Archive for December, 2010

You’re Still You… Just Slightly Different!

December 24, 2010

by Greyman (not Julius)

It is Christmas Eve 2010 and my only daughter is now six months old.

This year has been a big change for my wife and I. Prior to the birth of our daughter we were winging off weekly to this destination or that. Checking luggage? Hell no! We were the ones standing at security chewing out the infrequent travelers for not knowing to pull out their bag of hygiene items or remove their laptop from the case. “Hurry up infrequent travelers! We’re got places to go!”

Prior to my daughter my wife and I would sleep late. We would have breakfast for hours while arguing over the issues in the newspaper that day. We could go where we pleased and do what we wanted. WE ate out all the time at semi-fancy restaurants.

Enter stage left: Daughter (1).

Now we actually have to check bags when we travel. Now we board the plane early because we need “special assistance” to fit the car seat into the plane seat. Now our social schedule begins as soon as our daughter finishes a bottle — three to four hours of near-freedom start as soon as the last swallow of formula is complete.

Needless to say there have been changes.

As I went along this path I realized four months into it that I (we actually) had lost a few things that made us, us.

For me prior to my daughter’s birth I really enjoyed working out. For six month I have tried to find a way to balance my work, my family, and my need for physical fitness. I have finally figured it out and I feel as though a small part of me that lay dormant since my daughter’s birth has returned and I am ecstatic.

For my wife and I, our relationship turned from deep philosophical discussions into a series of one liners that made us seem more like battle buddies than a married couple: “You take her.” “I’ll take her.” “I fed her.” “You feed her.” “She needs changing.” “I just changed her.” “She’s up.” “She’s sleeping. “You get her.” “I got her.” “Heat a bottle please.” etc…

So with all of this blithering what is my point?

My point is though you have a new child you need to find time to do the things you once did both as an individual and as a couple — do this and your sanity will return.

If you are reading this, and you are a parent, when is the last time you took your wife on a date? I mean a no-shit get dressed up nice, get a car service, dine at a restaurant that requires reservations, eat a meal of several courses while talking about adult stuff that doesn’t have to do with your kid?

If you can’t answer this question you need to get a babysitter, make a plan, and execute! She’s your wife dude! Go treat her like you did while trying to woo her on your first date.

If you are reading this, and you are a parent, when is the last time you did something totally selfish that you and only you enjoy?

If you can’t answer this question you need to figure out an activity that will make you happy, take your mind off the world for a few hours, and execute!

At the end of the day once you have a kid you are still you… Just slightly different! Remember who you once were, remember what it was like when you were dating, make a plan, and balance those social things the best you can with your new found parent-ness.

Angry Birds is DARPA Training and Desensitization Program, Anyway

December 17, 2010

Hey, cool!  Your kid can play Angry Birds on the phone. That’s rad. But can your kid explain and discuss torque and velocity? I know, the yellow birds speed up when you tap the screen. I understand.

Today we cut some wood, drilled some holes, screwed some screws, and made a catapult. Why? Why not? Your kid will have to take orders from someone in a few years.

We also tested different substances that melt ice (and used control ice for comparison). She was interested in sodium chloride, sodium magnesium, and silica. Where’d she get this? Hell if I know. Why? Why not? Doy! What global warming?

She just wants to understand stuff. She wants to know all the “whys”.

But, yeah, get those pigs, gamers! Someday your kid can sit in a cubicle in Tampa and operate Raptor drones my kid designed…for peaceful purposes, of course.

Good luck with the blackbird bomb bird.


December 6, 2010

by David Harte (not Gavin)


The L.A. Times recently published the findings of a study they conducted using a kind of statistical data analysis called “Value-Added,” that measures teacher performance. This kind of data is virtually ignored by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Currently, parents don’t have access to any meaningful information about teacher performance except word of mouth. Our kids get stuck with teachers about whom we know nothing except some loudmouth power-mom’s stupid opinion we overheard outside the bouncy castle at a birthday party. That’s no way to run a school system.

But is it fair to test teacher performance? There a lot of factors teachers can’t control. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the bad test scores of a poor kid with bad parents who doesn’t even speak English that well, should they? Value-added measures against the teachers’ individual students’ previous performance on standardized tests so things like crappy parenting, limited English skills, previous bad teachers and poverty don’t effect the results. It answers the question, “Do kids do better or worse when they have this teacher?” in a really clear way. Predictably, the teacher’s union (UTLA) hates this.

I have three kids who go to L.A. Public schools, I believe in public education and I have an immense amount of respect for people who choose to teach. Teachers work their asses off and many bring passion and excellence to the profession. They should be rewarded financially for how awesome they are. I also believe that unions often serve a vital function in protecting individual workers from being treated unfairly by large institutional powers. In spite of all that, it’s distressing to see the union objecting to using this data as part of teacher evaluations.

The goal of an education system is to educate students (duh), not to provide job security to teachers regardless of the quality of their work. Anyone who’s ever gone to school knows not all teachers are created equal. Some make you excited about history or science and some make you excited about sleeping through class. While the union has expressed the fear that value-added analysis will be used to punish ineffective teachers (like the 241 craptastic bozos who were fired in Washington, D.C.), it could also be used to financially reward excellent teachers. That’s an opportunity for the union to do something positive for its best and brightest members.

Yes, the  Bunker Hill headquarters of the LAUSD is packed with an excessive number of administrators pulling six-figure salaries, whose competence is questionable at best and whose job duties are ill-defined to the point of non-existence. Many, perhaps most, of them deserve to be fired. The people who created “value-added” should come up with a data set that can help us cure that problem. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Don’t try to change the subject.

Teachers should love this value-added analysis. It could protect them from fickle principals and incompetent administrators. “Don’t like me, Mr. Principal? Well my students do 11 points better on their exams every single year than they did before, so you can suck it.” Ninety percent of L.A. teachers get positive evaluations every year, That’s a strong incentive for teachers to like the status quo. But those evaluations are based entirely on the subjective judgement of their principal. That’s not very scientific and leaves a lot up to workplace politics. What if you’re a great teacher who doesn’t get along with an a-hole principal? You’re screwed? Value-added would cure that.

Principals should love this data too. They’ll be able to stock up on good teachers and not hire bad ones who happen to be good at job interviews. Administrators should love it too. It can help them raise test scores by having good teachers train new teachers or help teachers who are struggling. And administrators wouldn’t have to do to much of what they’re worst at – thinking about how to solve problems effectively.

The Times’ study showed that the best teachers aren’t all at the richest schools and the crappy teachers aren’t all in poorest schools. Quality of instruction varied more from classroom to classroom than between schools. That means it’s really important to measure teachers’ performance. Yes, that will suck for terrible teachers. But isn’t that better than abandoning students to spare incompetent instructors’ feelings? The union is afraid that the data will be used to punish ineffective teachers. The union should be more concerned with protecting good teachers from having their reputations tarnished by terrible ones. Protecting bad teachers is an unsupportable position that makes it look like the union doesn’t care about students or education.

Also, the study showed that “the right school” wasn’t as important as getting a good teacher. Teachers had three times more influence on kids’ academic performance than school did. But parents aren’t given access to data about individual teachers. That’s insane. Teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in student performance. I bet that’s a more powerful weapon for a union to wield in a contract negotiation than their current stance which amounts to, “Firing shitty teachers is mean.”

In a departure from conventional wisdom, a teacher’s experience, level of training and education weren’t what made them good or bad at their job. So why do we base teachers’ pay on those factors instead of effectiveness at improving student performance? What did make teachers effective was the degree to which they engaged their students. That’s not surprising, but if it’s the most important thing, shouldn’t we reward it?

Critics say value-added is flawed and will encourage teaching to the test rather than educating students. Okay, let’s come up with a better way to measure teacher performance. But until one exists, let’s use the best tool currently available – value-added.