helping us" need to be the voice of reason.

The questions come easily to a TV watching public and if you are publicly protesting, that who you are trying to talk to. I have heard/read variations of these and other, very important, PR and policy questions

  • Should I believe you now if you claim you are being treated unfairly, or that you need a raise, or that the student-teacher ratio is too excessive? 
  • Should I believe the Governor who is calm and dispassionate or the teachers who are comparing him to Hitler and Mussolini (didn't any of those teachers study history?) or comparing Wisconsin to Egypt and Tunisia (didn't any teachers have a sense of perspective?) 
  • Can I trust the teacher who blatantly lies in this fashion? 
  • Do I really want this kind of person to coagulate into a mob for collective bargaining or have they already become a mob? 
  • Who invited Jimmy Hoffa to this party, anyway? He doesn't represent a public union and probably just wants to become nationally relevant again.
Most importantly,
  • What is your word worth if this is its standard?

Quotes from journal-sentinel.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Getting in trouble for blogging.

There's an English teacher who publicly said things (link is dead, try googlecahe. Darren's got this which links to this paper's article and whose tech guy found a cached version of this rant and this one. Whew!) about her school, her admins, her students. She faces "disciplinary measures." I found some of it and I'm not surprised that the school took action.

Even if she didn't post from school, public attacks aren't the smartest thing in the world. "But she didn't name any students!" shouts the defense. That may be true, but her face is there, her name "Natalie M." and it doesn't take much for a student to "know she's talking about me." As soon as she found out that folks were reading her stuff, it needed to come down if she wanted to be that direct.

Having said that, one of her posts was "Comments that should be on the report card." Instead of "Not working to potential," Miss M. wanted some new comments:
  • Concerned your kid is automaton, as she just sits there emotionless for an entire 90 minutes, staring into the abyss, never volunteering to speak or do anything.
  • Seems smarter than she actually is.
  • Has a massive chip on her shoulder.
  • Too smart for her own good and refuses to play the school 'game' such that she'll never live up to her true potential here.
  • Has no business being in Honors.
  • A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically ok, your child has no other redeeming qualities.
  • Lazy.
  • Shy isn't cute in 11th grade; it's annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.
  • One of the few students I can abide this semester!
  • Two words come to mind: brown AND nose.
  • Dunderhead.
  • Complainer.
  • Gimme an A. I. R. H. E. A. D. What's that spell? Your kid!
  • There is such a thing as too loud in oral presentations. We shouldn't need earplugs.
  • Att-i-tude!
  • Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they're related?
  • I won't even remember her name next semester if I see her in the hall.
  • Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it's time to leave!
  • Has no business being in Academic.
  • Rat-like.
  • Lazy asshole.
  • Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?
  • Sneaky, complaining, jerkoff.
  • Frightfully dim.
  • Dresses like a street walker.
  • Whiny, simpering grade-grubber with an unrealistically high perception of own ability level.
  • One of the most annoying students I've had the displeasure of being locked in a room with for an extended time.
  • Rude, beligerent, argumentative fuck.
  • Tactless.
  • Weirdest kid I've ever met.
  • Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)
  • I didn't realize one person could have this many problems.
  • Your daughter is royalty. (The Queen of Drama)
  • Liar and cheater.
  • Unable to think for himself.
  • I hear the trash company is hiring...
  • Utterly loathsome in all imaginable ways.
  • I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son.
  • There's no other way to say this: I hate your kid.
Pretty funny, if it's kept to the teacher's lounge.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Testing, Scoring and Trusting the Data

    A fascinating case study is the NY Regents, scoring, and the unintended (or purposeful) consequences of a line in the instructions to the scorers.

    First, here's the graph of the number of kids getting each score (from WSJ).  The issue can be seen quite clearly. The graph overall is a typical left-skewed distribution, as you'd expect from this type of test. The trouble comes when you explore that jump in the middle at the passing mark.

    Of course, the nattering class is all up in arms over this, claiming fraud and misconduct.  You can almost hear jeers of "Union Bastards trying to save their jobs by lying on the tests."  Unfortunately for those people, the reason comes down to one sentence:
    "[State officials] note that the state actually requires teachers to regrade certain Regents tests where the student barely fails in order to check for grading errors."
    When you are singling out tests for special consideration, and the stated focus is to look for "scoring errors" on "barely failing tests", the only way for the scores to change is up.  Since it's easiest to give one or two points to a 64 or 63, it's logical that those would be the most effected.

    Looking at the graphs, you can see that some teachers (probably a school at a time) set their cut off at 50 while the majority set the cutoff at 55.

    Why the negative slope in that region? When looking for ambiguous answers which could be scored higher, you have to "rescore" each problem until you get an appropriate number of points. It's easier to find one such than 10 such.

    Similarly, since there was no reason to check more answers than just enough to get the kid to pass, the uptick was only to 65, though it seems that many teachers weren't keeping close track of the extra points and brought the kid up to a 66 or 67.

    Conversely, if the teachers had been instructed to rescore all students within ten points of the cutoff instead of just those who were below it, then you would have seen some students adjusted downward, balancing out much of the upward movement.  If there were a similar uptick at the 65 mark in this hypothetical, then and only then can you claim that teachers are deliberately mis-scoring to jigger their VA measures. (and even then, I'd put the reason as teachers wanting to help students rather than being so coldly self-interested.)

    The place where I found the link to this article had this comment: "Teachers don't want to flunk kids that just barely miss the passing score. Until all responsibility for creating and scoring state exams is given to an independent body with no interest in the results of the tests, the results reported should be viewed skeptically."

    Ummm, no. Scoring tests is really complicated.  Pearson, the biggest company, uses part-time, barely out of college, minimum wage people to do the scoring. Getting the "right" score is more a matter of whether or not the scorer speaks English and actually knows the material.

    Frankly, given the mess that the testing industry is in when it comes to scoring, I have a feeling that the teachers are doing a more conscientious job. If you want a nasty introduction to the follies of testing company scoring sessions, check out Todd Farley's "Making the Grades." It's well-written but damn depressing if counting on accurate test scores because you're stuck in the hell of value-added and merit pay.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    PD Follies - part six, Stepford Teachers

    Sometimes people have conflicts. In a school, you can have some real petty politics with people choosing sides and teachers arguing.  There's always intrigue, spite and malice. There's that famous line about educational politics being "so nasty because the stakes are so small."

    This person gets a department chair post over the objections of the members of the department.  That person gets a cushy schedule and glowing evaluations while this person gets slammed and is nearly run out of the school. A teacher commits a crime and the issue is ignored. The principal has an affair with the science teacher's wife causing a divorce. The other principal is committed secretly to a mental institution for three weeks in February; upon her return is even nuttier than before.

    The faculty are evenly divided between hardline republicans and softheaded liberals. (I was the token liberal in the conservative camp.) The principal took the liberal side against the "Good Ole Boys," who were also the Upstanding Long-Time Members of the Community. When a G.O.B. can point to the classroom teacher's desk that had been used by successive family members for the last 50 years, any new principal should think carefully about taking on this cabal. This one didn't think. It wasn't pretty.

    It got stupid, too. One teacher puts up a sign outside her door: "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain.  And most do." The other replies with "But it takes a greater fool to say nothing."

    Obviously we needed professional development to help teach us conservatives why we were wrong. Enter the

    Conflict Resolution Specialist.

    She was going to help us teachers get along and she was scheduled right after that infamous, vision statement debacle.  She was watching how we dealt with that and starting setting up.

    Anything, I thought, would be better than mindless blathering about the differences between "21st century skills" and "skills for the emerging century." Maybe even conflict resolution training. Anyway, I would be wrong.

    We had to role-play.

    "If there were aliens flying above the school, how would they recognize the respect you show each other?"

    The response:
    "They wouldn't, because we would be inside the building and they couldn't hear us." 
    "Why do we care what aliens think? We're all adults here and if someone can't handle a little disagreement why would they feel capable of being a teacher?" Which was priceless because the next thing out of her mouth was, "Some teachers feel there is a culture of intimidation here."

    That didn't work so well.

    We now had to role-play a conflict between a student and a teacher.
    "You will be a student who failed a test and are upset that the teacher is keeping you after school and making you miss practice."
    "Okay, that's fair. I'm good with that."
    "No, you have to be angry."
    "But keeping me after school is the right thing to do. I failed and the teacher's trying to help me."
    "We're trying to practice conflict resolution. Maybe someone else?"

    "All of you stick your stickers on the board next to your choice ... "

    Then, the coup de grace: "One of you will be a girl who wants to use the purple chalkboard. Another a girl who wants to use the pink one. Show me how you'd resolve this conflict." (This gem was said to a burly redneck weighing nearly 350 pounds with a pocketknife hanging from his belt.)
    "I don't want to use either board."
    "You have to role-play."

    This is No Shit. Did I mention that we're a high school?

    I hate "professional development."

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    PD Follies - part five, Mission

    Professional Development Follies - part five.

    Some time ago, at another school and time, it was decided that we needed to correct our mission. We needed a better one. It was not enough to say "Our mission is to teach."

    We are "supposed to be so much more" and so the first hour of the day that supposed to be devoted to some professional development (that inservice from hell) consisted instead of discussing the various important facets of our "mission", arguing over nuances of meaning and whether to mention character and 21st century skills in an increasingly interconnected world.

    Did I mention that we were discussing the report from the Mission Statement Development Faculty Subcommittee (no shit, actual name)?

    The plan was that when we finished deciding on the perfect length and turn of phrase, the mission statement would be printed, laminated and was to be posted over the door in every classroom. The old mission statement should be thrown away - it being no longer relevant even though it was nicely printed on colored paper, laminated and already posted above each classroom door?

    What did we argue about?

    One teacher pointed out that we have no schoolchildren here, only "young men and women." This nearly causes angina in the distaff side of the room.  "Why not young women and men?" Right there, you know this isn't starting well.

    Our young men and women will have "active and creative minds," and our young women and men will display "a sense of understanding and compassion for others, and the courage to act on their beliefs."

    We will provide a "world-class education" with "significant knowledge creation" which is a great ideal until someone (me) notices that no one has actually defined "significant" nor have they defined how we're measuring it. I am ignored in the poetic rush.

    "Empowerment" is an important word, too, and apparently "each child is an individual" with a strong sense of belonging to the community. Hopefully, that will stop the bullying and the Halloween pranks. Our environment (it's not a school, mind you) has to be "caring and creative" and we must emphasize the the "whole child," whatever that means.

    Of course, it wouldn't be a mission statement in the 21st century if we didn't acknowledge that "all children are creative;" "that all children will succeed," and that we are "all dedicated to higher standards" and a "challenging learning environment" including a mandate to "prepare fully the citizens of the future." "Success for all" is important, and a couple teachers wanted to say that twice in the mission statement, pissing off those who feel that makes it too wordy. ""It's gotta be pithy."

    "Crap! We forgot to mention 'building self-esteem' and all of the 'positives relationships' and the 'total development of each child." "Oh, and technology! We need technology in there, too."

    "Hold it, this is getting too big."
    "Well, I got this one off the Internet. It has 145 words."

    Mercifully, this ended after the hour was up and so we got down to the real business of the day. We were "working with" a "conflict resolution specialist" who was going to help us teachers get along. This was scheduled because there was some friction amongst us. We couldn't agree on things and the "tone" of the school was being "denigrated by negative attitudes" of people who didn't instantly agree with anything said.

    Ya think?

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    PD Follies - part four, New and Improved.

    Professional Development Follies - part four.

    Professional Development is one of those things that light up the stress meters in almost every teacher I've ever known. Bill Ferriter talks about it. So does Mr. Teachbad. Darren needed Google Translate to interpret the Educationese. What's my excuse? I have many things that trigger me and get my back up. the latest is the

    Cha-, cha-, cha-, Change

    Everything you are doing is wrong.  Change is the only criteria for success.  A few months ago, the states were all ranked.  Vermont got some pretty good scores all around and excelled when dealing with poor kids.  The only score we didn't do well on was "Innovation and Change." That earned us a D+.

    It apparently didn't occur to anyone that if we were doing well and it "ain't broke," we might not consider fixing it.  No matter.  The ranking was not for guided change or change towards an ideal or improvement in any way. In fact, damaging the students and lowering our scores by implementing some change would have increased our ranking.

    But enough of the silly think tank. We're ready to get improved.

    So we have Challenges for Change, which replaced High Schools on the Move.  HSOTM replaced another failed initiative, and that one replaced another, and so on, and so on.

    We had the Vermont Frameworks for Educations, then the Vermont Standards, then the Grade Expectations (but that sounded too Dickensian) so it was modified to Grade Level Expectations. Do all that work and "Happy New Year!" ... Change it all to Common Core.

    You've got Best Practices, Master Teachers, Mentors and Peer Coaching, Videotape, Scribes, Verbatim, Class Flow, Curriculum mapping (versions: paper, Word, Excel, HTML, three different online companies), Literacy Across the Curriculum, Literacy Labs, Cross curricular.

    Then states started really spending money: technology.  "Laptops for All will kickstart your students" until it won't, computers in every classroom (just 1 or 2 for 25 students), a computer lab, a mobile lab, another laptop program, (Hey! It works in Maine! ... except that it didn't actually do anything positive academically.) Shiny new version of the Office suite every 3 years whether you like it or not, SmartBoards and DVDs and TVs and cable/T1/Fiber Internet, Student Information Systems that tie together thousands of students into one big, unwieldy and ultimately useless mess. But it's all in one place!

    21st Century Skills will change the World, unless you believe "Singapore Math Drills will Save the World." "The Chinese will Take Over the World". "India will Outsource our Education!"  Did You Know? "The rest of the world is Coming!"  Which is all well and good until you read that the Chinese people hate their education system (Kristoff, NYT) and want to emulate the American one.

    Every one of those NEW! ideas requires time for teacher training and every one starts off during an inservice or professional development seminar. Hours are spent, dragging reluctant teachers through them. We're moving forward! Onward! Upward!

    Enough hype and hot air to start an Infomercial Network.

    Enough "New!" ideas that you could write a book ... as an object lesson on failed initiatives. The real problem is that most of those great new ideas aren't all that great and they aren't new at all.

    I'm no Luddite.What I hate is repeating what has already been done.  I want to stand on the shoulders of giants, take what's been done and go from there. I'm sick of reinventing the wheel.  I do not want to be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.

    Don't put me in a PD and tell me the wonders of an open classroom design.  I'll just get steamed because I've heard this nonsense before.  I can show you a school 20 miles away that was built on this principle and the entire school hates it.  The cubical farm concept - bleah - but my Highly Ineffective Principal actually threw that one at us last year. Another school a few miles in the other direction built open classrooms 35 years ago and still has the permanently installed floor-to-ceiling temporary walls.

    The more it was stressed that we were a "High School on the Move," the more stressed I got. With every new and improved "Best Practice," I wondered why no one, apparently, had never thought of this obviously brilliant idea before ... and then after maybe two seconds of thought, realized that it was pretty much what everybody tended to do anyway.

    Every time I have to re-enter the curriculum into a new mapping "tool," I feel like screaming.

    Every time the curriculum coordinator tells me that practice is "Drill and Kill" while telling me I need to spend time with test prep but that our students don't have high enough scores, I need to watch a Bruce Lee movie.

    Every time the school tries a small "School within a School" without actually setting some kind of measurement to see if it worked, I want to go in my room and hide.

    Show me improvement, not just change.

    I hate professional development.

    Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    Government InAction

    Had to laugh. The Boston Herald AP wire story:

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. government says candy imported from Pakistan called Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge is not safe to eat. Who would have guessed?

    PD Follies - part three. Guess my age.

    Professional Development Follies - part three.

    Professional Development is one of those things that light up the stress meters in almost every teacher I've ever known. Bill Ferriter talks about it. So does Mr. Teachbad. Darren needed Google Translate to interpret the Educationese. What's my excuse? I have many things that trigger me and get my back up. Treating the faculty like ...

    You're in Third Grade.
    Actually, I'm not. I'm a teacher and have been one since before we found out that George Orwell's book was not dated correctly. I'm getting old and crotchety, too, in case no one noticed. (No!)

    Treat teachers as adults, please.

    I don't think it cute, informative, helpful, or intelligent to hand every one a candy bar and sort us by the type of candy bar. ("Gasp, how clever") . I don't really care if you want us to sit randomly to break up cliques or friends. Those groups aren't why I'm here. Accept who I am sitting with and get on with it.

    I'm here to learn something.  
    1. Lose the CUTE. 
      1. It's early, I'm anticipating being annoyed and YOU just confirmed it. 
      2. Speak in your adult voice. Talk with us as peers, not to us as twelve-year-olds. 
    2. I'm not here to vote by placing stickers on an easel pad. If the people in the room can't handle a show of hands, they shouldn't be teaching actual teenagers. Stickers to vote with ... don't go there. Try something radical: ask us. If you are worried that this might be too controversial, ask us ahead of time.
    3. I don't want a gold star, a free pen or a happy message acted out by the helpers.  
    4. I don't want to form a line holding hands and count out loud every other one.
    5. I don't want a condescending twit telling me "Good Job getting to your groups so fast." 
    6. If you make me do role-play, I will, to the best of my ability, imitate a real student with all of the real or imagined resistances I can think of - your too-clever-for-words gambit will go up in smoke.
    7. Do not place a pile of toys on the table and ask each of us to choose one, then explain how that toy exemplifies our approach to teaching. I can tell what's coming and I will choose wisely and sarcastically. Your pathetic attempt to imitate the Rorschach Test is just that. 
    8. I'm not asking permission to go to the bathroom.
    9. I want something I can take away from all this, even if it's just a handbook.
    We're all walking around with at least a master's degree and most of us have seen this new idea before. Treat us like the mature adults we are and we'll help you through anything that goes wrong. We'll go easy on you and forgive the graphs that are missing axis labels, or the grammatical mistakes in the PP slide. If your phone rings, answer it. We'll keep ourselves busy for the two minutes it takes you to apologize and and talk to your wife.

    Piss us off and we'll be irritated and irritating all day. I'll point out that your brand spanking new idea is just like that one we heard about in professional development 18 years ago. I can usually even find the paperwork that went with it.

    I'll ask for the supporting research and for actual names and links so we can read it, too. When you show me THAT GRAPH, I'll ask you for the details. "What's the vertical axis? How was it measured? Is this in a demographic similar to that we have here? What was the demographic?" I can even sound sincere and interested when, in fact, I'm ridiculing you.

    And one other thing. I CAN read, you know. I don't need or want you to do it for me.


    To all my friends, I hope you got as much as you wanted for your Groundhog's Day presents. Me, I got a frustum.

    Which was cool.

    Then I realized that the picnic table on the lawn was equally covered but even more cool, if you can believe it.

    An eight-sided pyramidal frustum? I don't even know, but Mrs. Curmudgeon loves it. Math Teachers. What can you say?

    No Bells - part one

    David Wees feels that School Bells Interfere With Learning. I beg to differ.
    "I hate being interrupted ..." and "The clock itself isn't evil, but the way we use it in schools has serious ramifications on how our students learn."
    I hate being interrupted, too, but this has little to do with the bells and a lot to do with the location of the clock and the habits of the teacher. No matter how long the class is, whether you have a 4x4 block system or 7x50min or 8x40min, 1hr per day, or 2hrs per day, each class needs to end sometime. If the teacher can see the clock, it shouldn't take him by surprise.

    Mrs. Curmudgeon's school is considering the switch back to bells every period. For years they had no bells between classes, just at the beginning and end of the day. There were the problems you might expect: groups of kids milling in the hall chatting, kids who show up 10 minutes late because the other teacher didn't notice the time or just wanted to keep going. The bathroom is a favorite excuse.

    Students aren't going through the day in lockstep with all of their classmates and we must keep to a schedule so that everyone's time and preparation can be utilized most effectively. One freshman may take Honors Algebra2, Spanish 3 and H.English but the other takes CP English, CPAlgebra1 and Spanish1. The only course they have in common might be a Freshman History. You really can't expect every other teacher to make adjustments to fit that teacher's teaching whim of the day.

    "I am always getting interrupted by the bell" and "It just never seems long enough" are not reasons to get rid of bells. "Kids are always late" is not one either. I've taught classes that were 40, 45, 50, 60, 80 and 90 minutes long; seminars and workshops lasting from 15 minutes to 6 hours. They always have definite schedules.

    The only way to allow for extended time is to have large time gaps between classes, a la college scheduling. Even in this scenario, few classes are ever extended. You have an hour, so you plan for an hour. Extensions are done during "office hours" or during that time after class when the student catches the teacher and asks a question.

    It wouldn't be a proper 21st century school reform piece if it didn't mention the dreaded "factory-model" analogy and dream wistfully about flexibility and "learning opportunities," so here goes:
    Clocks are part of the systems world of a school but they have come to rule our life world. We have let ourselves become subject to fixed schedules, daily routine, and the drudgery of a factory-like system. I'm not saying that we can do without the clocks, but maybe we need to find ways for our system to be more flexible, to allow the learning to extend when necessary, and even send off kids early for another opportunity to learn, when their lesson with us is done.
    So my group of 15 can't all begin at once because you are keeping 12 of them for a necessary extended learning opportunity? "Necessary" to whom? Will you send them to me when I have my AP calculus kids in their own "extended learning opportunity"?

    If any student can be late at any time by merely invoking the "I didn't know what time it was", then what kind of message are we sending about responsibility? When your kids can deliberately steer you into a digression so they can be "legitimately" late to their next class, what societal good are we accomplishing? If promptness no longer matters, then few students will ever be prompt and the school will deteriorate.  You'll accomplish less than you do now and eventually go back.

    Maybe we could do the 21st century skills, uber-techno-geek thing and program every student's iPhone, iPad, netbook ... to sound an alarm to signal the end of periods.

    Hypocrisy - Nah, It's politics.

    I read with some amusement the stories about the South Dakota Republicans who are putting up a bill to require that all South Dakotans purchase a gun on their 18th birthday. 

    The reason was to draw attention to what they felt were similarly unfair and unconstitutional requirements in "ObamaCare" to purchase health insurance.

    On a lark, I looked at another requirement that SD has: car insurance.
    "If you drive without liability insurance, you could be found guilty of a class B misdemeanor. You could face a fine of at least $150. If you are involved in an accident you will be assessed 14 points against your driver's license, which will cause an immediate suspension of your license. If you don't maintain proof of financial responsibility, your license will be suspended for anywhere from 30 days to one year. You could also face 30 days in jail and/or a $100 fine. Plus, you'll have to show proof of insurance through a SR-22 filing with the state for three years from the date that you were found guilty. The SR-22 form is proof that you have insurance on all the vehicles you own.  Even if you don't own a vehicle, you'll still need to have an operator or non-owner insurance policy.

    Min Coverage:
    $25,000 for injury/death to one person
    $50,000 for injury to more than one person
    $25,000 for damage to property

    I thought that was interesting. You have to maintain proof of financial responsibility when it comes to driving, but not for health. I really liked the last line there, "Even if you don't own a vehicle, you'll still need to have an operator or non-owner insurance policy."

    New Hampshire, on the other hand, does not require any type of insurance to operate a vehicle on public roads.

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    PD Follies - part two, Death by Verbiage.

    Professional Development Follies - part two.

    Professional Development is one of those things that light up the stress meters in almost every teacher I've ever known. Bill Ferriter talks about it. So does Mr. Teachbad. Darren needed Google Translate to interpret the Educationese. What's my excuse? I have many things that trigger me and get my back up. Here, over the next couple of days, are some of those triggers. Mr. Teachbad's List contained Major Peeve #2:

    Powerpoint Death Slides.
    There is <sarcasm> nothing more thrilling </sarcasm> than settling in, readying myself to take some notes, and then watching the presenter click open a PowerPoint slide covered with words.

    As Tufte says: "Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely." Here's the thing, people. I can listen and take notes: I had lectures all through college. I also had homework for which I was required to read and highlight, and then take notes. I'm okay with taking notes. MY Notes.

    The problem with most PP is we are combining two separate and incompatible entities - a lecture and much reading material, densely packed and illegible, slammed together with cliched or cartoony graphics, interspersed with every transition possible.

    Presenters, it seems that ...
    • Graphic design is an Art that you do not possess.
    • Public Speaking is not one of your skills either.
    • You have graphs riddled with errors.
    • You have abysmal spelling. Right down there with your grammar.
    • You need to buy a clicker. Do not have someone tapping the SmartBoard to advance slides.
    • You have a 200-word minimum per slide.
    It's a PRESENTATION and it needs to be PRESENTED, not read. Stop right there and think about that. If you don't know it cold, inside and out, then you don't belong on stage.  Watch a TED presentation, like this one by Hans Rosling. Notice that he is presenting, not reading. If the presenter is reading his own slides, then everyone should walk out and collect a copy of the "notes" on the way.

    Sure, Rosling's a pro at this and all the TED presenters are pretty awesome, but come on, the district is paying a grand or two for your time today. Spell check and grammar check are simple. If you've given the same talk before, grammar and spelling errors are inexcusable.

    Stick with the fundamental designs if you aren't a PP wizard. You should be able to present the material without PP. The PP is visuals: icing on a knowledge cake, the froth on your Guinness.

    If you want me to read it, then give it to me ahead of time, in a form that I can read. Paper is acceptable, but really, can't you give me a pdf so I can save and reference it? (Especially if the presentation is about using technology, you know.)

    Don't get all huffy and defensive.  I want to read it at my leisure, not at the speed you choose. I also want to review it later. I have a very good memory but it's nice to use my computer's "Search" function, too.

    For example, at the beginning of this year, we had a bullying workshop. The people were setting up and I wandered over with a thumbdrive and asked if I could have a copy of the presentation - for later review and for notes. After getting all huffy and asking "Who are you?", she refused. (Like the general public was coming in and demanding to see her bullying presentation.)

    This was information we were getting recertification credit for, and fulfilling an important state requirement for, and we couldn't get the information in any way other than paper handouts. I still have those handouts in a file at home. A simple pdf would be much more useful.