Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Zero stakes.

So I just read this article on the SF Gate about SF and Oakland losing out on federal funds because their unions refused to sign on to the strings attached--evaluating teachers based on student test scores. The virulent rhetoric being directed at teachers as a response to the article belies the actual reason teachers objected to those terms.

What is objectionable to teachers is adding stakes to a test for teachers and schools when the test has no stakes for the students. The CST does not affect student grades. The CST does not affect a student's chance to graduate. The CST does not affect a student's college application. In other words, students have no motivation for doing their best on the CST, despite school efforts to inspire them to do so in an attempt to raise scores.

I am a teacher, and my CST scores were the highest for my grade level subject matter at my site. That said, two of my classes vastly outperformed the other two, leaving me with an impressive average but really showing the luck of the draw of it all. I taught the same content, using the same strategies, and yet two classes were full of high performers and two were full of low performers. 

In an effort, however, to motivate students, we spent a lot of time talking about past CST scores and plans of attack for the test. When asked, on a scale of 1-10, how hard they had tried on the previous year's test, none of them gave scores above 7. And why should they? Zero stakes. 

Instead, we have a test for graduation (the CASHEE) and two tests for college (the SAT and ACT). Students try for those tests because they have motivation. They want to graduate. They want to go to college (at least some do.)

We need a single test. One test that determines graduation, college entrance, and student performance on the standards. Perhaps then, when there are SHARED STAKES, teachers will feel more comfortable having meaningful conversations around test data. Until that time, the answer is emphatically no.

In no other business model do we evaluate employees the way we evaluate teachers. When a manager is held accountable for sales results, the sales team has a stake. When a coach is held accountable for games, the players have a stake. We need to create a stake for the students.

That said, you might think: Well the money is the stake. But it's not. Not for the students. Because the students aren't being asked to sign on. The students' scores aren't a part of the conversation. The students aren't a part of the conversation.

Fix the conversation. Then we can talk. Fix the agreement. Then we can agree. 

Last comment. Despite monstrous cuts, our school's API score went up 14 points. Imagine what we could have done with more support. Not just in funds, but in faith from our community. This anti-union sentiment is still anti-teacher sentiment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On my honor...

On honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physical strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

I don't know how many times I repeated those words in my youth. Enough to remember them some fourteen years or so after my decision to part with the Boy Scouts once and for all. I wasn't kicked out, and I doubt I would have been by the troop I was in, but I would have been kicked out by the institution of scouting for being gay--a policy they recently chose to affirm. I wasn't surprised by this decision, and I normally wouldn't give it a second thought, but I'm buying a house (hopefully) and might be moving in about three weeks, so I've been making preparations. Just now, I found my old Scout uniforms, including badges I'd earned from years of Scouting from Cub Scouts in Texas and into Boy Scouts in Oregon and California. Badges from a plethora of Scouting events, massive summer camps with hundreds if not thousands of my fellow scouts from across the nation. And I held these things in my hands and thought, should I throw them all away?

Even though I left the Scouts of my own accord, I left in no small part because of this very issue. At the time I was thinking only of my reasons, cognizant of the fact that I did not want to be a part of an institution that wanted no part of me, and yet holding these relics I feel that I lost so much more than my opportunity to become an Eagle Scout (I quit a rank shy.) I feel that the Scouts with their discriminatory policy have robbed me of so much of my childhood, tainted my memories of my own experiences by making me feel unwelcome in my own past.

Both my parents were very involved in Scouting. My mother was a wonderful den leader in Cub Scouts, my father was born to be a Scout Leader. They took my brother and me to countless meetings, camped with us in the best and worst of conditions. (One time a tornado touched down near our campground and instead of trying to pack up the gear and head out in the middle of the storm, my parents simply put on a pot of coffee.) Even when my dad had to travel for business, my mother was just as much of a wilderness survival parent as a boy could hope for. She braved sub-freezing temperatures with us while snow camping, and was never short on great ideas for Scouting arts and crafts.

To throw away these items feels like throwing away memories. Throwing away the love and support of my parents. Throwing away my childhood. And yet, to keep them is a reminder of the fact that somewhere, behind closed doors, a secret panel of men feel that homosexuality is so dangerous that I should have had no part in these memories, no part in my own childhood, no part in that love and support of my parents. I should have been left out. Is that what it means to be morally straight? Is it morally straight to deprive a boy of his childhood? Is it morally straight to so thoroughly taint a man's memories?

I have always tried to help other people throughout my life. I became a teacher, I would say my life is mostly about helping others right now. Even outside of my career I try and do what I can when I can. I might not be a religious man, but I think I'm square with God, and I might not be a soldier, but I think in my line of work I have serving my country covered. I should perhaps hit the gym a bit more to accomplish that physical strength, but I certainly have strength where and when it counts. It seems I've lived my life by this oath, Scout or no. I said it so many times and I never thought about it or the deep reaching implications of the Scout's position against me and my people because there is one thing I am now that I was not then--mentally awake. My mind's eye is wide open to the deep reaching hypocrisy that is the Scouting organization. They would turn away good people like me and my family simply over the minor detail of personal relationships. Is that morally straight?

Scouts provides this platform for families to raise their kids. It's all about family, community, trust, dedication, wisdom, courage, and so many other traits. They build it all up and then in one sweeping motion tear it all down. The worst part is you don't even think about sexuality until you start to come of that age. So you wind up with an entire childhood, years of memories, years of physical reminders, and then you find out that you weren't supposed to be a part of any of it. Somehow that realization, now that I am fully mentally awake, is the hardest part.

So here I sit, typing instead of disposing. Thinking, remembering, feeling far too many feelings for a Thursday night. To throw away or not to throw away? And if I don't throw them away? What do I do with them?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Just crazy enough to work?

As an educator, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the budget crisis afflicting California's schools.  The direness of the situation varies district to district, but here in Napa County, if the state and federal trigger cuts go into effect (which is looking likely) and our fiscal situation remains unchanged, our district will become fiscally insolvent by about April of 2013--in short, we will be bankrupt.

Why are we going broke?  Is it because we are paying our teachers too much?  Is it because of the "illegals?"  Is it because of the "golden plated benefits and pensions" that public employees receive?  Nope.  None of the above.  We are going bankrupt because the amount of funding we are supposed to be receiving continues to be cut while our student population continues to grow and inflation drives up the cost of living and working.  We are going broke because for every dollar promised to school by Prop 98 (which if you don't know sets the legal MINIMUM funding requirements for education) we are getting a mere fifty-five cents.  In other words, we are not receiving forty-five percent of the funding we are promised.  This, in effect, has placed California near dead last in per-pupil spending.

A number of solutions have been proposed, each one more ridiculous than the last.  One thought has been to try to implement parcel taxes.  As you know, taxes are rarely successful; for instance, even though just re-instating the vehicle licensing fee (which hardly broke anyone's bank) would restore $6 billion a year in income, most people would never vote to bring back that sensible fee.  Some counties have voted in favor of parcel taxes in order to prevent their schools from closing or being taken over by the state, but not all counties have enough voters to pass such measures.  Many districts are taking furlough days which equate to pay cuts across the board for all employees (and fewer instructional days).  Other districts bus their children into San Francisco to pan handle on the streets (okay, this was only one school, but it did happen).  The point is, many ideas are proposed, and each one seems more unlikely or more idiotic than the last.

I have an idea.  Hear me out on this.  We essentially get a forty-five cent I.O.U. from California for each dollar we should be receiving.  This money is legally required to go to the schools--eventually.  In the same way that banks packaged up debts and sold them as "investments," we should start selling our I.O.U.s.  My thought was that we could sell them for roughly sixty-six cents on the dollar.  Said another way, if someone gave us a thousand dollars, we would give them fifteen-hundred dollars worth of debt.  This would give them a fifty percent return on their investment, which is not a bad bit of profit.  It would give the schools two-thirds of the money they never thought they were going to see.  Most importantly, it would encourage communities to invest in their schools in a way that would theoretically give them a return on their investment in not only improvements in the fiscal solvency of their schools but also in the form of a personal profit on their investment.

But how will the investors be repaid?  Simple.  If we enacted this plan all over the state of California, suddenly instead of schools sitting on the corner begging for money, we would have millions of investors all looking to get the return on their investment they were promised.  These investors, in coordination with the schools, would then lobby for the necessary changes to our spending and revenue systems in the state to ensure that schools are getting paid everything promised under Prop 98.  The schools could then use the increased revenue to repay investors--each of whom would get back 150% of their initial investment--and would then continue to see increased revenue for the years to follow--thus bringing hundreds of schools back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The worst case scenario is that funding levels will never be restored and the investors will never see the profit on their investment.  Even still, their investment will have helped saved a least a few schools from bankruptcy.  Considering, however, that the law REQUIRES California to fund education at a higher level than it is currently doing so, that is a very unlikely outcome.  More likely, by allowing people to have a financial stake in the funding of California's schools, more people will join the fight to see that funding levels meet the MINIMUM requirements established by our law.  This in turn will make our schools better, which will make our society better, which will make our economy better.

Just sounds crazy enough to work--doesn't it?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Making the Invisible Visible P.S. I am gay.

As a gay teacher, I was concerned starting my career about just how honest I should be with my students.  Yes, we are living in a fairly progressive society and the state of California has laws that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in both housing and employment, but that still doesn't mean the world we live in is entirely safe for those in the LGBT community.  That said, though I do not include it in my day one introductions, nor do I write it on my walls, I have made the decision to be honest about myself---or said another way--I decided that I would not lie to my students.

Each year I have come out to my students at a different time and in a slightly different manner--all of which seemed appropriate for the occasion.  My first year teaching I came out while we were working on a writing assignment about discrimination.  The class was brainstorming types of discrimination that took place on a high school campus, some people were sharing personal encounters with discrimination, and I spoke about some of the reactions to my own coming out process.  Last year though I had made no "official" statement regarding my orientation, a student wrote "mr alger is fuckin fagget (sic)" on our class website and I responded--which I wrote a blog about.  This year, as we began brainstorming major life events for writing autobiographical narratives, I again shared my coming out process as one of my major life events.

A lot of conservatives get up in arms about gays making themselves visible.  The common question is "Why do you need to make your private business all of our business?"  Different people have different answers, but I think the answer is one remarkably simple answer.  Gay people need to come out and make themselves visible because they are an invisible minority.  While you may think you can look at someone and tell they are gay, at the end of the day there is no piece of clothing, hair style, or even make-up application that has any bearing on a person's orientation.  The only person that knows for sure if someone is gay or straight is the person in question, and even they might not have it figured out yet.

Gay people make themselves visible to belong.  People of a certain ethnicity can look around and see people that look like them or sound like them and know that they have a community to belong to.  People of a certain religion have churches and other places where they meet and find belonging.  Gay people have to make themselves visible in order to find each other and create a community, for if they didn't--they would have no community.

Different people make themselves visible in different ways, I and I would argue that the majority of them do so subconsciously.  Some people adopt a particular style of dress, or style themselves a particular way.  Others adopt certain stereotypical vocabulary words or speech patterns.  More rally around certain cultural icons.  Whatever the means, there are certainly stereotypical qualities of the gay community that exist, and while they are indeed stereotypes, they are a visible part of the community that someone who wants to be visible might find themselves embracing.

The problem, however, is that not all people that fit the stereotype are gay, and not all gay people fit the stereotype.  Even within these means of visibility, there are still many that are left invisible and many that are mistaken for belonging to the LGBT community despite the fact they are straight.  Indeed, many young people especially are teased and called "gay" or "fag" for inadvertently displaying any of the stereotypical behaviors or signs even if they are straight.  Some instances of this have even driven straight youth to suicide.

Where that leave us, is coming out.  Coming out is an important step in ever LGBT person's life and is equally important for the rest of our community.  The purpose in coming out is to settle the questions once and for all.  Coming out says to the rest of the LGBT people around you "Yes there is an LGBT society, and I am a part of it."  Even if you think you are alone, you can never tell if you are alone until you come out--perhaps if you do, someone will follow suit.  A black person never has to say "I"m black" in order to be a visible part of their community.  But if none of us ever said "I'm gay" our community would no exist.

I was reminded how powerful that experience is just today.  Yesterday was the day that I officially came out to my class and talked, briefly, about my coming out experience in relation to my own autobiographical narrative.  Today, a student told me that they went home and came out to their family afterwards--thereby coming out to me today.  It was an incredibly powerful experience and we were able to talk about it a bit, and afterwards I thought--I could never be a supportive resource for this student had I not taken that step first.

So to all the people who say that we gays have no business letting the world know that we are gay, that we should keep it to ourselves, I say--until you have a better way for us to let the people who are still afraid to be themselves know that there are other happy, healthy people just like them out there, until you have a way for us to realize that we are not alone in the world, until you have a way for young people to stop killing themselves because they feel they have no place to belong, and until you can think of a better way for us to make a community that accepts us, we will keep coming out.

My name is Michael Alger
I came out the fall of 1998.

I am gay.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Google TV and the Logitech Revue

I love technology, but I'm nowhere near the status of a super-geek or uber fanboy.  I have never waited in line for several hours (or overnight) to pick up the latest technical gadget.  I do not subscribe to any tech magazines, and it isn't often that I drop any serious sort of money on the latest and greatest gizmo.

That said, I was recently introduced to the notion of Google TV and the Logitech Revue (one of the ways to get Google TV) and I knew I had to have it/them.  My parents and significant other both feel that I use the word "need" far too freely when it comes to my wishes, however I really have so few frivolous wishes these days that I feel the need was quite justified.

What is it in a nutshell?  Read a review for the Logitech Revue here.  Google TV you can learn all about here.  If, however, you are not the sort of person to click on links in blogs, let me give it to you in a nutshell.

The Revue is a box you attach to your TV and cable box and it comes with a wireless keyboard.  Once configured, it allows you to control your TV and cable with the keyboard and gives you full access to the glory that is Google TV.  The box itself costs a one time fee of $100.

Google TV, which is a free service, essentially turns your TV into a giant chromebook...but it's so much more.  A search feature allows you to search for anything and everything.  Search the web.  Search youtube. Search Amazon movies.  Search for shows within your own cable programming.  Everything.  A customizable home screen allows you to have quick access to your favorite channels, sites, etc.  A "What's On" feature allows you to browse by Channel or Genre to see what is currently playing on your Cable (like a Guide channel, only I find it much easier to navigate.)

I find the experience so far to be quite pleasurable and rather intuitive.  The keyboard though smaller than a typical keyboard is the perfect size for typing--at least for me.  The web seems as fast as my connection would typically allow and the content on the webpages I've visited thus far has seemed easy to interact with.  As I type, I'm typing this on my TV.

The best part, in my opinion, is that with Google you have the whole range of Google Apps.  Indeed, I can take care of my e-mail, create handouts for work, and much more.  As my students use a web-based portal for most of their work, I could even do all my grading from the comfort of my couch.  Amazeballs.

No, I'm not being paid by Google.  I just love this new product that much that I could not help but blog about it.  If you should have the chance to pick one up, I highly recommend it.  It is so choice.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ending Unemployment

There has been quite a to-do about our budget lately.  Everyone thinks we need to cut more spending, and perhaps we do, but at the same time, cutting spending is doing nothing for our unemployment rate.  Quite the opposite, cutting spending almost guarnatees an increase in unemployment.  An increase in unemplyoment means a decrease in tax revenues and a decrease in consumer spending--both of which lead to more job cuts, more decreases...really, it seems like a vicious cylce.  But there may be a solution...

Before I go any further, let me point out that I am by no means a master of economics.  These are my own personal musings, based on very limited knowledge and research, and really constitute more of a hobby than anything else.  That said, consider this scenario.  What if instead of cutting spending, the US Government spent the money to hire every unemployed Ameircan (roughly 13.9 million from the information I googled.)  The average salary in the United States in 2009 (what I happened to Google) was slighly over $40,000.  I can't imagine it has changed much, so let us use $40,000 for this discussion.  To hire all those people at that salary would cost $556 billion a year.  That sounds like quite a bit, but let us consider for a moment the fact that the average unemployment benefit  is roughly $300 a week, so to pay unemployment to all those people is currently costing $216.84 billion a year.  If you also take into account the fact that people spend roughly 30% of their pay on various taxes (both state and federal) you would realize that taxes would reclaim $166.8 billion of the $556 billion.  If you were to subtract the "savings" from unemployment and taxes, you would find the cost to end unemployment would be roughly $172.36 billion a year or $14.36 billion a month.

Where could we possibly come up with $14.63 billion a month?  It is fair to say that the wars we are fighting are costing over $10 billion a month.  Also, the so called "Bush tax cuts" cost roughly $3.083 billion a month.  If we eliminated the two, we would nearly have enough to end unemployment.

But wait!  $40,000 is more than generous to someone who is currently unemployed.  I'm sure they could just as well get by with $30,000, right?  If you did the same math,  you would find that ending unemployment by hiring everyone at $30,000 a year would cost (less taxes and unemployment "savings") a total of $75.06 billion a year or $6.255 billon a month.  We could keep the "Bush tax cuts" in place, still fight some war and pay for that plan.

Surely those of you who are against so-called "entitlement programs" are now fuming at the idea of the government hiring all of the unemployed.  Perhaps you are asking "hire them for what?"  All fine questions, but I have an even better plan.  What if instead of simply paying these unemployed people $30,000 a year for however long the progam ran we encouraged private businesses to hire these people.  How you ask?  We offer to pay $10,000 a year for each person hired--in essence, we offer to pay $10,000 of their salary.  If we could find a private job for each person through this incentive program, it would cost $139 billion a year or $11.583 billion a month.  If you factored in the "savings" in a salary range of $30-40k a year, the incentive program would actually turn a profit of $16.912-20.387 billion a month.  For those of us too lazy to do the math, that would translate to savings of $202.94-224.64 billion a year or $2.0924-2.2464 trillion over 10 years.

So, to recap, we could afford to put every unemployed American to work for less than we are spending each month fighting wars overseas.  We could create an incentive program and pay companies $10k a year to hire every unemployed person and it would actually (through tax generated and savings in unemployment) create a surplus which is as much as the government is currently looking to cut from our spending.

Now, I need to address the taxes and the unemployment as I have been muddling state costs and federal costs.  This is true.  However, think of it this way.  If the states saw increased revenue in taxes and decreased cost in paying for unemployment, those savings just as easily translate to the federal government.  The federal government could simplmy adjust the amount of aide given to those states so it all balances out on the federal side of the equation--that means they could cut spending and the math would still all work out as I described above.

There are considerable benefits to my plans.  The idea of ending unemployment is ladden with benefits.  It would lead to increased spending as well as increased tax revenue.  This would increae profits for corporations which could surely have a positive impact on our ailing stock market.  An end to unemployment could also decrease crime which could have other untold savings.  The incentive program I descibred could encourage the corporations that are currently sitting on record profits to invest in hiring--something they are hestitant to do in this uncertain economy--which would mean the jobs being created are private sector jobs.

Again, I know very little about economics, and as you can see, I gathered most of my "information" from Google.  I also know that the chance of a plan like this getting bipartisan support from a budget slash happy government is a pipe dream at best.  That said, I challenge anyone that reads this to come up with a better plan to get our economy back on track.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Gay panic" is not a defense.

In this long overdue post, I once again break my online silence by being stirred to words.  For those of you that are reading this, if any of you aren't aware, a 15 year old boy named Larry King was shot in school by one of his classmates, Brandon McInerny, for being gay.  While prosecutors are trying to show McInerny for what he really is--a violent, homophobic, white supremacist--the defense claims that McInerny was merely pushed too far by the unwanted advances of King.  It is the typical "gay panic defense" which has come to the aide of many gay bashers and murderers over the years.

The fact that the "gay panic defense" is even an admissible play in a court of law, the fact that lawyers will use it, judges will permit it, and jurors will consider it implies that it is acceptable to murder a homosexual for hitting on you if you are heterosexual.  Granted, there are many judges that will not permit such a defense.  For instance, Judge Voigt barred the defense counsel from using the gay panic defense in the murder of Matthew Shepard, instead allowing them the option of "temporary insanity."  This implies that when a homosexual hits on a heterosexual it can make them legally crazy enough to justify homicide.  Either way, the end result is the same--an unwanted advance by a homosexual towards a heterosexual deserves death.

Consider for a moment, if the same standard were applies to all cases of unwanted advances.  There would hardly be a living soul left on this planet, because who hasn't been turned down or turned someone down--for whatever reason--at least once?  This reminds me of a story, two stories, but they are really the same story.

When I was in high school, there was a girl who fell madly in love with me.  Out of no intentional disrespect to the girl, I must emphasize the madness.  She stalked me, chased me, obsessed over me beyond the levels of appropriate comfort.  It wouldn't be another couple years before I made my grand exodus from the closet, but suffice to say I was window shopping by that point.  Did I murder this girl?  Heavens no.  I was, ultimately, very unkind to her in my final rejection after all manner of niceties had failed.  Should she be reading this now, consider this my formal apology, as I don't feel I ever did say sorry for being quite so harsh.  (We did, however, have a friendship after all was said and done.)  Suffice to say, however, I did not kill her.

My senior year, when my flame burned perhaps its brightest ever, a freshmen girl laid eyes upon me and also fell madly in love with me.  I must again emphasize the madness as it was much like before.  There were the mysterious notes appearing a variety of unusual places, the groups of friends talking to me on her behalf, and so on.  This time, however, as I thought everyone within a good shouting distance was well versed in the knowledge of my homosexuality, the madness seemed a bit more mad.  This girl received a very nice letter from me which explained the situation, but there was also a touch of cruelty.  She, and the situation, were lampooned by our school improv team.  I did feel somewhat bad afterwards, and would hereby apologize, but apparently she knew the score from the get go and thought she was going to change me and I must interject maybe I wasn't born a gay, but I was certainly born again gay when I saw Miss Carol Channing live on stage for the very first time as a young child and there is nothing that the therapist my parents sent me to, heaps of denial, self-destructive behavior, or even some hyper-sexual teen tramp could do to change that.  Despite all that, I did not kill her. 

Would I have been justified in killing these girls?  Could I argue that the forceful attempts to persuade me to play for the "right team" that therefore called my sexuality, my identity into question were enough to drive me into a justifiable, homicidal rage? Is a homosexuality identity something to sacred that it warrants violent defense from unwanted heterosexuals?  Or am I to understand the homosexual identity is something so terrible and the heterosexual identity so sacred that for the former to threaten the latter is a capital offense?

If the most flamboyant, homosexual boy walks up to the most masculine, heterosexual boy and plants a big kiss on his cheek or grabs his ass, it is clearly sexual harassment--much if the roles were a boy and a girl, a girl and a girl, a girl and a boy, or even two gay boys--but murder should never be a legally permissible response, and as long as it is, US Society condones and encourages the murder of homosexuals for making unwanted advances towards heterosexuals.