Big City Nights in High Rolling Hills…

Asking a question about this image from last night:

Busy night at Chavez Ravine, as the LAPD prepared to take down the Occupy LA encampment in Downtown LA.

Now that it’s over, the price tag to clean up is said to approach $1 million…

Thusly, a question, I feel, needs to be asked:  those look like stadium lights being used to help illuminate the parking lot for the police mobilization.   Who was paying the electric bill to turn those lights on?  Dodger Stadium (along with the Dodgers), and its parking lot is still owned by Frank McCourt.  Therefore, is McCourt getting some of that money to pay for the use of his stadium lights, along with the rental fee on the parking lot?

If so, it’s just amazing the manner in which this miscreant can manage to profit even from an event wholly unrelated to a baseball game.

Of course, it’s also all together possible that Villaraigosa’s still hoping to pay off all those free Dodger tickets the McCourt family gave to him over the years, and giving the Dodgers a kickback for borrowing their lights sounds about par for the course…

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Occupy Furlough

Passing in the hallway, my direction with respect to my colleague came to symbolize the glass half-full versus half-empty that characterizes so many of our exchanges with each other.  I was complaining about the usual stuff–Red Ribbon Week, in this case–but the talk quickly turned to our school’s API.

Yes, I agreed, 815 was good–but the school remained in Program Improvement (PI) thanks to our failure to reach AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) amongst students considered as part of the Lower Socioeconomic Subgroup (SES).  

I had to remind her, the economy is still headed south, it’s not like that subgroup is going away anytime soon.  And, now we have verified proof from the US Census Bureau.

Children from all race groups were added to the poverty population since the 2009 ACS, including children reported as White (507,000), Black (259,000), Some Other Race (99,000), and children of Two or More Races (160,000).

So much for the idea that just by focusing upon our “children of color” (Words to that effect that were used when our school first officially learned of our AYP.) was going to see our test scores rise enough amongst that SES subgroup to carry us out of PI.  Kids of all color are much poorer as a group in 2011.

Last week, on Veteran’s Day, USC professor Stephen Krashen sent this letter to the Los Angeles Times.   He hit upon a common theme he emphasizes quite often:

Middle-class students attending well-funded schools score at the top on international tests. Our overall scores are mediocre because the U.S. has a very high level of child poverty, with 21% of children living in poverty, compared with high-scoring Finland’s 5%.

High poverty means inferior healthcare, inadequate diet and little access to books, all of which have devastating effects on school performance. Our problem is poverty, not a lack of standards.

Rather than spend on standards and tests, let’s invest in protecting our children from poverty. This would raise test scores; more important, it is the right thing to do.

With Thanksgiving week upon us, inevitably talk at the dinner table (depending upon which side of the family is going to have us over for dinner) will turn to the economy.  To that end, the LA Times’ main editorial this morning had to this to say about the California budget mess:

It’s not merely in Sacramento but in city and county halls and in the voting booth that Californians continue to demand that they get more but pay less. Every other state makes paying back its bond obligations its top budget priority, but for California, bonds come second after education — and yet the triggers are set to cut a week out of the K-12 school year and $200 million from a public higher education system that was once the world’s envy. Cuts in the education and development of the next generation of Californians lay the foundation for a duller, poorer and less accomplished state in the near future.

As for those supposed lazy freeloaders — in actuality the poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly — when did we let go of our conviction, once a bedrock of California values, that caring for people in need was a moral obligation?

California is a wealthy state, with enough money and brains to create a future of opportunity and achievement for the next generation. As we face these new triggered cuts and even deeper cuts in the coming year, Californians must now show whether we still have sufficient regard for each other and for our successors to invest a little more today for an abundant, and sustainable, future.

While any number of my teaching colleagues are happily proclaiming pleasure at our week off this coming week, the reality is that I will not have my students for 3 instructional days.  Of the 3, one of those days was contracted to be “student-free” so that I could finish my report cards and prepare for student conferences, meaning I will have 2 days of my school year taken away as furlough days;  not only do I lose the instructional time, I am also not being paid.  Yes, I get the excitement about the family time, but the budget cuts means that if I am not careful, I make decisions to go spend money I won’t be getting by virtue of the fact that I’m not working thanks to the furlough day in the first place.  In other words, I’m not going to be celebrating the “wonderful” time off with the family over the coming week until at least Wednesday afternoon at around 3pm, which is where I began my Thanksgiving Break the 14 school years prior to this one.  Prior to that time, I’m just going to hunker down, finish my report cards, and try not to spend money.

But beyond my immediate situation, this is beyond me just complaining about losing out on paydays.  As a career choice, my entire occupation is about the future–the kids in my classroom.  While it might seem like 2 days aren’t going to make or break the students’ potential progress, factor in the other distractions that arise when the school punts instructional time as we near Winter Break, and those are hours unencumbered by said distractions that I am not going to have as we race towards state testing in April and May.

In the midst of the nationwide focus over the real aims of the “Occupy” movements, a friend asked me to try to explain to her what the actual aim of the protests intended to get. I didn’t quite know how to answer her at the time, especially considering how badly the UC Berkeley administration (and later the UC Davis chancellor) were handling the circumstances on their respective campuses.  While I likely still can’t answer her question directly, it’s pretty obvious that the status quo we have in this country now, is something these protestors, in particular the college students, definitely don’t want.  These circumstances are untenable for our society as a whole.  As scary as it might seem for people when approached with the idea of income redistribution, it’s not so much that income would be “redistributed”; the idea of the “1%” shows us that the money’s already been moved, leaving the rest of us to argue and hurt each other over what’s left.  And it’s hard to think of the future, if we’re barely getting by in the present.  But we’re also denying to our future, those advantages that I came to expect in the past.  Bill Moyers in The Nation. sums it up:

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood says that our nation discovered its greatness “by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and pecuniary pursuits of happiness.” This democracy, he said, changed the lives of “hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.”

Those words moved me when I read them. They moved me because Henry and Ruby Moyers were “common laboring people.” My father dropped out of the fourth grade and never returned to school because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. Mother managed to finish the eighth grade before she followed him into the fields. They were tenant farmers when the Great Depression knocked them down and almost out. The year I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never took home more than $100 a week in his working life, and he made that only when he joined the union in the last job he held. I was one of the poorest white kids in town, but in many respects I was the equal of my friend who was the daughter of the richest man in town. I went to good public schools, had the use of a good public library, played sandlot baseball in a good public park and traveled far on good public roads with good public facilities to a good public university. Because these public goods were there for us, I never thought of myself as poor. When I began to piece the story together years later, I came to realize that people like the Moyerses had been included in the American deal. “We, the People” included us.

We, who have reached our middle age years, have to remind ourselves of how we’ve gotten where we are in our own lives.  We’ve had advantages over our own children by virtue of what was in place in California and in the United States in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, as we grew up.  We came to have expectations that we hoped our own children would have as they grew or are growing up.  But somehow, we’ve allowed any number of televised and radio talking heads over the past 20-30 years to convince us to close the door to the middle class that our parents took us through, ostensibly to prevent readily identified “freeloaders”–to use the LA Times’ term–from encroaching upon our own circumstances, all while we enabled income inequality to reach the levels it has reached.  And when we closed the door to others–read poor people and people of color–we’ve also made it difficult for our own children to aspire to virtually the same advantages we took as our own birthright.   Ultimately, in a public education setting, if I am charged with the responsibility to teach American culture and values to the next generation, in light of this shuttered doorway to the American dream–how can I continue to talk of America as the “Land of Opportunity”, when self-reliance and hard work are needed these days just to find work?

I guess I can’t.  Especially when I am given even less instructional time than I am supposed to have.  The paradox is frightening:  my occupation is considered party to the American idea of mobility through education–that very mobility cherished by Bill Moyers above–and yet as a public employee, I am seen as a barrier to that middle class dream, since my income and my occupational infrastructure are costing the state of California too much to be able to afford.  Even for someone with my inherent cynicism, its wearying to consider how I am the ally and the enemy simultaneously.

Spiting Our Faces

I caught this news on my phone, perusing the mobile site of the LA Times.  Then again, I saw the hard copy, peeking through the plastic cover of the morning paper as I brought it inside as I was loading the car on my way to work.

Sluggish state revenue is likely to trigger a new round of spending cuts that could mean a shorter school year and millions of dollars slashed from public universities, child care programs and services for the disabled, the Legislative Analyst’s Office says.

California’s coffers will be $3.7 billion below what lawmakers and the governor assumed in the budget they crafted last summer, said Mac Taylor, the analyst whom legislators look to for nonpartisan financial advice. The new reductions were built into the spending plan, to kick in if state income fell short.

A final decision will be made next month, when Gov. Jerry Brown‘s Department of Finance releases its own forecast for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Taylor said the projections could still change enough to ward off some of the deepest cuts. But his announcement Wednesday was the first official confirmation that reductions are likely…[t]he grim news prompted outrage from education officials who have already sharply pared their budgets. But it was no surprise to economists who had criticized Brown for balancing the budget by anticipating an extra $4 billion in revenue after he failed to secure Republican support for a ballot measure to raise taxes…At the urging of teachers unions, legislators barred districts from closing the money gap by laying off teachers. Rather, they would have to cut expenses elsewhere. The state gave them permission to trim up to a week from the school year if they agreed with their local teachers unions to do so.

While I could very easily sit here and turn this comment into an orgy of vitriol towards Republican lawmakers for the fact that they regularly drink the Grover Norquist tax Kool-Aid.  Or, I could fault moderate Democrats for aiding and abetting said impulses.  But my first response had nothing to do with revenue.  It had to do with time.  As I prepare to take 3 furlough days next week (which lengthens the Turkey Day holiday–good.  But it means less pay–not so good.), I suddenly had to reconcile the reality that I might not have as much instructional time as I might hope to have.

Instructional Time has become a bit of a sore point of late, given the manner in which the subjects must get covered in such a way to prepare students for the California Standards Test (CST) in addition to District pacing guides which are working their way into use this school year.  When you add in recess, lunch break, weekly planning time, and then throw in monthly assemblies, fire drills, etc., and couple those time demands with designated minutes for core and supplemental subjects, there’s not a whole lot of time left to “free wheel” the curriculum, particularly now that the subject of a shortened school year might be about to rear its ugly head.

It’s also holiday time.  Despite the fact that traditional holidays are not specifically mentioned in the state standards, the siren call of doing holiday activities in lieu of academic subject matter can also lead a teacher astray in terms of how the year gets paced out.  In other words, does learning to sing a song about Mommy’s attraction for Santa Claus more important for a student than pushing forward in Social Studies such that key ideas like the Cherokee diaspora or the Transcontinental Railroad get covered?  I’ve always favored the latter, but the problem as I see it is that more often than not, the decision is taken out of my hands.  In other words, if some sort of holiday activity is planned, I have to adjust my teaching time to clear a spot in the daily schedule to account for the activity.  I’m not allowed to exercise professional judgement with respect to respectfully passing on taking part in the activity.  While I’m “invited”, I can only RSVP “yes”.

Now, mind you, this is not our monthly award ceremonies, this is in addition to those demands I’ve outlined above.

As we close in on Turkey Day, and seeing the announcement of potential school year truncation in this morning’s paper, my concerns about the proper use of instructional time takes on an even greater urgency for me.

This afternoon, I really wanted to close out the first trimester with some sort of low-key activity.  Instead, I finished the math lesson that had to be cut in half because of the day’s Award Assembly, and then I went around trying to corral final writing samples from kids in order to gather additional evidence prior to starting report cards tomorrow.  The news this morning scared me.  Ben Franklin is always proven right:  lost time is never found again.

Achieving Oneness Before Twoness

My report card always said, ‘Jim finishes first and then disrupts the other students’. — Jim Carrey

A friend and I always use the shorthand “report card hell” to describe the grading period coming to an end.   It hasn’t left a lot of time for idle thought, and even regularly posting on this blog was a time luxury.  Nevertheless, I am preparing to write 33 short stories over the next week or so, and it makes sense to get the words ready.

So it goes then, that my first trimester is closing out, and in between trying to get my grades finalized, scheduling conferences with parents is something akin to a pas de deux to find the right time to meet with parents, given their time requests and my time limitations.  I allow myself to work up to when the school closes at 6pm on days in which the child can get picked up by the wife.  I also give up my planning time and lunch hours as possibilities, but this year, as in other years past, very rarely do I miss out on break time.  Things have grown more complicated in recent years.  I was moved out of my long time classroom to a trailer that looks not unlike a refugee from Katrina-era New Orleans;  bordering the edge of the playing field, it gets dark out there at this time of year and, having lost access to a school alarm key that I was fortunate to have for my first 13 years, it just makes sense to not tempt fate and stay any later than I absolutely have to stay.

But beyond scheduling conferences, the story of the first trimester is hardening and coming into shape.  The students and their grades have formed a narrative all unto their own.  The kids whom I thought would step forward have surprised me in not doing so;  on the other hand, I’ve seen some slow starters coming into their own.  In other words, hard work is trumping raw ability.  Conferences will allow me to communicate this reality to the parents of my underperformers.  If form follows, these kids should pick things up by our next set of report cards come March.

Of course, there are also those kids for whom conference merely represents an exercise in futility, in that despite a student’s potential, any positive performance we will see will be inconsistent and fleeting.  The student has gotten in his own way.  And, sadly, they are driving the very truck that is running them over.

Earl Weaver, the great Oriole manager, once mused that one of the reasons he moved Cal Ripken Jr. to shortstop from third base, was that in the middle infield, with the game on the line, he wanted Cal to be in a position to handle the baseball.  I always keep that in mind when reviewing how I will shape the coming set of report card comments.  Who are those kids for whom I can expect nothing but their best?  Surprisingly, I’m not necessarily looking for the students who are posting the best grades, but those who are enthusiastically open to learning, and will take the risks that will get them to where they’ll want to be, not necessarily with me, but by the time the game is on the line in secondary school.

It’s short game versus long game.  I teach the former, but I know I’m a component in how the latter will develop.  We’ll see how it goes…

This is the Droid You’re Looking For

My son enjoys them, although we have held off in having seen the first trilogy since we want him to understand it in the first go….think Space Odyssey seen by a 7 year old, they will quite not get it.” — immv, Slate.com commenter

A few weeks back, I began to search for informational/expository pieces that would make good supplemental material for my students to read while we work through the informational reading standards.  I found this article on the TV series The Clone Wars (where I found the above advice…) Thinking I had a winner, I printed the article and prepared it for distribution to my class.  But while I had scanned it, it wasn’t as carefully as I should have been;  while prepping some sub plans, I went back over the story, and finally caught some phrasing about Wookies that were less than appropriate for use in school.

So, back to square one, and we spent time looking at the animal massacre in Zanesville Ohio instead.

But Star Wars wasn’t necessarily going away.  It followed me home.

Some time back, when Katelyn was first starting her little obsession with the Disney Princesses, she began to bug everyone within ear shot as to who her favorite Disney Princess was and inevitably, she decided to ask her daddy.

I thought for a moment, then replied, “Princess Leia”…

For a while now, Katelyn, when discussing Princesses, was always sure to point out that I like Princess Leia.  Beyond that however, I didn’t detect any real interest in watching Star Wars.  At her preschool though, a playmate had got her hooked on pretend play using the movie, and Katelyn, from what her instructor told me, immediately seized upon the idea that she could be Princess Leia.  Amber, who has never really seen the films, was mortified to find out that Katelyn was pretending to shoot a pretend phaser, not realizing that Carrie Fisher packs heat in the movies at various points.

Then, on Halloween night, at Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party, Katelyn was not only asking to take photos with the famous Disney villains, out that night but also asking (asking?) to take photos with the stormtroopers at one of the photo spots!  I knew, at this point, that my daughter was crossing over…

But as for the original movie itself, I had tried it once, but as the above commenter noted at the start of this post, I gathered that she lost interest pretty much by the time the movie was really getting started and have moved into Luke Skywalker’s early scenes with his aunt and uncle.  The positive about that early experience was that she lasted longer into Star Wars than she had something like Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 (good) or The Incredibles (sad). On the other hand, I have begun to notice that my daughter was already starting to show an ability to handle slightly heavier themed films, so when she asked today to watch Star Wars, I asked her a couple of times to make sure she knew what she was asking to see.

“You want to see Star Wars?”

“Yes, I am playing it with D. outside today.”

“You want to watch it?”

“Daddy, do you know that Queen Amidala is Luke’s mother?”

I’m stunned.  “Who told you that?”

“I. my friend.”  Kate’s friend’s father, whom I met, is a comic geek.  Considering the source of her little friend’s introduction, I’m no longer shocked, thinking, at this point, if another 4-year-old is able to retain that much info from the inferior second trilogy of films, maybe Kate is ready to watch the better quality original.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Kate’s godfather recently decided to introduce Kate’s godmother to Star Wars by starting with Episode I.  Big mistake, and no shock that her godmother is now even more determined not to watch any more of the other films.  Hayden Christensen seems to have that affect on people.)

So, out of the DVD case Star Wars came and into the player.  As I type this, she’s made all the way through the scene in the Death Star’s trash compactor before bedtime interrupted her viewing.  As I tucked her in, she wants to watch the rest while she gets ready for school in the morning…