Tuesday, August 16, 2011

playing the game

 I've been watching the unfolding of educational policy in the US in general and Texas in particular. I look back at what the  standard requirements used to be, albeit in the prior millennium, the standards were based on merit. If you took a class and received an A, you got a 4.0.  There were no levels to a class like say, Chemistry. If you took chemistry you had to complete certain tasks, take tests and your average was recorded and grade points awarded. If you scored a B you got a 3.0 , etc. There were no 5 point classes for honors, or enriched or AP. If you were gifted enough to take a difficult class and you got an A, not only was your reward the A but also the satisfaction of accomplishment and enhanced knowledge.

  So fast forward to 2011. At my daughter's highschool- a very large urban school, here is a breakdown of some of the games that you have to play.  If you are in marching band or orchestra, the class counts as a 5 point class, meaning and A receives 5 grade points, a B gets 4 etc. So a student taking all 5 point classes can have a 5.0 GPA. If you play a sport and make all A's your GPA can drop to a 4.85. It doesn't sound like much but it can knock you out of the top 10% over the 4 years. . If you play a sport, no matter what level, you only receive 4 points. If you want to maintain as high a gpa as you can ( for class ranking) then you scheme to take your PE credit ( 4 points) your senior year. I could go on for hours with examples of the nonsensical world of grade points, but you get the picture.

  Why should I care? Well in our wonderful state of Texas, if you graduate in the top 10% of your class ( calculated by the weighted GPA) you get automatic admission to UT and A&M regardless of your SAT scores or the actual curriculum. In 2008, 91% of the seats at UT were taken up by the top 10%'ers. That left the university with only 9% of the seats at their discretion. So in 2009 they capped the seats at 75% filled with top 8%'ers. Therefore, only 25% of the seats are being evaluated on any merits other than class rank. So at my daughter's school, if you are a straight A student, but you play varsity sports for 4 years instead of  something like marching band, you will drop out of the top 10% and not receive the automatic admission that the kid banging the cymbals at the end of 'send in the clowns' half-time show does.

   There are schools in the district where the average SAT score of the top 10% is barely over 1000. If you are in the 11%- 25% A&M requires that you have to have an SAT score of over 1300 to get the other road to automatic admission.  Of course, I'm not advocating eliminating the rank from any consideration, but it should not be the driving factor. It is not the most accurate way of assessing a student's college readiness. It must go hand in hand with curriculum, test scores, essays and extra-curricular activities.

 This system does not promote a well rounded college bound candidate. This encourages very strategic and uncomfortably monitored choices of 5 point classes regardless of content and value. At a time when the obesity rate is beyond the epidemic level, it is absurd to discourage college bound students from playing sports. But for some, they  will be cutting their own throats in the class rank game if they choose a sport over a 5 point choice.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Can I fake an 'ironsides' ?

So as I prepare to return to the classroom this month I am trying to decide how I can gracefully maneuver around the whiteboard. No, I did not say wide-board.

When I started teaching I was the same age as my students and was a potential date.  Tall, thin and smokin' hot ( ok, well tall and tepid) But now comes the judgement day, the rear end rapture. I have to stand in front of the frat boys and wiggle my way through some pre-calc, all the while trying to constantly divert their attention upwards.

Can I fake a mild paralysis and claim that I need to sit and use an overhead projector? I think George Costanza tried that one to get  the handicap bathroom. Where's Harry Potter's invisibility cloak? Maybe I could wear it as a skirt...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

All around awesome Alex day:)

That's a Quad A day! I am so proud of Alex right now. We spent a good bit of time this week shopping for some new clothes for him. He is so tall and thin that he can wear virtually everything. His favorite is a royal blue blazer with an awesome turquoise shirt and killer paisley tie. It really is a bitchin' outfit.

My amazing friend and hair dresser did his hair and off we went for a 90 minute photo shoot for his senior pictures. It was a surreal experience for me. To look across the studio at this incredibly handsome young man posing as if he's on the cover of GQ magazine. I tried to just stay in the background and keep my tears from welling up. I cry so easily when I think about how far he's come and how soon he will be leaving me.

We got to do some fun shots as well with some of his 'history' memorabilia. He even took some shots with a Teddy Roosevelt meets Stanley Livingston theme.

When we got home I checked the website for his SAT scores and he raised them by 90 points!! Well done , son! He should be feeling quite a boost in his self esteem after a great day like today.

Kudos to you , Alex. You are amazing!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Video blog of Rome coming up!!

I'm very excited about doing a video blog of our upcoming vacation in Rome with side trips to Florence and Venice. I've been obsessively ( imagine that) researching websites and you tube videos so that I'll have a lay of the land when we get there. It's been so long since I was there that my memory just isn't going to hack it as reference.

So I thought it would be awesome to do some video blogging and share with other travelers. I hope it turns out well. I've got a handy HD digital video camera so I'm hopeful that it will work.

Google maps with the street view has been a god-send. I've been doing a virtual walking tour of the neighborhoods in Rome this past week. I've already scoped out the tabacconist, the wine bar, the greek restaurant and the bank just around the corner from our apartment in Trastevere.

Another great website is the Rome Bus/metro ATAC website. You can enter the start and end of the daily jaunts you want to take and it will tell you the best route including the number of the bus/tram/metro and maps of the stops. Considering I'm planning on hitting about 12-13 sites each day, and considering my feet have been giving me fits, I plan on making liberal use of the buses!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Heading to Rome

 It's been 28 years since I've been in Rome. Hell, most Caesars didn't rule that long.  I wasn't exactly walking the streets in a toga, but they were still using Lire back then. Those were the days when I could get 1500 lire to the dollar. Pizza cost less than $1 a slice. Dinners were about $4 and a leather jacket was $10. Not any more. The Euro is at about $1.40 to one euro. So I'm curious to see just how weak my dollars are.

We are renting an apartment in Trastevere. It sounds wonderful and I think we'll have a much more memorable stay than in a hotel. We've used this service VRBO three times before and we've always been very happy with it.

We are taking a few trains around for day trips. We are  going to Firenze, Venezia and Napoli. Man, when I think back to my train trips in 1983, I cringe to think about how we traveled. It was a very fine art back then, and one that I must say that I was the master in. I would find out  on what track the train was pulling in . I would leave the luggage with my traveling companions on the platform and I would jump on the still moving, arriving train and push my way into an emptying compartment. Then I would disrobe the 5-6 layers of clothes that I had put on and throw them in the seats to make them look occupado.  I'd open the window, wave to my friends , who would hand the luggage up to me through the open window and then they would shove their way to the compartment. Voila! I had a seat for every ride in Europe!!
   Now this time around we are traveling first class with reservations. It will be a completely new experience for me. I just hope it is as much fun:)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Do we need more space?

Is it just me or am I suddenly living in a house full of really big people? The house we've lived in for 12 years has always seemed adequate. Most outsiders would think I am being silly to feel cramped in my beautiful two story tudor house. I'm sure I would here the usual comment like " generations of people have raised much bigger families in much smaller houses than you" ahem. But it is really making me feel claustrophobic. We have about 2400 sq. ft. which seems ok, but all three bedrooms open onto the same landing about 6 feet from each other. Even though my son is about to go off to college next year, he will still be home for xmas and summers. For the first time he asked if we could get a place with more space. He has always been my ever faithful kid who never asks for much, so if he's feeling like it's time to move then I think that maybe it is.

A fixer-upper is on the market and I am sorely tempted to buy it. It is much bigger with a much bigger lot. It is one story and it is a mid-century modern. I really, really like it. But here's the dilemma......if I want to move out to CA in 3 years when Betsy graduates then I should stay put in my current house. Should I be so fixated on moving to what I consider 'paradise"? Should I be more realistic and stay here in Ft Worth with all the friends we've made? How much do you chase your dreams before you realize that you have wasted the treasures that you have? I feel like an Aesop fable character. My mom's philosophy is bloom where you are planted. I've never really liked that saying. I've spent most of my life having to live where my dad's job or my husband's job took me. Which of course, you sort of have to do when you depend on your job, duh.

I feel disloyal to my current house. It has been a great place to raise our kids. But the other house seems like such a great opportunity. My friend, a realtor , is going to show me the house on Thurs. In the mean time I'll keep getting things fixed up here and try to neutralize the paint pallet just in case I want to sell....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

tick tick tick....ding!

Whew, I feel like I am running out of time to teach my son all the things that I dreamed of teaching him. You'd think that 18 years worth of interaction would be sufficient, but somehow I feel like I've been on auto pilot since about 4th grade. I can barely remember the passage of all those school days. I must have been conscious,  but it beats me what wisdom I have imparted to him. Have I taught him how to handle himself when he gets stopped by the police for speeding? How do I teach about how to handle a broken heart without allowing him to go out there and get it broken? How do I convince him that the heartbreak is worth it once he finds the love of his life? How do I teach him to be passionate about his beliefs but at the same time be able to keep the lid on his tone of voice when having a disagreement with someone? Basically, how do I teach him about real life without him having experienced much of it yet? How did I learn about it myself?
   It's so hard to believe that my baby is going to be a senior in high school- an 18 year old man.  It sort of reminds me of when I'm packing for a trip and I have a nagging feeling that I have forgotten something really important. Socks ( check) underwear (check) toothbrush (check)....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You're taking what in high school?

My 15 year old daughter who is a freshman in high school just received an award for Pre-Calc. I didn't take that class until I was a senior in high school! And yet, I probably had an easier time of getting into some of the top colleges in the country than she will. How is that possible that my children are both taking a bunch of courses and learning things, I guarantee I did not learn until college. Chemistry? Are you kidding me? My chemistry class consisted of making prom decorations, and yet I aced the science portion of the ACT. Will my children do that well even though the classes they are taking are far more advanced than what I took? I can hear you readers thinking that perhaps the ACT test in my day was far easier, huh? Well, that may very well be but I doubt it. The mismatch of class content and achievement is puzzling.  "I'm vexed, terribly vexed."

I can not believe just how much times have changed from the days when applying to a state school was a shoe-in. UT and A&M were a breeze. Today, in 2011, unless you graduate in the top 8 -10% of your class you almost can't get into these schools. And yet, close to 25% of the students fail out their freshman year. In some classes over 50% of the freshmen are taking remedial classes. Are you kidding? If they qualify for college then how can they need remedial classes.?Sounds like a good way for the universities to make more money. "sure we'll take an extra 15-24 hours worth of remedial tuition from you before you begin your 120 credit hour degree" So the schools benefit monetarily, the students that are 'automatically' admitted but need remediation really just end up paying too much for their degree. They would have been better off taking their remediation at a junior college and then transferring to UT. The students who are just below the threshold for the top 10% but yet do not need remediation end up going north to OU and getting their degrees out of state. I'm sure they'd have liked to get those seats instead of those who graduated at the top of a mediocre school and are stuck taking remediation.

So if my kids took the same line-up of classes that I took they'd have no chance of even getting into UT or A&M. The class rankings in my day were simply on a 4 pt scale. There were no honors credits or AP classes that gave you a 5 point A. GPA's were never over a 4.0.  Today, if your child doesn't max out on the 5 point classes their straight  4.0 A's may put them below the top 10%. In fact over 25% of the graduating class at my daughter's school graduates with a GPA over 4.0. If you don't have a 4.8 or above you probably won't get into UT. The games we have to play to pick the proper classes based on 'points' is ludicrous.

But since times have changed I have to get with the program. So, I have my children signed up to take all these AP classes. They definitely have more knowledge than I did when I graduated but I wonder if they will have more wisdom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Top paying degrees?

Twice this week someone has posted to either facebook or twitter the results of a study that show that the two top paying degrees to get in college are engineering and math/computer science. What they don't tell you is that a math degree on its own gets you no where. I don't know of a single friend ( me included) who got a degree in math that is not teaching. That puts us in the education category which was at the bottom of this pay scale list.
   I almost think that it is unfair advertising not to insist that the students who are good and interested in math take classes that augment math such as engineering, computer science or finance. At the same time, quit glorifying the engineers as if they are the second coming. Seriously, all the 'skills' that engineers bring to the table they learned in a math class. All the problem solving and critical thinking that the studies are touting, started in a math class. So how about some love? Where's the praise for math? Engineering without math is voc ed. It's metal shop or auto hobby or wood shop.
  It's time to redesign the majors in college so that you don't spit out really bright mathematicians who are only qualified to teach other mathematicians, etc...... How much more productive can we be if we offer these math majors some classes that will translate into jobs after graduation?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Change The Equation

This is a complicated issue, no doubt about it. To even broach the subject of where we went wrong in the STEM education standards is a vert delicate arena. I have my own theories and observations but to voice them is to stir up a huge dust storm that obscures the issues.

First of all quit comparing our student's test scores to those of the Chinese, Indians, Russians or Japanese. For crying out loud, it's patently obvious that is far easier to educate a homogenous population than the population that we have here in the US. And for pity's sake how about the 'holier than thou' Yankee states quit looking down your noses at the southern states. Do you really want me to point out the elephant in the room? Have you looked at your demographics lately? Before I even go into the issues that haunt and hamper differing races and ethnicities, it again goes back to my assertion that it is easier to educate a homogenous population than one that is truly diverse. Here are some of the numbers to highlight the different challenges that TX and CA face:

Here are the percentages of the state population that is caucasian ( non- hispanic)
NY : 60%
CT: 73%
MA: 79%
OR: 80%
PA : 81%
WI: 85%
IA: 90%

and now for TX and CA, 46% and 41% respectively. So you see that these extremely heavily populated and popular states are a  majority-minority state. So as the 'oh so educated'  people from the east coast, upper midwest and Northwest lecture us and cluck their tongues at us, why don't they applaud the fact that we 2 states are making great strides in educating the future of America. This is what America will look like in a few decades and generations. Gasp, yes, don't panic up there in Iowa, there might actually be a minority living on your street and going to your schools. We are living it. We are functioning and embracing our people.  We drive down our streets where the billboards are entirely in Spanish. We have leaders and employees that reflect the ingredients from all over the world.

So as these think tanks wring their hands and whisper "why can't they all just emulate how WE do it up here in CT?" Here's the answer: because our population is diverse. Deal with it. Accept it and plan accordingly. Do you spend more money per pupil than we do in TX? Yes, and you know what?  You also spend more on housing, food, gas and entertainment. It's not about comparing dollars spent or standardized test scores. How about some suggestions about how to improve STEM education for the real demographic distribution of the region?

So the organization" Change The Equation" sent letters to each of 50 governors asking them to take steps to address the dismal education standards in STEM areas. I just wonder how many of these members of the organization actually live and work in an area with majority minority populations. I also wonder how many of these members give any credit to the enormous task TX and CA are facing with educating such tremendous numbers of people, many of whom do not speak English.

I really want to find some suggestions about how we can improve here in TX. I'll try to articulate some thoughts next time....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

to teach or not to teach....

 Well, well, well. I returned home after day three of my triathlon training training. No that's not a typo, I am training for triathlon training. I was so paralyzed after my workout on Thursday that my right arm would not bend enough for me to reach my mouth with a fork, let alone a toothbrush. And forget about drying my hair. So needless to say it was a long weekend of very little hygiene.....

So back to my return from the gym today.....there was a message on the machine. It was TCU ( Dr Doran) calling to tell me he really needed me to return to TCU and teach math. Well I am never one to turn down such a flattering request. I have to say that it really is perfect timing. It's a no brainer for me. It pays enough for me to cover Alex's college tuition. It's only 3 days a week, 10 hours a week and I will only be 1/2 mile from Betsy is she needs me to run up to school and bring her things like lunch, calculators, forgotten homework, etc. The other benefits of course are the cute frat boys that will be streaming into my classes!! Seriously, Mrs Robinson, you've got nothing on me. It's really hard to believe that in a blink of an eye I went from a potential date to a potential mother to these boys. Ooh, I just realized I have even more incentive to lose weight now that my rear end will be front and center of all eyes in the class. There's nothing more distracting in a math class than a "hippo shimmy" going on at the board.

Once more into the breach..........

Sunday, May 1, 2011

well maybe not so fast

Well, I was alerted to the fact that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan today. I got a text message and then checked it out on twitter. Talk about news traveling fast. As I walked up the stairs to tell my husband to turn on the news my 15 year old daughter called out from her room that she had just heard the news on facebook. It's hard to believe that we live in a world where there is almost no lag time in big new stories.

So how does this news make us feel? I have to say that my focus on Bin Laden had faded over the past 10 years. So now I feel sort of a let down. Sort of anti-climactic. What's wrong with me? I was almost embarrassed to see the folks outside the white house cheering and survivors of 9-11 calling for pictures of his dead body. This struggle has taken so long and has cost so many innocent lives that it's hard to feel celebratory. I must admit that my feelings are somewhat tinged by my dislike for Obama and his leadership style. So, I'm trying to be objective about the news. I'm trying to give Obama the benefit of the doubt concerning Osama.    I'm going to give the President a fair nod of approval.  Well done sir.

I hope this makes us safer, but I tend to think that someone else will fill his shoes. What a tough situation. I'm actually encouraged to find that there are secret operatives working on our behalf to root out these terrorists and bring them down.

Get a job or exercise?

 So as I sit here on my ever expanding derriere and contemplate my navel, Bobby came home from golfing with the newspaper. The headline was about triathlons.
  So searching for my purpose in life as I transition from the happy housewife/mommy to whatever I'm supposed to be next..... I've considered a new career but unless something spectacular comes my way out of the blue I think my career will probably stay on the math teacher track. Not so bad when you think about the alternative. Of course the grass is always greener when I look out over my successful friends and their awesome careers. Get a grip Deb, and get real. Ok, so the reality is that I am 30 lbs. overweight, approaching 50 and I'm about to have a lot more free time on my hands. As I write this I realize just how unoriginal my 'plight' is. Geez, wtf?
   Alrighty then. So if I want to be able to get the most out of the years that Bobby and I will be spending together I better spend my time on what will make those years be the best we can make them. A job or lack of job really won't affect how Bobby feels about me. But my physical 'status' just might!! Not really. He's a great guy and will always love me, but let's face it- sexier & healthier is better.

  Therefore as of this week as finals for the TCU students wind down and I have some serious free time on my hands I will devote everyday from 9-12 to exercise and then the subsequent clean-up ( which for me takes an hour from start to finish with all the make-up and blow drying). I'm going to join LA fitness because they have a lap pool and tons of treadmills, etc. It's not far off the bike path along the river so I can incorporate the biking aspect to and from the gym.

ok, the next post will be day 1 of the mommy triathlon training program.....

Friday, April 15, 2011

So I really didn't dream that

For years I thought perhaps I had just imagined eating these chewy, slightly grainy, tube stick astronaut snacks. I remember they were always smaller than you'd think after you tore open the space-age foil lined tube wrapping. I actually think that there may have been a couple of iterations of them because just today I viewed a you-tube video of a  1970's commercial for them and it didn't look quite right. A friend of mine on facebook found the commercial because she too was haunted by the memory of these space sticks. So with the miracle of the internet I have been able to view 2 products from my childhood that all these years have only been a vague, elusive memory of childhood fun-food.
  The second product was Koogle! Oh, how I loved koogle as a kid. But all these years I've never met anyone who remembers it. I would occasionaly mention it at parties, after a few adult beverages, but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. So again, my facebook friend came to the rescue with the name of the product.
  Now, it sort of makes me wonder. If the only other friends that I know who remember the space sticks and koogle grew up on Air Force bases like me and shopped at the commissary like me , and now those products are banned ( or are they?)......was the gov't just testing these strange products on unsuspecting kids who loved space and airplanes? I sense a conspiracy in here somewhere....
   Well, I'm telling you if you never tried Koogle then you missed out on one of he delicious wonders of modern food science!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Space memories and Tang

That was a sobering thought. The first space shuttle launch and landing occurred 30 years ago. I'd like to say that I was a mere babe at the time but alas I was practically launched myself. What an exciting thing to witness. How fortunate we were to live at Edwards AFB and be a first hand witness to history. It's interesting to think about how much this event was so much a part of my life that I just took it for granted. Growing up my whole life surrounded by jets,  sonic booms and wide open spaces. Here comes this gigantic space craft that had been launched into space like  a rocket and was casually landing on a strip of dry lake bed like a jet airplane. Very cool, indeed.
   It's interesting also that this anniversary shares it's date with the 50th anniversary of the ride of  Yuri  Gagarin in 1961. Now for sure I was not even alive at that point so it doesn't resonate with me as strongly. That and the fact that he was Russian. So growing up, we pretty much ignored contributions from the 'commies'. But as an adult when I think about how awesome that must have been for humanity to realize that we were about to propel ourselves into the space age. Wow.

All of this space related reminiscing got me thinking about the food and snacks that we used to eat as kids that had some sort of space related theme to it. The most obvious example is of course, Tang. Geez, could there be a grosser powdered drink on the planet than Tang? We'd stumble into the kitchen where our mom had been up for hours already and there on the kitchen table the glasses of freshly stirred Tang were waiting for us. It was gross, Everyone knew it was gross. But we drank it anyways because it was cool. Hey man, astronauts drank this stuff and they are rock stars so drink up brother! Remember when you'd get about 80% finished and you'd have to catch your breath, because of course you had been secretly holding our breath trying to deaden your taste buds ability to function. Then you'd catch a glance of the bottom  f the glass. There it was. The grit. Giant piles of undissolved astronaut grit. You'd clear your throat and tell yourself "man up dude, finish your Tang, don't be a woos." One last swallow.
   So last night I posted a question on facebook asking my friends for an appropriate drink to toast to the 30th/50th anniversaries. I was just thinking vodka with the Russian connection. Then there it was. Someone suggested Tang. Then the suggestions started pouring in and the final version ended up being dubbed the Tang-tini.  Na Zdorovie.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cosmetic industry conspiracy

  I have actually learned to look in the mirror and not vomit. I accept the fact that my face has seen a lot and most of it in the blazing sun. So I spruce it up with layers of camouflage and various anti-aging creams, lotions, bases and powders. Then I get to the eyeshadow part. I look very carefully at the photo of the model on the front cover of my eyeshadow. It even comes with very handy and helpful instructions. This is particularly helpful for those of us who grew up in the era of roll-on Dr. Pepper lip smackers and blue eyeshadow. How hard can this be? So I apply the frosted eyeshadow under the brow for 'highlighting'. Yippee! Now my wrinkles that were hiding in the crease of my increasingly drooping eyelid are HIGH lighted!! Such genius. It really is a plot to make those of us born in the last millenium look even older. Well played.
   Why do I suddenly feel like baby Jane  in the Bette Davis movie?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gotta start somewhere....

I am dumbfounded by the fact that I am suddenly 47, ( almost 48) years old. It's pathetic really that I actually thought that I was special, or different somehow and that I'd never really age and that normal human frailties would not apply to me. It's the height of narcissism really to complain and be shocked by the fact that I am now officially an old woman.
   So last month I have to break down and get a pair of reading glasses. But I stress to everyone who is within earshot that "they are the weeeea-kest strength". I actually let out a little harrumph everytime I put them on. Yesterday I downloaded 2 apps for exercising and the print on the instructions was so tiny I had to get my glasses to read how to do a sit-up properly. Really? Good god, my great-grandmother was out in the back yard chasing down and wringing the neck of chickens for dinner when she was 47/48 and here I sit on my living room floor with my iphone exercise app and reading glasses. Maybe I should buy some chickens for the back yard............