Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What is going on behind the news....

Is anyone else wondering what might be going on behind the scenes of the current events? For example, what do you think the phone conversation might have been like if Al Gore called Bill Clinton to see if he would be willing to go rescue the journalists from North Korea?

Maybe something like this....(oh, and this is purely fictional and no correlation or attribution to any real persons is implied....and this is intended purely for entertainment purposes only....I wonder if this is enough of a disclaimer?).

AG: Hi Bill, it's Al.
BC: Hey Al, long time, buddy. How's it going? Been getting any lately? Naw, I'm just kiddin'. How's Tipper doin'? How's that global warming gig goin' for ya lately?
AG: Bill, I need you to do me a favor.
BC: Heck, Al, you know I would love to help you out if I can. It doesn't involve another campaign does it?
AG: No, nothing like that....You know I won that and was royally screwed by the Bushes AND the Supreme Court, but whatever, I've moved on. What I need is for you to go chat with Kim Jung Il about getting the two journalists from my company released.
BC: Gee, Al, I'm not sure if I can do know with Hill doing her thing at State and all. I'm supposed to lay low and not upstage her. She can get really, really cranky you know.
AG: Ah, c'mon, Bill, when I have asked you for any serious help lately?
BC: Well....I don't know. Does Obama know about this? You know he is kind of trying to wait until KJI kicks the bucket to see if things improve there. Kind of a waiting game, if you know what I mean.
AG: Bill, these journalists are women. Attractive, young women....there will be a plane ride back to the states involved. And, you would get a lot of GOOD press out of the deal not to mention their undying appreciation for getting them out of that hard labor gig.
BC: Ahh....good point, Al. I'll see if Hillary will let me out of the house for a few days and then I'll let you know.
AG: Okay, but it would really help me out....I would go myself, but after the 2000 election and all, well, you know.

Okay, maybe this didn't happen at all, but hey, what if....just sayin'.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

No quick fixes....

After taking an apathy break from the Blender, it is time to post again. Last week, President Obama outlined education policies and political commentators do what they do, they commented. While there were some astute comments, it seems that everyone is trying to boil this down to a simple problem which it isn't. This is one area that I feel qualified to comment on. 14 years as a classroom teacher, 6 years as education faculty in teacher preparation and countless years of conducting teacher professional development...all in the name of trying to improve education for students. After more than 25 years of working in education, my assessment is that there are no quick fixes.

My basic tenents are:
1. Teaching is both an art and a science.
2. Even the best teacher can't teach students anything if their butts are not in the seats and their minds are relatively free of other basic concerns (Maslow's hierarchy of needs).
3. Education systems (states, districts, and schools) are very slow to change.
4. All people think they know how to fix education systems because they themselves went to school and most of these people base their ideas on their N=1 experience rather than data.

It seems the administration's novel idea is to tie teacher pay to performance. This concept has been discouraged by the teacher unions (or education associations as they would rather be called) and while the unions do protect too many unqualified teachers, they also serve to protect those teachers who made students work hard, think for themselves when they would rather not, and did NOT inflate grades. Those teachers are not always popular at their schools, with students, or with parents for that matter. Those teachers are popular when those students are juniors in college and they start to realize the value of studying habits or of the exacting, demanding preparation they had in the past. So, there is a double-edged sword in how we evaluate teacher performance. Does teacher performance equate student achievement?

If so, then we need to decide how a teacher can be held accountable for student performance when the student doesn't show up for class? This is not a trivial matter. Students say that school is boring and they just skip it. So, making it more rigorous and demanding is going to have them filing in the door for more? I seriously doubt it. Here is where the art of teaching comes into play. Instead of teaching test prep everyday, teachers need to be able to engage students in their own learning. This means flexible curricula that achieves the learning objectives while engaging the students. The success in this depends on teachers being SKILLED enough to know whether they are teaching the correct content to enable the student to master the learning objective. You would be surprised at how many teachers do not understand this basic premise of teaching.

There is a raging debate going on about whether schools should teach skills or subject matter content only. The basic element is that we should decide what we want the student to know and be able to do when they complete their education. Then, adjust the curriculum accordingly. Test it to inform revisions and evaluate mastery. There is only a limited amount of time to work with students. The amount of embedded knowledge versus obtainable knowledge versus how to process and use knowledge required for literacy has changed greatly as technologies have evolved in the last 25 years. We should think seriously about this because it is possible to produce students who know a lot of facts, but can't think or connect them to make any use of that knowledge whatsoever.

I usually waver back and forth on the idea of a national curriculum. While it would be nice to not have 50 different educational systems (and some of those are splintered at the district level) teaching different material at different grade levels, it would be dangerous in the way it might be implemented. If I were teaching today, I would not be able to use the same instructional strategies from my early teaching days with students in a very rural farming community in Nebraska with students in the highly diverse urban area where I live now. Their life experience or context that they bring to the classroom is just entirely too different. Actually, location aside, just the time context would make a huge difference in how new information should be presented to students. While I do not believe in constructivist learning, I do believe in connectionism. If students have nothing to connect new knowledge to, the chances for retention are just very limited. If done carefully though, a national curriculum would most likely be beneficial for a number of reasons.

Schools have been given a huge amount of responsibility in this country. Honestly, I'm surprised that they work as well as they do since they often play the role of surrogate parents in addition to education providers. Schools and teachers rarely get to focus on just teaching these days. President Obama wants schools to use data to track and monitor student achievement for schools. If the state or district education systems are going to adopt this strategy then I would challenge both the administration and education systems to think differently about what this data driven analysis would look like. In addition to the student performance data, I think they should build it into a geographic information system (GIS) so we get the "big" picture and connections to what is really going on in student performances. Layering data such as income levels, single parent households, locations of child care or after school programs and care facilities, truancies, public libraries, student jobs or internships, etc. would start to help us understand more about what interventions might really make a difference in how well our education systems work.

Although I support continued efforts in defining and reforming our current education system, it isn't going to be easy. It also involves many more issues that need to be addressed than could possibly be analzyed in one blog post.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Recovering from the Obama-thon

The Presidential inauguration was an amazing event. It reaffirmed my belief in civility more than anything else. The idea that so many people can peaceably assemble in a common spirit of good will says a great deal about this country. Despite the crushing crowds in small spaces either on the Metro platforms or in long lines waiting to get into ticketed areas. People were genuinely excited, polite, and tolerant of those around them.

My inauguration experience was more like "March of the Penguins." I didn't see anyone famous including President Obama. At times, I couldn't even see the two other people I was with in line. It was a difficult day to figure out which line to be in or which way to walk to get to where you were going. The crowd control people were patient and helpful, but there were just not nearly enough of them to keep crowds informed about what they should do or where they should go next.

Overall, it was a great day and a great event to participate in. However, I don't think I will ever be motivated enough to ever try to attend again. Unless of course, I have a "mother or mother-in-law of the President" seat. :-)

Friday, December 12, 2008

After seven years of creative financing.....

Since 2001 (read after 9/11), the auto industry started offering zero percent financing and other incentives to get people to buy new cars. This worked for a number of years and incentives such as these, kept fluctuating in and out. Did anyone wonder when the market for new cars would be saturated by these incentives?
How often do people really need a new car? My car is a 2001 (foreign made) and is running just fine. It is paid for and has less than 100,000 miles on it. Why would I want to buy a new car? I live in a city that is so dense that actually having a parking space, let alone a garage, is an unaffordable luxury. News flash: This place is dense because I am NOT the only person in this situation. There were also some other factors that should have been indicators to the automotive industry.....such as:
Gas was at almost $4.00 a gallon and people were trying to drive less, not more. This would decrease the motivation to buy a new car.
Unemployment is going up (less consumers able to buy new items....especially big ticket items like a car).
People have been investing in more expensive housing than they can afford. Why would anyone think that they could afford new cars at the same time? seems that this eventual outcome should have been pretty obvious about 3 or 4 years ago if people were paying attention.
Maybe that is it....people were just not paying attention.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Return of the middle class....

As I listen to the media reports on the economic crisis, I'm starting to wonder how this economic down turn is going to affect the general populous? Obviously, the people who contracted (which is an operative word here) for adjustable rate mortgages or interest only mortgages will most likely be impacted. However, as the economic activity spiral moves downward, more and more people are going to be affected in some unanticipated ways. I wonder whether this could contribute to the return (or a reforming) of the middle class in America?

There still seems to be a huge gap between the "upper middle class" and most everyone else who is living above the poverty line. I believe it would really help the economic health of the country if the expenses of basic living (food, shelter, and clothing), were more affordable. Is this just wishful thinking? More research is needed.... :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Is it the network or the phone?

I'm beginning to think that selecting a cell phone and service provider is more difficult than choosing a new car (and warranty service provider). I need one of those "black box" web apps where you can prioritize cost, service plan, features, and phone functionality in order for the app to tell you which phone and service agreement to buy.
My biggest goal is to carry one device to listen to music, access e-mail, call people, take pictures, navigate in the car or on the street, update my facebook page, access the web to google addresses and phone numbers on the go, and text message my friends. I also want to pay the lowest monthly fee for being this connected. If the phone has the application and functionality, I want it enabled without a bunch of extra charges.

So far my search is focused on the iPhone (unfortunately relegated to the AT&T network) and the new Blackberry Storm (on the Verizon network). So, how to decide?
Could it be that the service agreements make the difference?
With one you get more functionality, but limited coverage for the price.
With the other there is better coverage, but additional functionality is an "add on" cost.
Woefully, by the time I do the research and weigh all of the options before purchasing, an entirely new phone and features will most likely be released making all of this agony a moot point. D'oh!

Monday, November 10, 2008

How hard can it be?

No, I am not trying to steal Kinky Friedman's failed campaign slogan, but would pose the question in regard to a few things. Such hard can it be to understand that alternative energy sources like wind and solar are important for generating power but are not going to be the solution to replace the massive amount of oil we use for transportation? According to the Energy Information Administration (yes, this is a .gov web site: share of U.S. oil consumption for transportation is 70%.
Gasoline, in turn, accounts for about 2/3 of the total oil used for transportation in the United States." All other uses comprise the remaining 1/3 (e.g., diesel, jet fuel, etc.).
Agreed that it is necessary to move from fossil fuels (which are finite in supply) to renewable and sustainable alternatives, but this needs to be done for all transportation in the U.S.

So, since the U.S. automotive industry needs to reinvent itself, why not take the opportunity to really make a HUGE change that could be the next 100 year technology not just for U.S. transportation, but a new technology that could be exported and in demand around the world. Yep, how hard can it be? The U.S. auto industry should not be bailed out, it should be forced to evolve. I seriously hope they do not receive government funding to continue on a non-profitable, non-sustainable path, but are challenged to come up with the new vision of personal transportation.

Finally, some may ask how the U.S. could change its entire infrastructure of fuel supply if a new source was developed. I would ask, how hard can it be? With unemployment increasing, job creation is going to be essential in preventing a total downward spiral. Changing the fuel supply infrastructure would be a great source of job creation. The trick is that this has to happen fast! We don't really have 10 years to make big changes in this country. They are going to need to happen sooner than that. And after all, how hard can it be?