Nov 13

Teacher Magazine: Small Schools, Diverse Schools

Ronald Wolk has an article in this month’s Teacher Magazine (free registration required) entitled Our Best Hope about how in cities like and including New York have small innovative schools movements — and how this movement is both promising in and of itself, but also threatened by the political educational climate these days. As Wolk writes:

To survive, these schools could be forced to abandon or compromise the very philosophy and practices that make them successful. The Beacon School in Manhattan, for example, has led the nation in the use of student portfolios for learning and assessment. But in the name of uniformity, Commissioner of Education Richard Mills decided two years ago to cancel the exemption from the Regents exams that his predecessor gave Beacon. Now that its students are compelled to take the Regents, Beacon has been forced to modify its curriculum and cut back its portfolio program.

As an old colleague used to say, "If you want exceptional schools, you have to make exceptions."

I think that the "Standards Movement" is on its last legs, but all of the smaller, innovative schools that I know of are trying to come up with strategies to survive until then. To me, that mindset — necessary as it is — is a tough one to live in. It’s hard to think about innovation when you are always battling to keep what you’ve already built.

And with all the problems facing us in education, you’d think our political leaders would support the small schools that work, rather than trying to get us in-line with policies that do not work in our schools.

Nov 12

Three Years Ago…

… I was in Lynchburg, Virginia on a beautiful fall evening, complete with a full moon and deer frolicking, getting married to Kat Stein. Our wedding day was an amazing, idyllic day, complete with twinkly lights… but it really was just a starting point. As wonderful as the wedding was, the marriage — more real, more filled with highs and lows — is even better.

Thank you, Kat. I love you.

Nov 10

Open Source Music Lessons

This link comes from Prof. Lawrence Lessig, and it’s just really quite cool. Berklee College of Music has created Berklee Shares, a free music lesson site with lessons for eight instruments and four topics, such as production and technology, improvisation, and more. Looks like some of the lessons, if not most, are by Berklee professors, and I can imagine that this site could become a widely tapped resource for high schools with decidedly limited music budgets. I’m planning on showing it to Brian Letiecq at Beacon ASAP, as I could imagine him using this with his music program extensively.

Why should Berklee do this? Several reasons, I can imagine… one, it only increases Berklee’s visibility as it recruits students. Two, many of the lessons are then linked to DVDs that Berklee Press sells, so it will, I am sure, drive their publishing division, which is cool, and three, maybe they actually want to see more people become musicians than they know can come to their school, and this is a way to achieve that goal. Is that naive? Maybe… but the other piece is that, with luck, that’s going to happen if they intended it or not. Me, I’m hoping they did.

Nov 09

This is for Jessie…

This one is for Jessie, who sent me the link. She’s a vegan, but this link, I think, is more for meat-eaters than vegans. I read Fast Food Nation this summer, and it confirmed much of what I was leaning toward believing, that the Agri-Business industry is downright bad for our nation and our planet. I have tried to buy much more free-range, small-business meat since then. I’m not going to become a vegetarian (sorry, Jess), but I think that all of us who do eat meat have to give up the easy illusions of where our shrink-wrapped dinner comes from and ask these companies to become more responsible in the way they do business.

So now… ask yourself… What is the Meatrix?

Nov 09

I Love Coaching

… not that that was ever in doubt, but I mean, I really, really love coaching.

Beacon Ultimate won the Scarsdale Fall Invitational today, closing our fall season with a record of 13-1, including two huge tournament wins. Today, everyone played well. We brought 18 kids to the tourney, and in three of our four games, everyone played… and everyone played well.

My kids have heard me say this all the time, great plays are a lot of fun, but playing great will win more often. Today, they played great. There were a lot of really spectacular plays, but what was so amazing was the little plays… how many times our man-to-man defense shut down an opposing team… the times we scored when no pass was longer than fifteen yards and no stall count went higher than three… the times veterans worked with newer players on and off the field to make sure they knew what to do… the ten girls from the Beacon girls team that came to cheer us on and all the parents who did the same despite 40 degree weather… the list goes on and on.

This group of boys is a team. They play beautifully, they work hard, and as long as they keep working hard, this is a team that should have a chance to challenge for a national title.

What unbelievable fun.

Nov 06

Above the Fold

Here are the headlines that appear above the fold in today’s New York Times:

"Lawyers at E.P.A. Say It Will Drop Pollution Cases: Looser Rules Will Apply"

"Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War: Wary C.I.A. Rebuffed Back-Channel Proposal"

"43,000 Alerted for Duty In Iraq"

" Bush Signs Ban on a Procedure for Abortions"

"For G.O.P., It’s a Moment: Abortion Opponents’ Strategy Is to Turn Tide of Opinion on Roe v. Wade, a Ripple at a Time."

Nov 04

Blogging for Teachers?

Tom Hoffman writes:

As teachers and principals, we can keep blogs, but we can’t blog about many of the most important parts of our work. We can’t blog about students for obvious reasons. You notice that Chris can’t keep the kids out of his blog entirely, but wisely only refers directly only to graduates and sports teams. Like anyone working in a regular job, we can’t blog about our bosses or coworkers. Classroom teachers can’t publically admit in real time their fears and failures without having it thrown back in their face sooner or later by a parent, administrator or student.

And he’s right. I am still struggling with writing about students. Clearly, some of the most important stuff I deal with all day long isn’t reported on this blog. There are, I’d think, a fair number of the sort of rumination posts where someone could guess some of what is going on in school for me, but, yeah, it’s hard to use a blog as a full release for school stuff because there’s just so much you can’t write about.

The question for me always is, can we write about enough of our thoughts on schools to make blogging a useful and important tool for both ourselves and others in education. Is there enough we can share that blogging really is good for thinking about schools? (And granted, much of what I blog has nothing to do with Beacon in specific or schools in general, but hey, we’ve all got other interests.)

Thanks for an interesting post, Tom…

Nov 02

Bill Moyers Interview

Bill Moyers recently gave this interview on Buzzflash, and it really is required reading for anyone interested in the way increased corporate control of journalism is bad for our society.

BUZZFLASH: Have we created a circumstance where we have little perspective beyond the most recent news cycle? The words of the White House on one morning, for instance, may be contradicted by events in the afternoon, but the news coverage rarely seems to bring any information or comments from the past to compare them to the unfolding news of the moment. It’s almost as if news no longer has a historical context.

MOYERS: Down the memory hole, as George Orwell would describe it. And yes, it’s all about stimulation now. Watching the opening of the second game of the World Series, I was struck at how effectively the Fox producers mixed patriotic imagery with prurient promotions for upcoming programming in what amounted to a sedation of the viewer’s critical faculty. It’s a fitting metaphor, I think, for what’s happening in politics as the mainstream media have been silenced and the partisan media have turned propaganda into "news." Wave the flag, stroke the sentiments, stir the prejudices — and you can keep the masses distracted from the real game happening out of sight, behind closed doors in boardrooms and oval offices.

BUZZFLASH: And what is that game?

MOYERS: Class war. The corporate right and the political right declared class war on working people a quarter of a century ago and they’ve won. The rich are getting richer, which arguably wouldn’t matter if the rising tide lifted all boats. But the inequality gap is the widest it’s been since l929; the middle class is besieged and the working poor are barely keeping their heads above water. The corporate and governing elites are helping themselves to the spoils of victory — politics, when all is said and done, comes down to who gets what and who pays for it — while the public is distracted by the media circus and news has been neutered or politicized for partisan purposes.

As I said, required reading. In fact, I might just give this to my New Media class tomorrow. In fact, I think I will.

Nov 01

How To Fall In Love With Basketball

Philly is a sports town to begin with — the Phillies, Sixers, Eagles and Flyers have fan-bases that are as passionate as they are hyper-critical and grumpy. But few things will inspire the passion, the love, the loyalty as basketball — and especially Big Five college basketball. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and I remember going to Big Five doubleheaders with my dad as a kid. Going to Penn meant that I spent four years at the college hoops grand dame of arenas — the Palestra. The Atlantic 10 used to hold its early round tourney games there, the Big Five doubleheaders there were amazing, and of course, there was always Penn – Princeton.

Now, Andy Katz of spends some time on a quick tour of Philly-ball and comes away duly impressed. It’s a fun read that does hint at the fun of Philly college basketball. And there still is nothing as cool as a pure Philly point guard. All pass, all D, and just a gym-rat love of the game.