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Monday, February 17, 2003 - Presidents' Day in U.S.

Another No Child Left Behind Column

Sam Dillon writes in the Sunday New York Times about problems schools may have with No Child Left Behind. Dillon tells in Thousands of Schools May Run Afoul of New Law how schools generally considered "good" schools may fall into the "failing" category. He also writes just a bit of the funding problems in NCLB, quoting a source as saying "the law adds $77 per student in federal aid, it creates $575 per student in obligations."

Cupcakes Would Be Nice

I got a great email Saturday from Scott Schuyler. Scott teaches fifth grade at the Ronald H. Brown Charter School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Scott's web site is always interesting, especially his iMovie theater page. Scott wrote:

I'm sorry to read that your site is going the way of the....oh, Dodo I guess. I got a lot of good info from you over the past few years, and being a teacher I know you'll appreciate the extra free time.
 
Good luck for your (web) retirement, and if there's a party let me know, I'll bring some cupcakes or something.

Thanks, Scott, and...cupcakes would be nice:-).

Another Good Molly Ivins Column

Molly Ivins scores another big hit with her current column, Midwinter Madness. She had me right out of the box with her quote of President Eisenhower: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Then Molly writes of President Bush's proposed tax cut:

To pay for that, George W. Bush wants to raise the rent on subsidized housing for the poorest people in the country and break up Head Start, sending it down to the states, where governments are frantically cutting everything they can. Money to pay for everything from cleaning up Superfund sites to leaving no child behind is being slashed to pay for this obscene tax cut.

Carbon Copy Cloner Updated

Mike Bombich has updated Carbon Copy Cloner to version 2.1.4. The update (682K) released yesterday includes only the CCC application with no documentation, but presumably provides support for Apple's new OS X 10.2.4 update.

I still use Carbon Copy Cloner, usually with a Firewire drive, to clone our software setup for our cart of iBooks at school. It takes half an hour to an hour to clone and finish a few settings on each iBook. Occasionally, when the laptops aren't in heavy demand, I'll clone directly from one laptop to another (center photo). Our most recent round of clonings added OS X 10.2.4 and support for our new wireless HP 1200 printing setup.

When it came down to selecting printers for our carts of laptops (there's also a cart of PC laptops somewhere around the school), I had to opt for a black and white deskjets over color inkjets. My experience with inexpensive color inkjets is that they seem to last under heavy use about two days after their warranty. The units I use for my IEPs (special ed reports that kill a whole lot of trees) usually last about 18 months before needing replacement.

New Desktop Photos for our iBooks

When I began adding astronomy related desktop photos to all of our classroom computers, my assistant had said, "Don't you have something else?" She had no idea how much time it takes to prepare around 30 desktop images for classroom use. But I'd actually already begun on the next round of photos, a group of flower and nature photos. I got stalled out on that project, but pulled up the files quickly after the Columbia disaster and decided the time had come to begin changing over our desktop photos.

Unlike previous groups of desktops presented on this site, not all of these images are available for download. As I hadn't yet collected enough suitable flower images to cover all of our computers, I filled in the rest with photos from an old royalty free CD I'd bought years ago. Unfortunately, America, From Sea to Shining Sea, is no longer available from mediarights.com, but if you see a copy somewhere, grab it!

As you mouse-over the images, you'll find that there are some great downloadable images included. Links go to the pages of Lauri A. Kangas, Robert Gendler, the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive, and a few of my own shots.

We don't have 32 computers in the room, but it's always good to have a few extras. Other desktop photo link collections I've put together are in the column Out of this World Desktop Pictures and in the November 25, 2002, Educators' News posting, Desktop Photos. Do note that my photo links lead to the raw photo download pages, so you'll need to size and crop the images a bit in most cases. Stan Flack also does a weekly review of new desktop photo postings on MacMinute. And of course, MacDesktops always has an awesome collection of photos in a variety of sizes to fit your computer's desktop resolution.

Microsoft California Settlement Column

The New York Times' Laurie J. Flynn has an interesting column today about the Microsoft settlement for California schools and its possible effect on school computer sales. Flynn writes in Microsoft Loosens Apple's Hold on Schools that Microsoft under the proposed settlement would "offer more than $1 billion in vouchers, ranging in price from $5 to $29, for technology from Microsoft and its competitors to California consumers who bought Windows, Office and other Microsoft products from 1995 to 2001." While this story has been around for a while, Flynn also reports that talks between Apple and Microsoft about the settlement are ongoing, with Apple proposing Microsoft simply provide a pool of money without it being tied to purchases of Microsoft products.

Snowplows and Education

Anne, Julia, and I were on our way home from Terre Haute to rural Sullivan county yesterday in a storm that had ranged in two days from rain to sleet to snow. I thought to myself, "Where is the highway department?" Visibility was terrible. The roads had a layer of ice covered by drifting snow. As we drove on, I saw the flashing yellow lights of a snowplow ahead. We were actually following the snowplow! The highway department was there and had been there, according to news reports, for some time. They simply were overwhelmed with the severity of the storm and were doing the best they could with the tools at hand under conditions over which they had no control.

I think the general public is in much the same position on education as I was about the highway department. They really don't see much of what we do. Our task is so overwhelming at times, it appears we have accomplished little when we're putting forth a tremendous effort...doing the best we can with the tools at hand under conditions over which we have little control.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Special School or Mainstream

Denver Post education writer Eric Hubler has written a very good column about special schools, center school placements, and mainstreaming. In Meeting special needs -- An emotional school-choice battle: Segregated or mainstream, Hubler tells of the Fletcher Miller School in Jefferson County, Colorado. Miller School is the last "special school" remaining in Colorado, but many parents and teachers say such facilities are still needed.

Hubler quotes Doug Fisher, an education professor at San Diego State University, as saying, "We've known for 25 years that tracking doesn't work, even for the severely developmentally disabled. I would say to anyone who runs a self-contained, special school: You should close it."

Miller School principal Dave Spinks said, "The law still requires that schools provide a full continuum of services for kids. Jefferson County is the only school district in the state that still provides a full continuum." He added, "When the whole concept of choice and charter came to the foreground, a lot of (special-ed) parents said, 'We want choices for all of our kids, not just the gifted kids.' And what we're being told is, 'We only have one choice, the regular classroom, and it's not working for my child.'"

Miller School has a waiting list for applicants who live outside of Jefferson County. That may illustrate that there still is a need for a full spectrum of possible special education placements.

Maryland Launches Mobile Laboratory

In a USA Today article, Mobile labs take science education to the street, In-Sung Yoo tells of Maryland's new BioLab project. BioLab is a mobile science lab housed in an 18-wheel trailor that can accommodate up to 32 students. Yoo writes that the lab, modeled after Boston's MobileLab, "will engage students in exercises that mimic the work that scientists do...measuring the amount of a protein in a solution and using a spectrophotometer...determine whether a patient carries the gene for sickle-cell anemia, extract DNA from plants or play the role of a forensic scientist using DNA fingerprinting on a crime scene." Similar programs include Connecticut's BioBus and North Carolina's Destiny.

School Gardens

Plant projects are one of those time-honored activities in classrooms around the world. Often, the project produces something to go home for Mother's Day or for the summer. Like any class project, growing plants can involve research, planning, and disciplined care of the growing plants -- all things kids need to learn how to do (but certainly not covered in No Child Left Behind). Beyond any educational justifications, growing stuff is just plain fun!

An Associated Press column by Jennifer Coleman that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Gardens Illustrate Lessons, Give Students Hands-on Experience, got me started chasing down school garden links. Coleman's human interest piece involves various schools in California that have school gardens. Coleman writes:

The state Department of Education is encouraging schools to use gardens to teach students on most subjects with a series of books that show teachers how to link the garden to lesson plans. The latest book, "A Child's Garden of Standards," was published in December and will be marketed nationwide.
 
The book "takes grades 2-7 and shows how activities in the garden guide meets the state standards," said Ann Evans, a consultant to the state Department of Education.

Some of places I visited on my tour of online school gardening sites include:

My school has a "butterfly garden" that is the annual class project of one of our third grade classes. Such projects often revolve around a dedicated staff member with an interest, hobby, or even a passion for such a subject. Ours is such a garden, and it has been a great success over the last six or seven years. Butterfly garden pages include:

Gloxinias...Again

Single BloomGloxiniaI did a short posting on Educators' News last December about some of my favorite plants to grow in the classroom. When I had a classroom "on the sunny side" of the building, we grew lots of stuff, but the most spectacular and satisfying project was our gloxinias. We grew them for Mother's Day gifts, but also hand pollinated the flowers (using Q-Tips...with some students occasionally buzzing like a bee as they did it), saved and then planted the seed.

Whether we got a mutation or just an interesting cross, we came up with something new (and pretty) that was different than any of the plants that grew from the commercial seed I'd purchased. The spotted blooms appeared in pink and a darker purplish hue. Along with all of the other colors, they produced a spectacular display of color in the classroom.

Tray of GloxiniasWe've also grown all sorts of other stuff in the classroom, including cactus from seed, asters, begonias, browallia, sensitive plants (mimosa pudica), petunias, marigolds, and various vegetable plants.

But as you can see, gloxinias remain my favorite class plant project. They're easy to grow from seed (If you can grow an African Violet, you can grow gloxinias.), inexpensive, and produce beautiful flowers. Generally, you'll need a bit of help from a plant light, but sometimes can grow them from ambient light in a brightly lit classroom. In my old classroom, a windowsill plus the classroom fluorescents was enough. In my current classroom, I have to use a shop light over them (inexpensive 48' fluorescent light). The special plant light fluorescent tubes that cost a ton really aren't necessary.

In case you can't tell from the postings above, I have a bit of extra time this week, as we're waiting for things to melt before putting our kids on school buses to travel over some really nasty roads. The gloxinia photos above were taken years ago, but I did have them digitalized at that time. Now, with the help of the magic wand tool in PhotoShop Elements, it's a lot of fun to cut out pieces of photos.

Status Report

It was just over a year ago that I published the following "Personal Note" and "Online Resume."

Personal Note:
 
I was advised today by an administrator, "You'd better watch using words like 'unethical' " [in your columns]. Heeding that tip, I removed the offending text from the conclusion of yesterday's column, The Tin Cup Syndrome. Remembering that the First Amendment is still in effect, I moved it here.
 
 
 
Online Resume!
 
Sadly, it's become pretty obvious to me that good old "Backwash Elementary" and I no longer share a common view of what constitutes a "Free, Appropriate, Public Education" (FAPE) as required by federal and state statute and court decision. Last week, I informed our superintendent orally and in writing (again) of what I believe are a number of violations of student IEPs and the potential for diversion of IDEA grant funds, illegally, into other areas. Other than my building principal and the special ed parents, I'm not sure anyone there shares my views. Of course, they're not the son of an attorney.
 
While I'd have to take a whopping big penalty as I'm not yet 55, I am vested in the Indiana Teachers' Retirement Fund, as I'll exceed their "rule of 85" (age plus years of experience) this summer. Depending on the outcome of a still unscheduled meeting (showdown?) this week, I'm going to have to decide whether I can remain on my current job in light of some practices that are in my view unethical, if not blatantly illegal.
 
If you know of a southeastern Illinois school that needs a slightly singed, but not burnt out, regular elementary or special educator (I have multiple Indiana licensing.) or Mac systems technician (southwestern Indiana and southeastern Illinois), please let them or me know.
I'm not terribly confident that the "powers that be" are going to suddenly wake up, recognize their jeopardy, and reverse their current collision course with a "denial of services" lawsuit or federal investigation of misappropriated special education funds.

Since that time, the issue of diversion of grant funds totally went away (with the backing and assistance of the same administrator who'd suggested I "watch using words like 'unethical'"). But again last week, I had to write yet another letter to the school administration suggesting that telling parents in placement conferences that their child was going to receive "close personal attention" in a special education classroom that has 27 (and growing) full-time reading students was less than acceptable (if not dishonest, illegal, and maybe even "unethical").

While my immediate superior says the administration is "working on it," and I hear of plans to split the classroom into two classrooms with two teachers next year, I will return to school tomorrow to teach 27 kids in reading, with the 28th to be placed during the day (and with 3 or 4 more awaiting placement conferences). Absolutely nothing has been done to remedy this unworkable situation that apparently will persist at least another three and a half months.

As you may guess, I'm keeping my options open for next year. I will qualify for early retirement at the end of this school year. While I'd like to teach for several more years before hanging it up, continual discussion of the problems without any action doesn't teach my kids how to read or compute. We've survived this year by drastically cutting corners, using our older kids (bless them) as peer tutors, and maximizing the effectiveness of our new technology equipment and software.

My options for moving "next door" to Illinois to teach next year are nil, as Illinois is in worse financial shape in education than is Indiana. If you know of a school in the general southwestern Indiana or southeastern Illinois area looking for a good Mac tech, or a private school (so I can collect my Indiana retirement) in the area that needs a good hand at regular and special education, please let them know of me, or me of them (Obviously, I'm not a master in English!).

While I still plan to close up shop on Educators' News on April 18, 2003, I do plan to continue to publish occasional View from the Classroom columns.


Wednesday, February 19, 2003

New from SchwabLearning.org

The SchwabLearning.org site this week features a good column on bullying by Marlene Snyder, Understanding Bullying and Its Impact on Kids with Learning Differences. While written with an eye to special needs kids, it's a good read and much of it is applicable to regular ed kids as well.

Rural Education

Laurent Belsie writes of a recent report by The Rural School and Community Trust in Rural schools at a disadvantage in the current education-reform climate. Belsie notes that rural schools are mostly at a financial disadvantage in competing for teachers and that small classes can skew test results.

The Trust's webpage, Why Rural Matters 2003: The Continuing Need for Every State to Take Action on Rural Education, has several download options for the recent report (2/12/03) and also breaks down the findings by state. For example, the Indiana state-by-state results document states:

Indiana has 1.8 million rural people, the 13th largest rural population in the U.S., and more than one-third of its public schools (37.1%) are in rural areas. The rural school landscape in Indiana features the 6th largest classes in the nation, fairly large schools, and a relatively high rate of transportation spending (4.7%). Only five states spend less (52.3%) on instruction and pupil support in rural schools.

Marty Strange, policy director of the Rural Trust and one of the report's authors, writes:

Nearly one in three of America's school-age children attend public schools in rural areas or small towns of fewer than 25,000 people. Yet if you listen to the education policy debate, particularly around the impacts of the new "No Child Left Behind" law, chances are you still will not hear much about rural schools. In most of the 50 states, they are left behind from the start.

If you're a teacher in a rural school district looking for some facts and figures to share with your state legislators, this report is an excellent source.

NASA in the News

The New York Times presents a long feature article reported by James Glanz, Edward Wong, and William J. Broad and written by Mr. Glanz about problems in the space program in NASA Is Held Down by Its Own Bureaucracy. In part, the authors write, "NASA is dominated not by scientists and engineers who think big but by technical managers who rely largely on outside contractors who have themselves been rocked by consolidation, layoffs and lean economic times." The column is a tough appraisal of what NASA has become and what needs to be done to revitalize it.

Planting Note

As I wrote this update, I realized that I wrote a lot yesterday about starting plants from seeds. One of the saddest things that can happen in a classroom plant project is to find that most to all of your young seedlings have been cut down at the root or low stem from damping-off fungus. To avoid this disaster, use only sterilized planting medium. I actually bake my potting soil in the oven at around 400o F for an hour to kill off any of the fungus which is often present in commercial soil mixes. Also, providing good air circulation around the young plants and watering early in the day helps prevent damping off. Various chemical seed and soil treatments also help slow the fungus, but they're nasty stuff to use. Captan is among a number of known carcinogens on the NIOSH Carcinogen List.


Thursday, February 20, 2003

I really hadn't planned on doing a site update for Thursday, but as I wind things down here on Educators' News, I keep finding things that I think are important, interesting, or just kinda cool. So...

IT Department Fries Macs

Stephen Van Esch presents a real IT horror story for Mac users on Low End Mac in Macs in Schools: A Personal Horror Story. He tells of his alma matter ripping AppleWorks off their iBooks apparently because "it was bogging down the network." It's the kind of stuff that makes you want to just forgo the network and go it alone.

Jeff Adkins on the Dell Dude

Jeff begins this Lite Side Column, Dell Dude Like Busted, by saying, "Is this too easy or what?" Fortunately for we readers, Jeff goes on to have his (and our) fun with the Dell Dude's current discomfort after being busted in New York last weekend for possession.

Dan on Claris Home Page

If you pull down the page source from many of the pages of Low End Mac (in IE, pull down from the View menu to Source), you'll find the word "Claris" in the HTML code. Dan Knight, publisher of Low End Mac, still uses the antiquated Home Page...because it works! Dan describes in Claris Home Page 3.0: Still Irreplaceable? how Home Page doesn't work with all the new bells and whistles of HTML 4.0 or XTML, but finds it better than anything else he's tried. Dan wishes Apple or someone would put out a good midlevel WYSIWYG web page editor. So do I!

Chimera...Camino...iVoyage?

It appears some legal hassles are necessitating a name change for a favorite Mac beta version web browser. "Pinkerton" has a humorous and interesting posting about the name issue in Where's Chimera 0.7?

Snow Days

The two columns linked below come from the Washington Post, but you could easily just change the city name and the story would fit much of the eastern United States.


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Another School District Mac vs. PC Showdown

Low End Mac columnist and educator Jeff Adkins has posted an open letter to the board of education of his school system in response to their "unilateral switch to 'single platform' from 'dual platform'" computing. In Open Letter to the Board of Education on Single Platform Computing, Jeff makes a good case for his school system, or any other, staying with a dual platform policy on computers.

Columns on Microsoft Buyout of Virtual PC

The recent sale of Virtual PC to Microsoft may have an impact on some educators who use the product to connect to a school PC network and/or Windows-only attendance and/or gradebook programs. Two columns about the sale offer some insight as to where Microsoft may be going with the products.

 


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