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Monday, March 7, 2011

Need a Smile?

I think I've linked to each story in Robert King's series about the kindergartners at Indianapolis Public School #61. The stories are informative and accurate, although sometimes also heartbreaking. His latest effort, A Day in the Life of an IPS Kindergartner, is a heartwarming and often humorous description of one very successful kindergartner and the individuals swirling around her. It should make any educator smile.

National Curriculum Guidelines

Sam Dillon's Bipartisan Group Backs Common School Curriculum and Catherine Gewertz's Leaders Call for Shared Curriculum Guidelines tell of a call for shared national curriculum guidelines by "seventy-five respected leaders in education, business, and government." The groups' recommendation was published today on the Albert Shanker Institute site. From the site:

To be clear, by "curriculum" we mean a coherent, sequential set of guidelines in the core academic disciplines, specifying the content knowledge and skills that all students are expected to learn, over time, in a thoughtful progression across the grades. We do not mean performance standards, textbook offerings, daily lesson plans, or rigid pedagogical prescriptions.

Gewertz quotes Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, as saying, "What they're pushing is a national model of instruction."

There may be real merit to the idea of a common core curriculum for our country, but even one that starts out as "voluntary" for states and districts could eventually become a real incursion into local control of schools, a cherished American tradition. I also thought as I read the articles and the announcement, "We've got way too many folks sitting around in think tanks telling us how to teach and way too few folks in the trenches actually doing the job."

Apps (some free) for Science Teachers

Download on iTunesA tweet last week by Scienceman Joe Martha linked to an article on Scientific American that reviews some "cool apps" that he thinks might prove useful to other science teachers. From iPhones to SciPhones suggests and briefly describes:

The article lacks links in the text (some are available in pop-ups), so I've linked each app listed above to its iTunes web or app store description.

D.C.

A blog posting by Valerie Strauss, Rheeform: How she fired teachers (with artistic license), led me to the YouTube video embedded at left, Rheeform: Fibs and Firings. It's pretty good.

Bill Turque reports No evidence mayoral control led to D.C. schools' better test scores, report says (a pretty clear headline:-). A study by the National Research Council, A Plan for Evaluating the District of Columbia's Public Schools: From Impressions to Evidence (1.5 MB PDF document), says that "Publicly available, aggregate data suggest that there has been modest improvement in student test scores, but they do not support any conclusions about the effectiveness of PERAA [the law that established mayoral control of D.C. schools] in improving student learning." Turque quotes Mary Lord, a member of the D.C. State Board of Education, as saying, "This report is a shot over the bow of politicians seeking to reform education in this incredibly narrow way."

Governor Daniels' Real Agenda

In Creating distractions from the real GOP agenda, Dallas Kelsey asks some pointed questions of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's education "reform" agenda. Without using the word "liar," Kelsey effectively questions why the two officials and an ad campaign are misleading Indiana residents about the performance of Indiana's students and schools.

Not covered in Kelsey's excellent letter to the editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star is why Daniels and his Republican majorities are willing to change Indiana law to deprive elderly and disabled citizens the support they need to continue living in their homes. Under current legislative proposals, many would be forced into nursing homes.

In Teachers rally against Daniels, the Indy Star's Bill McCleery has some pretty direct quotes from Jeremiah Wade, a high school teacher from Goshen, Indiana:

The governor says it's about the children. But I don't think it's about his being pro-education as much as his being anti-union. He's done this before with other unions.

That does not take into account all the factors that go into teaching and learning and whether a child succeeds. If (the governor's proposals) go through, I think you'd see in a couple years when test scores don't go up that this didn't work. But Mitch Daniels is looking at running for president, and it's going to look good on paper for him regardless of how it turns out for the state.

Odds 'n' Ends

Headlines can be ambiguous, as they are often written by layout people or webmasters instead of the article's authors. Sam Dillon's recent brief posting, Education Secretary Cautions Districts About Layoffs, is a case in point. Dillon actually writes that Arne Duncan didn't caution schools against layoffs in general as possibly implied by the headline, but instead cautioned against using seniority for layoff decisions as "a wrong way to cut spending." Jennifer Medina tells in Teacher Layoff Plans in Los Angeles Pose Broad Implications that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa wants to be able to lay off more expensive, experienced teachers. A legal decision last year, now being appealed, would allow him to "dismiss teachers using criteria other than seniority."

The Economic Policy Institute's Setting the record straight on public employee wages and unions has links to lots of research debunking the current claims of Republican governors around the country about high public worker pay.

Michael Winerip exposes in Evaluating New York Teachers, Perhaps the Numbers Do Lie how a great teacher is getting a lousy evaluation due to her "value-added score"

Sam Dillon's Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms tells of layoffs and increasing class sizes across the nation.

Some of you may have come away wondering after reading the Need a Smile posting today why I didn't give a link or list all of Robert King's articles about the School 61 kindergartners. I have in the past put up a list of King's previous articles, but the host, The Indianapolis Star, pushes columns into their paid archive in just a few weeks, making such a list not such a cool deal. One can google my listings and find most of the articles. Searching for the older articles by name

I've written King (once) and the Star (more than once) suggesting a sidebar or bottom of the story listing of the related articles. Such a listing would keep folks on the Star's site, but they apparently are far too wise to be counseled by an old, worn out teacher.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Discovery to Land on Wednesday: Juno Launches in August

Juno spacecraftWith the space shuttle Discovery not due to land until tomorrow, NASA's Image of the Day, Jupiter Spacecraft Nearing Completion, caught my eye. The Juno spacecraft is currently undergoing testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver. "The solar-powered spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles to find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere."

While it appears that Juno is in good shape for its August, 2011, launch, some future NASA Mars and Jupiter missions planned may not fare so well. Charles Q. Choi reports in Report Prioritizes Big Missions to Mars and Jupiter, But Can NASA Afford Them on Space.com that a report (9.7 PDF document) issued yesterday warns that NASA's current budget woes might delay some or all of these missions.

Texas

Liz Goodwin relates in Perry may turn down millions as he slashes education funding that Texas Governor Rick (Goodhair) Perry "may leave $830 million in federal education funds on the table even as he proposes billions in cuts to public education." Perry can't use the funds unless he keeps state education spending at existing levels or above. The governor is currently proposing spending cuts to education that is estimated to cost 100,000 teachers their jobs.

And in case you were wondering, Texas has already outlawed collective bargaining for teachers.

Death of the Middle Class

Stand Up for HoosiersAn obituary, Death of the Middle Class, was read on the statehouse steps yesterday in Indianapolis. According to the Stand Up for Hoosiers Facebook page, "a New Orleans style funeral to celebrate her life and legacy" is planned for noon today at the statehouse. (Sounds like an incredible photo opp.) The Indiana AFL-CIO has planned a “We Are Indiana” rally on Thursday, from 11A.M. to 2 P.M., on the west side of the Statehouse.

Indiana House Democrats began "the third week of their walkout to stop legislative action on bills that affect labor unions and public schools" yesterday. They're saying they'll stay out of state as long as it takes to get Republicans to negotiate on critical issues affecting education.

All of the School 61 Articles

I concluded yesterday's posting with a rather snarky comment about the Indianapolis Star not posting a listing of all of the Robert King series of articles about the kindergartners at School 61. I've written the Star more than once with the suggestion that they include a listing of the articles as a sidebar or at the end of the columns. It just makes sense to do so. It shares the links to the articles with readers already interested in one such article, and it's good business to keep folks on the site...viewing more of the advertising that supports the site. Of course, the Star has passed on my advice.

Yesterday, Robert King did send me a link to page that has links to some of the articles, although they're mixed in with a lot of other postings. Note that this situation isn't King's fault. Reporters and columnists generally aren't allowed anywhere near page setup!

So yesterday, I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon tracking down alternate links, mostly on Indy.com, to what I believe are all of the articles in the series. Enjoy!

Note: Rather than reposting this list each time a new article in the series appears, I'm updating the list here in Educators' News archives and will link to it with each new post. If you wish to bookmark this list, the link is:

http://www.mathdittos2.com/ednews/archive/week322.html#110308king

Longer School Year

Carla Rivers has a good article in the Los Angeles Times looking at the pros and cons of a longer school year. In Schools weigh the benefits of more classroom time, Rivers writes that "Education research varies over whether extending the school year leads to increased student achievement." But there are some great success stories that seem to have a longer school year as part of their formula for improving learning (as measured on high stakes tests).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hope

Hope?Diane Ravitch wrote in Signs of Hope on she and Deborah Meier's Bridging Differences blog yesterday:

There really is a bipartisan consensus on education reform. It happens to be the Republican agenda of the past 30 years, minus the Republicans' traditional contempt for federal control of education policy. Where did the Democratic agenda go?

The business oriented agenda of contests for essential funding, high stakes testing, merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, and firing their way to better education by breaking seniority rules and getting rid of all the experienced "bad" teachers until recently appeared to be rolling over any and all voices of reason. The term education "reform" came to require quote marks, as it actually meant the dismantling and privatization of America's public schools.

Diane writes that those of us who believe in treating the whole problem (poverty, effective but fair teacher evaluation, etc.) have "no political leadership to support public education, collective bargaining, or the dignity of the teaching profession," but have recently found heroes in the folks holding fast in Madison, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. The Madison, Indianapolis (IN), and Columbus (OH) protests have proved to be a wake-up call for working people in America.

Things still don't look very good for teachers, parents, and students as the President continues to tour the nation touting his flawed education "reform" plan. He highlights schools that have made incredible progress (with massive private support to augment state and federal funding) and continues the practice of demeaning classroom teachers everywhere by talking of recruiting a new generation of great teachers (as if we don't have lots of great teachers today). Instead of trying to create a truly fair and accurate system of evaluating teachers (to improve the average and weed out the few "bad" ones), he continues to extol the virtues of merit pay based on high stakes testing despite research that shows his plan isn't a viable one.

The President's education agenda gives aid and comfort to those who would destroy public education as we know it, creating a second class public system for the poor and unmotivated (parents) and charter schools and private schools for those with vouchers and the wherewithall to make up the difference of the voucher value and actual tuition. Charlatans like Indiana's Mitch Daniels and Wisconsin's Scott Walker hide behind the Obama/Duncan education "reform" plan, claiming to be bipartisan and "for the children" while supporting measures that will ultimately hurt children, teachers, and parents while enriching their patrons in business.

In all of that, Diane still finds some hope:

We must take hope wherever it can be found, believing that common sense and decency will in time prevail. But we cannot rely on hope alone. The only lasting resolution will depend on the will, the determination, and the concerted actions of the citizens of this democracy.

Any hope I have remaining is tenuous. Walt Gardner's Public Schools Are Damned One Way or Another seems appropriate. And I'm leaning towards agreeing with the friend that Matt Damon quoted recently in a Piers Morgan interview, "I no longer have the audacity to hope." But as Diane wrote, we must find hope and continue trying. Hence, Educators' News continues.

Experimental Robot Helps Autistic Children

Kaspar the friendly robot helps autistic kids on eSchool News tells of an experimental robot that is showing success in getting children with autism to read facial expressions and become more comfortable with touching people.

Kaspar is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. He has shaggy black hair, a baseball cap, a few wires protruding from his neck, and striped red socks. He was built by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire at a cost of about 1,300 pounds (US $2,118).

I'm not real big on posting stories about experimental stuff not currently available to most students and teachers, but so far, "almost 300 kids in Britain with autism...have played with a Kaspar robot as part of scientific research." Wouldn't it be great if a "Kaspar" would be available here soon at a reasonable price.

Odds 'n' Ends

Walker offers concessions to Democratic senators and Why Walker won't back down, both on the Wisconsin State Journal, shows how confusing the situations in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere really are.

Bill Turque reports that District Mayor Vincent C. Gray this morning "lifted the 'interim' from Kaya Henderson's title," naming her as the new chancellor for the D.C. schools.

Discovery and ISSAs I'm writing today's posting, I have the TV volume in the next room turned way up so I can hear NASA TV's coverage of the landing of the space shuttle Discovery. While it's rainy here in west central Indiana this morning, Florida appears to have good conditions for the landing.

Today's NASA Image of the Day, The Journey Home, carries the following caption:

The space shuttle Discovery is seen from the International Space Station as the two orbital spacecraft accomplish their relative separation on March 7. During a post undocking fly-around, the crew of each vessel photographed the opposing craft.

While sometimes a stretch in relevance for an education site, I still can't get over the "gee whiz" factor of human space flight and keep posting this stuff.

The astronauts have completed their de-orbit burn at this writing (10:55 A.M. EST), so they should be down in an hour or so. And I've switched to watching the landing online on NASA TV (also available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch).

BTW: The Discovery launch videos you may have seen on CNN or NBC are available on the NASA High Definition Video page.

Update (12:02 P.M. EST) They're Down (Safely)!

I noticed as I watched the online version of Discovery's landing that the number of viewers, listed at the bottom of the window, jumped from in the 60,000's to over 100,000. I'd guess that number represents a good number of classrooms and schools.

Discovery lands

Friday, March 11, 2011

A New Arrival

Anne & LiamSam & LiamWe had a new addition to our family on Thursday morning. Liam Douglas Eads was born at 9:35 A.M., weighing in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces. Grandma and Liam are pictured at left, while his mom (Samantha) holds him at right. Grandpa was behind the camera, and dad (Todd) was busy just being proud (He actually took the photo at right.).

We got a call late Wednesday evening that our services were required to babysit Liam's sister, Penny. So we made the late night trip to Indy and got to spend some time with one of our granddaughters while her mom and dad were at the hospital.

I'm sure our week ended on a much better note than for those in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin and Indiana

While I was off, Republican legislators in Wisconsin made a change in the law to limit collective bargaining in that state so it could pass without a quorum. While Governor Scott Walker got what he wanted in legislation there, the national attention the state and issue of teacher (and public employee) collective bargaining alerted the nation to a Republican plot to kill public employees' unions. Indiana House Democrats are still out-of-state, denying the Republican majority the quorum they need to push through Governor Mitch Daniels' anti-worker, anti-teacher agenda.

That last link is from the state page of a very young and uninformed state senator. He writes:

Many expressed a fear that I would “break” the teachers union and end mandatory public-sector collective bargaining.

Yes, that’s exactly what I would do. There’s no good reason for public-sector unions to exist — for teachers or for students.

I could tell Senator Banks story after story of how our teachers' association protected me when I stepped out as an ombudsman for my students...and surely would have been fired if it weren't for the union. But folks like Jim Banks don't listen well.

Most Schools Failing

As we all knew would eventually happen, folks are beginning to get worried about the unreachable 100% proficiency standards of the No Child Left Behind law. Nick Anderson's Most schools could face 'failing' label under No Child Left Behind, Duncan says tells that the SecEd is finally beginning to see the light. Valerie Strauss clarifies things a bit in her blog posting, Defending Arne Duncan, sort of.

Of course, if the President and Secretary of Education would have worked on a fair evaluation system for teachers and focused more on the poverty that causes poor student performance when they had a Democratic majority in Congress, they wouldn't be so worried now about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Instead, they chose to cling to the worst of NCLB, its high stakes testing requirement and punitive "solutions," rather than face the underlying causes of the achievement gap and general poor student (and school) performance.

Have a great weekend!

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