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Monday, April 25, 2011

Looking Ahead

Teacheers Corner April CalendarIt's hard to believe that next Monday will be May 2! Schools with traditional calendars are definitely on the home stretch.

May has a long list of "days" that may need to be remembered, observed, and/or taught in one way or another. May Day (1), National Teacher Day (3), Teacher Appreciation Week (1-7), Space Day (6), the Kentucky Derby (7), Mother's Day (8), National School Nurse Day (11), the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race (29), and Memorial Day (30) may need some teacher attention.

Scholastic May, 2011, CalendarAs always, I've featured the Teacher's Corner May Calendar for this posting, but also poked around a bit online for other calendars, looking for something better. While I didn't find any education related calendars with more "stuff" on them than the Teacher's Corner, I did like Scholastic's May Teacher Planning Calendar, as it has links to Scholastic activities and teachers' guides. The Crayola May Calendar (not pictured here) gets a distant third place in my search, but I do like their activity links on their weekly list version of their calendar. And of course, Crayola is always going to have lots of good, free coloring pages. An even better source of coloring pages (IMHO) is DLTK's Free Printable Custom Calendars page. It has lots of popular cartoon characters that young students really seem to like.

I'm a Hoosier, so the Indy 500 is definitely going be on the calendar. As a kid growing up in Indianapolis, I was always amazed that you could hear all the cars start up on race day at our house which was miles and miles away from the track.

I didn't put the beginning of the Lewis and Clark expedition (14) on the list above, but if it fits your curriculum, it's one you wouldn't want to miss teaching.

In the realm of month long awareness observations, May is National Asparagus Month as well as Older Americans Month. Of more importance to kids and teachers, it's also Get Caught Reading Month.

Science Nation Today

Science Nation has an interesting "issue" out today, Super Stars: Using supercomputers to understand the super stars of the cosmos. Science Nation's host, Miles O'Brien, introduces us to Princeton University astrophysicist Adam Burrows, who "uses supercomputers to create spectacular 3-D images of supernovae that allow him to peer inside these super stars just before they explode." Burrows relates of his findings, "One of the things we discovered is that it doesn't explode as a ring expanding out. It explodes in tendrils and fingers, very turbulently."

For those not into astronomy and supernovae, last week's issue, If These Teeth Could Talk, is about dinosaur teeth and what they reveal about what dinosaurs ate.

A "Different Blueprint for Reform"

The Parents Across America organization released their vision of what school reform should be last week in a position paper, What Public School Parents Want in a New Federal Education Law (104K PDF document). The PAA press release summarizes their four-page answer to the Obama Administration's Blueprint for Reform. PAA-Florida co-founder Rita M. Solnet writes:

Parents Across America believes that a decade of NCLB’s incessant focus on high-stakes tests has resulted in the narrowed curriculum that we have today. Further, each new initiative has ratcheted up the stakes, making it clear that we’re abandoning the very children NCLB sought to serve. The explosion of new testing resulting from the Common Core standards and assessments forced on states by the federal government is a huge unfunded mandate that will likely drain billions of dollars from cash-strapped states and districts, and further harm children. We must urgently reverse course before it’s too late.

From the position paper:

Parents Across America opposes:

  • Policies that use standardized test scores as the most important accountability measure for schools, teachers or students, and/or expand the use of standardized testing in our schools.
  • Competition for federal funds; a quality education is not a race but a right.
  • "Parent trigger" laws, vouchers, charter takeovers or other forms of school privatization that take resources from the schools attended by most students and put them into private hands, with less oversight.
  • Limiting federally-mandated school improvement models to a narrow set of strategies, including charter schools and privatization, which are favored by corporate reformers but which have had little verified success.

A new ESEA/NCLB must include:

  • Sufficient and equitable resources in all public schools, so that every child receives a high quality education.
  • Improving schools rather than closing them, by means of evidence-based solutions backed by parents and other stakeholders.
  • Less standardized testing and more reliable accountability and assessment practices.
  • Programs that encourage the retention of professional, experienced teachers.
  • A full range of parent involvement opportunities including a stronger parent voice in decision making at the school, district, state, and national levels.
  • The right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests.

Note: Thanks to Valerie Strauss for her posting on Friday that alerted me to this item.

Odds 'n' Ends

Asparagus on Pics4LearningBegoniaFor those just dying for online photos of asparagus (Isn't everyone?), there's good news. The images I uploaded to Pics4Learning (mentioned in last Monday's Tenth Anniversary Edition of Educators' News) have been processed and posted in record time. Pics4Learning is a copyright-friendly image library for teachers and students. In between times, I uploaded another photo of a hanging basket begonia, and it was also processed and posted in just a few days. One of the things I'd noticed about Pics4Learning in the past was that images contributed often took over a week to be posted. The site has apparently speeded up their turnaround time on getting contributions available for free, educational use.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Another Open Letter to the President

Diane Ravitch's Social Norms Beat Market Norms today on the Bridging Differences blog is another excellent discussion of why business oriented reforms won't work in education. Tucked away towards the end of the piece is a link to a gem of a letter Paul Karrer shared with Diane and others. Paul is a fifth grade teacher at Castroville Elementary School in North Monterey County, California. He begins A Letter to My President - The One I Voted For, "I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours." He goes on to poignantly describe the "pure, raw poverty" of the community in which he teaches, and its heartrending effects on his students, past and present.

Choking Small School Districts in Indiana

HoosiersThe AP's Deanna Martin tells of an ugly little trick by the Governor and Republican majority in Indianapolis in Budget could spur talks of school consolidation. Martin tells of "an intentional move by lawmakers" in the state budget bill that would cut funding to school corporations with less than 500 students by up to a third. Evidently, Governor Daniels and Senate Appropriations Chairman, Luke Kenley, never got much into the classic film, Hoosiers, that depicted a small school basketball team winning the state title. They're all about numbers and efficiency, displaying no concept or concern for the needs and advantages of small school systems in Indiana. "Superintendent Fran Thoele, who oversees the single K-12 school with 164 students in New Harmony, said it would be more honest for lawmakers to pass a bill mandating consolidation rather than taking away funding until the handful of districts with fewer than 500 students are forced to merge."

Arne and the CEC

The Council for Exceptional Children recently submitted a set of questions to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at his request. Duncan and his staff carefully crafted the answers that appear on CEC's Ask Arne: A Conversation with the Council for Exceptional Children's (CEC) Members and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. CEC's first question was pretty direct:

What are you doing to ensure full funding [my emphasis] for IDEA?

Duncan's answer in part:

President Obama and I are absolutely committed to funding [my emphasis] for IDEA and supporting the education of students with disabilities.

Notice the difference in the wording of the question and Duncan's answer. "Full funding" is a catchphrase for the unfulfilled promise by Congress "to fund 40 percent of special education programs mandated under the [IDEA] act." Instead of simply and truthfully answering "no," Duncan and his staff supplied seven paragraphs of political spin detailing and extolling the Administration's special education funding proposals. But of course, it doesn't add up to "full funding." It doesn't even come close.

"556 Error" - Pity the School Tech...and the Kids Taking the Test

As I was uploading today's posting, my "in box" exploded with almost 70 simultaneous messages from the HECC listserv. Almost all of them had something in the subject line about "556 errors." To avoid Campbell's Law that Walt Gardner has frequently written about and to speed the testing process, the Indiana Department of Education has pushed school systems to move to online testing. Schools around the state have had to invest heavily in the computer equipment necessary to meet this demand (at some point the "demand" becomes a "requirement"). Typical of the messages was:

Just lost all machines to a 556 error. 10:22am

And the typical response:

Us too. Called support and they denied they had any problems.

The graveyard humor then began:

It’s just you Valerie, go dismantle your network and fix it :-)
 
JOKING !!!

The posts went on and on:

I’m on the phone with the help desk.

Surprisingly all systems on the nice lady’s computer show green.  You will have to wait 5 minutes and log back in is the standard answer.  They don’t know what is causing it just network disruption “somewhere”.  At least we got that narrowed down. lol

And:

Umm, the Online System Status page says its fine :-)

But:

Yea but that page is only updated every 24 hours! lol...

And finally from CTB McGraw-Hill:

At 10:30am EST, connections between 20% of the application servers had problems connecting to the database. Temporary interruptions impacted a portion of the online students testing. We maintained testing for over 25K students during that period but did see a spike in interruptions. The problem was resolved at 10:45am EST and we have seen students resume testing.

If your site has experienced a 556 interruption, please wait 6 minutes and then ask students to log back into the test.
Just talked to tech support and they confirmed that their server went down at 10:25 and was back up in 2-4 minutes.   So there was nothing any of us could have don on our end.

And some sage advice from a seasoned tech:

My buildings report a chaotic state during this event, which is terrible for test takers. So I suggested when this occurs again (if it does) treat it light heartedly. Call it a Pop Break from the state, because they were doing so well, and have them stand up, stretch their legs and arms and I will notify the buildings when I see people on the listserv getting back in, then we can resume our assault on the ISTEP!!

And a few choice words from a frustrated director of technology following a self-serving quote from CTB:

CTB: "We maintained testing for over 25K students during that period but did see a spike in interruptions."
 
I don’t imagine that
[name redacted] was the author of this statement, but whoever actually was should be slapped.  That’s like having a doctor tell you that the patient died, but his hair still looks really good.  A little sensitivity is in order; ISTEP testing is a very big deal to people around here.
 
DOE is taking schools out behind the barn and shooting them when they find performance to be unacceptable, and the tool they’re using to determine that performance level is itself unacceptable. 
[my emphasis] Who cares that 25,000 students were able to continue testing if the entire testing classroom environment was blown up by the errors impacting the kids on the other side of the lab?  Do you not think this mayhem will impact the results?  Is it not important that schools and children be provided an opportunity to exhibit their best work?
 
How is it that 75 tech directors correctly anticipated the problem, and the time that the problem would occur, and CTB didn’t even acknowledge it happened until half an hour after?
 
Our kids deserve better, CTB.  I’d love to be more gracious, but I’m paid to advocate on behalf of these children, and they’d probably be less gracious than I in describing this fiasco.  Get it figured out.

Odds 'n' Ends

Grandpa helps Penny blow bubbles.Grandma holding LiamProbably like many of you, we had a family Easter gathering at our house on Sunday. Two of our six children and their spouses were home with five of our eight grandchildren. The weather didn't cooperate with the planned Easter Egg hunt outside, so it came inside in several upstairs bedrooms. One son-in-law and grandson took advantage of the cool, wet weather to go mushroom hunting in the nearby woods. I sometimes forget after having lived well over half of my life in the country what a treat is was as a child to go to the country and visit Grandma and Grandpa's house. During a break in the rain, I helped Penny blow bubbles on our large front porch, while Grandma spent a lot of happy time holding Liam, our most recent grandchild. It was a good visit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some Discussion About Education "Reform" and Civility in the Discussion

The Nation's Teachers Aren't the Enemy by Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine takes a good look at rising din of constant negative rhetoric against teachers and teachers' unions and offers many gems of wisdom that current school "reformers" might well heed. Here are just a few:

It’s hard to think of another field in which experience is considered a liability and those who know the least about the nuts and bolts of an enterprise are embraced as experts.

This [market] model would make opportunities available largely to those motivated and able to leave local schools; treat parents as consumers and children as disposable commodities that can be judged by their test scores; and unravel collective bargaining agreements so that experienced teachers can be replaced with fungible itinerant workers who have little training, less experience and no long-term commitment to the profession.

None of the reforms on the table address the inequality and opportunity gaps that plague our schools. Raging debates over LIFO, seniority, teacher evaluation and test-based school closings do little to improve schools and much to distract from the real challenges. Moreover, because current reforms have been designed to promote school choice and weaken the unions, they have been exacerbating the challenges rather than fixing them.

The comments that followed Noguera and Fine's article quickly turned ugly with much name-calling back and forth.

Then I ran across a link to Chris Lehman's excellent Enough Already. Chris argues for a higher level of discussion than the current back and forth from education "reformers" and those opposed to the market based "reforms" that are now the focus of the national press. He writes in part:

No one group - no one side - speaks for children.

No one group - no one side - has it 100% right.

So let's talk.

But leave the overheated, insulting rhetoric that would demean the other side, rather than support your ideas, at home.

The comments that followed his posting reflect his call for a higher level of discussion.

As I was writing this posting (Tuesday afternoon), a response came in from an email I had sent Indy Star columnist Matthew Tully. I'd written to respectfully express my disappointment with his recent endorsement of merit pay based on high stakes testing for Indiana teachers in Hard work deserves a reward. Matt expressed his "respect [for] the profession and those who work hard in it," but stuck with his guns, insisting that "the worker doesn't get to decide how their salaries are structured" in business. He went on to say that he thinks "the best should be treated as such." I totally agree with the best being treated well, but disagree that merit pay and all of the other market based "reforms" of Governor Daniels and others are "best" for good teachers. Public education isn't a business, and I told Matthew so. But he apparently wasn't listening. Sadly, maybe neither was I.

A Follow-up to Yesterday's HECC Discussion

The online discussion about testing didn't end yesterday with the restoration of service to the affected schools. One tech director wrote:

Before they plan on all grades taking ISTEP online next year, I think a statewide survey for students, teachers, techs and administrators is in order. I'd be very curious to know if the money saved (if any) is really worth it. Between the preparation, the stress, relying on technology that is dependent on so many factors to get data from point A to point B, and some other factors we may not have considered, at what point do we just say, "You know what, maybe it's really not worth it.?"

That drew a fairly quick response from one of the leaders of HECC:

My thoughts exactly. We are in this business for the kids, and we want to see them succeed. So any disruption in a testing environment is a big deal to me. It simply can not happen! I am sure testing will run smoother tomorrow. Keep smiling everyone.

And that drew a reasoned response from yet another HECC leader with a different viewpoint that also should be considered:

Even with being delayed 1 hour yesterday in testing – upon completion of test 1 and 2 - 90% of the kids said they liked the test online better.

Reasons:

  1. Don’t have to worry about shading outside circle
  2. Don’t have to worry about erasure
  3. Don’t have to worry about getting off a line
  4. Can easily go back to questions marked to review later

I think for kids it is a positive – we must all remember kids handle change better than adults!

It was, for the most part, a pretty positive exchange of views (if we overlook the condescending, "we must all remember...").

Google Map of OutagesUpdate (10:32 A.M.)

The message this morning was disheartening: "Labs are starting to go down!!!!" In apparent frustration, the tech director added:

Reports are starting to come in again: 10:45 Monday; 10:25 Tuesday; and now, 10:05 today!

The outage wasn't universal, but can you imaging proctoring a high stakes test in a computer lab and three-fourths of the machines suddenly go down?

The Indy Star (finally) reports that Computer woes interrupt online ISTEP tests for thousands.

On the Blogs - Spring Break

Mrs. Lipstick on Organized Chaos, pregnant and worn out from grad classes and the long school year, drug herself back from spring break after dreaming she "received a memo where I had a meeting at 8:30 PM..." One of her darlings greeted her with "Hey, Mrs. Lipstick! I had a dream last night that I got to come to school and see you and Mrs. Partner-in-crime! And now it's true!"

The Dark Side of the Chalkboard features the light-hearted Why Spring Break is Important.

James Boutin spent his spring break in the Dominican Republic, since many of his students are Dominican immigrants or of Dominican descent. His Dominicans and Haitians: A Furthering of My Urban Teaching Education on An Urban Teacher's Education is an incredible read.

And Mr. Teachbad came up last week with what is possibly his most politically incorrect and outrageously funny posting yet, Teachers Still In Favor Of Spring Break. I won't spoil it for you by over quoting, but here's just enough of his delicious irreverence to tantalize you:

Is Spring Break really about a “break”? Or is it some Overlord Christian Imperialist Double-Cheeseburger trying to convince you to eat those awful little marshmallow chickens and buy more fake plastic grass because Jesus has risen; probably all as backdrop to the United Egg Producers plan to rule the world?

On the Blogs - Not About Spring Break

I loved Carol Richtsmeier's tale of a workshop she attended that focused on teachers using Twitter and TweetDeck. The teachers were supposed to ask and answer questions via Twitter, "but rarely were those questions answered because people were lost in their own steady stream of tweeting." Her best line from Journalism Day, Fired Up & Bad Tweets on her Bellringers blog was:

It all rather reminded me of those people who stand in the produce section of the grocery store and look like they're talking to radishes when they're really talking to someone at the other end of their Bluetooth.

Jose Vilson had two postings I really liked in the last two weeks, Finding A Needle in A Stack of Needles: A Solution to the Racial Achievement Gap and The No-Stats All-Star Teacher: A Glimpse Into Shared Responsibility for Assessment. In the latter, he writes:

As teachers, we won’t always need to be Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade, the high-scoring, high-flying NBA champions. We can be Shane Battier and still contribute very effectively to any team we drop into. The stats may not show our impact immediately, but the team does better as a result with people like us on board.

Jim Horn reveals the alleged sources of some of the state voucher proposals currently sailing through Republican controlled state legislatures in The New Voucher Reality, Brought to You by Those Who View Public Institutions as the New Red Menace on Schools Matter.

One blogger whose work I usually like began a recent posting, "On Thursday, I delivered prepared remarks for a meeting of the U.S. Department of Educa... I just went away humming the chorus to the Eagles' Already Goneicon.

And saving the best for last, Mike Doyle has a bunch of excellent postings on his Science Teacher blog that I won't even try to summarize here. Just go there and enjoy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Promising New Screening for Autism in Infants

An NIH press release, 5-minute Screen Identifies Subtle Signs Of Autism in 1-year Olds, relates that "A five-minute checklist that parents can fill out in pediatrician waiting rooms may someday help in the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)." According to a study published today in the Journal of Pediatrics and funded by the National Institutes of Health:

Out of 10,479 infants screened, 32 were identified as having ASD. After excluding for late onset and regression cases, this is consistent with current rates that would be expected at 12 months, according to the researchers. When including those identified as having language delay, developmental delay, or some other form of delay, the brief screen provided an accurate diagnosis 75 percent of the time.

Early identification of autism "allows children to start treatment sooner, which can greatly improve their later development and learning." However, the researchers noted in their report that "future studies should seek to further validate and refine this screening tool, track children until a much older age, and assess barriers to treatment follow up."

But it's certainly good news to read something about possibly improving early identification (and treatment) of ASD.

Related Story

There's a nice story from the Marion (OH) Star this week about special education students making good use of iPads, iPods, and AssistiveWare's Proloquo2Go (web site, iTunes). Kurt Moore tells in iPads, iPods aid communication in Elgin special-needs classes about non-verbal students with autism asking for cookies, telling their name, and more with the assistance of the app.

Porloque2Go

I wrote here on Educators' News more extensively about what seems to be a marvelous, if expensive ($189.99), assistive technology app in January (some info) and again in August (more info) last year.

On Vouchers and Indiana's Foolishness

Sean Cavanagh's State GOP Lawmakers Push to Expand Vouchers on Education Week tells about the wave of voucher bills sweeping through Republican controlled state legislatures. Here in Indiana, the largest voucher program in the country, along with limits on collective bargaining for teachers, merit pay based on high stakes testing, and more charter schools have already passed. State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, took time to gloat on the IDOE web site yesterday, Indiana Poised to Become National Leader on Education Reform Front, while the group of kids taking Indiana's ISTEP online were experiencing their third straight day of interruptions in the testing due to network failures by the company that provides the online tests. The Indy Star reported that Bennett said he didn't think the repeated interruptions would have any effect on test results. One frustrated director of technology in the state suggested after seeing Bennett's clueless comment, "Wow. Anyone want to volunteer to stop by the state superintendent’s office and randomly unplug things from the network to see if it impacts anyone’s quality of work?"

Karen Francisco, writing in Ravitch on the "corporate reformers" for The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, quotes the eminent educational historian, Diane Ravitch, as saying in a speech at Indiana University, "What the Indiana legislature is doing now is so punitive and so destructive to public education and to the teaching profession that it's hard to see anything good coming of it." Francisco added her own two cents in what should be the quote of the week:

While politicians in other states seem to be picking their targets more carefully, Indiana Republicans are like kids in a candy store, joyously gorging on merit pay, vouchers, charter school expansion, home-schooling incentives, punitive evaluation procedures, the destruction of collective bargaining and more.

Karen also shared the link to the archived streaming video of Diane's address. It's a long video (92 minutes), but played well on my somewhat flaky satellite internet connection. And it's definitely worthwhile listening.

And while teachers here in Indiana are definitely toast, things are looking up a bit in Tennessee and Idaho. See the AP's Tennessee School Voucher Bill Likely Dead This Session by Lucas L. Johnson II and Idaho Teachers' Union Sues Governor, Schools Chief Over Reform Law by Mitchell Schmidt.

Shuttle Launch Tomorrow?

The space shuttle Endeavour is still scheduled to launch on its final mission on Friday, April 29, 2011, at 3:47 P.M. (EDT). It appears that the weather may cooperate, with the forecast calling "for an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time."

Spring Fever Store at Buy.com

Friday, April 29, 2011 - Arbor Day

Arbor Day and the End of the News (for April)

TreesWe've come to the end of the week and the end of the (school) month all in the same day. Somehow, I managed to use up my apparent allotment of hard education news for April sometime yesterday afternoon. I attribute the shortfall to today being the last day for the Republican controlled General Assembly to meet in Indianapolis. At Governor Daniels' urging, the Assembly hurried this month and completed their task of doing everything they possibly could to screw over students, parents, teachers, and public education in Indiana several days ago.

As I sat before my computer just after midnight, racking my brain for something to write, I realized that today is Arbor Day!

I quickly googled and went to the innovatively named Arbor Day at arborday.org page, hoping to find some Arbor Day History and/or possibly some good, last minute Materials and Downloads for Educators. There even might be a page of instructions on How to Celebrate Arbor Day, in case I'd forgotten how. (Can't we recycle our leftover little marshmallow chickens, chocolate bunnies, and plastic grass for Arbor day?) While the items I wanted probably are offered on the site, I started from the end of the page and never got past the bottom link, Share Your Arbor Day Stories.

Like many other teachers, I've celebrated innumerable Arbor Days with the planting of a tree somewhere or other on school grounds. Unfortunately, the one story that sticks in my aging brain seems to blot out all other possible Arbor Day stories. And it's a story of death and destruction too horrible to be shared with the nice Arbor Day folks.

When I was hired at Backwash Middle School, I was dispatched for part of my orientation to the corporation's elementary school a few miles down the road. There I met the principal, the late and beloved Roy Schunk, who was well known for his dry sense of humor. I've previously written here of Roy and several other outstanding administrators I've been privileged to work for. Roy first took me on a tour of the elementary building before we headed out to the yard and playground.

As we walked the length of the building's exterior, Roy would point to a patch of grass, saying, "That's where we planted a beautiful young oak tree on Arbor Day, 1980...but a custodian mowed it down." And after walking a bit more, he'd remark, "There's the spot where we planted a red maple on Arbor Day, 1982, but the kids hung on it, breaking the branches...before it got mowed down." As we walked the grounds, I think Roy pointed to five or six other treeless patches of grass, identifying the year of each Arbor Day planting. Then he'd describe, sometimes in colorful detail, the young trees which had grown there, only to be mutilated by nearsighted or careless lawnmower drivers. He told of one incident that occurred during summer school in which he'd heard the sound of the oncoming mower and rushed to the playground to defend the young tree, only to witness its massacre.

I miss Roy. He retired in 1988 and passed away in 2005. He always had trouble growing grass in his yard because of the shade of the many, many trees he'd planted. He taught us a lot about life and teaching when he was our boss. And I think he'd be aghast at what Mitch and Tony and the Legislature are doing and have done to public education in Indiana.

Odds 'n' Ends

Backwash Elementary is, of course, a pseudonym used at first to shield our small school system from harrassment by Apple fanboys when I started writing computer columns in the late 1990s. It later served as a shield for me when some of my descriptions of the actions of school administrators were less than complimentary.

Roy was real.

Have a great weekend!

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