Naturally, Kansas is a good place for the teacher exodus to really hit hard first

July 31, 2015

We are still about 3 years from the start of the massive final baby boomer retirement that is going to really hit teaching hard.  Kansas, which managed to flip the bird to teachers by keeping their pay low and removing tenure (and thanks to a Republican experiment in economics that is blowing up badly, under-funding education even after the state supreme court demanded increases to the finding).  Did I mention that Kansas just passed a law that makes it a jailable crime for a teacher to teach anything considered offensive? (which, as you might guess, is left rather ambiguous in the statute) … is perhaps now reaping the real fruits of their labors.  In creating a philosophically conservative cocoon that punishes everyone and rewards no one, the exodus is in full swing.  Some numbers:

* 2014-15 Kansas retirees: 2326 (an 84% increase from 2011-12)

* Teachers who left the profession: 740 (51% increase from 2011-12)

* Teachers who remained in the profession, but left Kansas: 654 (a 64% increase from 2011-12)

Kansas, probably along with Louisiana and Mississippi are considered the worst states to teach in, but sadly instead of other states realizing this and trying to become the opposite of this, there seems to be an odd trend of trying to be more like them.  Even places like New York seems to be trying really hard to be the Northeast Mississippi.  Naturally Kansas would see the effects of the recent trends in the profession first.  In the end, every state is going to get hit by this because it is far too late to mitigate the effects, which require years to change because of enticing students to get trained as teachers, and then get them through college and into the profession.  Private and charter schools will not be exempt from this because, as few people seem to realize, there are no special teacher pools fro charter and private schools.  What you can hope is that your state can make changes to how they approach students and teachers and maybe siphon in some of the talent from other states.


Kinda sucks!

July 28, 2015

The past three weeks or so have seen two somewhat unexpected pieces of news fall into place about people leaving.

One of my colleagues at work, a really great teacher (she was one of our two AP Chem teachers and had been teaching for about 15 years) decided that the time had come to end her teaching career, and chucked her job to go back to school and earn an MBA.  She was a great kid, and we are going to miss her a lot at school.  I think it just finally came down to what everyone is saying:  the job of teaching is losing a lot of its rewarding side, and a lot of people are doing the cost analysis and deciding that what it is costing them in terms of time, stress, and maybe more importantly, emotional investment, is no longer worth it.  She wasn’t the first teacher in our district to decide to leave teaching in the past 3 years, and I know she won’t be the last.  I know the department chairs are going to not be pleased with this.  Finding science teachers is becoming increasingly difficult.  Last year we needed to hire a 4 month temporary replacement for another chemistry teacher recovering from back surgery.  We had one candidate, and he didn’t work out, but our DC couldn’t find anyone.  Typically, finding second semester temps like this was easy because lots of kids graduating in December would be begging for opportunities like this.  Finding a replacement AP teacher is going to be extremely difficult.

Then there is my good friend Beth, who is, I think, the person I talk to whom I have know longer than just about anyone outside of my family (I know we met in 7th grade … I figure we likely met without realizing it back in preschool?).  I was just over to visit Beth and her husband Brian on Sunday to help pack the moving truck for the first phase of their move to Phoenix.  Beth will be hanging back in the Chicago area to make sure the house get sold and to continue with her job, but once things get tidied up on this end, she will be off to Phoenix on a more permanent basis.  Brian has a new job waiting for him in Rockford that I hope will be a great one for him.  In conversation, I know that his job situation has been far from ideal, and he deserves a good place to work the doesn’t resemble a place where one might film a comedy about bad places to work.

On the one hand, I only see Beth and Brian maybe twice a year, and now that might be more like once every 4-5 years or so … its not like this is a major change of life schedule for me, but I think it is true that even if you don’t get to see friends daily or weekly, it is simply a comfort to know they are there,  That’s a change I’ll adjust to soon enough.

F@$%ed up S&!t

July 25, 2015

At one point, I had to check the URL to confirm this wasn’t an article from the Onion.  This is the story of a new technique in providing teachers immediate feedback (in this case regarding classroom discipline, where coaches sit in the back of a room, and give teachers instructions on what to do.  The coaches speak into a radio, and the teacher hears what they say through a wireless earpiece, and then repeats what (s)he is told to do.

This is yet a further example of “experts” who believe that education is somehow improved by making it joyless for students and teachers.  When people get to the point when they simply won’t accept that there is no best way to teach everyone, they will start inventing strange and weird things that are completely ineffective, because by the time people figure it out, the people who came up with this have made their money and have moved on to new things.

If you read the article, you will note how very robotic the descriptions are (don’t cross your legs while walking, don’t offer praise, don’t be emotional), yet the rebuttal from the people who ran this note that their system was based on observing some of the very best teachers in the country.  That’s incredible that their idea of teaching is monotone, and without positive or negative expression.  My guess is that they good teachers were the teachers from the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers who led their students into a theater to go to sleep and wake up as emotionless copies of themselves.  I joke, but the fact that nothing this  teacher said was rebutted … just that she disagreed with them, tells me that the description was fairly accurate, and if that’s the case, it is pretty bad.

I can’t emphasize this enough:  schools get bled for thousands and tens of thousands of dollars each year by what I would consider the modern equivalent of snake oil salesmen. These folks show up at administrative conferences and pitch their medicine, or write an article that shows up in some administrator journal (they aren’t peer reviewed, so it isn’t like you need to demonstrate anything … and since education research is a circle jerk of self-referencing, it isn’t like you need to actually demonstrate anything empirically). Some ignorant administrator (and the world has tons of these) likes what they see, and hire these folks.  These folks might make it to 4-5 school districts in a year, and 10-15k is a very reasonable sum for them to command.  If you are nearly retired to a retired teacher/administrator, that’s supplementary income that is good for a year (and your travel is picked up by the schmoes who hired you).

And when the teachers invariably detect  the snake-oiliness of the medicine being sold, the teachers either shut up and privately laugh, or are told that  they are not “open-minded” enough.  In today’s day and age, that not “being open-minded enough” is grounds for termination in most states, and in the rest, it can influence a final evaluation, which could get you terminated.

The good news for those terminated teachers is that, if they are creative enough, they can deduce their own snake-oil that they can then turn around and sell to districts, buying them a couple of years before needing to get a new job.

NCLB: The Senate version

July 18, 2015

I blogged less than a week ago that the national civil rights groups, in a caring but misguided way, were fighting hard to push for the accountability measures to remain a part of NCLB, without realizing the core damage it is doing to all students.  No sooner had I posted that blog than the Senate voted on its version of NCLB.  There now needs to be a series of committee meetings between the Senate and House to reconcile the bills.  However I finally got to peruse a few articles outlining what the Senate voted on, and there are two big points that were included and, I think, made for good legislation:

1.  Testing:  still in. but enforcement is out.

This is likely the best news that came out of the Senate bill, and hopefully will stay in, despite this being the biggest thing the President wants, and that national civil rights groups are fighting for.  In a nut shell:  schools will still be required to test students, and will still be required to release data about sub groups based on race, ESL learners, special education, etc.  However, any enforcement of this will come down to individual states.  Civil rights groups are upset because this means now having to fight with 50 (mostly cash strapped or politically hostile) states to punish schools and teachers when kids don’t perform well on tests.  My thinking, and the way that I think these Civil Rights groups are thinking, is  that states are going to find lots of ways to start saving money and perhaps listen to reason at the same time, and find alternative means to deal with this.  To make matters worse for the national civil rights groups, their locals on the ground have started to break ranks with the nationals after seeing the damage that enforcement is unintentionally causing.

2. Public money is going to stay public.

Republicans had pushed a lot for putting in language  that would allow tax payer money to follow kids to various religious and charter schools.  This was not a part of the Senate bill.  This means that tax payers won’t have t o worry about money being spent on religious schools that they may not agree with philosophically, and (perhaps more importantly than that) won’t have to worry about some charter school transferring money and material out of state to a place where there are more kids or where the company needs to chore up its place in the community.

My guess is that since no one is actually against accountability, states will need to decide on how they want to deal with this, and money will be an object.  My guess is that with teacher shortages getting ready to become a reality, states will use this as an opportunity to give schools more flexibility with accountability, and I suspect that this means that tests will go back to being one of many tools schools use to examine what they are doing, and perhaps restore a sensible system for evaluating teachers (one that doesn’t require as many administrators, one that doesn’t require a massive number of hours to do, and one that focuses on keeping and fostering talent instead of driving it out.  That’s my hope.

The hold up on NCLB and Standardized Testing

July 16, 2015

Just about anyone who is anyone around the education cooler admits that the mandatory standardized testing is hurting kids.  Even some of the most adamant supporters of common core are screaming above the din to not throw out CC with the standardized testing.  Finally it appears that Congress is going to eliminate the federal mandate on how the testing is used (vis a vis teacher evaluation).  Yet, what is the hold up? I’ve figured that a lot of this was money oriented, but it appers I finally found what the hold up is about.

Vox posted an interesting article today which seems to throw a great many minority civil rights groups under the bus.   Nationally, the large groups have been huge backers of NCLB, and for good reason:  Under NCLB, schools with minority populations couldn’t be considered passing, unless each of the minority subgroups are also passing.  In fact, as much as we knock NCLB, this one aspect of NCLB was an overall good thing.  Any schools that were focusing only on the top kids to bring up scores, now had to be desperately worried about what some of the poorer performing students were doing. the original NCLB law had a lot of threatening language, but almost nothing ever really effected a school (ironically, there were gains in minority education, without the threats becoming real). Under Obama, the threats to schools, teachers, and to a lesser degree administrators have become frighteningly real, and are really starting to rip at the fabric of US education (even in private and charter schools).  This may have something to do with Obama being a lot more cozy with large civil rights group than his predecessor.

However, the article has a ray of hope.  Even while the big groups are pushing Congress to maintain the testing requirements and punitive measures, Apparently more and more of the state and local civil rights groups are seeing the light, and are realizing how hurt kids have become by this.  For one, in order to get scores up, you need to put a huge amount of resources toward those test scores … this is true of low performing schools, but even high performing schools need to be critically concerned about demonstrating improvement (which gets statistically more difficult the higher your score is … and we have even seen some states where the expectation on the teacher to improve scores was quite literally (in the literal meaning of the word, “literally”) impossible to accomplish because it would have require students to score above 100% to avoid bringing down the teachers’ evaluation.  However, richer schools can throw money at tests, and still maintain other programs.  Schools in poor areas (read: heavily minority areas) are being gutted of music and the arts and other activities to free up money for test prep (not to mention money to get with the new Common Core).  A lot of locals are seeing this as having the opposite effect on kids, as more and more kids want out and away from school.

In the end, there needs to be a better way.  I think you can require schools to take tests, and you can set different goals for different schools.  If schools are doing fine, leave them alone and let them keep going.  If there are problem areas, identify the problem areas and allow schools to identify how they are tackling those problems.  One sized solutions cannot help what is a highly complicated set of problems.

Edit:  It appears that earlier today, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new version of NCLB which significantly reduces the role of the federal government in state education.  I think the Senate and House need to reconcile their bills.  Hopefully, this is a first step, but it will at lest now make it that much harder for the standardized test backers to fight their fight since they will need to fight it out in 50 state houses instead of just with the Congress.

On the plus side, A UFO blowing up Arne Duncan’s office might be well worth it!

July 7, 2015

The Washington Post, IMO, tends to run some good articles, but today they dipped a bit into the sensational with this article:

Thought experiment:  Aliens vow to destroy U.S. if it doesn’t

quickly build the world’s best schools.

What would we do?

The short answer is we had better hope that our air force is as good as it is in Independence Day. I have zero hope (perhaps even negative hope) that our federal government (and I don’t care which political party is involved) could craft a good national education policy.  The people who have some vision for doing it right won’t go near Washington (not that they ever would be invited), and those who have migrated into Washington are exactly the people we don’t need … people more interested in political power and structure vs. pragmatic change.

Among the central claims:

1.  Sports would move away from schools.

There’s something to be said about this … sports do take up a lot of money and energy from a school.  As long as we understand that this will likely raise drop out rates in some places, then I say we can live with it.  If we offer different programs for those kids, we may be likely to get rid of sports and eat our cake too.

2.  We would face “difficult truths”.

This is author Valerie Strauss’ way of saying that we would start redistributing funds to bring up poor schools, we would eliminate teacher tenure, yet keep unions around in an emasculated state (for appearances, I guess).  Basically she says we would solve these problems.  I think she is simply not in command of the truths of American culture.  If we could agree on these things, we would have acted on them already.  Despite her thought that these are clear cut solutions that we are ignoring, that alone is a trite description of what is going on.  There are no simple, one size fits all solutions, and claiming there are is part of the current problem.  Frankly, in her thought experiment, there would be enough people fighting to the end, basically thinking there is greater hope for our nation in its military to save us than to compromise and create a different but equally flawed system.

3.  Anti-intellectualism would end.  Maybe.  It would be a nice change.  Of course I wonder how long it would take (I’m guessing 3 days max) before someone notices that our enemy aliens are atheistic scientific geniuses, and we should do everything possible to be the opposite of that.

4.  The prestige of teaching would skyrocket.  Maybe.  Of course if things didn’t work out, we would be back to finding  scapegoat, and teachers have been great at filling that role of late.  Consider 9-11 … does anyone remember when policemen were being considered heroes?  How long before we started noticing abuse of police power and that pendulum nationally shifted?  While the police might have enjoyed a lot of support for the better part of a decade, it wasn’t long before that prestige was gone.  We are a society that builds up and tears down.  Aliens are not going to change that.

5.  Our obsession with STEM would end.

Let’s back up to the 1950s.  You may recall that we were faced with destruction from a technologically advanced nation (USSR).  We realized our schools were woefully not up to the challenge, and we absolutely de-emphasized STEM back then.  Just kidding!  We ramped up STEM education in a big way.  In so many ways, we are trying to tear down that established STEM education that was built from the Cold War. The presence of aliens is not going to suddenly mean a renewed interest in language and history.  I am pretty sure it will be just the opposite.

That all said, as a science teacher, I will be the first to say that I am disappointed in the federal measures that have reduced education to English, Math, Science, Lunch … that’s about it.  What ever happened to helping kids become more well rounded?  It is not like our education system is being guided by a man who never really attended school to be well rounded, and is now pushing schools to conform to his vision of churning out STEM workers who can work in his software factories?  Actually, it kind of might be partially like that.

Sale of the Century!

July 1, 2015

I have not written a lot about the White Sox of late.  It has been a very disappointing season for the South Siders, sitting ten games under the 0.500 mark, in a season where there was a lot of buzz about turning the corner and getting into contention.  However, even in the darkest of nights, there can be a bright shining star.  Chris Sale seems to be that beacon of hope.

Let’s talk some numbers.

Last night, June 30, Chris Sale tied the Major League record by striking out 10 or more batters in his 8th straight game.  That is pretty darn good, and it helps to keep in mind that he was playing the St. Louis Cardinals who have already eclipsed 50 wins on the season, doing so in the least number of games of any team of the past decade.

Last night, coincidentally, was also Chris Sale’s 100th career start.  That’s a time when we can take pause and begin comparing him to some other pitchers on a career basis.  Over their first 100 starts, let’s examine some classic strikeout masters in terms of the number of games they had 10 or more strikeouts:

Nolan Ryan: 22

Randy Johnson: 17

Roger Clemens: 18

Pedro Martinez: 19

Clayton Kershaw:  12


Chris Sale:  27


We need to take this with a degree of salt. In the case of Johnson and Clemens, they entered the game at a time when strikeout pitching was starting to wane, though it took of soon enough.  It is difficult to tell for sure if we are passed that or if we are still in the midst of it.  If we are still in it, then Sale’s performance is perhaps not as awe inspiring as it looks.  If we are past the time of great strikeouts (certainly it is nothing like the early 2000s, the Sale’s numbers are incredibly good.


Here are three statlines of note:

  1. 100 starts, 557 strikeouts, 565.1 IP, 30-37, 4.23 ERA
  2. 100 starts, 592 strikeouts, 621.1 IP, 38-34, 3.97 ERA
  3. 100 starts, 766 strikeouts, 682.2 IP, 46-30, 2.81 ERA

You may have guessed that since I am making a point, that last line is Chris Sale, and you would be right.  The second line is Randy Johnson, and the top line belongs to none other than Sandy Koufax.  It is a little difficult to compare across eras, and like stocks, past pitching stats are no indicator of future performance.  Still, those are damn fine numbers compared to not just a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers, but two of the immortal pitchers in baseball history.


Another interesting stat is that Sale is really hear to baffle hitters.  That is, his stuff must look very hittable, but the hitters have a hard time touching it.  From May 23 to June 30, here are the top pitchers in baseball in terms of number of swings-and-a-miss strikes they have thrown:

Cole Hammels:  99

Rubby de La Rosa:  102

Clayton Kershaw:  109


Chris Sale:  171!


This is an enormous statistical difference, and for those not in the baseball orbit, Kershaw has won three of the last four NL Cy Young Awards, including the last two in a row, and is the defending NL MVP.  While he is not enjoying the overwhelming success he has had the past few years, he is, as of today, still leading the NL in strikeouts.


From a franchise perspective, he already owns the career record for games with 10 or more strikeouts.  His 2.17 ERA in 2014 was the lowest of any White Sox pitcher since the Nixon administration.  Of all White Sox pitchers with at least 500 career innings pitched in a Sox uniform, his ratio of strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched is the highest ever, and it is better than a full strikeout-per-9 innings pitched better than the second best pitcher.  The three best White Sox seasons according to strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched are Chris Sale (2014), Chris Sale (2013) and Chris Sale (2012).  If he simply continues at his current pace without improvement, he will improve his own record by over a strikeout and a half-per-9 innings pitched (and would rank as the fifth best season in MLB history at that statistic).


There are 10 White Sox pitchers who have collected 1000 or more career strikeouts while pitching on the South Side.  After the equivalent of 4.5 full seasons of pitching, as of today, Sale has 878.  Again, if he simply continues at his current pace, he will reach 1000 strikeouts before October.  If he were to slow a little, and add 200 strikeouts in 2016, he would end 2016 as the sixth most prolific pitcher in White Sox history … and there is evidence that his best pitching may still be ahead of him.


Is there something stopping Chris Sale?  Two words:


Despite putting up numbers that would beg to question on June 30 if his coronation as this year’s Cy Young Award winner will be a plurality of unanimous, Chris Sale cannot seem to win games because the offense is not getting him routine support.  In fact during this joyous time, Chris Sale joined Randy Johnson and Curt “bloody sock” Schilling as the only pitchers in MLB history to pitch 10 or more strikeouts in four consecutive games and somehow not win any of them!  Last night was no different.  Sale pitched 8 brilliant innings giving up a home run for the Cardinals’ only run, yet the Sox could also manage only one run.  Sale left without a decision in the game, which was won in extra innings.  Just to be complete, here is Sale’s stat line for 2015 through July 1:


15 games, 15 starts, 103.1 IP (76.5% of complete), 2.87 ERA, 141 K (leading AL), 22 BB, 0.968 WHIP, 12.3 K/9 IP (leading AL).  Win-loss record: 6-4.



6-4??????  For the rest of those numbers, one would have to wonder if this is a misprint, because it is more indicative of 11-4.

And herein is the quandry.  Chris Sale is beloved on the South Side, yet in two years when his contract comes up, he must seriously consider if Chicago is where he wants to stay.  It is one thing to put up amazing numbers, but another to not get the support that is needed to win the games and be a champion.  Certainly, on the open market, Sale would command Insane Texas oilman/Insane Arab sheikh prices.  With that in mind, if the Sox get an inkling that Sale will not sign, it may mean at some point that the White Sox will need to consider trading this rare gemstone in hopes of getting something back in return.

Let us hope the offense comes around, and Chris Sale starts getting the support that he has more than earned.