Sunday, January 30, 2011

I'll take it where I get it

Much of this year has been filled with frustration. I don't feel successful with my fundamental level students, and I don't feel successful with most of my college prep students (who, on pretests to start the year, scored relatively closely to the fundamental level students). But I just finished scoring the mid-term of a student I had last year as well.
The student struggled last year, especially with language. Effort and determination were also lacking. Yet on the midterm, the student's recognzied and responded to the language of literature (literary elements). The responses were undeveloped and lacked clear examples from the text, however, I will take this success and build on it. That is if we ever have school again here in the Northeast.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Well, because I am a Gemini and enjoy being the center of attention, it is only naturaly, then, that I offer my pundancy on President Obama's remarks about education during his State of the Union speech.

1. "America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us – as citizens, and as parents – are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed."

With apologies to Amy Chua and her Tiger mom friends--who, by the way, I want to be friends with--we as a nation are not willing to do what is necessary. Some of us are. People like Amy Chua are willing to give their child a chance to succeed. But after a trip to the supermarket this afternoon, it was painfully obvious that not everyone buys into the same version of success.

It's true what they say about Western parents, at least if the irate response to Chua's memoir are any indication.

And what's more, many of us would rather wonder about the root causes of why some parents don't demand much out of their child other than allowing mom to sell the ADD medication for some really good stuff. If only the great oppressors would treat these people fairly, and by fairly they mean communistically, we could all live in a state of equality.

2. "Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance."

Absolutely. Bravo Mr. President. Except that when a student doesn't live up to our expectations for behavioral appropriateness, we aren't allowed to do much with them. The States, in their federal government-like wisdom demand that schools limit punishments, especially if the student is a minority. We have to take them as they are, we have to fix them. I'm pretty sure we can't force them to scrub floors after a food fight, and I don't think it's allowed to make them run until they puke if they're caught skipping class.

Academically, well, that's a whole 'nuther story. From elementary school through middle school, our students are promoted based on age rather than ability. We expect our teachers to differentiate in a classroom full of readers who range from the 12th grade level to the 3rd grade level--for some it's Clifford the Big Red Dog and for others it's The Canterbury Tales. In the end, we are just mediocre.

3. "In South Korea, teachers are known as 'nation builders.' Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. "

Again, a standing ovation, Mr. President. I'm not looking to be on the cover of Forbes magazine or sitting next to Oprah (but if you're reading Oprah, I would love to have coffee with you). But I wouldn't mind being reasonably compensated. Let me be clear, I don't complain about teacher salaries often, but my paltry $45,000 after 8 years of nation building compared to the $65,000 a friend makes for managing a restaurant (he does a great job, I will admit) just doesn't add up.

We allow anybody to run for and win positions on school boards, thus allowing them to make decisions about local education. We continue to add responsibilities, like parenting, to the job description. We talk about how important good teachers are to our students' succes. But in the end, the words are empty.

4. "Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation."

The best part of his speech. In my Sports Literature class, we read Paul Cuadros's A Home on the Field, an exploration of immigration, education, and soccer in North Carolina. Before reading the book, I was unaware that students could spend the bulk of their academic careers in American schools, busting their butts to succeed despite all odds, only to be denied in-state tuition rates at their local state university because of their documentation status. It is unacceptable to deny these children such opportunities.

With that said, I give the President a C+. He didn't offer much that was new or innovative. And I don't think he fully targeted the real root of student failure, the student. He approached the role that parents play in student success, but he fell short of demanding accountability from them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

We Are Dumb.

I've just finished reading Sophia Chua-Rubenfield's NY Post response to the criticism leveled against her mother's (Amy Chua), recent memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. After reading the response, I ventured down into that scary world of reader comments--this is how I know our world really is dumb.

One reader responded:
"Be open minded. If you think your way of parenting is good, that's great, do your way. If Tiger Mother thinks her way better and her daughters are OK with that, it should be alright, too. We really don't need to teach others how to be a good parent. It is just as simple as it is."

A follow up reader responded to the above quote:
"You realize the irony of saying this on a topic about a woman selling parenting books right?"

Do your research. Amy Chua's book is not a parenting book; it is a memoir. One is instructional, the other is refelctive.

Another reader adds this gem:
"So yeah keep it up. And you know when the girls commit suicide blame ANYONE ELSE BUT YOUR SELF."

This illogical jump, especially if one read the daughter's response, indicates a serious lack of intelligence and simple anger. But of course, one just needs to watch the recently non-renewed Keith Olberman or the thriving Glen Beck to see that logic is lacking and vitriol is accepted in our public discourse.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Let me be upfront: I don't fully understand the DREAM Act. But the underlying premise I get from it is that a student who is considered "illegal," has lived in the U.S. since before they turned 16, and goes to college can earn citizenship. These students would be allowed to pay the in-state tuition rates.
Here are my random thoughts right now:
1. If an "illegal" immigrant student works hard and graduates from a US high school, and can gain acceptance into a US college, that student should be allowed to attend.
2. If an "illegal" immigrant student gains acceptance to his or her state university, that student should pay the in-state tuition rate.
3. If an "illegal" immigrant student spends at least his or her high school years in a US school, and graduates from that school, that student deserves the opportunity to receive all available grants, loans, and scholarships afforded to any other student.
4. If an "illegal" immigrant student spends at leas his or her high school years in a US school, and earn at least an associates degree, that student deserves US citizenship if he or she wants it.

Bad Timing

Since we returned from our Holiday Vacation, we have found our school disrupted by local and federal holidays, as well as a good amount of snow and ice. Unfortunately for us, these disruptions happened right before mid-term exams and now during mid-term exams:

Week One: four days of classess because of Three Kings Day.
Week Two: three and a half days of classes because of one snow day and a 90 minute delay.
Week Three (mid-term exam week): one and half days of classes because of MLK, two snow days, and a 90 minute delay.

And once mid-term exams finally end, which at this rate will not be until the end of next week, we will have to turn our focus on the state exam which begins March 1st. The bad timing continues in the form of our February vacation.
For some reason our district adopted a calendar that places our February vacation during the last school week before state exams begin. In a district that needs to make monumental improvement on those tests, our decision to waste the week before those exams on vacation is irresponsible.
Now, this raises the question of the need for a week long vacation in February. I don't see the need. Instead, I would propose a four day, wrap-around, weekend involving Presdent's Day, an already observed day off from school. Such a calendar would allow for a small break but still provide five instructional days before the state exam begins.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Teacher

As public education moves away from facts and towards the nebulous world of 21st Century skills, more students than ever believe that our classrooms are supposed to be zones of fun. This teacher doesn't believe in the idea of a fun classroom; instead, I believe what Amy Chua, author of the widely debated, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, believes about parenting, "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences" (from WSJ excerpt). The growing trend towards student centered learning, and allowing our students to determine what they study, how they study, is clearly hurting our level of academic accomplishment.
I'd also suggest that as we have given children much more in the way of respect, we have reduced the level of respect that our teachers deserve. I know that I feel a great sense of debt to many of the teachers who helped to shape my mind and offered me the skills to navigate my life successfully. About parents, Chua writes, "the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. " What if our students felt that same sense of respect towards our role in their life?
But this can't happen so long as society continues to strip authority from adults and give it to children. Part of why great charter schools succeed is because they recognize that children lack structure, lack expecations, and lack accountability.
I'm in favor or Chua's ideas of expecations and accountability.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


A week before Christmas a gang related "riot" broke out in the halls of Manchester High School. In the inevitable follow-up stories, the Journal Inquirer reported that there has been 77 arrests at MHS since August, and that the principal has been put on leave by the superintendent who will temporarily take over the high school.

The superintendent, Kathleen Ouellette, wrote "Please rest assured that all of the rich traditions that are so much a part of Manchester High School will continue to be honored during this time of transition," in a letter to parents.

Now, I know very little about the the school's "rich traditions" as Ms. Ouellette put it, but I do know that if she believes in accountability, she should also believe in her own culpability in the matter.

But for all the pomp and circumstance in trying to demonstrate her control over a clearly decaying school culture, Ms. Ouellette has failed to address the heart of the issue--a mistake that is becoming more common in public schools.

School culture is synergetic, relying on an array of constantly changing pieces. And while superintendents can control, to some extent, who their school leaders are, and who their teachers are, they cannot control who their students are, or who their parents are.

What would have been courageous of Ms. Ouellette to do, was stand in front of the public and take personal responsibility as well as chastise the parents and students. Schools don't need to call the police 242 times because the principal is incompetent. Schools need to call the police 242 time because students act like fools. Students don't act like fools because the principal is incompetent. Students act like fools because their parents have failed at parenting.

President Obama has said, "In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a parent--responsibility for our children's education must begin at home." Unfortunately, the education brass does not believe him.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Prisoner of War

William Livengood II, a former Sergeant in the Army during World War II, is suffering a great indignation at the hands of Connecticut's Veteran's Affairs. During combat in WWII, my grandfather was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in Stalag 11-B. Late in his life, he began to retell stories of his experiences, which were often punctuated with "his gut, our will" in describing General Patton's bravado.
Today, William Livengood, at 92, suffers from Dimentia and resides in a run-of-the-mill nursing home. Now, I am biased, clearly. However, this facility does not honor the service my grandfather gave to this country. The travesty is that the Connecticut's Department of Veterans Affairs in Rocky Hill has denied this hero a bed in their facility.
There is no good reason, none, why a former prisoner of war should be denied services in the very place designed to honor and care for veterans.