Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cotati surrenders, figures that kneeling to lower standards produces better results.

I’ve always been afraid of these kind of grading systems.  Now they have hit close to home.

“The new system is called the equal interval scale. Essentially, it makes it harder to get a failing grade. It departs from the traditional A to F scale in which students receive F’s for scores below 59 percent. Instead, the scale awards F’s only for scores below 20 percent…..

……Under the new policy, grades rise in 20-point increments. For example, scores of 20 to 40 percentage points earn D- through D+ grades — and so on, up the ladder. Students get an A- for scoring between 80 and 85, which traditionally is low B territory…..

…..Some teachers have tried to hang on to the traditional grading system but have been tripped up by a blanket new policy that students, even if they do not hand in homework or take a test, get 50 percent.”

The Cotati-Rohnert Park School District has fallen straight into the trap of giving up.  Instead of actually addressing the problems within the schools and teaching everyone how to work more efficiently, they simply moved the bar. 

“I would see students in my classroom who for whatever reason, they would see themselves get further and further behind and at some point you would see some give up and check out,” (Valerie)Ganzler said. “Having grades that are equal intervals, it is always possible for those kids to catch up.”

There is something so fundamentally wrong with that statement that I almost don’t even know where to begin.  It might be that the “for whatever reason” theory that a student is getting behind.  There is a reason and the school’s job (and the teacher’s job) is to find the support structure that can help that kid.  Lowering the bar just makes it less necessary for the district and all its components to remain accountable to the student.  Student is failing?  No big deal because the bar is so low that we can let the problem slide, and in the long run it will also save the district money because support programs actually cost money. 

Or maybe my horror at the statement is pointed towards the teacher that manufactures the blanket of “hope” as solution for not structuring the classroom around what’s going on with the students.  If a student is in my class working hard they will not fail.  Period.  That student will learn and progress and while the numbers may not totally represent the same academic outcome as, let’s say, a four-year college bound student, the struggling student that works is going to graduate.  That’s the system that’s built within the class and the student that desire’s the education will get one.

But Cotati has created an atmosphere that relies on hope and the image that if you lower the bar enough, less people will fail and the community will be oh-so-happy.  “Look, the new grading system has created more graduates!  Success!”  Except that the graduate simply didn’t show up and received a 50% for all the missed work yet still graduated because failing is at 20%.  Makes.  Perfect.  Sense. 

This kind of grading system does have severe consequences.  The “failure is not an option” mentality has created students that can’t seem to deal with everyday life.  This article from Psychology Today has been making the rounds on the Interwebz and has stirred up all kinds of conversation about the negative externalities creating grading systems based on false hope.

“Many students, they (the faculty) said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?”

We are failing all right; we are failing to teach students how to think, how to pick themselves up from negative experiences, and how to overcome adversity. 

And Cotati Unified is now the epicenter of this failure on the North Coast.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day 22: Grand Junction, Colorado to Vernal, Utah via Colorado National Monument

The east gate to Colorado National Monument is literally in a nice subdivision in Grand Junction.  It was about a ten minute drive from the motel and within 15 minutes we were walking towards a waterfall that unfortunately had very little water.  The No Thoroughfare Canyon hike was done early in the morning and while the journey was just fine, the pay-off was dry.  No wildlife either for a lonely morning.  Just a couple of large lizards that would take an occasional dart at our heels. 

We then drove the Rim Road at Colorado and saw some spectacular scenery.  The park is up on a large mesa that overlooks a series of jagged, and beautiful, canyons.  Like many National Monuments it’s small enough to enjoy in a day but large enough to produce that sense of wonder that is fantastic.  The pinnacle of the trip is the Independence Monument, a triangle fin-like formation in the middle of Monument Canyon.  We parked at the trailhead of the lower end of Monument Canyon and considered our next hike, a five mile plus jaunt to the Independence Monument, around it, and back down Wedding Canyon.  The problem was that the clock was after noon and the temperatures were starting to rise.  Screw it.  There was a breeze, a view, and we were hydrated.  Let’s go!  The hike was fabulous.  We ended up coming up Monument Canyon (something different since we are usually going down into a canyon) to the mammoth Independence Monument and great views of the canyon interior.  The ascent into the canyon was moderate but had stairs, and the stiff breeze allowed for a great respite against the warming temps. 

Until our decent.  Wedding Canyon had great views but a punishing decent of rocky terrain mixed with steep gravel downslopes.  It was not easy.  At the bottom we still had a good mile or so hike when my wife started to mention that she was feeling off.  Uh oh.  Dizziness, a bit of nausea, the feeling of overheating.  Yep, sounded like heat exhaustion all over again. We stopped and consumed jerky and sports drinks and plodded on.  My wife is a trooper but she clearly seemed off.  I started thinking of possible ways to address the potential of this becoming serious.  I couldn’t see the parking lot and wasn’t familiar with Wedding Canyon so I was a tad nervous.  Plus, I knew what she was feeling and it was not good.  After going over a small bluff…..the car!  I turned on the air conditioner ahead of her and got her drinking more water.  Then we got ice out and put it on the back of her neck.

“I’ll tell you in a few minutes whether or not we should get to a hospital because I feel very off.”

The air conditioning and ice did the trick.  We also consumed our sandwiches, hit a McDonalds for a large Diet Coke, and kept the ice on the neck until my wife started to perk up.  Then it was hunger, irritation that it happened, and exhaustion so I knew she was ok. 

We left Colorado National Monument and head almost due north into a beautiful alpine ridgeline and then dropped down into eastern Utah and mile and miles of oil drilling.  Signs were everywhere signifying that a lot of land in northeastern Utah was owned by Chevron and that the operation was very much alive.  We are experiencing more and more gas/oil boomtowns and they are much more prevalent that we could possibly realize.   

That would include our new home for two days; Vernal, Utah.  Vernal is usually considered popular because of Dinosaur National Monument and the plethora of outdoorsy stuff to do locally.  And then I noticed the trucks and buildings for companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger.  That means there is petroleum or mining or both within the local geology, and we have here a gas/oil boomtown.  It must be a tad bit progressive of a boomtown because I didn’t expect the Sprouts.

Trails hiked: No Thoroughfare Canyon to the (dry) waterfall, Lower Monument Canyon/Independence Monument/Wedding Canyon Loop.

Miles hiked: 9.3

The week that suffers from pestilence.

I’m at a coffee shop in Rocklin at the moment.  It’s fall and I’m doing a little of the hoops thing with our local AAU team.  I’m coaching both the U-16 and U-18 teams so one game is down and five remain.


First sickness of the year.  Woke up with the sore throat and slowly but surely the energy level started to drop.  By the end of the day I felt so fatigued that it was starting to feel flu-ish.  Some teachers like the “movie and worksheet” route on rough days but I slog through.  I start slow to conserve energy and then try and end strong.  Now my head is just stuffy and I’m suffering from a consistent low grade headache.  I’m wondering if it is allergies.


Peer counselors went to a camp thingy near Willits last weekend and came back with warm fuzzy feelings.  One of them gave me a purple yarn bracelet and told me that they appreciated me .  Usually I smile and move on without it really impacting.  For some reason this year made me smile and actually made me feel, well, nice.  I also took two pieces of yarn and told two students that I appreciated them later in the day.   One young man and one young woman.  Both are pretty awesome. 


I was able to show the new Star Wars trailer in class because it totally relates to Economics.  So there. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The week that was hung over from Homecoming

Students were sick and slightly depressed this week from the after-effects of Homecoming.  Now that it’s over the kids are realizing that the grind is real from now until Thanksgiving, with report cards heading out in a couple of weeks.  Absences were up as well as the weeks of eating crap and staying up late caught up with the teenage physiology. 



Here is the Homecoming scorecard!  There are over 9,000 potential points to be had in a variety of categories.  Now look at the one that actually matters to one’s education:

Attendance:  200

At least we have our priorities straight.  A paltry 2% of a school related event counts actually showing up for class.  And hey look; the Seniors won Homecoming, and they only had the second worst attendance. 

*slow clap


Oh, and for those that say that Homecoming is about school spirit, there’s another 2% category.  What’s more the classes chose class colors to be worn on Friday instead of school colors.  Senior class color?  Black.  Junior class color?  Orange.

Colors of the Santa Rosa High School football team that we played Friday evening?  Black and Orange. 

You got to love the school spirit that is kind enough to have half the home bleachers actually wear the colors of the opposing team.

*slower clap


Monday was Professional Development Day.  The afternoon meeting involved an ER doctor, a sheriff, and a former gang member.  What did we learn?

-Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in Ukiah. 

-Ukiah is four times the state average for alcohol related crimes. 

-Parents are knowingly allowing kids to party at their homes.  Not just their own kids, all their friends as well.

-Parents think that current marijuana strains are just like the strains they smoked long ago.  Some current strains are 25-30 THC.

-Remember pot brownies?  I don’t.  I do know that honeyoil is about 80% THC and people are now putting honeyoil into brownie mix and taking it to school. 

-Meth is terrible.

-Molly is around and kids seem to insist that it is a safe form of ecstasy.

-Bath salts are not only in Ukiah but are being sold at smoke shops over-the-counter.

Happy Day!


It’s fascinating to see where all your old high school friends are in life in comparison to you.  My best friend from high school was in town on a work issue so my wife and I had dinner with her while we reminisced about “the old days.”   The number one difference between me and my high school compadres is kids.  I have none.  My old friends have many.  Kids have dictated much of their existence since high school while I’ve dictated much of my existence until I got married.  Kids aren’t a bad thing, just not my thing.  I have kids every day and I enjoy them immensely, just like I enjoy my own time alone.    

Friday, October 09, 2015

Day 21: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park North Rim.

Our 1960’s style motel is growing on us, probably because the owners care about their motel and we appreciate hard working small business people.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast and headed back south towards the Gunnison River.

The National Geographic book we bought listed the North Vista Trail as a must hike, so we headed east at the town of Delta, Colorado, weaved through the farm land of Clifford, and ended up on the unpaved roads to the ranger station on the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The ranger said that the trail had little wildlife activity and that we should enjoy ourselves, and off we went.

It was a dandy of a hike.   The trail followed the north rim of the canyon with fabulous views and ended up on the top of Green Mountain with stunning views of the entire park and surrounding valleys.  It was a great hike in great weather with no people and the Cottontail bunnies being the only thing that distracted us from the wonderful views.  Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a late addition to the trip, and was a real treat. 

We got back in time to swim at the pool.  Yep, we swam at the middle-of-the-parking-lot pool and we loved it.  The sixties style be dammed, we enjoyed the chill nature of the pool, the kindness of the owner, and relaxation we felt after a long hike and nice swim.

Trails hiked: North Vista Trail to Green Mountain.

Miles Hiked:  7.3

Chris Neary is a cantankerous old man that hates kids on his lawn.

No kidding, I saw Willits School Board member Chris Neary rip an employee to near tears.  This was a hard working man who wanted to address a legitimate concern over safety within Willits Unified School District, and I saw the man dismembered before a public forum by Willits School Board Member Chris Neary.  At the time I wasn’t an employee of Willits.  However my wife was an employee of Willits, so I sat in the room and kept my mouth shut, all the while wanting to call Boardmember Neary a jerk, because at that moment he proved that he really was.
This post is a long time coming because my wife used to work for Willits Unified.  It’s also painful for me to write because I know a whole lot of people at Willits Unified; a lot of dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff that want to see students succeed.  I also know that things in Willits went from good to horrifically bad within the span of a few years.  I experienced that not only from reading the newspapers but talking to students, talking to community members, and watching the staff of Willits Unified leave the district in search of places to actually grow as educators. 
Let’s start with a local vote-of-no-confidence by the teachers in Willits Unified. 
“Only half of Willits Teachers Association (WTA)’s 110 members chose to vote in August to signal whether they had confidence in Willits Unified School District Superintendent Pat Johnson. Of those who voted 60 percent or about 33 teachers voted “no confidence” and 40 percent or about 22 teachers voted that they had “confidence”….
….50 percent did not participate because about 20 percent of teachers were brand new and others were there for only 1-2 years.”
That’s an absolutely frightening number.  Nearly 2/3’s of the people you are supposed to lead have no confidence in your ability to lead, and the other 50% don’t have tenure enough to not fear retribution.  As a leader I would probably be very concerned about my colleagues’ grievances and would work to bring the district together for the benefit of the kids.  
Johnson responded that she thought the vote was a “few disgruntled employees,” questioning why the other 50 percent didn’t vote and that she has addressed concerns as they came to her.”
When someone says that 50% of the staff is afraid of you, and out of the other 50% of the staff sixty percent of those people wish you would go away, that’s probably a tad bit bigger than a “few disgruntled employees.” 
After listening to all that dissent amongst the staff, one would figure that the School Board would have something very poignant to say to the Superintendent. 
Trustee Chris Neary congratulated the superintendent at the Sept. 2 meeting on the approval of 40 percent of who voted.
I’m trying to figure out if Mr. Neary is trying to be funny because if only half the staff actually voted because of fear, then the number is closer to 20% and that makes his statement that much more hilarious.    It’s like congratulating Donald Rumsfeld on his treatment of post-war Iraq, or FEMA Director Mike Brown’s bumbling of helping New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  Mr. Neary, would you please clarify?
“I was reading last week, after two years, FDR’s [Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s approval rating] was 39 percent, and he was in the process of saving the country,” he said.
That’s …….. not quite what I had expected.  But fair enough.  Let’s see how Franklin Roosevelt’s election went in the depths of the Great Depression, not that long after Mr. Neary’s quote timeframe.
Yeah, quick question.  Do you think that Superintendent Johnson would have that kind of landslide victory, even after the silent 50% votes without fear?  By the way, FDR is blue.
Then there is Common Core.  The results came out earlier in the year and as was expected the results are pretty terrible.  The results are terrible for Willits.  The results are terrible for Ukiah (I’ll be writing about that later).  The results are terrible for the California and the rest of the country.  There are a significant combination of factors that have created this, a baseline year of testing for most school districts in California.  Mr. Neary, realizing all these things decided to pump up Willits pride and make a speech worthy of Franklin Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff:
“This is a test of teachers … I don’t mind holding teachers accountable for test results,” he said. “People in this community are coming up to me and there’s some concern we’re underperforming. I think we got an F.” 
Um, ok, so maybe not necessarily Vince Lombardi material.  Actually it isn’t even Ben Stein material because Stein has not only acted like he’s been in the classroom, he’s been teaching in a real, live classroom for years.  Chris Neary is a prototypical small town political bomb thrower.  There is no better way for people with low self esteem to push people around than to join a school board so they can hammer away at people they can recommend for dismissal, or simply complain that it’s just the union.  Good board members actually have to do work, not bloviate to hear themselves talk. 
Willits  doesn’t need the negative, delusional rantings of someone that is just plain mean.  People disagree.  People argue.  People get angry, show some emotion, then go out afterwards and drink beer while solving their issue and talking about how the future of the district is going to be brighter, whether it actually is or not.  Those are the people that need to advise and consent to educational matters.  Those are the people that are going to work in the best interest of the kids.  Those are the people that will bring Willits Unified back.   

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part Four: Analyzing the data; 2015 edition

I can’t believe that I forgot to post this!  Believe it or not I completed parts 1-3 about two months ago so this is a little late. 

But it’s also a really good update assessment tool.  So, I’ll leave the old text and add on current comments in bold.  Let’s see if I learned anything.

There is plenty to take away from my 2015 student reviews. 

-There seems to be a fine line between some students saying I’m fun and passionate, and some saying I’m mean.  I see two reasons for this.  First is that my temperament changes around November, which is probably connected to my energy level having to do with the start of basketball season.  I get a bit grumpier, a bit less patient, and my tolerance for tomfoolery and highjinks starts to wane.  The second reason has to do with the end of Homecoming, the holidays, and my attendance consistency.  Homecoming usually ends around mid-October, and at this point the students realize that school is not going to just be about floats, spirit rallies, insulting each other, and a bell.  They actually need to lock down and when the holidays show up, the academics start to slide.  Families take multiple week vacations, Winter sports start hitting student time management, and my standards remain consistent.  Push back commences and get labeled as mean.  Case in point; I had one student say that I was rude to students and colleagues, and that I had little or no respect for students, and that I was despicable.  That was the worst comment I got and was pretty much the only super negative one.  But if you read the rest of the students review one thing stands out over and over again.  Attendance.  I was power hungry with my tardy policy.  I was ridiculous with Attendance Contracts.  It was stupid that I would mark students tardy if they showed up ten seconds late.  It was an AP student that was pissed that past teachers didn’t hold the student accountable, probably because the student was in AP classes. 

So what do?  Well, I’m not changing my attendance policy.  At all.  We have become a culture that doesn’t want to pay attention to detail and the simplest detail is showing up on time and doing your work on time.  Ask around to businesses locally and they tell you that it is amazing that the youth labor pool expects the employer to adjust the schedule for the worker, not the other way around. 

The year is young and attendance is still an issue.  It’s clearly not being met with the same kind of anger as past years.  But grades will be coming out in the next few weeks and that will be an interesting first look at whether or not I’m a mean old bastard.

The second thing?  My summer trips have really gave me time to reflect on what it is to be a successful human being.  That sounds weird except that I can’t really describe it any other way.  I’m limited to the amount of human capital I can put to any one endeavor because I am, well, human.  Within that restriction I want to be the best husband, teacher, coach, citizen, person, advocate that I can.  But I’m suffering from scarcity, big time.  So the logical thing is to prioritize.  The problem is that I work in a job that has very interesting ideas on the concept of prioritizing.  I didn’t participate in summer basketball this year.  Instead (as you might have been reading) I took a summer long road trip to heal, strengthen, and engage my soul;  and I did it with my partner.  Well I took some criticism apparently, from some local coaches and some of  my program’s parents.  The commentary was that I wasn’t committed.  This is an insanely idiotic claim.  Here’s a little trivia; name the two active coaches who have coached the longest consecutive years in the North Bay League.  Go ahead, I’ll give you you a moment.


1)  Coach Brown – Ukiah High School

2)  Tom Bonfigli – Cardinal Newman High School

That’s a little bit cheating because Coach Bonfigli was involved with Cardinal Newman for some 15 years, left for awhile, and has coached at Newman since 2007.   I don’t see myself in the same galaxy as Bonfigli, and I’ve spent 13 of my 14 years as the Frosh and JV coach.  However I’ve pretty much committed my life blood for years to Ukiah basketball.  So, that argument is bunk.  I’m a teacher and a husband as well, and when you rank those things against each other…..well….the other people are the ones that seem to have it totally warped.  But who knows.  Maybe I make the change or maybe the change makes me.

I’ve actually heard nothing negative about basketball since the school year began and the numbers showing up for Fall Basketball (AAU) are better than they have been in five or six years.  We’ll see how it goes when the season starts.

-Ok, so I don’t know if you have noticed but the assignment thing is absolutely a problem for me.  I’m taking too long, again, to get assignments graded and there is no excuse at all for the delay.  This year I wanted to commit on getting things done quicker, and I didn’t.  I’m trying to figure out why this is and I’m just not prioritizing returning all papers.  I prioritize some but things like quizzes are put off in the grade book until later.  Note, students really didn’t care about getting the work back as a method of assessing their progress.  They wanted to know grades. 

And I’m still getting behind.

-Speaking of grades, I hate make-up work.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Let’s do a little pro/con list for make-up work

Pro:  Students might learn the material from retaking quiz.

Con:  Everything else.

Make-up work has created more work for me, taken up my lunch time, inflated grades, and created an entitled culture that has students dependent on make-up work.  Don’t worry about doing it right the first time, the safety net is there.  That ends.  Now.  It is a two year experiment that has resulted in no real academic progress.

-There is plenty of room for growth here and the great thing about what I do is that I’m continually excited to make my teaching better and better.  I still get those moments when the ideas whirl in my brain and I need to sit down and brainstorm engaging ideas that students will learn from.