The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cafeteria Tray Cam!

Okay, imagine this... each kid in the whole school gets his/her own custom lunch tray with a bar code on it.  Then as the kid goes through the lunch line, a red-light camera snaps a pic of everything on the tray.  Then let's go another step and when the kid turns in his tray of trash, another traffic cam photographs the trash and a fancy computer compares the two images and figures out what the kid ate and what he traded to his buddy for science homework.  Wouldn't that be cool!?!  Right?  Right?

Federally funded.  $2 mill.  Don't believe me?  Here's a link:  Wacky Lunch Cam Story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cafeteria fight leads to "Critically Injured" teacher

Run across a story from Kentucky about a high school teacher who was taken to the hospital after trying to break up a fight in the cafeteria.  It sounds like he's in very poor condition from some of the reports out there.  In an interesting twist to the story, the teacher is also a Kentucky State Representative.

I worked at a campus with a teacher who was hurt breaking up a fight and when he tried to press charges against the student the judge berated the teacher for breaking up the fight instead of waiting for security officers to show up.

I think most teachers end up with strong experiences and opinions about school fights.  Everyone has to decide what they are willing to do to end the hostilities or protect students.  Personally, I want staff who will quickly respond by being a presence nearby.  If you're not willing to get physical, that's fine... I've got no problem with that.  But please be on hand.  You can manage crowds, page administration, be a witness, etc.

Of course, there's the issue of training...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jaime Escalante Passes Away

The inspiration for the film, Stand and Deliver, Jaime Escalante passed away this week.  He was 79.

This was one of the few films we got to watch in math class when I was in high school... which meant we watched it over... and over...

read more

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's that time again

I'm surprised this hasn't happened sooner.  A British school has experimented by adjusting the school day to better match students' internal clocks.  According to some studies, most teens and adolescents are more alert a little later in the day... like 11 - 5.  So Monkseaton High School has pushed the school day (for 13-19 year olds) back one hour to start at 10 am.  You can read some details online

Of course, a major issue (that I did not see in this article) is child care.  Most work days begin before 10 am, so how do kiddos get to the school if they aren't riding the school bus?  We currently have students dumped dropped off on campus before 6:30... when classes start at 8:30 and the doors open at 7:45.

On the plus side, the article is clear that absenteeism and truancy have dropped.  A lot.  It looks like this experiment is being carefully monitored and documented... could be coming to a district near you.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Living History: The Berlin Wall

Here is a creative history lesson.  A Florida high school erected a paper replica of the Berlin Wall (complete with graffiti on the west side) through the middle of campus.  While students on one side of the wall were allowed to socialize and carry on with their normal day, students on the other side of the wall faced a stricter dress code, only orderly behavior, and even propaganda films.

The lesson commemorated the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

(So what happens if teachers want to keep the wall?)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You're Fired!

Rhode Island... This one's all over the news.  A Rhode Island high school is in trouble -- hasn't met state standards in a while.  According to one report, the graduation rate is 48% and only 7% of the 11th graders meet state proficiency standards in math.  It's time to do something drastic (as per NCLB).  The Superintendent recommends a plan where the teacher work day is extended 25 minutes each day.  Some of that time would be spent tutoring, some days eating lunch with the kiddos, some days planning with other teachers, and so on.  Some of the plan was uncompensated, some of the extra time would be paid at $30/hour.

The teachers' union said, "NO WAY."

That meant the superintendent had to go to an alternate plan: firing the entire staff.  The... Entire... Staff.  The staff can reapply for their jobs, but the district is not allowed to hire back more than 50% of the original staff.  Bet those teachers are loving their union now.

Teachers Suspended: Pep Rally Claims Two More Victims

Winnipeg (Canada) It's just your normal, everyday high school pep rally... until your teachers perform a lap dance.  "The teachers, who are said to be relatively new to Churchill’s staff, were sent home with pay," according to the article from the Winnipeg Free Press.  You can search out the video on YouTube, but you won't get the link from me.  The cell phone video features a female teacher in a football uniform sitting in a chair in the middle of the gym while a male teacher (in another football uniform... perhaps the opposing school?) simulates a lap dance... for a minute... with gyrations... and other simulated... stuff.

Now, it's no secret that I do not like pep rallies.  But I really don't understand how the lap dance figured in to any normal pep skit.  I do like the student getting in front of the screen shot, looking into the camera saying, "That's so wrong!"

Don't you want to know what they were thinking?  Who came up with this idea, who ran with it, who turned it into something that resulted in suspended teachers?  Don't they know you are supposed to save those skits for inservice days when the kiddos aren't around?!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Meep, Meep, Nope

A recent story from Massachusetts tells us of Danvers High School (home of the Falcons), where the principal has announced he will suspend any student who utters the word, "MEEP" or has the word written on their clothes.

Evidently, the school found a discussion on FaceBook that many of their students were planning a massive disruption centered around the word.

So, what word would you add to the campus ban list?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ReTEACH... not just retest!

Okay, teachers, here is an extreme example of failure to provide support for a struggling student. In South Korea, a 68-year-old lady, Cha Sa-soon, had to take the written portion of the local driving test several times before she met the passing score (of 60).

Okay, "several" is not the right word. What is the right word... Oh! I know! 950! That's right, Cha Sa-soon, had to take the written portion of the local driving test 950 times before she passed. She started taking the test in April of 2005, finally passed in October of 2009. (By the way, she spent the equivalent of about $7,000 on test fees.)

So, I'm thinking at about attempt number 427, someone should be saying, 'this lady could use a tutor.' Evidently that didn't happen.

Of course, we do similar things in our classrooms. We hand a kid back a failing test paper and say, "Correct the ones you missed and bring it back to me tomorrow to earn back credit." Let's see, (s)he didn't know the information yesterday, how will (s)he magically learn the information overnight? Easy - (s)he won't. (S)he may copy some good answers from a buddy, but that's another issue.

Reteach, retest. You can't have one without the o-o-other.

By the way, don't believe me? Here are the...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round

This article from a local paper has plenty of interesting statistics about school transportation. I am flabbergasted that some districts (aside from those benefiting from robust public transit systems) are actually not providing bus transportation for students.

One of the more interesting facts: nationwide just over half of all public school student ride school buses to school daily. Among students who ride the bus, there are an average of 20 fatalities per year. Among student who don't ride the bus to school, there are an average of 800 fatalities per year.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Show her the money!

A former teacher in New Jersey is facing criminal charges for taking student cash in exchange for boosted grades. The allegations are that she told the students she was collecting money for charity and would give them extra credit. Then, investigators say she kept the $1,400.

How many extra points do you think $1,400 buys? What do you want to be she was turned in by a kid who gave her cash but still failed?

Read more... if you want.

In another story from last May, students got teacher passwords and changed grades for fees ranging from $5 to $25. Were those rates based on demand? How popular the teacher or client was? Weird.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oreo, the Cat with a GED

A Better Business Bureau employee in Georgia set out to prove how useless "diploma mills" are. So, he got hit cat a GED. He says the only lie he told on the application was age. Oreo is only two years old... not the requisite 18 years.

Oreo's caretaker took the exam on the cat's behalf. He says anytime he missed a question, he was given a hint that pointed straight to the correct answer. He also wrote an essay about Oreo's adoption into the family to earn credits for "Life Experience."


Four-Minute Phone Call Costs Teacher $22,000

Asbury Park, New Jersey has a policy of no personal phone calls in the classroom. They take this policy pretty seriously in Asbury Park. A high school teacher who made a cell phone call while she was watching someone else's class... suspended without pay for 120 days. It cost her $22,000 in lost pay.

So Ms. Getty teaches English and Performing Arts. Last year she was covering another teacher's class for 45 minutes. She made a call on her cell phone. During the call, a couple of kids begin dancing, and another kids begins videotaping the dancing. The video gets posted on YouTube. Ms. Getty gets suspended while the district investigates. The district determines that 120-day suspension without pay is appropriate, and Ms. Getty can return to her teaching duties when the suspension is over.

I know, I know, you're asking, "Was this 'dancing' really kids slamming each other around the room in a near-riot that the teacher ignored?" Well, not based on the video clips I've been able to find. It was two kiddos dancing in an open area in front of the teacher desk. The only thing that bothered me was a leap-frog move they did at one point. And yes, the teacher was ignoring the dancing, but the kids weren't moving desks or anything. And she was covering someone else's class. She was playing substitute teacher.

So who was she talking to? Well, veteran teachers (especially those from small districts) will recognize some politics here. She was calling the ex-superintendent. She says she was calling him to ask how she could best help a particular student. It seems Asbury Park had a new superintendent at the time of the incident. Had a different interim superintendent at the time the news reports were written. And has another superintendent taking over as I type this. Sounds to me like Ms. Getty is pretty close to the old superintendent, which means someone in the replacement administration probably didn't mind putting her on the hot seat.

Now you probably want to see the YouTube video, right? Well, the video has a soundtrack added to it, and the lyrics to the song (added later) are horribly "not safe." You can search for yourself, but here are a couple of still images from the video (I slightly blurred the faces). I was actually entertained by the dancing, which is really rare for me. By the way, we only see four students in the video (and someone's holding the camera). And none of the students were disciplined for any related actions -- dancing in class, posting on YouTube, etc.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Rubber Room" Teachers Earn Salary, Do Nothing

Imagine you're a teacher in New York City. Now imagine that you run afoul of your supervisor for some reason. Perhaps you tattled on some irregularities in the state testing or maybe you are always late for duty. And let's say that your supervisor is fed up enough that he/she tries to get you removed from the classroom. Then you better prepare yourself: get out your board games and water colors.

Here's what will happen -- your principal will request a disciplinary hearing. (The unions are fighting for you -- you can't be fired without due process.) So pending the hearing, you are reassigned. To what are nicknamed "Rubber Rooms." You will remain here for months or even years awaiting your hearing. Why so long? Because the arbitrators only work FIVE DAYS EACH MONTH.

The union contract says that you cannot be given new assigned duties while you await your hearing, but the district wants you out of the classroom. So you are assigned to a "temporary reassignment center" where you do... NOTHING. According to the FoxNews story, rubber room teachers pass the time by reading, writing, painting, doing yoga, sneaking over to the bar across the street, or playing board games.

There are about 700 teachers assigned to these rubber rooms, and each draws a salary of about $700K. Now, before you think that this may be a cushy assignment, keep in mind that most of the teachers assigned to rubber rooms really do not belong in the classroom. So some of these folks are tough to get along with. There are reports of many near fights ("Hey, that's my chair!").

You know what else I learned from this article? There is a National Association for Prevention of Teacher Abuse.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can you see me now?

A principal at an Orange County (FL) school is pleased that the school has improved its "rating" from an F to an A in one year. She credits the school's improvement to across-the-board eye exams. The school discovered that nearly 50 of the 530 students needed glasses.

Uh. That's less than 10% of the kiddos. The campuses where I've worked, we do test 100% of the kiddos for vision, and teachers can (and DO) refer students to the nurse for vision or hearing screenings anytime. Stories like this really make me wonder about Florida.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

District Collect Lunch Debt

Marshalltown Community School District in Iowa has almost $26,000 in school lunch debt on the books. So they've hired a collection agency to try to recoup some of the money owed to the district.

I admire the district's decision that kiddos should not be turned away from the lunch line (though there are some ways to mitigate these growing charges, like alternate lunches for delinquent kiddos, e.g. PB & J), but why not prevent students from registering or collecting report cards/transcripts until their account is paid. Seems like the collection agency is going to cost money and goodwill.

Florida ends "Zero-Tolerance" Policies

New legislation signed by Florida Gov. Crist "Provides that zero-tolerance policies do not require the reporting of petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors to a law enforcement agency. Encourages school districts to use alternatives to expulsion or referral to law enforcement agencies, etc."

The idea is that kiddos shouldn't be expelled for using a plastic knife to cut up their lunches, nor should a high school senior lose his appointment to Annapolis because he went fishing over the weekend and left a fillet knife in his truck.

If a US District Judge, convicted of felony, can continue to hold his office, then why should 2nd graders be automatically expelled for drawing pictures?

Fifty-Seven Percent Failure Rating

There's a school in Chicago where almost 60% of the 8th-grade class has failed the school year. If you don't believe me, there's a story about it from the area's news station.

Let me get this out of the way: This incident occurred in the Chicago Public School, where the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, served most recently as the CEO. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

The Myra Bradwell Academy (this is where a skeptic would insert air-quoties) is a Pre-K through 8 campus (wow!!). The 8th-grade class had 77 students, and 44 of those did not pass, for a 57% failure rate. Most of those students are now enrolled at summer school, and I don't know how Chicago handles retentions... it may be that those kids will all be filed on to the high school anyway. But there were a few things in the article worth discussing:
  • 8th-Grade Graduation: The linked story says, "Tatianna Dennis' son, Tarrell, took his eighth grade photo complete with cap and gown, but the day before his grammar school's graduation, Tarrell learned he would not be marching down the aisle." My last district was ADAMANT that there were no "commencement" nor "graduation" ceremonies until a student had finished high school. In that impoverished area, administrators did not want parents feeling that students were finished with school until the student had a diploma. So we had 8th-grade award ceremonies, but no 8th-grade graduation. Those of you who are parents: how do you feel about this?
  • This is a Pre-K through 8 Campus: Now I would guess there is not much stability on this campus. I wonder how many of the non-passing students had been at this campus for more than 4 years. But if you've got your own program here on campus for Pre-K through 8th grade, who do you have to blame when the kiddos don't pass at the end? Did they go to summer school after 5th grade? 6th Grade? 7th grade? I also wonder how challenging it is for teachers on this campus. There are 3 8th-grade teachers and one teacher who teaches both 7th-and 8th-grade. So, evidently, these middle grade teachers are responsible for multiple subjects. That's a challenge. On my campus, we have a staff of 3 teachers dedicated only to 8th-grade math. We share ideas and the work load to prep for one subject, one grade level. I think that contributes to our success.
  • The role of schools is changing: Schools cannot operate they way they did 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. For example, sure you did homework when you were in school, but at a campus like Bradwell where some kiddos have parents working night jobs, some kiddos have to cook for baby brothers and sisters, and some kiddos don't always have utilities, homework isn't going to be an effective teaching tool. I'm sure this school is facing some tough challenges. No one wants ANY of their students to fail, much less 57% of them!!
  • Some parents were unaware: even though their kiddo had failed English twice before... another parent claims, "she has all the cell phone numbers of her kids' teachers and she calls them all the time, and her kids are doing well in school." Uh... neither of these is a good sign.
  • Extra credit?: "The Board of Education insists the Bradwell school did everything possible to keep the students' grades up, offering extra credit and school on Saturday. And the Board says written notices did go out." I know intellectually that extra credit is not a great idea. I've offered a kiddo extra credit when he or she is a few points away from passing (or from that "85" that mom says they have to have). But if 57% of your campus is relying on extra credit to pass, we are definitely treating a symptom and not the problem.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Seattle school district... spending money to save money

Typing up a letter to send to the members of the teachers' union: negligible.

Sending that letter via certified mail: $5.00

Sending that letter via certified mail to all 3,300 teachers in the union: $18,000

That letter says the district is out of money and those teachers need to take a pay cut: PRICELESS!

This Seattle-Times column is a little sensationalist, but raises a good point.

The district lost some state funding (as budgets are downsizing). So the district is proposing that teachers get one more day of vacation next year (without pay, of course). So, instead of going through the union (as the columnist says is proper in Washington State), district officials mailed letters informing "members of the teachers union that if they didn't agree to losing one day of work next year to help the district compensate for lost state funding, they wouldn't have a job in September."

Well, I'd be shocked if the letter said that... I would expect it said that some of the union members would have to be laid off, and this solution was allow the district to avoid cutting any current positions. But that's beside the point.

The letters were sent via certified mail (law says hand delivery is acceptable... procedure says this needs to go through the union). The price tag was over $18,000. Now, to be fair, the district is probably cutting close to half a million dollars with their proposed amendment to teachers' contracts. The $18,000 is a drop in the bucket, but still... shouldn't we all be pinching pennies here?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

No Graduation Ceremony for You

According to a story re-reported on FoxNews, an Ohio school district (with a graduating class of 60) uncovered an extensive cheating scheme. A student found tests on teachers' computers, copied them and distributed them to other students. The district superintendent said the cheating was so widespread and so many students were involved or aware that they canceled graduation.

Best quote:
Some students admit they cheated; others said they knew of the cheating but didn't participate; and others said they had the tests but didn't use them, Holden said.

One student who used the test still failed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

High-Five Attempt = Bad Touch!

So Mary Helen Lechuga used to be a district-level administrator at El Paso ISD. She was reassigned to a role as an elementary school principal. (Some articles refer to this as a "demotion," but those of us who teach know otherwise... there's a nice Harry Turtledove story, Gladly Wolde He Lerne, about that exact topic.)

So the superintendent is celebrating TAKS scores, and he high-fives all the principals. He gets to Mary Helen Lechuga, and she does not raise her hand for the high five. So the super pats her on the head instead. Lechuga "filed a police complaint saying she felt pain and feared what he might do next."

Hmmm... What do YOU think he's do next? The fist bump? Story Link in case you don't believe me.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Are You Doing?!?

So I can't find the story about this picture from the San Antonio Express News website. It accompanies a story about the Comal school district closing due to flu fears. So the kiddos (even the boys that are chasing each other) are wearing shirts that say, "We Support Our Principal -- Better Safe Than Sick."

Now, here's where I'm making some guesses. Is this group of 12 students gathered close together saying that it is wise to close the school to prevent the spread of Swine Flu? Uh... if they gather together in front of the school, how is that different from sitting together in a classroom. Isn't the point of closing the school to keep kiddos away from each other so contagions won't have a ready supply of hosts? There are 12 kids in the photo, possibly more outside of the frame. Now quit chasing each other into the street and either go to your own home or get to class.

Do you think her high-school teachers remember her?

So this lady is 30 YEARS OLD! She decided it would be "fun" to drive home with her 9-year-old son on the hood of her car. The arrest documents quote her saying:
What's wrong with that, everybody does it and no one says anything
Imagine what she would be doing if there was no compulsory education.

Thirty years old. Read the Article. Watch the surveillance Video

Swine Flu Fears Continue

Slippery Rock University, a small Pennsylvania school, is quarantining it's graduation ceremony. Twenty-two of their education majors just got back from Mexico City (chief export: Swine Flu). So those 22 kids are not allowed into the big graduation ceremony for all the healthy kids. Instead, they will have a separate ceremony.

In case you've missed it, many schools are worried about the spread of the 2009 Swine Flu. Many schools and a few school districts throughout Texas (and a couple of other states) have been shut down to prevent the spread of the disease. Especially strange since it's TAKS week for middle schools and high schools. The Texas Education Agency also maintains a list of schools that are closed.

And here we are trying to convince kiddos that if they trade masks with each other, the mask suddenly becomes ineffective.