Monday, November 30, 2009

Maine's Charter Schools

So, I'm on holiday in Florida, headed to the beach any minute, and my @AugustaInsider Twitter feed points out some editorials and recent columns about how our esteemed governor's refusal to allow charter schools in the state has kept us from receiving federal Race to the Top dollars and will keep other monies and advantages from Maine schools. This makes no sense to me, since we have the oldest charter schools in the country. We call them New England Academies.

When the legislaure began the charter school dust-up several months ago, I e-mailed some reporter friends and asked them to write a story and help me, and I'm sure other, to understand why Maine's handful of "private schools in the public interest" don't count as charter schools. Though I never saw a story, I figured there had to be an answer.

Now that I understand the consequences of the lack of charter school designation, I want that answer.

Seems to me that the "New England Academy" model represents precisely what charter schools are when they are run as they are supposed to be run. They typically have no unions and the best academic results in their areas. (Please note, these two facts are not necessarily consequent.)

Though I cannot find the reference in the Byzantine Department of Education website, I know that Maine law supports the private school systems that existed before the public system was instituted and allows them to maintain private boards, more autonomy in acceptance and expulsion policies, and administrative freedom unlike any public school in the country. Also, in towns without schools students may attend nearby schools, regardless of public, private or quasi-private status at the town's expense as long as the school is not religiously affiliated.

More on this later. If anyone has a clue before I get home to do more research, please help me out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lincoln Academy Schedule Means Success

Block schedules blanketed the American high school landscape about 20 years ago. Practically overnight, classes went from 28-35 minutes to 60-80 minutes in duration. Teachers simultaneously rejoiced in the extra time to impart their wisdom and grieved the loss of the quick-hit, fly-by-seat-of-pants class, where a game of Grammar Jeopardy would kill three-quarters of the period.

Periods doubled in duration meant that most schools reduced the number of times students sat in a given class by about half, meeting every other day. Not Newcastle, Maine's Lincoln Academy. Instead of maintaining a student's "seat time" like most schools adopting block schedules, Lincoln's then principal Chris Frost decided to boost all students' time in front of their teachers. At LA, all but one period meets two days on, one day off. (A single period meets Monday through Thursday each week, with Friday's short period reserved for an all school meeting, during which students might hear an inspiring story, compete in trivia contests for local prizes, perform on the bagpipes or play a dodge ball final.)

At first, this two on, one off schedule mashed into a five-day week feels like teaching and learning in a washing machine. Throw in holidays, vacations and snow days and the schedule gets truly Byzantine. Proof that humans are remarkably adaptable, LA's students and teachers have marched through this semi-rhythmic routine in lockstep for better than 17 years, and for good reason. Students remember more and therefore learn more.

It looks like the key is the two days on. All memory studies say the secret to learning is review. Review after 10 minutes; review after 24 hours (possibly the most important one); review after a week, a month and six months. The other byproduct of the two days in a row is simple accumulation of time in a class. In most block schedule schools, students see a teacher two or three days out of five. At LA, students see their teachers three or four days out of five.

Yes, teachers work harder at LA. They have less time to prepare and more class time to prepare for. By rights they should be paid more, too, but I won't go down that road. The facts of the school's success can be seen in their SAT scores, Maine Educational Assessment scores, graduation rates and college acceptance rates as they outperform by a long shot other schools in the Midcoast. [Note: this is a rabbit hole website. If you're like me, you will now spend the next 90 minutes checking every area school for its performance. Locally, Knox County is a particularly sad story.]

Lincoln Academy's feeder schools are better than many others too. (I know, the rabbit hole, again.) Also, because of its superior drama and music programs, Lincoln Academy draws imaginative, motivated pupils. Lincoln, a "private school in the public interest" was formed in 1801 and was allowed to keep it semi-private status in the early 20th century when the public school system was created. Like a charter school, LA is not limited to a single district. Students from anywhere can attend. And they do.

Cross-posted at Maine in the Headlines and Dirigo Blue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Not Remotely Petty

The Wall Street Journal asks this morning whether Tom Petty is a rock god or mere mortal. All I can say is, what a thoroughly rhetorical question John Jurgensen, then be grateful that Petty is getting play in an international newspaper.
[Update: 21.Nov.09--It does my heart good to open up my blog and see Tom Petty smiling out at me. Just sayin'.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Most Important Questions

Yet another Maine woman allegedly died at the hand of her husband this week. In Old Orchard Beach, according to MPBN, a man despondent over his crumbling marriage shot his wife, then himself.

Journalists' lack of understanding of battering and abuse is evident in the fact that in none of the three online news accounts of this all too common tragedy is the question, "Was the alleged murderer under a Protection From Abuse order?," answered. Come on reporters, do us a favor, ask the question. Call the sheriff's department.

It's like reporting on a nasty car accident and failing to ask whether victims were wearing seat belts. Not to say that PFAs are as useful as seat belts, in fact, it may be that they are totally useless. It would be helpful to know, however.

Domestic violence is pretty much the only way women end up murdered in this state. We don't have much stranger danger, almost no crack murders or gang violence. Nevertheless, the tools we use to keep women safe seem not to be working all that well.

Also, how about always including what number murder this is for domestic violence in the state?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Dark and Bright Morning

My long dormant yoga mat came in handy dark and early this morning on the frosty grass. No, I wasn't doing downward dog in the dark. Not that ambitious. The purple foam rectangle made a perfect Leonid meteor shower viewing station.

My penchant for wishing notwithstanding--I also like birthday candles, spilled salt, and fountains--I love meteor showers, and in a quest to inhabit my soul, as opposed to my tenacious head and body, abandoning flannel and down for quiet sparkling dark seemed the perfect way to start a day.

To lie in the still chill and contemplate the incomprehensible space and matter in all directions felt both expansive and grounding. As I live in a giant field on top of an esker, my horizon is big and I could almost feel the earth's crust under me bulging into the sky. An owl hooted in the in the same time signature as the meteors flying across the sky, keeping a sweet ostinato.

The struggle to keep my stubborn intellect out of my quest continues. At every turn I want to know more about physics, as if that would give me useful language, images, and, of course, control. Honestly, I'm so attached to being, or at least appearing, smart, it makes me stupid. Since I only know about physics what Omni Magazine taught me in the 1970s and 80s, plus a ton of reading on string theory and dimensions I did for a dance project in college, I'm pretty sure I have barely the vaguest notion of the science.

Regardless, I am grateful to have seen the meteors this morning as they left their trails across the sky. Twice I thought I could hear the hiss of their fiery demise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Obama is a Civilian

Just saw the slide show (only eight pix) of the President's quick visit to Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base posted at TPM. As I paged through them I felt an unaccountable sense of relief as I watched the serious, dark-suited leader of our country. I couldn't quite decide where it came from until I remembered our last president's military base visits.

GWB's fake military jacket and Alfred E. Newman grin made me cringe for eight years of troop rallying. President Obama's dark suit conveys gravitas and respect. Finally.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Brave Veteran Friends

Wednesday I called Donielle Wilson, a former student who recently returned from her second tour in Iraq, and Rick Whelan, a long time friend and Viet Nam intelligence guy (sorry Rick, I'm sure you had a more apt title), to thank them for their service to the U.S. I got their voicemails and said something like, I was grateful for their courage and strength.

Though I've not heard from young Donielle, Rick called me back and said he and his wife Carole were away marching with Veterans For Peace in the Portland Veteran's Day Parade. Today, Carole sent me this great photo of Rick literally carrying the flag for peace, something he does every day of his life in a more metaphoric sense.

In her e-mail, Carole said the "peace message" got the strongest response that she remembered in the many years she and Rick have marched. Sounds like bittersweet news.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Coffee, Tea or, Oh Nevermind

Another entry in the quick hit series that has become my norm lately.

It's not that I'm not writing. I am. Plenty. It's that nothing longer than a few sentences is for public consumption, either because I suck or circumstances suck or no one except me cares about the stupid navel-gazing topic of the day I've chosen to beat with a mallet 'til it's way past dead.

So, in the meantime, go visit the Oatmeal and learn 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee. Me? I'm back to tea, hoping for some serenity now, damnit.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is It Wrong ...

to eat homemade hollandaise sauce by the spoonful after the broccoli has been finished?

Would be glad to hear of your food sins as we wend our way toward the gorging, er, umm, holiday season.

Tell Women Something We Don't Know

This morning on NPR, former MPBN reporter Jennifer Ludden covered the bloody obvious--my favorite topic.

Women, since about the second I and much of the latter-day Baby Boom started working, continue to make 77 cents to men's dollar. The "news" is that women are much more likely to work jobs without attached health insurance, and that as husbands are laid off due to the Great Recession more and more families are left without health care.

The cognitive dissonance of our corporately controlled hillbilly culture begins to wear. Or maybe it's just frikking November.

What's Stopping Health Care Reform?

We're not stupid. We know the answer. A poll in American Politics Journal shows that we understand it's insurance and big medicine lobbyists, a.k.a. our campaign financing system.
When the heck are we going to do something about it?