Charles Ives – The Unanswered Question
Today’s L.A. Times article is sure to ruffle some feathers.The title “An unplanned revolution in L.A.’s public schools” seems to suggest that the solution to the woes of public education in the city of Los Angeles has finally been arrived at in the form of charter schools. Unfortunately, as the authors admit within the article body, this is far from the case. Let me summarize:
I. There’s lots of charters in LA. Lots.
II. Most score better than regular schools.
III. There are three non-trivial critiques to the aforementioned point II.
And although for me the jury is still out on the notion of charter schools, what irks me the most is the way in which the debate has been framed, most often occurring as a series of oscillating jabs (in the form of Times articles, blog posts, and now even, tweets) betweens advocates of the different camps, frequently demonizing and disrespecting each other in the process. What follows is My 3 Wishes for the 2010 Charter School vs. Public School discussion:
1. Charter School advocates must: actually address the three main concerns (see paragraphs 18, 19 in Times article) of “student selection”, “student retention”, and “student accessibility”. Charter schools must either somehow statistically control for these variables when comparing scores, or else adopt similar policies as most LAUSD schools (Green Dot’s Locke at least follows the first main concern), without which, like apples and oranges, simple scores cannot be compared in this one-dimensional manner. If charter schools have better instruction, then show that it is actually better instruction that is making the difference.
2. Public School advocates must: actually address the concerns that defecting parents and students actually raise, namely that (1) LAUSD has held on to bad teachers, of which each year, between 25 and 150 kids are subjected to, and (2) there is little, if any, student accountability without which, the notion of “high expectations” becomes mere vacuous words, and some kids inevitably figure out that they actually don’t need to do anything in school. It’s these kids that I would, as a parent, work to keep my son or daughter away from.
3. EVERYBODY (both charter and public school advocates) must: dispose of the attitude that a legitimate concern against the dogmas of their particular camp are somehow a personal affront to themselves or call into question their love of educating children! This is what must end. In order to do this, we’ve all got to do a few things. First, we’ve each got to assume (at least initially) that the person with whom we’re speaking genuinely cares for kids. Personally, there’s nothing that p****s me off more than when someone implicitly accuses me of not caring about kids. Second, we’ve each got to raise our questions and concerns in a way that actually seeks a valid response, rather than raising questions that are meant to simply pigeon-hole our (now) opponent. Third, we’ve got to hear these questions and actually answer them with facts, rather than accusations about what the question itself might imply about the asker. And fourth, when concerns are legitimately addressed, we need to be able to take that and then ask ourselves “How can I now adapt this to better meet the needs of the kids in Los Angeles?”
No less than that is required in order for all of us who are advocating for kids in Los Angeles to actually do something to make a difference in the lives of these kids.
Sly and the Family Stone – Everyday People
This week was the first week of staff development at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School, a week in which time is filled up with meetings, meetings, and more meetings.
The Good: Despite losing some great teachers this past year due to budget cuts and a desire to teach in high school, it seems like the new math crew will turn out to be a really cohesive group. After hours on end in the same room together, planning b***s*** common assessments, everyone is really coming together to sift through the junk, and focus on working what will actually help our kids together. In addition, our math intervention (Kids Mastering Math) training with the 13 teachers went really well today, and as much as these teachers are enthused to be teaching our program, we are even more enthused to have teachers like them teaching it!
The Bad: In the midst of all this, I’ve still spent a total of 0 hours getting ready for my own five classes that are getting ready to start on September 9th. At some point, I’ve still got to figure out how to balance all of this with teaching of my own kids!
The Ugly: One thing I’ve learned is the importance of quality people! The reason KMM is going to work this year is because their are amazing, quality people who will be teaching it (seriously, by getting none but volunteers, we ensured ourselves the best teachers to teach it….they’re really amazing folks)! Unfortunately, the converse of this statement is true as well. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, suffice it to say that one of our administrators is perhaps well intentioned, but somehow continues to make arbitrary, uninformed, and unilateral decisions that not only do not help kids, but create divisiveness and frustration among our staff. The “ugly” part of this is that it is already taking an inordinate amount of effort and energy from our staff to quell the negative momentum with which she takes things, energy and effort that would be far better spent serving our kids!
Meat Loaf – Everything Louder Than Everything Else
Summer is quickly slipping away here….we’re already nearly a week into August and the idea of the beginning of school had frequently graced my mind.
The biggest news as of late is that I’ve finally finished BTSA!! For those of my readers who are LAUSD teachers, you’ll immediately understand how big a deal this is. For those of you who are currently unfamiliar with the bureaucratic depths to which LA Unified forces it’s teachers to descend, it’ll sum it up. BTSA, or “Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment”, is the program that the State of California requires all teachers to complete within 5 years of their teaching, in order to get a “clear” credential (i.e. a permanent credential).
What exactly is BTSA? Well, imagine the perfect storm of endless paperwork (enough to make a Minnesotan logger shed a tear), visionless (“blind” seems not a harsh enough word) leadership, and incomprehensible communication.
Luckily, many districts in the state accept other items that waive the BTSA requirement, for example, a Master’s Degree, or prior education experience from another state. But no, not LAUSD. Despite having a masters from LMU (which already earns me a whopping $1.50 a day extra pay), it’s not good enough for LAUSD. BTSA is the only option.
Anyway, a year ago, I decided to grit my teeth and bear it, and thanks to the AMAZING help of a colleague, BTSA became surmountable.
And now it’s finally done! Yeah. Now Arnold Schwarzenegger fully owns my soul! Let’s just hope he doesn’t ship it to New Jersey.
Randy Newman – Short People
Some of you know that this summer, my friend and co-conspirator Rustum are working feverishly on developing a math program for our incoming 6th graders next year to FINALLY honestly deal with the fact that kids who don’t have basic math skills CAN’T access the curriculum. “Kids Mastering Math” will be a great success this fall!
One of the biggest challenges was figuring out a way to assign homework to these kids without giving teachers the extra work of grading it, a problem that was solved by allotting each KMM teacher an 8th grade “TA” to do grading, and basic logistical tasks for these teachers! Yay, problem solved!
But as with most things in life, solving one problem usually creates another, ours being that in order to serve as a TA, an 8th grader loses their lunch with their 8th grade friends and is relegated to eat during the 6th grader lunch time, a mighty big sacrifice for a typical middle school teen.
Again, the creative mind of Rustum Jacob came up a solution: a “Front of the Lunch Line” pass which, like an exclusive black American Express card, will upon display entitle the bearer to cut in line for food and snack, a privilege which only our 8th grade TAs will receive.
Behold, the prototype!
Before I get tons of angry emails and comments, let me be clear that this is a joke….A JOKE…I don’t want to start any nasty internet rumors….
J.S. Bach – Cello Suite No. 1: Prelude
Arrrgggghhhh. The seventh graders are getting tired of school and they can feel it. I can feel it. After the first truly hot weekend here in Los Angeles, the AC in my building has been turned on, creating a juxtaposition of ultra-heat for kids during their nutrition and lunch breaks, and my classroom during the day. Yes, it feels like summer, except of the fact that there are a full nine more weeks of school!
Being in a classroom with the expectation of preparing for the next three weeks for a test is just not good news when you’re thirteen years old. What’s even worse news for some of these kids is knowing that they’ll be participating in mandatory test prep sessions after school three days a week. Fun, fun, fun :) At least a granola bar at the end helps to abate the pain of not being able to simply wander the neighborhood with their pals for the two hours immediately following school.
On a different front, I’m finding myself wearing some quite different hats than I am normally used to. Tuesday afternoon turned me into “used car salesman”, as we finally “pitched” our 6th grade math program for next year, modestly titled “Kids Mastering Math (KMM")” to our math and science faculty, our prospective teacher group to disseminate basic skills content to kids who need basic skills. Truth be told, I don’t feel quite like a used car salesman, the difference being that I truly believe in the product we’ll be providing teachers, actual resources to help kids with the math they need, BASIC SKILLS. It’s yet to be seen whether our ideal group will immediately jump on board, although early signs are looking quite encouraging (two unsolicited positive responses)! The next hat I get to wear in this is that of researcher, as we figure out how on earth to teach elementary math to middle school kids. :)
In the background: Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus by the late Larry Norman, which is albeit, as evidenced by the title, unabashedly “in your face”, although a great example of late 60s Jesus Music (which has since unfortunately ballooned into a 4 billion dollar a year industry). However, there is still a ridiculously cool “guitar” solo 1:38 into it.
As I begin my first full week off, I decided to reflect a bit back on this past year of school. At the end of the year, I wrote a survey in which I asked my kids to answer various questions related to the class, what they learned my teaching style. While very helpful, some of their responses were also very entertaining. For you reading enjoyment, I include several below.
Question: What was the best thing about class this year?
- The air conditioning.
Question: What was the worst thing about class this year?
-Nothing except the boring ness [sic]
-Every thing the environment suck all white feel like if you in the hospital.
-The lame jokes and the lame pizzazz jokes.
Question: What is one thing I could do to improve this class for next year’s students?
-LESS HOMEWORK LOL =D
-be more mellow
-I have one thing and one thing only, turn on the heater!
-I don’t really kno…wait……….stop making lame jokes.
Now don’t get me wrong, most of the comments students left were actually very positive, yet some of their phrasing and terminology (and spelling, or lack there-of) was absolutely hilarious. As long as the kids continue to crack me up, I will be able to stay sane in the midst of dealing with all the fun fun fun district bureaucracy!
The Rolling Stones – Something Happened To Me Yesterday
My bracket is over. I’ll admit that projecting USC into the Final Four was a bit of a stretch, but who’d have thought that neither UNC or UCLA would make an appearance in the title game! Who would have thought that I would have found an even more interesting bracket to ponder.
The above bracket is an LA Times projection of the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship if winners were based on graduation rates of the men’s basketball players. The perennial athletic contenders fare quite differently when compared academically. Kansas – 40%, Memphis – 30%, UCLA – 29%…the list goes on.
I’m sure that none of these non-graduating men were recruited out of the amazingly academic LAUSD schools!
“NOT THE RED WIRE! It’s the blue wire….cut the blue wire!!!”
Apparently, the electricians working to install new lighting fixtures are not up to date on current Hollywood bomb squad techniques, as this morning in addition to successfully installing the needed light fixtures, they successfully caused a complete power outage at school, which lasted for the rest of the day.
Good thing my classroom has no windows.
Journal entry #14: Today is day #18 without fast computer…losing motivation…speech is slurred…tyipng is inaccruate…and wosrt of all, when my roommate sees me agonizing with my current replacement machine, he curtly exclaims, “Nice computer!”
Separate from that, living, teaching, in Los Angeles is great! So in lieu of more frequent, shorter posts, you are gonna be stuck with the less frequent longer posts. No whining! So here’s what’s up:
1. Still rockin’ at the Cochran (yes, I know it only “sort-of” rhymes), and my kids are tackling the notorious train problems! They are actually doing pretty well with them, despite being the longest math problems they’ve ever seen in their lives!
2. Los Angeles is getting cooler. Last week, the brand new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) was opened to the public! A friend of mine from Mosaic went down last Saturday to check it out! After spending close to two hours perusing the 3 floors of modern art and architecture, I’ve decided to pretty much stick with music as my artistic medium of choice!
3. “Will a tooth left in soda overnight dissolve?”. For those of us who’ve been fans of Mythbusters, on the Discovery Channel, we’ve actually seen these myths tried and tested in real life scenarios (with sometimes with explosive results)! Last weekend I got to see hosts Adam and Jaime talk about the show at an event in Long Beach. And although there weren’t any explosions, they did share some previously unreleased myths banned by Discovery! :)
Anyway, that’s all for now…
Hopefully, my next post will be on my fast laptop, which I find myself missing dearly!!!