Thursday, December 28, 2006


We Are Leaving Children Behind

As the No Child Left Behind act comes up for renewal in 2007, we are likely to hear a lot of misleading rhetoric concerning its effectiveness. We will be told about rising test scores and across-the-board improvements. But if there's one thing we can all be sure of it is this:
We Are Leaving Children Behind

And it's happening across the board.

As I'm sure you know, my wife and I are both teachers. I teach music to fifth through twelfth graders in a small rural district of about 3,000 and my wife teaches mathematics to high school students in a moderately diverse university town of 20,000 people. Despite our different fields and very different working environments, we are both seeing the effects of high-stakes testing.

My story first:

For those of you that were/are in band, you are probably familiar with state contest. If you weren't a band geek, contest is when the entire band performs for a panel of judges and is evaluated according to a standard rubric. It's the music equivalent of sports playoffs.

Last year, my junior high band was one of only two in our district of fourteen schools that was able to attend contest. The other twelve schools were unable to attend due to test preparation. Luckily, my district treats music classes as part of the curriculum, but the other districts aren't so fortunate. Consequently, students are pulled from their music classes to cram for the exam. Some teachers hadn't seen their students for over two weeks prior to the contest date. And it's not looking any better this year. We've already had a number of schools state that they will be unable to attend this year and the district is on the verge of cancelling the event altogether. Without the recognition that comes from a successful contest showing, districts may be inclined to eliminate the program. As superficial as it sounds, classes that aren't required must produce tangible results like plaques and trophies in order for the school to see the benefits. No contest - no hardware for the trophy case. No hardware - no need for the program. If you were one of those band geeks, you know what that can mean to millions of students all across our country. Thank you NCLB.

Now on to my wife:

As I said, my wife teaches mathematics. To be more specific, she teaches algebra. Last year, her district cut one of the other teachers in the department thereby increasing everyone's class load. She currently has over 160 students in six classes (you can do the math to find out how many that puts in her class each period). This creates multiple problems, not the least of which is paperwork. As you may recall from your own high school days, math involves a lot of daily practice resulting in homework and worksheets. As a student, we were only responsible for completing our own work. But as a teacher, my wife is responsible for grading all 160 of them. Assuming she only gives three assignments a week (which is a low assumption), that still equals almost five hundred papers that she has to grade each week. And this is on top of planning lessons, writing exams, attending meetings and staffings, etc., etc., etc. She also has to prepare each lesson separately for her visually impaired students as well as making sure that her hearing impaired students are getting the necessary information. Oh, and don't forget about all of the accomodations for the two dozen students with IEPs and 504 plans. But because of NCLB, there is a certain amount of information that must be covered prior to the testing date. So basically she is left with two options:

  1. Forget about her family and give up eating and sleeping, or
  2. Modify the way she treats homework

Luckily for me and the kids, she has chosen option two. Homework is optional and the students take a daily quiz for each lesson. This way, she only has to grade two or three problems from each student as opposed to ten or fifteen. Needless to say, this lessens the workload considerably. But it also leads to its own set of issues.

Due to NCLB and its rigid test schedule, there is very little room in the curriculum for things like reteaching. Teachers are forced to choose between quantity and quality. If they choose quality (which would be the ideal choice), they run the risk of not covering enough material to prepare the students for what they will face on the test. However, if they choose quantity (which is what most school districts require) they run the risk of students not understanding the concepts even though they have been covered.

Here's the kicker: Due to the homework choices my wife has been forced to make in order to keep her sanity, some of her students have opted to not do the optional homework. This leaves them unprepared for the quizzes and ultimately the exams, not to mention the NCLB mandated test. And she doesn't have the time in her schedule to go back and reteach. Naturally, this is a choice that the students have made, but the consequences of that choice will be paid by the teacher and the district. So my wife is forced to choose between her sanity and her district's success. True, the district bears some responsibility for the situation because it was budget cuts that created her workload, but it's also due in part to the high-stakes testing required under No Child Left Behind. To call it frustrating would be an understatement.

So there you have it: the true effect of NCLB. So when you here the rhetoric and you see the numbers, don't forget: We Are Leaving Children Behind. By. The. Truckloads.

Call or write your congress members. Our children deserve better.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


'Tis the Season

Check out Jib Jab's latest .

These guys have waaaaay too much time on their hands.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


According to Gingrich, Bush Should Be Impeached

So there I was - ironing my shirt and yelling at the television. It was Meet the Press and this has become standard Sunday morning activity. If I'm not yelling at the guests, it's Russert. Most Sundays it's both. Today it was Newt Gingrich and his batshit crazy views on the Iraq war, homeland security, and his legacy as a politician. Let's just say his self opinion is quite high. But when they got around to Gingrich's past behavior regarding impeachment, I damn-near burnt a hole in my shirt. If I'm not mistaken, he said that George W. Bush should be impeached.

MR. RUSSERT: you regret pressing the impeachment of President Clinton so hard?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: President—you know, I’m—I’ve been divorced twice.

Both times I’ve been deposed. Both times I was told, “Perjury is a felony. You should tell the truth under deposition.” President Clinton lied under oath as a lawyer in front of a sitting federal judge in a civil rights case. This was not about his personal behavior in the Oval Office. That’s a matter of judgment, and people can render judgment. The question is, do you want to go down the road of Nigeria and corruption and have a country in which, as long as he’s popular, he can break the law? And if Clinton gets to commit perjury on this topic, then what does the next president get to commit perjury on, and then what does the next president get to commit perjury on? This was entirely about something I knew personally. We have an obligation as citizens to tell the truth to a federal judge under oath. The president failed that.

So let me get this straight - the impeachment of Bill Clinton was done to send a message. It wasn't just about punishing Clinton for his actions, but to make sure that future presidents would know that they aren't granted immunity simply because they are well liked. In short, it was about checking the power of future office holders.

For six years, George W. Bush has skirted laws and regulations under the guise of security. And how has he gotten away with it? Because his party was more popular. They held the majority and prevented any meaningful investigations. If the Newt Gingrich rationalization was good enough for the Republicans to impeach Clinton, it should certainly apply now. If for no other reason than to check the power of any future president. Would Republicans tolerate a Democrat who circumvented the FISA court? What about one who suspended Habeas Corpus? What about one who supported torture and the violation of the Geneva Conventions? What about one who deliberatley ignored congress through hundreds of signing statements? How about one who paid journalists for favorable coverage. Or what about... Well, you get the idea and I think we all know the answers.

So if I understand Newt Gingrich correctly, and I believe I do, we need to impeach George W. Bush for his past behaviors lest we be forced to endure more egregious behavior in the future. Sounds good to me. Maybe Newt and I can agree on something after all.


Thanks to everyone who's stuck around for the last several weeks. Over that time I've had two graduate classes end with major projects due, two performances of my students, a major fundraiser to deal with that involved over 400 boxes of citrus fruit, my kids' Christmas programs, and my regular job. Hopefully things have calmed down a bit and I can get back to normal. Like I said, thanks and I hope to be posting more regularly again.

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