...dedicated to...hmmm, we're still figuring that one out...
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.
As 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.
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:
From the position paper:
Note: Thanks to Valerie Strauss for her posting on Friday that alerted me to this item.
Odds 'n' Ends
For 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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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
The 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:
Duncan's answer in part:
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.
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:
And the typical response:
The graveyard humor then began:
The posts went on and on:
And finally from CTB McGraw-Hill:
And some sage advice from a seasoned tech:
And a few choice words from a frustrated director of technology following a self-serving quote from CTB:
Odds 'n' Ends
Probably 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.
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:
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:
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:
That drew a fairly quick response from one of the leaders of HECC:
And that drew a reasoned response from yet another HECC leader with a different viewpoint that also should be considered:
It was, for the most part, a pretty positive exchange of views (if we overlook the condescending, "we must all remember...").
The message this morning was disheartening: "Labs are starting to go down!!!!" In apparent frustration, the tech director added:
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:
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:
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:
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 Gone.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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."
Arbor Day and the End of the News (for April)
We'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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©2011 Steven L. Wood