School improvement… how does it even work?

Betsy Davos, super-wealthy Dominionist, is the current nominee for Secretary of Education.  She is rabidly anti-public education, which is pretty odd since neither she nor anyone she knows, including her children, have ever been involved in any kind of public school.  Ever.  Not one.

Instead, she champions that rightwing shibboleth of “competition,” because competition makes everyone better, right?  You know, like when you line up the whole class of children and make them all race to the other end of the playground, and that one chubby kid just keeps getting faster and faster every day?  Just like that?

That’s right, boys and girls, if you let “the money follow the child,” then if a child is in a “failing” school, his parents can “choose” to send that child to any other [charter/private/religious] school of their choice, and presto! their child can now “succeed” instead of being “trapped” in a “failing” school.

OK, let’s look at that, because there’s a lot of sleight of hand going on here.

First of all, who decides when a school is “failing”?  That’s an easy one: we have standards set by a variety of levels of government from local to federal, and if a school doesn’t meet those standards, they are “failing.”  It is unusually curious that those standards for the most part align with the socioeconomic status of the students in any school.  A recent study (the link to which I cannot find; you’re just going to have to trust me) found that you didn’t need to run students through all those tests: you could get the same results by tabulating their parents’ income and education level.  THE SAME RESULTS, KENNETH.

Second, Davos is militant that those standards should not apply to her charter/private/religious schools.  Is that incredible to you?  Go see for yourself.  That’s a pretty sweet deal: enforce standards that make it impossible for certain schools to “succeed,” then suck their funding dry for your for-profit schools while evading those same standards.  I’ve written about this before.

And here’s the biggest sleight of hand of all: Everyone has been convinced to keep their eye on the charter/private/schools and argue about whether they are “succeeding” enough to justify draining public schools of their funding and students.  But that’s not the question.  The question is whether all this “healthy competition” is actually causing the “failing” schools to suddenly succeed.  In other words, is the chubby kid getting faster and faster every day just because you took some of the faster kids off the playground?

I submit to you that he is not, and that the whole “school choice” plan is a con of the most blatant and disgusting sort.  At no point are these people actually concerned about improving all schools for all children.  Davos has never presented such a plan, nor will she.  She wants to kill off public education once and for all, and the only reason I can think why she would want to do this is to take the money and run.  Oh, and that whole Dominionist thing.

Keep your eye on the lady, folks.

My religious school

It seems that in the sovereign state of North Carolina, your tax dollars earmarked for charter schools are far more likely to go to a religious charter school than not.

I keep thinking that if I work hard and focus on the end result, I can one day kill off my morals and scruples and get in on these Jebus dollars like the shysters to the north of us are doing.[1]

Probably Cthulhu.

But Dale, I hear you asking, what religion will your school promote?  This is a good question and I will now attempt to answer a completely different one.

The philosophical/moral/ethical foundation of the Lyles Charter School will be as follows:

  • The 10 Principles of Burning Man
  • The 9 Precepts of Lichtenbergianism
  • The Big 6
  • The Golden Rule



Let’s examine the prospect, shall we?

The 10 Principles of Burning Man

Those ten principles are:

  1. Radical Inclusion: Everyone is welcome, all types, all kinds, friends, strangers, and in between.
  2. Gifting: Gifts are unconditional offerings, whether material, service oriented, or even less tangible. Gifting does not ask for a return or an exchange for something else.
  3. Decommodification: Hand in hand with gifting, burns are environments with no commercial transactions or advertising. Nothing is for sale – we participate rather than consume.
  4. Radical Self-Reliance: You are responsible for you. Bring everything with you that you need. Burns are an opportunity for you to enjoy relying on yourself.
  5. Radical Self-Expression: What are your gifts, talents, and joys? Only you can determine the form of your expression.
  6. Communal Effort: Cooperation and collaboration are cornerstones of the burn experience. We cooperate to build social networks, group spaces, and elaborate art, and we work together to support our creations.
  7. Civic Responsibility: Civic responsibility involves the agreements that provide for the public welfare and serve to keep society civil. Event organizers take responsibility for communicating these agreements to participants and conducting events in accordance with applicable laws.
  8. Leave No Trace: In an effort to respect the environments where we hold our burns, we commit to leaving no trace of our events after we leave. Everything that you bring with you goes home with you. Everyone cleans up after themselves. Whenever possible, we leave our hosting places better than we found them.
  9. Participation: The radical participation ethic means you are the event. Everyone works; everyone plays. No one is a spectator or consumer.
  10. Immediacy: Experience things right now. Live for the moment, because that moment is fleeting, and you never get another chance.

Also the 11th Principle, Consent.

The 9 Precepts of Lichtenbergianism

You already know these:

  1. Task Avoidance
  2. Abortive Attempts
  3. Successive Approximation
  4. Waste Books
  5. Ritual
  6. Steal from the Best
  7. Gestalt
  8. Audience
  9. Abandonment

The Big 6

We haven’t really talked about these in a while.  Here’s the main site.  Essentially, it’s a curriculum structure for finding and using information, aka research.

Here’s the original language:

1.Task Definition

1 Define the information problem

1.2 Identify information needed

2. Information Seeking Strategies

2.1 Determine all possible sources

2.2 Select the best sources

3. Location and Access

3.1 Locate sources (intellectually and physically)

3.2 Find information within sources

4. Use of Information

4.1 Engage (e.g., read, hear, view, touch)

4.2 Extract relevant information

5. Synthesis

5.1 Organize from multiple sources

5.2 Present the information

6. Evaluation

6.1 Judge the product (effectiveness)

6.2 Judge the process (efficiency)

Here’s my elementary version:

1. What’s the job?

1.1 What are we trying to do?

1.2 What do we need to know?

2. Where will we find the information?

2.1 Where could we look?

2.2 What’s the best place to start looking?

3. Find it.

3.1 Find the sources of information: books, encyclopedias, Internet, cd-roms, etc.

3.2 Look up the information in the sources: use the index, etc.

4. Deal with it.

4.1 Read through all the information.

4.3 Get just the information we need: take notes!

5. Show it!

5.1 Put all the information we found together.

5.2 Present the result.

6. How did we do?

6.1 Did we do a good job?

6.2 Were we good at finding information?

The Golden Rule

Here.  Read it for yourself.

That’s it.  Unless I’ve missed something.

Wait, you want me to explain all this?  Geez, who has time for that?  What do you think I am, an educator?

Let me put it like this: if people want me to explain how this foundation would make a perfect school, they can request me to do so in the comments below.  So there.


[1] And if Nathan Deal has his way, I won’t even have to move to Asheville to do it.

A modest proposal

I know everyone must be shocked—shocked—to find that charter schools in general don’t live up to their promise and in some cases are actually run by grifters.  I mean, no one could have predicted that a school run by a for-profit organization might not have its focus completely on the educate-the-kids thing.

(side note: Am I the only one to whom it has occurred that if it were possible to make a profit from running a school, we educators would be rolling in it?  Or states would be able to fund the rest of their budgets with the profits from the public schools?)

Still, let us agree that the basic principle behind the charter school movement is a valid one: if you allow these people to avoid standardized tests and/or “restrictive” rules and regulations, then Step 3: Profit!  Or at least highly educated, self-motivated learners.

If this is all it takes to lift children of poverty out of their slough of despond, then I’m all for it.  And so I propose the Lyles Accountability Trigger Law [LATL].

It is a very simple law.  Any time that a charter school is approved in any school district, whether by the district or by the state, then whatever terms are approved for the charter automatically apply to every school in the district.  See, that’s easy, right?  If freeing the charter school from <insert talking point here> will improve the education of its students, then why would you withhold that benefit from the rest of the children?  Ethically, how could you withhold from the majority of your students the great and glorious good that universally obtains to any charter school student ?

It is literally win/win/win for everyone everywhere!

Yet another STEM alert

Honey please.

This morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a story (sorry, premium content/no link) about how students in Georgia and the nation are no more interested in careers in science, math, and technology than they were a decade ago.  Quelle horreur!

A key finding of a U.S. News & World Report study was that interest had actually fallen between 2009 and 2013.

Hey, you know what else had fallen between 2009 and 2013?  FUNDING FOR K-12 EDUCATION IN THE STATE OF GEORGIA, you freaking morons.

Between 2000 and 2011, I watched my media center’s budget shrivel to $0.  That is Z-E-R-O dollars.  The only money I had to buy books with was raised by the PTO’s book fairs.  That’s it.  So whatever I was supposed to be doing to help turn our children into wonks and geeks wasn’t getting done.  At the same time, the overwhelming focus on reading and math meant that science was barely taught at the elementary level.

Between 2003 and 2013, I watched the budget for GHP go from about $1.6 million to about half of that.  Our science classes had to scrounge discarded computers from VSU to do their lab work.  They had to trek down to the library to do even the slightest bit of web research.  Purchase of spiffy materials or equipment was out of the question. Experimental work that took longer than two and a half weeks was not doable within our crippled four week program.  Our technology and design classes were coasting on computers we bought years ago.  We were “significantly different from the regular high school classroom” only in being significantly behind.

So don’t come wringing your hands to me, Powers That Be.  If making sure that more of our students desired careers in the STEM fields had been important to you, you would have bloody invested in making sure it bloody happened.  You didn’t.  Fuck off.1

update: I need to clarify that our GHP science/tech/design classes were “significantly different,” of course, because of the incredible instructors and their ability to focus on the process, but boy it would have helped if I had been able to, you know, buy stuff for them.


1 Apologies for the language.2

2 Not really.

A small but profound rant, and other thoughts

It has not escaped my notice that when conservatives put forth plans to fix our public schools, they do not involve actually fixing the public schools. More and more standardized testing, charter schools, or vouchers: which of these involves actually taking a failing school—and let’s just point to an honest-to-goodness failing school in some inner city somewhere—and solving the problems it faces in providing a free and appropriate education to the young minds trapped there?

I have a problem with that.

In other news, my media center has been undergoing a complete technological facelift.

I’ve always stayed ahead of the curve on the technology thing, all the way back to the Apple ][e’s that Alan Wood bought me for the media center in the old East Coweta High. I made the technology readily available to the students and trained them how to use it, even to program in AppleBasic. I myself, as I’m sure I’ve said around here somewhere, programmed a word processor, a card catalog printing program, and an overdue fines/notice program that everyone in the county used until the state automated us in the late 1980s.

For the last ten years, the school system has declined to purchase Apple Macintosh computers, for reasons which we will not go into here. As the years slipped by, all the elementary schools (including mine) began to divest themselves of their iMacs, the old candy-colored winners from the 90s. And they all came to me, because I refused to give them up.

For one thing, they still ran, and they were still more reliable than all the crappy Dells flooding the county. For another, I was still able to use HyperCard (‡‡‡) to create some really useful educational tools. And finally, while other media centers might have six look-up stations, I had twenty-six. Woof!

However, a decade is a decade, and the poor things began to wheeze and complain about the bulky internet pages they were having to deal with. So I began to campaign for new computers. Two years ago, after holding my breath and turning blue, I was finally awarded six new iMacs, the first instructional Macs in a regular school setting in forever.

So I began to campaign for more. I was able to demonstrate to the powers that be how well they integrated into the network, give or take a few hurdles set up by the IT Crowd themselves due to the nature of the insecure network of PCs they have to manage.

To make an uninteresting story short, I got the money for two new iMacs from our PTO, plus a new printer, which was necessitated by the death of my old Apple LaserPrinter 16/600, after eleven years of solid service. The iMacs came last week, and the printer came yesterday.

But wait, there’s more: we were suddenly able to use some Title I money to purchase twelve iPads. I will soon have two instructional computers for each of my six tables. This should be interesting, given the real power of the things—and their real limitations. It would have been nice, for example, to have known about the money for the iPads before I ordered a new printer, because they will immediately print to an AirPrint-compatible printer, of which there are currently maybe eight, all made by Hewlett-Packard.

Oh well. I don’t think that’s something I get to complain about, having twenty Apple computers at my disposal.

However, there is something very sad about unplugging those trusty little iMacs for the last time and lugging them over to the wall, to be disposed of. And I had to say a few words over the LaserPrinter. I felt like a criminal pulling the plug on it.

Now that I’m slowly returning to the Land of the Drinking (my stomach issues have largely prevented the consumption of any alcohol) I’ve been playing around with some cocktails. At the moment, I’m experimenting with apple juice, my recent liquid of choice.

I’m not sure about this one. I’m halfway through my first attempt, and it may be a bit cloying. I’ll adjust tomorrow and try again if necessary.


1/2 oz. Galliano

3 oz. apple juice

2 drops absinthe

Shake the Galliano and apple juice with ice; strain into martini glass. Add the drops of absinthe.

This weekend interviews/auditions for the 2011 Governor’s Honors Program begin. I’m once again in charge of the theatre interviews at Pebblebrook High School. I was asked also this year to corral and confirm the interviewers, and if no one backs out between now and Saturday morning, I will have the full complement of 35, which is a first for several years.

I have applied to teach either Theatre or CommArts this summer, and I’m adamant that I don’t care which. It’s been kind of fun to have both Jobie and Mike desire me. Of course, there’s no guarantee I will be offered a position since I took last summer off, but honey, please. Does that make me nervous? Yes.

I should write a post about the coursework I’ve planned for each department. Maybe later.

CRCT Festival Time

I have issues.

Specifically, as we head into our annual celebration of the Criterion Reference Content Tests Festival next week, I have issues with the questions purporting to provide data on our students’ information skills, aka research/reference skills.

Many are innocuous, asking which word comes first in ABC order, which guide words would include a specified topic, that kind of thing. But many are sloppy, betraying outdated perceptions of how research works even at the elementary level, or worse, complete ignorance.

Here are some examples, taken from the practice questions provided by the state, and which I’ve been using in review lessons (The Evil Game) with 3rd graders:

Which do you need to have if you are going to type a story on a computer?

  1. a database
  2. the internet
  3. writing software

“Writing software”?? Even kindergarteners call it a word processor, for heaven’s sake. So what we end up testing is not their awareness of text generation on a computer, but whether they can synonymize an archaic and unfamiliar term with something they use on a regular basis. And of course, it seems that the test makers are unaware that kids have more than a little experience on websites provided by PBS, General Mills, etc., that encourage them to “type a story.” So, if I don’t know what “writing software” is (to practice my handwriting??), and the last time I went to the computer lab we played on the Dora the Explorer website and wrote stories about our adventures, then the correct answer is obviously 2.

To keep a list of all the animals your class saw in a month, which is the BEST to use?

  1. a database
  2. a radio
  3. an encyclopedia

This inclusion of databases as a technology we need to test kids on is very amusing to me, because not even their teachers know how to use one. I mean, they know how to negotiate a database like the county’s Infinite Campus student database, but almost none of them have ever created a database for regular use, nor do they completely understand why one would do so. The reason is simple: Microsoft Office doesn’t come with a database. And for that reason, our teachers are trained to use Excel’s spreadsheets to keep lists of information in. They have no clue as to how that differs from a database like FileMaker or, heaven help us, Access. Do you know how much this makes me despair?

Of course, we know (or hope) that the student will eliminate radio and encyclopedia as choices because they’re just stupid, but then we’re not testing their information skills, are we?

Which do most people use to connect to the internet?

  1. database
  2. computer
  3. videotape

“Connect to the internet.” You mean like when I place my phone receiver in the cradle of my mo-dem and send the AT* commands to it? Confronted with a term he has surely never heard before, a student is thrown back onto his knowledge of what he’s encountered on the internet. Internet Movie Database? YouTube? Hm, your guess is as good as mine.

Read the part of the index below. Which page should you read to find the information on the bottlenose dolphin?

God in heaven. Yes, I know that a child with even half a brain should be able to untangle that, but is there anything correct about that sample’s formatting? It looks like something an actual 3rd grader would produce.

Try this:

Or even better:

You know, like an actual freaking index in an actual freaking book.

Mr. Pope wants to make an apple pie, but he can’t find his cookbook. Which resource is the BEST for Mr. Pope to use to look for another recipe?

  1. a database
  2. writing software
  3. the World Wide Web

Oh, where to begin? This question must have been written in 1998, including such quaint terms as “writing software” and “World Wide Web.” Seriously, does anyone call it the World Wide Web any more? Even the major newspapers have stopped capitalizing Internet and Web. The kids these days simply call it “the internet.” So do I. And once I’ve gone on the “World Wide Web,” where will I find recipes? Let me count the ways. Databases all, and found via Google, itself an enormous database. And what if Mr. Pope has one of these? If we’ve been as thorough in our teaching of databases as these questions seem to imply is our job, this question will thoroughly confuse a student.

Which address on the World Wide Web would MOST LIKELY have information about cats and dogs?


This is not an unfair question, but at my school at least I teach the kids that URLs must not be thought of as search engines, i.e., is never the way to navigate the internet. Pardon me, the World Wide Web. Still, as an internet-age version of “Which book title would be best for Topic A?,” it’s unoffensive.

Which is the BEST way to select a topic that you will enjoy for a report?

  1. Find the topic that looks the easiest.
  2. Choose a topic that interests you.
  3. Ask a friend what she wrote about.

All right, I’ll close with a question that I really liked and had fun going over with the kids. What we do in the Evil Game is I show the question on the Promethean Board (a smartboard kind of thing) and ask the kids to hold up little cards indicating whether or not they understand what the test makers are trying to ask them. If I get a smattering of question marks or Xs, we stop and deconstruct the question.

With this one, we actually parsed the gender-specific approaches to the problem. I told the girls that #3 was their answer. When they denied it, I launched into a sample dialog: “What are you going to write about? I’m doing koalas. Let’s both do koalas!” They giggled and copped to the plea. The boys were looking smug, until I pointed out that #1 is the boy answer. They readily admitted to it.

The really interesting thing, I pointed out to them, was that the correct answer is actually ambidextrous. For the boys, the correct answer would be “Choose a topic that interests you.” For the girls, it’s “Choose a topic that interests you.” And along with all that, I gave advice on making the correct answer work in real life as well.

On the whole though, the questions our students will face next week during the CRCT Festival regarding information skills are not up to par. The state is not getting good data about how prepared our children are to engage the information age effectively. And because, as the Curriculum Liberation Front says, what’s unassessed is unaddressed, these flawed test items produce flawed and inadequate information instruction across our state.


Here’s a great article about Allonzo Trier and all that he represents. You can go read it if you like.

What the article does not tell you is that Allonzo has a little brother, Geraldo. Geraldo displayed an early interest in the family’s piano, plunking out tunes when he was three-and-a-half. By the time he was four, he could mimic anything he heard on the radio.

One day when he was five, he heard a Philip Glass piano piece on the radio (he keeps his radio tuned to the local NPR station), went to the piano, and played it from memory.

He had to do a book report on a prominent African-American in second grade, and he astonished his teacher by writing a small musical about how Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery. He wanted to do the famous man’s whole life, but he didn’t have time, he said. His teacher, Ms. Barbara King, thought it was cute.

In short, Geraldo shows every sign of being another Mozart or Bernstein just like his big brother does of being the next Lebron James.

But he can rot in hell.

An insight

I’m sitting here rereading some posts and comments thereunto (yes, I do that), and I had a sudden insight.

This springs from a comment on my Charter Systems post about how perhaps the push for the charter systems movement is coming from the corporations that run some charter schools, and that the whole thing is to push for the vast profits these corporations stand to make if we all go charter.

I had snarkily replied that if it were possible to make vast profits from a school, wouldn’t we be doing that? And I’ve been thinking: are we so wasteful of the taxpayer’s dime that we can’t see how to make money doing what we’re doing?

And I’ve decided, no, we’re not. There was a headline this week about how our school system is under budget, thank goodness, and won’t have to tap into the reserves. Well, yes we are, and do you know how? Spending was frozen in August. The amount sent by the state to this county for my media center, and which is entailed upon it, has been frozen.

Our checkbook balance looks good, but it’s the “good” we all see at the first of the month: lots of cash on hand, but every single bit of it is already marked for bills. My point is that the only way we can beef up the assets column is to choke the actual education process.

No, my dears, education is a rathole. You just have to keep shoveling money into it, and is that any way to run a business?

No, it’s not. Here’s my insight: education is not a business, and you cannot run it like one, or at least run it like one and expect business-like results. Education is a farm.

You plant, you water, you fertilize, you tend, you weed, and with any luck at all, you harvest. But some harvests are big ones, and some are not. You have no way of knowing, although of course you do have to use the right fertilizer and the right techniques. But one thing is for sure: you still have to pour money into the process. You have to buy the fertilizer and the tractors and the combines and the irrigation, and you have to maintain them. Because if you don’t, then you will get no harvest at all.

And I think it’s a better metaphor, at least to bring us back around to the profit motive, if we regard our farm as the source of our own food, not as crops to sell for profit. I’m not going to explicate that one; think through it yourself.

As for funding these nourishment-providing farms of ours, the History Channel had an absolutely intriguing show the other night about agricultural technology. We saw cotton farmers in California using satellite technology to identify which areas of their fields were ready to be sprayed with a saline solution, and with how much, as they flew over them with spraying helicopters. We saw rice farmers using satellites and computers to tell them which areas of which fields needed fertilizer or pesticides.

These were compared, of course, to developing nations where it’s all done by hand.

Now, which farms were feeding the world? Yes, I know it blows my metaphor about food vs. commodities, but you get my point.

Charter Systems

I am intrigued by this latest movement on the part of school systems across the state of Georgia to move to “charter status.” Our own beloved Coweta County is exploring such a move.

Essentially, an entire system switches its schools over to charter school status, which means that it is freed from many state rules and regulations. Who wouldn’t want to do that? No more pesky rules about testing, hooray!

The question arises, why would the state want to do that? It turns out there is a trade-off for gaining charter system status: you have to produce better results than you would have under the state’s restrictions, “results” being defined as “student achivement,” where “student achievement” is defined as “better test scores,” where “better” is defined as “higher.”

Still, imagine the freedom! You get to teach your kids however you like, as long as you’re sure that your mavericky instructional ways are going to produce Lake Wobegon test scores.

Just this morning I heard a school system superintendent (not ours) on the radio, enthusing how charter system status would give them “more flexibility on things like class size and teacher pay.”

Well, alrighty then, let’s do that thing where you lower class sizes and hire more teachers at higher pay so that you can… what?


Oh. Never mind then.

I suppose that it is entirely possible that you could load up a class with 35 students (although today’s classrooms have been built for much smaller numbers) and cut the teacher’s pay, and at the end of the five-year charter period have freaking incredible test scores. It’s possible George W. Bush and Alberto Gonzales will be charged with war crimes, too. I am after all an optimist.

However, I am still curious: if “easing” the regulations on class size and teacher pay (among others) so that local systems have more “flexibility” actually would produce significant student achievement, then why do we have those gosh-darn regulations in the first place? Wouldn’t it make sense to liberate the entire state from the onus of these burdensome regulations so that Georgia could immediately “lead the nation in improving student achievement”?

I remain, as always, curious.

Teaching and testing

I’ve spent the past few days working with 1st graders, trying to show them atlases and dictionaries, and then at the very end of the session, sneak the internet in.

Why? Because on one standardized test or another, there is a question which asks them which would be the best place to find a picture of some animal. Would you look in an atlas, in a dictionary, or on the internet?

Whoever wrote the test item knows that dictionaries don’t have pictures. Except, of course, when you’re six years old, and the whole frickin’ dictionary is pictures.

Up and down the grade levels, our standardized tests ask similarly narrow-minded questions about reference sources that indicate that the people who wrote the test items do not know how the information society works, at least since 2000.

This has been a message for those who think that they’re getting reliable data from those standardized tests.