Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Senator from the State of California has it correct


"You know...when I was mayor of San Francisco I used to go out in the neighborhoods and I'd say, "Do you want more police?"

"And the answer would come back, loudly, "Yes."

"Do you want more firefighters?"

The answer would come back loudly, "Yes." "Do you want to pay for them?"

"And instantly, it was, "No," in a booming way.

Dear Citizens of the State of California,

I want to thank the 12.5% of the population for coming out on May 19th to vote on the ballot measures.  Yes, for those of you that are wondering, only 12.5% of the population came out to vote.  See, less than half of all Californians are registered to vote, and less than a quarter of those bothered to vote on May 19th.  Anyway, thanks for voting.

I also want to let you know that it wasn’t the ballot process or the ballot itself that created this problem.  Regardless of how the election results went, these cuts that are now coming were going to be implemented eventually, it was just a matter of how long in the future.  It was the indecisiveness of the citizens of California that made the crisis a reality, and now the economic conditions are going to force you to stop acting like your children.  Yes ladies and gentlemen, your choices are now going to have actual consequences.

First, let me say that I’m against raising taxes.  While I agree that citizens should pay for services they request from the state (police, fire, education, social welfare), I don’t agree that citizens should pay for services that are bloated and broken.  This state is full of services that are so immensely flawed that public opinion simply accepts that are state has become average and that this form of apathetic corruption is just accepted collateral damage.  The problem is that the collateral damage now impacts every crevice in society and now we can’t ignore it.  Simply running departments in this state more efficiently would probably save the state billions of dollars annually.  That might not even mean firing employees right and left, although there is plenty of evidence out there that says some employees are wasting tax payer dollars.  However, if airlines can save $40,000 a year by simply putting one less olive in a salad, why can’t the state do the little things to cut costs so the system not only saves money, but also does a better job at serving the citizens?  I’m still waiting for the statement from the Governor that says, “Every department head come to me with a clear audit, and do right now or you get slashed first”.  Jack O’Connell sends the message down the education chain (same will all departments) and every person starts to learn that “waste not efficiency” can save teacher jobs, motivate innovative learning, and actually increase teacher pay down the road because the money will exists to give teachers a raise.  Use one less ream of paper, add a dollar a month to the paycheck.  Sounds little, but it’s a start.  And if all the entities of the state were doing it, that pebble becomes a mushroom cloud, and the State of California returns to the position of being equal or better than most nations on the entire planet at serving its citizens.  Currently, we can hardly say that we are better than Wyoming at that task. 

Second, it is time that the wealthy pay a bigger share of the pie, although not through raising taxes.  Hey, I get it, you already pay a bigger fee to the state for services, and you play a significant role in making California one of the greatest economic players in the world, but now the citizens of California need you tighten your belts like the rest of us.  While not raising taxes, let’s close all those pretty loopholes that the wealthy take advantage of, or better yet, change the loopholes so that the corporate dollars go towards things that will benefit them in other ways in the future.  A win-win situation!  I can see it now.  Corporations get their incentives lowered unless they take those extra dollars and put them towards a program that can benefit the welfare of society.  And give corporations some serious flexibility in making those decisions.  It would be like corporate marketing and investment, but helping society.  How about Google or Apple saying, “I have this sum of cash that will go to government coffers, or I will pick five rural high schools that can increase their revenue if they can prove to be more efficient graduating prepared students for next generation jobs".  How awesome would that be!  Instead of paying the government, the companies take that money and use it as investing for their future success.  Or they could pay the government if they don’t want to take the energy to work with government entities.  But think of the possibilities!   

You might think that the listed items are utopian, but I ask for an alternative from the citizens of California, because right now you are sitting in a broken house that is falling down around your ears, and you are perfectly ok with it.  Sure you might be ranting and yelling, standing in front of and cursing out the supports of dwelling while they continue to splinter and crack, but are you picking up the hammer and nails and going to work?  Are you grabbing the tools and getting dirty, and using some extra energy for a task that looks daunting, but could be beautiful in the end?  Or do we sit in our easy chairs and groan while the building falls.

Californians, what say you?           

One of the best scenes on television in awhile


If you haven’t figured it out, Rescue Me is one of the best shows on television.  Tuesday night’s episode may have contained one of the best scenes in modern memory.

For those that aren’t familiar with the show, Rescue Me is about a New York City firehouse, with most of the show centered around an immensely flawed firefighter played by Denis Leary.  The show is at times absolutely hilarious, (don’t watch if you are easily offended) while still keeping an amazing dramatic kick.

The scene from this week’s episode involves Leary in a bar talking to his deceased family (dad and brothers) about actions that were taken during and after 9/11.  It might not have the same impact if you haven’t been watching the show for the last four seasons, but it doesn’t take away from the powerful impression left by Leary’s passion.     

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Oh look, an empathetic race pick for the Supreme Court


Ok, I get politics. Get the Hispanic vote, get a woman on the court, blah, blah, blah.

But Sonia Sotomayor?

"Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases, I am . . . not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, . . . there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Wow. Full of Judicial Review, ain't she.

Here is where I differ from those that think cultural diversity is the end-all and be-all trait that will make the world a better place. The job of a Supreme Court Justice is to check the constitutionality of an issue, not use some kind of empathetic argument that she has an advantage over a white male because she's Latina. We are not talking about an elected official that represents a selected constituency, we are talking about a constitutional scholar. Her choices will become permanent precedent within the founding document of this country. "Latina's do it better" is not really what I had in mind when I was reading through her portfolio of work. I might even accept the comment if there wasn't so much evidence that she does use race as a factor in making her decisions, like the elementary school student in New York, or the firefighters in New Haven (read up on her to find the results). I detest racism in all forms, including those that use race as an excuse against superior performance, academic excellence, or to connect race to issues that politicians find uncomfortable (if you don't like illegal immigration, you must be racist). I think Sotomayor's feelings about race might cloud her constitutional judgement, and I have a problem with that for a life-long Supreme Court Justice.

Oh, and there is this too.

"The court of appeals is where policy is made." I checked the Legislative Branch made policy, backed by the vote of the People. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt to explain it in front of the Judiciary Committee, but it still gives me serious reservations about her appointment.

Danger. I Twitter.


Wow, it is actually really cool. 

I can see how people get addicted to this thing.  It's like you're getting constant running commentary from people.  This makes fantastic material for a political news junkie like me. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Right ruling for a stupid law


Let me make two things perfectly clear.  First, the California Supreme Court ruled correctly today.  The Court does not have the power to overrule a California constitutional amendment passed by the voters.  The Court did not say that gay marriage was wrong, it said that the amendment was constitutionally legal.  The second thing I want to make perfectly clear is that Proposition 8 is a really idiotic law, and if you support it then you are basically un-American.  How can you be truly supportive of our national Constitution if you basically ignore that whole equal protection thing?  Oh yeah, and that Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal” clause too. 

And you are really pathetic too.  Seriously, you are worried about the marriage of two people that have nothing to do with you.  Are you just that bored that you need to break down relationships of other people?  Try focusing on your own.  Or take up a hobby.  Or move to Iran, there are no homosexuals there.   

Anyway, this is a moot point, as brilliantly stated by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle

    “Gay marriage is a foregone conclusion. It's a done deal. It's just a matter of time. For the next generation in particular, equal rights for gays is not even a question or a serious issue, much less a sinful hysterical conundrum that can only be answered by terrified Mormons and confused old people and inane referendums funded by same. It's just obvious, inevitable, a given.” 

It really is too.  Students don’t see gay marriage as a really big deal, and yea, that means your kid.  So whatever ends up happening; the Supreme Court diving down to grab the case (I’d love it, but not going to happen), another referendum (more likely), or nothing at all, this all ends fairly quickly because the generations coming up are more and more tolerant.  Actually, they are more and more American.

Oh, and someone might want to stop bashing Meghan McCain and start listening to the woman.  I’m watching the GOP go down in a flaming fireball and people like McCain have an excellent idea where a new platform could emerge. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

My union says that I’m anti-union

I wrote a really nasty letter this week to all the teachers in the district, basically shouting from the roof-top that I was sick of the constant injustice from our union.  I listed parts of the bylaws they broke, I called out the oligarchs that run it, and I expressed my anger with my usual tactfulness that I’m known for. 

Ok, so I wasn’t really tactful.  In fact, I was down right mean.  Well, it was going to happen in one of two places; either this blog or in that letter.  And since I’m not interested publically announcing the embarrassing actions of our glorious UTA leadership (it would make you sick), I had to relegate it to an internal memo.  The response I’ve received is about 70-30 in support of the memo, although many people said that I was a little undiplomatic with calling out specific people.  This was years of frustration building up and when the high school received a survey regarding teacher opinions on what should be negotiated next year, and almost all of it was related around elementary schools, I sort of blew a fuse.  Hey, if I’m paying money (dues that were risen last year) and I’m seeing negative results, I’m going to say something, even if I need to yell a bit.

The same day I sent the e-mail, I went to a UTA meeting that included a total of 6 people, including many of those I called out.  When they confronted me about my displeasure, they stated three things:

1.  It is the district’s fault, always.

2.  The high school doesn’t get involved enough in UTA business, so get involved and you might get something.

3.  What would you want negotiated?

I was a little thrown off by the question of what I wanted, and very aware that the group did nothing to answer my questions regarding breaking the bylaws.  In the end, I told them that for the solvency of the district, and for the pay of hard working teachers, I wanted the union to take a look at the millions available for incentive pay.  They stated that it was on the survey, but that it wasn’t where they wanted to go.  In the end, they said that my problem was that I was “anti-union” and that I didn’t believe in unionism as a concept.

That’s a cop out.  It’s like taxes, I don’t mind actually paying taxes, but if the money is being wasted then I get irritated.  I don’t mind paying money to my union, but I want the union to actually work for me, and not do things that make our profession look bad.

I’m not anti-union, I’m pro-teacher.

Hey Arnie, we are teaching them the wrong things


Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan was in San Francisco this week, where he made the bold announcement that California schools are screwed, or something to that effect.

I’m less interested with the financial aspect of his statement and more interested in the statement his boss made during the campaign.  Barack Obama made it very clear that part of good education comes from responsible actions of parents to tell kids about decision-making.  In this case I’m talking about priorities, and ultimate bail-outs that I’m seeing this time of year, excusing the absences of kids.  Since I’ve taught Seniors lately, I’m not used to this late season apathy that has brought itself to my classes, and according to many, to the school in general.  One counselor told me that the sense of the school was one of “non-working malaise”.  Now that testing is complete, the shift in attitude among the underclassmen is very evident.  My numbers in classes have taken a major dip (with the exception of 1st Comp Gov and 2nd U.S. History), with my after lunch class numbers losing over 50% over the last two Fridays.  Reason?  Numerous, and pretty much totally out of my hands.  The absences are all excused, either by parents or by other school officials, and the students rarely make up the work they miss. 

So I ask Secretary Duncan, what would you like me to change?  Last week it was Student Government elections, a blood drive, and sports that took students out of my classroom.  This week it was Club’s Day and a Car Show that got the student’s attention, and left my numbers high and dry.  The thing is, these students are not being told that there is a choice and that every choice has a consequence.  Yes, there are students that can manage doing all this work and keeping a decent grade.  But many of those that have the excused absences are failing, and families are acting like the social aspect of school should be the priority over the academic aspect.  The moronic attitude towards Homecoming in the town is the perfect example.  Two weeks of social distraction are much more important to this community than the STAR tests that actually mean something to the school.  I don’t see the same community support and involvement in an activity that could help us out of program improvement, as I do in a Homecoming fortnight that gets the school………nothing. 

So I’m interested in how many of my kids will react when they realize that they do have to make a choice, and there is no other way around it.  Fine you went to the car show, fine it is excused, but you missed the quiz, didn’t make it up, and I’m not going to teach the subject matter all over again for you.  Good luck.

Of course, with all the credit recovery options for students, even the “F” isn’t much of a deterrent.  A teacher that toured another school early last week was amazed at the academic atmosphere it contained.  When I asked what we could do to match it, the reply was “Don’t inflate grades, make them earn it.  And let some fail”. 

Better the lesson learned here instead of out there.   

Friday, May 15, 2009

Good reset




I saw the new Star Trek on Wednesday with my wife. 

That comment alone should say something about falling for all the hype of the movie.  My wife is not a huge sci-fi fan, and really not a Star Trek fan, but with the constant positive reviews for the new Trek, who could resist? 

Let me first say that I’m not a huge Star Trek fan either.  I’ve watched all the movies, but hardly any of the original show.  I watched quite a bit of the Next Generation (Borg episodes are great), some of Deep Space Nine, little Voyager, and not a single episode of Enterprise.  If I were to rank the movies, it would look like this:

1.  Star Trek 2:  The Wrath of Khan

2.  Star Trek:  First Contact

3.  Star Trek 6:  The Undiscovered Country

4.  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture

5.  Generations and Search for Spock

And everything else.

I’ll come right out and say that this new Star Trek ranks second on the list for me.  In terms of a good summer sci-fi flick, Star Trek does a nice job.  The special effects are first rate.  It is the first and most obvious exception to the other Star Trek films.  I like the idea that if we are going to upgrade the series, do it right and spend the money.  They did a masterful job with visuals.  The actors not only nail down the traits of the former stars, but bring to the table an ability to evolve the characters into something even better.  They were young, fun, and gave the series a much needed vitality that attracts this generation of movie-goer.  I’ll admit that I had serious doubts that J.J. Abrams (the director) was going to be able resume a sci-fi series that for all intents and purposes should have been dead years ago.  Well, if the point was to bring in the next-gen cinema fan and reset the series to square one, Abrams nailed it down cold.  Bravo to him for that.  I’ll be watching the series in theaters in the future.


However, let’s not get out of control about the movie’s place in the Star Trek genre.  While very good, the film has flaws that The Wrath of Khan overcame back in 1982.  First of all, the storyline has been done many times over in the Star Trek Universe.  Time travel, change history, blah, blah.  Not very original.  Whereas the entire story of Khan was creative and took us places that we had never been, this story was pretty predictable.  We knew the outcome, not because we know the crew survives for the series, but because this has been done before.  Fine, so the planet Vulcan is destroyed.  Sorry, but that doesn’t come close to the response that Star Trek 2 received when Spock died.  It was shocking, sad, and genuine sense of loss gripped the hearts of movie fans everywhere.  And speaking of Spock, Leonard Nimoy’s scene’s in the new Trek flick seemed out of place.  He seemed overly emotional, too comical, and actually made some of the movie lose its flow.  Finally, the bad guy.  Eric Bana’s portrayal of Nero was good, but not fantastic by any means.  He was a working man’s villain that wasn’t really meant to be flamboyant and outgoing, which is fine for the film and I don’t mind.  But you really can’t compare Bana’s performance to that of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan.  Khan Noonien Singh was angry, poetic, and vengeful in ways that were brilliantly portrayed on screen.  Montalban seemed to enjoy playing the part, and he will live on as being one of the best film villains.

So I’d give the movie a solid 9 out of 10, which is really a good rating.  It might be one of my top 100 of all time if I actually get around to figuring that list out.           

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"Accountability now is just a way to make teachers accountable for things they have no control over. Accountability for teachers has stripped students of their own accountability."

This could be the single most true statement ever made about the status of modern education.

Pissed Off Teacher, a New York City veteran of over thirty years, told a story that most of us are familiar with, and none of the politicians will listen to.

You know the drill.

Harry goes to high school were he was a resource kid.

Harry was basically pandered to and was pushed through the system to graduation.

Harry did what Harry felt like.

Harry went to a community college.

Harry learned that professors could care less about what you feel like doing.

Harry asked Mom to go after the professors.

Harry learned that professors could care less about Mom too.

Harry eventually realized that an enabled, less accountable high school career bit him in the ass later on.

In the end, teachers are blamed for the accountability angle. I'm had my share of Harry's, who have actually failed my class. But my accountability was superseded by sneaky colleagues (not admin by the way) who overruled my grade and allowed the Harry's of the world to walk the stage, thus making the last lesson learned a bad one. I also remember being a sort of Harry, walking into my college career thinking that I could ease into it like high school. I almost didn't get to my dream of being a teacher until my collage advisor, Dale Steiner, basically told me that I was never going to teach if I didn't pull my head out of my ass. I did, and I pulled my act together to reach my goals. Notice, I said that I did both the slacking early on, and the hard work later to become a teacher. It was my own accountability, not the fault of the instructors or "the system".

But that's not the focus any more. The focus is the teachers. Since more and more students are failing high school, and less and less students are prepared for college, it must be the fault of the teachers because who is responsible for educating the Harry's of the world. Well, Harry is for starters. And society hasn't figured out that many of these students aren't being held accountable for the simplest of actions. Showing up should be a given. But time and time again the statistics show that attendance is a huge factor in academic progress. How are teachers supposed to control attendance? I have students moving, cutting, being taken out for cheerleading, sports, FFA, Drama, vacations, blood drives, band concerts, discipline............and I'm supposed to be accountable for this?

I will never take any politician seriously until they have the balls to tell parents "guess what, you are part of the problem", and start to make schools have the power to jack students out of the classroom that don't belong there. Want me to be accountable? Fine, let me hold students accountable without hearing about lawsuits, grade changes, and the importance of a three week Homecomings.

Otherwise, get ready for a lot more Harry's.

Post Test Malaise

It really is a product of "teaching to the test".  Especially when the tests are administered with over a month left in the school year. 

Now that STAR and Advanced Placement testing is finished, I'm finding a change in attitude not only with the students, but with myself.  Don't get all in a tizzy.  I'm not talking about completely shutting down the remainder of the semester and plugging in reruns of the West Wing.  God knows that besides being a good employee, it goes against everything I stand for to waste student time in class.  However, the attitude I have towards what is "necessary" for students to know is so less pressured that it almost comes as a disappointment to not have that pressure.  Sure, we have standards that need to be met, but all that pump up for the STAR is now a bunch of useless garbage as students are now depending on me showing them something that is relevant to them in the last month of their Junior career.  Actually, plenty is relevant, but you tell that to STAR tested kids that feel like they have already met the requirements just because they took the damn test.

Advanced Placement is a little different.  With the AP's finished, I show "Inside 9/11" for about a week because most of my students are taking multiple AP tests and miss my class (legitimately).  It does no good to introduce new curriculum when students are in and out of class, plus we are getting into a generation of students that haven't seen 9/11, either live or on serious video.  I'm not kidding.   It's quite interesting to remember that this generation was in 4th or 5th grade when it happened.  I'll introduce a Mock Congress after the class final at the end of this week.  It's interactive, fun, and teaches the students about the workings of congressional debate.  They are actually looking to remain engaged, because by this point the realization that the real world is just out the door has now hit them, and they sort of like the idea of the protective environment of high school.

I guess the malaise is more me than anything.  When I taught Economics, students would have the Economics Exposition on the second to last day of instruction, a massive business plan that made students focus until the end of the year.  Being the first year that I've had to deal with idiotic STAR testing, the priorities have changed.  STAR tests were so "important" that everything else seems to take a back seat, and I'd like to thank those idiot politicians for continuing to make life as difficult as possible on educators.

So the usual sprint to the end of the year has become more a ....well....drag.   Testing at the end of the year anyone?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bill Cosby's Keynote Speech

If you asked me to chose one person to talk at a graduation, it would be Bill Cosby. Drop the fact that he's Mr. Huxtable, Fat Albert, and one of the greatest comedians of all time, the man has a down-to-earth way to tell people what they really need to hear, not a bunch of flighty nonsense.

By the way, he occasionally makes appearances on the Sunday talk shows and is an excellent guest. I think more people could learn something from the man.

Someone thinks I'm innovative and inspirational

Online University Reviews listed my blog as one of the Top 100 Educational Blogs. 


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ghost Riding the Whip accidents = Process of Natural Selection?

imageNo, I don’t like people getting hurt, especially kids.

However, you really need to wonder if “Ghost Riding the Whip” (the process of dancing on your car while it has no driver, and is in motion) really has some deeper connection to Darwinism.  As a huge fan of the Bay Area and the long history of Bay Area rap (Too Short, Digital Underground, MC Hammer), I would like to state that the creation of Ghost Riding is not one of its more profound moments.  In fact, it is one of the lower points in the complex history of rap.

And yes, we all did stupid stuff in high school/college.  However, “I know, let’s run this car up to 7 mph and dance like a fool on the hood instead of driving it” never came to mind.  Know why?  Because it really is THAT fucking dumb.  Note to the next generations; not everything you do that is risky is rebellious.  Once you pass a limit of common sense, then “aw that’s just teenage stuff” becomes “wow, does your existence really benefit society”.  The sooner you know the difference, the better off you might be.

By the way, I miss the glory days of rap.  I happen miss the powerful messages of EPMD, NWA, Public Enemy, KRS-One.  Now everything is about partying and creativity is limited to whether or not you can make a thizz face.  Could the Bay Area maybe revitalize a platform that expressed the frustrations of a community, hell, a nation?  We sure could use it.  

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Turn your freak off


Along with prom season comes the usual anger towards “freaking”, which is the act of dry humping your partner on the dance floor while listening to really lousy hip-hop music (coming from someone who loves hip-hop).  Every year the students get their pants and panties in a bundle when school administrators crack down on student freaking, leading to the common debate of student expression versus school policy. 

Let me be pretty clear, I think freaking is dry humping.  Kids compare it to every generations form of dancing, and they are pretty much full of it.  Elvis swinging his hips around and two fifteen year olds having simulated sex is not the same thing, and teens (like usual) who enjoy arguing this point are looking for an excuse to get a little “excused foreplay”.  

Well, it looks like Cardinal Newman and Ursuline High Schools in Santa Rosa are the latest group of students who felt like they were the exceptions to the rule.  Apparently they were on a prom cruise on San Francisco Bay when students started to complain about the music taste.  Throw in a few warnings, a belligerent DJ, and a group to spoiled brat students, and Principal Julie Carver decided that the situation was unruly and out of control, and closed down the whole situation.  Students are furious, and rumors of parent lawsuits are popping up here and there.  Apparently mommy and daddy don’t like shelling out a thousand dollars to a their kid and watch the money go to waste because of school rules.  By the way, first hint that something is wrong…………you spent a cool grand on prom. 

Students were warned many times to stop, and the rules were that school dances did not allow dry humping on the dance floor.  As stated by various sources, it seems like students felt that prom was an exception and shouldn’t count as a “school dance”.  Um, last I remember a prom was a school sponsored event.  If the school is attached to it, then the school becomes responsible.  Figure it out. 

"But senior Brittany Swelam, Ursuline’s student body president, said Catholic or not, students are still teen-agers searching out ways to “have fun.”
“It’s not like we look at freak dancing as some way to be rebellious,” she said. “It’s just all we know.”

Sorry, but your behavior was the exact opposite.  The situation was basically a rebellion against authority, and in the end the school did what it had to do.  I applaud Ursuline’s principal for standing up for what is right for the school and not giving in to the entitled attitude of students.  Oh, and memo to Miss Swelam, if you have spent four years at Ursuline and all you know about dancing is how to grind your ass into some guys crotch, I would ask for a refund for that tuition bill.   

By the way if you haven’t noticed, this problem is not going to go away.  Students push the boundaries of what is and is not socially acceptable at school, and schools are going to continue to push back.  Once again, parents need to understand that the rules are there for a reason, and spending a thousand dollars for a prom date does not create a new atmosphere of “I get want I want” at the school function. 

Freak that.   

AP Anxiety

I don’t know who is more concerned with Advanced Placement exams, myself or my students. 

Yesterday was the exam and I was very mellow about it until the first reports started to trickle in.  Apparently some students finished quick, and there was a feeling that the Free Response Questions were very hard.  My heart sank a little bit, but I then found out who the students were and I was suspect about the report.  Still, I was combing the net to try and find out the overall reaction to the exam.  I found none.  It made last night quite miserable.  My wife (a teacher and very understanding) reminded me that AP’s are the responsibility of the student in the end, and that student initiative was key in their own success. 

She’s right of course.  I can only teach so much in the limited time, and for students to be successful they are going to have to do the reading and ask questions.  “Feeding” the information in an Advanced Placement class won’t work simply because the amount of information is just overwhelming.

At lunch time my fears were somewhat alleviated.  Three very reliable students came up to me and mentioned that the test was not bad at all.  Comments about the overall test was that it wasn’t hard, with the Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) being really easy, and the Free Response Questions (FRQ) being harder but doable.  Apparently there was one FRQ that was giving most students a bit of a struggle, but I don’t really know what the question was about.  My happiest moment was when one student, a student that would have told me if he/she wasn’t prepared for the test, said that the test was “pretty easy” and told me “you prepared us so well for it”.  I was elated. 

Now I sit back and wait for the details in July.  I’m sure that I’ll get more info tomorrow when I have the students in class, but the real nitty gritty will be in July when I get details.   

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Great AP Debate

Jay Mathews over at the Washington Post has created quite a flurry by jumping in on a topic that needs real discussion, whether or not to open the Advanced Placement classes to anyone wanting to apply.  His focus is around two questions on a survey given to over a thousand AP teachers:

“Other than expecting students to fulfill prerequisites, are your high school’s AP classes generally open to any student who wants to take them, or are there limits on access, such as GPA or teacher approval?”

".....which is closer to their (your) own view: “The more students taking AP courses the better--even when they do poorly in the course, they benefit from the challenge and experience” or “Only students who can handle the material should take AP courses--otherwise it’s not fair to them, their classmates, their teachers, and the quality of the program.”

Mathews takes the stance that teachers that limit the entry to students are not taking the kids' needs into account, and are more focused with program performance.  His comment is typical of someone who doesn't seem to accept the enabling nature of our society.

The problem with this attitude is that the screening done is almost always going to overlook two important factors in judging the academic possibilities of teenagers---motivation and maturation. A student who really wants to take AP U.S. history, and signs a contract promising to do the long homework assignments and participate in class, is likely to do much better than his or her sophomore year C-minus in world history would predict. That sophomore, in addition, could be a very different person when his or her junior year begins. Kids grow up, sometimes very quickly.

How about a little background from my school. 

First of all, I've been teaching Advanced Placement for two years.  My department has had AP courses for about six years.  Both European and U.S. History classes test in.  I don't test in.  However, I do look at previous History and English grades, and I do drop students that do not have good grades, or that get bad recommendations from other History and English teachers (I'll explain why in a moment).  I have zero, I repeat ZERO, pressure from the administration to get my kids to pass the Advanced Placement exam.  Nor have I had one ounce of pressure to let more kids enroll in the class (aside from getting more in the classroom because of budget issues).  I look at the AP exam as a measure of how well I'm teaching, and a chance for kids to receive a credit hike when they head off to college.  So most of the pressure is self-imposed, not something made up by the department or my administration. 

Enrollment in my class has increased.  The first year it was offered 17 students took the class, and 8 took the exam.  This year 24 took the class and 19 are taking the exam.  Next year's enrollment (as of last week) is at 81, quite a little jump from this year.  U.S. History (the Junior year AP course) has about 30 kids currently.  That means that some 50 kids are looking to go from a non-AP course right into a Senior year, college level poli-sci course, something that is not to be taken lightly. 

This brings us back to Mathews questions.  I'm all for open Advanced Placement enrollment.  Why not let students take their shot at a level of coursework that might go above-and-beyond the standard fare?  Here's why, because we have a society that enables students to the point of letting them off the hook of just about any "contract".  Notice that Jay Mathews states, " A student who really wants to take AP U.S. history, and signs a contract promising to do the long homework assignments and participate in class", a fairly straight concept until you get the realization from the student and the parent that they are over their heads, or in my case, don't want to work so hard during their Senior year.  To make matters worse, my situation dictates that there are no other options for the students if they are failing, meaning the student can't transfer to another Government class.  There isn't one.  In which case I need to play the gatekeeper because if they end up failing a course that is required for graduation, I'm going to take a serious amount of wasted time fighting with students and parents that have been told that they have been right for years. 

So open up AP tests, I'm all for it.  But then realize that you are going to get in a situation where the administration will have to buckle down and have complete faith in the teacher.  And since I would rather spend more time in the classroom teaching, and less time in a counselor or admin's office squaring off with parents, I'm going to pick and choose.