Monday, September 24, 2012

Does time matter?

Seems like you can't go a day without something in the news or on Twitter about how schools are failing and it's the fault of teachers.  Regardless of outside-of-school factors it's up to teachers to cure the ills of society.  Let's look at this from a strictly time matter.

There are 365.25 days in a year.  Multiply that by 24 hours in a day for 8,766 hours in a year. 

We have 172 days of instruction scheduled in the 2012-2013 school year.  Teachers work 7.5 hours per day so let's assume 7.5 hours for kids from simplicity sake.  Let's add on another 2 hours per day for a long morning and afternoon bus ride.  That puts us at 9.5 hours per day for 172 days.  This on the long side, but let's use this 1,634 hours as the number of hours a student would be in our care during a school year.

But wait, we also have summer school for 7 hours per day for 24 days.  Let's tack on that long bus ride again to get 9 hours for 24 days.  This is an additional 216 hours of contact.

1,634 hours + 216 hours is 1,850 hours a student would be in our care.  Not all of these would be in direct instruction.  We've included time for bus rides and the 7.5 hour day would include time for lunch, recess, class changes, transitions, etc.

At most we would have a student 21.1% of their year.  That leaves 78.9% of time when a student is out of our contact.  Seems to me that this nearly 80% would have some influence on student achievement.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September Paddle

Had a leisurely paddle on the Meramec River this month.  It was a new section of the river for us.  Definitely not scenic, but we did see some deer. 

I've driven over bridges across the lower section, but never paddled it.  We put in and paddled upstream from Valley Park.  The river is wide, slow, and brown. 

We paddled after attending the Woodbadge closing luncheon.  It was great to see old friends and make new ones.

Thoughts on the Missouri Democratic Platform

Have you seen the Missouri Democratic Platform?  If so, send it my way.  I can't find it, others have been unable to find it, and Party headquarters doesn't return calls.

My plan was to look at both (GOP was earlier post) separately then compare them side by side.  That's not looking possible at this point.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Congress is Back

Congress is back in session after the August recess, but will they actually do anything?  The list of things that need to be addressed is still there:  farm bill, ESEA reauthorization, a budget, etc.

My guess is that there will be some hearings, lots of press briefings, even more posturing, and some last minute deals to keep the federal government running so they can go home to run for office. 

They will kick the can of any meaningful decisions down the road once again.  The Republicans are hoping Romney will win and they'll take the Senate.  Democrats want to see President Obama re-elected and gain some seats in both chambers. 

Whichever way the wind blows on November 6 we will get ideology.  No meaningful solutions, just a this way or that way approach. 

I taught with a great teacher who put a sign on his door at each parent-teacher conference.  It read, "Don't Complain About What You Permit".  This concepts cuts across many aspects of life.

As the November election approaches know whose on the ballot, research their positions, and vote for the folks who represent your views.  Let's get a Congress that will tackle the issues of our time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thoughts on the Mo GOP Platform

Have you seen the Missouri GOP Platform?  It's hard to find.  Here are my thoughts and observations...

From the Preamble on page 1:  "We believe government governs best when it governs least."  The Missouri Legislature annually meets from early January through early May, with a veto session in September.  Given some of the nonsense that comes from the Legislature in roughly six months, governing less might be a good idea.

From Freedom, Job Creation on page 3:  supports "Continued efforts to limit job-killing frivolous lawsuits."  I get that "job-killing" is in the statement because it's a talking point, but it limits the notion to frivolous lawsuits.  Who is defining what a frivolous lawsuit is?  If a frivolous lawsuit isn't job-killing, is it okay? 

From Freedom, Spending & Debt on page 4:  supports "Balancing the state budget without increasing taxes."  On nearly every measure Missouri is a low tax burden state.  We have the lowest tobacco tax in the country.  Do I want to pay more taxes?  Of course not.  But I recognize that when your income (tax revenue) falls by 12.5% one not only has to reduce spending, but also look to increase their income (tax revenue).  Missouri must seriously consider taxing internet sales.  I hear lots of small business owners grumbling about that roughly 8% built in advantage.  Missouri has done much better budget-wise than many states.  While the cuts have not always been palatable, the Legislature and Governor have done an acceptable job keeping Missouri afloat.

From Security, Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice on page 9:  supports "Expansion of state laws that fully protect our children against sexual predators."  Who can argue against that?  The problem is that while Missouri has balanced its budget services have been cut.  Unfortunately, we have seen children kept in dangerous situations due to a lack of personnel to investigate and act on allegations.  Interestingly, we'll get an immediate response if a school employee has an allegation against them.  Do we need more laws or enforcement of those already on the books?

And now comments on the Educating our Children portion of the Platform on pages 5 and 6...

"Control over our schools should be returned to the local level, where parents have more say in how their children are educated."  I read this to a conservative voter.  Their response was they thought this was what locally elected school boards did.  Parents and community members elect representatives to their local boards of education.  The number of proposals from members of the Mo GOP who file legislation that erodes local control is intriguing given this Platform statement.  Perhaps we'll see less of this type of legislation from the Mo GOP in the coming session.

Supports "Efforts at the state and federal levels to adopt a fair system that grants parents the ability to help their children escape failing schools and attend schools of their choice -- whether private, charter, home schooling, or public.". This notion of failing schools is kind of new.  It stems from the labels required under NCLB for schools not meeting arbitrary targets on state tests.  There is no consistency from state to state on how the targets were set, nor the cut points on the state tests to be proficient.  The result was that states with high standards had more "failing" schools than those with lower standards.  Several studies have shown that Missouri has some of the highest standards in the country.  The notion of choice is gaining steam and sounds simple on the surface.  In Missouri the taxing and spending inequities from district to district is an issue when thinking about choice.  Take my district for example.  We border five other districts, we have the lowest operating tax levy in the group, and are the smallest of the group.  Should the rates be equalized in a choice environment?  Let's also not forget that Missouri does not contribute to facility construction.  Some districts have the community support to have nice facilities, while others can't get voter support to improve facilities.  Lastly, I'm offended that by the order of the supposed choices.  The implication is that private is the first choice and so on.  Is there a belief that public schools are the choice of last resort?

Supports "Quick action to address the urban education crisis that has already sacrificed the futures of generations of young people."  Urban education is an issue across the country, but the devil is in the details.  St. Louis struggles as a district, but has one of the top performing high schools in the state.  The problems with urban education are complex and there are no quick fixes.  Sustained improvement efforts with broad support from the community, parents, teachers, and kids is what will make the difference.

Supports "The foundation formula that funds education based on the needs of our children rather than the taxing capacity of a school district."  The SB287 formula is based on student needs.  The problem is that politicians have failed to fund it.

Supports "Education savings accounts that are tax exempt and may be used for meeting educational expenses for each individual or family member without penalty for withdrawal."  This statement needs some clarity.  Are these accounts for PK-college, just college, just PK, for private schools, etc.?  The broadness of the statement implies all of the above.

Supports "Local school boards in their efforts to guarantee quality instruction and to remove an unfit teacher."  Okay.  And is there some underlying meaning here? 

Supports "Reforming teacher tenure to ensure that the best teachers, regardless of their length of employment, remain in classrooms."  What we've seen coming out is more of an elimination of tenure rather than reform/change.  How about some measures that will attract folks to the teaching profession?

Supports "Establishing a merit pay system that rewards the most effective teachers."  Guess they haven't read all those studies on how merit pay for teachers doesn't increase student achievement.  We find that our highest performing grade levels are where our teachers collaborate better and have interventions and enrichment in place to meet student needs.  Will that remain in a competitive environment for a fixed pot of money?

Supports "Policies to reduce bullying in schools."  More policies, rules, or laws won't make a difference.  They haven't in the war on poverty, drugs, crime, etc.  The Legislature could, however, serve as an example by not bullying their members with chairmanships or committee assignments to get votes.  That would be real change.

Supports "Policies that stress the importance of parents in the education system and allow and encourage parents to play an active role in their local education system."  There seems to be an underlying assumption that schools don't have such policies.  Or, is this a veiled way to show support for the parent trigger concept?

Supports "The authority of parents as the primary educators of their children in all matters, including morality, sexual orientation, and responsiblity."  The social conservative wing of the party is shining through.

Supports "The fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to the convictions of their family and faith, to be the primary authority to determine and direct the nurturing, health care, education, guidance, discipline, and moral upbringing of their children including, the ability to home-school or send their children to faith-based schools free of burdensome government regulations."  Nice talking point but schools must have the ability to establish standards of behavior (discipline).  These are typically based around legislative action, court decisions, and mutually agreed upon community norms.  In the world of choice/vouchers how can faith-based schools be free of burdensome government regulations if they take government funds.  And aren't burdensome government regulations burdensome for public schools?

Supports "Protecting children, in our public schools and any public entity where computers and the Internet are made readily available, from pornography on the Internet, with local entities choosing the proper filter."  So the GOP supports pornography for non-public school students?  Got wordy and clouded the message here.  My guess is that this entered the Platform due to the internet filtering case in the Camdenton School District.

Supports "Rejecting the establishment of school-based clinics/health links that dispense contraceptives and provide abortion counseling."  The social conservative wing is coming through here.  Whether we like or agree with it or not, teenagers have sex.  Sticking your head in the sand isn't going to make it go away.  And remember, teenage pregnancy has been going down.

Supports "Requiring the informed consent of a parent or guardian before providing health, mental health or substance abuse treatment services to minor students in public schools."  Does this mean a school nurse needs to get permission before putting a bandage on a wound?  Guess they don't want nurses/teachers in private schools to get permission first.  Sounds like burdensome government regulations to me.

Supports "Empowering local school districts to determine how best to handle the teaching of creationism and the theory of evolution."  Those social conservatives are shining through again.

Supports "Encouraging people to use their real life experience to teach in elementary and secondary schools."  There are many routes to teacher certification in place in Missouri.  I am curious as to what life experiences would prepare someone to be a teacher, especially an elementary teacher -- just being a parent, having a degree, knowing how to spell, having drawn a picture, having gone to school, etc.? 

Noticeably absent from the Platform is a call for more testing, although support for merit pay hints at it.  I will at least give the Platform credit for no explicit call for more student testing.

The Platform as a whole contradicts itself over and over, taking a stand in one area only to support something against that stand in another area. 

Look for my thoughts on the Mo Democratic Platform (if I can get it) and a comparison of the two Platforms in future posts.

Wasting Boats

Canoes are for paddling, not sculptures.