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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bill Gates Says - Shame Is Not the Solution


LAST week, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that teachers’ individual performance assessments could be made public. I have no opinion on the ruling as a matter of law, but as a harbinger of education policy in the United States, it is a big mistake.

I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers’ effectiveness, and my foundation works with many schools to help make sure that such evaluations improve the overall quality of teaching. But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.

In most public schools today, teachers are simply rated “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” and evaluations consist of having the principal observe a class for a few minutes a couple of times each year. Because we are just beginning to understand what makes a teacher effective, the vast majority of teachers are rated “satisfactory.” Few get specific feedback or training to help them improve.

Many districts and states are trying to move toward better personnel systems for evaluation and improvement. Unfortunately, some education advocates in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are claiming that a good personnel system can be based on ranking teachers according to their “value-added rating” — a measurement of their impact on students’ test scores — and publicizing the names and rankings online and in the media. But shaming poorly performing teachers doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t give them specific feedback.

Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.

Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap — by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public — are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.

At Microsoft, we created a rigorous personnel system, but we would never have thought about using employee evaluations to embarrass people, much less publish them in a newspaper. A good personnel system encourages employees and managers to work together to set clear, achievable goals. Annual reviews are a diagnostic tool to help employees reflect on their performance, get honest feedback and create a plan for improvement. Many other businesses and public sector employers embrace this approach, and that’s where the focus should be in education: school leaders and teachers working together to get better.

Fortunately, there are a few places where teachers and school leaders are collaborating on the hard work of building robust personnel systems. My wife, Melinda, and I recently visited one of those communities, in Tampa, Fla. Teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools receive in-depth feedback from their principal and from a peer evaluator, both of whom have been trained to analyze classroom teaching.

We were blown away by how much energy people were putting into the new system — and by the results they were already seeing in the classroom. Teachers told us that they appreciated getting feedback from a peer who understood the challenges of their job and from their principal, who had a vision of success for the entire school. Principals said the new system was encouraging them to spend more time in classrooms, which was making the culture in Tampa’s schools more collaborative. For their part, the students we spoke to said they’d seen a difference, too, and liked the fact that peer observers asked for their input as part of the evaluation process.

Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let’s focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jam Session at the White House Last Night

Nothing like having a jam with Mick Jagger - Jeff Beck - BB King - and Barack Obama.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tree Down At Corner of Hemlock and Magnolia in Tallahassee - Our Power Was Off For 8 Hours

Video and story sent directly via iPhone

This tree just fell across the road out of the blue. At about 4 PM Sunday - this giant oak took down several power lines making our neighborhood powerless until midnight and blocking a main thoroughfare. Traffic had to be routed through our neighborhood.

City work crews toiled tirelessly to remove the tree and repair the power lines.

Lulu and I decided to go to Beef O Grady for supper and to watch the Duke at Boston College basketball game (Duke won). While watching the game we received an email and pictures from Drew and family. They decided to drive to Boston to see the game. Lulu really enjoys watching a game on TV when she knows somebody at the game.

We returned home about 7 PM - with the power still out - I hooked the TV and satellite dish to my big battery and inverter. While the neighborhood was dark - we basked in the blue glow of the tube.

Just before midnight - the power came on. We were already asleep but all of the light coming on woke us both up.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Panther Valley Middle School Students Visit Uncle Harry

This is Jean and Earl Eidem on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol - now a history museum. They live in Crestview Florida now.

We just spent 3 days with Jean Santore Eidem and Earl Eidem - two of my former students at the Panther Valley Middle School. Earl used to live in Summit Hill and Jean lived in Nesquehoning. Now they live in Crestview FL which is about 2 hours west of us in the Florida Panhandle.

You know you are old when you have students that are also already retired. Earl served in the Air Force. He has lived in Florida - Alabama - Washington State - Iceland - England - and Alaska. He first served in Florida more than 20 years ago - so he has been here longer than us.

Earl has earned his Bachelor's degree at Auburn University and his Master's Degree at the University of Arkansas. He recently was hired by Boeing to write technical manuals for service on their planes. Jean works Florida Northwest State College doing contract work. They have 3 kids - including a son - Earl - that just completed his basic training in the Navy. Earl and Jean are in the process of adopting two brothers. They own a 10 acre estate outside of Crestview - a town of about 40,000 people.

I re-connected with Earl and Jean on Facebook. I noticed in a post that they were now living in Florida so we invited them over for a basketball game. They arrived on Friday - we had a lot of catching up to do. On Saturday they saw their first college basketball game and were so excited to see FSU beat Miami. After that we toured the town - and re-watched the game on video over pizza.

This morning they drove back home to get ready for the adoption. In the past they used to attend FSU football games - something we hope they renew.

Like us - they seldom return to "the Bubble" although they still have family back home.

You can tell by the pictures that Earl is a lot bigger than me now. In 7th grade - Earl said I paddled him. He asked me if I would like to try it now :-) Only kidding - Earl is a real gentlemen - has served his country well - and has a wonderful family.

I am really proud to be Earl and Jeannie's old science teacher.

The New Capitol has a 25 story observation post - but it is not open on weekends. We settled for a tour of the Old Capitol.

Earl is a big Bobby Bowden fan - here we are posed with Bobby's Statue in front of the FSU Hall of Fame. We got to see two national championship trophies and two Heisman trophies.

FSU handily beat Miami before a happy crowd of about 9000. Seldom do I buy tickets ahead of time - I usually "shop" outside for deals. This time we wanted 4 seats together - so I bought them early - showing off. We also got to see FSU Softball clobber Tennessee Tech.

At the Florida History Museum - Jean and I posed before this old green model T camper. It reminded them of my green tour bus.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dueling iPads

Child is the father to man. The two Everhart boys found something in common. Here you see them racing each other on separate iPads. Both of their cars appear on both iPads in real time.

Jack is 3. Drew is 35. I am 64 - my son and grandson.

Last week I spent 4 days with them.

Click corner to enlarge to full screen.

Another Story About the Other Harry Everhart

OKC Bombshell Implicates Feds In Murrah Blast

After nearly a decade, shocking, suppressed evidence emerges only moments after an enormous blast blew away most of the facade and a full quarter of the eastern end of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) began to release evidence implicating two men, and two men only, who they claimed were solely responsible. The evidence later showed that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had confessed to the impossible.

At first, several independent investigators came forward to complain that there was an obvious cover-up. Now they call it the “ongoing cover-up of the cover-up.” And now, even the new OKC museum contradicts the official theory of what happened on April 19.

Officials in charge at the time still refuse to discuss anything other than the manufactured spin: McVeigh and Nichols, as convicted by the courts, mixed up a large batch of ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO—a mild explosive used by farmers to blow out stumps) and demolished several square blocks of downtown Oklahoma City with a devastating blast that could be heard miles away.

In reality, the ANFO story was born only 10 minutes after the blast when a high-ranking BATF official by the name of Harry Everhart witnessed the blast from nearby and called the BATF office in Dallas to excitedly announce, “Someone has just blown up the federal building in Oklahoma City with a truckload of ANFO!”

Some reporters and investigators, who have looked objectively at the bombing, now argue that neither Everhart nor anyone else could have correctly deduced in such a short time exactly what caused the explosion.

According to government documents released later, Ever hart was experienced in loading large amounts of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into a vehicle for use as a terrorist truck bomb, and his presence in the midst of the second worst terrorist attack in U.S. history looms suspicious to this day.

Records indicate that this ANFO explosives expert and his associates had destroyed at least eight vehicles in “test bombing experiments” at a secret range in the New Mexico desert in the 12 months prior to the OKC bombing.

Everhart and his fellow specialists even photographed and videotaped these truck bombs as they detonated.

Far from an anti government militia member, the vehicle bomb expert was Special Agent Everhart, an employee of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. And, according to federal government records obtained later, Everhart had been instrumental in obtaining the government funding to perform the ANFO bombing tests.

Everhart served on the National Response Team (NRT), a group of experienced bomb and arson investigators who respond to major bombing crime scenes throughout the United States.

He also served on a secret government project in 1994 that conducted tests using ANFO and C-4 to blow up cars and vans in a classified U.S. government experiment known as “Project Dipole Might.”

According to files, reports and photographs obtained from the Department of the Treasury through a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. government initiated a “comprehensive ANFO and C-4 vehicle bomb testing program” about a year before the OKC bombing. Records show the project was supervised and administered by the BATF, but was actually funded through a National Security Council (NSC) directive.

The Department of Treasury has confirmed the project was initiated under President Bill Clinton’s NSC staff shortly after he took office in 1993.

The intent of the Dipole Might experiments in 1994 includes making videos and computer models to “be displayed in a courtroom to aid in the prosecution of defendants” in vehicle bomb cases, according to government documents. The exact precedent and purpose of this activity is unclear. BATF agents started blowing up vans and cars in the spring of 1994 at the White Sands Missile Range in order to collect test data for post-blast forensics computer software packages to be issued out to National Response Team personnel when they respond to truck bombings.

Why the NSC would fund such a BATF project—despite the rarity of the crime—has not been explained.

Nor has it been explained as to what specific threat-assessment information the government had when it decided to engage in such a project, just a few months before officials claimed a Ryder truck laden with ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded in front of the Murrah building.

The only major ANFO vehicle bombing in U.S. history, prior to OKC, occurred in August 1970 at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis.

Contrary to media reports, the World Trade Center bomb of February 1993 was composed of urea nitrate, not ANFO, according to the FBI.

Despite only one known case in almost 25 years, why did Clinton’s NSC anticipate a need for detailed information regarding ANFO vehicle bomb attacks a few months prior to the Oklahoma City blast?

Treasury’s own official documents reveal the intensity of interest. In fact, a brief summary of “Project Dipole Might” is featured in BATF’s 1994 Annual Report to Congress.

There were enough clandestine characters hanging around Oklahoma City to fill a James Bond movie during the days prior to the crime.

BATF’s paid informant Carol Howe had provided information that the Murrah building was one of three potential targets.

On April 6, Cary Gagan gave U.S. marshals in Denver the information that “a federal building would be blown up in either Denver or Oklahoma City within two weeks.” He had not only personally delivered timers and blasting caps to a Middle Eastern group, but had sat in on a meeting where the blueprints of the Murrah Building were on display.

Then, 38 minutes before the blasts on April 19, the Department of Justice in Washington received an anonymous telephone call warning that the Murrah Building was about to be blown up but took no action.

After a morning of reporting that “multiple bombs” had been found in the Murrah debris—a report publicly confirmed by the Gov. Frank Keating—and that rescue operations had been halted for two hours while these unexploded bombs were removed, news people suddenly began to spin the government yarn about an ANFO bomb being responsible for the enormous damage.

One of the problems with that theory was the fact that the columns remained standing directly across the sidewalk from the truck as opposed to those that had collapsed more than 50 feet away. A retired air force brigadier general with 30 years experience compiled an irrefutable report on this subject, which showed exactly where the charges were placed inside the building.

It was so irrefutable that the prosecution refused to allow him to testify at the Denver trial as it would have destroyed any ANFO theory that the government had already sold to the American people.

On May 23, 1995, only 34 days after the explosions, the federal government stonewalled all attempts to examine the building’s remaining structure and carried out an ordered demolition, destroying and burying forever what many believed contained the evidence of many explosions.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Harry Gets A Personal Letter from the President

Dear Mr. Everhart:

My son, Alex, a student at Brown, called me quite happy to tell me he had met a Kutztown Alum on his way back to college last Sunday. I want to thank you for giving him a ride back to the campus from the airport! I don’t know when is the last time you came back to visit Kutztown, but I hope you will soon, please let me know whenever you are in this area. If you haven’t seen the changes here, please look at our web site, there is a “virtual” tour of the campus. We also travel to Florida frequently, maybe I will get a chance to meet you personally. Thanks again!!

Monday, February 06, 2012

French Apple Tart - Did you ever have a Happy Birthday Pie?

Jean-Charles LeBeau - Harry - Jean Rettig. JC is from France - Jean is from Pennsylvania. Sometimes I feel like Mr Roper in Three's Company.

I had wonderful birthday. It started out in bed - when Lulu gave me a pair of Bose headphones to use with my iPhone. Not only can you listen to music - but you can make phone calls because the headphones have a microphone in them.

Then - for lunch - my friend George took me to Sonny's Barbecue. All of my family called and wished me well.

For supper Lulu made my favorite dinner - steak - mashed potatoes - corn. It was followed by a lava cake. There goes the diet - I easily went over 1900 calories today - even before dessert was served.

But the biggest surprise came from Jean-Charles and Jean. They are FSU doctoral students and they stay in our brick house. Both of them are working on their PhD's in sports administration and sports psychology. We met JC on the day he got off the plane from France. For years he had planned to come to the USA and study at FSU.

Everything they say about French cooking is true. This is the second time JC baked for us.

The picture above shows a beautiful French Apple Tart made from scratch. The pie was beautiful and we all sat down - ate - and gabbed for an hour - to heck with the diet.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

FSU 58 - Virginia 55 - Noles Win 7 Straight

iPhone picture of tipoff - notice all the empty good seats - they have been sold but many fans buy season tickets and stay home. That does not look good for a team that has won 7 games in a row. FSU is a football school.

Lulu and I just got back from the game. It was close the whole way including a missed 3 as the buzzer went off. Noles led the whole way except for a few seconds in the second half. Noles led by as many as 13 but Virginia had one last run in them - putting up a shot at the buzzer that could have tied it up.

The Noles have won 7 league games in a row after losing their first one by 20 points at Clemson. Since then - they have beaten 3 top 20 teams - first Carolina (number 2) - then Duke (number 3) and now UVA (number 16). Virginia had only lost 3 games up to this point - add one more.

Lulu and I left our house at about 12:15 on the Vespa. We walked to our favorite "begging" spot and I put two fingers in the air. A lady cop decided to tell me to go to the street. Just as she said something - and I reminded her that it is legal to buy and sell tickets in Florida - a guy walked up to us and gave us two free tickets. I asked the cop if it was okay that I took them :-)

The tickets were near half court - about 10 rows up. We sat with the two nice guys that gave us the tickets. They said they never sell their tickets but give them away to good Seminole fans. Lulu's bright yellow Hawaiian Seminole shirt got their attention.

At half time we were ahead by 1 point. UVA only led by 1 point once.

This is 7 ACC games the Noles have won in a row - some kind of record for a team that started the league getting pasted by 20. A team meeting seemed to turn things around. With the exception of Duke here in Tallahassee - the Noles seem to have a favorable season ending schedule.

It's great to be a FSU Seminole fan right now. On Wednesday - ESPN claimed FSU got the second best recruiting class this year in football - next to Alabama.

In the race for the Director's Cup so far - FSU is second to Stanford.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Gone Surfing Hawaii

When I was in high school - I used to drive my dad's station wagon around with an ironing board sticking out the back playing Beach Boys music. Lulu used to spend a week every summer at Wildwood baking in the sun for 8 hours a day. Her classmates called her "Surf." She told me she would live in a trailer if it were on a beach.

Thanks to a Christmas gift by Drew and Robin - we were going to have surfing lesson on Waikiki. Lulu was presenting at a convention in Hawaii - what an excellent time to finally try surfing.

Waikiki is known for its long gentle waves that can be ridden a long way. Do not get this mixed up with the North Shore where waves upwards of 50 feet come crashing on the shore - certainly not for newbies.

Our instructor was Jojo - a young lady that is used to holding hands of wannabes and telling them how good they are. Along with Greg Rose - a veteran surfer and videographer - he was able to piece together a few minutes of "surfing" out of the two hour lesson.

In the video - directly behind the church on Waikiki - you can see our condo. Our friend Doris from Nebraska has been renting it to us for years. We used to stay there for a month - when Lulu taught a summer course at the University of Hawaii. The convention is in the Marriot next to our condo.

If there is a next time - I plan to buy an old board on Craigslist - use it for the week and sell it back. Both Lulu and I were both sore and banged up after trying to squeeze years into two hours of lessons. Near the end our butts were dragging as we had to paddle back out after every ride. Sharing a board and more rest between rides would be nice.

There is plenty of coral in the shallow water where we were surfing. Our knees and toes carried a few red badges of courage - we didn't attract any sharks that we know of.

It would have been nice to rest between rides - sitting on the boards with the other surfers waiting for the "right" wave. One could learn easily by getting a board and watching others - it is not rocket science. Jojo just compressed the learning curve by helping us "catch the waves."

I hope you enjoy the video and aren't too hard on us. We had a great time. All the time - in the back of my head - Surfin USA - Honolulu Lulu - and many of the tunes from my childhood came roaring back. For a couple of hours - I was a surfer in my own mind.

Honolulu Lulu was great - queen of the surfer girls!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Heading Home From Providence

Drew and the kids just dropped me off at the downtown Providence bus station. In 8 minutes bus 14 will whisk me to the airport. Then two quick planes will have me in Tallahassee by midnight.

We had a fantastic 4 days playing - eating - and gabbing.

Robin just got home from a business trip to Richmond.

I am hoping to get bumped from one of my flights.

Next time we see the kids is in May. Lulu has a conference in Vermont.

Do I look sad in the picture? I miss the kids already.

Later that night -

I got home at midnight - both planes were pretty empty - I had my own row in each of them. At midnight - Lulu was waiting for me at the airport. Nice trip.

Picture and text sent from my iPhone.