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Preview: A Shrewdness of Apes

A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Updated: 2018-04-23T04:25:40.383-05:00


I am shocked-- SHOCKED!-- to find that cheating is going on here!


So apparently, to make sure we don't get shocked, let's just NOT LOOK.

One case accuses a teacher of filling in bubble sheets of her students who should have been taking state exams. Another says administrators called pupils into the office so they could have a second chance at questions they missed.

All told, more than 100 reports of standardized testing irregularities, including cheating, poured into the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 and 2011, according to documentation obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Thirty-two of those were from the St. Louis area.

And yet, the Missouri education department does nothing on its own to seek out cases of test fraud, despite the availability of effective statistical tools that could weed out potential abuses. Of the $8.4 million the state spends to administer the Missouri Assessment Program, nothing is spent on test fraud detection services.

Failure to invest in the integrity of Missouri's test scores has continued even as schools face rising pressure — and in some cases, incentives — to improve under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And it has continued in the face of test cheating scandals across the nation — from Atlanta to Washington to Philadelphia to Los Angeles.

Critics suggest it's simply easier for states to look the other way. "If you don't look, you don't find," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. "You are void of embarrassment by not asking tough questions."

Missouri education officials rely on a system of self-reporting that assumes teachers and administrators will come to the state when they know of possible abuse. Under this approach, even when allegations of testing irregularities are reported — as they were 41 times in 2011 — the state and school districts rarely engage in the kind of rigorous statistical review many say is needed.

The state has also dismantled a program due to funding reductions that had sent inspectors randomly into schools to ensure tests are administered properly.

State education officials say looking for red flags would add thousands of dollars to the testing contract at a time when the state has cut department funding. "There is a cost to that," said Sharon Hoge, an assistant commissioner at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We have tried to rely on self reports in our districts in Missouri. I'm not telling you that means there are not things possibly that are going on that we don't know about."

Read the whole thing. It's fascinating.

I think our state legislators need to realize there's a cost to not checking on reports of cheating. And that is that... excuse me if this is obvious... schools and principals and teachers and students will cheat because there is so much riding on the outcome of these tests.

Idaho teachers push back against mindless implementation of technology


Is technology the solution to problems of student motivation and learning? Some Idaho teachers are pushing back against the blanket assumption that the adoption of technology will make everything better:Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard.To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.This change is part of a broader shift that is creating tension — a tension that is especially visible in Idaho but is playing out across the country. Some teachers, even though they may embrace classroom technology, feel policy makers are thrusting computers into classrooms without their input or proper training. And some say they are opposed to shifting money to online classes and other teaching methods whose benefits remain unproved.“Teachers don’t object to the use of technology,” said Sabrina Laine, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which has studied the views of the nation’s teachers using grants from organizations like the Gates and Ford Foundations. “They object to being given a resource with strings attached, and without the needed support to use it effectively to improve student learning.”In Idaho, teachers have been in open revolt. They marched on the capital last spring, when the legislation was under consideration. They complain that lawmakers listened less to them than to heavy lobbying by technology companies, including Intel and Apple. Teacher and parent groups gathered 75,000 verified signatures, more than was needed, to put a referendum on the ballot next November that could overturn the law.“This technology is being thrown on us. It’s being thrown on parents and thrown on kids,” said Ms. Rosenbaum, 32, who has written letters to the governor and schools superintendent. In her letters she tells them she is a Republican and a Marine, because, she says, it has become fashionable around the country to dismiss complaining teachers as union-happy liberals.“I fought for my country,” she said. “Now I’m fighting for my kids.”Gov. C. L. Otter, known as Butch, and Tom Luna, the schools superintendent, who have championed the plan, said teachers had been misled by their union into believing the changes were a step toward replacing them with computers. Mr. Luna said the teachers’ anger was intensified by other legislation, also passed last spring, that eliminated protections for teachers with seniority and replaced it with a pay-for-performance system.Some teachers have also expressed concern that teaching positions could be eliminated and their raises reduced to help offset the cost of the technology.Mr. Luna acknowledged that many teachers in the state were conservative Republicans like him — making Idaho’s politics less black and white than in states like Wisconsin and New Jersey, where union-backed teachers have been at odds with politicians.Mr. Luna said he understood that technological change could be scary, particularly because teachers would need to adapt to new ways of working.“The role of the teacher definitely does change in the 21st century. There’s no doubt,” Mr. Luna said. “The teacher does become the guide and the coach and the educator in the room helping students to move at their own pace.”Many details about how students would use their laptop or tablet are still being debated. But under the state’s plan, that teacher will not always be in the room. The plan requires high school students to take online courses for two of their 47 graduation credits.Mr. Luna said this would allow students to take su[...]

As Sam Cooke sang, "La da da da da da da- history!"


Yep, knowledge of US history has seldom been demonstrated so poorly by so many, including those who claim to be patriots:

AMERICAN history is in vogue, if not well understood. American revolutionaries are reincarnated as tea-partiers. Pocket editions of the constitution are a must-have accessory for politicians. Last month Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman and tea-party favourite, told Iowans that America’s Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more”. Never mind that this was untrue. It sounded nice.

History teaching is far from the biggest crisis in American education. But it is a problem nevertheless, and a neglected one. A broad effort to create voluntary national standards does not include history. No Child Left Behind, George Bush’s education law, tests pupils on maths, reading and science. On February 14th Barack Obama stressed the importance of teaching science, technology and 21st-century skills. Meanwhile America’s schoolchildren score even more poorly in history than in maths: 64% of high-school seniors scored “basic” on a national maths test in 2009, but only 47% reached that level on the most recent national history test.

One problem, a new report argues, is that states have pathetic standards for what history should be taught. Good standards do not ensure that students will learn history. But they are a crucial guide, according to Chester Finn of the Fordham Institute, a conservative think-tank. A study from Fordham, published on February 16th, grades each state for the quality of its history standards. Twenty-eight states received a “D” or an “F”.

Many states emphasise abstract concepts rather than history itself. In Delaware, for example, pupils “will not be expected to recall any specific event or person in history”. Other states teach children about early American history only once, when they are 11. Yet other states show scars from the culture wars. A steady, leftward lean has been followed by a violent lurch to the right. Standards for Texas, passed last year, urge pupils to question the separation of church and state and “evaluate efforts by global organisations to undermine US sovereignty through the use of treaties”.

Some states fare better. South Carolina has set impressive standards—for example, urging teachers to explain that colonists did not protest against taxation simply because taxes were too high. Other states, Mr Finn argues, would do well to follow South Carolina’s example. “Twenty-first century skills” may help pupils become better workers; learning history makes them better citizens.

Why is it that many of our nation's educational leaders, including politicians with no education experience, feel that our citizens and future voters do not need to understand our nation's history? Sometimes I get paranoid and wonder if it isn't deliberate. Then that freaks me out.

School suspends student over hair grown for donation


This is absolutely moronic:
The board of a Flint-area charter school refused Wednesday evening to relent on its insistence that a high school student cut or restyle his long hair before allowing him to return to classes.

Instead, the board of Madison Academy offered four options to 17-year-old J.T. Gaskins and his mother, Christa Plante, during a meeting with the pair.

The options: Gaskins could trim his hair as originally requested; he could braid it, get a perm or any other styling to help him comply with the rules; he could transfer to another school; or organize a fundraiser for the charity.

"We would like to have J.T. return tomorrow," board president Nicholas Mihailoff said. "We feel like we're presenting four very reasonable options."

Plante said after the meeting she was exhausted and needed time to evaluate her options to "make the best decision for everybody."

She told board she would let them know if Gaskins will be attending class Thursday, Mihailoff said.

Gaskins, a senior at the school, has been suspended for more than a week for violating the school's dress code. He has been growing his hair out since the holidays to donate it to Locks of Love, a charity that helps make wigs for cancer patients.

The academy's policy requires male students to keep their hair clean, neat and off the collar.

Read the whole thing.

If he was a girl, of course, there would be no issue. Apparently, this charter school wants to be excused from exercising charity, compassion, good judgment and empathy.

Iowa is like a reef, and ships just keep crashing into it.


Wow, looking at the preliminary results from the Republican caucuses tonight, and I gotta say: Really?

Santorum and Romney in a virtual tie, with Ron Paul chasing third.

I have to admit that the voters in Iowa are just completely incomprehensible to me. Well, no that's not true. I mean, have you ever been to a caucus?

I have.

There you are shut up with a bunch of strangers for hours. The set-up is meant to draw only the most dedicated (or the morbidly curious-- it WAS kind of like watching an overripe pumpkin get hit by an aluminum bat in sheer messiness), which of course, skews the reliability of the results.

And then there's the demographics of Iowa itself, courtesy of the US Census Bureau. It's got a little less than one percent of the US population, and its population has grown at less than half the rate of the country as a whole over the last decade. It's 91% white. Just under 3% of its population is African American, and 1.7% of its population is Asian. Its Hispanic population in 5%. Less than 4% of its population is foreign born. Its percentage of people who report speaking a language other than English in the home is one-third that of the United States as a whole. Its high school graduation rate is slightly higher than the national average (good for y'all!) but its percentage of those holding a bachelor's degree is slightly lower (aww).

I am sure it's a lovely state. But it certainly is not representative of the US as a whole. Is that why the national parties cater to it by allowing it to seize the hopes and dreams of politicians every four years far out of proportion to its actual relevance as a testing ground? I mean, this place is so bland it makes mayonnaise look like a spice.

And now, we see Rick Santorum tied with Mitt Romney (speaking of mayonnaise) as the preferred candidates out of the field, although by what appears to be the lowest percentages and the lowest turnout in quite some time, even by Iowa standards. And then libertarian Ron Paul, the guy who redefines the phrase "rope-a-dope" in my mind, follows the Yin and Yang Brothers.

I am... bemused? concerned? confused? by not only the field of candidates the Republicans have managed to cobble together, sure, but also by this refusal to consider anyone with any interest (not talking experience, but just interest, here) in foreign policy while we've got some pretty serious stuff going on in the world. Now of course the economy is a vital concern, and it should be. But I don't see Santorum or Paul having a dog in that hunt either. Santorum's thinly veiled social and racial warfare just has to be on the verge of collapse. Ron Paul's naked gospel of anti-social selfishness and self-centeredness makes the 1970s seem like a Salvation Army campaign. And Romney, poor Romney, if only we didn't feel like this guy will say or believe anything (and therefore nothing) in order to get elected (Sound familiar? You could say this about Barack Obama, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucuses, with some credence, as well). So I have a question directed to Iowa:


Thank you. That is all. I must go lie down now.

What can you deduce from these clues?


1. Kid asks if she can start staying after school with me every day of the week so I can personally fix all of her test-taking problems.

2. Work from absences three months ago is just randomly left on my keyboard-- sometimes, along with bribes of my favorite candy.

3. Parents suddenly start checking Precious's grades online every five minutes.

4. Parents have placed a call block on all numbers from the school district.

5. Parents unleash avalanches of emails questioning all 43 grades in the gradebook.

6. Parents and kids claim that they cannot comprehend my classroom website, particularly, that they can't find the list of deadlines ANYWHERE (it is under the tab called, strangely enough, DEADLINES).

7. Parents and kids start asking if kids can retake tests.

8. I start getting emails from aunts and grandmas.

Well? Have you guessed????


It's the end of the semester fast approaching!!!!



Hooray! Evaluation time again! This time my administrator came in on the day I had a raging sinus infection, but c'est la vie. I really didn't care because frankly, the Cornelius door is ALWAYS open.

Anyway, the kids tried their very best to make me look good (bless their little hearts!), we had a great discussion, and I showed up the next day for my post-observation conference.

She was very complementary. Very. She actually said that she believed I was the best teacher in the department (which isn't true, but is still very nice to hear). But she was pretty insistent about it and cited numerous examples. For well over half an hour, and I was pretty embarrassed, let me tell you. She said she actually stopped scripting because she got lost in the lesson and was actually learning.


(There always is one, isn't there?)

The reason I mention the complements is to discuss what was written down.


Boilerplate language: "Ms. Cornelius is competent in her knowledge of subject matter." "Ms. Cornelius works with other staff members."

If she really thought that my teaching was that awesome, it would be nice to see her testify to that. And you know the etymology of the word, "testify," don't you?

( In the ancient world, men swore the truth about something by putting their hand on their testicles. Thus, they were "testes- fying.")

Our administrators have apparently been completely warned against saying anything complementary NO MATTER HOW STRONGLY the administrator believes that complements are in order). The top ranking on our evaluation forms is "meets expectations."

So, in other words, our evaluations are NOT actually supposed to indicate any real evaluation.

Yes, and Arne Duncan wants me to roll the dice on merit pay, right? I can already tell you what would happen if that were instituted in my district. Either NO ONE would get merit pay and raises would actually disappear except for the superintendent and his staff, OR the nattering nabobs of nepotism that haunt the office and the eight-legged administrators (those with a staff member so far up their administraors' keisters that they look like they have eight legs).

I know I am a good teacher. But I would like my written evaluations to honestly reflect my strengths. The administration has been instructed to write these non-evaluations so that they can later fire us at will with no evidence that we were ever anything but "adequate."

It's actually insulting.

The (Mis)adventures of Yo-yo Boy


One of the things the Petty Bureaucrats Who Think They Know All don't get about teaching-- among many, many, many, MANY things!-- is the emotional care and guidance teachers expend upon their students. This part of the student-teacher relationship has very little to do (in an obvious way) about test scores and yet it cannot be ignored.

One of my students is Yo-yo Boy. Yo-yo Boy's dad and mom are not in the picture, but YYB does have a cousin and her husband. YYB has some issues: he will lie absolutely to your face, he will steal anything not nailed down, he has a trillion excuses and a healthy self-pitying martyr complex for any failures on his part, he is absolutely mesmerized by the presence of female persons without having the minutest idea of how to appropriately interact with them. Worse, he is a victim of the rankest social promotion on the part of a neighboring school district that I have ever seen-- to the extent that he was (non)functionally illiterate when we first got him in our high school. Yo-yo Boy has bounced around from home to home, school to school, suspension to suspension.

It is my happy duty to teach this young fella. It is also my happy duty to impart the following wisdom, in the order in which it occurred:
1) Ms. Cornelius does NOT want to know the color of your underwear, and neither does anyone else.
2) Grabbing the derriere of a young lady you do not know does NOT enamor her of you and will indeed get you suspended.
3) The secret to passing a class is to... get this!-- do the assignments, study for tests and quizzes, and pay attention in class.
4) The preliminary secret to #3 is to bring a pencil, your assignments, and a book to class every day. Without fail.
5) Dudes do not carry purses in our neck of the woods, so having one in your possession will cause you to get jugged for stealing.
6) Do not mouth off to the people providing you with shelter or fight with their own children, or you will get thrown out of the house, even if they love you.
7) You are not a bad enough mamma- jamma to make it on the streets for even five seconds, so pay attention to #6.
8) You will get fired from your job if you do not show up on time, so yes, Ms. Cornelius counts tardies. Plus, you do not be engaging in #2 or #5 so that you then violate #8.
9) Ms. Cornelius will cross-check every single thing you tell her, so don't even bother to lie.
10) If you do not understand, ask.

Sadly, Yo-yo Boy violated #6 one too many times. I do not know if I will see him again.

Or he could turn up tomorrow.

That's just part of the teaching life in a real public school, where testing is sometimes the least measure of our worth.

This is amazing.


How would you like to be a teacher for 55 years?

How would you like to be a principal of a middle school for 48 years?

Madeleine P. Brennan maintains Dyker Heights Intermediate School 201 in Brooklyn as something of a time capsule.

Female secretaries, guidance counselors and assistant principals are asked to wear dresses or skirts; teachers may wear slacks, but not dungarees; men all wear ties. The marble staircase shines; the hallways are painted a classic pale blue. Each year before Christmas, there is Rhinestone Week, in which Mrs. Brennan encourages staff members to rummage through their grandmothers’ things for old costume jewelry to wear.

But the prize artifact of the past is Mrs. Brennan herself, who has been principal of the school for 48 years, longer than most of her teachers have been alive — longer, experts believe, than any other principal in the country. When she first arrived to work at this imposing brick building in March 1963, John F. Kennedy was president, ZIP codes were not yet in use, and the nearby Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was still under construction.

She has outlasted more than a dozen schools chancellors, who made what she described as “little changes here and there,” and watched a student body dominated by the children of Italian immigrants transform into one that is 45 percent Asian-American and 18 percent Hispanic.

But as the city embarks on an overhaul of its middle schools, Mrs. Brennan believes that what works remains the same. Consistent rules and consequences. A dedicated, hard-working staff. A calendar stuffed with activities like a Shakespeare fair and an annual musical. Sincere care for your charges.

“Teenagers fascinate me,” Mrs. Brennan said in an interview in her pin-straight office. “They are peculiar ducks, neither fish nor fowl. And you have to love them to really work with them. If you don’t love them, you are up a tree.”

Read the whole thing.

The Herritage Foundation thinks I'm overpaid.


According to this report, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, et al., teachers are overpaid.

Here is an analysis from Time magazine via Yahoo News that summarizes the report. The claim that teachers are overpaid is based upon the following assumptions:
1) Teachers have lower cognitive ability-- or to put it another way, IQs.
Really? I'll put my IQ up against that of Joseph Coors (one of the original founders of the Heritage Foundation) any day. And I know plenty of mentally negligible people who work in the brewing industry.

2) Public school teachers get paid more than private school teachers.
Right, and private school teachers also are often not certified, or many of them would teach in the public schools.

3) People entering teaching from other fields get an average 9% raise over the pay from their previous job.
How does this prove anything other than the fact that people indeed usually try to move into a new profession in order to make more money than in the profession they are leaving behind?

Apparently, they also calculated "vacation" into the benefits that makes teachers over paid. There's always that misconception hanging out there. So let me try to explain this simply: Teachers get NO paid vacation. Part-time UPS drivers get more paid vacation than we do. We have unpaid summer breaks, during which times many teachers work second jobs or work for free on planning and preparation for the upcoming school year.

The whole thing is laughable.

The soundtrack of my life, after Steve


Transitions playlist

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. You helped me fill my life with music. All Things Must Pass.

Greg Laswell, How the Day Sounds
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass
John Martyn, May You Never
Gillian Welch, Dark Turn of Mind
Imogen Heap, Wait It Out
Iron & Wine, The Boy With a Coin
The Civil Wars, 20 Years
Joni Mitchell, A Case of You
Jude Cole, Right There Now
Fountains of Wayne, All Kinds of Time
Ingrid Michaelson, All Love
Madeleine Peyroux, Dance Me To The End of Love
The Jayhawks, Tampa to Tulsa
J. D. Souther, Faithless Love
Jackson Browne, Fountain of Sorrow
Jonatha Brooke, No Net Below
Jennifer Warnes, It Goes Like It Goes
Jane Siberry, The Life is The Red Wagon
Kate Bush, This Woman's Work
Joan Baez, Simple Twist of Fate
Fleet Foxes, White Winter Hymnal
k. d. lang, Simple
The Antlers, Shiva
The Wailin' Jennys, Calling All Angels
Jane Monheit, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Add this to the list of things that bureaucrats don't understand about teachers' lives.


So here's a situation.

A parent requested a conference with a teacher I know during conference time. This parent began yelling and gesticulating wildly during the conference, until the teacher asked the parent to leave. By the way, the teacher in question is so calm, he's practically a reincarnation of the Buddha. Parent stormed off and went to an administrator and made a bunch of wild claims about the teacher and then stormed out of the administrator's office.

So far, not all that unusual, right?

Here's where it gets interesting: the parent's kid approached the teacher a few days later, accused him of threatening the mother, and then threatened to attack the teacher. This was done IN FRONT OF WITNESSES.

Wow. Makes Race to the Top seem kind of insignificant and out-of-touch, doesn't it?

The assumption that students are all here to learn, that students are all cooperative, sane, and non-violent, is just not a part of the reality of teaching in a public school. That goes for parents, too.

And it's certainly true that the majority of students and parents do not behave this way. But this kind of family is becoming ever more common. There have been more assaults or threatened assaults on teachers of my acquaintance this year that any year that I can remember since I started teaching school back in the 1980s.

Now, luckily, the student has been suspended from school for the maximum allowed time, which is good, since it is known that the family has guns in the house. It is good to know that the administrators took this seriously.

So maybe Arne Duncan has some advice about this situation from his vast well of educational experience? If so, I'd like to hear it.

Open thread: the late great assignment


Query submitted for your approval: Do you accept late work from students? If so, how much, how often, and at what consequence?

What is your district policy on this?

Inquiring minds want to know....

Selling ad space in the classroom


Does this cross a line?
Last month, New Jersey became the first state in the northeast to allow districts to display advertisements on their school buses, noting that districts could earn up to $1,000 per bus by selling ads, The Star-Ledger reported. Other states like Ohio, Utah and Washington had also considered a similar move.

Two years ago, Idaho high school teacher Jeb Harrison started selling ad space on his tests and handouts -- by striking a deal with a local pizza shop.

Florida's Orange County Public Schools have adopted an advertising program that allows marketing in areas including online, on lunch menus, play sponsorships and a parking garage billboard. In about 18 months, the district had made about $270,000, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

While these districts have implemented programs, others are still venturing into the field. Late last month, North Carolina's Guilford County schools discussed at its school board meeting proposals to permit marketing, ranging from ads inside schools to selling naming rights for school stadiums and buildings, WGHP-TV reported.

And there's more to read at the link.

What bothers me is that school district residents who refuse tax increases seem to want something for nothing. They may think that they may never have to support their schools again if schools can just sell ads. On the other hand, I wonder about how much my students really pay attention to ads every where else in their lives they encounter them. I have gotten pretty good at not noticing ads online just because they are so ubiquitous. I guess this also touches upon my earlier rant about PTA/PTO fundraisers.

Have schools ever really been ad-free zones, at least in the last twenty years? Shouldn't they be?

A while back, one of the neighboring school districts cut back on transportation for after school activities. Perhaps, during the last weeks they ran the service, they could have painted along the sides of each bus, "This bus's cancellation provided by the taxpayers of District X." But I guess that would be too bitter, even if true.

What do you think? Are ads in the classroom a harmless way to raise funding?

Unrestrained greed sows class warfare and unrest


So Representative Ryan is criticizing those who are protesting the excesses of Wall Street?

Not nearly as surprising as Sarah Palin criticizing "crony capitalism." In the words of Inigo Montoya in one of my favorite movies of all time, "I dunna think that word means what you THINK it means."

But back to the criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Rep. Ryan stated in the link above, "We shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in Washington either through spending or the tax code."

Amazing. What does he think happens under the unrestrained, excessive business atmosphere of which he is such a fervent acolyte? With no regulation, with government geared to protect the wealthy against the needs of the many, with democracy subverted in the name of wealthy oligarchs who graciously invest in campaign coffers as a easy means to secure their privilege at the expense of the wellbeing of the great mass of citizenry, Rep. Ryan, you policies promote nothing BUT class warfare. When you decry the protesters as "pitting American against American," well, that what your vision of capitalism is, after all.

In unrestrained capitalism, there must always be winners and losers. When are politicians are enlisted in promoting the good of the wealthy rather than the good of the country, there will be millions of "losers" in the name of protecting the handful of "winners."

You keep talking about "job creation," yet under the policies of you and your ilk we have seen job LOSS even with the financially irresponsible promotion of insanely low tax rates which were supposed to produce job growth. You cannot reasonably make a case that all the corporate welfare you and your cronies have promoted has "promoted the general welfare."

Apparently, it's completely acceptable for corporations, who may be persons but are in no way CITIZENS, to exercise free speech, but completely unpatriotic and dangerous for CITIZENS, who are not corporations, to do likewise in the dusty corners of your mind, Representative Ryan.

Interesting. And Orwellian.

National Punctuation Day!


Now we need to invent National Spelling Day....

In honor of this day, a small poem I found:

The period is a busy man.
A small round traffic cop.
He blocks the helter-skelter words
And brings them to a stop.

The question mark's a tiny girl,
She's small but very wise;
She asks too many questions
For a person of her size.

Of all the punctuation folk,
I like the comma best.
For when I'm getting out of breath
He lets me take a rest.

Quotation marks are curious.
When friendly talk begins
You'll always find these little marks
Are busy listening in.

The exclamation mark's an elf,
Who is easily excited.
When children laugh or cry or scream
It's then he's most delighted.

Whenever you come to the end of a thought,
You sign it off with a polka dot.

Beatrice Schenkde Regniers

I'm your teacher, not your friend, but this law is still pointless.


As you may have heard, Missouri passed a law known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, a few weeks ago making it illegal for teachers to have contact with their students via social networking sites. This law immediately faced challenges about its lack of common sense as well as its constitutionality, so much so that a right-leaning teacher group in Missouri (the MSTA) won the race to challenge it in court.

Little more than two weeks after its UNANIMOUS passage in the Missouri legislature (the Missouri legislature being basically as much an embarrassment as most state legislatures are), the law's implementation was stayed by court order.

So, on Friday, September 15, the law was revised by the Missouri Senate, although it has not been passed by the House nor signed by the governor, so the lawsuit continues.

Here's the question: would this law have prevented some horrible people from using their positions of trust and authority as teachers from contact their students for illicit purposes?


I am adamant about NOT friending my students on Facebook until they are out of college, which in my book means they have to be 24 years old. Then, and only then, if they really want to read about Ms. Cornelius' battles with the neighbors' Satanic dogs or my weird snippets of 70s rock songs, then be my guest. They must really have liked me to want to connect after all those years. Hopefully, also, by then, I will not be treated to pictures of their inebriated selves at some fraternity kegger showing off their new nipple ring, which would be deeply traumatic for me (and one would also think for them, but, y'know, c'est la vie).

I also do not give out my phone number, nor do I have a Twitter account, nor do I stay in my room alone with a student without the door open and at least fifteen feet between us.

BUT, disgusting creeps will be disgusting creeps, no matter what. This law would could easily have been read to make my classroom blog illegal, since it was not created under the aegis of our school district's creaky, misbegotten, twitchy, unreliable technology department, of whom I have previously written. If someone in state government REALLY wants to make a difference on this issue, how about making it illegal for districts to cut deals with miscreants who have crossed the line-- for instance, in exchange for a resignation, the district writes a neutral recommendation, merely pawning off creeps onto the next unsuspecting school district faster than you can say "pedophile." At the very least.

But this law? Unconstitutional as written, and also unproductive.

That'll be two boxes of kleenex, please.


The Big Giant Head, the name I assign to whoever it is who sets our department budget, has spread the word that we have fifty bucks apiece to spend on school supplies for the year. We can only spend it on materials ordered through This Special Catalogue.

This Special Catalogue has prices about 150-200% the prices at Office Max.

Who is getting the kickbacks in this situation? That's what I want to know. We are not allow to turn in receipts from an outside store for the school supplies we purchase-- much more cheaply-- ourselves.

Oh, and back when I worked in my first teaching job in a school formerly staffed by nuns, some thirty years ago, guess how much I was allowed to spend on school supplies?

Yep. Fifty bucks.

But those bucks went further, back then. After all, they were in doubloons, because paper money had not been invented yet.

There are no words.


(image) That late great author Douglas Adams once said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

My colleagues in the special education department were supposed to get me all the IEPs for my students who have one last Friday. I just got another one today, and several were emailed, dated 11:59 pm, on Friday evening.

So, nearly half of the kids in my regular classes have IEPs that allow them to turn in work late.

All their work. All the time.

Some of these kids are seventeen and eighteen years old.

Discuss. I'll be back after I wash my mouth out with soap.

Run for the hills! It's PTO fundraiser time!


Well, the school year is barely born, and yet, here comes a darling middle-schooler with loads of fundraising materials for the PTO. I'll be honest: I asked the kid if she would just take a sawbuck and not sell me anything. When that didn't work, I asked the kid what was something in the catalogue that she would like, and I bought it for her. I mean it's not the poor little tyke's fault that the adults associated with her school would rather see their kids taking time away from more important activities to shill out on the streets. As a taxpayer in this district, I am willing to pay for things outright rather than through the sleight-of-hand of school fundraisers which I believe are not beneficial to children. Besides, I would have just not answered the door, but there is a CRAZY neighbor down the street who curses and threatens people, and I felt I had to warn her not to knock on that person's door. I am deeply troubled by PTA/PTO fundraisers for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is the safety issue of sending a kid out to flog their wares to a variety of strangers. I mean, really. Even if the parents are with their kids, this is just not safe behavior in this day and age. My kids are urged to call their aunts and uncles and grandparents to sell, and most of my relatives do not have money to waste on the stuff that is sold in these campaigns. Which leads me to objection number 2.... Second is the awful, overpriced crap they sell. Be it frozen pizzas, cookie dough, candy, wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, silver-plated jewelry, educational books, or whatever, this stuff is repugnant from an aesthetic as well as a pecuniary standpoint. Fourteen bucks for eleven ounces of ersatz Reese's peanut butter cups? You have to be kidding. Some of this stuff is so kitschy even my mother, a dewy-eyed collector of big-eyed kittens and little girls in prairie dresses with face-obscuring bonnets if ever there was one, would wrinkle her nose in disgust. I like my friends, and I am not willing to try to guilt them into buying this stuff for my kid, either. I'm not so sure I would sell this stuff to my worst enemies. Third is the ridiculous goals set and prizes promised. Once again, the prizes are predominantly a collection of crap so cheap they would have been in the rejection pile of the rankest Chinese gewgaw factory, and a kid has to sell a couple of hundred dollars' worth of Pile of Crap #1 to receive a trinket from Pile of Crap #2. Fourth is the reason why these kids are sent out to sell this schtuff in the first place. It is because the PTA/PTO doesn't charge adequate dues for membership in the first place. Two dollars for an individual membership or five dollars for a family is less than what my parents paid in the early seventies when I first entered school. Now I understand their rationale here. I just vehemently disagree with it. Fifth is the percentage of these fundraisers that actually stays with the school. The majority of the funds from this fundraiser of course went to the company that shills this crap in the first place. They usually have some red-white-and-blue name like "All-American Fundraising" or "Great American School Promotions" but the last I checked, child labor is not really considered all that desirable, much less patriotic. The rationale for low PTA/PTO dues (which necessitates these fundraisers to begin with) is that some parents can't afford more. That may be true at many urban schools, and I have all the sympathy in the world for that situation. In that case, fine, charge two bu[...]

Reprise: New Teacher Advice and Tricks of the Trade


This is a reprint of a post I originally wrote in June of 2006. It's been pretty heavily searched the last few days, so I am reposting it again. We wrote this FIVE YEARS AGO! Jeesh. I imagine that there are at least a few people out there in the world who have gotten the happy news that they have been hired for the upcoming school year. There are more hopefuls who are currently undergoing that agony known as interviewing as they search for their first teaching contract. Therefore, I feel that it is my duty as an official Wizened Veteran of the Classroom (I prefer this term to Ancient Hidebound Broad) to share the knowledge I have gained through sweat, toil, and personal peril lo, these many years, as a lion-tamer pedagogue. Several of my edusphere friends have also generously contributed their insight. This post has now become a kind of "Carnival of Classroom Survival," in fact! First, oh paduan, consider classroom management. Have only the rules you are willing to consistently enforce, and consistently enforce the rules you have. Have general classroom expectations written up in a succinct style, avoiding "Don't"s, and hand them out the first day of school. Try to keep the expectations to five. Post the learning goal and agenda for the day on the board every day. Include homework to be assigned and due date. Never threaten a consequence to a student unless you are actually willing to follow through with it. This is vital in making your life easier for the rest of the year. You must be a person of your word. Write referrals only after you have attempted lesser consequences, including privately conferencing with the student and calling the student's guardian. If the student is displaying certain kinds of emotional outbursts which seem "over the top" or otherwise unwarranted, you might also consider a non-discipline referral to the counselor, if you have access to them. You will earn the disdain of your administrators if you write up students without following these steps first. Furthermore, some administrators will use your "failure" to attempt to deal with the situation yourself as an excuse to refuse to act upon their part. Linda adds: "Read the student discipline code, and frame any disciplinary referrals in EXACTLY those words. I failed to do this last year, in a new school, and didn't realize that the magic word (level 2 offense) was "disrespectful". When that word was used, the administration acted." Keep track of each attempt you have made to deal with a difficulty. When the Wizened Veteran was starting out, she began to keep a binder divided by class period, with a sheet for each student she had had to discipline. I have also used a computer, but a binder is more portable. Whether on paper or on computer, this is an easy reference to use, but keep it secure. I did not fill this out in front of the students. Don't be afraid to call guardians. If you call a guardian and only get an answering machine or voicemail, leave a message for the guardian asking him or her to call in a pleasantly neutral voice and record when you did this. Don't get into the gory details in a message. Before calling, find out what the name of the student's guardian is, and what relationship that person has to the student. Don't assume that they share a last name or that they are necessarily the mother or father. Loads of kids are being raised by grandparents, aunts, and even older siblings. In fact, as mister teacher relates, don't make assumptions based on appearance about guardians upon mee[...]

Killing Pell Grants to Save Them?


Basketball Buddy and Education Secretary Arne Duncan went before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week to talk about the increased funding that the Department of Education has requested in next year's budget. You can read all about it here.One part of the discussion with Alabama Senator Richard Shelby caught my eye. No, it wasn't the criticism of Race to the Top,which certainly is a flawed program. It was the discussion of Pell Grants, which are grants of federal money to help economically disadvantaged students afford college and break out of the cycle of poverty.Pell Grants, at risk in the ongoing debt-ceiling negotiations, figured prominently in the conversation. Duncan and Harkin said that cuts to the program have already been made, but expanding its funding its necessary. Increasing poverty and the recession have created greater demand for Pell Grants, making them key to eliminating college entrance barriers among underprivileged students."If we scale back on Pell access, we'll simply have a lot less people going to college," Duncan said.The proposed spending plan calls for a $5.6 billion discretionary spending increase in Pell Grants.Shelby had harsh words for Pell Grants' increasing cost to government, which he said has doubled since 2008."We are on the brink of breaking our commitment to students who wish to attend college because the Pell Grant program is on a fiscally unsustainable path," Shelby said. He said that new laws that expanded eligibility coupled with the recession made the program more costly. "We cannot continue to throw money at this problem," he said.When Harkin repeated his maxim that cutting Pell funding would be "like turning a chainsaw on yourself," Shelby responded that no policymakers "want to chainsaw any program that's going to sustain our education system."But, he argued, the reality of the country's financial situation means "we're all taking a chainsaw to our budgets right now."I don't know, Senator Shelby, I think the last thing to do to demonstrate our commitment to students who wish to attend college is to gut or kill a program designed to make that possible.Although I grew up in a working class home, I did not qualify for Pell Grants by basically "thismuch" but I was able to cobble together a great education through scholarships, loans and work-study funds. But Pell Grants serve a growing population-- from 1999 to 2008, the number of high poverty public schools increased from 12 to 17 percent of all US public schools, and the number of poor students increased. Since that time the real effects of the current recession has really kicked in, so I am afraid that those numbers are probably higher by now. Students who graduate from these schools will need a substantial amount of financial support in order to be able to afford college, especially given that state funding cuts to post-secondary schools has merely accelerated the already dizzying yearly increases that colleges have made since the 1980s.That is a reality that Senator Shelby apparently does not want to face as to why the funding for the program has been-- and should continue to-- increase.College graduates earn more on average than high school graduates. Our society receives a return on its investment hundreds of times over when it invests in a better educated work force-- and helps create a more stable democracy and just society, as well. Funding for college education especially is an investment in our future.Cutting funding to Pell Grants is crazy.[...]

I like this blog title.


Jesus Needs New PR. And the pictures this guy finds are fascinating/weird/thought-provoking/disturbing. Like this one:

Apparently some church actually used this in an advertisement. I'm not too sure about the message being sent here, especially as people who see it might just crash into the building trying to figure out what the heck it means.

When corporations are rotten citizens


Corporations often like to promote PR about being great citizens. But hidden in this news item is an example of bad corporate citizenship, as well as stupidity:Strong second-quarter earnings from McDonald's, General Electric and Caterpillar on Friday are just the latest proof that booming profits have allowed Corporate America to leave the Great Recession far behind.But millions of ordinary Americans are stranded in a labor market that looks like it's still in recession. Unemployment is stuck at 9.2 percent, two years into what economists call a recovery. Job growth has been slow and wages stagnant."I've never seen labor markets this weak in 35 years of research," says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.Wages and salaries accounted for just 1 percent of economic growth in the first 18 months after economists declared that the recession had ended in June 2009, according to Sum and other Northeastern researchers.In the same period after the 2001 recession, wages and salaries accounted for 15 percent. They were 50 percent after the 1991-92 recession and 25 percent after the 1981-82 recession.Corporate profits, by contrast, accounted for an unprecedented 88 percent of economic growth during those first 18 months. That's compared with 53 percent after the 2001 recession, nothing after the 1991-92 recession and 28 percent after the 1981-82 recession.What's behind the disconnect between strong corporate profits and a weak labor market? Several factors:• U.S. corporations are expanding overseas, not so much at home. McDonald's and Caterpillar said overseas sales growth outperformed the U.S. in the April-June quarter. U.S.-based multinational companies have been focused overseas for years: In the 2000s, they added 2.4 million jobs in foreign countries and cut 2.9 million jobs in the United States, according to the Commerce Department.• Back in the U.S., companies are squeezing more productivity out of staffs thinned out by layoffs during Great Recession. They don't need to hire. And they don't need to be generous with pay raises; they know their employees have nowhere else to go.• Companies remain reluctant to spend the $1.9 trillion in cash they've accumulated, especially in the United States. They're unconvinced that consumers are ready to spend again with the vigor they showed before the recession, and they are worried about uncertainty in U.S. government policies."Lack of clarity on a U.S. deficit-reduction plan, trade policy, regulation, much needed tax reform and the absence of a long-term plan to improve the country's deteriorating infrastructure do not create an environment that provides our customers with the confidence to invest," Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said.Caterpillar said second-quarter earnings shot up 44 percent to $1.02 billion — though that still disappointed Wall Street. General Electric's second-quarter earnings were up 21 percent to $3.76 billion. And McDonald's quarterly earnings increased 15 percent to $1.4 billion.Still, the U.S. economy is missing the engines that usually drive it out of a recession.Carl Van Horn, director of the Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, says the housing market would normally revive in the early stages of an economic recovery, driving demand for building materials, construction workers and appliances. But that isn't happening this time.And policymakers in Washington, D.C., h[...]

You can't always get what you want, especially if you don't even know what you need


An anonymous poster (Hmmmm, really?) made the following points on my previous comment about the disenchantment of many, including myself, in the progressive camp with the administration of President Obama:I never expected to like everything Obama did, even though I worked hard for him.Ad [sic] I can't imagine either voting Republican or voting for a 3rd party candidate (same as voting Republican). Keep in mind, people, that only 15% of the country identifies themselvs [sic] as liberal, while close to 50% calls themselves conservative. And many of the rest lean conservative. We can't have an all-progressive President until we do a better job of educating and enlisting our fellow voters.I am a big girl-- as I said, I certainly never expected President Obama to be able to do everything, and I don't think anyone else who is disappointed did either, if they are rational, adult people. I was hoping for some compromise and bipartisanship from our elected leaders, especially since we certainly didn't get that from the last administration, and I hoped that President Obama would use his surge of support to pressure out congresspersons to cooperate in this. I was massively disappointed by the failure to seize this golden opportunity, and now we as a country are in even more dire straits due to that failure. Our country can never win by having only one political side capitulate. Do we really want to live in a country that designs its government and economy so that there are more losers than there are "winners," even though we are all Americans? I also agree that there is a need to better explain what progressives and liberals believe, and why those beliefs are in the best interests of this country. And who better to help educate our fellow-citizens than our president, as I pointed out in my previous post?But something else "anonymous" said concerns me, and helps support my point. It's this part: "I can't imagine voting Republican...." It is this kind of thinking that marginalizes a voter and sustains and exacerbates our current political and economic situation.I certainly can imagine voting for a Republican. Of course I can! I've imagined it a LOT-- I've just never been able to do it very often. But I've always been willing to consider it, as I view each election on a case-by-case basis. As much as I joke about being a "yellow-dog Democrat" (pronounced "yel-la dawg" in my youth), I have voted for Republicans during my political life. They make great dog catchers. No, no, I'm kidding. Besides, "Republican" does not necessarily mean "conservative" as it is currently used, just as "Democrat" does not necessarily mean "liberal." Can't be repeated enough.Seriously, I believe it is the duty of a voter to be conversant with the particular positions of each candidate regardless of party, and then vote for the person who is the most rational, most reasonable, and the most likely to represent that voter's priorities. I did not vote for Senator McCain for president because he failed all three of those tests in his current political incarnation. His choice of a running mate who eschews any thought larger than a sound bite or a snippet of Scripture merely punctuated this for me. When he stopped being a principled politician who sought to reform corrupt politics and end government-sponsored torture merely for political expediency, he lost me-- after I had admired many of his positions for years.Our alle[...]