Thursday, November 24, 2016

An Argument with a Reformer (Hypothetical)

Public schools are failing.

Chicken Little rides again.

Schools are terrible. We must do something.

Mmm, hmm. How do you know?

Everyone knows. Kids leave school and are unable to find a job.

How do you know?

Everyone knows. Inner city schools are the worst.

How do you know?

The data shows it! (Hot damn, slam down, public school advocates can’t argue with data.)

Let’s talk about data. Where does it come from?

We get it from the states. They do annual testing, as required by federal law, and the results clearly show our schools are failing.

Now we’re getting to it.

How can you argue with data?

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Wish I had said that, but Mark Twain beat me to it.

But I’ve got data, based upon the latest, greatest testing.

Yes, you do. Data generated by a test so bad that all a student has to do is answer 28% of the questions correct and you say that’s a pass. Data generated by a test that is so bad that you have to norm the results. For folks who don’t know the lingo, that means that states curve the results.

Shut your mouth.

A test so bad … but what you do is worse. You set the pass rates at predetermined levels. You have data that was designed to be what you wanted it to be. Rather than give a fair test, you decided that a certain percentage of students will pass and the rest fail, no matter how they actually perform. To cover your tracks, you make the test incredibly difficult so no student can pass. Even the student with an IQ of 225 and should be several grade levels ahead cannot score above the traditional 70%--C level.

Shut your mouth.

In your dreams. I know more, so much more, and I am going to expose you—because I’ve studied the data and I know what it really means.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

30 Days of Thanks

I could easily do another 30, but these will have to do:

The challenge is to post every day in November something one is thankful for. Every day is beyond me, but I’ll put it together in one essay.

1.       A dry roof over my head, even if it is leaking (I think) and needs replacing (for sure.)
2.       A job that allows me to maintain a decent standard of living because I earn a salary that allows the same. It’s not enough to maintain a family, but it’s just me.
3.       The freedom to speak my mind through letters to the editor, social media posts, and other means.
4.       Family.
5.       Jalen Ramsey, who won’t accept losing as a way of life. Shad Khan should fire Bradley now and put Ramsey in charge for the rest of the season for the express purpose of telling the rest of the team that losing is not acceptable.
6.       My students. All of them.
7.       Electricity. We take it for granted. We shouldn’t. Has Matthew faded so quickly that we forget how much we depend upon it?
8.       Good water. All I do is turn a knob in more than one room of my house and I can drink what comes forth. I don’t have to walk three miles to a bad well or polluted river to fill a jar and drag it back to my house.
9.       Dogs. (OK, cat people, I’ll give a tip of my hat to your pets, too.)
10.   Supportive administrators. With a few, maybe only one, exceptions, I have been blessed during my teaching career.
11.   An understanding God who always had a direction for my life and was tolerant of all the wrong turns I took until I arrived at the place I was born for.
12.   Freedom to worship that God openly.
13.   The ability to love. I feel sorry for ants, who do not have this capacity.
14.   High School friends, who should have gladly shed the connection after the walk upon the stage, but have sought me out on Facebook to reconnect.
15.   My van. Sounds selfish, but I really like it.
16.   Create Space & Amazon. I have a direct outlet for my work as a writer and publisher.
17.   Hats. Most of mine have now degenerated into the trash (hint, hint, Christmas is coming, family), but I really like having a good hat to wear. Not a ball cap, but one with character: think fedora.
18.   Doctor Who.
19.   My local IGA, since I live out from the concrete environs of the city, when I need a little something for a meal, I don’t have to drive 10 miles to get it.
20.   Amazon Prime and two-day free shipping. I can order online and it shows up on my doorstep.
21.   My USPS mailperson. Always cheerful and ready to serve. I don’t mind walking out to get the package because she works very hard and if I can save her a few steps, I will.
22.   The many people I have met in the writing world; few are selfish, almost all promote a fellow writer in addition to themselves.
23.   Skinks, newts, or whatever you call them. I live in a climate warm enough for these critters to find their way into the house on occasion.
24.   Snakes. Yeah, I don’t like them either, but they eat the mice and rats that I would otherwise have to deal with.
25.   Paxon School for Advanced Studies. (You know who you are, you gotta give me a like for using the name that you want.)
26.   Life itself. Health, a good heart, and a body free of cancer. (Not that I had cancer at one point, but you know what I mean.)
27.   One great nephew and a fantastic niece.
28.   Sunrise. No matter how bad or good the previous day was, a new one always dawns.
29.   Deep cold. Without two or three freezes to kill the bad bugs in the ground, we have a terrible Spring and Summer. I don’t like going outside in the first week of April in the middle of the day and being covered with mosquitoes and flies.

30.   Books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Waiting for Superman or the 'Great Teacher'

A few years ago, a documentary film was produced under the title, “Waiting for Superman.” It criticized public schools, in particular, public school teachers. It followed the stories of a few students and the schools they attended with an emphasis on how they waited to receive the education they deserved. Where was the super-teacher who would save them?

Anyone with a discerning mind could see the privatization agenda behind the film.

The title stuck with me, though, because that part they got right. Everyone is waiting for Superman to show up and save America’s school children, one classroom at a time.

Ignoring the logistic impossibility that 3,000,000 super-people capable of being super-teachers are somehow down on the farm waiting for the call, I want to move on to the new buzz in the teaching world: the Great Teacher.

At the outset, let me confess that I am not a great teacher. Worse, I don’t want to be. Superman doesn’t exist and trying to be Superman is a fool’s errand.

What is the obsession with the Great Teacher? Today in my school email news digest there was a link to a Stars and Stripes article in which teachers identified the Great Teacher who helped them become a Great Teacher. Last July, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund held an event where teachers, students, and others gave their opinions about what made a Great Teacher.

Me, me, me, me, me, it’s all about me. This is what makes me great.

If there is one thing wrong in public schools these days, it’s that we are adult-focused. Our demand for high test scores is a demand created by the need to get good VAM for teachers and principals, rising test scores for superintendents and their staff, favorable publicity for school board members meeting with their constituents and contemplating their re-election campaigns, bragging points for state officials and politicians intent on proclaiming how their policies are working, … it is unending.

Lacking from that list is a focus on the students—the children who go to school every day. We no longer concern ourselves with delivering the instruction that will develop their young lives full of potential and encourage their curiosity to explore the world by seeking out answers to profound questions that will never show up on a reading or math test.

I’m not a Great Teacher and I’m okay with that because there’s no such thing as a Great Teacher. Children are not Waiting for Superman because Superman doesn’t exist. We live in the real world and there is no such person.

Instead, as a mere ordinary teacher, I focus, plan, work, and instruct to deliver great teachING. great teachING, to channel e.e.cummings who never followed conventional capitalization rules so he could emphasize the important words.

That is the difference. Do I deliver great teaching? You cannot get a good answer from me. You will have to talk to my administrators, parents, and students. I can tell you this, parents and students bombard my administrators with requests to be scheduled into or transferred to my classroom.

It’s not about the person being great. It’s not about being extraordinary. It’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That makes all the difference, and no one need wait for Superman anymore.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fresh Eggs, November 5

1.       The Philippines: this is what a War on Drugs looks like. Can’t say I approve.
2.       The 2016 election outcome is still hot, heavy, and contested … judging by the number of spam emails in my personal inbox.
3.       Everyone says they can’t wait for Wednesday, November 9 because at last, at long last, it will be over. Just like it was in 2000.
4.       Ha! Do you really think the Trumpster will readily fade away after all the attention his attention-seeking self has been soaking up for the last 18 months?
5.       Trump still stumping for those last 2000 names on the wall. Geez, this has been going on for over two weeks. Polls tightening? But Trump is unable to get only one person to give $49? #Americansaren’tasdumbashethinks
6.       Aren’t hash tags great fun when you can use them to express an opinion you can’t put into your main post?
7.       As I delete, delete, delete my email, I wonder why I cannot get a good gig creating compelling donate-to-me political emails for the big bucks. IJS, I can do much better than the crap that assaults my eye demanding money in the brief moment before my computer gets it off the screen.
8.       INTEGRITY. Thanks, world, for reminding me.
9.       About those hash tags: in front of a numeral, it indicates number; in back of a numeral, it means pounds. Share this with the nearest teenager when you are missing those wonderful eye-rolls only a teenager can do.
10.   Brave New World: I don’t need to hang on my computer to find out the votes Tuesday. All I need to do is ask Alexa (Amazon’s Echo bot that works off my wireless connection).
11.   It’s easy to turn the clock back or forward. But this old body can’t turn its biorhythms back and forward so easily.

12.   When in doubt, root for the Cubs. Every hundred years or so, your ship comes in.

Friday, November 4, 2016

America's Choice

Usually we don’t have the scandals until a new president gets a couple of years into the office. Once the leather swivel chair has adapted itself to the particular contours of the current ‘most powerful derriere in the world’—only then do we begin to hear of new scandals.

That is what has made this election cycle so confounding and so disrupting: the controversies have swirled around the candidates almost from the day they announced.

Donald Trump: the main controversies boil down to three: his comments about women; civil fraud committed by Trump University; Trump foundations fronting Trump business interests.

Let’s take them in order. Don’t ignore the women who have come forward to allege they were victims of Trump’s, oh let’s say, wandering hands. But we can dismiss the Donald’s dismissal of these women because we don’t not need their testimony to understand what he did. He confessed. And forgot. That is the most egregious thing of all: he assaulted women but it was so meaningless to him that he doesn’t remember.

Trump blew the spin. Instead of offering a false contrition, something like I really regret that I hurt some people along my life’s journey, he chose to attack them. Has he checked the statute of limitations? Because this issue reveals that Trump is a political naif. He didn’t bother to have staff to go back through his history and identify these types of comments that might pop up to hurt him.

Does he think rallies alone will win an election? He apparently doesn’t understand the critical importance of a ground game: hundreds of offices, managed by professional staff, directing tens of thousands of volunteers making phone calls, walking the streets, addressing mailers, and so forth.

One of Trump’s dumbest moves was to disrespect Ted Cruz because Cruz had built the organization Trump needs but Trump didn’t bother to patronize Cruz and get his people.

Trump University: it is going to cost Trump billions. Did he not know what was going on? Is this another case of Trump thinking he can put his name on something and turn a loser into a winner? This happened in Atlantic City during the early gambling years. Trump acquired a third hotel, a real dog and loser, and thought his name was good enough to turn it around. The hotel failed. The Trump brand has never been the same.

Lastly, journalism is going on around the Trump foundations. Much spending seems to flow back into profits for Trump personally and his business. There is much more to be learned, but it seems that Trump has been doing on a large scale what Corrine Brown was indicted for.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has her own problems. The email scandal will not go away. Julian Assange’s frothing as a mad dog via Wikileaks is not the problem. Her transgression is well known and cannot be easily dismissed.

It is not that she used an email server. It is that she willfully and knowingly used a private email server for official government business, including the transmission of classified information, in violation of established law.

She can’t claim ignorance. Government officials have had this problem for over 10 years and each case got national prominence in the media.

No, the deeper issue for Mrs. Clinton is that she did it to hide … well, something. She has control issues in which she must control the narrative and the data. We have not seen such behavior since Richard Nixon. Even the 18 and a half minute gap pales in comparison to the 30,000 plus emails she deleted rather than turn them over to investigators because she decided they were personal.
Then there is the pay-to-play operation of the Clinton foundation.

Somewhere along the line will come the obstruction of justice allegation that took Nixon down.

So GOOD NEWS, America. Stop fretting about your vote because no matter who wins, their term of office is likely to be short.

Clinton or Trump, neither will last long.

Your choice is clear: who do you prefer for president? Mike Pence or Tim Kaine?