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Monday, February 14, 2011

Grading Obama's Education Policy

Democratic SchoolsThe ProgressiveMichael W. Apple, co-author of Democratic Schools: Lessons in Powerful Education, has a dandy article in this month's The Progressive, Grading Obama's Education Policy. Unfortunately, the short excerpt provided online for non-subscribers doesn't do the whole article from the print edition justice. (My wife subscribes to The Progressive.) Fortunately, another online source has the full piece. His intro should get you:

For those of us who slogged through the years of No Child Left Behind and its damaging effects on education, Barack Obama's election promised what we hoped was a major shift in educational policies. The threat of privatization would no longer hang over schools. Curricula would no longer be simply made up of low-level facts to be mastered for seemingly mindless tests. Teachers would no longer have to spend weeks doing nothing but test preparation with their students. Poor children of color would no longer be so overrepresented in special education classes, shunted there as an excuse for not dealing with the realities of racism in the larger society. Schools would finally get the resources they needed to try to compensate for the loss of jobs, ever increasing impoverishment, lack of health care, massive rates of incarceration, and loss of hope in the communities that they served. A richer and more vital vision of education would replace the eviscerated vision of education that now reigned supreme.

Sigh, oh well.

Egg Shells, Frosting, & Cake Batter

I meant to post a link to Mrs. Lipstick's Egg Shells, Frosting & Cake Batter last week, but it got left out somewhere along the line. She tells on her Organized Chaos blog of she and her partner-in-crime (co-teacher) having their kindergarteners make cupcakes for their whole-school writing celebration day. You can tell from the writing and photos that the kids had a great time. She doesn't tell her secret for not worrying about "germy fingers" and "egg shells in the batter" until her second paragraph:

Now, my all-time secret of cooking with kids in the classroom is to always make 2 batches- one with the kids and one at home. The one with the kids goes straight to the "oven" also known as a trash can kids don't have access to, and the batch made at home appears after an appropriate cooling time. It really takes some of the stress out of the experience.

Sounds like a good activity and a lot of fun to me.

Parents Across America

I somehow got on the mailing list for Parents Across America. Their February newsletter tells a bit more about current happenings with the organization. It might be a good one to recommend to your school parents.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Obama Education Budget

Depending on who you listen to or read, the 2012 budget released by the Obama Administration yesterday is a spending extravaganza or a reasoned step towards a responsible future. For educators, the Obama education budget offers a slight overall increase in spending, including some perplexing cuts to some programs with inexplicably generous increases for others.

The biggest thing the education budget signals for teachers is more of the same: more contests for essential funding; more teacher bashing; more money for efforts outside the mainstream public school effort. Valerie Strauss's The problem(s) with Obama’s 2012 education budget is the best commentary I've read on the proposal. And of course, any budget must pass through the Republican controlled House, so Alyson Klein's House GOP Looks to Slash Education Spending is also important reading.

Just like initial proposals in collective bargaining (for those of you who still have the right to bargain), this budget is an Administration wish list that will be pulled, tugged, trimmed, stretched, and possibly passed in some recognizable form. Mike Petrilli suggests in Obama’s education budget: It’s about the 2012 election, not about the kids that President Obama is "just playing presidential politics" with the new budget.

Here's what others are saying and reporting:

Nepotism in Indy

Turkey of the WeekI gave a brief link towards the end of last month to a soap opera playing out in the Indianapolis Public Schools that may be illustrative of one thing wrong with our schools that none of the Obama/Duncan "reform" plans will touch. IPS Superintendent Eugene White had threatened to quit after the IPS board voted down his proposal for shifting a number of administrators to preserve jobs in turnaround schools. His plan also included the promotion of his son, a "behavior dean" at one "failing" high school to become "an assistant principal" at another such school with a whopping pay boost of $13,000! The son's salary, $78,606, is pretty impressive by midwestern educational pay standards for someone with about 12 years experience. But including the boost to $92,000 in a contentious proposal was just plain wrong.

Sadly, in the weeks between meetings, one board member changed his mind after modifications were made to the proposal. A commenter on the Indianapolis Star had the skinny on the story. Changes were made to the proposal apparently so that the board member's son would not see a cut in playing time on the court with the new proposal (which would have happened under the previous proposal). Unchanged was the item of the White's son's promotion and whopping pay raise.

When folks write about "bad teachers" in our schools, I often see the faces of some folks with whom I taught years ago. And often, those faces were hired and protected by their administrator or school board member relatives. Nepotism should have no place in local control of our schools. I have no idea whether Superintendent White's son is deserving of a promotion or not, but the way it was accomplished wasn't right.

It's been a while since we've awarded the Educators' News Turkey of the Week award, but a dual award to IPS board member Michael Brown and IPS Superintendent Eugene White is certainly in order.

Education Bills in Indiana

A flurry of Governor Mitch Daniels' supported anti-teacher, anti-public school, and anti-veteran bills are making their way through the Indiana legislature. Vigo Schools fear bills’ effects: Board believes subsidies would damage public schools by Sue Loughlin tells of House Bills 1002 and 1003 that "would expand charter schools and use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools" via vouchers. Vigo County Schools Superintendent Dan Tanoos, a previous recipient of our Turkey of the Week award, described vouchers as "scholarships for the privileged. It doesn’t take care of the most-needy." At least Danny got this one right.

The AP's Bill cuts tuition aid to some vets’ kids relates that Scrooge Daniels and the Republican majority in both houses are balancing their budget on the backs of the kids of disabled veterans. "Children of Indiana’s disabled military veterans would no longer be guaranteed a full college scholarship under changes contained in legislation that is moving through the Indiana General Assembly."

The bills mentioned above are in addition to Daniels' proposed bills tying teacher evaluations to high stakes testing, ending teacher tenure, and cutting bargaining rights for teachers. While these paragraphs are pretty blunt and partisan, folks outside Indiana need to know Mitch Daniels for who and what he truly is. He aspires to be president and does a great "down home" act...before he screws you over. If he gets on your state's primary ballot, don't be fooled.

Almost as Bad in Wisconsin

I no more got the section above posted when my email alert sounded with a message from my wife. She sent me a link to I am not the enemy: A Wisconsin teacher considers Walker's budget. It's a rather sad piece about Republican Governor Scott Walker's financial attacks on the state's teachers. The author, pre-kindergarten teacher Vikki Kratz, relates how "Walker's proposal would cost me about $400 a month," and essentially make it financially impossible for her to remain in education. The Wisconsin State Journal also reports in Legislators mum on Walker proposal as union leaders, protesters rage about the governor's "plan to effectively end collective bargaining for nearly all public employees."

Local Charter on the Line

Rural Community Academy (Graysville Elementary)I live just a mile or so from the only rural charter school in Indiana. It was begun when our local school system closed an elementary school in a small town, moving the students to the county seat. Folks around here got together and started the Rural Community Academy (RCA) that meets in the same grand old building as the county school used to (and one of our daughters attended). Graysville charter gets crowd approval: Renewal decision falls to Ball State president tells of the process of renewing the charter after seven years of operation.

Graysville is one of those charter schools that just made sense. The local school board never should have closed the elementary in the first place, as there is a considerable population that lives close to the school. The building, while old, was well kept. RCA has kept its eye on teaching kids, taking a pass on big athletic programs, and doesn't play games by pushing out special ed kids. They deserve to be renewed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Submit to the Borg

Arne Duncan kicked off a conference of public school teachers and administrators yesterday, urging them to keep student success at the heart of often-testy labor relations. Education chief urges teachers, administrators to cooperate tells of the meeting where both sides of the collective bargaining process are meeting "to share ideas for improved labor-management collaboration." But Sam Dillon notes in Role for Teachers Is Seen in Solving Schools’ Crises that "Republicans in several states have proposed legislation in recent weeks that would bar teachers’ unions from all policy discussions, except when the time comes to negotiate compensation." That pretty well rules teachers out in finding solutions via their union. Of course, it has seemed Duncan and the "reform" crowd aren't much interested in the views of teachers anyway, rather suggesting we "submit to the borg" of administration and business school "reform" ideas.

Update: Nick Anderson's School officials, teachers unions scrutinize Obama's divisive education agenda tells that Secretary Duncan did indeed do his "submit to the borg" bit again. Anderson reports that Duncan fell back on his flawed mantra that young teachers are always better than older ones: "He said schools and unions should rethink policies related to who gets laid off during budget crises, an issue in many places. Critics of unions say that "last-in, first-out" rules too often force young teaching talent out of schools."

LAUSD Worst Case Scenario

Howard Blume tells in L.A. Unified OKs "doomsday budget" about a budget passed by the LAUSD School Board that will have to be followed if more funding for the system is not secured. He writes that "thousands of employees would lose jobs, children would face larger classes, and magnet and preschool programs would experience sharp reductions" under the plan. Governor Jerry Brown is currently seeking the extension of some expiring tax increases that would somewhat alleviate the situation for LAUSD and other public schools in California.

New Planet: Probably Not

While watching CNN yesterday, a report came on about the possibility of a giant new planet existing in the Oort Cloud of our solar system. Wondering how I'd missed that one online, I found the written article on CNN, but also checked and NASA Breaking News. From what I found, the answer now is "probably not," based on Astronomers Doubt Giant Planet 'Tyche' Exists in Our Solar System.

Odds 'n' Ends

Yeah. it's a slow news day so far. I couldn't resist the "borg" reference today, and originally had the CNN report talking about "a giant new plant" in the Oort Cloud, which really would be news. Spellcheckers and text-to-speech regularly save me from embarrassing myself online more than I usually do.

But it's a gorgeous day here in west, central Indiana today. The sun and warm spell have finally melted off the last of our ice and snow. It's already in the upper 50's here in the morning, and and I actually have some outdoor work I need to do the resultant mud! Ah, it's a tough job, but someones gotta do it.

Feb. 5, 2011 Feb. 16, 2011
February 5, 2011
February 16, 2011


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Massive Layoffs Coming to New York City

There's a disturbing report this morning by the Associated Press that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's preliminary budget will call for cutting "more than 6,000 public school teaching jobs."

Colorado Summit

Most of the rest of the education news making the rounds today has to do with the two day summit in Colorado of school administrators and unions. Arne Duncan was reported to say he opposed plans such as those of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to eviscerate unions.

Friday, February 18, 2011


If you missed the news about teacher and public employee protests in Wisconsin, and their Democratic senators leaving the state to deny Republicans a quorum, you must have gone into seclusion yesterday. The networks were alive with video of some 25,000 protesters in Madison, Wisconsin. Teachers, students, parents, and other union members not affected by the proposed legislation marched on the statehouse...for the third day!

The crux of the protest is a piece of overreaching legislation promoted by new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that requires new contributions by teachers and other public employees to pension and health plans to help balance the state budget. While takeback is unusual, it is something that happens in bad economic times. The overreaching part of the proposed bill are the provisions that would "strip workers of the right to bargain over anything other than wages." Police and fire departments were exempted from the measure.

Walker, a conservative Republican, campaigned on fixing Wisconsin's budget and pulling folks in the state together. Stripping public employees of most of their bargaining rights was not part of his campaign, which has added to the backlash against this bill by the public.

While the walkout by state senators has delayed the bill, Republicans control both houses in the state along with the governorship. Protesters hope for some modification of the bill, but Republican leaders remain adamant in their support of the bill as is. Unless some other outside force is added to the protest, the bill will probably be passed. Wisconsin's firefighters and police could be that force, as the firefighters have been especially sympathetic and supportive of the teacher and public employee protest.

Walker's anti-union legislation compelled the Wisconsin Teachers of the Year (2008-2011) to write in Walker proposal would hurt students, educators, communities, "This attack on public education will do irreparable damage to an educational system already plagued by budget cuts and federal mandates demanding more be done with fewer resources."

Beyond Wisconsin

The current pending legislation in Wisconsin is probably just the beginning of a trend. Republicans took many governorships and statehouses in the mid-term elections. Here in Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels has vilified teachers and their unions to help bolster his longshot run for the presidency in 2012. Measures proposed here in terms of limiting collective bargaining are just as bad as those in Wisconsin. School vouchers and teacher evaluation are also making their way through the legislature.

Under SB1, the teacher evaluation measure, a veteran teacher or principal would rate teachers every year as either "effective," "highly effective," "improvement necessary" or "ineffective," based on state tests and other indicators. Only teachers in the top two categories could earn raises, and those who rate in the lowest two categories would have to follow a 90-day remediation plan.

Major cutbacks in education are brewing in Ohio, and Florida is always good for ridiculous proposals to punish their state's teachers. Other states have similar measures in some stage of development.

It's sorta hard not to see a pattern emerging in Republican controlled states. The game plan appears to be to balance state budgets on the backs of students and teachers, while weakening traditional adversaries, the NEA and AFT.

Odds 'n' Ends

Alfie Kohn's STEM Sell: Are Math and Science Really More Important Than Other Subjects is a good read.

And to balance the STEM coin, NASA yesterday announced an opportunity for certified K-12 teachers in the United States "to design a science experiment and then test it aboard a microgravity research plane." The deadline for submissions is March 14, 2011.

While we're on the subject of NASA, the NASA Image of the Day yesterday was this incredible image of the spiral galaxy NGC 2841.

NGC 2841

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration; Acknowledgment: M. Crockett and S. Kaviraj (Oxford University, UK), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia), B. Whitmore (STScI), and the WFC3 Scientific Oversight Committee

Have a great weekend!

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©2011 Steven L. Wood