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December 31, 2011 - January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

If you're an online writer or columnist, it's sort of expected that you'll do some kind of end of the year roundup article. I actually did two this year, but they were both for our Senior Gardening site. Instead of a new column here, I decided to wind up 2011 and begin 2012 with a look at the few columns I managed to post last year from both of my web sites. Eleven columns certainly isn't a lot, but taken in context with hundreds of daily posts to both sites, it's about all I could manage.

A Disingenuous President
President Obama says one thing about massive standardized testing while his Administration's policy continues to advocate something else. (3/30/2011)
Turkey of the Week Award "Winners"
A continuing feature on Educators' News "honoring" those whose less-than-admirable actions and/or words merited them our Turkey of the Week Award. (April 12, 2011)
The Morning After Edition
I share about 1600 words of rambling fluff about writing in general and the Educators' News Tenth Anniversary Edition. (April 22, 2011)
Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011
Our annual updated review of the freewares, free web sites, and open source applications that have been featured on Educators' News over the last twelve months. (8/23/2011)
Living with Satellite Internet
I share a few experiences gleaned from three years of satellite internet use. (9/5/2011)
Can Walmart Make Their Aisles Any Narrower?
Our local Walmart appears to be engaged in a systematic effort to replace lower cost items with more expensive brands. Also note a special cameo appearance by the politically incorrect "fat family." (9/26/2011) 
A Charity Phone Solicitation
Giving to a charity should not be viewed as permission to call...up to four times a day asking for more contributions! (10/5/2011)
Amusing Myself
Misreading a grocery store sign stirred up visions of an 11 1/2 inch pork chop! (10/12/2011)
What's That in my Salad?
I would have sworn there were little critters in my spinach salad! (11/5/2011)
A Year in Our Garden
What went well and what didn't in the 2011 Senior Garden (December 28, 2011)
Flowers in the Senior Garden
A quick look at some of the spectacular flowers that grew around our veggies this year in the Senior Garden (December 30, 2011)
 

Good Grief!

The Saturday Terre Haute Tribune-Star certainly wasn't a bundle of joy for area residents. The headline proclaimed that Governor Mitch Daniels, acting in concert with the Indiana State Police, had conspired to limit crowd size inside the state capitol "for safety reasons." Daniels' staff sprung the new rule that goes into effect on January 1 at a quickie press conference on Friday. Reporters quickly saw through the 3,000 person limit, which included 1,700 state employees on most days, as a way to quiet protests over Daniels' and the Republican majority's plans to ram through their right-to-work legislation. Having successfully attacked the state's public schools and teachers' unions in the last session, Daniels & Company now move on to attack the power of working people's unions.

In the unbelievable realm, State Senator Vaneta Becker has proposed a bill to require "the state Department of Education to set standards for singing and playing the national anthem at public schools and universities." Oh, say, she can see only the "Normal" way to sing anthem relates that the bill "would require performers - whether amateur or professional - to sign a contract agreeing to follow the guidelines and would set a possible $25 fine for violators." Becker would further burden Indiana schools with a requirement theybecome the national anthem police and "maintain audio recordings of all performances for two years and develop a procedure for dealing with complaints about someone straying from the approved lyrical or musical guidelines."

Obviously, Big Brother is watching us and doesn't like the discontent he sees.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Pearson Funded Junkets in the News Again

Michael Winerip added to his series of articles yesterday questioning the propriety of junkets for school administrators funded by the non-profit arm of Pearson Education. In New Questions About Trips Sponsored by Education Publisher, Winerip continues to draw some fairly clear lines between paid trips for administrators and large contracts awarded to the education giant. Destinations of the trips described as education conferences include Australia, Singapore, London, Helsinki, China, and Rio de Janeiro.

Previous columns in the series include:

On the Blogs

Other than the Winerip article linked above, it appears that we're still in the holiday lull of education news. We've probably all had our fill of "The Best [fill in your choice] of 2011," but Sherman Dorn's Fake education year in preview: 2012 highlights, Part I and Part II are too good to miss. While I'd love to relate Sherman's entire list of humorous predictions, I'll just relate a few to whet your appetite.

  • January 3: The Republican Iowa caucuses. Newt Gingrich finishes third and (after screaming Dean-style) announces his bold plan to hire poor nine-year-old children to replace teachers as well as janitors in the nation’s schools.
  • February 16: In a major speech in the morning, Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasizes the importance of the arts in education and how critical it is to prevent narrowing of the curriculum. In a major announcement in the afternoon, Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulates all the February state applicants for NCLB waivers for making teacher raises essentially depend on student test scores in reading and math.
  • August 10: At 4 pm on a Friday in early August, the U.S. Department of Education releases a study suggesting that the turnaround strategy the department has pushed for a number years “does squat.”
  • December 30: In Tampa, Florida, a middle-aged historian of education attempts to write something funny on his blog and is strangled by the laptop’s power cord before he can finish.

I skipped doing our On the Blogs section last week, as the bloggers I'm following this year had the audacity to apparently have a life beyond the classroom during a holiday break and do something other than writing about education. With today's total lack of worthwhile educational news (And no, Sam Dillon's latest sellout to the "reform" crowd doesn't count as quality news reporting.), I've managed to glean a few good posts from the blogs to enable something other than blank space here today.

NYC Educator's A Christmas Carol for Mayor Mike, gleaned from a Diane Ravitch tweet, led me to HALLELUJAH CORPORATIONS on YouTube. While it's not directly related to education, it's a good "musical tribute to corporate excess in the style of the Capitol Steps."

Food activist, farm-starter, and Mom Liz Snyder's In defense of the childhood treat guest blog on Sara Wu's Fed Up with Lunches make some good points:

It took me a good long while to put two and two together, but I realized that kids have a profound need for gathering and eating food of their own choosing. And in the context of hunter-gatherer or agricultural societies, this instinct meant survival. Today, it means Type II diabetes and a lifetime of struggle with junk food.

I am not a fan of the so-called “war on obesity”. I think it blames kids for being kids, and targets some kids over others – when in reality, the thin child on a junk food diet won’t be a healthy adult, any more than a chubby kid who eats the same way. Instead, we need a “war” on our kids’ food environment and the corporations that perpetuate the tidal wave of junk food marketed to kids. We need healthy treats in every park, working farms in every school, and spaces for kids to be in the sunshine and dirt, moving their bodies without shame or prodding.

Andrew Maynard's writes in Brain candy for the intellectually incapacitated – the sequel on his 2020 Science blog:

Two years ago I posted links to ten (relatively) mindless online “games” as a bit of fun, and as something not too taxing to indulge in over the holiday break.  Having reached that point again where anything more intellectually challenging than tic tac toe makes my head hurt, I thought I would revisit and update the 2020 Science Compendium of Mindless Games. The only criteria for inclusion: an ability to retain my attention for more than 10 seconds, minimal thinking required, a high smile-factor, and absolutely nothing of overtly educational value!

The posting is absolutely unrelated to education and would have been more timely had I found it before my readers were all back at work, but it's still worth a look in your free time (if you have any after having returned to the classroom).

Of course, having used blog postings on Monday, I'm not sure if I'll have anything to post on Wednesday, the regular day for our On the Blogs feature.

Odds 'n' Ends

Beyond our Indianapolis Colts locking up the number one draft pick with their 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday, there's not a lot of cheery posts online. The Indy Star did note, "The Indianapolis Colts lost their season finale today, but ineptitude was rewarded with the first selection in April’s NFL draft."

If you're home today still on holiday break, enjoy it! And if you're back at school, well, enjoy that too!

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quadrantids Meteor Shower

QuandrantidsSpace.com's Joe Rao relates in Strong Quadrantid Meteor Shower, One of 2012's Best, Peaks Wednesday (around 2-3 A.M.) that the Quadrantid meteor shower tonight may prove to be "one of the best of 2012." Rao notes that "the Quadrantids are notoriously unpredictable," but provide "one of the most intense annual meteor showers, with a brief, sharp maximum lasting but a few hours." He adds:

Peak intensity is exceedingly sharp: meteor rates exceed one-half of their highest value for only about 6-hours (compared to two days for the August Perseids). This means that the stream of particles that produce this shower is a narrow one — apparently derived within the last 500 years from a small comet.

Although the moon will be at a bright waxing gibbous phase, it will set by 3 a.m., leaving the sky dark for prospective meteor watchers until the first light of dawn appears at around 6 a.m.

And of course, you have to have somewhat clear skies to see any meteor shower. Our forecast in west central Indiana for tonight is for partly cloudy skies, with steady temperatures in the mid 20s and south winds 5 to 15 MPH. While the temperature and wind speed don't affect visibility, they certainly impact the watcher.

Note that the meteor shower is tonight, actually in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, hence the bold face here and there. With just a six hour window for watching the shower, missing it by a night as one can sometimes do with other meteor showers just won't do. And while Space.com features a locating image for the meteor shower from the excellent Starry Night commercial astronomy software, our image is from the open source, poor man's Stellarium software.

On the Blogs

In Diane Ravitch's The Odd Couple: Dennis & Wendy today on the Bridging Differences blog, she wonders if the NEA's Dennis Van Roekel has sold out his membership or if TFA's Wendy Kopp has repudiated the TFA model of five weeks of summer training being adequate for a profession as important and demanding as teaching. Diane was referring to a December column co-authored by Van Roekel and Kopp in USA Today, 3 ways to improve the USA's teachers when writing:

Did the NEA sign on to TFA's agenda of minimal fast-track training, or did TFA sign on to NEA's demand for a full year of residency and a rigorous examination before teachers gain their license? Or was there something else going on?

Maybe the critics got it wrong. Maybe Van Roekel persuaded Wendy Kopp to change the TFA model. Maybe future TFA recruits will be required to spend a full year in residency and pass a rigorous performance assessment before becoming full-time teachers.

She concludes:

No one can rightly maintain that five weeks of training is "the best preparation possible" for a profession as important and demanding as teaching. NEA insists that it has conceded nothing. I wish Wendy Kopp would explain what she intended by joining with the NEA in a joint statement that on its face appears to repudiate the TFA model.

Odds 'n' Ends

I certainly hadn't planned this morning to break, yet again, our Monday-Wednesday-Friday publication schedule. With the holidays, I've had extra postings on Saturdays and Sundays that were mostly holiday greetings. The Quadrantid meteor shower caught me by surprise. I quite honestly didn't know it existed, and if you don't see it tonight, you'll have missed it for this year. Thus, a meager Tuesday posting.

Maybe I need to bookmark Space.com's 2012 Meteor Watching Calendar or just forget the whole deal. But I keep finding educational nuggets of gold in such stuff. In Joe Rao's article about the meteor shower, he noted "that the stream of particles that produce this shower is a narrow one — apparently derived within the last 500 years from a small comet," certainly something fit and interesting for an Earth and Space Science course.

So, I really don't know if I'll do our next posting tomorrow, Thursday, or even Friday. Who knows what else I've missed that might prove pertinent!

Habitat for Humanity International - Haiti Earthquake Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Web Browsers

As our technology use in the classroom matures, we sometimes forget how important the choice of a web browser is to us. Both we and our students access lots of information for the classroom with web browsers, and which one you use can make a big difference in productivity.

Sue Waters had an excellent posting on Edublogger in December, Top Browsers, Extensions, and Tips for Education – The Death of Internet Explorer, in which she takes a look at the five most popular web browsers. She describes advantages and weaknesses of some of the browsers along with supplying an excellent starter list of educational add-ons for some of them.

Missing from her article since they certainly don't rank in the top five of usage are a few Mac browsers. The Camino browser is a good choice for general web browsing. I use it for some special purposes, having started with it in 2002 when it was named Chimera and was a 0.4 beta. The iCab alternative browser has versions for the latest Macs and earlier versions for most older Macs. TenFourFox and Classilla, which I reviewed in October, are for older PowerPC and earlier Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 and Mac Classic. Both work well, although neither supports Flash by default. A column yesterday on Low End Mac, Hack Allows PowerPC Macs to Access Flash 11 Content, tells how to use Flash with TenFourFox and provides a hack that makes web sites think your older Mac running Flash 10 is running Flash 11.

Alternative School for Preschoolers

It's a bit hard for me to realize that preschoolers might get suspended from school...until I think about the antics of some of my grandkids at times. A Columbus Dispatch article on Monday by Jennifer Smith Richards, Preschool takes kids suspended by others, tells of the St. Vincent Prep Academy, "a place for children who have been suspended from other preschools because they can’t control their impulses." Richards writes that "on average, these kids already have been asked to leave two other preschools," and "all have problems with aggression, hitting peers, hitting their teachers, defiance, [and] spitting.”

Odds 'n' Ends

600 Pound Butter CowChris Lehmann registers some of his frustration with a recent New York Times article about big merit pay raises for some D.C. teachers in Making Teachers Rich on his Practical Theory blog. In a very sensible posting, Chris writes in part, "I don't think teachers should aspire to riches, and I worry that someone who is running the Human Resource department of a major urban district would think we should."

Judy Rabin's Imagine That! Respect for Teachers and Collaboration Work on the Schools Matter blog adds a little commentary to Joe Nocera's Sunday New York Times piece, The Central Falls Success.

Valerie Strauss carried the text of a speech yesterday that Diane Ravitch gave in December before the National Opportunity to Learn Summit on her The Answer Sheet blog. For regular readers of Educator's News, Whose children have been left behind? Framing the 2012 ed debate is just preaching to the choir, but it's good folks like Diane and Valerie have a forum to reach many Americans with the message that the current school "reform" movement is misguided. Critics of Ravitch often accuse her of not having suggestions for improving education in America, but her speech includes a list of common sense suggestions that would improve learning in our nation's schools. The list isn't new, as she has enumerated these items often before, but possibly not in this concise listing.

Grin And if you're just about sick to death of hearing about the Iowa Caucuses, the whimsical 600-Pound Butter Cow Sculpture Wins Iowa Caucus on The Onion might bring some limited relief...until we start hearing about New Hampshire. Grin

I've updated our Freebies page to include links to some of the web browsers mentioned above. Also, I continue to add links to charity web banner pages as I find them to the list on our A Charity Phone Solicitation column.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shooting

The AP's Christopher Sherman and Danny Robbins do a good job of filling in some of the gaping holes in earlier news reports of a student shooting in Brownsville, Texas this week in After Texas school shooting, many questions loom. The gun the student brandished was "a realistic-looking pellet gun." The student died from two gunshot wounds to the chest, but no head shot. And the community in Brownsville is in anguish.

Indiana Statehouse Limits Recinded

After a massive outcry from the public, Governor Mitch Daniels rescinded the 3,000 person limit in the statehouse this week. The news media had been quick to jump on Daniels' "public safety" actions as politically motivated. Sadly, the assault on workers' rights goes on with the Republican pushed "right to work" bill.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett laid out his legislative agenda for this year on Wednesday. The most telling item was a revision in the state's accountability ratings that would allow Bennett to declare more public schools as failing and turn them over to for-profit corporations.

Odds 'n' Ends

Saturday, January 7, 2012

North Carolina Teachers Lose Payroll Dues Deduction

An article by John Frank in Thursday's Raleigh News and Observer, GOP overrides veto of bill to weaken teachers group, begins:

Just after 1 a.m. today, in a secreted session critics called unconstitutional, Republican legislative leaders passed a bill aimed at weakening the state's largest teachers association...The 1:12 a.m. vote means teachers who belong to the N.C. Association of Educators can no longer have their NCAE dues deducted automatically from their paychecks.

I'd missed this story until an Education Votes email came in this morning with the story and link.

Indy Tries to Hide its Dirty Laundry for Super Bowl

Part of the reason for Governor Mitch Daniels' recent, failed attempt to limit the number of people, especially protestors, in the statehouse was that Indianapolis is really working to hide all its ills before Super Bowl visitors arrive in February. The statehouse, just down the street from Lucas Oil Stadium, was filled and surrounded by protesters for months during last year's legislative session. The thrust of the Republican majority at that time was to weaken teachers unions, require evaluating teachers with high stakes student tests never designed for that purpose, add more charter schools, and siphon off money for public schools with the nation's largest voucher program.

Having successfully raped public education in the last session, Daniels & Company intend to weaken other unions in the state with a so-called “right-to-work” law banning businesses and private unions from signing contracts that require all workers to pay union dues. Daniels, of course, didn't want visitors seeing the legislators' dirty work being protested by union members who've flocked to the statehouse in protest.

In a recent editorial, Terre Haute Tribune Star editor Max Jones applauded the Governor for rescinding the access restrictions to the statehouse, but also stated:

As an aside, we agree with Daniels' recent recommendation that political forces abstain from using the upcoming Super Bowl media stage to promote their causes. Let our state enjoy the national spotlight without dimming it with unnecessary controversy.

Specifically, we urge Indiana Democrats not to use the Super Bowl stage to oppose "right-to-work" legislation. They should keep their fight in the Statehouse.

I've met Max. Our kids went to school and ran around together. He usually makes some good points in his editorials. But giving Daniels any credit at all for a rule that was politcally motivated, and possibly unconstitutional in the first place, is wrong. Saying the public shouldn't know what is going on in Indiana politics is even worse. Our dirty laundry now includes a sudden interest by the politicos in getting the homeless into temporary housing, ostensibly to hide them from Super Bowl visitors.

There have been a lot of needed safety inspections and cleanup work in Indy recently, making sure the city is safe and tidy for visitors. Long neglected stretches of interstate highways were almost impassable for months this summer due to repair, again readying for the Super Bowl. Putting the city and state's best foot forward just makes good sense, but trying to hide our ills, especially the incredible excesses by the Republican majorities that currently rule the state, are just plain wrong.

Tucson Mexican American Studies Program

The mess over Tucson's Mexican American studies program continues. An episode on NPR's Tell Me More, Threatened In Tucson: Mexican American Studies, gives the background of how a snit by a public official was turned into a law to punish the school and students. Stephen Ceasar's Arizona withholds school funding over ethnic studies class in the Los Angeles Times relates that "Arizona's public schools chief ruled Friday, ordering that millions in state funding be withheld from the school district until the program is dismantled or brought into compliance."

I wonder if the law that "bans classes primarily designed for a particular ethnic group" also applies to teaching their cultural heritage to those living on reservations in Arizona?

Odds 'n' Ends

I don't do many Saturday postings here on Educators' News. The story about losing dues deductions got me started today, and I felt a bit guilty about yesterday's rather wimpy posting. I was totally bummed out by the shooting story out of Brownsville, Texas, and quite honestly, slopped off the posting.

I'd much rather write today about an interesting fluff piece that appeared on eSchool News on Thursday, Schools moving away from hallway lockers. Even Kimberly Hefling's excellent, but depressing piece about No Child Left Behind, Education law's promise falls short after 10 years, is more palatable to me than the actions by so called conservatives in North Carolina, Arizona, and Indiana.

As the day wore on, I finished up an Odds 'n' Ends column I'd begun way back in November, Answer Your Mail, Robert A. Niblock! Lowe's Home Improvement's CEO makes over 6 mil a year, but doesn't have anyone in his office that can answer a previouly loyal customer's snail mail or email.

And I forgot our usual end of the week encouragement to Have a great Weekend!

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