Sunday, January 31, 2010

New and Improved! Technology initiatives in education.

Time for a big-ass rant.

The Tempered Radical knows why teachers give up on Interactive White Boards. With some major snipping, and hoping I don't eliminate context:
What bothers me ... is an attitude towards teachers that I see often in conversations about school change. "Teachers all resistant to change and lazy!" the argument goes. "If they'd just be persistent and determined, our schools would be saved." ... The general belief is that teachers lack determination and commitment in almost every circumstance.
... that's a flawed assumption. ... the amount of effort that most changes take doesn't align with the corresponding benefits that change is designed to produce. ... The software wasn't designed to naturally facilitate the kinds of teaching that I believe in and limited access to the hardware required that I restructure learning time in my classroom almost every day.
I'm all over this. I think that the programmers who do this stuff should spend some time teaching to find out how the "real-world" will use it and what those teachers actually need. This is, for me, the crux of the problem. Those who write don't know what problem they are trying to solve and often do not have a clue as to how I will use it. (Sort of an educational consultant, no?)

Then, the pressures of making a sale get in the way of making my life easier. All too often, the person making the purchase isn't the one who gets to use it. Even if they asked the teachers, they're still asking someone who hasn't used it and can't really tell.

There are four major problems with technology and tech initiatives: Variety, the learning curve, Usability and Availability.

The rant is below this break.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hurricane Bloomberg

NYTimes: "The votes to close the schools fell along political lines, with the appointees of the Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents voting against the closings while each of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s appointees approved them without question."

Kinda says it all, doesn't it?

Apocalypse Reform

From AccountableTalk:
Arne Duncan on hurricanes and education: "The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better."
Whew. I'm glad he cleared that up. I'm sure that makes it all better. Now it's New York's turn with Major Bloomberg.

"We had to close the school in order to save it"

An update below the fold.

The State of the Climate Debate

Is this the best they can come up with?
Temp is -12 global warming degrees F up the mountain at Killington today. Think I'll just ski half a day, have a couple of beers and some chili, and drive back to NYC.
Late Thursday evening, in the hour before midnight, I found myself driving home from the airport amidst howling winds, blowing-and-drifting snow, and rapidly-falling temperatures. Watching the temperature dropping on the display of my truck's exterior-monitoring thermometer, an interesting and possibly didactic exercise occurred to me:

Ponder the following three factoids:
o The long-term average high temperature for this time of year (at the BTV airport reporting station) is 27F;
o Monday, the temperature reached into the low 50s;
o Friday (yesterday), the temperature struggled to reach into the low single-digits.

Do the math and ponder what these things tell you about the nature of the underlying "system"....

I know that this is supposed to be a clever rebuttal of the Climate Change theory, but I just can't bring myself to do anything but laugh at it. What a pathetic attempt.

I'm glad I don't live near the ocean in one of those low-lying cities like New York or Los Angeles. Though, to be able to travel by ship through the Northwest Passage which has opened for the first time in memory would be cool ...

Monday, January 25, 2010

30 Day suspension for being photographed.

It's time for another Highly Ineffective Administration

Wow. Private, Legal, Personal. Not on School Time. No students or underage people of any kind. A bridal shower with a stripper but you're fully dressed. Posted on someone else's Facebook account.

There are so many things wrong with this suspension, I just don't know where to begin.

What is this district trying to accomplish here? Removal of a teacher by any means possible? Do they really think that this is worth the fight? I love the moonwalking: not allowing comments at the next school board meeting - which is illegal, since the public has a right to speak (calmly and appropriately) at a public meeting. The Board can hide behind the "confidentiality" shield but this will not go away easily.

Let's hope the Union will do its due diligence on this one.

Reposted below the fold since it will disappear from there.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An honest man, Ted Olsen.

Ted Olsen, conservative lawyer, arguing against California's Prop 8 anti gay marriage law:

reposted below the fold if it disappears from the Newsweek site.

Game-Changing Graphics

Those of you who know me know that I love data visualization done well. I am always looking for, and hopefully finding, graphics that clarify or that bring a new perspective to data. Tables of numbers are rarely helpful. An appropriate graph or visual, on the other hand, leads everyone to the classic indicator of epiphany ... "Hummm, now that's interesting ..."
These are some that I consider the game changers ...

Below the fold so the graphics don't kill one-time visitors:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Polls, Damned Polls and Statistics.

From NYCeducator, who got it from Miss Cellania, who got it from

which brings to mind this gem from The Register

Since I'm in that sort of mood, I note that Pols (politicians) and Polls (the surveys) always seem to be liars of convenience. Go figure.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dolphin Hunting techniques have evolved

I am fascinated by these dolphins. If this isn't "tool use", then it is at least a sign of awareness and intelligence.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Conversations with a counselor

I had a short conversation with the counselor (the psychiatrist one, not the college one) about two students who had been in my classes before and were scheduled to be in my class for the new semester. Both had failed things before and neither was any more capable of being in class, working, being a student. (with editing for anonymity) I was told, "[stuff happened] and [current problems], I'm not worried about classes. I just hope I can keep the kid alive. And the second kid is a bigger mess. I don't know if [he] will make it."

Both were a PITA, but neither deserves this. Bleah.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I expand on my views of WalMart YMMV

I have gotten some heat for my take on WalMart. It has been pointed out that it's just as the sign says and too many "locals" have gone out of business and their jobs aren't up to the standards of other parts of the country and all that. I am also keenly aware of the impact those jobs can have on a poor community where before there was only a bunch of family-owned shops (who didn't hire and had high prices) or somewhat larger shops; again with the limited opportunities and high cost of goods.

More below the fold:

Supreme Court and First Amendment

from NYTimes:
"The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether the First Amendment requires that the names of people who sign ballot-initiative petitions be kept secret." and "The Ninth Circuit panel said it was unclear whether petition signatures were speech protected by the First Amendment. In any event, it said, the signatures were gathered in public with no promise of confidentiality and collected on sheets with space for 20 signatures each."
James Bopp Jr., a lawyer for Protect Marriage Washington, said in a statement that the Ninth Circuit’s decision infringed “the rights of citizens who support a traditional definition of marriage to speak freely and without fear.”

If I sign a petition with 20 spaces on it, I can read who those people are and they can see mine. It’s public.

Read more below the fold:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bashing Walmart is ultimately pointless.

It's Saturday and I'm feeling cranky.

In another blog, this sign popped up. The comments were the usual "Right on" and "We need more of this." My favorite was "Yes, we certainly do need to draw attention to vanishing local economies and signs like this would definitely do the trick".

I find this sign silly. It reflects antipathy toward one company that built itself up in a classic sense, just like every small but somehow more worthy company wants to.

It should read "On this site stood a dinosaur which couldn't adapt to the reality around it."

If we were talking about a car company, bigger and foreign-built would apparently be fine. Who wants to buy a car made completely in East Podunk, Vermont? Even if such a company existed, its costs would be prohibitive. If it still made a decent product, people would pay more for it - it's called "custom car."

More below the break:

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bill of No Rights

I don't agree with V (Public Health), but the rest is interesting enough. In regards to the "free public health care" thing, I have a different interpretation. Maybe I'll expand on it but for now:

The Bill of No Rights

Read More:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Closing Schools and the Law of Averages.

Pissed Off Teacher has it right.

When you try to raise scores by closing schools, you don't eliminate the problem, you sweep it under someone else's rug. You can pretend that the bump in the middle of the new rug isn't there and you can safely ignore for a while but sooner or later, like a Ponzi scheme spirally out of control, you have to address it.

Unfortunately, the rug in question isn't on Bloomberg's head, it's another school.

In some ways, it's like debtor's prison - your problem is your fault and you deserve punishment for having it, even if it's not your fault and you had no control over any of the decisions leading up to it. You still get punished even though the punishment makes the whole situation worse.

Closing School A does not teach it's students any lesson other than "Money talks and you have no voice." NCLB, vouchers, and many of Bloomberg's policies might not have been INTENDED for the purpose of closing public schools and replacing them with private schools, but the effect is shaping up that way.

What a sorry country this would be if all the public schools closed. The charters could ignore all those students who don't "meet the criteria."

I've said it before and I'll say it again: If the solution is "Schools without Restrictions" then lighten those restrictions. Don't eliminate the schools, unless you don't want THOSE people's kids to get an education.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

CFT and the Lynch-Mob Quote.

The Interwebs are a-buzzing with EIAonline's news from the great state of California.
Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, discovered that California’s Race to the Top legislation had a school-change provision. His words:
"Under the parent trigger (or lynch mob provision) if 50% of the parents at a school or feeder schools of a low performing school sign a petition, the school board must hold a hearing to accept that petition or provide an alternative governance change, which could include closing the school, turning it into a charter school, or reconstituting the school."
Everyone is, of course, focusing on the "lynch mob" terminology and screaming for justice and a remedy for terribly hurt feelings, missing what seems like an important point.

Read More:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Merit Pay Joyride

I have been teaching for more than 25 years. I have taught students from at least 30 different countries (and every continent save Antarctica), every socio-economic level (and some from levels so high that Mike Bloomberg would get a stiff neck looking up at) and nearly 40 different religious backgrounds. Their abilities have ranged from the dyslexic boy lucky to finish consumer math to the kid who got 5s on every AP test he took and is now working on his PhD. in mathematics.

I spend all year teaching and assessing.
  • Grades are based on agreed upon points.
  • Tests are meticulously broken down to assure myself and the students that partial credits are done fairly, that everything they do that is correct and given an appropriate number of points.
  • Progress reports ensure that every student can keep track of his own work and make up missing assignments, and know fairly accurately what his grade is and how he’s doing. If anything is amiss, the kids are instructed to bring it to my attention first. “I not infallible. Let's get it right” Students know that finding my error gets them points.
  • Every mark or measurement has a paper trail and a justification.

That's how grades work. Everyone understands that they are not given but earned.  They know what they got and why and agree that its fair because they'd give themselves the same thing. Though maybe not happy, they'll still says things like "I'm not very good at math but I sure learned a lot." "I enjoy your class, but I hate math." (Then later, the same kid says "My college statistics course was an easy A.") Depending on the course, there are scores of grades of varying weight.

Consider Merit Pay, on the other hand, and its basis.
  • At the end of the year, students are given a survey on the last, hottest day of school when absolutely NONE of them want to be there.
  • In a few minutes, they rush through questions that ask them to judge on a scale of 1 to 10, my use of classroom time, and 12 other vague metrics. (using their vast experience with 10th grade math teaching methods and pedagogy)
  • Add in the results from the 11th grade NECAP test which this grade hasn’t taken yet and doesn't have any incentive to do well on.  Mix in the 8th grade exam from two years ago - somehow this is my responsibility?
  • Add an administrative evaluation from three years ago (because we're doing the fad of the moment: peer coaching)
What you got? Nothing. Nada. Bupkus. Zero. Zilch.
You don't have a clue as to my value as a teacher.

You want to base my merit pay on that?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Is it too much to expect?

I was floating around the Teacher College website, specifically "Curriculum and Teaching", when I came across a true gem of an article in a group of articles about the program (I guess).
For starters, I reproduce the list of articles:
Program News
* Does Science Proves Some Things Taught Were False? (2006)
* T.C. Takes Second in U.S. News Rankings (2006)
* Quiet Students Can Speak Volumes Through Actions (2005)
* Cathy Benedict (Obit from 2005)
* Enrichment Program Plagued By Flaws (2004)
(Parenthetical additions mine)
Yeah, it jumped out at me, too. Aren't you impressed by this Teachers College Program? How about that first article?
"Does Science Proves Some Things Taught Were False?
Published: 10/21/2006

"When I try to help my son with his homework I see a lot of things that are different from when I was in school," said Marietta parent Matt Reed, 39. "Math is so different I can't even help him most of the time." Whether it's facts that have been disproved or courses that have simply gone out of style, there are a plethora of things that used to be part of any student's curriculum and are no longer taught in schools.

Some boards of education, including the Texas State Board of Education have recommended replacing textbooks with laptop computers and say a nationwide move in that direction is only a few keystrokes away.

"I think conventional textbooks -'" they're pretty much dead," Peter Cookson, director of educational outreach at Columbia University's Teachers College told the Associated Press. "Not this year, but in the next decade."

This article appeared in the October 21, 2006 edition of the Marietta Times.
To be fair, this article told me a great deal about the Curriculum and Teaching Program at Teachers' College.
  • It told me that nothing good has been written about them in over 3 years.
  • It told me that the College can't be bothered to check the grammar on its website.
  • It told me that an article that it considered important and relevant was disjointed and bizarre -- is it discussing science proving things false as the title would indicate, curricula changes confusing parents as the first paragraph has it, or the "fact" that textbooks are dead because Texas thinks they should replace them with Laptops?
  • It told me that its Director is an idiot and it made it clear why TC should be regarded as the last refuge of the Incompetents.
By the way, that Texas thing about laptops? That fad was sooooo three years ago. We're doing 21st Century Skills now. You know, technology and communication skills.

College studies.

I can't resist reposting this from Maggie's Farm. It makes no sense to me that parents will actually spend their hard-earned money for this kind of stuff. They should make a deal with the kid: "We'll help with a practical major. If you want to waste your time and your money studying garbage, we won't stop you."

Boo-hoo Studies

Why don't colleges just collect all of the grievance study groups and put them in one department. Fat Studies, Anorexia Studies, Queer Studies, Women's Studies, Hispanic Studies, Black Studies, Indian Studies, Transexual Studies, Lesbian Studies, Klutz Studies, Oppressed Studies, Ugly Studies, Not-Too-Smart Studies, Too-Short Studies, etc.

You could call it Boo Hoo Studies, and in it you could sequester everyone who expects college to cater to their narcissism instead of teaching them about bigger, better, and more important things than themselves. Baby bottles in the coke machine, over in that department.

Eventually, they will need to include one more increasingly marginalized and disenfranchised minority in Boo Hoo Studies - Regular People Living Without Grievance. RPLWG just can't get a break these days, can they?
I figure that you could include all the Education Majors who don't actually get a degree in anything except "Bulletin Boards and Presentation Techniques."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Winter Classic in a few Hours

The folks who run hockey got it right two years ago and they're keeping the new tradition alive. It's just special.

Happy New Year!

Bruins win!