Sunday, February 27, 2011

Attendance matters: The Basics

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As much as we would like to kid and joke about kids showing up for school, the simple fact is that being there makes a huge difference in a multitude of ways for the proper functioning of the institution.  And as much as society wants to point fingers at educators for the ills of society, much of it has to be pointed back to the parents of the students that simply don’t show up.

And this isn’t a class issue.  Much of our younger demographic that doesn’t show up does happen to be related to a certain ethnicity, though it isn’t about gangs as much as it is culture.  Trips to Mexico occur mid-year and pulverize any chance many kids have to maintain a higher standard of academia.  However as the years move on the attendance shifts to a different demographic that has to do with age.  Seniors.  The oft-named “Senioritis” is a disease that occurs during the final year of a high school career where students and parents make decisions that often damage attendance, which in turn reflects on grades.  Some of it is considered legitimate; field trips, college visitations, and “opportunities”.  Others are not; trips to the lake, not getting out of bed, family vacations.  Regardless of the reason, the teacher is caught in an interesting position when it comes to “make-up” work.

The best thing I have found with Seniors is that you provide them with as much access as possible, and then forget about why they are gone.  In my classroom there are three ways to get the work; online, on the white board, or in a binder that is kept every day.  The students have all the opportunity that stay caught up, although only the best usually do.  As mean as it sounds about “why” they are gone, it is actually the most consistent and valuable method of dealing with attendance.  Barring a serious catastrophic event, the reason for absence is pretty much irrelevant because the absence is not what damages grades as much as the organizational skills, or lack of those skills, by the student.  Most of my absences, I’d say 3/4, are what’s called “unexcused”, meaning either the Senior signs themselves out or the parent gives an excuse that is not “my kid is sick”.  The next 20% are “excused” (either parent called or a note), and only about 5% are cuts.  You might say “only 5% cut”?  No, only five percent don’t get the cut taken care of.  Parents rarely allow their precious little darlings to take the consequences of their actions, so must cuts are dealt with a swipe of Mom’s pen.  As an person in the know told me, “We have more absences now than ever within the last 15 years, and the problem is that parents are excusing them all”.     

Over the next few days I’ll be giving some perspective about attendance in a little more detail, from a teacher’s point-of-view.  I think that it is one of the most overlooked problems in education, one that teachers really can’t control and one that can devastate the budget of public schools.  I’ll address how I deal with low level learners, “gifted” students, a typical Senior, and how the hypocrisy of charter schools shows that society real wants education to be a Race to the Bottom.

Feel free to chime in.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Still love the real Selection Sunday

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While the online word discusses technology integration, Mock Congresses, video’s for APUSH, and the Wisconsin debacle, my attention is pointed towards the website for the North Coast Section.  That’s right folks, it’s Selection Sunday!

While the nationally recognized event has to do with Division 1 college basketball, the more local Northern California event has to due with the selection of basketball teams from each section of the state; the North Section (north of Sacramento and the Sacramento Valley), the Sac-Joaquin Section (Sacramento to Napa to Merced), the Central Coast Section (the Bay Area peninsula to Monterey), the San Francisco City Section (duh), the Oakland Metro Section (another duh), and the North Coast Section (East Bay north to the Oregon border).  Each section separates into six divisions based on population:

199 or below= D6, 200-419= D5, 420-899= D4, 900-1,449= D3, 1,450-1,999=D2, and 2,000 and above= D1.

Ukiah is Division 2, and I was sitting here waiting for the final bracket release for the North Coast Section, furiously hitting F5 like some Woot-off geek hoping for the next great deal.  Sure enough, the moment arrived and the mighty Wildcats will be taking a trip to face, well, the other Wildcats.  Tuesday night will be a trek to Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, about a three hour drive to the East Bay (Bay Area).  It’ll be a fun experience for the kids; heading out of town to begin the journey towards what could be a state title.  It’ll also be a long night for the coaches, and the one coach who happens to be a teacher at the school.  Bed will probably be a 1 a.m. goal, with wake-up for Wednesday school being four hours later.  Hopefully the adrenalin will wear down an hour into the bus ride back and I can put the headphones in with my White Noise app putting me into a slumber.

Play-offs are most fun for the kids, the kind of memories that they will remember for a long, long while.  Most teams will be doing something else Tuesday evening.  We’ll be hooping it up.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wisconsin is a fight against the educated.

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you had to know that someone was going to take the nuclear option to a state budget.  I was positive it wasn’t going to be California (check the legislature sometime), and the Tea Party wins in November had me looking to the upper Midwest for some sign of trouble. 
Well, it looks like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got the ball rolling.
For those out of the loop, the new Governor chose to get a bill started that increased employee contributions to certain public employee heath and benefit packages, and cut off the ability to engage in the collective bargaining process. 
I’ll throw out three things.
First, the bills focus is very selective on the jobs it attacks.  It goes after teachers, university staff, and health care workers.  Police and Fire were exempt.  I find it interesting that this national conversation on Education has now boiled down to collective bargaining and standardized test scores.  Last week Wisconsin started pushing a teacher evaluation program that was very loaded on test scores, only it had to be bargained by local units.  With collective bargaining gone, that program could be implemented without any input from someone who is not a politician.  A clear sign that this is focused on teachers is the fact that Governor Walker won’t back down at all on the bill, even though teachers have been totally willing to concede on wage reductions, increases on the health care and benefits contributions, and those items that actually impact the overall budget. 
Second is this illusion that government workers, meaning teachers, are lazy, overpaid, or both.  I won’t even get into the lame argument that the typical teacher is lazy.  I will however note the following graphic from the New York Times.
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So not only are a majority of state workers paid less than the private sector counterparts, the Governor seems to be focusing on the section of the workforce that is considered best educated.  It’s one hell of a message to send to the next generation of Wisconsin citizens.  “You too can get educated so you can get underpaid and then be called lazy because you followed the path that will be best for your success and the success of the country”.  Hmmm.
Finally, as arrogant as this sounds, Wisconsin has become a battleground for the fight against the Educated.  No, I’m not saying all those union protesters holding up Mubarak and Hitler signs are the smartest bulbs in the socket.  But this agenda, fully backed by Tea Party idiots bussed in from other states, seems to be a grasp at preventing society from accepting the statistical constant that many reactionaries are scared of.
-Educated people are more likely to be successful.
-Income inequality is widening and the educated are on the better end of  it.
Think I’m “out there”?  Listen to some of the dialogue being spouted by supporters of Scott Walker.  They push inaccuracies and lies like they are the 12th grade bully that has come to the sudden realization that education actually matters, and in a panic he is going to distract everyone in class to share the misery.  I watched a Tea Partier comment that he was for Scott Walker because he was concerned about state sovereignty, and that the federal government should not bail out any more entities.  Never mind that the interviewee was a farmer, part of an industry that is more subsidized by the U.S. Government than any other in the country.  Even Scott Walker's personal life is an example of deeming education unimportant.  Walker is a college dropout himself, someone who is much more interested in the plight of those whose industries are slowly becoming obsolete.  Why promote the next generation of industry when you can wish for the “good old days” to return.  Why stock the government with the best and brightest when all they seem to want is a fair day’s work at a fair day’s wage.
If you are still not convinced that the right to collective bargaining in education is the way to go, check out these statistics from the AP Comparative guru Ken Wedding:

Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
South Carolina - 50th
North Carolina - 49th
Georgia - 48th
Texas - 47th
Virginia – 44th
Still think I’m nuts?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Self-responsibility in Education

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I’m a Republican.  Screw those other idiots who claim to have an idea what a Republican really is, I think I know enough to figure out what political party I want to associate with.  By the way, I don’t mean the jackasses like Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann who run head-over-ass to define the party; I mean a Republican who respects fiscal responsibility but encourages social individualism.  In my mind, people that don’t agree with gay marriage aren’t Republicans, they’re pitiful reactionaries. 

Saying that, I’m big into the educational philosophy that supports students taking an active role in their own learning.  While it has become a joy to all to go after the teacher’s union (deservedly so in many cases), focus on standardized tests, and creating some semblance of “accountability”, the truth is that the main problem in education revolves around the typical American teenager really not being prepared for the working world.  Thanks to the Internet, a lack of parental support, and a society that is too busy with material wealth, kids have a falsely developed sense of self-actualization that endangers not only their own economic development, but also the nations. 

A variety of publications including the Economist and Business Week are finally picking up on the problem of youth unemployment, first discussing the issues of short term discouragement ruining a generation, then addressing the Western problem of college students not reaching educational goals in a reasonable length of time.  In the developing world the problem is that post-secondary degrees are being pumped out at an alarming rate; to the point that many of these Middle East revolutions are being started by disenfranchised college graduates.  The United States has a different problem.  The United States actually has the jobs, the financial capital, and the innovative environment to support college graduates.  But not enough students are doing well enough in college to maintain the labor need or the innovative push.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 60% of four-year college students graduate with a degree within six years.  That’s six years!  Considering that in California, only about 22% of students go straight to a four year university (and less graduate), that’s an alarming number of people ill prepared to run a country.

The answers from parents are often comical, with the idea of self-education revolving around lame online high school courses, packet work, and a focus that seems to prohibit failure because the constant safety nets won’t allow it.  Actual knowledge is unimportant, just completing the goal of getting a diploma, which is slowly becoming more and more worthless.  Since the beginning of the semester, over a half-dozen students have moved to Hybrid Independent Study, a program where a student does basically packet work for their core courses (English, Gov/Econ), but still comes to school for Electives, Clubs, and Athletics.  Parents buy into this shit because the kids complain that the “drama” prohibits their learning, even though they seem to get to school for Homecoming or many other dramatic events.  In the end, regardless of the teacher, the students self-actualization is based on a lie; that life’s choices can change because Mommy and Daddy are there to rescue them.  Some life lesson.  I lived on my own for most of my Senior year.  I remember complaining about the “useless” Senior year, and my father’s response was something around “Ok, you can always wake up with me at four in the morning, get on the milk truck, and work for twelve hours.  You’re smarter than that, but you make the call.”  Somehow, that was enough to get me to finish high school. 

By college, I already had the goal of teaching in mind and worked to finish, albeit the hard way.  This generation of kids is being told over and over again that it is ok to have no clue about what they want to do down the road.  Many are going to their first four-year college to party with friends, often friends from high school; then transferring after a year or two to a different college to “get serious”, only to find that they are unprepared for the rigors and end up back at a junior college.  The party college of choice now is UC Davis.  Most students are being admitted without difficulty, many go and continue their Ukiah party ways, and many transfer or drop back to Mendocino College.  The other popular, although much different school clique, university is UC Santa Cruz; where the perception is laid back grading, the beach, and the perfect bourgeois-bohemian lifestyle that allows one to be a social revolutionary as long as it doesn’t interrupt Starbucks.  Students then transfer out of UCSC and realize that the real world actually expects results and will tell them straight out if they aren’t getting the job done.  What a shock.

This generation is not being told the truth about self-reliance, it is living a dangerous lie that the status quo will eventually result in success.  The problem is that everything is pointing to the contrary.  The status quo has the Boomerang Children (college grads living at home, dysfunctional accountability standards, and a youth unemployment rate that risks devastating an entire generation of Americans.  If we don’t start practicing the true lesson of self-education, including the consequences of one’s actions and inactions, all the “reform” in the world will not matter.        

Monday, February 14, 2011

Do they really think that?

Natalie Munroe made a wee bit of a mistake when she blogged about her experience as a teacher.  She lit up the universe.  Not only did she try and reflect on her experience as an educator, she openly went after students, admin, teachers, the Easter Bunny; everybody with a pulse was fair game in the world of Ms. Munroe.  Eventually the attacks caught up with her and now Ms. Munroe is on leave until, well, whenever. 
Did Natalie go overboard with her comments?  Yes and no.  You simply can’t go after certain kids for liability issues and calling out your boss is a great way of finding the back end of the unemployment line.  However Ms. Munroe did make some interesting points about the overall tone of students today.  Yes, students are much more enabled than in the past.  And yes, students are coming into schools with less and less manners, respect, or self-control.  I listened two weeks ago to a group of kindergarten teachers expressing major concern that eventually it will be all babysitting because the simple act of respect for authority doesn’t exist in most kids anymore.  Parents won’t teach it. 
Natalie’s postings included “alternative comments” for report cards.  Usually report card comments are vague and generalized.  Hers weren’t. 

  • Concerned your kid is automaton, as she just sits there emotionless for an entire 90 minutes, staring into the abyss, never volunteering to speak or do anything.




  •  



  • Seems smarter than she actually is.




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  • Has a massive chip on her shoulder.



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  • Too smart for her own good and refuses to play the school 'game' such that she'll never live up to her true potential here.



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  • Has no business being in Honors.



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  • A complete and utter jerk in all ways. Although academically ok, your child has no other redeeming qualities.



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  • Lazy.



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  • Shy isn't cute in 11th grade; it's annoying. Must learn to advocate for himself instead of having Mommy do it.



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  • One of the few students I can abide this semester!



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  • Two words come to mind: brown AND nose.



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  • Dunderhead.



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  • Complainer.



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  • Gimme an A. I. R. H. E. A. D. What's that spell? Your kid!



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  • There is such a thing as too loud in oral presentations. We shouldn't need earplugs.



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  • Att-i-tude!



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  • Nowhere near as good as her sibling. Are you sure they're related?



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  • I won't even remember her name next semester if I see her in the hall.



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  • Asked too many questions and took too long to ask them. The bell means it's time to leave!



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  • Has no business being in Academic.



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  • Rat-like.



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  • Lazy asshole.



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  • Just as bad as his sibling. Don't you know how to raise kids?



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  • Sneaky, complaining, jerkoff.



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  • Frightfully dim.



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  • Dresses like a street walker.



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  • Whiny, simpering grade-grubber with an unrealistically high perception of own ability level.



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  • One of the most annoying students I've had the displeasure of being locked in a room with for an extended time.



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  • Rude, beligerent, argumentative fuck.



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  • Tactless.



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  • Weirdest kid I've ever met.



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  • Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)



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  • I didn't realize one person could have this many problems.



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  • Your daughter is royalty. (The Queen of Drama)



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  • Liar and cheater.



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  • Unable to think for himself.



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  • I hear the trash company is hiring...



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  • Utterly loathsome in all imaginable ways.



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  • I called out sick a couple of days just to avoid your son.



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  • There's no other way to say this: I hate your kid.


  • Ouch. 
    Now, the question comes up, “Do teachers actually feel this way about students”?  For 95% of students, no.  Part of the problem that Natalie Munroe suffers from failing to remember that at one time, she was also a teenager.  And while that doesn’t excuse mean spirited antics, it does raise the curtain on certain behaviors from students.  After remembering that these kids are teenagers, teachers then need to remember not to take things personally.  They are kids after all.  The other 5% needs to be treated consistently, and if they manage to really distract the other 95%, removed from class fairly quick.  Blasting teenage behavior online isn’t going to get it done.
    Let’s also remember this, kids can be little shits.  Yes, yours too.  Usually, the worst little shits are those whose parents pretty much let them get away with it.  And while it’s now politically correct to act like you care about Education, parents don’t necessarily follow the ides of political correctness.  They often want their kids to be “educated” following the parameters dictated by ski week, Senioritis, mission trips to Mexico, or any number of excuses that trip up our ability to meet the demands of politicos.  And while people might hate the message set about by Natalie Munroe, they might do well to read between the lines and realize that many will admit that if allowed, they will try and get away with quite a lot. 
    By the way, you know why I don’t mind most of this behavior?  Simple.  I was a little shit in high school.   

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Thanks for ruining my AP flow, Egypt.

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    Yep, there’s another thing to blame on former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  Interruption of my Advanced Placement schedule.  Thanks to his lousy ability to simply run over the opposition, my classes have been riveted to the historical populist revolt that ended Mubarak’s autocratic regime…right during the Populist Movement of the late 1800’s in AP U.S. History.  Come on Hosni, let’s get some timing here.  Not only was my flow in APUSH and AP Comp Gov interrupted, two weeks ago was Exit Exams for the sophomores.  I don’t know about other Social Science classes, but my World History class would have probably stopped a second to examine this wee bit of new, important history. But just a couple of seconds.     

    If there was one group that was hoping for a Tiananmen style massacre in Tahrir Square, it was the education “reformers” that love basing everything on Standardized Testing.  That way we could turn off the live feed of Al Jazeera and focus on those things that are really important, like the impact of QUANGO’s on the current austerity measures in the United Kingdom.  God forbid that real teaching take place.  I had an image of a Student’s First nut sitting there staring at the television screaming “What the hell!?  Doesn’t he realize that he’s a DICTATOR?!  And why are those students protesting anyway?  Shouldn’t they be studying for the EEE’s (Egyptian Exit Exams)?”

    So we made, ok I made, a sacrifice of testing content for the sake of real historical importance.  College-prep Economics doesn’t have a standardized test, so that wasn’t a big deal.  But APUSH and AP Comp Gov have some serious time crunch issues.  The time we took to discuss Egypt’s revolution made it more difficult for me to get through time.  Do I regret it?  Absolutely not.  Let’s remember that the best students in Advanced Placement classes are those that do most of the studying on their own, making the teacher a greater support source for clarifying and focusing information.  For Comparative Government, Egypt becomes a relevant exercise in legitimacy, and the construction of government.  For APUSH…..well, it’s history.  The kids were riveted to Al Jazeera’s live feed as Mubarak announced that he wasn’t really going to resign, and the side-by-side picture of hundreds-of-thousands of people slowly rising in anger.  The thirty minutes of picture, reaction, and discussion were well worth the demand that the kids were going to have to know about William Jennings Bryant by using the textbook. 

    When you throw in this next week off for a “ski week”, the rush to push knowledge into the heads of the Juniors and Seniors will be substantial.  So they might have to study a little more on their own to make up for the Egypt knowledge.  In my mind, real learning was happening, and they got to study real history in the making. 

    And it isn’t over….

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011

    Perception

    “Mr. Brown, we’re thinking that we can listen to some Christian Rap on the way down to the game today”.

    “No”.

    “Why not”?

    “Because we’re going to listen to music that talks about partying, doing drugs, and acting inappropriately with women instead”.

    “What are we listening to”?

    “The Rolling Stones and The Beatles”.

    Tuesday, February 08, 2011

    The Advanced Placement Conundrum

    Advanced Placement has been more front and center in the news lately and it’s the perfect time to throw in my opinion about the controversies regarding the tougher courses.

    How about some background.  First of all, Advanced Placement History courses did not exist when I got to Ukiah in 2001.  AP U.S. History was first to bat a few years after my arrival, then AP European History for sophomores and AP Comparative Government for Seniors arrived a couple of years after that.  I created the Comp Gov class in an attempt to broaden the horizons of higher end students who might get bored with standard U.S. Government.  I took on AP U.S. History two years ago and now teach both APUSH and AP Comp Gov.  It’s hard as hell, but I love doing it.

    A couple things to note about AP classes.  First, the College Board recommends no restrictions to entrance into the classes.  This creates interesting decisions that schools need to make about who is actually up to taking an AP class.  Schools get benefits in scores when more students take, and hopefully pass, AP tests.  There is really no disincentive to tell students no.  In the extreme cases you get the Carver High School mess in New Orleans, where a third of the student body took AP tests and nobody passed.  However studies show that students that take and fail AP tests actually do much better in college than students that take no Advanced Placement courses.  Simply taking the rigorous work helps prepare students for a college level class. 

    In terms of APUSH and AP Comp Gov, I have an odd problem.  On one hand I have to filter through students that might not belong in an Advanced Placement class.  Students sign up for the class with C’s and D’s in prior History and English classes.  In theory, we are not supposed to tell them “no”.  However, the other side of the coin is the demand by the District that all classes must be full.  AP Comp Gov had 45 sign-ups and I had to turn nine students away.  But it has been a struggle to fill APUSH, and I’ll by down a third of my students within a week because a significant number of students do not want to do Advanced Placement work.  So should the class be collapsed because we can only get 22 APUSH level students, or is it actually harming the school by dumbing it down?

    Believe it or not, class scheduling for next year starts in two weeks, after this idiotic “Ski Week” break that I don’t need for AP classes.  We shall see what happens.