2010 Texas Democratic Platform: Making Our Schools Safe Havens for Learning

June 28, 2010

This post is eighth in a series on the education planks of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform.

This is an unofficial version published in advance of the final version from the Texas Democrats, but I expect very few changes.


Texas Democrats believe students, teachers and other school personnel should be safe from acts of violence, and students must be protected from bullying. School campuses and functions must be weapon-free and drug-free. We support swift and fair enforcement of disciplinary standards. Teachers deserve support when they exercise their right to remove a disruptive student from class.

Students referred to disciplinary alternative education programs should continue to receive strong academic instruction. When a student’s misconduct is serious enough to warrant disciplinary placement, the state should make sure that the disciplinary setting – whether a school district’s own disciplinary alternative program or a county’s juvenile-justice alternative education program – offers a full array of educational and social/behavioral services to help that student get back on track. School districts should be discouraged from indiscriminately placing students in disciplinary alternative education programs for trivial misconduct.

We support the Dignity for All Students Act to guarantee safety for all students.

Teach evolution at your peril

July 27, 2008

Untamed Teacher carries one more story about the dangers of trying to teach evolution to students who are not particularly interested, in a school where administrators don’t know much about science. Cynics will write it off as an inexperienced teacher in a difficult school — but that’s precisely where we need to be teaching the most serious material most often. (Tip of the old scrub brush to Education Notes Online.)

The Balloon Man notes a story in the Los Angeles Times about a much more experienced, and patient, teacher, whose lesson biology is heckled by religious students bent on disrupting the instruction.

How would Jesus heckle a teacher? Which parable covers being obnoxious?

Update: Open Parachute ponders whether the behaviors exhibited by the churchy adults in the news report below, constitute child abuse:

Can you imagine the reaction were a group of scientists to arrive at Ken Ham’s creation museum and lead a “science tour” of the place? Dollars to doughnuts Ham would come out looking a lot like Joe Stalin on the issue of allowing free discussion in his place.

Resource:  Why study evolution?  Read the benefits of such study in one of the permanent posts of this blog.

Storefront schools

June 16, 2008

Why not?

In comments to the immediately previous post, Zhoen says segregation by gender is no panacea for education. But, she wonders at OneWord: Why not storefront schools?

For many years, I have thought the never-will-be-done answer was to have storefront schools. One room schoolhouses, two teachers and a local adult volunteer, no more than a dozen students, all online classes – a national, self paced, curricula. Touring experts and scholars for special lectures and demonstrations. Kid has a problem with a particular teacher, move ’em to the next neighborhood over. Walking distances from their homes, field trips common (easier to arrange with small groups), flexible schedules (let the teens sleep in). A circle of homeschools in rural areas instead of warehouses to haul whole populations into.

Why not? The idea strikes me as similar to Japanese juku, private schools for kids in public schools, where kids get remedial attention or advanced instruction, depending on what they need. I copy the Library of Congress’ description of juku after the fold.

What do you think? Is there an example of storefront schools we can cite either way, for or against the idea?

Comment away.

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One Texas, under God

August 29, 2007

A federal district court judge dismissed a challenge to the new law in Texas which adds “under God” to the Texas pledge, on top of the Texas law which requires all kids to say the pledge every day.

The Texas Lege, long the foil of Molly Ivins, was in particularly fine form this year, writing commandments from God and curtsies to God into several state activities. While I’m way behind on railing about these requirements, our Texas State Attorney General, Greg Abbott, has little more to do than make sure God gets his due — God being incapable of doing that himself, I suppose. Houston’s being over-run with storm refugees who disproportionately brought their guns, drug and gambling habits with them, juries in East Texas being under fire for being racially imbalanced and sentencing way more blacks to death than would seem reasonably by any statistical measure, and millions of school dollars disappearing in charter school scams and other scandals across the state, and Texas having the highest number and highest percentage of kids without health insurance, all pale by comparison to the Texas Lege’s and Mr. Abbott’s calls to make sure Texas kids pledge allegiance to the correct deity in the correct way.

Abbott’s opposite-editorial-page opinion ran in this morning’s Dallas Morning News. He gets his full say, below the fold.

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Spanking fetish

August 27, 2007

Start of the new school year, hits on the major post I did on spanking in schools pick up a little. Interest runs in waves, roughly with the dates of new semesters, or with a proposal to ban it altogether.

One question I get asked occasionally in e-mail is, who supports spanking? Apart from the one school district named in the article I cited in the earlier post, there is a core of supporters who now claim Biblical authority for spanking. It’s a move among religionists, as odd as any other religion-based behavior I can think of.

No kidding. Notice there are multiple parts to that topic on that blog.

It’s the comments that creep me out. These people treat spanking as a fetish. (See Frank’s comments here, or this one, showing it’s a movement (or cult).

What would Jesus use to strike a child? The question itself is repugnant.

Listen to a voice of experience

August 14, 2007

Quoting from Second Drafts, verbatim:

My mother, Charlotte, just retired in May after 30+ years teaching high school English. As this will be her first August without having to prep for school, I thought I’d better ask for her top ten teaching suggestions before she forgot them all. Here’s what she emailed me:

  1. Establish a seating chart at the beginning, but allow time for schedule changes. Some of my colleagues would allow students to sit where they wanted, and they all would end up at the back of the room. I always wanted them under my nose!
  2. Greet students cheerfully. You may be the only one to do this in their day.
  3. Have high expectations, but be realistic.
  4. Dress professionally, even though others don’t.
  5. Be alert to students whose eyes are focused on their laps – they’re probably texting!
  6. You gotta have a gimmick – a daily trivia question written on the board works well here. I always used the question cards from the Trivial Pursuit game. The first person to answer as the students come into the room gets a piece of peppermint candy, which enhances higher level thinking skills.
  7. Surprise the kids once in a while by diverting from the syllabus (Thoreau would love you for this).
  8. Be consistent in routine and discipline.
  9. Take care of discipline problems yourself, as much as you can.
  10. Be real and enjoy your students.

School starts tomorrow. Anybody else got any counsel you’d like to share?

Resources for new teachers, change provocateurs

June 22, 2007

New teachers, especially teachers from alternative certification programs, have all sorts of stories about people who observe and supervise their training and work.

There is the guy whose district bought laptops for every high school student and insisted teachers use the computers daily, but whose principal refused to look at the on-line courses he had developed to meet the district’s guidelines (and whom the principal subsequently rated down for not having the lesson plans the principal refused to look at).  There is the drama coach whose supervisor complained the students shouldn’t have been out of school for the state competition, which they won.  There is the mathematician from the telecommunications industry whose supervisor didn’t know geometry, or algebra, or calculus, and insisted the teacher should be offering multiplication table timed quizzes to advanced math classes.  The guy whose principal thought history documentaries selected from the school’s libraries were just Hollywood movies, and therefore inappropriate for history classes.

More than enough horror stories to go around.

One teacher tells a few horror stories from his student teaching days, but tells us he went on to get his school’s distinguished alumnus award.  And so, he shares some of his best material, here:  Horace Mann Educated Financial Solutions, “Reach Every Child.”

Go make change.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Car Family, which is really the same guy.

Classroom musical – “Hey, Teach!”

June 6, 2007


Have you ever wondered whether your misbehaving students were setting you up, perhaps with their cell-phone video cameras running?

Hope they have the grace, wit and production values of this group: Prangstgrüp (click on “Lecture Musical”)

Tip of the old scrub brush to neurocontrarian.

[Couldn’t get this video to embed — sorry.]

What’s the difference between school and prison?

June 5, 2007

Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer, in the Star-Courier, Highlands-Crosby, Texas, March 11, 2004

Give up?

Yeah, often the students give up, too. If you don’t know the answer, your school may resemble a prison.

Gary Stager’s post with jarring comparisons is here, at District Administration’s Pulse! blog. [District Administration purges its archives about every three years, it turns out; here is a copy of Mr. Stager’s column courtesy the Wayback Machine – Internet Archive.]

When the elder Fillmore’s Bathtub son attended intermediate school, he complained of the discipline. So did a lot of other good kids. We got a call from a parent asking if we’d join in a meeting with the new principal, and hoping to learn things were really hunky dory and offer assurances to our son, we went.

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How it’s done right

June 1, 2007

If I need a lift, I go here. It’s how school should be — probably all the way through.

I don’t know the details of how or why this class is set up the way it is, but day after day they do things that other people use as textbook examples of what a good classroom ought to be doing, sometimes. And they do it day, after day, after day.

Carnival of Education, are you paying attention?


I wager right now that these kids will be the top performers on the standardized tests for at least the next five years, in their classrooms and schools. The Living Classroom weblog is a valuable chronicle for how to provide quality education.

Somebody should step up with the money to track how these kids do, especially against their contemporaries. Alas, this is exactly the sort of information that will be lost, due to “lack of funding.” Fortunately, one of the women involved in the classroom made the chronicles, and shared them.

Side note: Looking at the photos, ask yourself, “Does our town offer these types of recreational facilities for use?” Washington has traditionally led the nation in setting aside land for public recreational use — this class has taken full advantage of being in a town that had the foresight to put up public art and public beaches, and other public parks and places. There is a lesson here for city planners, and for mayors and city councils who wonder how they might support their schools, run by other governmental entities.

Dandelion, class activitiy for The Living Classroom

121st Carnival of Education — School’s out, part I

May 30, 2007

The Education Wonks hosts (host?) the 121sth Carnival of Education — including a nice referral to my post on the voucher wars in Utah.

Franklin HS in Seattle, WA -- Natl Reg of Hist Places

School’s out in much of the nation, and won’t last much longer in the rest (except for full-year schools). It’s a good time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what to change for next year. I was especially intrigued to learn that Mr. Teacher of Learn Me Good teaches in Dallas — close by, somewhere. One wonders how an alternative certification sneaked through the human resources shredder of the Dallas ISD to get a job, and one hopes it may show a trend; and then one wonders why DISD doesn’t pay more attention to the obvious success of the guy and go back to that alternative certification well. (HR departments in Texas school districts have reputations that they really don’t like alternative certification, even when the teachers work out well; one more indication that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing in education. My experience suggests the reputation is well-earned.) [See comment on alternative certification by Mr. Teacher, below.]

There is much, much more in the carnival. The Carnival of Education is an outstanding example of what blog carnivals can be — useful packages of information, summaries of the field they cover. Spread the word.

Inherent evils of public education

May 11, 2007

Public schools have serious problems.  Regular readers here should know me as a defender of public education, especially in the Thomas Jefferson/James Madison model of a foundation stone for a free people and essential tool for good government in a democratic republic.

Can you take another view?  Here’s one that should offer serious material for thought:  How the Public School System Crushes Souls.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pick the Brain.

Carnival catch-up

April 16, 2007

Uh-oh. Running behind.

One of the reasons I list various carnivals is to make sure I have a note of the good ones somewhere easy to find. Busy-ness in the last week just kept me away from the keyboard.

Carnivals you ought to check out:

Oekologie 4.1: Over at Behavioral Ecology. Lots on climate change, of course, and some very nice bird photos.

Carnival of the Godless at Neural Gourmet has a good run down of the Blog Against Theocracy, and complaints about it, too.

Carnival of the Liberals #36 is up at Truth in Politics. Well, that’s an obvious pairing. Free speech, the president and the Constitution, tyranny in the Middle East, and quite a bit more.

Carnival of Education #114 is back at The Education Wonks.  State legislatures may be wrapping up their sessions, but education issues are heating up.

Skeptics’ Circle #58 finds a hangout at Geek Counterpoint, with several posts that get at how we know what is true — good stuff for historians and economists to ponder.

This is as good a time as any to remind you that that Fiesta de Tejas! #2 is coming up on May 2 — deadline for  post nominations April 30.  You may e-mail entries to me (edarrellATsbcglobalDOTnet), or submit them at the Blog Carnival portal to the Fiesta.

Notes from the Sub Terrain: Basketball class

March 27, 2007

Notes from the Sub Terrain is an occasional — okay, spasmodic — set of observations from a certified teacher working as a substitute.

Basketball class

The assignment said “upper level, basic biology.” But upon arriving at the school the Sub learned the teacher to be replaced was one of the basketball coaches. The school’s team had won in the state playoffs the previous night, and the coach was assigned to scout the next week’s opposition in a game on the other end of the state. Cool.

Oh — except for this: The first hour was basketball, in the gym. The Sub wasn’t dressed for it, the Sub doesn’t play much basketball, let alone coach it. Worse, the assignment had said nothing about a first hour – the bell had just rung, and The Sub was late. What room? “Green Gym.”

Where is the Green Gym? the Sub asked. “I have no clue,” the substitute coordinator said. There are several gyms, but they are not in exactly the same place. “I think it’s near the arena.”

Trudging to the attendance office, the Sub got crude directions. Only 10 minutes late so far.

Found the Green Gym. 22 students were dutifully engaged in four different games of basketball. Notes from the coach said the students should play “pick-up” games for the period.

As the Sub walked into the gym, two students from the full-court games broke off and ran over, volunteering to help with attendance, so no roll would need to be called. There were no absences. Attendance took a couple of minutes, and the students went back to their games.

Every few minutes one of the teams in one of the games would hit 21, or some other magic number, and the game would end. When two or more games ended, the students designated different teams and went at it again. After about 20 minutes someone yelled something about getting enough water, and the students took breaks individually to get a drink.

The Sub recognized many of the kids. They were, many of them, troublemakers in other classes. Here they made no trouble. Disputes about fouls were settled quickly and amicably, and the games went go on. Good shots, or good defensive plays got vocal approval from all quarters. Hot dogging got jeers: “Just play!”

For 70 minutes the games rolled quickly. Then, without prompting, one of the students rolled out a ball cart, put a couple of balls away and headed to the locker room. Within three minutes all the balls were on the cart, the cart went into a closet, the lights were turned out and the gymnasium was empty.

The Sub wants to know why all classes can’t be that way, with the students doing the work, willingly and happily, without complaint, without prompting or prodding, and finishing and cleaning up on time.

The Sub noted that most of the students did not shower, but instead masked themselves in clouds of Axe body spray, which the Sub thought unhygienic.

The Sub said he later learned that the class was the junior varsity basketball team, mostly. He said the discipline they showed was impressive.

The varsity team won their next playoff game, and headed to the state tournament. The Sub said that if they are as disciplined in the big things as the junior varsity players are in little things on the basketball floor, they will win the state championship.

How can we restructure other classes to get the benefits of student self-discipline? the Sub wonders. Why don’t the students make the connection that discipline makes them champions in one area, and strive for similar discipline in other areas?

Why don’t the teachers, coaches and administrators make the same connection?

If California can’t pass a ban on spanking . . .

February 23, 2007

. . . what are the chances Texas would ban corporal punishment in schools?

The Washington Post reports a California lawmaker abandoned her efforts to get a ban on spanking (by anyone, not just teachers), after rather massive opposition developed. She had never introduced the bill.

Instead, San Francisco Bay area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber introduced a more narrow bill on Thursday she said would help district attorneys more easily prosecute parents who cross the line from punishment into physical abuse.

Lieber is seeking to classify a laundry list of physical acts against young children, including hitting with a belt, switch or stick, as unjustifiable and grounds for prosecution, probation or a parental time-out _ a class on nonviolent parenting.

The Texas bill banning corporal punishment in schools is still seriously dead.

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