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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Making the Grade

All the news outlets today are grading Obama's hundred days. They're grading him on the economy, foreign policy, style of dress, blah blah blah.
Grading him against what? or whom? All assessments must have a standard. That's the problem with all the people giving him grades, they all use a different rubric.
Was he able to turn the economy around? He's done more in 100 days than W did in eight years, but then one step forward is better than a million steps backwards.
Did he get as much legislation passed as FDR? No, but FDR had more months to write the legislation and get his ducks in a row, he wasn't inaugurated until March back then, not January. His first hundred days ended in June, and there's always a flurry of legislation passed just before summer recess.
Still it does make me think of school and if I follow that grading analogy a hundred days would be the equivalent of the very first grade of the very first week of school. He has four years, the final report card won't come out for quite some time. Granted no one wants to start the school year off with a failing grade, but it doesn't mean you'll fail the course. Getting an A on the first grade is also no guarantee that you'll pass the class.
I liked Madeline Albright's comment where she compares this to the first hundred yards of a mile. (I was a miler in high school and college, she's talking my language) The first hundred yards of a mile only gets you into the rhythm of the race, it doesn't determine the outcome.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baby Boom

We're having a baby boom at my school, and it's not just the students (wish I was kidding). In my department two fellow teachers became fathers on April 21, and yesterday. There are two other teachers expecting soon. Life renewing itself. A wonderful thing.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Proud Grandpa

Abigail is soooo tiny and soooo cute.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Congratulations Are In Order

Bruce, my older brother, is now a grandfather. I beat him by six years. James William Clark born to my niece. Mom is getting a full dose of great-grandkids this year as Bruce's son's wife is expecting toward the end of summer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gaming the system

Alright enough about my granddaughter. I'm sure she'll be mentioned many times in the months and years to come.

Over at the Captain I posted a link to the entire transcript of last Friday's Bill Moyer's interview with David Simon of HBO's The Wire. It is an eye opening interview. One of the statements he made concerned an episode of the show on schools and testing. There was a clip in which one of the characters who left the police force to become a teacher figures out that all the statistics being gathered from the testing was just a way to manipulate the newspapers and people into believing that the schools were doing a better job than they actually are. In short gaming the system. That's caused me to reflect on the last twenty seven years of teaching. Bare with me as I go down memory lane.

When I started teaching the only standardized tests (outside of ACT or SAT's) were given to 3rd, 8th and 11th grades. Every summer the numbers would be released in the paper and the only people who used those numbers were real estate agents who could inflate the prices of the houses in the districts of the schools that had the highest numbers. Other than that nobody did much with them.
When George I was elected president and the cold war ended the republicans shifted their boogey man from Russia to American schools. Reagan laid the groundwork with his Presidential commission which produced a report called: A Nation At Risk. This is when the drum beat for yearly testing started. Naturally the NEA and AFT were against this, the argument being that teachers are hired to teach the subjects, if testing were to be done yearly teachers would be forced to teach students how to pass the tests, not history or English, or Algebra, etc.,which is why there is the constant shrilling about how the Unions are against improving the schools. Tell a lie loud enough and often enough and sooner or later people start believing it. Our legislature responded by creating a Competency Test that all public schools students must pass to get a diploma. If you don't pass it you get a certificate of attendance. The test is given to sophomores which gives them two years to make up any part of the test before graduation, and if there is still a part of the test not passed they have until they are twenty-two to pass it. Most pass it the first time. The GED is twice as hard as this test, and a passing grade is kept in the 40% range. In other words: Big Waste Of Time and Tax Payer Dollars, but the politicians could pat themselves on the back and boast that the were improving education in this state.
 The other demon in education is dropouts. There became a concerted effort to identify "students at risk" of dropping out. While teaching 7th and 8th grade English we had so called experts in identifying these students come to our school, take them out of class and give them a pep talk, and somehow all the money that paid these experts salaries was supposed to be translated into few of these students not quitting school. Meanwhile we were picketing before and after work hours to get a two percent pay increase that year.
By the Clinton administration even the democrats were joining the testing bandwagon. New tests came in, more grades were added to those needing to be tested, and as our school buildings deteriorated, as teachers retired and fewer and fewer college graduates looked at a starting teacher's salary and concluded that there was no way in hell they could pay off their students loans and live with this small an amount, more and more money was being drained away to pay for all the new tests. More faculty had to be hired to coordinate and administer the tests, fewer weeks were being spent on instruction and is now devoted to testing.
Then APS hired a superintendent who knew how to game the system. He negotiated a contract that specified that if certain goals were met he got bonuses. One of those bonuses was if the drop out rate was lowered. And he did it. He changed the way drop outs were counted. Previously a school would have the count of freshmen who enrolled at a certain high school and subtracted all those students four years later who graduated from that high school. The difference was your drop out rate. If you had six hundred freshmen and four years later your graduating class was three hundred you had a 50% dropout rate. Really pretty simple.
Dr. A had the dropout rated calculated by how many seniors enrolled and subtracted how many graduated at the end of that school year. So if you enrolled 330 seniors and 300 graduated then you only had 30 dropouts and that came to less than 10%. Amazing how he got his bonus that year. The newspapers and tv anchors were all singing his praises. He lowered APS's dropout rate by 30% in one year. It's stunning how easy it is to trick MSM with cooked books.
The Der Decider was elected. No Child Left Behind was hailed as a milestone for education. We began calling it "Leave No Child A Dime." Testing now comes with consequences. If schools don't reach a certain level of proficiency they lose money, teachers can be reassigned to other schools, the state or federal governments can come in and require better training so on and so forth. Every year the proficiency goes up until all schools will have all students at a 100% proficiency by 2012. The perfect recipe for every year letting the media squeal about how terrible our schools are. It is an impossible standard to meet, and then Bushco pulled the rug out from under it by refusing to fund all the federal mandates that had to be met. Even neocon heaven Utah screamed foul.
For the last eight years and counting from February to April there is very little instruction going on. It's all testing. Freshmen are tested one week, all other students stay home. Then Sophomores, get the picture. In the fall we have two practice testing days where we simulate the testing to get them ready. We have thirty minutes added onto one class every Wednesday were all student have to answer a math question, then we discuss how to get points on the test even if you don't know the answer! It's easy, each question has four points, you get one point if you rephrase the question, one point for attempting to figure it out, and two points for getting it right. Even if you get every question wrong if you do steps one and two you have a 50%. I'm not making this up.
On our In-Service days for two years years we had a testing cheerleader come with fancy posters, snappy phrases, and the secret of how we could get our students to pass these tests. They won't let us know how much was spent flying this guy here to give us this pep talk, or how much we spent buying his fancy posters that we all had to put up in our rooms. Want to know the big secret? Have the students underline key question words like who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then on the multiple choice answers cross out the answers they knew to be wrong so they could focus on the two answers that come close to being right. There's big bucks in selling snake oil to superintendents today.
The reason given for all of this testing was that it would identify the schools that need the most help and the government would come in to set things right. As David Simon points out it's really all about gaming the system. Are the students getting a better education today when most schools can claim that their test scores show improvement? Or has it just taken a few years for the schools to know how to manipulate the statistics.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Joys of being a Grandfather

New baby's are wonderful, but they're even more wonderful as grandchildren. Abigail is precious, but with E, C, auntypesty, grinnygranny,  and Mom being there to feed, rock, change diapers it's so much less work for me than when my two came along.
And have things changed since they were born! C had a nice hospital room which had a real wide ledge up against the window, there was a twin mattress on it and E spent the night in the room. A whole lot better than a recliner or chair to sleep in. So far the only one having a hard time is Daniel, who can't understand why he has to be quiet so much. Three year olds are not naturally quiet.
Another perk of being a grandpa is that you can get out of the house and play golf.

I walked the full 18 holes yesterday, normally I walk nine or ride 18. It was tiring. This was the first time I played Kirkland AFB's course. It was nice. You just have to know someone with base privileges to get in. The two guys I've been playing with most of the winter invited me to join them, which was nice. The grass around the greens is coming out. During the winter you can usually putt onto the green, my chipping game is really rusty, but it's still a lot of fun.

The header is the latest painting by Anne Littlewolf. I just love her work.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Baby Time

Grinnygranny and I have a new granddaughter, named Abigail. She arrived at 10:26 this morning. Mother and child are doing well.  7lbs 2oz.


E's girlfriend went in last night and the doctor was going to induce labor. We haven't heard anything yet. Will post when our new granddaughter arrives.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pleasant Day

I hope everyone had a nice Easter, or memorable Passover.

We had a simple meal. Mom came over and we had a pleasant time talking about many different things. Living alone Mom likes to have someone to talk with.
We watched the Masters and it was very entertaining, though we were rooting for either Tiger or Michelson to pull off an upset. Kenny Perry had it in his grasp and let it get away.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Feeling better

  • Grinnygranny has had a cold for two weeks, she's still congested, but feeling better, and I came down with it Monday. I got through classes and stayed home the rest of the week. We did have Friday as a holiday. It was good that those three days were testing and I didn't have to leave lesson plans or worry about a sub being eaten alive by my students. Intestinal flu the a couple of weeks ago and now this. We are tired of not feeling well.
  • I felt good enough yesterday to play a round of golf, but was real weak the last few holes.
  • Today we've been getting something rather unusual around here -- rain. We need it badly, it's been very dry this year.
  • Went grocery shopping this morning. Mom's coming over tomorrow for Easter dinner. We thought about going out, but when all the clan is together that becomes expensive.
  • Thursday C thought her water broke, E took her to the hospital. It turned out to be a false alarm. Next week the doctor plans to induce if the baby doesn't decide to come on her own. It won't be long now before we become grandparents again.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Must Read

Stop by at Michael Manning's blog to wish him a happy birthday. He has one of the most touching posts I've read in many many visits to blogland.
He's a Steve McQueen aficianado and every year has a Film Festival that honors him. His insights into McQueen's life and movies is always eye opening. After having read his posts I've seen Junior Bonner, Bullit, and Le Mans, flicks that I missed growing up. Grinnygranny and I have really enjoyed them.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Value of the Mustang

Auto bailouts and breakups are filling the news lately. Obama's Car Czar forced the dimwit at GM out. Chrysler could disappear as far as I'm concerned -- see previous post at Captain's Log. It was bought from Mercedes by a private consortium that included Dan Quayle. Now there's a recipe for disaster. Maybe Fiat can salvage it.
Notice of the Big 3 only Ford has not asked for a bailout. Why? I'll tell you why. The Mustang.  
GM and Chrysler have a competing sports car to go against the Mustang, but they've both been stupid on the price.
The Mustang is a sports car if you put in a V8 engine and fancy it up. The GT and Cobra are really hot. They sell for 30 grand and up. But it's also an economy car. With the V6 and basic package it gets good mileage and sells from 18 thousand to 24 thousand. That's why everywhere you look Mustangs are all over the road.
GM in a fit of pure insanity killed the Camero, and when it decided to bring it back took four years after the design was released to bring it to market. It was in the Transformers movie and two years later you still couldn't buy one. That's just plain stupid. Now that it's finally hitting the market they sell for Fifty grand. Why not just buy a Corvette? Do they really need two top of the line sports cars?
Chrysler brought back the Charger, but made it a four door killing whatever sporty or economy value it could have had and upping the price. When they finally brought back the Challenger they priced it from 45 to 60 grand.
Both of these cars, and I'd love to have either one, start at what the Mustang sells for at its top end. If the Mustang started at this price you wouldn't see many of them either. 
That was the genius of Lee Iocoa who came up with the car in 1964. A people's sports car. The Camaro and Challenger were developed to compete with the Mustang, which they did from the mid sixties until the mid eighties. Pontiac's version, the Trans Am was about the biggest selling car of the seventies thanks to the Smokey and The Bandit movies. 
If either of these car companies had a lick of sense the Challenger and Camero would be priced around 20 thousand with a V6 or Turbo 4 cylinder engines and they would sell like hot cakes, just like the Mustang. In fact many people might trade in their Mustangs to get the next best sporty economy car. But Corporate thinking is too dense to figure this out. 
Where's the next Lee Iococa?