Sunday, February 07, 2016
By Bob Stuart of The Charlottesville Daily Progress
With Embedded Commentary by Thomas Ryder of Facebook
The Virginia General Assembly is debating and about to vote on SJ1 and HJ1, bills to give the state board of education the authority to establish locally funded charter schools anywhere in Virginia. If the measures pass the assembly, they will be put forth to the citizens in the form of ballot questions in the general election this fall.
Sen. Mark Obenshain has heard the arguments against a constitutional amendment to expand the approval authority of public charter schools to the state Board of Education.
I do not personally know Senator Obenshain, but I do know that I frequently find myself disagreeing with his views on public school education in our state. I believe that there is a distinct difference between hearing something and understanding it.
Now under Virginia law, only local school boards can approve charter schools and there are only nine operating in the commonwealth.
As it should be. Localities in Virginia control their own school boards in compliance with basic standards of quality set by the state.
Virginia’s public education system ranks well above the national average, bested only by a few union states in the north and well ahead of all of our neighboring states to the south and west on EdWeek’s composite.
The real question should be, is Virginia funding its public schools exceptionally, adequately, or frugally? Take a look at and understand the data to make your own determination. Hint: EdWeek gives Virginia a D+ grade in funding K-12 education.
"This is an opportunity for parents and kids in failing school divisions to offer a public school alternative that has worked in Republican and Democratic states,'' said Obenshain, the Senate sponsor of the charter school legislation.
The TRUTH isn’t as simple as Senator Obenshain decrees. While it is true that SOME charter schools in other states have proven successful, the latest research into charter school effectiveness is dubious, at best. According to CREDO based at Stanford University,
“Across the charter schools in the 26 states studied, 25 percent have significantly stronger learning gains in reading than their traditional school counterparts, while 56 percent showed no significant difference and 19 percent of charter schools have significantly weaker learning gains. In mathematics, 29 percent of charter schools showed student learning gains that were significantly stronger than their traditional public school peers’, while 40 percent were not significantly different and 31 percent were significantly weaker.”
And while charter schools would offer a more flexible format for educating Virginia students, there also would be funding issues. Funding would have to come from the locality and perhaps the state and federal government. Currently in Virginia, charter schools are funded locally, said Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave.
There’s the kernel of truth hidden in the weeds. The funding for these schools would fall upon the localities, despite the affected localities having NO say in whether or not to fund these schools. That’s what makes this constitutional amendment such a dangerous proposition.
Obenshain thinks offering charter schools across Virginia can provide a more level playing field for students who are in failing school districts. The Republican senator from Harrisonburg said education in the commonwealth "should not be by zip code."
He’s exactly correct, but again, he’s having a difficult time making the cognitive leap from hearing to understanding. Education quality shouldn’t be negatively impacted simply by where one chooses to live in the state. But that problem is best addressed by reforming the out-dated and unfair SOQ funding formulas.
Resolutions for the amendment still require final approval this General Assembly session in both the Virginia House and Senate, and both chambers would need to authorize a referendum for the amendment on the November ballot. Ultimately, Virginia voters would need to approve the amendment expanding the creation of charter schools to include the state Board of Education.
Charter schools if run right, could provide innovation in curriculum and teaching without "the constraints of the Standards of Learning and No Child Left Behind,'' Obenshain said.
Here’s what RUBS ME THE WRONG WAY. If Senator Obenshain feels so strongly about the SOL’s and NCLB, then why doesn’t he advocate vacating those programs? If they are as limiting as he seems to believe, why does he insist that those children not fortunate enough to attend one of his state charter schools be condemned to schools chained by these ineffective bureaucratic constraints?
Landes, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said it is possible a regional charter school could be set up to include multiple jurisdictions. "This is an added option for those who feel the system is not working for their child,'' he said.
It sounds so innocuous…simply another option. You know like if you’re going to choose where to eat out. You could go to Olive Garden, Appleby’s, or Outback Steakhouse. But wait, you could have other choices as well. What if you could add Steak ‘n Shake to your choices? Simple, right? More CHOICES means more places you can eat! But in the serious matter of education in this state of finite resources, more choices means more dilution of those finite resources.
The amendment's opponents, which include the Virginia School Boards Association, a number of Virginia school districts and the Virginia Education Association, say no amendment is necessary. They say Virginia's current charter school law invests the authority in local school boards, the most knowledgeable local elected officials about what is right for students.
Meg Gruber, the president of the Virginia Education Association, said local school boards are the best judge of whether a charter school is needed.
"We want our students in Virginia to learn,'' she said. "But it's another thing to understand the nuances of what goes on in a local community to meet those goals."
Gruber said she is not hearing "a clamoring'' from VEA members across the commonwealth for charter schools. "We have a top notch school system across the state. There is always room for improvement,'' said Gruber, who said Virginia ranks 41st nationally in its support of public K-12 education.
More Truth. Meg’s right.
School boards in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro have passed resolutions in opposition to the charter schools constitutional amendment.
Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Jeff Cassell said the Virginia Constitution is clear in vesting the authority for charter schools to local school boards. "There is no reason to deviate from local control. If a locality has an interest, there is a process for that (a charter school) to occur,'' Cassell said.
Cassell said the fact that so few charter schools exist in Virginia "shows there is not a great demand."
Staunton Schools Superintendent Linda Reviea said research "does not bear that charter schools are the silver bullet."
See the CREDO study.
Augusta County Schools Superintendent Eric Bond said the outcomes are mixed regarding charter schools. "We outperform them in some areas,'' said Bond of traditional public schools. The Augusta County schools administrator said the school district would certainly listen to any proposal for a charter school before making a decision. "We would follow the proper protocol and procedure,'' he said.
I would go further in stating that in MOST cases, charter schools perform the same or WORSE than traditional public schools.
During Thursday night's Augusta County School Board meeting, members said they want to keep the current protocol for charter schools. North River District School Board member Nick Collins said "as long as it's been within our authoirty [sic], that's been good."
Reviea believes it is important for school districts to work with families and be flexible in meeting student needs. And she said there is much more flexibility in 2016 in Virginia schools working with students who have special circumstances.
But for proponents of expanded access, Virginia is lagging in providing charter schools.
Nina Rees, the president/CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), said Virginia has not reaped the benefits of its charter school law, which is 20 years old. She said the commonwealth only has nine charter schools, and says the odds of creating new ones through local school boards are not good.
Rees said charter schools can succeed with the choice of a "no excuses'' leader, who believes children of all backgrounds can learn.
Readers beware of wolves in sheep clothing. Rees organization is at the heart of a moneyed movement all across the United States in partnership with a shady organization called, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Essentially, ALEC is a collection of businessmen, lawyers, and legislators. They meet in secret and develop model legislation in which they push out to legislative members in the 50 states. NAPCS works in cooperation with ALEC in promoting ALEC’s privatizing agenda. ALEC’s members, arguably, view public schools as profit centers and cash cows. Recent charter stories from Ohio, Florida, Louisana, and Wisconsin bear this out.
"Give the leader the authority to hire the best teachers,'' said Rees, who said that leader could also expand the school day and year, offer a creative curriculum and commit to results. And if the school did not succeed, the governing board could shut the charter school down.
The reality of what’s actually happening where these schemes are playing out is that a for-profit entity petitions a state board for a charter in a locality, absorbs state financial support, and cashes out after the results don’t live up to expectations or corruption is uncovered. The children, the employees, and the community are effectively robbed.
Obenshain and Landes say many details would have to be worked out if the amendment passes the legislature and the November referendum.
Why should we get bogged down by silly things like details?
Federal funding would have to be explored. Obenshain said the Obama Administration's "Race To The Top" program provides funding for charter schools Virginia is not now eligible for He said the funding could be accessed with a greater charter school program.
I love his sentiment. Obenshain laments the fact that Virginia does not qualify for federal funding to help these unfortunate students, and all we have to do to tap this free federal financial funding resource is to make charter schools more accessible.
I wonder how he feels about tapping the free federal financial funding source to expand Medicaid in Virginia. Well, I found these comments attributed to him.
So my concern here if you take his Medicaid reasoning is that he does not view public schools as a wise way to spend education dollars. He believes in a free-market approach to public school education. I wonder how that would jibe with article VIII, section 1 of the state constitution.
Article VIII, Section 1. Public schools of high quality to be maintained
The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.
And both legislators say it would be vital for local school boards to stay involved. "If we can identify high quality charter school applicants, local boards will want to make the decision,'' Obenshain said.
How does that work? What does that mean? The whole point of the amendment is to usurp the power of local school boards.
Obenshain has made passage of the charter school constitutional amendment his top priority during the current General Assembly. He believes the change could be one of monumental importance for Virginia children.
I agree 100%, but I suspect not in the same way he does.
"This has the most capacity to affect more lives than anything I'll ever work on in the legislature,'' he said. "I believe it with all my heart."
Without a doubt, this constitutional amendment will affect more lives in a negative way than any other legislative action since Massive Resistance in 1956.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Getting My Ear Removed
I met a lot of very nice people today as I was knocking on doors for Mike Hamlar. I mean that, a lot of very nice people. I knocked on one door expecting a female voter, but a man answered. He explained that he and his wife had a mixed marriage. He's a Republican, and she has "other ideas." He laughed. We shared a congenial chat-as it should be.
I met many older people today. A great many were in their 80's or late 70's. Most wanted someone with whom to talk. One lady had her husband walk out on her a few months ago. Another was struggling to get by in the wake of a divorce after 35 years of marriage.
One stood out, however. A 78 year-old lady shared that she is raising her 6 year-old great-grandson. He's a very active, but nice young boy. We talked for about a half hour. She was feeling alone and was somewhat soured on people and the direction our country is heading. But through our discussion, I pointed out that, in fact, there is a whole lot of good in this world, and sometimes we just need to stop and focus on that. She agreed and then began citing examples of people who have shown her kindness.
I know I'm rambling, but I think what I'm trying to say is that there's a whole lot more good in the world than we give ourselves credit for. As she was about to turn away from the door at the end of our conversation, she said, "This always happens when someone comes to the door. Since I rarely get to talk to anyone, when someone comes to the door, I talk their ear off."
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
Ohio State vs Virginia Tech
September 7, 2015
The game is over and the grim reality of the Brewer injury hangs heavy over the Hokie landscape. If you were like me, when Brewer dragged his shoulder off the field in the third quarter, you figured he’d find a way back onto the field. We know that, belying his stature, he has an elastic quality about him. As the news was whispered from devices and passed through the crowd, as the offense sputtered in response, and as the defense lost focus and discipline to fatigue and disconsolation; the crowd diminished into the east.
The anticipation I felt for this game was unlike that felt for any game in recent memory. All off-season, I spent countless hours following the developments of the team and the news from the opponent. I understand that the Master would not allow his team to forget last year. That alone was reason to suspect a different outcome. But I dreamed and hoped for bottled lightning uncorked.
The Game and the Opponent
Would the same defensive scheme work twice? No. We were unable to play tag in the OSU backfield this time. There was little disruption of what OSU wanted to do. We did stay disciplined for most of two quarters, but that devolved as the game edged into the fourth quarter and OSU began dominating the clock.
I’ll leave it to others to dissect, but it sure looked to me that we suffered from the inability of the interior defense to cover the inside options when they chose to run. When Cardale chose to launch his darts, he was unharried and able to get the ball to whomever he desired a reasonable amount of time.
Zeke is everything he’s advertized to be, an amazing back. However, his touchdown run in the first quarter was greatly aided by a mugging and hugging that Dadi was receiving as Zeke slipped past him and off to the races. With that blatant hold happening right below me and right in front of an official, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a flag.
Braxton Miller’s run was, quite simply, the most electrifying run I’ve seen since Michael Vick zipped through Pitt. That spin move left our defense and our fans murmuring.
We, in turn, looked solid on the ground. Our three backs each had positive runs. Gone are the frustrating days of having backs attacked three yards deep struggling just to get back to the line. Those runs, in this game, weren’t met with resistance until the line with our backs able to fall forward for three yards or even five on good runs. That, in my estimation, is the greatest improvement I noted.
Loeffler called a fantastic game with both quarterbacks. There wasn’t a single time in the game when I turned to my wife and said, “What the hell was that call?” Again, improvement! I especially loved being on the right side of the Matty Ice/McNabb puke play for a touchdown.
Our receivers, Malleck aside, had a pedestrian evening. Bucky seemed to have a hard time shaking “snug” coverage. Malleck’s catch while fully extended as well as Ford’s toe-dance with the sideline were remarkable.
I have to confess that one of the things on my bucket list was watching the OSU band perform “Script Ohio” in person. While they didn’t have their full band and only performed it to two sides instead of four, I enjoyed the heck out of it and consider that a check off.
My season tickets are in the twilight zone of section 35 where, at most games, the occasional opposing fans mix in as the opponent’s crowd transitions to their obligatory corner. Last night, many OSU fans surrounded us. I asked the kind, large OSU gentleman who sat behind me jamming his knees into my back when I sat down during a red man break how he got his tickets. He told me that he finagled them through Stub Hub. I’ll be saying a word or two to that “fan” if I ever see him at a future game.
My knee neighbor was quite nice, however. He told me that he and his two friends decided to make it a football weekend. They traveled to Morganhole to watch the cousins win their first game. Then they moved on to catch the Herd upend the Boilermakers before cruising into Roanoke. By the way, they said that Perdue is HORRIBLE.
As the game was winding down out of reach, I poured on the good karma and complimented the knee guy and his friends on their win. One of them was dismissive. He told me that this win was way too sloppy. I told him that it was the first game of the season and you have to expect a certain amount of sloppiness since there are no preseason games. He snorted at that and said in an authoritative voice, “We have higher expectations at OSU.” How often over the years have I heard similar? From Miami before we began regularly beating them. From Alabama before the Music City Bowl. From USC before the FedEx Interference Game. From Auburn’s drunken War-Damn-Eagle fans before a Sugar Bowl. From FSU in the biggest game. From Georgia , The Pine Trees, UCLA, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Nebraska, and Texas during bowl games.
After hearing “Exclusive Club Talk” yet again from another fan base, I realized something. We lost the game. We tragically lost our offensive cog. But we have not lost our soul. Who could watch Frank and Shane try to guess the song and not feel lighter? Who could dismiss the helmet sticker in honor of Adam and Allison from WDBJ as being overly sentimental? Who could not shed a tear at the Billy Hite tribute and the video piece on Frank? Who could not look out over the sea of orange glistening in the early evening twilight glow and not feel the satisfaction of being home?
Sure. We lost the game, but, as Frank might say, “There’s a whole lot more to this deal than that.”
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Brigid Schulte of the Washington Post recently wrote a favorable piece celebrating “The 21-day Timehacker Project”.
Schulte showcased a Leadville, Colorado kindergarten teacher who utilized five time hacks to get the reins on her burn-out. I think there's a good chunk of "Pie-in-the-sky" thinking in the article. I agree with the principle, but practice is a much different animal. Teaching burns. Having just exited on the flip-side of 33 years, I know this truth all too well. Through my career, I found my own "life hacks" that enabled me to manage stress and fight burnout. I was moderately successful, but still ended up battling hypertension, anxiety, family disassociation, weight gain, and genie dancing.
First, here's a summary and brief commentary on the WaPo article.
1. DECIDE: DO YOU EVEN LIKE YOUR JOB
It sounds like a no-brainer, right? I can guarantee you that if you enter the education profession without really having a passion for it, you won’t last.
2. FOCUS ON THE WORK THAT MATTERS MOST
Here’s the rub with this advice. If you are in a classroom for any length of time, you quickly learn that matters presented to you by the students, parents, administrators, and the requirements of the job all matter most. To ask an inexperienced teacher to rate and rank the mind-boggling flood of matters plated for each teacher is, at best, a life’s work.
3. MAKE A PLAN TO LEAVE WORK AT WORK, ESPECIALLY ON WEEKENDS
Plans are all well and good. Frankly, this idea is unrealistic in today’s education world.
• Work 30-60 minutes every morning on lesson plans before school. On Friday, she should work a bit after school to get ready for the next week.
Many of the best teachers I know come in to work an hour or more before contract time. The morning hours are an ideal time to gather materials and visualize the upcoming day. Working only “a bit after school” on Friday is laudable; however, “a bit” doesn’t accurately describe the actual amount of work that needs to be done.
• Put lesson plans in Google docs in order to build on them for the following year, instead of always starting from scratch.
This is a fantastic idea; one that should be incorporated in all schools. It doesn’t have to be Google Docs, OneDrive, Dropbox, or other cloud storage services. Most teachers have drifted away from the traditional paper and pencil planning grids to computer-based templates that are editable. Making plans and teaching from them year after year is a troubling concept. In my experience, each year is completely new. Each class is unique, as is each student. You can have a template, scope and sequence, for instruction, but the details of that instruction should be tailored to meet the needs of the current class. So, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just have the build a new one every year.
• List To-Do’s by week, not day “to add flexibility of doing them when you are in the right frame of mind and diminishing the tension of a deadline.”
Survival in the job requires a teacher to keep a mental or written To-Do list. That list must always be flexible as deadlines tend to be as fluid as the nature of the job.
• Make tasks fun
An admirable goal. Experiencing and being mentally present and invested your life is vital. Without that, you are merely an empty vessel. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything should be fun or enjoyable. Life doesn’t work that way.
• Put everything back into its place so you don’t have to hunt for it.
Some are much better at this than others. I’m good at making piles, but less good at sorting through them unless, somehow, I miraculously whittle my “To-Do” list away.
4. GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF FREE TIME
Gifts are wonderful. Everyone likes presents! However, when you give yourself gifts, you have to purchase them or pay for them somehow. Of course, you could just steal your gift. Stealing, though, is not a victim-less crime.
5. LET GO OF THE SUNDAY NIGHT BLUES
· Write about her worries, then tear the paper up and throw it away every Sunday.
While I’m busy writing down my worries on Sunday night, I could be catching up on grading, planning, watching Sixty Minutes, or experiencing the tumultuous gymnastics of restless, stressful sleep.
“With the time hacks, I was able to provide a much higher level of academic rigor, differentiate my lessons more, spend more time analyzing student data, and finding activities that really focused on what they needed, rather than blanket fun activities for all students,” she said. “And all because I found more time in my day.”
I’m sorry that the teacher found these particular truths through time-hacking. I had hoped that she would find time to practice the art of teaching. I’m concerned by the whole premise of the article, however. The 21-Day Timehacker Project, on which Schulte reports, seeks to find ways for the teacher to avoid burnout while continuing to meet unrealistic expectations.
The real issues that must eventually be addressed are the unrealistic expectations and demands being heaped on the plates of already over-burdened educators. Why is the American teacher rigorously burning-out and leaving the profession after five years? How have austerity personnel cuts and ratcheted accountability measures affected the heaping job demands on today’s educators?
When I retired in June, my third grade level colleagues and I sarcastically joked that I wouldn’t be replaced and that the grade level, which used to be served by four teachers and an assistant, would now only be served by two teachers and no assistant.
In part two, I will delve into specific, personal life hacks that I used which allowed me to stay in the elementary classroom for a full thirty-three year career.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
The rope broke on my string trimmer Sunday, which set into motion an interesting story.
I ended up taking the trimmer over to John’s Mower Service on Plantation Rd. John, an older gentleman with engine wisdom written across his wrinkled brow, explained to me the deal…
John showed me an Echo trimmer that was hanging on the shelf and pointed out the starter housing assembly on the back of the engine. This assembly contains the tension spring, pulley and rope. To replace/repair it, all you have to do, he pointed out, is remove three or four easily accessible screws and then proceed with the simple repair/replacement.
My Poulan Pro, he said, would have to be completely disassembled. With the tank and shields removed, the clutch assembly comes into view. The final step to accessing the starter assembly is removing a small screw inside a 3” shaft in the center of clutch assembly. This screw, he said is sealed with Lock-tite and is extremely difficult to remove. In fact, he said that successfully removing it is a 50/50 proposition. If you make it that far, you lift out the clutch assembly and are finally able to attack the repair. In the end, he suggested that I might as well invest in a new trimmer as the cost of disassembling would cost about $70 before the repair was even attempted, and that’s IF he could get the small screw.
As John was telling me this, I found myself filling in his statements, because I knew exactly what he was about to say. I had spent a couple of hours wrestling with the trimmer the other day. I had disassembled the tank and shields only to encounter the clutch and shaft with the tiny screw. I tried and tried, but I could not get that screw to budge. That’s why I quit and decided to offer it to a professional. Failure was an option. I thought that I must be inept; that there must be some sort of mechanic’s trick to access that housing. So, John’s words were a vindication of sorts.
That’s sort of how my day has gone. The Blue Party Van (BPV) had difficulty starting on my way over to John’s. She’s been a bit “cranky” of late, and as soon as she fired, the “check engine” light popped on. I usually don’t worry much about that light as it is usually related to an emission issue; but, to be on the safe side, I didn’t turn her off on my errands. I stopped by Sheetz to get a Diet Dr. Pepper fountain drink, but it was out of order, so I had to pay full price at a 7-11. I eventually made it home after my John consultation without further disappointment. In the driveway, I decided to put up my windows in case the rains come this evening. That’s when I heard a grinding crunch in the driver’s side door, and the window crashed down almost inside the door. It’s definitely stripped a cog or something inside there and will never work again unless repaired. You probably have to disassemble the door and then remove a screw in the window’s clutch shaft. This is unfortunate because I was about to trade in the BPV for a shiny new pick-up truck, but this and the check engine light will certainly negatively affect the trade value.
Overall though, these problems are insignificant compared to the big picture of a full and joyous life.