Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rating the APS Middle School Websites: Part I

A few weeks back I looked through all the APS middle school websites. I was doing this research in order to kickstart some communication between teachers in my little neck of the academic woods. Those not in K-12 teaching may be surprised to find out that little, if any, contact occurs between teachers.

For instance, I can't tell you exactly what in going on in any other 8th Grade Language Arts classroom anywhere in the District. Including my own school. And I "teach" 8th Grade "Language Arts".

But let us put aside that tasty factoid, for now, and instead focus on the websites of my fellow uncommunicative middle schools. Having been scarred through that earlier exposure to Internet APS Style, I decided another plunge might spare those out there lacking in the necessary bravery (not to mention inclination and time on their hands) to venture forth into this bewildering and largely uninformative virtual world.

And to have some fun, we'll do a little rating thing. So...proceeding in alphabetical order, let's go through the middle school sites using a 1-10 scale where:

1 = A 404 page error


10 = The information-filled, yet easily navigable website of your dreams

1. Cleveland Middle School: Rating 2.5

CMS suffers from the almost universal malady of APS websites: recently, or not so recently, deceased webmasters. Evidently there has been an nasty outbreak of "Instant Webmaster Death (IMD)" throughout the Albuquerque Public Schools. IMD must have struck the CMS webmaster on 10/27/08, because that's the indicated last "update".

CMS also suffers from the shared inexplicable tendency of most APS websites to put the phrase "Best Viewed With Internet Explorer" on their site. Why the Hell this is supposedly so, and why anybody after, say, 1998 would put such a statement on their site is mystifying.

Specific to the CMS site, I see we have some redeeming qualities (especially if one were to go into a time machine back to 10/27/08). Most of the internal links work. Almost all staffmembers have listed email addresses (which, unfortunately, are not links). There is quite a bit of information, albeit in a 10-point font with little irritating dots everywhere. If the CMS website was in the "real world", it would be deservedly laughed at. Heartily. As it resides within the APS milieu, however, a rating of 2.5 is "earned".

2. Desert Ridge Middle School: Rating 4

DRMS is one of those schools using a website template from "Professional Innovations, Inc". I don't know exactly when "Professional Innovations" was last innovative, but it must have been sometime in the previous century. DRMS has some useful stuff on its site, and it is updated. The "links" page actually has decent links on it.

At the same time, navigating through the website is nauseatingly reminiscent of sitting through every lousy PowerPoint you've ever had to sit through. The problem: clip art. You know...that clip art. Swinging email doors and stuff. Awful stuff.

And then there's the fact many of the links don't work. And the "Principal's Place" page has black text with a partially dark background. And the short "Principal's Place" message is kinda creepy, and way out of date. And why does this school get three principals, anyway?

3. Eisenhower Middle School: Rating 4.5

Eisenhower's site is slightly better than Desert Ridge's. Still the lousy "Professional Innovations" layout. Still has links that don't work, including one that would go to a really cool "courses" course description page...if the link worked. But there are more choices that DO work on the Eisenhower page.

Most of the EMS staff have their own web pages, and I clicked on a few. I found somewhat decent information on some. The biggest limitation of these staff pages is the unwieldy, outdated and visually nauseating "Professional Innovations" layout. Clicking through these pages is a chore worse than cleaning up dog poop in the backyard. Little fun exists here.

Oh, and another thing. The top of EMS webpages have that little 1996 scrolling announcement thing. Now that I think about it, going to just about any APS school website is like going into an Internet Museum. You start to remember what you were doing the last time you saw ancient crap like little 1996-era scrolling announcements on webpages. Personally, I recall things like using "Hyperstudio"for presentations and "Pine" for my email, while sitting in uncomfortable chairs at the UNM computer lab dungeon.

Oh, the memories.

4. Ernie Pyle Middle School: Rating 1

The EPMS website reflects the school it serves very, very well. It is a scary-ass website for a scary-ass school. The reasons are numerous, but I'll start with the "mission/vision statement thingie" prominent on the Teachers page:


That is some scary shit there. Pardon my inability to be less profane and more profound, but the simple imperative "MUST" just screams out Orwell and/or Nazis, doesn't it? Who cares that the main page was last updated in 2007, or that the soccer schedule is from early 2008? It's not the dated information here that offends, it's the combination of "Every Person Must Succeed" with the comic sans font and psycho layout.

This website is like an episode of "Night Gallery". One involving clowns, terribly distorted photos, and scary hyper-speed clip art. If online dictionaries carried definitions of phrases like "bad acid trip", the link for the entry would go straight to this website.

5. Garfield Middle School: Rating 1.25

A friend of mine was opining a few days back that Garfield is the single worst middle school in APS. Now that's a bold statement, because, well, we've got some very strong candidates for this honor. Achieving single worst status isn't something that can be done without some serious dedication to some serious bad practices.

I cannot report as to whether Garfield is the worst/best or most absolutely average middle school in APS. I've never been there, except for this soccer game about 10 years ago, and all I remember is that the school/team I was "coaching" tried to leave the Garfield premises as quickly as humanly possible, owing to some perceived threat or threats. But back in the late 90s this was common at APS middle school soccer games, and Garfield did not stand out in this regard. Compared to Truman or Van Buren, I recall Garfield as a veritable vacation hot spot when it came to this sort of thing.

But I digress. I'm here to report on websites, not harms to personal safety present at various middle schools in the late 90s. So...finally getting to the GMS website I can safely report that it sucks. It is awful.

In some ways it stands out as the worst one I've yet investigated. For instance, its teacher page has links to TWO teacher's pages. TWO. And only one of those has any information on it, and that information is from 2007. Everything else is outdated, but anybody who checks these APS pages quickly gets over the expectation that any information will be from this school year. But the teacher's page truly excels as the single worst I've yet seen.

Oh, and another thing. I admit I'm a bit cynical when it comes to "mission statements", "vision statements" and such. I believe the time spent creating such statements would be better spent doing ANYTHING, including spending that time hitting large, pointy rocks against one's head repeatedly at high speed.

So I'm a bit biased.

But the Garfield "mission statement" stands out. Let me retype it here (because I can't copy/paste it from the website, as it is obviously too fine and valuable a sentiment to allow for copy/pasting):

"The mission of Garfield Middle School is to achieve excellence and prepare our students to succeed in the challenging world of tomorrow, through continuous improvement."

There's much to like here, but my favorite is the unnecessary comma addition of the boilerplate "continuous improvement" phrase. I can't claim to be anything close to a perfect grammarian, but you'd think a room full of people at some Godforsaken six-hour "mission statement" brainstorming would be able to figure out where to put the commas.

An ugly, ugly website.

Okay, that's a wrap for Part I. I'll start with Grant Middle School in my next report.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friendly Folks In Oklahoma Doing Their Best To Make New Mexico Look Smart In Comparison

"One of our targets is to get kids reading on grade level three. So they don't have as many problems and struggles in their education career beyond third grade, because beyond third grade, you have to be able to read to learn," said Kathleen Kennedy, Oklahoma City Public Schools Spokesperson.

Kennedy said that the districk has gotten a head start on improving schools by having full-day kindergarten classes, which give kids a jump start on reading. However, a big focus on secondary schools is making sure students are attending class and graduating.
--from "42 Oklahoma Schools on '09 Needs Improvement List", KSBI-TV "Family Television", Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
One can only imagine the writer of this TV news story probably "needed improvement" during his/her own high school career.

Not to mention his/her current career.

One Down, Thirty-Five To Go

I. I Am No Longer Tied To The Mast

It's not an official holiday, but in the bizarro unreal world known as "school", today will have an air of distinctive celebration.

The reason: we've officially coexisted, students and teachers and administrators and janitors and all, for five days in a row! Five whole days! For the first time this school year!!!

We survived! We actually don't have to do this again tomorrow! Huzzah!

The significant social, or anti-social, event known as "The Weekend" will today be celebrated happily and with no malice. Only later in the year, when everyone is sick of everyone else to a pathological extent, will we stoop to derisive bitterness. It will be at least the end of October before we escape on a Friday afternoon as if breaking the water's surface and gasping the fresh air of reality as we hit the doors leading from the bizarro world to our homes, city, reality.

Combined with the fact it's a "Pay Day" for teachers, my colleagues will almost literally be clicking their heels as they walk down the hall, all looking like Dick Van Dyke in "Bye, Bye Birdie" or something. You know, disturbingly perky.

Only for the irritating "meta" types among us will today be anything but fun. We "meta" folks will make observations like "Wow, it's only been a week and you'd think everyone was being released from 10 years in Sing-Sing" and "What are we doing here that makes everyone, EVERYONE, hate being here so much?"

But because our true thoughts are such a downer, we "meta" folks will keep our brains shut and stick to inane questions like "So, what are you doing this weekend?"

So, what is everybody doing this weekend?

II. On The One Hand, On The Other Hand, Whew We're Finished

If the first days of class seem a little longer than usual for Albuquerque high school students, it's not just because they miss summer.
--"Schools Settle Into Block Schedule". Albuquerque Journal. 8.28.09
And speaking of the inane, I can't let the latest hard-hitting piece of ABQJournal journalism go by without a short comment. Now I'm not expecting the Journal to turn into Education Week, Foreign Affairs and Rousseau's On Education all rolled into one, but reading the 456 words in the story quoted from above reminded me of a level of "analysis" and "depth" I see most often from 6th graders making pyramids out of sugar cubes and map coloring the 50 states.

I know it's tough putting depth into 456 words, and the story linked above (registration/money required!) does have the obligatory quotes from three separate people (one in favor, one against, one in the middle), but the overall tone of the piece is pretty darn vapid. It's like a press release but without the emotion. I can imagine the average previously uninformed reader remarking to themselves..."hey, APS high schools have longer classes now". The end.

Maybe the factoid without any real facts is what knowledge is all about. Maybe we're all just gearing up for some life-long game of "Trivial Pursuit". I don't know...and why should I care? It's the weekend. Lighten up! Have I shown you my Dick Van Dyke in "Bye, Bye Birdie" impersonation?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To Be Stuck Inside of Christmas With The Chanukah Blues Again

Bob Dylan is releasing a Christmas album.

It will include a version of "Here Comes Santa Claus".

No...this isn't from The Onion.

The album will benefit a charity called "Feeding America".

Can we all just pledge money, lots of it, to prevent Bob Dylan from releasing a Christmas album? I'm sure we can raise much more money for Feeding America if we absolutely promise to all who pledge that Bob Dylan Will Never Release a Christmas Album...EVER.

C'mon can certainly spare a dollar or two for this very worthy cause. Remember...Only You Can Prevent Bob Dylan Christmas Albums.

P.S.: "I'm pledging my time, to you, never putting out a Christmas album too".....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just One of Those Comments That Got Out of Hand

A reader replied to my last, rather negative, post asking if there was anything I actually liked about the Albuquerque Public Schools. One word led to another, and I might as well just largely reprint it here.

The honest truth is that there at least one million things I love about APS. Perhaps a small hyperbole, but the number of great things is much larger than a parent might think going into this thing.

In fact, if one were to observe "the District" only at its teacher/student interface, the observer might not understand what all the negative press is about.

There are great teachers at all levels (elementary/middle/high), fantastic innovative programs, well-funded classrooms with lots of amenities (my classroom would be an example), and hard-working folks in all aspects of the educational process.

And then there's the not so great of all of the above. A parent and son/daughter need to realize that and work accordingly. Contacting trusted teachers and other school folks can pay big dividends there, as well as keeping communication up with parents who avoid blanket "APS sucks" statements, and can focus on that teacher/student relationship.

On top of that there's the experience beyond that teacher/student classroom situation. I can't speak to exactly why, but something just seems lost outside/beyond the classroom here. A disconnect of some sort exists.

And the great thing is that there are plenty of teachers who ignore that disconnect, kids who ignore it as well and press on despite what folks may say about their schools, and supporting players (parents, etc.) who help make the individual educational experience for many APS students truly remarkable.

My small piece of advice to you would be to focus on the individual classroom(s). Ignore the outside noise and if the teacher and classroom are good, the rest just doesn't matter. Not really. Regardless of how many times I complain about it here.

At times of talking big, I catch myself saying to my classes "we offer private school service at public school prices". But the truth is I believe that. Really.

P.S.: The APS middle school lunch today was little convenience store burritos in that convenience store plastic wrap...and pizza. We're four for four this year on the pizza. Pizza's batting 1.000.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What Were Once Lawsuits Are Now Habits

Proving once again there is no problem
70s rock music that can't be solved
through the use of dry ice

As we go into Day Four of the new APS school year, the following is true:
  • We have a spiffy, state-of-the-nerd online stat database designed to help us track all the "accountability" (i.e. testing) scores for our students. But the student data isn't loaded yet for this year, and the latest guesstimate I was given for doing so is September 20th.
  • So we teachers will get to access state-of-the-nerd information on your son or daughter for the first time roughly six weeks into Fall Semester. About 1/6th of the way into the school year.
  • Students all over the District are being deprived of electives due to poor performance, and instead are taking classes developed to utilize spiffy programs like "READ 180". But the District isn't getting "READ 180" because it's too expensive (about $500 a head from what I hear) and it requires computers and stuff. So specially created classes exist to replace electives without the specially created curriculum for those classes.
  • All the electives at my school are packed to the point of overflowing because of the specially designed classes noted in bullet two above. All the students who don't need the specially created curriculum are packed together in "electives" they often do not want. Part of the problem is that much of our staff is teaching the specially created classes with the specially created curriculum that we don't have.
  • Meanwhile, the APS website still looks like....the APS website. This fact, alone, should be grounds for action against the District due to violations of the Geneva Conventions. I think the latest international agreements specifically call for an end to poorly designed javascript.
  • The APS line lunch for the first three days of school has been: Day One, Pizza; Day Two, Pizza; Day Three, Pizza. And not pizza from some place in Brooklyn, Queens or Corrales. Pizza that tastes exactly like those Chefboyardee (sic?) pizza-in-a-can pizzas we made in 1971. In fact, this APS pizza tastes like it was made in 1971.
  • One day the pizza was augmented with, and I'm not making this up, macaroni and cheese and a roll. Yes, for those playing at home, that's a starch, a starch and a....starch. Oh, and two "cheeses" (quotation marks quite necessary). There were little clear plastic containers of iceberg lettuce chunks and a single cherry tomato on a counter, but, unsurprisingly, no students (or adults) took a container.
Now in the areas listed above I can report that APS employees are doing the best we can with what we have. I can also report that whenever somebody sues us our best very often gets just a little bit better.

Funny how that works out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Charter Schools: A Call For Papers

I'll forego the typical "I write stuff here and maybe you make a comment" process and instead invert it. I'm looking for ideas, concepts, little notes written on restaurant napkins with arrows and stuff, etc. on the subject of a new charter school here in Albuquerque.

Any readers out there ever thought of what their own Private Idaho Charter School (PICS) would look like? What PICS would your son/daughter attend? What would make your PICS different than the 5.4 million charter schools already in Albuquerque?

You can comment below, or send me an email if you're shy. Maybe nobody will send me either, but I just want to tap a vein here to see if any blood might be flowing through it. Nurse, syringe please.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Writing About Education: Is it Worth It?

As this blog has evolved (devolved?) into more of a single-issue entity, there are little things I miss. Like illogically criticizing Mayor Marty, unconvincingly lampooning those running against Mayor Marty, and putting up photos like this:

I really do miss it. But since 98% of the world's non-porn websites are devoted to snark about politicians and "morans", maybe it's better to stick to tilting at educational windmills instead. Maybe that's what the Internet is supposed to be for across the issue spectrum, and we've simply lost our way (as we always do).

I don't know. I do know that sticking almost exclusively to issues in public education that piss me off doesn't get near the "page views" that a post saying Mayor Marty is a "moran" gets. But is that the point?

Is popularity ever a truly good thing?

Over the last 20/30 years there has been a dramatic shift in the news focus toward films and the film industry. In olden times, much discussion took place on the controversial trails blazed by risk-taking directors, censorship issues and film's ability to impact social mores and public policy.

Now, about 95% of news stories on movies talk about the box office. How much money did the film make? Receipts trump whether the film is good or bad. Discussions of advancing ideas and/or art through cinema almost never happen.

There are many reasons for this, pandering to a youth market infused with guilty parents' cash prime among them. But another reason is the fact we all want simple answers to complex questions. I, for instance, love the "Youth in Asia" sign as a simplistic distillation of the idiocy rampant in the complicated health care "debate".

Writing and reading things like "Marty is a poopy-head" is pleasant. Reading 1,500 about exactly why Marty is a poopy-head...not quite so pleasant.

And then there's public education. It is certainly more popular to stick to simple phrases like "public education sucks" or "won't somebody think about the children?!?", instead of reading/writing 2,500 polysyllabic words about how AYP scores are manipulated.

Yet, something beyond my own egocentrism tells me the 2,500 polysyllabic words need to happen. Of course my egocentrism tells me this as well, although I think my ego could handle passing the "work" off to someone else. My ego would quite like writing "Feudal Prince Marty Is a Poopy-Head" posts, actually.

Have a good, polysyllabic weekend, everybody.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Coach Winston Brooks Inspires Teachers With Rousing Opening Day of School Communique

"I am writing to inform you that the APS Board of Education this evening approved a 5 percent increase in the cost of medical insurance for Albuquerque Public Schools employees. The district’s health care costs will in fact increase by 10 percent this year, but the Board of Education voted to use district reserve funds to cover the other half of the increase. The increase, which will go into effect Dec. 1, will cost about $5 a paycheck for APS employees who make less than $29,000 a year and have insurance for their entire family. The increase will cost about $11 a paycheck for employees who make $29,000 or more a year and have health insurance for their entire family."
--APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, employee email blast, 8.19.09

Move over Knute Rockne! Winston, and the Board, are inspiring teachers at exactly the right time..the night before school begins. Rah. Rah.

Yes I know things are tough all over, particularly in the area of medical costs. But tied together with:
  • No raise;
  • A vague one-time payment to balance a vague 1.5% tax increase;
  • And, a Keystone Cops-meets-Cheech & Chong series of flips, flops and reflips in tardily putting together a "failing school" remediation schema
and your average APS teacher is not exactly ready to "win one for the Gipper", or anybody else for that matter.

Superintendent Brooks hasn't been around Albuquerque long enough to show us much in the way of pep talks. Right now might be a good time to start breaking out some well-needed locker room inspiration.

Personally, I don't need a pat on the back, virtual or otherwise, but an announced reduction in the number of "short cycle assessments" from three to two this school year might be just the ticket to our putting up with lower pay and half-assed remediation implementations.

A move like that might even make me go buy some thrift-store pom-poms and lead a cheer or two. Maybe.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Here's Hoping the Logic Gives You a Headache Instead of the Blogger

A reader (frequent?, occasional?, almost never?) of this blog informed me today (and I paraphrase):

"I read your blog sometimes, but you get so deep it gives me a headache".

I doubt this quote will appear on the dust jacket of my upcoming best-selling compilation of blogposts entitled Wading Through A Morass of Pointless Words. Look for that on Amazon....uh never.

I may be a jerk, but I really am not interested in giving people headaches. So let me simplify today's AYP/NCLB follies from New Jersey, and then just link to a migraine inducing morass of a pdf from the state where half the previous political officeholders are on their way to jail.

After a big hullabaloo about "raising academic standards", New Jersey made their NCLB standardized test harder in 2008. Then they just revised downward the percentage of proficiency required for schools to "meet AYP".

The end. Period. No more headache-inducing depth. They "raised standards" while "lowering standards". What's that hip acronym for this sort of thing...FTW?

And speaking of hip, hips and weight. Let's simply look at this another simple way. New Jersey basically said they really needed to lose weight. So they set an admirable goal of losing 15 lbs. And then they set the weight scale to -10 lbs. before weighing themselves. Or maybe -20 lbs. You can't really tell. But you can trust New Jersey...they really are losing weight! Honest! (just like the politicians)

They also changed the "safe harbor" provision rules because they realized no schools were going to be able to achieve "safe harbor" on a harder test. But explaining that would take us straight to the deep end of the pool, and we ain't going there tonight.

I do feel bad about the headaches. If there's anything I can do...get you an ibuprofen or something, just let me know.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dear Teachers: Everything You Know Is Wrong

...the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Katherine Merseth, told a conference in March that of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job and “the others could be shut down tomorrow.”
--New York Times, "Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?", 8.16.09
Always fun to see folks who agree with you come from Harvard and get quoted in the New York Times. I didn't go to Harvard myself, only the University of New Mexico for my "teacher training", and I feel pretty comfortable that UNM would fit squarely in the 1,200 educator training graduate schools that "could be shut down tomorrow" category.

The NYT "Room For Debate" discussion on the subject of teacher training is a good read, one I imagine would shock many teachers used to the company paradigm of:

More Education = More Better

I guess it makes sense that anything less than a 100% direct relationship between education and teacher quality would rock the world of teachers. I mean, we're in the business of selling education. Telling people there's a diminishing return to our product, or that some brands of our product aren't worth buying, is antithetical to the business and the sales pitch. The time-share that is "learning" won't be much in demand if we admit that many of the intellectual properties are situated next to a sewage treatment plant.

But is learning education? Is education learning? Are educator training programs either of those two things?

Meanwhile it's time to forget about the theoretical for another year, and time to actually figure out what the heck my classroom is doing on the 1st Period of Day One, Thursday of this week.
About 72 hours from right now.

P.S.: And speaking of 72 hours from now, a meeting is being held today to inform schools on how we are to implement the "America's Choice™" remediation program in Math. I've written a thing or two on "America's Choice™", and it is so beautifully apropos that we are being informed how to teach a massively intrusive (with impacts on everything from entire school "master schedules" to availability of student electives) curriculum-in-a-box three days before the beginning the school year.

You know, AFTER the schedules have already been made, and AFTER the student's registered and got their schedules, and AFTER all that. You know. Just like they train us in those educator preparation graduate programs.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

NM Educators: The Grass Is Just As Brown and Dying On The Other Side of the Testing Fence

There are differences between public education/testing in Washington State and New Mexico:
  • Washington has a test called the "WASL" which was intended to be the Beatles White Album of standardized testing, but....
  • Washington "SAT scores have been consistently among the best in the nation"
  • Washington elects its state education leader (the poorly worded "Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction")
But when you come down to it, things are every bit as screwed up in Olympia as they are in Santa Fe. Hmmm...that's saying a lot. That's a pretty bold statement. Just how screwed up would an organization have to be to equal the amount of screw up at the NM Public Education Department? If that amount of screw up could be harnessed somehow, could it possibly provide enough energy to completely replace the use of fossil fuels in this country?

Something to ponder while reading this editorial from the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Enemy Without Unites Within...Otherwise Screw Off, Loser!

Quiz Time: Remember use only a Number Two Pencil...


A. Rallying together when someone from outside the tribe attacks the tribe
B. Making sure everyone inside the tribe is taken care of as well as possible
C. Threatening the life of the tribe leader when in opposition to an idea or policy
D. All of the above
E. A and C, but not B
F. A and B, but not C
G. It depends on how much my taxes go up
H. This quiz was designed by a "liberal" and therefore is invalid as "liberals" are not allowed to use the word Patriotism, you can look it up, it's in the Constitution, and the Founding Fathers...
I. Hitler
J. Socialism
K. Death Panel
L. The hypotenuse
M. None of the Above

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AYP: Woe Is Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, Well Not Really

Unlike New Mexico, public education in Minnesota has an excellent reputation.

And yet 46% of the schools in the Land of 10,000 Lakes failed to make AYP this year. Not quite as high as the percentage of New Mexico schools, but still enough to make you think the citizens of Minnesota would be clutching their hearts and choking on their lutefisk. You'd think the outcry over this fact would be massive.

But it's not.

Taking a look at Minnesotan news coverage of the test reports, you get a far different perspective than the one presented down here in the Land of The Sky Is Falling. For one thing, unlike Albuquerque Journal stories where Superintendents get one, maybe two quotes explaining things, the Minnesota stories allow school officials to stretch their mental legs a bit. Consider this lengthy look at the other side of the NCLB coin from a TV station in Austin, MN:
The grades are in when it comes to No Child Left Behind and one local superintendent says things really aren't as bad as they look. New figures from the state show that nearly half of the schools in Minnesota are not making their annual progress goals. As parents, should we be concerned about that? It's been said, "the numbers don't lie".

But maybe they don't tell the whole story.

"The district was labeled essentially not making adequate yearly progress," says (Austin School Official) John Alberts. AYP came out of the no child left behind law, which says that all students must be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. Student demographics were different when the standards were put in place 8 years ago. "Maybe someone needs to take a look at it and adjust it to meet the needs that are different than the intention," says (Austin) Superintendent David Krenz.

But along the way, there are benchmarks beyond the adequate yearly progress figures to measure their progress. "So districts can also show growth in different areas, while at the same time not meeting the AYP mark," Alberts says. But along the way, there are benchmarks beyond the adequate yearly progress figures to measure their progress. So districts can also show growth in different areas, while at the same time not meeting the AYP mark," Alberts says.

And the Austin school district showed that growth. "Three percent progress, as a matter of fact," Alberts says. "If you look at research into what 21st century schools need to look like, it goes well beyond a test," says Krenz.

And that's a TV station report.

Then there's this story Minnesota Public Radio that I would like to frame and send to every public school teacher in New Mexico. The entire tone of the piece is paradigmatically unlike anything you see/read here. An excerpt:

There were, however, a few dozen schools that improved enough this year to be taken off the list, including Mankato West High. Even so, principal Brian Gersich isn't celebrating too much.

"We're not on the list, but it might not be by much," he said. "And we have to continue to focus our time and energy in those areas. We're not setting up the ticker tape parade because we're not on it this year. We could very well be on it next year."

Gersich says he hopes parents remember that plenty of schools on the list are of the highest caliber. In fact, he thinks every single school in the state is doomed to a spot on the list if the No Child Left Behind law doesn't changed.

That change might be on the way. NCLB is up for renewal and Congress is expected to take up that debate later this year.

David Heistad, the head data analyst for Minneapolis schools, says he thinks the law will change to increase emphasis on how much each student improves each year, even if that student started with very low proficiency.

It's a change Heistad says would save many schools in his district from the label of "failing."

"We'll still have tests and they'll still be given every year, as far as I can tell, so you can measure growth from one year to another," said Heistad. "But I think the dynamic around labeling schools as 'failing schools' is going to change."

I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say if I read a passage like the above from a New Mexico media outlet I would both fall out of my chair and have a heart attack. It's like these Minnesotans are from a different planet or something. It's like all those lakes are full of drinking water than chills one out, so to speak.

And I'll spare further gigantor quotes, but here's another Minnesota story from the small town of Morris. And here's a TV report from Mankato. And so on (note the long quote slamming NCLB). And so on.

For a place quite obviously beginning the horrific collapse of its public education system, Minnesotans seem both calm about the scores and optimistic about positive changes to No Child Left Behind. If only they could share some of that serenity with us down here in New Mexico.

Monday, August 10, 2009

AYP: Okay, What Are We Going To Do? (Warning: highly teacher-centric)

In the wake of this year's report on standardized test scores, and the oncoming tsunami of the upcoming school year, I've had more than one teacher-type person ask me: alright Scot, what are we gonna do?

Damn good question. In part it's a good question because the question isn't the same for all of us. Some want testing done away with altogether ("blow it up, blow it to Hell"). Some want it tweaked a little, others a lot. Then there's the area to tweak, and whether that tweaking focus should be at the federal or state level.

Those who've at least tried to put up with my verbosity here know that I definitely stand on the tweak side of the blow up-tweak continuum, both in terms of what's realistic (in my mind) and actually good for our students. Given my slant, and realizing that it's a position and course of action that doesn't address the "blow it all to Hell" folks, I'll just roll a few ideas and see if we can start a discussion that goes beyond verbose bitching/bastarding (I'm trying this new word out to take the gender aspect out of bitching), moaning, etc., and gets us to some real action.

Here goes:

  • At the federal level we should bother in a loving and supportive way Senators Bingaman and Udall. Senator Bingaman is on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and on that outfit's Subcommittee on Children and Families, which deals directly with No Child Behind. Senator Udall is a good guy who knows Washington far better than all our newbie Congresspeople. Both Senators need to know more about how NCLB is being implemented in New Mexico, how it differs in implementation here from other states and that is unfair, uninformative and unhelpful in its current implementation both here and everywhere. I think we should be both specific with our personal tales of horror (e.g., watching Special Education kids take the tests) and general in offering useful solutions nationwide, not just in New Mexico.
  • Attention should especially be paid to these fine folks immediately after the health care debacle ends. Various guesstimates have put discussion of NCLB Reauthorization as coming after health care is dealt, or not dealt, with.

One little side note on the State situation. Notice how 99 percent of the attention in the last score report news cycle went to the graduation rate? That's a good thing (the attention, not the lousy graduation rate). Kinda like the steroids "debate" in baseball, the whole AYP thing has grown stale to many folks. Of course, we as teachers (and students) still have to deal with it. But now's the perfect time to tweak it at the state level and make it better. And who says I'm a naysaying, cynical curmudgeon?
  • I urge as many folks as possible to contact the NM Public Education Department, especially Secretary Veronica Garcia's office and the Assessment and Accountability Division. Get to know what both the Secretary's office and the "accountability" division do. Find out how decisions are made on testing procedures and rules. Offer to work on developing new rules. Use your experiences as evidence for why these rules and procedures must be changed.
  • Press the Governor. Bill Richardson has made it clear: legacy = education. And he doesn't have much time left. Regardless of what you may think of him or his "graduation initiative" the 2010 session promises to be the perfect time to strike on new initiatives across the spectrum of K-12. Go for it.
  • Talk to your legislator. Ask him or her what they know about these issues and offer to both help them better understand and "help them" decide how to act in next year's session. The education budget is a huge part of the State's finances. Teachers and other participants in education have, to this point, done far too little to both help and cajole decision-making that applies to us.
The Union
  • Believe it or not, I think the Union is as much the problem here as a solution. And that's outside the performance of the Union itself. A big problem, in my mind, is that the Union is relied on far, far, far too much to "solve" things. This is especially strange as just about no one really expects the Union to be able to solve much of anything. We teachers tend to use the Union as a place to clean our mental plates of issues too complicated to bother really thinking about ourselves. And that's bullshit. A teacher's union might be sufficient to work out a collective bargaining agreement with a district, but enacting real change requires more from individual members of both the Union and the workforce. Quit waiting for the Union to do something. Let's do it ourselves.
The District
  • I could be wrong here, but my sense of Superintendent Brooks is that he doesn't give a rat's ass about the NCLB requirement that "100% of students be proficient by 2014". And that's good. He talks about meaningful, but realistic academic growth as the goal, and what we have to do is make him (and the District) follow through on that goal versus the stupid NCLB goal. Pressure needs to be exerted to point out all the stupid things we have to do based on the stupid goal. These include having three short-cycle assessments every year, the whole idiotic "continuous improvement" crap "failing" schools have to endure, and the use of curriculum-in-a-box solutions that involve radical schedule changes that help gut non-"testing" academic programs (music, etc.). Why should we do these things if we don't believe in the NCLB goal? If we're making realistic growth goals why can't we just continue to do the successful things we're doing?
The School (now comes the scary part)

Another short note: Teachers are some of the nicest folks you'd ever want to meet. And that's a damn shame. We tend to be more malleable than gold and more easy to manipulate than Gumby. That's gotta stop. Please make it stop. To that end, here's a suggestion or two:
  • We should fight having all these "short-cycle assessments" at every turn. Three is too damn many assessments, especially given that's on top of the standardized test itself. We need to argue with our administrators, head teachers and whoever else has any line of communication with "central office" on this point. We need to complain about how these assessments result in schedules for kids that leave them with no elective, and urge parents to better understand both the assessments and the result they have on their children.
  • We should avoid participating in the curriculum-in-a-box solution foisted upon us whenever possible. We should not sit idly and let this get dumped in our laps. I know administrators are desperately trying to find teachers to teach "Math Navigator", etc. Sorry, find somebody else.
  • We need to get better informed on what all this testing means. Naturally, my suggestion is that every APS teacher spend 1500 hours reading this stupid blog. But maybe that's too draconian. How about I merely suggest teachers get to know the ins and outs of the testing rules, the statistics behind it all and the methodologies employed. I know, I know...there's a whole bunch of math-phobe teachers out there. And yes, I'm looking at you, dear Language Arts/Social Studies colleagues. But Hell, if a Mathematically deficient Political Science major like me can learn a thing or two, ANYBODY can. We need to stop that ostrich-head-sand tendency and get to know what we're really dealing with here. When you do, you realize this system is even stupider than we originally thought and that knowledge can give us the power to change it.
  • Most important of all, we need to communicate with each other. The lack of teacher knowledge about what goes on in other classrooms down the hall, down the street at the next school, etc. has been perhaps the single most astounding thing I've encountered as an educator. We don't know ANYTHING about what ANYBODY is doing. Well, I hear tell there's this new Internet thing, and it has like this email thing where you can write to folks and hear back from them. How about we use it and ninety-eleven other ways to keep up with each other? Getting serious, how about we use it to let others know how the fight is going at our school? That we aren't alone and that we can learn from each other how best to handle, change, obliterate negative policies? And maybe make our own practice better along the way? I know, crazy talk....
As per normal, I'm gone on far too long, and in this case written to an extremely small audience (outraged teachers willing to read stuff that goes on far too long). Still, maybe just maybe we can really do something this time. And they persist in calling me a cynic.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

AYP Texas: Statistical Snake-Oil Hits a Gusher And We Should Buy Some For New Mexico Right Now

I spent my weekend trying to understand new AYP counting rules Texas somehow roped the U.S. Department of Education into accepting.

Oh, that's not right: I actually spent a nice weekend at home, sprinkled with a bike ride out to the Rio Puerco and a partial night at the bizarrely crowded Marble Street Brewery.

But enough about me, let's talk explosions of dense statistics.

Texas did real, real good on their version of the standards-based assessment this year (the TAKS). And I say that as a former, lapsed Texan. Real, real good. Okay, the graduation rate sucks in Texas, too, but the scores this year was great compared with 2008.

But looking deeper, you can see the mention of something called the Texas Projection Measure. And that's where my weekend (outside of bike rides and beer) comes in. You see, despite what many of us in the K-12 teaching game in New Mexico may think, other states are doing all kinds of "interesting" things when it comes to standardized testing and scoring of said testing.

All kinds of things. And 99.7% of readers of this blog have probably tired weeks ago of me pointing out these "interesting" things. But I'm tellin''s interesting man, really!

I'd never make it in a sales job. Anyway, here's the deal.

The Texas Department of Education submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education that Texas be allowed to use this mind-twistingly complicated statistical model to predict how kids who failed this year's TAKS will most likely do on the TAKS two years from now.'s the good part...and if the statistical model showed that these failing kids now would most likely pass two years from now they'd go ahead and just count the kid as passing now.

I swear I'm not making that up.

And the U.S. Department of Education accepted this statistical thingamabob, the Texas Projection Measure.

And as you find buried about midway in the Austin American-Statesman story linked above:
The introduction of the Texas Projection Measure helped schools climb the accountability ladder. More than half of the 2,151 exemplary schools in the state were bumped up to that level because of the measure.
Now ain't that sweeter than a field of bluebonnets under an azure Texas sky? Especially as news story after news story from the Lone Star State is proudly reporting the scores as evidence that, once again, Texas is a whole 'nother country where just about all the kids are "exemplary".

Still, some are critical of the Texas Projection Measure. A Frances Deviney from something called the "Center for Public Priorities" says it:
"does a disservice to the students and the schools by masking the true number of kids still struggling to meet the state's academic standards."
Now I tend to think differently about this than Frances Deviney. I say if you talk somebody into letting you play a baseball game where you get five outs and the opponent gets three, you do it. If you can rig it so your batters get four strikes, run 75 feet to first base instead of 90 and get to throw spitballs....well, then I'm damn well gonna hock up a loogie and get to pitchin'.

And that's basically what's happening here. Texas is giving themselves (with Fed blessing) five outs. New Mexico still gets three. Or really only one, considering that's all it takes to "fail" on the 37-part AYP scoring.

So I admire what Texas is doing here, and Georgia and all the other states who have created more "sophisticated" rules here than we have in New Mexico. I admire them and am very, very, very pissed off at my State Department of Education for not having the gumption to do the same.

And here's another reason I admire Texas and blame New Mexico. In fact, here's the real reason. The Texas Projection Measure is an attempt to create what's called in the business a "growth model" for student performance. Instead of simple one-size-fits-all "proficiency" scores, Texas is trying to create individualized scoring that shows significant and proven growth in student skills.

Now it may also be true that all the statistical mumbo-jumbo has a political motive, one of waiting out the current insane No Child Left Behind requirement and giving Texas a year or two of cover until a new NCLB is created.

Nevertheless, New Mexico needs to learn two lessons here:
  1. Other states are successfully petitioning the Feds to allow for flexibility in standardized test scoring.
  2. Other states are creating "growth models" that take into account the skills and needs of individual students.
And here in New Mexico, in Albuquerque where the latest AYP scores show 9.9% of its middle school Special Education students were "proficient" in Math, we can't even get a damn alternative assessment for kids meticulously screened, tested and monitored as having significant educational deficits.

I don't care whether you call it cheating, gaming the system or want to feel better and just call it a "growth model"...not doing something like our whole 'nother country to the East is both stupid and incredibly hurtful to our students.

Back When The Health Care Debate Was Relatively Sane

It's late 2008, and Princeton Economist Uwe Reinhardt writes a little series for the New York Times explaining why health care costs so much in the United States (reg. required?). Dr. Reinhardt includes the graph above, explains it. Commenters make largely substantive additions to the debate. No one brings up much in the way of "eugenics", "socialism" or "best health care system in the world".

Part II in the series is here

Part III in the series is here

Part IV in the series is here

The last essay in the series is from December 12, 2008. Right at nine months ago. Seems like nine million years ago.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Today in "Experts Say": Clunkers Edition

According to some estimates, the total of $3 billion in the Cash for Clunkers program could result in an $18 billion boost to the overall economy....Auto industry experts estimate that 750,000 clunkers will be scrapped as a result of the program, leading to the sale of 750,000 new cars., 8.7.09


$3 billion, divided by an average of $4,000 per "clunkers" rebate = .....uh....carry the one...uh....


How do these "auto industry experts" do it? Man I wish I could be one of them "auto industry experts"!

Meanwhile, space travel experts say Falling Satellite X still has a 70% chance of landing in water....

AYP Denouement: Time To Go To Work

I've tried this summer to personally get a better handle on this standardized testing thing, and to pass on what I've learned as I think I learn it.

But like most things, when one starts really peeling layers they only find more layers. And more layers. And even more layers. And pretty soon the layer peeler is so far away from those not peeling layers that the layer peeler speaks a language nobody else understands and can generally be considered a "strange talking little weirdo".

Hi, I'm the strange talking little weirdo.

And, trying to be objective about it, the big reason I'm a weirdo is that 99.9% of all observers of and participants in this standardized testing mania feel one (or more) of the following four things:
  • No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Standardized Testing Is So Stupid That We Should Just Avoid Thinking About It
  • NCLB Testing Proves Public Schools Are Bad
  • NCLB Testing Has Problems But Is Here To Stay And That's the Way It Is, So Deal With It
  • NCLB Testing Has Problems And Many of Those Will Get Fixed When NCLB Get Reauthorized, So Let's Put Up With It For The Foreseeable Future
And given these viewpoints, the very strong tendency is to have a visceral reaction to NCLB while avoiding any real rational investigation into the whys and wherefores of it.

I'm not blaming anybody for that. For one thing, it's damn complicated. I could go into strange talking little weirdo mode and tell you in 713,000 words just how complicated it is, but that's kinda the problem here. Here's a scenario that has played out, I'm betting, many, many times at Burque Babble in recent days as the scores have come in:

Concerned Internet Searcher: Alright, let's find out how my school did on these tests.
Google: Hey, Concerned Internet Searcher, here is a list of hits for the search terms "Volcano Vista AYP Albuquerque"....1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Burque Babble Yadda-Yadda-Yadda AYP Albuquerque
Concerned Internet Searcher: Whoo-hoo! This Burque Babble should have some info, let's click on that!
(CIS clicks and pages changes to large picture of goat and 675,000 words of impenetrable text)
Concerned Internet Searcher: What the Hell is all this crap? I just wanna know how Volcano Vista did? Did we pass or not? I'm gonna go check that little "yes/no" chart at Screw word diarrhea boy here....

So let's just say it's complicated.

So complicated that even those professional directly affected, my colleagues for instance, will show up this upcoming Wednesday morning for the very first day of work, see our test scores on a projection screen, and immediately start talking about how stupid the testing is and that will be that.

And unlike last year, when I actually did open my mouth and made a point about how small sample sizes make slight positive variances meaningless (big mistake), I'm not gonna say diddly-squat. I'm not going to mention to anyone that I'm a strange little weirdo who has spent probably 15 hours looking over school-by-school test reports for 2009. Who has written obscure 713,000 word posts on things like confidence intervals and AYP regulatory differences between State X and State Y.

I'm just gonna drink my bad, weak-ass staff meeting coffee as fast as I possibly can, nod my head in acknowledgement when fellow staffers make observations about how stupid the test is or how much better the 57 kids in a particular subgroup did versus last year, and if directly asked (and only if directly asked) I will simply say:

"Well, it's complicated."

And then go to the oasis that is my classroom and get to work planning a school year.

The one difference this year is that along with teaching I want to use the strange little weird information I've gathered, and destroy NCLB in New Mexico as it is currently implemented. I cannot expect much in the way of involvement from my colleagues in this regard, as they are busy implementing the crazy tenets of NCLB in New Mexico, and, besides, it's complicated.

The same might be said of my Union, my District, my State Department of Education. I'm going to continue peeling layers and find out what can be done and if anyone really wants to do it. I am not terribly optimistic.

And, speaking truthfully, at some point in the upcoming Semester I'm sure the daily energy thrown into my classroom and my love for what I do in that classroom will replace any energy I have for the frustrating process of getting NCLB implementation changed here. And that process of replacement will continue until at some point I forget all about it and am no longer a strange talking (thinking) little weirdo.

Well, I'll still be a weirdo. But the strange NCLB thoughts will subside and I'll just do my job, and when asked will say "Testing is stupid". And mean it. And mean nothing more than that.

Happy school year, everybody. Let's enjoy this last weekend before that upcoming Wednesday morning staff meeting.

P.S.: I'm just kidding with the resigned fatalism above. We're gonna change the friggin' world!!! Who's with me? C'mon, who's with me? Hello? Is this thing on? Testing...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Governor's Graduation Initiative

Like everybody else, I applaud Governor Richardson for gathering his political energy on the subject of high school graduation. The New Mexico graduation rate is awful. Yesterday's announcement was evidently only the beginning of an 8-step plan that, besides graduation, will tackle the achievement gap that currently exists between whites/economically privileged and people of color/economically disadvantaged.

Like I said. Good. Let's get to work.

That being said, I just want to point out a few obvious things, as we teachers are want to do, on what a serious attempt to deal with these matters entails.
  • There is a tendency to think student achievement and grades go hand in hand with academic rigor and standards. But they can actually go in completely opposite directions. If we become so concerned with retaining all students that we are willing to employ grade inflation, watered-down academic expectations and curricula that don't properly prepare for either college or the workplace, high school diplomas won't mean anything. Even at our current level of grades/standards, many New Mexico students who go to college have to take remedial classes in subjects such as Math.
  • The Governor wants to do a much better job of tracking dropouts, identifying them and returning them to school. Okay, but once back at school we need to give these students something to do. Something that appeals to them and will keep them in school. One thing to consider would be an expansion of non-college track trades programs. For example, how about a solar power system installation program at Albuquerque High School? Now it is very possible the Governor already has plans for an expansion of trades training. Great. Just keep in mind that it will cost money to create/run these programs, money probably far beyond the $8.9 million figure being spouted yesterday.
  • Speaking of money, if the Governor's plan is successful and we get 10,000 current drop outs back in school we have to spend money not only tracking and returning them, but must pay for additional teachers needed because these students are back in school. Some schools will also need additional classrooms.
  • And again, yes AGAIN, speaking of money, retaining high school students is about more than dangling a diploma and the hazy lure of a good job down the road. Perhaps New Mexico could pursue some sort of tangible monetary incentive program as I brought up in my last post to offer more immediate benefits to these students.
  • NM Education Secretary Veronica Garcia yesterday touched on the need for a "cultural shift" when it comes to valuing graduation from high school. She also mentioned the need for "outreach" to help achieve this cultural shift. A Public Service Announcement campaign was even mentioned. While I agree PSA might help in this regard, I just want to make sure the State doesn't spend the simple money on things like PSA campaigns and "tracking" dropouts, without spending the much harder money on things mentioned above. To be honest, leaving it up to PSAs scares me.
  • Lastly, with increased, and very needed, focus on this area we need to avoid losing focus in other areas. Many high schools now are bifurcated institutions. There is one de facto school for college prep, and one de facto school for kids the teachers/parents/administrators are just hoping graduate. If the latter de facto school grows, it must not be at the expense of the college prep school. When the actual dollars and energy start flying here, it's gonna be real hard to avoid robbing college prep school to pay "c'mon let's graduate!" school.
As the Governor's/Secretary's comments yesterday concerned the graduation problem, I'll leave, as they did, the achievement gap issue for another time.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

AYP: Show My Students the Money (and not some test-prep consultant)

Mr. Klein attributed the city’s gains in large part to its efforts to hold teachers and principals accountable for improving scores, including paying students $50, teachers $3,000 and principals up to $25,000 for significant progress.
--from "Gains on Tests in New York Schools Don't Silence Critics", Elisa Gootman & Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, 8.3.09
Fifty bucks, huh? Let's make that one hundred, and leave the teachers and principals out of it (we get paid already). How much would it cost to pay every APS student who scored proficient or better? I tried to find out what the bill could possibly be (100% proficiency), but damn if the District Report link is dead at the NM Public Education Department. Can't find the total number of APS students tested in 2009 there. Btw, could somebody fix that link?

Edit: Proving once again that Burque Babble is the most powerful force in the Universe, the dead link noted above now works. Coincidence? Yeah, almost certainly. Anyway, as the suddenly resurrected report shows, APS tested right at 41,500 "Full Academic Year" students. For purposes of the little riff below, we'll disregard the district figures and proceed as if the link stayed dead.

Okay, let's just use last year's instead. Damn, can't find a link for 2008 either. No link exists at all.

Let's try the APS website.

Of course you know I'm joking when I say that. Saying "Let's try the APS website" is like saying "Let's try to obtain information by slamming our heads into a concrete wall over and over". It's like saying "Let's try to learn more about my school district by sticking a screwdriver in a 220-volt washing machine electrical outlet".

Alright. Let's count school by school from the NM PED website. Okay, let's not. That would take like six hours. Okay, why not just look at my school and say we're running a "Pilot Program"! Whoo-hoo! Pilot Program!

Last year my little middle school tested 883 kids. Remember middle schools usually test relatively large numbers not only because they are typically bigger than elementary schools, but because they test all three grades, unlike high schools which just test 11th graders.

Okay, 883 kids. But in terms of kids that really count, only 794 students were considered to have attended my school for the "Full Academic Year". So we're only paying up to 794 students. I mean, we're generous, but we're not crazy.

794 x $100 = $79,400

Sounds like a ton of money, right? Well, that's the max remember. 100% proficiency. Also, keep in mind that my school is spending somewhere around $25,000 paying for this curriculum-in-a-box program designed by "consultants" to teach struggling kids in Math. Not to mention the fact my school has had to radically change our entire "master" schedule for all students because this curriculum-in-a-box supposedly cannot be taught properly unless a whole separate period is created to do so.

Now you can't put a dollar value on pain in the ass aggravation, but I gotta think creation of this new schedule, all the stupid meetings we had about it, will have about it and assorted pain and suffering for both the kids who have to take this curriculum-in-a-box crap, and those who have to take something else while these other kids have the curriculum-in-a-box crap has to add up to some sort of equivalent to monetary compensatory damages. Not to mention the punitive damages I'd like to monetarily impale these teach-to-the-test consultant hyenas with.

I'm saying it's at least worth the equivalent of $50,000. At least. And combined with the $25,000 already mentioned we're just about at $79,400.

And here's the $79,400 question. Which do you think would lead to a better proficiency rate: The offer of $100 to every kid reaching proficiency (we could make it $50 for proficiency in Math and $50 in Reading) or this curriculum-in-a-box and radically revised "master" schedule?

The Times story doesn't get into any sort of definitive answers on anything, and doesn't touch much on the student pay specifics at all. Yet, New York City isn't the only school system trying things like this. Chicago schools pay students for good grades, but I haven't seen any data at present from the researchers at Harvard who were funding the Chicago program to study the results. Some research is coming in regarding a Texas program to pay students who score well on Advanced Placement tests, and the findings by Cornell University's Kirabo Jackson seem to show a benefit.

Of course there are moral/ethical/educational questions here beyond the simple pragmatics of "will paying students work?" For me, the bottom line is this: I'd rather see students paid than consultants and curriculum-in-a-box makers who don't see kids on a daily basis, have zero accountability themselves and are simply opportunistic scavengers of the testing mania we currently suffer under.

Just as is the case with college athletics, all the players in the standardized testing game get paid, except the actual players. No teacher, administrator, test creator or test publisher expects to work without getting paid here. And I'm betting pretty much all those who scream about how horrible paying students is expect to get paid for doing their job as well.

Oh, and to answer the $79,400 question above: I'd bet 79,400 dollars to doughnuts more kids would become proficient at my school using $100 cash incentives than some curriculum-in-a-box. Take me to the Pilot Program, folks, and let's gamble. Uh, not gamble...uh, no it's not's research. We would be conducting very, very serious research.

P.S.: I truly understand and appreciate the "knowledge for knowledge sake" argument. After all, I'm a guy who got a Master's Degree in Political Science in a mad attempt to do the absolute most studying possible while being guaranteed of making the absolute least amount of money possible. I'm a big proponent of "lifelong learning" and all that. Knowledge might be Power, but I know for a fact it's Fun, and that's way more important than Power to me. Still...let's be honest here and realize that for many the intrinsic rewards of learning stuff might not be as important as they are/were for us, and as they will, hopefully, eventually be for them.

P.P.S.: I know paying for proficiency might be unfair to certain students like Special Education kids. Trust me, I've got a plan, a 47,000 word plan I'd love to lay on ya, but let's face it, this has gone on long enough. Email me if you want even an executive summary of "Leveling the Playing Field: A Monetary Manifesto". See, that Master's in Poly Sci did pay off for me. I can use grammatical colons in titles like nobody's business.

AYP: Other States, Other Scams?

No 50,000 word AYP treatise today, just a link to what might be the Magna Carta and U.S. Constitution combined of AYP regulatory documents.

It's the Alabama "AYP Interpretive Guide"

I'd explain why I think this is the most sublime, elegant and downright tricky piece of bureaucratic prose in educational history, but it would take me 50,000 words to do so.

Besides, why try to compete with a document so deviously formulated and well-written? I am not worthy.

And some people say folks from the Deep South aren't that smart...

Just read it. And yes, it will be on the final exam.

P.S.: I was drawn to the Alabama situation after seeing a stream of "wow, we're fantastic!" newspaper stories on AYP there. Here's just one example. Beautiful. So elegantly tricky; so deliciously devious. I think I might be tearing up. Am I less a man because bureaucratic beauty such as this makes me cry?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

AYP APS: The 2009 Unintentional Humor/Horror Awards

As has been pointed out by at least one observer, we've had enough posts around here on AYP lately to fence the XIT Ranch. And I'd be lying to you if I didn't admit most of 'em have, at times, been drier than the Texas Panhandle, what with all the statistics and numbers and so on.

So let's lighten up a little and hand out some "awards" to individual schools that experienced little weirdnesses in their results/posting, weirdnesses that in many cases will result in a year of utter Hell for the folks attending/teaching/administering at these schools. Hence the "humor/horror" in the title above. To keep the mood light, we'll use an extraordinarily cheesy music theme this year.

And now....the winners!
They Might Be Giants is my all-time favorite "pop" band and they had a song way back in the dark recesses of the 19th Century called "Road Movie To Berlin". The lyrics contain the following:
We were once so close to heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned
Well, in this year's testing La Cueva High School "passed" in every one of many subgroups except "Students With Disabilities". Below is how they did in this area in both Reading & Math:

...........# Tested.................% Proficient.......% Needed to "Pass"

In other words, if one more La Cueva Special Education student had been proficient in Math & Reading La Cueva would have "passed". One. La Cueva isn't alone in this regard, as I found the same situation (with varied subgroups) at Chamiza, Comanche, & Dennis Chavez Elementaries and at 21st Century Charter School. The award goes to La Cueva however, as it's a high school and has that certain name recognition that attracts some and engenders big-time schadenfreude in others when "bad" things happen there.

Of course the true horror here is that there is a Special Education student (or several) who is going to hear about this factoid and feel bad about it. And that kid might be at one of the elementary schools listed above. A little fourth grader. A nine-year old.

See, I told you they were humor/horror awards....
  • The Carly Simon "You're So Vain/You're No Good, You're No Good, You're No Good, Baby You're No Good" Award: All Albuquerque Charter Schools
I think at this point enough people are sophisticated enough to know that test scores from charter schools are bullshit. Charters are always too small to have any scores from subgroups count and many of these schools are created to attract specific populations that better ensure higher scores (e.g. Public Academy for the Performing Arts).

Interestingly, one school that fits the latter categorization, the "Albuquerque Institute of Mathematics and Science" AIMS (aka: The Feudal Prince Marty Chavez School for Cherry-Picked Test Score Statistics) is among several schools whose report link doesn't work at the State PED website. The link worked for a very short time yesterday, then it didn't.

Those wishing to develop dark conspiratorial reasons for this in a campaign season are highly encouraged (although if you look here you see AIMS, aka TFPMCASFCPTSS, shows up as having "passed").

But back to the point on charters in general and why they win this award. The problem here is that even though just about everyone is sophisticated enough to know the scores from these schools are bullshit, they still use charter school scores as comparison with non-charters. For instance, read this thread at Duke City Fix. I think we see where all this is going, and it's no good, it's no good, it's no good, baby it's no good....

Edit: I was out feeding the horses this afternoon and starting humming that "You're no good" song..and I think I remember it's actually a Linda Ronstadt song. Yup, it is. Oh well, I always got those two confused. More of a Joni Mitchell guy myself.
(Note: In terms of full disclosure, I used to work at ABHS. Now I don't . Long story. Buy me enough Marble IPAs at the brewpub and maybe I'll tell you about it sometime. Still, I really like ABHS and refer my exiting 8th students to the school all the time.)

Speaking of charter schools, probably no school has had a better "reputation" this decade than ABHS. But with this year's scores, the school's bullshit has finally caught up with it. Namely, the graduation rate at this place has been abysmal for, forever. And that fact finally raised it ugly little 33% graduation rate head this year, and the school shows up at "failing" in its "additional indicator".

Is Amy Biehl the only high school with a bad graduation rate...absolutely not, as every story on the subject has told us in 52 pt. bold font headlines. But now the "bright lights" are finally on the subject at ABHS, and the school's reputation better matches reality.

Man. When I worked at Hayes Middle School (another "cracked and torn" situation) in the 90s, Mark Twain Elementary was our "good" feeder. Stable families, solid students. Now look at these scores a decade or so later. Mark Twain didn't pass in ANY subgroup. None. There are very few examples of that extreme in the entire district. And Mark Twain is one of them. Think I'll just continue with the "Kids Aren't Alright" lyrics for that one:

Now the neighborhood's cracked and torn
The kids are grown up but their lives are worn
How can one little street swallow so many lives?
Last year Bel-Air didn't "pass" and it wasn't really even close. This year the school scraped by with a remarkable combination of "Safe Harbor" passage (the number of those proficient in a subgroup went up 10% or more than last year's ultra-lousy proficiency scores), just getting by in some areas, and having just too few students to count in subgroups like "English Language Learners" and "Students With Disabilities". With an amazingly small amount of statistical icing, Bel-Air was able to cover up the entire AYP cake.

The odds of doing that again next year would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 to 1. Or worse.
I tend to be sarcastic, so let me disclaim here. I truly respect the Hell out of the students, teachers and administrators at all three of these schools. Truly. There are most likely great things happening at these three institutions. It's a damn shame we're never going to hear anything about those great things, because these schools are never going to come within 1,000 light years of "passing" this AYP thing. Never.

There is a better chance of every student at Polk, a school not too far from my house in the South Valley, winning the World Series of Poker Main Event than there is of the school making AYP. Same with Washington and Highland.

And, really, the same can be said for a bunch of other schools in town for all the reasons I've dryly mentioned in my overly numerous posts in recent days on "AYP: 2009". And all those posts and all those reasons are never going to mean a good goddamn to public school critics who just want to use AYP to prove pet assumptions that schools like Polk are "hell holes" in every way. And that's why these schools "win" this award. Not because what happens within them is necessarily hellish, but because all the students, teachers, parents, and administrators from "passing" public schools, charters and privates can all feel superior and look down at these places.

Of course, now La Cueva HS is just as "failing" as Highland HS. Amy Biehl is no "better" than Polk or Washington or any of the other "failing" schools. Welcome to Hell, folks. Welcome to Hell.