May 31, 2009

toward an uncertain future

I haven't posted in a little while, mostly because lately there hasn't been much in the way of new news. The Board has heard from concerned citizens at recent forums, and will continue to investigate options in the study session tomorrow night. As you can see from the graphic below, though, over a month remains until the Board has to adopt the budget.

True, the Olympia School District avoided a RIF. Some teachers still lost jobs, though, learning that their one-year contracts wouldn't be renewed. Other positions were eliminated through retirement. Right now, schools are individually finding out how the cuts will affect them next year.

For instance, Capital is potentially slated to lose over 4 FTEs in 2009-10, thanks to cuts and to declining enrollment. Last week I learned that, as the second-lowest ranking member of the English department--which could trim 1.8 FTEs--I should at least consider the possibility that I might work at a different school in the district this fall.

Regardless, the uncertainty I face is nothing compared to the uncertainty of those given pink slips, or coming out of ed school looking for jobs that no longer exist.

blazing through Friday

Friday was a bit of a crazy day for me. But at least it was a musical, poetically crazy day.

In 2nd period, a group presented its research on "old school rappers" that launched a discussion of image versus authenticity. (I learned that "old school," for sophomores, means the 90s. Ah, youth.) Third period took a poetry walk around the school, lucky enough to see the red-winged blackbird that occupies the freshman pond.

As they've been studying Langston Hughes' poetry, my three junior classes were introduced to the world of the Blues, hearing classics performed by Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Skip James, T-Bone Walker, and more. I started with Walker's "Stormy Monday," since it fits the classic pattern of the 12-bar blues. This would become significant later.

Class got out, and it was time to prepare for a Student Congress tournament for middle schoolers, with a small, but boisterous turnout. It was mostly a dry run for another we'll offer this coming fall.

But the day was just getting started. Up next: a drive out to Elma, or, more specifically, the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds.

The formula: The Elma Relay for Life + The Mike Dean Project = annual tradition. Friday night from 11 until two, we played for the third time in three years.

As the Luminarium ceremony started, I saw a few Capital students from my junior classes across the way, waving frantically. Turned out they were part of a walking team, and they were as surprised to see me there as I was to see them. They eventually joined the energetic Elma crowd, right up front, blasted by Mike and Brian's rockin' guitars, Jeff's funked up bass groove, Kent's keyboard antics, and the powerful vocal stylings of the audience's other favorite teacher, Kim Hinderlie.

A couple songs into our set, Mike turned around and said, "Stormy Monday."

We launched in, and the Capital crew busted out in smiles. Later on, during a break, one said I must have planned it that way.

Of course I did.

May 29, 2009


Music critic Simon Reynolds on the movements between movements:
The after-zones of rock history are hard to grasp precisely because they're so various. This rich muddle demands identifying labels that are umbrella-broad and open-ended. Hence post-punk, not a genre so much as a space of possibility, out of which new genres formed: Goth, industrial, synthpop, mutant disco, and many more.

I can think of at least a couple more "post-" terms that could usefully redraw the map of pop music history...
And you'll have to click through to find out what they are.

May 25, 2009

if you're reading this, you're a socialist

At least, as Kevin Kelly defines the term.
Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective worlds. Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to virtual co-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share apps, scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things done. Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods.

I recognize that the word socialism is bound to make many readers twitch. It carries tremendous cultural baggage, as do the related terms communal, communitarian, and collective. I use socialism because technically it is the best word to indicate a range of technologies that rely for their power on social interactions. Broadly, collective action is what Web sites and Net-connected apps generate when they harness input from the global audience. Of course, there's rhetorical danger in lumping so many types of organization under such an inflammatory heading. But there are no unsoiled terms available, so we might as well redeem this one.
The movement is organic rather than organized, and cooperative rather than collectivist. You're already a part of it.

But it needs a better name. "Socialism" is too fraught with connotation. "Collaborism" is a little unwieldy. "Synergism" is too corporate--and "corporate" is already taken.

There has to be a better, fresher noun.

Update: Jesse Walker for the counterpoint.

Update II: Jason Kuznicki on the closest approximation to utopia.

May 24, 2009

spilling coffee in the name of science

A space elevator is one kitchen mess closer to reality.
“The idea came by itself,” Golubovic told “I was thinking how to make things move easily and quickly up the traditional Tsiolkovsky-type space elevators. In my kitchen, I was mixing coffee in my cup too vigorously and the centrifugal force on the rotating coffee won over gravity to make some of the coffee lift and splash out the cup. This was my ‘eureka’ that lead to adding a similar conceptual feature to the old space elevator idea, the internal rotation. Indeed, much like the coffee would lift and splash out the cup if rotated fast enough, the climbers on our Rotating Space Elevator will be lifted up by the centrifugal force winning over gravity.”
[via Instapundit]

May 23, 2009

Saturday with the Mariners and Mom

Top of the sixth. Dave Sims announces, "This inning it'll be Gutierrez, Ichiro, and Chavez." Gutierrez stands in. In the Anderson household, the following conversation occurs.
Mom: Is that Ichiro?
Dad: No, it's Gutierrez.
[Gutierrez hits the ball down the third base line and bolts to first. San Fran's third baseman Uribe makes the play, but it's a foul ball. Gutierrez heads back to the plate.]
Mom: Is he out?
Me: No. It was a foul ball.
Mom: Then they should punish him.
Dad: Why would they punish him?
Mom: Because he did something he isn't supposed to do.
Dad, amused: Then they should punish Uribe for throwing it.
Mom: He shouldn't do things that are confusing.
Dad: It's not confusing. Everyone knows what's going on.
Mom: Baseball is ridiculous.
A minute or two later:
Dad, teasing: Here's ol' what's his name.
Mom: Who?
Dad: Ichiro.
Mom: I can't see his face. All I can see is the top of his head. It could be anybody.... He does a dance at the plate. Doesn't he? He does. He was shaking his hips and everything... [Ichiro singles.] Come on, Ichiro. You need to get home or you're no good.
When Dave Niehaus retires, I know who should replace him.

May 22, 2009

MST3K evolves

Clark Stooksbury on the natural history of the greatest television show of all time:
Speaking at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, the actor Patton Oswalt aptly compared the early fan efforts on behalf of Mystery Science Theater—sending videotapes to friends in areas where the show was not available—to the ways people use YouTube and MySpace today. Now many of the show’s writers and performers are using the Web to directly reach fans old and new without the middleman of cable TV. Neither Cinematic Titanic nor Rifftrax is a rehash of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but both are recognizable descendants. And both continue to transmute cinematic dross into comedy gold.
Any excuse to use the word "transmute."

May 21, 2009

Hughes of an afternoon

It was such a perfect afternoon--so perfect that it even started early, at about 11:30, when I took the first of my three junior classes outside on a poetry walk, just the thing before lunch, and, for that matter, after. Glorious sunshine. Ducks swimming beside the shopping cart in the retention pond. Flag football on the practice field. Middle schoolers smoking on the trails. Scotchbroom waxing.

Students took scrap paper and a pencil, jotting down observations along the way.

Before each jaunt, I'd tell the class we were about to visit the confluence of civilization and nature. To our right, the nouveau-industrial designs of a contemporary high school; to our left, a forest. This led to my favorite exchange, overheard on the trail:
"Smell those flowers?"
"Yeah. Flowers... of nature."
"And just over there is a stump... of nature."
"Yes. And--oh! A dragonfly of nature!"
"No, that's a dragonfly of civilization."
Best of all was the live silence in the fifteen minutes that followed each walk, students scribbling, transmuting their notes into poetry as the ghost of Langston Hughes floated overhead.

May 20, 2009

public to District: save our sports

At the first of two public forums concerning potential budget cuts, Olympians showed up to advocate for activities facing the axe.
Swimmers, golfers, gymnasts and drill team members, their parents and coaches urged Olympia School District officials to reconsider cutting or reducing their activities during a forum Tuesday night.

About 100 people came to Marshall Middle School to share their thoughts about the latest 2009-10 budget-cut proposals, which addresses a shortfall of about $2 million....
What hopes might students, parents, and coaches have? Superintendent Bill Lahmann:
Lahmann said that last year’s forums made a difference to the final proposal; the outdoors school and drill team were saved from cuts last year after the public forums.

“Last year, we had a little bit of flexibility, but I don’t know how much flexibility we have this year,” he said. “But we have a school board that really does listen to our community.”
Flexible points still include administrative positions, systemic efficiencies, and the ending fund balance, which could dip below the 5% recommended by the District.

stop, drop your jaw, roll your eyes

The stupid, it burns:
District fire chief Jon Bugher told The Peninsula Daily News he was stunned to discover several people playing lighter tag.

It involved squirting themselves with lighter fluid, lighting the clothing of the person who is "it" and beating out the flames.
As if we needed another asinine reason to visit the emergency room.

May 19, 2009

Gregoire rides the wish-horse of reform

Today Governor Gregoire signed a galloping reform bill.
The plan would create smaller classes, full-day kindergarten and a longer high school day to give students a chance to meet higher credit requirements.

It would also distribute state education dollars based on a new formula, but does not include a plan for paying for the changes....

In a room filled with supporters of the reform bill, the governor echoed the sentiments of its critics by also speaking about what was missing from the legislation: a way to pay for it....

Lawmakers and government officials have estimated the reforms could add as much as $4 billion a year to the just under $7 billion the state already spends on K-12 education annually.

Gregoire noted that the Legislature is working to address the lack of money by phasing in the reforms over about eight years and assigning a Quality Education Council to make sure the financing system is put in place.
"If wishes were horses," goes the old saying, "beggars would ride." Step one was beggaring education. Now we get our wish-horse.

May 18, 2009

they call it wisdom literature

During the Iraq War, an officer in the Pentagon was a little too fond of placing Bible verses on the cover of intelligence reports.

Strangely, he never included Ecclesiastes 9:11.

a call for grading reform

In the pages of the vaunted Onion A.V. Club blog, noted educational theorist Josh Modell provides one of the best possible arguments for grading reform.
Letter grades are relative, and nowhere on the site (or in our reviewers' minds, I don't think) does an A or A- mean that a movie (or CD or book or videogame) is one of the best ever made. I certainly don't believe that Crank 2 is one of the best movies ever made. But what that A- did signify, and what I think high grades on The A.V. Club generally signify, is success. In my eyes (and in the eyes of Keith Phipps and Scott Tobias, who both enjoyed Crank 2), the movie was successful at what it was trying to be: weird, almost parodic, and over-the-top. Those seemed to be its goals, and it delivered. It was certainly never boring or cliched, and much of the time it was actually pretty incredible. For people who like these types of movies (and I can think of very few analogs for this particular movie), Crank 2 was pretty great. So what grade do you give to a movie that you think is highly entertaining and successful but exists in a genre that's not allowed a high grade?

That gets into what I like to think of as "genre profiling." You haven't seen the movie, and yet you know it's not possible that it deserves an A-. To some degree I agree with you: Action movies (even outliers like this one) are, by definition, incapable of being among the greatest films of all time. And that's fine, but it's a bit unfair to ghettoize them so much that an A (or even a B) grade is off the table. It's like deciding that the fat kid in gym class couldn't possibly do better than a B-, and then grading him accordingly. (What if he's a phenomenal goalie?) All of our writers understand--and I think our readers are sharp enough to understand--that Crank 2 isn't even in the same universe of greatness as The Godfather or (insert your all-time fave here).

It's true that A or A- grades in film are pretty rare at The A.V. Club, and I appreciate that that makes them more trustworthy. What I tell the music writers is that if something is getting an A or A-, it should be one of their personal favorites--top 10, if not higher--of the year. Crank 2 could very well end up one of my favorite movies of 2009. (And no, I'm not some sort of action junkie--my faves of last year were Synecdoche NY, Ballast, Snow Angels, Dear Zachary, and Wendy & Lucy, and I think this year's action hit, Taken, is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It got a C-.)
By now you've guessed that Modell isn't actually an educational theorist. Which is too bad.

May 17, 2009

not a good excuse for plagiarism

The situation:
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has admitted to using a paragraph virtually word-for-word from a prominent liberal blogger without attribution.

Dowd acknowledged the error in an e-mail to the Huffington Post on Sunday, the Web site reported. The Times corrected her column online to give proper credit for the material to Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall.
The explanation in Dowd's own words:
josh is right. I didn't read his blog last week, and didn't have any idea he had made that point until you informed me just now.

i was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent -- and I assumed spontaneous -- way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column.

but, clearly, my friend must have read josh marshall without mentioning that to me.
we're fixing it on the web, to give josh credit, and will include a note, as well as a formal correction tomorrow.
How not to excuse your own plagiarism: "No, I didn't copy it from that guy. I copied it from somebody else."

scaring yourself to death

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, riffing, once said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. On a related note, NewScientist's Helen Pilcher tackles a fascinating topic: the deadly nocebo.
The placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo effect, in which dummy pills and negative expectations can produce harmful effects. The term "nocebo", which means "I will harm", was not coined until the 1960s, and the phenomenon has been far less studied than the placebo effect. It's not easy, after all, to get ethical approval for studies designed to make people feel worse.

What we do know suggests the impact of nocebo is far-reaching. "Voodoo death, if it exists, may represent an extreme form of the nocebo phenomenon," says anthropologist Robert Hahn of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, who has studied the nocebo effect.

In clinical trials, around a quarter of patients in control groups - those given supposedly inert therapies - experience negative side effects. The severity of these side effects sometimes matches those associated with real drugs. A retrospective study of 15 trials involving thousands of patients prescribed either beta blockers or a control showed that both groups reported comparable levels of side effects, including fatigue, depressive symptoms and sexual dysfunction. A similar number had to withdraw from the studies because of them.
The effect is played out in "anticipatory nauseau," "mass psychogenic illness," and who knows what other maladies. By now, someone you know has probably already contracted sympathetic swine flu.

May 15, 2009

"Hey ump, your sensor's miscalibrated!"

Is it time for virtual refs to replace the men and women in stripes, wonders Colin Barras of NewScientist.
Referees have got their hands on some advanced technology, which is already vastly improving the fairness of sports. For example, Hawk-Eye ball-tracking software is now used to examine contested calls in tennis, and photo-finish cameras in athletics can now take 3000 snapshots per second to reveal the winner.

But there is the potential for technology to do much more – even to take over the enforcement of the rules altogether. That could spare some sports refs from the unpleasant consequences of a bad call, which in extreme cases can lead to death threats. As Harding's team points out, it could also limit the scope for corrupt officials to influence a game.

So perhaps the time has come for the fans, competitors, and sport organisers who embrace technology in many areas to allow referees and umpires to do the same.
Spend enough time watching NBA refs in action, and you might be inclined to agree.

Of course, everyone knows that the real reason virtual refs are resisted so fervently isn't the desire for preserving the purity of sport, but for preserving the all-holy blame-it-on-the-ump. You just can't sass a circuitboard.

May 14, 2009

Fools Play brings it... to CHS

I've recently revived improv at CHS as part of Capital Academy, the afterschool classes designed to make up for the hours and hours of time lost due to the roof collapse this past December. The workshop, called the Art of Improv, is merely educational right now, but with enough effort and energy, we just might be throwing a show together before the end of the year.

Today, Chris Harris and CHS's own Josh Hird of Fools Play came as guest instructors, teaching students their patented approach to the theory of improv. If you had been there, you'd have learned about offers, salsa, suspension, and "jibba jabba."

Suffice it to say: it was awesome, and I'm sorry you missed it.

breaking: Olympia SD's budget cut recommendations for 2009-2010

This afternoon the Olympia School District released its list of recommended budget changes for the 2009-2010 year [PDF]. The largest cuts would come from reducing the Ending Fund Balance to 5%, saving $850,000, and backfilling special education with $400,000 in stimulus funds. Other significant recommended cuts are included in the graphic below.

(Some cuts--notably those made to particular high school athletics--are bound to be unpopular. Some cuts are a little opaque; for instance, I'm going to find out what that "Special Events Fund" includes, since $100,000 probably represents a goodly number of stipends at all levels.)

The community is invited to comment on the proposed cuts at upcoming meetings.
May 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Marshall Middle School, 3939 20th Avenue NW, Olympia 98502

May 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Washington Middle School, 3100 Cain Road SE, Olympia 98501
An overview of the budget is available here [PDF].

Update: More details available at Venice Buhain's blog at The Olympian.

Update II: The "special events fund" is used differently at each school. For instance, it might include stipends to support teachers who run charity campaigns, or who write letters of recommendation for seniors (the case at CHS), or who advise clubs. It's a lot of little stipends rolled up in one $100,000 cut.

May 13, 2009

your cheatin' WASL

Surprise to no one: a high-stakes test induces "irregularities," including cheating by both students and teachers. KIRO's breathless story:
A four-month KIRO Team 7 Investigation uncovers hundreds of cases where students and teachers failed to play fair on mandatory assessment tests.

Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne proves how a little cheating can go a long way in improving scores and reputations.

Under the Washington Open Records Act, KIRO Team 7 Investigators acquired reports of around 650 WASL "irregularities" filed in the past three years.

We dug deep into that data and found accusations of cheating, which could falsely improve scores, spread out in 317 different schools in more than 100 districts.

Texting answers, using dictionaries and calculators, and teachers helping kids score math points are just a few examples of cheating reported to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Our research also found that plenty of classroom cheating goes unreported – something students we interviewed confirmed.
Out of curiosity, I looked at the 2008 data for some local districts. The results are a little less than overwhelming. Some calculator mistakes (that didn't affect the outcome, apparently), an overzealous scribe, students passing notes, some "non-allowed accommodations," and, my personal favorite, "staff members [sic] cell phone went off during testing."

May 12, 2009

Wikipedia is smarter than you

1. At least if you're one of an embarrassed batch of J-school grads:
When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.

The sociology major's made-up quote - which he added to the Wikipedia page of Maurice Jarre hours after the French composer's death March 28 - flew straight on to dozens of U.S. blogs and newspaper Web sites in Britain, Australia and India.

They used the fabricated material, Fitzgerald said, even though administrators at the free online encyclopedia quickly caught the quote's lack of attribution and removed it, but not quickly enough to keep some journalists from cutting and pasting it first.
Read it all to find out what happened.

2. That Wikipedia has transformed from a hobbyhorse to an Encarta-toppling information powerhouse is a testament to its utility, as well as the power of wiki-addiction over its selfless editors. One of them is Ira Matetsky, who goes under Wikipedia's hood in what promises to be a fascinating series of blog posts.

3. I had three junior classes each create a wiki study guide for The Death of Artemio Cruz, a fantastically complex book. Overall, the experiment was a success, but I think I failed to adequately explain the nature and purpose of the wiki, by the number of students who, in their self-evaluations, noted that they wouldn't dare edit someone else's entry because "that would be rude."

breaking: Olympia School District avoids full RIF

The Olympia School District RIF communication team announced this morning that a RIF of certificated staff with continuing contracts is no longer on the table. Via email:
We are happy to report that earlier today the RIF Communications Team received word from Superintendent Lahmann that there will be no certificated reduction in force for the 2009-2010 school year.

Please keep in mind that the decision to not implement a reduction in force maintains the employment status of continuing contract employees only. There are many employees of the District who do not hold continuing contracts. The District still has a significant budget shortfall and will need to make difficult decisions both about employment and placement status.
Superintendent Lahmann also emailed to comment on the situation:
While I believe we fared better than expected in terms of our budget, the decision to retain our continuing certificated employees in the face of a $2 million budget shortfall means we will need to cut back other programs, activities and services people have come to rely upon and enjoy. Of course, I welcome your involvement and input as we work with the School Board to write a budget that supports our mission of promoting student learning.
As you can tell, difficult days are still ahead. Upcoming meetings to discuss our remaining options include...
Thursday, May 14 – School Board Study Session, Knox Administrative Center, 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 19 – Community Forum on the Budget, Marshall Middle School, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 21 – Community Forum on the Budget, Washington Middle School, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 17 – Public Hearing on the Budget, Knox Administrative Center, 6:30 p.m.
Note that the study session is the only meeting at which public comment will not be taken.

Lahmann will release a detailed list of potential cuts "later this week." I'll be certain to post them as soon as they are available. More budget information can be found here.

Update: The Olympian has more.
In Olympia, teachers will not receive layoff notices, but other Olympia district job cuts are “not certain at this point,” and will depend on the final 2009-10 budget, said district spokesman Peter Rex.

Superintendent Bill Lahmann’s budget recommendation will be discussed at a board work session on Thursday, though no testimony will be taken at that meeting. Public forums on the budget will be next week.

“So it’s not going to be a painless budget, but we are able to protect the classroom and move forward on our strategic plan,” Rex said.

“A couple factors came into play. The district was committed to protecting the classroom and retaining teachers. Second, employees have done a great job of saving money this year, which has left us with a larger ending fund balance than we anticipated. And third, the federal stimulus package passed by Congress and President Obama have helped us devote resources to special education and Title I,” Rex said.

among the fallen blossoms

Taken near the Chehalis Western Trail last evening.

May 11, 2009

a prophet with honor in his hometown

Update: Well, gee, thanks, ESPN, for letting other websites embed your videos for mere moments.

LeBron James, messiah at 24. (Jesus at least had the good sense to wait until 30 before shaking things up.)

the earliest critters

Scientists may have discovered traces of the eldest ancestors of contemporary animals: spongy goo fossilized in stone.
The previous oldest animal fossils date from "only" 650 million years ago, although "molecular clocks" based on rates of genetic divergence indicate that animals should have originated about 850 million years ago. The new findings may therefore help solve the problem of the 250 million-year-gap.

Palaeontologists have looked long and hard for traces left by the first multi-celled organisms, fully aware that the soft-bodies might have left very few fossils.

The breakthrough came when Elizabeth Turner, of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, spotted odd patterns in the rocks of 850-million-year-old limestone reefs in the Mackenzie Mountains of Canada's Northwestern territory, and has spent the last 15 years, with Fritz Neuweiler of University Laval in Quebec, trying to deduce their origin.

Now Turner and Neuweiler, along with David Burdige of Old Dominion University in Virginia, have shown that the patterns match the distinctive textures found in reefs built by sponges.
As all science goes, these findings are tentative, subject to further theorizing. And, as always, read the whole thing.

May 10, 2009

what the legislature did--and didn't--accomplish

The Tacoma News-Tribune's Joe Turner runs down the list of legislative feats from the 2009 session. Excerpted, some of the educational laws already signed by Governor Gregoire:
Special elections: HB 1018 will get rid of two of four spring dates that most school and fire districts use for special elections. The March election will be eliminated right away. May elections will be eliminated after 2011. Elections still will be held in February and April, but the specific dates will be different hereafter....

Military school kids: SB 5248 will enroll Washington in an interstate compact and set uniform rules that govern how schools handle children who transfer from one state to another because their military parents have been reassigned....
Some of the pending education items in the budget:
Pay freeze: Cost of living adjustments (COLA) for some 250,000 state and public school workers will be suspended for two years, but workers will receive “step” increases based on how much time on the job they have....

Bethel skills center: There is $10 million in the capital budget to proceed with the skills center in Spanaway that will be shared by a dozen school districts in Pierce County.
And, of course, let's not forget the $600 million in "savings" due to the evisceration of the class size initiative, I-728.

Other bills still pending:
Teachers pay raises: HB 2363 would suspend the cost of living raises that public school and some two-year college workers are automatically entitled to in 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. However, the bill also obliges the Legislature to make up for the estimated 4.2 percent raise that teachers are losing no later than the 2014-15 school year....

Stun guns in schools: SB 5263 would add stun guns and Tasers to the list of weapons that cannot be brought by students onto school property, buses or playgrounds, and school security must be trained before they can possess them at schools....

Four-day school week: HB 1292 would let mostly rural school districts with fewer than 500 students shorten their school year to fewer than the required 180 days as long as they provide students with 1,000 hours of instruction.

Basic education: HB 2261 would broaden the definition of basic education to include all-day kindergarten and other programs, oblige the Legislature to fully fund that broader definition by 2018-19 school year and develop new standards for evaluating teachers.
The last is by far the most controversial measure; the WEA is pressuring the governor for a veto, since the bill proposes massive changes without even a smidgen of foreseeable funding.

All in all, the legislature passed a record 583 bills in the 105-day session.

That's an average of over five per day.


And yet they still couldn't provide districts a way to preserve at least 3,000 teaching positions by lifting the levy lid.

Crazier still.

today's spring cleaning links

The mess in the apartment is contained and certified non-toxic. The mess on my hard drive, in my Google Docs, and in my Firefox bookmarks, though, is overwhelming. I have piles of lessons, handouts, images, links, and random observations, stashed in a "Dump" folder on the desktop (backed up, promise) or clogging up the bookmarks toolbar.

While it was still morning, while the laundry took a bath in the washing machine, while the sun faded into cloud, I sorted through the clutter, taking some links from the junk drawer and tossing them here on the blog.


1. Clear out the cobwebs in your lecturing style.

2. Reorganize your way to a better timed essay.

3. You never know what you'll dig out of the bottom of the history trunk--or how it might get you in trouble.

4. Toy cars, dolls, stuffed animals, and superhero action figures that symbolize America's most salient political debates of the early 21st century.

5. You could always just hide junk by painting it into invisibility.

6. Why did you buy all this stuff anyway?

7.Need the will to get started? Find it nestled in the recesses of your brain.

May 9, 2009

where the truth lies

Earlier this afternoon, as the sun pushes the last clouds off the horizon, the family is playing our own highly modified version of bocce. (I will end up winning all three matches.) Early in the game, we are treated to this exchange:
Someone: "Mom doesn't have any points."
Me: "That's because she stinks."
Mom: "That's not what it says on the Internet."

Puyallup sends out pink slips; more districts to follow

Yesterday Puyallup began sending out 69 RIF notices.
The district hand-delivered its first “reduction-in-force” notices to teachers Friday, and will issue the rest Wednesday, a district news release said. The state requires notification to teachers by Friday if their contracts might not be renewed.

Classified staff members – such as bus drivers and teacher aides – will be notified by the end of the school year if they’ll be laid off. Year-round employees will be notified by Aug. 31.
At least [!] it wasn't 160-odd positions, as the District had prepared for in its worst case scenario.

So, Rep. Kessler, are we urgent yet?

May 8, 2009

Goodloe-Johnson abuses the RIF process

I'd love to hear from the attorney who advised Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnston on this fascinating move.

In her letter to teachers, Goodloe-Johnston cites RCW 28A.405.210, which states in part,
In the event it is determined that there is probable cause or causes that the employment contract of an employee should not be renewed by the district for the next ensuing term such employee shall be notified in writing on or before May 15th preceding the commencement of such term of that determination, or if the omnibus appropriations act has not passed the legislature by May 15th, then notification shall be no later than June 1st, which notification shall specify the cause or causes for nonrenewal of contract. Such determination of probable cause for certificated employees, other than the superintendent, shall be made by the superintendent.
The paragraph is intended to provide Districts a means of cutting staff "due to an enrollment decline or loss of revenue."

swine flu headed here, for reals?

A week ago, I wondered if/when swine flu was going to hit the South Sound. The nearest purported case, in Lakewood, turned out to be a bust. Maybe this one will, too:
Thurston County likely has its first reported case of swine flu, according to the county's Health & Social Services Department.

The case involved a 31-year-old man who was sick with Influenza A; tests have not yet confirmed that it was swine flu. Most Influenza A cases end up being confirmed as swine flu by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the health department.

The man since has recovered.

“This confirms what we already knew; that Swine Flu H1N1 is present in Thurston County” Sherri McDonald, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services director, said in a news release.
Well, only if that "most" includes this instance. I'll wait for confirmation before extending my weekend.

May 7, 2009

"What's the urgency?" asks Kessler; layoffs loom

Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam) said something today for reasons I can't fathom. Asked about the now defunct special session, which would have brought back a levy lid lift bill that could literally save thousands of teaching jobs, Kessler stated, "“What’s the urgency?”

Is that a joke, Representative Kessler? Districts have until May 15th to issue RIF notices to the teachers who might have otherwise kept their jobs, or to ax other programs and personnel in order to keep teachers onboard, now that the levy lid lift is doomed.

Even if a solution magically arises by September, when Kessler thinks the legislature can return to action as if nothing is wrong, it'll be too late for the thousands of mostly young teachers who've lived in limbo, or left the profession.

It's not as if Kessler couldn't know better. Hoquiam isn't exactly flying above the storm:
The Hoquiam School Board authorized layoff notices to the equivalent of 10.6 teachers Wednesday night in its first crack at dealing with a higher-than-expected $1.3 million revenue shortfall to its current $20 million operating budget.

Other budget reducing options the board is considering include elimination of the high school girl’s swimming team, the Young Authors and Math Olympiad programs, the middle school drama program and all elementary sports. Also being considered is the elimination of six full-time support staff workers and the reduction of hours for even more workers.

“We’re also closing a school,” School Board member Judy Morgan said, referring to the impending closure of Washington Elementary at the end of the year.
No urgency, Representative Kessler? Really?

internet approaches consciousness

Thanks, Wolfram, and by extension, Google, for helping Internet get one step closer to consciousness.
Alpha was created by Stephen Wolfram, famous for the software package Mathematica. He employed more than 150 people to collect information on all the major branches of science, from the properties of the elements and the location of planets to the relationships between species and the sequence of the human genome. Economic measures, such as inflation histories for specific countries, are included, as are geographic, cultural and many other data sets.

Alpha's potential stems from the fact that distinct data sets are assembled in the same place, and in a form that can be manipulated by Mathematica, which includes a huge range of tools for analysing and displaying data. That will mean users can combine previously disparate information on, say, economic performance and sports results, or trade patterns and population changes. "Our goal is to provide expert-level knowledge to everyone on the planet," says Russell Foltz-Smith, part of the Alpha team at Wolfram Research in Los Angeles.
Click through to find out how successful Alpha is--so far--at interpreting and answering natural language questions.

As a teacher, I'm planning for an early obsolescence.

May 6, 2009

rarefied airtime

Apparently my education blog got noticed by a Spokane TV station.

That's right: the DNR, a circuit-driving dentist, Gene Simmons, and me.

a switch-pitcher is just what we need

Recession? Budget cuts? Swine flu? Say the magic phrase "switch-pitcher," all are forgotten:
His name is Pat Venditte, he's 23, and he's pro baseball's only ambidextrous pitcher. This living piece of history is more than a YouTube star; he's throwing almost daily for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees' Single-A club. And he's not just throwing: He's blowing through hitters like a Cub Scout through Skittles....

There are a lot of "never befores" with Venditte. The pitching coach has to file two reports: Venditte the lefty and Venditte the righty. And he should; they're two different pitchers. The righty has a 90 mph fastball, a curve and a nice change. The lefty comes sidearm and has a murderous slider and a change. He's a five-pitch pitcher! Once, in Little League, the other team's coach came up to Pat Sr. and said, "Your twins pitched a heck of a game."
In case you're wondering what happens when a switch-pitcher meets a switch-hitter:
[S]witch-hitters will switch batter's boxes, making Venditte switch the glove, starting a cat-and-mouse game that can go on for 10 minutes. Minor league umps now have the Venditte Rule: At the start of an at-bat, the pitcher must declare his throwing arm, then the hitter can pick his side, with each man able to switch once. Phew.
Someday Venditte could be the first switch-pitcher in the bigs since the 19th century.

We should live so long.

North Thurston slashes budget; axes 36 FTEs

The North Thurston School Board has voted to slash nearly $5 million from their budget. The lowlights:
The cuts include eliminating about 36 full-time-equivalent teaching positions throughout the district, but that will be reached through retirements, resignations and not renewing one-year contracts....

Other cuts include:

• Eliminating the Talented and Gifted program for first-graders.
• Raising high school athletic fees from $75 a sport to $100 a sport. The football fee would be $125.
• Raising middle school athletic fees from $40 a year to $60 a year.
• Reducing full-time librarians at the elementary schools to half time.
• Cutting several district-level administrator or director positions.
• Increasing lunch prices by 25 cents.
• Eliminating food reimbursements for teachers, administrators and other adults who are traveling or at meetings.
• Lowering the temperature of the district’s pools and pool buildings, which a North Thurston district resident suggested could save $36,000.

Other staff reductions include eight administrators or supervisors, one office professional at each of the middle and high schools, a mechanic and 3.5 full-time-equivalent custodians.
It should be noted that, compared to personnel cuts, the savings from efficiencies and user fees are rather small.

In his reluctant defense of the cuts, Board member Bill Williams is quoted as saying, "[B]asically, we have no choice." Until all our options are exhausted--and they aren't--that isn't the case.

About a week ago, I urged the Board to let the voters decide whether to accept any potential earnings from a levy lid lift, which NTSD has forsworn. Although Gregoire hasn't convened the legislature for a special session to lift the lid, it's still an option. If that effort falls short, then Williams will be right.

If it falls short.

We'll find out by the end of the week.

Update: It appears that Gregoire's plan to call a special session has crumbled into pieces. Sucks to be us, eh North Thurston School District?

May 5, 2009

how to solve the budget shortfall

Yesterday I posted a recent RIF update from the District, promising to post some information from David Johnston on some figures under consideration. These are his words, from the OEA newsletter, on how the District might make up its roughly $2 million shortfall.
  • Reduction of certificated employees. (The board previously approved a possible reduction of 37.5 FTEs but can reduce or even eliminate that number.)
  • Lowering the Ending Fund Balance (EFB). Currently the projected EFB will be 7%. Board policy is to attempt to maintain the EFB at 5%. Each 1% reduction in the EFB means $850,000 available to make up the $2 million shortfall.
  • Reduction in programs. As the recent OSD survey determined, community and staff certainly value current programs but OEA firmly believes that in the matrix of competing values, certificated positions, people teaching kids, are valued even more. The District will come out with a non-certificated cut list soon. We should all look at it closely and give input. A line item OEA is particularly interested in is for curriculum adoption. Delaying adoption for next year saves $450,000.
  • Increasing Revenues. Never an easy thing to do, but other districts are looking at increasing pay for play. An even more viable possibility is if the Legislature goes into special session and approves a levy lid lift. This action alone would free up $1.5 million that voters have already approved, but that OSD cannot collect without legislative action. This option alone nearly solves the current shortfall in Olympia.
The levy lid option seems more and more feasible every day.

Meanwhile, today's Olympian covers the extracurricular angle.
In the Olympia School District, a middle school committee recommended reductions that would cut $61,000. Part of those recommendations include moving track from an interscholastic program to an intramural program and reducing the number of turnouts from five to four days a week.

“We’re waiting to see what the number amount of what the cuts would be and then we’ll make some recommendations,” said Jeff Carpenter, coordinator of health, fitness and athletics for the Olympia School District....

Carpenter said there might be reductions in programs, coaching positions and travel restrictions. However, the district is not expected to increase its pay-to-participate fee from $120 per sport.
Lots to chew on before the upcoming budget forums, May 19, Marshall Middle School, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., and May 21, Washington Middle School, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

May 4, 2009

Olympia School District RIF update: May 4

Tomorrow, I'll post some information from WEA Prez, David Johnston, on some RIF and budget figures under consideration. Today, though, via email from the RIF team:
This is the 11th message from the RIF Communication Team. We have two questions to respond to today.

Question: After a RIF has occurred, if circumstances change, will certificated employees have an option to be placed back into their original job if it becomes available?

Answer: Under the OEA/OSD contract Appendix A Section V, Sub C "Individuals who do not retain their original position during this reduction-in-force process will be given involuntary transfer status."

Individuals with involuntary transfer status may request assignment to a vacancy that is announced and to which they are qualified. Employees with involuntary transfer status have preference over other equally-qualified applicants who have not been involuntarily transferred.

If more than one employee who has been involuntarily transferred applies for a position, the most senior employee has highest preference. Once any employee in this scenario selects a position, he/she is no longer considered an involuntary transfer.
The key question, of course, is just how many teachers will find themselves in this situation. As I'll explain tomorrow, it's still impossible to say.
Question: Why do you send out emails even when you have nothing to report?

Answer: One primary concern in the previous RIF a few years ago was that employees didn't have timely information. The RIF Communication Team feels it is important that employees know both when there is new information and when there is not. In the future, when the team has no new information, we will put that in the subject line of the email.
That's a welcome improvement, since about 3-4 of the previous emails were essentially "no new information."

Overall, this RIF process, despite the calamitous circumstances, has been vastly better managed than previous editions. Hopefully it'll be the last.

some general strategies for the military conscription resolution

The NFL's 2009 national tournament resolution, "Resolved: military conscription is unjust," is deceptively simple, but in reality offers a wide range of options for both sides.

Affirmative Strategies
Although it always seems weird to me to affirm a negative statement, that's what the resolution demands, so that's what we have to do. There are at least three overarching positions to take, with options under each.

1. War is itself unjust, so anything that promotes war is unjust. (Pacifism.)
Corollary: Even in peacetime, the draft increases militarism and ethnocentrism, which leads to further conflict

2. Military conscription is instrumentally unjust--in other words, it leads to unjust outcomes.
a. It ruins society or otherwise decreases social utility.
b. In practice, it is unfair or exacerbates social division.

3. Military conscription is intrinsically unjust, violating liberty / autonomy / dignity / rights. (A deontological framework.)

Negative Strategies
1. In response to pacifism...
a. Just war theory, linked into notions of national self-defense and the necessity of conscription
b. Argue for the moral necessity of war, and that social benefits, to be fairly deserved, should be fairly won
c. Argue that it unfairly broadens the resolution and is a time-suck.

2. In response to instrumental arguments...
a. Attack utilitarian notions of justice (although this might be tough for the Neg to pull off)
b. Agree with utilitarian premises, but show how they lead to the opposite conclusion

3. In response to rights- or liberty-based arguments...
a. Deny the framework, and fight back with utilitarian, communitarian, or other notions of justice
b. Accept the framework, and show how the draft does not violate liberty / rights / etc., perhaps via social contract reasoning (Rousseau might be good here).

Of course, there are other less traditional approaches that might work as well. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments.

May 3, 2009

why I love Olympia

I recently received an email from far, far away:
So somehow this zany kayaking family found your blog and were wondering if someone such as yourself could shed some (sun)light? on why a crew with two little boys (4th and 6th grade) would love Olympia (or not). We're particularly interested in your opinions on the schools!

Thanks for your help!
Happy to, kayaking out-of-towners. I have many reasons to love Olympia. So I don't seem obsessed, I'll stick with just ten, keeping brand names out of it, and let others chime in as they wish.

The people.
Friendly, laid back, passionate. Hippie-greener-preppy-hipster-wonk-logger-retiree-goth-punks dot the landscape.

Restaurants, galleries, wine shops, too many coffee bars to count, restaurants, antique stores, more restaurants, book stores, the fountain, the Ugly Building, more coffee bars.

Arts Walk.
Combines the best of 1 and 2. Art, local mostly, with food, music, and a cast of thousands. Walk from station to station on the tour, or just amble around aimlessly, people-watching all the while. On a successive Friday and Saturday, the April version is best; it includes the fabled Procession of the Species.

The waterfront.

At sunset the boardwalk, with its view of the Capitol and the Olympics, as picturesque as it gets. Anytime, it's a perfect place for a stroll. It's especially entertaining during Harbor Days. Oh, and there's plenty of kayaking to be done, too.

The Capitol.
Modeled after the one in D.C., our state capitol is beautiful inside and out. Gad about in the rotunda or on the grassy campus, then take a walk down the hillside toward Capitol Lake. (Ride The Dash back to your car, if your feet get tired.)

The Spaghetti Bowl.

The name comes from the spaghetti feed fundraiser that always precedes the contest. The game starts after seven, but people line up for hours to get good seats at one of the most exciting sports events in the South Sound. Crosstown rivals Olympia High and Capital battle it out in Ingersoll stadium in front of thousands of screaming fans. Goodwill always prevails in the form of blended marching bands and drill teams for halftime entertainment.

Batdorf and Bronson coffee.
Broke the rule. But Batdorf and Bronson coffee is the greatest in existence, and is available all over Olympia in its flagship store, associated coffee shops and stands, and whatever restaurants and cafes have good taste in caffeine.

The location.

Crave the city? Seattle's an hour north; Portland's two south. Pine for the cedars? National parks and forests, including Mounts Rainier, Adams, Saint Helens, and the magnificent Olympic range, are within easy driving distance. (Pictured: view from Mount Ellinor.) The coast is close, too.

The schools.
You'll have to pardon my bias, since I teach at Capital High School and am a pretty big fan of the Olympia School District. Our neighboring districts--Tumwater, Griffin, and North Thurston--are nice, but I can only speak for the schools I know and love.

Like every district in the area, we're going through rough financial times, but the quality of an Olympia School District education is still excellent. We have great elementary and middle schools, with lots of options. Our high schools offer a panoply of challenging courses--AP at Olympia, International Baccalaureate at Capital--and choices, from Avanti to New Market to ORLA to Running Start at South Puget Sound.

The Evergreen State College
One of the nation's best, and best-known, progressive institutions. It's where I earned my master's in teaching and where my wife earned her bachelor's in American Studies / Anthropology / Spanish / Smartness. Tucked away in the woods on the west side of town, it's a haven for culture, weirdness, and life lived organically. The pulse of Olympia beats from the heart of Evergreen.

Odds and ends.
The Farmers Market rocks.
You'll never run out of patchouli.
The rain is endearing.
Traffic's never too bad.

Have your own reasons to love Olympia? Add them in the comments.

May 2, 2009

thoughts about the roof collapse

Over four months later, Capital High School continues to live in suspense.
We are still waiting to hear the results of the tests to the CHS roof trusses that collapsed on Christmas Day. We expect that these results will include recommendations from the structural engineers as to how to proceed with a permanent repair to the roof. As soon as we receive some information about these tests, we will share it with our CHS community. Thank you for your patience.
If you've followed the story, you know that CHS has been a little out of sorts since the roof collapsed, dealing with missed school--including cancellations two hours into the school day--and an overall sense of uncertainty compounded by the roiling financial situation and swine flu outbreak.

Despite all that, we can consider ourselves fortunate that the roof collapsed when the building was empty, so that no one sustained injury. Today's news out of the Dallas Cowboys training camp in Irving, Texas put this fact in sharp relief.
Winds that were just shy of tornado strength, and perhaps stronger, ripped through the roof during a rookie minicamp practice, essentially popping the so-called bubble. Between the falling debris and the furor to get out, special teams coach Joe DeCamillis broke his back and 11 more people were hospitalized.

About 60 others felt lucky to escape with only cuts and bruises....

The no-frills building was pretty much a 100-yard football field with a few more yards of clearance all the way around. The roof was 80 feet high, the equivalent of an eight-story building.

On Saturday, there were 27 players -- almost all drafted last weekend or signed as undrafted rookies -- working out when the storm hit. Also in the building were coaches, support staff and media.

Overhead lights swayed violently, prompting players, coaches, staff members and reporters to vacate the building. Several people were trying to exit the facility as the roof came down at about 4:30 p.m. ET.
Yesterday I greeted the "trusses are still being tested" announcement with a dissatisfied groan.

Not today.

May 1, 2009

quackery's popularity tied to its disutility

NewScientist has the story:
To understand why these quack medical treatments persist in the face of better proven remedies, Tanaka applied mathematical models used to measure evolutionary fitness to medical treatments.

His model accounted for factors including the rate of conversion to a treatment, the effectiveness of a treatment, the rate at which people abandon a treatment, the odds of recovering naturally, and the chances of dying. The model starts with a single person demonstrating a treatment – rubbish or not – and measures how many people are influenced to go on to give the treatment a try.

Under a wide range of conditions, quack treatments garnered more converts than proven hypothetical medicines that offer quicker recovery, Tanaka found. "The very fact that they don't work mean that people that use them stay sick longer" and demonstrate a treatment to more people, he says.

Bad treatments don't always win out. Recurring diseases are more likely to promote effective treatments than rare diseases because repeated demonstration weeds out bad treatments, Tanaka found.
I'm certain this model can be applied to the entirety of the Internet with identical results.

swine flu headed for the Sound?

Have to start wondering if/when the swine flu outbreak will finally reach the South Sound. Lakes High School in the nearby Clover Park School District is closed today, due to fears of potential H1N1 case.
It's the sixth school in the Puget Sound area to close as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. Three others are in Seattle, one in Des Moines and one in Mukilteo.
As long as I have cable internet, a staycation won't be so bad.

Update: It wasn't swine flu, the News Tribune reports.
Friday night, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department announced that additional tests from the state health lab showed that while the students remain hospitalized with influenza, it’s not the swine flu strain.
That's one thing being lost in the swine flu shuffle: non-swine varieties can be just as pernicious.

Here's hoping that's the last we hear of swine flu this close to the South Sound.

Resolved: Military conscription is unjust.

The NFL has released the topic for 2009 nationals:
Resolved: Military conscription is unjust.
(I corrected the typo; the original states, "Resolved: Miitary conscription is unjust.")

Analysis, links, and more to follow in the days ahead. For now, some initial thoughts.

1. Libertarianism, anarchism, pacifism, isolationism. Emma Goldman. Ron Paul. Foucault.
2. Either communitarian or utilitarian justice schemes will be common for the negative. Rousseau's "general will" lines up nicely here. How about Hegel?
3. Note that the resolution is not time- or culture-bound, so watch out for conditional affirmation involving age, gender, etc.
4. More libertarianism: Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, "draft is slavery," involuntary servitude, freedom as the highest value.
5. Rawls on the neg could be interesting.
6. This has to be--nay, is--the shortest resolution in some time.

As I start to develop my thoughts, feel free to suggest your own ideas, questions, and comments.

1. I suggest some general strategies for the Aff and Neg.
2. Joe Nusz has two articles available: one about finding a fresh angle for your case, and the other on the connection between conscription and Thoreau.