Saturday, December 26, 2009

Moving the Casket

or maybe just buying a new suit of internet clothes.  Time will tell.

I've decided to move from good 'ol (and sometimes less than good) Blogger over to Wordpress.  I've never been much of a Net Design Maven (NDM), but I finally got fed up with Blogger over the "jump break" feature that it took years to get...then turns out to not work very well. 

Besides, nobody (including me) understood or liked the whole "frannyzoo" thing.

So one thing is sure...Burque Babble is now here at burquebabble.wordpress.com.

And another thing is looking pretty sure as well.  I'm probably not done blogging, and I'd like some help this time.  Lots of it.  Send me an email if you have questions or answers along these lines.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have a Very Dada Christmas and Other Confusions

Virtually killing yourself isn't as easy as one might think.

Despite my last post, some six weeks ago, knelling the blogging death bell (is "knelling" a word?), the link to "Burque Babble" has yet to have been removed by every single New Mexico website which links to every other NM website. I know because I am such a loser that I have actually looked around and noticed this.

This is hard to believe.

Most unbelievably, it might mean that the folks linking to Burque Babble never actually read this silly blog. Impossible, of course. Obviously the people running these other sites have simply been too overcome with grief at my passing to get around to removing the link. The link could also be a memento of sorts, a reminder of a better world, a happier time...one in which Burque Babble vibrantly thrived. At least as much as an inorganic blogging entity can be said to "vibrantly thrive".

Regardless of the true reason, the fact remains that this pitiful molecule on the flea butt on the mangy dog on the shag carpet of the Internet universe still exists. And like nature (and mangy dogs), I abhor both vacuum cleaners and a vacuum.

So instead of vacuuming and other household chores this sunny but cold windy day, I'm addressing you, the obsessive person who obsessively clicks on NM website blog roll entries.

And while I have you, obsessive clicking person, let me first say: Hello!

Hello obsessive person! Hold on! Before you move on to another obsessive click to another site on the NM blogroll ask yourself this question:

Does Albuquerque and New Mexico need another source for K-12 education news?

What's that you say...no? We don't? Oh, I kinda expected you to answer yes to that one. Hmmm... I thought you'd feel we need good sources for education news, especially as NM is particularly craptastic in this area. Well, how about this one?

Does Albuquerque need an Ethiopian restaurant?

Okay, I admit it..that was fish in a barrel. But I needed an easy "yes" question in order to get you ready for the next one:

Could Albuquerque and New Mexico use an online humor "magazine"?

Dear Obsessively Clicking Person (DOCP): Do you feel there are hundreds, if not millions, of Manny Aragon and Robert Vigil jokes that went publicly untold because there is no real venue for venomous, but somewhat articulate, lampooning of local authorities?

Perhaps, instead of a simple answer "yes", these questions lead to some of your own, dear DOCP, including "Why is Scot asking these questions, and why would he bother posting such blather when he could be vacuuming his dog hair-infested house? Not to mention that his blog is 'dead' and like the dead he is largely talking to himself here?"

And to anticipate your follow-up question: No, drinking is not involved here, nor psychotropic drugs nor sheer vacuum cleaner avoidance.

What is involved here, I just don't rightly know...other than some thoughts on death, blogging death, life after death, both blogging and otherwise...you know, the same Holiday Season thought pattern almost all of us have, especially those in the K-12 teaching profession.

There's more, but I think I've confused everybody enough, especially me, for now. And maybe that's the best way to leave things permanently here, with everyone perfectly confused in some Dadaesque reverie.

But I don't know. We might not be done. There's still one or two Manny Aragon jokes that desperately need to be told. Not to mention the Richard Berry, Darren White, et. al. opportunities.

Why do I feel like Walter Huston in the flophouse talking to Fred C. Dobbs about gold in "the Treasure of the Sierra Madre"? Or more specifically like Walter Huston talking to himself?

I know what blogging does to men's souls.

Have a Merry Break, everyone...Dada as you wanna be.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Gone Writin'

Well, I've thought and pondered, considered and reflected, assessed and reassessed. I've posited, asserted and gone back to positing. I've covered a few mental chalkboards with arrows, Greek letters and those big three dot triangles meaning...probably meaning not much of anything.

Okay, this is overstating the case. To be honest, I've been busy and haven't had time to do more than twirl an idea around for a minute or two in the last few days. I also had some good counsel both here and in my "real" life on the subject. Thanks for that.

Meanwhile, my twirling has led, as twirling will do, back to my original thought.

I think it's time to go on hiatus here and do something else for a while. And yes, that something else might be a book. Or something. Else. But probably a book, using State-of-the-15th Century-Art technology for a while.

Which means little or no blogging here, as I want to spend the same "free" time on this other thing.

So the doctor is "out", the sign on the shingle has been taken down, the front door sign has been reversed from "open" to "closed".

No real advice as I leave for a while, other than be nice when you can, feisty when you have to be, and smart enough to know which of the two options best suits a particular moment. Hmm...maybe that's some advice better suited to myself, than to the prudent, thoughtful folks who have constituted my readership here.

Goodbye for now, prudent, thoughtful folks.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Return of the Book Dragon

So you're writing this blog read by seven or eight people on a good day, and you've been doing it for months, or even years, and everything has been fine and dandy in that unobtrusive and meaningless way that you prefer, when out of the blue it all turns to Hell one afternoon because the thought crosses your mind...

"I should write a book."

And one thought leads to another, and another and another and another, and pretty soon you're staring out the window saying things out loud like "You've wasted all this time and energy on this stupid blog and why haven't you already written a book, and what should the book be about and should it be fiction or non-fiction and how long should the book be and asdgaqbeopng bqnoboinqoiernboin qboin oianeroin blkan nionqareoin bsnl..."

And your brain spins these questions, doubts, and self-criticisms faster and faster until they achieve a high megahertz whine inside the brain (literally) that requires, absolutely requires, the drinking of a very strong beverage, preferably with an outrageous hops to malt ratio.

Thankfully, 99% of the time the beer, serotonin, or whatever kicks in well enough and the hi-speed whine goes away along with the insane drive to write the goddamn book.

And then there's the other 1% of the time. Folks, I think I might be stuck inside that one percent right now.

I've tried everything: reading really good books that should prove beyond any doubt that: 1. No one should bother writing another book because it's already been perfected, and 2. I sure as Hell shouldn't bother; listening to Velvet Underground "Live 1969" at remarkably high volumes as I am doing right this second; going through Amazon to see the veritable mountain of books that have been slaved over by obsessed folks for thousands and thousands of hours only to see the book achieve Amazon sales ranks of #2,458,935, and reviews from pissant Amazon reviewers saying things like "this book sucks because there's a typo on page 47, and the author is obviously an idiot".

And I will continue to pursue these remedies this evening in an attempt to get this whine out of my head and move back to the placid, blogging meaninglessness you (all six or seven of you) and I have come to expect here at Burque Babble.

It's always eventually passed before. But these 1% situations can be intense. I might be away for a few days fighting this book dragon. Or I might be posting again like a madman within hours, a sign that the dragon has, once again, been slain or at least firmly stuffed into the semi-locked recesses of the mental closet.

"I'm beginning to see the light...I'm beginning to see the light. Some people work very hard, but still they never get it right...I'm beginning to see the light...here we go again, playing the fool again..."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Disaster Ranking Scale For Public School Teachers

Tornadoes have the Fujita Scale. Earthquakes the Richter. Hurricanes the Saffir-Simpson. I guess we still have that Homeland Security color-coded thing, although I think we've all pretty much stopped paying attention to it. But what about Teachers? What scale for ranking educational disasters exists?

Obviously, this is a shortcoming that must be rectified, and Burque Babble is just the entity to do it. But as "Burque Babble Scale" doesn't sound nearly as cool as "Fujita" or "Richter", we need a super-sexy name...hmmm...let's see. How about "Allison Scale" as in ex-APS Superintendent Brad Allison, who was basically a walking, talking, emailing, vodka and sleeping pills mixing disaster?

Sounds good.

Below is the official Allison Scale for disasters within the teaching day. Educators should post the information below in their rooms, preferably next to that "Fire Exit" poster that nobody has looked at in years and years (and perhaps actually fell down back in 2003 and you just haven't noticed).



ALLISON SCALE FOR EDUCATIONAL DISASTERS

Allison 1: Trying to listen to cringe-worthy 6th Grade student candidate speeches for Student Council over the intercom, while keeping a straight face before your classroom of 7th Graders.

Allison 2: Any lockdown drill, especially one that involves discussion of how students might go to the bathroom during a real lockdown (and includes the teacher sheepishly pointing to a trash can).

Allison 2.5:
"Award Assemblies" in which a long list of "Honor Roll" students are, incomprehensibly, read while non-"Honor Roll" students disrupt things and act like bad Jerry Lewis impersonators. Having 341 bad Jerry Lewis impersonators sitting on those bouncy gym bleachers is like watching "The Nutty Professor" on 341 different screens simultaneously with all the screens showing different parts of the movie.

Allison 3:
Having a Fire Drill during a test perfectly calculated to be completed within one class period.

Allison 3.5: Teaching next to the Nurse's Office when a particularly virulent strain of gastro-intestinal distress has hit campus. The smell of projectile vomit and teaching doesn't go together very well, I've learned.

Allison 4: Experiencing a thirty-minute lock down while police pursue "suspects in the area".

Allison 4.5: Any classtime that develops because an end-of-semester band concert has ended too early. You're in the gym, sitting through "O Tannenbaum" played on squeaky violins at the metronomic pace of "meandering", when suddenly the tune ends and the principal comes on and tells students to "go back to your 7th Period class" fifteen minutes before the final bell. That is one long, long walk back to the classroom. Teachers should definitely be provided lion taming chairs and whips for situations like this.

Allison 5: Trying to have middle school in-class debates on the day before Halloween while a Jackie Chan movie is being made so close to your classroom door that everyone, debaters wearing "pirate" costumes included, can hear the director saying "Action!". Not that I would know anything about this.

Allison 5.5: Professional Development Day. Nothing makes a teacher value kids and the classroom like a "PD Day". The weirdest part of it is that you have these former classroom teachers who evidently have gone through some Manchurian Candidate program that washes all their memories of the classroom away and replaces it with Maoist pedagogic malarkey. Okay, it's not Maoist. But you get the idea. You want to hold your hand up to these "facilitators" faces and wave it briskly up and down before their eyes. What do these PD automatons "see"? Are they still human?

Allison 6: Staff "training" sessions that involve the use of the same "teaching" techniques we are told to NEVER use in the classroom. This means ALL staff "training" sessions, as they ALL consist of lectures, bad PowerPoints being read slide after slide in toto by "trainers" and excruciatingly bad videos featuring Public Access-level production values and cheesy music usually reserved for elevators and those late night movies on Cinemax.

Allison 7: Experiencing a lockdown during after-school activities (and/or just as you're headed out the door to go home), like the one at Carlos Rey Elementary yesterday. I can just imagine the teachers spinning car keys in their hands as they impatiently wait for the "all clear". This may seem high on the scale, what with no students in most of the rooms, but just roll that scenario around in your teacher noggin a while.

Allison 8: ANY discussion during ANY staff meeting. Staff meetings are like Thanksgiving dinner for dysfunctional families, but with 100 people. "Dinner conversation" is a short-fuse time bomb, and usually by the third or fourth comment even the best-facilitated discussion has devolved into, "I can't do this anymore, and nobody will help me!" with the same flailing of arms and other melodramatic histrionics associated with bad community theater productions of Eugene O'Neill plays. One only wonders what level of verbal dysfunction could be reached if staff meetings included alcoholic beverages. It would surely make "Long Day's Journey Into Night" look like "Home Alone 4".

Allison 9: Any trip to APS Central Office (aka, the "Twin Towers"). I don't personally believe in spirits and such, but the vibe at that place makes Jonestown seem like Cliff's Amusement Park. It's REALLY creepy. To make extra money in these tough budgetary times, The District should turn Central Office into one of those Halloween Haunted Houses every year. The great thing is they wouldn't have to put up decorations, black lights or anything...it's just fine for scaring the crap out of folks exactly as it already is.

Allison 10: Experiencing a three-hour lockdown at Rio Grande HS that runs well into the late afternoon. Widespread destruction. Homes swept off their foundations. In a sick, rubbernecking the car crash way, I kinda wish there was video of this recent event. From a teacher perspective this must have been quite, quite awful.

Problems in Education: Inadequately Informed Drug Dealers

I could go in a bunch of education "news" directions this morning. Middle school teacher having sex with student. NM School districts given"flexibility" with class sizes in the Special Session. ABQ charter school has been involved in 43 police calls since October 2008.

Enough right there for a teacher to give up reading the newspaper forever.

But my favorite: Drug dealer caught near elementary school gets lighter sentence, because dealer didn't know about the nearby school.

Which brings up an important job of our principals and other school employees, properly informing drug dealers about the location of our schools. While we do a pretty good job of informing parents and students about school events through newsletters and almost daily notes/letters to be sent home, we do a lousy job of making sure drug dealers are kept informed.

There can be no denying that better outreach to our drug dealing community is needed. Perhaps newsletters could be distributed by school personnel on street corners knows for drug activity. Maybe school principals could rent cars with loudspeakers and drive around announcing the presence of schools in high-drug areas.

Better yet, school business cards could be distributed to drug dealers and users, including maps outlining the 1,000 foot "drug-free" area surrounding the school. Suggestions could be included on the cards and other outreach documents recommending nearby good drug-selling locations that are NOT within the 1,000 foot zone.

It's pretty damn clear APS and its employees are, once again, creating another public relations disaster. Without better communication and outreach with our drug dealing/buying population, we're simply exacerbating an already-present information gap, one that mirrors a long-term problem here.

APS has historically done a lousy job of communicating with local businesses. The drug business is no exception. Every APS employee from Superintendent Brooks on down should be embarrassed by our failure to better inform the drug dealing community. Embarrassed.

But perhaps not quite as embarrassed as by the "middle school teacher fired for having sex with student" story. That one has me groaning and shaking my head quite a bit this morning.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Better Educational Living Through Judicial Chemistry (Alchemy)

A long-deliberated case on whether No Child Left Behind is an "unfunded mandate" ends, for now:
"In a rare 8-8 tie, the 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit questioning whether state school officials must comply with the portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act for which Congress refuses to pay."
--Courthouse News Service. 10.21.09
A teacher licensing test in Massachusetts is upheld despite wildly disparate score results based on race and language...
"A federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday that challenged the state’s controversial licensing test for teachers, sidestepping concerns that the test discriminates against members of minority groups and instead spelling out what he called minimal standards for teachers, namely 'the clear and accurate use of language.’'"
--Boston Globe. 10.13.09
And a bunch of fired principals in Washington D.C. are still suing D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee for firing them...
"District teachers are not the only ex-school employees turning to the courts for redress. Last week a group of principals and assistant principals dismissed by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee in 2008 refiled an $84 million lawsuit alleging, among other things, age and race discrimination, defamation and civil conspiracy."
--Washington Post. 10.27.09
(Note apropos of nothing: I like the term "civil conspiracy" very much)

It's great to see education providing such an explosive amount of job creation around the country. The number of lawyers kept employed by these suits must be sizable. It's also wonderful to consider all the education money being redistributed into the legal community via these various cases. It's a sort of "stimulus" plan for "shovel ready" litigation. How might our education dollars help you, firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe?

Reviewing APS Middle School Websites: Epilogue

I would like to report that my scathing exposé on the dark, uninformative underbelly (i.e., websites) slithering beneath the hulking lizard (i.e., APS middle schools) has resulted in massive changes to both the underbelly and the entire lizard.

Such, I must report in a cold-blooded manner, has not been the case.

The websites still generally suck.

Cleveland's home page was last updated in October, 2008. Grant has a staff page featuring links to "online classes" that don't exist. The scourge that is "Professional Innovations" still shrouds Eisenhower and other "Heights" school sites that can afford to do much better. And yes, Harrison's page is still a blank, white screen of nothing, perhaps echoing the existential views of Sartre, or indicating the influence of Soto Zen thinking on being and nothingness. One can only hope.

And speaking of hope, there isn't much resulting from my quickie revisit to these websites.

They are not painful to revisit. Not really. It more like when you're from North Central Texas and you go back to North Central Texas after many, many years of avoiding the place, and you get there, and you go to some restaurant or bar or some such social gathering spot, and you hear the locals talk in that loud, Texas accent about this and that, and you immediately say to yourself, "Yup these are the same racist losers I remember being here 20 years ago". And you leave, and try to get back on I-20 West to get the Hell out of there as soon as humanly possible.

Revisiting these websites was kinda like that. Just a confirmation of what I'd remembered.

But there are lights at the end of the North Central Texas, lizard (armadillo if you're in Texas), APS website tunnel. Not every individual APS webpage is awful. There are pages like this, and this, and I'm sure there are many others that I'm simply not willing to drudge through internet muck to find.

And, in a shameless plug, there's also little online school newspapers that seem to be taking off a bit. We're not "winning teh Interwebs" or anything, but getting about 100 hits a day and putting out a steady diet of student written/edited stuff, and getting quite a few comments (darn nice ones without the usual "you suck, no you suck, Hitler" progression found in most internet comment threads.

It really can be done. It's really quite easy. Students want to do it. Their faces kinda light up when we "publish" something they wrote, even if we can't use their full names (privacy issues or something). Plus, it don't cost nothing.

Yeah, it really can be done. It just isn't. Scathing exposé or no scathing exposé.

Best evidence of this nothingness: the APS website itself. Still right up there with the ABQ Journal in the running for Worst Website Ever. Some time back APS posted new jobs for web developers to come in and move aps.edu into the 21st Century, but nothing's happened yet. Why? How long can it possibly take to come out with a website better than aps.edu? Sixty seconds? Thirty?

I guess a "glass half-full" person might say that it's good to know you can depend on some things in life. Racist Texans for one. Really bad APS websites for another. Strangely, I'm not seeing the glass half-full on either of those points. I must be one of those "glass half-empty" people.



P.S.: No, I am not equating having a bad website with being a racist. People/schools with bad websites are not inherently bad or evil. They are not equal to racists. Or even Texans. I'm just saying the feeling of revisiting had overtones of similarity.

Teacher Demands That Everyone Get Off His Scheduling Lawn

High Whine Warning

Warning: Your humble blogger seems to have contracted a very slight, non-flu head cold that has no relation to swine flu whatsoever. Although in no way related to the swine flu, really, the author's "whine flu, which isn't a flu at all" will have an impact on the level of grumpiness in today's post. As grumpiness levels are almost always at flood stage here at Burque Babble, readers are encouraged to seek shelter by clicking elsewhere and remaining tuned to your emotional weather report radios for additional updates.
______________

Damn we have too many meetings and special schedules!

This morning I have a 7:30 meeting to be informed on ways the District has, once again, changed how "gifted" kids are "reevaluated". My high snot/brain cell ratio at present prevents me from fully describing how imbecilic this all is. Put disjointedly, let's just say that the terms "gifted" and "reevaluation" are oxymoronic, and that the District changes how Special Education meetings are run every year (and sometimes more than once per year) in the vain attempt to satisfy all the legal challenges it has on the subject AND to cover up for the fact that the terms "gifted" and "meaningful IEP meeting" are also oxymoronic.

So before I add significantly to the veritable mountain of used tissues looming over my laptop this morning, let me quickly go through my schedule:
  • Last Friday we had an Advisory schedule to prepare for the upcoming Student-led Parent/Teacher Conferences. I am on record as one of the very few teachers at my school who likes the idea of having students lead these conferences. At least that is my sense from the amount of colleague eye-rolling I see whenever the subject comes up. Maybe it's because the idea is from the District and the dominant mindset is "if it comes from the District it must be stupid". Anyway, we had a special schedule because very few teachers trust the students enough to actually run a conference, or even put stuff in their "advisory folders" to present at the conference.
  • Oh, while I'm thinking of it, a digression (the head cold is demanding digressions this morning). We've had about four advisory meetings with special advisory schedules at this point over the past month. For the first two or three class meetings we waited for SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS from the administration. These SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS were designed to keep student work in to present at the conference. Many announcements and emails were generated over these SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS. In the mean time, as the SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS were inexplicably delayed, my co-teacher and I muddled along with simple manila folders which we gave to students. Then, suddenly one morning, one of the 160 student aides we have at our school walked into our room carrying a stack of manila folders wrapped with a rubber band. These were the SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS! These SPECIAL ADVISORY FOLDERS had nothing on them, no bar codes of Student ID numbers, or labels of any kind. They were simply manila folders, straight out of a box from Office Depot.
  • Where was I, oh yeah, so last Friday we had one of those Advisory Schedules. Then yesterday, Monday, we were also on Advisory Schedule, this time to go over a pamphlet on Sexual Harassment. With 30 middle school students. As we've already had plenty of Advisory Meetings, we really had nothing to cover...except for this pamphlet. With middle school students. On sexual harassment. Needless to say, this was not my favorite 30 minutes of the school year to this point.
  • Today we have this stupid 7:30 meeting for gifted teachers to be told what the District wants us to do. Until they change their mind. Again.
  • Tomorrow, we have our annual Halloween Costume Contest, and that requires a special schedule. Party pooper that I am, I was kinda hoping Halloween would just kinda go away this year at middle school. I mean the actual day is on a Saturday, and we have Student-led Parent/Teacher Conferences both this Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is three days removed from Halloween. That's 72 hours or so, even more if you consider that Halloween is an evening holiday. But NOOOOOOOOOOO...we have to have a Halloween Costume Contest on October the 28th. Which means damn little education will be going on Wednesday, unless one considers the higher level critical thinking necessary for students to bring costume-related non-weapons that look as close to weapons as possible without them being incontrovertibly considered weapons to school...as education.
  • Then Thursday and Friday we have the oft-mentioned Student-led Parent/Teacher Conferences. Which I, as also mentioned above, support and think is a keen idea, in part because they were scheduled right before Halloween, which would seemingly make school a Halloween-free zone this year.
Oh well. The head cold seems to make your humble blogger not only digressive but redundant. Time to move the mountain of used tissues to the Mohammed of the trash can, dip myself from head-to-toe in hand sanitizer and drip my way into the classroom.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dark Secrets of the Middle School Teacher: No. 1, Grades

It's the end of the Nine Weeks and time for middle school teachers to act all high school and such, putting little letters into little spreadsheet boxes that will then be collated and sent home to parents.

The entire middle school grading exercise is kinda like kabuki theatre: outdated, stylized and largely incomprehensible.

We teachers use our grading sword as a weapon against middle school....middle schoolosity. Parents perform elaborate dance-drama rituals upon receipt of the grades reflecting a level of importance more along the lines of life v. death rather than middle school "A" v. middle school "F".

Calls are made, uncomfortable meetings convened, doleful looks abound. Or, in other cases, money changes hands, Ipods are purchased and strangely smug feelings of superiority emerge.

All-in-all an elaborate multi-act ritual signifying nothing. The phrase "Middle School Grades" is right up there with "Political Science Degree" in the running for most ultimately pointless expenditure of time, energy and angst. (note: I have two Political Science degrees).

We teachers know it. Parents know it. And like the non-existence of Santa Claus....students have some glimmer of knowing it as well. Some more than others.

  • What will happen if they "fail"?
  • What really happens if they "fail" all their classes?
  • Will they really repeat the 7th Grade? Will they really?
  • Is it really possible they could end up driving to middle school, spending significant time trimming their moustache on the way, while working nights at Taco Bell to pay for the car insurance?
We readers all know the answer to those questions. Fortunately, zero middle school students read this blog.

The dark secret can remain just hidden enough...if we perform the drama well.

Remember, keep your kabuki mask on and the hideous makeup unblemished. Both will hide your inability to keep a straight face. Be sure the audience continues to look at the sword. Flash the sword menacingly. Catch the light with the sword and blind the audience, if possible. Create the illusion. Cue the unfamiliar discordant music.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The APS 1% "Solution"

Over the course of a typical school year, teachers sign their name in a number of patently disingenuous situations.
  • To prove they attended mandated "training" sessions on sexual harassment, "trainings" that center on watching the same video over and over and over. Despite watching this "training" repeatedly over a career, teachers still have to sign their name to "prove" they have been "trained" every single time.
  • Ditto for meetings about super-duper important "trainings" on standardized test security and "blood-borne pathogens". Every year, same signature requirement.
  • Then there's the devious principal required sign-in for the post-lunch Professional Development Day meeting on "power standards", "EPSS" or some other blindingly boring and pointless exercise in group wordsmithing and/or "brainstorming". Paranoid that their staffs will extend an 1.5 hour lunch into an afternoon spent at Kelly's being interviewed by Larry Barker while wearing official school product t-shirts and drinking their seventh beer, principals often use the signature method to measure attendance. I used to work for a principal who didn't use sign-ups, but instead placed spies at staff meetings whose job it was to detect late-comers and non-attendees. It's all about the love and trust, people, isn't it?
  • Then there's the "signing the contract" procedure. I signed my contract for 2009-2010...yesterday, on October the 20th, just as the first nine weeks of school ended. This after the principal had to make seven daily announcements about how important it is for teachers to come in and sign them. Of course everyone knows it's not really important to sign them. That signing them doesn't mean anything. That not signing them is reserved for crackpot whiners who use it as a chance for empty protest. Still, there I was yesterday scribbling my initials to a copy in order that it could be routed back to some remote corner of APS where it will sit with thousands and thousands of other super-duper important contracts never to be seen or touched again.
Now these cases above are beyond surreal in their ability to evoke meaninglessness and a vague appeal to ethical/moral guilt on the part of the signer. But School Year 2009-2010 offers us more. This year we get to sign something so stupid that everyone feels even dumber and more fake than when we sign for having attended the "Blood-Borne Pathogen Training" when we really can't tell a "blood-borne pathogen" from a Bloody Mary.

This year we have the "Sign Your Name for 1% of Your Salary" sheet. You see, back during APS union negotiations teachers were pissed because the Legislature yanked 1.5% of our salary out from under us by making us pay for retirement insurance for retired insurance salesman or something. I don't recall exactly.

Anyway, after deep negotiation, the Union and APS came up with a brilliantly pointless solution. Teachers would be paid an additional lump sum 1% of their salary to defray this Legislative rug pulling job. But how to justify this 1%? Hmmm...how to justify it? And so the great minds of the negotiators spun and spun, and soon moral straw was woven into 1% gold.

Teachers would get the extra pay by attending "trainings" on their own time. The only record-keeping necessary to verify teachers had attended "trainings" would be....you guessed it...signing their initials on a piece of paper with all the staff members names on it, just like at the "Sexual Harassment Training".

Which was smart, using the same signature method, because it avoided the need to have a "training" about how to sign our names. We're used to signing our initials to a little sheet of paper with all the staff names on it. We can do that.

So yesterday, while signing my 2009-2010 contract 47 days into the school year, I signed my initials in order to get this 1% lump sum payment. I have, of course, no intention of attending any "trainings" outside my school-duty day. I saw many other initials on that sheet of paper, and I know every single one those other folks have any intention to do so either.

The real purpose of the signing document is to co-opt teachers into participating in the lie that is "training", "power standards" and this 1% payment. By forcing us to sign for this crap, the District is saying "Yeah, we're without any morals whatsoever, but you are too...look, you signing your initials as part of a big lie for money...you're no better than us!"

And we're not better than them. We sign. I wonder if we feel as bad for signing as they do for creating the disingenuous scenarios that lead us to meekly signing. I wonder if we feel worse.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Very Special "Committees Committee"

Steve Terrell at the New Mexican has the best Special Session coverage (and frankly I wish he had more competition). Between his blog and "story" we get a good sense that:
  • There really is a committee called "The Committees Committee". Really.
  • Bill Richardson is really both a Special Session rules tyrant and the lamest duck since Daffy.
  • Jerry Ortiz y Pino is really running for Lt. Governor. Really. Really hard.
  • It really must be possible to not raise taxes, only cut spending by 1.5 percent here (education) and 3.5 percent there (stage agency spending) and still take care of a $650 million shortfall.
  • Everyone in Santa Fe really wants oil and gas prices to go back up. Like alot. By yesterday.
  • Getting back to education cuts, if 1.5 percent equals $40 million in savings, what's the point of that given the $650 million shortfall? As the dollar figure is nearly immaterial is it really more of a "screw you" symbolic kind of thing? Or is it really more of a "I'm Bill Richardson and I'll prove to you that I'm a big, bearded liar by saying I won't cut education and then cut it by some measly amount just to show you how much I can both lie and accomplish nothing at the same time?"
  • I appreciate Steve Terrell's work, but I sure wish we really had more political coverage in this State. And no, I really don't mean Joe Monahan when I say that.
  • Reality and a New Mexico Special Session have damn little in common when you come down to it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Silliest Hour Must Be Right Before Dawn

Three days of early morning meetings this week (IEP, Staff meeting including cringe-worthy "sexual harassment" video, Language Arts) have left the blog and psyche incomplete and stumbling this week. I've never been a morning person, and waking up at 5:00 to bike commute has just seemed like too much. So the week from a bike miles ridden perspective is all shot to Hell, too.

So what do you do when the week's shot to Hell, it's "dark thirty" on a Friday morning outside and you still haven't started on your nine week grades or 47 other inane tasks that must be finished before yesterday?

That's when it time to break out the Jonathan Richman circa-1978....





Ah...blissful silliness. And at only 1 minute and 45 seconds I can watch it another 13 times before I have to get ready for work this "dark thirty" morning.

Have a Jonathan Richman Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day, everyone. That's an order straight from the Modern Lovers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NAEP: National Test, State Pissing Contest

For a nationwide test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) sure gets lots of state examination by the media. A search of newspaper stories on yesterday's release of NAEP Math scores underscores this fact.

All the newspapers want to know is how State X did versus the national average. The Albuquerque Journal is no different, using the scores as evidence of New Mexico's "achievement gap" between white and students of color.

Same story throughout the nation: "NJ eight graders show math gains", "New curriculum helping Georgia scores", "Despite improvement, DC students' math scores still lagging", "Mass. leads US on test scores", "California math scores still among the lowest", "Math tests: Wash. eighth graders improve", "Fla. scores on math test hold steady", "Hawaii students' math improves but still below US average", etc., etc. etc.

Everybody wants to be on a team (tribe) and beat the other teams (tribes). And the way NAEP is scored, you can't have school-by-school tribes (or at least I've never seen them) like Adequate Yearly Progress, so states are the lowest tribal denominator. Go tribe! Yeah, rather arbitrary invisible geographical demarcation! Fight, team, Fight!

Which is silly and no big deal, EXCEPT when local reporters myopically focus on the tribe, and exclude meaningful examination of the national results of a national test. Take the Journal story, for instance. In addition to some rather silly comments from NM Education Secretary Veronica Garcia, it wastes tons of valuable print inches comparing New Mexico scores to other states and alluding to the "achievement gap" in New Mexico, while omitting any national data on the "gap" situation.

So I looked at the national data, which is actually quite nicely displayed in self-designable graph/tables at the NAEP site. Guess what:
But you don't see/read stuff like this because local reporters want to tribalize it all into "Us v. Them" statistical football games.

That's a mistake. One that is likely to be compounded when the Journal continues its series on the "achievement gap" in New Mexico, and uses the NAEP data only far enough to promulgate the idea that this "gap" is a New Mexico problem. Which it isn't, anymore than it's a Rhode Island problem, or a Wyoming problem.


P.S.: If one is interested in all this, the NAEP site is definitely worth a visit. The ability to make your own graphs is quite lovely in an edu-nerdcore sort of way.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PED Test Score & Graduation Rates: Certified For Your Protection

In an obvious, and unintentionally hilarious, effort to make itself look more official, the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) has gone to using little "CERTIFIED" stickers on its test score and graduation reports. The little symbol looks like this:

I can't tell you how much better this makes me feel about the numbers coming from PED. I was worried about trusting any statistics from that outfit, especially after the earlier graduation rate report fiasco. But now that I think about it, those earlier numbers didn't have the little

and without that, how can you trust anything?

Besides, the symbol itself looks so darn official! It's like a tag on a pillow or something. Very official looking. Obviously big bucks were spent on that graphic. Not only does it say "CERTIFIED", but it has two circles, like it's a USDA Choice sticker or something, and the little red circles are made with a branding iron on a big bloody piece of marbled meat. I'd trust anything marked with such an official-looking, high-priced quality graphic like that.

It's like the Union Label, that "NFL" stamped on footballs and the Presidential Seal all rolled up in one little
All other counters of test scores and graduation rates (and yes, I'm talking to you Albuquerque Public Schools and Albuquerque Journal) must be quaking in their statistical boots when faced with the holy symbolic imprimatur coming from

for there is no possible objection to any number, chart, table or graph whenever it appears. One can only wish they had such a powerful graphic at their disposal. I can only hope Burque Babble one day, maybe years and years and years from now, will be recipient of anything close to the power of such graphically seismic "CERTIFIED" status. It is a truly an earthquake of pixelated (and you must admit it's a bit overly pixelated and fuzzy, really, when you look at it) grandiosity.

Really fuzzy now that you mention it.

Oh wait, I just found out where they got it. You mean ANYBODY can get such a powerfully official-looking graphic? You mean I can just go here, make up anything I want and then suggest it's


by just cropping out the little gray stuff at the bottom of the graphic? Wow! If that's the case, Burque Babble would like to OFFICIALLY CERTIFY the following facts:
  • Everyone who disagrees with me about anything is officially wrong;
  • The Sun officially revolves around the Earth;
  • The War of 1812 was officially fought in 1894;
  • Kanye West is officially buried in Grant's Tomb;
  • 5 - (x +2) = who cares, because algebra is officially stupid.
Anything else you want officially "certified"? This "certifying" is kinda fun.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Importance of Idiot "Experts" In Journalism

Where would journalists be without willing "experts" to espouse idiotic positions that constitute the "other side of the story"? Today's ever-so-helpful idiot is Charles P.Ewing, professor of law and psychology at the world-famous University of Buffalo Law School.

Professor Ewing serves the important function of idiot in a NYT story that begins...:
"Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a Cub Scout utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about joining the Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school."
The piece by Ian Urbina goes on to recount other incredibly stupid overreactions to "weapons" at other schools, including a case where a third-grader was expelled for a year because her grandmother sent her to school with a cake and a knife to cut it with.

So fifteen or so paragraphs of this and the only problem is that we haven't heard the "other side of the story". Who can possibly think it's a good idea to expel a student for a year because of a cake knife? Who with any "expertise" outside a good working knowledge of a crack pipe could possibly agree with a decision that suspends a six-year old 45 days for a Cub Scout multi-utensil?

Professor Charles P. Ewing, that's who. He's your man, Times writer Ian Urbina, and one can only imagine how many six-packs of beer Mr. Urbina owes Professor Ewing for:
“'There are still serious threats every day in schools,' Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make."
One can only imagine how long journalist Ian Urbina had to dig finding someone stupid enough to say the above (and, notably, the only direct quote is very generic and doesn't say anything about the specific cases mentioned).

So let us this morning salute idiot "expert" Professor Charles P. Ewing. One doesn't need to be a working journalist to see how important the work of idiots like Ewing is to our understanding of the world around us.

Thanks Chuck Ewing. Can I call you Chuck? Trust me, it's better than some other terms I'd like to use.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

To A Colleague

I didn't know her that well, since I sorta took her job. She was a Teacher of the Gifted over at Jefferson MS, and had been for years and years and years. I didn't know it going into my interview for the gig, but she'd decided to become a counselor.

So I got her job, her desk, and she moved down the very busy hall to a even busier counseling office.

We have a pretty stable staff at Jefferson, and while I didn't know her everybody else sure did. And loved her. She was hard not to admire, and I was in awe of her from the get-go. She had built this great program that I just stumbled into, and I felt damn lucky just to be sitting in her chair at her desk, looking over her room everyday. I spent serious time trying real hard not to mess up the great thing.

And like everyone else I loved her too. Nicest person you'd ever want to meet. Unfailingly nice. Mind-alteringly nice. Nice bad counseling day or good, during horrible stretches of "Middle School is Hell" weeks, and even when the person talking to her wasn't that nice.

I was that not nice person on more than one occasion...and she never stooped to my level. She was a rock in a building full of interpersonal sand.

And then a year of so ago, she found out she had cancer. Really bad cancer. And naturally she handled the news in a way that redefines the word "aplomb". Not showy, "oooh, I have cancer", and not morose and self-pitying. Just herself being her great self.

Not knowing what to say to her in those first few days of diagnosis I stupidly told her I couldn't think of a better person to get cancer. And that looks really bad even typed now, a year or so later..but what I meant was that nobody could possibly be better equipped mentally and psychologically to handle such a horrible thing. She'd proven for years she could handle anything.

The months of chemo this and medical procedure that added up, and took their heavy physical toll. Her very best friends among the staff, including women with which I now co-teach, visited her laughing and crying in equal measure. I'd hear about those meetings, and it was so apparent how important these sessions were for everyone, especially those visiting the "patient". Even sick and getting sicker she was still counseling, still teaching strong as ever.

And then, finally, the physical wear-and-tear just got too much, as it always does at some point, even to the very, very strongest among us.

That was last Sunday. Jeanetta Braziel died last Sunday.

And tomorrow, Thursday, those who knew, love and admired Jeanetta will more than fill a church in Nob Hill. Family of course, but also folks who taught with her for decades. Former students, will also be out in force. Lots of them. And one guy who feels selfishly lucky to have inherited her chair, desk and room, but even more selfishly fortunate to have had spent at least some time around her.

She was the kind of person that makes you count the minutes you're with her, because you want to get as many as you can.

My closing is corny...but you always liked corny, Jeanetta. Besides, you're from the South, just like me.

Happy trails, Jeanetta. Happy trails.

Monday, October 05, 2009

UPDATED...NM Education Cuts Protest: Should We Play or Should We Go?

Updated 10/9/09, 9:47 a.m.: Hmmm...nice weather this morning. Another possible excuse to not attend...gone. Also, for those of you driving, and, like me, dreading the whole parking in SF thing: What if we park at the 599 Rail Runner stop and ride bikes up to the clustershindig? Physical exercise AND political exercise/exorcise...

Tsk, tsk....not much of an "Update" really. Oh well, on to the previously published drivel....

Taking the idea of a "break" to its shortest meaning possible, public schools (at least in ABQ) have a "Fall Break" this upcoming Friday. It's an interesting choice of days, as the "Break" is not the Federal holiday next Monday ("Columbus Day"), and occurs during Balloon Fiesta, but not on the first weekend of the Fiesta.

Who the Hell cares, one might ask, a "Break" is a "Break" even if it's only an extra day. This is especially true as the rate of student absences skyrockets toward the peak of flu season, when it's only early October. The swirl of viruses combined with state budget shortfalls, wildly fluctuating published graduation rates and the inanity of "short-cycle assessments" has everyone crying out for a three-day weekend. Logic or federal calendar synchronicity be damned.

And while many families will use the extra day to attend the Fiesta, or frantically leave town to avoid it, public school teachers themselves have the opportunity to travel to Santa Fe Friday to attend a Noon - 4 p.m. march/rally/protest/gathering/bitchfest/media event on the subject of State Government budget cuts to K-12 education.

Right now I think I speak for about 93% of all APS teachers when I say "frankly, right this second, I would rather have a hole drilled into my head in slow-motion with a really jagged, unsharpened drill bit than waste my day off attending this march/rally, etc."

Maybe closer to 99%.

At the same time, this is like when the "Animal House" is on trial before the frat board, and Otter is about to make that "Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America" speech, and Delta House President Hoover says: "Don't screw around, they're serious this time!

Well, they're serious this time.

And yes that is true even if the current real situation truthfully has absolutely zero to do with "Animal House". Although, truthfully...everything has something to do with "Animal House" and vice-versa. If you ask me.

And speaking of asking me, perhaps you, dear reader, are inquiring, either silently or out loud..."Well, Scot, you going on Friday?"

And my answer is: Don't screw around, they're serious this time!

Yeah...I'm going. I could be all post-modern and say I'm really going for the good times of seeing pissed off teachers saying incredibly silly things, or the chance to "cynically blog about it", but really I'm planning on going like any other schmuck teacher who wants to change things for the better, stop a horrible action before it's enacted, yadda------yadda------yadda.

I could say I feel like Rick in "Casablanca", all squishy idealist inside rough, smoking exterior, but I don't smoke and I never had Ingrid Bergman back in Paris.

I'm just a ordinary teacher who's going to this shindig on Friday, and if you go cool, and if you're a teacher who already had vacation plans, or just wants to sleep in Friday and wash away the bad memories of "short cycle assessments", etc., that's cool, too.

Although it would be nice if you were up in Santa Fe, to help me laugh at the incredibly silly things teachers are saying (while secretly agreeing with the silly things).

C'mon, we could all hold hands and signs, while reliving marches way back when, before all the marchers spent the whole march not holding hands and not chanting "What do we want, (insert thing we want)! When do we want it, now!", instead choosing to talk on their cell phones the whole frickin' time ("oooh, honey, we're in front of the Roundhouse now...yes, I will get bread and a gallon of milk before I come home...do you want 2% or 1% milk, hey I'm marching with Marcie, do you want to say 'hi' to Marcie?").

Forget I mentioned the cell phone thing. Sales is just not my field (massive understatement there).

Teachers, just come to the shindig on Friday. Or don't. No big deal either way. Just remember your non-attendance the next time you watch "Animal House", and see/hear Otter make that "Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America" speech.

Hope that's a real enjoyable experience for you, non-attendees.

Everyone else, see you on Friday.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Elias Barela, Bombs, My Bad Mood and the 2009 "Recovery and Reinvestment Act"

You ever have a monumentally crappy weekend, so to avoid thinking about it you spend a bunch of Internet time doing research on something having absolutely nothing to do with all the crappy things leading to your crappy weekend? While listening to opera?

Yeah, me too.

So I'm looking at the spiffy government spending sites, recovery.gov and USAspending.gov. Just the sort of nerd brain candy to mentally evade a crappy weekend. And clicking around I come across two interesting things, at least they were to me.
  1. Over at Recovery.gov, I find that some attorney in Valencia County is getting $111,000 of "Recovery and Reinvestment Act" funds from the Small Business Administration "to assist small business concerns by providing long-term financing through the sale of debentures to the private sector". No specifics on whether this means the lawyer is getting the loan money, or is playing some role in facilitating that others get loans. Weird thing is, I look up the recipient firm, and it's run by Elias Barela, who I find just happens to be New Mexico's 8th District Representative, serving as a Democrat since 2007.
  2. Then over at USAspending.gov I do a little database checking and find that the 10 biggest New Mexico recipients of "Recovery Act" contracts so far are in the business of:
  • #1 ($121 million) "Defense Environmental Cleanup"
  • #2 ($63 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #3 ($51 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #4 ($12 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #5 ($10 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #6 ($4 million) "Defense Environmental Cleanup"
  • #7 ($2.8 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #8 ($2.1 million) "Weapons Activities"
  • #9 ($1.6 million) "Federal Buildings Fund"
  • #10 ($1.3 million) "Isotope Production and Distribution"
That's "URS Corporation" getting the $121 million to clean up the Defense and Energy Department's messes, with "Los Alamos National Security LLC" accounting for most of the "weapons activities" (i.e. creating the messes).

Am I surprised that the "Recovery and Reinvestment Act" seems to suffer from the same corruption and moral bankruptcy as every other public and private enterprise in recent memory? No.

I am a bit surprised that having spiffy new websites like recovery.gov and USAspending.gov to quickly catch such questionable and unfortunate expenditures hasn't seem to slow these practices down. Not at all.

Now I'm sure there's somebody out there who can correct me on all this, and convince me that the award to Rep. Barela is not only completely above-board, but constitutes a vital supply of funds to maintain a vitally needed and all-around vital service. I'm also sure there's an explanation about why so much "Recovery and Reinvestment Act" money is going to the same Military/Industrial jokers who have made a fabulous living off the government for decades.

Maybe those well-founded explanations will also help distract me from my monumentally crappy weekend. I look forward to hearing them. Until then, it's back to "Rodelinda" and more crappy thoughts.



P.S.: What Frank Rich said. I know I'm already bugged, but this crap is bugging me. Good to see it's bugging Mr. Rich as well. I wonder if he had a crappy weekend.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Post #800

This is post number 800 for Burque Babble. Compared to many blogs out there, no big deal (how many does NewMexiKen have at this point, 4.2 million?). But I'm an obsessive counter, so reaching another hundred gets inexplicably "celebrated".

Speaking of counting, one of these days I'm going to copy/paste all the posts, throw them into Word and get a total "word count". I then plan on consuming several beers as I depressingly consider the fact that my "word count" most surely surpasses that of all the Dan Brown books put together.

And Dan Brown has 73 sextillion dollars and I have, less than 73 sextillion dollars.

But is that the point? More to the point, has a single sentence here scaled the literary heights of Mr. Brown and his highly-crafted prose dedicated to entertaining while informing readers about the mysteries of arcane religious organizations and their practices throughout history?

The sad fact is no. For example, I don't think I've used the term "Illuminati" more than three times in all the thousands of words and 800 posts here. I should work on that.

In point of fact, Burque Babble hasn't really changed the face of publishing, hit the New York Times Bestseller List, or even achieved its real purpose of both altering the way children are taught in this country, and the manner in which the "customers" of public education (students, parents, taxpayers) are informed of what is really going on in the process of serving those customers.

I guess there's two ways of looking at that: 1. epic fail; 2. "work in progress".

Burque Babble is a "work in progress". I would say it's "continuously improving", but I can only go so far when it comes to meaningless buzzphrases. So...Burque Babble is a "work in progress". Like cold fusion, or spinning straw into gold.

We'll get there, someday (as sung by Tom Waits)...

Thanks to everyone who has come along for at least part of the ride, so far. Without you, dear readers, Burque Babble would be nothing. Or even more nothing than it currently is. It would be less than nothing. For the only thing worse than "blogging", is "blogging" to an audience of zero.

Thanks for helping me avoid that particular embarrassment, readers. Sorry for all the typos, misspellings, and stupid ideas in the last 800 posts. Sorry in advance for all the mistakes to come.

There will be plenty more of them. I promise.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

My Single Favorite AYP-related Newspaper Sentence Ever

Although both districts generally were high-performing, their grades slipped to “Continuous Improvement” — equal to a “C” rating — because of a single measure called Adequate Yearly Progress.
--from "Limit proposed for how far a school can slip on report card". William Hershey. Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. 10.01.09
This one sentence has it all. Buzzwords, contradictions, and a general feeling of "What the Hell are you talking about here?" It's like every meeting, slide show, and badly made video on standardized testing I've ever seen condensed into a single sentence.

Congrats, Mr. William Hershey of the Dayton Daily News. By explaining nothing you have explained everything. And no, I'm not joking or being sarcastic. The sentence above really does explain it all.

And that's the problem.


P.S.: If a school in Ohio "slips to 'continuous improvement'" can it then rise up to "maintaining mediocrity"? Or would it then need to "continuously unimprove"? What about Ohio schools already getting "A" and "B" grades? Are they already in an official state of "continuous unimprovement"? As in "Thank God we don't have to do this 'Continuous Improvement' bullshit anymore!"? The questions are many.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CSI: Autopsy of an "Assessment"

As mentioned here on myriad occasions, there are two types of mandated tests given these days in New Mexico schools:
  1. Standards-Based Assessments (SBAs): Federally mandated via "No Child Left Behind". Determines whether a school/district meets "Adequate Yearly Progress". Some states have their own self-created tests and acronyms for these, but New Mexico can't afford its own name/acronym, so it uses a generic alternative. Is administered over roughly two weeks in March/April. Is what people read about in the paper and use as evidence to tell each other whether a school is "good" or "bad". Individual scores unimportant to the point that many folks (student/parents/teachers) don't even know how individual students scored. Widely viewed as villain in the theatrical production known as "standardized testing".
  2. Short-Cycle Assessments (a.k.a. in 2009 "DBA"): Vaguely mandated (State, District, obscure public official who nobody really knows and is no longer at the State/District) Reading and Math test given three times per school year. Unlike SBA is focused on the individual student. Results used to place non-proficient students (cutoff percentages always vague and changing) in "Response to Intervention" classes. "Response to Intervention" (RTI) generally agreed to be the single stupidest public education buzzphrase (in a very, very tough competition). RTI classes vary widely, but often lead to remedial students being deprived of electives. Placement of students via short-cycle assessments is highly contentious, devoid of clear district/state mandates and features no "exit strategy" (i.e., how does the kid get out of the "RTI" class?) component.
The above is included to hopefully make a long autopsy short. As a new-fangled "Language Arts" teacher (after years of teaching "Literature"...another long story, don't ask), I get to administer the short-cycle Reading assessment to my students. Here's how that's going so far:
  1. The District delayed getting the test materials to the schools for quite some time.
  2. Upon delivery of the materials in mid-September, schools were informed they would have to make copies of test materials.
  3. The "testing window" was originally published as September 21 - October 2 (two weeks or ten days of school).
  4. Upon receipt of the test booklets, teachers noticed that this year's assessment was going to take longer than in previous years.
  5. Right as the "testing window" opened, the District altered the "testing window", suddenly shortening it to October 1st.
  6. Teachers, who tend to...like...plan stuff in advance, suddenly had to figure out how administer a longer test in a shorter testing window.
  7. Meanwhile, APS and other schools around the state report higher than normal absenteeism due to an early cold/flu season.
Put it all together and you've got a truly "high-stakes" test for students (unlike the SBA) administered in a fashion usually reserved for "low-stakes" activities like drunken nickle-dime-quarter poker games. No, that's an insult. Drunken poker games are typically planned far, far better than this.

And, as noted above, we get to do this three times this school year, on top of the two weeks or so of SBA testing. Given the longer time devoted to these Short-Cycle Assessments, we're now talking:
  • Roughly 10 days of SBA testing
  • At least two days of short-cycle stuff per go-round
  • Times three
  • So that's another six days of school, minimum (some students/classes are taking longer)
  • for a total of 16 days of school
  • That 16 days out of 180, or about 9 percent of the entire school year devoted to standardized testing (of course, not including the actual classroom quizzes/testing based on what is getting taught in the "we don't teach to the test, honest we don't" classroom).
  • Added together with all the typical assemblies, parent-teacher conference days, etc., you're talking roughly, what, 150 or so days of actual instruction?
I don't really watch "CSI" or any of those forensics TV shows, so I don't know what they do when the investigators finish their autopsies and stuff. I'm guessing they zip up the body, and tell the highly attractive detectives Suspect X is guilty because of some carpet fibers found in Suspect X's risotto or something.

Well, we don't really carpet fibers to tell who Suspect X is when it comes to the murder of quality teaching here. Just like in those shows where the "helpful" (and attractive) "guest star" character is the actual murderer, the murderer here is viewed by many as both "helpful" and "attractive".


As Mr. Sting (i.e. Sumner) once sang: "Murder by numbers....one, two, three. As easy to learn as your A, B, C".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ten Reasons I Hate The Balloon Fiesta, Repackaged For Blu-ray 2009 Edition

Photo purloined from official "Mass Happiness" ABQ Balloon "Fiesta" website.
Given all the aggravation, I figure they owe us a free photo or two.

Looking back over the past four plus years of this blog thing, I think I've only missed pointing out how much I despise the upcoming "Fiesta" once. In 2007, I was evidently too busy complaining about "Columbus Day" and the upcoming City Council elections (remember Joanie Griffin and Paulette de Pascal?) to even mention the damn thing.

But going back to

2008

2006

and the "original gangsta" edition in

2005

there I am making a fool of myself for trying to make a fool of a foolish, yet popular event.

This year, I think I'll just leave it be.

Of course that might change when the inevitable occurs and the "WHAMMMMMMMMMPPPPPPPPP" combo sound of gas releasing and flames shooting directly overhead causes my dogs and farm animals to go into their annual panic. Cause you know nothing means "annual celebration" like colorful pastel objects inducing air-borne panic.

Whatever.

Instead of wasting my time and yours this October, I think I'll use the blogging minutes making some phone calls. Phone calls to bed & breakfasts at least 200 miles from Balloon Fiesta Ground Zero for some reservations sometime in the next two weeks of local Hell.

I hope these places take dogs, cats, horses and goats.

Stay sane "Fiesta" haters out there. Years of experience tell me we'll most likely survive the 2009 "Fiesta" as well, gritting our teeth all the while.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marty & Bill & Veronica & Winston

Okay, now that I have your attention through the use of "hot" New Mexico first names, let me first waste your time by giving you what I feel is the single most informative 211-word analysis of standardized testing I've ever read. And I've been wasting lots and lots of time lately reading tons of standardized testing analysis.

I promise I'll get to the Bill, Marty, Veronica, Winston stuff in a minute.

The quoted passage below comes from a NY Times Op/Ed by Todd Farley, former standardized testing grader and author of an upcoming book about his experiences called Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry. I'll admit it, I'm such a total Standards-Based Assessments (SBA) nerd at this point that this book title appeals to me like "G.I. Joe"-meets "Transformers"-meets-"Anything Featuring Nearly Naked Women" appeals to a 13-year old boy.

Anyway, here's the passage:
A few years later, still a part-time worker, I had a similar experience. For one project our huge group spent weeks scoring ninth-grade movie reviews, each of us reading approximately 30 essays an hour (yes, one every two minutes), for eight hours a day, five days a week. At one point the woman beside me asked my opinion about the essay she was reading, a review of the X-rated movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” The woman thought it deserved a 3 (on a 6-point scale), but she settled on that only after weighing the student’s strong writing skills against the “inappropriate” subject matter. I argued the essay should be given a 6, as the comprehensive analysis of the movie was artfully written and also made me laugh my head off.

All of the 100 or so scorers in the room soon became embroiled in the debate. Eventually we came to the “consensus” that the essay deserved a 6 (“genius”), or 4 (well-written but “naughty”), or a zero (“filth”). The essay was ultimately given a zero.

This kind of arbitrary decision is the rule, not the exception. The years I spent assessing open-ended questions convinced me that large-scale assessment was mostly a mad scramble to score tests, meet deadlines and rake in cash.
There's actually more in the Op/Ed, but I already feel bad for copy/pasting so much of it. Things about "grading" tests while in "happy hour mode" and stuff. And that's just the Op/Ed....the book should be...oooh, I'm so excited.

But not too excited to forget my promise to provide a thought or two about Marty, Bill, Veronica & Winston.

What do these four people have in common, besides being the sort of political "celebrities" that make simple use of their first name enough in that Cher, Madonna, Manny sort of way? Actually, I'm thinking of them as two couples: Marty & Bill, and now Veronica & Winston.

I've never read a 1,500 word newspaper article headlined "Marty and Bill Hate Each Other's Guts", but we've all read plenty of sly references and such that can pretty much be boiled down to the fake headline above. I could be wrong, but I doubt these two guys regularly meet at Spectators to watch Monday Night Football together. Probably no exchange of Christmas cards or "Secret Santa" stuff.

Well, reading all the recent stories concerning the State Public Education Department (PED) and Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) has me wondering if perhaps Veronica and Winston have quickly developed a Marty/Bill level of shared revulsion already.

Take the graduation rate SNAFU. The PED announces figures that everyone thinks are too low, the District comes out with new, higher, figures, the PED "blasts APS" (annoying outdated Sports Desk video-promo or $ required) for having lousy record-keeping, and the District fires back saying the PED numbers "had been harmful to the District's morale and reputation".

Whoa.

And this is all well and good in providing needed levity to school teachers around the State of New Mexico. Trust me...this stuff is seen by teachers as high comedy nearly equal to reading NYT Op/Eds about people grading standardized tests while smashed. The spat also provides insights into "my world". Again, trust me...it's like this all the time. It really is. Honest.

So far, so good. Entertainment and insight into dysfunction, all in one sloppy statistical package.

But there's a problem here. I hesitate to rain on this hilarious Edu-Reality Show ("Real Educational Officials of New Mexico", "Are You Able To Count Graduates Better Than An Educational Official?", "The Biggest Statistical Loser"), but there's one VERY BIG REASON why Veronica and Winston (PED and APS) need to get over themselves. A big financial reason.

We're currently smack dab in the middle of the proposal-writing process for all the unprecedented and unprecedentedly cash-rich federal grants flowing from the Obama Administration. Millions and even billions of dollars. Money I've been boring regular readers here about for months.

Given this situation, it is imperative that we NM education types are all on the same page, working together to create well-coordinated grant proposals likely to win federal approval, while also putting our absolutely best, most professional face forward to help that process be as successful as possible.

But here's Veronica and Winston sniping at each other like Kate and Jon Gosselin** about a bunch of graduation rate statistics we ALL know are bogus to begin with.

Not good, people.

Not terribly professional, regardless of how funny it is. I may be wrong, and Veronica and Winston may actually be getting along like a house a' fire, sending each other Twitter messages and emailing each other five times a day. APS' "Research, Development and Accountability" (RDA) Department and the State PED Accountability office might be meeting for drinks every Friday for "Happy Hour", but it sure as Hell doesn't look like it.

And as a state desperately in need of getting its hands on all the Obama edu-cash it can, it would be a shame if any animosity or lingering resentment from our District/State educational officials resulted in weaker, unfunded proposals. Just imagine the finger-pointing then.

Just think of the Reality Show depths possible then.

So stop it, you two, and that goes for everyone at both PED and APS. Stop your bitching, and go get us some money. We need laughs, sure, but we need cold, hard cash even more.



*It occurs to me that non-Edunerd New Mexicans may not know that "Veronica" is Veronica Garcia, Secretary of the NM Public Education Department and "Winston" is Winston Brooks, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent. I apologize for making the assumption everybody would just know that.

**I truly have no idea who Kate and Jon Gosselin are outside of my students mentioning them. I apologize if the Veronica/Winston, Kate/Jon analogy is unfair, doesn't make sense and, most importantly, isn't funny. Maybe I should have used other reality show pairings, but I must admit I don't know any reality show pairings.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear New Republican Friends of Public Education

Dear Republicans and Republican Party:

I know we haven't hung out much recently. I've been real bad about returning phone calls, getting together with you or even acknowledging you exist. I know I've had the tendency, pretty much ever since I was old enough to know there was a difference between "Democrat" and "Republican", to shriek in horror whenever I run into a position of yours.

I don't want to dwell on the past, or thinking/logic and all that stuff, but your positions on things like health care, immigration, abortion, foreign policy, "marriage", religion, global warming, gun control abstinence-only education, and U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! all make me want to barf. Truth be told, they still do.

There...I said it. And I said it not only because it's still true, but because as new friends we need to understand each other. We need to communicate.

And I'm here today to talk to you, dear Republicans, about a way we can start a beautiful friendship. Admittedly, it probably will never turn into one of those friendships where I call you up and we go out and have a beer. I doubt it will lead to us going bowling together. I really can't see us emailing each other about "our day", and how we "feel" about events going on in our lives.

But that's not to say these things are impossible.

In the next year or so Congress is finally going to get around to reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (NCLB). You know, that thing sponsored back in the early aughts by two people you despise: Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush. Well, it's going to come up again after this health care fiasco gets settled and NCLB reauthorization offers us a chance to get together, so to speak.

You see, NCLB has things about it I hate, and you hate. And nothing brings folks together like hate. Now you're probably thinking at this point, "hey, if Scot hates something it must be a damn good idea and I need to support it 100%!". Trust me, that's my default reaction too.

But listen for a second. NCLB is a federal program that mandates educational policy to states and local school districts.

Let me say that again, slower for those Republicans who aren't the brightest star in the political constellation. NCLB gives.... power... to the FEDERAL (evil, sinister, enemy) government over state and local (good 'ol boys, drinking buddies, folks that look the same as you) governments. Need I say it...it's SOCIALISM. NCLB IS SOCIALISM.

Okay, that was a cheap card to play, and I apologize to any of my heretofore "lefty" friends who just read the above paragraph and are freaking out.

But to reiterate, dear Republicans, all you need to know about this NCLB thing is socialism, anti-States' Rights, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush. I won't bore you with the problems I find in NCLB, as it would just raise suspicions and muddy the simple waters. Just keep repeating the mantra, "Ted Kennedy, socialism, States' Rights, and that traitor Bush who ended up yanking up the deficit like he was some commie FDR or something...Ted Kennedy, socialism...and that..."

Alright, I admit that's a pretty lousy mantra. Hard to start foaming at the mouth "teabagger style" with phrases like "yanking up the deficit"...I tell ya what, you make up your own mantra. You're good at that simplistic, illogical slogan thing better than us Lefty types anyway.

Just make sure you have "States' Rights" in there. Over and over. Think about it. And I'm not making this up or trying to fool you. For a change. I'm telling you the truth here. NCLB is anti-States' Rights. I'll swear it on a stack of Communist Manifestos.

Dear new friends, consider the above a small, humble olive branch offered to you from a poor soul just trying to find common ground in a minefield of divisive rancor. A simple gift of political thought that might lead, maybe, to the best kind of bi-partisanship there is: Destroying stuff.

You and me, Republicans, we can blow up NCLB. Blow it up real good. Just like you like it. Just like on "Dukes of Hazzard", or in those Terminator movies you guys love so much. You and I, hand in hand in a concerted act of well-intentioned demolition.

This might be the only chance we ever get to hold political hands, Repub friends. Take my hand. Just don't squeeze too hard....we might want to go bowling later.