Thursday, January 10, 2008

[School Boards] More on LT's Mysterious Mississippi Board Member Standards

As far as I can tell, there is nothing specific in the legislation that LT discovered. However, I don't think I've found the actual text yet, so who knows what's really involved.

The best I could find was this:

The Quality Education Act of 2008 proposes legislation to enhance the training of local school board members and provide assurance that board members demonstrate the ability to execute the duties inherent in this important office.

As you might note, it says nothing about increasing the requirement. It also pretends that it costs nothing to train school board members.

Also, I discovered that it sounds like superintendents in Mississippi are elected by the public, not appointed by the school board.... forget I said anything. Best not to give (future Superintendent) Rick Alexander any ideas.

[The Onion] Jimmy Carter Goes Off

Everyone knows The Onion is satire, right?

This op/ed, purported to be by ex-President Jimmy Carter, is frackin' hilarious.

It's also - by far - the foulest thing I have ever linked to. I'm not sure it's work-safe. There are no pictures, but there are also no words in it that you can say at a family dinner, either.

The funniest part is that it's pretty much completely true. As much as Carter gets dumped on by politicians these days, he is looking smarter and smarter every passing day.

Oh, just go read the frackin' thing.

[LCSD] The Asbestos Blame Game!

Shortly after I posted my little rant about Rick Alexander and asbestos, I received an email from a reader:

A note on Asbestos in schools- when you attended school in Lebanon, all of your schools contained asbestos. It was Jim Robinson who directed the custodians 4 years ago (right before he illegally contracted them out...) to 'deep strip' the 200's [at the high school] while school was still in session.

This lead to the release of asbestos into both the air and waste water. OSHA investigated and documented this release, and directed the District to 'inform in writing' all affected employees (domain of OSHA) of their 'exposure'. The district never complied, rather they appealed their fine, got it reduced, and I am guessing just paid the fine.

Ouch. This does not reflect well on Jim Robinson if it's true (and at this point I have no reason disbelieve it).

This is also not the first time I've heard this. I was unable to find any information on the Democrat-Herald or Express websites, but I started looking around the Oregon OSHA website and lo and behold, something. I'm just not sure what.

For example, this is from the incident that I think best tracks with the email I received (though I had to ditch the formatting):

Violation Summary:

Three (3) serious violations
Initial Penalty 1500
Current Penalty 450

Each violation has a link; all are labeled 'asbestos'. The dates on the violation are from June and July of 2004.

There is also a record under each of initial penalty and a notation that suggests a settlement - again, this tracks exactly with what is in the email.

The problem is that the notations are full of jargon and ID numbers instead of actual words. But the timing is right.

While this does not in any way excuse Rick Alexander's behavior, it does suggest he's not the only one who needs to go to detention.

Oh, and if you go here and search for Lebanon, you get several results for the LCSD above and beyond the one I cited above.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

[Online Privacy] Good Truthout Article On Facebook and Privacy

Truthout is one of those sites, like Common Dreams, that I have had to stop reading for fear that it will take over my life.

That said, a friend passed this article on and it's a good one ('good', of course, referencing quality - it's sure not a synonym with 'happy' in this case).

The gist of the article is that it takes Facebook as an example of the changing views and technological limits around privacy and wonders if anyone under 25 gives a shit. For example:

Growing up online, young people assume their inner circle knows their business. The "new privacy" is about controlling how many people know - not if anyone knows. "Information is not private because no one knows it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled," argues Danah Boyd...

There's Danah Boyd again!

Oh, and I wonder if what Boyd is talking about is a difference of degree or a difference in kind? Or if it doesn't matter, since the difference of degree is so great it might as well be a difference in kind....

And this:

One study at the University of North Carolina, for example, found more than 60 percent of Facebook users posted their political views, relationship status, personal picture, interests and address. People also post a whopping 14 million personal photos every single day, making Facebook the top photo website in the country. Then users diligently label one another in these pictures, enabling visitors to see every photo anyone has ever posted of other people, regardless of their consent or knowledge. Even if users terminate their membership, pictures of them posted by others remain online. But users can't really quit, anyway.

We are cataloging reality instead of living it. Or, at least, our lives are getting progressively more boring even as they get progressively more catalogued, tracked and cross-referenced.

Is this the new bookworm, the newest way of mediating reality rather than face it? (And I mean that in the ever-so-slightly perjorative sense even having been one, more or less.) That's a scary thought.

One last bit:

Yet the same young people posting all this personal information and relinquishing their photos to corporate control still say they value privacy. A Carnegie Mellon study found that students on Facebook think privacy policy is a "highly important issue," ranking above terrorism, and many would be very concerned if a stranger knew their class schedule or could find out their political views five years from now. Of the students who expressed the highest possible concern about protecting their class schedule, however, 40 percent still posted it on Facebook, and 47 percent of those concerned about political views still provided them. The study concluded there was "little or no relation between participants' reported privacy attitudes and their likelihood of providing certain information."

Why would young people publicize the very information they want to keep private?

Critics argue that privacy does not matter to children who were raised in a wired celebrity culture that promises a niche audience for everyone. Why hide when you can perform? But even if young people are performing, many are clueless about the size of their audience. That's because the new generation is often proficient with technology it doesn't fully understand. The Carnegie Mellon study found that one-third of students don't realize that it is easy for nonstudents to access their Facebook profiles. And 30 percent of students did not even know they had an option to limit access to their profile.

Har..... we are so (as a friend of mine says) f*ckered.

1984 is turning out to be tame in comparison to staring the Authority in the face: It is us, uncaring.

[LCSD] Is the Game Over?

From the Democrat-Herald:

LEBANON — The Oregon Department of Education has asked to meet with Superintendent Jim Robinson regarding complaints about People Involved in Education.

Ed Dennis, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said the department received one e-mail and one phone call complaining about PIE shortly after the Lebanon School Board’s Dec. 3 meeting, when members voted 4-1 to renew PIE’s contract to run Sand Ridge Charter School.

Both complaints, which were anonymous, said the Lebanon board had received information showing PIE was not complying with certain state rules and regulations and was not acting on the information. The caller and the e-mail asked the state to intervene.

“My hope is whatever the issues are, they can be resolved at a local level and there isn’t something that would require the state to get involved,” Dennis said this morning. “I don’t know if there is or isn’t at this point. That’s part of the reason I want to have a conversation with the foks down there.”

Dennis asked Robinson to meet with him Jan. 15 and bring the materials presented to the Lebanon board. He said he wanted to talk with Robinson before contacting PIE.

This could go anywhere - here's to hoping it goes somewhere.

Also, I say this with a healthy does of hope that Ed Dennis is right: he obviously has no idea who he's dealing with here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

[LCSD] The Stupid, It Burns Like the Sun.

For the first time, I was briefly glad I stopped working in Lebanon.

It happened, of course, when I read the latest Democrat-Herald story on the school board meeting from Monday.

My sense of relief was quickly tempered by my knowledge of self: I don't really care any less just because I'm not personally affected (after all, I was never really directly affected in the first place). Trees falling in the forest really do make a sound, I promise... and injustice affects everyone.

Check this out:

The Lebanon School Board voted 3-2 Monday, with Rick Alexander and Josh Wineteer dissenting, to eliminate [Crowfoot] [E]lementary [S]chool...


Asbestos, electrical and water problems plague the building. District officials have said it would take about $2 million to bring it up to code.


Last year, People Involved in Education, the nonprofit that runs Sand Ridge Charter School, had asked the district to deed the building to PIE and allow it to lease the property for $1 a year.

Alexander and Wineteer had urged the board to accept the proposal. They reiterated the proposal Monday, saying it’s a mistake to eliminate what they see as a district asset without allowing PIE to try to save it.

“We still have a structure that functions,” Wineteer said. “If we vote now to burn that thing down, we have eliminated that asset.”

So.... which is it? are Rick and Josh really so f*cking stupid as to put kids in a building full of asbestos? Or are they simply that mean?

Because that's what we're talking about here. This isn't doing things that are ill-advised but legal, or even illegal but don't put others in physical danger.

No, this is different. This is working towards putting students in a situation that is illegal because it puts students in a building with a substance that causes cancer.

Are you paying attention, Lebanon? That is what Rick Alexander is advocating, because there's no way PIE has $2 million to fix the building. (Of course, on the off chance they do, it raises a heck of a lot of questions about their accounting practices.)

Personally, I'm thinking that Rick and Josh don't really know any better - or distrust the district so much they think the district would lie about this just to screw them - on the grounds that I choose to think even they are not that mean.

To anyone with kids in the LCSD or Sand Ridge schools: How can you possibly think Rick Alexander has your best interests in mind?

F*cking cancer-causing asbestos. Seriously.

[LCSD] Lebanon Truth on the Board Meeting

Since I didn't go, it looks like LT has done more summarizing than normal:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

[Youtube] Sgt. Pepper's Remix


MF, consider this an argument for musical snobbery/why the traditional definition of quality in audio matters.

[MENSA] New Words With Funny Definitions

Cribbed from an email:

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are this year's winners. Read them carefully. Each is an artificial
word with only one letter altered to form a real word. Some are terrifically innovative:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

5. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

6. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

7. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

8. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

9 Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

10 Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

11. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

12. Glibido: All talk and no action.

13. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they
come at you rapidly.

14. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've
accidentally walked through a spider web.

15. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your
bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

16. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the
fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the lot:

17. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole

The funny thing is that I googled this, and it's not true. See here.

I also found several slightly different versions of the list.

Oh yeah: Leave your favorite in the comments. Mine was #11.

[Public Education] Dispelling Myths Around Teaching

From Education Week (free registration required, sorry), some contention over the belief that "half of teachers are out of teaching five years after their degree."

Disclaimer: I have repeated that statistic often, and not to my credit (as it turns out).

From the article:

"About half of all new teachers leave the profession after just five years on the job."

-The Plain Dealer, Dec. 3, 2006

It’s a neat and memorable statistic that’s been repeatedly cited by news reporters, advocacy groups, union officials, and state education departments, among others.

Trouble is, it is arguable and often used misleadingly.

Richard M. Ingersoll, the University of Pennsylvania professor whose calculation was first rounded up to the “half” figure in a 2003 report, sticks to upwards of 40 percent. Other scholars, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University, say the most defensible estimate is about a third. Some of the difference between the figures is accounted for by teachers who leave and return to the profession.

New studies of state rather than national retention suggest even a third might be high. Just 22 percent of California teachers left for good in their first four (rather than five) years, and in Illinois the figure was 27 percent in five years.

Go read the rest; it's got some good info about minority districts (and teachers), and since it's behind a partial firewall I'm not going to excerpt the whole thing.

Monday, January 7, 2008

[Youtube] "Your Medium is Dying"

Found at Notes From a Teacher.

[Youtube] Tank + Turbines = Amazing Firefighting Machine

This is awesome.

Via BB Gadgets.

[High School Journalism] An Update On Students Editing Newspapers

Remember when I posted on an old USA Today story that covered a new Oregon law that eliminated prior restraint for collegiate and high school newspapers?

I excerpted this bit:

Opponents of the bill, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, said that students aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper.

Ouch, right?

Well, a few days ago I got an email from Shannon Priem, the Communication Services Director for the Oregon School Boards Association. She had this to say (posted with permission):

The blurb from the USA Today July 11 story you quoted from was the "conclusion" of Tracey Loew, the reporter -- not OSBA. She wrote, "Opponents of the bill, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, said that students aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper."

I'm sorry, but we didn't say that. If we did, I'd like to know who -- because as the communications director for OSBA, that "position" wouldn't have cleared my desk. This statement is simply her assumption . . . and one not based on facts. We would never claim "students aren't capable" of anything.

That's a pretty solid refutation, and quite the indictment of the story - if Priem is right, Loew did something more than a little sketchy by journalistic standards.

Of course, it is possible that someone from the OSBA did say that, but it's unlikely given the construction of the relevant sentence in the original story.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

[LCSD] Another View of Sand Ridge and PIE

(This might be of interest to those readers who normally ignore my Lebanon posts.)

I attended a gathering of friends today. We talked about social change and anarchism. A lot. We - I - also played with kittens quite a bit. (Hey, some things are important.)

We talked strategy and tactics. We talked about diversity, co-optation, resources, the environment, hierarchy, and a whole host of other things.

We talked - and I talked about Sand Ridge Charter School.

I was surprised as anyone else. After all, what could Sand Ridge have to do with any of the above?

Well, it turns out I fleshed out another way to look at what PIE has done. I'm not sure how well this analysis will hold up, but I'm going to put it out there and see what happens.

First, the basic argument:

Democratic Socialists often propose to reform society by transforming existing institutions - political parties, local offices, civic groups.

Anarchists, on the other hand, often (but not always) propose to build alternative institutions that disregard existing power structures entirely (the old IWW saying of "building the new society in the shell of the old").

These two positions, as you might suspect, are often opposed. I suggested at one point that they needed to work together.

I did so because it seems to me that people interested in activism are often to busy keeping their lives together to have the free time or resources to devote to activist projects, and if people didn't have to struggle so much just to get by, they/we might be more inclined to raise some hell.

In other words, I suggested that local institutions - say, city councils, school boards, watershed councils, etc. - be taken over and transformed not with the intent to transform society (see co-optation, danger of) or even with the intent to be run successfully if traditionally, but instead used to create an environment in which activism can flourish and stands a greater chance of being successful - the idea being that this is where people interested in building alternative institutions can begin to work.

After all, the master's tools can't fully demolish the master's house... but they can remodel it quite nicely and make it quite dysfunctional by normal standards if need be. (See, for example, the Bush Administration's all-out war on competent governance - it's the one war they are winning.)

So that is the argument in abstract. I used as an example of the first part of the argument - taking over a local institution with a different goal than simply doing a good job running the place - what has happened in Lebanon with Sand Ridge, PIE and Rick Alexander. And for the record, I'm not at all convinced this was a conscious plan or effort on their part; rather, I am hoping this will offer another way to explain recent events.

So the goal in this case is to create an alternative to the HS with the explicit belief that doing so will meet with official disapproval/resistance (a belief I happen to think is completely false, but whatever).

I'm going to try and explain this in steps:

1. Get one or more member elected to the school board. In this case, Rick Alexander, Josh Wineteer and half of Debi Shimmin. (It also helps that a charter school is, in the abstract, a good or at least decent idea.)

2. Get some folks to apply through official channels to create a charter school. Use existing laws. Don't let on that you have goals or will use methods that will run afoul of existing regulations or are otherwise unacceptable.

(Steps one and two can be done in any order or at the same time.)

3. Get approval for your charter school. Proceed to using your influence with the official arm of the state - in this case the LCSD School Board - to bend the rules in your favor.

4. When someone points out that what you're doing is wrong or illegal, proceed to use the institutional power you've gathered as a club against any opposition. Communicate illegally with other board members. Feel free to ignore laws that might hinder your pet project from being successful. Motion and vote to renew the charter without even discussing dozens of potential and real contract violations. Try to get anyone who might get in the way of your desired outcome out of the way (like getting Robinson and other administrative personnel out of the negotiations for contract renewal). Deny you're doing anything wrong and accuse your opponents of dishonesty until you are blue in the face. Rinse. Repeat.

5. That's basically it - I think this is just about where we're at in the process.

Of course, this whole strategy is based on flying under the radar of anyone with the authority to come in and override one's friends on the local board. In this case, that means the State of Oregon - as in, if the ODE gets wind of all the contract violations, there's not going to be a damn thing Rick Alexander or Jay Jackson can do about it. PIE and Sand Ridge will either comply or simply disappear.

I was pretty amused by this little thought exercise. I'm still not entirely convinced of its accuracy, but at first glance it seems disturbingly on target. (I'm also not really pleased that it seems to apply so well to something I think is a disaster of process and procedure.)

But there it lies. Please ask questions or comment =)

One last note: I am leaving out a few evaluative details; this is meant to be a somewhat charitable explanation in regards to PIE et al. I might come back later and add my conclusions (and what I think is wrong with PIE's process under this model).

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