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NEA RA 2009!

July 1, 2009

Well folks, I’m here in beautiful, sunny San Diego. Hum is buzzing, things are happening and people are registering. I don’t expect much (if any talk) at the RA publicly about what’s going on with ISTA.

I will say this: if there is malfeasance involved with what happened over there, those responsible should face the consequences of their actions.

I would like to publicly thank NEA for stepping in and showing what Solidarity is about– a threat to one is a threat to all. If ISTA was my state affiliate, I would expect the same thing. They’ve had to raise dues and also lay off state staffers, but they have a very capably person at the help, from Massachusetts, I believe.

Remember, you can follow me on Twitter, @drhomeslice is me.

I’m ready to do some good work for the union. I might even introduce myself to Mike Antonucci too. Never say never, I’ve been thinking about doing it for 3 years now.

Off to do good work!

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Negotiations Misconceptions Quelled 101

June 24, 2009

Having been involved in contract negotiations and the bargaining process now for a number of years with my local, I’d like to share my thoughts about negotiating a contract. We are going to be back at the bargaining table come this fall, so it’s been on my mind as of late.

Read more…

NEA RA and Twitter.

June 22, 2009

Haven’t posted in a while, but wanted to let anyone and everyone know I’ll be at the NEA RA. I’d be interested in meeting up with folks at some point.

I’ll also be tweeting from the RA, and my twitter account is: drhomeslice

So email me at drhomeslice hotmail +dot+ com or just do an @reply on twitter, and we’ll meet up.

See you in ‘Diego!

In Support of Educational Nationalism

March 24, 2009

Doesn’t that sound dangerous, “Educational Nationalism”? Doesn’t it create a mental picture of hordes of goose-stepping brainwashed soldierly-type devotees saluting some kind of icon while running over a lesser country?

It should be us, minus the goose-stepping and brainless stuff. Oh, and we shouldn’t run over any country. Ever. That’s not nice. Just ask France, it seems to happen to them every 22.5 years or so.

Seriously, I think this is a great time to have some national content standards. I’ve thought this way for a while. Why do we have 50 different versions of what is and what is not acceptable? Just think about it, America is the land of freedom—our students can fail (or pass) 50 different ways! 52 if you count Guam and DC.

Read more…

T&A

January 4, 2009

Hang on, hang on there.

Don’t get all upset on me now, I’m not talking about what you think I’m talking about. Shame on you.

Actually, I’m talking about transparency and accountability; they seem to be the new buzzwords in this recession-filled time of awe and economic wonder. In education, too– and what should be transparent and accountable? Data!

I had some free time lately, and I picked up a copy of “A Byte in/at/of The Apple”, the new Fordham Foundation’s ode to data. You might be wondering “Why, Doc? Why would you do such a thing?”

I direct you to a classic American movie, 1970’s Patton. In it, when General George S. Patton is routing Rommel in the deserts of Africa he yells at the top of his lungs “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” This underscores the fact that Rommel, brilliant tactician that he is, wrote a book about his tactics, which aforementioned American general read and adapted his tactics to, thereby routing the “Desert Fox”. Whether or not Patton actually said something like that, I don’t know, but it is a memorable quote.
So I figured I’d do the same thing, make like Patton and read Fordham’s book. It’s uh, a data-filled book.

You spend a lot of time looking at that word, data; it appears there 2,375 times through the 154 page book, an average of slightly more than 23 times per page. By contrast, the word union appears just 17 times, and only 16 of those refer to the teacher’s organized labor movement. Accountability shows up 78 times, transparency 17. Teacher shows up 436 times, administrator 43 times, management 184, and principal shows up 57 times. No, I didn’t count ’em, Adobe has a nifty search function.
The best and most intriguing part of this book? The student data backpack. Summarized quickly, whoever wrote the essay (they’re piecemeal parts combined into one book) about it, suggested that school districts (in essence) should create virtual student data backpacks; every bit of data on a student that educational folks have does in there: grades, attendance, standardized test scores, aggregate data about strength and weaknesses across state and perhaps national (gasp) academic standards.
This data backpack would be kind of tied in to a social-networking, web 2.0 type of “thing”. It’s interactive, so parents can find opportunities for their students (extended learning opportunities, other education settings, etc) and interact with other parents and educators and such.
I have to say that I like the idea…to an extent. I think that records and important individual student datasets need to be accessible to teachers. Whether it’s district assessments, state achievement tests or other testing data, that’s a good thing. I remember back in the day when I started, when you wanted to find something out about a kid, you had to catch a secretary when they weren’t busy to pull something up on their DOS based system that was slower than molasses on a winter day or thumb through stacks of yellowing manilla envelopes in the stuffy, moldy school records room until you forgot what (or who) you were looking for and just gave up.
They’re also right that there are few opportunities to catch appropriate data for mobile kids and families in an urban setting; I can’t tell you how many times I get a bad phone number when I go by an office printout.
This piece doesn’t take into account several things, the first being the digital divide, especially in my school system, an urban one. More and more of my students’ families have computers with internet access each year (perhaps 40% or so now) but generally the kids are much more savvy with it than the parents are.
The thing I don’t like about this essay is the postulation that parents in the future could “send” their records to a school and that would be the official act of enrolling a student (aside from answering a few other questions when you enroll). I think, in the educational landscape of things, that you need to “kick the tires” before you buy. Just clicking a button to change you student’s education placement strikes me as convenient and easy, but not necessarily the best idea.
Also, there are just 17 mentions of the word security throughout the WHOLE BOOK. Who is to safeguard this information? Local districts? The state? The federal government? What happens if someone hacks into a database? Can you buy new SAT scores online, like you can buy someone’s credit card numbers? I don’t know. Interesting stuff, but still science fiction….
“Checker you magificent bastard, I read your book!”

What I wouldn’t give….

December 2, 2008

…to be at the UFT DA right now.

So what do you folks think? Is this resolution too extreme?

Doc Challenges Jay Matthews….

December 2, 2008

In a column that came out today, WaPo’s “genius-in-residence” self-styled education guru Jay Matthews explained what you need to do to jump-start a chronically failing urban school system, illustrated by one school principal at Shaw Middle School. For the folks that have a lot of things to do (or email to read, in the case of Michelle Rhee), I’ve boiled it down to what I think are the key points. I have conveniently added my commentary as well.

(Principal Brian Bettes) eliminated homeroom periods and recess as wastes of time, instituted daily teacher training and told some instructors that they wouldn’t last the school year if he didn’t see enough energy in their classrooms.

Physical activity, physical fitness—waste of time! Burning off energy that could come out the wrong way in classrooms—pshaw! Why engage in exercise when you can drill and kill? Daily teacher training—I call that MY JOB. I learn something new every day; I learn how to handle different types of students, different types of situations every single day, and I learn from my successes and my mistakes. Oh yes, the motivation by fear thing shows love, and family, and caring, and why am I standing on plastic? (Reference to Lethal Weapon 2).

That’s not all. The 41-year-old former Montgomery County middle school assistant principal said he wanted a school full of ambitious, young teachers “before they were jaded.” So he hired just two with more than five years of experience.

I hate this—new teachers are great, they youth and boundless love and energy but they don’t know anything! They learn from everything they do; I’ve met teachers two weeks in that were jaded. Young teachers won’t save the world unless they have experienced veterans to learn from.

He also visited scores of students and parents before school started, asking them, among other things, how they felt about a white man running a school where all of the students were black or Hispanic.

I don’t care who you are—that’s freakin’ cool.

What he is attempting looks similar to what successful public charter schools have done: aggressively recruiting young, enthusiastic teachers, dropping anything that gets in the way of learning, letting everyone know that he or she will be judged on performance and developing strong relations among staff, students and parents.

I can’t stand it—young teachers are great, but give props to the veterans!

Students and parents told Betts that many teachers they knew at Shaw and Garnet-Patterson didn’t care about them. “Nothing that I have ever seen trumps personal relationships at this level,” Betts said. “The kids in this building who can be absolutely horrible in one person’s class can be angelic in another because they have formed a relationship with that teacher.”

You know, he’s right.

A young teacher from New Jersey named Meredith Leonard was hired after saying: “Every kid can learn, and we all say that, but what is missing is the last part of the sentence: Every kid can learn given the motivation, given the supports, given the expectations. I will be motivating my kids, I will be giving my kids the support and I will be expecting them to do it.”

Good answer, I’d hire her too.

Many more applicants, including experienced teachers, blamed the bad test scores on undereducated parents and impoverished homes and suggested that those social ailments would be hard to cure. They weren’t hired. Betts is happy to be left with an eager and optimistic staff. Still, he does not have much time to prove that he and Rhee are right about this, with me and everyone else watching.

Mm…nope. If your students’ parents are undereducated, that doesn’t make things any easier as the teacher. If your student’ parents come from poverty and they’re wondering where their next out of school meal’s coming from, or don’t know where they’re going to spend the night, well sorry, but those concerns trump any standardized test multiple choice question.

Good teaching can’t fill a hungry belly, but it is a ticket to better times.

You know Jay, come to my school. Do my job for a day and I’ll do yours, but you can’t do mine.