Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dear Coach Brown, WAKE THE HELL UP!

I think the whole laptop on the bus thing is a bad idea.  I mean, I understand that the laptop computer is about the ability to take the job on the road, but it obviously does a crappy job at preventing distractions. 

For the first time ever I took my laptop on the road to Montgomery High School to finish an AP U.S. History exam.  On the bus I tried to read my APUSH testing book while listening to freshmen gab about nothing-in-particular, and then type questions on the computer.  It didn’t work very well.  Then during the Varsity game, I whipped it out again and tried to finish the test while half paying attention to the varsity game.  It was one of the first times ever that I ditched being on the bench for the varsity game to finish homework.  It sucked and I didn’t even finish the test.  I got back home around 11 p.m. and was up until one in the morning trying to finish up. 

It got worse.

The next day I skimmed the proof-read of the test and then preceded to hand out one of the single worst pieces of trash in the history of the universe.  It was full of typos, and one multiple choice question had the question stem and two answers regarding one subject, and the other three answers regarding another subject entirely.  It was more than embarrassing.  The students gladly pointed out the errors (one makes it his mission to circle every single error), but were quite nice in not rubbing it in.  In the end, I’m always my own worst critic.

So what to do?  I simply apologized and told them I found it bad form that I expected a lot from them and didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.  They understood, I fixed the test immediately (that day), and we moved on.  What else was there to do? 

Finish the damn test before I hit Highway 101, that’s what.     

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dear America.....

I present to you, Mr. Theodore Olson.

Those of us who believe in the United States' Constitution.

Guns, Stupidity, and Willows, part 2: The Glenn County School Board Strikes Back

It's one thing to give an honest and reasoned explanation on why you overturn an expulsion on a questionable issue.  Even if this issue was a tad in the realm of arguable (and the more you look at it, it wasn't), the reaction from the Glenn County Board of Education can only be described as one thing, bending over for public pressure.

Let's look at the two sides.

First, the Willows School District, which stated that Gary Tudesko (the student with shotguns in his truck on a street next to campus) broke two educational laws.  First, he was in possession of a firearm on the way to school.  The school is responsible for the student while in route to and from the school.
California Education Code 48915: California law also adds a requirement for the mandatory suspension and the recommendation for expulsion of students who:
  • Possess, sell, or otherwise furnish a firearm
So, let's say for the sake of debate, that Mr. Tudesko was not on the campus and therefore doesn't fall within California Ed Code (which creates all sorts of interesting precedents).  How about Federal Law:
The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990:
(1) It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.

The term school zone means in, or on the grounds of, a public, parochial or private school; or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial or private school. 
Wow, now call me crazy, but shotguns in a truck on the street next to a high school classroom would probably be pretty close to breaking that law, no?

And the defense argument against all of this?
officials should know the difference between a hunter returning from a morning of bird hunting and a "guy in a trench coat."
Oh fine, and I'm sure that the principal in charge of a thousand individuals is supposed to stereotype only the people that wear trench coats and not the one defiant teenager that has a history of racism, intolerance, and violence.

And the Glenn County Board of Education prepped for their prostate exam by stating:
In addition to reversing the Willows Unified School District board's decision, the county trustees ordered Tudesko's expulsion be removed from the school record.

It also ordered "any costs incurred by the pupil or his parents be reimbursed by the district.

The county board ruled the district had "acted in excess of its jurisdiction" because the act "did not occur on school grounds or at a school activity."

Furthermore, the county board stated that Tudesko did not have an opportunity for a "fair hearing" before the district board, because he "was not provided timely written notice of all evidence...."

The board also found "prejudicial abuse of discretion by the district" because it failed to show how other discipline choices were not feasible, or that Tudesko was a "continuing danger to the physical safety of the student and others."

The final finding stated that the board "need not reach a determination" about whether relevant and material evidence existed or "was improperly excluded at the hearing before the district governing board."
I just love that "prejudicial abuse of discretion by the district" tune along with showing "how other discipline choices were not feasible".  As if 25 referrals, shouting "Nigger" in class, using hate speech against staff, and fighting weren't clear signs to our Educrats that the student didn't belong at the high school at all.

Still, I'm not at all surprised at the reaction of an elected board from Willows capitulating because their best friend is in the board room, or afraid that the really nicely dressed man from the NRA is whispering something about canceling their subscription to the monthly newsletter.  The decision was politics, not education, and the end result allows for a student that has no regard for the school to return at the peril of peers and staff.
Tudesko said he felt his prior disciplinary troubles had been raised to justify his expulsion.
"I think that's really the only thing they had on me. They couldn't get me for the guns," he said.
"I won," he added.
One of Gary's last statements was that he promised not to get into trouble and to "grow up".  That's fine and dandy, but I'd prefer it that he grow up first, then own the gun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Guns, Stupidity, and Willows

imageLet me preface this story by saying that I really do not like the town of Willows.  I know, how does one dislike an entire town?  Well, I’ve had quite a few experiences within the “city limits” of Willows, and almost none of them were good.  I was lucky enough to meet a couple of very kind families when I was in high school, but my adult life has witnessed nepotism, racism, and plenty of “good old boyism”.

The story about Gary Tudesko brings up any questions not only about Willits, but about the role of guns in society, the idea of common sense and the law, and decisions that people make.  Gary is not the best at making decisions.  Back in October, Gary went duck hunting before he went to school.  Potentially late for class, Gary didn’t go home, left the shotguns in the truck, parked on a city street across from the school, and went to class.  Police were conducting a narcotics sweep that afternoon, tagged the car, and Gary was taken out of class.  The guns were both unloaded and locked in the car.  Gary was then set up for expulsion for having a firearm within 1,000 feet of campus, which apparently is a zero tolerance policy.  

The case is being made by Gary’s mom that it’s a gun rights issue.  I’m pretty torn here because first of all, this isn’t downtown Richmond, California.  Most of the gun owners in the Central Valley are probably some of the most responsible in the country.  Kids grow up around guns, respect the idea of owning them, and treat the hobby with an incredible amount of responsibility.  I’ve met plenty of 14 year olds that didn’t make me the slightest bit uncomfortable when they were wielding their rifles.  So the question needs to be asked, when a student makes a mistake like this, how can you justify expulsion based squarely on a misunderstanding of the law?  Seriously, did you know that schools had a 1,000 firearms exclusion zone?  I would guess not, and the principal and school board would have probably made a different decision if the person that made the infraction wasn’t Gary Tudesko.

Tudesko said he believes the district targeted him because of his discipline record and claimed that Smith told him they were "looking for a way to get me into the community school."  A letter to Tudesko's family explained that his initial suspension was being extended until his expulsion hearing because "Gary poses a continuing danger to himself and others."  Who’s in the right?  Let’s look at Gary’s discipline records:

• On Oct. 23, three days before the gun incident, Tudesko served a one-day suspension for parking his truck across the sidewalk and in the oleander near the school's tennis court.

• In May 2008, he was assigned Saturday school after he used racial slurs to disrupt a showing of "To Kill a Mockingbird," repeatedly saying the "N" word.

• And last March, he was suspended for four days for calling a teacher's assistant a "stupid Mexican."

In addition to his two suspensions, Tudesko acknowledged at least 25 office referrals for infractions ranging from "constant classroom disruptions," to fighting and cheating and making racially motivated "hate statements" on at least one occasion.  Gary says that he was simply “running my mouth” and that it is all no big deal.  Apparently, neither does mom. 

At this point, I totally understand why Gary is up for expulsion and why the principal is sticking to his, pardon the pun, guns.  Gary does not belong at the high school, period.  Gary is probably correct that the Willows administration is out to remove him from the academic environment because there is no real reason for him to be there.  He seems like the perfect candidate for the “all we need is a legitimate reason” clause of Ed Code, and it actually should not be that hard for administrators to remove problem students from campus.  Sorry, I can’t blame the Willows admin on this one.  Gary set himself up and Gary now lives with his poor decisions.  His mom mentioned in a local Willows news article that his son “owns what’s his”.  Well Gary, time to own up.

Thanks to the Sacramento Bee for the heads up on this story.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thanks Jay!

Jay Mathews is an education columnist for the Washington Post and he has been gracious enough to consider my blog one of the top Education blogs.  I guess that check I passed him cleared in time for Christmas.

I recently received an e-mail that politely stated that successful blogging included regular posts and that my readership could decline if I didn't post more regularly.  I want to warn those that have just stumbled upon my blog that I post when I feel like posting.  My profession is teaching, not blogging.  Blogging is a method of collaboration, a tool for self-review, a window into the world of teaching, and a platform for which I can vent on any number of topics that I please.  Most of my posts are during weekends or late at night, and I take no accountability at all for editing or spelling because at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night after basketball practice and a glass of wine, I could care. 

Anyway, thanks Jay for the shout-out!  

Friday, January 15, 2010

Giving more power to a large part of the problem

Maybe it’s me, but I’m getting the feeling that the government almost wants public schools to fail.  Think I’m kidding?  Bare with me.

Charter schools are being promoted as the next greatest thing because they create a different environment than public education.  Why is that?

Less government oversight.  Charter schools have the luxury of making rules that can better benefit the academic atmosphere.  Yet public schools are required to follow Education Code to the letter and are constantly threatened by sue happy parents if we don’t.  Case in point, Ukiah’s local charter school on absenteeism:

        Excessive absenteeism will be grounds for a hearing and possible referral to another school or service.

          Excessive absenteeism in public education has now become part of the culture, only the parents actually condone it.  Students can be absent over and over again with excuses from their family members and it has no impact on their standing regarding their eligibility to be in school.  The comment made over and over again;  “Every student has a right to an education”.  Ok, except that if that student doesn’t attend a charter school regularly, they can be removed.  If that student doesn’t attend a public school, they are forced to remain a strain on the school resources and eventually show up negatively on Standardized test scores. 

How about academics?  Once again, to the local charter.

In the event that a student is not making adequate progress in all classes defined as “satisfactory progress” or better, the student’s Advisor may convene a Student Study Team with all involved staff.

a. The student and parent/guardian will be encouraged to participate.

b. The goal will be to identify barriers to achievement, explore ways to remove those barriers, and facilitate the development of a plan.

2. The Advisor will monitor implementation of the plan and work with the student and parent to identify improvements and continued need to implement or modify the plan.

1. Failure to achieve after implementation of the plan may result in referral to another school or service. Effort will be made to avoid transferring a student to a school that operates on a semester basis at any time other than the beginning of a semester.

2. The Principal is authorized to remove from school any student who is not demonstrating adequate academic progress at any time.

Again, less government oversight.  I can’t get lazy kids out of my Advanced Placement classes without an act of Congress, much less our students being kicked out of school for poor academic progress.  Hell, I’ve been in suspension/expulsion meetings where school officials have supported students for using marijuana on campus because the student has an IEP and it is a “manifestation of the student’s disability”.   

See, a public school actually has to follow the motto “Every student has the right to an education”, while a charter school has the ability to wiggle its way out of that phrase by avoiding total accountability.  With all due respect, it really isn’t progress when a Principal can remove a student because the student doesn’t “demonstrate adequate academic progress”.  With that rule, Ukiah High could be out of Program Improvement in one year and we can start to satisfy students that actually want to engage in the learning process. 

Now comes “Race to the Top”, the newest crap from Educrats that does little to nothing about the real problems in education.  No, I’m not talking about linking test scores to teacher performance.  The latest California education legislation says that test scores are a component of a teacher’s evaluation, which they should be.  No, I’m talking about the new parent involvement stipulations.  I’m talking about giving power to the same group of people who are helping create the education problem in the first place.  So parents have more power to dictate change in a low performing school, a school that is probably low performing because parents are not doing their job teaching students to attend school in the first place.  Makes perfect sense.  What?  You don’t think that parents of involved students aren’t already engaged in trying to change the atmosphere of the school?  All that the new laws do is empower and enable those parents to continue to blame the rest of society for their own lapses in judgment.  Take my kid to Mexico for three weeks, watch my kid love Mexico and do no school work, my kid fails the STAR exam at school, obviously the school is mismanaged.  It sounds like the idiotic referendum political system in California.  When the legislature has no balls to get things done, they throw out a tasty morsel of political garbage out to the general public.  Those that know the game look on in horror as the 70% of people that don’t have a clue vote on something that totally screws them.  This education legislation works the same way.  Involved parents, administrators, and teachers watch in horror as the legislature caves to factional idiocy, those that refuse to see themselves as partially responsible for the educational process.  Now families can safely take that ski trip to Tahoe without fear of holding their kid accountable, because if teachers make a wrong move, out goes the “spoiled union lackey” and the school turns charter. 

Just like the government seems to want.          


I hate rallies and assemblies. 

Seriously, when was the last time that either of the two entities provided anything that couldn’t be said in my class in less time, or be done after school in a different setting.  Most assemblies do little to my population (some Juniors, mostly Seniors) except give them an excuse to listen to Lil-Wayne on their iPods.  By this time in their lives they’ve heard the “don’t do drugs” thing, the “don’t drink and drive”, and the “be nice to people” thing.  The best assemblies are usually done by a comedian with a message about the environment of the school, although the message usually gets lost in the comedy.  The worst are those that preach a message by using a huge amount of flash that has limited substance.  Three 50 foot movie screens blasting Carrie Underwood while discussing drunk driving doesn’t penetrate the kids psyche, it makes them listen to the music and admire all the cool effects.

Rallies are not a whole lot more fun.  Students are packed into the gym (except those that want to hang out supervised outside or in the Library) and watch “spirit competitions” and contests that pretty much benefit only popular students.  I’ve railed before about the negative expanse that Homecoming has on this campus, including the rallies that promote “class spirit”, aka, “making the other classes look bad”. 

Winterfest is basically basketball’s Homecoming event, only it is one-tenth as involved as football’s version and the rally on Friday (today) includes the Faculty-Senior basketball game.  It is the only rally that I try to attend, mainly because I’m actually in it.  Ah yes, the Faculty-Senior game, where 12th graders try and cheat their way to a win versus far superior (and older) competition.  It is usually all in good fun, although for me the game is now to a point where I’m very hesitant to do anything to hurt myself.  The ankle braces are fully taped, the jumping is “credit card” high, and the defense is your regular All-Star game defense.  Varsity level basketball players don’t get to play in the game (coach’s orders), so they ref it instead.  That means that the Seniors that are out there are not basketball players, some are not at all athletic, and some are planning mean things to do to poor teachers.  In today’s game, Mr. Silva-Brown was called for a travel before he caught the ball, called for an offensive foul when a football player (that I couldn’t knock down with a bulldozer) dropped to the floor, and was given a “technical” for “arguing” the call.  The ref that gave me all those fouls was, of course, one of my students and one of my ex-basketball players.  I played it up and walked off “dejected”. 

I have to admit, I could have done without it and caught up with my coursework, but then again I have three Advanced Placement classes so every day really does matter.