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a sense of joy and then a panic
a sense of joy and then a panic
May 10th, 2010 
[The job being: I'm a Project Assistant for a university professor who gets contracts from the state department of education to do research on whatever the department wants to know about.  Last year it was the transition to a new testing program.  This year's project, failing schools, is one I've been involved with the whole way.] 

I don't have an education background at all, and all of this is of course based on a sampling of Nebraska schools that are classified as failing in some way, and not meant to be conclusive.  

1.  Failing schools have "difficult" demographics.  Either there's a lot of minorities or there's a lot of poverty or both.  Indian schools fail almost by default in this state.  There is a crazy superintendent man who jumps from Indian school to Indian school, misusing funds and planning new buildings.  Research says you can't fix most schools that chronically fail. 

2.  Principals harbor a lot of pent-up rage toward Hispanic students that move, because they don't want to have to implement an ELL program and the students bring down their scores and then move away.  As a result, people will either build new school districts away from urban centers to stay away from all the minorities, or will force the minorities to stay in their own school district outside of the urban center.  And by urban center, I mean like, 20,000 people.  Some principals will tell Hispanic students to go to a different school.  This is actually illegal.  

3.  It feels like there are a lot of kids being placed in special education, especially in small rural schools.  Whether that's a jump in awareness, a jump in diagnoses, or a jump in actual prevalence of cases, I don't know.

4.  Most parents don't get involved except to complain, or so teachers say.  Many parents seem scarred by negative experiences when they were in school, and in any case are too tired from working thousands of shifts at finger-chopping meatpacking plants to sign little worksheets saying they read to their kids or checked their kids' progress.  In "diverse" schools, schools invite white parents to be a part of parent committees. 

5.  Older teachers mock younger teachers for being panicky or "too creative."  Younger teachers mock older teachers for having been there "since the building was built."  Everyone will say that there is collaboration in their school, but I seriously wonder, considering all the passive-aggressive stuff that comes out in interviews. 

6.  A lot of times students need to be bribed to try to do well on tests with pizza parties and cupcakes.  High school students. 

7.  Schools seem to think that an inability to do story problems in math can be solved by upping reading comprehension skills.  I can say for one that this would not have helped me. 

8.  Some teachers want to be part of a unified curriculum, and some teachers want to be able to do whatever they want.  If you bring up changes or research or anything, these latter teachers will say, "I've been teaching for X-years, I would hope that I know what I'm doing!"  Few are comfortable being assessed, critiqued, criticized, or judged in any way.  Principals say they assess teachers more than teachers say they are assessed.  Schools are distrustful of outsiders, especially outsiders from "the government."  Outsiders want the state to intervene in failing schools, possibly by firing principals that are judged to be ineffective, but neither the state nor the schools want this. 

9.  Education is something that the general public goes absolutely crazy on.  It's getting close to the level of abortion et al.  There's basically 3 perspectives: 1) "Public school is a black hole and public schools should receive no money.  Why should I have to give them my hard-earned tax dollars when I don't have kids/my kids go to my super awesome ["exclusive"] private school?" 2) "Stop blaming the socio-economic environment.  Tell those kids/teachers to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Motivate them harder!" 3) "I'm a teacher and I think you're being really mean to teachers, because they would give up body parts for their students and they love these kids more than their own parents love 'em and they are really trying the best they can!"  Most of the people with the loudest opinions do not actually have kids in public school.  See #4.

10.  There is a minimum proficiency that all students, regardless of poverty, ethnicity, English-speaking status, or special education status, are expected to reach for the school to not "fail."  It is the same standard for all these groups. 
Warning: This is a football post.  So apparently the Big Ten has invited Nebraska [along with Missouri, Rutgers, and ~Notre Dame~] to their conference.  This would mean leaving the Big 12.  And apparently some Nebraska fans are like this: "We should totally join, because the Big 12 doesn't give Nebraska enough respect!  We're tough enough now that we can take on Iowa and UPenn!  Rarr!  Leave the stinky Big 12 behind!" 

Yeah, I'm gonna disagree on this one. 

1.  There is a huge difference between the Heartland and the Great Lakes regions.  I know coastal people lump 'em all together (or think that everything west of Illinois and east of Oregon is like, a large prehistoric lake where plesiosaurs roam), but they're different.  The Census is right.  HeartlandGreat Lakes.  And for Chrissake, this goes all the way to Rutgers?  May as well rename the conference The No Slavery Conference, because that's all Nebraska has in common with Big Ten states.  Except, oh wait, I guess Missouri would invalidate that.  And yes, geographic proximity/culture does matter.  Would you ask Arizona State to join the SEC? 

2.  Nebraska has been in the Big 12 since its inception in 1996.  That was when the Texas schools joined, by the way.  Before then it was called the Big 8, and Nebraska had been in the Big 8 since its inception in 1964 (or 1958 unofficially).  And before that, it was called the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and Nebraska had been there since its inception in 1908.  Nebraska has been playing sports with Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma since 1928.  Just putting that out there.

3.  I am instantly suspicious of these "I don't get enough respect 'round here, so I'm just gonna pack up and take my show somewhere else!" arguments.  You know why?  Karma.  These are the same people who "drink the big red kool-aid," and think because we won the Holiday Bowl we're going to win the National Championship this year.  These are probably the same people who thought Callahan was our personal Jesus.  These are also the same people who then leave threatening phone calls and gather at the airport to heckle the coach when things get bad.  Every time they start talking my impulse is just to go, "Shhhhh!  You'll scare away all the sane people!"  And, you know, these braggarts also invite the wrath of The God Of Poetic Justice.  See now, this is what will actually happen: we join the Big Ten and lose to everyone there.  Texas [and possibly Oklahoma] T.P.'s the entire state of Nebraska.  Massive amounts of actual poisoned big red kool-aid are consumed.  We do not want this, people! 

4.  Oh yeah, and the whole "if Texas wants to dominate OUR conference, then we'll just LEAVE" comment is just ultimate weaksauce.  I hate Texas too, but I want to beat up on them, people.  I don't want to flounce.  Christ. 

5.  A better idea is to realign the Big 12 like such: add Oklahoma and Okie St. to the Big 12 North, add TCU to the Big 12 South, make Colorado join the Mountain West Conference, make Iowa State and Kansas State join... something else, and then have just have The Northern Great Plains versus the State of Texas.  Now that's hot. 
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