Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another voice for mastering those math facts NOW

The number one course of failure at Oregon State University, you ask: Algebra!!! Professor Argyres, who has taught the course for 10 years, has a theory about this:

He said he feels that this issue originates in elementary school.

"If you never had to memorize your times tables, how do you factor a number with a calculator?" Argyres said. "I see people fail Math 111 for arithmetic issues all the time."

When students never learned the basic information appropriately in high school, or earlier, it is significantly more difficult for them to succeed when they get to college algebra.

Throwing down the gauntlet at our feet. Well, I totally agree. We must send our kids to middle school with those math facts mastered, because if we don't where are they going to master them?

I say we start with a little school wide dose of the KIPP Academy math chants

Hit the road Jack

Hit the road Jack
Originally uploaded by StuartM1
Dennis Fermoyle had some insightful comments about student discipline in charter schools and the looming threat of transfer that they enjoy as the ultimate tool in their disciplinary tool bag.

The bottom line of the good discipline those schools have is a certain reality that has to be in the back of students', parents', and teachers' minds: If a student doesn't meet the behavioral and performance standards of the school, he or she will be gone. In Sweating the Small Stuff, a book about six successful inner-city schools, a teacher is quoted as telling a misbehaving student, "If you're going to act like that, you won't be able to stay here."

He raises a legitimate question regarding those students who are Left Behind through such practices. As I was reflecting on this concept of removing students, I thought about our own context since we are a school of choice in our district. We have the ability, in some cases, to deny or rescind students who are zone transfers. And believe me, we have some staff and parent groups who wish I would use that option more often then I do. In reality, I'm very reluctant to use that tool in elementary school (high school is a different animal altogether and I would be a lot less reluctant to pull the plug).

My thinking is that students who have poor attendance or horrible behavior in elementary school need redirection, reeducation, retraining, and reinforcement of the good behaviors that will allow the student to be successful in the future. We are doing a disservice to the student and our own learning community when we decide to jettison students ... and families when they haven't lived up to our standards. In fact, I like to think that our school is a great place for students who are struggling academically, socially, behaviorally or any other way. We have a staff who will not leave these students in their current state, but will work tirelessly to find the strategy or support that will enable every child to progress and overcome all obstacles. I think that is a sign of a much more impressive school than one that can raise test scores by sending the "troublesome element" elsewhere. My aim is that we would aim to be more of the former than the latter.

Removing Callouses

Callouses can be a real pain. They start off as a minor annoyance and can eventually become quite debilitating as they grow bigger and dig deeper into your foot. I recently had a callous that developed into quite a stinker. It stayed with me for over three years. That's right! Three years. I tried medicine halfheartedly and it made a little progress, but it kept coming back strong. I even went to the Dr. and had a little cut off. I was told I could cut the rest off myself. Have you ever tried to surgically remove a portion of your flesh from the bottom of your foot? Thanks Doc! So, I tried filing off dead skin a couple times a week. In the end, I learned to live with the irritant and just hobbled along with my little friend. Finally, I decided to carefully apply the over-the-counter remedy according to the directions for a full cycle. After about 7 days of faithfully applying medicine and changing the bandage, I ripped off the cover one morning, and to my surprise, the entire crusty little callous came right out of my foot - completely!

So, why would I share such disgusting personal details and what does that have to do with school and leadership? Quite a lot actually. Our schools are full of little callouses,that if left untended, can grow into big problems. As a leader, I must constantly be on the alert for those behaviors that hamper our mission of educating all children to the highest level. There are attitudes, behaviors, comments, practices, that may seem harmless and might be hidden from the view of most onlookers, but they will lead to cancerous growths that can eventually cripple our system. Sometimes, the leader may be the only one who notices - a classroom instructional practice that leaves a few kids in the dark, recess protocols that gives students too much freedom, or a disciplinary procedure that leaves students broken and battered with no chance for redemption or improvement. So, here's my plan on callous detection and removal at school.

1. Keep an eye out for callouses of all kinds in every place.
2. Apply a remedy for removal at the first opportunity.
3. Analyze the effectiveness of that remedy, and change it until the callous is gone.
4. Walk (and learn) with one less obstacle in your way.

Happy Callous Hunting!