Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Favorite News Sources

I admit it: I'm addicted to news. I don't know when I first became interested in news. I edited a high school paper and a college paper. I've written for rural weekly papers and worked a beat for a daily for awhile. I enjoy news, and news analysis...

While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the news sources that I visit more or less weekly:

  • Yahoo! News - this is more like a portal than a source. Yahoo provides links to wire service information and major newspapers, organized topically and searchable. If you want to read about politics, there's a page on politics. If you want to read about Asia, there's a page on Asia. If you want to read about science news, there's a page. You get the idea. Search by a person's name and you get a list of news articles about the person. I visit this site daily...

  • USA Today - I browse the paper once or twice a week.
  • The Washington Post - a good source for politics and for world news.
  • National Public Radio - A unique perspective on national and international news. NPR has the advantage of allowing me to listen to news on the drive to and from work, time that might otherwise be wasted...
  • The Bluefield Daily Telegraph - I wrote for them, long ago. This is the closest thing we have to a daily paper for Tazewell County. Their coverage is focused more on West Virginia, but we get their crumbs, as coverage goes.
  • The Charleston Gazette - since I work in West Virginia...
  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch - a good source of Virginia news.

Having spent a third or so of my adult life outside the Continental US, I like to read a few international papers, as well...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friends in Finland...

I've been to Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Edisto Beach, the Federated States of Micronesia, France, Germany, Gormania, Guam, Hawaii, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kapingamarangi, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Majuro, Myanmar (maybe, hard to tell), Myrtle Beach, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, The Northern Mariana Islands, Orchard Road, Pawleys Island, the Philippines, Pigeon Forge, Puerto Rico, Boat Quay in Singapore, Rattanakosin (Old Bangkok), Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Texas, Thailand, Union Grove in North Carolina, the Virgin Islands, Wagga Wagga, Yellowstone, and several zoos. But not to Finland...

I have friends in Finland. When I lived in Canberra, Australia, the city there had a small but vibrant community of Finns. Youth With A Mission (whom I worked for there) had a steady flow of Finnish students coming through its training programs. I've lost touch now with all of them. But occasionally I see their faces in my mind and think about our old friendships.

One family in particular used to invite me to their home in Canberra.
They had a sauna they'd built themselves. (They pronounced that word as "SAU-nah," and the "sau" rhymed with "cow.") I could sit in the sauna with them. It would climb into the 80's, which is about 175F degrees. I could stand that; it was almost pleasant. But then one of them would throw a thimble or so or water on the hot rocks and steam would fill the room. I would have to exit the sauna. I could hear them chuckle as I went through the door.

I also remember drinking small quantities of a marvelous liquid with them. It was clear and tasted like berries - berries that were on fire. And if you drank enough of it the liquid made you want to sing. Can't remember what they called it, though.

I had the pleasure of doing a small amount of language work with one Finnish man for one of my linguistic classes at the ANU. Finnish is a beautiful and intriguing language, from what I remember.

Maybe one day I'll get to visit Finland...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Response to Intervention - A New Model for Identifying Disabilities

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

When the regulations for IDEA 2004 became official not long ago, a new model came to town for identifying students as having a specific learning disability. It's called response to intervention, and is abbreviated as RTI or RtI.

To understand RtI and its implications fully you need to understand the previous model for deciding whether or not a child had a learning disability. That model, called the discrepancy model, compares IQ (on something like the WISC-IV) and achievement (usually measured with something like the WIAT) and examines the difference. The idea until now has been that if a child has the intelligence to learn at a particular level but isn't, that discrepancy between intelligence and achievement is evidence of a disability.

The problem was that it takes time, years in fact, for a discrepancy to become significant enough to be considered as a disability. In first grade there's not much to measure. And in second grade there's still not usually a big enough difference between intelligence and achievement to make the discrepancy model work.

When a teacher first suspects that a child may have a learning disability in the first or second grade, everyone felt trapped under the old discrepancy model. The child may well have had a disability, but we needed evidence of the disability in order to place the child in special education. So instead of getting help then, the child got watched more closely. It was kind of like having a rule that you can't throw a life preserver to a kid in the pool until their head goes under the third time. This year the child is just behind, next year the child will have a disability...

In contrast to the old discrepancy model, the RtI model begins looking for curricular intervention designed to catch the kid up as soon as they begin having problems - back in first or second grade. RtI has the potential then to allow disabilities to be identified and defined based on the response a child has to the interventions that are tried. At the very least, RtI can replace the pre-referal process for special education. And in theory, children with real disabilities could be identified and placed years earlier and children without disabilities won't be allowed to fall further and further behind simply to see if they have a learning disability.

The Reading First people have fleshed out the concept of RtI so that most educators today think of a detailed set of specifications when someone mentions RtI. Dallas Reading First has a website that describes the process of intervention well:

  • Students get taught good stuff in a setting known as Tier I. This is the primary (or "core") instructional setting for all students.
  • Sometimes a particular student needs more. So instruction gets supplemented with an "intervention." This is called Tier II. Students come and go in Tier II instruction for short periods of time to address specific areas where the student is falling behind or failing to "get it." Tier II usually involves 30 minutes of extra instruction a day in the content area of intervention. Usually there are no more than four or five students in a Tier II intervention session.
  • When a student doesn't seem to benefit from 30 extra minutes in Tier II they get moved on up the intervention chart and start getting an extra hour a day (usually) at Tier III. Tier III interventions tend to be more individualized and involve one-on-one time with a specialist.

The Dallas Reading First site describes an intervention plan specifically for reading. And RtI is almost always thought of as a response to reading problems at the moment; but there is no reason the model couldn't be adapted to math or other content areas.

The Dallas Reading First website illustrates almost exactly what former International Reading Association President Richard L. Allington complained about in his article Research and the Three Tier Model in April of 2006. Students in Tier II in Dallas don't get help with what they did during Tier I instruction; instead they get more and different material on reading: they didn't understand McGraw-Hill so they get time in Voyager. But as Allington points out, that's not really a problem with the three tier model itself as much as with the manner in which the model is used.

Will RtI work? I suppose the more salient question becomes who will the RtI model work for? Will it work for the people who think it takes too long under the discrepancy model to identify a child who has a learning disability? Will it work for county administrators and other groups who sometimes feel that too many children are identified as having learning disabilities? And will it work for kids who don't really have a disability but do need help?

I'll take a look at some of the pros and cons of the RtI model in the near future...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Two Hour Delay

Five a.m. the phone rings. We get the message that sleet and ice have covered some roads in our county and we are on a two hour delay for the second time this week.

The dog wants out.

I caught the coffee pot just as it started to drip and save that pot of coffee for later.

Five phone calls and back to bed and, maybe, to sleep...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Week Before Christmas at School

I wrote yesterday about the two hour delay we had at school. Apart from the snow, I suppose that is the last ordinary day of the calendar year...

Today the kids marched in the Christmas Parade that the city of Anawalt has each year. It's not much of a parade, but then it's not that much of a city. Don't get me wrong. It's a nice city. It's just small - maybe a few hundred people in the incorporated area.

We take the kids down the hill to where they get on the school buses and walk the quarter mile or so to the downtown block. The city's police car leads the parade, with the mayor inside. The city's fire department brings up the rear. The kids march by grades. Parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbors wave and take pictures. We walk around the block. The kids wave and sing songs. And we walk back up to the school.

The whole thing takes about 90 minutes.

Last year the kids all met Santa and got a present at the city hall. This year Santa came to the school after the parade...

Tomorrow is the Christmas program at the school. We'll pack the gym with parents and the kids will sign.

Thursday we're taking the kids to the movies - a reward for performance in the Accelerated Reader program. School buses will carry us the hour across the mountains to Mercer Mall in Bluefield. We'll watch Alvin and the Chipmunks (oh just shot me) and eat lunch at Chick Filet. Then we'll ride the yellow school buses back across the mountains and try not to lose our lunches on those twisty mountain roads. We're supposed to be back by 2pm and then class Christmas parties start at 2:30.

Friday there are no kids, but a few will show up for make up work. then there will be a faculty senate meeting and those sorts of things.

I have until Friday to make out a purchase order to spend $200. I can't seem to get that done.

Then it's 11 days off.

It's easy to think of this as a wasted week. But that begs the question of why we have schools. Sure it's about learning. But it's also about community and socialization.

We walked through a tradition today. Traditions are good (at least they can be) - even if they do interfer with instruction for a day.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Two Hour Delay...

Today we had a two hour delay. Snow...

At my house in Tazewell County we got about four inches of snow in the 18 hours before school started today. It stopped sometime in the wee hours of the morning. The cold was pretty bitter by our local standards: temps in the teens, wind-chill in the single digits.

We got the call on the delay Sunday night. That's always nice. Usually someone calls you at 5am to tell you that you don't have to get up and then asks you to call one or two more people before you go back to sleep. You walk to the kitchen, look at the call list on your fridge, make your calls, reset the timer on the coffee pot, reset your alarm, and take your freezing butt back to bed. Maybe you sleep some more; maybe you don't.

Our normal schedule is core subjects before noon, interventions in the afternoon. But since school lost two hours we dropped the interventions and moved the first two hours of core subjects up into the afternoon. That creates a little confusion.

On a delay everyone comes in late - including the person that lights our coal furnace, it was 51 in my classroom at 9am. But quitting time we'd made it up to 68F.

That's a two hour delay. There'll be more this ear...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Scariest Candidate for President: Ron Paul

If you listen to National Public Radio like I do, you probably heard a lot this week about GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Among my favorite sound bites, there was the description of how jut a few weeks ago Huckabee was in a tight race with Margin of Error. Now he seems to have gotten the part in the Conservative play that Fred Thompson was trying out for.

No one really knows what he'd really stand for as President. He took a soft view of immigration as governor and is now promoting a hard line on the issue. He wants to cut taxes as President (don't they all?), but his GOP rivals want to make him out to be a tax-and-spend liberal while governor. And then there's religion...

As tempting as it is to talk about Huckabee at the moment, the most frightening candidate on the campaign trail today is not Mike Huckabee. Its GOP candidate Ron Paul. His political positions are both extreme and dichotomous:
  • He would overturn Roe v. Wade, paving the way for states to outlaw abortion.
  • He would abolish the U.S. Department of Education (along with a large number of other federal agencies).
  • He would work to legalize marijuana.
  • He would pull U.S. troops out of Iraq (the only GOP candidate to make that claim).
  • He would do away with Medicare and Medicaid.
  • He would have America withdraw from both the United Nations and NATO.
His positions are dichotomous to such an extent that it would easy to call him schizophrenic. But that's not really true. He may draw from both the far left and far right, but he holds his positions with unwavering consistency.

Who is Ron Paul? Think of Barry Goldwater having a child with Frank Zappa: that's Ron Paul.

The 10-term Texas Congressman and obstetrician has been on the November ballot for President once before. He beat Zappa for the Libertarian Party's nomination in 1988.

The guiding principal of Ron Paul's political philosophy is simple. If the U.S. Constitution doesn't expressly grant the federal government the right or responsibility to dabble in something, then it should get out.

That philosophy has earned him the nickname "Dr. No" because he casts a no vote on almost so many issues, like appropriations bills for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. He voted "no" on the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007. He voted "no" on implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. You get the idea...

Time to make another pot...Paul has been criticized (perhaps ridiculed would be a better word) for his position on the economy and on monetary policy. In his view, the government shouldn't be involved in either. Ron Paul would close the Federal Reserve. Most other countries (and all of our main competitors in the world market) would have central banks that could manipulate their currencies and set monetary policies; America would not.

Ron Paul's position on taxation is not unique to him. But he would close the IRS, eliminate income taxes for individuals and corporations, and create a federal sales tax that (to start) would be about 23%. A recent NPR story on Huckabee examines some of the flaws of that "fair tax" plan. Their conclusion was that the poor in America would be a little better off under the plan (provided the "pre-bate" provision of the plan actually worked), but that the rich would be much better off and the big losers would be America's middle class.

So picture an America where much of the work of the federal government simply stopped. Welfare, education, health laws, etc. would differ greatly from one state to the next and the federal government would have almost no power. No one could whine about FEMA doing a bad job after the next hurricane because FEMA wouldn't come at all. And while it might be legal to smoke marijuana to relieve the pain associated with your chemotherapy, Medicare wouldn't pay for it (or anything else) because Medicare wouldn't exist.

Not yet convinced that Ron Paul is the most frightening candidate? Go back 35 years and consider what the 1970's might have been like if Paul's suggestions now on NATO had been followed then. My bet is that we'd all be speaking Russian today, or at least trying to learn it so that we could get a job in our own country...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Attending Autism Workshops

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

I spent today at a workshop on autism. It was the second such workshop in a series of four presented by the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University. Like most such workshop, this series is not purely informational. It is designed to promote an approach to dealing with autism in the classroom (and other settings). The approach is called Positive Behavior Support.

Autism has been in the news a lot over the past couple of years. A number of controversies surround the disorder - chief among them is the increase in the number of cases of autism being reported. Thirty years ago autism was a relatively rare condition that ordinary people knew little about. Many medical professional either considered it a form of mental retardation or (worse) simply mistook it for mental retardation. Today the most common estimate is that one in every 166 children is born with autism. Since four out of every five cases of autism occur in boy, that means that about one out of ever 415 girls is born with autism and one our of about every 103 boys is born with autism.

Why are there more cases now? That question could start fist fights. On the one hand is the suggestion that, just maybe, the biggest reason is that we've learned to recognize autism better and the second biggest reason is that we've changed who gets to keep the count. Under this theory, we've always had about this many autistic children, we just called them something else - mentally impaired, or learning disabled, or emotionally disturbed. The reported number of cases is also up because before the 1990's doctors, for the most part, reported on the number of autism cases; under the Child Find provisions of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools took over the responsibility of reporting the statistics. And it became an obligation - not just to report cases that showed up, but to go out and find those children and identify them.

The definition of autism has also been altered and expanded along the way. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the book doctors use to identify autism. The definition in the DSM-III published in 1980 differed from that in DSM-IIIR published in 1987. It was changed again in the DSM-IV(TR) published in 1994.

Other disorders, like Asperger Syndrome, have been grouped together as being related in some way to autism. And when a child doesn't quite meet the definition of autism, professionals will describe the child as falling under the umbrella of "autism spectrum" - disorders that can't be clearly identified but resemble autism.

The workshops have been interesting. The first one was mostly an introduction. among the topics that got floated and discussed: the genetics of autism, the possibility that autism is an evolutionary adaptation (not sure I buy that), the question of whether famous people are autistic (Bill Gates was mentioned), and more.

The workshop today dealt with identifying the causes of problem behavior and how to find solutions for them. Functional Behavior Assessment...

Two more workshops to go.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Spiral Curriculum

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

The concept of a spiral curriculum has changed the way I teach. I suspect that the concept will change the way most teachers teach before too much longer. And special needs students will benefit from that.

A couple of years I was introduced to a concept in teaching that, for me (and most of the other teachers in my building), was almost entirely new. The concept, the idea, is at least as old as I am. It is called a spiral curriculum.

Let me compare a spiral curriculum to the more tradition approach to teaching that people are used to. The basic idea behind the tradition approach is that the time has come for something: fractions, gerunds, state capitals, the Third Law of Thermodynamics - whatever. Because the time has come, we're going to learn it. Maybe that means we're going to memorize it (like with state capitals). Maybe that means we're going to develop a skill with it (like the addition of fractions with like denominators). Maybe that means we're going to grasp how it affects us. But whatever it means, the time is now - for EVERYONE. We're going to work on it for a while. The kids are going to learn it NOW. And then we're going to move on to the next thing that the time has come for...

In contrast, a spiral curriculum begins with the assumption that children are not always ready to learn something. Readiness to learn is at the core of a spiral curriculum. And instead of focusing for relatively long periods of time on some narrow topic whose time has come, a spiral curriculum tries to expose students to a wide varies of ideas over and over ago. For a select few, the time for gerunds and infinitives has already arrived by the second grade. And for a few, algebra and geometry make perfect sense by grade three. A spiral curriculum, by moving in a circular pattern from topic to topic within field like, say, math, seeks to catch kids when they first become ready to learn something and pick up the other kids, the ones not ready to learn yet, later - the next time we spiral around to that topic.

Why isn't a spiral curriculum a circular curriculum? Because it doesn't stay at the same difficult level as time goes by....

And it is with math that I became involved in a spiral curriculum. My school district began this year implementing a curriculum developed at the University of Chicago called Everyday Math. From the very early grades students are introduced to ideas from algebra, geometry, statistics, measurement, patterns, and so on. The challenge for the teacher? Simple: stay on track. The first time you try and explain what a variable is, NO ONE gets it. You spend the day that the book says to on it and you MOVE ON.

And THAT is HARD for someone from a traditional background. Looking at a group of kids and saying, "No one understood. Some of them will get it next time..." is hard for someone from a traditional teaching background. But there will be a next time. And a next time after that. So if Billy or Suzie isn't ready for converting improper fractions to mixed numbers this week, NOW, that's okay.

And for special needs children, that's good news...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Harlan Albert Walls, Sr. (1913-1998)

Note: I originally published this on August 20, 1998 at a website that has since disappeared from cyberspace. This being Harlan Walls' birthday, it seemed appropriate to republish it here...

The greatest man I ever knew died on Monday.

Harlan Walls, about 1995Harlan Walls was 84 and had lived as rich and as full a life as most men ever dreamed of. On Friday, I will get to help carry him to his grave in Tazewell County's rich earth.

The last of seven sons, the 12th of 13 children for Andy Reid Walls and Martha Ann Jestes Walls, Granddad was born in Coalfield (Morgan County), Tennessee, on Dec. 7, 1913.

In 1938 he married Anna Clemons.

Granddad's family made a living from coal in Tennessee. And when he finished his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee, he was offered a way out of coal country: the Tennessee Valley Authority offered him a job. But one of his professors at UT told him that the TVA was just a political program and probably wouldn't exist in a few years. So Granddad turned it down and went to work instead in the coal industry. It was a story he told often and with a smile; he never seemed to regret that twist of fate...

Before long coal brought my Granddad to Buchanan County, Va., and to Jewell Smokeless Coke and Coal. Until 1964 he was Jewell's general manager. Then he moved to Diamond Coal in Pike County, Ky., where he was a vice-president until his retirement in 1980.

He and Grandma lived in Richlands, Va., in Tazewell County.

But Granddad's life extended far beyond the coal industry.

  • He was a fairly active member of the Baptist Church.
  • He served on the Richlands Town Planning Commission and the Tazewell County School Board.
  • He was part of a Kiwanis Club.
  • He started the first scholarship program at Southwest Virginia Community College, near Richlands.
  • And he served on the Board of Directors for Virginia Intermont College - a Baptist school near Bristol, Va.
All of that falls short of summing up the greatness of Harlan Walls.

Granddad was the happiest man I ever meet. He smiled reflexively. He rarely seemed threatening in what anger or dissatisfaction he might have occasionally displayed.

Grandad loved his gardenAmong my earliest memories is the ride from my childhood home in Georgia to the mountains of Virginia. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, the water was clearer and even the bricks of the town's houses were a different shade of red.

I remember that Granddad cooked the best pork ribs on Earth. I remember wishing that when I got old enough to cook, Granddad would give me the recipe that he teasingly claimed was a secret when I was a boy.

I remember that even in those rare moments when Harlan Walls actually was too busy for me (or someone else) as a child, he took pains to be sure that he never seemed too busy.

And I remember that few people ever left Granddad with anything but a smile.

That strength of character, that graciousness in dealing with people and what always seemed to me to be an ability to do anything he wanted to, and do it well -- those things come close to summing up why Granddad was the greatest man I ever knew, but they are still not a sufficient explanation. And that truth is that some of the man's greatness defies explanation...

Death takes all...

When the funeral arrangements for Granddad began to be finalized, the idea of reading a poem was suggested. Dylan Thomas immediate leapt to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at break of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But Granddad had specifically requested that another poem be read - a poem with almost the opposite message. The poem he asked for, only a day before his death, was William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis.

Dylan Thomas's poem is about a common experience: we all lose people we love. Thomas was writing about his experience watching his own father die. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is the poem for anyone who has been the cheerleader, watching someone else die.

Thanatopsis is about a rarer experience. It is a poem about facing personally the arrival of the appointed hour of death. The poem acknowledges that everyone dies, and suggests that we have a choice: we can go to the grave like a slave being beaten into submission; or we can go to the grave with grace and dignity, as if we are simply moving to a new home.

Making fruitcake...Few people get the chance to actually face death. We see death take others much more often than we see it coming for us. Granddad was afforded that privilege. Cancer tested my Granddad's character and personality and had little impact on him. At the age of 84, after being told he had a tumor in his lung that would probably kill him, he continued to mow his own grass, worry about his tomatoes and speak at college dinners.

And when the time came, Granddad faced death, and embraced it almost at will. When his life seemed spent and living made no more sense, he stopped living - before anyone really expected it.

May God grant that I do as well - both in death and in life...

Bettercaring Offers Nursing Home Answers in the UK

No one really likes to think about nursing homes. We all hope that we'll never need one to care for a loved one and we'll never face the possibility of living in one ourself. But the reality is that with today long life expectancies, eventually we will come to a time when we will need help in life on a more or less constant basis - help that is more than our lived ones alone can provide for us.

As you consider the options available when that time comes, take a look at Bettercaring. According to their website, Bettercaring is a dedicated service for anyone who needs answers to crucial questions about care for themselves or their loved ones. The website is easy to navigate and provides all kinds of useful information - including regular features on health issues, a forum where online visitors can discuss nursing home care, and a search database for finding registered care nursing homes in the United Kingdom.

Bettercaring is an excellent source of information on nursing homes for residents of the UK.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was financially compensated for this post...

The Disconnect: Syndromes, Disorders, and Special Education

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

The Disconnect between syndromes, disorders, and conditions on the one hand and placement in Special Education on the other is sometimes hard to explain to parents. This is a look at why...
February 21, 2006 - It is not always easy to explain to a parent why their child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or Dyslexia, etc. is assigned to a particular special education placement and someone else's child with the SAME DISORDER or condition is assigned to a DIFFERENT placement. The explanation becomes even more difficult when the parent's child is denied special education services and someone else they know has a child with the same disorder that IS placed in special education...

Special education law and practice places students in a special education environment based on a variety of factors. While some special education placements are straightforward (a blind child is, after all, blind and a deaf child is deaf - though in either case those may not be their only problems), others are not so clear cut. Special education law places students in particular categories based on educational issues, not as the result of a medical diagnosis. So, for example, in my state (West Virginia) a doctor would generally conclude that a patient with an IQ of 69 was mildly mentally impaired (or retarded). But IQ ALONE is not a sufficient factor to have such a student placed in the special education environment. West Virginia's Regulations for the Education of Exceptional Students (Policy 2419) says that the student must also have "limitations" in two "adaptive skill" areas - areas like the ability to communicate, to care for themselves, to relate well with their peers, or to look out for their own health and safety. Academic performance, their ability to adapt to their academic environment, is one of the areas. The point is that just because your family doctor says that Johnny is mentally impaired from a MEDICAL standpoint, that doesn't AUTOMATICALLY make him mentally impaired from an EDUCATIONAL standpoint.

The situation can get more confusing. Consider some condition that may not affect IQ per se and can vary in severity. The International Dyslexia Association says in its Frequently Asked Questions section that "Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin..." Well, maybe. Testing would have to determine that -- on a child by child basis. A specific learning disability is defined in most states as a discrepancy between IQ and academic performance. When a student with an average or better IQ doesn't achieve well we change the way he's being taught. Eventually, if that doesn't work, we consider the possibility that he has a learning disability. The learning disability IS (at the moment at least, in most states' policies) the discrepancy between achievement and intelligence (not the dyslexia). And plenty of students with dyslexia end up responding to changes in the way they are taught in the regular education setting before the process reaches the point of placing the student in special education.

ADHD provides an even more complicated set of problems when trying to decide how (and whether) to place a child in special education. ADHD is not always easy for a doctor to diagnose. If it is properly diagnosed and the child is successfully treated for the disorder before it becomes a long term educational problem, the child may never be placed in the special education setting. If it is diagnosed but NOT treated, the child may be placed as Other Health Impaired (OHI). If ADHD is suspected but never diagnosed by a doctor, the student may be placed as having a specific learning disability (LD). Or in those circumstances the student may be placed as having what some states call an emotional disturbance (ED) and other states call a behavior disorder (BD). Why the differences? Because each child is different and the question is not one of what medical condition or disorder the student has. The question is this: How does this particular child's medical problem affect its education.

Parents often find the process confusing. They think their doctor has already told them what their child's problem is. But while the doctor may be right, medically speaking, the consideration at school is not medical. The school has to consider how a medical condition effects the way a child learns. And it has to consider that question one child at a time...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney, Religion, and the Speech

If you follow the presidential election campaign it would be hard not to know that Mitt Romney gave a speech today about religion. It would be almost as hard not to know that John F. Kennedy gave a (some would say) similar speech on September 12, 1960. You probably know that they both gave their speech in Texas.

Why Texas? The Romney campaign is trying to win Iowa. So why not give the speech in Iowa. My guess is that Texas was chosen as a way of increasing the number of parallels that could be drawn between the two Massachusetts politicians, Romney and Kennedy.

Both men are from the same state. Except that Kennedy was born and raised in Massachusetts and Romney is from Michigan and moved to Massachusetts at the age of 24 to attend Harvard. If Harvard had been in Providence, Romney might have ended up as governor of Rhode Island.

Both men ran for president. The candidacy of both men faced or faces opposition because of their religion. Both men gave a speech about religion, in Texas.

The parallels end there. However much Romney would like to acquire some sort of "glory by association" from President Kennedy on this issue, Mitt did not give the Kennedy speech - not by a long shot...

As a small example, take this quote from the John F. Kennedy's speech:
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind...
Romney seems to agree with the pragmatic issue of the Kennedy speech. Romeny said this: "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." But compare Kennedy's larger vision to Romney's speech:
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator...
As Romney's philosophy on the relationship between religion and government is fleshed out he makes the statement that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." For Kennedy, we are free and we have religion; the two do not need to be connected. For Romney, it seems as though we are free because we have religion and we keep our religion because we are free. Many in the Republican Party would agree with him.

The most insightful quote from Romney's speech is this: "It's important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions." Emphasis added. Romney is talking to churches and their members; he is trying to associate himself with the Religious Right by reassuring them that he shares their values even if their theologies differ on minor details (like the incarnation or the nature of God.)

Kennedy sought to decrease the influence of religion in politics; Romney wants to promote it. It's just that, with the people who are already doing that Mitt has to convince them that he's one of them. I doubt he accomplished that.

Mitt Romney did prove a couple of things today. He proved he can give a great speech. And he proved that he is not JFK.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cool Bedding to Personalize Your Room

Do you love your car? One of the coolest things I've seen recently is the Cool Bedding available from Vision Bedding Dot Com. Think of walking into your room and finding your car (or at least a good picture of your car) right there on your bed! All you need is a good digital image of your vehicle to send in.

Vision Bedding guarantees high quality. Best of all, the spreads and blankets can be cleaned in a regular washer and dryer without fear of losing quality from the image because it is not a cheap screen print.

In addition to custom products made from your photos, Vision Bedding offers a range of bedding with theme photographs on the (like the Lamborghini pictured here).

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was financially compensated for this post...

The Snow Dance

At 5:25 this morning the dog began to beat it's little paws on the edge of the bed where my head laid and breath in my face. I opened one eye, looked at the clock, and noticed her hairy little tail whirling like the blade on a helicopter. I knew that if I did what I wanted to and said "go away," the nice doggy would go to the other side of the bed and beat on Cheryl's head. Cheryl still had another 15 or 20 minutes before her clock would go off and she would begin dragging herself through the morning routine that gets her out the door at 6:20 am and on the way to her job as an assistant principal.

So I sat up. The air was cold in our upstairs bedroom. The room was added to the house by improving our large addict; but no pipes from the basement furnace reach that level of the house. There's a small electric wall unit we sometimes use.

The dog was excited by her success if waking me. I reached down to the floor and gathered my clothes - a pair of shorts, my underwear, a tank top, and an orange Tennessee sweatshirt. I walked downstairs naked; but it was mostly dark and the dog doesn't mind. I put my clothes on the couch, separated the pieces and put them on. The dog stood by the door and jiggled her body in anticipation...

Dress now, I picked the dog up to prevent her from darting through the door and roaming the neighborhood in freedom. I opened the door and looked through the screen. Snow was falling. The road had spots of snow on it, but it was still mostly bear. I opened the screen and found the red plastic-coated cord that laid there and I hooked it to the dog's collar. Macy (the dog) ran down the steps and I let her go and postured in the yard, looking for enemies to bark at. I stepped inside and closed the door.

It was now 5:30 am. I went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. I found Cheryl's thermos and filled it for her to take with her, pulled her lunch from the fridge, and sat the lunch and thermos near our hall tree for her to find when she left. I turned on the morning news and sat on the couch to wait. Usually I lie back down and go to sleep while Cheryl goes through her motions. I don't leave for work until 7:30 or so most mornings. This morning I needed a few minutes with the iron after she got up because I'd neglected to iron her pants last night.

Cheryl came downstairs. It was about 5:35. She asked why I was up. I explained about the dog and her pants. We touched lips. I went back upstairs and applied the iron to her pants, then ironed my own clothes and hung the on the door. I came back down and went to the kitchen for my cup of coffee.

The dog was barking, pretending (judging from the sound) to be a superhero in a film about horrible villains. I opened the front door. She stopped and looked at me. The snow was falling heavier now. In the ten minutes the dog had been out the road had become completely snow covered. I called Macy and she came up and stepped inside the door. I unhooked her. She took off for the kitchen to check her bowl...

At 5:40 the phone rang. One of my wife's co-workers wanted to know if they could leave their car here and ride over the mountains to her school with Cheryl. Cheryl's Subaru has four-wheel drive. A minute or two after that call the phone rang again. My wife's boss wanted her to know that our county was now on a two-hour delay. I found Cheryl. She made the three or four calls to other people at her school that she makes on such occasions. I called the one person that I pass such information on to. And I went and laid down on a guestroom bed.

Cheryl came in later and woke me. I have no idea what time it was - probably around 7:15 or so. She told me we were closed. I made my one call and went back to sleep.
At 9:45 I got up and walked to the kitchen, tip toeing past the recliner that Cheryl lay sleeping in. I warmed so of the morning's coffee, now almost five hours old. I stood at the window looking out over our back deck and the creek in out yard. There was perhaps two inches of snow in the rails around our deck. Some 32 West Virginia county school systems are closed today and students in Tazewell County stayed home, as well.

Yesterday, as the school day was ending I assumed my normal position on bus duty outside the PreK and Kindergarten rooms. As the kids lined up in the hall with their coats and mittens and hats and book bags on, I explained to them that they needed to go home and do a snow dance in their backyards. I tried to sound serious and they looked at me as though I was. I demonstrated, raising my hands over my head and turning in a circle while the other teachers tried not to snicker. Now when I see the kids I can tell them it worked...

Monday, December 3, 2007

In a Moment of Insanity, Romney Makes Religion an Issue

It can't end well for Candidate Romney, but Mitt has decided to talk about his religion - kind of...

A quote from the Associated Press muddies things up a little:
Romney said Monday his speech will not focus on the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for his Utah-based faith. But he's hoping his willingness to discuss religion openly, and put his wife and sons on stage with him, will convince critical evangelical Christians he's worthy of their support in the approaching Iowa caucuses and later Southern contests across the Bible Belt.
That makes it sound like he will talk about some aspects of his religion, but not others. That process, I suspect, will make it seem like he's hiding something. And that impression will make the Mormon faith seem more (not less) mysterious to lay Evangelicals in the GOP...

The political situation is fairly simple. Romney wants to win Iowa. He wants to be considered the GOP frontrunner going into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Until recently it was a Romney-Giuliani race, a scenario that made Romney look conservative.

Romney and Giuliani beat each other up so badly in the last GOP debate that one commentator said that they had each achieved their goal of discrediting the other. And in the meantime, Iowa Republicans discovered Mike Huckabee...

Huckabee is a former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister who seems to recently have become the conservative Christian candidate that the rural Bible Belt has been looking for over the course of the last year. Romney has courted the GOP's Religious Right extensively but has never been able to close the deal. He's spent $7 million in Iowa. That's about 22 times what Huckabee has spent. And now Huckabee leads by a few points even though a short three months ago he was considered something of a vanity candidate who could never actually win.

As the Christians of Bible Belt America gather to listen, what can Romney possible say on the subject of religion that he thinks they will enjoy hearing.

  • Will he say that he has lived a good life without drinking or smoke or getting divorced? They will think that he lacks an understanding of concept that human beings are sinful creatures who please God only by accepting His grace. And they'll be right; Mormons believe that Jesus came to set an example, not to make an atonement for sin.

  • Will he say that he believes in Jesus? I doubt he'll be that folksy in his choice of words. But if he were to say that, to say something along the lines of "Hey, we both believe in Jesus!" to an audience of conservative Christians, most of them would know that he meant something different than what they do by that statement.

  • Will he talk about the Mormom Church's view of Protestants and Catholics? The Mormons teach that other forms of Christianity are apostate, that true Christianity died out centuries ago and was revived only with the Angel Moroni reveal the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. I'm guessing Romney won't discuss his church's position on that issue - at least not voluntarily.
The central issues of Christianity were defined early in Church history. Heretics were thrown out of the Church for teaching incorrect views of the nature of Jesus. It is correct to say that he was the Son of God. Mormons can, I believe, make that statement. But that statement, however correct, is insufficient; to be Christian one must go the whole nine yards and insist that Jesus is God, the Son. Not a god, but the absolute and only God, a unique Being. Mormons can't say that.

Heretics were also thrown out of the Church for arguing that God accepted individuals because they tried hard and lived right. In sections of the Bible like Galatians, Christian belief is based on faith in what Jesus did - not the hope that we can be good enough to make God happy. But Mormonism is a religion of good works, not faith.

At the end of the day, Christian leaders will be polite. They'll all shake hands. Some of the more politically oriented will embrace Romney as perhaps being the candidate that can free up the stalemate on abortion or roll back the clock on civil unions and gay marriage. But the laypeople of the Evangelical churches in Tennessee and Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama are going to sit around and try to remember what they were told about Mormon's in Sunday School.

And here's that message, from the pen of Josh McDowell - the poster boy in the minds of Evangelicals for telling true Christian beliefs from heresy and cult theology:
The Mormon doctrine of God is contradictory to what the Bible teaches. The Mormons believe in many gods and teach that God himself was once a man. Moreover, Mormon doctrine teaches that Mormon males have the possibility of attaining godhood.
My point is that you don't have to be either a Mormon or an Evangelical Christian to see how this will end. There's not an endorsement that Romney can get that will make the average Baptist churchgoers in the Midwest or Southeast feel like "Oh, well, he is one of us..." And the discussion coming up on Thursday will only make Romney's target audience more aware of their differences, and make them like Huckabee more...

The bad judgment involved in making religion more of an issue in the campaign may by itself be enough to disqualify Romney from being President in the minds of many.

Friday, November 30, 2007

No Dentist Left Behind

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Cavities: that's what it comes down to, right? Shouldn't dentists be rated (Excellent, Average, & Unsatisfactory) based on cavities in their client? Okay, it's humor...

No Dentist Left Behind is making the email rounds. Again. The story has been around for a number of years - since before No Child Left Behind became law. It was originally meant to ridicule a South Carolina state law designed to "bring accountability" to public schools. The parody, originally titled Absolutely the Best Dentists, was sent to every legislator and newspaper in that state when it was composed by a retired school superintendent.

Think about it. Shouldn't someone be telling us whether dentists are doing a good job or not? Shouldn't we have the right to compare dentists based on the only thing that really matters in dentistry: cavities? And if we're going to a dentist that's only "above average" (and not improving that rating every year), we should have the right to move our business to a practice where the dentist has at least an "outstanding" or "excellent" rating. Dentists who don't manage to prevent cavities should lose their licenses, don't you think...?

Some of the parody's comparisons have teeth (no pun intended). The idea that one day we'll rate all schools based on a single, statewide measure of mastery -- regardless of the different educational levels of individual communities, regardless of the value those individual communities places on education, regardless of the resources available to parents during the preschool years -- seems at least as ludicrous as rating dentists based on the average number of cavities their clients have regardless of whether a dentist's clients have access to fluoride in their water or understand how diet impacts their dental health.

On the other hand, dentists exist largely in private practice while schools are public agencies. And the sense of government intrusion that so offends the dentist in the parody is probably misapplied to in a school system setting because, well, schools (mostly) are government.

Is the parody a fair look at No Child Left Behind? I'll leave that to you, the reader...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Republican Know-Nothings...

I think it is hilarious, the extent to the GOP employs the "fear and loathing" approach to political support. The idea is simple: talk about something the public is afraid of, feed their fear (reasonable or unreasonable), and the offer to fix it. No sincerity is required.

When Tim Kaine ran for Governor of Virginia I would hear radio ads for his opponent, Jerry Kilgore. In my neck of the woods, Kilgore seems to be playing a fiddle with just two strings. On the one string his ads would tell us that we shouldn't vote for Kaine because, why, Kaine was a Catholic and the Pope wouldn't let people be executed in Virginia while Kaine was governor. (Kilgore assumed I'd think this was bad.) The other string played a note about illegal immigrants and how the state could save thousands over dollars by identifying them and being sure they weren't paying in-state tuition at Virginia Tech. I thought, "They got in to Tech? Jezz, leave them alone!"

Kilgore lost, even though he started out as the frontrunner. I'd like to think his racist rhetoric and the manner in which he patronized voters had something to do with that...

Now we are getting the same thing from presidential candidates. Romney and Giuliani want to out do each other with who can be the most hard line on immigration. The irony is that neither of them were hard line on immigration until they began running for president. But they know that fear and loathing plays well with rednecks in rural Idaho and old white ladies in Florida. So they've all become a bunch of know nothings.

The Know Nothings were a political movement in the 1850's. They were scared of what the Irish might do to America. And they played the fear and loathing card to get elected.

There's a good piece in the Boston Globe about Romney and Giuliani and the Know Nothings.

Immigration is a much more complicated issue than the GOP wants you to believe. Don't let fear and loathing determine how you vote...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How Metaphors Make for Oversimplification (and Bad Propaganda)

I got an entertaining email the other day. It was a political story, a metaphor that was intended to give me a new way to think about why Republicans are right in their approach to taxes and money and why Democrats are wrong about those things.

Father/Daughter Talk

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of 'the redistribution of wealth.'

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, 'How is your friend Audrey doing?'

She replied, 'Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus; college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over.'

Her wise father asked his daughter, 'Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.'

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back, 'That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!'
The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, 'Welcome to the Republican party.'
In the box to the right is a copy of an email. It's making the rounds, posted on a few blogs. And there are problems with it...

The story equates academic achievement at college with people's financial place in life. You have the daughter who has a 4.0 GPA because she works hard; and you have Audrey, who is on the verge of flunking out because she "played" instead of working.

If the message was about college I'd have no problem saying that at the college level you should get the grades you earn. I'd have no problem agreeing that you have to work for your grades. I have three degrees and what amounts to about 11 years of college. But the message isn't about college; it's about wealth...

The idea that all wealth is the result of hard work on the part of the wealthy is ludicrous. The majority of truly wealthy people are born wealthy. I remember a quote from the era of the senior president Bush; someone said that George Bush thought he'd hit a triple when in fact he was born on third base. Wealth is largely inherited.

The corollary assumption of this little email tidbit is also flawed. If grades in the story are supposed to make us think of money in real life, we're suppose to draw the conclusion that people are poor because they "play" too much. Poverty comes from being lazy and immoral. But I teach at a school where more than nine out of ten kids qualify, technically, as "poor." And in kindergarten, I don't think it's their fault. I work in a county where 56% of the adults between 18 and 65 don't have jobs. Maybe a few dozen of them could run out and get jobs tomorrow; they haven't because, well, they're lazy and immoral. But there's no way that all of them could find jobs this week, or this year, without leaving the place where generations of their family has lived. And because they don't have jobs, they don't really have the resources to just up and move, anyway.

The truth is that poverty, like wealth, is more or less heredity. Grades in college might have to be earned, but poverty is something you get free from your mom and dad...

There are additional flaws in the story. It talks about redistribution of wealth as though that is an end in itself in the Democratic Party. I'm a pretty active Democrat. And I don't think redistribution of wealth is really the goal any more. I'm not sure it has been for a long while now. I think the goal now is redistribution of opportunity. Heck, it's probably not even a case of redistributing opportunities. We don't want to take anyone's opportunities away, no matter how rich they are; we want to expand the opportunities that are out there and make them more available to people who haven't had opportunities in the past.

There's some misdirection in the story, as well. I have daughters. Sometimes they believe things that are wrong - and think I'm stupid. I know how that feels. This story wants you to think of that feeling (it happens to all parents), and to feel something about Democrats instead of thinking about the arguments.

The email talks about "fairness." I've never heard that term adequately defined. But I pay seven and some odd percent of every penny I make to the payroll tax. Many rich people don't. How is that fair? I'd like to make life fair by having people who make several million dollars a year pay that same seven and some odd percent of their income to payroll tax to help support the social security system. If I pay seven percent or so, why shouldn't they? But Republicans scream and moan and call me a communist when I talk about it.

Since we're talking about fairness, let me ask this question. My wife and I pay 28 percent or so in taxes on our relatively piddly income as educators. My sister and my sister-in-law, both registered nurses, pay about the same I suspect. And yet someone who makes most of their income by trusting a stockbroker to invest their money for them pays a lower rate and calls it capital gains tax. How is that fair? I get up and leave the house at 7am, spend the day trying to figure out new ways to get fourth and fifth graders who live in poverty to actually understand what they read, go home a worry about lesson plans and such, and pay 28% while the guy who writes his stockbroker a check and then goes home to watch TV pays a lowewr rate. I can't see how that's fair. I've heard people argue about how it's somehow "good" for society. But it's still not fair.

I'd like to live in a society where kids don't go hungry, even if their parents as drug addicts. I'd like to live in a society where kids can go to college even if their parents can't read. I'd like to live in a society where military veterans with PTSD don't end up homeless. And (call me a communist) I'd like to live in a society where anyone can afford to see a doctor (and take their kids to the doctor) whether they have a job or not.

So anyway, spliting your grades with someone isn't the same thing as paying your taxes. And it was a Republican named Oliver Wendall Homes who said that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting Cut On (And a Few Other Personal Notes)...

I went under the knife today. Dr. E. Khuri removed a lipoma from the left side of my back. The procedure took about 30 minutes. He used a local anesthetic (I think he said it was Xylocaine) mixed with epinephrine to reduce bleeding. It felt like a mild bee sting, then it got warm, then it went away. I could feel pressure as he worked on me, but no real tactile sensation. I left with five stitches and he showed me how the lipoma floated in water and explained how that meant it was mostly fat (and thus benign).

Cheryl drove me to the appointment and waited in the waiting room for me. I'm supposed to wait until Friday before I stand under a shower and get it wet...

I received word yesterday that I passed the three GACE tests I took in October. My understanding now is that all I have to do is submit the paperwork to be fully certified in Georgia in Early Childhood Education (PreK-5), Middle Grades Math, and Special Education for High School Social Studies. I take the early childhood special education test in January.

Seems like weekends are disappearing. This Saturday I have a workshop with all the Title I and Special Ed people in our county to talk about the intervention components of our new reading series. We're supposed to bring an intervention portfolio on every child that's been in intervention along with the schedule of ever teacher at our school. My guess is that the meeting will be somewhat more pleasant than having a boil lanced, but not as much fun as getting a tooth filled. I plan on leaving at 3pm because the Tennessee Volunteers play for the Southeastern Conference title at 4pm.

The following Saturday, December 8, I get to attend the first of four Saturday workshops on autism - a subject I'm very interested in.

Time to make another pot...

Finally, I bought a new coffee pot today. The old one was a good soldier. It's about two years old now, and at two pots a day I figure it brewed about 1400 pots of coffee. It's slowed in its old age and now takes almost 25 minutes to spit a pot out. And that's unacceptable. So out it goes.

Well, I need to go figure out how to use the new pot...

When it Comes to It, Electability is the REAL Issue for Dems

Reuters is reporting that if the 2008 presidential election were held today and Hilary Clinton was the Democratic nominee, Rudy Giuliani could beat her.

So could Mitt Romney.

And John McCain. And Fred Thompson. And even Mike Huckabee.

I the same poll in July, people were unfamiliar enough with the most of the GOP candidates that Hilary would have won by a small margin. Not as big as the margin that Barack Obama or John Edwards would have won by, but she would have won. But people have had time to think about it.

The campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination has been about influence and money until now. Many Democratic women want a woman to be president. And Hilary is easily the most well connected of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Hillary has led until now. She still leads the other Democratic candidates in polls that ask Democrats who they plan to vote for.

There is a danger for the Democrats, a danger that they could lose sight of the real goal of the nominating process. The goal is not to find out who is most popular with other Democrats. The goal is to nominate a candidate who can become President. The concern has consistently been that Hillary Clinton may not be that person, regardless of her influence and popularity with the party.

The choices are really at the party level:

  • Almost every Democrat wants universal health care administered by the Federal government; almost every Republican believes that it can be left in the hands of private insurance companies and employers.
  • Almost every Democrat wants to get out of Iraq; almost every Republican want to stay in Iraq.
  • Almost every Republican wants to privatize social security and reduce benefits for future generations; almost every Democrat wants to extend the payroll tax so that the wealthiest one or two percent of Americans pay that tax on all (or at least most) of their incomes (like the rest of us) so that we can fund the system as it currently exists in the future.
  • Almost all Democrats are pro-choice; almost all Republicans are pro-life.
  • Almost all Republicans want to take our education system toward government financed private education; almost all Democrats want to strengthen public education and repeal many aspects of the disastrous No Child Left Behind law.
  • Almost all Democrats want to simplify the tax code and make it more progressive; almost all Republicans want to simplify the tax code and make it less progressive (or do away with it and replace it with a federal sales tax).

So take your pick. Do you want a Republican or a Democrat in the White House in 2008. If your answer is that you want a Democrat, that person is probably not Hillary. And if we nominate her, there's a good chance that we will end up with eight more years of George Bush's policies and a President name Mitt or Fred....

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why Teach About Blogs and Blogging?

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Blogging is a literary form. It has become very much a genre in its own right. It’s a growing genre, an influential genre, and it is genre that we need to acquaint students with at an early age.

The word “blog” is a shortened for of the word weblog. The “we” gets amputated from the front of the word. That word formation process is just one example of the new level of creativity that online writing brings to our language.

Blogging has become for literature today something like what keeping a diary was in the 18th and 19th centuries. But not exactly. On the one hand, a blog can be private and personal. On the other hand, it can be designed to promote an opinion, a perspective, or to give advice – to the point of being commercial. It can be closed, accessible only to people you allow to see it. Or it can be very public, easily accessible.

Because blogs have become so numerous and influential, it’s important that students be aware of them and have some understanding of how to evaluate a blog. The skill of discerning fact from opinion is more important now than it has ever been. It’s important that students have some idea of how to find a blog if they want to look at one. Google, for example, has a special search engine that only searches websites it classifies as blogs. And, finally, it is important that students know how to create a blog for themselves if they want to – and that they understand the privacy issues and the liabilities that come with setting themselves up with a blog at a site like MySpace or FaceBook.

I personally think that digital self-expression is a wave of the future that could revive and regenerate the skill of composition in our language. Blogs have a profound impact on literacy in America and we need to be sure our kids are positively impacted by that…

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What is ADHD?

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is among the most controversial and troublesome of educational and child health issues of our day.

Gaining an understanding of ADHD is only made more difficult by the controversy that surrounds it.

The National Institute of Mental Health says this:
  • "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that becomes apparent in some children in the preschool and early school years. It is hard for these children to control their behavior and/or pay attention. It is estimated that between 3 and 5 percent of children have ADHD, or approximately 2 million children in the United States. This means that in a classroom of 25 to 30 children, it is likely that at least one will have ADHD."
Oh, if it was that simple...

Let me list some of the difficulties faced in a discussion of ADHD:
  • The subjectivity of ADHD's symptoms, the difficult nature of diagnosing it.
  • The vested interests that educators are sometimes perceived as having as they contribute to the diagnosis of ADHD.
  • The pliability of the average family doctor when faced with parents who seem to want (or not want) such a diagnosis.
  • The risks and controversies associated with medicines for the disorder.
All of these have made ADHD one of the most troublesome of medical and educational issues.

The problem is simple. Most professionals agree that ADHD exists (which is also to say that there are some in the field who don't agree that the disorder is even real). The main symptoms are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity; but these can all be caused by some other problem and exist to some lesser extent in perfectly normal children. And the symptoms develop over time. A child may exhibit one of the symptoms, that symptom may get worse over a course of months (or years), and then other symptoms may emerge.

To confuse the issue even further, ADHD comes in three different types, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV-TR). There are kids who are predominately hyperactive, kids who are predominately inattentive, and kid who have combined those first two types.

Some absolute standards do exist in the diagnosis of ADHD. First, the child has to have exhibited the symptoms of ADHD before age seven. And those symptoms have to have continued for at least six months. In addition, the behaviors must be bad enough to create "a real handicap" in at least two areas of the child's life. So if the child's only problem is school, it's almost certainly not ADHD. To be ADHD, the symptoms have to create problems in the sandbox at the park or at home, as well. The symptoms have to be "excessive, long-term, and pervasive."

The NIMH's page has much more on diagnosing ADHD.

A number of good resources on ADHD exist online. Among them:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The 2008 President Race - Some Tidbits...

You've all probably heard the joke about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who used to lie awake in bed at night and wonder if there was a dog. But did you know he was running for president? Okay, I don't really know how well Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) sleeps at night. And he's a Unitarian, not an Agnostic. But he is dyslexic.

There's a lot we don't know about this batch of presidential candidates. The information is out there; it just doesn't seem to float to the top very often. Maybe that's because it doesn't really matter much (or matters less tan it used to, at least). Here's another example....

Almost everyone is away that candidate Mitt Romney (R-Mass.)is a Mormon. What rarely gets mentioned is that the wife of candidate Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Jackie Marie Clegg Dodd, is also a Mormon. Dodd's father was a U.S. Senator. In 1970, Dodd, a Catholic, married his father's speech writer, Susan Mooney. They divorced in 1982. Dodd dated for 17 years; his romantic interests included Bianca Jagger (Ex-wife of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger) and Carrie Fisher (who player Princess Leia in Start Wars). The in 1999 he married Clegg.

If you had to guess which presidential candidate was the bass player for a band that had opened for or played with stars like Willie Nelson, REO Speedwagon, Charlie Daniels, Alabama, and Grand Funk Railroad, who would you pick? Would it confuse you more if I told you the candidate was a Republican? Mike Huckabee is the answer. The former Arkansas governor is a blues and rock band leader as well as an ordained Southern Baptist minister (he went to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas).

There are 17 declared candidate in the two major parties. Where did your favorite go to college?

Hillary (D-NY) went to an all-girls school, Wellesley College, before doing her law degree at Yale (ironically, the alma mater of our current president). On the other hand, Romney, Obama (D-Ill.), and GOP hopeful Alan Keyes all get their last degree at Harvard. So will the fact that Harvard beat Yale this year make a difference in the campaign?

Here's a list:

  • Joe Biden when to the University of Delaware and did his law degree at Syracuse University.
  • Chris Dodd went to Providence College before doing his law degree at the University of Louisville.
  • John Edwards (D-NC) started at Clemson, graduate from North Carolina State, and did his law degree at the University of North Carolina.
  • Rudi Giuliani (R-NY) went to Manhattan College and on to New York University School of Law.
  • Mike Gravel went to Columbia University.
  • Mike Huckabee did his undergraduate work at Ouachita Baptist University.
  • Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) got his BA and his law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
  • Alan Keyes did his undergraduate work at Cornell.
  • Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) went to Case Western Reserve University.
  • John McCain (R-AZ) went to the Naval Academy.
  • Ron Paul (R-Texas) went to Gettysburg College before getting his medical degree from Duke.
  • Romney attended Stanford, but ended up doing his undergraduate work at Brigham Young.
  • Obama finished up his undergraduate work at Columbia University before going on to Harvard.
  • Bill Richardson (D-NM) went to Tufts University.
  • Tom Tancredo (R-CO) went to the University of Northern Colorado.
  • Fred Thompson (R-TN) got his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis and did his law degree at Vanderbilt.
That's eleven lawyers, one doctor, two soldier, one minister, one Peace Corp volunteer, one real live knight, one actor, and one real estate agent.

Other tidbits worth mentioning:

Ron Paul is a Republican, but he is also a member of the Libertarian Party. Bill Richardson was a French major in college. Mitt Romney's father ran for president in 1968. Duncan Hunter won a Bronze Star in Nam as an Army Ranger and went to college on the GI Bill. Rudi Giuliani was knighted by Quenn Elizabeth. And Fred Thompson was the GOP mole in the Watergate Hearings.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Getting Up and Going Back...

I like my job. I like teaching. I like the people I work with at the moment - my boss, the other teachers, all of them. I like the kids. Every teacher has had a child or two come through their room that they thought, "life sure would be easier if that kid would move..." But I don't have one of those this year.

After a three day weekend it's still hard to get up in the morning. And it's not even morning yet, but I know I don't want to get up tomorrow

Part of it is sleep cycles. I came home Friday with the intention of watching Numbers at 10pm. At 8pm I laid down on a bed in our guestroom and slept for 11 and a half hours instead. Saturday I took a nap. Sunday I took a nap. Monday I took a nap. And here I am wide awake at 10:30 at night, blogging...

Part of it is health. Cheryl and I have had our first winter colds. I'm back to 85% I guess. Cheryl's closer to 60% healthy.

I used the weekend to write: 10 blog posts on three blogs and three articles for Suite 101. I also used the weekend to cook: a corned beef brisket that I plan to take for lunch, a backlog of bacon for breakfasts this week, some breakfast sausage patties, a meatloaf to freeze.

The clothes are irons, the coffee's made, the lunches for tomorrow are ready, the dog's been out, and no one I care about is playing on Monday Night Football. So I guess I'll go to bed. And then I'll get up in the morning and go to work anyway...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Google's Veterans Day Logo

I pointed out last month that Conservatives had decided to tag Google as unpatriotic because of its habit of tinkering with it's logo to celebrat holidays tended not to focus on America holidays. Google has produce logos, for example, about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Birthday (May 22, 2006); the Persian New Year on March 21, 2006 (that can't be very patriotic, can it?); Chinese New Year when the year of the Dog came in on January 29, 2006; Mozart's Birthday; Earth Day in 2004; Michelangelo Birthday; Picasso's Birthday; Canada Day; Bastille Day (Viva la France); and even the Japanese festival of Shichi-go-san.

In retrospect, one of the things that made the discussion so ludicrous is that Google has had a new logo for the Fourth of July in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.

You can find a larger list of Google logos here.

Whether they've simply caved in to political pressure or have some other reason for the first ever Veterans Day logo, we'll probably never know....

(Note: For whatever reason, the Veterans Day logo at Google has been replaced with their standard logo. I've left the link up to see if it reappears. And they did in fact run one. It had three World War I-era helmets capping the letters 'o' and 'e' in Google's name. You can see a copy of it at the moment here.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The President, Big Business, and the Price of Gas

I wrote recently in another place about how the President really is to blame for the price of oil to some extent. How can I say that? In case you don't want to read the long version, I'll sum it up here:

  • Petroleum is sold in U.S. Dollars. When a Russian business buys oil from a Nigerian exporter, the deal is priced in U.S. Dollars. When Australians buy oil from Indonesia, the deal is prices in U.S. Dollars. OPEC sells oil in U.S. dollars.
  • The U.S. Dollar has weakened considerably against other currencies in the past few years. The euro, British pound, and Canadian dollar, for example all cost more now than they did a few years ago. The U.S. dollar is worth less than it used to be.
  • Oil is more expensive in America because OPEC wants to keep getting the same amount of euros and pounds for a barrel of oil that it did last year and the year before. The only way they can do that is charge more for it, in U.S. Dollars.
  • The reason the U.S. Dollar is weak is that President Bush has made policy decisions that make it weak.

You don't believe me...

There are a couple of things to consider. Let me start by saying that I understand that being President probably isn't easy. There are hard decisions. I'll accept that.

meFour and a half years ago President Bush decided to invade Iraq. I don't mind saying that I think he misled Congress to get their consent to go to war - and that that was probably a crime. The projections at the time were rosy: it would be over in six months and we'd be welcomed as liberators. Iraqis would be so happy with us that they would pay for the invasion with their own oil. Fifty some odd months later those projects seem laughable. Iraqi oil hasn't help the U.S. pay off this fiasco. And President Bush has paid for the war instead by selling huge amounts of Treasury bills to other countries; he's borrowed money to fight a war while cutting taxes and increasing spending at home. Ronald Reagan's deficit meets Lyndon Johnson's unpopular war...

One result of that borrowing has been a weaker dollar.

How could it have been different? Most countries, when they go to war, institute an austerity program of some sort and raise taxes. If back in March of 2004 (a year into this war and at a time when the October 2003 budget was being formed) President Bush had suggested an austerity program to Congress and led it by making cuts to his own programs, would he still be President? That was an election year. If President Bush had repealed part of his tax cuts to pay for the war, would he still be President? I suspect the answer to both questions is "no." But political self-preservation is not an honorable motive for public policy decisions.

While the relationship between the price oil and the strength of the Dollar has received a lot of attention in the press, there is another effect that a weaker Dollar has - one that isn't getting quite as much press. A weaker Dollar is good for export industries in America and bad for imports. Boeing jets are cheaper in France now, and they French may buy more of them. BMW's are more expensive in the U.S. now, and many Americans may decide to buy a Lincoln or a Cadillac, instead.

A weak dollar is good for America's big businesses. And in it not inconceivable that the Bush administrations Dollar policy has been designed to help big business.

Remember that when the price of gas goes to $5 a gallon at the pump - probably just before the 2008 election...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Out, damn'd Spot! out, I say!

Okay, I capitalized the "s" in "spot." The original quote is from Shakespeare's Macbeth...

Robert "Spot" Steele lost his bid to keep his school board seat in Tazewell County's Northern District today by a vote of 615 to 483. He carried two of the 11 precincts in the district.

Spot wanted to be on our Board of Supervisors (which most states call the "County Commission"). He tried to gain the Democratic nomination for supervisor through the caucus process, but didn't seem to understand the rules very well. He showed up at the caucus and stood at the front entrance to the facility to shake hands and campaign - closer than election law allows to the entrance. He passed out flyers saying that a non-profit organization he helps run would provide groceries for anyone who came to vote. And questions remain about the voter registration drive his campaign for supervisor ran.

Spot is under investigation by a special prosecutor for violating Virginia election laws and, I believe, by the IRS for actions that could cost his non-profit its tax exempt status.

Spot's eight years as a school board member was an embarrassing time for the district. Hopefully the new board member, David R. Woodard, will do better.

Congratulations Mr. Woodard.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fun day tomorrow....

The monitoring team comes tomorrow. They're supposed to arrive at 9am and be gone by noon or so. The rumor is that they will be looking at how well we've implemented the response to intervention approach and the three tier model. But since one of the three team members is director of compliance and monitoring for special education for the state's department of education, they may look at other issues.

We're not being singled out. Every school in the county is getting a visit. Just the same, everyone at our school is a little stressed out...

Being sick doesn't help. I'm on day six of a run of antibiotics and I think I've almost defeated whatever evil microbe took up residence in my lungs and sinuses. One or two other teachers are quite that lucky yet.

I've spent part of the night studying questions the team might ask and answers I'm suppose to give. Most are either technical answers involve data any reasonable person would have to look up or fairly obvious, simple questions any teacher ought to know the answer to (for their school).

The weather will make tomorrow just a little more trying. It seems like just three weeks ago we were all wondering if summer would ever end. Now the third cold wave in a row is coming through and temperatures have dropped enough that we may see a little snow. Snow or no snow, we will likely see a day of clouds and moisture. We need the rain, so I shouldn't complain.

My twice-per-year dental appointment was today. I left an hour early from work and got my teeth cleaned. No cavities; and Dr. Francisco says my gums and teeth are nice and healthy. I killed two birds with one stone by getting my flu shot on the way to the dentist.

I should go to bed early. My second favorite pro football team, the Steelers, is on tonight. Perhaps I'll have a shot first and watch a few minutes of the game. I’ll have to try and remember tomorrow that if I feel stressed I should try and think about how happy Heinz Ward always looks…

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

Among the less talked about disabilities encountered in education today is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. The fact that it is not a topic of conversation doesn't mean that it is uncommon.

Outside a medical setting the technical definitions often get blurred in conversation and literature, but it is important to make a few distinctions. FASD is a broad term that covers almost any physical, behavioral, or educational problem that is thought to be the result of exposure to alcohol in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, on the other hand, is a more specific and profound term. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) must include: at least three facial abnormalities; growth deficits for both height and weight; and central nervous system abnormalities. Some other terms (and acronyms) get used occasionally, as well:

  • Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND)
  • Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD)
  • Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)

Since FASD is the broadest of the terms and covers basically anyone who suffers from a problem related to prenatal alcohol exposure, I'll use that term. But readers should be aware that the term FAS and FASD are used almost interchangeable much of the time.

FAS is a tragic problem in light of its preventable nature. A group called Better Endings New Beginnings has some relatively up to date U.S. statistics on FASD available. About four million babies are born in the U.S. each year. About one out of a hundred (40,000) have FASD. Of these, about one in five could be medically diagnosed as having FAS. That's 8,000 babies born each year with FAS. That means that about 100,000 children with FASD between the ages of five and 18 are in school are in school today.

Learners with FASD tend to have one or more of the following obstacles to effective learning:

  • They are easily distracted
  • They are easily frustrated
  • The lack some motor skills
  • They have a poor attention span
  • They lack of organizational skills
  • They have difficulty with concrete thinking skills
  • They do not related well with their peers

The National Organization for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, NOFAS, has some excellent suggestions available online for instructional strategies to use when working with FASD students. They range from simple ideas like preferential seating to assisting with social behaviors and modifying curriculum.

There is also an excellent listserv for FASD available at It is archived at the address above and there are instructions as to how to subscribe to it there. The archive is searchable - making it a valuable Internet resource on the subject since the listserv is now ten years old. And the listserv has the advantage of being active and somewhat international. And because of the long history of the listserv it has a feel of community. People share personal information and views that, while sometimes creating discussion threads that are off topic (and heated), result in a very useful Internet experience for people who want to follow FASD issues and events.