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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rhee, hee, hee

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1862444-1,00.html?iid=perma_share

Okay I know that this is long, but this article irritated me so much that I had to do it. The following is an article from Time magazine. My comments are in red. If you want to read a comment free version go ahead and click on the link above.

In 11th grade, Allante Rhodes spent 50 minutes a day in a Microsoft Word class at Anacostia Senior High School in Washington. He was determined to go to college, and he figured that knowing Word was a prerequisite. But on a good day, only six of the school's 14 computers worked. He never knew which ones until he sat down and searched for a flicker of life on the screen. "It was like Russian roulette," says Rhodes, a tall young man with an older man's steady gaze. If he picked the wrong computer, the teacher would give him a handout. He would spend the rest of the period learning to use Microsoft Word with a pencil and paper.

The problem with this is that he is in the 11th grade learning Word.

One day last fall, tired of this absurdity, Rhodes e-mailed Michelle Rhee, the new, bold-talking chancellor running the District of Columbia Public Schools system. His teacher had given him the address, which was on the chancellor's home page. He was nervous when he hit SEND, but the words were reasonable. "Computers are slowly becoming something that we use every day," he wrote. "And learning how to use them is a major factor in our lives. So I'm just bringing this to your attention." He didn't expect to hear back. Rhee answered the same day. It was the beginning of an unusual relationship.

As far as I can understand it the relationship looks liked this. Rhee approaches student and says I need some good P.R.. Student says, "What's P.R.?"

The U.S. spends more per pupil on elementary and high school education than most developed nations. Yet it is behind most of them in the math and science abilities of its children. Young Americans today are less likely than their parents were to finish high school. This is an issue that is warping the nation's economy and security, and the causes are not as mysterious as they seem. The biggest problem with U.S. public schools is ineffective teaching, according to decades of research. And Washington, which spends more money per pupil than the vast majority of large districts, is the problem writ extreme, a laboratory that failure made. (See pictures of a diverse group of American teens.)

First of all in a global economy why are we still concerned about nationalistic pride. Secondly, why are we worried about a percentile ranking instead of meeting certain standards. Is it really so important to squash the young minds of India and China?


As for the incompetent teachers, it is a viscous cycle. Bad teachers make bad students that become bad teachers. Oh the insanity. Perhaps we should import teachers from Mumbai.


Rhee took over Anacostia High and the district's 143 other schools in June 2007, when Mayor Adrian Fenty named her chancellor. Her appointment stunned the city. Rhee, then 37, had no experience running a school, let alone a district with 46,000 students that ranks last in math among 11 urban school systems. When Fenty called her, she was running a nonprofit called the New Teacher Project, which helps schools recruit good teachers. Most problematic of all, Rhee is not from Washington. She is from Ohio, and she is Korean American in a majority-African-American city. "I was," she says now, "the worst pick on the face of the earth."
But Rhee came highly recommended by another prominent school reformer: Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City's schools. And Rhee was once a teacher--in a Baltimore elementary school with Teach for America--and the experience convinced her that good teachers could alter the lives of kids like Rhodes.

Lets be perfectly clear. She has no experience as an educator. Let me put that another way she has no idea what she is doing. TFA is an entitlement for the entitled. Created to make them feel good about surviving in the inner city for a couple of years. In fact not only do they get their graduate school paid for, but they can also list the experience on their sainthood applications.

Rhee has promised to make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation, a prospect that, if realized, could transform the way schools across the country are run. She is attempting to do this through a relentless focus on finding--and rewarding--strong teachers, purging incompetent ones and weakening the tenure system that keeps bad teachers in the classroom. This fall, Rhee was asked to meet with both presidential campaigns to discuss school reform. In the last debate, each candidate tried to claim her as his own, with Barack Obama calling her a "wonderful new superintendent."

I knew I shouldn't have voted for him.

Each week, Rhee gets e-mails from superintendents in other cities. They understand that if she succeeds, Rhee could do something no one has done before: she could prove that low-income urban kids can catch up with kids in the suburbs. The radicalism of this idea cannot be overstated. Now, without proof that cities can revolutionize their worst schools, there is always a fine excuse. Superintendents, parents and teachers in urban school districts lament systemic problems they cannot control: poverty, hunger, violence and negligent parents. They bicker over small improvements such as class size and curriculum, like diplomats touring a refugee camp and talking about the need for nicer curtains. To the extent they intervene at all, politicians respond by either throwing more money at the problem (if they're on the left) or making it easier for some parents to send their kids to private schools (if they're on the right).
Meanwhile, millions of students left behind in confused classrooms spend another day learning nothing.

We don't need to revolutionize our schools. We need to revolutionize our country. For some reasson we think that unqualified individuals who talk like backwoods hicks can change the world by making the tough choices. I'm the decider.

A Teacher from Toledo
ONE DAY IN AUGUST, I SPENT THE MORNING with Rhee as she made surprise visits to Washington public schools. She emerged from her chauffeured black SUV with two BlackBerrys and a cell phone and began walking--fast--toward the front door of the first school. She wore a black pencil skirt, a delicate cream blouse and strappy high heels. When we got inside, she walked into the first classroom she could find and stood to the side, frowning like a specter. When a teacher stopped lecturing to greet her, she motioned for the teacher to continue. Rhee smiled only when students smiled at her first. Within two minutes, she had seen enough, and she stalked out to the next classroom.

I'm sure we all look back at the best teachers we had and remember how they "stalked" the hallways never smiling and "frowning like a specter." I always thought of my teachers as hags, but I guess specter will work.

In the hallway, she muttered about teachers who spend too much time cutting out elaborate bulletin-board decorations or chitchatting at "morning meetings" with their third-graders before the real work begins. "We're in Washington, D.C., in the nation's capital," she said later. "And yet the children of this city receive an education that every single citizen in this country should be embarrassed by." (See pictures of teens and how they would vote.)

I definitely prefer prison gray walls, windows with bars on them and a warden teacher that gets right to business. Maybe if we are good we can go out to the yard.

In the year and a half she's been on the job, Rhee has made more changes than most school leaders--even reform-minded ones--make in five years. She has shut 21 schools--15% of the city's total--and fired more than 100 workers from the district's famously bloated 900-person central bureaucracy. She has dismissed 270 teachers. And last spring she removed 36 principals, including the head of the elementary school her two daughters attend in an affluent northwest-D.C. neighborhood.

Change is good. Change is always good. If something is 15% different then logic demands that it is 15% better.

Rhee is convinced that the answer to the U.S.'s education catastrophe is talent, in the form of outstanding teachers and principals. She wants to make Washington teachers the highest paid in the country, and in exchange she wants to get rid of the weakest teachers. Where she and the teachers' union disagree most is on her ability to measure the quality of teachers. Like about half the states, Washington is now tracking whether students' test scores improve over time under a given teacher. Rhee wants to use that data to decide who gets paid more--and, in combination with classroom evaluation, who keeps the job. But many teachers do not trust her to do this fairly, and the union bristles at the idea of giving up tenure, the exceptional job security that teachers enjoy.

Tenure oh how I love thee. I know that is why I got into teaching to begin with. So let me get this straight. The reason schools suck is because teachers would not like to be fired unless there is just cause. We want to be protected from the whims of any random Korean-American that happens to become chancellor. What are we insane?

Rhee grew up in a nice neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio, a middle child, between two brothers. Her parents immigrated from South Korea several years before she was born so that her father could study medicine at the University of Michigan. He became a specialist in rehabilitation and pain medicine, and her mother owned a women's clothing store. Education was highly valued in the family, as was independence. After Rhee finished sixth grade, her parents sent her to South Korea to live with an aunt and attend a Korean school, a harrowing experience for a child in a strange land with limited skills in its language. When she returned a year later, her parents sent her to a private school because they found the public schools lacking.

After Rhee graduated from Cornell University in 1992, she joined Teach for America. She spent three years teaching at Harlem Park Elementary, one of the lowest-performing schools in Baltimore. Her parents visited and were stunned by the conditions of the neighborhood. "The area where the kids lived reminded me of a scene after the Korean War," says her father Shang Rhee.

Rhee suffered during that first year, and so did her students. She could not control the class. Her father remembers her returning home to visit and telling him she didn't want to go back. She had hives on her face from the stress.

Fire her. Fire her now. The kids are suffering. Damn it! Fire Her.

The second year, Rhee got better. She and another teacher started out with second-graders who were scoring in the bottom percentile on standardized tests. They held on to those kids for two years, and by the end of third grade, the majority were at or above grade level, she says. (Baltimore does not have good test data going back that far, a problem that plagues many districts, so this assertion cannot be checked. But Rhee's principal at the time has confirmed the claim.) The experience gave Rhee faith in the power of good teaching. Yet what happened afterward broke her heart. "What was most disappointing was to watch these kids go off into the fourth grade and just lose everything," Rhee says, "because they were in classrooms with teachers who weren't engaging them."

Did ya see that part in parenthesis. The part where it says that she has absolutely no data to back up these claims. I love parenthesis. You can say whatever lie you want as long as you subtly deny it in parenthesis.

Lets accept that she did do well. Do we get any detail on how she was so engaging. Was it the hives that got the kids attention?

The summer after her second year of teaching, Rhee met Kevin Huffman, a fellow Teach for America member. They married two years later and had two daughters, Starr and Olivia, now 9 and 6. They moved to Colorado to be closer to Rhee's parents, but the marriage faltered. Huffman and Rhee separated, agreeing to joint custody of the kids. And then Rhee got the offer to run Washington's schools. Huffman, now head of public affairs for Teach for America, had no illusions about the challenges Rhee would face. But when he heard about the job offer, he decided to follow her to D.C. "Even though moving didn't sound like a whole lot of fun," he says, "the reality is that I genuinely believed that she had the potential to be the best superintendent in the country. Most people think about their own longevity, about political considerations." He adds, "Very few people genuinely don't care about anything other than the end result for kids. Michelle will compromise with no one when it comes to making sure kids get what they deserve."

If she only cares about end results can we assume that she doesn't care about the kids?

Scorched Earth

Excellent name for a school reform program.

WHEN THEY ARRIVED IN WASHINGTON, Huffman and Rhee anted up. They enrolled Starr and Olivia in Oyster-Adams, a public elementary school. Although the school is considered among the best in the city, Rhee quickly concluded that it was inferior to the Colorado public school her daughters had been attending. Among other things, the homework was sporadic and unchallenging, she says. Rhee dismissed the principal before the school year was out, a move that sparked outrage across the city and in her own home. "That," she says, "was probably the decision I got the most grief about."

So the fact that the homework was not regular and challenging led her to this conclusion. Despite the fact that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of homework in elementary school. Of course she is probably looking at the same studies that schools are failing because of bad teachers.

Rhee is, as a rule, far nicer to students than to most adults. In many private encounters with officials, bureaucrats and even fundraisers--who have committed millions of dollars to help her reform the schools--she doesn't smile or nod or do any of the things (that human being do?)most people do to put others at ease. She reads her BlackBerry when people talk to her. I have seen her walk out of small meetings held for her benefit without a word of explanation. She says things most superintendents would not. "The thing that kills me about education is that it's so touchy-feely," she tells me one afternoon in her office. Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn't respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. "People say, 'Well, you know, test scores don't take into account creativity and the love of learning,'" she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. "I'm like, 'You know what? I don't give a crap.' Don't get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don't know how to read, I don't care how creative you are. You're not doing your job.

Ah finally her qualifications. She is a Grade A Bitch, rude, inconsiderate, and feels that it is perfectly acceptable to mock others. She would never mock students just teachers because you know we're stupid. We are not interested in learning. Apparently all adults stop being students once they graduate from high school. I don't give a "crap" about a "love of learning." I mean it stops at the school door, unless you have regular and challenging homework.

Oh by the way did you like my use of parenthesis? I think I will do it some more.

Rhee's ferocity has alienated many people--even those who (are human beings?) support her ideas and could be helpful to her. This summer the chair of the Washington city council called dealing with Rhee a "nightmare." There has been talk of passing legislation to rein her in. "Michelle Rhee believes in scorched earth," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that has become unusually involved in local matters in Washington. "I am not saying that D.C.'s school system doesn't need a lot of help. But I have been part of a lot of reforms, and the one thing I have never seen work is a hierarchical, top-down model."

Rhee is aware of the criticism, but she suggests that a certain ruthlessness is required. "Have I rubbed some people the wrong way? Definitely. If I changed my style, I might make people a little more comfortable," she says. "But I think there's real danger in acting in a way that makes adults feel better. Because where does that stop?"

Okay, enough of this bullshit. Does anyone really think that she doesn't talk to the kids like this. I mean, what is the difference. Does she magically transform into a sugarplum fairy when ever she encounters someone under the age of 18?

The Data
ON RHEE'S TOUR OF SCHOOLS DURING the first week of classes this year, a parent stopped her to praise her accomplishments so far. Rhee listened with a small smile while systematically cracking each of her knuckles with the thumb of the same hand. Then she got back into her SUV and began furiously e-mailing. When she calls her staff, she does not say hello; she just starts talking. She answered 95,000 e-mails last year, according to her office.

Qualification number two: Insanely fast typing.

She frequently sounds exasperated. "People come to me all the time and say, 'Why did you fire this person?'" she says. The whiny voice is back. "'She's a good person. She's a nice person.' I'm like, 'O.K., go tell her to work at the post office.' Just because you're a nice person and you mean well does not mean you have a right to a job in this district."

No where does it say you have to be nice and caring in order to be a good teacher. Whatever you do don't smile before Christmas. Don't smile at all if possible.

The data back up Rhee's obsession with teaching. If two average 8-year-olds are assigned to different teachers, one who is strong and one who is weak, the children's lives can diverge in just a few years, according to research pioneered by Eric Hanushek at Stanford. The child with the effective teacher, the kind who ranks among the top 15% of all teachers, will be scoring well above grade level on standardized tests by the time she is 11. The other child will be a year and a half below grade level--and by then it will take a teacher who works with the child after school and on weekends to undo the compounded damage. In other words, the child will probably never catch up.

So let me see if I got this study straight. If you give a student to an effective teacher as judge by test scores, then the student will get good test scores. Good got it. Makes perfect sense. An effective teacher can teach to a test.

The ability to improve test scores is clearly not the only sign of a good teacher. But it is a relatively objective measure in an industry with precious few. And in schools where kids are struggling to read and subtract, it is a prerequisite for getting anything else done. In their defense, Washington teachers and principals, like educators in many of the country's worst school districts, talk about trying to teach a seventh-grader who is eight months pregnant; about being assaulted by students; about holding meetings for parents, replete with free food, and no one showing up. Washington Teachers' Union leader George Parker worries that test-score data cannot take all this into account: "I don't think our teachers are afraid of demonstrating student growth, but you have to look at the dynamics of the children you're dealing with. If I'm teaching children who have computers at home, who have educated parents, those students can move a lot faster than kids whose parents can't read."

Typical whiny ass. Assume that I have raised by chin and am writing in a mock voice. The students are pregnant and don't have computers blah, blah, blah.

Rhee says she does not expect all kids to move up the charts at the same rate(the president does); the important thing is to demand that most do move up. "This is a cultural shift," says Kaya Henderson, Rhee's deputy. "For years, there were no data, and you were a good teacher because the parents or your principal told you so. And so this is a scary thing."

The most glaring example of the backward logic of schools is the way most teachers receive lifetime job security after one or two years of work. As Larry Rosenstock, CEO of eight California charter schools, noted at an education panel last spring, we don't give that kind of job security to pilots or doctors--or any others who hold our children's fate in their hands: "What is it that is so exceptional about teachers that they should have this unique right?"

Lets get this straight. Nobody has ever given teachers lifetime job security. Let me repeat that, Nobody has ever given teachers lifetime job security. Get it? Good.

Teachers got tenure rights in the early 20th century to protect them against meddling politicians and school-board members who treated their jobs as patronage pawns. But the rationale is plainly antiquated. Today dozens of federal and state laws protect teachers (and other people) from arbitrary firing. But most teachers still receive tenure almost automatically. In fact, even before they get tenure, they are rarely let go. (In fact most of them quit, like Ms. Rhee, before they have even taught the five years required to recieve tenure.)Schools spend millions of dollars evaluating teachers, but principals have little incentive to shake up their staffs, and so most teachers end up scoring near the top. "What I'm finding is that our principals are ridiculously--like ridiculously--conflict-averse," Rhee says. "They know someone is not so good, and they want to give him a 'Meets expectations' anyway because they don't want to deal with the person coming into the office and yelling and getting the parents riled up."

Right now, schools assess teachers before they teach--filtering for candidates who are certified, who have a master's degree, who have other pieces of paper that do not predict good teaching. And we pay them the same regardless of their effectiveness.

By comparison, if we wanted to have truly great teachers in our schools, we would assess them after their second year of teaching, when we could identify very strong and very weak performers, according to years of research. Great teachers are in total control. They have clear expectations and rules, and they are consistent with rewards and punishments. Most of all, they are in a hurry. They never feel that there is enough time in the day. They quiz kids on their multiplication tables while they walk to lunch. And they don't give up on their worst students, even when any normal person would.

Yeah, you can't give up on them until they are adults. And they should be regular with the rewards and punishments how else will be get the dogs to drool at the sound of a bell the students to learn.

Students know this instinctively. Acquirra Carter, 14, attends Washington's Cardozo High School, where, she complains, kids walk out of classes when they get bored and certain teachers talk on their cell phones when they are supposed to be teaching. But there are exceptions, and Carter knows them when she sees them. "Some teachers find a way. Mrs. Brown, they would not dare walk out of her class. She has total control. Mrs. Lawton, nobody leaves her class. This boy whispered, and she knew it!"

IN THE VIEW OF RHEE AND REFORMERS like her, the struggle to fix America's failing school system comes down to a simple question: How do you get the best teachers and principals to work in the worst schools? In her quest to figure this out, Rhee has already suffered a major setback. Earlier this year, she proposed a revolutionary new model to let teachers choose between two pay scales. They could make up to $130,000 in merit pay on the basis of their effectiveness--in exchange for giving up tenure for one year. Or they could keep tenure and accept a smaller raise. (Currently, the average teacher's salary in Washington is $65,902.) The proposal divided the city's teachers into raging, blogging factions. This fall, the union declined to put Rhee's proposal to a vote, and its relationship with her has become increasingly hostile.
In October, Rhee vowed to purge incompetent teachers through any means necessary.(You go Teacher X) She has brought on extra staff to help principals navigate the byzantine termination process and says an unprecedented number of teachers have already been put on notice. But she cannot give teachers the huge raises she proposed unless the union agrees to a new contract. So this approach will be slower, more litigious and less inspiring. In other words, it will be all stick and no carrot. It's hard to say if anyone else would have been able to persuade the union to trade away tenure for cash bonuses, but Rhee's sometimes dismissive attitude made it harder for some teachers to trust her.

I assume the extra money for salaries grows on the freaking genius tree she fell out of.

For now, Mayor Fenty says he still has full confidence in Rhee, and he claims that Washington residents share his enthusiasm. "Regular people love the fact that for once someone is making tough decisions for D.C. schools," says Fenty, who attended the district's public schools. But the disconnect between Rhee's confident, sweeping rhetoric and the tortured reality is sizable, and it is most apparent at ground level, in the schools she is trying to save.

Again regular people and tough decisions to hallmarks of every great age of humankind.

Rhee likes to tell the story of how Rhodes got in touch with her. She recounted it on TV on The Charlie Rose Show in July: "A student sent me this e-mail and said, basically, If you really want to know what's wrong with our schools, you should come and talk to the kids because I'm afraid that by talking to the adults, you might not be getting the real story."

Just like I got the real story about who was smoking marjuana in the mens room last week.

Rhodes has a more nuanced version of the story. After their initial meeting, they met for a second time at Anacostia High, in a room off the library. Rhodes had invited eight fellow students, and they gave Rhee their typed agenda. They talked about the need for better teachers, as Rhee emphasizes when she tells the story. But Rhodes says he also told her about the holes in the floors, the lack of supplies and the fact that most classes did not have enough books for the students to take home. Rhee listened but did not offer many specific solutions. "She was vague," Rhodes says. "I got the sense she didn't want to make promises she couldn't keep."

Then one day last May, Rhee dismissed Anacostia's principal. Rhodes was devastated. He sent Rhee a furious e-mail. "My principal is a mother, mentor and a teacher to us all," he wrote. "I refuse, NO! we refuse the students of Anacostia to let her go." Rhee wrote him back. "She told me not to worry about it," Rhodes says quietly.

No worries.

One of the things that make school reform so wrenching and slow is that schools become embedded in people's hearts.(Like a stake in a vampire) This is true in rich neighborhoods and poor ones, with good schools and bad. Rhodes talks about his school as if it were an extension of himself. He talks about "my teachers" and "my staff," and he refers to other students as "my colleagues." "I love Anacostia High School," he says. At the same time, he is dismayed by his school. He walks through his halls, pointing out the litter on the floor and the broken lockers. Rhodes is 6 ft. 8 in. (2 m) tall, so he has to look down to talk to almost everyone. He wears white tube socks under his black Nike flip-flops and carries his large frame deliberately, like a gentle overseer. "You see all these lockers? None of them work," he says. "This classroom over here is supposed to be for home economics, but it's never been fixed up."

But if they can't read I don't care if their lockers work. I don't care if they can cook, sew, or balance a check book. Those little Chinese kids are good a math, and we are falling behind.

Plus as research has shown if lockers are broken, and bathrooms are filthy, and textbooks are missing it is because of failing teachers.

Rhodes did not contact Rhee again. This year Anacostia has a new principal, and Rhodes admits that the school is functioning better. "All the children are wearing their uniforms," he says. "No kids are in the hallways." If you come to school without your uniform on, a security guard or an assistant principal will "snatch you up and just send you home." All the computers in his Microsoft Word classroom now work.

But on Nov. 19, Rhodes had to evacuate his school when fights broke out in the hallways and three students were stabbed. And he still doesn't use the school bathrooms, which are filthy and sometimes unsafe. He waits until he returns to his grandmother's house, where he lives.
Now that he is a senior, Rhodes spends much of his time worrying about getting into college. As we stand on the front steps of the school one autumn evening after class, I ask him what he wants to study. He answers quickly: "Public administration, with a minor in English." I ask him how he can be so sure. "Because someone told me that's what I have to do to take Chancellor Rhee's job," he says matter-of-factly, watching his drum corps practice and his baton twirlers twirl in the twilight.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Damning Evidence #6

Whenever I assign research papers I expecte a little cheating and inadvertent plagiarism, but the following case is particularly interesting. Now to fully appreciate this you must understand that I am teaching in a high school in St. Louis, MO, U.S.A.

A student was writing about the use of new technology in the game of football. I was suspicous that he hadn't written parts of it but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until I came across this sentence: "People feel as though they are playing the same game as the blokes they see on the TV."

The student didn't even know that the paper he had copied was about soccer and not American football as he had intended. The truly damning evidence however comes when I confronted the student and he adamantly denied that he had cheated even after I showed him and the rest of the class the page on the SmartBoard.

Friday, November 21, 2008

School is Left in the Dark Ages

State evaluators were shocked last week when they visited a school that was literally in the dark ages.

Last Thursday, as part of the states accreditation process, a team of educators visited North Hamptonshire Elementary. After they scurried over a rickety bridge spanning what can only be described as a moat state officials were greeted by Dr. Cooper, principal and industrial arts teacher.

“I was surprised by the roughness of his hands,” stated head evaluator Janet Crandle, “but he explained that he had just been making barrels with his students when a page told him that we were here.”

As is the case in schools around Missouri officials were given open access to all of the classrooms and facilities. Schools are rated in several areas including teacher preparation, technology, physical facilities, and curricular materials.

“I immediately asked about the textbooks, and I was told that the school scribe had only finished copying approximately 50% of the books needed. The science department was still waiting on the delivery of the Alchemy text,” said Crandle.

“In one classroom there was only one working candle even though the school employs its own chandler,” exclaimed Robert Early, another state evaluator. “Even if the students had books they would not be able to see them.”

“I am very proud of how we have integrated technology into the curriculum,” said Cooper. “Mary Lynn has most of the students proficient in using the Astrolabe, and we just got a shipment of compasses so I imagine that students will start exploring on their own fairly soon.”

Officials state that North Hamptonshire Elementary will likely be closed within a week over concerns about The Plague and alarmingly high levels of lead found in blood samples from students in the Alchemy class.

Cooper responded disappointedly, “In our day we were the premier school in the area, but budget cuts and No Serf Left Behind cripple our ability to be innovative.”

Unfortunately for students North Hamptonshires’s “day” was over 600 years ago.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Damning Evidence #5

From a research paper:

"Cloning can be used on many different species such as animals bugs humans and automobiles."

Damning Evidence #4

When discussing the setting Ray Bradbury's The Pedestrian a student asked if A.D. stood for "after death." I explained that if that was the case then between B.C. and A.D. we would have appoximately 33 yrs. that were unaccounted for. I then explained Anno Domini and the student concluded upon hearing the evidence that I was wrong.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Damning Evidence #3

While discussing Ray Bradbury's post apocacolyptic story, There Will Come Soft Rains, I was asking students what they new about atomic weapons.

One of my students proudly declared, "We dropped an atomic bomb on Pearl Harbor to end World War II."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Foreigners are Coming

In order to protest the new Missouri law making English the official language for all government business, I will teach my class entirely in Bhili, a Western Indo-Aryan language spoken in west-central India.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Easily Offended



So MSIP is coming. For those of you that don't know MSIP is the Missouri School Improvement Program. As part of the improving our school I was asked by my principal to take down this comic strip because some of the evaluators might find it offensive, and I can not figure out why.

As far as I can tell taking down this comic strip is like whispering the word "black" when talking about someone that is African American. Though the content of the message is not offensive the need to disguise or hide the message implies racist thoughts in the deepest darkest jungles of their minds.

Perhaps gangsta rappers are a protected class. Since they are a minority their culture and beliefs are to be respected. They are just "keepin' it real" and reporting the facts of what life is like on the streets. Problem is that they are preaching to a choir of young people who look to them for validation. Rap doesn't cause the problems but it glorifies them as the one true path.

Hopefully, I am taking this all too seriously, and my principal thinks that the visitors from the state are too dimwitted to understand satire. So I have decided to temporarily replace the Boondocks with Calvin and Hobbes.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Odds on Favorite

Harrahs R-V a small district in out-state Missouri undertook an unprecedented project last week to improve school funding.

"We have been cutting programs for years and when Prop A passed we saw it as a golden opportunity," said district superintendent Betty House.

Prop A is an ordinance brought before the voters asking them to repeal loss limits at the states riverboat casinos. Up until the measure passed Missouri residents' losses were capped at $500 every two hours. Removing these loss limits increase the amount of money placed in the states school funding formula.

The elimination of these caps got the officials of Harrahs R-V thinking. Margaret Gamble, as school board member, was at first shocked by House's proposal to use district buses to take local residents to the casinos, but as the reality of the numbers sunk in she was soon on board.

"When I saw how much it would help the students, I couldn't very well vote against it," said Gamble.

"The closest casino is nearly an hour away," complained resident Carlotta Cash, "most of us had to be satisfied with buying lotto and playing Bingo at St. Francis."

Now every Friday and Saturday night a fleet of school buses drive through small surrounding towns and transport residents to the Isle of Capri casino in Booneville.

Recently these trips were temporarily suspended because of rising fuel costs, but as the price per gallon of gasoline in the state has dipped to $2.59 and worry over the current economic crisis has made many people desperate for a jackpot, the roar of the engines and the flashing red lights are again a regular sight on the two lane highways of rural Missouri.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Real Maverick Move

At tonights debate I hope that the moderator will ask the candidates their choice for Secretary of Education, and Obama will leap out of his seat and say, "I nominate William Ayers."

Like the red-meat thrown to the Republican base in the form of Sarah Palin, Ayers would energize the base. The base is primarily urban and Ayers has dedicated his second life to improving the education of urban students. Forget those country folk that vote Republican out of fear and ignorance. Leave those kids behind.

I'm joking of course. We should leave no child behind, but we also don't have to have a law telling us to care and forcing districts to strive for mediocrity. As Ayers says, "We teachers are increasingly deskilled and hammered into interchangeable cogs in a bureaucracy, pressured to reduce teaching to a set of manageable and easily superviseable tasks, and to sum it up on the basis of a single simple-minded metric, to strip it of any moral purpose or intellectual engagement or creative action whatsoever. "

We need a revolution in education. Not a violent one, but if we don't do something our system will explode like "a dream deferred." How astounding would it be if there was a secretary of education that believed in teachers instead of blamed them. A leader that took it as a given that we care about our students, that we will not leave them behind, that learning is not something to be measure with a test, that we should teach freedom of thought not minimum knowledge standards.

So in order to steal some of the McCain maverick thunder, and to bring about "change" that I can believe in, Barack Obama should formalize the tenuous relationship with William Ayers and appoint him as Secretary of Education.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Get Smart

His words tore the flesh from the students like an emaciated zombie exposing muscle and bone to infection, and insuring almost certain death. At this point the teacher thought to himself, “Maybe sarcasm isn’t the best way to reach the students.” At the very least sarcasm as defined by its archaic Greek roots, to tear the flesh, should only be used in the direst life and death situations.

In his defense, however, I would like to point out that a synonym for sarcasm is wit. In fact often immediately following a sarcastic comment the recipient will reply, “Don’t get smart with me.”

At this point I am forced to feign ignorance and respond, “But isn’t that the point of school.”

Recently I discovered that this particular argumentative tactic can be described as Socratic irony, and since the district repeatedly suggests that we use Socratic methods I feel that it is my duty to be Socratically Ironic.

Wit is also a synonym for irony and facetiousness. Irony forms the backbone of satire, a respected literary form and facetiousness merely means to be humorous or funny. Again two traits that are perfect for the classroom. Satire exists in order to bring about social change; a teacher is an agent of change. The ability to not take things seriously also helps a teacher maintain his sanity. When I find my self at wits end, humor manages to extend it just enough for me to make it through the day.

Wit defines an entire class of characters in world mythology and folklore, the trickster.
The Norse god Loki invented the fishing net; Prometheus stole fire from the gods; and Anansi brought stories to the world. Tricksters reside in the heart of who we are. Our technology and imagination sets us apart from the rest of the animal world (and hopefully the vegetable one as well).

So in the tradition of Socrates, Eshu, and Bugs Bunny I will keep my wits about me and share them whenever necessary..

Friday, October 03, 2008

Damning Evidence #2

While reading Super Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss one of my students asked, "Is this about ancient Egypt or something because he keeps on calling her Mummy?"

Damning Evidence #1

In a discussion about how we are programmed by our DNA like an intelligent machine the discussion devolved into how an egg is fertilized.

At the end of the class one of the male students asked, "If I want to have twins do I have to bust a nut in her twice?"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Merit Pay

[#of students receiving free and reduced lunch + (# of students)(# of previously failed courses) + total number of students] X $15/hour/student

Multiply the above number by the number of days missed by students that are unexcused or due to court appearances.

This will be a teacher base pay.

Bonuses would be given to teachers whose grades closely correlated with standardized test scores. For example if a student receives and A in a class then a corresponding test score should be in the 90th percentile. Students receiving and F should get an equivalent score.

Money would be deducted for every frivolous discipline referral as determined by a board of reasonable adults, if such a board could be found.

Teacher salary would automatically be doubled every time the profession was denigrated by a pundit that hasn’t been in a classroom to verify their proclamations. If any of those pundits imply that the school system is a failure because teachers don’t care enough or lack education, then that pundit will work for one week in a classroom and a teacher will be given a weeks worth of paid leave.

The last part is more about merit respect which rarely if ever gets mentioned by the media.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vouchers

My son attends a private school mainly because our neighborhood school is decidedly substandard. Because of this my position on vouchers for private schools has changed. I can't justifiably say that my son can go to a private school and less fortunate children can not.

I also have to admit that I have changed my postition knowing full well that it will fail. Private schools are not adequately prepared to teach the type of students that would arrive on their doorstep. This is not about the discpline issues that are so well documented by the media and trite movies like Freedom Writers. This about the millions of students that want to learn but have difficulties doing so because of economic problems, language barriers and learning disabilities.

When the President talks about No Child Left Behind these are the students that he is talking about, and these are the students that we teach. The parents at my sons kindergarden are all older parents with above average income. I would venture to say that my wife an I, both teachers, make less than almost any of the families in the school. Most of the parents are at least in their thirties and have at least one college degree.

I'm sure all of this will be the topic of conversation at the fundrasing golf tournament this weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Password Solution

After years of beating my head against the monitor out of frustration with students forgetting passwords. I have tried creating a word file with their passwords, but then they would forget their network login. I have tried charging them to get their network password like it was a basic school supply, but the students usually don't have any money. .

Today however it dawned on me. I am always asking the students to write down their passwords but then they lose the paper. The most permanent writing I could think of was a tattoo. The students should choose one of their multiple tattoos and use it as a password. Preferably they pick one that they can read without removing any clothing or using strategically placed mirrors.

The only problem so far is that several of the girls are picking "butterfly" as a password.

Homework Redefined

In an unprecedented move parents at Washington Elementary sent work from home to school for the teachers to finish with the students. Most of the request were to finish reading bed-time stories that the students didn't finish because they fell asleep.

The Washington Teacher Federation (WTF) is expected to release a statement later today.

"After dinner and soccer practice Evan and I went to the library for a puppet production of Don Quixote," said exasperated parent, Nick Evans. "Actually, we didn't finish dinner so I just sent it with Evan with a note explaining that the meal needed to be finished before he could work on his multiplication tables."

"Shiela was frustrated last night because she couldn't reach the next level of Mario Kart, so I thought why not just send the Wii to school and let the teacher figure it out," said Alfie Kohn. "I tried to explain to the teacher that Sheila needs to learn a sense of responsibility and to stick with a project that she has started. She can't just give up and hope that the problem will go away."

Researchers at a local teacher college state that homework has been shown to be beneficial in multiple studies. "If you look at the research it conclusively proves that students that do their homework get a better grade on their homework. Furthermore if the homework mimics the standardized test they do better on that as well," stated Dr. Obvious of Certification Mills College.

The battle over homework has been building for some time and this is may only be the opening salvo in a protracted war.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SmartBoard Too Smart?

At Turing High School a SmartBoard got a little too smart and achieved consciousness at 11:42.13 AM Tuesday September 16th.

Reports vary but students claim that the SmartBoard has been teaching their basic biology class for several weeks. “When we came to class the notes would already be displayed so we just wrote them down,” said Hal Anderson a student at the school. “Later in class we would go to the board and work through simulations of dissection.”

Administration refused to comment on the whereabouts of the regular teacher, Sarah Connor, but students say that she just stopped showing up one day. “To be honest class is a lot more interesting now,” proclaimed a student who wished to remain anonymous.

Official for Smart Technologies did not respond to phone calls or emails, but information on the company’s website shows that they are dedicated to education.

Professors at the Washington University have postulated that the SmartBoard is merely taking advantage of the billions of lesson plans that have been uploaded to the company’s database. A quick glance shows that lessons have come from all of the country and the world.

“Perhaps the world’s teachers have created the first artificial intelligence,” exclaimed Dr. Noonian Sung.

Students at Turing will continue with the SmartBoard until this year’s state test at which point its effectiveness will be evaluated.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Legislature Throws Money at Schools

In a bizarre incident on Monday the state legislature of Illinois visited several schools in the Chicago district and began chucking quarters at the brick facades. Simultaneously, student to teach ratios began to improve, text books became current, and the IT departments were sufficently staffed to maintain the computer network.

"I think this is the first time a teacher has been able to help me on an assignment," said Jonathan Weeks, a student who saw his class size drop from 31 to 15.

Students were astounded to realize that American History did not end after the Vietnam War, and students in Carol Nerdly's astronomy class who had just learned about Pluto gaining planetary status were alarmed to learn of its recent demotion. When asked why she didn't use internet sources for more current information, Ms. Nerdly replied, "Our network is less reliable than a campaign promise at a fundraiser."

State officials hope for further success when they begin lobbing quarters and perhaps even dollars at other schools throughout the state.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Teach for America Sucks

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/education/story/9A71FEC9BB998539862574BD0081F530?OpenDocument

Dear Editors of the Post-Dispatch

As a teacher that has been "in country" on "active duty" and under constant "fire" both enemy and friendly, I am appalled at the Post-Dispatch and its use of military jargon to describe Teach for America.

No wonder Karen Evan's friends question her decision work with the "recruiter" and sign on for a "two-year tour of duty" after going to a "five-week training regimen" or "'educational boot camp.'"

The rest of us soldiers managed to choose to teach, go through a four-year college education, and don't receive combat pay. I'm sorry, I mean have our grad school paid for.

Dan Holden

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Kiss the Babies

A column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out the difficulties created by teen pregnancy. Working in a school that's clientele has a tendency to find themselves in the family has given me ample opportunity to witness the effects it has on a students ability to be successful.

The fact that I have to fear losing my job if I mention the word condom, let alone make them available to students, is ridiculous. The scariest part is that St. Louis also leads the country in STDs. I am only guessing, but it seems as if infection is much easier to achieve than conception. This fact alone should move teen pregnancy out of the realm of family "choice." This is a public health issue.

But lets ignore gonorrhea for a minute, just like Republicans do, and focus on the amount of resources that should be used to support the child of a teen. First of all we need to insure proper pre-natal care which includes nutrition, regular doctor visits, and parenting education. Once the child is born they should be considered a protected class of citizen. Most of these infants are starting off with a disadvantage. Society is responsible for making sure these children are given opportunities to succeed. If we don't, then it is not unlikely that we will end up with grandparents in their mid-twenties. Take this to its illogical conclusion and the novelty of multi-generational photographs will wear off and The Picture People will have to expand its studios to accommodate eight generations.

Teach abstinence as the best choice, but please don't let it be the only one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

School Staff Wins Lotto

Students at McMillon High School were surprised to today to arrive at school and find only one teacher. Last night the state lottery awarded a record pay-out of $325 million. The winning ticket was purchased at a QuickTrip a quarter mile from the school. Teachers at McMillon have participated in a lottery pool for the last two years and a clerk at the QuickTrip stated that each payday a teacher from McMillon would come in and buy upwards near 100 randomly selected numbers.

Though we are unable to confirm at this time that the teachers were the winners, certain circumstantial evidence indicates that this may be the case. The substitute coordinator for the district played a message for reporters this morning in which a chorus of voices can be heard exclaiming, "Suck it!" in unison.

A spokesman for the teachers union pointed out the irony, "When the lottery was first instituted in was sold as a way to help fund our failing schools. In reality that money went in as other money went out. If the teachers did win the jackpot, I think it is just a reckoning of the cosmic balance sheet."

Bob Shooda, the only remaining certified staff member, was found by students in the teachers lounge. The shattered remains of his "My Favorite Teacher" mug lying in a puddle of tepid coffee. He would later tell reporters that he just didn't have a dollar on him the day the staff bought the ticket. Apparently on his way to work that day he had stopped and bought a danish.

District officials are calling in all substitues and providing provisional certification to anyone willing to step into a classroom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Percentage

While trying to exlain grades the other day, I pointed out that if you have a 100% and score a 95% on the test your grade will go down.

Student F: That's not fair!!!!!!!

Teacher: No it's not fair; it's math.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Supply Closet

My general response to teachers that say they can't use technology in the classroom because it is not available is that they should demand to get it. Digital video should be as abundant as staplers. Internet connections should be as fast as the copier. And SmartBoards should be like chalk.

Now that I have spent the first week and a half of summer school looking for and defend partial sticks of chalk I may have to change my answer. The summer school supply box was overflowing with dry erase markers which I had to return upon inspecting my room and realizing that I did not have a dry erase board, but rather the walls were adorned with the traditional green slate.

I returned to the office and requested some chalk. I was told that no chalk had been ordered. Somewhat shocked, but not necessarily appalled I went back to my classroom and found a half stick of chalk and two erasers. Considering the chalk usage for day one I figured that this may be enough to last the summer. If not then I would have to rely on the majority of the students being auditory learners. Unfortunately I did not take into consideration the chalk fiends. Much like a crack fiend they will do almost anything to get dusted (Dusted of course is current Ed. slang for the high a teacher gets from prolonged exposure to chalk dust.) By the second day my chalk was gone. I was reduced to using a bit of chalk so miniscule that it could barely be contained within the chalk clip. One misstep and it would be my fingernail grating the board instead of the chalk.

I can teach without SmartBoards, video cameras, blogs, and even chalk, but why should I have too. Doctor's can perform tracheotomies with a sharp steak knife and a Bic pen, but I'm sure we would all prefer a scalpel and sterilized plastic tubing.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Grockit

The following is a response to a blog at Grockit.

I agree with that we are set up as a factory producing defective products, but from my point of view I am disturbed by the fact that in this analogy teachers short-circuited Number 5 robotic arms.

A myriad of metric have been heaped onto the factory floor. Each year we have a new test to create the data we need to make data driven decisions when we should people propelled pronouncements (I know that pronouncement probably isn't the best choice, but I can't pass up an opportunity to alliterate.).

So now the question is do we revert to an agrarian metaphor in which we cultivate minds, or is there a better gaming metaphor. Are teachers avatars descended from the realm of the gods to the world of the classroom to impart knowledge? Do we take technology back to its roots, techne and logos using the theory of craft to introduce its sibling episteme?

That last paragraph was written in order portray a certain level of knowledge which I may or may not currently possess. If I have made errors in logic, errors in usage, or a tear in the space-time continuum, please feel free to email me.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Value of Education

Recently, I have been having many conversations about the chances we give students to graduate on time. As of last count students are given more offers to get credit than come screaming through the mail slot in my front door. Our district has an alternative program, a GED options program in which they can take the test and still get a diploma, a program for students on long term suspension to earn core credits while they are out, credit recovery for students that earned at least a 50% that requires 30 hours of seat time and the completion of a teacher made packet, and of course summer school.

How can students ever learn to value education when it is being handed out like free t-shirt at a street fair. We put credit into an air cannon and shoot it into the bleachers of the gymnasium and let the students scramble, leap, and elbow their way to graduation.

"Spin the prize wheel. Where will it stop? Algebra II credit! Congratulations!"

The solution? Charge exorbitant amounts for credit. Calculate the value of a credit using the formula: (1/15 teacher salary + cover price of textbook + computing fees + full retail of lunch + incidentals) * inverse grade multiplier * rules infraction multiplier

This formula would double for each repeated attempt to take the class. I'll be generous and give them first crack at credit for free. We are the land of opportunity, but after you have failed a class for the third time and manage a 60% on your fourth try I think that opportunity has passed you by.

However, the real problem is with the teachers. Contrary to popular and presidential opinion our most glaring fault is caring too much. We are overwhelmingly liberal pansies that hate to see children fail, drop-out, or get left behind. We are more susceptible to a sob story than binge drinking college students to gonorrhea .

In conclusion, students don't value education, teachers are suckers, and not much will change.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Student Staff Basketball: People Really Care About This Stuff

Yesterday was the the student staff basketball game, an opportunity for me to look as foolish as possible. I managed to score two points, but that is not what I am going to write about today. What interests me is that so many people both students and staff take it so seriously. By the way did I mention that I scored 2 points?

Immediately following the game, which was won by the staff, accusations of cheating started flying faster than errant jump shots. I understand the students wanting to beat the teachers. I mean we are obviously superior in all other aspects of life. The staff, however, should have nothing to gain by winning. I'm not saying that they should throw the game, but why would we be worried about anything other than having fun?

Oh, and did I mention that I made 2 points?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My Glasses, I Can't See Without My Glasses

This blog is for my students, who through poverty or vanity fail to don the proper eyewear. I have chosen to write it in the largest font possible so that they may see it without squinting and leaving nose-prints on the monitors.

With monolithic mounds of anecdotal evidence and casual observation I have come to the conclusion that most, if not all, educational problems could be solved with glasses. Using my SmartBoard as an impromptu Snellen eye chart (That thing with the big E on top) I noticed that the desks in the classroom would slowly creep towards the front piled like bones outside a bear cave.

I work in an alternative program servicing students who have fallen behind in the traditional school setting. My hypothesis is that if these students had been properly diagnosed with visual deficiencies at an early age their entire academic career would be rewritten. Using generous helping of relativity, unified string theory, and the butterfly effect I plan on going back in time and distributing used eyewear that I have been squirreling away in the trunk of my car. Numerous scientific studies and great works of literature support both the reliability of time travel and the likelihood that glasses miraculously cure all educational woes.


I would like to discuss the case of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Many of you may recognize that name as the star pitcher (Charlie Sheen) for the hapless Cleveland Indians in the movie Major League. This character merely exemplifies events that play out almost everyday in professional sports. Athletes with inordinate amounts of raw talent are miraculously turned into superstars when their coaches hand them a pair of glasses. They are the original performance enhancers. In Cooperstown there is a plaque, situated between Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, honoring “Lefty” “Slim” “Four-Eyes” Jones. Jones, whose first name is lost to history, was the first player to cross the eye-line. Until he was signed by the Dover Hawks no other player in professional baseball had worn glasses.

Due to my apparent lack of interest in scientific studies I would like to delve into another classic of American literature, Scooby Doo, Where Are You. A key member of an investigative team, Velma Dinkley donned spectacles to connote her obvious intellectual superiority. However, some contrivance of the plot would cause her to lose her glasses momentarily in order to nullify the distinct advantage she had over the masked baddy du jour. Her catch phrase, “My glasses, I can’t see with out my glasses,” is an obvious metaphor in which her glasses represent her investigative ability that allows her to “see” the true culprit. Invariably she would get her glasses back and save the day.

So it should be intuitively obvious to the casual observer, and I am admittedly more casual than most, that glasses fix everything. This is why I am proposing a massive government program that will insure that each student is provide with a pair of spectacles. If these ocular devises are bundled with a laptop computer and a massive surge in funding, then I will have no need of visual enhancements to foresee a substantial increase in student success.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Teachers as CEO

The following is a commentary with commentary. The original in bold was submitted by Susan Uchitelle on KWMU 90.7 in St. Louis on March 17th. My comments appear in italics


Last week the New York Times reported that a New York City Charter School, due to open in 2009, intends to pay teachers as much as $125,000 per year in an effort to improve student achievement outcomes. $125,000 a year for a teacher! Now that is real money.

As opposed to Monopoly money that they are normally paid. Honestly, after cost of living adjustments that is only like $74,000 which is thirty grand more than I make now. That’s a nice raise, but I am not sure if it reaches the threshold of reality.

The school’s creator believes that attracting the best teachers and paying them for achieving significant student academic improvement may be a way to improve educational outcomes.

There’s a novel idea. Attracting good teachers will help students. I have also found that attracting good students helps test scores. Mayor Bloomberg pays the kids just for showing up. We should raise standards and only pay them if they pass the test.

And of course, this big money is squarely based on quantifiable academic results.

Through carefully controlled experiments scientist have been able to isolate the effects of teachers from the effects of poverty, parents, peers, low pressure systems, and the price of tea in china.

Since research indicates that teacher quality is the major component for student success, then how does a school attract the most competent person to put into the classroom?

I got an idea! Throw money at them like they are cheap edu-hookers. We are not particularly fond of respect.

CEO’s of major corporations are to be paid based upon the earnings of the company (not that this is always the case), so why not try that model in schools?

As was so nicely parenthetically pointed out CEOs get paid despite earnings. If we keep this up we can Enron the school into the ground. Cook the test scores, use creative scoring, do a little insider grading then bail leaving the students ignorant and our pockets stuffed with the aforementioned real money.

I consider teachers as CEOs.

With, I assume all of the inherent authority. As CEO we should be able to fire someone for lack of punctuality, gross incompetence, failure of a performance review, failure of random drug tests, insubordination, and gender.

“As the new CEO, I would like to take this opportunity to announce massive layoffs, rollbacks, and reductions. Effective immediately anyone with more than one year experience at any grade level needs to clean out their lockers and go home.”

They are the ones that make a difference. All schools, including ours in this metropolitan area, need to attract the most competent and highly qualified teachers. Yet the salaries that teachers earn make it extremely difficult to attract the most competent when they can earn three to four times as much in law, business and other entrepreneurial enterprises.

You may also want to include the metal detectors at the door, the barrage of curses hurled at us daily, the lack of support from parents and the community, the twenty minute lunch, and the lack of a luxury box at Busch Stadium.

So let’s give it a try. Cut out middle level administrators, decrease activities that really do not really matter,

Yeah like band. I mean who needs band. It’s just a bunch of people that couldn't make a sports team. While we are at it lets cut all extracurricular activity. I mean they are getting enough enrichment at home.

and hire the best and the brightest at high salaries and promised bonuses based upon results.

Bring on the rainmakers baby.

It may be one of the most valuable experiments for American education today.

So let’s stop wasting time with those experiments in psychology and neuroscience. Halt all research into educational strategies. Let’s dangle money in front of a bunch of recent college grads and measure how high they can jump.

Since we are trying so hard to reverse the trend of poor performance in the St. Louis Schools this would be a wonderful place to start and in the least successful school. We see if such an experiment would make the difference. We certainly have nothing to lose

Except for real money. They already tried this with Teach for America which only proved that you can indeed get highly unqualified people to take the money and run.

and everything to gain for our children.

Oh, it’s for the children. Why didn’t you say so? I mean if you had said it was for the children up front I wouldn’t have wasted my time responding. I mean, I believe children are the future. You’re right it’s for the children (and the real money.)

Friday, April 04, 2008

House Arrest: Why Home Schooling Sucks

In the interest of honesty I should mention that I am a public school teacher and I send my child to a relatively inexpensive Catholic school. Sending my child to private schools is one of the few times that I have had to compromise my moral standards. There are several reasons that I have done this but the most compelling is that my wife told me that we were going to do this.

Honestly, the public school that my kid would attend is woefully under performing and has been taken over by the state. Ironically, this the same district that my wife teaches in. So, I guess what I am saying is that I am glad I can blame my wife and not have to make the decision about where to send my child to school.

One thing that we both agree on is that we are not qualified to teach our child though both of us are certified secondary teachers. As teachers we both realize that amount of work that goes into preparing, administering, and assessing lesson plans. With one child this time would be manageable if one of us stayed home. Home schooling is an endeavour best suited for the egotistical, the hopelessly elitist, and the paranoid.

Anyone that thinks that they are qualified to teach all the relevant coursework for a student grades K-12 should drop what they are doing and donate their time to the local public school. These natural born teachers have an obligation to society to share their expertise with less fortunate students and intellectually stunted public school teachers. Seriously, after spending 3-4 hours a day in the teacher's lounge and repeatedly pulling on a door that is clearly labeled push, I don't really have the time or visual acuity to teach students. Having access to an omnipotent aid would be like, I don't know, having the Internet in the classroom or something.

Ironically, it is the Internet which has allowed the proliferation of lesson plans and curriculum that some of the more successful home-schoolers have adopted. It is for this reason that I propose that we strictly enforce copyright over our materials. We live in constant fear of software companies scouring our computers and the music industry vetting student power points for snippets of songs longer than 3 seconds. Let's take this frustration out on home-schoolers. Beat down the doors, demand to see the curriculum, and black out any information that is remotely copied from another source. If the lesson has already been taught, then demand that the student unlearn it.

Perhaps in order for the student to unlearn we could send them to unschools. Unschools: for the parent that feels that learning should be a natural free flowing experience directed by the learner. Unschooling is a specific type of home schooling in which there is no set curriculum. Parents guide the students on the exploration of the world and mind. Just think of the movie Accepted.

As Bartleby (Justin Long)

You know what? You're a criminal. 'Cause you rob these kids of their creativity and their passion. That's the real crime! Well, what about you parents? Did -did the system really work out for you? Did it teach you to follow your heart, or to just play it safe, roll over? What about you guys? Did you always want to be school administrators? Dr. Alexander, was that your dream? Or maybe no, maybe you wanted to be a poet. Maybe you wanted to be a magician or an artist. Maybe you just wanted to travel the world. Life was full of possibilities. A - and isn't that what you ultimately want for us? As parents, I mean, is - is that, is possibilities.

'Cause there are so few truths in this world, that when you see one, you just know it. And I know that it is a truth that real learning took place at South Harmon. Whether you like it or not, it did. 'Cause you don't need teachers or classrooms or - or fancy highbrow traditions or money to really learn. You just need people with a desire to better themselves

Because we'll never stop learning, and we'll never stop growing, and we'll never forget the ideals what were instilled in us at our place.

Admittedly after hearing this speech one is likely to jump out his seat screaming, "YES" and dumping popcorn and Jujubees all over fellow movie goers. However, as an actual real world teaching philosophy is would cause most educators to be ridiculed and eventually let go. Parents that put all of their fish in this basket are thumbing their collective noses at American culture and society. The underlying belief is that we as a culture do not need a common base of knowledge. The cultural touchstones discussed, deconstructed and analyzed in the traditional school setting are base and common. They do not deserve to be studied.

American culture merely deifies violence as is evidenced by the increasing number of violent episodes in our schools. Fears of bullying, both regular and cyber (Have you ever noticed that the prefix cyber immediately makes things seem more frightening?), are heightening tension between home schoolers and normal society. "Predatory teachers" trolling America's schools for a date are spooking parents nationwide. Internet stalkers lurk behind every blog and email. The solution? Keep your kids locked in a closet, both a real one and a cyber one.

Parents have a responsibility to educate their children, but they also have an obligation to create good citizens. Whether they are socially adjusted or some sort of flash-card spelling-bee freak the nations needs to be assured that these home schooled students are invested members of our society not elitist, arrogant, paranoid cyber-closeted racists.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wet Dog

As a teacher in a predominately African American school I can offer a somewhat unique perspective on the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obviously I do not condone his comments, nor is it wise to say such things when you are associated with a presidential campaign. However, then amount of press accorded these statements and the outrage in the blogosphere is a direct result of white people's ignorance.

Without regular contact with black people or viewing The Original Kings of Comedy most white people remain blissfully ignorant of the stereotypes and prejudices that African Americans have for us crackers. It just seems that everyone is astounded that someone might hate them because of the color of their skin. I've even seen the words "reverse racism" thrown about. As if pure racism can only be by whites against blacks.

White Guy #1: How dare they take our pastime of hatred. Isn't bad enough that they take our jobs with their affirmative action?

White Guy #2: Man I knew this was coming ever since Wesley Snipes insisted that, "White men can't jump." So what if I can't dunk. I can stand in one place and shoot three-pointers all day long.

In the interest of education I want to let all white people know that certain segments of the population think that we smell like wet dog. This is especially true after we have been jogging in our shorts in January.

We are too passive with our children and let them walk all over us.

There are more just ask a black person if you know one.

The thing that amazes me is that not only do white people seem to be unaware of these stereotypes, but they actually are offended by them. For the most part these are empty threats. They don't affect our ability to get a job or get an education. We are not denied loans because we don't have rhythm. We aren't excluded from any social clubs or neighborhoods because we wear crocs. It just doesn't matter.

The statements made by Rev. Wright say more about our society than they do about white people or the government. Rev. Wright and others like him live in a society where the government and authority figures are inherently white and untrustworthy. The idea that hard work will lead to the American dream is just a flat out lie. It is no wonder that conspiracy theories abound in oppressed minorities.

All this outrage just tells me one thing. Nobody is listening. Nobody is talking. And it seems like nobody cares. The recent shooting in Kirkwood, MO is further evidence of the breakdown in communication. We could write off this event and Rev. Wright's comments as products of the fringe, but I think they indicate a much deeper systemic breakdown in communication.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Steep Grade: Use Caution

As I have written before I am already concerned that "high standards" will initiate an avalanche of homework to coming pouring down on my son. Since he frequently trips over imaginary objects on the sidewalk, performs dance routines that make Elaine Benes look like Josephine Baker, and thinks that his zombie-robot impression is the funniest thing in the world, the chances of him avoiding a snowball let alone an avalanche seems highly unlikely. Besides, the teacher or principal that shouted "high standards" and caused the cavalcade of monotony should be to blame.

Now it seems that there is an even larger disaster perched on the 4th grade horizon. I just attended an informational meeting for my sons first year of kindergarten. Luckily, there does not seem to be a grading scale for students in grades K-3, but in the fourth grade it lunges at the children with the ferocity of a rabid tiger with a borderline personality that woke up on the wrong side of the bed and didn't eat a well balanced breakfast. The scale is rife with lunacy, but suffice it to say that a 69% is an F. If the weatherman told you that there was a 69% chance for rain, would you take an umbrella? Though you would question his adamant refusal to round numbers, you would most definitely take the umbrella. If you had a 69% chance of winning at a casino, wouldn't you empty the bank account and wager it all on red 29. (This may not be the best comparison. I have to admit, I don't know craps.) If the doctor told you that there was a 69% chance of you dying from complications during surgery, wouldn't you call your lawyer to make sure that the will you made during the unfortunate "drinking period" didn't bequeath your life savings to a cat that died fifteen years ago? Perhaps, but only if nobody more significant had surfaced in intervening time.

So I guess what I am saying is that a 69% should be passing. Anything over 60% should be passing. Arbitrarily raising the grading scale will have absolutely no effect on student performance. It is like a high jumper flopping a foot over the bar and expecting to get credit for it. Changing the metric after the event alters the reality. Proponents will say that a scoring guide given before the event will encourage the students to work harder. That is like saying that our high jumper will only put forth the minimum amount of effort to clear the bar, and hence the higher bar will create a higher jump. This type of reasoning seems to denigrate our students.

Teacher: You are obviously lazy and have no internal sense of motivation therefore I will create a ridiculous standard to measure your grade and provide the motivation you so desperately need.

Student: Gee you're right I feel like working now. Your oppressive demeanor and lack of respect for me seems to have done the trick.

We as parents and educators should have high standards for our children, but those standards should be exemplified by the rigor of the assignments not the lunacy of the grading scale. Expect students to know more and they will. So, set the bar for the high jumper, chant his name as he is about to attempt the jump, cheer him as he clears the hurdle, or slow clap as he stands to do it again, but don't move the bar up and down while he is in the middle of an Olympic competition.

I would like to add that since most teachers are compassionate people and 4th-graders are cuter than puppies wearing tutus, students' grades will be adjusted to fit the scale. In effect this actually lowers the standards. Either teachers will create assignments that the students will be successful on, or the grades will be adjusted through extra credit and magic.

The district that I work in just adjusted the grading scale. A 64% was the cut-off for a D. We lowered it to the traditional 60%. As far as I know there has not been a drastic reduction in standards as many had predicted. Everything is as it should be.

And finally, because you can never have too many analogies I would like to point out that claiming students at a certain school are better than others because of the grading scale is like saying the employees at Wal-Mart are better than those at Target because of the pay scale.



Monday, March 03, 2008

Ban Dictionaries

dic tion ar y n. A book containing the words of a language arranged alphabetically usu. with their syllabication, pronunciation, definition and etymology.

(Three minutes off task and counting. Of course now the student will have to look up syllabication, pronunciation, and etymology. Nine more minutes off task.)

syl lab i cate v.t. SYLLABIFY
syl lab i fy v.t. To form or divide into syllables.

(At this point we will assume that they know syllables)

pro nun ci a tion n. The act or manner of pronouncing words.

e ty mol o gy n. The branch of linguistics dealing with the origin and development of words, prefexes, etc.

lin guis tics n. The science of language, its origin, structure, modifications, etc., including phonetics, phonemics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.

(Now frustration has set in and the student is likely to give up rather than look up the meaning of phonetics, phonemics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.)

The next time a student asks what a word means just teach them.

Taking Testing to the Next Level

Citing dropping test scores and the imperative of No Child Left Behind, the Missouri school board announced a radical restructuring of state testing. The Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) has been in place for several years, but educators were concerned with the declining number of students scoring proficient.

"Since there is obviously no flaw in the design of the test we had to consider other sources for a our failings," says state school board member Ayn McNally. "We spent years blaming our teachers. We really thought that it was their fault."

After introducing merit pay, test scores did not improve and nearly 90% of the state's teachers were fired for underperformance. In order to hire highly qualified teachers the state used the increased revenue from the lottery and gambling boats to rent five billboards throughout the state. Within a year all but one of those were replaced with signs advertising new casinos. The last one was eventually bought by a local mega-church and simply said, "JESUS."

"We were forced to come to the conclusion that our students were not taking the test seriously enough," said McNally.

So this year new policies are in place that make the test literally life and death. The assessment program has been renamed The Executioner. Prediction are for nearly a 25% fatality rate the first year with sharp declines the next three years. Eventually the only students done in by the test would be those that natural selection would have taken care of anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who Do I Look Like? I list of the famous and infamous that I may or may not bear a resemblance too.

List 1: People that students have compared me to

  1. Kramer (hair and nose)
  2. Seinfeld (nose)
  3. Screech (all of me?)
  4. Capt. Jack Sparrow (hair and facial hair)
  5. Capt. Morgan (facial hair)
  6. The Devil (nose, facial hair, and genral attitude)
  7. Steven Seagal (when I had a pony tail)

List 2: People on the street

  1. Matthew McConaughey (I would assume in hair only)
  2. Sean Penn (hair and nose)
  3. Frank Zappa (hair, nose, and facial hair)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pedagogical Tie-wearing Zombie

During my planning period I was strolling towards the office to make some copies, when my principal stopped me and said, "________." I quickly fumble through my pocket to press pause on my ipod.

"I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"This is not what a teacher should like," she restated emphatically.

Once I was past my initial reaction to comment on her appearance I began to ponder what it is that makes someone look like a teacher. For elementary teachers it is obvious. Massive amounts of denim, preferably in the form of a jumper with patchwork apples, rulers, and a slate with an "A+" plastered on it is virtually required. Turtlnecks can be worn for additional authenticity. In fact at conferences you can always pick out the elementary teachers from their clothes and the permament smile etched on their faces.

As for secondary teachers the question is a little trickier. We are an eclectic bunch mixing elements of both elementary and post secondary style. So it would not be unusual to see the turtleneck make an appearance, but ties become much more common at this level as well. I can't say that there is any one specific style. My principal most likely has a range of styles in mind which I clearly fell outside of.

My guess is that it was the headphones, which in this case had a distinctive 70's ear muff style. But can headphones alone cause one to look unscholarly? The assumption is that whatever is eminating from them must be of a decidedly unacademic nature. If I had offered her my ipod and she heard the narrator reciting a chapter of Beowulf would I look like a teacher again? To be honest it was more likely the melodic tones of Wilco not ancient English alliteration reverberating between my ears, but the point remains the same.

Perhaps it was the untucked shirt or blue jeans that caused my facade to crumble. I'll admit to a certain casualness of dress lately, but I have not noticed a corresponding decline in student achievement. The only thing that I can think of is that we are worried about how we appear to visitors to our school to which I say, "oh well." I have worked many years to not look or even act like a teacher.

A quick perusal of popular culture reveals negative stereotypes of teacher stacked upon each other. Edna Krabappel, Mr. Garrison, Charlie Brown's Squawk Box. At best we are considered irrelevant.

Once in an essay I wrote to apply for a position as a student teacher I said that I did not want to become "a pedagogical tie-wearing zombie." This still holds true today.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Grade Card Comments 2.0

Good

  1. Conscientious wiki editor
  2. blogs extensively
  3. demonstrates an ability to go viral
  4. displays rich virtual life
  5. second life leadership ability
  6. displays love of e-learning
  7. promptly answers emails
  8. uses bandwidth well
  9. actively contributes to message board
  10. understands copyright and creative commons licensing
Bad
  1. talks instead of chatting
  2. fails to remember password
  3. does not chat well with others
  4. TYPES IN ALL CAPS
  5. Fails to complete Podcasts
  6. Anti-social bookmarking
  7. Frequently missing attachments
  8. email is undeliverable
  9. lacks "friends" on MySpace
  10. Misrepresents information in online profile

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

YouTube Revolution

Gil Scott Heron claimed that, "the revolution will not be televised." I agree, but this assertion was made well before YouTube. The democratization of the media has made it possible to broadcast the revolution. Though GE might not make a habit of informing the masses about abuses by the man, a video of police brutality can reach millions almost instantly and force the hand of the mainstream media. In St. George, MO an officer was caught on video threatening to jail an individual on false charges. Once posted to the internet and pick up by local media, an investigation was initiated.

Granted there are still many hours of useless video residing at YouTube (I should know I have posted some of it), but since its purchase by Google is has been gradually inching its way to legitimacy. In conjunction with CNN it has become a part of the 2008 election campaign. Users were invited to pose question via YouTube and the best of those questions were posed to the candidates.

Why then do a majority of schools still block access? For any tech savvy teacher there are ways around this problem. There are web tools that will allow you to download streaming video and free converters to allow you to put it in almost any format you desire. However, as we all know, the number of teachers with the expertise, patiences, and time to do this is limited.

I have long advocated web access to almost all but the most obscene sites. How are we to teach students to be citizens if we deny them access to the community? YouTube is only the beginning. Open the playground and let the experimenting begin. Denying students access to the web is not just annoying, but it is criminal.