Wandering the streets at night

I have been sitting on porches with my parents, watching children walk by in the late evening heat. When I was young, we made the same circuits through the neighborhood. These are different times, though. Marijuana is legal here in Washington, for one thing. I’m not sure what, if anything, ought to be done about these wandering kids. Summer nights with friends stand out among my favorite childhood memories. I will suggest that parents sniff a few of these returning kids while checking the color of their eyes.

Eduhonesty: Supervision and summer camp have a lot to recommend them. I will also suggest buying chips and hosting video games. If it’s not too hot, picnics and soccer games can work, too. If all else fails, family movie night can be a win.

movie night

Busier is better, at least most of the time.

Gay marriage

My dad asked me what I thought of the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. How would this affect the schools? My take is that the impact will be minimal. The growing number of one-parent households has been creating vast problems in education. I don’t expect the addition of more intact families to be any problem at all — quite the opposite. With luck, more children will grow up in supportive families with two parents and more supervision. With luck, decreasing anti-gay prejudice will lead to decreased bullying.

In this time of crazy numbers

Did you teach this material? Did they learn this material? Are your students more confident and knowledgeable than they were before?

This post is for teachers who are feeling confused in these data-driven times. If you are no longer being allowed to write your own tests and quizzes and you are no longer being allowed to select your material, your numbers may not be the best reflection of your performance. If you want to know how you are doing, look at your students. Talk to your students.

If your students pretty much know all the planets, their locations, how gravity works, and the various parts of the astronomy standards you may have been teaching, you are doing fine.

Education Week asks a wacky question

Education Week arrives in my email regularly. The intriguing title article today asked whether music or football represented a better value in today’s K-12 education.

Eduhonesty: The fact that we can even pose this as an either/or question tells us what a mess American education has become. For one thing, traditionally we managed to find room in the school day for music classes while football happened after school. We should still find time for music during the school day.

Now, more than ever, in this time of cluster bomb testing, our students need mental breaks. I lost about 10% of my year to testing this year. With a little rearrangement, I’m sure we could get some music classes in there somewhere.

Do all these standards need fixing?


We have recently created the new Common Core standards. Government bureaucrats and administrators are constantly creating new standards or adapting old standards. I’d like to ask a question: Why?

The act of changing standards creates a number of ripple effects. Every time we change standards, school districts must change their curricula. Every time we change standards, textbook and software publishers can adapt their materials, creating revised materials that they then tell school districts are necessary purchases since the new materials match the new standards on which district performance will be judged. Every time we change standards, teachers are forced to revise and adapt lessons that they have tweaked and worked with over time, lessons with previous track records of success.

How much benefit do parents and taxpayers derive from this ongoing shifting of standards? The costs from these changes to standards are proving high, especially when opportunity costs are taken into account. How much lesson planning time has been sacrificed to the need to work on new curriculum committees in school districts across the nation? I have worked on a number of these committees.

I would contend that standards have little reason to change in most areas. With the exception of technology, what we need to teach now remains remarkably similar to what we needed to teach 50 years ago. Calculus has not changed and the rules of grammar have changed very little. Certainly we have seen new discoveries in science that need to be added to our curricula, as well as a technological explosion that requires its own set of standards, but many recent changes to the standards also appear to be attempts to reinvent the wheel. I suspect it is no coincidence that the new PARCC standards were created with the help of a publishing company that now gets to sell new materials to school districts across the nation.

Funny but not funny


I don’t think about this topic much because I have been working in a middle school in a district that is happy to get students to choose to attend any college at all but, when we are talking about testing, a version of this scene happens all across America in the spring.

Eduhonesty: I know a dad in the suburb where I live who hired five tutors to get his daughter’s ACT scores up.

Ummm… Pressure much?

New teachers: Prepare to spend $$$

Effective teachers take responsibility for creating a classroom environment where learning will take place. An environment includes class rules, procedures and myriad other subtle and less subtle components. The physical space itself cannot be neglected. My environments have been wacky at times, covered in science fiction and fantasy posters, along with the stand-up R2D2 who hid my cord clutter. I always worked to make classrooms fun. I threw in character-development posters, some of my own making.

A bit of warning for new teachers: Your school may or may not give you some materials allowance for the year. I work in a poor district and I’ve seldom gotten materials money to spend. I received plenty of math manipulatives last year that someone purchased for me (although one large, $400 box that I never knew about never arrived in my room, sigh) but nothing I had chosen.

Be prepared to go to The Learning Store or Walmart or Amazon — you will have many choices — and hand over your charge card number. Teachers get a $250 tax deduction because the government knows we are all spending our own money. I have known teachers to spend over $1,000 for a year. I have never come close to that money, but I spend hundreds if you include candy incentives and rewards. I spent more my first few years.

Eduhonesty tips:
1) Laminate posters! You should be able to do this in school or in your district. If not, you can ask your local library for mercy. But you want those posters to last a few years.
2) Ask older teachers for castoffs or extras.
3) Buy popsicle sticks and bingo cards. If you’re really broke, though, you can get bingo card printouts online. Also be prepared to buy markers, colored pencils and construction paper, but ask around first at the start of the school year. Schools sometimes have stashes of construction paper and other supplies, saving you money. So check before you buy. Then go discount shopping for anything you still need.
4) Avoid extreme discount outlets for markers, pencils and other writing materials. If it costs a dollar, but only lasts two periods, you got no bargain.
5) Use glue guns if the school allows, but keep in mind that these can strip paint. It’s best to let the glue cool a bit before sticking up the poster. Tape and tacking materials can also be used, but then be prepared to keep putting your posters back up.
6) Find inspiring internet pictures, print and laminate these. You can personalize your room cheaply this way.
7) Remember to save space for student work. The best classrooms are covered in student projects that demonstrate learning and give kids a chance to show off. Also, kids will do better work if they know that their project just might end up on the wall.

Read read read

(I’m almost undoubtedly preaching to the choir here.)

This post is for teachers and parents especially. We model by our behavior every day. One reason I have read so many books stems from my childhood. My mother read incessantly. If I have one preeminent memory of mom, it’s mom sitting in the recliner in the corner reading her latest book. The TV might or might not be on in the background. I might be reading too. If I wanted to check nine books out from the library, she supported me. She always had a stack herself.

Libraries have summer reading programs for those whose schedules and locations permit; I encourage my busy parental counterparts to call their local library tomorrow to find out what they need to do to get their kids involved. If that summer reading program option doesn’t exist, libraries often sell older books in addition to those available for check-out. Thrift stores sell books. The internet offers books for all interests and ages. When you are getting those books for your kids, treat yourself to at least a few new books as well.

Eduhonesty: The kids have mostly gone home for the summer now and the learning loss from summer vacation has been well-documented. Regular reading can staunch those academic losses. With planning, children can even enter school in the fall ahead of where they left off, at least in terms of language development. For math, a summer class might be needed or just fun math practice with the family.

Kids will say, “I read all the time on my phone.” Or “I can just use the computer.” Nothing replaces a good book, though. For one thing, editors have reviewed published books. The spelling and grammar can mostly be trusted. For another, a book represents a real time commitment. Young adult and adult books usually require hours to read and America’s kids desperately need to develop and practice the concentration necessary to finish a paperback or hardback. Our kids too often struggle to sit and pay attention in school nowadays. Sitting and reading helps reinforce behaviors that help students in the classroom.

Our kids benefit when we model reading and read with them. Why not find a silent reading time for the summer, a time when parents and children can read together for 45 minutes or an hour, maybe followed by a treat and a short, semi-impromptu book discussion? Readers mostly succeed in school. Nonreaders mostly don’t. A summer of books may be the greatest gift we can give our children.

Scary letter to Dear Abby from Yahoo

Quoted from Abigail Van Buren
June 12, 2015 1:00 AM

Dear Abby
DEAR ABBY: I am a single woman who borrowed $80,000 to send my daughter to college with the understanding that she would take over the payments once she was professionally established. She is now so “into” her new lifestyle that she is refusing to have contact with her “poor” birth mother. She refuses to take responsibility for repaying the loan, which is in my name, and says “tough luck” to my stupidity.>This means I will have to continue working until I drop dead. Abby, I am 60. Is there any help for me? Has this happened to other baby boomers? — POOR BIRTH MOTHER IN GEORGIA>DEAR POOR: Sadly, yes it has. And no, there isn’t help for you. Because the agreement with your daughter was verbal and wasn’t put in writing, you don’t have a legal means to force her to assume the loan payments.

Eduhonesty: We have to reign in this agenda of college for all. I feel so sorry for this woman. She did what society pushed her to do, believing she was doing the right thing. The lesson from this post should be shared with parents. Get that repayment plan in writing even if it’s an agreement with your child.

And only shoulder this burden if you can afford to pay the loans.

The shampoo girl has a degree in psychology

This post may not be what readers expect. I will not be writing about the difficulty of finding a job with a liberal arts degree, although that topic certainly deserves a post or two. I will not be writing about underemployment.

No, the most intriguing moment in my hair color adventure today (darker blonde) came when the shampoo girl explained that her parents had been unwilling to pay for beauty school so she had been obliged to get a degree in psychology instead. She attended a perfectly reputable Midwestern college, graduated and found steady employment that paid reasonably well, selling software and then doing IT recruiting.

She wasn’t happy, though. When her fiancé told her he would float her for a year so she could pursue a more fulfilling path, she jumped at the chance to go to beauty school in her late twenties. To mollify her parents, she showed them a business plan detailing what she intended to do with her beauty certification. She has taken a pay cut for over a year to train and serve as an apprentice in an upscale set of hair salons.

I detected no apparent regrets or second thoughts. She is doing what she wanted to do all along. She is happy.

Eduhonesty: I thought my shampoo girl woman exemplified something I have known for a long time. Our relentless push to get all America’s students into college needs more flexibility. We need to rethink that one agenda for all. Not everyone is meant to get a degree. Not everyone is able to get a degree. Those who fail may end up saddled with frightening debts. That psych degree cost many thousands of dollars.

High schools must present career options and their ramifications, including the many advantages of a college and/or university education, but America also needs to revitalize its vocational and technical options. Youth unemployment should not be a problem at the same time that we are importing skilled machinists from other countries. Many people prefer to work in trades. They want to build houses or color hair. Telling these young adults that they must go to college frequently benefits no one.