"Slap Yo Mama" offensive, not funny

My kids may think it's funny, but I find the Green Light Auto Credit ad offensive. "It's so easy, it makes you wanna slap yo mama." It runs on Z107 all the time (among others I'm sure, but that's the one I hear it on), which skews young and female.

The 2002 movie Friday After Next brought the phrase to the mainstream (see YouTube above). Currently, a line of Louisiana seasoning, a food truck in California and BBQ house in Mississippi all take their name from this not-so-funny saying.

Joking to teens about domestic violence in order to sell car insurance should not be acceptable. Surely companies can show their creativity and make better ads without either harming or pissing off their potential clients.

Making Geek Cool Hall of Shame

Nerds candy

As a follow-up to my previous post Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame in which I laud people, TV shows or events that improve the coolness factor of geeks, I've started compiling a Hall of Shame list. I actually had a harder time with this one. Maybe it's my inherently nice nature, but I found it easier to rail against the culture as a whole rather than specific elements.

I'm sure, however, that you will not have that problem. I would love to hear additions to my list by comment, email or tweet!

1. Disney Channel—when making my Shame list, it ended up just being a list of Disney and Nickelodeon shows, so I decided just to name the two channels as numbers 1 and 2 on the list. Upper elementary kids are especially susceptible to the anti-geek message from television, so I think these two popular channels should be ashamed. Hannah, Wizards of Waverly Place, Suite LIfe on Deck: Can we just have an intelligent girl or boy in the lead role instead of the "geeky" sidekick or brother?

2. Nickelodeon—see comment above. I did put iCarly on the Fame list, so kuddos there, but it, too, has anti-geek elements.

3. Seventeen magazine and other teen magazines for girls

4. My husband—I hate to say it, and I'm sure he's not the only parent out there, but he has on occasion slipped into the the ‟You don't want to be a nerd so get out there and play some ball...″ fallacy

My almost-middle school daughter thinks being called a nerd is the worst insult ever. I have tried to point out that she attends a school of geeks to no effect. I've pointed out that geeks make more money (a topic of interest for her) with an effect lasting for nanoseconds. I thought about showing her that geek chic is in but was afraid she wouldn't stop laughing and really wanted her to do that homework. I've decided she's just rebelling against her mother, so I'll get back to reading that Wired article on Geek Power.

Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame

Wired magazine believes that making geeks cool could reform education and gives some suggestions for schools. One of the main suggestions was "stamping out youth culture" by surrounding kids by adults. Some good ideas and examples to be sure.

I believe that our whole culture needs to make geeks cool. In that spirit I list my Making Geek Cool Hall of Fame. Since this blog is St. Louis centric, I've added a few local additions.

1. Mythbuster's Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman
2. Jon Stewart—when a late-night comedian makes it cool to follow politics, economics, history...
3. Bill Gates—as much as I want to hate Microsoft, he has shown how geeks do philanthropy. That's cool.
4. Pres. Obama
5. Steve Jobs—brought design to technology
6. Danica McKellar—Hollywood star and mathematician writing math books for middle school girls. Maybe every tween girl should be given this book, and she should be number 1.
7. SciFest
8. Chuck
9. Rex Sinquefield for bringing back chess to St. Louis
10. Mayor Francis Slay for bringing FIRST Robotics Championship to St. Louis
11. iCarly—any time a Nickelodeon show encourages tween girls to spend their time directing movie shorts and editing them on the computer, I will applaud it
12. Rick Riordan—any author that can get my son to read...

If they want to be fabulous and sexy and all that, great. There's no problem with that. But you don't have to give anything up for it. You don't have to give up your brain. (Danica McKellar)

I would love to add to the list if anyone would like to send me their suggestions. I'll also be composing a Hall of Shame, so if you have ideas for that, feel free to send them to me via comments, email or twitter.

Making a difference

no sign
Last week, my students were discussing a topic one of them presented to the class. One said something to the effect that “they” will never change the law. Instead of focusing on using a pronoun without an antecedent, I emphasized that “they” is really the people since we elect the legislators. The class then detoured for a few minutes into a discussion on the influence that individuals can have on policy. Since the presenter had given a problem/solution speech on a subject that no one in the class had thought about, we decided that raising awareness was something individuals could do and could make a difference.

Changing state laws is doable but can be intimidating and a bit overwhelming. While the patchwork system of school districts in St. Louis County may have its drawbacks, one positive aspect is the individual districts’ responsiveness to its constituents. The “they” is a bit more personal.

yes sign
Smaller school districts may not have economies of scale, and the St. Louis County districts’ reliance on property tax within each district has created a have/have not system. However, people know the school board members, their votes for or against tax levies and bond issues have meaning, and parents can have real influence in the schools. They may not always realize it, but they can. Someone can talk to others (raise awareness), groups of parents can meet with principals and other administrators or ask for open meetings, individuals or a representative of a group can speak at a board meeting during public comment time and/or go to the media for coverage. The ultimate control is elections, either tax levies/bond issues or for board members.

Clayton’s bond issue passed by 2.6 votes. That is a close election! When the community didn’t like the Wydown/Washington University land swap idea, people let the board know. This tight election is an extension of that and will not be forgotten. I am confident that the process will be more open and transparent going forward.

University City also passed its bond issue.

Clayton Group Plans to Protest School Bond Vote
School Bond Issues Pass
Clayton School District Bond Issues Passes: Construction May Start in Fall
Election results including school board members

Students taking AP classes in Mo., or not

My Humps—Calculus

Students in Missouri are not taking AP courses at nearly the same levels as in other states according to the College Board annual report released earlier this week (Wed. Feb. 13). In Mo. 10.6 percent of students take an AP class versus 24.9 percent national average. We're at less than half the national average.

Nationally, 15.7 percent of students earn a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam; whereas, in Mo. only 6.7 percent do. In fact, Mo ranks 46th. (Yeah, the College Board recommends against ranking for a lot of valid reasons, but I did I did it anyway.)

Last summer, Mo. DESE sent out a press release praising the uptick in numbers of students taking the exam.

❝This year we sent more money to Missouri classrooms than ever before and also secured funding to encourage even more students to take AP classes, including training for more AP teachers and assistance to help cover the cost of AP exams. It is clear by our students’ outstanding performance that our investments are helping our students prepare for the challenges ahead,❞ he [Gov. Matt Blunt] said.

However, the 2.0 percent increase in the past 5 years is quite a bit less than the national average of 3.5 percent increase. Our students are falling behind.

It's possible students here are taking AP courses but not the exam. Adding in IB classes wouldn't raise the rates much since only a few high schools here offer them (Lindbergh, Metro). However, I wonder if St. Louis University's 1-8-1-8 program decreases students motivation to take the AP exam.

I couldn't find numbers on students in Mo. taking AP courses, but I did look up a few districts' offerings to compare to the national average (9). Clayton offers 21 AP courses including Calculus BC, Music theory and Macroeconomics. Hazelwood offers 15 including Computer Science and Physics. I also looked up a rural district and chose DeSoto at random. I couldn't find evidence they offered any AP courses. I didn't see any listed in the course schedule (except possibly calculus); nor were any mentioned in the student handbook. They are proposing a college prep certificate starting class of 2010. If that is reflective of rural districts, Mo. is in trouble.

Missouri has started two centers at Truman and SeMo to help train teachers to teach AP courses. This is a good start but not enough.

A Vision of K-12 Students Today

Here's the K-12 version of the popular A Vision of Students Today YouTube that is so popular. Sure, students still need to learn how to read books, but kids are often more visually oriented and technologically literate than their teachers, and this disconnect often makes for "unengaged" learners and frustrated children.

Wash U involves multiple schools, depts. in KIPP sponsorship

Some are excited about Wash U.'s sponsorship of KIPP charter schools in St. Louis because it provides more options for families in the city, some because Wash U is one of the first "elite" schools to sponsor a charter school. Some like the data. I'm excited because I believe Wash U won't just write a report once a year; I think they will be an active sponsor.

❝The University expects to have significant involvement in the success of this new school.❞

This involvement isn't just tutoring although I'm sure undergrads and master's level students will work directly with kids. Faculty and doctoral students will perform research, which should provide interesting info on charter schools.

❝But he [Robert Wild], thinks the many different university schools — education, social work and others — can all get involved. KIPP schools would provide undergrads and faculty alike with real-world exploration and real-world research.❞

A top-ranked school of social work working with the ed dept. provides for exciting opportunities. The different schools working together isn't just happy talk; the dean of George warren Brown School of Social Work is officially involved. The reputation will be on the line.

Since Wash U emphasizes science education research and projects, I would watch to see if the KIPP schools follow suit.

I'm aware that KIPP schools are controversial, but I'll be eagerly following this partnership.

Trip to Seville? Ph.D.? Working on the bucket list

When I graduated from college, I set three goals for myself to achieve by the time I was 30: buy a house, travel to Europe and finish the coursework for a Ph.D. program (I was trying to be realistic). I only met one of those goals.

So on my 31st birthday, I just reworked my objectives a bit, putting off those goals of a trip to Europe and the Ph.D. program until I was 40. My 30s was all about babies, not overseas travel or furthering my education formally. Having kids has broadened my perspective and enriched my life, but it didn't lend itself to my narrowly worded intentions.

Well, I'm 41 now. While I think a trip to Costa Rica with the kiddos might happen before that trip to Europe, I still dream about English manor houses, Italian villas, German castles, Spanish tapas bars and French cafés. I'm also seriously considering starting a Ph.D. program in a few years. I guess my original goals set when I was 21 are still the same, just delayed by, uh, a few years.

I'm not even going to bother graphing my success rate (20's=1 goal, 30's=0 goals, 40's=?), but if I do think my initial objectives were well thought out. I haven't been to Europe yet, but I have traveled domestically and to Central America. I haven't even started a Ph.D. yet, but I did get a master's and a graduate certificate. I've also read quite a bit about education as my children have started school, providing me with a broader perspective.

See ya in Seville!

MLK, Kiva and Natalie Portman

MLK inspires me.

I'm listening to Natalie Portman's Big Change: Songs for Finca, spending money on Kiva (notice a microfinancing theme here) and making gumbo as taught to me by a neighbor from New Orleans.

What are you doing today?

Thanks to a reader's comment I learned about a St. Louis based organization providing microfinancing opportunities, Microfinancing Parners in Africa.

Debating at the Chase

I really want to see The Great Debaters while it is still at the theater, but I admit it is probably not the top choice for most high school students. That is where the Rams have stepped up. (If only they could step up during the game also...) Linebacker Chris Draft's foundation sponsored a screening for 300 St. Louis city school high school students last Friday, Jan. 11, 2008.

After watching the movie at the beautiful Chase, students heard a panel discussion moderated by St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bryan Burwell. The panel consisted of community leaders, students, educators and Rams players Chris Draft, linebacker, Isaac Bruce, wide receiver, and Corey Chavous, safety.

The Rams had previously seen a private screening of the movie set up by Denzel Washington' son, JD Washington, who is on the practice squad.

Debating at the Chase is more inspiring than the Wrestling at the Chase!

Update--I really want to encourage readers to watch the video of Draft on Fox news I linked to above. I've also pulled out a couple Draft's quotes I like.

❝We need you guys [students] to be leaders. We need you all to step up, and the way to do that is research and facts, communication. Stand up and say we want to learn, we want to be better. How can we help St. Louis public schools be better?❞

❝We have to demand to be taught.❞

Life is all about ME, baby!

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
The stress! The stress!

Eduwonkette tagged me. As a new blogger, this is both appreciated (thanks!) and stressful. I'm supposed to write seven things about me people don't know. Since I haven't been blogging very long and like to chat, that's easy.

1. I am a Nancy Drew aficionado.
2. I am trying to green my life—at least in baby steps. (I try to shop at
Boutique Chartreuse)
3. I am always behind in grading papers.
4. I am a big Cardinals fan and am grieving over the trade of Jimmy (end of an era!)
5. I listen to talk radio (
6. I collect Christmas music (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is on my list!)
7. Like
PREA Prez, the most famous person I've met was Muhammad Ali. I rode with him in an elevator at a convention.

Between being the new girl in town and late to the party, I'm begging off tagging others this time (per
NYC Educator). I must admit to enjoying clicking through to sites I don't usually read. Fun!

Zoooommmm!!!!! Changing our perspective


I have been thinking about Jay Mathew's parents' (alveit via a journalist) versus policy wonk's focus perspective on the best high school ranking wars (Newsweek versus U.S. News & World Report):

❝Our focus is not what works for policy makers but what is most useful for readers, particularly parents, trying to judge the quality of their local schools and others that might be available to them.❞

Parents are looking at the trees, at what is best for their kid. Policy wonks look at the forest, at they they think is best for the whole. The ideal of course would be to see both.

This dichotomy plays itself out issue after issue. As a mother I find myself looking at topics from a different viewpoint than as a teacher or someone interested in policy. We need a sliding scale to easily resize our perspective up and down, from individual child to classroom to school to whole system.

But, but, why isn't MYYYYY school on the Best Schools List?

We are a country obsessed with rankings―more precisely, we are a country obsessed with being #1 although not necessarily the work it takes to get there. No surprise that U.S. New & World Report has come out with its best high schools list in competition with Newsweek's best high schools list. The two use different criteria and, therefore, list different schools.

The Newsweek list, compiled by Jay Mathews, uses the number of AP and IB exams a high school gives as its sole criteria. The idea is that students can improve their academics by taking AP courses. The idea is that any school can improve its rankings by encouraging more students to take the exams. While the list has its faults, the criterion is easy to understand. In St. Louis the better high schools are ranked higher, so it seems to make sense.

The new US News & World Report list though is different. The methodology is complex. A high school has to have its economically disadvantaged and minority populations outperform the state average on state tests. The focus here is on the achievement gap, which I will post on another time. If it passes this criteria, a college readiness score is given based on AP tests, both # given and average scores. High ranking schools are then slated into three categories: gold, silver and bronze.

While I appreciate the attempt to measure multiple factors and applaud overperforming schools, I have several concerns about this method of ranking:

Mixing of methods. Since the bronze high schools don't include college readiness scores, they should be treated as a separate ranking. When I looked up the state proficiency scores for the Missouri bronze scores, they were often fairly low. Most parents aren't going to read complicated methodology papers (pdf) demonstrating that these aren't actually the "best" but overperforming in some statistical manner.

Mismatch between audience and methodology. Jay Mathews explained this one well:

❝Our focus is not what works for policy makers but what is most useful for readers, particularly parents, trying to judge the quality of their local schools and others that might be available to them.❞

The overperforming schools list would be better given in
Phi Delta Kappan than a general magazine.

Too many criteria. Yes, I know what is best is determined by what priorities someone has. That is why the Newsweek list works―people know what is being measured. If Andy Rotherham wants to focus on broader criteria, multiple lists would be more helpful for parents. I enjoyed clicking through the top magnet schools, top open enrollment etc.

Regional lists. If you don't live on the coasts or in other large states, you must not have any good schools―at least according to people who do these rankings. I don't know how the numbers work that way, but those of us in flyover country are used to being overlooked, but we have excellent college prep public high schools too.

In Missouri only Metro (St. Louis city's gifted magnet school) and Rock Bridge (suburban Columbia) made the silver list. No one disputes that these two are great high schools, and of course Metro has great numbers as it's selective, but I contend that some of the St. Louis county schools are as strong as Rock Bridge.

27 Missouri high schools are on the bronze list, but none of them are in St. Louis county. These are in the overperforming for their demographics but not necessarily strong schools category. I'll make a separate post with detailed numbers since this one is already long.

I think most parents would prefer a clearer, easier to understand list that actually gives usable information. Here's to modifications for next year!


Grab a place at the Kaldi's coffee bar and let's chat educational issues....

In an effort to find another outlet for my thoughts on educational ideas besides my wonderful family, I've decided to start a blog, a place to voice my opinions about educational issues with a St. Louis perspective.

I do not intend to focus on the problems in the St. Louis city schools. They are well covered elsewhere. Rather, I hope to look more at the big picture, just using local districts as examples of how that plays out.

My intention is for the blog to appeal to both parents and educators as I am both. I like research and enjoy getting "down in the weeds," but my journalism background abhors jargon and meaningless generalities. Give me something useful, please! I hope to bridge multiple communities this way. If I start speaking too much doublespeak, let me know.