Saturday, February 28, 2009

No News Means Uncertain News (A Non-News Dog Update)

Because my good friends and internet neighbors have their priorities more correctly aligned than mine, I've had alot more personal feedback lately about the travails of my dog, Oly, than about education policy.

To those who asked, thanks, and to those who have commiserated thank you as well.

Making a long story involving fanciful detonations of C-4 explosive throughout a certain, unnamed Walmart o' animal hospital chain location short, Oly is going in this morning for a second nasal biopsy after the first one came back inconclusive.

(long story of being told the results would be back in "48 hours" turning into nine phone calls to VCA [damn, I was going to leave the name of the place out] on Montgomery & Eubank [double damn] over the course of four more days omitted)

I won't speculate on the findings this time around, as we ourselves have chosen at this point to just hug, pet and stroke Oly in lieu of undertaking extremely amateur medical analysis. After his visit/procedure this morning, the idea is that the results will be known in "48 hours", and we'll just take it from there. I guess.

Hug an animal today. Make it two hugs.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Hang the Blogging DJ As We Stagger Through A Working Friday

Four days of falling/slogging through another week in the rabbit-hole that is the Albuquerque Public Schools, and the (healthy) mind turns away from the insanity, and towards any shiny, diversionary object possible. What are weekends (at least for today's public school educator) but short respites out of the chair Alex sits strapped-in with his eyes clamped open in Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange"?

So instead of forced viewing of educational pornography and violence, let's get an early start to the weekend by rummaging through YouTube and finding some solace, nostalgia and wisdom.

Oh, but we're still angry about the work week this early Friday morning, and now fixated on things British after the mental image of Alex strapped into that chair.'s the Smiths singing "Hang the DJ" about 93 times...

Hang the DJ indeed...

Let's escape Britain (it is a silly place, after all) and get back home with some John Prine. The song "In Spite of Ourselves" is really more about love than work, but the title fits public school teaching circa-2009 to a big-ass T. Plus this song has the wonderful Iris DeMent and a funny intro by Mr. Prine.

Okay, that put us in a much better mood. Nothing like being resigned to the many foibles of our loved ones to smooth out the rough edges of life. Now let's really get ready for the last call of the work week and the first call of "Happy Hour" with a very appropriate, wild combination of fun, Jimi Hendrix and references to gun violence. Here's Jimi playing guitar behind some guys named "Buddy and Stacey" doing a cover of Junior Walker and the All-Stars "Shotgun" broadcast by some Nashville TV station in 1965.

Wow. Jimi in a rhythm section line. And to save you the trip to the real Jr. Walker version (and I think this isn't too lip-synched), here's the All-Stars on "Hullabaloo" in 1966.

Okay, that's better. I don't know about you, but I think I can make it through the last day in the rabbit-hole now. For those menaced to the point of wanting to get an actual shotgun during this working Friday, it is suggested you play the John Prine above over and over and over and over (especially the Iris DeMent parts).

Have a livable Friday everybody, and a good weekend.

P.S.: For those already in the tentacular clutches of APS schools, apologies for the fact the YouTubes above are probably blocked from view. Just know that they are, and it might to hum the line to yourself over and over and over "In Spite of Ourselves...In Spite of Ourselves....In Spite of Ourselves...."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Getting Wonky With Public Education: Following the Money Regarding "America's Choice"

  • Support to schools through America's Choice in the amount of $2,761,721
  • This amount supported implementation in 16 schools
  • Support to schools through America's Choice in the amount of $3,234,891
  • This amount to support implementation in 22 schools
--from NM Legislative Education Study Committee Staff Report, "The School Improvement Framework", 10.15.07

A comment indirectly tied to last night's little post has me digging through the muck to follow some money tonight. As a school mandated to succumb to "America's Choice Math Navigator" next year (actually it's already being thrown at a few, lucky, students, I'm intrigued to find out more on the cost of this little "curriculum in a box".

I'm sure others out there have covered this ground and I just missed it, but the juicy LESC staff report quoted above really whets my already keen appetite. Just how much is this crap costing us? If it takes $3.23 million just to serve 22 schools, how much money will "America's Choice" be raking in when just about every school is in "Corrective Action XVII"?

Another tasty, yet probably stinky, morsel in the staff report:
As one means of providing assistance to public schools in need of improvement, the 2003 Legislature created the in Need of Improvement Fund, to be administered by PED. However, the Legislature did not provide an appropriation to the fund in FY 04, FY 05, or FY 06 based on information from PED that federal funds would be available each year to meet those needs.

According to PED, the state has received these amounts of federal Title I school improvement funds (dollar amounts rounded up): $1.96 million for school year 2003-2004; $4.36 million for school year 2004-2005; and $2.55 million for school year 2005-2006. For school years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, the Title I funds were $2.8 million and $3.2 million respectively, in both cases for support to schools through America's Choice.
So, and again I apologize that I'm the very last person on Planet Earth to find this out, somebody decided that about 100% of 2006-2008 (and most likely 2009 as well) federal Title I "school improvement funds" would be thrown at "'America's Choice".

And this is true throughout the country. Why in APS Superintendent Winston Brooks' old stomping grounds of Wichita, Kansas seven middle schools are spending $1.1 million on "America's Choice" and some there are crowing about it, including the District's Chief Academic Officer: "'some of it (the gains in student learning) is very phenomenal'".

Okay, "very phenomenal" isn't the most eloquent thing for a Chief Academic Officer to say, but who knows? Maybe this "America's Choice" thing is the bee's knees and deserves every last million of Title I money it has and will continue to get.

But I still want to know how the for-profit America's Choice folks have gotten all those contracts. That's a bedtime story I'd certainly love to hear. Anybody wanna read it to me?

You'd better hurry because I have to go to bed right now so I can get up for a sure-to-be-contentious 7:30 staff meeting tomorrow morning in which we will surely battle over needed schedule changes for next year. Changes made necessary by the mandated use guessed it....America's Choice.

Pleasant dreams everyone.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Professional Educator Answer Guy Responds to President Obama

“Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma."
-President Obama. Not the State of the Union Address. 2.24.09
The question is: why? Why do three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma?

Hi. I'm Professional Educator Answer Guy. Not only do I answer your educational policy questions, whether you ask them or not, but I'm also someone you want to be friends with. As you heard President Obama say, we in the professional education business will soon be stinking rich, flush with billions and billions of dollars we don't even begin to know what to do with.

We're the hedge fund managers of the 2010s. The corporate CEOs of the teens. We're the new Barbarians at the Gate, baby!

And no, you can't have any unless you start acting more friendly to us. Start showing up at some parent/teacher conferences. Help us out at the bake sale more often. Quit planning your son's dental appointment during his U.S. History class. Shape up and, who knows, maybe we'll help that lousy son of yours get through high school and get a job in one of those fastest-growing occupations President Obama was talking about.

Which, finally, gets us back to the question: Why do three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma? Well, let's look at the list of 30 fastest-growing professions. Better yet, as this table is from your friendly U.S. Governmental Bureau of Labor Statistics, and I'm now a big-wig Professional Educator, let's just steal parts of the table and put them right here.  Man, I feel so AIG executive blowing taxpayer money for a company shindig in Tahiti doing this...


Fastest Growing Occupation.....Post-Secondary Degree-Service Needed

1. Network systems and data communications ..... Bachelor's degree

2. Personal and home care aides ...... Short ojt training

3. Home health aides ...... Short ojt training

4. Computer software engineers, applications ..... Bachelor's degree

5. Veterinary technologists and technicians ..... Associate degree

6. Personal financial advisors ........ Bachelor's degree

7. Makeup artists, theatrical and performance ...... Post-sec. voc. award

8. Medical assistants ........ Moderate ojt training

9. Veterinarians .......... First prof. degree

10. Substance abuse/behavioral disorder
counselors..... Bachelor's degree

11. Skin care specialists ......... Post-sec. voc. award

12. Financial analysts ...... Bachelor's degree

13. Social and human service assistants ..... Moderate ojt training

14. Gaming surveillance officers/gaming investigators..... Moderate ojt training

15. Physical therapist assistants ..... Associate degree

16. Pharmacy technicians ........ Moderate ojt training

17. Forensic science technicians ....... Bachelor's degree

18. Dental hygienists ........... . Associate degree

19. Mental health counselors ........... Master's degree

20. Mental health/substance abuse social workers..... Master's degree

21. Marriage and family therapists ....... Master's degree

22. Dental assistants ............... Moderate ojt training

23. Computer systems analysts ........ Bachelor's degree

24. Database administrators ....... Bachelor's degree

25. Computer software eng., systems software..... Bachelor's degree

26. Gaming and sports book writers and runners ...... Short ojt training

27. Environmental science technicians..... Associate degree

28. Manicurists and pedicurists .......... Post-sec. voc. award

29. Physical therapists ........... Master's degree

30. Physician assistants ......... Master's degree

ojt = on-the-job-training

Post-sec. voc. award= Post-Secondary Vocational Award

Hmmm...sounds like helping people to both gamble and deal with substance abuse are real growth industries. But we're not here to judge the merit of a society that obviously places an incredible amount of its attention on skin and nail care, we're here to answer a serious question.

And that answer is this: perhaps the reason many of the jobs above "require" college now is because our high schools place little/no emphasis on training for any of these jobs. Look at the occupations with demands for a "post-secondary vocational award". Why on Earth can't high schools train people for those jobs? How about those requiring "associate degrees". Why can't high schools do a better job of integrating their programs into a seamless course of study leading to a quicker, faster, better Dental Hygienists program? That's not to mention the most obvious high school-ready type jobs that only require "on-the-job training".

Your Professional Educator Answer Guy loves Shakespeare. Teaches "Macbeth" every year. Is a total snob when you come down to it. But even Answer Guy agrees that our public school system needs to reattach itself to the workplace, and give its high school students more options than just a Multiple Choice Final on "King Lear".

Frankly, we in the, soon-to-be gloriously funded, K-12 game have stuck to our nostalgic obsession with the high school of yesterday to the detriment of the high school of today. We've also let community colleges brand themselves as the be-all, end-all for "trades", while doing little/nothing to provide a meaningful bridge to those students whose passion runs more to plumbing than sonnets.

Professional Educator Answer Guy says this needs to change, and with all the Benjamins rolling in we should allocate serious dollars to a forward-thinking apprentice/trades program in grades 9-12. In addition, we need to get Math out of its algebraic ivory tower and create some pre-engineering programs that use Math and lead to real jobs.

As for us "Humanities" teachers, well... somebody's gotta go to Oberlin and Bennington. We just need to stop teaching every student as if they, too, would respond positively to four years of lousy crumbs left along a weedy trail that supposedly leads to the wonderful land of "college". And financial aid. And student loans.

P.S.: And, yes, your beloved Professional Educator Answer Guy (and Humanities teacher) loves literature, the study of history and social change, and thinks today's students need art, music, and all that. I'm just saying maybe we could teach students to write a better professional email along with a better sonnet.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dear ABQ Chamber of Commerce: Pay Up or Shut Up

The economy of this state can grow only if New Mexico is a place where businesses want to locate and people want to raise their families. We know that an education system that educates every child to world-class levels regardless of socio-economic status is absolutely necessary for this to occur. And we will not be silenced.
--from "Business Earned a Say in Education", Guest Editorial, Albuquerque Journal, 2/15/09

Usually phrases like "we will not be silenced" are reserved for the truly disenfranchised and neglected in our society. I think it safe to say the "Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce" doesn't quite fit that criteria. Terri Cole, Chamber Uber-Goddess, can't pass gas without it becoming a TV sound bite or op/ed piece in the Journal.

So for the Chamber to write the above as if it is some Nelson Mandela jailed in Apartheid-era South Africa is rich. Very rich. There's much to dissect in this Op/Ed, but I want to focus a word or two on "world-class levels" above.

Here's the problem, or at least part of it. The Chamber and other users of phrases like "world-class levels" love spouting out figures about drop-out rates and such, but when asked to adequately fund things that actually will address drop-out rates balk and get all snippy.

What would actually lower drop-out rates? Dramatic expansion of things like high school apprentice programs tied directly to industry, such as those in Germany and Japan. Notice that we've spent considerable time/effort/a little bit of money tweaking a new college track based on Advanced Placement classes, lottery scholarships and such, but have done little to nothing to forge an apprentice track leading to careers that don't need college.

Why this fixation on everybody going to college? Is it based on our glorious belief in the American Dream that anybody can make it this society? No, I'd say it's based more on a desire to avoid spending the necessary dollars to provide meaningful training for a large percentage of our student body. A large percentage that invariably constitutes a huge, gigantic percentage of our dropouts.

If the Chamber wants to play the silenced victim, that will be good for some unintentional comedy, but if the Chamber really, really cared about both the drop-out rate and "world-class levels" it would quit just saying no to increased school funding and instead start offering to truly bridge the friggin' chasm between the workplace and New Mexico high schools. A chasm, by the way, that has nothing to do with standardized testing and other silly, inept attempts to make these edu-cheapskates supposedly feel better about our educational system.

And that bridge would be built, in part, with money. Money and innovation. Money the Chamber and like thinkers never want to spend, and innovation these bewailers of "world-class levels" couldn't come up with if their educational policy hair was on fire.

So, dear Chamber folks, maybe you should just shut up. Keep your pie hole closed until you can quit the simplistic complaining, and really offer something meaningful (money included) to address drop-outs, school funding and K-12 education in New Mexico.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Triptych: Terrible Beauty, Beauty, Terrible

I. Terrible Beauty

Between screenings of our own films this week, my class is watching the documentary "Devil and Daniel Johnston". I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Mr. Johnston and this documentary before, but this is the first time I've shown it to a class. The story of an acute bi-polar singer/songwriter who can't sing and can't avoid exposing the very center of his emotional heart is not an easy one to watch at times. I had to wait for the right bunch of kids, and the reaction has been dramatically bifurcated. The 8th Graders generally love it. One immediately got a Daniel Johnston cassette from the 80s and spent the whole day yesterday in school listening to it. Another spent significant time at his website.

The 7th Graders, as a rule, are just staring aghast while viewing the film, like it's a pool of fresh vomit in the cafeteria.

Watching it with this two reactions going on simultaneously is almost as wrenching as the film/story itself. It's also serves as the most extreme example of what school tends to be (standardized testing and preparation for standardized testing) and what school perhaps could/should be (exposure to things like "Devil and Daniel Johnston"). But that's just me. I wonder what standard/benchmark "terrible beauty" falls within, whether it's Yeats or Daniel Johnston.

And yeah, putting Yeats and Johnston in the same sentence is kinda cool. Here's a clip from the film I found:

II. Beauty

The New Mexico Mock Trial Regionals are this weekend. I encourage everyone to go check it out today at 9:00 and 1:30 at both the Federal and District Courts at 4th and Lomas, and tomorrow at District Court. As with Daniel Johnston, I've mentioned mock trials at least once here before, but if you need to resurrect your faith in kids, school, Justice, America and Jurisprudential Apple Pie go see a round or two. It does a body/soul good, trust me.

And, oh yeah, Go Albuquerque High. They have two teams this year and pretty much every participant is a "graduate" of my little classroom. I'm not much on fandom, so I'll just give a general rah-rah to all who play the game, AHS or otherwise. Have fun guys.

III. Terrible

The little backpacker you see above looking up at my wife during a camping trip is named Oly. He's a Golden Retriever and he's having a little medical situation. We haven't got the biopsy results, but it's looking about 99% sure he has an intranasal tumor. And that ain't good. Not good at all.

We first ran into Oly right around the time we got married in 2001. He's been everything a Golden should be and more. Crazy as a hatter running around for his first four years, dependable as good shoes in his older days and the emotional cornerstone of our animal-crazed household throughout the decade.

It's been a tough few days. Tough enough to make you realize you're melting down over "just" a dog, but unwilling to care that it's "just" a dog. And a reminder that our pets are like our children and parents all in one never so neat 10 year package. We get all the joy of their arrival and the misery of their departure in a single decade (or so). Sometimes you wonder if it is worth it.

Sorry to end on such a note, but sometimes that's just where the note happens to be.

Have a good weekend, folks. Really.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An APS Middle School Teacher's Call To Action

We don't use much of the true "call to action" around here, preferring directionless rage, invective and vitriol instead.

But here's a "Call To Action".

Here is what "The District" has told my middle school:
  • We must add more Math minutes to the day to bring up poor Math test scores for around 300 of our current students;
  • We must do this without any increase in staffing;
  • We must do this without any additional rooms/portables;
  • We must do this without any additional funding of any kind;
  • And we must do this without any leadership or direction from "The District", only the adversarial passing of the proverbial "unfunded mandate" buck.
My school has over 200 Gifted students (out of an enrollment of just over 900), a diverse music program featuring Band, Orchestra AND Rock n' Roll classes, and receives the most transfer requests of any middle school in "The District". Countless parents fabricate documentation every year to "prove" they live within our school boundaries.

Yet "the District" is mandating (while offering no assistance whatsoever) that we basically double the amount of Math taught, regardless of the peril to our Music and other highly popular and successful programs. We cannot lengthen the school day, so we must instead make a "Sophie's Choice" to sacrifice something through a internecine process pitting content departments and teachers against each other.

Our popular, in-demand school is imploding, and all for some patently unreachable No Child Left Behind mandates that have never been funded properly, and are almost certain to be heavily altered in coming months. So like the last car in the roller coaster, my school feels the whip-like effect of the "death drop" just as the front of the car finally reaches a sane point of being level. And like that whip of the roller coaster, my school will continue to feel the pointless repercussions of these forced changes for a long time.

Something needs to happen. Frankly, my colleagues aren't unanimous about much of anything, but every single one of them would tell you there is no one to turn to at "The District". Nobody to talk to at the NM Public Education Department. Nobody.

So in that sense it's an empty "Call To Action". I can't really tell you who to call, because it's pretty obvious to us there ain't anybody worth calling. More than anything, I'm throwing this "call to action" out there on the simple, faint hope that my colleagues and I are wrong, and that there IS somebody out there who will not only listen, but help us make changes designed to address both our Math scores AND the need to keep the great things about my school great.

Like I said, I hope I'm wrong. I'm hoping every single internecine fighting staff member at my school is wrong. Somebody, please prove us wrong. Somebody. Anybody.

Here Comes Teacher Cottontail, Creeping Down the Funding Trail

Mr. Duncan said he intended to reward school districts, charter schools and nonprofit organizations that had demonstrated success at raising student achievement — “islands of excellence,” he called them. Programs that tie teacher pay to classroom performance will most likely receive money, as will other approaches intended to raise teacher quality, including training efforts that pair novice instructors with veteran mentors, and after-school and weekend tutoring programs.--NYT, 2.17.09
Public school teachers by nature are a distrustful lot. We're the bunny rabbits in the workplace forest, convinced everything is a plot against us. So when most teachers read the comments of new (and newly financially empowered) U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, little bunny tails start twitching and eyes start darting frantically.

"Tie teacher pay to classroom performance"!!!!

"Demonstrated success at raising student achievement"!!!!

Quick, to the inadequately funded hole in the ground! Run for your public educator lives!!!!!

But teachers might do well to welcome their new, financially flush, federal overlords. Yes, "classroom performance" is a scary concept no one seems to agree on how to quantify. Yeah, "demonstrated success" is in the eye, and calculator, of the statistically adept. But:
  1. The U.S. Department of Education budget has just been more or less doubled;
  2. Everyone, even the most paranoid bunny rabbit teacher, acknowledges things are awful right now;
  3. Really awful;
  4. Either we find the best way to use the new money, our way, with our definitions of "classroom performance" and "demonstrated success", or some evil bureaucrat and/or vulture private "classroom performance" business dictates those definitions ala NCLB: The Bush Years.
Get out of the hole, bunny rabbit. Let's go grab some lettuce.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Official Start to Bicycle Commuting Season Is Today

The days have now lengthened sufficiently, the early morning temps warmed just a bit, and I've gained about five pounds since largely suspending my commute sometime back in December.

Time for bike commuting season to begin.

I know for some of you there is no break. You're out there in the semi-dark, 20 degrees or even colder. I know because I have guiltily driven past you going up Coal, crossing Central at Girard, etc. I've admired you even while daggers of personal shame stab at me. I'm the really nice guy who hasn't been crowding you at the Lomas/Girard light, the one letting you lead the way through the 20 mph school zone. Yeah, I'm that guy. Unfortunately, there aren't too many of us out there.

And this morning I'm joining you, despite the fact the afternoon weather looks pretty crappy (50 mph wind?). The pull of that sweet commuting feeling is too strong. The energy-building sensation that comes from using one's own energy. The chance to see the cranes in the fields along the bike trail between Rio Bravo and Bridge. And the chance to avoid the daily nightmare of seeing how people drive down Rio Bravo and up 2nd Street.

Speaking of which: ATTENTION 2ND STREET DRIVERS GOING NORTHBOUND AROUND 7:35 A.M.! You may now speed to your heart's content. That slowpoke forcing you to drive the 35 mph speed limit along the one-lane road has left the building. The phalanx of road-raged drivers apopletic with hatred for the guy in the green Honda can now dissiptate into the usual Dayton 500 of "I have to get to work right this second!!!!!!" paint-swapping, mayhem.

Meanwhile, the posts might get a bit more infrequent and briefer here for a while. Getting ready for work at 6:30 instead of 7:00 and all that. Somehow I don't think the loss of blogging electrons will be missed.

Time to put on the balaclava, the three layers and the bike helmet. Time to turn on the blinking light. See you on the road, folks. Hope the road-ragers see me, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Job Scare

Despite using the word "I" in almost every sentence here, I really do try to keep the personal out of this blog thing. Part of it is the realization that nobody in their right mind should care, and a bigger part of it is the feeling that blogs should be something more than "man, does my knee hurt this morning".

Actually, it's my eyes. These allergies are a real bastard.

So, I really do try to integrate my little existence into the bigger picture and focus on things like bad teachers and teachers having a bad day, instead of specific bad teachers who toil only feet from my own classroom, and long tirades about me having a bad day. At the same time, I realize I have, on far too often occasion, violated this strange little policy, and for those transgressions I am deeply sorry. I apologize to the higher power of Blogdom for my solipsism.

And I apologize for the following.

Every January/February, sure as Swiss clockwork, I apply for some teaching jobs around the world. A combination of wanderlust, APS job dissatisfaction, and a ringing desire to live overseas before I die combine into pathetic little cover letter emails and CVs being sent to places like Phnom Pehn and Belgrade.

Unlike previous years, however, Jan/Feb 2009 has been a tiny bit different. After failing for years to get anything close to the right job offer in the right part of the world, I was just inexplicably offered a job in Leipzig, Germany. The right job. In Europe. In a city that is affordable, lively, bike/public transit friendly, and happens to be where J.S. Bach hung out for long stretches.


In an unsuccessful attempt to be Hemingway-esque in my concision, I'll just say that this job offer led to a tumultuous three-day weekend at my house. A roiling sea of days spent in "discussion" after "discussion" with my wife, significant hours learning enough German to know the difference between "kalt" and "warm" apartments, and periods of time in which I was 98% sure I was going, immediately preceded and followed by other periods in which I was 100% sure I wasn't.

A tumultuous weekend.

And ending this early morning (16:00 Leipzig time) in a phone call with a lovely sounding English Headmaster who listened patiently as I contorted through the most difficult phone conversation I've had in at least a decade.

No Leipzig for Scot. Not now anyway.

The Job Scare has passed.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog discussion of how much APS and No Child Left Behind suck, and other whiny concerns about things like the inadequate funding in the 2009 "Economic Stimulus" and the horrible fact that there aren't Thai restaurants in the South Valley.

Cue Neil Young singing "Albuquerque"....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

In Which My Idea For The Great American Trippy, Surreal Novel is Thwarted By Reality

I've got this great idea for a novel.

It's about this public defender named Robert Umholz, who has to defend this women who named herself for the singer Olivia Newton-John after having a sex change, then married a guy named James Mason (maybe in honor of the British actor who played Humbert Humbert in the Kubrick version of "Lolita" and maybe not), who was 30 years older, and the Newton-John woman who was formerly a man ends up killing the now 73 year-old Mason guy by forcing him to swim laps in their apartment complex pool until he finally just up and dies, and it's all caught on videotape for some reason, and has something to do with laws pertaining to gender and marriage in Kentucky, but the forced swimming/murder actually goes down in Cuyahoga County, Ohio suburbs of Cleveland.

Oh wait, it's a "true" story. And here I am thinking my fertile ceative mind came up with the plot on my own. I kinda liked my James Mason idea, especially.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Burque Babble Formally Announces It Has Been Nominated to Become Commerce Secretary

Apologies for the slow down in the number of posts recently, but I've been busy with some hush-hush negotiations that I can only now make public:

Burque Babble has been named the Obama Administration's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Commerce

Evidently the Administration got wind a day or so ago that Senator Judd Gregg (or Gregg Judd, I always get the name confused) was going to bow out, becoming the 47,318th person to be unsuccessfully nominated for the post of Commerce Secretary.

From what I hear at Obama Human Resources, calls then went out to an even wider net of people including Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, former musician and current reality show prostitute Flavor Flav, and the guy in those Verizon commercials with the black rim glasses. After getting busy signals or being rejected by each of those people, the HR team went to Google and, using search terms like "sentient being" and "anyone with a pulse", ended up coming across a post I wrote months ago about zombie movies.

The rest is history, as they say, as this blog is scheduled to become the first holder of a major Cabinet position in the history of the Republic. Burque Babble is proud to be a trailblazer in this regard, and only hopes that the upcoming Senate confirmation process will focus on questions about living in Albuquerque, public school teaching and writing poorly constructed 500 word blogposts, instead of centering questions on whether I know anything about "commerce", tariffs or countries buying things and crap like that.

Burque Babble welcomes your support and congratulations in achieving this milestone, and promises to work really, really hard in performing the duties of Commerce Secretary, whatever the Hell they might be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Digging Through the Economic Stimulus Weeds For Education Cabbage

Education Total $68,456,000,000 $42,850,000,000 ▼$25,606,000,000
K-12 education $26,616,000,000 $25,400,000,000 ▼$1,216,000,000
School construction and technology $21,000,000,000
Higher education $16,140,000,000 $13,900,000,000 ▼$2,240,000,000
Early childhood programs $4,700,000,000 $3,550,000,000 ▼$1,150,000,000
--taken from "The Stimulus Bills: House v. Senate by Michael Grabelli, ProPublica 2.10.09 (9:00 A.M. E.S.T.)
Don't know how well Blogger will handle the above table (House final bill on the left, Senate on the right), but there are literally days of wonkish amusement to be had delving into the "economic stimulus" numbers at Shovelwatch.
Caution: The sites linked above are potential wonk time-sinks on an order of magnitude equal to that of high school "reunion" folks on Facebook. Number Nerd Discretion is Advised.

I see elsewhere that Senators Bingaman & Udall have press released the prospective NM numbers from the Senate version and that the NM delegation to the U.S. House has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging full retention of the education funding in the House version (Hat Tip to DFNM on both counts).
both links are .pdf, speaking of time-sinks.

One final line from the ProPublica chart culled at the top of this post:

State fiscal relief $79,000,000,000 $39,000,000,000 ▼$40,000,000,000
That's the biggest single line drop in the Senate version. The biggest add-on on the Senate side: tax-breaks.

The Conference sessions on this one should be something else. I applaud the NM folks for their support of the education funding, but let's see where this heads. Maybe I have "trust issues", but any sane K-12 public educator would have to have "trust issues" after all the fiscal mistreatment we've faced from Congress over the years.

Meanwhile, anyone who finds other good links to more "stimulus" details, please pass them along to your friendly fellow Number Nerd.

Monday, February 09, 2009

What ARod and I Have In Common

So I am sorry for my Texas years.
--Alex Rodriquez. 2.9.0
I know what you mean, Alex. I know what you mean. I can't say I ever got paid $252 million to play baseball in Texas, or felt the need to live up to that $252 million by ingesting a bunch of chemicals about which I knew pretty much nothing about. To be honest, growing up I didn't get much past Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and Chimichangas.

But we'll always have one thing in common, Alex. A deep regret over our "Texas years".

P.S.: And the news is a constant non sequitur. It took me a bit, but I found an actual clip of the now-late Blossom Dearie singing "Surrey With The Fringe On Top". It's lo-fi, it's not my favorite Dearie performance, I despise the musical from which the song originates, and I think that's a fairly clueless Jack Paar with the introduction (also note the state of the art early-60s microphone). Still, alongside Keely Smith, Dinah Washington, and Billie Holiday (of course), Blossom Dearie has always been one of the few "jazz" singers I really like. Thanks, Ms. Dearie, for everything. Even for "Surrey With The Fringe On Top".

Have the AP and Journal Gone Onion On Us?

The number of things I am wrong and/or misinformed about reaches well into the trillions.

So when I read an article from the AP's Susan Montoya Brown in today's Journal informing me of heretofore unrealized requirements regarding the recent attempt to Constitutionally allow school boards to hold elections on the same day as non-partisan elections, I'm not surprised that I am wrong. Happens all the time. Trust me.

What does surprise me is that four months have gone by before anybody in the media or NM Secretary of State's Office has let me, or anybody else, in on the little secret about the arcane electoral requirements involved. And I guess nobody let the APS School Board know, because as recently as six days ago Board members were bringing up the need to move its elections to October's city elections to increase voter turnout.

And evidently I'm on the same stupid wavelength as both the School Board and KRQE because their story on the subject posted 2.3.09 tells us:
In November, state voters approved a constitutional amendment which allows school boards to hold their elections on the same day as municipal elections in October. That would save taxpayers $350,000.
So what's going on here? I've been doing some thinking this morning, and I've got a theory.

The Journal story this morning is a fake. In an attempt to bolster readership, both the Journal and Associated Press have gone The Onion on us, printing satirical articles that subtly and not so subtly poke fun with madcap invented stories.

It took me a while, but being the seasoned Onion reader , I've noted small details that give the Journal/AP story away. Let's investigate with an extended snippet:
In the case of Amendment No. 4, official results show that 74.48 percent of voters were in favor of the amendment. Even if that threshold had been met, two counties — Mora and Harding — would have fallen short of the two-thirds requirement.
So it's not hard to see why it has taken five months for New Mexicans to realize that the amendment was shot down.
"The constitutional amendment process is a very complex process and requires a very sophisticated understanding, not to mention probably a law degree, so these kinds of things can happen," said Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a law professor at the University of New Mexico.
The constitution requires that most amendments be ratified by only a majority of voters. But when it comes to sections that deal with voter rights, access to public education and the rights of people to hold office and sit on juries, the tougher standards apply.
Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster and political science guru, explained that Spanish-speaking minorities were very concerned about protecting their rights around the turn of the century when New Mexico was on the verge of becoming a state.

A few things stand out. Note the use of quotes from obscure law professors. See how the storyline preys on our lack of self-confidence when it comes to knowing anything about our democratic process. And, most glaringly, note the use of the name Brian Sanderoff. These crafty Onion-type satirists know that the Journal uses Brian Sanderoff like a Cowboys fan uses Coors Light. Nothing give credence to a totally made up story like a supposed quote from the ubiquitous "political science guru".

All in all, you really got to hand it to AP writer "Susan Montoya Brown" (obviously made up name). She certainly had me going, as did both the Associated Press and the Albuquerque Journal. I don't know if this latest desperate attempt by print news organizations to snag readers is going to work, but I'm sure I'm not the only sucker to fall for this morning's hijinks. I feel certain he APS School Board, KRQE and tons of other "knowledgeable" folks have been fooled as well.

P.S.: For those with an investigative bent, I will add that it really helped me unlock the satirical secret when I went to the Alamogordo Daily News, which had a link to the story. Now the link is dead. Obviously, the Daily News folks originally fell for the story, but then figured out what was going on. Crafty, these satirical types.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

-1 + -1 x 1 = Democratically Authorized Education Cuts

It's hard to follow all the in and outs of where Congress and the NM Legislature is regarding "Economic Stimulus 2009". One wonders if the Congresspeople and Legislators themselves are keeping up well with all the changes.

Still, here's a few quotes put together from various sources:

"Billion Dollar Cuts

$40 billion State Fiscal Stabilization

$16 billion School Construction..."
--reported to "Planet Washington/McClatchy" from Senator Patrick Leahy's Office, filed 2.6.09

And what is this "State Fiscal Stabilization" fund?

"The Senate economic recovery bill includes a $79-billion “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund” (prior to proposed cuts) to help state and local governments fund education and other key services. The economic downturn has opened budget deficits in 46 states, forcing large spending cuts and layoffs, with more expected. These actions remove demand from the economy, which deepens the downturn.

The Stabilization Fund would provide funds to partially close state and local budget shortfalls and allow states to avoid some of the most harmful actions they otherwise would have to take to meet their balanced budget requirements. In particular, it would help avert damaging cuts in state aid to education (my emphasis) at a time when school districts are reeling from declines in property taxes caused by sinking property values. The economic recovery bill that the House passed includes a similar provision."
--from this really good recap of such things by Jason Levitus and Joan Huffer at Center for Budget and Priorities 2.4.09

Meanwhile, on the State of NM side the Governor has already signed into law a budget reduction including the following:

There will be a 1 percent net reduction in money for public schools under the deficit reduction package.
--Barry Massey at Associated Press, 2.6.09

All this from a Democratically controlled Federal Executive, House of Representatives and Senate, not to mention a Democratic NM Governor and Democratically controlled NM House/Senate. Thanks Democrats. Thanks a lot.

I know it's not a done deal yet, but the deal as of right now seems to be just one more example: When push comes to shove, Public Education gets shoved off the fiscal bus. And right now the bus is moving 70 mph.

P.S.: I forgot to mention the following cut at the McClatchy site:

$600 million Title I (NCLB)

Figures. What stupid number did I use in my last post? 4,752,993? Well, let's go ahead and make it 4,752,994. What does one say when "ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" isn't enough anymore, without cussing?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Reason to Dump NCLB #4,752,993

Barb at the always informative DFNM links to a Talking Points Memo story explaining the work of the "Gang of However Many", Senators meeting behind closed doors to trim from "Economic Stimulus 2009: First We Take Manhattan". Is anybody surprised to read:
"Among the biggest cuts under discussion: $24.8 billion in state stabilization money for education, which was intended to plug existing budget holes; $15 billion in state incentive grants for education; and $1.4 billion for the National Science Foundation..."
Surprised? Any time we need to save some bucks, education plays the familial role of "travel and entertainment". "Family, dad lost his job, so the trip to Wally World is out this year." Just replace "trip to Wally World" with "finally funding the many unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind" and you've got the picture.

Education...that's splurgy. And besides, $24.8 billion could pay for another twelve B-2 bombers or something. You know, something that creates jobs now and is something were used to spending money on. Bombers feel comfortable, like an old pair of slippers on a February morning.

Education? What possible good does that do? Those kids aren't gonna be needin' jobs for years and years. We can't warm our chilly toes this morning with education. And we need warmer toes on a "shovel ready" basis.

P.S.: Argh....time to go shuffle off to my unfunded mandate this chilly February morning. Maybe a state somewhere should just use examples like the above as a damn good reason to dump any connection to NCLB. Maybe a state in the Southwestern United States. No, not Utah...I'm thinking somewhere closer to the Mexican border.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Less Than Three Percent Solution

My over/under line of 4.75% was far too high. I haven't seen the percentage figure broken out into the hundredths, but the "early estimate at less than 3 percent" turnout for the APS/CNM Board election is about half of my already ridiculously low over/under line. I should know better than shortchanging the indifference of citizens toward publicly elected school boards. Then again, nobody took up my bet... so I'm not out any money, and we can just enjoy the pitiful numbers.

Paul Maes won in District 5 with 581 votes. In a three-person race. 581. There are plenty of high school senior class presidents elected with more than 581 votes. Heck, middle school class presidents sometimes rack up more than 581 votes.

David Robbins won his mano-a-Mary-O District 6 race versus Mary Lee Martin with 943 votes. In District 3, Lorenzo Garcia took it with 943. District 7 showed by far the most democratic pride with a showing of over 2,000 voters, 1,743 rocking the vote for David Peercy.

On the one hand, one must be hopeful that an APS School Board election never has turn out this low again. On the other hand, if we combine these school board "contests" with city elections how many indifferent folks will be picking winners for these races not on any obtained informed basis, that would require caring and research, but instead on things like:

"Mary Lee that the same Mary Martin that was in "Peter Pan" way back when I was a kid? The same Mary Martin who was Larry Hagman's mom, the guy who played J.R. in "Dallas"? I sure did like that "Dallas" show, and I think I liked "Peter Pan", but that was a long, long time, this Mary Lee Martin must sure be old. But I sure liked "J.R.". Remember that time J.R. told Bobby to go after this guy...oh, better hurry up here. Stupid to spend so much time in the voting booth considering a school board seat. I'm gonna fill out this circle for this Mary Martin. That way I can say I voted for Peter Pan. Ha, ha, I make myself laugh sometimes. Hmmm.. thinking about Peter Pan makes me we have any peanut butter at home? I better get some at the store on the way back to the house."

Having seen Mary Lee Martin in action for some of the 914 years she's sat on the school board, I kinda wonder how many voters over the years had the same sort of mental "process" in deciding to vote for her.

As for how to solve the indifference of voters/citizens/anybody toward our school board, it's another one of those OTOH/OTOH things. On the one hand, if we truly empowered the board to make change in the District, including decisions that actually impacted classrooms, kid's lives, etc., more people might care. On the other hand, a truly empowered school board sounds pretty damn scary, especially when 99.3% of the population really has no idea who the Hell these people are.

When we embarrassingly vote for judges we have no idea about, it's okay. We're not planning to commit any crimes, and don't intend to end up standing before one of these totally unknown judges. School Board voting should be different, but in the search for "solutions" to the low turnout problem, we might step back and ask ourselves a couple of simpler questions:

Why have a publicly elected school board? Why have a school board at all?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Wanted: Catholic Church in New Mexico Decoder Ring

I often talk about things I know little about. After all, I'm a schoolteacher. I also, rather inexplicably at times, make it a point to write about things I know nothing about. After all, I'm a "blogger". Perhaps as explanation of the inexplicable, it seems we are drawn toward that we know so little about.

Which gets me to the Catholic Church.

I really know pretty much damn close to nothing about being Catholic. I mean I know quite a bit of the history regarding the Church. When an entity is involved with everything from legitimizing the savage pseudo-attempt to "convert" Incas to running a huge, extremely helpful charity organization, it's not hard for even a dullard like me to find out a little something.

But there's another layer, and yeah it's kinda of a scary layer to someone outside the Catholic loop, that puzzles and intrigues me.

Two current blog posts and resulting comments are evidence of this additional, mysterious layer of meaning.

First is the reaction to Barb's post at "Democracy For New Mexico" about the tabling/defeat of the proposed Domestic Partnership Bill. Those will similar obscure interest in finding out "how Catholics think" are suggested to read the comments by someone going by the handle of "Larry". In addition to the words from "Larry", notice how the word "Catholic" has some sort of code meaning throughout many of the other comments in the thread. Curious.

What do people really think about when they say/write "Catholic"? It's obviously fraught with all kinds of nuanced, perhaps tortured meaning, but I'm left with the same feeling I get when I go to Slashdot and try to understand the lingo of those talking about "open source virtualization clients". It's the use of English as another language, one I just have to admit I don't get.

As this use of the language seems to have quite an impact on my life in the, supposedly, Catholic Church-controlled state of New Mexico, I want someone to break down the code, preferably by screaming out exactly what they mean by use of the word "Catholic".

Second is yesterday's post by former ABQ mayor Jim Baca. Mr. Baca has been on a roll in recent days, and his post entitled "Taxes! and the Seven Works of Mercy" is written with a sense of fury only possible by someone who's been there:
"Wasn't one of the "Seven Works of Mercy" we good Catholics were supposed to do called "Visit the Sick"? That was what I was taught at Our Lady of Fatima School as a child. Well, I guess that was only for certain people. Pedophile clergy were provided with health care and counseling I am sure. Of course one of the other works of mercy was "Bury the Dead" and maybe this fills in the gaps for not helping the sick."
Being from Texas, I understand a state run by Evangelicals. I know what that code word means. But the use of the word "Catholic" in New Mexico still escapes me after 15 years here. How can something so ridiculed, and whose followers say such ridiculously un-"Christian" things (like "Larry") still have such a hold on this place? Or is it really just a code word for something else less politically correct to bash (e.g., Hispanics)?

Inquiring refugee minds from Evangelical strongholds want to know. I'd love to see/hear/read some REAL dialogue by native New Mexicans (or close to it) on the subject. I need a Catholic mindset flowchart. I need an online translation program.

I just don't get it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

High-Powered Attorneys Bickering and I Need An Election Addiction Higher Power

"Mr. Foy is a disgruntled employee who likes to sexually harass women and now this is his payback for getting fired.”
That's a quote from attorney Sam "I never met a camera & microphone I didn't like" Bregman in a rather hilarious story by the NM Independent's Trip Jennings about a wacky press conference involving far too many lawyers, and the Governor's alleged "pay to play" shenanigans.

I know, having one lawyer in the room is having too many lawyers. But check out the photos of Bregman, and attorney/APS School Board member Marty Esquivel! Check out the mudslinging! Check out the catty comebacks!

Anytime guys in very dark suits are getting overpaid by the hour to say things like "zero credibility" and "politically motivated smear" I want to be there. Mr. Jennings tells us that "the press conference was held in a small room in an Albuquerque senior center". Man, it would have almost been worth spending time in an Albuquerque senior center to watch a show like that.

Thanks Mr. Jennings and the Independent for bringing the snarky details to us tonight. It made the dorky job of actually refreshing to see updated APS School Board results almost worthwhile.

P.S.: Yes, I actually sat at an computer tonight hitting refresh on APS School Board results. I know...pathetic. Well, the first step in having an election addiction is admitting you have a problem. And checking out School Board results is like an addicted gambler betting three-game teasers on preseason NFL, or an alcoholic reaching for the 64 oz. mouthwash again.

I know...maybe worse.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Oh Crap, We Have To Go Vote Again For The Damn School Board

In a quick perusal of various informational entities around Albuquerque this evening, the public school news centers on a powdery substance found in a Taft MS administrator's mail. Lots of talk about powdery irritants, 9-1-1 calls, the National Guard being summoned, a lockdown and so on and so on.

Burque Babble will refrain from finding any humor in this situation whatsoever. It isn't funny and the very, very large reaction to the incident only points out how serious and terribly unfunny it all is. Any attempts at humor regarding this very serious situation would be most unbecoming, regardless of how very tempting it might be to do so.

See, I succeeded in refraining. Let me stop typing for a second in order to give myself a hearty pat on the back. Good boy, Scot!

Meanwhile, on the equivalent of page B-97 (Public Notices of RFP for City Purchases of Backhoes), is the other public school story for the day, namely:

Oh Crap, We Have to Vote Again For the Damn School Board

The actual prose in these stories varies slightly, but the above headline world work with all of them. The thread goes like this: School board elections always have lousy turnout, we just had a big whoop-de-doo election, everybody is totally sick of the democratic process at this point, why should we even bother looking at the damn polling sites, I would rather do laundry at that really dodgy looking laundromat on Central than vote in this stupid election, please God help us from voting in this stupid election.

And then there's the repeated call to mesh school board elections with other, real elections, although, as I understand it, the voters already voted to do this last Election, and what are we waiting for? Evidently something about what to do with the gap between the current Board member expiration in March if we moved to combined elections in October.

My suggestion is that we simply go without an APS School Board for seven months. Then when October rolled around maybe we could decide things were going rather smoothly without having a School Board, and we'd just conveniently forget to ever have a School Board election again.

I kid, of course. But I'm not kidding when I bring up the serious topic of gambling, namely who wants to bet on my over/under line for turnout percentage in the 2009 APS School Board Election. Seasoned turnout wagerers will remember that 6% of eligible voters came out in 2007, roughly in line with the pathetic record of turnout in these contests.

Given the probability of "voter fatigue" tweaking the average lower this time around, I'm gonna set the line at:

4.75% of eligible voters in APS Districts 3, 5, 6 and 7

In other words, I'm predicting that approximately nine people will vote in tomorrow's School Board Election. Again, I'm kidding. I tried to find the number of eligible voters and came up empty. Certainly the number will be far more than nine, probably much closer to twenty-nine.

My excuse for not voting is that my District (#1) doesn't have an election this time around. Whoo-hoo! Guilt-free democratic non-participation!

Nevertheless, as part of my ceaseless striving to better inform the dear readers of Burque Babble, I can proudly tell you that I did research the ABQ Journal candidate questionnaires for this election. And I can report it was perhaps the most enervating reading experience I've yet had in my 47 years. It reminded me of that great line from To Kill A Mockingbird in which Harper Lee's Scout describes talking to a very boring person thusly:
"Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean."
Such was this Journal questionnaire. Strangely uninteresting questions followed by similarly banal, unsubstantive answers. On top of that, no lurid admissions of lewd behavior or anything. Not even a DWI in the bunch. And certainly nothing even remotely as fear-driven news riveting as powdery substances in envelopes. No help to the turnout cause there, I'm afraid.

Oh well, have a Happy Pseudo-Election Day everyone. All 4.75% of us.

My Middle School Block Scheduling Hypothesis

Maybe it was seeing all those "Science Fair" tri-folds last week in the gym at my school. I've been constructing little charts in my mind over the subject of "block scheduling" all weekend.

The little visual ditty above is my personal feeling about how long middle school classes should be. It's based simply on my interaction with 12-14 year-olds for quite a few years now, and I admit I have no "studies that show the figures above to be true" or anything. I'm just pulling it out of my daydreaming, rusty rat-trap brain.

My school's "scheduling committee" is still in a maelstrom of angst about what to do for next year. We have found the District to be of little help (with its focus on high school), and we're kinda flailing around at this point. But wait until they see this little crappy, un-scientific chart! We could really use an 8th grader with a killer scheduling tri-fold at this point.

I think 70 minutes per class periods are optimal, and things go downhill fast if you go longer than that. Your mileage may vary, and it seems several teachers at my school think my mileage is way, way off. Oh well. If Congress making legislation is like making sausage, school "scheduling committees" are like making head cheese. Or fruitcake. Something equally disgusting and generally undesired.

P.S.: If you even want to have your faith restored in middle school humanity, check out the school Science Fair. It's great seeing all those kids in front of all those tri-folds talking with all those great judges who take time to help out.