Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Two hours is too long

It was STAR testing block today and I had to come up with a two hour, five minute engaging exercise that was going to keep Seniors that were already resentful before they walked into the classroom, interested and educated.  How did I do it?  Variety and intelligence.

-Students enter and I explain the schedule.  I crack a couple of jokes and make the mood light, then I explain that students are allowed to eat in class this period.  Students relax a bit.

-I talk about a Freakonomics podcast about the poor savings rate by Americans.  We talk about the cost of emergencies, the necessity of cash on hand, and making sure to pay yourself every month.

-We watch the daily news and I answer questions.

-Our current lesson is about Business Organizations and we discuss the statistic that 85% of restaurants fail in the first two years.  Students write down attributes to successful restaurants.  Students then discuss their favorite restaurants and why they work. 

-We watch a quick video about Next Restaurant in Chicago.  What seems to work and how much might one be willing to pay?   

-Then we read the BusinessWeek Magazine article about Next and analyze the business model.  How will the model work with consumers and the owners?  Will the business model work?

-Give the students a break.  By this time an hour has passed and if we are truly modeling college, a super long class will have either breaks or we get out early.  I give them seven minutes to use the restroom, go to the vending machines, or just lounge outside in the sunshine.  The only thing I ask is that they don’t disturb the other classrooms at all.  I’ve never had a problem and they always return on time.  One hour left.

-We briefly touched on Business Organizations last week (Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Corporations, Franchises, Cooperatives).  I hand out an Econ Edlink situational regarding perspective clients wanting to start a sweets business and wanting organizational advice. 

-Students get into groups of 3-4 and write a recommendation for each of the four clients including justification. 

-We come back together as a group and analyze the answers.  We do a little compare and contrast and debate. 

-We then begin about 20 minutes of notes on the advantages and disadvantages of certain business organizations, starting with sole proprietorships. 

-We get to around the disadvantages of sole proprietorships when the bell rings and off they go.

It was perfectly manageable but not really the perfect conditions for learning to occur.  Then again, those idiotic tests that force the block scheduling  aren’t really for learning either.   

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mamacita speaks….

She’s on my blog roll and she’s a bad ass.

Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School


Rule #1. Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teenager uses the phrase “it’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule #1.

Rule #2. The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain that it’s not fair. (See Rule No. 1)

Rule #3. Sorry, you won’t make $50,000 a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a chauffeur, either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label.

Rule #4. If you think your teacher is tough, wait ’til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he is not going ask you how feel about it.

Rule #5. Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain all weekend.

Rule #6. It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of “It’s my life,” and “You’re not the boss of me,” and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it’s on your dime. Don’t whine about it or you’ll sound like a baby boomer.

Rule #7. Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation try delousing the closet in your bedroom.

Rule #8. Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Nor even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on.

Rule #9. Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or as polite as Jennifer Aniston.

Rule #10. Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.

Rule #11. Enjoy this while you can. Sure, parents are a pain, school’s a bother, and life is depressing. Something or someone is always annoying you. But someday you’ll realize how wonderful it was to be kid. Maybe you should start now.

Rule #12. If your generation behaves itself better than your parents’ generation, maybe the example will inspire the next generation to behave itself altogether.

You’re welcome.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Best end message ever!

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The title of the graphic is incorrect.  It’s pretty much something that happens every year to all teachers, not just those that are in their first year.  However I can say that my slopes would be a tad different.  My energy is strong until about early October when all the beginning year distractions come about.  Then the irritation and disillusionment set in, although my valley is significantly less steep.  Basketball helps because the dedication and work ethic of the players helps alleviate the problems of the holidays.   Students missing weeks on end for holiday vacations are out of my control, but players successfully mixing athletics and academics make-up for the feelings of frustration.  The end of February is my hardest time.  By then basketball has worn me out, Seniors realize that they will have to work their final semester in high school, and AP U.S. History starts to become a series of cram sessions.  Spring Break can’t come quick enough.  Post Spring Break breaks forth rejuvenation and major anticipation for next year.  I’ve already started planning ideas for next year and part of me is actually looking forward to August. 

Cool Cat Teacher (blog roll) has a fantastic message to all teachers as we roll out of testing and towards the end of the year.  It’s a simple pep talk, but one that is vitally important as some of us become victims of our marathon runs.  While many things in her post are poignant (“Teachers are on the front lines of a war against the decivilization of society”), the most important message I can see is to be yourself.  In dealing with Seniors it is often easy to become very detached from the students because they have one foot out the door already.  Don’t play that game and keep being you.  While others have cashed it in, finish the year strong and maintain that consistent passion for the profession.  Hold kids accountable and make sure that those that are about to head out into the real world are adequate prepared to the best of your ability, even if it means saying “no”.   

Pointless tests and fantastic reviews

It was a positive/negative week for Ukiah High School and my kids. 

First of all, it was STAR testing week.  Due to a variety of reasons that I won’t get into, we probably won’t pass.  Ok, I will get into one.  Attendance sucked this week.  Kids reactions to the test sucked this week.  In fact, the whole week was best represented by a single phrase that I saw on many of my underclassmen student’s Facebook pages.

What is the fucking point of this test?

From a kid’s point of view it’s a very good question.  It has no impact on the kid’s near or long term future and offers no real insight into the student’s learning.  What it does do is create a school culture that people hate.  Administrators become stressed on test implementation.  Teachers get hopeful, and then defeated when they realize that they have no control over a student that doesn’t care about the test.  Students become empowered when they realize that everyone is panicking over a few hours that mean nothing to the students progress.  And everyone becomes a used-car salesmen. Everything from money to Giants tickets to hollow threats of exile are used as incentives to students that don’t fill out the magic bubbles with focus.  It’s not teaching, it’s an embarrassment. 

However I don’t have to do much interaction with test-takers because I used the testing time to prepare students for Advanced Placement tests.  Well, those that wanted to show up anyway.  I offered my Senior Comparative Government students review sessions during AP testing and over the three days and six hours of testing, nobody came in and nobody bothered to accept my offer to Skype a review.  On Thursday I had a 120 minute class review and 16 students showed up.  It was a fantastic review session that addressed many issues while keeping students engaged, focused, and inquisitive.  Not only did we review information, but students were thinking and asking questions at a higher level of learning.  THAT is what teaching is really about.  The two hour session finished quick, or so it seemed.  The only negative of the review session was that there are 32 students taking the test.  That means that half never showed up. 

I had another good review this past Saturday.  The two hour session was focused on early AP U.S. History, something we went over during the first two months of school.  Out of 25 students taking the test, ten showed up.  Again the learning was great, but my concern over the passage of the AP tests continues.  That’s the way it will be for another few weeks.

Either way, the best of times and worst of times, this attendance issue must be addressed.  It’s killing funding, morale, and for students it’s going to impact their future.  Some of my students will not graduate because of attendance.  Others may get a double-take from their college or risk losing college scholarships. Worst off is that the future of the school is going to decided not by the bright and willing learners that deserve success, but by the lazy dregs that care nothing about an eight hour test named STAR.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Qualified…….dammit…

Every year the State of California produces a list of schools that seem to be having trouble paying their bills.  Every year that list grows.  This year, like last year, Ukiah is on the list.  The primary list is called Negative Certification, meaning the school district will not be able to meet it’s financial obligations this year.  Locally, Cloverdale and Cotati-Rohnert Park fit into this column.  The second list is called Qualified Certification, meaning the school district may not be able to meet it’s financial obligations within the next two years out.  Local school districts include Geyserville, West Sonoma Union High School, Kelseyville, Round Valley, and Ukiah.   Officially, if you can’t pay your bills then the State comes in, takes over your district, and tosses anything and everything around like a hurricane while accomplishing absolutely nothing (see Oakland and Vallejo).  In all, over 10% of California schools sit somewhere on these two lists, and that ten percent teaches 30% of California’s students.

What are the apparent problems and how can we fix it?  Well, let’s do a little revenue and spending look at Ukiah, and maybe we can see some trends or solutions!

Spending Problem:  Become more efficient and cut waste.

-One good thing that the state clamp down has down is make schools take a serious look at cutting down waste.  Paper is the number one waste product in our school and we have eliminated paper attendance, have copier limits, and have pretty much banned student printing in computer labs.  We’ve also gone way down on assigning worksheets, using materials, and have energy conservation measures.  Has it worked?  Well, copy costs are by far the most expensive item, and while cutting back on energy makes sense, begging for paper, pencils, markers, and other items seems a little idiotic.  Throw in that our computers and many textbooks are over a decade old, and diminishing marginal utility starts to take a serious toll on effectiveness.

Revenue Problem:  Cuts and deferments in state money.

-The state continues to make cuts in K-12 education, even when they say they don’t.  During most years, some kind of cut comes straight to the monies that are supposed to be delegated to Education; a reminder that all parties must feel the pain of budget sacrifice.  However, K-12 education constantly has cuts because of reductions on categorical funding and overall payment deferments.  While general education monies “stay the same”, funding for transportation or for school lunches or for Special Education, or for any number of programs we are required to provide get slashed.  This means that the “uncut” basic funding ends up going to all these categorical holes.  That is of course, if the money gets to us on time.  Every year in recent memory has the state deferring money until the next fiscal year, creating not only fiscal tensions, but also real budgetary deficits.  Budgets still have to be met and districts begin borrowing money from financial institutions to do simple things like meet payroll.  Then that money must be paid back, with interest, causing more financial headaches. 

Spending Problem:  Special Education.

-I don’t think the general public has a clue about how expensive Special Education is.  Federal and State mandates for the care of students with special needs is a massive encroachment on the general funds of a district, and that’s not even including the man hours dealing with discipline and Individualized Education Plans.  Like most programs that deal with people with special needs, public schools are underfunded to meet the needs of the students as it is.  The problem is that schools continue to be liable regardless, and teachers can even lose their jobs over simple alterations to student instruction.  Simply put, the school can’t cut Special Education because it is the one program that parents will file a lawsuit towards its non-implementation. 

Revenue Problem:  Attendance.

-Hundreds of thousands of dollars could be made by simply getting kids to show up to school more.  The problem?  It isn’t happening.  Attendance is sliding more and more as the years go by and the message that parents are sending is that they don’t really care.  There are more excused absences than ever; from simple sign-offs on “sick days” to vacations in Hawaii to shopping for Prom Dresses.  It all adds up in the grand scheme, although the message that the district sends towards attendance is almost non-existent.  The high school seemed to have terrible attendance this week.  Why was that important?  STAR testing. 

Spending Problem:  Athletics.

You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve been told that budgetary problems could be solved by simply cutting athletics.  This suggestion reeks of ignorance and is usually made by either a half-stoned art teacher that insists that there is no creativity in sports, or some tight-ass liberal elitist that is still pissed off at the football player that gave him a wedgy in seventh grade.  Athletics are some of the most cost-effective programs in existence and the entire set of programs at Ukiah currently cost less than the wages and benefits of one full time teacher.  It’s kind of like idiot Congressmen cutting a fraction percentage program that actually works instead of addressing the multi-trillion dollar problem.

Revenue Problem:  Creativity.

There is a question about the school district becoming creative in finding ways to obtain revenue.  I’ve heard talk of the corporate route; allowing more branding around the school as a method to driving up revenue.  Grants and foundations exist with money except that they often come with strings attached that either interfere with student achievement or that actually increase costs in the long term.  President Obama’s “Race to the Top” would be a good example of that.  Parcel taxes are all the rage in Northern California theses days.  However many studies show they only work in affluent areas and increasing taxes during tough Economic times is always hard.  What’s left?  Well, I’ve heard a couple of things that I’m not positive is for public consumption.  They are creative and bold, but talk is cheap.  Unless it’s not.

All of these things add up to very bad things on the horizon if the State of California does not get its house in order.  Bankruptcy is a word used often in district meetings and state receivership now looms like the Bell City Council over the whole situation.  Can you believe that when the state takes  over the school, they actually force you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars extra for the use of state “advisors”?  Very cost effective. 

And like the rest of this situation, very scary. 

Because I got high

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It’s April 20th.  You know…4/20, which is or used to be code for getting high.  Where did the code come from?  Most people out of puberty believe that it is simply an urban myth that caught hold, although a group from San Rafael High School in Marin County stated they they made the term back in the 1970’s when they skipped school to smoke out.  The importance of the date has fluctuated in and out of the trendiness of high school, and this year was a down year.  Only two references, light giggles, and a pronouncement that April 20th was not the only day to smoke pot was heard in my classroom. 

I will fully admit that I’ve started to change my stance on marijuana legalization, mainly because it’s basically already legal here.  I used to be totally against legalization until the crime element started to destroy the forests and create four times the normal level of crime in Ukiah.  You can’t hike in the hills any more because you just might run into a Mexican with an AK-47 or a Bulgarian with nail gun.  However I don’t really see legalization solving a whole lot because  it would have to be nation-wide and the whole taxation situation is totally overblown.  Seriously.  It’s supposed to be illegal now and people still grow it and no taxes are collected.  All of the sudden you demand taxes from growing weed and people will be willing to pay? 

My main concern is the problems with youth in the community, and many youth have a serious problem.  Like alcoholism, weed has become a huge part of student lives.  It’s engrained in the culture and accepted as normality, except that many students can’t handle the normality of a marijuana laced life.  While many argue the similarities between booze and blunts and fail to see a problem, I see a problem with youth constantly using booze and blunts.  Worse, the town sees nothing wrong with it.  The population is so enamored with legalizing marijuana that it totally ignores those that let it run their life.  It’s depressing and pathetic.

But it’s also Ukiah.  This is far from a “just say no” town and dealing with growing families, drug dogs, and card carrying medicinal user students is the norm.  It does a lot for restaurants, hardware stores, and hydroponic shops.  It does nothing positive for anything else in the community.  Salon.com has a nice article about some of the issues surrounding Ukiah and the drug culture.  We live in a beautiful area.  Too bad many are too high to notice. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Code

Wanna know something else that is cool about teaching Seniors?  I can actually stop when a kid has a question that is somewhat unrelated to the subject matter.  Since Seniors don’t take standardized tests (except my AP Comp Gov Seniors), when a student has a question about something in my Economics class, we can actually stop and take time to investigate questions.

While we were discussing the history of Microsoft and looking at whether it could or could not be called a monopoly, I mentioned Firefox and the term “code”, as in the language used to create software and programs to run on a computer.  A vast majority of students, we are talking college prep students here, had no clue what code was.  We stopped and I brought up my homemade website and showed them what the site looked like in HTML.  Many of them were stunned.  They had no idea that a web browser simply translated HTML into a workable document.  It was a short five minute lesson on how software (and when I mentioned games it was like I had explained the universe to them) was created and functioned.  I learned Basic in 1986 in 6th grade because my mother worked for Advanced Micro Devices and one day told me that computers would be a whole lot more important in the future.  These students were the Internet Generation and no clue what made programs tick.

Earlier this week while watching the news, Chernobyl kept coming up as being connected to a similar event that is currently occurring at the Fukashima Plant in Japan.  The next day we spent the first ten minutes of class going over a Newshour video about current and past Chernobyl, and then we looked at a University of California-Berkeley study on Fukashima radiation on California vegetables.  It alleviated some fears for kids to know that the levels were so minute that their cell phone was probably doing damage. 

Yep, thanks to a lack of major testing, real stuff can be taught to students that are thirsting for knowledge.  I’m not saying that accountability isn’t good, but this is something to think about when you  have students take the umpteenth test.     

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Testing and rebuff

Teaching Seniors does have its benefits. 

My students don’t take the STAR test, and that means schedules for them are all backed up and I become a rover for teachers that need a break in my building.  It’s a great chance for me to catch up on grading and prep for the end run towards the Advanced Placement tests. 

Thanks to the fantastic #sschat hashtag, I decided to offer up Skype sessions for Seniors that wanted to review for the test.  I would be at school, pausing to help out testing teachers, and be right back at the review in no time.  I put it up on Edmodo and Facebook, and the response was not what I had hoped.  It was a combination of “that’s kind of weird” and “it’s my time, I’ll do what I want”.  I don’t think it’s an issue of technology, I think it’s the use being unfamiliar to what students are used to.  It’s like Facebook used to be.  But unfortunately I think the primary reason is more of the culture of the class.  32 out of 36 students are signed up to take the test.  The class average is well down from past years and nobody is coming in asking for help.  The most known information is vocabulary and bolded information in the textbook, basically the telltale signs of lazy reading.  With most of these students already accepted into college, many feet are already out the door and focus is insanely low.  We’ll see.  I’m hoping people start taking advantage of the time because I don’t plan on stressing on these tests more than the students.  I’ve placed dozens of water barrels around them.  They’re going to have to take the sips.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hey all Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender people……shut the hell up!

Oh, wait a minute.  I don’t really have to say that because today is the Day of Silence!  That’s right ladies and gentlemen.  On a day when students are trying to bring awareness to other students of the harassment of the LGBT community, kids will be saying….nothing. 

I have a strong dislike of the Day of Silence, but not because of the reason you might think.  I’m about as strong of a supporter of gay rights as you’ll find.  I detest the despicable principles of harassment, and I’m proud that one of the few opinions I give in class is that I support all people in the United States being protected by the United States Constitution.  When students ask me if I support gay marriage, I simply answer “I support the Constitution of the United States and the ideal that all Americans are guaranteed those rights.  And I mean all Americans.”  What I don’t like about the Day of Silence is what it does.  Students and teachers will walk around campus refusing to engage in conversation, acknowledging you with a nod and writing notes stating that they can’t talk because they are supporting equal treatment for the LGBT community.  In its essence, it is actually bringing nothing to LGBT community except the understanding that a person that is oppressed would be better seen and not heard.  And when has being completely silent ever changed anything?  Non-violent civil disobedience was never silent.  Discussion and debate are never silent.  Change doesn’t come from silence. 

So some students will ramble in to my classroom and hand me the little note which is to notify me of the Day of Silence.  I will furrow my brow and ask them, “Are you sure this is the best course of action for your cause”, and they will nod.  By the end of the day absolutely nothing will be accomplished towards bringing awareness to the plight of the LGBT community because they will have stifled their own voices.

I will do what I have always done on April 15th, and that is to tell a story.  Only today I think I’ll add another to the mix.  My first story will be the annual tribute to Jackie Robinson.  Every year on April 15, I explain a little Civil Rights and baseball history with Branch Ricky and Jackie Robinson’s importance to American History.  Those that don’t know, April 15, 1947 was the day that baseball became integrated; the day that Robinson started for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  My second story, on this day to bring awareness to the LGBT community, will be about the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.  Almost never mentioned in history classes, the riots that came out of the police brutality in Greenwich Village, New York City became the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement, and made the country take notice of a group of people being treated like subjugated citizens.  On the Day of Silence, I’m going to do some teaching.  

Monday, April 11, 2011

Hey, no kidding

Wow, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan told Congress that about 82% of schools would be considered failing under the current terms of No Child Left Behind.  That’s very interesting.  Too bad this was basically the sentiment from teachers years ago when we were shown the famous “hockey stick” graph.  It showed that around 2007, the projected “proficiency rating” for students was going to spike at an impossible pace.  All students, 100%, would be proficient by 2014. 

I remember sitting in the meeting looking at this graphic.  I remember the murmurs from the teachers and the exclamations that such gains were going to be impossible.  We glanced at each other and tried to figure out what we were going to do by 2014 to create the impossible.  The consensus amongst most teachers; this was unachievable and would probably pass as another fad attempt by politicians.

It didn’t go away and the impacts on the school were pretty severe.  Even our department, a group that changed the foundation of their teaching practices with standards based common assessments, Professional Learning Communities, and a very collaborative atmosphere, could not reach 100% proficiency, although we did make significant gains.  In the end, NCLB might have tried to get education going in a better direction, but the plan has sacrificed much to the alter of politics; alienating nearly all parties involved in Education while not coming close to the 100% goal.  And in the end it conveniently missed the key issue of actually making Education a priority in society.  I was also a strong opponent of Race to the Top, a plan that was basically a one time payoff that would end up being an unfunded mandate.  Sure enough, some states that took the money aren’t doing much of anything and are still left with requirements that they can’t meet.  

It’s not that teachers don’t want success, but what do you think doctors would do if you made zero heart attacks the goal, or what would the police do if you made zero crime the goal?  The answer is that it wouldn’t happen.  And what’s worse, NCLB makes it all the harder to take society and our Government seriously.  

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Late penalty

So I ran across a teacher’s blog with these polling questions.  They were about teacher late work policies, and ran something like this:

What are your homework late policies like?

A:  Late work takes a 50% penalty

B:  Late work takes a 25% penalty

C:  I don’t accept late work

D:  I give my students a grace period, like the real world, because the work matters in reality. 

Oh please.  One guess which answer was supposed to be the correct one.  Oh yeah, that answer wasn’t mine.  I don’t accept late work, period.  I tried the “50% due the next day” thing and all it did was create a lot more work for me to keep track off, and an out for students that weren’t very focused.  I ended it when I had a long conversation with a former vice-principal on a van-ride home from a basketball game.  His two recommendations where to give students a lot of autonomy in allowing them to direct their own learn, and then hold them accountable for meeting the goals and deadlines required by the course.  He was right on both accounts.

I also ran into this post by Tom Schimmer that goes through why late policies are bad for the classroom.  His thesis?

Here is my position: Students should be graded on the quality of their work (their ability to meet the desired learning targets) rather than how punctual the assignment is.      Here’s why:

Some students predictably struggle with deadlines. Once a due date has been given, most teachers can predict which students will be on-time and which students will be late. We know that most students will meet the deadlines.  If most don’t, then there is likely a flaw in the assignment.  The few that struggle with deadlines need support, not penalties.  The other aspect is that we already know (to a certain degree) who is going to be late.  Think about that…we can predict they’ll be late, but do we act to ensure the learning and/or assignment is on track?  Most students like deadlines and the organization and pacing they provide.

This is a fantastic way to not prepare students for the realities of the real world.  I’m going to disagree with Mr. Schimmer and say that most students that don’t hand in work on time don’t do so because they need support, because most teachers offer that support.  Instead, most students don’t hand in work because they chose to do something else.  A student that struggles with deadlines needs to learn that they are necessary.  Just try asking the credit card companies for support.

Quality work should trump timeliness. Would you rather a student hand-in high quality work late or poor quality work on-time? Now I know that in an ideal world every student would complete all assignments correctly and hand them in on time, but I choose quality and I think you would too.  We have spent far too much time in education focusing on the things that sit on the periphery of learning.  Meeting a deadline is a good thing – even a great thing – but it doesn’t have anything to do with how much Math or Social Studies you understand!

I think you can work with students that need extra time.  However veteran teachers should have assignment timing down after a few years and again, quality and timing need to be given equal measure.  A boss is not going to give forever to complete a goal for the company, no matter how good of an employee he/she is.  We have deadlines for testing for God’s sake!  When you take away the deadline, you allow for the pressure of scarcity to be relived in this environment while incorrectly preparing the student about the pressures of “out there”.  Not wise.

The flood is a myth! No, not that flood.  The flood of assignments at the end of the year that you think you are going to get; it won’t happen, at least that wasn’t my experience.  In fact, in every school I’ve worked in where teachers eliminated their late penalties they did not experience the flood. As I said above, most students like deadlines and not having a late penalty doesn’t mean you don’t set deadlines and act when they are not met; just don’t distort their grade by artificially lowering it.

I think Schimmer is right about the flood being a myth.  I’ve found that it is more like a mass of river tributaries that takes valuable time and energy addressing while you could be doing something more productive.  Late penalties are not penalties as much as they are opportunities that were missed because of bad decision making.

We don’t ‘add’ for early. When I’ve asked teachers who have late penalties why they don’t add 10% per day for early assignments they usually say something like, “I couldn’t do that.  That would inflate their grade and wouldn’t be accurate.” I think they’ve just answered their own question.  The exact same logic as to why adding-for-early is not appropriate applies to late penalties; the logic of inaccuracy.

I don’t really see the point in this argument.  The reward for getting done earlier is the benefit of using your human capital to do something else.  “If I get the assignment done, I can hang out with friends”. 

Behavior & Learning must be kept separate. Inaccuracy comes when we start to include student attributes into reporting.  Not handing in work on time has nothing to do with what they know; it reflects what they haven’t done.

And THAT’S THE PROBLEM IN A NUTSHELL!  Are we arrogant or naïve enough to believe that school is primarily about subject matter?  Do you really think that the main thing my Seniors will learn is the value of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890?  No.  It is the value of hard work and the ability to successfully follow instructions that result in a beneficial outcome.  The assignment goes beyond simple “what do you know about x” and becomes a lesson in decision making, bringing questions to the teacher, and being responsible enough to finish a set goal.  Being late with assignments have consequences, just like being late with payments or for your job interview or for a date with the woman that may be the love of your life.  

Scramble!

Earlier this week my wife came down with a low grade fever.  We figured that it would be like most little flu bugs and be gone fairly quickly.  Well on Wednesday morning the fever went to 102 and lots of signs pointed to a doctor visit………at 8:30 in the morning.  My wife was in little condition to drive, or do much else, and it required me to miss school. 

Contrary to what you might believe, I hate missing school.  It’s a whole lot of work prepping for a substitute that is totally unfamiliar with how my classroom functions.  And I refuse to be one of those teachers that leaves nothing, or simply says “Plug in the Lion King” for all my classes.  I was a sub for a year and believe me, the experience is very rough. 

I woke up at my usual 5 a.m. time to find my wife really not doing well.  I didn’t bother to shower and hopped in the car with shorts and hoodie, and head to school.  A benefit of being close to school is that one can get in and get out fairly quickly.  I arrived and told my assistant principle the situation.  Fortunately, I don’t have the reputation of missing school often, so I’m not worried about what the administration might think.  Next I left a note for the person in charge of dealing with substitutes at the school.  I hustled into the classroom and immediately signed into the district online SubFinder program.  The easy part was complete, now for the work.  This was going to be the “crash” day of Every 15 Minutes.  That meant a bizarre schedule and only thirty minute classes.  I needed to find meaningful lessons that were quick and easy to assign, but that actually had some relevance to the subject matter.  AP Comparative Government was actually easy.  The students had a review sheet due later in the week, and thirty minutes of class time to work on the sheet in their group would thrill them.  That was one.  AP U.S. History had a class set of textbooks and also would love class time to catch up on reading.  That’s two.  Economics was a different battle.  I don’t have a class set of Economics textbooks and just about every worksheet on Market Structures was either for a Junior High School kid or someone in Advanced Placement.  I struggled with finding a good lesson and then realized that I could relate something to a recent video clip we looked at about working at the Googleplex in Mountain View.  I went to Izzit.org and printed out and article from the New York Times about students making their own curriculum in high school.  The piece came with some thought provoking questions that, when complete, provided for good conversation.  I finished with writing the days agenda on the White Board and writing up the directions for the sub.  In all, it took about 50 minutes.

The lessons worked and student behavior was good.  APUSH stayed ahead, Comp Gov got the assignment complete (and did well on a quiz this week), and the Econ assignment created an excellent debrief.  The work was well worth it.  Oh, and it wasn’t like I was on vacation at home.  Ever take care of a sick spouse? 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Every 15 Minutes Controversy

First, the set up.  Here is a short explanation of the anti-drinking program "Every 15 Minutes”.

During the first day events the "Grim Reaper" calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body out of class. One student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which has been written by the "dead" student's parent(s) - explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the student will return to class as the "living dead," complete with white face make-up, a coroner's tag, and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt. From that point on "victims" will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. Simultaneously, uniformed officers will make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business.

After lunch, a simulated traffic collision will be viewable on the school grounds. Rescue workers will treat injured student participants. These students will experience first hand, the sensations of being involved in a tragic, alcohol-related and texting while driving collision. The coroner will handle fatalities on the scene, while the injured students will be extricated by the jaws-of-life manned by Fire-Fighters and Paramedics. Police Officers will investigate, arrest, and book the student "drunk driver". Student participants will continue their experience by an actual trip to the morgue, the hospital emergency room, and to the police department jail for the purpose of being booked for "drunk driving".

At the end of the day, those students who participated in the staged accident as well as those who were made-up as the "living dead" will be transported to a local hotel for an overnight student retreat. The retreat will simulate the separation from friends and family. A support staff of counselors and police officers will facilitate the retreat.
During the most powerful program of the retreat, the students will be taken through an audio - visualization of their own death. Then each student will write a letter to his or her parents starting out with . . .

"Dear Mom and Dad, every fifteen minutes someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision, and today I died. I never had the chance to tell you......."

Parents will also be asked to write similar letters to their children. These letters will be shared the following day when students and parents will be reunited at a school assembly.

Research shows that those who learn from hands-on experience retain two to four times more than those who learn from just listening, or from listening and seeing.
"Grim Reaper" and the staged crash. The assembly will be hosted by an Officer (Project Coordinator), who will guide the audience through the devastating effects of losing a loved one due to a bad choice. Speakers will include students who will read letters to their parents, police officers, and hospital personnel who shared their emotional trauma of dealing with kids killed in traffic crashes. Parents will share their personal reflections of their involvement in this program. We will also have a powerful speaker who actually lost a child to a drunk driver, or as the result of driving while under the influence or texting while driving.

The whole process can take upwards of three days.  The emotional trauma that some kids face pretty much kills most instruction for those three days.

Now, before everyone goes nuclear, I’m not saying this isn’t a valuable program.  The quote “even if we save only one life” is valid enough.  However in the era of Program Improvement and the heavy focus on testing, I think the relevant question needs to be asked about costs and benefits.  Oh, and about this time you might be accusing me of being to narrow minded about education and testing.  Go blame the rest of society.  They seem to enjoy that crap.

So I’m looking for feedback on Every 15 Minutes.  I’m looking to find teacher opinions about whether or not the “scared straight” method is truly effective with kids, and is the disruption to the entire educational process worth it? 

Friday, April 01, 2011

Stupid ass statistic of the day

Retired Teachers in California Earn More Than Working Teachers in 28 States

I always love websites that pop off statistics like they are trying to nail people to the cross for living in reality.  Doubly so when it comes to teachers and wages. 

Intercepts (an anti-union blog that is occasionally good) created this headline to draw attention to the fact that apparently lazy, retired teachers draw more money than a teacher working in Iowa.  How about this….I have another headline for you:

The Cost of Living in California is the second highest in the nation, more than 49 other states.

Or this headline….

Teachers can’t live in San Francisco because the cost of a one bedroom studio apartment would buy you a fucking mansion in Wyoming, and 48 other states.

Apparently a teacher making about 3/4 of his/her salary is too much for Intercepts, and the idea that they retire with the ability to live in California without taking a job at age 70 as a greeter at Wal-Mart after working in public education for thirty plus years seems to be abhorrent.  Fine, teachers need to contribute more to their CALSTERS retirement.  I’m pretty sure that if you polled the teachers in California, they would contribute more (kind of like the teachers in Wyoming).  But a headline like this makes teachers in California look like members of the Board of Directors at Goldman Sachs.  Let me break down a little Mendocino County knowledge for you.

-I live in a town with some of the highest gas prices in the entire country.  As much and more than downtown San Francisco. 

-The standard price for a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in Ukiah when I bought was over $400,000.

-I still have student loans.

-The most I will make in my life is about $67,000.

For those of you not in Northern California, 67 G’s is not a huge chunk of change, and I still have years of paying off student loans.  With my qualifications and work ethic, I should be able to make twice as much in the private sector.  And before you say “so why don’t you leave your job and do something else”, I’ll remind you that you want a qualified, hard working, and passionate teacher in the classroom.  It just doesn’t seem like you want to pay for it.

Looking back even farther, statistics show that wages are not coming anywhere close to rising with the standard of living here in California, and medical costs (especially for the elderly) are tearing into people’s ability to have a decent lifestyle.  Edu-reformers might want to figure out where they actually stand with teachers; do they want to pay good teachers good wages, or not.