The Chinese Fire Drill

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Seven Period Day: A Myth of Productivity

Two years ago, my high school was the only one in our county that still used the antiquated seven-period day.  At the time, I assumed that it was only a matter of time before we joined the rest of our county and moved forward into the next century.

Then our governor changed the funding formula for all of the state's public schools.

Then the economy imploded.

During the first two waves of budget gloom, most of those county rivals have reverted BACK to a traditional, seven-period day.  In the newspaper reports covering the board meetings, the trustees tossed around the same, tired arguments in support of the switch-back: namely that students would get more day-to-day attention with their teachers, and that a regular routine would consequently improve both many of the social problems in the hallways and most importantly improve (you guessed it) test scores.  What they begrudgingly  mentioned, because they didn't want to be called out on their posturing, was that it was also going to be a LOT more cheap (which I mean in every sense of the word).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Those Annoying State Standards

Nearly twenty years ago, after my third year teaching, our English department met to update and revise curriculum. The process was time-consuming, and we harangued and bickered in the way any group will when philosophical influences clash with uniform goals, but it was nonetheless an elegant and simple process. We basically decided, in a nutshell, the following things for each class we offered:
  1. What major assignments (usually large papers/essays, etc) will each course require?
  2. What textbooks and novels, etc. will each course use?
  3. At what point in the year (broadly speaking) will the key assignments be completed?
  4. At what point in the year (again, broadly speaking) will important chapters and/or novels be completed?
Not that hard. A pretty basic concept. The amazing thing is that it actually worked very well. First, the decision-making, while challenging due to the personal biases and territorial attitudes that are common in teaching, was otherwise simple. Second, once the decisions were made, we produced a simple, readable, understandable document that any teacher (veteran or rookie) could grasp and use immediately. Finally, both the task and the document it produced served a purpose. It showed us who was doing what and when, and it helped us avoid situations where three different English classes read To Kill a Mockingbird while none of them taught students how to write Cause and Effect Papers.

Naturally, since the process was so functional, the "powers that be" saw the need to step in and screw it all up.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It Has a Lot to do with the Health Insurance

Today was the final day to decide on supplemental coverage for vision and dental insurance. We dropped those benefits last year (and increased our HSA deductibles to $6,000) so that we could avoid laying off teachers.

I know I made the right choice last year; I know saving someone's job is always the noble thing to do. But now I have to pay all my vision & dental out of pocket. If I made enough to save for it, that would be fine. But I don't. I'm driving a 20-year old car so I can budget food money.

There's no point in complaining, though. First, health insurance is still killing all of us. Second, the hostility against teachers is so acidic that any complaint would invite a volley of hate mail.

I won't be getting any vision and dental. These are dark times.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Dark Underbelly of Grading

Orginally Written: October 2010

We just finished the first quarter of our school year, and here's an example of the numbers I have to deal with every year:

I have 69 "Regular" English students (again...I don't even know what "Regular" means).
Of their grades for the quarter, FIVE of them were significant or meaningful or major.
On average, it takes me 51 minutes to grade all five assignments for just ONE student.
So...51 minutes multiplied by 69 students equals 58.6 hours of grading per quarter.
All of this grading SHOULD be done outside of class instruction time.

I have eleven Honors students and another 50 AP students.
If I apply the same formula to those two groups, I'm adding another 122.9 hours of grading for the quarter.

So what?

Here's what matters:

My Perfect School, Part III

My Perfect School, Part III

Chapter 4: Why Our Teachers are Different

When I was a young teacher, I had students shoot baskets with Nerf balls...yes, that's right...Nerf balls because I was trying to “enthuse” them about grammar. The truth is, I was doing no such thing. I was simply wasting time and money. My students left that class every bit as unable to label the parts of speech in a sentence as they did before I attempted to “inspire” them.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Perfect School: Part II

My Perfect School, Part II

Chapter 2: The Only Tests that Matter

Every state in the union now holds schools' “feet to the fire” by way of one more standardized tests.  The premise is that offering a universal test over basic skills as well as reading comprehension and critical thinking is a good benchmark for measuring the learning taking place at each school.  The strange thing about this is that we've already HAD that test for decades.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Perfect School: Part I

My Perfect School

Prologue: Why Charters, Vouchers, Etc. Aren't Really Working

Why even suggest the concept of an alternative school when said alternatives are already appearing all over the nation?  The Voucher concept began decades ago and became election-time fodder in the late 80's and early 90's.  And frustrated parents and community members have been popping out Charter schools like Pez Dispensers (to quote Rhea Perlman's description of her character's, Carla's, birthing record in Cheers).  Charters however, for all the attention they get and the controversy they generate, really haven't threatened the status of public education.  For all the griping that parents and even kids themselves make about their schools, when the time comes to choose between the Charter and the local high school, most kids go local.

Why?  One word: sports.