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Monday, May 17, 2010

Central Falls Teachers Rehired

The Central Falls High School staff that had all been fired under a Rhode Island turnaround plan will be rehired for next year under an agreement announced yesterday. RI school district agrees to rehire fired teachers tells that the agreement calls for "a longer school day, more after-school tutoring and other changes...a new evaluation system designed to inform teaching and learning, and targeted and embedded professional development."

The firing of the entire school staff made national news when President Obama highlighted it, saying, "But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show any sign of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability." After the firings, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said district officials were "showing courage and doing the right thing for kids.; Valerie Strauss suggests in Why Obama, Duncan should have kept quiet about Rhode Island teachers that the situation probably would have been resolved much earlier without the interference of the President and Secretary. She adds that "The problem with the get-rid-of-all-the-teachers approach is that it hasn’t actually worked well for most of the schools that undergo the process."

In Live from RI: "I Love It When a Plan Comes Together", Rick Hess says that the teachers' union "folded" and "agreed to accept all of [Central Falls Superintendent] Gallo's initial requests, including two weeks (rather than one) of summer professional development at her preferred rate. Hess writes, "Good management is about discipline, not blood lust. The point of school turnarounds is not to count scalps, but to win necessary changes, force out lousy teachers, and reset the board." He alo notes that "folks in R.I. report that many teachers privately murmured support for much that Gallo proposed."

Odds 'n' Ends

ScienceDaily reports in Pesticide Exposure May Contribute to ADHD, Study Finds that "A team of scientists from the University of Montreal and Harvard University has discovered that exposure to organophosphate pesticides may be associated with increased risk of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children." Jacques Steinberg's Plan B: Skip College discusses the old issue of whether everyone needs a college prep high school experience and alternatives to that approach. Walt Gardner cover some of the same ground on his Reality Check blog in Does Tertiary Education Pay Off? Study: New Jersey teacher salaries meager talks about the realities of pay for teaching. And Education Week's Alyson Klein has a good look at the ESEA reauthorization process and chances for a new education bill this year in Push to Renew ESEA Faces Steep Policy, Political Hurdles.

Jimmy Buffet ConcertFour disc setEven from lawn seating, Saturday's Jimmy Buffet concert was a lot of fun. The performance was great, but with a Buffet concert, half the fun is just people watching. Indy Star reporter David Lindquist wrote of Parrotheads carrying inflatable sharks, with others wearing pink-flamingo headgear and yet others with bikini tops fashioned from coconuts...and that was just the guys. The lawn area was pretty much a continuation of the tailgating parties that had started in the parking lot hours earlier.

Annie and I ended up arm-in-arm, singing Wastin' Away in Margaritaville... with a bunch of "kids" who wondered at old folks like us who still enjoyed such concerts (while we wondered at the appeal of Buffet across all the age groups present).

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Organophosphates and ADHD

Late yesterday afternoon, I added a blurb in the Odds 'n' Ends section about a new report that may have found a link between organophosphate pesticide residue in foods and the incidence of ADHD among children. Articles about the report yesterday were pretty brief, but Organophosphate Pesticides Linked to ADHD gives a much fuller picture. The conclusions from the report state:

These findings support the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence. Prospective studies are needed to establish whether this association is causal.

For parents and teachers of students with ADHD, the report may add some perspective, but really doesn't require any immediate action in methodology for such students. But it's one of those good things to know.

If you're wondering about what products may contain or may have previously contained organophosphates, I looked around a bit online and found a few answers. Diazinon, which was taken off the market around 2003, was one of the most commonly used organophosphates and "was found under the brand names Real Kill, Ortho, and Spectracide," besides being available under the Diazinon name. Other organophosphate products include parathion, malathion, methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos, dichlorvos, phosmet, tetrachlorvinphos, and azinphos methyl. Of that group, I think malathion is the only one I've seen recently on garden store shelves. It's also an ingredient in some head lice treatments.

While malathion is said to be "an insecticide of relatively low human toxicity," the article linked above relates that "according to a 2008 US report, detectable concentrations of the organophosphate malathion were found in 28% of frozen blueberry samples, 25% of strawberry samples, and 19% of celery samples."

Here are a few of the sites I found helpful on the subject:

As an avid gardener and an ex-farmer, I can relate that both groups often bemoan the removal of effective pesticides from sale. But I also remember when I took my first certified applicator training (to be licensed to use restricted use pesticides and herbicides), the extension agent doing the training commented about the removal of products from approved use to the assembled farmers, "Guys, we did this to ourselves." He was making a point about excessive use of herbicides and pesticides and the pollution that resulted from their runoff and persistence in the environment.

If their is any good news in all of this, it's that there may now be a good lead on finding the answer to one of the causes of ADHD.

More on the Central Falls Agreement

The Boston Globe's Brian MacQuarrie writes in R.I. teachers subdued after agreement:

In a dramatic conclusion to four months of acrimony, teachers in this struggling city conceded nearly everything administrators had demanded in return for the jobs of 93 faculty, management, and staff at beleaguered Central Falls High School.

Faced with the prospect that all their high school colleagues would be out of work next month, the union’s 336 members overwhelmingly ratified a tentative agreement reached Saturday night at the West Warwick home of Superintendent Frances Gallo.

Part of the agreement is that Central Falls teachers will have to "submit to rigorous evaluation to retain their jobs after the 2010-11 school year." Words such as "rigorous evaluation" make teachers like me, who've been through a witch hunt or two, very nervous. Fair and effective evaluation leading to the improvement of teaching and learning is something we all should endorse. But under the current climate of education "reform," often advocated by those who've never taught or only taught briefly, and coming "reforms" such as performance pay and teacher evaluations based mainly on student test scores, I fear we're in for a rough ride.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also issued a brief statement about the agreement.

Light House Mission

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Need a Galaxy Banner?

Panorama of the Whale Galaxy

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, Panorama of the Whale Galaxy, is a 3000 x 753 pixel composite of NGC 4631. The spiral galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape when seen edge-on led to its popular moniker of the Whale galaxy. The dimensions of the photo (41.667 x 10.458 inches, according to my copy of Photoshop CS) immediately made me think of its potential as a banner to go above one's chalkboard or whiteboard (if you have a banner printer mixed ). The Whale galaxy is about 30 million light-years away and spans about 140,000 light years. It can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). (Full size image)

Head Start Fraud

A GOA report issued yesterday revealed that federal investigators have "found workers at federally financed child care centers frequently misrepresenting information about applicants' job status and earnings to fraudulently register ineligible children...In 8 of 15 undercover tests, employees lied on federal forms about the applicants family income and other information to gain approval for the ineligible children, the report said." Sam Dillon notes how the fraud hurts eligible kids in Inspectors Find Fraud at Centers for Children, "One in five preschool children live in poverty, but less than half of the children eligible for Head Start are able to receive federally funded child care because of the agency's long waiting lists."

Report on the Effect of Poverty on Student Reading Achievement

A report released Tuesday by the Casey Foundation looked at the connection between poverty and children's reading. Valerie Strauss writes in Report looks at role of poverty, parents in student success that:

  • 90 percent of low-income black students in high-poverty schools were not reading at grade level by fourth grade.
  • 83 percent of poor black students in schools with moderate to low levels of poverty did not reach the goal.
  • 88 percent of Hispanic students in high-poverty schools missed the mark.
  • 82 percent of Hispanic students in schools with low or moderate rates of families living in poverty did not read at grade level.

She adds, "One thing the report does not do is put the blame wholly on teachers for a lack of student success." From the report:

There is no substitute for the parent’s or primary caregiver’s role as a child’s first teacher, best coach, and most concerned advocate. This role begins early and covers a lot of ground.

Stephen Krashen comments on the report in A warning about "Early Warning!" He asks on the Schools Matter blog, "Standards and tests as a cure for poverty?" And in answer, he writes:

Forget all the new standards and tests. The research review in Early Warning! demonstrates that we know what the problem is: poverty. Instead of spending billions on new standards and tests of academics and now social and emotional development (!), let's use the money to move swiftly to protect children against the effect of poverty by supporting school-based nutrition and health programs and school libraries. By the time committees are formed, grants are developed, grant proposals written, standards written, and tests developed, millions more children will have suffered from the effects of poverty. We already have measures in place that will tell us what is working and what is not. Let's go to the cure, and not waste time with unnecessary measures of the problem.

Walt Gardner also has a related posting today on his Reality Check blog, Student Responsibility for Learning.

Ravitch: Schools 4 $Sale: Inquire at U.S. DOE

Diane Ravitch writes in Schools 4 $Sale: Inquire at U.S. DOE on her Bridging Differences blog:

It is troubling to see the full-court press to privatize big chunks of public education. We should have a full public debate about this. With so much of the media fawning over the super-rich and the celebrities who are supporting privatization, it is hard to get that debate. One place to start is this blog:


Let me repeat what I said in my book: Some charters are excellent; some are awful. In aggregate, they do not produce better results than regular public schools. But while so many in the media and the glitterati are agog about charters, let's not forget that more than 95 percent of our students are in the regular public schools. We have a public school system that needs improvement. Nothing coming from Race to the Top will help. It may even do untold harm to the system on which our nation has relied for more than 150 years.

DOE Turnaround Videos

The Department of Education has released a series of videos promoting the success of its under-performing school turnaround strategies. eSchool News also carries the videos in Videos highlight successful school reform.

On the Blogs

I sorta complained a week or so ago about there not being much on the teacher blogs I regularly follow. Today, I find I'm sorting through lots of good postings to list the best of them!

Sandra McCarron's Student Blog on Reflections of a Science Teacher tells of how she starts her students posting on their class blog. Education Notes Online's Obama Admin Connected to Anti-Teacher Union Ads is a bit disturbing but important to know. Arthur Goldstein's Leave the Kids, Take the Cannoli on Gotham Schools tells of his losing battles to get "the Tweed gang" in New York City to comply with class size regulations. Michael Doyle's Planting Time on Science Teacher appeals to me, well, because I like planting and gardening and his writing is so poetic. John Spencer is looking for feedback on the direction of his Musings from a Not-So-Master Teacher blog. Bellringers says she "would much rather just set my hair on fire and run screaming from the building" than to deal with yearbook time in Not It! Not It! Not It! Paul Martin explores Teaching Writing and Grammar (Part I) on The Teacher's View as he tries to balance teaching literature and the "dire necessity" of teaching writing skills and the structure of the language.

And to wind up this section, it's always good to look at This Week's Education Humor.

The New MacBook

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Postcard Campaign

Deborah Meier's Change the Conversation on Teaching on the Bridging Differences blog talks about how comparisons of teaching and teacher training to other professions such as medicine and law aren't totally valid. She faults those on the national stage, the media, and even teachers for reinforcing "a picture of possible solutions to teaching and teacher-ed in terms which directly contradict our real-life situation."

In an earlier posting, Meier had added a postscript that said, "Some of us are organizing a postcard campaign to Michelle Obama urging her to support policies that allow public schools to practice the kind of schooling she offers her own girls. Details next week." She provided just a bit more in today's posting in another postscript to the piece linked above.

Here's the postcard I'm sending Michelle Obama on May 29th: "I want the same public education for my child that you have provided for Malia and Sasha. Quality education is not measured by high stakes standardized tests, My child is NOT a test score."

When I googled "postcard campaign Michelle Obama," I found that Time Out from Testing, Empowered by Play, and a whole lot of bloggers are pushing the campaign Meier wrote of which asks people to send Michelle Obama a postcard on May 29 with a message "asking that she encourage the President to put an end to the use of High Stakes Testing." It's not a bad idea, although I've found the Obama/Duncan education machine particularly resistant to suggestions from real teachers. Here's the address if you're interested:

First Lady Michelle Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
White House, Washington DC 20500

Oil Spill Resources

WSRE oil spill pagePensacola Junior College's WSRE (PBS) has created what looks like a good web page of resources for parents and teachers to help children understand the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Crisis. It has links to lots of related information along with a brief glossary of new vocabulary words students may encounter when learning about oil spills.

D.C. Charters Upset Over Salaries in New DCPS Contract

Two items from The Washington Post, D.C. charters say raises give traditional schools an edge and Charters should leave D.C. teachers contract alone, relate that charter schools in the District are upset over salaries in the new D.C. teachers' contract. The charters are arguing that DCPS has an unfair funding advantage and that the best teachers will go there for salaries the charters can't match. When I read the articles, I found myself wondering, "How much money would it take to get me to work for Michelle Rhee?"

Friday, May 21, 2010

Slow News Day and "Better" Condoms for D.C. Students

You know it's a slow news day when District students want better condoms is the lede. Maybe a better beginning would be Sam Dillon's brief Colorado: A Rougher Road to Tenure that relates new teachers in Colorado will have at least half of their annual evaluation based on student test scores and only earn tenure after "proving themselves effective, as defined by a state panel, for three straight years."

Valerie Strauss's justifiable rant about the ridiculous new Texas social studies standards, The worst Texas social studies standard, is a good read, as is Walt Gardner's Eliminating the Achievement Gap Is Educational Alchemy.

eSchool News has a link to a new science video YouTube channel from Boehringer Ingelheim, called FamilyScienceQuest, but there's not much there yet (6 videos so far). And sister publication eCampus News's Vendors link e-textbook content with LMS software tells that Follett’s CaféScribe online textbooks now allow users to integrate their eBook material into popular learning management systems such as Moodle, Sakai, and Blackboard.


GloxiniasGloxinias on plantrackSo with due respect to Andy Ihnako's Celestial Waste of Bandwidth, there's not much here today. Since it's been raining for...forever, garden pix to spice things up are out of the question. We do have a couple of classy red gloxinias adorning our kitchen window that I brought up from our downstairs gloxinia factory. But we're limited even there, as most of our really gorgeous plants (the deep purples and bi-colors) are either going into or just emerging from dormancy.


I also just noticed a funny posting on the HECC listserv: "What a step back in time. Check out google today. You can actually play PAC-man on the google screen." If the sound is on in school computer labs, I'd guess the instructors will be going nuts today.

Thanks, Roy!

Google Pac-Man

Have a great weekend!

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