Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Speaking of Projects That Are Supposed to Improve Our Lives But Instead Make Us Nuts

Then there's the broadband tower, another project begun last year that should have been done nine months ago. The tower is up, far taller than we'd been led to believe it would be, and entirely nonfunctional, since it is not connected to any power. Neighbors who have called to ask have been told that the system is being held up by a dispute with the landowner. That would be us. It would be funny if it weren't so irritating. As I write, my "high speed" DSL via Frontier tests at 800 kbps down and 162 kbps up. I think PZ did better in Mongolia.

Geothermal, cont.

We signed the paperwork almost a year ago, and our lawn has been torn up for nearly eight months. But finally someone came to smooth it over, remove the rocks, and reseed the lawn. He was by far the best of the workers we've had.

Heat and hot water are still problematic, although 90 percent fixed. Air conditioning works like a dream.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Which the Babies Discover the Wading Pool, and Much Rejoicing Ensues

Reading List

From the world of unreliable narrators come these two. Defending Jacob has received a lot of attention, but it's not as interesting (to me) as Turn of Mind, which is pretty amazing for a first novel.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Frack Map

Thanks to Jim S for this, put together by FracTracker.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Probably Not Surprising...

...but parents object to high-stakes testing, too. This survey conducted by NYC principals (note: not exactly an independent or unbiased group, so I'd like to see the questions) revealed the negative impact on schools and children of increased high-stakes testing. Nothing new or surprising here, but it does make you wonder whether public policy is aligning with public interest.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Perfect Storm

Here's a prediction for 2014: That will be the year in which the current testing strategies for schools blow sky-high. I don't know what the replacement for our testing mania will be, but 2014 looks to be annus horribilis for school districts across the nation.

A few things will combine to cause this disaster. (1) The "national" testing created by two consortia of states will hit districts. Judging by the rates being paid to freelancers, the rigorous requirements of the Common Core State Standards, and the current lousy reputation of at least one of the testing companies hired to birth these new tests, I predict a slew of errors, over-the-top readability levels, and scores that make today's students look like geniuses in comparison. (2) The veil of secrecy surrounding the test preparation ensures that districts will not be ready to test all students on computer, because they will lack the bandwidth necessary for potential multimedia questions, they will not have adequate banks of computers for whatever the recommended numbers of test-takers might turn out to be, and they will not have time to prepare younger students with the skills they will need simply to perform the mechanics needed to select or type responses. (3) Because these tests are cloud-based computerized tests, no district will be able to test all students at once, because no district will have that kind of hardware plus bandwidth. Therefore, students will be tested in batches and questions will be randomized, leading to concerns about apples v. oranges as students in the same grade take different tests. Because students are tested in batches, more learning time will be lost as teachers oversee testing and perform grading tasks over several days rather than all at once. (4) Because teachers are now being assessed partly on how well their students do on these assessments, there will be hell to pay when those teachers discover that their students' scores are in the toilet thanks to (1) or (2) or (3).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Before and After

I thought I'd look at the rise in tax levies in our area before and after the tax cap. Compared to 2011–12, some levy increases are substantially lower. Others are not much different. Lansing's and Tburg's are higher than before.

District % Increase in Levy 2011–12 % Increase in Levy 2012–13
Candor 7.44 2.04
Dryden 5.50 2.86
Groton 6.04 3.85
Ithaca 2.39 2.30
Lansing 4.37 5.43
Newfield 8.00 3.67
South Seneca 3.24 2.80
Trumansburg -1.96 2.74

Be Careful What You Wish For

Paul has, of course, won a three-year seat on the school board, just at a time where things are heading south, morale-wise, but when there's also a grand opportunity to remake the middle school-high school as three administrators depart. Dominique Bouchard mounted a write-in campaign but lost to an incumbent who had at first decided not to run again, Brian June. The other two winners were also incumbents.

It is difficult to assess the direction of the board, because media rarely cover their meetings. At least now I'll have my own private ear to the ground.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vote Today

Polls are open in Dryden from 7 AM until 9 PM.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


In light of all the excitement over Obama's support of gay marriage, it's interesting to note that the three Republicans who crossed party lines to endorse it in NYS are still being punished, and the first of three has dropped out of his senatorial race.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meet the Dryden BoE Candidates

In order of their appearance on the ballot, here are the IJ columns by Paul Lutwak, Bill Harding, and Lawrence Lyon. After what I saw at the BoE meeting Monday, I expect a flurry of write-ins for that fourth seat.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trouble with a Capital T

What happens when I haven't been to a board of ed meeting in a while: Shit Hits Fan. Dryden is in the process of replacing a middle school principal, a high school principal, and an athletic director/assistant principal for the middle school/high school—a great opportunity to fix a lot of problems and change the culture, in my opinion. The background seems to be that discipline problems are enormous at the MS/HS, especially in the 8th grade, much in the same way that they were about 15 years ago. At that time, the district moved the high school principal down to elementary (which he felt was a horrible demotion and never forgave anyone for) and hired a high school principal whose main skill was discipline. Over the years, we all learned that a single-minded focus on discipline was not all that we needed in a high school principal. To give the guy some credit, the behavior problems did clear up. Now that he's out, we're back there again, it seems. Add to that an advisory board of teachers and parents who ended up under the misapprehension that they were the final word on hiring the new middle school principal, plus an administrative committee that did not pass on either candidate that advisory board put forward, and you have some riled-up parents and teachers.

I can understand their pain a bit, having been there. Back pre-Archambault, Paul and I preferred one candidate by far in a superintendent search, and the board accepted none of the candidates and reopened the search. Then back pre-Crawford, Paul picked the new superintendent dead last out of three, going so far as to say to himself "over my dead body." Paul continues to say "I told you so" about that one.

There was some talk tonight about combining all the vetting committees into one giant committee. I can tell you from experience that teachers who might be as vocal as can be with parents won't open up in front of administrators. I have no idea why parents and teachers were on the same committee this time; it seems like a recipe for disaster. A safe prediction might be that it would lead to Us v. Those Damned Administrators, and so it did. My only consolation is that I'm not on the BoE, and Paul, sleeping soundly, doesn't know what he's walking into. He'll have to pick up a copy of the Cortland Standard tomorrow afternoon, since nobody else bothers to cover Dryden meetings anymore. I give Chris Gibbons kudos for a reasoned and earnest response to some very angry remarks. Yeesh.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commission or Smokescreen?

Here's the thing. If I were going to establish an educational advisory group for New York State, I think I'd include at least one person who actually works with students in a public school setting. I might include at least one person who comes from upstate New York. And I probably wouldn't chair it with the retired chairman of Citigroup.

The New York State School Board Association is all irked because there are no school board members on the commission, but to be perfectly honest, school board members don't know anything more about education than bank board presidents do. Instead, the governor has larded his commission with the sort of people who become quickly bored with school life, get out, and establish a nonprofit so that they can talk pie-in-the-sky till the cows come home about how much better schools could be.

What's really needed are principals, who can talk about how the state's current reporting requirements force them to spend days out of each month juggling data instead of observing teachers or dealing with student problems. Maybe a superintendent or two to explain once and for all why the legislature's Good Ideas translate into lost dollars and diminished programs, and how spending 1/10 of the school year testing or grading limits student-teacher interaction and the possibility of learning.

I might include somebody from upstate to speak to the idea that establishing charter schools in small communities merely siphons needed dollars from struggling public schools, and to tell why consolidation is such anathema to people whose identities are tied to a school, a post office, and sometimes a tiny library.

But I don't think this is a real commission. I think it is sleight of hand—look over here at this cool bunch of people while back here I do what I want.

There are people on this commission whom I truly admire: Geoffrey Canada! Michael Rebell! But I think they were chosen not to act, but to talk, and I think the time for talking is probably over.