Friday, August 31, 2012

Rome, by all means Rome ...

Returning to this travelscape journal after several months means that this will be more impressionistic than journalistic.  At this point, I am not sure you all (whoever you are) care about the epic vacation, but I would like to finish recording my impressions.

I have still not been home, so I don't have any pictures -- beyond those you paint in your mind from my words.

One last caveat -- probably not going to be in chronological order.

The Tree Lined Avenue
Somehow, one evening, we ended up on a large tree lined avenue.  There were beautiful doors opening on to hidden gardens, gelatto shops, restaurants, houseware stores... but mostly this truly beautiful canopy of trees over a large avenue.  I couldn't get there again, I am not sure how we got there. I think we wandered there from the Vatican, but I am not sure.  My mom and sister snapped picture after picture, and I spent some time shopping for demitasse.  Then it started to get dark, and I wondered where we were, and how we would get back to our neighborhood.

The Vatican
One day, we spent in line with the million or so other people who wanted to to get into the Vatican. I recall it as even less pleasant than when my mom and I saw the huge line at the Louvre.  I must have had more stamina then ... in this line, you could "cut" to the beginning by being in an organized group.  I kid you not, we hiked to the end of the line (about four city blocks) and settled in -- hoping it wasn't going to rain.

It is always somewhat disconcerting when you have to walk several blocks to the entrance and then KEEP walking till you get to the real end of the line.  It was particularly painful to walk by the group line which was more like a trickle than the torrent of people in our line.  Then, we spent about an hour or so telling the "tour organizers" that we were not interested.  I think at one point I said to one, "why would I have walked all the way to the end if I was going to say yes to a tour?"

They were an interesting lot ... you could almost see the wheels turning as they approached a group of people in line trying to determine which language to assail them in.  The funniest was a young Irish man whose name I no longer remember, though we did remember it for a long time, who got quite irritated with us. I don't know what we said to set him off, but at one point, he told us not to pray for him because he didn't need to change anything in his life.  It was funnier in the moment ... and every time we approached a church for the rest of the trip, we would ask each other if we should pray for him -- hence the remembering of his name.

We also made friends with a Colombian man ... he was traveling alone in Italy, but seemed to want to be part of our group.  I can't remember his name either (maybe Miguel?), but my sister told me that recently he got in touch with her via email to send her some of the million pictures he took of her.

There was too much to look at in the Vatican.  Like I said, it was overwhelming like the Louvre ... not just the line.  My favorite part was the hall of busts and sarcaphogus(es?).  I was tickled to see the range of hairstyles ... nothing in the world is new, in case you were wondering.  I also enjoyed the patio with the lions.  We took pictures of all the lions we saw for my sister, and noted all the ducks, saying, "Aflac"  because a friend of ours was about to get a job with that company.  It was truly exhausting to walk through all the halls with so many people bustling around us ... and it was not peak season ... only to get to another set of halls.

I just wanted to see the Sistine Chapel - and we took all the shortcuts, but it was never ending.  By the time we actually got to the Chapel, I was so done ... I couldn't enjoy it.  I just kept noting how no one there had any idea what rules were or how they might be employed.  The Italian guards tried over and over to explain that this was a holy place, to not take pictures, to lower our voices, etc.  Instead there was incessant, loud chatter in a large room that had not one surface undecorated, but it hardly looked like a chapel... I guess I can't really blame the visitors for not seeing the sacred there.  The truth is the Vatican Museums, as they are called, do not give off any religious feeling.  I am sure that if you are an art aficionado or connoisseur you would feel some bit of ecstasy at the collection of artists and work represented -- from earliest Christian (and even pre-Christian) history through modern times.

The Train Station
We spent another half of a day arguing with the woman at the train station ticketing office -- I longed for Germany and the first class line -- we spoke in English until she wouldn't do what I asked.  Then I unleashed some Italian on her and she "Madame'd" me.  It was a common occurrence in Italy ... when you had pushed someone, anyone, past where his/her sense of respectability could handle, he/she would look at you (me) and say, "Madame" as if to say -- you, crazy bitch.  It is said with emotion that displays the ennui that has been engendered in two distinctive syllables: "Ma, DAME."  There was no need to roll your eyes or sigh after that delivery.  Well, I got Madame'd by her quite a bit.

She objected to us wanting to go to Naples for a day. Truthfully, so did I! But, it was going to be a rainy day, and I had no idea what we would do in Naples beyond eat pizza (that hardly takes all day).  So, I wanted to go all the way past the Amalfi coast on the train and then come back to Naples and stop for the damn pizza.  [By the way, I underestimated my mother and sister's ability to entertain themselves with shopping, ugh and sigh.]  The ticketing agent was beyond indignant.  She informed me that just because we had a rail pass didn't mean we could travel as much as we wanted. I had to tell her that, actually, that was exactly what it meant.

Finally, we relented and decided to just go to Naples. That restarted her objection to ONE DAY in Naples.  Then she tried to bully us into leaving at 8am ... it was a 30 minute ride to the train station from our apartment... I hardly wanted to be getting up early enough for three of us to be dressed, breakfasted and traveled 30 minutes.  She was a tough cookie and NEARLY as stubborn as me.

Her energy must have been waning because she sold us the ticket for 10am ... and a return at 5pm.  Boy was she disappointed when I told her we were also going to make the rest of our reservations that day.  Keep in mind there was a long line of people behind us, hoping to get a chance to get Madame'd by her.  Fun times...MADAME!

There is more, but this is already too long of a post without pictures.

I was right ... by the way... a short time in Rome is not enough.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quote Thursday...

One of these days I will seriously get back to looking for poetry ... depending on my reading/writing schedule.

Here's a quote I found while looking around:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

you can tell ...

...I'm dieting because I listened to this and began plotting when and how I could 1) make these and 2) justify it.

Ugh... I have been very, very good... who knows what will happen next.

I want these:
Courtesy of Jones Franzel
The original caption:  A traditional sweet treat from Maine, needhams are made with coconut, chocolate and real Maine potatoes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

at the pet shop

I was waiting for the guy to come around to bag up some feeder fish.  I glanced around and saw at least three families hanging out at the pet shop. This is not the first time I noticed parents using the pet shop as an air conditioned spot for the kids to hang out -- browse, if not buy. The kids seem to really get into it.

This particular visit, I saw a young girl, maybe 4 or 5, and she had one shell up to her ear and the other over her mouth.  She was talking loudly into the shell as though she were on the telephone.

She disappeared around the other aisle, but then emerged again -- this time with one shell. She was talking into it, and pretty soon another voice was behind her.  The older sister, maybe 7, was talking into the other shell.

When they got close enough, I had to ask... are you guys talking to each other? Can you hear her in your shell?

The older one at first said, yes, and then corrected herself.  Actually, she was having a conversation with the ocean.  A long and complicated conversation, I might add.

I leaned down towards her and pointed at my ear.  She held the shell up to my ear.  I heard the ocean roaring, and I nodded.

Yup, she was talking to the ocean all the way from Albuquerque.

Monday, August 27, 2012

it gets better, round 47?

perhaps a little late to the game, and cajoled (convinced) through a social media campaign -- but here it is, the first NFL sponsored "it gets better"

I can't believe the Mormons got a gay pride parade before any football players (teams) stepped up ... but I guess we will take open mindedness wherever we can get it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Books I Read This Summer

Murder Your Darlings -- J. J. Murphy
Ugh... I didn't really like this one, but my mother "chose" it from the stack I gave her to choose from -- and then when we got one day into the trip she told me she didn't like it.  So, I gave her the one I had brought for me (see below - Tell Me Something True).

Stabat Mater --Tiziano Scarpa
I wanted a book in Italian preferably about Venice (that's where I bought this one) -- the lovely blue eyes that sold me this book thought it would be perfect for me.  It was odd -- but interesting.  The entire book is really a monologue in the guise of letters to a mother this young woman has never known.  While the "action" takes place in Venice, there are very few times when it is noticeable since she rarely leaves the convent walls.  I don't know now how much I enjoyed the book or just that I was excited to still be able to read Italian well enough to get what was happening.

Tell Me Something True -- Leila Cobo
Someone gave me this book after she read it for a book club.  It sat on my shelf for a while, I might not have chosen it.  But, it turned out to be engaging and not your typical story.  My mom liked it because it was melodramatic at times and centered around romance.  I read it on the plane home ... that might have been a mistake.  It would be better as a beach read.  That is as much as I can say without spoiling it.  I did leave this one at a friends house.

Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead -- Sara Gran
I searched high and low in the THREE neighborhoods I visited in NY city on the day before I left and could find NO bookstore.  This is a significantly bad side effect of the online bookstore mania.  I needed a book and the only place that I could buy a book was Walgreens (I won't even tell you how bad the selection was) or the airport ... so, I waited for the airport hoping their selection would be a tiny bit better.  This was one of the "sales people choose" books was not the worst book, but not the best book either. It got better -- but I was concerned that I found so many typos.  Who edits books these days??

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- Stieg Larsson
I finally got around to reading this ... it was a long slog, but I had a lot of time. I spent most of my time comparing it to the movie. I am still not sure what the hype is about it ... it is much less mystery than it is political commentary.  For a while, that commentary is somewhat interesting.  Did not knock it out of the ballpark for me.

Emma -- Jane Austen
I was staying with a friend for a few weeks -- while I was reading the book above -- when I needed another book to read, I grabbed a cute little edition of this that she had.  We had been watching Austen and Austen-like (read Downton Abbey) movies and series, so I decided I should finally just read one.  I really never had read an Austen all the way through. There were some descriptions I had to skim through... I am still not sure where I stand on these.  I guess I could never be an Austen scholar.

Into the Beautiful North -- Luis Alberto Urrea
I started reading this book a while ago -- I only allowed myself a chapter at a time while I was studying.  But, I decided to finish it when I got back to town this summer.  I love Urrea, so I was already enjoying this.  This is the lightest piece of his that I have ever read, but there were still edges that hurt -- like the pain of the main character traveling through the racism of our country.  However, it rang true and was beautifully described.  I am hoping and waiting for a sequel to this one.  You should read it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Poetry Thursday, visiting with Rumi (again)

I have lived on the lip of insanity
Wanting to know reasons
Knocking on a door, it opens
I have been knocking from the inside!
{Photo credits: me, fancy camera, Acoma Pueblo, because it's a doorway and in my collection, May 2011}

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's right?

When you read stories like these, it's hard to figure out which way is up.

Here is a woman who is doing what she thinks is the right thing... and for her trouble, she is getting threatened with fines and jail.  She is technically breaking the law by not having a permit. But she is following what she considers a higher law.

Here is a man doing what he thinks is right ... but for very different reasons.  He is breaking a law to try to come out ahead in another law-mandated situation.  I can't say that I think what he is doing is right ... but I also think that we are pushing more and more people into breaking "laws" because of the way we are structuring our society ...

Ugh... Monday, I started classes and the first one is a class called Anthropology and Human Rights ... but it is an intro to human rights with particular attention to the UN's declaration on human rights.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the difference between the ideal of the declaration and the world we live in ... the prof wanted us to feel encouraged, optimistic (that we don't kill as many people in war as they did in "pre" history). 

So, we should be happy and thankful for the bit of progress we have made ... and overlook (at least at times) the progress we have left to make.  I am trying to have perspective about it ... I really am, but it just reinforces the question: what's right?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

late summer om gems

I have been stuffing these into my om gems folder for weeks ... here are some quotes that struck me as particularly inspiring/thought-provoking/comforting, etc...

"Most of us assume that brave people are fearless, but the truth is that they are simply more comfortable with fear because they face it on a regular basis."  [read more]
"When we accept our divinity, we no longer question whether we are worthy, because we know that we are meant to be here to fulfill a particular purpose, a purpose that no one other than us can fulfill." [read more -- and on worthiness and too much-ness]
"Even small moments of surrender are powerful indicators of how different our lives could be if we would only let go." [truly worth reading the whole thing]
"Whenever we feel that who we are is not enough and that we need to be bigger, better, or more exciting, we send a message to ourselves that we are not enough. Meanwhile, people who are not trying to be something more than they are walk into a room and bring a feeling of ease, humor, and warmth with them. They acknowledge their wrinkles and laugh at their personal eccentricities without putting themselves down."  [worth the read]
"It is difficult to understand, even with hindsight, how the choices we have made have added up to our current situation, but it is a good idea to examine the story we tell ourselves. If we tend to regard ourselves as having failed, this will block our ability to allow ourselves to succeed. We have the power to change the story we tell ourselves by acknowledging that in the past, we did our best, and we exhibited many positive qualities, and had many fine moments on our path to the present moment. We can also recognize that we have learned from our experiences, and that this will help us with our current choices." [the whole enchilada]
"Releasing ourselves from that which we can’t handle on our own. No matter how smart we are, how capable we are, or how hard we work, no one can single-handedly cope with all the worries that we tend to take on in the course of our lives. And, we aren’t designed to do so. Our well-being depends upon our ability to hand over that which we can no longer carry by ourselves." [more]
"One day, though, we may find ourselves feeling confined and restless, wanting to move outside the shelter we needed for so long; the new part of ourselves cannot be born within the confines of the shell our old self needed to survive."  [read more]
 "You only need to fulfill your own potential, and as long as you remain true to that calling, and always do your best to fulfill your purpose, you don’t need to expect anything more from yourself." [good stuff]
"Depending on our perspective and willingness to grow, our experiences can become fodder for negativity and patterns of playing the victim, or they can fuel a life of empowerment and continued self-development." [find out how]
"The beauty of disappointment, though, is that it provides us a bridge to its other side where the acceptance of reality, wisdom, and the energy to begin again can be found." [some more]

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plane Thoughts...

I remembered to take my drink tickets on the plane this time... I think it is what made it easier to write down my thoughts ... [on the plane ABQ LAS, no families with small children between A and B]

1)  Still trying to understand sunglasses and head banger music as an antidote to flying in general and turbulence in particular.

2) There's a fine line between entertainment and annoyance.

3) Sweet surrender to buzz...thank you, 900 calories.

4) Plugged in and prepping for Vegas with online faux gaming and not talking to partner.  Looks like it will be a romantic, no kid weekend for them.  Perhaps they will drink enough...

5) How is bad weather determined??

6) In my head: "if you don't know my by now..."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

remember when?

... at the hottest part of the summer, like now, southwest used to offer flights to Las Vegas for $29?

Yeah, I remember... and at the time, I had no reason to go there.

Now, my sister lives there, and my other siblings think that Las Vegas is a family vacation destination.

So, off to Las Vegas I go ... to even hotter weather than we are having here in ABQ ... though there will be real air conditioning there.  Is that not ironic?

The truth is that I couldn't resist the chance to spend time with my niece and nephews ... as I haven't really spent time with them since last Thanksgiving... and I don't have a trip to California planned again until next Thanksgiving.

So... if there is radio silence, it is because I am having a good time with my family ...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The World We Own...Right Now

Some articles have been cropping up that demonstrate that the world we are living in right now has a particular tenor.  Of course, every time period has its own characteristics.  However, since this is the world I live in, perhaps that is why I am struck by the things I see more.

For instance, if you look around the world at the people leading their countries, you will find a remarkable group of folks who most people would never have imagined in this position.  We can start with our own president.  You may or not agree with his policies, but there is no denying that he represents a radical shift from those who have traditionally led our country.  [If you don't believe me, go back to the Frontline episode comparing Bush and Kerry.  They represent the status, class and political views that we have usually had leading us.  Obama may have ended up in schools similar to Bush and Kerry, but his experience their was clearly different.  And, much of what we have seen in the past four years is a negotiation between that schooling, the prevailing belief system, and his mother's influence.

This article from the NYTimes, although not focused specifically on the topic I note above, points out that the trend of political leaders that come from the not-dominant society is fairly widespread in Latin America.  In that case, unlike ours, it means that some of those folks were not just living on the outside of dominant society (either social class or politics), they were also part of the resistance -- as such, some of them were jailed and tortured.  This provides the opportunity and challenge of some interesting conversations and reconciliations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quote Tuesday ...

I am a little off this week, so here is the quote for the week.

Monday, August 13, 2012 least it's not UGH

Everything in the draft folder would take more emotional energy than I have to finish ...

I spent all weekend trying to motivate to finish a project. I would like to report that I finished something, anything ... but, alas, I did work on three different pieces of the project, but I did not complete any of them.

Several are only a few keystrokes away... so I will get right back to it.

I am streaming all of Grimm's first season in order to catch up before it starts up again ... soon, maybe even today.

You don't have to watch them all to catch up, here is a video that purports to recap season 1:

I will be right back at it this morning ... I have only today to watch a ton of episodes that "expire." 

Maybe it will help me to be motivated enough to finish THREE of the projects.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Poetry Thursday - Recognizing Beauty and Ugliness


Upon a day Beauty and Ugliness met on the shore of a sea. And they said to one another, "Let us bathe in the sea."
Then they disrobed and swam in the waters. And after a while Ugliness came back to shore and garmented himself with the garments of Beauty and walked away.
And Beauty too came out of the sea, and found not her raiment, and she was too shy to be naked, therefore she dressed herself with the raiment of Ugliness. And Beauty walked her way.
And to this very day men and women mistake the one for the other.
Yet some there are who have beheld the face of Beauty, and they know her notwithstanding her garments. And some there be who know the face of Ugliness, and the cloth conceals him not from their eyes.
-Khalil Gibran

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The absolute last thing I wanted to be writing about is the crazy men who have decided to make our country into their personal shooting range and fire pit.  I don't believe in giving the prepetrators the fame and attention they seek.  But we cannot remain silent on the issues that underlie these acts. 

1) I fully believe that these are the acts of crazy men (people, if you like) -- I mean mentally ill, off their meds or undiagnosed.  There is no way to control the actions of any people let alone the mentally ill -- however, if nothing else, these actions, these tragedies should spur us to do more to bring out of the shadows the issues of diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. We cannot shrink away from this, it is squarely on our shoulders.  What a wonderful way to pay tribute to those who have given their lives for us, because there but by the grace of God go any of us, than to find a way to bring compassion to those whose pain provokes their destructive behavior.

2) Just because these actions were taken by mentally ill folks doesn't mean that we cannot pass laws that would restrict the use of certain (if not all) weapons.  It is no excuse to do absolutely nothing.  And to those who would have everyone armed as the solution, I refer you back to #1.  It is not a solution, it is a political stance.  And there is no place for politics.  These tragedies demand pragmatism not dogmatism.

3) Perhaps most important of all, we need to really reflect on the messages we send into the world.  Again, the mentally ill demonstrate the importance of this issue.  If we all think that it is perfectly right, indeed, constitutional, to spew hate, we must acknowledge that we have no way of predicting how our messages will be received.  It reminds me of the parable told in my church when I was a teenager about gossiping.  As her act of contrition (note, of course, that the sinner guilty of gossip was a woman), the penitent was required to go up to the tallest building in her town and cut open a goose down pillow and let the feathers fly.  When she returned to the priest to let him know she had done as he asked, he then told her to go out and collect each and every one of the feathers.  Of course, she could not do that ... and therein was the lesson.  I would extend that to say that we would not only not be able to get back those things we had said, we can also not predict how they will be used by others. 

So, simple statements of "free speech" that include railing with hate against others are not as innocent as the speakers would have us believe.

When is free speech just hate spewing? And when are we going to do something about it?

I don't mean we should take them to court or prosecute them... I mean as a society we should stop giving them the reason for going on and on.  We don't need news organizations whose only content is hate.  We don't need "reality" shows that only make fun of people.  We just don't need to bring that into our lives or the lives of our families.

If we stopped giving them attention, wouldn't they go away? It is a harder pill than just deciding who we think are hate spewers and prosecuting them.... I know.  But I think it is the only way ... we are all potential targets, therefore, we all need to be responsible for what comes out of our mouths and how that might affect others.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

More on Education

Here is what is wrong with "policy" in education that focuses on money and ignores the underlying issues.  This is an example of throwing money at a problem without putting in enough thought.

The fact is that there may be some poor students who need help paying for the AP tests.  But there are not likely to be many of them.  Fee waivers from ETS used to pay for up to two tests for students.

I used them without having to prove that I was indeed financially needy.  But let me put this into perspective.  The counselor asked me to use them ... even though I had not taken AP courses ... even though there was only one AP course taught in my high school: AP Spanish Language.  [I didn't take the course only because I had just spent a year in Spain doing all my work in Spanish.]  I did take AP Spanish Lang and European History.  I scored a 5 and a 3 ... without stepping foot into a course.

But what use would these waivers be for the majority of students in my high school?  What counselor might approach those students, with no access to AP courses, and say, here, you can take a test for something you are utterly not prepared in for a reduced cost?

I hope that there are students out there who are able to make use of this benevolence, but I wonder just how many there are.

And where is the money and the incentive to offer those poor students the courses to prepare them for such a test? And where is the pressure to offer these students just plain old college prep courses?

I am righteously bitter about this issue ... and as a taxpayer, you should be, too.  It is a terrible idea -- and the opposition will use its failure to help poor students get college credit (for these will be underused) as the rationale for not funding other initiatives that might.
Here's another example:
In Texas, they are rightly working on issues of college readiness.  However, rather than read the research on the issue, and tap into the folks in their own state that have already spent enormous energy and time on the problem, they are contracting with a company to create a TEST.

In the first few paragraphs, the reporter makes the point that isolating "college readiness" is one of the key challenges.  Even though this is true, they are contracting for a test... what will they test? How do we know that another test by the College Board is what will fill the void?  I am truly skeptical about the process and disappointed about the decision to spend money in this way.  Ugh.

On the other hand, though, I am pleased that they are planning to implement this TEST as the only placement test taken by all students across institutions across the state.  That is certainly a step in the right direction, but will this test be useful in all states, or is it somehow going to be Texas specific.  If so, then we are right back where we started -- testing companies using our issues in education as money makers rather than actually helping us get somewhere... Ugh, again.
Then, again, there are useful ways to use money, and this article demonstrates a more effective way to get students through third grade than just holding them back [so you can look like you're tough ... scary how ed policy looks a lot like crime policy when Republicans get their hands on it -- I am not holding back]

Study: K 3 Plus Boosts Student Scores

Hailey Heinz / Journal Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2012

From left, Damian Chavez, Sadie Zamora and Erick Martinez work as a team to answer math questions. The Kirtland Elementary students competed to be the first team to correctly answer questions projected on the board. (Adolphe Pierre Louis/Journal)
A program that extends the school year for low income students is getting positive results, and researchers say it could be a cost effective alternative to mandatory retention policies advocated by Gov. Susana Martinez.
A report by the Legislative Finance Committee's research staff examined data on about 26,000 New Mexico students who finished third grade in 2011. They looked at a number of questions related to early literacy, and one key finding was that students enrolled in the "K 3 Plus" program had higher test scores in reading, writing and math than students with similar demographics who were not enrolled. They also found positive results for students who took state funded preschool.
The K 3 Plus program gives parents of kindergartners through third graders the option of signing up their kids for an extra five weeks of classes before school starts.
At the same time, researchers found that only 12 percent of students who were held back at the end of third grade moved up to the "proficient" level during their second year of third grade.
State education chief Hanna Skandera has advocated for a law that would require retention of third graders who had not learned to read. Lawmakers refused to pass such a law in the past two sessions.
Skandera said the LFC report is "incomplete," since it only examined the effectiveness of retention the way New Mexico currently does it. The bills she has advocated would require early intervention, to try to avoid holding students back.
"I 100 percent agree that retention as we do it now has not been successful," Skandera said. "I agree the research is mixed on 'does retention work?' Retention by itself is not a solution."
She said the LFC report fails to look at the interventions that are built into a good retention program.
The report describes K 3 Plus and preschool as programs that make a difference in student performance, and describes retention as having "mixed" results.
This summer, K 3 Plus is offered at 75 schools in 20 districts across the state, serving about 9,300 students. To be eligible, at least 85 percent of a school's population must qualify for free or reduced price lunch, which is a measure of poverty.
The K 3 Plus portion of the LFC report was based on research at Utah State University, which examined data on New Mexico's program to see if it should be replicated elsewhere.
Kirtland Elementary School in Albuquerque has offered K 3 Plus since the program was launched in 2007. Alene Hardin, who has been teaching second grade for 20 years, is in her fifth year of teaching K 3 Plus.
"Personally, I think it's money well spent, because most of these kids would be doing nothing," Hardin said. She said many of her students get little enrichment over the summer, and starting the school year early helps them get ready for second grade curriculum.
"It keeps them from regressing so far," she said. "They're much more ready to start second grade."
Wednesday was the last day of K 3 Plus at Kirtland. Students started classes June 27 and have a break before school starts Aug. 13.
In Hardin's class Wednesday, students were divided into teams and competed to quickly and accurately answer math problems that dealt with telling time, adding the values of different coins and identifying number patterns.
The Utah State report found that students who had at least one year of K 3 Plus got significantly better scores on the state Standards Based Assessment than similar students who were not in the program. They also found that students who had two years of K 3 Plus outscored those with just one year.
The LFC report also looked at the effects of preschool and found that it makes a significant difference in New Mexico. Among the third graders included in the study, those who had attended New Mexico Pre K had test scores that were essentially identical to the scores of non Pre K students. That is remarkable, according to the report, because more of the students enrolled in Pre K are low income, Hispanic and learning English than in the overall third grade population.
The report said a student could attend Pre K and four years of K 3 Plus for a cost to the state of about $7,000, which is roughly the cost of sending a student through third grade a second time. The report suggests this might be a better use of the money, since the intervention programs show proven results, while retention has a spottier record.
In the current budget year, the state appropriated $19.2 million directly to preschool programs, and roughly another $41 million flowed through the state funding formula for school districts to provide services to 3 and 4 year old students with special needs. The federal government also spent about $57 million on Head Start in New Mexico, bringing total preschool spending in New Mexico to about $117 million.
For K 3 Plus, the state budgeted $11 million this year, enough to cover costs for up to 9,600 students.
The LFC report recommends the PED increase oversight of K 3 Plus, to make sure the program's quality is consistent statewide. It also recommends better coordination, so more students get the full benefits of preschool and an extended school year.
This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

One last article on education in NM:
It turns out that I am not the only one that thinks that the "grading" system NM is using for its AYP waiver is confusing...

Group: Grading System Too Complex

Hailey Heinz / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Jul 31, 2012
A nonpartisan group of scientists and mathematicians says the state's new A F school grading system is too complex for most people to understand, including principals and superintendents.
The group also believes the system adds elements together that aren't compatible, and that the formula's sensitivity to small changes results in unreasonable grade changes from one year to the next.
State education chief Hanna Skandera said the system must be complicated to capture all the elements that make a quality school. She also said her department will release a grade calculator application, which will allow schools to see how fluctuations in test scores translate to letter grades.
The group, called the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education, is a nonprofit with several hundred members. It has been active in New Mexico since 1997, and its mission is to "improve science education and science literacy for all citizens," according to its website.
M. Kim Johnson, past president and an author of the report, said Rep. Rick Miera, D Albuquerque, asked the group to examine the A F school grading system and try to replicate it. Johnson said the group has testified before the Legislative Education Study Committee in the past and did so recently to present its findings.
The group said it was not able to replicate the school grades but added that it did not have all of the Public Education Department's original data.
Those findings were cited by Democrats in the Legislature, who sent out a news release last week expressing "deep concern" over the credibility of the A F grades. Those quoted in the news release included Sen. Linda Lopez, D Albuquerque; Sen. Howie Morales, D Silver City; and Miera.
"The methodology and process of the reform models are severely flawed, with no scientific or educational findings proving their worth," Lopez said in the release.
The release urged the PED to adopt the group's recommendations, which include simplifying and seeking an independent review of the formula and providing grading data and software to districts.
Johnson, a retired physicist, said the coalition began its work by looking at the technical manual the PED provided to districts.
"We looked at it, and said 'This a big complex mess.' I mean in terms of being able to understand it. It lacked the definition you expect to see in a manual."
Johnson emphasized that just because his group could not replicate the scores doesn't mean it can't be done. But he thinks it does mean the formula is too complex to be very useful.
"We're not talking about a bunch of schmucks here who haven't seen this stuff before," he said. "We think it's all probably aboveboard, but we don't think the average person, school principal or superintendent could conceivably follow it."
Skandera said the calculator application, expected to be released at the end of September, should help make the grades more useful to principals. The application will allow principals to see how test score changes affect their grades.
For example, if a principal wanted to see how the grade would be affected by a two point increase in the average scores of low performing students, she could put that in the calculator for an answer.
"I think that will be a real step toward equipping our principals in a more meaningful way," Skandera said.
She said the formula is complicated, in large part because people around the state wanted a school grade that would capture all the nuances of school quality, and would control for demographic differences such as poverty.
"I think it's really important that we remember, everyone asked for a complete picture. And that's exactly what we delivered: a robust view of what's happening in our schools, with multiple measures," Skandera said.
She said she has heard educators debate the system.
"I've heard lots of educators going back and forth, saying, 'Until I know how it's calculated, I can't improve my letter grade.' And someone else will say, 'I know exactly what I need to do.' ... You can create a bogeyman out of this word 'complication.' "
She also said some of the people criticizing the system's complexity are the same ones who requested nuance. She said Miera, for example, was adamant about including five and six year graduation rates in the calculation. She said that makes it more complicated.
The coalition's report also questioned whether it is mathematically appropriate to add different measures together. Specifically, the A F grades use simple measures of how many students are scoring at the "proficient" level, which are added to measures of how much students are improving. The "improvement" scores control for demographic factors, like poverty.
The coalition contends it is mathematically inappropriate to add these measures together. According to the report, such addition is "something like adding oranges and cows to derive pickup trucks. The result is not obviously meaningful."
Johnson said each measure serves a separate purpose, and that it makes sense to calculate them both. But he said adding them together results in a measure that reflects neither growth, nor current standing. Doing so also is part of the reason for dramatic changes in grades.
Those changes have come under scrutiny, as some school grades went from "B" to "F," and vice versa, between preliminary January grades and final July grades.
"Schools don't do that in one year. It doesn't happen that way," Johnson said. "And so a lot of that is an artifact of adding things together that really don't make sense to add together."
Johnson said he does not think the grading system should be dumbed down to a basic level, but does think it could be simplified without losing its meaning.
"That still may require that there's math in there that's complex, but make that executable -- something that people can put on their computer and run, especially superintendents and principals," he said.
This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

Monday, August 06, 2012

Education in NM

First a little update on a previous link:

I am not the only one wondering if the AYP waivers are one way to raise the white flag of defeat; the NY Times reporter wondered specifically "some states have proposed reforms aimed at spurring schools and teachers to improve student performance, others may be introducing weaker measures of accountability."

And, if that wondering were not enough to make us question the efficacy and usefulness of NCLB, how about this story from San Mateo, CA.  Some immigrant students from Asian countries believe they are being used in a ponzi like scheme for test scores.  
So far, all I really know about NM and the state of K-12 education is what I deduce from sitting in on a few courses for teachers, listening to teachers talk about the system, the reports on the lack of student achievement and the news coverage.

I preface with all the other forms of information because simply reading the news coverage will never give us the kind of information that we could call definitive.

Nonetheless, I post here some information about the state of education in NM according to the news coverage with particular interest to teachers and how they might be evaluated.

Remember this is part of the waiver agreement made with the feds.

I have to post them in their entirety because the AP links die and the ABQ Journal doesn't provide access to their content if you are not a subscriber. So, bear with me.

APS Pilot Program Unveils Preliminary Findings

Hailey Heinz / Journal Staff Writer
Published: August 1, 2012 
Albuquerque Public Schools has released initial results of its teacher evaluation system, saying it's more nuanced and fairer than the state's controversial proposal.
"This pilot affirms my belief that a well rounded system with multiple measures will improve teacher evaluation," said Ellen Bernstein, Albuquerque Teachers Federation president. The ATF was a key partner in creating the pilot, which was done last school year at four schools that receive federal money for low performing schools. That money was used to pay for the pilot at Highland, Rio Grande and West Mesa high schools and Ernie Pyle Middle School.
Ninety three teachers volunteered for the pilot, which evaluated their performance based on whether students met learning goals their teachers set for them, how much their test scores improved, a student perception survey and classroom observations.
Many of those elements are also in the state proposal.
Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said the state system is a work in progress, and the PED is interested in what APS learned from its pilot. The state system will be tried out by pilot schools this year.
"Just like the 50 schools that are signed on as pilots statewide, we expect a lot of good information to come forth in the next year," Behrens said in a written statement. "We would welcome a presentation on the APS program and would be glad to incorporate aspects of it that best serve our students. We are hopeful they can present their results soon."
APS found that:
-Students taught by teachers in the pilot improved their test scores more than those taught by teachers who did not volunteer.
-Teachers who scored well during classroom observations saw higher student test score improvement, indicating the observations were a valid measure of teacher quality.
-Results of a lengthy student survey also tracked with test score performance. The survey had 34 questions, which Bernstein said gave a more complete measure than the state's 10 question version.
-Teachers needed more guidance on how to set and measure student learning goals. APS Chief Academic Officer Linda Sink said this aspect of the evaluation system needs improvement.
After two failed attempts to get lawmakers to revamp teacher evaluation, state education chief Hanna Skandera is using administrative rule to create a new system. That rule is in draft form, and the system will be used in pilot schools this school year. It will go statewide next school year.
Participants in the APS pilot were eligible for pay bonuses, depending on their performance. The district has not yet said how much bonus money was paid out, but said earlier it would depend on how many people signed up. It said then the maximum possible would be $7,500 per employee.
While a summary of the pilot findings has been released, the full report is not ready. It will be presented to the school board in coming weeks.
On the surface, the system sounds a lot like the one proposed by the PED, which would evaluate teachers based on student test score improvement, classroom observations and other measures, to be determined by districts.
Both the APS and PED pilots rely on so called "value added" measures, which use statistics to control for student characteristics like poverty or special needs. The idea is to measure how much a student's score improved during the year, controlling for factors outside the teacher's control.
Although both models use such controls, it is unclear whether the formulas would be the same. The APS pilot used a model with separate variables for each student characteristic.
While the PED has not decided on a formula, its A F school grading system used a formula with just one factor: the student's prior test score. The idea is that all a student's characteristics are reflected in that score. So if the student is a male, Hispanic special education student, all that information is reflected in the prior score and doesn't need to be controlled for again.
These technicalities are important, because APS contends its formula is fairer to teachers of low income students. Behrens said the PED's formula will be decided with comments from an advisory panel of teachers, administrators and others over the next year.
Sink said some elements of the APS evaluations worked well, and others need improvement. Specifically, she said the district got good results with its classroom observations, in which principals were given guidelines on how to look for quality teaching. The guidelines are a hybrid of national research and the nine teaching abilities required by state law.
Sink said teachers and principals were happy with the guidelines, which she said could be a statewide model.
Teachers were observed at least three times during the year, and the observations were 30 45 minutes long.
"Teachers do want to have people come into their classroom, give them support and give them the chance to show what they're doing so they can get better at their craft. They really appreciated having longer observations and having more," Sink said.
"We say that principals and administrators are busy, but I do think what we also should be saying is we need to reprioritize their 'busyness' and what they do during their day. This could be, and I think is, the most important thing they can do."
This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal
 Think about these "results" compared to the other article posted about a charter school.  Be skeptical and ask questions.

Charter School Touts Eval Success

Hailey Heinz / Journal Staff Writer
Published: August 1, 2012 
The Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science is embarking on its third year of evaluating teachers and determining their raises based on a combination of student test score growth, classroom observations and other measures. AIMS is a charter school, which has historically done well on standardized tests and received one of the highest grades in New Mexico under the new school grading system. Kathy Sandoval, the principal of AIMS, served on a task force last summer that made recommendations for a state teacher evaluation system. State education chief Hanna Skandera is currently working to create a new teacher evaluation system through administrative rule. That rule is in draft form and will be piloted this year in about 50 schools. It will go statewide in fall 2013. At a public hearing on the rule earlier this month, Sandoval testified that the system has worked well at her school. "I can tell you right now that nobody at my school has left the school because of the evaluation tool. Nobody has had a reduction in pay, nobody has been fired," she said at the hearing. "I have, however, been able to reward teachers that have been absolutely, highly effective in the classroom. I have also been able to fine tune and pinpoint professional development that needs to be made with teachers that are perhaps struggling." The system at AIMS is heavily based on how much student test scores improve and does not control for student characteristics like poverty and race. One quarter of AIMS teacher evaluations are based on how much their students improve on the state Standards Based Assessment. Teachers whose subjects are not tested on the SBA must use another test, approved by Sandoval. Another quarter is based on how much the school's test scores improve overall. Sandoval said this is because every teacher is part of the overall school climate and contributes to the whole school's growth. Sandoval initially gave the SBA less weight because teachers were uneasy about it, but increased it, in part because teachers were getting good test score results and wanted recognition for that progress. Another quarter of an AIMS evaluation is based on classroom observations. Teachers are evaluated four times per year: Once by Sandoval, once by the assistant principal, once by an independent contractor and once by a colleague who has reached the third tier of the state licensure system. The last quarter is based on a student survey, and Sandoval's evaluation of the teacher's professionalism, willingness to take on extra tasks for the school and how diligently the teacher follows policies and procedures. Sandoval said she believes most teachers would support the system if they were evaluated under it one time. She also cautioned that as a principal, it takes a lot of time and effort. "It is incredibly time consuming," she said. "But you know what: Where am I most useful? Watching in the classroom and trying to improve student instruction or having my butt in a chair?"
This article appeared on page A6 of the Albuquerque Journal

Friday, August 03, 2012


Some days are harder than others ... and some are just longer.

I am trying to work up to having the energy to be productive.  I am hoping for the day when I don't have to take a nap in the middle of the day.

I don't know if this is payback for wanting to be self sufficient ... I recognize this is a dramatic and ridiculous statement. 

I get it.  I do.

Life happens.

The trick is to bob up and down with the waves, right?

I have been doing that, but it feels like I am drowning anyway.


There has to be a way to take care of myself that doesn't seem so utterly self indulgent -- that doesn't make me feel like I am grasping.

Maybe I just need to practice being in the hard moments.

I am just feeling frustrated, tired and confused...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Quote Thursday

I was searching for a quote for my sister's birthday present ... this one didn't make it because it is too long to fit around the framed picture, but I thought I could share it here.

i beg have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. do not search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. and the point is, to live everything. live the questions now. perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

 [Photo credits: me, fancy camera, on the train, California Coast ... for fun]

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Recalucating Route

As a draft sitting there holding space, this was going to be a post about how on the trip we ended up in Naples rather than spending the day seeing sights in Rome.  Someday, I may tell you more about it.

Then, after I named the post, I would see it and think I should tell you, instead, about some musing a friend and I did about the voice in the GPS units in cars.  This is a story I would like to tell you someday ... just not today.

And then, it became a post about why I was only going to Oakland on a plane instead of the lovely driving trip I had planned for late June/early July.  It turned out I was just never ready to share all the reasons that went into that decision. And it became a non-story.

That's a lot of preamble.  Welcome to my world.

What is left is to say that there has been a lot of route recalculation of late ... and I predict some more before too long.

I am trying, during this retrograde of Mercury, to follow the advice of the astrologers: stay flexible.  Make plans (read: recalculate route), but stay open to changing any and all plans. 

I like this idea much more than feeling that all of the M. retrograde time as "what can go wrong will go wrong" -- that is extreme... but sometimes true. However, as a nemesis of mine has taken pains to say as a rebuttal to me in public (no, I am not at all bitter), it is easier to deal with a potentially trying time by not expecting the worst.  That is not exactly what she said, but let's just say that is what she meant, as a sign of charity.

So, for these last seven days or so of M's retrograde, let's continue to remain flexible, recalculating as necessary ... going with the flow when it doesn't threaten our lives, and pulling to the side of the road as needed.

May all being be at ease.
[photo credits: me, fancy camera; mummified frog remains that lived outside my door after friend rescued it from ex's front yard ... yeah, Mercury is in retrograde, so this picture makes sense to someone]