Archive for February, 2011

Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editin...

Image via Wikipedia

If you do any web writing at all, you may be familiar with E-Write Online. If you are not familiar with E-Write Online, I encourage you to check out the site.

While E-write Online is the business site of partners Leslie O’Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick, Writing Matters is described as their “…blog about how and why” (http://www.ewriteonline.com/ Homepage. Accessed 2-27-2011). The blog is informative and directed toward what the authors refer to as “…front line administrative and support personnel who communicate with customers directly….” (http://www.ewriteonline.com/ht/d/sp/i/239/pid/239).

Writing Matters covers topics ranging from blogs, content, E-mail, and editing, to customer service, marketing, plain language, style guides, and much more. Some recent topics include: “over-the-top e-mail list hygiene”; “Thank you for your message; however, I’m not going to read it”; and “Editor surveys staff to see whether writers understand their own jargon.”

Even if you are merely a casual web-writer like I am, if you are interested in improving your style, tone, content, or even punctuation, you are sure to find something useful at Writing Matters.


Advertisements
Mayo Clinic Rochester Minnesota - Gonda Buildi...

Image via Wikipedia

If you haven’t heard of the InSciEd Out program yet, you will! This collaborative effort has yielded amazing results for one school in Rochester, Minnesota during the past two years. The program has been so successful that Principal, Jim Sonju, at Lincoln K-8 Choice School was awarded the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ (MESPA) “2011 Science and Math Principal of the Year Award.” Sonju was congratulated by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton as well, and representatives from Mayo Clinic, Winona State University, and staff and students from Lincoln K-8 Choice School in Rochester, just returned from a weekend where they presented at the AAAS in Washington, D.C. (They even met President Obama). I’ll be writing more about InSciEd Out at Suite101.com soon. In the meantime, check out the website and Facebook groups!

Adolf Hitler in Yugoslavia.

Image via Wikipedia

May 1933: Hitler Abolishes Unions | NEWS JUNKIE POST.

‘Nough said….

The state capitol of Madison, Wisconsin

Image via Wikipedia

If you cannot attend Diane Ravitch‘s presentation personally in Madison, WI on March 8, 2011 at the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, you can click the below link for a live stream of the event. The Academy recommends clicking the link at 6:55pm that evening.

You can click the link on this page now to be taken to the Academy’s website and see other featured events as well. Enjoy!

Wisconsin Academy : Online Video.

UPDATE: 03.10.2011 Diane Ravitch’s Tuesday presentation is archived at the above link, so you can still see it if you missed the live event Tuesday!

A photograph of the Little White Schoolhouse o...

Image via Wikipedia

Questions – Unions – February 18-19, 2011 – Rasmussen Reports™.

So, if you word your questions in a particular way, you will probably lead the respondents to the answer you want. Then, if you focus particularly on one question when you release your findings, in this case question three–a nullity since Wisconsin state employees CANNOT strike, and an absurdity because police and fire are not included in Walker’s plan (presumably because they vote more conservatively than do members of other unions…read teachers, in particular…see Mother Jones article from 2/17/11)–you are sure to mislead the general public, especially if you read only the headline: ‘48% Back GOP Governor in Wisconsin Spat, 38% Side With Unions.’

Here are three reasons this poll is skewed:

1. As previously mentioned, state employees CANNOT strike, so why ask that question unless you want to elicit a certain response?

2. Walker’s proposal targets (yes, that is a loaded word, but I think it is accurate, particularly in light of the Mother Jones article above mentioned) specific union members, most notably teachers, who tend to vote more liberally than do police workers and other public safety officers, who, interestingly, are not included in Walker’s plan…AT ALL!

3. The headline of the released article dehumanizes people who are members of unions by referring only to “unions” that are not human entities. The word union is polarizing in this country. Note that the Governor of Wisconsin maintains his humanity in the title as he is referred to not only by position but specifically by his surname. Union employees, who are also people, are not afforded that courtesy, thus it is much simpler for the reader to picture the “evil” unions rather than picturing neighbors, family members, and friends, who may be members of unions.

I would like to think that people can see through this proposal for what it really is: political posturing and pandering to “punish” certain workers while rewarding others for their political views. I would like to believe that Americans, and Wisconsinites in particular, actually want politicians to work together across party lines rather than to further the political and social divide that currently prevails. But perhaps that is a delusional belief….

Wisconsin Welcome Sign

Image via Wikipedia

Wisconsin has made national headlines this week due to newly elected Governor Scott Walker‘s political posturing. If you are unfamiliar with the goings on in Wisconsin, simply try a Bing!, Google, or Yahoo! search string like, “scott walker AND education.” You will find plenty of hits, including the following link from yesterday that supports my thesis: “Walker rejects offer to ‘take cuts, leave rights,’ (Accessed February 20, 2011, St. Paul Pioneer Press. Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, February 19, 2011).

To recap, Governor Walker has proposed to subordinate collective bargaining rights for nearly all unionized public employees in Wisconsin, with the exception of firefighters and police officers . Roughly 180,000 state employees including teachers, the majority of the affected population, but by far not the only affected group, will effectively lose any meaningful collective bargaining rights in addition to taking somewhat small (dependent upon income) benefits cuts to the tune of 5% or 10%, in many cases resulting in a reduction in take home pay.

My primary concern is the apparent attack on unions and unionized teachers in particular. It would seem that the proposal is disingenuous if Walker is really trying to “resolve the budget crisis,” as he claims. Why target only the unionized employees? Why strip them of collective bargaining rights when the employees (see above article link) are willing to make concessions in order to retain their rights? Why not propose cuts for ALL state employees, including salaried and elected officials? Without having done the math, I would imagine that if all state employees made modest concessions, the so-called crisis would be averted.

If the state is in such a critical mess (I think our budget deficit in MN is worse, and the only discussion here is pay freeze) then ALL employees of the state and the people, thus the governor; legislators; judges; fire and police workers (who are explicitly left out of this proposal) must take the cuts; otherwise, this is nothing more than posturing and political rhetoric with the sole aim of weakening collective bargaining rights, destroying unions, and ultimately giving more money to those who already have it while returning hourly employees to a nineteenth or early twentieth century position of poor wages, poor working conditions, and no benefits.

No, these are not easy times, and they do not call for simple solutions such as Governor Walker proposes. Governors such as Walker and Kasich need to be willing to discuss cuts with employees and will earn more credibility with the people if they propose further cuts for themselves and ALL state employees, whether members of unions or not. Public employees DO need to make some concessions, but they should not be forced to swallow a bitter pill with no ability to negotiate their positions.

Folks, take a look at the income and benefits that your salaried state employees and elected officials take home…take a look at what public safety workers receive. In Wisconsin, at least, the proposal doesn’t include any cuts or changes for any of these folks. I guess if you are willing to support Governor Walker’s proposal then you are really consenting with him that firefighters and police officers are somehow more important and more deserving than public works employees and teachers. I suppose you believe that judges are entitled to and have “earned” their $170,000 plus annual salaries because they are more important than sewer workers and teachers, and I suppose that the legislators, many of whom have “day jobs” are entitled to the pay and benefits they receive because they are far more important than teachers and bus drivers.

Really folks, think about it for a minute. As these proposals stand, if you support them as they are, you support the above statements as well. Let’s be sensible, reasonable, and value ALL of the people who work hard to make our states great, and let’s give everyone a chance to make concessions instead of forcing some people to make concessions because it’s the easiest and most politically expedient thing to do. Amen.

Working to Create Lesson Plan

Image by Susan Sharpless Smith via Flickr

I stumbled across a great resource yesterday from a group based in New York called ReadWorks.org. As the name suggests, they offer web-based solutions to reading comprehension concerns for grades K-6.

I work as a literacy tutor with the successful Minnesota Reading Corps initiative. Our focus is on K-3 students (as well as at-risk pre-primary students), and our goal is to build reading fluency using research-based effective interventions. Our program works, and it works well for the population we serve, but our primary goal is fluency, not comprehension. It is not a flaw in our program–the research suggests that comprehension cannot be built without fluency, and I agree; however, reading comprehension is another gap to be filled, and good readers are both fluent and have strong comprehension. ReadWorks.org helps to fill this important void. Check it out at the “readworks.org” website: http://ow.ly/3XRcN

Here are a few of the things you can do at “readworks.org”:

1. Register for a free account that gives you access to national standards alignment across all 50 states and to the new common core standards; save lessons to a personal binder; and track your progress through professional development courses available online.

2. Locate reading passages for use with individual students or in the classroom.

3. Utilize the sequenced, state and common-core aligned lessons that are also aligned with popular and productive reading curriculum like Scott Foresman.

There is so much material available that I encourage you to peruse the site to see what you can use…there should be something for everyone! If you would like just a little tease to further motivate you to take action, view this brief, 90 second, video from ReadingWorks: Ninety-second site tour.

main entrance to Mayo Public High School in Ro...

Image via Wikipedia

A caveat: This post is strictly my opinion and does not cite research. I may do some research in the future to see if I can support this opinion with fact.

There is a lot of talk about “high-performing” schools versus “low-performing” schools. The first question we should be asking is how do we measure performance? The simple answer for most ratings is performance on state competency exams. That is the sole measure of performance used by the group Greatschools.org.

I happened to look at greatschools.org’s ratings of the schools in the Rochester, MN public school system and in the Elmbrook School District in Wisconsin where I grew up. I was not terribly surprised to find that every single school in the Elmbrook district received a rating of 10, the highest rating given by Great Schools. I was surprised to find that only one school in Rochester received a 10 rating from Great Schools. I won’t name that school; you can look it up for yourself on the Great Schools website. Rochester had several schools that scored 9’s from Great Schools, so it isn’t all bad news for Rochester.

The second question we should be asking is whether or not ranking or rating a school’s performance based solely on competency exams is reasonable and appropriate. I say it is not for several reasons:

1. We end up comparing apples to oranges. It is completely inappropriate and unfair to compare the Rochester Public Schools to the Elmbrook Schools for a couple of reasons.

a. Different states have different competency exams.

b. The communities are very different: Brookfield and Elm Grove, WI, the communities that comprise the bulk of the Elmbrook schools system are VERY affluent and exclusive Milwaukee suburbs. Rochester, MN is a much larger community, in fact, the “big city” in Southeastern Minnesota, and as such is composed of a diverse socio-economic and ethnic array of people.

So, moving on to my premise, what is the net result of “moving” students from low-performing schools to higher-performing schools? If that is the only change that is made, and depending on the number of students allowed to transfer (in the Elmbrook schools the number of open enrollment slots for next school year is only 102…a number low enough to ensure they can maintain their high marks!) the net result would be a drop in the overall performance of the high-performing school. As noted, of course this doesn’t occur because the number of open-enrollment seats is capped at a low enough number to ensure that the high-performing district remains high-performing. I sincerely doubt that the performance of a low-performing student (usually not the students who utilize open-enrollment anyway!) would dramatically improve simply because the student now attends a so-called “high-performing” school.

You see, things like averages and test scores can be manipulated to tell us whatever we want to hear. Just because a school receives high marks from an organization like Great Schools does not mean anything more than that students scored well on state exams. There are a variety of reasons students in the Elmbrook Schools perform well. First and foremost is that they are privileged. Secondarily, as a high-property value district, the schools receive much more revenue per student than a typical district: they can spend more on education!

Now, imagine for a moment that we could take all of the students from the low-performing schools in Rochester, MN and place them in the high performing schools (nevermind that we cannot because space, staffing, and fire codes will not permit) but if we could, what would happen to the performance of the “high-performing” schools? It doesn’t require a PhD to determine that they would very quickly become low-performing schools because nothing has changed except moving the students from one building to another. The low-performing students will still carry whatever baggage they were carrying that caused them to perform at a lower level than their more affluent peers at the high-performing schools.

Folks, this is not about teacher efficacy or performance. There are fundamental social issues at play, and until we address those issues, we are only playing shell games.

UPDATE 2.14.2011 2:50PM: Just saw an interesting article about “The Bartleby Project” from HuffPo. I’m not endorsing the project based on what I know, as I believe there is value in standardized tests (although they should not, IMO, be used as sole measure of school performance!) but I enjoyed the Herman Melville story and film adaptation, “Bartleby the Scrivener” from which the project derives its name.

In brief, Bartleby does only what he prefers in the story and replies when asked to perform a new or disagreeable task, “I’d prefer not to.” The project asks students to write “I prefer not to take your standardized test” across the top of the test answer sheet. I would expect to see a few of these popping up around the nation during the next round of standardized tests. You can read more about the project here: The Bartleby Project

The front entrance of the NBC Tower at 454 N. ...

Image via Wikipedia

On February 5, 2011, NBC Sports blogger Rick Chandler made a bad call with the following article: You crazy! Mental health advocates in uproar over high school dance teams’ “psych ward” routine. Many mental health advocates, led by blogger Amy K. in her February 8, 2011 blog post titled, Mocking Mental Health Advocacy: Take Action Now!, are calling for a retraction by Chandler, who also uses the Twitter handle, @rickchand.

While Chandler should know better than to support the weird dance performed by the Waunakee, WI dance team, what is most surprising is that, according to Chandler’s post, the dance coach claims that although the dancers were dressed in uniforms intended to resemble straitjackets with the words “Psych Ward” clearly visible on the front of each girl’s uniform, they didn’t “intend to offend anyone or make any reference to mental illness.” REALLY?!

While I cannot imagine that anyone actually tried to offend people suffering with mental health conditions, any reasonable person should have been able to anticipate that the dance routine would be offensive and perpetuate the stigma that goes along with mental health disorders.

This isn’t just about being “politically correct” though. It is about combating a stigma that has persisted in western society for many years. It is about being sensitive to the fact that 20% of Americans suffer with mental illness. It is about the reality that there is nothing funny or exciting about wearing a strait jacket, and most of all, it is about the kids who suffer silently and go untreated, often committing suicide because of the stigma surrounding MI.

My Twitter friend, @Chrisa_Hickey, who also writes a blog called The Mindstorm: Raising a Mentally Ill Child was among the first to address the topic on February 5. On February 6, 2011, she featured a guest post on her blog by an amazing 15 year-old girl named Erika. If you haven’t read Erika’s heartfelt letter to “the coach,” you should. Erika relates her own struggle with mental illness, including visits to the “psych ward,” and addresses how damaging this performance may be to teens struggling with mental illness who may fail to seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. It must here be noted that most children and adolescents who struggle with mental health disorders go undiagnosed and untreated. Is it any wonder why when society freely and openly mocks mental illness?

Kudos to Erika, Chrisa, Amy and all the others out there who are taking a stand against this outrage. Won’t you please join us in fighting the stigma associated with mental illness –Tell NBC they are WRONG! See vlog from @abeeliever http://ow.ly/3Uo2C and take action NOW!

UPDATE 4:00PM, 2/11/2011: Some good news has come out of this situation today. The principal of Waunakee High School, Brian Kersten, is working with NAMI Wisconsin to create awareness of mental illness in the school. Kudos for doing the right thing Mr. Kersten! Now, we’d just like to see the same from NBC! Read more at The Mindstorm, Chrisa’s blog.

Stills from videotape of Bill Gates' depositio...

Image via Wikipedia

The above will be the subject of an upcoming post, but at present, let it suffice for me to remind you that Bill Gates, alleged genius, former Ivy League slacker and college dropout with a trust fund just happened to have the “right idea” at the right time…somewhat like Henry Ford.

I do not begrudge Mr. Gates his fortune nor do I mean to invalidate in any way his contribution to his own success. Somebody had to have the idea, and he was the guy, or was it Paul Allen, long-forgotten co-founder of Microsoft, or wait, was the better idea really from Steve Jobs, creator of Apple, but Gates just happened to have more influential contacts like his bank president grandfather who was well-connected and from whom he received his trust-fund? Or should the real heroes have been the developers of the freeware OS Linux?

Regardless, Mr. Gates is the man with the money, and as we know in America, money does speak, and loudly at that. In a more developed post to appear later this week, I will discuss the perceived problems in our education system, the real problems, and why we need to compare apples to apples and not to oranges and bananas…until then, this is Ed signing out.