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Air Supply: The Definitive CollectionMonday, February 13, 2012

Grow Your Own Teachers

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Raymond Castile has a unique story about the Fort Zumwalt School District subsidizing former students' college in exchange for them returning to teach in hard to fill positions after graduation. In Fort Zumwalt growing its own teachers, Castile relates that students at Fort Zumwalt may apply for the program in the fall of their senior year. After a rigorous screening process, students selected for the program "receive $3,000 per semester for four years, $24,000 total" in what the district describes as "a forgivable loan," requiring them to "spend their first four years after college teaching in the Fort Zumwalt district." The program began in 2005 to "respond to the growing need for teachers certified in special education, foreign language, industrial technology and high school math and science."

Response to NCLB Waivers

Response to President Obama's announcement of ten states receiving waivers from meeting the conditions of the No Child Left Behind law was swift and strong. Representative John Kline, chairman of the House Education Committee, protested, "Rather than work with us to get it [NCLB] changed, [Duncan] and the president decided to issue waivers in exchange for states adopting policies that he wants them to have. This notion that Congress is sort of an impediment to be bypassed I find very, very troubling in many, many ways." Representative George Miller, formerly chairman and now the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, praised the waiver program, saying, "I applaud President Obama and Secretary Duncan for giving schools the relief they so desperately need," as did Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Department of Education put up a blog posting of folks supporting the waivers, most of whom were in states receiving waivers.

Ars Technica Looks at OLPC Program

Cyrus Farivar has a great article on Ars Technica that talks about the track record of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, Step 1: give every kid a laptop. Step 2: learning begins? While OLPC has had its greatest success in South America, Farivar also looks at some of the problems of the program (computers down, broken battery chargers, etc.) and its integration, or lack thereof, into classroom instruction. Rather than follow OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte's frequent practice of trash talking teachers, Farivar looks into why teachers find it difficult and at times, counterproductive, to use laptops in their classrooms. Farivar also looks at the Maine laptop initiative for comparison. He also notes that hard data on any improvement in either South America or Maine is hard to come by.

There's also a good anecdote about adding "technology" in third world nations tucked into the column.

But in the United States, an overwhelming majority of students have access to reliable roads, electricity, food, water, sanitation, and other basic needs at their school—something that's far from the case in the developing world. In a 2011 TEDx talk, Laura Hosman re-iterated the case of an OLPC school in Senegal. When asked by a French NGO how it could help, the first thing the school asked for was toilets. "Toilets are technology!" Hosman reminded the crowd.

Note: Thanks to retired special educator Thomas Carlson of iFix Old Macs for sending me a heads-up about this article.

On Parenting

You and about seventeen million other folks have probably already heard about or watched the video North Carolina parent Tommy Jordan posted last Wednesday, Facebook Parenting: For the troubled teen. If not, Jordan, angered by a Facebook posting his daughter made about her parents, responded in kind by posting a video on her Facebook wall of him shooting her laptop!

The best account of the basic story I've found was by Lewis Page appearing on The Register, IT guy answers daughter's Facebook rant by shooting her laptop. The Daily Mail has an excellent follow-up story that relates Jordan and his daughter working through the event and all the publicity surrounding it. Despite some outrage expressed in the press, it sounds like the story will turn out okay.

Still on the subject of parenting, but with a totally different approach, Time Magazine's Judith Warner's Why American Kids Are Brats is a far more thoughtful piece than the title would indicate. No laptops get shot in her story, but Warner does an excellent job of noting that American kids, by and large, aren't well trained in showing respect and helping at home. She contrasts her observations of American children with French kids, who apparently are much better mannered than our kids.

Full-Time Virtual Schools Coming to Iowa?

The Des Moines Register was filled with articles, columns, and editorials yesterday about full-time, for-profit, virtual schools trying to start up in the state. Although it appears that current Iowa law does not permit full-time, online instruction, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and director of the Iowa Department of Education, Jason Glass, are still pushing the idea. K12, Inc., whose spotty record we noted here last week, and the Connections Academy are already recruiting students.

Iowa appears to be following states such as Idaho and Indiana where for-profits are being rewarded for their contributions to elected officials' campaigns. The track record of K12, Inc., in particular has been called into question recently. But even more than the corruption of elected officials diverting desperately needed funds from local schools to political contributors, is just the concept of full-time virtual education as being a better way. As Maryelen Calderwood, an elected school committee member in Greenfield, Massachusetts, was quoted in the Washington Post, "Kindergarten kids learning in front of a monitor - that's just wrong. It’s absolutely astounding how people can accept this so easily."

An unrelated article by Sheena Dooley in the Des Moines Register, Aide now tracks Des Moines charter school's laptops, tells of "53 laptop computers valued at $27,000 [that] were not returned to the school" at the end of the 2010-2011 school year! While steps were taken that have stopped the losses this year, a police report notes that "The school did not compile a list of which laptops were issued to which students. There is no adequate tracking mechanism to determine who did not return their laptops." And so, an aide was assigned this year to keep track of laptops.

Odds 'n' Ends

AmazonAmazonDarren and Sandy Van Soye are fifteen days into their around the world trip to promote geography education. Their Trekking the Planet site has all the details of their current whereabouts and how to sign up so one's class can follow their progress and ask questions of the Van Soyes. There's also a YouTube page of videos about their trip.

I spent a lot of time reading this weekend. While I didn't choose to comment on the articles below, it was more a thing of just plain getting tired and running out of time, rather than the pieces not being of merit. Thankfully, Adele, Aerosmith, and Air Supply helped keep me awake into the wee hours to get this much done.

And yes, I'm now working almost exclusively on my "new" 2010 model Mac Mini to create this site. I'll probably get a column up about the new box sometime in the next week or two.

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St. Jude Children's Research HospitalWednesday, February 15, 2012

Interactive History Activities

The February newsletter from WGBH's Teacher's Domain brings word of Mission US interactive adventure games set in different eras of U.S. history.

The first game, "For Crown or Colony?," puts the player in the shoes of Nat Wheeler, a 14-year-old printer's apprentice in 1770 Boston. 
The brand-new second game, "Flight to Freedom," puts the player in the role of Lucy, a young slave on a plantation outside of Lexington, Kentucky. The adventure begins in the summer of 1848 and grapples with immigration, industry, and expansion, as well as slavery.

I took a quick look at For Crown or Colony and found it pretty interesting. I used the downloadable version, and it threw Flash errors at each screen change until I clicked, "Dismiss all." It ran fine from then on.

On the Blogs

Photo Pin Search ResultsCC Flickr Search ResultsPaul Hamilton recommended Photo Pin for Creative Commons Photos and Ethical Image Use on his Free Resources for Every Learner blog last Friday. It's a site that returns only Creative Commons licensed photos with the option of searching for "commercial" or "non-commercial" use of the photos. Since I'm an avid gloxinia grower, I first searched for "gloxinia" and was pleasantly surprised by the results. Lots of good images, both for commercial and non-commercial use appeared, many of them quite useable for the classroom in showing flower parts.

In the comments to the posting, Paul also offers some good thoughts about modeling proper observation of copyrights for students. And for balance, I also did a Creative Commons Flickr search on the same subject, returning dazzling results there as well.

Although it appears that Photo Pin's results may be related to or based on Flickr, several other comparative searches with the two search engines returned consistently different results. And if you're hunting for photos to use in the classroom...or on a blog, that's a very good thing.

Andrew Ganim contributed a guest blog, Walkthrough team deems reading area "clutter," removes it, to The Philadelphia Public School Notebook last week. He relates that "walkthrough teams" are "groups of educators sent each month to struggling schools to see how well teachers are following the details of the mandated curriculum, down to such items as how desks are arranged and what’s on classroom walls." A recent walkthrough of his wife’s third grade classroom "took one look at a lovingly assembled reading corner, and determined it was “clutter. As if that were not enough, the District then paid someone to come in over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend to remove it."

Almost unbelievable, but...

When I looked at the front page of The Notebook Monday evening, it carried a story by Benjamin Herold of what should be good news to Philadelphia educators in Empowerment Schools that have the walkthroughs and are required to use scripted teaching. District to stop mandating use of scripted curricula relates that Philadelphia's new Chief Academic Officer, Penny Nixon, has told the School Reform Commission that scripted teaching will no longer be required. Nixon is quoted as saying, "We believe the curriculum should say to teachers, 'Here's the what' and give them the flexibility as to the 'How.'"

Students as 100 years oldArt teacher Holly Vandersommers shares a great 100th day of school activity on her Lines, Dots, and Doodles blog. She has her students draw themselves as 100 years old, coloring faces with crayon and backgrounds with watercolors. She writes that the idea is not original, but that she has done it for several years with hilarious results.

Art History SnowmenAn entry on Bulletin Boards to Remember led me to Katie Morris's Art History Snowmen Bulletin Board on her Adventures of an Art Teacher blog. Katie has done a bulletin board where students match the name of the artist with the style in which the snowmen were made. She somewhat wistfully writes that if she had unlimited time with her older students, she'd like to have them "research an artist or movement, then create a snowman (snowperson) inspired by the Art History they learned about." Sadly, she only sees her older kids for 40 minutes every other week, so the cool bulletin board was the outlet for her idea.

Mrs. Bluebird's Scan, scan, scan away and Scrawny Boy Update tell a story all too familiar to teachers. She contacted the parent of a student who simply wasn't doing any work. The parent promised a positive change over the weekend, but as Mrs. Bluebird comments, "After all, the Super Bowl was on."

Sara Wu is doing a mini-series this month on her Fed Up with Lunches blog that reaches well beyond the cafeteria foodline. Her What did #NCLB really mean? #education this week reveals some of the horrors of testing she sees as a school-based speech pathologist popping in and out of various classrooms. Here's one she shared:

If you think it's just the kids in 3rd grade and above who take the statewide assessments, think again. I see kindergarten and first graders taking lots of tests, too. Some parts of the tests can take one hour to administer to students. When a teacher has 30+ first graders in one classroom, then we're talking weeks and weeks of missed instruction while the teacher takes each student aside to test him/her.

Reggie loves to rhyme!Richard Byrne's Language Adventures with Leo the Lobster and Friends on his Free Technology for Teachers blog highlights Scholastic's Building Language for Literacy site. It features three delightful, early learning activities that deal with vocabulary, spelling, and rhyming words. He notes that "the activities are optimized for use on interactive whiteboards."

And simply because I don't know quite what to do with it, I'll slip Diane Ravitch's most recent posting on the Bridging Differences blog in here, Desperate Times in Cleveland and Ohio. This is a story that deserves its own section and a full write-up. And I can't do it.

Diane's vivid descriptions of the blight in Cleveland take me back to some really horrible times when my wife was fighting for her life in the Cleveland Clinic. Annie nearly died twice, first when the doctors failed to give her post-surgical antibiotics, and later when an anesthetist screwed up and gave her a ten hour supply of synthetic morphine in 45 minutes. But her surgeon was the best in the world, according to her internist, and she certainly would have died without the surgery.

Here's just a bit of what Diane wrote:

Cleveland has a level of urban decay that is alarming. Yet its municipal leaders have decided that their chief problem is bad teachers. Surely, I thought, the teachers didn't cause the flight of employers from the city, the collapse of its manufacturing base, and the massive loss of home mortgages.

But sure enough, Cleveland - and the state of Ohio - plans to attack its economic woes by creating more charter schools and supplying merit pay to teachers able to raise test scores. The leaders want to make it easier to fire teachers and to remove seniority.

The average public school teacher in Cleveland is paid about $66,000, while the average charter school teacher in that city receives about $33,000 a year. That's a big cost saving for the city and state. Most charters are non-union, and teachers have no job protections or employment rights. It appears that charters have a business plan in which they keep costs low by teacher turnover, low levels of experience, and low salaries.

Odds 'n' Ends

Office with 3 towersThe Office with MiniThe photos, left and right, give a before and after of my now, slightly less cluttered office after replacing a couple of tower computers with a Mac Mini. My old G5 tower remains for when I need a Classic OS fix of Risk II or Claris Home Page. I still have one software upgrade to come in, but the new setup with bootable partitions for Snow Leopard and Lion (Mac OS X 10.6 and 10.7) is fully functional. I also added a new G-Raid external drive to handle the hourly backups Time Machine performs.

Jumping from using Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4.11) as my main operating system and Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5.8) as a backup hasn't proved to be all that big a deal. Since Snow Leopard, my new main operating system, runs my old PowerPC software under Rosetta emulation, I've only had to upgrade a few, somewhat expensive, pieces of software.

Here are several more links I found interesting: - Give to a classroom! - Go

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Call to Action?

Deborah Meier's I May be Wrong ... But I Doubt It expresses some feelings I think many of us may currently share. She sounds a bit overwhelmed by the misguided but well-funded and organized efforts of so called "education reformers" and the corrupting influence of for-profit education privateers. She alludes with some dismay to a recent gathering hosted by ALEC, the source of many of the current state legislative rollbacks of hard won teachers' rights.

With a deep wisdom that comes from a wealth of experience gained over the years, she suggests that those "out there who share a common agenda about the priorities of a school system that can support and nourish a troubled nation" need to set aside their differences for a few days, get together, and call for united action. She notes that the executive committee of Save Our Schools is planning a "convention" preceding the Democratic and Republican national conventions to try to put together a shared education platform.

We need to set aside time for talking about how we can operate better individually if we join together under a loose and larger umbrella. Even if only all the organizations I'm a member of met, it would make a good start!

Whether it's Save Our Schools or some other confederation of groups, Deborah is right in realizing now is the time to come together. The "bad guys" already have their ducks all lined up in a row and are winning the day in many state legislatures. Even the folks who were supposed to be the "good guys," (Remember change you can believe in?) appear to be on the other side. They're supporting more high stakes testing, vast expansion of charter schools, teacher evaluations based on student tests, the end of teacher protections such as tenure, and so on while continuing to ignore the forces that limit the often valiant efforts of teachers.

State and national elections are just months away. No Child Left Behind still hasn't been repealed and replaced by an Elementary and Secondary Education Act that will actually help students. It's time. I hope Deborah's words stir up some action.

Still On My Soapbox

I received a nice, chummy email yesterday from a Rebecca Pearcy, who apparently works for the John Gregg for Governor (IN) campaign. Her email included a forward that directed me to a really wimpy site that attempts to discredit Greggs' opponent in the November election. The folks who built the site would have done better to simply highlight Mike Pence's radical conservative agenda to discredit him than the videos they used. Here's her email with a forward from the Indiana Democratic Party Chair deleted:

Dear Steve,

I don't know if you got a chance to see this, but the Indiana Democratic Party just launched The Mike Pence show, their new site exposing Congressman Mike Pence's daily Washington dealings. If I didn't know how serious this was, I'd think they were joking, his actions are so outrageous.

Check it out -- and don't forget to forward this to your friends and tell them what Congressman Mike Pence has been doing with his time in Washington.


I do feel a bit sorry for Rebecca. She was just doing her job: Spamming loyal Democrats. What she didn't know is that John Gregg was our representative for years, and that I had long ago met and talked education with him. She probably didn't know about the outrage of Indiana teachers that John has cozied up to some corporate education "reformers" who are supporting his campaign. And I'm sure she didn't know about the unanswered email I sent John in December. It read:

Dear John,

I met you probably 20+ years ago when you were at a scouting event at Backwash [euphemism] Elementary. (Vince Canada brought you in, I think.) I was then and for years afterward, impressed with you and how you represented our district.

I was appalled to find out recently that you not only are accepting contributions from false education "reform" groups like Democrats for Education Reform, but indeed were parroting their corporate takeover of public education creed.

It's been daunting as a retired teacher to see teacher bashing, high stakes testing for teacher evaluation (when simply a good eval system that ignores nepotism and such would do), more charter schools that are often for-profit entities that deny parent input, and turnaround strategies that close neighborhood schools that may be the one thing crumbling urban neighborhoods and small towns still have going for them.

I'm hoping that you'll begin to fight the fatally flawed education "reforms" proposed by our President, Arne Duncan, Governor Daniels, and especially Tony Bennett, so that I can support your bid for governor.

I've shared my disillusionment on my Educators' News site.


There was not only no answer to my email, there wasn't even the standard autorespond that my email had been received and someone would eventually look at it. Maybe John would have remembered if I told him that I was the teacher/farmer assistant scoutmaster who smelled slightly like pigs.

After three or four beers last night (totally unusual for me), taking out my frustration on poor Rebecca seemed the reasonable thing to do. I was still hoping that a strongly worded letter or email might get someone in the campaign who has something to do with education policy to take notice. Here's my response:

Hi Rebecca,

Sadly, I'm not currently in the Gregg camp, although I wish I could be. My last posting about John on my Educators' News site read:

John Gregg Selling Out Indiana's Teachers?

On the surface, it would appear that Indiana Democratic candidate for governor, John Gregg, has sold out to the corporate education "reformers" who now threaten to destroy public education in Indiana. Gregg has accepted contributions from, and is heavily supported by Democrats for Education Reform, a group run by hedge fund operators who espouse the worst of Governor Daniels, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, President Obama, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's fatally flawed education "reform" agenda. The Common Errant carries a strongly worded letter from Doug Martin, an Indiana writer and educator, protesting Gregg's betrayal of students, parents, and teachers in the state, Betrayal Merits the Deepest Pit: John Gregg Supported by Corporate Ed Reform Funders.

I met John Gregg years ago at a scouting event he attended at the school where I taught. He was just getting into politics, and later represented our district well. After all these years, it's hard to believe he's turned on us for campaign bucks. I expected better of him.

You can let the Gregg campaign know your views at: I certainly have.

Permanent link:

John needs to get his head out of his ass, stop taking contributions from corporate reformers, and clearly state that he's going to return some sanity to education in Indiana if he wants the support of teachers in the state. He might start by listening to some real teachers.

As it stands now, I'll be voting next November, but I'll be sitting out the presidential and gubernatorial races in protest of the President's flawed education "reform" agenda and John's cozying up to the so called "education reformers."

Also, Diane Ravitch will be in the state a couple of times in the near future (Fort Wayne March 13 or 14, and at Notre Dame, April 10). John would be wise to seek her counsel.


For good measure, I carbon copied Diane, as she's almost sure to seek John out, now knowing what is going on with our Democratic candidate. (Yes, the iron lady of sensible school improvement, as incredibly busy as she is, does take the time to answer the emails of a lowly, retired school teacher and webmaster. Thank you, Diane.)

This section sorta goes with the one above about Diane's writing partner on the Bridging Differences blog, Deborah Meier. If some kind of united front does coalesce, we have to make it clear to politicians that we won't support them unless they champion a reasonable approach to school improvement. Both of our national teachers' unions have already rolled over in support of the President despite his policies that encourage a corporate takeover of public schools, push more and more high stakes testing upon which schools and teachers are rated and retained/get a raise/fired, support closing "failing" neighborhood schools when they may be the only thing somewhat holding a community together, and on and on...

When Democrats start looking just like the Republicans on education, what's the purpose in voting for them?

You Deserve a Reward

Okay, if you've made it all the way through the rant above, you deserve a reward. And since you're probably a teacher, you deserve a reward anyway. Here: Have a banana.

Oops, this is the internet, so I can't share my students' favorite treat for getting a 100% on their spelling tests. But I can share the incredible NASA Image of the Day below.

Aurora Borealis

The image taken from the International Space Station on January 25, 2012, is of an Aurora Borealis "as the orbital outpost flew over the Midwest. The spacecraft was above south central Nebraska when the photo was taken. The image, taken at an oblique angle, looks north to northeast." See, that was much better than a banana.

Another possible reward, if you're 50 or over, is an offer of free garden seeds from the senior online auction site,

Have a great weekend!

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