Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some thoughts on politics and the economy

“This is an impressive crowd -- the haves and the have mores. Some people call you the elite -- I call you my base.” -- George W. Bush

"When it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans are united across the political spectrum, supporting a message that says, “In times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it.” Drew Westen, NYTimes August 7, 2011

"400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. ...the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically." "...we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates." "... only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation." "it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate." Drew Westen, NYTimes August 7, 2011

A corporation is a business entity that has many of the legal rights as an actual person. But when it comes to corporations, profit is private and individual. Loss is public and social.

WASHINGTON, Sept 27 2007(Reuters) -
"With the U.S. government fast approaching its current $8.965 trillion credit limit, the Senate on Thursday gave final congressional approval of an $850 billion increase in U.S. borrowing authority. The Senate voted 53-42 to raise the debt ceiling to $9.815 trillion, the fifth increase in the U.S. credit limit since President George W. Bush took office in January 2001."
Judiciary Report Sept 27. 2007

"And while Reagan somewhat slowed the marginal rate of growth in the budget, it continued to increase during his time in office. So did the debt, skyrocketing from $700 billion to $3 trillion. Then there's the fact that after first pushing to cut Social Security benefits - and being stymied by Congress - Reagan in 1983 agreed to a $165 billion bailout of the program. He also massively expanded the Pentagon budget." Brian Montopoli Feb 4, 2011

"...Reagan actually ended up raising taxes - eleven times. That's according to former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, a longtime Reagan friend who co-chaired President Obama's fiscal commission that last year offered a deficit reduction proposal. Brian Montopoli Feb 4, 2011

"Reagan also raised the gas tax and signed the largest corporate tax increase in history, an act Joshua Green writes would be 'utterly unimaginable for any conservative to support today.'" Brian Montopoli Feb 4, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Teacher Incentives? Not Cash!

Gotham Schools reports that New York City’s $75 million teacher merit pay experiment quietly bit the dust as the Bloomberg administration sheepishly backed away from the program last year after independent researchers deemed the experiment a failure.

The 2007 merit-pay deal, blessed by both Mayor Bloomberg and former UFT President Randi Weingarten, went public without much debate or kick-back from the union membership. The experiment affected only 200 low-performing schools and limited bonuses to a maximum of $3,000 per teacher if a school met its goals. Weingarten lauded the agreement since it allowed union members to decide how bonuses were distributed in their schools and the program also gave them an opportunity to make more money.

As noted by researcher Roland B. Fryer writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research, there was “no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation,” nor did he find “any evidence that the incentives change student or teacher behavior.”

“If anything,” Fryer said, “student achievement declined,” on state math and English tests and had little if any effect on student attendance, behavior or graduation rates.

In other words, Mr. Obama, if you are interested in school improvement, rethink your Teacher Incentive Fund initiative because unlike most professions in the private sector, financial incentives are not why individuals choose careers as teachers or public safety workers. No one became a cop to get rich or a teacher to earn Wall Street style bonuses.

Friday, March 11, 2011

‘Seising’ up earthquake education

(A version of this article appeared in the New York Teacher on February 18, 2010)

Seismic events have been part of earth’s existence since it became a planet and, with an average of 50 earthquakes a day around the world and the recent devastation in Japan, maybe it is time for teachers to make a concerted effort to spark student interest in our planet’s most powerful forces.

Packed with resources that can help bring that subject to life, the Internet provides maps, statistics, charts, videos and lesson plans that can help teachers make earthquake education a reality.

The two greatest earthquakes recorded and measured were a 9.5 magnitude in 1960 in Chile and a 9.2 in 1964 in Alaska. The recent catastrophic 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, the fifth highest since scientific earthquake measurement began.

Facts like these are contained on the Web site of the United States Geologic Survey, the federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide.

The site contains many historical records and statistics of earthquakes in the United States. There are several galleries of photos depicting the aftermath of recent earthquake events and a historical collection of images going back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Click on the Learn tab across the top banner and look at a catalog of earthquake topics, FAQs, earthquake glossary, educational resources for teachers and fun ideas and activities for students like science fair projects and online games. Another feature is “Today in Earthquake History,” where you can find out if a major earthquake occurred on a specific date.

If you go to your favorite search engine and type in “earthquake lesson plans,” you will get thousands of returns appropriate for your grade level. Here are a few sites that I found using Google.

At geology.com you can find a list of earthquake lesson plans, classroom activities, projects and demonstrations that can be adapted for all students. Simply enter “earthquake” in the search box. The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology has a lesson here called “Musical Plates” that is a real-time data-collection project where students view the occurrence of earthquakes around the world to draw conclusions about continental drift.

On Teacher Planet (www.teacherplanet.com) from Drexel University, there is an earthquake resource page which includes lesson plans and worksheets with activities. You can find clip art, study units and a slew of other resources. There are puzzles that ask you to fit continents together and match terms about plate tectonics.

Founded in 1984 with support from the National Science Foundation, (IRIS) is a consortium of more than 100 U.S. universities dedicated to the acquisition, management and distribution of seismological data. If you want to see the printable seismographic records of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, you will find everything you want right here.

A PowerPoint presentation shows images from before and after the quake hit and explains the process leading up to the tsunami and all the destruction that occurred. If you click on Lessons and Resources on the left side menu, you will be presented with a table of lessons and activities that are suitable for 5th- to 12th-grade students.

When you are on the home page, you should click on Educators to find resources for all levels of students. These include animation, educational software and posters. Full-size posters to hang in your classroom are available.

Natural events of the magnitude of those that occurred in Japan and Haiti last year force us to pause and look at our planet a little more closely. The answers to questions of why and how these geologic events can affect our lives become the basis for understanding our place on the third rock from the sun.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Greatest Show on Earth--Earth

Americans strongly support providing environmental education in schools and the National Environmental Education Foundation has taken up the challenge by building environmental education resource guides for teachers at classroomearth.org and eeweek.org. These sites were designed to strengthen environmental education across the curriculum and provide lesson plans, multimedia and other resources to help teachers prepare students to meet the environmental challenges that face the global community.

NEEF was chartered by Congress in 1990 to advance environmental knowledge and action, as well as to activate environmentally responsible behavior in the general public. Classroom Earth was established to promote environmental literacy for school children. Major funding for the Classroom Earth site was provided by the Weather Channel and it was developed by harnessing the expertise of committed educators to help define the scope and content of the resources.

The site is geared to secondary educators and offers interdisciplinary classroom resources that are not limited to the science or social studies classroom. If the site is used in conjunction with the resources on NEEF’s National Environmental Education Week initiative then you can span the K-12 curricula in almost every subject area.

The well-organized home page classroomearth.org features glimpses at newsworthy items, but easily leads you to resources, grants, professional development and testimonials from teachers.Check the resource tab near the top of the page.If you are looking for something more specific you can also search by keyword.

While it has been traditional to teach about the environment in the science classroom, the search tool also points to lesson resources in foreign language, language arts, mathematics, social studies and the arts.

The foreign language resource is limited to one Spanish language Web site — somosamigosdelatierra.org — but it is a destination rich with vocabulary, cartoons, music and a host of activities that emphasize the global nature of environmental issues. You’ll find articles concerning the Area de Libre Comercio de las Américas and other Spanish-language information about ecology.

The language arts resources contain lesson plans and activities like analyzing and reporting on the impact of epidemics on world population and creating a brochure on alternative energy resources like photovoltaic cells. The lesson plans are excellent examples of an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies.

In mathematics we find very sophisticated lessons like “Meadows or Malls: Using Matrices to Make Decisions,” and others that are less complicated like analyzing tree rings where students become dendrochronologists. The math lesson plans also include energy audits and exercises that help explain how to determine population through random sampling.

If you teach younger children, don’t be daunted by the sophistication of the secondary level lessons on Classroom Earth. NEEF also created a site to meet the educational needs of younger children as part of its effort to promote National Environmental Education Week.

This year’s Environmental Education Week theme is “Ocean Connections,” and will feature resources about our dependence upon the ocean. There are grade-appropriate lessons for teachers across the K-12 spectrum including lessons about Gulf oil spill.

At a time when schools are strapped for cash, you will be interested to know that many organizations offer grants to promote environmental education. For instance, the Captain Planet Foundation offers grants ranging from $250 to $2,500 for school projects that promote understanding of environmental issues. Many other grant opportunities are listed under Funding Resources on the EEWeek site, or by clicking on the Grant tab near the top of the page of the Classroom Earth site.

NEEF has done a good job in aggregating these resources and has made a lot of progress in promoting our national environmental literacy. By using these sites, you may learn as much as your students.

Online template resources can reduce teachers' paperwork burden

Creating individual forms for every task can be tedious and require specialized software or knowledge. That’s why seamstresses, woodworkers, lawyers, accountants and teachers all use templates to help simplify routine tasks.

Templates¬—predesigned layouts or patterns that help reproduce the original item—can help you work more efficiently and accurately. Educators use standard forms all the time and those templates are usually supplied by the school or the school system. But what about those individual templates you use with students? Certificates immediately come to mind. But what about short answer quizzes, class calendars, graphic organizers or bulletin board postings?
Fortunately, there’s a treasure trove of templates that you can find online.

If you use Microsoft products there is an extensive library of free templates at your disposal. Once there you can view the templates for teachers that include formatted quizzes and tests and classroom management templates like a “testing in progress” sign for your door, seating charts, trip permission forms, certificate of excellence or student of the month awards, and even a substitute feedback form. Some templates require that you have other programs that are part of the MS Office Suite® like Excel® and PowerPoint® but most of them can be used with Word®.

If you would like to expand the menu of items designed specifically for teachers, then go to Education World® to see a list of tools and templates that include all the standard items like awards, and calendars, but also include teacher friendly items like graphic organizers, flyers and posters, icebreakers, and goal setting contracts.

The graphic organizers include two and three circle Venn diagrams, KWHL and KWL charts, and a research notes chart. In addition, there are worksheets that have holiday themes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Halloween. There are also fiction and non-fiction book report forms and culturally sensitive reward coupons for students. There is even a personalized license plate form that allows students to create their own vanity plate and can be used as an icebreaker at the beginning of the school year.

If you use MS PowerPoint for classroom presentations, then you’ll be thrilled to find Brainy Betty’s catalog of PowerPoint templates. This is a rich resource that can help you create some nifty backgrounds that will jazz up any presentation. There are even video and audio clips that you can download to enhance your presentations, as well as, flash programs that can animate even the driest subject.

Also, don’t neglect the obvious. The NYC Department of Education includes templates for schools, administrators and teachers on its Web site. Take a look at the templates regarding the discipline code and behavioral contracts, for example. As with most templates on the DOE’s site, they are available in several languages. The DOE’s site http://schools.nyc.gov is very extensive, so try to narrow the search by using phrases like mathematics, language arts, and social studies templates, but place the phrase between quotation marks.

If you can’t find what you want online, then create your own templates. Every word processing program includes template files that you can customize. In MicroSoft Word® you can use a template wizard to customize your template. Just click on “file,” then click on “new,” and then on “general templates” and you will see many commonly used templates. Customize the template and then save the file as your personal template that you can use again without reformatting the document.

A teacher’s time is a terrible thing to waste. For teachers, it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel. That’s why templates are important. These online resources can help make your life easier.