Am I My Mother?

Last night, as I was coughing and sneezing and blowing my brains out my nose, I watched The World According To Garp. Many years ago, when I was a young man, John Irving's book came out and made a splash. My mom told me I would love the book, so I read it. I did love it. Then the movie came out. I loved that too! It came out in 1982, I think. I was able to vote, but not drink.

Now, 27 years later (WTF?) the movie made me cry. A lot. I guess when you live a life as full as mine, with joy, and pain, and love, and death, and sorrow, and elation, movies can make you react like your 75-year old mother reacts to Kodak commercials.

I am not embarrassed (because nobody saw me!); In fact I am proud that I am emotionally healthy enough to cry like John Lithgow.


Republicans Want Economic Disaster

Worse Than Expected on the Economy

Keep your eyes on the gap between what the economy could produce at full employment and the paltry level of aggregate demand (consumers plus businesses plus exports). That's why the stimulus is too small -- and why my bet is the President will be back for more stimulus. The Commerce Department reported today that the economy contracted in the 4th quarter of 2008 more sharply than initially estimated. Consumers cut spending the most in over 28 years. Businesses cut way back as well. Exports were dead in the water.

All told, according to the new data, the nation's economy shrank at an annual rate of 6.2 percent. Last month, the government's preliminary estimate of the drop in fourth-quarter GDP was only 3.8 percent. Roughly half the Commerce Department's revision was due to a sharper drop in business spending than had been anticipated. As a result, business inventories -- the amount of stuff they they have on hand to sell -- have dropped. That's good news because eventually businesses will have to replace their inventories, in anticipation of at least some consumer buying, and such replacement spending will spur the economy. But here's the bad news: Inventories still aren't dropping as fast as sales are dropping, suggesting even less business spending and investing coming up.

There's no reason to suppose the 1st quarter of 2009 will be any better, and lots of reason to think it will be worse. Government is spender of last resort. We're at the last resort now. $787 billion over two years, and only two-thirds of it real spending, is way below what will be needed to get the economy moving back toward full capacity. Do Republicans know this? Is this why they're continuing to bet that the economy won't be recovering by November, 2010, and why they're going to continue to say no?

Friday Cartoon Fun: Obama As FDR Edition


Sheldon Whitehouse: "Please. Tell Us We Did Not Do That!"

Wow. I like...

I've Been Busy!

I've been busy, so posting has been light.

My students had a performance, so we have been practicing. We rocked!

Now it is report card time, and assessment time. So many useless assessments, so little time! And we have to enter new information into the online form, and we were trained yesterday, and everything is due tomorrow! All this, and our performances. Bad scheduling. As a result, I am slammed, so I have been unable to post.

Next week should be better.

Just so you don't think I am not paying attention, I did hear Obama say he supported charter schools. Oh well, can't have it all, I guess!

I did like the line about high school: "It's a disservice to your country" to drop out. Yes, it is! I like that!

Tax the rich, give us universal health care, and put the war criminals in jail! All good!

Back to entering scores into the computer for my little 7-year-olds! I hope Billy's not planning on College! (I don't even have a Billy!)


The Noise My Class Endures, Like The One Obama Mentioned

One of the things Obama mentioned last night was about a school that had to stop instruction 6 times a day to wait for a noisy train to pass.

In my school, my room (bungalow) is next to the street, and pretty much ON the playground. I have to stop 400 times a day to let the screaming kids at recess finish screaming so I can finish reading a story to my students. Or I have to wait for the gardener (district or neighborhood) to finish whacking weeds so I can continue to explain "small moments" and "how-to's".

So, these problems of "Learning Environment" exist all over the country, and not just in poor districts. It is a concern of mine that schools don't regulate children during recess, and administrators have no clue that one of their jobs is to see to it that the learning environment at their school is conducive to, well, learning!


Can Penguins Go Insane?

I now have to see this movie...Encounters at the end of the Earth
Updated title to include the "g" in penguins.

Hey, Arne Duncan! Be Progressive!

A comment from Jean at Bridging Differences. Well done!
Everyone who thinks that more testing is the answer, or more testing tied to even more serious consequences for more people, should read this report from the National Center on Performance Incentives authored by Richard Rothstein. Apparently, economists (!), business management theorists (!), sociologists and historians have known for decades what teachers and other educators have been saying about the use of quantitative output performance measures for accountability and performance incentive plans. (Merit pay is the latter--it has nothing to do with accountability.)

Specifically, there are negative consequences to 1) exclusive reliance on quantitative measures because they cannot accurately capture the complexity of human endeavors and 2) making the quantitative measures high-stakes for the people whose performance is being measured. At the very least, these negative consequences have to be weighed against the benefits in formulating policy. Preferably, the quantitative measures have to be balanced with the use of qualitative measures in order to mitigate the negative consequences of each.

To simply ignore this reality--pretend we don't know about the downside of, in our case, exclusive reliance on high-stakes testing for accountability and performance incentives--only guarantees that those negative consequences will have full sway and will play out until they bring the system down, or at least become so obvious that the most determined can't ignore them.

Rothstein cites three problems, with much supporting evidence extending back to the early 20th century. All three are familiar to those of us living daily with the testing-and-accountability craze and its consequences. They are:
1) conventional definitions and measurements of educational outputs are so oversimplified that they cannot support valid accountability or performance incentive systems. Goal distortion results, . . . .
2) Adjusting expectations of performance for the characteristics of inputs has proven more difficult than anticipated. With students at different risks of failure because of the varied background characteristics, accountability and incentive systems can be credible only if sanctions and rewards can be adjusted for these variations. . . . .
3) Untrustworthy statistics undermine the credibility of accountability and incentive systems. They would do so even if measurement of outputs and inputs could be defined more precisely. Inadequate data reliability is one impediment: . . . . Because standardized test items are too few to fully represent the curriculum, sampling corruption results. . . . . explicit gaming can manipulate accountability data:. . . .
Rothstein goes on to say
These challenges--in defining outputs and inputs and in the accuracy of data themselves--surprise many education policy makers. Some conclude that the problems stem only from the inadequacy of publich educators. {emphasis added; sound familiar?} For example, one critic argues, good teachers "can and should" integrate subject matter so that raising mathe and reading scores need not result in diminished attention to other curricular areas. But this expectation denies the intent and power of incentives which, if successful, should redirect attention and resources to those outputs that are rewarded.
The corruption of performance incentive systems stimulated by a too-heavy reliance on quantitative measurement is not peculiar to public education. It has been extensively documented in other fields by economists, business management theorists, sociologists, and historians.

The bulk of the report documents these claims, not only from the public sphere but also from private enterprise.

The thing that gripes me about this is that all these economists and business experts that have been weighing in so heavily on education policy lately either do or should know about all this already, since so much of the research is from economists and business.

I urge everyone to read the whole report, and maybe send copies to Duncan and Obama by special delivery. Maybe if several humdred landed on their doorsteps, they'd actually read it also, and take the results seriously.

The Importance Of Play

An article in the NYT discusses research about play and learning. Here is the money quote:
Dr. Brown, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, Calif., has collected more than 6,000 “play histories” from human subjects. The founder of the National Institute for Play, he works with educators and legislators to promote the importance of preserving playtime in schools. He calls play “a fundamental biological process.” “From my viewpoint, it’s a major public health issue,” he said. “Teachers feel like they’re under huge pressures to get academic excellence to the exclusion of having much fun in the classroom. But playful learning leads to better academic success than the skills-and-drills approach.”


Monday Cartoon Fun: Burrjevich Edition

Git Up In My Shit!

I was looking over my 11 year old son's poetry packet today for his 6th grade English class. Among the poems, copied from very old, 12th generation handouts, were some poems and song lyrics. My favorites were the lyrics from Ghostface Killah's joint, Black Eyed Peas rant, and the lyrics to some other song talking about shit and poppin' caps was very enlightening as well.

I also appreciated the exposure to gang vernacular and the seedy side of life in poverty, glorified, as it so often is in rap, to the confusion of children who don't yet understand the subtleties of life in a racist country.

I suppose I should thank my son's teacher for keeping it real, but I feel more like she is polluting their young minds as opposed to exposing them to controversial, yet aesthetically important works. I am not sure the Black Eyed Peas and Ghostface Killahs are works that deserve study, at least not in 6th grade.

Now, is it just the protective father in me, or are these types of offerings from an English Teacher to her 6th grade charges just waaaayyy out of line?

Rove Didn't Show Up Today! What A Surprise!

Rove ignores House Judiciary Committee subpoena.

Pursuant to a subpoena issued earlier this month, Karl Rove was due to appear for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today. But as CongressMatters reports, despite being “expected” to appear this time, Rove was a no show. Contacted by ThinkProgress, the House Judiciary Committee confirmed the report of Rove’s absence. Days before leaving office, “Bush’s White House counsel, Fred Fielding, sent letters to Rove, Miers, and Bolten, instructing them to continue to ignore congressional demands for information about anything they did while at the While House.”
Why is there a Sergeant At Arms? Go arrest little Turdblossom!


Give Teachers The Autonomy They Need

The New Teacher Network always has a tasty post up. This one hits home:
Blogs and Wikis: Changing Professional Development?
Posted February 22nd, 2009 by Peter Henry

Well, looks like the rest of the world is starting to figure out what some of us have been saying--and doing--for awhile now: the Internet has the power to transform learning, not only for students, but especially for teachers.

Here is a great quote from Richard Elmore of Harvard University's educational leadership department:
As expectations for increased student performance mount and the measurement and publication of evidence about performance becomes part of the public discourse about schools, there are few portals through which new knowledge about teaching and learning can enter schools; few structures or processes in which teachers and administrators can assimilate, adapt, and polish new ideas and practices; and few sources of assistance for those who are struggling to understand the connection between the academic performance of their students and the practices in which they engage.

So the brutal irony of our present circumstance is that schools are hostile and inhospitable places for learning. They are hostile to the learning of adults and, because of this, they are necessarily hostile to the learning of students. (pp. 4–5)
Schools are, or should be, primarily "learning institutions"; that is, at every point in the organization, learning is held up as the basis and very "raison d'etre" for the schools' existence.

Yet, as we all know, there is no one more isolated, more in the dark, more out of the loop in education than the classroom teacher. Why? Because their head is in the task of teaching kids for 5 hours a day, and that is totally engrossing work that keeps that teacher from being able to learn, explore, reflect on other aspects of the profession, their own life, reality, you name it.

So, that is the problem, and one that we have been aware of for a long time. Believe it or not, this website is an attempt to combat the isolation of teaching by connecting, especially new teachers, across time, geography, experience, departments, etc. I'm not sure how successful it has been, but then again, never a week goes by without someone signing up at this website.

Yet, I wish--it's my hope really--that more teachers, more people, begin to post blogs, comments and generally use the connectivity of this site to feed the movement of greater learning, sharing and collaboration. You certainly can't compel that, but only invite. And the invitation is out there.

I say: Come on in, the water is fine. Where are you? What is your story? What questions do you have? How can this large, diverse, amorphous community help you become a better teacher?

Sunday Cartoon Bonus Fun: Getting It Right Edition

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Monkey Edition

Takin' It To The Streets

They're taking it to the streets in Ireland over the recession. Are we next? I think we should be!

What It Means To Be White

Wow! From Borderland:

Richard Shelby: Moronic Dickwad

Senator Shelby is a moron. I also think he is disingenuous, and fomenting nonsense when he says he isn't sure Obama is a citizen. Here are some pictures that may help. Idiot.

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Rush Limbaugh Edition

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