Friday, July 30, 2010

Refinance offered a refinance for 3.875% (w/ 2pts) on a 20 year loan. Now would be a good time for everyone to jump on this bandwagon. Wells Fargo was almost as good. Do it, if you can. Rates are down across the board. You'll save a holy pantload either in overall interest or in monthly payments. At least think about it?
Save one of these:
Or a million of these:
Or half as many of these:
But don't even think about these.
They're not even worth the paper they're printed on.

Facebook lost my data - so what?

This is creepy.
I've been reading the "Facebook data got stolen" story and I thought back to discussions with students over Facebook privacy settings. Chime in with any you've told students along the way.
  1. Change your name and information. Your friends know you are "Vlad the Imposter", living in Pennsylvania and no one else needs to know. If they know you, then you can be found. Otherwise, who the hell cares? Make up stuff for the fields. My personal religion, apparently, is Viking and I am a Scot. If all your information is an inside joke, then your future is a little more secure. None of the "About Me" fields needs to be filled out. Anyone who knows you already knows it. Anyone who doesn't doesn't need to.
  2. Set every privacy rating to "friends only" ... not "friends of friends." That way, you control who sees it by controlling who your friends are, instead of handing that power to friends who "friend" everyone in sight.
  3. Starting "un-friending" people, beginning with any teachers in this building. Teachers can have a class page or something but there is no valid reason for teachers and students to be "friends." A whole bunch of kids at my school were "friends" with the assistant principal -- WTF? That ended quickly when that same AP busted some "friends" for photos which the kids say weren't what she thought they were. Week-long suspensions, lost trust, bad feelings, anger at the school were the start.
  4. I am a mandatory reporter. I explain that at the beginning of school. Information seen on Facebook is included.
  5. Facebook is a data business, fueled by your data. Why are you giving away everything for no return? Do you realize how easy it is for stupid people in power to ruin your life, or at the least make it miserable for a while?
  6. Make a second account for the public and keep it clean, professional and basically friendless. That's the one that people at work can see. The other one? No comment.
  7. Make a third account, just for the hell of it. Invent a person and give him one, too. Don't attack or slander anyone with it, though.
Some folks might ask why Facebook is set up to be so open about everyone's information and I think it's a generational thing. Mark Zuckerberg is a college kid still. He thinks that everyone should be able to see everything about everyone -- it's the norm for college and no one ever gets hurt. If I were still in college, I'd probably agree.

But I'm not in college and I have to play by different rules. Grownup rules. I live in a world where everything you say and post "can and will be held against you" and will probably be misinterpreted to my detriment.

Everything my friends say (even if it nothing to do with me) will be used against me as well. I don't want my friends (outside of school) to be writing things on my wall that my students can read. My friends don't have the same understanding of 'Things That Will Get You Fired' (h/t Richie!) and I don't expect them to vet their posts accordingly. Why should students be able to read that my friends are planning a whiskey-soaked bash prior to going off to war?

Remember the teacher who got fired for attending a bachlorette party at which someone she had no control over did something stupid? Remember the college professor who was reprimanded for appearing in a post-championship celebratory photo - holding a beer? Everyone was. It was a celebration. Only the female professor got the reprimand. She's fighting, of course, but who wants that hassle?

In the other direction, I don't want my students (or their parents) to know things about some of my friends either -- too many "guilt by association" things happen when parents get information.

"None of your business" should be the Facebook motto but it isn't.

Kids deserve the same privacy because they are still feeling out their world. Kids brag and bullshit and should be able to continue to do so online without repercussion.

Educcrats tend to forget the grain of salt.

Thinking like a Teacher?

How to tell if you think like a teacher?  Read this article on Redskins player Albert Haynesworth then come back here.

Okay. If you're not a teacher, you're probably thinking, "What a dope. Haynesworth should have known better. You just don't mess with the Shanahan. It's all Haynesworth's fault for getting himself into this and it's all on his shoulders for getting himself out of the doghouse and into the position as starter that everyone knows he can do, if he gets his act straight."

If you're a teacher, you were probably thinking, "I wish I could get away with something analogous. The admin response? It would 'obviously' be the teacher's fault that he didn't do the work necessary to succeed. The teacher should be fired - not up to standards."

Oh well.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's not an agrarian thing, okay?

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan has his way, kids would be spending a lot more time at school — and a three-month summer would be a thing of the past. He continued by explaining that the American school calendar is antiquated and must be modified so that American students can compete at the highest levels internationally.

“Most people realize that our current day is based on the agrarian economy, and we don’t have too many kids working out in the fields nowadays,” Duncan said. “Schools in countries that are beating us are going to school 25-30 days more than us. If you practice basketball five times a week, you’re gonna be better than the people who practice three times a week.”
Most people realize, huh? Then most people would be wrong. And so is our benighted Education Secretary.

First, the summer months are hot. When the yearly schedules were decided upon, it was easier to heat buildings in the winter than to cool them in the summer because, you know, duh, there wasn't any air conditioning. Factories closed. Schools closed. Everything closed. People with the wherewithal escaped the cities and went to the Adirondacks or the Catskills.  People who didn't have money went to Coney Island.

"Why does everyone traditionally get two weeks in August?" and "Why are they called the Dog Days?"  - because it's hot, humid and no one wants to be in a schoolroom, factory, office, etc.

Second, if the whole thing was done for farmers benefit, wouldn't it make more sense to have the time off when the real heavy work was done on a farm? Like planting and harvest? You don't see vacations in October, do you? About the only farm work done around here in the summer is haying and watching the corn grow.

Finally, schools in countries that are "beating us" are different:
  1. They give a damn about the PISA testing and their students give a damn. The American schools who participate ... not so much. When was the last time any of our elite schools took that test? Right, they don't.
  2. The other countries are remarkably monocultural. Surprising, but the American melting pot isn't the easiest group to get motivated and educated.
  3. The other countries have single nationwide set of common standards and fewer choices for books and curricula. Again, it matters because you can tailor you curriculum to your culture.
  4.  Those longer days in Japan or England do not bother with sports.  We have chosen this aspect of our kids lives to focus a large part of our schools' attention on.  Again, it matters.  Other countries, if they have sports at all, have morning calisthenics but not school sports.  Sports teams are done as a town, not as a school.  Those who excel are not part of those in school - they're taken out.  
If you did these things with the American schools who took PISA or TIMSS, we'd blow the world away.  How do I know? I've taught these kids, both the top-of-the-line American students (the kind who get 5s on every AP test they take and win academic scholarships from Middlebury) and the top-of-the-line foreign students (from Japan, Korea, China, South America, Middle East Europe -- lots of them from all around the world.)  Look where the world want s to go college.  The US.  Who does well in US colleges. Americans and those foreigners who pick up the Calvinistic, work hard - be nice attitudes.

Oh well, Arne.  Sucks to be stupid.

Online Learning - not the fastest response.

I've been taking an online course this summer. Five weeks, the usual forums and readings with little teacher input. More on that later.

Here's the funny thing: course is over, last reflection is submitted, final grades not quite done - maybe the next day ... I get paperwork in the mail describing the course, its drop/add policy and other enrollment papers.

Bureaucracy is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Puzzle: Find the error before the Programmer does!

Shouldn't be too hard ...

TFA Studies Shouldn't Lie or Obfuscate

Joanne has a short piece on ‘Study laundering’ on TFA and I'll quote a few things here. The gist is that Studies on TFA are cherry-picking data to promote a predetermined viewpoint ... ya think?

I'm no fan of TFA in that I don't like the overall attitude of "I'm so incredible because I went to HA-VAAD and therefore everyone at one of those poor, low class schools - public schools, mind you - should welcome me in my magnificence and install me in a classroom of my choosing. The five-week summer training session is all I need to become a teacher, whether math or science or social studies - it doesn't matter because I'm so wonderful. I can even change from a math teacher to a social studies teacher at will."

I'm sure that there are some good teachers in the making at TFA. But many don't want to be teachers in the long run. They just want a temporary job and to feel good about themselves for a while before they take a real job in their chosen profession. What's not good about that is that an experienced veteran who is planning on staying, or someone who wants to be a teacher long-term, is moved aside for the temp. That's not good for the long-term health of a system.

Anyway, back to the study.
“Weaponized” education research and “study laundering” are illustrated by a Great Lakes Center study knocking Teach for America for high turnover and “mixed” performance, writes Eduwonk. Half of TFA teachers leave after two years and 80 percent leave after three, the study says. However, the researchers use data from studies that conflate TFA teachers who leave their original school placement after two years with those who leave the teaching profession, Eduwonk charges. A 2008 Harvard study (pdf), found that 61 percent of TFA teachers stay in teaching beyond the two-year commitment.
Definitions of terms are so important, aren't they? That conflation might be appropriate if the study noted it. Of course, TFA itself says: "These teachers, called corps members, commit to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the country." It's not like the study hasn't taken TFA at its word but it should have been more specific.
Teach For America surveys its alumni regularly and the most recent survey found that 65 percent of Teacher For America’s 20,000 alumni remain in education, with 32 percent continuing as teachers. And remember, that’s a survey of alums going back almost two decades now so that one in three figure should be viewed in that context as well as the larger context of TFA’s mission.
So 65 percent remain in teaching after two years but only half of those as teachers? Sounds like the original press release had the information correct and TFA is blustering its own spin. This is not a point in their favor.

Teacher churn is bad for a school, despite the supposed "wonderfulness of a TFA teacher." Teachers don't "Go bad" in the last few minutes of the school year. Those 70 percent of TFA people who didn't continue after 2 years were probably very clear about their desires soon after starting year 2 and the students knew it. This is a bad situation all around as the TFA are just filling out their time - I've never seen a lame duck teacher who was successful.

Then we look at the 32% - how long did they last? According to the study, a third of this later group left after the third year - who are these? Maybe only those TFAs who were unable to get a real job and just hung on for another year - bad news. I can't think those schools are well served by these long-term subs. It takes at least two years to get your feet under you and get your classes "right."
On the performance issue, studies that use rigorous methodology find that “Teach For America teachers perform as well or better than other teachers, not only emergency certified teachers but traditionally trained ones and veterans,” Eduwonk writes, including lots of link to research studies. The results are not mixed.
Debatable. I'd want to delve more deeply before I took a different set of studies as gospel. Wouldn't you? Which performance measures are they talking about? The ones that nobody can find any merit for? Probably just a test score comparison between a temp teacher or unlicensed one and the TFA. Hardly telling.

How about this little graphic. Talk about playing with statistics and implied information. Is it 10% of the 4510 are Black (450) and therefore 12% of the group is Asian, or is it that Blacks are 10% of the 33% (150)? Is a small percentage of blacks a problem because TFA is staffing black schools?  I figure it's written this way so that we infer that 33% are people of color and then add 10% Black and 8.5% Latino to get 52% minority?  Who's fudging the definitions now?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chateau in the Making

"The Château de Guédelon is not a film set; it is not a restoration; it is not a hey-nonny-no-medieval theme-park. It is an exercise in archaeology in reverse: discovery by building up, not by digging down. By 2023, it will be a full-sized castle with battlements and a moat and six towers. "
The Independent has this story about the progress to date.
Treadmill winch - essentially a wheel and axle crane, also known as a squirrel cage.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Changing the Subject. Charter Schools

To qualify for federal school improvement funds, a high-poverty Vermont school had to replace its hard-working principal, reports Michael Winerip in the New York Times. The story blames African refugee students who speak little English for the school’s low scores. Winerip writes that 37 of 39 fifth graders are refugees or disabled, although only 22 percent of students are black.
Let me mention a few facts about Vermont. First, the stress that "only 22 percent of students are black" is blatantly weird here. Realize that this is probably the whitest state in the nation ... less than 2% of the population of Vermont is minority of ANY type, including the adopted kids. Second, when you have 37 of 39 students as refugees or disabled, then you have a school that looks nothing like the surroundings. Firing the principal is stupid because you have no basis for saying she is doing a poor job. NECAP testing compares this year's cohort against last year's cohort with the expectation that both are groups who have gone through your system. The students didn't go to school here until the beginning of this year, who are refugees from another country -- well, you figure it out.
The district’s turnaround plan was to convert the school to an arts magnet, thereby attracting more middle-income students, reports the Burlington Free Press. Changing the demographics may raise overall test scores, Klein writes, but it does nothing to improve the reading, writing and math abilities of the school’s low-income students.
So here's the real whopper. They are changing to a charter/magnet school so they can attract different kids, presumably smarter and higher-scoring. Just like KIPP. Just like every charter operation in the country. Changing the subject, changing the students, changing the scores.

You don't improve the teaching, you "improve the student body" by adding more students who raise the scores and remove those students who would lower the average -- like immigrants who want to learn English, not Arts.

That's how you "improve" a school.
That's why this whole voucher / charter / choice thing "works."
And that's why it sucks.

Joanne Jacobs asks, but can they read? The answer is "yes," but "they" have changed.

There won't BE many low-scoring, low-income students. Low-income parents want their kids in an academic program, not an Arts magnet. Same for refugee parents. and remember we are talking about a class of 39 fifth graders here. 37 of those were refugee or SpecEd. The whole group will transfer out, with a possible exception of a SpecEd kid who is big into Arts.

In fact, you will automatically have an increase next year because you will be testing a NEW group of kids - all from the area and totally different from this year's kids who didn't even speak English.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Saving money, still buying pencils.

Ricochet copied a rant. I commented but figured I'd repeat two things here just to spread good things around.

Cheap, too.
IF you play it right.
Staples has 1 cent offers in the weekly flyer this time of year. Usually, they are 2 per customer, but teachers can get 25 with some school ID. Got that?  Nobody mentions it in the store -- you have to ask and then they're all smiles.  So, MENTION IT!

Pencils were 8/pack so 200 pencils cost 25 cents.  And I went back the next day (It's near the post office).  and the next day. and whenever I drive by on some other errand .... like Stop & Shop next door. Did I mention that my wife who teaches elsewhere comes in at the same time?  1 cent for 2-pocket portfolio. BAM! 25 cents, 25 folders 1 class done. Paper and Single-subject notebooks are 25 cents. No limit. You should see my hall closet ... $10 buys a hell of a lot of stuff at these rates.

As for books, we FINALLY got the business office to realize the benefits of a credit card for Amazon.  If you can, schmooze the people who do the work up there and show them how much can be saved when you order through Amazon and Amazaon Used&New for your textbooks and such.  It made a big difference for us when we showed them how much we saved.

You can thank me later.

More Charter School Goodness

again, via Joanne: What Parents want
quoting the Ph. Daily News:
Parents like charter schools. They really like them. A whopping 90 percent of parents who had chosen charter schools for their children – and an even higher 92 percent of Catholic school parents – approve of the choices they made.
This is perhaps the silliest thing I've read in a while. This surprises anyone? Charter schools and Catholic schools are not the default. You have to go out of your way to get your kid into them. You have to pay for Catholic schools. A parent of a charter school kid is automatically in favor of what they're doing - otherwise he wouldn't BE a charter parent, would he? And yet, only 90% of them are happy with what they've gone to great lengths to get?

Think about that for a minute.

Far more enlightening would have been the percentage of ALL parents who liked charter schools ... but that wouldn't distort the data enough, would it? Selection bias, anyone?
Parents don’t like district public schools. They really don’t like them. In the Pew poll, 58 percent of parents with kids in district schools said the overall job they were doing was “only fair” or poor. Nearly two-thirds of district school parents – 63 percent – said they had considered leaving the district for charter or parochial schools.
Nearly 95% had dreams of being a fireman, too. Anyway. So ... 63% considered leaving and decided not to. They were satisfied with what they got. The other 37% of the parents didn't even consider it an option. Therefore 100% of the parents of public school kids were satisfied with their choice. See what happens when you play with statistics?
Parents want safety and discipline in school. They really want it. Parents in focus groups rarely mentioned academics unless they were prompted to do so. Their positive evaluations of charter and Catholic schools – and their highly negative assessment of district schools – were based mostly on the perceived availability of safety, discipline and a caring environment.
Show me a parent who doesn't want safety and discipline. Go ahead, I'll wait.

This is an interesting thing. The only thing that anyone could point to in favor of the charter schools was "a PERCEIVED availability of safety, discipline and a caring environment." Tell me why charters are better at education, again?

Parents want choices. They really want them. Most parents ( 72 percent) said they don’t have enough choices in schools, and increasing parental choice is the best way to improve education.
Another ridiculous question, bent and distorted in the retelling. "Do you want a choice of schools?" What person says, "No"? Someone supremely satiastfied with what the schools are doing or one who is decidedly against vouchers - 28% of the folks. The 72% want choices - not necessarily Catholic schools, or vouchers, or charter schools. Lots of people want to go to a different public school. They're tired of the city shifting districts around or sending kids further afield than the local school. They want to go to a certain public school.

"and increasing parental choice is the best way to improve education." That's just the Daily News slant on things. They had to throw that in there to make themselves feel good.

UPDATE: Just skimmed the Pew study, executive summary..

"Seventy-two percent of those polled say that parents in the city do not have enough good choices when it comes to picking a school." That includes those precious charter schools and Catholic schools.

and remember that damning "58% of parents with kids in district schools said the overall job they were doing was “only fair” or poor."?

What the Pew study actually said was:
"While only 40 percent of parents with children in district-run schools think the public school system as a whole is doing a good or excellent job, 71 percent judge their own children’s schools to be good or excellent."

Funny how the Daily News cherry-picked that one out, huh?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Charter Schools - a random thought.

According to Reason TV,
Hurricane Katrina destroyed one of the worst public school systems in the U.S., says Reason TV. New Orleans started fresh with a system based on choice. Now, “60% of New Orleans students currently attend charter schools, test scores are up, and talented and passionate educators from around the country are flocking to New Orleans to be a part of the education revolution.”
Here's my random thought of the day.

What if we take the premise as true for a moment, that the hurricane destroyed one of the worst public school systems in the U.S., and posit a different step two. What if New Orleans had started fresh ... with a new public school system?

The scores would be even better and lots of talented professionals would be flocking to New Orleans to be a part of the education revolution.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fundamentalism is the problem.

Afshan Azad, "Padma"
Rape and murder.

Ted Bundy did it because he could. Islamic fundamentalists do it because she's not wearing a proper Hijab. Another woman is to be stoned to death for adultery (she was acquitted once but the judge decided that she was guilty anyway) while another was killed in Somalia.. In India, it's an honor killing if the husband feels ashamed - so she gets doused with gasoline and set afire. In Britain, she can be in the cast of Harry Potter making millions(right), but be attacked by her brother and father. In South America, machismo fuels similar atrocities. In New York, a teenager is killed for dating a boy and the whole family helps trap her. A Buffalo man killed his wife for demanding a divorce. The IRA set off bomb after bomb, killing thousands of people until the Good Friday Accords. Churches burned because skin color mattered.Countries were slaughtered because they were different. 

Is an insane crime any less of a crime if it is "justified" by a religion, by male pride, by insanity, by racism, by political orientation?

No. The crimes are the same. Those who justify it include themselves as co-defendants. It's time for all of the world's religions, all political parties, all the races and both sexes to agree.
26 Year Old Woman Raped and Murdered by Basij Members for “Bad Hijab”
July 11, 2010

Elnaz Babazadeh, a 26 year old woman was raped and murdered by Basij forces in the city of Tabriz (northwestern Iran) last week. According to the reports, Basij forces stopped Babazadeh in her car for not following the Iranian regime’s dress code. Elnaz resisted the forces and ignored orders given by the Basij forces. Then the Basij forces who had initially stopped her jumped into her car and threatened her with a gun. Two other Basij members joined in and all together they beat and raped her. They murdered Babazadeh and dumped her body close to Emamiyeh cemetery.

After local investigation was conducted by HRANA members in Tabriz, it was confirmed at Babazadeh’s funeral that the person who killed her was the son of a high-ranking Revolutionary Guards member. The intentions of the savage Basij members was to put a stop to the “improper” way women in society dressed. Basij members believe this is their duty to God. Elnaz Babazadeh’s family filed a complaint against the murder of their daughter to regime officials, but the IRGC is attempting to take over the case.
Mogadishu — An unnamed woman was stoned to death at Eel-boon in Wajid district, 330 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu, on Wednesday. She was sentenced by an Islamic court after she was found guilty of adultery. The woman was taken to a square, her body half buried and then stoned. A crowd was present as well as officials of al-Shabaab, an Islamist movement that opposes the Transitional Federal Government and controls a large territory in Southern and Central Somalia.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Charter Pendulum does a double-take.

One way from Pittsburgh, via Schools Matter:
Among charter school students, about 20 percent didn't meet basic academic standards in reading and math, compared with about 12 percent of district students, according to 2009 Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment test results ....
About 75 percent of Pennsylvania public school students scored advanced or proficient in reading and math, compared with about 59 percent of charter school students ...
and then back the other way from Reason TV, via Joanne Jacobs, :
Hurricane Katrina destroyed one of the worst public school systems in the U.S., says Reason TV. New Orleans started fresh with a system based on choice. Now, “60% of New Orleans students currently attend charter schools, test scores are up, and talented and passionate educators from around the country are flocking to New Orleans to be a part of the education revolution.”
all in the same day.

Makes you wonder how long it will take for them to notice that the gains by KIPP and other charters have more to do with selected students than with superior funding methods? That charter schools don't have the same SpecEd requirements? That charter and private schools are relieved of many regulations and have the flexibility of getting rid of problem students? (defined as students who cause trouble, or in the case of KIPP, don't want to work too hard or for 60 hours a week.)

And yes, it is still despicable to say that Katrina had a silver lining in that it "improved the public school system." Even if that caveat were true, and it's not, the statement assumes that death and massive destruction has a good side.

Forcing Teachers to Read: Useful or just a Time-Suck?

Scott Macleod, over at Dangerously Irrelevant, wonders if we should require teachers to read the RSS newspaper: Should we require school employees to have RSS readers? He and his reader community created lists of rss feeds:grade-level and subject-specific blogs.

I'm great up to this point. Most of these blogs (I haven't read them all so can't say about all) are good people with good experience writing well and intelligently. But then Dr. Macleod goes a little off the end when he thinks about the next step ...
  1. Should we require school employees to have loaded RSS readers (with a concurrent expectation that they spend time checking them and reading in them)?
  2. How would the lives of the educators in your school organization be different if they regularly spent time with their loaded RSS readers?
  3. How would the lives of preservice educators (i.e., student teachers) be different if they regularly spent time with their loaded RSS readers?
  4. Can we figure out how to give educators professional development / licensure renewal credit for time spent with RSS readers, interacting with other educators in social media channels, etc.? We seem to be able to do so for face-to-face training, discussion groups, school book clubs, and so on ...
Thoughts on any of this? Got your own questions you’d like to add to my list?
Not by much,
To brainwash them some more - haven't they already read these blogs as part of their classes?
and YAY! Another meaningless credit for meaningless professional development!
 Then there's time and viewpoint.

Time? I get to school at about 7:15. I start the computer, which takes maybe 15 minutes to complete, and then load a firefox folder of bookmarks - the things I do everyday like check my and the school's calendar for games or meetings, read email (I only do it once at the beginning and once at the end of the day) update the SAT problem of the day, open the gradebook. I am checking that all my first classes are ready - emergency copying, bookmarking the text. I check my school mail box on another floor. I get my caffeine. Classes start. During my prep period, I prep. During my classes I teach. After school I help students, go to a game or go home. When do you suppose I should spend an hour on my school computer reading an RSS feed? How pissed off would the taxpayers of my community be if they knew that I spent that time surfing the internet every day?

Viewpoint? All the blogs listed are definitely opinionated. The viewpoints are not ones that I agree with all the time. I don't care to have my principal, who knows little about teaching and basically nothing about math and less about educational technology, decide what things I must read daily. I would hate to see what he would require I read -  he already photocopies pointless articles (FYI) and forwards joke emails. The upshot is that so much of his correspondence is junk that it lessens the importance of the rest of it.
 Suppose I read Right on the Left Coast, which is not on the list, but not Dy/dan, which is?  What if my blog were required reading instead of this Macleod's?  Or Theo, or Moonbattery, or Breitbart or Malkin?

Overload.  The list for math has 31 blogs on it.  If you overload people with this much new educational thought and trivia during a time when they can't process it, you will lose much more than you possibly gain. "Even though it could yield great results" - but it won't.

I see it far more likely that any time allocated will be spent with BostonHerald's Red Sox feed than on head-in-the-sky education dreamers who can save the world instantly if you only do .... this.  Does anyone really think that updating a facebook profile is a good use of a teacher's time?

Macleod seems to have plenty of time during the day to read, relax and tend to his presence on the web (he lists a Blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Twine, Delicious, Digg, Gmail, Skype, coComment, Technorati, Wikipedia), but I have other interests, i.e., teaching. I have precious little time to browse during the day and I don't care to waste it reading Macleod's recount of some conference he went to.

In the evening, which is when I do my reading, I can read and consider, answer and comment -- but certainly not under my principal's eye. Of course, that's also when I tend to my own life, virtual and otherwise. I volunteer my programming time and server space for a bunch of websites, maintain this blog and my own, keep track of my own facebook account (which the students do NOT have access to) -- have a life, such as it is.

I might even grade papers or (GASP!) watch a game.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

PJ O'Rourke gets Stupid

So PJ O'Rourke, who used to be funny, has deflated into a wizened, cranky conservative who's drunk the anti-public Koolaid. He has forgotten his basic economics, his basic statistics and his basic humanity.

Oh Well.

"What’s been learned is that it costs a fortune to send kids to school. Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That’s an average. And you, like me, don’t have average children. So we pay the $11,749 in school taxes for the children who are average and then we pay private school tuition for our own outstanding children or we move to a suburb we can’t afford and pay even more property taxes for schools in the belief that this makes every child outstanding."
"Close all the public schools. Send the kids home. Fire the teachers. Sell the buildings. Raze the U.S. Department of Education, leaving not one brick standing upon another and plow the land where it stood with salt."
Opinion: End Them, Don’t Mend Them: It’s time to shutter America’s bloated schools, by P.J. O’Rourke, The Weekly Standard, June 21, 2010
Okay, let's take a few of these:
We all pay between $1000 and $5000 towards education every year, kids or not. That tax money covers the tuition for any child or dependent, for twelve years, maybe thirteen. PJ seems to think that the entire cost of a single kid's education comes out of his pocket and therefore should go back into his pocket. Frankly, PJ, you're getting a deal but you're too stupid and you insist on getting your little moppet into Miss Porters. Too bad.

Very funny, the jibe about teachers only working part-time. I have no answer to that except to feel good that I work for much more of the year than a columnist does. What does PJ get in exchange for writing 10 inches, 100 times per year? Much more than I do and he works a grand total of four days a year.

Yep, PJ you're right that scores on AEP haven't risen much. What's your point? That kids should be getting more and more intelligent? Try this on for size, PJ. New England prep schools have identical results as their in-town Public competitors on SATs and ACTs when you look just at those who are taking college-prep and AP courses. In fact, more millionaires' kids in Mass go to public schools than to private ones.

Teacher:student ratios - well, you got me there. 15:1 is the average. Of course, a basic statistics course will also tell you that for every class of 10 there's a class of 20 and for every one-on-one, there's a group of 30. Trust me, there are a lot of 1-1s.

PJ doesn't like 1-1 teaching. Those kids who need specialized help are apparently trash to be thrown out, according to his scheme. "A yearly benefit of $26,000 should provide some tutoring and therapy—or a pocket full of Ritalin." Maybe, but that's not an education and it falls far short of what a private school would charge for a disabled student.

What public education does, unfortunately for the conservative blowhards, is provide a good education for a majority of its students. Parents know that. That's why they continue to send their kids there. That's why school budgets (in Vermont at least) have a 98% record of being passed by their towns. It's also why there are very few private schools - and the ones that are here are having terrible enrollments.

Capitalism at work?

Don't tell PJ.

Rare look inside Bible Belt Classroom

No comment at this time.

Don’t expect schools to be cyber-parents

My response is: anything but "F"
But then, I'm a teacher and I don't believe that anything happening outside of the school or non-school related activity or trip is any of the school's business.
Via the Schenectady (NY) Daily Gazette
July 6, 2010, page A5

A boy has apparently sent filthy text messages to your daughter over the weekend. Both are sixth-graders at the same school. You, the girl’s father, coach sports with the boy’s father. What would you do?

a. Disconnect your daughter from all texting services.
b. Talk to the boy’s father, whom you know.
c. If the father refuses to do something about it, stop socializing with him.
d. Call the police.
e. Do some combination of a, b, c and d.
f. Complain to the school principal.

This is a real-life example, and the parents chose only f. The two students attended Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J. The principal, Tony Orsini, asked the girl’s parents whether they had contacted the boy’s family. No. That would upset the coaching arrangement. He asked whether they had called the police. They again said no, making several excuses.

In olden days, the parents probably would have intervened personally. They could have cut off their daughter’s texting capabilities and diplomatically called the other parents. Or they might have gone directly to the door of the offending schoolmate’s house to make their displeasure very clear.

The more aggressive approach is best done with calm. The parents may have had no idea of their child’s activities and would be grateful for the information. Or, the odious messages may have come from someone else who had found the cell phone. That had happened in the above case.

But outsourcing this parenting role to teachers and principals seems to have become the common practice.

Most schools understandably don’t have the time or desire to monitor their charges’ electronic communications. And what’s a school to do when one student sends obscene texts to another from home on a weekend? Obtain a search warrant?

Suppose the principal confiscates a cell phone and finds provocative photos of the owner on it, not uncommon for those who do “sexting.” The educator risks having an unhinged parent retaliate by charging him (or her) of trafficking in child pornography.

Schools have come up with varied responses to the cyber-bully problem. A Seattle middle school suspended 28 students who ganged up on a classmate on Facebook. By contrast, a mother asked a school in Fairfax, Va., to punish students involved in a Facebook pile-up on her son and was told there was nothing it could do.

My favorite response was Principal Orsini’s. He sent an e-mail to all parents that described their responsibilities.

“There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site,” Orsini wrote. He noted that cruel 12-year-olds pose more a threat to their middle-schoolers’s well-being than the adult predators of parental nightmares. And he told parents whose children were attacked through networking sites or messages: “IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!”

Typing these words, I feel like reaching for the hand sanitizer. You who have hung in this far may feel similar revulsion. You wonder why any sixth-grader has texting privileges at all. Why parents let their tender-age teens do social networking. Why Facebook opens its service to people as young as 13.

There are ways to pressure Facebook. Parents, meanwhile, must do their job. They must confront the parents of their children’s assailants, contain their kids’ computer use and, if necessary, call the police.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


via Joanne Jacobs, Bored in school and summarizing.
High school is boring, say two thirds of students in the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement.
# 41% went to school because of what they learn in classes.
# 23% went because of their teachers.
# 30% went because they enjoy being in school.
In related news, 79% of those who were interviewed at home last Saturday afternoon said they were bored, leading the Society for the Prevention of Childhood Boredom to recommend that home life be changed ("Reformed") so that kids could be stimulated constantly with creativity and intellectually stimulating projects.

Mothers who participated by purchasing the Home Boredom Reform Toolkit reported that they had taken the kids out for ice cream and had a "wonderful, fulfilling time." After further interviews, the teenagers' boredom response rate changed to 93.2%, most saying "Going for ice cream was SOOO boring."

Mothers who participated by buying a lawnmower, lining up a few potential customers and then letting the teenagers create a lawn-mowing/general yard work business with absolutely no further input from either parent reported that the teenagers didn't seem so bored anymore. The teenagers themselves couldn't be interviewed because they were out earning money or out spending that money on their car, their date or going for ice cream with their friends.
Students who are thinking about about dropping out say they don’t like the school, don’t like the teachers or don’t see any value in the work they’re asked to do. Students said they wanted chances to be creative at school. Most dislike lectures and like “discussions in which there are no clear answers.”
In other news, adults who don't like their jobs or who were just laid off in a nasty recession were encouraged to go back to school. There, they could take courses that improved their job prospects or trained them for a new career. Poofy courses and touchy-feely courses that discussed the feelings of the students are to be avoided. Writing, grammar and basic math courses are the recommendation, followed by computer courses and science. History and languages are also good. Avoid classes that are geared toward sparing the feelings of the students. Look instead for those that offer lots of useful information, delivered in a compact and efficient style ... like a lecture. Not a boring and monotonous one of course, but one delivered by a teacher who knows his stuff.
The report looks at schools that are trying to engage disaffected students.
Kealakehe High School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, has focused on building relationships between school staff and students. . . . According to the principal of Kealakehe, Wilfred Murakami, there is a perception that people love the school and that most students participate in school activities; HSSSE data revealed that actually just about half of the students say they love the school and, similarly, about half participate in school activities. The principal uses the data to raise important questions with his staff: “What about the rest of the kids? What are those kids doing?”
In a final bit of related news, The American Center for Conservative Liberal Studies in Education and Life in General has just released a study saying that teenagers who answer surveys in class report that answering surveys is really boring. Comments added at the bottom include, "I really wish we could just learn things instead of taking these ridiculous surveys." and "Great, another f****ng survey."

And that's why the Curmudgeon isn't a big fan of this type of "data-driven" school reform.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Curriculum Makeover and Problem 11

It's summer and I now have time to sit and think about things. This time it's math curriculum makeover. We start with Dan Meyer's Rethink of a textbook problem. (seen at right).
"A water tank is in the form of a regular octagonal prism. The base octagon has side length 11.9 cm.  Then lateral edge is 36 cm.
a) What is the surface area of the base? 
b) What is the volume of the water tank?
c) If you pour water into the tank at a rate of 1.8 oz/sec, how long will it take you to fill the tank?"
Dan's take: "claims real-world but its only clip-art or a line drawing. Specifies the exact method of solution, and only gives useful information." So he filmed himself with a garden hose filling the tank with a timer available. Show the film and let the students ask "How long will it take to fill?" Here's a textbook editor's discussion of this problem.

WCYDWT: Water Tank from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

There's a couple of things about Dan's treatment of the question that bugged me but I hadn't really thought about it till now.

First, of course, is that subtly, he changed the question to be ONLY about part c. There was no calculation of area or volume, just an approximate measure of time. If I am doing proportions, then it would be okay but, to me, the real point was ignored. Let me be clear on this: that video is cool. It worked for my students in the same way in worked for Dan's. It's a good way to start a section on proportions or rates.

BUT. I find the immediate solution method his students (and mine!) choose as being too simplistic and hands-on. Elementary and Middle school students need tangible, hands-on material and filling a tank with a hose is a fine way to bring them up to higher levels of thinking but it's not the point of algebra; high school students should be beyond that kind of simplicity.

Algebra is more abstract, more at an arm's length from the immediate numbers of a problem. The idea of algebra (to me) is to model something without having to count squares, count seconds slowly or tick off every single mark. I don't like it when the only solution that students come up with is "guess-and-check" or "counting squares" if there's a better analytical solution.

The video only works because the tank in the problem is small but even then the video was too long. (I'm not sitting through 8.5 minutes watching a tank fill up.) What if this were a town water system or a swimming pool? What if this "real world problem" is too expensive for guess and check, which is what a real world problem SHOULD be? (If it weren't too expensive or time consuming, you WOULD guess and check or count squares.)

I agree with Dan's comments elsewhere when he says that problems should be solved in an appropriate fashion and that often textbooks will invent something just for the rather lame use of the topic du jour. I get that argument. I don't think problem #11 is such a problem.

It could have been stated with more pizzaz and could have been given more "connection" for the students, but AZZA math teacher, I should provide that myself. "I need to know the volume in liters because I have to add salts to my salt-water tank in exactly the right proportions -- the fish are delicate and EXPENSIVE. I can't guess and check with $100 fish."

Second, the givens should be real-world, too, and I think Problem #11 does that. Physically, you can measure the outside edge, the height. Had the problem given the apothem or the radius of the circle enclosing the base - how would anyone measure that accurately? Diagonal through the center - yes! Now you're thinking.

Showing all those measurements would be a good thing but ultimately you have to decide where this problem is in the scaffolding and plan accordingly. A few extra numbers go a long way in allowing the students to explore without having the tank in front of them but they also confuse the hell out of those who are just getting the idea.

Bottom line: Keep the video but don't use it for just a volume calculation. Use it for proportions or rates.