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A Full-Service School

Jill Tucker's Oakland's McClymonds High is a full-service school in the San Francisco Chronicle tells about one of the "estimated 5,000 community schools" across the country that seek to address "all the nonschool factors that influence young people's lives and their academic success." Tucker writes that "the idea is in part an acknowledgement by educators that even if they aren't responsible for the problems children come to school with, they can't sit back and wait for someone else to fix them."

The McClymonds Youth and Family Center offers students and family members an on-site medical clinic, dental care, after-school meals, tutoring programs, college counseling, mental health counseling, dance classes and music, parenting classes, and job training. It's a model Oakland hopes to replicate at many more schools.

New York Teacher Evaluation Deal

Reading Winnie Hu's Observers Get Key Role in Teacher Evaluations on the New York Times, one might think teachers in New York are getting a fair deal out of the agreement struck over teacher evaluations leading to termination. But when you read the fine print as Leonie Haimson and others did, it appears that the outside observers thing only applies to 13% of teachers rated "ineffective." Gotham Schools take on the agreement was, "Today's agreement on teacher evaluation appeals wasn't a complete loss for the union – just 87 percent of one." Haimson goes on to list several other stinkers in the agreement:

  • Teachers will be rated on a curve, with the commissioner having the ultimate power to decide whether the curve is "rigorous" enough -- meaning automatically some teachers must fail;
  • Any teacher rated 0-64 out of 100 will be rated "ineffective" (which seems to be a biased scale);
  • If a teacher is rated ineffective thru growth rates on assessments alone, he or she must be rated ineffective overall; making the agreement to base 20-40% on test scores a total fiction.  If the 40% turns out to be state test scores alone, no matter how used, the results will be unreliable and erratic, teachers will be unfairly evaluated and  students will suffer as a result.
  • The agreement also gives the SED Commissioner too much power -- the authority to approve or disapprove any local evaluation plan he deems "insufficient."

It appears the state of New York and especially New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg still believe they can fire their way to better schools.

Jon Stewart's Interview with Arne Duncan

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Speaking of firing ones way to better schools reminded me of Jon Stewart's interview last Thursday on The Daily Show with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan clearly stated his opposition to trying to fire ones way to better education, but the Administration is said to have clearly approved of the New York evaluation deal that insures doing just that. Watching the interview was an exercise in frustration.

Valerie Strauss's Jon Stewart tries to talk to Arne Duncan is a good review of the three part video of Duncan's performance. I'll just share her opening and closing paragraphs here:

Jon Stewart tried to engage Education Secretary Arne Duncan on "The Daily Show" Thursday night, but the effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won't deviate from his talking points.

What we learned from this exchange (the part that was televised) is that Stewart displayed a great grasp of the issues and the consequences of Race to the Top, and Duncan, well, not so much. I don't need to say that something is wrong with this picture, so I won't.

Jim Horn was even more direct, writing in Cuomo and Mulgrew Get New York in Line with Other Lemmings on the Schools Matter blog, "Last night the king of hackneyed superlatives, Arne Duncan, was on Jon Stewart's show demonstrating once again that there is an Orwellian platitude for every serious question, a punishing lie inside every gilded compliment, a cynical calculation for every saccharine formula."

Note that we still have time to register our collective buyer's remorse with President Obama's choice for Secretary of Education. A Dump Duncan petition will be sent to the White House on March 1, 2012.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Drop Controversial Test Development

After spending $2 million in Race to the Top funds developing end-of-year tests for all subjects in all grades that were not covered by state exams, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are "scrapping 52 controversial year-end exams," according to Ann Doss Helms in CMS scraps controversial tests, teacher ratings. The development of so many tests to be used to rate teachers drew national attention over the last year, but Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh recently "told the board that abandoning the CMS tests and ratings in favor of state ones represents 'a change in procedure but not direction.'" Helms adds that the district is still going ahead with development of student tests to rate teachers in "physical education, performing arts and foreign language because the state is not covering those subjects." The district also still plans to fully implement a new pay and evaluation system in 2013-14 presumably based on "value-added measures," that has as yet to be tested.

Charlotte Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson has a good suggestion after the test development debacle, a superintendent change, and 57 out of 159 principals leaving their posts in the last school year: How's this for change: Do nothing, CMS.

Using Twitter (and Moodle) and A Bit More

I awoke last Friday morning without a hangover after consuming more beer in one night while writing the rant for Friday's posting than I usually do in a month. I wondered if in my semi-inebriated state, I'd gone too far with my Still on My Soapbox rant and even considered pulling that section. But when I opened my email, there was a message from longtime reader, Tom Rademaker, saying, "Liked today's post...keep giving them hell Steve!"

Twitter Moodle feedTom didn't just write to egg me on, but also to share what he's doing with Twitter and Moodle to help his students stay organized. Looking for a way to incorporate Twitter into his classroom, he also is wisely "leery of two way interaction with students on any social medium, including Twitter." But since his students like using Twitter, he worked up something he hoped "might be somewhat effective."

However, Tom wrongly assumed I knew much of anything about using Twitter. After spending a good bit of time fruitlessly trying to find my Twitter username and password (and getting myself locked out of Twitter), I decided to just share his idea and how it looks on his Moodle classroom page.

I established a "hashtag" to use for all my Twitter posts which involve class issues. The hashtag is simply a word, phrase, or series of characters preceded by the pound sign (#) in the body of a tweet. For example "#radsessclass" could be used. Students can then search for tweets which include that hashtag. They can set things up so that they automatically receive tweets with that hashtag as well. This does not require them to interact with me in any way and I cannot tell whether anyone is reading tweets with that hashtag. This assures students that their Twitter "identity" is not revealed to me. This is a long standing practice of instructors who use Twitter in their classroom and is certainly not unique.

I also set up an RSS feed for all my tweets that then show up on my Moodle page. As I am sure you know Moodle has an RSS feed module, but Twitter does not officially support RSS feeds anymore. The URL I use for my twitter feed is where XXXXXX is my Twitter username.

Tom added:

Since I don't really "follow" anyone that tweets with any regularity I don't know if their tweets would show up in my RSS feed. If it does that could obviously present a problem if their tweets are inappropriate. If that happens I will simply "unfollow" everyone and make this Twitter account strictly for class news. I also realize that anyone can use the same hashtag as I do and students searching for tweets with that hashtag could receive tweets that I did not write and that could contain offensive material. I am not sure how that problem could be solved,

When I was working for an outreach program at an engineering school, Tom helped us with a lot of practical suggestions on how to use Moodle in the classroom. He was always looking for something to involve his students and extend their learning, without making Moodle, or any other tool, just another way at doing the same stuff one regularly does in the classroom. I suspect that for Twitter and Moodle users, his suggestion might be useful.

Odds 'n' Ends

Here's a bunch of items that I mostly quickly skimmed over. Watch out for the last one, as it's a good reminder of how a good teacher can impair a career with just a few careless words.

Let me hopefully add a little spring to your day. While watching a couple of our grandkids play in the yard on Saturday, I noticed some crocuses in full bloom near the middle of yard. We've lived here almost eighteen years, and to my knowledge, no one has planted crocuses anywhere in the back yard. But there they were with a promise of spring to come.

Crocus blooms

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Support Doctors Without BordersWednesday, February 22, 2012

On the Blogs

Hey! I get to start this section with a funny one today!

NYC Educator's Bad Teacher Day had me laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair. Rather than just tell you about it, I wrote and NYC Educator graciously let me repost his funny story in its entirety here. Enjoy!

All week last week we kept hearing about spirit week. There was a Harry Potter Day, some other stuff, and a Bad Teacher Day. They announced them every day. I wondered what the hell Bad Teacher Day was, but I don't wear costumes to work, so I ignored it. Then some of my colleagues started asking me about it.

"What the hell is Bad Teacher Day? Isn't that a terrible idea?"

It occurred to me that it was indeed a bad idea, so we started asking various administrators, who were as mystified as we were. Finally we decided to go right to the top, almost, and asked the APO. She looked at us as though we were nuts, and said, "It's not Bad Teacher Day. It's Banned T-Shirt Day."

So we were relieved, somewhat. We told some of the administrators, and then they started getting upset. "Why are we encouraging banned t-shirts? Who knows what sort of things kids will be wearing?"

They were pretty agitated, and we spoke to the to the APO again.

"No," she said. "It isn't banned t-shirts, B-A-N-N-E-D. It's BAND t-shirts, B-A-N-D. You know, you could wear your Led Zeppelin t-shirt."

I don't have a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, so it did not fundamentally affect my life style. But it's amazing how poorly we managed to communicate. I mean, there we were, on verge of a revolution and stuff, and only because a bunch of kids wanted to wear Justin Bieber.

I'll bet wars have been started over less.

Nancy Flanagan's Teacher in a Strange Land blog this week features Billy Ray Cyrus and the Lunch Bunch. It's an anonymous guest blog, as the writer chose to break with her school's pacing and scripted teaching requirements to deal with some misinformation and a teachable moment. The teacher's students were having lunch in the classroom as a reward when the following conversation occurred:

Kid 1: Why wasn't Martin Luther King, Jr. ever president?
Kid 2: 'Cause he was shot by Billy Ray.
Kid 1 (with incredibly big eyes): Cyrus? Miley's dad?
Me: No, no, kids, Billy Ray Cyrus did NOT kill Martin Luther King, Jr.
Kid 3: Who did?
Me: James Earl Ray.
Kid 4: Is he still alive?

The teacher wisely broke out the netbooks and her students eagerly began to explore the questions they were raising. The discussion and investigation blew right past the lunch period and well into math time.

Mrs. Chili, who is often linked here via her A Teacher's Education blog, shared a link on her The Blue Door blog to a poetry site one of her students has started, One Young Poet. It's good stuff.

Amazon iconDevin Black shares some parental advice he gave his son recently on his Education on the Plate blog, Please, son, be anything else. Anything. His posting is actually a good commentary on the new teacher evaluation system recently approved in New York:

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that New York Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Devin's words about not aspiring to be a teacher reminded me of a posting I did last April that didn't win me any new friends in the teaching community, Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys Teachers! In a bit of frustration I wrote, "I'm afraid we may need to change the words of the popular Ed Bruce/Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson country hit, Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, to "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Teachers!"

Who Knew?

While I don't usually use subheads in this section, I think this posting deserves a bit more attention. Earnestine Sweeting's Searching by Standards: Finding the Library of Congress Teacher Tools that You Need on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog relates that the LOC "has a tool to help teachers find classroom materials that meet state standards." She relates that teachers may now "search by state, grade and subject to find pre-selected primary source sets, lesson plans, and learning activities that are aligned with curricular standards."

You might want to bookmark Search by standards.

It's a little hard to tell the difference anymore between a blog, news story, or a column. While the items linked below are officially blogs, they're really more what I would call columns. But at any rate, they're all worth a link:

Odds 'n' Ends

CrocusesDesktop PhotosIt took a bit of rearranging, but our shot of the crocuses featured here on Monday is now available on our free Desktop Photos page.

And while certainly not education news, a Fort Wayne lawmaker managed to make national news this week when the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette published a letter he sent to fellow Republican lawmakers with some real wingnut charges. The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly broke the story in Lawmaker won't honor 'radicalized' Girl Scouts. Representative Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) "has refused to sign on to a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, calling the group a 'radicalized organization' that supports abortion and promotes the 'homosexual lifestyle.'" Even the headline and subhead on the right wing blog Little Green Footballs tells the story of Indiana's shame, Indiana Lawmaker Thinks Girl Scouts Are "Tactical Arm of Planned Parenthood:" The Republican war on Planned Parenthood takes turn into bizarre.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Looking Ahead

Read Across AmericaCat in the Hat hatIt's hard to believe, but March will roll around next week. Dates to remember for the month include the NEA sponsored Read Across America Day (2), Purim (at sundown - 7), daylight saving time (11) beginning (Spring forward, fall back), St. Patrick's Day (17) (on a weekend, again), and the first day of spring (20). Other special days, often with links to more information and student activities, are available on educational event calendars from, Crayola, and The Teacher's Corner. I may celebrate National Pig Day (1) by having that uniquely Midwestern treat, a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich (with a side of coronary occlusion), or by sending some friends free Pig Day greeting cards from 123Greetings and/or Care2. And for readers who may be history and/or trivia buffs, I found an interesting page of Historical People and Events for March.


In a New York Times op-ed published on Wednesday, Bill Gates stated his opposition to releasing teacher ratings that are based on student test scores. He wrote in Shame Is Not the Solution, "I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers' effectiveness...but publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning."

It's good to see some pushback by someone so closely associated with the current national education "reform" movement, but simply being against the often mean-spirited "shame the teachers" movement doesn't address the injustice of rating teachers principally on student test scores. There are other, more effective ways to identify folks in the classroom needing help to improve and those who simply won't or can't teach well.

A Gem by Deborah Meier

War on EducationDeborah Meier's Buyer Beware on the Bridging Differences blog has so many good thoughts that it's hard to pick out just a few to share here. She worries in print about what privatization "does to the mission of K-12 schooling." She asks, "So where is it—if not in schools—that we imagine the habits of intellect to sustain democracy might develop, not to mention the habits of heart and the social experience that make it seem do-able, as well as sensible?"

I've plucked several other gems from her piece, hoping the lack of context doesn't distort or lessen her words:

We know that next is the acceptance of the fact that "public" schools don't belong to their "public." Maybe the money comes from the public, but not "ownership." I've been looking at the boards of some of the new charter chains and it just hits you between the eyes: They are composed of bankers, hedge-funders, corporate CEOs, and the heads of the foundations who also fund the reforms.

But we have set up a so-called "competitive" system based on test scores that control teachers' jobs and students' grades. We've accepted distrust as the norm, and then turned "control" over to those who have virtually NO STAKE in the outcome or whose only stake is the money they can skim off the top—for board honoraria, real estate deals, a say in contracts to builders, cleaners, publishers, et al.

I think the mayor of New York City, and Eli Broad, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), and the board of directors of Success Academy are perfectly happy about a future in which most teachers come and go every five or so years. Temps. Easier to manage and harder to organize. A few will rise to leadership positions after a few years of teaching—after getting MBAs?—and the rest of the leaders will come from other fields like law, business, and the military.

Indeed, as my favorite button says: "Well, at least the war on education is doing well."

Note: If you're looking to purchase such a button, use the photo link at right and search for "At least the war on education."

APOD 120220Odds 'n' Ends

Without doing so on purpose, I'd left several science links for this section. When I realized what I had done, I threw in the APOD from Monday, just because it's cool.

If you want to know just where to look for the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus as they draw nearer together in the night sky, let me recommend the free, open source planetarium software, Stellarium. It can be localized to ones home or viewing location with geographic coordinates (from Google Earth) and used to simulate the celestial bodies' positions over the next week or so. Below is the Stellarium projection for our house over the next three nights.

Tonight Saturday Sunday

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