Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should math be taught in schools?

Okay, it's a joke question and these is a spoof, but damn funny ...

Go Vermont !

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lots of Money != Knowledge of Education

Your savior is a high-school dropout
funded by a bunch of companies
wanting to make a buck or billion.
Makes you feel good, doesn't it?.
Rick Hess:
Andre Agassi, the former tennis champ and high school dropout, and Canyon Capital Realty Advisors, recently announced the creation of a real estate fund that will spend $500 million to capitalize on and promote the movement for U.S. charter schools. The Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund plans to develop more than 75 urban campuses with space for about 40,000 students over three to four years, according to a statement from Canyon Capital and Agassi Ventures LLC. The partners already have drawn investments from Citigroup, Intel, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
So we have Agassi's money being dumped into charters. Impressive on first glance, but you have to wonder at the motives. Real estate companies don't usually give away things for free. Read a little closer and you find that the beneficiaries begin with KIPP, showing once again that KIPP can't operate like any public or private school in that it needs to have "a state‐of‐the‐art facility at an affordable lease rate." So he'll get his money back and he'll be happy to "help charter school operators obtain permanent financing to purchase their properties using New Market Tax Credits, tax‐exempt bond offerings or funding from the U.S. Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund." Gotta love the sanctimonious charters playing high and holy, "We don't siphon off the public like those evil public schools do."

So Agassi's in it for the money, not altruism. Fair enough. KIPP gets cheap, brand-new buildings. Okay. At least they're not parasites on the public school system, taking half a current school building for nothing.

But then I laughed.

I had the opportunity to meet Agassi a few months back in Vegas and was terrifically impressed. I found him smart, thoughtful, humble, and interested in listening; in truth, I found him a whole lot more impressive than any number of education officials, experts, consultants, and professors that I've encountered. Having a smart, wildly successful, internationally regarded tennis champ pouring his passion into launching great schools would seem a terrific thing--and a uniquely American way to tap our strengths and resources.
Impressive is good.  Andre is a great player, married to a great player. Has he ever taught anyone other than his own kid?  Most experts have never been in a classroom.  That's why they have the time to talk to Rick.

Anyway, Let's play Mad Libs ... "Having a smart, wildly successful, internationally regarded ___________ pouring his passion into launching great schools ...."
  • would "real estate agent" fit? 
  • "high school dropout" ?
  • "carpet-bagger" ?
  • "profiteer" ?
  • "porno actor" (pouring his passion into education ... Sorry, couldn't help it.)  
  •  I know! I know! I've got it ... "internationally regarded software company founder" !

Here we go again, me repeating myself. Just because you made a lot of money doesn't mean you know what's good for education. Especially if, like Agassi and Gates, you never completed your own.

Just sayin'.

Free Speech, Bullying and HighSchool Students

Link to the original.

The Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District cases were heard by the Third Circuit court this spring and summer. Yesterday, the court issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control high schools may exercise over their students’ off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech.

The judges held that school officials cannot, “reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities.”  In the two respective cases, students had been disciplined for creating MySpace profiles intended to mock their principals.  The Third Circuit ruled that schools cannot punish students’ online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive.
So here's the question for all of the schools which are trying to police bullying: if the act occurred at home, using a home computer, how can the school discipline the student for it? What if the iPhone's Facebook app is used from the sidelines of a football game? This isn't Tinker - in fact the Justices specifically said they weren't at that point - so what is an over-bearing, self-important little HIP principal to do?

More specifically, when are we as a society going to figure out what to do with our bullied children?

(Hint: Start with a visit to the home of the bully. Asking the school to do that for you is inappropriate.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One of the problems we face in education

I picked this up from Emergent Learner:
"I was recently emailed by a pre-K educator, Angela Yeaman, who will hopefully be using iPods in her pre-K classroom this coming school year. Below is Angela’s email to me and my response.
I recently submitted a proposal to my school division to purchase some IPods for use in my classroom. Although my proposal as been approved in principle I am now be questioned as to how developmentally appropriate IPods are in a 3-5 yr old classroom. My superintendent is wondering how a digital device like an IPod can be used to support play, exploration, learning, language, social interaction, etc.
Do you have any suggestions for information I can pass along to support the appropriateness of integrating these devices into my classroom. I guess I am facing bigger implementation obstacles than I anticipated."
The difference between education and the "Real World" ?

The real world requires that a problem exist before it feels the need to go buy technology to solve it.  The RW needs to know what to do with the new tech and be convinced that the new tech is an improvement, that it will provide better, cheaper, faster, more efficient output. Testing is done by the tech seller in order to create the glossy brochures and advertising. All this happens BEFORE purchase.  Tech is an answer to a problem in the Real World.

After purchase, and throughout the implementation phase, notes are kept as to the changes, difficulties and challenges. In-house data is recorded as to best use and procedures are setup for everyone so that the ideas of the best are understood and the best procedures are developed so that the least capable workers can effectively use the new toy.

Education, on the other hand, operates differently. Here, Shiny and New is purchased because it's Shiny and New and then teachers go try to justify the purchase and attempt to find a problem that this Shiny and New solution will hopefully solve.

Someone gets a "Great Idea" from a blog or an online PLC and implements it without considering the whats, whys, and wherefores. "Someone I know has a SmartBoard, so I need SmartBoard in my classroom." "That guy has iPods for each kid, so I need iPods for all my kids."  I don't exactly know how it'll all be used, I don't really know what problem I'm solving by implementing or whether this really will solve the problem, and I'm not sure if we'll get better, stronger, faster, cheaper, more effective output.

Money is spent and the teacher attempts to make use of the Great Idea, muddling through the implementation and adapting, reworking, to ultimately finish the year with something but no one is quite sure what. Was it worth it? Was the Shiny New Toy better or worse than the Trusty Old One? Did the students learn more, better, easier, faster, more efficiently or effectively? Will the next person (because teachers all eventually leave and the early-adopters most quickly) use the Shiny New Toy or will it be relegated to the corner to collect dust while the next teacher tries to institute the Next Big Idea using lots of money to buy the Next Shiny New Thing?

To paraphrase Reagan: Are those 4 year-olds going to be better off than last year's 4 year-olds?

Nobody knows. She may be screwing up those kids mightily or she may be on to something, but she has no idea. She's not even that invested in the iPods idea because she's getting a SmartBoard and she'll spend some time thinking about how to use that over the summer.  Isn't that cute?

Nobody has done any kind of testing; this classroom could be a source of data, but no one will record it. Nobody will set up controls to see if this works; a single class without them is unheard of because that's discrimination, don't you know?

That's American education for you.  Buy shit without knowing what, if anything, it will do.  Throw out what's working to focus on the Shiny New Toy and completely forget about the real purpose of education: education.  This is the only chance at an education this group of kids will ever get and we have no compunctions about testing new theories on them ... and we don't even give a damn about the results.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fencepost Error

The whole thing is fun to listen to, but pay attention at about the 2:05 mark.

For a guy who complains about journalists and their math skills, he made a real lulu himself:
2000 pres, 2002 congressional ... 2004 presidential is truly 4 years from first to last. His oh so smarmy "2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 equals five years" is a classic "fencepost error" - it's not five years from 11/2000 to 11/2004, it's four.
11/2000 to 11/2001
11/2001 to 11/2002
11/2002 to 11/2003
11/2003 to 11/2004

That's one, two, three, four.

"And when you try to cover complicated issues, odds are you're going to make a mess of it."

So true.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Censored Graduation Speech

There's been a bit of controversy up in these here parts. It seems that a valedictorian wanted to speak about his faith a bit more than the school was comfortable with. The school in question, like most I assume, requires that all speeches be approved beforehand and then be printed out and neatly inserted into the one binder that sits on the podium. Everything that happens at graduation is in that binder and is saved carefully afterwards by the alumni association.

So around comes this year and the speech was "clipped".

Here's the full speech, as published by the Rutland Herald (the only article on the entire website that is freely available outside the paywall. But I digress.).

I'd love to know what you think.

Full text of Kyle Gearwar's Fair Haven Union High School graduation speech

Published: June 14, 2011
Editor's Note: On the night of the Fair Haven Union High School graduation, the Class of 2011 valedictorian, Kyle Gearwar, read a portion of the speech that he had prepared for the ceremony. Due to references to God in the speech, he was not allowed to read the speech in its entirety. The full text of the speech is reprinted here with Kyle's permission.

Good Evening parents, graduates, faculty and staff, administrators, families and students of Fair Haven Union High School. Thank you for coming tonight to witness this truly awesome event. I thought I would begin this speech with a little formality, but trust me I will not speak like this for the whole five minutes.

I would just like to take a moment to recognize this class of graduates. This is one of the most intelligent and competitive classes this school has ever witnessed graduate. We have students going into prestigious colleges and occupations, athletes that are at the top of their games and have won state recognition, all state band musicians, poetry wizards, and many others who succeed and excel in various activities. I can't even describe the potential of this group of individuals. It is impossible to imagine what each student will accomplish and we can look forward to these people leading and becoming the backbone of this country. This is one of the greatest classes that Fair Haven has produced and I am proud to be, not only their Valedictorian but also their classmate.
I would like to say my thank yous now. I would like to begin by thanking this school and the faculty, staff and administration. It has been a great four years and I thank you for preparing me for college and the life ahead of me. Each of you has left your mark on me and I will forever remember what you have taught me academically and all the life lessons. I would also like to thank Mr. Richard Luzer. I spent probably half my high school career in that library with you and it was well worth the time and discussion. You are a wise man Mr. Luzer and Fair haven is lucky to have you.

Next I want to thank my church and Youth Group, Pastor Rob and Pastor Dan, my youth leaders Mr. Lew and Mrs. Ronna, Mike Hall and all those that have mentored me for the last ten years of my life. The guidance you have given me in scripture is phenomenal and the mentoring and love you have shown me can not be reciprocated. Everything you do is for God and for others and I can not thank you enough. And to my Youth Group I want to say that you are my core. I look forward every week to seeing you all and though we go through difficult times, they will always get better eventually.

Finally I would like to thank my mom and dad and brother. I am not just saying this, I mean it with the upmost respect and love, you are the greatest parents and family I could ever ask for. I guess I can be a little forgetful but you've always been there to help me and raise me to be successful and I hope I have made you proud. Mom, thank you for all the hard work you've put into my post-secondary school education and I am truly thankful for the things you've done so I'm ready for college. Thanks for all the free animal mounts as well. I hope you let me take some to put in my dorm room. Dad, thank you for trusting me even when you have no reason too. I am so grateful that I have a father with so much intelligence and knowledge. Trav, you are an awesome brother and probably one of my best friends as well. I wish you the best of luck in the rest of your high school career and onward. I want to thank all my family members here tonight as well for everything you have done to make my life enjoyable to live.

I come before you tonight, ill prepared. I have spent the last week diligently praying and writing my speech for you tonight. I sought the message that would deliver a feeling of sorrow, but end with great victory. Sadly the latter part is not the case. My original speech has been cut, redone, and eventually trashed because of my references to the Bible, Jesus, and a better life. Today my letter to you was revised by some lawyers and attorneys who crossed out the concluding half of my speech. They said that the school can not endorse or allow me to speak about religion and how it has changed my life. I have dealt with the minor changes to my story that they have proposed, but in the end I could not throw it out. It saddens me that it had to come to this and I do not wish to read it on these circumstances because I know that Mr. Blanchard, Mr. Doucette and the school are at the mercy of the law if I follow through on this. It saddens me even more that the founding fathers created the first amendment, but today Congress has changed it to exclude those that they do not want to speak and defiled the principles on which this country was built on. I would also like to add that I am not trying to cause a problem or direct attention to myself, but I have always dreamed of speaking about God in front of my school as the Valedictorian. This was the message God gave to me and I am not allowed to share it with you even though it my testimony, the most important change my life has ever experienced, and the one thing that I stand for no matter what.

Today my valedictorian speech remains unfinished. I am submitting to those who have authority over me by not reading the half of my speech that has caused issues. I respect the administration for the decisions they have made and thank them anyways for the opportunity to speak.

Editor's Note: The section of Kyle's speech that he was prevented from reading at graduation begins below:

I thank God for everything He has done for me and the strength He has given me to resist the urge to defy the command the school has given me. Again thank you for coming tonight and Congratulations to the 2011 Fair Haven Union High School Graduates.

Now I would like to share a story, actually the testimony of my life, to show you what I have gone through and how I got here. Some of you may be offended with this story but this is what I feel God has laid on my heart and is a message this school needs to hear. I have grown up a in a Christian home all my life thanks to my amazing parents, but as many of these people can vouch for, I do not always act like I am Born Again. Thankfully, Jesus said I am not perfect and God forgives me for every sin I commit. My testimony is this. For the last few weeks I was lost in anger and depression. I kept it hidden quite well from most though. I was so burdened with grief and angst that I couldn't focus on my life or those around me. Finally it all broke loose and I couldn't contain myself any longer. I lashed out in anger at some of my best friends and cried for hours on end. I was so broken that I call a friend and mentor of mine who went through some of the same issues as I have. I begged him to get rid of this hate I had for myself and those that had done me wrong. He reminded me of the song that includes these words, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his beautiful face, and the cares of this world will grow strangely dim.” The following day I picked up a book by a pastor out of Texas. He talks about letting go of the past and looking for the future God has for those who seek him. The reason I acted the way I have for so long was because I harbored this extreme dislike for myself and held onto the things people have said and done to me. But as soon as I gave this to God and let him fight my battles my entire life has changed. I don't dwell on the past. I have peace and can finally enjoy every moment God has given me, good or bad. I wouldn't be standing before you without the blessings God has given me through my tough situations. He is the reason I am the man I am today, made new through Jesus death on the cross.

I have my own unique issues and problems, but they can include others like substance abuse, relationship problems, anger, pride, or depression. The way to escape this is through submitting to God. I can't get through all my difficulties in my own strength, but with God I can, and there are many people in this world whose lives have changed because of Him. Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, they are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future.” I needed to let go of the things that I wasn't proud of and give my life to the One who created me. God knew me before I was born and wanted a relationship with me from that very day. And trust me it was well worth the effort to submit to God and not let the world get the best of me.

Now I can live in freedom from sin.
Now I can look at each new day with a smile.
Now I can face each trouble and problem with a glad heart.
Now I can live with God and not try to barely survive without Him.

Again thank you for coming tonight and Congratulations to the 2011 Fair Haven Union High School Graduates.

Bit much, I think. How did you react?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Two Years of Algebra? Why ten months?

Shawn Cornally asks in this post, "Who decided that it takes an equal amount of time to teach every subject?"

No one decided.

What happened was that the time involved was "decided" upon by each school on its own and each one gradually came to the same conclusions: The summer months were too damned hot in NYC and all points south of Boston - since that was where the decision-makers were, that was the decision. Time off for major holidays and the occasional week or two here and there - Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter - and the rest is school.

Sorry to all you "It's all based on the agrarian calender" believers - it's obvious you were never on a farm. The summer months are busy (the definition of farmer is 'a busy man') but nowhere near as busy as other times of the year.  Planting and harvest are kinda important, and that's May and October. The winter months have their own flow - it's not like farmers are sedentary during all but the 10 weeks of summer break!

The class time has varied from 40 minutes to 1.5 hours, yet everyone who thinks about it usually comes to the same conclusion: "If I have to choose, it's 50 minutes, all year. That seems the best compromise for all the students." Since the classes are all mixed up, you have to find a compromise.

Once the times were decided, the courses expanded or split to fit the available hours. If a school tried a new initiative, the courses all shifted to fit. Books were written to fit the prevailing choice with a couple extra chapters of overlap so they could sell them to more people. Teachers who finished something early would add a topic or expand a earlier one. Teachers who went over made some resolution to move faster. Look at the way AP is 1 month shorter than the rest of the school yet somehow those teachers make 2x the work fit.

Then the time became flexible and the courses changed again, slightly. A chapter was added to the math class, another Shakespeare play was included.  It was decided that 1 year was too little for all the Great Ideas of Algebra, so let's do 2, etc.

When block scheduling became all the rage, the total hours were kept constant and the material shifted to fit the new format. If the course syllabus changed radically, the new would always be compared to the old because the old needed to be fundamentally similarity to the new.

Shift, change and adapt --- Evolution, baby.

Additionally, the expectations of a particular course become centered around the transcript, i.e, does a grade of "A" in a course labeled "CP Physics" taught by a guy named Cornally in the Midwest using SBG mean what I think it means and include what I think it should include?  Do I schedule this kid for a remedial physics class before allowing him to matriculate or do I throw him right in and let him become a Physics major at my Uni?  Do I hire him based on this report or not?

Given all that, it's surprisingly consistent from student to student. Match up the "A" students in CP Physics from 80 different schools and they'll be amazingly similar and their abilities and knowledge pretty damned predictable.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why We're Resisting Change

Education week has 10 Reasons Your Educators Are Resisting Your Change Initiative and it seems like a pretty interesting list.

Why are teachers always resisting change initiatives dictated from on high? Peruse the list. One VERY important reason is missing. Admins will consistently miss it and won't get it.

Teachers will ALL get it.

10 Reasons Your Educators Are Resisting Your Change Initiative
  1. Surprise, Surprise! Decisions or requests that are sprung on administrators and teachers without notice.
  2. Excess Uncertainty. Not knowing enough about the change will result in the "walking off a cliff blindfolded" syndrome.
  3. Loss of Control. Feeling that changes are being done to, rather than done by, those affected.
  4. Loss of Routine. Concerns that change will require administrators and teachers to question familiar (and comfortable) routines and habits.
  5. We've Seen This Before. Expectation that the initiative is temporary and it will stay incomplete, meaning the best strategy is to lay low and not contribute to success.
  6. Loss of Face. Change implies that the former way of doing things was wrong. Some administrators and teachers may feel embarrassed in front of their peers or staff.
  7. Concerns About Future Competence. Educators can question their ability to be effective after a change: Can I do it? How will I do it? Will I make it in the new situation?
  8. Ripple Effects. Change in one area can disrupt other projects or activities, even ones outside of work.
  9. More Work. Organizational change often increases workloads.
  10. Sometimes the Threat Is Real. Change often creates real winners and losers, and people worry about where they will end up when the project is complete.
Additional thoughts
As a school leader, if you want your change initiatives to be successful, you MUST address these issues. More important than whether you think you’ve addressed them is whether the resisters believe that you’ve addressed them. It’s what is in their heads and hearts, not yours, that’s important.
What else might we add to this list? I’d probably add:
  1. Under-Resourcing. The initiative is not accompanied by sufficient resources (e.g., time, support, funding, training) to actually make it happen. So why should we bother?
  2. Innovation Fatigue. Too many simultaneous initiatives. [this contributes to both 5 and 9]
Source: IBM’s online Change Toolkit for educators. Scott McLeod cross-posted at Dangerously Irrelevant

Notice the reasons listed are written from the point of view of an administrator who knows that what he is doing is right in all ways. Secure in this knowledge, he is confounded by all those naysayers. Why are they obstructing him in his righteousness? What is the solution to this knave? How can we deal with him, shut him up and move on with our tablets to mount on the wall where all the sinners can see them -- and convince them to stop worshipping their false American Idol. (Enough bad references!)

So, besides the fact that the announcement came from on high in response to a problem that nobody had and takes the form of an initiative that no one ever thought of ...

What I find the most amazing is that neither in the original post nor in any of the comments added on has  anyone taken note of the most important reason to naysay, block, obstruct, resist or otherwise hinder the adoption of a new initiative is ...


If I've already seen this initiative fail, I will continue to fight its newest incarnation. My experience is the only reason why I get paid twice what a new teacher earns. Why do my principals insist that my resistance is pigheadedness rather than a reasoned evaluation of the project -- a project that will come up short because I've personally been through its failure before?

I've done some dumb things. My schools have done some dumb things -- we actually built open classrooms. One year later, we built walls.  A nearby HS built a huge open classroom building and has spent every year since hating it. I have no intention of repeating my failures intentionally.

It's funny, though not too surprising when you consider the mindset of the posters and the administrators involved, that no one ever seems to consider the possibility that the initiative is a proven loser.

Even though you don't like me saying it, it still won't fly.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Food for thought - Hiring Practices

Mrs. C. reminded me the other day about the hiring practice at one local elementary school. The job would be posted on School Spring as per state law and all of the respondents would be vetted for license requirements and the usual administrative checkboxes. Those who passed this first round would be asked to come to school and take the final exams for eighth-grade math and English. Those who passed both would be considered for the job and interviewed.

You'd figure that this would be relatively easy to accomplish, wouldn't you?

The job listing for third grade teacher brought in the usual flood of SchoolSpring applicants since the button is so damned easy to push.  The list included the usual "I'm still in school and I have 2 years to go" and the "I have experience running a drill press, can I teach 3rd grade" as well as teachers from around the country and around the state.  The initial credential search narrowed down the list to 15 who were certified to teach in any state (we have reciprocity) or who could get certified by the start of school.

Every single candidate failed the 8th grade final exams. The school had to re-advertise.

Yeah, that was my reaction, too. Now clean up your keyboard.