Saturday, April 25, 2015

The High Stakes of Testing

Last week, teachers in Georgia were sentenced to jail time for a cheating scandal that broke in 2009.  These teachers were convicted of erasing/changing incorrect student answers on standardized tests. The standardized tests were linked to monetary bonuses, and therefore they were charged with conspiracy and racketeering.
Being in the same profession, also subjected to standardized testing and the same No Child Left Behind Act (which is, thankfully, no longer education policy) this has been a story I've been following.  I am appalled by their sentencing - anywhere from 1 to 7 years in prison, depending on their level of involvement.  In our recent history, we've had ball players physically abuse their spouses ON VIDEO, a famous comedian accused of assault by more than multiple women, mothers who have killed their children, and cops who have shot unarmed citizens and none of them were given jail time.  Interestingly enough, around the same time these teachers were conspiring to cheat on standardized testing, much of the financial world was also engaged in cheating and lying and stealing and pretty much single-handedly bringing on the world's economic crisis.  Not one of those in charge at the time went to jail.
Putting it all into perspective, it would seem that a more just punishment would be firing, loss of credential, and returning the money "earned" due to test scores.  But these cheating teachers earned years in prison.  The judge who sentenced them said, "It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened in this town."  Oh, please.  This happened in Atlanta, Georgia.  Cheating teachers are at the bottom of the list of "Sick Things".  They are being made an example of.
I was hoping this verdict/sentencing would bring about the debate over standardized testing.  While there has been some, most has been the regular vitriol about teachers, which so offends me.  Mind you, these teachers also offend me, but their actions stem from a much bigger problem...standardized testing.
NCLB made success at a low income and/or high ELL population schools VERY difficult with its "requirement" of 100% proficiency for all students by 2014.  Each year, since its start in 2002, schools were required to make substantial growth from year to year with 100% after 10 years.  It is certainly not a bad thing to want 100% of our students to be proficient at their grade level, and every teacher should have high expectations of their students.  The reality, however, is that kids are not standardized.  They develop at different rates and they learn at different rates.  Kids also come to school with different needs.  Those who have their basic needs fulfilled at home are often far more successful on standardized tests than those who don't.  Those who live in impoverished neighborhoods or come from families who do not speak the language of our school system (often these two go hand-in-hand) more than likely have a much different set of needs when they are at school.  Some are looking for routine, some are looking for a hot meal, some are looking for someone to love and care about them - all things that must take place before any learning can.  Having spent my entire teaching career at schools that are 80+% low income and ELL, I'm quite familiar with standardized testing and the impoverished student.  I love where I teach and have super high expectations for my students, but every year I have no less than 5 who struggle so much academically or behaviorally or mentally or all of the above (last year I had 5 who DIDN'T struggle with something that affected their academics).   In all schools, there is more to teaching and assessing learning than a standardized test, but at schools like mine, standardized testing actually inhibits learning.  And then to use them as the basis of assessing teacher performance is a little bit like being a Mercedes car dealership and blaming and penalizing the salesman for not being able to sell a car to a homeless man, who just came in to use the bathroom.  I'm all for holding teachers accountable and getting people who don't care or are ineffective out of the classrooms.  Standardized testing isn't the way to do that though.  It causes more harm than good.
There is a tremendous pressure put on districts to do well on these assessments, who then put that pressure on their administrators, who then put it on their educators.  That has been no exception in my school district - each school has a yearly visit, right after school started, from the superintendent who "reminds" us on the importance of test scores and then congratulates or humiliates the staff depending on the previous year's scores.  Over the first decade of the 2000s teaching changed.  We began teaching TO the test.  Actual learning was not quite as important as the bottom line.  My point being is schools changed, for the worse, after NCLB and it would seem these GA teachers let that get the best of them.  It's no excuse for their behavior, but even so, they don't deserve to go to prison.

Monday, April 20, 2015

First World Problems

There was a time not too long ago when television watching happened at the actual time a show was aired on a channel.  There was no recording it and watching at a later time.  There was no catching it online or on-demand.  As far as we knew, that was something that might happen on the Jetsons.  I have vague memories of watching Little House on the Prairie,  Dukes of Hazard, or The Jeffersons as a family, and we had to be sure we were ready to watch them on their terms, not ours.  If you missed it, you missed it!
Being from the VCR generation though, most of my first memories of television was the newfound freedom of recording one show on television while watching another show, or even better, recording while not even home.  It opened up a whole new kind of television watching experience.  My dad was the King of the remote control.  We watched what he watched, so the idea of being able to record other shows on a VHS tape and watching them when he wasn't home was nothing short of a miracle.  And speaking of watching television when my dad wasn't home, the VCR allowed my mom to get my dad out of the house even when a game was on.  The idea of watching the game when he got home AND fast forwarding through the commercials was very appealing.  Except, of course, when he learned the outcome of the game before he watched it.  That would set things back a a step or two.
Anyhow, the VCR was how we recorded television shows for many, many years; well into the early 2000s.  Even though DVD players came out in the late 90s, recording television was still done with the VCR.  There were recordable DVDs players, but they never really "made it" having been glitchy and quite pricey.
TiVo was the next new invention that took over some of the work recording television.  It was a device separate from the television or VCR or DVD player.  It wasn't something I ever purchased and thankfully the DVR became a staple or added feature to the cable box, allowing for recorded television without the use of any additional device.  The first one I ever received with my cable service allowed for one additional show to be recorded while watching another show, just like a VCR.  However, as the technology improved, three shows could be watched and/or recorded at any given time and on multiple televisions hooked up to the same cable service.  The memory in the devices wasn't very large though, so you still had to watch your recordings in a timely manner in order to not run out of room.
About a year and a half ago, after changing from the cable company to a satellite company, a whole house DVR was installed on my system.  This DVR generally still records up to three shows at any given time, but if the shows are network shows they only count as one recording.  Therefore, with three network channels and two additional channels, this thing has the ability to record/watch 5 shows at once.
And that's where my problems begin.  The ability to record television means nothing when you don't have the time to watch it.  Throughout the year, television that I have recorded and not yet watched goes back anywhere from 2- 5 months.  I tend to only watch an entire program on the weekends and even then, it might only be one, maybe two, leaving me with a plethora of shows building up.  School breaks allow me to make a bit more of a dent in the content, but never catches me up completely.  This spring break was no exception.  In late March, the shows caught up on were advertising for Black Friday and Christmastime specials.  I looked forward to holing up in the art room and tackling the DVR recordings.  The second day into break however, the DVR started freezing and stuttering and pixelating anytime a recorded show or live television was played.  The first few days, I told myself it had to be my internet connection acting up due to some windy/rainy weather we were having, and powered through with trying to chisel away at the hours of recordings.  As the first week continued, it was clear that it wasn't the internet connection but the DVR box itself.  The DVR box that if I called to replace it would mean I'd lose all the recordings...FIVE MONTHS OF RECORDINGS!
I finally broke down and called the satellite company who walked me through all the reset options (which I had already tried) to no avail. They sent me a new box and the old one would have to be sent back, and there were no options to get the recordings off of one box to the other.  I lamented my frustration to some friends at a party that evening and was reminded that the recordings would be "OnDemand".  "Oh, that's right," I thought.  The shows could be found on the Satellite's service, and I could catch up that way.
But catching up that far back is turning into more of a challenge than I thought,  Some shows only offer the most current 2-3 episodes OnDemand.  My satellite company doesn't offer some of the channels OnDemand due to contract terms with networks.  Some networks offer the shows online, but many of them also only offer the most recent episodes; all this leading to not being able to make that planned dent into the recorded shows.  But the thing is, that is frustrating me to no end.  Why in the HECK do these networks offer shows OnDemand or online, but not ALL the episodes?  What are people supposed to do when they miss one or one doesn't record due to a conflict or they forget to set the series or a million other reasons?  Do they want people to just stop watching, because that is what is going to happen if I can't catch up without missing an episode?  And why aren't ALL my satellite channels offered OnDemand?  And WHY can't the cable/satellite companies figure out how to save/move recorded shows from one DVR to another.  I plugged in the new box and every single one of my settings and series timers transferred from one box to the next.  It doesn't seem like some impossible feat to get the recordings to transfer!
Trying to put it into perspective by remembering it was just 30 years ago that watching one show at one time when it aired was the only way to watch a program.  Now, many shows are available at any time which increases our expectations, often going beyond what is actually possible.  At this point, I've spent entirely too much time thinking about television - more time than I spend even watching it actually.  First world problems, indeed!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Fix It

Throughout the year, around-the-house projects pop into my head.  Most of the time, they are not chores that I wish to delve into over the weekends because those are already packed full with regular weekly chores.  Therefore project type chores are added to a list I keep as a reminder.  That list is looked at more seriously over school breaks.  Although this spring break was mostly dedicated to decompressing, I did tick a few spring cleaning type projects off the list.
One such undertaking was the entryway/coat closet. That closet tends to be a jack-of-all-trades closet.  There are coats, gift wrapping materials, random decorations, the table leaves (or is it leafs), games, and lots and lots of accessories.  I am a bit of an accessories hoarder.  Bags, scarves, bags, hats, gloves, and more bags take up a lot of space in the closet.  When I moved into this house, baskets were put on the top shelf to hold a lot of those accessories.  The problem being, I'm not 8 feet tall, so was not able to see inside those baskets and therefore never knew what I actually had.  After a few years of just throwing things in a basket, that top shelf had become a mountain of accessories that sat unused because I didn't want to deal with it.
A few weeks before spring break, I had an idea after one of the big heavy bags fell of the shelf and onto my head.  It seemed like a plausible idea to attach hooks to the ceiling in order to hang several items making them more accessible and freeing up a lot of the shelf space as well.  So I added that to the list of projects for spring break.  As it turns out, it was a better idea on paper than in my closet.  Since I'm a girl, I have no idea how to correctly hang things from anywhere using tools and hardware.    I didn't even want to mess with nails and nail holes.  I had hoped those 3m removable hooks would do the job.   They probably would have if I had been able to find hooks that were deep enough, but the largest available wouldn't even hold one strap of a bag let alone the whole bag.  So back to the drawing board.
Pinterest is a great place to search for ideas and there are several pre-fab organizational options out there.  I wasn't able to find any of the ones that would work for me locally, and I hated to purchase something online without knowing if it would work - the reviews on many of the products were mixed.  I used those options though to figure out some ways to organize the closet.
Some over-the-door hooks with three prongs gave me spots to hang hats and bags on both doors, which then freed up the shelf a bit.
Over the last year or so, I've seen scarf hangers (pre-fab and DIY) all over the place.  I never thought too much about it until I cleaned out those baskets and found about ten scarves I had forgotten about. With the ones hanging on a mirror in the bedroom and those in the basket, there was a need to find some type of organization system.  The pre-fab ones were on the pricier side and the DIY (using hangers and shower curtain rings) needed to be purchased AND put together.  While at the home store I looked at my options and finally decided that the $6 trouser hangers would do essentially the same thing the $15-$20 scarf hanger would do.  I bought two, added the scarves (somewhat by color), and now they all hang on two hangers in the hall closet.
It's certainly not perfect, but simply making the accessories more accessible makes the closet much more functional than it was.
On a side note, the fact that the closet holds more coats and scarves than we've  actually had cold days in the last two years, isn't entirely lost on me.  But I'm ready if the temperature ever does drop!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Woe Is Me Top 5

The last day of school break is always a little bit depressing, but as I thought about it today, it's not the going back to work that bums me out.  Instead, it's all the things the go into going back to work...
1.  Meal planning - A lot of my sunday is filled with cooking.  I love to cook, but having to figure out what to plan for lunch and prepare my meals to be used as leftovers is a lot of work.  During my first year of teaching, I brought frozen meals to lunch almost every day.  I vowed after that year to never bring a frozen meal to lunch again, and I haven't.  Packing real lunches is time consuming.  Being able to make my meals just before eating them, like I do on vacation, is so very pleasant and not the least bit hard or time consuming.  I'll miss that.
2.  The alarm clock - I despise waking up to an alarm clock.  Even hearing an alarm clock in a television show or movie makes my skin crawl.  The reason I need the alarm is because...
3.  The god-awful hour I need to rise in order to get to work by 7:30 in the morning.  If I think too hard about it, it makes me want to cry.  By the end of vacation, my schedule has done a complete 180 and I'm staying up almost as late as I have to get up in the morning tomorrow.  The Monday morning after a break is painful.  If I ran a school, it wouldn't start until noon!
4.  Wardrobe - Figuring out and preparing an outfit for work the night before each work takes some time.  There is no time in the morning for making decisions and ironing so the time is spent the night before.  It's like meal preparation, deciding what to wear to work takes more planning time than the vacation wardrobe.
5.  Art time (or lack there of) - The best part of break is having time to hole myself up in the office for an entire day/night in order to create.  I've never been someone who can go work on a project for a few minutes here or there.  Chunks of time are needed to be productive.  Once work starts up again, those time blocks are few and far between.
Vacation is over...oh woe is me!  Until I can figure out how to be professionally on vacation, it's time to force myself to sleep.  I'll be threatening to throw that 5am alarm clock across the room before I know it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday 9

This week's song inspiration is Chicago's "Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?"
1) This song asks, "Does anybody really care about time?" How about you? Do you pride yourself on being punctual? Or don't you really care?  I REALLY care about time and being on time, almost obsessively.  Tardiness, especially chronic tardiness, is a big pet peeve of mine.  If you know you're always late, then leave earlier than usual.  
2) The lyrics refer to a stranger asking the time. When is the last time you conversed with someone you didn't really know? What did you two talk about?  I've never been someone who will strike up a conversation with strangers, tending to keep to myself.  But I will converse with them if they engage me.  I had to speak to strangers just last night when I sold my car.  That was extremely stressful!  But it wasn't the talking that was stressful.
3) According to the Top 40 tracker Tunecaster, this song knocked Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Knock Three Times" out of the #1 spot on the charts in January 1971. Are you familiar with "Knock Three Times?"  I do know both songs.  Growing up as the youngest with cousins all 10 or more years older than I, the 70s pop/rock plays in the the soundtrack of my early years.  In college, I worked at a t-shirt shop that played the classic rock station.  So between the two, it's a genre I'm very familiar with and quite like.  
4) Chicago is not only the name of the group but also of the midwest's largest city. Chicago is the proud hometown of such luminaries as Bill Murray, Michelle Obama and Derrick Rose. Does your town have any favorite sons or daughters?  Los Angeles has many, too many to list.  
5) The group Chicago was originally known as The Chicago Transit Authority, after the city's public transportation system. When is the last time you were on a bus or a train?  It's been awhile.  I think last summer I took the metro into Downtown.  SoCal is not known for its transit system, so here it's very few and far between.  When I travel to cities who have a comprehensive system that's usually all I'll use.  
6) Four of the original seven bandmembers are still with the group … after 48 years! What's the longest you stayed at the same job?  I've never been a job-hopper, so most places of employment have been for quite some time.  My current job is the longest - this is my 15th year of teaching.
7) Lead singer Rob Lamm confessed that, at times, being in a band has been hard for him because he is by nature a loner. How about you? Are you more introverted or extroverted?  Both really.  I like being around people until a certain point.  Then when I've had enough, I like to be on my own.  My mother likes to be around people - 24-7 if she could.  We have a great relationship, but that is always been a point of contention for us - I have a "that's enough" threshold, and she never does.  
8) This summer, Chicago will be touring with Earth, Wind and Fire. Have you seen/will you attend any concerts in 2015?  Yes!  In fact this coming Tuesday I'm going to the Fleetwood Mac concert at the Forum.  Can't wait - see classic rock!!!
9) Random question: What's the last mess you cleaned up?  My office/art room is always a mess.  After working on something and having everything out, there comes a point when it all has to be put away before I can function anymore.  My classroom is also something I need to clean up a lot.  I tend to worry about the curriculum and the kids far more than the esthetics of the room once the year starts.  Sometimes it gets out of hand.  That's when breaks come in handy so I can get in there and clean up without the stress of the kids being back the next day.
Happy Saturday!  Although this one is a bit depressing as Spring Break is quickly coming to an end.  Boo...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

No No, It Wasn't a Dream

So I woke up this morning to the alarm almost forgetting.  As I crawled out of bed and headed into the bathroom to wash my face, I questioned...DID I REALLY BUY A NEW CAR LAST NIGHT?!?!?!  After my hazy brain cleared, I remembered, yes, yes I did.  A quick trip down to the garage confirmed my suspicion that I am in fact the owner of a new car.
 Car buying is such a frustrating endeavor.  There are ups and downs and ups and more downs.  You feel like you should have a cigarette after the multiple ways you know you've been screwed.
On Tuesday evening, I went searching.  I had a few models I wanted to look at further and test drive. This one was by far my favorite, but it had a plethora of bells and whistles that I really didn't need and bumped the cost up quite a bit above what I was able to pay.  The salesman told me that their network of dealers was large, and he'd be able to find me pretty much whatever I wanted so finding one that came without all the packages wouldn't be hard.  I went home seriously considering if I was ready for this new purchase and did some further research online.  In my research I found the exact model/color/interior/standard features I wanted at a dealership across town.  After contacting the salesman to see if he could bring it here or if I should just go there, they got in touch almost immediately.  You see, the color is sought out but there aren't that many.  The other dealer would not let it come here (they wouldn't want to lose out on the sale) and my salesman didn't want to lose my business.  Within minutes of contacting him, he offered me the upgraded one at below the cost of the standard one.  What!?!?!  There were a few glitches with charges and rebates and what not that made the deal seem less sweet.  However, after all is said and done, I am pleased with the deal I got, and at 10:30 last night, I drove what I think is the prettiest car in the whole wide world safely home into the garage.
A lot has changed on cars since 2003, so I'm now learning how to drive in a tech-heavy car!  It's amazing what it can do!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Visitor

Murphy, my dog nephew, has moved in for the next week while his family are in Washington DC.  Rigby can hardly stand it when this little ball of fur comes to visit.  Every muscle in her body shakes because she can not wait to PLAY! The problem being Murphy is a timid fellow and isn't too keen on being pounced on before he can even get inside the door.  So his first afternoon has been spent inside his crate while he got familiar with his new home.  And Rigby doesn't like it one. single. bit.
This was just before she bopped him on the head with that paw.
My own version of Lennie and George.  They are a good laugh.