Am I a geek or a nerd?

I fucking love Diane Ravitch
September 27, 2013, 9:02 am
Filed under: education law, Nerd | Tags: , , ,

You read that right. She’s the voice of reason. And not afraid to change her mind when evidence dictates that’s the right thing to do.

Just go listen to her: Diane Rocks!

In other news, my year long absence is over. I’m going to post more often. I’ve had some revealing experiences lately, in education, and I’m feeling compelling to get it out there. One of the points that I found compelling with Ravitch’s NPR interview above was the notion of Education as a social benefit not a consumer good. I recently left a job where I was duped by the CEO into believing he agreed with that sentiment. Then he misappropriated a grant and the teachers, pilot schools, and professional organizations we worked with got fucked.

So I’ve got some shit to get off my chest and most of it involves swearing like its my job. I am a nerd after all (see side bar for definition…)

If PD isn’t effective, is a Master’s Degree?
November 23, 2010, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Nerd, professional development | Tags: , ,

According  to an article in the Huffington Post earlier this week, it isn’t. I don’t think anyone is surprised by this; just because I went to school longer doesn’t automatically make me better at my job. Reading the comments section, filled with responses from teachers, I’m left thinking maybe all those master’s degree’s mean nothing. Comments that claim the studies (there are more than one) wrong, that common sense would say more education is good, that ‘you can’t tell me what works until you’re a teacher too,’ that accuse everyone of trying to take something away from teachers.

But the point of the article is that districts pay teachers with graduate level course work more than those without. Even if you went to grad school for your teaching certificate and had no undergrad training in education, you get paid more than the teacher whose bachelor’s degree is in education. These teachers are not paid more because they are better, they are paid more because they went to school longer. The argument can be made that in many fields candidates with advanced degrees are more desirable and while that is true, if the candidate stinks at the job he may not make more; he may even get fired.

Look, I was a teacher too and I still work in a public school system under a contract that pays me more because of my degree and gives me more money every year simply because I’m here. I get it. Its cushy system. But if we want to be taken seriously and treated as professionals then its time we start acting like it. We should be demanding more evaluation from our employers and pay that goes with those evaluations, not just pay because we lived another year. We should want a system that rewards the best, advanced degree or not. And we should really stop complaining about our pay, most teachers earn more than the average American and work less days per year. I know, summer’s aren’t really off, and we don’t get vacation days when we want them, but not many people get to completely check out from work for even 2 weeks during the year; I don’ t know a single teacher who doesn’t give themselves at least that much time off every summer.

Public school systems are looking for ways cut costs because they have to. In many districts, personnel is more than 80% of the expenditure every year. Where else can they look? I don’t want a pay cut either, but I sure don’t want the guy who doesn’t do his job very well to get rewarded at the same rate that I am if my employer knows that I’m better at my job.

Michigan Council for Social Studies Annual Conference
November 8, 2010, 9:57 am
Filed under: Nerd | Tags: , ,

Here in lovely downtown Kalamazoo (yes, there really is a Kalamazoo) for the MCSS annual conference. Yesterday we (the Michigan Citizenship Collaborative Curriculum partners) held a user group pre-conference session that was not well attended but considering its our first crack at it, a success in terms of discussion topics, questions answered and connections made.

I just left a workshop put on by Chippewa Valley teachers about integrating technology into Economics classes. Their webpage has links, lesson, examples–everything you need. I plan to steal it all…

Common Core and Curriculum
May 20, 2010, 7:40 am
Filed under: Nerd | Tags: , ,

The almost final version of the common core for ELA is available and although the documents still says draft, my sources (okay, my source, who is one of the team of 48 who wrote and revised these) says that this draft will be approved. I hope so, because we’ve already begun integrating them in the MC3 Social Studies curriculum.

I’ve got no beef with common core at all. In fact, I think the ELA core standards for History/Social Studies are very well done and reflect the sorts of reading, writing and thinking that good teachers already do and that we have included in MC3. What I am concerned about is the misunderstandings I’ve been hearing in meetings and through email. The first misconception is that these standards will replace our existing strands/content expectations. I think if you were to read them you would see that it’s a complement to existing content standards. For example, yesterday AtotheB and I were working on the US History curriculum, Unit 8, Civil Rights making sure we had addressed the content required. We then set about editing/critiquing the instructional material teachers had created and used the common core to assist us. So when students are reading about Brown v. Board of Education are they comparing two historians treatment of an event or are they comparing point of view or are they finding evidence in text to support an assertion? See, not a replacement, a compliment! But when I cited this example in a meeting of administrators, there were several groans and eye rolls that indicated they view common core as another burden, they asked about state testing of these standards, about changing their report cards to reflect these, about evaluating teachers. Not one question about curriculum and instruction…

Of course the for-profit curriculum entities will start trying to promote how well their materials meet common core. But I don’t know if they will really do a good job creating curriculum. Will it look like the current iterations, where I find that the book they try to sell me in Michigan looks exactly like the book they try to sell you in New York, except that anywhere a topic matches our expectations they point it out like it was tailored exactly to our needs? Or will it be  the thoughtful process suggested by Diane Ravitch in this article:

…a collaborative process of repeated review and revision…to design curriculum frameworks based on [the common standards] and implement them… They’d get teachers and curriculum developers involved, send [the frameworks] out to the field and try them. Everyone could use them. People could comment, and all of this could go into an iterative process of review, and back to the designers, and out again for more field trials and more comment. 


Which is exactly how we have developed MC3. Teachers and Consultants  review and organize content expectations into logical units of study, they create a list of ‘critical performances’ for a subject/grade level, they begin fleshing out instructional plans and materials, they are vetted by content experts, tested in the field by any teacher who wants to try, revised based on their experiences and tried again. It takes freakin’ forever but we have good stuff happening!! If only we could get more people to see it, try it, revise with us…its like open source curriculum, its free and its modified by its users.

Sigh…but then how would anyone make any money? Instead, the publishers will latch on, re-label old stuff, promise fantastic results and our little project of a vertically aligned social studies program that gets kids to read, think, write and remember will roll along in obscurity.

I’ve missed you!
May 5, 2010, 9:01 am
Filed under: Geek, Nerd

Its been awhile, but I’ve been busy:

1. Lonestar 70.3: I took 5 days off from work for what I call a race-cation, but what Jake calls an excuse for me to race and try to convince him it will be fun like a vacation. Anyway, I very much enjoyed Galveston and the almost shockingly friendly and supportive people I ran into. Often when I travel to race locations the locals seem to have no idea what’s happening despite the fact that 1500-2500 people have descended on their community with families and bicycles and enormous traffic signs that tell them “race this weekend, road closed.” We get yelled at for clogging traffic, stared at for wearing spandex, and picked on because we limp the next day. Of course, we also spend money in hotels, restaurants, bars and grocery stores. Galveston was the opposite: the rental car clerk wished me luck, the condo manager helped me with my bike, the Walmart cashier told me she was excited for me, a guy in his car yelled congratulations when I was walking my bike back to the condo. I could stay in Galveston a long time…a great place to run and ride with their miles of seawall, beaches that may not be white sand but are free and very accessible, a historic district to rival any city, and some bartenders and waiters who can’t be beat. The race was great too–90 second improvement over my previous best despite a longer than normal swim course, wind, and heat. My run was 10/90 for my division and I’m looking forward to racing this again.

2. Close Up Macomb County Youth Commission: I had no choice but to schedule this the same day as the AP Government exam and was worried for months that kids wouldn’t show up, or would forget, or would just have failed to see the conflicted dates. We did have fewer students than previous years, but the 50 who attended were outstanding!  They spent the morning hearing from the county sheriff’s office, the chairman of the county board of commissioners, the head of public transit, and the head of planning and economic development. Once they had gathered evidence from these presenters the Student Commissioners went to committee meetings to evaluate plans for improving Macomb County’s economic position and create a proposal for retaining and attracting young residents. Once the committees had completed their work, spokespeople for each group presented to several members of the county board and had an outstanding question and answer session.  I’m so pleased with their ideas and the quality of their work that I can’t wait to do this again next year. What I need to figure out is how to make this more than one day.

3. Third Grade Network: It ended last night. Teachers report being very pleased with the curriculum and wishful that more of their colleagues were involved, but also are very frustrated by the amount of material, the lack of support from admin for social studies, lack of a supply budget, the unknown of next year’s assignments, and the sense that the state legislature doesn’t understand why schools need to know NOW about the budget and staffing for next year.  All of this colors teacher interaction during the networks and I wish I had more to offer them than a curriculum.

4. Not something I did, but rather something I read: Why Education Research Gets an F…I know people will argue that you can’t do research on kids, that you can’t deny a control group some education reform, or that the variables are too many, but that doesn’ t mean we should use shoddy methodology and take the word of the publisher that something works. It reminds me of the Gatorade sponsored study that ‘proves’ Gatorade improve performance… 

The school year in Michigan is almost done, I’ve got one more workshop, some sessions with teachers creating assessments and then our summer programs begin.  Where did the year go?

Trying new app
April 15, 2010, 10:56 am
Filed under: Nerd | Tags:

I’m testing the wordpress iPhone app posting feature. If this works I’ll be so excited!!

Lonestar 70.3 and standardized testing
April 14, 2010, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Nerd | Tags: , , ,

In an attempt to keep this education related but still express some frustration with triathlon I’m going to build a tenuous link between Standardized Testing and Wave Starts at Lonestar 70.3.

As with any ‘test’, you need to know what you are measuring. In this case, Lonestar measures my ability to complete a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. While any 70.3 courses may have different challenges (hills, wind, currents) all competitors must complete the distance. The argument is made by many that the playing field at any given race is level; all the entrants deal with the same terrain and constraints of the given course.   Most races have leveled the playing field further by using electronic timing chips so that each individual athlete’s completion time is precise–my chip timer electronically starts when my feet cross the start line, not when the first of the 1500 entrants crosses the start line. This is also a method to prevent cheating and provide data–at certain points on the course (swim finish, bike start, bike turn around, bike finish, run start, run turnaround or lap, run finish) the athlete and his chip will pass electronic markers.  In this way, the race officials can start 100 or so athletes at a time, instead of a 1500 at once, every 5 minutes, lets say and still have accurate completion statistics for each entrant.  They do their best, the race organizers, to keep us all happy, out of each other’s way (that’s why the pro athletes start before the rest of us–we would simply get run over) but sometimes the standardization methods make the playing field not so level.  Those for whom the event counts as work (sponsored athletes) get a very level field–they start first, with people who are of the same caliber. The rest of us are lumped by age with no concern for our ability or level of preparation.

Take my Lonestar 70.3 wave. My group is last. I start at 8:15AM. Sounds fine, right. Except that there are 14 or so other groups starting before me, the pros at 7AM, the young guys at 7:05 etc. Again, you ask, what’s the big deal?  There are three things here that can negatively affect my performance and that are out of my control.

1. The winds in Galveston get stronger as the day goes on. Starting 75 minutes later than others means I will probably face a windier and therefore more challenging course.

2. It’s also hot in Galveston, the later the day, the hotter it gets. Again, beginning my race 75 minutes after the official start means running in higher temps than some of my competitors.

3. I’m an above average swimmer. I always catch up to the average and below average swimmers in the previous waves and find myself either running into them or navigating around them. Certainly others in earlier waves have the same problem, but they may only have 1 or 2 or 3 groups in front of them. I have 12.

What’s the connection to standardized testing? I ask you if the playing field for the entrants is actually level. Does every ‘competitor’ face the same circumstances that are beyond his control-like quality of teacher, temperature of the building, instructional material, parental involvement, breakfast? While I can’t control my start time in these events, I am participating voluntarily. Our kids are not.

PS: you can track my progress on 4/25 by going to and following athlete number 1444!

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