kitchen table math, the sequel: Heat, but no light?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Heat, but no light?

Due to TABOR, our elections were held this past Tuesday, instead of next week. The three candidates I supported for the School Board Election went down. (BTW-each of the winners received a significant amount of their campaign contributions from teachers' unions!) Three weeks ago, my neighbor had a community forum with some of the candidates. A little wine, cheese, and school topics chat with the neighbors.

I asked the candidates questions about the Common Core, school funding, and Educator Effectiveness plans in Colorado. I was a minority. Nobody seems to know what goes on in a school, these days. The main question many wanted answered had to do with the district start date. Not all schools in my district are air-conditioned and the kids get really hot in August. Really hot. Boy those little sweetpeas get hot. For about two weeks, it can be over 80 degrees in some classrooms. So yeah, their kids come home sweaty.

Of course start dates are driven by many things, one of which would be the mandated test dates in March and April. What school district chooses to start after Labor Day when the rest of the state starts mid August? Another start date driver is the desire to end first semester before the Christmas break. Which allows us to get out of school by Memorial Day, which allows high school students the ability to get summer jobs, take community college course over the summer, etc.

Back the the whine and cheese forum...
Since it's hot, the classrooms run fans. The fans make noise and it's hard to hear the teacher, so one candidate discussed having seen a teacher using a microphone (you know, like Brittney Spears) and the classroom had speakers in the ceiling. A school I've worked at in the past used such a system to accommodate hearing impaired students.  "Oooh", the parent who complained about the noisy fans said, "I don't want to take away from money that might be spent on technology and smartboards in the classroom for that"

So I guess, to many parents' minds, a smartboard trumps the ability to hear a teacher.

When I start to worry about education, I am grateful for our charter school. It's not perfect and we do get complaints, but none of them are about the heat.


Jen said...

I was actually sympathetic to the hot classrooms in August complaint (believe me, if it's 80 plus degrees out, it's a lot hotter in a classroom filled with 25-30 middle and high schoolers -- they radiate heat!) BUT, then I read the out by Mem Day complaint, too -- well, uh, you can't really have it all ways over!

I'd rather start later and end later (would two weeks in each direction do it?) -- and not waste the first couple of weeks in school arguing about working in a hot classroom with complaints about fans and heat and papers flying around. I find the testing issue a non-starter. Figure out the curriculum so that what's tested is covered and reviewed by testing time and areas that aren't tested or are useful for the next year are learned afterward.

To the bigger point -- NO, very, very few people know or care to know what's happening inside their schools. This includes parents. I mean, I sort of expect that non-users of the schools would have a less detail-oriented concern about schools, but it turns out that parents often act as though they are 20 yo renters with no plans to stay in their community, rather than people charged with making sure their children are educated enough to survive in the world.

Anonymous said...

If schools in Texas waited until it was below 80 outside, we wouldn't have started school until after Columbus Day this year. Fortunately we're in a severe drought, so we didn't also have the 90+% humidity that weusually have.

lgm said...

How many days off are in the school calendar?

I crack up here...complaint from elementary teachers is that children lose gains over summer and vacations, yet their union insists 4 day weekends and entire weeks off during the school year, as well as numerous half days.

What if we went back to taking one day off for Easter & Passover, eliminated the 4 day weekend at Memorial Day & President's Week, the week and half for Spring Break and part of Winter Break? Sure would save on the HVAC, and who knows, the kids might get used to having 5 day weeks in school.

And how about Regent's exams? Why can't more than one exam be administered at a time? Why waste so many January and June days by having students who aren't being tested sit at home? Compact the test schedule. Have more in-class days. Have the teachers take responsibility in middle school and early high school for showing students the study skill of how to review.

Bonnie said...

If they eliminated winter break (the one in February, common here in the NE), parents would have cows. They all want to take ski vacations that week. Seriously, it seems to me that the people who most want all the vacations are parents.

Glen said...

Off-topic, but interesting NYT article today: Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

The highlighted comments are interesting, too.

Crimson Wife said...

As a pre-med dropout, it was my belief that my alma mater deliberately made the required pre-med sequence super-challenging with really tough grading (the median was set to a C+ compared to a B- or B in my other science courses) because they wanted to boast that 98% of its students who applied to medical school got accepted.

Bonnie said...

The comments on that article are the most interesting part. They fall into three categories: 1. The students are lazy 2. The professors spend too much time lecturing 3. There are no jobs in STEM anyway so why bother. I think all 3 are true to some extent. Also, much of the discussion really pertains to the large public universities, which is of course where most engineering grads are educated.

I would like to see more discussion of this article. I find it to be spot-on.

momof4 said...

I would also say that many students are un/underprepared for college math/sciences; they may be lazy as well, but many start out behind. The dropout to other fields (in my day,mostly to ed school) also exists in fields like nursing and med tech and has existed for at least 40 years. My entering class of 65 lost many to the basic science classes and many to the clinical classes; I think 27 of the 65 made it to graduation, at the flagship state university with a strong reputation in the field.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Glen, I think that the NY Times may be propagating an academic myth.

See my post at

Anonymous said...

Some of the "highlighted comments" from the NYT are addressing a separate question: "Why don't more kids *get* STEM majors?"

This isn't the same as "why do so many kids drop out of STEM majors?"

I think that the first question is probably easier to answer than the second, but I'll also defer to GSWP ... maybe not as many drop out as the NYT claims. In which case we don't need to explain it, since the claim is bogus. Using the claim in the NYT article:

    "Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree."

*I* fall into that 40 percent. And I got my BS in chemistry in four years. The trick being that I registered as a physics major, but changed to chemistry after freshman year.

If a lot of the "switching to other subjects" is within STEM, then who cares?

-Mark Roulo

Bonnie said...

We definitely see an attrition rate that high,and I think it has been typical of computer science for years. In our case, I think we are doing the right things. We don't have huge lecture classes - most of our classes have between 15 and 20 students. We do lots of project-based learning and hands-on labs. We stretched out the normal 2 semester intro sequence to 3 semesters, to reduce the load on the students. But they still flunk out in droves. They aren't leaving because of lack of interest, they are utterly failing. I have taught at several levels of schools, from R1's with big lecture courses, to small teaching oriented schools, and it has been the same story at all of them. Some large percentage of incoming freshmen just cannot cope with the material.

Bonnie said...

The attrition rate in CS has been studied pretty extensively. There are always papers at the SIGCSE conference discussing the problem. People have tried courses that emphasize game development, graphics, multimedia, even journalism - all in an effort to make the courses more engaging. But no one has found an answer yet.

Anonymous said...


Are you familiar with the "The camel has two humps" paper by Saeed Dehnadi and Richard Bornat? I don't know if it ever got through peer review, but the basic idea behind it is *very* interesting in the context of teaching programming (not necessarily theoretical CS).

-Mark Roulo