Congrats Woodward Park MS Mock Trial Team

Congratulations to this year’s Woodward Park Middle School Mock Trial Team. Under the guidance of Mr. Matt Berkal, and several volunteers, they have again won the highest honors in the Ohio Middle School Mock Trial Showcase! I remember when Rosa and her team won this – team and individual honors – way back in the first years of Mr. Berkal’s tenure at WPMS. (I even recognize a couple of names as siblings of some of her classmates and team mates.)

Here is a link the the Northland News / This Week Northland story, Mock trial team shines at middle school showcase.

Effects of the High Stakes Testing Game

I saw this article today: “Testing is Killing Learning” in Salon, and it got me angry enough (again) to share. It’s a good summary of how the battle has gone, and the challenges ahead.

The author, Mary Elizabeth Williams, speaks of pep rallies for testing: “But the ultimate effect had a strangely ‘Hunger Games’ tang to it – a mood of forced, rah-rah reassurance to the terrified children going into the arena, cheered on by those too young to yet participate.”

That image is somewhat humorous – but deadly when it kills the joy of learning! The real challenge is the dumbing down of curriculum – by a program that is ostensibly to boost it! Th irony here is that when kids are exposed to “real” literature and the like they are more likely to be engaged – versus macerated snippets and all-too-often poorly written non-fiction. (N.B. There are non-fiction pieces, and primary sources, that can be quite enthralling.)

But teachers are far from the only ones who feel the effects of the high stakes testing game. My high school teacher friend Ariel says, “My honors English curriculum now contains only two books, instead of the 12 I used to teach. And very few short stories. It’s mostly nonfiction, because that’s what will be on the tests. Any books I teach outside of the curriculum will harm my students’ scores on the tests that evaluate them and my performance. Goodbye, ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Goodbye, ‘Macbeth.’ Goodbye, ‘A Separate Peace.’ Most good teachers are demoralized by the test, and horrified by what it is doing to education.”

And as we know the lower grades also lose valuable teaching time to test prep – as well as a distorted focus:

“Children are getting the message at a very young age that if you pick the right choice between several options you can be successful. That’s not the way to learn, especially creatively. That’s not experimenting or exploring or creating. We’re telling kids that that life is a series of hoops and that they need to start jumping through them very early.”

So who really benefits from all this? According to Diane Ravitch:

And it’s a system that, as Core Standards are being implemented around the country, seems built to fail. “All the passing ratings are going to go down about 30 percent this year; that’s what they’re predicting,” says author, advocate and education historian Diane Ravitch. “The dark view is that they want everybody to fail and they want people to say the public schools stink, so they can push for more vouchers and more charters. I can’t describe what’s going on without thinking that we’re in the process of destroying American public education.”

There is also mention of origins of this the “Texas Miracle,” which later evidence shows was a fraud.

So who really benefits from all this? (reprise):

Pearson Education ….

Ms. Williams mentions a principled retirement / resignation letter from New York teacher Gerald “Jerry” Conti. It’s sad to see. Perhaps he just got too ground down.

So we must continue to “fight the good fight.”

This article was originally titled “Common Core smacks of cyanide?” but it’s really about high stakes testing.

C.C.S. – including Gifted – may face budget cut CRISIS!

I remember the foreboding I felt when I read in the Dispatch about $29 million in cuts for C.C.S.

Then I saw Dr. Gene Harris’ letter, I sensed the pain in her words — and I felt the pain — as she wrote:

Clearly, to extract another $25 million from an already lean budget means that the majority of the impact is going to be realized through staff reductions – equaling more than 300 positions across all levels of the organization.

This is unquestionably a very difficult time. While these recommended reductions fulfill our need to save money, they most assuredly do not make us better or enable us to more effectively support our schools or students.

(emphasis mine — This letter may be found in the March 8 eNewsletter. This may be found here. You can sign up for these here.)

I now have seen some specifics, courtesy of the Columbus Education Association. in their March 11 issue of their newsletter, the Voice, they included a link to a PDF:
DRAFT – Columbus City Schools Recommended Budget Reductions for FY2014 – 3/5/2013

It’s ugly!

“Highlights” include:

  • elimination of 5 regional GT coordinators
  • elimination 2 High School Coordinators
  • elimination 1 ECLIPSE Coordinator
  • elimination of 1 Testing coordinator
  • elimination of 1 Secretary

As one summary describes, “There will be no High School or Eclipse Coordinators remaining. There will be one Testing Coordinator that will be reassigned to the Office of Performance & Strategic Initiatives (OPSI). Redistribute work loads to remaining staff and Supervisor.” …
This will leave us with 28 GT positions, down from 55 a few years ago. Your favorite specialist may soon be be gone — or you’ll see him or her much less often.

And that’s only the specifically gifted and talented cuts! There is plenty of misery for all students with concurrent impact on GT kids.

  • reduce a class period in middle and high schools. … a seven-period day
    starting next school year. … seven years ago, (doing this) had a devastating effect on the academic program
    and minimized opportunities for our students.
  • cuts in arts, field trip transportation, library staff, athletics. … “Research shows that an
    increase in physical activity and participation in the arts result in improved academic performance. We can expect a rise in discipline referrals and a decline in student attendance and achievement when these programs are cut.” even for gifted kids

I lay a lot of blame in this to the Columbus Dispatch, who made it impossible to pass a levy last November (during a general election), by their constant churning of the enrollment “scandal” story, as well as constantly hammering the Board, Dr. Harris, and everyone down to the custodial staff. … Add the uncertainty of the C.E.C. (“Mayor’s Commission”) sometimes seeming to work at cross purposes to the Board as the later seeks a new superintendent, and we have a


Now we need to deal with this ASAP, let our voices be heard, and seek ways to mitigate or reverse the impending damage. What can we do?

Some thoughts:

  1. We need a new superintendent ASAP — according to the Board’s original schedule. We cannot have C.C.S. under the care of an interim leader when action is needed. I do not believe the myth that we can’t get top people due to the “scandal.” On the contrary, we need strong leadership to resolve issues quickly, as well as deal with issues like this budget shortfall and the need to expedite a levy!
  2. We need a levy ASAP! Perhaps we could pass one in a Special Election?! We could cancel the cuts when it passes — or even hold off on them until such. (Implementing these cuts will irretrievably lose good teachers, as imperiled people accept positions elsewhere. They would be unavailable for reinstatement.) … We could press the board to seek an emergency levy. I’m sure Dr. Harris would fight for it until midnight on her last day … and a permanent successor would follow up.
  3. The truth is that cuts like this will hobble C.C.S. This could drive away superintendent candidates — as well as concerned parents of gifted and talented children, and many more.

Some of us (parents, teachers, administrators, Dr. Harris) have been working our tails off on the Task Force for the Future of Gifted and Talented, seeking to come up with some great ideas to extend and improve the programs at Columbus City Schools. These proposed budget cuts endanger everything.

We must fight.

What are your thoughts?


N.B. The amount of the shortfall roughly equivalent to the gap in funding expected from the state of Ohio.

This post is cross-posted here, on OSApostle, but please send all comments on the P.A.C.E. Home.

What’s One to do without Java? for webmail email

In case you haven’t heard it, The Homeland security Dept. has issued a warning about Java:/

CERT Releases Oracle Java 7 Security Advisory

ZDNET: Homeland Security warns to disable Java amid zero-day flaw

The recomendation is to remove or disable JAVA! This creates a severe problem for web mail users. I just tested and found that the following do not work at all without java:

  • Microsoft Outlook Mail / Hotmail
  • AOL Mail

Google’s GMail and Yahoo Mail will work, in a backup mode – missing some features.

One can access Outlook/Hotmail and AOL, as well as GMail through a client such as Mozilla Thunderbird.

Privacy on Business and other email systems

Some recent conversations I have had brought to my attention the need to clarify for my friends and neighbors the situation regarding privacy when using various email systems.

The short version: Do not send anything personal or sensitive in nature to anyone at their employer’s email system. Likewise do not use your own work account to send or receive anything of personal or sensitive nature.

The fact of the matter is that a person generally does not have any privacy rights on the corporate email system. Even the minority opinion that suggests there are some rights suffers the point that it could be cumbersome, expensive, impossible to enforce such.

There is an increasing trend in many businesses to establish policies which greatly restrict people’s freedom when using company-owned machines – or even your own equipment (e.g.) on their network.

Of course, corporate email practices may vary widely. In some cases the policy is on the books for “CYA” purposes, so if you are caught selling child porn the business has a clear right to action. But in other cases there may be snooping up to the point that any normal person would consider creepy. You might have:

  • automated scanning of message content for key words — e.g. your shopping or investigation of medical issues, even things like “union” and “civil rights” (It’s not just prurience they seek!) … AND this scanning can go beyond email to sniffing the very packets of information that show where you browse, your passwords, etc.
  • a supervisor that can log in to your account and see everything that you can see
  • a nosy IT person who delights in finding people’s secrets (beyond the necessary function of administering the network, etc., where ethical IT folks deliberately turn a blind eye to specific content)

Some recommendations for email:

  1. Don’t send anything to or from a corporate account that you wouldn’t like on the supervisor’s desk – or posted on Facebook
  2. If you need to use email at work for anything of sensitive nature, use your own account. This might be a webmail account, or an email client application on your own device. You might want to make sure that you connect in a secure manner – e.g SSL/TLS settings for your application, or the same so you have the “padlock” in your browser. (GMail now prefers https by default). These measures can encrypt content between your device and the server or site to which you connect. Generally that makes your communication secure unless someone has physical access to your device.
  3. If you’re really paranoid, use encryption: GPG or similar. For this you likely need to be using a client program/app.

Plus, if you don’t store large amounts of data in your corporate account, you’ll make it easier for the poor IT person who has to archive all that stuff to comply with regulations for accountablity, etc.

An alternative while in the workplace is to use a webmail service such as GMail, but caveat: “Reading someone’s Gmail doesn’t violate federal statute, court finds

Recycling old, unwanted books (Franklin County, Ohio)

I saw an article in the Columbus Dispatch today with some good information:
Old, unwanted books no longer landfill fodder
Unwanted books by the thousands now being recycled

“…, announced a partnership last week with Goodwill Columbus that aims to dent the flow and return more old tomes to pulp. Individuals, schools, libraries and other organizations now can drop off unwanted books at any Goodwill donation center or retail store in Franklin County and know that they will be properly recycled, Grossman said.”

Steve Grossman is president of Creative Green Marketing, a Westerville-based recycling broker and processor.

Quickly Find Unread Messages on GMail

Have you ever had a hard time finding unread messages on GMail? This is especially a problem if you have many “labels” (equivalent to folders), like I do.

While you can go to the search box at the top. pull down the menu, and select “Unread Mail,” there is another alternative.
You can make a Quick Link for unread messages.

  1. Go to “Settings” / “Labs.”
  2. Look for “Quick Links.”
  3. Enable “Quick Links.” REMEMBER to hit “Save Changes” at bottom of page.
    You will see an added area on the left, under labels, for “Quick Links.
    (Click the three dots at bottom for “Gadgets” if necessary.)
  4. NOW do a search for “Unread Mail” as above,
    OR just type “is:unread” into search box
  5. Now you can click on “Add Quick Link” at left to create your saved search
  6. Name it something simple like “unread”

Gethsemane_Environmental – Gethsemane Lutheran Church Environmental Efficiency and Sustainability Team

Some people have asked about the Gethsemane_Environmental Google Group, used for the Gethsemane Lutheran Church Environmental Efficiency and Sustainability Team. Here is some helpful information about that group (and signing up for and Google Groups in General).

The Group Home is at Gethsemane_Environmental

Any member can invite new members! Just send an invitation when you are logged in. An invitation will be sent to the recipient’s email address. They are then “approved” by a Group Manager or Owner (currently Joanne Leussing and myself … This is to screen out spammers.).

So please go ahead and invite new members! … or just send them to the group home at Gethsemane_Environmental.

More information

Besides an invitation from a member, there are a few ways to join Gethsemane_Environmental:

1. The easiest way is as a Google subscriber, to visit the group.

Google sign in is forced before one can join. See below if you want to join without joining Google!

2. It is also possible to sign up for the email list without joining Google ‡, by sending an email to:
(The email need not have any subject or content.)

As of most recent testing (8/2014), the link in reply email works. After the initial request, one receives an email to “continue with your join request,” then another to “confirm.” (This is Google seeking to counter spam.)

3. One can sign also up for the email list here:

Google Groups
Subscribe to Gethsemane_Environmental
Visit this group


To post to this group, send email to
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to
Visit this group at
View this message at
For more options, visit

‡ This is not well documented. There was something in the Google Groups Help: (Link now redirects.)
that seems to indicate one could subscribe via simply sending an email to [Groupname]+subscribe[AT] , (in this case):

Searching Google help reveals that it is still possible to “[Join] a public Google Group using email.”

What do you do with a BA in English?

In these days when everyone is crowing about “STEM,” we hear from the experience of Christopher Dawson, one of my favorite EdTech bloggers, writing in the ZDNet Education blog:

What do you do with a BA in English?

All of a sudden, that BA in English with a minor in theater started to look awfully attractive. I can’t think of a more important “21st Century Skill” than communication, whether written or verbal. A bit of theater? Gee, maybe he’ll be able to think on his feet and improvise and actually glance away from the projector or his feet and talk to his audience, whether that audience is in a boardroom or a lecture hall. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a business leader reading from notes or delivering a death-by-PowerPoint presentation, droning on about slides that I could just as easily read myself on a set of handouts. Disconcerting because by the time someone is in a position of leadership, they should be able to speak extemporaneously and yet remarkably common.

It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that a degree in English (or communications, or whatever) might just be one of the more useful and relevant degrees a student could obtain, with applications across a wide variety of disciplines. The point of college remains to learn to think (and master beer pong, of course); that can happen with a degree in biophysics just as easily as a degree in the humanities. That liberal arts major, though, just might have better job prospects in a knowledge economy than the biophysics major who avoided English and public speaking courses like the plague.

I’ve always said that engineers are common, but rare is the engineer who knows how to communicate and manage people. There are many corollaries to the assertion that STEM is not THE answer to our concerns about our educational system. (Indeed, there is a growing appreciation of the need for critical thought and the ability to express oneself!)