Monday, November 25, 2013

No one really wants to admit that Ivy Leaguers don’t want to teach.

Teach for America continues to get major kudos for getting “the best and brightest” to sign up to jump into the public education arena.  At Harvard, 18% of all graduates are looking to sign up for Teach for America!  Amazing!
The only problem is that they really don’t want to teach in America.
I read Joanne Jacobs a whole lot.  It’s one of the blogs that I turn to when my blogroll has gotten to big and I need to read those good articles before I go on a slash-and-burn campaign in Feedly.  The problem with Jacobs is that she is fairly anti-public schools.  Although she doesn’t like to admit it, her KIPP book shows generalizations towards public education teachers as lazy, and ripe to put off problems on parents.  Much of her solution revolves around Teach for America, where apparently really “high end” colleges are pumping out the next generation of Jamie Escalantes* for public education consumption.  Sounds like what colleges are supposed to do, right?
Except that TFA teachers aren’t teaching.  Studies show that nearly three-quarters of TFAers are not in the classroom after the five year mark.  For those keeping track at home that is nearly a 25% increase in the lack of retention from the standard college credential programs.  Ouch.  And only 14% actually stayed at the schools that needed them the most, the one’s that TFA was supposed to create the most positive change.  Double ouch.  But wait.  What if Ivy Leaguers really don’t see education as the priority?  What if Ivy Leaguers see education as some kind of Peace Corp venture?  You know, head off to a foreign land, teach the natives about civilized American culture, and then come home to the land of milk and honey.  Nah, those kids are wayyyyy to smart for that.
“The majority (56.59%) of those in the (student) sample indicated that, when they applied to TFA, they had planned to teach for two years or less.”   
Look Daddy, I can make my soul feel pure by actually trying to teach the masses!  Or as Walter Isaacson stated recently,
As Walter Isaacson put it at this year's Washington Ideas Forum, there's a perception that "it's beneath the dignity of an Ivy League school to train teachers."
When over half your teaching candidates have no intention of staying within the profession over the course of two years, you really are not trying to create professional educators.  Isaacson is wrong about perception because it’s reality.  And why is it reality?
“Only 3.8 percent of American families make more than $200,000 per year. But at Harvard University, 45.6 percent of incoming freshman come from families making $200,000 or more. A mere 4 percent of Harvard students come from a family in the bottom quintile of US incomes, and only 17.8 percent come from the bottom three quintiles.”
I love me some profit motive.  And show me two married public school K-12 teachers that make $200,000 a year between them and I’ll show you more Ivy Leaguers entering the profession with the intent to actually stay.  That’s a Newhart dream of course and so we are left with a bunch of Ivy League students that want to maintain their standard of living a whole lot more than they want to educate America’s youth, although there are plenty of people that really want to show you that Ivy Leaguers put out better teachers. 
No, I’m not advocating throwing Alex Rodriguez money at public education.  But don’t complain about the system if you really aren’t willing to take the problem seriously.  Teach for America has some interesting ideas…..that aren’t working.  College credential programs have great ideas…..that aren’t working.  New educator mentor programs…..aren’t working (BITSA?  Seriously?)  So invest in education like you mean it and stop with some holier-than-thou Ivy League panacea.
*Jamie Escalante got his degree and credential at Cal-State Los Angeles, which to my knowledge is not Ivy League.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Sometimes there is no other way to put it.  I’m behind. 

Not a little behind.  Nope.  I’m talking over a month behind on imputing grades.  Serious behind that will now take over the vast majority of Thanksgiving Break because I’m having major problems getting my act together.  The kind of behind that could lead to major problems when grades are due a week from Tuesday. 

I could make a dozen excuses except that it pretty much is basketball and simple lack of energy when I get home.  I’m tired right now.  I’m back-in-the-credential program tired.  I’ve come to realize that ten years ago I could take on three AP classes and coach both the Frosh and JV teams, and do ok.  These last few weeks have taught me that my forty years of age come with increased patience, increased knowledge, and less energy than my former years. 

Oh well. One assignment at a time.  One assignment at a time.  One assignment at a time.

Homework, Homework, gimme a break!

The article du jour lately has been this one from Karl Greenfield were he attempts to smoke weed while doing algebra, Earth Science, and reading Angela’s Ashes.  Or maybe it’s about Karl Greenfield’s concerns about his daughters homework…..while smoking weed.  I only add in the “smoking weed” part because:

A)  It’s amusing how haphazardly Greenfield throws in the ganja references.


B)   Someone on Twitter actually said some teachers wouldn’t take the article seriously because it involved marijuana.

Grass aside the article takes on the always debated subject of homework.  Greenfield is concerned that his 13 year old daughter is doing nothing but homework and might suffer among other things, burn-out and having no real high school social life.  It’s hours and hours of homework, and Greenfield actually attempts to do a weeks worth of the stuff while trying to stay awake and maintain sanity. 

There are plenty online that debate the costs and benefits of homework; from the insistence that out-of-school time is never the schools business, to the point that some subjects will require consistent practice to be learned well (foreign language, music).  The leader of the first argument seems to be the edu-reformist Alfie Kohn, who points to the fact that there seems to be little to no connection between homework and academic performance.  There really isn’t a “pro-homework” side of the debate except for teachers that remind people that homework has been in high abundance since the 1950’s and we’ve been doing pretty ok during the last sixty years. 

I’ll share two points about homework.  First is the image that comes up when homework is assigned.

The worksheet brand of homework is pretty much universally hated by all HW haters.  I can’t say I disagree that worksheets suck.  However I differ from those people that find homework as unnecessary.  It might be unnecessary for some and required by others.  I don’t assign much homework.  But I require that students have a strong grasp of the information and I quiz constantly.  My main “homework” is often reading text and then being quizzed literally or by applying the theorem to some problem.  The result means that my grades are lower than most Social Studies teachers and parents/students will often complain that there isn’t enough work to raise grades over the course of the semester; meaning they want inflated grades.  In the end, those that do the work, ask the questions, and are involved in class do fine.  Those that often don’t focus or engage in class will not work at all out of the classroom.  Thus, grades go down.  Sometimes I get complaints about work being relevant, and that leads me to the second point about homework.

I’ll tell you what is and is not relevant.  One of the biggest laughers in education is when local school boards micromanage subject matter and homework because of relevancy issues.  That’s interesting seeing as I’m supposed to be the professional here and I’m fairly sure that I know what I want kids to get out of Social Science curriculum.  Sure, I get that we have to follow state standards along with the new (and improved) Common Core rules.  But if I think analyzing political cartoons has merit, then it has merit.  If I think  memorizing certain aspects of the Constitution is valuable, then it is valuable.  That kind of comes with the job even if teachers are kind of being told that it doesn’t.

So, Mr. Greenfield, grab the Cheetos and put down the kid’s work.  Teachers, make sure that work that you assign is necessary and proper.  And community……..start actually caring about Education.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Going back to Freshmen basketball

I was once asked if I would ever take a step back from my current position as Junior Varsity coach to coach the Frosh.  At the time I said no.  I lied.  This year it looks like I’m heading back to my old stomping grounds of 9th grade. 

Except that I only partially lied.  I’m not leaving the JV.  I’m currently doing both. 

Yes, it’s one week until try-outs for the Ukiah Wildcats and we are without a Freshmen coach.  Until one comes out of the wood work, I’m going to do the double duty of coaching both teams.  Seeing as the requirements for coaching have officially become a pain in the ass, the chances of a coach showing up ready to go this week are slim.  So I stepped up.

Well see how it works.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Studies show that reasons for teachers quitting, and reports that keep repeating it, have not changed.

In a report that could have come out 15 years ago, The Atlantic made startling, I said startling, conclusions that teacher turnover is high and the reasons are usually based around conditions within the workplace and an overall lack of respect for the profession.  I would make an insanely generalized statement about the state of Education in society but after reading this article, I’d rather look at something more inspiring. 


I’m fairly sure that she’s got the stuff for a number four starting pitcher. 

I would invite you not to take the time reading the article and instead take the time to check out the comments, many of which show that society really has no idea what goes on in schools.  And it’s not even a partial-understand kind of thing.  It’s really a “hey, I bet my child is golden and school is the devil” kind of thing. 

In the meantime we can talk all we want about teacher retention and the same two issues will always come up; administration and unions.  It is often perceived that tenured teachers can’t be fired, and that’s untrue.  Administrations that take the time to go through the process to get rid of bad teachers.  It is also perceived that unions are in the game for the best interest of the students.  That would also be untrue as teacher’s unions are in it for the teachers and would sacrifice students to Voldemort if it meant preventing any subtraction of a sliver of political power the union holds.

When all stakeholders actually want to solve the problems of education, we will!  But in the meantime we go back to whatever show is already in progress…

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Income inequality seems to match learning gaps. Who knew?

I have no problem with people getting rich.  Nope.  I’ll all for everyone living the Daddy Warbucks dream while sipping champagne and eating the finest caviar that you can afford.  Get rich and do what you want with your money.  However, you don’t get to bitch when crime, poverty, and over standard-of-living goes down because you decided not to invest in your country.  If you get the opportunity to get rich, others should have that same opportunity.  Yet since 1978ish it seems that social mobility has taken a nose dive and income divisions have become more than visible, they have become a social drag.

A majority of public school children in 17 states, one-third of the 50 states across the nation, were low income students – eligible for free or reduced lunches – in the school year that ended in 2011. Thirteen of the 17 states were in the South, and the remaining four were in the West. Since 2005, half or more of the South’s children in public schools have been from low income households. 

During the last two school years, 2010 and 2011, for the first time in modern history, the West has had a majority of low income students attending P-12 public schools. 

So I guess this means that “California Dreamin” has a little hiccup.  Those of us that live in much of California have known this for awhile and didn’t need the Southern Education Foundation to tell us that much has changed in the last twenty years.  Here in Ukiah the Free and Reduced Lunch rate is hovering somewhere near 75%.  That’s not something that happened over night.  That’s been developing over the course of the last ten years, and local government has been totally ignoring it.

So, what do?

I’ve mentioned since the beginning of this blog that education funding needs to be taken seriously, and that the current funding method does next to nothing for poor and rural school districts.  This recession was a killer for rural California.  Depressed home values and drained state coffers created a toxic situation in which entire programs were destroyed (arts, music, vocational tech) and new programs never had a chance to come to fruition.  Now’s the time to seriously invest in human capital.  We already have one partial generation of kids that had a school with severe cuts that limited student achievement.  We can get serious and prevent the now evidenced move towards a more stratified society.

And if this report doesn’t move you to action, try Berkeley and Harvard.  The public policy angle on education is startling, including the statistic that we just don’t fund poor schools to near the capacity of other industrialized nations.  Local funding helps the Los Altos and Orinda schools while the Covelo and Oroville schools get kicked in the teeth.  It’s time to get our head out of our asses that everything in schools is the fault of the teacher and start treating the real problem within education and society; taking education seriously.  And it can start by attacking the issue of poverty. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Do the debate, not the ban.

Let’s begin by saying that having a team called the Redskins is phenomenally stupid.  I’m not going to say that it bothered me when I was younger or that I lose sleep over it now.  But age and wisdom have shown me that besides being a horrid football organization, the Washington Redskins pretty much take the cake on having an offensive name.  I mean, where in the hell can someone flaunt something so disgusting and have absolutely no social repercussions at all?

Oh yeah.  Silly me.   A league that promotes murderers, thugs, and profits off of traumatic brain injury isn’t really going to care about a name.  But whatever.  So it’s offensive.  The league is stupid for putting up with it and all that.

Yeah that.

Ok, now that that’s been cleared up, what’s the problem?

The principal of Woodrow Wilson High School, Pete Cahall, told The Washington Post that he was going to ask the student government to debate a possible ban, after a student told him she found Redskins apparel offensive to Native Americans.

It’s nice that the principal has brought the issue to student government for debate.  These are the kinds of controversial issues that are good for high school students to discuss since their next step is heading out into society and discussing them there.  But a ban?  “Hey that’s offensive, let’s ban it” approaches are not practical in any logical sense (they don’t really exist off campus) and probably have some constitutional problems as well.

I teach primarily Seniors, so I believe that high school should be as close to real world as we possibly can get while promoting an effective learning environment.  This includes the ability to not ban everything that is deemed “offensive” because then you have a “school” that is isn’t like the real world; a school that doesn’t allow people to contribute to the marketplace of ideas that free speech and critical thinking allow.  Good for the principal to create the debate.  But hopefully he really makes the situation a teachable moment by modeling the Constitution. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Homecoming, thank God, is over

I made a promise on #sschat that I would try and get through the week without posting “I hate Homecoming” on Twitter.  The week is over. 

And I hate Homecoming.

You can find past Homecoming rants here, here, here,  and this one.  It shouldn’t be surprising that my opinion on Homecoming has changed little since I was first exposed to the March Towards the Spirit Bell.  While festivities have been a tad paired back, the energy put towards this week’s event was insane.  Here’s the highlights:

-Students coming in bleary eyed because they were up until Midnight on school nights working the backdrop, the skit, and the float.

-Students coming in to morning classes because of all the drama associated with Homecoming “unity” in various states of emotional distress.  Some sulked and a few actually cried.

-Internal divisions within classes that led to physical confrontations.

-Divisions within classes that lead to groups of students screaming profanities at each other on campus, and harassing each other on the Internet.

-Parents of students spending over a thousand  dollars on food, supplies, bribes, and various other items to make sure that their class wins some idiotic bell that they will probably see one time in the next nine months.  

My favorite quote was from a higher up who said that community members loved Homecoming but had concerns that their kids were too involved and wished the school did something about it.  The school.  This is the same alumni community that throws a fit when the Homecoming Parade route was changed because the town didn’t have enough police to maintain safety.  The same community that has more involvement in Homecoming that almost any academic function on campus for the entire year.

I guess there is a little hypocrisy on my end since I play the role of Homecoming Grinch very well.  Students see it as a joke.  Some other teachers see me as a joyless jerk that hates watching the kids have fun.  Most nod, sigh, and go through the process while watching the school become a circus.  And yes, I dress up in Purple and Gold on “Purple and Gold” day.  And yes I escort a couple of King and Queen candidates on occasion.  But until we create an event that actually does not disrupt the whole system for weeks, and actually creates a positive impact on the community, I’ll still dislike this annual event.    

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

American jocks are dumb and destroying schools, even if the evidence shows otherwise.

So, yeah, the dumb jock stereotype. 

Funny how that stereotype hangs out in society and is an accepted part of educational system.  It’s interesting that while stereotyping Liberal Arts is frowned upon because they are of such a pronounced intellect, picking on the high school athlete is really cool because we all know that the athletic culture within a high school is full of idiots. 

Isn’t that right Ms. Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker?

Of course, Mr. Evidence might have something else to say about that.

“Seventy-six percent of 6- to 12-year-olds reported participating in some sports in 1997 and in 2007, 56% of high school students reported playing on one or more sports teams organized by their school or community in the previous 12 months.” –U.S. Centers for Disease Control (2010)

Now you calm down, Mr. Evidence.  You’ll get your say when the moment arises.  Right now, Eliz has the floor to explain how the “sports culture” that over half of America’s school participate in is ruining education.

“High school students that participate in sports have higher grades and standardized test
scores in mathematics and language arts courses (Broh, 2002). McNeal (1995) found that student
athletes were 1.7 times less likely to drop out of school. High school student athletes have also
self-reported higher education aspirations, diligence in homework completion, and lower
absenteeism, compared to students that do not participate in sports (Marsh, 1992).” –Journal of Research in Education (2013)

HEY Evidence, knock it off!  Give the esteemed Literature major from Yale, Ms. Kolbert, her say!  Ok Elizabeth….what say you?

“That American high schools lavish more time and money on sports than on math is, I know, an old complaint………But, as another school year starts, it is a lament worth revisiting.”

What is totally amusing about this statement is how dead ass wrong it actually is.  Take for instance, my salary.  I’ve been teaching for 13 years so you could assume that as a public school teacher in rural Northern California, I don’t make that much money.  However, two of me  manages to pay for every single coach, piece of equipment, official, and scorekeeper on this campus of 1,600 kids.  Let’s see, that includes:

-Football, Boys and Girls Cross Country, Boys and Girls Golf, Boys and Girls Water Polo, Volleyball, Boys and Girls Basketball, Boys and Girls Wrestling, Boys and Girls Track, Boys and Girls Swimming, Baseball, Softball.

Everything else comes from sports boosters or parents or coaches.  Basically high school athletics is one of the best bangs for your buck in terms of teaching.

On the academic end our tax dollars pay for every instructor, aide, textbook, worksheet, conference, Professional Learning Community, and such.  Oh, and time?  I measured up the time I spend with my students in the classroom (hours) to the number of hours I spend with my basketball team (including nights and weekends).  Much more time is spent just in the classroom with kids only, that doesn’t count prep work, meetings, tutoring, meeting with kids after school, or grading work.  It’s not really even close.  And I’d consider myself very involved in the basketball program at Ukiah High School.  So, no, more time and money are not being spent on athletics. 

“Nearly all the associations between extracurricular physical activity and
indicators of academic performance
were either positive (52%) or neutral (46%).” -U.S. Centers for Disease Control (2010)

Dammit Evidence, hold on!

Go ahead, Ms. Kolbert.

“Sports, (Amanda) Ripley (author of Smartest Kids in the World) writes, were “the core culture of Gettysburg High.” In Wroclaw (Poland), by contrast, if kids wanted to play soccer or basketball after school they had to organize the games themselves. Teachers didn’t double as coaches and the principal certainly never came out to cheer. Thus, “there was no confusion about what school was for—or what mattered to the kids’ life chances.”

First of all, the focus is on those idiotic PISA science and math scores, and there is plenty of reason towards the conclusion that A) those test scores mean nothing academic, and B) they show all kinds of problems about poverty in society.  But I digress back to Liz’s point of “what school was for" and “what mattered to the kids’ life chances.”  Kolbert did not play sports, and therefore she does not realize the importance of sports to the young American teenager in developing those skills necessary for success: collaboration, work ethic, the ability to think on your feet, competitive edge, the necessity to listen, sportsmanship, compassion, and the ability to mentor younger generations.  Sorry Ms. Kolbert, students are not learning that in the classroom, and most students don’t learn that in the classroom because in the classroom they. are. learning. MATH!  There you go.  Math, the most critical of all job skills.  Who cares about the other skills, right?

“One of the ironies of the situation is that sports reveal what is possible. American kids' performance on the field shows just how well they can do when expectations are high and they put their minds to it. It’s too bad that their test scores show the same thing.”

And Ms. Kolbert’s education from Yale concludes that it’s the sports.  Check the title of the article she wrote 


Pretty much sums up her thesis.  Although from where I’m sitting the problem might be enabling parents, misguided principals, disengaged teachers, and Kolbert’s own bias towards the “dumb jock” syndrome.  Way to perpetuate a stereotype, Liz.  I’m sure my Advanced Placement students, nearly all athletes, will love an opinion from a bitter liberal arts junky who is pissed off for being cut from the high school tennis team. 

See what I did there?  Sure you did.  Oh Evidence….

“Is participation in extracurricular physical activities at school related to academic performance?

• Yes…... More than half of the associations examined in these studies were positive (52% overall), and almost none were negative (2%). Of note, GPA was positively associated with extracurricular physical activity 12 of the 22 times it was measured. Two studies also examined the association between extracurricular activities and dropout rates and found that participation was linked to decreased high school dropout rates.” – U.S. Center for Disease Control (2010)

  Moving on……

Sunday, September 22, 2013

“Give me a referral.” I don’t. Leaves anyway.

“Cell phones away please.  If they are out I will take them, sell them on E-Bay, and you’ll be famous for someone putting you in a scene twerking with Miley Cyrus.”

I subbed for another teacher this week, just one period only.  Within that period I had to be meany face and take the phones of those who failed to heed my warning.  One student gave me the phone and within thirty seconds this took place.

“I want my phone back.”

“You aren’t getting your phone back.”

“I want it back.”

“You’ll get it later.”

“I want it now.”


“Think so?”

Yes, this is a challenge from a high school student.  While this conversation is taking place I’m trying to give directions the teacher left me, my back being to the student.  I’m heard this before, although it’s been many years since I’ve had one so blatantly challenge me because I primarily teach Seniors, and I have a reputation for no bullshit.  So my response?

“Oh, absolutely.” (with a grin)

I stand 6’2” tall and weigh 250.  Fear plays no part in the decision to tell him “no”, although I already foresee what’s coming.  The kid didn’t not get the reaction he was looking for from a normal sub.  And here it comes….

“Fine then.  Just give me a referral and my phone back and I’ll go up to the office.”

This is the connection to the phone talking, and giving in to that impulse actually diminishes the value of the class and gives power over to the electronic device.  The point is to keep students in the room. 


“Well forget this then.  I’m out of here!”

The student left the room.  At this point the situation has now escalated to being out of my control, and my concentration needs to be on the 33 other bodies in the classroom.  I act like the event didn’t happen and the rest of the class (50 minutes) goes off without a problem. 

I found the student in the discipline office waiting for, you guessed it, his phone.  I gave cell phone referrals for those that complied with the hand-over, and the one student received a cell phone violation, defiance, and a cut.  I gave them to the admin who promptly gave them to the students as it was the last period of the day and the issue would be dealt with the next morning. 

I think the situation went well.  Now, some might take issue with the fact that the taking of the phone led to student removal from class.  Some might say “was it worth it” to have that not go through the day’s lesson simply because he was on an electronic device.  I would respond by saying that the kid had a choice. 

I often lurk in places on Twitter and the Edublogosphere that are really big into student choice in terms of learning styles, pacing, and overall classroom instruction.  What I find interesting is that the choice issue isn’t brought up when the child fails to behave.  The student knew the rules, broke the rules, and then chose that the device was more important than the learning.  It was a bad choice.  My choice was to concentrate my energy on the other students that wanted to remain in the class to learn. 

Sometimes the edu-community forgets that a massive amount of energy is spent focusing on the few that get into trouble, thus ignoring those that also need that education (and energy), and are there ready for teachers to go at it.  

Back to School Night a monumental success, for the 15% who showed up.

I don’t know about other schools but Back To School Night at Ukiah High School is not the most attended event I have ever seen.  This year was like most years in the Coach Brown classroom; 5-30% parent attendance, good questions, positive vibe, and the occasional parent that wants to make sure that I’m not A) Showing liberal media, and B) forgetting to include Zinn in my AP U.S. History classes.  By the way, those would be two separate parents.  But now the Back To School festivities are here and gone, and while the parents that did show were very attentive and fun, my concern is the class of APUSH parents that barely registered eight families in a class that contains 34 kids.  I wince at that statistic for many reasons. 


As of today Homecoming Week is two weeks away.  The students have been preparing for that one week for the past two weeks.  Eek, that reeks!  Gotta go eat some leeks, other something something.  Anyway, the distractions have amounted to some instructors asking to have have a couple of kids pulled for any assortment of issues related to Homecoming, about five or six, and me saying “no” thus maintaining the reputation that I hate Homecoming.

Have I mentioned that I hate Homecoming?

Ok, I don’t hate it that much, except for the fact that it is totally pits students against each other, ignores the academic mission for at least a week, forgets the football game, and impacts the state of student lives for up to five weeks.  What’s to hate?  And I really tried to get involved this year.  Seriously!  I offered up the Homecoming theme of Arab Spring countries, with each class of students representing a country that has gone through a modern Middle Eastern revolution.  They turned it down and went with musicals instead.  Cowards.


I rank this year up with being one of the best starts ever.  Energy is up.  Engagement is up.  Attendance issues are wayyyyyy down.  And I need to say that part of the solution was to make everything inquiry driven and to minimize lectures to about 20 minutes or less, and to stay the course with that.  I didn’t have a problem with student engagement before, however now the students seem like they are showing up partly because they want to know “what happens next.”  It’s a tad bit addictive.


And I’m still coughing.  Dammit.  I’ve now been sick over a week and while I’m getting better very day, I still have this damn cough.  It’s annoying. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Musings of a month in, dammit.

Dammit anyway.

I’m sick.  I’m better than I was yesterday, that’s for sure.  I had a fever, could barely get out of bed, and was hacking up half my insides trying get out the gunk.  Now I’m just a little fatigued, yet I’m still hacking and coughing.  I started coming down with it on Thursday afternoon and tried to announce the football game on Friday.  I succeeded in sounding like Barry White calling ball-carriers and tackles.  Then I went home and collapsed.  It’s not a surprise though because kids have been coming down with this thing for over a week, and my wife got it last weekend.  But I think it has run its course and normalcy should set in by mid-week.


Let’s get something straight, warm-up music is not for adults.  At basketball games a vast majority of the music is going to be hip-hop.  At football games the vast majority will be heavy metal.  You don’t have to like.  It’s not for you.  It’s also not profane or nasty or derogatory, so sush.  Listen for 15 minutes and deal with it, or show up at kick-off.  Regardless, don’t bother me in the booth with complaints about how awful Metallica is.  You won’t get anywhere.


This is another year where beach wear is in at Ukiah High School and I really can’t figure out what has happened to the sense of parents to police kids.  You are parents.  You parent.  See how that works?  Right now nice kids are wearing either clothing that is actually tasteful but inappropriate for school (strapless sun dresses made for the beach) or clothing that looks kind of like, well..

 See through tops with bras underneath.  Yep, here we go again.  Last year I asked a girl wearing something similar to cover up and the parent thought I was the expression police about to send her daughter to the gulag.  This year I’m early and hopefully the message is sent while the honeymoon is in full swing.  And this picture is actually tame compared to some I ask to cover up.  And animal prints are back in fashion. 



Back to school is Wednesday.  Over/Under for number of families to show?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dude, let me puff that vape

I was told in the summer that students are starting to bring e-cigarettes to school that are disguised as pens.  How cute. 

For those that don’t know, e-cigs (aka “vapes”) are electronic devices that allow the user to get a nicotine hit through the use of vapor.  It’s marketed as a method to stop smoking, only the Centers for Disease Control has found that students are starting to show signs that it’s doing just the opposite. 

“…1 in 5 middle school students who reported ever using e-cigarettes say they have never tried conventional cigarettes. This raises concern that there may be young people for whom e-cigarettes could be an entry point to use of conventional tobacco products, including cigarettes.”

  Interesting, except that I don’t see much that my high school can do about something that doesn’t really have a rule, nor has major externalities in relation to other students.  Plus, enforcement is going to really, really difficult.  So maybe parents need to keep track of the whole vape thing and realize that your child is sucking on a small, metal pipe.  Or a rope.

God.  After a short time off the trendy list it looks like smoking hookah is also back into fashion.  The past time has created a culture that has been promoted by parents by loaning their child the garage and to allow them to buy a massive communal water bong because it probably prevents them from having sex, drinking booze, listening to loud music, and doing hard drugs….unless it accomplishes none of that. 

Ahh, the teenage desire for vice.  

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Blurred Lines, the most heinous thing on the Internet

I really tried to write that title with a straight face and I’m not pulling it off very well.  It’s one part Emily Ratajkowski, whose mere presence on my screen makes it very difficult to concentrate on anything.  The second part is the absurdity around the idea that the video is anything other than a goof on sex. 

For those that haven’t seen the video simply Google the title and watch either the unrated version that contains topless women, or the edited version that contains clothed women.  Both videos are totally goofy, which women and men dancing around and making sexual innuendos throughout while Twitter hashtags occasionally make their way onto the screen.  I saw the video first in April after I heard the song at a Giants game, then heard students talking about how racy the video was.  I was amused.  Seriously,  it’s a fun video about sex. 

But the topless women apparently make the video insanely misogynistic.  The phrase “I know you want it” is code for rape, I guess.  The men are mean to the woman, some how.  And the entire video is a commercial for everything a man should not be; meaning….God, who knows.  If this video is the model for bigotry in society then I have plenty of songs, films, and video to show you that will make your head burst;  legitimate media that straight out describes misogyny. 

There are benefits to the anger at the Thicke video, the top of the list being this video from a group of law students from the University of Auckland.  It’s a parody of Blurred Lines that attacks a male dominated society that subjugates women by demanding a female dominated society that subjugates men.  Or maybe it doesn’t and I’m reading into the part about castration.  I actually enjoyed the Aussie video as much as the original because it’s creative, and the while I think the message is way overstated, it packs a punch in a way that is unusual.  Good for them for bringing it to the world.  

And while the conversation is being had at some level, the students are totally over the video.  It’s so “last-school-year” and there was little to no shock value, partly because (this is coming from students) that nudity is nothing compared to what they see on the Internet.  Now that should be a concern.   

Sunday, September 01, 2013

What the hell do you mean you’ve never heard Hotel California?

I was going to end my lesson with four minutes left in class.  Note to all new teachers; that’s not really a good thing.  You want to have things happening from bell-to-bell.  Well, I noticed earlier that the lesson was moving quicker than I wanted it to, and I wasn’t going to have time enough to transition to the next exercise while making it effective.  So I was going to have a spare for minutes.  So what do I do?

It’s relationship building time.  I decided to comment on a recent cultural event. 

When Madonna did these kinds of things it was interesting and provocative.  When Miley Cyrus does …well…this, it makes you wonder if Paul Verhoeven was secretly filming it for Showgirls 3: Releasing the Nutty Shrew.  It was weird.  And I made a joke about it in class to stir up conversation.

Within 20 seconds one of my students popped in with the fact that he was reading an excellent book on The Eagles, and how Hotel California is so hard to play on guitar.  I asked the students, a class of 34, how many had listened to the great Hotel California.  Six raised their hands.  SIX!  That couldn’t stand.  So, I warmed up the iTunes and we listened to the first few minutes of the song while discussing why music was better in the past.  It was a nice way to end fifth period.

No, it wasn’t a waste of time.  Those are the moments were you seem human to the kids and they appreciate that you are bringing something into their lives that shows a bit of “you”.  It’s those things that Khan and MOOCS and the entirety of the online world can’t give students.  Relationships.  The kids got a kick out the song; some holding their nose while others were sort of digging the music.  It’s a moment where everyone relaxed and yet they learned something about who I was, who each other were, and who we as a country are.  Use those moments wisely and you build an atmosphere that goes beyond professionalism. 

And you teach them about The Eagles in the process. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Day in the Life of a High School Teacher, Part 2

The most visited post ever is this one from about five years ago in which I describe a typical day.  That was awhile ago and it’s time for an update.

-My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and I’m really feeling groggy.  My cats were active last night and I was fading in and out of being asleep. 

-Mornings used to be the local news.  Now I drink coffee and read the iPad for a half hour.  The local news is just too negative.  Instead I check e-mail, then read local and national news, and if I have time I peruse blogs.  Then breakfast; a couple of frozen waffles, two eggs, and some bacon.  Then I shower while listening to the Sunday talk show podcasts; Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week, and Fox News Sunday.  I’ll listen to the interviews if I’m interested but I’m more piqued by the news round tables.

-I’m out of the house by 6:30.  This year I’m leaving earlier because I’m more prepared.  However I can see myself getting to school any later than 40 minutes before the bell (7:30).  I wander into a dark room, unlock the doors, and flick on the lights…..then wave my arms like a seal on crack because the motion detector doesn’t sense me in there for 20-30 seconds. 

-I finish up the Talk Show podcasts and throw on my school playlist (appropriate music for school) and begin to work on today’s schedule.  It takes ten minutes to write on the board and with every class I’m pulling up files on my laptop.  In APUSH I pull up Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God and a power point, in Economics I pull up a Cookie Monster parody of Call Me Maybe to illustrate scarcity, and for American government I grab an Economist chart that shows marijuana legalization status around the world.  Then I head out to make copies.

-I’m at the copy machine with 25 minutes left before the bell.  My copying has dropped 80% easy over the last few years as I’ve adopted a combination of Edmodo, Dropbox, and Google.  But this is a court case out of a book that I want kids in Government to interpret.  Good bet we won’t get to it today.  But better to be prepared.  I then mosey over to the teacher boxes, find nothing, and head back to class. 

-Students start to wander in with 15 minutes to the bell.  One has an AP Environmental Science project that we discuss, only I bring up the Economics end of things and we end up with a little banter.  We have some fairly progressive teachers on campus and I feel like its my duty to bring actual pragmatism to some subjects.  I wander outside to greet my students for the bell.

-Economics starts with a quiz from the first section of the book, and as usual they do lousy.  It’s a simple case of laziness; some read last minute, others “forgot”.  Yet I hold them too it and most will figure out that they can’t skimp on reading when assigned.  We watch news and Syria is briefly discussed in class.  We then get into the fundamentals of scarcity, having a decent discussion about some basic problems of society and their relationship to scarcity.  It’s a well engaged class.  At the end of class some students complain that the podcast that I’m assigning for Friday is an hour long.  The bell rings and I head outside.

-My first Government class is a little dead.  You can tell immediately that the Monday energy is in full effect, so I beef up some hamminess to liven up spirits.  The news first and discussion about Syria and the National Zoo panda.  Then we finish up an assignment from Friday and move to the basic terminology of government.  Definitions are first, then we look at organizational examples and ask “Is that a government?”  The engagement level is a little better but I’m finding that it is just one of those days where only a half-dozen are really involved in the class.  That changes when one of my trigger slides comes up about interpreting the First Amendment.  First of all, 75% of my students don’t really know what the First Amendment is until I read it to them.  Then the debate begins about what the amendment means.  It’s a perfect jumping off point for tomorrow when we look a a case to interpret (the one I copied earlier) that involves loitering.  Quiz tomorrow on notes we did today, and the bell sends them off. 

-I wander into the communal area at the center of the building and talk to my colleagues about nothing in particular during break. 

-Third period is my full APUSH class, and since they have a quiz that day they are trying to take advantage of Silent Reading time to study.  It’s a good five minute physical presence exercise to get the point across.  One student in particular, while very bright, is dying to be the center of attention.  I crack open my own book, Cobra II, and do a balancing act of ignoring her attempts at attention while reading and occasionally making sure everyone else is reading.  Reading period ends and quiz time.  Quizzes are marginally ok.  The first two weeks of APUSH is about flow and many of these students haven’t found it yet.  I then read an excerpt from Jonathon Edwards Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in my best crazed preacher voice.  It has the desired impact.  Now some review of the summertime as we address the Great Awakening and the Enlightenment.  Lots and lots of engagement, although my attention seeking student is still seeking it, and in this class that kind of energy can’t be wasted on one students theatrics.  It will have to be addressed this week in a quick shot.  I talked longer than I wanted to in this class but the students seemed engaged enough for it not to matter.  Bell, and I wander out and get ready for my second Economics class.

-Although only 16 students, the attitude more than makes up for a lack of bodies, and I say that in a good way.  Quiz first and immediately some students want to challenge the wording on questions.  These students were the same as I had in APUSH last year so I’m already ready for the onslaught and the insurrection is put down.  Quiz scores, like first period, should be better.  News and not any questions so we jump into the Cookie Monster video, which is humorous and beneficial at the same time.  It gets the point across (Cookie Monster actually says he’ll sell his soul for a bite) and we jump into scarcity.  The students are much more engaged than the morning.  That could be the time or the dynamics of the class.  No complaint about the podcast for this period and the bell sends them away. 

-The center communal area is pretty empty with everyone starting to stay in there classrooms during lunch.  Two other teachers come in and we end up talking about all sorts of issues; some school related and others not.  Then a colleague comes in and mentions not retiring this year, and for the first time this year I’m reminded about why I detest the system of teaching.  Last year the middle of the salary schedule got a 3% raise.  The top end of the salary schedule got more than double that raise.  I leave the table before I say something snide and head to the door to greet 5th period.

-Some people don’t like their after lunch students because they have checked out.  Not my Government class.  News and immediately there are questions about Syria, the Rim Fire in Yosemite, and the panda (why is it news).  We then look the marijuana chart from the Economist and have an interesting discussion about Federalism, which dove tails right into the government basics power point.  I only get through half the slides I want to get through because the discussion and engagement is really high.  And it isn’t “hey, let’s distract him” kind of discussion.  These kids are engaged and retention seems very strong.  It was a good class.  Assign the quiz for tomorrow and they are out. 

-Prep period is sixth and I head to the office to finish paperwork and stop by one of the VP’s to ask a question.  He’s busy so I head back to my room and check e-mails.  A couple of coaches from around the state are looking for JV basketball games buy my team is already set.  That reminds me that I have a question for the Athletic Director so I head to his office.  He’s in a meeting so I talk to the Student Activities Director and get the monetary situation in all the basketball accounts.  Then I talk to the varsity baseball coach and we chat about whether or not Independent Study students can play sports now that they are considered in a different school.  They can since the school is on campus.  A couple of laughs and I’m back to my room.

-More e-mails.  This one is from our school union rep welcoming us to the new year and saying how excellent it was that people got raises last year.  Now my blood pressure boils.  For a group of people that preach solidarity, the Ukiah Teachers Association had no problem fucking over a solid majority of teachers to benefit  the self-interest of the elder membership, which happen to inhabit the power positions of the union.  Assholes.  I convince myself that unless the raise is equal across the board (minus bring up the newbs), I vote no in the future.

-School is out and I’m prepping for tomorrow.  I write assignments on the board and once again get my files ready on the computer.  I’ll prep quizzes tomorrow morning and input some grades.  After that I throw in grades for an online quiz and notice that some students that are behind in APUSH are not doing much to catch back up.  That will need to be addressed tomorrow.  I check Facebook and Twitter, grab my bag of papers to grade (which I probably won’t get to) and leave the school at 4 p.m. listening to The Mike O’Meara Show.  I came in listening to serious and when I leave, I need to laugh. 

-I get home to my wife leaving for Yoga.  I empty the dishwasher while listening to podcasts and then prep my news for tomorrow.  The Newshour’s Syria story is good and I tape the usual Newshour summary.  I skim BBC World News for anything having to do with the AP Comp Gov 6 (Iran, China, Russia, Nigeria, UK, Mexico) and nothing tickles my fancy. News done, make dinner, wife comes home.

-We eat pretty much in silence.  We are both teachers and we are both tired and today is a day where sound is just noise, and quiet is ok.  We chit-chat after dinner and she heads to bed while I check blogs and e-mails.  I browse the lousy Giants game and decide on this blog post. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Khan interviews Arne Duncan because of course he did

So Sal Khan interviewed Arne Duncan at a Google Hangout because Sal Khan is the Mike Wallace of Silicon Valley media, or something.  First it was the cover of my Costco Connection, now an interview with the Secretary of Education, and tomorrow Khan will be releasing a video on how to solve the crisis in Syria.  Later this month Khan will become the President of the world.  What could possibly stop this ongoing march to absolute edu-rule?   


I knew Ricardo Montalban wasn’t really dead!  Look Sal, there is only enough room in this universe for one Khan, and that spot was taken when the super-human left Ceti Alpha Five.

Screw you cartoon lion.  I said THE KHAN, not Sal Khan or Shere Khan.  And you can’t hardly survive a stampede, much less pilot a starship.

Look at the video if you want.  But you will only sit there and hear Barack Obama edu-talking points while looking at the screen and wondering why Frontline isn’t doing this interview, AND WHO THE HELL IS SAL KHAN ANYWAY?  Duncan does mention how wonderful teachers are (aw) and how the education system needs to move away from age-based grade advancement (how about tomorrow).  But it’s more of the same with Obama, lots of campaigning without real governing.  Let’s visit universities and edu-VCs to spread the message that I need to get…wait a minute…I’m going to be termed out in three years, aren’t I?  Yes, Barack.  Yes you are.

And in the meantime Sal Khan has risen one of the tech elite because he’s created lousy lecture videos that have much better substitutes elsewhere online.  Excellent.  Gates had Windows, Jobs had digital music, Bezos had Amazon, and Khan has lecture videos for free. 

If only.

Tis started

The end of the second day with students and boy am I tired.  Maybe it’s the euphoria of the job.  Maybe it’s the energy expanded in the theater.  Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t get my mind to stop rolling at night, thus making my sleep less restful. 


The last few days of American Government have been hooks and writing.  I want to see where they are in their participation and their ability to write, and write critically.  The first day’s hook was the first 9 minutes of the movie Minority Report. 

It’s a tad sexy, a bit who-done-it, and the scene ends with Tom Cruise saying “You’re under the arrest for the future murder of Sarah Marks.”  Confused?  Watch the clip (and the movie on your own if you haven’t seen it).  The question I present to the kids is should the man be arrested for a murder that was supposed to happen?  Then we dove tail in the role of government and how people are tracked that “may” commit crimes.  The second day is simply “what’s more important; liberty or security?”  We discuss that, look at the National Security Agency data center in Utah and talk about government surveillance , and then tie that to the Social Media policy in the athletic program.  We’ve addressed the fundamentals of law and morality near the end of the week, and by the time all is said and done, the kids have written what amounts to about three pages of work. 


Class sizes: 28-34-37-16-27.

The 28 and 16 are both Economics/AP Comparative Government, and the APUSH is the 37.  The 34 and 27 are American Government/Economics.  51 students signed up for APUSH  in May.  44 came and picked up the summer assignment.  37 remain.  35 finished the summer assignment.  2 did not but wish to remain in the class, a trait that I greatly admire.  They start in a big hole but the challenge will be better for them in the future.  The Comp Gov classes are overrun.  Those students in the 16 class couldn’t fit in the other class because of competing AP classes, so another class was created to fit them.  For the record, I don’t like having only 16 students.  I like classes of about 25-28.  Those are perfect numbers.


Every year teachers get a feel for the overall personality of their classes.  Those that tell you otherwise are lying.  Each class develops a persona usually based on the type of students in the class.  My classes are extremely well behaved and very inquisitive.  The management end of teaching is almost too easy *knocks on a Redwood tree*

Saturday, August 17, 2013

So is anyone really going to address this?

I’ve been around the high school for two weeks, and it was Tuesday before I overheard this conversation between a few teachers.

“So what’s really going to happen here with the new transgender law and the locker rooms?”

“I have no idea.”

Does anyone?

From CNN:

California has become the first state in the nation to allow transgendered students to choose which school bathrooms and locker rooms to use and which sport teams to join based on their gender identity.

I have heard nothing about this policy, although as a coach I have no problem at all with anyone playing on the team.  Girl, boy, transgender, Na’vi, the droids we aren’t really looking for; they all can play for me.  I want the best regardless of gender. 

But the bathroom thing and locker room issue could be a tad bit…interesting.  I realize that I’m starting to wander into those waters where asking tough questions could invoke the dreaded “prejudice card.”  But have we really looked at what we are saying here.  I understand the concept of someone as transgender.  But their anatomical gender is pretty clear.  I mean, you either have a penis or you don’t.  Right? 

I’m sure this is the point where I’m getting the “oh, you’re so simple mind and a heathen” kind of talk.  But seriously, what happens when a transgender male walks into a high school locker room full of girls?  And don’t give me this “we are all equal” crap because if that’s true then just get it over with and create unisex locker rooms.  It’ll save money and satisfy Title IX perfectly.  But has a unisex locker room ever really worked out?

Now wait a minute.  Might I remind you that almost all of those soldiers in Starship Troopers DIED BY BUGS!  I don’t buy it!

Since it could present real issues in the near future, wouldn’t be nice if someone addressed this item with teachers?  Are certain showers going to require walled off stalls?  Are there going to be punishments for gawking?  Would extended glances be considered harassment?  Will feminine hygiene products need to be installed in boys’ locker rooms? 

Don’t roll your eyes.  They are legitimate questions that need to be answered, especially when it will be the teacher that will be liable for all the problems.  And we are talking about middle and high school aged kids here!  There will be issues! 

We ready……

My wife and I saw three foxes this week while walking our neighborhood at 6:30 in the morning.  They were cool.





What?  You were expecting some transformational message out of the fact that I saw three foxes?  Seriously?  What do I look like, Oprah?  Fact is that the pre-game is over and ten months of turning up life is about to be in effect.  I’m ready to get’er done.  To put some gravy on this some bitch.  To…aw whatever.

My prep week changed from my standard prep week because our entire department has changed.  Rolling over from last year are four veteran teachers, myself being the most green with 12 full years of experience.  Added to the Social Studies stew are four teachers in which this is their first full time teaching job.  This means that my job to prepare myself for the year also expanded to help prepare them for their year, because nothing is worse than a department that wishes you luck and sends you on your way with nothing.  I was supported and I want these guys to be supported.  And my first impression is that I’m proud as hell of my department for really stepping up, making the new teachers feel welcome, and making sure all doors are open for support.  We also decided to each take on a teacher and be peer mentors for the year, making sure that each of us focused on teachers with similar subjects.  I had the same thing happen when I was younger and it was invaluable. 

I’m ready, or so I keep trying to convince myself.  Something is niggling me, like every other year, that I’m missing out on some small detail that’ll pop right up when the morning starts on Monday.  My technology all works.  Gradebook is set up.  Syllabus needs a little tweaking but that can be done tomorrow.  I have engaging activities to start the year, some quick writes for four out of five of my classes, and APUSH immediately collaborating and using their laptops.  The week overall is ready, my photocopies (screw you paper Nazis) are ready, and the only real thing missing is students in my classroom.  What’s missing?  DAMMIT, WHAT’S MISSING?

The answer is that nothing is missing that I shouldn’t be able to handle on the first day.  I’ve done this for awhile, to the point where I could walk in and run the class fine with almost no prep. But “fine” isn’t good enough.  I want “fantastic”.  I want every year to be better than the last. 

Work must be graded and returned quicker.

Per Se Courts need to be used in greater abundance, and I must take the risk of using them in my standard Government classes.

All students need to feel engaged and not be allowed to sit in a corner.

English Language Learners ALL must become an active part of the process and become part of the rigor.

And I need to make sure that do extra “teacher” related things that continue to enhance my life, not weigh it down.

There are my goals.  Let the year begin.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jay Greene says stupid shit

Yeah, I know.  Such an undignified title for a post that is exposed the Interwebz world.  But if the shoe fits, if it walks like a duck, and if it is damn stupid.  Well….

So Jay Greene has a blog.  That’s not entirely new.  Lots of people have blogs.  I have a blog.  A crazy ass that totally digs celebrities has a blog.  A “Southern Belle” that uses way too much butter has a blog.  Hell, even the severely disillusioned have a blog.  It’s all a matter of opinions.  We are all taking our little spots on the web and making them a soapbox for all those things we care about.

Twitter is simply a smaller soapbox.  In 140 characters we managed to express ourselves in a manner that reaches a whole lot of people very quickly.  I give out opinions; most being totally incoherent ramblings that are probably going to get me fired one day when I mention something about the San Francisco Giants’ batting style.  Until that time occurs, I figure that I can provide something to the American public.  A window in the life of a public educator in Northern California.

“Judging by the high status of many of these manic Tweeters you might think they are saving the world. They include respected academics, think tank leaders, and foundation officials, so it would seem that they really must engage in these compulsive acts to prevent something terrible from happening.  Unfortunately, I think they are suffering from a form of madness.”

Whoa.  Looks like Mr. Blog-o-Greene has a thing about Twitter.  Apparently the frequency of opinion really bothers him since he created an entire post about how useless having an opinion on Twitter actually is. 

“Issuing dozens of 144 character messages every day has no real impact on making the world better. It just encourages shallow thinking and petty sniping. In the history of the Universe it is highly unlikely that any Tweet influenced or helped anyone.”






And we could add in people like Andy Carvin to the list for the ability to take news stories, as they happen, and give a total perspective from the 140 standard characters that is Twitter.  Yeah, no influence at all.

The most egregious error that Greene makes is the gross hypocrisy on his own blog.


What the…. 

“thoughts on education policy and other matters?”  You mean like Twitter?  Except with Twitter you can get through a lot of garbage and often actually say something.  But I understand, you…..wait a minute.  Is that a link to share on Twitter? 


Oh well played. 

By the way, Larry Ferlazzo (a local guy) provides one of the most comprehensive resource options for teachers on the Internet, with strong emphasis on information to assist with English Language Learners.  He is tireless with his research.  Going after Ferlazzo is like going to the neighbor that builds playground equipment for needy children and punching him in the face just to prove that you can. 

But I guess that’s how they do it in Arkansas.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Because I wouldn’t write it as well.

Assorted Stuff gets the credit for this post because he created an open letter to his new Superintendent.

Not a big deal, you say?

Well it wouldn’t be if it didn’t represent the feelings of thousands of teachers around the country.  But Assorted does a fantastic job describing the “accolades”, the “inspirational speeches”, the mention of international educational dominance, and the data….ooooh the sweet data. 

So yeah, you should read this and realize that what teachers want most for the time right before students enter is to prepare for that moment when students enter. 

By the way, I could have wrote this kind of letter.  But I’m too immature and I would have probably added in some kind of extra nonsense that would not have helped the matter.


Take it for what you will.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Miserable Common Core scores reported. Hilarity ensues.

A long time ago, when NCLB ruled the land and the wicked STAR determined the fate of the endangered, I sat at a table and talked with the more seasoned of my staff.  They looked at a me with eyes of knowledge and in their own way they said,

“Young Padawan, this too shall pass.  For over five score yarens the mission of public education has been re-interpreted by those that wear bad suits and answer to the mighty ballot.  We will end the cycle that is NCLB, and we will move to something else, and to something else, and to something else, and the circle will never end.  To excel in teaching you must make sure that you use your skills, follow your feelings, and actually teach what is in the students’ best interest to know.  If you look into The Eye, the horrible Eye of standardized instruction, you will only go mad with its never-ending adjustment and it’s promises that at the end of the new curriculum rainbow is eternal life, 99 virgins, and all the delicious cabernet that you can drink.  No.  Stay the course, my friend.  Teach, and know that your stability, ingenuity, and educational integrity will reign supreme in the eyes of the most important; those that are being taught!”

They were oh-so-correct.  I remember being freaked out early-on by NCLB and it wasn’t until I started reading educational blogs and reading twitter that I realized that the best didn’t care about the standards.  They cared about the teaching. 

Which leads us to the recent news about the new (and predicted) Common Core Standards!  They will save us!

“Test scores in New York state, its first under tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and math, show sharp declines in student performance in grades 3-8 for the 2012-13 school year, as officials try to assure parents that the new scores don't reflect a major drop in students' academic understanding, just tougher performance standards.

Statewide, the statewide ELA proficiency rates dropped from 55.1 percent on the non-common-core-aligned exams from the 2011-12 school year, to 31.1 percent in the 2012-13 school year. In math, the proficiency rates declined from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.”

The edu-wonks are in full boar response mode now.  Political saber rattling, back-tracking, blame-gaming.  It’s back to being all about the test.  Except, wait a minute…..

“For the first time in several years, California students' performance declined on their state assessments, the Standardized Testing and Reporting exams (or STAR) in English/language arts and math this year, although the drops were significantly less dramatic than in New York.The Sacramento Bee has the numbers: Statewide, 51.2 percent of students in grades 2-11 tested in math were proficient, off very slightly from 51.5 percent last year, while in English, the proficiency rate dipped from 57.2 to 56.4. Math test scores had previously increased for five straight years, while English scores had climbed for the last eight years.”

Oops.  Looks like the last year of STAR testing didn’t quite go off so well either.  Dammit California.  Now the reasons that are being presented here are simple “transition to Common Core” and “budget cuts.”  Maybe.  I have another theory.

Here’s the deal.  Teaching under No Child Left Behind was a nightmare for most districts.  While the accountability and the data presented were awesome, the standards assumed the impossible (everyone can be proficient in Math and English) and told everyone that if this didn’t occur by X date, there would be consequences to everyone…….except for the student.  So the atmosphere for many was one that didn’t promote education, it promoted test taking and having public educators trying to bribe young kids with everything from cash to baseball tickets to ice cream to iPods.  After the greatest budget crisis since the Depression, the fudging of data, social-media “cheating alerts”, and various major scandals all over the country, out went NCLB and in came Common Core, with the theme of more open instruction, more focus on writing, and the idea of “college and career ready.”  And you know what the reaction from most teachers is at this point to Common Core?

They don’t care.

“We will end the cycle that is NCLB Common Core, and we will move to something else, and to something else, and to something else, and the circle will never end.  To excel in teaching you must make sure that you use your skills, follow your feelings, and actually teach what is in their best interest to know.” 

Teachers want to teach.  They want to be passionate about kids, want to watch kids succeed, and want to see those teachers that aren’t passionate get run through a wood chipper.  Common Core does nothing for that.  Common Core does nothing at all except give another way to teach subject matter that good teachers already know how to do, only once again they will have to use colorful language (along with precious time and energy) to prove that they do it.  I see “Unit Planning for Common Core” in professional development and it makes me look for bottle of 18 year Glenlivet and a straw.  Seriously, you are going to have a good veteran teacher spend time on Unit Plans that work, by making sure that they align to standards that are not a lot different than previous standards but probably require more evidence that they do align, some how.  Know why?  Because.  So everyone is going to go ga-ga over Common Core until something else changes.  In the meantime the good teachers will make the small necessary changes (little or nothing) and impact kids lives.  The waste of time and productivity will be astounding. 

Look around.  Teachers feel marginalized and totally screwed by a system that uses political efficiency to manufacture what the problem is within Education.  Teachers try to tell people but they are ignored because it isn’t sexy to place a mirror in front of society and say “Hey look, we are the problem.”  Instead the curriculum is changed and teachers, especially young ones, are left with the taste in their mouth that a social contract has been broken over and over again; I teach passionately with every fiber of my being, and you work as society to create the best environment for successful children. 

Fix the social contract and you’ll fix education.  Fix that social contract and “test scores” will go up.  Fix that social contract or you are in danger of losing a generation of really good teachers.   

Thursday, August 08, 2013

A fantastic job by school board members


Since they are public officials that I actually vote on, I find it appropriate that I make reasoned criticism of the actions of the Ukiah Unified School Board.  Some will actually read this blog and write me e-mails, talk to me privately, and otherwise engage me in reasoned conversation that has never delved into a school board member talking bad about my mother. 

Saying that, I think it’s time for some praise for Ukiah Unified Board Members. 

Ukiah Reads is the brain child of board members Megan Van Sant and Anne Molgaard.  It’s a selection of books recommend by the pair that is broken down by grade level.  The selections are phenomenal.  They mix in some of the classic literature that children should be exposed to (James and the Giant  Peach, Ramona the Pest, Cannery Row) with modern works that are excellent but yet to be appreciated by youth (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Harry Potter Series, Million Dollar Throw).  Oh, and look at what’s on the list for those entering 10th grade:


Nice to know that Ukiah has a greater literary appreciation than, oh let’s say, Chicago

“The impetus came from our efforts to find age-appropriate summer reading material for our own children. I was tired of having to go to Internet sites of schools that my nieces and nephews were attending to find book lists. We wanted to create something from our own district."

All the teachers received a booklet with the recommendations and my hope is that his catches on.  I like a board that wants kids to be learned, and isn’t just satisfied with yacking.  This list is the rubber meeting the road, and it’s good.  I mean, this is one of those things that I read and went “Damn, this is totally cool.” 

I hope it continues.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The fear of not knowing

I’ve been to my classroom twice in the last few days.  No, I’m not on the clock.  No, I’m not contractually obligated.  I go because I like it.

And to annoy my administration.

I see some of the horror stories on Twitter and I shudder.  Some teachers are a week away from having the little munchkins in class yet have no idea what they are teaching, or grade level they are teaching at.  Wow.  While Ed Tech and Common Core are proliferating the Internet, it’s the things like this that are the bane to education.  Want a well run class?  Prepare for every eventuality that you can.  Want a prepared teacher?  Communicate and offer up the best atmosphere for success.  Telling them their assignment well before the last minute is a start.

I know my assignment because I annoy the administration and I’ve been teaching the same thing for awhile.  Around the end of July I start wandering to the Big Board in the office and checking what I’m teaching; harassing the staff and probably preventing loads for very important work to get done.  Hey, someone’s got to do it.  Actually, I have a relationship with my admin where they understand that I work and want to prepare, so they keep me informed.  They also understand that they can tell me to get the hell out of the office before I’m physically harmed with large objects, and I won’t be offended in the slightest.  It’s a very good relationship that I hope is cultivated with a lot of teachers and administration.

Twitter doesn’t seem to think so highly of that relationship.  At least, not from what the teachers are talking about.  Even with the most experienced teacher, springing classes without adequate prep time is setting up at the very least a delayed process of learning.  Sure, a good teacher can wing it and manage the class.  But is that what you really want?  Don’t you want the best from Day One?

Let’s get it done, people!

Friday, August 02, 2013

The curious conundrum of Khan in my Costco Connection (#flipclass will love it)

I love Costco.

It’s the great identifier for those with the capitalist ethic, marginalizing those that don’t do their research by presenting them with “deals” that make people spend over $400 per shopping trip.  My wife and I do the research, and our trip costs have been cut down significantly (*cough* minus wine).  And where else can you grab a dog and a drink for a buck fifty, after you’ve gorged on all the snack samples that permeate the store.  So bring forth my mailer, the Costco Connection!



That’s not really what I had in mind for the Back-To-School edition of the Connection.  Sal Khan, founder and marketer of the online platform Khan Academy, has now found his way into the heart of my shopping nirvana.  Part of me is not surprised at this, especially when I realized that he is now promoting a book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined…..available at Costco.


Sal Khan insists that his Academy is not the “silver bullet” of education, although he has plenty of opinions about education and all of them revolve around using the Khan Academy platform.  And he’s has offered up those opinions on any media outlet that will take him, the most recent being the Back-To-School edition of the Costco Connection.   

And look who’s the new face for Flipping the Classroom!  Sal Khan!  Hahaha.  Being a lurker of #flipclass on Twitter and doing a whole lot of investigative work on Flipping, I can tell you that Sal’s massive overexposure might not go well with those teachers that actually practice the real concept of classroom face-to-face time.  The grunts are doing the real work while the prissy little general that has never had his hands dirty is going to the media saying “Look at all I’ve accomplished.” 


Thursday, August 01, 2013

Oh the Udacity of it all!

In an effort to seem ahead of the curve in educational technology, San Jose State teamed up with Silicon Valley start-up Udacity and started to offer online credit classes.  As we all know, ed-tech is going to solve the education crisis in this country, starting with the state college system and working down.  The results?


“….failure rates in the five classes ranged from 56 to 76 percent. Nor was the course material exactly rocket science—the five classes were in elementary statistics, college algebra, entry-level math, introduction to programming, and introduction to psychology.”

Someone, somewhere is probably surprised by this statistic.  That someone is probably not a teacher, and very likely an edu-crat or a simple politician.  For some reason people have forgotten what type of people go to college.  Remember that your perfect little children are probably not the majority of those people enrolled as freshmen in college.


That’s the Lazy College Guy meme.  He’s tremendously popular because he reminds a lot of people about what college was like as an underclassman; getting up to go to class hung over and barely making it in classes that were moderately challenging.  Now you are telling Lazy College Guy (and Gal) to not to bother getting up because you can blast through Udacity and pass the class whenever.  Sure, sounds like plan. 

But wait a moment!  Some good news.

“….83 percent of students had completed the classes, a far higher rate than is typical for the free, open courses that have come to be known as MOOCs.”

Of course.  Nearly 20% of those that signed up didn’t even complete the course, and of those that completed the course almost 75% failed.  Somehow the founder of Udacity found this to be the silver lining on the thundercloud known as MOOCs.  If I’m not mistaken, the point was to rush kids into learning something by using the online platform.  Didn’t seem to work out well.  

I took online courses in college…..when I had already graduated.  Yep.  Once I saw that 90 units of credit got me a serious raise in money, I took as many online courses that I could handle in a couple of summers and shot over to the end of that salary schedule.  But the difference between me and the San Jose State debacle is that they were all classes I was interested in, and the incentive to take them was very clear.  Money.  There is little real short-term incentive here, and the engagement aspect of a good college class is non-existent online.  I loved some my subjects I took from Fresno-Pacific.  But the classes were boring as hell. 

Online learning will always have a niche in college.  But only a niche.  College is an experience, not just a series of webpages you can scan to complete the work for bogus credit.  Until we figure out that we need real pedagogy and rigor to fix the situation, the Interwebz will just be an excuse. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

AP Results 2013

“….the FRQ’s in APUSH are disconcerting.  We worked on writing a whole lot and it seems like the act of building legitimate evidence into a workable essay is proving to be quite a problem.  It seems like more time needs to go not necessarily into how to write the essay as much as how to integrate the APUSH information into a logical argument, and then get that down on paper.”

That was from last year’s post about my frustrations on the AP U.S. History writing portion of the exam.  Instead of doing more writing I decided to focus a whole lot on the introductory paragraph and then do a whole lot of exercises on critical thinking and analysis.  Then as the test time neared we started in on the formalized writing portion, knowing that the necessity to attach the evidence to the thesis (and making it relevant) was already in place.  It seems to have worked.  My APUSH pass rate went from just under 50% last year to 65% this year, about 13% above the national average.  However, if you looked at just the writing portion of the exam, my kids killed it.  85% of my students passed the DBQ.  On the dreaded American Foreign Policy 1789-1823 question, where 45% of students scored a 0 or 1, my six students not only passed the question but scored very high.  Where was the weak spot?  Content, namely Colonial stuff that we hardly had time to address during the beginning of the year.  Going to have to change review techniques. 

AP Comparative Government rose from 60% to 88% pass rate, 35% above the national average.  My students ran the table on the FRQ’s, taking the three hardest questions behind the woodshed and beating them like a drum.  Like APUSH, I did more of a concentration on critical thinking this year and I think it showed in the writing.  AP Comparative FRQ’s are usually a combination of analysis and simple identification.  Here’s one of the lowest scoring questions:

“Identify the two parties that formed the coalition government in Great Britain following the 2010 parliamentary elections. Explain one reason why they formed a coalition. Describe a domestic policy issue that has threatened the coalition.”

Simple identification and critical analysis.  Now, on this question there are three possible points.  In my opinion students should nail the identification piece in their sleep (Labor and Liberal Democrats).  A bit harder but still an almost gimme is the coalition answer (to control parliament).  The policy issue is more complex because of the word “describe”, which means you really need to prove that you understand the issue.  My students seemed to do just fine (disagreements over the European Union the most common answer).  I actually can’t believe that this questions scores were so low because if my students don’t do well on the question, something is wrong.

One of the other things I mentioned last year was the lack of English Language Learners passing the test.  This year many of my ELL students did very well, although some of my Seniors that perform very well in class did not test well, barely passing.  It’s an improvement but a marginal one.  When students are doing really well in the class it should transfer to the test.  But it’s still not quite there.

This year will be a little different as I will go back to two full classes of AP Comparative and a class of AP U.S. History that current has over 40 students.  That will probably go down when the year starts as students get panicky about the rigor of the class.  Tough but good.  While I really don’t have the class focus on the test, it’s still nice to see students do so well on it.