Feb 26, 2010

Apples to Apples

I read an article today by Chad Aldeman called Kipp Works. It's about the studies done showing the success of charter schools managed by Kipp. I am intrigued by their customer-driven approach to education. If it works, more power to 'em.

One argument many like to make against charter schools is that they "skim" the best & brightest. I reject that argument with a counter argument: why don't the public schools end the "inclusion classes" and then compare apples to apples.

What I mean is this: put the public schools' best and brightest (and most motivated) against Kipp's best and brightest. When you really compare like groups, you'll find that both schools work. The public school children are getting a less-than-stellar education, not because the teachers aren't qualified or not giving everything they've got, but because their classes are populated with too many kids who shouldn't be there.

Some kids are academically advanced. Some are not. Split them up into different classes and let the fast learners race ahead, instead of goofing around waiting for the others to catch up.

As for the bright (or not) but unmotivated, if a kid puts his head down and sleeps in my class, it bothers me that he's wasting his education, but it doesn't perturb me as much as the bright (or not) attention junkie who not only doesn't want to be there, but wants to make sure no one else gets an education, either.

Constant disruptions make real learning impossible. No fun learning activities, because that privilege would be abused, so the whole class is "punished" with a mean teacher who spends all her time on behavior management. Lord, have mercy.

If I could remove between 3 and 6 students from every class in every school, move them to their own classroom where they can act up all they want, the rest of the students would get the stellar education for which their parents pay dearly every year at tax time.

Motivation is crucial to education. It starts at home at age zero, not in Kindergarten after 5 years of junk food and video games. If we compare the motivated kids with the motivated kids, you'd find that Kipp schools work, but so do public schools.

When the schools work, everyone wins.

How are you going to motivate your children to do their best today?

Feb 25, 2010

Feral Children

Feral children are those who lack the upbringing or input from parents, which civilizes most of us into decent human beings. We learn to use the toilet, eat with utensils, speak a language, acknowledge and respect the rights of others.

Imagine a child without that adult input. They're feral. They're raising themselves. I've seen these children at schools, at "good" schools. These schools are zoned for communities where property taxes are in the thou$ands annually because the residents insist on sending their kids to the "best" schools.

If these residents knew what they were paying for, they'd demand a refund.

You want to know how to "fix" public education? Remove every student who doesn't want to be there.

The feral ones would go first.

And then, without their disruptive behavior, the rest of them could learn.

How would you fix public schools, if you could, today?

Feb 23, 2010

Cell Phones & School

Everyone in my county knows that cell phones are not allowed in school.

The unwritten rule for me as an educator is, if I don't see it, I don't have to report it. If I don't know you have a phone in the bottom of your purse, I'm not going to confiscate it and take it to the office where your mama has to come and retrieve it. As long as I don't hear it go off, how could I know you have it?

Like probably every other parent in the school district, I want my kids to have a phone at school (turned to "silent" of course.) I like knowing if practice was canceled and they need a ride now, not two hours from now. If there were a lockdown situation, it would not hurt my feelings to get a text from my child saying "I'm ok."

I also want my children to follow the rules. We respect authority.

By allowing phones, I fear that I'm really teaching them that the rules don't apply to us, and it's ok to break them as long as you don't get caught.

There are other fears much worse. This one is a fear I'm willing to live with.

What mixed signals are you sending today, and are they worth the price?

Feb 19, 2010

Children, Money, and the Family Budget part II

My daughter is in high school. She doesn't have a formal job yet, but she babysits and does other odd jobs. Like most girls her age, she wants everything: clothes, music, fast food...

She now has her own checking account. She has her own debit card on that account. Under my loose supervision (because she is a minor, my name is on it too) she is learning what things cost. If she needs lunch money, she'd better write a check to the cafeteria to put on her lunch account. School fees or activities due? Hope you brought your checkbook. Going out with friends? Bring your "swipe swipe" card.

Instead of paying her bills, we are paying her. She's paying the bills. When the money's gone, she will realize the logical consequences of having no money in the account: borrowing lunch money from friends, skipping the movie & staying home, no new clothes.

Before she ever graduates from High School, she will know that more work brings more money, she will know what things cost, and what it's like to live within a budget.

That is an education that schools cannot provide. If parents don't teach their children the basics of financial literacy, who will?

What will you teach your children today?

Feb 16, 2010

Children, Money, and the Family Budget part I

If I had a magic money tree in my back yard, life would be so different.

I don't know that it would make us happier, necessarily (except we could stop worrying about how much our homeowner's insurance went up this year, or what scholarships our child might receive) but it would change the nature of our discussions.

Child: Mom, I need a calculator for math.
Parent: Borrow your sister's calculator - she doesn't have a math class this term.
Child: Why do I have to go to bed so early?
Parent: So you stay healthy. And take a vitamin C - we can't afford a visit to the doctor if you get sick.
Child: Stop here for a minute so I can buy a Coke.
Parent: If you have money to buy Cokes, why don't you replace the school uniform shirt that you can't find?

This is nit-picky stuff about the family budget. Like all parents, we're doing the best we can. If we had that magic money tree, each child would have a calculator, doctor's visits would be proactive rather than reactive, and the girl could have more than two (now down to one) shirts. On the other hand, buying two calculators is rather wasteful, if only one is needed. Staying healthy really is a wiser course of action. Learning to be responsible for your uniform is a good lesson, too.

So, by not having all the money in the world, my children are learning to be responsible and make wise decisions with what we do have. They're learning to take charge of their health, live within their means, and that one needn't own everything to be happy.

They're learning to do they best they can with what they have.

That's something we all should learn.

What is your financial condition teaching your children today?

Feb 13, 2010

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler

Mardi Gras is big business in the South. New Orleans is famous, of course, for its Mardi Gras debauchery, but Mobile claims to have started the parading tradition.

Regardless, my favorite parades are on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, in Daphne and Fairhope. These parades are fun, family friendly, and the crowds are small enough that you are sure not only to make new friends, but to catch at least a couple of throws. A throw is a Moon Pie, some beads, or a trinket that maskers throw from the floats. Why the masks? Um, they belong to secret societies. You're not supposed to know who they are.

In Daphne, there are 2 women's krewes and a men's krewe that parade annually. I've made some observations about them.

The women's krewes, Apollo's Mystic Ladies and Mystic Order of Persephone, throw a lot of beads. Women are thrifty, generally, and they buy used beads and throw them again next year. Or they attend other parades, catch beads, and throw them in their own parades. This is completely understandable, of course, as these women are putting out their own money for everything they throw, and they are not wealthy by any means. What is noteworthy, though, besides the abundance of beads, is that they tend to throw at little children behind the barricades. If you are cute and maybe wearing doodly-floppers on your head, duck - beads are definitely coming your way.

The men's krewe, The Shadow Barons, throw more "consumables." This would include Moon Pies and other edibles. They like to throw at a target or challenge. If you are standing in the bed of a pickup truck with a laundry basket or bushel basket, with a poster saying "Can You Hit This?" the Shadow Barons will take this as a personal challenge. Be prepared for a haul.

I'm not saying one is preferable to the other - they're just different.

Male and female created He them. Viva la difference! (That's French for "Laissez les bons temps rouler.")

What differences will you celebrate today?

Feb 12, 2010

The Sky is Falling!

The sky is falling!

Snow is predicted for Mobile, AL. It hasn't snowed here since 1996. The schools are closed. The talking heads have warned "stay home!" How many schools get Hurricane Days and Snow Days in the same academic year?

Um, it's raining now. Maybe it'll snow later. Maybe not. We'll see.

"We'll see" doesn't generate media attention. They can't say that. Not & keep their jobs. So they hedge a little. They give probabilities and generalities. So did Iben Browning. He predicted an earthquake. It didn't happen. He was derided as having predicted "the greatest non-event since 'Geraldo and the Vault.'" Dr. Browning died 7 months later of a heart attack. Probably brought on by derision.

Geraldo goes on. He doesn't expect anyone to take him seriously. He'll probably live to 100.

Chicken Little is going to stress himself into an early grave.

Stay tuned for photos if, indeed, we get the white stuff.

What are you going to do with your snow day today?

Edit: photo added. Haha. (You can see the snow in the air, really, can't you?)

Feb 9, 2010

To Tax or Not to Tax?

There's a referendum, in my county, regarding a 1% sales tax increase to go to schools. My honest opinion is that I could go either way, but am leaning against it right now.

I work in more than a half dozen schools. I'm on the front lines and I know what crowded classrooms are like, what tight budgets are like, what electives are cut because of lack of funding.

I also know what it's like to live within my means. If I take on a huge debt, then ask someone else to bail me out because I can't make payments on it, should I expect anyone to feel sorry for my "budget crisis?"

People are struggling to keep food on the table, and you want them to pay 1% more? The local rate is already 8.5%. Another 1% will make it 9.5% sales tax on everything we buy - food, medicine, socks and underwear... and you tell me "It's only a penny." It's $75,000,000! That's not a penny! Someone's not being forthright here.

Football is the sacred cow the admins use to scare people into voting for the tax. If this tax doesn't pass, they warn, we'll cut football, and then your child who wants to get a football scholarship won't be able to, and it will cost you more money later.

What a bunch of smoke.

Football is not going to be cut - it's self supporting. (Nontenured coaches, maybe...) They have the Quarterback Club that sells tickets at the gate, Tshirts, and Concessions. They also have corporate supporters with banner ads on the football field. Cheerleaders sell ads in the programs. The band takes money for parking at the games, and have fundraisers all year. The AD & Band Director's salaries are the *only* budget items, and they're tenured.

If I thought that a 1% sales tax increase would make kids want to learn more, I'd vote for twice that. (Why did Oprah build her school in Africa, not Chicago? Because they value education there.)

If I thought that a 1% sales tax increase would make kids stop disrupting their classes, I'd vote for three times that.

Those are the kinds of changes that would make a difference on the front lines. Those changes would propel Baldwin County Education into a 21st century level of world-class learners. Those are the changes that would enable teachers to spend more time teaching, less on behavior management. Morale would improve, and people would be flocking to our school district, sending property values (and property taxes, ie: funding) with it.

That's a tax worth supporting.

What changes in education will you support today?

Feb 8, 2010

How to Tell if They're Telling the Truth

By their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:16)

If someone tells you who they are instead of being who they are, pay more attention to their actions than their words.

If someone says "somebody needs to do something about ..." they aren't referring to themselves.

If someone has made promises they didn't keep, don't believe their subsequent promises.

If they say they value [fill in the blank], look at their checkbook register to see where their money goes. That will give you the biggest clue what their values really are.

What will your actions reveal about you today?

Feb 6, 2010

So Fake

I pray that my children never enter politics.

Children in elementary school are told, wrongly, that they can grow up to be President. That's not true, of course, because you have to be born into the right family with the right connections and enough money, but there are plenty of local politics to go around.

Local politics are probably the worst. Homeowners' Association boards are notorious for being populated with little people trying to be important and make rules for everyone else. I think I went to Junior High with girls who now sit on these boards.

Politicians make promises they can't or won't keep. Everyone knows that politicians lie. Then they vote for them anyway. Then they act surprised to find out that the tiger didn't change its stripes and voted for the bills that he has always supported even though he swore this time it would be different.

Which only proves that people love a beautiful lie more than an ugly truth. And that politicians probably couldn't get elected if they told the truth. Which is why I don't want my children going there.

I want my children to find their mission in life. I ask them this: What do you think God designed you for and designed for you? Where is your passion? What do you love doing so much that you would do it for free?

Whatever you are, be the best one at it. Except politics. Who wants to be the best liar?

Whose guidance and example will you ask your children to follow today?