Thursday, February 11, 2010

Today's Random Thoughts

Sorry for the long layoff -- it turns out that taking over a class a week into the semester while trying to advance both one's dissertation and other papers can be quite time consuming.  Or I could just say I've been busy.  Either way, until I find time to expound on some of the ideas that have been bouncing around my head recently, here are a few of the things I've found interesting recently:

-Pittsburgh has shut their schools down for the entire week.  Why?  Well, 29 inches of snow spread out over 5 days hasn't helped, but the main problem seems to be an inexplicable delay in the plowing and salting of roads.  4 inches of snow canceled school for 5+ straight calendar days here in Nashville, but that's because we don't have the equipment or know how to deal with snow.  Pittsburgh does.  Or at least it did.  The strangest part of the story: Last Saturday the entire county declared a state of emergency as it tried to shovel and plow itself out from 21.1 inches of snow . . . meanwhile, boy Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was off in the mountains "celebrating his 30th birthday".  Maybe now that he's turned 30 he'll get his act together.  Because a city that's made all sorts of headlines with its plans for an educational turnaround doesn't need mayoral incompetence getting in the way of student learning.

-Meanwhile, the rule in Nashville seems to be one day off per inch of snow.  Guess what was supposed to be happening while school was canceled due to mildly slushy sidewalks most of last week?  State tests.  Which serves as another reminder how fallible one high-stakes test is.

-On the other end of the spectrum, it appears that NYC finally canceled a day of school after getting blitzed with snow yesterday.  During my two years in the city we had exactly zero official snow days.  I say "official" because we had three days where all the suburbs called off and no more than about half the staff or students showed up.  One of those was the day after NYC got 19 inches of snow.  And all three were a waste of a day . . . we simply lined everybody up in the cafeteria at 8am, divvied them up between teachers, and babysat all day.  I guess the moral of the story is that while canceling too much school isn't a good thing, never canceling school doesn't solve the problem.

-It looks like NYC is finally going to start using test score data as part of tenure decisions.  Except that 90% -- yes, 90% -- of teachers up for tenure this year didn't teach the same tested subject for two consecutive years.  Which serves as another reminder that value-added scores won't solve all of our system's problems.

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