Monday, April 27, 2009

April 27th, 2009

So today I turned 30. I remember a few years ago when my birthday actually meant something to me, other than the changing of my numerical age. And somehow, some way, things have changed. I'm not excited about turning a year older, nor disappointed by that fact.

I don't really drink or party like I used to. The societal highlights of my birthday this year include the fact that gays can now get married here in Iowa, starting officially today. So my birthday is now synonymous with gay marraige. Didn't see that one coming!!!!

And a coworker of mine called me this morning to wish me happy birthday. He warned me he would call and sing it, so to let the machine get it. Then he had his 17 or 18 year old female cousin (whom he is the caretaker of) call and leave a message about how great 'last night' was......yeah, the look on my wife's eyes: PRICELESS!!! Gotta love a coworker who knows how to stretch one's sense of humor to meet up with mine!

Yep, so today, I think I will get offline now, watch a coupel movies and vegetablize myself into my chair, and hang out....then I'll take a nap, because I have to work tonight!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

U.S. Education Chief Wants More Schooling

The following in italics is an AP article written about Arne Duncan's visit to the Denver (CO) School District:

DENVER—American schoolchildren need to be in class more—six days a week, at least 11 months a year—if they are to compete with students abroad, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.
"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short."

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year," he said.

Instead of boos, Duncan's remark drew an unsurprising response from the teenage assembly: bored stares.

The former Chicago schools superintendent praised Denver schools for allowing schools to apply for almost complete autonomy, which allows them to waive union contracts so teachers can stay for after-school tutoring or Saturday school.

He also applauded Denver's pay-for-performace teacher pay system, which some Democrats and teachers' groups oppose.

"Talent matters tremendously. ... It's important that great teachers get paid more," Duncan said.

He visited at the invitation of Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was Denver's schools superintendent from 2005 until his appointment to Congress this year. The city's pay-for-performance plan was one of Bennet's chief accomplishments while in charge of the 75,000-student system.

During visits to two schools Tuesday, Duncan promoted education reforms proposed by the Obama administration. But he hasn't shied away from challenging Democratic positions on education since joining the Cabinet.

Last month, he said poor children who receive vouchers to attend private schools in the District of Columbia should be allowed to stay there, putting the Obama administration at odds with Democrats trying to end the program. Duncan talked up school choice during his Denver visit, though he didn't mention vouchers.

"I'm a big believer that students and parents should have a choice what school they want to go to," he said.

Bennet, greeted by hugs from teachers lining the hallways of the two schools, sided with Duncan. He told reporters he wanted to help steer any education reform proposals from the White House through the Senate.

"A change needs to come, especially in urban school districts, and it's not going to be easy," Bennet said. "I will do absolutely everything to get myself in the middle of that conversation."

Colorado, along with other states, is preparing to apply for some $5 billion in federal education grants from the economic stimulus package. Duncan said details of how that money will be awarded haven't been decided.

The U.S. Department of Education already has released $44 billion to the states. According to Colorado estimates, the state is due about $487 million for K-12 education.

Okay, now maybe it's just me, but do we really need extended school weeks and years just to learn enough to keep us from falling further down the list for best educated countries?

Years ago, we were, if not THE top dogs in education, at least in the running. Then something happened, and now we see our selves ranked somewhere in the 20s. Pretty sad for the "Free-est Nation on Earth", or "The lone Superpower" to be seeing herself in such sad shape educationally speaking.

The problem I don't think is in the amount of school we keep our kids going to, so much as it is the amount of education we are actually giving our kids. In our "feel good" society we have gone from being fierce and competitive to the "everybody's a winner" mantra. Sure, we want our kids to feel good about themselves, but at what cost? when our kids hit the real world after school, they're going to be hit hard in the face with the fact that not everybody is the winner they were taught happened automatically back in their school days.

When I was growing up, if you didn't hack it, you were held back to repeat your grade with the younger kids coming up. You went to summer school if need be, or found yourself in the Special Needs classes if your learning style warranted it. Now, the Special Needs kids were often the target of the mean "normal" kids. A stigma was attached to these classes, and God forbid we give our kids any chance to be stigmatized or harassed. These days, I see whole classes advancing, without exception, including kids who can't/don't comprehend what they need in order to continue their learning in the next grade. My son, had difficulty with a few subjects early on. He ended up spending time in the Special Needs classes for math and reading. He just needed some additional help with a little more personal attention, until he could grasp the basic concepts upon which he could build his education. Now, I am informed he is at the top of his class as far as his reading levels go. And while I applaud the effort of his school to recognize that he needed the help and got it to him early enough that he was not stifled in subsequent years and falling further behind, I can't help but notice the pace at which they teach overall.

The standard curriculum, at least in the math department is at least 1 full year behind where I was when I was growing up. As he is in the final run of his 4th grade year, his class is at the point where my class was around the end of the first semester of 3rd grade. I don't fault the kids, and I don't know that I fault the teachers, or even the specific school.

I could look to fault the Department of Education, or maybe The "No Child Left Behind" act so proudly touted as educational reform by the previous Bush administration. If we make it all so easy that all the kids look better, then the school keeps getting money, and maybe even a better share of what other districts lose for poor performance? Seems a lousy way to go to me. But then again, America has become a Band-Aid society...shore up the short term mess and look the other way, rather than look at the whole problem and decide th best way for overall longterm success. ("What? He died of a sucking chest wound? But we put a bandaid on his poor little sliced finger. What happened?")

I see us, as not falling behind other countries in our quest for educational excellence based on amount of hours spent in school, but on the amount of quality education being drilled into our kids heads while they are there. It's as though, in order to de-stigmatize the Special Needs kids, we have just decelerated our progress to match theirs, in order to make sure everyone is a winner and on the same page no matter what. We once we're on top of the world, and then I guess we just sat down in the old La-Z-boy, kicked up the foot rest and relaxed in a nice reclined position. And then we woke up from our "well-deserved, pat-ourselves-on-the-back" nap, and realized that we were slowing falling back in the pack of educational marathoners. So the slow learners may benefit, and that's great, it really is. But what about slowing down the smart ones who subsequently get bored with having to keep learning material they already know, and not advancing as quickly as they could/should be? Is that a sacrifice we are willing to make? People always argue about what's best for the kids? But is uniformity a compliment or a detriment to our children?

Now, I don't know a whole lot about Arne Duncan, other than he was the superintendent of the Chicago (IL) School District before taking this post in the Obama Administration. I've heard he's a smart, and all around nice guy..but these comments of his, to me, ring of ignorance. But then again, the government's idea of anything failing just requires more money thrown at it to make it all better. Maybe the idea of a failing educational system (or at least one thats not up to par with other countries' performances), in the government's eyes is just to make the kids go longer in the system that is obviously lacking.

I hate to say it, but exposing kids to more of a bad thing, doesnt change the bad thing into something good.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Taking a Trip

So, this July will mark the first family vacation for my family. My last vacation was the military, some 10+ years ago, and before that while I still lived with my parents. Now that Corwyn is 5, he'll be able to keep up without getting totally worn out from any walking within a short time of starting. And Josh, who will be turning 10 a month from tomorrow, will also be able to enjoy the sights, scenery, and all that stuff..and they'll both be able to actually remember where we went, what we did. And of course my wife, who likes to be able to spend time with me when I'm actually awake, and not just getting ready for work, or she is going to work!

We'll be going up to South Dakota, to see all the main attractions, like Mt Rushmore, Wall Drug, the Corn Palace, Deadwood (where they do a re-enactment of the Hickok murder trial), and the Cosmos (cool place). We'll also see Devil's Tower in Wyoming, with a quick jaunt up into Montana to see Little Big Horn, before continuing across Wyoming to meet up with my friend and his wife, see Yellowstone, do some hiking/camping.

If any of you are familiar with those areas and have any suggestions for lesser known locations to go visit that would be entertaining or of some significant importance, please leave a comment with your suggestions!