Monday, October 20, 2014

Costs Shifted

For the first time ever I shopped health coverage today. Shopped might be too strong a word. Selected might be better. My employer, in an alleged cost-saving move, switched us into a consortium with other area school districts, so we're switching from Amerihealth to Blue Cross. We didn't have too many choices: really just an option of the new-age HMO vs. a preferred provider. But it does involve a choice, whether we want to maintain all the independence we did have or opt for something that costs less in exchange for having our options managed.

I decided to go with the lower cost. If I'm earnest about our nation lowering its health spending, I guess I should be part of the solution.

Ironically, the cost-saving move is costing us more money. Apparently we didn't read the fine print that we'd now be liable for paying for subscriptions. Irritating. Though it's nothing compared to the "deal" shoved down the throats of my colleagues in Philly. I did see all sorts of political figures line up behind that decision because, after all, who doesn't want to see teachers pay their fair share.

It seems like society enjoys making sure we're all paying our fare share.

So, 2014 comes to an end and we see costs shifting decisively to the employee. Cadillac tax, co-pay, premium share . . . it really doesn't matter what the jargon, more of the bill is become more explicitly laid on shoulders of the employee for health care. This might be a good thing for society. The cost of medical coverage has long been obscured, and in such an environment costs escalate. As an amateur economist, I can't help but appreciate the unveiling of a bill for what had seemed to be a free lunch. But I must ask: Now that we're shifting the cost of medical coverage (and retirement) to the employee, are we ready to discuss better pay?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Current Streak: 1

We made it to church today. In a stunning display of timeliness for our family, all four were there by 7:45. That's as in quarter of 8!

Caroline's choir was singing at the 8:15 service, which explains why we were there so early. The incentive to get donuts, which has been a reward set in place since last spring.

I'm not the best at being on time to church, and I'm not quite sure why that is. At some point I'd like to work on the punctuality to church, but as for right now I think it's best that we focus just on getting there period.

The best reward for being in church today, however, was hearing my friend announce that he and his wife have a baby on the way. I like that.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Self-Serving Rant on Standardization

I finally had my fill of an obnoxious little function of modern-day life: browser incompatibility. I've learned in 2014 that:

a) Internet Explorer doesn't work with a lot of things
b) Chrome is really convenient to use, but only works well when one consistently uses it
c) Firefox is nice and plays nicely with a lot of things but . . .
d) . . . for some reason won't work with the website of my favorite magazine, The Week 
e) my employer will not allow Chrome on its computers
f) that Internet Explorer doesn't work well with a critical website at my workplace makes a good-natured colleague turn to me for something s/he could otherwise do if it wasn't for this browser idiocy
g) and tonight I learned that the e-version of the textbook I'm piloting has one chapter (of 31) that won't work with Chrome . . .

So, I lost it. Kind of.

I filed a complaint to the company who maintains the website referenced in g) and when the IT person recommended that I try Firefox instead I replied with a comment saying a) I get it and b) I'm sick of this being the answer.

I don't fault the IT people who put up these websites. Full disclosure: I'm married to someone who does this stuff (and I see how she works tirelessly to test these glitchy things).

I blame the usual suspects: Microsoft and Google. Firefox, this time you're escaping my wrath. Same with you, Apple. I'm laying this at the feet of Microsoft and Google. Obviously, they've over-worked features into their over-engineered programs (that we seemingly get for free) to create hiccups like this.

Allow me to don my history teacher's hat for a moment. When I teach my students about our industrial past, I like to highlight the value that standardization* played in the world of America's growing commerce. The railroads standardized gauge and time. Stapler makers standardized the size of staples. Typewriter manufacturers standardized the keypad. As we took to the roads, we standardized signage of highways and the systems by which we assigned route numbers. Standardization promoted efficiency and productivity.** Our worlds will work faster, too, if the damn browsers can play nicely.

*Enjoy the irony, those who read of my fight against the homogenization of teaching. I resist standardization when dealing with human beings, especially children. But I'll champion it for things like staplers, the gauge of railroads, and web browsers.

**I know, I know, the QWERTY keyboard actually slows us down.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sundays

I'm grateful to have had a chance to read some of Why Nobody Goes to Church Anymore. Something that is challenging me: though 40% claim to attend church every Sunday it's really more like 20%. I'm not in that twenty, but I'm in that forty. If I were to go back to June, the end of the school year, and count Sundays in or out of church, the Sundays out of church might just outnumber those in. If one takes any particular week that we weren't at church, the reason seemed quite logical. Often, it was to free us up for family gatherings or worthwhile events with friends. But are such worthwhile things just an excuse to duck church? Are we treating our church home like a vacation property rather than a true home? Am I oblivious to how being at church is being part of building a community, that others might benefit from me and my family being there?

I'm wondering how many weeks in a row we could get to church, starting Sunday, October 19.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tracking

Tracking is something of a dirty word in education. Differentiated instruction is very much in. I can't necessarily say either of these prevailing winds is bad. Tracking can consign a student to a second-tier educational experience. Differentiated instruction acknowledges the difficulty of getting a whole class of adolescents to arrive at the same point in mastering a skill or content piece at the same time.

Today I was sifting through the results of my students on their first couple of tests for me. I broke down the data and sorted my students out into clusters. I made groups based on kids who aren't missing a beat, then groups of students who are struggling. Groups that seemed to be tripped up on the first test but then find range on the second. And so on.

Then I realized, I'm tracking them. I might be up to differentiated instruction, but I'm tracking them within my class.

I'm not ready to draw a conclusion as to whether or not I'm doing the right or wrong thing, or to cast some sort of judgment on tracking or DI. But I think it is worth wondering if tracking might be a more efficient means of doing what I'm doing. It's also worth wondering whether or not DI gives us the benefits of tracking without the cost of the way it traps kids into tracks that limit their possibilities.

. . . But the economics teacher must point out that there's no such thing as a free lunch. What I did takes time. Also, it's done by a novice at data. I avoided Statistics classes like the plague and, still after 17 years, I still don't have a true degree in education.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Or then again, maybe we just don't want to look . . .

I guess I could've read this before my most recent post. Doing so would've made me a bit more salty.

Or, it would've just made me sigh.

Parochialism with Public Schools

I've mentioned before that I like Catherine Rampell's writing, haven't I? She has a brief item on Washington Post's website today that caught my eye. I'm intrigued at the observation on how Americans rally around their school despite misgivings on public education much the same way Americans think their particular member of Congress isn't part of the problem. I also note how one's public school is a fluid concept: if one has children in a public school, that public school becomes their school. One's public school can be the school they remember from their youth. Regardless, we tend to defend what we know or think we know.

There's an angle on objectivity that we cannot overlook here. I think it's possible for people to overlook the negatives of their school, to romanticize their school and experiences at it. To an extent, I think we give our own schools a bit of a pass.

A more important observation I would offer, though, is that we tend to defend what we understand and know. In the past two decades, public schools have become harder to know. We've responded to safety concerns in the era of Columbine and other mass shootings by turning schools into fortresses. Members of the community are largely unwelcome. Parents, except for those who heavily invest themselves in PTOs or parent councils, are deterred by redundant security measures and locked doors. Entering a public school during the student day can bring up obstacles that remind one of scenes from a Tom Clancy movie where one has to pass through checkpoint after checkpoint as one descends the inner layers of White House security. With the exception of theater performances and varsity sporting events, schools are institutionally inhospitable.

The security culture that now defines much of public education means that we work behind brick walls rather than glass doors. A tradeoff for the sense of security is that what we do is harder for the public to know, and what the public doesn't know they have a hard time defending. What can the public really see aside from test scores, teacher salaries, and the "payment due" on their property tax bills? Perhaps public education in general needs to figure out a way to showcase more of what we do K-12 across all disciplines the way wise theater directors offer "golden tickets" to senior citizens and the way sports stadiums invite the community to watch children at play (and work). People cannot defend what they don't know.