November 2008

Home for the holidays?

I’m excited about seeing family for Thanksgiving; Alpha is already home, making gumbo for supper.  HWTFM has gone to pick up Beta… they’re browsing McKay’s for a Calc book (for next semester I hope, as opposed to just now thinking about this semester’s finals).

Gamma’s gone to swim practice.  Delta is busy playing Wii Fit.  Uncle PJ and Cousin A are hopefully on their way… Cousin A said yesterday that they expected to be here "Wednesday afternoon."  Given the family history, that means "sometime before Black Friday."   My husband’s family are all sort of impervious to time; they don’t wear watches, they don’t feel compelled to call if they’re going to be late.  Even days late.

They have actually missed Thanksgiving dinner before, so I’m prepared to fix a second round if necessary.

My parents have gone to pick up my sister K, and bring her home for Thanksgiving.  I would have expected them to be back by now, but so far, nothing.  My mother shares the tardiness thing with my husband, I guess.

I’m just thankful that I’m going to be surrounded by people that I love (and still like).

Raise the beer tax, then.

Today I found the national beer tax map (via TaxingTennessee), and promptly got mad.  Again.

See, the states to our south and east all have higher beer taxes —  some substantially higher — and yet, their end price to consumers is lower.  How could that be?

Simple. Some, maybe all of these states just happen to sell wine, or sometimes both wine and spirits, in grocery stores.  They don’t have the same kind of convoluted cartel system that we do, and the middleman is the difference.

Over the summer, I stopped in Georgia to buy beer (hubby’s favorite, Red Dog, is no longer available in Tennessee), and noted the prices of several that I like.  They were all lower than at home.  In Florida, I happened to walk past the beer section in a grocery store, and the same thing was true there.

So here’s the deal, folks: I’ll be happy to accept — even advocate for — a tripling of the beer tax if we can just change our outdated distribution system.  Let’s allow wine sales in grocery stores, and allow the purchase of wine and beer for home delivery.   Get rid of the protectionist distributor system, and let the free market prevail.

Bet that additional 28 cents per gallon looks pretty good right about now, amid a budget crisis… and that doesn’t even count the additional sales tax revenue that would come as a result of increased wine sales.

I don’t know if it’s possible to drink our way out of a recession, but it’s worth a try.

Just for fun

I ran across a new iteration of the Myers-Briggs test, geared specifically for bloggers: the Typealyzer.  The last time I did a personality profile (on paper, the conventional way), the results struck me as not very likely.   This one, however, seems dead-on.

Based on my writing, the Typealyzer categories me as ISTP — "the mechanic."

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

That may be simply a result of what I’ve written recently; the results came back quickly enough that it doesn’t seem likely that it analyzed nearly three years of writing.  But, it does explain my vehicle and recreational preferences, as well as the fact that I’m one of those who’s more likely to take on a project I can just do by myself, without a great deal of collaboration.  Or, if I collaborate, I would prefer to do so with others who are similarly self-directed.

I hate staff meetings.  I love fixing things, making things work that previously did not.  I’d much rather repair a broken motherboard than deal with a staffing issue.

So, it’s Saturday.  Have some fun!

Great Music in the ‘Ridge

We indulged in a special treat last night — a concert by Maura O’Connell at the Grove Theater (High Places Community Church), benefiting Contact Helpline of Oak Ridge.

With a strong, rich voice that soaks and warms like good Shiraz, O’Connell held the audience enchanted for a couple of hours, completely forgetting the bitter cold outside.

For a sampling, see this YouTube clip.  During intermission, I heard that the new Moondollars Cafe in Jackson Square now has beer on tap — good beer.  Seems that Oak Ridge is picking up the tempo on places to go, things to do, and people to see.  I like it.

New Standards: a footnote

Scanning through the education stories in the New York Times today, I ran across the following:

While the question of how effective teachers are at moving students forward is a critical one for their bosses, many parents are equally interested in which schools are most likely to, say, have students reading at grade level or ensure that sophomores are mastering algebra.

Sophomores?  Heck, if they wait until their sophomore year to master Algebra, there’s no chance of meeting the new graduation standards in Tennessee.

They absolutely have to master Algebra I by the end of 9th grade, or they won’t graduate on time (barring the miracle of passing two sequential math classes simultaneously).

Many children can master Algebra I by 8th grade.  That has to be the new goal.

New Standards: 2009

Last night, the Board of Education held a work session on the new graduation requirements, effective for next year’s Freshmen.  It’s more than just rising standards, though; there are additional credits required (and thus, fewer electives allowed), as well as new rules on electives.

These are mandates both by the Legislature, and by the State Board of Education.  Students will need a total of 22 credits to graduate, as opposed to the current 20.

Math is required for all four years of high school, including Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and a 4th year beyond Algebra II.  Even advanced students who begin high school in Algebra II or above, must take math each year.

The big problem for us is not the advanced students, though.  It’s those who struggle to pass Algebra 1, and who will have loads of trouble with everything beyond that.  There’s no room for failure, as repeating a class would require taking two math classes in the same year.

The number of science credits remains the same, but one of those must be biology, and another must be either chemistry or physics.  However, the sequencing has changed, so that biology needn’t necessarily be the freshman year course.

They’ve added a half-credit of "personal finance," which will be integrated into our current civics classes.  However, only about half of our freshman take civics, so there will have to be a semester PF class paired with the semester government requirement.

They’ve also added a second semester of required PE, but they do allow local boards to specify through policy that team athletics, band, cheerleading, or school-sponsored intramurals can count for the extra PE credit.  The sticky thing is, it has to be taken after the Wellness B class (our current PE requirement), and many students take Wellness B their senior year.

ALL students will be required to take (and pass) two years of foreign language.  Rare exceptions are allowed, but only if the parents and student sign a waiver stating that there is no possibility of the student attending college, upon which an additional six CTE (career and technical education) credits are required.  That would rule out the possibility of band, orchestra, or other electives.

One of the more nonsensical requirements is that three electives must be in an "area of focus," i.e., fine arts, math and science, or CTE.  What this means is that Delta cannot, as Alpha did, divide her electives between orchestra and extra science classes.

The bottom line is, today’s high school students have many fewer options than their parents did, and next year’s freshmen will have still fewer options than their older siblings did.  There is no room for experimentation — they’re essentially picking a "major" for high school.  Unlike college, there is no room for changing majors.

At 14, a student must choose a path for the rest of her life.

I understand the need for higher standards.  But i also understand that you cannot keep adding, unless you take something away, for there are only so many hours in the day.

The school board’s challenge will be to find as many alternatives as can be provided — to let participation in athletis count for that second semester of PE, to be more generous in allowing students to get high school credit for online courses (even online college courses), and to work with students and parents to meet these new requirements without putting our kids in a virtual academic prison.

What were they thinking in Nashville when they passed this stuff?

 

Frivolity

I’ve been very well-behaved this weekend, attending several meetings to find good ideas for our school system.  But tonight, we took a little side trip, having gotten a tip from a nice local girl at the Flying Saucer about where to find my elusive, rare, favorite brew.

So, we trekked off to the World Market in Hendersonville, and procured the only seven pints they had.  We filled up the truck with BP at $1.85, and headed back into Nashville where we grabbed a late supper at John A’s, a comfortable little honky tonk with good food, cold beer, and live music.

Saturday afternoon, after the meetings but before supper, we made a trip to the new Trader Joe’s in Green Hills so that I could stock up on my favorite Columbian coffee.  Better than Starbucks, cheaper than Kroger coffee.

Trader Joe’s could make it in Oak Ridge, and would draw at least some traffic from Knoxville, since the quality is on par with places like Fresh Market, but their pricing far more attractive — cheaper even than Kroger or Wal-Mart on some items (like beer, coffee, and sesame seeds, to name just the things I took note of).

I love Oak Ridge.  But, we’ve got to improve the retail situation.  It really bothers me to shop outside of our town, but there are so many things that we simply cannot purchase at home.

TSBA Monday

There were a couple of interesting meetings this morning, beginning with an impressive presentation by Greeneville City Schools on distance learning.  We didn’t just hear about the technology, but experienced it: also participating in the presentation were folks who were physically in Greeneville and Scott County.

Greeneville is using distance learning to teach foreign languages.  This year, French.  Next year, French, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese.  Thus far, they’re found that the students who took French I remotely, actually outperformed the kids in the regular classroom — the same regular classroom that the distance class was taught from — when all the students were later combined in a traditional French II class.

In Scott County, they used to put 8th graders on a bus for an hour commute to the high school to take Algebra I.  Now, they’re able to take Algebra I from a classroom in their own school, although it’s taught at the high school.  They’ve maintained a 100% pass rate on the Gateway exam — the same as schools like ours.

*  *  *  *  *
Next, I attended a legislative preview session with State Senators Joe Haynes, Bill Ketron, and Jim Tracy, all members of the Senate Education Committee.

Everyone agrees that funding is going to be the biggest issue this year.  Most of us have seen the reports that the State is $800M behind in revenue collections, but the reality is worse.  According to last week’s Fiscal Review Committee reports, the actual number is more like $1.25 billion.

That’s a deficit, folks.  A BIG one.  Maintaining the BEP 2.0 funding is a top priority… but that means we’re not even thinking about any new funding, just hoping we don’t lose any.  At the same time, we must implement at least four new classes at the high school to meet the new graduation requirements (an extra year of math, an extra lab science, the new "personal finance" class, and the additional semester of PE), with no new funding from the state.

The Legislators expect the usual battle for elected superintendents to gain a lot more steam in the House, but feel that it can probably be stopped in the Senate.  I hope so.  We’re going to have to be vocal in opposing this one, educating both the public and the legislators about why it’s such a bad idea.

Also expected this year: an effort to give school boards taxing authority, some tweaking of the law relative to maintenance of effort in local funding of schools (some 20 counties offered residents a tax cut after the state increased BEP funding in 2007, simply allowing the new state funding to take the place of local funds previously allocated), and proposed legislation to mandate the starting date of schools.

I asked if the’d given any thought to what requirements might be eased, or consideration for other ways to earn credits, in light of the problem of many new requirements added while none were taken away, but the qustion really wasn’t answered.  Sen. Haynes sort of put the blame off on No Child Left Behind… but that’s not really the problem.

Maybe he didn’t understand the question.  I think I’ll rephrase it, offer some specific suggestions (like perhaps letting students test out of core requirements like health or personal finance), and see if we can’t get further by January or February.

*  *  *  *  *
It’s really important to understand that, as good as Oak Ridge is (and we are), there are other school systems in Tennessee doing great things that we could learn from.  We share what works for us, and they share what works well for them.  That way, we can all get better, and that’s what it’s all about.

TSBA Sunday

The Tennessee School Boards Association Leadership Conference concluded this morning, followed by the opening of the TSBA Convention.

The Leadership Conference was excellent: I attended one session on utilizing the data gathered from value-added testing, and another on effective leadership techniques.

A perennial feature of the TSBA Convention has always been the exhibit hall, but it does seem that the number of exhibitors has dwindled in recent years.  In fact, as I left the hall this afternoon, it occurred to me that this year’s exhibitors seem to fall into three categories: those providing design/construction services (or products supporting such), companies providing outsource services like transportation, food service, and janitorial, and insurance companies.

We used to see things like curriculum content providers, educational hardware and software, and more actual education-related goods and services.  This year, I don’t think I saw a single one of those.

As much fun as it was to see our new high school to completion, I don’t think we’re going to be ready for another aggressive building project anytime soon.   It’s not that it’s not needed — our preschool facility is in dire condition — but the money just isn’t there to do it.

I am looking forward to tomorrow’s meetings, particularly a presentation from Stephen Smith on the new Legislature and what to expect.  Unfortunately, there is a feeling of resignation that elected superintendents will again be proposed, and that it is more likely to pass.

I think that’s a horrible idea.   But, it’s better to know what’s likely to be at the forefront this year than to forge ahead blindly, hoping for the best.  Actually, given the recent revenue reports in the state, I’m just hoping to avoid the worst.

My dream is for one year — just one — where we could fund everything that’s needed and just a few wants… but that seems unlikely to occur anytime soon.

To the new majority

So-called pro-life Republicans took the balance of power in Tennessee this year, but I’m left wondering, are you really pro-life?

Or are you just anti-abortion?  Being anti-abortion is much easier.  With the push of a button and the stroke of a pen, you simply criminalize an option you don’t like.  Just be sure, in the fiscal note, to build in some additional prison space, along with some serious emergency-room costs for women driven by desperation to the unsafe and illegal.

The difference is simple: to be truly pro-life, one has to devote at least as much effort toward saving the babies already outside the womb.  As Aunt B. so eloquently notes,

One in five babies in that neighborhood did not live to see their first birthdays.  You have a better chance of celebrating your child’s first birthday in Afghanistan than you do on the south side of Nashville.  In Memphis, an infant dies every 43 hours (yes, those are tiny coffins).  Every other day a family loses their baby.

 

That’s not going to be an easy challenge.  It would mean funding access to birth control for people you think should simply abstain, putting aside the values you think they should have, in deference to the realities they actually live.

It would mean putting more resources into prenatal care for girls and women you don’t think should be procreating to begin with, whose children you will have to pay to feed, clothe, doctor, and educate for the next 18 years.

Are you really pro-life?  Your actions will serve as your answers. 

* * * * *
If you’re serious about success, Say Uncle sums it up nicely.

Next »