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Monday, December 28, 2009

Effects of NCLB

A school on the edge is the first in what St. Paul Pioneer Press writer Doug Belden calls "an occasional series" about schools and the No Child Left Behind law. Belden paints a poignant picture of the efforts of staff and administration at Carver Elementary School in Maplewood, Minnesota. Carver "has missed federal testing targets for four straight years and finds itself a year or two from potential closure." Meeting some standards each year while others fall amidst the steadily rising requirements for annual yearly progress, Principal Peter Olson-Skog warns that Minnesota faces the prospect of "good and great schools shutting down, good and great staffs breaking emotionally."

Reading such an article makes one wonder at some of the remedies Maplewood might face:

  • Closing Maplewood and sending the students to other District 622 schools
  • Having teachers compete with each other for performance pay awards
  • Replacing the school administration
  • Hiring new teachers (presumably with new ideas) to replace the current staff that knows and cares for them
  • Turning Maplewood into a charter school

All of the above are possibilities under NCLB and many of the Obama/Duncan proposals for Race to the Top and presumably in the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Also see Simple solutions add up to progress in math at Maplewood's Carver Elementary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

War Against Chocolate Milk

A Time Magazine story released over a week ago just caught my eye. Gilbert Cruz relates in U.S. Schools' War Against Chocolate Milk that "taking a stand against chocolate milk" seems "like canceling Christmas." He tells of nutrition experts and school districts that are concerned about the calories and sugar in reduced-fat chocolate milk that may be "contributing to an already worrying childhood obesity crisis."

Odds 'n' Ends

While hunting around for information about the old Roberts Dairy in Indianapolis where I worked and consumed vast quantities of something called "school chocolate milk" (vitamin D milk with chocolate flavoring...even more fattening than today's chocolate milk), I ran across Steph Mineart's unique Indianapolis' Lost Big Things page. It features photos of large things no longer around, such as the giant milk bottles that used to be a part of the old Polk Milk Company building in Indianapolis. I can just barely remember going on a field trip to the Polk plant when in elementary school.

Steph's site came up in the search, as she'd like to find a photo of the giant cow that used to stand in front of Roberts Dairy. I remember the cow well, as I saw it for years as I drove in and out of work. We used to joke that my college degree was a Roberts' degree, as my earnings from the dairy financed much of my college education!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hawaii Furlough Deal Falls Through

An agreement with the union that represents Hawaii's public school teachers to reduce the state's number of furlough days caused by budget cuts fell through when Governor Linda Lingle refused to approve it. Hawaii governor rejects furlough deal relates that the deal between the teachers union and the Board of Education and Department of Education "agreed to restore seven of the 10 remaining furlough days this school year by using $35 million from the state's rainy day fund. The plan did not address the 17 furlough days scheduled for next school year." Governor Lingle rejected the agreement because it "used more than two-thirds of the $50 million she offered but only restored seven furlough days. She wanted to leverage the $50 million to end all 27 furlough days" in the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years.

Our coverage of this story began back in October when the cuts were first announced. If the parties involved don't find some middle ground, Hawaii will be left with a 163 day school year, the shortest in the nation. Beyond negatively impacting student learning (and teachers' pay), the furlough days have other negative effects such as child care on furlough days for working parents, especially those with special needs children.

Odds 'n' Ends

Nick Anderson's Education Secretary Arne Duncan's legacy as Chicago schools chief questioned in the Washington Post covers about the same ground as Sam Dillon did in Report Questions Duncan’s Policy of Closing Failing Schools in the New York Times in October. The bottom line of both articles is that Secretary Duncan's track record as head of Chicago's public schools wasn't as good as it is sometimes reputed to be. And that brings about some good questioning about whether scaling up Duncan's Chicago approach to the whole nation is a viable reform plan.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apple Year-End Clearance & Tax Saving Sale Saving Yeshiva High

Bob Shaw has a good story today in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Saving Yeshiva High. The Jewish school for boys "hovering between success and failure — unhappy, low-income and not thriving in school," will have to close on February 1, unless money can be raised to buy the building and save the school.

I originally had this item tucked in to the end of the Odds 'n' Ends section of today's posting. I moved it to the lede, as like many educators, I've had dreams at times of starting that "special school" for kids in trouble and hate to see one of them go down.

Let's hope and pray they find an angel with deep pockets.

Alternate link on Business Week

Retired Columnist Hammers Indiana Governor on Education

Liz Ciancone retired several years ago from writing her Ms. Takes column in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, but still contributes a piece every now and then. In her latest, Gov lacks smarts when it comes to education, Liz unloads on Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, noting that the state "ranks 49th among the 50 states in terms of per pupil expenditure on education for grades K-12." She writes that he now "wants to address those shortfalls by cutting another $300 million from public school funding." I won't go into all the details. You have to read it to believe it.

The Indianapolis Star's Mary Beth Schneider wrote yesterday in Daniels speeds up timetable for K-12 funding cuts that the Governor has now decided to take away the $300 million from Indiana's public schools in the next twelve months, rather than over the next eighteen months as originally announced.

Aren't you glad you don't live and teach in Indiana!

NASA Image of the Day


SaturnThe NASA Image of the Day yesterday was this stunning shot of Saturn. The moon on the right in the image is Rhea. The photo also shows the shadow of another moon, Tethys, on the left. Multiple images were taken using red, green and blue spectral filters and combined to create this natural color view. "The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on November 4, 2009, at a distance of approximately 808,000 miles from Saturn."

As with all images from the NASA Image of the Day Gallery, this one was available for download in a variety of sizes. The full size downloadable image shown in reduced size at right includes a lot more than the cropped shot used for the Image of the Day.

On Science@NASA

Science@NASARecent postings on Science@NASA include Blue Moon on New Year's Eve and Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery. While the first one will be old news by the time you're back in front of students, the second one tells that "the solar system is passing through an interstellar cloud that physics says should not exist!"

Postings on Science@NASA are written in vocabulary appropriate for middle through high school students. They also have audio files and other language versions available as well as being available as podcasts on iTunesicon.

And while I'm slipping seriously into space trivia, a couple of interesting articles on caught my eye this morning. Smallest Object in Outer Solar System Spotted tells of the discovery of a small (975 meters across) object that "is the first observational evidence for a population of comet-sized bodies in the Kuiper Belt that are being ground down through collisions." The 9 Top Spaceflight Stories of 2009 by Jeremy Hsu grabbed my interest with its number nine ranking, "Stephen Colbert Reaches Space (sort of)."

Odds 'n' Ends

Channel Insider has an interesting report on the three-year failure ratings of laptop computers in How Good is that PC under the Tree? The report, based on data from Square Trade, a provider of extended PC warranty services, notes that about a third of all laptops fail within the first three years of use. Not unexpectedly, more expensive laptops fared better than cheaper ones, but you will be surprised at where the various manufacturers rank in the report.

The Edublog Awards for 2009 were announced...sometime last week! I guess I got caught napping on that one. The winners and runners-up listings are a great source of educational content and maybe even some new ideas for your classroom.

Other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, there's not really enough in January to justify a full Looking Ahead section. The Teacher's Corner and do have calendars of special observances throughout the month. And while I'm loath to suggest yet another "day" to compete with "Bean Day" and "Cheese Day," January 1 will, as long as I'm publishing, remain to me as "Change the freaking copyright notice day!"

Overstock BLOWOUT! Everything MUST GO!

Thursday, December 31, 2009 - New Year's Eve

District Sends Layoff Notices to All Administrators

The Center Grove school district just outside Indianapolis has sent layoff notices to all of its administrators! Cindy Marshall reports in Center Grove sends layoff warnings that teacher layoff notices are to soon follow. The move comes in response to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels's decision to withhold $300 million from K-12 education to balance the state's budget. As reported here earlier, Daniels had originally said the cuts would be over an eighteen month period and begin in the summer. Last week he changed that to twelve months beginning in January.

Indiana is facing revenue shortfalls like many other states due to the poor economy. But Indiana's funding problems have been aggravated by a property tax cap pushed through the last legislature at Daniels's urging that has reduced funding to schools and communities. The caps aren't yet fully implemented, but schools and cities are already reducing services and laying off personnel. Daniels, apparently preparing for a run for the Presidency in 2012 as a "fiscal conservative," wants the caps written into the state's constitution despite the chaos they've caused in the state. He continues to sit on a $1 billion state surplus.


The Freewares of 2009When you write a column or even a news site or blog, it's sorta expected that you'll have some great wisdom to impart about the events of the year in an end-of-the-year column. I've done my share of them over the years (see below if you need something other than counting sheep to put you to sleep). One year I even did two. And I've already done one such piece this month, The Freewares of 2009.

Resource Sites for TeachersAlong with Resource Sites for Teachers, that gives me exactly two education columns for the year. But having done over 180 daily postings for Educators' News and about half that many for Senior Gardening, I'm about out of any "wisdom" I might have once possessed. So I guess my end-of-the-year piece will have to be some very brief reflections here on the what has and is going on in education.

I'd really hoped the new Administration might bring to an end the Bush and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mantra of "failing schools" and "bad teachers." Although some of our schools are desperately in need of improvement, and we do, indeed, have bad teachers that need to be weeded out, the current NCLB version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) often makes good schools rank as failing schools. The rhetoric from the White House and the Department of Education has changed little from the Bush to the Obama Administrations. Secretary of Education Duncan continues to feed the public perception that all our schools are bad and the national teaching corps needs to be replaced. At least, that's how it feels on this end of it.

There was an opportunity, now missed, to change the tone of school reform in this country. We could have dumped the worst of NCLB, the high stakes testing and unachievable goals, and kept the core of recognizing and addressing the achievement gap. Current proposals for Race to the Top grants and talk of reauthorization of ESEA are filled with talk of more high stakes testing tied to performance pay, closing failing schools in favor of charters, and the wholesale replacement of administrative and teaching staffs at schools deemed as underachieving.

I fault the Obama Administration mainly on its rhetoric. President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan want to target and "turn around" the lowest performing 5% of our schools, but have allowed the negativity to overflow to the whole national school population. They also appear to have acquired tunnel vision in seeing needs only in large, urban districts while there are also crying needs in our rural school systems with the rural poor.

And of course, the pressure is all on the teachers and schools. Beyond national health care and some early childhood initiatives, little has been directly said or done to address some of the root causes of schools in trouble, the homes and the poverty which breed the conditions for failing schools.

I have been encouraged over the last few weeks to see many writers finally speaking out against the Obama/Duncan plan for school reform. The writers aren't opposing the plan on partisan grounds, but on the sane rationale that it won't work. I would hope that when ESEA reauthorization is considered in congress, changes will be made.

That's where I've come to be over the last year from my vantage point as a retired teacher that has been in the past an Obama supporter.

Can we have a more civil and realistic discussion about improving schools?

Various End-of-the-Year Pieces by Steve

When pulling together the list of my old end-of-the-year columns, I had to laugh at what I'd written in a 1998 piece for the now defunct MacTimes News Network:

In a crazy year that saw one Bill impeached and another in court (via videotape), the Macintosh scene was no less surprising. Claris became FileMaker with just the superlative database and Home Page as products. All other products were absorbed into Apple for eventual extermination, with the exception of ClarisWorks. Intuit cancelled development of Quicken for the Mac while Ituit's chairman sat on Apple's board, only later to reinstate Mac development. MacUSER was absorbed by MacWorld. Apple completed four straight profitable quarters on the strength of a new translucent shelled computer and the incredible G3's. Steve Jobs redefined the word "interim." Rhapsody was ditched in favor of OS X. Microsoft released a Mac version of Office that was better than its Windows counterpart. MacWEEK became eMediaweekly. Aliens from Mars...well, you get the idea. It was a crazy year.

With the seriousness of what is going on in school "reform," I sometimes wonder if I should just go back to writing about computers rather than covering the often depressing education scene. It was a lot more fun.

Odds 'n' Ends

I'm winding up my second year of what has turned out to be real retirement. For a time, I thought I'd get back into the trenches, but that doesn't seem to be in my future. Let me relate why. (There's a moral in this story.)

I had an interview last year for a special education position at a reformatory. The institution really needed an "ace" in special education and also was just beginning to use the Moodle Course Management System. The school's techie attended the beginning of the interview, and we had a great time talking about what the teachers there could do with Moodle. Then the administrator and I had a smashing interview.

Then came the always awkward part of interviewing with charters and private schools, salary. When driving to the interview about 35 miles from our home, I'd decided on two potential numbers I could accept. One was if I really wanted the job and the other was $5,000 more if I only sorta wanted it.

As I sat there and considered the prospect of a long drive each day, a twelve month contract, and teaching behind razor wire topped fences, I shot the administrator the higher number that was still more than $10,000 less than my last public school contract in 2003-2004. The administrator's eyes became saucers, and she appeared close to going into shock. I quickly realized the number I'd uttered was probably far in excess of what she was making!

While it's currently in vogue to say that throwing money at education won't solve its problems, you do get what you pay for. I'm obviously still retired. I don't know how things turned out at the reform school. But I knew I could have helped them.

I guess that's about it for 2009. My thanks to the readers of Educators' News, and especially to those who have supplied news items and tips and criticism to keep me on my toes.

Friday, January 1, 2010 - New Year's Day

Happy New Year

Thanks to the members of the Cassini-Huygens team for sharing their views of Saturn and the Cassini spacecraft in the delightful New Years graphic above.

MATH DITTOS 2 Series Now Freeware

As announced last week, the MATH DITTOS 2 series of fact supported math workbooks are now freewares. The Addition & Subtraction workbook and the Division pre-release pages are already done and now available for download as freewares. The other workbooks have the unlocking code posted on their respective pages along with appropriate download links until I get the documentation updated, passwords removed, links updated, and the new files uploaded. Enjoy!

Have a happy and safe holiday weekend.

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