November 2007

O Tannenbaum…

If you’re planning to have a real Christmas tree this year, here’s a great chance to get a beautiful, fresh tree, and help some folks who need you at the same time.

The ARC of Anderson County sells the most beautiful, fresh-cut Christmas trees I’ve seen, along with wreaths and garland, at reasonable prices.  DH Johnson, a longtime member of that organization, gets them from his farm (or his family’s farm, not sure which) in North Carolina, and has them ready for pickup within 2-3 days.

There’s an order form online, along with pricing and delivery options.

The ARC serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities; sadly, many of these people — our neighbors, members of our own community — have little or no family to provide for their social and recreational needs, medical assistance, gifts for birthdays and holidays, or much of anything else.

It feels good to give where your help is needed and appreciated; it also feels good to get a quality product at an attractive price.  To do both, at once, is better still.

If you’ve never visited a sheltered workshop (such as the Emory Valley Center), you’ve missed out.  There, you will find men and women who have been dealt one of the roughest hands imaginable in the game of life, yet, they work cheerfully and industriously to contribute to society each and every day.  Still, more is needed than they are able to accomplish on their own, so it’s up to us.

A Rare Treat

Tonight, hubby and I have tickets for a concert — one that none of our children are performing in.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is performing at Thompson-Bolling Arena, and we’ll be there!

For those unfamiliar with TSO, they’re sort of an odd combination of rock and symphony, bringing in elements of jazz for good measure. I’m sure that RealtorChick is putting short odds on my staying for the duration, given that I’m a bit noise-sensitive. Okay, more than just a bit. But this stuff is… different. It makes me wish I’d become a conductor, or at least that I could stand up and pretend to be without being laughed at.

As cold as it is today — I think the temperature right now, at 49, is as warm as we’ll get — something Christmas-y doesn’t seem out of character. Beyond that is the sheer complexity of the music, a brilliant modern remake of the classics (as in Beethoven, Liszt, et al).

Just for a taste, give a listen to A Mad Russian’s Christmas, or Wish Liszt (toy shop madness). There are quite a few more on the site, so browse at your leisure. And if you think I’m crazy for my taste in music, fine. Go rot your brain with disco.

Update: Best live show I’ve ever seen.  Ever!  I’m definitely buying tickets for next year.

Report Card II

Looking over the Oak Ridge Schools state report card again, I noticed some good news: even with our demographics growing more challenging each year (as noted on Friday), we’re making significant gains in the percentage of students in the "proficient or advanced" category.

 

Looking at the columns outlined in red, note that there was an 11% increase in the number of African-American students testing proficient and advanced last year in high school math.

That’s significant.

There was a 10% gain in the Hispanic population, with 100% of that subgroup testing proficient and advanced in math.

Among the economically disadvantaged — the fastest-growing subgroup in our school system — there was a 10% gain in those testing proficient and advanced.

* * *
Now, for the not-so-good news: look at the columns just to the left of the one outlined in red. The percentages of students earning an "advanced" designation have fallen in every category except for Asian/Pacific Islanders, who made a 1% gain to achieve 100% advanced.

Is this the beginning of the effect that I’ve long feared? In our push to meet the mandates of No Child Left Behind, are our schools focusing time and resources on the lowest-performing students — bringing them up to proficiency — so much so that we’re neglecting the rest?

The numbers appear to indicate as much.

No, we’re not neglecting the top performers. Most educators would tell you that there are a few students who could learn math from a history book, who will outperform the rest no matter what. The source of concern for me is those students in the middle, who with just a little help would be in the "advanced" group, but are now having to settle for "proficient."

And, as has been widely publicized, Tennessee’s standard for proficiency isn’t very high. That’s why, beginning next year, the test will be harder and the standards will be higher. And that could cause a problem with the numbers.

Don’t get me wrong: testing is very important. The problem is that the punitive nature of NCLB, focused on the lowest end, is damaging to our real mission of bringing all children to the limits of their potential.

So Wrong it’s Funny

A letter in today’s News Sentinel is so senseless that it serves to illustrate one of the problems faced by those earnestly trying to improve education in Tennessee: the pure ignorance of some of our adults.

Later school start

better for Tennessee

At least 90 percent of the people in Tennessee are for a later school start.

State Sen. Jamie Woodson, chair of the Senate Education Committee, is against this.

She has never been for the benefits of school students. She wouldn’t allow a vote to lower the requirements for the Hope Scholarship to keep 70 percent of college students eligible.

Everyone sees the hardships created by starting school the first of August (Aug. 9). Schools need to start after Labor Day, which they do in most states.

This is part of the reason Tennessee ranks near last in education. The only way we can start to change this is to vote Woodson out.

Sam Doughty

Rockwood

90% favor a later start date? I doubt that; I serve on a local school board, and I’ve had exactly one person tell me — and that was in passing at a public place — that they want school to start after Labor Day. If there’s a survey to back up that assertion, please point me to it.

To say that Sen. Woodson "has never been for the benefits of school students" is simply dead wrong. Although she and I have disagreed from time to time (and I’m not one to keep my opinions to myself), everything that she does is, at least from her perspective, with the best interest of children as the foremost priority.

A prime example of that is her steadfast opposition to lowering standards, including the reasonable standard for achieving and keeping the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship. Lowering standards might help some parents, but it would be a gross disservice to the students. Face it, the GPA standard for scholarship eligibility is an incentive for students to do well. The standard to achieve the scholarship out of high school is exceedingly modest; students who cannot attain either a 3.0 GPA or a 21 on the ACT just aren’t going to make it in college. I think there’s only one four-year school in the state who will even accept students with less than a 21 on the ACT.

Lastly, the start date has nothing to do with the reason that Tennessee ranks near last in education; the reason, quite simply, is that we rank near last in funding education. That’s why Sen. Woodson worked so hard last year to pass the BEP 2.0, providing funding targeted specifically to academic improvement, and increasing accountability measures for the adults in charge of those funds.

Sam Doughty can’t vote against her, and I can’t vote for her. Let’s hope the folks in her district pay a little more attention to the facts.

Report Card

The 2007 Tennessee Department of Education Report Card arrived today.

It was the statistics section that really stuck me: just in the last four years that I’ve been a member of the school board, our demographics have changed significantly. That means that to maintain and improve, we’re going to face new challenges, and we’ll have to do some things differently.

The most glaring to me is that our economically disadvantaged population has grown from 29.5% in 2004, to 34.7% in 2007 (in 2000, it was 23.3%). In seven years, we’ve seen more than a 10% increase in at-risk students!

Students with disabilities have grown from 21.8% to 25.1%. Students with limited English proficiency have doubled, from 55 to 111 students.

Over that same time period, our per-pupil funding has grown from $10,032 to $10,602 — a 5% increase over four years. Just as Oak Ridge is different than it was a few years ago (remember when we didn’t have any murders?), our school population is different as well.

 

In Salute

Farewell, Col. Tibbits.

The pilot of the Enola Gay — named for his mother — has gone to his reward.  I find it sad that he wanted no headstone, fearing that it would give protesters a place to congregate.  He was a soldier who dropped out of med school to serve his country; he did so, superbly.

We don’t say "thank you" often enough.

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