Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Before & After

Before the qualifiers:

After the qualifiers:

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm not the woman they think I am at home --- oh no no no, I'm a Rocket Woman!

Last night was our Jazzercise performance at the Houston Rockets game! After a very long afternoon rehearsal to coordinate 300 participants, we were ready for our 3 minutes of fame. I was chosen to be in the front row! See the YouTube video here! (I'm the pale one with the ponytail.)

Garrett and Jaime came out to support me. We were excited to see Yao Ming play, but apparently he has been out all season with a foot injury! I guess we don't keep up with the NBA like we should. Here's how Jaime's wingspan and my shoe size compare with Yao's.

The Rockets trailed the Bulls for the whole game, but the Power Girls (whose moves -- and outfits -- were much more scandalous than us Jazzercisers), the cheerleaders, and Clutch the Bear (NBA Mascot of the Year, 2005) were entertaining. Before and after the performance, several of my instructors -- including the woman who owns my local franchise -- told me that they think I have instructor potential and should consider becoming one! I'll let you be the judge.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The race continues

With this week marking the original deadline to apply for Race to the Top, President Obama has now decided to increase the funding available to recipients and also to extend the invitation to apply for grants to individual school districts (and not just states). Houston ISD, it seems, can't wait to apply. Thank you, Mr. Obama, and good luck, Dr. Grier!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

O Fortuna

Returning from a long weekend away (Phoenix post to come!), Garrett and I went to the cupboard only to discover it was bare. We walked over to our local Chinese eatery to get some take-out. When we arrived home and reached into the bag to pull out our containers, we nearly drowned in a sea of fortune cookies! Not two, not three, but SEVENTEEN cookies!

We have also been inundated with fortune in another way: Garrett passed the qualifiers! (He also received all A's for the semester.) He is very excited about his newfound freedom and a somewhat less demanding semester ahead.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Race to the Bottom

In an example of what makes Texas so... Texan, Governor Rick Perry announced this week that the state will not be applying for federal education grants through the Race to the Top program. I guess Texas pride supercedes $350-700 million to improve education.

Like the members of 'N Sync, Perry enjoys no strings attached to funding. "Our states and our communities must reserve the right to decide how we educate our children and not surrender that control to a federal bureaucracy," he said, sounding like he was hunkered down at the Alamo. Last year, to prove this point, Perry and Sarah Palin were the only governors to refuse to participate in efforts to move toward national curriculum standards.

What are the feds asking of grant recipients? The Race to the Top website says that states should:
  • Adopt standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Build data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turn around our lowest-achieving schools.

I guess we're already doing that in Texas, Gov. Perry? The new superintendent of HISD is quoted as saying, “If our standards are that much better, why don't we get in there and convince everyone else in the nation to rise to our level?” The School Board was set to vote last night on "the consideration of value-added data in personnel decisions" (i.e., TAKS scores tied to teacher evaluations). Many Texas teachers groups seemed to be against Race to the Top for fear of this kind of evaluation. However, it seems to be the wave of the future -- like it or not.

Education Week just released their Quality Counts study on education in America. In 19th place, Texas received a C+ as its overall grade. Within that grade, the study awards grades in the areas of Chance-for-Success; Standards, Assessment, and Accountability; K-12 Achievement; Transitions and Alignment; The Teaching Profession; and School Finance. Texas received a D+ in that last category. Perhaps we should be quoting another 'N Sync song from 2000, "It Makes Me Ill."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The truth is out there

Garrett and I have gone Mulder and Scully. We're growing our own crop circle! A modern day Chia, the crop circle begins as a "crop-growing mat," sprinkled with seeds and misted with water. Here is a photo from Day One. Thank you, Amanda and Ben, for helping us to become occultivators.

I have been pondering my last post some more, after watching Garrett and his classmate study furiously this weekend for the second part of their qualifying exam. They have been pulling their hair out for the last six months, teaching themselves the complex material that was never adequately taught to them and agonizing over the possibility of failing the exam. Why, I wondered, is there less accountability at the PhD level than at the elementary level? If Garrett were taking the PhD TAKS, his professors would actually be invested in this exam. They would teach the material on their syllabi, giving clear and precise lectures and offering insightful feedback on meaningful assignments. They would care about their PhD students and how they performed on this exam, because their bosses would expect them to put in 100% effort and would take the PhD TAKS results into consideration when evaluating the professors. Heck, they might even give a nice little bonus to the professors if their students do well on the test! If the statistics department had to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress under the No PhD Candidate Left Behind Act, they would have to show that each year, more students pass the qualifiers. Garrett and his classmates shouldn't worry about failing -- their professors should be worried if their PhD students fail, and it should be seen as a reflection of the professors' teaching abilities and not the students' ability to learn or to take high-stakes tests.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is school fun anymore?

Cold winds have swept across our state, sending shivers down the spines of many a Texan. No, it's not the Arctic blast (which sounds like a Slurpee flavor in my opinion) -- it's testing season!

The first week back at school following the winter break brings discussions of vacations past and tests of the future. Though the pressure has been on since August, things really heat up this time of year when standardized testing rolls around. (Sorry for my mixed meteorological metaphors.)

An assistant principal at one of my schools sent out an e-mail on Tuesday with the testing schedule for the next four months -- and an ominous warning that there were only 38 school days before the writing test and 55 school days before math and reading! (Eeps! Make that 36 and 53!) The tension is palpable. There are eight tests that will be given on this campus (more, if you count all the subject/grade variations).

Everyone knows that high-stakes standardized tests have been the focus at most schools (and most curricula) since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001. In Texas, we live and die by a) the Texas flag, b) Texas football, and c) the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS). TAKS begins in third grade, but the pressure starts in pre-school.

In two days, Saturday tutorials begin, and run through the spring. Children who were somehow deemed "at risk" have had letters sent home informing parents that they need to bring their child to school every Saturday morning. This even includes children in the gifted program.

I've heard horror stories of fourth graders staying up until 9:30 or 10:30 doing homework to prepare them for TAKS.

Another teacher described to me the Stanford, a multiple-choice achievement test that is administered every year starting in kindergarten. That first year, the teacher reads the questions aloud while the students bubble in their answers. My friend told me how the children have been taught how to bubble in answers, and, every year, on a question with a picture of a door, many kids bubble in the doorknob.

What is going on? The early childhood educator in me is curled up in the corner, rocking back and forth, and crying.

On a somewhat similar note, I'm pleased to say that Garrett has made it through day one of the written portion of his qualifying exam. One-third of the way there!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Think of Kramer with the set of the old Merv Griffin Show

Though the holiday season is winding down, the season of college applications is still chugging along. For the second year, I have volunteered to interview applicants to Harvard. Two seasons ago, I had a lot of fun meeting bright and bubbly seniors in Orlando. This year, it's time to show Houston some Crimson love.

Garrett was surprised when I told him that everyone who applies to Harvard is granted an interview (except for, perhaps, the lone homeschooler in the Alaskan wilderness). He said he had been very excited when, lo, those many years ago, he found out he had landed an Ivy interview. That's one of the great things about Harvard: every applicant is special and worth at least an hour of an interviewer's time.

The alumni associations across the country are facing a big challenge this year, since the university did away with the Early Decision process. All applications were due by January 1st, and all of our interviews need to be completed by January 31st. With nearly 30,000 applicants, that's a lot of schmoozing to fit in!

Here are some of the things that go through my mind during the typical interview:
  • Was I this energetic and optimistic when I was 17? These kids are intensely interested in so many academic areas and passionately committed to righting all of society's ills.
  • Have I met the expectations I set for myself when I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? What would the 17-year-old Kristin say to me today?
  • Does the overachieving teenager manage to find more than 24 hours in the day? I am vicariously exhausted reading long resumes and hearing about packed schedules.
  • If the tables were turned, and this student asked me to expound on MY interests and outline MY goals for the future, would I be able to do so, enthusiastically and articulately? It's a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a senior in high school.
  • I'd like to think I have a good sense of who would make a good Harvard student, but do I really? Are there unknown biases affecting my judgment? What is the value of an impression after one hour of talking to someone? With great power comes great responsibility, as someone once said.
  • And what every Harvard graduate thinks at some point: Would I be accepted if I applied today? For the class of 1983, the admit rate was 17%. For the class of 2013, it was 7%. Yikes!

I'm looking forward to meeting more youngsters, so that I can be dazzled and inspired... and so that I can continue to use the phrase, "Back in MY day..."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010, faithful blog readers!

Garrett and I celebrated New Year's Eve first at the movie theater ("Sherlock Holmes" -- excellent!), and then at the apartment of our friend, Jaime. The crowd was international, hailing from South Korea, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. We Americans brought our appetites for the tasty South American cuisine, while the others brought their Latin traditions. After toasting with champagne at midnight (and strangely viewing a delayed showing of the celebrations in Times Square), we were each given a bunch of 12 grapes and told to make a wish for each month of the year as we ate them. Then a few brave souls went out into the cold with assorted pieces of luggage (containing a shoe from each of the guests) and circled the block -- making it known to the gods that they would like to travel in 2010. Finally, Jaime produced a stack of 12 quarters. He explained that we were to bend our arm, balance the stack on our elbow, and then quickly throw and catch the quarters with the hand of the same arm. I managed to catch 4 of my 12, which I think means that I will come in to some money in 2010.

I started off New Year's Day with a Jazzercise class. Trying out Jazzercise was one of my 2009 Resolutions, and I'm proud to say that I've stuck with it (and thoroughly enjoyed it) since last January. I knew today's class would be special, with two instructors -- one of whom is the franchise owner and a truly inspiring teacher. So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when I showed up right as class was starting to find about SEVENTY people in attendance! Participants included veteran Jazzercisers, newcomers with 2010 resolutions, a girl of about age 10, and a man who was wearing what can only be described as exercise suspenders. It was a great workout to start the new year -- part aerobics class, part music video, and part church revival! The women love to hoot and holler during their favorite songs, and the instructor's encouragements make everyone feel good about themselves and their bodies. Tomorrow I am embarking on a new Jazzercise adventure: a Houston Rockets halftime show! Practice begins on Saturday, and the performance is three weeks later.

This afternoon I reflected on last year's resolutions and drew up some new ones. I'm pleased to say that I met many of my objectives for 2009. Last year I expanded my exercise regimen -- I tried spinning and yoga and continue with Jazzercise. I spent quality time with Garrett, in and out of Houston -- as confirmed by the entries and photos on this blog, I hope! I explored my career options and became an educational diagnostician. I encouraged others to recycle in our apartment building, sent letters and cards to friends throughout the year, and decorated our apartment to make it vibrant yet inviting.

Here are my new goals for the upcoming year:
  • Return to daily meditation.
  • Be positive about Houston -- investigate activities and pursue friendships here.
  • Blog more frequently to exercise my writing muscles.
  • Continue the quest for a good pilates mat class.
  • Explore ESL certification (English as a Second Language) to add to my professional profile.
  • Continue to spend quality time with Garrett in and out of Houston!

Wish us luck! Happy New Year!

He's gonna find out who's naughty at Rice...

Santa Claus came to town... and was pulled over at the Rice University police station! This wins my award for favorite holiday decoration in Houston.