Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stand Up for the Rights of Your Students, Get Suspended

I just came across an article from the National Education Association (NEA) about two teachers in a mulitple disability classroom in Washington state.  The teachers, at the request of the parents, refused to administer the state standardized assessments.  They have now been suspended without pay.  Now because most people have no experience with or knowledge of multiple disability students some issues raised in the article may seem odd. For instance, when the teachers state:
Although the test was modified, it measured our students achievement against grade level standards. Because our students are cognitively at ages six months to two years, the assessment was not at their level. It had nothing to do with the goals and objectives designed for them.
Some people without experience with this population of students may wonder why we wouldn't want to assess whether or not students -- even students with cognitive impairments -- are performing at the expected grade level.  Why shouldn't students take the test if it is modified?

While I don't have any personal experience multi disability students (I've never even worked at a school with a multi disability class).  My mother is a multi disability teacher, so I have more insight than I would otherwise.  Most of my mom's students will never function above a kindergarten cognitive level, with many well below that.  In addition to the cognitive impairments, she has students with no motor control, students who survive by feeding tubes and respirators, students unable to communicate at a level to even express hunger or pain. 

She has told me about the pride and joy she felt when, after years of working with a student, that student was finally able to indicate (nonverbally) when he needed food or wanted out of his chair.  She told me a story about a grateful mother saying she had cried when her middle school daughter came home from school able to read a kindergarten level book (again, this took years of dedicated work).  All of this was done while attending to the feeding tubes and respirators of other students.  From what little I know, from these few anecdotes, I have decided teachers who choose to work with multiple disability students are a rare and beautiful breed of teacher.  And unfortunately all too often these teachers do their work in schools with administrators that want nothing more than these students to be kept out of sight and out of mind. 

So when the teachers in this article say the grade-level assessment had nothing to do with the goals and objectives for their students, this should be considered an understatement.  As they state:

Our goal might be to teach them to hold a spoon or recognize their name in print, and the test covered fractions. In fact, one student would start crying every time we got to the part on fractions.
 Administering these tests for these students is at best worthless and at worst emotionally damaging.  After the parents were informed of the situation many were rightly angry. 

They said it was ridiculous. One said, “If I had known you were doing this, I would have told you to stop.” Another said, “I’m sick of tests that tell what my child can’t do. I want to see what he can do.”
In the interest of best serving their students, the teachers did research on their own and found that parents had the right to refuse state assessments.  With that knowledge, and having the parents already express their opinions, the teachers did not give the tests during the next assessment.  Unfortunately, they also did not get anything in writing from the parents.  The school suspended the teachers without even contacting the parents. 

Dinosaur iPhone App

The American Museum of Natural History just released their first official iphone app, and it's all about dinosaurs!

DINOSAURS: American Museum of Natural History Collections contains more than 800 images from the Museum's archive, woven together to create a striking image of the world's most famous dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Double-tap or pinch to zoom into the mosaic and inspect individual photos. Tap the info button to flip the photos and read fascinating information about the science and personalities of the Museum's world-renowned fossil collection: each interactive photograph includes information of where the fossil was found and the paleontologist who uncovered it. There's a dinosaur enthusiast lurking inside all of us, and this app will inspire the next generation of paleontologists to start digging!

Everyone loves dinosaurs, and this is a great app, so if you have an iphone or ipod touch check it out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NCLB Changes

Obama administration and Dept of Ed are proposing changes to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The full extent of the changes aren't clear yet, but so far they seem to be sounding good. They plan on maintaining the focus on closing achievement gaps among subgroups of students and continuing to assess teacher quality (we'll see what methods this entails). Best of all, though, it sounds like adequate yearly progress (AYP) provisions will be gone as well as the 2014 deadline for 100% proficiency. This seems to be good news so far. More info to come.

Agreeing to Disagree on Facts

Coming to us from the great state of Utah, a stunning example of just how frustrating this idea that 'balance = accurate' can be for those of us who try to live in the reality based world. The state legislators were voting on a bill that I can only image was one of those "we can't outlaw abortion but we can make it as hard on the women as possible" kind of bills.

A bill that would give a woman seeking an abortion the option to first view her ultrasound passed the Utah House on Friday.

Before HB200 cleared the chamber in a 53-15 vote, Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, unsuccessfully attempted to amend the bill to delete language he believed to be flat-out false, referring to viewing the heartbeat of a fetus at three weeks.

"It is not medically accurate," Litvack said. "It's not possible. It does not exist."

Litvack read from a physician's e-mail that said you could expect to see embryonic cardiac activity at about six weeks from the woman's last period.

Rep. Carl Wimmer, the bill's sponsor, disputed Litvack's claim.

"There are arguments on both sides of the issue," Wimmer, R-Herriman, said.

There are arguments on both sides of the issue? No. There aren't. When it comes to facts, there are not two equally valid sides. One side is right, one is wrong. It's like saying, "well, you say the world isn't the center of the universe, but there are arguments on both sides of the issue."

Our politics are so divided we can no longer agree on facts.

I'm more of a Journey fan anyway

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guilt and Betrayal in the Bookstore

I am a fairly anti-corporate kind of guy. I try to avoid giving my money to big corporate chain stores. With great passion I will explain to anyone who will listen that they should not eat at corporate restaurants (seriously, don't eat at corporate, chain restaurants). I get a special kind of jolly from buying the things I need at local stores and I love eating at restaurants where the owner knows me and I know the owner's food suppliers. So it is with great difficulty that I admit publicly one of my guilty pleasures is big box book stores. I know, I know, I am a terrible person. But what can I say, all those books. Borders, Barnes and Noble -- they just have so many books. Can anyone here honestly say they don't get a little aroused by walking into a store that is two or three floors of wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling books? And let's not even talk about, which as an entity probably knows more about me than my mother.

This current town of mine has a Borders and a Barnes and Noble across the street from each other. I like the atmosphere of the Barnes and Noble better than Borders. The Barnes and Noble is also a little bigger and a little better selection in most categories. The one category this Borders destroys Barnes and Noble in, and why I subsequently end up going to Borders more often, is science. The Borders here has (or had) a much better selection of science books.

Recently I walked into this particular Borders and I saw a disturbing sight. I walked back to the science section, only to find I was not standing in the science section. I was confused, a little afraid, a creeping sense of dread began to overcome me. Luckily my senses soon returned and I don't think I stood there too long, mouth agape, in the grip of a fear induced paralysis. I saw I was standing in the midst of Fiction/Literature, so I did the sensible thing and meandered on over to the section that used to be Fiction/Literature. Naturally I was assuming this would now be Science, but I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Science wasn't there. Now I started to freak out. I began doing frantic laps around the store as if looking for a lost child. Thankfully I must have looked so unapproachable that none of the employees tried to make contact with me.

I finally found the Science section, but I'm afraid my discovery did little to easy my rattled nerves. Science went from its old place of glory, occupying an entire corner. Walking into the Science nook and you were surrounded on three sides of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves bursting with science. It was my little science cave. Now the Science section was just a little chest-high single bookshelf by the restrooms.

I wish I could say this discovery was the low point of my trip to the bookstore, unfortunately I just couldn't leave it alone. Fiction/Literature was where Science was, so what was where Fiction/Literature was? In my frantic search for Science I hadn't even taken notice, so I decided to return to that section. I would spend the whole rest of the day reconstructing this rearrangement of knowledge if I had to.

I didn't have to. It was actually pretty straight forward. Other than Fiction/Literature and Science, there were only two other changes. Fiction/Literature's old spot was now Religion, which was now expanded from its old home right next door. And Religion's old spot? The subject so very important that it (along with Religion) required Science to become the basement child, downsized and shoved into the corner. What could possibly be so important?

New Age Nonsense.

So this is now the Borders in my town.

Religion vs. Science


Metaphysics vs. Physics


Astrology vs. Astronomy

At least my liquor store never lets me down.

Photosynthesis Rap

Say what you want about the current state of hiphop and rap -- I am certainly a harsh critic of much of the rap coming out these days -- but these kids know photosynthesis.