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. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Where da coaches at?

"That is such a thankless job."

That's not the quote I get from telling people that I'm a teacher. That's the quote I often get when I tell people that I'm a high school basketball coach. Maybe the reaction is different in other towns. Maybe it's a small town thing. I'm not all together sure. However the reason that reaction comes about is not from the long hours or the nil pay. It's the politics of coaching. It's the amazing amount of garbage that comes about from the all the intricacies of sports. It's also the reason why less and less teachers are taking coaching jobs.

That's a concern. A huge concern. You know the entire football program has only one on-campus coach? Out of the entire basketball program, both girls and boys, I am the only on-campus coach. That's six total positions. Baseball, softball, golf, swimming....all have many more off-campus coaches than teachers. Now you might think that's a good thing; off campus coaches might have more experience and more financial capital to keep a team going. Except that coaching is much more than "run the pick and roll" or throwing pick-off signs to the catcher. Coaches that are on-campus have greater access to other teachers, to grades, to IEPs, to resource specialists, to the principal, to the athletic director, and most importantly, to the rules that now govern the California Interscholastic Federation.

So what are the more in-depth reasons for the new drought of coaches within the high school system?

1. It is cost prohibitive. Sure, no coach ever really coaches "for the money." However the little stipend that coaches usually recieve used to suppliment the regular paycheck. Now the stipend offsets the monetary cost to being a coach. Fingerprinting will cost $40-50. CPR-First Aid will run $75-100. The manadatory "Fundamentals of Coaching" certification will cost $52. Tuberculosis testing will run around $10. And that's to get in the door. Since there is no athletic transportation, and since every game we play is an hour away, gas will run a pretty penny. So will food at all these games. And money you "loan" to players that forgot their money or can't afford food. Want to go to tournaments? Lots of out-of-pocket costs will go to the coach, including any overages in cost of housing. For a young teacher that wants to coach, the money going out becomes a serious hinderence. And I haven't even discussed the off-season costs yet....

2. There is no longer an off-season. Somewhere along the line people go the idea that to be a lot better at basketball you must practice, drill, and play for tweleve months out of the teacher. The season goes from the beginning of November to the end of February. After that comes AAU until June. Then Summer tournaments, practices, and leagues go until August. You get August off. Then September to November is Fall ball. The season doesn't really end and it is now the EXPECTATION that you make it year long. Locally people point to Cardinal Newman and Montgomery high schools as examples of thriving year-long programs. Yeah. It's the horses that both these schools have, and running ours into the ground makes marginal gains. But the expectation is still there. Coaching should be year-round. If not....

3. "I'll go to the School Board." Almost every year there comes the commentary that if you don't change line-ups, playing time, warm-up music, pre-game meals, cologne, that the school board will about it. Letter or to your face, the School Board card is something that will make any young teacher blanch, especially when it's in a small town like this where the school board will actually listen. And yes, I've seen playing time become the reason for removing a coach. And so have you. Just look at your newspaper.

4. We all coach potential Division 1 college prospects. The parent-child relationship is a lot different now. Parents do everything for their child and the world revolves around the child, and not in a healthy way. This translates to athletic competition where parents will often remind coaches that their kid is better than everything else. At one time you could say "no" and just move on. Now you have to give 60 Minutes style evidence, presented in a compassionate format, that the child probably won't have a college athletic career (like almost everyone else). This takes time and energy, and new teachers don't often have the patience to constantly deal with it.

5. You are doing it wrong. It's amazing how many people want to tell you how to do your job. This will be my 22 year as a basketball coach, 18 of them as a high school head coach. Someone always has commentary about what is wrong with how coaches do things. If it's behind the scenes...meh...always happens. But in a small town it's done in public. And I don't just mean soap box, I'm talking about in front of everyone, at the grocery store, at Wal-Mart, you name it. It's harder and harder for a young coach to actually learn the process without a good mentor, and while the other people try to use their platform.

Of course this sounds so negative, and that's because it is. I love coaching. It's teaching on a greater level that includes instant assessments, interested students, and skills that are valuable in life. But it has changed, and I'm watching schools go through turmoil because they can't fill positions on varsity level teams. Some that are filled are immediately challenged by BS politics and massive egos. I've watched kids have to go through court proceedings, legal battles, and physical altercations just because people disagree on who coaches and how. But a lot of this can be solved by money and support. Athletics needs to be fully funded. Coaches shouldn't have to drive players to contests and spend outrageous amounts of money to do their job. And most importantly, coaches need the accountability and support like a teacher would have. Coaches are teachers, yet many people look the other way when coaches act in a poor fashion. Just as people look the other way when coaches get bludgened from parents or community figures.

The value of athletics is is very high, especially the monetary cost end versus the future benefits. I would love to see more teachers jump into the pool of coaching; they being the best match because of the benefits of constantly being on-campus for the kids. But if we don't start getting a grip on the profession of coaching, it's walk-on city for a long time.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Your kids are probably Big Brother, Jersey Shore, et al.

First of all, I'm going to use the word nigger in this post. I'm not going to give letters the *** treatment or call it the "n-word" just because morons in society have done a fantastic job creating so much hype around a word. Instead, how about we look at how your kids are still using language that is racist, homophobic, and misogynistic.

Yeah, hey, *raps on computer screen*, I'm talking about YOUR kids.

The story that got my attention was this one from Daily Beast and Zap2It. Apparently all kinds of language came out of, major surprise here, CBS' Big Brother house, including shit talking about women, minorities, gays, and using those words that shall not be named, such as cunt and nigger. Apparently the media world is aghast at the filthy languge that has resulted in loss of employment, among other things. Note the end of the Zap2It piece too. I could have sworn that I was watching the development of an excuse to where "nigga" was appropriate but "nigger" was not. Why? Who knows.

And guess what people, your kids still use the word and use it a lot. Check your kid's Twitter, their Facebook, their text messages, their e-mails, hell, walk down the hall during a school day and you will hear both nigga (used as a term of friendship) and nigger (as always, used as a derogatory slang for "stupid" or "fool"). It hasn't gone away at all, many people just conveniently ignore it. And the ignorance is actually amusing to watch. Parents insist, INSIST, that their kids would not use that kind of language because their babies have a standard for profanity. Check the Twitter feeds, Ladies and Gentlemen. Your kids sound like Avon Barksdale preparing to party on a Saturday night. Oh, your kid is too intelligent to talk like that? You're right. He actually sounds like Omar Little preparing to jack Avon while at the party on a Saturday night. And the ladies? Them too. In fact, for all the attacks about men using the word cunt, it's by far a word that is used by girls to describe someone they do not like, a lot.

So, who's to blame for the power and use of those words?

"When we say 'nigger' now, it's very positive. Now all white kids who buy into hip-hop culture call each other 'nigger' because they have no history with the word other than something positive. ... When black kids call each other 'a real nigger' or 'my nigger,' it means you walk a certain way, ... have your own culture that you invent so you don't have to buy into the U.S. culture that you're not really a part of. It means we're special. We have our own language."

That's from Russell Simmons, record producer and hip-hop culture business magnate. If you read into his opinions the word is actually something that empowers the black community, or some subset culture, and creates a definitive separation between that culture and the culture of the U.S. at large.....whatever that is. But the problem is that the United States can't figure out how to actually treat the word. Even the article I grabbed this quote from is conflicted.

It has been 16 years since the group "N.W.A.," short for "N's With Attitude," zoomed to the top of the charts. Leader Ice Cube said, "Words like bitch and nigger may be shocking for somebody who is white, but that's not why we use them. It's everyday language of people around my neighborhood."

"N's With Attitude?" Yet in the very next sentence the writer is perfectly ok using words within the context of a quote? Society can't figure out what to do with the word. How in the hell are kids supposed to come to the conclusion of whether or not the use of the word nigger is good or bad? Remember, this is a generation who has not gone through the era of a segregated South, and only really hears the word by watching Boyz In The Hood, watching The Wire, or by listening to the multitudes of rap music lyrics. Oh, and maybe reading Huck Finn, unless you are from one of those districts that has bought the edited copy of the Mark Twain classic.

As a society we can't seem to have logicial conversations amongst ourselves about racially charged words, how the hell are we supposed to have real conversations with our kids? When the Big Brother crap or the circus around the Trayvon Martin case makes the headlines, how are we supposed to have real conversations about race in this country? Right now we don't have those conversations because Fox News, MSNBC, MTV, CBS, and the rest of the media are dominating this controversial landscape. We need to stop screwing around with this hypocracy. Real, honest education needs to happen to get the next generations of kids to understand that there is a real history behind language, and that it is ok not to sound like the morons on Big Brother.


Monday, July 01, 2013

BART workers strike, and get no love from here.

BART strike July 1, 2013

Picture a job where one only needs a high school diploma and clean driving record.  Then picture the job with an average salary of $63,000.  But wait, add to that job an average of $14,000 annually in overtime.  Then throw in around $40,000 in benefits, including a pension package that you don’t contribute to at all.  Subtract $92 a month in health care. 

Now ask for a 23% raise.

Welcome to a BART train operator!

Low health care costs, no pension payment, making more than I make now PLUS tens-of-thousands in overtime….and you want a 23% raise?  Me and my degree would like a raise.  So would me and my “overtime” with students.  Oh, and me and my pension would like a break as well.  Along with me and my $350 a month health care cost.  I would like to drive that train all the way to economic prosperity.

Nope.  No love for striking BART workers from this union member.  Sure, I’m all for a fair day’s work at a fair day’s wage.  But these guys are doing a fantastic job playing the part of the greedy public worker who wants a lot more than their actual worth, and is willing to destroy urban transportation in the process.  Nicely done.  More reasons for the public to hate us.