Saturday, August 14, 2010

Last Night in DC

Well, folks, it's adios to our nation's capital and, quite honestly, I'm ready for a little Western Massachusetts breeze. They'll be lots to talk about with lots of people - especially as I'm slowly leaning toward embracing charter schools. But, all that politics for another time...

During our last day in DC, Jeff and I were fortunate to visit with friends and tour Arlington National Cemetery. A few snapshots from the day and more to come - live from Northampton.

The last day - the long ride down the escalator to the Dupont Circle Metro.

A snapshot for Mom - the Historic Society is trying to renovate & preserve Arlington House - aka Robert E. Lee's old home. While it went against my better judgement to help the Confederacy, I knew that Mom - a Civil War historian - would appreciate my small & simple act that ensures others continue to learn about the War Between the States.

Oh, that Shiner Bock from Texas! Our friends, Sarah & Will, went to great lengths to find a Southern restaurant that served Shiner to celebrate our farewell tonight. With sweet potato hush puppies, friend pickles, pulled pork & fried shrimp, dinner was delicious. The night ended - early so that we could pack for the trip - but not before Will & Jeff sweet-talked the man at Whole Foods into selling us two cases of the Southern treat for a 10% discount.

Where will poor Mr. Belvedere, our cocker spaniel, sit?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Night at the Monuments

Jeff arrived in Washington, DC yesterday evening - a cool night with limited humidity. Go figure! Jeff comes to DC, the weather cooperates, a parking spot is readily available, a table at the restaurant he wants to try is open -- what? I'm a walking DC disaster with tooth aches and frizzy hair, with blisters on my feet and crowded metro cars -- and he descends upon town and is met with the kindness of a southern city. Good thing I love him so much...

Here are a few snapshots from our evening tour of the monuments & our Sunday afternoon at the Newseum-

This is a snapshot of Jeff, our Public Relations & Communications guru, outside the Newseum pointing to the local headlines from the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
I am looking lovingly at one of my favorite presidents - FDR. His monument is an impressive tribute to an incredible president.
Team Weir taking a "nerd" snapshot complete with glasses - resting on the steps of the Jefferson Monument after listening to a colorful tour guide tell a few stories about the "man, the myth, the legend."
Another giant of a president - in both accomplishment & height!
The Washington Monument on a perfect DC evening.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Success from Cradle to Career

Today marked the end of the OSEP Leadership Mega Conference: Collaboration to Achieve Success from Cradle to Career. From the lack of dialogue about education policy, I assume that many of you might find such a conference slightly dull. To be honest, there were a few moments there where a handful of M&Ms were the only thing keeping me awake -

The session that peaked my attention was titled, "Challenges in Linking Special Education Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance." Hmm...teacher evaluation & student performance - an obvious connection, yet one that has many teachers frightened! This, to me, seems odd since it is only right to assume that effective teaching practices lead to increased student performance, right? It's our job to increase student performance! In fact, if we aren't able to show student growth, it stands to reason that we are ineffective and, perhaps, should find a new career. Here's what captured my attention: value-added analysis. There's even a way to use this analysis in a co-teaching model! Teachers need to get educated and get on-board 'cause this is coming your way!

Value-added analysis is a statistical method that helps educators measure the impact schools make on students' academic progress rates from year to year.

Simply put, value-added analysis shows the impact teachers and schools have on students' academic performances. Using this growth metric, teachers, schools and districts can begin interpreting the impact of their curriculum, instruction, programs and practices on student achievement.

Next, Dan Reschly from Vanderbilt University and a personal favorite, laid down the hammer (that expression was for you Ironman!) on Special Education. Why do educators continue to practice in ways that have no impact on students? What is up with our fascination with learning styles when they have NO impact on learning!?!?! And, why are teacher preparation programs still failing to teach the fundamental components of reading? He was articulate, concise and humorous! He takes top seed as my favorite professor from Vanderbilt!

The best news of the day, Ted & Osamudia, is that intelligent people from across the nation are working hard at addressing many of the issues you both raised. What I find most alarming is that teachers and schools - at the local level - aren't engaged in the discussion. The question Osi posed - and one that I think is critical to the discussion - how do we create a more just society? If we believe that education is the key to leveling the field, then we've got to embrace many of the changes that President Obama and the big Arne have proposed. Teachers, especially, need to get educated and lose the resistance - quit being frightened of charter schools or pay-for-performance. Let's embrace some national core standards! Let's get talking about how to make room for charters while simultaneously improving public education! Bring on better evaluation systems, increase pay for teachers, embrace innovation and be open to different ideas! Hey - I'm in support of longer school years and longer work days, but I may be in the minority...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Breaking Up

Neil Sedaka may have said that, "breaking up is hard to do," but in this case, saying goodbye to Arne was simple. Over the past few weeks he has been harder to love - his recent performance at the Let's Read, Let's Move event on Friday in which he looked painfully bored and showed very little love toward students with disabilities made me begin to question what I had seen in him. His performance this morning at the Leadership Conference felt detached - his words had the right message but his expression, tone, and relationship with the audience fell flat. I sat right in the front, center - hanging on his every word - and, by the end of the speech, I barely remembered any of his points.

I would have given Arne more time - after all, I've been a fan for months now & appreciate that he has gotten educators to think about schools, classrooms, teacher training programs, innovation & technology, but my affection was stolen by Kevin Jennings, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Safe & Drug-Free Schools. Controversy surrounds him and he has made many conservatives angry with his progressive ideas about broadening the definition of "safe schools" to mean far more than no guns, no fights, no drugs. He captured my attention from the get-go with his intelligence, wit, and a presentation that reminded me why I love being a teacher. The only "oh, no" moment was his mention of a the girl who committed suicide from a school in Massachusetts that captured the nation's attention. Oh, South Hadley...

In the days to to come, I imagine, I'll have the chance to tell you about Kevin Jennings' message this morning, but, people, you are disappointing me some - here I am, sending my love to you from my lonely apartment in Dupont Circle, asking you to think about and engage in a colorful dialogue about education in America and only one response! Is this where we are people? Are there no opinions about the future of America's schools? (A big, public thanks to Ted who is always ready to debate & discuss.)

Before I head off to sleep, here's some more information that I've been thinking about today -

* Approximately 90% of children referred to Special Education tend to be placed there. (And, yes, I know that Special Education is not a PLACE, but a set of SERVICES, but work with the stat, people.)
* The arrest rate for white youth, three to five years out of school, with disabilities is 27%. That percentage rises to 40 for African-American youth.
* Only 10% of African-American students placed in Special Education eventually return to their regular education classrooms.

As a community we need to do a better job here!

Wait, could it get worse?

* The average mother spends 11 minutes a day talking with her child.
* The average father, only 8 minutes a day.

These facts & figures come from various presenters that I heard speak today at the OSEP conference. (Don't any of you come after me asking for citations or arguing the statistics!) My point for posting them was to let you know that these figures resonated with me and I'm now wrestling with what I can do about it...

Monday, August 2, 2010

My Dream Job

My dream job is to think - to be paid to think. I love thinking. One of the best parts of my Washington internship is the opportunity it has afforded me to think. I read, I listen, I discuss, I think. While I'd love to admit that I only think of important social issues, all of you know that isn't the case - I spend countless hours thinking of the fate of the Riggins brothers on Friday Night Lights or how I could be a millionaire, too, if I could buy parking lots in NYC.

Here's what I've been thinking about regarding education in America - but, before I go on, I'd like to say that I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by educated, bright, talented folks - family & friends, alike - who challenge my thoughts and cause me to think about my positions in critical ways - for that, I am grateful. Okay - my dream job would be to think, surrounded by you smart folks who would challenge me, while I drink a glass of white wine and sample sweet grapes & fabulous cheese (Team South Hadley - I expect this dream to materialize!)

What do you think about -

Charter Schools - The Lottery - a documentary that highlights charter schools. Geoffrey Canada and the success he has achieved with the Harlem Children's Zone is featured on the video clip. The RFP for the Promise Neighborhoods closed recently. Can Arne Duncan really improve education by lifting the cap on charter schools & funneling money into geographic areas of poverty?

Despite reading the Hart & Risley (1995) study, why am I always stunned by its findings? Why am I always shocked when researchers reference it? More importantly, a decade has passed and little has changed. What is wrong with us?

  • In a typical hour, the average child hears:

    Family StatusActual Differences in Quantity of Words HeardActual Differences in Quality of Words Heard
    Welfare616 words5 affirmations, 11 prohibitions
    Working Class1,251 words12 affirmations, 7 prohibitions
    Professional2,153 words32 affirmations, 5 prohibitions

  • How about this - 7,000 students drop out of high school EVERY DAY! Seriously? And, 15% of the high schools in the US produce 50% of our dropouts! President Obama & the big A.D. are right to shut down the bottom 5% of schools in American because they are BROKEN!

    How do we fix our educational system? (This is the thinking part I like so much.) How do we ensure that every child in America has access to a world class education? People...we have got to do something!

    Those are my thoughts today - along with, how can the Metro stop running a train in the middle of the afternoon commute? (Since this happened to me at 5:17 this evening, I'm just wondering...)

    Tomorrow I hope to have front row seats to see & hear Arne Duncan present at the OSEP Leadership conference. Maybe we'll meet tomorrow...I need some solutions - and fast - to impress 'ole Arne.

    Friday, July 30, 2010

    In the Same Room

    Not much time to post before Jenni arrives in DC - good thing my power returned this afternoon and that the air conditioner has kicked into high gear. Who doesn't love a morning without power? For those of you who heard about my awful night during which I lost the fight with a Pellegrino bottle of sparkling water - my finger is slowly healing. Good thing I bought the jumbo size box of Band-Aids.

    This afternoon at approximately noon, Arne and I were together - in the same room - breathing the same air. No, I didn't talk to him or shake his hand - without my glasses on I could barely see the guy! But, those are all minor details - the importance of this post is that I was there - with Arne - together! Next week Arne will be speaking at a conference in Crystal City and I am hoping that we bump into one another again - old friends that we are!

    When I have more time I'll have to share a few of my disappointments with Arne, but for now I am blissfully happy thinking of him in his light blue collared-shirt with the sleeves rolled up - oh Arne.

    Thursday, July 29, 2010

    "You are an Ironman!'

    For the past few days I've been thinking about how best to tell the story of Lake Placid Ironman -2010. It is hard to capture the energy of an event that is 140.6 miles - or, a trip that is longer in distance than the journey from our house in Northampton to John & Dee's home in Milton (112 miles). Unless you can witness 2000 swimmers hit the lake that early morning or watch cyclist after cyclist zoom by, it is difficult to imagine.

    In a gift shop near the Olympic hockey rink where a American Cold War victory took place in 1980, hangs a t-shirt that reads, "If you have to ask why, you don't understand. Ironman, Lake Placid." I think that sentiment captures much of the Ironman community - a dedicated collection of super-athletes that train, ride, run, swim, and subject themselves to incredible mental gymnastics all to claim membership to a prestigious club. I'm certainly not a member - but I feel privileged to have witnessed Jeff, determined and focused, achieve his goal of becoming an Ironman.

    I think there are two categories of people in an Ironman - those who finish and those, sadly, whose body or mind fails them on that Sunday. To witness the finish line was incredible - there was pure joy and elation beaming from those finishers - even those with bloody thighs from a bike spill or - my personal favorite - the man who ran across with his arm in a sling. Watching Jeff run through the finisher's shoot was amazing -

    Below are a few more pictures from the event - Enjoy.

    (I did a miserable job capturing the event, right? But, really, what is there to say? Athletes swam, biked and ran for an entire day. In summary, that was Ironman.)

    Team Jeff - sans Dad who was capturing the shot- posing with the official Ironman t-shirts.

    Jeff racking his bicycle the morning before race day.

    Kerri-Ann marking one of the transition bags with #510.