Thursday, September 11, 2014


Friday Fragments

What hath testing wrought?  TW and I attended parents’ night at The Girl’s school on Wednesday.  She’s in the fifth grade this year, which means she’s in a new school.  TB went through that school a few years ago, so we sort of know the drill, but the principal changed since then.  We went, because that’s what we do.

We heard plenty of talk about extra help for math, extra help for reading, discipline, homework, the online system (“edline”) that parents can use to keep up with their kids’ grades, what to have the kids wear for phys ed, the ubiquity of peanut allergies, and even the replacement of carpeting with tile.  What we didn’t hear a single word about, until TW specifically asked, was enrichment.  It was, literally, an afterthought.

What gets measured gets valued.  Schools aren’t judged on their high-achieving students; they’re judged on how many clear the bar of adequacy.  The kids who are likely to succeed are largely left to their own devices.  

I don’t begrudge extra help to the kids who need it.  I’d just like some recognition that high-achieving kids have valid needs, too.


Generation X parenthood in one evening: family dinner, two-hour First Tech Challenge meeting, write blog post, DVR the Replacements on Fallon.


By popular demand, the following is TW’s account of the successful conclusion of the Search for Sally:

After spending all weekend in Granby, CT hanging posters/flyers and talking to people, I woke up Monday morning expecting to do more of the same. Then we got an early call that Sally had been seen on Charles Johnson Rd in Southwick, so my plans for the day were turned upside down. Off to Southwick I went, but I had done this wild chase so many times before in the last 2 weeks that I knew not to get my hopes up. By the time I got there, she would be long gone. Still, it was a beautiful day and I told myself to just be peaceful and accept whatever happened.

I met Luann B. on CJ Rd and she had talked to a neighbor who spotted Sally later in the morning on that same street. Luann had set up the trap (cage) in the yard of a vacant house at the end of the road. We were working on the advice of Nicole Asher from Buddha Dog Rescue & Recovery. Luann took off to get 2 rotisserie chickens for the trap, and Nicole told me to just sit and be peaceful and maybe Sally would catch my scent.

It turns out that down the street lived a pet rescuer and she miraculously had bacon (bacon is not a staple in our house, so I'm always surprised when someone has it in theirs). She cooked a pound and we threw pieces on the ground and into the trap with the chicken. I hope I never have use my bare fingers to dig and tear through a hot rotisserie chicken ever again.

Nicole arrived and we split up to hang posters/flyers. Nicole and I returned to the trap mid-afternoon. No Sally. We decided to clear the area and park at the end of the street. No sooner had I left, then Nicole called and whispered that Sally was near the trap at that moment. I couldn't believe it! As Nicole was climbing into her car, Sally had come trotting out from the tree line towards her. As soon as she smelled the bacon and chicken, her nose went to the ground like a magnet.

Nicole gave me a whispered play-by-play, "She's near the trap...she's stretching into the trap...she's halfway in....halfway in....she's all the way in.....$%^&!"

The triggering mechanism did not work. Sally walked out of the trap.

A few minutes later, she walked back into the trap. The mechanism STILL did not trigger the door! Sally was busy eating the chicken at the back of the cage. Nicole quietly came up from behind and just as she was going to bring her arm down hard on the door to close it, the trigger sprung and the door slammed shut. Nicole called me and told me to come up and get my dog. Tears of joy!!!

Sally was VERY excited to see me! She yipped and barked and wagged her tail. We loaded the cage into my car and took off for the vets'.

Sally lost 5 lbs during the whole ordeal (hey, I did, too, but nobody's making as big a deal over it!). She was so exhausted Monday night and Tuesday, but she is much more herself today. I do feel bad over how skinny she is, and I can tell her muscles are sore because she has a little trouble standing. But she is a survivor and will bounce back quickly.

Was it my decision to peacefully accept whatever the day brought? Was it the fact that a pet rescuer lives on the street and had bacon? Was it a sign when the UPS truck came up the quiet street as I was sitting alone, peacefully, in the sun (Sally HATES the UPS truck and I half-expected to see her chasing it)? Was it a sign that I had told someone earlier, "it's a beautiful day to catch that damn dog"? Did all these things - and more - work together to bring Sally back to us on this particular day? I don't know, but I like to think so.


And I love the "who's a good dog" look on her face.
I remember a post awhile ago about how TB had acquired "the blogger gene". I hadn't realized that he was getting it from both sides of the family.

Nicely written, TW! Congratulations once again on getting Sally home.
So happy to have a happy ending.

And, I will mention something that you said town just did away with advanced math for sixth graders. I talked with a few administrators, and was basically told that having advanced math hadn't really improved those kids' MCAS test scores, so they were going to just randomly assign kids to classes because the kids who do well could model good habits for the others.

Without stepping onto my own personal soapbox about all of this, I'll just mention that like you, I'm not against the extra help. However, I'm so tired of the pervasive thinking that the high achieving kids will be 'fine' because they can figure it out on their own. In a day and age where we seem to be struggling to compete globally, this really makes me shake my head. We are doing our own math enrichment at a separate school whose focus is math.
If you choose to go the "afterschooling" route for math enrichment, check out Art of Problem Solving.
The absence of enrichment/acceleration/teaching in the zone of proximal development for academically capable kids is a main reason driving the desperate attempts of parents to find housing in wealthier school districts. Or slots in magnet schools. They figure that in those districts at least the median kid will be at grade level and the teaching will be calibrated to a slightly more advanced level.
I'd like to know how you'd extend your first fragment to community colleges. I've been trying to revive a moribund community college honors program for the past year, and I'm frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm other folks show for high-achieving students.
" I’d just like some recognition that high-achieving kids have valid needs, too."

Please put that in bold face, and maybe all caps.

Our school system has an outstanding special ed program. So outstanding that it attracted many additional special ed students, families moving into town for it. The extra expense crowded out the good program we had for talented and gifted children, unfortunately, which was abandoned. The most talented and most gifted ended up going to private high schools. No one speaks for them, even though enriching their education pays enormous dividends.

BTW, try some bacon. It's good for you.
You need something like this:

Nerdy parents unite and provide enrichment for their own kids - this is a great environment because your kids are around other bright kids and have true peers - you go from freakish nerd amongst "normal kids" to nerd amongst nerds. It's a wonderful transition.
"Schools aren’t judged on their high-achieving students; they’re judged on how many clear the bar of adequacy. The kids who are likely to succeed are largely left to their own devices.:

Maybe we need to split the difference between my el-ed years (late 1950s) and now. Back then, the "gifted" students got lots of additional attention, while the students with difficulties of almost any sort were left to their own devices.

I suppose if there's only one way to do things, I'd opt for more help for those most in need.

And--we're thrilled that you recovered Sally.
What gets measured gets valued.

I think you're wrong here. My school board measures a lot of things it doesn't value, and values a lot of things it doesn't measure. At least if by "value" we mean " rewards people administering those programs.

Case in point: gifted students. No more expensive to educate than regular students: same size classes, teacher salaries the same(1). Ample indications of student success: nearly 100% graduation rate(2), lots of awards, scholarships, winning academic contests, etc. Yet the gifted program is under budget threat every year. School principals with a good gifted program are given no credit for it; instead, they are castigated because in the rest of the school numeracy scores dropped by 0.2% (3), which is statistically insignificant.

I think it more accurate to say that what gets rewarded gets valued. If administrators are rewarded for good test scores (and punished for bad ones) then they will act to raise test scores. Ditto teachers, of course.

(1) Up here, teachers pay for their own specialized training, and don't get paid extra for extra qualifications.

(2) Far higher than that for students identified as gifted who are regular program, who drop out at a greater rate than non-gifted students.

(3) The statistical numeracy of the people who interpret test scores seems to be nil, from what I can tell. I vividly remember talking to an administrator who couldn't understand that when you only had two students in a category, and one had failed for understandable reason, your failure rate would be 50%. How can someone get a PhD (even if it's in Education) and not be able to understand that???
The point of NCLB was to destroy public schools as a vehicle for class mobility, so . . . it's working?

"Enrichment" (why do I hate that word?) is not just necessary for students who have been labeled "gifted." It is a necessary part of all schooling for all children.
But that's the point -- even the students we all agree would be absolutely best served by that set of ideas have been left behind.

Schools Are Prisons.

OT: I'm so happy that Sally is back! Enjoy the intact family. Has she bounced back from her adventure yet?
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