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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Misplaced Praise, Eighth in a Series of 562 (Updated)

Congratulations to the teachers and administration of Tiogue School in Coventry, Rhode Island, a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence where Everybody is Somebody for Some Reason or Another!” The way you protected children from the very real dangers of little, tiny, plastic simulations of weapons glued to a hat was just marvelous. Your death-grip embrace of zero tolerance rules regarding weapons is an example to us all; someday we can all make ridiculous, well-intentioned decisions without having to overtax our brains with things like common sense and context.

Which is awesome. Life is easier when you don’t have to think too much.

Christan Morales says her son just wanted to honor American troops when he made a hat decorated with an American flag and small plastic Army figures.

But the hat ran afoul of the district’s no-weapons policy because the toy soldiers were carrying tiny weapons.

“His teacher called and said it wasn’t appropriate because it had guns,” Morales said.

Morales’ 8-year-old son, David, was assigned to make a hat for the day when his second-grade class would met their pen pals from another school. She and her son came up with an idea to add patriotic decorations to a camouflage hat.

Earlier this week, the Tiogue School in Coventry sent the hat home with David after class. He wore a plain baseball cap on the day of the visit instead.

Superintendent Kenneth R. Di Pietro said the principal told the family that the hat would be fine if David replaced the Army men holding weapons with ones that didn’t have any.

“The issue for us was, can it be done in a way that didn’t violate the zero-tolerance for weapons?” he said. “Nothing was being done to limit patriotism, creativity, other than find an alternative to a weapon.”

Superintendent, you, sir, are an idiot. In no sane mind do little army men even marginally qualify as weapons or as dangers to your school students. The teacher who turned the child in deserves just as much criticism, but I find myself running out of polite, family-friendly words for the thoughts in my heads.

If they ever wondered why some folks have worried at handing over their children to the care and mercy of our public schools, well, this helps illustrate the point. Until school administrators can fully engage their own brains, how can we possibly expect them to successfully educate our children?

While the individual school’s rules might differ (I couldn’t find a copy online), the district lists as an example of their school rules a zero-tolerance for weapons rule (link opens a pdf in a new window):

Weapons or items that could be used as weapons (including toys) are not allowed in school (zero tolerance and is often an offense that requires out-of-school suspension)

From the same document, we get the district-wide rules on drugs and weapons:

Drugs, Weapons, Inappropriate Materials:
For the safety of all students and faculty and based on state regulations, students may not bring to school drugs or weapons of any kind. Students who display behaviors that represent danger to other students, regardless of the fact that a weapon may be a toy or utensil or that a drug or illegal substance may be later identified as non-threatening, will be addressed through disciplinary action up to and including suspension. Every student deserves to learn in a safe and threat- free environment.

Could the little army men glued to the hat really be used as a weapon in any more of a useful sense than, say, your typical spork could be used as a weapon? Unless the school has drastically different language (and language that would be even more utterly stupid if it is so broad as to include army men in the range of things that could be used as a weapon or even manage to be meaningful simulations of real weapons), then the teacher and administrators somehow judged that, yes, those toys were a real hazard to other children or to their learning environment. Which is, in the most polite term I can imagine, just silly.

Read the story.

Update: Check out Jen’s post. Complete with graphics.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Loving School Choice

I’m a big supporter of vouchers, but, absent that, I wonder if “school choicing” (hate that term) will be the new norm over time? It’s a big step in the right direction--that is, the best way to hold any institution accountable for its performance is to be able to withhold funding at the end-user level. If the school isn’t doing the job, then move the dollars (along with the student) to a school that will do the job.

That’s a big win for parents and students. If the schools took it in the right spirit, it could also be a big win for the best teachers, the best administrators, and the best ideas.

Anyway, here’s this (which also highlights a problem with income inequity with open school enrollment throughout a district--a problem that I think is overblown):

In Denver Public Schools, 41 percent of the district’s estimated 75,000 students attend a school other than one in their attendance area, up from 34 percent in 2004.

The numbers of DPS students “choicing” into schools continues to rise as the district’s diversification of school programs continues.

Among Denver’s 140 schools, there are 21 charters, five dual-language schools, three arts-focused schools, 11 with an international theme, three science-oriented schools, two expeditionary learning schools and six Montessori schools.

“Our goal is in every neighborhood in every part of the city to have high-quality choices,” said Tom Boasberg, DPS superintendent.

DPS is a big, diverse district with all sorts of institutional problems. It has been working hard for a number of years now, though, to address those problems and I like a lot of the changes that they’ve made.

Here’s to choice.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quick Thoughts While Pondering My Blog’s Future

One of the things that amazes me, living as I do with a teacher, is that parents hold their children to such incredibly low standards, work hard to undercut teachers’ authority in the classroom (and in the grade book), and make excuses for their lovely little angels. Then they wonder why those same children grow up only marginally skilled and completely unprepared for the difficulties of the real world.

I’m not in the habit of making excuses for the schools--from an overly insular culture afraid of outside influence and on to unions that protect teachers who are unfit for their positions, there’s a lot to be cranky about in public education--but I hear stories daily that have convinced me that the biggest stumbling block to many of these kids’ success happens to be their parents. I wonder who taught these parents that their kids should be protected from the deserved consequences of their decisions.

If anything, I continue to feel that the kids should be held to a higher standard than that imposed by the teachers in DG’s school--standards that many of the parents think impose undue burdens on their kids. Burdens like turning their homework in on time, doing their own work, and failing when they won’t even show a basic level of effort. Not competency, mind you, but effort.

Grow up, parents, you’re not doing your damned job.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Via the De-Blogger: Tales of Wizardry

I want to hope that there are better reasons that this for the (in a practical sense) dismissal of a substitute teacher in Tampa Bay.

Substitute teacher Jim Piculas does a 30-second magic trick where a toothpick disappears then reappears.

But after performing it in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land ‘O Lakes, Piculas said his job did a disappearing act of its own.

“I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers.  He says, ‘Jim, we have a huge issue, you can’t take any more assignments you need to come in right away,’” he said.

When Piculas went in, he learned his little magic trick cast a spell and went much farther than he’d hoped.

“I said, ‘Well Pat, can you explain this to me?’ ‘You’ve been accused of wizardry,’ [he said]. Wizardry?” he asked.

In a day of mind-boggling stories--prison priests sexing up the inmates and Hillary promising to break up the evil oil cartels, for instance--this is far from the worst or most important story of the day, but I’d be hard-pressed to find another that stumped me quite so effectively.

Wizardry. And, apparently, someone was serious about that accusation over a simple magic (for the slower amongst us, it isn’t real magic) trick involving a toothpick. That isn’t the bad part, though, is it? I mean, some people think the Harry Potter books might shuffle their kids’ souls off right to hell.

What business does the school district have indulging that kind of idiocy, though?

I’m all for involved parents having a say in school curriculum. As with most things, though, there has to be a balance, and in this case the balance should be protecting the teacher.

The only potentially game saver here is this:

Tampa Bay’s 10 talked to the assistant superintendent with the Pasco County School District who said it wasn’t just the wizardry and that Picular had other performance issues, including “not following lesson plans” and allowing students to play on unapproved computers.”

It has to be viewed, though, in light of the fact that the supervisor apparently took the “wizardry” charge seriously enough to mention it to the teacher. Whatever cause might exist to want this man out of a classroom, being an amateur Dumbledore shouldn’t really be in the mix.

Read the story.

Hat tip to Andy who recently decamped to less bloggy climes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Denver Schools are Revolting. And I’m Not Talking About CSAP Scores.

A quiet revolution seems to be building in some Denver area schools--schools that want to be freed from the bureaucracy of the overblown administration and the dictates of the teachers’ union. And, best of all, they are doing it for the kids--only this time it isn’t a funny catch phrase used to point out the obvious manipulation of politics and events with teary-eyed tots in hopes of doing something like banning the bomb so that the children will never again be hugged with nuclear arms. Or something like that.

Anyway, this revolt started a few weeks back with another school that wanted to free itself from the bonds of the district in hopes of creating a better school where kids could excel. I’m not sure what I think of their plans--I’m haven’t seen a real road map, if you will, of what they are trying to do. I like, though, that they recognize that schools need to be able to deal with their neighborhoods, their kids, their parent, and their issues with more agility than a giant district can provide.

Eighteen northeast Denver schools are seeking to build an autonomous school zone — freeing them from union and district rules they say are bureaucratic barriers to improving student achievement.

Principals from several of the schools met Monday with 50 community members and educators at Montbello High School to outline the proposal, which will be presented this month to the school board.

Principals from the 18 schools want to create a “zone of innovation,” giving them control over their budget, the educational program in the schools, staffing and incentives.
They want their own human resources department, a budget support office and an enrollment center to help schools balance populations — sending more students to schools with empty classrooms and alleviating crowding in others.

“We’re talking about putting an umbrella out here to make sure our kids get help,” said Ruth Frazier, principal of Greenwood School that serves kindergartners to eighth-graders. “We’ve come together as a region. . . . This zone is to create a new operating system.”

The move is similar, in parts, to autonomy agreements and waiver requests being sought by other Denver schools.

I would like to hear more about their plans--why they think they can do better, what the changes would mean functionally, and how it will work in relation to things like budget and support issues--but I like the trend. Moving away from bureaucracy might well mean more efficiency and smarter choices for the schools and their students.

Hooray for Denver’s revolting schools!

Read the rest.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Gordon Robert Moore Gets a Failing Grade

Not much could compel public school teachers to take up arms en masse, but this story from the Denver Post just might have the necessary ingredients.

A Longmont investment adviser has pleaded guilty to swindling dozens of teachers in 11 Colorado school districts.

Gordon Robert Moore pleaded guilty for his role in an investment scam involving 141 public-school teachers, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said today.

Moore illegally transferred nearly $1.7 million from accounts with the Public Employees Retirement Association into accounts he controlled, Suthers said.

Moore pleaded guilty to felony theft, felony computer crime and felony securities fraud. He will be sentenced Feb. 26.

Burn, bastard, burn.

While I’m not the most sympathetic to the “teachers are underpaid” story that is taken with nothing resembling critical thought from otherwise intelligent people (a fact that causes crankiness in darling girl when I’m stupid enough to bring it up), this con man was stealing from those teachers’ futures. He deserves a very long sentence and to have his name remembered by Google forever. It should make for some interesting questions when he gets around to job interviews in the future.

I’m personally hoping that he has a hard time rising above the “would you like fries with that?” level of employment after his stint in jail is complete.

Read the story.

Monday, June 04, 2007

No Problem w/ Cultural Education

I’m a little surprised by the uproar that a little cultural education brings.

For one night, on May 9, the quaint colonial town of Amherst, New Hampshire, was transformed into a Saudi Arabian Bedouin tent community, with the help of 80 seventh-graders at the Amherst Middle School. The weather cooperated, providing 85 degree temperatures to give an authentic Saudi feel to the evening.

More than 250 guests arrived at the open tent and were welcomed with an Arabic greeting of “Marhaba” by students at a Saudi customs desk.

During the check-in, guests selected a traditional Arabic name for their name badge and completed an actual Saudi customs form, which warned in bold letters “Death for Drug Trafficking “ at the top.

Once inside, guests were encouraged to circulate among 14 different stations created by the students.

The Arabic food-tasting station offered four entrées, curried chicken, lamb, tomato chicken with cardomom, and Moroccan chicken, served with pita breads, hummus, and couscous. Fresh fruits, cardomom coffees, and spice teas were also served.

Flowing fabrics hung from the ceiling separated the family and men-only dining sections. The tables were set on large rugs and lowered so that the diners sat on the floor.

Only the seventh-grade boys were allowed to host the food stations and the Arabic dancing, as the traditions of Saudi Arabia at this time prevent women from participating in these public roles.

Dressed in traditional Arabic wear--long plaid kilts, white shirts and turbans--the boys offered food and entertained guests. The Arabic dancers enthusiastically performed to music and encouraged male visitors to join their dance.

Seventh-grade girls hosted the hijab and veil stations, where other female guests learned how to wear the required head covering and veils. An antique trunk full of black abayas worn by women, and white thobes worn by the men, were available for guests to try on.

I’ve quoted the same section of the article that one of the detractors, Kim Priestap from Wizbang, quoted just to make sure we’re working from the same context. Here’s what she had to say:

How would you feel if your seventh graders participated in this?

I found this at LGF and I was stunned. I know middle schools teach about world religions, but this project is way over the top, particularly the photos of the little girls in hijabs.
[...]
There are several reasons why this picture makes my blood boil. To begin, this picture embodies al Qaeda’s goal to convert everyone, especially Americans, to Islam, and they will use force to do so. Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda’s English speaking servant, has issued a number of videos demanding that Americans convert or die. These kids’ parents most likely have no idea the horrible symbolism these images represent. Second, hijabs, along with burqas, represent the horrible oppression and abuse of women by a misogynistic culture and religion. For example, in Iran, women were horribly beaten in public for not wearing the correct head coverings. Third, this project is nothing more than a lesson in political correctness; Muslims are the new protected class. Would the school offer a project in which the kids were required to participate in a Jewish Seder? I seriously doubt it.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind at all if my seventh grader was given an opportunity to participate in this kind of a school activity. In fact, I would embrace the opportunity that it gave me to talk to my kid about Islam and the Middle East. I would enjoy that they were being introduced to new ideas and experiences, even though those ideas and experiences were probably watered down versions of the reality.

We might be involved in a war with radical Islamists, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate the beauty of Arab culture. Nor is it a bad thing to learn about another person’s culture and traditions--and I sure as hell don’t see how the school doing this translates into a recruitment drive for al Quaeda or Islam. That strikes me as bordering on the paranoid (and no few steps from xenophobia).

Quick story time: the g-phrase, as many know, is a school teacher. Some time ago, some of the teachers at her school were teaching the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. The parents were given an opportunity to have their kids opt out, but at least one parent wouldn’t let it go at that: he called the school, he ranted, he raved, and he angrily said that the exercise--part of a larger unit teaching about hispanic culture--shouldn’t even be taught in the school.

While we could argue the merits of teaching kids to say the Pledge in Spanish, what bugged me most was that this man was saying that his belief that it was wrong should trump all the teachers and parents who believed that it was, at worst, a harmless teaching exercise. It wasn’t enough that he could excuse his kid; he wanted to limit the opportunities of everyone else’s children.

My hunch--and it’s a very strong hunch--is that the parents of the children doing the Bedouin tent community night were aware of (and had given permission for their kids to participate in) the school activity. I would be shocked if the parents hadn’t had the opportunity to keep their kids out of the assignment.

So, what’s the problem?

Don’t completely misunderstand: as I said, I would take the opportunity to talk to my son or daughter about Islam and Arab cultures. I would explain why I felt that, ordinarily, the wearing of the hidjab is a greater sign of how women are treated in most Islamic communities, about how homosexuality and apostasy are punished, and why our culture and political systems are clashing with some of the more radical and strict adherents of Islam. Talk about an opportunity to teach your kids.

Not only would it be a chance to explain my view of the Middle East (both the good and the bad), but it would be an opportunity to talk about what I think is great and what is flawed about America. I live for this shit.

I understand that a parent wouldn’t want their child to participate. So speak against it, keep your kids out of it, and then take a moment to respect the fact that some of us hold a very different view and it isn’t because we want to capitulate to the demands of the terrorists. For some of us, it is an opportunity to open up a much larger conversation.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Undeserved Suspension

Does it make sense that a man who teaches geography might use flags displayed in a classroom as a way to aid and supplement his lessons? Sure does. Does it make sense that that man should then be suspended for refusing to remove the flags because they might violate state law against displaying foreign flags in public buildings? Sure doesn’t. Yet, a teacher, Eric Hamlin, was suspended here in Colorado just for that reason after his principal, convinced that the display violated Colorado law, ordered the flags to be removed.

Firstly, the principal that ordered the removal of the flags was wrong: Colorado state law allows temporary displays of foreign flags for educational purposes. Secondly, kids should be introduced to the flags of the world and the symbolism that informs their designs.

Hamlin was actually suspended for insubordination--for refusing a reasonable request from a superior. It is debatable whether this was a reasonable request, but there is little question in my mind that Hamlin didn’t earn a suspension (and potential firing) for using foreign flags as teaching aids. There may be other problems with the content of Hamlin’s classes and previous disciplinary issues that influenced the principal’s decisions. The details in the Rocky, though, don’t appear to support the suspension.

Read the rest.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

On the Need for a National Identity

I offer this without much in the way of commentary except to note two things:

  1. The pleasure I felt in reading a piece that, essentially, mirrors my view on the need for a sense of national unity that should be taught to our children.
  2. The fact is that the writer is a touch over-kind to the system here in America. Not in the idealized view of that educational system, but in the uneven application by people who are essentially unfriendly to the idea that children should be taught that the American way (if you’ll pardon the expression) might have some advantage over systems in other parts of the world. Regardless of the evidence that our path does have tremendous advantage over, say, the overly-socialized government programs of “old Europe” or the theocracies of the Middle East, the actual expression of admiration for those advantages is often considered to be so crass, insensitive, and downright judgmental that it marks the commentary as being unenlightened.

    One of the greatest dangers facing the United States is that so many of her citizens no longer believe that she is special or worthy of admiration.

These things said, the writer of this piece in the Telegraph understands the need for a level of national pride and admiration in the citizens of the West. And a persuasive bit of writing it is.

...[A]s we have apparently now realised, being a country that absorbs migrants involves rather more than taking in lodgers and leaving them to get on with it. Multiculturalism may have been dressed up as cosmopolitan virtue but, at heart, it was a rationale for not really giving a damn, and a cover for the least attractive British traits - intellectual laziness, indifference to the needs of other people, complacency, and contempt for any sort of energetic commitment to a social ideal.

Well, the serious thinking starts now - as usual in Britain, at five minutes past midnight. The lodgers - or, more to the point, their children - clearly need to be offered a bit more than a key to the front door and a reminder not to leave the landing light on. Much has been made of this country’s failure to give any instruction to incomers on the essentials of Britishness - whatever that is - and their consequent lack of any sense of national identity. To this end, acres of newsprint and hours of broadcasting time have been devoted to producing a defining sense of what it means to be British.

Read the rest.

Update: Kindly linked by Iowa Voice.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Funniest Story of the Week

The funniest story that I read this week--in that, “okay, so it’s not really funny, but it sure makes me laugh” kind of way--was the story of the California State Assembly taking on overly lengthy textbooks.

Way to help instill a healthy respect for learning and reading.

World History in 200 Pages or Less.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Timing Is Everything

Had I known about this, I might have submitted this. Even though I generally don’t do the carnivals of whatsits, I would have been interested to see what kind of feedback I might have rated.

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