Monthly Archives: May 2018

Guns Do Not Kill People?

Guns do not kill people;
A gun on a table never harmed anyone;
People kill people!
Nevertheless, nothing is ever done.
Lives are lost –
Too many lives ARE lost,
Because we fear the loss of our guns.

But did you know?

Airplanes don’t kill people when they crash;
An airplane in a hangar never harmed anyone;
People – pilot error – kill people!
Nevertheless, we mandate air safety regulations.
Lives are saved –
Not all lives, but many lives ARE saved,
And regulations have not resulted in loss of airplanes.

Automobiles do not kill people in collisions;
An automobile left in a garage never harmed anyone;
People – driver error – kill people!
Nevertheless, we mandate and install seat belts.
Lives are saved –
Not all lives, but many lives ARE saved,
And seat belts have not resulted in loss of automobiles.

Trains do not kill people at railroad crossings;
A train parked in the train yard never harmed anyone;
People – engineer error or careless drivers – kill people!
Nevertheless, we mandate and install crossing gates.
Lives are saved –
Not all lives, but many lives ARE saved,
And crossing gates have not resulted in loss of trains.

Guns don’t kill people;
A gun on a table never harmed anyone;
People kill people!
Nevertheless, we refuse to mandate new gun regulations.
Lives could be saved –
Not all lives, but many lives COULD BE saved, but
For the sake of the gun, we forsake the life we might have SAVED.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 20, 2018
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Testing, Budgets, Movies, and Free Days – Oh My!

Since the late 1990’s when the current testing craze first started to dig its heel into the throat of K-12 public school education, I have been an advocate for testing as a means of holding educators and students accountable for learning in the classroom.  I still am, but with growing reservations.  Originally, State Testing was intended as an accountability tool to measure student academic growth and improve classroom instruction; however, regrettably, I have watched it morph into a teacher eating, time wasting monster.  It, along with its local test counterparts (STAR, NWEA, and other commercially designed software programs aimed at remediation, student tracking, and general test taking prep), has become an accountability system of excessiveness void of accountability for the chaos and harm it is causing in the classroom.  I still believe K-12 education needs accountability, but not at the expense of the learning environment and profession it was created to protect and improve.

State Testing, Oh My!

  1. State testing was never intended to cut or waste instructional time! Countless instructional hours are replaced each school year not only by testing but by overboard remediation, test prep, and classroom filler time such as movies and free days.  It is hard to blame school administrators and teachers for short changing instruction in favor of test prep when their careers are judged by marginal black and white data that has little regard for real world data.   Beginning in April, sometimes earlier, and extending to the end of the school year, teachers are busy prepping/remediating kids for the BIG TESTS.  During these months, kids spend classroom time doing little to nothing in class other than prepping for the upcoming state tests, watching movies, and enjoying free days.  What is the use in teaching anything new once test season arrives seems to be a widespread teacher mindset.  As a result, there is very little new material taught the second half of the school year, especially the last quarter.  It could effectively be argued the last two months of the school year are instructionally a waste of time;
  2. State testing was never intended to chase good teachers out of the profession by adding stress, stress, and more stress! Why would any sane young person want to be a grade school teacher or a core subject area teacher in high school?  In today’s test happy, under the microscope world of education, I would strongly consider a non-tested area if I were a young teacher beginning my career.  All teaching can be stressful, but the same money is made for a non-tested area as for a tested area, so taking the less stressful, less scrutinized option makes the most sense; and
  3. State testing was never intended to dehumanize children and teachers. However, data is “black and white.”  It does not consider the gray areas, such as home life, that often have more impact on student success and growth than what the teacher does in the classroom.  I encourage anyone who has never walked in the shoes of a teacher to talk to one or many and hear this all too true side of the testing story.  Humans tend to be much more complicated than the data gathered to represent them.

Testing Budgets, Oh My!

  1. Nationwide, 1.7 billion dollars is spent each year on accountability testing in public schools. Mississippi alone spends over 10 million dollars annually on K-12 standardized assessments.  That does not include the dollars individual school districts spend on assessments such as STAR, NWEA, and ACT;
  2. State testing means Mississippi education dollars are padding the pockets of big testing companies while Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid teachers in the nation; and
  3. State testing means many school districts, especially larger districts, are forced to hire extra administrative help to handle the volume and logistics of testing. Much of this extra work also falls on the shoulders of counselors and teachers who are already stretched to the maximum limit for time.

Movies and Free Days, Oh My!

  1. State Testing means classroom instruction in many schools basically comes to a stop in April and May as teachers prep and cram for the end of month and early May tests. In addition to the prep time, classroom movies and free days with no instructional purpose are widespread in the days before and after the state assessments;
  2. State Testing means as much as 25% of a school’s Instructional time is wasted on testing each year; and
  3. State Testing means over the course of a K-12 school career, students lose as much as 2.5 years of classroom instruction due to standardized testing and wasted classroom time. No wonder the United States ranks 14th in the world in education behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, and Russia.

Questions all Mississippians need to ask about State Testing?

  1. Is state testing good for kids? Over the years, the testing model has changed frequently, so how effective it is measuring student growth and instructional strengths and weaknesses depends largely on who is asked – teachers or test makers.  Are students better off testing or would they be better served staying in the classroom and receiving the instruction they are currently missing is the question that needs to be seriously studied?
  2. Is state testing good for teachers? The stress of state testing, poor pay, wide spread disrespect for the teaching profession, and lack of or poor administrative support are four major reasons teachers leave the profession and highly intelligent young people choose other professions over a teaching career.  How long can public schools survive the growing teacher shortage is a serious question that needs to be addressed and soon!
  3. Is state testing worth the loss of instructional time? As a grandparent and former educator, the loss/waste of instructional time is my greatest concern with present testing practices.  As a grandparent it concerns me when I talk to my grandchildren about their school day and discover instructional time is being used to review for the state tests.  As a former educator, I understand there may be a need to review the week before the test but shutting down class for a month prior to the test is, in my opinion, bordering on education malpractice.  Also, it concerns me greatly when my grandchildren tell me they have spent a week watching movies and having free time in class!  I am sorry if I step on some teachers’ toes, but that is wrong and unacceptable!  Using class instructional time excessively to prep for state tests as well as waste class time showing movies or allowing classroom free days because teachers feel it is useless to teach anything new during test season is harmful to kids.  Some teachers will argue movies can be educational, and in small teacher guided increments, I might agree, but there is little educational merit in showing whole movies in class or giving students a free day in class for the sake of keeping students entertained and out of the teacher’s hair.  Such practices are babysitting and should be monitored closely and stopped immediately; and
  4. Do state tests hold anyone accountable other than teachers? Under the present accountability model, all accountability lies on the shoulders of teachers and to a small extent the students. For a system to be truly accountable, it must hold all shareholders equally accountable including educators, students, parents, and state and local government.  I bet the state legislature could find adequate funds for public schools if they were held to the same accountability fire as teachers.

    What is the bottom line for State Testing in Mississippi?

  1. State testing has led to wasting significant classroom instructional time that is negatively impacting the education of children;
  2. During the last quarter of the school year, state testing turns the school house into a house of remediation that instructionally short changes all but the lowest functioning students; and
  3. I believe state testing has helped bring about needed improvements and accountability in Mississippi public schools, but I have also come to believe it may be doing kids more harm than good, especially when the loss of instructional time is thrown into the equation. Today’s students may be short in their knowledge of geography, but they can engage in movie trivia with confidence and take a test with the best.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to say accountability testing in Mississippi may have reached a plateau surrounded by shear drops of rocky hazardous canyons with no bottom in sight and no bridge sturdy enough to cross to the other side.  In the quest for continued improvement, good intentions have pushed public schools to the edge.  Mississippi has grown from a state education system with little accountability to a system so deep in accountability, it has lost sight of what is most important – TEACHING KIDS or DATA COLLECTION?  All too often, too much of a good thing can result in diminished returns, and that is the case, as I see it, for testing in K-12 public schools.  The current state of standardized testing has become too much of a good thing.  Testing has become a good idea gone bad!  As a direct or indirect result of state testing, classroom instruction has been abused.  Schools have traded instruction for data that is compromised by the demise of classroom instruction resulting from an overabundance of data collection.  Some testing is reasonable and needed, some loss of instructional time due to testing is to be expected, but the monster that the present system has become is unacceptable and hurting kids.

Can it be fixed?  Can a device that has morphed into an almost exclusive tool for ranking and calling out teachers be saved?  Is it possible to find a solution that would be more fiscally responsible, learning friendly, less accountability biased, and less stressful?  Is it possible to have an accountability system that doesn’t bring teachers to their knees and public schools to a standstill and maybe to the brink of extinction?  YES, it can be fixed, and it should be fixed.  Like any organization, schools need accountability, but if the accountability model jeopardizes the organization through disenfranchisement of its core practitioners (teachers) and practice (instruction), changes must be made to right the ship before it is capsized, and irrevocable damage is done.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2018

Our First Cruise:  Seven Days to the Bahamas

One of the things my wife and I said we would do when we retired was go on a cruise.  We finally accomplished that goal in April when we joined another couple on a seven-day cruise out of New Orleans to the Bahamas.  Our biggest fear was my wife would get sick during the trip from the motion of the boat, and I would end up pushing her around the ship in a wheelchair as I have on two occasions at Disney World.  The first time was after she rode the Tower of Terror, which with her vertigo issues was dumb on my part for letting her ride.  I always wondered why Disney has so many wheelchairs available at their top thrill rides; now I know.  However, not willing to settle for dumb, on our next trip, I convinced her motion sickness was all in her head and she could ride Thunder Mountain.  That elevated me to the stupidity level, and for the second time I had to wheel her across Disney in search of a cool place to throw up and lay down for a spell.  So, when it came to a cruise, she wisely tuned me out, and visited her doctor for help.  I have no idea what kind of chemical wonder drug is on the patch he gave her to stick behind her ear, but it worked!  Even during a few wobbly moments when the boat rocked a little more than usual, she held her lunch and we had a wheelchairless fantastic time.

I was amazed at the organization of such a huge operation.  For a ship with 3,900 passengers and over 1,500 crew, I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything worked from boarding, to room service, to activities, to getting everyone off the boat in an orderly and time efficient manner when the cruise was over.  When it came to customer relations, I can think of several local businesses that would do well to take the cruise and study how customers should be treated, especially if return business is expected.  The only thing that was slightly disconcerting at times was the language barrier that existed when trying to communicate with ship staff.  Most of the ship personnel we encountered were Indian with a few Germans, Swedes, and Italians thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes their less than perfect English and our Southern drawl and language bias ears conflicted.  That didn’t happen often and when it did, the ship employee slowed down and listened more intently and patiently to our question.  When dealing with the customer, they never lost sight of their commitment to provide a smooth and enjoyable experience.  They were extremely friendly and helpful.  They did not exhibit an attitude they were doing us a favor to wait on us like so many local store employees often do.  The employees on the Carnival Dream acted like they enjoyed their jobs and were genuinely appreciative we had chosen their ship for our vacation.  Some of our home town businesses could learn a lot from them.

Food!  I had always heard there was plenty to eat on a cruise, and I was not disappointed in the quantity.  Italian, Mongolian, Asian, Pizza, Guy Fieri Burgers, salads, deserts, and ice cream were available throughout the day, and at night there was fine dining in the ship’s more elegant restaurants.  Overall, the fine dining experience was excellent with a waiter who called you by name while serving your table each evening.  The restaurant food was excellent, but I would strongly advise against the lasagna.  The Indian chef did not have a clue how to prepare lasagna, but he more than made up for that disaster with the prime rib and steamed mussels he prepared the last night of the cruise.  However, my favorite food on the cruise was the soft serve ice cream!  I stopped for a cone of soft serve vanilla or strawberry every time I passed a machine, which was frequently.  I don’t know where my wife can find one of those machines, but after this cruise, it is number one on my Christmas list.

Shore excursions are a big part of a cruise, and we took full advantage of our time off the boat.  Our first stop was Key West where we opted out of a paid excursion and chose to tour the town on our own.  The weather was in the 80s but otherwise perfect.  We had no idea where we were going when we left the ship, but after following the wives through countless tee-shirt, trinkets, and beach bag shops, we found a guitar store where my good friend and I were allowed by our wives to browse for a solid five minutes.  From there we toured Earnest Hemingway’s house, and ended the afternoon with key-lime pie at a little joint off the beaten path.  After the pie, we continued our leisurely stroll through the streets of Key West.  We were in no hurry until we realized we were in danger of missing our ship’s departure time.  We made it, but we were close to becoming Key West residents.  The ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30 p.m.; we made it back to the ship at 4:20 p.m.  In our minds, the only thing that mattered was we made it, but from the rolling eyes of the ship crew members who hurriedly ushered us aboard, I am not so sure, they felt the same way.

The second stop was at Freeport in the Bahamas where we were introduced to driving on the wrong side of the road by a very lively 75-year-old bus driver.  Freeport was one of the saddest places I have ever visited.  As we rode to Paradise Cove, our destination for the day, I was struck by the poverty of the area.  Most of the homes were run down if not completely crumbling.  Weathered blue tarps ripped into threads by the wind and rain covered many homes, a reminder of the destruction tropical storms and hurricanes brought to the little island of 40,000 people.  However, listening to the bus driver, you would have thought he lived in paradise.  He did not shy from talking about the poor conditions, yet he spoke with pride and hope for his island home.  At one point, he pointed out his home as we drove by, which was humble, but a castle compared to his neighbors.    He dropped us off at the cove where we spent the day relaxing on a small beach and snorkeling in crystal clear blue-green water.  What struck me most about Freeport was how appreciative the bus driver and the adults and teens who operated the Blue Lagoon facilities were that we had chosen to spend our time and money with them.  Not once, did I see a frown in Freeport.

The third stop was Nassau where we took a ferry to Blue Lagoon Island.  Like Paradise Cove in Freeport, the water was crystal clear and changed from blues to greens throughout the day depending on the light reflecting on the water.  We relaxed on the beach and tubed in the shallow water and enjoyed a buffet lunch as part of the excursion package.  A major attraction of the lagoon was swimming with the dolphins (an extra charge, which we did not choose to pay).  With the assistance of guides, paying customers were treated to an afternoon of swimming and playing with the beautiful and amazingly intelligent animals.  If I go back, I will spend the extra money to swim with those beautiful creatures.  The people I watched in the water with them were having too much fun for me not to give it a try.  Swimming with the dolphins in the Blue Lagoon is now on my bucket list.

As much fun as we had on the ship and the shore excursions, I must admit, the ship itself reminded me of a prison.  A very relaxing and beautiful prison but confining nevertheless.  For me, it will never replace a cross country camping trip in my travel trailer.  I enjoy open spaces, and there is little of that on a cruise ship.  However, I enjoyed the food, the live entertainment, the shore excursions, the company of good friends, and the soft serve ice cream enough to go again at the first opportunity.  However, the biggest reason I will continue to take cruises is my wife.  Not once during the trip did I have to push her in a wheelchair!  By itself, that made for a very enjoyable trip and gives me the motivation to return to the high seas as soon as possible to continue my adventures on a floating luxury shopping mall.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 4, 2018