Sunday, May 08, 2011

where to find new 5/17 content

This blog may seem vacant--but that's just because it's moved to new digs.

Thanks to a new-ish Blogger feature, I've consolidated all of my educational blogging on my original website, decorabilia. The 5/17 label is where to find not only new material, but all the posts archived here.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Curriculum Left Behind

The last time I blogged about the nationalization of American education: a year ago, almost exactly. A year ago, it was ratcheting-up-rhetoric. But words have a way of translating into action:
Maryland and several other states are pushing rapidly toward adoption of new academic standards proposed Wednesday for English and math, adding momentum to the campaign to establish common expectations for public school students across the country.

The District also is on track to adopt the common standards drafted by experts in a project led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. However, it is possible that Virginia will not join the apparent surge toward approval.
I should point out that my home state--the "other" Washington--is part of the effort. And what might it mean?
Widespread adoption of common standards would mark a watershed for schools, triggering consequences for curricula, textbooks, testing and teaching. Some critics say common standards amount to a thinly disguised ruse to establish national standards under federal control -- an allegation that state and federal officials deny.
They don't have to be a "ruse" to have the eventual--and seemingly inevitable--effect of a national curriculum. Unless the feds dismantle NCLB, which simply isn't going to happen, there will always be a reason to federalize.

Added: a blog-neighbor questions the Common Core standards.

Monday, March 01, 2010

school bus ad bills dead

A while back I noted a few legislators' novel idea to raise revenue: ads on public school buses.

Today, Slog reports that both such bills died in committee, and will not be resuscitated.

(The initiative to legalize pot is still clinging to life support, and the ACLU refuses to chip in to cover its medical bills. Okay, that's as far as I can stretch that analogy.)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

online high schools: a disappointment?

Initial results from Washington's online high schools, at first glance, seem disappointing:
According to a state report released last month, nearly half of the students taking online classes in 2008 failed with an D or F grade.

Also, online school is not a get-out-of-WASL-free card. Full-time online students must take the test in person at a testing site set up by the school. Part-time students who take one or two classes online still test at their home districts.

Statewide, several online schools have a hard time getting their students to show up for the test, which results in mixed performance reviews.

In the six online schools the state studied, fewer than half of sophomores passed the reading WASL last spring, compared to 81 percent statewide. Less than 20 percent of those sophomores passed the math WASL.

Online school officials say the report is flawed. Students who skipped the WASL counted as a zero, which dragged the school average down.

Take out the “zeros” at Washington Virtual Academy for example, and 77 percent of their sophomores passed WASL reading. In math, 31 percent passed compared to 45 percent statewide....

Online school students at those six schools took the WASL 64 percent of the time, compared to nearly 98 percent statewide, the report said.
I'm pretty sure that the results can mostly be explained by the way online school is currently employed: as a second chance for students who've struggled in a traditional environment. A 50% passing rate, then, might actually represent a genuine success. We'll have to see longer-term results from districts that have a mixed approach. From a cost-benefit perspective, the lower infrastructure and instructional costs, even if the passing rate stays flat at 50%, might still make the project worthwhile.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

no revenue stream too murky

Today's Olympian lauds outside-the-box thinking by Washington legislators. Two bills that receive a tentative "meh:" adding private vendors to rest stops, and allowing ads on school buses. Since this is an edu-blog, let's look at the latter.
Senate Bill 6466, allowing advertising on the side or inside a school bus, is bound to generate even more discussion and debate than the rest stop bill.

A school district could choose to participate in the program or not. A school district’s board of directors would have the final say on what advertising content or education material could be displayed on buses....

Finding consensus on what would be appropriate advertising on a public school bus will be difficult at best. But the program could have appeal in cash-strapped school districts.
Until all the earnings are wiped out by a lawsuit. Still... While we're, thinking outside the box, let's really think outside the box. Desperate times, etc. How about:

TV for Tots
Add back-seat televisions that run school-appropriate, mind-numbing, non-stop kid-centered commercials. Watch disciplinary incidents drop, and watch corporations compete for a shot at a captive audience. Parents know: TV works.

Principal for a Day
The highest-bidding community member gets to fill in for their local principal. Take calls from angry parents! Mediate political battles between departments! Meet with the union rep! Sign off on a "no freak dancing" policy! Take more calls from angry parents!

Bring Sugar Back
We lost the War on Obesity. Time to negotiate terms of surrender and take all the quarter(s) we can get.

Eliminate Busing in a Five-mile Radius
We're losing the War on Obesity. Time to call in the grunts. If you live within city limits, you might as well walk to school.

Legalize Pot
Unless a citizen initiative gets enough signatures to make the ballot and, miracle of miracles, passes, this one's just a pipe dream.

Monday, January 11, 2010

a taxing session

The Washington state legislature convened again today, facing a $2.6 billion shortfall that brought the entire usual cast of characters to the Capitol.
Washington's 147 state lawmakers returned to Olympia today and the Democrat-controlled House and Senate were quickly greeted by conflicting messages about taxation and spending at the Capitol.

Anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman filed another initiative — seeking to re-enact a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases that voters last approved in 2007. Democratic lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown have signaled they intend to temporarily suspend or in some way alter I-960 to allow easier action on revenue increases in the face of a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

On the other side, activists with the Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition handed about 14,000 petition signatures to Gov. Chris Gregoire in the morning. The petitions asked her to seek new revenues to blunt some of the $1.7 billion in cuts her first budget in early December spelled out to bridge a $2.6 billion shortfall.
Did I mention the $2.6 billion shortfall?

In (related?) news, pot may soon be legal. Make of that what you will.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

school resource officer program saved

While the state dithers on raising revenue--taxes, they call them--local governments haven't had time, or money, to burn. Consider the City of Olympia, which has raised utility taxes in order to maintain critical services.
Two school resource officers, one assigned primarily to Capital High School and another to Olympia High School, patrol the hallways, teach classes, interact with students and are there to respond immediately to crises....

The officers would have been returned to patrol duties under Hall’s initial budget proposal. But the council restored $150,000 in police funding through utility tax increases.
Of course, the pinch is felt elsewhere:
[Dick Machlan] said the department is reorganizing and cutting several vacant positions – a lieutenant, an officer and two cadets. A half-time warrant person is being laid off.

The department’s special operations unit, which includes a downtown walking patrol and traffic emphasis units, will also be folded into the regular patrol unit. A jail contract with Benton County will be reduced.
Will the state follow suit, matching further cuts by closing tax loopholes or--horrors--even raising taxes?

We'll see. One more reason to greet 2010 with trepidation. Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

toward smarter teaching

It's winter break, which, of course, means two weeks for teachers to relax, unplug, unwind and... think about teaching.

1. Are you one of those "brain-based" teachers? If so, how much of your curriculum is based on reproducible empirical research, rather than intuition and anecdote?
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.
[Link via Venice Buhain.]

2. Speaking of assumptions, "learning styles" is another educational buzzword that seems intuitive, until you start testing your intuitions.
In almost every actual well-designed study, Mr. Pashler and his colleagues write in their paper, "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," the pattern is similar: For a given lesson, one instructional technique turns out to be optimal for all groups of students, even though students with certain learning styles may not love that technique.
Read the whole thing to find out why, and why "learning styles" proponents aren't thrilled with Pashler's research. The strongest finding, which no one in educational research will dispute, is that single-mindedly employing the same teaching method--day after day, subject after subject--is pedagogically unsound.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

well, this is heartening

In a story straight out of a Law and Order episode, drugs and weapons were recovered across the street from Capital High School, The Olympian reports:
Acting on a tip, narcotics detectives arrested a registered sex offender and a 17-year-old at a West Dundee Street residence across from Capital High School where detectives seized three ounces of methamphetamine and more than two pounds of marijuana.

Detectives also seized seven firearms from the juvenile’s bedroom, including a loaded AK-47 assault rifle and a sawed-off shotgun.
Read the story for all the details. Although the thought of a nearby weapons cache is more than a little unsettling, I'd imagine the weapons (and bulletproof vests) found at the scene were the typical arsenal for a low-level drug dealer living in fear.

As a teacher who mostly thinks of drugs in the abstract, I know there's more going on in the world than I'm aware of. But sheesh:
The juvenile’s mother, who apparently also resides at the home where the narcotics and guns were found, said she was unaware of the alleged illegal activity going on there, Peters said in court.
Colossally bad parent, or tracks-covering accessory?

Either way, a tragedy might have been averted.

Monday, December 07, 2009

education amputation

Send your local legislator an email and ask 'em to read Ryan's latest: 50 ways to cut education costs in the Upcoming Budget from Hell. Heck, it might even inspire 'em to consider "revenue enhancements."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

standards-based grading in Spokane

Spokane's elementary schools will now employ a 4-point grading scale based on state standards, the local newspaper reports.
Most elementary students in Spokane Public Schools are seeing their new report cards for the first time this week; instead of A, B, C, D or F, it’s 4, 3, 2 or 1...

Instead of one letter grade for a whole topic, the numbers correlate to specific elements of learning within that topic. Instead of a grade for “writing,” for example, a student might receive separate grades for “writes in complete sentences” and “understands punctuation and capitalization.”
Spokane tested the grading scheme for three years before implementing it district-wide, a smart move.

I hope someday high schools adopt a similar scheme--one that translates directly into a grade point average, rather than the percentage-based adjustments we use now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

how bleak is it?

Last night's Legislative Forum had a theme: the future is bleak.

How bleak?

Check out The Olympian's article about Gregoire's decision to not call a special session.
She said the gap is huge, and puts unprotected programs at serious risk of cuts – including any discretionary programs fully funded by state dollars. Examples include the Basic Health Plan, which after budget cuts this year is projected to give subsidized health insurance to about 65,000 low-income working adults.

Another program facing threats of cuts is the General Assistance Unemployable program that gives cash stipends of about $339 a month and health care to people who are disabled or in some way unable to work. That program has been retooled into a managed-care health-delivery system; however, that is supposed to save $40 million in the next 18 months, unless it is scrapped.

Financial aid to college students is also at serious risk.
All that echoes exactly what our local legislators said yesterday. It's going to be a painful 2010. With Brendan Williams being the only one keen to discuss raising taxes, and with 2010 being an election year, you can pretty much count on steep cuts to the existing budget.

Monday, November 16, 2009

liveblogging the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum

4:56 p.m.
Why am I at the WEA Chinook Legislative Forum?
a. To hear legislators talk about the issues.
b. To grab my local representatives by the collective earlobes.
c. To avoid the deluge outside.
d. All of the above.

Oh. I guess it was snacks and chit-chat until 5:30. Guess I could've rolled in a half hour later. Gary Gerst emcees, asking folks to "keep it rolling."

In attendance: Brendan Williams (22nd), Sam Hunt (22nd), and Kathy Haigh (35th). Gary Alexander is rumored to be on the way. (And he showed up.)

A question: what should we expect in the upcoming session?

Kathy Haigh: "I think it's going to be short." "Another $2 billion down, and no significant funding coming from the feds.... It's going to be significant cuts.... We should all be keeping a close eye on [the] health care issue." If the feds stepped in to fund our "Apple" health care for kids, that'd help. ECAP is the "absolute wrong place" to cut from. I-728, 732 are (still) at risk. Levy equalization funds won't be touched. Higher Ed--expect another tuition increase, even letting schools set their own tuition rates.

Brendan Williams: "At the risk of sounding like a liberal Democrat..." The legislature could have raised taxes, but "the votes were bought to keep that from occurring." "I did not vote for [728 and 732] to be suspended." Cutting programs from K-12 education is "the pricetag for political careerism." "It's time to meaningfully distinguish ourselves, with all due respect, from the opposition."

Gary Alexander: "Unlike my friend to the left, I think our first challenge is to see what we can do to reduce the budget. Government will not pull us out of the recession." "We can't continue to cut around the edges... We have to go back and talk about what our priorities are: public health, public safety, and public education.... This may mean the elimination of entire services... that can be replaced by the private sector." "We have to basically produce results that will be sustainable on a long-term basis." I'm not going to vote for a policy that doesn't have any funding."

Sam Hunt: For years this state has kept the crazy old aunt in the closet... our broken tax system.... We have a "crazy tax system." "The sales go down and the caseloads go up every damn time you look at it... We've cut all the edges, we've cut all the low-hanging fruit." "I have some hope that the feds will help with Title I, and health care."

Question for Gary Alexander: Where do we cut?
Things that aren't basic public health, safety, or education: Public health care assistance that isn't matched by federal dollars. Privatize state liquor control board, state printing operations. (Question: Is that enough to find $2 billion? Answer: I don't know.)

Loopholes are discussed. Sam Hunt notes that it was the Lieutenant Governor's move to declare closing a loophole a "tax increase" that shut down debate at the outset. Kathy Haigh notes that we can't necessarily bank on a tax increase that won't take effect until after passing a plebiscite next November.

What about the recommendation to close the Maple Lane juvenile school?

Sam Hunt: It was unfair to put the option, Do we close Green Hill or Maple Lane? "I was very happy to see that the consultants' study recommended closing neither one; there was no cost savings to closing either one."

There's some further crosstalk on this issue, but I'm not an expert in these matters.

What's going to happen to the last remaining LID day?


David Johnston, OEA, discusses HB 2261, which broadened the definition of basic education--but without any attached funding. (It's the bill Alexander referred to earlier, having voted against it because of its precipitous ratio of expectations to appropriations.) Now that we're "living under it," what will the Legislature do to fund it--or will they repeal it?

Kathy Haigh: if we fund it, it has to be prioritized. Funding will come out of GAU and healthcare for those in poverty, some of the places in the budget where we have the "least accountability."

Brendan Williams: I doubt it'll be funded by its target date, 2018. "I'll bet your PAC $500" that it won't.

There's a discussion about Physical Education and obesity. I'm sitting in a chair clickety-clacking at a keyboard, so I'm not going to opine, simply out of fear of hypocrisy.

Kathy Haigh: "Everybody should do the Thriller dance at 8:05."

Sam Hunt talks about the "Core 24" provision, another unfunded mandate. Teachers aren't thrilled by it. He then answers a question about income tax--talking about a potentially more equitable tax system, a chance to reform a structure that hasn't been seriously debated since Booth Gardner was in office.

A few questions and comments came up after that, but my laptop battery decided it was done.

I may post some concluding thoughts in a while. That is, if the gale outside hasn't made mincemeat of the grid.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

visualize data, visualize success

Blog-neighbor The Science Goddess, who is leading the charge in Washington state toward standards-based grading, shares some of her research-based data visualization practices. The upshot:
When I look at this with my teacher eyes, I see so much more of a story appearing about each student. It is no longer a sea of numbers. Now, these fancy-dancy charts won't help me know what to do next (e.g. If students are still below standard, what should the intervention be?), but it may be a better start for identifying issues.
Absolutely. I'll go one step further:

Have students visualize their own data.

Google Docs offers a basic spreadsheet program with enough chart-generating bells and whistles to make it effective for student use, provided enough teacher input. Here's how I set it up: first, I create a spreadsheet with a title row, formulas, and a blank chart inserted. Then I make copies, renaming each after its intended student, and share that copy with that student.

Then, with a little guidance, I have them input data that they've recorded on paper--gotta have a backup!--and the chart appears as if by magic.

It ends up looking like this:

I'll report back at the end of the semester as to whether it's an effective strategy for tracking progress in reading fluency. My gut says it's working, but then, my gut also thinks bacon is a food group.

Update: The Science Goddess adds Part II, with a sample report card.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Federal Way lawsuit fails

In a 9-0 decision, the State Supreme Court reversed a lower court's ruling and rejected the Federal Way School District's suit against the state for, among other things, failure to equitably and amply provide funding. The Washington State Constitution provides for a "general and uniform" public school system, which, in practice, is anything but. However, the Court argued that disparities have lessened, and that Federal Way is a victim of its own success, since its higher test scores (relative to lower-funded neighbors) are evidence that its funding is adequate.

Today's loss is a practical disappointment, but a legal inevitability. It remains to be seen whether a similar lawsuit in King County, to which the Olympia School District is a party, will fare any better.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

OSD could learn from City of Olympia

Last year, in the middle of some of the toughest budget decisions in recent Olympia School District memory, the District publicized a list of potential cuts, allowing citizens an unprecedented level of transparency in the budget process. What was missing? Interactivity.

To fill in the gap, I took data from District PDF files and created a somewhat hurky spreadsheet, so you could play around with the figures and try to balance the budget on your own.

If I had any coding skills, I would've added something like the City of Olympia is offering now. "Constrained prioritization" is the name of the game: you rate services or priorities from 1-4, but you're forced to limit each rating to only 11 out of the 44 choices--in other words, you can't put everything as a "1" or a "4." It's hard. (Sorry, Parks and Recreation.)

It's not a perfect survey, but it's a step. Next time the OSD stares down another tough budget--and you can bet that's going to be soon--it would do well to collect its constituents' input in a similar fashion.

[Link via Mathias Eichler.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

OEA recommends school board candidates

The Olympia Education Association's Candidate Interview Team recently interviewed the three candidates running for election to the Olympia School District Board of Directors: Allen Miller, Mark Campeau, and Eileen Thomson. In this unusual election season, all three are running for the first time after having previously served via appointment to their respective positions--and all three are running unopposed.

Allen Miller
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Allen Miller for the Olympia School Board District 2 position. Director Miller expanded on his written responses during an interview on October 15th at the OEA office. He emphasized the importance of open communication, trust, respect and collaboration as key elements in his role as a Board member and across groups and interests in the district. Director Miller stated that he would use the District’s Strategic Plan to guide his decisions on policy and the district budget. In budget development, Director Miller listed his priorities as, first, keeping future cuts as far from the classroom as possible, and second, employing a transparent, inclusive process. Director Miller invited communication from teachers and suggested that email was the best way to contact him with questions or concerns. We encourage Director Miller to take a more proactive role in reaching out to faculty and staff across the District.

Mark Campeau
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Mark Campeau for the Olympia School Board District 5 position. Director Campeau responded to questions during an interview on October 15th at the OEA office. He identified the importance of the Board’s role in providing clear, strong policy leadership as a key element in improving student learning. Director Campeau felt that the District’s Strategic Plan was a good guiding document for the Board to use in its decision-making processes for budget and policy issues. He emphasized the need for adequate resources to allow teachers to meet the needs of their current students. He stated that he had enjoyed visiting buildings and talking with teaching staff and emphasized the importance of hearing from a variety of sources about concerns and successes in the District. He plans to continue his visits. Director Campeau included maintaining class size and programs focused on improving student learning as key considerations in the budget development process. We applaud Director Campeau for his efforts to build relationships with faculty and staff across the District.

Eileen Thompson
The OEA Candidate Interview Team recommends Director Eileen Thompson for the Olympia School Board District 3 position. Director Thompson responded in writing to questions from the Candidate Interview Team. In her responses, she included open access, improved communication and improving student learning as critical elements to be addressed in her role as a member of the Board. Director Thompson felt that the District’s Strategic Plan should serve as the guiding document for her decisions on the Board. In the budget process, she emphasized maintaining an open, inclusive process and keeping future cuts away from the classroom as priorities. Director Thompson stated that she has enjoyed spending time in buildings and welcomes communication with staff members. We applaud Director Thomson for her efforts to include new voices in the District conversation.

For the second election running, the OEA Candidate Interview Team included myself, Sharyn Merrigan, and Dan McCartan.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

saved by the stimulus, or adventures in accounting

How has the stimulus affected public education?
Teachers appear to have benefited most from the effort to save jobs with the $787 billion recovery package, which sent billions of dollars to states that were on the verge of ordering heavy layoffs in education.

The national data on the impact of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan won't be available until later this month. But based on preliminary information obtained by The Associated Press from a handful of states, the stimulus spared tens of thousands of teachers from losing their jobs.
Not surprising. We saw this very scenario play out here in the Olympia School District earlier this year. A potentially heartbreaking RIF was avoided in large part due to a sudden influx of federal cash, mostly averting--or, perhaps more accurately, delaying--a crisis.

But the article is also a commentary on the government's new attempt to bring transparency to the doling-out process. The brutal honesty quote:
The White House says more than 1 million jobs have been saved or created so far, a figure that is so murky it can never be verified. That's because the White House estimate is based on economic models that try to calculate the effect of tax cuts and the ripple effect of government spending.
And the good news/bad news quote:
Officials have said the unprecedented accounting could become standard for government programs in the future, and this week's data release will offer the first indication of how it's working.
The good news: translucency bordering on transparency. The bad news: somehow this is a new idea.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Obama plans to ruin your summer vacation

Kids who creepily sang Obama's praises the other day: might want to rethink that. Obama wants to amputate your summer break.
"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.
Just give the plan a snappy title--No Child Left Outside?--and watch it sail through Congress.

In all seriousness, reconfiguring the summer break is way, way overdue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

grades are arbitrary?!!

A "D" average is good enough to earn a diploma, according to the Seattle Public Schools.

The district is considering dropping graduation standards from a "C" average to a "D" average in order to boost the number of college-ready students.

The school board is doing its own math on the district's logic.

According to an administrator, the district wants to offer more advanced classes and raise the bar. In order to do so, it needs money. To get that money, it has to find a way to keep more kids in school. So a "D" might be good enough to graduate.
What does a "D" mean?

Some places, you pass with a C. Others, you pass with a D. Some places, a C starts at 70. Other places, a C starts at 62.

Yep. Grades are arbitrary.

Which is what makes arguments over changing grading schemes so much fun.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

in today's education headlines

1. Kent teachers defy court order; continue strike. (There's no Becca Bill for teachers.)

2. Obama urges all children to assimilate into the Borg.

3. An instrumental version of "Ave Maria" breaches the wall of separation, apparently.

Happy school year, everybody.

(Oh, and one more: Washington's doomsayers predict swine flu for a third of us.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Obama's speech to schools echoes a previous president

In the Olympia School District, we won't be in school on Tuesday when President Obama delivers a speech to the nation's students. Nevertheless, the controversy over the speech has prompted Superintendent Lahmann to issue a statement:
On Tuesday, September 8, President Obama will do a national address to students about education. The national media has focussed on concerns that have been raised about the address being shown in schools. We have received a few emails and phone calls of both support and opposition about having students watch the broadcast.

Since our students do not start school until Wednesday, September 9, it seems obvious that we will not be broadcasting the President's message to students live. If parents or community members contact you about this issue, please remind them when school starts.

I have attached a copy of a Question & Answer release that the Department of Education sent out related to the President's speech. If staff wants to record the President's speech and use it later as part of a lesson, they may do so just as they would use an other supplemental resource. Given the concerns that have surfaced, please be sensitive to the controversial nature of any use.
The last time a president asked for a bully pulpit at the front of your classroom? Back in 1991, when Bush--George Herbert Walker Bush--asked for support of his educational goals.

Jim Lindgren links to the story, and does a little WestLaw digging to find media reactions.

In October of 1991, I must have been in seventh grade. I don't remember Bush's speech in the slightest.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

strikes and lawsuits and swine flu...

...add your own "Oh my."

The school year commences in Washington state with a strike in the Kent district...
More than 1,000 striking teachers packed the picket line outside Kent School District headquarters Friday to let everyone know about their unhappiness with contract talks.

With only two days left to work out an agreement before school is supposed to start, striking teachers from every school in the Kent district showed up for the rally.

"We feel very put against the wall, painted into a corner - very disrespected that the district wasn't willing to bargain," says teacher Pat Deming.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters did a drive-by of support for the teachers' demands from the district as some teachers shouted, "Class size! Class size! Class size!"
(And read Ryan's take for some criticism of a critic; Lake Stevens is striking, too; at least Shoreline seems to have avoided the worst.)

...and a court date for the NEWS lawsuit...
Right in the middle of a recession that has created the worst atmosphere for school budgeting in decades, a coalition of Washington school districts, parents, teachers and community groups is going to court Monday to demand that the state start paying the full cost of education.

Attorneys for both sides say the economy will have little or no influence on the outcome of the non-jury trail, scheduled to begin on the first day of the school year for many district and to continue for six weeks of testimony in King County Superior Court before Judge John Erlick.

School districts have been struggling economically for decades, so while the recession makes things worse it doesn't make them different, said Mike Blair, chair of the group calling itself Network for Excellence in Washington Schools.
...and, of course, a potentially deadly flu strain.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

swine flu predictions worsen; is your school ready?

Word from a White House report says that 50% of Americans could contract H1N1 this coming autumn.
The virus, clinically called H1N1, could cause symptoms in 60 million to 120 million people, more than half of whom might seek medical attention, and could peak before a vaccine is widely available, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated in an 86-page report assessing the government's response to the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

Although most cases probably would be mild, up to 300,000 people could require intensive care, which could tie up all those beds in some parts of the country at the peak of the outbreak, the council said.
If it gets that bad, you know that schools will be hit hard. Education Secretary Arne Duncan offers recommendations:
Duncan said schools should evaluate what materials they have available for at-home learning. The latest guidance provides more details on methods schools could use, such as distributing recorded classes on podcasts and DVDs; creating take-home packets with up to 12 weeks of printed class material; or holding live classes via conference calls or "webinars."

Federal officials said earlier this month schools should close only as a last resort. They also advised that students and teachers can return to school or work 24 hours after their fever is gone; the old advice was to stay home for a week. The virus prompted more than 700 schools to temporarily close last spring.
Online school: a solution that was evident back in April--or sooner, for some.

Upodate 8/29: Some 200 students at Washington State University have reported sick, many potentially with swine flu. In a pattern we're seeing across the country, the flu seems to strike within a week or two of the start of classes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

word to principals: you are not cops

The drug war has apparently driven an East Hartford, Connecticut administrator to distraction--and resignation.
A middle school assistant principal facing charges related to sending a student to buy drugs in order to catch another student selling them has agreed to resign.

Amy E. Watson, 37, of Ellington, will step down effective Friday, according to school board Chairwoman Mary Alice Dwyer Hughes....

Watson has been on administrative leave pending an investigation into whether she paid a student to buy drugs from a suspected drug dealer March 11.

Edwin Soto, 50, of Suffield, also was arrested in the case. He was the school security officer.

Watson surrendered to police May 8 and was charged with risking injury or impairing the morals of a child and tampering with a witness.
The last time we had a drug-related story this silly, the Supreme Court had to weigh in. Are some principals spending all their free time watching The Shield?

[via Obscure Store]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

giddy with anticipation for the last time

For most, Christmas comes twice a year: once in December, and once in July, when Santa descends from the North Pole to deliver mattress sales.

For Washington educator-types, Christmas comes a third time, in August, when the state releases WASL results.

For one last year. After this, we'll have to get giddy about the High School Proficiency Exam, or HSPE, which, quite frankly, doesn't roll off the tongue.* What else does the future hold?
Students in third-through-eighth-grades will take the new Measurements of Student Progress. It will be shorter than the WASL.

About a quarter of the state’s sixth-through-eighth-graders are expected to take their exams online next spring, according to OSPI.

Dorn plans to have the majority of state testing online by the spring of 2012.
And who knows what the test will be like / called by then.

*Any experts at OSPI care to tell us how to pronounce the shorthand version? Is it H-S-P-E? HissPee? HizzPeh? H-Spee?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

a little love for the WASL

This morning's Seattle Times offers an article on a recent survey of Washington teachers regarding the soon-to-be-obsolete WASL. An unfortunately small, probably unrepresentative sample reports that, yes, there are some good things about having a statewide standardized test that values critical thinking.
Teachers echoed many of the same old criticisms of the WASL — it's too long, the results are confusing and don't come back in time — but they also credited the WASL with improving students' writing and reasoning skills.

They pointed favorably to its "extended response" questions, which are to be eliminated from new exams favored by Randy Dorn, the new state superintendent of public instruction who campaigned to replace the WASL.

The new tests, to be introduced next spring, will continue to have some short-answer questions but will be largely multiple-choice.

That will be true for the state exams given to 10th-graders and those for students in third though eighth grades. The only exception will be the writing section, where students will still be judged on the quality of short essays.
Researchers found that most of the teachers they surveyed wanted to improve, rather than replace, the WASL. The difference is tough to discern. At some point, we enter into Ship of Theseus territory.

And what about the upcoming non-WASL?
[Superintendent Randy] Dorn is working to offer the test online; math sections will be updated; and the superintendent's office is working on classroom tests that would allow teachers to diagnose what help students need.
Missing: by 2014, math tests will be end-of-course exams directly linked to instruction in various subjects, since not all students take the same math sequence. (The way things have gone, who knows what'll be required by then, anyway.)

The key change is the new, technologically-mediated approach to the upcoming non-WASL's diagnostic capabilities. If the test, as its proponents claim, validly points out deficiencies in instruction, then that information needs to be in schools' and teachers' hands within days, not months. (And, as I argue elsewhere, a better diagnostic test might not even need to be linked to graduation to be effective.)

Last, if we can save at least ten of the sixteen hours currently spent administering the 10th-grade WASL, I'll see that as a win.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

a very beefcake fundraiser

Vashon Island dads are baring it all to keep their local school district from cutting staff. No, this is not my attempt at pitching a script:
"By day they are attorneys and bankers, at night they are windsurfers, kayakers, farmers, musicians, cyclists," said Kris Thompson who calls herself a co-producer on the project.

What exactly is the project you may ask?

It's a beefcake calendar, "a la Calendar Girls...if you know the story," said Thompson.

This group commutes daily on the ferry from Vashon Island to downtown Seattle and that's where they came up with the idea. So naturally they've dubbed themselves, "The Dreamboats."

Each month of the calendar features one of the Dreamboats posing in the buff, with their personal areas covered by props from their individual hobby of choice.
They hope to raise $10,000.

Whatever they earn, is the Vashon School District going to take the money? You bet they are.

P.S. Not to rain on their parade or anything, but unless they inspire an army of supporters to join their efforts, $10,000 isn't going to save even one position. Which is sad.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

deconstructing merit pay

Ryan at I Thought a Think explains why merit pay is never a simple matter.
So, who is your Most Valuable Teacher?

Is it Teacher A, who added the most value to her class over the course of the year?
Is it Teacher B, who had more of her kids meet the year-end goal?
Is it Teacher C, whose class scored the highest in the spring?
Is it Teacher D, who turned around more failing kids than any of the others?

"Value" is a homophone; there's the value signified by the numbers, but there's also the values of the school, the district, and the state which have to be superimposed atop any effort to link the data to the teacher. If the incentive pay/merit pay/whatever pay in this case goes to only one of the four teachers, you're making a statement about the value of the work the other three did, and it's a pretty lousy thing to say to the other three who also made progress that their success didn't matter as much.
And, of course, there are even more fundamental assumptions at work:
1. That the differences across teachers are statistically significant. (In small sample sizes, chance is magnified.)
2. That there are no mitigating factors that better explain students' growth within and across classes. (How much is due to good ol' maturation? Are all relevant factors controlled for?)
3. That the test measures something important.

We run into more trouble when we deal with mobile populations, or when we consider high school teachers who see their students for only fifty-five minutes a day in a single subject.

This is not to say only nay to the prospect of performance pay for teachers. I'm sure with today's data collecting and crunching powers, some magic formula can be worked out--something akin to the Netflix prize for education--but as Ryan shows, first we have to agree on what we actually value.