Physics vs. Phys Ed

Just WOW.

There are 19 gym teachers in the Farmington School District who make more than $85,000 a year each. The average gym teacher’s salary in Farmington is $75,035. By comparison, the science teachers in that district make $68,483 per year on average.

Farmington has 11,647 students in nine K-4 elementary schools, two 5-6 “upper elementaries,” and two 7-8 middle schools.   Evidently, the high school is in another district, as it’s not mentioned in their annual report.  So, it would seem like the heftiest coaching supplements — varsity football and basketball — are not included in these gym teachers’ salaries.

Michigan schools, like most, use pay scales based on education and experience.  The glaring pay differential between gym teachers and science teachers tells me that the gym teachers have probably been there for a few decades, while the science teachers are relatively young.  And they don’t stick around all that long.

It’s likely that, for middle school at least, the science teachers have a bachelor’s degree in a particular science field: physics, chemistry, biology, etc.  These days, that’s required for the “highly qualified” designation and if most of the teachers are relatively new, they would probably have been hired under those guidelines.

I’m not implying that phys ed teachers aren’t needed; they are.  Some kids live for gym.  Others would never get a lick of exercise without it.  The brain works better when one can get the wiggles out.  Yet, there’s no denying that the job options for science teachers are somewhat more expansive, both within the teaching field and in the private sector.

Maybe Farmington is just undergoing turnover, and this particular disparity is an aberration.   For their sake, I hope so.

Unless we’re content to lead the world in kickball.


A Real Woman?

On Facebook, the following post has been making the rounds:

A real woman always keeps her house clean & organized, the laundry basket is always empty. She’s always well dressed, hair done. She never swears, behaves gracefully in all situations & circumstances. She has more than enough patience to care for her family, always has a smile on her lips, & a kind word for everyone.

Yeah, right.

My house is not as clean nor organized as I would like, the laundry basket(s) are seldom empty, I’m not always well-dressed, and my hair often looks like I flew in on a Harley with no helmet.  I can’t promise that I never swear, am quite sure that I’m awkward in some situations, and run short on patience on occasion.  Sometimes I scowl, and not all of my words are kind.   That grouping is not what I aspire to, but it is what it is.

Yet, I’m quite certain I’m not a man.  I’ve given birth without drugs, and gotten out of bed the next morning to care for an infant and three children ages six and under.  I can pick things from my backyard garden and make supper of it, with all the nutritional value needed for my family.  Three of those four children — all girls, by the way — are in college or graduate school.  All are mastering fields traditionally not thought of as women’s work: math, physics, and materials science engineering.

And they can all cook, to varying degrees.  Alpha can sew, and Beta is learning.  Delta can take apart just about any electronic gadget, re-solder the loose connections, and put it back together in working order.  Gamma is very gifted with young children, especially teaching them to swim.  I bet none have empty laundry baskets, but they manage to wear clean clothes every day.

Yet, any one of us can comfort a child, or an animal in need.  Any one of us can prepare nourishment — for one, or many.

A “real” woman?  That would be one who puts her family first, whether that means excelling in the domestic arts or bringing home the check that pays the mortgage.  I guess the same would be true for a “real” man — one who puts family first, whether that is in the role of provider or caregiver.   Or some combination of both, as is more common today.

Come to think of it, I have some more caregiving duties to attend before the sun rises tomorrow.  Take care, and be real — whatever that is.

Charter Changes Emerge

On Nov. 2, along with selecting a Governor, a new Congressman, and our State Rep. and State Senator, Oak Ridgers will approve or reject three questions on changes to the City Charter.   The full list of proposed changes has been transmitted to City Council, which will meet on Aug. 23 to formally receive them and request that the Election Commissions of both Roane and Anderson Counties place them on the November ballot.

The most substantial change to most people would be moving the city elections to November of even years (to coincide with State and Federal general elections), rather than the June of odd years pattern we’ve followed for a long time.  The argument for the current method (June of odd years) is that it keeps the focus strictly on city issues; the argument for moving it to November of even years is that it would dramatically improve voter turnout — both because people tend to put forth more effort to vote in these larger elections, and because it’s not at a time when people are typically on vacation.

The second question changes the residency requirement to run for local office from six months to one year.  That’s not a huge change, but a sensible one, in my opinion.

The third question is a series of relatively minor changes, including

  • that Council (as a whole, not individual members) have the power to investigate “all city departments, offices, boards, commissions, committees, and agencies;”
  • adds the city’s website to the required publication for all official notices (in addition to a newspaper of general circulation);
  • increases the public notice requirement for appropriations amendments from five days to ten;
  • outlines purchasing authority;
  • adds an equal employment opportunity clause;
  • states that City Council shall establish an ethics policy consistent with State law.

Many, many other potential changes were discussed, argued, and considered, but in the end, these are what were approved by the full Commission.  On the November ballot, questions longer than 300 words (namely, Question 3) are likely to be summarized, so it’s worthwhile for all residents to read the whole 3-page document and start thinking about the decision.

The big one is the first question, as that represents the biggest change for Oak Ridge.  For a long time, I’ve been among those who feel that the standalone June elections give us a better opportunity to showcase city issues and candidates.  Over the past couple of years though, I’ve put a lot of thought into the prospect of combining with a November election, and I’m persuaded that the higher voter turnout is probably worth the additional competition for voters’ attention.

And, it saves a few dollars.

Study up, Oak Ridge.  This is your town, and your decision to make.



Was Dr. Kevorkian all wrong?

About 20 years ago, as my maternal grandmother lay slowly dying, my mother gave me very clear instructions: “if I’m ever like this, just shoot me.”

I love my mother very much, but I’m really not interested in going to prison.  At the same time, I understand where Mom was coming from.  She was emotionally frayed from watching her own beloved mother dying a little bit at a time, over a decade or more, of strokes that progressively took more and more of her brain.  It was pretty awful.

Just last week, my 89-year old mother in law told us, “don’t get old.”  Kind of strange advice given the alternative, but she’s on the opposite end of the problem as her body fails, while her mind remains strong.  There was no request for us to kill her, but she repeatedly said that she might not be around for Christmas.

I’m guessing she could be around for several more Christmases, if she chooses to.  It’s hard for me to know if she’s in physical discomfort, or if she simply misses her husband (gone 10 years now) more than she loves what is left of life from her living room chair.

Today, my friend G traveled a great distance to visit her ailing mother.  G’s mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and no longer recognizes her own daughter.  G asked me the same thing (not so graphically, but nonetheless the same result) as my mother did: to kill her when that time came.  Just give her an overdose of something.

What, do I look like Dr. Kevorkian?  Of course not.  But maybe these strong women sense that I feel much the same as they do — that end-of-life care is too successful in prolonging the life not worth living.  That maybe we do need an out, a way to say “enough is enough” when we’ve long outlived anything resembling quality of life.

I do not believe in taking the life (or denying life-saving treatment) to one who wants to live.  At the same time, is it not equally wrong to deny peaceful passage to those who are ready to go on their own terms?

I think it is.  I hope that by the time I am old and worn out, we’ll have a better option.

Update – first, how’s the family?

Disturbing all of about two people, I took several months off from blogging.  I just needed a break; call it writer’s block, busy mom syndrome, or whatever.  After a while, it seemed like the quality of my thoughts and inspiration had degraded to the point of not being worth writing.  I hope I’m past that now.

In those months, we’ve celebrated Alpha’s graduation from UT (BS in Mathematics).  She has accepted the Dean’s Distinguished Fellowship at UC-Riverside to pursue her PhD in Math.  That’s a lot of fancy speak for “one child off the payroll.”  Lest that sound dismissive, make no mistake that I’m incredibly proud of her — for her academic achievements, and for her personal growth.  She truly is ready to move on to the next step, and I know she’s going to do well.

Beta just completed her sophomore year as a Physics major at UT, and landed an internship with the Physics department for the Summer.  At her first meeting with the prof she’s working for, she was told to get a passport.  They sent her to CERN for two weeks.  Now, this is Oak Ridge, so there are a few people around here who know what CERN is.  I’ve been told repeatedly that undergraduates just don’t get that kind of opportunity.  But she did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had a little fun joking that re-creating little black holes might not be a good thing, but she’s safely home and the world is still spinning.

Gamma spent most of her senior year working with some folks from her physics C class on their “Lemelson Project.”  In that picture, she’s in the back row, 4th from the left.  Far left in the back row is HWTFM, who took on the role of advising the team, along with a couple of other professionals from the community and the world’s greatest high school physics teacher.  They presented their invention at Eurekafest at MIT at the end of June.  She had a wonderful time hanging out for a week with other physics geeks from all over the country.  Next month, we’ll cart her (and all her stuff) off to UT, to presumably begin her major in Materials Science & Engineering.

That will leave me, for the first time since mid-1990, with only one child at home.  One child who, come October, won’t even need me to drive her around.  Delta’s a lot of fun to be around though, so I expect it will be an entertaining three years as she makes her way through the rest of high school.

Knocking the dust off now…

Yes, I’m aware that I haven’t written here in months.  I took a break.  This morning, I sat down to finally start back, but in (foolishly, I admit) attempting an automatic upgrade to WordPress 3.0, I managed to completely take out the admin code.

That’s the part that I need to be able to write, rather than just read what I already wrote.

Fortunately, I had the old code backed up, so I’m going to be working on this thing a bit today, and will resume posting shortly.

Just Imagine

Imagine for a moment being in a town where people have never been exposed to dogs: they know what a dog looks like, because they’ve seen pictures of them, or maybe seen them from a distance when they travel to other places… but they’ve never actually petted a dog, or walked one on a leash, or even spent five minutes observing one.

Now, some kook in the town wants to make it legal to keep pet dogs in the dog-free town.  “They will poop in the yards!” people exclaim.  “They will bark and make awful noise, and they will chase our cats!”  “Some people might even let their dogs in the house – just think of how unsanitary that would be, and how dangerous to the children!”   The townsfolk, having never been exposed to the companionship of dogs, are opposed.

Some bring up the scenario of dogfights, which attract gambling and other unsavory activities.

The dog-loving kook is fully supportive of a standard leash law, and that all dog owners should have to purchase a license from the city every year for every dog.  He supports requiring immunizations against dangerous diseases (like rabies), and the owner’s maintaining proof of such.  Many of the townsfolk mill about in opposition to the kook’s crazy dog plan, but little by little, respectable ordinary people step forward, cautiously expressing a willingness to consider the idea.

“My brother has a dog,” said one, “and he keeps burglars away from the house when my brother is gone.”  Another explains that she’d really like for her aged mother to have a dog for companionship.  Someone else mentions they’ve heard that dogs can actually be trained to assist the blind.  All of these people are in favor of reasonable limitations – no one suggests just letting the dogs run wild, stealing suppers from the table, biting children, and pooping on the town hall steps.

Can this hypothetical town accept change?  Is there any possibility that they can get past the fear of the unfamiliar, to find the benefits of a companion animal who helps guard their home, gives them a reason to go outdoors and walk, and offers unconditional love each day?

*  *  *

Now, turn your imagination 45 degrees, and see that the hypothetical town is our town.  The discussion is not about dogs, but about chickens.  The proposed regulations would be similar:  roosters would not be allowed (thus eliminating the noise component), the number of birds would be limited, confinement to the back or side yard would be required.  Registration and purchase of a license would also be required, just as it is for dogs.

The benefits are slightly different, but comparable.   Can this town ever get past its paranoia to try something new?

Mixed Messages

Mixed messages abound in the education world these days.  We want to graduate more students, but we want to make it harder to graduate; we want to add math, science, and foreign language requirements (read: add teachers), but we don’t want to increase funding for education.  And those are just a couple of examples from high school.

Higher Ed is in a similar predicament.  The goals are noble and good, but the means to achieve them are dwindling.  To wit:

Anyone who has recently been a college student, or any parent of a college student, knows that one of the biggest challenges to graduating on time is to get into the classes one needs, when one needs them.  Offering more sections, more frequently, would undoubtedly improve the college graduation rate.  Offering fewer sections (with more students in each) less frequently cannot possibly yield improvement in the graduation rate — it will have the opposite effect.

But to keep it simple, the analogy is thus:  jump as high as you can.  Next, you must jump 50% higher… so dig a hole, stand in it, and try again.

Let me know if this works for you.  Like my physics major and rugby player daughter tells me, “gravity sucks.”

How to alienate your supporters?

Today, I got yet another notice of a “mandatory” parent meeting, a few days from now.   It’s not the first, but the first from this particular organization.  It’s not work-related, and not an organization of which I am a member… but like the others, a group of which my children are members.

Note to the folks who orchestrate these things: the likelihood of my participation drops to near zero if you call a mandatory meeting without first asking whether I’m available, and providing information about the subject matter.  Unfortunately, I’ve already been to far too many of these (all associated with my children’s activities, not my own) where, after I’ve cancelled something far more important, I learn that the subject of the mandatory parent meeting is simply to provide information that could have been sent in an e-mail.  Yes, the very same e-mail sent to demand my presence.

It’s odd, but I’ve never had a notice that a parent-teacher conference was mandatory, although I would readily consider it such.  For that matter, no teacher has ever assigned me a time to show up without first asking when I’m available.  I’ve had children in school for 17 years now, and I’ve never missed a single one.

In three out of four of the groups I’ve gotten mandatory-meeting demands from lately, the topic was the need for volunteers.  Okay, that could have been handled by e-mail, or a note sent home with my child.    Furthermore, I’m far more likely to volunteer if you don’t first waste an hour or two of my time to make me show up somewhere, just to tell me that you need someone to bring cookies to practice or write an article for the newspaper.

Grouchy?  You bet.   I know that everyone’s mother or grandmother taught them the bit about catching more with honey than vinegar (or some variation on that theme), but it seems that all the extracurricular things my kids are involved in have gotten caught up in this business of “mandatory” meetings, while also using the sample of paystubs for payments and more.

I suspect that participation will further dwindle as demands escalate.   Mine does.

Race to the Top

This week, the Tennessee Legislature goes into a special session to consider education proposals that would make our state eligible for a share of approximately $4 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funding. One of the key provisions is to make student testing data a “significant” factor in tenure decisions and subsequent evaluations. The TEA is opposed to making it count for more than 35% of the weighting, while the Governor has asked for at least 50%.

Tennessee has one of the best data systems in the country, but we generally don’t make the best use of it. One of the reasons is the provisions built into law about who can access the data and for what purposes, but I’m sure that another of the reasons is that not enough people know how to access and use the data effectively.

I also have some questions about the Governor’s proposals:

  • What would happen for teachers who teach subjects (or grade levels) that aren’t part of the standardized testing?
  • Would the decision be based on raw scores, value-added, or some combination of both?
  • Might we encounter increased teacher shortage areas, as some choose to teach subjects that aren’t tested to avoid this additional scrutiny?

Those aren’t all of my questions, to be sure. Just the ones that come to mind right off the bat. Regarding the use of test data in tenure decisions, we might ought to reconsider some of our other tenure provisions. Presently, a teacher is evaluated for tenure at the end of the third year; if tenure is not awarded, then he/she cannot be offered a contract for the following year. But, what if a new teacher shows great promise, but might need another year of coaching to get his or her scores up? Could we change that part of the law, so that a teacher who doesn’t get tenure in the third year could be retained for another year or two?

It would make more sense to me to use test data in performance evaluations, except that with teacher salaries dictated solely by education and experience, what difference do the evaluations really make? Certainly, it provides teachers with a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn’t make any difference in compensation, as it would in most other professions.

My feelings on this are decidedly mixed.