Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CSI: Autopsy of an "Assessment"

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

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

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

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

But going back to



and the "original gangsta" edition in


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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marty & Bill & Veronica & Winston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Not good, people.

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

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

Just think of the Reality Show depths possible then.

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

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

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

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear New Republican Friends of Public Education

Dear Republicans and Republican Party:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nothing Like Some Coltrane (and Elvin Jones) After a Hard Day at Work

Some days are harder than others, and some days are bad enough to require some John Coltrane (preferably with Elvin Jones on drums). Finding video from my favorite period (the not quite so screechy late 50's) is pretty darn hard, but here's a section of "Impressions" from 1963, I believe....

Dig Jones in that (flannel?) shirt as part of a wonderful Coltrane/Jones two-shot about four minutes in. Beautiful...

There...the day is now officially survived. We move on.

P.S.: And if you prefer your Coltrane a bit more melodic, may I suggest an immediate listen to "Traneing In" from 1957? Not as famous as some, and with only the perfectly acceptable Art Taylor on drums instead of the outtasight Elvin Jones, but sublime nonetheless. Paul Chambers on bass....yum. Work..what work?

It's Fall, It's Cooler and I Still Don't Have My Damn Test Scores

Today gets us to Day 23 of School Year 2009-2010. Classes have been going on just over a calendar month now. The Autumnal Equinox has come and gone, and the deliciously cooler weather means I'll need another layer on my bike commute this morning.

And I still don't have my damn scores from the standardized tests administered back in March.

We were told the individualized results would be in our ultra-modern web-based database by September 20th. Well, it's September 22nd now, and where the Hell are they?

We are constantly told about how "high-stakes" these tests are, how pivotal they are to school improvement, how their disaggregation is essential to understanding what works and doesn't work with our students.

But that's quite obviously bullshit, because if these tests were really "high stakes" we'd have the results by now. We would have had them months ago, or at least well before the 23rd day of the next school year. We would quite certainly not have a system with an ultra-modern web-based database dependent on what must be two lowly-paid folks data entering thousands of results by hand into a 1983 Commodore 64 computer.

So the next time someone appears at my school to tell my staff how "high stakes" these tests are, I will join the multitudes who roll their eyes and grumble into their coffee. I give up trying to tell any of my colleagues that there is some usefulness to this madness. You've convinced me, District/NM PED: it just doesn't matter.

So I've officially stopped caring one iota about this testing charade. Keep the same unethical system of testing identified "learning disabled" kids with the same test as those not identified as "learning disabled". I don't care. Keep the scores coming over six months late. Hell, don't give them to us at all. Nobody really cares anyway.

Still, I feel such a chump because it's very, very obvious you guys stopped caring quite some time ago. What a sucker I've been. Writing all this crap about AYP this and confidence interval that. Researching the differing testing rules and regulations between the States...what a pointless exercise.

We're really just going through some half-ass motions until this "standardized testing" fad passes, and we all move on to another shiny pedagogical object to waste our inadequate funding and attention upon.

Honestly, I just wish I wasn't the single stupidest teacher out there. The idealistic one who just now woke up on a deliciously cool morning in Fall, both literally and figuratively.

P.S.: I realize two things: 1. 99.999999% of all possible readers to this post don't care about its subject matter, because, A: They aren't teachers; B: They are teachers who already wisely stopped caring about this stuff years ago; 2. The scores might hit our ultra-modern web-based database later this morning, or tomorrow, or the next day. So this post might have a May Fly's lifespan...but still, does getting the scores today, tomorrow or the next day really alter the well-known fact (obvious to all but me for years) that none of this really matters to anybody?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

''I try to be smart when I'm using my phone when I'm driving.''

Great quote in today's NYT continuing series on the idiocy of cell phoning/texting/tweeting while behind the wheel.

The 25 year-old who made the quote headlined above is also heard to have made the following statements:

  • "I try to be smart when I'm cleaning my loaded gun with the barrel pointed at my chest."
  • "I try to be smart when I'm cooking up and shooting heroin while flying an single-engine airplane in a snowstorm."
  • "I try to be smart when I'm holding a lightning rod during a thunderstorm while climbing a 14er in Colorado."
  • "I try to be smart when I'm at the zoo streaking through the lion and grizzly bear enclosures with slabs of bloody raw meat attached to my naked body."
  • "I try to be smart when I smother my sleeping bag with fish guts before going to sleep in my tent at Denali National Park."
  • "I try to be smart while taking a United States Citizenship Test while going to high school in Oklahoma."*

Okay I'll stop now. Continue having a fine weekend, everybody and remember...the ocean just off the U.S. East Coast is NOT the Indian Ocean. Although it would be very, very cool if that were the case (except for the tsunamis).

*Acknowledgments to Wonkette for the "borrowed" graphic above, but they actually "borrowed" it from some outfit called the "Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs", which was pretty cool in pointing out how d-u-m-b your average Oklahoman person high school student is. Although we must really be fair and admit that students in every other state of the Union would probably do just about as poorly. Well, maybe not quite that bad.

Friday, September 18, 2009

AYP: Down the Rabbit Hole Edition

Dateline: Pennsylvania

The Keystone State will be giving its Special Education students a different standardized test starting in 2010. As this story inelegantly puts it, this is being done because "Special Education students generally perform below their biological grade level, officials said."

First time I've seen the word "biological" used in this manner. Not quite sure that word works, but then again "chronological" doesn't have much of a useful ring to it either.

Anyway, the Alice in Wonderland aspect of the plan isn't biological but, as per normal with all things AYP, statistical. It is this (sorry, long quote ahead...blogger emphasis in bold):

Once the modified PSSA tests are used beginning in 2010, there will be no limit on the number of special education students who can take the exams in each school. However, only 2 percent of the satisfactory scores from the modified tests will count toward the school's proficiency rating when AYP status is being determined, state education officials said.

The remaining results, regardless of how well the special education students performed, will be factored in with the scores of mainstream students who scored in the below basic range, officials said. Below basic suggests a student is performing below his or her grade level.

Given the limitations on how results from the modified exam will be used, local educators wonder if the changes will really make a difference.

"At this point, it's more of a gesture than a solution," Council Rock Superintendent Mark Klein said. "I don't know if it goes far enough and takes into consideration the significant difficulties the special education students face."

So to recap: Pennsylvania Special Ed kids will take an easier test more realistically designed for their identified abilities, but 98% of the Special Ed. kids who get this test will be marked as failing for AYP purposes the second these students receive the easier/shorter/more appropriate test.

And you know you're truly in a Through A Looking Glass situation with White Rabbits and Cheshire Cats when you read the paragraphs above and think...."hey, that kinda makes sense".

Hey, that Pennsylvania solution kinda makes sense.

It makes sense to give Special Education students a more appropriate test, even if you have to count them all as "failing" for even taking the damn thing, because the whole standardized testing thing is itself a surrealistic sham. It's full of Fish-Footman and Frog-Footman, tea parties and Mad Hatters.

What's one more tab of nonsensical acid in a giant punchbowl of spiked insanity?

Or something like that.

Meanwhile, speaking of Theatre of the Absurd, I'll close with reference to another Pennsylvania school situation. A school district is trying to close down a charter school. Lawyers for both the district and the charter are using AYP results as argumentation. Think of the possibilities:

Vast Amount of Statistical Interpretation Possibilities + Attorneys = Endless Costly Fun For the Whole Taxpaying Family!

And speaking of family fun, have a good weekend everybody. Remember, avoid the giant punchbowl of spiked insanity. Especially the brown punch. Avoid the brown punch. In fact, it's probably best to always avoid brown punch, now that I think about it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

That Baldrige "Continuous Improvement" Stuff Is Working Wonders I Tell Ya!

Back in May I posted a little something about the Long Beach (California) Unified School District receiving a grant in 2004 to...well, I'll just repost the same story snippet I used back then:

The Broad Foundation recently awarded $1.14 million to the Long Beach Unified School District to expand the district’s award-winning use of Baldrige strategies for continuous improvement at schools and central offices.

The three-year grant will help to increase use of the techniques throughout the district, including elementary, middle, K-8 and high school classrooms.

I recalled that grant as I ran across a story today on how Long Beach Unified did on their 2009 AYPs:
In the Long Beach Unified School District, 44 percent of schools met federal standards this year, down from about 50 percent last year.

Statewide, about half of California schools this year met federal targets set as part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Now that's Continuous Improvement folks! California schools not using sophisticated, state-of-the-art, fantabulous Baldrige strategies... "about half" pass. Long Beach, with its double-secret Baldrige ninja throwing stars of Continuous Improvement...."44 percent".

Yowza! With eye-popping results like that I can hardly wait to experience 300,000 hours of externally mandated Baldrige-filled staff meetings at my school! Continuously Improve me baby!

Baldrige Fever: Catch It!

Standardized Testing Research In Progress

While mired in my recent look at APS middle school websites (a task now, finally, finished) I took breaks by looking into what is, I think, a little-known fact.

Back in 2008, The N.M. Public Education Department made a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education. The proposal centered on inclusion of an "Individual Student Academic Change" (ISAC) growth model calculation (proposal documentation here), instead of the "let's just look at schools year by year and see how many kids are proficient" model that's been in place since No Child Left Behind was created.

Now the proposal was rejected, for reasons outlined in this massively bureaucratic "decision letter", but I find intriguing both the proposal, and the fact that 99.9% percent of those in NM K-12 education field have no idea this proposal ever existed.

In one of my typical half-assed research occurrences, I can't even tell you exactly how I ran across this thing. I think it started when I went to the U.S. Department of Ed. site looking to hook my financial teeth into some of the billions of new dollars the DoEd is filling everybody's wheelbarrow with these days. One thing led to another and pretty soon I'm finding an obscure remark buried by NM PED Secretary Veronica Garcia in her AYP 2008 "Why Our Scores Suck" (WOSS) report:

In 2008, the PED submitted a growth model proposal. Unfortunately, under proposal guidelines,
New Mexico had a difficult time making the growth-based model fair for our small schools and our proposal was not accepted.

Now I know it's very possible every single person in New Mexico already knows all this, and that I've basically uncovering the patently obvious here. That happens all the time. But if so I sure haven't heard anybody talking about it in the last 18 months.

And that's a bit strange because just about every single K-12 education colleague I've spoken to in the last 18 months hasn't taken more than four seconds from our intitial greeting before apoplectically gryating into a long tirade about how much "standardized testing is Satan" and "it's all a sham" and "I swear I'm going to quit and become a tax attorney or night manager at Wendy's because of this standardized testing crap".

Yet here's a proposal from our good 'ol Public Education Department that would have, at least on the surface, gone quite a ways toward making the whole AYP/standardized testing thing make sense.

In fact, it's the kind of proposal (and rejection) that if I was PED Secretary I'd want every single teacher, school adminstrator and janitor to know about every second of every working day. I would make constant references to it as proof the PED was doing something about an unfair system and would most certainly do so again the very next chance we get. In fact, if I were PED Secretary I'd put the following message on my voice mail and make sure everyone who called me got to hear:

"Hi, I'm the Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department. And yes the term 'Secretary' is antiquated and sort of bothers me, but I'm in charge here and that's what counts. Did you know we made a proposal to blow up the stupid way AYP is calculated and replace it with a system that actually addresses individual student needs? Well we did. And don't you forget it. Meanwhile, I'm gone right now trying to actually blow up a federal building because they turned us down. Bastards. So leave a message."

I've sent out a few emails to folks in the past few weeks trying to get more information, but, to be honest, haven't heard much of anything back. I also sent an email to Senator Cynthia Nava, guru of all things education in the NM Legislature, but she hasn't written me back either. I wrote to her in particular about...

Sen. Nava — creates a six-year voluntary school accountability pilot project based on a
student growth model for grades 4 through 8 that is separate from but complementary to the
existing school accountability system; and phases in the project over two years. (For the

that I found looking through "Bill Finder" at the NM Legislative site. Hmm..."growth model....pilot project..grades 4 through 8...." Hmmm....

The bottom line is that I'm just like Dylan's "Mr. Jones" (as per normal). Something is most definitely happening and I don't know what it is.

Which is fine and normal...but it does strike me that it would seem to be in quite a few people's best interest for myself and my K-12 educational colleagues to be informed about this stuff. It would seem that, if properly educated on the issue, that my colleagues and I would be enthused and inspired that something was being done/attempted. It would seem to be quite the Public Relations bonanza for a Department woefully short of PR success.

But what do I know. Truth be told, not a Hell of a lot. Sure would like to know more though.

P.S.: Attention middle school teachers: Did you know that neither the State nor Feds absolutely require any sort of assessments for grades 3-8. Well, that's what this long, long document (look at Attachment 1) from the NM Legislative Study Committee appears to indicate. I say we pile up all the Gates, A2L/DBA and SBA tests for middle schoolers on the school soccer field and set them on fire. Today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

APS and Facebook: The Uncool Meets the Perhaps Even Less Cool

Friends are giving me unmitigated, and wholly deserved, grief about "joining" Facebook. Yes, I'm "on" Facebook. Yes, I for quite some time railed against this service only to recently, hypocritically, "join" it.

I offer no defense for this lapse in judgment, and only ask: can someone tell me what the big deal is with this "service"? After about a month I still don't get it, or why it was supposedly worth a billion dollars at one point.

Meanwhile, I see now that the Albuquerque Public Schools has a Facebook "presence".

Like I said...I don't get Facebook. If both I and APS are joining this thing it must be very, VERY uncool to join.

Meanwhile, one can easily speculate that this Facebook thing is part of the "new look" for APS and that "social networking" will be a big part of Version 2.0 (Emergence From 1993).

Which is surely another sign that both "social networking" and Facebook have jumped the shark, if, in fact, it is possible for things that were never very good to, indeed, "jump the shark".

APS is to technology as Chris Kattan was to "Saturday Night Live", as killing Adriana was to "The Sopranos". Who knows if Facebook will even survive this.

Reviewing APS Middle School Websites: Volume VIII, Let's All Hum Europe's "The Final Countdown"

If all good things must come to an end, really bad things must really come to an end. Like immediately.

And so it is with our reviewing of APS middle school websites. What began as a simple, and simplistic, attempt to make a point has taken on a rather dark and lengthy life of its own. Yes, I knew there were 27 APS middle schools going into this thing. But little did I know that going to these 27 sites would be so psychologically damaging. So soul-crushing.

Long distance runners speak of "hitting the wall". Well, I hit the wall here about 20 schools ago. Ever since roughly John Adams MS it's been a slog of ultra-marathon proportions. I need a website PowerBar....I need some fluids....I need to see a finish line.

And there it is, shimmering before us. The end. Let's "break the tape" on this thing. Let's "kick", go slam some oranges and get a massage.

For those who haven't paced me during this shindig, it's a simple 1 - 10 rating scale, with:

1 = bonking to the point of bodily evacuations and collapse upon the roadway

10 = overtaking the Kenyan contingent and winning the NYC Marathon

26. Washington Middle School. Rating: 1.5

I seriously feel like Krusty the Clown at this point. "Oh buddy. This I don't need." Yes, at this point in the reviewing process I feel like a misanthropic clown with a heart condition. But we move past this first "gut" reaction to the WMS homepage and move onward.

The Washington MS site has some stuff on the homepage. A declaration about its "Dual Language" school status, which is cool. A link to the "Dress Code" and a "Supply List". Fine. An announcement about a flamenco program. Interesting.

And then you have some links to some other internal pages, and that's where things go wrong. Just as is the case at pretty much all the other middle school websites. A few links ("teacher resources" for instance) have at least some information on them, but others, like the faculty and class pages, are almost entirely bereft.

Sitting lonely as the world's last passenger pigeon perches the class webpage for a Mr. Mulder, 7th Grade Science teacher. I would personally like to applaud Mr. Mulder for being the ONLY teacher with a class webpage at WMS. I acknowledge him for several reasons, not the least of which is the almost certain fact somebody (or more than one somebody) at his school has asked him "why would you want to have a class webpage?"

Mr. Mulder, I humbly and sincerely honor you as someone willing to stand alone on the frozen field of website notoriety. I looked at your website, Mr. Mulder, learned your first name is Don and that you served in the Air Force and Navy. Learning such things reminded me that it would be nice to know a little more about your many colleagues at WMS. Like their names. Or their email addresses. Anything.

27. Wilson Middle School. Rating: 1

Only fitting we end up at another "Professional Innovations" website. Other than noting that the few staff members who have webpages at Wilson have bizarre non-functioning links to MSN and Yahoo pages, I think I'll just dispense with the usual tirade against "Professional Innovations" and make a few closing comments.

Closing (Finally...Yeah!!!!!) Comments:
  • By the way, Wilson's website is lousy, too.
  • Readers will have noticed I tend to focus on the class/faculty/staff pages at these websites. Why? Well, it's not because I'm trying for a "gotcha", making fun of these places in a vulnerable area. I know staff turnover is high, and that keeping up-to-date with the many changes is difficult. But not EVERY SINGLE STAFFMEMBER is replaced every school year. Plenty of middle school teachers stay at the same place for 15, 20, 25 years. Yet, still nothing or a frustratingly close next-to-nothing from many of them. Why?
  • And don't give me that "well, our kids and their parents are poor and can't afford the Internet". That act is tired. I don't have a number in front of me, but the percentage of internet-connected homes is much, much higher than when many of these websites were last updated.
  • And I know the demands of teaching and administration make little things like updating a webpage seem inconsequential. I know. I'm a teacher.
  • And I know school "technology coordinators" are very busy people, with little time for website update.
  • But those are poor reasons to have websites last updated in 2007.
  • And yes, having an updated website IS important. Really. I know it wasn't that important in the days of Geocities vanity webpages and Mosaic 2.0.
  •, dear reader, are on the know.
  • But somehow these schools DON'T KNOW. And one thing they don't know is that they have all these 8th grade kids just sitting around as "classroom aides" who would LOVE to update some webpages. That some geeky staffmembers would be thrilled to have updated pages if only someone would tell them how to connect to the school website. That there are millions of website creation tools infinitely better than "Professional Innovations" that wouldn't cost anybody anything to use.
Alright. I'm finally done. Time to go to school 90 seconds early and update my class webpage. Thanks for sticking this ultra-marathon out, dear reader. I don't know if all of this has/will have a pimple on a butt's worth of impact on anything, but perhaps a point has been made. And remade and remade and remade and....

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reviewing APS Middle School Websites: Volume VII, A Nerd's Birthday Bash

Some people celebrate a birthday with a party. Others take a long hike celebrating the glory that is a life well-lived.

I'm spending this morning slamming coffee, sprinting between Euro soccer games on ESPN360 and looking at a few more APS middle school websites.

And they say I don't know how to party....

To recap, over the last two centuries weeks we've examined in brief, yet highly divergent, detail the up and downs of these websites in alphabetical order. We've laughed, we've cried...we've mostly cried. The websites have generally been projectile-vomit inducing not so great.

Given the birthday morning, we'll evaluate our sites today on the following 1 - 10 scale:

1 = an Arsenal "own goal" that bounces off the post and hits the goalie in the back of the head, ending up in his own net

10 = Franc Ribéry and Bayern Munich today versus Dortmund (5-1). I realize I'm speaking to a very, very small audience of those in ABQ who care about this...but Ribéry is pretty darn good.

School 23. Tony Hillerman Middle School. Rating: 5 (actually an Incomplete at present)

Aaaahh..that new school smell. It's like taking that new IBook out of the box and spending 10 minutes just sniffing a 3-D rectangle of white plastic (as my classroom aides did the other day). Times infinity.

The THMS site is truly in a "honeymoon period" of smells and site. Actually I just made up the smell part, but everything is so squeaky new on these Google Sites-created pages you can almost catch the aroma.

One aspect of this newness is that the rancid stench of outdated stuff has yet to appear. Ancient information from 2006 can't show up on a site/school that wasn't created until last week. Well, that's not entirely true...the volleyball tryout info is a couple of weeks old now, and many of the staff pages have a syllabus link and that's about it.

Special Parent Informational Digression: Just so you know (although almost all of you have probably already figured it out): middle school syllabus is to what goes on in a middle school classroom as Bill Richardson press release is to Bill Richardson boat crashing into other boats on a piss-poor lake. Just so you know.

As a teacher at an "old" school, I envy THMS and its website a bit. The promise of both is so great. For instance, my guess is that the classrooms at THMS have more than three electrical outlets, unlike my classroom. I'm guessing the ceilings aren't painted dung-brown with expanding circles of invading rain and rust. I'm guessing more than just one classroom at THMS has a mounted computer projector and screen.

And I'm also guessing, although it's a bit too early to tell, that the squeaky-clean THMS website will fill up with timely, topical least this school year. My rating above reflects this speculation. It also reflects the sentiment that THMS staff and its "webmaster" will be able to maintain a burst of "honeymoon" energy for at least one school year, before plummeting in enervating brown-dung circles of hopeless despair. You all the other middle schools.

24. Truman Middle School. Rating: Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry Truman. It's my birthday. And for my birthday I'm giving myself a present. That present is: I refuse to look at another "Professional Innovations" school website. Happy Birthday to me!

For those just dropping by, I've spent much time on these reviews railing against "Professional Innovations". I'm tired of it...(insert deity/probability of choice) only knows how sick you folks are of reading about it. But let's think of the parents, etc. who actually go to these sites to "find things out" about a school. What's the line from that movie: "dumb luck bastards"? Something like that. We move on.

But wait...even though it's my birthday present to myself, I felt bad and spent a minute or two at the TMS website. That's a minute or two of my life irreplaceably wasted. Argh is right. The site indicates it's had over 52,000 hits since February 2008. How? Why? Are those other 51,999 people also stabbing themselves in the eye with knitting needles right now?

25. Van Buren Middle School. Rating: 1.000001

Oh for the love of toasters! Another "Professional Innovations" website? I think I'll go watch an hour of Livorno v. AC Milan over at ESPN360 before I can stand looking at the VBMS website for a single second.

Okay, now I'm back...let's explore! Here's what we find:

  • Time period late 20th Century javascript crawl with hyper-slow information that is already outdated ("Open House" on September 8th!!!!!): check.
  • Faculty section with almost zero teacher webpages or contacts, and with a high percentage of that dinky number of sites failing to include any useful information whatsoever: check.
  • Left sidebar with completely dead link to "photo gallery" and utterly worthless "school info" page: check.
  • Bizarre homepage link to another "School Information" page with the following on it (and I quote):
School begins at 8:17.
School ends at 3:05.
School lunch is free.
We are an uniform school.
We are a no gum school.
We are a no touch school.
Students are expected to arrive and leave on time.
Students are expected to be ready to learn.
We are a PBS(Positive Support School) school
All students are to have a Student Agenda at all times

  • CHECK.
That's right. The school is a "no touch" school, and pledges to be an acronym, "PBS", that doesn't even correspond with what the first letters of the stupid, mission statement-esque, slogan are....

Oh buddy.

I first considered expanding my birthday present to that of a "Professional Innovations"-free world forever in which I would never, ever look at one of these sites again. But I had a commenter in a previous review post mentioned s/he was looking forward to a review of a school that "began with a V".

Well "V" commenter, "V" is not for "Vendetta". "V" is for "Vomit". "V" makes me want, now more than ever, to blow up the entire APS middle school web architecture (English Parliament-style) and start again from scratch.

All I need is a virtual subway car full of explosives. Anybody gotta a spare ton or two of html fertilizer?

Have a good weekend, everybody. Enjoy my birthday. And if you're not reading this until the new week...have a good one of those, too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Reviewing APS Middle School Websites: Volume VI, The Neverending Movie Sequel Edition

Another in a continuing, zombie-like in its difficulty to kill, series reviewing APS Middle School Websites. Today we will compare each site to a famous film in an inadequate attempt to lend some cohesion to what has been an inchoate reviewing process.

Can you tell from reading the previous paragraph I've been working on some grant-writing lately? And to keep up the spirit-less spirit of your typical grant, let's also remind readers of our "grading rubric" for these things.

Rating of 1-10, with 1 = to "Pauly Shore Movie" and 10 = "John Cazale Movie"

School 21. Taft Middle School: Rating: 2 "The Shining"

Here the rating of 2 doesn't correspond with Kubrick's film in quality. It's not the greatest Kubrick ever, but for a horror movie, "The Shining" does alright. I use the movie here because of the famous "redrum....redrum....redrum" incantation scene.

Think back to creepy kid who talks to his finger. Now instead of him gutterally bellowing "redrum....redrum...redrum..." imagine him saying to his finger "snoitavonnI lanoisseforP....snoitavonnI lanoisseforP...snoitavonnI lanoisseforP". Picture the words "snoitavonnI lanoisseforP" scrawled in blood red on a, in this case extremely large, wall. The camera swings violently to an equally gigantic mirror and after ten minutes of creepy kid intoning "snoitavonnI lanoisseforP" we see it....

Professional Innovations

The shrieking music climaxes, flash edits show dismembered little girls and blood-stained hotel walls. We cut to Jack Nicholson at a typewriter and know that all is lost.

The Taft Middle School website, like all the Professional Innovations sites I've seen so far, is just like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining": crazy, holding an axe and about to die from hypothermia in a frozen maze.

Okay, maybe that analogy is a bit over the top (like Nicholson's acting in "The Shining"). Suffice to say APS schools have not really utilized the "Professional Innovations" web template concept very well. Taft is an example of such under-utilization. It is no stretch to say the Taft website is like a frozen maze. One gets lost there. It is empty and foreboding. It is very cold. One may very well end up left icily glued to an axe if one visits this website.

Well, it could happen.

22. Taylor Middle School: Rating 5.5 "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou"

I am a big Wes Anderson fan. "Rushmore" is one of my favorite movies (maybe it's the whole school thing). At the same time, "Life Aquatic" isn't really that great of a film. It meanders, tries to do too much and is a bit of a mess, really. Still, there are certain small aspects that are so great.

The Portuguese folk stylings of David Bowie songs...great! The line where Angelica Huston tells Steve, the rest of the observation vessel and the audience "It is beautiful Steve"...fantastic! The obligatory Anderson slo-mo walkaway end credit roll while "Queen Bitch" wails...inspiring!

The Taylor MS website is like that. Overall it has some of the same problems we've seen at all APS websites: out-of-date information, long confusing linking patterns, dead links. But amid the dross are some really good things. I like that the Principal has a blog. In a sea of linkless staff, one teacher (who I do not know, btw) has a great, ambitious set of pages around literature and video.

And, in a very quirky, Wes Anderson sort of gesture, the main page has a link to the entire 2008-2009 Taylor MS budget. It's so divergent from the entire rest of the site in its thoroughness, the budget link is, if time is spent reading it, a maybe-too-personal peek into a school. It's like that nude scene thrown into the middle of another Wes Anderson mess/epic, "The Royal Tennebaums".

There are worse things, in my view, than being compared with Wes Anderson. Taylor MS...I think you have the highest rating I've given yet.

More reviews, eventually, to come next week. Have a good weekend, everybody.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Terrific Idea From A Writing Teacher (Note: This Is Not An Oxymoron)

Hello all:

Right now your humble blogger is up to his adenoids in essays to grade.

Here's an idea that will help free up not only my adenoids, but my ability to post more rant-filled inanity on the subject of public school education. I have about 80 papers left at this point. If I could get 80 of you to take just one paper each we could knock these puppies out in about four minutes. Five on the outside.

Without your help, the flow of priceless blogging inanity will stop. Consider this like one of those obnoxious PBS pledge drives, but with grading instead of money. Oh, and without the obnoxiousness, unless you count plenty of student misspellings, run-on sentences and poorly constructed arguments to be obnoxious. Which, frankly, I do.

So who's with me? Raise your hand if you'll take one of these papers! Keep those hands nice and high so I can see you!

If we all pledge now I promise we'll all get to bed by 10 p.m. tonight. Otherwise, at least one of us won't be asleep for quite some time.

P.S.: I've always felt sorry for those PBS Pledge Drive people. So sorry, so empathetically angst-ridden that I madly hit the channel changer to move past the scene o' grovel as quickly as possible. I'd seriously rather grade 80 7th grade essays anyday than watch 60 seconds of PBS Pledge Drive (with the Beach Boys DVD if you pledge $120 right now). Just thinking about it makes my pile of ungraded work so much more pleasant in contrast.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Reviewing APS Middle School Websites: Volume V, The Politburo's Fifth Five-Year Plan

Hail comrades!

You might not know this, but the Obama Socialist Indoctrination for Innocent Schoolchildren Speech (OBSIISS) today has a mention of school websites. In between all the talk about the next "five year plan", demands for greater millet production and denouncement of anti-socialist forces bent on enslaving the world's workers, the speech has this short passage:
"And a word to your teachers and school administrators watching this alongside you this morning. What's up with the lousy school websites?"
Listen carefully or you might miss this important inquiry. What is up with "lousy school websites"? And are all the APS middle school websites really "lousy"? And is your humble blogger really putting quotation marks around words/phrases that he, himself, wrote only pretending they came from the President of the United States?

School 19. Polk Middle School: Rating "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (i.e., 1)

The date is August 17, 2007. Unbeknownst to many of us, the world as we know it actually ended on August 17, 2007. Truth be told, we as a species do have some small memory of the horrible events of 8/17/2007, but part of our transformation into our current state, that of radioactive zombies incapable of anything other than eating the brains of the living and screaming at health care town hall meetings, has been the near elimination of any memories of that day.

August 17, 2007. Do you remember? Do you remember the space ship? What about the aliens who looked so much like former "Tonight Show" sidekick Ed McMahon? C'mon think...think hard! We do remember.

Polk Middle School remembers. It remembers that final day before alien-enforced zombiehood by refusing to update its school webpage since that horrible, nearly forgotten, day.

Nothing new exist except for a few messages in code frantically typed while the alien zombie overlords weren't watching. One says:
"Polk MS has a new principal, Ms. Eva Vigil. Please welcome her."
Perhaps this coded message, which properly translated of course means "Prepare the lasers for final attack against the alien spaceship!" will successfully alert the remaining "humans" to do what is necessary to overthrow their extraterrestrial slave masters.

We can only hope.

20. Roosevelt Middle School: Rating 3

Holy Twittering Gadzooks, Batman! Roosevelt MS has blogs! Really! Blogs! There's a Technology blog and a Library one. I'll take off the "alien zombiehood" hat now and somberly report that RMS having these blogs is probably a good sign the page will be updated more frequently than the APS average.

The RMS site also has a fairly updated homepage, and an easy to navigate through design. On the not-so-great side it evidently does not include any teacher web pages, and only about a third of the teachers even have email contact links.

Why do these places even have websites if it's going to be basically impossible for users to know what's going on in the classrooms from looking at them? Oh, you mean there's a reason why they don't have teacher pages, and it has nothing to do with webmastering laziness? You mean these pages deliberately don't exist so there is no easy-to-access accountability for what the Hell goes on in these classrooms?

Is that what you mean imaginary person imaginarily talking to your humble blogger as he pretends to type down what you say?

Oh. Never mind. The RMS website, as do almost all APS school websites, does a great job of doing its intended job. Speaking of Socialism, five year plans for millet and such, the editors of the Soviet-era Pravda would be mighty proud to see the RMS website.

Heck, it even has a a nice deep red as its primary color. Hail comrades! Here is all the news fit for you to be permitted to read!

Meanwhile, До свидания!. It is now time for me to go to school and further promulgate the socialist indoctrination of our young people! Sorry I only got to two website reviews today, but the millet production and agit-prop destruction and reeducation of young minds cannot wait!

Seriously, more reviews to come as the week unfolds. I promise to finish this damn thing before the next Five-Year Plan, or at the very least the one after that.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

AYP: Nope, Haven't Forgotten About That

While New Mexico students/parents/teachers already experienced their annual media flogging over this year's standardized test scores (scores that are STILL not available on our fancy schmanzy web-based database, btw), other states are just now getting around to the flogging.

But as noted here earlier this summer, sometimes the news on the scores goes beyond simplistic beatings (brow, public, dead horse) and actually explains something about the process.

For instance, look at this story in the little old Allentown Daily Call, in Allentown, PA. Really! Look at it, New Mexicans! The writer, Steve Esack, not only goes over the scores, but:
  • Fully, yet concisely, explains "growth models" and how PA schools can now "pass" AYP;
  • Has quotes from a variety of local & national folks on issues ranging from merit pay based on scores to the idea of using test scores to do anything;
  • and, has a tricky, and very illuminating paraphrased quote::
State Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak said Thursday the growth model helped the numbers. He said it is a fairer assessment of student performance. Teachers and administrations should have ''no excuses'' for not moving all students toward (my emphasis) proficiency in math and reading by 2014 as the federal law mandates, he said.

''The growth model is a statistical way to show progress that is for real,'' he said.

Gotta love the use of the word "toward" there.

See! It can be done! A truly informative newspaper account of standardized testing and all in just over 1,000 words. I might be the only person in the whole state who is enthused to see a story like this, but my feeling, my deeply romantic and quite possibly naïve feeling, about this is that if every New Mexican involved in the process read, understood and thought about this single article we'd have a different SBA situation here by next Spring.

P.S.: Hey, I admitted it was quite possibly naïve. Just call me the John Lennon of Standardized Testing (you know, "You may say I'm a dreamer...."). No wait, the name John Lennon should in no way be juxtaposed anywhere near the term "standardized testing". That's just not right. And I don't even really like the Beatles. Sorry for the digression...just wash the expression "John Lennon of Standardized Testing" out of your brain right now...

Saturday, September 05, 2009

“I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”

The above quote comes from a "concerned parent" in Pearland, Texas about President Obama's upcoming streaming education address.

Any willing volunteers to let concerned parent guy in on the well-known secret that the public school is inherently "socialist"? Along with our law enforcement, firefighting and road system?

Not to mention the military.

Man, the insidious socialist conspiracy is! Turns out that Col. Ripper was right about the Flouridation, after all.

Has Given Up On Paid Content?

The extremely frugal among us have almost certainly noticed that has been totally "free" the last three days or so. Most probably the result of that Tamaya ad contract expiring, but in the past the site would revert to house ads like the unwatchably irritating Journal Sports Desk Shows Up At Your House While You're Eating Cheerios At 6:45 In The Morning Ad.

Personally, outside of John Fleck's stuff the Journal could go away virtually and otherwise and I wouldn't miss it anymore than I'd miss the cancellation of "Big Brother" or any other "Reality Show".

Still, it's the "Paper of Record" (by default at this point), and even the extremely frugal among us find ourselves there to feel the feeble pulse of what's "news" in this remarkably news-free town. And in a statement of faint praise right up there with "well, he is the smartest Dallas Cowboy fan in the world", the Journal certainly outperforms the local TV stations (and their websites).

Damn that's some faint praise there.

Enjoy the free while it lasts folks. Maybe "enjoy" is too strong a word.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Reviewing APS MIddle School Websites: Volume IV, When Will This Damn Thing Be Over?

Alright! I'm rested up and psychologically ready to handle the trauma of looking at more bad websites. But who knows? Maybe there's a hidden Ninth Wonder of the World out there. Join me as we machete our way through the thicket of dross on the off chance a "Lost Horizon" of Internet Nirvana can be found.

Oh, and one more thing. I've made an executive decision and we're speeding this thing up. No more long, long digression into "what Scot thinks" about various APS middle schools. I promise! Strictly the website from here on, objectively rated in terse, concise prose.

Well at least that's the idea. Otherwise this series will go on past the next U.S. presidential election.

School 13. Jimmy Carter Middle School: Rating 2.00001 (but possibly going up)

JCMS looks like they're ramping up a new web look. Unfortunately it appears to have made up about 3 inches up the ramp. I like the clean look, with easy to read pages/text. At the same time, a clean, easily read list of JCMS teachers indicating:

Click teacher name in BLUE to send an email message.
should probably have more than one teacher in BLUE. Just thought I would throw that out there.

I will say this though: the JCMS Athletics page is off to a rousing start. Six or seven stories already this year. You might not know what the Hell any teacher at JCMS is doing or when the homework is due, but you sure as shooting knowing that JCMS had a flag football team from 2000-2005. Why? Because those were the good old days. No word/page on the MathCounts or Chess Club teams way back in the Golden Era of 1993.

14. John Adams Middle School: Rating 2.5

Opinions differ on website development. Some folks still like frames. Others like long single pages (I fall in this category). Another popular variant is the use of left side links. The JAMS website is perhaps the strongest proponent of the left side links method in the Universe. Link upon link upon link here. As you may suspect, however, about 90% of the links go to essentially empty pages with titles like "Principal's Novel".

On the plus side, there is a nascent "Homework Page" with classroom information. On the negative side, many/most of those teacher's pages are blank. This could be a good page/idea if JAMS teachers populate it well. Anybody wanna bet me a few bucks on whether the teachers will "populate it well"?

Amid the 917,439 different links on the left side, one goes to "Textbooks". On this page is a strange little statement:

Most students will not be using textbooks for homework, so they will not be required to checkout textbooks.

My terse, concise response to this statement: What the Hell? I'm no fan of textbooks, but why won't most students be taking them home for homework? Is this because the school has some avant-garde, progressive post-textbook homework regimen? Is JAMS kicking out the 21st Century homework JAMS with Internet-based homework assignments? My guess is, sadly, no.

15. Kennedy Middle School: Rating Kind of Blue, Very, Very Blue, Emptily Blue (i.e. .00003)

Like Jackson MS reviewed earlier, KMS relies on the sterile, horrible "Manzano Cluster Family Connection" (Suggestion: do not put the word "Cluster" on a very bad, complex're just asking for nickname trouble when you do). The funny thing here is that KMS first has a deep blue page with only the name of the school on it for about ten seconds before forwarding to this Cluster(insert monosyllabic word of your choice here) of a "Family Connection". I honestly clicked on the KMS site twice before even seeing anything but the Blue Screen of KMS Death. And it was still better than the "Manzano Cluster Family Connection".

16. Lyndon Baines Johnson Middle School: Rating 2

LBJMS seems to prefer the long, single page method of website design. In this I feel solidarity. And, like many of these middle school sites, you get the feeling a new webmaster was "hired/volunteered" to maintain the site, and this new person has an energy that's been missing from the website for some time. Evidence of this is that a thin surface of links/updates exist, but with nothing archival going on.

In addition to this thin veneer of website energy, the school also has a new principal. Outside of that I pretty much can't tell you ANYTHING about LBJ Middle School. I don't even SEE a teacher page, now that I think about it. Maybe I just couldn't find it. Maybe long, single webpages are a really bad idea...or maybe THIS long, single webpage is a really bad idea. At the same time, I have some uncertain, solidarity-inspired expectation that this site might be updated fairly often. Just a hunch...a naive, quite possibly wrong hunch.

17. Madison Middle School: Rating Disney (i.e. Less Than Zero)

The MMS homepage utilizes state-of-the-1992-art mouse trails. Really. Mouse Trails. *#)*^$# Mouse Trails. And all the page has is a logo with the word "Magic" on it. Oh, and the word "Enter", which one can mouse trail their way to in order to enter the site.

Sorry, I'm not entering a site via Mouse Trails and Magic. This page gave me an immediate headache. If I wanted Disney I'd go to DisneyWorld or DisneyMarvel Comics or something. Middle schools who want to evoke a feeling of Disney should be closed down immediately and their physical plants razed and sown with rock salt.

I realize this opinion may not be shared by everyone.

P.S.: Mouse Trails? Really?

McKinley Middle School: Rating 2.75

McKinley truly has the barebones makings of a decent website. It just needs to fill out the information on each of its left side link pages. The faculty page, for example, pretty much just has a bunch of names/departments on it. This is the Internet, not the phone book. There should be like, linky know? And worse than the phone book you don't even get phone numbers without going back to other pages on the site.

Still, I think with significant cultivation the McKinley site could be much better. Wasn't this one of the better maintained APS websites way back when (i.e., 2000 or so)? Did somebody retire, get a better job, lose the energy to keep updating the site as the soul-crushing District exerted its inexorable weight of ennui on the poor, formerly energetic webmaster?

Okay, I took one more look at the site. It's pretty damn uninformative.

Conclusion: The Story So Far

I came into today's blogpost fully expecting a closing burst of energy resulting in finishing this damn reviewing thing. And I end up only in the "Ms". This realization is almost as deflating as visiting these various websites. Speaking of realizations, I also know pretty much nobody is still reading these reviews, and that nothing substantive will result from this "startling expose (accent missing)".

But none of those easily ascertainable facts are stopping me, folks. Come next week I'll have even more unread, unreadable reviews of unreadable sites. Join me if you dare as we dare to venture into the 2nd half of the alphabet.

In the meantime, have a good three-day weekend. We'll need all the rest and mind/body reconnection we can get before once again diving into this virtual muck.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Intermission II: Can New Mexico Race To The Top In a Broken Down Car?

(Caution: the extent of acronym use below gets way, way out of hand)

If we're going to take a short break from looking at all the APS middle school websites, I want to bend your ear briefly on a thing or two regarding the Obama Administration's dumpster dive for educational cash known as "Race To the Top" (aka: RrrT or RTT or "Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash").

In sum, I'm somewhat to very concerned that our little sun-drenched piece of "Enchantment" ain't gonna be getting any/much of the Race To the Top pie. As the wonkfest at the blog Eduflack puts it:
We all know that not every state will become an RttT state. In fact, no one seems to expect that half of the states will receive the designation. That leaves a lot of states on the outside looking in, particularly for those seeking to make some real change but currently lacking some of the intangibles.
And given the dearth of innovation, "intangibles" and chutzpah from the New Mexico Public Education Department on issues like standardized testing and school reform it's real easy to see NM as one of the "states on the outside looking in" when it comes to grabbing some of that $4.35 billion in RTT cash.

Moreover, missing out on this cash lines up to be even more of a bummer in the context of an upcoming special session already featuring threats of 3 to 5 percent cuts in the state K-12 education budget.

Quite obviously I could be wrong and folks at the PED are both frantically and skillfully putting together a RTT proposal that could knock the socks off a...uh, person with really, really tight socks. I'd love to be wrong and will be more than happy to eat a crow, or shoe, or crow-filled shoe if we end up with $500 million in RTT money.

And maybe I should begin considering what condiments best go with crow, as New Mexico is one of 15 states the Gates Foundation is funding with consulting dollars to help create RTT proposals.

Still...consider me skeptical. Which I know might be the best way to consider/describe me 24/7/365, but seems especially apt when it comes to expecting much from the PED.

My Skeptometer on this issue is really pegged when I read that the impoverished country of California just finished its own special session, a session hand-tailored to get RTT and other U.S. Department of Education money.

This bears repeating....California just had a special session in which everybody from the Governator on down just legislatively groveled before the Obama Administration, crafting "laws" to specifically correspond with RTT and other new grant language. Groveled.

And look at that..and look at our NM Legislature...and look at California...and look at us. In honor of the impending "High Holidays" I can only respond with a hearty "Oy! Vey!"

Prove me wrong New Mexico, New Mexico Legislature and New Mexico Public Education Department. Prove me wrong to the tune of $150-200 million or so. I'll sing any song you want if you can grab that kind of federal cash, while pouring Sriracha on my tough old crow and leather.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Intermission: Taking a Break from Reviewing APS Websites With Van Morrison and Lester Bangs

After three-days spent mired in the stinky mud of APS middle school websites, your humble blogger needs a short respite. How about we consider, very briefly, Van Morrison and the album Astral Weeks? (Blogger puts needle down on old, scratchy record, Side A, "Astral Weeks", and sits back in an eternally comfortable thrift store arm chair)

Ahhhhh...I feel better already.

And to help us refocus on what's real and what really constitutes art, love, music and redemption, let's go to that critic ne plus ultra Lester Bangs, and his words on this album.

I think I'll shut up now. For now. (Blogger reads Bangs and listens to the rest of Side One, especially "Cyprus Avenue" while staring at empty wall as he sits back in the ultra-comfortable arm chair)

P.S.: My all-time favorite piece by L. Bangs is on New Year's Eve. Its opening sentence is:
“On New Year’s Eve of 1972 I attended a great party thrown by someone I didn’t know and inadvertently fell into a protracted conversation with this nearsighted social worker about 20 or 25 who kept babbling about his Volkswagen until I finally had to say: ‘Wait a minute. Are you telling me that the owning of a Volkswagen is a social, or a political act?’”
Way back, back in the late 80s, I was browsing through the deep, deep discount bin at the University Bookstore in Seattle and ran smack dab into a pile of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung remainders going for about 20% of the cover price.

My life hasn't been quite the same since.

The New Year's Eve piece is in there along with the Astral Weeks bit and many others. If you haven't read it, please flee your computer this very second and procure a copy. I'll wait while you're gone before delving back into the Hell of middle school websites 24 hours or so from now.

Meanwhile, I'm flipping the scratchy record over to Side B..."Young Lovers Do"...(Blogger sits further back in eternally comfortable thrift store arm chair, puts feet up on vaguely smelly thrift store footrest)