Thursday, April 10, 2014

Howsoever You Treat...The Other Half of Us

As a girl child of Baby Boomers, I knew about women's lib. I knew about feminism and civil rights and importance of the Roe v. Wade ruling. I knew that women had come a long way towards equal legal and societal treatment, and I knew that we had a ways yet to go.

When I was in college, the percentage of degrees awarded to women was at least 50%. Women were entering every field, and although a glass ceiling existed in some industries, more and more of them were cracking.

When I became a mother just over a decade ago, I did not know that my daughters would grow up in an American culture that is, in several ways, worse for females than the one in which I grew up. I did not know that lawmakers would roll back so much of the progress my mother's generation gained. I did not know my fellow Americans would let that happen.

One of the things I have a hard time understanding is how "women's issues" can continue to be treated as a minority issue, as the concerns of a small demographic group or as the province of the margins. The biblical verse about how one treats the least of us is a reflection of how one treats God is often evoked in discussions around the causes of and solutions for poverty.

Yet, what about how we treat the other half of us?

This week, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Excuse me? You find the idea that women and men should be paid equally for equal work so uncomfortable that you won't even allow a discussion and vote? The Wall Street Journal's editorial board is also a problem for America, with their claim that the pay gap doesn't exist.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard a case about whether businesses should have to offer health insurance that includes contraception coverage. Sigh.

And on...

...and on...

...and on. There are so many thing I could link to, from government-mandated invasive procedures for women, to the entirely ridiculous and damaging trends of genderization of consumer products, especially for children but also for adults (lady pens, anyone? man soda?). I haven't even touched on the risks of physical harm females face when they attend college or work in the military.

These aren't just women's issues. These are issues for all of us. The sooner we all understand that the injustices and harm we inflict on "other people" (or those we allow our leaders to sanction, codify, and perpetrate) are injustices done on ourselves, the sooner we will all be able to act in fair and positive ways. (Besides, I just can't imagine a son in such an environment. As John Mayer sang, "sons become lovers". Many of them marry women, they were all born of women, and they may father girls someday. Why should they see the women they love treated this way? How is that good?)

Every election year is important, but in many places the actions of our legislative branches have far more powerful effects on our individual and collective lives than those of the executive branch. I'm paying attention more than ever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This Post Is A Little Bit About Dennis Lane

Dennis Lane is on my mind today. We did not know each other very well, but we had a few things in common - a compulsion to write, an interest in local politics, and a deep affection for Howard County in general and Columbia specifically that is common among those who lived here as children and are back as adults.

We also had common friends, thanks to the HoCo Blogs community. I met with one common friend this morning at le comptoir of Petit Louis, and as I sipped my coffee while looking out at the lake, I felt that energy of anticipation for the great things to come to Downtown. We talked about politics, but more importantly and substantively discussed general civic engagement. It's the stuff many of our blog posts are built on - the drive to see the ideas and problems of people addressed and solved.

Yet, Dennis didn't come to mind until later. I was in a conference room in the management office of The Mall in Columbia, and I learned about some of the newest soon-to-be tenants. I realized that I used to only learn about this stuff through Dennis' blog, and I felt nostalgic.

Nostalgic...and grateful. Grateful for having known Dennis, for the changes coming to my beloved hometown, and for living in a community with so many, many people called to see the ideas and problems of people addressed and solved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Family YouTube Night

There's Family Movie Night, Family Game Night, and now we have Family YouTube Night. Our purchase of a Chromecast made this one of our favorite ways to spend quality time together. All of us pile on the living room couch, devices in hand, and cast our latest YouTube discoveries to our TV to share with each other.

We've introduced the kids to Bill Cosby, and they've showed us the Baby Laughing at Ripping Paper. We've listened to an amazing cover artist, and we've found the most interesting cello players on Earth. Here are some of our latest views:

So, I have to ask...what YouTube videos do you recommend for us?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Car Logic


What is his last name?


I think it's said Shoo-mahker.

No, it's Shoemaker. Hey! He makes shoes!

And you nagle schlosses!


If Shoemaker makes shoes then Schlossnagle nagles schlosses. I'm just following the logic.

There's no logic there at all!

Sure there is. A Johnson sons Johns, a Bennett nets Bens, and a Crawford fords craws.

How about a Porter?

No, it has to be like a compound word, not just have two-syllables. 

Schlossnagle is not a compound word. What does "nagles schlosses" even mean?

Sure it is. Nagle means nail and Schloss means castle. Castle-nail is a compound word, it's just not a real one.

(laughing too hard to speak)

(beams with pride at making the tween-child laugh)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From This Little Corner: Hope in the Distance

When I woke this vernal equinox morn, the light was different. I opened my front door and saw the sunlight burning through the fog. The air was cool, not cold, and carried the earthy, damp, yet fresh smell of spring. 

Later, I hiked the grounds of the Howard County Conservancy with the Elementary Naturalist volunteers. The expansive view from the Stone Wall Trail, looking over the grasslands and down to the tree line that hugs the East Branch Trail combined with the baby blue sky and the talk of spring field trips to signal possibility, renewal, and awe.

Later, following the Cedar Trail down to the woodlands, an upwards glance revealed something in the distance. Something natural and manmade, something filled with hope, something designed with purpose and a commitment to the future - beehives

This winter has been difficult, even harsh at times. All the snow we didn't get last winter, living in the snow-hole as we do, seemed to come around this year. When it wasn't snowing, it was cold enough to expand our vocabularies and polar-vortexing us into more layers of clothing than we ever imagined necessary south of the Mason-Dixon line. 

It is spring, officially if not actually, and we know that though it starts unevenly, it does eventually burst forth in warmth and bloom and scent. Soon my frost-shrouded magnolia will again wear a cloak of white petals before leafing out in luscious green.

Monday, February 24, 2014

PTA Council/HCEA Common Core Forum Reaction

I went to the Common Core Forum at Reservoir HS, presented by PTA Council of Howard County and Howard County Education Association. I thought it would give a factual, non-emotional background to how Common Core came to be and how it fits in with other changes to public education, changes that concern me a great deal. I thought the panel would be balanced between Common Core critics and supporters. I thought the audience would hear from Howard County teachers. I was disappointed on all of those counts.

My initial impression of the panelists, after they each gave a 10-minute presentation, was that they were too political, too intense, and too conspiratorial. My head exploded multiple times at inflammatory statements. Then they opened the floor to questions from the audience, and I had to leave the room. It got too hot in there for my comfort.

But...I went back and stayed to the end. I'm glad I did. Several people noted that the type of conversation held in that auditorium between education policy experts and parents should have happened as the idea for common standards was formed, as the standards were being written, and as states were deciding whether to adopt them. I started to wonder - what if the Common Core standards were developed before No Child Left Behind became law?

Would people be this concerned? Would they have the same reasons?

Backtrack with me...

No Child Left Behind came about in part because some states had troublingly low standards for educational achievement. In many school districts across the country, certain student groups were being under-educated. No Child Left Behind had seemingly good intentions - make sure every child is given a quality education - but the implementation procedures and system of enforcement (mostly stick, hardly any carrot) created perverse incentives and damaging educational practices. Yet, it "raised the bar" in many places.

Maryland wasn't necessarily one of those places. I've heard that Maryland's pre-NCLB instructional standards and state-mandated assessments were superior to those enacted after the legislation passed. In other words, MSPAP was better than MSA.

Yet according to Dr. Stephen Wilson from Johns Hopkins University, Howard County's MSA-aligned curriculum was better than it's Common Core-aligned curriculum, at least in math. The problem with Common Core isn't that the standards themselves are horrible. They're not horrible, but they're not excellent, either. The problem, though, is that states and school districts have little-to no curricula developed to support the standards.

There are so many changes happening at once, and they're all being attributed to Common Core. Even worksheets you find on the Internet are labeled with "Common Core" even when they clearly do not support the standard they purport to address. It reminds me of throwing the label "all natural" on food or nutritional supplements. Arsenic is all natural but you don't want to ingest it. Common Core is being used as a label just as inappropriately.

Yet, that's getting the attention of people. They're asking why they don't understand their kindergartener's math homework, and they're told "It's Common Core". Dr. Foose's proposed operating budget requests money for expansion of a world language program and the restructuring of the elementary school teaching model to become one of departmentalization and, in the absence of transparent detail from the Superintendent, people attribute that change to Common Core. Why are students taking tests on computers? Common Core. Why does my high schooler have four hours of homework a night? Common Core.

Common Core. It's easy to say, easy to hear, easy to remember. Easily served up as the cause of whatever ails you. Yet, the reasons for why schooling is different now than before are more complex than that.

After the panelists presented, audience members came up to address the panel. Every one I heard was upset. Narrative after narrative passed with few questions asked, save for the "Ma'am, do you have a question for our panel?" interruptions from the moderator. What was my impression from this portion of the forum? Well, it's clear that the voices of parents and teachers have been left out of the major decisions and planning processes around education. It's left out at all levels; federal, state, and local.

It doesn't have to be that way. There are leaders who want to hear from parents and teachers and who will also weigh those perspectives seriously. You can't be at every meeting or serve on any committee, but you can go to one meeting. If your child's school has an information night, go. Ask questions. Share your stories. If the school system or the PTA or the teachers' union has a forum, go. Ask questions. Share your stories.

But we don't have to wait to be asked our opinion before sharing them. Write a letter to the Governor. Seriously. He appoints the State Superintendent of Schools and the State Board of Education, who then appoints the State Superintendent of Schools, so he heavily shapes public education in Maryland. Write a letter to the local school board, and the local superintendent. Ask your questions. Don't wait for them to be solicited.

Ask your questions. Share your stories.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teachers and Parents, Talking

Last week, a group of teachers came to talk with a group of parents about the many recent changes to daily lives of public schools. I imagine, and hope, that this type of thing is happening all over the country. In this case, it happened in Ellicott City, Maryland, where a group of Howard County educators came to answer questions from members of the PTA Council of Howard County.

Howard County Education Association President Paul Lemle gave an overview of the changes that have occurred in our schools. They include new instructional standards (aka Common Core) for which some have a developed curriculum and some have not. Other changes to the daily operations of our public schools include a new teacher evaluation system and the transition between different types of standardized student assessments. Mr. Lemle shared that HCEA would like to begin some new types of communication between county educators and parents, such as an opt-in email newsletter and a parent advisory council that would guide HCEA on issues from the parent perspective.

The overview was brief; the bulk of the night was spent in conversation, Q & A style. School-based staff are feeling more stressed than ever before because of all of these major changes occurring at the same time. Teachers shared that:
  • The new instructional standards - Common Core - don’t come with a curriculum. Some subjects in some grades have more complete curriculum (lesson plans, menus of activities, etc.) than others. Developing the lessons and instructional materials to meet the new standards is time-intensive.
  • The new teacher evaluation system includes a component called Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). Teachers choose two instructional objectives for which they will measure student growth. They develop an assessment to give students at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year. Using the baseline scores from the beginning of the year, teachers develop a target achievement level for each student. They instruct and collect data throughout the year, then reassess at year-end to show growth. There are many more details that relate to the time-demands of this system.
  • Standardized test scores, such as MSAs, are another component of the teacher’s evaluation. These scores plus the SLOs equal 50% of the evaluation.
  • The rest of the evaluation follows a model that has four categories of professional practice, and each category has several standards. Teachers upload artifacts that demonstrate their performance in each of these standards in each category. This is also a time-consuming process.
The panel concluded by answering the question “What is the one thing that would make the biggest improvement to your work as educators?” Down the line they went, answering as follows:
    1. Resources and time to plan for the new instructional standards
    2. Time for planning lessons, grading assignments - keep planning time reserved for planning and not taken up by meetings; add more time for teachers to plan during the pre-service week
    3. Time during the day to thoughtfully grade assignments
    4. An effectively structured workload
You know, I noticed something during the budget hearing that I was reminded of during this PTA Council meeting. I noticed that the testimony of teachers, at the end of their rope, revealed that all along they had been both vocal about the challenges posed by these reform agendas sweeping the country and also diligent about making them as successful as possible. All they want to do is deliver the best education to children possible. When they had the ear of the Board, they said as much, over and over and that they despair about being unable to due to workload constraints. When they had the ear of parents, they could have asked us to support a salary raise, which certainly seemed to be a major demand of teachers in the budget hearing. Instead, they used that time with us to tell us they'll continue to make it work, but they require the time. 

The teachers in this county are selfless. They have been making it work and making it work and making it work. In return, they should be given the time and compensation to do so.

The PTA Council of Howard County and the Howard County Education Association are presenting a Common Core Forum this Sunday, February 23rd, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at the Reservoir High School auditorium, 11550 Scaggsville Road in Fulton, Maryland. 

Our forum is unique in that it will be the first to feature so many national experts representing a wide range of perspectives.  Each expert will make an opening presentation, followed by a moderated discussion and questions from the audience.

Panelists include:

        • Mr. Michael Brickman, National Policy Director, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
        • Dr. Morna McDermott McNulty, Co-Founder/Administrator for United Opt Out
        • Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Emerita at the University of Arkansas and Member of the Common Core Validation Committee
        • Dr. Christopher Tienken, Assistant Professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University in the College of Education and Human 
          Services, Department of Education Management, Policy, and Leadership and Co-Author of The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myths and 
        • Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, Professor of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University and a Professor in the School of Education and Member of the
          PARCC Content Technical Working Group for Mathematics

This event is free and is open to anyone who would like to learn more about the Common Core State Standards. 

For more information, please contact Christina Delmont-Small at or  visit: or the PTA Council of Howard County Facebook Page.