Friday, July 31, 2009

So What Happens If All Educational Hell Breaks Loose?

In other words, what happens if our school district becomes Detroit?

I'd planned on giving the Internets a needed weekend break, but ran across this story from the Detroit Free Press on Detroit Public School (DPS) plans to have private firms take over 17 schools.

The story, the companies, the attempt to ban hiring the companies, and the comments all combine for a general The Road McCarthy-level public school post-apocalypse.

Oh, and when the DPS school board met with the "state-appointed emergency financial manager" brought in to take over the district's extremely wayward budget, the board voted to not work with the Governor-appointed "financial manager" guy, and instead will sue to bar the "financial manager" from hiring the four outside firms in the first place.


Well, I'm feeling better and better about Albuquerque Public Schools with every syllable I read in these Detroit stories! Maybe we should keep these horror tales on hand when things get rough and the NM standardized test scores come out next Tuesday.

Have a good weekend, everybody, and be thankful you don't teach (learn? live? financially manage stuff?) in Detroit.

In Cycling News

George Hincapie rode the last four stages of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone, including the climb of Mount Ventoux. He knew something was wrong, but wouldn't let doctors examine him because he wanted to finish the Tour.

One person's crazy is another person's inspiring.

I'll try to remember that little story as I attempt a little self-constructed three stage "Tour of Albuquerque Thing" this weekend (collarbone intact). As a early close-out to Summer, and the end of my seasonal teaching unemployment, I'm going up Tramway this morning to see how slowly one can take a bicycle up the La Luz trail road without simply having the bike and rider fall over.

Then it's on to a Saturday celebration of the new Rail Runner stop at 599 and Cerrillos Rd. with a ride up the Turquoise Trail. Can't miss out on a chance to do a Santa Fe bike/rail loop that avoids the worst part of the loop (i.e., Santa Fe).

And Sunday I'll close things out with some friends as we go up South 14 to Oak Flat (which is a strange name because I think of that whole ride as anything but flat) .

Strange...typing the above suddenly makes me sleepy. Maybe I'll just take a nap. No, not really...but I won't be riding with a broken collarbone. At least I'll try not to.

If I see you out on the roads, I'll try to ring my new "Incredibell" as a form of saying howdy. And if you happen to see me and my bike reclined/supine/sprawled on a steep hill somewhere, try not to laugh too hard.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

AYP: Other Voices, Same Lament

As we approach the eduwonk holiday of "Standardized Test Results Release Day" (now August 4th in New Mexico), how about some contextual input from other folks around the country? This morning's quote comes from an editorial in the Frederick News Post, Frederick, Maryland:

NCLB's heart was in the right place. Its intent was to ensure that special needs, economically disadvantaged, non-native speakers of English, and other vulnerable subgroups within a school population not be left behind. But has the bar been set too high for the schools that are diligently trying to educate these kids?

The ground rules for schools achieving AYP are neither reasonable nor fair. In fact, they're an onerous disservice to our school system, its individual schools and their administrators and teachers.

Indeed, no child should be left behind where public education is concerned. But neither is it fair to stigmatize an entire school and its staff because one, possibly small, challenging subgroup within its student population fails to make AYP.

"...onerous disservice to our school system, its individual schools and their administrators and teachers." Nice. I'll have to steal that one, only I'd add the point that most onerous of all is the disservice to those Special Education students and English Language Learners themselves.

Still, if I were to see an August 5, 2009 editorial in a New Mexico newspaper with statements like the quote above, I'd probably need immediate medical attention. That Grade III concussion I'd get from hitting my head on the floor as I fell out of my chair in disbelief would be a doozy.

P.S.: Come to think of it, if a simple concussion could lead to changing this "onerous disservice" I think I'd be willing to do it...much simpler than lobbying, protesting, phone calls, letter-writing and all that. Probably less brain damage as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Your National Laboratory Geniuses Proving Their Worth

Hashem Akbari, Dr. Rosenfeld’s colleague at the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, says he is unsure how long it will take cool roofs to truly catch on. But he points out that most roofs, whether tile or asphalt-shingle, have a life span of 20 to 25 years.

If the roughly 5 percent of all roofs that are replaced each year were given cool colors, he said, the country’s transformation would be complete in two decades.
--Felicity Barringer, New York Times, "White Roofs Catch On As Energy Cost Cutters", 7.29.09
Nice to have our highly trained, massively schooled Lab scientists here to explain those thorny percentage problems for us. I bet Mr./Dr. Akbari has a really cool white lab coat, too. With pens and stuff in the pockets.

Burque Babble: Silencer of Liberty (Corrected)

It has come to our attention that changing the setting on comments from "everyone welcome, even crack-pot anonymous people" to "something about Open ID, which your humble blogger doesn't really understand" has deprived freedom-loving Americans (and my guess would be freedom loving Rwandans and Luxembourgians/bourgites/bourglanders as well) from the right to write stupid things.

And I shouldn't be the only person writing stupid things here.

So, I've undertaken the single greatest act of anti-censorship since the Pentagon Papers, and switched the comments here back to "everyone welcome, even crack-pot anonymous people".

Please remember me fondly when having lunch with folks from the Nobel Prize committee. And remember my version of Scot only has one "T" in it. I'd hate to win a Nobel Prize and find out they gave it to Scott instead of Scot. Man, that would piss me off.

But I digress. Comment away. Use the powerful sword that is your keyboard and plough as many paths of logic, argument and prose as you wish. Knock yourselves out, people.

Lastly, reading Coco this morning is not only good, disturbing fun (cops tasering 14-year olds), but alludes to further proof that 99.9% of all internet comments are written by....well...just who are these 99.9% of comments written by? Aliens? Lower forms of animals suddenly equipped with opposable thumbs? Evil robots ? Jim Villanucci? Jim Villanucci-controlled evil robots?

Anyway, the 99.9% above does not apply to comments made here. This is and should be a sacred oasis of wisdom in the huge, intellectually barren desert that is the Internet. Now if only the blogger himself could provide some wisdom...even once.

P.S.: Isn't it fun to read stories/columns from faraway newspapers and the comments to those stories/columns? Isn't it fun to try to figure out just what the Hell is going on in these towns? Take this little Op/Ed piece on local education from some place in North Carolina. Kinda reaffirms your faith in humanity while also kinda making you embarrassed to be human, don't it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Think You're Sick of the Heat?

Full Disclosure: I'm sitting in a New Mexico house with Central Air-Conditioning turned down to "igloo".

We're all sick of how hot it has been, especially when it's not a dry heat and the swamp coolers are less than optimally effective.

Well, if you want horrible, unlivable heat try Seattle on days like today. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday.
.. Excessive heat warning remains in effect until 6 PM PDT
... Air stagnation advisory remains in effect until 6 PM PDT
High heat, high humidity and very, very few air-conditioners. Usually the ocean/Puget Sound is its own air-conditioning system. For the next few days the system is broke.

And if you read John Fleck you realize an awful lot of smart folks strongly feel the system might be broken for a long, long time.

P.S.: And don't even think about Portland, Oregon. 103 today. 103. All those cool bike commuters in the Rose City will probably be lying dead on the side of the ultra-bike friendly roads by 4:00 this afternoon. Still, it might be better to be lie dead in cycling Portland than live with a bullet in your bike helmet in supposedly hip Asheville, North Carolina.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Could Your Classroom Use Nine Billion Dollars?

I'm personally loathe to use words like "webinar", but for nine billion dollars there's alot of loathing I am willing to put up with.

The U.S. Department of Education is conducting a "webinar" today at Noon MDT to "Review announcements of the following new ARRA (America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka "Economic Stimulus") programs:
  • Race to the Top
  • Teacher Incentive Fund
  • Investing in Innovation
  • Education Technology
  • Title I School Improvement Grants
  • Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems"
From looking at the "webinar" link, it appears the little people (i.e., us) can "attend". Yes, this event is most likely to be boring, aggravating, intimidating and ultimately depressing, but my classroom could use a billion or two dollars worth of stuff. Some new dry erase markers, for instance. Titanium dry erase markers with NASA-designed dry erase ink usable in conditions of weightlessness and high G-forces.

So what the heck. Join me for what should be the onset of a bewildering feeding frenzy.

Update (18:00 7/27): Well, I listened. Near as I could tell, if I figure out how to change the name of my school to "Albuquerque Charter School for the Continuous Improvement of Standardized Core Curriculum Goals" we stand a pretty good chance of getting nine billion dollars, or at least a goodly portion.

More seriously, 99.9% of the time I'd run away from federal grants for education faster than David Beckham from American soccer. But the pot o' money is so huge this time. "Unprecedented", as the U.S. Department of Education spokesperson said at least ten times today.

I hope the NM P.E.D. and APS were taking good notes.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

AYP: Hawaii and "America's Choice™"

Here's an article from some time back that slipped through my cattle-guard sized Internet filtering cracks. For those who don't want to RTFA, it discusses the dramatically increased amount of Hawaiian taxpayer money going to non-Hawaiian educational firms like America's Choice™ to fix schools deemed "failing" via No Child Left Behind.

I mention/link it here, months later, because:

"A record number of Hawaii schools this year failed to meet their progress goals under the No Child Left Behind law. This year marked the second year of dramatic increases in the number of schools failing to meet the federal goals, known as "adequate yearly progress." Only 34 percent of schools — or 97 campuses — made AYP this year compared with 42 percent a year ago."
  • As has been mentioned here before, New Mexico's "failing" schools (including mine) are using firms like America's Choice™, and will most likely do so on a much greater scale as our number of "failing" schools continues to climb.
One sentiment expressed in Hawaii is the concern about money being sent to "the mainland". Kind of makes me want to dig a giant moat around New Mexico so folks can better understand the mistake of throwing tons of NM taxpayer money at these educational carpetbaggers. a "liberal" Southerner, I admit I'm not 100% comfortable with using terms like "carpetbaggers". For some of us, even in the South, the Carpetbaggers were actually the good guys. So let's avoid that semantic can of worms, and just refer to America's Choice™ as "predatory scumbags making untold and largely undocumented profits from a warped, misguided policy designed to set up public schools and its current students as failures."

Something like that. It's a bit lengthy as defining terminology goes, and obviously a work-in-progress. Journalists from the 49 states that aren't Hawaii are encouraged to tweak my little definition as need be in writing their own stories on how their State is throwing piles of money at these NCLB war profiteers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing.

"It's good for the respiratory system," Damon said of using blowguns. "It's something you can make yourself. You can get pretty good with one in 10 minutes."
--Steve Damon, "founder of the Oklahoma-based United States Blowgun Association"

Mr. Damon is quoted in a Seattle Times story headlined: "2 Seattle bicyclists shot with darts in Ballard neighborhood".

Thanks Mr. Damon. I've been trying to find some good exercise for my respiratory system. Seems like a blowgun is a good way to go.

And there are just so many targets to practice on. They're like everywhere.

P.S.: Sorry for the obscure movie line in the post's title. Funny thing is, I have an overwhelming urge to go watch "Glengarry Glen Ross" (for the 914th time) right now. Mamet was a hero before he turned into a bit of a schlub. What is it Carlyle said about heroes and hero worship?

Did I really just make a freakin' Thomas Carlyle mention? Man, this really is obscure reference night over at the Babble. Time to stop dealing with such obscurities, and get back to my blowgun practice. I can feel my respiratory system getting better already. Really.

AYP: Maybe Stories Speak Louder Than Numbers

This whole standardized testing mess is complicated. No doubt about that. It's easy to see how even conscientious followers of the news can get flummoxed by AYP this and confidence interval that. What to think?

The statistics, terminology and sheer density of information are enough to make just about anyone's head explode. Now some might say that's deliberate, and that the blizzard of numbers tied to whether schools are "passing" or "failing" is a very successful attempt to make public education look bad, and alternatives to standard public education (charters, home schooling, private schools) look good.

I'll leave that argument for a few paragraphs, and (to the great relief of many readers of recent far-too-complicated posts here) will today avoid the use of bewildering percentages, confidence intervals and such.

In fact, I'll just use one percentage: 100%

Many of you probably saw/read this news story:
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque woman faces a criminal charge after her 13-year-old son was dropped off at a hospital unconscious and extremely drunk.

Crystal Deleon, 31, faces a charge of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.

The boy told police he was drinking with his mom and others on Wednesday. At some point, he said he was pushed through a window, suffering a severe cut on his finger.

Deleon told police her son arrived home drunk and started a fight.
Here's what some folks don't understand and others deliberately ignore when it comes to public schools and standardized testing. This terribly unfortunate 13-year old is going to return to a public school in a few weeks. That school will do its best to educate this child. If the student stays at a single school for most of the school year, he will be given a standardized test, and it will "count" toward performance of the school as "passing" or "failing".

And here comes the 100% part.

By Spring 2014 No Child Left Behind dictates that 100% of public education students be "proficient" in Math and Reading. It does not matter if that child has been determined as "learning disabled" through a labyrinthine process involving testing, observation and parental contact. It does not matter if the child lived in a foreign, non-English speaking, country for her/his first seven years, and lives in a home in which this foreign language is spoken 100% of the time.

More to the point today, it does not matter if this child has been raised in a horribly dysfunctional home, given little useful guidance about life, much less education, and been juvenile witness to the worst habits adult life has to offer.


By 2014 this poor 13-year old boy and every single other kid going to public school must meet some standard of "proficiency" regardless of...anything. No consideration of individual circumstances to be given, whatsoever, and no analysis of individual student growth. They are either "proficient", according to a blanket measure created by bureaucrat/statisticians in Santa Fe, or not.

That is the philosophical basis of "No Child Left Behind". That's why (in addition to its genius level marketing power) it has that name. That's the system we're playing under. Really.

I apologize for all the complexity folks, because on one important level it's really this simple.

Public schools are based on taking ALL children. Charter schools are based, in part, on trying to circumvent the rule of taking all children, devising informal/formal systems to focus on particular types of students (no offense intended "Public Academy of Performing Arts", "Albuquerque Institute of Mathematics and Science", etc).

Private schools, of course, rigorously filter who can attend based on academics, family finances and parental involvement (have you ever tried filling out all those forms to go to private school?). And after this rigorous screening, private schools don't even have to conduct standardized testing. No tests, no subgroups, no confidence interval, no reports in the newspaper with little "passing" and "failing" lists.

Yes the complicated is important. And yes, your humble blogger here is obsessively interested in having more folks know about the confidence intervals and all that. Maybe too obsessively interested. But having seen the recent twists and turns in another public debate, on health care, we are reminded that simplicity and simple explanations may trump detail and minutiae.

Some public school teachers will receive the aforementioned 13-year old boy in a few weeks, welcome him into their classes with wildly open arms, and teach their little hearts out trying to help this young man anyway they can. Good luck to them, the 13-year old who has been unfortunately displayed as an example here today, and everyone else operating within the "rules" of No Child Left Behind. Given this setup for "failure", 100% of us need all the luck we can get.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Administrative Housecleaning

No, this post isn't a call for an absolute gutting of school administrators throughout Albuquerque Public Schools. A gutting that would include pillories, stocks, and other supposedly outdated public humiliation devices. Not to mention visibly tying said administrators to rail cars, and having said rail cars slowly leave Alvarado Station while the entire population of Albuquerque waves and cheers wildly, using cheers like "Huzzah!".

This post is about none of that, and I have no reason at present to make such a call (although there are one or two APS principals I shall spend the rest of the day dreamily visualizing as tied to those aforementioned rail cars...with rough, chafing ropes and hard metal rail cars floors that painfully bump heads as the supine principals clackety-clack-clack-clack down the track).

Wow...that went on for a bit. Too much pent up anger or caffeine today, I suppose.

Anyway, all "Administrative Housecleaning" means is that I'm finally giving up on "anonymous" comments. Writing stupid, arguably "funny" things and anonymous comments are fine. Trying to get something done and anonymous comments don't mix.

Besides, this will offer previously anonymous commenters to create wildly inventive names like "Scot: Teacher At Jefferson Middle School, ABQ" or "Scot Key Who Lives at..."

Alright, I'd stop before street addresses, but would urge something more than "MadTeacher" or "Arne Duncan", because I know you're mad and you're not really Arne Duncan.

So, anonymity is dead here at Burque Babble. Let me hit a radio button or two and we'll all be "accountable". If only it were that easy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

AYP: Other States, Other Rules Way Down In the Ninth Paragraph

Lead/Lede (however you want to spell it) paragraph of story in the Hendersonville (NC) Times-News headlined "Area Schools Make the Grade With AYP Results":
"Nineteen of 22 Henderson County schools, or 86 percent, made Adequate Yearly Progress last year, a significant increase from the 2007-08 school year."
Seven more joyously positive paragraphs about how much better things are now follow. Oh glory be!!! Oh Flabjous day!!!

Then comes the Ninth Paragraph:
"It's hard to compare the 2009 results to previous years, however, because for the first time, schools were allowed to count students' scores on a retest."
(cue Gene Krupa rimshot)

The apples taste just like oranges if you pour enough scalding liquid on your taste buds.

By the way, here's a rundown of the North Carolina Proficiency Target Goals for Reading (revised, interestingly enough in October 2008):

Grades 3-8
2007-08 43.2%
2008-09 43.2%
2009-10 43.2%
2010-11 71.6%
2011-12 71.6%
2012-13 71.6%
2013-14 100%

Grade 10
2007-08 38.5%
2008-09 38.5%
2009-10 38.5%
2010-11 69.3%
2011-12 69.3%
2012-13 69.3%
2013-14 100%

Looks like North Carolina might be re-revising those proficiency rates when 2010 rolls around.

It ain't cheating if nobody sees you, and if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying...

Oh, and one more cliche: The devil is in the details. And in the ninth paragraph.

Monday, July 20, 2009

AYP: Other States, Other Rules

I. Coming Soon to a Theater Near You on August, 3rd, 2009 (deep movie trailer announcer voice over ear-bleeding loud movie trailer music)

Have you ordered your party hats (the pointy ones), party "favors" (in particular those obnoxiously loud unrolling horn things), and heavily spiked punch yet for August 3rd?

What, you don't what's happening on August 3rd?

Well, New Mexican with an obsessive interest in K-12 public education, you are slipping in your obsessiveness! You may even be turning "normal" and "well-adjusted", unlike certain other people who blather on and on about arcane public education news and know EXACTLY why every New Mexican should not only mark August 3rd on their calendar, but is already mentally hopping up and down with angst-filled anticipation regarding 8/3/09.

Not to be condescending, patronizing or anything, but, duh, August 3rd is when the New Mexico Public Education Department releases its report on AYP. You know, standardized testing and which schools met Adequate Yearly Progress and which didn't!

Now maybe you're of the learned opinion that standardized testing is categorically evil, and thus dismiss the importance of releasing these scores. Perhaps you are one of those in public education who simply put their fingers in their ears and go "la, la, la, la, la, LA, LA, LA" louder and louder whenever these scores are mentioned.

The following is not for you.

Frankly, I don't know if the following is for anyone outside a select insane few, who, like me, obsess not only on the scores themselves, but how the scores are derived. The following is for these sick, unalterably twisted folks who really just need to get a life.

II. You Might Be a EduGeek If:

You create a Gmail Google News Alert for "AYP", thus receiving a ton of newspaper stories responding to the release of test scores as states get around to it.

If you've already crossed this line of obvious insanity, you already know that Georgia, Hawaii and Minnesota have released scores.

III. The Not-So-Profound Point of Today's Posting

"More Than 79% of Schools Make AYP" is the July 14th headline for a press release from the Georgia Department of Education. The state's paper of record, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), doesn't put it quite as glowingly, but notes that "More Georgia Schools Meet 'No Child Left Behind' Testing Goals".

The newspaper has followed-up with additional profiles on schools that made scores, almost made scores and the pressures to make scores. At the same time, the AJC hasn't delved too terribly much into the minutiae of how Georgia's Department of Education determines AYP. The paper's webpage with school-by-school reports puts it this way:
"The Georgia Department of Education uses a complex formula to determine if schools were successful."
And for 99.9% of the population, the phrase "complex formula" is enough, as it is far more important to simply drop down to the individual school reports, click a few times and see if a particular school has a "Y" or "N" next to it, designating AYP as met or unmet.

But what does "complex formula" mean? Well, it's complex.

Still, with a bit of gazing at accompanying documentation here and a phone call here there, your humble blogger has learned the following:
  • Like other states, Georgia's elementary schools meet AYP at a much higher rate than middle or high schools;
  • One big reason for this is the size of the school;
  • Elementaries tend to be smaller, and, because of this, sub-groups such as "students with disabilities" (Special Education) tend to be too small to be statistically counted
  • Sub-groups large enough to be counted are given a "confidence interval" by statisticians, a number lower than the actual required Annual Measurable Objective (AMO). The AMO is the mandated percentage of students who must be "proficient" for a particular year. AMO figures vary from state to state, but No Child Left Behind dictates that all schools/states reach 100% proficiency by 2014;
  • E.g., if a state's "required" proficiency rate (AMO) is 59.5% for Math Grades 3-8 (as it was in Georgia this year), the actual required rate for a school to "pass" in a testing sub-group might be 50% or even lower, depending on the number of students in that sub-group who took the test;
  • In this, Georgia is just like New Mexico;
  • But in other ways, Georgia is nothing like New Mexico;
  • Georgia's "complex formula" for establishing AYP includes several other steps states like New Mexico do not employ;
  • A Georgia school not meeting AYP on first statistical run-through gets several other "chances" in addition to all the "confidence interval" business;
  • First, a "multi-year averaging" method is employed to see if the school/sub-group meets scores via that average. It is important to note that this averaging is so complicated even the Georgia AYP "Consolidated Accountability Workbook" doesn't get into it;
  • Second, like other states, Georgia uses a "Safe Harbor" provision that allows schools to "pass" if the percentage of students "failing" in a particular sub-group is reduced by 10% or more from the previous year. E.g., if 81% of the "students with disabilities" "failed" the Math test in 2008 at a particular school, that school would "pass" via Safe Harbor if only, say 68% of the Special Education students "failed" in 2009. Again, Safe Harbor is in place throughout the country;
  • Third, and this is where it gets weird, Georgia schools that pass in ALL categories EXCEPT "students with disabilities" get to apply an "interim federal flexibility" percentage. In slightly more simple English, this means schools falling into this situation (and there are many in Georgia as there all over the country) get to add a proscribed percentage to the original score for Special Education kids. The proscribed percentage for the 2009 test was 18%. In other words, Georgia's 2009 target for Grades 3-8 Math might have been 59.5%, but the figure for schools using this "interim federal flexibility" guidelines was only 41.5%. And that's tacked on to the lower figures statistically required via the whole "confidence interval" business;
  • Lastly, I called the Georgia State Department of Education's Accountability Office to get a better idea of what this "interim federal flexibility" was all about. Basically, Georgia wrote up a proposal to use this formula and the U.S. Department of Education agreed to it, with the provision that the program end in 2009;
  • Georgia is going to let the program end, and will not try to renew use of the "flexibility";
  • Here's why...
  • In 2010 Georgia will have an altogether different standardized test for students with disabilities.

IV: What Is To Be Done

For the 99.9% of New Mexicans who will peruse the August 3rd release of AYP reports from the Public Education Department (PED), the blizzard of bullets above mean less than nothing. For these folks, understandably, the idea that Georgia will have a different test for Special Education students just makes sense and is no big deal. For a very few others it's hard to explain to the masses how closely this concept mirrors movie statements like "It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people!" or "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" Only with less overacting.

I guess my hope is that, for the .1% of us obsessed with how arcane rules determine educational policy and perception of policy, the above might be a bit of a springboard toward revising the travesty that is current NM PED policy regarding testing, in particular its scandalous policies toward sub-groups such as "students with disabilities".

Other states are doing it differently.

A cynic might call this "gaming the system". I'm a cynic, and... yeah it's gaming the system. Still, for purposes of changing how New Mexico does things, I'm willing to take off my cynic hat, and do whatever it takes to earnestly, sincerely correct some inarguably gross injustices and warped policies. Who's with me?

P.S.: The Georgia information (outside of a follow-up phone call) came from this report (caution: big .pdf). Those interested enough might want to also take a gander at other details in the report, including the laughable AMO increases called for in the tail-end years of the NCLB 2014 mandate. Funny, cynical and "gaming" at its finest.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Big Budget Math and the Teacher Incentive Fund

As Sly Stone and Bootsy Collins always say: When you talk public education, you gotta keep it wonky...

Numbers look big until you look at other big numbers.

A key House panel today took action on the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal 2010 budget, approving a plan that embraces one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities: providing a big increase for a program that rewards effective teachers....

The bill as approved by the House panel would provide $446 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, more than quadrupling the $97 million provided this fiscal year and close to meeting President Obama’s request of $487 million. That would be in addition the $200 million provided for the program under the stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
--Education Week, 7.10.09

Wow. That's $687 million to reward "effective" teachers. Sounds so impressive.

Yet...I should have looked harder, but near as I can tell there are around 6 million K-12 school teachers in the U.S., with about half, a little over 3 million of those teaching public school. Yeah, only 50% teaching public school sounds a little low, so let's just go with the 3 million public school teacher figure and do a little long division.

The Administration wants $687 million for "effective teachers". If we handed out "teacher incentive" awards to the "best" 5% percent of public school teachers, around 150,000 teachers would be sharing the "effective teacher" cash.

$687,000,000 divided by 150,000 teachers (carry the one, I before E except after C.....)

I get $4,580 per teacher.

Of course that doesn't include a few mitigating (costly) factors. These include program oversight, development and implementation. How much would it cost to go from the current half-ass "evaluation" process to one rigorous enough to truly find "effective" teachers? How much would it cost to institute such rigor across all the public school districts in the United States?

Methinks that $4,580 per teacher would be going down quite a bit.

Me also thinks I know why nobody ever reads my wonky education posts. I want to take a nap now, and I wrote it. It's also only 10:30 in the morning.

Nevertheless, perhaps it's important to remember that, despite the exponential growth in the federal education budget these days, the millions and billions being thrown around aren't quite as impressive when one considers the sheer size of the public education beast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mass Transit News From Bizarro Anti-Albuquerque World

Seattle's decades long in the making light rail system opens on Saturday. Two important numbers:
  • The single line will, by this December, be 16 miles long
  • Construction Cost: $2.3 billion dollars
And when you spend $2.3 billion you need "security with lights, cameras, officers" to protect the investment.

The area has had a Rail Runner-like commuter rail for some time, but these light-rail trains will be running much more frequently (every 7.5 minutes during the Emerald City's very long rush hour).

Overall, the transportation agency known as "Sound Transit" has an operating budget of almost one billion dollars in 2009, with forecasts of spending around $1.3 billion annually from here through 2014 (warning: link is to extremely hairy, wonk-laden .pdf).

As an Burquean interested in transportation issues, seeing the numbers Sound Transit throws around must be like the experience Mayan villagers in remote areas of Guatemala have when they see "MTV Cribs". A world like this really exists? With billions thrown around for mass transit like having 30,000 sq. ft. bedrooms is normal?

Truly a Bizarro World. And I have to admit a world 20 years ago I would have embraced much more heartily than I do now.

Shit...that's a lot of money for light rail.

I love 'em! And I love the idea of local/regional transportation planning that truly plans instead of just handing the growth reins over to a bunch of real estate developers.

But shit, that's a lot of money for light rail, etc.

Maybe it's my age, or maybe it's my 15 years living in ABQ (a city whose motto should be "We don't deserve nice things"), but those bizarro dollar figures are freaking me out.

My Burque-forged cheapskate self is thinking: Hey, we could simply pay citizens to ride their bicycle everywhere $10,000 annually. We get five percent of our population to do that (about the percentage of commuters a wildly successful light rail system would draw), say 15,000 taxpaying folks, and it costs 10k times 15,000 = $150 million per year.

Yeah, the duct tape solutions to mass transit problems grow on ya, if you live here long enough. And let's face it, Rail Runner is an example of a duct tape solution. Funny thing is, when you start talking figures like $2.3 billion dollars, duct tape solutions like paying bike commuters starts to look pretty attractive, even in places not as cheapskate as Albuquerque.

P.S.: On the other hand, this new Bogota mass transit system looks VERY interesting and it was supposedly three years from conception to opening. Buses...whodathunkit...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Here's Why Richard Romero Drives Me Crazy

Mayoral candidate Richard Romero and I should be like peanut butter and raspberry jam. Like garlic butter and a baguette. Like beer and bratwurst.

He's a "liberal". I'm a "liberal". He's an ex-educator. I'm an educator. He's a little bit rock n' roll, and I'm a little bit rock n' roll. Okay, I'm guessing on the last one (not to mention the fact I listen to far more Miles Davis than Foghat these days).

So why does this guy continue to piss me off to no end?

Because he just doesn't get it.

Yesterday Marjorie Childress at the Independent writes that Feudal Prince Marty said during his announcement for reelection presser:

“I’ve never supported growth boundaries because we already have them,” he said, listing the river on the west, the mountains on the east, and the pueblos on the north and south.

“The question isn’t whether we grow,” he continued, “but how we grow, what goes in that space, and that’s what I’m committed to — really good planned growth that’s sustainable. I think that’s going to be very important to our future.”

To which Ms. Childress and the Independent correctly point out via their headline to the piece:

ABQ development will continue westward until rooftops hit the Rio Puerco, so says mayor

So it's been two days now since Feudal Prince Marty said this and what have we heard from Richard Romero?


Mr. Romero, can I call you Richard? Because I'd really much rather call you Richard that what I want to call you right now (if you know what I mean). can't let comedy gold quotes like those from the Feudal Prince above waltz right by! Not only does it have the "Rio Puerco" implication, but here's a guy who is claiming to be committed to "really good planned growth"!!!!!!

Dude, Richard...while typing this I can look out my South Valley window and scan up the Mesa (within ABQ city limits) and see some really piss-poor, butt-ugly, as close to unplanned growth as you ever wanna see! Complete with inadequate infrastructure and services (unless you count a Walmart)! And now Feudal Prince dude wants it to go all the way to the glorified arroyo wash known as the Rio Puerco?

Richard, my rock n' roll (I'm guessing) liberal comrade, you should be jumping on this Marty quote like a trampoline at a kid's birthday party. Like Michael Jackson investigators on a prescription slip found at Neverland Ranch. But all I'm getting is...


I swear I'm gonna stomp me some crickets if I don't hear something real soon, real good from my liberal, educating, rock n' roll brother Richard.

P.S.: I had a little wimpy disclaimer here apologizing if Romero was slamming Feudal Prince Marty on this and I just hadn't seen/read it, but evidently he hasn't and no such disclaimer is needed. Oh boy (blogger shakes head while typing)...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pulling Mental Weeds In An Educational Tropical Rainforest

...unions are fighting the premise of accountability rather than helping
teachers to deal with it.
--Paul T. Hill, Center on Reinventing Public Education, in this online discussion.

Much mental percolation this blandly hot Summer on the whole kit-n-kaboodle of public education, and reading discussions like that linked above result in both unaccustomed deep thinking and a strong urge to take a nap.

What will NCLB Version 2.0 look like? What should it look like? With 79 quadrillion players in the K-12 education game, how it is possible that there are 79 quintillion points of view? How can any useful consensus exist in a rapidly, and illogical, expanding universe of viewpoints?

Perhaps more importantly, in a thick tropical forest of ideas, initiatives and policy, where does one choose to machete their own points home? Especially when our blades have been dulled by electing a President who is right on so much, but certainly seems to have some shortcomings when it comes to public school education.

What, you think I have an answer for ya?

No. No answer here. Just plenty of questions. But a few things are starting to make their way through the dense theoretical canopy. For instance:
  • Despite the federal nature of any NCLB Version 2.0, the best way to impact actual delivery of the legislation may well be at the State Department of Public Education level

And yes, that's one bullet all by itself. More most likely to come, but I'll leave it at that for now and continue percolating between Summertime naps on some others. To make a very long explanation far too short, my sense is that the federal game of NCLB Version 2.0 (when it comes) is already rigged for "more accountability...more...more...more!", and our best means of attack is to game the game when it comes to turning "more accountability!" into actual test construction, delivery and statistical interpretation.

Just like NCLB Version 1.0.

More time for a 8:30 a.m. Summertime nap.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's Summer Break Halftime Now, But Soon The Teaching Game Will Again Start

We're right at the halfway mark of Summer Vacation for most participants in the game known as K-12 education, and several important questions exist. These include:
  1. What day of the week is this?
  2. Who is leading today's stage of the Tour de France?
  3. It's 8:30, should I get out of bed to watch today's stage?
  4. What day of the week did you say it was again?

These are the hard-hitting questions to which today's teaching professionals need answers. Yet, despite the fact our only real daily "work" these days is getting the mail (and maybe doing the dishes...maybe), it will soon enough be August 12th or thereabouts, and we will all return to our shellshocked, fractious workplaces to deal with another year of teaching between the standardized testing raindrops.

Meanwhile, what is happening, public educationally speaking, whilst we sleep late and wear pajamas (or less) all day?

Well, for one thing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is saying some very vague, but very interesting things about teacher training, teacher pay and the Obama Administration:

“School systems pay teachers billions of dollars more each year for earning credentials that do very little to improve the quality of teaching,” he said. “At the same time, many schools give nothing at all to the teachers who go the extra mile and make all the difference in students’ lives. Excellence matters, and we should honor it—fairly, transparentlyand on terms teachers can embrace.”

This was just one of several juicy quotes in a speech Duncan gave to an assembly of National Education Association (i.e., one of the two big teacher unions) members this week. As noted in Education Week, union members variously cheered and hissed their way through Mr. Duncan's remarks on "merit pay", "better training for administrators" and "reworked tenure provisions".

So what? Why should a teacher wearing pajamas (or less) around the house at 9:30 in the morning eating Cheerios while watching the end of today's stage of the Tour de France care about this? What difference, in the long run, will the Obama Administration make in public school education? What impact will the Administration ever truly have on our jobs?

Good questions, I think. Questions worth occasionally changing out of our pajamas for.

And doing what? Well that's another good question. I'll consider that one today while I travel into "town" for a discussion or two with various education folks who actually have to work during the Summer. If I find anything worthy of changing from pajamas (or less) to work clothes, I'll pass it on.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Nice, Relaxing Ride from SF on Rail Run...what the HELL was that?

I was all cozy, half-asleep in my grimy, drying sweat on the train from Santa Fe yesterday afternoon, mentally revisiting the delicious bike ride that ended with me at the South Capitol Rail Runner stop.

In my head-nodding near-slumber I considered how I might phrase the truly inspiring story of my ride, how great it felt to make it all the way from the South Valley ABQ, and how spiritually reaffirming a simple bike ride can be that doesn't involve simply looping back, but instead offers the karmic payoff of a beautiful, slumber-inducing ride along the Rio Grande valley to complete a magical day.

And then the train hit a cow.

Cozily half-slumbering, I and my fellow passengers were startled in a bowel-excavating manner by a sound similar to that breaking glass music in the horror movies when the guy in the mask is holding the knife over the unsuspecting young thing who is changing clothes in the secluded back room of the poorly lit house.

Except 10,000 times louder, and with dramatic sideways rocking train motion included.

The breaking glass times 10,000 sound continued for about 10 seconds. Upon its termination several obviously experienced Rail Runner commuters instantly said "musta hit a cow". Those without much SF-ABQ Rail Runner experience unsuccessfully tried to hide our fear, while squirming around in our seats to feel if we needed to change our, possibly soiled, underwear.

And as I squirmed in my now uncozy, sweaty/grimy existence, I considered the simple fact that, despite an 80+ mile bike ride from the South Valley to Tijeras, through Madrid and up the harrowing Cerrillos Road disappearing "bike lane" to the sweet, sweet finish line of the South Capitol train stop, the real "story" of the day was me being in a train that hit a cow.

A wee bit of a bummer. The buzzkill was deepened by follow-up comments of the old-Pro Rail Runner commuters as we sat motionless twenty minutes for "maintenance". Statements like "those loud sounds were the bones of the cow being broken" and "usually it's just one loud bang, but man, thing went on forever". Someone made a vague reference to actually seeing part of the cow fly by the window. It took sizable will for our noses NOT to smell for mutilated cow as we sat there.

Then the "air line" was fixed, and we motored on as the conductor made apologies for the delay at every stop, sometimes being direct, alternating with euphemisms like "hit some debris on the track" and "we had a cow incident".

Eventually the bike and I made it home, and I took a well-needed shower. I'm sure I only imagined the faint mutilated cow smell in my matted, sweaty bike helmet hair. I'd love to tell you more about the great bike ride and all, but just as "cow versus train" is a bloody no contest, so it is with "tremendously uplifting story of personal achievement versus exploding cow leaves bones loudly snapping beneath hi-speed commuter train". Funny how that works.

P.S.: The Michael Jackson memorial show is currently on twelve of my cable channels. Twelve. Somehow, for me, that seems to tie into the whole exploding cow thing. To misquote Gertrude Stein: A trainwreck is a trainwreck is a trainwreck, I suppose.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Heather Reu Memorial Ride Is Inconvenient

  • It's on a Sunday
  • It's the day after Independence Day
  • 4:00 P.M. is smack-dab in the middle of my all-sacred nap time
  • It's in the middle of the afternoon
  • It will be hot
  • There is no shade along the ride


Painful things shouldn't be painless. I'll see you there. Granted, a big thunderstorm directly overhead would be a consideration, but barring that I'll be wearing all black in the middle of a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon.

P.S.: It was a pretty big thunderstorm, and involved hiding out in a subdivision shelter while the hail, lightning and sheets of rain pounded for a bit. And then it cleared and I raced to catch up with the crowd. Not as many people as I would have liked (the storm was probably a factor), not as much media as one would hope, but we do what we can.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Oh Shut Up and Light the Damn Firecrackers Already

Keeping perspective and considering context is both very, very important and a potentially giant buzzkill.


It's always fun to check out the national anthems of other countries. Here's the Philippines, from a Wiki page:

Beloved country,
Pearl of the Orient,
The burning [fervour] of the heart,
In thy chest is ever alive.

Chosen Land,
Thou art the cradle of the brave.
To the conquerors,
Thou shall never surrender.

In the seas and mountains,
In the air and in thy sky of blue,
There is splendour in the poem
And [in the] song for freedom beloved.

The sparkle of thy flag
Is victory that shines.
Its stars and sun
Forever shall never dim.

Land of the sun,
of glory and our love,
Life is heaven in thy embrace;
It is our joy, when there are oppressors,
To die because of thee.

Joy "to die because of thee" huh? That's hardcore, and reminds one that some Filipinos are big on nailing themselves to crosses and stuff around Easter every year.

As "Declarations of Independence" go, I like the Hungarian one (sorry for the length, but I think it's worth it...and besides, this is just a small part of the whole, hyper-specific, thing):


WE, the legally constituted representatives of the Hungarian nation, assembled in Diet, do by these presents solemnly proclaim, in maintenance of the inalienable natural rights of Hungary, with all its dependencies, to occupy the position of an independent European State -- that the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine, as perjured in the sight of God and man, has forfeited its right to the Hungarian throne.

At the same time we feel ourselves bound in duty to make known the motives and reasons which have impelled us to this decision, that the civilized world may learn we have taken this step not out of overweening confidence in our own wisdom, or out of revolutionary excitement, but that it is an act of the last necessity, adopted to preserve from utter destruction a nation persecuted to the limit of the most enduring patience.

Three hundred years have passed since the Hungarian nation, by free election, placed the house of Austria upon its throne, in accordance with stipulations made on both sides, and ratified by treaty. These three hundred years have been, for the country, a period of uninterrupted suffering.

The Creator has blessed this country with all the elements of wealth and happiness. Its area of 100,000 square miles presents in varied profusion innumerable sources of prosperity. Its population, numbering nearly fifteen millions, feels the glow of youthful strength within its veins, and has shown temper and docility which warrant its proving at once the main organ of civilization in eastern Europe, and the guardian of that civilization when attacked. Never was a more grateful task appointed to a reigning dynasty by the dispensation of Providence, than that which devolved upon the house of Hapsburg-Lorraine. It would have sufficed to do nothing that could impede the development of the country. Had this been the rule observed Hungary would now rank among the most prosperous nations. It was only necessary that it should not envy the Hungarians the moderate share of constitution liberty which they timidly maintained during the difficulties of a thousand years with rare fidelity to their sovereigns, and the house of Hapsburg might long have counted this nation among the most faithful adherents of the throne.

This dynasty, however, which can at no epoch point to a ruler who based his power on the freedom of the people, adopted a course toward this nation from father to son, which deserves the appellation of perjury.

Now that's some good stuff. I quite like the "youthful strength within its veins". It's a shame we're in a bit of a lull when it comes to nation/state creation these days. We're rusty on the old Declarations of this and Anthems of that.

Nevertheless, I do have proposed "evergreen" lyrics for a national anthem that I offer, no copyright/no royalties required, to any new nation/states popping up anytime soon.

Ode To A Pretty Darn Great Geographic Conurbation and/or Idyllic Contiguity

O (insert country name here),
We might not be the greatest,
but we're doing the best we can .

We might not be the strongest,
but don't mess with us, really.

Because if you do, we have
alot of youthful strength within our veins,
maybe no more than any other,
but certainly enough to cause
problems, and you don't want that.

O (insert country name here)
you're really peachy keen and all that.
O (insert country name here)
we stand on guard for thee,

in a manner of speaking.

Of course, like any reputable national anthem, it would have another nine or ten stanzas that nobody ever sings or even remembers with lines like:

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.

Which is in the U.S. Anthem. Really.

Happy rocket's red glare, everybody.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I Pledge That I Do Not Want PED Sec. Veronica Garcia's Job

I was out of town when the news broke, and have been trying to do a bit of catch-up regarding the proposed change codifying the position that no NM public school student will be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I wrote a little something about the Pledge in practice this past school year...let me rummage around and find that...oh yeah, here it is.

But getting back to the proposed change, I made the car crash rubber-necking decision this morning to check out some online comments to media stories about it. I know, I comments might just be the greatest single sign that the term "human evolution " is an oxymoron.

Still...can you imagine the crap NM Public Education Secretary Veronica Garcia and staff are wading through right now on this issue? It would take more than a haz mat suit and kevlar vest for me to even glance at the "official comments" sent to Garcia. Yet, here I am painfully looking at the loony prose thrown at the story in Farmington, Las Cruces/El Paso, and Albuquerque via "Topix".

Tough job, man. Tough.

P.S.: I see from the press release that the written comments (emails included! yikes...) are actually going to a Mary Deets, general counsel for the PED. I propose Ms. Deets be immediately given a $100,000 raise, and a fresh NM email address. has got to be a Superfund site by now.