Friday, April 04, 2014

Why the Exit Exam destroyed my entire class…

Now I understand why my Exit Exam results are so damn poor.1

From the California Department of Education’s Exit Exam website:

  1. What are the guidelines for sensitive topics on the CAHSEE?

To keep the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) free from potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial content, the following topics are avoided on the examination:

Keeping a written exam free from “potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial content” sounds fair enough.  You wouldn’t want to promote super disturbing topics that might create additional stress on the students taking the test, so I get this.  Let’s take a look at each topic and make sure that the guidelines are themselves void of being potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial.

  • Violence (including guns, other weapons, and graphic animal violence)

Fair enough.  And while high school is the place to teach about violence and it’s impact on society, I get why you leave it off a test.

  • Dying, death, disease, hunger, famine

Guess this leaves out Billy Ray Cyrus’ career.  Famine?  Disease?  Out of bounds?  Understandable but how about critical thinking problem that solves a global famine issue.  Nope, it’s out of bounds.

  • War

Ok now we are straight boring.  What is it good for?  Absolutely…..a great way to engage students on a test.  War and Peace studies?  Wait, Peace studies?  Nope, doesn’t have the same ring.  Sorry American Revolution, you are out.

  • Natural disasters with loss of life

Seems legit.

  • Drugs (including prescription drugs), alcohol, tobacco, smoking

You have now lost a significant teenage population and about 75% of Mendocino County students.  Have an essay prompt arguing the pro and con of marijuana legalization and you might have a thesis a mile long. 

  • Junk food


  • Abuse, poverty, running away

Abuse and run-aways I get.  Leaving out poverty is just straight foolish.  I know, give a written test to millions of elements of human capital, and leave out a massive social problem that impacts all of them.  Great call.

  • Divorce


  • Socio-economic advantages (e.g., video games, swimming pools, computers in the home, expensive vacations)

Someone is living in the 1980’s if they think that a video game is a socio-economic advantage.  No, I’m not kidding.  Every cell phone, calculator, computer, and iPod has some kind of game attached to them, and believe me, they are very prevalent. 

  • Sex

Wouldn’t want to offend Standards and Practices while talking to kids about something they are already doing. 

  • Religion

Because America’s history isn’t about religion at all.  Is it. 

  • Complex discussions of sports

WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?  Seriously, what does it mean?  No sports talk?  Does this mean that Richard Sherman’s rant is ok but talking about Title IX is off the books?  Tiger’s lay-up on 18 at Augusta is cool but unionizing student athletes is a no-no? 

  • Slavery

Because, you know, slavery.  It might be the most embarrassing moment in all of American history so you might as well avoid nearly two and a half centuries of it.  Because, you know, slavery.

  • Evolution, prehistoric times, age of solar system, dinosaurs

Solar Systems and dinosaurs are out.  So are the little boys and girls that want to hold on to something interesting in testing.  Because we all know “Pluto:  Planet or Something More Sinister”  might rile up someone.

  • Rap music, rock concerts

Because the old geezers that work in the California Department of Education still refer to Chuck Berry’s music as “that damn Rock n’ Roll.”

  • Extrasensory perception, witchcraft    


  • Halloween, religious holidays

How Halloween (which actually is religious) gets mixed in with perceived religious holidays is beyond me.  Quick, name me a religious holiday.  Don’t say Christmas, you liar.  You celebrate your new LCD television on that day, not the birth of a carpenter. 

  • Anything disrespectful, demeaning, moralistic, chauvinistic

Shit, and there goes the entirety of American society.  Start with Brian Wilson’s beard and end with an airbrushed Lena Dunham, and we now have nothing to write about.

  • Children coping with adult situations or decisions; young people challenging or questioning authority

Oh, so now the Beat Generation and the Sixties are out?  Just dump all of a person’s high school memories?  Gone?  NO JOHN HUGHES MOVIES?

  • Mention of individuals who may be associated with drug use or with advertising of substances such as cigarettes or alcohol

See “Complex Discussions of Sports”

  • Losing a job, home, or pets

Yeah, icky stuff.

  • Rats, roaches, lice, spiders


Is it me or are we basically trying to protect students from anything, you know, not nice.  Let’s ask our guest how he feels about it:


Doesn’t seem to like the CDE’s choice of guidelines.

  • Dieting, other concerns with self-image

Dammit.  I already used up my Lena Dunham bit earlier in the post.  

  • Political issues

-slams head against desk

-quits job as government teacher

-moves to Ohio in hopes of finding Westerburg High School, Winona Rider, and Christian Slater

  • Any topic that is likely to upset students and affect their performance on the rest of the test

So just to be annoying, translated; anything else.

Guess that leaves only one real topic that kids can write about.

What can possibly be controversial about My Little Pony?





1  I teach Seniors, and therefore, I don’t teach kids taking the Exit Exam. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Late to flag thing

Flag T-shirts banned on Cinco de Mayo in Morgan Hill

I’m tardy on this issue.

“The case dates back to May 5, 2010, when the principal of Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California, asked a group of students wearing American flag T-shirts to turn their shirts inside out or take them off.

The students at the Northern California school refused, according to the appeals court's summary of the case, and later brought a civil rights suit against the school and two administrators, arguing that their rights to freedom of expression, equal protection and due process had been violated.

Judges said the civil rights case forced them to weigh the difficult question of what takes precedence: students' free speech rights or school safety concerns?”

It’s relevant now because the 9th Federal District Court ruled,

“A California school that stopped students from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo didn't violate their constitutional rights, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

The school's approach, according to the appeals court, kept students safe in a climate of racial tension.”

It’s easy to get really angry and passionate about the 1st Amendment issue and the American flag.  That’s why I’m here for some super concise analysis to warm the cockles of your heart and stimulate the mush that is your brain.

1.  Cinco de Mayo is stupid.  Just like St. Patricks Day is stupid and Mardi Gras is stupid.  It’s an excuse to drink, period.  So when students get into the nativist versus immigrant, flag waving crap, they look stupid.  The only real celebration for Cinco de Mayo is in the state of Puebla.  And since they defeated the French, they are well within their right to celebrate.

2.   The court made the right decision.  You can disagree with the ruling all you want but if the American flag had a history of violence at the school, the administration had the right to tell the students to inside-out the shirts.  That pretty much goes for any symbol.  So don’t blame the courts. 

3.  The school is to blame.  A culture that exists that actually accepts violence revolving around the American flag is inexcusable.  It’s a pathetic commentary on the inability to lead a school and make the institution a bastion of safety and openness within society. 

4.  Those four students that wore the shirts were not being patriotic.  They were being antagonistic and petulant.  Grow up.

5.  Those Mexican students that threatened the students for wearing the flags were not defending Mexican culture.  They are straight up bullies that need to be punished. 

This is one of those situations that is almost laughably stupid when a person stands outside the box looking in. It’s like a bad reality show that has gone badly out of control to the point when you just feel sorry for all participants.  Grab a new producer, please, and make this a better situation for kids.    

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Welcome Back

I’ve been not writing, again.

That’s really not that big of a deal since the readership of this blog has probably dropped to that of the local school newspaper.  Probably even worse.  Maybe I need a movie review section.

Or maybe that’s the way it goes with teachers.  I’m backed up with my grading, behind in my planning, and overall just feeling like everything is a jumbled mess.  Even Spring Break (which is this week) is kind of wonky with the fact that my wife threw out her back.  She ran five miles Monday morning and now can hardly move.  Backs are funky. 

This is also funky. 

Bill Heath has been my hoops boss for the last thirteen years and has been coaching basketball for 37.  That’s an enormous amount of time and energy put into the process of positive engagement for kids.  I’m sorry to see him go but, as the article shows, he goes out with class.  People have often tried to guess my relationship with Coach Heath, even so far as to say that we actually got into a fight.  The closest we ever got to a fight was when he might have raised his voice at me in 2005 or 2006, when I was being a little shit.  Other than that the boxing gloves never came out.  And I’ll part this situation with this analysis of Coach Heath behind-the-scenes;  he never shut down other opinions.  Ever.  He was always asking his staff for opinions and while we didn’t always agree, I feel like he genuinely cared about the staff’s opinions.  I learned a ton of basketball from the guy and I owe him some serious gratitude for always allowing ideas to flow.  I’m a better coach thanks to Bill Heath.
And that brings us to the number one question I’ve been asked nearly every day for the last two weeks; am I the new varsity coach?  My answer……I applied.  What does that mean?  It means that I’m a well-respected teacher on campus with over twenty years of coaching experience, the last thirteen of which have been at Ukiah High School.  There is a process and it needs to be followed and I applied, and that’s pretty much that.  So how does that make me feel?

Yeah, politics.

It took exactly 24 hours after I applied to learn that someone didn’t like me enough to let it be known to a lot of people.  I contacted that person and they kindly discussed why they didn’t like me and I found that, like teaching, not everyone is going to be happy with everything.  The difference is that, unlike the classroom, the detractors are given a bigger microphone within the athletic arena because some reason.  I’m not entirely worried about it.  I’ve been teaching for 13 years and I’m very confident that I do it pretty well.  I’ve been a head coach now for twenty years and that means that it is engrained within my soul that what I do is good, fair, and right.  And in the end, it’s the entirety of the job that matters, not just the coaching.

photoSeriously?  I mean, check out my response. 

This was actually released the day the varsity job was flown within the district.  They eventually rescinded the tweet and ignored my request for a source.  Man.  Oh yeah, spotlight.  

So how’s your break? 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

RT reporter resigns on-air because Putin is now really bad

Remember this from my student evaluations in 2012?


The bold was my addition at the time.  My guess is that this isn’t the typical RT (aka Russia Today) enthusiast but I’m not quite sure about that.  What I do know is that RT has become the news that people turn to when everything else in existence is “mainstream.”  It’s sort of laughable in a teenage hipster sort-of-way because they really don’t know any better and some actually have parents that tend to agree.  It’s interesting.  I guess state-controlled media ran by an authoritative regime is better than mainstream.  I don’t agree but who am I to judge. 

I guess she can judge. 

That’s Liz Wahl, the RT reporter that said that she could not work for a network that “whitewashes the actions of Putin.”  After making the above statement, she resigned and stood by her convictions that the Kremlin had a little say in how the news was being reported.  I don’t quite know what took her so long to figure out that her bosses were authoritarian hunks but it sounds like she found the path after a weekend showing of Airplane 2 on Showtime. 

That’s enough to frighten anyone.

Want an amusing response from RT? 

Here ya go. 

“….foreign journalists who work for RT across the globe do have a choice. Some of them might be asking themselves, “Why would I have to defend Russia at the expense of my career, my future, my reputation, why would I tolerate humiliation by my fellow journalists?” Few can say “Because I’m telling the truth, and there’s no one else to tell it.” Some will fail to find the answer and quietly resign. Others will perform their resignation on air in a self-promotional stunt, perhaps securing fantastic career prospects they wouldn’t have dreamt of before.
Standing out from the crowd is hard, sometimes unbearable. I wish the best of luck to those who can’t take it. To those who continue to do their best for RT, who know they are right even if the whole world says otherwise, I have to say I’m proud of you. IMMENSELY PROUD.”

Immensely proud, huh?

Before you get really IMMENSELY PROUD of your journalistic integrity let me explain something to you.  This is a journalist:

You don’t get to put yourselves on her level. 


Friday, February 14, 2014

La Isla PISA

Don’t ask. 

I’m sitting here listening to La Isla Bonita so I decided to title this after the Madonna song while having no qualms in acknowledging that the PISA test is not beautiful, although I’m sure there is a metaphor somewhere in there involving an island, probably one involving Doctor Moreau.  

PISA is the Programme for International Student Assessment; a test given to various countries around the world to measure you up against global competition and get the local population pissed off that you don’t measure up to another country you once thought was inferior.  China is the exception of course.  In China the world is inferior because Shanghai actually does better than everyone else in testing.  Never mind that it’s a tremendously wealthy city and that the rest of the country isn’t really counted in the testing.  Just don’t worry about it.  Xi insists. 

Apparently there is a movement that is fairly annoyed that teachers don’t really care about PISA results.  Mike Tucker says he found the excuse

“Educators say that….. there are very few people in Asia who are winning Nobel prizes and starting game-changing businesses like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft.  Maybe being good at the kinds of things that PISA measures is just not that important.” 

Now wait a minute.  Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize for something-or-other, and Edward Snowden getting nominated for being sniveling little coward pretty much kills any Nobel viability.  I sure as hell don’t stand with that argument.

Actually, the funny thing about media hacks that take digs at teachers is that they think they have the answers without really listening to teachers.  Take for instance what Tucker thinks the next-generation of business is looking for:

“What we are looking at in the people who started and built these organizations are people who are both highly educated and innovative and creative.  And that is exactly who they are looking for in the people they hire to work for them.”

Interesting.  See anything missing?  Work ethic?  Initiative?  Yeah I read the whole article and what I see that’s missing is the thing that teachers are trying to tell you is missing from the whole of society.  Sure, you have the occasional fuddy-duddies that preach Montessori creativity and feel-good education on the fringe.  But for the most part a vast majority of teachers won’t deny the importance of the PISA scores, they’ll tell you that society doesn’t want to listen to the solutions. 

“Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?”

That’s from Tom Friedman’s column from a few weeks ago.  Notice that he actually mentions, you know, work.  Read the article.  Look at the teachers that are frustrated with dumbing down of standards, the lack of independent work, the apathy of parents, and society’s real lack of desire to solve the problem.  It’s not teachers that don’t care about PISA.  NOBODY CARES ABOUT PISA.  The only people that care are those that want ratings, and they dump the story the second a car chase occurs on I-5 in Los Angeles. 

Know what the Finlands, Singapores, and Shanghais all have in common?  It’s not the boring curriculum.  It’s not unions, tenure, pay, or working conditions.  It’s not poverty or wealth either.  It’s simply that those cultures are industrious enough in their work ethic to care about education.  There is faith in knowledge, pride in workmanship, and a culture that puts value on hard work and intellect.  The United States has become a culture of “easy.”  Being a Kardashian is easy.  Taking a course using MOOCs is easy.  High school is supposed to be easy.  Grades should be a given.  And society believes this!  Tom Friedman even mentions the “they are not allowed to fail” attitude that is prevalent in education.  There is desire for success without work or fear of failure, so the successes now are hollow and without any real accomplishment. 

Teachers care about PISA but are used to the same old, same old in the solution department.  We want to produce excellent students that will be successful in the future.  But to think that we can wave a magic wand and replace hard work with instant success is idiotic.  And that’s what PISA is telling the United States.  Stop doing it the easy way.  It’s not working.     

Coffee Break

A long time ago in Ukiah there was Coffee Critic.  It was the local coffee hangout that had all sorts of coffee goodies priced absurdly high with snotty staff that made you feel beneath contempt for even considering a cup of Starbucks. 

Well, they are gone. 

Now there is Black Oak Coffee Roasters, a posh coffee hangout that has all sorts of coffee goodies with interesting names that are priced absurdly high.  The staff is much more friendly and I don’t feel guilty any more because I’m beyond that whole “shop local or die” mentality.  This bastion of java has managed to become the local hipster heaven and the vibe is decidedly college-townesque, with ragged blue jeans, faded flannels, and those thick rimmed glasses that makes one much more intelligent than the average heathen. 


But my God the prices.  Unlike college town coffee shops, Black Oak has assumed that being in a town that contains vineyards actually allows one to price things like this is Napa.  No, I can’t really see the justification of a $10 bagel with cream cheese and lox.  Never.  Ever.  Especially one that is actually smaller than the average NHL hockey puck.  Nor do pretty little lavender flowers create appropriate justification for a $5 twelve ounce latte.  It’s nuts. 

Of course if I’m that alienated then what am I doing here?  First off, you ask too many questions.  Second, something is being done to my house and I need a place to hang.  Finally, dammit, they actually have good coffee.  I might be complaining but I’m not immune to decent service and good coffee.  Hypocrisy be dammed when it comes to coffee. 

I guess the point of this post is to get back in the swing of blogging by complaining about useless information.  Or that I’d like a reasonable cup of coffee for reasonable prices.  Or something. 

Tech dumping


I don’t really know George Couros and his website seems to really be dedicated to passionate learning.  And maybe I’m reading his tweet and misinterpreting the tone.  That happens a lot with the Interwebs. 

Still, that comment.

I responded “Absolutely” to his statement and never received a response, so who really knows if I took it correct or not.  Dumping tech into classrooms doesn’t improve learning and there are almost no statistics that I’ve seen that shows that’s the case.  Tools are tools are tools, and in the wrong hands a Chromebook is a neat thing to use for porn surfing when the teacher makes a sloppy lesson plan and sits behind the desk. 

And by the way, Flipping the classroom is way too much about tech, and less and less about technique.  I don’t like the idea that videos are better because kids can watch the videos and don’t have to read, for some reason.  If they don’t understand, rewind the video, because reading, you know, is too difficult.  Yeah, technology.  Not so great.  And before you tell me that Flipping isn’t about tech, check out the majority of posts.  It is about tech.

That doesn’t mean many of the basic ideas of inquiry based learning aren’t excellent.  But jeez, enough of the tech-is-king talk.