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Monday, February 15, 2010 - Presidents' Day

LAUSD May Cut 6 Days from School Year

In an effort to balance the Los Angeles Unified School District budget, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines has proposed cutting the current school year by six days. Five student days and one teacher day would be lopped off the end of the 2009-2010 school calendar according to L.A. Unified may cut school year by 6 days if various unions agree. Two unions say they are willing to negotiate a cut in the L.A. Unified school year relates that "Leaders of both the teachers and administrators unions said they are fully aware of the financial crisis and are willing to negotiate."

Duncan on NCLB

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered three "guiding principles" the administration would follow in rewriting the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. In a speech to school superintendents at the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference, Duncan identified "(1) higher standards, (2) rewarding excellence, and (3) a 'smarter, tighter federal role' in ensuring that all students succeed" according to Duncan offers ‘guiding principles’ for rewriting NCLB in eSchool News.

Internet Bus

Sam Dillon's Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus Into Rolling Study Hall is an excellent read. Dillon writes in part:

But on this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

Dillon acknowledges that while some students are turning in homework and doing research via the internet on the long bus ride, others were playing online games or using GarageBand, pretending to be rock stars. He relates that Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker told him that he knew from the start that some students would play computer games, but said, "That’s a whole lot better than having them bugging each other."

Just Fire Them All

The short version of a pretty sad story is related by the Associated Press in RI school district to fire high school teachers. The long version appears in Linda Borg and Paul Davis's Central Falls superintendent acts to fire city’s high school teachers on Thursday and Saturday's Central Falls to fire every high school teacher by Borg and Jennifer Jordan.

All relate that teachers at Central Falls High School declined an offer to "work a longer school day, attend after-school training and set aside two weeks in the summer for professional development" under a Rhode Island school reform model. AP states, "The added work didn't come with much extra pay and the teachers union refused to accept it."

After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was switching to an alternative she was hoping to avoid: firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.

Under the state reform model, teachers and administrators may re-apply for their jobs (which may have new job descriptions and duties), but only 50% of the previous staff can be accepted under the model.

Odds 'n' Ends

More snowValerie Strauss has a timely posting today on The Answer Sheet, Who are we really honoring on Presidents’ Day?

Many schools in our area have Presidents' Day listed as a school holiday, but also use it as a possible make-up day if days have already been missed. Most area schools do have days to make up, but we received a fresh cover of snow overnight that foiled any make-up plans.

It's a good guess that make-up days will probably be a center of attention nationally this spring. Schools in many regions, especially in the nation's capital, have missed significant amounts of school due to inclement weather. The southeast may have lucked out on this one, as their recent, unusual snowfall occurred on a weekend followed by a national holiday, so they may not have experienced the "joy" of a snow day or two.

Blogger Candi Peterson calls for the ouster of both D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Washington Teachers Union President George Parker in Time for a Change in Leadership: Rhee and Parker Gotta Go in 2010!

A widely circulated Associated Press story, Outlook grim for cash-strapped schools, rehashes much of what Sam Dillon and Michele McNeil covered last Monday. AP writer Terence Chea does add one good paragraph to the discussion, though:

Advocates say the looming cuts could weaken the nation’s public schools, worsen unemployment, undermine the president’s education goals, and widen the achievement gap between students in rich and poor districts.

Yep, we knew that.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Conflicts of Interest and the Race to the Top

Diane Ravitch takes on the powers that be in today's Bridging Differences blog post, Conflicts of Interest and the Race to the Top. She faults the Obama/Duncan Department of Education for relying on ideas for education initiatives from the Gates Foundation, which she says "has a lock on decisionmaking at the Department of Education."

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Along the way, Ravitch gives her two cents worth on the recent censorship on Education Sector and This Week in Education. It would appear that deviating from the current school "reform" party line is frowned upon on those sites.

One can only hope that the President and Secretary of Education will take heed of wise counsel from Ravitch and others and effect a course correction. Ravitch isn't optimistic and concludes with some dire predictions:

When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.

Sadly, I don't think our President and Secretary of Education are listening.

iPhone (iPod Touch) Apps

Several free apps that made the App Store's Top Free Applications RSS feed caught my fancy yesterday. Ethan Productions Today in Historyicon, The American Museum of Natural History's Dinosaursicon, and Space Imagesicon from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory all proved well worth the download and might have some use in the classroom.

Today in History Dinosaurs Space Images

As more and more applications become available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, I wonder how many of them are already updated for the upcoming Apple iPad tablet device. (There's also a Today in History Lite that looks good.)

Color Me !!!HIdden StoriesAnother app, Color Me !!! Liteicon, is really just a two coloring page come-on for their full app, Color Me !!! The come-on definitely worked on me, as I bought both the full version of Color Me !!!icon and SID's Hidden Storiesicon apps. I found the small screen coloring experience pretty good, despite my old, fat fingers. Hidden Stories presents a series of animated images, but no audio, and requires the user to wipe the screen to expose the images. One is left to add their own story line. Both apps could use a bit more development, but are worth the 99¢ download fee. I expect to get some good use out of both with our grandkids.

Working with Color Me, I was reminded of Robin Landsbert's excellent classic Mac OS application, Mirror Paint. One of my granddaughters always wants to color with its kaleidoscope effects on my G5 Mac. I had erroneously assumed the free application remained in the classic-only category, but found upon checking, that Robin has produced an excellent OS X version of it for both PPC and Intel based Macs. While there's not an iPhone app, it's the kind of thing that kids really love.

Mirror Paint

Mirror Paint was one of the applications we put on every one of our take-home Macs for my special education students.

1:1 Computing Studies

eSchool News has an interesting report today about a compilation of four new studies on 1:1 computing. The article, One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers, lists four key factors for success of such K-12 programs:

  1. Adequate planning
  2. Stakeholder buy-in
  3. Strong school or district leadership
  4. The teaching practices of instructors

The studies suggested that the last factor, teaching practices, was critical to the success of school laptop programs, as they "are only as effective as the teachers who apply them."

Laptops at Backwash ElementaryI was fortunate to be able to host what became a 1:1 computing initiative with my special education class the last few years I taught. Since my kids were already heavily immersed in computing from all the desktops I'd begged, borrowed, and bought and placed in the classroom, they were ready for a program that provided each of them a laptop to use at school. We didn't however, let our laptops go home, as each of my students already had an older desktop computer at home that we'd provided.

Our program proved to be immensely successful, but we had lots of time to implement it. I spent a whole summer reviewing software for purchase for our laptops. iBooks for Backwash Elementary, Computers in the Classroom: Fourth Year Classroom Tour, and Co:Writer 4000 tell a bit about our effort. Other classrooms in the school also attempted similar efforts, but often failed due to lack of preparation and teacher indifference! But the eSchool News article gives some good advice about 1:1 computing.

I also attended an excellent 1:1 Summit in 2005 hosted by the Indianapolis Public Schools. It turned out to be part of Apple Computer's 1:1 computing initiative, but the various speakers gave some excellent guidance on beginning a 1:1 program for any manufacturer's computers. Apple still hosts similar seminars. Apple 1 to 1 Learning Initiatives has videos of some of the Apple 1:1 Summits.

Odds 'n' Ends

An NPR story last week relates that the American Psychiatric Association will eliminate Asperger's syndrome as a separate diagnosis and fold it into "an expanded definition of autism." Removal Of Asperger's To Change Special Ed Access notes, "That change may make it easier to get services, and could speed up what has become a lengthy process."

Here's one that is causing a bit of a stir. Utah Proposal Would Make Senior Year Optional tells of an idea to cut costs by allowing seniors with credits completed to graduate early. The state senator responsible for the proposal, Utah Republican Chris Buttars, who "initially proposed eliminating 12th grade entirely," but now acknowledges that some students
need their senior year, as some feel "17 is too early to enter college and become part of the 'real world.'"

Being someone who finished high school in three and a half years and then got to grow up quickly on the loading docks while earning money for college, I really don't know how to feel about the proposal. Some Utah education officials are saying that beefing up the senior year with a required fourth year of math might be a better option. And even though early graduation made it possible for me to attend college, I'm a bit wary of any proposal for reducing high school years driven by budget considerations. Buttars motivation was to " save the state of Utah up to $60 million."


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poetry for Oral Reading

Giggle PoetryAn email this morning took me to Ginny Thompson's tip on daily poetry reading. Ginny has "one student a day read one self-selected poem a day." She allows time and support for preparation, of course. Ginny recommended several poetry books in her tip and a link to Bruce Lansky's Giggle Poetry site. Her tip appears on the NEA Works4Me site.

Shel SilversteinMy favorite poetry books for oral classroom reading remain the works of Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic were always available to my students from my personal book collection, along with other Silverstein works from the school library. Photocopied pages of the poems often were used as coloring sheets by students.

You're probably way ahead of me on this one. I'm listening right now on iTunes to Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show's The Cover of the Rolling Stoneicon. It was written by Shel Silverstein!

Cover - Rolling Stone - March 29, 1973

Well we're big rock singers, we've got golden fingers
And we're loved everywhere we go
We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
At ten thousand dollars a show
We take all kind of pills to give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we've never known
Is the thrill that'll get you when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone
     Wanna see my picture on the cover
Rolling Stone
     Wanna buy five copies for my mother
Rolling Stone
     Wanna see my smilin' face
     On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Autism and Ocytocin

ScienceDaily today carries an interesting report about potential beneficial effects of the drug oxytocin for individuals with autism. Oxytocin Improves Social Behavior of Patients, French Study Finds relates "that the inhalation of oxytocin, a hormone known to promote mother-infant bonds and social relationships, significantly improved the abilities of autistic patients to interact with other individuals."

LeslieThe article notes that oxytocin is a hormone that is primarily used to promote delivery and lactation, but also plays a crucial role in enhancing social and emotional behavior. "Previous studies that measured the levels of this hormone in the blood of patients showed that it was deficient in those with autism."

Oxytocin was one of the array of veterinary pharmaceuticals we used to keep on hand during our hog farming days. Gilts and/or sows that got in trouble farrowing sometimes needed a boost from the drug to finish delivering large litters of pigs. Leslie, a purebred Duroc pictured at right with a piglet, needed the drug when she delivered her largest litter of pigs (16 of them!). She was a good momma and probably didn't need oxytocin to enhance her social and emotional behavior.

It's sorta interesting that a product we used to on the farm and one that at one time was used to induce labor (in humans as well as other mammals) might have potential to improve the lives of those afflicted with autism.

I'm Not Really Here Today

I'm not supposed to be in the office today doing this posting. I'm supposed to be in a classroom in Terre Haute teaching a moderate-severe sped class. But...due solely to my own idiocy, my transportation is mired in a snowdrift in the auxiliary farm drive behind our garage. I worked much of yesterday trying to free my truck from the snowdrift I drove it into (to avoid the drifts in our driveway). It seems I need to do something really stupid like this once a year or so to remind me the truck can't go just anywhere in deep snow. Now, I've gotta go call the tow truck!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

3D Sun App

3D SunDr. Tony Phillips announced 3D Sunicon, a new astronomy app for the iPhone, yesterday. 3D Sun for the iPhone on Science@NASA tells about the app that "delivers a live global view of the sun directly to your cell phone. Users can fly around the star, zoom in on active regions, and monitor solar activity."

Science@NASAOther recent Science@NASA postings include:

Solar Dynamics Observatory: The 'Variable Sun' Mission
Hubble Sees Suspected Asteroid Collision
Firefly Mission to Study Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes

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.

While looking around the app store today, I did a search for all astronomy applications and was blown away at how many apps, podcasts, and iTunes U materials are available. I wonder if folks like me are going to soon need an iPhone/iPad emulator to use these materials on our desktop computers!

Unions and School "Reform"

eSchool News Managing Editor Laura Devaney had what is really a pretty objective story yesterday, despite its title: Are unions blocking school reform? Devaney opens by describing scenes from the film, Waiting for Superman, where a "hidden-camera video shows a teacher reading a newspaper and looking at his watch while his students fool around. Another scene shows slow-motion footage of teacher union leaders giving speeches opposing school reform." She notes that the film, directed by the same filmmaker who made An Inconvenient Truth, "could do for public education what the latter did for global warming...Push the issue into the national consciousness as a dire problem in need of fixing."

But she goes on to ask just "how much of the criticism is really justified," and add some much needed balance to such discussions. She quotes Paul Heckman, associate dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, as saying, "It’s much easier to put the blame on teachers than it is to suggest that a school’s entire structure plays a role in student success."

She also relates some welcome words for classroom teachers from Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University:

De-escalating the virulent rhetoric about unions and incompetent teachers would be a reasonable first step. Respect for teachers, never high in the U.S. to begin with, has unraveled even further with constant bashing. But hard as it [is] to ratchet down the noise level does not mean it is impossible.

On the other hand, we have Pawlenty chides teachers unions for holding up education reforms.

Odds 'n' Ends

The Post's Nick Anderson previews an announcement scheduled for today in Lawmakers to launch bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind. Sam Dillon continues the discussion about early high school graduation in High Schools to Offer Plan to Graduate 2 Years Early on the New York Times. Jay Mathews offers Eight essential life skills that schools can teach our kids.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Walt Now Has a Blog

Walt Gardner has been one of the most respected writers on the education scene for years. His editorials, columns, and letters to the editor have appeared on major news outlets across the nation. Walt has never tied himself to one newspaper or web site, but has now decided to write a regular blog on Education Week, Walt Gardner's Reality Check.

Walt's initial posting on the new blog, Teachers Are Potted Palms in School Reform, starts out in high gear. He writes that the Race to the Top initiative is "an example of how to squander an unprecedented opportunity to provide a quality education for all students." And he gets right to the nitty-gritty (that got Marc Dean Millot canned on TWIE) about those who created Race to the Top: "They happen to be a triumvirate composed of business leaders, philanthropists and politicians...But they have been given virtual carte blanche to advance their agendas, both overt and covert."

He continues:

Teachers, in the meantime, have been marginalized when so much depends on their support to make reform work. No other profession looks so widely outside its own ranks for solutions to problems. Doctors and lawyers, for example, are routinely consulted about plans that affect their work. But teachers are another story. That's a big mistake, with serious consequences down the road.

Walt says a new posting should go up sometime today. I can hardly wait.

Other EdWeek Blogs

Education Week also announced another new blog this week, Rick Hess Straight Up. Sara Mead, who is guest blogging this week on Eduwonk, may have ruined the name of Rick's new blog forever for me with her posting, I'm Disappointed They Didn’t Call It "I'm Rick Hess, B*tch". Rick's promising start includes provocative remarks, such as, "It undoubtedly says something about what a terrible person I am, but my instinct has always been--as soon as folks start telling me how much they love children--to pat my rear pocket to make sure my wallet is still there."

The Most Shameful Response to an Apparent Crisis is Deborah Meier's latest contribution on the Bridging Differences blog on, what else but Education Week. Deb writes about the enormous pressure on kids, parents, and teachers created by the current testing mentality. She writes:

The current education crisis goes back at least 50 years, to Sputnik. When was it that we humans didn't face an abundance of poor/minority youngsters, a vastly under-educated majority, homelessness, and on and on?

On days like today, I'm considering just closing up shop and posting a sign that says, "See the Education Week blogs."

And So It Begins

A brief statement yesterday from the House Education and Labor Committee announced "their plans for a bipartisan reform of the nation’s primary federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – currently known as No Child Left Behind." Hearings on reauthorization of the law are slated to begin on February 24, 2010. The notice includes an email address to which "groups and stakeholders can send the committee their input and suggestions."

There's also a page on the blog, Teacher to Teacher—Listening to Teachers about a New ESEA, that accepts comments to be directed to the Teaching Ambassador Fellows from the Department of Education.

Testing the Speakers Again

RumoursGrass Roots Greatest HitsToday's Educator's News posting is brought to you with the assistance of the music of Fleetwood Mac and The Grass Roots. Yesterday, on my way home from the grocery (one of the highlights of retired living), I found myself keeping time on the steering wheel to Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop and Midnight Confessionicon by The Grass Roots.

When I began writing today's posting (yes, on Thursday afternoon), I listened to Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits and Rumours albums which I already had in my music collection. In the meantime, Greatest Hits by The Grass Roots was downloading. Since I'm a slow writer, I got to listen to a lot of old favorites.

Have a great weekend!

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