Thursday, August 28, 2008
In other words, the two people who do the most work, know more about any facet of the school operation and have served as the singular glue preventing the whole place from figuratively and literally collapsing are headed out the door.
I think I speak for the staff when I say we are shuddering collectively at the prospect. I wish I could say that I/we are kidding.
A teacher's reliance on a good administrative secretary is immense. It is not an overstatement to say that the quality of secretary has more to do with the quality of a school than any single teacher on campus. In fact, a great secretary can even make up for a bad principal.
I imagine many non-teachers out there are scoffing at the above paragraph. Tellingly, my guess is that very few, if any, teachers would disagree with the above paragraph.
Let's look at the job description for a "Secretary III" , whose starting pay, by the way, is $11.00 an hour:
Requires a High School Diploma or GED. Valid New Mexico Drivers License with liability insurance. Responsibilities may include: updates Computer Database, maintains accounting on APS Purchase Cards; works with a high of volume of accounts (both Activity and Operational), accounts for actual money at work sites, places orders and tracks them on the Financial System, monitors Payroll, composes and creates intricate documents as needed, serves as a point of contact for information dissemination, completes/prepares for special projects/detailed work in a timely manner, participates in development, implementation and maintenance of databases, analyzes information, makes travel arrangements, prepares and distributes reports, correspondence and other documents, provides substitute coverage for any secretarial/clerical position within the B Salary Schedule, provides training for other secretarial/clerical positions within the B Salary Schedule, maintains and updates files and records, schedules and arranges for meetings, maintains a complex filing system, schedules and maintains calendars, works with diverse populations, monitors supplies/materials and equipment for office and receives and orders materials, monitors annual equipment inventory. Preferences include: three to four years of secretarial/clerical experience, business School Training, excellent interpersonal skills, word processing skills, knowledge of operation and capabilities of PC and associated software (Excel, PowerPoint, Word, etc), exercises initiative and judgment in making decisions affecting work procedures, excellent Telecommunication Skills, excellent Problem Solving Skills, works independently with little or no supervision, self motivator, ability to effectively and independently handle a number of tasks/projects at one time, Working knowledge of Lawson Financial System and of Student Information System preferred, skill in responding to special request, extensive knowledge of modern office practices and procedures, effective communication skills, both verbal and written, flexibility, organization, decision-making and problem solving skills, interpersonal skills with diverse populations in-person and on the telephone, proficient with word processing, database, spreadsheet and/or other software as required by supervisor, ability to meet deadlines and work on multiple projects, computer, business English and basic mathematics skills, ability to accurately keyboard 50 WPM minimum.
And, like most official job descriptions, the giant blob o' text above doesn't capture the reality of the position. Copier broken? It's the secretary's job to fix it herself (and the overwhelming preponderance of school secretaries are women), or call it in to the copier company. Didn't get paid for that after-school program? Talk to the secretary. When is the fire alarm going to be? Ask the secretary. School short on subs today? Get the secretary to make repeated, increasingly desperate pleas over the intercom for teachers to cover the missing periods. No teacher for today's lunch detention? Get the secretary to do it. Where's the principal and assistant principal today? The secretary says they are at a training and there's nobody in the office. So who is handling discipline?
You guessed it...the secretary.
The role and pay of school secretaries is one of those nasty little injustices, nasty because we all know it's there, but try to avoid thinking about it. Added to this is the observable fact that, at least in APS, salary decreases the more Spanish you know. Finding teachers who speak Spanish is very difficult, and those who do are held onto for dear life.
School secretaries are de facto required to speak Spanish (although you may note it's not in the job description), and often end up not only talking to Spanish-only students/parents all the time, but serve as impromptu translators at meetings.
All of this for a starting salary of $11.00 an hour, and that's for a Level III secretary. A Level II starts at $9.62.
And now our two secretaries, who have valiantly held the school together for years, are leaving in tandem. We're having a little going away party for them tomorrow, but it's really more of a wake for the staff. At this point, I don't think we're quite able to psychologically handle the situation. We need a funeral to wake up to the fact they are gone, and that come Tuesday morning, nobody will be able to tell us where the master key to the building is, or what the bell schedule is for the assembly, or where little Johnny ran off to before 7th Period, or the answer to any of the other three billion questions an established school secretary handles in a typical day.
I think I can again speak for the staff of my school when I say: gulp.
Bon voyage school secretaries, you have performed valuable services for years while being paid a ridiculously low salary. In a perfect world, everyone would know how important you are. In the very, very imperfect world of our school, it will be a long, long time before we recover from your absences.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
My first brush with this one happened yesterday, and it will take many, many mental showers before I feel anywhere close to ethically clean again.
Here's how it went down: in a shortened academic day, students spend 40 minutes at a assembly listening to a super-fast talking guy from the Hearst Corporation who flies through a crash-course in selling magazine subscriptions. Central to the spiel are two things
- If every student can sell just three magazine subscriptions the school will be able to buy an electronic marquee instead of the old plastic-letter model we currently have;
- Students who sell a certain number of magazine subscriptions will be eligible for fabulous prizes, such as a dinky little radio besparkled with shiny multi-colored lights, and a mp3 player (again, besparkled with shiny, multi-colored lights). Brightly-colored objects are evidently a central marketing focus of the Hearst Corporation, magazine-shilling division. Yellow-journalist de luxe William Randolph Hearst would be oh so proud.
- Doubtlessly miss AYP forever
- suffer the irreversible loss of a student body increasingly unable to handle a school that doesn't have announcements such as "Band Concert Friday; No School 9/2" in blazing LCD letters visible from three miles away.
In a 14-year plus career of watching time-wasting, ethically-challenged assemblies, I can't think of one that quite matched the depressive power of the Magazine Salesman Fundraising Assembly. True, any assembly termed a "pep rally" comes close, but for sheer misguided capitalism and pointlessness, the magazine salesman fundraising assembly is without peer.
I have to go take another one of those mental showers now.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
I've always been interested in the more subtle forms of press censorship, in particular the gatekeeping role played by local newspapers. The photo above accompanies an Associated Press story by Rob Gillies entitled "Critics: Canada's Oil Boom an Environmental Bust". I came across the story at the Seattle Times website this morning, and that picture just about made me lose my breakfast. It's about the mad, earth-scarring dash to find and process oil from shale.
The power of the photograph (and, btw, I would really like to have Mr. Mac Mahon's permission to post the photograph here, and even called AP in Washington, but couldn't get in touch with anyone, and, besides, this is kinda of a "media studies" posting, so the copyright thing gets a little hazy, and that's my story and I'm sticking to it)...oh yeah, back to what I was saying. The power of the photograph made me wonder how many newspapers across the country were running this story.
I did a little Google News check (admittedly, far from conclusive) combined with a back-and-forth search of individual papers via newsvoyager.com. Tons of newspapers around the country are posting the story. But two things are kinda interesting...
1. Many newspapers, at least online, aren't posting the photograph along with the story.
2. In the Intermountain West of the United States, where the oil shale boom matters most, few newspapers are posting the story at all. I found three so far (readers are encouraged to look and find more): the Denver Post, Las Cruces Sun-News, and Provo, Utah Daily Herald.
For instance, I can't find the story at all on the Albuquerque Journal website (and I know you're laughing out loud right now and saying "well Hell, that's not surprising..nobody can find anything on that website!). Well, I looked all I could and got nothing. I also looked at papers in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Casper, and Laramie, and didn't find a thing.
Well...what do all these flimsy "facts" mean? That's there some sort of vast oil & gas developer conspiracy going on that directly/indirectly leads local news organizations to avoid negative stories about oil shale, and squashes dissemination of provocative photos that show how destructive oil shale can be to Mother Earth?
Uh....yeah. That's what it means...at least to me. Your conspiracy mileage may vary.
More generally, I would humbly suggest that we, as a people and as "bloggers" do some systematic investigations of the more subtle forms of self-imposed press censorship. I realize that the age of the local newspaper is largely over. One can already almost literally smell the nitial stages of decomposition in the near-corpse that is the Albuquerque Journal, for instance.
Still, we need to do a better job of analyzing how the news is being neatly packaged for our consumption, more now than ever as the number of news outlets dwindle. One can't have watched the Beijing Olympics and avoided at least a passing thought about the Chinese government's stifling of information. One wonders how close we already are to the Chinese situation here, and how much closer we might get to that in a world seen by our leaders as one big counter-insurgency battleground and a shrinking independent media.
P.S.: And I wonder what the impact of the photo above might have on public policy discussion of oil shale exploration if it were shown on every TV newscast in the country at least once. No, it wouldn't be equivalent to the Tienanmen Square "guy in front of tank shot"...but it would have an impact.
Friday, August 22, 2008
School "Counselor" for instance.
Now there probably was a time, way back in the hazy John Dewey past when school counselors actually counseled students about things like where to go to college, or how to best deal with the bully in the school cafeteria. But for years now public school "counseling" (at least at the schools I've worked at) has devolved into a bureaucratic data-entry position centered around creating/changing student schedules.
I've had the pleasure to work with some fabulous folks who are school counselors, and in every case these people took the position hoping they could help young people emotionally navigate the long dark, stormy journey through K-12 education, but found themselves spending hours upon hours upon days upon semesters punching dispassionate schedules and schedule changes into painfully glitchy District computer software.
Outside of the countless hours plodding through schedules, there's little time for anything other than the occasional "parent conference", at which bad little Johnny is forced to sit at a large table with really tired teachers who are pissed off they have to attend this stupid conference, a parent invariably glaring at Johnny with a look combining exasperation and violence, and the counselor who tries to de-escalate the anger and violence through a combination of "we want to use I statements today" and "Johnny, we're not here to attack you, but to see how we all can help".
Now I have to admit I've never been a school counselor, so I'm not 100% sure every public school counselor has their days 100% filled in such a manner. But from talking to some school counseling friends, and seeing them in action a lot over the years, I'm about 99.7% sure the job sucks.
Now being trained as counselors, these people are expert at keeping a sunny disposition despite their job conditions. Most of them are amazing at it, even when the few remaining seconds in their work day are filled with hearing stories about Parent X beating up Student Y, Family Z moving from hotel to hotel along Central because the police is chasing them, and other tales of horror and woe.
All of this is to say:
- I would never want to be a school "counselor" in a million, billion years;
- The great majority of school "counselors" are amazing people who are so altruistic and helpful that they stay in their counseling jobs despite the fact that little or no "counseling" is performed in them;
- There is the chance in a job so awful that a counselor will succumb to the horrible drudgery of constant scheduling/pitiful "parent conferences", and go, for lack of a better description, kinda like Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now" becoming a crazed, power-mad, bureaucratic tyrant.
But, having had the chance to think about the mis-titled job of "school counselor" for a few hours, and the friends/acquaintances over the years who have vainly tried to put some counseling in that awful position, I've think I'll just skip a long tirade on the subject of #3 above, and merely relate my commiseration with the difficulties of being a school "counselor".
To be stuck desparately wanting to emotionally help young people, yet chained to a desktop computer punching in "4th Period, Social Studies; 5th Period, Typing; 6th Period, Language Arts....." ad infinitum must be its own version of Col. Kurtz final words....
"The Horror......the horror......."
Have a good weekend, everybody.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I'd definitely have me some dumb new friends if I recruited these friends via the following strategy:
"Hey, why don't you all put a bunch of money in this hat, and then I'll go through the hat a few months from now, figure out a small percentage of your money that I don't need, and then give that small percentage back to you in a slow, overly complicated process designed to make me look like a really great new friend?"
Now since this "be my friend, here's fifty bucks" strategy is supposedly based on a heartfelt need to help working families and the poor better afford higher priced gasoline and food, might it not be better sense to just lower the taxes on these things before everybody puts a bunch of money in the State's hat?
I did literally seconds of intense research this morning, and discovered this web page breaking down gasoline taxes by State. From that I see New Mexico tacks on an additional 18 cents or so a gallon on top of the federal 18 cents a gallon.
Now many of us remember the oft-discussed stupid idea to have a federal "gas tax holiday" during the early days of Gas Price Horror '08. But, stupid as that idea may be, it's nowhere near as stupid as:
"Hey, why don't you all put a bunch of money in this hat, and then I'll go through the hat a few months from now, figure out a small percentage of your money that I don't need, and then give that small percentage back to you in a slow, overly complicated process designed to make me look like a really great new friend?"
Thanks friend. Thanks.
P.S.: Now I know that the pain of higher gas/food prices is most felt by the poor and that these "be my friends" initiatives are most important to them. But how about this idea: since it's gonna cost $750,000 (supposedly) just to disburse the rebate money, let's instead divide that $750,000 figure amongst all New Mexico EBT (food stamps) recipients, plug that money into their EBT accounts (a process that would take about two seconds...well, at least I would think it would take about two seconds) and be done with it. I see that the state has94,593 food stamp recipient families. $750k would only be about $8 per family.
Now granted that's too small, but that's just the cost of distributing this stupid rebate money. And it would free up all the Tax and Rev folks up in Santa Fe to think of a combination of tax decreases to really help these families, instead of spending all their time writing and sending out multiple, multiple, multiple mailers telling us how friendly our Guv/Legislature is.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
My moratorium on any news of a political sort is going pretty well, but I made the big mistake of seeing a "report" last night on the just-concluded special session.
It must have been exceedingly "special".
Our "rebate" for the horrors of high-priced gasoline:
Up to $30,000 a household...you get fifty bucks (plus $50 for each dependent)
and if I read it right, up to $70,000 you get twenty-five bucks...
All this specialness has me wondering:
- I wonder what the administrative costs of doling out these piddly amounts will add up to;
- I wonder if we'll get the same series of five separate mailers telling us: 1. Announcement: A rebate is coming; 2. Announcement: Here's how you will get your rebate; 3. Announcement: Your rebate should be here any day now, really!; 4. Announcement: Did you get your rebate? Because we're not so sure; 5. Apology: Here's why your rebate wasn't for as much as you thought it would be, and the obscure office to file a time-wasting grievance.
- I wonder if we'll have that same stupid tax problem we had with the last lame "rebate" (remember that?);
- I wonder what the average New Mexican thinks of paying legislators $144 a day per diem to give us fifty bucks, or twenty-five bucks;
- And I wonder what combination of psychotropic drugs Senator Shannon Robinson is on these days....for even with my cone of political news silence firmly placed above me I have been unable to avoid hearing/reading some of the incredibly stupid things coming out of his mouth in recent weeks. So to read his comment in today's New Mexican...
"The only consensus we reached in the caucus the other day was that we really don't like each other all the time," Robinson said.has a special warped poignancy that reminds me that I really need to keep this political news moratorium in place for as long as possible.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
To be honest, they kinda freak me out.
Personally, I've never been one to dislike or distrust the police. I've been lucky to have not had any real interactions with them over the years, and generally support their presence (especially along 2nd Street S.W. when everybody is flying down the 30 mph section at 55 mph and I'm getting run over as I go the speed limit).
But having two of them in my school has me torn. I'd be lying if I said the school didn't feel "safer" with these ever-present guys in blue scary uniforms all over the place. I absolutely HATE little kids getting picked on, and there's nothing like armed law enforcement to reduce the number of wedgies and noogies. During our between period "hall duty", I've already discerned a drop in the need for me to really do anything. A simple "there's a guy with a gun down the hall right now, stop doing X" seems to do the trick every time.
At the same time, there's a guy with a gun down the hall inside my school. Our answer to crazy people and the hyper-publicized, ultra-rare occurrence of deadly school violence has been to throw more guns at the issue. The atmosphere of my school has changed from slightly chaotic and mischievous to calmer and more weapon-obsessed.
It's like we've decided we can't cope, and have to start taking the medication. It's hard not to feel like R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, surrounded by the medicated and the medicators, while everyone mouths expressions like "it sure is good to have these cops on campus!"
Maybe that feeling will change, and the newness of cops wearing guns at Jefferson MS will become unremarkable, but right now there's an undercurrent of resentment and vague depression noticeable among some of the students and many of the staff on the issue. Or maybe that's just me projecting my own ambivalence onto everyone. Hard to tell, as right now it's informally un-cool to say anything negative about the cops on campus thing, and that de facto censorship is a drag in itself.
Meanwhile, in lighter "guns on campus" news, those fun-loving Texans (always good for a laugh or two in these matters) are looking to a bigger, broader solution: gun-toting teachers.
"Little Johnny....are you gonna stop talking in class, or do I need to go to my desk and pull out that 357 magnum?"
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Meanwhile, the linked video below has been pulled by its YouTube originator..I'm still somewhat looking for a suitable replacement, but my heart isn't really in it. Time to move on, Internet masses, time to move onto the next shiny object, mooning its audience or otherwise. Thanks for playing.
***NSFW Caution: Burque Babble tends to be one of those PG blogs where saying "Hell" and "Damn" is fine, but unfettered f-bombs and obscure nudity is not. After all, I'm a middle school teacher with a reputation to uphold, for Shiva's sake. But the video below is about Debate (well, kinda) and we're using this fact as lame justification to throw our established social propriety out the window. Let it be known that Burque Babble will return to its high, high standard of propriety in future postings, unless, that is, we find something that combines obscure nudity with policy debate. NSFW Caution***
We're starting a new ultra-low maintenance feature here at Burque Babble. It's called "TIRA" or "Things I Ran Across".
The idea is to provide a venue for me to spread meaningless information I discovered during my hours of wasteful Internet activity, without having to expend any real energy "writing" about them.
For this week's inagural issue of TIRA we have a YouTube video of two people yelling obscenities at each other. It also includes a "mooning", some pushing and varied body gestures that kinda reminds one of Mr. Bean meets Martha Graham.
No, it's not a video taken from an Albuquerque City Council meeting or the teacher's lounge at Jefferson Middle School, but does feature supposedly erudite "professionals" caught doing all this in a workplace setting of sorts. As I understand it, the scene is Emory University in Atlanta and stars debate coaches from the University of Pittsburgh and Fort Hays State College in Kansas. These two academics are evidently having a post-round discussion of the finer points in the round they have just witnessed.
As one who has "coached" debate in the past at the high school level, and always make sure to include plenty of formal debates as part of his middle school Humanities classes, I can't help but think to myself as I watch the video below: "hmmm..maybe I should be a college debate coach".
I ran across this little bit o' improv primal scream therapy while looking for test scores in Wichita last week. As you might expect, not everyone in Kansas is enamored with the idea of having its taxpayer-funded college debate coaches acting like this. The story has gone national (YouTube virals as "news") and claims of everything from racism to Marxism have resulted.
Maybe I should be a college debate coach. I like the university dress code policy in particular.
Enjoy your weeds-gone-wild fecund, rainy Sunday everyone.
Friday, August 15, 2008
For teachers a story like this can't help but bring back memories and fear from our own near job-loss experiences on field trips with disappearing children. Just about any teacher you talk to can tell a wild story about having to wait in the Cliff's Amusement Park parking lot for 45 minutes while a crazed search was undertaken to find Johnny who has somehow missed the all-call to return to the bus and is eventually found suspiciously smelling like cigarettes in line for the roller coaster.
I don't want to bore you with an "I remember the time" story myself, but there was a time a few years back up in the Jemez that a co-teacher and I deliberately left some lollygagging miscreants at the top of a large hill looking down upon our bus as it pulled out of the campground parking lot and headed back toward Albuquerque. A couple of miles later we turned the bus around, re-entered the campground parking lot and were greeted by frantic lollygaggers faces streaked with dirt and sweat and were told in strident terms that they were telling their parents and that they would sue us and get us fired.
Sometimes you just don't think field trips are worth it, and I can understand teachers who have pretty much resolved to never try an off-campus excursion again. It can be a real pain in the ass. Still, it's very rewarding to finish a trip to the Holocaust Museum or Legislature and think about the unusual, real world experiences you've played a small role in exposing students to. Even if it did mean having to peer into every bathroom, nook, cranny and hidey-hole in the Roundhouse for thirty minutes while unappealing legislators looked on, sometimes with a look on their face that seemed to say "Hey, are you a teacher who has lost one of your students on a field trip? Because I'm a legislator and can you fired with a mere wave of my hand."
So as we APS public schools teachers finish our first week of school today many of us will have slightly glazed expressions. Yes, most of that glazing will be the result of having to teach FOUR DAYS IN A ROW after having had a 2.5 month break, but a small part of our glazed reverie will be caused by us thinking back to our own field trips over the years, and the near death, destruction and discombobulation left in their off-campus experiential education wake.
Have a good weekend, everybody.
P.S.: Regarding the lost kids/adult outside Silver City, I was also thinking about Aldo Leopold himself. Having read Sand County Almanac as part of an Environmental Studies class some years back, I couldn't help but think Mr. Leopold would be somewhat proud that a bunch of people could get lost in a federally-created "wilderness" big enough to get lost in and named after him. Not to mention having a charter school with his name on it. Hard not to be kinda envious of a legacy like that.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
By the way, if you want to get horribly, horribly depressed this morning (and who doesn't?), read the six pages of comments to the Wichita Eagle story. Kansas certainly seems to have its share of racist, bitter, tight-wad losers, but relying on internet "comments" to make sweeping sociological speculations about a state or region of the country might be unfair. Relying on internet comments to be anything other than generally insipid and scarily angry is bad form, most probably.
And, of course, I am not referring to commenters to this largely unread blog. You guys did a great job yesterday, for instance, listing additional examples of "wasted days' in teaching/learning. Keep up the good work. While on the subject, we learned yesterday that my school will have a totally surprise, unexpected fire drill every week for the first month of school before going to the "damn, we forgot to have a fire drill this month and it's already the 29th, so we better have one sixth period" model that is the traditional norm.
And speaking of Winston Brooks, I see he's quoted in an ABQ Journal story this morning about ABQ students kicking ass (relatively) on the ACT this past year, and will be part of the panel on this week's KNME "In Focus" show. Outside of reading pathetically under-researched stories and scary internet comments from Wichita we don't know much about Super Brooks here, and it will be good to see him in action. Frankly, the first official email communication from him to teachers was a bit of a downer, not the rah-rah, "let's go win one for the kids" kinda icebreaker you'd expect. I think I have it around my Gmail somewhere....
Dear APS employees,
I am writing to inform you that the APS Board of Education this evening
approved an average 6.9 percent increase in the cost of benefits for
Albuquerque Public School employees.
Most employees will be paying an additional 7 percent for medical insurance
and 7 percent more for dental insurance. Vision care coverage is not
expected to increase in cost this year.
If that's not an inspiring start to a new school year, I don't know what is.
But it's early in the reign of Winston Brooks (even if the average job stint of a modern urban superintendent is only 2.5 years), let's see how he warms up to the job this year both in terms of media/outreach and at 6400 Uptown.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Observation #1: When a blogpost starts with "Prologue" it's probably going to be way too long.
Finishing up on yesterday's point about the number of school days spent testing, a commenter beat me to the punch line. I mentioned that between the infamous SBA tests and the under-the-radar A2L testing, and the totally invisible NAEP kids lose about 12/13 days of classtime. In a 180-day school year that might not seem like too much (okay, it already sounds like too much), but, as the anonymous commenter noted
"Sounds like one almost one day out of 10; especially when you take into account all of the non-test related interruptions..."
So yesterday, the first day of school, while trying to get a read on my new students and struggling to get my throat back into "teacher voice" mode the back part of my brain tried to list as many "wasted days" of a school year as possible. You know, those events that tend to decimate the learning process and remind us teachers that we're really only here for the babysitting when it comes down to it.
Observation #2: Some items on the following list are truly important education opportunities and are worth missing math class for...others, not so much.
Wasted Days List
- "We have this speaker coming to talk about the Holocaust and he's really good and can your students attend his presentation in the Library,because he's good and this is really important. Huh, can they, huh?"
- "Teachers, there will be a surprise fire drill 3rd Period. Remember...a surprise, totally unexpected fire drill later today during 3rd Period."
- "Look, it's snowing outside! Wow, it's snowing! Hey, Mister, Miss...can we go outside and play in the snow, can we, huh?"
- "An important announcement: Teachers and students, today we will have an extended Zero Hour assembly featuring the "Don't Do Drugs Because They're Bad And We Will Do Magic Tricks For You As Long As You Promise to Never Do Drugs" Magic and Mime Troupe of Silver City. This should be really exciting. Students will be able to make 'I Won't Do Drugs Ever' pledges at booths set up in the Big Gym and will receive a free pencil for making such a pledge." (btw, this one also includes "Promise Never To Have Premarital Sex" at Catholic schools, as I understand it.)
- Attention: 8th Grade Students, you're invited to a special assembly in the cafeteria. Folks from Albuquerque High's athletic programs and ROTC will be on-hand to answer questions on trying out for the AHS football team, the "Bulldoggies" cheerleading squad and, uh, the military. So, if you'd like to throw a football, dance suggestively in a creepy outfit in front of people during breaks in a basketball game, or hold a fake rifle while walking in fascistic pattens through the school portables, please attend this very special assembly."
- The first week of school...which is pretty much a waste because it's the first week and, on top of the general chaos of opening a school year, roughly 1.25 million schedule changes will occur moving students in and out of your class to the point that you stop bothering to take attendance or assigning work of any kind.
- The last week of school...because it's the last week of school.
- Speaking of the last week...there's not only "Going to Cliff's Amusment Park Educational Field-Trip Day", there's long, long, long announcements about who is eligible and ineligible to go to Cliff's and why and how we have to behave on this very, very educational field trip...blah, blah, blah.
- "Students, as you know we are on an Abbreviated Day Schedule today because there were a few snow flurries up in the Northeast Heights and the District freaked out and put us on a two-hour delay. Yes, I know it's currently 48 degrees and sunny. People are sunbathing on the roof of the school...but we are on an abbreviated day.
Okay, that's a decent start, I guess. If anyone wants to chime in with other "wasted days" causes, feel free to comment below.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
As a teacher trying to increase the number of days I bike the 11 miles to Jefferson MS this year, I spent last night ironing a week or so of bland teacher ensembles, collecting unmentionables in a big backpack and generally giving the impression I was flying to Buffalo for a very long boring teacher convention.
Even starting Year 15 it's a fun nervous time for me, this first day. After spending 2.5 months having had almost zero contact with anyone 12-14 years old, I'm back to having them a small band of them surround me in a semi-circle like a small army undertaking a siege armed with brand new, still-unchewed pen/pencils and laptops.
And I'm out of practice being "Mr. Key", a somewhat ill-defined role somewhere between being myself and a character fanatically obsessed, for some weird reason, with "being in your seat when the bell rings".
It'll take a while to ease back in our studied roles as teacher/student/mentor/mentee/administrator/school cop/school cafeteria lady. Give us a day or two to lose this happy nervousness and get in the groove. Although being out of the groove always seems to be just a little more fun.
Today, the first day, is always fun: everyone is well-rested, we're not sick of each other yet (not at all!), and the school bells seem quaint and nostalgic....the first day is like going back in time and revisiting school in a hazy reverie. Then it's Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, etc. and the bells and the desks and the schoolmates and the halls all revert to the Pavlovian/Orwellian existence school is really all about. But today we celebrate "fake school". Enjoy your first/only day of "fake school".
And speaking of fake and George Orwell, I mentioned yesterday I'd get into the simple math of the quantity of testing days in the modern public school versus "the old days". Using my own hazy, somewhat nostalgic and definitely incomplete memories on the subject, I seem to recall one day of school testing a year throughout my time imprisoned in the Texas public schools.
Once or twice we also had a test that had something to do with "career counseling" in which you answered a bunch of stupid quetsions and then the scores came back weeks later and told us we were best suited to pursue a career as a dental hygienist or in wildlife management.
Other than that, we pretty much had the one day of testing per year that I remember, and I remember liking that day because it meant idly filling in meaningless, unaccountable circles instead of listening to Mr. Bean talk about organic chemistry by using expressions like "but, who knows" while he pointed first to his butt, and then his nose, over and over and over again.
Today, it's different. Mr. Bean would have been fired long ago for student sexual harrassment (I'm skipping the particulars of that story for now), and students have far more than one day of standardized testing a year.
Let's take Math. Math, as you probably know, is one of the two subjects that No Child Left Behind actually cares about. Social Studies...who gives a rat's ass about Social Studies. Knowing where Poland is on a map....that's for foreign kids to worry about.
No, Math and Reading are the two subjects of concern on today's standardized tests. As such Math doesn't just receive oodles of treatment during the oft-discussed "Standards Based Assessment" (SBA) test in Spring, but is also the subject of THREE separate "Assess to Learn" (A2L..and yes, they really use the "2" in the acronym like the test is some ultra-cool text message or hip-hop band name or something) tests.
The idea of "A2L" is to monitor how well a student is doing with the required content of a subject over the course of a year. So there's a test around the beginning of the year, the middle and the end. Each of those tests take about two class days each.
So, let's do some testing day Math. You got two class days of "A2L" three times a year...that's six days of instruction. Add to that the SBA testing, which at most school ruins about six days of instruction itself (sometimes more, sometimes a little less). And let's not forget the oft-forgotten and little-understood "Nation's Report Card", the National Assessment of Educational Progress" (NAEP). This strange little test "randomly" picks 8th graders and tests the Hell out of them in many areas, Math, of course, included. We teachers don't really know much at all about this test, and you never hear about it, but for those selected at "random" to take the test...that's another day shot to Hell.
So, adding it all up, today's public school student takes at least 6 (SBA) + 6 (A2L) = 12 days of testing, plus a possible extra day of they are NAEPed. Maybe 13 days of testing out of a 180-day school year. A lot. A lot more than the "old days" surely, but 13 out of 180 doesn't sound like that much. Is it?
Let's roll that around in the 'ol "first day" brain, and get back tomorrow on the subject. Meanwhile, I have some nicely laid out "first day" clothes to throw on. Have a nice fake day, everyone.
Monday, August 11, 2008
So take the next sentence or so with a grain of salty disbelief.
I think I'd like to take this here blog into more of a K-12 public school teacher education-centered direction. Even more so than before. This is for two main reasons: 1. Perhaps there is a worthwhile purpose in providing a more thorough examination of daily issues in education from an actual teacher/practitioner perspective; 2. I'm really sick of talking or even thinking about politics.
Having thought about things (a rare occurrence, I can assure you) over the last few days, I've come up with the following: I have a deep, wonky interest in public policy, but only a casual, spectator sport interest in "politics". The upcoming election, for instance, seems simply another variation on the Brett Favre soap opera or the National League Wildcard race.
Decisions about health care reform are very important. Whether Obama wears a flag pin or McCain forgot to pay his mortgage on his 8th house....not so important. Yes, I realize politics begets public policy, but there are tons of far more profound and prolific blogs/websites devoted to day-to-day politics. This seems true even at the local level these days, which is both encouraging and vital. Marty needs watching, as does the ABQ City Council, etc., and there are places doing that watching and performing it increasingly well.
So I'm gonna stick with big, steaming piles of education for the duration of this school year, focusing on the wonky side of things. And yes, that's a declaration, and yes, like politicians, you can't really trust declarations.
I'll start tomorrow with a return to the whole testing mess, bouncing off a recent comment here regarding how few tests we had "back in the day" compared with 2008. Exciting, I know. I can see the Burque Babble Nielsen ratings plummeting even as I type. Even below the already solidly meager figures.
Still, you know you can't get enough discussions of "lower bound confidence intervals" and "FAY ELL AYP". You just can't. Times that by roughly 180 (the number of days in a New Mexico school year) and let's see what we come up with by next Memorial Day. Maybe we'll have figured out K-12 education policy, utterly changed public school practices forever for the better and ushered in a bright, shining era of post-NCLB wonderfulness. Or maybe it will just be Memorial Day, 2009.
And, again having done a rare bit of thinking, those last two sentences kinda capture the thought process of every teacher going into every school year. On August 11th we're just like baseball teams as Spring Training ends and the season begins...we're in first place and anything is possible.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Even at NBC itself you get oodles of uninterrupted coverage (especially of "secondary" events...i.e. no/few/non-competitive Americans), ABSOLUTELY no aural commentary (none!), no commercials outside some stupid GE thing about wind farming, and coverage of events like doubles badminton with teams from Singapore and India.
Watching field hockey between New Zealand and Japan yesterday I was thinking "hey, I can actually begin to like the Olympics somewhat now".
Sure, in my perfect world I'd have the athletes not wear country-identifying labels at all, and represent just being good athletes instead of some antiquated nation-state jingoism thing.
But having no commentary/commercials (almost none) is a very, very good start. We'll work on the post-tribalism destruction of individual "nations" down the road.
P.S.: And now I almost, almost understand field hockey. Soccer with a small ball, large sticks and women in post-modern "skirts" bashing the Hell out of each other. Why that combo isn't more popular in the U.S.A. puzzles me.
P.P.S.: Oh, I forgot to mention the cool fact that in a two computer, one television house your wife can watch every bit of the 12 continuous hours of "team eventing dressage" horse coverage while you're trying to figure out the arcane serving technique in badminton or how a penalty shot works in field hockey (strangely).
Friday, August 08, 2008
Especially worth watching for the AYP wonks out there is the opening segment of "In Focus" featuring NM Dept. of Ed. Secretary Veronica Garcia, Albuquerque Teacher Federation head Ellen Bernstein and some guy whose name I always seem to forget. Garcia and Bernstein are especially good at explaining what's going on here with testing, sorry... I forgot the new lingo... "AYP".
That first segment with Garcia et. al. will be on at 7:00, if I read KNME's schedule right, tonight on Channel 5. Viewers are strongly encouraged to smash their televisions at the end of this segment to avoid any possibility of being subjected to the rest of "The Line" show. Besides, won't it just be emotionally freeing to smash your television? Can't you just feel the inner joy of picking up that sledgehammer and driving it down and through the damn thing?
And speaking of public television, my wife and I made the mistake of coming across Stevie Nicks on KNME last night wearing the requisite spiderweb gownery and desperately trying to look as much like Stevie Nicks circa-1975 as possible. Some of you are going "Stevie Nicks...who the hell is that?", while the increasingly decrepit among us are shunted back to a time in which we were all supposed to buy Fleetwood Mac albums even if we weren't really sure why.
I could swear the new PBS fundraising strategy is to roll out these strange icons to 45-year olds and higher (Grateful Dead, Moody Blues, etc.), depress the Hell out of aged viewers by visually/aurally demonstrating that it ain't 1975 anymore and never will be again, and shake some money out of us as we think "Hell, it's quite obvious from watching this old washed-up Stevie Nicks in concert that I'm going to be dead soon, so I might as well give some of this increasingly unimportant money to PBS."
I wonder if that strategy is working. I just know that my wife and I literally lept at the remote control to change it from KNME Channel 5 upon seeing the woman o' spiderwebbed gownery and went back to the comforting brain death of "Law and Order".
Again, smashing the television is about the best idea going. Have a good weekend, everyone.
P.S.: Yeah, I saw today's Journal story about this year's test scores, uh AYP at Rio Grande HS. I expect to see a definite increase in these stories in upcoming weeks, especially as the constituent group of those mad at the whole AYP thing has expanded to cover Journal and other mainstream media reading/viewing groups. When La Cueva HS and Desert Ridge MS "fail", you're hitting even the Jim Villanucci KOB-AM afternoon drive-time right-wing radio crowd. What once was a "hey. we 'passed' you failed....booyah!" mentality may well turn into a "hey, this NCLB may really be stupid after all!" sentiment, and by more than us loony-left, excuse-making, public schools teachers. Let's pull up a chair and watch what happens, smashed TV or no.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
The scores came out, media reports happened that day, but the ongoing hand-wringing hue, cry and wail seems less hueliffic, less wailicious.
Maybe I'm just missing this year's outcry (or maybe...see my previous way too damn long post). And maybe I should stop inventing stupid words. Regardless, KNME is doing its part on the subject of "AYP 2008" by having some folks, including your humble blogger, spew bile on the subject during its "The Line" show on Friday night (repeated, I believe, at some ridiculously early time on Sunday morning). Feel free to watch and see how "hueliffic" your humble blogger can be (extra bonus points for those who can spot my just almost gone "black eye" from a recent bicycle accident).
Meanwhile, us APS teacher folks started back yesterday with a day of "staff meetings". I'll avoid focusing on just how soul-crushing these meetings are from a content perspective and just relate how good it was to see all my teaching colleagues. Or ALMOST all of them. Really, well over 70%.
And speaking of made-up words, my favorite soul-crushing invent-o-word from yesterday is "consensagram". It just about makes me throw up just looking at that word, and I haven't even had breakfast yet.
Today....student registration. In other words, it's "show time, folks!"
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Okay, maybe you're not of the uber-nerd variety and would not choose to recover from the muscle soreness and sleep deprivation of five days in the Weminuche Wilderness by going, page by unwieldy page, through the New Mexico Public Education Department's school-by-school report for hours and hours. Yes, I am a dork. (And I really, really, really urge anyone who cares at all about this sort of stuff to raise your dork-o-meter and check the scores out for yourself)
More likely you've run across newspaper and television reports on the new scores. In past years, your humble blogger has written incredibly long-winded, mind-numbingly boring "analysis" about these scores and why the news organizations and, concomitantly, the general public just doesn't get it.
Well, I'm going to spare you the ultra-long-winded recap of this year's scores (okay, this turns out to be a total lie, as you'll see below) because: 1. you deserve to be spared; 2. the news hasn't really changed; 3. my shoulders are really tired from holding up a backpack for days and days.
Instead, I'm just going to make a flimsy point or two now, reserving the opportunity to bore you more when I get the feeling back in my fingers.
APS Test Score Highlights 2008
This is quite definitely the year when the number of "failing" schools got so high, with failing schools found in all sections of the city, that a significant backlash against No Child Left Behind is sure to follow. The old political chestnut "the enemy without unites within" seem to apply here. In the past, some schools failed and others passed. Media, parents, etc. could point to the passing schools and call them "good schools", while bemoaning the horrible "failing" schools as places to avoid.
Well, in 2008....no APS middle school passed. Not even that last domino of "good schoolness" Desert Ridge Middle School was able to "pass". Every middle school is "failing".
Every APS high school is "failing". Yes, even that La Cueva school failed.*(see note way down below)
Now instead of having a socio-political dynamic in which "rich" folks living up in the "passing" Northeast Heights could look down, in more ways than one, at the "failing" lower elevations of town...
We're all in the same boat now, baby. We're all, each and every middle/high school, "failing". Instead of being able to demonize other schools, we are left with no other choice now than to demonize the test itself, and in ways and to an extent never possible when it was only the "poor" schools "failing".
In other words, No Child Left Behind has finally, finally, FINALLY pissed off the wrong people. It will be fun to see how perceptions of the tests change in the next year or so, despite the fact that news organizations are still churning out the horrible drivel linked above (that KOB TV story is particularly unperceptive...heck, let's link to it again and marvel at it's vapidness).
As to why all the middle/high schools failed (I'll get to elementaries in a second), here's a quick, redundant to previous years, explanation:
- "Students With Disabilities" failed. You basically have two types of public schools: ones really struggling and incapable of having their overall student body make "adequate progress" (by percentage) and another set of schools that pass in ALMOST ALL the many test-taking sub-groups, but "fail" particularly in the areas of Special Education students ("Students With Disabilities") and "English Language Learners" (which, unlike almost all Education jargon, is actually almost a self-explanatory term). "Failure" in these sub-groups meant overall "failure" to a number of schools one might describe as "successful" middle/high schools. La Cueva High School, for instance. Desert Ridge MS. My school, Jefferson MS, once again "failed" with these particular groups.
- One big reason that middle/high schools all "failed" and only many elementary schools "failed" had nothing to do with the quality of education (like that is really the point, anyway), but instead centered on the simple fact that middle/high schools are bigger than elementaries.
- Caution: now we're getting to that statistical stuff that you NEVER, EVER see/hear the media get into when discussing this topic. As you can see when you look at the reports (and I really, really want you to do that), schools had to have 25 students in a particular sub-group test (technically as FAY "Full Academic Year" attendees at the school) to have that sub-group scores count. This is done because statistically such a small number of testers isn't seen as "valid". Well, middle/high schools have hundreds, if not thousands of students, and thus almost always have enough students of every sub-group to be statistically valid.
- Elementary schools are much smaller, and don't always have enough "Students With Disabilities" to count.
- Here's a funny example: I don't make it to Ventana Ranch much, as it is approximately 275 miles from my house in the South Valley, but evidently they have somehow split Ventana Ranch Elementary into two entities: Ventana Ranch Elementary West and Ventana Ranch Elementary East. Ventana Ranch Elementary West is a "passing" school. East is "failing". East is "failing" because of poor scores by its "Students With Disabilities". It just so happened that exactly 25 "Students With Disabilities" took the test at Ventana East and they bombed the test (more about that in a second, promise). Ventana West had only 18 "Students With Disabilities" take the test..and they bombed, as well. Nevertheless, because West had a statistically irrelevant 18 students take the test they are "passing". Huzzah!!!! Glory Be!!!! Ventana Ranch East is "failing" Burn them! Burn!
But getting back to that finishing thing. The testing of "Students With Disabilities" and "English Language Learners" using the current No Child Left Behind criteria is a travesty. As teachers we want accountability, but part of that accountability is taking the incredible amount of bureaucratic time and energy to follow all the steps necessary to place a child in Special Education or as an "English Language Learner".
Having gone through the myriad referral steps, teachers and others make placements for these students and prepare individualized programs for them. They are in these special programs because it has become clear to everyone that they have deficits which must be addressed. Yet, we expect them, at testing time, to miraculously lose the deficits that led them to be placed, and be "just like everyone else".
What a crock. What an incredible disservice to these children. Do you know how many "Students With Disabilities" and "English Language Learners" get the impression that it is "their fault" their school "failed"? Do you have any idea what that does to a kid who already knows they struggle, and thinks of school as a hellish place that continuously points out their inadequacies?
This disservice has to stop. And, in your humble blogger's opinion, the inclusion now of schools like La Cueva and Desert Ridge as "victims" of this travesty will add necessary fuel to the political fire, and bring about the end of No Child Left Behind as we currently know it.
Accountability will go on, and there will continue to be plenty of problems, but at least one incredibly idiotic provision will go away leaving us at least one step closer to a true standard of "passing" or "failing" schools.
Bring the torches, townspeople, let's storm the castle.
P.S.: *From reading around, I see that Sandia HS supposedly "passed", even though its "Students With Disabilties" passage rate was well into "failure" range. Sandia gets a pass with an asterisk due to the "Safe Harbor Provision", which I was going to try avoid describing. "Safe Harbor" states that schools which haven't made AYP in previous years can claim a "pass" in previously failing sub-groups by reducing the number of those non-proficient in those sub-groups by 10% or more. Not that Sandia HS folks will ever have to explain this little asterisk, because nobody in the media is ever likely to bring it up.
Well, I don't count asterisks, whether its Barry Bonds or Sandia High School. So, I'm sticking with Sandia "failed". Period. No asterisk.
And yes, you may think I'm being harsh about this asterisk business, but I can foresee a time...roughly 11 hours from now (9:27 p.m., 8/5/08) in which the folks at Sandia HS are going to get together for their first day of the new school year and celebrate "passing", as if Sandia is doing something different/better/more wonderful than any other high school in APS, when the fact of the matter is that their scores aren't any different when it comes to Special Education kids. 21% of their Special Education kids passed the Math test. 34% passed the Reading test. Numbers right in line with those at "failing" La Cueva, interestingly enough. Or unbelievably maddening, outrageous and preposterous...depending on your point of view.
If I hear of one, just one Sandia HS person gloat about this little asterisk win as if it is anything but a lucky bit of statistical whimsy........argh.