Sunday, July 31, 2011

AP Annual Conference: Was it worth it? Part 2

Hey, if you intend to enhance the lives of the next generation of teachers, let me make a small suggestion.  Wifi.  The fact that there was no wifi on the second floor of Moscone West made the sessions maddeningly incomplete due to the fact that most had Internet links to visit for lesson plans, unit plans, and primary source documents.  Exchanging materials with other teachers was impossible because of no wifi.  Presenters had Internet and displayed some excellent sites……that I could only dream of visiting.  So, note to College Board, wifi please.  Especially at Moscone Center, home of some of the most innovative technology conferences on the planet.

Session 5- Writing Historical Arguments.  Now here’s a session that has it figured out.  The presenters consisted of a past AP U.S. History teacher and a current AP English Language teacher.  What’s better than one AP teacher?  Why, one that deals in content and one that deals in writing of course.  It was a very informative and reinforced my idea that focus needs to get away from the boredom of content while reinforcing historical skills.

Session 6- Making Connections in U.S. History: Great Awakenings Across the Centuries.  I was really looking forward to my textbook author, James Henretta, “suggesting innovative methods for teaching religion in the classroom.”  When I watched a man with notes approach the lectern, I started to wince.   Then the lecture started.  I lasted about eight minutes and then realized that a Great Awakenings lecture was not going to hold me for the next one hour plus.  So I walked out and went over to the AP Comparative Government room and sat in on a presentation about international public policy.  The discussion was interesting, but the online information presented was totally vital to Comparative Politics.  I furiously wrote down information and got excited for my other AP class, and then cursed the College Board for once again, no wifi. 

Lunch Break:  Judy Woodruff.  The former CNN and current Newshour politico was fantastic.  She’s funny, whitty, and has excellent insight on what is going on in Washington.  If you ever have an opportunity to catch Judy, go for it.

Session 7- Reconstructing Reconstruction: Using Primary Sources in History Classes.  This was a combo primary sources and historiography class that was fine.  Yes, just fine.  I’ve been to lots of workshops that use Reconstruction so I really didn’t need primary source help.  Why go?  Because the other session was a presentation on the whiteboard software I already have and I’ve been through the presentation before. 

Post Conference APUSH Session.  This was Sunday, and this one actually made me angry.  It wasn’t the presenter.  Bill Shelton obviously knows his stuff and his insights into the test were interesting.  But he admitted that the College Board basically asked him to do the session at the last minute, like when he was boarding his plane in Texas.  Therefore he had a small packet of 5-6 ideas to go along with the basic APUSH handouts, and that was it.  Most of the day was talking about the AP test and debating the revision.  There might have been 30 minutes for actual classroom strategies.  When about a third of the group did not come back after lunch, I knew the afternoon was not going to be productive.

So was it worth it?  Well if your playing with your districts money, what have you got to lose?  They feed you, the guest speaker could be pretty good, and a few sessions could help you in your classroom.  But if you’re spending your own money… way.  Basically I paid over $50 for a session that ran one hour and fifteen minutes.  Some, that’s “some”, sessions were effective.  Some gave out materials.  Some tried to sell something.  And none of it even came close to addressing current generation Classroom 2.0  standards (wifi hello?).  Then I paid $180 for a post-conference session that gathered me AP materials that will eventually be online, and about six lessons for my class that involve worksheets.  Oh, and we had a lively debate about the revision.  In summation, I feel horribly ripped off when looking at the money spent versus the final result. 

Oh well.  It is what it is.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

AP Annual Conference: Was it worth it? Part 1

It’s really not bitching. 

I only say that because I can see already that complaining about the AP Annual Conference is going to seem like needless bickering, except that I paid my own money to go and so I think a realistic review of the conference is perfectly in order.  Yep, I paid for it.  My wife’s school district paid for her registration to the AP Annual Conference this year in San Francisco and we agreed that part of my AP reader stipend would go towards my registration fees.  So I forked over $550 to go to a conference that was very hyped as valuable.  My intent was to find things that would work in my classroom.  Period.

Here’s the thing.  For $550 a participant should have some basics at an education convention/conference.  First would be an idea where to go.  After paying my fee in May, I heard nothing, notta, zilch from the College Board.  I got a receipt by e-mail, but the only idea I had about my destination was that it was at either Moscone Center or the Marriott Marquis nearby.  A couple of days prior I started asking the #APAnnualConf hashtag on Twitter if anyone had information.  Everyone kept saying “just go to Moscone Center.  Ok, but Moscone Center and the Marriott Marquis consists of four huge buildings that span many city blocks.  My wife and I eventually walked from our hotel to the corner of 3rd and Howard, and waited.  We eventually followed people with AP Conference badges to Moscone West and headed to our sessions.

I judged each session based on usefulness to my class and by how many times I checked Twitter from my iPhone. 

-Session 1: Classroom Simulations and 21st Century Learning: A Constructivist Approach.  Exactly what I’m looking for.  Presenter dealt with the simulations from Eric Rothschild and how you need to make students do more of the work.  The first time I heard “let it go” in relation to AP tests.  “Focus on being a great history teacher and let the AP test go.”  Exactly what I needed to hear, and the lessons were great for classroom use. Twitter checks: Very rare.

-Session 2: Contextualizing Colonial America Using the Atlantic World as a Framework.  Used varied primary source documents to focus on the Atlantic Slave Trade.  Really didn’t address anything else, and the primary source documents game from text that I had little or no access to.  This was going to take a lot of work.  Basically, this was a discussion on early slavery that would probably take too long to implement and instruct.  Twitter checks: Often.

-Session 3: Teaching Historical Thinking Skills: Trends in Income and Wealth Since 1945.  Political, Economic, Demographic evidence is presented that shows that income inequality has risen since 1979.  Some country comparative information is also presented.  Very interesting discussion between us teachers, but absolutely nothing I can use in the classroom.  Plus, the evidence is basically weighted towards the presenter trying to justify conservatism as being the reason why income inequality has risen over the last 30 years.  Twitter checks: Rare

-Session 4: Previewing the Revised APUSH Course:  Excellent information about the revised AP U.S. History Course.  I already explained it all on Twitter.  To summarize: revise will be 2014-2015, focus will be on historical skills, AP exam is looking to eliminate all multiple choice questions.  It was really good.  Twitter checks:  None.

I’ll post days 2 and 3 later.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Confessions of an AP Comparative Government Reader. Final thoughts.

I liked grading Advanced Placement tests.  In fact, I think every teacher should grade these tests to get a true sense of what is in the head of those not only grading the test, but those making the test.  I’d go so far as saying that it could be mandatory, even if your scores are fabulous.  You could take that knowledge and maybe it could dribble down to the test. 

Some final thoughts.

-My table was flat out awesome.  I was one of two rookies and the collaboration on the question was fantastic.  Sure, we had to keep pace on getting things accomplished within a certain time frame, but the feeling was open and honest.  We would ask each other if an answer seemed right, and then would challenge each other to justify the score.  One of the comments from the Table Leader stuck with me.  On the last afternoon I thanked him for his patience and guidance, and his response was “hey, it was fantastic collaborating with you.”  That answer was exactly what you want to hear in that environment.  It makes you realize that the grading was a job, but also a deeper process.

-Everything you have ever heard about the grading room being cold is absolutely true.  I love a cool environment, but I spent over half the time wearing a hoodie.

-As you might expect there were some interesting answers that I read in those little books.  Yes, there were a fair amount of blanks, let’s just get that our of the way right now.  In fact, there were too many blanks and they came in groups.  However those with creative answers also showed up once in awhile.  We had to read them because sandwiched between the garbage could be an actual answer to the question.  The normal drivel was usually a letter to the reader explaining how their life was doing.  99% of these letters were totally harmless and the student usually explained how they weren’t ready for the test and had got into the university they wanted anyway.  I read a few love stories, a few songs, and looked at random artwork that was actually quite good.  I was pretty sure that there was an attempt to artistically answer the FRQs, but I couldn’t prove it therefore it didn’t cut the mustard.  Oh yeah, and quite a few tests had letters stating that they had to take the test and didn’t want to.  Interesting.

-According to readers, every year has a theme from those that don’t answer the questions.  This year the theme was “swag”.  Swag is basically how someone holds themselves and their self-image; usually revolving around confidence and demeanor.  Well, there was plenty of swag talk in the FRQs.  Some people wrote about how President Putin had major swag while Prime Minister Cameron had little swag.  Others wrote how their life was full of swag, from chillin with homies to getting the ladies and playing hoop.  Still others would actually write rap lyrics dedicated to swag.  But the ultimate was when one reader suddenly stated “Look!  It’s a complete treatise on swag!”  Sure enough, a student had taken the time to write what could be considered the definitive Wikipedia post on swag.  It really had us rolling with laughter. 

The experience was good, I highly recommend it, and I want to go back.  We’ll find out next year if I’m back to Kansas City.     

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Obama gets drunk in Rose Garden, screws up White House itinerary.


At 1:05 yesterday afternoon, Obama was hanging out in the Rose Garden.  His Presidential itinerary stated that he was making an announcement, however some other activities might have taken place while he perused the White House grounds.  We know that Barack likes his booze.  Hello, Beer Summit anyone?  And being drunk is the only explanation for the agenda and attendees at his 1:35  meeting:

The President hosts an education roundtable with business leaders, Secretary Duncan, Melody Barnes, and America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma Powell and Founding Chair General Colin Powell.”

The invitees include:

· Marguerite Kondracke, president & CEO, America’s Promise

· Alma Powell, chairwoman, America’s Promise

· General Colin Powell, founding chairman, America’s Promise

· Craig Barrett, former president & CEO, Intel

· Glenn Britt, CEO, Time Warner Cable

· Steve Case, former chairman & CEO, America Online

· Brian Gallagher, president & CEO, United Way Worldwide

· William Green, president & CEO, Accenture

· Fred Humphries, senior vice president, Microsoft

· Rhonda Mimms, foundation president, ING

· Kathleen Murphy, president, Fidelity Personal Investments

· Ed Rust, CEO, State Farm

· Randall Stephenson, chairman & CEO, AT&T

· Bill Swanson, chairman & CEO, Raytheon

· Laysha Ward, foundation president, Target

· David Zaslav, president & CEO, Discovery Communications

· Former governor Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education

· Anne Finucane, chair of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Bank of America

“I mean, thatsh ish one hellofa edshucation brainztruss right there……..*hiccup*”

Actually, that’s not an education brain trust at all.  In fact, there are enough Presidents and CEOs in that room to wonder if it was a conference dealing with jobs and the economy, not education.  And the thing is, that’s exactly what it was.  Business leaders come in and complain about lack of American labor while enticing government with half-ass grants that push agendas.  Microsoft is pledging $15 million to push computer-related education materials in an attempt to keep children in the classroom.  Note to Microsoft; your innovation will not keep children in the classroom.  In fact, I’d point to X-Box as doing the complete opposite.

It’s hard to have en education roundtable without people that are involved in education.  None of what they are doing is going to benefit my classroom.  It’s showmanship, corporate suck-upism at it’s best.  When the election comes up, Obama has a business money connection and in the end, education doesn’t change. 

Or maybe it was all a mistake, and a tipsy Mr. President mislabled this sham an “Education Roundtable” by accident. 

Thanks to Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post for letting the public in on this story.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.

So being an economist means that I look at the world a lot more pragmatically than those that massively overreact in a “honey, the world shall end tomorrow” fashion.

Take the Atlanta public schools cheating scandal.

If you haven’t heard, the Atlanta public schools were a tad bit negligent in being honest about how they were testing their little lads and lassies.  Nearly 200 teachers have been implicated in doing things like giving answers, having high end students help low end students with the test, and having “erasure parties”, weekend get-togethers where tests were changed.  Funny, I thought Erasure parties would have “A Little Respect.” (laff)

The cheating was pretty much all-inclusive (allegedly).  Teachers, principals, high end administration, it looks like one serious headache that is now considered the biggest cheating scandal in American history.  Now, I’m not about to justify cheating and I’m totally into making sure those that cheated are properly dealt with.  But we need to step back and ask ourselves about the incentives, or disincentives, we are creating with high stakes testing.  Teachers deal with cheating in their classrooms not only by swiftly punishing the cheaters, but also by creating an environment that doesn’t promote cheating, and by eliminating the incentives to cheat.  The higher the stress, the greater possibility to engage in cheating.  My Advanced Placement classes have my highest cheating rates and it isn’t even close.  The stakes for test takers are high and the risk starts to come into play when students feel enormously pressured.  How do I solve that? Consistency and reputation is one method.  However the most successful method to contain cheating involves students feeling they actually have a chance at succeeding on the test.  When students feel prepared, they don’t feel the need to cheat.  Those that don’t feel like they have a chance, whether it’s their own fault or no fault of their own, are much more likely to engage in dishonest activities. 

So while the cheating is wrong, the reasons behind it can’t be ignored and it needs to be looked at whether or not teachers feel like there is actually an incentive to cheat.  Do teachers feel like the extra money or monetary penalties are so great that the cheating might be worth it?  Or do teachers feel like so many variables are out of their control that the cheating is simply for survival’s sake?  As much as society might want to say “stupid, greedy public schools”, they would be smarter to actually analyze what is going on and see if the current way of doing things is best practice.  The cheating scandals are popping up everywhere; Atlanta, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, and they are not relegated to the great metropolitan areas either.  Locally, problems for El Molino High School in Forestville have placed pressure on its staff for more success, and may or may not have led to irregularities.         

So are these tests really achieving the results that the Federal government initially hoped when No Child Left Behind was signed into law?  Are we really seeing more accountability?  Or are we watching a law (100% proficiency within the next three years) turn education into a lesson in cheating or passing, not learning? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cultural Inclusion Bill

I can’t tell whether I’m sad or irritated about the new SB 48 bill from the California Legislature.  The bill deems to “prohibit discriminatory content” when teaching about cultural groups, people with disabilities, and people’s sexual orientation.  My sadness comes from the idea that necessary information would not be taught in schools because of people’s ongoing prejudices.  Take Randy Thomasson, president of  He feels that teaching about gays in history will “sexually brainwash” children into becoming interested in the gay lifestyle, whatever the hell that means.  It’s crap of course.  If a teacher isn’t being all inclusive with teaching history, then the instructor isn’t being a teacher, the instructor is being an agenda driven idiot. 

However, my irritation stems from how the law is written.   

Instruction in social sciences shall include the early history of California and a study of the role and contributions of both men and women, Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups, to the
economic, political, and social development of California and the United States of America, with particular emphasis on portraying the role of these groups in contemporary society

Wow,pretty inclusive group. Sounds like the state wants me to teach about the history of California and the United States. You know, things I’m already doing.  And the real problem here is that the law is actually pushing that you spend more weight on gay and lesbian contributions to the United States, instead of actually spending time on people contributing to the United States.  For instance, do we actually give a shit that Walt Whitman was gay?  Do we say, “his contributions to American literature and humanism make him one of the most important figures in our history……..oh and he was gay too.”  That’s idiotic.  I thought sexual preference should not be a contributing factor in how we view people.  And when you find someone who’s primary contribution to American society was that they were transgender, and that it is seriously worth mentioning in a basic history class, let me know.  That’s not a knock, that’s a serious request. 

  I’m not saying we shouldn’t address gay rights either.  I spend about half a day on the Stonewall Riots, Harvey Milk gets a mention, and we talk about the issues with Reagan and gay rights in the 1980’s.  But I’m not about to go “hey, this person is famous simply because he/she is gay”, because that’s not history. 


Sunday, July 10, 2011

CTEN shows leg to Michelle Rhee in lame attempt to flirt with Mayor’s wife

Here’s the thing, I actually like the California Teacher’s Empowerment Network.  They do a nice job explaining to teachers the rights that the local and national labor unions don’t want you to hear.  They make clear the idea of Agency Fee Payer, how to associate with professional organizations, and generally become a thorn in the side of labor organizations that have little interest in education.  But with a recent post about the lack of value of class size, CTEN President Larry Sands has decided to jump into the education reform arena while making a blatant attempt to hit on Sacramento’s newest hot politico, Michelle Rhee.  Larry, Michelle is married to Kevin Johnson and he’ll so kick your ass.

Arguing about class sizes is kind of like arguing about raising taxes right now.  People put up half-ass statistics from small sample sizes while jumping up and down trying get the attention of people who have no damn clue about what is being talked about.  When a Republican (I’m a Republican by-the-way) says that we can’t raise a single cent in taxes because of the horrible burden it puts on society, reasonable people just look in pity and say “Jeez, you really are a sorry little fuck” because the truth stares them in the face while they rant.  When someone writes about the uselessness of class size reduction the reaction by teachers is much the same, especially when the writer (Mr. Sands) is a former teacher.  Michelle Rhee we can blame on lack of experience.  She taught for five minutes in Baltimore and then went on to bludgeon people into submitting to her ideals (even if I liked some of them).  Larry Sands has been teaching for decades, which leads me to think that either he’s in position to be on somebodies campaign in the future, or he got one hell of a wink from Rhee at some “Why Charter’s Will Cure Aids, Solve the Deficit, and Bring Freedom to Syria” conference.

The City Journal article written by Sands does the opposite of empowering teachers, it makes them out to be union lackeys who are more interested in union money than good education.  Yeah, so when I talk to my school board about class size reduction I’m really thinking “Hmmm, I wonder how I can fill the fat belly of my CTA boss”.  Sure, that’s exactly what I’m thinking.  How about reality.

I have a class of 25 and a class of 35.  Question; will the quality of education drop with increase in class size?  The answer is, of course it will.  It won't be intentional and it won't be for a lack a trying, but struggling students are not going to get the time for help, signs of distress will be overlooked, and teachers are going to have to create lesson plans that put more focus on managing a classroom and less focus on essentials.  Now you might say, "Well a good teacher should be able to manage a class of 35 and focus on essentials".  Yes and no.  I can manage a class of 35 with no problem.  But do you think that I'm going to assign more essays during the year with more kids per class?  I'll tell you what, those extra 10 students per class equal 50 more essays to grade during my weekend, and that takes a toll on my ability to teach with maximum output and efficiency.  Lesson plans will suffer, classroom instruction will suffer (when a teacher actually has a restful weekend, they teach better the next week), and burn out will be right around the corner.  And that's for the experienced teacher.  Good teachers take years to develop.  Think about the new teacher with 35 students per class and the management and work that goes with that situation, compared to 25.  The difference is HUGE!  I'm telling the new teacher "No, don't make an essay test.  Keep it multiple choice" or "Instead of the essay, do a reading and Socratic Seminar" in a class of 35.  We are talking about survival here!

In the end, there will always be pundits that don't see the value of class size because they see it as a crutch for bad teachers.  Note to pundits, it won't change the bad teachers and it will make life more difficult for good ones.  And stop giving stupid ass statistics that make classrooms out to have 20 kids.

  “ If we……dismiss the lowest-performing 5 percent of teachers without hiring replacements, a class of 20 would then increase by just one student. Ask any parent if he’d rather have his child in a class of 21 kids with a high-performing educator or in a class of 20 with a mediocre one.” 

I’ll tell you what the parent will say.  He/she will wonder if his/her kids are Special Education eligible or in super high Advanced Placement courses because those are the only classes I know of that are anywhere near 20/1.  I’ve looked at my numbers for this year.  I have one class just over 30, three classes at 35, and one class at 37-38.  I don’t mind the numbers but don’t insult the intelligence of educators by saying 20 students is a class norm.

And writing nutty reformist posts about class sizes is not the way to Michelle’s heart, bro!  Kevin will not be amused.  Dude, he knows Charles Barkley!  Do you really want the Round Mound after ya? 

We interrupt the regular program for a small chronic break

Snoop Dogg can rest easy now because the Federal Government has decided that weed is not an acceptable cure for various medical ailments including headaches, splinters, hangnails, dealing with everyday life, and bouts of extreme boredom.  This allows the Doggfather to continue rapping about how cool it is to toke up and get down.  Because what the hell fun is it to rap about something that is legal?
At the same time most of California will go on having no real clue how they feel about marijuana.  It seems like their sensibilities feel so much better when someone says that legalization is for medical use; which pretty much flies in the face of the massive amount of high school and junior high students who bong rip on the weekends.  Unless there is a massive amount of cancer and glaucoma that I don’t know about, medical marijuana pretty much continues to be a massive joke here in Ukiah.  Yes, that’s Ukiah, or as I had a tell people at my AP Reading in Kansas City, “Yes, we are that town you saw on CNBC that is ruled by a stupid little plant.  Aren’t we fucking stupid.” 
The federal statement means basically zilch here on the North Coast where neighborly grows are the norm and much bigger concerns are the environmental disasters taking place in local forests due to illegal crop plantations, or the fact that you can’t hike in the local hills any more because you might run into a Mexican national carrying an Uzi trying to protect the precious bud.  It will still be an issue in schools and those idiots that promote the local drug culture will continue to insist that our town will be better to embrace the God granted weed.  Never mind that ever since marijuana was legalized crime has increased nearly four fold, people are fleeing the town, and Ukiah has been a national joke on 60 Minutes, the PBS Newshour, and CNBC. 
Take a hit on that.    

Friday, July 08, 2011

A hot, sweaty, stressful delight

Those that played high school basketball know that there are really four different basketball seasons; Tournament season (Nov-Dec), League season, post-season playoffs, and Summer.  Mid-June through late-July are filled with team camps, tournaments, classes, and a myriad of hoops related events that allow those with the passion to develop individual skill while playing with potential teammates.  It used to be one of my favorite seasons because you played constantly.  I remember my Junior year playing at an eight hour basketball camp all week, then playing three games Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday at the Chico State gym.  The gym was over a hundred degrees and it was my first real experience with Icy Hot.  Soreness, sweat, and glory were the themes of those times, and now it travels on to those that I coach.

My job is a tad bit different than the typical varsity coach.  I’m the JV coach, and therefore I take the young talent to Junior Varsity tournaments (which are pretty rare) or small school varsity tournaments (which are much more common).  I usually take a combination of incoming freshmen and incoming sophomores to the competition; locally that means small school varsity teams that can range from pretty good to downright poor.  We compete.  Some years we compete enough to win.  Last year we were even in the Willits Tournament and came out on the plus side in the Mendocino College Summer League.  This year we are 2-1 in the summer league and went 1-3 in this weekends tourney.  But it’s not like the wins really matter at all.  The summer is about bringing in new blood to work with the vets and getting kids to play, play, play.  Four incoming frosh and three incoming sophs spent hours in the Willits High School gym last weekend working on their craft, and the result was promising.  Number one mission was accomplished; they consistently worked hard.  They learned the offense and started to adjust to things on the court.  I was proud of them.  We are talking about over half my team playing eighth-graders from Clear Lake a couple of months ago now sparring with 17 year old young men who have three years experience under their belt.  I was proud.

So let the heat of summer bother those that hide in air conditioning, while the men of hardwood seek to hone their skills in the warmth of a fine gymnasium.  Or something like that.     

God created Charter Schools and blessed them good

I respect my fellow brothers and sisters that are teachers and administrators at Charter Schools.  We all fight the good fight within the classroom, striving to prepare the next generation of students to tackle the problems of society and keep this country, this planet, a positive and productive place to live.  I say this because I’m about to go on the romp about charters, again, and charter school teachers often get upitty because while it is perfectly ok to go after public education, charter schools are blessed by the Holy See and are therefore beyond criticism. 

Those of you that have read this blog for awhile know my contempt for the Ukiah Daily Journal.  With the exception of Joe Langstaff (the Sports Editor), the paper has a blazingly good time pointing out every single negative about public education within the town, while only giving positive reporting about useless endeavors such as Homecoming.  Charter schools on the other hand have become darlings of all media, including the local paper.  That brings us to a recent Mendocino Grand Jury report which finds, among other things (according to the Ukiah Daily Journal);

The grand jury found that dropout percentages in charter schools are much lower than traditional schools. They attribute student success to parent, teacher, and community involvement in charter schools.

This statement annoys me for a couple of reasons.  First, there are Mendocino County charters that have a significantly lower graduation rate than Ukiah High School, even with the advantage of having a charter.  Then I’d point to three factors that represent a fallacy in the Grand Jury report, centered on a comparison with Ukiah High School and it’s primary competition, Redwood Academy.

Special Education %- Redwood: 3.9      Ukiah: 11

Second Language Learners %- Redwood: 5.1     Ukiah: 25%

Academic Removal-  Redwood: “ The Principal is authorized to remove from school any student who is not demonstrating adequate academic progress at any time.”     Ukiah:  Mandated to teach all students based on state and federal guidelines

It’s a misrepresentation of the facts to ignore these items and to simply say that a school is better because of parents, community, and teachers; as if Ukiah High School doesn’t have good teachers, involved parents, or support from the community.  The point is that I can make Ukiah’s stats go up this year if I’m allowed to dump any students that don’t perform academically, with a special emphasis on those with special needs and Second Language Learners.  Hell, I’ll look like a genius.  I won’t be teaching everyone, but then again, nobody sees to be caring about that anymore.

This isn’t about the people that work in charters.  The are as dedicated and passionate as every teacher in this country.  But the statistics continue to show that charters create little to no difference in the academic lives of students, and that the worst charters are in fact far worse than bad public schools.

When society demands reform of the entire system then we’ll all get somewhere. 

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Clovis High School rocks my socks

Yeah, this makes me like Clovis High School a lot.  The only drawback is that it’s near Fresno, which contains only two decent things; Clovis High School and the Fresno Grizzlies.  Otherwise, Fresno is kind of the colon of California. 

Still, when people talk of teachers looking for positions that really support learning, this is what they are talking about.  Tell me you wouldn’t want to work here.  It’s a fantastic promotional video for inclusive learning.

And it’s from Fresno!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The LAUSD ate my homework

You know what’s funny about the new Los Angeles Unified Schools’ homework policy?  It’s the right policy for the wrong reason that will get the correct results and still piss people off. 

Get it?

So L.A. is now stating that homework can only be worth 10% of a student’s overall grade.  The idea comes from the complaints that students have other things to do; and while the excuse seems to revolve around the image of a 15 year old meeting the needs of a single parent family with six siblings, the reality is usually that a 16 year old is too busy playing World of Warcraft to actually attempt to do math problems.  Regardless, now the debate has began.  Teachers are angry that they are being micromanaged and students are celebrating by inviting more people to play Black Ops on XBox 360.

So the policy is idiotic and it does reek of micromanagement.  What a fantastic way to attempt to appease lazy parents that don’t lord over their kids to do homework; just make the homework actually hold less value.  That way you can create the illusion that the kid needs to do less and that the teacher will somehow use the same class time to teach more.  But wait a minute.  For some reason this policy seems to assume that the homework is “busy work”, a daily assignment that is meant to reinforce material or waste the time of the student (based on your point-of-view).  So I have a question.  What if your homework is that you have to know “x” concept?  What if you have daily quizzes that demand that you have mastered the knowledge necessary?  Is that homework?  It’s not, and the result is that you’ll see grades probably drop because real data is going to become exposed.

Tests and quizzes represent nearly all my Advanced Placement grades and probably 3/4 of my college preparatory grades, projects and in-class work representing most of the rest.  “Homework”, in it’s classical design, is a very small percentage of my overall grade.  Guess what?  Most of my parents hate the fact that homework is not much of a factor.  Advanced Placement parents don’t mind because the value is possible college credit, but many college prep parents just want their Senior darlings done with their high school careers. They want the busy work to create grade inflation and often frown upon the necessity of their kid to actually know something.  More than half of parents often use test anxiety as an excuse for poor performance.  By the time they are high school Seniors, that doesn’t fly very strongly with me.  Quizzes are three times a week and they are not difficult.  More often than not, test anxiety is simply code for “just get them out of high school for Christ sakes”. 

I don’t think the LAUSD is going to like what is going to happen with grades when the 10% Rule is applied, and I think teachers need to protect themselves by documenting everything.  I also think that teachers need to use this opportunity to reevaluate their classroom instruction to focus on what they need to know and if necessary, make the practice problems voluntary while making the primary concept mandatory.  Put the onus of learning on the student.      

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mind back in motion

I’ve been on vacation with my wife.  A few days in San Jose, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and now I’m back and ready to give my next few weeks to the Gods of Hoop. 

I contemplated a few things while I was gone, most of them trivial like “the San Jose Giants are in a second half suck-fest” and “dolphins in the wild seem so much happier”.  But school did cross my mind on many occasions.  It revolves around the same topics as before; changing Gov/Econ, adjusting my focus for AP Comparative Government, and which direction to find success in AP U.S. History. 

One thing  have noticed is that social media has evolved into something that is actually more intrusive than reflective.  Maybe intrusive isn’t the right word….or maybe it is and I’m not as negative as it might sound.  Ok, it is negative but not negative like a Joe Pesci “Goodfellas” beat down.  I started this blog and Twitter as reflection and collaboration.  Twitter the same.  It’s amazing how quickly everything becomes an avalanche of “hear me” and “use me”.  This group and that group, everyone has a theory or software or apps or sites, and it easily becomes all-encompassing.  Therefore, the filter is going up on new educational ideas around technology.  I’m not closing anything, but the toolbox has turned into a garage full of ideas and I’m coming to the point where I’m buying more tools without a clear idea how they will be useful.  Time to calm down, reassess, relax, and plan. 

And if you happen to be on Twitter, I’m at @ukiahcoachbrown.  Yes, I’m active.  No, I’m not all about education, and what I talk about in terms of education is a lot like this blog.  That means sarcasm and the real world.  My main hashtag hangout is #sschat, a dedicated Social Science feed where us History geeks figure out ways to manipulate little children to get them to do what we want in our quest to conquer the planet.  It’s very alive and if you are a Social Studies tweeter, you should follow.  Otherwise, I talk a lot of things that are away from the ears of my students and make smart ass retweets of things that interest me.  If you don’t like the San Francisco Giants, you shouldn’t follow me.  If you think that it’s inappropriate to wish that Matt Latos ends up in a cell with Suge Knight, don’t follow me.  In fact, if you are a Dodger fan you should follow that elevator to the cellar of the National League West, dig a hole, and lie in it until Sarah Palin becomes President. 

That works.  

The Confessions of an AP Comparative Government Reader. Part 2.

Let me make two things perfectly clear about the AP test reading.  First, they want high school students to succeed.  That much is very obvious.  Two, they want the course to be rigorous.  That is also very obvious.  How well that is balanced is the subject of my post today, and it could be the post that doesn’t allow me back to grade.  But it needs to be discussed because, and I mentioned this on Twitter a few times, there is a serious disconnect between high school and the college teachers that create the test.

The reading opened my eyes to how the process of creating an Advanced Placement test works, and prevailing attitude among many readers was that high school teachers have little say about it.  On the day that the test creators fielded questions, the lone high school teacher made a couple of supporting comments, but the bulk of the commentary was from a group of college professors.  Before and after this session, much of the attitude revolved around “oh, it’s the usual ‘for show’ thing that really won’t change anything”.  That’s unfortunate because if half of the best students are failing nearly every subject in the Advanced Placement curriculum, is that a sign of rigor or is it a sign of unreasonable expectations?  This year the Microeconomics AP had a Free Response Question that over half the students received a zero on; that’s no points.  Sorry to burst the ego of college professors, but that’s not a student problem, that’s a test problem. 

AP Comparative Government is supposed to represent an Introductory Course in Comparative Politics at a four-year institution.  Fair enough.  But here are the inconsistencies I found with that statement:

-First of all, the test creators remarked that they take tests themselves and they seemed to find it amusing that even they struggled on some parts of the exam.  If the test is designed for a first-year undergrad to take, yet a PhD professor struggles with any part of it, isn’t that a problem? 

-While it would be nice that all the kids find interest in subject that they are taking, the test creators seem to assume that we are dealing with individuals that are passionate about, in this case, Comparative Politics.  It seemed taken for granted that we are talking about high school students here, and not people that plan to achieve overall mastery in these subjects.  And the College Board sends a contradictory message about that.  Students are supposed to have equal access to Advanced Placement classes, regardless of status within the institution.  That was preached during a meeting I went to.  However the subject matter is assuming that student is going to master Calculus, or Biology, or U.S. History.  And I’m not talking about the best students, I’m talking about those that just want to pass.

-I brought up that the overall rubric needed to be created at the inception of the question.  A rough idea of the rubric is created when the question is created, but much of the details are hammered out at the AP Reading.  I have a major problem with this.  When you create a question for any major exam, you need to have a very specific idea what you are trying to get the student to understand.  If you don’t, you leave it up to others to figure out your interpretation of concept.  For instance, my question was regarding economic globalization; a very broad concept.  But the minutia of the details in the answer were more left to the interpretation of the leadership over a year onward from the development of the question.  Who knows what the intent of the question creator was because it wasn’t terribly explicit.  In the end, I felt like students that understood the concept were not given the points simply because they used a wrong word.  Sure, the student understood the concept, but they used bad (not necessarily wrong) verbage.

And from the meetings I attended, this problem is not going away any time soon.  In fact, it looks to be getting worse.  Apparently colleges are questioning the rigor of Advanced Placement courses in award college credit.  It’s a completely asinine thesis that reeks of academic elitism.  But to remain in business, the College Board seems to be leaning well towards producing tests that are increasingly more challenging, which is defeating the real purpose of the tests. I love the idea and the premise of Advanced Placement, but it has some problems.

However, I do believe that the vast majority want to see students succeed.  My “leaders” really wanted to collaborate on questions and answers while having a genuine smile when good answers passed under their pencils.  It’s this attitude that needs to permeate AP’s.  Let’s push without discouraging achievement.